Daniel R. DePetris: The Political Docket

National Security Fever At The White House

Posted in U.S. Foreign and Defense Policy by Dan on May 29, 2010

For political nerds like myself, the release of the National Security Strategy is a spectacle akin to the Superbowl for sports fans; we wait for an exceedingly long time while pretending to be experts in what the final matchup is going to be.  And just like sports fans who hope and pray that the Superbowl will be an exciting and momentous event for American sports culture, national-security specialists (and students of national security thank you very much) expect the NSS to be a document with far-reaching implications for U.S. foreign policy.  We assume all too often that a new president will automatically denounce the policies of the past and replace them with a new vision for the future.

But just like football fans who desire a close, nitty-gritty game to the last minute, we are usually disappointed with the entire process.  We may want a memorable match or a revolutionary transition in foreign policy, but our hopes rarely come to fruition.  Fans sit in their living rooms and roll their eyes at a halftime blowout, and political bloggers sit down at their computers and scratch their heads about why they were so excited in the first place.

Such is the case with President Obama’s first ever National Security Strategy, which was released yesterday to thousands of eager onlookers in press rooms, universities, and congressional offices across the country.  And to the surprise of many who thought that the Prez would lambaste the unilateralism and toughness of the Bush years in this document, the 2010 NSS revealed almost the exact opposite: a pragmatic and realistic report both supportive of the past and representative of the future.

The Obama administration does take a few shots at former President Bush for his reliance on American military might with phrases like, “the burdens of a young century cannot fall on American shoulders alone,” which is a direct reference to Bush’s tendency in steering the world ship in America’s direction.  And of course, there are some pointed complains about America’s previous distancing from international institutions and multilateral partnerships more broadly (the President considers rebuilding alliances as one of the four key pillars of his strategy).

Other than that, the 2010 NSS is a lot like previous ones under the Bush and Clinton administrations.  Political extremism, terrorism, the spread of nuclear weapons, and failed states are all viewed by this president in much the same fashion: dangerous to U.S. national interests and global security.  Promoting democracy and human rights around the world is still regarded as a primary responsibility for the United States…demonstrating once again that “American exceptionalism” is still largely at play in Washington.  And you only need to read the first few pages to grasp the maintained importance of American values in U.S. national security (a.k.a.  “the success of free nations, open markets, and social progress”).

These goals seem right on par with what every president since George Washington has sought to accomplish, doesn’t it?  This is not necessarily a bad thing.  In fact, in many ways it shows that the United States is consistent in its aims and rational in its demands.  On the other hand, it also exemplifies the long standing tradition in Washington of putting change in a secondary position.  Most lawmakers hardly want to step outside their comfort zone (that could cost reelection! *sarcasm added*).

But history aside, the most important outcome of this new NSS is its very existence.  Rather than blindly sailing in whichever direction the wind blows- as the President has done in my view over the past 18 months- the Obama administration now has a concrete document to work with.

Certainly, presidents rarely follow their stated goals word for word.  And the world has a funny way of ambushing us at the most inconvenient times, just when we’re used to the way things are being handled (like before September 11, when most of us thought that the United States was invincible from any challenge and capable of scaring our enemies into outright submission).  But at least the NSS gives the White House a sense of coherence in an otherwise confusing global environment.  And at least the public now has something to hold the administration accountable for.

For some more reactions, click here, here, here, here, oh…and here.  Or you could be a real worker and read the entire strategy (although I don’t recommend that option unless you want your eyes to fall out).

-Daniel R. DePetris

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**Comments courtesy of Peter Feaver of FP.com**

Sometimes It’s Best Too Stay Silent

Posted in U.S. Foreign and Defense Policy, United States by Dan on May 25, 2010

In a normal and rational world, people who perform their jobs poorly or stake their personal integrity on false information usually stay out of the limelight when exposed.  You never see a former CEO make a press conference and recommend sound business practices after he (or she) is indicted and eventually convicted of bribery or extortion.  The same can be said in the world of technology as well; for instance, I bet that Bill Gates wouldn’t stick by Windows Vista if thousands of computers crashed as a result of the same faulty program.

