Archive for January, 2008

A Security Analysis of Bush’s State of Union Address

Thursday, January 31st, 2008

On January 29, President Bush delivered his eighth and final State of the Union Address before Congress. Various news reports locked on the President’s emphasis on economic policy and the war in Iraq. A Washington Post analysis saw the President’s speech as cementing his legacy as President by “consolidating past achievements and focusing strategically on where he can win a few more.”

My analysis will focus on the national security issues in his speech which are not limited to Iraq, but also to domestic wiretapping program, democracy promotion, Afghanistan, Iranian policy, and the Palestinian-Israeli peace process. I decided to make this my focus, not only because of my personal interest in foreign policy and security issues, but also due to the importance the President attached to them: out of the 5,764 words delivered to Congress, 2,390 of them directly address these topics, or about 41.5% of the text.

I begin with Iraq. President Bush touted the following “accomplishments” as a result of the so-called “surge”:

  • Al-Qaeda terrorists were being cleared out of neighborhoods
  • Reconstruction is taking place
  • The success of Sunni “awakening” groups fighting Al-Qaeda
  • Terrorist attacks and civilian deaths are down
  • Sectarian killings are down
  • Hundreds of Shi’a militiamen are captured or killed

These successes are largely tactical and easily reversible. Credit for reduction in violence is given to the surge although it is not necessarily deserved; Al-Qaeda is largely being driven out of some areas by Sunni tribes armed and paid the US (which has its own risks), Sadr’s six-month ceasefire (set to expire very soon) was voluntary, and the sectarian cleansing—sped up, not slowed down by the surge—has achieved its deadly goals. In other words, it’s putting perfume on a pig.

Furthermore, these developments are not being supported by crucial deeper security, political and economic reforms. According to an analysis by the Center for American Progress, Bush has only met 3 of 18 crucial “benchmarks”, none of which are the important ones needed to ensure long-term stability in Iraq. The political progress has been minimal at best. While President Bush touts the de-baathification law as a success, groups like the International Center for Transitional Justice say it actually makes things worse. Reconstruction efforts also have a long way to go. Despite recent gains made, security is still not good enough to allow the pace of reconstruction proceed to quicken. Important infrastructures like Mosul dam are in serious need of repair, expensive American contractors like Parsons and Bechtel are failing to do their jobs, and corruption is still rampant within Iraq’s ministries. Although billions of dollars are thrown at Iraq each month, it is a prime recruiting tool for terrorists and has become a risky distraction from other urgent threats in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

The President also seems to be fond of citing NATO’s assistance in Afghanistan and claiming that more kids going to school, but the Afghan ministry of education reported the number of Taliban attacks on schools has tripled since last year, school closings have almost doubled, and 300,000 students aren’t attending class due to security concerns. NATO’s forces are undermanned and struggle to get more troops, they have been taking heavy casualties (some proportionately higher than the US), carelessly inflict many civilian deaths, and have difficulty holding onto any gains made against militants. This is not to forget that Afghanistan’s own security forces are not suitable for combat and economic development is still slow and inefficient. All of these factors leave Afghanistan and NATO ill-prepared for a new Taliban spring offensive.

Bush also mentions Afghanistan’s neighbor, Pakistan, but only fleetingly. This is interesting since there’s been such a hullaboo in Western media over the assassination of Benazir Bhutto and concerns over Islamabad’s nukes falling in the hands of Al-Qaeda/Taliban. Of course these two things are very nasty side effects of a large American strategic failure of being “wedded to Musharraf despite growing warnings from experts”. This unholy matrimony is consummated by billions of dollars in unaccountable American military aid meant to fight Taliban militants siphoned off to purchase large weapons systems to counter India. The administration’s policy “alternative” has been to support “democrats” like the recently deceased Bhutto, and Nawaz Sharif who are emblematic of Pakistan’s long-standing feudal political culture. There might be some reprieve in sight for Pakistan as rifts within Taliban may weaken them in the long run. However, Bush must realize that long-term stability is not won on the battlefield, but through a viable long-term policy of supporting democracy and real civil society actors.

Then of course there’s Iran. Despite the recent NIE report (PDF) stating that Iran has suspended its nuclear program since 2003, Bush’s continues to peddle the image of Iranian political leadership as hell-bent on remaining an international pariah. However contrary to what Bush and his neoconservative advisers may think, Iran, like any other nation, acts as a rational state actor affected by both international forces and domestic politics. While Bush cites Iran’s support for Hamas and Hezbollah, he forgets that he bears significant responsibility for that. According former top administration officials, back in 2003 in secret negotiations, Tehran explicitly expressed its willingness to cease support for Hamas and Islamic Jihad, suspend its nuclear program and recognize Israel. Nevertheless Bush continues to pursue a confrontational stance toward Iran through immoral and counterproductive sanctions that punish the Iranian people instead of the state. Ahmadinejad and the mullahs have been destroying their own economy for a long time and don’t need our President’s help. If anything economic engagement and free trade agreements that put the power of the purse back in the hands of the Iranian people and away from the Mafioso-like control of the clerics’ corrupt and inefficient bonyads would be more helpful in advancing the cause of liberty.

