Friday, August 31, 2007

Perspective: On This Day In Iraq -- August 31st edition

August 31, 2003: Soldiers from the 4th Battalion 42 Field Artillery unload Iraqi detainees from a military truck following a pre-dawn raid in the village of Hamreen.

August 31, 2002:

The real axis of evil

READING the New York Times or the Washington Post doesn’t really give you any idea of how decisions are made in America. Now one might wonder why that should be of any concern to a Pakistani but the fact of the matter is that decisions made at the Pentagon or the White House affect people all over the world...

Coming back to the secretive way in which decision-makers and policy makers work in one of the world’s richest democracies, a disturbing trend has taken shape since the arrival of the Republicans in the White House. The party’s more conservative wing, led by people like vice-president Dick Cheney and close confidants like extreme hawk Richard Perle, has slowly hijacked the more moderate people in the Bush administration. Now, this is something that is discernible to even most followers of American politics in Pakistan. The repercussions, as said earlier, are going to be global, and have in fact started taking effect. Take the case of Israel where a rabidly anti-Palestine Sharon has been greeted often with much applause for his barbaric and cruel programmes against the Palestinians. Then take the case of Iraq, where in the most forceful policy declaration so far Mr Cheney said in a speech before American war veterans that Saddam Hussain was “close” to acquiring nuclear weapons and hence the case for invading Iraq was never stronger.

Writing in the respectable alternative journal, The Nation, Jason Vest details the close connections the right has and the way in which it operates and influences much of American foreign, and even domestic policy. He says the power and behind-the-scenes clout of these people is such that they could be called a “shadow defence establishment”. He says that starting from the Clinton administration a group of what he calls “right-wing defence intellectuals” used two organizations, the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs (JINSA) and the Centre for Security Policy (CSP), to further their agenda.

Mr Vest writes: “Dozens of their members have ascended to powerful government posts, where their advocacy...continues, abetted by the out-of-government adjuncts from which they came. Industrious and persistent, they’ve managed to weave a number of issues-support for national missile defence, opposition to arms control treaties, championing of wasteful weapons systems, arms aid to Turkey and American unilateralism in general-into a hard line, with support for the Israeli right at its core.”

Of the JINSA/CSP hardline, he says that ...the position is that there is “no Israeli occupation”, apparently because in its eyes Israel won all its wars fairly and justly. He adds: “Anyone who dissents—be it Colin Powell’s state department, the CIA or career military officers—is committing heresy against articles of faith that effectively hold there is no difference between US and Israeli national security interests, and that the only way to assure continued safety and prosperity for both countries is through hegemony in the Middle East—a hegemony achieved with the traditional cold war recipe of feints, force, clientism and covert action.”

The two organizations also show up in the recent furore caused by a briefing at the Pentagon calling for Saudi Arabia to be treated as a potential enemy of America. It was the Pentagon’s Defence Policy Board—chaired by JINSA/CSP adviser and former Reagan administration official Richard Perle, and filled with advisers from both groups that was given this briefing which said that Riyadh should be considered an enemy and the only way to deal with it was to bring it to heel through a number of potential mechanisms Mr Vest writes that many of these “potential mechanisms” which mirror JINSA’s own recommendations. In fact, according to him, the final slide in this presentation proposed a “Grand Strategy for the Middle East” which concentrated on “Iraq as the tactical pivot, Saudi Arabia as the strategic pivot [and] Egypt as the prize”.

Michael Ledeen of JINSA is the main proponent for the regime change in Iran, while his “old comrades” like Andrew Marshall and Harold Rhode in the Pentagon’s Office of Net Assessment “actively tinker with ways to re-engineer both the Iranian and Saudi governments.”

JINSA, he writes, is also happy that the US military is trying to secure bases in the strategic Red Sea country of Eritrea, but ignoring that Eritrea suffers from some of the same repressive authoritarianism that the Americans accuse Iraq or Syria of. Mr Vest quotes serving intelligence officials to say that the pervasiveness of the JINSA/CSP combine is such that sometimes officials jokingly refer to it as the real “axis of evil”. In fact, a new term has been gradually coined in this context—those who favour an extreme rightwing ideology in the case of Israel are now called ‘Likudniks’, a reference to the mainstream right-wing party in Israel.

Again the group’s influence on foreign policy can be gauged by the fact that despite America’s intention to phase out civilian aid to Israel by 2007, the policy in Washington now is to increase military aid to Tel Aviv every year so that the decline in the civilian component is more than offset.

