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Friday, January 27

Urgent advice for State: Warn Obama to stop pushing the envelope (UPDATED 2X)

UPDATE 2:05 PM ET January 29
Adding two important news reports to the footnotes, both of which I'd misplaced at the time I published this post and just found.

Footnote #1: Egypt faces hurdles in securing IMF aid, January 25, Reuters. Although the January 25 report doesn't contain the news about the billion dollar-'bridge' loan that I'd mentioned in the text, it presents key observations that were dropped from the updated January 26 Reuters report I'd originally linked to.

Footnote #8: Pakistan stoking anti-Indian sentiments to divert attention from the heat at home, January 26, Times of India. At first glance this report doesn't differ markedly from the one in The Hindu about the LeT 'resurgence' in Pakistan but it brings out points which underscore the seriousness of the development, and not only for India. LeT is one of the world's most dangerous international terrorist organizations; that Pakistan's military let its leader out of his cage at home at this juncture is almost beyond belief. Almost.
I was sitting on the patio one morning six years ago, enjoying the quiet and early Spring weather, when I heard the most godawful sound. I'd barely blurted, "What the --?" when I learned the sound was a squirrel's idea of a battle cry issuing from maybe 200 squirrel throats. All the squirrels in the neighborhood, it seemed, had banded together to run off a large rat and the chase was taking them through my back yard. I never saw or heard anything like it my life. And let me tell you that rat was burning rubber. Never saw a rat run so fast.

I told this story not to insult any government but to graphically illustrate that when sufficiently provoked and desperate, even the weakest governments can set the mighty United States back on its heels. Once this gets underway it can snowball into a trend.

With all such situations it's perceptions of American actions that count, or to be more precise the perceived pattern of actions. During the past year the perceived pattern is that President Barack Obama is throwing his weight around the world, everywhere he can.

I understand that Obama can cite reasons for each instance in which he's crashed national borders in pursuit of the bad guys. Yet the perception is that Obama has gotten hold of two very efficient lethal weapons -- U.S. Special Forces teams and armed drones -- and is deploying them anywhere in the world he sees fit.

But even President George W. Bush and his most aggressive predecessors in the Cold War managed to meddle in ways that didn't make it look as if the entire planet was suddenly under surprise attack from the United States. They knew when to back off -- and they were operating in a communications era when their every move in a foreign country wasn't broadcast around the world.

Times have changed. It's the piling-on phenomenon that's leading people to these perceptions Okay, so you wanted to shoot rockets at al Qaeda operatives in Pakistan's badlands. Okay, so you had to support Sarkozy's war against Gaddafi. Okay, so you had shoot rockets at al Qaeda in Yemen. Okay, so you had to take out Osama bin Laden when you found him. Okay, so you had to rescue an American citizen who was kidnapped by common criminals.

But all of these "okay" situations are piled on top of Obama expressing public support for Egypt's democracy activists and as much telling Mubarak to decamp. And piled on top of meddling in spectacular fashion in Pakistan's internal affairs. And starting a cold war with Iran's regime not to mention starting a cold war with Syria's regime.

All this within the space of a year.

I don't need to tell State that the juntas in Pakistan and Egypt are in absolutely desperate straits. They are both staring at the imminent prospect of a complete economic collapse in their countries. And the fear is that raising loans amounting to a billion dollars from the World Bank and African Development Bank until the IMF can (if it chooses) to bail them out might not be enough to stave off economic collapse in Egypt. (1)

Nor should I need to tell State that both juntas have broad and deep support in their respective countries, if for no other reason than the large number of civilians the businesses owned by the juntas employ.

