Sarah Palin as Policy Wonk

It would have probably been fair to say of Sarah Palin that until a few days ago 'policy wonk' would have been an unlikely description, love her or loathe her, of any facet of her complex relationship with American politics. But now this:
I’m deeply concerned about the Federal Reserve’s plans to buy up anywhere from $600 billion to as much as $1 trillion of government securities. The technical term for it is “quantitative easing.” It means our government is pumping money into the banking system by buying up treasury bonds. And where, you may ask, are we getting the money to pay for all this? We’re printing it out of thin air. Sarah Palin via Robert Costa- Palin to Bernanke: ‘Cease and Desist’ National Review 7 Nov 10
That's very interesting on a lot of levels. The piece is coherent and sober and, more importantly, it is aimed directly at a weak point in the current administration's monetary policy and an electoral vulnerability in the allegiances of establishment Republicans in the newly constituted House of Representatives. Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke, the champion of this recently announced second round of 'quantitative easing,' promised Congress on 3 June 2009 that the Federal Reserve would not 'monetise the debt' of the US government, in other words just print money "out of thin air." But that seems to be exactly what we are now proposing to do and there are dissenting opinions within the Federal Reserve system itself:
For the next eight months, the nation’s central bank will be monetizing the federal debt. This is risky business. We know that history is littered with the economic carcasses of nations that incorporated this as a regular central bank practice. So how can the ['quantitative easing'] decision made last Wednesday be justified? Richard W Fischer - Recent Decisions of the Federal Open Market Committee: A Bridge to Fiscal Sanity? Federal Reserve of Dallas 8 Nov 10
So which is it? Well, that all depends on whose telling the story. But it's already a done deal. There is a lot of chatter on the financial blogs that 'quantitative easing' is a stealth bailout, that it is an opportunity for financial institutions to improve liquidity by taking positions in advance of government bond purchases and that it will result in considerable inflation of basic commodities and weaken the dollar internationally. And it is hard to argue that this analysis is inaccurate given the Federal Reserves somewhat desperate position to get money moving again in the US economy without it being squirrelled away by the manufacturing and retail sectors against better times. In fact, there are increasingly vocal objections from the Left and the Right over this latest Federal Reserve policy. So what is Sarah's play? Well, back on 22 September the third-ranking Congressional Republican weighed in:
Washington, DC – Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA), Vice Chair of the House Republican Conference, released the following statement today after the Federal Reserve announced it will inflate the currency by $600 billion in a new round of "quantitative easing." "I am strongly opposed to the Fed’s decision to debase the American dollar by $600 billion.  While the Fed claims its action will ‘stimulate’ the economy, it will fail just as badly as President Obama’s ‘stimulus’ because it promotes short-term consumption, debt, and uncertainty in the private sector while penalizing working families, retirees, and especially entrepreneurs who need a large pool of savings to start new businesses, expand current ones, and stay on the cutting-edge."   Karl Denninger - Cathy McMorris (R-WA-5) Condemns Bernanke Market Ticker 3 Nov 10
But since then? Crickets... Interestingly enough most within the establishment Republican leadership have said nothing on this issue. No prizes guessing why. And Sarah has now stepped up to the plate with a policy Republicans will be squirming to argue against, no matter what their lobbyists are telling them. This seems a reasonably mainstream Republican position for the Tea Party caucus to rally behind as an opening gambit against traditional House Republicans with the Obama administration as the ultimate target. We'll see. The price of petrol at the bowser and basic commodities like food will be the success indicators for this strategy and if they go up one could expect some mileage out of this in the short term. Sarah seems to be betting they will and she may be taking good advice. Anything else is just wishful thinking. As for more long term issues, consider the long-standing and rarely mentioned Tea Party policy of 'auditing the Fed.' This has support from both the Tea Party and some progressives. Have a look at HR 1207, the Federal Reserve Transparency Act of 2009, a Ron Paul bill from the 111th Congress with three-hundred and twenty cosponsors, including Michelle Bachmann, Alan Grayson and Dennis Kucinich. That's the kind of populist issue that might prove an easy victory to the first claimant. Establishment Republicans may be in for more than they bargained for with their Tea Party cohort but if this wave catches it could be enough to inundate unwary Democrats as well. The presidential election in 2012 will be fought on issues of economic populism and Sarah Palin may have just fired the opening salvo. Cross-posted at Daily Kos and Red State

Public Option Close to Vote in House [Update]

Crossposted at The Motley Moose

The Medicare+5 public option is apparently eight votes short of passage in the house according to Representative Raul Grijalva (D-AZ):


The robust public option is eight votes short of the 218 it needs to pass the House, Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.) tells HuffPost.

