A Kristol-Odierno Meeting at Fort Hood?

I missed the interview, but Colonel Pat Lang, the former senior intelligence officer and Middle East expert whose blog I always find highly informative, plain-spoken, and not a little provocative, is certainly asking the right questions about Bill Kristol’s reference on Fox News today his recent visit, along with a “small group,” to Fort Hood to talk to Gen. Odierno, who has just been confirmed as Gen. Petraeus successor and Washington’s top military commander in Iraq. I can’t imagine what Kristol, who reportedly speaks with Sen. John McCain pretty regularly and has long been close to some of McCain’s top foreign-policy advisers (Randy Scheunemann, Bob and Fred Kagan, etc.), would tell Odierno about Iraq or military strategy that the general does not already know, so the question is why Odierno wanted to arrange a talk with one of the neo-conservatives’ top polemicists, if not to seek his advice about how to wage the war on the home front, or, worse, how to help boost McCain and the Republicans in the run-up to the November election. And did the Pentagon actually pay for the trip???

Visit Lobelog.com for the latest news analysis and commentary from Inter Press News Service’s Washington bureau chief Jim Lobe.

Protesting HCR 362 at Nancy Pelosi’s House

Over 100 San Francisco antiwar activists protested against the Iran blockade bill, HCR 362, at Nancy Pelosi’s house on Saturday. The protest was emotional, and three people were arrested for trespassing.

This coverage was the lead story on KRON Channel 4’s evening news. The main speaker is Marc Joffe, a local libertarian supporter of Antiwar.com.

Update: Here is an additional report from Janet Weil of CODEPINK:

Three activists arrested for breaking through police barricades around Pelosi’s Pacific Heights mansion and “dying in” on her walkway.A strong, heartfelt, focussed coalition action with great music, signs with photos of Iranian children, an altar with symbols of Iranian culture, many banners and signs including on H Con Res 362 and $400 million for covert ops in Iran!

At a powerful “No War with Iran” action at Pelosi’s Pacific Heights home, code pinkers Toby Blome and Phoebe sorgen (yes, lower case s) and peace organizer David Hartsough were arrested during the Die-In. They broke through the police barricades around Pelosi’s home (no, she was not home — she was in Austin, Texas being protested by Austin CODEPINK!) to lie down as examples of the death that will come to yet another country if the build-up toward war is not halted.

Medea Benjamin and Leslie Angeline were among the dozen or so representing CODEPINK. They joined over 60 others from Action Against Torture, DASW, World Can’t Wait, Western States Legal Defense and probably other organizations. FM DJ Soul of 104.1 in Berkeley spoke out powerfully during the Die-In.

A strong, heartfelt, focussed action with great music, signs with photos of Iranian children, an altar, many banners and signs!

When Toby was being walked to the police car in handcuffs, she called out in a strong but anguished voice, “Pelosi, not another war!” The crowd warmly cheered and applauded the courage of Toby, Phoebe and David.

At the end of the gathering, Medea, just back from DC, said that we need to call Pelosi’s office on Monday to demand that she withdraw H Con Res 362 which calls for a naval blockade of Iran, and that East Bay pinkers need to contact Barbara Lee’s office to get her to step up public opposition to the resolution.

McCain as Neo-Con, Obama as Neo-Con

I’m not a big fan of The New Republic, but there are two articles in the July 30 edition that are well worth a read.

The first essay is by the always-insightful John Judis, who two years ago wrote the best account to date of McCain’s evolution from realist to neo-conservative in the late 1990s. Now Judis revisits the issue to determine McCain’s likely trajectory, focusing in particular on the candidate’s Manicheanism, especially with regard to Russia. Money lines are found right up front:

“Two years ago, I wrote a profile arguing that there were reasons to believe that McCain was more pragmatic than his support for the Iraq debacle suggested (”Neo-McCain,” October 16, 2006). In the interviews I conducted with him in 2006, he repeatedly distanced himself from neoconservatism, reminding me that he talked regularly to realists like Brent Scowcroft. I thought there was a good chance that there was a peacemaker lurking beneath McCain’s warrior exterior–that a President McCain might be able use his hawkish reputation to, say, bring Iraq’s warring parties together or to lure Iran to the bargaining table.

