Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Being A Superpower Means Never Having To Say You’re Sorry

by David Isenberg | March 27th, 2007
Partnership for a Secure America

Blog editor's note: Here's an interesting perspective (and uncommonly heard one in the mainstream press) on the nuclear confrontation with Iran.

Well, now that the United Nations Security Council last week passed its latest sanctions against Iran over its nuclear program let us take a moment to ponder the wonderfully wacky world of nuclear proliferation. In this world the letter of the law matters less than the power of the sheriff enforcing it.
Consider the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, which came into force in 1970, which both the United States and Iran constantly refer to in the back and forth over Iran’s nuclear program, which the United States says is cover for a program to acquire nuclear weapons.
The NPT obligates the five acknowledged nuclear-weapon states (the United States, Russian Federation, United Kingdom, France, and China) not to transfer nuclear weapons, other nuclear explosive devices, or their technology to any non-nuclear-weapon state. Non-nuclear-weapon States Parties undertake not to acquire or produce nuclear weapons or nuclear explosive devices. They are required also to accept safeguards to detect diversions of nuclear materials from peaceful activities, such as power generation, to the production of nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices.

To read the full text, see PSAonline.org

Terrorized by 'War on Terror'
How a Three-Word Mantra Has Undermined America

By Zbigniew Brzezinski
Washington Post
Sunday, March 25, 2007; B01

The "war on terror" has created a culture of fear in America. The Bush administration's elevation of these three words into a national mantra since the horrific events of 9/11 has had a pernicious impact on American democracy, on America's psyche and on U.S. standing in the world. Using this phrase has actually undermined our ability to effectively confront the real challenges we face from fanatics who may use terrorism against us.

The damage these three words have done -- a classic self-inflicted wound -- is infinitely greater than any wild dreams entertained by the fanatical perpetrators of the 9/11 attacks when they were plotting against us in distant Afghan caves. The phrase itself is meaningless. It defines neither a geographic context nor our presumed enemies. Terrorism is not an enemy but a technique of warfare -- political intimidation through the killing of unarmed non-combatants.

But the little secret here may be that the vagueness of the phrase was deliberately (or instinctively) calculated by its sponsors. Constant reference to a "war on terror" did accomplish one major objective: It stimulated the emergence of a culture of fear. Fear obscures reason, intensifies emotions and makes it easier for demagogic politicians to mobilize the public on behalf of the policies they want to pursue. The war of choice in Iraq could never have gained the congressional support it got without the psychological linkage between the shock of 9/11 and the postulated existence of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction. Support for President Bush in the 2004 elections was also mobilized in part by the notion that "a nation at war" does not change its commander in chief in midstream. The sense of a pervasive but otherwise imprecise danger was thus channeled in a politically expedient direction by the mobilizing appeal of being "at war."

To read the full text, see Washington Post

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Dems abandon war authority provision

By DAVID ESPO and MATTHEW LEE, Associated Press Writers
Tue Mar 13, 2007

Top House Democrats retreated Monday from an attempt to limit President Bush's authority for taking military action against Iran as the leadership concentrated on a looming confrontation with the White House over the Iraq war.

Officials said Speaker Nancy Pelosi (news, bio, voting record) and other members of the leadership had decided to strip from a major military spending bill a requirement for Bush to gain approval from Congress before moving against Iran.

Conservative Democrats as well as lawmakers concerned about the possible impact on Israel had argued for the change in strategy.

The developments occurred as Democrats pointed toward an initial test vote in the House Appropriations Committee on Thursday on the overall bill, which would require the withdrawal of U.S. combat troops from Iraq by Sept. 1, 2008, if not earlier. The measure provides nearly $100 billion to pay for fighting in two wars, and includes more money than the president requested for operations in Afghanistan and what Democrats called training and equipment shortages.

To read the full text, see Yahoo.news

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Time for Détente With Iran

By Ray Takeyh
From Foreign Affairs, March/April 2007

Summary: To tame the growing power of Iran, Washington must eschew military options, the prospect of conditional talks, and attempts to contain the regime. Instead, it should adopt a new policy of détente. By offering the pragmatists in Tehran a chance to resume diplomatic and economic relations with the United States, it could help them sideline the radicals and tip Iran's internal balance of power in their favor.Ray Takeyh is a Senior Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations and the author of "Hidden Iran: Paradox and Power in the Islamic Republic".


Over five years after the Bush administration vowed to transform the Middle East, the region is indeed profoundly different. Washington's misadventures in Iraq, the humbling of Israeli power in Lebanon, the rise of the once-marginalized Shiites, and the ascendance of Islamist parties have pushed the Middle East to the brink of chaos.

