As various officials and lawmakers weigh in on the Rolling Stone profile of General Stanley McChrystal, one voice is conspicuously absent from the chatter: Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
"Only Hillary Clinton receives good reviews from McChrystal's inner circle," the story reports, quoting an advisor as saying that "Hillary had Stan's back during the strategic review"
A State Department official told The Cable that Clinton and her staff were not contacted during the writing of the article; they found out about it Monday evening along with everybody else. But Clinton hasn't issued any statement on the story, even though it directly attacks two of her senior staffers, Special Representative Richard "Wounded Animal" Holbrooke and Amb. Karl Eikenberry.
Clinton was also among the only officials named in the story who did not receive an apology call, presumably because the comments about her in the story were so favorable. Holbrooke and Eikenberry both got calls, which seemed redundant since both were in Kabul with McChrystal this week and even sat in meetings together with the General and Afghan President Hamid Karzai.
There are two plausible explanations for Clinton's silence. First of all, McChrystal works for Defense Secretary Robert Gates, and Clinton may not want to step on his toes by seeming to weigh in on an issue surrounding a military official. She also may not want to fuel speculation that she is gunning for Gates's job, however unlikely that possibility really is.
"The secretary of state has backed McChrystal to the hilt, even going against her own ambassador, Karl Eikenberry. Her get-tough stance is fueling talk that she might replace Gates as defense secretary," the article says.
The other reason Clinton might be keeping silent is because she is preparing to defend McChrystal inside today's Afghanistan strategy meeting at the White House, and criticizing him openly in the press would impair that cause. Clinton could be one of McChrystal's last friends inside that room -- and he needs all the friends he can get.
The State Department official declined to comment on Clinton's views on the article, or whether she felt McChrystal should be relieved of his command. Neither Holbrooke nor Eikenberry responded to requests for comment on the article.
But State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley was compelled to talk about the story when asked about it directly at Tuesday's briefing. He tried to distance the State Department from the mess altogether.
"I think our focus is on the civilian component of the ongoing strategy," he said, adding that Clinton has read the article but hasn't even told Crowley what her opinion is.
Crowley also sought to downplay the divisions among the president's Afghanistan team, another signal that the State Department is not in favor of shaking up the command structure in Kabul, which could be hugely disruptive for civilian efforts there as well.
"In any team of heavyweights, you're
going to have different personalities," Crowley said.
"I just don't think that this is going to distract us from our focus on the mission."
On Capitol Hill, it's senior Democratic lawmakers who have the harshest words for General Stanley McChrystal, the Afghanistan commander who is racing back to Washington to meet with President Obama in the wake of the embarrassing profile of him coming out in Rolling Stone magazine.
"I thought his comments were inappropriate... the problem is that personality differences effect the successful implementation of policy," said Carl Levin, D-MI, the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee. "That's why you can't allow these things to happen."
Levin said it was President Obama's decision whether of not to sack McChrystal and argued "there don't seem to be differences in terms of policy" in the article, but said "it doesn't help the war effort." A change in military leadership in Kabul could be done smoothly, if the President chooses someone who has broad based support, he said.
According to Levin, McChrystal will first meet with Defense Secretary Robert Gates before facing the entire Afghanistan team at the White House on Wednesday. Gates' statement on the article showed that he is playing an important role in the McChrystal flap.
"I have recalled Gen. McChrystal to Washington to discuss this in person," Gates said, showing that it is his job, not the president's, to order McChrystal to come home. "I believe that Gen. McChrystal made a significant mistake and exercised poor judgment in this case."
House appropriations chairman David Obey, D-WI, who holds the keys to the war money McChrystal badly needs, openly called for his ouster. "If he actually said half of what is being reported, he shouldn't be in the position he is in," he said in a statement.
"This clearly is bad judgment," said Senate Armed Services member and former Navy Secretary Jim Webb, D-VA, who added that he had problems with McChrystal's behavior all along and this was just another in a string of incidents. He referred to McChrystal's role in the cover up of the death of football star Pat Tilman in Afghanistan.
An official investigation said McChrystal made "inaccurate and misleading assertions" when putting up Tilman for a silver star. "He was in the middle of that process, he knew it was a friendly fire incident," Webb said.
Webb also pointed to the last time McChrystal seemingly got ahead of the president in talking about the war strategy, when he spoke to the International Institute for Strategic Studies and the media in London late last year and then was summoned for a private scolding from Obama.
"Last October, I raised the question about him being in London making a speech and doing 60 minutes while there was a careful evaluation of the policy going on," Webb remembered. "I thought that was inappropriate."
"Anybody, including a U.S. Army General, is entitled to making a damn fool of themselves once. But General McChrystal hasn't appeared to learn from his mistakes," said Obey.
Meanwhile, Republicans are holding their fire, for now. A joint statement by Senate Armed Services ranking Republican John McCain, R-AZ, and committee member Joe Lieberman, I-CT, made no judgment on his future and said, "We have the highest respect for General McChrystal and honor his brave service and sacrifice to our nation."
Senate Foreign Relations committee ranking Republican Richard Lugar, R-IN, said, "I'm very hopeful that the General and the president have a good meeting tomorrow."
The disruption of the war effort that both Democrats and Republicans fear would come from McChrystal's firing was at the top of the mind of one senior lawmaker who spoke to McChrystal this morning.
"What's most important is the 94,000 American troops serving in harm's way in Afghanistan. Their safety and their mission should be the priority we stay focused on above all else," said Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman John Kerry, D-MA. "Now is not the time for Washington to be sidetracked by chatter. Everyone needs to take a deep breath."
Usually, attempts by fiscally conservative lawmakers to force Congress to actually pay for "emergency" funding never go anywhere. But on Thursday, this amendment put forth by Sens. Tom Coburn and John McCain, which would reduce federal spending and sell federal property to pay for the just-passed $60 billion war supplemental bill, went down by a close 47-50 vote.
Eight democrats crossed the aisle to vote for the measure, but two Republicans didn't sign on. If they had (and the eight Dems held), the amendment could have actually passed. Who were they? Ohio Sen. George Voinovich, who voted against the amendment, and Georgia Sen. Saxby Chambliss, who was out recovering from hernia surgery.
As one GOP Senate aid put it, "We were a hernia and an appropriator away from almost paying for the war."
When the Senate Appropriations Committee approved its version of the $58.8 billion supplemental war-funding bill last week, it included $174,000 to be paid to the wife of deceased House defense spending cardinal John Murtha.
So is Murtha appropriating funds from beyond the grave? Nope. The money, equal to one year's salary, is a standard death benefit, aides from both parties confirmed. Murtha's next of kin are entitled to get the money in the next funding bill following his unfortunate and untimely passing. It's just a coincidence that the money will be in an "emergency" war funding bill.
Before his death in February, Murtha had been the man in charge of war-funding bills ever since the Democrats retook the House in 2006. As chairman of the defense appropriations subcommittee, he was famous for larding up supplemental legislation with billions each year in pet projects for the military services, defense contractors, and his hometown of Johnston, PA. The House leadership, also seeking to take advantage of the off-budget spending opportunity, would then come in and add billions more in items that had nothing to do with the military or national security at all. Your humble Cable guy, in a previous life, documented these add-ons in excruciating detail, and this year will be no different.
We can confirm reports today that the House is planning to bring up the war-funding bill as early as next week, hoping to somehow make the administration's Memorial Day deadline. Democratic lawmakers are planning to add a $23 billion fund for states to stave off teacher layoffs (and sway wayward left-leaning members of the caucus), which Republicans oppose.
But without GOP votes and knowing that as many as 100 or so anti-war Democrats will always vote against war spending, how will the House leadership get it passed? Our Hill sources are saying that the leadership is weighing splitting the bill into two parts, one with the war funding and another with the other stuff. The war funding would pass, with the entire Republicans caucus and some Democrats voting for it. The add-ons would pass with almost all Democrats voting yes and no GOP support whatsoever.
That's the current thinking, but things could change between now and Memorial Day, our sources warn. But if all goes ahead as planned, the two passed sections would then be joined through some procedural gymnastics and sent to the Senate as one bill. It's been done before, and always evokes cries of process corruption from Republicans. But it tends to work, and billions will go out in the "war-funding emergency" bill that have nothing to do with Iraq or Afghanistan.
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
As Hamid Karzai heads home to Afghanistan, his cabinet's week-long fence-mending trip to Washington is widely being hailed a success. Both sides succeeded in putting a happy face on relations between Washington and Kabul that have become increasingly antagonistic in recent months.
