December 28, 2007

Hopes of democracy dashed in Pakistan

This article appeared on

Hopes of democracy dashed in Pakistan
Francona: U.S. must reassess stance toward Musharraf after Bhutto's death

By Lt. Col. Rick Francona
Military analyst - MSNBC

Although it is too soon to know who assassinated former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, it is fast becoming apparent that Pakistan remains a crisis for U.S. foreign policy. Hopes of a move towards democracy and an end of the military-dominated rule in the country were dashed with two bullets and a suicide vest on Thursday. Now the U.S. must reassess its stance towards President Pervez Musharraf. The choices are neither plentiful nor especially palatable.

The warning signs have been apparent for years. The Musharraf government has been extremely unpopular — so unpopular that the joke in the country was that Osama bin Laden would have defeated him in a runoff election. Musharraf was in a difficult position: the U.S. approached him following the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 and convinced him to support American military operations against al-Qaida in Afghanistan. Washington had an ally in Pakistan's capital, Islamabad.

Musharraf’s decision to support the U.S. was followed by American demands that he step down as commander of the armed forces and implement democratic reforms. These moves led to serious challenges of his leadership from Islamic fundamentalists — including some in the military and intelligence services — who have no desire for Western-style governance. This was a recipe for disaster.

Enter Benazir Bhutto, a respected former prime minister who the U.S. hoped represented a solution to head off the impending disaster. With Bhutto as the prime minister and Musharraf as president, it may have made the government more palatable to the population and still acceptable to the armed forces, the ultimate guarantor of power in the country. Under pressure from the U.S., Musharraf entertained the idea of a power-sharing agreement. In Washington, that would mean still having an ally in Islamabad.

Another recipe for disaster: the thought of a joint Musharraf-Bhutto government was anathema to the multiple Islamic fundamentalist groups in the country. In the Pakistani armed forces and intelligence services, there is sympathy for the Islamists. The Pakistani intelligence service, the Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate (ISID), was instrumental in the formation of the Taliban and has a long history of supporting the anti-Soviet mujahideen in Afghanistan in the 1980’s that placed the ISID in direct contact with bin Laden and al-Qaida. These fundamentalists are committed to the overthrow of the Musharraf government. They have tried to assassinate him at least three times already. Adding Benazir Bhutto — overtly committed to the fight against the Taliban and al-Qaida — to the equation only inflamed radical passions further.

Suicide bomb unlikely
Musharraf sympathizers, including his special operations troops, have already been accused by Bhutto supporters of complicity in the assassination. There is a key point they have overlooked — Musharraf’s followers are not the types to commit suicide. Willingness to commit suicide is usually associated with a religious-based ideology rather than a political ideology. The fact that the killer was able to reach her in Rawalpindi, the home turf of the army and ISID, raises serious questions about Islamist penetration of those services.

The U.S. now finds itself in a difficult position with few options. With former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and Bhutto’s Pakistan Peoples Party threatening to boycott the January elections, assuming they are even held, continuing U.S. support for Musharraf appears to be the only viable option. That support should come with a price tag — aggressive action on the Afghanistan border. While we want democratic reform in Pakistan, we need an ally more.

For the time being, the U.S. national interests require Pakistan as an ally in the continuing fight against terrorism. As long as the Taliban challenges the Karzai government in neighboring Afghanistan, and as long as al-Qaida fighters find safe haven in Pakistan’s tribal areas (North Western Frontier Province and the Waziristans), we need an ally in Islamabad. I wish we didn’t, but we do.

December 22, 2007

John Walker Lindh wants out

He has called himself John Walker Lindh, John Walker, his original adopted Muslim name Sulayman al-Faris, or as he prefers today, Hamza Walker Lindh. Others have dubbed him "Taliban John" or "Jihad Johnny" or "the Marin Mujahid."

Whatever he or others prefer, the correct form of address is Inmate # 45426-083. Lindh is a federal inmate currently incarcerated at the medium-security prison in Terre Haute, Indiana, having recently been moved from the "Supermax" facility in Colorado. Lindh should consider himself lucky - the Supermax is as tough as it gets.

Lindh is back in the news. His lawyer, James Brosnahan, has again requested that President Bush commute the sentence that he and Lindh agreed to in a 2002 plea bargain. I don't think there is any chance President Bush will reduce the sentence - nor should he. Part of the plea bargain was that there would be no requests for reduction of his sentence.

The current request provides another opportunity for Brosnahan and Lindh's parents to proclaim his innocence.

MARILYN WALKER: "John Lindh had no involvement whatsoever in terrorism or criminal activity. His only offense was serving in the army of Afghanistan - he's admitted this was a mistake on his part. He never fought against the United States."

Ya um hamza (hey mother of Hamza), where have you been since 2001? I know it is hard to come to grips with what your son has become and done, but to make these statements is absurd. No involvement in criminal activity or terrorism? He admitted to it as part of his plea deal. Serving in the army of Afghanistan? He was an unlawful combatant by any definition. If he was not fighting against the United States, why did he not leave Afghanistan on October 7, 2001, the day of the American invasion? He stayed and fought - he's guilty.

JAMES BROSNAHAN: "Others have received a lot less in the way of a sentence even when they were convicted of a lot more. I think the mood of the country has changed dramatically since 2001-2002. We're still feeling the effects of 9/11, but we're not as fearful as we were then. We still have enemies, but we're seeing them more clearly now. John is not one of them."

