Posts Tagged ‘President’

Holder’s Investigations into Torture and Covert Operations Leaks–An Obama Cover-up?

Tuesday, June 26th, 2012

Barack Obama thinks he’s always “the smartest person in the room”, and that he is a lot smarter than we are. Or maybe, accustomed as he is to a sycophantic press, he just thinks he is more clever than we are, and that he can sneak things by us and we won’t notice.

Obama, the Torture Convention, and Holder’s Investigations into Cases of Torture

An early example of the foregoing was the way President Obama dealt with the issue of potential prosecution of past and present officials for their involvement in the torture policy of the Bush administration.

First, Attorney General Eric Holder initiated an investigation into cases of alleged use of harsh interrogation techniques by the CIA, on August 24, 2009. At the same time he exempted from eventual prosecution all those who had acted pursuant to legal advice from the Justice Department, stating:

On January 2, 2008, Attorney General Michael Mukasey appointed Assistant United States Attorney John Durham of the District of Connecticut to conduct a criminal investigation into the destruction of interrogation videotapes by the Central Intelligence Agency. On August 24, 2009, based on information the Department received pertaining to alleged CIA mistreatment of detainees, I announced that I had expanded Mr. Durham’s mandate to conduct a preliminary review into whether federal laws were violated in connection with the interrogation of specific detainees at overseas locations. I made clear at that time that the Department would not prosecute anyone who acted in good faith and within the scope of the legal guidance given by the Office of Legal Counsel regarding the interrogation of detainees. Accordingly, Mr. Durham’s review examined primarily whether any unauthorized interrogation techniques were used by CIA interrogators, and if so, whether such techniques could constitute violations of the torture statute or any other applicable statute.

Second, the Justice Department concluded in a report on February 19, 2010, that the legal guidance drafted by Justice Department officials authorizing the full range of “harsh interrogation techniques” did not constitute professional misconduct.

Third, Holder announced on June 30, 2011 that the review of cases was complete and that only two cases, which involved the death in custody of detainees, would be prosecuted. None of the other cases warranted prosecution, he concluded, stating:

Mr. Durham has advised me of the results of his investigation, and I have accepted his recommendation to conduct a full criminal investigation regarding the death in custody of two individuals. Those investigations are ongoing. The Department has determined that an expanded criminal investigation of the remaining matters is not warranted.
–“Statement of the Attorney General Regarding Investigation into the interrogation of certain detainees, National Journal, June 30, 2011 (full text of statement),

See Eric Lichtblau and Eric Schmitt, “U.S. Widens Inquiries Into 2 Jail Deaths,” New York Times, July 1, 2011

The authors of the legal guidance authorizing torture (as it is defined in the Convention on Torture) were exonerated from “professional misconduct”. In other words, the Justice Department concluded that their drafting and approvals of legal memoranda authorizing torture did not constitute misconduct–i.e., that what appear to be clear violations of the torture convention do not constitute “misconduct”.  This is a rather extraordinary conclusion. 

The due obedience defense adopted by Holder protected all the individuals directly involved in executing acts of torture against detainees, with the two exceptions mentioned above. The policymakers at higher levels were never investigated for potential violations of the Torture Convention.

Obama and Holder thus avoided their legal duty, under both U.S. law and the Convention on Torture, to prosecute those responsible for the torture policy and its implementation. By June 30, 2011, the press and the media had long since turned their attention away from torture.  No one really cared about, even if they noticed, Obama’s and Holder’s legerdemain in excluding from the investigation both the principal policymakers involved in the formulation of the policy and those who actually carried it out.

The price paid by America in proceeding in this manner, in terms of international law, was high. The United States adopted the “due obedience” defense in cases involving torture (and by implication other international crimes), despite the fact that the “due obedience defense” was explicitly rejected in the Nuremberg Principles and at the Nuremberg trials of Nazi war criminals following World War II, and by the U.N. Convention Against Torture, to which the United States is a party. The Convention on Torture provides the following:

Article 2 (3). An order from a superior officer or a public authority may not be invoked as a justification of torture.

In addition, the Defense Department acted to remove the issue of torture from public debate through an order on November 11, 2009, which prohibited the release of any photographs depicting torture from September 11, 2001 through January 22, 2009.

See also Alexander Abdo, “The White House’s blemished record of disclosure on Bush-era torture; Since publishing the ‘torture memos’, the Obama adminstration has obfuscated far too much about CIA interrogation techniques,” The Guardian, June 26, 2012.