Grijalva, as co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, has been counting support for a public option tied to Medicare rates -- the so-called Medicare plus five -- over the last few weeks.

"We anticipate that we're at 210," he said. "We feel that the momentum is all on the robust Medicare plus five public option."

Grijalva said that "25-plus" Democrats have said they will vote no. "Some of those no's are no regardless. It has nothing to do with the public option," he said, putting the number of those firm no-votes at 18 or 19.

There are 256 Democrats in the House. With 25 or 30 no votes, that leaves only about 15 to 20 members still to decide. Progressives need roughly half of them.

He says that backers of the public option are focusing on those persuadable Democrats rather than negotiating with members who will vote no.

Ryan Grim - Public Option Within Eight Votes Of House Passage, Says Rep. Grijalva Huffington Post 21 Oct 09

If you favour a public option it's probably time to do a little homework on your local representative and exert some political will if necessary.

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Public Option Close to Vote in House: Now is the Time

The Medicare+5 public option is apparently eight votes short of passage in the house according to Representative Raul Grijalva (D-AZ):


The robust public option is eight votes short of the 218 it needs to pass the House, Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.) tells HuffPost.

Grijalva, as co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, has been counting support for a public option tied to Medicare rates -- the so-called Medicare plus five -- over the last few weeks.

"We anticipate that we're at 210," he said. "We feel that the momentum is all on the robust Medicare plus five public option."

Grijalva said that "25-plus" Democrats have said they will vote no. "Some of those no's are no regardless. It has nothing to do with the public option," he said, putting the number of those firm no-votes at 18 or 19.

There are 256 Democrats in the House. With 25 or 30 no votes, that leaves only about 15 to 20 members still to decide. Progressives need roughly half of them.

He says that backers of the public option are focusing on those persuadable Democrats rather than negotiating with members who will vote no.

Ryan Grim - Public Option Within Eight Votes Of House Passage, Says Rep. Grijalva Huffington Post 21 Oct 09

If you favour a public option it's probably time to do a little homework on your local representative and exert some political will if necessary.

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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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Greening Iran

Crossposted at The Motley Moose

The pending election in Iran, far more than just a personality quest between Ahmadinejad and Mousavi, is a sign of potentially serious ructions in the ruling oligarchy:


Mr Ahmadinejad suddenly looks vulnerable. He is being widely criticised, even ridiculed in public, in a manner the regime would normally not tolerate. Yesterday he even accused his opponents of behaving like Hitler's propaganda chief Joseph Goebbels -- quite an allegation from a man who denies that the Holocaust happened.

Opposition to him is growing among the ruling clergy after he publicly maligned Hojatoleslam Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, the powerful head of the Expediency Council. Hojatoleslam Rafsanjani has demanded an apology. His case has received support in an open letter from 50 clerics in the holy city of Qom.

Richard Beeston - Mahmoud Ahmadinejad goes from favourite to shaky contender The Times 11 Jun 09

Things started to go wrong for Ahmadinejad in his debate with Moussavi recently when he stepped all over his privates by accusing the past two presidents, and their cliques, of corruption.  Interestingly these included current and powerful members of Iran's ruling oligarchy.  It would seem that there is more going on than meets the eye in an otherwise largely ceremonial election for Iran's presidency.

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The Dogs of Afghanistan: Obama vs Osama

It's ironic that at the time when the framing 'war on terror' has receded from US public discourse the most telling blows are finally being struck.  The conflict with al-Qaeda was always a war of ideas punctuated by horrible and unexpected violence for no other purpose than to provide tangible evidence of 'legitimacy' for the enemies of the 'Great Satan' who presumed to lead oppressed and potentially militant Muslims across the world.  Our strategy of fighting this 'war' by suspending civil liberties, promoting fear at home and apprehension overseas while unilaterally projecting US military power in the Middle East and South Asia always seemed as likely to play into the hands of the self-appointed enemies of the US as not.  