Until the beginning of the Bush Administration, JINSA’s board of advisers included Dick Cheney, John Bolton (now under secretary of state for arms control) and Douglas Feith, the third-highest-ranking executive in the Pentagon. Both Richard Perle, derided now in much of the alternative US media as a key influence on Bush, and former CIA chief James Woolsey, two of the loudest supporters of an attack on Iraq, are still on the board. JINSA members often write op-ed pieces in some of the best-known American papers, especially very right-wing (at least editorially) Wall Street Journal and this, Mr Vest argues, is often a good indicator of what the Pentagon’s civilian leadership thinking.

Read the rest at the Pakistan Dawn

August 31, 2003:

A jolt of reality

The Bush administration finally is showing signs of realism - and maybe even a hint of humility - about the bleak situation in Iraq. The change in attitude, if it is genuine, comes tragically late, but it should be encouraged nevertheless. It could prevent the loss of additional billions of dollars and untold American lives.

Paul Bremer, our top civilian administrator in Iraq, acknowledged last week what his Washington superiors have refused to admit for months: The short-term job of rebuilding Iraq will cost "many tens of billions of dollars." That assessment came the same week the Congressional Budget Office projected a record $480-billion deficit for the coming year - not counting the expense of the Iraq occupation. A clear-eyed assessment of the massive costs facing us in Iraq should add urgency to the administration's efforts to win broader international help in paying the tab.

The rising human toll of the Iraq occupation also seems to be cracking the White House's tough veneer. U.S. forces now have suffered more casualties since May 1, when President Bush declared major combat operations over, than they did in the weeks prior to that premature claim. Meanwhile, conditions on the ground keep getting more dangerous and chaotic for Americans and Iraqis alike.

Our military and civilian leaders continue to resist calls for additional American troops in Iraq - and with good reason. We should be finding ways to reduce our military presence while turning over more duties to Iraqis and troops from other countries. The CentCom commander, Gen. John Abizaid, stressed last week the importance of building a truly international force in Iraq. "You can't underestimate the public perception both within Iraq and within the Arab world about the percentage of the force being so heavily American," he said.

Bremer and Abizaid, our top civilian and military leaders in Iraq, understand the need for more money and manpower from other countries. Persuading other governments to provide that support is a more difficult proposition, and that's where the hint of humility could be crucial.

The Bush administration shouldn't be surprised that most of the rest of the world has been in no rush to bail the United States out in Iraq. The White House arrogantly disregarded the concerns of many of our traditional allies in the months leading up to war. Subsequent revelations that much of the case for war was exaggerated have only added to the raw tensions the prewar debate exposed.

Yet most other governments understand that stabilizing Iraq is in their interests as much as ours. Whether or not Iraq was a breeding ground for terrorism before the war, it surely has become one now. If the civilized world is to rebuild a consensus against terrorism, nuclear proliferation and other threats, Iraq is the logical place to begin.

The Bush administration still can win a broad international commitment to Iraq - if only it will show more flexibility than it did before the war began. Countries such as India and Turkey have signaled a willingness to send significant forces to Iraq once such a mission receives a U.N. mandate. U.S. officials have insisted on maintaining command of all military operations in Iraq, but that should be a simple matter to resolve. Only a fraction of the work being done by our overextended troops qualifies as traditional combat operations. Our commanders should be happy to see Iraqis and international forces take over the policing, social work and other noncombat duties our troops are being forced to perform. Other governments also are ready to contribute more financial aid to Iraq once they receive stronger assurances from Washington that their efforts will go to the benefit of the local population rather than U.S. contractors.

In 2000, President Bush promised a more humble U.S. foreign policy, but the world now knows better than to expect him or his inner circle to admit they miscalculated the risks of going it virtually alone in Iraq. At this point, Americans can only hope that the White House, which was arrogant to the point of hubris in envisioning a quick, easy and popular war, won't allow stubbornness to stand in the way of winning the international support it so obviously needs now.
Read the rest at the St. Petersberg Times

August 31, 2004:

FBI Talks to Feith, Wolfowitz

The FBI has broadened its investigation of a Pentagon official suspected of giving a top-secret presidential policy directive on Iran to two lobbyists working for AIPAC, who then turned the information over to Israel.

The focus of the investigation is an Iran specialist at the Pentagon named Lawrence Franklin, who works in an office overseen by Douglas J. Feith, the Defense undersecretary for policy. Feith is an influential aide to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld whose previous work included prewar intelligence on Iraq, including purported ties between Saddam Hussein’s regime and the Al-Qaeda terror network.

The fact that the alleged spy is associated with Feith and Wolfowitz may prove embarrassing for the White House. Both officials, actively involved in planning the invasion of Iraq, have been accused of promoting the war to serve Israeli interests.