“I wasn’t the only one. Since McCain secured the Republican nomination, I’ve heard echoes of my ambivalence from foreign policy experts, including some who plan to vote for Obama. “McCain has Nixon-goes-to-China credentials,” one told me. But, based on McCain’s actions over the last two years and conversations I’ve had with those close to him, I have concluded that this is wishful thinking. McCain continues to rely on the same neoconservative advisers; he still thinks U.S. foreign policy should focus on transforming rogue states and autocracies into democracies that live under the shadow of American power; and he no longer tells credulous reporters that he consults Scowcroft.”

The second article is the cover story by Eli Lake — yes, the Eli Lake who writes for the ultra-Likudist New York Sun — entitled “Contra Expectations: Obama isn’t Jimmy Carter — He’s Ronald Reagan.” Based in his understanding of and interaction with two Obama advisers, Richard Clarke and Rand Beers, Lake concludes that Obama may turn out to be a neo-con more in the tradition of Jeane Kirkpatrick, who came to prominence as a result of her attacks in Commentary on Carter’s human rights policy and its alleged subversion of “friendly authoritarians”, than in that of Bill Kristol and Bob Kagan who summoned the country via the Project for the New American Century, among other avenues, to “national greatness” and neo-imperialism, something that made Kirkpatrick uneasy. Lake argues that Obama may turn out to be much less “naive” and reluctant to use force than McCain or today’s neo-cons believe.

I have a number of serious problems with the essay, not the least of which is the fact that Israel, which has been central to both the older and younger (now middle-aged) generations of neo-cons, goes entirely unmentioned by Lake. He also fails to distinguish between Kirkpatrick’s neo-conservatism and a classic realist position which, I think, defines more where Clarke and Beers are coming from. Finally, Clarke and Beers are no doubt advising the Obama campaign, but their voices are two of many that also include classic liberal internationalists, who were and, for that matter, still are, quite comfortable with Carter’s human-rights policy and took strong objection to both the old and new neo-conservative critique of it. (Steve Clemons just posted an interesting take on the relationship between Obama and his foreign policy advisers on his blog, thewashingtonnote.com.)

But Lake’s basic point — that Obama’s likely approach to the “global war on terrorism” is likely to be much more “realist” in orientation than McCain, neo-cons, and other Republicans have tried to depict — is, I think, on point, as is his comparison of that approach to the strategy pursued by Gen. David Petraeus’ in Iraq (”collaboration with security forces, militias, and tribal leaders who don’t conform to our highest ideals”, “finding proxies to fight the enemy,” and a strategy designed to “isolate and shrink the pool of irreconcilable insurgents” after buying off the rest). Of course, Petraeus, who has been hailed by the neo-cons as the great Caesar of Mesopotamia, has, in reality, pursued policies — particularly the recruitment of former Sunni insurgents, and especially former Baathists within it, to fight al Qaeda in Iraq — that the neo-cons had long abhorred.

Visit Lobelog.com for the latest news analysis and commentary from Inter Press News Service’s Washington bureau chief Jim Lobe.

Gary Sick on Iran and the Hawk-Realist Power Balance

Gary Sick, an acute observer of U.S.-Iranian relations for more than three decades who served on the National Security Council staff under president Ford, Carter and Reagan and now teaches at Columbia University, wrote a brief comment today on the latest developments in U.S. Iran policy and what it says about the balance of power between hawks and realists within the Bush administration. His essay, which refers to John Bolton’s op-ed, “Israel, Iran and the Bomb, published Monday on the opinion pages of the ever-hawkish ‘Wall Street Journal,’ is reproduced with the author’s permission. (Incidentally, I had the opportunity to talk briefly with former Amb. James Dobbins, who dealt extensively with Iranian diplomats over Afghanistan during and after the ouster of the Taliban and who has been one of the most outspoken and influential voices in the foreign-policy community here to urge direct engagement with Tehran on a whole range of issues. He called the decision to send Undersecretary of State for Policy William Burns to Geneva to join his counterparts from the EU-3, Russia, and China in talks with Iran Saturday a “remarkable” and a “dramatic departure” from previous U.S. policy.)

