Check out this new Washington Post blog by Jack Fairweather. He's going to be updating it regularly with videos and blog posts from his tour through the Islamic world.
The magazine you need to read on Afghanistan
Thursday, January 31, 2008
Sunday, January 27, 2008
From Condoleeza Rice, speaking at Davos:
America has no permanent enemies, because we harbor no permanent hatreds. The United States is sometimes thought of as a nation that perhaps does not dwell enough on its own history. To that, I say: Good for us. Because too much focus on history can become a prison for nations.
Thursday, January 24, 2008
60 Minutes is airing their interview with George Piro, the FBI agent who interviewed Saddam after he was captured.
Piro told CBS the CBS interviewer about his conversations with Saddam that took place in Arabic:
"He told me he initially miscalculated... President Bush’s intentions. He thought the United States would retaliate with the same type of attack as we did in 1998...a four-day aerial attack," says Piro. "He survived that one and he was willing to accept that type of attack." "He didn't believe the U.S. would invade?" asks Pelley, "No, not initially," answers Piro.
Once the invasion was certain, says Piro, Saddam asked his generals if they could hold the invaders for two weeks. "And at that point, it would go into what he called the secret war," Piro tells Pelley. But Piro isn’t convinced that the insurgency was Saddam's plan. "Well, he would like to take credit for the insurgency," says Piro.
Saddam still wouldn't admit he had no weapons of mass destruction, even when it was obvious there would be military action against him because of the perception he did. Because, says Piro, "For him, it was critical that he was seen as still the strong, defiant Saddam. He thought that [faking having the weapons] would prevent the Iranians from reinvading Iraq," he tells Pelley.Leave it to John at Powerline to wag:
He also intended and had the wherewithal to restart the weapons program. "Saddam] still had the engineers. The folks that he needed to reconstitute his program are still there," says Piro. "He wanted to pursue all of WMD…to reconstitute his entire WMD program." This included chemical, biological and nuclear weapons, Piro says.
Putting it all together, it appears that liberals should adopt a new slogan: "Saddam lied, people died!"
Tuesday, January 22, 2008
Fareed Zakaria writes in the latest issue:
From 2003 to 2005 the war in Iraq was defined by an insurgency. After the bombing of the Golden Mosque in Samarra in February 2006, it became largely a sectarian conflict. Now the dominant feature of the war is the proliferation of local ceasefires across the country.
As he continues:
American forces in Iraq have done superbly but the violence has not ended because they won great military victories. Instead, the adversary —the Sunnis—switched sides. Instead of shooting Americans they are now allied with them.
So far I concur with what he's saying (if you want to know).
But when he makes this case:
This realignment, however, has been directed at the United States and not the Shiite-led government in Baghdad. Petraeus has been trying to integrate these "Concerned Local Citizens"—the military's wonderful euphemism for Sunni militias—within the Iraqi police and security forces, so they can be paid by the central government and develop a new relationship with Shiites. But both sides remain extremely wary. The Shiites suspect the former insurgents' motives; the Sunnis say that jobs and weapons are being withheld by the government. As of now, the United States Army is the organizer, financier, guarantor and enforcer of the peace.
Iraq remains deeply divided. The national reconciliation that Iraqi politicians promised has not occurred. Some movement has taken place on sharing oil revenue but on almost nothing else. The complicated new law on de-Baathification has been, in the words of a senior Iraqi official, "a big mess, perhaps worse than if we had done nothing." The non-Kurdish parts of the country remain utterly dysfunctional, and chaos and warlordism are growing in the south. Of the 2.5 million Iraqis who have fled the country, a trickle—a few thousand—have returned home.
I think he underestimates the Iraqis.
And then here I think he overestimates the role the "international community" can play:
The most intelligent strategy for the United States now is a combined political and military one. If we are to engage in peacekeeping, the operation needs to be internationally recognized, sanctioned and supported—as it was in Bosnia. We should call an international conference on Iraq and get the support of other countries—crucially Iraq's neighbors—for this new mission. There should then be a joint international push to get the Iraqis to make the kinds of political deals that will turn the ceasefires into lasting peace. Over the next year if the violence continues to decline, countries like India, Poland and South Africa could be persuaded to relieve American troops. With sustained and focused efforts, over time, American forces could draw down substantially. The mission could then become what it was always billed as, a genuinely international effort to assist the Iraqi people in founding a new nation.The Sunnis came around because Al Qaeda was destroying their country not to mention destroying their honor and their faith. The requirement for foreign troops diminishes by the day. The signs are everywhere. You just have start taking note of all the good news.
