National Security

Wresting control from Cheney and the neocons

I've been writing recently of the most powerful dynamic in American politics today - the ongoing repudiation of Bush era politics by reasonable people in both parties.  The American people rejected this politics at the polls last year; Democrats have made it explicit they will be creating a new politics; and we've even seen Republicans now working consistently with the Democrats to distance themselves from Bush and that brand of conservatism. 

This dynamic is also playing out inside the Administration.  The Washington Post's Karen DeYoung has another rust read story today about Iran which captures this ongoing struggle to wrestle control from Cheney and what's left of the neocons:  

I don't know how many times the president, Secretary Rice and I have had to repeat that we have no intention of attacking Iran," an exasperated Gates told reporters at a NATO meeting in Spain. In fact, he said, the administration has consciously tried to "tone down" its rhetoric on the subject.

Similar statements in recent weeks by President Bush, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and others follow a high-level policy assessment in January that U.S. and multilateral pressure on Tehran, to the surprise of many in the administration, might be showing signs of progress.

Officials highlighted growing internal public and political criticism of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, as well as the reemergence, after months of public silence, of Tehran's chief nuclear negotiator, Ali Larijani. Larijani arrived in Munich yesterday for talks with European Union officials.

As a result, new talking points distributed to senior policymakers in the administration directed them to actively play down any suggestion of war planning.

Such demurrals are not meant to suggest that the administration will stop pressing Iran on several fronts or that it expects Iranian behavior to change soon. Warnings of new sanctions if Tehran does not suspend its nuclear enrichment program, the dispatch of a second carrier battle group to the Persian Gulf, presidential authorization to treat Iranian intelligence and paramilitary operatives in Iraq as "enemy combatants," and encouragement of Sunni Arab states to take a united stand against Iranian aggression are all designed to convince Tehran that "we have options" and are prepared to use them, a senior administration official said.

"We're a power, too," is the message to Tehran, the official said. "Your power is not unlimited. You can't go anywhere and do anything you want."

The changed rhetoric also stems from a growing foreign policy "maturity" within the administration, according to foreign diplomats and senior officials who agreed to discuss the issue on the condition of anonymity. They described a new attitude, born of the administration's awareness that the Iraq war has left it with a wide credibility gap at home and abroad and the realization that military action against Iran would strain U.S. capabilities, undercut other goals and possibly explode into a regional conflagration. Internal discussion has also focused on the likelihood that an attack could destroy whatever political plurality exists in Iran by uniting even those opposed to Ahmadinejad in a wave of anti-U.S. nationalism.

"It's very important that we proceed carefully, patiently and with some skill," said Undersecretary of State R. Nicholas Burns, who by all accounts is playing a lead role in formulating Iran policy. "We believe that diplomacy can succeed. We're focused on that. We're not focused on a military conflict with Iran."

Some senior administration officials still relish the notion of a direct confrontation. One ambassador in Washington said he was taken aback when John Hannah, Vice President Cheney's national security adviser, said during a recent meeting that the administration considers 2007 "the year of Iran" and indicated that a U.S. attack was a real possibility. Hannah declined to be interviewed for this article.

However, sources described agreement among the Bush administration and leading governments in Europe and the Middle East -- including those in Britain, France, Germany and Saudi Arabia -- over consistent but measured pressure on Tehran. They said close consultations, a stark contrast to deep divisions over the U.S. invasion of Iraq, have become self-reinforcing for Washington and its allies.

In another must read piece in the Post today, General William Odom lays out one of the most compelling post-neocon strategies for the Middle East I've seen:

The first and most critical step is to recognize that fighting on now simply prolongs our losses and blocks the way to a new strategy. Getting out of Iraq is the pre-condition for creating new strategic options. Withdrawal will take away the conditions that allow our enemies in the region to enjoy our pain. It will awaken those European states reluctant to collaborate with us in Iraq and the region.

Second, we must recognize that the United States alone cannot stabilize the Middle East.

Third, we must acknowledge that most of our policies are actually destabilizing the region. Spreading democracy, using sticks to try to prevent nuclear proliferation, threatening "regime change," using the hysterical rhetoric of the "global war on terrorism" -- all undermine the stability we so desperately need in the Middle East.

Fourth, we must redefine our purpose. It must be a stable region, not primarily a democratic Iraq. We must redirect our military operations so they enhance rather than undermine stability. We can write off the war as a "tactical draw" and make "regional stability" our measure of "victory." That single step would dramatically realign the opposing forces in the region, where most states want stability. Even many in the angry mobs of young Arabs shouting profanities against the United States want predictable order, albeit on better social and economic terms than they now have.

Realigning our diplomacy and military capabilities to achieve order will hugely reduce the numbers of our enemies and gain us new and important allies. This cannot happen, however, until our forces are moving out of Iraq. Why should Iran negotiate to relieve our pain as long as we are increasing its influence in Iraq and beyond? Withdrawal will awaken most leaders in the region to their own need for U.S.-led diplomacy to stabilize their neighborhood.

Assuring that these reckless neocons are weakened also requires us to better understand how they operated inside the Administation.  A new Inspector General Report tells the story of how they hijacked the intelligence process and helped lie the nation into the Iraq War. 

