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Born at the Crest of the Empire

Friday, February 19, 2010

Key Taleban capture was a mistake

Oh, you gotta love this.

In the NYTimes, the arrest of the Taleban number two is being reported as something of a mistake by the Pakistanis. They were supposedly looking to arrest some of Baradar's lieutenants who they knew were meeting. It was only later when they were sorting out identities that they realized they had (accidentally) seized such a key Taleban figure.

Kinda reshapes that "have the Pakistanis changed their stance" question, eh?

(Curious. The intelligence and targeting for the raid was supplied by the US. Think the US tricked the Pakistanis into this key arrest?

Was it an op on the Pakistanis to force them onto a path of further cooperation? It's not like they can easily go backwards from here.

OR, is the "accidental arrest" story the lie, to give the Pakistanis domestic political cover?)

Later: The WaPo is carrying a very different " the result of increasing cooperation" version of the story.

I also find it interesting that the Pakistanis are signing onto comments like these, crediting Obama as the reason, and indirectly blaming the previous administration for any lack of progress.
Pakistan's decision to go after the Afghan Taliban leadership reflects a quiet shift underway since last fall, said officials from both countries, who cited a November letter from President Obama to Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari as a turning point....

Later: The AP lists some of the others arrested in the sweeps, seemingly some medium sized fish.

Iran's nuclear program

The IAEA releases a report saying that Iran had engaged in "undisclosed" nuclear activities even after 2004.

I have a little trouble determining the truth behind this report as it deeply involves politics at the IAEA, being the first report issued by the new IAEA head and seemingly abandoning the caution of the Baradei's tenure.

That doesn't mean it's not true or factual, just that the politics make me a little leery of the context of the report.

Iran's Supreme Leader issues a clear statement saying nuclear weapons are against Islam and thus not a goal.

And, the Obama administration seeks to downplay the report,
At a briefing at the White House shortly after the agency’s report was released, senior administration officials said they saw continuing evidence that Iran had to struggle just to keep its uranium-enrichment equipment running. Thousands of centrifuges that it installed at Natanz, its main site for enrichment, are not spinning.

The Obama administration said that Iran was producing only 100 grams a day of enriched uranium, and that even if it could quadruple its capacity it would still need several years to make enough for a weapon.


A Philadelphia area school district issued laptops to its students and according to a lawsuit tapped into the webcams to see the kids at home.

Later: BBC has a better version.

CPAC and primaries

With Marco Rubio now tied or leading Charle Crist, I'm sure it doesn't soothe John McCain to keep seeing mentions of "Crist, McCain challengers at CPAC." If Rubio gets clearly ahead, McCain may be the next high profile conservative primary target.

Thursday, February 18, 2010


There are three stories that caught me leading up to CPAC. 1) The blind worship of keynote speaker and Fla Sen primary candidate Marco Rubio.

2) The hysterical efforts to make CPAC "fun" for 20 somethings. An XBox room with hip hop so the $20 "kids" "a place to hang while the older crowd attends the high-priced nightly dinners." Supposedly, "somebody of Joe-the-Plumber stature (will come) in three times a day to come in and rally the kids."

Not a surprise that FoxNews is live hosting one of its shows from the room.

3) The multiple efforts by multiple individuals and groups to claim authorship for a new conservative manifesto. You've got Gingrich pushing his "New contract with America," Dick Army and Viguerre pushing their "Mount Vernon statement,"and the Tea Partiers with their "Contract from America."

(Just as an aside, who was the last Democrat to write a manifesto and try to claim a direction for the party?)

Two more Pakistani Taleban arrests

Pakistan arrested two Taleban "shadow governors" in the wake of the Baradar arrest.

It's still not clear whether this Pakistani action represents a real shift against all Taleban, or simply a picking of sides from within the Taleban's internal struggles to arrest the crazier and favor the moderates.

Two interesting points in this, though.
In the days that followed Mr. Baradar’s arrest, American officials say that Mr. Baradar was providing a wealth of information on the Taliban’s operations.

(Is he really giving up info or are they trying to discredit him?)

And, two, this can't be emphasized enough, One year in, and Obama has made more progress with Pakistan and against the Taleban leadership than Bush's "tough approach" made in seven years..

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Russia stalls AA missile delivery to Iran

The day after a visit from Israeli PM Netanyahu. the Russians announce sudden and undescribed "technical problems" which will delay delivery of the SA-300 anti-aircraft missile systems to Iran.

Here's the suspected quid pro quo,
Russian media have speculated that Israel could agree to stop selling arms to Moscow's foe Georgia in return for a Russian agreement to block the S-300 sale to Iran, which the Jewish state sees as its main threat.

Related: You gotta wonder if it's part of the broader effort to isolate the Iranians. US tries to improve ties with Syria, and Clinton calls Iran a military dictatorship, and begins to press the Saudis to apply more pressure.

All of this seems to have flown into action after Ahmadinejad made his recent announcement that Iran has enriched a small (medical) amount to 20%.

(Also, there's a bit of a furor over a fake British passported Israeli "hit squad" who supposedly took out a Hamas commander in Dubai.)

Republicans guilted into attending healthcare summit

After Obama schooled House Republicans at their NRCC meeting, the Obama administration announced a televised "healthcare summit" with the Republicans on Feb. 25 to try to recreate that dynamic and completely change the political geography beneath the Republicans blanket rejectionism.

The Republicans first response was to see the political peril in having to actually say their "proposals" out loud and to scream "trap," but that was widely mocked everywhere outside FoxNews.

So, their new strategy appears to be to accept the invitation, but to try to pre-spin it like a debate. This AP piece has a few of these new pre-spin bits. For instance,
The president has already said he'll moderate the forum, and the location and staging at the Blair House guest residence are of the White House's choosing, giving Democrats home-court advantage.

And they're not going to bring the blind, dogmatic pinatas for Obama to swing at,
House Minority Leader John Boehner of Ohio and McConnell, his Senate counterpart, will attend the summit along with other top Republicans. Boehner and McConnell also get to invite four lawmakers each but have not said who they will be.

They tried to dodge it, and they couldn't (anywhere but FoxNews,) so now they're going to try to spin and control.

If they don't come with anything besides "tax cuts," I think they get slaughtered.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Taleban commander captured

I do not know enough to determine whether the arrest of the Taliban commander Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar will significantly disrupt Taleban actions, but there are a couple of interesting points.

1) The arrest was a joint CIA-Pakistan operation in Karachi. According to the NYTimes, the operation was Pakistani with CIA ride along, and that Baradar is now sitting in Pakistani custody. (a) the ISI conducted a Taleban secure operation? b) Pakistani custody could mean either an easy ride or torture.)

2) At this point, it's unclear how much he'll talk, but Baradar certainly knows many of the contacts and names of the Taleban helpers within the ISI and Pakistani military. In theory, this could seriously disrupt the Taleban support structure inside the Pakistani government, substantially reshaping the political landscape there. (However, you gotta figure PM Gilani is probably under increased threat until that housecleaning takes place.)

Later: (AP) A Pakistani claim in the AP that "Baradar was arrested 10 days ago with the assistance of the United States and "was talking" to his interrogators."

3) The BBC floats an interesting theory that Baradar may have been turned in by more moderate elements of the Taleban/tribal structure who are wanting to talk to the US and find some negotiated peace.

4) The intelligence that led to this arrest ten days ago is very probably of the same tree that led to all the missile attacks in the last two weeks. I wonder if the intel was there and they held the missile attacks until after the arrest, or if the missile attacks came from intel obtained during the raid? Those could have different implications for operations going forward.

5) Not coincidental this release came the day after Cheney went after Obama on terrorism? Former Presidents continue to receive briefings. Former Vice Presidents don't. (And no one in the intelligence structure tipped Cheney that this was going on. His cadre has no friends in the very inside careerists.)

Monday, February 15, 2010

Evan Bayh

Not that I'm cynical or anything, but the top job at the drug lobbying firm PhAMA just opened up, and they're looking for a power Democrat who can influence the healthcare debate....

Pawlenty guts Minnesota to stoke his own ambitions.

Pawlenty's presidential ambitions are affecting his state. He's proposed a drastic budget sure to generate a fight which will only serve to publicize his new found budgetary conservatism to a national audience.

My money says that he ends up on FoxNews talking about a Minnesota budget dispute. (...because the entire nation holds its breath over Minnesota's financial state...)

And, While we're talking about Pawlenty's outsized ambitions, I should probably mention his WaPo editorial laying out his healthcare solution.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Worth thinking about as Iran strings us along....

Several years ago, I met with the Deputy Director of the Policy Planning staff of China's Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and I asked him what he was working on -- and what China's grand strategy was.

His reply: "We are trying to figure out how to keep you Americans distracted in small Middle Eastern countries."


Andrew Sullivan, who writes “The Daily Dish” blog on The Atlantic.com, wrote in an e-mail for this story: “Cheney's unprecedentedly aggressive approach ... reflects his own knowledge that he has committed war crimes of a very grave sort, war crimes that at some point could lead to prosecution and will undoubtedly lead to historical infamy.”

“If that becomes the prevailing narrative — because it is true — he will go down in history as a man who betrayed the very core principles of Western civilization out of panic and then covered it up,” Sullivan continued.