It almost seemed calculated that Bin Laden struck the US when our leadership was predictably willing to frame the conflict in the convenient medieval narrative of 'crusade.'  But things are different now, we finally understand the field on which this battle will be won:


"Barack Obama is not just trying to reach out to Muslims for the sake of it," says Mr. Gerges, a professor of Middle Eastern studies at Sarah Lawrence College and an authority on modern jihad. "He's trying to hammer a deadly nail in Osama bin Laden's message." What President Obama understood more than his predecessors, Mr. Gerges says, is that it is not a war that can be won militarily, but only ideologically.

Jarret Brachman, a former West Point terrorism expert and author of a recent book, "Global Jihadism," said the speech "was the most important strategic step we've taken in this war."

"That's why Al Qaeda is so nervous," he said.

Rod Nordland - Forceful Words and Fateful Realities NYT 06 Jun 09

Woven within Obama's address to the Muslim world from Cairo was a carefully crafted refutation of the al-Qaeda argument, point by point, presented in the form of classical Islamic scholarly discourse, complete with quotations from the Qur'an:


Senior administration officials say the speech was carefully crafted to rob the Al Qaeda leader and his terrorist network of some of its chief recruiting totems, including fears the United States plans a permanent presence in Iraq and Afghanistan.

White House officials say that the tide may be turning on the world's most wanted man. "For the first time, they're beginning to lose the propaganda war," said a top aide traveling with Obama during his six-day mission to Europe and the Middle East.

The week of high drama featured a showdown of sorts between the two leaders -- Obama vs. Osama -- with Obama's soaring speech and a bin Laden audiotape providing a powerful point-counterpoint as each sought to make his case to the Muslim world.

Mike Allen - Barack Obama takes aim at Osama bin Laden Politico 6 Jun 09

In January Bin Laden threatened to open 'new fronts' against the US and it's allies.  On the eve of Obama's speech his scratchy audio-taped prebuttal was more tactical, and clearly concerned with his own backyard:


In a tape broadcast by Al Jazeera shortly after Obama arrived in Saudi Arabia on Wednesday, bin Laden said the president had inflamed hatred toward the US by ordering Pakistan to crack down on fighters in the Swat Valley.

He said: "Obama and his administration have sowed new seeds of hatred against America.

"He has followed the steps of his predecessor in antagonising Muslims ... and laying the foundation for long wars."

Bin Laden attacks Obama policies Al Jazeera 3 Jun 09

It is indicative that this message was focused on the Pakistani offensive in Swat, the frontline evidence of the turning tide of Muslim sympathies and aspirations.  The Taliban, having alienated public opinion in Pakistan, have increased popular support for the newly-minted civilian government's leadership and a determined military effort against this militant Islamist threat, including seeking and confronting the Taliban, and al-Qaeda, in their homelands.  Ideological rhetoric is always most effective when the winds of change are blowing in your favour, and they are blowing fair for us right now.

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Obama and a Nuclear Iran

Obama has articulated what a lot of people have been thinking for some time on the illogic of the US position vis à vis Iran's clear ambition for nuclear technology:


LONDON -- President Barack Obama reiterated that Iran may have some right to nuclear energy - provided it takes steps to prove its aspirations are peaceful.

In a BBC interview broadcast Tuesday, Obama also restated plans to pursue direct diplomacy with Tehran to encourage it to set aside any ambitions for nuclear weapons it might harbor.

Iran has insisted its nuclear program is aimed at generating electricity. But the U.S. and other Western governments accuse Tehran of seeking atomic weapons.

"Without going into specifics, what I do believe is that Iran has legitimate energy concerns, legitimate aspirations. On the other hand, the international community has a very real interest in preventing a nuclear arms race in the region," Obama said.

The comments echo remarks Obama made in Prague last month in which he said his administration would "support Iran's right to peaceful nuclear energy with rigorous inspections" if Iran proves it is no longer a nuclear threat.