Nonetheless, under the Torture Convention other countries which are parties to the treaty have a continuing obligation to assume jurisdiction over individuals responsible for torture, including its planning and coordination, when such individuals are found within their territory. The second state must then inquire of the United States whether it wishes to prosecute the individual, and if it receives a negative reply, it is under a continuing obligation to prosecute the individual concerned.

At some point in the future, this requirement could complicate travel plans for U.S. officials from the Bush administration–including some still in the the government, such as John Brennan, the president’s counter-terrorism adviser.

See The Trenchant Observer, “The Clock is Ticking: U.S. Application of the Torture Convention,” February 20, 2010.

If one can draw one overriding lesson from the way the torture investigations were handled, it would have to be that Obama and Holder were using sleight of hand to give the impression they were investigating those potentially responsible for violating the Torture Convention, when they were not. They are clever lawyers, who need to be watched very carefully in order to fully understand what they are actually doing, and not just what they give the appearance of doing.

Obama’s Coverup of the White House Leaks?

Now, President Obama appears to be engaged in a similar act of legerdemain.

First, following a number of news stories in recent weeks and months which are obviously based on classified information, at a press conference on June 8, 2012, the president was asked by David Jackson of USA Today the following question:

Q Thank you, sir. There are a couple of books out with, essentially, details about national security issues. There are reports of terrorist kill lists that you supervise and there are reports of cyber-attacks on the Iranian nuclear program that you ordered. Two things. First of all, what’s your reaction of this information getting out in public? And secondly, what’s your reaction to lawmakers who accuse your team of leaking these details in order to promote your reelection bid?

In a lengthy (four minutes) but opague response, the president seemed to say that he would not tolerate such leaks, that mechanisms were in place to find and punish anyone guilty of leaking such classified information, which in some cases is even illegal, and that he would act to identify the source of the leaks.

For videos of his response, see White House Press Office, video, June 8, 2012.

The video also follows below:

Or see the C-Span video here.

The question and answer on this issue begins at minute 23:00 of the video.

A transcript of the question and answer regarding leaks follows:

THE PRESIDENT: Good morning. I just want to say a few words about the economy, and then I will take some of your questions.

All right. David Jackson.

Q Thank you, sir. There are a couple of books out with, essentially, details about national security issues. There are reports of terrorist kill lists that you supervise and there are reports of cyber-attacks on the Iranian nuclear program that you ordered. Two things. First of all, what’s your reaction of this information getting out in public? And secondly, what’s your reaction to lawmakers who accuse your team of leaking these details in order to promote your reelection bid?

THE PRESIDENT: Well, first of all, I’m not going to comment on the details of what are supposed to be classified items. Second, as Commander-in-Chief, the issues that you have mentioned touch on our national security, touch on critical issues of war and peace, and they’re classified for a reason — because they’re sensitive and because the people involved may, in some cases, be in danger if they’re carrying out some of these missions. And when this information, or reports, whether true or false, surface on the front page of newspapers, that makes the job of folks on the front lines tougher and it makes my job tougher — which is why since I’ve been in office, my attitude has been zero tolerance for these kinds of leaks and speculation.

Now, we have mechanisms in place where if we can root out folks who have leaked, they will suffer consequences. In some cases, it’s criminal — these are criminal acts when they release information like this. And we will conduct thorough investigations, as we have in the past.

The notion that my White House would purposely release classified national security information is offensive. It’s wrong. And people I think need to have a better sense of how I approach this office and how the people around me here approach this office.

We’re dealing with issues that can touch on the safety and security of the American people, our families, or our military personnel, or our allies. And so we don’t play with that. And it is a source of consistent frustration, not just for my administration but for previous administrations, when this stuff happens. And we will continue to let everybody know in government, or after they leave government, that they have certain obligations that they should carry out.

But as I think has been indicated from these articles, whether or not the information they’ve received is true, the writers of these articles have all stated unequivocally that they didn’t come from this White House. And that’s not how we operate.

Q Are there leak investigations going on now — is that what you’re saying?

THE PRESIDENT: What I’m saying is, is that we consistently, whenever there is classified information that is put out into the public, we try to find out where that came from.

Okay? Thank you very much, everybody. Thank you.

–Remarks by the President, June 8, 2012.

Subsequently, also on June 8, Attorney General Holder announced that he had appointed two Justice Department prosecutors (in the chain of command) to conduct investigations into at least some of the leaks. Republicans, meanwhile, have been calling for the appointment of an Independent Prosecutor.

Significantly, leaks relating to procedures employed and the president’s role in conducting “targeted killings” may not have been referred to Attorney General Holder for investigation, at least according to some reports.

