March 30, 2007

Memo to Tehran: Give it up!

This appeared on MSNBC Hardball Hardblogger

Okay guys, you stepped in it this time. You really need to figure out a face-saving way to get out of the mess you have created by seizing 15 British sailors and marines.

Your past record is abominable, so what makes you think that anyone is buying this fiction that the British were in Iranian waters? Putting young British sailors on Iranian television reciting obviously coerced “confessions” is ludicrous – no one but possibly the most gullible among your domestic audience takes these statements as fact. Even more ridiculous are the letters written by the sole woman among the detainees, as well as her appearances in a chador. Again, do you really think that anyone believes this charade is how members of the Royal Navy would comport themselves in captivity?

Of course, one only needs to look back on the glorious history of the Islamic Republic to answer that question. After all, you are the same people that seized the American Embassy in Tehran in 1979 and held over 50 American diplomats hostage for more than a year. In 1982, you deployed your Qods Force to Lebanon to create another laudable group – Hezbollah. Not happy with just that feat, you began taking hostages there, seizing and murdering the CIA Chief of Station in Beirut and a U.S. Marine colonel serving with the United Nations.

Your handling of the 2004 incident—the three-day detention of eight British sailors and marines in a similar incident—was only marginally better. Yes, you got your “apology” and tried to embarrass the British on the world stage.

News flash: No one believes you!

Your recent statement that you will release the 15 Britons when the United Kingdom withdraws its forces from Iraq is reminiscent of similar demands made by Iraqi insurgents and al-Qaida in Iraq members after they had seized nationals of coalition member countries. Are you sure you want to be cast in the same light as terrorist cutthroats?

What you are doing now appears to be a childish reaction to the United Nations Security Council’s unanimous vote to toughen sanctions on you for your defiance of the world over your uranium enrichment activities. The impression that you have made on the world—when Iran does not get its way, it takes hostages. Now there’s a legacy for the Islamic Republic….

Now that you have shown your true colors, do your really think that anyone is going to trust you when you make claims about your “nuclear energy” research program?

One could reach the conclusion that you guys are looking for a fight. Keep this up and you just might get one.

March 25, 2007

Troubled Waters - the Shatt Al-'Arab

Click for larger imageThe recent seizure of 15 British sailors and marines by the Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Navy took place in a narrow waterway between Iran and Iraq. That waterway is the Shatt Al-'Arab.

The Shatt Al-'Arab is formed by the confluence of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers at Al-Qurnah, Iraq, and runs south approximately 120 miles to the Persian Gulf. The southern 50 miles of the Shatt form the international border between the countries of Iraq and Iran. More than just a border between two countries, it is the cultural and philosophical dividing line between the Arabs and the Persians (Iranians). In fact, the words Shatt Al-'Arab in Arabic translate to "the Arab coast."

This short waterway holds much more importance than its size would indicate. Both Iran and Iraq want to control it - a desire they have had for centuries. In 1847, Iran (then called Persia), under pressure from the Ottoman Empire (which then included what is now Iraq), signed the Treaty of Erzerum which in effect gave sovereignty of the entire waterway to the Ottomans. Under the terms of this treaty, the major Persian port on the Shatt, Khorramshahr, could only be reached through waters controlled by the Ottomans.

After the defeat of the Turks in World War One and the subsequent breakup of their empire, the League of Nations granted Britain the mandate of the area that is now Israel, Jordan, Iraq and Kuwait. The British drew the current borders and granted Iraq its independence in 1932. The new kingdom demanded that it be allowed to continue the Ottoman sovereignty over the waterway, and based on British might at the time, received it. Although Iran appealed to the League of Nations a few years later, Iraqi retained its sovereignty over the entire width of the waterway. In 1937, however, the two countries did agree to some slight modifications to the sovereignty line to allow unimpeded Iranian access to its oil loading areas at the ports of Abadan and Khorramshahr.

In 1969, the Iranians unilaterally abrogated the 1937 agreement. The Shah of Iran, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, openly challenged Iraqi authority over the Shatt. Iran also began supporting armed Kurdish separatist movements in northern Iraq, and allowed the United States Central Intelligence Agency to do the same via northern Iran. Under the Nixon Doctrine, the United States began to supply Iran with the state-of-the-art military hardware and training. Although the Iraqi Kurds in were not likely to overthrow the Ba'ath Party regime in power, they were exhausting the Iraqi army in the rugged, mountainous terrain of northern Iraq.

