Archive for the ‘U.S.’ Category

The New York Times reported on Sunday that a top aide of Afghan President Hamid Karzai was receiving cash by the bagful from the government of Iran.  Karzai stopped denying the story today, stating,

“They give us bags of money – yes, yes it is done,” Mr. Karzai said. “We are grateful to the Iranians for this. Patriotism has a price”

Wait, what kind of money are we talking about here, a couple thousand dollars perhaps? Not even in the ballpark. Afghan officials told the Times that individual payments ranged as high as $6 million. I know this was only reported yesterday, but where is the outrage?  This blatant bribery by Iran, a state sanctioned by the United States and most of the world, shows us the nature of the Afghan government we’re fighting to support. I’m not sure if bags of cash were listed in UN Security Council Resolution 1929 (the most recent resolution sanctioning Iran), but perhaps we should think of lobbying for their addition.

President Karzai’s rhetoric recently has become increasingly anti-Western and anti-NATO.  Whether that’s the Iranian cash talking or simple pandering to domestic sentiment (unlikely due to mixed polls on U.S. popularity), it’s hard to tell.  But this event further signals the erratic and downright corrupt nature of the regime we’re fighting for.  Why do we put up with it? Because the U.S. Government doesn’t believe it has an alternative to Karzai.  We’ve staked our hopes on him and we don’t know what to do if he turns out to be as corrupt as all this evidence shows.

Let’s just hope these bags of cash don’t make Iran’s word more important than NATO’s in influencing Afghan policy, or Afghanistan may start buying uranium for its own nuclear research reactor.

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In the foreign policy world, the words Iran and nuclear in the same sentence immediately get the attention of the State Department, Defense Department, Intelligence Agencies and all the rest. Why is the U.S. Government so worried about Iran? Should you be worried about it as well, or is it all just the same old Iraq talk all over again? The Ivory Bunker will do its best to tell you over the next 400 words or so.

I’ll first highlight four reasons why I think the U.S. Government is worried about a nuclear Iran. First, they are worried about the immediate and practical implications of a nuclear-capable Iran led by anti-semitic and somewhat unstable dictator.  Second, they are worried about what a nuclear Iran would mean for the future of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Regime.  A nuclear Iran could signal what arms control gurus have feared for decades – the effective end of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), a treaty that has more or less stymied the expansion and proliferation of nuclear arms for almost four decades. Third, the U.S. Government is concerned about the potential proliferation, either accidental or intentional, of nuclear weapons from the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) to Hezbollah or another related terrorist organization. Fourth, they are concerned about the potential domino effect of latent proliferation spreading across the Middle East, as Saudi Arabia and possibly Egypt consider following in Iran’s footsteps down the nuclear path.

Should you be worried about this? The good news is that Iran does not have a nuclear weapon nor will they be likely to get one in the next several years.  The bad news is that Iran has not signed the Additional Protocol (AP), which allows International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspectors to inspect all potential facilities, both declared and undeclared, for evidence of nuclear weapons.  So we don’t know for sure how far along Iran really is in their nuclear exploits.  What we do know is that Iran has been operating an enrichment facility at Natanz and they just opened a nuclear reactor at Bushehr. We also know they have been frequently denying IAEA inspectors access to certain facilities and have provided incomplete explanations of issues the IAEA has raised.  But unless Iran has another secret enrichment facility (which is indeed possible), they cannot develop sufficient Highly Enriched Uranium (HEU) without kicking out IAEA inspectors from Natanz. This in turn would send a clear signal to the world of Iran’s intentions and would likely incur the actual wrath of China and Russia, not just the feigned sort U.S. diplomacy has worked so hard to achieve.

The bottom line – there is no need to panic just yet.  I believe, as do several other foreign policy writers, that Iran will do its best to hedge its nuclear capabilities, going as close as possible to constructing a bomb without actually going the entire way.  All the United States and the UN more broadly can do is continue to disincentivize non-cooperation and promote full cooperation.  Any deal between the P5+1 should aim to have Iran sign the Additional Protocol and forswear most domestic enrichment capabilities (perhaps leave some enrichment symbolically for prestige preservation). In exchange, the P5+1 should give further security guarantees, economic aid and offer a secure supply of enriched uranium fuel under international controls for Iran’s future nuclear plants.

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Brookings’ Bruce Riedel wrote a three-incher in the November issue of FP urging CINC to form a South Asia COCOM to seal the rift in AORs between CENTCOM and PACOM. He points out that this isn’t just a COCOM problem: OSD Policy, NSC, and State all have different desks for Af/Pak and India, muddling policy planning and execution vis a vis South Asia:

If Barack Obama is to really get serious about the region, he needs to create an executive bureau for Pakistan, India, and Afghanistan — one that spans across the U.S. government. Good organization does not guarantee good policy, but a poorly constructed bureaucracy is almost always a recipe for bad policy. A new military command that puts Pakistan and India in the same theater would help enormously in improving U.S. strategic thinking about South Asia. No longer would one commander talk to the Pakistanis and another to the Indians; the Pentagon would have just one voice. And likewise for Foggy Bottom: An empowered assistant secretary of state for South Asia could travel regularly on diplomatic missions between Kabul, Islamabad, and New Delhi.

Obama was right to recognize that the Afghan war could not be effectively prosecuted without dealing with Pakistan. But it’s foolish to think that Pakistan can be effectively assisted without dealing with the issue that dominates its own strategic calculus: India.

What surprises me most is that everyone on the Af/Pak side appreciates this is an artificial distinction, and I’m sure the India hands feel the same way. Yet: if this is such a great idea, why hasn’t it been done already? SWJ has been writing about this for a while, so what gives? And it’s not like ignoring India is trivial–consider Chris Hitchens’ proposal:

When the throat-slitters and school-burners and woman-stoners come to the villagers of Pakistan and Afghanistan at dead of night, they have one great psychological advantage. “One day, the Americans and the Europeans will go,” they say. “But we will always be here.” There’s some truth in this: Most of the talk in this country is now of an “exit strategy,” and for all the good they are doing, most of the other NATO contingents might as well have shipped out already. But if the United States was to upgrade and cement an economic, military, and political alliance with the emerging giant in New Delhi, we could guarantee without any boasting that our presence in the area was enduring and unbudgeable. It would also be based more on mutual friendship and common values and less on the humiliating practice of bribery and cajolery. And the Pakistani elite would have to decide which was its true enemy: the Taliban/al-Qaida alliance or the Indo-American one.

This might be the vodka lassis talking, but why is it again that we should–in the words of former Afghan intel chief Amrullah Saleh (a.k.a. that guy Karzai fired for speaking truth to Pakistan)–“incentivize bad behavior”? (That transcript is from PBS Frontline’s documentary on Afghanistan, featuring a few familiar faces.) I know we’re worried about their nukes, but what if the ruling elite is actually more friendly to the Taliban than other segments of the population? Stay tuned…

–The Fifth Indian