Friday, April 29, 2011

"Israeli officials want a public commitment from Washington to protect the Saudi regime no matter what it takes in US Blood and Treasure....."

"Israeli officials want a public commitment from Washington to protect the Saudi regime no matter what it takes in US Blood and Treasure....."
The decrepit, aging CIA tool, Ted Koppel writes in the WSJ:

"... None of America's allies is more sensitive to even the most subtle changes in the international environment, or more conscious of the slightest hint of diminished support from Washington... Netanyahu has been so concerned that a member of his fractious coalition might give vent to some damaging public observation on this issue that he has imposed a strict "nobody talks on the subject but me" rule. That the gag has been even partially effective, given the wide-open nature of the Israeli political process, is astonishing. It is also a measure of how worried the Israelis are.
My own reporting on the Middle East in general and Israel in particular goes back almost 40 years—to the days of Henry Kissinger's shuttle diplomacy in the region. On a recent visit to Jerusalem, I met with a number of very senior current and former government officials who spoke on a not-for-attribution basis. They were anything but restrained in voicing their concerns, and some of the views expressed in this article reflect the outlook of the prime minister himself.
Overshadowing all other concerns is the fear that Iran is poised to reap enormous benefits from the so-called Arab Spring. "Even without nukes," one top official told me, "Iran picks up the pieces. With nukes, it takes the house."... What is new is a growing worry that America's adversaries will be less inclined to take warnings from Washington seriously...
The Israeli government is so concerned that America's adversaries may miscalculate U.S. intentions that it is privately urging Washington to make it clear that the U.S. would intervene in Saudi Arabia should the survival of that government be threatened. That is, after all, what President George H.W. Bush did more than 20 years ago when Saddam Hussein ordered Iraqi forces into Kuwait and moved forces in the direction of Saudi Arabia. "This," President Bush said on more than one occasion, "will not stand." And it didn't..... the Israelis are convinced that the principle needs to be unambiguously restated, if only as a reminder that Washington knows where its critical national interests lie. Absent such a public recommitment, they worry that Iran will be encouraged to even greater mischief...
Just as enemies such as Iran need to be cautioned, America's traditional allies need to be reassured. That's why Israeli officials are recommending a Marshall Plan for Egypt... the Israelis believe it is essential to prevent its economic collapse....
here (in Syria's case) the Israelis are far more comfortable with stability on their borders. Assad, like his father before him, has maintained an uneasy truce along Syria's border with Israel, despite Israel's continued occupation of the Golan Heights.
Little, if anything, that has happened during the past few months has improved Israel's standing in the region. One of the most telling blows to Israel's security has gone all but unnoticed in the swirl of uprisings. For years, the most stable relationship that Israel enjoyed with any Muslim nation was with Turkey. Even under the leadership of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who has specialized in publicly baiting the Israelis, the relationship between the two countries' intelligence agencies remained strictly professional. "That," a high-ranking Israeli official told me, "is no longer the case."

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Pakistan stares at Bush's pledges... "Karzai to dump US".

Pakistan stares at Bush's pledges...
"Karzai to dump US"....?
By MK Bhadrakumar

It overshadowed a shake-up of Barack Obama's top security team and the mowing down of nine American servicemen at Kabul airport by an irate Afghan. The Wall Street Journal reported on Wednesday that Pakistan Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani had counseled Afghan President Hamid Karzai to throw off the American yoke and enter a new sphere of geopolitics in which Afghanistan, Pakistan and China would live happily ever after.

In "Karzai to dump US", the WSJ reported that Karzai was in two minds over which road to take. Perhaps he is probing as to whether the Pakistani overture could be used to extract better terms of patronage from Washington.

The story had three important points:

  • The Afghans without exception are a bunch of bazaaris who at the end of the day are moonlighting for profitable deals from whichever patron without any scruples or honor.
  • Pakistan is in a confrontational mood with the US and a "point of no return" has been reached.
  • China is straining at the leash to move into Afghanistan's blood-soaked civil war and to pick up the stirrups from where the Americans might leave them if and when they are finally booted out by Karzai or by the force of circumstance.

    Karzai knows his way around

  • All three contentions are highly tendentious. Consider the following. Of all three protagonists in the WSJ story, it is Karzai who is most fed up with the Americans. He knows the Americans have been trying their damndest for the past two years to remove him from the Afghan chessboard. He remains in the presidential palace only because the Barack Obama administration is stuck with him for want of an alternative.

