Daniel R. DePetris: The Political Docket

A Middle Eastern Peace Accord Is Contrary to Syrian National Interests

Posted in Syria by Dan on July 30, 2009


The Syrian Arab Republic (under the Assad family) and the United States Government in Washington has always been at odds as to what should be included inside a comprehensive Middle Eastern peace accord.  George W. Bush’s administration, as well as President Obama’s White House, has strongly advocated for a complete eradication of Hamas violence towards the state of Israel.  The United States has also ordered Hamas officials to recognize the legitimacy and sovereignty of Israel as a Jewish State.  Syria, on the other hand, construes Israel has the main instigator and bully in the Middle East, thanks to its aggressive posturing towards Palestinian factions inside the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip.  So the logic goes, the Israeli Government must begin to improve its understanding of Arab culture, recognizing that all Palestinian men, women, and children should be granted the same rights as everyone else.

Ever since Bashar al-Assad inherited the Syrian presidency from his father Hafiz in the summer of 2000, the Israeli problem has often been labeled as the primary foreign-policy responsibility of his inner-circle.  In stark similarity to the elder Assad, Bashar has made it publicly known that Jerusalem’s unending desire for a “Greater Israel” will be shunned as both arrogant and imperialist by his government.  The expansion of Jewish settlements on Palestinian land, he echoes, is a deliberate attempt by Israel to stall the prospects for a two-state solution…a resolution that would finally entitle the Palestinians to their own state.  In fact, Syria’s active stance in the peace process as of late has actually strengthened Damascus’ leverage against its Egyptian, Saudi, and Jordanian enemies.  Muslims throughout the world now view Syria in a positive light, claiming that President Assad is the one core Arab leader who will remain a  confident and defiant voice against Zionist intrusion.

While all of these disagreements have mitigated somewhat under President Barack Obama, tensions between the U.S.-Israeli camp and the Palestinian-Syrian alliance remain with the utmost intensity.  Of course, this bleak reality is not dissuading former Senator and now U.S. Mideast-envoy George Mitchell from meeting directly with the Syrian president himself.  According to the Reuters news agency, the controversial face-to-face meeting conducted this past week was constituted as a success by both American and Syrian mouthpieces.  Mr. Mitchell described Mr. Assad’s behavior as both “candid and positive:” a man eager to assist the process of reconciliation between the Israelis and the Palestinians.

In a dramatic transformation from the forceful policies of his predecessor, Obama’s White House believes that the inclusion of Arab grievances is the only possible way a genuine peace agreement could be formulated and sustained in the long term.  As George Mitchell states, “if we are to succeed, we will need Arabs and Israelis alike to work with us to bring about comprehensive peace.”

Mitchell’s trip to Syria, although a demonstration of symbolic significance and a renouncement of past U.S. policy, does not distinguish itself from the stalemate of past visits.  The current American-Syrian relationship is still as fragile as it was eight years ago: nowhere near the level it needs to be for a full-hearted cooperation to emerge.

Undoubtedly, this is not entirely President Obama’s fault.  Bashar Assad’s regime is notorious for saying one thing, and then doing the complete opposite.  For the past ten years, the Syrian Government continues to speak of hope, peace, and prosperity towards Americans and Europeans alike, all the while stressing for the days when Syrians and Israelis could get along without violence and political hostility.  ‘We are all working towards a day when Arabs and Israelis can live side by side as economic partners, states the Syrian mantra, ‘as well as a time when the Israeli and Palestinian people will end their long-lingering disagreements.’  These comments certainly sound like advocates of international peace and universal human rights….well…if they weren’t coming from a known state-sponsor of terrorism.

Despite the recurring tone of optimism emanating from President Assad and his cabinet, he has failed to show the international community that he is serious about an Arab-Israeli partnership.  He fails to follow up his words with deeds, such as terminating his financial and military support to Islamic militant groups.  In fact, Israel claims that Syria has increased its material support to Hezbollah militants in Southern Lebanon over the past few months: evident the Shia-militia’s rising missile capability.  When adding Hamas’ power into the picture, it becomes clear that Damascus continues to use terrorism as a major tool of statecraft, extracting attention that the regime would find difficult to attain otherwise.

In addition, Assad has shut down any proposal that would open up Syria’s borders with Israel:  an economic relationship that could orchestrate Syrian compliance to the Israelis in a direct and legitimate fashion.  In perhaps the most counterproductive policy towards the Israelis, Assad remains adamant in his quest to strengthen his alliance with the Islamic Republic of Iran, a clerical government that is both belligerent to the western community and its own people in the same capacity.

With Israel continuing to display its ability to respond to security threats in the Persian Gulf, either through sophisticated air-force exercises or naval-fleet maneuvers, Tehran’s power and the destabilizing effect of Islamic proxy groups is the only deterrent Mr. Assad holds against western military incursion.  It is this beneficial and unbreakable situation that exposes the sad truth about Mr. Mitchell’s most recent diplomatic visit:   while overtly courageous and optimistic, Washington seems to have picked the wrong time to engage the Assad regime.

No amount of western appeasement could possibly persuade Assad from breaking his ties to Iran, Hezbollah, and Hamas.  The benefits derived from the Iranian-Hezbollah-Hamas link not only provides Syria with a security umbrella against an Israeli bombardment…it also supplies Damascus with an unending sense of relief in an otherwise turbulent region of the globe.  Considering the fact that Syria’s military is desperately lacking the funds, manpower, and technology to defend the state from an invasion, the “Rejectionist” security relationship is the only defense shielding Assad from a disgraceful exile that has historically plagued other Arab autocrats.

While acknowledging that the rhetoric between the United States and Syria has warmed as of late, and while understanding that Bashar Assad is open to direct dialogue, one must remain skeptical of his real motives.  Would a resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian issue fully convince Syria to abandon its ties to terrorist organizations?  The answer is a straightforward and resounding no.  Syria withdrawing its support for Iran, Hezbollah, and Hamas would make as much sense as the United States breaking its ties with Western Europe.  Both would be illogical and detrimental to each state’s national interests.  Trusting President Assad to hold up his end of the bargain should be out of the question, especially when this same man has routinely shown his true “two-faced” persona in the past.

Only by studying the frustrating aspects of Syrian political history will President Obama gain an understanding as what can be expected from Assad’s participation in the Arab-Israeli peace process.  Even if Mr. Mitchell’s efforts are successful and go according to plan without any obstacles, it is hard to sustain the belief that Damascus will re-orient their world view in some magical fashion.  After all, with tens of millions of Arabs currently praising Syria as the prominent guardian of Muslim liberties, Mr. Assad holds no incentive to change his behavior (Bashar al-Assad is ranked as the most admirable Arab leader in the most updated Arab Public Opinion Survey).  Such a result would be suicidal for both his political career and the survival of his clientele Alawite Dynasty.  However, if he continues on his present course, Syria may establish itself as a force to be reckoned with in the very near future.  Interestingly enough, Bashar al-Assad may be one of the only political figures in the Middle East that could actually profit from the deadlocked-nature of the status quo.

-Daniel R. DePetris

-Information from Khaled Yacoub Oweis of Reuters and Marc Lynch from Foreign Policy contributed to this blog


The U.S. Constitution and National Security: An Ideological Confrontation

Posted in U.S. Foreign and Defense Policy by Dan on July 27, 2009


Throughout the U.S.-led War on Terrorism, attorneys, national-security advisors, law enforcement, and the Department of Justice have all grappled with the same controversial question:  should the United States Government be allowed to bypass the most fundamental principles of our nation?  Of course, what I am referring to is the Constitution of the United States…the most influential and precedent-setting document in our country’s history.  Besides the widely-known Ten Amendments that protect ordinary American citizens from police and government intrusion, unfair trial practices, and the right to express individual opinions, the U.S. Constitution is a symbolic agreement that has shaped the very foundations of democracy.  People of all creeds, colors, nationalities, and religions are ideally equal under national law, while courtroom proceedings are theoretically unbiased and neutral for anyone residing in the greater United States.  Everyone has the universal entitlement to appear in court and defend oneself against a crime, regardless of the severity of the charges or the nature of the circumstances.  The state or national government is even forced to provide a defendant with a trial attorney: a dramatic advantage to those Americans who are unable to afford legal counsel.

Although all of these amendments are important aspects of American society, perhaps the most essential section of the Constitution is the public’s ability to resist aggressive law-enforcement by the authorities.  The Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Central Intelligence Agency, the National Security Agency, or state police are prohibited from overtly searching private property without due-process.  Police must show probable-cause for a search and seizure, demonstrating to the judicial system what they are expecting to find in the individual’s residence, or place of business.  During the whole process of suspicion, arrest, interrogation, trial, and detention, law enforcement is required to follow the rights and privileges of each and every American.  After all, if evidence is planted, Miranda Rights hidden, and lawyers kept on the sidelines, the most free and democratic nation in the world could be jeopardized.