So why on earth do disgraced politicians and government officials insist on digging themselves into a deeper grave?  Remember former New York Governor Elliot Spitzer, the man who was caught in a covert prostitution ring run by the FBI?  Yea…well…now he’s back on the radar, appearing on television and giving interviews about the country’s financial crisis.

Presidents try to bolster their image as well.  Typically, presidents who were deeply unpopular during their tenure, or those who leave the post with a low approval rating (due to either personal glitches or tumultuous policies) attempt to improve their standing through a highly coordinated P.R. campaign (see Jimmy Carter and George H.W. Bush).  After his cataclysmic fall from grace, President Richard Nixon spent the last twenty years of his life trying to rebuild his tarnished image.

So I guess it should come as no surprise that Douglas Feith, one of the men responsible for leading President George W. Bush into a full-scale invasion of Iraq, is doing the same thing.  But here’s the kicker….he’s using the same tools and credentials that originally tarnished his credibility five years earlier.

You would think that after a terrible foreign-policy record- both with respect to post war planning in Iraq, dismal resources in Afghanistan and a poor policy with respect to Iran- former Bush officials like Doug Feith and Paul Wolfowitz would shut their mouths when a contentious issue comes up.

It’s not inaccurate or unfair to recognize that both Feith and Wolfowitz have lost considerable standing in Washington, not to mention in the entire IR community generally.  Feith in particular has come under a tremendous amount of political heat, so much so that he was forced to resign his post at the Office of Special Plans after allegations surfaced that he fudged the facts about Saddam Hussein’s WMD program.

So after all that, why on earth is he speaking to the press about the supposed weaknesses of U.S. foreign policy?

Yes, he does possess the right to speak up and make his voice heard, regardless of how skewed his views are or how questionable his assertions can be (Lord knows that Karl Rove has done so over the past few months). After all, one of the most important (if not the most important) value in American society is the First Amendment freedom of speech clause.  So perhaps I shouldn’t be blatantly attacking Feith’s credentials.  Maybe I shouldn’t even care what Feith has to say.

But c’mon, are we really supposed to take what he says seriously? This man was one of the architects of a war that went so badly during his time as a top Pentagon employee; U.S. credibility in the Arab world went on a downward spiral as a result, and Al’Qaeda was able to expand its influence into the very heart of the Middle East.  And of course, thousands of American lives were lost and tens of thousands of Iraqis were killed in the process as well.

In many respects, we are still trying to get out of this hole.  And now, this same official is trying to discredit the Obama administration’s policy towards the elimination of nuclear weapons…as if the dream of a “global zero” was a bad thing for international peace and stability!

But don’t take my word for it. Check out this quick profile of Doug Feith’s time as a government servant and see for yourself.  Nothing to really boast about, unless you consider sabotaging the Oslo Peace Accords and solidifying the Israeli occupation of Palestinian land as great policy.

Feith should take the advice of President George W. Bush and his former boss, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld: disappear for a while until people forget why they’re mad at you.

-Daniel R. DePetris

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**Comments courtesy of Tom Ricks at FP.com**

Caught Between A Rock And A Hard Place

Posted in Israel, Israeli-Palestinian Conflict by Dan on May 22, 2010

Now that the Obama administration has finally gotten Israeli-Palestinian peace talks going after a year and a half of stalemate (a plan that could quickly fall apart in a day’s time if something drastic like…uh hum….more settlement building is approved), analysts from around the world are starting to ask if the meetings can produce anything worthwhile.

The short answer is no.  If anyone thinks that a magic formula for peace is going to be struck through shuttle diplomacy- jargon for indirect “proximity talks”- than you will be sadly mistaken.

The good news is that both sides have agreed to address key issues of the conflict instead of arguing about useless formalities.  Issues like settlements on occupied Palestinian land, the right of return for Palestinian refugees, borders, and security will apparently be the focus (although I’m not so sure how this could possibly be discussed without negotiating face-to-face).

Yet even with this supposed “diplomatic breakthrough” now in the works (to be fair, it is a welcomed change from the last 18 months), this development is still a step backwards from what have traditionally been direct negotiations between the Israelis and the Palestinians.  The Madrid Peace Conference in 1991, the Oslo Accords of 1993, and the Camp David Summit of 2000 all involved the active participation of key political players.  But now in 2010, the international community is forced to resort to an impersonal method for resolving the same-old disputes that have destroyed Mideast peacemaking for six decades in the making.