See “White House adviser rebuffs questions on leak probe, amid warnings of security risk,” FoxNews.com, June 17, 2012. According to Fox News,

“Recent leaks on sensitive programs have contributed to two New York Times stories, one on the campaign of cyberwarfare against Iran and one on the president’s involvement in approving the “kill list” of terror targets for U.S. drone strikes — as well as the Associated Press newsbreak on a foiled bomb plot out of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.

“Fox News has confirmed that investigations are currently looking into the leaks on the anti-Iran campaign and the bomb plot — it’s unclear whether any probe will examine leaks on the drone program.”

If true, this would appear to be a clear departure from what President Obama said he would do at the press conference on June 8, and to constitute either an admission that those leaks came from the White House or a coverup to hide the identities of the leakers.

In the meantime, judging from the time taken to conduct investigations into cases of individuals involved in torture, and the results, we are likely to be well past the presidential elections in November before any results of the investigations are announced. One can only speculate on what prosecutions, if any, might be undertaken, and when the corresponding individuals might be brought to trial.

The significant point here is not that the individuals who leaked this information must be tried, though certainly in the case of the cyber warfare against Iran a very strong case might be made.

It must be acknowledged that we as citizens depend on probing investigative reporting on covert and classified actions by our government, in order to have some sense of the policies the government is carrying out in our name. In general, journalists should not be prosecuted for gathering and reporting such information, or for maintaining the confidentiality of their sources.

The point is that Obama’s White House appeared to be leaking highly classfied information for political purposes, to portray the president as a strong and decisive leader on foreign policy. If this is true, it reflects the hubris and unprincipled partisanship of President Obama and his “foreign policy juggernaut”, as well as the incompetence of “the gang who couldn’t shoot straight”.

We deserve to know, soon, if that was the case and who the leakers were.

We also deserve to know if the president, at the June 8 news conference, was telling the truth in responding to the reporter’s question, in general, and in particular with respect to leaks regarding “targeted killings”.

If he wasn’t, as we noted on June 10, we may be witnessing a “Watergate moment”. 

The Trenchant Observer

observer@trenchantobserver.com
www.twitter.com/trenchantobserv

For links to other articles by The Trenchant Observer, click on the title at the top of this page to go to the home page, and then use the “Search” Box or consult the information in the bottom right hand corner of the home page. The Articles on Syria page can also be found here. The Articles on Targeted Killings page can also be found here.

The smartest person in the room, and the Afghanistan policy review

Sunday, October 24th, 2010

Continuing Reflections on “the Smartest Person in the Room”

In a previous article, we offered some observations on the report that President Obama always considers himself to be the smartest person in any room.

See “Is Obama the Smartest Person in the Room?” October 22, 2010

This is a theme worth pursuing, for it touches on the issue of the hubris of the Obama administration, which grates even on some of the president’s strongest supporters.

Some 35 years ago, Richard C. Holbrooke, currently President Obama’s Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, offered a few insights into the issue of “the smartest person in the room.”

See Richard C. Holbrooke, “The smartest man in the room,” Harper’s Magazine, June, 1975.

Wrote Holbrooke,

In a similar instance, reported by Stewart Alsop, a senior CIA official who regularly briefed Defense Secretary McNamara on Indochina, using all the statistics and data compiled by the Pentagon, suddenly asked McNamara if he could offer a personal observation. When McNamara agreed, according to Alsop, the official said that he had spent much of his life working on Southeast Asia and, yes, he knew that the statistics showed that we were winning but that somehow, deep down in his bones, he just didn’t feel comfortable with all those signs of progress. Deep down he felt that things were rotten. McNamara asked for reasons, data, empirical evidence. The official couldn’t give any, he said; it was just a feeling, McNamara thanked him for his comments, dismissed him, and asked the CIA to send over another briefer.

Briefing someone that smart could be very difficult…People who had important things to say were cut off in mid-thought because they were not articulate enough to frame their thoughts in the precise, logical, bright way that was desired, if not required.

But sometimes the slower-speaking, less smart person was right; sometimes the smart ones were wrong. So finally it started to become clear: the smartest man in the room is not always right.

Worth noting is that Holbrooke is apparently not among the president’s favorite advisers.

Bob Woodward in Obama’s Wars reports, ” It wasn’t until well into the Obama presidency that Holbrooke learned definitively how much the president didn’t care for him.” Woodward recounts how Holbrooke had asked hiim to call him “Richard” instead of ” Dick”, which Obama told others he found “unusual” and even “strange”. (p. 211) One might equally note that mortifying a key adviser is a bit unusual and strange as well.