    Karzai is fully aware that Washington has been openly patronizing - with possible funding and political support - implacable adversaries like his former Afghan intelligence chief Mohammed Saleh and his former foreign minister Abdullah Abdullah.

    Karzai is equally aware that Washington has been covertly encouraging non-Pashtun elements of the erstwhile Northern Alliance to challenge and erode Karzai's agenda of reconciliation with the Taliban. Washington has carried matters to such an extent that it has spread calumnies about Karzai and his family - even to the point of insinuating that the Afghan president is a drug addict and a mental case.

    Such below-the-belt attacks on a proud Pashtun tribal chieftain leave indelible marks on his psyche; they are deeply wounding; they demean him in front of his tribe and his people; they are antithetical to the culture of the people who inhabit the Hindu Kush.

    Most important, Washington is completely exasperated with Karzai's seeming incapacity or lack of will to wrap up a status of forces agreement (SFA) that would ensure a continued American troop presence in Afghanistan. The US has spent hundreds of millions of dollars bringing the Soviet-era military bases in Afghanistan to a par with American standards, and constructing new military bases. Now it is a case of "all-dressed-up-with-nowhere-to-go".

    The entire Pentagon strategy in Afghanistan pivots on the conclusion of a SFA. The US objective is to build up reconciliation with the Taliban on the foundations of an SFA. This hope is that while American troops will no longer have to fight and die in a futile war, the US can perpetuate a military presence on the strategic Afghan chessboard and stay neatly tucked in between four nuclear powers (five, if one includes Iran).

    However, the US knows that none of the regional powers - including India - would reconcile with the prospect of an open-ended American military presence in the region. Most important, Washington knows the Afghan people would oppose tooth and nail any such foreign occupation of their country and, therefore, Karzai wouldn't easily play ball, either.

    The US has been plainly ignoring Karzai's sensitivities regarding Washington bypassing his government in vital matters such as aid or excessive security operations. Karzai isn't a fool and knows that even a recent controversy regarding Kabul Bank has an extra political dimension. He does not have to be reminded that the Americans have been inciting the Afghan parliament to be a counterpoint to his presidential authority and to constantly create roadblocks for him.

    In sum, Washington's equations with Karzai are in a bottomless pit already and the latter doesn't need Gilani to enlighten him about the highhandedness, stupidity or arrogance - depending on one's point of view - of American policy in the AfPak region. Worse still, Obama keeps him at arm's length.

    China won't take risks

  • The biggest surprise in the WSJ story is regarding China. Anyone who has a remote knowledge of Chinese policy in Afghanistan or any of the planet's "hotspots" - be it the Thai-Cambodian border region, Syria, Bahrain, Yemen or Myanmar - knows that Beijing treads extremely warily when it comes to spending its resources and political capital. On the contrary, husbanding resources and remaining highly focused on core concerns, vital interests and its economic development has been an unfailing feature of China's neighborhood policies all over Central Asia.

    This is why despite constant US urgings for the past three years to come into the Hindu Kush and to play the role of a "stakeholder", Beijing hasn't shown the least bit of interest. A minimal aid program; a commercially sensible investment program; excellent government-to-governmental ties; a watchful eye on the progress of the US strategy - these are the firm cornerstones of China's Afghan policy.

    Beijing is clear-headed about the range of security threats that arise or can possibly arise out of Afghanistan. And it has made the appropriate diplomatic and political moves both bilaterally with Kabul and Islamabad as well as regionally within the ambit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization to ensure that China's national security interests are safeguarded.

    Finally, China is keeping its options open in the highly fluid Afghan situation. In the ultimate analysis, China will deal with any regime that emerges out of the current civil war. As far as China is concerned, it is a matter of the wishes of the Afghan people and China's focus will be on strengthening the ties with the established government in Kabul that enjoys international legitimacy.

    In sum, Gilani would have been out of his mind to prescribe to Karzai a "Chinese option". Grant it to the Pakistanis to know that much about their "all-weather friend", China.

