Archive for November, 2008

Aryn Baker writes in Time:

The roots of Muslim rage run deep in India, nourished by a long-held sense of injustice over what many Indian Muslims believe is institutionalized discrimination against the country’s largest minority group. The disparities between Muslims, which make up 13.4% of the population, and India’s Hindu population, which hovers around 80%, are striking. There are exceptions, of course, but generally speaking Muslim Indians have shorter life spans, worse health, lower literacy levels, and lower-paying jobs. Add to that toxic brew the lingering resentment over 2002’s anti-Muslim riots in the state of Gujarat. The riots, instigated by Hindu nationalists, killed some 2000 people, most of them Muslim. To this day, few of the perpetrators have been convicted.


Kashmir, a Muslim-dominated state whose fate had been left undecided in the chaos that led up to partition, remains a suppurating wound in India’s Muslim psyche. As the cause of three wars between India and Pakistan — one of which nearly went nuclear in 1999 — Kashmir has become a symbol of profound injustice to Indian Muslims who believe that their government cares little for Kashmir’s claim of independence, which is based upon a 1948 U.N. resolution promising a plebiscite to determine the Kashmiri people’s future. That frustration has spilled into the rest of India in the form of several devastating terrorist attacks that have made Indian Muslims both perpetrators and victims.

Like much of the analysis of the Mumbai attacks I’ve read in the past couple of days, this ignores the role of outside influence on the radicalisation of Indian Muslims.

A sense of injustice doesn’t automatically lead to terrorism, and social grievances by themselves don’t breed militancy; otherwise we’d all be in trouble. Communal violence has rocked India almost every year since 1947, yet the country’s descent into terrorist bloodshed is relatively recent. The 2002 Gujarat riots are rightly emphasised in almost every news story as one of the causes of “Muslim rage”, but for the wrong reason. It’s not that the mayhem, although horrific, was historically bad; it’s because it occurred at a crucial juncture. Kashmir had been burning for more than a decade; al-Qaeda had scored its biggest victory with 9/11; and in Pakistan, ISI was riding roughshod over moderates while funding every jihadist outfit they deemed useful as a proxy.

Kashmir’s role in the radicalisation of Indian Muslims is significant, and there is no doubt that abuses by the Indian security forces added insult to injury. But the valley never would’ve been swallowed by a full-blown insurgency had it not been for ISI’s fundamentalist gunmen. I traveled the area frequently in the 80s and early 90s, and the transformation was as rapid as it was tragic. Muzaffarabad was a beehive of jihadist activity; on the Indian side, battles raged and the Indian forces, lacking a coherent COIN plan, resorted to treating every civilian as an enemy. In the end, Pakistan’s strategy of provocation was a resounding success. If the plebiscite had been held in 1989, I’d say most Kashmiris would’ve opted for staying with India; by 1991, most wanted independence; today, my guess is at least a notable section of the population would prefer accession to Pakistan.

India certainly isn’t immune to homegrown fanaticism, be it Hindu or Muslim. But to blame the country for what happened in Mumbai by pointing to the discrimination and resentment of its Muslims trivialises a problem that goes far beyond India’s borders. Without Pakistan’s involvement in Kashmir, there would be no Indian Mujahedin, and SIMI would’ve remained a nuisance. No reasonable person blamed the U.S. for 9/11, even if one could see its policies in the Middle East as a root cause. We should extend the same courtesy to India.

(For an Indian perspective, see terrorism expert Wilson John’s conclusions.)