Earlier in the book Woodward quotes Vice-President Joe Biden as telling Obama, “He’s the most egotistical bastard I’ve ever met, but maybe the right guy for the job.” (p. 72)

Reading Obama’s Wars, one comes away with the impression that the strategic review of Afghanistan policy was managed by a president who thought he was the smartest person in the room, and who conducted the meetings he attended in a tense and formal manner which did not encourage genuine debate.

Weeks were spent discussing whether the mission of the allies and the additional forces requested by General Stanley McChrystal was to be to “defeat” the Taliban, or to “degrade” the Taliban so they couldn’t overthrow the government in Kabul. The practical significance of this distinction, on the ground, appears to be at best dubious.

Very little attention, according to Woodward, was paid to the question of what was likely to happen in Afghanistan after the U.S. drew down its forces, and just what a negotiated settlement with the Taliban would lead to after ISAF forces had withdrawn.

This was not Bobby Kennedy leading the sessions of the Ex-Com set up by President John Kennedy to advise him during the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962. Reading Woodward’s book, one is struck by the lack of discussion of how to handle the election fraud underway in Afghanistan, and of the full implications of sticking with Karzai. By not discussing this critical issue, and not having CIA Director Panetta or Director of National Intelligence (DNI) Dennis Blair present at the last meetings, a critical opportunity to change the dynamics of the governance game in Kabul was lost. This opportunity was right under their noses, so to speak, but–at least according to Woodward–not directly discussed.

Ambassador Eikenberry was absolutely rignt in pointing out in his cables that the Afghanistan policy review had a very narrow focus, and did not adequately take a wide range of considerations into account.

The way this policy review was managed by the president is troubling, and requires further reflection.

The Trenchant Observer

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E-mail: observer@trenchantobserver.com

Comments are invited.

After McChrystal: Obama, Petraeus, and Fixing a Failed Strategy in Afghanistan

Wednesday, June 23rd, 2010

The newspapers will be filled for days with information and views regarding Obama’s June 23 firing of General Stanley McChrystal and his replacement by General David Petraeus as commander of U.S. and allied forces in Afghanistan.

McChrystal’s negative comments about his colleagues as reported in Rolling Stone magazine reflected very poor judgment, as McChrystal himself and also Secretary of Defense Robert Gates admitted. There were also previous instances of very poor judgment by McChrystal since he assumed command in Afghanistan.

A number of questions arose which Obama may have taken into account in reaching his decision to replace McChrystal.

One of the most important was the question of how McChrystal could be an effective team member on a team about whose members he or members of his entourage had spoken in such disparaging terms.

How could he lead the ISAF coalition, or keep France on board with the coalition? Did McChrystal bear any responsibility for the fact that some of our closest allies (e.g., Canada) are withdrawing their forces from Afghanistan?

Even more fundamental questions were raised, however, which now will have to be considered anew and with fresh eyes by Petraeus, Obama, and the new team.

Perhaps the most important is what the strategy of the United States and coalition forces is going to be going forward, after the abject failure of the current strategy led by McChrystal.

The official U.S. counterinsurgency strategy for Afghanistan is to secure and protect the population rather than focus on killing the enemy. The real policy as it is currently being implemented is one that focuses on killing leaders of the Taliban through predator drone strikes and assassination by special operations forces.

The lack of progress in Marja reveals that the much-touted concept of a “government in a box” to be installed following the military’s flushing out of the Taliban is a cruel illusion.

It is not going to happen, not under the government of Hamid Karzai.

The real policy is one of beating down the enemy through the use of the U.S. killing machine that couples real-time intelligence with the capabilities of drone aircraft and special operations forces on the ground. Reports that half the U.S. forces being deployed to Afghanistan are special ops and similar troops underlines this point.

The real policy, led by McChrystal, has not worked. The situation in Afghanistan has not improved since he assumed command. To the contrary, there are many indications that it has continued to deteriorate.

As for our counter-insurgency strategy, the strategy laid out by David Petraeus and his colleagues in the U.S. Army Counterinsurgency Manual in December 2006, it is submitted, requires the presence of troops on the ground in numbers that far exceed the number of troops now in Afghanistan, even after the so-called “surge”. Should the U.S. begin to withdraw troops in mid-2011, as promised, the idea that we are implementing Petraeus’ counter-insurgency strategy as enunciated in U.S. military doctrine would become even more divorced from reality than it is today.

