Posts Tagged ‘UN’


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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Tehran confirms its industrial computers under Stuxnet virus attack
DEBKAfile Exclusive Report September 25, 2010, 6:07 PM (GMT+02:00)

Iran is first nation to admit to being victim of cyber-terror


Mahmoud Alyaee, secretary-general of Iran’s industrial computer servers, including its nuclear facilities control systems, confirmed Saturday, Sept. 25, that30,000 computers belonging to classified industrial units had been infected and disabled bythemalicious Stuxnet virus.
This followed debkafile‘s exclusive report Thursday, Sept. 23, from its Washington and defense sources that a clandestine cyber war is being fought against Iran by the United States with elite cyber war units established by Israel. Stuxnet is believed to be the most destructive virus ever devised for attacking major industrial complexes, reactors and infrastructure. The experts say it is beyond the capabilities of private or individual hackers and could have been produced by a high-tech state like America or Israel, or its military cyber specialists.
The Iranian official said Stuxnet had been designed to strike the industrial control systems in Iran manufactured by the German Siemens and transfer classified data abroad.

The head of the Pentagon’s cyber war department, Vice Adm. Bernard McCullough said Thursday, Sept. 22, that Stuxnet had capabilities never seen before. In a briefing to the Armed Forces Committee of US Congress, he testified that it was regarded as the most advanced and sophisticated piece of Malware to date.
According to Alyaee, the virus began attacking Iranian industrial systems two months ago. He had no doubt that Iran was the victim of a cyber attack which its anti-terror computer experts had so far failed to fight. Stuxnet is powerful enough to change an entire environment, he said without elaborating. Not only has it taken control of automatic industrial systems, but has raided them for classified information and transferred the date abroad.

This was the first time an Iranian official has explained how the United States and Israel intelligence agencies have been able to keep pace step by step of progress made in Iran’s nuclear program. Until now, Tehran attributed the leaks to Western spies using Iranian double agents.
Last Thursday, debkafile first reported from its Washington sources that US president Barack Obama had resolved to deal with the nuclear impasse with Iran by going after the Islamic republic on two tracks: UN and unilateral sanctions for biting deep into the financial resources Iran has earmarked for its nuclear program, and a secret cyber war with Israel to cripple its nuclear facilities.
In New York, the US offer to go back to the negotiating table was made against this background.
Leaks by American security sources to US media referred to the recruitment by Israel military and security agencies of cyber raiders with the technical knowhow and mental toughness for operating in difficult and hazardous circumstances, such as assignments for stealing or destroying enemy technology, according to one report.
debkafile‘s sources disclose that Israel has had special elite units carrying out such assignments for some time. Three years ago, for instance, cyber raiders played a role in the destruction of the plutonium reactor North Korea was building at A-Zur in northern Syria.
Some computer security specialists reported speculated that the virus was devised specifically to target part of the Iranian nuclear infrastructure, either the Bushehr nuclear plant activated last month – which has not been confirmed – or the centrifuge facility in Natanz.
debkafile‘s sources add: Since August, American and UN nuclear watchdog sources have been reporting a slowdown in Iran’s enrichment processing due to technical problems which have knocked out a large number of centrifuges and which its nuclear technicians have been unable to repair. It is estimated that at Natanz alone, 3,000 centrifuges have been idled.

DEBKAfile, Political Analysis, Espionage, Terrorism, Security
Also see Stratfor’s analysis here

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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

…………………………………………..

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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First, it is very important to understand that militant activity in Afghanistan is nothing new. It has existed there for centuries 



