President George W. Bush predicted Tuesday that the remaining authoritarian regimes in North Africa and the Middle East are unsustainable and will give way to movements driven by the quest for freedom and human rights.
"These are extraordinary times in the history of freedom," Bush said in Tuesday morning remarks. "In the Arab Spring, we have seen the broadest challenge to authoritarian rule since the collapse of Soviet communism. Great change has come to a region where many thought it impossible. The idea that Arab people are somehow content with oppression has been discredited forever."
Bush was speaking at an event to celebrate and publicize the "Freedom Collection," a set of artifacts from democratic struggles around the world, collected by the George W. Bush Institute, run by former magazine editor and State Department official James Glassman.
Bush cautioned that there were risks to democratic change and that sometime overthrowing authoritarian regimes leads to periods of instability, but argued that American had to always support those fighting against oppression.
"Some look at the risks inherent in democratic change -- particularly in the Middle East and North Africa -- and find the dangers too great. America, they argue, should be content with supporting the flawed leaders they know in the name of stability," he said. "But in the long run, this foreign-policy approach is not realistic. It is not realistic to presume that so-called stability enhances our national security. Nor is it within the power of America to indefinitely preserve the old order, which is inherently unstable."
In a return to the soaring rhetoric of his second inaugural address, Bush said that America's role in each country undergoing change in the Arab world will be different but that the United States must always side with people against dictators and should do everything it can to help emerging democracies build civic institutions and a pluralist political culture.
"America does not get to choose if a freedom revolution should begin or end in the Middle East, or elsewhere. It only gets to choose what side it is on. The tactics of promoting freedom will vary, case by case," he said. "But America's message should ring clear and strong: We stand for freedom -- and for the institutions and habits that make freedom work for everyone. The day when a dictator falls or yields to a democratic movement is glorious."
Bush was introduced by Syrian activist Ammar Abdulhamid. "All of us here today join you in hoping and praying for the end of violence and the advance of freedom in Syria," Bush said to him, joking, "I actually found my freedom by leaving Washington."
Chinese activist Bob Fu spoke after Bush. He was followed by Laura Bush, who introduced Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, who answered questions live via Skype.
Suu Kyi said that while she favored a non-violent approach to confronting dictatorships, she understood that the Syrian people had no choice but to meet the government's violence with violence of their own.
"We should all help people's struggle for freedom around the world," she said. "I would like to say to the people of Syria, we are with you in your struggle for freedom."
Suu Kyi will soon go on her first trip abroad in 24 years after recently being released from house arrest and elected to the Burmese parliament. She will travel to London and Oslo, Norway, where she will formally accept her peace prize, granted in 1991 while she was under house arrest.
Suu Kyi could not confirm rumors that a large number of Burmese government ministers are about to resign. She did say that she supports Sen. John McCain's idea to "suspend" some sanctions against the Burmese state as further incentive for the military government to continue reforms.
"This is a possible first step," she said. "That is a way of sending a strong message that we will try to help the process of democratization but if this is not maintained we will have to think of other ways of making sure the aspirations of the Burmese people for democracy is respected."
"I believe that sanctions have been effective in persuading this government to go for change," she said. "I do advocate caution, though. I sometimes feel that people are too optimistic about what we are seeing in Burma. You have to remember that the change in Burma is not irreversible."
Former President George W. Bush's administration signed an agreement in 2008 to withdraw all troops from Iraq by the end of 2011, but policymakers in that administration always expected that agreement to be renegotiated to allow for an extension beyond that deadline, former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice told The Cable.
When President Barack Obama announced on Oct. 21 that he would withdraw all U.S. troops from Iraq by Dec. 31, his top advisors contended that since the Bush administration had signed the 2008 Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA), both administrations believed that all troops should be withdrawn by the end of the year. This was part of the Obama administration's drive to de-emphasize their failed negotiations to renegotiate that agreement and frame the withdrawal as the fulfillment of a campaign promise to end the Iraq war.
"The security agreements negotiated and signed in 2008 by the Bush administration stipulated this date of December 31, 2008, as the end of the military presence. So that has been in law now or been in force now for several years," Deputy National Security Advisor Denis McDonough told reporters on Oct. 21. "So it's difficult to rebut the proposition that this was a known date."
Rice, speaking with The Cable to promote her new book No Higher Honor, said today that when the Bush administration signed the agreement, it was understood by both the U.S. and Iraqi governments that there would be follow-up negotiations aimed at extending the deadline -- a step that would be in both the U.S. and Iraqi interest.
"There was an expectation that we would negotiate something that looked like a residual force for our training with the Iraqis," Rice said. "Everybody believed it would be better if there was some kind of residual force."
Rice said the Iraqi government, despite SOFA's Jan. 2012 end date, was not only open to a new agreement that would include an extension for U.S. troops, but expected that a new agreement would eventually be signed.
"We certainly understood that the Iraqis preserved that option and everybody believed that option was going to be exercised," Rice said.
It's been widely reported that the negotiations between the Obama administration and the Iraqi government this year broke down over the issue of immunity for U.S. troops in post-2011 Iraq. The Obama administration had demanded that immunity be granted by the Iraqi Council of Representatives, the country's primary legislative body, which was unwilling to do so for political reasons.
Rice said that she didn't understand why the Obama administration was unable to reach an agreement on immunity with the Iraqis, considering that the previous SOFA granted immunity to U.S. soldiers and was passed overwhelmingly by the Iraqi parliament at the time.
"We did manage to negotiate an immunity clause that was acceptable to the Iraqis and acceptable to the Pentagon. I don't know what happened in these negotiations," Rice said.
Overall, Rice said that while the Iraqi Army is making progress, it still has flaws that U.S. forces could help remedy, and the wholesale withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq sends the wrong signal to the region.
"They continue to need help on the counterterrorism side and it would have been a good message to Iran [to keep some U.S. forces there]," Rice said. "That would have been a preferable option."
When President Barack Obama and senior administration officials proudly announced that all U.S. troops in Iraq would leave by the end of the year, there was no mention of the millions of Iraqis who were forced to flee their homes by the U.S. invasion or the thousands who risked their lives by working directly for the U.S. military.
"It is wonderful that American troops will finally be able to come home, but we must remember that for the nearly three million Iraqis displaced by the war, returning home is still not an option," said Becca Heller, director of the Iraqi Refugee Assistance Project at the Urban Justice Center.
The U.S. neglect of Iraqi refugees -- especially those who can no longer live in safety in Iraq due to their work with the U.S. military -- is not a new phenomenon. Your humble Cable guy has met dozens of Iraqi refugees over the years, mostly women, who had somehow managed to secure a rare special visa to enter the United States, but this status has been offered to only a fraction of those who helped the U.S. military by working as guides or translators.
Most of those refugees were living in the United States without jobs, permanent residences, or any financial support from the U.S. government. Many were wholly dependent on the kindness of the soldiers they had worked with in Iraq, who felt an obligation to aid them. Some even married those soldiers.
As early as 2007, The New Yorker and other outlets were reporting about the herculean efforts U.S. soldiers had gone to in order to help their Iraqi staffers flee to safety, even creating an "underground railroad" to bring Iraqis to the U.S. embassy in Amman, Jordan, because the Baghdad embassy would not process their visa requests.
The late Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-MA) took up the issue of Iraqi refugees, introducing a resolution to expand the available number of visas and pressing the State Department to streamline the process for those who sacrificed on behalf of the U.S. effort. He had some success, but died before finishing the work.
Four years later, advocates are still pressing the administration to issue all the visas it can to help Iraqis resettle in the United States and then help them get on with their new lives.
"The United States failed to honor its commitment to Iraqi refugees this year, admitting less than half of the 17,000 refugees we had promised to help. This includes thousands of Iraqis whose lives are at risk, or family members have been killed, as a direct result of their work as interpreters and drivers with U.S. forces in Iraq," Heller said. "The U.S. must continue to honor its obligations to the Iraqis for whom withdrawal is not an option."
