08 November 2007

Bush Is Stuck on Iran

William M. Arkin on National and Homeland Security
Bush Is Stuck on Iran
In an interview with German TV reporters yesterday, President Bush went on again about War III.

Not in reference to Pakistan, mind you - though that's where much of the world's focus has turned this week. Nor does he seem particularly worried about failure in Iraq or Afghanistan, the spread of Islamic extremism, terrorists acquiring nuclear weapons - he didn't mention any of them when asked about his goals for the last year of his presidency.

Rather, Bush remains fixated on Iran. He repeated that he was "absolutely serious" when he warned last month that a nuclear-armed Iran could lead to the ultimate conflagration. And he proclaimed yesterday: "[T]his is a country that has defied the IAEA -- in other words, didn't disclose all their program -- have said they want to destroy Israel. If you want to see World War III, you know, a way to do that is to attack Israel with a nuclear weapon. And so I said, now is the time to move."

It was a stupid, hyperbolic and weak statement. And Bush needs to stop repeating it.

Iran is still at least years away from having nuclear weapons. And with sanctions and international isolation and the preemptive tendencies of the U.S. and Israel, the likelihood of Iran successfully attaining nuclear capability is far less than 50-50.

It's also somewhat unlikely that Iran would move to attack Israel. As Fareed Zakaria observed recently in Newsweek: "Iran has an economy the size of Finland's and an annual defense budget of around $4.8 billion. It has not invaded a country since the late 18th century.... Israel and every Arab country (except Syria and Iraq) are quietly or actively allied against Iran. And yet we are to believe that Tehran is about to overturn the international system and replace it with an Islamo-fascist order? What planet are we on?"

World War III, I've written before, would more likely ignite because of a normal set of events that careens out of control. Events Iraq or the Persian Gulf, for example, could lead to miscues and alerts and mobilizations and people shooting at each other across borders.

Of all the potential crises America and the world faces, Iran seems one of the easiest to put into a harmless box.

At the same time, given the extremism of the Tehran regime, singling out Iran as the one country likely to produce World War III is unnecessarily inflammatory. And so, we can fan the flames, thereby making conflict more likely. Or we can dispassionately and doggedly pursue positive outcomes, secure in the confidence that we are able to prioritize the true threats.

Dem Letter To White House

Thirty senators sent a letter to the White House on Thursday warning President Bush not to take offensive military action against Iran without the consent of Congress. Noticeably absent from the list of signatories is presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama, D-IL.

According to its authors, the letter was designed to clarify the ambiguity of the recent Kyl-Lieberman amendment designating Iran's Revolutionary Guard as a terrorist organization. Obama has been critical of that amendment as well as the Bush administration's aggressive rhetoric towards Tehran. Yet the senator from Illinois turned down a requestion to sign on to the White House letter.

"I was surprised and disappointed," John Isaacs, president of the Council for a Livable World and one of the catalysts behind the letter, told the Huffington Post. "I contacted virtually every office and to me it was a no-brainer that Obama and [Sen.] Biden [whose name was also not on the list] would both sign on. Neither did."

The letter, which was spearheaded by Sen. Jim Webb, D-VA, was signed by presidential candidates Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-NY, who voted for the Kyl-Lieberman provision, and Sen. Chris Dodd, D-CT, who opposed it. The text reads:

"We are writing to express serious concerns with the provocative statements and actions stemming from your administration with respect to possible U.S. military action in Iran. These comments are counterproductive and undermine efforts to resolve tensions with Iran through diplomacy."

Sources knowledgeable with the crafting of the letter said there were two general arguments offered by those who did not sign on in support: that Congress already has the power to declare war, and that the letter text was too vague about defensive and/or covert action against Iran. Notably, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) also declined to attach his name.

Staff for Obama and Biden did not return requests for comment by the time of publication. A list of the signatories is below.

Dear President Bush:
We are writing to express serious concerns with the provocative statements and actions stemming from your administration with respect to possible U.S. military action in Iran. These comments are counterproductive and undermine efforts to resolve tensions with Iran through diplomacy.

