Tag: North Korea
The Other Nuclear Threat
Earlier this week Walter Pincus of the Washington Post wrote a critical essay in which he said that “The horrific earthquake and tsunami that hit Japan last week lead me to this question: Is it not time to talk realistically about the $200 billion we plan to spend over the next decade on strategic nuclear weapons and their delivery vehicles?” In doing so, he noted that the evacuations now going on in Japan would pale in comparison to what would be necessary if just one 100 kiloton nuclear bomb were to go off near a major city — not to mention the immediate deaths caused by the bomb, which could reach into the hundreds of thousands. Pincus goes on to note that even under the New START nuclear arms reduction treaty – a welcome but modest step towards ridding the world of the nuclear danger – the United States will have over 1,500 deployed nuclear warheads, many of them more than 100 kilotons in explosive power.
Pincus then gets to the heart of the matter when he asks where the targets for these weapons are supposed to be. He notes that our nuclear submarine force alone – in its new proposed configuration in which the subs would have “only” 16 missile-launching tubes instead of the current 20 – could sustain the capability to have 320 separate warheads ready to fire at any one time. And that doesn’t count land-based missiles or nuclear-capable bombers (continue reading…)
Just a quick show of hands… how many of you have discussed the internal conflicts in the Middle East with your friends? Now, how many of your friends have concluded that this conflict in Egypt is good because they are pro-democracy and that this will be good for equities as even more of the world opens up to free trade?
I have heard this same discussion over and over but it’s just not true.
To quickly bring you up to date, there are now demonstrations beginning in Oman. The Chinese Premier Wen Jaibao just pledged to punish the abuse of powers within China and to close the growing wealth gaps just as he limited any news of the Middle East protests from entering China. South Korea is dropping leaflets into North Korea telling the North Koreans of the revolts in the Middle East and suggesting that they control their own destiny and can over throw Kim Jong Il’s regime (continue reading…)
In Britain, where acerbic humor rules the roost, it was inevitable that the venerable London School of Economics would be rechristened the “Libyan School of Economics” the instant it embraced the financial largesse of the Gadhafi family.
In recent years, the LSE has been readily co-opted into the process of rehabilitating the Libyan regime from its rogue status. Last December, Colonel Gadhafi himself addressed LSE students via a video conference. That appearance was secured by his son, Seif, who obtained his doctorate at the School and whose Gadhafi International Charity and Development Foundation donated $2.4 million to the LSE’s Global Governance department.
In a decision that could have been scripted by the Monty Python team at their darkest moment, the Gadhafi Foundation’s funds were directed toward researching the growing power of “civil society” — the area of public life which is controlled by citizens and their voluntary arrangements, rather than the state — in North Africa. Which is precisely why, when the Gadhafi regime launched a wave of bestial violence against its own people, the LSE found itself squirming.
By Sunday night, the in-box of LSE Director Sir Howard Davies was inundated with emails from alumni, myself included, urging that the School transfer the funds received from Gadhafi to a relevant charity, in the name of the regime’s victims (continue reading…)
During Hu Jintao’s visit, he penned a joint statement with President Obama in which — for the first time — he voiced concern about North Korea’s new uranium enrichment. Many in the U.S. and South Korea are hailing this as support for their position, but they should know better. Despite tactical moves to smooth Hu Jintao’s visit, little about China’s North Korea policy has changed over the last few weeks nor is it likely to anytime soon.
In the past, a less strident Beijing’s willingness to calibrate its responses to North Korean provocations was key to the West’s strategy to moderate Pyongyang’s behavior (continue reading…)
President Barack Obama will be hosting Hu Jintao, President of China, on January 19 as part of a visit that will be complete with a State arrival ceremony, a joint press conference, and a glitzy State dinner. In addition to highlighting the importance of the relationship between the world’s two largest economic powers that have become so central to growth of the global economy and the stability of the international system, President Hu’s meetings with President Obama will provide an opportunity to press the reset button on the Sino-American ties.
The relationship has been straining since President Obama’s visit to China in November 2009: the tensions during the UN Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen and in the aftermath of Obama’s meeting with the Dalai Lama and his decision to authorize $6.4 billion in military sales to Taiwan.Then there have been continuing American complaints over allegations that China was manipulating its currency and Chinese concerns over U.S. naval and air military exercises with South Korean forces in the Yellow Sea and over American opposition to China’s newly assertive claims to disputed waters in the East China Sea and South China Sea.
The meeting also comes as the two nations are recovering from the global economic crisis and reassessing their geo-strategic interests in East Asia and elsewhere (continue reading…)
It is disturbing to read about the continued tensions between North and South Korea. Tens of millions of people live near the DMZ. The center of South Korea, Seoul, is within range of North Korean artillery and military assets. The North would surely face overwhelming destruction should any full-scale engagement occur. At present, a dangerous cycle of stupid provocations by the North and placations by the South has entered a new phase. The Lee administration and South Korea, backed by the United States, have signaled that further provocations will be met with a direct and unmistakable response. The North speaks of a “sacred war,” and recent reports indicate that it has further fortified its military border.
What is going on, one might ask? The transition in leadership to Kim Jong-un, likely a weak choice and a vulnerable one after Kim Jong-il dies, might prompt adventurism on the part of the North. The North is a past master in the game of brinksmanship-for-concessions, an irrational long-term strategy, but one that its economically marginalized and ideologically hyperbolized state and elite seem to depend upon more and more. The leadership in the South is making continued strides among the alpha class of nations, recently hosting the G-20 summit and working toward greater autonomy in military control with its American partner. This juxtaposition cannot but embarrass the few who do not have their minds brainwashed in the North.
China has an especial role in remonstrating with Pyongyang. It appears to have activated this potential, somewhat late and to the disappointment of the national community. Nonetheless, the South’s live fire drill a few weeks ago did not result in a North Korean response. This summer saw China conduct its own military drills and engage in a series of diplomatic wrangles over disputed territories with Japan and Taiwan may have contributed to emboldening Pyongyang. China’s giving cover to North Korean adventurism through blocking and distancing itself from U.N. condemnations is not in keeping with the promises of peaceful regional and international leadership. We should all be calling on China to do more.
The situation is nothing if not serious. Where we are headed at present, and perhaps that is where we must head, is a world where Korea will become the next nuclear frontier. Anyone who has not learned from watching a host of historical examples, of which Iran and North Korea are only the latest examples, that any nation with sufficient resources and resolve will develop nuclear energy and nuclear weapons with or without international approval is stupid, full stop. The irrationality of nuclear powers thinking that they can forestall other nations from having the same power potentials, in particular if the nations are rising or declining powers, goes against the social science of the last century.
The current situation begins to remind me of the MAD era of bygone Soviet-American days — even though the world still exists under mutually-assured destruction, and the Obama administration has just concluded a new nuclear arms treaty with Russia. I mean, what is going to come of all of this? Does anyone really think that the North, paranoid and destitute as it might be, would go to war with the South? They could cause a lot of damage, and they themselves would be destroyed. There is no first-strike plan or intention on the part of the South or the United States. No one is planning to “take over” North Korea. The spectacle of a backwater state and nation, proudly propping up its weapons and military whilst languishing in pre-modern conditions and deifying its national leaders so as to maintain a totalitarian society is not just a joke. It’s eerily familiar. And that’s the point.
One grows weary of posturing by American leaders at the borders, at rostrums of regional meetings, at press conferences, and amongst friends. One equally grows tired of seeing special envoys trotted out and over to do the takeaways for momentary satisfaction. Of course, they should go, but such triage efforts only prop up the status quo. All the United States will accomplish is to institute what it claims to have transcended, a MAD world, in the Asian theater. All of our ability and power cannot undo the rot that the end of the Korean War froze in space and time. All of power will not prevent China from growing more powerful, and its ally retaining geostrategic protection. As we continue to live on and rely on a divided Korea, it will grow to cost the world in time, money, and danger of mass destruction. And just as Americans looked on while South Koreans fought to develop their democracy in the 1980s, as a kind of games-and-spectacle looking glass, we can pat ourselves on the back for being the new Rome again in this instance. That is unless we start to do things differently.
We are heading slowly to a time when North and South, plus all comers, will have to nuclearize and militarize further the DMZ, their nations, and the region. The game of build to deter will see a new instantiation. And in the end, the North will be disrupted, either out of its poverty or mendacity, but not without decades of wasted expense, wasted instability, and all that goes with it.
What is needed is a mature use of the technologies of peace. All interested parties should work to open up economic relations with Korea, so as to create economic markets that require the maintenance of peace. The game of isolating nations doesn’t really work to create peace. In time, American and South Korean leaders need to start their versions of nuclear arms negotiations. Many more people in the world need to study the occult society that is North Korea. It can become the next area studies program for the 21st century.
The dream of unification is being set back by decades with each grain of sand that drains out of the hourglass these days. Not to be cynical about it, but perhaps there is no other way. We’re heading to a new Cold War, if things remain the same. But I still see a day when the two Koreas will be one. It will occur without further warfare, and it will occur on democratic terms, but it won’t occur on anyone’s timetable in particular. And it won’t occur if the emphasis of the world’s “mature powers” amounts to mutual conduct of military exercises as the major events for regional relations each year. Here’s hoping 2011 sees major efforts by all nations concerned to bring the two Koreas to the path of peace.
Given the title of this essay, perhaps you expected a commentary on North Korea or another vilified U.S. adversary and violator of all human decency.
Actually, I was referring to Jon Kyl.
Those who dismiss the value of negotiating with North Korea insist that the country makes unreasonable demands, never has any intention of compromising, and violates any agreement that it ultimately signs. Funny, this sounds a lot like the hard-line Republicans in the last Congress.
Consider the strategy of Jon Kyl during the recent deliberations in the Senate over the strategic nuclear reductions treaty with the Russians (New START). Kyl is the Republican senator from Arizona who has made a name for himself as a hawk among hawks for his support of U.S. military intervention and astronomical Pentagon spending. He’s never met an arms control treaty he liked. Indeed, he rose in the Republican pecking order in part because of his leadership during the Clinton years in defeating ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (which put the United States in the august company of none other than… North Korea).
Then along came New START, the first baby step in reducing the nuclear arsenals of the United States and Russia. Wily Kyl sold his “support” for the treaty by insisting that an $85 billion modernization of the U.S. nuclear complex be included in the package. It might seem odd that the party that purports to prohibit pork endorsed the biggest BBQ blow-out of them all: a 10-year obligatory upgrade in the very systems that we’re supposed to eliminate.
OK, fair enough. Politics is a game of give-and-take. Kyl, like the crafty North Korean negotiators, managed to get a good deal for himself.