Unfortunately, September 11, 2001 changed all of these assumptions.  The American electorate now expects their government to confront, fight, and destroy terrorist sanctuaries wherever they are located.  Immediately following the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, public opinion polls exposed a deep support for increased law-enforcement measures…advanced screening of bags and personal items, and stopping suspicious vehicles that may or may not carry an extremely dangerous weapon.  So the reasoning goes, the United States Government and the United States Military must have every tool at its disposal to resist Islamic fundamentalism.  The name of the game was simple back then: prevent and eliminate any threat that may repeat the September 11 attacks, all the while ensuring the basic safety and security of the American population.  Although some may consider this a brazen statement, the Constitution was quickly overshadowed by the need to promote national security in all its forms.

As the old saying goes, time is usually the best medicine.  The pro-government sentiment that used to dominate the priorities of Americans has now completely evaporated from the country’s psyche.  Washington’s power has now become too strong for us to bear.  Security stops and checkpoints are challenging our fundamental freedom to travel.  Speaking freely about political issues or the ability to express diverse opinions is now hindered with bureaucratic red-tape, government spying, and possible arrest.  The United States and the rest of the world are sick and tired of solving violent problems with violent results.  Questions are now beginning to be asked as to how much American blood will be spilled in the deserts of the Middle East, and how many innocent lives will be extinguished before Al’Qaeda is finally defeated.  Regrettably, the conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq tell us the simple truth:   it will take years, if not decades more of warfare before Washington is able to mitigate the threat of violent political extremism.

The hostile relationship between national-security and the Constitution has always been at the forefront of American history.  Periods of warfare are always accompanied by those who wish to turn the United States into the country that it used to be:  a land that emphasized the very ideals, principles, and tenants of democracy and universal human rights.  Many times after a large-scale war, citizens create movements of freedom that aim to endorse differing viewpoints, economic prosperity and international peace…hoping to show other cultures, and religions how gentle and kind Americans can be.  Such a situation is often easily predictable, for the cycle of human nature usually comes full circle after tens of thousands of men, women, and children are killed.  All of a sudden, a radical transformation occurs in the American persona towards the very same enemies that we have fought for so long.  Dialogue, it is said, can overcome bombs, guns and missiles.  Rather than continuing on the blind course of air-strikes and tactical operations, we can ask our Taliban foes to sit down with us at the negotiating table.  As peace advocates commonly orchestrate, discussing grievances is much more effective in the long run than destroying Afghan and Pakistani villages with thousand-pound bombs.  “If only the president and his advisors recognize that!”

All of these arguments are taken with respect.  Any claim that advances the prospects for peace should be widely accepted, regardless of their origins.  However, while I would love to believe each statement outlined above with absolute confidence, I am not that naïve.  The type of war we are now engaged in is not compatible with the idealistic fantasies of international humanitarian organizations.  In contrast to the previous wars of attrition, the U.S. Military is now preoccupied with an ever-adapting enemy in some of the most remote places on the globe.  The days of a state officially signing a document of surrender are over…replaced with a more decentralized battle that may never end.  Asymmetrical warfare requires more innovative thinking…an increased mode of sophisticated weaponry that peace supporters would cringe at.  Slowing the capabilities of Al’Qaeda and other like-minded terrorist organizations often requires more intensive intelligence gathering, some of which may only be acquired by sidestepping the traditional rules of engagement.  The Constitution of the United States, the country’s most loving and emblematic work of art, may need to take a backseat to the more pressing challenges that Washington is forced to confront.

Many Americans (especially the legal community) would find my assertions collectively repugnant and disturbing.  I have to admit that deliberately avoiding the principles that our Founding Fathers established is a more than divisive task.  President George W. Bush’s administration has already experienced contentious results over the spying of American citizens, a program that is certainly categorized as above our common understandings of the law.  Yet, with this being said, are we to truly believe that soft power alone will foil the plots of Al’Qaeda and the Taliban?  Will following the Constitution as if the nation is under a period of peace be effective at securing the population in a time of war?  In a more dramatic fashion, will the First Amendment prevent state-sponsors of terror from acquiring nuclear weapons…which could then be passed to a proxy group that does not take into consideration the loss of innocent life?

Not surprisingly, September 11 has already answered this query.  As long as outdated law, partisan politics, and cumbersome bureaucracy thwarts our military’s ability to protect the homeland, more of our brave young and women will be forced to leave their loved ones for a stint on foreign soil.  Like the United States has done in the past, sometimes it is useful to think outside the box during an era of discord.

With the United States consistently bombarded by adverse threats, avoiding some tenants of the Constitution now may actually strengthen its influence in the future.

-Daniel R. DePetris

-An article from the Associated Press helped base the contents of this blog.

You can access this article at:     http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20090725/ap_on_go_pr_wh/us_terror_domestic_raid

The Khamenei-Ahmadinejad Battle for Power

Posted in Iran by Dan on July 25, 2009

Is President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad quietly orchestrating Ayatollah Ali Khamenei's demise?

As if the domestic turmoil within Iran’s clerical regime could not get any worse, a political rift between Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has been created.  According to Iran’s state-run news agency, Khamenei has ordered Mr. Ahmadinejad to remove his preference for first vice-president…a position that would effectively take over presidential duties in case the incumbent dies, resigns, is killed, or gets tossed from his post.  Hard-line clerics in the Islamic Republic are collectively infuriated over Ahmadinejad’s selection: a man named Esfandiar Rahim Mashai who was once in charge of Iran’s tourism and culture department.  More noteworthy to Mashai’s appointment is the candidate’s relationship to the current Iranian president.  Mr. Mashai’s daughter is married to Mr. Ahmadinejad’s son, an extremely close tie that demonstrates the extent of cronyism within Tehran’s leadership hierarchy.  Such a controversial decision by the Iranian president could have the effect of further inflaming the reformist movement within the Islamic Republic…a camp that has routinely exposed their distrust and hostility to the often unqualified members of the executive.

Although Mr. Mashai is technically a member of Ahmadinejad’s conservative camp, his public statements and foreign-policy outlooks have gotten him into trouble in the past with Khamenei’s clerical establishment.  In 2008, when Mashai was speaking to the news media, he declared in a solemn fashion that Iranians “were friends of all people in the world- even Israelis.”  Such a comment certainly did not sit well with the Supreme Leader, someone who is known to engage in belligerent anti-Israeli rhetoric on a daily basis.  This does not even mention the Ayatollah’s policies, all of which directly threaten the very existence of the Jewish state at large.  With Mr. Mashai’s qualifications somewhat contradictory to Khamenei’s vision for the Islamic Republic and the Middle East, it is not surprising that he refused to accept his protégées selection for vice-president.  After all, with the Ayatollah being credited for President Ahmadinejad re-election victory, the conservative president would be crazy to publicly ignore the demands of Iran’s most powerful public official.

To great astonishment, this is precisely what Mr. Ahmadinejad is doing.  Despite calls by Khamenei for Mr. Mashai’s complete removal from the vice presidential cabinet, Ahmadinejad is refusing to appease the Supreme Leader’s desires: a bold decision that many certainly would not have predicted.  In a response to Ayatollah Khamenei’s disapproval, the president stated that “there is a need for time and another opportunity to fully explain my real feelings and assessment about Mr. Mashai.”  Translated into a language that we all understand, the president is not only casting away Khamenei’s orders: he is doing so in the most politically-motivated way at a time when the Islamic Republic is fighting a large-scale moderate movement inside the country.

There can be several motivations behind the decision-making of both Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.  First of foremost, it is clear that the Ayatollah is attempting to rebound from the turbulent election period that casted doubt on his ability to control Iranian affairs.  The fraudulent counting of the ballots that propelled the conservatives to victory has apparently had more adverse consequences than the Supreme Leader would have envisioned.  Not only have moderates assembled and voiced their frustrations over the election results on the streets…millions of young Iranians are beginning to question the very legitimacy of Ayatollah Khamenei’s rule.  By taking a harsh stance against the hard-line president, Khamenei is deliberately showing dissidents and supporters alike who the real boss is in the Iranian political process.  At a time when the Islamic Republic is encountering challenges that were previously unforeseen in the last thirty years, it is important more than ever for Khamenei’s camp to exercise the power that the constitution grants them.