    Therefore, the WSJ article raises disturbing questions. As Vladimir Lenin would have asked: "Who stands to gain?" The question is not really a hard one to answer. The article is calculated to raise hopes in Karzai's mind that Uncle Sam may consider paying a better price if he collaborates on the SFA. Curiously, the WSJ article appeared even as the US special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan, Marc Grossman (who is the point person negotiating the SFA from the American side) arrived in New Delhi.

    The specter of a potential Sino-Pakistan axis in Afghanistan is calculated to raise hackles in the Indian mind and goad it into making precipitate counter-moves in the Hindu Kush. But the Indians would need to be downright naive to bite the American bullet.

    Anyway, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is visiting Kabul next week and can hear the tale straight from the horse's mouth. New Delhi is confident that it enjoys transparency in its discourses with Karzai and can ask a few pertinent questions rather than go with Grossman's version or the WSJ account.

    US double-crosses Pakistan

  • What the WSJ report really does is illustrate the state of play in US-Pakistan relations. The fact is that as much as Washington will claim that tensions emanate from Pakistan's clandestine links with the Haqqani network, it is crystal clear that the issue is actually about the bottom line of the impending Afghan peace talks.

    Plainly put, Islamabad is increasingly apprehensive about US strategy in Afghanistan. It gets an ugly feeling that the US is working on an agenda that would have profound meaning for Pakistan's future and Islamabad is being kept in the dark.

    It is simplistic to call this a mere "trust deficit". Through the six-week-long, gruelling interrogation of Raymond Davis, when the US Central Intelligence Agency contractor was being held in Lahore, the Pakistani military has garnered all that it was afraid to ask the Pentagon and the CIA, and all that it needed to know about the American gameplan.

    The Pakistani military and the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) have a fair idea today about the extensive American intelligence infiltration of the Taliban and the various Pakistani militant groups. The US is increasingly effective in its drone attacks due to the real-time intelligence it is directly gathering.

    Suffice to say, the US is getting quite close to dispensing with the help of the Pakistani military and the ISI - altogether if a need arises or at least whittling it down - that was needed to sustain its dealings with the Taliban and other militant groups.

    But what truly unnerves the Pakistani military is that incrementally, the US might be able to use insurgent groups or elements within them - if it is not doing already, as Iran has alleged - as instruments of its regional policies in Afghanistan and in the surrounding regions.

    Thus, the Pakistanis are demanding that the US work with Pakistan on the drone attacks and observe the so-called "Reagan Rules" with regard to dealings with the insurgent groups has a broader context. The "Reagan Rules" describe the CIA-ISI relationship of the 1980s, when the agency provided ISI with money and arms to aid the mujahideen.

    This is an non-negotiable demand for the Pakistani military as it concerns Pakistan's sovereignty, territorial integrity and the safety of its nuclear stockpiles from American reach. Not the least, it concerns Pakistan's entire Afghan strategy, which has been based on the exclusivity of its ties with the friendly elements of the Afghan insurgency fostered through the past three decades at enormous cost and sacrifice and at considerable risk.

    However, it will be virtually impossible for the US to meet the Pakistani expectations and to settle for an operational blueprint that strictly confines to the four walls of the "Reagan Rules". The current war is vastly different from the Afghan jihad of the 1980s.

    Thirty years ago, Washington was settling scores with the Soviet Union for the humiliation in Vietnam and it was expedient not to be seen at the barricades. Today, America's "homeland security" is in the firing line and it is suicidal not to lead the fight right from out there in the barricades. Today's war cannot be reduced to a "proxy war" fought through the ISI and strictly within the parameters of a US-Pakistan network of mil-to-mil and intelligence level collaboration.

    The strategic divergence in the respective strategies and objectives of the US and Pakistan has finally welled up to the surface and is visible to the naked eye. Quite conceivably, Gilani solicited Karzai's cooperation in moving into a Pakistan-Afghanistan condominium to steer the peace process in a rapid sequential way so as to present the US with a fait accompli.

    But this is a sideshow, and it is patently intended to display to the Obama administration the imperative need to recognize Pakistan's legitimate interests and not to go back on the word given by the previous George W Bush administration: that in any Afghan settlement, Pakistan would play a key role and in any eventual peace settlement, Pakistan's legitimate interests would be duly accommodated.

    The big question is whether Obama or the administration he heads considers itself to be the inheritor of all the pledges that Bush or Colin Powell or Donald Rumsfeld made to the Pakistani military headed by Pervez Musharraf in the heat of the night after the September 11, 2001, attacks.