A Platoon of Lesbians to Chase Us Out of Baghdad...

Speaking during Secretary Rice's testimony on the FY 2008 State Department budget, Rep. Gary Ackerman uses a joke to make a serious point about how the don't ask-don't tell policy is depriving the US military of much needed translators and linguists.  Watch below:

War with Iran?

Craig Ungar does his best Seymour Hersch impersonation with this serious piece of investagative journalism that delves into the neoconservatives' obcession with going to war against Iran.  According to Ungar, we're in the middle of a plan for reshaping the Middle East that was drawn up by Richard Perle in the 1990's.  AndGrover Norquist is admitting that Perle and his ilk are deranged:

"Everything the advocates of war said would happen hasn't happened," says the president of Americans for Tax Reform, Grover Norquist, an influential conservative who backed the Iraq invasion. "And all the things the critics said would happen have happened. [The president's neoconservative advisers] are effectively saying, 'Invade Iran. Then everyone will see how smart we are.' But after you've lost x number of times at the roulette wheel, do you double-down?"

Read "From the Wonderful Folks Who Brought You Iraq" here

Et tu, Voinovich?

7 Republican Senators sent a letter to the Senate leadership of both parties, demanding a real debate on their anti-surge resolution, free of the toxic back room arguments that lead to this week's 49-47 vote against debate.  The first six names were no surprise, but Steve Clemons, who broke this story, was surprised to see Voinovich's signature - another indicator that support for the President is unraveling.  The full letter is below.

February 7, 2007

The Honorable Harry Reid, Majority Leader

The Honorable Mitch McConnell, Republican Leader

The Honorable Richard Durbin, Assistant Majority Leader

The Honorable Trent Lott, Assistant Republican Leader

United States Senate -- Washington, D.C. 20510

Dear Leader Reid, Leader McConnell, Senator Durbin and Senator Lott:

The war in Iraq is the most pressing issue of our time. It urgently deserves the attention of the full Senate and a full debate on the Senate floor without delay.

We respectfully advise you, our leaders, that we intend to take S. Con. Res 7 and offer it, where possible under the Standing Rules of the Senate, to bills coming before the Senate.

On January 10,2007, the President stated, with respect to his Iraq strategy, "if Members have improvements that can be made, we will make them. If circumstances change we will adjust." In a conscientious, respectful way, we offered our resolution consistent with the President's statement.

We strongly believe the Senate should be allowed to work its will on our resolution as well as the concepts brought forward by other Senators. Monday's procedural vote should not be interpreted as any lessening of our resolve to go forward advocating the concepts of S. Con. Res. 7.

We will explore all of our options under the Senate procedures and practices to ensure a full and open debate on the Senate floor. The current stalemate is unacceptable to us and to the people of this country.


Olympia Snowe

John Warner

Chuck Hagel

Susan Collins

Norm Coleman

Gordon Smith

George Voinovich

Read more from the WAPO

Pentagon Ready for Surge to Fail

Sidney Blumenthal has a piece in Salon today in which he reveals that Pentagon planners are already secretly planning for what they consider the eventuality of the Bush-McCain surge plan's failure.  That brings them in-line with mainstream political opinion:

The profoundly pessimistic thinking that permeates the senior military and the intelligence community, however, is forbidden in the sanitized atmosphere of mind-cure boosterism that surrounds Bush. "He's tried this two times -- it's failed twice," Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi said on Jan. 24 about the "surge" tactic. "I asked him at the White House, 'Mr. President, why do you think this time it's going to work?' And he said, 'Because I told them it had to.'" She repeated his words: "'I told them that they had to.' That was the end of it. That's the way it is."

Blumenthal also ponders why Senate Republicans would tie themselves to the current Iraq policy by preventing debate and votes on measures that would rebuke the President.  He makes a convincing arguement that stifling debate in the Senate is part of a conservative penchant to cover-up that goes back to Nixon, and can be seen even more clearly in the Scooter Libby case:

...the trial of Scooter Libby continues to clarify the degree to which the administration covered up its disinformation campaign that led the country into war with another disinformation campaign to cover up the role of the vice president as the prime mover of the smear campaign against former ambassador Joseph Wilson for committing the unforgivable act of revealing the truth. For the Senate Republicans, Scooter Libby is not an object lesson. The lesson they take away, if any, is not the necessity of open government but once again the need to burn the tapes.

Libby's effort to prevent his grand jury tapes from being entered into evidence in his trial resembled nothing so much as Nixon trying to suppress his tapes. Both in the end revealed their respective coverups. Cheney learned from Nixon to burn the tapes at least figuratively; now, his chief of staff, Cheney's Cheney, has tried to protect Cheney by literally and futilely suppressing the tapes. Cheney finds himself back at the beginning. For him, life has come full circle. From the entire history of deception, from the Nixon to the Libby tapes, the Republicans have learned nothing.

