National Security

Gov. Richardson Brokers Cease Fire in Sudan

Building on his reputation as a statesman, Governor Bill Richardson of New Mexico just returned from a successful trip to Sudan where he negotiated a 60-day cease-fire between the Sudanese government and rebels in the Darfur region of Sudan. 

The New York Times has more:

President Omar Hassan al-Bashir of Sudan and leaders of several rebel factions in Darfur, the western Sudanese region, agreed Wednesday to a 60-day cease-fire in separate meetings with Gov. Bill Richardson of New Mexico, a former American ambassador to the United Nations, according to a statement by Mr. Richardson and Mr. Bashir.

Mr. Richardson went to Sudan on behalf of the Save Darfur Coalition of groups trying to stem the violence in Darfur, to try to break the deadlock over who will police the region.

Hopefully, this cease-fire will be a first step towards ending the violence, massive population displacement and even genocide that has plauged Darfur.  At the very least, Gov. Richardson's actions show that there can be more to US foreign policy than military interventions. 

The US raids an Iranian consulate

The Times got a reporter into Erbil today.  Read the piece.

Unsettling Times

Has the President started two secret wars against Syria and Iran?  That is the question foreign policy expert Steve Clemons is asking today.  The entire post is below:

Did the President Declare "Secret War" Against Syria and Iran?

Washington intelligence, military and foreign policy circles are abuzz today with speculation that the President, yesterday or in recent days, sent a secret Executive Order to the Secretary of Defense and to the Director of the CIA to launch military operations against Syria and Iran.

The President may have started a new secret, informal war against Syria and Iran without the consent of Congress or any broad discussion with the country.

The bare outlines of that order may have appeared in President Bush's Address to the Nation last night outlining his new course on Iraq:

Succeeding in Iraq also requires defending its territorial integrity and stabilizing the region in the face of extremist challenges. This begins with addressing Iran and Syria. These two regimes are allowing terrorists and insurgents to use their territory to move in and out of Iraq. Iran is providing material support for attacks on American troops. We will disrupt the attacks on our forces. We'll interrupt the flow of support from Iran and Syria. And we will seek out and destroy the networks providing advanced weaponry and training to our enemies in Iraq.

We're also taking other steps to bolster the security of Iraq and protect American interests in the Middle East. I recently ordered the deployment of an additional carrier strike group to the region. We will expand intelligence-sharing and deploy Patriot air defense systems to reassure our friends and allies. We will work with the governments of Turkey and Iraq to help them resolve problems along their border. And we will work with others to prevent Iran from gaining nuclear weapons and dominating the region.

Adding fuel to the speculation is that U.S. forces today raided an Iranian Consulate in Arbil, Iraq and detained five Iranian staff members. Given that Iran showed little deference to the political sanctity of the US Embassy in Tehran 29 years ago, it would be ironic for Iran to hyperventilate much about the raid.

But what is disconcerting is that some are speculating that Bush has decided to heat up military engagement with Iran and Syria -- taking possible action within their borders, not just within Iraq.

Some are suggesting that the Consulate raid may have been designed to try and prompt a military response from Iran -- to generate a casus belli for further American action.

If this is the case, the debate about adding four brigades to Iraq is pathetic. The situation will get even hotter than it now is, worsening the American position and exposing the fact that to fight Iran both within the borders of Iraq and into Iranian territory, there are not enough troops in the theatre.

Bush may really have pushed the escalation pedal more than any of us realize.

-- Steve Clemons

UPDATE: This exchange today in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee between Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Joseph Biden and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is full on non-denial denials and evasive answers to Biden's query about the President's ability to authorize military operations against forces within Iran and Syria:

SEN. BIDEN: Last night, the president said, and I quote, "Succeeding in Iraq requires defending its territorial integrity and stabilizing the region in the face of extremist challenges, and that begins with addressing Iran and Syria." He went on to say, "We will interrupt the flow of support for Iran and Syria, and we will seek out and destroy networks providing advanced weaponry and training to our enemies in Iraq."
Does that mean the president has plans to cross the Syrian and/or Iranian border to pursue those persons or individuals or governments providing that help?