To be sure, the 2011 date for “the commencement” of a process of withdrawal, subject to conditions on the ground, was never more than a political fiction used to make the increase in American troops politically palatable back home in the U.S.

Now, things are going really badly in Afghanistan.

The principal men that permitted the U.S. to have some independence from Ahmed Karzai’s control of intelligence provided to the U.S. military in the South, Amrullah Saleh, the former Afghan intelligence chief, with longstanding and close ties to the CIA, and Hanif Atmar, Minister of the Interior, are gone. Saleh was fired by Karzai several weeks ago, when the Minister of the Interior in charge of the police was also sacked. These were two men viewed by U.S. officials as able counterparts.

The end result of their dismissal was that Ahmed Wali Karzai, President Karzai’s half-brother, has an even firmer grip on the flow of intelligence shared with the Americans and the allies in Kandahar and the South. Without that intelligence, it is likely that U.S. forces would be operating largely in the dark, at least in strategic terms.

The Karzai brothers had, in effect, “rolled” McChrystal, which may help to explain why Hamid Karzai came out so strongly in support of McChrystal, the “best” U.S. commander Afghanistan has ever had, in his view. One need hardly ask who he thinks the worst has been (hint: he has a German name).

General McChrystal had earned a new assignment. The stress had obviously gotten to him, or he would not have been making colossal errors in judgment. If he made these poor judgments in speaking about his colleagues and allowing those around him to speak about his colleagues in a disparaging manner, what other errors of judgment might he have made?

His judgments affected the lives of thousands of U.S. and allied troops.

It is clear now, if it wasn’t last fall, that President Obama made a deeply flawed decision when he handed control over our policy in Afghanistan to the military in general and McChrystal in particular.

The much-touted policy review on Afghanistan represented no more than a delaying tactic designed to generate political support and gain time, for what in the end was an approval of McChrystal’s planned “surge” of 40,000 men. Obama authorized “30,000” which with logistical and other support became a much larger number, and with 10,000 additional promised allied troops, McChrystal’s demand was essentially satisfied.

Our nation’s strategy in Afghanistan has become twisted and distorted beyond recognition. We say we are implementing Petraeus’ counterinsurgency doctrine, when in point of fact half of the forces we are sending to the country are Special Ops and similar forces, to assist in the project of decapitating the Taliban while proving our killing machine is more effective than theirs.

We have abandoned the democratic project which the U.S., allied governments and the U.N. had as their stated objective for eight years, leaving Afghan police and military and ordinary Afghan citizens with no ideal to fight for.

The war has become about how to get the U.S. forces out, even if this means returning the people of Afghanistan to the power of the warlords, and the women of Afghanistan to the warlords and the repression and abuse of a very backward traditional and tribal society.

Instead of leading the people of Afghanistan into the 21st century, we have decided that it is sufficient for our exit purposes to allow them to return to the 19th (or 13th) century.

Nonetheless, Obama now has an opportunity to begin to correct the bad decisions he has made in the past on Afghanistan.

He should immediately reconstitute his circle of advisers to ensure that his Afghanistan team includes sufficient civilians of sufficient experience and stature to counterbalance the strong concentration of military advisers in his inner circle. These should include top U.S. diplomats with experience working in the region.

The first task of this reconstituted group should be to reread Karl Eikenberry’s cables from last November, and to devise a strategy for going forward.

That strategy must recognize that Hamid Karzai is not, and never will be, a reliable partner.

It must focus on ensuring to the maximum extent possible that the elections to the National Assembly to be held on September 18, 2010 are free and fair elections.

We must reconsider the democratic project in Afghanistan, so quickly abandoned by Obama, but which may alone contain the seeds of motivation that could one day lead to an effective national Afghan army and police force.

It must address the urgent need to prevent the further alienation of present and former members of the Northern Alliance, including Abdullah Abdullah, Amrullah Saleh, and others. Little will be gained if a reconciliation between Karzai and the Taliban in the South (should it ever occur) leads to renewed hostilities between the North and the South.

Presumably, Petraeus and Obama, with input from Eikenberry, Holbrooke, and others, can take steps to improve the types of and deployment of troops going to Afghanistan, in view of the limited force levels available from the U.S. and other allies.

It will be important for Obama, Gates and Petraeus to lead a process of reshaping our strategy in Afghanistan that reflects Petraeus’ own, fresh understanding and vision, and that of other key team members including in particular Karl Eikenberry, instead of simply trying to continue to implement the current strategy.

