JFP 1/15: Wyden demands drone info from Brennan; Hagel survives neocons; Iraq surge redux

Just Foreign Policy News, January 15, 2013
Wyden demands drone info from Brennan; Hagel survives neocons; Iraq surge redux

I) Actions and Featured Articles

**Action: Urge Senators to Challenge Brennan on Drone Strikes
President Obama has nominated John Brennan to lead the CIA. Human Rights Watch - and the Washington Post editorial board - have called for the CIA to stop conducting drone strikes, because of the CIA's lack of transparency and accountability to international law. Urge your Senators to question Brennan on drone strike policy and the demand that the CIA get out of drone strikes.
http://www.justforeignpolicy.org/act/cia-head-drones

**Action: Senators: Confirm Chuck Hagel as Secretary of Defense
President Obama has nominated Chuck Hagel as the next Secretary of Defense. As Secretary of Defense, Hagel will push to end the war in Afghanistan, cut the Pentagon budget, and avoid war with Iran. Right-wing pro-war groups are trying to obstruct Senate confirmation. 30,000 people have signed a Just Foreign Policy petition at SignOn urging the Senate to confirm Hagel.
http://signon.org/sign/senators-confirm-chuck-1?source=c.url&r_by=1135580

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Summary:
U.S./Top News
1) Senator Wyden is asking John Brennan to provide Congress with the secret legal opinions outlining the government's ability to target and kill Americans ahead of Brennan's confirmation hearing to head the CIA, his office reports. [Wyden's letter hints without saying that he might consider release of the information a pre-condition of proceeding with the nomination - JFP]
2) Critics from Elliott Abrams to The Wall Street Journal have been attacking Obama's defense secretary nominee as 'anti-Jewish' or 'anti-Israel,' but are sounding a retreat after being hammered by the likes of Thomas Friedman and Richard Haass, writes Peter Beinart in the Daily Beast. From the beginning, Chuck Hagel's nomination as secretary of defense has been about more than just the policies he'd pursue at the Pentagon. It's been about the terms of legitimate discourse in Washington, D.C. And in this regard, even though he's yet to be confirmed, Hagel is already proving an agent of change, Beinart writes.

He's proving an agent of change because over the past week or so, the Jewish right's tactic of calling people they disagree with on Israel policy anti-Semitic has begun to backfire, Beinart writes.

Why has the anti-Semitism attack stopped working? First, because when the president of the United States isn't cowed, others take heart, Beinart writes. By actually nominating Hagel, and calling the bluff of the Al Sharptons of the Jewish world, Obama revealed them to be less powerful than many had feared. Second, because the Hagel nomination isn't really about Israel. It's about the broader direction of American foreign policy. For years, the anti-Semitism charge has been used to marginalize not merely voices skeptical of Israeli policy toward the Palestinians, but voices skeptical of American war with Iran. By nominating Hagel, Obama is sending the message that the Iran debate is too important to be circumscribed by these kinds of attacks.

3) The Libyan war is frequently touted as a success story for liberal interventionism, writes Owen Jones in The Independent. But the toppling of Muammar Gaddafi's dictatorship had blowback for Mali. Tuaregs – who traditionally hailed from northern Mali – made up a large portion of his army. When Gaddafi was ejected from power, they returned to their homeland: sometimes forcibly so as black Africans came under attack in post-Gaddafi Libya, an uncomfortable fact largely ignored by the Western media. Awash with weapons from Libya's turmoil, armed Tuaregs saw an opening for their long-standing dream for national self-determination. Thus the Western military intervention in Libya spawned the conditions that are now driving the Western military intervention in Mali.

