A Fateful Fortnight

According to Fox News, the commander of US Central Command, General David Petraeus has made some rather blunt comments to unnamed US officials offering a stark assessment of the situation in Pakistan. In General Petraeus' view the next two weeks are critical to determining whether the Pakistani government will survive.

"The Pakistanis have run out of excuses" and are "finally getting serious" about combating the threat from Taliban and Al Qaeda extremists operating out of Northwest Pakistan, the general added.

But Petraeus also said wearily that "we've heard it all before" from the Pakistanis and he is looking to see concrete action by the government to destroy the Taliban in the next two weeks before determining the United States' next course of action, which is presently set on propping up the Pakistani government and military with counterinsurgency training and foreign aid.

Petraeus made these assessment in talks with lawmakers and Obama administration officials this week, according to individuals familiar with the discussions.

They said Petraeus and senior administration officials believe the Pakistani army, led by Chief of Staff Gen. Ashfaq Kayani, is "superior" to the civilian government, led by President Ali Zardari, and could conceivably survive even if Zardari's government falls to the Taliban.

Pakistan has indeed run out of excuses but whether it has run out of time remains an open question. The Taliban are a destabilizing threat but it is hard to envision "bearded guys with Kalashnikovs and a nostalgia for the 7th century" toppling the world's sixth largest army, and a very professional one at that, in an open battle. Yet at the same time, this isn't the Battle of the Punjab that the Pakistani army has been prepping for since 1947, the existential threat is an insidious one for which Pakistan may not be fully prepared. It is also an open question whether global policy makers have yet realized that Pakistan is a failed state not because the bearded ones stand at the gates of Buner but rather because the Pakistani elites care more about their own welfare than they do about the survival of the experiment that is Pakistan.

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SoS Clinton in Iraq as Iraqi Reconciliation Falters

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton arrived in Baghdad for a one day visit. Her visit comes on the heels of recent violence that has claimed 148 lives including Iranian Shi'ites on a pilgrimage. The Secretary of State was preceded in Baghdad by the arrival of veteran US diplomat Christopher Hill as the new US ambassador to Iraq. His nomination has been delayed by Republicans who claimed he lacked Middle East experience but were really more about payback for his handling of negotiations with North Korea over its nuclear weapons program.

Although violence in Iraq is at its lowest point since 2003, Secretary Clinton and Ambassador arrived in Iraq at a delicate moment after back-to-back suicide bombings killed 60 people outside the most important Shiite shrine in Baghdad. Those attacks came after Iraq on Thursday was rocked by its most deadly violence in more than a year when 88 people were killed by suicide bombers in Baghdad and Muqdadiyah, north of the Iraqi capital. More on Secretary Clinton's visit from the New York Times.

Iraq has been in the rear-view mirror for quite some time but unfortunately stability and peace remain elusive. In recent weeks and quietly at least in the American press there has been an uptick in violence in Iraq. Most worrisome is the situation in Kirkuk, an oil-rich province, where the Kurds and the Iraqi state seem on a collision course. The video below is from Al Jazeera and examines Iraq's efforts to achieve a national reconciliation.

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China Gains from American Strategic Distraction

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in testimony to a House subcommittee warned that the United States risks losing influence to China because it is too slow to deliver aid to needy nations. Kudos to the Secretary for noticing the costs of America's strategic distraction. The geo-political winner of Bush's misbegotten adventures has been Beijing. While Bush preoccupied himself in search of weapons of mass destruction that he knew didn't exist, China was been free to fill vacuums from Myanmar to Argentina and across the whole of Africa. In her testimony today, the Secretary cited a recent example where China swooped into Jamaica.

"They (Jamaica) have just signed a memorandum of understanding with China...and now they have got a government-to-government relationship with China," Clinton said.
"We have to be sure we have in place the safeguards so that the money goes where we intend it to go," Clinton told the subcommitee on foreign operations of the House Appropriations Committee.

She also urged Congress to move quickly to deliver aid for Mexico's drug wars.

