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TBR News February 29, 2012

Feb 29 2012

The Voice of the White House

Comments from Pascal

Men wish to be great and see that they are small. Men wish to be happy and see that they are miserable. Men wish to be perfect and see that they are full of imperfections. Men wish to be the object of the love and esteem of others and see that their shortcomings merit only their dislike and contempt. This situation in which he finds himself produces in him the most unjust and criminal passions imaginable, for a man conceives a deadly hatred against that truth which blames him and convinces him of his faults. He would like to crush it, and, unable to do this, he destroyed it the best he can, and in his consciousness, and that of others. He takes every precaution to hide his shortcomings both from other and himself, and cannot bear to have them pointed out or observed.

Pascal-    Pensées 743

Violent Uproar in Afghanistan Casts Shadow on U.S. Pullout

February 26, 2012

by Matthew Rosenberg and Thom Shanker

New York Times

WASHINGTON — American officials sought to reassure both Afghanistan’s government and a domestic audience on Sunday that the United States remained committed to the war after the weekend killing of two American military officers inside the Afghan Interior Ministry and days of deadly anti-American protests.

But behind the public pronouncements, American officials described a growing concern, even at the highest levels of the Obama administration and Pentagon, about the challenges of pulling off a troop withdrawal in Afghanistan that hinges on the close mentoring and training of army and police forces.

Despite an American-led training effort that has spanned years and cost tens of billions of dollars, the Afghan security forces are still widely seen as riddled with dangerously unreliable soldiers and police officers. The distrust has only deepened as a pattern of attacks by Afghan security forces on American and NATO service members, beginning years ago, has drastically worsened over the past few days. A grenade attack on Sunday, apparently by a protester, wounded at least six American soldiers.

Nearly a week of violent unrest after American personnel threw Korans into a pit of burning trash has brought into sharp relief the growing American and Afghan frustration — and, at times, open hostility — and the risks of a strategy that calls for American soldiers and civilians to work closely with Afghans.

The United States now has what one senior American official said was “almost no margin of error” in trying to achieve even limited goals in Afghanistan after a series of crises that have stirred resentment.

The official said the unrest might complicate but was unlikely to significantly alter the overall plan: to keep pulling out troops and focus instead on using Special Operations forces to train the Afghans and go after insurgent and militant leaders in targeted raids while diplomats try opening talks with the Taliban.

At the same time, the administration plans to continue negotiations on a long-term framework to guide relations with Afghanistan after the NATO mission through the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) ends in 2014. Officials from the White House, the State Department, the Pentagon and other agencies are to begin meeting this week to hammer out details of the various efforts, and to work out the size of the next round of withdrawals, which President Obama is expected to announce at a NATO summit meeting planned for May in Chicago.

Those immediate talks, officials say, could be most affected. What only weeks ago was an undercurrent of anti-Americanism in Afghanistan is now a palpable fury, and if the situation continues to deteriorate at its current pace, plans could be altered, the official said. “There’s a certain impatience — I mean, there are people who don’t see how we succeed under the current conditions, and their case is getting stronger,” the official said.

Hundreds of American military and civilian advisers have already been pulled out of the Afghan ministries and government departments in Kabul, the capital. While that move has been described as temporary, the official declined to speculate about what kind of long-term changes could be envisioned. The official and others interviewed for this article spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the crisis with Afghanistan.

Another administration official said the unrest was “going to have a really negative effect” on all the initiatives but added that much remained unclear and that the focus was on damage control.

Regardless of the challenges, and possible setbacks to vital negotiations, senior American officials said on Sunday that the mission had to go on. “This is not the time to decide that we’re done here,” the American ambassador in Kabul, Ryan C. Crocker, said in an interview on CNN. “We have got to redouble our efforts. We’ve got to create a situation in which Al Qaeda is not coming back.”

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton expressed regret for the burning of the Korans but said it should not derail the American military and diplomatic effort in Afghanistan. “We are condemning it in the strongest possible terms,” she said in Rabat, Morocco, “but we also believe that the violence must stop, and the hard work of trying to build a more peaceful, prosperous and secure Afghanistan must continue.”

Another administration official said, however, that there was recognition that the commitment was most likely to carry a greater political cost. “There is no less a commitment to a long-term relationship with Afghanistan,” the official said. “But is there a concern now that many will question the need to stay? Yes — especially in an election year.”

A leading Republican candidate for president did appear to strike a more measured tone on Sunday in speaking about the crisis in Afghanistan while urging that the United States stay on its course.

Mitt Romney, speaking to Fox News, said: “It’s obviously very dangerous there, and the transition effort is not going as well as we’d like to see it go. But certainly the effort there is an important one, and we want to see the Afghan security troops finally able to secure their own country and bring our troops home when that job is done.”

He did, however, reiterate his opposition to the administration’s setting a public timetable for drawing down American forces in Afghanistan. And he and his main rival in the Republican field, Rick Santorum, on Sunday continued their harsh criticism of Mr. Obama’s apology for the Koran burnings.

On ABC News’s “This Week,” Mr. Santorum said the president’s apology showed weakness. “There was nothing deliberately done wrong here,” he said.

Even before this crisis, the Obama administration was scaling back American ambitions in Afghanistan, abandoning previous goals that focused on nation building, even if the result was just “Afghan good enough” — a pejorative phrase often used as shorthand for the low expectations many Westerners held for Afghanistan. Administration officials have described a current aim of leaving behind a relatively democratic government secure enough to keep Afghanistan from again becoming a haven for Al Qaeda and other militants who threaten the West.

But their often unhappy partner in that enterprise, President Hamid Karzai, has been the source of growing impatience for American officials. The Afghan leader is in a tight spot, needing to balance his domestic political considerations against his long-troubled relations with his Western backers, upon whose support his government survives.

Still, some officials have been complimentary of his repeated call for calm during the current crisis. In some past cases, Mr. Karzai was seen as trying to stoke his people’s anger against the Americans.

“So far, they’re saying the right things,” a senior defense official said. “Now it’s a matter of them doing the right things.”

The official and others said that in addition to policing the protests — which the Afghan security forces have, for the most part, done well — the Afghan government needed to do a better job of vetting its soldiers and police officers to help stem attacks on alliance troops by Afghans.

“The Afghans have to do their part as well,” the official said. “Our will to pursue the mission is strong but could ebb if the Afghans don’t follow through quickly on their end of the deal.”

One immediate fallout of the violence was a decision on Sunday by two senior Afghan national security officials — Defense Minister Abdul Rahim Wardak and Interior Minister Bismillah Khan Mohammadi — to delay a joint visit to Washington that had been set for this week.

George Little, the Pentagon press secretary, said efforts were under way to reschedule the visit, adding, “We believe that we can surmount recent challenges by working closely with our Afghan and ISAF partners to redouble our shared commitment to the sustained progress we’ve achieved together.”

Eric Schmitt contributed reporting from Washington, and Steven Lee Myers from Rabat, Morocco.

Violence suggests ‘Afghans hate us, and we don’t trust them’


February 27, 2012

by Nancy A. Youssef |

McClatchy Newspapers


WASHINGTON — As violence continued Monday in Afghanistan over the accidental burning of Qurans by U.S. troops last week, American military officials and analysts are beginning to question whether the U.S. needs to change its mission of training Afghan soldiers and police, a key plank of President Barack Obama’s withdrawal strategy.