Ironically, his decision to oust a potential candidate may actually show how desperate the Supreme Leader is in his current state.  After all, Ayatollah Khamenei has a history of hiding above the political fray.  The eight-year pro-reformist government under Mohammad Khatami did not even prompt the immediate response the Supreme Leader is now undertaking.

Secondly, in may be safe to conclude that Mr. Khamenei did not expect a rebuttal from his protégée president…considering the similar conservative and religious perspective that both men often surround themselves in.  It is hard to believe that Ahmadinejad would even consider selecting Rahim Mashai as his first vice-president, given the populists’ tirades against Israel and his public statements about western imperialism.  Even so, the reality that Ahmadinejad is gearing up for a potential showdown against the Supreme Leader is a testament to how insecure Khamenei’s leadership has become.  Twenty years into his stint as the top man in Iranian political and religious life, it appears that the June 12 presidential election has even frightened away his closest ally: both in personal and ideological terms.

It is much more difficult to uncover the motives behind Ahmadinejad’s defiance.  Certainly, the United States, Israel, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Jordan would like to continue the “he is crazy and suicidal” argument.  It is been all too easy in the past for these countries to publicly slam the president’s irrational remarks and provocative judgments.  However, bolstering this claim does not have a remote chance of discovering the strategic objectives that Ahmadinejad wishes to achieve.  With international opposition against the principles and tenants of the Islamic Regime (a government headed by Khamenei himself), Ahmadinejad may believe that the time is ripe for him to exploit Iran’s structural weaknesses.  By first appointing a preferred candidate, and then disagreeing with his “boss’s” demands, the president may simply be testing the waters…trying to determine how much political room he has to maneuver without being squashed by a higher power.

While a risky play, it is also a rational one, given Mahmoud’s personal liking for presidential authority and his keen interest in dictating policies to his subordinates.  Given the president’s “power-hungry” nature, it is more than natural for him to expand his duties in the hopes that the Supreme Leader will eventually lose control over essential matters of national security.  Let’s remember that Ahmadinejad was once a prominent soldier in the Revolutionary Guard Corps: Iran’s elite military unit that is expanding in both numbers and power by the day.

Could this be the start of a discrete, bottom-up Revolutionary Guard coup against Khamenei, orchestrated by Ahmadinejad in the hopes that such an action would permanently relieve his addiction to entitlement?  Probably not.  But if such is the case, we must ask whether a nuclear-armed Iran is better off being governed by an autocratic cleric or a revolutionary military figure.  I hope both options are off the table come five years down the line.

-Daniel R. DePetris

-Information from Ali Akbar Dareini and Lee Keath of the Associated Press contributed to this blog.

Can the Bombing of the Afghan Drug Patch Really Defeat the Taliban?

Posted in Afghanistan/Pakistan/Central Asia by Dan on July 24, 2009
Without American Job-Training, Afghanistan will either slide back into warlordism or Talibanization

Without American Job-Training, Afghans will be forced to choose between warlordism, drug cultivation, or a return to Taliban-rule

In a dramatic escalation for coalition troops in their fight against the Taliban insurgency, the U.S. Military has reportedly “dropped a series of 1,000-pound bombs” on plantations cultivating poppy-seeds: a crop that can easily be converted into opium and heroin.  U.S. Commanders in Southern Afghanistan, a portion of the country that is often overrun by Islamic forces loyal to the Taliban movement, view this new offensive with collective importance.  Washington has consistently claimed that drug production in Afghanistan is used as a major source of funding for the Taliban resistance…not only providing Taliban fighters with an immense amount of wealth, but helping to establish an umbrella of control over ordinary Afghan farmers that would normally view the Islamists with suspicion.  Citing this drug-insurgency relationship, Tom Wayne of the U.S. State Department views the mission as one of the most vital objectives in the military’s counterinsurgency campaign.

Analysts, policymakers, and intelligence officials have all argued for a more active U.S. offensive against illegal poppy production inside Afghanistan.  Commonly pointing to the Taliban as a main instigator of drug production throughout the country, the U.S. Government has continued to hide behind evidence-lacking assumptions with respect to Afghanistan’s drug culture.  In fact, ever since the Taliban regime was routed by the United States in Operation Enduring Freedom, the drug-trade within Afghanistan has risen exponentially.  What many Americans fail to realize is how influential the Taliban actually was in drug-enforcement programs.  In its five-year tenure, members of the Islamic government were highly successful in preventing the cultivation of poppy-related crops…both for religious and moral reasons.  Only in the year 2008 did the production of heroin and opium actually decline to a lower level…although estimates by the United Nations still label the Afghan countryside as the major source of heroin in the world.

Of course, the year 2008 is much different than the year 2001.  The Taliban that was once so adamant in eliminating illegal narcotics are now using these same drugs to fund their insurgency against American troops and against President Hamid Karzai’s administration.  This is precisely why the U.S. Military decided to target drug-invested plantations this past week.  So the reasoning goes, depriving the farming of poppy would severely hurt the Taliban’s ability to extract the money needed to continue their operations.

While seemingly logical, Washington must make sure that the strikes on Afghan farms are quickly followed by an extensive U.S.-effort to help farmers regain their livelihoods.  Many Afghans are simply forced to grow poppy in the hopes that their families and communities will escape from poverty and deprivation.  The fact that the Taliban reaps some of the rewards is only an afterthought to many of these families.  As long as these very same farmers are able to feed, cloth, and shelter their loved ones from the growth of illegal narcotics, the presence of the Taliban is something that can be dealt with.  The assumption that Afghans are coerced and intimidated by the Taliban to grow illegal crops is especially discouraging, for such statements only reflect America’s misunderstanding of the situation on the ground.  With jobs and economic benefits virtually absent outside of Kabul, it is very hard to believe that Afghans living in the surrounding countryside would hesitate in creating the employment needed to survive.  Mr. Karzai’s government, dominated by corruption and mismanagement, is certainly not encouraging these farmers to re-innovate themselves in a lackluster job market.

The United States Agency for International Development claims that over $22 million have been spent in order to redistribute resources to over 250,000 Afghan civilians.  In addition, USAID has argued that the organization is helping farmers and villagers grow more suitable crops for their local communities: either in the forms of training, workshops, or new irrigation methods.

While encouraging, USAID is both understaffed and underfunded to adequately complete this mission.  If the United States Military wishes to drop thousands of pounds of bombs on the lifeblood of so many Afghans, they must be willing to assist USAID with the reconstruction effort.  More appropriately, the U.S. State Department must work with their USAID colleagues in improving the lives of the Afghan population…a vast majority of whom live in rural areas.  With jobs unavailable, and with the economic plight getting worse by the day, failing to go one step further after targeted air-strikes will drastically alienate tens of millions of Afghans…regardless of their tribal or sectarian affiliations.

If Americans currently believe that the mission in Afghanistan is all but lost now, imagine how dismal the chances of success will be if the unemployment rate doubles.  Three options would then be left for Afghanistan: warlord activity, drug-production, or a return to an Islamic-based Taliban regime.  This does not even take into consideration the millions of people that would quickly infiltrate neighboring Iran and Pakistan, for fear of both violence and starvation.

President Barack Obama, a man who is risking his presidential credibility on the conflict in Afghanistan, must begin to take more dramatic steps if he truly wishes to defeat the Taliban insurgency.  $22 million is not nearly enough for such a vital portion of Washington’s new counterinsurgency doctrine.  Unfortunately, if the White House, U.S. Military, the State Department, and the United States Congress are unwilling to doll out the necessary funds for an effective farming program, winning “hearts and minds” will quickly prove impossible.  Although many are weary of a return to Talibanization, 75 percent of Afghanistan’s population may very view Islamic fundamentalism as a better alternative than a weak and ineffectual Hamid Karzai.   Americans would then be characterized as both uncaring and self-interested, brushing aside the developments that really devastate an insurgency.  Such is the failure of America’s eight-year mission in Afghanistan.

-Daniel R. DePetris

-Information from Atia Abawi of CNN and statistics from the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency contributed to this blog.

My Israeli-Palestinian Fantasy

Posted in Israeli-Palestinian Conflict by Dan on July 22, 2009
Trust and Confidence is key to Israeli-Palestinian reconciliation

Trust and Confidence are key to Israeli-Palestinian reconciliation

Can the Israelis and Palestinians, after decades of indiscriminate warfare, finally salvage peace in the Middle East?  Can Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, a man who defies the United States by expanding Jewish settlement projects in the occupied West Bank, stomach political reconciliation with both Hamas and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas?  Will President Barack Obama continue to pressure the Israeli Government on the settlement issue?  On the Palestinian side of the conflict, will Mahmoud Abbas and his security forces be able to hold onto power as Hamas militants slowly infiltrate the Fatah-ruled West Bank?  All of these questions are lingering in the minds of Israeli, Arab, and American policymakers.  Whether one is sympathetic with the Israeli or Palestinian position, no one can dispute how important it is for both sides to find common ground on each of these issues.  All of these questions must be answered before any hope for peace is possible in the immediate future.

