December 23, 2010

It was 20 years ago today...

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to all our readers!

Speaking of the New Year - and this is unbelievable to those of us who have been covering foreign policy and national security for awhile - in February it will be 20 years (yes, 20) since U.S.-led forces liberated Kuwait from Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein's forces. For you younger readers, that was the First Gulf War... the one where Pappy decided it wasn't a good idea to go ALL the way to Baghdad.

We hear that the Bush 41 crowd is planning a celebration to mark the event, probably at President George H.W. Bush's presidential library at Texas A&M University. ... With all that's happened since, it seems long ago and far away.


December 20, 2010

Do you want to read about Afghanistan?

One of most interesting stories of the day on Afghanistan was about precisely how little American voters care about the war. A Pew Research Center poll found that only four percent of today’s news coverage is about the war, even as nearly 100,000 U.S. troops are serving in Afghanistan

My fellow war correspondents were shocked that the number was that high, according to this story.

I can’t help but think about another poll finding is related to that number. According to ABC News/Washington Post poll released a few days ago, 60 percent of Americans say that the war in Afghanistan is not worth fighting. I wonder if that number is driving the former one. I hope not. It seems to me that the more people question the merits of the war, the more important it is that citizens read, listen and watch what is happening to determine whether the war truly leads to a more secure United States. I am not objective of course as your reading keeps me employed. But I fear that instead people are too warn out of war to have a national debate about the legitimacy of yet another protracted conflict.

How about you? How much do you want to read about the war in Afghanistan? And why?

December 17, 2010

Social networking spreads globally

Use of social networking technology like Facebook, MySpace and Twitter is expanding across the globe, according to a new poll by the respected Pew Research Center's Global Attitudes Project.

Out of 22 countries surveyed, the United States, where social networking largely originated, remains No. 1 (at least we're still No. 1 in something). A full 46 percent of Americans use social networking sites. Shockingly, 18 percent report they do not use the Internet at all.

But social networking is relatively big in other countries as well, including Russia (33 percent), Turkey (26 percent), Mexico (23 percent), and Egypt (18 percent).

Cell phone usage has exploded even more rapidly. Across 16 countries surveyed, the poll says, the median percentage of those who say they own a cell phone has gone from 45 percent in 2002 to 81 percent today.




December 15, 2010

Government watchdog concerned over Obama's nuclear security initiative

A new report by Congress' nonpartisan investigative arm raises significant concerns about President Barrack Obama's initiative to secure the world's vulnerable nuclear materials from theft by terrorists by the end of 2014.

A Government Accountability Office review found that "the interagency strategy for the 4-year global nuclear material security initiative lacks specific details concerning how the initiative will be implemented, including the identity of and details regarding vulnerable foreign nuclear materials sites and facilities to be addressed."

Also unclear is which U.S. agencies and programs are responsible for dealing with specific sites as well as the "potential challenges and strategies for overcoming those obstacles, anticipated deadlines, and cost estimates," said the GAO report released today.

Obama unveiled his initiative with great fanfare at a 47-nation Nuclear Security Summit that he hosted in Washington in April. At the time, however, he conceded that securing the world's vulnerable nuclear materials from theft within four years "is an ambitious goal."

National Security Council officials overseeing the effort told GAO investigators that "they believe developing . . . a single cross-agency plan could take years."

"However, we found that absent such an implementation plan, essential details associated with the four-year initiative remain unclear, including the intiative's overall estimated costs, time frame and scope of work," said a GAO report submitted to Reps. Peter Visclosky, D-Ind, and Rodney Frelinghuysen, R-NJ, the chairman and ranking member of the House Subcommittee on Energy and Water Development.


December 03, 2010

The service chiefs on DADT, a brillant summary

Here is the best summary of Friday’s Senate Armed Services Committee hearing with the military service chiefs on Don't Ask, Don't Tell, with apologies to Jackie Mason. This is courtesy of a friend of mine who gave me permission to repost this here.

We want to do it, but not now.

Maybe later. I don’t know.

We’re ready. But not yet.

It’s the right thing to do. But not a good idea. And not now.

We need time. Don’t ask how much. We’re too busy.

Do it when we’re busy. We won’t notice.

But not too busy. We can’t handle it.

We can handle anything. But not now.

Do it in 2012. I don’t know why.

But not in 2011. We’re too busy.

We can do it slow. But not fast. But don’t make us do it slow.

We can do it here. But not there.

We could do it there. But not now. Maybe when we get back. Tuesdays are good.

Don’t put me in a foxhole with a gay guy. Unless I don’t know. Then it’s OK.

If I find out later, even better. Then we’re pals.

Be what you want. But don’t tell me.

Marines can do anything. Except deal with that.

Don’t make me sleep on the ground. I have a bad back. It’ll give me the grippe.

I can do it. But not now. Maybe later. Call me. We’ll talk.

November 30, 2010

The elusive DADT survey results

The Pentagon is asking reporters to go into a closet to read the results of their don’t ask don’t tell survey. Seriously.

Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, will be briefing reporters about the results of the eight-month long survey at 2 p.m. today. Reporters wanting to read parts of the report before asking him questions must go to a conference room and take notes, per Pentagon rules, two hours before the conference begins. The full report will not be available that time, but instead an executive summary and perhaps portions of it. Those notes cannot be published until the press conference begins.  The report is scheduled to posted online between 2:15 and 2:30 p.m.