Former Vice President Dick Cheney argued on Friday morning that the waterboarding of terror suspects did not amount to torture because the same techniques had been used on U.S. soldiers during training.
"The notion that somehow the United States was torturing anybody is not true," Cheney told an audience at the American Enterprise Institute at an event to promote his new book. "Three people were waterboarded and the one who was subjected most often to that was Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and it produced phenomenal results for us."
"Another key point that needs to be made was that the techniques that we used were all previously used on Americans," Cheney went on. "All of them were used in training for a lot of our own specialists in the military. So there wasn't any technique that we used on any al Qaeda individual that hadn't been used on our own troops first, just to give you some idea whether or not we were ‘torturing' the people we captured."
Of course, there are some differences between the waterboarding of troops as part of their Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape (SERE) training and the waterboarding of suspected al Qaeda prisoners. For example, the troops in training are not subjected to the practice 183 times, as KSM was. Also, the soldiers presumably know their training will end, and they won't be allowed to actually drown or left to rot in some dark, anonymous prison.
Some in Cheney's party, including Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), believe that waterboarding is torture. Malcolm Nance, a counterterrorism consultant for the U.S. government and a former SERE instructor, has argued repeatedly that waterboarding is torture and called for prohibiting its use on prisoners.
"Waterboarding is slow motion suffocation with enough time to contemplate the inevitability of black out and expiration -- usually the person goes into hysterics on the board. For the uninitiated, it is horrifying to watch and if it goes wrong, it can lead straight to terminal hypoxia. When done right it is controlled death. Its lack of physical scarring allows the victim to recover and be threaten[ed] with its use again and again," he said.
Cheney said the George W. Bush administration had received approval for the "enhanced interrogation program" from all nine congressional leaders who had been briefed on its details: this included the leaders of both intelligence committees, the leaders of both parties, and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA).
When asked if they thought the program should be continued, they all said, "Absolutely," Cheney said. And when asked if the Bush administration should seek additional congressional approval for the program, the nine Congressional leaders unanimously told him, "Absolutely not," according to Cheney's account.
Cheney also said the Bush administration's interrogation policies were partially responsible for recent successes in the fight against al Qaeda, includig the killing of Osama bin Laden.
"I'd make the case we've been successful in part because of the intelligence we have, because of what we've learned from men like Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, back when he was subjected [to enhanced interrogation]," he said.
In the one-hour discussion at AEI with the Weekly Standard's Stephen Hayes, Cheney also talked about huddling with his wife and daughter at Camp David on the evening of Sept. 11, 2001. Camp David was the "secure, undisclosed location" that the Secret Service rushed Cheney to just after the attacks. Other top administration officials met him there over the follow days.
When asked if he ever broke down and cried in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, as had President George W. Bush and other top officials, Cheney said, "Not really," and then grinned sheepishly as the crowd giggled.
"You understand that people will find that peculiar," Hayes noted.
"It wasn't that it wasn't a deeply moving event," Cheney responded. "The training just sort of kicked in, in terms of what we had to do that morning and into the next day."
We know now that former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and former Secretary of State Colin Powell didn't get along. And Powell is back in the news this week, refuting the assertions against him that Vice President Dick Cheney, Rumsfeld's BFF, makes in his new book.
But once upon a time, when Powell, Rumsfeld, Cheney, and Condoleezza Rice were just starting out in the newly formed George W. Bush administration, they all got along and even ate lunch together every Wednesday. Powell even had some fun with his neocon colleagues, as Rumsfeld noted in this Feb. 8, 2001 snowflake:
February 7 Condi, Dick Cheney and I went to the State Department for the Wednesday lunch. The table was set elegantly, and there were silver covers over each of our four places. We all teased Colin about being so elegant at the State Department. When we took the silver metal covers off, underneath was a plain paper bag with our sandwich in it. It was a classic ruse.
One wonders what would be in a paper bag that Powell would give to Rummy, Cheney, and Condi today...
A video has emerged of U.S. Ambassador to Syria Robert Ford being assaulted by a pro-regime demonstrator on the streets of Damascus last week.
The assault took place before Ford's unapproved trip to the city of Jassem on Aug 23. Ford was present at a gathering of demonstrators who support the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad outside the Cham Palace Hotel in Damascus when one demonstrator ran up to Ford and tried to wrap him in a poster that featured Assad's face.
Ford's security intervened quickly and rushed Ford to his car. The incident was then replayed in a highly produced segment on a Syrian television station owned by Mohamed Hamsho, a businessman who is the brother-in-law of the president's brother, Maher al-Assad. Hamsho was sanctioned by the U.S. Treasury Department earlier this month for siding with the Assad regime during its brutal crackdown on protesters.
Ammar Abdulhamid, a Syrian activist opposed to Assad and who lives in Maryland, said the TV report accuses Ford of trying to lead a protest in Damascus and even features an out-of-context quote from Edward Peck, the former U.S. diplomat who is now a strong critic of U.S. policy in the Middle East and who took a ride on the May 2010 flotilla that tried to break the Gaza blockade and was attacked by the Israel Defense Forces.
"The reporting is of course stupid" Abdulhamid wrote. "The plain facts are: as Ambassador Ford observed a loyalist demonstration, some of the demonstrators jumped at him when they recognized him and tried to wrap a poster of Bashar Al-Assad around him, but the Ambassador's security details managed to rush him safely into his car. There was no anti-Assad demonstration at the time, security in that area is simply too tight."
A State Department official told The Cable today that the video was "a weak, banal, laughable attempt by the Syrian thugs to have the international community focus on anything but the real story, which is the government's continuing campaign of terror on its own people through torture, murder, and illegal imprisonment."
Andrew Tabler, senior fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy and author of a new book about the U.S.-Syria relationship, In the Lion's Den, said that the Assad regime has been harassing Ford for weeks with stunts like this.
For example, the same TV station recently showed a video of fireworks in downtown Damascus, after which the anchor said Ford must have been "shitting his pants with diarrhea," Tabler recounted.
After Ford visited anti-regime protests in the city of Hama in July, the regime encouraged supporters to pelt the U.S. Embassy with rocks and eggs. The protesters smashed embassy windows and wrote graffiti on the walls calling Ford a "dog."
"It's annoying and shows you the base nature of that regime," said Tabler. "This regime hates to be in the spotlight. Robert Ford's actions there place those kinds of things in the spotlight and that's why they are harassing him."
Of course, it's possible that Ford is actually trying to get himself kicked out of Syria by the Assad regime. That would allow the Obama administration to spotlight Assad's intolerance and allow the State Department to avoid a fight over Ford's Senate confirmation.
Until that happens, Ford is going to continue to do his job and try to interact with the Syrian people, said Tabler. But, he added, "the way things are going, it's probably a matter of time" before Ford gets booted.
View the video here:
UPDATE: A State Department official writes in to say that Ford was not attending a pro-regime demonstration. He was watching an anti-government sit-in by some lawyers at the Syrian Bar Association. He was assaulted while standing outside the bar association, waiting to see whether the pro-government thugs assembled outside would assault the protesting lawyers when they came out. The thugs didn't like that he was watching.
This week's toppling of the Qaddafi regime in Libya shows that the Obama administration's multilateral and light-footprint approach to regime change is more effective than the troop-heavy occupation-style approach used by the George W. Bush administration in Iraq and Afghanistan, a top White House official told Foreign Policy today in a wide-ranging interview.
"The fact that it is Libyans marching into Tripoli not only provides a basis of legitimacy for this but also will provide contrast to situations when the foreign government is the occupier," said Ben Rhodes, deputy national security advisor for communications, in an exclusive interview on Wednesday with FP. "While there will be huge challenges ahead, one of the positive aspects here is that the Libyans are the ones who are undertaking the regime change and the ones leading the transition."
Despite criticism from Congress and elsewhere, President Barack Obama's strategy for the military intervention in Libya will not only result in a better outcome in Libya but also will form the basis of Obama's preferred model for any future military interventions, Rhodes said.
