Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Dick Cheney's Fantasy World

by Scott Ritter
read the original at the Guardian>>
Scott Ritter was a UN weapons inspector in Iraq from 1991-1998 and is the author of Iraq Confidential (IB Tauris, 2006).

In yet another attempt at revisionist history by the outgoing Bush administration, vice-president Dick Cheney, in an exclusive interview with ABC News, took exception to former presidential adviser Karl Rove's contention that the US would not have gone to war if available intelligence before the invasion had shown Iraq not to possess weapons of mass destruction. Cheney noted that the only thing the US got wrong on Iraq was that there were no stockpiles of WMD at the time of the 2003 invasion. "What they found was that Saddam Hussein still had the capability to produce weapons of mass destruction. He had the technology, he had the people, he had the basic feed stock."

The vice-president should re-check both his history and his facts. Just prior to President Bush's decision to invade Iraq, the UN had teams of weapons inspectors operating inside Iraq, blanketing the totality of Iraq's industrial infrastructure. They found no evidence of either retained WMD, or efforts undertaken by Iraq to reconstitute a WMD manufacturing capability. Whatever dual-use industrial capability that did exist (so-called because the industrial processes involved to produce legitimate civilian or military items could, if modified, be used to produce materials associated with WMD) had been so degraded as a result of economic sanctions and war that any meaningful WMD production was almost moot. To say that Saddam had the capability or the technology to produce WMD at the time of the US invasion is a gross misrepresentation of the facts.

While one can make the argument that Saddam had the people, insofar as the scientists who had participated in the WMD programmes of the 1980s were still in Iraq and, in many cases, still employed by the government, these human resources were irrelevant without either the industrial infrastructure, the economic base or the political direction needed to produce WMD. None of these existed. The argument Cheney makes on feed stock is even more ludicrous. Precursor chemicals used in the lawful manufacture of chemical pesticides were present in Iraq at the time of the invasion, but these were unable to be used in manufacturing the sarin, tabun or VX chemical nerve agents the Bush administration claimed existed inside Iraq in stockpile quantities prior to the invasion.

The same can be said about Iraqi biological capability. The discovery after the invasion of a few vials of botulinum toxin suitable for botox treatments, but unusable for any weapons purposes, does not constitute a feed stock. And as for the smoking gun that the Bush administration did not want to come in the form of a mushroom cloud, there was no nuclear weapons programme in Iraq in any way shape or form, nor had there been since it was dismantled in 1991. Cheney's dissimilation of the facts surrounding Iraqi WMD serves as a distraction from the reality of the situation. Not only did the entire Bush administration know that the intelligence data about Iraqi WMD was fundamentally flawed prior to the invasion, but they also knew that it did not matter in the end. Bush was going to invade Iraq no matter what the facts proved.

Cheney defended the invasion and subsequent removal of Saddam from power by noting that "this was a bad actor and the country's better off, the world's better off with Saddam gone". This is the argument of the intellectually feeble. It would be very difficult for anyone to articulate that life today is better in Baghdad, Mosul, Basra or any non-Kurdish city than it was under Saddam. Ask the average Iraqi adult female if she is better off today than she was under Saddam, and outside of a few select areas in Kurdistan, the answer will be a resounding "no".

The occupation of Iraq by the United States is far more brutal, bloody and destructive than anything Saddam ever did during his reign. When one examines the record of the US military in Iraq in terms of private homes brutally invaded, families torn apart and civilians falsely imprisoned (the prison population in Iraq during the US occupation dwarfs that of Saddam's regime), what is clear is that the only difference between the reign of terror inflicted on the Iraqi people today and under Saddam is that the US has been far less selective in applying terror than Saddam ever was.

At a time when the US and the world struggle with a resurgent Iran, the Iranian-dominated Dawa party of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki governs Iraq today in name only. The stability enjoyed by Iraq today has been bought with the presence of 150,000 US troops who have overseen the ethnic cleansing of entire neighbourhoods in cities around Iraq, and who have struck temporary alliances with Shia and Sunni alike which cannot be sustained once these forces leave (as they are scheduled to do by 2011).

Invading Iraq and removing Saddam, the glue that held that nation together as a secular entity, was the worst action the US could have undertaken for the people of Iraq, the Middle East as a whole and indeed the entire world. For Cheney to articulate otherwise, regardless of his fundamentally flawed argument on WMD, only demonstrates the level to which fantasy has intruded into the mind of the vice-president.

Robert Irwin's top 10 books on Islam and Islamic culture

read the original article at The Guardian>>

Writer and broadcaster Robert Irwin is the author of The Alhambra, recently published by Profile. He is also the author of The Arabian Nights: A Companion and The Desert: An Anthology of Classical Arabic Literature as well as six novels.

1. The Koran Interpreted, translated by Arthur J Arberry

Strictly, Muslims hold that a translation from Arabic of the Koran is not possible. However, this is the best attempt at a translation into English. Not only is this one the most accurate, it also captures the rhythm and poetry of the original. Arberry was a devout Christian who nevertheless identified strongly with the mystical strain in Islam.

2. The Koran: A Very Short Introduction by Michael Cook

However good the translation you read (or even if you can read it in Arabic), the text of the Koran still needs a lot of glossing and some context. Cook is erudite, witty and incisive and he packs a huge amount into his 150 pages. Even specialists in Koranic studies are likely to learn something from this amazingly efficient account of how the Koran was put together, what it contains and how it is studied and recited today. Apart from anything else, this book should serve as a model of how to write a very short account of anything whatsoever.

3. The Mantle of the Prophet: Religion and Politics in Iran by Roy Mottahedeh

There is no other book quite like this. Mottahedeh, a brilliant Princeton professor, based his account of spiritual life in Iran on a series of lengthy interviews with an Iranian mullah, tracing the holy man's career from childhood in the holy city of Qom to a senior position in the ranks of the Iranian clergy. This searching exploration of the spiritual and intellectual life of Shi'i Islam is effectively an insider's account of an educational curriculum that has not significantly changed since the middle ages. Modern political and social tensions in the region are also explored.

4. A Sufi Saint of the Twentieth Century. Shaikh Ahmad al-'Alawi by Martin Lings

This book changed my life. It is an inspiring account of the career and teachings of a great Algerian Sufi mystic master. Al-'Alawi, a holy man and profound thinker, founded one of the most important North African Sufi orders. Lings is a convert to Islam and his account of al-'Alawi's teachings manages to convey something of authentic Sufism, (as opposed to the ersatz new age stuff that is otherwise so widely available in the west). This is a book that may give you some sense of why and how Muslims believe in Allah.

5. The Shambhala Guide to Sufism by Carl Ernst

This is an outsider's account of Sufism written by an academic specialist in Islamic studies. Ernst lucidly sets out the mystical elements in the Koran and provides a potted history of the great Sufi orders from medieval times onwards. He is very good on the great Sufi poets, Hafiz and Rumi, but the most interesting chapter is the last, on contemporary Sufism.

