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Aug. 11 2010 — 10:16 am | 38 views | 0 recommendations | 0 comments

Seven Years Into Iraq and We’re Still Leaning on Security Contractors

Sgt. Chris Walsh, from the Wyoming Army Nation...

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Congressional bean counters are unhappy at the State Department’s budget for Iraq. (Look at the Washington Post’s story on State’s budget request here.) As troops draw down to 50,000, the State Department civilian advisers and police trainers are going to lose the security of having quick reaction forces on call and military helicopters and humvees available for getting around the country. The State Department’s solution? Triple the current number of security contractors.

We’re seven years into Iraq and nine years into the Long War, and State Department planners are still treating this new threat environment as a temporary condition. Security contractors are useful if you have to quickly enlarge and then draw down your security force. Contractors are an expensive, but scalable solution in the short term but outrageously expensive in the long term. The State Department has not developed a comprehensive plan to increase its own internal capability to protect its diplomats and advisers.

The threats aren’t going away. Nor is our need to have a civilian presence in Iraq and Afghanistan. And these places aren’t getting safer in the near term.

Obama, in a 2008 campaign speech in Colorado Springs called for the creation of a civilian work force abroad that is as robust and well-funded as the military. The State Department is asking Congress for the money, but doesn’t have a plan to permanently increase its own ability to do the work and protect its workers.

The reality is, even when at some point our commitments in Iraq and Afghanistan draw to a close, there are other places (Yemen? Sudan? Somalia?) in which our diplomats and aid workers will find themselves ordered to work. The State Department can’t keep relying on temporary fixes.

Jul. 22 2010 — 3:01 pm | 16 views | 0 recommendations | 0 comments

Kim Jong Il Heart Sanctions

Forgive me for feeling like the U.S. is announcing stricter sanctions against North Korea because we can’t think of anything else to do. And we can’t do nothing, not in the wake of a torpedoed South Korean Naval ship in March.

New sanctions announced by Clinton on her trip to the region this week are unlikely to bring down Kim Jong Il.

This is a man who crashed his own economy last year by recalling all the country’s currency. In one stroke, he eliminated a tiny middle class that was emerging from a trickle of trade along the border with China. He crashed the agricultural markets and caused yet another food panic in the country. Kim seems to thrive on the misery of his people and relies on it to maintain his hold on power. He also relies on the antagonism of the U.S.

New sanctions play into this script.

Oct. 20 2009 — 9:46 am | 3 views | 0 recommendations | 1 comment

Obama and Karzai, playing nice?

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Obama hasn’t had very many kind words for Karzai since, well, ever.

This White House statement hearlding Karzai’s acceptance of a consitutionally mandated second round election may be as cordial as it has ever been between the two.

This second round is a victory for Holbrook and the White House. The US pushed hard for the full vetting of the first round results and was able to out muscle UN officials that wanted a speedier (and cheaper) resolution. Karzai saw all of this as a US strategy to weaken and unseat him.

If Karzai comes out the victor anyway, he and Obama will be stuck with each other – Obama the head of Karzai’s strongest ally and Karzai the head of Obama’s most daunting campaign promise.

Here’s the full WH statement:

Office of the Press Secretary
October 20, 2009

Statement by President Barack Obama on Afghan Elections

I welcome President Karzai’s statement today accepting the Independent Electoral Commission’s certification of the August 20 election results, and agreeing to participate in a second round of the election. This is an important step forward in ensuring a credible process for the Afghan people which results in a government that reflects their will.

While this election could have remained unresolved to the detriment of the country, President Karzai’s constructive actions established an important precedent for Afghanistan’s new democracy. The Afghan Constitution and laws are strengthened by President Karzai’s decision, which is in the best interests of the Afghan people.

I congratulate the Afghan people on the patience and resilience they have shown throughout this long election process. Given Afghanistan’s recent history, it is extraordinary that they were able to overcome threats and violence to express their democratic right to choose their leader. Insecurity in the country prevented some Afghans from voting, but it is a testimony to the bravery of the Afghan people that so many of them did come out to vote in the first round under tremendously difficult circumstances.

I commend both the Independent Electoral Commission and the Electoral Complaints Commission for carrying out their mandates. Throughout this process, the United States has been interested above all in the strength and independence of those institutions, and the need for them to fulfill their mandate on behalf of all Afghans.

I congratulate President Karzai and Dr. Abdullah, who both earned the support of voters from across the country. I also commend all of the other Presidential candidates who made this such a vibrant campaign.

It is now vital that all elements of Afghan society continue to come together to advance democracy, peace and justice. We look forward to a second round of voting, and the completion of the process to choose the President of Afghanistan. In that effort, the United States and the international community are committed to partnering with the Afghan people.


Oct. 20 2009 — 9:06 am | 0 views | 0 recommendations | 0 comments

Run-Off Best of Bad Options

President Hamid Karzai, of the Islamic Republi...

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The Afghan election commission has ordered a Presidential run-off for Nov. 7. This will be expensive, logistically challenging and presents another opportunity for the Taliban to disrupt the political process there. But it’s the right step.

Anti-corruption is the Taliban’s strongest talking point. The decision to toss out the fraudulent ballots of the August 20 election shows that even the president and his supporters can be held to account. It is entirely likely that the widespread fraud that mostly favored Karzai cost him a first round victory he very well may have won outright if his team had played fair.

Karzai should now publicly insist that his supporters keep it clean for the run-off. It’s a challenge, given the unsavory characters he’s had to bring into his tent for the race. But, if he is re-elected, his legitimacy in the eyes of Afghans could be his strongest weapon.

Oct. 14 2009 — 5:03 pm | 10 views | 1 recommendations | 1 comment

How to help, and not help, Pakistan beat terrorism

Pakistan First [ Explored ]

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The Taliban offensive in Pakistan has a flip side. The Pakistani military is actually riding a wave of momentum in its campaign against extremists. We’re seeing the beginning of a shift in Pakistani policy toward recognizing extremists – and not just India – as an existential threat to the country. This offensive can last only as long as Pakistani citizens are convinced it reflects Pakistan going after a Pakistan problem and not just pandering to the U.S.

Sovereignty is the third rail of the Pakistan political scene. The Pakistani leadership has long insisted that it is doing all it can to face down internal militants and any more aggressive action would risk a backlash of civil unrest. Four major attacks on Pakistani soil since October 5 may be giving the generals there the cover they need to launch a serious offensive in the tribal areas. The Pakistani government is repeating over and over again that all four attacks were planned in South Waziristan.

Now is Pakistan’s moment to show it is serious about taking on militants inside its borders. Twenty-eight thousand Pakistani troops have rolled toward South Waziristan in the past few days to prepare for what the Pakistani government is billing as a major effort to oust some 10,000 Taliban fighters that have been holing up there for the past eight years. Intense diplomatic pressure from the U.S. may be paying off. Earlier this year, the Pakistani Army hammered militants that had taken power in the Swat Valley, a few hours drive from Islamabad. It was the first time the Pakistani government had taken such aggressive action against some of the very militant groups that it had helped create and train.

This could be derailed if Pakistan’s leaders start feeling the heat of civil unrest and Anti-American sentiment gains momentum on the street. Which is why the Pakistani politicians flipped out when the new $7.5 billion aid package to Pakistan started moving toward the President’s desk with a lot of demands on Pakistan. The Kerry-Lugar bill is right to demand better oversight of how Pakistan uses the aid it gets from the U.S. Too much cash has gone into the country with little to show for it over the past eight years. But the timing couldn’t have been worse. Pakistani generals need to sell their offensive against homegrown extremists on the streets of Peshawar right now. It’s not the moment for the U.S. to be showing off just how much it’s paying for it.

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    About Me

    I'm a freelance writer based in Washington, D.C. I was TIME magazine's Baghdad bureau chief in 2003 and 2004 and most recently covered the Justice Department and State Department. I've eaten goat's head with the imam who helped John Walker Lindh memorize the Koran in Pakistan, met blindfolded with insurgent leaders in a pomegranate grove in Fallujah and turned down a katyusha rocket fin cheerfully offered by an Afghan warlord as a souvenir. What is it they say about the company you keep?

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