But here’s the ugly part. After practically gutting New START, Kyl worked overtime to defeat the treaty! After the mid-term elections, he began his obstructionist tactics. He began by offering his appreciation “for the recent effort by the Administration to address some of the issues that we have raised” – i.e., thanks for the handouts, suckers. But, he continued, the treaty shouldn’t be addressed in the lame duck session because of the “combination of other work Congress must do and the complex and unresolved issues related to START and modernization” – i.e., he has other worthy efforts to block and it takes him longer than the average senator to understand the treaty’s complexities.
Then, when it seemed as though the ship would leave the dock without him, Kyl did everything possible to blow up the vessel. First he tried the procedural route, tying the treaty’s ratification to extending tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans. His fellow Republicans were not as enthusiastic about the tactic, and the tax cuts alas went through anyway.
So, Kyl proceeded to trot out all the traditional arguments: New START would limit missile defense options, prevent additional nuclear modernization, and provide for insufficient verification. But he wasn’t getting any support even from the nuclear experts on this one. “These arguments have been thoroughly debunked,” nuclear physicist John Parsons told Vanity Fair. “Secretary of Defense Robert Gates (a Republican, by the way) has stated explicitly that the treaty does not curtail the ability of the U.S. to deploy missile defense systems in the future. The directors of the National Labs responsible for maintenance of the U.S. nuclear stockpile have all come out in favor of the treaty. Concerning verification, New START would re-start verifications that have been suspended since the original START treaty expired in December 2009. New START includes enhanced on-site inspections that would allow, for the first time, direct monitoring of Russian warheads.”
Nor did it seem to matter to Kyl that the Pentagon, former Cold Warriors Henry Kissinger and George P. Shultz, and even fellow Arizona Republican Sen. John McCain all came out in favor of the treaty.
When the Senate voted on December 22, the treaty passed easily 71 to 26. But Kyl remained a naysayer. “Whatever a president negotiates with the Russians or somebody else we dare not change because otherwise it will have to be renegotiated to some great detriment to humanity,” he said. But wait a second – the treaty was changed at his insistence and he still didn’t vote for it – to the detriment of humanity.
In any civilized country, this should have been grounds for putting Kyl in the stockade and pelting him with rotting vegetables. Instead, his colleague Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), another New START naysayer, had the gall to hold a press conference to apologize to Kyl “for the way you’ve been treated by your colleagues.”
The only apology that’s due is from the Obama administration. Back in mid-November, the administration believed that it had enough votes for ratification without Kyl, and yet it still continued to negotiate with him over billions of dollars in modernization funds. Talk about appeasement.
Maybe the Obama administration was in a magnanimous mood. After all, it notched a couple victories in the lame duck session in addition to the New START ratification, such as repealing the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy and extending unemployment benefits (albeit, along with the controversial tax cuts).
But the lame duck session also revealed disturbing signs of what’s in store for the nation over the next two years. The DREAM Act, which would have given children of undocumented immigrants a path to citizenship, went down to defeat because of a bipartisan bout of spinelessness. Similarly disturbing was the Republican filibuster of a bill to provide health benefits to the first responders to September 11. Only when the party was publically shamed for opposing this legislative no-brainer did a modestly retweaked bill pass. Such shaming might be more difficult with the Republicans in control of the House.
The next two years will likely feature a great deal more shameless Republican obstruction, worrisome Democratic spinelessness, and wan bipartisanship. In the arms control realm, for instance, New START was supposed to be only the beginning, as the name suggests. But as Foreign Policy In Focus blogmeister Russ Wellen writes at Focal Points, this START might be a “stop” for arms control for the foreseeable future. Kyl got his nuclear modernization and his missile defense, and he has signaled that future arms control battles will be even tougher for the administration to win.
And the North Koreans? They’re sounding a great deal more conciliatory than Kyl these days. In its New Year’s Day message, the government in Pyongyang announced that it supported “an atmosphere of dialogue and cooperation” with South Korea “as soon as possible.” It also called for a resumption of multilateral talks. Why should we sit down with them after they shelled Yeonpyeong Island back in November and killed four South Koreans? For one thing, the island is in disputed waters that North Korea claims. As FPIF columnist Christine Ahn points out in Resolving the Face-Off in Korea, “international maritime convention considers 12 miles to be the boundary of any country’s waters. Yeonpyeong Island… lies within 12 nautical miles of North Korea’s coastline. North Korea’s insistence that the South was conducting live artillery drills within its territorial boundaries is therefore not without basis.”
Negotiating with the North Koreans is never easy, but it does yield concrete benefits: a frozen plutonium program, the return of missing soldiers’ remains, a viable North-South industrial zone in Kaesong. There’s also that minor issue of avoiding a cataclysmic war that would leave hundreds of thousands dead in its first days. If the Obama administration is willing to talk nukes with Jon Kyl, it really must follow up on North Korea’s willingness to chat. Republicans like Kyl will no doubt squawk at what they perceive as unacceptable accommodation of intransigent double-dealers. Takes one to know one.
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Robert Baer retired from the Central Intelligence Agency after 20 years in 1997, but he’s still learning about security threats and about the region that was his specialty, the Middle East.
In his current capacity as a journalist, Baer and director Kevin Toolis explore a potent threat to our safety that has been more devastating than nuclear weapons. In their new DVD documentary Car Bomb, Baer persuasively argues that vehicle bombs should hold the title of the deadliest weapon of the 20th century because they have been easy to make but can cause damage that’s comparable to predator drones or landmines. Wars have been won and lost by them. They’ve been around since the infancy of the Automotive Century and, sadly, aren’t going away.
In the film, Baer goes around the globe talking with bomb makers who fought for Israel’s
independence, the Provisional Irish Republican Army as well as various factions throughout the Middle East. He even talks with an American who went to jail for his attack and learned how to make the bomb from Encyclopedia Britannica!
Having served in Lebanon in the 1980s when vehicle bombing was rampant, Baer certainly has a lot of first hand knowledge, but the most remarkable moments in Car Bomb come from when he gets the bombers to openly discuss why and how they did what they did. With his quiet, polite approach, he can get more useful information that Jack Bauer could with yelling and electrocutions.
Baer doesn’t think much of the histrionics of 24, but he’s actually worked with Hollywood to try to get spycraft portrayed correctly. Syriana was based on Baer’s book See No Evil, and George Clooney won an Oscar for playing an agent modeled on Baer. He’s also been a recurring guest on The Colbert Report, using the show’s comic approach to explain real-world intelligence issues.
Contacted by me from his home in Los Angeles, Baer talked about what it’s like to go from being part of the government to covering it as an outsider. Because of his vast experience, it was important to also get his perspective on the recent WikiLeaks dump of state department cables and other recent security issues. While Baer has been a worthy guardian of this nation’s secrets, he’s quite open about what he thinks is necessary to correct our foreign policy mistakes.
In the documentary, you said that you actually made some car bombs when you were working for the CIA.
Yeah, they trained us on how to make these things, but more to show the destructiveness than anything else.
The aftermath of a Lebanese car bombing. 2010 The Disinformation Company, LTD, used by permission.
What is it about car bombs that makes them more deadly than nukes?
They’re so easy to assemble. They’re impossible to detect. Cars are omnipresent. You could just get them to any building in the world. It’s not complicated. It truly is a poor man’s air force. They’re undefeatable as IEDs (Improvised Explosive Devices) are in Afghanistan. You just can’t defeat them with technology. You can keep missiles from coming into the country with a missile shield, but you can’t do anything about car bombs.
Another aspect that’s scary about them is if you invest hundreds or thousands of dollars in a car bomb, you can inflict billions in damage.
They did this in London in the financial district. If you steal a car, it’s even cheaper. You fill it
with nitrobenzene and a homemade detonator. It isn’t just the billion you would cause in damage, like they did in London, but billions upon billions of money going to defeat these things.
Yes, because it would have cost more to keep an army in Northern Ireland that it would to make those bombs.
There’s no other way to get around with that much explosives except with a car or a truck. The amount of hypothetical damage you could do in a place like the United States is enormous. If you set off one or two of these things in a crowded area, then you’ll have this country putting trillions of more dollars into security and then what happens to the Constitution?
In the film, you’ve pointed out that the average American citizen can’t just walk up to the Capitol any more. There’s a blast wall between the parking lot and the Capitol now.
Nuclear weapons are destructive, but they haven’t been used for terrorism in any sense. In car bombs, they have. If you want to look at the problem of terrorism pragmatically, our biggest problem is the car bomb.
Yes, because Faisal Shahzad, the would-be Times Square car bomber, was not a trained demolitions expert, thank God.
Yeah, he was close. It’s going to be a lot easier to make a car bomb than it would be to get explosives on an airplane. Eventually, we’re going to come around and be able to find a way to be able to detect nitrates on clothes and whatever else. There’s 20 basic elements that go into explosives. We’ll eventually get into that technology and defend airplanes, which will leave the car bomb.
There is a simple solution: Stop using cars. But that’s only simple on the conceptual level.
You can protect the post office or federal buildings, but they just shift targets. You get a civilian target. It’s a potential nightmare in this country.
One of the astonishing aspects of Car Bomb is that you were able to get a lot of people to talk on the record with you for this documentary.
We got the Israelis. We got a lot of people to go on this thing. A lot of that has to do with the producers and the film company.
Were you surprised that some of them were willing to talk? Now that you’re no longer with the agency, you’re a public figure, and anything they say to you could get out.
Yeah, I think a lot of people have considered the car bomb an important part of their history. It changed the course of history in places like Israel. And certainly today with the way Palestinians and Israelis are divided, they felt the story should get out.
You’re fluent in Arabic and Farsi. Do you think you’ve got an edge over other journalists because you can actually speak these languages?
I don’t look at the subject clinically. None of this documentary was scripted. I just won’t do a script. They sit down, and I say, “This is basically what I want to know.” When you’re interviewing suicide bombers or their networks, it’s very important to speak their language. It’s always a good icebreaker.
It’s always harder with a translator, if you don’t trust the translator. You have to wait. They can think too long with their answers. I think it definitely helps, especially when the producer can’t understand you and is cutting. He can say, “No, he gave this answer.” I can deal with people in a chit-chat way. It’s almost like you’re gossiping with them. It was informal. If I reached an obstacle, I didn’t press the question. I started asking other questions, and sometimes I got to get back to it.
I noticed that you used that technique with the fellow who bombed the American facility in the 1970s. You didn’t go in Mike Wallace-style or anything like that. You still got some pretty candid stuff.