White House and Pentagon officials said publicly that they weren’t yet contemplating a major overhaul of the plan to build a force of more than 300,000 Afghan soldiers and police officers and hand over security of the country to it by 2014 or earlier. But privately, U.S. military officers in Washington and Kabul acknowledged that the scale of violence over the past week — four American soldiers were killed by their Afghan counterparts and seven were wounded — has worsened an already uneasy relationship between U.S. and Afghan forces.

“I think the entire world shifted under our Afghan policy because of this, both in Kabul and in Washington,” said Douglas A. Ollivant, who served as a senior National Security Council official in the Obama and George W. Bush administrations.

This incident, several officers told McClatchy, has left U.S. troops saying that they can’t keep training Afghans who may try to kill them, a growing problem that plagued the mission even before coalition forces accidentally burned several copes of the Quran in a trash fire last week. Obama and other senior U.S. officials apologized for the incident, which triggered a week of protests and attacks in which about 40 people have died.

“Afghans hate us, and we don’t trust them. We have never felt safe around them,” said a U.S. military officer who works on Afghanistan policy, who spoke on the condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the issue.

So far this year, Afghan troops have killed at least 10 U.S. service members who were training them, including the four last week. Two weeks ago, Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said Afghan troops had killed 70 American service members in 46 incidents since 2007; half of those had occurred since May 2009.

The majority of those attacks were by Afghans who were frustrated with their trainers, not Taliban insurgents infiltrating bases, according to military officials. By comparison, over nearly nine years in Iraq, where the U.S. military presence was greater, Iraqi forces killed about half a dozen American troops who were training them, the Pentagon said.

The mistrust exists on both sides. Some Afghan soldiers and police officers have told investigators in previous incidents that American forces are rude, culturally insensitive or hostile to them. In the wake of the Quran burnings, Afghans said they couldn’t understand how U.S. soldiers could commit such acts more than a decade into the war.

The training mission “will never succeed if they keep burning the Quran or disrespect our beliefs,” said Khan Agha, a police officer in the Sarobi district of Kabul, the capital. “They will not succeed in insulting our religion. But if they respect our holy book and our religion and focus only on training, then they can succeed.”

Earlier on Monday, at least nine Afghans died in a suicide bombing at an air base that coalition forces use in Jalalabad, in eastern Afghanistan. The Taliban claimed responsibility for the bombing and said it was in retaliation for the Quran burnings. Hours later, U.S. officials said the attacks wouldn’t derail the training mission and that they thought the violence would abate.

“I’d be less than honest if I didn’t say that things are tense here in Kabul. They certainly are,” said Navy Capt. John Kirby, a military spokesman in Kabul. “But I will tell you that it is getting calmer here.”

Marine Gen. John Allen, the commander of coalition forces in Afghanistan, continued to keep hundreds of U.S. personnel out of Afghan ministries, where they’d been on training and advisory missions, after an Afghan soldier shot and killed two U.S. service members Saturday at the heavily guarded Interior Ministry. The shooter slipped out of the building and remained at large.

Kirby said U.S. troops would train Afghans remotely, via email and telephone, until officials could improve security at the ministries. That could take weeks, officials said, and when they do return, U.S. troops probably will find more security barriers between themselves and the Afghans.

The withdrawal from the ministries was a major departure from relations between U.S. soldiers and their Afghan counterparts five years ago, when troops were ordered not to take their weapons into meetings with Afghans, in order to engender trust.

Now U.S. troops have reduced their patrols, while civilians are being told not to show their American passports and to limit physical interaction with the Afghans they’re charged with working alongside. In a new incident, chlorine apparently was found in coffee and fruit that was being served to U.S. troops stationed along the Afghan-Pakistani border, and U.S. officials are investigating whether it was an attempted poisoning.

Several officers told McClatchy that the looming 2014 withdrawal already had complicated their mission, saying Afghans already are planning for when the coalition leaves. Some U.S. officials have suggested that the Obama administration could announce an accelerated timetable to hand over security to Afghan forces at a NATO conference in Chicago in May.

George Little, a Pentagon spokesman, said repeatedly Monday that the U.S. Was taking the “long view” on the war, and he insisted that it could continue uninterrupted.

Retired Army Lt. Col. John Nagl, a counterinsurgency expert, said that a decade of war had exhausted even the most supportive Afghans. Even an advisory mission — in which U.S. forces don’t conduct offensive operations — may not be an option.

“If we are not able to restore trust between Afghan and coalition troops,” Nagl said, “then the strategy is unworkable.”

(McClatchy special correspondent Ali Safi contributed from Kabul, Afghanistan.)


Deadly violence as commander warns against ‘vengeance’


February 24, 2012

by Nick Paton Walsh and Masoud Popalzai


Kabul, Afghanistan (CNN) — A large crowd swarmed a military base and numerous demonstrations turned deadly Friday in Afghanistan, the fourth day of fallout after NATO troops burned Qurans at a military base, officials said.

One of the protests took place just outside a U.S. consulate.

The developments came a day after U.S. President Barack Obama apologized for the incident at Bagram Airfield this week, calling it an unintentional error.

At least eight people were killed and 27 wounded in protests Friday, mostly in Herat province, officials said. The death toll includes six in Herat, one in Baghland and one in Nangahar, according to Sediq Sediqqi, spokesman for the Interior Ministry. Seven of the wounded were in Kabul, and they included three police officers, a spokesman for the Health Ministry said.

NATO’s International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) said there were no reports of ISAF personnel wounded in the protests.

            The commander of ISAF and U.S. forces in Afghanistan, Gen. John Allen, addressed the issue in a visit to troops at a military base where two U.S. soldiers were killed Thursday by a man wearing an Afghan National Army uniform. A protest over the burning of Qurans was taking place outside the base at the time of the killings.

“Now is not the time for vengeance,” he said. “Now is the time to look deep inside your souls, remember your mission, remember your discipline, remember who you are. We’ll come through this together as a unit.”

He called on troops to “show the Afghan people that as bad as that act was at Bagram, it was unintentional, and Americans and ISAF soldiers do not stand for this. We stand for something greater than that.”

Gen. Sher Mohammad Karimi, the Afghan National Army’s chief of staff, joined Allen on the trip and thanked the troops for their “sacrifices for humanity, not just the Afghan people.”

NATO posted a video of the visit on its official YouTube channel, without naming the base.

Hundreds of people attacked an ISAF base in Pul-i-Khumri in northern Baghlan province Friday, destroying a security fence and parts of the walls, according to an Afghan National Army official.

Police interfered and started shooting into the air. One civilian was killed and 11 others were injured, the official said.

ISAF had no immediate comment on that incident.

The demonstrations in Herat province took place in several different locations. One was in Herat city near the U.S. consulate, said Mohayddin Noori, spokesman for Herat’s governor.

A witness said demonstrators were setting vehicles on fire, including police cars.

There were also protests in the Adraskan and Shindand districts, Noori said.

A spokesman at a local hospital said a total of nine injured people were brought in.

In other parts of the country, demonstrations were generally peaceful Friday morning, Interior Ministry officials said.

In a letter delivered to Afghan President Hamid Karzai Thursday, Obama called the act “inadvertent,” Karzai’s office and National Security Council spokesman Tommy Vietor said.

“We will take the appropriate steps to avoid any recurrence, including holding accountable those responsible,” Obama said in the letter delivered by Ryan Crocker, the U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan.

NATO troops incinerated Islamic religious material at Bagram Airfield earlier this week.

A military official said the materials were removed from a detainee center’s library because they had “extremist inscriptions” on them and there was “an appearance that these documents were being used to facilitate extremist communications.”

Muslims believe the Quran is the word of God, so holy that people should wash their hands before even touching the sacred book.


