FPI Overnight Brief: July 13, 2009

Asia

The Los Angeles Times reports that “Turkmenistan has agreed to build a new pipeline to supply natural gas to Iran from a field previously reserved for deliveries to Russia, the Turkmen Foreign Ministry said in a statement Sunday. The deal appears to be part of an effort by the energy-rich Central Asian nation to reduce its dependence on Russia, the main market for its gas exports.”

Baktybek Abdrisaev writes in the Wall Street Journal that “President Barack Obama reaped praise for his moderate approach to Moscow during last week's trip… But in some parts of the world, this engagement comes at the cost of democratic advancement. Take the example of Kyrgyzstan, once an ‘island of democracy’ in Central Asia, that is now, with U.S. support, backsliding into the authoritarianism of its neighbors… The U.S. needs to avoid becoming obsessed with air base politics and pay more attention to its long-term relationship with Kyrgyzstan, including political reforms in the country. The upcoming presidential election in Kyrgyzstan next week will be an early test of political will on both sides to push for political reforms that have languished since President Bakiev came to power in 2005. The new contract for the ‘transit center’ presents an opportunity for the U.S. to show the Kyrgyz people and the others that it still puts principles first. If it does so, we will know America is back on the right track.”

The War

The Los Angeles Times reports that “Former CIA Director Michael V. Hayden angrily struck back Saturday at assertions that the Bush administration's post-9/11 surveillance program was more far-reaching than imagined and was largely concealed from congressional overseers. In an interview with the Associated Press, Hayden said that top members of Congress were kept well informed all along the way, notwithstanding protests from some that they were kept in the dark.”

The Wall Street Journal reports “A secret Central Intelligence Agency initiative terminated by Director Leon Panetta was an attempt to carry out a 2001 presidential authorization to capture or kill al Qaeda operatives, according to former intelligence officials familiar with the matter. The precise nature of the highly classified effort isn't clear, and the CIA won't comment on its substance. According to current and former government officials, the agency spent money on planning and possibly some training. It was acting on a 2001 presidential legal pronouncement, known as a finding, which authorized the CIA to pursue such efforts. The initiative hadn't become fully operational at the time Mr. Panetta ended it… Republicans on the [House intelligence] panel say that the CIA effort didn't advance to a point where Congress clearly should have been notified.”

The AP reports that “Six months into Barack Obama's presidency, twin investigations may be on the horizon into Bush-era policies in the war on terror. Two senators including the head of the intelligence committee suggested Sunday that the prior administration broke the law by concealing a CIA counter-terrorism program from Congress. The disclosure that Vice President Dick Cheney ordered the concealment came amid word that Attorney General Eric Holder is contemplating opening a criminal probe of possible CIA torture. A move to appoint a criminal prosecutor is certain to stir partisan bickering that could prove a distraction to Obama's efforts to push ambitious health care and energy reform.”

North Korea

The New York Times reports that “The North Korean leader Kim Jong-il, who suffered a stroke last August, was also found to have ‘life-threatening’ pancreatic cancer around the same time, a South Korean cable television network reported on Monday. The network, YTN, a cable news channel, quoted unidentified Chinese and South Korean intelligence sources for the report, which was made by YTN’s Beijing-based correspondent. YTN did not explain how the sources obtained such medical information about Mr. Kim from North Korea, an isolated, nuclear-armed state that historically has kept details of its leader’s health a closely guarded secret. But if the diagnosis of pancreatic cancer is true, Mr. Kim may not have much longer to live. Pancreatic cancer is one of the most difficult cancers to detect early, it spreads rapidly and the fatality rate is high. The World Health Organization says fewer than 5 percent of patients with pancreatic cancer live longer than five years.”

Senator Sam Brownback introduced legislation to require the redesignation of North Korea as a state sponsor of terrorism, impose sanctions and require reports on the status of North Korea's nuclear weapons program and counterproliferation efforts.  The bill is cosponsored by Senators Kyl and Gregg.