We wish to emphasize that no congressional authority exists for unilateral military action against Iran. This includes the Senate vote on September 26, 2007 on an amendment to the FY 2008 National Defense Authorization Act. This amendment, expressing the sense of the Senate on Iran, and the recent designation of the Quds Force of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist, should in no way be interpreted as a predicate for the use of military force in Iran.

We stand ready to work with your administration to address the challenges presented by Iran in a manner that safeguards our security interests and promotes a regional diplomatic solution, but we wish to emphasize that offensive military action should not be taken against Iran without the express consent of Congress.


1. Webb
2. Akaka
3. Baucus
4. Boxer
5. Brown
6. Byrd
7. Cantwell
8. Carper
9. Casey
10. Clinton
11. Dodd
12. Dorgan
13. Durbin
14. Feinstein
15. Harkin
16. Johnson
17. Kerry
18. Klobuchar
19. Kohl
20. Leahy
21. McCaskill
22. Mikulski
23. Murray
24. Reed
25. Rockefeller
26. Sanders
27. Stabenow
28. Tester
29. Whitehouse
30. Wyde

Scapegoating US Diplomats

Scapegoating US Diplomats
For Failures In Iraq

By William Fisher

08 November, 2007

Facing growing scrutiny of the State Department's shortage of experienced diplomats in Iraq - and the Department's announced intention to force Foreign Service Officers to serve in Baghdad against their will -- the leader of America's diplomatic service is charging that critics, "including people who urged the 2003 invasion," are seeking to blame the State Department for their own failures.

"No country's diplomatic corps has people with many of the skills now needed in Iraq: oil and gas engineers, electrical grid managers, urban planners, city managers and transportation planners. If any US defense planner in 2003 thought that the State Department and other civilian federal agencies had such people on staff in large numbers (Arabic-speaking or not) ready to rebuild Iraq, they were wrong," says John Naland, president of the American Foreign Service Association (AFSA).

AFSA represents America's 11,500 professional diplomats. Of these, 6,500 are Foreign Service Officers while 5,000 are Foreign Service specialists, including Diplomatic Security agents. There are another 1,500 or so Foreign Service members at the US Agency for international Development (USAID), the Commerce Department's Foreign Commercial Service, the Agriculture Department's Foreign Agricultural Service and the International Broadcasting Bureau, an independent agency closely allied with State.

Naland points out that between the US invasion in 2003 through 2007, all of the more than 2,000 career Foreign Service members who served at the US mission in Baghdad and the expanding Provincial Reconstruction Teams around the country "did so as a volunteer."

Naland termed it "unfortunate" that late last month the Director General of the Foreign Service, Ambassador Harry K. Thomas, Jr., declared that "the well of volunteers had finally run dry." Thomas announced that, if volunteers could not be found for 48 remaining positions by mid-November, diplomats -- under threat of dismissal - would be ordered to serve at the embassy in Baghdad and in so-called Provincial Reconstruction Teams in outlying provinces. If carried out, it would be the largest diplomatic call-up since Vietnam.

AFSA contends that "directed assignments of Foreign Service members into a war zone would be detrimental to the individual, to the post, and to the Foreign Service as a whole. AFSA urged the State Department to find ways to increase the pool of qualified voluntary bidders."

Under the new order, 200-300 diplomats have been identified as "prime candidates" to fill 48 vacancies that will open next year at the Baghdad embassy and in the provinces. Those notified that they have been selected for a one-year posting will have 10 days to accept or reject the position. If not enough say yes, some will be ordered to go. Only those with compelling reasons, such as a medical condition or extreme personal hardship, will be exempt from disciplinary action.

Diplomats are also angered that Thomas's announcement was made to the news media before it was conveyed to those likely to be deployed under the new policy.

At a 'town hall' meeting in Washington last week, some 300 US diplomats told Thomas what they thought of State's decision to force Foreign Service Officers to take jobs in Iraq.