6. The Venture of Islam: Conscience and History in a World Civilization (3 volumes) by Marshal GS Hodgson

Hodgson died before he could quite finish this massive cultural history of Islam but, even so, it remains a great monument of learning and cross-cultural empathy. Hodgson attempted to rethink the way Islamic history was traditionally written about and he wanted to ditch Orientalist cliches. Since he was largely successful in these enterprises, his book has been hugely influential. It is particularly good on the achievements of Persian, Turkish and Indian Muslims.

7. Atlas of the Islamic World by Francis Robinson

This beautifully produced atlas is one of the books influenced by Hodgson's rethink of Islamic culture. The pictures (of Persian miniatures, Mughal architecture, African mosques, modern political posters and much else) are lovely. The accompanying text is intelligent and entirely reliable. Robinson reminds us, if the reminder is necessary, that Islam is not the monopoly of the Arabs and that high Islamic culture did not come to a screeching halt some time around the 11th century.

8. A History of the Arab Peoples by Albert Hourani

Although Islam is not the monopoly of the Arabs, they have played rather a large part in its propagation. Hourani was a fastidious stylist and this book, a glowing and sympathetic account of Arab achievements, was his last masterpiece. The narrative has a fine sweep and is not clogged with detail about people with unpronounceable names marching off to fight in unspellable places. Anyone thinking of going to the Middle East should read this first. So should Kilroy Silk.

9. Islamic Art and Architecture by Robert Hillenbrand

Hillenbrand is the top man on Islamic art in Britain today and in the past he has ranged extremely widely in his more specialist studies on Islamic art and architecture. His general book on this topic is compact and attractively illustrated. The quality of his prose and its effectiveness in evoking the appearance and aesthetic effect of the objects he is describing is marvellous. His description of the Alhambra, for example, is simply breathtaking.

10. Muslims: Their Religious Beliefs and Practices by Andrew Rippin

This is probably the best general account of what Muslims believe. Rippin instructs his readers in the elements of Islamic history and the evolution of theology and law, as well as meaning of such things as the hajj, salaat, Ramadan and jihad. He explains the differences between Shi'is and Sunnis. He is particularly strong on the challenges and opportunities facing modern Muslims, so that contemporary Islam's encounter with modernity, feminism and democracy are all thoughtfully explored.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Afghanistan and Neighbors Discuss Close Cooperation

Iran absent from negotiations

read the original article at the New York Times site>>

PARIS — Afghanistan and most of its neighbors agreed at an informal conference here on Sunday to work together to stabilize the country, restrict narcotics traffic and coordinate action against terrorist groups.

The conference of foreign ministers, organized by France, was aimed at shoring up regional relations in the interest of security and stability.

“There is a consensus that there can be no peace, security and prosperity in Afghanistan without the strong involvement of its neighbors,” the French foreign minister, Bernard Kouchner, said after the meeting. “And there can be no peace, security and prosperity for the region without a stable Afghanistan.”

But the notable absence of Iran left a gaping hole in French hopes for the meeting. Though Iran had said its foreign minister would attend — then said no, then said yes and then said it would be represented by its ambassador to France — no Iranian official showed up, according to the French Foreign Ministry spokesman, Eric Chevallier.

“It’s unfortunate, but when nobody showed up this morning, everyone sat down to work,” Mr. Chevallier said. “No one explained why.”

Iran was annoyed with the French president, Nicolas Sarkozy, for remarks he made last week criticizing constant threats by Iran’s president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, against Israel. It may be that with Iranian elections coming in June, it was more politic for the Iranian foreign minister, Manouchehr Mottaki, to stay home.

The conference was meant to bring together all the countries touching on Afghanistan, including former Soviet republics like Turkmenistan and Tajikistan as well as China, India and Pakistan. Held behind closed doors at the Foreign Ministry residence at La Celle-St.-Cloud, west of Paris, the conference also included the United Nations special representative for Afghanistan, Kai Eide, and senior European Union officials responsible for foreign policy and aid.

Germany, which provides significant financial backing for NATO operations in Afghanistan, was also invited, and it will be asked to do more on the ground there, with civilian and police trainers, if not with many more troops. Russia also attended, along with all countries with troops in Afghanistan, including the United States and Britain.

With President-elect Barack Obama vowing to increase the number of troops and civilian advisers substantially to try to stabilize Afghanistan, the French, who hold the European Union presidency until the end of the year, wanted to present a forward-looking European initiative, French officials said.

Although Iran did not attend, Pakistan, another critical player in the region, did. Pakistan has been accused of not doing enough to prevent cross-border operations by the Taliban, and NATO convoys and supply depots for the military effort in Afghanistan have recently been attacked in Pakistan itself.

On Sunday in Bahrain, Gen. David H. Petraeus, head of American forces in Iraq and Afghanistan, said the problems in Pakistan brought “new urgency” to finding alternate supply routes through the “stans” of Central Asia: Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan.

The Paris conference also provided an opportunity for a high-level diffusion of tensions between India and Pakistan after the terrorist attacks on Mumbai last month, which have been linked to a Pakistani militant group.

Pakistan’s foreign minister, Shah Mahmood Qureshi, said at the meeting that the siege “was an attack on us all” and promised to do more to stop terrorism, a French official said, speaking on condition of anonymity in accord with normal diplomatic practice.

An Indian minister of state for external affairs, Anand Sharma, called for “effective, visible and coordinated cooperation,” the French official said.

The conference became more detailed on economic regional cooperation, officials reported, with the European Commission offering to host a meeting of economic experts to prepare better for a regional economic conference planned for Islamabad, Pakistan, early next year.

A French official, in answer to a question, said that issues of the Afghan government’s competence and reputation for corruption “did come up, in the context of the interests of the Afghans themselves.” Neighbors and allies all wanted “better compliance and implementation of programs,” the official said.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Congresswoman Barbara Lee Introduces Resolution Opposing U.S.-Iraq Security Agreement

Congresswoman Barbara Lee introduced a resolution Wednesday disapproving the security agreement reached between the Bush Administration and the Government of Iraq. Questioning the length of troop commitments and constitutionality of the agreement, Lee expressed her reasoning for the bill saying, “The resolution puts the House of Representatives on record in opposition to the agreement because it does not comply with constitutional requirements and is not in the best interests of the United States. For starters, the Agreement contemplates a timetable that could leave U.S. troops in Iraq until December 31, 2011. Aside from the fact that the America people are plainly fed up with this unnecessary war and occupation in Iraq and want to see it ended, occupying Iraq for three more years under the Bush plan would cost American taxpayers $360 billion based on current spending levels. That amount is nearly half of the money paid by taxpayers to bail out Wall Street and obviously could be better spent digging our economy out of the ditch the policies of the Bush Administration have put it in.

“Second, the Bush agreement undermines the constitutional powers of the next president by subjecting American military operations to the approval of the Iraqi government, by giving operational control to ‘joint mobile operations command centers’ controlled by a joint American-Iraqi committee. Throughout history, American troops have been placed under foreign control in peacekeeping operations only where authorized under treaties ratified by the Senate.

“These are serious deficiencies and there is little doubt that others will soon be discovered and brought to light. It is a seriously flawed agreement which illustrates perfectly the necessity of Congressional review and approval of any agreement concerning the United States Armed Forces and the security of Iraq. An agreement to commit American troops to the defense and security of another country is a major commitment that must have the support of the American people, which can only be reflected by the Congress of the United States. That process has not been followed in this case and for this reason the Agreement should be disapproved. The resolution I have introduced provides the House of Representatives an appropriate vehicle to register its disapproval of this seriously flawed agreement.”

