Monday, December 27

OSCE's backdoor attempt to influence Thailand's election and why Americans should take note

OSCE Permanent Council

[Flipping her pen in the air] Can't I go on vacation for a few weeks without the cockroaches running riot in Washington? Never mind; it's a rhetorical question.

Actually the OSCE machinations with Thaksin Shinawatra started before my vacation but the situation flew under my radar until some nice person decided to ruin my holiday by alerting me.

The story is that the OSCE (Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe) invited Thaksin to Washington to testify on human rights violations in Thailand and specifically during the Red Shirt 'riots' this Spring. (See Asia Sentinel report via Irrawaddy , December 15, "Thaksin goes to America.")

Pundita readers might recall what I and the rest of the outside world went through in the effort to get a fix on what was really happening in Bangkok during the riots. It turned out the riots were street theater that masked a sophisticated 5GW-type operation to destabilize Thailand's government, and which pointed to Thaksin as the mastermind.

That's not even addressing Thaksin's alleged human rights abuses and strong-arm tactics while he served as Thailand's prime minister.

In short, asking Thaksin to hold forth on human rights abuses and authoritarian trends in Thailand's government is asking the fox to point out weaknesses in the chicken coop. Despite this, the OSCE decided to give Thaksin a big public platform in Washington at a most sensitive juncture in Thailand's politics. (AFP report today, "Thai PM faces key electoral test in 2011.")

It's possible Thaksin's visa application to enter the USA will be denied, given the terrorism charges against him in Thailand. And his planned appearance in December has been postponed until January, ostensibly because Congress will be in session then, but probably in response to howls of protest from Thailand's government and various quarters in Washington. (The Straits Times, December 13 report, "Thaksin's US Hearing Put Off;" December 7 VOA report, "Thailand May Seek Extradition of Thaksin If He Enters US.")

Yet in light of Thaksin's spotty human rights record while he was PM, and given the great importance of the present Thai administration's assistance to Washington in the war on terror -- assistance which included their part in a sting operation that netted Viktor Bout -- one has to wonder about the backstory to the OSCE decision to call Thaksin to testify.

The Bout arrest is notable in this context because of alleged attempts by some of his buddies in the Russian mobs to bribe Thai officials -- a story that came to public view light in a Wikileaks leaked U.S. State Department cable. (Dec 1 AFP

However, I think the real backstory is the story of the OSCE itself, what it's become since the mid-1990s. (See Wikipedia article on the organization in particular the Criticisms section.)

The larger story is what U.S. foreign policy has become since the mid-1990s. President Bill Clinton's administration was so tilted toward the EU it's not much of an exaggeration to say that during the Clinton era U.S. foreign policy was run from a postbox in Brussels when it wasn't run from London.

Add to this foreign lobbies, U.S. domestic defense lobbies, and U.S. domestic lobbies with foreign agendas have become such a huge industry in Washington since the 1990s that the USA doesn't have a foreign 'policy' anymore. It has thousands of competing interests, which pull members of Congress, key government agencies and the presidential administration in a thousand different directions. That's not policy. That's The Blob.

And the OSCE, a United Nations-chartered organization that is today the world's largest security-oriented intergovernmental organization, is very much a part of the blob. I guess one benefit is that all these European organizations keep the manufacturers of large mahogany tables in business. And I really do applaud the European Union; I am so happy the West Europeans are not always warring with each other anymore.

But it's like ex-smokers who chew gum incessantly: they seem to have replaced battles with councils, which proliferate at an ever-increasing rate. And that's okay for the Europeans, as long as they're happy. But America is not the Roman Empire. It's not the British Empire. And if we don't want to go the way of those empires, we need to stop with our attempts to imitate the Europeans, else we'll be destroyed by the blob, which at last count was ten zillion lobbies, agencies, and NGOs.

And we need to stuff our ears with cotton whenever the EU tells Americans that we must be involved in their way of doing things because the USA is a superpower nation. Seems to me the Europeans are telling every nation it needs to be involved in the EU's way of doing things. The problem is that the European Union is not a nation. It's the world's most powerful trading bloc.

I'm not going to sit here and say that the OSCE has given every sign that it's morphed into yet one more front organization for the European Union. Vladimir Putin has already said it for me. (See Wikipedia's article on the OSCE.) I will say that the OSCE has no business trying to manipulate America's relationship with Thailand and to compound their sneakiness by doing this behind the American public's back.

Before I return to my vacation I will also note that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's idea is to get the OSCE even more involved in security for Afghanistan. (See December 1 Bloomberg report.) For the love of sanity: we need fewer outside agencies in Afghanistan and less OSCE involvement because with every additional layer of bureaucracy that's imported, this only adds to the corruption and the confusion in the country. But then everyone at State already knows this.

Monday, December 20

Britain's Snowmageddon: No dress rehearsal for the unexpected (REVISED)

UPDATE December 22, 2010 - 3:50 AM ET
I pulled the report Chances of Empty Shelves for Last-Minute Shoppers by Daniel Goode at Financial Feed when I discovered he'd quoted extensively from a Guardian report without crediting the source. I've replaced Goode's report with the Guardian one.

Memo to Cameron's government: Assume there is not going to be a letup in the freezing weather and the snow and ice over the next week. So worry less about humiliation on the world stage and about Dubai stealing Heathrow's air passenger traffic, and worry more about what you're going to face, if riots break out over food shortages.

Readers outside the U.K. need to realize that supply shortages there didn't start a couple days ago; the bad weather all this month in northern Europe is having a snowballing effect, if you'll pardon the expression, on disruptions in the supply chain. With more snow and sub-freezing weather in the forecast there's going to be a tipping point where serious shortages of critical supplies emerge for the U.K.

So it's past time for Cameron's government to call up the military and ask every country in Europe with good snow moving equipment to airlift in as many snowplows AND FOOD CONTAINERS as they can. And ask Russia for help. Ask everyone for help.

Below are quotes from a report from the (U.K.) Guardian that confronts the reality of what's happening now in the U.K. regarding shortages. I repeat, "now." Not two days from now.

For readers who don't know what Tesco sells -- it's a global grocery and general merchandising retailer headquartered in the U.K. It's the fourth largest retailer in the world. (Emphasis in the report mine):
Weather chaos: last-minute shoppers may face empty shelves
by Tom Bawden
Guardian, U.K.
Sunday 19 December 2010 18.58 GMT

Fears mount over deliveries as snow closes stores and shoppers shun out-of-town malls in favour of high street

Fears are mounting that Britain's shoppers could find themselves staring at empty shelves if the treacherous weather continues in the run-up to Christmas.

As blocked roads, freezing temperatures and snow hit what is traditionally the busiest shopping weekend of the year, many customers stayed away – especially from shops in less accessible out-of-town centres – and deliveries of stock to the retailers ran into difficulties.
Apart from the difficulty of getting customers to out-of-town shopping centres, many of which can only be accessed by roads, there is also is an increasing danger that shops may no longer have a full range of stock.

Although there have been no reported cases of shops running out of anything yet, retail analysts said such a scenario was a very real possibility.

Howard Archer, chief UK economist at IHS Global Insight, said: "If this weather persists it is going to be very disruptive to deliveries to supermarkets. Supply chains have been massively hit by the snow and ice this month, with many products being stuck at container ports for an extended period.

"Deliveries are going to be hit by this weekend's weather and a lot is going to depend on the weather in the coming week, which isn't looking good at the moment," he said.

Richard Perks, the director of retail research at the Verdict consultancy, pointed out that Britain's retail distribution system is generally very efficient, but he said that "fresh food stores could suffer" from the weather conditions.

Tesco and Marks & Spencer insisted there were no problems with the delivery of stock to their stores and said they did not anticipate running out of any products in the run-up to Christmas.

John Lewis's retail director, Andrew Murphy, conceded that there had been delays in some areas to deliveries that had been due by Saturday night, but he was confident those supplies would have reached their destination by last night or this morning.

"Obviously the deliveries of some items will be compromised in some areas, but in terms of overall stock levels I'm confident we will be back up to where we would have been by tomorrow morning," he said.

He added, though, that if the retailer was presented with extreme weather conditions in the next few days he could not rule out stock shortages in some areas.
Got all that? Now go back and read the article on Britian's food security problems that I linked to earlier today and which is titled, The high cost we pay for cheap food.

And if you're reading this outside the U.K. and chortling at the British in another jam -- uh, how's your country's food security situation in an emergency?

The message sent to the human race this year by one natural calamity after another has been "Wake up, fools."

Cameron and Clegg need to recall that the presidencies of Bush and Obama never recovered from slow-footed responses to the Katrina hurricane and the Gulf oil spill crisis. They'd better ask themselves, 'What would Winston Churchill do?' in response to the looming food shortages in Britain, then do it.

There is no dress rehearsal for the unexpected. It's crunch time for Cameron's government: time to pull out all the stops in response to the weather crisis.

And forget about setting off a panic by calling up the military to make food deliveries. The people outside government aren't stupid; they know there's a mega-crisis building. Political opportunists and wet blankets will criticize the government if with hindsight it seems it overreacted by calling up the military. But every sensible person in the U.K. will be greatly relieved to see that the government was thinking ahead by a few days and doing everything within its power to avert a serious shortage of critical supplies.

There's got to be a way that food containers backed up outside the country can be brought in via military transport and delivered to areas that are facing shortages within the next 48 hours. Find the way and find it now.

The high cost of cheap

One thing I hate doing is making major revisions to an essay once I've published it, but as I noted in the update to yesterday's post on Mexico/NAFTA, the response to the first version of the essay from a blogger friend prodded me to pare the number of themes I'd stuffed into it.

Then I was left with the chore of shaping the parings into a new essay. Often it's at this stage that I procrastinate to the point where the planned essay gets lost in a pile of other unfinished essays. But this time synchronicity, in the form of an opinion piece that popped up on Google News titled The high price we pay for cheap food (see quotes below), inspired me to knuckle down. The writing, by top British chef and restaurateur Arthur Potts Dawson, is very much concerned with the theme of this essay.