Early in the Bush administration, Franklin worked at the Defense Intelligence Agency before moving to the Pentagon’s policy branch under Feith three years ago. He is now nearing retirement.

The Washington Post reported yesterday that Franklin had traveled to Israel, including during duty in the Air Force Reserve, where he rose to the rank of colonel and served as a specialist in foreign political-military affairs. He may have been based at the US Embassy in Tel Aviv on those tours, a former co-worker at the DIA told reporters, but was never permanently assigned there.

The FBI spent more than a year covertly investigating Franklin, and even obtained a warrant from a federal court to use electronic surveillance. It is not known whether such surveillance was conducted inside the Pentagon itself, although it has involved at least one of Franklin’s computers.

High-ranking officials at the Defense and State Departments have been interviewed or briefed by FBI agents investigating the case. Among those briefed by the FBI was Feith, said government officials familiar with the sessions. The officials spoke yesterday on condition of anonymity because the probe is continuing.

Agents from the Federal Bureau of Investigation briefed Feith on Sunday in his office at the Pentagon and also asked questions, the officials said. Also recently briefed by the FBI was Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, they said.

Others at State and Defense have been interviewed or briefed over the course of the probe, but the officials declined to provide any other names.

Prosecutors are said to be weighing whether to charge Franklin with the most serious charge of espionage, but the FBI believes Franklin’s spying went well beyond the extensive information-sharing relations that exists between the United States and Israel.

Newsweek magazine reported Sunday the FBI first learned of Franklin’s unusual contacts when agents observed him at a Washington lunch more than a year ago with a lobbyist for AIPAC, and Naor Gilon, a specialist on Iran’s nuclear weapons program and head of the political affairs department at the Israeli Embassy in Washington.

AIPAC is the powerful pro-Israel American Israel Public Affairs Committee based in Washington.

Citing US intelligence officials, Newsweek said Franklin on one occasion allegedly tried to hand over a classified US policy document on Iran, but that the Israeli diplomat refused to take it.

It is here the AIPAC lobbyists could have proved useful as middlemen.

Read the rest at Arab News

August 31, 2005:

Long U.S. Air Force role in Iraq seen

The air force's top general says that U.S. warplanes will have to support Iraq's fledgling security forces well after ground troops eventually withdraw from the country.

The officer, General John Jumper, who is scheduled to step down later this week as the air force chief of staff, predicted Monday that U.S. fighter and reconnaissance aircraft would continue flying missions over Iraq for a long time, until Iraqi forces were capable of fighting insurgents on their own.

"As I see the transition into the hands of the Iraqi military, I will continue to see the need for them to require the support from the air until they're able to set up their own ability to support themselves," Jumper said in a meeting with reporters at the Pentagon. "And that's going to take awhile, even after some future withdrawal of ground forces."

In an interview earlier this month, Jumper was even more explicit when asked about the air force's future in Iraq.

"We will continue with a rotational presence of some type in that area more or less indefinitely," he said then. "We have interests in that part of the world and an interest in staying in touch with the militaries over there."

Read the rest at the International Herald Tribune

August 31, 2006:

The US view of Iraq: we can pull out in a year

The top US general in Iraq yesterday predicted that Iraqi forces would be able to take over security in the country with "very little coalition support" within a year to 18 months. General George Casey did not say anything specific about parallel withdrawals of US troops. Instead, he said American-led coalition forces would pull back into large bases and provide support before leaving.

Gen Casey's predictions earlier in the summer that the US military presence could be reduced from about 130,000 to 100,000 by the end of the year were proved overly optimistic by a surge in sectarian killing. Instead a combat brigade based in Mosul had its tour extended and was sent to Baghdad to help Iraqi troops keep a lid on the bloodshed there, and the overall American forces level rose to 138,000.

US officials pointed optimistically to statistics suggesting that the military focus on the capital had helped to curb sectarian killings between Sunni and Shia groups, though in the past few days the body count has again soared. Yesterday at least 24 people were killed and 55 wounded in a bomb attack on a crowded central Baghdad market, while 12 volunteers were killed in the bombing of an Iraqi army recruitment centre in the Shia town of Hilla.

Despite the violence, Gen Casey was optimistic that Iraqi forces were on schedule to take primary responsibility for security by late 2007 or early 2008. "I don't have a date, but I can see over the next 12 to 18 months, the Iraqi security forces progressing to a point where they can take on the security responsibilities for the country, with very little coalition support," he said in Baghdad. In remarks published by the Associated Press, he added: "We have been on a three-step process to help build the Iraqi security forces." The first step had been to train and equip them and the second was to "put them in the lead, still with our support". The last step would be to "get them to the stage where they independently provide security in Iraq."

Read the rest at the Guardian