On March 6, 1975, Iraq and Iran signed the Algiers Agreement, or more precisely the Iran-Iraq Treaty on International Borders and Good Neighborly Relations, whose provisions were brokered by Jordan's King Hussein. The agreement delineated the international border between the two countries as the thalweg, or the deepest point of the waterway, as opposed to the eastern shore. Baghdad agreed to the treaty in return for Tehran's commitment to stop covert U.S. and Iranian support for the Kurds. Immediately after signing the agreement, the Baghdad sent the Iraqi army north on a brutal campaign and crushed the Kurdish guerrilla organizations, driving many Kurds out of Iraq and into neighboring Iran.

In 1979, leadership changes in both Iran and Iraq brought the issue of the Shatt to the forefront again. In Baghdad, the number two man in the Ba'th Party, Saddam Husayn, took power. In Iran that same year, the Shah was displaced in favor of the Ayatollah Khomeini. With Iran's military forces in disarray after the fall of the Shah and purges of the Iranian officer corps, Saddam thought he had the military power to right the perceived wrong of being forced to accept joint control of the Shatt.

On September 22, 1980, Iraq abrogated the Treaty of Algiers and launched a two-corps attack into Iran, including an assault into Iran's Arabic-speaking Khuzistan province. After their initial foray into Iran stalled, the Iraqis spent the next seven years on the defensive. With the start of the Iran-Iraq War, sovereignty over the Shatt became a moot issue. Commercial ships were sunk or trapped in the waterway and it was closed to navigation. Even after the war ended in 1988, sunken ships, tons of unexploded ordnance, and silt kept the waterway closed for years. Just as efforts to clear the Shatt of explosives and the trapped ships, the Gulf War precipitated by Iraq's invasion of Kuwait in August of 1990 effectively closed the waterway again.

In 1991, faced with imminent coalition military action, Iraq sought to defuse the tensions remaining after the end of the Iran-Iraq War by reinstating the provisions of the Treaty of Algiers, in effect turning the clock back to 1975 and giving up sovereignty over the entire width of the waterway.

After the U.S.-led invasion in 2003 and the removal of the Saddam Husayn regime, the waterway has become an important link to the outside world again, allowing sea access to the port of Al-Basrah. Since the waterway is also a centuries-old smuggling route, it is patrolled by both Iranian and coalition vessels - a recipe for confrontation.

March 23, 2007

A withdrawal date – bad strategy

This appeared on the MSNBC Hardball Hardblogger

On the surface, the initial “surge” statistics from Baghdad appear encouraging. By all measures, the number of deaths is down, the number of attacks is down and the number of Iraqi security forces on the street is up.

Good news, right?

Sure, but has the surge solved the problems of sectarian violence in the city and environs? Not if you look at the continued vicious Sunni attacks against the Shia in an attempt to provoke them to reignite the conflict, and the recent attack on a Sunni deputy prime minister. Thus far, the Sunnis have been unsuccessful in goading the Shia into retaliation – the Shia have followed the advice of their religious leadership and not rejoined the fight.

The leader of the most infamous of the Shia militias, Muqtada al-Sadr has instructed his fighters in an-Najaf and Baghdad to lay low while the Americans and Iraqis conduct the surge. American officials believe that al-Sadr has sought refuge in Iran, and his key lieutenants are hiding in the southern cities of Iraq. This is good strategy – wait out the Americans and the surge. When it is over and the Americans begin to reduce troops levels, al-Sadr will return and resume his political activities, militia intact.

The U.S. House of Representatives has included a provision in the supplemental war funding bill requiring that all American forces be withdrawn from Iraq by a specified date. This plays right into not only Shia militia leaders like Muqtada al-Sadr, but the Sunni insurgents as well, be they Iraqi Baathists, Islamists or the al-Qaeda in Iraq group. Once they know when American forces will be gone, they will use that as a planning date for their operations. Their goal will be to survive until that date, knowing that afterwards they will only be confronting Iraqi forces. When the Americans mount offensives between now and then, the insurgents will melt away, waiting out the mandated and published American timetable.

This does not solve the problem; it merely defers it to the future. Both sides in the Iraqi civil war are waiting for their moment. Up until the U.S. Congress imposes a mandatory withdrawal date, the Shia would have been content to lay low while American troops focus on the Sunnis. Now the Sunnis have the same option.