So a reasonable person would assume that last month, after Egypt's junta gave a clear warning to the Obama administration to back off in Egypt, State would have immediately yanked the Democratic and Republican party NGOs that were operating in Egypt. I mean -- how much more of a warning do you need, when a security force raids the NGOs and confiscates their computers while the junta accuses the NGOs of being fronts for the American government and meddling in Egypt's internal affairs? (2)

But no, the NGOs continued to operate in Egypt -- all for a good cause, of course -- after State pulled their irons out of the fire in December. Now we learn as of yesterday some Americans working for the NGOs have been barred from leaving Egypt. This is a prelude to arrest warrants being issued -- or at least that's the implied threat of the action to prevent the Americans (and some Europeans who work for othe ngos from leaving Egypt. (2)

Obama is understandably furious about the situation but he could have seen this coming even before Mubarak left office. And now Egypt's generals believe they have no other choice but to find a scapegoat for the country's economic crisis. The Obama administration's ill-conceived attempt to bring more democracy to Egypt, which is using a very small number of Egyptians, has handed the junta the perfect goat.

Now I turn to Pakistan. The country is not only facing economic collapse but it's also in the throes of the worst fuel crisis in its history. (3) So why has the Obama administration decided that this is the perfect time to turn the heat up on Iran by trying to get Pakistan's regime to abandon the gas pipeline Iran is building for them, and sign up to get gas from the TAPI pipeline? (4)(5)

Is the answer that chipmunks are managing the Pakistan portfolio for the Obama administration? I ask this also because this is the same question they're asking in Afghanistan. I mean -- our war office and State couldn't even keep track of containers being transshipped through Pakistan, many of those containers containing desperately needed food supplies for Afghans.

Why "desperate?" Because the Obama administration and Congress haven't wanted the Afghan government to use an Iranian route for shipping food to Afghanistan and because the Northern Distribution Network, where it's the middle of winter anyway, is full up with shipping war supplies for NATO. So they've had a food shortage in Afghanistan, which has driven food prices, even for food basics, through the roof.

But how can you lose track of almost 160,000 shipping containers? The containers have disappeared in Pakistan. Gone! Poof! (6)

And not to put too fine a point on it but the U.S. command can't even win a war against a bunch of guys in baggy pants who take their orders from Rawalpindi. What's been the Obama strategy to deal with this situation? Play patty-cake with the Emir of Qatar and increase meddling in Pakistan. (7)

What has the answer been from Pakistan's junta? They've let Lashkar-e-Taiba out of its cage in Pakistan. (8) Do I have to draw stick figures to explain to State what that implies?

For starters, the junta is saying to forget Doha; the Obama administration can negotiate a truce with Mullah Omar all it wants, and it won't mean squat to LeT, which just might take the prize as the world's most dangerous international terrorist organization. (9) The larger implication is that the junta is signaling Obama that if he's worried about international terrorists taking over Pakistan's nuke weapons, the worry is misplaced because the junta will simply hand them a nuke if they get any angrier at him.

I understand that little blame for the entire mess I've described above can be laid at State's door. But someone has to take responsibility for conveying the facts of life to President Obama and State has to be the designated fool in this instance.

In summary, this is one of those times it's crucial for the American government to practice message discipline across the board. Sometimes you can have it all, but if you try to have it all at the same time, you sow the impression that you're crazy. That's a fast way to replace respect with fear. When people become afraid that you're both crazy and hogging their turf, they act in the same way a bunch of Washington squirrels did one fine morning.

1) January 26, Egypt says to seek extra $1 billion to support budget; Reuters
Egypt said on Thursday it would ask the World Bank for a $500 million loan and another $500 million loan from the African Development Bank to help it fill a budget gap widened by a year of political and economic turmoil.

Egypt has also persuaded the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to reduce the interest rate it would charge on $3.2 billion loan Cairo had requested from the IMF, Planning and International Cooperation Minister Faiza Abu el-Naga told reporters.

"We have achieved a reduction from the IMF on the interest rate on the loan from 1.5 to 1.1 percent," she said, adding that this would put the cost of the finance more in line with interest rates worldwide.

The turmoil in Egypt has pushed up unemployment, widened its budget and balance of payments deficits and drained its foreign reserves. Many economists believe a currency devaluation is imminent.