As usual, John Bolton is absolutely right. His policy prescriptions may be reckless to the point of foolishness (”When in doubt, bomb!”), but his understanding of what is happening in Washington policy (as outlined in his op-ed in the Wall Street Journal yesterday) is unerringly accurate.

While much of the world was hyper-ventilating over the possibility that the United States (and maybe Israel) were getting ready to launch a new war against Iran, Bolton was looking at the realities and concluding that far from bombing the US was preparing to do a deal with Iran. He had noticed that over the past two years the US had completely reversed its position opposing European talks with Iran.

First, the US indicated that it would participate if the negotiations showed progress. Then, when they didn’t, we went further and actively participated in negotiating a new and more attractive offer of incentives to Iran. Bolton noticed that when that package was delivered to Tehran by Xavier Solana, the signature of one Condoleeza Rice was there, along with representatives of the other five members of the UN Security Council plus Germany.

He had probably also noticed Secretary Rice’s suggestion of possibly opening a US interests section in Tehran — the first step toward reestablishing diplomatic relations. And he didn’t overlook the softening of rhetoric in Under Secretary Wm Burn’s recent testimony to the Congress about Iran.

Now, just one day after Bolton’s cry of alarm that the US is going soft on Iran, we learn that the same Bill Burns will participate directly in the talks that are going to be held on Saturday in Geneva with the chief Iranian negotiator on the nuclear file. Bolton’s worst suspicions seem to be confirmed.

Unlike many observers and commentators, Bolton has been looking, not at what the US administration says, but what it does. Ever since the congressional elections of 2006, the US has been in the process of a fundamental change in its policy on a number of key issues: the Arab-Israel dispute, the North Korean nuclear issue, and Iran. Since the administration proclaims loudly that its policies have not changed, and since the tough rhetoric of the past dominates the discussion, it is easy to overlook what is actually going on.

Bolton no doubt noticed that Rumsfeld is gone and replaced with Robert Gates, a very different sort of secretary of Defense. He will have observed that the worst of the neocons (including himself) are now writing books and spending more time with families and friends, cheer-leading for more war by writing op-eds from the outside rather than pursuing their strategies in policy meetings in the White House.

He will have seen the gradual shift of the policy center of gravity from Dick Cheney to Rice and Gates. He will have been listening when the Chairman of the JCS and others have said as clearly as they realistically can that the military option, though never renounced as a theoretical possibility, is the least attractive option available to us and in fact is close to impossible given our over-stretch in Iraq and Afghanistan.

In other words, Bolton, as someone whose policies (in my view) are certifiably insane, recognizes real pragmatism and moderation in Washington when he sees it. And he does not like what he sees in this lame duck administration.

Over the past two or three years, we have been treated to one sensational threat after another about the likelihood of imminent war with Iran. All of these alarms and predictions have one thing in common: they never happened. Perhaps it is time for us to join Bolton in looking at the real indicators. When Bolton quits writing his jeremiads or when he begins to express satisfaction with the direction of US policy, that is when we should start to get worried.

With a few quibbles here and there, I think Dr. Sick gets it exactly right.

Visit Lobelog.com for the latest news analysis and commentary from Inter Press News Service’s Washington bureau chief Jim Lobe.

Candidates Punt on Iraq-Israel

Ray’s Stray Thoughts

Candidates Speak: Un-Reality About Iraq (Updated)

You say you expected more rhetoric than reality from Senators Obama and McCain yesterday in their speeches on Iraq and Afghanistan?  Well, that’s certainly what you got.

What I find nonetheless amazing is how they, and the pundits, have taken such little notice of the dramatic change in the political landscape occasioned by Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s bombshell on July 7—his insistence on a “timetable” for withdrawal of US troops before any accord is reached on their staying past the turn of the year.