SEC. RICE: Mr. Chairman, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs was just asked this question, and I think he perhaps said it best. He talked about what we're really trying to do here which is to protect our forces and that we are doing that by seeking out these networks that we know are operating in Iraq. We are doing it through intelligence. We are then able, as we did on the 21st of December, to go after these groups where we find them. In that case, we then asked the Iraqi government to declare them persona non grata and expel them from the country because they were holding diplomatic passports.

But the -- what is really being contemplated here in terms of these networks is that we believe we can do what we need to do inside Iraq. Obviously, the president isn't going to rule anything out to protect our troops, but the plan is to take down these networks in Iraq.

The broader point is that we do have and we have always had as a country very strong interests and allies in the Gulf Region, and we do need to work with our allies to make certain that they have the defense capacity that they need against growing Iranian military build-up, that they fell that we are going to be a presence in the Persian Gulf Region as we have been, and that we establish confidence with the states with which we have long alliances, that we will help defend their interests. And that's what the president had in mind.

SEN. BIDEN: Secretary Rice, do you believe the president has the constitutional authority to pursue across the border into Iraq (sic/Iran) or Syria, the networks in those countries?

SEC. RICE: Well, Mr. Chairman, I think I would not like to speculate on the president's constitutional authority or to try and say anything that certainly would abridge his constitutional authority, which is broad as commander in chief.

I do think that everyone will understand that -- the American people and I assume the Congress expect the president to do what is necessary to protect our forces.

SEN. BIDEN: Madame Secretary, I just want to make it clear, speaking for myself, that if the president concluded he had to invade Iran or Iraq in pursuit of these -- or Syria -- in pursuit of these networks, I believe the present authorization granted the president to use force in Iraq does not cover that, and he does need congressional authority to do that. I just want to set that marker.


-- Steve Clemons

Our go it alone President

An era of bipartisanship.....that's what the President promised right after the election.  Less conflict, more comity.  But last night the President once again took the approach that has defined his Administration, one that has caused his government to be such a remarkable failure - he choose to fight, alone.  By choosing this path, inevitability, he will end up once again reminding the world the limits of American power, the Presidency and of course his own very inadequate leadership.  While his words may have been noble and strong, there is something very classically tragic about what is unfolding in Washington right now. 

Bush's allies keep dwindling.  Just yesterday Tony Blair, his primary Iraq partner, announced that he will start reducing the number of British troops in Iraq.  Senator Sam Brownback, a conservative stalwart, announced he was joining Republican Senators Collins, Hagel and Smith in opposing the President's plan.  And the only Democrat he could evoke was the former Democrat Joe Lieberman, who in one of the most politically provocative - and farcical - moves of the night, was called on to convene a bi-partisan working group to help win the war on terror.

I'm also a little more than worried about the threats in the speech made against Syria and Iran.  Are they idle threats, political positioning, or is the President seriously looking at attacking other nations in the region? Given what a remarkable failure our Iraq strategy has been, how is this something that is being seriously considered? 

Of all the things I've read since the speech the most helpful was a news analysis from the NYTimes this morning.  Some excerpts:

By stepping up the American military presence in Iraq, President Bush is not only inviting an epic clash with the Democrats who run Capitol Hill. He is ignoring the results of the November elections, rejecting the central thrust of the bipartisan Iraq Study Group and flouting the advice of some of his own generals, as well as Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki of Iraq.

In so doing, Mr. Bush is taking a calculated gamble that no matter how much hue and cry his new strategy may provoke, in the end the American people will give him more time to turn around the war in Iraq and Congress will not have the political nerve to thwart him by cutting off money for the war...