I hate to the be the bearer of bad news, but Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is not exactly a trustworthy and constructive partner, and his religious coalition is the sort of government that you would expect to find in the Islamic Republic of Iran.

And then there was this revelation that I had about a day or two ago.

In the past, I’ve expressed a sense of urgency about Netanyahu’s government and my hope that he would someday smarten up and drop the extreme right-wing members of his coalition…especially if he wants to keep his job amid a frustratingly slow moving peace process. Doing so would not only pave the way for a new governing coalition with a much more centrist and pragmatic partner, but would also severely weaken Netanyahu’s dependence on pro-settler Jewish groups.

While I still support the idea of the Israeli P.M. dumping his more radical allies in the government, I’m now starting to question whether this move would actually change things.

Don’t get me wrong here; a more moderate government would be a fine contrast from the current administration in Israel (most of whom are all too eager to sabotage peace talks before they even start). Likewise, a more centric-oriented coalition would be a great parallel to the P.A.’s moderate leadership under Mahmoud Abbas and Salam Fayyad. The chances for a successful Israeli-Palestinian dialogue- perhaps leading to direct negotiations- would improve quite significantly at the executive level.

But what about the bigger picture…that of the Israeli electorate? Poll after poll in Israel has consistently confirmed the Israeli public’s endorsement of the current status-quo. And why not? The Israeli economy is one of the best in the world, security has been tight, and the suicide-bombings that used to terrorize Israeli cities on a daily-basis are now virtually nonexistent.

Surely the Israelis want peace and reconciliation with the Palestinians. Each Israeli Government has been trying to accomplish this goal since the state’s creation in 1948. But at the same time, Israelis don’t want to jeopardize or risk destroying the type of peaceful environment that they have been accustomed too over the last three years.

Talk about caught between a rock and a hard place.

-Daniel R. DePetris

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**Comments courtesy of the Economist*

Speaking of Iran and Nukes…..

Posted in Iran, Middle East and North Africa by Dan on May 19, 2010

Dr. F. Gregory Gause- a professor of political science at the University of Vermont and a man whose work I widely respect- has a great piece over at FP’s newly launched “Mideast Channel” about the Saudi perception of Iran’s nuclear program.  Take a look at it, because it’s certainly worth reading if you want to obtain an accurate depiction of how the Arab world assesses Tehran’s nuclear ambitions.

Considering that Iran’s nuclear program has been covered so extensively in the global media, I’m a bit surprised that more scholars haven’t studied or discussed what the Saudi Government- or Saudis in general- think of Tehran’s nuclear program.  After all, it’s Saudi Arabia that has the most to lose if the Iranians do in fact go nuclear; diminished stature in the region, an Iraq under the pro-Iranian umbrella, Shia power growing at the expense of Sunnis, etc.  Surely, the Saudis would want to respond some way, somehow, perhaps with their own nuclear program (although that is certainly up for debate).

But thankfully, Dr. Gause sheds some light on the Saudi perspective.  Contrary to the overhyped American view of a messianic Iranian president waiting to launch a nuclear weapon at a second’s notice, the Saudi view is much more pragmatic and even-keeled.  Saudis are concerned about an Iranian nuke no doubt, but not because they fear that the ayatollahs would destroy Riyadh and overpower the Saudi armed-forces.  Rather, they view a nuclear weapon as a piece of leverage in the Iranian toolbox that could be used to further expand Persian influence in the Middle East.  And one way to achieve this goal is by using a nuclear bomb’s symbolic effect, which could empower other groups- like Tehran’s Hezbollah and Hamas proxies and the millions of Shias that are disenfranchised in the region- to rise up and challenge the Sunni governments of the Arab world.

This is a perspective that the United States should try to adopt, or at least try to add into the equation when evaluating what to do in the event of an nuclear-armed Islamic Republic.

Thus far, U.S. policy towards Iran has been far too limited in its orientation.  Both the White House and Congress, Republican and Democrat, seem to think that an Iranian nuke would mean the end of Israel, or the end of America’s regional clout.