Responding to a question at his press conference yesterday, President George W. Bush showed that he was vaguely aware that the timetable is, as Robert Dreyfuss says (in Truthout, July 7), a “big deal.”  Bush even alluded haltingly to the possibility of extending the UN mandate still further.

But it is far from clear that Maliki, who is under great domestic pressure, would be able to sell that to the various factions upon which he depends for support, much less to those which he must keep at bay.  As Dreyfuss points out, Maliki and his Shiite allies are also under considerable pressure from Iran, which remains the chief ally of the ruling alliance of Shiites.  Most important, Maliki is by no means in control of what happens next.


Here’s where it gets sticky.  No one who knows about third rails in US politics would expect the candidates or the fawning corporate media (FCM) to address how those now running Israel are likely to be looking at the implications of a large US troop withdrawal from Iraq next year.

I am remembering how I was pilloried on June 16, 2005, immediately after Congressman John Conyers’ rump-Judiciary Committee hearing in the bowels of the Capitol, for a candid answer to a question from one of his colleagues; i. e., if the invasion of Iraq was not about WMD, and not about non-existent ties between Iraq and al-Qaeda, then why did we attack?

In answer, I used the acronym OIL.  O for oil; I for Israel; and L for Logistics, meaning the military bases deemed by neoconservatives as necessary to protect both.  Neither the House members present nor the media people seemed to have any problem with oil and military bases as factors—in itself an interesting commentary.

However, the suggestion that one main motive was an attempt to make that part of the Middle East safer for Israel (yes, folks, the neocons really thought that attacking Iraq would do that)—well, that was anathema.

As it is anathema today to suggest that this is still one of the main reasons, besides oil, that Elliott Abrams, other neocons—not to mention Vice President Dick Cheney and his team—insist we must stay, Maliki and his associates be damned.  (See the cartoon in the Washington Times today showing Maliki and words telling him “We are NOT leaving.”)

Here in Washington we can sit back and quibble over the implications of such remarks by Maliki and other Iraqi leaders.  The Israelis have to take such statements seriously.  No agreement on US forces staying into 2009 without a timetable for withdrawal?  For Tel Aviv, this is getting very serious.

My guess is the Israeli leaders are apoplectic.  The fiasco in Iraq clearly has made the region much more dangerous for Israel.  There are actually real “terrorists” and “extremists” now in Iraq, and the prospect of US troops leaving has got to be a cause of acute concern in Tel Aviv.

Keeping the US Entangled: Iran

This dramatic change—or even just the specter of it—greatly increases Israel’s incentive to ensure the kind of US involvement in the area that would have to endure for several years.  The Israelis need to create “facts on the ground”—something to guarantee that Washington will stand by what U.S. candidates, including Sen. Obama, call “our ally.”  (Never mind that there is no mutual US-Israel defense treaty.)  Israel is all too painfully aware that it has only six more months of Bush and Cheney.

The legislation drafted by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) being so zealously promoted in Congress calls for the equivalent of a blockade of Iran.  That would be one way to entangle; there are many others.

The point is that the growing danger that the Israelis perceive will probably prompt them to find a way to get the US involved in hostilities with Iran.  Cheney and Bush have pretty much given them that license, with the president regularly pledging to defend “our ally” if Israel is attacked.

All Israel has to do is to arrange to be attacked.  Not a problem.

There are endless possibilities among which Israel can choose to catalyze such a confrontation—with or without a wink and a nod from Cheney and Abrams.  The so-called “amber light” said to have been given to the Israelis is, I believe, already seen as quite sufficient; they are not likely to feel a need to wait until it turns green.

So far, the resistance of U.S. senior military has been the only real obstacle to the madness of hostilities with Iran.  (And one need only read Scott Ritter’s article on Truthdig this week to get a sense for why they would be chary.)

Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman, Adm. Mike Mullen, has been described as warning the Israelis that a “Third Front” in the Middle East would be a disaster.  I think, rather, he was trying to warn anyone who might listen in Washington, including until now tone-deaf lawmakers.