"It's just too slow, and when I was in Mexico, that's what I heard from both the president and the foreign secretary," Clinton said, referring to talks with Felipe Calderon and Patricia Espinosa last month in Mexico City.

She said the United States, for example, has been slow to release the money needed for Blackhawk helicopters to fight the drug cartels.

"Let's try to get to the bottom of this because you all do your work, you get it appropriated, I go around talking about what we need to do and it's kind of hollow, and we're losing ground," Clinton said.

"And we're seeing particularly China come in right behind us, because countries get tired of talking to our bureaucracy and decide they're going to cut a deal with someone else."

Furthermore the Republican mismanagement of the economy over the past 30 years has weaken our national security to such a point that China now fills a role that US and the West has historically filled. And yet incredulously the Republicans would have us believe that they are the party of national security. Jamaica approached China because the United States is preoccupied with its own financial problems, our legacy from the cut taxes and still spend GOP.

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Rethink Afghanistan

Robert Greenwald of Brave New Films was recently in Afghanistan. Here's another of the trailers from his upcoming documentary on Afghanistan. Brave New Films aims to foster the kind of discussion, debate and dissent that President Obama has said he welcomes. BNF's work-along with a network of bloggers, progressive leaders, magazines like The Nation, peace and justice groups-is launching much-needed Congressional hearings on vital areas such as the role and goals of the US military in Afghanistan, oversight of contractors, transparent budgeting and clear metrics to measure progress toward a defined exit strategy.

Do we really want to spend our tax dollars on a war that could last a decade or more? The Obama Administration has taken some smart steps to counter this economic crisis with its budget request. Do we really want to see that effort wasted by expanding military demands?

Watch Pulitzer Prize-winning authors and journalists, military and foreign policy experts, leading economists, and many more explain just how much the war in Afghanistan will cost us over how many years.

We must urge Congress to raise key questions about this war at once. As FireDogLake blogger Siun recently wrote, "Once again we are planning a surge with no exit plan and a continued lack of concern for the most basic protection of the civilians in the land we claim to liberate."

Learn more at Rethink Afghanistan.

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The Obama Doctrine - One Country Among Many

For an internationalist like myself, Barack Obama is certainly a welcomed breath of fresh air. His resetting of US foreign policy from that Bush standard of American exceptionalism and even the Clinton standard of an American-led globalization that to many seemed more like Americanization than globalization is a welcomed departure and perhaps suggests an America that can learn from its mistakes and more importantly from others. For too long, American foreign policy has been predicated on a notion that only the United States has it right and that the rest of the world would do well to replicate the American way of life.

At a news conference ending the three-day Summit of the Americas on Sunday in Port-of-Spain, a reporter asked the President about an emerging "Obama Doctrine."

The President responded that first, he remains intent on telling the world that the United States is a powerful and wealthy nation that realizes it is just one country among many. Obama said he believes that other countries have "good ideas" and interests that cannot be ignored. This may send the American right into an apoplectic fit but it casts a glow of warmth and good feelings from the rest of the world towards the United States. The United States is owning up to its excesses and mistakes. In short, it is demonstrating a maturity and indeed a confidence not ever before demonstrated by American foreign policy.

Second, while the United States best represents itself by living up to its universal values and ideas, the President said the United States must also respect the variety of cultures and perspectives that guide both American foes and friends.

"I firmly believe that if we're willing to break free from the arguments and ideologies of an earlier era and continue to act, as we have at this summit, with a sense of mutual responsibility and mutual respect and mutual interest, then each of our nations can come out of this challenging period stronger and more prosperous, and we can advance opportunity, equality, and security across the Americas," the President said.

The Obama Doctrine, it is what the world wants. And I'll note that senior adviser David Axelrod describes the President's tactics this way, "You plant, you cultivate, you harvest. Over time, the seeds that were planted here are going to be very, very valuable."

I find that remarkable for just yesterday  Argentina's La Nación opined that the Summit was "the seed of a new relationship" between Latin America and the United States. After years of bitter fruit, the harvest for succeeding generations promises to be very sweet indeed.

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