Mixed Signals on Iran

Speaking on ABC's This Week, Vice President Joe Biden had this exchange with George Stephanopoulos concerning possible Israeli military action aimed at taking out the Iranian nuclear program.

STEPHANOPOULOS: And meanwhile, Prime Minister Netanyahu has made it pretty clear that he agreed with President Obama to give until the end of the year for this whole process of engagement to work. After that, he's prepared to make matters into his own hands.

Is that the right approach?

BIDEN: Look, Israel can determine for itself -- it's a sovereign nation -- what's in their interest and what they decide to do relative to Iran and anyone else.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Whether we agree or not?

BIDEN: Whether we agree or not. They're entitled to do that. Any sovereign nation is entitled to do that. But there is no pressure from any nation that's going to alter our behavior as to how to proceed.

What we believe is in the national interest of the United States, which we, coincidentally, believe is also in the interest of Israel and the whole world. And so there are separate issues.

If the Netanyahu government decides to take a course of action different than the one being pursued now, that is their sovereign right to do that. That is not our choice.

STEPHANOPOULOS: But just to be clear here, if the Israelis decide Iran is an existential threat, they have to take out the nuclear program, militarily the United States will not stand in the way?

BIDEN: Look, we cannot dictate to another sovereign nation what they can and cannot do when they make a determination, if they make a determination that they're existentially threatened and their survival is threatened by another country.

STEPHANOPOULOS: You say we can't dictate, but we can, if we choose to, deny over-flight rights here in Iraq. We can stand in the way of a military strike.

BIDEN: I'm not going to speculate, George, on those issues, other than to say Israel has a right to determine what's in its interests, and we have a right and we will determine what's in our interests.

No one disputes the sovereign rights of Israel to act in its own interests. However the Vice President missed an opportunity to unequivocally warn that there would be consequences. As the New York Times notes the Vice President's remarks went "beyond at least the spirit of any public utterances by President Barack Obama, who has said that diplomatic efforts to halt Iran's nuclear program should be given to the end of the year." And given the Vice President's penchant for sometimes imprecise language, it was not immediately clear was whether Mr. Biden was sending an officially sanctioned message. More likely, he simply failed to convey the serious geo-political repercussions an Israeli attack on Iran is likely to bring. Alternatively, Vice President Biden may have been trying to send a message to Tehran, engage and be serious about it or watch out.

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Afghanistan Policy To Focus More on Economic Development

National Security Adviser James Jones has told US military commanders there are no plans to send more troops to Afghanistan for now and that the focus instead will be on economic development and reconstruction according to story by Bob Woodward in the Washington Post.

National security adviser James L. Jones told U.S. military commanders here last week that the Obama administration wants to hold troop levels here flat for now, and focus instead on carrying out the previously approved strategy of increased economic development, improved governance and participation by the Afghan military and civilians in the conflict.

The message seems designed to cap expectations that more troops might be coming, though the administration has not ruled out additional deployments in the future. Jones was carrying out directions from President Obama, who said recently, "My strong view is that we are not going to succeed simply by piling on more and more troops."

"This will not be won by the military alone," Jones said in an interview during his trip. "We tried that for six years." He also said: "The piece of the strategy that has to work in the next year is economic development. If that is not done right, there are not enough troops in the world to succeed."

In February the President ordered an extra 17,000 troops deployed to fight a growing Taliban-led insurgency in southern and western Afghanistan. These are expected to be fully in place by the middle of July. Another 4,000 troops are expected to arrive in August to assist in the training of the Afghan army and police force. The forces are part of a build-up aimed at expanding the US military presence in Afghanistan to 68,000 troops by the end of this year, more than double the 32,000 at the end of 2008.

Furthermore, General Stanley A. McChrystal has undertaken a 60-day review designed to address all the issues in the war.

The increased focus on economic development is a welcomed development. This war cannot be won by military means alone.

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Secretary Clinton Fractures Elbow After Butting Heads with Israel's Foreign Minister

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton fractured her right elbow after a fall. Secretary Clinton was on her way to the White House when she fell and injured her elbow, chief of staff Cheryl Mills said in a statement released late Wednesday.

Earlier in the day, the Secretary met with Israel's Foreign Minister, Avigdor Lieberman. The meeting did not go well. More from the Financial Times:

Hillary Clinton, the US secretary of state, clashed face to face with her Israeli counterpart on Wednesday as the two countries remained at loggerheads over the expansion of settlements in occupied territory.

In what appeared one of the most tense encounters between the sides for several years, Mrs Clinton and Avigdor Lieberman, Israel's foreign minister, disagreed on both the US call for a complete freeze on settlement growth and Israel's contention that the administration of George W. Bush, the former president, had signalled that some expansion was permissible.

"We cannot accept this vision about absolutely, com­pletely freezing all settlements," Mr Lieberman said.

In response, Mrs Clinton underlined the US call for a "stop to the settlements", a move she described as "an important and essential part of pursuing the efforts leading to a comprehensive peace agreement".

The meeting at the state department in Washington confirmed that the countries remain at odds on settlements, in spite of the decision of Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel's prime minister, to endorse the goal of a Palestinian state. His declaration, which was subject to conditions, followed sustained US pressure.

Wednesday's encounter was all the more significant for Mr Lieberman's record as the leader of the far-right Yisrael Beiteinu party, who blasted the previous Israeli government's peace efforts. Mr Lieberman is not seen as a promising interlocutor by Barack Obama's administration, which has instead focused its demands on Mr Netanyahu.

