Archive for November 25th, 2006

Leaving Iraq, Honorably

There will be no victory or defeat for the United States in Iraq. These terms do not reflect the reality of what is going to happen there. The future of Iraq was always going to be determined by the Iraqis — not the Americans.

Iraq is not a prize to be won or lost. It is part of the ongoing global struggle against instability, brutality, intolerance, extremism and terrorism. There will be no military victory or military solution for Iraq. Former secretary of state Henry Kissinger made this point last weekend.

The time for more U.S. troops in Iraq has passed. We do not have more troops to send and, even if we did, they would not bring a resolution to Iraq. Militaries are built to fight and win wars, not bind together failing nations. We are once again learning a very hard lesson in foreign affairs: America cannot impose a democracy on any nation — regardless of our noble purpose.

We have misunderstood, misread, misplanned and mismanaged our honorable intentions in Iraq with an arrogant self-delusion reminiscent of Vietnam. Honorable intentions are not policies and plans. Iraq belongs to the 25 million Iraqis who live there. They will decide their fate and form of government.

It may take many years before there is a cohesive political center in Iraq. America’s options on this point have always been limited. There will be a new center of gravity in the Middle East that will include Iraq. That process began over the past few days with the Syrians and Iraqis restoring diplomatic relations after 20 years of having no formal communication. The next installment would be this weekend’s unprecedented meeting in Iran of the presidents of Iran, Syria and Iraq, if it takes place.

What does this tell us? It tells us that regional powers will fill regional vacuums, and they will move to work in their own self-interest — without the United States. This is the most encouraging set of actions for the Middle East in years. The Middle East is more combustible today than ever before, and until we are able to lead a renewal of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, mindless destruction and slaughter will continue in Lebanon, Israel and across the Middle East.

We are a long way from a sustained peaceful resolution to the anarchy in Iraq. But this latest set of events is moving the Middle East in the only direction it can go with any hope of lasting progress and peace. The movement will be imperfect, stuttering and difficult.

America finds itself in a dangerous and isolated position in the world. We are perceived as a nation at war with Muslims. Unfortunately, that perception is gaining credibility in the Muslim world and for many years will complicate America’s global credibility, purpose and leadership. This debilitating and dangerous perception must be reversed as the world seeks a new geopolitical, trade and economic center that will accommodate the interests of billions of people over the next 25 years. The world will continue to require realistic, clear-headed American leadership — not an American divine mission.

The United States must begin planning for a phased troop withdrawal from Iraq. The cost of combat in Iraq in terms of American lives, dollars and world standing has been devastating. We’ve already spent more than $300 billion there to prosecute an almost four-year-old war and are still spending $8 billion per month. The United States has spent more than $500 billion on our wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. And our effort in Afghanistan continues to deteriorate, partly because we took our focus off the real terrorist threat, which was there, and not in Iraq.

We are destroying our force structure, which took 30 years to build. We’ve been funding this war dishonestly, mainly through supplemental appropriations, which minimizes responsible congressional oversight and allows the administration to duck tough questions in defending its policies. Congress has abdicated its oversight responsibility in the past four years.

It is not too late. The United States can still extricate itself honorably from an impending disaster in Iraq. The Baker-Hamilton commission gives the president a new opportunity to form a bipartisan consensus to get out of Iraq. If the president fails to build a bipartisan foundation for an exit strategy, America will pay a high price for this blunder — one that we will have difficulty recovering from in the years ahead.

To squander this moment would be to squander future possibilities for the Middle East and the world. That is what is at stake over the next few months.


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RIYADH, Saudi Arabia (CNN) — Vice President Dick Cheney arrived in Saudi Arabia on Saturday for a day of talks with King Abdullah about what a Saudi adviser described as a “broad new initiative for the Middle East.”

Cheney and Abdullah are expected to discuss the war in Iraq as well as other matters including Iran’s influence in the region; Syria; Hamas in Gaza and Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora’s government, the adviser told CNN.

The visit is the outcome of at least two months of work on the new initiative, the adviser said.

Saudi Arabia and the United States see “eye-to-eye” on all issues, he added. His country will take a leading role in the region and will become “a linchpin of U.S. policy for the next two years.”

The vice president will return to Washington on Sunday, the White House said.

Cheney’s visit comes two days after what’s considered the single worst attack in Iraq since the war began in 2003: an assault widely believed to have been carried out by Sunnis on the Shiite enclave of Sadr City in Baghdad. That attack killed more than 200 people and wounded 250 others.

In retaliation, enraged Shiites burned people to death and torched Sunni mosques, according to residents.

Iraqi President Jalal Talabani postponed his trip on Saturday to Iran for talks with his Iranian counterpart, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, on how to stabilize Iraq, after Baghdad’s airport was shut down. (Full story)

Tension escalated in Lebanon after the assassination of Cabinet minister Pierre Gemayel, an act seen as undermining Siniora’s government. (Watch how tensions have soared in the wake of Gemayel’s assassination )

Next week President Bush is scheduled to travel to Amman, Jordan, for talks on security and the war in Iraq with its prime minister, Nuri al-Maliki.

