The Problem is Pakistan

This past Sunday in the Sydney Morning Herald, Australian counter-insurgency specialist David Kilcullen, a former Australian Army officer who was a specialist adviser for the Bush administration and is now a consultant to the Obama White House, warned that Pakistan could collapse within months.

The warning comes as the US scrambles to redeploy its military forces and diplomats in an attempt to stem rising violence and anarchy in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

"We have to face the fact that if Pakistan collapses it will dwarf anything we have seen so far in whatever we're calling the war on terror now," said David Kilcullen, a former Australian Army officer who was a specialist adviser for the Bush administration and is now a consultant to the Obama White House.

"You just can't say that you're not going to worry about al-Qaeda taking control of Pakistan and its nukes," he said.

As the US implements a new strategy in Central Asia so comprehensive that some analysts now dub the cross-border conflict "Obama's war", Dr Kilcullen said time was running out for international efforts to pull both countries back from the brink.

When he unveiled his new "Afpak" policy in Washington last month, the US President, Barack Obama, warned that while al-Qaeda would fill the vacuum if Afghanistan collapsed, the terrorist group was already rooted in Pakistan, plotting more attacks on the US.

"The safety of people round the world is at stake," he said.

Reading the Indian and Pakistani press, the sense I get from the Indian press is that Pakistan refuses to confront the obvious and the sense that I get from the Pakistani press is that India is the problem which only confirms the former. Even as the Baitullah Meshud claim responsibility for recent attacks in Lahore and promise more, Pakistani authorities continue to cast blame on India's intelligence  agency, RAW. Too many Pakistani still just don't see the problem. Until the Pakistanis themselves realize in full the scope of their problems, it seems foolhardy to believe that Pakistan is capable of tackling its problems. And this, of course, presents a problem for the United States.

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The Not So Hidden Fist

For globalization to work, America can't be afraid to act like the almighty superpower that it is. The hidden hand of the market will never work without a hidden fist. McDonald's cannot flourish with McDonnell-Douglas, the designer of the F-15, and the hidden fist that keeps the world safe for Silicon Valley's technology is called the United States Army, Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps.

The above is a candid Thomas Friedman gracing the op-ed pages of the nation's paper of record back in March 1998. My one quibble with Friedman is that the fist isn't so hidden. Those of us who are from the developing world have felt it at one time or another. I am always perplexed at moments such as this as to why the so many of the American people are so prone to jingoism and why so many fail to see to the threat of American militarism to American democracy. Reading the US press today was a horrifying affair. Here's one of the most jingoistic, that of Fred C. Iklé of the Washington Post whose op-ed is entitled Kill the Pirates which leaves little doubt as to his ultimate solution happens to be.

With the rescue of American Richard Phillips from the hands of pirates yesterday, there was a blip of good news from the Indian Ocean, but it remains a scandal that Somali pirates continue to routinely defeat the world's naval powers. And worse than this ongoing demonstration of cowardice is the financing of terrorists that results from the huge ransom payments these pirates are allowed to collect.

What's scandalous in my mind is that the Reagan Administration dropped a half billion dollars' worth of weapons on the country to arm a notorious butcher, Siad Barre. Then again, the US keeps on doing this the world over in the face of disaster after disaster. I might suggest the strategy isn't working.

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As the US Warms to Syria, A Frost May Descend on US-Israeli Relations

The US relationship with Syria has been strained to say the least and though the Bush Administration didn't formally treat Damascus as part of the "Axis of Evil," Syria was effectively treated as an international pariah. The United States has criticized Syria for supporting groups like Hamas and Hezbollah, and has accused the country of allowing extremists to cross its border to fight US-led forces in Iraq. The Bush Administration recalled the US ambassador to Syria for consultations in early 2005 in protest of the Hariri assassination in Lebanon -- Syrian officials have been investigated in the killing, though Damascus denies involvement. Significantly, however, the Bush Administration opted to maintain diplomatic relations even as the relationship continued to sour and deteriorate. As Martin Indyk, the Director of the Brookings Institution Saban Center for Middle East Studies and former US Ambassador to Israel, noted the dominant view of Syria that had developed in Washington during the Bush Administration is that of  Syria as "a country ruled by an unreliable leader, with ruthless ambitions to dominate its smaller Lebanese neighbor, harboring Palestinian terrorists and Iraqi insurgents, and maintaining an alliance with Iran - a strategic adversary of the United States."

In early March, the Obama administration began taking action to reverse historic US policy of isolation towards Syria preferring to directly engage Damascus even if only temporarily to better gauge what Syria is currently thinking. Though US politicians regularly visit Damascus (Speaker Pelosi and Senator John Kerry among others with Congressmen Stephen Lynch, a Democrat, and Republican Bob Inglis meeting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad just this past Sunday), no US diplomat had been since 2005. That all changed in March when Secretary Clinton dispatched two high-ranking emissaries, including former US ambassador to Lebanon Jeffery Feltman and Daniel B. Shapiro, the top Middle East officer at the National Security Council.

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The Enrichment Question

The Financial Times has an article out tonight entitled US may cede to Iran's nuclear ambition which is a bit misleading. The real question is whether the US will accede and recognize Iran's right to self-enrichment of uranium.

US officials are considering whether to accept Iran's pursuit of uranium enrichment, which has been outlawed by the United Nations and remains at the heart of fears that Iran is seeking nuclear weapons capability.

As part of a policy review commissioned by President Barack Obama, diplomats are discussing whether the US will eventually have to accept Iran's insistence on carrying out the process, which can produce both nuclear fuel and weapons- grade material.

"There's a fundamental impasse between the western demand for no enrichment and the Iranian dem­and to continue enrichment," says Mark Fitzpat­rick, a former state depart­- ­­ment expert now at the International Institute for Strategic Studies. "There's no obvious compromise bet­ween those two positions."

The US has insisted that Iran stop enrichment, although Mr Fitzpatrick notes that international offers put to Tehran during George W. Bush's second term as president left the door open to the possible resumption of enrichment.

"There is a growing recognition in [Washington] that the zero [enrichment] solution, though still favoured, simply is unfeasible," says Trita Parsi, president of the National Iranian American Council. "The US may still have zero as its opening position, while recognising it may not be where things stand at the end of a potential agreement."

In order to fuel a nuclear reactor, it is necessary to produce low-enriched uranium. At the same time, however, highly-enriched uranium can be used to produce nuclear weapons. Thus the goal of the US has been to prevent Iran undertaking the uranium-enrichment process and has attempted to forge a broad international coalition demanding that Iran only import enriched uranium. However, Iran has insisted that it has right to enrich its own uranium.

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A Statement of Principles for Cooperation between the US and Russia

"We proposed a very extensive action plan and they have adopted these areas of work and commitment. There is no guarantee on the outcome, but everything is on the table that we think is important to our relationship. They agree." - Secretary of State Clinton

The "they" is the Russians and the "plan" covers a wide-ranging set of issues that have strained US-Russian relations for over a decade. Today in London, President Obama and his Russian counterpart, President Dmitry Medvedev, announced that the US and Russia will begin fast-track negotiations on reducing their nuclear arsenals.

According to the joint statement, Obama and Medvedev agreed that the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty on the Reduction and Limitation of Strategic Offensive Arms -- which expires in December -- "has completely fulfilled its intended purpose and that the maximum levels for strategic offensive arms recorded in the treaty were reached long ago."

"They have therefore decided to move further along the path of reducing and limiting strategic offensive arms in accordance with U.S. and Russian obligations under Article VI of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons," the joint statement said. Furthermore the President pledged to work for the US Senate ratification of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, which Russia has long cherished.

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