CNN’s Josh Levs contributed to this report.

Is Israel a Failed State?

The Unmaking of Israel, by Gershom Gorenberg, Harper, 336 pages

January 25, 2012

Review by Noah Millman

The American Conservative

             Gershom Gorenberg is an exception to the rule—more than one rule. He’s an Orthodox Jewish Israeli of American origin, a group that generally tilts sharply to the right in an Israeli context. But he’s decidedly on the political left, an advocate of not only freezing settlement construction but of initiating evacuations “without waiting for a signature on a peace agreement,” of negotiating a two-state solution based on the Green Line (the armistice lines of 1949, the de facto borders prior to the 1967 war), of the separation of synagogue and state, and of true civic equality between Jewish and Arab citizens of Israel. More than this, he has a realistic understanding of how the Zionist project must have been perceived by the Arab population of the Levant from the beginning: when he talks about the Palestinian Nakba—“catastrophe,” which is how the Palestinian Arabs refer to the events Israeli Jews call the War of Independence—he doesn’t put the word in scare quotes. But though Gorenberg is a man of the left, he also describes himself as a Zionist, rather than a non-, anti-, or post-Zionist. That is to say, he describes himself as a Jewish nationalist.

The State of Israel is also an exception to the rule—more than one rule. Like Greece and Algeria, India and Vietnam, Kenya and Lithuania, and numerous other states today, it is the fruit of a movement for national liberation, of a struggle, in the words of the Israeli national anthem, to be “a free people in our own land.” Unlike any other movement for national liberation, however, Zionism did not seek an independent state for an already existing nation living in a territory but rather to create a nation and a state out of a people scattered across the globe that had lived nearly two millennia in diaspora from its ancestral home. Like the United States and Canada, Brazil and Argentina, Australia and South Africa, Israel is also a settler state, created by a European population that came not merely to rule but to occupy and to substantially displace the indigenous people. Unlike any other settler state, however, the settlers of Israel understood themselves not to be venturing forth but to be coming home—and though individually any Israeli could make a home in any number of places, as could anyone from anywhere, in aggregate there is no other place on earth that they could call home.

This exceptional man has written a book, The Unmaking of Israel, about that exceptional state and its protracted and deepening crisis. And it is, appropriately enough, an exceptional contribution to the genre.

What is exceptional about the book is the frame within which Gorenberg chooses to tell a mostly familiar story—familiar, anyway, to anyone conversant with the history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Gorenberg is not the first person to write a book decrying the human consequences of Israel’s settlement enterprise in the West Bank, and indeed, though he does decry them forcefully it is not the purpose of his book either to document them or to persuade anyone who does not already agree that the occupation has had frightful ramifications for the Palestinians. Nor is he the first person to make the “demographic argument” for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict—the argument that Israel cannot remain both a democratic state and a Jewish state if it does not retain a substantial and stable Jewish majority, which would not be the case if the West Bank were incorporated into Israel proper. Indeed, this latter point is now part of the Israeli conventional wisdom—every party to the left of Likud formally endorses it, Likud Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu nominally accepts it as well, and even the platform of Avigdor Liberman’s far-right Yisrael Beiteinu party depends on the same premise (which is why that platform proposes trading the heavily Arab areas within the Green Line for the Israeli settlement blocs in the West Bank as part of a hypothetical agreement). But this is also not the primary thrust of Gorenberg’s book; he takes it for granted that everyone understands the basic arithmetic.

Rather, the thrust of the book, as the title states, is to demonstrate that the series of decisions made during and after the 1967 War that resulted in the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza set in motion a process that has progressively “unmade” the State of Israel. Indeed, the progressive expansion of the settlement enterprise has so eroded the foundations of the signature achievement of political Zionism—Israel as we now know it—that not merely a “Jewish democratic state” but the state as such is now imperiled.

To make that case, Gorenberg begins by taking the reader back to the pre-state period and the early days of the Israeli state. Before independence, the Jewish community in Israel was subject to colonial rule but substantially governed itself through the various institutions of the yishuv and through manifold Zionist political movements and militias. Once national liberation was achieved, with the United Nations vote for partition and victory in the war of independence, Israel needed to get on with the process of state-building.

Israel’s first leader, David Ben-Gurion, pursued this aim in, again, a manner very familiar from other post-colonial states. The party of liberation established organs of the state—or took them over from the colonial power—but did so in such a manner that these organs were bound up, at least initially, with that same party, with the “losing” parties required to dissolve their pre-state institutions, particularly militias. The only “battle” Israel fought to achieve this goal was to sink the Altalena, a ship carrying arms for the Irgun, Menachem Begin’s right-wing militia, when the Irgun refused to hand those arms over to the Israel Defense Forces.

This decision by Ben-Gurion is Gorenberg’s object lesson in what it means to have a state: by using force early and decisively, Ben-Gurion assured that the state would have a monopoly of force, and would therefore be a state. It’s also a decision to which the losing party has never reconciled itself, and Gorenberg recounts how the Israeli right has made a rallying cry of the Altalena over the years. But for all the hand-wringing about Jews firing on other Jews, it’s worth pointing out that Israel made the transition from a revolutionary national movement to a functioning state more successfully than many other decolonizing countries, particularly given the nature of the challenges it faced. (Most notably the need to integrate an enormous wave of mostly poor immigrants that, while sharing a sense of common peoplehood, was divided into wildly different cultural and linguistic groups.)

But with the dramatic victory of 1967, Israel was tempted by the conquered territory to reverse this historical progression and revert to the pre-state condition of being a national movement. Israel captured two different categories of land in 1967. The Sinai and the Golan Heights were recognized by the world generally as the sovereign territory of Egypt and Syria. While Israel planted settlements in both areas—and actually annexed the Golan Heights—the nature of the conflict over these territories is an inter-state manner and will be resolved in the usual way between states. (As indeed it was with Egypt after the Camp David accords.)

The West Bank and Gaza, however, were neither annexed nor administered according to the Geneva Conventions for occupied territory. They were settled without regard to the law, rather in the manner of Jewish settlement in the pre-state period, except with a combination of active and passive state backing: active when the settlements were planned by the Israeli government, passive when they were established by “wildcat” settlers and then retroactively approved, a process that has accelerated during the years since the Oslo accords. The Israeli state broke its own and international law, but more alarmingly from the perspective of the integrity of the state, it encouraged private parties to believe that they were acting patriotically when they broke the law and forced the state’s hand, all in an effort to establish “facts on the ground” that would (those responsible presumably thought) redound to Israel’s benefit—or, more properly, to the benefit of the “Jewish national movement,” since Gorenberg’s contention is that this activity in fact damaged Israel as a state and since it wouldn’t be correct to talk about this or that activity benefiting an entire ethnic or religious group like “the Jews.”

Since 1967, Gorenberg relates, the settlement enterprise has undermined the Israeli state top to bottom. It has fostered secrecy and corruption in government. (There is no proper accounting anywhere of spending on settlements; the figures simply aren’t kept.) It has inspired messianic religious groups that do not recognize the state as the final authority over questions of territory or war and peace and then encouraged these groups to greater and greater influence within the armed forces—because they could be relied upon to serve in the territories without loss of morale—raising the specter of a split in the army should the government ever decide to withdraw from the West Bank. And as relations between Jews and Arabs in the West Bank took on the character of an armed ethnic contest, this dynamic has been imported back into Israel proper, where private groups—frequently with some degree of state support—have engaged in campaigns to “Judaize” predominantly Arab parts of the state.