The White House has said the talks will go forward, despite a threat made Friday by anti-U.S. Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr’s bloc to pull out of the government if the meeting takes place. The bloc holds 30 seats in the 275-member Parliament and six Cabinet ministries. (Watch the stakes rise ahead of Bush and al-Maliki’s meeting


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Poisoned spy was the victim of state terror

Britain’s intelligence agencies last night claimed that the poisoning of the Russian dissident Alexander Litvinenko bore the hallmarks of a “state-sponsored” assassination.

A senior Whitehall official told The Times that confirmation that the former Russian spy, who had become a British citizen, had been poisoned with radioactive polonium-210 and other evidence so far not released pointed to the murder being carried out by foreign agents.

Last night the Foreign Office said that officials had met with the Russian ambassador in London and had asked the Kremlin to hand over any information that it had which could help the Scotland Yard investigation.

Cobra, the Cabinet’s emergency security committee, met yesterday after toxicologists confirmed that the 43-year-old former KGB colonel had a large dose of alpha radiation in his body. The committee chaired by John Reid, the Home Secretary, considered the risk to the public after the discovery of radioactive material in a Central London sushi bar and at the Millennium Hotel, near the US embassy in Grosvenor Square, where Mr Litvinenko held meetings on November 1. Radioactive traces were also found at his family home in Muswell Hill, North London.

The quantity of polonium-210 used could only have been obtained from a nuclear instillation, scientific experts said.

A senior Whitehall official said: “Cobra met because thousands of people have passed through the sushi bar in the past three weeks and there is a potential risk for the public and we have to examine all the implications.”

Experts from the Government’s Health Protection Agency tried to allay public fears by stressing that it was unlikely that friends, family and medics who were with Mr Litvinenko at University College Hospital had been contanimated.

Security sources said that MI5 and MI6 were engaged in a “joint enterprise” with Scotland Yard in what was “an unprecedented death” in Britain. Anti-terror squad Continuedetectives refused to say where the deadly element was placed, or in what quantities they found it at the Itsu sushi bar in Piccadilly or the Pine Bar of the Millennium Hotel, where the dissident met two Russians on November 1.

Mr Litvinenko’s father, Walter, openly accused the Kremlin of murdering his son. They also released a statement that Mr Litvinenko dictated 48 hours before he died, blaming President Putin for his death.

Mr Litvinenko told the Russian President: “You may succeed in silencing one man, but the howl of protest from around the world will reverberate, Mr Putin, in your ears for the rest of your life.

“May God forgive you for what you have done, not only to me, but to beloved Russia and its people.”

Mr Putin interrupted preparations for an EU/Russia summit in Helsinki to deny involvement. He criticised Mr Litvinenko’s entourage, the media, the British secret service and even the Italian Mafia. He claimed that the letter accusing him of being “barbaric and ruthless” was a forgery concocted by Mr Litvinenko’s wife and father: “If this note was produced before the death of Mr Litvinenko, I wonder why it was not published when he was alive?”

Mr Litvinenko’s funeral will be held in London.


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Gates Advocated Air Strikes on Nicaragua

WASHINGTON — In 1984, Robert Gates, then the No. 2 CIA official, advocated U.S. airstrikes against Nicaragua’s pro-Cuban government to reverse what he described as an ineffective U.S. strategy to deal with communist advances in Central America, previously classified documents say.

Gates, President Bush’s nominee to be defense secretary, said the United States could no longer justify what he described as “halfhearted” attempts to contain Nicaragua’s Sandinista government, according to documents released Friday by the National Security Archive, a private research group.

In a memo to CIA Director William Casey dated Dec. 14, 1984, Gates said his proposed airstrikes would be designed “to destroy a considerable portion of Nicaragua’s military buildup” and be focused on tanks and helicopters.

He also recommended that the United States prevent delivery to the Sandinistas of such weapons in the future. The administration, he said, should make clear that a U.S. invasion of the country was not contemplated.

The target of Gates’ anxieties was Nicaragua’s leftist president, Daniel Ortega.
Ironically, Gates’ nomination to succeed Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld was announced just days after Ortega capped off a surprise political comeback by winning election as Nicaraguan president after three previous bids were rejected by the voters.

Ortega has recast himself as a moderate, assuring Nicaraguans that his Marxist-Leninist days are over.

Gates saw a calamitous situation in Central America in December 1984. Congress had ordered a halt to U.S. support for the Contra rebels, leaving Ortega free, as Gates saw it, to establish Nicaragua as a “permanent and well-armed” ally of the Soviet Union and Cuba.

He said the United States should acknowledge that the existence of a Marxist-Leninist regime in Nicaragua closely allied to Moscow and Havana “is unacceptable to the United States and that the United States will do everything in its power short of invasion to put that regime out.”

In addition to airstrikes, he recommended withdrawal of U.S. recognition of the Nicaraguan government and recognition of a Nicaraguan government in exile that would be entitled to U.S. military support.

Economic sanctions should be considered, “perhaps even including a quarantine,” Gates wrote.

His proposals were never adopted, but the administration attempted to circumvent the Contra aid ban by secretly funneling money to the rebels that had been obtained through arms sales to Iran. Democrats say they will question Gates during his Senate confirmation about his knowledge of the Iran-Contra scandal, which erupted two years after he sent his memo to Casey.

Gates’ grim prediction in the memo of disaster in Central America did not come to pass. Congress renewed aid to the Contras in 1986. In February 1990, Nicaraguans dealt a blow to the Soviet Union and Cuba by voting Ortega out of office. And within two years, the Soviet Union had disappeared.


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