Posts Tagged ‘Diplomacy’


Pakistan and the U.S. Exit From Afghanistan

By George Friedman

Bob Woodward has released another book, this one on the debate over Afghanistan strategy in the Obama administration. As all his books do, the book has riveted Washington. It reveals that intense debate occurred over what course to take, that the president sought alternative strategies and that compromises were reached. But while knowing the details of these things is interesting, what would have been shocking is if they hadn’t taken place.
It is interesting to reflect on the institutional inevitability of these disagreements. The military is involved in a war. It is institutionally and emotionally committed to victory in the theater of combat. It will demand all available resources for executing the war under way. For a soldier who has bled in that war, questioning the importance of the war is obscene. A war must be fought relentlessly and with all available means.
But while the military’s top generals and senior civilian leadership are responsible for providing the president with sound, clearheaded advice on all military matters including the highest levels of grand strategy, they are ultimately responsible for the pursuit of military objectives to which the commander-in-chief directs them. Generals must think about how to win the war they are fighting. Presidents must think about whether the war is worth fighting. The president is responsible for America’s global posture. He must consider what an unlimited commitment to a particular conflict might mean in other regions of the world where forces would be unavailable.
A president must take a more dispassionate view than his generals. He must calculate not only whether victory is possible but also the value of the victory relative to the cost. Given the nature of the war in Afghanistan, U.S. President Barack Obama and Gen. David Petraeus — first the U.S. Central Command chief and now the top commander in Afghanistan — had to view it differently. This is unavoidable. This is natural. And only one of the two is ultimately in charge.