“It’s more than a risk, it’s a riverboat gamble,” said Leon E. Panetta, a Democratic member of the Iraq Study Group and former chief of staff to President Bill Clinton. “There’s no question that under our system he’s going to be able to deploy these troops without Congress being able to stop him. But he’s going to face so many battles over these next few months, on funding for the war, on every decision he makes, that he’s basically taking the nation into another nightmare of conflict over a war that no one sees any end to.”


After Democrats swept the November midterm elections, people both inside and outside the administration expected the bipartisan Iraq Study Group to provide Mr. Bush with a face-saving exit from the war. Mr. Bush made favorable reference to the study group on Wednesday night, noting that he had accepted some of its 79 recommendations.

But he rejected its central notion, that the United States should set a timetable for scaling back combat operations and mount a new diplomatic offensive to engage Iran and Syria. Mr. Bush concluded that those recommendations were not a recipe for victory, but rather, as he said after a meeting with Mr. Maliki in November, a recipe for “a graceful exit,” a path he did not want to pursue. At their meeting, Mr. Maliki presented Mr. Bush with a plan calling for Iraqi troops to assume primary responsibility for security in Baghdad, shifting American troops to the periphery of the capital. Instead, Mr. Bush concluded that the United States would have to take a central role, because the Iraqis were not capable of quelling the sectarian violence on their own.

In a sense, it is a predictable path for Mr. Bush. This, after all, is the same president who lost the popular vote in 2000, was installed in the White House by a 5-to-4 vote of the Supreme Court and then governed as if he had won by a landslide. And this is the same president who, after winning re-election in 2004, famously told reporters that he had “earned capital in the campaign, political capital, and now I intend to spend it.”

But no American president has been able to prosecute a war indefinitely without the support of the American public. With polls showing fewer than 20 percent of Americans supporting increasing troop levels in Iraq, Mr. Bush and those Republicans who support him know that the new policy will be a tough sell.

“The American people have no reason in the world to think it’s going to work just like the president paints it,” said one of those backers, Senator Pete V. Domenici of New Mexico, “but I think the American people, in their usual good sense, are going to wait around for a while and say, ‘Mr. President, you’ve taken us down a lot of roads in Iraq, let’s go down this one and see if it works.’ ”

The question for Mr. Bush is just how long the American people, and their elected representatives, will wait.

Finally, by taking this "riverboat gamble," one other thing the President has probably "sacrificed" is bi-partisan progress on a whole host of other pressing issues facing the nation today.

Republicans abandon their President, and McCain

We know the generals are against the new Bush strategy, most Democrats are, the American people by more than 3 to 1, and we also know a handful of important Republican Senators have expressed grave reservations or outright opposition.  As I wrote recently, the rollout of the President's new strategy has been one of the most disasterous rollouts of a major policy initiative that I've seen in the last 20 years.  With so much high level opposition, his plan is politically Dead on Arrival, though what that means in practice remains to be seen. 

In a NYTimes piece today, Republican Senator John Warner, ranking Senate Armed Services member, asks the kind of tough, but very simple questions that need to be asked:  

In an interview on Tuesday, Senator John W. Warner, Republican of Virginia, said he was becoming increasingly skeptical that a troop increase was in the best interest of the United States. “I’m particularly concerned about the greater injection of our troops into the middle of sectarian violence. Whom do you shoot at, the Sunni or the Shia?” Mr. Warner said. “Our American G.I.’s should not be subjected to that type of risk.”

Congressional Republicans must be despondent.  They just got roundly defeated and tossed from power.  The failed Iraq strategy was one of the primary reasons they lost.  They come back to DC and start to regroup.  And the first major thing the White House does is go its own way on Iraq, and in a way that is politically perilous for the GOP.  One of the two strongest candidates for the Republican nomination, John McCain, is standing right there by the President's side, watching his own political career possibly go up in flames. 

The fighting in Baghdad today

The Times has an early report, and it reinforces how difficult it is going to be for America or our troops to bring peace to Iraq:

The fighting on Haifa Street, a broad two-mile boulevard that cuts through the heart of the capital, began nearly a week ago as an attempt to secure the safety of citizens caught in the middle of the fighting and ended with pitched battles in the street. It is a reminder of how difficult the Baghdad mission will be.