There can be no sympathy for the militia now fighting the Malian government, Jones writes. But don't fall for a narrative so often pushed by the Western media: a perverse oversimplification of good fighting evil, just as we have seen imposed on Syria's brutal civil war. Amnesty reports brutality on the part of Malian government forces, too. When the conflict originally exploded, Tuaregs were arrested, tortured, bombed and killed by the security forces, "apparently only on ethnic grounds", Amnesty says. Last July, 80 inmates arrested by the army were stripped to their underwear, jammed into a 5sqm cell; cigarettes were burnt into their bodies; and they were forced to sodomise each other. Back in September 2012, 16 Muslim preachers belonging to the Dawa group were rounded up at a checkpoint and summarily executed by the army. These are acts committed by those who are now the West's allies.


4) Criticism of former Senator Chuck Hagel for not backing the 2007 US "troop surge" in Iraq demands an explanation of why that relatively small reinforcement was not the main driver for reversing Iraq's descent into violent chaos, writes Wayne White at LobeLog. [White was a member of the Iraq Study Group.] When proposed in late 2006, there was widespread doubt about its potential for success among experts. And that skepticism was not, as detractors allege, off target.

In reality, a different change in Bush Administration Iraq policy was the primary game-changer. Unknown to the ISG (and evidently most of everyone outside the executive branch), the Bush Administration had quietly made another decision truly capable of sparking a major improvement on the ground in Iraq. The White House agreed to a deal with the bulk of the Sunni Arab insurgents fighting US forces. Insurgent leaders began approaching US forces over two years earlier with the same offer. But it was rebuffed by the Bush Administration. In late 2006, however, the US accepted the deal. That triggered what was called Iraq's Sunni Arab "Awakening" (up to 100,000 Sunni Arab insurgents changing sides). The modest US "troop surge" helped, but was not nearly as critical as what some called the far more sweeping "deal with the devil."

6) The Sunni Arab "awakening" in Iraq had little to do with the surge, writes James Russell at LobeLog, based on research he conducted on local politics in Anbar province during the period of the awakening in 2005-2007. The Awakening spread from western Anbar in 2005 and culminated in Ramadi in the summer/fall of 2006 - before the surge had even begun.

Contrary to popular myths now being offered up on the airwaves, the White House and Gen. David Petraeus were not involved in decisions by brigade and battalion commanders to start forming local alliances with Sunni militia leaders, Russell writes. These commanders took these steps out of desperation and because they couldn't think of anything else to do to reduce insurgent violence.

The net result of the surge was to help create circumstances to cover the US retreat so the neoconservatives and others could assert we had in fact achieved something worthwhile in Iraq, Russell says. The problem with this is that there are still those out there that believe the information operations campaign that was itself part of the surge. We ended up believing our own invented press releases - a process now repeating itself in Afghanistan.

This IO campaign regrettably succeeded, and there is today no national-level debate over the disastrous US experience in Iraq, Russell says. That absence means that columnists like Krauthammer and other neocons can make unsupported and unchallenged assertions about the "surge" and its circumstances.

Importantly, it means that the same neoconservative figures who helped sell the Iraq war in the first place can also, with straight faces, go after figures like Chuck Hagel, who, whatever his faults, turned out to be right about Iraq, Russell writes. If Hagel was right about Iraq, maybe it says something about other judgments he might have to make as our next secretary of defense.

Israel/Palestine
6) Israeli forces fatally shot a Palestinian teenager during a confrontation along the West Bank barrier on Tuesday, underscoring the potential for spiraling violence after weeks of simmering restiveness in the area, the New York Times reports. The teenager killed was identified as Samir Ahmad Awwad, 16, from the village of Budrus. Citing witnesses, Palestinian activists said Samir was walking away from light clashes that had erupted by the barrier when he was hit from behind by three bullets in his leg, head and torso. Budrus became an early symbol of Palestinian popular resistance against the barrier; Israeli commentators are speculating about the prospect of a third Palestinian intifada.

Afghanistan
7) President Karzai said meetings in Washington had yielded nearly everything his country hoped for, including the promised end to raids conducted by foreign forces in Afghan homes and villages, the New York Times reports. He and President Obama held a joint news conference on Friday announcing an accelerated turnover of security responsibility to Afghan forces next year, the end of foreign raids by spring and the handover of detainees still under American control.

