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Monthly Archives: March 2009

Yes we can and no, they can’t

March 29th, 2009 - 7:55 pm

The BBC reports:

In recent days three top American generals have turned their guns on Pakistan, accusing elements of its main intelligence agency, the ISI, of supporting Taliban and al-Qaeda militants. The unprecedented broadside followed the announcement by the US President Barack Obama of a new strategy for Afghanistan. Mr Obama cited as its cornerstone the need to destroy militant safe havens in the Pakistani tribal belt along the Afghan border, something he knows can’t be achieved without complete cooperation from the country’s army and intelligence.

The article ends with this quote: “‘The concept of pressuring Pakistan is flawed,’ Ahmed Rashid and Barnett Rubin have written in the Foreign Affairs magazine. ‘No state can be successfully pressured into acts it considers suicidal.’” The integrity of the Pakistani government took on further importance after President Obama told Face the Nation that Pakistan will be consulted before any strikes against militants are carried out. If Islamabad isn’t fully onboard the effort then the consultation could turn into an advance warning system for the Taliban and al-Qaeda, thereby endangering any assets subsequently tasked with carrying the strike out. Bloomberg writes:

March 30 (Bloomberg) — President Barack Obama said the U.S. will consult with Pakistan before raiding militant bases on Pakistani territory, as he called on leaders in Islamabad to be “much more accountable” in combating terrorism. … The U.S. expects some accountability from Pakistan and its understanding of the “severity and the nature of the threat” from the terrorists.

Pakistan has told the U.S. it considers missile strikes on its territory counterproductive. The Pakistani government says it is doing all it can to combat militants and is pursuing a strategy of selective military action, coupled with political and economic development programs, to try to persuade tribal leaders to expel foreign fighters sheltering along the border with Afghanistan.

The Pakistani view of “counterproductive” US missile strikes raises the initial challenge. There may be more. Taken in toto the BBC article leaves the reader with the distinct suggestion that while the US military will loyally carry out the instructions of the Commander in Chief, they do not repose a great deal of confidence in the willingness of Pakistani intelligence agencies to lift their end of the load. In fact, the BBC article has quotes which stop just short of suggesting that parts of the ISI are in league with the enemy.

General David Petraeus, head of the US Central Command, spoke of cases “in the fairly recent past” where the ISI appeared to have warned militants that their positions had been discovered.

Given this difficulty, a successful campaign in Afghanistan/Pakistan will require either a) the reform of the ISI so that it becomes a more suitable partner for the enterprise or; b) there is some kind of operational insurance to ensure the task can be carried out in the event the ISI falls down on the job, a kind of Plan B in case things miscarry.

Big in Japan

March 29th, 2009 - 4:52 pm

A friend sends this link from the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, suggesting that despite the US refusal to consider shooting down a North Korean rocket, the Japanese may do it anyway.

Japan has begun moving Patriot guided missiles to the country’s north-east to possibly shoot down a North Korean rocket. … Tokyo is threatening to shoot the North Korean rocket down if it threatens Japanese territory. Meanwhile the US Defence Secretary Robert Gates says the US has no plans to shoot down the missile if the test goes ahead.

But given the nature of the missile system referred to here — Patriot, whose interception envelope occurs when the incoming projectile is in its terminal phase — this will probably only happen as a last resort, if the North Korean is seen headed for Japan. The US refusal to engage the North Korean missile, which may have left Japan with no option but to consider a unilateral response, is an intriguing development. The conceptual lid on Japanese rearmament has always been the tacit assurance that Big Brother USA would take care of Nippon. And although the Japanese government would probably prefer to see the North Korean missile, if it went awry, engaged on an alliance basis, no responsible government in Tokyo would be without an insurance plan in the event the Dear Leader’s missile accidentally, or accidentally on purpose, veered towards the home islands.


5… 4… 3… 2… 1… Negotiations

March 29th, 2009 - 2:06 pm

A military analyst from the Examiner believes the chances of successfully intercepting a North Korean missile scheduled to be fired are “very good”, technically speaking. But politically, the intercept has no chance of happening at all. Former Spook comments, “Unfortunately, American political will is sorely lacking. Secretary of State Clinton rejected the intercept option earlier this week, saying that the U.S. will address the launch “through the appropriate channels.” In other words, we’ll run it through the U.N. Security Council, which will (probably) pass another meaningless resolution.”