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SOFA becomes reality, and here’s Reidar Visser’s take on the “Withdrawal Treaty”:

[…} George W. Bush never managed to use leverage in the negotiations with the Iraqi government over bilateral relations. Instead, during the course of one year, his administration essentially performed an unconditional reversal of its Iraq policy, silently moving from its traditional resistance against timetables for withdrawal to accepting a framework that means full withdrawal within 3 years, with no opening even for the ‘residual forces’ that also pragmatists among the Democrats have enthusiastically defended. One year ago, Washington had leverage over Maliki because he was still weak: he needed American support so that he could achieve better control of the Iraqi security forces and thereby enhanced control over internal challengers to his rule. In 2008, without asking for any favours in return, the Bush administration gave him this in the shape of a continuation of ‘the surge’. Moreover, by performing a ‘surge’ with no built-in requirements for political reform, Washington consistently enhanced Maliki’s leverage in the very negotiations that were simultaneously going on between the two sides.

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As the tragedy unfolds in Mumbai, I find myself wondering why no one is bringing up this fact:

This is by all definitions a foreign attack on Indian soil. India is not a Muslim country, and its own Muslim minority, apart from Kashmiris, by and large does not have a beef with the central government. There is no indigenous jihadi movement (SIMI’s radicalisation is, of course, a point of contention); what there is, is mostly encouraged, if not overtly funded, by Pakistan. In fact, India is the only non-Muslim country in the world where foreign-supported Islamic terrorists have killed hundreds of people since 2001. (I’m discounting Israel, as I think its problems are largely home-grown.)

So here’s the thing: If the U.S. was almost unanimously considered as being within its legal rights to attack Afghanistan after 9/11, wouldn’t an Indian attack on Pakistan be equally justified? Doesn’t a country have the right to defend its citizens from outside aggression? What, if not an act of war, would you call 10 simultaneous terrorist strikes in a country’s financial capital? And, most importantly, does the fact that both you and your opponent possess nuclear weapons mean you cannot retaliate at all?

Then again, I might be totally wrong. Here’s RAND’s Christine Fair in today’s NYT:

“There are a lot of very, very angry Muslims in India. […] The economic disparities are startling and India has been very slow to publicly embrace its rising Muslim problem. You cannot put lipstick on this pig. This is a major domestic political challenge for India.”

“The public political face of India says, ‘Our Muslims have not been radicalized.’ But the Indian intelligence apparatus knows that’s not true. India’s Muslim communities are being sucked into the global landscape of Islamist jihad. […] Indians will have a strong incentive to link this to Al Qaeda. ‘Al Qaeda’s in your toilet!’ But this is a domestic issue. This is not India’s 9/11.”

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If you haven’t yet read University of Chicago Law Professor Eric Posner’s blog post on the pros and cons (mostly pros) of the Iraq war, you definitely should. Presumably playing the devil’s advocate, Posner looks at a number of indicators like mortality, political freedom and cell phone subscriptions (!) and concludes that there may be reason to believe Iraqis are now better off than before the U.S. invasion in 2003.

I realise it may all be in jest, as someone on the blog suggested, but for the sake of argument I think it’s useful to suppose Posner is serious. For thoughtful and reasoned counter-arguments, I encourage you to browse through the post’s comments and read this.

For what it’s worth, I think Posner’s framing of the question is flawed. The real issue is not whether the war was worth it — whether the end (toppling of a dictator / achieving democracy) justified the means (military invasion) — but whether it was worth doing the way Bush and his people did it.

Just for the hell of it, Posner should consider how much better off Iraqis would be if nation-building had been part of the U.S. plan from the beginning, if Bremer had never been appointed and none of his blunders thus made, if instead of Sanchez we’d had Petraeus, if diplomacy instead of saber-rattling had been employed and Iraq’s neighbours engaged, and if America had propped up a home-grown democrat instead of an Iranian-backed Shia fundamentalist bent on becoming the next Saddam.

To continue the analogy someone made on the blog, it’s similarly worth considering how much better off the world would be if instead of just packing up and leaving, Britain would’ve had the patience to see to it that its Raj on the Subcontinent came to an honourable end — if instead of letting Jinnah and Nehru bicker the idea of a unified India to death, Mountbatten would’ve called a time-out, and if instead of a disastrous Partition, which not only claimed millions of lives but also created two belligerent nuclear powers, we’d had sectarian reconciliation.