Even if the pundits are correct in suggesting that Mullen is joined by Defense Secretary Robert Gates in trying to resist the neocons and Cheney, Mullen’s tone at his press conference two weeks ago suggested he is fighting a rear guard action—against the “crazies” in the White House, as well as those in Tel Aviv.  And when is the last time the crazies lost a political battle with such implications for Israel?

Mullen had just returned from Tel Aviv.  He appreciates better than most the fecklessness of endless speculation over whether Israel or the U.S. might strike Iran first.  Even if the Israeli leaders have no explicit assurances from the White House, they almost certainly calculate that, once a casus belli is established, their friends in Washington—and the troops they command—are likely to be committed to the fray big time.

Seatbelts Please…

Viewed from Tel Aviv it appears an increasingly threatening situation, with more urgent need to “embed” (so to speak) the United States even more deeply in the region—in a confrontation involving both countries with Iran.

A perfect storm is brewing:

— Petraeus ex Machina, with a record of doing Vice President Dick Cheney’s bidding, takes command of CENTCOM in September;

— Sen. McCain’s numbers are likely to be in the toilet at that point (because of the economy as much as anything else);

— McCain will be seen by the White House as the only candidate with something to gain by a wider war (just as by another “terrorist incident”);

— The Bush/Cheney months will be down to three;

— And Maliki will not be able to cave in to Washington on the timeline requirement he has publicly set.

In sum, Israel is likely to be preparing a September/October surprise designed to keep the US bogged down in Iraq and in the wider region by provoking hostilities with Iran.  And don’t be surprised if it starts as early as August.  Israel’s leaders may well plead for understanding on the part of those U.S. officials not tipped off in advance, claiming that they could not distinguish amber from green with their night-vision goggles on.

Would they hesitate?  Please tell me who…just who is likely to turn on the siren, pull them over, and even think of giving them a summons—once the patrol car computer confirms their privileged licenses?

Is McCain About to ‘Refine’ His Withdrawal Plan, Too?

Don’t be surprised if Sen. John McCain “refines” his own Iraq plans very soon, just as his campaign has accused Barack Obama of doing.

In an article in Monday’s USA Today, ret. Army Gen. Jack Keane, a key architect and supporter of the “Surge”, who is close to both Gen. David Petraeus and the neo-conservatives who are advising McCain, predicted “significant reductions (in U.S. troops in Iraq) in 2009 whoever becomes president.” Even more remarkably — and in contrast to the repeated cautions by senior military officials in Iraq, including Petraeus, that the progress made by the Surge over the past year remains “fragile” and “reversible” — Keane told the newspaper, “I think the momentum we have (in Iraq) is not reversible.”

With Bill Kristol and the Weekly Standard already declaring victory, Keane’s assessment opens the door for McCain, who revised his previous opposition to setting any timetable for withdrawal when he declared in mid-May that most U.S. troops would be out of Iraq by 2013, to suggest an accelerated pace that may yet approach Obama’s timetable for withdrawing all U.S. combat troops 16 months after taking office, or by June, 2010. Despite the ridicule that such a revision might invite, the fact is that the Iraq war remains a loser for McCain, especially among independent voters.

Interestingly, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Adm. Michael Mullen, who is desperate to get more troops into Afghanistan, revived the possibility Monday that Washington will continue withdrawing troops from Iraq after only a brief pause in August after the formal end of the Surge. That possibility seemed to have been put on the shelf a couple of months ago when Bush indicated that troop levels were unlikely to be reduced below the 140,000 to be reached at the end of this month through the rest of the administration. Whether Mullen’s remarks were provoked by a new assessment that improvements in Iraq are indeed irreversible, as Keane apparently believes, or whether they reflect a new Pentagon effort to persuade Bush to revise his own timetable isn’t clear yet.

Visit Lobelog.com for the latest news analysis and commentary from Inter Press News Service’s Washington bureau chief Jim Lobe.