Nancy Zuckerbrod - Obama says Iran's energy concerns legitimate Washington Post (AP) 2 Jun 2009

This somewhat startling admission, contrary to the domestic media narrative, makes excellent sense and is aligned with growing conventional wisdom within the foreign policy establishment on the futility of portraying Iran's nuclear programme as an act of aggression in itself.  The Israelis must not be very pleased, on the other hand Europeans, increasingly seeking access to abundant Iranian reserves to meet their natural gas needs in coming decades, are no doubt relieved.  The speech in Prague was intended for a largely European audience.

Assuming Iran renews it's participation in the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and accepts International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspections there is little the US or Israel can do under international law to prevent them from developing a peaceful nuclear capability under Article IV of the NPT:


The treaty recognizes the inalienable right of sovereign states to use nuclear energy for peaceful purposes, but restricts this right for NPT parties to be exercised "in conformity with Articles I and II" (the basic nonproliferation obligations that constitute the "first pillar" of the Treaty). As the commercially popular light water reactor nuclear power station uses enriched uranium fuel, it follows that states must be able either to enrich uranium or purchase it on an international market.

NPT Third pillar: peaceful use of nuclear energy Wikipedia

The tenor of House Minority Leader Eric Cantor's (R-Va) remarks that this policy is "dangerous" and "misguided" set the tone for this debate in domestic terms:


"I strongly disagree with President Obama's dangerous suggestion that Iran may have some right to nuclear energy." said Cantor in a statement provided to the Huffington Post. "Iran forfeited any right to nuclear energy when it made the decision to illicitly enrich uranium to levels that can be used for nuclear weapons."

Cantor: Obama Mid-East Policy "Dangerous" And "Misguided" Huffington Post 2 Jun 09

Under international law Cantor is clearly mistaken, though Iran now has 'pariah' status it is likely that it would be accepted back to the NPT, with considerable relief, by the international community.  Obama is making a courageous stand domestically but not internationally, many of our allies have been reluctant to impose severe sanctions on Iran and alarmed at the aggressive rhetoric of the previous administration.

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Geopolitics and Energy: The 'Great Game'

Underlying the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the confrontation with Iran and third-power interest in the insurgency in Pakistan, is a much broader shift in the tectonics of geopolitical influence among the great powers, China, Russia, the US and the emerging European state.  And as usual it is founded on resources, trade and, consequently, the distribution of wealth and power among nations.

It is all about control of the world's dwindling energy resources and their chains of distribution and it is focused on the Middle East and Central Asia.  The world's remaining abundant petroleum resources are localised in the Middle East and while the traditional maritime distribution model places the supply of these resources largely in the Persian Gulf, with the guarantor of delivery the US Navy, this model is slowly changing.  As described by former Turkish Minister of State, Hikmet Uluğbay, we are now entering the final phase of this competition:


The discovery of oil, the popularization of the automotive industry and the introduction of motor vehicles to the army has led industrialized countries, which lacked oil to back the process of industrialization, including Britain, Germany and France, to enter a race for control over oil fields. Considering that its own oil resources may be exhausted, the US also joined the race after the end of World War I. This started the first battle of apportionment over oil resources. Currently, the final fight is taking place to have control over oil and natural gas resources, as well as over routes to deliver these resources. Scholarly studies show that global oil production will peak in the short run, after which oil production will enter a decline. According to the research, during the 2019-2030 period natural gas production will peak. The increase in oil prices to $150 per barrel was a harbinger of this. The current decline in oil prices should not mislead us. This temporary development is a product of expectations that the world economy will soon suffer from stagnation.

Fatih Uğur - World is Witnessing Final Fight For Oil Zaman 5 Oct 08

Partly due to the shift towards reliance on natural gas, pipeline distribution overland to Europe has become a highly competitive undertaking.  Europe is already dependent on Russian natural gas travelling overland from the Caspian region, a situation not lost on US policymakers:


Unfortunately, Russia has shown itself increasingly willing to use energy as a tool of foreign policy, posing a threat to EU energy security. Meanwhile, the fourth largest proven natural gas reserves in the world sit in the Caspian region - including Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan - effectively locked away from a natural market in western Europe by Russia's stranglehold over Europe's natural gas pipeline system.

