The Cable

Pakistani Ambassador: Missing bin Laden was either “incompetence” or “overconfidence”

U.S.-Pakistan relations are in chaos this week following the revelation on Sunday night that Osama bin Laden had been residing in Abbottabad, Pakistan, which has an extensive Pakistani military presence.  Everyone wants to know how the Pakistani government could have totally unaware of bin Laden's presence, as they claim to have been.

In an exclusive interview with The Cable, Pakistani Ambassador to Washington Husain Haqqani said that his government will conduct a series of internal investigations to find out how bin Laden could have been living deep less than 100 miles from the capital, Islamabad, and to determine if any Pakistani government personnel were helping him. He also said that the investigations will be conducted solely by Pakistan, without direct U.S. involvement.

"Pakistan will conduct a full inquiry into what his support network was, whether the support network was a private network, or whether it involved individuals working at any level in our police or security services or anywhere," Haqqani said. "We totally reject there was complicity as a policy decision. The only other two explanations are incompetence and overconfidence of our security services."

The Americans won't be part of that investigation, but Pakistan will share what it considers to be important information with the United States, and expects the same treatment from the Obama administration in return.

"If there is anything important for both sides to know, it definitely will be shared with the American side. And we look forward to receiving any information from the Americans that may be relevant to our understanding to what happened and how Osama bin Laden ended up where he was found," Haqqani said.

President Asif Ali Zardari will decide who will lead the overall investigation, and there will be other internal investigations in the military and the local police as well, Haqqani said. He confirmed that Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan Marc Grossman formally requested in his Tuesday meeting with Zardari that Pakistan make several gestures of cooperation in the wake of the operation, including that Pakistan hand over the contents of the bin Laden compound and make available the bin Laden family members who were left alive there.

The Pakistani government was still considering the request, but today's statement from Pakistan's Foreign Ministry noted that the family members "will be handed over to their countries of origin," casting doubt on whether it would comply with the U.S. request.

The Foreign Ministry statement also heavily criticized the United States for violating Pakistani sovereignty, stating that the bin Laden operation "shall not serve as a future precedent for any state, including the US. Such actions undermine cooperation and may also sometime constitute threat to international peace and security."

Haqqani didn't directly contradict that statement, but emphasized that "Pakistan's government is as satisfied as the American government and the rest of the world over the fact that Osama bin Laden has been put out of business and he will no longer be able to plot terrorist attacks in Pakistan or anywhere else in the world."

Various Pakistani officials' conflicting statements about what they knew, and when, are complicating Pakistan's diplomatic response to the bin Laden embarrassment. Wajid Hasan, Pakistan's high commissioner in London, said Pakistan knew where bin Laden was, but the Americans just acted quicker.

"I do not know on what basis Hasan said what he said. This is all Monday morning quarterbacking anyway," Haqqani responded.

One of the lingering questions is how the American helicopters could travel so far into Pakistan without being detected by Pakistani air defenses. Some have suggested this is an indication that the Pakistani military was cooperating with the operation.

Haqqani disagreed, however, saying that Pakistan simply doesn't have strong air defenses on its western border. Its air defenses are directed at India, he said, not Afghanistan. "Pakistani defenses are configured in light of the threat perception that does not look at the possibility of air penetration from the Afghan side," he said.

The Foreign Ministry statement echoes this point, saying, "US helicopters entered Pakistani airspace making use of blind spots in the radar coverage due to hilly terrain. US helicopters' undetected flight into Pakistan was also facilitated by the mountainous terrain, efficacious use of latest technology and ‘map of the earth' flying techniques."

Haqqani said that he was boarding a plane to London when he received a text message stating that bin Laden was dead, and didn't learn the details of the operation until several hours later when the plane landed. By that point, news of the operation had spread around the world. President Barack Obama soon after informed Zardari, CIA Director Leon Panetta called Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) chief Ahmad Shuja Pasha, and Joint Chiefs Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen called Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani.

The Cable pressed Haqqani on several reports of how the Pakistani military may have either been involved or reacted to the operation Sunday night. Haqqani suggested reports that Pakistani jets were scrambled in response to the firefight at bin Laden's compound might not be true, and said he didn't believe reports that Pakistani military personnel asked nearby residents to turn off their lights before the attack.  He also said that he had no idea if anyone from the ISI was working with the CIA on the mission.

"It's the media's job to speculate," he said. "But if I were you, I wouldn't believe everything you read."

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The Cable

Is Palin reading the Tea Party leaves on foreign policy?

Former Governor Sarah Palin has a new foreign policy team, but the real story is that she may be shifting her entire foreign policy persona to accommodate a GOP voting pool that is increasingly driven by Tea Party politics.

In a speech at Colorado Christian University on Monday, Palin laid out a foreign policy framework that runs counter to her previous identity as a pro-military, pro-defense budget, pro-intervention hawk. She criticized the war in Libya -- despite the fact she once pressed for the no-fly zone there.

"We should only commit our forces when clear and vital American interests are at stake. Period," Palin said. She called nation building "a nice idea in theory," and criticized the placement of U.S. forces under foreign command, another reference to the NATO-led mission in Libya. "We can't fight every war, we can't undo every injustice in the world," Palin said.

Until now, Palin has been the Tea Party's hawk, the movement's main leader in the fight to wall off foreign policy and national security from budget cuts, and a primary opponent of the effort to pull back America's foreign military presence around the world. Her change in tone and substance could reflect the growing power of the libertarian wing of the Tea Party, which is now well-represented in Congress, in advance of the 2012 primary season.

"She sounds more Michele Bachmann-esque," said Tom Donnelly, director of the Center for Military Studies at the American Enterprise Institute. "The temptation to move to the right-wing version of ‘come home America' is increasing all the time."

If she does run in 2012, Palin could face a field of candidates who are more libertarian than neoconservative. Bachmann, Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels, and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee all have espoused views that warn about the overuse of U.S. military force. Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty lean more to the military-focused approach that has guided GOP foreign policy since President Ronald Reagan's administration.

But many in the new generation of GOP politicians don't remember the Cold War and see the Pentagon as just another bloated bureaucracy, Donnelly said.

"The issue set that got them elected was all domestic or social policy and part of the libertarian trope is to be for military power but be very judicious about using it," he said. "This is not just a Palin phenomenon."

Who will win the internal GOP battle over national security policy? "I don't think the outcome is knowable," said Donnelly.

Meanwhile, Politico reported today that Palin has cut ties with Randy Scheunemann and Michael Goldfarb, two partners in the consulting firm Orion Strategies, who had been her primary foreign policy advisors since the McCain presidential campaign in 2008. She has a new foreign policy advisor, Peter Schweizer, a Hoover Institution fellow who blogs for Andrew Breitbart's website Big Peace.

Scheunemann was a top McCain campaign advisor who sided with Palin after the election, during a period of internecine fighting among former McCain team staffers. Goldfarb, another key McCain campaign staffer, previously ran the blog at the Weekly Standard, which is edited by Bill Kristol. They had been crafting what was until recently Palin's mostly neoconservative stance on a range of foreign policy issues, including her opposition to New START, support for robust defense budgets, criticism of Obama's handling of the U.S.-Israel relationship, and backing for the surge in Afghanistan.

"The personnel shift carries an ideological charge," wrote Politico's Ben Smith. [Scheunemann and Goldfarb] crafted for Palin a policy platform and voice reflecting an eagerness to use American force.... Schweizer has articulated a more skeptical view of the use of American force and promotion of democracy abroad."

But Palin didn't drop Orion, it was the other way around. And Orion didn't drop Palin over ideological differences. They told her staff weeks ago that they were simply too swamped with other clients and needed to consolidate their time and resources. Their firm, Orion Strategies, has taken on clients including Google and the Koch brothers recently.

It's also no secret that Palin is a complicated client to work with. She is difficult to manage, hard to schedule for events, and doesn't always stay on the talking points provided to her, according to several articles on how she operates.  Nevertheless, Scheunemann told The Cable that her core beliefs on foreign policy are firm and consistent.

"Sarah Palin has been a powerful advocate for freedom, democracy, and human rights all over the world, and I don't think that's going to change because of who her advisers are -- that's who she is," he said.

GOP foreign policy experts aren't so sure. They believe that Palin is moving to a foreign policy identity more in line with the Tea Party politics of the moment, and perhaps more in line with her ever-emerging personal beliefs.

"This may be her finding her niche. Up until now people have been trying to make her into something," Donnelly said.

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