Again the story is familiar. Less so is the framing. Gorenberg, though he is outraged by the plight of the Palestinians, is not really writing about that plight. Nor is he writing from an anti-Zionist perspective. Rather, he is writing from a deeply Zionist point of view. Zionism, we tend to forget, was not a self-defense movement. It was a nationalist movement. Nationalism tells a people a story about what it means to be free—that being free means being part of a self-conscious, self-governing, sovereign, and independent collective. Losing consciousness of one’s national group, being governed by other groups, failing to achieve independence and sovereignty on par with other nations—these are signs of unfreedom. Of immaturity. The Jews before Zionism were, from the perspective of this narrative, either an exceptionally immature nation or not a nation at all. The goal of Zionism was not simply—or even primarily—to provide for a “safe haven” for Jews fleeing persecution by the Czar or the Nazis. The goal was the spiritual rejuvenation of the Jewish people by molding them into a nation like other nations and achieving independent statehood.

This is a narrative frame that, in broad strokes, Gorenberg accepts, which is why he is properly seen as a Zionist. Indeed, the whole argument of the book is that by holding onto and settling the territories captured in 1967, Israel has reverted to a mode of existence that Zionism was supposed to help the Jews grow out of. By undermining the authority of the state, the settlement enterprise has revived modes of being and of argument that, from Gorenberg’s perspective, the Jewish people should have grown out of when they acquired the power and responsibility of a state. Indeed, that was the whole point, from a moral perspective, of acquiring state power in the first place. The settlement enterprise doesn’t just undermine the moral case for Israel because it’s an injustice (plenty of states have perpetrated injustices—indeed, far worse injustices—without undermining the case for statehood as such) but because it is evidence that Zionism failed in what was arguably its primary objective.

Gorenberg wrote his book primarily for a Jewish audience. Based on what he has said about the reception when he has gone to synagogues and other venues to talk about his book, much of the opposition from within the Jewish community refuses to be confronted with painful facts, determined to shout down and shut out the messenger with the unwelcome message. But I can imagine a more forthright approach for the opposition. Gorenberg is making the case that Israel has encouraged the reversion to a pre-state mode of being; it has revived a situation where Jews are locked in ethnic conflict with their neighbors rather than dominating an independent state with relations (whether conflicted or harmonious) with neighboring states. But why blame Israel for this? How do we know that the pre-state situation ever really ended? Did the Arab states make peace in 1949? No. Have the Palestinians reconciled themselves to the idea of a Jewish state? No. Have the Palestinian citizens of Israel at least reconciled themselves to it? No. So why should Israel effectively disarm themselves and say: we’ve got enough; we’re not going to fight for more—even though you will continue to fight so that we have less. Why should Israel be the sucker?

I don’t think the proper answer to this is to get back into a debate about the facts, or about who is more and who less justified in their specific actions. I think the proper answer is in that famous line of Ben-Gurion’s: “What matters is not what the goyim say, but what the Jews do.” The line is usually quoted as a rejoinder to concerns about “what will the world think” if Israel does such and such. But it is equally a proper rejoinder to justifying Israel’s conduct by reference to the hostility of the Palestinians, or anyone else, to Zionism. Zionism’s goal was a sovereign, independent Jewish state in the historic land of Israel, as a means to the moral and spiritual rebirth of the Jewish nation. If the occupation is destroying Israel’s fundamental character, dismantling the state, and corrupting the people, as Gorenberg contends, then Zionists above all should want to end it, as swiftly and comprehensively as possible, and not try to hold out for the most favorable terms—to say nothing of holding out for the approval and acceptance of those for whom the Jewish state can at best be seen as an unfortunate fact of life.

After all, it was always absurd to think that anyone but the Jewish people would ever truly endorse the aims of Zionism, because Zionism was a specifically Jewish national project. That project is properly judged a success or failure by what kind of nation it built, and how. Which is how Gorenberg judges it. And, to his dismay but not despair, he finds it wanting.


Noah Millman blogs for The American Conservative at TheAmericanConservative.com/Millman

How likely is an asteroid strike?

February 23, 2012

by David Spiegelhalter

BBC News

            A report suggests that there should be 91 deaths every year from asteroid strikes, but what are the chances of that actually happening?

Buy insurance. Tick. Health check. Tick. Drive sensibly. Tick. As a general rule, we humans like to control our lives. But let’s face it, all of this caution is a complete waste of time if a huge rock from space has your name on it.

Take the recent ‘near-miss’ by the poetically-named asteroid 2012 BX34, which was only discovered two days before it sailed past within 40,000 miles (60,000km) of Earth. What if it had been heading straight for us?

A wonderful report from the US National Research Council (NRC) says that on average there should be 91 deaths per year from asteroid strikes – a remarkably precise figure and one that deserves some digging.

Try to think of when you last heard about an asteroid striking the earth. There really aren’t that many of them, or at least that many that are noticed or reported in newspapers.

One of the last significant impacts occurred on 30 June 1908, when an asteroid or comet exploded 6.2 miles (10km) above a secluded forest in Tunguska, Siberia, flattening trees over an area of 625 sq miles (1600 sq km), which surprisingly few people cared about at the time due to the remoteness of the region and the fact that there seem to have been no casualties.

Calculations suggest that if it had landed 4 hours and 47 minutes later, it would have hit St Petersburg(1), in which case people might have cared a lot, particularly as it was rather a delicate time in Russian history. According to estimates, such an airburst occurring over New York would cost $1.19tn to insurers in property damage, not to mention causing approximately 3.2 million fatalities and 3.76 million injuries.

But that has not occurred. In fact, there are surprisingly few reports of fatalities involving asteroids. A few cars in the United States have been damaged and there was a case of a cow being killed in Valera, Venezuela in 1972 – the unfortunate animal was duly eaten and bits of the meteorite were later sold to collectors. A home outside Paris was also recently hit by an egg-shaped meteorite, but the appropriately-named Comette family were away at the time.

So how can the NRC be so precise? Well, to understand we need to understand how astronomers and statisticians think about these risks.

As these threats come in all shapes and sizes astronomers have established a classification system to help gauge the potential level of risk. If asteroids or comets come within one-third of the distance from the Earth to the Sun – just over 30 million miles (48 million km) – they are labelled as Near Earth Objects (NEOs). ‘Near’ is clearly a relative term, though this does show how comparatively close asteroid 2012 BX34 came. Fortunately, there are observatories watching over us and Nasa’s Near Object Program is keeping count of what is passing through our local area. By December 2011, over 8,500 NEOs had been found and named, with around 500 being added to the list every year.

If an object is found that is at least 480ft (150m) across, and which will pass closer than 20 times the distance between the moon and the Earth (around five million miles, or eight million km), it earns itself the status of Potentially Hazardous Asteroid (PHA). If anything this big were to hit the Earth, the consequences would be serious. So far 1,271 of these have been found, of which 151 are of more than 0.6 miles (1km) in diameter, a size that could be globally catastrophic. 

Working out the chances of an Earth-asteroid collision and the damage it would cause is not like an insurer dealing with a collision between two cars: there is almost no direct historical data, so astronomers create equations relating to the size of an asteroid, how many there are around, how often they might hit the Earth and what the explosive force of any impact would be. These estimates are continually being revised and are subject to some esoteric disputes

Asteroids in the 16-32 feet (5-10m) diameter range find their way to Earth around once per year, releasing energy equivalent to approximately 15,000 tons of TNT when they explode: about the same as the bomb detonated over Hiroshima. Most go unseen and unrecorded. An airburst of an 80ft (25m) asteroid would release energy equivalent to around one million tons of TNT, or one megaton (Mt), equivalent to around 65 Hiroshima bombs. That same NRC report estimates an average of 200 years between such impacts.