This has caused quite a stir here at the Pentagon amongst my colleagues. What concerns us here at N&S is how do we ask questions of the top decision makers without fully reading the report first? And if it is going be public, why can’t we have an embargoed copy?  The Pentagon said it does not want the reported leaked beforehand and does not trust journalists to abide by embargo rules. But if the secretary, the chairman and public officials broadly are prepared to answer all questions about the report on which the repeal now hangs, why not make it available to those posing questions beforehand?


November 28, 2010

Crisis Group: Afghanistan strategy failing

Quick post from Kabul as we await the WikiLeaks deluge...

The private International Crisis Group is out with a new report today that delivers a devastating judgement on the U.S./NATO strategy in Afghanistan and its chances for success.

The 12-page briefing, available here, disputes U.S. military commanders' assessment that the surge in U.S. troops and change in strategy has taken the initiative from the Taliban-led insurgency. "There is little proof that the operations have disrupted the insurgency’s momentum or increased stability. The storyline does not match facts on the ground," the report says in its overview.

A "rush to the exit" by the international community is not the answer either, the report says, painting a grim picture of what might happen in that case: "Without outside support, the Karzai government would collapse, the Taliban would control much of the country and internal conflict would worsen, increasing the prospects of a return of the destructive civil war of the 1990s. Even a partial Taliban victory would provide succour and a refuge for Pakistani jihadi groups. That could intensify violence in Pakistan and increase attacks on India."




November 26, 2010

Wikileaks and the future of U.S. relations with its allies

As early as this weekend, Wikileaks could release the latest, newest batch of documents and this is causing a far bigger stir than the first two document dumps combined. The word we keep hearing to describe them is “embarrassing” and that these documents could harm U.S. relations with its allies.

Unlike the first two batches, the next group of documents will come largely from the State Department mainly in the form of cables between diplomats on various allies. The documents are seven times larger than the 400,000 released in October, according to Wikileaks. And U.S. diplomats are already responding. There have been various briefs to allies, including Canada, Britain and Norway, who have all supplied troops to Afghanistan. Israel also has received a briefing as have some members on Capitol Hill, we hear.

In Iraq, Ambassador James Jeffrey already has warned that the documents could hurt U.S. relations and “our ability to do work here.”

Army Pfc. Bradley Manning, 22, is suspected of giving the documents to Wikileaks. He has been charged with the downloading and transfer of classified material. But depending on what the documents show, that may be of little comfort to allies the United States has come to depend on in its war in Afghanistan. We will be all staying tuned.

From July 2011 to the end of 2014 to...who knows?

We here at N&S hope you had a fabulous Thanksgiving. We of course have much to be thankful for including the honor of covering national security issues and for our readers. Our beloved Warren Strobel spent Thanksgiving with the troops in Afghanistan. You can read his story on how one group of troops spent their holiday here.

In the last few weeks, we here have noticed a big change in the Afghanistan strategy. Actually, I was having lunch with a friend of mine, and he first pointed it out to me, and I have been thinking about it since. In the span of a few weeks, the U.S. strategy in Afghanistan went from Vice President Joe Biden famously predicting a large outpouring of troops starting in July 2011 (Remember Biden's quote: "In July of 2011, you're going to see a whole lot of people moving out. Bet on it.") to a major withdrawal by the end of 2014 to now troops possibly staying beyond as 2014 is "aspirational."  And yet this has not caused as much as a whimper from what I can tell either here in Washington or around the country.  I can’t understand why.

There are of course various theories. Despite all the talk of a date certain of withdrawal, the new date actually just reflects the reality; the United States is not clear on what it is leaving. Then there is the political reality. With Republicans, who support staying until the mission is complete, winning big in the midterm elections President Obama has their backing to say the United States needs to stay longer. And frankly, it seems the President isn’t seeking to garner the liberals support as  much as the moderates who decide election outcomes.  And then there is everyone’s focus on the economy.

Throughout the goals have not changed, so how has the date? Given that the majority of Americans want out of Afghanistan, why hasn’t this change garnered more discussion?

I would welcome your thoughts.

November 21, 2010

Afghan election saga, next chapter

While they haven't garnered nearly as much attention as last year's flawed presidential election, Afghanistan's September 18 parliamentary polls have been a study in chaos. Take widespread insecurity that prevented polling in many places, throw in stuffed ballot boxes and disqualified votes by the hundreds of thousands, and then add audio tapes apparently depicting power-brokers pressuring election officials ... well, you get the idea.

Today in Kabul, the watchdog Electoral Complaints Commission announced it was disqualifying another 20 candidates who at first had appeared to win. The ECC said their election-day tallies were the result of tampering.

The 20 candidates, some of whom were incumbents, came from 10 provinces across Afghanistan. One, Hashmat Khalil Karzai of Kandahar province, is said to be a distant relation of Afghan President Hamid Karzai.

The Washington Post's Joshua Partlow had a great scoop earlier this month about audiotapes that appear to show cabinet minister and former provincial governer Ismail Khan instructing an election official which candidates should be declared winners.

There have been some fairly small protests in Kabul and other cities over the elections, but apathy appears to be the main emotion. Some Western officials say the fact that the ECC is careful considering complaints of irregularity and taking action shows the process if working, after a fashion.

Still, the perception that the elections are illegitimate could further drain support from the Karzai government, hampering U.S. and NATO goals of stabilizing Afghanistan. No word yet on when final election results will be announced.



"Nukes & Spooks" is written by McClatchy correspondents Jonathan S. Landay (national security and intelligence), Warren P. Strobel (foreign affairs and the State Department), and Nancy Youssef (Pentagon).

jon, nancy & warren

Landay, Youssef and Strobel.

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