This reexamination should be done as soon as possible. In particular, McChrystal’s accommodations with the Karzai brothers with respect to the Kandahar campaign should be revisited.

The decisions faced by Obama are much bigger than the decision of whether or not to fire McChrystal. The deeper questions include the following:

When will the United States reconcile the total contradiction between the facts on the ground in Afghanistan and our real strategy there, with the requirements of official U.S. counterinsurgency strategy as enunciated by David Petraeus and the U.S. military?

When will the U.S. strategy in Afghanistan shift from trying to out-kill the Taliban with our incredible killing machine to a more nuanced, informed and broad-gauged strategy?

When will the United States have a military and civilian team in place in and for Afghanistan that can work effectively with each other, and with our allies?

When will President Obama pay enough sustained attention to Afghanistan to get it right?

What is needed now is not eight afternoons over a number of months, but two weeks at Camp David with a small group of advisers.

Obama could also spend a day a week working alone, without aides, on getting his own thinking straight on Afghanistan.

The United States and the world need his leadership, not his acquiescence in the failed policies of the past.

The Trenchant Observer

observer@trenchantobserver.com
Follow “trenchantobserv” on Twitter.com

Comments are invited.

McChrystal, Petraeus, COIN, and Fixing a Failed Strategy in Afghanistan

Wednesday, June 23rd, 2010

The newspapers will be filled for days with information and views regarding Obama’s meeting with Stanley McChrystal and his Afghanistan team on Wednesday, June 23, in Washington.

McChrystal’s negative comments about his colleagues as reported in Rolling Stone magazine reflect very poor judgment, as McChrystal himself and also Secretary of Defense Robert Gates have admitted. There have been previous instances of very poor judgment by McChrystal since he assumed command in Afghanistan.

A number of questions arise.

One of the most important is the question of how McChrystal can be an effective team member on a team about whose members he or members of his entourage have spoken in such disparaging terms.

How can he lead the ISAF coalition, or keep France on board with the coalition? Does McChrystal bear any responsibility for the fact that some of our closest allies (e.g., Canada) are withdrawing their forces from Afghanistan? Could our disregard for international law with our policy of targeted killings have had some negative impact in this regard?

Even more fundamental questions are raised, however.

Perhaps the most important is what the strategy of the United States and coalition forces is going to be going forward, after the abject failure of the current strategy led by McChrystal.

The official U.S. counterinsurgency strategy for Afghanistan is to secure and protect the population rather than focus on killing the enemy. The real policy as it is currently being implemented is one that focuses on killing leaders of the Taliban through predator drone strikes and assassination by special operations forces.

The lack of progress in Marja reveals that the much-touted concept of a “government in a box” to be installed following the military’s flushing out of the Taliban is a cruel illusion.

It is not going to happen, not under the government of Hamid Karzai.

The real policy is one of beating down the enemy through the use of the U.S. killing machine that couples real-time intelligence with the capabilities of drone aircraft and special operations forces on the ground.

The real policy, led by McChrystal, has not worked. The situation in Afghanistan has not improved since he assumed command. To the contrary, there are many indications that it has continued to deteriorate.

As for our counter-insurgency strategy, the strategy laid out by David Petraeus and his colleagues requires the presence of troops on the ground in numbers that far exceed the numbers now in Afghanistan, even after the so-called “surge”. Should the U.S. begin to withdraw troops in mid-2011, as promised, the idea that we are implementing Petraeus’ counter-insurgency strategy as enunciated in U.S. military doctrine would become even more delusional than it is today.

To be sure, the 2011 date for “the commencement” of a process of withdrawal, subject to conditions on the ground, was never more than a political fiction used to make the increase in American troops politically palatable back home in the U.S.

Now, things are going really badly in Afghanistan.

The principal men that permitted the U.S. to have some independence from Ahmed Karzai’s control of intelligence provided to the U.S. military in the South, Amrullah Saleh, the former Afghan intelligence chief, with longstanding and close ties to the CIA, and Hanif Atmar, Minister of the Interior, are gone. Saleh was fired by Karzai several weeks ago, when the Minister of the Interior in charge of the police was also sacked. These were two men viewed by U.S. officials as able counterparts.

The end result of their dismissal was that Ahmed Karzai has an even firmer grip on the flow of intelligence shared with the Americans and the allies in Kandahar and the South. Without that intelligence, U.S. forces would be operating largely in the dark.

The Karzai brothers have, in effect, “rolled” McChrystal, which may help to explain why Hanid Karzai has come out so strongly in support of McChrystal, the “best” U.S. commander Afghanistan has ever had, in his view. One need hardly ask who he thinks the worst has been, but I would wager he has a German name.

General McChrystal has earned a new assignment. The stress has obviously gotten to him, or he would not be making colossal errors in judgment. If he has made these poor judgments in speaking about his colleagues and allowing those around him to speak about his colleagues in a disparaging manner, what other errors of judgment may he have made?

His judgments affect the lives of thousands of U.S. and allied troops.

It is clear now, if it wasn’t last fall, that President Obama made a fatally flawed decision when he handed control over our policy in Afghanistan to the military in general and McChrystal and Petraeus in particular.

The much-touted policy review on Afghanistan represented no more than a delaying tactic designed to generate political support and gain time, for what in the end was an approval of McChrystal’s planned “surge” of 40,000 men. Obama authorized “30,000” which with logistical and other support became a much larger number, and with 10,000 additional promised allied troops, McChrystal’s demand was essentially satisfied.

Our nation’s strategy in Afghanistan is twisted and distorted beyond recognition. We say we are implementing Petraeus’ counterinsurgency doctrine, when in point of fact half of the forces we are sending to the country are Special Ops and similar forces, to assist in the project of decapitating the Taliban while proving our killing machine is more effective than theirs.

We have abandoned the democratic project which the U.S., allied governments and the U.N. had as their stated objective for eight years, leaving Afghan police and military and ordinary Afghan citizens with no ideal to fight for.

The war has become about how to get the U.S. forces out, even if this means returning the people of Afghanistan to the power of the warlords, and the women of Afghanistan to the warlords and the repression and abuse of a very backward traditional and tribal society.

Instead of leading the people of Afghanistan into the 21st century, we have decided that it is sufficient for our exit purposes to allow them to return to the 19th (or 13th) century.

Nonetheless, Obama now has an opportunity to begin to correct the bad decisions he has made in the past on Afghanistan.

Regardless of when McChrystal leaves, Obama should immediately reconstitute his circle of advisers to ensure that his Afghanistan team includes civilians to counterbalance the strong concentration of military advisers in his inner circle. These should include the top U.S. diplomats working in the region. The first task of this reconstituted group should be to reread Karl Eikenberry’s cables from last November, and to devise a strategy for going forward.

That strategy must recognize that Hamid Karzai is not, and never will be, a reliable partner.

It must focus on ensuring to the maximum extent possible that the elections to the National Assembly to be held on September 18, 2010 are free and fair elections. We must reconsider the democratic project in Afghanistan, so quickly abandoned by Obama, but which may alone contain the seeds of motivation that could one day lead to an effective national army and police force.

It must address the urgent need to prevent the further alienation of present and former members of the Northern Alliance, including Abdullah Abdullah, Amrullah Saleh, and others. Little will be gained if a reconciliation between Karzai and the Taliban in the South (should it ever occur) leads to renewed hostilities between the North and the South.

Should McChrystal go?

The question is not if, but when.

When will the United States reconcile the total contradiction between the facts on the ground in Afghanistan and our real strategy there, with the requirements of official U.S. counterinsurgency strategy as enunciated by David Petraeus and the U.S. military?

When will the U.S. strategy in Afghanistan shift from trying to out-kill the Taliban with our incredible killing machine to a more nuanced, informed and broad-gauged strategy?

When will the United States have a military and civilian team in place in and for Afghanistan that can work effectively with each other, and with our allies?

When will President Obama pay enough sustained attention to Afghanistan to get it right?

What is needed is not eight afternoons over a number of months, but two weeks at Camp David with a small group of advisers.

Obama could also spend a day a week working alone, without aides, on getting his own thinking straight on Afghanistan.

The United States and the world need his leadership, not his acquiescence in the failed policies of the past.

The Trenchant Observer

observer@trenchantobserver.com
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Comments are invited.

Opera Buffa in Kabul — Karzai Threatens to Join the Taliban

Monday, April 5th, 2010

Farsical But Sinister

Robert H. Reid of AP summarizes the farsical but sinister events of the last week in the ever stranger opera buffa of Hamid Karzai:

Karzai has long chaffed under what he considers excessive international pressure. Those complaints escalated Thursday when he lashed out against the U.N. and the international community, accusing them of perpetrating a “vast fraud” in last year’s presidential polls as part of a conspiracy to deny him re-election or tarnish his victory – accusations the U.S. and the United Nations have denied.

Two days later, Karzai told a group of parliament members that if foreign interference in his government continues, the Taliban would become a legitimate resistance – one that he might even join, according to several lawmakers present.

“He said that ‘if I come under foreign pressure, I might join the Taliban,'” said Farooq Marenai, who represents the eastern province of Nangarhar. “He said rebellion” against a legitimate Afghan government “would change to resistance” against foreign occupation.

Two other parliament members gave the same account but asked that their names not be published to avoid problems with Karzai.

Robert H. Reid, “AP Analysis: Karzai remarks risk US-Afghan rift,” Associated Press, April 5, 2010

Defense of Honor

When will someone stand up and shout, “The emperor has no clothes!”

It could do U.S.-Afghan relations a lot of good if Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, or President Obama himself, were to take Karzai’s wild assertions, and rebut each of them with well-documented facts, point by point.

Washington needs to understand the cultural meaning and context in Afghanistan of what Karzai is doing to the United States.

Obama might start, closer to home, by studying Michael Dukakis’ 1988 response to a question about what he would do if his wife was raped and murdered, and the impact on his candidacy of his cold and analytical response.

In Afghanistan, what Karzai has said about the United States and its allies is shameful. To pretend otherwise, to be reasonable in understanding his “idiosyncracies”, to accept the canard that he needs to strengthen his domestic support, to brush it off with diplomatic language, risks losing the hard-won respect we have earned among the population over nine hard years of war.

In a word, when attacked in a shameful way by Karzai, the United States needs to defend its honor, at least in words if not in deeds.

For excerpts and descriptions of Karzai’s remarks, see the following:

Mandy Clark, CBS News broadcast story, April 2, 2010

Jonathan Partow, “White House troubled by Afghan leader’s remarks,” Washington Post, April 5, 2010

Plan B

It is time, long past time in fact, to start developing Plan B. As unpalatable as that conclusion may be, the alternatives are going to be much worse.

It is useful to recall that Karzai did not win the first round in the presidential elections held on August 20, 2009, and that Abdullah, his opponent, withdrew from the second round only in the face of a refusal by Karzai to take meaningful measures to avoid a repetition of the fraud in the runoff.

Karzai is not the legitimate, elected president of Afghanistan, and the U.S. saying that he is–while ignoring the imminent fraud in the second round–does not make him the legitimate, elected president of Afghanistan.

As The Observer wrote on March 30,

U.S. officials need to carefully review the history of their interaction with Karzai over the last eight years, and reread what Ambassador Karl Eikenberry had to say about him and his government in his cables of November 6 and November 9, 2009.

For only when the Americans and their allies have disabused themselves of their last illusions about Karzai, and stifled their last unjustified hopes that he might reform, will they begin to have the clarity of vision that they will need to extricate themselves from their present predicament.

We cannot get to the goal of a legitimate government accepted by the population, which can defeat the Taliban or even avoid defeat at their hands, with the Karzai brothers.

We had better start thinking through the implications that flow from that one simple and brutal fact, and the adjustments to strategy and operations that will be required.

In the past, when our analysis led us to an inescapable but “unacceptable” conclusion, we have resorted to further analysis, allowing things to drift and to deteriorate further.

We must not repeat that mistake. The hour is late, and much more can still be lost.

The Trenchant Observer

www.trenchantobserver.com
E-mail: observer@trenchantobserver.com
Twitter: www.twitter.com/trenchantobserv

Comments are invited, in any language. If in a language other than English, please provide an English translation. A Google translation will be sufficient.

Obama: “eide shoma mobarak” — The President’s Nowruz (New Year’s) Greeting to Persians Throughout the World

Wednesday, March 24th, 2010

See also the following related articles:

The Trenchant Observer, President Obama’s 2013 “Statement on Nowruz”, March 20, 2013

The Trenchant Observer, “eide shoma mobarak”—President Obama sends 2012 Nowruz greetings to Persians, denounces “electronic curtain” in Iran,” March 20, 2012

“President Obama’s Nowruz Message,” The White House, (with links to video and written text in Persian), March 20, 2011

President Barack Obama has issued a 2010 Nowruz Greeting to Persians in Iran and throughout the world who are celebrating the Persian New Year. The video in English with subtitles in Farsi, a version of the video in English with subtitles in Arabic, and the text in English may be accessed by clicking on the preceding links. The written texts in Farsi (Persian) and Arabic may also be downloaded as pdf files from the White House web site.

The Trenchant Observer

www.trenchantobserver.com
E-mail: observer@trenchantobserver.com
Twitter: www.twitter.com/trenchantobserv

Comments are invited, in any language. If in a language other than English, please provide an English translation. A Google translation will be sufficient.