    In any case, the Pakistani military should have known - even if Musharraf chose to overlook it - that in the American scheme of things, the winner invariably takes all.
  • Monday, April 25, 2011

    Australians fear threat of war with China...

    Australians fear threat of war with China...

    If the Aussies feel like this, I can only imagine how the US, Koreans, Japanese, Taiwanese, Indians, Russians, Mongolians, and Vietnamese must feel .... and they are literally next door (if not at the door) with China....

    Tuesday, April 19, 2011

    Saudi money wins Obama's mind


    Saudi money wins Obama's mind
    By M K Bhadrakumar

    Twice during the past week senior United States officials have let it be known that the Barack Obama administration has chosen to adopt a highly selective approach to the ferment in the Middle East.

    The US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton couched the message in appropriate diplomatic idiom in Washington last Tuesday in a speech at a gala dinner celebrating the US-Islamic World Forum before an audience of dignitaries from the Middle East including
    the foreign ministers of Qatar and Jordan and the secretary-general of the Organization of Islamic Conference.

    Clinton acknowledged that the ''long Arab winter has begun to thaw'' and after many decades, a ''real opportunity for lasting change'' has appeared before the Arab people. It, in turn, raises ''significant questions'' but it is not for the US to provide all the answers. ''In fact, here in Washington we're struggling to thrash out answers to our own difficult political and economic questions,'' she said.

    Following a long-winded appreciation of the "Arab revolt", Clinton hit the nail on its head: ''We understand that a one-sized-fits-all approach doesn't make sense in such a diverse region at such a fluid time. As I have said before, the United States has specific relationships with countries in the region. We have a decades-long friendship with Bahrain that we expect to continue long into the future … Going forward, the United States will be guided by careful consideration of all circumstances on the ground and by our consistent values and interests.''

    Two days later, US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates picked up where Clinton left off. At the ground-breaking ceremony of the national library honoring George Washington in Virginia last Thursday, Gates dipped into the oldest annals of America's young history to underline that US has always pursued a selective approach to democratic aspirations and values of other peoples.

    When George Washington was confronted with the consequences of the French revolution, he didn't allow himself to be swayed by the ideals of liberty, equality and fraternity but instead weighed in the terribly dangerous prospect of the possible ''spread of violent French radicalism to our shores'', the negative consequences of estrangement from the British in terms of disruptions in the ''lives of ordinary Americans by impeding trade'' and the ''fragility of America's position at that time''. Therefore, he adopted a neutrality policy toward France and chose to make a peace treaty with Britain although he was accused of doublespeak, sellout, et al.

    Gates acknowledged that the US always ''struggled'' with ideals while doing business with terrible autocrats. So, what matters today is that ''many of the [Arab] regimes affected have been longstanding, close allies of the United States, ones we continue to work with as critical partners in the face of common security challenges like al-Qaeda and Iran.''

    Is the democracy project so terribly important? Gates had an answer: ''An underlying theme of American history going back to Washington is that we are compelled to defend our security and our interests in ways that in the long run lead to the democratic values and institutions … When we discuss openly our desire for democratic values to take hold across the globe, we are describing a world that may be many years or decades off.''

    Significantly, Gates was speaking after a tour of the Persian Gulf region against a complex backdrop of Saudi Arabia's intervention in Bahrain to crush the lively democracy movement, frictions in the relations between the US and Saudi Arabia, a jump in oil prices into triple digits and signs that Riyadh might consider expanding its mammoth US$60 billion deal to buy arms from the US.

    At any rate, coming out of a 90-minute meeting with the Saudi King Abdullah, Gates said he saw ''evidence'' of Iranian meddling in Bahrain. Gates's visit was followed up within a week by a trip to Riyadh by the US National Security Advisor Thomas Donilon, who handed a letter from Obama to Abdullah. All indications are that a deal has been stuck whereby the Obama administration will not queer the pitch for the autocratic Persian Gulf rulers by dabbling in the democracy project in the region.