The American crackdown on Tuesday came on the fourth day of intense fighting in the neighborhood, a collection of tightly packed apartment buildings and 20-story high-rises that was the home of many top-ranking government officials and Baath party loyalists while Saddam Hussein was in power. American soldiers continued to patrol the area through the night and an American military spokesman said they would stay there until the situation was firmly under control. Gunfire and explosions could be heard in the neighborhood well after the sun went down.

An American military officer familiar with the operation said that it was part of an effort to stabilize Baghdad but was not directly linked to the president’s new security plan.

But the location of the fight has particular significance.

Nearly two years ago, after much bloodshed and toil, the American military wrested control of the area from insurgents.

Haifa Street, the neighborhood’s main thoroughfare, used to be called Purple Heart Boulevard by American soldiers. More than 160 troops from the First Battalion of the Ninth Cavalry were injured trying to secure the area. By the spring of 2005, they had largely done so and it was trumpeted as a signal success.

Tuesday’s operation, directed by elements of the Stryker Brigade of the First Cavalry Division and Iraqi Sixth Army Division, came after a series of events that, taken together, demonstrate the complexity of the fight for American forces and the maze of competing interests they are trying to navigate.

It also suggests that even if the Americans attempt to deal even-handedly with Shiite militias and Sunni Arab insurgents, an aim that is expected to be a central theme of President Bush’s plan, their efforts could end up inadvertently benefiting one party or the other.

Shiites are clearly ascendant throughout Baghdad, systematically taking over Sunni Arab neighborhoods, often using the intimidation of death squads to achieve their goals. But the area around Haifa Street has remained a Sunni bastion.

For the past two years, it has been relatively quiet, but in recent months, as the sectarian fighting has intensified, Iraqi and American military officials suspected it was being used as a base of operations for insurgents targeting the Shiite civilian population and American forces.

The violence in the area started to increase markedly following the recent arrest of a senior member of the leading Shiite militia group, the Mahdi Army, who was operating near the area, according to an American military official.

The arrest, the official said, created an opening for Sunni Arab insurgents, and they began aggressively singling out Shiites who had relocated south from the neighborhood of Khadimiya, the official said.

On Saturday, 27 bodies were dumped in the Sheik Marouf neighborhood on Haifa Street. They were Shiites, four with their throats slit and the rest shot in the head, according to an Iraqi government official.

When the Iraqi police went to investigate and collect the bodies, they were attacked, according to witnesses and government officials. The Iraqi Army was called in and was also attacked, so finally the Americans were called in.

For residents, the situation was already bleak and getting worse, with no electricity for days and armed men taking control of lawless streets.

But the Sunni Arabs in the area were still hostile to the Iraqi security forces, largely viewed as agents of the Shiite-led government.

“People were disgusted and were enraged by the activity of the security forces,” one resident said.

Late Saturday night, Iraqi government officials and witnesses said that Sunni insurgents had set up a fake checkpoint and were pulling Shiites from their cars and executing them, even, some claimed, stringing three bodies from lamp posts.

“Some of my friends told me they saw some of the bodies hanging from lamp posts,” said Jabbar Obeid, 39, who lives in the area.

American officials said Tuesday that while many people were being executed in the area, they found no evidence of people being hanged on lamp posts. Many Sunni residents said the claims were nonsense, aimed at inciting more sectarian violence.

Sunni Arab organizations and politicians on Sunday began condemning the government’s security clampdown.

“Day after day, the sectarian crimes against the Sunnis in their neighborhoods in Baghdad are continuing,” said Adnan Dulaimi, a member of the largest Sunni Arab bloc in the Iraqi Parliament. The government’s actions over the weekend were a “barbarian attack” aimed at clearing the neighborhood of Sunnis, he said in a statement.