Turning to Palestine and Israel, the President seems content to forge ahead with a half-baked peace process initiated at Annapolis in order to achieve “a Holy Land where a democratic Israel and a democratic Palestine live side by side in peace.” As with Iran, his bombastic prose is based on a myopic ideology dismissive of crucial facts and lacking in nuance. His attempt to achieve this lofty goal without the necessary inclusion of Hamas and by relying on the politically weak Mahmoud Abbas is foolhardy. Since its inception in 1987 Hamas’ has been continuously evolving, (PDF) attempting to balance ideology with political pragmatism, which includes its most recent attempts at secret negotiations with Israel. By not noticing these continuous changes and excluding Hamas from talks, Bush sets back peace in the Holy Land further and helps Israel shoot itself in the foot by perpetuating its brutal occupation of the Palestinian territories.

Finally turning to a more domestic focus, Bush mentions the successes made in stopping certain terrorist attacks such the transatlantic aircraft plot and the US library tower plot. He uses those two examples to argue for why Congress should make the Protect America Act a bill that legalizes wiretaps without court oversight permanent and include immunity for telecoms that helped Bush’s earlier illegal wiretapping. However the unaccountable domestic wiretapping powers Bush seeks had nothing to do with stopping the foreign plots. This isn’t the first time Bush has used irrelevant examples to mislead people into thinking these unchecked powers will help make America safer. If anything the evidence shows unaccountable spying powers would make us not only less free, but less safe too.

In sum, the President’s State of the Union Address was very disappointing, though not surprising. Full of half-truths, spun facts and missing pieces of information, his discussion of security issues were only colorful words that had little truth or substance behind them. It was just another disappointing speech summarizing a disappointing two-term legacy.

Allahu ‘Alim.

Alejandro J. Beutel

Minaret of Freedom Institute

News and Analysis (1/31/08)

Thursday, January 31st, 2008

As various think-tanks and NGOs report Afghanistan is becoming destabilized by a resurgent Taliban and looming humanitarian crisis, Canada threatens to withdraw from the NATO coalition unless other countries contribute more battlefield troops:

Hamas flexes its political muscles after breaching the wall, allowing Cairo and Riyadh to take a more independent line from Israeli and US policies:

Not content to leave it in the hands of the state, NGOs reach out to Egyptian street kids to protect them from gangs and prison:

US seizes on the arrest of human rights activist Riad Seif to denounce Damascus:

Ignored by Israel, American Policies Alienate Egypt and Strengthen Hamas

Wednesday, January 30th, 2008

Yesterday, at the Carnegie Institute of International Peace, I attended a program sponsored by the American Task Force on Palestine and the Foundation for Middle East Peace on the crisis in Gaza. The speakers were Geoffrey Aronson (Director of Research and Publications of the Middle East Forum) and Mark Perry (Director of the Conflicts Forum). Their presentations underlined the severity of the impact of the siege on the Gazans, the fact that American media coverage of the recent events is missing the most significant elements of recent events: how Hamas’ success in piercing the border with Egypt is shaking up the alignments of state actors, how Abbas’ intransigence is eroding Fatah’s legitimacy, and how hitherto ignored matters of sovereignty and occupation may be soon pushed out into the open.

Perry noted that the initial Israeli cabinet response to Hamas’ Dec. 19, 2007 proposal of a cease-fire was positive, but on Dec. 24 Israel abruptly rejected it out of hand, falling back on the Quartet pre-conditions for inclusion of Hamas in negotiations, for example recognition of the state of Israel. Significantly, no mention of rocket fire into Israel was made at that time. This surprised Egypt, which took Ismail Haniyyah’s offer as good faith. After all, if Israel’s real concern was the safety of Israelis who might be killed or injured by the Palestinian rockets, what more direct solution could there be than for Palestinians to cease firing them?

Ignoring American policy that it should not talk to Hamas, Israel has been in communication with them. Perry thinks that Hamas looked on Israeli signals favorably, leading Hanniyyah to prematurely propose a cease fire. He reminds us that on the day before 18 Palestinians had been killed by the Israelis, who saw the offer as a sign of weakness.