So what actually got accomplished? The Obama administration and Karzai's team say they made significant progress in planning the next two major events in Afghanistan's political evolution: the upcoming "peace jirga" and the Kabul conference that will follow it.
At issue in both meetings is the still-unresolved question of how best to deal with the Taliban as the beleaguered U.S.-led coalition searches for an exit strategy. Should Taliban fighters be granted amnesty in exchange for laying down their arms? And what about top leaders like Mullah Omar, who has shown little interest in negotiations? Can certain factions, like Gulbuddin Hekmatyar's Hezb-e-Islami, be peeled off and brought over to the government's side?
U.S. officials have cautiously endorsed Karzai's approach of assiduously courting Taliban foot soldiers and reintegrating them into Afghan society, while trying to figure out how best to move forward with engaging the senior Taliban leadership. In a talk Thursday at the U.S. Institute of Peace, the Afghan leader argued that most low-level Taliban fighters were driven into the arms of the enemy due to fear and intimidation compounded by years of mistakes by the international coalition. Most of them can be reintegrated, he said, but "reconciliation is more difficult and more of a future thing."
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, sitting next to Karzai, said that both sides had settled on a common set of conditions for reintegration. To be accepted back into society, Taliban members must renounce violence, adhere to the Afghan constitution, distance themselves from al Qaeda, and support the rights of women. "There is no military solution to this conflict," she emphasized.
That's where the peace jirga, which is scheduled for May 29, is supposed to come in. The meeting will bring together 1,400 people, 1,250 of whom will be Afghans from all over the country. Afghans living across the border in Pakistan will also be included, but the Taliban is not invited.
Karzai plans to use the meeting to try to build national unity, focusing on areas where everybody can work together, including tourism, narcotics and weapons control, distribution of services, and infrastructure development.
"It's not so much a negotiation with the Taliban so much as a discussion within friendly Afghans," said Stephen Biddle, senior fellow at the Council on Foreign relations.
Whether Karzai will take a consultative approach in line with Afghan traditions or simply seek an endorsement of pre-existing plans remains unknown. "The classic Afghan jirga is a consensus-making process, but that's not going to happen with this size of a group," Biddle predicted.
As for the Taliban, Barmak Pazhwak, a senior program officer at USIP, said there are several issues where U.S. and Afghan sentiments are likely to diverge.
For example, will Karzai welcome back top leaders like Mullah Omar, whom he has previously extended an offer to rejoin the political process? Will Karzai seek an endorsement of U.S. forces' presence in Afghanistan, which could alienate potentially reconcilable Taliban commanders right off the bat?
Then there is the question of whether the Taliban even have an interest in reconciliation at all.
"What are the incentives? Why should the Taliban join the Karzai government?" Pazhwak said. "To the Taliban, the Karzai government is just a product of the U.S. government in Afghanistan. They don't think he has the authority to make decisions independent from the U.S., so they think, ‘Why bother dealing with him?'"
In late July, Clinton will lead the delegation to the Kabul conference, which is where the Afghan government will present what President Obama described as "concrete plans" to flesh out Karzai's commitments.
"That is an important conference, obviously," Special Representative Richard Holbrooke said, describing the agenda as similar to that of two previous international gatherings on Afghanistan. "It will be an affirmation of international support for the government."
It's Afghanistan week in Washington, and yesterday at the State Department, dozens of officials met for a host of working-group meetings on the country and the U.S.-led war effort there throughout the day. But the real action, where the tough issues were really tackled, took place at the end of the day in a much more private session with only key people inside, sources told The Cable.
The 90-minute evening meeting was billed as a bilateral session between Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Afghan President Hamid Karzai, but several other key officials were in the room: Special Representative Richard Holbrooke, his deputy Paul Jones, U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan Karl Eikenberry, National Security Council Special Assistant Lt. Gen. Doug Lute, and Clinton's deputy chief of staff Jake Sullivan. On the Afghan side, other than Karzai, only National Security AdvisorRangin Dadfar Spanta and Foreign Minister Zalmai Rassoul attended.
The format matched almost exactly the U.S.-Pakistan Strategic Dialogue, where a high-level private meeting also was the forum for key differences to be aired and key decisions to be made. Yesterday's meeting was the chance to discuss "all those things that both sides don't want to discuss out in the open," reported one diplomatic source who was briefed on the session.
A State Department official told The Cable that inside the "business-like" meeting, "they went into significant depth on the core issues of the visit," including reconciliation, reintegration, security, the upcoming peace jirga, and the handover of U.S.-run detention centers such as the one in Bagram.
Karzai came to Washington with several demands, including that night raids and civilian casualties be reduced and that the detention centers be handed over to Afghan control at a date certain. The Obama administration hadn't publicly announced when it would relinquish control of the Bagram prison, but then today President Obama announced it would be done by January.
The U.S. side delved deep to try to "understand what the Afghan plans were for the key events coming up including the peace jirga and Kabul conference," the State Department official said. State is looking hard to figure out when and how Karzai's government can play a larger role and take the burden off of the U.S. military and civilians in Afghanistan.
"The overall context is: How do we begin to transfer civic responsibilities to the Afghans?," said the official.
At the reception immediately following the meeting in the State Department's ornate Ben Franklin room, Clinton said the meeting was "an excellent exchange of views."
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton wasn't saying that mounting a successful cricket team was the only accomplishment in Afghanistan since 2002, but she did lead off her remarks with Afghan president Hamid Karzai Tuesday by pointing to cricket as a model for Afghanistan's reemergence.
"I might suggest that if we are searching for a model of how to meet tough international challenges with skill, dedication and teamwork, we need only look to the Afghan national cricket team," Clinton said, standing alongside Karzai Tuesday morning before a full day of meetings commenced. "For those of you who don't follow cricket, which is most of the Americans, suffice it to say that Afghanistan did not even have a cricket team a decade ago. And last month, the team made it to the World Twenty20 championships featuring the best teams in the world. Well, today, we have our own top teams from the Afghan and U.S. governments."
The U.S. "cricket" team for today's meetings is an all-star roster, including Defense Secretary Robert Gates, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, CIA Director Leon Panetta, FBI Director Robert Mueller, Joint Chiefs Chairman Michael Mullen, Ambassador Richard Holbrooke, USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah, Ambassador Karl Eikenberry, General Stanley McChrystal, Deputy Secretary Jack Lew, and others.
On the Afghan team? The entire Karzai cabinet.
The broad U.S. government representation matches what the Obama team put forth last month for the U.S.-Pakistan strategic dialogue and is being framed as a move to establish ties that will endure after U.S. troops begin leaving Afghanistan in July, 2011.
"This commitment... will endure long after U.S. combat troops have left, because we have learned the lessons of the past," Clinton said. "As we look toward a responsible, orderly transition in the international combat mission in Afghanistan, we will not abandon the Afghan people. Our civilian commitment will remain long into the future."
Karzai also looked out to the future, saying that American development assistance was needed so that Afghanistan could "in a few years' time, not be anymore a burden on your shoulders, so that Afghanistan can stand on its own feet, so Afghanistan can defend its country, so Afghanistan can feed its people with its own income, so we can pay for our lives from our own pockets... ‘Til then, we will continue to ask you for help."
Clinton and Karzai both said that there would be disagreements between the two countries, but that was normal and shouldn't impede progress. Referring indirectly to one of those disagreements, the makeup of Afghanistan's election oversight board, Karzai said he was "seeking respectful judicial independence."
But Karzai thanked Clinton for the warm reception and the United States for its intervention in Afghanistan.
"The United States has been with Afghanistan for the past eight years, through a very important part of our history -- a part of our history where we began to reconstruct our country, and where the United States and our other allies helped us in all walks of life," he said. "The consequence of that for us, the Afghan people, has been one of tremendous achievements -- the advance of our team in cricket being one."
Much like the Obama team, Afghan President Hamid Karzai and his vast entourage want this week's visit to Washington to go well. But that won't stop them from highlighting the disagreements they have with the U.S. administration and pressing the president for movement on several issues important to Afghans.
One request that Karzai and friends brought to town is that the Obama team confirm and then speed up their promise to hand over control of the Bagram prison to the Afghan government. Bagram, sometimes called "Obama's Guantanamo" because of the secretive procedures use to detain and interrogate prisoners there, held 645 prisoners captured on the battlefield as of September 2009.
The Obama administration has never announced exactly when it would transfer Bagram prison back to Afghan control, although it has been reported that the end of 2010 is the deadline. Karzai's spokesman, Waheed Omar, said Monday that Karzai would press Obama to move that date up when he meets with the president on Wednesday. He also said that Karzai wished to confirm that the plan to transfer control was still operative in the first place.