"There are two principles that the president stressed at the outset [of the Libya intervention] that have borne out in our approach. The first is that we believe that it's far more legitimate and effective for regime change to be pursued by an indigenous political movement than by the United States or foreign powers," said Rhodes. "Secondly, we put an emphasis on burden sharing, so that the U.S. wasn't bearing the brunt of the burden and so that you had not just international support for the effort, but also meaningful international contributions."
Rhodes said that the United States is not going to be able to replicate the exact same approach to intervention in other countries, but identified the two core principles of relying on indigenous forces and burden sharing as "characteristics of how the president approaches foreign policy and military intervention."
Rhodes also weighed in on several other aspects of the Libya saga:
Former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's chief of staff accused Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward on Tuesday of practicing "access journalism," and said that Woodward has been repeatedly accused of "tilting the facts," "misleading remarks," "disingenuous statements," and placing "book sales above journalism."
Keith Urbahn, who is also Rumsfeld's official spokesperson, made the accusations in a statement to reporters in response to Woodward's scathing critique of Rumsfeld's recently released memoir, Known and Unknown.
"Rumsfeld's memoir is one big clean-up job, a brazen effort to shift blame to others -- including President Bush -- distort history, ignore the record or simply avoid discussing matters that cannot be airbrushed away. It is a travesty, and I think the rewrite job won't wash," Woodward wrote on Foreign Policy's Best Defense blog, run by Tom Ricks.
Woodward expressed skepticism of Rumsfeld's claim that he kept no notes of a crucial Sept. 12, 2001, meeting, during which Rumsfeld allegedly brought up the idea of attacking Iraq. Woodward also noted that Rumsfeld's book contradicted his own previous statements about when the Bush administration began discussing an invasion of Iraq, and criticized Rumsfeld for trying to absolve himself of blame for the post-invasion mistakes.
Urbahn accused Woodward of favoring his sources and granting them anonymity in exchange for access, while pushing his own storyline ahead of the facts.
"The well known story about Bob Woodward is that he practices what is derided as ‘access journalism,' whereby he favors those who provide him with information and gossip and leak against their colleagues," he said in a statement, which was also posted on Rumsfeld's Facebook page. "Those who refuse to play along, such as Donald Rumsfeld, then pay the price."
Woodward's critique referenced multiple interviews with Rumsfeld, including three hours spent with Rumsfeld over two days in July 2006.
Urbahn implied that Woodward had fabricated a famous interview conducted at the death bed of CIA Director Bill Casey where Casey admitted guild and implicated President Ronald Reagan, in the Iran-Contra affair.
"There is most notoriously the supposed deathbed conversation he had with former CIA Director Bill Casey that implicated President Reagan in the Iran-Contra affair and just so conveniently provided the perfect scene for a book Woodward was writing on the CIA -- even though Mr. Casey was reported to be nearly comatose at the time and witnesses, including Mr. Casey's widow, denied Woodward's account," Urbahn said.
"Woodward ends his latest attempt to defend his version of events by suggesting that at some point in the future ‘when all the records are available,' new facts and assertions that come to light will differ from those in Known and Unknown," Urbahn said. "If this means Woodward is now committed to writing a serious book of history based on contemporaneous documents and first-hand sources he is to be commended."
Former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, in an exclusive interview with The Cable, credited the Bush administration's Freedom Agenda with setting the stage for the current wave of revolutions sweeping the Arab world. But he also warned that Egypt and the other countries in the region could easily slip into the hands of repressive groups that have been lying in wait.
"That region does not have a long proud history of free political institutions, free economic institutions, and democracy," Rumsfeld said. "What President Bush has done in Iraq and Afghanistan is to give the people in those countries a chance to have freer political systems and freer economic systems. There's no question that the example is helpful in the region."
But now, several years later, nominally pro-Western movements throughout the Middle East have been defeated by repressive and authoritarian organizations -- a situation that could very well repeat itself in Egypt with the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood, Rumsfeld said, because those groups tend to be better organized and more vicious.
"So while what's happening is hopeful, all of us have to be realistic and hope the process is one, that unlike Lebanon, unlike Gaza, and unlike Iran, does not end up bringing people's hopes up and then dashed with a repressive regime," Rumsfeld said.
Rumsfeld criticized the Obama administration's mixed messaging during the Egypt crisis, specifically referencing the State Department's decision to send Frank Wisner as an unofficial envoy to Cairo. The Obama administration was subsequently forced to distance itself from Wisner when he publicly called for Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak to stay in power only days later.
"I think it's unfortunate that they appointed Frank Wisner and then within a matter of hours got cross waves between the Department of State, the White House, and their special envoy. Clearly that weakens our voice to have mixed signals," Rumsfeld said.
Regarding the role of the Egyptian military, which now has effective control of the government in Cairo, Rumsfeld said that it may or may not turn out to be a responsible steward of power and the transition to free and fair elections.
"If one had to put some money down, you would want odds, but I would take the odds favoring that [the Egyptian military] would behave in a positive and constructive way," Rumsfeld said. "One has to say that managing this process is not going to be easy."
Rumsfeld said that he believes the tidal wave of change sweeping the Arab world presents the United States with an opportunity to increase its support for the opposition movement in Iran.
"I hope there are a variety of things taking place in our government, in some instances appropriately public but in some instances private ... and that the examples that we are seeing elsewhere in the region, I would hope we would encourage in Iran," he said.
Rumsfeld has over 40 years of experience dealing with Egypt and the Arab world. In his new memoir Known and Unknown, he recounts the first time he met then Vice President Mubarak, in June 1975. At the time, Rumsfeld was serving as chief of staff to President Gerald Ford. "On a personal level, I found him animated, even ebullient," Rumsfeld wrote.
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
Levey will resign next month and the administration will nominate Cohen to replace him next week, a senior administration official told The Cable. Levey has been serving as the under secretary for terrorism and financial intelligence since 2004; Cohen has been assistant secretary for terrorist financing since 2009. The Cable received e-mailed statements from several top Obama administration officials praising Levey's tenure and pledging that the drive will continue unabated to increase and enforce sanctions on Iran, North Korea, and groups that financially support violent extremist groups.
The resignation comes just as the latest round of talks between the P5+1 countries and Iran regarding its nuclear program seem to have sputtered and even Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has indicated more sanctions could be in the offing.
"It will have no effect on policy, or on our ability to execute the President's policy," said Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner. "David came to Treasury with well established outside expertise and has worked at Stuart's side for the last two years."
Geither said that when the Obama administration took office, Levey had agreed to stay for six months but ended up staying for over two years.
"There's no perfect time for these things. But this is as good a time as any," said Geithner.
Geither called Levey "tremendously effective" and "the best mixture of toughness and creativity," and credited him with convincing a host of public and private actors to join the U.S. government's fight to name and shame organizations that help rogue states and non-government actors finance illicit activities.
For example, Levey's team was instrumental in convincing Japan and South Korea to take step to end their business with Iran's energy sector after President Obama signed new sanctions legislation last July. In 2006, Levey's team led the drive to publicly accuse Macau's Banco Delta Asia of doing laundering money for the North Korean regime.
"Every financial institution anywhere in the world needs to preserve its reputation for integrity in order to do business globally and especially in the U.S....Stuart has been able to use that reality as an incentive to get the private sector to move to reinforce our policies," he said.
White House counterterrorism advisor John Brennan said in a statement that Levey's work had directly degraded the capabilities of those who seek to do the U.S. harm.
"Stuart has helped save lives, and our country owes him a strong debt of gratitude," said Brennan. "While we will greatly miss Stuart's involvement in these ongoing efforts, we are very fortunate to have someone of David Cohen's caliber and in-depth experience to build upon Stuart's outstanding work."
National Security Advisor Tom Donilon said that Levey had elevated Treasury's role in the national security sphere and praised his work on devising and enforcing sanctions on Iran.
"Stuart designed and executed innovative financial strategies for targeting terrorists, proliferators, and other illicit actors, and built an international consensus around the use of targeted sanctions as an effective means of combating threats, pressuring regimes, and safeguarding the financial system," Donilon said.