Nasr, Takeyh on Iran in the Washington Post today

Two of my favorite experts on Iran have a compelling op-ed in the Washington Post today.  An excerpt:

For too long, Washington has thought that a policy of coercion and sanctions applied to Iran would eventually yield a responsible and representative regime. Events in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe suggest that containment eventually generates sufficient pressure to force autocratic elites to accommodate both international mandates and the aspirations of their restless constituents. Ironically, though, U.S. policy has buttressed the Iranian regime, which has justified its monopoly of power as a means of fending off external enemies and managing an economy under international duress.

More than sanctions or threats of military retribution, Iran's integration into the global economy would impose standards and discipline on the recalcitrant theocracy. International investors and institutions such as the World Trade Organization are far more subversive, as they would demand the prerequisites of a democratic society -- transparency, the rule of law and decentralization -- as a price for their commerce.

Paradoxically, to liberalize the theocratic state, the United States would do better to shelve its containment strategy and embark on a policy of unconditional dialogue and sanctions relief. A reduced American threat would deprive the hard-liners of the conflict they need to justify their concentration of power. In the meantime, as Iran became assimilated into the global economy, the regime's influence would inevitably yield to the private sector, with its demands for accountability and reform.

It is important to appreciate that Iran has a political system without precedent or parallel in modern history. The struggle there is not just between reactionaries and reformers, conservatives and liberals, but fundamentally between the state and society. A subtle means of diminishing the state and empowering the society is, in the end, the best manner of promoting not only democracy but also nuclear disarmament.

Professor Nasr will be speaking to NDN in early May. Details to be released soon. 

For more on our thoughts on the Middle East, click the National Security tag above. 

More the Shiite-Sunni struggle that is remaking the Middle East

The Times has a good story this morning on how Saudi Arabia is stepping up its role in the Middle East to block the regional rise of the Iranians and their Shiite allies:

With the prospect of three civil wars looming over the Middle East — and Iran poised to gain from them all — Saudi Arabia has abandoned its behind-the-scenes checkbook diplomacy and taken on a central, aggressive role in reshaping the region’s conflicts.

On Tuesday, the kingdom is playing host in Mecca to the leaders of Hamas and Fatah, the two feuding Palestinian factions, in what both sides say could lead to a national unity government and reduced bloodshed. Last fall, senior Saudi officials met secretly with Israeli leaders about how to establish a Palestinian state.

In recent months, Saudi Arabia has also increased its public involvement in Iraq and its support of the Sunni-led government in Lebanon. The process is shaping up as a counteroffensive to efforts by Iran to establish itself as the regional superpower, according to diplomats, analysts and officials here and throughout the region. Some even say that the recent Saudi commitment to temper the price of oil is aimed at undermining Iran’s economy, although officials here deny that.

“We realized that we have to wake up,” said a high-ranking Saudi diplomat who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the news media. “Someone rang the bell, ‘Be careful, something is moving.’ ”

The NIE - well worth a read

If you haven't read the new National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq - at least the declassified part - it is worth reading.  You can find it here

And while you are at it, you may want to take a moment to review the instructive Iraq Study Group report.  That you can find here

Two excerpts from the NIE I found particularly important:

"The Intelligence Community judges that the term "civil war" does not adequately capture the complexity of the conflict in Iraq, which includes extensive Shia-on-Shia violence, al-Qa’ida and Sunni insurgent attacks on Coalition forces, and widespread criminally motivated violence. Nonetheless, the term "civil war" accurately describes key elements of the Iraqi conflict, including the hardening of ethno-sectarian identities, a sea change in the character of the violence, ethno-sectarian mobilization, and population displacements."


"Iraq’s neighbors influence, and are influenced by, events within Iraq, but the involvement of these outside actors is not likely to be a major driver of violence or the prospects for stability because of the self-sustaining character of Iraq’s internal sectarian dynamics."

If you've been reading our essays on the Middle East these past few months you will find these observations familiar.  It's been clear for sometime that the Administration either doesn't understand, or is willfillly ignoring the new central dynamic of the region today that is a direct result of our policies - the escalating tensions between the Sunnis and Shiites, something 20,000 troops in Baghdad isnt going to fix, and may in fact inflame. 

And this new NIE calls out the Administration to stop overstating the role of Iran in Iraq's politics.  More on that daughter has seized my laptop....

A Change in Style at DOD

In an effort to set himself apart from his predecessor, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates gave his morning press briefing while seated behind a desk in a style reminiscent of a television news anchor. One can only hope that the differences between Gates and former Donald Rumsfeld will extend to more than just style. The NYT has more:

Mr. Gates seemed to go out of his way to do things differently. Reporters were escorted to his personal conference room on the Pentagon’s third floor, which prevented the proceedings from being televised live, though television cameras still recorded it for later broadcast. Seats around the table were reserved for some news organizations, while the rest of the roughly 30 reporters and cameramen who attended were told by press aides to stand in the corner.

Mr. Gates opened the session by explaining why he was shunning the Pentagon briefing room. “I would prefer a more informal setting than the dais and the big sign behind me and so on,” he said.

Click on the picture below to watch the video of Secretary Gates’ Press Conference:

Obama calls for all troops to be out by March 2008 (with video)

Updating Travis's post from yesterday on the topic, here's Senator Obama introducing his resolution:

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