    A hegemon on the move
    On the contrary, Washington will allow Saudi Arabia to have a free hand to tackle the movements for democratic reforms in the region and forestall any regime changes in the region. Accordingly, the Saudis are moving on three different tracks. First, they have done everything possible to portray the democracy movement in Bahrain, which has serious potential to overthrow the regime in Manama and trigger a domino effect, in starkly sectarian terms as an issue of Shi'ite empowerment. The Saudi calculation by stoking up the latent fires of sectarian prejudices in the Sunni mind is to somehow prevent a unified, pan-Arab democracy movement from taking shape.

    Second, Saudis are giving a coloring that that the democracy movements in the Persian Gulf are in actuality a manifestation of Iranian meddling in the internal affairs of the Sunni states in the region. The Iranian bogey comes naturally to the Saudis for rallying the Sunni states in the region under its leadership as well as for striking sympathetic chords in influential Washington lobbies (although the Obama administration has been so far inclined to view the protests as essentially home-grown movements that arose out of genuine local problems accumulating through decades of authoritarian misrule).

    The Saudi ploy is working. During a visit to Manama early March, Gates himself had urged the al-Khalifa family to swiftly undertake political and social reform. By early April he is a changed man who claims he senses an Iranian hand behind the protests.

    Third, and potentially quite tricky, is the Saudi propensity to see the case in both Bahrain and Yemen as open-and-shut. The intervention in Bahrain is taking a violent turn with every possibility that it will radicalize the opposition and possibly force it – or at least elements within it - to resort to insurgent attacks. A Bahraini variant of Lebanon's Hezbollah seems to be in the making.

    The Saudis have also waded into the Yemeni tribal politics and are dictating the contours of the transfer of power from President Ali Abdullah Saleh, ignoring the potency of Yemeni nationalism, which resents Saudi hegemony. Again, Saudis propagate that Iran is fueling the Houthi rebellion in north Yemen. (Western observers rule out any extensive ties between Iran on the one side and the Houthis or the Bahraini Shi'ites.)

    What are the Saudi calculations? A longstanding objective of the Saudi national security strategy remains, namely, to exercise its quasi-hegemony in the Arabian Peninsula. The Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) served this purpose for decades. But the GCC dispensation can easily unravel in today's uncertain circumstances if there is regime change in any of the member states. Riyadh has mooted the idea of the GCC transforming into a "Gulf Confederation" with a common and unified foreign, security and defense policies - under Saudi leadership, of course, under the garb of collective security.

    In military terms, this would facilitate the creation of joint armed forces under a unified command with a rapid reaction force that could act in any of the GCC states. In other words, Saudi Arabia hopes to assume the role of the provider of security for the GCC territories.

    Riyadh felt disillusioned by the US' ''abandonment'' of Hosni Mubarak and quite obviously, in the Saudi estimation, there was no real inevitability about Mubarak's exit if only Washington had stood by him. The behavior of post-Mubarak Egypt also adds to a sense of isolation in Riyadh. Significant shifts have begun appearing in Egypt's regional policies already. Cairo is moving toward establishing diplomatic relations with Iran (broken off since the Islamic Revolution in 1979); Cairo ignored US and Israeli protests and allowed for the first time two Iranian warships to pass through the Suez Canal; Cairo is allowing Hamas leaders in Gaza to use Cairo airport as a transit point for travel to and from Damascus; Cairo is mellowing toward the Hezbollah in Lebanon.

    What hits Riyadh most is that Cairo will be disengaging from any containment strategy toward Iran and may gravitate toward the nascent strategic axis involving Syria, Turkey and Iran. Egypt is swimming toward mainstream Arab politics, whereas Saudi Arabia never had much fondness for pan-Arabism.

    This growing sense of isolation prompted the Saudi leadership to invoke its ultimate reserves of influence in Washington - the Pentagon. The promise Abdullah made to Gates - that Saudi arms purchases from the US this year will exceed the $60 billion deal (which is already the biggest in US history) - changes the entire complexion of Persian Gulf security from the American perspective. Obama interprets arms sales to foreign countries as the means to create jobs at home. And if the Gulf Confederation idea takes hold, the sky is the limit for lucrative arms deals since a joint military will be created by the petrodollar states involving land, air and naval forces.

    The speeches by Clinton and Gates suggest that the Saudis have succeeded in making Obama reassess the Arab spring in the Persian Gulf region. Obama is never short on resonant words. Still, presenting with conviction his (revised) vision of the New Middle East in the major policy speech he is expected to make isn't going to be easy.