One attendee, Jack Crotty, a senior Foreign Service officer who once worked as a political adviser with NATO forces, told the Associated Press that the new policy was tantamount to a "potential death sentence." Others expressed serious concern about the ethics of sending diplomats against their will to serve in a war zone while a review of the department's use of private security contractors to protect its staff is under way. Most Embassy staff works in the so-called 'Green Zone' - itself far from immune from incoming mortar and other types of attacks. But members of Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRTs) are deployed through the country, including in some of most dangerous provinces. Only Diplomatic Security agents are permitted to be armed.

The Associated Press quoted Crotty as telling Ambassador Thomas, "It's one thing if someone believes in what's going on over there and volunteers, but it's another thing to send someone over there on a forced assignment. I'm sorry, but basically that's a potential death sentence and you know it. Who will raise our children if we are dead or seriously wounded? You know that at any other (country) in the world, the embassy would be closed at this point." His comments drew enthusiastic applause from his colleagues.

AFSA President Naland said that a recent survey found that only 12 percent of the union's membership believed Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was "fighting for them."

He said that some critics of US failures in Iraq are seeking to shift blame onto the Foreign Service for their own lack of pre-invasion planning, while others are as basing their comments on "wildly inflated estimations of the capacities of civilian agencies to operate in combat zones such as Iraq."

In the run-up to the 2003 invasion of Iraq, the State Department assembled a series of blue-ribbon task forces to help prepare the Administration for the political, economic, social, cultural and religious challenges that would likely face the 'Coalition of the Willing' once the Saddam Hussein regime was toppled. The group, which included Iraqi exiles and some of the world's most distinguished Middle East scholars, made a series of recommendations. But the Defense Department, then under the leadership of Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, ignored their advice.

In a website statement, Naland attempted to put the Foreign Service's involvement in Iraq into perspective. He said, "Comparisons between the military and the State Department are often made with complete disregard for the facts relating to scale: budgets, personnel and capacity for war-zone service."

Naland pointed out that "the US active-duty military is 119 times larger than the Foreign Service. The total uniformed military (active and reserve) is 217 times larger. A typical U.S. Army division is larger than the entire Foreign Service. The military has more uniformed personnel in Mississippi than the State Department has diplomats worldwide. The military has more full colonels/Navy captains than the State Department has diplomats. The military has more band members than the State Department has diplomats. The Defense Department has almost as many lawyers as the State Department has diplomats."

He said that, in contrast to the military, "the vast majority of Foreign Service members are forward-deployed. Today, in a time of armed conflict, 21 percent of the active-duty military (290,000 out of 1,373,000) is stationed abroad (ashore or afloat). That compares to 68 percent of the Foreign Service currently stationed abroad at 167 U.S. embassies and 100 consulates and other missions."

Naland noted that more than 20 percent of the Foreign Service has served, or is serving, in Iraq since 2003. In the PRTs, which comprise up to 600 members, the Foreign Service component is 10 to 15 percent. There are currently approximately 200 Foreign Service positions at Embassy Baghdad and another 70 or so at the 25 Provincial Reconstruction Teams.

He said, "Foreign Service members receive very little preparation before deploying to Iraq -- less than two-weeks of special training to serve in a combat zone. Contrast that to their predecessors 40 years ago who received four to six months of training before deploying to South Vietnam...."

Naland added that surveys have shown that most Foreign Service volunteers in Iraq have been motivated not by extra pay but by "patriotism and a professional desire to try to advance the Administration's top foreign policy objective."

One of the most serious challenges facing the State Department - and every other government agency involved in Iraq and in the Middle East generally - is the acute shortage of Arabic speakers. This deficit is in danger of crippling US efforts to counter terrorist threats, communicate with prisoners, and build bridges to the Muslim world.

At the State Department, only 10 of 34,000 employees were rated fully fluent in Arabic as of 2006.

The number of Arabic language students in US universities has skyrocketed since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. But the course still ranks behind classical Greek, Latin and even American Sign Language in popularity.

The shortage has spurred an aggressive campaign of recruiting -- including generous sign-on bonuses -- by all U.S. intelligence agencies, including the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), the State Department, the Defense Department, and the Department of Homeland Security.

One result of the shortage, according to the Heritage Foundation, a conservative Washington-based think tank, is that analysts at the CIA, the FBI, the Defense Intelligence Agency and the National Security Agency are "awash in untranslated gleanings of intelligence" in Arabic. Heritage also said there are not enough interpreters to handle detainees in Iraq.

The shortage is also having an effect on US efforts in public diplomacy. Adam Clayton Powell III, a senior fellow at the University of Southern California Center on Public Diplomacy, says, "There are only a half dozen or so US spokesmen who have a sufficient grasp of the Arabic language to appear on radio or television in that part of the world. That means the US is not even part of the dialogue there."

While the language situation appears to be improving, it can only improve slowly. One reason is that Arabic is viewed by many as one of the most difficult languages in the world.

The State Department rates Arabic, along with Chinese and Korean, as a "superhard" language.

But aside from language difficulties, the other key facor relates to policy. As Juan Cole -- professor of history at the University of Michigan and a fluent Arabic speaker-- put it: "Not everyone studying Arabic is thrilled with US policies in the Middle East."

06 November 2007

Defense comes to forefront at China's Communist Party Congres

Defense comes to forefront at China's Communist Party Congress
IDG News Service 11/1/07

Steven Schwankert, IDG News Service, Beijing Bureau
For China technology watchers seeking a road map through the Olympics and into the next decade, the 17th Communist Party Congress in October was a disappointment. China's current president, Hu Jintao, has positioned himself as more of a grassroots, folksy leader than his technocratic predecessor, Jiang Zemin, or China's great reformer, Deng Xiaoping. Hu became president following the end of Jiang's term in 2002.

On the technology stage, Jiang is a tough act to follow. During his 10 years as China's president, Jiang oversaw perhaps the greatest telecommunications infrastructure build-out in history, where China went from having an insufficient number of fixed line telephones to the world's largest mobile market in a decade.

However, Hu was specific in his references to one area of IT guaranteed to raise eyebrows outside the country: defense. "We must build strong armed forces through science and technology. To attain the strategic objective of building computerized armed forces and winning IT-based warfare, we will accelerate composite development of mechanization and computerization, carry out military training under IT-based conditions, modernize every aspect of logistics, intensify our efforts to train a new type of high-caliber military personnel in large numbers and change the mode of generating combat capabilities."

For Germany and other nations that feel they have already been targeted by Chinese cyberattacks, Hu's words are likely to make defense officials in Europe, North America and Japan even more nervous.

"Both military and civilian sectors in China are actively exploring the information warfare concept, which could be gradually developed into a corps of 'network warriors' able to defend China's telecommunications, command, and information networks, while uncovering vulnerabilities in foreign networks," according to Sinodefence.com, an independent China military-monitoring Web site based in the U.K.

Add to this the report that every one of China's local police stations has special officers patrolling the Internet, and suddenly the happy face that Beijing is painting on itself for the 2008 Olympic Games seems more than a bit smeared.

The Chinese leader also devoted a section of his keynote speech to innovation. "We will speed up forming a national innovation system and support basic research, research in frontier technology and technological research for public welfare."

He also said China will "improve the legal guarantee, policy system, incentive mechanism and market conditions to encourage technological innovation and the application of scientific and technological achievements in production," which should be music to the years of intellectual-property rights activists.

Steven Schwankert is Asia desk editor for the IDG News Service.

Bush's Turkey shoot

It's always interesting to come up with a bunch of 'what if' scenario's:

Bush's Turkey shoot
By Pepe Escobar

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, a fine politician, knew even before he set foot in Washington on Monday that President George W Bush could not possibly have anything tangible to offer him on the explosive Turkey vs Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) dossier, apart from Pentagon aerial intelligence passed on to Turkish generals.

Erdogan, although describing himself as "happy" with his talks with Bush, may have left with nothing substantial. But at least he got a sound bite from Bush, who upgraded the PKK to the status of an enemy of America. Bush told Erdogan, "The PKK is a terrorist organization. They're an enemy of Turkey, they're an enemy of Iraq and they're an enemy of the United States."

Pity the US president could not possibly follow his own logic and add that the Party for Free Life in Kurdistan (PJAK - the PKK's Iran arm - is an enemy of Iran, an enemy of Iraq but a friend of the United States - which is arming and financing its fighters.