In the midst of the mess stands the Islamic Republic of Iran. Its regime has not only survived the U.S. onslaught but also managed to enhance Iran's influence in the region. Iran now lies at the center of the Middle East's major problems -- from the civil wars unfolding in Iraq and Lebanon to the security challenge of the Persian Gulf -- and it is hard to imagine any of them being resolved without Tehran's cooperation. Meanwhile, Tehran's power is being steadily enhanced by its nuclear program, which progresses unhindered despite regular protests from the international community.

This last development has put Washington in a bind. Ever since the revolution that toppled the shah in 1979, the United States has pursued a series of incoherent policies toward Tehran. At various points, it has tried to topple the regime -- even, on occasion, threatening military action. At others, it has sought to hold talks on a limited set of issues. Throughout, it has worked to box in Iran and to limit its influence in the region. But none of these approaches has worked, especially not containment, which is still the strategy of choice in the Iran policy debate.

To read the full text, see Foreign Affairs

Nuclear Warhead Plan Draws Opposition
Some Lawmakers Are Against New Weapon, While Others Seek Justification

By Walter Pincus
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, March 4, 2007; A05

The selection of a basic design for what could become a new generation of U.S. nuclear warheads has drawn immediate opposition from some key members of Congress.

The National Nuclear Security Administration announced on Friday that it had selected a design by the California-based Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory for the Reliable Replacement Warhead (RRW). It would be the first of a new generation of secure and reliable nuclear warheads initially intended for the Navy's submarine-launched intercontinental ballistic missiles.

Within the next 12 months, a team from Livermore and the Navy is to put together cost estimates and an engineering and production plan that would be presented to Congress next year for approval, according to acting NNSA Administrator Thomas P. D'Agostino.

Rep. Peter J. Visclosky (D-Ind.), the new chairman of the House Appropriations subcommittee that controls the funds for the nuclear weapons complex, has sharply questioned why a new warhead is needed. Saying the NNSA announcement "puts the cart before the horse," he called on the Bush administration to present a "clear, coherent national policy" to justify the new warhead.

To read the full text, see Washington Post.com

Bush Threatens to Veto Democrats' Iraq Plan

By Jonathan Weisman and Shailagh Murray
Washington Post
Friday, March 9, 2007; A01

Bush administration officials escalated the fight over a new spending package for the Iraq war yesterday, saying for the first time that the president will veto a House Democratic plan because it includes a timetable to start bringing troops home within a year and would undermine military efforts.

The veto threat came as House and Senate Democrats announced aggressive new measures to narrow U.S. involvement in Iraq, although party leaders acknowledged that their members are far from united on the efforts. Liberals want to start troop withdrawals immediately, but more conservative members worry that they are micromanaging the war, and House leaders have been struggling to come up with a compromise.

The House spending bill could lead to troop withdrawals before the end of the year and would end combat duties by Aug. 31, 2008. To help win votes in both parties, Democratic leaders have included billions of dollars in new spending for military health care and would redirect some money to the fight in Afghanistan.

In the Senate, Democratic leaders proposed a joint resolution, intended for consideration in the House as well, that would limit the authority Congress gave President Bush in 2002 to invade Iraq. It would require that troops start returning home within four months of passage and sets March 31, 2008, as a goal for withdrawing most troops. But it would require Republican votes to overcome parliamentary obstacles from GOP leaders.

To read the full text, see Washington Post.com

Another Grim Week in Iraq

The New York Times
March 10, 2007

On Sunday in Basra, British troops stormed an Iraqi intelligence office and found about 30 prisoners, some of them tortured. Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki was outraged — not at the torture, but at the raid that halted it. Soon British troops will be leaving Basra, leaving Mr. Maliki and his security forces free to do as they please.

On Monday in Baghdad, a suicide bomber attacked a row of bookstores, killing 20 people. The White House insists that Baghdad is growing more secure, as the extra infusion of American troops ordered by President Bush begins to take up positions in threatened neighborhoods. And on it went. On Tuesday, sectarian attacks killed at least 118 Shiite pilgrims. Then on Thursday, The Times reported that the day-to-day commander of American forces in Iraq, Lt. Gen. Raymond Odierno, was recommending that those extra 21,500 combat troops — plus the 7,000 support troops Mr. Bush somehow forgot to mention — stay on into next year. On the same day, General Odierno’s boss, Gen. David Petraeus, said that even more American troops could be needed in the near future.

Anyone who wanted to believe that all Mr. Bush was seeking was a short-term security push — as part of a larger strategy to extricate American troops from this unwinnable war — now needs to face up to a far less palatable reality. What is under way is a significant and long-term escalation. The Army cannot sustain these levels for more than another few months. And as long as Iraq’s leaders refuse to make significant political changes, the civil war will continue to spin out of control.

To read the full text, see The New York Times

Thursday, March 08, 2007

'What Has Happened to Dick Cheney?'

Washington Post
By Jim Hoagland
Thursday, March 8, 2007; A23

Blog editor's note: If Hoagland's analyis is correct, and it's certainly worth seriously considering, then those who believe that the Bush Administration is bent on military action with Iran are misreading the signals. This wouldn't be the first time a President with the hawkish convictions of Bush changed course during his second term. Reagan made a similar sea change during his second term following the scandal known as the Iran-Contra affair. Presidents nearing the end of their terms, if history is any guide, begin thinking more carefully about how history will view them. If Bush wants to salvage any shread of his reputation in the foreign policy arena, he would do well to follow the scenario sketched by Hoagland.

Is the vice president losing his influence, or perhaps his mind? That question, even if it is phrased more delicately, is creeping through foreign ministries and presidential offices abroad and has become a factor in the Bush administration's relations with the world.

"What has happened to Dick Cheney?" That solicitous but direct question came from a European statesman who has known the vice president for many years. He put it to me a few days ago -- even before the discovery of a blood clot in Cheney's leg and the perjury conviction of Scooter Libby, his former chief of staff, brought headline attention to the volatile state of the vice president's physical, emotional and political health.

It is not new for Americans to question whether their leaders have become delusional. Editors at The Post directed reporters to find out if Jimmy Carter had suffered a nervous breakdown when he retreated to Camp David for 10 days in 1979 and abruptly fired five Cabinet officers. Remember the hubbub over Al Haig's "I am in control here" and other Captain Queegish remarks, or Richard Nixon's talking to portraits?

To read the full text, see Washington Post.com

Thursday, March 01, 2007

U.S. Had Doubts on North Korean Uranium Drive

Blog editor's note: One of the oddest foreign policy stories to surface of late is this one about U.S. intelligence and North Korean nuclear capabilities. If you're interested in the 'whys' and 'wherefores,' this article is a good place to begin.

The New York Times
March 1, 2007

WASHINGTON, Feb. 28 — Last October, the North Koreans tested their first nuclear device, the fruition of decades of work to make a weapon out of plutonium.

For nearly five years, though, the Bush administration, based on intelligence estimates, has accused North Korea of also pursuing a secret, parallel path to a bomb, using enriched uranium. That accusation, first leveled in the fall of 2002, resulted in the rupture of an already tense relationship: The United States cut off oil supplies, and the North Koreans responded by throwing out international inspectors, building up their plutonium arsenal and, ultimately, producing that first plutonium bomb.

But now, American intelligence officials are publicly softening their position, admitting to doubts about how much progress the uranium enrichment program has actually made. The result has been new questions about the Bush administration’s decision to confront North Korea in 2002.

To read the full text, see The New York Times.com

Sunni insurgents remain biggest threat to U.S. troops in Iraq

By Drew Brown

McClatchy Newspapers
Wed, Feb. 28, 2007

WASHINGTON - Sunni Muslim insurgents remain by far the biggest threat to American troops in Iraq, despite recent U.S. claims that Iran is providing Shiite Muslim militia groups with a new type of roadside bomb, a review of American casualty reports shows.

While U.S. military officials have held briefings to publicize their concerns about the potent bombs known as explosively formed projectiles (EFPs) or penetrators, casualty reports suggest that such weapons in the hands of Shiite militias are responsible for a relatively small number of American deaths.

U.S. officials have said that attacks with such weapons increased 150 percent in the past year. But a review of bombings by location shows that less than 10 percent of attacks that killed at least two American service members in the past 14 months were in areas where Shiite militias are dominant.

Those reports show that fewer than half the bomb attacks on heavily armored U.S. vehicles such as Abrams tanks and Bradley Fighting Vehicles were in areas where Shiite militias dominate.

While it's difficult to know which armed group planted a bomb, analysts say the casualty numbers show that U.S. officials are exaggerating the importance of EFPs, which military officials say have been used only by Shiites.

"There were relatively few American deaths from explosively formed penetrators until recently, but you can say the same thing about attacks on helicopters or chlorine attacks," said Loren Thompson, a defense analyst with the Lexington Institute, a policy research group in Arlington, Va. "The fact of the matter is that the insurgents, both Sunni and Shiite, are becoming a lot more sophisticated in their tactics. Explosively formed penetrators are only one part of that, and they are not a particularly important part."

To read the full text, see McClatchy Newspapers