For a copy of the resolution, click here>>

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Warlords Toughen US Task in Afghanistan

By Aryn Baker / Kabul
read the original article at Time>>

General Abdul Rashid Dostum.
General Abdul Rashid Dostum.
Paula Bronstein / Getty

Like many mothers in Afghanistan, Maghferat Samimi has affixed the photo of a child to her mobile phone. But the two-and-a-half-year-old is not her daughter. She is a rape victim, one of scores that Samimi, a researcher with the Afghan Human Rights Organization, has documented in the country's northern provinces over the past six months. Witnesses to the child's abduction by a local militia commander — a person who would once have been called a "warlord" — have had their rape claim backed up by a nearby hospital, but the district police chief maintains that the child fell on a stick. The police chief's refusal to issue an arrest warrant, he says, has nothing to do with the fact that he is friends with the militia commander. Seeking justice from government officials, says Samimi, "is like going to the wolves for help, when the wolves have stolen your sheep." That is what it is like in Afghanistan, where lawless warlords are now the law.

The Afghan warlords largely responsible for assisting the U.S.'s ousting of the Taliban in 2001 are now deeply entrenched in Afghan society. They have positions in government, in the police, in the army and in business. Though they have largely relinquished their tanks and heavy artillery, most have been able to maintain their core militias in the form of private security companies, political parties or loose business networks. Allegations of land grabs, rape, murder and kidnapping are rife. Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and Afghan human rights organizations such as Samimi's have documented extortion rackets run by former warlords and militia-run prisons where captives are held for ransom. Afghan journalists covering their crimes have been harassed by police or thrown in jail. Last year Samimi received a phone call from General Abdul Rashid Dostum, a U.S. ally who was appointed by Afghan President Hamid Karzai as Army Chief of Staff, threatening to have her raped "by 100 men" if she continued investigating a rape case in which he was implicated. Dostum denies ever making such a threat and calls the rape allegation "propaganda." A witness to the phone call, military prosecutor General Habibullah Qasemi, was dismissed from his post soon after, despite carrying a sheaf of glowing recommendation letters penned by U.S. military supervisors.

Faced with a rapidly spreading insurgency that threatens to overturn seven years of incremental progress in Afghanistan — a survey released Monday by the International Council on Security and Development reports that the Taliban are present in 72% of the country — the U.S. and its allies are struggling to find a new strategy to stabilize Afghanistan. President George W. Bush has announced that about 4,500 more soldiers will be sent there early in the new year, but that is a fraction of what General David McKiernan, head of NATO forces in Afghanistan, has said that he needs to successfully conduct the war. Meanwhile, allied forces have been forced to rely on local militia leaders for intelligence gathering, delivery of supplies and to better understand the country's southern tribal networks. In the north, where the Uzbek and Tajik warlords' historic hatred of the Pashtun-dominated Taliban has maintained a stability that has so far been unattainable elsewhere, both national and coalition leaders are loathe to upset the balance by pushing for prosecution. One former NATO official in Afghanistan compares the warlords to shrapnel lodged in an artery — infection is a risk, he says, but pulling it out could be even worse. "There are so many other things we have to worry about, so why go and open this can of worms?"

In a new article in Foreign Affairs magazine, U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates writes, "Over the long term, the United States cannot kill or capture its way to victory. Where possible, [military] operations should be subordinated to measures aimed at promoting better governance ... and efforts to address the grievances among the discontented, from whom the terrorists recruit." But so far, the U.S. is failing to do that. With the possibility that Indian threats of retaliation over last month's terror attacks on Mumbai could force Pakistan to move its military to the east from the Afghan border, where it is currently fighting elements of al-Qaeda and the Taliban, it is more important than ever that Afghanistan's central government be strengthened. The perception that warlords, protected by their influence and threats of violence, can commit crimes with impunity has rocked Afghan society, and threatens to undermine the very government that the United States and its allies are trying to build up.

This is not the first time warlords have had positions of power in Afghanistan. Following the 1989 withdrawal of Soviet troops, rival mujahedin groups that had united to drive the foreigners out turned on each other, further destroying the country in a brutal civil war marked by warlord rule. The government collapsed, and militia commanders were able to seize territory, terrorize the population and, in some cases, even issue currency. The Taliban capitalized on widespread disgust with their savagery, eventually coming to power in 1996. The U.S., unwilling to commit large numbers of ground troops when it went to overthrow the Taliban government, relied instead on the northern warlords and their militias. In a grave mistake that was to haunt Afghanistan for years to come, many of those leaders were given prominent positions when the new Afghan government was formed, enabling them to claw back credibility that had been lost due to their abhorrent behavior in the civil war. Samimi laments the lost opportunity for Afghanistan to start over. "Right after the collapse of the Taliban, the government had the opportunity to go after these commanders because they were scared and weak," she says. "Instead the international community and the government supported them and made them stronger. They didn't bring them to justice; they waited until they committed more crimes. For this we ousted the Taliban?"

It is the unfulfilled promise of a new, clean democracy that has alienated the very Afghans that the West depends on to build a strong, stable country. Educated moderates, such as Samimi, have no love for the Taliban, but they have also become disillusioned with the current government's failings, as exemplified by the unaddressed predations of militia commanders. Francesc Vendrell, the former European Union envoy to Afghanistan, holds that "warlordism," as he calls it, is just as much at the root of the insurgency as religious ideology. "In Muslim society justice is the most essential element and, here in Afghanistan, people simply don't see it exist. They see impunity; they see a few people become extremely wealthy and they see cruelty," he says. "Therefore I think many of them are fence sitters. And you can't hope to win an insurgency when the civilians are sitting on the fence."

For some Afghans, however, it may be too late. Among Samimi's other rape cases is 11-year-old Sweeta, whose attacker was protected by his employer, a local commander. The family's repeated attempts to bring the rapist to justice have been borne little fruit. In an interview with TIME this summer, President Karzai was told about Sweeta's case and promised to look into it, but Sweeta's sister Saleha had already given up on the government, and wondered if the past seven years of foreign intervention have brought any progress at all to Afghanistan. "If the Taliban were still here, that rapist would have already been executed by now. It would have been a lesson for all," she says. "If there is no law, and the government does not listen to people's complaints, then it is better to go back to the Taliban era. At least then we had justice." —With reporting by Ali Safi / Shebergan

Monday, December 8, 2008

The Ultimate Berlin Airdrop...from Space

Commentary by Charles Holden

President-elect Obama hopes to be seen as effecting some of the promises of transparency and open government made during his campaign. An email (containing this memo) from Obama transition team head John Podesta went out today to Obama supporters announcing a "seat at the table" for the American public. However, the transition meetings at which various interest groups present their agendas will not be videotaped and posted on youtube. Instead, the documents presented at these meetings will be posted on the website set up by the Obama campaign post-election.

With the appointment of Michael Strautmanis to Valerie Jarrett's office Friday, Dec. 5, Obama selected a long-time Chicago associate to head the transparency initiative of the pre-administration. Strautmanis assumes the title of Director of Public Liaison and Intergovernmental Affairs, and is apparently charged with administering the Seat at the Table initiative, which according to the promotional video, allows the public to track meetings, view documents, and leave feedback. In current practice, however, the "track meetings" functionality appears not to be in use (I see no attendees lists, meeting notes, minutes, or best of all possible scenarios, video).

Interest groups from La Raza's Institute for Hispanic Health (beneath which proposal one may find a lively discussion thread debating the merits of affirmative action) to the Women Business Owner's Platform for Growth (beneath which proposal one may find a lively discussion thread debating the merits of affirmative action) have submitted briefs supporting their agendas. There are many noteworthy groups and proposals, but the one that caught my eye was entitled Space Solar Power (SSP) — A Solution for Energy Independence & Climate Change, cooked up by the "imagineers" over at the Department of Defense's National Security Space Office’s Advanced Concepts Office [aka "Dreamworks"].

The Dreamworks folks (apologies here to Spielberg) seem to be promoting the place of the big idea, in this case space, where they envision a field of solar panels with capacity to collect gigawatts of unobstructed solar energy to be beamed back to earth. In addition to the energy required to make possible to the entire world American levels of energy (although the implied capacity for altruism is perhaps as far away as this proposal's success), the project could also serve the Department of Defense's own requirements. "Energy beamed from space at over 5MWe's of energy would prove a disruptive game-changer on the battlefield" (as the safe remote reception of energy could theoretically allow for the military to set up power sources anywhere on earth).

The imperative of neutralizing energy scarcity has seemingly forced a "no stones unturned" approach at Defense, as can be demonstrated by this proprosal's genesis, being brought neither by NASA nor the Department of Energy. The back of a napkin cost ($15,000/5kW solar panel system x 110M American households = $1.65 Trillion) of outfitting every American with their own solar panels would likely compare favorably to the cost of implementing the full-scale program as envisioned, so it is not surprising that the proposal is limited in scope to demonstrating a viable space-based model for the purposes of lowering barriers to entry for business ventures.

Still, the fulfillment of the Defense Department's dream of realizing energy-on-demand to all corners of the globe would certainly ensure the US would not be beholden to Middle Eastern oil (except perhaps when it comes to the production of plastics). The message from the Department of Defense's NSSO appears to be an Obaman "We Can Dream."

Obama's Foreign Policy on Meet the Press

President-elect Obama appeared on Meet the Press yesterday, and discussed briefly his positions on foreign policy.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Obama's Afghan Dilemma

by Robert Dreyfuss
read the original article at The Nation>>

President-elect Barack Obama says that Afghanistan is "the right war." "It's time to heed the call from General [David] McKiernan and others for more troops," Obama said in late October, referring to the US commander in Afghanistan. "That's why I'd send at least two or three additional combat brigades to Afghanistan." He's coupled that with tough talk about hitting Al Qaeda anywhere, including next door in Pakistan. "If we have Osama bin Laden in our sights and the Pakistani government is unable or unwilling to take them out, then I think that we have to act, and we will take them out," Obama said in the second of his three debates with John McCain. "We will kill bin Laden. We will crush Al Qaeda."

Despite such rhetoric, however, nearly two years ago Obama began assembling a cast of experts steeped in the intricacies of South Asian affairs, and they have provided him with a far richer and more sophisticated view of the Afghanistan-Pakistan tangle than emerged in the campaign. "The format of presidential debates does not lend itself to a nuanced discussion," says Bruce Riedel, wryly. A former CIA specialist on South Asia who served on the National Security Council under Presidents Clinton and Bush, Riedel led an advisory task force on Afghanistan-Pakistan for Obama. Interviews with Riedel and other Obama advisers--who made it clear they were not speaking for the president-elect--suggest that Obama intends to reorient US policy in the region significantly, and a key plank in that reorientation includes negotiations with the enemy. But assertions by the US command and the Obama team that we can both "surge" and negotiate overlook the glaring reality that sending more troops into the Afghan quagmire and urging the Pakistani government to escalate the war it is fighting against its own people will make the crisis worse, not better.

The outlines of Obama's strategy, which aren't likely to be articulated fully until after the inauguration, include a repudiation of the strident "global war on terror" rhetoric that marked President Bush's years and that only inflamed Muslim attitudes toward the United States. Campaign sloganeering aside, Obama may try to curtail the indiscriminate use of air power in Afghanistan against often ill-defined targets ("just air raiding villages and killing civilians" was how he put it in 2007), though how he'll do that while adding more troops and escalating the war isn't clear. He'll slow down, if not halt, the provocative cross-border attacks into Pakistani tribal areas against insurgent bases, even as he reserves the right to hit bin Laden. The incoming administration will take steps to strengthen the fledgling civilian government of President Asif Ali Zardari in Pakistan against the machinations of the Pakistani army and its Inter-Services Intelligence agency (ISI), which maintains covert ties to a wide range of extremist groups, including the Taliban. And it will support a major boost in economic aid to both countries.

Nearly all of Obama's advisers--along with members of a parallel task force at the Center for American Progress, a think tank likely to be the source of many Obama appointees--insist that a central part of a new US policy toward Afghanistan and Pakistan must be to facilitate a peace process between Pakistan and India, its giant neighbor to the east. For decades, Pakistan's military and the ISI have lent covert support to Islamist terrorist groups, in Afghanistan and in the disputed territory of Kashmir, as part of a strategy of asymmetric warfare against India. A Pakistan-India accord would strengthen Pakistan's civilian government and undercut the rationale for the army and ISI's ties to the Taliban, allied Afghan Islamist warlords and Kashmiri Islamist militant groups such as Lashkar-e-Taiba, suspected of involvement in the Mumbai terror attack. Wendy Chamberlin, US ambassador to Pakistan on 9/11 and a member of Obama's Pakistan task force, is a strong supporter of efforts to forge a Pakistan-India accord. "I argued for it [in 2002]," she says. And I got dismissed."

Many of Obama's advisers are open to the notion of bringing Iran into the mix, pointing out that Iran was helpful in 2001 in building the original coalition behind Afghan President Hamid Karzai. Iran's role was also highlighted in a September report by a private working group led by Richard Armitage, a former deputy secretary of state, and Lee Hamilton, co-chair of the 9/11 Commission. They suggested connecting Pakistan, Afghanistan, India and Iran in a regional economic community, concluding, "The U.S. should...reconsider its opposition to the proposed Iran-Pakistan-India (IPI) pipeline project." Tariq Ali, a British-Pakistani scholar and author of The Duel: Pakistan on the Flight Path of American Power, has called for creation of a South Asian Union to facilitate a regional economic resurgence.

Even as they favor eventual talks with "reconcilable" elements of the Taliban movement, some of Obama's advisers and Gen. David Petraeus, the Centcom commander, defend their call for a surge by arguing that their first priority is to stabilize Afghanistan militarily. "Trying to divide your enemy is always a smart thing to do," says Riedel. "But until we break the momentum that the Taliban has today, where they feel that they're the winner, I don't see that you have any credible chance of persuading even a small number of Taliban to break. They think they're winning, and if you look at the numbers, you can make a pretty convincing case."