Among the many proposals that have been circulated by think-tanks, academics, and politicians over the last six months, none is more vital to a long-lasting dialogue than the formulation of a unified Palestinian government.  While a halt to Israeli construction in the West Bank is certainly part of the problem, historical events have proven that no compromise can be fulfilled (let alone agreed-upon) if both camps in Palestine are unable to solve major disputes.  Before each side is able to shake-hands with one another and smile for the cameras, a unified front with unified demands must be accomplished.

Unfortunately, the Palestinian political divide is not the only gap that must be cemented before President Abbas sits down at the bargaining table.  The Israelis under Prime Minister Netanyahu’s government is undergoing this same fragmented state, where Jerusalem’s priorities are often challenged by political rivalries within the coalition.  Defense Minister Ehud Barak and Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman have routinely engaged in bellicose rhetoric between their respective ministries, putting forth contradictory policies that often confuse the Palestinian leadership in profound ways.  The Israeli settlement issue is a ripe example of this contradiction.  Defense Minister Barak seems willing to stop some settlement projects in order to get the ball rolling on negotiations, while Lieberman is vowing to use all of his political might to preserve the dreams of a “Greater Israel.”

Although the Israeli Government is currently basking in its own intrastate fighting, the ideological dispute between Palestinian factions is much worse in the long-term.  President Mahmoud Abbas and his Palestinian Security Forces control all of the West Bank, where his Fatah Party implements policies that are much more moderate than Islamic fundamentalists would like.  Abbas has publicly stated, time and again, that he is more than willing to negotiate with Netanyahu’s government in the hopes that a two-state solution can be reached.  Fortunately for Abbas, a majority of Palestinians in the West Bank support his endeavors…praying that he has the capability and the stamina to stand up to the Israelis on important issues such as security and the right of the Palestinians to govern their own affairs.

On the other side of the Palestinian equation is the Hamas movement: a designated terrorist group whose origins strive for a complete eradication of the state of Israel in the heart of the Middle East.  Its current leader, Khaled Mashaal, is an extremely ideological man who firmly believes that no peace can be achieved without an Israeli withdrawal to June 1967 borders (the year when Israel captured the West Bank and the Gaza Strip).  Hamas militants have run the Gaza Strip since 2007, when its fighters took control of the coastal enclave from Abbas’ Fatah Party.  At the core of the Hamas creed is armed Islamic jihad against the Israeli invader, sponsoring and participating in suicide bombings against innocent Israeli citizens for the sole purpose of intimidation.  The violence directed against Israeli cities reached to such an extent that the Israeli Defense Forces retaliated against Hamas by bombing and invading the Gaza Strip in December and January 2009…killing approximately 1,400 Palestinians while destroying the already poor infrastructure that Gaza residents use on a daily-basis.

As if all of these differences weren’t enough to stop a unified Palestinian government, Abbas’ security forces recently engaged in a military operation that killed a number of Hamas militants in the West Bank.  Whether or not Hamas retaliates against the Fatah Party remains to be seen.  What does seem certain is that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is deepening by the day…only worsening the economic plight of Palestinian men, women, and children.

There is no evidence that the leaders of Hamas will begin to drift towards their Fatah rivals in the near future.  The fact that members of Hamas are continuing to execute terrorist attacks inside Israel is a testament to how uncompromising their positions are to progression, moderation, and diplomacy.  This is precisely why President Abbas must bypass Hamas and go straight to the Israelis.  While controversial, this may be the only possible way the peace process can go forward.  Sometimes it is easier to ignore fanatical demands than attempt to include them in the process.

Some argue that ignoring the demands of Hamas is the same thing as ignoring the wishes of the 3 million Palestinians residing in the Gaza Strip.  This argument, while tempting, is riddled with falsities.  Just because Palestinian civilians are governed by Islamic extremists does not necessarily mean that these same people are committed to supporting their fundamentalist objectives.  Just take a look at Iran…where a vast majority of Iranian citizens embrace pro-western ideals despite the autocratic Islamic government in Tehran.

We must remember that Gaza residents continue to live in social despair and widespread poverty, thanks to a combination of the Israeli naval blockade and the inadequate policies of Khaled Mashaal.  Are we truly to believe that Palestinian citizens are willing to strap themselves up with homemade bombs and blow themselves up in a crowed Israeli marketplace, for the sole purpose of advancing the Hamas movement?  Such a conclusion is not only inconsiderate…it also prematurely dismisses the true will of the Palestinian people.

Perhaps with Israel and the Fatah Party appeasing one another’s demands, Hamas’ support will eventually decline into a remnant of its former self.  The movement that once captivated a large proportion of the Arab world may transform into an alienated group that continues to demonstrate its ineffective administration in Gaza.  More dramatically, an Israel-Fatah partnership could have a much more dramatic effect on Middle Eastern peace: Hamas, isolated in its coastal enclave, would have to fight two adversaries on two fronts.

Of course, any Israeli-Fatah compromise would have to result from concessions being made on both sides.  Israelis may very well have to terminate their construction in the Fatah-governed West Bank.  Abbas may have to demonstrate to the Israelis a combination of good will and sacrifice.  However, with both sides starting to gain the trust of one another, a major breakthrough could emerge.

The recent escalation of this ongoing conflict is clear:  both sides are at fault.  It is time to move away from the politics of finger-pointing and towards a genuine reconciliation effort…aided by both the United States and its pro-western Arab allies.  Who knows…a process of constructive dialogue may “kill two birds with one stone.”  At the same time an historic peace agreement is signed, the ideological bond that has held the Hamas movement together since its founding could fracture and eventually fall apart.  One can only dream that such a fantasy will come true.

-Daniel R. DePetris

Part II of the Israel-Hezbollah War

Posted in Middle East and North Africa by Dan on July 21, 2009
The U.N. Ceasefire that ended the Israel-Hezbollah War could collapse in the near future

The U.N. Ceasefire that ended the Israel-Hezbollah War could collapse in the near future

Three years ago, in the summer of 2006, Israel launched a well-coordinated yet ineffective military campaign against the Hezbollah militia in Southern Lebanon.  Israeli commanders concentrated the bulk of their air-strikes in Southern Lebanon…a particularly hostile area whose residents support Hezbollah’s armed struggle against the Jewish state.  Because the vast portion of Hezbollah’s arsenal is concentrated in the southern half of the country, the Israeli Defense Forces hoped that a major air-operation would severely damage the terrorist organizations’ ability to fire short-range rockets into Northern Israel…thereby protecting innocent Israeli citizens in the major city of Haifa.  Some evidence indicates that Hezbollah’s military capability, coupled with a ground invasion by Israeli soldiers into the heart of Beirut, would deal Hezbollah a significant blow both in Lebanon and the Middle East at large.

While the plan possessed bold and ambitious objectives, Israeli commanders were unable to degrade Hezbollah’s military might.  A large stockpile of weapons remains in Hezbollah’s possession, allowing the Islamic group to conduct military operations without punishment and ramifications.  Thanks to its unchallenged control in Southern Lebanon, the Hezbollah leadership has the ability to threaten Israel with more rockets and missiles…not to mention increasing its stranglehold over the moderate Lebanese population.  Hezbollah units remain very successful in evading Israeli intelligence, quickly adapting to Israeli counterterrorism by spreading out its men and hiding in civilian-invested cities.  Three years after the 2006 war, it is becoming much more difficult to eradicate Hezbollah’s power and influence in the Middle East: either for fear of Iranian and Syrian retaliation or a new intifada by its Hamas ally’s.

Israel’s three-week campaign not only exposed the limitations of western technology in asymmetrical warfare.  The battle also proved to be a turning point for Hezbollah’s image, enhancing the movement’s power and influence in the wider Middle East.  Hezbollah’s unique insurgency-like style, coupled with its tooth-to-nail resistance against a massive ground invasion, gave Muslims all over the world a strange feeling of hope in a world often dominated by western incursion.  Ordinary Arabs in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and the Gulf began to view Hezbollah’s armed struggle in a different light.  Rather than blindly accepting the negative labels promoted by Washington, many Middle Eastern residents pledged their full support to Hezbollah’s objectives.  Iran and Syria, an alliance that routinely provides Hezbollah with information, weapons, money, and training, are now seen as two countries routinely standing up for the rights of Arabs against Israeli occupation.

Only after a ceasefire was put into effect did intelligence officials finally deem Israel’s Lebanese operation a failure.   Although righteous and necessary in its own right, Jerusalem’s decision to retaliate only strengthened the Islamists’ hand by giving them an excuse to expand their operations against Israeli civilians and soldiers alike.

As we sit here today, the ceasefire between the IDF and Hezbollah remains in effect.  The city of Beirut has slowly rebuilt its infrastructure.  The Israeli army has turned its guns away from the Hezbollah network to a closer adversary in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank….not to mention gearing up for a possible showdown with Tehran’s clerical establishment.  Hezbollah, in addition to bolstering its leverage as a powerful military force in Southern Lebanon, is transforming its movement into a more peaceful political party.

Yet, with all of these developments occurring as a direct result of the ceasefire agreement, recent actions undertaken by Hezbollah proves that hostilities may once again reignite.  Northern Israel is still regarded as a target of opportunity for Hezbollah fighters, while Lebanon remains a playground susceptible to Israeli involvement.  The U.N.-sponsored ceasefire, dubbed Resolution 1701, is more comparable to a symbolic document than an adequate effort towards peace.  Hezbollah fighters continue to ignore U.N. demands, some of which includes a complete disarmament of its military wing and an end of its forceful domination of Southern Lebanon.  Some even claim that this may be Hezbollah’s way building up its arsenal and preparing for another round of fighting.

Israeli commanders conclude that Hezbollah has almost doubled its share of short-range and long-range rockets since the 2006 war began…increasing its 14,000 rockets into an unprecedented 30,000.  Israeli intelligence officials have even stated that the Islamic militia has taken control of hundreds of anti-aircraft missiles…a result of either the Lebanese government’s ineffective campaign against the group or the U.N’s unwillingness to police what it preaches.

In perhaps the most severe and blatant violation of Resolution 1701, Syria and Iran have continued to smuggle weapons inside Lebanon in the hopes of further increasing Hezbollah’s capability against the Israeli enemy.  This is a very ironic development, considering that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has publicly promoted direct negotiations with the Israeli’s for a long-lasting peace accord.  Only Syria could master this “two-faced” behavior, endorsing compromise while continuing to harm Israel’s security interests at the same time.  As I have stated before, if Damascus was truly interested in formulating peace with its Jewish neighbor, Mr. Assad would terminate his relationship with Hezbollah: at least in the short-term.  This would not only create the time needed to accomplish any preconditions necessary for a resolution…it would also give Syria the upper-hand by showing the international community how committed it is to a comprehensive agreement.

With all the talks of peace between Israel and its Arab neighbors, it appears that Syria (with Iranian insistence) will never abide by international protocol.  Unfortunately, the persistence of the Syrian-Hezbollah alliance does not reflect Mr. Assad’s “rogue” behavior as much as the U.N.’s inability to enforce a ceasefire.  Time in and time out, international organizations have proved that agreements are nothing but words on a piece of paper…immune to breaches and violations by the same parties that are supposed to follow their demands.  This, and only this, is the reason why the 2006 ceasefire between Israel and Hezbollah is not only shaky and fragile in its own right; it is increasingly vulnerable to collapse.  Couple this with Hezbollah’s weaponry and state-sponsorship, and the realization that hostilities could once again reach a boiling point is not too far off.

-Daniel R. DePetris

-Information from the AFP and Matti Friedman of the Associated Press contributed to this blog

A Letter to the United States Congress

Posted in U.S. Foreign and Defense Policy by Dan on July 17, 2009


July 17, 2009

To members of the House of Representatives Committee on Intelligence,

On this day, July 17, 2009, I write to you as a concerned American citizen and as a staunch supporter of the Central Intelligence Agency.  While your committee is already informed of this development, CIA Director Leon Panetta has recently discovered a covert operation inside the Central Intelligence Agency designed to assassinate leaders of the Al’Qaeda terrorist organization.  According to a variety of news sources familiar with the activities of the CIA, including testimony by an anonymous official inside the United States Congress, at least $1 million was dedicated to improving, sustaining and eventually expanding this “hit-squad” program over an eight-year period.  The rational for the implementation of these assassination teams is quite straightforward:  the United States, under the direction of the executive branch, must possess every tool at its disposal to combat international terrorism against American civilians.  With the September 11, 2001 attacks claiming the lives of so many innocent Americans, there is no debate as to why former Director George Tenant decided to approve the killing of the Al’Qaeda leadership…following international law and the bureaucratic malaise that often dominates the American political establishment is too irrational and cumbersome to successfully conduct the War on Terrorism.  I would hope that even the most senior Democratic lawmakers would agree with this statement.  Any obstacle that undermines the intelligence community’s ability to adequately protect the homeland should be cast away with the utmost vigor.

The nature of the program is not what frightens me.  After all, the U.S. Military is performing similar “assassination” missions by striking remote Pakistani villages thought to harbor members of Al’Qaeda and the Taliban (consequently, President Obama’s decision to escalate this military policy is only proof that drone-strikes are highly successful in diminishing the morale of Islamic fundamentalists).  What does give me uneasiness is the fact that the United States Congress seems adamant in making the “hit squad”- disclosure a public spectacle.

Decades of American history have routinely exposed the tendencies of both the House and the Senate to exaggerate minimalistic situations.  Whether it involves a senior-level confirmation hearing, a military probe, investigations of wrongdoing, or simply debates on the House and Senate floors, it appears that Americans have come to fully expect callous behavior on the part of Congress as a whole.  Fortunately for the American electorate, your committee has continued to please their desires: taking a sensitive matter of national security and transforming it into a partisan fight over power and influence.  It only took one day for your colleagues in the House to begin demanding documents associated with Mr. Tenant’s counterterrorism strategy.

A majority of congressmen/women do not even possess the knowledge and familiarity with the unique responsibilities of the House Intelligence Committee.  Yet, these same officials have continually bashed the Central Intelligence Agency…threatening to open a full-scale investigation as to why the U.S. Congress was not made aware of the CIA-plot.   Failing to abide by politically-correct protocol should be kept in perspective and not overblown to maximum proportions…especially when our military and intelligence apparatus is expected to keep Americans safe and secure from ever-adapting methods of terrorism.  A question that Americans are beginning to ask across the country is whether the main concern of the U.S. Congress is protecting their personal powers and privileges:  perhaps at the expense of the president’s unwavering commitment against political extremism.

I completely understand that national law and the Constitution of the United States may have been broken when the Bush administration failed to report the program to House and Senate leaders.  I am also fully aware that secrecy gone unchecked could potentially result in a dangerous precedent:  namely a continued increase of presidential power at the expense of our elected politicians.  However, with that being said, members of Congress should be familiar with the type of war our military is currently engaging in.  Washington is no longer fighting an enemy with a large conventional army dictated by a top-down command structure.  Our brave soldiers are no longer resisting adversaries with clear-cut uniforms, sophisticated tanks, B-52 bombers, and a defining doctrine of war.  Rather, our president is forced to confront decentralized cells that quickly adapt to U.S. strikes.  The surveillance, technology, and intelligence normally used to spy on hostile nation-states is no longer relevant in the 21st century.  Terrorists and insurgents are especially difficult to track down, easily dispersing into mountainous terrain when the authorities acquire important information about their whereabouts.  Asymmetrical warfare is now the norm in international conflict, whether one is discussing the battles being fought in Central Asia, the Middle East, Latin America, or Sub-Sahara Africa.

While all of these characteristics are especially unique, the one major difference in 21st century warfare is the fact that our foes no longer accept the rules of engagement.  Innocents and military personnel are now targeted with equal ferocity, resulting in a widespread loss of life that could drastically counter a stronger retaliation.  Lucky for Al’Qaeda, the Taliban, and Islamic insurgents in Iraq, following protocol can easily be bypassed and ignored.  The lack of such bureaucracy is what makes these fanatics so difficult to monitor and defeat.  Meanwhile, the CIA, NSA, and FBI are coerced into blindly informing politicians that may have no understanding of the mission…risking the possibility of politically-motivated leaks that only help the capabilities of Osama bin-Laden, Islamic Jihad, Hamas, and Hezbollah.

With each difficulty presented in black and white, Mr. Tenant’s refusal to inform the House Intelligence Community was a purely rational move.  How many times has the White House experienced a leak to the press on the whereabouts of the next U.S. military operation?  The answer is too many.  With the War on Terrorism Washington’s top priority, and with our enemies constantly evolving in Europe, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq, and inside the United States, shouldn’t it be time for the U.S. Government to evolve themselves?

I plead to this distinguished committee in the hopes that its members will call off the upcoming CIA inquiry.  Members of the House would not only be doing a great service to our young men and women in Afghanistan and Iraq … each delegate would also provide a much-needed affirmation to the American electorate:  the U.S. Congress recognizes and comprehends what it takes to adequately confront America’s challenges and dangers.

Yours Truly,

Daniel R. DePetris

Concerned citizen and advocate of the U.S. Intelligence Community

-Information from Pamela Hess of the Associated Press contributed to this blog

George Bush III

Posted in U.S. Foreign and Defense Policy by Dan on July 16, 2009
Former President Bush and newly-elected President Obama are more similar than many think

The Bush-Obama connection is stronger than most people think

On January 21, 2009, Americans across the country reflected on both the successes, and failures, of President George W. Bush’s administration.  While most Americans ostensibly perceived this day as a celebratory moment for the country’s first African-American president, others inside academic and policymaking circles labeled the inauguration as something much more than a transfer of executive power.  Rather than merely continuing a deeply-held Washington tradition- the president-elect standing beside the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, raising his right hand while repeating the words of the White House oath- the inauguration marked the first time in modern history that America’s foreign policy took on a drastically different face.  No other period in modern presidential history has the foreign-policy community witnessed such turbulence as in the two month period between November of 2008 and January of 2009.

So the common analyses goes, Washington under President Obama is now embracing a far more benign and friendly posture towards the world at large.  Military force is now being replaced by policies of mutual respect and unconditional dialogue.  Unquestioned support for Israel is now being confronted with a tone of neutrality towards Jerusalem and its continued fight against Islamic fundamentalists.  Rogue states, such as Iran, Syria, and North Korea, will now be dealt with in a calm and hopeful manner, absent the belligerent rhetoric that was so frequently used to describe the former president’s character.  The days of the American superpower engaging in crude and uncompromising behavior is now a figment of its history.  When taking all of these policy changes into perspective, Mr. Obama’s ascendance to the Oval Office is much more than a simple modification of personality…it is a new era that radically departs from President Bush and Vice President Cheney’s neoconservative logic.

While America’s pacifying shift in behavior towards global challenges certainly contrasts from the last eight years of Republican rule, a closer examination reveals surprising similarities between the unpopular predecessor and the current candidate of hope:

1)  Regime Change remains one of the most influential policy alternatives in the Washington establishment.  Throughout President Bush’s tenure in office, the former governor made it absolutely clear that the United States of America would confront any danger and/or threat with a coercive response.  After the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, this recommendation rose to a new apex in both Mr. Bush’s administration and the Democratic Party in the U.S. Congress.  No longer could Washington and its allies wait for another barbaric strike on American soil, either from Al’Qaeda or another like-minded group that aimed to destroy western hegemony.  Indiscriminate bloodshed, either at home or abroad, would no longer be tolerated.  Minimalistic air-strikes on individual terrorist camps, largely undertaken by President Clinton, would be overhauled by a more enduring shift in official U.S. policy.  States who both harbored terrorists and governments that promoted terrorism as a foreign-policy tool were seen as terrorists themselves…susceptible to military punishment.  Diplomacy, sanctions, multilateralism and formal international declarations were seen as hindrances to the U.S armed forces…an obstacle that the White House had the right to avoid in order to take necessary precautions against Islamic zealots.  The end result of this doctrine:  the forceful overthrow of the Taliban Regime in Afghanistan, and the elimination of Saddam Hussein’s regime in Iraq.

President Obama in his first six months is no different than his predecessor.    While it is true that Mr. Obama recently flew to Cairo and pledged to the Muslim-world that “no system of government can or should be imposed by one nation on another,” he has failed to back up his statements with concrete actions.  Sure, the United States may be far less hostile to rogue nations (such as Iran and Syria) than under the Bush administration:  the fact that Mr. Obama has routinely stressed his desire to meet face-to-face with the Iranian leadership is an appropriate example of this behavioral adaptation.  However, there is no conclusive evidence that U.S. policy towards rogue nations in particular is taking on a more pragmatic nature.  There is a realistic possibility that Mr. Obama’s diplomatic overtures is simply a smokescreen for his true objective in the region… acknowledging, improving, and eventually maintaining Washington’s ties with pro-western Arab governments (specifically Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan, and now Iraq).

Other Points of Contention:

a)  The Bush and Obama administrations are virtually pursuing the same exact logic with respect to North Korea and its continued defiance against the United Nations.  In response to Kim Jon-il’s ballistic missile tests and nuclear proliferation, additional sanctions have been endorsed by both Washington and the U.N. Security Council… possibly in the hopes of further isolating the North from its only remaining ally, China.   Although far-fetched, one could also make the argument that the recent array of sanctions carries on Bush’s regime-change doctrine…either by fomenting unrest between Kim Jon-il and his people or by instigating a military coup by North Korea’s million-man army.

b)  President Obama has refused (to good avail) to take the military option off the table when dealing with Iran’s nuclear program.  Vowing to Israeli lobbyists that he will do everything in his power to stop Tehran from acquiring a nuclear capability, the Obama White House has wholeheartedly decided to continue George Bush’s dogma of preventive war.  Are we to believe that the president, if given the opportunity to strike Iran’s nuclear facilities, would not capitalize a step further by decimating the Iranian leadership?  Surely, Americans are smarter than that.

c)  Even Syria, a country that the United States is wooing inch by inch, is experiencing an extension of the Bush doctrine.  Despite Mr. Obama’s talks of peace between the Americans and the Syrians, and despite  his  order to re-establish official diplomatic recognition between the two countries, the same economic sanctions originally formulated by President Bush have been renewed by Obama’s foreign-policy team.  If the president was indeed genuine in his calls for warming Washington-Damascus relations, why would he implement a package of punishments that could severely restrain the prospects for normalization?

2)  Hostility Towards Tehran:  Like President Bush, the current Commander-in-Chief is desperately trying to isolate and distance Iran from its Arab neighbors…for the sole purpose of promoting American and Israeli influence in the region.  The American plea for unconditional dialogue with the Syrians is not simply for dialogue’s sake:  the White House has a vested interest in persuading Mr. Assad to break his alliance with Tehran’s clerics.  While he may not be advocating an outright military invasion of Iran, President Obama is certainly not giving up on his desire to weaken the Persian power.  In effect, the Obama administration’s goal with respect to Iran is the same exact goal officials in the Bush White House wished to achieve.

By promising western investment, technology, and diplomatic normalization, the U.S.-Israel camp aims to cajole the Syrians away from the extensive arms of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.  This strategy, while at first peaceful, has essentially the same effect as overthrowing the Islamic regime by force:  it discredits the legitimacy of Khamenei and his conservative allies.  What better way to expand American hegemony in the Middle East than to defeat one of your most principle adversaries?  Whether one supports Obama’s “re-alignment” design or Bush’s militaristic approach, the result is identical.  The United States is continuing to place all of their chips in one hand…betting that a friendly Middle East is dependent upon Iran’s demise.

3)  “The Surge” is transforming into one of President Obama’s most important policies in the War on Terror.  Just as President Bush ordered an additional 30,000 American soldiers on the streets of Baghdad to pacify the Iraqi civil-war, the Obama administration has ordered an increase in troop levels to salvage the U.S.-mission in Afghanistan.  The new “Af-Pak” counterinsurgency strategy that the U.S. Defense Department released is heavily associated with Mr. Bush’s experiences in Iraq:  “clear, hold and build,” while American and coalition troops train home-grown forces to take primary responsibility for their own security.

As U.S. troop casualties’ rise to previously unforeseen levels in Afghanistan, it is conceivable that members of the press corps will exert great pressure on President Obama; questioning his very ability to bring victory closer to Afghanistan’s fragile environment.  Ironically, this is the same swath of criticism that President Bush was forced to endure when sectarian killings in Iraq were at an all-time high.  Who knows…if the violence level in Afghanistan resembles anything close to Iraq’s 2005-2007 civil war, Mr. Obama’s presidential legacy may be defined as a four-year stint that strove (with no great avail) to formulate a new chapter in American history.

All of these examples point to one overarching conclusion:  while different in some of their approaches, the status-quo in American foreign-policy remains embedded in the White House, Congress, the State Department, and the Defense Department.  Any attempt to distinguish Mr. Obama’s first six-months in office from Mr. Bush’s eight years would not only be premature…it would show the international community that a vast portion of the American electorate was dooped into believing a policy of “change.”

-Daniel R. DePetris

-Information from Howard LaFranchi of the Christian Science Monitor and Steven E. Miller of the International Security Program contributed to this blog.       

What Do You Do When the Taliban is less corrupt than the Afghan Police Force?

Posted in Afghanistan/Pakistan/Central Asia by Dan on July 15, 2009
The Afghan National Police Force is increasing support for the Taliban

Poor training by NATO has created a mafia-like police force in Afghanistan

On this day, July 14, 2009, the United States and its coalition partners have been engaged in the sands of Afghanistan for approximately 7 ½ years.  Starting from the very first U.S. strike on Taliban strongholds in October of 2001 (one month after the Al’Qaeda-sponsored attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon), Washington has made it absolutely clear that defeating the Al’Qaeda terrorist organization is paramount to a broader success in the War on Terrorism.

So the reasoning goes, depriving the Taliban and other Islamic extremists from acquiring political power in the Middle East (or Southwest Asia) will allow for democratic governance to prosper among the people.  With democracy established in Kabul, the Taliban Regime that was once so influential in the mid- 1990’s would lose its luster as a movement…exposing its leadership as the fanatical menace it really is.  The main American objective would then be fully completed:  democracy would be set up in Afghanistan, thus giving the Afghan population an incentive to abide by international law for the sake of international peace.

Indeed, this endeavor could be categorized as the biggest and boldest plan that Washington has formulated in modern history.  If there was ever a challenge for the worlds remaining superpower, transforming a war-torn and anarchic society dominated into a modern nation-state fits this description.

Over the last seven years, tens of thousands of American troops have worked extensively with anti-Taliban warlords in the pursuit of this very same goal:  uprooting the Taliban movement and driving them to the Afghanistan-Pakistan border.  Fortunately, this strategy has been tremendously successful for the United States and its allies…paving the way for a young democratic government under President Hamid Karzai to flourish.  Expanding the western way of life seemed all too easy for President George W. Bush in 2003, given the fact that both the Taliban and Al’Qaeda were severely degraded to pieces of their former self.  It appeared at first glance that the extensive American-NATO ground campaign was quickly being accomplished.

And then came the preventive war with Iraq, a campaign that diverted immense amounts of manpower, resources, and technical expertise from Kabul to Baghdad.  And then came the six-year American-led occupation of Iraq, prompting devastating waves of violence by Islamic fighters and Al’Qaeda in particular.  Suicide bombs, ambushes, and roadside attacks were claiming the lives of U.S. soldiers by the day, all the while mitigating the coalition’s effectiveness at establishing law and order in Iraq’s provinces.  Sunni insurgents and Shia militias began to fight one another in a full-fledged civil war over the country’s resources and power.  Innocent men, women, and children were routinely targeted on the streets with tactical strikes and bomb-blasts.  It took Washington two years of civil-war to finally embrace a new strategy for Iraq…getting back to basics by implementing an effective counterinsurgency doctrine to combat incidents of terrorism and indiscriminate murder.

Thankfully, Iraq’s violence has decreased significantly over the past two years.  Yet, the United States is finally discovering how much they sacrificed to salvage Bush’s Iraqi campaign.  Afghanistan, the country where America’s War on Terrorism began eight years ago, is now undergoing the same type of violence that plagued Iraqi society years before.  Inadequate ground troops, ineffective Afghan Security Forces, a Taliban resurgence and the corruption of President Karzai’s administration has all but diminished any prospects for a stable democratic state in the heart of the Islamic world.  The war in Afghanistan is now being labeled as Mr. Obama’s Vietnam War: an analogy that not only questions America’s commitment to the fight, but brings a wrath of skepticism as to whether the fight was even worth it in the first place.

The newly-elected Barack Obama seems to realize this recent phenomenon.  His administration has already approved an additional 21,000 American soldiers to Afghanistan, most likely in the hopes of securing the population for the upcoming August 2009 presidential elections.  American forces and their NATO comrades have teamed up to drive the Taliban once and for-all from their hideouts in Southern Afghanistan, particularly in the city of Kandahar where Taliban philosophy reigns supreme.  News reports have described numerous U.S air strikes directed towards Taliban-infested villages…quickly trying to reverse the last seven years of failed Afghan policy.  Although early in this new military campaign, it appears that Mr. Obama’s “Af-Pak” strategy is working with tremendous effect.  The fact that the President has already stated that Taliban fighters have been pushed back is a testament to how unwavering his commitment to Afghan security is.

However, while the ground phase of the battle is beginning to decimate the morale of the Taliban movement, another front in the war is continuing to be ignored…the establishment and implementation of a neutral and just judiciary system complemented by the rule of law.  Afghan villagers tell depressing stories of corrupt officials in Afghanistan’s national police force, stopping innocent civilians and looting them of their possessions.  Urban and rural residents alike point to the “brutal” nature of these untrained men in uniform, terrorizing the local population while exerting direct control over much-needed resources.  Instances of sexual assault and rape are commonplace, according to Mohammad Gul, an elder in the village of Pankela where British troops have recently expanded their offensive:

“If the boys were out in the fields, the police would come and rape them…you can go to any police base and you will see these boys.  They hold them until they are finished with them and then let the child go.”

Such horrific descriptions are especially difficult to accept, considering the fact that western troops were tasked with training, equipping, and teaching Afghans how to become effective and law-abiding public servants.  With widespread instances of rape, looting, and beating towards the very same people they are supposed to protect, members of the Afghan national police are behaving more like petty criminals than legitimate servicemen.  These crimes against humanity have reached to such an extent that Taliban militants are cheered on by local Afghan villagers…a development that U.S. troops should be deeply concerned about.  As this same elderly villager comments, “We were happy (after the Taliban arrived).  The Taliban never bothered us.  If the police come back and behave the same way, we will support the Taliban to drive them out.”

One can understand these statements early on in the war, when the Taliban still enjoyed a relative share of support among the Afghan population.  Yet, a full seven-years into the conflict, compliants like these are beginning to emanate from Afghans of all tribal divisions.  Even the most ardent critic of the Taliban regime must question the effectiveness of the U.S-NATO campaign.

President Obama and leaders of CENTCOM must begin to realize that winning the hearts and minds of the people is just as essential, if not more so, as military force when destroying an insurgency.  All the military successes in the world will not bring Afghanistan closer to victory.  As long as the Taliban remains the only true alternative to a corrupt and demeaning Kabul government, the principles and tenants of Islamic fundamentalism will remain embedded in Afghan society.  As long as President Karzai is unable to exert control past the capital city, insecurity and the influence of warlords will turn Afghanistan into a fragmented country on par with its dismal history of civil war.  As long as the government of Afghanistan is unable or unwilling to create economic opportunities for its people, opium production will continue to increase throughout the countryside…furthermore funding the Taliban’s insurgency.

Military strikes on Taliban hideouts are indeed important if the United States wishes to secure the population for the short-term. President Obama has already expresed how important short-term security gains are to Afghanistan’s political development:  U.S. forces are ordreed to stabilize the country long enough for the Afghan people to safely vote in the country’s upcoming elections.  While such efforts are warranted, we must ask whether this strategy is enough to prevent Afghanistan from becoming a potential safe-haven for terrorists.  If politicians in Washington and Brussels truly wish to box Islamic fundamentalists into a corner, military force must be accompanied by development and reconstruction.  Rather than strive for the short-term, the U.S. and its coalition partners must make available the funds and resources required for a friendly Afghan government to function.  More importantly, Washington and Europe must begin to implement reconstruction projects that help to serve the basic needs of the Afghan population.  More often than not, electricity, schools, and businesses are more helpful in removing insurgency than bullets and air-strikes.

Above all, it is vital for the United States Military to gain the trust and support of Afghan natives.  The only possible way of achieving this, of course, is by treating people with respect and dignity.  The United States and NATO can facilitate this progress by doing what should have been done seven years earlier: monitoring the Afghan police force and recognizing that the advisory mission is a primary responsibility.

-Daniel R. DePetris

-Information from AFP and Peter Graff of Reuters contributed to this blog

NATO is Broken…At Least in Afghanistan

Posted in Afghanistan/Pakistan/Central Asia by Dan on July 13, 2009
Afghanistan is becoming a "go it alone mission" for the United States

Afghanistan is becoming a "go it alone mission" for the United States

Upon entering the Oval Office in January 2009, President Barack Obama placed a tremendous amount of his credibility as a national politician on the deteriorating situation in Afghanistan.  Contrary to former President George W. Bush’s unquestioned loyalty to the American campaign in Iraq, the former Illinois senator has successfully distinguished himself as a man who believes America must go back to where its War on Terrorism began.  After six full years of a U.S.-led occupation in Iraq, an Arab country that may always be characterized by dangerous sectarian divisions, the United States Military must finally put Baghdad aside for more pressing issues.  In a dramatic attempt by the White House to salvage the foreign-policy blunders of the Bush administration, the State and Defense Departments have begun too caste their differences aside for the sake of American unity…an alliance that is more than vital if Washington and its allies wish to effectively resist terrorism in all its forms.

Of course, the military campaign that the president and his closest advisors are desperately trying to improve is the joint U.S. and NATO operation in Afghanistan.  These efforts should be widely applauded by Americans and Afghans alike, considering the fact that insurgent attacks have sharply increased against coalition forces over the past year.  The same Taliban regime that was once hanging by a thread in the months proceeding September 11, 2001 is now reinvigorated in both numbers and logistics.  The sporadic gunfire that Taliban fighters relied upon with utmost vigor is now replaced with more sophisticated operations.  Sunni extremists, Afghan tribes, and members of the Al’Qaeda terrorist organization have adapted with relative ease to coalition successes on the ground.  Roadside bombs that Islamic insurgents so frequently used in Iraq’s major cities and towns are now being implemented in Afghan villages…a development that commanders have finally discovered after numerous instances of bloodshed.  As if the downward spiral cannot get any worse, U.S. and NATO military strategies have all but allowed the influential leadership of Al’Qaeda to escape to Pakistan’s ungovernable western frontier.

An official document published by the United States Defense Department, entitled Progress Toward Security and Stability in Afghanistan, confirms these assertions.  Between October of 2008 and May of 2009, “insurgent-initiated attacks…were 60 percent higher than during the same period the previous year.”  A total of 67 American personnel were killed on the front lines during this same time-frame, while the deaths of the Afghan Security Forces increased by an astounding 48 percent.  Combined with the large amounts of opium produced by Afghan farmers, the insurgency that was once labeled by the Bush administration labeled as non-existent has rebounded to devastating effect.

With Afghanistan quickly transforming into a besieged state on par with Somalia and Darfur, President Obama’s decision to send an additional 21,000 U.S. troops is certainly understandable.  As Time Magazine has so accurately reported, the Afghan conflict has become Mr. Obama’s Vietnam War…a costly and questionable campaign that the president hopes to revitalize in the American consciousness.  With Washington’s Afghanistan policy switching from a nation-building fantasy to a strict security operation, it is natural for the Obama White House to increase troop commitments in order to adequately train and equip Afghanistan’s national army and police.

Ongoing military-offensives by U.S. soldiers against Taliban strongholds in Southern Afghanistan are forceful examples of how serious America is in denying Al’Qaeda save-haven in the war-torn Islamic country.  In fact, recent reporting by the Reuters news organization has confirmed the numerous successes of coalition forces (led by the United States):  Taliban fighters are being pushed from their former hideouts with unprecedented speed.  There is no question of America’s sincerity in persevering, let alone completing the difficult counterinsurgency activities required for success.

What should be questioned, however, is NATO’s commitment to this same exact mission.  Although there are currently 41 nations around the world contributing military forces to the “Af-Pak” region (excluding the United States), the combined numbers in this “Coalition of the Willing” tells a different story:  compared to the 68,000 American soldiers on the ground, NATO member-states have only sent an additional 33,000 men and women to the fight.  The second-highest contributor to Operation Enduring Freedom is the staunch U.S. ally Great Britain…where approximately 8,300 British troops are stationed in the southern portion of Afghanistan.  Ironically, this is the same section of the country that has been routinely bombarded by insurgent attacks in the last year.  Taking Britain’s numbers into perspective, the nation with the third-most effective contingent is Germany with over 3,000 troops:  a figure that can hardly be called helpful when the United States is bearing the largest brunt of the casualties and cost.  Is NATO simply too weak to convince member-states to cough-up more troops, funds, and resources to the Afghan conflict?  Or are international institutions in general unable to perform their stated agreements, due to the constant array domestic politics and bureaucratic red tape?

If President Obama is willing to alter his course in response to a resurgent insurgency, shouldn’t members of NATO be willing to do the same?  After all, the fight against the Al’Qaeda establishment and the decentralized Taliban infrastructure is not simply a battle that the United States must unilaterally deal with.  The whole international community is equally affected by the lingering dangers of terrorism and political extremism.  Each and every individual, regardless of nationality, religion, race, creed, or gender, faces similar threats of terrorist-related violence on a daily-basis.  London was attacked by bombs in 2005, killing over 50 civilians.  The United States suffered the worst terrorist incident in modern history on September 11…deliberate plane crashes into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon that claimed over 3,000 innocent men, women, and children.  Kenya and Tanzania suffered hundreds of casualties due to an Al’Qaeda-sponsored bombing campaign against the U.S. Embassy.  Tens of thousands of Iraqis have been blown up by suicide bombers at the hands of Islamic fundamentalists over the past six years, while Spain was rocked by a subway-detonation that extinguished at least 200 people.  With so many diverse cultures being raddled by incidents of indiscriminate violence, one would think that governments all over the world would rise to the task by stepping up their force contributions in Afghanistan…the same country that aided and embedded Osama bin-Laden’s terrorist apparatus for years under the Taliban Regime.

Being unwilling to send young men and women into the battlefield is one thing…deliberately refusing to abide by international agreements is certainly another.  While the press has continued to cover NATO troop deployments over the last few years, major media outlets have failed to expose the ineptitude and incompetence of the alliance’s leadership and structure.  Casting aside those very few countries (such as Britain and Italy) who have routinely pledged their unending support to the reconstruction of Afghanistan, the vast majority of NATO members seem either uninterested or weak-willed in the coalition’s efforts.  The U.S. Department of Defense has gone so far as to claim that Washington’s allies have consistently undermined the effectiveness of the counterinsurgency doctrine…either by limiting monetary contributions or failing to deliver technical support.

The rising death and injury toll, both on the civilian and military sides of the conflict, have not even gained the attention of other members of the coalition.  Just when the United States and Great Britain need their allies the most, Europe decides to sacrifice international security for the sake of appeasing the interests of public opinion.

For the last eight years, the United States Military has often been unable to gain the military, financial, technical, and civilian support that is needed to successfully uproot Islamic fundamentalism in Afghan provinces.  Unfortunately, it appears that Washington has all but expected its requests to be ignored, if not denied, by the international community (Great Britain aside).  In the most updated version of the Defense Department report on Afghanistan:

“The United States sent tailored requests to individual international partners and allies.  The requests were for civilian, military, and financial support and were delivered in March 2009.  At the time of this report, there has been limited response to the request.”

While seemingly confined to the situation in Kabul, this conclusion tells us an otherwise different story:  the system of alliances that the United States and Great Britain have so thoroughly taken-for-granted is drastically being shaken by its very foundations.  The asymmetrical warfare has come to overwhelm security policy in the 21st century is gradually eroding international unity.  Long gone are the days when a nation can be saved by friendly governments when trouble engulfs their population.  Long gone are the days when a strong and effective relationship can be sustained for a long period of time.  Long gone are the years in which international institutions and national governments can team up and dispose of an extraordinary threat to stability (as the United Nations and the United States did in the Gulf War).  And finally, it appears that the age of modern terrorism is severely jeopardizing a long historical precedent in only a few short years: rather than practicing what they preach, members of NATO and the United Nations have decided that acquiring political points is more useful than fulfilling promises.

As the United States and its “allies” continue to rid the world of violent ideologues in Afghanistan and Iraq, and as Washington continues to expand its resistance against Islamic fundamentalism in general, we can only hope that France, Germany, Britain, Japan, South Korea, Italy, Ireland, Turkey, Ukraine, Russia, Finland, Hungary, Latvia, Australia and a host of others will recognize that the fight we are currently engaging in is the fight that will define our generations’ history.  British Prime Minister Gordon Brown is right…”this is a very hard summer.”  But make no mistake about it, it is a hardship worth enduring.  The very survival of democracy is in the balance.  MESSAGE TO NATO…HELP THE WORLD TRIUMPH FOR THE BETTER!

-Daniel R. DePetris

-Information from:



-John J. Kruzel of the American Forces Press Service

International Security Assistance Force

– and the United States Department of Defense’ Report on Progress Toward Security and

Stability in Afghanistan contributed to this blog.

Entire report on the current security situation in Afghanistan can be assessed at:  http://www.defenselink.mil/pubs/pdfs/1230_June%C2%AD2009Final.pdf

For more NATO figures for the conflict in Afghanistan: