November 26, 2007

What role will Syria play at peace conference?

This article appeared on

What role will Syria play at peace conference?
Francona: Iran may not be there, but its interests will be represented

By Lt. Col. Rick Francona
Military analyst

Now that the Arab League has agreed to attend this week’s Middle East peace conference in Annapolis, Md., many of the major players have the fig leaf required to send their delegations. With the blessing of the pan-Arab organization, states like Saudi Arabia and Syria can attend while expressing the obligatory reluctance.

For its part, Syria has stated that it will not attend unless the return of the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights is on the agenda. That’s always the bottom line for Syria, although it has been unsuccessful in this effort since the Israelis took the area in the 1967 Six Day War and later annexed it. Syria tried to take the Golan Heights back using force by launching the Yom Kippur War in 1973 and failed. Subsequent diplomatic efforts have come close on occasion, but have ultimately failed. The return of the Golan Heights remains a hot button issue for the Syrians.

The conference highlights the difference between Israeli and Syrian approaches to Middle East peace. Israel has sought to make peace with the Arab states in a series of individual treaties, a “divide and conquer” strategy. They did this successfully with Egypt and Jordan, and for a short time in 1982, Lebanon.

The Syrians, on the other hand, have always insisted that peace should be a comprehensive arrangement between Israel and the Arab states as a whole, addressing all of the outstanding issues, primarily Israeli occupation of Arab lands. The Syrian press constantly demands a “comprehensive and just” settlement.

Damascus has paid a price for this stance over the years. Syria had hoped the united stance of the Arab states would result in the return of Arab lands occupied since 1967, the Sinai and the Gaza Strip back to Egypt, the West Bank back to Jordan and the Golan Heights back to itself. Unfortunately for Syria, it did not turn out that way. Both Egypt and Jordan renounced their claims to the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, declaring these territories to be Palestinian and not their problems. Ultimately both countries signed separate peace treaties with Israel. Egypt settled its disputes with Israel in 1979, regaining the Sinai peninsula in the process. This left Syria on its own with little leverage to regain the Golan Heights. This will be the mindset of the Syrian representatives as Israel and the Arab states meet in Annapolis this week.

There is, however, a key regional player who was not invited to the conference: Iran. Although not an Arab state and not officially involved in the Palestinian track of the Middle East peace process, Iran’s influence and intervention in the Middle East, including with the Palestinians, cannot be ignored. It is a major supporter of Hamas and Islamic Jihad, both Palestinian groups whose charters call for the destruction of the state of Israel, to be replaced by an Islamist Palestinian state. Iran’s support is not only ideological, but tangible in the form of money, weapons and training. Most if not all of that support is funneled through Iran’s seemingly only ally in the Arab world, Syria.

Will Syria represent Iranian interests at the conference?

Syria will represent its own interests, of course, but those interests dovetail nicely with those of Tehran. Iran wants to maintain pressure on Israel via the Palestinian opposition groups in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, and via its other client terrorist organization, Hezbollah, in Lebanon. Syria knows that without continued pressure from these organizations, there is no motivation for Israel to strike a deal with either the Palestinians or with Damascus.

There is an old Middle East adage: “There can be no war without Egypt, and no peace without Syria.” Without a guarantee of the return of the Golan Heights, it is unlikely that Syria will be helpful in any resolution of issues between the Israelis and Palestinians at this or any other peace conference.

So what will come out of this week’s conference? Probably not a lot, but the fact that the Arab League has agreed that its members should sit down with the Israelis is de facto if not de jure recognition of the Jewish state. However, as long as the mullahs in Tehran are pulling the strings that control the dictator in Damascus, Syria will continue to play the spoiler.

© 2007 MSNBC Interactive

November 25, 2007

OPINION - Murtha and Obey: Committed to defeat in Iraq?

Defeatists Murtha and ObeyOnce again, we have the “Defeatist Duo” – Congressmen Jack Murtha and David Obey – demanding that any more money provided to the Pentagon to fight the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan be tied to a timetable (albeit non-binding) for the withdrawal of American forces. They tried this earlier in the year – it didn’t work then and it should not work now. A timetable for withdrawal is merely a blueprint for surrender and defeat. Providing a date-certain to the insurgents and al-Qaida in Iraq gives them hope that if they can survive until that date, they can re-energize their efforts and achieve their goals.

For years, Murtha demanded a change in strategy – and he got it. A year ago, the President appointed General David Petraeus to lead U.S forces in Iraq with the orders to make changes. He also gave the general an additional 20,000 troops to mount the “surge.” That new strategy is beginning to pay off. Al-Qaida in Iraq is on the run, having suffered huge losses at the hands of American troops and Sunni tribes, especially in al-Anbar governorate. Thousands of Iraqis who had fled Baghdad are returning, sectarian violence is down, attacks against Iraqi and American forces are down, electric power generation is higher than before the invasion, oil revenues are up – things are taking on the appearance of success. Murtha should be pleased – he could claim some of the credit.

Unfortunately, Murtha and his colleague Obey have a problem with success and are moving to stifle it. Rather than imposing artificial timetables - and other restrictions on the employment of troops as the President and the Secretary of Defense see fit – they should be anxious to provide the funding to continue what appears to be a successful strategy and ultimately lead to the withdrawal of American forces after a victory rather than declaring defeat and guaranteeing the need to address the problems in the region later, probably at greater cost.

They were right about one thing, however. Taking the lead from Senator Carl Levin, another defeatist, they claimed that the surge was a failure because it did not lead to political reconciliation. This is accurate – the surge is working militarily, but the Democrats and the Republicans are as far apart as they ever were….

You almost have to wonder, “Whose side are these guys on?” Perhaps someone should ask Murtha and Obey just that. Add to that, “Do you want us to win the war in Iraq? Or are you committed to an American defeat to justify your past opposition to the war? Is your political future more important than American interests?”

Am I questioning their patriotism? I won’t know until I hear the answers to the above questions.

November 23, 2007

Podesta, Korb and Katulis: Long on complaints, short on solutions

Last week, an opinion piece by John Podesta, Larry Korb and Brian Katulis published in the Washington Post repeated the calls to declare defeat in Iraq and come home. For three people who are supposed to be pretty bright, how can they be so out of touch? They need to get out of the Washington-New York corridor and stop listening to their own counsel.

Here are some excerpts, and my comments:

Both political parties seem resigned to allowing the Bush administration to run out the clock on its Iraq strategy and bequeath this quagmire to the next president. … Conservatives continue to align themselves with Bush's Iraq strategy; some have offered muted criticisms of the implementation and handling of the war, but there has been no call to change direction.

There was a call to change direction. A year ago, responding to Congress and the American people, the President appointed General David Petraeus to command U.S forces in Iraq with the orders to make changes. He also gave the general an additional 20,000 troops to mount the “surge.” That new strategy is beginning to pay off. Al-Qaida in Iraq is on the run, having suffered huge losses at the hands of American troops and Sunni tribes, especially in al-Anbar governorate. Thousands of Iraqis who had fled Baghdad are returning, sectarian violence is down, attacks against Iraqi and American forces are down, electric power generation is higher than before the invasion, oil revenues are up – things are taking on the appearance of success. That’s a quagmire?

The many dangers of allowing our Iraq policy to drift include undermining our ability to respond effectively to other contingencies, such as the ongoing fight in Afghanistan. Not only do we no longer have a strategic ground reserve….

Ah, I get it. It’s better to declare defeat and leave Iraq so we can have an unencumbered military. We have to address these threats now or later, but we have to address them. Going home does not make them go away.

(I)n Anbar province, Sunni tribal leaders rose up against the pro-al-Qaeda Sunni elements well before the surge began. Drifting along the current path actually enhances the al-Qaeda narrative of America as an occupier of Muslim nations.

The Sunni shaykhs formed the Anbar Salvation Council in late 2006 in reaction to al-Qaida acts against some of the tribes. I am not sure that should be characterized as “well before the surge.” Even so, the surge has helped force al-Qaida out of its former strongholds in Anbar governorate and virtually forced them from Baghdad. How is that a bad thing? The surge has set the stage for the defeat of al-Qaida – not too many people are singing the “occupier of Muslim nations.”

Since the surge began, the number of internally displaced Iraqis has more than doubled. The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees has said that more than 2 million Iraqis have left the country, and tens of thousands flee every day, often to squalid camps in Syria and Jordan.

Where have these guys been? Acquaintances in Damascus tell me that restaurants and shops that catered to the Iraqi refugees are now virtually empty. The Syrian government has had to step in and facilitate the flow of these displaced Iraqis back to their home country. Neighborhoods in Baghdad are coming back to life as the Iraqis return home.

Perhaps these guys should visit Syria and Jordan to see how the Iraqi expatriates live. For the most part, they have money – rents in the two cities have skyrocketed as they sought out nice housing. I am sure there are some that have ended up in camps, but to portray them packed into “squalid camps” is a bit disingenuous.

The United States must set a firm withdrawal date. … This withdrawal can be completed safely in 12 to 18 months and should be started immediately.

How many times do we have to explain the folly of setting withdrawal dates? All that does is provide a ray of hope for the insurgents and al-Qaida in Iraq – try to survive until that date and Iraq is yours. There is no doubt that we can start now and execute a withdrawal safely – it’s the exact wrong thing to do.

I am surprised that of the three writers, Brian Katulis agreed to be involved in this assessment. He normally knows what he is talking about. I know Larry Korb and consider him to be a friend, but this is pure political drivel.

November 22, 2007

Sanchez speaks out again

Retired Lieutenant General Ricardo Sanchez will make some remarks on Saturday as part of the Democrat weeky radio address. During his remarks, he will laud the House of Representative passage of a bill that ties funding for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to a troop withdrawal timetable.

The Democrats should be careful who they enlist to support their positions. Sanchez is hardly the person I would pick. (See my earlier piece for, Gen. Sanchez should place the blame on himself.)

I won't address the merits - actually the lack thereof - of the position, only the selection of Sanchez as the spokesman. The bottom line: Sanchez was in effect fired from his position as commander of U.S. forces in Iraq, denied a promotion to four-star general and had his follow-on assignment changed. He is angry about his perceived persecution and is taking that anger out on the administration.

Sorry, general, but you brought this on yourself. You are the architect of the failure of command that manifested itself in the abuse scandals at Abu Ghraib. You set up an improper command structure in direct contravention of Army protocol and now wonder why you were held accountable?

If you want to blame someone - look in the mirror.

So, Saturday morning - if you must, you can hear General Sanchez support an untenable military position.

This from the man who brought you Abu Ghraib....

November 16, 2007

Pakistan singled out for special treatment?

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Pakistan singled out for special treatment?
Francona: The U.S. fails to demand the same reforms in other countries

By Lt. Col. Rick Francona
Military analyst

In the aftermath of President Pervez Musharraf’s suspension of Pakistan’s constitution, there have been calls for re-evaluation of the relationship between Washington and Islamabad. There have also been threats that the United States might suspend aid to the Pakistani military, most of it intended to assist in their fight against terrorism, specifically al-Qaida and the Taliban. That assistance is estimated to be about $140 million dollars per month.

One of the basic tenets of many American administrations, including that of George Bush, is to support democratic reform around the world. In recent months, the administration has pressured Musharraf to make changes it believes are retarding progress to democracy: step down as army chief, enter a power-sharing arrangement with former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto and hold free elections.

That appeared to be on track until the recent spate of violence in the country, causing Musharraf to suspend the constitution. After the announcement of the state of emergency on Nov. 3, there have been repeated demands made of Musharraf to reconsider his actions and not delay the elections scheduled for January. The situation in the nuclear-armed country has prompted visits from concerned senior U.S. officials, including Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte.

I find it interesting that the United States has singled out Pakistan to be denounced for its slow progress towards democracy, while all but ignoring the abysmal human rights records of its other allies — kingdoms and theocracies that make no pretense of being representative governments. Is there a double standard for different allies?

Several states in the region come to mind: the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the Kingdom of Bahrain, the Emirate of Qatar, the State of Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates. These countries are long-time allies of the United Sates, yet not one is a representative democracy. Granted, some have low level elections for positions like municipal offices, but in none of these countries does the population have real input to national level decisionmaking and there is no true electorate.

All of the countries above provide some sort of support to the U.S. military, such as basing rights, overflight permission, use of logistics facilities, pre-positioning of military equipment, etc. They all enjoy another important distinction: they are customers of large American defense contractors. These countries buy large quantities of expensive military hardware and are not recipients of American aid because they don’t need it.

Let’s take another example, a country more analogous to Pakistan. The Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan is an American ally. It has been a strong ally in the Middle East for years with the notable exception of Jordan’s support of Saddam Hussein following Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait in 1990. Jordan is not a wealthy country and cannot afford to buy American military equipment on its own. Over the years the kingdom has received billions of dollars of American economic and military assistance in return for desert training opportunities and intelligence sharing.

Despite some moves toward a more representative assembly, Jordan is not a democracy and the ultimate authority remains the king. Yet I don’t recall the United States dispatching John Negroponte to Jordan to push for free elections and democratic reforms. I have not seen any past or current American administration apply real pressure on any of our Gulf Arab allies to hold elections and step down as monarchs.

Why not? Could it be that these autocratic regimes are spending huge amounts of money on expensive American weapons? Maybe, but what about Jordan? Jordan, like Pakistan, receives American aid. Pakistan must become a democracy, but Jordan does not?

Bottom line: If you are an autocratic state spending huge amounts of money on American weapons and allowing U.S. forces to use your territory, you get a pass. If you are Pakistan, receiving billions in American assistance, you need to be moving toward democracy unless you fall into some undefined category like Jordan.

Why don’t we treat Pakistan like Jordan? This sounds like a double standard to me.

© 2007 MSNBC Interactive

November 13, 2007

Waterboarding: Is it torture and does it work?

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Waterboarding: Is it torture and does it work?
Interrogation methods may be essential to the survival of Americans

By Lt. Col. Rick Francona
Military analyst

There is an ongoing debate about CIA use of the interrogation technique known as “waterboarding” and other so-called “enhanced interrogation techniques.” Waterboarding simulates drowning though forced inhalation of water into the lungs and nasal passages. Many believe this, or any form of physical coercion, amounts to torture.

Some of the enhanced techniques in question are sleep deprivation, sensory manipulation, isolation, open-handed blows and, of course, waterboarding. While undergoing training for intelligence operations, many officers in the armed forces intelligence services and the CIA were subjected to these techniques, albeit in a controlled training environment. Why? Because in almost every conflict in which the United States has been involved, our military personnel have been subjected to these interrogation methods.

The argument that use of aggressive interrogation techniques by CIA interrogators will place our military personnel at greater risk in the future should they be captured does not stand up to scrutiny. American prisoners of war have never been treated in accordance with the Geneva Conventions – the only countries that adhere to the protocols seem to be the United States and its allies. In virtually every conflict, our captured personnel have been brutally treated and abused.

Do these enhanced techniques rise to the level of torture? This becomes a matter of semantics and interpretation. After Sept. 11, 2001, the U.S. government defined as torture methods that cause “permanent physical harm or severe pain.” In August 2002, the Justice Department defined “severe torture” as “a high level of intensity that the pain is difficult for the subject to endure.”

Using this standard, none of the above techniques is considered to be torture. That, however, does not make them acceptable under various international protocols. For example, some human rights organizations consider even blindfolding and handcuffing to be torture, as well as isolation and sleep deprivation.

Many, including Sen. John McCain and my colleague Bob Baer, believe that torture does not work. In most instances, it does not. Certainly, the preferred method and the most effective method is to establish some sort of relationship with a prisoner and convince him or her to talk to you. Many intelligence services have very effective strategic interrogation programs. The key word here is strategic and it takes time for that relationship between interrogator and subject to develop.

Time is not always available. In these instances, when it is believed that the subject has vital information on impending events that put your unit, organization, citizens or country at risk, it is imperative to obtain the information as quickly as possible. This is when enhanced or aggressive techniques may become necessary and should be considered as a tool to save lives.

When you employ these techniques, as pointed out by McCain and Baer, the risk that the subject will tell you whatever he thinks will stop the interrogation. The argument is that this information, obtained under physical or mental duress, is unreliable. That can be true, and the reason why these techniques must be used only by properly trained personnel in specific circumstances. It is also imperative that the obtained information must be verifiable or corroborated through independent information.

In most cases, that means you must have more than one source or more than one subject. Constant corroboration between various sources or subjects will eventually lead to the truth. You play one source against the other and soon you arrive at an accurate understanding of the information they have. According to former Director of Central Intelligence George Tenet and CIA operations Officer Michael Scheuer, enhanced interrogation was effective in obtaining useful information.

Use of these enhanced techniques is the sole domain of specially trained CIA officers, following extensive legal reviews. Military personnel are specifically forbidden from using them. Army Field Manual 2-22.3, Human Intelligence Collector Operations (September 2006) details exactly what DOD and military interrogators can do: It is now the Department of Defense’s standard guide to interrogations.

This may be a moot discussion. Congress is considering a bill that would force all government agencies to adhere to the interrogation guidelines in the Army manual. Enacting such legislation would eliminate the water boarding option for any future high-value detainees, regardless of the threat posed to the country.

While I am not advocating the use of these techniques, I would caution outlawing them. There may be a time when the need to obtain information is essential to the survival of hundreds, possibly thousands of Americans.

© 2007 MSNBC Interactive

November 8, 2007

Pakistan – Do we support Musharraf or risk the alternative?

This article (edited) appeared on

Should the U.S. support Musharraf?
Francona: To fight al-Qaida, we need Pakistan

By Lt. Col. Rick Francona
Military analyst

Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf suspended the country’s constitution on November 3, accusing the judicial branch of the government of crippling the government’s efforts against increasing violence by Islamist militants. Since the “Proclamation of Emergency,” there have been protests and arrests, mostly among members of the legal profession who are in the forefront of the protests against Musharraf’s move. Musharraf has come under international pressure, including the United States, to reverse his decision.

It is the timing of the proclamation that raises questions.

According to Musharraf, he took the action following the judiciary’s release of 31 militants accused of insurgent activities against the government. He clams that the court’s actions have undermined the executive branch’s ability to contain the sharp increase in anti-government attacks.

There is no doubt about the increase of anti-government violence in recent months. These attacks have occurred not only in the tribal areas along the Afghan border, but in the capital city of Islamabad as well. In July, Pakistani troops stormed the Red Mosque in Islamabad, killing scores of militants. Since then the militants have sought revenge against Musharraf and the government by unleashing a wave of attacks resulting in the death of as many as 1000 Pakistanis.

Musharraf has in turn sent Pakistani troops to the Federally Administered Tribal Areas on the northwestern border with Afghanistan, areas that are strongholds of many of the militant groups. The troops are facing stiff resistance not only from the militant groups, but from the tribes who are sympathetic to the militants. The Pakistani army, although well-trained and well-led, has suffered some embarrassing defeats.

Throughout Pakistan, Musharraf is not a popular leader – he has been the target of several assassination attempts in recent years. Many of his former supporters turned on him when he allied himself with the United States in the aftermath of the September 11, 2001 attacks. His decision to allow American aircraft to fly over Pakistan on the way to conduct operations in and over Afghanistan did not sit well with his traditional power base – the army. He faced even more resentment among the Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate, the group intimately involved with Pakistan’s support to the Taliban.

Despite his unpopularity since 2001, he has managed to maintain his power base, largely through his position as Chief of Army General Staff. He has promised to step down from this position, but has yet to do so. It is doubtful that he will give up control of the army – the ultimate guarantor of power in Pakistan – during this period of crisis.

Just over two weeks ago, former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto returned to the country in what many inside and outside Pakistan hoped would be a power sharing arrangement between Musharraf and Bhutto. It was hoped that Bhutto’s presence combined with Musharraf’s stepping down army chief would be a step towards democracy. Presidential elections, currently scheduled for January 2008, are now in question. Prime Minister Shawkat Aziz believes they may be postponed for a year or more.

In addition to the rise in violence and the return of Benazir Bhutto, Musharraf was faced with an additional challenge to his leadership, this time by the Supreme Court. The high court was believed to be on the verge of invalidating Musharraf’s recent re-election. Musharraf feared he was losing control of the situation, and more importantly possibly about to lose his position – he decided to act to prevent both.

What is the United States role in this?

We need Pakistan - we need the Pakistani army and intelligence services to continue the fight against the al-Qaida and Taliban elements in Pakistan. We need them to continue and increase their cooperation with our forces along the Afghan border. We do not need a Pakistan that is the new training ground for al-Qaida, replacing pre-9/11 Afghanistan. Most of all, we do not need the removal of the current government only to be replaced with an Islamist regime with an arsenal of nuclear weapons. How much confidence do we have that an Islamist government would not transfer such weapons to terrorist groups?

What are the options for the United States? Do we support Musharraf despite his suspension of the constitution? Or do we pressure him to repeal the emergency declaration and risk losing power?

Tough call, but American national interests should prevail. I say we give Musharraf the benefit of the doubt and let him do what he has to do to contain the militants. Democracy in Pakistan would be certainly preferable to martial law under Musharraf, but temporary martial law under Musharraf is certainly better than an Islamist state.

November 5, 2007

Iran: The new focus of 2008?

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Iran: The new focus of 2008?
As the election year looms closer, new foreign threats emerge

By Lt. Col. Rick Francona
Military analyst

Not a day goes by without some story about Iran in the headlines: Tehran’s nuclear issue with the United Nations and the West, Iran’s support of terrorist organizations from Hezbollah in Lebanon to Shiite militias in Iraq or the Taliban in Afghanistan, its militarization program of advanced conventional weapons and longer-range ballistic missiles, its threats against Israel, reactions to possible economic sanctions — it’s always something.

As we gear up for the 2008 elections, Iran is emerging as one of the key issues and it should be that way.

Since the fall of the shah, the advent of the Islamic republic and the seizure of the American Embassy in Tehran more than 25 years ago, Iran has been a thorn in the side of American foreign policymakers. For years, many Middle East analysts have believed that at some point, the issue of Iran would have to be squarely addressed. It appears that time is rapidly approaching and the confluence of events is being driven by the Iranians.

One could make the argument that the Iranians are looking for a showdown with the West, or more particularly with the United States. I am not sure what has emboldened the Iranian leadership. It may be the increasing price of oil and the resultant revenue bonanza; the perception that the United States and its allies are either bogged down or over-committed in Iraq and Afghanistan and do not have the stomach for another crisis; the belief that their militarization programs have given them enough military power to survive a regional confrontation with the United States; or the belief that their “friends in the United Nations,” China and Russia will protect them from further economic sanctions.

Whatever the calculus is in Tehran, the leadership, more specifically President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, appears to want a confrontation. We should not dismiss the words of Ahmadinejad lightly. Although as president he does not control the nuclear program, the army or the intelligence services, he would not be allowed to make his outrageous statements without the acquiescence of Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, who does control the elements of power in the country.

The key issue, the long-term strategic issue, is the Iranian nuclear program. The Bush administration has made clear its position on the suspected weapons development effort. The latest reiteration of that stance was made by Vice President Dick Cheney last week: “We will not allow Iran to have a nuclear weapons program.” There does not seem to be much room for alternate interpretation there. President Bush seemed to lower the threshold of tolerating Iranian nuclear weapons research, saying that Iran even having “the knowledge necessary to make a nuclear weapon” could lead to World War III.