The Tunguska devastation in Siberia is thought to have been caused by an asteroid of around 160ft (50m) diameter exploding 6 miles (10km) up, releasing 10Mt of energy. The NRC estimates an average interval of 2,000 years between events of this size, although other studies have suggested that Tunguska-like events could be caused by objects as small as 100ft (30m), which would equate to nearly a 50:50 chance of such an event occurring in a given lifetime(2).

Bigger asteroids start being considered as ‘continental-scale events’, although it is tricky to predict what damage such a major impact would cause. Due to the differing coverage of the Earth’s surface, there is a 70% chance that any such impact would hit the ocean, and models have suggested a 1,300ft (400m) asteroid could cause a tsunami 650ft (200m) high(3), although with regards to possible consequences, there is great uncertainty about whether such a wave would break on the continental shelf, whether the population could evacuate, and so on.


Mass extinctions

Nasa estimate that there are currently around 900 Near Earth Objects of over 0.6 miles (1km) across, and if one hit us it would release around 100,000Mt of energy. Such an impact would almost certainly be globally catastrophic. Thankfully, such strikes should only be expected every 700,000 years, but even bigger collisions have occurred. Considerably more than just one cow perished when a 6 mile (10km) wide, 100,000,000Mt lump hit the Yucatan peninsula in modern-day Mexico 65 million years ago: this impact is credited with changing the climate and wiping out the dinosaurs. But such mass extinction events are only estimated to come along every 100 million years or so. So not much need to worry there, then.

            In terms of future threats, the current catalogue indicates no serious risk from asteroids that we know of. The biggest known danger Nasa can point to is a 1 in 600 chance of a collision with the 460ft (140m) 2011-AG5 asteroid sometime in the 2040s. But most asteroids less than 1,640ft (500m) across remain undiscovered, and although these would be unlikely to cause a global catastrophe, they could certainly take us by surprise. 2008 TC3 was 6-16ft (2-5m) across and weighed around 80 tons when it exploded over the Sudanese desert on 7 October 2008. It was the first asteroid to ever be detected before impact, but it was only picked up 19 hours prior to its destruction, and one can imagine the crisis if its predicted path had passed over a big city. It exploded with a force of around 2,000 tons of TNT and 10kg of fragments were picked up afterwards – though thankfully nobody was hurt.

            Is it worth getting up?

            So, once again, back to that figure of 91 deaths.

            This now begins to make more sense when you realise that it is an average taken over millennia, in which almost all years show no deaths, but a few isolated events cause massive casualties. In fact, the figure of 91 deaths is almost evenly balanced between more frequent, smaller-scale impacts, and statistically very infrequent globally catastrophic impacts.

            So, I know what you are now thinking: what is the risk of being killed by an asteroid in my bed – or anywhere else for that matter – in my lifetime?

            As I said in my first column, statisticians like to define such risk events in terms of micromorts: that is, a one-in-a-million chance of dying.  Since there are 7 billion people on Earth and 91 people are expected to die every year from an asteroid impact, this works out at 1/77 micromorts per person per year – about the same risk as a 3 mile (5 km) car journey, but much less risky than riding a motorcycle for 60 miles (97km) in the UK (around 10 micromorts).

             Assuming a lifetime of around 77 years, this comes to the delightfully round number of one micromort per lifetime from asteroids.  Which, as risks go, is hardly the end of the world.


            1. Woo G. Calculating Catastrophe. 1st ed. Imperial College Press; 2011.  368 p.

            2. Boslough MBE, Crawford DA. Low-altitude airbursts and the impact threat. International Journal of Impact Engineering. (2008) 35: 1441–1448.

            3. Ward SN, Asphaug E. Asteroid Impact Tsunami: A Probabilistic Hazard Assessment. Icarus. (2000) 145:64–78.

U.S. Agencies See No Move by Iran to Build a Bomb

February 24, 2012
by James Risen and Mark Mazetti

New York Times

WASHINGTON — Even as the United Nations’ nuclear watchdog said in a new report Friday that Iran had accelerated its uranium enrichment program, American intelligence analysts continue to believe that there is no hard evidence that Iran has decided to build a nuclear bomb.

Recent assessments by American spy agencies are broadly consistent with a 2007 intelligence finding that concluded that Iran had abandoned its nuclear weapons program years earlier, according to current and former American officials. The officials said that assessment was largely reaffirmed in a 2010 National Intelligence Estimate, and that it remains the consensus view of America’s 16 intelligence agencies.

At the center of the debate is the murky question of the ultimate ambitions of the leaders in Tehran. There is no dispute among American, Israeli and European intelligence officials that Iran has been enriching nuclear fuel and developing some necessary infrastructure to become a nuclear power. But the Central Intelligence Agency and other intelligence agencies believe that Iran has yet to decide whether to resume a parallel program to design a nuclear warhead — a program they believe was essentially halted in 2003 and which would be necessary for Iran to build a nuclear bomb. Iranian officials maintain that their nuclear program is for civilian purposes.

In Senate testimony on Jan. 31, James R. Clapper Jr., the director of national intelligence, stated explicitly that American officials believe that Iran is preserving its options for a nuclear weapon, but said there was no evidence that it had made a decision on making a concerted push to build a weapon. David H. Petraeus, the C.I.A. director, concurred with that view at the same hearing. Other senior United States officials, including Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta and Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, have made similar statements in recent television appearances.

“They are certainly moving on that path, but we don’t believe they have actually made the decision to go ahead with a nuclear weapon,” Mr. Clapper told the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence.

Critics of the American assessment in Jerusalem and some European capitals point out that Iran has made great strides in the most difficult step toward building a nuclear weapon, enriching uranium. That has also been the conclusion of a series of reports by the International Atomic Energy Agency’s inspectors, who on Friday presented new evidence that the Iranians have begun enriching uranium in an underground facility.

Once Iran takes further steps to actually enrich weapons grade fuel — a feat that the United States does not believe Iran has yet accomplished — the critics believe that it would be relatively easy for Iran to engineer a warhead and then have a bomb in short order. They also criticize the C.I.A. for being overly cautious in its assessments of Iran, suggesting that it is perhaps overcompensating for its faulty intelligence assessments in 2002 about Iraq’s purported weapons programs, which turned out not to exist. In addition, Israeli officials have challenged the very premise of the 2007 intelligence assessment, saying they do not believe that Iran ever fully halted its work on a weapons program.

Yet some intelligence officials and outside analysts believe there is another possible explanation for Iran’s enrichment activity, besides a headlong race to build a bomb as quickly as possible. They say that Iran could be seeking to enhance its influence in the region by creating what some analysts call “strategic ambiguity.” Rather than building a bomb now, Iran may want to increase its power by sowing doubt among other nations about its nuclear ambitions. Some point to the examples of Pakistan and India, both of which had clandestine nuclear weapons programs for decades before they actually decided to build bombs and test their weapons in 1998.

“I think the Iranians want the capability, but not a stockpile,” said Kenneth C. Brill, a former United States ambassador to the International Atomic Energy Agency who also served as director of the intelligence community’s National Counterproliferation Center from 2005 until 2009. Added a former intelligence official: “The Indians were a screwdriver turn away from having a bomb for many years. The Iranians are not that close.”