Militancy and the U.S. Drawdown in Afghanistan
September 2, 2010
 

By Scott Stewart The drawdown of U.S. forces in Iraq <http://www.stratfor.com/analysis/20100830_iraqs_security_forces_after_us_withdrawal?fn=9717046652> has served to shift attention toward Afghanistan, where the United States has been increasing its troop strength in hopes of forming conditions conducive to a political settlement. This is similar to the way it used the 2007 surge in Iraq to help reach a negotiated settlement with the Sunni insurgents that eventually set the stage for withdrawal there. As we’ve discussed elsewhere, the Taliban at this point do not feel the pressure <http://www.stratfor.com/analysis/20100830_afghanistan_why_taliban_are_winning?fn=1217046690> required for them to capitulate or negotiate and therefore continue to follow their strategy of surviving and waiting for the coalition forces to depart so that they can again make a move to assume control over Afghanistan. Indeed, with the United States having set a deadline of July 2011 to begin the drawdown of combat forces in Afghanistan — and with many of its NATO allies withdrawing sooner — the Taliban can sense that the end is near. As they wait expectantly for the departure of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) from Afghanistan, a look at the history of militancy in Afghanistan provides a bit of a preview of what could follow the U.S. withdrawal.

A Tradition of Militancy
First, it is very important to understand that militant activity in Afghanistan is nothing new. It has existed there for centuries <http://www.stratfor.com/analysis/20100212_border_playbill_militant_actors_afghanpakistani_frontier?fn=8817046654> , driven by a number of factors. One of the primary factors is the country’s geography. Because of its rugged and remote terrain, it is very difficult for a foreign power (or even an indigenous government in Kabul) to enforce its writ on many parts of the country. A second, closely related factor is culture. Many of the tribes in Afghanistan have traditionally been warrior societies that live in the mountains, disconnected from Kabul because of geography, and tend to exercise autonomous rule that breeds independence and suspicion of the central government. A third factor is ethnicity. There is no real Afghan national identity. Rather, the country is a patchwork of Pashtun, Tajik, Hazara and other ethnicities that tend also to be segregated by geography. Finally, there is religion. While Afghanistan is a predominantly Muslim country, there is a significant Shiite minority as well as a large Sufi presence in the country. The hardcore Deobandi Taliban are not very tolerant of the Shia or Sufis, and they can also be harsh toward more moderate Sunnis who do things such as send their daughters to school, trim their beards, listen to music and watch movies.

(click here to enlarge image)
<http://web.stratfor.com/images/maps/Afghan_Pakistan_ethnic_800.jpg?fn=2617046671> Any of these forces on its own would pose challenges to peace, stability and centralized governance, but together they pose a daunting problem and result in near-constant strife in Afghanistan. Because of this environment, it is quite easy for outside forces to stir up militancy in Afghanistan. One tried-and-true method is to play to the independent spirit of the Afghans and encourage them to rise up against the foreign powers that have attempted to control the country. We saw this executed to perfection in the 1800s during the Great Game between the British and the Russians for control of Afghanistan. This tool was also used after the 1979 Soviet intervention in Afghanistan and it has been used again in recent years following the 2001 U.S. invasion of the country. The Taliban are clearly being used by competing outside powers against the United States (more on this later). But driving out an invading power is not the only thing that will lead to militancy and violence in Afghanistan. The ethnic, cultural and religious differences mentioned above and even things like grazing or water rights and tribal blood feuds can also lead to violence. Moreover, these factors can (and have been) used by outside powers to either disrupt the peace in Afghanistan or exert control over the country via a proxy (such as Pakistan’s use of the Taliban movement). Militant activity in Afghanistan is, therefore, not just the result of an outside invasion. Rather, it has been a near constant throughout the history of the region, and it will likely continue to be so for the foreseeable future.

Foreign Influence
When we consider the history of outside manipulation in Afghanistan, it becomes clear that such manipulation has long been an important factor in the country and will continue to be so after the United States and the rest of the ISAF withdraw. There are a number of countries that have an interest in Afghanistan and that will seek to exert some control over what the post-invasion country looks like.