As for the fate of several dozen the non-Afghan prisoners there, whom the Karzai government does not want to be in charge of, Omar said, "That discussion is ongoing." U.S. military officials say the U.S. has started negotiations to move those prisoners back to their home countries ahead of the transfer, as both the Bush and Obama administrations have done with Guantanamo prisoners, with mixed results.
Overall, Karzai's message when he gets to Washington will be "We'll be looking to the future, not to the past," Omar said, echoing the Obama teams' desire to paper over the recent strains in the relationship that led to Karzai to lash out at the international community, at one point threatening to join the Taliban.
But, "however nice we can be, we will still raise issues where there have been disagreements," Omar said, and Karzai wants to talk about civilian casualties in Afghanistan, detention center policies, military night raids, and other concerns of ordinary Afghans.
Reconciliation is going to be a big theme of the week, and Karzai's message to Washington on that front is that he will agree to "no compromises" on fundamental issues such as women's rights and basic freedoms in any forthcoming deal between the Afghan government and the Taliban, Omar said.
The Obama team will want to talk (quietly) about corruption in the Afghan system, and Omar said the Karzai's line on that is, "Corruption is not something that's only connected to the Afghan government."
Omar was speaking to an audience at the Washington office of Radio Free Europe - Radio Liberty, which held a session to unveil Freedom House's new report on press freedom. That survey labeled Afghanistan's media environment as "not free."
Omar argued that the survey wasn't fair because it uses the same index to measure countries that are at various stages in their media development. He also pointed out that the Freedom House rating had risen considerably within the "not free" designation since the Taliban were overthrown in 2002.
What a difference six weeks can make in the U.S.-Afghanistan relationship. When Afghan President Hamid Karzai comes to Washington this week, White House officials will welcome him with open arms, quite different than the scolding tone they took with him when President Obama went to Kabul in March.
The White House knows it has to make nice with Karzai, who is crucial to the success of the Afghanistan mission. But the trip has also been set up to try to diversify ties with his government by welcoming a whole slew of Afghan cabinet ministers and officials and setting up meetings to cement connections outside the direct Obama-Karzai relationship.
"Next week is really the reciprocal visit for Obama's March visit to Kabul," said the NSC's Af-Pak special assistant Lt. Gen. Douglas Lute. But the difference in messaging between Obama's March trip to Kabul and Karzai's May trip to Washington is stark.
On Air Force One during Obama's trip to Kabul, National Security Advisor Jim Jones established the tough love message on corruption, saying that Obama wanted Karzai to "understand that in his second term, there are certain things that have not been paid attention to, almost since Day 1," and that Karzai "needs to be seized with how important" the issue of corruption is.
But following Obama's visit, Karzai lashed out at the Americans, accused the U.S. and the UN of engineering the massive fraud of his own election, and threatened to join the Taliban if the West didn't treat him nicely.
The Obama administration moved quickly to stem the bleeding and put the messaging about the relationship back on the right track.
"We believe that we are on a encouraging glide path in Afghanistan," Jones told reporters aboard Air Force One on the way back to Washington April 9, adding that Karzai "will prove himself over time as we tackle all of these important issues to be very reliable and is very appreciative of everything that we're doing."
Not many outside the administration are convinced Karzai is showing actual improvement.
"The problem is that we clearly have a flawed partner in Mr. Karzai and his government, and it's not at all clear that the situation's improving," said Council on Foreign Relations President Richard Haass. "To the contrary, it seems to be deteriorating."
Some argue that the administration should keep up its mix of carrots and sticks until Karzai is actually pressured enough to make reforms.
"Without a strong natural constituency or powerful military to call his own, President Karzai cannot afford to alienate many of his political partners," CNAS' Andrew Exum wrote in a new report last week. But Exum also pinpointed a problem with that strategy, namely that the U.S. has no choice but to stick with Karzai no matter what he does."The United States and its allies cannot hedge against Karzai by courting alternatives because no palatable alternatives exist," Exum wrote.
So the Obama team decided to invite Karzai's entire cabinet to Washington, to try to stem the volatility of a relationship based on interactions with one erratic man.
"We want to underscore with this visit the development of a very broad strategic partnership," explained deputy national security advisor Ben Rhodes, adding that the broad participation "serves to underscore the breadth of the relationship."
Karzai will be bringing his ministers of defense, interior, agriculture, development, reconciliation, and others. After arriving on Washington on Monday, he'll kick off a set of State Department meetings with some public remarks with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Tuesday morning.
Wednesday will be the White House day, and Karzai will get significant time with President Obama in the Oval Office while his other ministers meet with their various interlocutors. On Thursday, Karzai goes to the think tanks, with one public event with Clinton at the U.S. Institute of Peace.
But while the Obama administration is clearly trying to establish ties with Karzai's ministers and associates, they are steering clear of his opponents. When Abdullah Abdullah, who ran against Karzai in the presidential election, comes to DC the week after Karzai, he will get no love from the administration at all.
"He's coming as a private citizen and being hosted by private organizations, not by the U.S. government," said Lute, "To my knowledge he is not meeting with any U.S government officials at an official capacity.
Amid reports that would-be Times Square bomber Faisal Shahzad may have traveled to Pakistan's North Waziristan, the U.S. and Pakistani governments are still working out details on a new agreement that would expand intelligence and military operations in that very region.
The basic tenets of the agreement, according to diplomatic sources, were hashed out during the inaugural session of the U.S.-Pakistani strategic dialogue in March. Neither side has completely signed off and our sources caution that implementation is another matter, but the provisional agreement shows the growing cooperation between the two countries in the military and intelligence spheres as well as growing coordination on the way forward in neighboring Afghanistan.
The Times Square bombing attempt comes at a very bad time for U.S.-Pakistan relations, said Shuja Nawaz, director of the South Asia Center at The Atlantic Council.
"The U.S. and Pakistan have been doing very well at increasing their cooperation and joint efforts in combating terrorism in that area recently," he said, referring to North Waziristan. "This is the kind of incident that can kind of derail some of those efforts and I hope it doesn't."
Nearly two years after the unhappy exit of Pervez Musharraf, the former Army chief and president, U.S.-Pakistani relationship is still very much a military- and intelligence-based interaction, with the key figures on the U.S. side being Joint Chiefs Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen, National Security Advisor Jim Jones, and CIA Director Leon Panetta. On the Pakistani side, all roads go through Musharraf's successor as Army chief of staff, Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, who was given red-carpet treatment when he came to Washington for the March talks.
Kayani is increasingly seen as both an interlocutor for U.S. officials as well as a constructive link between the Pakistani military structure and the civilian government led by President Asif Ali Zardari, who has been steadily losing power to Prime Minister Syed Yousaf Raza Gilani. Meanwhile, the day-to-day relationship is still managed in Washington by Amb. Husain Haqqani, who despite being a Zardari ally, doesn't seem to be going anywhere any time soon.
And the relationship is getting very close attention from senior Obama administration officials, with a flurry of high-level visits there in recent weeks. On the sidelines of the strategic dialogue, there was a private session that involved Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Defense Secretary Robert Gates, and Mullen. From the Pakistani side, only Kayani, Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi, and Defense Minister Chaudhry Ahmed Mukhtar attended.
That's where the new agreement on military and intelligence cooperation was discussed. Here is a readout that Sourabh Gupta, a senior researcher with Samuels International Associates (SIA), published in the Nelson Report, a daily Washington insider's newsletter published by SIA's Chris Nelson. Our sources say this readout is "almost exactly right."
Key Pakistani political demands: Non-negotiable requirement for friendly successor regime in Kabul; significant downgrading of Indian presence and influence in Afghanistan, including New Delhi's training of Afghan military; preference for extended-term American presence in Afghanistan/strategic neighborhood, notwithstanding drawdown of forces next year.
Secondary set of political-military demands: faster delivery of upgraded weapons package; expedited payment for outstanding dues related to AfPak support operations and assistance with civil infrastructure rebuilding in frontier territories; U.S. to lay-off from Islamabad's nuclear program (given latter's need to ramp-up fissile material production in absence of bestowal of India-equivalent civil nuclear deal); U.S. to intensify diplomatic effort to facilitate productive Islamabad-New Delhi dialogue on 'core' issues - Kashmir and water (upper riparian/lower riparian) issues.
Key U.S. demands: Islamabad to re-direct primary counter-insurgency energies against key Islamist groups based/operating out of North Waziristan (Al Qaeda, Afghan Taliban Haqqani network, local talibanized tribal warlords); unfettered drone strikes in N. Waziristan/other tribal territories to continue; expanded CIA intel. operations/listening posts in Pakistani cities - Islamabad to subsequently allow access to Taliban leaders arrested by way of real-time communication intercepts; Islamabad to rein-in larger infrastructure of jihad that it has casually tolerated, even supported.