To be sure, American analysts acknowledge that understanding the intentions of Iran’s leadership is extremely difficult, and that their assessments are based on limited information. David A. Kay, who was head of the C.I.A.’s team that searched for Iraq’s weapons programs after the United States invasion, was cautious about the quality of the intelligence underlying the current American assessment.

“They don’t have evidence that Iran has made a decision to build a bomb, and that reflects a real gap in the intelligence,” Mr. Kay said. “It’s true the evidence hasn’t changed very much” since 2007, he added. “But that reflects a lack of access and a lack of intelligence as much as anything.”

Divining the intentions of closed societies is one of the most difficult tasks for American intelligence analysts, and the C.I.A. for decades has had little success penetrating regimes like Iran and North Korea to learn how their leaders make decisions.

Amid the ugly aftermath of the botched Iraq intelligence assessments, American spy agencies in 2006 put new analytical procedures in place to avoid repeating the failures. Analysts now have access to raw information about the sources behind intelligence reports, to help better determine the credibility of the sources and prevent another episode like the one in which the C.I.A. based much of its conclusions about Iraq’s purported biological weapons on an Iraqi exile who turned out to be lying.

Analysts are also required to include in their reports more information about the chain of logic that has led them to their conclusions, and differing judgments are featured prominently in classified reports, rather than buried in footnotes.

When an unclassified summary of the 2007 intelligence estimate on Iran’s nuclear program was made public, stating that it had abandoned work on a bomb, it stunned the Bush administration and the world. It represented a sharp reversal from the intelligence community’s 2005 estimate, and drew criticism of the C.I.A. from European and Israeli officials, as well as conservative pundits. They argued that it was part of a larger effort by the C.I.A. to prevent American military action against Iran.

The report was so controversial that many outside analysts expected that the intelligence community would be forced to revise and repudiate the estimate after new evidence emerged about Iran’s program, notably from the United Nations’ inspectors. Yet analysts now say that while there has been mounting evidence of Iranian work on enrichment facilities, there has been far less clear evidence of a weapons program.

Still, Iran’s enrichment activities have raised suspicions, even among skeptics.

“What has been driving the discussion has been the enrichment activity,” said one former intelligence official. “That’s made everybody nervous. So the Iranians continue to contribute to the suspicions about what they are trying to do.”

Iran’s efforts to hide its nuclear facilities and to deceive the West about its activities have also intensified doubts. But some American analysts warn that such behavior is not necessarily proof of a weapons program. They say that one mistake the C.I.A. made before the war in Iraq was to assume that because Saddam Hussein resisted weapons inspections — acting as if he were hiding something — it meant that he had a weapons program.

As Mr. Kay explained, “The amount of evidence that you were willing to go with in 2002 is not the same evidence you are willing to accept today.”


Scoring the ‘war on terror’

February 25, 2012

by Andrew Bacevich

Asia TImes

            With the United States now well into the second decade of what the Pentagon has styled as an “era of persistent conflict”, the war formerly known as the global war on terrorism (unofficial acronym WFKATGWOT) appears increasingly fragmented and diffuse. Without achieving victory, yet unwilling to acknowledge failure, the United States military has withdrawn from Iraq. It is trying to leave Afghanistan, where events seem equally unlikely to yield a happy outcome.
             Elsewhere – in Pakistan, Libya, Yemen, and Somalia, for example – US forces are busily opening up new fronts. Published reports that the United States is establishing “a constellation of secret drone bases” in or near the Horn of Africa and the Arabian Peninsula suggest that the scope of operations will only widen further. In a front-page story, the New York Times described plans for “thickening” the global presence of US special operations forces.
            Rushed Navy plans to convert an aging amphibious landing ship into an “afloat forward staging base” – a mobile launch platform for either commando raids or minesweeping operations in the Persian Gulf – only reinforces the point. Yet as some fronts close down and others open up, the war’s narrative has become increasingly difficult to discern. How much farther until we reach the WFKATGWOT’s equivalent of Berlin? What exactly is the WFKATGWOT’s equivalent of Berlin? In fact, is there a storyline here at all?
            Viewed close-up, the “war” appears to have lost form and shape. Yet by taking a couple of steps back, important patterns begin to appear. What follows is a preliminary attempt to score the WFKATGWOT, dividing the conflict into a bout of three rounds. Although there may be several additional rounds still to come, here’s what we’ve suffered through thus far.

The Rumsfeld era

            Round 1: Liberation. More than any other figure – more than any general, even more than the president himself – former secretary of defense Donald Rumsfeld dominated the war’s early stages. Appearing for a time to be a larger-than-life figure – the “Secretary at War” in the eyes of an adoring (if fickle) neo-con fan club – Rumsfeld dedicated himself to the proposition that, in battle, speed holds the key to victory. He threw his considerable weight behind a high-tech American version of blitzkrieg. US forces, he regularly insisted, were smarter and more agile than any adversary. To employ them in ways that took advantage of those qualities was to guarantee victory. The journalistic term adopted to describe this concept was “shock and awe.”
            No one believed more passionately in “shock and awe” than Rumsfeld himself. The design of Operation Enduring Freedom, launched in October 2001, and of Operation Iraqi Freedom, begun in March 2003, reflected this belief. In each instance, the campaign got off to a promising start, with US troops landing some swift and impressive blows. In neither case, however, were they able to finish off their opponent or even, in reality, sort out just who their opponent might be.
            Unfortunately for Rumsfeld, the “terrorists” refused to play by his rulebook and US forces proved to be less smart and agile than their technological edge – and their public relations machine – suggested would be the case. Indeed, when harassed by minor insurgencies and scattered bands of jihadis, they proved surprisingly slow to figure out what had hit them.
            In Afghanistan, Rumsfeld let victory slip through his grasp. In Iraq, his mismanagement of the campaign brought the United States face-to-face with outright defeat. Rumsfeld’s boss had hoped to liberate (and, of course, dominate) the Islamic world through a series of short, quick thrusts. What president George W Bush got instead were two different versions of a long, hard slog. By the end of 2006, “shock and awe” was kaput. Trailing well behind the rest of the country and its armed forces, the president eventually lost confidence in his defense secretary’s approach. As a result, Rumsfeld lost his job. Round one came to an end, the Americans, rather embarrassingly, having lost it on points.