Last week, talking to his Justice and Development Party members of the Turkish Parliament, Erdogan stressed that he needed Bush to "clearly define [the US] road map" concerning the PKK. That would mean, from a Turkish point of view, direct US intervention against both the PKK and its protector, Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) President Massoud Barzani. Bush promised nothing of the kind.

Erdogan has accused Barzani of protecting "terrorists". Barzani has replied he would not hand over any of his Kurdish cousins accused of staging raids into Turkey from northern Iraq. If Bush did nothing about it, Erdogan said, "we will do our own job", which is what Turkish generals are really itching for: a search-and-destroy-the-PKK invasion of Iraqi Kurdistan. In other words: a new Iraq war. Even after the "Mr Erdogan goes to Washington" mini-movie, the chances of Turkey "doing its own job" remain high.

Blame it on Iran
Bush could not offer anything substantial because he would have had to admit his administration's impotence at securing any of its neo-imperial possessions' borders; this is what led the PKK to use Iraqi Kurdistan in the first place to coordinate its attacks in Turkey.

Iran also was not expecting that Bush would deliver anything to Erdogan. But then there are always the "unknown unknowns" in the bigger picture. Nobody knows whether Bush and Erdogan have discussed the fine print in a World War III (according to Bush) or World War IV (according to deranged neo-cons) scenario, which is being sold by the White House as caused by Tehran.

Way beyond Turkey's troubles with the PKK, it all comes back to the stark fact that Turkey simply cannot accept a virtually independent Iraqi Kurdistan in its southeast border - exactly the outcome sought by the US-Israeli axis.

Bush and his inner circle have bought time to calculate the odds on whom to double-cross. Will it be North Atlantic Treaty Orgaization ally Turkey, with its handy Incirlik base, anti-US public opinion and no oil; or pro-US Iraqi Kurds, with lots of oil and their Israeli-trained peshmerga (armed forces)? Tough call. A poker player familiar with Bush administration methods would bet on a double double-cross, complete with a "blame it on Iran" sequel and a "bomb Iran" grand finale.

Ankara's logic remain flawless, at least from a "war on terror" angle. If Washington invaded both Afghanistan and Iraq to fight "terrorists", Ankara has the same rights to invade its terrorist-harboring neighbor, which just happens to be an American neo-colony. The irony is obviously lost on the Bush administration.

The Turkish leader's visit to Washington was upstaged by a new coup perpetrated by that irrepressible US ally running a failed state, General President Musharraf of Pakistan. But at least the popularly elected Erdogan is now free to impose economic sanctions on Iraqi Kurdistan. Flights from Istanbul to Irbil have already been cancelled. Electricity and food will become scarce. Just the mere threat of sanctions led the PKK to look for a settlement. Last Friday a PKK leader, Abdul Rahman al-Chadirchi, had already started asking Turkey for a peace plan.

Pick your terrorist
At a meeting in Istanbul this past weekend of foreign ministers of all Iraq's neighbors, plus the permanent members of the UN Security Council and selected G8 members, it emerged that a solution for the unholy mess was coming from Iran. Embattled Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki had met with Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki in Baghdad last Wednesday, and "urged Iran to help defuse the border crisis". Tehran duly provided Baghdad with intelligence on the PKK, according to Iranian sources. But Baghdad did nothing - because the Bush administration blocked its every move.

Why? Simple. Tehran intelligence revealed that the PKK - anticipating a Turkish military attack - was now trading Iraqi Kurdistan for northwest Iran. That's what Osman Ocalan, brother of jailed-for-life PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan, and a founding member of the PKK, told The Independent's Patrick Cockburn in Irbil.

As Asia Times Online has reported, the CIA has armed and financed the Iranian arm of the PKK, the PJAK, in its attacks against the Iranian government. Not only does Tehran share the same plight with Ankara, it would also expect Baghdad's cooperation on the issue. No wonder the Bush administration - for which the PKK are "terrorists" and PJAK are not - had to squash the initiative.