Bahrain
8) While the U.S. has maintained it is selling Bahrain arms only for external defense, human rights advocates say recently released documents raise questions about items that could be used against civilian protesters, ProPublica reports. There have been reports that Bahrain used American-made helicopters to fire on protesters in the most intense period of the crackdown. Time magazine reported in mid-March 2011 that Cobra helicopters had conducted "live ammunition air strikes" on protesters. The new Defense Department list of arms sales has two entries related to "AH-1F Cobra Helicopters" in March and April 2011.

Contents:
U.S./Top News
1) Wyden Letter to CIA Director-nominee Brennan Seeks Legal Opinions on Killing of Americans
Office of Sen. Ron Wyden, Monday, January 14, 2013
http://www.wyden.senate.gov/news/press-releases/wyden-letter-to-cia-director-nominee-brennan-seeks-legal-opinions-on-killing-of-americans
http://www.wyden.senate.gov/download/letter-to-brennan

Washington, D.C. – With the confirmation process for Deputy National Security Advisor John Brennan to be Director of the Central Intelligence Agency set to be begin shortly, U.S. Senator Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), a member of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, is asking Brennan to provide Congress with the secret legal opinions outlining the government's ability to target and kill Americans believed to be involved in terrorism.

In a letter to Brennan sent today, Wyden reiterated his concerns that the intelligence community, Justice Department and the Administration have not been adequately forthcoming to Congress on their legal justifications for targeting and potentially killing U.S. citizens believed to be involved in terrorism activities. He said that it is important that the legal opinions guiding these activities be released so that Congress and the American people can "have full knowledge of how the executive branch understands the limits and boundaries of this authority…"



"For the executive branch to claim that intelligence agencies have the authority to knowingly kill American citizens but refuse to provide Congress with any and all legal opinions that explain the executive branch's understanding of this authority represents an alarming and indefensible assertion of executive prerogative," Wyden wrote in the letter.

For more than two years, Wyden has been seeking these legal opinions and others but has either received insufficient responses to his inquiries or no response at all. He has asked that prior to the start of Brennan's confirmation hearing in the Intelligence committee that he and other committee members and their cleared staffs are given these opinions and that written assurance be given to the committee that future legal opinions related to this topic will also be provided.

"I have an obligation from my oath of office to review any classified legal opinions that lay out the federal government's official views on this issue, and I will not be satisfied until I have received them," Wyden continued in the letter.

Wyden also asked for a list of countries in which the intelligence community has used its lethal counterterrorism authorities.
[...]

2) Chuck Hagel Accusers Who Allege Anti-Semitism Getting Pushback
Peter Beinart, Daily Beast, Jan 14, 2013 4:45 AM EST
http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2013/01/14/chuck-hagel-accusers-who-allege-anti-semitism-getting-pushback.html

Critics from Elliott Abrams to The Wall Street Journal have been attacking Obama's defense secretary nominee as 'anti-Jewish' or 'anti-Israel,' but are sounding a retreat after being hammered by the likes of Thomas Friedman and Richard Haass.

From the beginning, Chuck Hagel's nomination as secretary of defense has been about more than just the policies he'd pursue at the Pentagon. It's been about the terms of legitimate discourse in Washington, D.C. And in this regard, even though he's yet to be confirmed, Hagel is already proving an agent of change.

He's proving an agent of change because over the past week or so, for the first time I can remember, the Jewish right's tactic of calling people they disagree with on Israel policy anti-Semitic has begun to backfire.

In the beginning, the script seemed to be playing out in familiar ways. On Dec. 13, after reports surfaced that President Obama might pick Hagel, an anonymous Senate aide emailed the Weekly Standard to warn: "Send us Hagel and we will make sure every American knows he is an anti-Semite." The aide added, "Hagel has made clear he believes in the existence of a nefarious Jewish lobby that secretly controls U.S. foreign policy. This is the worst kind of anti-Semitism there is."