U.S. and Japanese defenses have a high probability of success, if they are ordered to shoot down a North Korean ballistic missile that is currently being prepared for launch. That’s the assessment of a senior defense industry executive who is a veteran of the missile defense program. In an interview with Examiner.com, he said odds for a successful intercept are “very good,” based the availability of “layered” missile defenses, continued technological improvements, and Pyongyang’s planned launch window. …

Earlier this week, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the United States had no plans to intercept the North Korean missile. If Pyongyang persists with its launch plans, Mrs. Clinton said the U.S. will “take up the matter through appropriate channels.”

Washington’s apparent reluctance to consider military options has created consternation among our allies in the region, particularly the Japanese. “Rest assured, they’d rather not have been put in this position” [by U.S. inaction], the defense executive commented.

He also suggested that the American military has been somewhat confused by the administration’s handling of the latest North Korean crisis. The expert said that recent comments by Admiral Timothy Keating, commander of U.S. forces in the Pacific, seemed to be both a statement of our capabilities and a veiled request for guidance.


More Afghanistan

March 29th, 2009 - 9:21 am

The limits of BHO’s efforts in Pakistan were emphasized during an interview given to the press.

WASHINGTON (AP) — As he carries out a retooled strategy in Afghanistan, President Barack Obama says he will consult with Pakistan’s leaders before pursuing terrorist hideouts in that country.

Obama said U.S. ally Pakistan needs to be more accountable, but ruled out deploying U.S. troops there. “Our plan does not change the recognition of Pakistan as a sovereign government,” the president told CBS’ “Face the Nation” in an interview broadcast Sunday….

In a wide-ranging interview, Obama sought to counter the notion that Afghanistan has become his war. He emphasized that it started on George W. Bush’s watch. “I think it’s America’s war. And it’s the same war that we initiated after 9/11 as a consequence of those attacks,” Obama said. “The focus over the last seven years I think has been lost.” …

But Obama has irked Pakistan since taking office in January by retaining a powerful but controversial weapon left over from the Bush administration’s fight against terrorism: unmanned Predator drone missile strikes on Pakistan along its border with Afghanistan.

Pakistan has urged Obama to halt the strikes. But Gates has signaled to Congress that the U.S. would continue to go after al-Qaida inside Pakistan, and senior Obama administration officials have called the strikes effective.

Without directly referring to the strikes, Obama said: “If we have a high-value target within our sights, after consulting with Pakistan, we’re going after them. But our main thrust has to be to help Pakistan defeat these extremists.”


Iran and North Korea

March 29th, 2009 - 4:05 am

The Times Online reports: Iranian technical experts were reported to be in North Korea helping the Dear Leader prepare for his missile launch. And doubtless to learn what they can about evading US anti-missile defense methods. Why do you suppose?

Missile experts from Iran are in North Korea to help Pyongyang prepare for its rocket launch, according to reports.

Amid increasing global concern over the rocket launch, believed by the US and its allies to be an illegal missile launch, Japan’s Sankei Shimbun newspaper claimed today a 15-strong delegation from Tehran has been in the country advising the North Koreans since the beginning of March.

The Iranian experts include senior officials with Iranian rocket and satellite producer Shahid Hemmat Industrial Group, the daily said.

Meanwhile, the Korea Register reports that the Obama administration signed sanctions carried over from the Bush Administration.

According to the U.S. Federal Register, the Obama administration signed off on the new sanctions, a measure that was largely prepared by the previous George W. Bush administration. Washington says these specific foreign firms have been targeted for allegedly breaching U.S. trade laws against the proliferation of missiles and other armaments.

The North Korean firms targeted by the U.S. sanctions are Mokong Trading Corp., Korea Mining and Development Corp. and Sino-Ki, according to reports. Other foreign entities named in the measure include two Chinese companies, Bellamax and Dalian Sunny Industries, as well as two Iranian firms, Shahid Bakeri Industrial Group and Shahid Hemmat Industrial Group.

The measure would prohibit these companies from conducting business with American agencies and private companies. It is largely seen as a symbolic measure with no practical business consequences, however, as these firms most likely are not doing business with U.S. entities.

These are the first such measures approved under the Obama administration, which may suggest that the new U.S. government will continue to pursue the previous Bush administration’s tough approach on weapons proliferation.

The AP believes that North Korea will go through with its test, no matter what. ”

“It’s unthinkable” for North Korea to cancel its plan now, said Paik Hak-soon, an analyst at the private Sejong Institute think tank outside Seoul. Paik said North Korea would not want to be seen as bowing to international pressure and would not want lose what it views as a good opportunity to bolster its leverage with President Barack Obama’s administration as it formulates its policy toward the North.

Obama to meet Assad?

March 29th, 2009 - 1:01 am

Haaretz talks about another area of engagement for the Obama administration. If true, my guess is that Assad won’t be indicted, maybe not evention mention, in connection with the assassination of Rafik Hariri. Assad would, in that event, literally have gotten away with murder. Who will stand up to him in the region if said rapproachment takes place?

U.S. President Barack Obama is considering meeting with Syrian President Bashar Assad this summer, a United Arab Emirates-based newspaper reported yesterday. …

Diplomats told Haaretz last week that the U.S. and Syria are undergoing a rapprochement “which is progressing to the satisfaction of both parties.” The U.S. does not have an ambassador in Damascus, but over the past months several U.S. delegations have visited Syria to conduct talks with Assad’s regime there. … U.S.-Syrian relations have long been tense, particularly since the U.S. ambassador was pulled out by the Bush administration in 2005 to protest Syria’s suspected role in the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri in Beirut.

One question: if Obama is really going to meet Assad, what’s BHO going to give him? Or promise him?

Who’s Allah?

March 28th, 2009 - 11:26 pm

According to Wikipedia, “Our Lady of Guadalupe (Spanish: Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe) is a celebrated 16th-century icon of the Virgin Mary, mother of Jesus Christ. The image, also known as the Virgin of Guadalupe (Spanish: Virgen de Guadalupe) represents a famous Marian apparition. According to the traditional account, the image appeared miraculously on the back of a simple peasant cloak. It is perhaps Mexico’s most popular religious and cultural image, and the focus of an extensive pilgrimage. The feast day of Our Lady of Guadalupe is December 12. She is said to have appeared to Saint Juan Diego on the hill of Tepeyac near Mexico City between December 9 and December 12, 1531. The Virgin of Guadalupe is a symbol of significant importance to Mexican Catholics. The Virgin Mary in this aspect has been given the title: “Patroness of the Americas”, and the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City is the second most visited Catholic shrine in the world.”

One of the latest visitors is Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who shown the miraculous cloak, said something so awkward that Tigerhawk claims “that it is difficult to believe that it was not a Republican who committed it. Difficult, that is, if you’re a reporter for a mainstream media organization.” The Catholic News Service describes what happened on the occasion of Hillary’s visit to the Guadalupe Shrine:

Msgr. Monroy took Mrs. Clinton to the famous image of Our Lady of Guadalupe, which had been previously lowered from its usual altar for the occasion.

After observing it for a while, Mrs. Clinton asked “who painted it?” to which Msgr. Monroy responded “God!”

Clinton then told Msgr. Monroy that she had previously visited the old Basilica in 1979, when the new one was still under construction.

After placing a bouquet of white flowers by the image, Mrs. Clinton went to the quemador –the open air area at the Basilica where the faithful light candles- and lit a green candle. Leaving the basilica half an hour later, Mrs. Clinton told some of the Mexicans gathered outside to greet her, “you have a marvelous virgin!”

In case that didn’t go over very well, Hillary can always hit the Peregruzka button.

Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan

March 28th, 2009 - 10:14 pm

The Guardian reports that Britain now regards Pakistan and Afghanistan as “one theater”. While this makes strategic sense it also carries with it a hidden danger: Pakistan can only be included in the theater of its own volition, otherwise operations in Pakistan will constitute an attack across an international border. The political cooperation of Islamabad is now explicitly critical to the success of the entire campaign. Once Pakistan suspends its cooperation, the bottom falls out of the strategy. There is one further difficulty: this has implicitly now become a battle for Pakistan. The Jihadi elements will now concentrate on pressuring Islamabad into withdrawing support for the campaign against it. Destabilization efforts against the Pakistani government must now be expected. While the new strategy is necessary it carries the risk of escalation: the ante has been upped in a very public sort of way. Presumably the UK is reflecting the thinking of the Obama administration. But if BHO wants to escalate the campaign he must be absolutely determined to see things through to victory.

Britain has offered its full backing for a renewed military offensive inside Pakistan, as UK ministers confirmed the country was now “part of a single campaign” alongside Afghanistan.

Defence secretary John Hutton said the UK supported targeting Pakistan-based Taliban and al-Qaida positions and urged Europe to begin offering assistance to eradicate insurgents in the tribal regions bordering Afghanistan.

Confirming that Britain was being drawn into a widening regional conflict, Hutton said the time had come to target Taliban and al-Qaida havens inside Pakistan. In his most explicit statement of intent against Afghanistan’s troubled neighbour, Hutton said that the military objectives in the region must now have “an equal focus on both countries”.


Follow the money

March 28th, 2009 - 7:35 pm

A Reuters article describes an Obama administration to get 16 “major economies” to sign up to a “climate change” pact, but observers are unsure whether this is because the administration wants to substitute a weaker pact in place of a UN-sponsored one or whether it truly wants to lead the way.

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Barack Obama on Saturday invited 16 “major economies” including the European Union and the United Nations to take part in a forum on climate change to facilitate a U.N. pact on global warming. … Bush’s “major economies” initiative drew scepticism from participants, who were wary the process was his administration’s way of circumventing broader U.N. talks to forge an international deal. …

The president, who took office in January, has said he wants the United States to take the lead in global warming talks. … In a statement, the White House said the forum would “help generate the political leadership necessary” to achieve an international pact to cut greenhouse gas emissions later this year.

It said the meeting would spur dialogue among developed and developing countries about the issue, “and advance the exploration of concrete initiatives and joint ventures that increase the supply of clean energy while cutting greenhouse gas emissions.” The major economies include: Australia, Brazil, Britain, Canada, China, the European Union, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Korea, Mexico, Russia, South Africa and the United States. Denmark, which is hosting the U.N. meeting in December to forge a pact that would take over from the Kyoto Protocol, was also invited. …

Obama wants to cut U.S. emissions by roughly 15 percent back to 1990 levels by 2020 — tougher than Bush, who saw U.S. emissions peaking as late as 2025.

The “climate change” issue is in large part about money. Fox News described a UN document which saw the new “Green Economy” as a way to transfer “trillions of dollars” from one set of hands to another. If Obama wants to lead the process rather than leave it to the UN, it is in part about who controls the redistribution as much as it is about the ‘environment’.

What is BHO going to do in Afghanistan?

March 28th, 2009 - 6:17 pm

The Times Online describes talks between the US and Iran over Afghanistan — in Moscow.

Iranian and American officials have held their first talks about ending the war in Afghanistan amid signs that President Barack Obama’s efforts to thaw relations with Tehran are paying off. While television cameras focused on Obama in Washington during the unveiling of his strategy for Afghanistan last Friday, US and Iranian diplomats were holding a remarkable meeting in Moscow. The Russian initiative brought together Patrick Moon, the US diplomat in charge of south and central Asia, and Mehdi Akhundzadeh, Iran’s deputy foreign minister, as well as a British diplomat who has been acting as a mediator.

“We’ve turned a page to have Iranians and Americans at the same table all discussing Afghanistan,” Sergei Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister, told delegates. …

Friday’s meeting was held under the auspices of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation, a six-member regional security group including Russia, China and central Asian states, to discuss combating terrorism and drug trafficking in Afghanistan. Those present included Ban Ki-moon, the United Nations secretary-general, the foreign ministers of Pakistan and Afghanistan, and senior British diplomats.

Meanwhile, the policy differences between the US and Hamid Karzai seem to have been resolved in a manner that Karzai likes. The Washington Post reports:

After months of tension between the Afghan leader and officials in Washington, especially over civilian casualties caused by Western military forces, Karzai seemed pleasantly surprised by Obama’s prescriptions for Afghanistan’s problems, calling his plan “better than we were expecting.”

Like a cross-section of Afghans interviewed Saturday, Karzai said he was especially glad that Obama explicitly endorsed two ideas Afghan officials have been stressing for several years: that the fight against Islamist terrorism must focus on militant safe havens in next-door Pakistan and that negotiations with Taliban insurgents are essential to ending the conflict in Afghanistan. …

Obama’s strategy calls for a major expansion of Afghan security forces and the deployment of 4,000 new U.S. troops to train them, on top of an additional 17,000 combat troops. It also proposes a boost in U.S. civilian expert assistance, more economic aid to Pakistan in return for stronger action against Islamist militant groups, and support for a better-run, more honest and responsive Afghan government as part of an overarching focus on fighting terrorism in the region.

What do these two developments suggest? My guess is that Iran, which has historically had great influence in Afghanistan and whose road network supplies the Afghan economy with consumer goods has been mollified in some way. The Iranians are likely to want concessions for any agreements they may enter into with the United States. There may be linkage with Hamas and Hezbollah and with Iranian nuclear weapons. But we don’t know what just yet. Exactly what price the US will pay for cooperation with the Iranian remains to be seen. With respect to shutting down the Taliban in the Pashtun areas within Pakistan, the question is whether “assistance” can achieve this, or whether the assistance will be used Pakistan for purposes other than intended. Taken together, the two stories suggest that the the Obama administration has decided to enlist regional actors and the Afghan government to split up and perhaps neutralize the Pashtun structure but that the price paid to Iran will be high and that the means that are to be employed of unproven effectiveness.  The good news is that Obama may have found a key; the bad news is that the key may be to an empty room.

Open thread.