Gupta goes on to say that Islamabad is also arguing for a seat at the table for any discussions about a successor regime in Kabul and that if the current U.S. ground offensive in Afghanistan doesn't produce results, the momentum will shift back to the Pakistani Army and intelligence services, which could upset the balance of the current U.S.-Pakistan negotiations.
The Cable has confirmed that Frank Ruggiero, the top U.S. civilian in southern Afghanistan, will come back to Washington to be a deputy to Richard Holbrooke, the special representative for the region formerly known as Af-Pak.
Ruggiero's move is motivated by his desire to return to a somewhat normal lifestyle after putting in some hard work in Kabul. He's seen as a competent manager who can bring some first-hand Afghanistan observations back into the DC policy process.
The Washington Independent's Spencer Ackerman broke the news of the Ruggiero move and had this context to add:
Ruggiero is a well-respected career civil servant who's worked with the Department of Commerce as well as the State Department, where he's most recently been at the top of the Bureau of Political-Military Affairs before heading to Afghanistan last summer. As part of the "civilian uplift," Ruggiero has established and coordinated small teams of civilians in Helmand and Kandahar provinces known as District Support Teams to embed with NATO military battalions in order to assist Afghan officials with delivering services for local citizens in order to reduce the demand for the Taliban's shadow governance.
So what does that mean for Holbrooke's existing two deputies, Dan Feldman and Paul Jones? Well, we've confirmed that Feldman isn't going anywhere. For Jones, the future is still unclear. Holbrooke's office is notoriously secretive about personnel matters and declined to tell us what would happen next. But here's what we've been able to learn.
Dual-hatted as both Holbrooke's deputy and deputy assistant secretary for Afghanistan and Pakistan, Jones plays a unique role as a link between Holbrooke's staff and that of Assistant Secretary for South and Central Asia Robert Blake. The relationship between the two offices hasn't always been rosy.
Some of our sources say that it would be natural for Jones to move on and he is rumored to be up for an ambassadorship, probably in East or Southeast Asia. Jones has been a Foreign Service officer for a long time, with stints in Asia, Europe, and Latin America, and has done enough to earn an ambassadorship, these sources say, while cautioning that no final decisions have been made.
The White House never discusses potential nominations and the State Department worries that premature announcements could complicate Senate confirmations, so there's no confirmation of Jones's promotion as of now.
But we took a look around the region and talked to Asia experts to see where Jones might end up. Since he was once deputy chief of mission in the Philippines, that seemed logical, but the administration has just won confirmation of Harry Thomas, who is on the way there now.
Thailand and South Korea are prestigious postings, but Bangkok Ambassador Eric John and Seoul envoy Kathy Stephens aren't near the end of their tours yet and are expected to remain for a while.
The Singapore slot was open, but just got filled by David Adelman. Indonesia is coming open, but State already has someone else in mind for that one. So that leaves the U.S. Embassy in Malaysia, which is currently without an ambassador, or the top spot in Laos, which is said to be opening up soon. Both typically go to career FSOs.
Until that all gets decided, and pending what's always an arduous Senate confirmation process, Holbrooke will have three deputies.
Multiple sources confirm to The Cable that Shamila Chaudhary from the State Department's Policy Planning Office will start this week as a new Pakistan director at the National Security Council.
Chaudhary will report to Lt. Gen. Douglas Lute, who has largely taken over the Afghanistan and Pakistan portfolios at the NSC, especially since the departure of Donald Camp, another former State Department South Asia expert who left after Lute was put in charge of his issues.
Our sources see the appointment as adding some more Pakistan expertise to the team, which already includes names like Jeff Hayes, a detailee from the Office of the Director for National Intelligence who is seen as more of an Afghanistan guy, and fellow Pakistan director Eric Lebson.
Chaudhary is relatively young but is seen as a fast riser, having been appointed to the Policy Planning staff after impressing Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in a meeting last year. Here's how the Washington Post tells the tale:
Shamila Chaudary -- a self-described "backbencher" -- had toiled for years as a faceless expert on the Pakistan desk when one day she found herself invited to brief Clinton. Chaudary, 32, said the two sparred over whether it was prudent to engage non-governmental power centers in Pakistan, with Clinton expressing skepticism.
Chaudary held her ground, making the point that "we've been seen as not engaging with them, and it's hurt us a lot." She said that although she and Clinton "didn't necessarily agree ... she said that it's very important for us to debate like this. ... This is how she said she wants to do business."
Within 48 hours of their meeting, Chaudary was promoted to a front-line job in the office of policy planning.
Chaudhary is the latest State expert to find a home at the NSC. Senior Director Anish Goel was a science and economics officer at State before moving to the NSC and eventually being promoted to take charge of the India portfolio.
India and Af-Pak are almost completely separate bureaucratically at the NSC, our sources report, as they are at the State Department (India is particularly sensitive about being linked in tandem with Pakistan).
NSC spokesman Mike Hammer declined to comment on the move.
Speaking at an event Monday previewing Sergio, HBO's forthcoming film about the life and tragic death of U.N. diplomat Sergio Vieira de Mello, U.S. special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan Richard Holbrooke took what appeared to be an unplanned sideswipe at Kai Eide, the former head of the U.N. mission in Kabul.
"A few days ago I was in Kabul with General Petraeus, and we had 300 people gathered in a conference room at the airport to discuss civilian military relations in Afghanistan going forward," Holbrooke said.
"And we had the U.N. representative there with us, Staffan de Mistura, who had come from Iraq ... a very good man, and we're very fortunate to have him. He's a substantial step forward over what preceded him."
"And the issue came up in the meeting of what to do about the elections coming up in Afghanistan. And the issue was: If there's a piece of bad news to give to the government, who will give it? And de Mistura said something that I thought kind of reflected the dilemma that the U.N. [faces]. ... He said, ‘We get paid to get blamed for delivering the bad news on behalf of everyone else.' I think it's a line he's used before."
Special Representative Richard Holbrooke has received a clean bill of health after having his heart valves checked today and will go with General David Petraeus to Afghanistan next week after all.
New America Foundation's Steve Clemons has the news on the Washington Note.
I have learned just an hour ago that the angiogram showed the best possible results. There was no significant obstruction that required intervention.
Richard Holbrooke has been cleared to travel with General Petraeus to Afghanistan.
In fact, Holbrooke spoke to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton directly and she cleared the trip.
I can also report that Holbrooke is in excellent spirits -- though he seemed in excellent spirits when he presided over an all staff meeting Tuesday this week and had not yet informed his team of this potential health challenge.
So good news on the Holbrooke health front.
The good news about U.S. efforts to combat terrorist financing is that "al Qaeda core," the senior leadership of the organization, is so low on funds that its affiliates are forced to look outside the network to fund their activities.
The bad news is that the Taliban has plenty of money. And the European decision not to share some financial data is hurting America's ability to go after the funds, the U.S. Treasury Department's assistant secretary for terrorist financing, David Cohen, told a crowd at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy Wednesday.
Al Qaeda is "in the worst financial shape it has been in for years," Cohen said, though he qualified that statement soon afterward. "Al Qaeda is not disabled, nor is it bankrupt."
Al Qaeda affiliates in Africa and on the Arabian Peninsula have been forced to rely less on the leadership and have taken up "independent fundraising activities," including drug trafficking, kidnapping for ransom, and extortion, Cohen said.
However, "unlike al Qaeda, the Taliban is not experiencing much financial stress," he added, explaining that the Taliban has plenty of money to conduct terrorist attacks, train and recruit soldiers, and fight against U.S. troops.
"The Taliban still has the funding necessary to fundamentally challenge our core national security objective of bringing peace and stability to Afghanistan," said Cohen.
Europe is being unhelpful on two fronts, Cohen complained. First of all, U.N. Security Council 1267, which is aimed directly at al Qaeda and the Taliban, "has come under attack, particularly in Europe," he said.
The resolution designates certain financiers for punishment and European courts are weighing cases regarding protections for those on the list. Cohen said subsequent resolutions provided for comprehensive reviews that address those concerns. Fifty-eight names have been taken off the list already, some because they are no longer financing terrorists and some because they died, he said.
More seriously, the European Parliament's February decision not to share data with the U.S. Terrorist Finance Tracking Program (TFTP) has "created a gap in our ability to track financial transactions of terrorist organizations around the world," he said.
Since the data is stored on servers in Europe, the United States can't get at it, but Cohen said negotiations are ongoing and he hopes U.S. explanations about how the U.S. intends to use the data will allow an agreement to be signed soon.