In the first ten months of this year, 255 US and NATO troops were killed in Afghanistan, more than all those who died in the first four years of the war in Afghanistan put together. Entire swaths of southern Afghanistan, in provinces along the Pakistan border south and east of Kabul, are controlled by the Taliban and their allies. Lately they have been able to strike with impunity even within Kabul, the Afghan capital. The CIA has been warning for more than two years that Afghanistan was spinning out of control. A forthcoming National Intelligence Estimate, representing the views of sixteen US intelligence agencies, warns that Afghanistan is in a "downward spiral" and, according to the New York Times, "casts serious doubt on the ability of the Afghan government to stem the rise in the Taliban's influence there." The enemy has also evolved as a fighting force. Already by 2006, according to a report for West Point by retired Gen. Barry McCaffrey, the Taliban were fielding battalion-size units of more than 400 fighters. In some provinces the Taliban and their allies are creating a parallel state, appointing governors and provincial officials and establishing Sharia-style courts.

The counterinsurgency is made all the more difficult by the nature of the enemy, an exceedingly complex, multiheaded Islamist insurgency in Afghanistan and Pakistan. It goes far beyond Mullah Omar's Taliban and Osama bin Laden's Al Qaeda. "Calling it the Taliban is a failure to understand what's going on," says Seth Jones, an expert on Afghanistan and terrorism at the RAND Corporation. "It's a movement, not an organization," explains Chas Freeman, president of the Middle East Policy Council and a former US ambassador to Saudi Arabia. "What we conveniently have been labeling 'the Taliban' is a phenomenon that includes a lot of people simply on the Islamic right." In all, the US military has identified at least fourteen separate insurgent organizations in Afghanistan, and according to Riedel, there are as many as fifty separate Islamist formations in neighboring Pakistan [see Anand Gopal, page 17, for more on the insurgency].

At the Center for Strategic and International Studies, Anthony Cordesman, a sober-minded, conservative military analyst, sounded the alarm. "We are running out of time," he wrote. "We currently are losing, and the trends have been consistent since 2004...we face a crisis in the field--right now." The situation, he said, is far more urgent than anything that can be solved by economic aid or nation-building efforts. "At least during 2009-10, priority must be given to warfighting needs." McKiernan, the US commander, has called for at least four more brigades, perhaps as many as 25,000 troops. He warned that the mission in Afghanistan will require a "sustained commitment" lasting many years, and the United States has announced plans to help more than double the size of the Afghan National Army (ANA), to 134,000 troops. "This is a decades-long project," says Ashley Tellis, a former National Security Council specialist on South Asia, who adds that it will take at least ten years before the United States can withdraw and let the ANA fight its own battles. "The transition alone will take a decade, until you can switch to the ANA," he says.

But surging troops into Afghanistan would be akin to sending the fabled 600 into the valley of death. As in Vietnam, tens of thousands more troops will only provide the Taliban with many more targets, sparking Pashtun nationalist resistance and inspiring more recruits for the insurgency. Advocates of sending additional US forces into this maelstrom have yet to articulate exactly how another 25,000 can turn the tide. Tariq Ali says that pacifying the country would require at least 200,000 more troops, beyond the 62,000 US and NATO forces there now, and that it would necessitate laying waste huge parts of Afghanistan. Many Afghan watchers consider the war unwinnable, and they point out that in the 1980s the Soviet Union, with far more troops, had engaged in a brutal nine-year counterinsurgency war--and lost. British Ambassador to Afghanistan Sherard Cowper-Coles has warned against precisely the escalation that Obama and Petraeus advocate. Sending more troops, he says, "would have perverse effects: it would identify us even more strongly as an occupation force and would multiply the targets [for the insurgents]." A top British general, Brig. Mark Carleton-Smith, says, "We're not going to win this war.... It's about reducing it to a manageable level of insurgency that's not a strategic threat."

"What began as a punitive raid aimed at beheading Al Qaeda and chastising its Afghan household staff has somehow morphed--with no real discussion or debate--into a prolonged effort to pacify Afghanistan and transform its society," says Freeman. "This moving of the goal posts gratified neoconservatives and liberal interventionists alike. Our new purpose became giving Afghanistan a centrally directed state--something it had never had. We now fight to exclude reactionary Muslims from a role in governing the new Afghanistan." Freeman suggests that this is an untenable goal, and that it is time to co-opt local authorities and enlist regional allies in search of a settlement.

Those who insist the war is winnable, including US and NATO commanders, also say that it can't be won without taking the war across the border to Taliban sanctuaries in Pakistan's tribal areas, an escalation that's already under way. But this poses a whole new set of problems. The situation in Pakistan is only slightly less dire than in Afghanistan. The country emerged this year from nearly a decade under a US-backed military dictatorship and faces a daunting set of challenges. A multipronged insurgency based in the tribal areas is spreading its influence into the neighboring North-West Frontier Province, and it has reached all the way to Islamabad, Pakistan's capital, where assassinations and suicide bombings occur regularly. The new government is weak and divided, with little or no control over the Pakistani army and ISI. And its economy is virtually bankrupt: with inflation at 25 percent and vast unemployment, the country is desperately seeking $10 billion to $15 billion in immediate financial aid.

Yet the fragile Pakistani state is being pushed to the breaking point by the Bush administration. Since August, nearly two dozen CIA Predator missile attacks in tribal areas have inflamed much of the country against the United States. Already, before the spate of attacks, public opinion polls showed that 86 percent of Pakistanis say the goal of the United States is to "weaken and divide the Islamic world," 84 percent say the United States is a greater threat than Al Qaeda and the Taliban, and 89 percent oppose Pakistan's cooperation with the US "war on terror." Many Pakistanis blame the United States for its fifty-year record of propping up military dictators, which makes it hard for the United States to support even its allies, such as President Zardari. "Right now, we're kind of the kiss of death," says Marvin Weinbaum, a scholar at the Middle East Institute who was part of Obama's Pakistan task force.

Since 9/11, Pakistan has received more than $11 billion in US aid, but almost all of it has flowed into the coffers of Pakistan's army and ISI, with little or no oversight. According to a report by the Center for Strategic and International Studies, between 2002 and 2007 only 10 percent of US aid was devoted to development and humanitarian assistance. That avalanche of cash to the military has allowed the ISI free rein to support its network of Islamist extremists, which it has built up systematically since the 1980s. As long as ISI helped nab an occasional Al Qaeda bigwig, even as it tolerated or supported the Afghan Taliban and other Islamist radicals, the United States went along. "We've got to put an end to this dirty game, where Pakistan uses surrogate terrorist groups," says Chamberlin.

Even those fighting the war have difficulty distinguishing friends from enemies. Michael Vickers, assistant secretary of defense for special operations and low-intensity conflicts, who oversees a Pentagon anti-terrorism force, isn't sure. Asked if ISI is on our side or not, he pauses. "It's complicated. I'll put it that way," he says finally. "It's not black and white." Last summer Zardari attempted to bring ISI under the control of the civilian-run Interior Ministry, but the idea was quickly shot down. "That lasted eight hours," says Steve Coll, author of Ghost Wars, a book about the CIA and Afghanistan that Obama was recently seen carrying. "Somebody told the ISI about the announcement, and they said, 'No, that won't be happening.'" Then, in the fall, Pakistan's army chief of staff installed a new set of generals atop the ISI, though there was widespread skepticism that the move reflected a real policy change by the army.