In fighting in the neighborhood Sunday, 11 Iraqi Army soldiers were killed when they ran out of ammunition, Iraqi officials said.

American military officials said by then they already had solid evidence to suggest that Sunni insurgent leaders were using the neighborhood as a base of operations. They said that the fighters were organized and sophisticated, including trained snipers and insurgents from foreign countries.

One Sunni Arab resident, who spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals, confirmed as much, saying that insurgents had taken over to such a degree that a top-ranking Al Qaeda official had even seized control of al-Rafadin Bank, set up an Islamic court and began handing out death sentences.

First of the First 100 Hours

After today, I don't want to hear anymore about Republicans being the stronger party on National Security.  That's because House Democrats are opening the "First 100 Hours" by passing the many security reforms recommended by the 9/11 Commission, but ignored by the Republican 109th Congress and President Bush.

A more complete list from the House Democrats is at the bottom of this post, but some of the highlights include: more homeland security grants for at-risk states, mandatory air cargo screening, overseas port scanning for containers heading to US ports, and the creation of a new system of anti-nuclear proliferation sanctions against individuals and the governments that do business with them.  Rather then highlights, maybe I should have called this list the "obvious steps that should have already been taken to protect America."

There are criticisms of this package, but most of them are that the the steps are actually too aggressive and may run into opposition in the Senate:

"It's a very aggressive proposal, more aggressive than I would have thought," Greenberger said. "I wouldn't be optimistic that it will all make it through the Senate, but I'm surprised it got this far."

Given the choice between being over-aggressive on homeland security and more inertia, I'm glad that House Democrats are going all out and replacing empty conservative rhetoric with bold legislative action.

The Times weighs in with a strong editorial on Iraq

An excerpt from an editorial today, Past Time to Get Real on Iraq:  

What they (The Amiercan People) need is for the president to acknowledge how bad things have gotten in Iraq (not just that it is not going as well as he planned) and to be honest about how limited the remaining options truly are. The country wants to know how Mr. Bush plans to end its involvement in a way that preserves as much of the nation’s remaining honor and influence as possible, limits the suffering of the Iraqi people and the harm to Iraq’s neighbors, and gives Iraqi leaders a chance — should they finally decide to take it — to rescue their country from an even worse disaster once the Americans are gone.

The reality that Mr. Bush needs to acknowledge when he speaks to the nation tomorrow night is that the Iraqi government of Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki is feeding rather than restraining Iraq’s brutal civil war. The Iraqi Army cannot be relied on to impose order even in Baghdad, while the Iraqi police forces — dominated by sectarian militias — are inciting the mayhem.

Mr. Bush must acknowledge that there is no military solution for Iraq. Whatever plan he offers needs to start with a tough set of political benchmarks for national reconciliation that the Iraqi government is finally expected to meet. It needs to concentrate enough forces in Baghdad to bring some security to streets and neighborhoods, giving Iraq’s leaders one last opportunity to try to bargain their way out of civil war.

His plan needs to lay out tight timetables in which the Iraqis must take major steps to solve fundamental issues, including equitably dividing their oil wealth and disarming vengeful militias. There must also be a clear and rapid timetable for achieving enough stability in Baghdad to hand back significant military responsibilities to the Iraqis.

The last time America presented Mr. Maliki with a set of political benchmarks, he bluntly rejected them. If he does that again, there is no way America can or should try to secure Iraq on its own. Mr. Bush must make clear to both Iraqis and Americans that without significant progress, American forces will not remain.

We’re under no illusions. Meeting those challenges is going to be extremely tough. And Iraq’s unraveling may already be too far gone.

For Mr. Bush, this means resisting any vague Nixonian formula of “peace with honor” that translates into more years of fighting on for the same ever-receding goals. Democrats in Congress should also resist euphemistic formulas like “phased redeployment,” which really means trying to achieve with even fewer troops what Washington failed to achieve with current force levels.