"We must keep the natural growth," Mr Lieberman said on Wednesday, referring to the argument that settlements sometimes need to expand to keep pace with births and marriages.

The US argues that such references to "natural growth" have in fact enabled large-scale settlement growth in the past.

While Mr Lieberman suggested that Israel had reached "some understandings with the previous [Bush] administration" allowing natural growth, Mrs Clinton vigorously rejected such a claim.

"In looking at the history of the Bush administration, there were no informal or oral enforceable agreements," she said. "That has been verified by the official record of the administration and by the personnel in positions of responsibility."

Israel will likely continue to build settlements but it will do so to its own detriment. As the President noted in Cairo, "The United States does not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlements." He added that "This construction violates previous agreements and undermines efforts to achieve peace. It is time for these settlements to stop."

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Iran: The Fix is In and It's Worse Than You Think

Crossposted at The Motley Moose

It's now 9:30AM in the morning in Iran and the Iranian people are awakening to a nation in which the political landscape, though superficially unchanged, is indeliably altered.  Overnight a sensational result has emerged in the Iranian elections for the presidency.  Sensational in the magnitude of the result, close to 65% of the vote for the incumbent, firebrand Mahmud Ahmadinejad and a crushing defeat for his opponent Mousavi.

And it's unlikely to be merely that a populist 'green revolution' has been nipped in the bud by the forces of reaction in Iran's heirarchy, though that in itself is clearly true:

[MARGARET WARNER:] So, you think that the possibility is that you have -- you have seen some government interference here?

CLIFF KUPCHAN: I think, so far, not so good. Now, it's really early, and we don't know.

But the fear is that the establishment didn't like what they were seeing.

Margaret Warner - Iran's Future Unclear Following Presidential Election PBS 12 Jun 09

Yes, interference, with an unprecedented call of the election early for Ahmadinejad, but it isn't what you think:

MARGARET WARNER: But didn't this also expose some fissures in the conservative class...

AFSHIN MOLAVI: Absolutely.

MARGARET WARNER: ... and among the clerics?

AFSHIN MOLAVI: Absolutely.

You know, Ahmadinejad's challenge to the old-guard revolutionary elite was absolutely very important, because it exposed this rift. Ahmadinejad comes from a second-generation revolutionary elite. They cut their political teeth in the fight against Iraq, whereas the old-guard elite cut their teeth in the fight against the shah.

These two are at each other right now. That is going to have ramifications beyond the election.

Margaret Warner - Iran's Future Unclear Following Presidential Election PBS 12 Jun 09

As was suggested in a recent diary this election has become a contest for internal power within the oligarchy, which revealed it's topography in unprecedented ways in the course of the presidential debates.  What we appear to be seeing is the passing of power from the old generation to the new generation of conservative revolutionary elites.  Ahmadinejad's sensational accusations of corruption during the televised debates were a challenge to the established oligarchy and it is likely his electoral success, fraud or not, represents an upheaval in the internal balance of power in his favour.  From a policy point of view the election of Mousavi would not have substantially altered Iranian politics except to shift the rhetoric slightly on engagement and redirect investment of revenue to infrastructure rather that wages and gratuitous, inflationary payments to the rural and urban poor.  And the oligarchy doesn't give a fig about the aspirations of urban, middle-class voters who supported Mousavi and alarmed them with public demonstrations.

No, this was a competition to see who could demonstrate the most influence to determine the outcome, a metric of how many provincial Interior Ministry officials could be enlisted to cook the books for one candidate or the other.  It is close to being a coup d'état within the context of the power to manipulate the system reserved for the oligarchic heirarchy.  And Ahmadinejad has clearly emerged the victor.

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Afghan Conflict Intensifying

In comments made during a speech at the Washington think-tank Center for a New American Security, General David Petraeus noted the number of attacks in Afghanistan over the last week hit the highest level since the December 2001 fall of the Taliban. Attacks have risen to over 400 insurgent attacks a week compared to under 50 per week back in January 2004. More from the New York Times:

The violence that has surged for two years in Afghanistan reached a new high last week, and more difficulty lies ahead, the commander of U.S. troops in the Middle East said Thursday.

Gen. David Petraeus said the number of attacks in Afghanistan over the last week hit the highest level since the December 2001 fall of the Taliban.

"Some of this will go up because we are going to go after their sanctuaries and safe havens as we must," Petraeus, in charge of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq as leader of U.S. Central Command, said during a speech at the Washington think-tank Center for a New American Security.

"But there is no question the situation has deteriorated over the course of the past two years in particular and there are difficult times ahead," he said.

There were more than 400 insurgent attacks last week, including ambushes, small arms volleys, assaults on Afghan infrastructure and government offices, and roadside bomb and mine explosions. In comparison, attacks in January 2004 were less than 50 per week.

Extremist attacks in the rural nation tend to increase in the summer months, and in part are spurred by military efforts to crack down on insurgents, Petraeus said.

Petraeus, who led beefed-up U.S. military efforts that helped turnabout violence in Iraq in 2007, noted several challenges in Afghanistan he did not face while in Baghdad -- including the inability of U.S. troops to live among the local residents.

It is probable that the violence will continue to escalate as Afghanistan approaches its presidential elections in August and as more US and NATO troops arrive in the country before waning as the harsh Afghan winter sets in.

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