Counselor, we know you have to make these kinds of statements to earn your keep, but if John/Hamza is not one of our enemies, why did you plead him guilty? He's guilty, he admitted it, you got him a deal, end of story. While the mood of the country may have changed since 2001, there is no sympathy for Taliban John. I would have left him on a battlefield in Afghanistan.

December 20, 2007

An opportunity for reconciliation

This article appeared on

An opportunity for reconciliation
Francona: Targeting the PKK may help peace efforts

By Lt. Col. Rick Francona
Military analyst - MSNBC

Turkey’s recent limited cross-border operations into northern Iraq present an opportunity to repair damaged relations between two NATO allies. Over the past few weeks, American intelligence agencies have been providing information on the location of camps and hideouts of the Kurdish Workers Party (PKK), a designated terrorist organization, inside Iraq along the mountainous Turkish border. This intelligence information has allowed precise airstrikes and commando operations by Turkish forces against the PKK fighters and helped preclude the possibility of a much larger Turkish incursion into northern Iraq; a move that could threaten the relative peace and prosperity of the Iraqi Kurdish autonomous region.

For its part, Iraq has made the required vocal oral objections to the limited operations, but all sides realize that the Turks have to do something to staunch the increase in PKK operations against Turkish troops and government facilities. The Turkish people had become frustrated with the PKK’s use of safe havens in Iraq, theoretically under the occupation or control of its NATO ally, the United States. To quell rising domestic dissatisfaction with the seeming unwillingness or lack of capability to stop the attacks, the Turkish parliament authorized the Turkish military, a capable force, to mount an incursion into northern Iraq to root out the terrorists.

A full-scale Turkish military incursion into northern Iraq is not in the interests of the Turks, the Americans or the Iraqis. Relations between Ankara and Washington have been strained since 2003, when Turkey refused to allow the U.S. Army’s 4th Infantry Division to transit Turkish territory to enter northern Iraq as part of the American invasion force. The ability to attack from the north in coordination with the attacks from the south would have been much more effective and may have prevented the birth of the insurgency in what became known as the Sunni triangle.

Turkey’s refusal to allow passage came only after the heavy mechanized division was spread out over the highways in southern Turkey, requiring the United States to move the division’s troops and equipment back to ports, re-contract adequate shipping, move the division all the way to the Persian Gulf>, offload in Kuwait and move overland to the fight in Iraq. The delay prevented American combat forces from reaching the Sunni heartland north of Baghdad, the area that spawned the Sunni insurgency and became a home to the al-Qaida in Iraq. Many American officers did not regard these as the actions of an ally.

Since 2003, there has been a slow thaw in relations between the two allies. The alliance goes back over half a century when Turkey joined NATO in 1952. As the leaders of the two countries watch events in Russia and Central Asia, both realize the importance to overcome the disagreement of four years ago. The American provision of intelligence is a good step in that direction.

Why does Turkey need American intelligence? The Turks are in the area and have long experience fighting the PKK, so what advantage does the United States have to offer? Turkey can conduct its own aerial reconnaissance using its fighter aircraft, but this is usually detectable and requires the overflight of sovereign Iraqi territory (and coordination with American forces). American surveillance platforms – electro-optical imagery satellites, high-altitude U-2 reconnaissance aircraft and small unmanned aerial vehicles have the advantage of being virtually undetectable from the ground.

The cooperation between the Turks and American intelligence is important for another significant reason. We are assisting the Turks in their war against a terrorist group, much like we are supporting the Pakistani government in its efforts against the Taliban and al-Qaida. If we believe in the “global” war on terrorism, the support to Turkey is appropriate.

© 2007 MSNBC Interactive

December 19, 2007

HAMAS seeks a ceasefire - why?

Isma'il Haniyah, prime minister of the Palestinian Authority's HAMAS-led government, called for a ceasefire in the Gaza Strip. Haniyah claims that repeated Israeli air strikes and military incursions over the past months, especially in the last few weeks, have taken an unacceptable toll on the Palestinian people. In a two day period, Israeli pilots killed two HAMAS fighters and 10 members of the Islamic Jihad organization

Haniyah sought to bolster his demands for a ceasefire by blaming Israel for hurting his efforts to rein in the more radical Islamic Jihad terrorists responsible for launching hundreds of homemade Qassam rockets into southern Israel, mostly into the town of Sderot.

Let me see if I understand this. The HAMAS prime minister, himself a member of a designated terrorist organization - HAMAS is an acronym for the Arabic words meaning "the Islamic Resistance Movement" (harakat al-muqawamah al-islamiyah) - is attempting to help Israel and control the Islamic Jihad. While on an intellectual level, that makes sense. On a gut, reality level, I am not buying it.

HAMAS is dedicated to the destruction of the Jewish state. Israel has said it will talk to HAMAS once the group renounces violence, recognizes Israel and pledges to honor existing agreements made with the Palestinians, primarily with the Palestine Liberation Organization.

Islamic Jihad denied any such attempts on the part of Haniyah or HAMAS to stop firing Qassam rockets into Sderot. In fact, the group reaffirmed its commitment to continue the attacks.

I think I hear Haniyah crying kafi, kafi - "enough." The Israelis are finally hitting home and inflicting enough damage to bring about a change in behavior. It will undoubtedly continue until the rockets stop.

December 15, 2007

Rick Francona selected to participate in debate

A quick announcement - I have been selected to participate in a debate in March. The details:

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Motion: Tough interrogation of terror suspects is necessary

Brian Lehrer, is host of the highly-acclaimed “Brian Lehrer Show” heard weekday mornings on WNYC® New York Public Radio®, 820 AM, 93.9 FM and He is also an award-winning author and documentary producer. Lehrer holds masters degrees in journalism and public health/environmental sciences.