"As of today, we have shared over 1550 TFTP reports with our colleagues," he said, "but ... the continued operation of the TFTP is in doubt."
If the Kyrgyz opposition is able to maintain control after toppling the government, the Pentagon and State Department may have to renegotiate the U.S.-Kyrgyz agreement on a crucial U.S. air base there, experts warn.
It's only been a few months since the now-deposed Kyrgyz president, Kurmanbak Bakiyev, signed a new deal upping the rent on the Air Force Transit Center at Manas, which the U.S. depends on for critical supplies en route to Afghanistan.
Last February, there was a vote in the Kyrgyz parliament to end the arrangement, egged on by a Russia wary of the growing U.S. military presence in its near abroad. The man who led the opposition to the base in the legislature was former parliamentary speaker and opposition leader Omurbek Tekebaev, who now seems to be in control of the country, after being arrested and then released on Wednesday.
"We have to probably renegotiate the Manas basing agreement, because it was the opposition that pressured Bakiyev into renegotiating in the first place," said Alexandros Petersen, senior fellow with the Eurasia Center at the Atlantic Council. "The leading opposition figures are not anti-American or more pro-Russian than anyone else in Kyrgyzstan, but because they led the drive to raise the rents they might have to reopen negotiations for political reasons."
And where there is a negotiation in Central Asia, there is a U.S.-Russia angle to worry about as well.
"This could be a relatively friendly negotiation, but the Russians could very well take the opportunity to meddle again," Petersen said.
Although Russia would have an interest in getting back at Bakiyev for finally striking a deal with the U.S., Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has condemned the violence and denied any Russian role in today's events.
Meanwhile, it's still "business as usual" at Manas, according to a U.S. military spokesman.
"As of right now the air base is still open, the unrest has not impact operations on the base," said Shawn Turner, Pentagon public affairs officer. "It's getting a little tense."
Turner said he had no information that Bakiyev, who took over from Askar Akayev during the 2005 "Tulip Revolution," was holing up at the U.S. base, despite some rumors in the capital city of Bishkek to that effect.
"Folks at Manas tell us that business as usual and if he was there, that would be something that we would be aware of," Turner said.
Petersen said he was hearing Bakiyev has taken refuge in his home turf of Osh, a city in southern Kyrgyzstan where he still has a power base. If he hasn't actually left the country, that could indicate the power struggle isn't over, he added.
The broader implication for the international community is the realization that the era of popular revolutions in Eurasia toppling unpopular government is still ongoing, and even democratic governments that don't live up to their ideals are vulnerable.
Although this latest unrest was sparked by the government's decision to raise utility prices by 200 percent, Bakiyev has been moving toward cronyism and corruption for some time, Petersen said.
"Color revolutions are not dead in this part of the world," he said, noting that what's going on in Kyrgyzstan has implications for Ukraine and Georgia. "If a color revolution goes authoritarian, you can have another revolution right on top of it."
Ambassador Richard Holbrooke, the administration's Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, will travel to New York Thursday to undergo angioplasty due to possible clogged heart valves.
Steve Clemons, New America Foundation's foreign policy head and editor of the Washington Note, broke the news with Holbrooke's permission after he informed his staff at meeting Tuesday morning. From Steve's post:
Yesterday at 2 pm, Richard Holbrooke was told that he may have some clogged heart valves -- and is going in Thursday for an angiogram and further treatment in New York. He was supposed to travel with Jack Lew, Rajiv Shah and others with General David Petraeus on a major AfPak trip this week, but will have to forego that trip.
Holbrooke assured me that this kinds of things are routine now. He shared the news with Secretary of State Clinton last night -- and was in the process of contacting General Petraeus during our meeting.
When at the end of his staff meeting he conveyed this personal news to the 50 members of his team, he was very low key and laughing about it. There were looks of concern around the room -- but he looked at them in his paternal way paused and said with a wry grin as if he'd never offered this sort of thing to them before "Come talk to me. I want you to share all of your angioplasty stories with me."
We send along our best hopes and wishes to Holbrooke for a healthy diagnosis and speedy treatment. Holbrooke told Clemons he plans to be back to work on Monday.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai is claiming he was surprised at the reaction to last week's comments about a conspiracy by the West to interfere in last August's election.
When he called Secretary of State Hillary Clinton last Friday, he told her that had no idea his statements, which blamed the United Nations for the "massive fraud" he now admits helped keep him in power, would run afoul of the U.S. and NATO allies pouring blood and treasure into Afghanistan to prop up his own government against a fierce Taliban onslaught.
"Karzai, during the course of the conversation, expressed surprise his comments had ‘caused a stir,'" State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley told The Cable, adding that Karzai did not actually go as far as to apologize or retract the comments.
"He clarified what he meant. He assured us that his comments were not directed at the United States," Crowley said.
Some of those comments, however, were directed at American diplomat Peter Galbraith, who was the U.N.'s No. 2 official at the time of the election and was later sacked for complaining about the fraud.
And the Karzai-Obama dispute over who should control a key Afghan electoral oversight commission is far from over. Karzai escaped the ruling of the Afghan Parlaiment's lower house, which said he couldn't choose all five commission members, when then upper house neglected to ratify that decision.
Meanwhile, there are signs the Obama administration remains concerned about Karzai's remarks as it works with the Afghan president to move forward on a host of issues, not the least of which is the impending military campaign in and around Kandahar.
U.S. Ambassador Karl Eikenberry also spoke with Karzai prior to the Clinton call, and Clinton had conversations about Karzai's comments with members of her Afghanistan team as well as White House officials about how to respond.
Clinton, who feels she has a rapport that allows her to speak candidly with the Afghan leader, was chosen to handle the issue. She told him to concentrate on the upcoming "peace jirga," the reconciliation conference Karzai is organizing for early May.
"Our message to Karzai was to focus on the future and not the past," Crowley said.
So is it all resolved then? Depends on whom you ask.
"We reached a good understanding by the time the conversation was over," Crowley said. "We understood that this had the potential to have this spiral in a negative direction and we're satisfied that we've moved on."
But Karzai reportedly told a meeting of tribal leaders this weekend that if the international community continues to pressure him, he might just join the Taliban or halt the ongoing military offensive. White House spokesman Robert Gibbs on Monday morning called those comments "genuinely troubling."Crowley declined to directly address Karzai's latest comments in his Tuesday press conferece, but did issue this warning.
"His comments do have an impact in the United States and he should be aware of that," said Crowley.
The investigation into who leaked Amb. Karl Eikenberry's secret cables opposing the U.S. troop surge in Afghanistan is heating up.
It's been more than four months since the Washington Post published a sensational scoop, reporting that Eikenberry had warned Washington, in strong language, against committing more American forces to the war-torn country unless Afghan President Hamid Karzai cracked down on corruption and demonstrated a greater capacity to govern. And it's been more than two months since the New York Times published the text of the two memos.
Now, the State's Diplomatic Security service has begun interviews of several key officials, department spokesman P.J. Crowley confirms to The Cable.
There are two identifiers on the documents, one that shows a leaked copy as having been initially designated for "SRAP" -- Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan Richard Holbrooke -- and one designated for "S" -- the office of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
But that doesn't mean that either Holbrooke or Clinton was the leaker. On the contrary, these particular copies were bandied about among several senior officials and staffers during the president's Afghanistan strategy review late last year.
"They were the original recipients," Crowley said, referring to Holbrook and Clinton, "but during the course of the deliberations last fall that led to the president's decision, those cables were distributed to other participants who were involved in the review."
Actually, the fact that Holbrooke and Clinton's names were on the documents probably indicates they are in the clear. After all, who would be clumsy enough to leak his or her own copy, right? What's more, the Times story was written by Eric Schmitt, who primarily covers the Pentagon -- though that doesn't rule anyone out or in.
As Mother Jones noted, the documents, or copies of the documents, were given to the Times by an "American official" who believed Eikenberry's assessment is " important for the historical record."
One source told The Cable that the Eikenberry cables were passed around at one of Obama's now-famous principals' meetings, where top officials from a range of entities could have pocketed a copy. But Crowley declined to specify the range of people who had access.
"That's why we're doing the investigation. Highly sensitive, classified cables found their way into the hands of a very good and respected journalist. Notwithstanding our appreciation for a vigorous press, that shouldn't happen," Crowley said. "The release of classified information to those not authorized to have it is a crime."
Either way, it seems that predictions of Eikenberry's removal following the revelation, especially since his views ultimately did not win the day or convince President Obama, have not borne out. Eikenberry remains at his post and even spoke with Karzai last week following Karzai's rant about a Western conspiracy against him.