That's how it started: an anonymous attack on Hagel for something he never said. Hagel had never said the "Jewish lobby secretly controls U.S. foreign policy." He had said the "Jewish lobby" - an imprecise but hardly offensive term given that American Jewish officials use it themselves - "intimidates a lot of people up here." That statement, which was praised for its honesty by the man Hagel said it to, the (Jewish) former Clinton administration peace processor Aaron Miller, is anti-Semitic only if you believe it is anti-Semitic to suggest that AIPAC - like every other major lobby group in Washington - cultivates the impression that consistently disagreeing with them could cost members of Congress their seats. If AIPAC doesn't cultivate that impression, it's not doing its job.

Four days after that, in a column entitled "Chuck Hagel's Jewish Problem," Bret Stephens in The Wall Street Journal wrote that when Hagel "carries on about how 'the Jewish lobby intimidates a lot of people up here,' the odor [of prejudice] is especially ripe." The next day, The Washington Post's Jennifer Rubin accused Hagel of "rank prejudice against American Jews." She also quoted the Anti-Defamation League's Abe Foxman as stating that "the sentiments he's [Hagel's] expressed about the Jewish lobby border on anti-Semitism in the genre of professors John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt and former president Jimmy Carter."

Foxman never bothered to explain why such comments border on anti-Semitism, or what Mearsheimer, Walt, and Carter had said that qualified them for the epithet too. In fact, Mearsheimer and Walt have explicitly rejected the term "Jewish lobby." As for Carter, it's hard to see why he's relevant to the conversation at all, since his most controversial Israel-related comments have nothing to do with the "Jewish" or "pro-Israel" lobby. What's gotten Carter in trouble is his claim that Israel risks becoming an "apartheid state" if it makes permanent its control of the West Bank (something Ehud Barak and Ehud Olmert have warned of too). But while leveling his drive-by accusation of anti-Semitism against Hagel, Foxman threw in Carter for good measure.

Then, on Jan. 7, the Council on Foreign Relations' Elliott Abrams told NPR that Hagel "appears to be … frankly an anti-Semite." Abrams based this conclusion not only on Hagel's "Jewish lobby" quote, but on what Abrams called "the statements by the Nebraska Jewish community - about his unresponsiveness to them, his dismissal of them, his hostility to them." Abrams's source appeared to be an article in the Jewish newspaper Algemeiner, which quotes some Jewish Nebraskans grumbling about Hagel's unresponsiveness. The problem with that assertion, as The Forward has since detailed, is that while people in Nebraska's Jewish community's differ in their views on Hagel, "Jews in Nebraska on both sides of Hagel's confirmation fight emphatically refute the [anti-Semitism] charge."

So far, so familiar. Over roughly the last year, hawkish Jewish officials and pundits have hurled the anti-Semitism charge at several left-of-center institutions and columnists. Rubin and the Anti-Defamation League have wielded it against the Center for American Progress. Abrams has accused Thomas Friedman and Joe Klein of "spreading the two major themes of contemporary American anti-Semitism." The Weekly Standard has denounced "the anti-Semitism - the pure, unadulterated bigotry - witnessed at the Occupy Wall Street protests."

What's new about the Hagel case isn't the promiscuous charge of anti-Semitism. It's the pushback against it. One New York Times columnist, Thomas Friedman, has called the claim that Hagel is an anti-Semite "disgusting." Another, Nick Kristof, has called it "shameful." In The Washington Post, Richard Cohen has accused Stephens of "character assassination." Abrams's boss at the Council on Foreign Relations, Richard Haass, has forcefully rejected even the claim that Hagel is anti-Israel, let alone anti-Semitic.

And in response, lo and behold, the accusers are starting to retreat. In a statement last week, Foxman not only declined to repeat the anti-Semitism charge but said the ADL would not oppose Hagel's nomination. In a new column about Hagel posted this weekend, Abrams, while still critical of the former Nebraska senator, writes, "I will avoid the term anti-Semitism, because it can mean too many different, particular things, and does not help illuminate the nature of the issue I discussed." In an interview on Fareed Zakaria GPS yesterday, Stephens suggested that while he had claimed Hagel's statements emitted "an odor of prejudice," he had not called him an anti-Semite.