Yet Pakistani attitudes are slowly changing, even inside the military, analysts say. The assassination of Benazir Bhutto a year ago and the massive bombing of the Marriott hotel in Islamabad in September alarmed many generals about the threat to Pakistan from its Islamist creations. "Pakistan has had a tolerance and a see-no-evil attitude toward the Taliban," says Riedel. "But the Afghan Taliban has also created a Pakistani Taliban, which is a Frankenstein the Pakistani army can't control. So it still has relations with parent Taliban, but the infant Taliban is now increasingly a threat to the cohesion of the Pakistan state, and it's a physical threat to the Pakistani army and even to the ISI. This is the classic case of a covert action program getting out of control."

As a result, of late the army is scrambling to control a crisis of its own making, without much success. It has launched a three-pronged military offensive in the tribal areas and nearby districts, but--having spent a half-century preparing for a tank war with India--the Pakistani army is not well equipped to fight a counterinsurgency war. And in the tribal areas the Pakistani army, which is mostly Punjabi, is seen as a foreign force by local Pashtuns, while many Pakistani officers and enlisted men are loath to fight against their compatriots in what they see as America's war. Both the military and the Pakistan government have tried to build tribal militias to combat the Taliban, but so far this effort hasn't paid off. And the government has tried to encourage the holding of tribal jirgas, or councils, to generate grassroots opposition to the dominance of Taliban-like elements in and around the tribal areas. That, too, hasn't worked well, since the Taliban have engaged in murderous counterattacks, including gruesome killings and suicide bomb attacks aimed at the jirgas. Many in Pakistan are operating under outdated assumptions about the tribes in the northwest, says Christine Fair, an independent expert on South Asia who took part in the Center for American Progress study. "The jirgas used to be made up of secular tribal leaders," she says. "Now, they meet in mosques and madrassas." Since the US-backed anti-Soviet jihad of the 1980s, madrassas, or religious schools, have become factories and recruiting areas for militant Islamists.

Part of the solution, stressed by all of Obama's aides, is more economic support to both countries, targeted toward building infrastructure, improving agriculture, providing microcredit for small business and constructing schools and clinics. One member of Obama's task force on Pakistan is Jonah Blank, a senior staff member at the Senate Foreign Relations Committee who is a key aide to Vice President-elect Joe Biden. Blank was a driving force behind the Biden-Lugar-Obama bill to provide $1.5 billion a year for ten years in economic support to Pakistan. A parallel effort for Afghanistan, including what Obama calls a Marshall Plan-style mobilization, is also under way. "Call it a democracy dividend," says Blank. "The civilians can say, 'See? We deliver.'"

But economic development takes a long time to be felt, and the crisis is now. If the wars in Pakistan and Afghanistan aren't going to be resolved militarily--and they won't be--the solution to both crises, now inextricably linked, must be a diplomatic one: first, negotiations with many of the forces opposing the two governments and the US presence in the region, and, second, progress toward a Pakistan-India accord.

In Pakistan, the Zardari government and the Parliament have strongly endorsed talks with the Taliban, better organized than the faltering accords announced in 2004 and 2006. In Afghanistan, Karzai declared in mid-November that he is open to direct talks with Mullah Omar. And in late October, tribal elders and dozens of Pakistani and Afghan officials convened a two-day "mini-jirga" intended to be the start of a dialogue with the Taliban. Owais Ghani, governor of the North-West Frontier Province and a leader of the secular, nationalist ANP party, said at the mini-jirga: "We will sit, we will talk to them, they will listen to us, and we will come to some sort of solution."

Karzai's offer to Mullah Omar, which was unprecedented, followed two years of quiet discussions in South Asia, Europe and the Middle East among Pakistani and Afghan officials, former leaders of the Taliban and members of Saudi Arabia's royal family, including King Abdullah. Among the participants: Karzai's brother and Nawaz Sharif, a Pakistani politician with close ties to the religious establishment who spent years in exile in Saudi Arabia. According to news reports, London and Paris provided logistical and diplomatic support for the contacts. The Pakistani daily Dawn reported that French foreign minister Bernard Kouchner is supporting talks between Karzai and "moderates within the Taliban," and he has invited Iran and Pakistan to Paris to participate in talks on Afghanistan.

So far, Mullah Omar has rejected Karzai's offer of direct talks, and the Taliban continues to insist on the withdrawal of US and NATO forces before any deal. A deal with the Islamist insurgency, or at least enough of it to make it stick, is an exceedingly difficult undertaking, and most of Obama's advisers are skeptical that it can work. India, Iran and Russia, which supported the anti-Taliban Northern Alliance in the decade before 9/11, won't look with favor on a US-Saudi effort to allow the Taliban back in power, so their concerns will have to be taken into account. The fragmented nature of the Taliban movment makes it hard to figure out whom, exactly, to negotiate with. And though parts of the movement may be pragmatic enough to strike a deal, other parts are likely to fight to the bitter end.

The Obama team is far more supportive of an urgent diplomatic initiative to bring Pakistan and India toward an accord. But after the Mumbai attack, with its potential to bring the two countries back to the brink of war, that is a task that has just become far more difficult. "This requires great subtlety and a degree of sophistication that, I have to say, is not the norm in American diplomacy," says Riedel. "It calls for a stretch. I think the way to start is with very, very quiet conversations between the United States and India, and I think that the new relationship that we have with India gives us a better platform than ever before." India, Riedel says, is worried that the United States will seek a deal with Pakistan at India's expense. But closer US-India ties, cemented by a recent deal over India's nuclear program, give Washington new credibility to assure New Delhi that its interests in Kashmir and Afghanistan, where India is worried about a Taliban resurgence, will be protected.

India is deeply involved in Afghanistan now, and its role there is causing a degree of paranoia in Pakistan. India, along with Iran and Russia, helped oust the Pakistan-backed Taliban in 2001. India has provided $1.2 billion in aid to Afghanistan since then, and it has opened consulates in four Afghan cities that, Pakistan fears, could be bases for Indian intelligence. It is against that threat, historically, that Pakistan has supported right-wing Islamists. But India is a power with global ambitions, a thriving economy and powerful armed forces, and it is becoming clear in Pakistan that it can no longer compete with India, which is causing an outbreak of realism inside the Pakistani army. Ashley Tellis, now of the Carnegie Endowment, has had extensive contacts with Pakistan's military. "The mainstream of the Pakistani army no longer sees India as the main threat," he says. "There may be some of the far right, among the Islamists, who believe that India is the central danger." But Tellis says they are a minority. "To protect their institutional interests, they know that they must have a rapprochement with India."

