Posts Tagged ‘Robert Dreyfuss’

War Crimes in Iraq and Afghanistan

April 14, 2010
Robert Dreyfuss, The Nation, April 13, 2010

War crimes, massacres, and, as Al Jazeera properly calls it, “collateral murder,” are all part of the US involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan since 2001.

The release last week of the Wikileaks video, thirty-eight grisly minutes long, of US airmen casually slaughtering a dozen Iraqis in 2007 — including two Reuters newsmen — puts it into focus not because it shows us something we didn’t know, but because we can watch it unfold in real time. Real people, flesh and blood, gunned down from above in a hellish rain of fire.

The events in Iraq, nearly three years old, were repeated this week in Afghanistan, when trigger-happy US soldiers slaughtered five Afghans cruising along on a huge, comfortable civilian bus near Kandahar.

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Obama Fails in Middle East

November 7, 2009

Robert Dreyfuss, The Nation, November 6, 2009

The announcement by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas that he will not run for reelection is the exclamation point on the utter collapse of the Obama adminstration’s Middle East policy. Launched to great expectations — the appointment of George Mitchell, Obama’s Cairo declaration that the plight of the Palestinians is intolerable — it is now in complete disarray. It is, without doubt, the first major defeat for Obama’s hope-and-change foreign policy.

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Real Peace — Or A Mirage?

July 28, 2009

The Dreyfuss ReportRobert Dreyfuss, The Nation, July 27, 2009

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One way to keep Bibi Netanyahu from making trouble is to keep him so busy meeting US envoys and diplomats that he doesn’t have time for anything else. That appears to be President Obama’s strategy this week, since Netanyahu will be meeting with a veritable avalanche of Americans, including: George Mitchell, the US special envoy; Jim Jones, Obama’s national security adviser; Robert Gates, the holdover secretary of defense who is showing no signs that he intends to go away; and Dennis Ross, the neocon-linked NSC official whose actual job remains ever vague.

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Yet Another Bogus ‘Terror’ Plot

May 25, 2009

Robert Dreyfuss | The Nation, May 22, 2009

By the now, it’s maddeningly familiar. A scary terrorist plot is announced. Then it’s revealed that the suspects are a hapless bunch of ne’er-do-wells or run-of-the-mill thugs without the slightest connection to any terrorists at all, never mind to Al Qaeda. Finally, the last piece of the puzzle: the entire plot is revealed to have been cooked up by a scummy government agent-provocateur.

I’ve seen this movie before.

In this case, the alleged perps — Onta Williams, James Cromitie, David Williams, and Laguerre Payen — were losers, ex-cons, drug addicts. Al Qaeda they’re not. Without the assistance of the agent who entrapped them, they would never have dreamed of committing political violence, nor would they have had the slightest idea about where to acquire plastic explosives or a Stinger missile. That didn’t stop prosecutors from acting as if they’d captured Osama bin Laden himself. Noted the Los Angeles Times:

Prosecutors called it the latest in a string of homegrown terrorism plots hatched after Sept. 11.

“It’s hard to envision a more chilling plot,” Assistant U.S. Atty. Eric Snyder said in court Thursday. He described all four suspects as “eager to bring death to Jews.”

Actually, it’s hard to imagine a stupider, less competent, and less important plot. The four losers were ensnared by a creepy FBI agent who hung around the mosque in upstate New York until he found what he was looking for. Here’s the New York Times account:

Salahuddin Mustafa Muhammad, the imam at the mosque where the authorities say the confidential informant first encountered the men, said none of the men were active in the mosque. …

Mr. Cromitie was there last June, and he met a stranger.

He had no way of knowing that the stranger’s path to the mosque began in 2002, when he was arrested on federal charges of identity theft. He was sentenced to five years’ probation, and became a confidential informant for the F.B.I. He began showing up at the mosque in Newburgh around 2007, Mr. Muhammad said.

The stranger’s behavior aroused the imam’s suspicions. He invited other worshipers to meals, and spoke of violence and jihad, so the imam said he steered clear of him.

“There was just something fishy about him,” Mr. Muhammad said. Members “believed he was a government agent.”