You just sit down and talk. There’s no point in being accusatory. He did it. He went to jail for it. What I’m curious about is what was going through his mind.
It reminded me of the column you wrote where you thought more of the torture memos should have been made public. In watching you talk with these folks, it’s striking how your approach gets more useful information than if you had water boarded them or been confrontational.
There’s this guy, Ali Soufan, the FBI agent who’s been really articulate on this issue. He’s just right. You get more out of talking to people. If you go in with questions you think you know the answers too, that’s what happened with the waterboarding. They had all these analysts who were absolutely convinced that they had some very, very valuable Al Qaeda member in their hands, and they kept on waterboarding him them because they wouldn’t give the answers they figured they had, and they just didn’t. And it just turned into a fiasco.
Because I’m a movie critic, I’m curious if you’ve seen the film Fair Game yet.
No, is it good?
I’m mixed on it, but it reminded me of when I read a column by William F. Buckley, Jr. where he criticized the outing of Plame. He said he had been an agent in Mexico, and somebody had outed him and he was lucky that none of his contacts had been exposed. It was one thing to out him, but anybody who came into contact with him was endangered. Is that accurate from your own experience?
Yeah. Once you start to unravel these, it’s very easy to lead to other identities for a government. If you’ve been assigned somewhere, and they realize what you’re doing, they can go back and check cell phone numbers, meetings, surveillance and all this. It makes it considerably easier for a hostile intelligence service to find somebody.
How does it feel to be a journalist after working as an agent?
If I write about the CIA, I’m obligated to my opinion pieces are anything about my time in the CIA. What I argue about with them is they say your thoughts about current events are classified. I find that very odd. I don’t pay much attention to them.
Like the bombing at Khost (the Afghan city where seven agents were killed on December 30, 2009), they wanted to suppress that article (in GQ). I figure now that anything that I do is a journalist, that if I identify a source, where I learned something from someone else, it puts me in a different light. It puts me in a different category of people. Many ex CIA agents are writing about their own careers. Buckley did. There’s a lot of people who did that.
In the research that you and Mr. Toolis did for the documentary, were you surprised that car bombs went all the way back to 1920?
I had no idea the first one was done on Wall Street. A lot of the back filling of the historical information I find fascinating. There are so many things I never paid attention to. I never paid any attention to the Israeli car bombs. I never paid any attention to the mob car bombs. It adds to my education.
Baer with gunmen in El Hinweh camp, south Lebanon. 2010 The Disinformation Company, LTD, used by permission.
Even though you were in Lebanon during the 1980s when this stuff was happening, there still more to learn, obviously.
I think it’s amazing. We’re going into prisons and meeting suicide bombers. It’s an education you’d never get in the CIA. It’s very much a complement doing journalism. There’s also the fact that you’re going through open sources. You’re always referring to them.
You don’t do that in the CIA. You were laser-focused on one problem, on one person. You don’t have time to go back and conceptualize and put it in historical context. I look at this journalism stuff as just a continuation of an incomplete education.
In the recent Financial Times column you wrote, you said that this latest WikiLeaks dump of state department cables was potentially devastating because many negotiations can only be done through back channels. They can’t be conducted through conventional diplomacy. You said that it was essential in dealing with leaders who don’t operate the way western leaders do.
You have to look at the point of view of the state department. They are like a good journalist. They need to protect their sources. The New York Times is not putting its sources on the Net. If they want to talk about openness, why don’t they talk about their sources, their informants, their Deep Throats, and the rest of them?
Because they know better. It undermines their credibility. It ruins them as a newspaper. It’s the same with the state department. Someone says, “Look at how cynical the diplomats are.” Well, no shit. Are we just discovering that? Diplomacy has always been like that, going back to Rome and before.
On the other hand, I’ve a love reading the stuff on WikiLeaks about the fact that the Chinese know so little about North Korea. I find that illuminating because when I was in the CIA, the Chinese weren’t talking about North Korea at all. And they’re sort of guessing what is happening in Pyongyang. As a journalist, I find that absolutely fascinating, or King Abdullah complaining about Iran. It’s completely useful.
On the other hand, if I had my other hat on and I were a diplomat, you know, the next ambassador to Germany — what German is going to talk to our ambassador or political counselor about the internal workings of the government? This guy (Helmut Metzner, an aide to German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle) just lost his job today (for providing information to the U.S. embassy).
And this guy (Dmitry) Firtosh (a natural gas tycoon) in Ukraine, we always sort of knew he was dealing with the mob, but, in fact he went to the American embassy and told the ambassador. The message to Ukrainians is don’t ever go into the American embassy ever again. What this all leads to is this intellectual isolation. Because now if the only thing we know about the world is what we read on the CNN site, then we as diplomats are really lost. I haven’t seen a lot of this on the net, but the people who deal with the human rights groups are an invaluable source of information on totalitarian governments because they can put you in the picture right away. But now, they’ve been exposed.
The Pentagon Papers made perfect sense to me because it was internal deliberations about getting into Vietnam. It just showed the hypocrisy of the government and the internal debate. It doesn’t really damage are national security. I think it helps your national security because we now appear to be an open society.
I don’t have any problems with James Risen’s story on warrantless wiretaps because that’s not sources and methods. It’s purely a legal issue. The White House is bypassing FISA (Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act) warrants, which is a matter of illegality. It doesn’t mean listening to more phones or fewer phones. It doesn’t mean anything in terms of the opposition. It’s just that they were cutting corners on the law. I think that that’s a righteous leak. But if you start naming sources, or you start getting into the National Security Agency or the codes for nuclear bombs, you get into all sorts of problems.
It’s like leaking a police investigation, where you’re putting out in the news how far the police are. The criminals can change course. Or a grand jury hearing, you can’t leak of that out.
In one of your columns, you pointed out that some of the data in the leaks is garbage. In one memo you cited, Osama Bin Laden was having a weekly public meeting in Pakistan, which is just about impossible.
That was total bullshit. What scares me is that was the military’s stuff (instead of the CIA’s). That anyone would put that on paper I find that astounding, or that Mullah Omar was deciding where to put bombs. I found that stuff fascinating because it confirmed my suspicion that the level of our intelligence in Afghanistan is pretty poor.
He’s not anywhere driving out in the open. He’s very much caught up in a cave, or dead, or in some government compound, or whatever. But he’s not going to meetings about placing IEDs. It’s just not happening. I would like to say that I should be the one who decides what goes out in public or what’s dangerous, or you, or Tom Friedman, or somebody else. The problem the governments faces is that you can’t let private citizens decide what’s classified and what’s not.
What you really need in all of this is an effective Congress that will simply look at a problem, a scandal, and will look at our foreign policy, write a report, have it cleared with the right agency and have it reach the public that way. And then meet out punishments or recommendations to remove people. Or you have to have effective IGs (Inspector Generals) or ombudsmen to deal with this stuff. You really have to get a competent Congress, and we don’t have one. It’s very much a dilemma.
I would very much like to see internal memos from Goldman Sachs made it public. I think that affects Americans more than what we’re doing in Germany or Chechnya or all these other cables that have come out. I’d like to know precisely how cynical was Goldman Sachs during the financial crisis and leading up to it. I go back and forth on freedom of the press. There is a nice balance somewhere there, but on the cynicism of these exchanges and why don’t Americans do this sort of stuff, all I can say is that this stuff really hurt the state department or any government official who works overseas. It’s already hard are to get someone to meet you as an American.
Ultimately WikiLeaks is going to help academia and help us understand where were coming from. And if you look at the stuff intelligently, with the stuff about the Saudis funding Al Qaeda, did you see a name in there? Diplomats are working on rumor, too, just like everybody else. That gave me an uneasy feeling. You could misuse that. “Well, maybe there are a couple of Saudis funding Al Qaeda.” Is it a lot? Does it matter?
I think more money is coming into Al Qaeda from fuel contracts in Pakistan than from Saudi Arabia, but we’ve just decided to ignore that. Every truck that goes across (the border) gives thousands of dollars to the Taliban and maybe Al Qaeda. I don’t know. We’re essentially paying for both sides of the war. Congress has said this. But it’s like amnesia. Everyone’s focused on this one cable, which may be wrong. The state department, they’re living behind fortresses, too.
I’ve read portions of your book, Sleeping with the Devil: How Washington Sold Our Soul for Saudi Crude. You wrote that before King Abdullah assumed the throne in Saudi Arabia. How have things changed since you wrote the book in 2003?
His arrival has been like night and day. The Atlantic did a cover piece on that book. I didn’t really like it because it made a prediction, and predicting anything in the Middle East is bad.
Two things happened: You’ve got King Abdullah, and he’s very good. And he’s got Muhammad bin Nayef, son of the interior minister (his official title is assistant interior minister for security affairs). The two of them have really turned Saudi Arabia around.
The other thing that has turned things around is the price of oil. They have all the money in the world to pay off commissions, payoff tribes that had been unhappy when the price of oil was $10.00 a barrel. The Saudis have bought themselves time.
In both Sleeping with the Devil and Car Bomb, you point out that the petroleum dependency is a major security issue.
I still think it is. The fact is if you look at WikiLeaks and the comments on the king of Bahrain, the Crown Prince of Kuwait and with King Abdullah. From what has come down to us, the security situation
is not happy in the Gulf. They truly look at Iran as a menace. I wrote a book about this, but nobody paid attention.
I’m not saying (Iran) is a menace, but they look at it as a menace. And that’s much more important because it keeps the gulf Arabs on the brink with some kind of conflict with Iran, either in Iraq or Lebanon or just in the Gulf itself. The fact is it sits on the world’s oil reserves. It’s just there. If you get that and a tight oil market — $500 a barrel for oil? It’s possible. Who knows?
Here’s the thing, if you look at things pessimistically, you always sounds smarter. If you go around saying the world’s going to be fine, they look at you and say, “That guy’s an idiot.” It’s a good built-in mechanism.
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On behalf of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, I extend our mighty, nuclear capable seasons greetings! While I myself do not ascribe to your decadent primate behaviors of tree decorating and red-bellied fat man worship, I comprehend that this holiday holds significance in your feeble American minds. I have seen your malls. In winter, you battle over plastic totems of Tickle Me Elmos and Big Mouthed Billy Basses — useless drivel designed to soften and placate you into docile cows. Such gifts are pathetic, and pale in comparison to the island Yeonpyeong, which I must have. It is the top item on my Christmas List of Demands.
Your whole nation bonds in an uproar of holiday spirit. Let me assure you: I command a matchless army that delivers far superior Christmas cheer. Now, you might ask, “Kim Jong Il, doesn’t your nation persecute Christians more than any other country on earth?” This is all one hilarious misunderstanding. Ha ha.