The opportunity for a dialogue with elements of the Taliban and the possibility of a peace process between Pakistan and India constitute the true exit strategy for the United States in Afghanistan. But to nail down a deal with the insurgents, the United States will have to offer them what they most want, namely, a timetable for the withdrawal of US and NATO forces. "What the insurgents do seem to agree about is that foreigners shouldn't run their country, and that the country should be run according to the principles of Islam," says Chas Freeman.

"We need to recall the reason we went to Afghanistan in the first place," he says. "Our purpose deny the use of Afghan territory to terrorists with global reach. That was and is an attainable objective. It is a limited objective that can be achieved at reasonable cost. We must return to a ruthless focus on this objective. We cannot afford to pursue goals, however worthy, that contradict or undermine it. The reform of Afghan politics, society and mores must wait."

Meanwhile, the stage is set. The governments of Afghanistan and Pakistan want peace talks with Islamist insurgents and the Taliban. Outside powers, led by Saudi Arabia and quietly supported by Britain and France, are facilitating behind-the-scenes contacts between the Taliban and key Afghan and Pakistani leaders. Neighboring states, including India, Russia and Iran, while hardly enamored of the Taliban, might underwrite a truce. And the possibility of a regional economic pact linking Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan and India could tie it all together.

Al Qaeda, pushed into remote redoubts in Pakistan's mountains, is most certainly still plotting against the United States. But many, perhaps most, of its fair-weather allies on the Islamic right, including the Taliban, might very well be persuaded to make a final break with Osama bin Laden and his ilk if they can get a better deal, including a share of power in Kabul. Will President Obama seize the moment? Will he have the courage to offer an end to US occupation of Afghanistan if the Taliban-led movement abandons its ties to Al Qaeda?

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Obama and Clinton Foreign Policy Similarities Outweigh Differences?

by John Isaacs
read the original at the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation>>

President-elect Barack Obama announced today that he will nominate Senator Hillary Clinton (D-NY) to be Secretary of State. Selecting a former rival for the most prestigious of cabinet positions has unleashed a torrent of media coverage, most of which has focused on grossly exaggerated disagreements during the presidential campaign and behind-the-scenes political maneuvering.

This reporting misses the point. As Lt. General Robert Gard, chairman of the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation, wrote recently, “It’s not Hillary, it’s the policy stupid!” Reporters tend to exaggerate conflict because it makes for more interesting copy. The fact is, however, that when it comes to foreign policy, Obama and Clinton agree far more than they disagree.

The following comparison of Obama and Clinton's positions is based on several indicators: U.S. Senate voting records; national security platforms as laid out in articles and op-eds; and responses to queries in debates, public appearances, and questionnaires. Although campaign pledges and voting records do not always accurately translate into actual policy, they can provide important clues as to policy inclinations.


Hillary Clinton's position on Iraq has been complex. She joined Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) in supporting the 2002 authorization to go to war, and although she has refused to apologize for the vote, she later said, "If I knew then what I now know, I would not have voted that way." As a presidential candidate, Clinton promised, within 60 days of taking office, to begin withdrawing troops at the rate of one or two brigades a month, with the goal of getting most combat troops out by the end of 2009.

In 2002, when he was an Illinois state senator, Barack Obama opposed the war. After he was elected to the U.S. Senate, he and Clinton both voted against early proposals by Sen. Russ Feingold (D-WI) and others to set a timetable for withdrawal; now both Obama and Clinton vote consistently in favor of establishing a timetable. Obama's plan for exiting Iraq would, like Clinton's, send home one or two combat brigades a month, with all combat troops out by the end of 2009. However, at an MSNBC debate in September 2007, neither Clinton nor Obama would guarantee that they would have all U.S. forces out of Iraq by the end of their first term. Both Obama and Clinton have opposed permanent bases in Iraq.


President Bush has displayed unremitting hostility toward the radical regime dominating Iran, a country that U.S. intelligence sources report had previously been pursuing a nuclear weapons program. He branded Iran part of the "axis of evil" and promoted regime change as the preferred U.S. policy. With a few limited exceptions, the United States under Bush has refused to talk directly with Iran.

Obama and Clinton have delivered messages on Iran that were mixed. Obama promised to open a dialogue with Iran without preconditions to attempt to work out a solution. However, he called Iran "a threat to all of us" and suggested in March 2007 that the military option should remain on the table. At the same time, he said that it "would be a profound mistake for us to initiate a war with Iran" and condemned the administration's "saber-rattling" on Iran.

Clinton pledged to reach out immediately to Iran, saying, "you don't make peace with your friends. You have got to deal with ... people whose interests diverge from yours." At the same time, she indicated that she remains open to all options, including military ones. Clinton also declared: "We cannot, we should not, we must not permit Iran to build or acquire nuclear weapons." She voted for a controversial amendment offered by Sen. Jon Kyl (R-AZ) and Lieberman that proposed labeling Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard a terrorist organization. Obama missed that vote but called the amendment a repeat of the mistakes that led to war in Iraq; however, he cosponsored an earlier bill declaring the Revolutionary Guard a terrorist organization.


In 2007, a bipartisan group of senior and former government officials called for moving toward a "world free of nuclear weapons." In their article by that name, former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, former Secretary of State George Shultz, former Sen. Sam Nunn (D-GA), and former Secretary of Defense William Perry urged the United States to lead an international effort to rethink traditional deterrence, reduce nuclear weapon stockpiles, and take other steps toward the longer term goal of a nuclear-weapon-free world.

Obama has been clear in his support of their effort. In response to a Council for a Livable World questionnaire, he promised: "As president, I will take the lead to work for a world in which the roles and risks of nuclear weapons can be reduced and ultimately eliminated." Clinton said that "I endorse the vision set out by Henry Kissinger, Sam Nunn, Bill Perry, and George Shultz of a world without nuclear weapons and their idea of taking practical steps toward that vision."

New Nuclear Weapons: The Bush administration has put forward proposals to build a new generation of nuclear weapons; however, these plans might be seen as conflicting with U.S. efforts to restrain other states' nuclear ambitions.

Clinton voted against these programs all four times. She was clear in response to a Council for a Livable World questionnaire: "The Bush administration has dangerously put the cart before the horse, planning to rush ahead with new nuclear weapons without any considered assessment of what we need these weapons for or what the impact of building them would be on our effort to stop the spread of nuclear weapons around the world." Obama, only in the Senate for the fourth vote, also opposed the new weapons. He was less categorical to the Council's queries, responding that he did not support "a premature decision to produce the [Reliable Replacement Warhead]."

Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty: One of the longest sought goals of the nuclear age has been a global ban on all nuclear test explosions as an important step to advance nuclear nonproliferation. In 1996, after 50 years of work, the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty was signed and opened for ratification. However, three years later, the Senate decisively rejected the treaty. Although the United States has not conducted a nuclear test explosion since 1992, the Bush administration has not put the treaty forward for a new vote.

Although neither Clinton nor Obama were in the Senate at the time of the 1999 vote, both have promised to make the test ban treaty a priority of their first term in office and pledged to work to rebuild bipartisan support for the treaty.


In 2001, the Bush administration withdrew from the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty and since then has moved swiftly to deploy national missile defense interceptors in Alaska and California. The latest fiscal budget request for 2009 is $12.3 billion for all forms of missile defense.

Obama has been critical of the Bush missile defense plans: "The Bush Administration has in the past exaggerated missile defense capabilities and rushed deployments for political purposes." Clinton's position has been more ambiguous. Of three key votes in 2004, she voted in effect for missile defense once and against it twice. However, she criticized President Bush's decision in 2001 to withdraw from the ABM Treaty and both she and Obama voted for an amendment offered by Sen. Carl Levin in 2005 (the last major vote on missile defense) while McCain missed the vote. She also criticized the Bush administration of "focusing obsessively on expensive and unproven missile defense technology." Neither Clinton nor Obama has indicated plans for missile defense.

Missile Defense Site in Europe: Obama has not been clear what he would do with the Bush proposal, but indicated that he would not allow the program "to divide 'new Europe' and 'old Europe.'" It is also unclear what Clinton's position is.


Closing Guantanamo Bay prison: Clinton and Obama agree: Close the prison.

U.S.-India nuclear deal: Obama and Clinton voted for the U.S.-India nuclear deal in 2006, but they also voted for amendments to condition the deal on India ending military cooperation with Iran and a presidential certification that nuclear cooperation with India will not aid India in making more nuclear weapons.

Military forces:Obama and Clinton have called for expanding the size of our active duty military forces.

North Korea: Obama called for "sustained, direct, and aggressive diplomacy" with North Korea. Clinton called for "direct contact, engagement" with Pyongyang.

Nuclear nonproliferation: Clinton and Obama committed to securing all vulnerable nuclear weapons materials around the world within four years of taking office.

Afghanistan's Turbulent History

Afghanistan's descent into conflict and instability in recent times began with the overthrow of the king in 1973.
Read original article at the BBC>>

Zahir Shah was in Italy for an eye operation when he was deposed in a palace coup by his cousin, Mohammad Daoud.

Daoud declared Afghanistan a republic, with himself as president.

He relied on the support of leftists to consolidate his power, and crushed an emerging Islamist movement.

Defining moment

But towards the end of his rule, he attempted to purge his leftist supporters from positions of power and sought to reduce Soviet influence in Afghanistan.

Zahir Shah - Afghan king for four decades
Zahir Shah - Afghan king for four decades
It was this that helped lead to a defining moment in Afghanistan's recent history - the communist coup in April 1978, known as the Saur, or April Revolution.

President Daoud and his family were shot dead, and Nur Mohammad Taraki took power as head of the country's first Marxist government, bringing to an end more than 200 years of almost uninterrupted rule by the family of Zahir Shah and Mohammad Daoud.

But the Afghan communist party, the People's Democratic Party of Afghanistan - or PDPA - was divided, and splits emerged.

Ruthless leader

Hafizullah Amin, who had become prime minister, was opposed to Taraki, and in October 1979 Taraki was secretly executed, with Amin becoming the new president.

Soviet troops leaving Afghanistan
Soviet forces left in 1989

Amin, known for his independent and nationalist inclinations, was also ruthless.

He has been accused of assassinating thousands of Afghans.

To the Soviets in Moscow, he was looked upon as a threat to the prospect of an amenable communist government bordering Soviet Central Asia.

In a swift chain of events in December 1979, Amin was assassinated and the Soviet Red Army swept into Afghanistan.

Babrak Karmal was flown from Czechoslovakia, where he was Afghan ambassador, to take over as the new president, albeit as a puppet leader acceptable to Moscow.

Million killed

The Soviet occupation, which lasted until the final withdrawal of the Red Army in 1989, was a disaster for Afghanistan.

About a million Afghans lost their lives as the Red Army tried to impose control for its puppet Afghan government. Millions more fled abroad as refugees.

Mujahideen fighters in Afghanistan
The mujahideen could not share power

Groups of Afghan Islamic fighters - or mujahideen - fought endlessly to try to force a Soviet retreat, with much covert support from the United States.

After nearly 10 years, the Soviet Union eventually withdrew, leaving in power President Najibullah, who had replaced Karmal as leader.

He hung on for three years after the Red Army's departure, but fell in 1992 as the United Nations was trying to arrange a peaceful transfer of power.

The mujahideen swept victoriously into Kabul. After a short interim measure, Professor Burhanuddin Rabbani became president of the new Islamic Republic.


But their victory was soon soured by infighting, as the mujahideen factions failed to agree on how to share their new power.

During the Soviet occupation it was predominantly rural areas that suffered military onslaught as the Red Army tried to flush out the mujahideen.

Children play on a crippled Soviet tank in Kabul
Afghanistan's war-torn past still haunts its future

But when the mujahideen took over, it was the turn of urban areas to suffer from the conflict.

This was especially true of the capital, Kabul, about half of which was literally flattened. Tens of thousands of civilians lost their lives, and the country slid more and more into a state of anarchy.

It was towards the end of 1994 that the Taleban emerged in the southern city of Kandahar, heart of Afghanistan's Pashtun homeland.

Their initial appeal - and success - was based on a call for the removal of the mujahideen groups.

Taleban years

At first they succeeded in gaining control of Pashtun areas with little fighting. Mujahideen commanders defected to their ranks.

But as their control spread to other, especially non-Pashtun, areas, the fighting intensified.

The Taleban went on to control about 90% of the country.

Taleban fighters in 2001
The Taleban were toppled after the 9/11 attacks on the US

It was in 1996, as they captured Kabul, that much of the outside world first reacted in dismay to the Taleban's extreme Islamic policies, especially towards the place of women in society.

As Taleban control spread, the Western world intensified pressure on the Taleban to ban the growth of opium poppies, Afghanistan being the source of most opiates reaching Europe.

The United States, in particular, also began their pressure on the Taleban to give up the militant Saudi, Osama Bin Laden, whom the Taleban described as their "guest" in Afghanistan.

Washington blamed Bin Laden for masterminding the suicide attacks on the World Trade Centre in New York and the Pentagon in Washington on 11 September 2001.

The following month the US and its allies began air attacks on Afghanistan which allowed the Taleban's Afghan opponents to sweep them from power. Kabul was retaken in November and by early December the Taleban had given up their stronghold of Kandahar.

Road to elections

On 5 December 2001 Afghan groups agreed a deal in Bonn for an interim government, at the head of which Pashtun royalist Hamid Karzai was then sworn in.

The Bonn conference, held under UN auspices, forged a political blueprint leading to elections scheduled for summer 2004.

Hamid Karzai [R] with former king Zahir Shah
Karzai (right) shows the constitution to former king Zahir Shah

In June 2002 a loya jirga, or grand council, elected Mr Karzai as interim head of state. A second loya jirga in January 2004 adopted a new constitution.

In September, 2002, Mr Karzai survived an assassination attempt in Kandahar blamed on the Taleban. There have been other near misses since. A number of his ministers and other senior figures have been less fortunate.

Mr Karzai has been able to exert little control beyond the capital.

Turf wars between local commanders have been a feature of the post-Taleban period.

And the Taleban themselves have re-emerged as a fighting force, worsening the security situation first in the east and south-east, and then across much of the country.

Thousands have been killed in the violence in recent years, including many militants and foreign and Afghan troops, as well as large numbers of civilians.