Iran

The Los Angeles Times reports that “Although Iranian authorities were quick to condemn the killing of a Muslim Egyptian woman by an alleged racist in a German courtroom last week, allowing protesters to organize a demonstration and hurl eggs at the German Embassy in Tehran, they've been less than compassionate about scores of Muslims killed in western China. ‘The United States is behind the riots in Xinjiang,’ said an analysis published by the official Islamic Republic News Agency, or IRNA. ‘Living conditions have improved for the Chinese Muslims. These riots have no religious aspect and they are just the outcome of a U.S. conspiracy. However, the Western media have exaggerated the events in Xinjiang.’ The government's domestic critics have been outraged by its response. Already emboldened and angered by the marred reelection of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, they have been quick to pounce.”

The AP reports that “Five Iranian officials held in Iraq for more than two years by U.S. forces returned home Sunday after the U.S. released them under pressure from the Iraqi government. American officials said a U.S.-Iraqi security agreement required that they hand the men over, but said they fear the Iranians - held on suspicion of aiding Shiite militants - pose a threat to U.S. troops in Iraq.”

Reuel Marc Gerecht writes in the Weekly Standard: "Understandably, the United States has been fixated on al Qaeda, Afghanistan, and Iraq. We have all wanted to believe that the age of state-sponsored anti-American terrorism is over. Now, however, with Iran boiling, its leaders increasingly angry at us for their truant flock, state-sponsored Iranian terrorism could hit us with gale force. The president would be well served to read again The 9/11 Commission Report about Iranian and Lebanese Hezbollah's contact with al Qaeda (see pp. 240-241). This outreach probably started under President Clinton. September 11 and George W. Bush 's bellicosity made Khamenei pull back from Sunni jihadists. It's a very good bet that the supreme leader, Ahmadinejad, and Rafsanjani, who has always been a fan of outreach to Sunni militants, are already hunting for foreign partners who hate the United States as much as they do. (There is a reason beyond uranium exports why Tehran loves Hugo Chávez.) Once they are backed by nuclear weapons, it's hard to see what the leaders of the Islamic republic would fear from an American president who avoids the word jihad when describing 9/11 for fear of offending Muslim sensitivities."

John Hannah writes in the Wall Street Journal that “As someone who served in Mr. Bush's White House, I can attest that the administration's Iran policy was far from perfect. The Islamic Republic's ongoing nuclear program is proof enough of the policy's serious shortcomings. Yet, in light of recent events, it seems apparent that Mr. Bush got some important things concerning Iran right… The reality is that large-scale anti-regime protests erupted on multiple occasions throughout Mr. Bush's first term -- the very moment when his Iran policy was most aggressive. The suggestion that Iranians "swallowed their criticism" of the Islamic regime in an anti-American response to Mr. Bush's tough stance is simply not borne out by the facts… Today, Iran's burgeoning opposition is clearly angered by the country's dismal economy, ashamed of its status as an international pariah, and alarmed by the growing danger of military conflict. Opposition members will not accept the regime's efforts to scapegoat the U.S. Instead, their fury has been directed inward at the brutality, economic mismanagement, and outrageous behavior of the Islamic regime.”

Al Jazeera reports that “Iran has said it is preparing a new ‘package of political, security and international issues’ to discuss with western powers following an ultimatum from the leaders of the Group of Eight (G8).  Manouchehr Mottaki, Iran's foreign minister, said on Saturday that Tehran had not received "any new message" after a summit of the G8 industrialized nations in Italy this week… Nicholas Sarkozy, the French president, said on Wednesday that the five permanent members of the UN Security Council and Germany would give Iran until September to return to talks or seek to impose tougher sanctions.”

Defense

Tom Donnelly and Gary Schmitt write in the Weekly Standard: "If the fiscal crisis was the driving force behind the [military budget] cuts, then someone forgot to notify the rest of the administration. While the Pentagon was being told to shut down programs, the Obama team was encouraging the rest of government to spend like drunken sailors. As the stimulus package was being cobbled together, military projects best fit the Keynesian profile of ‘shovel-ready,’ yet the Pentagon received just one half of one percent of the $787 billion in additional funding. If Gates, moreover, had truly been concerned about today's wars, he would have taken the savings that came from his program cuts in April and used them to increase the size of the Army. But he didn't. Instead, he's capped ground forces and appears satisfied to live with an Army and Marine Corps that are severely stretched and will remain so as we build up in Afghanistan."

Government Executive reports that “It's not every day that Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin, D-Mich., and ranking member John McCain, R-Ariz., lose a battle over defense priorities -- particularly when they have the backing of a popular president and Defense secretary. But Levin and McCain recently failed to stop their own committee from adding $1.75 billion to the fiscal 2010 defense authorization bill for seven F-22 Raptor fighter jets the Obama administration doesn't want. They will try to strip out the funding on the Senate floor next week but could come up short again… For his part, Levin has said he can't foresee Obama vetoing the bill over F-22s when the measure endorses much of his fiscal 2010 defense budget request.”

Melanie Kirkpatrick interviews James Schlesinger in the Wall Street Journal: "‘We use nuclear weapons every day,’ Mr. Schlesinger goes on to explain, ‘to deter our potential foes and provide reassurance to the allies to whom we offer protection.’ Mr. Obama likes to talk about his vision of a nuclear-free world, and in Moscow he and Mr. Medvedev signed an agreement setting targets for sweeping reductions in the world's largest nuclear arsenals. Reflecting on the hour I spent with Mr. Schlesinger, I can't help but think: Do we really want to do this?.. Are we heading toward a nuclear-free world anytime soon? He shoots back a one-word answer: ‘No.’ I keep silent, hoping he will go on. ‘We will need a strong deterrent,’ he finally says, ‘and that is measured at least in decades -- in my judgment, in fact, more or less in perpetuity. The notion that we can abolish nuclear weapons reflects on a combination of American utopianism and American parochialism. . . . It's like the [1929] Kellogg-Briand Pact renouncing war as an instrument of national policy . . . . It's not based upon an understanding of reality.’”

Ghana

Radio Free Europe reports that “U.S. President Barack Obama has called upon Africans to seize opportunities for peace, democracy, and prosperity and assured the continent that it would not be excluded from world affairs. Addressing the parliament in the capital, Accra, Obama said Africa is not separate from world affairs.  He urged Africans to take greater responsibility for their future, saying they had a role in shaping the 21st century.” Links to audio and text of remarks.

Japan

The Yomiuri Shimbun reports that “The opposition Democratic Party of Japan became the biggest party in the Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly on Sunday in an assembly election widely regarded as a barometer for the upcoming general election, according to early results and Yomiuri Shimbun projections. The ruling camp of the Liberal Democratic Party and New Komeito lost their majority in the Tokyo chamber, which likely will fuel moves within the LDP to demand Prime Minister Taro Aso step down as party president--and thus from the premiership--and affect the timing of the dissolution of the House of Representatives.”

Ideas

The Boston Globe reports on military training with donkeys: “With the U.S. shifting its focus from the deserts of Iraq to the mountains of Central Asia, this class on pack animals at Marine Corps Mountain Warfare Training Center has become important to the new mission… Five donkeys, 24 mules, and five sergeant-trainers are stationed at the center for the animal-packing course, which is given eight times a year to Marines, Army soldiers, Navy SEALs, and some foreign troops. The animal-packing course dates to the 1980s when the CIA sent operatives here before they were dispatched to help the Afghans fight the Soviet occupation force… ‘This is all new to me,’ said Corporal Bradley Neuenburg, 20, a computer devotee from San Rafael. ‘I’m more used to basic syntax, binary language, and codes.’”

China

Bloomberg reports that “Chinese police banned public gatherings and demonstrations in Urumqi as the families and friends of 184 people killed in ethnic clashes last week prepared to mourn the deaths today. Police will disperse any large gatherings in Xinjiang’s capital, state-run Xinhua News Agency reported yesterday, citing a notice published by the Public Security Bureau of Urumqi City. No assemblies, marches or demonstrations will be permitted without police permission, Xinhua said. Thousands of troops and police have been deployed since clashes between Han Chinese and mostly Muslim Uighurs broke out in Urumqi on July 5.”

Bloomberg reports that “China’s detention of four Rio Tinto Group employees risks harming foreign confidence in the world’s fastest-growing economy and the case needs to be dealt with expeditiously, Australian Foreign Minister Stephen Smith said. ‘China needs to think very carefully about what implications, if any, this has on the international business community and international investment community’s view of China,’ Smith told reporters at a press briefing in Perth today. ‘I am sure there is not one Australian company that hasn’t noticed these circumstances in the past week.’ China detained Australian national Stern Hu on July 5, along with three other Rio employees, alleging he stole state secrets.”

Afghanistan

The AP reports that “The head of U.S. Central Command in Afghanistan warned that months of fighting lie ahead in what will likely be the biggest military operation there since the American-led invasion of 2001. Gen. David Petraeus said the effort will center on 10 percent of districts where about 70 percent of Afghanistan's violence occurs. Petraeus was in San Francisco as part of a national speaking tour — he gave a talk in Seattle on Wednesday night... During his hourlong speech, which included a PowerPoint presentation, Petraeus warned of a tough fight as Marines have recently gone deeper into Taliban areas of southern Afghanistan to ‘reverse the cycle of violence’ there. He described it as, ‘the longest campaign.’’

The Times of London reports that “The deaths of the eight [British] soldiers [in Afghanistan] prompted other families to speak out in criticism of the Government's funding of the campaign. Jane Ford, whose son Ben was killed in an explosion in southern Afghanistan two years ago, said: ‘It is our sons who are suffering because of [ministers'] stingy attitude. It is their blood that is paying. If we are not careful the Government will just waste money on things that are not necessary – like giving the money to MPs for their luxury apartments. Why can't we have luxury bombs?’… Gordon Brown, the Prime Minister, faced a charge from Lord Guthrie, the former chief of the defense staff, of spending ‘the minimum [the Government] could get away with’ on defense while Maj. Gen Julian Thompson, a former commander of the Royal Marines, called for an ‘enlarged defense budget.’”

Russia

Liz Cheney writes in the Wall Street Journal that “The truth, of course, is that the Soviets ran a brutal, authoritarian regime. The KGB killed their opponents or dragged them off to the Gulag. There was no free press, no freedom of speech, no freedom of worship, no freedom of any kind. The basis of the Cold War was not ‘competition in astrophysics and athletics.’ It was a global battle between tyranny and freedom. The Soviet "sphere of influence" was delineated by walls and barbed wire and tanks and secret police to prevent people from escaping. America was an unmatched force for good in the world during the Cold War. The Soviets were not. The Cold War ended not because the Soviets decided it should but because they were no match for the forces of freedom and the commitment of free nations to defend liberty and defeat Communism.”

Africa

Al Jazeera reports that “Government officials say they have wrested control of central Mogadishu from anti-government fighters after a day of intense battles in the Somali capital. At least 11 people were killed in the fighting on Sunday as fighters advanced into northern Mogadishu, close to the presidential palace. But Sheikh Yusuf Mohamed Siad, the Somali defense minister, said government forces had since regained control.”

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The Foreign Policy Initiative seeks to promote an active U.S. foreign policy committed to robust support for democratic allies, human rights, a strong American military equipped to meet the challenges of the 21st century, and strengthening America’s global economic competitiveness.
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