Retired Lt. Gen. David Barno, the former top U.S. military commander in Afghanistan, has been under investigation for over a year amid allegations he grossly mismanaged a Pentagon-funded research center.
Barno currently runs the National Defense University's Near East South Asia Center for Strategic Studies, which was established in 2000 and brings together thinkers from 25 countries across the broader Middle East for dialogue and education. NESA is the youngest of five such regional centers at NDU, and lists 21 faculty members and four senior leaders on its website.
According to four current and former NESA Center employees, all of whom asked for anonymity for fear of retribution, Barno has been investigated by a special unit of the Defense Department's Inspector General's office that focuses on senior officials. The allegations are that he created an office that misspent taxpayer funds, abused contractor employees under threat of termination, awarded jobs based on favoritism rather than merit, and created an overall atmosphere of fear and intimidation at the center.
"I've never seen a situation in which such a small agency is mismanaged so badly," said one NESA employee with decades of government experience, who lamented that no official action has yet been taken. "It is to me incredible that you can have, on one hand, such mismanagement and that no one is prepared, evidently, to do anything about it."
In one example cited by all four employees, a senior staffer close to Barno discouraged the use of Arabic at the center, despite its mandate to engage people from Arabic-speaking countries. In a 2008 email sent to the center's lone Arabic-speaking contractor at the time, obtained by The Cable, Barno's chief of operations Rosaline Cardarelli wrote the following:
"I often hear you speaking in languages other than English on the phone in the office. Are these conversations official in nature and can English be used instead?"
That contractor was fired shortly thereafter without explanation after only four months on the job. A Muslim, she was let go just as the Ramadan celebration was beginning.
Cardarelli and another top NDU staffer, Wendie White, were the subject of many of the investigator's questions, said the employees, who told The Cable that the DOD inspector general's office conducted multiple rounds of interviews over the last year with several NESA employees. It's not clear if the investigation is still active, although no public report has been issued and Barno remains in his post.
One focus of the investigator, according to the employees, was Barno's appointment of Cardarelli's husband, John Ballard, a former professor of strategic studies at the National War College, as the center's academic dean. An independent committee had recommended another candidate, NESA professor William Olson, but Barno ignored that recommendation and chose Ballard, in what some saw as favoritism. He was then compelled to rework the organizational chart at the center to avoid a conflict of interest whereby Cardarelli would be directly supervising her own husband.
Another focus of the investigation was the NESA Center's 2008 alumni symposium, which was held in Prague. The employees estimated that more than $250,000 of NESA funds were spent on the trip, but few alumni attended and the reasons for choosing the Czech capital to host alumni from the Near East and South Asia were never clear. Moreover, the employees said last-minute changes to the schedule and general disorganization resulted in tens of thousands of dollars being wasted.
"No one had been to Prague before so they picked Prague," one employee explained. "People tried to say ‘Well wait a minute, maybe this is not the best place to have this,' and then they couldn't get many alumni to come."
Overall, all four employees reported an atmosphere at the center that was intimidating and unfriendly, where contractors were unable to collect money for overtime hours worked and feared termination if they complained, and where Barno's top staffers monitored email and phone calls of employees to the point of harassment.
Before joining NDU, Barno had been rumored to be seeking a more prominent position in the Bush administration, and was said to be lobbying for the job of ambassador to Afghanistan. After being part of Obama's transition team, sources said, Barno was offered a deputy assistant secretary-level position in the Pentagon, but viewed that as below his station and so turned it down.
A military source told The Cable that the current custom of appointing military officials to lead academic centers at NDU is fairly recent phenomenon, put in place during the waning years of George W. Bush's administration by Pentagon officials who wanted to reassert control over the centers and give out plush assignments to their three- and four-star friends.
"The idea of the regional centers was to have an academic, non-military focus for outreach to foreign military," one former employee said. "But what Barno did was turn it into an Army outpost, populated with ex-colonels who didn't have a whole lot of respect for the civilians who'd been there and just made it a hostile work environment."
A spokesman for the DOD inspector general's office said that they don't comment on ongoing investigations. Barno, after initially telling The Cable that he wanted to discuss the allegations, stopped returning emails late last week.
Barno is slated to move to the Center for a New American Security in May. The NESA Center is funded and controlled by the Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Policy, led by Michèle Flournoy. Before joining the administration, Flournoy was the founding president of CNAS.
"CNAS was unaware this investigation was taking place," said current CEO Nathaniel Fick, who added that Flournoy had no involvement whatsoever in the announced movement of Barno from NDU to CNAS.
Ballard, Cardarelli, and White also did not respond to requests for comment. Flournoy's office also declined to comment.
SHAH MARAI/AFP/Getty Images
Former U.N. representative in Afghanistan Kai Eide is greatly exaggerating his new claims that he had months of discussions with senior Taliban leaders, his former top deputy tells The Cable.
"He was not meeting with senior Taliban leaders," said Peter Galbraith, who was Eide's No. 2 and close friend until Eide fired him for raising questions about the U.N.'s lack of action over the massive election fraud perpetrated by President Hamid Karzai's government last September, in an interview. "He's greatly exaggerating."
Galbraith, who was aware of the meetings but did not participate in them, said that they were with lower-level people who may or may not have had ties to the Taliban.
"The meetings were not particularly often and it was never clear where these people stood and what their connections were to the Taliban," he said, suggesting they might have been disgruntled former Taliban associates.
Galbraith also rejected Eide's contention that the recent arrests of Afghan Taliban leaders by the Pakistani military was the reason the talks broke down, as Eide claims.
"The discussions ended when he left UNAMA," he said, referring to the removal of Eide by U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon in December. "The arrests have nothing to do with it."
Galbraith is clearly no disinterested observer, but Special Representative Richard Holbrooke also said Friday that the recent arrests and the drive to pursue reconciliation with the Taliban have nothing to do with each other.
"We are extremely gratified that the Pakistani government has apprehended the No. 2 person in the Afghan Taliban ... this is a good thing," Holbrooke said. "It's not related [to reconciliation] ... We don't see this as linked."
The U.S. government was aware of Eide's discussions. "He had mentioned this to us in a general way," Holbrooke said, responding to questions posed by The Cable at a Friday press conference, adding that there was no U.S. involvement in the talks.
Holbrooke had called the press conference to discuss the next week's landmark meetings between the United States and Pakistan in Washington, the first round of the new "strategic dialogue" between the two countries.
"It's a major intensification of our partnership," said Holbrooke. "This is not a photo op ... this is an intense, serious dialogue between the U.S. and Pakistan."
The Pakistani delegation will be led by Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi and will also include Defense Minister Chaudhry Ahmed Mukhtar, incoming Finance Minister Abdul Hafeez Shaikh, Army Chief of Staff Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, Prime Minister Zardari's advisor Wazir Ali, Ambassador to Washington Husain Haqqani, and many others.
The U.S. contingent will be led by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and will include Defense Secretary Robert Gates, Joint Chiefs Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, Holbrooke, U.S. Ambassador to Pakistan Anne Patterson, Deputy Secretary of State Jack Lew, NSC Senior Director David Lipton, USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah, Under Secretary of Defense Michèle Flournoy, and many others.
The trilateral dialogue between the United States, Afghanistan, and Pakistan will still go on and another meeting could come later this year, according to Holbrooke. Holbrooke is headed back to the region next week, stopping off in Brussels before going on to Afghanistan. He was going to stop in Pakistan but that became unnecessary because the Pakistanis are coming to Washington, he said.
The question of how to disperse billions of dollars of new aid to Pakistan, a point of contention between Holbrooke and Senate leaders, was discussed during a high-level meeting at the White House Friday morning, Holbrooke said, where "almost every senior person in the United States foreign policy community was in the room."
MASSOUD HOSSAINI/AFP/Getty Images
Despite his decisions to surge troops to Afghanistan, delay the closure of the U.S. prison at Guantánamo Bay, and perhaps reverse himself by endorsing military commissions for terror suspects, President Obama is still losing ground in polls related to national security.
Such is the finding of a new major survey released Monday by leading Democratic pollster Stan Greenberg, top party operative James Carville, and the folks at the progressive national security think tank Third Way, which they are framing as "a wake-up call for President Obama, his party, and progressives on national security."
"Although the public continues to give the president strong ratings on a range of national security issues -- indeed, above his overall approval rating -- there is evidence of rising public concern about the president's handing of these issues," the group said Monday, arguing that Republicans are winning ground by portraying the administration's handling of terror suspects as lenient or risky.