In any case, the choices of what to do about the Iranians are fairly limited. Diplomacy hasn’t worked for us in the past with the Iranians, and it does not appear to be working for the Europeans now. Many of the 2008 presidential candidates favor “aggressive diplomacy.” But a presidential figure can only negotiate with people who will negotiate in good faith. We have not seen that thus far from the Iranians.

Will the Iranians negotiate? Sure, the Iranians will come to the table, but will it be in good faith? The American ambassador in Iraq has twice met with Iranian officials to discuss the situation in that country. Nothing has changed — Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps officers are still funding, training and equipping Shiite militias in Iraq —militias that are killing American soldiers.

The Europeans and the United Nations have been talking to the Iranians for years about their refusal to adhere to Security Council resolutions on their nuclear program. Every time stronger sanctions are about to be imposed, Iran makes some conciliatory gesture to stall the proceedings. More talks are scheduled and nothing happens.

It is in Iran’s interest to keep the negotiations open and moving at a snail’s pace. Every day, every week, every month that talks continue, the centrifuges at Natanz continue to spin, enriching uranium. Iran’s strategy is simple: Keep the world talking while we keep enriching uranium, then present the world with a nuclear device and we win.

They want a nuclear weapon. Are we prepared to live with that?

Before I cast a vote for president, I want to know the candidate’s answer to that question. I want to know what he or she is prepared to do about the problem. I need to hear something more than diplomacy, aggressive or otherwise. That’s nothing but a license for Iran to build a nuclear weapon.

© 2007 MSNBC Interactive

November 4, 2007

The al-Anbar Shaykhs Ask for Funding

The al-Anbar Shaykhs Ask for Funding
It will be money well spent.

Tribal shaykhs in al-Anbar governorate have asked the United States to provide additional funding to assist them in the reconstruction of their battle damaged cities and towns. These are the tribal leaders that have allied with American forces to virtually eliminate al-Qa’idah in Iraq as a viable threat to the country’s security.

This will be money well spent, on several levels. The shaykhs are the key to the recent successes in al-Anbar province, via the “Anbar Awakening” movement in which they decided to turn on the al-Qa’idah in Iraq terrorists who had tried to establish an Islamic state in the Arab Sunni areas of Iraq. The shaykhs had differing motives to reject the Islamists – some saw the Islamists as a threat to their established tribal/clan/family way of life, others did not like the presence of outsiders establishing parallel court systems, and others did not like the risk of losing lucrative incomes from control of contracts and businesses in the region. Whatever the motives, they shaykhs’ cooperation with the Americans was the prime reason for the devastating blows dealt to al-Qa’idah by the American military and Iraqi security forces.

From the fighting in 2003 through the present day, whether the fighting was between Iraqi insurgents, al-Qa’idah fighters or American troops, the area is devastated. Cities like al-Fallujah were almost destroyed as American forces moved through them in pursuit of insurgents and terrorists. Artillery and air strikes leveled many of the buildings and crippled much of the infrastructure. Unfortunately, it was necessary in the removal of the hostile elements.

Now that al-Anbar is almost on the verge of pacification, the shaykhs should be rewarded for their cooperation – belated as it may have been. They took risks to side with the Americans and the central government in Baghdad. That reward should come in the form of funding to rebuild the cities and infrastructure to be sure, but should also include American support for some of the shaykhs’ demands of the Iraqi government. The United States should push for the passage of the long-awaited mineral resources law, allowing Baghdad to control and equitably distribute the country’s oil revenues.

An ancillary benefit of supporting the shaykhs’ requests for funds is the goodwill that it will generate among the surrounding Arab states, all with Sunni majorities. Providing increased police presence, repairs to the infrastructure and concessions from the Shi’a-dominated government in Baghdad will allay concerns among countries like Saudi Arabia and Jordan that they might have to provide support to their Sunni brethren.

The shaykhs were key players in securing al-Anbar province and dealing a blow to al-Qa’idah. The funds are a fair way to acknowledge that contribution.