Friday, January 18, 2008
From General Odierno's Pentagon briefing. And here are some other statistics:
Total attacks are on a monthlong decline and are at their lowest levels since August of 2006. Attacks against civilians are at a six-month low, IED attacks are at a two-month decline and have a 45 percent found and cleared rate. Civilian murders in Baghdad are down over 51 percent since the onset of Operation Fard al- Qanun, reaching their lowest levels since just before the Golden Mosque in Samarra was bombed in February of 2006.
Thursday, January 17, 2008
Former Taliban commander Mullah Abdul Salaam and provincial governor, now head of the Kabul-backed administration in Musa Qala, a key district in southern Helmand Province, gives advice to U.S. ambassador William Wood. RFE/RFL reports from Afghanistan.
Salaam, a powerful local commander who has brought some 300 militia fighters to the side of the Afghan government in northeastern Helmand Province, even gave the U.S. ambassador tactical advice on how to prevent the Taliban from attacking the strategic Kajaki hydroelectric dam, which is about 25 kilometers from Musa Qala.Just for some background, here was what Pakistani journalist and highly-regarded Taliban expert Ahmed Rashid wrote at the time, back in February 2007 just after the Taliban seized control of Musa Qala as the British Gen. David Richards was handing control of over to an American, Gen. Dan McNeill:
In an exclusive interview with RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan on the sidelines of the talks, Salaam said the international community must understand that residents of Musa Qala blame British forces for allowing the Taliban to seize their town in February 2007.
He says that is because of a deal brokered by the British in 2006 under which local militia fighters were disarmed and then expected to prevent the Taliban from moving back into the area.
"For the people to realize that these [NATO] troops have come to rebuild Musa Qala, the people must be convinced that they will not be abandoned, as they were in the past when the foreigners delivered us to the terrorists -- which was not the fault of the people and the elders," Salaam said. "The international community is to be blamed for that. They disarmed the people and the elders. Then the Taliban came and took over."
Officials in several European countries have quietly expressed concern about placing an American general in charge of the NATO force. Richards tried to create a less harsh, more economic-development-oriented identity for NATO in Afghanistan, as compared to the ‘’kicking-down-doors’’ image that US forces have. Many local analysts expect NATO forces to embrace a more aggressive stance under McNeill, who is believed to oppose the type of local peace arrangements that Richards promoted. The danger at this point is that an overly aggressive NATO force in Afghanistan could alienate Afghans, and thus cause the Taliban’s support base to grow. . .In fairness to Gen. Richards, as Rashid reported Gen. Richards saying at the time:
Richards’ legacy remains controversial both in Afghanistan and in NATO member states. Critics, including Afghan President Hamid Karzai and senior US officials, have frequently accused Richards of being too soft; toward Pakistan, which has done little to stem the Taliban’s ability to infiltrate into Afghanistan; toward European members of NATO that have refused to drop the restrictive caveats that their troops operate under; and even toward the Taliban.
"My successor [O’Neill] will have another 5,000 troops – three crack US battalions of the 82 Airborne Division, 1,000 Poles and more Brits," he said. A mobile reserve force of 1,000 US troops -- something that Richards pleaded for during his tenure as the force commander but never received -- ‘’is now kitting out in Kandahar,’’ he added.Anyway, now, whether it was the more aggressive American approach or simply defections like that of Mullah Salaam's that did the trick, the Taliban no longer control Musa Qala.
But it's not time yet to rest of these laurels, as Mullah Salaam cautions. To make this a lasting situation, the government needs to get some tangible benefits out to the people - he suggests building a turbine at the local dam which also needs restoration work. As RFE/RL reported his comments:
"If the Kajaki Dam is rebuilt, it will be a source of livelihood for the whole of the country as well as the two districts [in Helmand Province, Musa Qala and Kajaki.] So if this work is done, the people will trust the government more. Governments earn trust as a result of their actions."Salaam went on to tell RFE/RL about the two types of Taliban in Helmand. He says it is easy to differentiate between the "Afghan nationals who he described as as 'true Afghan mullahs,' and foreign Taliban. He told Wood it is possible to separate Afghan and foreign Taliban fighters because Afghans are unwilling to destroy their own country."
According to RFE/RL:
Wood told Salaam that the U.S. government would welcome all Taliban who respect the Afghan Constitution, lay down their weapons, and decide to join in a peaceful reconciliation process.
Saturday, January 12, 2008
Excerpts from Sheik Maktoum's op-ed in today's Wall Street Journal:
We live in a tough neighborhood. We live in a country that has been surrounded by difficult issues for several decades -- the Iraq-Iran war, the invasion of Kuwait, the current war in Iraq. Despite all that, Dubai has learned how to reinvent itself and cope.No wonder the "exploited" from India's communist south, for example, keep pouring into Dubai: they won't get to live like the royal family in Dubai, or even like most Western executives, but at least with the wages of capitalism they are able to feed and educate their families.
We believe that helping to build a strong regional economy is our best opportunity for lasting social stability in the Middle East...
There are more initiatives underway, many of which are aimed at ensuring prompt payment of salaries, and improvements in working conditions for unskilled foreign workers. While capitalism doesn't always create egalitarian societies, I like to think that in Dubai we are making the effort to cast the net wide when it comes to sharing prosperity...
Nearly 1.5 billion people live in our neighborhood, and more than 50% of them are under the age of 25. In the Arab world alone, some 80 million young people -- out of a total population of 300 million -- are seeking jobs. I look at these young people as extraordinary resources for nation-building. If we can take our vision beyond Dubai, I think we can save a lot of young people from humiliating unemployment, from becoming extremists...
I am also often asked, "What are Dubai's political ambitions?" Well, here's my answer: We don't have political ambitions. We don't want to be a superpower or any other kind of political power. The whole region is over-politicized as it is. We don't see politics as our thing, we don't want it, we don't think this is the right thing to do.
We are engaged in a different type of war that's really worth fighting -- fighting to alleviate poverty, generating better education, creating economic opportunity for people, and teaching people everywhere how to be entrepreneurs, to believe in themselves...
I always ask: How can I help? What can I do for people? How can I improve people's lives? That's part of my value system. It's too late for me to change that system, but it isn't too early for me to say to the world that the Dubai narrative is all about changing people's lives for the better through smart capitalism, willpower and positive energy.
Friday, January 11, 2008
If Iraqis can see hopeful signs, hey, so can I. Reuters reports:
Snow fell on Baghdad on Friday for the first time in memory, and delighted residents declared it an omen of peace.
"It is the first time we've seen snow in Baghdad," said 60-year-old Hassan Zahar. "We've seen sleet before, but never snow. I looked at the faces of all the people, they were astonished," he said.
"A few minutes ago, I was covered with snowflakes. In my hair, on my shoulders. I invite all the people to enjoy peace, because the snow means peace," he said.
Traffic policeman Murtadha Fadhil, huddling under a balcony to keep dry, declared the snow "a new sign of the new Iraq."
"It's a sign of hope. We hope Iraqis will purify their hearts and politicians will work for the prosperity of all Iraqis."
Thursday, January 10, 2008
At least that's how this AP report strikes me:
Iraq's western province of Anbar, hotbed of the Sunni Arab insurgency for the first four years of the war, will be returned to Iraqi control in March, a senior U.S. general said Thursday.
In a telephone interview from Iraq, Marine Maj. Gen. Walter E. Gaskin, commander of the roughly 35,000 Marine and Army forces in Anbar, said levels of violence have dropped so significantly—coupled with the growth and development of Iraqi security forces in the province—that Anbar is ready to be handed back to the Iraqis.
Tuesday, January 8, 2008
Against the "Islamic militants" that is. London's Guardian Unlimited reports:
Eight tribal leaders attempting to broker a ceasefire in Pakistan's dangerous north-west province have been shot dead by suspected Islamic militants in eight separate killings.Somehow I don't think the tribes who have resisted all sorts of authority up to this point are going to now peacefully submit to whoever just killed these leaders.
The assassinations began late on Sunday night and continued into the early hours of Monday morning, according to a statement from a security official and the military.
The eight tribal leaders were scheduled to meet each other on Monday in Wana to discuss plans to achieve peace between between security forces and insurgents.
Tuesday, January 1, 2008
That wasn't a misspelling. Democrazia as in democrazy.
Here's the latest version of Bhutto-style democracy: Rush in elections so the 19-year old son who hasn't lived in Pakistan since 1999 ride the sympathy wave caused by his mother's death. Then, while the youth finishes his studies at Oxford, his father, known as Mr. Ten Percent because of his reputation for corruption, gets to take over the cookie jar once again as the de facto party leader.
Of course this democratic process has to happen quickly because as the London Financial Times reports:
The shelf-life of the political capital accruing to the PPP in the wake of Ms Bhutto’s assignation is unpredictable, a factor encouraging Mr Zardari, a controversial figure with a reputation for corruption, to demand that the elections be held as scheduled.No wonder the other major opposition figure, Nawaz Sharif is now saying through a spokesman that a "short postponement" of elections would "be acceptable." But note (posted January 2): As soon as the government decided to postpone the elections, Sharif et al balked at any delay.
Stay tuned for the next episode of Democrazia in Pakistan.