The Nature of Guerrilla Warfare
In thinking about Afghanistan, it is essential that we begin by thinking about the nature of guerrilla warfare against an occupying force. The guerrilla lives in the country. He isn’t going anywhere else, as he has nowhere to go. By contrast, the foreigner has a place to which he can return. This is the core weakness of the occupier and the strength of the guerrilla. The former can leave and in all likelihood, his nation will survive. The guerrilla can’t. And having alternatives undermines the foreigner’s will to fight regardless of the importance of the war to him.
The strategy of the guerrilla is to make the option to withdraw more attractive. In order to do this, his strategic goal is simply to survive and fight on whatever level he can. His patience is built into who he is and what he is fighting for. The occupier’s patience is calculated against the cost of the occupation and its opportunity costs, thus, while troops are committed in this country, what is happening elsewhere?
Tactically, the guerrilla survives by being elusive. He disperses in small groups. He operates in hostile terrain. He denies the enemy intelligence on his location and capabilities. He forms political alliances with civilians who provide him supplies and intelligence on the occupation forces and misleads the occupiers about his own location. The guerrilla uses this intelligence network to decline combat on the enemy’s terms and to strike the enemy when he is least prepared. The guerrilla’s goal is not to seize and hold ground but to survive, evade and strike, imposing casualties on the occupier. Above all, the guerrilla must never form a center of gravity that, if struck, would lead to his defeat. He thus actively avoids anything that could be construed as a decisive contact.
The occupation force is normally a more conventional army. Its strength is superior firepower, resources and organization. If it knows where the guerrilla is and can strike before the guerrilla can disperse, the occupying force will defeat the guerrilla. The occupier’s problems are that his intelligence is normally inferior to that of the guerrillas; the guerrillas rarely mass in ways that permit decisive combat and normally can disperse faster than the occupier can pinpoint and deploy forces against them; and the guerrillas’ superior tactical capabilities allow them to impose a constant low rate of casualties on the occupier. Indeed, the massive amount of resources the occupier requires and the inflexibility of a military institution not solely committed to the particular theater of operations can actually work against the occupier by creating logistical vulnerabilities susceptible to guerrilla attacks and difficulty adapting at a rate sufficient to keep pace with the guerrilla. The occupation force will always win engagements, but that is never the measure of victory. If the guerrillas operate by doctrine, defeats in unplanned engagements will not undermine their basic goal of survival. While the occupier is not winning decisively, even while suffering only some casualties, he is losing. While the guerrilla is not losing decisively, even if suffering significant casualties, he is winning. Since the guerrilla is not going anywhere, he can afford far higher casualties than the occupier, who ultimately has the alternative of withdrawal.
The asymmetry of this warfare favors the guerrilla. This is particularly true when the strategic value of the war to the occupier is ambiguous, where the occupier does not possess sufficient force and patience to systematically overwhelm the guerrillas, and where either political or military constraints prevent operations against sanctuaries. This is a truth as relevant to David’s insurgency against the Philistines as it is to the U.S. experience in Vietnam or the Russian occupation of Afghanistan.
There has long been a myth about the unwillingness of Americans to absorb casualties for very long in guerrilla wars. In reality, the United States fought in Vietnam for at least seven years (depending on when you count the start and stop) and has now fought in Afghanistan for nine years. The idea that Americans can’t endure the long war has no empirical basis. What the United States has difficulty with — along with imperial and colonial powers before it — is a war in which the ability to impose one’s will on the enemy through force of arms is lacking and when it is not clear that the failure of previous years to win the war will be solved in the years ahead.
Far more relevant than casualties to whether Americans continue a war is the question of the conflict’s strategic importance, for which the president is ultimately responsible. This divides into several parts. This first is whether the United States has the ability with available force to achieve its political goals through prosecuting the war (since all war is fought for some political goal, from regime change to policy shift) and whether the force the United States is willing to dedicate suffices to achieve these goals. To address this question in Afghanistan, we have to focus on the political goal.
The Evolution of the U.S. Political Goal in Afghanistan
Washington’s primary goal at the initiation of the conflict was to destroy or disrupt al Qaeda in Afghanistan to protect the U.S. homeland from follow-on attacks to 9/11. But if Afghanistan were completely pacified, the threat of Islamist-fueled transnational terrorism would remain at issue because it is no longer just an issue of a single organization — al Qaeda — but a series of fragmented groups conducting operations in Pakistan, IraqYemenNorth AfricaSomalia and elsewhere.
Today, al Qaeda is simply one manifestation of the threat of this transnational jihadist phenomenon. It is important to stop and consider al Qaeda — and the transnational jihadist phenomenon in general — in terms of guerrillas, and to think of the phenomenon as a guerrilla force in its own right operating by the very same rules on a global basis. Thus, where the Taliban apply guerrilla principles to Afghanistan, today’s transnational jihadist applies them to the Islamic world and beyond. The transnational jihadists are not leaving and are not giving up. Like the Taliban in Afghanistan, they will decline combat against larger American forces and strike vulnerable targets when they can.
There are certainly more players and more complexity to the global phenomenon than in a localized insurgency. Many governments across North Africa, the Middle East and South Asia have no interest in seeing these movements set up shop and stir up unrest in their territory. And al Qaeda’s devolution has seen frustrations as well as successes as it spreads. But the underlying principles of guerrilla warfare remain at issue. Whenever the Americans concentrate force in one area, al Qaeda disengages, disperses and regroups elsewhere and, perhaps more important, the ideology that underpins the phenomenon continues to exist. The threat will undoubtedly continue to evolve and face challenges, but in the end, it will continue to exist along the lines of the guerrilla acting against the United States.
There is another important way in which the global guerrilla analogy is apt. STRATFOR has long held that Islamist-fueled transnational terrorism does not represent a strategic, existential threat to the United States. While acts of transnational terrorism target civilians, they are not attacks — have not been and are not evolving into attacks — that endanger the territorial integrity of the United States or the way of life of the American people. They are dangerous and must be defended against, but transnational terrorism is and remains a tactical problem that for nearly a decade has been treated as if it were the pre-eminent strategic threat to the United States.
Nietzsche wrote that, “The most fundamental form of human stupidity is forgetting what we were trying to do in the first place.” The stated U.S. goal in Afghanistan was the destruction of al Qaeda. While al Qaeda as it existed in 2001 has certainly been disrupted and degraded, al Qaeda’s evolution and migration means that disrupting and degrading it — to say nothing of destroying it — can no longer be achieved by waging a war in Afghanistan. The guerrilla does not rely on a single piece of real estate (in this case Afghanistan) but rather on his ability to move seamlessly across terrain to evade decisive combat in any specific location. Islamist-fueled transnational terrorism is not centered on Afghanistan and does not need Afghanistan, so no matter how successful that war might be, it would make little difference in the larger fight against transnational jihadism.
Thus far, the United States has chosen to carry on fighting the war in Afghanistan. As al Qaeda has fled Afghanistan, the overall political goal for the United States in the country has evolved to include the creation of a democratic and uncorrupt Afghanistan. It is not clear that anyone knows how to do this, particularly given that most Afghans consider the ruling government of President Hamid Karzai — with which the United States is allied — as the heart of the corruption problem, and beyond Kabul most Afghans do not regard their way of making political and social arrangements to be corrupt.
Simply withdrawing from Afghanistan carries its own strategic and political costs, however. The strategic problem is that simply terminating the war after nine years would destabilize the Islamic world. The United States has managed to block al Qaeda’s goal of triggering a series of uprisings against existing regimes and replacing them with jihadist regimes. It did this by displaying a willingness to intervene where necessary. Of course, the idea that U.S. intervention destabilized the region raises the question of what regional stability would look like had it not intervened. The danger of withdrawal is that the network of relationships the United States created and imposed at the regime level could unravel if it withdrew. America would be seen as having lost the war, the prestige of radical Islamists and thereby the foundation of the ideology that underpins their movement would surge, and this could destabilize regimes and undermine American interests.
The political problem is domestic. Obama’s approval rating now stands at 42 percent. This is not unprecedented, but it means he is politically weak. One of the charges against him, fair or not, is that he is inherently anti-war by background and so not fully committed to the war effort. Where a Republican would face charges of being a warmonger, which would make withdrawal easier, Obama faces charges of being too soft. Since a president must maintain political support to be effective, withdrawal becomes even harder. Therefore, strategic analysis aside, the president is not going to order a complete withdrawal of all combat forces any time soon — the national (and international) political alignment won’t support such a step. At the same time, remaining in Afghanistan is unlikely to achieve any goal and leaves potential rivals like China andRussia freer rein.
The American Solution
The American solution, one that we suspect is already under way, is the Pakistanization of the war. By this, we do not mean extending the war into Pakistan but rather extending Pakistan into Afghanistan. The Taliban phenomenon has extended into Pakistan in ways that seriously complicate Pakistani efforts to regain their bearing in Afghanistan. It has created a major security problem for Islamabad, which, coupled with the severe deterioration of the country’s economy and now the floods, has weakened the Pakistanis’ ability to manage Afghanistan. In other words, the moment that the Pakistanis have been waiting for — American agreement and support for the Pakistanization of the war — has come at a time when the Pakistanis are not in an ideal position to capitalize on it.
In the past, the United States has endeavored to keep the Taliban in Afghanistan and the regime in Pakistan separate. (The Taliban movements in Afghanistan and Pakistan are not one and the same.) Washington has not succeeded in this regard, with the Pakistanis continuing to hedge their bets and maintain a relationship across the border. Still, U.S. opposition has been the single greatest impediment to Pakistan’s consolidation of the Taliban in Afghanistan, and abandoning this opposition leaves important avenues open for Islamabad.
The Pakistani relationship to the Taliban, which was a liability for the United States in the past, now becomes an advantage for Washington because it creates a trusted channel for meaningful communication with the Taliban. Logic suggests this channel is quite active now.
The Vietnam War ended with the Paris peace talks. Those formal talks were not where the real bargaining took place but rather where the results were ultimately confirmed. If talks are under way, a similar venue for the formal manifestation of the talks is needed — and Islamabad is as good a place as any.
Pakistan is an American ally which the United States needs, both to balance growing Chinese influence in and partnership with Pakistan, and to contain India. Pakistan needs the United States for the same reason. Meanwhile, the Taliban want to run Afghanistan. The United States has no strong national interest in how Afghanistan is run so long as it does not support and espouse transnational jihadism. But it needs its withdrawal to take place in a manner that strengthens its influence rather than weakens it, and Pakistan can provide the cover for turning a retreat into a negotiated settlement.
Pakistan has every reason to play this role. It needs the United States over the long term to balance against India. It must have a stable or relatively stable Afghanistan to secure its western frontier. It needs an end to U.S. forays into Pakistan that are destabilizing the regime. And playing this role would enhance Pakistan’s status in the Islamic world, something the United States could benefit from, too. We suspect that all sides are moving toward this end.
The United States isn’t going to defeat the Taliban. The original goal of the war is irrelevant, and the current goal is rather difficult to take seriously. Even a victory, whatever that would look like, would make little difference in the fight against transnational jihad, but a defeat could harm U.S. interests. Therefore, the United States needs a withdrawal that is not a defeat. Such a strategic shift is not without profound political complexity and difficulties. But the disparity between — and increasingly, the incompatibility of — the struggle with transnational terrorism and the war effort geographically rooted in Afghanistan is only becoming more apparent — even to the American public.


In a Computer Worm, a Possible Biblical Clue

September 29, 2010
Deep inside the computer worm that some specialists suspect is aimed at slowing Iran’s race for a nuclear weapon lies what could be a fleeting reference to the Book of Esther, the Old Testament tale in which the Jews pre-empt a Persian plot to destroy them.
That use of the word “Myrtus” — which can be read as an allusion to Esther — to name a file inside the code is one of several murky clues that have emerged as computer experts try to trace the origin and purpose of the rogue Stuxnet program, which seeks out a specific kind of command module for industrial equipment.
Not surprisingly, the Israelis are not saying whether Stuxnet has any connection to the secretive cyberwar unit it has built inside Israel’s intelligence service. Nor is the Obama administration, which while talking about cyberdefenses has also rapidly ramped up a broad covert program, inherited from the Bush administration, to undermine Iran’s nuclear program. In interviews in several countries, experts in both cyberwar and nuclear enrichment technology say the Stuxnet mystery may never be solved.
There are many competing explanations for myrtus, which could simply signify myrtle, a plant important to many cultures in the region. But some security experts see the reference as a signature allusion to Esther, a clear warning in a mounting technological and psychological battle as Israel and its allies try to breach Tehran’s most heavily guarded project. Others doubt the Israelis were involved and say the word could have been inserted as deliberate misinformation, to implicate Israel.
“The Iranians are already paranoid about the fact that some of their scientists have defected and several of their secret nuclear sites have been revealed,” one former intelligence official who still works on Iran issues said recently. “Whatever the origin and purpose of Stuxnet, it ramps up the psychological pressure.”
So a calling card in the code could be part of a mind game, or sloppiness or whimsy from the coders.
The malicious code has appeared in many countries, notably China, India, Indonesia and Iran. But there are tantalizing hints that Iran’s nuclear program was the primary target. Officials in both the United States and Israel have made no secret of the fact that undermining the computer systems that control Iran’s huge enrichment plant at Natanz is a high priority. (The Iranians know it, too: They have never let international inspectors into the control room of the plant, the inspectors report, presumably to keep secret what kind of equipment they are using.)
The fact that Stuxnet appears designed to attack a certain type of Siemens industrial control computer, used widely to manage oil pipelines, electrical power grids and many kinds of nuclear plants, may be telling. Just last year officials in Dubai seized a large shipment of those controllers — known as the Simatic S-7 — after Western intelligence agencies warned that the shipment was bound for Iran and would likely be used in its nuclear program.
“What we were told by many sources,” said Olli Heinonen, who retired last month as the head of inspections at the International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna, “was that the Iranian nuclear program was acquiring this kind of equipment.”
Also, starting in the summer of 2009, the Iranians began having tremendous difficulty running their centrifuges, the tall, silvery machines that spin at supersonic speed to enrich uranium — and which can explode spectacularly if they become unstable. In New York last week, Iran’s president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, shrugged off suggestions that the country was having trouble keeping its enrichment plants going.
Yet something — perhaps the worm or some other form of sabotage, bad parts or a dearth of skilled technicians — is indeed slowing Iran’s advance.
The reports on Iran show a fairly steady drop in the number of centrifuges used to enrich uranium at the main Natanz plant. After reaching a peak of 4,920 machines in May 2009, the numbers declined to 3,772 centrifuges this past August, the most recent reporting period. That is a decline of 23 percent. (At the same time, production of low-enriched uranium has remained fairly constant, indicating the Iranians have learned how to make better use of fewer working machines.)
Computer experts say the first versions of the worm appeared as early as 2009 and that the sophisticated version contained an internal time stamp from January of this year.
These events add up to a mass of suspicions, not proof. Moreover, the difficulty experts have had in figuring out the origin of Stuxnet points to both the appeal and the danger of computer attacks in a new age of cyberwar.
For intelligence agencies they are an almost irresistible weapon, free of fingerprints. Israel has poured huge resources into Unit 8200, its secretive cyberwar operation, and the United States has built its capacity inside the National Security Agency and inside the military, which just opened a Cyber Command.
But the near impossibility of figuring out where they came from makes deterrence a huge problem — and explains why many have warned against the use of cyberweapons. No country, President Obama was warned even before he took office, is more vulnerable to cyberattack than the United States.
For now, it is hard to determine if the worm has infected centrifuge controllers at Natanz. While the S-7 industrial controller is used widely in Iran, and many other countries, even Siemens says it does not know where it is being used. Alexander Machowetz, a spokesman in Germany for Siemens, said the company did no business with Iran’s nuclear program. “It could be that there is equipment,” he said in a telephone interview. “But we never delivered it to Natanz.”
But Siemens industrial controllers are unregulated commodities that are sold and resold all over the world — the controllers intercepted in Dubai traveled through China, according to officials familiar with the seizure.
Ralph Langner, a German computer security consultant who was the first independent expert to assert that the malware had been “weaponized” and designed to attack the Iranian centrifuge array, argues that the Stuxnet worm could have been brought into the Iranian nuclear complex by Russian contractors.
“It would be an absolute no-brainer to leave an infected USB stick near one of these guys,” he said, “and there would be more than a 50 percent chance of having him pick it up and infect his computer.”
There are many reasons to suspect Israel’s involvement in Stuxnet. Intelligence is the single largest section of its military and the unit devoted to signal, electronic and computer network intelligence, known as Unit 8200, is the largest group within intelligence.
Yossi Melman, who covers intelligence for the newspaper Haaretz and is at work on a book about Israeli intelligence over the past decade, said in a telephone interview that he suspected that Israel was involved.
He noted that Meir Dagan, head of Mossad, had his term extended last year partly because he was said to be involved in important projects. He added that in the past year Israeli estimates of when Iran will have a nuclear weapon had been extended to 2014.
“They seem to know something, that they have more time than originally thought,” he said.
Then there is the allusion to myrtus — which may be telling, or may be a red herring.
Several of the teams of computer security researchers who have been dissecting the software found a text string that suggests that the attackers named their project Myrtus. The guava fruit is part of the Myrtus family, and one of the code modules is identified as Guava.
It was Mr. Langner who first noted that Myrtus is an allusion to the Hebrew word for Esther. The Book of Esther tells the story of a Persian plot against the Jews, who attacked their enemies pre-emptively.
“If you read the Bible you can make a guess,” said Mr. Langner, in a telephone interview from Germany on Wednesday.
Carol Newsom, an Old Testament scholar at Emory University, confirmed the linguistic connection between the plant family and the Old Testament figure, noting that Queen Esther’s original name in Hebrew was Hadassah, which is similar to the Hebrew word for myrtle. Perhaps, she said, “someone was making a learned cross-linguistic wordplay.”
But other Israeli experts said they doubted Israel’s involvement. Shai Blitzblau, the technical director and head of the computer warfare laboratory at Maglan, an Israeli company specializing in information security, said he was “convinced that Israel had nothing to do with Stuxnet.”
“We did a complete simulation of it and we sliced the code to its deepest level,” he said. “We have studied its protocols and functionality. Our two main suspects for this are high-level industrial espionage against Siemens and a kind of academic experiment.”
Mr. Blitzblau noted that the worm hit India, Indonesia and Russia before it hit Iran, though the worm has been found disproportionately in Iranian computers. He also noted that the Stuxnet worm has no code that reports back the results of the infection it creates. Presumably, a good intelligence agency would like to trace its work.

Ethan Bronner contributed reporting from Israel, and William J. Broad from New York.

 In a Computer Worm, a Possible Biblical Clue – NYTimes.com

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Lunch with the FT: Tony Blair

By Philip Stephens

Published: September 10 2010 18:54 | Last updated: September 10 2010 18:54

An illustration of Tony BlairI had hoped I might meet Tony Blair at one of London’s more bustling venues – mainly, I confess, because I wanted to measure the reaction of the throng. But the rules of Lunch with the FT leave the choice with the guest. So, after a certain amount of cloak and daggery, insisted upon by the police protection officers who still accompany him everywhere, I arrive at Blair’s local Italian, Locanda Locatelli.

It is one of those restaurants comfortable with celebrity. On a weekday lunchtime most tables seem to be occupied by business types but Madonna is said to be among the evening regulars. Our corner booth offers a panoramic view of polished wood, fabric wall coverings and soft leather banquettes. A head or two turns discreetly as Blair enters. No one is impolite enough to stare.

Britain’s former prime minister presents a conundrum. His memoir has invited torrents of invective from enemies (critics is much too soft a word) among metropolitan elites. Yet copies of A Journey are flying off the shelves as “real people” open their wallets to read Blair’s version of events. He did, after all, win three elections and put Britain back on the international stage. Then again, he also stood shoulder to shoulder with George W Bush in Iraq.

I am getting ahead of myself. The Michelin-starred Locanda Locatelli is around the corner from Blair’s central London home. Its proprietor-chef Giorgio Locatelli, I will discover, is an exquisite cook. But first I concentrate on my guest. Blue suit, white shirt and no tie (I had worn one for the occasion), he is visibly at ease. The slings and arrows of media outrage don’t seem to have left any scars. He has just cancelled a signing at a bookstore in London because of promised disruption by protesters. But he’s still getting all those clicks on Amazon.

It cannot feel very nice, though, to have people call you a war criminal? Blair doesn’t blink. “I’ve always had a, I mean truthfully, a better relationship with the country than with the media because the media divides into a left and right of a pretty traditional sort. And the left always regard me as not sufficiently left and the right hate me because I win. Or I won.”

The style of, and reaction to, the book mirrors the division of opinion between liberal intelligentsia and voters. It’s racy. In places, it badly mangles the English language; the colloquialisms sometimes slip into cringe-making confessionals. We really don’t need to know about that night of unbridled passion with his wife Cherie. The book is everything, in other words, that the chatterati don’t like about Blair.

Yet it carries the reader along. There is plenty about politics and policy – more than in many political memoirs. He is way ahead on some things – particularly on what progressive politicians have to do to adapt to change; and, to my mind, profoundly mistaken on others, as in his reading of the struggle against violent Islamism. But A Journey reads as a story, not a chore.

“I wanted to write it in a different way and I wanted to write it in a way that is more open.” It was time for someone to explain that politicians are also human beings. “One of the worst things happening in politics today is this assault on politicians when they get … they do something that’s wrong or people think it wrong, or whatever, and yet no one actually sees it from the other side.”

He warms to the theme. “If you’re not careful what happens is your political leaders have to be all sort of buttoned up; meanwhile they’re subject to a degree of intrusion that in times gone by was completely unknown. I think it’s therefore quite helpful … to understand that they are human beings and to understand things from their point of view.” That’s why he has now owned up to the inner fears that had often lain behind the apparently supreme confidence.

There is more to this than artifice dressed up as candour, or indeed the desire to speak directly to people over the head of a hostile media. He thinks he has something important to say about the tumultuous pace of change in the world, the west’s response to the rise of Asia, the future of centre-left politics.

“I want people to read me unmediated rather than mediated because I think if they read it they will at least understand what I’m trying to say and it’s very much a book that’s prospective in a sense, because a lot of what I’m saying … is about where are we now and where we need to be.”

As we talk I am nibbling on Parmesan-infused grissini and picking small pieces from a basket of freshly baked bread. Blair resists the temptation. He likes to keep in shape. I have long abandoned such fantasies. Meanly, I take private satisfaction that the price he pays for keeping his weight down is to look his age.

The antipasti arrive. Blair has the salad of broad beans, rocket and ewe cheese. I hesitate before opting for the green bean salad with potato and truffle. The truffle always tips it. Mine is scrumptious. His salad likewise, says Blair. The plates go back scraped clean to Locatelli’s kitchen. “Local Italian” no longer seems an apt description of the cuisine on offer here.

We are sticking to sparkling water – a cue to tease my guest. He has admitted that as prime minister he fretted that an habitual whisky or gin followed by a couple of glasses of wine (sometimes even half a bottle!) over dinner left him close to the edge of alcohol dependency.

Guffaws all round. “All my friends have been saying it was quite the most pathetic and sad admission they’d ever come across. John Reid’s [a former cabinet colleague] comment was the best. Did you hear that? He said, ‘Where I come from in Glasgow they give more than that to the budgie.’”

There are moments in the book when Blair sounds almost melancholic. Politics, he explains, is lived backwards. Leaders are at their most powerful when they are least practised. Time brings experience but it also drains political capital.

He would have stayed on as prime minister had Gordon Brown, his chancellor and bitter rival, not forced the timing of his departure. Yet he bridles at the idea that he is now a lost soul. “That’s true … I do say [I would have stayed] because I have the confidence to say it – without actually spending my life desperately troubled I’m not still there.” So he has gotten over not being prime minister? Yes. “I really don’t miss it. The only time I missed it was during the global financial crisis.” Ah yes, that would have been a moment for him to stride the world stage again. As it was, Brown got quite a lot of credit.

But, he says, “I’m happy to go out there doing the things I’m doing … I’m fascinated by the Middle East peace process and I want to work on it. And my faith foundation is now operating in 15 different countries, I’ve got the Africa governance initiative, that’s operating in three African countries.” Then, of course, there are the speeches, the advisory work for a bank and the consultancy contracts for Tony Blair Associates.

Once during the lunch I think I off-balance him. I remind him that Peter Mandelson, a co-conspirator in the modernisation of his party, had once observed that New Labour was “intensely relaxed” about people becoming “filthy rich”. So how does Blair feel about living in private jets? Hasn’t he been seduced by the bling?

This evokes a pained frown. Most of his time, he protests, is spent on unpaid work – the role of Middle East envoy that a few days earlier had taken him to Barack Obama’s White House, his faith foundation, the work on governance in Africa and the rest. The speeches and the consultancy pay the bills for the pro bono.

“I would have been happy to carry on with being prime minister; I’ve been in public service for 25 years. I would have been happy taking the European job and going on a European salary … I’d be happy to go back to a public service job one day but if I don’t I’ve got the ability to make money, and I make it, and I provide for my family and I can do the things that I believe in doing.” The proceeds of the book – something upwards of £4m – have been pledged to a military charity helping the casualties of Iraq and Afghanistan.

Stuffy people like me are troubled by the idea of former prime ministers trading off their political careers. But Blair has a point. The flip-side of political leaders getting younger is that they retire in their prime. Can we really insist that fit fifty-somethings disappear into retirement or accept a cap on their earnings?

In any event, I don’t think the money is the motivation. What Blair really wants is to remain at the centre of things; to be a player. Wealth is an adjunct.

By now, we are finishing our main courses. I have opted for the day’s special – a sublime ravioli filled with spinach and ricotta. Blair nods approvingly at his char-grilled squid with chilli and garlic. Trying to trip him up reminds me why he was so good. When he was prime minister I used to see quite a lot of him. Before each encounter I would tell myself that this time I would not be bamboozled. Maddeningly, 20 minutes into the conversation, I would be thinking “Well, maybe he’s right after all.”

Blair told visitors to Downing Street what they wanted to hear – sometimes, as he admits in the book – bending the truth to that aim. I remember a colleague remarking that he “always believed what he said at the moment he said it”. So, you could add, did the visitors.

His gift, though, is about more than charm and the emotional intuition of a natural communicator. The big thing about Blair is that he knows how to frame an argument. Most politicians get lost in the foothills of tactics. He has a strategic brain – a view of the world – and the self-belief to follow it through.

The self-belief bit, of course, turned out to be his weakness as well as his strength. I would like to say that when the conversation turned to Iraq, I succeeded in pushing Blair up against a wall until he repented. I didn’t. Partly because I was ambivalent about the war at the time – I always thought getting rid of Saddam Hussein was rather a good thing. And partly because I deprecate the implicit assumption of many of the anti-war crowd that the world would be such a great place if Iraq and Iran were still fighting themselves to a standstill.

In any event he has heard the charges too many times to change his answers now: “We acted on the information that we had at the time; we also acted with a certain sense of urgency after September 11. I think people forget that.”

Yes, of course, he regrets the loss and damaged lives of the war but he is not going to say he regrets the decision to go to war. “We used to have a policy of supporting Saddam, to be a brake on Iran, and look what happened: it didn’t work, in the same way we actually armed some of the Mujahaddin in order to take on the Russians – it didn’t work, let’s learn the lesson.”

You could say Iraq tested to destruction his doctrine of liberal interventionism. On the other hand, are we to conclude that everything will be hunky-dory if only we leave the tyrants alone?

We opt for coffee rather than dessert, but it comes with a small selection of home-made sorbets and petit fours. This time I consider my waistline and stick, like Blair, with the sorbet.

Time is passing. Blair’s account of his titanic struggle with Gordon Brown grabbed even more headlines than Iraq. Some consider his description of his former colleague to be overly harsh; others wonder why he admits that, as prime minister, he did not feel strong enough to sack him.

The only point he makes now is that the struggle was more about the direction of the New Labour government than about who should be prime minister. “I think you need to make it clear there was a policy disagreement. People used to write this whole relationship up as if it was just a personal spat about a job – it wasn’t for me at all,” he says.

Our chef stands by the front desk as we leave. It’s my first lunch with a politician for a long time where the food has left a real impression. Usually it gets in the way.

Back in the office I pick up The New York Times to read the columnist Maureen Dowd’s take on the memoir. It seems I had been lunching with a delusional maniac. The thought occurs that perhaps I should have carted him off to Guantánamo. That’s the thing, though, about Blair. He awakens in many liberals the unhinged rage that Barack Obama draws from America’s Tea Party crowd. What to do, though, about all those people who are buying – even enjoying – his book?

Philip Stephens is the FT’s chief political commentator

…………………………………………..

Locanda Locatelli

8 Seymour Street, London W1

Contribution to charity £1

Bottle sparkling water £3.50

Broad beans, rocket and ewe cheese salad £9.50

Green bean salad, potato and black truffle £16.50

Char-grilled squid, chilli and garlic £28

Ravioli with ricotta and spinach £12.50

Espresso x 2 £5

An assortment of sorbets and petit fours (on the house)

Total (including optional service) £90

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How successful has Blair been as Middle East envoy?

Of the many jobs and functions that Tony Blair has taken on since leaving 10 Downing Street, only one has provided the former British leader with any kind of international clout: his role as Middle East envoy, writes Tobias Buck.

Qadoura Mousa, Tony Blair and Silvan Shalom
Blair with Jenin governor Qadoura Mousa, left, and Israeli vice prime minister Silvan Shalom, 2009

Blair was appointed representative of the Middle East Quartet – the US, the United Nations, the European Union and Russia – almost immediately on leaving office in 2007. The post meant returning to a region where he is remembered, above all, for his role in the deeply unpopular invasion of Iraq in 2003. At the time, a number of analysts and diplomats cautioned that this association made him an improbable figure to advance peace between Israel and its Arab neighbours. That concern was gradually dispelled once Blair set up his office in Jerusalem’s famous American Colony Hotel. He made an early impression on his Israeli and Palestinian interlocutors, who noted both his dedication and easy-going charm (a rare commodity in Middle Eastern political circles).

More importantly, it soon became clear that Blair had not arrived with the intention of remaking the Middle East. He was, in fact, never supposed to play the role of peacemaker: his Quartet mandate spells out clearly that his primary task is to help improve the governance of the Palestinian territories and boost the Palestinian economy. According to his advisers, this was the mandate Blair himself wanted, believing that economic growth and good governance were a crucial – and previously overlooked – part of the strategy to end decades of bloody conflict.

What it means in practice is that Blair has been engaged above all in unglamorous aspects of Middle East politics: persuading Israel to lift a checkpoint in the West Bank; getting the Israeli army to approve the shipment of sewage pipes to the Gaza Strip; or calling on Gulf sheikhs to increase their funding for the Palestinian Authority.

There is no doubt that both the Palestinian economy and the quality of Palestinian governance have improved drastically since Blair entered the arena. However, many observers say most of the credit for the recent upswing goes to Salam Fayyad, the US-educated economist who serves as Palestinian prime minister. Blair has certainly contributed, in his role as a facilitator and mediator between the two sides, to the economic and political improvements in the West Bank but it is not easy to quantify how influential his actions have been.

“It is hard to say,” replied one senior adviser to the Palestinian Authority when asked about Blair’s contribution. “Many people work on many issues, but every word helps. Blair has tried his best to be successful but it is not always easy.”

Tobias Buck is the FT’s Jerusalem bureau chief

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U.S.: CIA Secretly Pays Afghan Officials
August 27, 2010

    The CIA is making secret payments to multiple members of Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s administration to help the agency maintain a deep roster of allies within the presidential palace, according to current and former U.S. officials, The Washington Post reported on Aug. 27. A CIA spokesman denied a statement that a significant number of Afghan officials are on the payroll. A U.S. official said Turkey and Saudi Arabia are among the other countries funneling money into Afghanistan to influence events in the country.


How Chávez tries to hide the truth about his government
Washington Post Editorial
Friday, August 13, 2010; A18

ONE OF the principal goals of Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez’s foreign policy is preventing governments or international organizations from telling the truth about him. Over the past couple of years, captured documents and other evidence have established beyond any reasonable doubt that Mr. Chávez’s regime has provided haven and material support to the FARC movement in neighboring Colombia — a group that is known for massacres of civilians, hostage taking and drug trafficking, and that has been designated as a terrorist organization by the U.S. State Department and the European Union. That places Mr. Chávez in violation of U.N. Security Council resolutions and, at least in theory, exposes him to U.S. and international sanctions.
Luckily for Mr. Chávez, the Obama administration and other Security Council members have shown little interest in recognizing what, in terms of state sponsorship of terrorism, amounts to a smoking gun. But discussion and debate about the evidence — such as Colombia’s recent presentation to a meeting of the Organization of American States — makes this ostrich act difficult to continue. So Mr. Chávez has dedicated himself to bullying and intimidating those who dare to speak publicly about what everyone in the Western Hemisphere knows to be true.
His most conspicuous recent target was former Colombian president Álvaro Uribe, who ordered the report to the OAS shortly before leaving office. Mr. Chávez’s response to the maps, photographs, videos and other documentary evidence laid out by Colombia’s ambassador was to immediately break diplomatic relations and to threaten war. When Mr. Uribe’s successor, Juan Manuel Santos, signaled that he was ready to address the FARC problem through private discussions, the Venezuelan caudillo instantly reversed himself. On Tuesday he traveled to Colombia to meet Mr. Santos and agreed to restore relations.
Mr. Chávez also focused his attention on Larry Leon Palmer, the veteran diplomat nominated by the Obama administration as its next ambassador to Venezuela. Some Republicans question whether the United States should retain ambassadorial relations with Mr. Chávez’s government, and the nominee received a searching set of “questions for the record” from the Senate Foreign Relations Committee’s senior GOP member, Richard G. Lugar (Ind.).
To his credit and that of the State Department, Mr. Palmer answered truthfully. He said that he was “keenly aware of the clear ties between members of the Venezuelan government and Colombian guerrillas.” He said that he was “concerned” that two individuals designated as international drug traffickers by the Treasury Department “are high-ranking officials of the Venezuelan government.” He reported “growing Cuban-Venezuelan cooperation in the fields of intelligence services and the military” and “morale and equipment problems” in the Venezuelan army.
Mr. Chávez once again was quick to respond. On his weekly television show on Sunday, he announced that Mr. Palmer would not be allowed to take up his post in Caracas because “he has disqualified himself by breaking all the rules of diplomacy, by prejudging us.” He said that the Obama administration would have to “look for another candidate.” The State Department responded that it was sticking with Mr. Palmer. It should. If ignoring the facts about Mr. Chávez is a requirement for sending an ambassador to Caracas, then it would be better not to have one.

How Chávez tries to hide the truth about his government


A chance to change universal jurisdictionThe advent of David Cameron’s Conservative government has created the possibility for a change in the law within the U.K.

By Ze’ev Segal

Published 00:57 26.07.10   Latest update 00:57 26.07.10

The British ambassador to Israel, Sir Tom Phillips, who is widely admired here for his erudition and knowledge of the Middle East, concludes his term this week and is leaving the State of Israel a going-away gift.

During the past four years, Phillips and Israel’s ambassadors in London have dedicated much effort to conveying to the British government Israel’s strong opposition to Britain’s universal jurisdiction rules. These provisions in effect permit any individual to file a petition in a lower court for the arrest of persons suspected of committing “war crimes” without even having to produce substantial evidence.

Last week the British government announced it will soon be introducing new legislation in Parliament barring the issuance of arrest warrants on suspicion of “war crimes” without the approval of the chief prosecutor. The amendment to existing law seeks to create a balance between the British commitment to ensuring that suspected war criminals are brought to justice on one hand, and the requirement that there be solid evidence of the suspicions which justify limitations on a person’s liberty.

Within the past year, an arrest warrant was issued, and then rescinded, for Israel Defense Minister Ehud Barak while he was visiting Britain. Pro-Palestinian activists also initiated such warrants against former foreign minister Tzipi Livni for her diplomatic involvement in Operation Cast Lead in Gaza. For this and other reasons as well, Livni canceled a visit to London, but her case led to pressure on the British government. Meanwhile, senior Israel Defense Forces officers, both past and present, are avoiding visits to the U.K. out of concern that their presence will trigger arrest warrants.

It is not only in Britain that problems of this nature have arisen. The United States has shown interest in the subject, and brought about the repeal in Belgium of a law supporting universal jurisdiction after the U.S. threatened to withdraw NATO command headquarters from Brussels. In the meantime, via direct contact with the British government, Israel has stepped up its activity on the issue over the past year as well.

The legal situation in Britain is unusual. There it is a question of invoking universal jurisdiction against foreign nationals who were not involved per se in activities against Britain or its citizens. In 1957, the British Parliament passed the “Geneva Convention” law, which turned the provisions of the convention into concepts anchored in local British law. As a result, anyone in the U.K. can at present approach the courts and seek to invoke the law in an effort to turn ostensible international war criminals into criminal offenders in violation of British law.

The law in question had not been invoked until it was “discovered” in 2005, when an arrest warrant based on this law was issued for Maj. Gen. (res. ) Doron Almog, who was about to land in Britain. The warrant was premised on allegations involving the destruction of 30 homes in the Rafah salient. Decisive action on the part of the Israeli ambassador in London at the time, Zvi Hefetz, prompted Almog not to get off his El Al plane, according to the instructions of the most senior officials in Israel.

I was in London at that time, and met immediately afterward with the legal advisers to the British Foreign Office, who expressed determination to invoke the law in the future even though it had been a “dead letter” since it was passed. The British seem to view every piece of legislation as “vintage wine” and vigorously reject Israeli contentions that there is selective enforcement of this law when it comes to Israelis, in contrast to a lack of enforcement against other nationals.

I presented their position to the relevant officials in Israel, and did not get the impression that they took the prospect seriously that high-ranking Israelis would be arrested in the U.K. at the request of any person or organization by low-level courts, where some of the judges may not be professionals.

The advent of David Cameron’s Conservative government has created the possibility for a change in the law. Indeed, British Justice Secretary Kenneth Clarke has announced that he will introduce a bill in Parliament amending the “Geneva Convention” statute. It should be remembered that no one is talking about repealing the 1957 law that deems that acts involving international war crimes are criminal, as per the British system.

The issue will in the future be thrown into the lap of the chief prosecutor, who is not considered political by nature. He can approve a judicial arrest warrant, but in such a case, the senior Israeli or other official can probably manage to leave British territory on time. That’s much better than the current situation, but it’s not an insurance policy.

Haaretz.Com


New president, old news…

Venezuela recalls ambassador to Colombia amid dispute

By the CNN Wire Staff
July 16, 2010 — Updated 1744 GMT (0144 HKT)”

(CNN) — Venezuela recalled its ambassador to Colombia on Friday as it rejected Colombia’s assertion that Colombian rebels are living in Venezuela.

The Venezuelan Foreign Ministry issued a statement saying the administration of outgoing Colombian President Alvaro Uribe is trying to undermine the possible normalization of relations between the two countries, which have had strained ties in recent years.

“After eight years of failed diplomacy and of militarism as the only regional policy, President Uribe leaves a country at war, a government isolated in Latin America and detached from its neighbors,” the statement said.

Venezuelan Foreign Minister Nicolas Maduro said Venezuela was recalling its ambassador to Colombia for consultations.

Meanwhile, the Colombian government raised the prospect Friday of turning to international organizations. It said Colombia “has had a patient dialogue” for six years about its belief that Colombian “terrorists” were in Venezuela. It passed that information to Venezuelan authorities, the Colombian government said, but its overtures were “unsuccessful with relation to terrorist leaders.”

On Thursday, Colombian authorities said they have proof that high-ranking leaders of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, live in Venezuela. The FARC is a Marxist rebel force that has been battling the Colombian state for decades.

Details of the evidence that Colombia may hold were not immediately clear.

Colombian Defense Minister Gabriel Silva met with the members of the Colombian news media for about an hour and a half Thursday to discuss the matter.

After the meeting, Silva gave a brief statement to reporters reiterating that Colombia has coordinates and knows of apartments used in Venezuela by rebels with the FARC and another rebel group, the National Liberation Army, which is known by its Spanish acronym, ELN.

Colombian authorities are aware of meetings between rebels in Venezuela as recently as Thursday, and have evidence of rebel camps, Silva said.

“The continued and permanent tolerance of the presence of terrorists in that country is a threat to the security of Colombia,” he said.

On Friday, Venezuela criticized what it called the “pathetic media spectacle” in Colombia the day before.

The Venezuelan Foreign Ministry said in a statement that Venezuelan authorities have investigated each time Colombia has asserted that FARC rebels were in Venezuela. It also said the Colombian president had made “irresponsible” assertions that Venezuela was helping FARC rebels.

Uribe is a two-term president who has high approval ratings for his tough stand against FARC.

Colombia has accused Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez of supporting the rebels. Chavez has previously accused Colombian officials and right-wing paramilitary units of plotting his assassination.

Security analysts have said FARC guerrillas operate mostly in Colombia but have carried out extortion, kidnappings and other activities in Venezuela, Panama and Ecuador.

FARC is accused of trafficking in cocaine to finance its insurgency.

Colombia also has accused another neighbor, Ecuador, of giving refuge to rebels. In 2008, Colombia carried out a raid in Ecuadorian territory that resulted in the killing of a top FARC leader
Venezuela recalls ambassador to Colombia amid dispute – CNN.com
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