The Wall Street Journal, which first reported Levey's departure, said that Levey had not yet decided what to do next. Here's how the paper described Levey's tenure:
The Ohio native traveled widely across Asia, the Middle East and Europe to press foreign governments and businesses to cut off their financial ties to Iranian and North Korean entities believed to be involved in weapons proliferation and terrorism. Since 2004, he has also built up Treasury's Office of Terrorism and Financial Intelligence into a major cog in the U.S. national-security apparatus, with more than 700 people involved in activities such as tracking illicit financing and approving export licenses for sensitive technologies.
Treasury officials now have a prominent seat in virtually every national-security debate.
Levey's work on Iran and North Korea sanctions also earned his praise today from Capitol Hill, where sanctions hawk Sen. Joseph Lieberman (I-CT) praised Levey's impact on the overall financial sanctions regime.
"Indeed, what David Petraeus has done for counterinsurgency warfare, Stuart Levey has done for economic warfare -- completely rewriting the book on the subject," Lieberman said.
MANAMA, Bahrain—U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, asked Friday what foreigners should think about the extraordinary breach of cybersecurity that led to the WikiLeaks crisis, pointed to the George W. Bush administration's decision following the 9/11 attacks to vastly expand the sharing of secret information.
Asked how such a huge leak could have occurred and why no alarm bells went off when a low-level intelligence analyst allegedly downloaded 250,000 classified diplomatic cables, Clinton replied: "The decision was made in the Bush administration to add the diplomatic cables to the Defense Department's special network that was created for that purpose."
While she defended the move as defensible at the time, she emphasized that these policies were being rolled back in the wake of the WikiLeaks crisis, perhaps for good.
"The process was undertaken in order to do a better job of what's called ‘connecting the dots,' because after 9/11, one of the principle criticisms of the government was that the information was stovepiped, that the Defense Department knew things that the State Department didn't know, that the White House didn't know," Clinton explained. "So it was understandable for the Bush administration to say, ‘We need to end the stovepiping and figure out how to have greater situational awareness and sharing of information.'"
Without identifying anyone by name, she then said that it was in the Defense Department, not the State Department, where the leak occurred.
"The individual... was a fully cleared military intelligence officer... [The Pentagon is] conducting a very vigorous investigation to determine why no alarm bells went off," Clinton said. (Media speculation has swirled around Pfc. Bradley Manning, an intelligence analyst with the 10th Mountain division in Iraq who has been charged with transferring classified information to an unauthorized source.)
Clinton then explained that the State Department had severed its classified files from the Secret Internet Protocol Routing Network (SIPRNet), a network that was set up to share information between Foggy Bottom and the Pentagon. She revealed for the first time that this action had been taken well before the WikiLeaks cables starting floating out into the open.
"I directed we would cease sharing, for whatever time it may take, our cables. That stopped as soon as this gentleman was apprehended," she said. Manning was arrested in May.
Clinton also pledged that the United States would prosecute anyone connected to the disclosures. She said that any guilty parties would certainly be prosecuted, and that the prosecutions would go further, reaching those involved in distributing the cables such as WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange.
"[Manning] is clearly going to be prosecuted along with anyone who participated or contributed to the crimes that he committed," Clinton said.
She continued the administration's two-pronged public relations strategy of playing up the danger of the leaks, while downplaying the information in the cables themselves. On the one hand, she warned the assembled leaders of dozens of countries at the conference that the problem was serious and was as dangerous to them as to the United States.
"The attack on the United States' information system was really an attack on the international community," she said. "I believe that this attack, if left unpunished, will be just the first of many against anyone, anywhere."
She then told the assembled leaders that the cables contained nothing really shocking.
"Some of the analysis that has been done with the information that has been made available through these leaks has basically concluded there's not much news... There's no big revelation; it's the day-to-day work of what diplomats all around the world do."
Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is taking on another formal teaching assignment, adding a faculty position at Stanford's Graduate School of Business to her resume next month.
Rice will become the co-director of the school's Center for Global Business and the Economy, Dean Garth Saloner told his staff in a letter this week. There she will co-teach the Global Context of Business course, which she did last year, as well as share the management of the center with two other co-directors, William Barnett and John Roberts, both professors at the school.Rice is already associated with Stanford through the Hoover Institution, which is housed on the university's Palo Alto campus. This new appointment is a joint venture between the business school and Hoover. Rice was also provost at Stanford from 1993-1998.
Since leaving government, Rice has also started a consulting firm with her former deputy at the National Security Council, Stephen Hadley.
"We rededicate ourselves to shaping the ideas that help managers lead in the context of global change, to preparing our students and executive education participants for those roles, and to ensuring that the innovation that takes place at the GSB is known around the world so that we can influence the practice of management everywhere, and attract the best and the brightest to Stanford," Saloner wrote to his staff.
A behind-the-scenes clash is playing out over President Obama's nominee to be the next U.S. ambassador to Turkey, a key Middle East post at a time of tense relations between Washington and an increasingly independent-minded Ankara.
The would-be envoy, Francis J. Ricciardone, Jr., is a 32-year veteran of the Foreign Service who most recently served as the deputy ambassador in Kabul. He's served in Ankara in the past and speaks fluent Turkish. Ricciardone also played a role in organizing the Iraqi exile community before the 2003 U.S. drive to Baghdad.
But it's his tenure as George W. Bush's envoy to Egypt that has provoked the most criticism, particularly among neoconservatives who are hoping to persuade Republican senators to torpedo his nomination.
Ricciardone served as the U.S. ambassador in Cairo from 2005-2008. Activists and journalists dubbed those first few years the "Arab Spring," when street demonstrations, political ferment, and contested elections in Baghdad, Beirut, and other Arab capitals inspired hope that the Middle East's stagnant authoritarian regimes -- including that of Hosni Mubarak, who has ruled Egypt with an iron fist since Anwar Sadat's assassination in 1981 -- might finally fall.
The Bush administration exerted special efforts to promote democracy and human rights in Egypt, a longtime recipient of billions in military and economic aid, and a close U.S. partner on regional security matters. U.S. officials repeatedly raised human rights concerns with Mubarak's government, including the case of dissident political leader Ayman Nour. Then Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice delivered a ringing 2005 address on democracy at the American University in Cairo, calling on Mubarak to embrace political reform.
Those efforts came crashing down months later, amid the widespread fraud and violence of Egypt's parliamentary elections. The opposition Muslim Brotherhood performed surprisingly well in the early rounds, prompting a harsh government crackdown that continues to this day. When Hamas shocked the world by winning the Palestinian elections the following January, the Bush administration appeared to lose its appetite for promoting Arab democracy altogether.
Former top National Security Council aide Elliott Abrams blames Ricciardone.
"Especially in 2005 and 2006, Secretary Rice and the Bush administration significantly increased American pressure for greater respect for human rights and progress toward democracy in Egypt. This of course meant pushing the Mubarak regime, arguing with it in private, and sometimes criticizing it in public. In all of this we in Washington found Ambassador Ricciardone to be without enthusiasm or energy," Abrams told The Cable.
Ricciardone's supporters counter that he is a distinguished diplomat with a history of serving in tough parts of the world. Some former officials maintain he forged close working relationships across the interagency, worked effectively with the military, and argue that his past experience in Turkey makes him ideal to advance that relationship and U.S. interests across the region as a whole.
"He's an outstanding and extremely dedicated Foreign Service officer who has served his country in some very delicate and dangerous postings," said Mitchell Reiss, who served at the State Department's director of policy planning under Bush,
But other former Bush administration officials are circulating stories they believe show Ricciardone in a negative light.
In one of them, before Rice's Cairo speech, she had a particularly nasty press conference with Foreign Minister Aboul Gheit, where Gheit defended his regime's conduct by criticizing U.S. conduct in the war on terror. Sitting next to Rice following the press conference, Ricciardone blurted out "the problem is that fucking Patriot Act," one senior Bush administration official said, adding that Rice was incensed.
Egyptian officials have cited the Patriot Act in explaining the continued need for their own much-criticized Emergency Law, which contains loopholes that facilitate far-ranging restrictions on freedom of speech and assembly.
"Putting aside the language, this seemed to those in the secretary's party to be yet another case of our ambassador's unwillingness even to see bad conduct by the government of Egypt, and to blame any case of it on Washington," the official said.
Ricciardone's critics claim that his strong personality and often blunt speaking style are the wrong mix for the current task at hand -- and that he has a tendency to get too close to his foreign interlocutors.
"Now is not the time for us to have an ambassador in Ankara who is more interested in serving the interests of the local autocrats and less interested in serving the interests of his own administration," said Danielle Pletka, vice president of the American Enterprise Institute.
Aides from two GOP Senate offices said that while it's too early to say there is firm opposition on the Hill, their bosses have reservations about Ricciardone that could complicate his confirmation process. They plan to not only examine his time in Cairo, but his stints as deputy chief of mission in Turkey once before and his time serving as an official in Baghdad and in Kabul.
"Ricciardone has a lot to answer for on his record in Afghanistan, Egypt and on Iraq policy. What's more, his temperament and professionalism are in serious doubt," said one senior GOP aide. "It's unclear why the administration would send this FSO [Foreign Service officer] to such an important country given the tenuous state of Turkey's relationship with the West."
For all of Riccardione's detractors, he seems to have at least as many supporters. Experts, former officials, and diplomats from across the political spectrum have contacted The Cable in recent days to express their support for him and push back against what they see as the criticisms of a few. They say Ricciardone was made the scapegoat for a flawed Bush administration democracy push that never really had the financial commitment or follow-through it would have needed to be successful.
Steven Cook, senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, said that there was never real consensus inside the Bush administration as to how to implement the pro-democracy push Rice highlighted in her Cairo speech, and that Ricciardone was put in the impossible situation of having to manage a complex relationship with a supposed ally while implementing a new policy that was aimed at his overthrow.
"He was quite effective as a U.S. ambassador at a time when the Bush administration and the Egyptian government were at loggerheads. There needed to be someone who could continue the conversation on a range of other things, not just democracy promotion," said Cook.
Ricciardone was tasked with doing two things that seem to be in direct contradiction: Pushing Egypt to help the United States on a host of regional issues, such as the war in Iraq and the fracturing of the Palestinian government, while also pushing Cairo to make reforms it was severely resisting.
"The Bush administration was saying ‘Carry our water while reforming yourself out of power,'" Cook explained, adding that Bush's Egypt democracy initiative never had the financial backing it would have needed to succeed, especially in light of the fact that meanwhile, the U.S. was giving Egypt more than $1 billion in military aid.
Actually, Ricciardone had a solution for that as well. In Cairo, he worked with Faiza Abu El Naga, who runs Egypt's Ministry of International Cooperation, to propose a huge new aid endowment for Egypt, under the thinking that by institutionalizing non-military aid to Egypt, democracy promotion could escape the annual tribulations of the often complicated congressional appropriations process. The fight over that endowment continues to this day.
The nomination fight over Ricciardone will likely become a debate over how best to approach Turkey during this delicate stage. For those who want to use the stick, he's destined to be the wrong choice. For those who think carrots are preferable, Ricciardone's extensive knowledge, fluent Turkish, and reputation for getting heavily involved in public diplomacy make him the perfect selection.
"Let's face it, there hasn't been much of an Obama effect in Turkey, so having an ambassador there who can get out among the people could be very useful," Cook said.
When push comes to shove in the Senate, the main question will be whether the Obama administration is willing to make that case and use some of its political capital to push the nomination through. They haven't always been eager to do so, as with the nomination of Robert Ford to be ambassador to Syria. Ford is well-liked by everybody, but the administration hasn't been active in pressing for his confirmation, potentially because it isn't eager to have a public debate about its policy of engaging Syria -- which has yet to show results.
Another Senate GOP aide who is critical of Ricciardone predicted that the administration won't want to make an issue of the Ricciardone nomination and anticipated that if they don't press it, his confirmation process could languish. "We don't need to put up much of a fight because things are moving so slowly anyway," the aide said.
JAY DIRECTO/AFP/Getty Images
It's the obligation of each U.S. secretary of defense to make a speech when the portrait of his predecessor is unveiled in the halls of the Pentagon. Defense Secretary Robert Gates's speech Friday, delivered while standing next to former Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, was full of not-so-subtle indications about how Gates views Rumsfeld's stewardship of the Defense Department.
Gates hardly mentioned at all the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan that Rumsfeld planned and executed and that took up the vast majority of his time and attention until Gates was brought in to fix them. Gates also made several references to Rumsfeld's famously combative personality, while trying to speak favorably about his predecessor's efforts to modernize the military.
After briefly mentioning "the rapid removal of two odious regimes in Afghanistan and Iraq" when talking about the aftermath of 9/11, Gates only referred to the wars in Afghanistan one more time, giving Rumsfeld guarded praise for making the military more expeditionary in nature.
Even in that reference, Gates was touting the success of the surge in Iraq that took place only after Rumsfeld resigned in November 2006.
"Without these institutional changes set in motion by Secretary Rumsfeld, we would not have been able to surge five army brigades into Iraq on short notice, or have the quality and quantity of UAVs that have made such a difference on the battlefield," he said, referring to unmanned aerial vehicles.
Rumsfeld reportedly opposed the surge.
The speech included no mention of the handling of the first four years of the wars in Afghanistan or Iraq. Nor did Gates note that Rumsfeld's drive to modernize the military was based on using technology rather than more people, a policy Gates has in many ways reversed by growing the ground force by tens of thousands of soldiers and marines.
Gates did praise the Navy's Fleet Response Plan, which was updated under Rumsfeld, the building up of the Special Operations forces, and Rumsfeld's efforts to update the organizational structure of U.S. forces in Germany, Korea, and Japan.
Gates also praised the front office staff that Rumsfeld left behind in his personal office. Those staffers might remember what Gates referred to as Rumsfeld's "own unique and bracing style of personal management," which including dropping "snowflakes" all over the Pentagon. Snowflakes were the often very short memos or questions Rumsfeld would send down from up on high, landing on people's desks all day long.
"Self described as ‘genetically impatient,' he did not brook much nonsense or suffer fools gladly," Gates said, referring to Rumsfeld's treatment of the briefers who faced him each day.
But Gates revealed that there was a way to ensure Rumsfeld would be nicer: bring his wife Joyce along.
"I'm told that the secretary's staff always looked forward to Joyce's presence on trips as that assured a happier -- and thus less demanding -- boss."
UPDATE: Rumsfeld's spokesman Keith Urbahn writes in to argue that Gate's comments were completely supportive and praising of Rumsfeld.
"Secretary Gates' remarks were unfailingly courteous in tone and substance -- in fact so much so that both SecDefs displayed more than a little emotion during the speech," he said, calling Gates' remarks "a plainly gracious and graceful tribute to the man who preceded him in office."
South Carolina Sen. Jim DeMint is quickly becoming the leading spokesman arguing against President Obama's reset policy with Russia, but his penchant for extreme rhetoric and loose understanding of the facts is overshadowing his message and, according to the administration, unhelpfully muddying the discussion.
DeMint has made increasing forays into the foreign-policy game this year. He was a key player in the Honduras policy debate, taking sides against ousted president Manuel Zelaya weeks before the administration eventually followed suit. He is deeply involved in the GOP drive to hold up a range of State Department nominees, and has used his perch on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to stall the appointment of international broadcasting officials as well.
But when it comes to Russia, DeMint's rhetoric is hurting his case. That was on full display during an event on the visit of Russian President Dmitry Medvedev held by the Foreign Policy Initiative Wednesday afternoon at the Capitol building, where the senator referred to Russia several times as the "Soviet Union."
"Clearly the Soviet Union as a democracy is a fraud. Rule of law is very loose, foreign investment is very low," he said. "The Soviet Union, I mean Russia, is making the countries around it concerned with how Russia is constantly trying to manipulate their elections, undermine their freedom, and impose some control."