Egypt announced earlier this month it had formally asked the IMF for an aid package, saying it wanted the money as soon as possible and hoped an agreement would be signed within weeks.

The IMF, however, says any agreement would have to be accompanied by financial commitments from other international donors and attract broad political support within the country.

Thrashing out the technical details of a loan will take two to three months, it said.

The World Bank and African Development Bank loans would carry an interest rate of between 7 and 8 percent, Abu el-Naga said. Egypt would request a mission from the World Bank come to Egypt soon, she added, without giving details or a date.The central bank, trying to keep the Egyptian pound stable against the dollar, has run through $9 billion of its foreign reserves since June, when the government rejected an IMF agreement similar to the one it is now seeking.

The depletion accelerated before the parliamentary election and during a series of violent political protests in November and December, with the central bank spending at least $2 billion in each of the last three months. By the end of December, reserves had fallen to $18 billion.
January 25, Egypt faces hurdles in securing IMF aid; Patrick Werr, Reuters

2) January 27, 2012: Egypt Bans Travel for 10 U.S. Citizens; Ben Hubbard, Associated Press via TIME online
CAIRO) — Egypt banned at least 10 Americans and Europeans from leaving the country, including the son of U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray Lahood, hiking tensions with Washington over a campaign by Egypt's military against groups promoting democracy and human rights.

The United States warned Thursday that the campaign raised concerns about Egypt's transition to democracy and could jeopardize American aid that Egypt's battered economy needs badly after a year of unrest. [...]

The travel ban was part of an Egyptian criminal investigation into foreign-funded democracy organizations after soldiers raided the offices of 10 such groups last month, including those of two American groups.

The investigation is closely intertwined with Egypt's political turmoil since the fall of Hosni Mubarak nearly a year ago. The generals who took power have accused "foreign hands" of being behind protests against their rule and they frequently depict the protesters themselves as receiving foreign funds in a plot to destabilize the country.
3) January 25, 2012: Energy Deficit Renders Punjab Uncompetitive; Dawn (Pakistan)

4) In the first version of this post I referred to the TAPI pipeline as "crazy;" without getting into a discussion of TAPI, I had it confused in my mind with the Nabucco gas pipeline. So many pipelines to keep straight.

5) This report is undated although it was surely published within the past week; I'm linking to this version rather than the International Herald Tribune report because of the wording of the title supplied by the Pakistani website that quotes IHT: US enticing Pakistan with cheap gas; Online International News Network (Pakistan)

6) January 27, 2012: Afghanistan bound 157,736 US containers; Aftab Maken, The News International (Pakistan)
ISLAMABAD: The Federal Board of Revenue (FBR) on Thursday made a stunning revelation before the Senate Standing Committee on Commerce that a total of 157,736 containers of the United States destined to Afghanistan have never reached the landlocked country and disappeared inside Pakistan.
7) January 25, 2012: Brahma Chellaney learns U.S. Afghan War exit strategy is literally full of gas; Pundita

8) January 24, 2012:Hafiz Saeed ‘threatens' India; Hasan Suror, The Hindu
In a spectacle guaranteed to “send a chill through New Delhi,” as The Financial Times put it, Hafiz Saeed, the suspected mastermind behind the 2008 Mumbai terror bombings, is being feted in Pakistan as a “hero” attracting thousands of people as he “criss-crosses” the country at the head of a radical road-show targeting India and calling for “jihad.”
January 26, 2012: Pakistan stoking anti-Indian sentiments to divert attention from the heat at home; Times of India

9) January 26, 2012: What's wrong with the following sentence?, Pundita

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Just for fun I did the math on the shipping containers. Using the 40' version typically used for rail applications, this 'lost' collection would stand 1195 MILES (!) long. Incredible.
Anon -- I couldn't help it; burst into laughter. Oh well it's only money in the pockets of people who're blowing up NATO troops.
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