Mr. Muhammad said members of his congregation told him the man he believed was the informant offered at least one of them a substantial amount of money to join his “team.”

So a creepy thug buttonholes people at a mosque, foaming at the mouth about violence and jihad? This is law enforcement? Just imagine if someone did this at a local church, or some synagogue. And the imam says the people “believed he was a government agent.”

Preying on these losers, none of whom were apparently actual Muslims, the “confidential informant” orchestrated the acquisition of a disabled Stinger missile to shoot down military planes and cooked up a wild scheme about attacking a Jewish center in the Bronx.

It gets even more pathetic:

The only one of the four suspects who appears to have aroused any suspicion was Payen, a Haitian native who attended the Newburgh mosque. Assistant imam Hamid Rashada said his dishevelment and odd behavior disturbed some members, said the assistant imam, Hamid Rashada.

When Payen appeared in court, defense attorney Marilyn Reader described him as “intellectually challenged” and on medication for schizophrenia. The Associated Press said that when he was asked if he understood the proceedings, Payen replied: “Sort of.”

Despite the pompous statements from Mayor Bloomberg of New York and other politicians, including Representative Peter King, the whole story is bogus. The four losers may have been inclined to violence, and they may have harbored a virulent strain of anti-Semitism. But it seems that the informant whipped up their violent tendencies and their hatred of Jews, cooked up the plot, incited them, arranged their purchase of weapons, and then had them busted. To ensure that it made headlines, the creepy informant claimed to be representing a Pakistani extremist group, Jaish-e Muhammad, a bona fide terrorist organization. He wasn’t, of course.

It is disgusting and outrageous that the FBI is sending provocateurs into mosques.

The headlines reinforce the very fear that Dick Cheney is trying to stir up. The story strengthens the narrative that the “homeland” is under attack. It’s not. As I’ve written repeatedly, since 9/11 not a single American has even been punched in the nose by an angry Muslim, as far as I can tell. Plot after plot — the destruction of the Brooklyn Bridge! bombing the New York Subways! taking down the Sears Tower! bombing the Prudential building in Newark! — proved to be utter nonsense.

U.S.-Afghan War: New General, Same War

May 13, 2009

by Robert Dreyfuss | CommonDreams.org, May 13, 2009

The war in Afghanistan has been overshadowed in recent weeks by the crisis next door in Pakistan, but no more. Secretary of Defense Gates has fired the US commander there, General David McKiernan, and replaced him with a counterinsurgency specialist with a spotty track record, General Stanley McChrystal. It’s the first time a wartime commander was fired since Harry Truman got rid of General Douglas MacArthur in the Korean War.

Don’t expect any quick improvement on the battlefront.

A smart commentary on the dual crises in Afghanistan and Pakistan came from Selig Harrison, a longtime expert on Asia at the Center for International Policy, in yesterday’s Washington Post. He raises the critical issue of ethnic Pashtun support for the Taliban. Pashtuns make up about half of Afghanistan’s population and dominate the Northwest Frontier Province (NWFP) and the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) in Pakistan. Even though most Pashtuns don’t support the Taliban or their extremist ideas, the Taliban are nearly entirely Pashtun in both countries. The US war effort, including air strikes in Afghanistan and drone attacks in Pakistan that kill civilians, are inflaming Pashtun sentiments, and driving Pashtuns and Taliban together.

Harrison ends his piece on this ominous warning:

In the conventional wisdom, either Islamist or Pashtun identity will eventually triumph, but it is equally plausible that the result could be what Pakistani ambassador to Washington Husain Haqqani has called an “Islamic Pashtunistan.” On March 1, 2007, Haqqani’s Pashtun predecessor as ambassador, the retired Maj. Gen. Mahmud Ali Durrani, said at a seminar at the Pakistan Embassy, “I hope the Taliban and Pashtun nationalism don’t merge. If that happens, we’ve had it, and we’re on the verge of that.”

Meanwhile, writing in the Saudi Gazette, a former CIA station chief in Kabul, Graham Fuller, has a related piece worth reading in its entirety.

Fuller is an expert on political Islam, and a recurrent thesis in his recent work is that moderate Islamists are the antidote to radical and extremist Islamist movements.

He writes:

The Taliban represent zealous and largely ignorant mountain Islamists. They are also all ethnic Pashtuns. Most Pashtuns see the Taliban — like them or not — as the primary vehicle for restoration of Pashtun power in Afghanistan, lost in 2001. Pashtuns are also among the most fiercely nationalist, tribalized and xenophobic peoples of the world, united only against the foreign invader. In the end, the Taliban are probably more Pashtun than they are Islamist.

He writes: “US policies have now driven local nationalism, xenophobia and Islamism to combined fever pitch.” His prescription is to reduce the pressures that are inflating Pashtun nationalism and xenophobia:

Only the withdrawal of American and NATO boots on the ground will begin to allow the process of near-frantic emotions to subside within Pakistan, and for the region to start to cool down. … Sadly, US forces and Islamist radicals are now approaching a state of co-dependency.

Fuller also adds his voice to those who assert, like me, that changing Afghan culture won’t happen overnight. And in any case, doing so isn’t the job of the United States. It certainly isn’t the job of General McChrystal.

Robert Dreyfuss, a Nation contributing editor, is an investigative journalist in Alexandria, Virginia, specializing in politics and national security. He is the author of Devil’s Game: How the United States Helped Unleash Fundamentalist Islam and is a frequent contributor to Rolling Stone, The American Prospect, and Mother Jones.

Dennis Ross’s Iran Plan

April 14, 2009
By Robert Dreyfuss | The Nation, April 14, 2009

When Dennis Ross, a hawkish, pro-Israel adviser to Barack Obama’s presidential campaign, was elevated in February to the post of special adviser on “the Gulf and Southwest Asia”–i.e., Iran–Ross’s critics hoped that his influence would be marginal. After all, unlike special envoys George Mitchell (Israel-Palestine) and Richard Holbrooke (Afghanistan-Pakistan), whose appointments were announced with fanfare, Ross’s appointment was long delayed and then announced quietly, at night, in a press release.

But diplomats and Middle East watchers hoping Ross would be sidelined are wrong. He is building an empire at the State Department: hiring staff and, with his legendary flair for bureaucratic wrangling, cementing liaisons with a wide range of US officials. The Iran portfolio is his, says an insider. “Everything we’ve seen indicates that Ross has completely taken over the issue,” says a key Iran specialist. “He’s acting as if he’s the guy. Wherever you go at State, they tell you, ‘You’ve gotta go through Dennis.'” It’s paradoxical that Obama, who made opening a dialogue with Iran into a crucial plank in his campaign, would hand the Iran file to Ross. Since taking office, Obama has taken a number of important steps to open lines to Iran, including a remarkable holiday greeting by video in which the president spoke directly to “the leaders of the Islamic Republic of Iran,” adding, “We seek engagement that is honest and grounded in mutual respect.” He invited Iran to attend an international conference on Afghanistan, where a top Iranian diplomat shook hands with Holbrooke; he’s allowing American diplomats to engage their Iranian counterparts; and he’s reportedly planning to dispatch a letter directly to Iran’s leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Yet Ross, like his neoconservative co-thinkers, is explicitly skeptical about the usefulness of diplomacy with Iran.

Widely viewed as a cog in the machine of Israel’s Washington lobby, Ross was not likely to be welcomed in Tehran–and he wasn’t. Iran’s state radio described his appointment as “an apparent contradiction” with Obama’s “announced policy to bring change in United States foreign policy.” Kazem Jalali, a hardline member of the Iranian parliament’s national security committee, joked that it “would have been so much better to pick Ariel Sharon or Ehud Olmert as special envoy to Iran.” More seriously, a former White House official says that Ross has told colleagues that he believes the United States will ultimately have no choice but to attack Iran in response to its nuclear program.

Not quite a neoconservative himself, Ross has palled around with neocons for most of his career. In the 1970s and ’80s he worked alongside Paul Wolfowitz at the Defense and State Departments, and with Andrew Marshall, a neoconservative strategist who leads the Pentagon’s Office of Net Assessments. In 1985 Ross helped launch the Washington Institute for Near East Policy (WINEP), the Israel lobby’s leading think tank.

From the late 1980s through 2000, Ross served as point man on Arab-Israeli issues for George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton, acquiring a reputation as a highly skilled diplomat, albeit one with a pronounced pro-Israel tilt. He led the US side at the July 2000 Camp David summit, but he was deeply mistrusted by Palestinian leader Yasir Arafat, and the feeling was mutual. At a crucial moment in the negotiations, Ross threw a tantrum, hurling a briefing book into a table full of juice and fruit. Not surprisingly, when Arafat rejected the Israelis’ less-than-generous offer, Ross heaped blame on the Palestinians for scuttling the talks, the failure of which led directly to Ariel Sharon’s rise to power and the second intifada. Daniel Kurtzer, an Orthodox Jew who served as US ambassador to Israel and Egypt and who was one of Obama’s top Middle East advisers last year, co-wrote a book in which he explained, “The perception always was that Dennis started from the Israeli bottom line, that he listened to what Israel wanted and then tried to sell it to the Arabs.”

From 2001 until his appointment in February, Ross was at WINEP, where he helped to oversee a series of reports designed to ring alarm bells about Iran’s nuclear research and to support closer US-Israeli ties in response. Last summer, while advising Obama, he co-chaired a task force that produced a paper titled “Strengthening the Partnership: How to Deepen U.S.-Israel Cooperation on the Iranian Nuclear Challenge.” That report opted for an alarmist view of Iran’s nuclear program and proposed that the next president set up a formal US-Israeli mechanism for coordinating policy toward Iran (including any future need for “preventive military action”). Along with Holbrooke, Ross also helped found United Against Nuclear Iran, a group established to publicize warnings about Iran to the American public and the media. UANI’s advisory board includes former CIA director James Woolsey and Fouad Ajami, perhaps the top Middle East expert for the neoconservative movement.

In September, Ross served as a key member of another task force organized by the Bipartisan Policy Center. The group assembled a flock of hawks under the leadership of Michael Makovsky, brother of WINEP’s David Makovsky, who served in the Office of the Secretary of Defense in the heyday of the Pentagon neocons from 2002 to 2006. Its report, “Meeting the Challenge: U.S. Policy Toward Iranian Nuclear Development”–written by Michael Rubin, a neoconservative hardliner at the American Enterprise Institute–read like a declaration of war.

The core of the Bipartisan Policy Center report predicted that diplomacy with Iran is likely to fail. Anticipating failure, Ross and his colleagues recommended “prepositioning military assets” by the United States–i.e., a military buildup–coupled with a US “show of force” in the Gulf. This would be followed almost immediately by a blockade of Iranian gasoline imports and oil exports, meant to paralyze Iran’s economy, followed by what they call, not so euphemistically, “kinetic action.”

That “kinetic action”–a US assault on Iran–should, in fact, be massive, suggested the Ross-Rubin task force. It should hit dozens of sites alleged to be part of Iran’s nuclear research program, along with other targets, including Iranian air defense sites, Revolutionary Guard facilities, much of Iran’s military-industrial complex, communications systems, munitions storage facilities, airfields and naval facilities. Eventually, the report concluded, the United States would also have to attack Iran’s ground forces, electric power plants and electrical grids, bridges and “manufacturing plants, including steel, autos, buses, etc.”

Like virtually all of his neoconservative confreres, Ross does not argue that negotiations with Iran should not proceed. Surrendering to the inevitability of a US-Iran dialogue, they insist instead that any such talks proceed according to a strict time limit, measured in weeks or, at most, a few months. In November, Iran specialist Patrick Clawson, Ross’s colleague at WINEP, described any US-Iran dialogue that might emerge as mere theater. “What we’ve got to do is…show the world that we’re doing a heck of a lot to try and engage the Iranians,” he said. “Our principal target with these offers [to Iran] is not Iran. Our principal target with these offers is, in fact, American public opinion [and] world public opinion.” Once that’s done, he implied, the United States would have to take out its big stick.

The reality, however, is that negotiations between Iran and the United States might take many, many months, perhaps years. Putting US-Iran diplomacy on a short fuse, as Ross and his colleagues want to do, guarantees its failure, setting the stage for harsher sanctions, embargoes and the “kinetic action” that Ross has suggested might follow.

Robert Dreyfuss, a Nation contributing editor, is an investigative journalist in Alexandria, Virginia, specializing in politics and national security. He is the author of Devil’s Game: How the United States Helped Unleash Fundamentalist Islam and is a frequent contributor to Rolling Stone, The American Prospect, and Mother Jones. more…

The Charade of Not Talking to Hamas

March 3, 2009

by Robert Dreyfuss | The Nation, March 2, 2009

Looming over Hillary Clinton’s foray into the Middle East are two extremist movements that aren’t likely to be persuaded to support Clinton’s vision of a two-state solution. The first is Hamas, which runs Gaza, and the second is the Netanyahu-Lieberman bloc in Israel, which is preparing to take over the Israeli government.

In Egypt yesterday, Clinton reaffirmed America’s pledge to give $900 million in aid to the West Bank and Gaza. One-third of that will go to Gaza, and she made it clear that all of the aid will be funneled through the Palestinian Authority, not Hamas, so it won’t end up in the “wrong hands”:

We will work with our Palestinian partners, President Abbas and Prime Minister Fayyad, to address critical humanitarian, budgetary, security, and infrastructure needs. We have worked with the Palestinian Authority to install safeguards that will ensure that our funding is only used where, and for whom, it is intended, and does not end up in the wrong hands.

She added that the United States will “vigorously pursue a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”

In all, the conference of aid donors for Gaza is planning to assemble a $3 billion package for Gaza, the equivalent of $2,000 for each of the 1.5 million Gaza residents. Since most of the cash will be funneled through the PA, it’s clear the Abbas and Fayyad will gain patronage points. But Israel still maintains its blockade of Gaza, preventing key items — such as building materials, like cement — from reaching rebuilding projects.

Egypt is mediating between Israel and Hamas in search of a workable arrangement, but a deal will be hostage to the Netanyahu regime, which has pledged to destroy Hamas.

Egypt is also taking the lead in trying to reconcile Hamas, Fatah, and other elements of the Palestinian national movement. Were they to succeed, it would confront the Obama administration with a quandary: will Obama send hundreds of millions of dollars to the Palestinians if, indeed, those with the “wrong hands” are part of the equation? The Palestinian dialogue will start in earnest in Cairo on March 10, involving Hamas, Fatah, and several smaller factions, including left-leaning ones and Islamic Jihad. They’ve created five committees aimed at “forming a national unity government, reforming the Palestine Liberation Organization, rebuilding the security apparatus, preparing for presidential and legislative elections, and the committee of reconciliation.”

Theoretically, it ought to be easy to finesse the problem, diplomatically, for the United States. So far, Washington has said it won’t talk to Hamas unless the group halts violence and accepts Israel’s right to exist. If Hamas does indeed reunite with Fatah in the PA, the United States can use that as an excuse to halt aid, or it can pretend to look the other way and continue the aid on the theory that the PA itself is engaged in two-state talks with Israel.

In fact, Israel is already talking to Hamas, through Egypt’s mediation efforts, and if the Hamas-Fatah talks succeed — with Egypt’s help — Hamas will be at the table there, too. Not talking to Hamas is quickly becoming a charade.

Robert Dreyfuss, a Nation contributing editor, is an investigative journalist in Alexandria, Virginia, specializing in politics and national security. He is the author of Devil’s Game: How the United States Helped Unleash Fundamentalist Islam and is a frequent contributor to Rolling Stone, The American Prospect, and Mother Jones.

Afghan-Pakistan War Council

February 24, 2009

by Robert Dreyfuss | The Nation, Feb 23, 2009

Team Obama will be holding a war council of sorts this week, as top Pakistani and Afghan officials come to Washington as part of Obama’s ongoing review of the conflict. Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi and Afghan Foreign Minister Rangeen Dadfar Spanta will meet with, among others, Hillary Clinton, Robert Gates, Richard Holbrooke, and Bruce Riedel, who’s coordinating the administration’s rethink. A whole passel of military officials from the region will be here, too.But what’s troubling so far about the administration’s signals on Afghanistan and Pakistan is that it’s all tilted toward war and “counterinsurgency,” and there’s precious little being said about negotiations, deal-making with the Taliban, and diplomacy.

It’s not only that Obama has ordered the deployment of 17,000 more US troops. The administration is escalating Predator and Reaper air strikes against targets in both countries, and, according to both the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times the air strikes are being quietly supported by Pakistan, even as Pakistan’s top officials criticize them in public. The Times reported that Obama has expanded the air strikes to attacks on the Pakistani Taliban, who are gaining momentum in that country, even as they continue to hit Al Qaeda and Taliban targets inside Pakistan who use the tribal areas there as a base for the Afghan insurgency. An important story in the Journal last week, entitled, “Pakistan Lends Support for U.S. Military Strikes,” said:

“Pakistan’s leaders have publicly denounced U.S. missile strikes as an attack on the country’s sovereignty, but privately Pakistani military and intelligence officers are aiding these attacks and have given significant support to recent U.S. missions, say officials from both countries.”

The cat’s out of the bag as far as US-Pakistani cooperation goes now, with Senator Dianne Feinstein, the chair of the Senate intelligence committee, blurting out at a recent hearing that US air strikes are flown from military bases in Pakistan, not elsewhere. “As I understand it, these are flown out of a Pakistani base,” she said.

Meanwhile, as the Times reports today, a team of 70 US Special Forces troops and others has been in Pakistan for nearly a year “training Pakistani Army and paramilitary troops [and] providing them with intelligence and advising on combat tactics.” And:

“They make up a secret task force, overseen by the United States Central Command and Special Operations Command. It started last summer, with the support of Pakistan’s government and military, in an effort to root out Qaeda and Taliban operations that threaten American troops in Afghanistan and are increasingly destabilizing Pakistan. It is a much larger and more ambitious effort than either country has acknowledged.”

It’s clear that Obama is intent on a significant escalation of the war in Afghanistan itself along with a much more overt relationship with Pakistan’s armed forces and its intelligence services, including the ISI. It looks as if it’s all aimed at something called “victory,” even though more and more analysts say that victory — whatever that means — isn’t likely and the only real exit strategy is a negotiated deal with the insurgency, in both countries.

It’s troubling, therefore, to read all the criticism of efforts by Pakistan and Afghanistan to offer peace feelers to the other side. Top US officials are critical of Pakistan’s latest attempt at working out a deal with Taliban-related fighters in the Swat Valley, a settled area outside Pakistan’s lawless tribal areas that has largely been overrun by the Taliban. They are also quick to disparage President Hamid Karzai’s repeated feelers to the Taliban in Afghanistan, too. And, while it’s true that Obama’s Afghan-Pakistan review is still underway, the president himself isn’t saying much about involving India, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Russia and China in bolstering both Pakistan’s and Afghanistan’s feeble overtures for a deal.

An intelligent piece today in the Los Angeles Times by Julian Barnes describes the challenges facing Obama in Afghanistan thusly:

“President Obama’s war strategy began to take shape with his announcement last week that 17,000 additional U.S. troops are headed to Afghanistan. But the thorniest problems still await him: persuading militants to lay down their arms, coaxing help from allies and eliminating extremist havens on the Afghan-Pakistan border.”

But America’s allies in NATO aren’t likely to step up support for the war. (Obama will make a pitch to them directly during a high-stakes NATO summit in April.) The real solution lies in getting the vast majority of Afghanistan’s pro-Taliban and Taliban-leaning warlords, tribal chiefs, village leaders, and others, along with a hefty chunk of the Taliban leadership, to make a deal. As I reported in mt Nation feature last December, “Obama’s Afghan Dilemma” , the core of Obama’s strategy is based on the conviction that the Taliban won’t negotiate now because they think they’re winning. So, Obama believes, first the United States has to regain the military advantage and then start talking. My question is: why not test the reverse idea? Why not start talking now, and put an offer on the table of a US withdrawal, and see what happens?

Robert Dreyfuss, a Nation contributing editor, is an investigative journalist in Alexandria, Virginia, specializing in politics and national security. He is the author of Devil’s Game: How the United States Helped Unleash Fundamentalist Islam and is a frequent contributor to Rolling Stone, The American Prospect, and Mother Jones.

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