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20 September 2008 Charles J. Brown
03:34 pm

Huge Bombing at Islamabad Marriot


At least 40 dead — with the number likely to increase significantly.

You can find additional photos here.  It looks like the entire hotel went up in flames.

The New York Times quotes one of the leaders of the democratic opposition that helped push out Musharraf:

A prominent Pakistani lawyer, Athar Minallah, said: “It’s the 9/11 for Pakistan. It’s an attack on Pakistan, an attack on the people of Pakistan.”  Mr. Minallah, a leader of the lawyers’ movement that protested against the rule of President Pervez Musharraf, said the extremists “have crossed the limits. . . . There cannot be any justification for this,” he said. “It is for the people of Pakistan to join hands and sort out this menace. They are enemies of Pakistan.”

Back when I regularly traveled to Pakistan (almost 15 years ago), that’s where I stayed in Islamabad.  If memory serves me, security at the hotel was pretty extensive, so I have to wonder whether this was an inside job.  I also can’t help thinking about the fact that most of the people on the lower floors would have been local staff, not foreigners.

This is the second major terrorist attack in three days (the other was the attack on the U.S. Embassy in Yemen).  There’s a good chance that this was undertaken by an al Qaeda affiliate.  I think it’s important to ask whether the two attacks’ proximity in time was planned or merely a coincidence.

Our thoughts go out to the victims and their families.

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19 September 2008 Charles J. Brown
06:45 pm

Some Polite Questions for the Bush Administration


From today’s Los Angeles Times:

A long-delayed plan to send dozens of U.S. military advisors to Pakistan to train its army in counterinsurgency could begin in a matter of weeks under a new agreement on a training base, according to the top U.S. military officer.

Excuse me, Bush Administration, sorry for intruding.  I don’t mean to be a pest.  Would you mind if I just asked one little question here?  Great!  How about two?  Three?  No more than that, I promise.  Thanks!

Okay, here it goes.  Again, sorry for the bother.

ARE YOU FREAKING INSANE?

ARE YOU SMOKING CRACK?

DON’T YOU MORONS REMEMBER HOW VIETNAM STARTED?

Okay, thanks.  Yeah, I did mean the caps.  Sorry about that.  You can go back to finding more dangerously nuke-ridden failed states to “advise.”

| posted in foreign policy, war & rumors of war | 2 Comments

17 September 2008 Charles J. Brown
08:45 am

While You Were Filing for Bankruptcy: Pakistan


Has Bush just gotten us into another war?  According to a number of press reports today, the Pakistani Army has orders to fire on American troops should they cross the border from Afghanistan:

Pakistani troops have been ordered to fire on U.S. forces, if they launch another raid across the Afghan border, an army spokesman tells the Associated Press.

“The orders are clear,” Maj. Gen. Athar Abbas  said in an interview. “In case it happens again in this form, that there is a very significant detection, which is very definite, no ambiguity, across the border, on ground or in the air: open fire.”

And they’re our ally.  Led by the guy we wanted to succeed Pervez Musharraf.

It looks like Adm. Mike Mullen, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, has suddenly decided to vacation in Islamabad.

Meanwhile, Jeff Stein over at SpyTalk suggests some troubling parallels to an earlier American conflict:

Pakistan is beginning to remind me of Cambodia.

Just as Pakistan gives shelter to the Taliban attacking us in Afghanistan, not to mention Osama Bin Laden, Cambodia in the 1960s provided a haven for the North Vietnamese Army, which was killing us across the border.

Just as in Pakistan, we “secretly” bombed Cambodia to get the North Vietnamese, killing innocent peasants.  When Cambodia’s prime minister resisted American pressure to oust the North Vietnamese, he was overthrown by U.S.-backed generals.

When we next sent combat units into Cambodia, there was a quantum leap of death, havoc — and radicalization — in the countryside, just as in Pakistan today.  Cambodia’s communists now found the peasants to eager to sign up, just as Muslim extremist leaders are finding today in Pakistan. . . .

Is something like that in Pakistan’s future? Nobody can be sure.  We do know that the escalation of U.S. (and some Pakistani) military operations there, much ballyhooed here for killing a few al Qaeda captains, is turning more and more Pakistanis against us.  And that’s a quandary for which there are no immediate answers, much less easy ones.

But we do know there’s one big difference between Cambodia and Pakistan.

Pakistan has nuclear weapons.

The analogy isn’t perfect.  We fomented the coup that brought Lon Nol to Cambodia, but in Pakistan, our guy got overthrown.  And there’s a big difference between a massive bombing campaign and a few cross-border incursions.  But it does make you think.

Undip reader Midwest McGarry, who raised similar concerns, also asks why American incursions don’t trigger the War Powers Act.  One reason is that both the U.S. and Pakistan officials are pretending none of this happened:

. . .the Pakistani and United States military publicly denied any such incident on Monday, and a Pakistani intelligence official said that an American helicopter had mistakenly crossed the border briefly, leading Pakistani ground forces to fire into the air. . . . On Tuesday, American officials repeated their denials that such an incident occurred.

If there were no incursions, there is no need to inform Congress as required by the War Powers Act.

But there’s another, more important reason.  Back in 2001, shortly after September 11, Congress passed a S.J. 23, Authorization for Use of Military Force:

[T]he President is authorized to use all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, or harbored such organizations or persons, in order to prevent any future acts of international terrorism against the United States by such nations, organizations or persons. . . .

SPECIFIC STATUTORY AUTHORIZATION- Consistent with section 8(a)(1) of the War Powers Resolution, the Congress declares that this section is intended to constitute specific statutory authorization within the meaning of section 5(b) of the War Powers Resolution.

So you see, Midwest, the President already has the authorization he needs.

Am I the only one not comforted by that?

Maybe the October Surprise came a bit early this year.  So far, no new statements by either campaign.

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12 September 2008 Charles J. Brown
07:55 pm

While You Were Watching the View. . .


Don’t feel bad — I was too.  But meanwhile, the Administration continues its sightseeing tour of Pakistan’s NWFP.

The US military conducted another airstrike inside Pakistan’s lawless tribal agencies. The target of the strike was an al Qaeda-linked group called Al Badar, which is run by Gulbuddin Hekmatyar.

Unmanned Predator aircraft launched several missiles in the early morning at a target in the village of Tol Khel on the outskirts of Miramshah, the administrative seat of North Waziristan. Twelve members of Al Badar (or Al Badr) were reported killed and 14 were reported wounded in the attack, according to AFP. . . .

Hekmatyar runs the Hezb-i-Islami Gulbuddin, a radical Taliban-linked faction fighting US forces in Afghanistan. He has close links to al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden, as well as the Inter-Services Intelligence, Pakistan’s military intelligence agency.

The US targeted a Hekmatyar compound in South Waziristan on Aug. 13. Taliban commanders Abdul Rehman and Islam Wazir, three Turkmen, and “several Arab fighters” were reported in the strike. Reports indicated up to 25 terrorists were killed in the attack.

The US has conducted eight airstrikes and raids in North and neighboring South Waziristan since Aug. 31. Five of the strikes have been aimed at compounds in North Waziristan. Four of them were operated by the Haqqani Network. . . .

The Haqqanis are closely allied with the Taliban and al Qaeda, and have close links with the Inter-Services Intelligence. The Haqqanis run a parallel government in North Waziristan and conduct military and suicide operations in eastern Afghanistan. Siraj Haqqani, Jalaluddin’s son, has close ties to Osama bin Laden and is one of the most wanted terrorist commanders in Afghanistan.

Holy Bush Doctrine, Batman!

Looks like Bush is taking Obama’s advice.  Too bad it’s seven freaking years after he first should have done it.

Call me a cynic, but I can’t help believe that the Bush Administration (and the McCain campaign, for that matter) and trying as hard as they can to find and kill Osama before the election.

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10 September 2008 Charles J. Brown
08:15 pm

Department of Things They Should Have Thought of Seven Years Ago


From the BBC today:

US to focus on Pakistani border

Adm Mike Mullen said he had asked for a “a new, more comprehensive military strategy for the region that covers both sides of that border”. The chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff has called for a new strategy in Afghanistan which will deny militants bases across the border in Pakistan. The US must work closely with Pakistan to “eliminate [the enemy's] safe havens”, he told Congress.

. . .Mullen was giving evidence to the House Armed Services Committee months before the seventh anniversary of the US-led invasion of Afghanistan to overthrow the Taleban and pursue al-Qaeda.  He argued that militants in Afghanistan and Pakistan were waging a common fight.

“In my view, these two nations are inextricably linked in a common insurgency that crosses the border between them,” he said.  “We can hunt down and kill extremists as they cross over the border from Pakistan… but until we work more closely with the Pakistani government to eliminate the safe havens from which they operate, the enemy will only keep coming.”

You think?

Um, pardon the impertinent question, but shouldn’t you have freaking done this seven years ago????

Our earlier incompetence in Iraq is going to look like a walk in the park compared to what we’re now trying to do in Afghanistan.

Heckuva job, Dubya.

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9 September 2008 Charles J. Brown
11:15 am

While You Were Away: Pakistan


Third in an ongoing series on important stories you might have missed as a result of Conventionspalooza.

When we last looked at Pakistan, it already was a huge mess.  President Pevez Musharraf was on the verge of being impeached, the multi-party coalition was squabbling about everything except getting rid of Musharraf, and the Inter-Services Intelligence Service had been implicated in the bombing of India’s embassy in Pakistan.

One month later, things are even worse.  The good news is that Musharraf is no longer President, having resigned before he was impeached.

Now the bad news.  Where to start?

1.  The two largest parties in the ruling coalition, the Pakistan People’s Party (the late Benazir Bhutto’s party, now led by Asif Ali Zadari) and the Muslim League-N (led by Nawaz Sharif, who was Prime Minister when Musharraf staged his coup back in 1999), continue to fight one another.  The most recent conflict was over the reinstatement of Supreme Court justices fired by Musharraf back in November of last year.  Those firings were the first in a series of events, including the assassination of Bhutto and the resignation of Musharaf, that have largely restored democracy in Pakistan but have done little to actually give the new rulers the authority or ability to rule.

On the day after Musharraf resigned, the conflict over whether to reappoint all of the fired justices came to a head.  ML-N leader Nawaz Sharif told the PPP that if it did not agree to reinstate former Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry within 72 hours, the ML-N would leave the government.  PPP leader Zadari refused, in part because he believes that Chaudhry would reopen the numerous investigations into his alleged personal corruption.  In the end, the ML-N quit the coalition and on September 5, the PPP reinstated three of the four justices.  The one exception was Chaudhry, who the PPP argued had become too political a figure because of his vocal opposition to Musharraf’s rule.

The end result?  One of Pakistan’s most important advocates for democracy and transparency has been sidelined because of his willingness to support investigations into past corrupt practices by. . .

2.  . . .the new President of Pakistan.  On September 6, Zadari was elected President by the National Assembly, Senate, and four provincial assemblies, as required under the Constitution.  Zadari won, in part, by pledging to support the elimination of a constitutional amendment giving the President the power to dismiss parliament.  In response to his election, the ML-N called on him to step down as head of the PPP.

Zadari is regarded as friendly toward the United States, in large part because he appears willing to pursue those elements of Al Qaeda and the Taliban currently in control of sections of Pakistan’s Northwest Frontier Province.

His election was not without controversy:  he is known as “Mr. Ten Percent” because he allegedly demanded 10 percent of all foreign contracts signed while his wife was Prime Minister (these are the allegations that led Zadari and the PPP to oppose the reinstatement of Chaudhry as Chief Justice).

In addition, there was this report:

Asif Ali Zardari, the leading contender for the presidency of nuclear-armed Pakistan, was suffering from severe psychiatric problems as recently as last year, according to court documents filed by his doctors.  The widower of former prime minister Benazir Bhutto was diagnosed with a range of serious illnesses including dementia, major depressive disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder in a series of medical reports spanning more than two years.

In court documents seen by the Financial Times, Philip Saltiel, a New York City-based psychiatrist, said in a March 2007 diagnosis that Mr Zardari’s imprisonment had left him suffering from “emotional instability” and memory and concentration problems. “I do not foresee any improvement in these issues for at least a year,” Mr Saltiel wrote.  Stephen Reich, a New York state-based psychologist, said Mr Zardari was unable to remember the birthdays of his wife and children, was persistently apprehensive and had thought about suicide.

Mr Zardari used the medical diagnoses to argue successfully for the postponement of a now-defunct English High Court case in which Pakistan’s government was suing him over alleged corruption, court records show.  The case – brought to seize some of his UK assets – was dropped in March, at about the same time that corruption charges in Pakistan were dismissed. However, the court papers raise questions about Mr Zardari’s ability to help guide one of the world’s most strategically important countries following the resignation last week of Mr Musharraf, under whose rule the corruption cases against the PPP leader and his late wife, Benazir Bhutto, were pursued.

In other words, Zadari, who may be corrupt, mentally unstable or both, is now the leader of a state with nuclear weapons.  Of course, it could have been worse — there was an attempt to get A.Q. Khan, the father of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons program and leader of a smuggling ring responsible for selling nuclear technology to North Korea and Libya, to run.

3.  It is not yet clear whether the ISI and the Pakistani military will actually take orders from President Zadari.  The chances of a military coup are lower than they were a month ago, but it would be inaccurate to suggest that they have receded completely.  Meanwhile, the ISI has not yet been held accountable for their role in the bombing of the Indian Embassy in Kabul.

4.  The war against the Taliban and Al Qaeda is not going well — despite the fact that the government of Pakistan officially “outlawed” the Taliban two weeks ago.  The two groups control large swathes of the NWFP, and have the support of locals.

Last week, American special forces mounted a raid into Pakistani territory in order to take out a “moderately important terrorist target.”  They followed that up Monday with a unmanned drone attack on a compound believed to belong to Jalaluddin Haqqani, a senior Taliban commander.

The first response from the Pakistani government came not form elected officials but rather the army:

A Pakistan army spokesman warned that the apparent escalation from recent foreign missile strikes on militant targets along the Afghan border would further anger Pakistanis and undercut cooperation in the war against terrorist groups.

On Saturday, Pakistan closed the Torkham Border Crossing in the Khyber Pass in response to the incursion.  Torkham is the main supply route for NATO forces operating in Afghanistan; roughly 70 percent of NATO materiel comes in via that route.  On Monday,  the Pakistani army spokesman issued the following statement:

Border violations by US-led forces in Afghanistan, which have killed scores of Pakistani civilians, would no longer be tolerated, and we have informed them that we reserve the right to self defense and that we will retaliate if the US continues cross-border attacks.

As Sean-Paul Kelley over at The Agonist noted, is anyone in Washington paying the least bit of attention to all this?

As if we didn’t have enough to worry about. Hey, I got a great idea, let’s accidentally start a war with Pakistan, a very unstable country, with no real leader and nukes. Great idea!

Also last week, thirty-five people were killed in a suicide bomb attack in Peshawar, and Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani was the target of an assassination attempt in Islamabad.

In sum, the departure of Musharaf has done nothing to slow Pakistan’s descent into chaos.  And once again, the United States remains unwilling or unable to develop anything resembling a coherent policy.

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8 September 2008 Charles J. Brown
07:48 pm

Thought for the Day


President Bush must be relieved that Asif Ali Zadari was elected President of Pakistan.

Imagine what would have happened if the second place finisher had won.

Bush would have had to learn how to say Saeeduzzaman Siddiqui.

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19 August 2008 Charles J. Brown
10:30 am

Green as in Not Even Remotely Envious


Good to see that Green Party Presidential candidate Cynthia McKinney has not jumped off the crazy train.  In fact, she’s now the conductor.

Here are excerpts of an interview McKinney did with The Final Call. As in Louis Farrakhan’s newspaper.

HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA.  I’m such a kidder.

Actually, I’m not:

Now unfortunately we are in the midst of a presidential campaign and Pakistan is being bombed literally as we speak. Somalia is occupied, the once proud leadership of Ethiopia has now become the back pocket handmaiden of the George Bush administration for rendition and torture. . . .

We decry the United Nations occupation of Haiti. The people of Haiti had the self confidence and the perseverance after their president was stolen with U.S. weapons to vote and insure the election integrity of that vote for Renè Prèval. Renè Prèval needs to be free to lead the Haitian people. . . .

[In Zimbabwe,] people who don’t have title to the land should not be allowed to occupy the land. The title of land can’t be granted to those who have stolen the land. Land reform is the issue all over Africa. The issue is land and the land must be free to be settled by the original inhabitants who were removed from that land illegally as a result of colonialism.

I learned so much from this interview.  We’re at war with Pakistan.  We’re occupying Somalia.  The UN is occupying Haiti at our beck and call.  Oh, and McKinney hearts Mugabe.

So McKinney’s strategy is to seek both the black helicopter and the black nationalist vote.

And the Greens wonder why they aren’t taken seriously?

Actually, maybe Barack should worry.  After all, the Greens are putting together a ground game that just might rival Obama’s.  Check this out:

Heh.

Hat tip:  Reason Hit & Run

Photo:  Ed Yourdon via Flickr, using a Creative Commons license.

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19 August 2008 Charles J. Brown
06:45 am

Musharaf Does Nixon, Bush Does Ostrich


So I spent yesterday driving home from Michigan, and Musharaf goes and resigns.  First Russia-Georgia when I go three days without blogging and now this.  I guess I have to stop going on vacation.

Judging by his television address, it was a truly Nixonian moment:  Musharaf rambling on and on, finally getting to the point only after about six hours.  Okay, more like thirty minutes, but you get the point. There are plenty of blogs analyzing what this means for Pakistan.  So instead, let me focus on what this means for the United States.

Shockingly, the Bush Administration continues to demonstrate its inability to think strategically about what arguably is one of the most important countries on earth:

“We’ve said for years that Musharraf is our best bet, and my fear is that we are about to discover how true that was,” one senior Bush administration official said, acknowledging that the United States had stuck with Mr. Musharraf for too long and developed few other relationships in Pakistan to fall back on.

Administration officials will now have to find allies within the fractious civilian government, which has so far shown scant interest in taking on militants from the Taliban and Al Qaeda who have roosted in Pakistan’s badlands along the border with Afghanistan.

At the same time, suspicions between the American and Pakistani intelligence agencies and their militaries are deepening, and relations between the countries are at their lowest ebb since Mr. Musharraf pledged to ally Pakistan with the United States after the 9/11 attacks.

What is wrong with these guys?  Could they not see this coming?  I mean how hard could it have been to start reaching out to the PPP and Sharif?  Talk about putting all your eggs in one basket.

To demonstrate just how obtuse the Bush Administration has been in Pakistan, compare and contrast the following two passages.  First, from Jane Meyer’s The Dark Side:

What put Zubayda in CIA custody was not toughness, it was money.  [In 2002, Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence service (ISI)] bought the original tip leading to his whereabouts with a small bribe to [a driver].  Afterward, the CIA bought Pakistan’s help for a much larger sum.  A CIA source involved at the time disclosed, “We paid $10 million for Abu Zubayda.”  He said the money went to the ISI, Pakistan’s intelligence service.  “They built a new headquarters on thirty-five acres they bought outside of Islamabad, and they got themselves a helicopter.  We funded the whole thing.”

Now flash forward six years to earlier this month:

American intelligence agencies have concluded that members of Pakistan’s powerful [Inter-Services Intelligence] service helped plan the deadly July 7 bombing of India’s embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan, according to United States government officials.

[I}ntercepted communications between [ISI] officers and militants who carried out the attack…[provide] the clearest evidence to date that Pakistani intelligence officers are actively undermining American efforts to combat militants in the region.

The American officials also said there was new information showing that members of the Pakistani intelligence service were increasingly providing militants with details about the American campaign against them, in some cases allowing militants to avoid American missile strikes in Pakistan’s tribal areas.

Concerns about the role played by Pakistani intelligence not only has strained relations between the United States and Pakistan, a longtime ally, but also has fanned tensions between Pakistan and its archrival, India.

So the organization we funded in 2002 to prevent future Embassy bombings (and 9/11s)  is now responsible for plotting Embassy bombings.  Heckuva job, CIA.

And now the kicker:  Here’s what the White House had to say today about Musharaf’s resignation:

President Bush, at his ranch in Crawford, Tex., made no statement about Mr. Musharraf’s resignation. A White House spokesman, Gordon D. Johndroe, said, “President Bush appreciates President Musharraf’s efforts in the democratic transition of Pakistan as well as his commitment to fighting Al Qaeda and extremist groups.”

Astounding.  Just completely astounding.

So now, for the second time in a little over a week, the Bush Administration has lost a key ally in the war on terror:  first Putin turns Russia into the neocons’ latest Nazi Germany fantasy, and now Musharaf, the one guy the Bushies thought could deliver in Central Asia, resigns.

And once again, the Bushies have no clue as to what comes next or what they should do.  Maybe the neocons can start arguing that Pakistan is actually the new Nazi Germany.  I mean they already have three (Iran, China, Russia) — why not go four for four?

This is not merely a bad week, it’s really, really, really bad policy.

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12 August 2008 Charles J. Brown
02:55 pm

Wonk’d: Why the UN Human Rights Council Blows


As I’ve noted in my two previous posts, I’m both a fan and a critic of the United Nations.  But if there’s one thing the United Nations does really really really badly, it’s human rights.

It wasn’t always this way.  Thanks in part to the leadership of Eleanor Roosevelt, the early years of the United Nations adopted both the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Genocide Convention.  Over the next several decades, a number of other important treaties followed, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the Convention against Torture, and the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, among others.

Lately, however, not so much.  The UN Commission on Human Rights became so disreputable — by doing things like electing Libya as chair and failing to take action on Rwanda — that the UN decided to abolish it and replace it with a new body that would address many of its shortcomings.

During the 2005 UN Millennium Summit, the General Assembly agreed to the creation of a new Human Rights Council, supposedly putting into place safeguards that would prevent similar problems in the future.  Sadly, the United States chose not to play a central role in the negotiations over how the Council would be constituted or how it organizes itself.  Thank you, John Bolton, you self-righteous paleocon jerk.

(Full disclosure:  Steve Clemons, Scott Paul (both of the Washington Note), Don Kraus (my successor as CEO of Citizens for Global Solutions) and I organized the successful opposition to the Bolton nomination.)

(And for the UN wonks out there, yes I know I’m oversimplifying this timeline.  But please keep in mind that I’m not writing for you.)

So there we were, a new start, a new opportunity to do serious human rights work.

Whoopsie.

Sigh.

Today we have a body that in many ways is worse than its predecessor.  There are a lot of issues that the Council should be looking at these days — Darfur, Zimbabwe, North Korea, Burma, Pakistan, and Iraq, to name just a few.  Instead, the it has spent almost all of its time on one issue:  Israel.

The reasons for this have to do not with human rights in that country –- which, to be clear, should be looked at, as should human rights issues in every country.  Rather it’s the product of those who currently sit on the Council.  Dictatorships make up over half the Council’s membership. They have spotlighted Israel to deflect attention from the human rights abusers within their own ranks, as well as to stick it to the West (and, to be clear, Israel).

Meanwhile, the Bush Administration continues to refuse to engage the Council, deciding not to stand for election and even failing to send an Ambassador to Council meetings.  Of course that’s assuming it could even get elected to the Council, given its own human rights record.  Either way, its actions have only encouraged the misbehavior and discouraged those who would stand up to such nonsense.

And then, late last week, we have the latest outrage:

A former spokesman for Cuba’s foreign ministry was appointed this week to head the United Nations Human Rights Council’s advisory committee.  Radio Rebelde says Miguel Alfonso Martinez, is president of the Cuban Society of International Law, was appointed this Monday to head the Advisory Committee of the UN Human Rights Council.

Oy vey.  Oh wait — saying that might get me investigated by the Council.

This isn’t the first bad appointment either.  Richard Falk, a Princeton professor who has compared Israeli policy in the Gaza Strip to Nazi Germany, is the Council’s Special Rapporteur on. . . wait for it. . .Israel.  And Jean Ziegler, who once helped Muammar Qaddafi establish a peace prize named after the dictator and who has praised, among others, Robert Mugabe and Fidel Castro, was elected to the Council’s Advisory Committee.

The Council has more than a bad joke.  It’s a black eye for the UN and and embarrassment to the entire world.  Furthermore, it has become a convenient whipping boy for the paleocons here in the United States.

It’s time to start over. . .again.

Maybe the third time will be the charm.

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11 August 2008 Charles J. Brown
06:48 pm

Terrorism, Security, and the Foreign Service


I have long believed that Americans fail to understand or appreciate the heroism and courage of our foreign service officers (FSOs).  Spending three years in the bowels of the State Department only reinforced that conviction.

If you ever enter the State Department via its main (C Street) entrance, you should look for large green marble plaques at each end of the lobby.  Each lists those American diplomats who have lost their lives in the service of their country.  As then-Deputy Secretary of State John Whitehead noted in 1988,

In the State Department lobby, just inside the C Street entrance, there are two large plaques, where the names of ambassadors and others who have died while serving their country are inscribed. It is a grim list, but a proud list, too; a list of those who defended peace and freedom to the very end.

Much to my surprise, there is no page on the State Department website that reproduces the list or provides brief biographical information.

That’s a tragedy, because each of these individuals deserve greater recognition. But equally sad, the plaques include only Americans who have died — foreign nationals, such as those killed in the 1998 Embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania, are not honored (at least not there).  That also is a fundamental — and almost criminal — oversight.

But the purpose of my post today is not merely to recognize the courage and heroism of those who have given their lives in the pursuit of American foreign policy, but also to ask whether Americans recognize the risks that diplomats must take to promote and protect American interests.

Most Americans think of our diplomats — if they think of them at all — as glamorous Cary Grant types, wearing black tie, attending parties, and sipping martinis.  Certainly such representation duties are a part of a foreign service officer’s job, but only on rare occasions.  Most of a typical FSO’s work involves tracking developments on the ground and then reporting back to Washington.

These days, that job is much harder, in large part because of the Bureau of Diplomatic Security’s fortress mentality — particularly their demand that FSOs work and live inside supposedly impregnable walls, often miles from a city center.

I fear that this emphasis on security at all costs has had a deeply corrosive impact on America’s ability to understand and interact with the world.  But it also makes it harder and harder for the average foreign service officer to do their jobs.

Part of the problem is that our government does not think of diplomats the way it thinks of members of the military:  as people who are willing to take certain risks to protect American interests.  Instead, FSOs are treated like museum pieces that must be kept behind multiple layers of protection.

I do not mean to make light of the very serious threats that our diplomatic outposts face or the risks taken by those, foreign national and American alike, who choose to work in them.  But is the greater security really worth the negative impact on American interests?  And by wrapping our foreign service officers in a false cocoon of security, aren’t we isolating them from the very people with whom they should be meeting?

Reversing this trend is not going to be easy.  Were a President or Secretary of State to instruct Diplomatic Security to stop building isolated citadels, sooner or later, terrorists (or an angry mob, as happened in Pakistan in 1979) would attack an embassy or consulate and kill Americans (and foreign nationals, lest we forget).  That will result in months of finger-pointing, accusations and counter-accusations, and Congressional hearings on why we failed to protect our diplomats.

But chances are that another catastrophic attack will occur regardless of whether we decide to move our diplomats out of the fortresses and back into city centers.  I didn’t check the Googles, but if memory serves me, there have been serious attacks on American diplomatic outposts in Serbia and Turkey in recent months.  Chances are that there are more I don’t remember, and that DS has succeeded in preventing a few as well.

In the end, we need to ask ourselves which is worse:  putting our foreign service officers at greater risk so that they can do their jobs, or turning them into diplo-hermits, so isolated that they cannot really understand or appreciate what is happening on the ground?

The time has come to recognize the courage of our foreign service officers.  I have had the honor to know many FSOs, and without exception have found them to be deeply dedicated to their work and their country.  They are nothing like the right wing stereotype, which paints them as disconnected East Coast elitists who share noting with the average American.  In fact, most are themselves average Americans whose profession just happens to be promoting American foreign policy rather than building cars or writing code.

But the time also has come for Diplomatic Security to stop forcing American diplomats to hide behind blast-proof walls and let them interact once again with the local populace.  Representing the United States means being seen by individuals who haven’t had to go through three layers of security — people whose assumptions about and stereotypes of Americans are only reinforced by such measures.  Yes, that will put FSOs at greater risk, but that is the nature of service to our country, whether it be in the armed forces or the diplomatic corps.

I think that most FSOs would agree with me, but I doubt their political masters (or DS for that matter) will ever have the guts to make the changes necessary.

| posted in foreign policy, war & rumors of war, world at home | 1 Comment

7 August 2008 Charles J. Brown
10:00 am

Five to Watch: The Rest of the World


Between the U.S. Presidential election and the Beijing Olympics, there isn’t much space on the Intertubes or the cabletubes for other stories.  And I understand that The Washington Postdated is running a five-part series on McCain’s wacky aunt, so they’re not going to be much help either.

But that doesn’t mean the rest of the world has taken a break.  Here are five stories worth watching in the coming weeks:

1.  Bolivia.  This Sunday, voters will go to the polls to decide whether to recall Bolivian President Evo Morales (an ally of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez), the Vice President, and nine provincial governors — many of whom are Morales critics.  Originally envisioned as a way to end the political impasse between Morales and his opponents, the vote instead has exacerbated tensions, and could strengthen separatist sentiment in four provinces.  In the lead-up to the vote, Chavez and Argentinian President Cristina Kirchner had to cancel a planned meeting with Morales as a result of the unrest, and Morales had to relocate planned independence celebrations to La Paz from the opposition-controlled Sucre after opposition supporters blockaded the airport.

2.  Rwanda-France. On Tuesday, Rwanda issued a report formally accusing French government officials of complicity in the 1994 genocide.  Rwanda President Paul Kagame, who has steered Rwanda away from the francophone bloc and towards a closer relationship with the United States, cut ties with the French government back in 2006 as a result of a French judge’s efforts to have him charged for allegedly playing a role in the death of President Habyarimana — an event that either triggered the genocide or was used as an excuse for its genesis.  Two separate issues appear to be at play here:  questions about French complicity, which may have included training of and advice to the pre-genocide army, and the role of Kagame’s RPF movement, which human rights groups say is responsible for war crimes (albeit not genocide).

3.  Mauritania. On Wednesday, a group of Army officers seized power from the first-ever democratically elected government in Mauritania.  The coup took place after Mauritanian President Sidi Ould Cheikh Abdallahi attempted to fire four senior military officers — who instead led the coup.  The President and Prime Minister are both under house arrest, and while the new leaders have promised new elections, a history of coups and military rule make such an outcome unlikely.  The recent discovery of significant oil reserves further complicates matters.

4.  Iraq. Think everything in Iraq is peachy?  Think again.  The Parliament recessed on Wednesday without passing an essential provincial elections bill, hampering further efforts at reconciliation dependent on the vote’s outcome.  The sticking point is Kirkuk, which the Kurds want to annex but other factions want to keep separate.  Once again, oil is playing a role — Kirkuk has lots of it.  Perhaps the worst news is that the Iraqis decided the best course of action at this point is  to appoint yet another commission to study the matter while the rest of the Council of Representatives went on vacation.

5.  Pakistan. Perhaps the biggest mess in the world today, Pakistan continues to find new ways to destabilize itself.  As a result of the secret police’s (and perhaps the military’s) role in the bombing of India’s embassy in Kabul, U.S.-Pakistani relations are the worst they’ve ever been.  The military’s accomodation of the Taliban and al Qaeda in the Northwest Frontier Province hasn’t helped much either.  Meanwhile, Parliament is debating whether to impeach President Pervez Musharaf at the very moment that Musharaf has headed to Beijing for the Olympics.  With no one apparently in charge and the ISI and military facing increasing calls for reform, another coup is a real possibility.  This time, however, the generals are unlikely to continue to pursue policies favorable to American interests.

| posted in foreign policy, war & rumors of war | 0 Comments

2 August 2008 Charles J. Brown
11:29 am

The Mother of All Hungamas


My friend Nilay, who hails from Guwahati in the Assam province of India, taught me a great Hindi word:  hungama.  Think of it as a cross between a major kerfuffle and a holy mess.

RIght now, Pakistan has managed to put itself in the middle of one big honkin’ hungama, perhaps the largest ever recorded.  Via The New York Times:

American intelligence agencies have concluded that members of Pakistan’s powerful [Inter-Services Intelligence] service helped plan the deadly July 7 bombing of India’s embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan, according to United States government officials.

[I}ntercepted communications between [ISI] officers and militants who carried out the attack…[provide] the clearest evidence to date that Pakistani intelligence officers are actively undermining American efforts to combat militants in the region.

The American officials also said there was new information showing that members of the Pakistani intelligence service were increasingly providing militants with details about the American campaign against them, in some cases allowing militants to avoid American missile strikes in Pakistan’s tribal areas.

Concerns about the role played by Pakistani intelligence not only has strained relations between the United States and Pakistan, a longtime ally, but also has fanned tensions between Pakistan and its archrival, India.

[snip]

When asked Thursday about whether the ISI and Pakistani military remained loyal to the country’s civilian government, Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the [U.S.] Joint Chiefs of Staff, sidestepped the question. “That’s probably something the government of Pakistan ought to speak to,” Admiral Mullen told reporters at the Pentagon.

Uh-oh.

If there’s one thing we don’t need right now, it’s a nuclear state deciding to commit an act of war on another nuclear state.  What the hell were these guys thinking?  “I’m bored.”  “Yeah, me too.”  Hey, I know what we can do.  Let’s turn South Asia into a big glass puddle!”

This could spin out of control faster than a tight-fitting sari on a Bollywood starlet.  The Indians are not going to be satisfied with false contrition and muttered apologies.

| posted in foreign policy, war & rumors of war | 0 Comments

21 July 2008 Charles J. Brown
03:00 pm

“Mostly by Growing Old and Dying, Andrea.”


Trust the Onion to capture the absurdity of breathless cable news coverage:

Read the rest of this entry »

| posted in media, pop culture | 0 Comments

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