Panelists for the motion

Mirko Bagaric is a professor of law and head of the Deakin Law School in Australia. He is the author of over a dozen books and one hundred papers in refereed journals in the United States, Australia and Europe. Bagaric has written on a wide range of legal and philosophical topics including international law, practical moral philosophy, and punishment and sentencing.

Rick Francona is a retired U.S. Air Force Lieutenant Colonel, having served with the National Security Agency, the Defense Intelligence Agency, and the Central Intelligence Agency. His tours of duty include Iraq, Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, and Saudi Arabia, with operational travel in virtually every country in the Middle East. Since early 2003, Francona has been a Middle East military analyst for NBC News and can be seen regularly on NBC, MSNBC and CNBC.

Heather Mac Donald is the John M. Olin Fellow at the Manhattan Institute and a contributing editor to City Journal. A non-practicing lawyer, Mac Donald has clerked for the Honorable Stephen Reinhardt, General Counsel of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. She was recipient of the 2005 Bradley Prize for Outstanding Intellectual Achievement. Her writings on national security issues have appeared in the Wall Street Journal, the Weekly Standard, the New York Post, National Review Online and the Washington Post.

Panelists against the motion

Robert Baer spent twenty years running agents from inside the CIA’s Directorate of Operations, operating against Hizballah, Al-Qaeda, and other terrorist organizations. He is's intelligence columnist and the author of the novel Blow the House Down and the memoir See No Evil, a New York Times bestseller and inspiration for the movie Syriana.

Jack Cloonan is a 25-year veteran of the FBI and an internationally respected security expert. Since retiring from the FBI, where he received commendations and awards for counterterrorism and investigations, he has served as a counterterrorism consultant and commentator for ABC News. Cloonan is currently the president of Clayton Consultants, a global-risk and crisis-management firm that assists victims of kidnapping around the world.

Darius Rejali,professor of political science and chair of the political science department at Reed College, in Portland, Oregon, is internationally recognized as an expert on government torture and interrogation. He is a 2003 Carnegie Scholar and the author of Torture and Democracy (2007).

December 11, 2007

The Iran NIE: the British weigh in against American estimate

Just a week after the American intelligence community released a new National Intelligence Estimate on Iran that reverses the assessment of Iran’s nuclear program, British intelligence officials have stood with their Israeli counterparts in opposition. The Israeli and British services – both professional organizations with excellent sources and reputations – still believe that Iran is determined to develop nuclear weapons.

U.S. intelligence would be well-advised to listen to their counterparts in London and Tel Aviv. The British have long-standing ties to Iran, as well as an embassy in Tehran – they have much better access than we do. Likewise, Israel has the advantage of its population of Iranian Jews, most of whom arrived in Israel after the 1967 war, with contacts in Iran. If both countries’ services believe Iran still has an active nuclear weapons program, perhaps our intelligence services should listen.

Good idea, right? Not so fast – intelligence services worldwide are reluctant to share information. Well, more accurately, they are reluctant to share their sources. Most of the time, it is not the information that requires protection, it is the need to protect the source that causes services to hoard information. For example, if the British had recruited an Iranian nuclear engineer who could provide information on the problems Iran is experiencing with their uranium enrichment centrifuges and he was easily identifiable as the source, they would be reluctant to provide that information to cooperating services – the Americans and Israelis – since that could lead to his identity.

Source protection is the paramount issue among “case officers” – intelligence operatives who spot, assess, recruit and manage spies. Give too much information away and you run the risk of “losing” your source. “Losing” your source generally means the source is either arrested and imprisoned or executed – you can imagine the treatment in Iran. Take it from an old case officer, we want to make sure we conduct our operations securely so our sources are not “compromised” – spy-speak for discovered and arrested.

On the other side, analysts are concerned about information, not the source. That’s why each report, each piece of information collected is classified at the appropriate level to protect the source. It usually is the source that is sensitive, not always the information itself. If the information could only be derived from a certain source, any compromise of that information places the source in jeopardy.

Because intelligence services jealously guard their sources, they are reluctant to share that information with other services. That’s why the British and the Israelis may have different, complementary, possibly contradictory information – they have different sources, and they may be reluctant to provide information from those sources.

Every country has information they are not willing to share. In the U.S. intelligence system that information is marked NOFORN, the abbreviation of “not releasable to foreign nationals.” The British and the Israelis have similar restrictions. This becomes a problem in combined operations, those military operations involving the forces of more than one country. For example, in Operation Desert Storm, we provided American NOFORN information to intelligence officers of the United Kingdom, Canada and Australia, our closest allies, but only for those at the headquarters and only for the duration of the operation.

We all have different sources of information on the Iranian program. Maybe we should be listening to the Israelis and British. Of course, they may have to reveal some sources and methods – that may be unlikely.

December 9, 2007

Israel and the NIE – a different perspective

This article appeared on

Israeli perspective on the NIE
Francona: Israel believes Iran is now the country's own problem to fight

The recently released National Intelligence Estimate – Iran: Nuclear Intentions and Capabilities – reverses the American intelligence community’s assessment of the Iranian nuclear program. The key judgments state that Iran halted its nuclear weapons program in 2003 and likely had not restarted it by mid-2007.

Within a week of the NIE release, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff was invited to Tel Aviv to meet with senior Israeli military intelligence officials to hear their contradictory assessment of the Iranian nuclear program. In Israel, the military intelligence service (Aman) is the senior intelligence entity – it is responsible for intelligence estimates. In the United States, estimates are the responsibility of the community-wide National Intelligence Council.

The Israeli perspective

Israel views Iran differently than we do. To Israelis, Iran represents the “existential” threat to the Jewish state. While other countries present threats, only Iran is perceived to be pursuing capabilities that could destroy Israel. I was in Israel recently and every official presented the same position – Iran is intent on developing nuclear weapons to complement its existing ballistic missile capabilities. When Iran has acquired the ability to strike Israel with a nuclear warhead, it will. Israeli analysts posit that three well-placed nuclear weapons in the area from Haifa to Tel Aviv, home to about half the world’s Jews, could deliver an unrecoverable blow that would effectively destroy the country.

Iran has topped Israel’s threat list for some time. No wonder when you look at Iranian involvement in Israel’s back yard. To the north, Lebanon is home to probably the world’s most effective irregular army – Hezbollah. Hezbollah is almost completely funded, equipped and trained by the Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ Qods Force – the same group that funds, trains and equips the Shia militias that are killing American troops in Iraq. Most of the rockets that landed in northern Israel during the Israel-Hezbollah war in 2006 were made in Iran and funneled into Lebanon via Syria.

To the northeast, Syria is probably Iran’s closest ally. They have had a defense cooperation agreement going back over two decades. Damascus is the gateway for Iranian support to Hezbollah, as well as home to several Palestinian groups opposed to any peace agreement with Israel. Syria and Iran also operate joint intelligence sites intercepting Israeli communications. To the south and east, Israel is faced with terrorism at the hands of Hamas and Islamic Jihad. As with Hezbollah, both Palestinian groups are funded, equipped and trained by Iran.

Israel’s outlook

Israel believes that Iran has had an ongoing nuclear weapons development program, one that did not stop in 2007. In fact, Israeli intelligence analysts believe Iran could develop a weapon by 2010. Given the estimate just been released by the U.S. intelligence community, there is almost no chance there will be any American military action against the Iranian nuclear program. To Israel, that means what they believe to be a world problem will no longer have a world solution. It now falls on their shoulders to solve the Iranian problem.

While the recent NIE probably eliminated the possibility of American military action against Iran, it may have actually increased the likelihood of an Israeli attack.

A bad week for the intelligence community

This article appeared on

A bad week for the intelligence community
First the NIE, now the interrogation tapes

It must have been a long week for senior U.S. intelligence officials. Last Monday, the National Intelligence Council released a new National Intelligence Estimate on Iran’s nuclear intentions and capabilities, essentially reversing the community’s earlier assessment that Iran was pursing a nuclear weapon, a position taken in a 2005 estimate.

Before the debris had settled from that bombshell, CIA Director General Mike Hayden announced on Thursday that his agency had destroyed tapes of the interrogations of senior al-Qaida members Abu Zubaydah and Ramzi Bin al-Shibh. Those tapes contained images of CIA officers employing “enhanced interrogation techniques” – that’s CIA-speak for water boarding. Hayden claimed the tapes were destroyed to prevent retaliation against CIA officers in the tapes if they had somehow leaked.

The long knives have come out on both sides of the Congressional aisle. Republicans are demanding hearings into the intelligence that led to the about-face estimate of Iran’s nuclear program, hinting that they believe the NIE to be politicized. Democrats, on the other hand, are calling for an investigation and possibly a special prosecutor to determine if laws were violated by CIA’s destruction of the interrogation tapes. At least one senator is charging a cover-up of CIA misconduct in the treatment of al-Qaida detainees.

Flash bulletin for Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell (whom I know and respect): At a time when you are trying to rebuild international credibility and shore up the American public’s confidence in the U.S. intelligence community, you don’t need the perception of incompetence these two incidents are going to generate, nor do you need the explosion of bipartisan witch-hunting that has already started.


Granted, Iran is a tough intelligence problem for the United States – I spent years working the Iranian issue in both the signals intelligence (communications intercepts) and human intelligence (source operations) disciplines and can personally vouch for the difficulty in penetrating this target. With no official U.S. presence in Iran, all intelligence must be collected from outside the country or gained from the cooperating intelligence services of other countries (Israel, the United Kingdom, etc). These factors detract from the quality of information we are able to collect and the intelligence we are able to produce.

Intelligence, by its very nature, is normally based on incomplete and often contradictory information. Analysts are called on to make assessments with the scarcest of data. Reliable sources with access to required information in Iran are difficult to develop. The 2007 estimate, supposedly based on new information, has been touted by many as an indication of an earlier intelligence failure. If this latest NIE is accurate, it could be viewed as an intelligence success.

That said, the question for the intelligence community remains: You were wrong in 2003 about Iraq. You were wrong in 2005 about Iran. Why are you right in 2007?

The tapes

There was probably no worse time for the revelations of the 2005 destruction of the interrogations videotapes. While I generally support the decisions of senior intelligence officials in these matters, I have to take issue with General Hayden. Destroying the tapes to protect CIA officers this is important, or course, but you cannot run an intelligence community on the assumption that information will leak. If so, you would not be able retain any source identification information. The tapes would be useful to prove to the Congressional oversight committees that CIA officers were operating within approved guidelines.

The tapes were destroyed in 2005, before Mike Hayden took over at CIA. He did not make that decision, but he now gets to defend it. Good luck.

We need accurate intelligence. We need an independent, nonpolitical intelligence community to produce that intelligence. It is unfortunate that these two events – the NIE reversal and the revelation of the videotape destruction – come at a time when the community needs all the credibility it can get.

Rick Francona is a retired USAF intelligence officer with over 25 years of operational assignments with the National Security Agency, the Defense Intelligence Agency and the Central Intelligence Agency in the Middle East. He is an MSNBC military analyst.

December 7, 2007

Iraqi politicians far behind the power curve

This article appeared on

Iraqi politicians far behind the power curve
The “surge” provides a narrow window of opportunity

Six months into the surge, there is by all accounts notable and tangible progress on the military front. General David Petraeus has initiated and conducted an effective counterinsurgency campaign, a multi-faceted effort that combines civic action with changed military tactics. The campaign has virtually crippled al-Qaida in Iraq and almost stopped sectarian violence. In an audio tape released in October, Usama bin Laden criticized his followers in Iraq for failing to unite against the “occupiers” and his last tape does not even address his affiliates – one could take this as an admission of defeat in Iraq.

The Shia militias have largely followed the orders of radical cleric Muqtada al-Sadr and stopped attacks on coalition troops. Additionally – for whatever reason – the Iranians have diminished the flow of advanced weaponry to the Shia militias.

That’s the good news. Unfortunately Iraq’s politicians have failed to capitalize on these military successes. The goal of the surge was to contain the violence and give Iraqi politicians a chance to close the wide chasm between the Sunni and Shia factions in the country. The Shias, treated poorly for decades under successive Sunni-dominated regimes and before that by the Sunni Ottomans, are loathe to relinquish any of their newly gained power – guaranteed by virtue of their majority status. The Sunnis, who resent their loss of power, now fear the Shia “tyranny of the majority.” The two sides are still far apart in reconciling themselves to work together for effective governance.

Add to that the Kurds, who are not helping by operating the autonomous Kurdish Regional Government like it is an independent country. Making deals with European oil companies to exploit the natural resources of the Kurdish region circumvents solving one of the major issues in Iraq - equitable distribution of oil revenues. This is a hot-button issue for the Sunnis. If the Kurds are allowed to control the oil resources in their region, the Sunnis fear that the Shias will follow suit and control the oil resources in their area – nearly 80 percent of Iraq’s total oil reserves, leaving virtually no oil resources in the Sunni-dominated areas. The Shia-led government has yet to demonstrate its commitment to national reconciliation to the satisfaction of the Sunnis. Passing a national oil law would be a good first step – it has been in the works for over four years.

Everyone, from the military officers prosecuting the war to the State Department officers involved in working political issues with the Iraqi government, knows that the ultimate solution in Iraq is not going to be decided militarily on the streets of Baghdad. It will only be solved politically in the halls of Parliament. The question is, when? How much time are we Americans willing to give them to come to terms with their situation and develop a workable solution? Our patience is wearing thin.

Bottom line: The current situation presents a brief window of opportunity to make political gains, a brief window of opportunity to bring about reconciliation between the Sunnis and the Shias. This opportunity was created by the efforts and sacrifices of American troops. The political leaders in Iraq, starting with Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, should be put on notice that the American public is fast running out of patience: We have sent our sons and daughters to provide you with a chance to put your house in order – do not squander it, for there will not likely be more chances in the future.

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?

This article appeared on

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?

This article appeared on

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?

This article appeared on

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.

October 31, 2007

What is the favorite wine over at State Department?

Sorry, I meant “whine.” This year, it’s probably “I don’t want to go to Iraq….” Following an announcement from the Director of the Foreign Service that officers may be assigned to Iraq whether or not they are volunteers, there was a hue and cry from the pinstripe set.

If it wasn’t so pitiful, it would be comical. Here we have well-paid, well-treated (some would say coddled) government employees who don’t want to serve in areas that are dangerous.

In the words of Jack Crotty, described as a senior Foreign Service officer who once worked as a political adviser with NATO forces:

"Incoming is coming in every day; rockets are hitting the Green Zone. It's one thing if someone believes in what's going on over there and volunteers, but it's another thing to send someone over there on a forced assignment. I'm sorry, but basically that's a potential death sentence and you know it. Who will raise our children if we are dead or seriously wounded? You know that at any other (country) in the world, the embassy would be closed at this point."

I would describe Crotty as a coward. What do you think, Jack, you only get to take the good assignments, and you only have to serve where you “believe in what’s going on over there?”

The gratuitous comment about “who will raise our children…” is insulting to the memory of the over 3,800 American soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines who have given their lives in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Are your children more special than those of our fallen troops?

It’s called the foreign “service” for a reason – I think you and your whining, sanctimonious colleagues have lost sight of that. If you have objections and do not wish to “serve” anymore, resign. We as a country are undoubtedly better off without you representing us.

October 25, 2007

Memo to Baghdad: The Turks are serious now

This article appeared on

Memo to Baghdad: The Turks are serious now
Threats nothing new, but Iraq's recent activities may have consequences

By Lt. Col. Rick Francona
Military analyst

Turkish threats to invade northern Iraq are nothing new. The last threat of attacks was in July, when Turkey amassed 140,000 troops along the border with Iraq. The Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), a Turkish Kurd separatist movement designated by the United States as a terrorist organization, stopped their cross-border operations from Iraq into Turkey, successfully warding off that attack. But in recent weeks, the PKK has restarted attacks into Turkish territory; last week alone PKK fighters killed a dozen Turkish soldiers and took eight more as captives

This may be the straw that breaks the camel’s back. The Turks were smart to go to Parliament and get a one-year approval for a military incursion into Iraq to end the PKK’s ability to use Iraq as a sanctuary haven. In light of increased border attacks and numerous Turkish deaths, it was an easy approval to get, but important politically. That vote sent a message to both Washington and Baghdad: The Turks are serious this time. We will no longer remain on the sidelines as PKK guerrillas, terrorists if you will; we will cross into Turkey from safe havens inside Iraq and kill our people.