On Dec 2 Arlen Specter had threatened aid cuts to Egypt unless they did more to protect the borders and Israel accused pilgrims returning to Gaza from Mecca of arms smuggling. On the same day, Egypt announced that they had confiscated smuggled arms to demonstrate acquiescence to American and Israeli pressure. One Egyptian official noted they sided with America on “the war on terror” without getting even a thank you. Egypt then snubbed both sides by letting the pilgrims return. Their subsequent decision to allow the breaks in the wall signaled a departure from supporting American policy. Until then Egypt had cleared such actions, such as the decision to let the pilgrims out of Gaza in the first place, with Israel. This time Egypt sided with its own constituents. The Egyptians seem to be poking the eye of the Americans, recently calling for a national reconciliation conference between Hamas and Fatah to which Hamas said yes and Fatah said no.

To those who have asked, “Where is the Palestinian Ghandi?” Perry emphasizes that what Hamas did last week was both a classic act of civil disobedience and an engineering feat. While Abu Mazen has been negotiating about walls, he says, Hamas has been tearing them down. The difference between al-Qaida and Hamas has been demonstrated in Gaza: One blows up buildings and the other tears down walls.

Geoffrey Aronson stated that Israel’s view of Gaza has changed over the years. Israel now treats Gaza as a foreign country. It removed its troops and its civilian population, but not its control and envelope. It continues to control the flow of people and goods. However, the Palestinian leadership did not want to pay the economic price of the end of the Paris protocols and the development of a new economic regime. Of the numerous actors in talks over the Palestinian-Israeli dispute, Hamas is the most favorably disposed towards free trade–even with Israel.

Israel defines itself as the sovereign on the both sides its border, a claim unchallenged by the Palestinian Authority and only recently challenged by Hamas. The Egyptians do not see the breach of the border in their interest.

Why hadn’t Hamas breached the border sooner? Things were not great in Gaza even before their takeover in June. Aronson says they wanted to be seen as a responsible party and they wanted to cultivate an improved relationship with Egypt. Things have changed. The Israelis wanted the return to be mediated through a checkpoint they controlled, but the Egyptian forces couldn’t be seen using violence against old men and women on pilgrimage.

Israel thought about declaring an end of the occupation of Gaza, but didn’t do it because they want to retain that control. Israel is succeeding in manipulating how the international community views the issue, reducing it to an argument over humanitarian relief and avoiding discussions of the health of the Palestinian economy.

Perry says the long-standing American position to make governing difficult for Hamas will reduce their popular support, paving the way for Fatah (which recognizes Israel) to be restored to power. His own view is that although the economy has worsened, Hamas’ status has been enhanced and thinks Egypt has come to the conclusion that the American policy cannot possibly work.

Aronson says that an international crisis is brewing in Gaza. For the first time since its treaty with Israel, Egypt has tended to Palestinian concerns against the wishes of Israel. Israel has been in an effective dialog with Hamas for years whether the U.S. likes it or not. The U.S. will follow in Israel’s wake, as it did after Oslo, as it always has done.

Imad-ad-Dean Ahmad, Ph.D.

Minaret of Freedom Institute

News and Analysis (1/30/08)

Wednesday, January 30th, 2008

AG Mukasey comes clean on his waterboarding views, suggesting it “could be used against terrorism suspects once again if requested by the White House”:

In order to stave off expiration of the warrantless wiretapping powers and come to a compromise, Congress passes a 15-day extension:

In a move that violates Afghanistan’s separation of powers, its Senate issues a statement supporting the “blasphemy” death sentence against a local journalist:

Israeli Supreme Court okays the IDF’s occupation and collective punishment of Gaza:

“It’s an issue of human rights, not secularism,”—Ergun Ozbudun, Turkish law professor and constitutional expert

In another sign of infighting over foreign policy, the Bush administration publicly fumes over its UN envoy sitting on the same panel as Iran’s foreign minister in Switzerland:

In a written statement, Pakistan’s former Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry slams Musharraf “for sacking him and 60 other top judges” … :

… while Washington Post reporter Imtiaz Ali finds the Taliban continue expanding their influence in tribal areas:

News and Analysis (1/29/08)

Tuesday, January 29th, 2008

Human Rights lawyer Joanne Mariner argues that anti-terrorism laws have led to global trend in restrictions on free speech:

Senators vote down Bush’s plans to make warrantless wiretapping permanent, but seek to give the law a 30-day extension for further debate:

Turkish parliament seeks to make a move on easing the hijab ban by allowing university students to wear it, but restrictions on public civil servants will remain:

CS Monitor columnist Helena Cobban argues that peace between Israelis and Palestinians can’t be achieved without diplomatically engaging Hamas:

Syria seeks to muzzle political reform by jailing prominent democratic activist Riad Seif:

Disputed conversion case of dead Buddhist in Malaysia is the latest example of an increasing trend of legal bias against non-Muslims by deferring to so-called “shari’ah” courts:

Using the language of “family and the Koran” female Afghan entrepreneur Kamela Sediqi works to educate her fellow country men and women on how to run a business and be self-sufficient:

News and Analysis (1/28/08)

Monday, January 28th, 2008

Limits on free expression in secular Turkey demonstrated by 15-month (suspended) jail sentence imposed on liberal Turkish academic Attila Yayla for allegedly “insulting Turkishness”:

Iranian officials claim that Cairo and Tehran are close to restoring full diplomatic ties with each other:

In the wake of the border crisis, Hamas gains leverage in negotiations with Fatah and “pierce[s] the consensus” at Annapolis that peace talks can move forward while isolating Hamas:

Crucial Iraqi Sunni ally threatens to allow Al-Qaeda to return if a political deal isn’t struck allowing his men to be incorporated into the Iraqi army and police:

Pakistani opposition leader Imran Khan lobbies the US to change its policies toward Pakistan, while Musharraf invokes stability among European leaders to continue to support him:

Stuck between catering to US interests and avoiding religious militants’ violence, Yemen treads a careful path of compromise to fight terrorist networks:

Commentator Justin Raimondo analyzes the latest abuse of state secrets privilege, the “unprecedented gag order” on Sibel Edmonds’ allegations that our nuclear secrets are being stolen by a network of foreign intelligence middlemen who could sell them to rogue states or terrorists:

News and Analysis (1/26-27/08)

Sunday, January 27th, 2008

Bush threatens to veto a wiretap bill denying immunity to telecoms:

Former CIA agent and columnist Phil Giraldi discusses his insider information on VP Cheney’s reassertion over foreign policy and intelligence processes:

FBI whistleblower Sibel Edmonds claims senior State Dept. official blew CIA investigation of nuclear black market spy ring involving Turks, Israelis and Pakistanis:

Former tyrant and US cold war ally Suharto dies, leaving behind a legacy of massive corruption and an estimated one million dead:

Although insisting its safeguards are fool proof, Pakistan raises the security level around its nuclear sites out of concern over Taliban militants:

Tel Aviv’s most recent round of collective punishment against Gazans fails to break Hamas and further sets back peace talks between Palestinians and Israelis:

News and Analysis (1/25/08)

Friday, January 25th, 2008

Bush asks Iraq to surrender its fig leaf sovereignty by giving the US wider discretion on military operations and legal immunity to American contractors:

Turkey’s Islamic-oriented movement acts as the country’s liberalizing vanguard by seeking to ease restrictions on free speech and religious liberty:

Journalists and other civil society actors lash out against an Afghan journalist’s blasphemy death sentence, calling the charges “fake” and the trial “a joke”:

Iranian ideological vetting council bars most parliamentary candidates from the main reformist parties, forcing an appeal by those disqualified and a possible boycott:

News and Analysis (1/24/08)

Thursday, January 24th, 2008

The Padilla trial’s lesson is that the government has omnipotent power as long as it’s the military violating Americans’ Constitutional rights:

Appeals court orders resentencing of convicted “paintball 11” member finding his non-violent crimes did not justify a “terrorism enhancement”:

Reporter for IWPR asserts the Taliban are gaining strength despite statements from Afghan and NATO officials:

Citing security concerns, but clearly appealing to Islamophobia, the Dutch government proposes to ban burqas in schools:

Saudi Novelist Rajaa Alsanea finds her country needs to improve its treatment of women, but also acknowledges reforms are moving in a positive direction:

Analysts see Musharraf as increasingly losing support, even from his important military constituency, meanwhile the Bush administration continues the same failed policies of supporting the military without giving aid for civil society growth:

News and Analysis (1/23/08)

Wednesday, January 23rd, 2008

After being stonewalled by FBI, Justice Department and Congressional officials into her allegations of national security breaches by Turkish and Israeli agents, FBI whistleblower Sibel Edmonds tells her story:

Study by two journalism organizations count 935 false statements on Iraq in the lead up to the war, with “at least 532 occasions that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction or was trying to produce or obtain them or had links to al-Qaida or both”:

Baath reform law may end up excluding more Sunnis from government jobs because of unclear wording and de-baathification process run by the dubious neo-con Ahmed Chalabi:

Driven by rising costs of scarce goods from the Israeli blockade, Gazans bust down a border fence with Egypt to go on a shopping spree for basic supplies such as food and medicine:

UN Security Council members agree to “ ‘increase the severity” of existing sanctions, but don’t force new sanctions:

Justices attack private property rights by extending sweeping legal immunity to all law federal enforcement officers “over the ‘loss of goods, merchandise or other property’”:

Afghan clerics exploit Islam to sentence a man to death for distributing an article written by his brother on northern warlords’ abuses: