Somalia – stopping a third front

by Raj Purohit | December 29th, 2006 | |Subscribe

While Iraq is rightly dominating the headlines and the fight against the Taliban in Afghanistan is also occupying the minds of U.S. policy makers and politicians, events in the horn of Africa demand that Somalia is placed on the U.S. foreign policy priority agenda for the New Year.   Frankly it is only due to a lack of focus on both sides of the aisle that the downward spiral in a country only a day long boat ride away from Yemen has not been the subject of greater attention. With the Ethiopians and an interim Somali government + warlords (supported by the U.S.) ranged against the Islamic Courts militia (supported by the business community) the situation in Somalia seems as volatile as ever. Despite the fact that interim Prime Minister Ali Mohamad Ghedi entered the capital, Mogadishu, today, it is far from clear whether the Islamic Courts militias have been defeated or whether they have gone to ground. It is also unclear as to the level of support/cooperation the Courts have received from Al Qaeda or other non-government actors from the Arabian Peninsula.  

Nevertheless, the reasonable fear among many analysts is that Al Qaeda will be able to take advantage of the turbulence and open a third front. The very real fear is that they will seek to bolster and ally with the defeated Courts militias – radicalizing and enlisting them and turning Somalia into another Afghanistan or Iraq.  

Much remains murky re: Somalia at present so I am not going to use this post to prescribe a remedy. Instead I want to strongly encourage the SFRC Committee, Senate Armed Services Committee and Senate Intel Committee to do three things: 

1. Establish what the current U.S. role in the horn of Africa is and has been. Carefully ascertain the role of Al Qaeda and other non-Somali actors. 

2. Listen to a broad range of regional experts and consider remedies that do not simply rely on a military solution to a crisis. Meet with AU and UN representatives. Determine whether the crisis can be solved via a well structured political strategy.   

3. Engage the Administration in a sustained dialogue on Somalia. Urge that Somalia receive high level and coordinated attention.  

It is far better for our own interests and the interests of the civilian populace of Somalia if we can stop that country and the sub region from becoming a third front in the fight against Al Qaeda. We may be too late and at best I fear that we do not have much time. 



Sometimes a lack of oil is just a lack of oil

by David Isenberg | December 28th, 2006 | |Subscribe

Last time I wrote on Iraq. This time let’s move slightly east to next door Iran. As everyone now knows last Friday the United Nations Security Council voted 15 to 0 to approve Resolution 1737, which impose sanctions on Iran for its nuclear program for the first time, including a ban on acquisition of materials and technology that might be used to build an atomic bomb.

The measure demands that Iran halt uranium enrichment and heavy-water projects that the U.S. and its European allies have said may lead to the development of nuclear weapons. It freezes the financial assets of 12 named individuals and 11 groups such as the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran. The resolution also requires the UN’s nuclear watchdog agency, the International Atomic Energy Agency, to report on Iran’s compliance within 60 days. “Further appropriate measures” such as economic penalties and severance of diplomatic relations will be required if Iran doesn’t comply, it says

As a rule in my view sanctions are not particularly effective as instruments for effecting policy change. While they may be a face saving and perhaps even necessary compromise between doing nothing and going to war they usually, with admittedly rare exceptions, don’t accomplish all that much. Some, as this Israeli writes, thinks it is worse than nothing.

But what I really find interesting is an article in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences which was published online Dec. 26. The author, Roger Stern of Johns Hopkins University examines the presumption that is so often cited by those who wish to attack Iran; i.e., that what does a country with so much hydrocarbon resources (oil and natural gas) need with nuclear power? (more…)

Where did the anger go?

by Seth Green | December 27th, 2006 | |Subscribe

One thing that I find interesting watching the politics of the Iraq war is that the anger against this war is not nearly as real as it was before the war even started. If you look back to the moments before this war, there was an unprecedented activism around this war. As someone who marched (with Pro-America, Anti-War signs) in the demonstrations before the war, I can tell you that I have never seen such intense opposition to a policy in my life to date. And yet now that the war has gone far worse than even its critics worried, and the country has clearly united against stay the course, there are hardly any protests. Where did the anger go?

My question is one that I feel very personally because my own vociferous anger over this war has somehow declined even as the urgency for change has increased. I think for me a lot of it has to do with the fact that you feel like you are speaking to deaf ears. Even after our initial protests — and indeed even after the election and the Iraq study group — it is not clear that this democratically elected president really sees himself as much as a democratic leader as a stalwart commander-in-chief. He is “the decider” and somehow his strategy seems to work — tell people you’re the decider and they will believe you and quiet down.

Hopefully, if the President continues to sidestep the ISG report, he may be faced with protests like those that proceeded this war. Of course, these protests would recognize the bravery and courage of our troops. And that’s precisely why we would be out there — to say that their bravery and courage deserves a commander in chief at the top with a coherent plan for victory.

Advice from Generals

by Eugene Gholz | December 26th, 2006 | |Subscribe

For a long time, President Bush used the same line on troop levels in Iraq: he sent exactly the number that his generals asked for. In the face of leading Democrats’ calls for more troops, generals at CENTCOM and in Iraq itself publicly indicated that they had all the troops that they could use — that the addition of more troops to Iraq would only precipitate more attacks on Americans and otherwise weaken the effort to get the Iraqi government to “stand up” its security forces. And at the time, that was tremendously convenient for the president.

Now, though, bipartisan support is mounting for reductions in the American presence in Iraq (e.g., at a minimum, the Iraq Study Group’s proposal to redeploy combat troops to neighboring countries) — and public opinion is falling into place behind a timetable for withdrawal. President Bush is looking for a “new plan” that will offer hope for the future, and as he has said over and over again, he does not intend to consider withdrawal as part of the new plan.

Unfortunately, the generals are now a political liability. Top generals on the Joint Chiefs of Staff — those responsible for the long-term future of the military rather than the day-to-day combat operations in Iraq — are starting to admit that the situation in Iraq poses a real threat to the military institution (its readiness, recruitment, etc.). But what the President really seems to want to do is “surge” more troops into the theater — troops that might temporarily stabilize the situation, at least until the insurgents adapt. But if a surge is what you want, suddenly the operational commanders’ statements that they have “the right number of troops” become a problem.


ISG: Maybe the worst solution… except for all the others

by Brian Vogt | December 22nd, 2006 | |Subscribe

I’ve taken great interest in the debate that has transpired here over the past few days regarding the ISG report. I don’t pretend to have the magic answer to this fiasco. However, I’d like to simply mention a few of my thoughts in response to the recent debate.

No Cherry Picking
I think that it’s important to look at a renewed effort in the Israeli-Palestine issue as a necessary, but not sufficient condition. The same goes for talking with Syria and Iran, and many of the other recommendations of the ISG report. Hence, the argument made by the report’s authors that you can’t cherry pick recommendations. None of the recommendations are a silver bullet. Many of them have serious drawbacks and there is much to criticize. Even if we follow the recommendations of the report, a positive outcome is not guaranteed. However, I do believe that taken as a whole the recommendations have a better chance of an acceptable outcome than many of the other options out there.

Troop withdrawal
David and Chris give the impression that they are in support of a more rapid withdrawal or at least a more specific timetable. In my mind the ISG came about as close as one can come to a timetable without using those exact words. The report indictated that combat troops should leave by early 2008. I’m not sure what the correct timetable should be. However, I think that the ISG report makes a strong argument that a premature withdrawal could be disastrous. It is true that American troops on the ground both exacerbate conflict, while at the same time preventing conflict. Which of these forces wins out at different levels of US troop commitments, I’m not sure. Our goal should be to pull out in a way that ensures that a mass slaughter does not happen. There may not be a way to do this. However, I’ve yet to hear a compelling argument from those who advocate an immediate withdrawal, as to how a massive genocide would be prevented. If there’s a way to do it and withdraw quickly, I’m anxious to hear what that is. (more…)

Colin and the C word

by David Isenberg | December 20th, 2006 | |Subscribe

Here at PSA Blog Central the powers that be have decided to encourage us bloggers to post more often to fill in the gaps, in order, so to speak, to get more bang for the buck.

So I thought it might at least be amusing, if not actually educational, to see what the establishment pundits and their guests, i.e. weekly Sunday morning talk shows are saying, since they set the news agenda for at least the next couple days.

Looking at this past weekend there is no question as to which was the most important. The winner, by a gazillion miles, was Face The Nation with Bob Schieffer. His guest was former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and Secretary of State Colin Powell. His topic was the Iraq Study Group report, which I wrote about last week.

BOB SCHIEFFER: Well, Mr. Secretary, let’s get right down to it. A lot of people are talking about and assessing the situation in Iraq. We just had the James Baker-Lee Hamilton commission say that, quote, the situation was “dire” and getting worse. What is your assessment?  (more…)

Beyond Iraq… A New Command for Africa?

by Victoria Holt | December 19th, 2006 | |Subscribe


The Pentagon has confirmed a policy decision to create a new combatant command for Africa, breaking off those responsibilities primarily from the US military’s European Command (EUCOM), and consolidating authorities now held by Central Command and Pacific Command.     

As reported by the Army Times (and raised last Friday at our Stimson Center workshop with African embassy officials), this long-debated idea is to become a reality, possibly “in one to two months.” Reportedly:

at a Dec. 13 awards ceremony for Theresa Whelan, deputy assistant secretary of defense for African affairs, former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said a new command would be created within “one to two months.” In accepting her award, Whelan quietly noted to Rumsfeld that the proposal is on President Bush’s desk awaiting his signature.

Washington Post analyst and blogger Bill Arkin is highly skeptical – seeing this move as an expansion of the Department of Defense’s reach without a real strategy.  The comments on his post take the issues further, suggesting US hegemony and poor intentions.  

But I’d like to suggest that this new Command might be the right way to go.  First, the US needs a more strategic approach to Africa – and a clearer idea of how we spend our time and resources.   (more…)

If he’s the finest, I’d hate to see the worst

by Brian Vogt | December 19th, 2006 | |Subscribe

Just a quick aside here today.  There’s been much talk recently about a quote that Cheney used the other day at Rumsfeld’s going away party.  I still really can’t believe that he actually said the following:

In his regard for our people in uniform, in his unwavering strength through unprecedented challenges, in his example of leadership and patriotic service, I believe the record speaks for itself: Don Rumsfeld is the finest Secretary of Defense this nation has ever had.

Here’s a link to the actual coverage. 

It’s simply amazing that in the middle of this tragic war our Vice President still seems extraordinarily out of touch with reality.  This is the exact sort of rhetoric that is so far out of the mainstream that voters wholeheartedly rejected it last month. Yet it still continues.  There was a bipartisan effort to replace Rumsfeld and his replacement has received bipartisan support.  Perhaps Rumsfeld did some positive things in terms of modernizing the military, but in my mind that is completely overwhelmed by the Iraq disaster.  If he is the finest Secretary of Defense the nation has ever had, I’d hate to see the worst. 

The ISG Report: Be afraid, be very afraid

by David Isenberg | December 15th, 2006 | |Subscribe

In my last posting, on the day before the release of the Iraq Study Group I wrote that the report “will not offer anything useful.” I was wrong. The report, to my surprise, managed to be worse than not useful. It is, in fact, much worse than useless because, among other things, it offers false hope.

I’ll have more on that in a moment. First, let’s look at some of the more laughable assertions in the report.

Consider this assertion,” There are roughly 5,000 civilian contractors in the country.” (p. 12). A story in the Washington Post the day before the report’s release found that there are about 100,000 government contractors operating in Iraq, not counting subcontractors, according to the military’s first census of the growing population of civilians there. So they were off by a factor of 20.

And for a group that was supposed to be getting and studying all sorts of reality based ground truth they managed to avoid talking to certain essential groups.  It does make you wonder exactly what they have been doing since being appointed on March 15, 2006?

In a statement released on Dec. 8 Kurdistan Region President Masoud Barzani said, “The report contradicts the words of Mr. James Baker, who told us by phone that the special nature of the Kurdistan Region had been taken into consideration in the report. Although we communicated the Kurdistan Regional Government’s perspective to the commission in a letter before the report was released, the commission ignored the letter and did not read it.”  

In short, his comments can be taken as confirmation that the Kurds read the report and correctly understood it to mean get screwed. Given that the Kurds are the only reliable US allies in Iraq this not exactly an example of blue ribbon thinking at its finest.

Of course, some information in the report was undeniably fascinating, in a horrific way; like being unable to take your eyes off a car wreck. For example: (more…)

Ending Malaria: Bush Moves Country Forward

by Seth Green | December 14th, 2006 | |Subscribe

I had the great honor earlier today to participate in the White House Summit on Malaria, an inspired gathering of business, non-profit, and government leaders committed to ending malaria — a disease that kills a child every third seconds. I was excited to see the President, Mrs. Bush, Condi Rice, Paul Wolfowitz, and so many other leaders participating in the summit. It is clear that this administration is committed to ending malaria and the President talked today about a $1.2 billion initiative over five years to provide bed nets, and indoor spraying, and anti-malaria medicine in 15 African countries.

This is a step in the right direction for the Bush administration and our country. In the end, our country will not be judged on our wealth or power alone, but on how we used that wealth and power to better our world and to honor the sanctity of life. Given the myriad of foreign policy challenges that this country is facing, this is something of a slam dunk — it’s good for the world, good for the economy (since malaria is a $12 billion burden on Africa), and good for our security. Of course, as the discussion on this blog has shown, Bush is going to need some three-pointers to restore our image in the world and find an adequate exit strategy for Iraq. Regardless, I’m glad to see the President moving forward on other fronts to save lives.

All of that said, I still came away from today’s gathering wondering if the U.S. government really is doing enough? Wolfowitz reminded the audience today that 3,000 die every day from malaria — that’s a death tool the size of 9-11 every day. But if you look at our total expenditures as a country, $1.2 billion over five years is tiny. If this is a 9-11 every day, shouldn’t we be willing to commit more?

Fortunately, there is a wonderful network of private leaders complementing the U.S. government’s efforts and showing our conscience to the world through individual philanthropy. It’s called Malaria No More and it is an organization that I believe really will live up to its name. Check it out at .

Next Page »

All blog posts are independently produced by their authors and do not necessarily reflect the policies or positions of PSA. Across the Aisle serves as a bipartisan forum for productive discussion of national security and foreign affairs topics.