Posts Tagged ‘Paul Wolfowitz’

Neo-Cons Get Warm and Fuzzy Over “War President”

December 5, 2009

Eli Clifton, Inter Press Service News

WASHINGTON, Dec 4 (IPS) – U.S. President Barack Obama’s plan for a 30,000-troop surge and a troop withdrawal timeline beginning in 18 months has caught criticism from both Democrat and Republican lawmakers.

But a small group of hawkish foreign policy experts – who have lobbied the White House since August to escalate U.S. involvement in Afghanistan – are christening Obama the new “War President”.

The response to Obama’s Tuesday night speech at the West Point Military Academy has largely been less than enthusiastic, with lawmakers on both sides of the aisle finding plenty in the administration’s Afghanistan plan that fails to live up to their expectations. Republicans have hammered the White House on Obama’s decision to begin a drawdown of U.S. forces in 18 months, while Democrats largely expressed ambivalence or dismay over the administration’s willingness to commit 30,000 more soldiers to a war seen by many as unwinnable and costly at a time when the U.S. economy is barely in recovery from the global financial crisis.

The White House’s rollout of the 30,000 troop surge did little to convince an already sceptical Congress, but foreign policy hawks who have accused the president of “dithering” in making a decision on Afghanistan are praising the administration’s willingness to make the “tough” commitment to escalate the U.S. commitment in the war in Afghanistan.

Indeed, their approval of the White House’s decision to commit 30,000 troops is the culmination of a campaign led by the newly formed Foreign Policy Initiative (FPI).

FPI held its first event in March, titled “Afghanistan: Planning for Success”, and a second event in September – “Advancing and Defending Democracy” – which focused on counterinsurgency in combating the Taliban and al Qaeda.

The newly formed group is headed up by the Weekly Standard’s editor Bill Kristol; foreign policy adviser to the McCain presidential campaign Robert Kagan; and former policy adviser in the George W. Bush administration Dan Senor.

Kagan and Kristol were also co-founders and directors of the Project for the New American Century (PNAC), a number of whose 1997 charter members, including the elder Cheney, former Pentagon chief Donald Rumsfeld, and their two top aides I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby and Paul Wolfowitz, respectively, played key roles in promoting the 2003 invasion of Iraq and Bush’s other first-term policies when the hawks exercised their greatest influence.

The core leadership of FPI has waged their campaign in countless editorials and columns published in The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal and the Weekly Standard.

These articles have often been highly critical, at times suggesting that Obama’s unwillingness to give General Stanley McChrystal the 20,000 to 40,000 troops requested in his September report to Defence Secretary Robert Gates amounted to “dithering” and projected U.S. weakness to the Taliban, al Qaeda, and U.S. allies in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Senor described himself as, “pleasantly surprised” and “quite encouraged by the president’s decision” in a Republican National Committee sponsored conference call.

“It seems to me that Obama deserves even more credit for courage than Bush did, for he has risked much more. By the time Bush decided to support the surge in Iraq in early 2007, his presidency was over and discredited, brought down in large part by his own disastrous decision not to send the right number of troops in 2003, 2004, 2005 or 2006,” wrote Kagan in The Washington Post on Wednesday.

“Obama has had to make this decision with most of his presidency still ahead of him. Bush had nothing to lose. Obama could lose everything,” Kagan concluded.

The theme of heralding Obama as a stoic decision-maker in the face of an administration and Congress that seek to “manage American decline” – as Kagan wrote – was also echoed by Bill Kristol in The Washington Post on Wednesday.

“By mid-2010, Obama will have more than doubled the number of American troops in Afghanistan since he became president; he will have empowered his general, Stanley McChrystal, to fight the war pretty much as he thinks necessary to in order to win; and he will have retroactively, as it were, acknowledged that he and his party were wrong about the Iraq surge in 2007 – after all, the rationale for this surge is identical to Bush’s, and the hope is for a similar success. He will also have embraced the use of military force as a key instrument of national power,” wrote Kristol.

The heralding of Obama as “A War President” – which was the title of Kristol’s article in The Washington Post – is a striking change of tone from some of the same pundits who were vociferously attacking the administration for every major policy initiative as recently as last week.

“Just what is Barack Obama as president making of our American destiny? The answer, increasingly obvious, is…a hash. It’s worse than most of us expected. His dithering on Afghanistan is deplorable, his appeasing of Iran disgraceful, his trying to heap new burdens on a struggling economy destructive. Add to this his sending Khalid Sheikh Mohammed for a circus-like court trial,” wrote Kristol in the Nov. 23 edition of the Weekly Standard.

“The next three years are going to be long and difficult ones for our economy, our military and our country,” he wrote.

The hawkish Wall Street Journal editorial board – which on Sep. 10 suggested that Obama received the Nobel Peace Prize because he sees the U.S. “as weaker than it was and the rest of the planet as stronger”, and on Sep. 18 described the administration’s decision to scrap a missile defence agreement with Poland and the Czech Republic as following “Mr. Obama’s trend of courting adversaries while smacking allies” – also exhibited a noticeable change in tone in praising the White House’s decision to surge troop levels.

“We support Mr. Obama’s decision, and this national effort, notwithstanding our concerns about the determination of the president and his party to see it through. Now that he’s committed, so is the country, and one of our abiding principles is that nations should never start (much less escalate) wars they don’t intend to win,” said the Journal’s editorial board on Wednesday.

The board’s qualified endorsement of the White House’s war plan seems to reflect both the Republican concerns that Obama may use the 18-month deadline as an excuse to withdraw from Afghanistan before the Taliban and al Qaeda are defeated and foreign policy hawks – such as those at FPI – who are pleased with the administration’s decision to commit more fully to the war in Afghanistan.

Hawks, such as Kagan and Kristol, may have to argue in 18 months for an extension of the withdrawal deadline but in similarly worded statements they both expressed confidence that this would not be a problem.

“If we and our Afghan allied partners are succeeding [by July 2011], the timing [of the withdrawal] may make sense. If we aren’t it won’t. It will not be any easier for Obama to embrace defeat in 18 months than it is today,” wrote Kagan in the Washington Post in response to concerns about the timeline for withdrawal.

“[T]he July 2011 date also buys Obama time. It enables him to push off pressure to begin withdrawing, or to rethink the basic strategy, for 18 months. We’ve come pretty far from all the talk about off ramps at three or six-month intervals in 2010 that we were hearing just a little while ago,” Kristol wrote on the Weekly Standard’s blog on Tuesday.

For hawks like Kristol, Kagan and Senor who have been calling for a surge in U.S. troop levels in Afghanistan since August, Obama’s announcement on Tuesday night was a high-point in their campaign of op-ed’s, column’s and conference’s to push the Obama White House in the direction of an escalation in Afghanistan.

Kristol concluded his blog post on a confident note.

“In a way, Obama is now saying: We’re surging and fighting for the next 18 months; see you in July 2011. That’s about as good as we’re going to get.”

Neocons Salivate Over the Chance for Another Middle East War

June 26, 2009

Robert J. Ellisberg | The Huffington Post, June 26, 2009

“Now is not the time for the president to dig in to a neutral posture,” Paul Wolfowitz wrote last week in the Washington Post. “It is time to change course.”

Oh, swell. Now he wants to change course.

Mind you, as an architect of the Iraq War, it’s not like Mr. Wolfowitz’s track record on advice for the Middle East is terribly dazzling.

His opinion here is not terribly surprising, though. The neocon wing of the Republican Party has rarely found a war it doesn’t love to start (finishing, optional), most especially if they themselves don’t have to risk fighting it. And now, it seems like most conservative Republicans have their trigger finger itching to start yet another Middle East war.

Continued >>

Holbrooke: Insensitive Choice for a Sensitive Region

January 31, 2009

by Stephen Zunes | Foreign Policy In Focus, January 31, 2009

Obama’s choice for special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan, arguably the most critical area of U.S. foreign policy, is a man with perhaps the most sordid history of any of the largely disappointing set of foreign policy and national security appointments.

Richard Holbrooke got his start in the Foreign Service during the 1960s, in the notorious pacification programs in the Mekong Delta of South Vietnam. This ambitious joint civilian-military effort not only included horrific human rights abuses but also proved to be a notorious failure in curbing the insurgency against the U.S.-backed regime in Saigon. This was an inauspicious start in the career of someone Obama hopes to help curb the insurgency against the U.S.-backed government in Afghanistan.

In Asia

In the late 1970s, Holbrooke served as assistant secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs. In this position, he played a major role in formulating the Carter administration’s support for Indonesia’s occupation of East Timor and the bloody counterinsurgency campaign responsible for up to a quarter-million civilian deaths. Having successfully pushed for a dramatic increase in U.S. military aid to the Suharto dictatorship, he then engaged in a cover-up of the Indonesian atrocities. He testified before Congress in 1979 that the mass starvation wasn’t the fault of the scorched-earth campaign by Indonesian forces in the island nation’s richest agricultural areas, but simply a legacy of Portuguese colonial neglect. Later, in reference to his friend Paul Wolfowitz, then the U.S. ambassador to Indonesia, Holbrooke described how “Paul and I have been in frequent touch to make sure that we keep [East Timor] out of the presidential campaign, where it would do no good to American or Indonesian interests.”

In a particularly notorious episode while heading the State Department’s East Asia division, Holbrooke convinced Carter to release South Korean troops under U.S. command in order to suppress a pro-democracy uprising in the city of Kwangju. Holbrooke was among the Carter administration officials who reportedly gave the OK to General Chun Doo-hwan, who had recently seized control of the South Korean government in a military coup, to wipe out the pro-democracy rebels. Hundreds were killed.

He also convinced President Jimmy Carter to continue its military and economic support for the Marcos dictatorship in the Philippines.

At the UN

Holbrooke, as the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations in the late 1990s, criticized the UN for taking leadership in conflict resolution efforts involving U.S. allies, particularly in the area of human rights. For example, in October 2000 he insisted that a UN Security Council resolution criticizing the excessive use of force by Israeli occupation forces against Palestinian demonstrators revealed an unacceptable bias that put the UN “out of the running” in terms of any contributions to the peace process.

As special representative to Cyprus in 1997, Holbrooke unsuccessfully pushed the European Union to admit Turkey, despite its imprisonment of journalists, its ongoing use of the death penalty, its widespread killing of civilians in the course of its bloody counter-insurgency war in its Kurdish region, and other human rights abuses.

In the Former Yugoslavia

Holbrooke is perhaps best known for his leadership in putting together the 1995 Dayton Accords, which formally ended the conflict in Bosnia-Herzegovina. Though widely praised in some circles for his efforts, Holbrooke remains quite controversial for his role. For instance, the agreement allows Bosnian Serbs to hold on to virtually all of the land they had seized and ethnically cleansed in the course of that bloody conflict. Indeed, rather than accept the secular concept of national citizenship that has held sway in Europe for generations, Holbrooke helped impose sectarian divisions that have made the country – unlike most of its gradually liberalizing Balkan neighbors – unstable, fractious, and dominated by illiberal ultra-nationalists.

As with previous U.S. officials regarding their relations with Iraq’s Saddam Hussein and Panama’s Manuel Noriega, Holbrooke epitomizes the failed U.S. policy toward autocratic rulers that swings between the extremes of appeasement and war. For example, during the 1996 pro-democracy uprising in Serbia Holbrooke successfully argued that the Clinton administration should back Milosevic, in recognition of his role in the successful peace deal over Bosnia, and not risk the instability that might result from a victory by Serb democrats. Milosevic initially crushed the movement. In response to increased Serbian oppression in Kosovo just a couple years later, however, Holbrooke became a vociferous advocate of the 1999 U.S.-led bombing campaign, creating a nationalist reaction that set back the reconstituted pro-democracy movement once again. The pro-democracy movement finally succeeded in the nonviolent overthrow of the regime, following Milosevic’s attempt to steal the parliamentary elections in October 2000, but the young leaders of that movement remain bitterly angry at Holbrooke to this day.

Scott Ritter, the former chief UN Special Commission (UNSCOM) inspector who correctly assessed the absence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and predicted a disastrous outcome for the U.S. invasion, observes that “not only has he demonstrated a lack of comprehension when it comes to the complex reality of Afghanistan (not to mention Pakistan), Holbrooke has a history of choosing the military solution over the finesse of diplomacy.” Noting how the Dayton Accords were built on the assumption of a major and indefinite NATO military presence, which would obviously be far more problematic in Afghanistan and Pakistan than in Europe, Ritter adds: “This does not bode well for the Obama administration.”

Ironically, back in 2002-2003, when the United States had temporarily succeeded in marginalizing Taliban and al-Qaeda forces, Holbrooke was a strong supporter of redirecting American military and intelligence assets away from the region in order to invade and occupy Iraq. Obama and others presciently criticized this reallocation of resources at that time as likely to lead to the deterioration of the security situation in the country and the resurgence of these extremist groups.

It’s unclear, then, why Obama would choose someone like Holbrooke for such a sensitive post. Indeed, it’s unclear as to why – having been elected on part for his anti-war credentials – Obama’s foreign policy and national security appointments have consisted primarily of such unreconstructed hawks. Advocates of a more enlightened and rational foreign policy still have a long row to hoe.

Stephen Zunes is Middle East editor for Foreign Policy In Focus. He is a professor of Politics at the University of San Francisco and the author of Tinderbox: U.S. Middle East Policy and the Roots of Terrorism (Common Courage Press, 2003.)

Paul Wolfowitz Up to More Mischief?

October 3, 2008

Jim Lobe |

Just 15 months after being forced to resign as president of the World Bank over a conflict of interest regarding his professional and personal relationships with his girlfriend, former Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz may be involved in another, far more geo-strategic conflict of interest involving his dual roles as chairman of the State Department’s International Security Advisory Board (ISAB) and chairman of the U.S.-Taiwan Business Council, among whose U.S. members are military contractors who have been dying to get the Bush administration’s approval to sell about 11 billion dollars worth of arms to the island to protect it against the threat of an attack by the mainland.

Condi Rice appointed Wolfowitz — apparently part of her campaign that featured the appointment of Eliot Cohen to become to her Counselor at the State Department to co-opt neo-cons — back in January this year. Like the Defense Policy Board, the ISAB became under Bush a stronghold for all manner of national-security hawks (among the members are former Undersecretary for Arms Control and International Security Affairs Robert Joseph; James Woolsey; former Defense Secretary James Schlesinger; and missile-defense devotees associated with the Center for Security Policy, the National Institute for Public Policy, and Southwest Missouri State University, including Keith Payne, Robert Pfaltzgraff, and William Van Cleave), as well as executives from the arms industry (Lockheed, Boeing, SAIC, to name a few). Wolfowitz’s appointment, coming after his disgrace at the Bank — not to mention his performance as Rumsfeld’s deputy and Douglas Feith’s superior from 2001 to 2005 — was seen as a kind of token public redemption that would presumably have little consequence in actual policy terms.

That assessment may have been premature, because, judging by an article appearing in Wednesday’s Washington Times by Bill Gertz, Wolfowitz’s ISAB may be trying to gin up tensions with China, acting as a new “Team B” in persuading policymakers and the public at large that Beijing’s military modernization, especially its missile program, is more threatening to the U.S. than, in Gertz’s words, “many current government and private-sector analyses” have depicted it. At least, that’s the message of the article, which is purportedly based on a draft of an ISAB report that Gertz says is due out in a few weeks.

According to Gertz’s account, the report, the product of a task force headed by Joseph, recommends that the U.S. “should undertake the development of new weapons, sensors, communications, and other programs and tactics to convince China that it will not be able to overcome the U.S. militarily” and specifically that it obtain, in Gertz’s words, “new offensive space and cyber warfare capabilities and missile defenses as well as ‘more robust sea- and space-based capabilities’ to deter any crisis over Taiwan.” As Gertz points out, Washington has until now repeatedly reassured Beijing that its missile defense efforts were directed solely against “rogue states” like North Korea and Iran.

The report also predicts that China will have more than 100 nuclear missiles, some with multiple warheads, capable of reaching the U.S. by 2015, compared to only 20 missiles at the present time. “To avoid an ‘emerging creep’ by China toward strategic nuclear coercion, ‘the United States will need to pursue new missile defense capabilities, including taking full advantage of space,’” Gertz quotes the report as asserting.

The report, according to Gertz, also stresses — and this is where Wolfowitz’s stewardship of the U.S.-Taiwan Business Council raises questions — the pivotal importance of Taiwan in all this. Again quoting from the draft, Gertz writes:

“‘In China’s view, Taiwan is the key to breakout: If China is to become a global power, the first step must include control of this island.’ Taking over the island would allow China to control the seas near ts coasts and to project power eastward, the report said.

“China views Taiwan …as central to ‘the legitimacy of the regime and key to power projection,’ the report said. Taiwan is seen by China as a way to deny the United States a key ally in ‘a highly strategic location’ of the western Pacific, the report said.

“…The advisory panel report also recommended that the U.S. increase sales of advanced conventional forces to allies in Asia…”

Now, one has to be careful about anything that Gertz reports, particularly about China. A charter member of the “Blue Team” — the group of hawkish policy specialists, Congressional staff, and journalists (including Kristol and Kagan and their Project for the New American Century) who, from the end of the Cold War until 9/11, insisted that Beijing represented the single greatest threat to U.S. hegemony and global peace and security — Gertz has been obsessed with the ChiComs for years and has certainly been known to exaggerate and take things out of context in his zeal to alert the world to the looming peril that confronts it. It’s also important to stress that this remains a draft, which could be substantially toned down before it reaches final form. It may not yet have even been seen by Wolfowitz, whose chapter on China policy in Present Dangers, the book published by PNAC before the 2000 elections, was almost certainly considered insufficiently alarmist by Blue Team stalwarts like Gertz.

That said, it’s clear that someone associated with ISAB wanted to leak what — to China anyway — will be seen as a highly provocative document that will tend to confirm the worst fears of its military (which, according to the draft, already suffers from “clear paranoia”) about U.S. intentions, particularly with respect to missile defense and the military use of space. And it’s also clear that the leaker is also very concerned about the pivotal role Taiwan can play in thwarting what the task force sees as China’s military ambitions and hence the importance not only of enhancing U.S. capabilities, but, presumably, of selling advanced weapons to the island, as well.

Moreover, the leak comes at a critical moment in the administration’s deliberations about the long-pending arms package for Taiwan whose approval Wolfowitz and other advocates had hoped would have been forthcoming last week. Wolfowitz had virtually assured his friends in the Business Council Taipei in July that Bush would go ahead with the package some time after the Olympics, but, according to my daily guide on the subject, Chris Nelson of the Nelson Report, a recent study by a Naval War College expert that has gained considerable attention from administration policymakers argues that much in the pending package will do very little, if anything, to improve Taiwan’s ability to resist an attack by Beijing. The study proposed an alternative “porcupine” strategy for defending the island which, it noted, would likely be strongly opposed by “the arms manufacturers who stand to benefit form the sale of aircraft, ships, and supporting systems to Taiwan” that are included in the current package.

Needless to say, some of those same arms manufacturers were behind Wolfowitz’s selection as the (well-paid) chairman of the Business Council, and they would be sorely disappointed if his influence and connections with the administration did not yield the anticipated dividends. (See Tim Shorrock’s excellent article in the Asia Times on Wolfowitz’s help in promoting their interests when he became Number Two at the Pentagon.) In fact, Chris reports this evening that they have indeed won the day and that most, if not all of the package will be approved by the White House.

But the episode still raises important questions, particularly in light of the current election debate over the influence of lobbyists in Washington policy-making, about conflicts of interests. Once again, Wolfowitz’s actions suggest that his grasp of the concept is pretty shaky. On the other hand, the presence of senior executives from Lockheed (a huge beneficiary of the current package) and Boeing, among other arms contractors heavily invested in missile defense and space weapons, on the State Department’s board indicate that Wolfowitz is not exactly alone in that respect. (Gertz reports that Allison Fortier, a Lockheed vice president, served on the task force that produced the draft.) “It’s basically functioning like a lobbyist group,” Chris told me.

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