The message was not lost in either capital. Washington has called for restraint on both sides and has pressured the Iraqi government to control the action of the PKK along the border. The PKK, probably at Iraqi urging, has declared a unilateral “ceasefire” with the Turks, but the Turks refuse to acknowledge a ceasefire with a terrorist organization.

The Iraqi government will have to take immediate steps to defuse the situation and the Turks appear unwilling to back down this time. What will happen to the American-Turkish relationship? Why does Washington lack the influence to restrain its NATO ally? It’s really simple because America’s relationship with Turkey has been fragile since at least 2003.

Turkey’s failure to honor a commitment to allow the U.S. to use Turkish territory to attack Iraqi forces from the north during the 2003 invasion caused weeks of delays getting necessary American troops into combat. The U.S. hoped to get forces into the Sunni triangle early on and neutralize the Sunni heartland. It was only after the Army’s 4th Infantry Division was off-loaded and spread out on Turkish highways en route to northern Iraq that Turkey reneged on its promise to Secretary of State Colin Powell. That forced the U.S. Army to recall the entire division, re-load it onto ships and ferry it through the Suez Canal, the Red Sea, around the Arabian Peninsula into the Persian Gulf, off-load it in Kuwait and move it overland into the battle from the south. These were not viewed in Washington as the actions of an ally.

That said, Turkey is now supporting our efforts in the region. American access to Turkish airspace and ports directly supports our troops in Iraq. The use of the Turkish port at Iskenderun provides an alternate to the use of the ports of al-Basra (Iraq) and Kuwait, which require convoys to pass through Shiite areas of southern Iraq, potentially vulnerable to attack if there is an escalation in the current U.S.-Iran relationship from rhetoric to violence. Use of Turkish airspace shortens the air bridge distance from European bases into the region. The U.S. probably needs it relationship with Turkey more than Turkey needs its relationship with the U.S.

What can Iraq do? First, it can cool off the rhetoric coming from the two senior Kurdish members of the government, President Jalal Talabani and Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari. Talabani’s statement “The handing over of PKK leaders to Turkey is a dream that will never be realized…” and Zebari’s “…the perfect solution is the withdrawal of the Turkish forces from the borders” does not advance the issue.

Secondly, Iraq should attempt to control its borders better. Granted, the Iraqi government exercises little control over this mountainous and rugged part of the country and it is mostly outside the area populated by Iraq’s Kurds. The Iraqis need to assure the Turks that they are at least trying to prevent the cross-border raids. That will be difficult. Given Turkey’s history with its large Kurdish population (seven percent of the population), Ankara has reached the conclusion that its Kurds have designs on forming a greater independent Kurdish with the Kurds in Iraq. Although the Kurds in Iraq speak a distinctly different Kurdish dialect (as far apart as German and English), they only encourage Turkish concerns when they refer to the Kurdish autonomous region in northern Iraq as “Southern Kurdistan.”

Baghdad, the message is clear. If you fail to try to stop the PKK from conducting cross border raids into Turkey, the Turkish army will.

The California National Guard could have prevented fire damage…

…if only they hadn’t been diverted to Iraq.

That’s what California Lt Gov John Garamendi, Senator Barbara Boxer and Senator Chris Dodd would have you believe.

Let’s put this into perspective. Since the beginning of Operation Enduring Freedom in 2001 and Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2003, thousands of California Army National Guardsmen and have served on deployments in support of those efforts. Right now, 2000 troops out of a total of 20,000 authorized in the California National Guard are serving overseas. It is these 2000 Guardsmen that Garamendi and Boxer want returned from Iraq. If California cannot manage its Guard requirements with 90 percent of its forces on hand, the state leadership needs some management training.

Here’s a reality check. Governor Schwarzenegger pulled 800 National Guardsmen from the Mexican border for duty in support of the current wildfire crisis. By today, many of them have redeployed to the border because they were no longer needed. Just what are the 2000 in Iraq going to do?

A real problem is that California has not recruited enough personnel to fill its Guard units. It is not the war - enlistments and retention began to decline 20 years ago, and more noticeably 10 years ago. That is before the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq began. Most of the personnel in the California guard either enlisted or stayed in after the beginning of the conflicts.

The reason California is behind other states in enlistment and retention? California is the only state in the country that does not provide college tuition assistance for its guardsmen. Maybe Garamendi should focus on treating California’s veterans properly and spending less time showing his face on television. Statements like, “What we really need are those firefighters, we need the equipment. We need frankly -- we need our troops back from Iraq….” only highlight his irrelevance. Stick to representing the governor at mall openings.

Then we have that other bright light chiming in – Chris Dodd: “You saw it in Kansas not long ago, you’ve seen it in other jurisdictions here, where because we’ve got men and women in Iraq in the National Guard, we don’t have them back in these states doing the kind of jobs they can do when these tragedies occur. As you know, Governor Schwarzenegger has had to ask other states for help because so many of California's National Guard, who provide critical support to the citizens while you are fighting the fires, were deployed to Iraq. In a Dodd Administration, never again will our houses be on fire because our troops are taking fire in Iraq….”

Let me repeat that Dodd-ism again – “…never again will our houses be on fire because our troops are taking fire in Iraq….” I didn’t realize that the presence of National Guard troops deterred houses from catching on fire. Is it any wonder that no one takes this guy seriously? A Dodd Administration? A frightening thought.

Bottom line: The deployment of 2000 California National Guardsman to Iraq has no impact on this crisis. Garamendi, Boxer and Dodd are merely playing political games - and not very well - when they should be assisting the victims of the fires.

October 19, 2007

Pete Stark is a disgrace - hold him accountable

What a juxtaposition of events. There are days when it is hard to find something in the news on which to comment. Then there are the days that things just fall into place, usually because someone who should know better has diarrhea of the mouth. Yesterday and today were almost nirvana - not only do we have the nonsensical rant of Congressman Pete Stark, we get another dose of the delusions of Senator Harry Reid. I'll forego commenting on Reid taking credit for penning a letter attempting to intimidate the media - has he forgotten freedom of the press and freedom of speech?

However, I cannot pass up the arguably insane remarks by Stark. If you did not see or hear the Congressman, here are his words:

Stark - the disgrace"Republicans sure don't care about finding $200 billion to fight the illegal war in Iraq. Where are you going to get that money? Are you going to tell us lies like you're telling us today? Is that how you're going to fund the war? You don't have money to fund the war or children. But you're going to spend it to blow up innocent people if he can get enough kids to grow old enough for you to send to Iraq to get their heads blown off for the President's amusement."

I once attended a decoration ceremony for members of our armed forces, decorations for feats of valor in the face of odds that defy comprehension. Among the comments of the presenter was a phrase that has stuck with me: "Where do we find such men?" When I heard the inane remarks of Representative Stark, I thought the same - where do we find such men....

The most offensive of his remarks is not the part about the President - most people will dismiss that as idiocy. Unfortunately, Stark is such a small man that he cannot now find it in himself to admit a mistake and apologize. Instead, he foolishly clings to his original statement. The remark that troubles me most is his assertion that we are spending money to kill innocent people. Hey Stark, in case you have gone so far around the bend that you have forgotten the makeup of Congress, it is your party that has authorized the money for the war. The insulting part, however, is his accusation that the members of our armed forces are commiting murder.

Stark is a disgrace. He should be held accountable.

October 18, 2007

Benazir Bhutto’s return to Pakistan – a crisis or the solution?

Benazir BhuttoRadical Islamists attacked the motorcade of returning former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, killing more than a hundred people lined up to see what many believe is the great hope for political reconciliation in the country. The Islamists have made no secret that they are against any role for Bhutto in the government, citing her pro-American stance and support for the war on terror. The fact that she is a woman seeking political power in a Muslim country, actually an Islamic Republic (Jamhuryat Islami Pakistan), exacerbates the issue.

One of the biggest issues we need to consider as we prosecute the war on terror is the future stability of Pakistan. Pakistan is a country with a nuclear weapons arsenal (thanks to the AQ Khan network) and capable delivery systems – having a radical fundamentalist Islamist government take charge is about as bad a scenario that can be imagined. If you are concerned about Iran with nuclear weapons or the security of existing Russian weapons, this should be even more alarming.

The return of Mohtarma (Lady) Benazir Bhutto may usher in a new era of democratic rule in the country. Her father was the first elected prime minister in the new parliamentary government following the dissolution of West Pakistan and East Pakistan (now Bangladesh). She is the chairwoman of the Pakistan Peoples Party (founded by her father), enjoys great popularity and could serve as a counterbalance to the hugely unpopular regime of military strongman Pervez Musharraf. That’s the hope of many Pakistanis.

It’s not the hope of others in Pakistan. Islamist groups, including al-Qa’idah sympathizers and the transplanted Taliban (there are no shortage of other groups as well), have already vowed to attack Bhutto. We saw the evidence of that today.

Opposition to Bhutto, however, goes beyond the Islamists. There are many in the military and intelligence service – the Inter-Service Intelligence Directorate (ISID) – that are opposed to any leader, be it Bhutto or Musharraf, who cooperates with the West. When Musharraf changed the direction of the country after the September 11 attacks, many senior officers in the ISID and military began to distance themselves from the president. In fact, the sophistication of some of the assassination attempts against Musharraf hint at either military or intelligence training. If I was investigating today’s attacks, I would want to know how the perpetrators knew the exact motorcade route.

Back to the nuclear weapons issue. The big fear is that an Islamist government takes over. Let’s not lose sight of the fact that under a Bhutto-Musharraf power-sharing arrangement, Pakistan will retain its nuclear arsenal. Some background on Pakistan’s nuclear weapons program - the program was started by Benazir’s father in 1972. By 1988, they had perfected a weapon design and began work on delivery systems. It was during Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto’s tenure that Pakistan developed two delivery systems – ballistic missiles and modifications to the American-made F-16 Fighting Falcon fighter-bomber.

Pakistan is and will be a nuclear power. Let’s hope it is a responsible democracy with nuclear weapons and continues to be a partner in the war on terrorism. The other option is too frightening to contemplate.

October 17, 2007

Resolution on 1915 Genocide - A Bad Idea

Several Armenian-American groups, with the surprising support of Jewish organizations, have pressured enough Congressional representatives and Senators into passing a non-binding resolution condemning Turkey's actions in 1915 against the Armenian community as genocide. While almost no one in their right mind questions the events of 1915, they should question the purpose and timing of this resolution.

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer was interviewed about this resolution on the weekend talk shows. He maintains that it is necessary to pass this resolution so that we do not have more genocide in the future. Perhaps they should be doing something constructive about ongoing problems – Darfur comes to mind. This appears to be a partisan political ploy to make things difficult for the Pentagon.

Anyone who has heard me comment on the Turks knows my views on Turkey. Turkey’s failure to honor a commitment to allow the United States to use Turkish territory to attack Iraqi forces from the north during the 2003 invasion caused weeks of delays getting necessary American troops into combat. The United States hoped to get forces into the Sunni triangle early on and neutralize the Sunni heartland. It was only after the Army's 4th Infantry Division (Mechanized) was off-loaded and spread out on Turkish highways en route to northern Iraq that Turkey reneged on its promise to Secretary of State Colin Powell. That forced the Army to recall the entire division, re-load them onto ships and ferry them through the Suez Canal, the Red Sea, around the Arabian Peninsula into the Persian Gulf, off-load them in Kuwait and move them overland into the battle from the south. These were not the actions of a reliable ally.

That said, Turkey remains an ally and is now supporting our efforts in the region. This resolution is a bad idea, and the timing is equally questionable. Why now? What is driving the urgency to pass a resolution that will not only jeopardize support from Turkey, but put at risk future support we (and others) may need.

There are several considerations Mr Hoyer and his colleagues should consider. First and foremost is American access to Turkish airspace and ports. This access directly supports our troops in Iraq. The use of the Turkish port at Iskenderun provides an alternate to the use of the ports of al-Basrah and Kuwait, which require convoys to pass through Shi’a areas of southern Iraq, which might be vulnerable to attack if there is an escalation in the current U.S.-Iran relationship from rhetoric to violence. Use of Turkish airspace shortens the air bridge distance from European bases into the region. Insulting a NATO ally also might cause loss of leverage in trying to prevent a Turkish incursion into northern Iraq to rout out PKK training camps.

The support of Jewish groups for the resolution is interesting. Perhaps these groups should consider that an insult to Turkey by Jewish groups could very well jeopardize Israeli access to Turkish airspace. That might be critical in the future if Israel decides it needs to conduct another strike on Syria or mount an operation against Iranian nuclear facilities.

So, again, Mr Hoyer, what’s the point?

October 16, 2007

Gen. Sanchez should place the blame on himself

This article appeared on

Gen. Sanchez should place the blame on himself
Francona: He set the wheels in motion for failure at Abu Ghraib

By Lt. Col. Rick Francona
Military analyst

Now that Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez has retired, he has come out swinging at his former bosses, blaming senior officers and other government agencies for the problems in Iraq, including those during the period when he was in command of U.S. and coalition forces in the country. He cited errors that were made, including the disbanding of the Iraqi army, clearly the biggest mistake of the effort in Iraq. Sanchez called Iraq a “nightmare with no end in sight” and seemingly blamed everyone but himself.

This is truly disingenuous. Sanchez presided over arguably one of the biggest debacles of Operation Iraq Freedom — the Abu Ghraib abuse scandal. The name itself has become synonymous with all that has gone wrong with American foreign policy in the area, and Sanchez must bear some, if not most, of the responsibility. He set the wheels in motion for the failure at the prison.

Army doctrine is clear about how to run an enemy prisoner-of-war facility. Abu Ghraib housed suspected insurgents, so the same rules should have been applied. Overall operation of the facility, per doctrine, should have been the purview of the military police. The MPs are responsible for security and day-to-day operations, while an attached military intelligence organization is in charge of interrogations and the production and dissemination of any intelligence obtained from the detainees. Since the major issue at a prison facility is security, placing the MPs in charge makes sense.

At Abu Ghraib, however, Sanchez placed the military intelligence unit in overall command of the facility, including responsibility for daily operations and security. This unusual arrangement caused confusion between the MPs and the intelligence personnel, many of whom were contractors, about who was supposed to do what. The confusion resulting from the decision to ignore Army standard operations protocols directly led to the breakdown of the chain of command at the prison. Officers and NCOs who normally should have prevented the problem behavior did not and those who should have been in charge were not, and those who were in charge should not have been.

The resulting public relations nightmare ended whatever short grace period American forces were going to have with the Iraqi population. As the photos of Iraqi detainees being abused and humiliated spread like wildfire through the Arab and Muslim world, the reputation of America and Americans suffered, likely for decades to come. Not even the rumors of abuse and ill treatment at Guantanamo have had as much impact as the damage done by a handful of poorly supervised soldiers at Abu Ghraib. Those soldiers were under the command of Sanchez.

Some of those soldiers are serving prison sentences, and a senior officer, the commander of the military police unit responsible for detention facilities in Iraq under Sanchez, was reduced in grade from brigadier general to colonel. Some of the field-grade officers were reprimanded. As for Sanchez, he never received his fourth star and his career pretty much ended — and rightfully so.

According to the general, “There is nothing going on today in Washington that would give us hope.” He criticizes the “surge” operation, calling it a desperate act to salvage a situation created by misguided policies. That’s true because the surge is an attempt to salvage a situation that in part Sanchez created by his misguided policy at Abu Ghraib. Sour grapes, general.

Sanchez has found retirement work as a consultant training America’s new generals. Perhaps he begins the class with: “Here’s what not to do.”

© 2007 MSNBC Interactive