  • The United States does not want the country to revert to being a refuge for al Qaeda and other transnational jihadist groups. At the end of the day, this is the real U.S. national interest in Afghanistan. It is not counterinsurgency or building democracy or anything else.
  • Russia does not want the Taliban to return to power. The Russians view the Taliban as a disease that can infect and erode their sphere of influence in countries like Uzbekistan and Tajikistan and then move on to pose a threat to Russian control in the predominately Muslim regions of the Caucasus. This is why the Russians were so active in supporting the Northern Alliance against the Taliban regime. There are reports, though, that the Russians have been aiding the Taliban in an effort to keep the United States tied down in Afghanistan, since as long as the United States is distracted there it has less latitude <http://www.stratfor.com/russias_window_opportunity?fn=1217046642> to counter Russian activity elsewhere.
  • On the other side of that equation, Pakistan helped foster the creation of the Pashtun Taliban organization and then used the organization as a tool to exert its influence in Afghanistan. Facing enemies on its borders with India and Iran, Pakistan must control Afghanistan in order to have strategic depth <http://www.stratfor.com/analysis/20100316_afghanistan_campaign_part_3_pakistani_strategy?fn=1117046681> and ensure that it will not be forced to defend itself along its northwest as well. While the emergence of the Pakistani Taliban and the threat it poses to Pakistan will alter Islamabad’s strategy somewhat — and Pakistan has indeed been recalculating its use of militant proxies <http://www.stratfor.com/analysis/pakistan_new_phase_militant_proxy_saga?fn=5017046637> — Pakistan will try hard to ensure that the regime in Kabul is pro-Pakistani.

  • This is exactly why India wants to play a big part in Afghanistan — to deny Pakistan that strategic depth. In the past, India worked with Russia and Iran to support the Northern Alliance and keep the Taliban from total domination of the country. Indications are that the Indians are teaming up with the Russians and Iranians once again.

  • Iran also has an interest in the future of Afghanistan and has worked to cultivate certain factions of the Taliban by providing them with shelter, weapons and training. The Iranians also have been strongly opposed to the Taliban and have supported anti-Taliban militants, particularly those from the Shiite Hazara people. When the Taliban captured Mazar-e-Sharif in 1998, they killed 11 Iranian diplomats and journalists. Iran does not want the Taliban to become too powerful, but it will use them as a tool to hurt the United States. Iran will also attempt to install a pro-Iranian government in Kabul or, at the very least, try to thwart efforts by the Pakistanis and Americans to exert control over the country.

A History of Death and Violence It may seem counterintuitive, but following the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan, the casualties from militancy in the country declined considerably. According to the International Institute for Strategic Studies Armed Conflict Database, the fatalities due to armed conflict in Afghanistan fell from an estimated 10,000 a year prior to the invasion to 4,000 in 2002 and 1,000 by 2004. Even as the Taliban began to regroup in 2005 and the number of fatalities began to move upward, by 2009 (the last year for which the institute offers data) the total was only 7,140, still well-under the pre-invasion death tolls (though admittedly far greater than at the ebb of the insurgency in 2004). Still, even with death tolls rising, the U.S. invasion has not produced anywhere near the estimated 1 million deaths that resulted during the Soviet occupation. The Soviets and their Afghan allies were not concerned about conducting a hearts-and-minds campaign. Indeed, their efforts were more akin to a scorched-earth strategy complete with attacks directed against the population. This strategy also resulted in millions of refugees fleeing Afghanistan for Pakistan and Iran and badly disrupted the tribal structure in much of Afghanistan. This massive disruption of the societal structure helped lead to a state of widespread anarchy that later led many Afghans to see the Taliban as saviors.  Following the Soviet withdrawal in 1989, the communist government in Kabul was able to survive for three more years, backed heavily with Soviet arms, but these years were again marked by heavy casualties. When the communist government fell in 1992, the warlords who had opposed the government attempted to form a power-sharing agreement to govern Afghanistan, but all the factions could not reach a consensus and another civil war broke out, this time among the various anti-communist Afghan warlords vying for control of the country. During this period, Kabul was repeatedly shelled and the bloodshed continued. Neither the Soviet departure nor the fall of the communist regime ended the carnage. With the rise of the Taliban, the violence began to diminish in many parts of the country, though the fighting remained fierce and tens of thousands of people were killed as the Taliban tried to exert control over the country. The Taliban were still engaged in a protracted and bloody civil war against the Northern Alliance when the United States invaded Afghanistan in 2001. During the initial invasion, very few U.S. troops were actually on the ground. The United States used the Northern Alliance as the main ground-force element, along with U.S. air power and special operations forces, and was able to remove the Taliban from power in short order. It is important to remember that the Taliban was never really defeated on the battlefield. Once they realized that they were no match for U.S. air power in a conventional war, they declined battle and faded away to launch their insurgency. Today, the forces collectively referred to as the Taliban in Afghanistan are not all part of one hierarchical organization under the leadership of Mullah Mohammad Omar. Although Mullah Omar is the dominant force and is without peer among Afghan insurgent leaders, there are a number of local and regional militant commanders who are fighting against the U.S. occupation beside the Taliban and who have post-U.S. occupation interests that diverge from those of the Taliban. Such groups are opportunists rather than hardcore Taliban and they might fight against Mullah Omar’s Taliban if he and his militants come to power in Kabul, especially if an outside power manipulates, funds and arms them — and outside powers will certainly be seeking to do so. The United States has tried to peel away the more independent factions from the wider Taliban “movement” but has had little success, mainly because the faction leaders see that the United States is going to disengage and that the Taliban will be a force to be reckoned with in the aftermath. Once U.S. and ISAF forces withdraw from Afghanistan, then, it is quite likely that Afghanistan will again fall into a period of civil war, as the Taliban attempt to defeat the Karzai government, as the United States tries to support it and as other outside powers such as Pakistan, Russia and Iran try to gain influence through their proxies in the country. The only thing that can really prevent this civil war from occurring is a total defeat of the Taliban and other militants in the country or some sort of political settlement. With the sheer size of the Taliban and its many factions, and the fact that many factions are receiving shelter and support from patrons in Pakistan and Iran, it is simply not possible for the U.S. military to completely destroy them before the Americans begin to withdraw next summer. This will result in a tremendous amount of pressure on the Americans to find a political solution to the problem. At this time, the Taliban simply don’t feel pressured to come to the negotiating table — especially with the U.S. drawdown in sight. And even if a political settlement is somehow reached, not everyone will be pleased with it. Certainly, the outside manipulation in Afghanistan will continue, as will the fighting, as it has for centuries. 


Militancy and the U.S. Drawdown in Afghanistan


 “This report is republished with permission of STRATFOR ” 


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More Than 5 Reasons Why Israel Won’t Strike Iran Anytime Soon

by Judith Miller
Fox News
August 19, 2010

http://www.judithmiller.com/7860/israel-wont-strike-iran

History sometimes repeats itself in the Middle East, but not always. Twice before, Israel has attacked Arab nuclear reactors before they were loaded with the fuel rods that could have produced plutonium Pu 239 for an atomic bomb. Both strikes against Iraq’s Osirak reactor in 1981 and Syria’s North Korean-built reactor in 2007 were surprise attacks. In neither case did Israel receive Washington’s blessing. In the case of Iraq, Israel didn’t even warn its close friend, Ronald Reagan, in advance.

This pattern has led two former Bush administration officials – John Bolton and Michael Anton — and a very well-connected journalist to warn that Israel might attack Iran’s nuclear installations soon if sanctions fail and Washington does not strike.

Jeffrey Goldberg argues in the Atlantic that Israelis think such a determination is likely to be made by spring of 2011. Bolton added fuel to the nuclear fire this week, so to speak, by arguing that if Israel does not strike before Russia is scheduled to load nuclear fuel rods at Iran’s nuclear reactor at Bushehr this Saturday, it will lose the chance to stop Bushehr. Attacking a nuclear plant once it has gone “critical,” warns Anton, would risk the release of a radioactive plume that might kill civilians and poison surrounding areas, causing what he calls in what is surely the week’s understatement “a P.R. uproar.”

No one really knows what Israel’s military and political elite or President Obama, for that matter, intends to do about Iran next year, after sanctions have a chance to bite.

Avner Cohen, whose new book “The Worst Kept Secret: Israel’s Bargain with the Bomb,” is being published in October, tells me that “any pretense to predict or even to assess the likelihood of war against Iran is really the pretense of knowing something we truly do not know.” He fears, as I do, that a confrontation with Iran might start inadvertently, over a non-nuclear issue.

But I also doubt that Israel is likely to move against Bushehr before it goes critical — or anytime soon, for that matter.

First, and not foremost, Israel and America are both far more concerned about Iran’s nuclear enrichment facilities than the Bushehr reactor. Why? Because Moscow is not only supplying, but charged with removing the spent, or used fuel rods at Bushehr and getting them out of Iran. This agreement, plus monitoring by the International Atomic Energy Agency, the nuclear watchdog, gives some modest assurance that the reactor’s nuclear fuel won’t be secretly diverted to make a bomb.

Also, as Anton notes, even if Iran manages to divert some spent fuel, it’s not clear Teheran has the technology, or the capability, to extract plutonium from spent reactor fuel rods for a bomb.

No, this is not perfect. Russia’s behavior, too, leaves much ground for suspicion. But altogether, it suggests that Bushehr is not as grave a danger as Iran’s dogged determination to develop an independent fuel cycle with a nuclear enrichment capability at existing and planned new facilities, despite more than a dozen United Nations Security Council resolutions warning it not to do so.

For better or worse, the Obama administration does not see the Bushehr reactor as a grave proliferation risk. In fact, as The Wall Street Journal reported last week, the administration agreed not to oppose Russian help to Bushehr to help secure Russia’s vote for the latest round of U.N. sanctions in June.

Second, attacking Iranian nuclear facilities is obviously a far tougher military challenge – to say nothing of the likely political ramifications — than demolishing a single nuclear reactor in Iraq or Syria. Iran’s facilities, as we have been repeatedly told, are widely dispersed, buried, and hidden.

Third, Iran has the ability to strike back – using its proxy, Hezbollah to Israel’s north, and Iranian-assisted Hamas in Gaza, to Israel’s south. Nor would such retaliation likely be directed solely at Israel. Hezbollah has long tentacles and has previously struck in South America, Europe, and even Egypt. As American intelligence agencies have also warned, it also has a network of agents and supporters inside the United States.

Fourth, the Obama administration thinks that its sanctions, though nowhere nearly as tough as those imposed against Iraq, are already hurting Iran. Even Iranian economists complain that sanctions are making it more expensive and difficult for Iran to do business abroad, modernize its nuclear and oil sectors, and attract foreign investment. No one knows, however, whether sanctions will bite sufficiently to change Iranian behavior.

Fifth, Israeli leaders still suspect that Washington will strike Iran so that it doesn’t have to, when and if it becomes clear that Iran is not changing its nuclear policies. This may be a false hope. Many Obama officials agree with Robert Kaplan, who argues, also in The Atlantic, that containing a nuclear Iran is the least-bad of all the bad policy options available.

Finally, putting aside the wisdom (or dangerous folly) of such a military strike, conservatives and liberals alike tend to agree, Israeli military action against Iran before Washington concludes that its sanctions policy is not working IS likely to poison already tense U.S.-Israel relations, which as John Bolton acknowledges, “are more strained now than at any time since the 1956.”

A rupture with the U.S. may not be an existential threat. But as Anton writes, “it would be dire enough that it’s not worth risking unless the consequences of inaction truly are existential. That’s a hard and unenviable call to have to make.”

For all these reasons, history may not repeat itself in the Middle East. Israel may not strike Iran as it did Iraq and Syria.

But other indicators suggest an increasingly perilous Middle East, with or without such Israeli military action. The Arab-Israeli peace process appears deadlocked. America’s withdrawal from Iraq and its losses so far in Afghanistan create the perception throughout the region, rightly or wrongly, of American weakness and exhaustion.

Israel is being subjected to a fierce campaign to delegitimize its right to exist.

And Iran, after the failure of its Green Revolution, is in ever more dangerous hands. As Gary Sick, whose website hosts a fierce debate about Gulf policy, wrote recently, Iran increasingly resembles “the corporatist states of southern and eastern Europe in the 1920’s and 1930’s that we call fascist.”

Yes, things do change in the Middle East, but as Atlantic editor James Bennet warned in the introduction to his dueling articles on what to do about Iran, “in fits and starts,” and since the collapse of the Oslo peace talks over a decade ago, not for the better.

_______________________________________

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A refugee bombshell
By ZVI MAZEL
23/07/2010
Proposal to grant rights to Palestinian refugees in Lebanon would violate unanimous Arab consensus that they must return to Palestine.
Walid Jumblatt, the Lebanese Druse leader who crossed the lines a year ago and left the pro- Western coalition to join the Syrian camp, has thrown another bombshell into the political arena. The aim is further exacerbating tensions and conflicts within Lebanese society. On June 19 he stunned the political community by submitting to parliament four bills which, if adopted, would grant Palestinian refugees a number of rights – not including citizenship.

They would be given the right to own a place of residence outside refugee camps, to be free to gain employment in whatever field they chose and to enjoy attendant social benefits such as health insurance and retirement plans.

The move was sure to heighten hostilities between Christians and Muslims and it did not fail. All Christian political parties – including that of Michel Aoun, the Christian general who joined the opposition led by Hizbullah – opposed the proposals and managed to send them to various parliamentary committees for further consideration. As to the Muslim parties, Hizbullah included, their reaction was muted and they let it be known they were open to discussion.

At the core of the problem is the fear shared by all that granting rights to Palestinian refugees would not only ultimately lead to their settling in Lebanon for good – thus destroying the fragile equilibrium between all communities – but also violate the unanimous Arab consensus against settling refugees in host countries, since they must return to Palestine.

According to UNRWA there are 425,000 Palestinian refugees – a number which includes those who fled in 1948 and their descendants – living in 12 camps scattered all over Lebanon. The number is probably inflated, since many managed to move to other Arab countries or to the West to find suitable employment.

FOLLOWING THE 1969 Cairo Agreement between the Lebanese government and the PLO and other understandings reached over the years between the Lebanese government and the PLO/Fatah under Yasser Arafat, the refugees must live in the camps, where they enjoy administrative autonomy, are allowed to have weapons and to “train toward the liberation of Palestine.” Lebanese security forces do not enter the camps but are posted around them.

Created in 1949, UNRWA sees to the welfare of the denizens of the camps, provides education and health services as well as food; however its budget is steadily shrinking. Buildings have replaced tents, but the refugees cannot leave to find work or buy a home outside, and the camps have turned into slums whose inhabitants are exploited by a number of Palestinian organizations with their own agendas. Fatah rules most of the camps, but Hamas, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine and all the other groups are there; more recently jihadist organizations loosely affiliated with al- Qaida have also moved in. Quarrels often turn violent and can degenerate into gunfights.

It is from some of the camps that jihadist organizations planned their operations before going outside to fire rockets into Israel.

Lebanese authorities are forbidden to enter the camps and they can only watch helplessly. But in 2007 extremist elements in the Al-Barad camp near Tripoli, doing Syria’s bidding, planned a series of terror operations in northern Lebanon to further destabilize the country. Syria wanted to pressure the Lebanese government into stopping the operation of the international court of justice it had set up with the UN Security Council to investigate the assassination of former prime minister Rafik Hariri. Damascus is the prime suspect.

There ensued three months of bloody fighting between the extremists and the Lebanese army, leaving 400 dead, including 168 soldiers. The camp was totally destroyed and tens of thousands of refugees were left homeless.

Pro-Syrian Palestinian factions, such as Ahmed Jibril’s PFLP-General Command, also set up fortified positions outside the camps, mainly in the eastern part of the Bekaa Valley along the Syrian border. The Syrians are using these positions, where the Lebanese army dares not enter, to stockpile ammunition and to train Jibril’s militants, who bear arms openly, to carry out subversive operations against Lebanon.

The overall picture is bleak, but no one in Lebanon or in the Arab world will acknowledge the fact that this situation is the result of the deliberate Arab policy not to settle the refugees in neighboring Arab states to preclude any attempt at putting an end to the conflict born of the Arab refusal to accept the partition plan which would have provided for a Palestinian state. It was the concerted attempt of Arab states to destroy the newly born State of Israel that created the plight of the Palestinian refugees.

MORE THAN 60 years later, Lebanon is the main victim of this impossible state of affairs that threatens its very existence.

Putting the refugees into camps was supposed to be a temporary solution. Successive Lebanese governments repeated that the refugees would ultimately go back to Palestine and refused to let them settle in the country. This was set in the constitution and included in the Taif agreement of 1989 that ended the Lebanese civil war.

The agreement also stipulated that all militias outside the camps – Hizbullah and Jibril’s organization included – would be stripped of their weapons. It did not happen. No Lebanese government was able to enforce that part of the agreement.

Poverty, terror and lack of hope have turned the camps not only into a festering sore in the heart of the country, but also a powder keg which could explode at any time, throwing Lebanon into chaos and threatening to splinter into a myriad of warring units.

All parties understand that this can’t go on much longer and that “something” has to be done. So far Lebanon is clinging to the so-called Saudi/Arab initiative which reiterated that the refugees would not be settled in their host countries – an empty statement by all accounts.

Now Jumblatt has dropped his bombshell, knowing full well that his country alone cannot solve the problem, and that even discussing it will only deepen the chasm between the communities and weaken the government.

The committee for legal affairs to which the proposals were submitted first postponed the debate, then scheduled it for July 15. The refugees, however, are restless and they held a mass demonstration in Beirut demanding civil rights “to be able to live decently.” Hamas chairman Khaled Mashaal told Palestinian students in Damascus that Palestinians must be given full civil rights, while adding that this by no means meant that the refugees would be settled in Lebanon, since the Palestinians would never give up their right of return.

UNRWA chairman Filippo Grandi, who was in the Lebanese capital at the end of June, also called on the Lebanese government to grant civil rights to the refugees, claiming that creating a stable Palestinian society was in the interest of Lebanon.

The purpose of his visit had been to collect funds to rebuild the Al-Barad camp, which had been destroyed in the fighting.




In a press conference he said that he had only been able to raise half of the $450 million needed. In other words, in spite of all the problems the UN is willing to rebuild the camp, thus perpetuating the refugee status of the Palestinians.

Christian political parties are standing firm in their opposition. Aoun declared at a recent congress of his party that he will never agree to a measure which would let Palestinians buy real estate in his country.

It is worth mentioning no human rights organization has seen fit to comment on the plight of the Palestinian refugees in Lebanon. Arab countries feel bad about a situation which is of their making, and choose not to interfere.

The end of June also saw a meeting of the Lebanese-Palestinian dialogue committee in Beirut. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas sent a delegation headed by Azzam al-Ahmed, a member of the Fatah central committee, which was joined by representatives of the PLO in Lebanon. The delegation met with Lebanese President Michel Suleiman and Prime Minister Saad Hariri as well as with Christian party representatives Amin Gemayel and Aoun. They had the same message for all: Palestinian refugees would remain guests in Lebanon according to the laws of the country and would not abandon their right of return – but they demanded civil rights to enable them to live decently.

All were waiting to see what the prime minister would have to say when he rose to speak at the meeting. They were disappointed: There was nothing new in his speech. Hariri repeated that though the Lebanese government was responsible for the Palestinians living in Lebanon, the international community must assume its share and ensure that they are given their right to return to Palestine.

He added that the government and the parliament would do what they have to do, but the world must do the same.

The Lebanese prime minister has no miracle solution and is in deep trouble.

Granting refugees the right to buy real estate throughout the country and to work in whichever profession they choose would be a blow to young Lebanese who are trying to buy a home and find a job. It would also be a first step toward settling in Lebanon for good. The Christian parties are opposed to such a move and the Muslim parties are not keen either: They know only too well that it would only deepen Christian antagonism and could lead to a renewed civil war. Tearing the country apart is just what the Syrians want because it would leave Lebanon weak and helpless.

Nobody knows how to deal with Jumblatt’s bombshell or how to defuse it. For the present, the Lebanese will deal with it in the traditional way – by doing nothing and hoping that the camps do not blow up in their face.

The writer is a former ambassador to Egypt and Sweden.

A refugee bombshell

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The MasterBlog





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