Granted, Washington has an obligation to plan for all sorts of possibilities.  An Iran with a nuclear weapon would certainly act differently in the Middle East than an Iran without a viable nuclear program. But even this planning- however warranted- is redirecting government resources away from another very important aspect of the Islamic Republic…its ties to Islamic militant groups from Iraq to Lebanon.

In many ways, ties to proxies are much more effective than a nuclear weapons capability. I know it’s hard to swallow, but think about it. Proxies can be used anywhere at any time, whether it’s for the purpose of meddling in the affairs of another state (like Iraq) or diminishing the power of a rival government.  A nuclear weapon, on the other hand, cannot be used for this purpose. Of course, you can always blow up Tel Aviv, or Beirut, or Sana’a, or Baghdad to achieve your aims, but such an irrational act would bring about absolute destruction to the country that launched it (in this case, Iran). The very objectives that Iran would want to achieve would be destroyed, along with the entire country’s military establishment.

Today, a nuclear-free Tehran is able to hide behind the actions of Hezbollah and Hamas, reaping the benefits of the relationship while largely avoiding the costs that come with direct support. It’s the most valuable tool in the Iranian arsenal, and one that can be exploited without a devastating response by the United States or the international community.

None of this is to say that Iran’s strategic thinking wouldn’t change if the final screw was turned in the nuclear plant.  Nor is this to suggest that an Iranian bomb wouldn’t change the calculus of their proxies (some analysts, in fact, have argued that Hezbollah and Hamas may cause more trouble if protected under an Iranian nuclear umbrella).  What this does suggest is that the indirect value of a bomb may be more valuable to Iran’s foreign-policy than the direct use of the bomb itself.

-Daniel R. DePetris

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Diplomacy With Iran Pays Off And Turkey’s Real Motive

Posted in Iran by Dan on May 18, 2010

The always-intellectual Stephen Walt has an interesting piece over at FP about his recent experience in Turkey.  And just in the nick of time.

Yesterday, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Brazilian President Lula da Silva negotiated with the Iranian Government for an astounding 18 hours over Tehran’s nuclear program.  And from all reports- ranging from mainstream publications like the Washington Post to Middle Eastern media outlets like The Majlis– the diplomatic headaches paid off.

According to the newly-signed document, Iran has agreed to send 2,640 pounds of its low enriched uranium out of the country in exchange for 265 pounds of higher grade nuclear fuel for its Tehran research reactor.

I’m not going to speak about the new agreement right now, because in all honesty, the Brazilian-Turkish-Iranian dialogue basically produced the same thing that Iran agreed to last October.  The difference is that the United States and the U.N. Security Council were not participants in the process, and Iran has a significantly larger amount of uranium than they did earlier in the year.  In fact, one of the reasons why I’m a bit wary about this new accord is based precisely on those two elements; the big powers were not included, and the U.S. may reject it out of suspicion that Iran would still be left with a sizable portion of its uranium after the transition occurred.

Rather, what’s interesting about this entire ordeal is the participation of Turkey, and its willingness to host the fuel-swap agreement on its own soil.

Is this a just a ploy to get a couple of attention grabbing headlines in the world press, or is the Turkish Government truly worried about what could happen in the Middle East if Iran acquired the knowhow and capability of nuclear weapons production?

I don’t know the answer, but I suspect that it’s a combination of the two.  Turkey knows that the Arab world would respond in a negative way to a nuclear-armed Iran, and it surely understands the extent Israel would go to if they felt that their own security was threatened.

But they also know that hosting the deal is a great way to gain some publicity, both in the West and in the Arab world.  Prime Minister Erdogan and his party desperately (in a good way) want to improve Turkey’s stature in the international community, particularly as a pragmatic, peaceful, and tolerant country able to rationalize with the most important global actors in the world today.  And butting themselves into the world’s most contentious security dispute is a surefire way of doing this.

If the deal falls apart or if the United States and Europe don’t bless the agreement, then perhaps Turkey (and Brazil for that matter) will suffer. But if the deal somehow works- like allowing bridging the trust deficit between the west and Iran or convincing Tehran that the acquisition of nuclear weapons is detrimental to its security- then Erdogan’s credibility as a ruler and Turkey’s position as a mediator will improve significantly.