Think Progress blogger Max Bergmann noted that DeMint called Russia the Soviet Union at a hearing on the new START treaty last week as well.
At the FPI event, DeMint also explained his overall take on Russia. "Russia is trying to undermine American strength in different parts of the world. As we think of Russia, it s important to think of them as a threat to many and a protector of none," he said. He also at one point said, "I don't pretend to be an expert."
DeMint's expertise on Russia was also called into question after he seemingly misrepresented the objectives of both the Bush and Obama administrations in deploying ballistic missile defense systems in Europe.
At a May 18 hearing, he complained that the current design of the system isn't sufficient to combat Russia's missile arsenal, which numbers into the thousands. "Is it not desirable for us to have a missile defense system that renders their threat useless?," he asked.
Both administrations have gone to great pains to explain that the system has always been aimed at Iran, not Russia, and it's hard to find a credible expert who believes that any feasible conception of missile defense could be built to overpower the Russian capability.
Inside the Obama administration, officials look at DeMint's Russia activity with a mixture of amusement and concern. They believe that he is sacrificing his own credibility by fumbling on the issue, but at the same time, they worry that foreign governments and publics might actually take him seriously.
"We are happy to let Senator DeMint keep digging away at the hole he is already in," an administration official told The Cable. "He seems to have forgotten that even the Rumsfeld-led Pentagon in the last administration explicitly ruled out a U.S. missile defense system targeting Russia's nuclear forces -- and for good reason."
But they don't discount the effect DeMint is having on the debate. Among administration officials, there is some legitimate concern that DeMint's statements only reinforce the paranoia of some elements in Russia (and China) that U.S. missile defense systems are indeed targeted at their strategic nuclear forces.
"It is unfortunate that the hard-liners in the United States and Russia feed off each other and feed the other's paranoia," said John Isaacs, executive director of the Council for a Livable World. "Just as GOP senators quote Russian statements on missile defense to prove their case, Russians will be happy to quote Senator DeMint."
Sylvie Stein contributed to this article.
They might not be best friends now, but in the years just after 9/11, George Tenet was extremely tight with Dick Cheney, and together they ran the first years of the "global war on terror."
That's according to Philip Zelikow, former State Department counselor and executive director of the 9/11 Commission, who gave a fascinating talk Friday morning at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
"Question: Who was the combatant commander in the global war on terror? Answer: That combatant commander's name was George Tenet," Zelikow said, adding, "You could make an argument that his secretary of defense was, in fact, Dick Cheney."
The relationship between Tenet and Cheney back in those days was very close, Zelikow remembered.
"Things became more complicated later, so some of that I think has been forgotten," he said.
Zelikow might have been alluding to the Bush White House's abandonment of Tenet, including pinning him with the "slam dunk" phrase on Iraq's WMDs, which drove Tenet to resign in 2004 and write a book slamming the Bush White House.
"You've gone out and made me look stupid, it's the most despicable thing I've ever heard in my life," Tenet said he told Bush chief of staff Andy Card after that, "Men of honor don't do this. You don't throw people overboard."
Or he might have been referring to the revelation during the Scooter Libby trial that Cheney was declassifying and then leaking CIA information to reporters to support the White House's drive to go to war in Iraq.
But before the break up, in the time just after the attacks, Tenet would hold a 5 p.m. briefing every day on the 7th floor of CIA headquarters in Langley, where a host of top officials would inform him of the state of play.
Zelikow also spoke about the creation of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence and the National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC), which started up in 2004 and purported to be based on the 9/11 Commission's recommendations.
The NCTC was modeled, in part, on Britain's domestic intelligence service MI5, Zelikow revealed, although nobody wanted to say that at the time.
"NCTC very much is informed by the MI5 precedent, but I did not say so to anyone at the time," Zelikow said. People who didn't like MI5 and saw it as a "menacing, domestic spy agency" might have raised objections to NCTC at the time if the linkage had been clear, he noted.
And for those who did like MI5, they might have been too enthusiastic about it and therefore could have "poisoned the well in their enthusiasm for ‘boy don't we need a good domestic spy agency.'"
People inside the administration were making just that argument at the time, Zelikow said, without identifying them by name (Dick Cheney?). But he defended using MI5 and its unique power and reach as a model for the U.S. counterterrorism infrastructure he helped to create.
"MI5 is not just a domestic spy agency, MI5 is a world-wide spy agency. Its missions are defined functionally, not geographically. It does counterterrorism work world-wide, it bridges the foreign-domestic divide. That gives it a lot of leverage."
As Washington works itself into a tizzy over whether to release Guantánamo prisoners following the underwear bomber incident (President Obama announced earlier this week that he wouldn't transfer any of them back to Yemen "at this time"), news of a secret Pentagon report is being bandied about as proof that "recidivism" of released GTMO prisoners is on the rise.
Oh, how easily we forget that the whole idea of measuring the recidivism of Guantánamo detainees was debunked last May. The original baseline for saying that the trend of recidivism is on the rise was founded in this front-page New York Times article by Elisabeth Bumiller, which stated that the Pentagon had found that one in seven, or 14 percent, of released GTMO prisoners had "returned to terrorism or militant activity."
There were several problems with the reporting, not the least of which was that there is no way to determine if the alleged militants "returned" to the fight because there were never proper legal procedures at Guantánamo to determine if the prisoners were guilty in the first place.
That language was removed from the story after Bumiller's piece was torn apart by the Times' public editor Clark Hoyt, who said the article was "seriously flawed and greatly overplayed."
Moreover, as Hoyt pointed out, the one in seven number failed to distinguish between those who were "suspected" of militancy and those who were "confirmed" to have done something violent. "Had only confirmed cases been considered, one in seven would have changed to one in 20," Hoyt wrote.
Independent analyses put that number even smaller. Peter Bergen and Katherine Tiedemann at the New America Foundation looked into the numbers even further and found that both confirmed and suspected military rates of released Guantánamo prisoners as of last summer was one in 25, or about 4 percent.
But none of that critical analysis made it into this Jan. 7 LA Times article by Julian E. Barnes and Christi Parsons, which cites a new and also secret Pentagon report to argue that now 20 percent of released Guantánamo prisoners have "resumed extremist activity."
The story says that both conservatives and liberals dispute the figures (although I haven't seen where the number is said to be an underestimation), but fails to point out that the 14 percent figure from May was disputed by the very paper that reported it.
Bloomberg's story on the report did a better job of explaining that the numbers are suspect, at best.
In an interview with The Cable, Bergen noted that beside the fact that the numbers are inflated, the Pentagon's insistence on classifying the underlying information makes the numbers wholly unverifiable.
"The 14 percent is based on a ‘trust us, we can't tell you,'" said Bergen, adding that the 20 percent figure in the LA Times story "defies credulity."
When a Guantánamo prisoner joins the fight against America, that's a huge propaganda coup for the extremists and they tend to announce it in a way that's noticeable, he added. "I'm enormously skeptical that there are these levels of releases joining the fight because I think we would know about it."
The CIA played a back-channel role in serving as an arbiter and vehicle for intelligence sharing in order to ease tensions between India and Pakistan after the Mumbai attacks, the Washington Post reports today. "In the aftermath of the Mumbai terrorist attacks, the CIA orchestrated back-channel intelligence exchanges between India and Pakistan, allowing the two former enemies to quietly share highly sensitive evidence while the Americans served as neutral arbiters, according to U.S. and foreign government sources familiar with the arrangement," the paper writes.
Former U.S. intelligence sources concerned about the potential for the situation to escalate had brought the channel to the attention of The Cable a few weeks ago. A few days before Christmas, they said, the United States sent then Director of National Intelligence Michael McConnell and veteran CIA analyst Charlie Allen, who at the time was a top DHS intelligence official, to India. Allen and McConnell were there to talk about Mumbai. Both have since retired and could not be immediately reached.
Also on the trip to India, another U.S. government official said on condition of anonymity, was Michael Leiter, the director of the National Counterterrorism Center. "It was a quick in and out trip," the US official said, of the previously undisclosed visit of the three intelligence officials to India. "They got in on a Sunday [Dec. 21], and were out on Tuesday morning," Dec. 23. McConnell had previously visited India last June, the official said.
But the former intelligence officers said the person the United States should be sending to defuse a potential India-Pakistani conflict is Defense Secretary Robert Gates. "The only guy in this administration they are likely to listen to is Gates," one former U.S. intelligence official said. "He's done this twice before." Gates, who was then deputy national security advisor for the first President Bush, was sent to "talk the Indians and Pakistanis out of war" in both 1988 and 1990, the former official, who had been among those involved in briefing Gates at the time, said.
The former official said the message Gates told India is, "If you go to war with Pakistan, you'll win. But your industrial infrastructure will be destroyed." And the message Gates told Pakistan is, "If you go to war with India, you'll lose. And at the end, you will not have a country."
"Bob Gates was the cool hand in keeping the Indians and the Pakistanis from going to war during Brass Tacks (Indian military exercise) in 1987," another former U.S. intelligence officer said, referring to when Gates was then serving as acting Director of Central Intelligence. "It was very tense."
"They are constantly shooting at one another along the line of control," the first former intelligence official said. "These little skirmishes risk getting out of hand. Both [India and Pakistan] feel they are great players at brinkmanship. But in fact they are terrible at it. They lose control very quickly. They don't know where their people are and what they are doing."
The former intelligence official strongly supported the regional approach to Afghanistan suggested by US special representative to Afghanistan and Pakistan Richard Holbrooke. "Afghanistan is a classic power vacuum," the former official said. "Neighbors see it as point of instability to guarantee their own stability or an opportunity to score points."
While the U.S. media has frequently reported on Pakistani ties to jihadi elements launching attacks in Afghanistan, it has less often mentioned that India supports insurgent forces attacking Pakistan, the former intelligence official said. "The Indians are up to their necks in supporting the Taliban against the Pakistani government in Afghanistan and Pakistan," the former intelligence official who served in both countries said. "The same anti-Pakistani forces in Afghanistan also shooting at American soldiers are getting support from India. India should close its diplomatic establishments in Afghanistan and get the Christ out of there."
"None of this is ever one-sided," he added. "That is why it was so devastating and we were so let down" when India got taken out of Holbrooke's official brief.
Holbrooke flew to India Sunday night after visits to Pakistan and Afghanistan. "Mr. Holbrooke ... said he was shocked by the problems he saw in the country [Pakistan], which he last visited a year ago," the New York Times reports. "He said he was especially concerned that the Swat Valley, a onetime ski resort about 100 miles from Islamabad, had been seized by Taliban guerrillas, who blow up schools, assassinate police officers and beat -- or behead -- those who do not adhere to their strict version of Islam." On Sunday, the paper also reports, the Taliban declared a 10 day cease-fire with Pakistani forces in Swat valley.
The Post report, sourced initially to unnamed Pakistani officials, could be interpreted as an effort by Pakistan to prevent Indian actions against the country that some U.S. military analysts predict are likely before Indian elections this spring.
"The Indians are almost certainly going to do something before [their] elections," said AEI military analyst Thomas Donnelly. "They will strike camps in Pakistan. They are really pissed about the incompetence of the response to the [Mumbai] attacks. .... It doesn't look like the Pakistanis are willing to or even can do anything that will satisfy the Indians. I would really be surprised if something doesn't happen, unless that changes. They got an election coming up in March or April. It will be an interesting test for the United States."
A spokesman for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence said it would have no comment on travel taken by the DNI.
UPDATE: A Washington South Asia expert, among others, wrote to dispute the allegation made by a former U.S. intelligence official cited in the piece that India is aiding the Taliban, although he said such support may be going to other anti-Pakistan insurgent groups. "It doesn't square with my observations/sources, even though lots of Pakistanis will say it is true," one said. "The Indians have - by many accounts - had a longstanding connection with Baluch nationalists/separatists in Pakistan, but these are not Taliban and they aren't active in Afghanistan fighting against US/NATO forces. So yes, India gives Pakistan grief (as Pakistan has in India), but I've seen no evidence that it comes from Pakistani or Afghan Taliban.
"As for the consulates, that's a regular refrain from Pakistani government and military," the expert added, "but there's very little US evidence to support the claims of major Indian activity in these locations, which appear to be minor operations with rather few personnel." The former U.S. intelligence officer who made the allegation said that U.S. policymakers do not require the U.S. government to collect intelligence on the issue.
As Barack Obama settles into the Oval Office and begins his stated mission of reorienting U.S. foreign policy, there's been a flurry of attention to exactly when and how Obama will open a direct dialogue with Iran, as he promised in his campaign. No question that will mark a break from the stinging rhetoric and halting, inconsistent diplomacy of the Bush years. But several sources told The Cable that the informal dialogue between senior Americans and the Iranians was much more robust in recent months than has been previously reported.
Over the past year, our sources confirmed, former Defense Secretary William Perry and a group of high-level U.S. nuclear nonproliferation specialists and U.S. experts on Iran held a series of meetings in European cities with Iranian officials under the auspices of the Pugwash group. (Pugwash, a group founded in 1957 by an international group of scientists, received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1995 for advocating for the elimination of nuclear weapons.) Perry served as a member of the Obama campaign's national security working group.
Sources familiar with the meetings suggest they may be coming to light now via deliberate leaks to the Iranian media, by jockeying Iranian political power players trying to maneuver for advantage amid a shifting Washington-Tehran dynamic and their own upcoming elections in June. Among the Iranian officials who attended the Pugwash dialogues, The Cable has learned, was Ali Asghar Soltanieh, the Iranian ambassador and permanent representative to the International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna.
Patrick Clawson, director of research at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, described Soltanieh as a technocrat whose presence at the Pugwash dialogue was significant. "He matters because when he writes these reports back to the regime, they will not be thrown in the trash," Clawson said. "They will be looked at."
Adding to the intrigue, one expert said to participate in the meetings was Robert J. Einhorn, sources told The Cable. Einhorn, who was a former assistant secretary of state and top nonproliferation advisor to the Hillary Clinton campaign (and later for Obama) and is currently at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, is expected to be named undersecretary of state for arms control and international security. Einhorn did not immediately respond to a request for comment. [UPDATE: Einhorn later e-mailed that he "did not participate in the Pugwash dialogue on Iran." Asked further if he'd participated in the series of meetings being described, Einhorn said, "I have participated in no Pugwash meetings on Iran, nor any other meetings with Bill Perry on Iran. This is my last response."]
Another source informed about the Pugwash dialogue said it was spearheaded by Pugwash's General Secretary Paolo Cotta Ramassino, and consisted of four meetings over the past year, including an August meeting in The Hague and a two-day December meeting, the last one, in Vienna.
The Pugwash-sponsored meetings, which focused on nuclear issues, are one series of what sources say are several "Track Two" discussions that have taken place between the two countries.
According to Jacqueline Shire, a former State Department nonproliferation expert who did not participate in the Pugwash forum, such Track Two dialogues typically work as follows: a think tank hand acting in an individual or institutional capacity initiates a project to hold discussions with Iranian government officials. In the process, he or she is likely to brief and be debriefed by the State Department in a quasi-official way. "He or she would check in before going and when he/she returns, to make sure the discussions don't go too far afield," Shire said. "One is acting in a private capacity, but not completely freelancing."
While Iran and the United States have not had official relations since the 1979 Iranian Revolution, they have had some limited diplomatic interactions and plenty of back-channel contacts. Relations between the two countries were further strained by the 2003 discovery that Iran had been pursuing a nuclear program and by elements within the Bush administration which supported, at least for a time, a "regime change" policy toward Iran, as well as by Iran's alleged support for militants in Iraq, Lebanon, and the Palestinian group Hamas.
Although the U.S. goal of persuading the Iranian regime to curtail its nuclear program and its support for militant groups in the region remains largely the same as during the Bush years, the new Obama administration has made clear that it intends to pursue a different approach to Tehran, including direct government-to-government talks.
"I do think that it is important for us to be willing to talk to Iran, to express very clearly where our differences are, but where there are potential avenues for progress," Obama told Al Arabiya television in the first interview he granted since becoming president earlier this week. "And we will over the next several months be laying out our general framework and approach. And as I said during my inauguration speech, if countries like Iran are willing to unclench their fist, they will find an extended hand from us."
Along with reports that the State Department is drafting a letter to the Iranian leadership and U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Susan Rice's comments this week that the United States will pursue direct diplomacy with Iran, the Obama administration is undertaking an intensive policy review toward Iran even as it gets its new team members into place.
"I am seeing actions that seem to be really quite different," says Trita Parsi, president of the National Iranian American Council, a Washington group that promotes U.S. engagement with Iran. "Obama was not president for even 20 minutes when he said ‘mutual respect.' That is an Iranian buzz word. No one in the Middle East uses that more than Iran."
"By [Obama] speaking directly to the Iranian leadership and the Iranian people the way he has," says Joseph Cirincione, president of the Ploughshares Fund, "and the way he may be answering Ahmadinejad's letter, it presents his views unfiltered and it shows his respect for the Iranian nation. That's very important."
Meanwhile, the diplomatic calendar marches on. Most immediately, the Obama administration will send a representative, most likely Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs William J. Burns, to next week's meeting in Berlin of the group of U.N. Security Council permanent five members plus Germany. The P5+1, as it's known, has been the nucleus of recent international efforts to pressure Iran to abandon its uranium enrichment program in exchange for fuller international recognition and engagement and other incentives.
Contacted about an Iranian media report about alleged "secret" meetings involving Perry and Iranian officials, a U.S. government official working the Iran issue responded with a hint of rolled eyes: "This is just more of the same 'Track II' activities that so many of the participants love to think of as secret talks. There are a number of these things going on and it's hard to keep them straight. This particular one would appear to be merely another in a series of meetings under Pugwash auspices, and there have been many of them. Absolutely nothing to do with government to government."
A person familiar with the Pugwash U.S.-Iran meetings declined to speak on the record or provide many details, except to confirm Perry's participation and say that they involved four meetings in different cities in Europe over the past year. They were among the most interesting and most valuable of such meetings that have occurred, The Cable was told. (Another discreet, high-level Track Two dialogue series between the U.S. and Iran has been conducted by Thomas Pickering, the former undersecretary of state for political affairs and United Nations Association-USA cochair, who has cowritten about his experience with fellow participants William Luers, the former UNA-USA president and U.S. ambassador to Czech Republic, and Jim Walsh for the New York Review of Books.)
Messages left for Pugwash's executive director in Washington and an e-mail to Perry were not immediately returned.
"There is one constant in U.S.-Iranian relations," one former official who dealt on Iran said. "The U.S. side is always looking for a way to speak directly to Iran. There are always ‘hints' from the Iranian side that the best way to do that is to have quiet talks between intermediaries. Any attempt to have such a discussion ...immediately devolves into publicity designed to make the U.S side look foolish."
"If I were doing the negotiations [for the U.S. government], I would really press at a principals meeting [about] whether at the end of the day, we are going to accept" if Iran can enrich uranium to low grade or not, says former ambassador-at-large Robert Gallucci, now president of the Georgetown School of Foreign Service. "I don't think we have enough folks to [make a determination] actually yet in place" -- not just assistant secretaries, but the principals, and deputies.
The kind of intensive policy review and decisions being undertaken now, Gallucci says, "are not going to be hammered out for a month or six weeks." In the meantime, "what you have got to do now is set up your willingness to engage. Short of getting the outcome you want ... you let it be known that we're willing to talk right now, that we're going to talk, not just as a reward for good behavior."
Gallucci said that he himself has participated in various recent Track Two meetings on Iran, including one led by Luers in New York, although he thought there were no currently serving Iranian officials at any of those he attended.
"I had one contribution to this, and it was entirely unwelcome," Gallucci said. "I said, ‘I don't think we can have Iran producing highly enriched uranium. Therefore, I don't believe we can have Iran produce low enriched uranium. That was very unwelcome, in the sense that it means, if all else [fails], we will have to act unilaterally."
He also said that he had been asked to take a job in the Obama administration, but declined, preferring to contribute in a more project-based or advisory panel capacity (he previously served on a national security advisory board panel for CIA, he mentioned). He declined to say what the job he turned down was.
UPDATE: Jeffrey Boutwell, executive director of the Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs, offered more perspective in a call Friday morning. He confirmed Pugwash was the sponsoring organization for the Track Two "Resuming constructive U.S.-Iranian dialogue" that occurred, as we reported, in four meetings in Europe throughout 2008 (three meetings in The Hague, and one in Vienna).
They were, he said, "wide-ranging, atmospheric discussions: how to move beyond the 1953 coup and the 1979 revolution; how to move beyond the historical baggage that is holding back U.S.-Iranian relations."
"Then," he added, "getting into the larger issues of US-Iran relations: security and the entire Middle East .... Iran's wish to be integrated in the wider world ......Then a specific discussion about Iranian nuclear program: concerns about the motivation for Iran's program, how to increase transparency ...how to have its program be totally transparent and no misgivings about any military uses ...how to achieve that last aim ... and establish a constructive dialogue."
Boutwell said there were currently serving senior Iranian officials participating in the discussions of equal or greater seniority than Ambassador Soltanieh, but declined to identify them.
He said that members of the group met in 2008 with several key members of Obama's circle of advisors, "people now moving into positions of influence."
He confirmed Perry's participation, but would not comment on whether Einhorn participated or attended.
Boutwell added that it is his belief that it would be a "huge mistake for the administration to delay talking to Iran until after the June Presidential election, in the (mistaken) belief that somehow this will improve Ahmedinejad's re-election chances. Iranians will vote mainly on domestic economic issues. More important, waiting until June sends the wrong signal... that the US is not serious about re-establishing dialogue, and the various issues that need discussion (enrichment, Iraq, Afghanistan) will only get more complicated over the next six months."
Photo: File; TORSTEN BLACKWOOD/AFP/Getty Images
The Obama administration has accepted the resignation of Dr. Mark Dybul, President Bush's director of the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), sources tell The Cable. "His office was packed up, he said goodybe to staff around 3:30, and seemed emotional," a department source said Thursday. "Eric Goosby is the rumored replacement."
Although Dybul had previously been reported to have been asked to stay on indefinitely, the Washington Blade reported Thursday that Obama "senior advisors were concerned about the negative reaction from some AIDS activists and reproductive rights groups to news that Dybul would be staying on. ... A number of AIDS and reproductive rights groups have urged Obama to replace Dybul with someone the groups see as more likely to change the Bush administration's insistence that at least some international AIDS relief funds be linked to abstinence-only programs."
A call to the White House was not returned. The Office of the Global AIDS Coordinator sent queries to the State Department, which did not immediately respond.
UPDATE: A State Department spokeswoman confirmed that Dybul was asked to submit his resignation and is no longer serving in that role.
President George W. Bush's Harvard Business School friend, U.S. ambassador to Hungary April H. Foley, was scheduled to have a farewell party at the embassy in Budapest next Wednesday. But the going-away shindig has been canceled, as Foley's ambassadorship has suddenly been extended a few months. The following notice was obtained by The Cable:
Foley, who became ambassador in 2006, applied for a six-month extension on her time in Budapest in November, but we're told Foggy Bottom said no. So why is she sticking around?
Well, when Foley was first appointed to head the Export-Import bank in 2003, the Washington Post's Al Kamen reported that "she used to date George W. Bush when both were at Harvard Business School and has remained friends with him." A source suggests Bush personally asked Obama at a meeting of current, future and former U.S. presidents this past week to give Foley an extension on her Budapest ambassadorship gig.
Asked about that, a White House spokeswoman said her colleague Dana Perino had made clear numerous times that the conversation between presidents was private.
John Hudson reports on national security and foreign policy from the Pentagon to Foggy Bottom, the White House to Embassy Row, for The Cable.