I’d love to engage a Christian in honest, open dialogue on religious-freedom… if I could find any. They keep disappearing on me. I mean, one moment there’s a seditious Christian — and poof — he’s gone. Just like that; hide-and-go seek. These Christians keep vanishing and holding charity bake sales at KYO-HUA-SO REEDUCATION FACILITY.
As for the unprovoked sinking of the South Korean warship, Cheonan, you will never find a more prominent and joyous display of Christmas merriment. Did you know that all forty-six traitorous sailors aboard that ship were naughty? Yes, very naughty. They intruded on our weapons testing exercises.
Here’s an analogy for dim-witted American apes: it’s Christmas morning. You rise out of bed in your pitifully inferior flannel pajamas. Peering out your window, you see your neighbor skating on the south side of your sidewalk. You torpedo his warship. Your children rejoice because your household has united in an indomitable display of Christmas Power.
With North Korea leading the world in technology, culture, health care, economic growth, government efficiency, media freedom, military force, and comedy Youtube videos, it is difficult to fathom what our perfectly content citizenry would actually want for Christmas, besides Yeonpyeong, which I must have. There is, of course, one thing: peace on earth. And peace on earth is possible! After unwrapping the uranium high-speed centrifuges from my friends in China, (re-gifted from Russia) we can all enjoy peace on earth. Yes, six hundred feet below sea level in a gingerbread, candy-coated thermodynamic laboratory, I’m brewing a Christmas Miracle!
Some people call me a Grinch; others call me a Scrooge. Those people have been killed. But please, Americans, celebrate your holiday. Engorge your fat faces on succulent honey-glazed ham, and rest your horrifically distended asses on sleds, singing carols of joy. North Korea will and shall always have a Merrier Christmas. Our trees are greener, presents nicer, and smiles 1.3 times brighter, as mandated by the State. Competition is futile. The People shall reign supreme.
Until then. I’ll see you in a Nuclear Winter-Wonderland
Kim Jong Il
If you look closely at the AP photograph of the South Korean marines conducting a drill on Yeonpyoeong island, you can see that their yellow headbands read tongil. That’s the Korean word for reunification. With the South Korean government conducting another round of live-fire artillery drills in contested waters near North Korea, the message of the headband is unambiguous. Rather than waiting patiently for reunification to take place through negotiations, the Lee Myoung-bak administration wants to accelerate the process, by force if necessary.
When South Korea conducted live-fire drills in the area last month, North Korea responded by shelling Yeonpyeong island, killing two soldiers and two civilians. The South shelled back. This time around, the South disregarded pleas by China and Russia to postpone its military exercise. On Monday, it conducted 90 minutes of artillery shelling from Yeonpyeong island as South Korean jet fighters flew overhead. Despite initial threats to retaliate, North Korea has so far refrained from responding to what it has called a “despicable military provocation.”
South Korea’s resolve to go through with the test was simply a refusal to be bullied, argued many analysts, including former South Korean foreign minister Han Sung-Joo. “If each North Korean threat tied our hands, we would become hostage to their threats,” he commented.
As the yellow headbands indicate, however, the current South Korean government is not just sending a message of deterrence. The Lee Myung-bak government, like its recent predecessors, sees an opportunity to break the stalemate on the peninsula. But unlike either the Kim Dae-Jung or Roh Moo-Hyun administration, Lee doesn’t see a long, slow process of negotiating reunification.
When Lee looks north, he sees an ailing dictator, a struggling economy, and a desperate national-security apparatus. The Wikileaks documents, meanwhile, suggested that China was losing patience with its North Korean ally. All of this contributed to last week’s statement by the South Korean president that “unification is drawing near.” The South Korean government is putting money into preparing for regime collapse in the north in much the way the Kim and Roh governments put money into engaging the North economically and politically.
The U.S. government has generally backed the South Korean government’s more aggressive posture. Twenty U.S. soldiers participated in the recent live-fire drill. Joint South Korean-U.S. military exercises in these contested wars have ratcheted up the tensions. And at the United Nations, the United States has pushed for a condemnation of North Korea’s November 23 artillery attack to be included in a statement otherwise designed to calm the waters. China has blocked consensus, sensibly pointing out that such a statement would only roil the waters more.
At the same time, New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson just returned from Pyongyang with the outlines of a possible deal that could bring the disputing parties back to the negotiating table. North Korea is willing to allow back UN nuclear inspectors, send fuel rods out of the country, and establish a hot line between the two Koreas and the United States. While in Pyongyang, Richardson urged the North Korean leadership to show “maximum restraint” in dealing with South Korea’s drills.
Today North Korea followed Richardson’s advice. Now it’s the South Korean and U.S. turn to show maximum restraint. By following up on the offer on the table, all sides can step away from the precipice and go back to pursuing reunification the old-fashioned way: by talking, not fighting.
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As the world marks the Dec. 10 anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), North Koreans continue to live in an information dark age.
For the overwhelming majority, the promise of Article 19 in the UDHR – the right to “seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers” – is desperately out of reach.
While strategic and military implications of the current Korean peninsula crisis continue to be debated, sadly missing from the discussion is finding ways the global community can deliver the principles of Article 19 to the North Korean people.
Through their official news agency, North Koreans were offered this view from their leaders about recent U.S.-South Korean military exercises:
“The U.S. and the puppet warmongers’ escalating war moves in the West Sea of Korea patently prove that they are the heinous provocateurs and arch criminals ….”
Do they actually believe this stuff?
Our review of the tightly controlled North Korean press since the Nov. 23 artillery strike on the South reveals that statement to be among the tamer accusations North Koreans are being fed about the situation.
To begin with, it’s difficult to appreciate just how misinformed and closed off North Korean society actually is.
A country that jails its people for seeking news and information beyond its borders, North Korea is continually listed at the bottom of free press surveys as the world’s worst offender.
Information technology remains banned and Internet access is almost completely unavailable.
Radios, issued by the state, have their dials fixed only to the regime’s broadcasts.
But, despite this bleak picture, mounting evidence suggests that there are cracks, through which North Koreans are able to get a glimmer of the world outside their own.
Cell phone use has shot up, especially along the Chinese border where wireless signals are stronger. This also is just one of the means by which many relatives of the 20,000 North Korean defectors in the South keep in touch with their family members.
Restricted technology such as MP3 and MP4 players, DVDs of South Korean soap operas and films, and even USB memory sticks are increasingly making their way into the hands of many North Koreans who get these goods on the black market.
Some of the most sought-after pieces of hardware are shortwave devices to listen to foreign radio.
With the rising popularity of Korean-language broadcasters from the South and overseas, many North Koreans depend on them for reliable information and the latest news on events inside North Korea.
Drawing on audience media research among North Korean defectors and refugees over the last few years, North Korea expert Peter Beck has speculated that there may be more than a million shortwave listeners in a population of 24 million.
Through our contacts inside North Korea, we know listeners sometimes gather and listen together, and then spread information by word of mouth among friends and family.
“Those people who have listened to broadcasts together have to zip their mouths but at some point they tend to talk to other people about it,” one North Korean defector said in a media research survey in 2007.
He added, “Relationships forged listening to broadcasts together are almost equal to [a] secret society that is simply not organized yet.”
For the regime of Kim Jong Il, the threat is real. As the cracks widen, more outside information is disseminated within North Korea. This makes it much more difficult, if not impossible, for the country’s authoritarian government to be the sole source of information for its people.
The fact remains, despite these cracks, that many North Koreans still are less than fully aware of the perilous position their leaders have placed them in during this current crisis.
This is why it’s essential for international powers to consider ways of working together to keep the North Korean people informed. Radio is proving to be one of the answers.
“[Israeli] Prime Minister [Ehud] Olmert hadn’t asked for a green light, and I hadn’t given one. He had done what he believed was necessary to protect Israel.”
– Former U.S. President George W. Bush in his recently released autobiography
Now here is a statement that one should let sink in. The year is 2007 and Syria was suspected of initiating a nuclear program. A U.S. President acknowledges that on September 6 of that year its closest ally, Israel, had destroyed a structure under construction, thought to be an undeclared nuclear facility, possibly for military purpose. Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert was alarmed by Syria’s activities and asked the United States to act. President Bush stated he could not order the bombing of Syria without warning or announced justification, which would lead to a severe blowback. Moreover, the CIA had expressed low confidence in the allegations against Syria. Olmert did not mince words and called Bush’s strategy disturbing. It should be noted that three years later pre-eminent experts confirm that if the reactor hadn’t been destroyed it would be producing plutonium by now for Syria’s first nuclear bomb. So when it became clear the United States would not intervene in Syria, Israel went for it herself, without having asked or having been given a “green light.” Israel acted out of conviction of the necessity of a strike and belief that it is the supreme duty of a state to protect its citizens.
The precedent of striking a nuclear program without a “green light” was Osiraq. In 1981, Israeli intelligence estimated that in summer of that year Iraq would be loading the nuclear reactor at the Osiraq facility with nuclear fuel and start using it for the development of a nuclear program. In a single, unilateral, coordinated air strike on June 7 of that year Israel put an end to this enterprise. Because of that strike Iraq’s threat potential was instantly diminished and the United States and the international community did not face nuclear blackmail by Saddam Hussein in 1991. It has been argued that Israel’s attack on Osiraq had been the single most important and successful, military operation since World War II.
Menachem Begin, then Israel’s Prime Minister, did not seek a “green light” from U.S. President Ronald Reagan who was said to have been furious after the attack and supported a United Nations (UN) Security Council Resolution dealing with the strike. However, he was later quoted as saying that Israel might have sincerely believed that the Osiraq attack had been a defensive move. UN Security Council Resolution 487 ended up strongly condemning Israel’s strike and did not see any problems with Iraq’s actions. Due to a U.S. veto threat however it stopped short of imposing sanctions. Israel had weighed the options at hand and found that Iraq had crossed the proverbial red line. She acted based on her assessment of the available facts and in accordance with her security needs.
Looking at the strike on Iraq and on Syria, respectively, it is possible to identify a number of similarities. At the time both were Middle Eastern, Arab, and Muslim countries hostile to Israel, to the United States, and to the West. Both had aspirations to dominate in the region and were sources of considerable instability. Both were hubs of terrorism. And both chose to start a clandestine nuclear program for political and military purposes, aimed at their respective neighbors and first and foremost, at Israel.
In both cases, Israel saw the respective nuclear program, limited to a single location, as severe threat to her national security, which had crossed a red line. Ultimately, Israel made a sovereign decision to exercise her right for self-defense and to eliminate the threat, relying on the best available intelligence. In both cases, the fallout of the strike was contained. Neither Iraq nor Syria retaliated. The international condemnation was restrained (in the Iraqi case) or barely existent (in the Syrian case).