The Petraeus era

            Round 2: Pacification. Enter General David Petraeus. More than any other figure, in or out of uniform, Petraeus dominated the WFKATGWOT’s second phase. Round two opened with lowered expectations. Gone was the heady talk of liberation. Gone, too, were predictions of lightning victories. The United States was now willing to settle for much less while still claiming success.
            Petraeus offered a formula for restoring a semblance of order to countries reduced to chaos as a result of round one. Order might permit the United States to extricate itself while maintaining some semblance of having met its policy objectives. This became the operative definition of victory.
            The formal name for the formula that Petraeus devised was counter-insurgency, or COIN. Rather than trying to defeat the enemy, COIN sought to facilitate the emergence of a viable and stable nation-state. This was the stated aim of the “surge” in Iraq ordered by Bush at the end of 2006.
            With Petraeus presiding, violence in that country did decline precipitously. Whether the relationship was causal or coincidental remains the subject of controversy. Still, Petraeus’s apparent success persuaded some observers that counter-insurgency on a global scale – GCOIN, they called it – should now form the basis for US national security strategy. Here, they argued, was an approach that could definitively extract the United States from the WFKATGWOT, while offering victory of a sort. Rather than employing “shock and awe” to liberate the Islamic world, US forces would apply counter-insurgency doctrine to pacify it.
            The task of demonstrating the validity of COIN beyond Iraq fell to General Stanley McChrystal, appointed with much fanfare in 2009 to command US and NATO forces in Afghanistan. Press reports celebrated McChrystal as another Petraeus, the ideal candidate to replicate the achievements already credited to “King David.”
            McChrystal’s ascendency came at a moment when a cult of generalship gripped Washington. Rather than technology being the determinant of success as Rumsfeld had believed, the key was to put the right guy in charge and then let him run with things. Political figures on both sides of the aisle fell all over themselves declaring McChrystal the right guy for Afghanistan. Pundits of all stripes joined the chorus.
            Once installed in Kabul, the general surveyed the situation and, to no one’s surprise, announced that “success demands a comprehensive counter-insurgency campaign.” Implementing that campaign would necessitate an Afghan “surge” mirroring the one that had seemingly turned Iraq around. In December 2009, albeit with little evident enthusiasm, President Barack Obama acceded to his commander’s request (or ultimatum). The US troop commitment to Afghanistan rapidly increased.
            Here things began to come undone. Progress toward reducing the insurgency or improving the capacity of Afghan security forces was – by even the most generous evaluation – negligible. McChrystal made promises – like meeting basic Afghan needs with “government in a box, ready to roll in” – that he proved utterly incapable of keeping. Relations with the government of President Hamid Karzai remained strained. Those with neighboring Pakistan, not good to begin with, only worsened. Both governments expressed deep resentment at what they viewed as high-handed American behavior that killed or maimed noncombatants with disturbing frequency.
            To make matters worse, despite all the hype, McChrystal turned out to be miscast – manifestly the wrong guy for the job. Notably, he proved unable to grasp the need for projecting even some pretence of respect for the principle of civilian control back in Washington. By the summer of 2010, he was out – and Petraeus was back in.
            In Washington (if not in Kabul), Petraeus’s oversized reputation quelled the sense that with McChrystal’s flame-out Afghanistan might be a lost cause. Surely, the most celebrated soldier of his generation would repeat his Iraq magic, affirming his own greatness and the continued viability of COIN.
            Alas, this was not to be. Conditions in Afghanistan during Petraeus’s tenure in command improved – if that’s even the word – only modestly. The ongoing war met just about anyone’s definition of a quagmire. With considerable understatement, a 2011 National Intelligence Estimate called it a “stalemate.” Soon, talk of a “comprehensive counter-insurgency” faded. With the bar defining success slipping ever lower, passing off the fight to Afghan security forces and hightailing it for home became the publicly announced war aim.
            That job remained unfinished when Petraeus himself headed for home, leaving the army to become Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) director. Although Petraeus was still held in high esteem, his departure from active duty left the cult of generalship looking more than a little the worse for wear. By the time General John Allen succeeded Petraeus – thereby became the eighth US officer appointed to preside over the ongoing Afghan War – no one believed that simply putting the right guy in charge was going to produce magic. On that inclusive note, round two of the WFKATGWOT ended.

The Vickers era

            Round 3: Assassination. Unlike Donald Rumsfeld or David Petraeus, Michael Vickers has not achieved celebrity status. Yet more than anyone else in or out of uniform, Vickers, who carries the title Under Secretary of Defense for Intelligence, deserves recognition as the emblematic figure of the WFKATGWOT’s round three. His low-key, low-profile persona meshes perfectly with this latest evolution in the war’s character. Few people outside of Washington know who he is, which is fitting indeed since he presides over a war that few people outside of Washington are paying much attention to any longer.
            With the retirement of secretary of defense Robert Gates, Vickers is the senior remaining holdover from Bush’s Pentagon. His background is nothing if not eclectic. He previously served in US Army Special Forces and as a CIA operative. In that guise, he played a leading role in supporting the Afghan mujahideen in their war against Soviet occupiers in the 1980s. Subsequently, he worked in a Washington think tank and earned a PhD in strategic studies at Johns Hopkins University (dissertation title: “The Structure of Military Revolutions”).
            Even during the Bush era, Vickers never subscribed to expectations that the United States could liberate or pacify the Islamic world. His preferred approach to the WFKATGWOT has been simplicity itself. “I just want to kill those guys,” he says – “those guys” referring to members of al-Qaeda. Kill the people who want to kill Americans and don’t stop until they are all dead: this defines the Vickers strategy, which over the course of the Obama presidency has supplanted COIN as the latest variant of US strategy.
            The Vickers approach means acting aggressively to eliminate would-be killers wherever they might be found, employing whatever means are necessary. Vickers “tends to think like a gangster,” one admirer comments. “He can understand trends then change the rules of the game so they are advantageous for your side.”
            Round three of the WFKATGWOT is all about bending, breaking, and reinventing rules in ways thought to be advantageous to the United States. Much as COIN supplanted “shock and awe,” a broad-gauged program of targeted assassination has now displaced COIN as the prevailing expression of the American way of war.
            The United States is finished with the business of sending large land armies to invade and occupy countries on the Eurasian mainland. Robert Gates, when still Secretary of Defense, made the definitive statement on that subject. The United States is now in the business of using missile-armed drones and special operations forces to eliminate anyone (not excluding US citizens) the president of the United States decides has become an intolerable annoyance. Under President Obama, such attacks have proliferated.
            This is America’s new MO. Paraphrasing a warning issued by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, a Washington Post dispatch succinctly summarized what it implied: “The United States reserved the right to attack anyone who it determined posed a direct threat to US national security, anywhere in the world.”
            Furthermore, acting on behalf of the United States, the president exercises this supposed right without warning, without regard to claims of national sovereignty, without congressional authorization, and without consulting anyone other than Michael Vickers and a few other members of the national security apparatus. The role allotted to the American people is to applaud, if and when notified that a successful assassination has occurred. And applaud we do, for example, when a daring raid by members in SEAL Team Six secretly enter Pakistan to dispatch Osama bin Laden with two neatly placed kill shots. Vengeance long deferred making it unnecessary to consider what second-order political complications might ensue.
            How round three will end is difficult to forecast. The best we can say is that it’s unlikely to end anytime soon or particularly well. As Israel has discovered, once targeted assassination becomes your policy, the list of targets has a way of growing ever longer.
            So what tentative judgments can we offer regarding the ongoing WFKATGWOT? Operationally, a war launched by the conventionally minded has progressively fallen under the purview of those who inhabit what Dick Cheney once called “the dark side,” with implications that few seem willing to explore. Strategically, a war informed at the outset by utopian expectations continues today with no concretely stated expectations whatsoever, the forward momentum of events displacing serious consideration of purpose. Politically, a war that once occupied center stage in national politics has now slipped to the periphery, the American people moving on to other concerns and entertainment, with legal and moral questions raised by the war left dangling in midair.

Is this progress?

Andrew J Bacevich is professor of history and international relations at Boston University


Homeland Analysts Told to Monitor Policy Debates in Social Media

February 22, 2012

by Charlie Savage

New York Times

WASHINGTON — Analysts for a Department of Homeland Security program that monitors social networks like Twitter and Facebook have been instructed to produce reports on policy debates related to the department, a newly disclosed manual shows

The manual, a 2011 reference guide for analysts working with the department’s Media Monitoring Capability program, raises questions about recent claims by Homeland Security officials who portrayed the program as limited to gathering information that would help gain operational awareness about attacks, disasters or other emerging problems.

Last month, a previous disclosure of documents related to the program showed that in 2009, when it was being designed, officials contemplated having reports produced about “public reaction to major governmental proposals with homeland security implications.”