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So he withdraws:

John O. Brennan, a C.I.A. veteran who many believed would be the spy agency’s next director, on Tuesday withdrew his name from consideration for a top job in the Obama administration amid concerns he was intimately linked to controversial C.I.A. programs authorized by President Bush.

The reason? Better believe it:

The opposition to Mr. Brennan had been largely confined to liberal blogs, and there was not an expectation he would face a particularly difficult confirmation process. Still, the episode shows that the C.I.A.’s secret detention program remains a particularly incendiary issue for the Democratic base, making it difficult for Mr. Obama to select someone for a top intelligence post who has played any role in the agency’s campaign against Al Qaeda since the Sept. 11 attacks.

The problem I have with this, as I’ve said before, is that (we) bloggers are shitty substitutes for vetters of a candidate for high office. We don’t dig up stuff, we just rip off other people’s work; and when that work is substandard or nonexistent, as in the case of Brennan, all we come up with is recycled quotes from a couple of interviews we wouldn’t even know existed were it not for Wikipedia.

Here’s a case in point: Celebrating “the best political news since the election”, Salon’s Glenn Greenwald yesterday claimed to have “documented at length” that Brennan was an “ardent supporter” of torture and rendition. But judging by the journalistic standards I’m used to, Greenwald hasn’t documented anything. An earlier post, which he provides as proof of his hard work, only contains extensive quotes from three old Brennan interviews he now deems incriminating.

I find this kind of vetting-by-Google problematic for a variety of reasons. First of all, it gives you no real insight into a person’s character. Unlike investigative journalism, it only tells you what someone has said, not what he has done. Secondly, since this lazy man’s method mostly turns up useless blabber, even bright guys like Greenwald are reduced to cherry-picking that borders on the absurd. Witness Greenwald quoting a New Yorker story by Jane Mayer (emphasis Greenwald’s):

Without more transparency, the value of the C.I.A.’s interrogation and detention program is impossible to evaluate. Setting aside the moral, ethical, and legal issues, even supporters, such as John Brennan, acknowledge that much of the information that coercion produces is unreliable. As he put it, ‘All these methods produced useful information, but there was also a lot that was bogus.’

I don’t call this documenting; I call it taking a reporter’s assertion and making it a fact. Which brings me to my third point: as any professional journalist knows, taking other people’s stories at face value inherently carries the risk of repeating their errors. But in the Blogspace, even if something has been taken out of context, or even if someone has been misquoted, it all ends up recycled and bundled up with the good stuff and blogged about endlessly. This is the most horrific thing about the Internet — decent people accidentally ending up as character assassins.

Even the eminently wise Scott Horton stumbles into this trap and consequently fails to make a convincing case against Brennan:

The problem isn’t John Brennan’s lack of credentials. He was a career intelligence operative who gets consistently strong marks for his effectiveness and intelligence from people who have worked with him. But he has a critical shortcoming: his completely ambiguous and inconsistent views about the CIA’s use of torture and torture by proxy as techniques. As a company man, Brennan was quick to justify and support what was done. As an ‘independent’ analyst for broadcast journalists, he also provided support and cover for practices from waterboarding to the use of psychotropic drugs.

Apparently Horton knows he’s preaching to the choir as he doesn’t even bother linking to anything that would give us a peek into those “ambiguous and inconsistent” views. The real reason, of course, is that Horton’s incisive critique is not based on personal insight but the same three interviews every other anti-Brennan blogger is quoting.

As anyone who reads my blog knows, I’m hardly a supporter of the Bush administration’s policies. For all I know, Brennan really might be a bad guy. And I’m more than ready to accept that Obama’s CIA director needs to be a credible symbol of change as much as a consummate professional. But instead of half-baked blog posts that only amount to a “firestorm” in Geekworld, I would’ve wanted to see a genuine exposé of the man behind the fuss.

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My clunky metaphor of the U.S. standing in Iraq at a dam with its finger in an expanding hole seems to be apt as ever:

Kurdish officials this fall took delivery of three planeloads of small arms and ammunition imported from Bulgaria, three U.S. military officials said, an acquisition that occurred outside the weapons procurement procedures of Iraq’s central government.

The large quantity of weapons and the timing of the shipment alarmed U.S. officials, who have grown concerned about the prospect of an armed confrontation between Iraqi Kurds and the government at a time when the Kurds are attempting to expand their control over parts of northern Iraq.

As for the rest of the metaphor — America being ready to bolt as soon as someone in DC shouts “Okay, it’s Iraq’s mess now!” –, here’s Judah Grunstein at World Politics Review:

[…] Not only is what happens after we’re gone out of our control, it’s also in some very cynical ways irrelevant to the mission as it’s currently been recalibrated, which is basically to get out while some semblance of political cohesion holds.


Question: Given the argument about how strategically significant Iraqi stability is to U.S. interests, do we go back in in the event of a civil war breaking out following our departure?

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Oh man, things are really going downhill in Pakistan. Reuters has just launched a new feature, “Security developments in Pakistan”, similar to the roundups it has so far offered only from — you guessed it — Iraq and Afghanistan. Here’s the one from this morning:

BAJAUR – The army fired artillery at militant positions overnight and on Tuesday in the Bajaur tribal region, near the Afghan border, killing six militants, security officials said. There was no independent verification of the casualties.

KOHAT – Unidentified gunmen opened fire at a vehicle in Kohat in the northwest, killing four people including a woman, police official Lal Fareed said. Security forces imposed a curfew and launched a search in the Darra Adam Kheil tribal region, 140 km (85 miles) west of Islamabad, after reports Taliban militants were regrouping, said political official Siraj Ahmad.

BANNU – Militants set off a remote-controlled bomb in the northwestern town of Bannu as a police patrol passed, severely damaging the vehicle but causing no casualties, police said.

DERA MURAD JAMALI – A bomb blast outside a court in the Naseerabad district of the southwestern province of Baluchistan wounded four people, police said.

SUI – Suspected nationalist militants detonated a road-side bomb as a pro-government tribal leader passed in a vehicle in Sui town in Baluchistan but it caused not casualties, police said.

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If you have the stamina to slog through a bog of military acronyms, I highly recommend Canadian Colonel Ian Hope’s excellent new paper on unity of command in Afghanistan, published by the U.S. Army War College’s Strategic Studies Instititute. It’s a tough read but it’s important:

While SACEUR’s soldiers fight in Afghanistan, CINCCENT retains control of the U.S. service component contributions to the fight, including the CLFCC and CFACC, the CSTC-A functions, and development functions in the U.S. PRTs. CENTCOM works with SOCOM to coordinate the counterterrorist fight, and with the DOS to support counter-narcotics operations; and CINCCENT engages with Pakistan to coordinate counterinsurgency and counterterrorist operations. SACEUR has no involvement in these activities. The White House and CENTCOM have been reluctant to shift any of these functions to NATO and EUCOM because they fear being constrained by the alliance. At the same time, NATO members are suspicious of continued CENTCOM involvement, and have placed heavy caveats upon their forces to protect them from being sucked into OEF missions that are directed unilaterally by the White House and CENTCOM with no alliance input. U.S. reluctance to work within NATO and European refusal to support U.S. unilateralism have created a fractured command structure that is abetting the Taliban insurgency and the forces of corruption that plague Afghanistan.

For what it’s worth, my take on the problem is here.

(Via Small Wars Journal.)

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Whoa, talk about reframing a narrative. In a rare op-ed piece for The New York Times, former secretary of defense Donald Rumsfeld argues that the surge of additional combat brigades into Iraq was not a last-ditch attempt to execute a course correction in a disastrously mishandled war but that, in fact, “by early 2007, several years of struggle had created the new conditions for a tipping point”:

From 2003 through 2006, United States military forces, under the leadership of Gen. John Abizaid and Gen. George Casey, inflicted huge losses on the Baathist and Qaeda leadership. Many thousands of insurgents, including the Qaeda chief in Iraq, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, were captured or killed and proved difficult to replace.

According to this version of history, the United States was on a steady trajectory towards victory from the very beginning, and were it not for those quarrelsome Iraqis (remember, “freedom’s untidy”), the desired endstate would’ve been accomplished in no time.

In other words, the first three years of the war, when the Bush administration, Rumsfeld included, refused to even accept there was an insurgency, let alone employ the right strategy to fight it, were not a gigantic screw-up but a period of heroic struggle, somehow necessary for the surge to succeed. And guess who now takes the credit for turning the tide:

Some military leaders raised reasonable questions about the potential effectiveness of a surge, in part because of a correct concern that military power alone could not solve Iraq’s problems. I agreed, and emphasized that a military surge would need to be accompanied by effective diplomatic and economic ‘surges’ from other departments and agencies of the American government, and by considerably greater progress from Iraq’s elected leaders.


During my last weeks in office, I recommended to President Bush that he consider Gen. David Petraeus as commander of coalition forces in Iraq, as General Casey’s tour was coming to an end.

True to form, Rumsfeld — the man whose hubristic obsession of war without infantry resulted in bin Laden slipping away — now expresses doubts about bolstering the American military presence in Afghanistan. The reason?

Left unanswered in the current debate is the critical question of how thousands of additional American troops might actually bring long-term stability to Afghanistan.

This is indeed a question left unanswered — by Bush, Cheney, Franks and Rumsfeld himself in 2002 in their headlong rush from a necessary war to a misadventure of historic proportions.

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John Brennan, who was Bill Clinton’s daily intelligence briefer and George Tenet’s XO, and who ran the National Counterterrorism Center for its first two years, has lately become something of a pet villain for Obama supporters. Judging by the blogospheric reaction to the news of his possible nomination as the head of CIA, you’d think he’s nothing less than a raving mad torture advocate.

I wanted to look him up, but there isn’t much to go by. Googling Brennan mostly turns up anti-Bush denunciations, and even the most eloquent ones, like the Sullivan post I linked to above, seem to recycle the same two interviews referenced in a Wikipedia article.

So, just for the hell of it, I decided to consult my personal GWOT library to see what those in the know actually know about Brennan. To my surprise, out of the 16 books I considered relevant*, he is mentioned — in passing — in just two, Woodward’s State of Denial and Suskind’s The One Percent Doctrine.

My question is this: how does one execute a leap from obscurity into notoriety without so much as a raised eyebrow — without leaving a trail of bad decisions, without ever being identified as an actor in a controversial context, without popping up in any of the most authoritative accounts of the post-9/11 upheaval?

As far as I can figure, there are only three possibilities:

  1. Brennan was a silent lackey who made sure his name would never be tarnished by Tenet’s screw-ups; or
  2. Brennan is an extraordinarily talented spook; or
  3. Brennan is guilty only by association, i.e. he just happened to be a Company man at the worst possible time.

I don’t have the answer. But hey — maybe, just maybe, we ought to give the guy the benefit of the doubt.

* Clarke: Against All Enemies; Coll: Ghost Wars; Goldsmith: The Terror Presidency; Gordon & Trainor: Cobra II; Hersh: Chain of Command; Isikoff & Corn: Hubris; Mayer: The Dark Side; Ricks: Fiasco; Sands: Torture Team; Suskind: The One Percent Doctrine, The Way of the World; Wittes: Law and the Long War; Woodward: Bush at War, State of Denial, The War Within; Wright: The Looming Tower.

[Update — three days later: Thankfully, at least Spencer Ackerman gets it.]

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