As a non-permanent member of the U.N. Security Council and as an aspiring regional power, that’s all Turkey may want at the end of the day.

-Daniel R. DePetris

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**Comments courtesy of Stephen Walt at FP.com**

Graduation Hype

Posted in United States by Dan on May 15, 2010

Hello everyone!!  As I’m sure you have figured out by now, blogging has been pretty low this week.  Normally I would say that this is due to a slacking-off period, but that would be a complete mischaracterization.  These past few days have been drenched with end-of-the-year academic ceremonies and yes…graduation from college.

Obviously I picked a pretty bad week to limit my posts; Afghan President Hamid Karzai just finished his good-will tour of Washington yesterday, the NPT conference continues in New York City until the end of the month, the U.S. is eying a new U.N. sanctions package on Iran, and there are now rumors that the U.S Military might delay its troop withdrawal schedule in Iraq by a few months (although this is not confirmed as of yet).

So keep up with the news (as I will try to do over the next couple of days) and I hope to meet everyone back here next week for another round.

-Daniel R. DePetris

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Afghanistan Forecast: Younger Recruits Changing The Taliban Movement

Posted in Afghanistan/Pakistan/Central Asia by Dan on May 12, 2010

An alarming blurb from Newsweek:

“In a series of interviews for this story with more than a dozen young insurgent leaders over the past three months, they showed themselves to be more hotheaded and less respectful of authority than their elders. War against America has steeled these young fighters in combat with an enemy that employs more accurate and lethal firepower…the experience has only made them tougher and more uncompromising, in the judgment of veteran Taliban members.”

So lets see…

Younger and more extreme recruits are already seeping into the Taliban movement. And the old-guard is quickly being incapacitated from the leadership.

Even more reason for the U.S. to find a negotiated settlement in Afghanistan before its too late. Strike a deal before the entire Afghan Taliban insurgency becomes saturated with more ideological members, because when this happens, you can forget about withdrawing American troops next summer and leaving behind some kind of moderate government.

Obviously easier said than done, but the President, General McChrystal, and Ambassador Eikenberry need to make it happen nonetheless. Endorsing Hamid Karzai’s Taliban reconciliation proposal would be a good step forward.  And today is a perfect opportunity; President Obama is devoting an entire 3-hour session to the Afghan leader.

Note to the President: sign onto the plan now.  If not, don’t be surprised if your surge policy fails when July comes along.  And don’t be shocked if your approval ratings go down the tube as a result.

-Daniel R. DePetris

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U.S. To Pakistan: Get In Or Get Out Of The Way

Posted in Afghanistan/Pakistan/Central Asia by Dan on May 10, 2010

Almost a week and a half after the failed car bombing in Times Square, all arrows continue to point towards Pakistan as the staging ground for the attack.

This new evidence is not just the result of great police gruntwork and intelligence cooperation between the United States and Pakistan…it is the result of a confession.  Faisal Shahzad, the man who is responsible for the botched terror attempt, spilled his guts to interrogators that he traveled to Pakistan months earlier and received explosives training from a terrorist camp in North Waziristan.  This is the same agency, by the way, that is host to a tangled web of Islamic militant groups (Al’Qaeda Central, the Pakistani Taliban, Jaish e-Mohammad, Chechen extremists, and Uzbek militants are all thought to be using North Waziristan as a safe-haven).  Oh and one more thing…the United States has been pressing the Pakistani Government to launch a new military offensive in North Waziristan since the beginning of this year.

So perhaps it’s not all that surprising that the United States is starting to consider a beefed up presence in western Pakistan.  The New York Times reported over the weekend that U.S. Central Command is starting to debate whether more American troops should be deployed inside the Northwest Frontier Province.

Of course, this is hardly a new idea.  The United States has repeatedly asked the Pakistani Government to go into North Waziristan in the hopes of flushing out the militants from their remaining safe-haven.  And to date, the Pakistanis have repeatedly rebuffed the offer, complaining that such an operation would jeopardize the gains already made in areas like South Waziristan and the Swat Valley.  And they may indeed be right.  The Pakistani Military is fighting a counterinsurgency after all, and this type of battle limits the types of tactics the military can use.  As in all counterinsurgencies, the Pakistani army needs to hold the area under its control and build up local institutions before insurgents come creeping back.