Robert F Winchester - European Energy Security: Wrestling with the Russian Bear for Caspian Natural Gas US Army War College 30 June 2007

And Europe is seeking to establish it's own alternate routes to the Caspian Basin, the Middle East and Iran:


The aftermath of the January energy crisis between Russia and Ukraine, which resulted in the interruption of the natural gas supply to some European countries, has once again made relevant the establishment of alternative energy routes from Russia to supply natural gas to Europe. Additionally, alternatives are also needed to Ukraine, through which Russia transported about 80% of Europe's gas. In this case, the actual construction of the natural gas pipelines `North Stream` and `South Stream` again rise. Both projects will guarantee the unimpeded transit of natural gas through pipelines which will be laid on the seabed (of the Baltic Sea and the Black Sea). But these pipelines do not provide an alternative to Russian gas, and so a possible alternative for Central and Eastern European countries could be the Nabucco gas pipeline project, which plans to export gas from the Caspian Sea basin states and perhaps from Iran, Iraq and Egypt in the future.

Rovshan Ibrahimov - Nabucco Pipeline - I Turkish Weekly 19 Feb 09

Small wonder the US is having trouble getting European partners in it's effort to impose economic sanctions on Iran.  But it is not just a reality affecting our inability to impose sanction on Iran, this competition for energy resources is global, strongly affecting US policy on Gulf and regional alliances, not to mention the invasion and occupation of Iraq and the security crises in Afghanistan and Pakistan, conflicts usually portrayed in terms of threats to our physical security and ideology.  This reality informs the foreign policy of every major power, not to mention the geopolitical motivations of the US in the Middle East and South Asia, now and in the past, for both 'realists' and neoconservatives.

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Relations with Iran at the Crossroad

Obama's election win was a clear mandate for a change of policy regarding US relations with Iran and expectations of new diplomatic initiatives were briefly sustained by Obama's greeting to Iran on Nowruz, the Persian new year, and by the resumption of dialogue between mid-level foreign affairs representatives of both nations.

Then Ahmadinejad delivered his anti-semitic tirade in Geneva, although the Saberi case was basically a wash, an early provocation wrapped up by the speedy decision for her release.  Ahmadinejad, initially rebuked by Khamenei, now seems to enjoy his support and is likely to win the pending elections in spite of some heavyweight moderate competition.  The launch, recently, of the Sajjil-2 surface-to-surface intermediate range missle followed closely on Obama's unexpected imposition of a deadline on relations with Iran at his meeting with Netanyahu:


Iran's launch comes less than a month before Iran's presidential election and just two days after President Barack Obama declared a readiness to seek deeper international sanctions against Tehran if it did not respond positively to U.S. attempts to open negotiations on its nuclear program. Obama said earlier this week that Tehran had until the end of the year to show it wanted to engage with Washington.

But both U.S. government officials and independent American missile experts said Wednesday that the Iranian missile itself did not appear to be a new model.

Charles Vick, a senior technical analyst for GlobalSecurity.org, analyzed photos and videotape of the launch released by Iran.

"I'm not all that impressed," Vick said. "It's just another test that confirms they've got the system that was operational last summer."

Pamela Hess and Pauline Jelinik - Iran Missile Launch Confirmed By US Huffington Post (AP) 20 May 09

This suggests limited, if any, progress and the successful confounding by Netanyahu, on behalf of Likud, of the Iranian and Israeli relationships.  But things are not always what they seem and in spite of an almost wilfull ambivalence on the part of the mainstream media it may be up to us to modify some of our presumptions about Iran's intentions and the genuine level of risk they present before meaningful negotiations are possible:


Everything you know about Iran is wrong, or at least more complicated than you think. Take the bomb. The regime wants to be a nuclear power but could well be happy with a peaceful civilian program (which could make the challenge it poses more complex). What's the evidence? Well, over the last five years, senior Iranian officials at every level have repeatedly asserted that they do not intend to build nuclear weapons. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has quoted the regime's founding father, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, who asserted that such weapons were "un-Islamic." The country's Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, issued a fatwa in 2004 describing the use of nuclear weapons as immoral. In a subsequent sermon, he declared that "developing, producing or stockpiling nuclear weapons is forbidden under Islam." Last year Khamenei reiterated all these points after meeting with the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Mohamed ElBaradei. Now, of course, they could all be lying. But it seems odd for a regime that derives its legitimacy from its fidelity to Islam to declare constantly that these weapons are un-Islamic if it intends to develop them.