Obama's ratings on key national security issues were still high, according to the poll; his handling of Afghanistan (58 percent), national security (57 percent), "leading America's military" (57 percent), "improving America's standing in the world" (55 percent), fighting terrorism (54 percent), and Iraq (54 percent), were all higher than his 47 percent overall approval rating.
But those numbers were down from levels in the 60s that were recorded by the same group last May. Fewer respondents now say they view Obama's handling of national-security issues as better than that of his predecessor George W. Bush -- Obama's margin here has shrunk from 22 to just 5 percent.
The pollsters warn that Obama's declining numbers could re-open the Democratic Party's traditional vulnerability on national security, a problem dating back to the Vietnam era.
"When the questions move beyond the president to Democrats generally, we see that the public once again has real and rising doubts about the Democrats' handling of national security issues, as compared to their faith in Republicans," the survey explained.
Regardless, the report argues that "the public resists accusations by former Vice President Dick Cheney and other Republicans that President Obama and his policies have made the country less secure." Although the report offers little to support that assertion, recent developments indicate that some leading Republicans are uncomfortable with the harshest criticisms launched by some on the right.
Several former Justice Department officials have criticized the group Keep America Safe, which is led by Liz Cheney and William Kristol, for its attacks on the department for hiring lawyers who have defended terror suspects in the past, including one particularly controversial ad calling some of them the "al Qaeda 7."
"The American tradition of zealous representation of unpopular clients is at least as old as John Adams's representation of the British soldiers charged in the Boston massacre," reads a letter organized by the Brookings Institution's Benjamin Wittes and signed by David Rivkin, Lee Casey, and Philip Zelikow, among other prominent Republican lawyers.
"To suggest that the Justice Department should not employ talented lawyers who have advocated on behalf of detainees maligns the patriotism of people who have taken honorable positions on contested questions and demands a uniformity of background and view in government service from which no administration would benefit."
Top House appropriators are promising to resist the award of a huge Afghanistan training contract to the firm formerly known as Blackwater.
In an interview before leaving on his trip to Afghanistan and Pakistan, Rep. James Moran, D-VA, now the third ranking Democrat on the House Appropriations Defense subcommittee, said he will lead a charge to deny the company Xe, Blackwater's new moniker, from an estimated $1 billion funds if they are somehow awarded the contract.
"There is substantial sentiment among the Democratic subcommittee members to resist if the Defense Department were to award this contract to Blackwater," Moran told The Cable. He is traveling now with new subcommittee chairman Norm Dicks, D-WA, who took over for the recently deceased John Murtha.
If Secretary Robert Gates were to allow the contract to go Blackwater, "I think the issue would just escalate," Moran said, adding, "He'd have to be political brain dead to award them this."
Moran raised the issue with Gates last week, as did Senate Armed Service Committee chairman Carl Levin, D-MI, who spent 90 minutes with Gates only days before sending him this scathing letter about the company and its prospects.
In the letter, Levin wrote that Blackwater was already performing some of the duties under a contract vehicle issued by the Counter-Narcoterrorism Technology Office, part of the Army's Space and Missile Defense Command. The use of that contract for training Afghan's police is already a violation, according to a company protesting the contract, Levin wrote.
Regardless, when the State Department transitions the mission fully over to Pentagon responsibility with the new $1 billion award, Blackwater is said to be a competitive bidder, raising concerns due to their seemingly constant string of scandals involving the use of lethal force in Iraq and Afganistan.
"It would really be a travesty if any federal agency contracted with Blackwater again," explained Moran, "They'll be seen as representing America. They don't. They're not what the American people are about."
Moran said there are several defense firms that are in competition for the contract, including Lockheed and Northrop Grumman. "The Defense Department has some fine choices available. Blackwater is not one of them."
As part of his criticism of Blackwater, Levin also wrote to Attorney General Eric Holder to investigate whether Blackwater created a shell company called Paravant, at the request of Raytheon Corporation, in order to secure government contracts without having to use Blackwater's tarnished name.
From Levin's letter to Holder:
Fred Roitz, Blackwater's Vice President for Contracts and Compliance, testified at the Committee's hearing that Blackwater had changed its name to Paravant at the request of Raytheon, the Defense Department's prime contractor. In his interview with Committee staff, then-Paravant Vice President Brian McCracken said that Paravant was created to be a "company that didn't have any Blackwater on it ... so they could go after some [government] business that Raytheon was getting ready to hand out."
In a speech Monday at Washington's Ritz-Carlton hotel, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton defended NATO's shift from a defensive alliance aimed at countering the Soviet Union to a forward-deployed multilateral force carrying out counterinsurgency operations in Afghanistan. NATO's new "strategic concept," a document representing the consensus view of where the alliance is headed and slated for agreement in late 2010, is the subject of a conference she and the organization's secretary-general, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, are attending in Washington this week.
"For too long, our alliance has been hamstrung by those who argue that NATO is an exclusively military organization and oppose attempts to develop -- or in some cases even to discuss -- the alliance's capacity to take on civilian responsibilities," she said in her speech, which was delivered under the auspices of the Atlantic Council. "Our common experience in Afghanistan has shown that the alliance cannot accomplish its missions using purely military tools. If we are going to succeed in counterinsurgency warfare, NATO must continue developing mechanisms to draw on the existing security-oriented civilian capacities of its member states."
In his own address at Georgetown University Monday, Rasmussen described the transatlantic alliance as "an essential part of this country's security for a long time to come."
In response to questions from The Cable following his speech, Rasmussen also praised the ongoing NATO offensive in Afghanistan and defended the contributions of NATO allies in the wake of the recent collapse of the Dutch government, which was related to growing public concerns over that country's Afghanistan deployment. That is an isolated incident, in Rasmussen's view.
"I don't think the situation in the Netherlands will have an impact on the decision making in other allied nations," he said.
The NATO commitment of almost 10,000 new troops to complement the American troop surge in Afghanistan will be fulfilled by the end of 2010, Rasmussen said. NATO countries are also adjusting the "caveats" under which some of them operate in order to allow them to take a more active and equal role in the fight, he said.
Rasmussen also commented briefly on the French sale of the Mistral amphibious assault ship to Russia, saying the sale is not a NATO issue.
"This is not NATO business, this is a bilateral question between France and Russia," he said, "So as such, NATO is not engaged in this."
As the first major arms sale from a NATO country to Russia, many feel the deal could set a dangerous precedent and further tip the balance of military might between Russia and Georgia. The Georgians, as well as the Baltic states, have raised repeated objections.
Secretary of Defense Robert Gates conveyed U.S. concerns about the deal when traveling in Paris this month.
GOP senate aides have warned that Congress could resist an exemption for France in the Iran sanctions legislation currently moving on Capitol Hill, but the State Department has said it will resist any attempts to join the two issues.
"I take it for granted that the sale of this equipment takes place in full accordance with international rules and regulations," Rasmussen said, although many argue that the sale violates the Wassenaar Arrangement on Export Controls or the European Union Code of Conduct for Arms Exports.
"France has stated that this sale of military equipment will not be accompanied by the transfer of sensitive technology to Russia," he added, although the details of what technologies the sale will include have not been announced.
"I take it for granted that Russia ... will not use this equipment against any of its neighbors or any NATO ally," Rasmussen said. Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, for one, has made clear he will not foreswear using the Mistral wherever his government pleases.
Richard Holbrooke, the special representative for the issue formerly known as Af-Pak, will visit Georgia "shortly," with plans to finalize the deployment of Georgian troops to Afghanistan.
Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg revealed that Holbrooke will go to Georgia while traveling in Tbilisi Friday. Sources said the current thinking is that the visit will occur toward the end of February.
So what will Holbrooke be doing there? Well, in addition to possibly discussing Georgia President Mikheil Saakashvili's offer to allow his country to become a supply route to Afghanistan, which Steinberg reportedly said was a Pentagon matter, Georgian sources tell The Cable that Holbrooke will be putting the final touches on the plan to deploy Georgian troops to Afghanistan in March.
In Georgia, they are calling it the "Holbrooke Brigade," according to a source close to the Georgian government. The plan is for 750 Georgian troops to be deployed in Helmand province at the personal request of Gen. David Petraeus, the source said, who was impressed with their effectiveness along the Iranian border during operations in Iraq. According to the current plan, they will be under U.S. command and supplementing 350 Georgian troops already in country as part of the International Security Assistance Force.
It will be the largest per-capita contribution of any country in Afghanistan other than the U.S. One lingering question that the Georgians plan to raise with Holbrooke is whether the U.S. will offer them any military aid for the mission. The U.S. has not provided any lethal military aid to Georgia since their war with Russian in 2008, but the Georgians may need some items, such as parts for the U.S.-made M4 rifles they will be using in the Afghanistan mission.
