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Belmont Club

The Once and Future Has-Been

March 27th, 2013 - 1:00 am

Anyone watching the Middle East will have noticed that all roads lead to Qatar. Reuters reported that President Hamid Karzai, fresh from accusing the US of making a separate peace with the Taliban, made his own journey to the Gulf state in order to prepare to negotiate with … wait for it … the Taliban.

Then there was Moaz al-Khatib, the president of the Syrian National Coalition, who recently resigned his post in protest to ‘outside influence’ taking the seat formerly reserved for Assad at the Arab League, now meeting in Qatar. The Syrian opposition, whoever they may be, now represent Damascus to other Arab states. And they have asked NATO to defend their enclaves within Syria. “I have asked Mr. Kerry to extend the umbrella of the Patriot missiles to cover the Syrian north and he promised to study the subject,” he said.

Lebanon’s Daily Star reports that the center of the Middle East now seems to be Qatar. Of course Qatar is a shorthand that also includes Saudi Arabia.

DOHA, Qatar: Qatar’s emir looked over an assembly of Arab leaders Tuesday as both cordial host and impatient taskmaster. His welcoming remarks to kings, sheiks and presidents across the Arab world quickly shifted to Qatar’s priorities: Rallying greater support for Syrian rebels and helping Palestinians with efforts such as a newly proposed $1 billion fund to protect Jerusalem’s Arab heritage.

No one seemed surprised at the paternal tone or the latest big-money initiative. In a matter of just a few years, hyper-wealthy Qatar has increasingly staked out a leadership role once held by Egypt and helped redefine how Arab states measure influence and ambition.

The United States seems to have given up trying to lead events, appearing to be the tail to the KSA/Qatar kite. Reportage from the New York Times suggests that the CIA has been shipping arms to “insurgents” in the region for some time now. And they’ve given up trying to control who gets them.

In a new report detailing how the CIA helps Arab states buy and transfer arms for Syrian rebels, C. J. Chivers and Eric Schmitt of The New York Times reveal a major flaw in the West’s strategy to arm non-radical Syrian rebels.

A commander of Ahrar Al Sham — one of the largest Islamist militias in Syria — told the Times that the American intelligence officers vetting rebels to determine who should receive the weapons are doing a poor job.

“There are fake Free Syrian Army brigades claiming to be revolutionaries, and when they get the weapons they sell them in trade,” the commander told the Times. …

Hardliners receiving the lion’s share of weapons isn’t a new problem. As far back as October Middle East and U.S. officials told the Times that most of the weapons being sent from Saudi Arabia and Qatar to Syrian rebels were going to hard-line Islamic jihadists as opposed to secular-leaning rebels.

“The opposition groups that are receiving the most of the lethal aid are exactly the ones we don’t want to have it,” one American official familiar with the situation told the New York Times.

Egypt, according to the Financial Times, will soon  become an economic ward of the Gulf states. And America appears to have no choice but meekly go along; chipping in whatever little money it has. “During his trip to Cairo this month John Kerry, secretary of state, warned that it was ‘paramount, essential, urgent that the Egyptian economy … gets back on its feet.’”

Did Kerry, drifting on the waves like the Flying Dutchman, originate that thought or did he just take his cue from the new masters of the region? Egypt needs a bailout. Financial Times writes,  ”the time has come for serious consideration of how the US and its partners, particularly the oil-rich monarchies of the Gulf, can support Egypt’s economy while also steering its politics on to a more consensual track. One idea is the establishment of an international support group, to which Gulf and European allies would make financial contributions.”

So it has been written, and if Egypt is worried about public opinion in America it isn’t showing. The New York Times reports that five anti-Islamist activists were ordered arrested by Morsi for criticizing the government on social media. “One of the five surrendered Tuesday and was released without bail. The others are still at large.”

In fact, Fox News reports that Islamic hard-liners turned a mosque in suburban Cairo into torture chamber for Christians. “‘[We] deeply regret what has happened and apologize to the people of Moqattam,’ mosque officials said in a statement, adding that “they had lost control over the mosque at the time.”

It’s beginning to look like President Obama actually meant what he said in using the phrase “leading from behind”. Washington is starting to act like the junior partner in the coalition. This has not gone unnoticed. The Washington Post writes, “a decade after Iraq invasion, America’s voice in Baghdad has gone from a boom to a whimper.”

With no troops on the ground to project force and little money to throw around, the United States has become an increasingly powerless stakeholder in the new Iraq. It has failed to substantively rein in what it sees as government abuses that have the potential to spark a new sectarian war. It also has had little success in persuading Baghdad to stop tacitly supporting Iran’s lethal aid to Damascus, an important accelerant in the neighboring conflict.

Maybe Kerry should go to Qatar. After all that’s where everybody else is. America’s new powerlessness is perceived by some as a choice.

“No one thinks America has influence now in Iraq,” Deputy Prime Minister Saleh al-Mutlak, the most senior Sunni in the [Iraqi] coalition government, said in an interview. “America could still do a lot if they wanted to. But I think because Obama chose a line that he is taking care of interior matters rather than taking care of outside problems, that made America weak — at least in Iraq.”

Some American diplomats are hinting that weakness is part of a deep and clever plan that conservatives haven’t a hope of understanding. The Washington Post continues:

In some ways, two senior U.S. officials said, having a smaller mission in Baghdad, with no U.S. troops, has set the tone for a healthier relationship. They noted, for instance, that once American troops withdrew at the end of 2011, Shiite militias stopped lobbing rockets at the embassy.

“The smaller our presence, the more strategic our presence, the more effective we can be,” said another senior U.S. official involved in Iraq policy, adding that American officials routinely deliver tough messages to the Iraqi government in private.

That is to say if you’re insignificant enough everyone will ignore you.

But those who can’t buy into the ‘weak is strong’ line should consider what the new American passivity may mean. It implies that America must follow the lead of  the KSA and Qatar in the coming confrontation with Iran. By choosing weakness it has been forced to fall into the rear ranks of the Sunnis in the looming Sunni-Shia conflict.

YouTube Preview Image

Spiegel, interviewing Vali Nasr, dean of the School of Advanced International Studies in Washington, explores America’s withdrawal from the Middle East. Nasr’s main complaint is that it is withdrawing without anything to fill the vacuum of its departure. It can leave the region, Nasr says, because it believes it can do without Middle Eastern energy, simply by relying upon domestic petroleum breakthroughs it has done its level best to strangle in the cradle.

Nasr: We need to develop structures that would stand in place of the United States withdrawing. We did this in Europe after World War II. We have done it in Asia. But we have spent zero amount of effort in creating a regional political architecture that could potentially replace the role that we played in the region. We have told the Middle East very clearly that the United States no longer needs its energy, and thinks it can manage from a distance, like in a remote-control approach….

SPIEGEL: In your book, you say Obama’s foreign policy is controlled by a small group of loyal advisors in the White House. Even heavyweights like former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton or AfPak-Special Representative Richard Holbrooke had a hard time getting around this “Berlin Wall” of advisors, as you call it.

Nasr: Under Obama, it has been difficult for professional diplomats to make the case for engagement and diplomacy, whether it is on Syria or Iran or on Afghanistan, Pakistan, or on Egypt. The larger problem is that the administration has come to view disengagement from the Middle East and a minimalist foreign policy as a good foreign policy. You can justify this in the context of economic problems at home or a pivot to Asia, but the reality is that just when the Middle East is changing, we are adopting a minimalist foreign policy that basically equates doing less with effectiveness.

SPIEGEL: This approach seems to work for Obama. He was re-elected partly because his foreign policy is perceived as successful.

Nasr: But only because we associated successful foreign policy with doing less, winding down wars and not starting new ones. If you are not doing anything, you have fewer headaches and fewer failures as well. But in reality, that does not speak to America’s global leadership, nor does it really protect our vital interests down the road.

In a world where weakness is strength, relying on the KSA and Qatar to safeguard American interests indeed makes sense. Perhaps conservatives misunderstood Obama all along. He never lied; he told the truth all along. It’s a better world with a smaller America.


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Top Rated Comments   
The National Intelligence Estimate that downgraded the possibility of an Iranian bomb in order to discredit GWB is why this has gone so far. Had the estimate given any credence at all to the program efforts would have been made to contain Iran and would have valued a US presence in Iraq. Any aggression by Iran therefore will be the direct responsibility of the intelligence community who played politics with our lives. This is another example of coercion and violence directed at the American people by its government. Can we trust them to do what is best for the economy? Fat chance.


1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
The two would seem to go hand in hand but I suspect the cause of small America will be the rise of the big government nomenklatura.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
A WSJ article says that Iran can literally build a bomb between IAEA inspections, a period of about 2 weeks.

"According to IAEA officials, Iran already knows enough to create the non-fissile parts of a basic nuclear bomb. With this knowledge, a country such as Iran could manufacture nuclear weapon components, or even assemble complete bombs, in small, secret facilities. That is one reason why U.S. intelligence was surprised by how quickly China, India, North Korea, Pakistan and the Soviet Union obtained nuclear weapons—and underestimated Iraq's progress in 1990 and overestimated it in 2002. ...

We estimate that Iran, on its current trajectory, will by mid-2014 be able to dash to fissile material in one to two weeks unless its production of 20%-enriched uranium is curtailed. If the number or efficiency of Iran's centrifuges unexpectedly increases, or if Tehran has a secret operational enrichment site, Tehran could reach critical capability before mid-2014. The date could be delayed, however, if Iran encounters unexpected difficulties in centrifuge operation or can no longer import centrifuge equipment and materials from China and elsewhere "

http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424127887324789504578380801062046108.html

This implies that administration attempts to fine tune, manage or finesse Iran's nuclear ambitions are a fantasy. To all intents and purposes Iran has already got the bomb. Not only that, if the analysts are right, nuclear breakout by the worst states on the planet is imminent.

The article ends:

"Washington and its allies must insist now that Iran verifiably stop increasing the number and quality of its centrifuges. Anything short of that will leave Iran far too close to an undetectable breakout capacity. "

If it didn't happen when it much easier to stop; when the goal line was much further, why should it happen now that Iran is a yard from the goal-line?

1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
All Comments   (52)
All Comments   (52)
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No sane, intelligent person who did NOT want to destroy America's credibility and position in the world could ever appoint a Warren Christopher/Madeline Allbright/Hillary Clinton/John Kerry to represent us to the world. If it is all a cruel, sick joke, I'd like to know exactly where the chuckles are coming from for target coordinates. Is Soetoro sane and intelligent? I think so.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment

wretchard
"This is the Democrats' doing, period."

Therefore, just as a convoy travels at the speed of the slowest ship, the realistic upper bound on any foreign policy action must be what the Democrats will support. One may or may not like it, but there it is.

Surely we have learned by now. The upper bound of any foreign policy action is the fact that in any international conflict or difference; the Democrats will side with the enemies of the United States. They will do so openly if they can. Covertly if they must.

In the last 40+ years, name one conflict or international disagreement where the Democratic party supported this country, other than when forced to for periods of minutes to hours for the sake of public relations. In the same period of time, name any domestic initiative that they have supported that has not damaged the country. Name one domestic initiative that they have opposed that the country would not be better for if it had passed. There is a level of consistency there that has to be deliberate and is a cross between ideology and faith.

Not saying that the Republicans in the last 20 years have been any different; largely because they want to be Democrats.

The 40 year cut off date is about when politics stopping at the water's edge no longer was acceptable to Democrats.

Hard to measure the speed of the convoy, when half of the makeup is enemy commerce raiders.

Subotai Bahadur
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
PL & firecapt - I have always thought The Won resembled Chauncey Gardiner in no small ways.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
I think it has been pretty much established with this Administration and its "Smart Diplomacy" that there never was nor will there ever be any there there.
All we can hope for is that the coming unpleasantness is between actors with regional disagreements, that none of them swing for the fence and hit the Great Satan.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
"Some American diplomats are hinting that weakness is part of a deep and clever plan that conservatives haven’t a hope of understanding."

We've been hearing this about Obama since 2008 on matters foreign and domestic... "Obama's playing 11-dimensional chess while everybody else is playing checkers" or some such nonsense.

But when are the fruits of this "genius" supposed to appear? So far, it seems all the naive cluelessness is just a cover for an even greater naive cluelessness. We've had enough of that already - when's the genius stuff gonna show?
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
"""" America’s voice in Baghdad has gone from a boom to a whimper """"

This is the Democrats' doing, period. It was the Democrats who threw Vietnam away by abandoning a S. Vietnam that had managed, with U.S. air power at its side, to throw back N. Vietnamese invasions and incursions after American withdrawal of ground troops following the agreement with N. Viet Nam. It was Democrats who sowed the seeds of American defeat. They continue to do so now.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
"This is the Democrats' doing, period."

Therefore, just as a convoy travels at the speed of the slowest ship, the realistic upper bound on any foreign policy action must be what the Democrats will support. One may or may not like it, but there it is.

It's like being Dr. Jekyll. You can only ever agree to a social engagement that either last a short time or in some way takes into account the fact that you will perforce become Mr. Hyde. If the "world" wants longer term consistency it cannot solely depend on US hegemony because that is bound to blink like a Christmas tree light.

That's the nature of the beast.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
"It's Dr. Jekyll. Let us Hyde."
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Our John Kerry he yells Whoa!
I think I should be in Doha
Which I do believe’s in Qatar
Where my pals once took a flutter
On a horse whose name was Assad
But who ran a race that’s as bad
As the one I ran windsurfing
Where my fastball it was nerfing
So I’m stuck here in the gutter
Just Obama’s hack in Qater

1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Eliot Cohen, who directs the Strategic Studies program at Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, has come to the same conclusion but in a more scholarly way.

"American Withdrawal and Global Disorder --- As Obama ends U.S. security guarantees, nuclear weapons and violence will spread."

"Americans take for granted the world in which they grew up—a world in which, for better or worse, the U.S. was the ultimate security guarantor of scores of states, and in many ways the entire international system.

Today we are informed by many politicians and commentators that we are weary of those burdens—though what we should be weary of, given that our children aren't conscripted and our taxes aren't being raised in order to pay for those wars, is unclear. The truth is that defense spending at the rate of 4% of gross domestic product (less than that sustained with ease by Singapore) is eminently affordable. ...

A world in which the U.S. abnegates its leadership will be a world of unrestricted self-help in which China sets the rules of politics and trade in Asia, mayhem and chaos is the order of the day in the Middle East, and timidity and appeasement paralyze the free European states. A world, in short, where the strong do what they will, the weak suffer what they must, and those with an option hurry up and get nuclear weapons.

Not a pleasant thought."

http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424127887324196204578300262454939952.html

The question is whether the withdrawal is fait accompli. My guess is that it is. It was not quite a choice, since the administration never described what's happened in those terms. The transaction was more alike signing away a birthright for a "mess of pottage". It happened in a fit of absent mindedness, in a throwaway gesture to cool. An impulse buy that may prove unaffordable.

If it's water over the dam there's nothing else but to transition into this other world. For better or worse the electorate chose a man who, by incompetence or design, pulled the plug on the old one. Perhaps it was inevitable. Historians will have all of the future to argue that one out.

But for now it is likely to be unpredictable sailing until the attractors assert themselves and things settle down to bad news or good, as events may have it.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Wretchard,

Have you noticed Der Spiegel is full of high dudgeon today about Vlad the Bad's evil crackdown, not three weeks since Frau Bundeskanzler ordered an offensive against a Russian offshore 'tax haven'? Seems like the German-Russian repproachment has reverted from the Rapallo stage to the Barbarossa stage. In financial and rhetorical terms, of course.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment

As you have pointed out Wretchard, the blocking position in Iraq having been abandoned would require a major effort to retrieve. Give it a few more years, and Eastern Europe may be once again lost to the Russians. I guess I see America's withdrawal as an ongoing process, one which may be reversed at any time.

The bill in blood and toil seems to go up monthly, though. In order to regain the confidence of the world, we will have to be seen as having learned our lesson as our grandfathers did.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Wretchard said:

"The question is whether the withdrawal is fait accompli. My guess is that it is. .... It happened in a fit of absent mindedness, in a throwaway gesture to cool. An impulse buy that may prove unaffordable. ... For better or worse the electorate chose a man who, by incompetence or design, pulled the plug on the old one. Perhaps it was inevitable. Historians will have all of the future to argue that one out."

I'd love to read that future history. Was our final collapse simply due to entropy or Gramsci agitprop that the Soviets launched 50 years ago or is there some evil master mind behind it all? Again, Hanlon's Razor says it's simple stupidity....
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Cue up Active Measures....

Central (First Directorate of the SVR/ KGB/ NKVD) is m o r e than up to the challenge.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Kerry is surprising me, he seems to be taking his position as Secretary of State seriously. He may still be dumb as a rock, but an earnest and energetic rock might just get something done in spite of himself, even if what he gets done is to make it entirely clear how little is really getting done. He doesn't seem to be into the "reset button" and wine-tasting modes that characterized the Hildabeast era.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
The National Intelligence Estimate that downgraded the possibility of an Iranian bomb in order to discredit GWB is why this has gone so far. Had the estimate given any credence at all to the program efforts would have been made to contain Iran and would have valued a US presence in Iraq. Any aggression by Iran therefore will be the direct responsibility of the intelligence community who played politics with our lives. This is another example of coercion and violence directed at the American people by its government. Can we trust them to do what is best for the economy? Fat chance.


1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
The blame for that NIE goes to Thomas Fingar, Chairman of the National Intelligence Council, who retired in the late summer of 2008 and immediately went to advise then Senator Obama.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Prof. Thomas Fingar is an interesting guy. As tdlinva said, Fingar was the main actor behind the bogus NIE falsely claiming that Iran had no nuclear weapons program. Fingar's NIE gambit was politically brilliant. It so completely blind sided President George W. Bush that any option of preemptive action against Iran was politically impossible. If you read between the lines of Bush's autobiography, it is clear that Bush recognized that he had been completely out maneuvered. What makes the NIE gambit even more interesting was that Fingar structured it as a sacrifice play. Fingar knew that after he orchestrated the NIE, his career within the national intelligence community was finished (He had been a rising star). Fingar had an academic position waiting for him as a professor at Stanford University. He tossed that NIE over his shoulder like a live hand grenade as he walked out the doors of the CIA for the last time. Through out the Bush Presidency, there had been someone deep within the national intelligence community leaking sensitive classified information to the MSM. The leaks were always designed to cause maximum damage to the Bush Presidency and showed considerable political cunning. I've long wondered whether Fingar was behind those leaks.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Harping on this point a little bit more. I respect Hanlon's Razor to never attribute to brilliance what can also be explained as simple stupidity. With Prof. Fingar, we saw an example of a university academic working within the national intelligence infrastructure to undermine an acting President through use of the MSM as a political tool. $64,000 question: Was Fingar the instigator or was there someone with even greater subtlety orchestrating Fingar and the MSM? It's interesting that the calamity of the Obama presidency was essentially an MSM construct enabled by someone with very deep pockets. Could the same people who were pulling Fingar's strings also have been behind the scenes in making Obama president? Again, this assumes some sort of George Soros on steroids with a deep reach within the national intelligence community and the MSM. That level of evil mastermind is almost beyond Lex Luthor and forces one to invoke Hanlon's Razor.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Fingar headed the Office of Intelligence and Research at the Department of State. He is not academic. He is an intelligence professional. He is actually a personable, fairly easy going guy.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
I beg to differ. Fingar is an academic. I'd provide the link to his curriculum vitae but for some weird reason it does not work. Google "Thomas Fingar" and follow the links to Stanford University. You'll eventually find the PDF of his c.v. Fingar got his Ph.D. from Stanford in 1977. He worked at Stanford until 1985 and then began his career within the national intelligence community. Fingar returned to Stanford as a professor in 2009. For what it's worth, I got my Ph.D. from Stanford in 1984. His picture looks familiar. I probably walked by him more than once.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Yeah, that's a 24 year career. Sounds like a professional to me. When do you become an intelligence professional? 25 years? 30 years? I have 29 years in the business and have the magic title. Do I count as a professional?
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Also, Adolf Hitler was a personable, fairly easy going guy. The Devil is always a nice guy that want to invite home for dinner.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
No, someone in Fingar's position has no need to leak to press. He had access to HPSCI and SSSI staffers and could disseminate damaging information through official channels.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Someone was continually leaking classified information to Seymour M. Hersh and the New York Times. Had this someone been caught, they would have had their government careers terminated much Daniel Ellsberg's and been subjected to legal prosecution.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Yeah, but he could not control the info flow as well via the Intelligence Commty staffers compared to a direct leak himself.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
I don't think you understand the NIE process. The head of the NIC and the NIO's control the process. They structure what are know as the key judgments. The "KJs" receive a wider dissemination than the full text. That is what is usually leaked. What Fingar did with the Iran nuclear NIE was to structure the KJs in such a way as to raise doubts about the state of advancement of Iran's nuclear program. The intelligence behind the particular KJ was from an earlier period and spun in a negative way.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
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