This issue of striking a dangerous nuclear program became pressing when Tehran started to aggressively pursue and approach nuclear weapons capability. So far diplomacy and sanctions regimes seek to prevent such a capability, which threatens not only regional peace and stability but would have dramatic ramifications for the international community. Israel would only be the first victim of an Iran gone nuclear. The issue President Bush brought up in his book, when mentioning the Syrian reactor bombing, is the U.S-Israeli dialogue and, more specifically, the degree to which Israel must ask for permission prior to acting militarily in a scope that would have consequences worldwide. Is Israel bound by the friendship, loyalty, and a relative dependence on military and financial support when it comes to protecting herself?
A country under siege, Israel is constantly fighting back terror attacks against her citizens on a local level. Regionally, groups such as Hezbollah and Hamas — true “mezzanine” actors — are endangering Israeli lives as well as regional stability. They are the spoilers in Middle East peace process. Internationally, Iran defies the West community with regard to its nuclear program and not only bluntly threatens Israel but endangers peace and stability beyond the Middle East. Confidential documents made public recently through WikiLeaks confirm that major Arab players strongly favor stopping Iran’s nuclear ambitions.
Therefore, in a neighborhood of hostile nations and with her security constantly challenged Israel is oftentimes faced with having to choose between bad options. When Israel finds herself at a junction, whichever path she picks there will be less than desirable ramifications.
At the end of 2010, the world is faced with the specter of a nuclear Iran, a scenario with far-reaching and downright scary consequences. Unlike Iraq in 1981 and Syrian in 2007, Iran poses a decidedly more complicated challenge. Its nuclear program is larger and spread out across the country. Iran’s regime is at the pinnacle of its regional and international influence, despite being challenged domestically by the international community. The Islamic Revolution is arguably still strong and Iran has made rapid progress in creating ideological allies across the world. North Korea and Venezuela are to name but two.
Any decision with regard to the Iranian nuclear program easily is the most difficult one any Israeli Prime Minister had to face. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu most certainly discussed — and will discuss the issue with the U.S. President Barack Obama. Yes, Israel’s security needs have an immediate effect on U.S. security needs in the region and beyond. Yes, Israel relies on the support of the United States. And the interests of both countries with regard to the Iranian nuclear program are aligned. With the North Korean blackmail anything but reassuring in the ability of the international community to stop a hostile country from becoming a nuclear power, it is Israel that is facing an existential threat. And all things considered, Israel might again be forced by the circumstances to make an assessment and decision should Iran approach the breakthrough to nuclear weapons capability. Israel, in exercising her right to self-defense, might again save the world from a worse scenario, as she did twice before, without any “green light.”
The State Department documents that WikiLeaks is making public expose the desire of many mainstream journalists and commentators to stand up and be counted as the dutiful water-carriers for the prerogatives of United States foreign policy. Rather than focus on the substance of the diplomatic cables, American journalists tend to either frame the story as being about the “over-classification” of documents or the personal motivations and private life of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange.
Lost in the media static are many tidbits of information such as the squandering of U.S. tax dollars to enrich Afghan officials like the former vice president, Ahmed Zia Massoud, who was ushered through customs in Dubai carrying $52 million; or the spectacle of corrupt Sunni Arab sheikdoms (including Saudi Arabia) joining forces with Israel in demanding the United States attack Iran; or Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili nearly snookering the U.S. into a shooting war with Russia; or the double-dealing with terrorist organizations by Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI). Even when the New York Times reports on the substance of the documents its editors couldn’t resist pumping up the volume on the alleged sale of nineteen North Korean missiles to Iran, only to walk back the story a couple of days later.
Nearly forty years ago, Daniel Ellsberg exposed the official lies behind the Gulf of Tonkin “incident” that provided the rationale for the Vietnam War. A few years later Senator Frank Church’s committee revealed the Nixon Administration’s role in engineering the coup d’etat that overthrew the elected government of Salvador Allende in Chile. In October 1986, when a cargo plane was shot down over Nicaragua carrying the American mercenary, Eugene Hasenfus, and a month later a Lebanese newspaper, Al-Shiraa, printed a story about secret U.S. arms sales to Iran it led staffers of Reagan’s NSC to concoct false chronologies and destroy thousands of documents. Observing this recent history, one could reasonably conclude there might be a pattern here: Government lies are exposed causing a momentary shock on the part of the public, followed by a renewed effort from toadies in the press to facilitate a relapse of amnesia.
Republican Representative Peter King of New York wants WikiLeaks to be labeled a “terrorist organization.” Joe Klein of Time magazine says: “If a single foreign national is rounded up and put in jail because of a leaked cable, this entire, anarchic exercise in ‘freedom’ stands as a human disaster. Assange is a criminal. He’s the one who should be in jail.” And not to be outdone, the syndicated columnist Charles Krauthammer wants Assange prosecuted under the World War I-era “Espionage Act” for the crime of “sabotage,” and offers up this gem:
Krauthammer’s reference to the KGB is fitting: The old Soviet news outlet, TASS, couldn’t have asked for more obedience to the State from its “journalists” as American commentators like Krauthammer have shown in their attacks on WikiLeaks.
Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting, (FAIR), the journalism watchdog group, printed in its December issue of its monthly magazine Extra! a summary of an exchange that took place on October 22, 2010 between ABC News’s Daine Sawyer and Martha Raddatz when the first trove of WikiLeaks documents came out. After Raddatz summarized some of the revelations, which included “deadly U.S. helicopter assaults on insurgents trying to surrender . . . the Iraqi civilian death toll far higher than the U.S. has acknowledged . . . graphic details about torture of detainees by the Iraqi military.” Sawyer’s next question was: “I know there’s a lot of outrage about this again tonight, Martha. But tell me, anything more about prosecuting the WikiLeaks group?” FAIR also quoted the former Bush State Department official and contributor to FoxNews.com, Christian Whiton, who called for the U.S. government to label Assange an “enemy combatant” and take “non-judicial actions” against him. FAIR’s conclusion: “It’s hard to think of another country where the opposition news media complains that the government doesn’t assassinate enough journalists.”
Massimo Calabresi’s Time cover story on Assange is dedicated mostly to the familiar Beltway musings about “over-classifying” documents, and claims Assange “may have something of a martyr complex.” PBS hasn’t been much better. On the Charlie Rose Show of November 30, 2010, Rose’s lengthy conversation with Time managing editor Rick Stengel largely ignored the substance of the leaked cables in favor of psychobabble about what makes Julian Assange tick. Stengel, who recently interviewed Assange via Skype, referred to the Australian computer hacker as “dangerous,” “delusional” and “naive.”
The above tte–tte reveals Establishment thinking at its most unconscious and internalized.
One of the only journalists with a relatively large following who has handled the WikiLeaks revelations in a way that is consistent with the tenets of professional journalism has been Amy Goodman of Democracy Now! She has delved into the substance of the documents free of the psychobabble and voyeuristic obsession with Assange. The rest of the herd, with some exceptions, have been either wasting precious airtime or column inches trashing Assange or discussing how best the government can shield itself from future whistle-blowers.
The fact is Julian Assange possesses no security clearance and doesn’t work for the United States government. He could not have “leaked” anything even if he wanted to. The documents in question are not private. They are official correspondence by federal employees and therefore are public property (and will be treated as such when they become a normal part of the national archives). Missed in the blather about WikiLeaks is that whoever inside the government might have leaked the documents probably did so out of a sense of civic engagement or even duty. Besides, if the motives of U.S. foreign policy are as pure as our leaders claim they are, then what’s the big deal if these documents see the light of day?
Ah, you say, diplomacy doesn’t work that way. Secrecy is necessary to protect the lives of Americans and their allies working abroad in often-dangerous situations. We’ve heard that before. “Lying does not come easy to me,” Oliver North told the Iran-Contra committee. “But we all have to weigh in the balance the difference between lives and lies.” North, who played a key role in setting up a privatized CIA run out of the NSC, claimed he had no choice but to lie to Congress to prevent the Soviet Union from knowing about their secret operations. But when the committee’s attorney confronted North with evidence from his own memos indicating that the Soviets already knew about the secret arms sales to Iran, it was clear that North was trying to hide his illegal activities, not from the Soviets, but from the Congress and the American people.
This penchant for secrecy that produces the “over-classification” problem reveals a kind of tacit recognition on the part of official Washington that U.S. citizens would object if they knew what was really going on. That understanding among elites is a kind of backhanded compliment to the decency of the American people. In 2002 and 2003, our government lied us into a debilitating war and occupation in Iraq that has cost us dearly in blood and treasure, as well as damaged our international standing. The American people have every right to be skeptical about what their government tells them. Julian Assange and his organization seem to be committed to the simple idea that citizens living in a democracy have a right to know what their government is doing in their name.
This Blogger’s Books from
Robert F. Kennedy And the Death of American Idealism (Library of American Biography Series)
by Joseph A. Palermo
In His Own Right
by Joseph A. Palermo
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WikiLeaks’ self-acclaimed leader, Julian Assange is the new rebel with a cause, and a computer. In fact, he might be a geek gone wild, a techno-hero hacker, or just the smartest, damn businessman we’ve ever encountered. You know, he could have been the next Mark Zuckerberg. Yes, think about it. WikiLeaks gets to decide what and who stands naked before the world. Facebook pushes the boundaries of what is private and what is public. Perhaps this is just two sides of the same coin. Both have lived outside the box, are hackers of a sort, and have surrounded themselves with wickedly smart cyber wizards. But one creates an industry, better known as Facebook, and the other is on the path to being charged for treason. Maybe it was the likes of business maven, Sheryl Sandberg that kept Mr. Facebook from falling overboard into complete hacker land. Or maybe it was something intrinsically different about Mark Zuckerberg, and his own moral compass. After all, he did use Harvard as his staging ground, not the Pentagon.
All of which begs further musing about the hacker culture, dear Julian, and his merry band of malcontents. They sure have managed to jump onto a very different kind of world stage of their making. Indeed it’s been a long and arduous journey for these folks from the deep, dark outlaw weblogs of San Francisco’s hacker community to traveling the world. Maybe it’s the fame and spotlight that they wanted all along. Admittedly, Mark Zuckerberg is now rich and famous at an ever so young age, and dear Julian had been forced to keep trolling for fame, and certainly fortune for at least an extra decade or two. And yes, hacking is a kind of world that thrives by living on the edge in the pursuit of truth, good and brilliance. It has its own rules, and ways of doing things. Still both men are embroiled in the debate over privacy and security. But one works out his stuff from inside the game, and the other from way outside. Yet Andy Greenberg of Forbes brilliantly recognizes Assange, as a “prophet of a coming age of involuntary transparency, the leader of an organization devoted to divulging the world’s secrets using technology unimagined a generation ago.” Maybe this is the new definition of a hacker hero that does things for the grander good, but without regard for collateral damage. One still has to ask the question about Julian Assange and his internal compass. He just seems to having too good a time in front of the television cameras for comfort which begs the money trail question. When the curtain is pulled back, who will be standing there? Will it be China, Iran or maybe even North Korea? Who would appeal to the anarchist manifesto or the hacker creed? That’s just one more fascinating question that has been left on the table as everybody is talking trash about WikiLeaks and Julian Assange.
Please note the extensive Pearltree used for the references on this and past articles commenting on WikiLeaks.
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For long after the Berlin Wall was toppled, NATO seemed to be morally adrift as its primary raison d’tre, opposing the Soviet Union, vanished. A flicker of meaning was returned to it after 9/11 as the ‘global war on terror’ took form, and the specter of Islamic terrorism hit Bali, London and Madrid. However, it was not until the war in Afghanistan began to formerly engage NATO troops in January 2006 that the alliance recovered its sense of purpose.
Since its inception, much has been made in Western diplomatic and military circles of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), an association regrouping the powers of China, Russia, and the strategically vital states of Central Asia. Almost immediately, suspicions arose about the growing influence of the SCO. This deepened as nations such as Iran and Pakistan gained observer status, an honor refused to the United States when it applied in 2005. However, similarly to NATO, the SCO has lacked a defining ideology. It originally seemed to operate mainly as a regional counter-weight for NATO expansionist views into the former Soviet Union. Indeed, for China, this was an essential element in the creation of the SCO as it saw American influence surrounding it from South Korea to Japan to India and even to traditional ally, Pakistan.
However, in the last few years, any antagonism between the two mega-groups has been principally idealistic, confined to venomous speeches by Iranian Preisdent Mahmoud Ahmedinejad using the pulpit the SCO afforded him. Although large-scale disagreements remain between the US-centric NATO and China-centric SCO, the nations involved seem to slowly be realizing what opportunities cooperation could afford them, instead of a renewal of the 19th century’s ‘Great Game’.
The major topic of cooperation has been the war in Afghanistan, as all participants realizing the frightening implications should Al-Qaeda’s ideology be allowed to proliferate, or worse, should Pakistan fall prey to those seeking its ruin. Since the war began, NATO and SCO member nations have been engaging in one-to-one negotiations. First, the US negotiated to use Uzbek border crossings to resupply their troops, followed by the establishment of bases and supply points in Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. A huge hurdle was cleared recently when Russia announced it would allow increased NATO usage of its roads and airspace to help in the effort.
China, despite wisely refusing any military involvement in the Afghan conflict, has nevertheless a huge stake in empowering the civilian component of the country’s reconstruction. This has ranged from training Afghan minesweeping squads and police forces, to exploiting avenues for commerce. From copper mines to providing mobile phone services, to Chinese restaurants opening up in Kabul, China’s commercial instincts have awoken to the mineral wealth and business opportunities existing in Afghanistan. These may prove as financially beneficial for Chinese companies as they will be life-saving for Afghan civilians. It is not a tough stretch to view NATO and SCO creating a symbiotic net for Afghans, the US and NATO fighting for military security, and the Chinese developing untapped mineral resources and providing jobs for the local workforce.
These efforts in Afghanistan enter directly into the prime directives of both organizations. The anti-terrorism wing of the SCO has been progressing in recent years, most recently with the “Peace Mission 2010″ drill in Kazakhstan. The SCO is also combating terrorism across a wide swathe of Asia, from Chechnya to Xinjiang. In doing so, its operations are directly in line with NATO, which has long worried about the spread of Islamic extremism spawning more trouble in sensitive countries such as Kazakhstan, where many of the USSR’s former nuclear silos remain in perilous disrepair.
With Wen Jiabao meeting with Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin this week to resolve outstanding gas pricing issues, and with the NATO countries building pipelines to tap new oil and gas sources in around the Caspian and Black Sea, the energy debate is another one where hostility and mistrust must be replaced with dialogue.
Perhaps Sultan Ahmed Baheen, Afghan Ambassador to China said it best: “We believe that Afghanistan should be the ground for cooperation of civilizations, not competition between countries. I think there is room for everyone in Afghanistan.”
Afghanistan. Anti-terrorism. Energy. How many more reasons need there be?
If you thought circulation dives and ad revenue anguish were problems across the print media industry, you clearly haven’t looked at the entire market. Print is alive and well in North Korea … according to North Korea, at least.
While the likes of Rupert Murdoch are trying to figure out how to recreate a paper-based business on the iPad, the General Association of Koreans in China boldly moved forward with its November issue of Paektu-Halla magazine. The “news” was reported by the Korea Central News Agency, North Korea’s official news agency mouthpiece.
Of course, the KCNA reports, the “magazine carried a photo of General Secretary Kim Jong Il.” How could it not, right?
The KCNA continues that Paektu-Halla “edited news” that the Dear Leader:
Continuing with its description of the table of contents, the KCNA says that the magazine “conveys accounts round-table talks, art performances and receptions held by officials of the association and Koreans living in Shenyang City together with former fighters of the CPV on the occasion of the 60th anniversary of the CPV’s entry into the Korean front.”
But, let’s not get mired in the details, here; that isn’t what matters. Rather, we’re seeing print thrive in a market that’s made for it. I can almost imagine the Dear Leader himself saying of the rest of the world… Let them read Kindles!
[photo by John Pavelka via Flickr]
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EAST KOREA (The Borowitz Report) – The situation on the Korean peninsula became more precarious today as the little-known nation of East Korea, tired of being overlooked, declared war on both North and South Korea.
Saying it has grown weary of being “the forgotten Korea,” East Korea said it hoped that declaring war on the two more famous Koreas would establish a new reputation for the often-ignored country “as the angriest and craziest Korea out there.”
“The world ignores the People’s Republican Democracy of East Korea at its peril,” said East Korean strongman Bong Jung Hee. “Those who fail to take notice of us should prepare to feel the full fiery fury of East Korea’s savage might.”
Minutes after East Korea issued that statement, North Korean president Kim Jong-Il offered this response: “North Korea really needs to dial it back a little.”
Intelligence experts believe that East Korea might be adopting its bellicose posture in an effort to get food, but that its threats ring somewhat hollow since the country is believed to possess absolutely no weapons.
If, however, East Korea could somehow convince the world to give it weapons, it would then use those weapons to get additional food, such as dessert.
In a sign of just how insulated it has become from information about the outside world, East Korea also demanded that the European Union pay it a ransom of 10 trillion Euros.
Speaking for the EU, German chancellor Andrea Merkel said, “Obviously, we don’t have that kind of money, but we’d be happy to give them Ireland.”
In Washington, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton explained the administration’s delay in issuing a response to East Korea, saying American officials were still having trouble locating the obscure country on a map.
“Frankly, we’re not even positive it exists,” she said. “But we’re checking WikiLeaks to see if we badmouthed them.” More here.
The Los Angeles Times says Andy Borowitz has “one of the funniest Twitter feeds around.” Follow Andy on Twitter here.
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Attn: Kim Jong-Il
From: Vladimir Lenin
Re: The United States
Dear, Dear Leader:
Probe with bayonets. If you encounter mush, proceed; if you encounter steel, withdraw.
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Wild Card: The Promise and Peril of Sarah Palin
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Feeling a bit under the weather, I haven’t blogged as much as usual this week, but I can always count on Sarah Palin to pull me back in…
Yes, Sarah Palin, the most amazing living American, who, appearing on Glenn Beck’s radio show Wednesday — where she knows she won’t be asked any tough questions and where she can pretty much say whatever she wants without being challenged — made a rather significant gaffe:
Now, Think Progress’ Alex Seitz-Wald is right that “malapropisms can and should be forgiven for frequent public speakers.” Everyone makes mistakes. Think about Joe Biden, for example, who frequently needs to extract his foot from his mouth.
But Biden’s problem is that he is sometimes too honest (for a politician) or just says embarrassing things. In Palin’s case, her problem is that she’s lazy and unserious. Time and time again, what she reveals is that she doesn’t think, let alone think seriously, about… well, about pretty much anything other than the marketing of the Palin brand.
Think back, for example, to that Katie Couric interview during the ’08 campaign. As I put it back then:
Whether it was her comment that she had foreign-policy experience because Alaska is close to Russia, her general incoherence in response to any and every policy question, her inability to name a single Supreme Court case, her cluelessness on the separation of church and state, her ridiculous claim that she’d been “hearing about” Biden’s speeches since she was in the second grade, or her inability to name a single newspaper or magazine she reads, she exhibited not a tendency to commit malapropisms but a general ignorance about policy, politics, and, well, pretty much the entirety of the world around her.
Is it any wonder that Palin later accused Couric of “badgering” her, even though all Couric did was ask some fairly innocuous questions and, treading softly, give Palin every opportunity not to embarrass herself? Is it any wonder Palin recently said she won’t “waste time” with Couric if she runs in ’12?
Nothing has changed. The Sarah Palin of ’08 is the Sarah Palin of ’10. The only difference is that her brand is bigger — with a couple of best-selling (ghost-written) books, a (phony) reality TV show, an even bigger ego, a place of prominence in the Republican Party, and the tantalizing allure of a presidential run.
So back to her latest gaffe. Should we make anything of it? On its own, maybe not — I suppose anyone can confuse North and South Korea in this context, and she probably knows that the North is the totalitarian one (surely she knows at least that?) — but it’s just one more piece of evidence, and a vivid reminder, that her public utterances are really just a string of shallow talking points and ignorant assertions; that is, that she speaks without thinking, and without ever having thought about what she’s talking about (including on rather serious issues like this one).
Is it any wonder the vast majority of Americans, including no less an authority than George W. Bush himself, think she’s unqualified to be president?
Cross-posted from The Reaction.
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The world’s unruly children, namely Ireland and North Korea, dominated headlines this week. Both nation-states are bankrupt and unable to manage their affairs.
Ireland went into receivership this week, and North Korea began lobbing bombs to get attention because it cannot feed its people.
Ireland is simply another sub-prime borrower living beyond its means. The North Korean situation is more dangerous, like a guy about to be foreclosed who has taken millions of hostages and is shooting out his window. The aim is to hurt others in order to get money to survive from South Korea and its Sugar Daddy in Washington.
Both events caused the world’s markets to roil as uncertain investors headed for exits. And I believe last week marked the beginning of a Joint and Several World.
This is a lending phrase which imposes the requirement on all partners who borrow money to agree to be on the hook for any, or all, of the others should they go bust.
Now that principle applies to sovereign lending or sovereign failure such as North Korea’s.
Bankrupts contaminate all their partners, neighbors, creditors and suppliers too. So do countries that lob bombs.
The Irish contagion came from Greece and will spread across Eurozonia. Bets are that Portugal and mighty Spain, bigger than Canada, will succumb eventually.
That will trigger a continental workout and bring about a dramatic political realignment in Europe.
Germany will bear most of the burden, as usual, and will lean on others to help. This will include nearby, non-Eurozone members of the European Union such as Britain, Norway and Sweden.
Next, Germany will insist that Europe’s suppliers also help by lending cash — on favorable terms — as lenders of last resort. In this category, I would include Saudi Arabia, Abu Dhabi, Kuwait, Switzerland, Russia and China. All must help bail out the Euro because they are major exporters who profit by selling Europeans their oil, natural gas, secret bank accounts and other stuff. In corporate bankruptcies, they would be asked to take haircuts on their accounts payable. In this case, they will likely be asked to take haircuts pre-emptively on their accounts payable to help keep their Euro customers whole.
The Euro will become a virtual Deutschemark and the EU capital will shift to Berlin. Governments in Ireland, Spain, Greece, Portugal and Italy will be independent democracies in name only and whoever helps, including Russia or China, will also be given a seat at the governance table.
This Joint and Several World also applies in the case of the two Koreas. Clearly, South Korea’s prodigal sibling to the North must be fixed. Its people are abused, the country’s a shambles and it is run by a dying lunatic. The only way out is a combination of guns and butter: De-fang its nuclear capability, or pay for them to do so, then finance re-unification. North Koreans would welcome liberation and Japan, China and Russia should help South Korea pay for it.
With all the turmoil, Americans finally, by default, had reason to celebrate Thanksgiving. After all, their problems are soluble by belt tightening, slapping taxes on Chinese imports and imposing income taxes on their haves and have-mores.
As for the parties that called themselves countries — namely Greece and Ireland and others — the music’s stopped and the German burghers who work harder and pay taxes will now permanently call the tune.
Diane Francis is Editor at Large with the National Post
In a recent interview, Sarah Palin stated, “we gotta stand with our North Korean allies.” Clearly this potential GOP Presidential candidate needs to brush up on geopolitics. I might suggest some simple mnemonics.
North Korea — Naughty
North Korea — Not Friends
Or, North Korea — No
But I think this grizzly mamma might feel more comfortable with simple visual graphics. If questioned, she could use the same technique to answer any questions about our involvement in Vietnam.
Sarah Palin provided prime material for news outlets and comedy programs when she said on Glenn Beck’s radio show Wednesday:
“But obviously, we’ve got to stand with our North Korean allies.”
If she hasn’t already, I’m sure Palin will say that the “elitist,” “lamestream” media is doing her wrong, and that she is once again a victim of “gotcha journalism.” And Palin’s small but passionate group of supporters will undoubtedly argue that Palin made an honest slip of the tongue, something that could happen to any of us. Her supporters are right. Saying “North” instead of “South” is something that any of us could easily do.
But here’s the thing: Any of us did not stand up two years ago and claim we were qualified to fill a job that is a heartbeat away from the American presidency. We haven’t written books, made speeches, endorsed candidates and spoke to the (mostly right-wing) media as if we were policy experts. And we haven’t been scouting office space in Iowa for a 2012 presidential run.
In short, more should be expected of Sarah Palin than any of us, based on how she has portrayed herself, and how she is treated by the media.
The real story, though, isn’t that Palin said “North” instead of “South.” Let’s be honest: Vice President Joe Biden could have just as easily blown a line like that.
No, the real story is that Palin was discussing a complex, precarious, highly dangerous issue as if she were an expert, even though she clearly isn’t.
Does anyone outside of Palin’s relatively small group of smitten followers honestly believe that she is competent to act as an expert on Korean policy? That she knows the intricacies and risks of engaging with the North Koreans? That she understands the possible leadership struggle going on there? Do you think she has the first clue about the history of Korea over the last century? Do you think she’s ever heard of Syngman Rhee, the Bodo League massacre, the Battle of Inchon, or National Security Council Report 68, or that she knows about the decades of Japanese rule in Korea? Do you think she’s ever read about the role the propaganda efforts of the post-Stalin Soviet government played in the eventual armistice that ended the fighting?
Doubtful, at best.
Now, do you doubt for a second that Joe Biden could reel off a dissertation-level analysis of these issues from the top of his head?
That’s the real story about the Palin flub about North Korea that the media isn’t covering. It’s not that she misspoke, but that anyone cared what she had to say on the issue in the first place.
Sarah Palin, with her reliance on spouting talking points, simplistic approach to issues and complete lack of experience beyond a half term as governor of a state the size of Columbus, Ohio, is not competent to be discussing North Korea. And shame on any media outlet that treats her opinions as if they’re worth anything.
The real damning Palin quote in the Beck interview is the one in which she worries if “the White House is gonna come out with a strong enough policy to sanction what it is that North Korea’s gonna do.” Putting aside her usual butchering of the English language, she takes a complicated problem facing the United States (and the world) and reduces it to a talking-point political attack on the president.
Her comment reveals that she has no understanding that we are dealing with a North Korean leadership that may not be rational and may even be self-destructive. And one with the firepower to kill legions of South Korean civilians. To her simplistic, politics-driven approach, it’s only about how the Democratic president isn’t tough enough. (As an aside, she is talking about a president who has increased troops in Afghanistan, stepped up drone attacks on the enemy, and taken out more Taliban and al Qaeda leaders than George W. Bush ever did, but I digress… )
She recklessly portrays the North Korea crisis as one that is simple and only requires American strength, when, in reality, it is a difficult-to-solve issue fraught with danger. It is complicated and nuanced, and one wrong move could lead to an attack on Seoul.
I wonder if Palin would be so cavalier in her approach if North Korea’s missiles could reach Anchorage, Dallas or some other city in Real America?
And this person wants to be president? It’s a joke.
Palin’s “North”-for-”South” flub matters, but not because she misspoke. It matters because we, as a country, are acting as if she is some kind of policy expert, when, in reality, she is simple-minded and ignorant. She can say the wrong name, just like us. But just like most of us, she has no business acting like she understands the North Korea crisis in the first place.
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And Barack Obama thought he had problems with domestic politics. Just in time for, well, the run-up to the presidential race, President Obama finds that he has multiplying headaches on the international front.
Only a few weeks after definitively learning that, yes, it really was “the economy, stupid,” at least as far as the midterm elections were concerned, Obama has several big new headaches in regards to Korea, Afghanistan, the unending Israeli-Palestinian question, and Russia.
The aircraft carrier USS George Washington left Yokosuka, Japan early Wednesday morning, as seen in this footage, heading for the waters just off the Korean peninsula. The George Washington strike group will link up with the South Korean Navy in the Yellow Sea for four days of exercises, scheduled to begin on Sunday.
This week, North Korea attacked South Korea again. This week, our Afghan War surpasses the Soviets’ Afghan War in length. This week, Israel-Palestinian peace negotiations hang by a thread. And this week, Obama is struggling to gain Senate ratification of the big nuclear arms reduction treaty with Russia.
* The crisis on the Korean peninsula. The USS George Washington aircraft carrier strike group is en route, as seen in the footage above.
While Obama and Vice President Joe Biden were in Indiana on Tuesday, trying at last to get some credit for saving the American auto industry, Secretary of Defense Bob Gates, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, National Security Advisor Tom Donilon, Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman Admiral Mike Mullen, and other top officials conferred for hours in the Situation Room. Upon his return, Obama joined them, conferred with South Korean President Lee Myung-bak, and ordered the USS George Washington to the area.
Obama’s big economic revitalization and Middle America event of the week, highlighting the saving of the US auto industry, was overshadowed by the crisis precipitated by North Korea’s attack early Tuesday morning on a South Korean island. During a sustained artillery barrage, two South Korean marines and two civilians were killed, with dozens wounded.
The survivors were evacuated to Inchon on the mainland, ironically the site of General Douglas MacArthur’s famed 1950 amphibious maneuver which decisively ended the North Korean advance during the early phase of the Korean War.
The island is near the Northern Limit Line, a border imposed by the United Nations after the Korean War. Ever-defiant North Korea says it does not recognize the border.
Earlier this year, a North Korean torpedo sunk a South Korean Navy corvette in the area, though North Korea denies responsibility.
North Korea has a large military, but can be defeated fairly readily by South Korean forces with a major assist from the 29,000 US troops in-country and major air and naval assets in-theater. The problem is that North Korea can exact a terrible cost as it goes down.
CCTV footage shows North Korean artillery shells devastating a South Korean island. International officials are working to avert a second Korean War.
Seoul, for example, the capital of South Korea and one of the most modern cities in the world, is within easy range of the North Korean weapons.
Just a few days earlier came word from Stanford physicist Siegfried Hecker that he had just toured a brand new North Korean nuclear enrichment facility that violates UN sanctions against the renegade state. He says that North Korea’s nuclear program is significantly more advanced than thought.
As always with the Hermit State, the question is what is it up to? To gain attention, certainly. But to what end? Simply money to go away for a while? Are these moves designed to solidify military support behind the Dear Leader’s twenty-something chosen successor and heir?
The George Washington strike group is scheduled to begin joint exercises with the South Korean Navy in the Yellow Sea off the Korean coast on Sunday. I’m told the group consists of the aircraft carrier, two guided missile cruisers with Aegis combat systems (linked computers and radars), seven destroyers, two submarines, and of course the carrier air wing with more than 60 jet aircraft. There are also helicopters and special operations troops in the mix.
General Walter Sharp, commander of U.S. military forces in South Korea, today toured the island devastated earlier in the week by North Korean artillery fire.
China, which has repeatedly protested the U.S. Navy’s operations in international waters in its vicinity, is being unusually quiet about this. Which may be a sign that its ally North Korea has gone too far.
*On Saturday, America’s Afghan War surpasses the length of the Soviets’ Afghan War. And that certainly went well for the Soviet Union, which merely ceased to exist not long after.
Last weekend, NATO leaders again assessed the Afghan War and made some decisions.
While the US will begin a drawdown next summer, and other NATO nations have already begun and in some cases, withdrawn altogether already, the full NATO drawdown is to conclude in 2014, at which time the full handover of security responsibility to the Afghan forces is to commence.