Fareed Zakaria - They May Not Want The Bomb Newsweek 22 May 09

The bottom line, however, is are we still intent on attempting to destabalise Iran through covert operations not unlike those prosecuted by Hezbollah and Hamas against Israel or by Iran itself against us in Iraq?:


But [Obama administration disappointment] ignores the real reason Iranian leaders have not responded to the new president more enthusiastically: the Obama administration has done nothing to cancel or repudiate an ostensibly covert but well-publicized program, begun in President George W. Bush's second term, to spend hundreds of millions of dollars to destabilize the Islamic Republic. Under these circumstances, the Iranian government -- regardless of who wins the presidential elections on June 12 -- will continue to suspect that American intentions toward the Islamic Republic remain, ultimately, hostile.

Flyntt and Hillary Mann Leverett - Have We Already Lost Iran? NYT 23 May 09

The Obama administration has a choice to make here which is governed by many factors, not least of which the somewhat narrow range of US public opinion largely informed by eight years of what is arguably alarmist neoconservative rhetoric regarding Iran.

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Pakistan Presses On

The military operations in Malakand against the Taliban continue, with a critical stage, the occupation of Mingora, likely to take place in the next few days, as reported after the briefing of parliamentarians from Pakistan's leading parties on Friday:


The leaders were briefed in camera by the COAS and the Director General of Operations, Maj-Gen Javed Iqbal, at PM's House and reassured that special care was being taken to avoid collateral damage and that a decisive advance had been made in Mingora and its suburbs.

The army officers said the city had been encircled from all sides and it would be cleared of militants very soon. The leaders were informed that militants were on the run after army's penetration into areas where troops had no access earlier.

They were also told that Fazlullah, believed to be the head of militant Taliban, was not in control of all the groups fighting in Malakand and that the militant groups were receiving money and arms through Waziristan and Afghanistan.  

Ahmad Hassan - `Mingora besieged, to be secured soon' Dawn Media 16 May 09

As far as military strategies go it would appear that this is a sound one, given the numeric superiority but unwieldy nature of the army.  Occupying the surrounding countryside before descending on Mingora is effective and a significant departure from the half-hearted efforts of years past.

But as we know the real challenge of 'complex wars' is political, not military, and in that respect the Pakistani civilian government seems to be achieving some success, both in uniting political factions behind this operation, at least for now, and mobilising public opinion against the Taliban as a matter of national sovereignty and security:


COAS General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani's in-camera briefing to the parliamentarians on the situation in Swat elicited a unanimous stand in favour of the military operation. This unity among the leadership on an issue of such great importance augurs well for the federation. The Taliban were using Swat as a base to spread their network to other parts of the country and carry out suicide attacks across the country. They were also advocating a way of life that was neither in accordance with the spirit of Islam nor the vision of the founding fathers of the country. The government's attempts to hammer out a negotiated settlement of the conflict had met with little success because the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan could not reconcile itself to the idea of accepting the writ of the state.

Editorial - In both camps The Nation (Pakistan) 16 May 09

It seems pretty clear that the task of wresting control of the NWFP and FATA from the Taliban is going to be a long and difficult one for Pakistan and any expectations of a sudden and dramatic improvement there is likely to be disappointed, especially considering that in Bajaur, apparently, the Taliban have reasserted their presence shortly after the winding down of the operations of the Frontier Corps in February.  According to a disputed BBC analysis only 38% of this region is under the control of the Pakistani government and the very nature of the Taliban insurgency makes it difficult for the unwieldy Pakistani Army to effectively bring them to a decisive action, a tactical reality understood by British colonial generals well over a century ago.  

However public opinion seems to be hardening against the Taliban's excesses in recent months and the military continues to loyally discharge it's constitutional role.  Politically, everything hinges on the All-Parties Conference of the National Assembly, scheduled to be held in Islamabad on Monday.  If the coalition factions, at least, remain united behind their leadership, such as it is, the recent geopolitical gamble by the Obama administration should perhaps be seen as a qualified success in response to a very difficult situation.

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Diaries

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