But the department said it never put that category into practice when the program began in 2010. Officials repeated that portrayal in testimony last week before an oversight hearing by a House Homeland Security subcommittee.

“I am not aware of any information we have gathered on government proposals,” testified Richard Chavez, the director of the office that oversees the National Operations Center, which runs the program.

Still, the 2011 manual, which was disclosed this week as part of a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit, lists a series of categories that constitute an “item of interest” warranting a report. One category is discussion on social media networks of “policy directives, debates and implementations related to DHS.”

It is not clear whether the department has produced such reports. Matthew Chandler, a department spokesman, said Wednesday that in practice the program had been limited to “social media monitoring for situational awareness only.”

He also said the department would review the reference guide and related materials to make sure they “clearly and accurately convey the parameters and intention of the program.”

Ginger McCall of the Electronic Privacy Information Center, an advocacy group that filed the lawsuit and obtained the document, argued that the manual shows that the monitoring may have gone beyond its limited portrayal by department officials.

“The D.H.S. continues to monitor the Internet for criticism of the government,” she said. “This suspicionless, overbroad monitoring quells legitimate First Amendment activity and exceeds the agency’s legal authority.”

A federal statute cited by officials last week as the legal basis for the program gives the National Operations Center the authority “to provide situational awareness” for officials “in the event of a natural disaster, act of terrorism or other man-made disaster” and to “ensure that critical terrorism and disaster-related information reaches government decision makers.”

Officials have stressed that the program does not collect personally identifying information, like the names or Twitter account handles of the people making comments, and that it does not monitor, review or collect First Amendment-protected speech.

Still, the program also monitors articles and broadcasts by traditional media outlets. The 2011 manual says that analysts, in addition to flagging information related to matters like terrorism and natural disasters, should also identify “media reports that reflect adversely on D.H.S. and response activities” and collect “both positive and negative reports” on department components as well organizations outside of the department.

The manual includes keywords that analysts should search for. A list of agencies in the keyword section includes not only those in the department dealing with matters like immigration and emergency management, but also the Central Intelligence Agency, several law enforcement agencies in the Justice Department, the Red Cross and the United Nations.

At the hearing last week, lawmakers of both parties said it made sense for the department to use the Internet to gather information about emerging events, but they voiced concerns that if it went further than that, the program might chill people’s freedom of speech and willingness to express dissent online.

“Other private individuals reading your Facebook status updates is different than the Department of Homeland Security reading them, analyzing them and possibly disseminating and collecting them for future purposes,” said the chairman of the subcommittee, Representative Patrick Meehan of Pennsylvania.

Mary Ellen Callahan, the department’s chief privacy director, testified that the program was interested only in events within the department’s mission — like disasters, attacks or continuing operational problems. As an example, she cited a situation in which people post to Twitter about an unusually long line at a particular airport checkpoint.

She also played down the use of keyword searches the program uses for articles and postings on social networks, portraying them as simply related to disasters — “you know, flood, tornado and things like that.”

The 2011 manual contains a fuller list. Many keywords are closely related to various disasters. But a handful are potentially more sweeping, like China, cops, hacking, illegal immigrants, Iran, Iraq, marijuana, organized crime, police, pork and radicals.





Regicide: The CIA and the Kennedy Assassination

by Gregory Douglas

The Assassination

The following chapters will consist of facsimile reproductions of the DIA’s translation of the Soviet intelligence study, of its own analysis, and of quoted excerpts of the official Warren Commission Report, followed by commentary.

The Facts of the Assassination

The Soviet Intelligence Study (translation)

            1. On 22 November, 1963, American President John Kennedy was shot and killed during a political motor trip through the Texas city of Dallas. The President was riding at the head of the procession in his official state car, seated in the right rear with his wife on his left side. Seated in front of him was the Governor of Texas and his wife, also on his left side. The vehicle was an open car without side or top protection of any kind. There was a pilot car in front, about a hundred feet, and the President’s car was flanked by motorcycle outriders located two to a side roughly parallel with the rear wheels of the State car.

            2. The President and his party were driving at a speed of about 20 kilometers per hour through the built-up area of Dallas and greeted the many people lining the streets along his route. Security was supplied by the Secret Service supplemented by local police. There were two Secret Service agents in the front of the car. One was driving the car. Other agents were in cars following the Presidential vehicle and Dallas police on motorbikes were on both sides of the Presidential car but at the rear of it. There was a pilot car in front of the President’s car but it was at some distance away.

            3. The course of the journey was almost past all the occupied area. The cars then turned sharply to the right and then again to the left to go to the motorway leading to a meeting hall where the President was to speak at a dinner. It is considered very bad security for such an official drive to decrease its speed or to make unnecessary turnings or stops. (Historical note: It was just this problem that led directly to positioning the Austrian Heir in front of waiting assassins at Sarajevo in 1914.) The route was set by agents of the Secret Service and published in the Dallas newspapers before the arrival of the President and his party.

            4. After the last turning to the left, the cars passed a tall building on the right side of the street that was used as a warehouse for the storage of school books. This building was six stories tall and had a number of workers assigned to it. There were no official security people in this building, either on the roof or at the windows. Also, there were no security agents along the roadway on either side. All security agents were riding either in the Presidential car (two in the front) and in the following vehicles.

            5. As the President’s state car passed this building, some shots were heard. The exact source and number of these shots was never entirely determined. Some observers thought that the shots came from above and behind while many more observers in the area stated that the shots came from the front and to the right of the car. There was a small area with a decorative building and some trees and bushes there and many saw unidentified people in this area. Many people standing in front of this area to watch the cars stated that shots came from behind them.

            6. When the first shots were fired, the President was seen to lean forward and clutch at his throat with both hands. Immediately when this happened, the Secret Service driver of the President’s state car slowed down the vehicle until it was almost stopped. This was a direct breach of their training which stated that in such events where firing occurred, the driver of the President’s car would immediately drive away as quickly as possible.

            7. At the same time as the first shot, there was a second one, this one from behind and above. This bullet struck the Governor, sitting in front of the President and slightly to his right, in the right upper shoulder. The bullet went downwards into the chest cavity, breaking ribs, struck his wrist and lodged in his left upper thigh. There were then two shots fired at the President’s car. The first shot initiated the action and this one appears to have hit the President in the throat. If so, it must have been fired from in front of the car, not behind it.

            8. Right at that moment, there was one other shot. The shell obviously struck the President on the upper rear of the right side of his head, throwing him back and to the left. Also, at this time, blood, pieces of skull and brains could be seen flying to the left where the motorbike police guard was struck with this material on his right side and on the right side of his motorbike.

            9. Immediately after this final shot, the driver then began to increase his speed and the cars all went at increasing speed down under the tunnel.

            10. The fatally injured President and the seriously injured Governor were very quickly taken to a nearby hospital for treatment. The President was declared as dead and his body was removed, by force, to an aircraft and flown to Washington. The badly wounded Governor was treated at the hospital for his wounds and survived.          

            11. Within moments of the shots fired at the President, a Dallas motorcycle police officer ran into the book building and up to the second floor in the company of the manager of the establishment. Here, the policeman encountered a man later positively identified as one Lee Harvey Oswald, an employee of the book storage company. Oswald was drinking a Coca-Cola and appeared to be entirely calm and collected. (Later it was said that he had rushed down four flights of steps past other employees in a few moments after allegedly shooting the President. It is noted from the records that none of the other employees on the staircase ever saw Oswald passing them.) The elevator which moved freight and personnel between the floors was halted at the sixth floor and turned off so that it could not be recalled to persons below wishing to use it.

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