The Congress will be giving both sides hope – with good reason. I have problems with the Pentagon’s conduct of the war, but this action on the part of Congress will guarantee failure in Iraq. This is bad strategy.

March 20, 2007

Muqtada al-Sadr – a problem not solved

On the surface, the initial "surge" statistics from Baghdad appear encouraging. By all measures, the number of deaths is down, the number of attacks is down and the number of Iraqi security forces on the street is up.

Good news, right?

Sure, but has the surge solved the problems of sectarian violence in the city and environs? Certainly not, if you look at the continued vicious Sunni attacks against the Shi'a in an attempt to provoke them to reignite the conflict. Thus far, they have been unsuccessful – the Shi'a have followed the advice of their religious leadership and not rejoined the fight. Among those leaders is the virulently anti-American radical cleric Muqtada al-Sadr.

Al-Sadr is the head of the jaysh al-mahdi, the Mahdi Army militia. This militia is funded, trained and equipped by the Iranian Al-Qods Force. It is believed that this militia has used the Iranian-supplied deadly explosively-formed munition to great effect against U.S. troops.

Al-Sadr has instructed his fighters in An-Najaf and Baghdad to lay low while the Americans and Iraqis conduct the surge. American officials believe that Al-Sadr has sought refuge in Iran, and his key lieutenants are hiding in the southern cities of Iraq. The local officials of the militia’s stronghold in the Sadr City section of the capital agreed to the introduction of coalition forces into the area, in fact, coalition forces met virtually no resistance.

This is a good strategy on the part of the Shi'a in general and Al-Sadr in particular. In the absence of resistance from the Shi'a, American and Iraqi troops have been focusing on the Sunni extremists. The Shi'a now have a proxy to fight the battle against the Sunnis.

Let’s for the sake of argument assume the surge succeeds in breaking the back of sectarian violence in Baghdad, and defeating the Al-Qa'idah in Iraq and other extremists forces in the Sunni triangle. This becomes a victory for not only the coalition forces – Iraq and American – but a victory for the Shi'a as well. The coalition will have eliminated their enemy for them.

Muqtada Al-Sadr is waiting for his moment. He remains one of the most dangerous men in Iraq, and one of the most powerful. We are killing his enemies, but not destroying his power base, his militia, at the same time.

When the dust settles and the situation appears calm, there is little doubt that American forces will begin a withdrawal. When that happens, the Iraqi forces will be in charge. The Iraqi forces are overwhelmingly Shi'a - they will not protest the re-emergence of Muqtada Al-Sadr as a - maybe the - major political and religious force in Iraq.

We have not solved the Muqtada Al-Sadr problem, only deferred it for another time. When it resurfaces, and it will, we need to be ready and willing to address it. Muqtada Al-Sadr cannot be allowed to emerge unscathed - he must be arrested, killed or in some other way marginalized. Are the Iraqi forces under command of Prime Minister Nuri Al-Maliki going to do it? We need a commitment that he will, or we should be prepared to do it ourselves.

Otherwise, we will be turning the Iraq over to the likes of Muqtada Al-Sadr.

March 19, 2007

Gulf Arabs draw a red line against Iran

This article appeared on MSNBC Hardball Hardblogger

Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad will be heading to New York to address the United Nations in hopes of convincing the world that his country’s nuclear research program is for energy and not weapons. He has complemented that effort with rhetoric that a military strike on his country’s nuclear facilities will lead to dire consequences.

The Arab countries across the Gulf from Iran are watching this unfolding situation with great concern. An expected consequence of a military strike on Iran is an Iranian attempt to the close the Straits of Hormuz, a narrow waterway between Oman and Iran. About 25 percent of the world’s oil supply moves through the straits – most of it from the Gulf Arabs. For years, Iran has been developing military capabilities that will allow it to close the strategic waterway.

Click for larger image
Disruption of the flow of oil through the straits is of concern to not just the Gulf Arabs, but the rest of the world as well. Although the United States imports less than 20 percent of its oil from the Gulf, oil is a fungible commodity. If that much oil was taken off the markets, the countries that normally buy this oil will compete with us for oil from our normal sources, driving prices up dramatically.

Threats to the straits are a “red line” for these countries. At least one Gulf Arab country – Bahrain – has declared that the Gulf countries are ready to “respond with force” if Iran attempts to block the straits.

Bahrain - a key U.S. ally in the Gulf - is home to the American Fifth Fleet, whose ships patrol the Persian Gulf and adjacent waters. The normal U.S. Navy presence in the Gulf has been reinforced recently to include two carrier strike groups. As the Iranians have spent years and resources developing the ability to close the straits, the U.S. Navy likewise has developed the means to keep them open.

The Iranians have experience confronting the U.S. Navy. In the 1980’s, during the Iran-Iraq war, American warships escorting Arab tankers often came under attacks, including mine warfare. In 1988, the Iranians challenged the Americans in a significant surface action, with disastrous results. The Economist described Iran’s move as "how to waste a navy."

The Gulf Arabs ability to respond with force against Iran is limited. While most of the six nations of the Gulf Cooperation Council (Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, Oman and the United Arab Emirates) have capable air forces, their naval capabilities are not sufficient to re-open the Straits of Hormuz. If there is action in the Gulf against the Iranians, it will be by American forces.

The more important point here – the Gulf Arabs have made it clear to Tehran that they are willing to use force to keep the oil flowing through the straits. Just as the world needs to buy the oil, they need to sell it. Should the crisis erupt into an armed confrontation, they will be standing with the United States. If we are concerned about base – naval and air – access in these countries for a coming confrontation with Iran, now is the time to ask.

Ahmadinejad is doing what the Americans have been unable to do – create a coalition against Iran.

March 16, 2007

Making sense of a complex war

This article appeared as feature story in's special report

Making sense of a complex war
The removal of Saddam has evolved into the problem of Iran

By Lt. Col. Rick Francona
Military analyst
MSNBC- March 16, 2007

It has been four years since the American-led invasion of Iraq and the removal of the Saddam Hussein regime. It was a well-executed military campaign – taking Baghdad in less than three weeks.

However, the notion of a quick victory followed by a quick withdrawal did not come to fruition. The two main reasons are the insistence by some in the U.S. government that we try to create a representative government in Iraq, while at the same time disbanding the Iraq army, the primary security organization in the country. Those two factors forced the United States to begin an occupation to secure the country – an occupation its forces were unprepared to conduct. While there were enough American troops to topple the regime, that number was far short of the number needed for an occupation of Iraq.

The occupation and insurgency
Sunnis, who now found themselves out of power and out of favor after decades of dominance, including thousands of now unemployed career soldiers, coalesced into a viable insurgency. Instability in Baghdad and the now-infamous “Sunni Triangle” created an opportunity too lucrative for al-Qaeda to ignore. Still reeling from its defeat in Afghanistan, al-Qaeda turned its focus toward battling the Americans in Iraq. It infiltrated Islamic fighters, mostly via Syria, into the Sunni-dominated Euphrates Valley.

After several years of operations against American troops, it became apparent to al-Qaeda leaders that they could not win the battle militarily. Faced with increasingly effective American attacks in the Euphrates valley, they adopted the strategy of starting a civil war along sectarian lines, pitting Sunni Arabs against Shia Arabs.

That civil war would bring the Shia into the fight and force American troops to interpose themselves between the combatants, relieving some of the pressure on al-Qaeda. Up until this point, the Shia had exercised remarkable restraint in the face of Sunni provocations.

Al-Qaeda succeeded and civil war was ignited in February 2006 when insurgent group al-Zarqawi destroyed the Golden Mosque in Samarra, the fourth holiest site in Shia Islam. As the Shia began attacks on the Sunnis and began “ethnic cleansing” operations in Baghdad, Iran sensed an opportunity. Iran’s elite Qods Force of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, began training, funding and equipping the Shia militias, primarily the Mahdi Army of radical cleric Muqtada al-Sadr. In addition to attacking the Sunnis, the Shia militias also began attacks on U.S. troops.

The civil war
Now we are faced with a sectarian civil war between Sunnis and Shia, waged mostly in the Baghdad area. At the same time, the Islamic insurgency continues in the Sunni Triangle.

According to U.S. military officials, the primary problem is the sectarian violence, the civil war. The butchery of the two sects in fighting each other surprises even the most battle-hardened. Attacks on marketplaces, houses of worship, religious observances, and elementary schools underscore the age-old hatred between these two groups. It is difficult to imagine a peaceful resolution any time soon.

In an attempt to reduce the level of violence in the city and to maintain pressure on al-Qaeda and the Sunnis, the United States is deploying over 20,000 additional American troops - the “surge.” In Baghdad, the initial operation in the surge is to place American troops in those areas where most of the sectarian violence has occurred. This is a noble idea – to stop the killing – but it does not address the root issues.

It would appear that in the face of the surge operation, the Shia have decided to reduce their attacks on the Sunnis and the Americans. The key militia leaders have sought refuge in Iran or in the southern Shia cities in Iraq. The rank and file fighters have hidden their weapons and blended in to the community. They will remain that way until the Americans are gone, and only until they are gone. Their hatred and desire for revenge continues.

Without an effective central government and a viable Iraqi security force, the civil war will have to be fought to its conclusion.

For now, American forces are focusing on the Sunni insurgents. The Sunnis need the civil war to resume, taking the pressure off them and continuing the chaos that will cause the American public to demand the withdrawal of U.S. troops. Attempts to provoke the Shia will likely continue and even increase.

The insurgents understand full well that their path to victory is via public opinion in the United States, not the battlefields of Iraq. A mandate by the U.S. Congress specifying a date for the withdrawal of American forces would be that victory - lay low and wait out the Americans.

The emerging long term issue: Iran
The situation goes beyond the civil war in Iraq.

With Iranian and American involvement, the war in Iraq has become a struggle – some label it a “proxy war” - between Tehran and Washington.

The victor will emerge as the key power broker in the region. There is more than Iraq at stake for Washington - American influence among the oil-rich Gulf Arab states. None of these states is eager to see non-Arab, Shia Iran dominate the area, especially given its recent aggressive militarization efforts – missile tests, nuclear research, provocations of the West.

As long as the United States is committed to the free flow of oil from the Persian Gulf, it must consider Iran in its strategic planning. What started out as the removal of Saddam Hussein is now about the containment of Iran.

March 9, 2007

The Damascus Option

This article appeared on MSNBC Hardball Hardblogger

On March 10, representatives of the United States will meet in Baghdad with representatives of numerous other countries, including Iran and Syria, in an attempt to resolve the violence in Iraq. I continue to maintain that these two countries are part of the problem in Iraq and unlikely to become part of the solution, especially Iran. Iran and the United States are currently involved in a proxy war in Iraq – the victor will emerge as the pre-eminent power in the Persian Gulf region. I don’t envision them helping us.

It is an interesting turn of events – much of the current violence in Iraq is directly attributable to the actions of Iran and Syria. Prior to the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003, there was some low level cooperation between the Syrian and American intelligence services against al-Qaeda – Syria is a secular Baathist state with no interest in furthering the aims of a fundamentalist Islamic movement (which ironically, is who runs its ally Iran). However, since the removal of Saddam Hussein, Syria has been a conduit and suspected training ground for foreign insurgents entering Iraq as part of the al-Qaeda in Iraq organization.

Iran and Syria have been close allies since the Iran-Iraq war of 1980-1988 when Damascus spurned its Arab neighbors and supported non-Arab Iran. The two countries just renewed a longstanding mutual defense pact. It’s a convenient arrangement – Iran gets access to Lebanon via Damascus to support Hezbollah (as we witnessed last summer), the Palestinian Islamic Jihad and Hamas. In turn, Syria gets cheap oil credits from Iran, a powerful ally in the region, and a bargaining chip in its demands for the return of the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights.

Despite Syrian support to terrorist groups in Iraq, the United States continues to maintain diplomatic relations with Damascus. It has not always been friendly - I was the air attaché in Damascus for over two years and can personally attest to that. The level of U.S. representation changed in 2005 - following Syrian involvement in the assassination of former Lebanese prime minister Rafiq Al-Hariri in Beirut in February 2005, Washington withdrew our ambassador. While she has not yet returned, Syria continues to keep its ambassador in Washington.

Syria’s role in the Baghdad conference will be interesting to watch. Will it continue to be a puppet of Tehran or begin distancing itself in hopes of better relations with the United States and the West? Will the United States and Iran compete for Syria’s affections?

Syria’s overriding national interests are the return of the Golan Heights and renewed influence in Lebanon. If Syrian president Bashar al-Assad was assured that these two things could happen, he might be persuaded to distance himself from Iran. Driving a wedge between these two unlikely allies – a fundamentalist Shia theocracy in Iran and a secular socialist dictatorship in Syria – would be a spectacular diplomatic success. Not only would it re-energize the Middle East peace process, it would also cripple Iran’s ability to support Hezbollah, Hamas and Islamic Jihad.

While Iran is focused on splitting atoms, we should focus on splitting the Tehran-Damascus alliance.

March 8, 2007

What's in a name? - the Syrian-Iranian car company

A Syrian state-owned company and an Iranian public company are jointly manufacturing a car in Syria. The car is based on a Peugeot design.

Having lived in Syria for a few years, cars make an interesting issue. Prior to the mid-1990's, it was almost impossible to import a car as a private citizen. When restrictions were relaxed, cars imported into Syria carried a 100 percent duty. An indigenously produced car will certainly find a market and replace many of the antique cars kept running only by creative repairs by innovative Syrian mechanics.

Although it will not be a problem in Syria and it does not look like the car will be marketed in the English-speaking countries, they have decided to name the car with the old name for Syria and the Syrian dialect word for Damascus - the Sham automobile.

My Syrian driver's license

I hope the car is well-built and easily repaired, since accidents are quite common, and the mandatory state-owned insurance coverage is basically worthless. My wife was in a fender-bender - when I translated the police report, the other driver, who was clearly at fault claimed that the accident was the will of Allah. The police accepted that and it was the official cause of the accident.

The Sham - going on sale next month. From the people who brought you Hizballah.

March 7, 2007

Meeting in Baghdad - why on arba'in?

On March 10, representatives of the United States will meet in Baghdad with representatives of numerous other countries in an attempt to resolve the violence in Iraq. The selection of Mach 10 is surprising since it is the observance of a major Shi'a holy day.

This year, March 10 is arba'in (the Arabic word for 40) which ends the traditional 40-day period of mourning over the death of Imam Husayn bin 'Ali (grandson of Muhammad) in the 7th Century. The death of Husayn was celebrated on 'ashurah (literally "the 10th," referring to 10th day of the Islamic month of Muharram), which this year was January 28. Thousands of pilgrims make their way by vehicle and foot on the roads to the city of Karbala', about 50 miles south of Baghdad and the site of the imam’s shrine.

This year, as in the past years since the observance was allowed again after the removal of the Saddam Husayn, the pilgrimage has been the focus of attacks by Sunni extremists. This year, the goal of the attacks are to goad the Shi'a militias into re-igniting the civil war- since the coalition surge in Baghdad began last month, Shi'a militias have withdrawn from the battle to allow coalition forces to focus on the Sunni extremists, both Iraqi/Ba'thi and Al-Qai'dah in Iraq.

Why hold an important meeting on a Shi'a holy day, especially since the Iraqi government is dominated by Shi'a officials, and they hope to have Iran, another Shi'a country, participate?

It is a mystery to me.

March 6, 2007

Francona on Libby verdict: Change the law!

This article appeared on MSNBC Hardball Hardblogger

I had mixed thoughts as I heard the guilty verdicts read today. In 1991, after my return from Operation Desert Storm, I was assigned to the team drafting the Defense Department’s report on the war – Scooter was an Assistant Secretary of Defense in charge of the effort. It was Scooter Libby that pinned on my Bronze Star in a Pentagon ceremony.

I also recall serving at the U.S. embassy in Baghdad in the late 1980’s, the same embassy where Joe Wilson later served as the deputy chief of mission. Joe did an outstanding job during those initial months of Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait and the subsequent evacuation of American citizens and embassy staff.

Both men have served their country well. What continues to bother me is how these two public servants have ended up on opposites of a legal battle. The jury found Scooter Libby guilty of obstruction, false statements and perjury. What they did not find him guilty of is releasing the name of an intelligence officer under the Intelligence Identities Protection Act of 1982. Nor should they have.

I am not a lawyer, but in my over 27 years as in intelligence officer, I know the rules on protecting the names of American intelligence officers and, more importantly, the foreign agents who we have recruited to provide us with otherwise unobtainable information. According to the extremely narrow and precise wording of the 1982 law, convicting anyone of violating this law is very unlikely. For example, the law requires that the person whose identity is to be protected has to have served in a covert or clandestine capacity overseas in the five years preceding the offense.

Why the arbitrary time period? Clandestine intelligence officers and their recruited assets need protection virtually the rest of their lives. If I was an officer of a foreign security service and knew that Mrs. Wilson had ever been in my country, I would find out everyone she ever talked to and determine just what was told to her – and that search would not be limited to the last five years. There is no convenient statute of limitations in other countries for this kind of activity, and given the places we have to operate, detection of – or in some cases, mere suspicion of – cooperation with an American intelligence service means lifelong incarceration at best, or a slow, agonizing death at worst.

If anything good comes out of this case, let’s hope it is better legislation that provides real protection to our intelligence officers and the people they need to recruit.

March 5, 2007

Palestinian sense of entitlement

According to Associated Press reporting, Palestinians are upset that aid dollars from the United States are drying up in the wake of the election that put a Hamas-led government in place. Numerous water and sewage treatment projects have been halted after the 2006 elections. Since Hamas has refused to recognize the state of Israel and ro renounce the use of violence against the Jewish state (or, as they call it, "the Zionist entity"), American sanctions have choked off the flow of American aid to the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Not only have aid projects been halted, foreign aid earmarked for the Palestinian Authority has been cut as well. That prevents the government from paying salaries to its employees, who now find it difficult to afford higher prices for clean drinking water. Of course, the lack of adequate clean water and proper sanitation will ultimately lead to health problems.

On the West Bank, the blame for the problems is directed at the United States. The common complaint is that the United States pushed for free elections in the territories. When those elections were held, the people chose to give the reins of power to a terrorist organization, Hamas. People claim they are being punished for exercising their choice - it should not be surprising to them that the U.S. would not continue foreign aid to a terrorist-led administration.

The Palestinians made their choice and we respect that, as we should. The United States also made its choice - it is not obligated to provide money to a terrorist organization. Somewhere along the line, American past largess has now become a Palestinian entitlement. By electing Hamas, they have opted out of American financial support.

Ya Filistiniyin - Want American aid projects and financial support? Get rid of Hamas. Otherwise, clean up your own sewage.

March 3, 2007

Pakistan - Do you remember Cambodia 1970?

This article appears on MSNBC Hardball Hardblogger

Afghanistan-Pakistan borderOn April 30, 1970, President Richard Nixon announced that U.S. troops had begun the invasion of Cambodia, accusing the Southeast Asian nation of allowing North Vietnamese forces to use the country as a transit route and safe haven for its units operating in neighboring South Vietnam. After years of watching the Viet Cong and North Vietnamese using both Laos and Cambodia in this manner, American military commanders requested permission to chase the enemy into these neighboring countries. In 1970, Cambodia lost its "off limits" status.

Let's fast forward to present day Afghanistan. The U.S. invasion (Operation Enduring Freedom) shortly following the attacks on the United States by Al-Qa'idah terrorists on September 11, 2001 removed the Taliban-led government of the country and forced Al-Qa'idah to head for the mountains. After being cornered in the mountains of Tora Bora, most of the surviving Al-Qa'idah fighters fled to neighboring Pakistan, specifically to the federally administered tribal areas and the Pushtun provinces of North Waziristan and South Waziristan (where Islamabad exercises little authority).

Pakistani efforts to expel Al-Qa'idah from these areas have met with strong resistance from the local tribes, to the extent that in late 2006, Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf struck a deal with the tribal leaders that he would maintain Islamabad's "hands off" policy toward the area in return for their commitment to stop Al-Qa'idah and Taliban fighters from crossing the border into and out of Afghanistan.

That agreement was a farce. Al-Qa'idah has effectively reconstituted itself in the tribal area, particularly in the Waziristans. Taliban fighters routinely use the area as a safe haven from pursuing American forces - they know full well that Pakistan has refused U.S. troops the right of "hot pursuit" to enter Pakistan. Pakistani forces will not confront the Taliban fighters.

Sounds just like Cambodia 1970.

Vice President Dick Cheney recently visited Pakistan with intelligence reports that indicate the level of Al-Qa'idah and Taliban activity in Pakistan on the Afghanistan border. Pakistani officials' responses vary from claims that they are doing all they can to there is no Al-Qa'idah nor Taliban presence in their country.

Removing the Pakistan safe haven is critical to achieving success in Afghanistan and the larger global war on terror. At some point, the United States is going to tire of Pakistan's seeming inability or apparent unwillingness to address the problem, and take it upon itself to resolve it, regardless of the risk to the longevity of the Musharraf government.

I'd say that time has come.