Except that the US and NATO will retain some forces in Afghanistan past that, per a new agreement with the Karzai government. And that the US is saying that forces will be ready to undertake combat operations in Afghanistan after the security handover in 2014. But NATO sources are saying that they will not go beyond training and support at that time.
Working together with the U.S. and NATO, unless Republicans succeed in blocking the “reset” of relations by killing the nuclear weapons treaty, Russia has concluded an agreement with NATO for expanded supply routes into Afghanistan, as well as training for counter-narcotics operations and for Afghan helicopter pilots, the Russians being the experts in helicopter operations in Afghanistan, having conducted more of them than anyone else ever has in their losing Afghan War in the 1980s, which led to the downfall of the Soviet Union.
Meanwhile, while all these machinations in a notably unsuccessful cause ensued, a turning point may have been reached. A Quinnipiac poll last week showed plunging support for the Afghan War.
What is NATO’s role in the world six decades after being formed to oppose the late Soviet Union? And is it on a wise course in Afghanistan, a course originally set nine years ago?
For the first time, most Americans, as reflected by the poll, don’t think that the U.S. should be involved in Afghanistan.
50 percent now say the U.S. should not be involved in Afghanistan now, while 44 percent say we are doing the right thing by fighting the war in Afghanistan. That’s the actual wording of the question, incidentally.
In January, 59 percent said we should be there, with only 35 percent opposed.
Which means that in only a 10-month span of time, opinion on the Afghan War has gone from plus-24 to minus-6.
That’s a very striking turnaround, especially since the war was barely discussed during this campaign season. You can bet it will be discussed as the presidential campaign ramps up.
It’s only because of heavy support from Republicans that the current question is at all close.
Republicans back the war, 64-31.
But Democrats oppose the war, 62-33, as do independents, 54-40.
* Then there is Obama’s hoped-for resumption of the Middle East peace process between Israelis and Palestinians.
Not at all unexpectedly, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas says that he will not return to the direct negotiations with Israel so long as its new proposed freeze on settlements in disputed areas by religious fundamentalists only lasts 90 days, and especially so long as it does not involve East Jerusalem.
Is this at all a surprise?
Israel has the most right-wing government in its history, in which conservative Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu is a relative moderate. His right-wing coalition depends on religious fundamentalists. Which means that the settlers hold the whip hand.
As for Abbas, he doesn’t even represent all the Palestinians. The ones he doesn’t represent are led by elements far more radical than he, clearly anti-Israel.
The situation has boiled down to two extremes demanding not peace but victory and dominion over a small patch of land. If Obama could solve that, he’d rate a second Nobel Peace Prize. But I suspect he’ll have to make do with the one.
Before heading to Lisbon for the NATO summit, President Barack Obama joined a White House meeting with high-ranking Republican and Democratic national security experts to push for Senate ratification of the U.S.-Russia nuclear arms reduction treaty. From left to right in the image above: Former Secretary of Defense Bill Cohen, former Senate Armed Services Chairman Sam Nunn, former Secretary of State James Baker, Vice President Joe Biden, President Obama, and former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger.
* Finally, and perhaps most importantly, there is Russia. Obama is struggling to get the U.S. Senate to at last ratify the big nuclear arms reduction treaty with Russia, which is merely the lynchpin of the “reset” of U.S. relations with Russia.
Obama returned last weekend from the NATO, NATO-Russia Council, and European Union summits in Lisbon, Portugal. While there he participated in the annual NATO summit — which will be held somewhere in the U.S. when Obama runs for reelection in 2012 — and two brief summits thrown on after the NATO summit, those of the NATO-Russia Council and the European Union.
As expected, Obama came away with agreement that the drawdown in Afghanistan, set to begin on a very limited basis in 2011, is to end in 2014 with the full handover of security responsibilities from the US and NATO to the Afghan government. There were also significant developments between NATO and Russia.
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev came personally to the meeting of the NATO-Russia Council, a group designed to foster better relations between the alliance formed to counter the late Soviet Union and the central successor government to the USSR.
After the discussions, which included a seemingly impromptu private meeting between Obama and Medvedev, NATO Secretary General Anders Fog Rasmussen announced that NATO strongly urges the U.S. Senate to ratify the US-Russia nuclear arms reductions treaty, presently stalled by Republican opposition, calling it a high priority for NATO and European security.
The NATO leader also hailed progress toward a joint US-NATO missile shield with Russian participation. The missile shield was once widely seen as an anti-Russian move. He also hailed new agreements for Russian aid in moving military supplies into Afghanistan and in providing training for counter-narcotics raiding parties and helicopter crews inside Afghanistan.
But will this promising rapprochement between the U.S., NATO, and Russia continue if conservative Republicans in the U.S. Senate succeed in blocking ratification of a treaty leading to big reductions in the U.S. and Russian nuclear arsenals? Or would that be viewed in Moscow as a slap in the face, a sign that neo-Cold Warriors in the U.S. are predominant over not only Obama and the Democrats, but also past Republican Secretaries of State George Shultz, James Baker, Colin Powell, and Henry Kissinger, all of whom strongly support the treaty?
And how absolutely lunatic would that be? We’ll still have more than enough nuclear weapons to destroy the world several times over even with the treaty’s ratification. That ought to be good enough for even the most extreme far-right politicians.
You can check things during the day on my site, New West Notes … www.newwestnotes.com.
SEOUL — With the shelling of our island in the sea of Korea, North Korean military ventures have gone beyond the stage of the terrorist acts of the past, in which they mostly had denied their complicity. Now they are openly flexing their muscles, knowing full well that this kind of behavior will make it next to impossible for the South Korean government to pursue a conciliatory policy toward the North.
The latest attack came, no less, after South Korea had just shipped rice and cement as relief aid to flood victims of North Korea — and even after North Korea had asked for more rice and fertilizer on a larger scale.
Are we witnessing an overweening confidence resulting from North Korea’s buildup of its military capability? Are its leaders finally desperate enough to resort to strong-arm tactics as the only way out of their economic straitjacket? Do they feel unconstrained in their adventurist course because they are confident that China will always be on their side whatever they may do?
All of these may well explain the latest incident.
However, what concerns me above all are the internal dynamics of the North Korean regime that have led to this worsening state of affairs, namely, the “military first” politics it has upheld for so long.
I count myself among those who, while understanding North Korea’s dire difficulties, have been alarmed at the increasing pace of its militaristic turn. Privately, even some advocates of the “sunshine policy” initiated by former South Korean President Kim Dae-Jung as a way to get North Korea to moderate and open up also share this concern.
Military virtues have become the dominant values of the society. Military language has taken over political life completely. Any undertaking, whether constructing a building or bringing in the harvest, is addressed in a military manner as if it were a campaign in battle. Leaders are invariably “generals,” although never having served visibly in the military. History reminds us that militarism of this sort that displaces civil society and dominates politics inside a country usually ends up displacing diplomacy with military adventures in dealing with the outside world.
Am I going too far in thinking of Imperial Japan in the lead-up to the bombing Pearl Harbor, that foolhardy venture in which the military leaders convinced themselves of their own supremacy after the country had poured so much of its resources into building up its arms, particularly its navy? Because the military had excessive influence in the Japanese government, the logical way out of the straitjacket of sanctions imposed by America appeared to be a foolhardy military challenge.
I worry that the overweening political influence of the military establishment, combined with North Korea’s dire economic problems, may make it difficult even for Kim Jong Il and his family to control the internal dynamics of the regime. Arnold Toynbee used to call this kind of phenomenon the “intractability of institutions.” Under certain circumstances, governments and people tread down the slippery road to catastrophe in full knowledge of the certain results.
The North Korean leadership cannot wriggle itself out of its present dilemma because of its fateful rivalry with South Korea. Even the very reality of South Korea itself is a threat to its existence, as a well-known scholar and a leading advocate of the “sunshine policy” recently remarked.
Here is the danger to everyone in the region, not only to South Korea: that the North Korean regime has nothing left in its arsenal for survival but its weapons, leading it to resort to unreasonable acts of violence or the threat of violence.
To be sure, South Korean governments have not always been right and sensible in dealing with North Korea in the past. But they have tried in their own ways to address the problems of the country, to engage its leaders in talks, to help the people with basic necessities and to build a regime of stability on the peninsula — all without much success.
China bears a special weight in dealing with the North Korean problem. It is unfortunate that, in the view of most Koreans, China’s leaders tend to still look at North Korea as a strategic asset in the context of its relations with America. Its intervention in the Korean War is still important not because of North Korea itself but because of China’s relative success in confronting America on the battlefield.
I myself do not entirely share this impression. But I believe that China should pay more attention to the internal problems of North Korea, especially the militarization of its society, because the domestic dynamics of any country are inevitably linked to its external behavior. One cannot just ignore what is going on inside a country with the excuse of “non-intervention in others affairs,” particularly if that country is going through an exceptionally critical phase.
In this context, North Korea’s actions are not only a challenge to our security in the region, but also to our insecurity. The artillery attack on South Korea has brought front and center the issue that is increasingly on everyone’s mind: the respective roles of the U.S. and China in our regional security as power shifts eastward.
Not long ago, against the background of the sinking of the South Korean Navy ship Cheonan Ham, and then the clash over an island between China and Japan, I was interviewed by Chinese television. “Why should America, an external power, intervene in the affairs of this region?” my questioner asked. “Why do they still maintain such a military presence on the Korean peninsula?”
I gently reminded her that America came to be involved in this region as a result of the Pacific War, which it entered after being attacked by Japan, and has maintained its presence ever since. As for its military presence in Korea, America had withdrawn from the peninsula but had to return when war broke out less than a year after its withdrawal.
As East Asians, we may have objections to foreign military presence on our lands. But it is an undeniable fact that there has not been a major military conflict on the peninsula or in other parts of the region for more than a half a century since the Korean War. Without doubt, dating back to the time of the Japanese invasion of its neighbors, America has become a stabilizing factor in the region mainly because we have not been able to manage our own affairs.
In the current crisis, we cannot simply sit back and say that the North Korean problem is ultimately only resolvable by America and North Korea, while arguing at the same time for less of an American presence in the region.
If we want to be on our own and would like to see less of an American influence around us, as the Chinese in particular claim they want, then the countries of the East Asian region must be able to address our problems to a greater extent by ourselves.
The successive crises provoked by North Korea, each more dangerous than the last, may well bring that imperative closer to reality.
GLOBAL VIEWPOINT NETWORK/TRIBUNE MEDIA SERVICES