In a December report, Senate Foreign Relations ranking Republican Richard Lugar, R-IN, argued for an end to the unofficial ban of U.S. lethal military aid to Georgia, arguing that the increase of Russian arms near there was dangerously tipping the balance.
"The United States, under substantial Russian diplomatic pressure, has paused the transfer of lethal military articles to Georgia, and no U.S. assistance since the war has been directly provided to the Georgian Ministry of Defense," the report stated. "Consequently, Georgia lacks basic capacity for territorial defense."
The State Department was awarded a big slice of the foreign military assistance pie in the President's new fiscal 2011 budget request, $1.2 billion for Pakistani military training that was previously in the hands of the Pentagon.
The Cable has reported extensively on the turf wars between State and Defense over authorities for a range of foreign assistance funding, money that should logically go through State but has been controlled by the Pentagon for a variety of reasons. The movement of the Pakistani Counterinsurgency Capability Funding from DOD to State represents a test of the State Department's ability to manage these types of new, large scale foreign military assistance programs.
Some senior lawmakers have wanted the PCCF money to be given to State for a while. Appropriators wanted to make the change in the fiscal 2009 supplemental bill, but relented after Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton both testified that State wasn't ready to take on the mission at that time.
"I know there's been some concern here on the Hill about whether this money ought to be in the State Department or it ought to be in the Defense Department," Defense Secretary Robert Gates told the Senate Appropriations Committee last April, "Part of the problem is authorities and capacity in the State Department to be able to apply this money with the agility Secretary Clinton was talking about."
PCCF received $400 million in the first tranche of fiscal 2009 war funding. House Foreign Affairs chairman Howard Berman had directed in his bill that the money should go to State but he eventually relented after the administration made it clear that this wasn't wise.
This money is separate from the Kerry-Lugar Pakistan aid bill, which authorized $1.5 billion in varied assistance to Pakistan over 5 years.
As we reported earlier, the State Department did not receive the so-called "1206" money, which is also called "Global Train and Equip," but sources said that if State does well with the PCCF fund, 1206 will be back on the table for fiscal 2012.
As for the "1207" funds, that did transfer over to State. That $100 million will now be called the Complex Crises Fund, which is meant "to prevent or respond to emerging or unforeseen crises that address reconstruction, security, or stabilization needs."
With all the talk in Washington about Amb. Karl Eikenberry's leaked cables opposing President Obama's surge strategy, his military counterpart Gen. Stanley McChrystal is right on message, predicting the path to victory will be clear by the time the troops start to leave in the middle of next year.
McChrystal is setting six-month milestones for progress in a talk in Kabul, shown in this video provided by NATO TV:
"I believe that by this coming summer, it's going to be obvious to the people in this room that things have changed, but it won't be obvious to people 3,000 miles or 10,000 miles away," he says in the video, predicting progress just as additional combat troops begin to arrive
"I think by next December, we'll be able to show with hard numbers and things, real progress," McChrystal goes on, without getting into specifics. "We'll be able to go ‘Look, here's more areas we cover, here's this, this, this.'"
Here's the kicker:
"And I think by the summer of 2011, it will be enough progress where the Afghans and the Taliban particularly, believe it, believe they're not going to win," McChrystal says, identifying the breaking point of the Taliban as around the same time U.S. forces are slated to begin withdrawing.
Seeming to contradict himself, McChrystal also speaks at length about the need to have a sustained presence in remote Afghan areas to convince locals to take the huge risk of turning on the Taliban and siding with Afghan and NATO forces. He talks about the need to stay and prove to locals that their long-term interest is in supporting and even defending the government before the coalition can transfer security to Afghan control.
McChrystal also addresses the controversial issue of reintegrating Taliban fighters. Most foreign fighters can't be reintegrated, he says, and most local fighters won't switch sides -- they will simply decide to stop attacking the government forces.
"I think a lot of reintegration won't be formal," says McChrystal. "It will just be, you'll just notice there are fewer of them."
Over at FP's newest blog Turtle Bay, Column Lynch reports that Steffan di Mistura has turned down the job of U.N. mission chief in Afghanistan. The Cable first reported that di Mistura had been offered the job, based on an interview with Richard Holbrooke.
From Lynch's post:
The decision by Staffan di Mistura, a veteran U.N. envoy who headed the U.N. mission in Baghdad, complicates the U.N.'s effort to ensure a smooth leadership transition when Kai Eide, the U.N.'s current chief in Kabul, steps down in March.
Eide said that he had informed Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon of his decision to step down months before his scheduled departure to avoid a leadership vacuum.
U.N. diplomats said that the U.N. has reopened its consideration of a short list of potential candidates, including Jean-Marie Guehénno, the former U.N. peacekeeping chief, Knut Vollebaek, Norway's foreign minister, and Atonio Gutteres of Portugal, the head of the office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees. Jan Koubis, the director of the U.N. Economic Commission for Europe, is also under consideration.
When The Cable reported in October that there were severe problems with the U.S.-Russian agreement to transit war supplies over Russian space to Afghanistan, the Obama administration was not happy.
Sure, there were some "technical details" to be worked out, U.S. officials said, but that was par for the course and would be smoothed over soon. So now, half a year after the deal was signed, how many flights have gone off?
Only one, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov told Radio Free Europe.
To be fair, the American side disputes that figure. U.S. Ambassador to Moscow John Beyrle said, "In fact there were five, and 11 more are planned."
But that's still somewhat short of the 4,500 flights per year that were expected when Obama and President Dmitry Medvedev made the agreement in July.
"Hard to see this as a particularly major achievement of a revived relationship," writes Politico's Ben Smith.
New York Times reporter Peter Baker had some good details on what the problems were and some sharp analysis as well:
The agreement to allow American troops and weapons to fly over the territory of Russia, its onetime cold war enemy, was seen as a symbolic breakthrough as much as a logistical one, and administration officials argued that it was a triumph even if no planes actually ever used the route. Still, just as some people in Moscow appear apprehensive about American forces in their airspace, some American officials are wary of putting too much faith in the Russians, who could easily close down the corridor if political tension rises again.
Haven't heard the term "AfPak" coming from senior administration officials lately? There's a good reason for that. The Obama team has jettisoned the term due to Pakistani ire, according to special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan Richard Holbrooke.
"We can't use it anymore because it does not please people in Pakistan, for understandable reasons," Holbrooke told the Women's Foreign Policy Group Jan. 8.
Those reasons apparently weren't all that understandable when Holbrooke coined the term and pushed its usage to government types and reporters alike. Also at the WFPG event, the New York Times' Helene Cooper explained how Holbrooke had advocated for the phrase that the government is now abandoning.
"Ambassador Holbrooke takes great pride in having invented the word ‘AfPak,' Cooper said. "A few years ago, I was interviewing him for a piece I was working on on Afghanistan, and he kept going on, ‘AfPak, AfPak, AfPak.' And it was just sort of like white noise, and I kept ignoring it, and I was like, ‘Yeah, whatever.' I got off the phone and the next day he called me before my story had run, and he said, ‘Your story really needs to use the word AfPak.' And I said, ‘What are you going on about?' And he said, ‘No, seriously: AfPak is going to be big."
And it was big. The joining of Afghanistan and Pakistan into "AfPak" was a main takeaway of the Obama administration's first major policy review in March, which was run by Holbrooke, along with Under Secretary of Defense Michèle Flournoy, and former NSC staffer Bruce Riedel.
But Pakistanis hated the term from day one and griped about it in public and private.
"The Af-Pak terminology is disliked and has received strong criticism across Pakistan," the Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs wrote in a recent report on Pakistan. "The Pakistani intelligentsia is not pleased with a de-hyphenation of the Indo-Pak equation and the hyphenation of the Pak-Afghan calculus. The issue is not only one of national pride; there is a genuine concern among the strategic enclave that the permanence of the threat from India has not eroded. ... There is objectively no interest for Pakistan to be fully involved in what is happening outside its borders, namely in Afghanistan."
So I guess we can add "AfPak" to the growing list of terms the Obama administration won't likely be using in the near future, including the "Global War on Terror," "strategic reassurance," "honest budgeting," and maybe "comprehensive health-care reform." (Too soon?)
Holbrooke was in India Tuesday as part of his whirlwind tour of South Asia, where he said that Indian participation is crucial to the success of the region. The Indians have made clear that they don't want Holbrooke to have India in his portfolio, so don't expect the term ‘Af-Ind' to surface anytime soon.
John Hudson reports on national security and foreign policy from the Pentagon to Foggy Bottom, the White House to Embassy Row, for The Cable.