But American patience is wearing thin, and the attempted car bombing in the heart of America’s biggest city is only reinforcing this belief.  Fortunately, the Pakistanis are starting to recognize this.

Intellectuals both inside and outside the Pakistani Government understand that they got lucky.  Consider the alternative; if Shahzad’s bomb went off as planned, relations with the United States probably would have deteriorated to levels not seen in decades.  Billions of dollars in security assistance from Washington would be severed, and the Pakistanis would run the risk of losing their biggest ally at a tumultuous time in their nation’s history…all because Pakistan dragged their heels on North Waziristan.

Today, the Pakistanis are breathing a sigh of relief.  Yet this relief could come with a price tomorrow.  The Times Square incident has sent a powerful signal to the military that Washington will not tolerate floundering over North Waziristan anymore.

In fact, the time may have already come.  U.S. Central Command is already debating whether to introduce more American trainers inside Pakistan as an alternative to waiting for a new Pakistani operation.   The U.S. already has around 200 advisors inside the country, which doesn’t even include the dozens of drone aircraft patrolling Pakistani airspace on a daily basis.

But all of this can be avoided, if and only if Pakistan finally gets on board.  They have cooperated (and continue to cooperate) on the Shahzad investigation, but this should only serve as a jumping-off point.  The message from D.C. is clear: cleanse North Waziristan or risk losing the goodwill they have gained over the past few months.

Hillary Clinton’s remarks last night on 60 Minutes exemplify the seriousness of the current situation: if a successful act of terrorism against the U.S. homeland is traced back to Pakistan, there will be “severe consequences.”

What she means by “severe” is anyone’s guess.  But her message to the Pakistani leadership is loud and clear.

-Daniel R. DePetris

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Afghan Residents Growing Angry

Posted in Afghanistan/Pakistan/Central Asia by Dan on May 6, 2010

Today, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee has opened up a new hearing on the war in Afghanistan.

The mission here is to determine if the President’s new strategy is starting to take hold across the country, four months after the White House switched that strategy from good-old-fashioned “kick ass” fighting to population protection and economic reconstruction.  Last February’s operation in Marjah is the focal point of the investigation, which as you might remember was the biggest military operation against the Taliban in the entire nine-year conflict.

Frank Ruggiero, the top State Department official in Southern Afghanistan, and Brig. Gen. John Nicholson are expected to testify in front of the committee later today.

Judging from today’s festivities, things don’t seem to be all that rosy.  Senator John Kerry, the Chairman of the Committee, opened up the hearing with some strong words about the coalition’s effort in Marjah.  Courtesy of The Majlis:

“Unfortunately, the initial word from hundreds of villagers of Marjah suggests the full measure of our challenge. A recent survey conducted by the International Council on Security and Development showed that a vast majority of villagers felt negatively about foreign troops and that more young Afghans had joined the Taliban over the last year.”

These are not exactly reassuring words for the U.S. mission in Afghanistan.  The ICSD report that Sen. Kerry is referencing is extremely troubling from a counterinsurgency point of view: 67 percent of the Afghans surveyed found the Marjah operation “bad for the Afghan people,” and a vast majority predict that the Taliban will return despite America’s overwhelming “victory” earlier in the year.

This report is obviously a little bit dated, because the Taliban have already re-infiltrated the area.  Residents hardly go out at night, and many of the town’s citizens are intimidated by militants who warn them not to cooperate with coalition forces.  In fact, the Taliban continues to drill these beliefs into the minds of Afghans by unleashing a widespread P.R. campaign across the city.

With Marjah’s economy in the dumps, and with NATO’s less-than-stellar performance in institution building, should we have expected anything different?  15,000 soldiers cleared Marjah in February, only to leave in a month’s time without holding and building: two pillars of counterinsurgency doctrine.  And the last time I checked, we are performing a counterinsurgency in Afghanistan.  Talk about counterproductive.

What does this say for the upcoming NATO offensive in Kandahar?  Easy…don’t make the same mistake again!

-Daniel R. DePetris

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**Comments courtesy of Thomas H. Johnson of the Naval Postgraduate School and M. Chris Mason of the Center for American Defense Studies**

Times Square Drama: Is the Pakistani Taliban Involved?

Posted in Afghanistan/Pakistan/Central Asia, United States by Dan on May 5, 2010

**This is an update to the original post below**:   I read something today by Evan Hill– who is a Middle East expert and blogger over at The Majlis- that Faisal Shahzad may have had some sort of indirect connection to Jaish-e-Muhammad, which is another Pakistani based militant group in the tribal areas.  I don’t know how accurate this report is, because the investigation is still ongoing.  But if the report is somehow true, the arrest and detention of Shahzad may provide U.S. intel agents with some good information on this terrorist group.  It’s interesting that JeM may have been involved, because this organization directs most of its attention on India rather than the west.  I’m sure more info will come up in the next few hours.


As I’m sure you have heard, New York City residents quickly discovered a suspicious vehicle Saturday night that was parked and running beside’s one of the city’s busiest streets; a suspicious vehicle that was apparently a car-bomb laced with a combination of gasoline tanks, fertilizer, canisters, and fireworks.  Obviously it was intended to cause a mass explosion, and obviously it was designed to kill or injure tourists strolling down Times Square.  Thankfully, the fuse failed to ignite properly, and the New York City Police Department arrived on the scene within minutes and responded efficiently (they are called “New York’s Finest” for a reason).

The attack could have been the deadliest incident of terrorism in the United States since September 11, 2001, but thankfully the stupidity of the perpetuators (one of whom was spotted by a security camera leaving the scene) saved the lives of dozens of people.  But it was another breach in security nonetheless, and one that surely resonate across the American political scene.  Expect Congress to pursue hearings and investigations on this plot in the weeks ahead, and don’t be surprised if you hear the White House coming out with a new counterterrorism initiative to safe their reputation.

But none of that is here nor there.  What is disturbing to me- besides the fact that a car bomb could have killed innocent bystanders- is the extreme reaction by some bloggers and academics on the web.  Mary Habeck, who recently just joined FP’s “Shadow Government” crew, is a case in point of how quickly influential people will resort to scare tactics in order to explain a potential catastrophe.  Such is her claim that this incident was planned and carried out by the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan, Islamabad’s #1 internal security threat.

Granted, the Pakistani Taliban did claim responsibility for the failed attack on jihadi forums in a one-minute video.  And newly reincarnated leader Hakimullah Mehsud followed this video up with one of his own, promising more attacks against American cities in the months ahead.  Yet something tells me that these videos are largely bogus attempts to take credit for something the organization had nothing to do with.  Given current circumstances, including constant espionage from U.S. drones, it would be exceedingly difficult for the TTP to order a terrorist strike of this magnitude.

Unfortunately, some analysts would like to bypass common sense for the sake of…that’s right…more fearmongering.

There is absolutely no evidence whatsoever that the Pakistani Taliban was responsible for this type of attack. Their operations thus far have been contained within the South Asian region, mostly against Pakistani soldiers and civilians in the Northwest Frontier Province and in the occasional Pakistani city (like Quetta and Karachi).

If this really is a supposed attempt by the TTP to attack the United States directly, then relying on a single man of Pakistani descent is an interesting choice.  Why sacrifice the success and symbolic impact of your operation on a single individual?

Personally, I cannot take claims by the TTP seriously. The last time they “celebrated” an attack on American soil was in April 2009, when a mass shooting killed civilians in Binghamton, NY. But upon investigation into the case, it turned out that there was no connection between militant groups based in Pakistan and the incident in the remote New York state town. So how is this any different? With the Pakistani Taliban battered by U.S. drone-strikes from the air and military offensives from Pakistani soldiers on the ground, can we honestly believe that they have the capability to strike at the heart of America’s biggest city?

But don’t take my word for it. NYC Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly and NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg have both said publicly that there are no ties between the failed car bombing in Times Square and the TTP in western Pakistan.

Of course, the investigation is still ongoing.  Right now, police have acquired evidence that this could have been a plot with international dimensions. But even with this new information, it’s still unlikely that the TTP can muster a direct attack against an American city.

-Daniel R. DePetris

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**Comments courtesy of FP’s Shadow Government and Newsweek’s Declassified**