Nor can America simply turn its back on whatever happens to Iraq after it leaves. With or without American troops, a nightmare future for Iraq is a nightmare future for the United States, too, whether it consists of an expanding civil war that turns into a regional war or millions of Iraq’s people and its oil fields falling under the tightening grip of a more powerful Iran.

Mr. Bush is widely expected to announce a significant increase in American troops to deploy in Baghdad’s violent neighborhoods. He needs to explain to Congress and the American people where the dangerously tapped-out military is going to find those troops. And he needs to place a strict time limit on any increase, or it will turn into a thinly disguised escalation of the American combat role.

US General says war will take 2-3 more years

From the NYTimes today:

The new American operational commander in Iraq said Sunday that even with the additional American troops likely to be deployed in Baghdad under President Bush’s new war strategy it might take another “two or three years” for American and Iraqi forces to gain the upper hand in the war.

This week the President lays out his "new way forward" for Iraq.  Having rejected the two main recommendations of the Iraq Study Group report - an enhanced regional diplomatic track, and a gradual reduction of US forces in Iraq - the President is now left to argue for essentially more of what he has been doing for the last three years.   Yes, there will be the appearance of change.  We will have "benchmarks," figleaf economic initiatives, Maliki saying all the right things, vague promises of reconcilation and of course more troops.  But at the core of a new strategy is a prayer, a big and significant prayer, a prayer that things will get better because now we really want them to.  

As this story in the Times shows the core of the new strategy is that somehow these new American troops will quiet the sectarian conflict driving the latest round of deteroriation.  I for one do not believe that a sustainable peace in Iraq is possible without the involvement of other interested regional parties like Iran and Saudi Arabia.  Going it alone, with as we have these past 3 years, without the help of the UN, our global allies, other regional actors, has failed.  If the President really wanted to move Iraq forward, he would have changed the fundamental political dynamic inside the country, and shown that the goal of stablizing Iraq was an international priority, not just an American one.  On the ground our troops aren't seen as peacekeepers, but as occupiers, as combatants, and that core dynamic if anything will be accentuated by the President's new plan.  Which is why the Joint Chiefs have made it clear to the White House that they believe more troops means an escalation of violence, the very opposite of what the President will say to us later this week. 

The Bush-McCain plan is DOA. So what's next?

I'm not sure that in my over 20 years of involvement in politics and media have I seen as disastrous a pre-launch of a major policy initiative as what the President will propose this week for Iraq.   From George Will to David Brooks to the front page of the Washington Post there is doubt, confusion, concern emanating from all involved, including, remarkably, those talking on official background from the White House.   As I’ve been suggesting for some time, it is now clear that the White House no longer knows what to do, and that whatever they propose will be more prayer than policy.

I don’t really know what happens next with our debate about the Middle East.  With so many Republican Senators and leaders voicing coming out against a troop escalation I think at this point the President’s “new way forward” has already been politically defeated.  So what comes next?  Taking center stage this week, and for the next month, will be Senator Biden as he kicks off a series of welcome hearings on Iraq and the Middle East.  But if the Presidents plan goes down, quickly, as it appears, what’s next?

As an American it worries me that our President and Commander in Chief is so politically weakened and seemingly so out of it.  The stories from the White House today sound almost desperate, like the staff knows that on the defining issue of the day they are out of ideas, confused, tired, beaten.  No one is taking the new plan seriously.  It is such an extraordinary sign of weakness, to leaders here in Washington and around the world, that we cannot allow that kind of dispiriting drift and confusion to define the new post-2006 America.  Our new Congressional leaders should begin thinking through their strategy for a prolonged and very public engagement about what comes next, and start understanding that this indeed will be very much their problem soon.

If there was a glimmer of hope this week it was the appointment of a new national security team.  We need a new team in there, offering fresh perspectives and new ideas, and the new appointments seem solid and strong.  They are being handed a bad hand, have little time to learn their new positions and will be under great pressure.  But it is encouraging that the President understood enough the depths of his failure to bring in a whole new team to give us some hope that we can find not just a new way forward but a better one. 

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