But with 15 million Kurds in eastern Turkey, 5 million in Iraqi Kurdistan, 4 million in northwest Iran and 1 million in Syria, "the partition of Kurdistan works in our interests", Ocalan said, referring to PKK's extreme mobility. The Bush administration for its part is not exactly dispirited by the PKK's ability to "destabilize" Iran or Syria.

Erdogan's priorities, on the other hand, as revealed once again this Monday in an interview with Claudio Gallo from Italian daily La Stampa, are admission to the European Union, Turkey's territorial integrity ("if only Baghdad had the will do dismantle the terrorist bases in the north") and the Turkish public's feelings about it. So between Bush and a hard place, he'd rather choose the latter, in the form of a strategic alliance with both Iran and Syria to combat what Ankara sees as dangerous Kurdish separatism. Turkey and Iran - commercially and now politically - are getting closer and closer.

Washington is more the loser because virtually no one in Turkey is shedding tears for what happens to their 57-year-old alliance. According to the June 2007 Pew Global Attitudes Project, no less than 83% of Turkey's public opinion had an "unfavorable view" of the US, ahead of Egypt and Jordan (both at 78%) and Pakistan (68%). All of these governments - but not their populations - are US allies. It's fair to assume these numbers are rising.

Russia for its part cannot but applaud the newfound Turkish-Persian entente. Non-stop Bush administration heavy handedness is actually fast erasing historical grievances and paving the way towards a new Eurasian configuration, with Turkey-Iran getting closer to Russia-China.

Dance, Pandora, dance
Bush's invasion and occupation of Iraq opened a Pandora's box that only now starts to be seen for its true incendiary potential. Turkey threatening to strike Iraq to protect its national security is a carbon copy of Bush invading Iraq in 2003. Moreover, "Iraq" is actually no more; it's been smashed into three virtually independent statelets - exactly what Israel wanted in the first place.

Israel is so keen on an independent Iraqi Kurdistan because this is the way towards a new Kirkuk-Haifa oil pipeline (the old one was shut down in 1948) - which will pass though three American bases and cross US-friendly Jordan. A complicating factor is that at the same time Tel Aviv avidly coddles racist, Kurd-hating Turkish generals.

Turkey badly needs oil, as much as Israel. Turkey most of all cannot stand an independent Iraqi Kurdistan because it is focused on Mosul and Kirkuk's oil wealth. For any Turk with an Ottoman Empire memory, Mosul's oil fields, only 120km from the border, should belong to Turkey; after all they were stolen by the British Empire as it drew the artificial borders of Iraq in the early 1920s.

Both the treaties of Sevres (1920) and Lausanne (1923) did everything to exclude Mosul and Kirkuk - both with a Turkman majority - from Turkey, so the new republic would be deprived of oil. It's not hard to imagine Turkish generals dreaming of a modern Turkey swimming in oil wealth as a certified regional superpower, spreading its wings over the Middle East, the Balkans, the Caucasus and as far as Central Asia. The equation is inescapable: if Washington could invade Iraq to grab its oil, why not neighbor Turkey, who owned the oil in the first place?

Bye bye Washington
The astute Erdogan knew even before setting foot in Washington that the solution to the Turkey-PKK crisis lay in a frank Washington-Tehran dialogue.

But for that to happen, he knew Bush and the neo-cons would have to drop their faithful ally the KRG and their useful destabilizing force, the PKK/PJAK. And they would also have to abandon the pretence that Iraq is "stabilized" while at the same time threatening to attack Iran, which is a regional power not interested in any destabilization.

Unlike scurrilous President General Musharraf in failed state Pakistan, Erdogan is an elected leader whose public opinion will seriously fault him for not caring about the national interest. So for the moment he is "happy" with Bush's sound bite. He'll wait - for just a little while. If nothing moves, Turkey will strike. Hard. And Washington won't even get a phone call.

Pepe Escobar is the author of Globalistan: How the Globalized World is Dissolving into Liquid War (Nimble Books, 2007). He may be reached at pepeasia@yahoo.com.

(Copyright 2007 Asia Times Online Ltd. All rights reserved.