I'll start with a clarification. The connection I saw between the degraded concept of value and my discussion of Mexico is that a number of American retirees are willing to abandon their country because it's cheaper to live in Mexico. The trend will accelerate when Americans retire in greater numbers and the drug-war violence in the country eventually subsides. I neglected to mention that many such Americans take up residency in Mexico as much for the climate as for financial reasons or because they love Mexico. However, I saw in the willingness of Americans to leave the USA because they could live more cheaply in another country as another warning sign that the American quest for the cheapest deal had been carried to such lengths that it was eroding the concept of value across the board in the USA.

The erosion is evident in the Wal-Mart Syndrome: the store's cheap merchandise encourages American consumers to purchase things they don't really need; replace items, such as electronics and appliances, that are still serviceable; and frequently replace poorly-made personal items such as clothing.

Thus, the cheapness of Wal-Mart merchandise is an expensive illusion. This was brought home to me years ago when I accompanied a French friend to the women's suit section of an American department store. Cursing a blue streak in French while a cowed sales clerk looked on, she exposed shoddy workmanship and materials by ripping open linings and seams, poking her finger into badly-made buttonholes and yanking at wool to show how poorly it held its shape.

"These suits will not last two seasons," she fumed in English to the clerk. "This is robbing the American working woman!"

I don't know how many Frenchwomen like her are left. The gorgeous wool suit she wore to the store had been handmade in France by a dressmaker who used the finest materials. But I do know the suit still looked new after 12 seasons of hard wear, and it was cut in a way that it still looked fashionable -- or should I say 'elegant,' which is the secret to always being in fashion. You are not going to find that kind of bargain by shopping in even the better American clothing stores, let alone the Wal-Mart types.

The rejoinder is that when the consumer has to frequently replace poorly-made clothing this is good for sales, which in turn is good for the garment and fashion industries. But the argument overlooks the greatest hidden cost in that kind of business model, which is the degradation of the concept of value. The cost is evident in the views of the American Jim Rogers, a commodities investor and the co-founder of the Quantum Fund, who told CNBC in 2008:

"If you were smart in 1807 you moved to London, if you were smart in 1907 you moved to New York City, and if you are smart in 2007 you move to Asia."

Following his own advice he had moved to Singapore:
Rogers said that people in China are extremely motivated and driven and he wants to be in that type of environment, so his daughters are motivated and driven. He also stated that this is how America and Europe used to be. He chose not to move to Chinese cities like Hong Kong or Shanghai due to the high levels of pollution causing potential health problems for his family; hence, he chose Singapore.
I'm not sure that Mr Rogers is teaching his daughters motivation and drive because both characteristics require endurance. He is very definitely teaching them to think of citizenship in a democracy as cheap -- the same democracy that carried China on its back to its economic 'miracle,' the same democracy that gave him the freedom to earn a fortune even though he did not come from an elite background.

Mr Rogers is demonstrating to his offspring that when one's citizenship in the USA is no longer perceived as financially rewarding, the smart American simply abandons his country rather than putting effort into preserving it. (Although I'll bet Mr Rogers has made sure that he and his daughters have hung onto their American passports.)

So I would not agree with Mr Rogers's definition of "smart," which confuses expediency with value. A society cannot flourish if it's that much confused.

I'll close with a few passages from Dawson's op-ed but I urge you to read the entire piece, watch the video at the CNN website of a speech he gave, and follow the links provided there.

Dawson is specifically concerned with the loss of a nation's food security when the lure of cheap groceries concentrates responsibility for food provision in a few supermarket chains, which has happened in England. In light of Britain's present weather crisis, which has virtually suspended rail, road, and air transport in the country and caused concerns that food (and fuel) shortages are looming in some parts, Dawson's warning is prescient.
The high price we pay for cheap food
By Arthur Potts Dawson
Special to CNN
December 19, 2010

CNN Editor's Note
TED is a nonprofit organization devoted to "Ideas worth spreading," which it distributes through talks posted on its website. Chef Arthur Potts Dawson, who gave the talk above [see video] at the TED Global conference in July, started eco-friendly London restaurants Acorn House and Water House, which have rooftop gardens, low-energy refrigerators and compost and other green systems. He recently launched The People's Supermarket, a member-run cooperative supporting British farms.


In Britain the big supermarkets dominate our food chain. British supermarkets are some of the best in the world at controlling, manipulating and delivering cheap food. Controlling food and its distribution takes a huge amount of money and energy, but because the British food producer could not keep up with the supermarkets' demands for ever-lower prices, the supermarkets have moved to buying globally.

They turned to the products provided by cheap labor in northern and southern Africa, South America and Asia. But in shifting from Britain to the world, our supermarkets managed to destabilize Britain's food infrastructure. The supermarkets have left behind farmers, milk producers and fishermen. They all have knowledge they should be passing down, but there is no new blood wanting to pick up the rake, the fishing net or the gate latch at 4 a.m.

There is no money in food production in Britain: The supermarkets have taken the potential for a decent living away. The cost to produce milk is higher than the supermarkets are willing to pay. The cost of meat is too high, and the cost of fish is too high.

But the supermarkets reply that they are only trying to "give the customers what they want," so they must go abroad. In this statement is the manipulation. We as customers are led to believe that the low costs we pay are borne by the supermarkets. Well, think again.

It is the producers in this country who are paid such low prices by the supermarkets for their produce that they are going out of business by the hundreds every year, and with it goes their knowledge. The supermarkets are not delivering cheap food, it is the farmers and producers of Britain, and now the world -- and at a cost to the environment too. Increased yield means increased use of fertilizers, pesticides and antibiotics in animals.

About 30% of fresh food is thrown away in supermarkets every day, although they will deny it. British households are throwing an estimated 30% of their food away too. Where are we going with this over-producing, over-consuming super-cheap food system? We are going global with a huge reliance on oil.

But when the oil stops flowing, and our systems fail, no safety procedures are in place to help us. No localized food networks, and no agricultural schools developing our next wave of farmers -- this in a country where the average age for a farmer is 64.

It feels to me as if we are becoming so overly reliant on our supermarket system, that when it breaks down, all we can turn to is military intervention.

Surely we should be striving to teach and educate people how to feed themselves. How to grow food and distribute it locally. How to barter for food items that can bring the essential vitamins and minerals for healthy life.

Dawson's writing reminded me that the Locavore movement is growing by leaps and bounds in the USA. See this November 29, 2010 report, Locavores Moving the Markets by Freakonomics columnist Stephen J. Dubner at The New York Times.

Sunday, December 19

Three reports on Mexico and questions about NAFTA (Revised)

Update 7:15 PM
The response from a blogger friend to the original version of this post caused me to consider that I'd worked so many concepts into it that I'd diluted my arguments. So I've deleted the discussion about I call the 'Wal-Mart Syndrome' and its connection to the cheapening of the concept of value in America and placed the discussion in a separate post. And I added an introduction to the new post in the forlorn hope this will keep it away from politics.

Three reports, below, from the Associated Press, Los Angeles Times and Wall Street Journal provide a snapshot of Mexican immigration to the United States, the current state of Mexico's drug war, and the cost of drug cartel-related violence to Mexico's economy. Beyond these issues looms questions about NAFTA.

The Wall Street Journal report points out that "Mexico continues to lure foreign investment with its low wages, location next to the U.S. and the advantages of the North American Free Trade Agreement."

What I find most striking in the WSJ report is the discussion about three U.S. firms that want to build factories in Mexico but are held back because of the violence there. Surely those American firms are but a few that absent the violence would choose Mexico over the United States for factory sites.

Given that the USA is the world's largest recipient of FDI (foreign direct investment) I might sound miserly by complaining that our southern neighbor could draw a small amount of FDI away from the USA but that's not my point. The foreign firms that set up branches in the USA pay higher salaries to U.S. workers than U.S. firms. That means the United States is a very attractive place to do business -- for foreign conglomerates; so attractive that the companies are willing to pay very good salaries to American workers.

So what it is about the USA that makes it attractive to foreign business but unattractive to many American businesses?

This is an issue Americans need to resolve as Mexico heads toward greater economic success, particularly given that the American taxpayer has gone a long way toward subsidizing Mexico's notoriously tax-averse ruling class. Mexico's government shunts its poorest onto Americans, who have been picking up the tab for education, and health and welfare for Mexican immigrants to this country including illegal immigrants.

In better times Americans could afford to provide such subsidies for Mexico's rich, and the subsidies were seen as a tradeoff to lure cheap Mexican labor to the USA. But that view does not hold up against the current jobless rate in the USA and the fact that many American jobs are in service industries that are the first to tank during an economic downturn.

Another issue that Americans need to wrestle with is NAFTA. The rationale for NAFTA -- the way the U.S.-Mexico portion was promoted to Americans -- is based on the trickle-down theory: as more Mexicans find employment in Mexico they have more disposable income, which they could use to purchase American products. The same theory was applied to Mainland China but that didn't work out as U.S. economists visualized. The question is whether the economists are also in La-La Land when it comes to Mexico.

The bottom line is that 1 Mexican Peso (MXN) exchanges for 12.40 U.S. dollars (USD). That might not sound like a huge difference -- until the pesos pile up:

100,000 USD = 1,239,746 MXN

The MXN is now among the 15 most traded currency units in the world and is the most traded currency in Latin America.

Someday the MXN will surely come into approximate parity with the USD. The question is how many years into the future that day is -- and how many U.S. factories will go south during the interim.
December 15, 2010, Associated Press via The Washington Post:
(MEXICO CITY) A joint U.S.-Mexico committee met for the first time Wednesday to address border management issues and border violence. The committee was created By Presidents Barack Obama and Felipe Calderón in May.

Mexico has expressed concern about the deaths of migrants during recent incidents involving U.S. Border Patrol officers, and the two countries agreed on the need to "minimize the need for United States and Mexican federal law enforcement officers to resort to lethal force."
The committee endorsed expanding coordinated patrols and "expanding existing exchanges of passenger information to detect and detain possible drug and weapons smugglers, and other criminals that travel between the U.S. and Mexico."

The statement also pledged support for various projects aimed at improving ports-of-entry and border crossings in several states, and "expand trusted traveler and shipment programs by facilitating enrollment and making them more advantageous and easy to use." It also supported the establishment of pilot projects for cargo pre-clearance in both countries.

The issue of migrants and how they are treated remains a sensitive subject in Mexico, even as their overall number of migrants moving across the border drops.

The number of Mexicans deported or repatriated by the United States dropped 23.2 percent in the first 10 months of 2010 as compared to the same period of the previous year, Mexico's Interior department reported Wednesday.

A total of 410,442 people were returned to Mexico.

Of those, 23,359 agreed to be flown to Mexico City and transported to their hometowns, rather than simply being expelled over the border. That annual program was in effect from June 1 to Sept. 28.

The mayors and governors in some Mexican border states have complained in the past about crime and unemployment problems created by the deportation of large numbers of migrants to border communities.
December 16, 2010, Los Angeles Times (Ken Ellingwood report filed in Mexico City):
More than 12,000 people have died this year in Mexico's drug war, officials said Thursday, making it the deadliest year since President Felipe Calderón launched a government crackdown against traffickers in 2006. The federal attorney general's office said 12,456 people were killed through Nov. 30.

The overall death toll since the launch of the drug war stands at 30,196, according to figures given to reporters during a year-end breakfast session with Atty. Gen. Arturo Chavez Chavez. But that figure appeared to underestimate the toll. Federal officials announced in August that 28,228 had been killed in the war, meaning the death rate would have to have slowed considerably since then.

But there has been no sign of easing violence as cartels have remained locked in fierce turf battles that have most contributed to the rising toll.

Estimates by Mexican intelligence put the death count at about 32,000. The rising toll represents a political drag on Calderón, who has sought to assure a jittery public that the crackdown is depleting the cartels' power as they lose bosses to death and arrest.

Although the administration has contended that the vast majority of those killed are drug gang henchmen, the bloodletting has left many Mexicans convinced that the government has lost control of entire regions, such as the crime-ridden northern border state of Tamaulipas.

In a recent survey by the Mitofsky polling firm, 59% of respondents said organized-crime groups were winning the war against federal forces. In a separate poll, 4 in 5 respondents said the country was more violent than a year before.

On Thursday, more than 30 business and civic groups took out full-page advertisements in newspapers pleading with the country's leaders to bring the mayhem under control.

Chavez told reporters that arrests and killings by Mexican forces of top underworld figures, including the reported slaying last week of a reputed drug lord in the western state of Michoacan, were taking a toll on the groups. Chavez said "a lot of evidence" suggested that Nazario Moreno Gonzalez, alleged leader of the cult-like La Familia group, was killed in skirmishing with federal forces, though no body was recovered.

In November, marines killed Ezequiel Cardenas Guillen, an alleged leader of the Gulf cartel, during a battle in Tamaulipas.

"What is clear is that there is a significant weakening of these criminal structures," Chavez said.
December 17, 2010, Wall Street Journal:
Companies Shun Violent Mexico

Unrest Deters Electrolux, Whirlpool, Others Who Have Considered New South-of-the-Border Plants.

[...] Drug-related violence in Mexico probably cost the country some $4 billion in foreign direct investment this year, estimated Gabriel Casillas, J.P. Morgan's chief economist for Mexico.

Crime has also spooked foreign executives. Jim Davis, a managing director at Russell Reynolds Associates, an executive-recruitment firm, said he recently conducted a search for a pharmaceutical company seeking a top manager in Mexico City.

"A lot of the folks would say, 'My wife would not be in favor of us moving down there at this time,'" Mr. Davis said. "I think the fears are a little bit overblown but the reality is that's what people are reading in the newspapers and seeing on TV."

While foreign direct investment is expected to be slightly up in Mexico this year, the figures were boosted by the $5 billion takeover of the beer business of Fomento Economico Mexicano SAB by Dutch brewer Heineken NV. That deal won't include typical investment benefits like construction of factories and creation of jobs in Mexico.

Stripping out the Heineken-Femsa deal, Mexico's foreign investment numbers begin to look less healthy, said Mr. Casillas. Moreover, companies usually plan investments far enough ahead that this year's dramatic increase in violence will probably only show up in next year's numbers.

In Mexico's violent border regions and troubled interior states of Durango, Sinaloa and Michoacan, foreign investment has dropped to roughly $1.9 billion in 2010 from an average of about $5 billion a year from 2005 through 2008, excluding the Heineken-Femsa deal.

Concern about violence is leading to "a lot of caution around future growth plans," said David Speer, chief executive officer of Illinois Tool Works Inc., a big industrial conglomerate based in Glenview, Ill.

Mr. Speer said some companies that buy products from ITW units have delayed projects in Mexico due to security concerns, though he declined to name any projects.

Violence has spread to parts of the country formerly seen as "immune" from such problems, he said.

Some global companies are making investments deeper in Mexico's interior to avoid the violence. Japanese car maker Toyota Motor Corp., for instance, is building a plant in the state of San Luis Potosí.[...]
Readers following the economic situation in Mexico should read the entire WSJ report.

Saturday, December 18

Britain Snowmageddon and Europe Snowpocalypse

The M25 comes to halt as snow causes travel chaos across the UK

Photo for The Telegraph: TOMMY HINDLEY

Here we go again, and it's not even 2011. This is the second big wave of snowstorms to hit northern Europe this month. See this December 2 Reuters report for a roundup on the earlier storms, which among other things toblanketed Paris and wreaked economic havoc.

As a Washingtonian who live-blogged through America's Snowmageddon 2010 which shut down the nation's capital for days, I'm not going to snicker at the plight of the British, who were waaay unprepared for the worst blizzards they've seen since 1981. And a Bronx cheer for one of those terribly irritating people who are always prepared; as cars by the thousands skidded around roads on Saturday he left a chipper comment at The Telegraph: "I drove from Germany to Calais yesterday and then through Kent to north London today. How was this possible? Winter tyres."

But as more blizzard conditions; what could be record-breaking cold temperatures; and widespread shortages in food, home heating fuel, and emergency blood supplies loom, there's not much Snowmageddon humor I can wring out the situation.

All this couldn't have come at a worse time; as much of Britain has ground to a halt Christmas holiday travelers have been stranded all over Europe and retailers are missing out on what is supposed to be the best week for sales. And that's just in the United Kingdom; many parts of northern Europe are also battling the heavy snows:
Snow causes pre-Christmas travel chaos in Europe

Dec 18, 2010 4:36 am EST

(Reuters) - Heavy snow and freezing temperatures caused travel chaos across northern Europe on Friday, with hundreds of German flights cancelled and icy roads wreaking havoc in Poland and the Netherlands ahead of Christmas.

A spokesman for Frankfurt airport operator Fraport said 400 of 1,400 scheduled flights had been cancelled at continental Europe's busiest airport, even though Germany's financial capital escaped the worst of the winter weather.

Another 100 flights were cancelled in Berlin, which was blanketed in heavy snow throughout the day, leaving city workers scrambling to clear roads and slowing traffic to a crawl in some parts.

In neighbouring Poland, where severe frost has killed 93 people so far this winter, a blast of cold and new train timetables combined to cause chaos on the rail network.

Days of disruption have led to calls by opposition politicians for the dismissal of Infrastructure Minister Cezary Grabarczyk, who apologised in parliament on Friday for the inconvenience suffered by passengers.
In the Netherlands, highways became covered in ice, two tunnels were closed due to ice and an accident, and 500 km (300 miles) of traffic jams formed, the Dutch transport group ANWB said on its Twitter feed.

Amsterdam Schiphol Airport said dozens of flights had been cancelled and public transport in Dutch cities was sharply reduced.
Now onto Britain:
Britain gridlocked after heavy snow brings travel chaos

Blizzard conditions left Britain gridlocked as major airports closed, roads became impassable and train services were cancelled on what should have been the busiest weekend before Christmas.

By Patrick Sawer, Robert Mendick, David Barrett and Alistair Jamieson
9:00PM GMT 18 Dec 2010
The Telegraph

The heaviest December snowfalls since 1981 crippled swathes of the country's transport network.

Planes were grounded at Heathrow, Gatwick and Stansted airports for much of yesterday, with regional airports across the country also severely affected by ice and snow.

Millions of people who had been planning to visit the shops or their families ahead of the Christmas break, were left unable to reach their destinations or forced to abandon their journeys entirely.

There was heavy snow across much of south and south west England, the south Midlands, Merseyside, Northern Ireland and Scotland yesterday and Friday night.

The north west, Devon and Sussex were hit with up to 11in of snow, causing widespread disruption and accidents on major roads and motorways. Only East Anglia, Lincolnshire and Yorkshire escaped unscathed.

Forecasters warned that Britain was heading for the coldest December on record, with a current average temperature of minus 0.7C – five degrees below the long-term average.

The Met Office warned of more snow on Sunday and Monday, particularly in north east England and northern Scotland.

Britain's airport operators were heavily criticised after Heathrow and Gatwick closed their runways after failing to keep them clear of ice and snow.

BAA, which owns Heathrow and Stansted, was forced to shut both runways at Heathrow at about 1pm yesterday following a blizzard that lasted two hours.

The runways remained closed on Saturday afternoon and passengers were told to go home or to stay in hotels. In total 577 flights in and out of Heathrow were cancelled.

Gatwick managed to clear its runway by 3pm, though most flights were cancelled.

British Airways took a decision on Friday evening to cancel all its flights from Heathrow and Gatwick from 10am yesterday.

That left BA passengers furious that they were unable to travel while others on rival airlines were – in some cases at least – able to fly at points when the runways were still open.

There was also disruption at Southampton, Manchester, Exeter, London City, Aberdeen, Birmingham, Bristol and Cardiff airports.

At the same time many of Britain's major roads were gridlocked as heavy snow caught drivers by surprise.

The M25 was blocked in at least two locations for periods yesterday and the M20 in Kent was closed for more than two hours after a five vehicle pile-up.

Stuart Woodhead, a 37-year-old computer programmer, was driving back from Coventry to his home near Slough when he was trapped in the "bowl" between Junctions 16 and 18 on the M25, where traffic came to a standstill.

"Traffic officers are digging people out of the snow," he said.

Other roads suffering serious delays included the M4 in Berkshire and London, the M40 in Buckinghamshire, the northern section of the M3, the M2 in Kent, the southern M11 in Essex, and the A1M in Hertfordshire.

Hundreds of drivers were stranded on the M6 in Lancashire for up to seven hours on Friday night after a lorry jackknifed on the northbound carriageway and heavy snow later brought southbound traffic to a standstill.

With many roads in a treacherous state there were warnings of fuel and food shortages in some parts of the country.

Brian Madderson, chairman of the Independent Petrol Retailers Association, said forecourts in snow-hit areas were already running low, exacerbated by a backlog from the snow chaos earlier this month.

He said: "We are close to a critical point. Our members are doing all they can to prevent a weather crisis becoming a fuel crisis.

"There is evidence of localised panic buying and we would urge motorists only to fill up only what they need."

Brent Cross shopping centre in North London was forced to close because of the weather.

Blood stocks are also running low, with the NHS Blood and Transplant service revealing last night that it has just three days supply after donor sessions were cancelled due to the weather.

The AA said it expected to attend around 18,000 call-outs, compared to around 9,000 on an average Saturday.

Darron Burness, head of AA special operations, said driving conditions were "extremely difficult" in some regions.

"One of the biggest problems is that large amounts of snow are falling very quickly on to frozen surfaces, making driving hazardous," he added.

Lincolnshire County Council said it had already used about 60 per cent of its grit stocks despite starting the winter with 31,600 tonnes – 8,000 more than usual.

Meanwhile nearly a quarter of all train services suffered delays and cancellations, with operators in the south, including Southeastern and Southern Railway, struggling to keep ice from forming on the 'third' rail, which transmits power to the electric trains. Further disruption was expected on Sunday.

However other train companies managed to run a normal Saturday service on most mainline services after spending Friday night clearing snow off lines and points.

Sport also suffered from disruption, with a number of race meetings and dozens of football and rugby matches cancelled.

Friday, December 17

Looney Tunes in North Waziristan

December 16, CNN:
Islamabad, Pakistan (CNN) -- Pakistan's defense minister says any new military operations in the Taliban's stronghold in the northwestern part of the country will be done on its own timetable -- and that time is not now.

"We can 'do more' only whenever we can. We have to see to our interests first," Defense Minister Chaudhary Ahmed Mukhtar said Thursday in Lahore.

He was responding to reporters' questions about whether Pakistan would start immediate military operation against militants in North Waziristan.

The questions may have been prompted by comments made by U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen, who visited Pakistan Wednesday. Mullen urged Pakistani officials to focus less on the perceived strategic threat from India, and more on the threat of militants within its borders.
"Whatever Admiral Mullen demands, we will only do when it is required by Pakistan or its armed forces. If we feel we have to go in North Waziristan with more force, we will go. If we don't, we wouldn't," the defense minister said.
December 7, Long War Journal:
Pakistani military commanders continue to insist there is no need for a military operation in North Waziristan as the military is already battling the Taliban and al Qaeda there. The latest claim comes from the commander of the Peshawar Corps. From SAMAA:
Core Commander Peshawar Lieutenant General Asif Yasin, on Monday, ruled out rumors regarding a fresh offensive against terrorists, saying that an operation in North Waziristan is underway.

While speaking with journalists, he said that the army is targeting terrorists already. He further said that they have made a strategy to deal with the situation in case of the US army's departure from Afghanistan.
More on that fictional stealth offensive in North Waziristan here.

Thursday, December 16

Text of President Obama's speech on Afghan War

December 16

Good morning, everybody. When I announced our new strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan last December, I directed my national security team to regularly assess our efforts and to review our progress after one year. That's what we've done consistently over the course of the past 12 months —- in weekly updates from the field, in monthly meetings with my national security team, and in my frequent consultations with our Afghan, Pakistani and coalition partners. And that's what we've done as part of our annual review, which is now complete.

Blah blah blah. Blah. Blah blah blah, blah -- blah blah; blah blah blah. Blah blah blah blah blah (1) blah blah. (2) blah blah. (2.1) Blah, blah, blah. (3) Blahblahblah. Blah. (4) Blah blah: blah blah, blah, blah blah blah.

Finally, we will continue to focus on our relationship with Pakistan. Increasingly, the Pakistani government recognizes that terrorist networks in its border regions are a threat to all our countries, especially Pakistan. We've welcomed major Pakistani offensives in the tribal regions. We will continue to help strengthen Pakistanis' capacity to root out terrorists. Nevertheless, progress has not come fast enough. So we will continue to insist to Pakistani leaders that terrorist safe havens within their borders must be dealt with.

At the same time, we need to support the economic and political development that is critical to Pakistan's future. As part of our strategic dialogue with Pakistan, we will work to deepen trust and cooperation. We'll speed up our investment in civilian institutions and projects that improve the lives of Pakistanis. We'll intensify our efforts to encourage closer cooperation between Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Blah blah blah. Blah. Blah blah blah, blah -- blah blah; blah blah blah. Blah blah blah blah blah (5) blah blah. (6) blah blah. (7) Blah, blah, blah. (8) Blahblahblah. Blah. (8.1) Blah blah: blah blah, blah, blah blah blah.

So, with that, Vice President Biden and myself will depart, and I'm going to turn it over to Secretaries Clinton, Gates, as well as Vice Chairman Cartwright, and they will be able to answer your questions and give you a more detailed briefing.

Thank you very much.

[Here is the White House version of what Obama said.]

Top U.S. civilian advisor: Time to wean Pakistan from "a very rich diet of carrots"

In an interview with Matthew Green for Financial Times, which Bloomberg picked up on (thank you Bloomberg!) Bill Harris, who stepped down last month as the top US civilian official in Kandahar, made these observations:
“We have put the government in Islamabad on a very rich diet of carrots for 10 years and nobody should be surprised that they have developed a taste for it,” he said. “I do believe that it’s past time for some absolute straight talk in that bilateral relationship.

“We’re on the bullet train to failure in Afghanistan if we try to fight this war to any kind of conclusion with Pakistan sanctuaries open.”

His comments reflect mounting concern that growing flows of US aid are doing little to persuade Pakistan’s security forces to stop covertly supporting Afghan insurgents.
Mr Harris said sanctuaries in Pakistan had assumed greater importance for the Taliban after the summer influx of US troops in Kandahar province, the Taliban heartland, pushing many militants across the border.

Mr Harris, a veteran diplomat, said he fears insurgents will continue to slip back into Afghanistan to disrupt attempts to help Kabul extend its presence into areas where US and Afghan forces have provided a degree of security.

“In my year in Kandahar, I had not seen any progress whatsoever in stemming the flow in people and capacity for the Taliban across that southern border,” he said.
Kindly read Green's entire report, which isn't long, to get your hopes dashed that Harris's well-informed opinion will make a dent in the U.S. practice of stuffing Pakistan with carrots. It's not as if Harris is the only informed American who's warned that the practice is counterproductive. What stands in the way of reason and right action are arguments having no basis in fact, but which have been repeated so often they're accepted in Washington as canonical.

The Times report mentions three such arguments: Pakistan's desire to counter Indian influence in Afghanistan, NATO's reliance on Pakistan as a supply route, and the need to foster better cooperation with Pakistan's military, which are used to rationalize throwing good aid money after bad.

That last argument is an example of Red Queen logic, which requires up-ending rationality to reach agreement with nonsense. It certainly is turning the world upside down to argue that greater cooperation with a military that's fostering the murder of your troops is the way to stop the carnage.

I suppose one can cite the omission of the Kashmir canard from the Times report as a sign of hope, but even if one can knock down all the false arguments it's too late because the ship has left the pier: the latest round of U.S. humanitarian aid to Pakistan will be a bonanza for American contractors. Thusly, the continuing vested interest in holding U.S. defense policy hostage in Wonderland.

Wednesday, December 15

The rundown: The Afghan War as it is today

Last night I posted a December 14 New York Times report that summarized how the strategic review of the Afghan War has been shaking out. Now for an overview of how the war is actually going on the ground with a look at AFPAK Strategy, ISAF kinetic operations, al Qaeda's shifting strategy, and Admiral Mike Mullen's 12th Hour attempt to save the AFPAK strategy.

Collapse of AFPAK Strategy

December 13, 2010, CNN:
... A year ago, when President Barack Obama announced his new strategy in Afghanistan, he hammered home a key foreign policy principle: that success in Afghanistan is "inextricably linked to our partnership with Pakistan."

Early in his administration, the president had outlined an extensive plan for Pakistan that included bolstering Afghan-Pakistani cooperation, helping the security forces fight militants, increasing economic assistance, and improving Pakistan's governmental capacity and performance.

The United States has tried to prod the Pakistani military into taking more aggressive steps in the save havens, but the army has been reluctant to pursue al Qaeda and the Afghan Taliban who fled to Pakistan after the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan in 2001. ...
December 15, 2010, The New York Times:
... US commanders and Pentagon officials say they do not yet know if the war can be won without more cooperation from Pakistan. But after billions spent trying to win the support of the Pakistanis, they are now proceeding on the assumption that there will be limited help from them. ...
ISAF Kinetic Operations

December 15, 2010, AFP:
(WASHINGTON) — The US military has dramatically stepped up air strikes and manhunts in Afghanistan in a bid to weaken the Taliban, reflecting a return to "counter-terrorism" tactics.

Dropping more bombs and carrying out more raids by special operations forces underscores a sense of urgency in the war effort, as the White House prepares to release a strategy review and commanders try to change the dynamic of a conflict mired in stalemate.

In announcing a surge of 30,000 troops a year ago, President Barack Obama embraced the idea of a "counter-insurgency" strategy that focused less on firefights with the Taliban and more on securing key towns, training Afghan forces and bolstering local government.

But the need to cut off the insurgency's supply routes to sanctuaries in neighboring Pakistan has led to a renewed emphasis on more conventional "targeting" operations, said General James Cartwright, vice chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

"When we started, we probably were more aligned with counterinsurgency (strategy). The emphasis is shifting," Cartwright said last week. "We need to reduce those lines of communication and reduce that flow to the best of our abilities" ...

The balance of the US force was "starting to shift to have an element of counter-terrorism larger than we thought we were going to need when we started," he said.

The expansion of counter-terrorism raids also appears to fit in with the need to drive the Taliban to the negotiating table, as US military leaders have long stated that the insurgents must sense they are losing ground on the battlefield before they engage in genuine peace talks.

The previous commander in Afghanistan, General Stanley McChrystal, scaled back air strikes and artillery to try to reduce civilian casualties, but his successor, General David Petraeus, has taken a more aggressive approach.

US aircraft flew 850 combat sorties in November, three times the number for the same month last year, according to the US Air Force.

From January to the end of November, warplanes carried out 30,000 close air support missions for troops on the ground, a 13 percent increase compared with the whole of 2009, it said.

In the past six months, coalition forces have carried out more than 7,000 special operations missions, killing or capturing more than 600 militant leaders and inflicting heavy losses on insurgent fighters, with 2,000 rank and file soldiers killed, the NATO-led force told The Long War Journal.

More firepower will be on display soon in southern Afghanistan, where Marines will have M1A1 tanks in their arsenal -- the first use of American tanks in the war.

The intensifying pace of lethal operations has been accompanied by record casualties among US and NATO-led forces, in the most deadly year yet in the nine-year-old war with 693 soldiers killed, according to the independent website

Pentagon officials say the increase in manhunts is a natural result of the troop buildup, and Defense Secretary Robert Gates said the approach in the war remained "a mix" of both nation-building and counter-terrorism.

He described the effort in eastern Afghanistan as a "disruption activity" with US troops trying to stop insurgents from coming across the Pakistani border.

In the south, US-led troops were pushing the Taliban out of towns and then holding the populated areas, he said.

"You need to understand the strategy in one part of the country will be different in another part," Gates told reporters last week on his way back to Washington.

A crucial part of the US strategy includes an expanded covert bombing campaign against Al-Qaeda and insurgent leaders in the northwest tribal belt in Pakistan.

The CIA strikes have been steadily growing, with 108 attacks by drones in 2010, compared to 53 last year, mainly in North Waziristan, where the Pakistan army has so far failed to extend an offensive against militants there, according to the New America Foundation.

The drone raids have killed 809 militants this year, compared to 405 the year before.
Shifting Al Qaeda Strategy

December 16, 2010, Asia Times Online:
... [T]he North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) claims success against the Taliban in Kandahar and Helmand provinces, but what has happened is that al-Qaeda-affiliated groups have stepped into the vacuum and they will continue the battle.

Similarly, Pakistan claims success in its tribal areas, but a more defiant and more ideologically motivated group has emerged to take ownership of the war.

Wali Mohammad, the brother of slain Taliban commander Nek Mohammad (see The legacy of Nek Mohammed, Asia Times Online, July 2004), has taken over command of militants in South Waziristan.

Last week, army chief General Ashfaq Parvez Kiani, accompanied by other top brass and members of the media, traveled to South Waziristan to showcase the military's "victory" against militants. They were greeted by four missiles. No one was injured in the attack, but the message is clear: the militants are back.

Before last year's operation in South Waziristan, the army struck a peace deal with the Wazir tribe and singled out the Mehsud tribe led by Hakeemullah Mehsud, the chief of the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP - Pakistani Taliban). This isolated the Mehsuds, forcing them to flee to North Waziristan. The military then took control of Mehsud areas such as Ladha and Makeen.

However, in a twist that illustrates the changing ideologies in the tribal regions, Wali Mohammad, a Wazir from South Waziristan who is supposed to be a rival of the Mehsuds, assumed the role of hostility against the army -- a move that stunned many observers.

Wali Mohammad is now the commander of the TTP in South Waziristan and head of its suicide-bombing wing. ...

[O]ne major development is missing [from Gen. David Petraeus's current assessment of the ISAF war effort]:

This month, there was an unsuccessful suicide attack on Nawab Aslam Raisani, the chief minister of southwestern Balochistan province. It was claimed by the LJ - the Laskhar-e-Jhangvi al-Alami (International) - a sectarian, anti-Shi'ite organization that is split into several groups. The international wing is strongly affiliated with al-Qaeda.

Pakistan's southwest and southwestern Afghanistan are home to the Kandahari clan, which is mostly loyal to Taliban leader Mullah Omar. Despite the Taliban's strong presence in Helmand and Kandahar in Afghanistan and the Pakistani Chaman and Quetta regions, al-Qaeda has never been able to find significant traction among the local Pashtuns. It has sheltered in southeastern Afghanistan or the northwestern Pakistani tribal areas.

Balochistan had no history of sectarian violence until after 2003, for which a few ethnic Baloch members of the LJ were accused. The Taliban distanced themselves from the LJ. For the past several years, Pakistan's southwestern regions and southwestern Afghanistan were assessed as Taliban territory.

However, an increasing number of militant attacks in Balochistan on NATO's Afghanistan-bound supplies is a hallmark of al-Qaeda. Most of the attacks have been carried out in ethnically Baloch areas, where the Pakistani security forces now believe anti-Pakistan Baloch insurgents and members of the LJ are collaborating.

The ultra-radical and ruthless LJ already cooperates with the Iranian Jundallah in Iranian Balochistan and it is now expected to spread its operations to Kandahar and Helmand to take over the Taliban's fight. ...
Last-Ditch Attempt to Save AFPAK Strategy

Admiral Michael Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, made an unannounced visit to Pakistan yesterday -- his 21st trip to the country since becoming Chairman -- with a gaggle of American press correspondents in tow and met with Pakistan's military brass.

Mullen told reporters that he had spoken during the meetings of "strategic impatience" on his part and the part of "others" with the reluctance of Pakistan's military to attack terrorist groups in Pakistan that were targeting NATO troops.

Mullen also sounded a sympathetic note, saying, “The extremist organizations that are killing Pakistani nationals are a huge challenge" to Pakistan's military; however, during an extensive interview he gave today to U.S. reporters and Pakistani newspaper editors, he did not rule out overt U.S. military incursions into Pakistan.

Here are excerpts from the interview as it was reported by the Pak Tribune:
When pressed to categorically state whether there was absolutely no possibility ever of any direct army action by the US or Nato troops inside Pakistan, he ... stopped short of stating the same and said, “I don’t get to decide who does what but I’m very cognizant of the sensitivity of the sovereignty of the country and the same is recognised by the military and political leadership in United States”. ...

Admiral Mullen repeatedly referred to al-Qaeda and Taliban, including Haqqani group, “living peacefully in Pakistan”, and lamented that their actions against America and its allied Nato troops “needed to be ceased”. He said that terrorist groups like LeT, TTP, etc, were coming closer and their local perspective was changing to a regional outlook and said that, “the goal here is to dismantle, al-Qaeda and such groups living peacefully in Pakistan”.

At this point, when asked whether the Pakistan-being-the-terrorist-haven mantra was actually a deliberate ploy to create a justification for an ultimate direct military action inside Pakistan, the top US commander said that the sensitivity of Pakistan’s sovereignty was not lost on anyone. ...

Replying to another question, he stressed the presence of a strongly growing relationship between the two countries but ceded that Pakistan-US relationship continued to be mired in deep mistrust and would take a long time to rebuild.

“Between 1990 to 2002, we had no relationship and it will take a long time to rebuild the present immense trust deficit. It will take a lot longer than even a decade or so,” he said, adding that the US was now looking at building a, "long term stable strategic relationship and not one based purely on military links”. ...
Mullen seems to have left unsaid that the United States and other NATO countries do not have a decade or so to wait for Pakistan to clean up its act, but his visit and the general tone of his statements conveyed the same message.

John Batchelor on legal challenge to ObamaCare and Commerce Clause

The following are John's notes on his radio interviews last night on ObamaCare and how the debate on the health care bill folds in with the tricky issue of the Commerce Clause. See the 77WABC archive page to pick up the podcasts on the interviews. See the post at John's site for video and links to background articles on the legal challenge and its ramifications.

Debates about the Clause and its reach are at the heart of many Tea Party issues (states' rights v federal rights -- an old central argument in the USA that has gained steam again and is now boiling over with debates on ObamaCare). So even if you don't reside in the USA this issue might be of interest to you, if your nation is debating the reach of centralized government.

John's guests easily untangle the crux of the issue. I've taken the liberty of putting the points in bulleted format that John summarized:
Commerce Henry Hudson
By John Batchelor
December 15, 2010 12:17 AM

Spoke Larry Kudlow, 77WABC radio and CNBC; Joseph Rago, Wall Street Journal; and Richard Epstein, Hoover Institute, about the Judge Henry Hudson Federal court 42-page ruling that the mandate requirement in the Obamacare law from last March is unconstitutional.

Learned that:

> The Democrats wrote the 2700 pages deliberately to derive the power for the mandate from the Commerce Clause rulings since the Great Depression.

> POTUS Obama and others rejected the notion that the law derives its power to mandate participation and to enforce penalties for non-compliance on the basis of the tax power.

> The Commerce Clause is the predicate. Judge Hudson follows the arguments of jurists such as Randy Barnett that this is a perversion of the Commerce Clause.

> The state does not have the power to force a citizen to participate in interstate commerce when the citizen chooses not to.

This [issue] is fast track to the Supreme Court, where [Liberal] Justice Kennedy will render the fate of the mandate. Am told that if the mandate fails to pass, then the Obamacare package is shreds.

Richard Epstein remarks that in the 15-round prizefight, the opposition force is winning on rounds as the [battle] heads to the Supreme Court.

Phooey! WHAT Amrullah Saleh interview on December 14?

I'm going to have to take away one of the gold stars I just gave The New York Times for their December 14 report, Intelligence Reports Offer Dim Views of Afghan War. Look at this passage from the report:
But many Afghan officials say that the United States, which sends Pakistan about $2 billion in military and civilian aid each year, is coddling Pakistan for no end. “They are capitalizing on your immediate security needs, and they are stuck in this thinking that bad behavior brings cash,” said Amrullah Saleh, the former Afghan intelligence chief, in an interview on Tuesday.
I assumed that the interview was available on the internet but my search turned up no record of such an interview.

I know that the journalists who worked on the report didn't pull the quote from thin air. But then what interview is report story talking about -- and with whom? With one of the Times reporters?

Saleh is probably still in Washington making the rounds after his talk at the Jamestown Foundation's Terrorism Conference last week. And if so it's likely he's been talking to the U.S. press, but if he gave an interview yesterday I'd sure like to know more about it and what else he said in the interview. This is because Saleh is the best Afghan War analyst there is -- at least among those analysts who're willing to speak on the record.

In any case, it's mean for a major newspaper to make such a reference without identifying it in some way or another.

Tuesday, December 14

Helpful New York Times summary of current Afghan War strategy review

Mark Mazzetti and David E. Sanger contributed to the following New York Times report published about three hours ago; both men are highly professional veteran war journalists, and whenever Mazzetti works on a report about the war I find it's worth paying attention to, as I've mentioned before. This is not to take away from the lead reporter on the story, Elisabeth Bumiller, who's also a veteran journalist -- and a great writer and interviewer; consider her 1991 book on India, told from the vantage point of her interviews with Indian women from different walks of life (May You Be the Mother of a Hundred Sons ...). But while this might be unfair to Bumiller because I don't follow every report she files, I find that her personal views tend to strongly color her war reporting.

However, her report today seems a reasonably objective summary of what has been leaked about two current and still-classified NIEs that President Obama is referencing to help him gain an allover assessment of the war effort, and how informed critics are responding to the scuttlebutt on the NIEs.

So the report is a 'must read' if you want to keep up-to-the-minute on the debates in Washington about the NATO war effort in Afghanistan:
Intelligence Reports Offer Dim Views of Afghan War

December 14, 2010
The New York Times

WASHINGTON — As President Obama prepares to release a review of American strategy in Afghanistan that will claim progress in the nine-year-old war there, two new classified intelligence reports offer a more negative assessment and say there is a limited chance of success unless Pakistan hunts down insurgents operating from havens on its Afghan border.

The reports, one on Afghanistan and one on Pakistan, say that although there have been gains for the United States and NATO in the war, the unwillingness of Pakistan to shut down militant sanctuaries in its lawless tribal region remains a serious obstacle. American military commanders say insurgents freely cross from Pakistan into Afghanistan to plant bombs and fight American troops and then return to Pakistan for rest and resupply.

The findings in the reports, called National Intelligence Estimates, represent the consensus view of the United States’ 16 intelligence agencies, as opposed to the military, and were provided last week to some members of the Senate and House Intelligence Committees. The findings were described by a number of American officials who read the reports’ executive summaries.

American military commanders and senior Pentagon officials have already criticized the reports as out of date and say that the cut-off date for the Afghanistan report, Oct. 1, does not allow it to take into account what the military cites as tactical gains in Kandahar and Helmand Provinces in the south in the six weeks since. Pentagon and military officials also say the reports were written by desk-bound Washington analysts who have spent limited time, if any, in Afghanistan and have no feel for the war.

“They are not on the ground living it day in and day out like our forces are, so they don’t have the proximity and perspective,” said a senior defense official who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he did not want to be identified while criticizing the intelligence agencies. The official said that the 30,000 additional troops that Mr. Obama ordered to Afghanistan in December 2009 did not all arrive until September, meaning that the intelligence agencies had little time to judge the effects of the escalation. There are now about 100,000 American forces in Afghanistan.

The dispute between the military and intelligence agencies reflects how much the debate in Washington over the war is now centered on whether the United States can succeed in Afghanistan without the cooperation of Pakistan, which despite years of American pressure has resisted routing militants on its border.

The dispute also reflects the longstanding cultural differences between intelligence analysts, whose job is to warn of potential bad news, and military commanders, who are trained to promote “can do” optimism.

But in Afghanistan, the intelligence agencies play a strong role, with the largest Central Intelligence Agency station since the Vietnam War located in Kabul. C.I.A. operatives also command an Afghan paramilitary force in the thousands. In Pakistan, the C.I.A. is running a covert war using drone aircraft.

Both sides have found some areas of agreement in the period leading up to Mr. Obama’s review, which will be made public on Thursday. The intelligence reports, which rely heavily on assessments from the C.I.A. and the Defense Intelligence Agency, conclude that C.I.A. drone strikes on leaders of Al Qaeda in the tribal regions of Pakistan have had an impact and that security has improved in the parts of Helmand and Kandahar Provinces in southern Afghanistan where the United States has built up its troop presence. For their part, American commanders and Pentagon officials say they do not yet know if the war can be won without more cooperation from Pakistan. But after years and billions spent trying to win the support of the Pakistanis, they are now proceeding on the assumption that there will be limited help from them. The American commanders and officials readily describe the havens for insurgents in Pakistan as a major impediment to military operations.

“I’m not going to make any bones about it, they’ve got sanctuaries and they go back and forth across the border,” Maj. Gen. John F. Campbell, the commander of NATO forces in eastern Afghanistan, told reporters last week in the remote Kunar Province of Afghanistan. “They’re financed better, they’re better trained, they’re the ones who bring in the higher-end I.E.D.’s.” General Campbell was referring to improvised explosive devices, the military’s name for the insurgent-made bombs, the leading cause of American military deaths in Afghanistan.

American commanders say their plan in the next few years is to kill large numbers of insurgents in the border region — the military refers to it as “degrading the Taliban” — and at the same time build up the Afghan National Army to the point that the Afghans can at least contain an insurgency still supported by Pakistan. (American officials say Pakistan supports the insurgents as a proxy force in Afghanistan, preparing for the day the Americans leave.)

“That is not the optimal solution, obviously,” said Bruce O. Riedel, a former C.I.A. official and now a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, who led a White House review of Afghan strategy last year that resulted in Mr. Obama sending the additional forces. “But we have to deal with the world we have, not the world we’d like. We can’t make Pakistan stop being naughty.”

Publicly, American officials and military commanders continue to praise Pakistan and its military chief, Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, if only for acknowledging the problem.

“General Kayani and others have been clear in recognizing that they need to do more for their security and indeed to carry out operations against those who threaten other countries’ security,” Gen. David H. Petraeus, the top American commander in Afghanistan, said last week.

But many Afghan officials say that the United States, which sends Pakistan about $2 billion in military and civilian aid each year, is coddling Pakistan for no end. “They are capitalizing on your immediate security needs, and they are stuck in this thinking that bad behavior brings cash,” said Amrullah Saleh, the former Afghan intelligence chief, in an interview on Tuesday.

The Pakistan intelligence report also reaffirms past American concerns about Pakistan’s nuclear stockpile, particularly the risk that enriched uranium or plutonium could be smuggled out of a laboratory or storage site.

The White House review comes as some members of Mr. Obama’s party are losing patience with the war. “You’re not going to get to the point where the Taliban are gone and the border is perfectly controlled,” said Representative Adam Smith, a Washington Democrat who serves on the Armed Services Committee and the Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, in an interview on Tuesday.

Mr. Smith said there would be increasing pressure from the political left on Mr. Obama to end the war, and he predicted that Democrats in Congress would resist continuing to spend $100 billion annually on Afghanistan.

“We’re not going to be hanging out over there fighting these guys like we’re fighting them now for 20 years,” Mr. Smith said.

Mark Mazzetti and David E. Sanger contributed reporting.

No egg on face here in Punditaland re Holbrooke's last words

At 7:50 PM ET The Washington Post published something close to a retraction regarding their report late last night that described Richard Holbrooke's last words. The first report:
As Mr. Holbrooke was sedated for surgery, family members said, his final words were to his Pakistani surgeon: "You've got to stop this war in Afghanistan."
Tonight's clarification from the Post:
[...] But Tuesday, a fuller account of the tone and contents of his remarks emerged.

As physician Jehan El-Bayoumi was attending to Holbrooke in the emergency room at George Washington University Hospital, she told him to relax and asked what she could do to comfort him, according to an aide who was present.

Holbrooke, who was in severe pain, said jokingly that it was hard to relax because he had to worry about the difficult situation in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

El-Bayoumi, an Egyptian American internist who is Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton's physician, replied that she would worry for him. Holbrooke responded by telling her to end the war, the aide said.

The aide said he could not be sure of Holbrooke's exact words. He emphasized Tuesday that the comment was made in painful banter, rather than as a serious exhortation about policy.

Holbrooke also spoke extensively about his family and friends as he awaited surgery by Farzad Najam, a thoracic surgeon of Pakistani descent. [...]
Tonight's report goes on to mention that the first version of Holbrooke's last words was seized on by critics of the Afghan War and interpreted differently by different people.

I made no attempt to interpret his words when I posted the first report, observing sagely that Holbrooke "took to his grave exactly what he meant by his last words, which could be read in different ways." I then turned to a discussion of a point about Holbrooke's approach to Pakistan that was well-established.

I will not labor the obvious by detailing parables that could be wrung from the tale of those who used the words of a dying man to serve their own ends. Except to note that 99.9 percent of Afghan War analysts are idiots.

Ignoring advice that there have been too many cooks in Afghan War, Obama names Frank Ruggerio to fill Richard Holbrooke's post

From a December 14, 2010 Christian Science Monitor analysis:
[...] But despite his reputation as a heavyweight in US diplomacy going back to the Vietnam war, Mr. Holbrooke struggled with a cacophony of voices dealing with Afghanistan and Pakistan. Now that he's gone, some in the region say it's time to scrap the envoy role altogether and instead channel US communications within the region through fewer players.

In particular, some suggest, if Secretary of State Hillary Clinton chose to engage in the region, she would have the authority to better coordinate her pair of well-regarded ambassadors in Islamabad and Kabul as well as US military outreach.

“You do need to have one central voice, and one central lead, and that really should be Secretary Clinton,” says Samina Ahmed, project director for South Asia at the International Crisis Group.

Currently, many voices speak for the US in Pakistan, says Ms. Ahmed. Congress, the US Embassy, and Holbrooke’s office all work with the civilian government while military leaders like Adm. Mike Mullen negotiate regularly with the Pakistani military.

“In the midst of a democratic transition, you have the military taking the lead as much as the civilians taking the lead as far as what the US policy should be. These are confused signals sent,” Ahmed says.

However, it appears the Obama administration intends to keep the office of special envoy, naming Frank Ruggiero, a lesser-known diplomat but one with experience navigating the civilian-military divide in Afghanistan, as his successor. [...]
Who is Frank Ruggiero? From the August 2010 profile of Ruggiero at The Washington Post's Who Runs Government website:
Current Position: Deputy to U.S. Afpak Special Envoy Richard C. Holbrooke (since April 2010)

Career History: Regional Head of U.S. Provincial Reconstruction Teams in Southern Afghanistan (June 2009-April 2010); Acting Assistant Secretary for Political-Military Affairs (January-June 2009); Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary in the Bureau of Political-Military Affairs

Why He Matters

Steeped in the culture and politics of Aghanistan after working on the civilian effort there for over a year, Ruggiero has returned to Washington to lend his expertise to U.S. Special Envoy Richard C. Holbrooke and help craft AfPak policy.

(See Ackerman, Spencer, Top U.S. Civilian in Southern Afghanistan Will Be Holbrooke's New Deputy, Washington Independent, April 23, 2010.)

The top civilian in southern Afghanistan since June 2009, Ruggiero has helped execute what Obama administration officials call the "civilian uplift" – a dramatic increase in the number of non-military experts working on aid and reconstruction projects in the country

(See Hodge, Nathan, Danger Room in Afghanistan: Rebranding the ‘Civilian Surge', Wired "Danger Room" blog, Aug. 6, 2009.)

By installing Ruggiero as a deputy to Holbrooke, the administration hopes to tap directly into Ruggiero's on-the-ground expertise as Afghanistan reconstruction plans become central to U.S. policy in the region. This will be especially true once American and NATO forces begin to withdraw in summer 2011.

"Ruggiero should be able to provide Holbrooke, Secretary Hillary Rodham Clinton and President Obama with ground-truth visibility on the difficulties and possibilities of fostering credible, deliverable governance for Afghans in the south, a centerpiece of U.S. strategy in Afghanistan," reporter Spencer Ackerman wrote.

(See Ackerman, Spencer, Top U.S. Civilian in Southern Afghanistan Will Be Holbrooke's New Deputy, Washington Independent, April 23, 2010.)

A respected career civil servant, Ruggiero has worked for both the State and Comerce departments. Before being dispatched to Afghanistan in 2009, he was head of the State Department's Bureau of Political-Military Affairs.
For background see Danger Room's Reconstruction Chief Quits, Putting ‘Civilian Surge’ in Doubt by Spencer Ackerman, September 28, 2010

Vladimir Putin's Karakachan Shepherd is renamed Buffy

Dima Sokolov meets the dog he named

It was a five-year old boy who came up with the name Putin liked best so anything I could say in criticism would make me a humbug. But what a name for such a breed of dog. The puppy was originally named Ares, for the Greek god of war, then the name was changed to Yorgo (after a Bulgarian sea resort); that was before he was gifted to Vladimir Putin.

The original name is far better suited than the second two. The cuddly looks of a Karakachan puppy belie the nature of the breed. Those dogs are warriors -- unafraid to fight bears and wolves to protect their flocks, and they are just as fierce in defending their human charges. Today they're used mostly to guard livestock but they were used extensively for a long time as watchdogs to help the army's border guards.

The Karakachan shepherd is one of Europe's oldest canine breeds, going back to the Third Millennium B.C.; it's descended from the dogs of the Thracians. The Karakachan shepherd's temperament, according to Wikipedia, is "proud, domineering, weary to strangers; a brave and intelligent dog of tough, steady and independent character. ... The Karakachan Dog's bravery and dignity, together with its incredible loyalty, make this dog an invaluable friend and helper."

Ah well. Putin is such a huge animal lover that I think I can see why he chose a cuddly-sounding name above all the others that were submitted by the public:

"It's soft, kind and sounds nice," Putin told Dima.

It seems Putin was unaware of the American TV show, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, which is aired in Russia, but even though the fictitious Buffy is female she's a fierce fighter, so I suppose that by stretching it one could still claim the male puppy is well-named.

As to Buffy News, he's getting along fine with Koni (or Connie, as some accounts incorrectly refer to Putin's aging Black Labrador). She simply snarls at him when he nips at her ears and tail too much. No word on how the two poodles who belong to Putin's wife are taking to him but given that one of Buffy's first acts on arriving at the Putin household was to pee in Putin's slippers, I don't think the poodles will be a problem for him.

Putin joked to reporters that Buffy "can't do a thing," whereupon the dog contradicted him by obediently sitting on his command.

"The restless canine then weaved among the reporters, pushing his nose right down a camera lens," observed the Associated Press.

A sheepdog is a sheepdog. I've read that it takes about a year for their herding instincts to fully manifest. So, right now he's a playful puppy but a year from now he'll take up his duties as master of the household.

Canada's National Post has culled some Buffy Briefings from various news accounts:

• The PM said he’s growing daily.

• Originally PM Putin said he wasn’t sure how his black lab Connie would interact with Buffy, but Connie was very “friendly” while Buffy likes to pull Connie by the ears, he said.

• The Voice of Russia reported that the PM says Buffy is a “pushy guy.” He likes to open the door by running and getting on his hind legs to then push the door open.

Also, he has found his favorite spot in the house: the kitchen. And he has already gotten used to his new name, responding when he's called "Buffy."

As to the child who provided the winning name for the puppy -- from a Moscow News report:
He said the name was found on the Internet with the help of his parents, Kommersant reported.

“Our own imagination isn’t that good,” Yulia Sokolova, Dima’s mother, told journalists.

Despite a huge range of suggestions, few names came close to winning Putin’s approval. One other candidate reflected the pet’s Bulgarian roots – and “Balkan” also carried a hint of the traditional Russian dogs’ name Polkan. The dog was given to Putin as a gift last month after Bulgarian PM Boyko Borisov marked the signing of his country’s commitment to the South Stream energy pipeline.

The Sokolovs were invited to meet the Bulgarian shepherd puppy at Putin’s Novo-Ogaryovo dacha.

And little Dima left with a signed football and a call-up to the national youth squad.

“In 2018 you will be 13, and will play for the national youth team,” Putin told the boy, Newsru reported.
That last comment is in reference to the 2018 World Cup soccer games, to be held in Russia, for those who've been hanging out in a cave during the past week.

All right; here's one last look at a baby picture, taken when he was eight weeks old:

And Buffy as he looks today:

Alexy Druzhinin / AFP / Getty Images

The last words of Richard Holbrooke

At 7:50 PM The Washington Post published something close to a retraction regarding their report last night that mentioned Holbrooke's last words:
[...] After Holbrooke's death Monday, The Washington Post, citing his family members, reported that the veteran diplomat had told his physician just before surgery Friday to "stop this war."

But Tuesday, a fuller account of the tone and contents of his remarks emerged.

As physician Jehan El-Bayoumi was attending to Holbrooke in the emergency room at George Washington University Hospital, she told him to relax and asked what she could do to comfort him, according to an aide who was present.

Holbrooke, who was in severe pain, said jokingly that it was hard to relax because he had to worry about the difficult situation in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

El-Bayoumi, an Egyptian American internist who is Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton's physician, replied that she would worry for him. Holbrooke responded by telling her to end the war, the aide said.

The aide said he could not be sure of Holbrooke's exact words. He emphasized Tuesday that the comment was made in painful banter, rather than as a serious exhortation about policy.

Holbrooke also spoke extensively about his family and friends as he awaited surgery by Farzad Najam, a thoracic surgeon of Pakistani descent. [...]
The report goes on to mention that the first version of his words was interpreted differently by different critics of the war.

However, we here in Punditaland were cagey about what he might have meant; rather than ruminate about the unknown we chose to discuss a point that was well-established. Now on to the original post:
As Mr. Holbrooke was sedated for surgery, family members said, his final words were to his Pakistani surgeon: "You've got to stop this war in Afghanistan."
The quote is from The Washington's Post's obituary for Richard Holbrooke, who took to his grave exactly what he meant by his last words, which could be read in different ways.

What is known for certain is that he pursued a fallacy in that he believed U.S. aid to Pakistan, correctly applied, would give the United States significant leverage with Pakistan's regime. This is a very Western view and one that shows no understanding of the thinking of Pakistan's rulers. Amrullah Saleh does understand the thinking, which is why he has pointed out that the aid only reinforces the regime's bad behavior.

Why is this point so hard for Westerners to understand? Because they can't conceive of a mindset in which the qualities the West considers those of a good leader, such as honesty and truthfulness, are considered in Pakistan to be the qualities of a good house servant.

The larger point is not rooted in culture or history but in the shrewdness of human nature: If you think my behavior is so wrong, why do you keep giving to me?

By all accounts Richard Holbrooke could not be bullied or bought and he was a genuinely good man, as this passage from The New York Times obituary for him underscores:
Foreign policy was his life. Even during Republican administrations, when he was not in government, he was deeply engaged, undertaking missions as a private citizen traveling through the war-weary Balkans and the backwaters of Africa and Asia to see firsthand the damage and devastating human costs of genocide, civil wars and H.I.V. and AIDS epidemics.
Yet it is a baseline fact of human existence that in the short term -- and all humans live in the short term -- life rewards wisdom more than goodness, perhaps on the theory that few things are more dangerous than a good-hearted fool.

Monday, December 13

Update re using Espionage Act to indict Assange

Just added the following update to my post yesterday, Julian Assange likely to be indicted under Espionage Act.

ABC news report today: Espionage Act Presents Challenges for WikiLeaks Indictment "Sweeping Anti-Spying Law 'Makes Felons of Us All,' Legal Expert Says." Report is a good introduction to the complexities in bringing an indictment under the Espionage Act; also it quotes Eric Holder as saying that the Act isn't the only law under which the Justice Department might charge Assange.

Sunday, December 12

Amrullah Saleh comes to Washington with a message

Amrullah Saleh spoke at the Jamestown Foundation's Fourth Annual Terrorism Conference, which was held at the National Press Club on December 9. I note that The Washington Post (a conduit for State Department views) didn't send a reporter to cover his remarks and instead published the Associated Press wire service report on them.

It's easy to see why the Post liked the AP report, which gives space to a Pakistani rebuttal and omits key statements made by Saleh. The reporter for Mother Jones did scoop up the key statements:
"We hear the speeches of major western politicians saying, 'failure is not an option.' Now it seems as if failure is an option. And my key message, coming to Washington, is this: it is a winnable war. The nature of our enemy has not changed."

He added: "People like me, who see the future of Afghanistan hanging on a cliff, we are preparing for Plan B."
State, the Pentagon, and the NSC do not want to promote any talk about the United Front taking matters into their own hands if NATO keeps screwing around in Afghanistan. But the AP report also contains valuable information on Saleh's remarks so below are both reports (with the above quotes omitted from the Mother Jones report):
Afghanistan's Ex-Spymaster Rips Karzai's Signature Policy
by Siddhartha Mahanta for Mother Jones
December 10, 2010

It's no surprise that Amrullah Saleh, the former head of Afghanistan's National Directorate of Security, was jettisoned by Hamid Karzai back in June (or resigned, depending on the telling), ostensibly for failing to thwart a bomb attack. As Saleh made clear during a speech at a Jamestown Foundation conference on Thursday, he believes Karzai's signature strategy for ending the war, reconciliation with the Taliban, will lead to disaster. And he said the Afghan leader's drive to pursue this strategy shows just how detached his administration is from the reality on the ground.

Western officials had long viewed Saleh, an ethnic Tajik, as one of the most intelligent, trustworthy, and effective members of the Karzai government. A veteran of the Northern Alliance [United Front], fought alongside the legendary Ahmed Shah Massoud against the Taliban in the 90s, eventually becoming his intelligence chief, a role he reprised in the Karzai government.

In his speech, Saleh keyed in the pitfalls of negotiating with Taliban. "What has blurred the narrative of the war, is the talk of reconciliation," Saleh told the Jamestown audience. "We could [have reconciled] with Al Qaeda and [the] Taliban on September 14, 15, [or] September 20, 2001. What was the need for these billions and billions of dollars to be spent [on the war]? It’s the same enemy."

And in its desperation to achieve a breakthrough in the talks, the Karazi government overreached. That resulted in what Saleh referred to as the humiliating "bogus Mansour" episode, in which a grocer successfully duped government officials into believing that he was, Mullah Akhtar Muhammad Mansour, a high-ranking Taliban leader willing to come to the negotiating table. Saleh says his agency had vetted and rejected the man back in 2008 after he was unable to verify his identity, and that the Karzai government's zeal to reach a historic deal with the Taliban akin to the Good Friday Agreement or Dayton Accords -- demonstrates its unrealistic hopes for a breakthrough at this juncture.

Brokering a deal with the Taliban, in his view, serves as an excuse to draw down the United States' troop presence in the country without assessing whether any of the on-the-ground facts have changed. "A deal may bring deceptive stability, but it won't bring a long lasting stability where Afghans or foreigners will have confidence to invest, [to] convert Afghanistan into a viable economy," he said.

He questioned those skeptical of the Taliban's strength. "Will they be able to threaten our key and national interest by possessing AK-47s? Remember, when they helped Al Qaeda do 9/11, they had the same weapons."

His solution? "DDR" the Taliban. "Demobilize them, disarm them, take their headquarters out of the Pakistani Intelligence basements... Push the Taliban to play according to the script of democracy -- and if they win...allow them a chance to govern." He's confident, though, that "they will die in democracy, they will die in a country where law is ruling, not guns, not IEDs, not the spread of fear and intimidation."

Saleh also has a pretty good idea of where to change the narrative of the war: Pakistan. Since 9/11, he says, Pakistan has provided only "retail" and not "wholesale" cooperation. Time after time, the United States has been duped into trusting the country and its intelligence services. Saleh even claimed that Pakistani officials have privately admitted to him that their country has yet to change its ways despite their frequent promises to do so.

"Now the United States believes that by giving more money and resources to Pakistan, you can convert their behavior from bad to good…but it is rewarding bad behavior which [continues] that bad behavior."

Until then, government officials and security forces must be more independent, and demonstrate their accountability to Afghans, Saleh argued. Afghans and their government must be prepared for the day when an exhausted United States and NATO decide to leave their country. [...]
Now to the AP report. Note the anonymous Pakistani official quoted in the report chose to listen to only part of Saleh's statement when the official expressed relief that Saleh was at least in favor of the Afghan government talking with the Taliban. Yes, but Saleh clearly didn't think the Taliban would ever accept democracy.

And as to how many of those 550 slain Pakistani officers died fighting the Afghan Taliban, I believe that's a state secret:
Former Afghan spy chief slams Taliban talks
by Kimberly Dozier for the Associated Press via The Washington Post
December 9, 2010

WASHINGTON -- Peace talks with the Taliban will lead to disaster unless the insurgent group is disarmed first, Afghanistan's former intelligence chief said Thursday.

Amrullah Saleh, who headed Afghanistan's spy agency from 2004 until earlier this year, said the key to peace with the Taliban is cutting off their support from Pakistan and disarming and dismantling the group before allowing them to operate as a normal political party.

"Demobilize them, disarm them, take their headquarters out of the Pakistani intelligence's basements," Saleh said. "Force the Taliban to play according to the script of democracy," he added, predicting the party would ultimately fail, "in a country where law rules, not the gun ... not the law of intimidation."

Saleh said the United States should give Pakistan a deadline of July 2011 to pursue top insurgents inside their borders or threaten to send in U.S. troops to do the job.

Saleh, who headed the Afghan National Directorate of Security until he resigned last June from Afghan President Hamid Karzai's government, warned an audience at the National Press Club that failure to cut off Pakistani support would allow the Taliban to only pretend to make peace, then sweep back to power after NATO troops leave.

The former spy chief's comments display the dissension at the highest levels of Afghan political society over whether to engage the Taliban in talks, or keep fighting them. His criticism of Pakistan also highlights the widespread suspicion among Afghanistan's elites that the neighboring power continues to allow militants to flourish inside Afghanistan.

U.S. officials have said that such a deal is key to drawing down U.S. and NATO troops, starting in July 2011, with eventual handover to Afghan forces in 2014.

Saleh said this year's surge of U.S. troops had accomplished a "temporary effect" of securing some territory, but failed to change the "fundamentals."

"The Taliban leadership has not been captured or killed," he said. "Al-Qaida has not been defeated."

He added: "The current strategy still believes Pakistan is honest, or at least 50 percent honest." Still, he predicted Pakistan would continue to support the Taliban and other proxies to try to maintain influence in Afghanistan.

Saleh ran Afghanistan's intelligence service after serving in the mostly ethnic Tajik Afghan Northern Alliance, which battled the Taliban before the U.S. invasion. Many members of Tajik regions together with other Afghan minorities have warned of another Afghan civil war if Karzai makes a deal with Taliban.

Saleh criticized his former administration, without naming Karzai, claiming that "political Kabul" was out of touch with the rest of the country, and too often publicly at odds with NATO.

Several Pakistani officials listening to Saleh's speech at the Jamestown Foundation's annual Terrorism Conference grimaced at his remarks.

One Pakistani official approached Saleh afterward and asked privately whether Saleh respected the fact that the Pakistani intelligence service had lost 550 officers since the war on terror began in 2001.

The official said Saleh acknowledged this was true, but insisted more cooperation between the two countries was needed and stood by his claims that Pakistan supports the Taliban.

The Pakistani said he ended the chat saying he was glad Saleh had at least backed talks with the Taliban, with conditions. The official related his comments on condition of anonymity, as he was not authorized to speak to the media.

One of Pakistan's former spy chiefs, who also spoke at the conference, predicted the only way to drive a wage between the Taliban and al-Qaida is peace talks offering the insurgents a way to leave fighting and join the governing process in Afghanistan.

Retired Pakistani Gen. Ehsan ul Haq said peace talks with the Taliban were the only way to drive the group apart from Al-Qaida. Haq said as long as the two groups were comrades at arms, they would continue to cooperate despite their differences.

Haq, former head of Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence, said neither Pakistan nor the west had managed to defeat the Taliban with what he called a militarized counterinsurgency strategy. Within Pakistan, he said, the civilian government had failed to backfill the areas the army had won back from the militants.

He said western policies of hunting al Qaida on the ground in Afghanistan, and by drone in Pakistan, has simply fueled their recruitment.