Why has the anti-Semitism attack stopped working? Two reasons. First, because when the president of the United States isn't cowed, others take heart. By actually nominating Hagel, and calling the bluff of the Al Sharptons of the Jewish world, Obama revealed them to be less powerful than many had feared. Second, because the Hagel nomination isn't really about Israel. It's about the broader direction of American foreign policy. For years, the anti-Semitism charge has been used to marginalize not merely voices skeptical of Israeli policy toward the Palestinians, but voices skeptical of American war with Iran. By nominating Hagel, Obama is sending the message that the Iran debate is too important to be circumscribed by these kinds of attacks. Just as he didn't let Benjamin Netanyahu force him to set a date for military action last fall, Obama is now rebuffing another effort to limit his freedom of maneuver on questions of war and peace.

What role Hagel plays in Obama's Iran policy remains anyone's guess. But simply by being nominated, Hagel has dealt a blow to the silly, lazy charges of anti-Semitism that have grown commonplace in Washington in recent years. And that alone is reason for enthusiasm.

3) The war in Libya was seen as a success, now here we are engaging with the blowback in Mali
Our Government and media may often ignore the price of Western interventions, but in future conflicts and fuel for radical Islamist groups, it is still paid nonetheless.
Owen Jones, The Independent, Sunday 13 January 2013
http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/comment/the-war-in-libya-was-seen-as-a-success-now-here-we-are-engaging-with-the-blowback-in-mali-8449588.html

No scrutiny, no build-up, no parliamentary vote, not even a softening-up exercise. Britain is now involved in yet another military conflict in a Muslim land, or so we have been informed. British aircraft are flying to Mali while France bombs the country, arguing that Islamist militia must be driven back to save Europe from the creation of a "terrorist state". Amnesty International and West Africa experts warned of the potential disaster of foreign military intervention; the bombs raining on the Malian towns of Konna, Léré and Douentza suggest they have been definitively ignored.

Mali's current agony has only just emerged in our headlines, but the roots go back generations. Like the other Western colonial powers that invaded and conquered Africa from the 19th century onwards, France used tactics of divide-and-rule in Mali, leading to entrenched bitterness between the nomadic Tuareg people – the base of the current revolt – and other communities in Mali.

To some Westerners, this is a distant past to be ignored, moved on from, and certainly not used to preclude noble interventions; but the consequences are still being felt on a daily basis. Initially, the French Foreign Minister, Laurent Fabius, suggested its colonial legacy ruled out a France-led intervention; its sudden involvement is far more rapid than expected.

But this intervention is itself the consequence of another. The Libyan war is frequently touted as a success story for liberal interventionism. Yet the toppling of Muammar Gaddafi's dictatorship had consequences that Western intelligence services probably never even bothered to imagine. Tuaregs – who traditionally hailed from northern Mali – made up a large portion of his army. When Gaddafi was ejected from power, they returned to their homeland: sometimes forcibly so as black Africans came under attack in post-Gaddafi Libya, an uncomfortable fact largely ignored by the Western media.

Awash with weapons from Libya's own turmoil, armed Tuaregs saw an opening for their long-standing dream for national self-determination. As the rebellion spread, the democratically elected President Amadou Toumani Touré was deposed in a military coup and – despite allowing a transitional civilian-led government to take power – the army retains its dominance.

There can certainly be no sympathy for the militia now fighting the Malian government. Originally, it was the secular nationalists of the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad who led the uprising; they have now been pushed aside by Islamist jihadists with a speed that has shocked foreign analysts. Rather than achieving an independent Tuareg state, they have far more sweeping ambitions, linking up with similar groups based in northern Nigeria. Amnesty International reports horrendous atrocities: amputations, sexual violence, the use of child soldiers, and rampant extra-judicial executions.

But don't fall for a narrative so often pushed by the Western media: a perverse oversimplification of good fighting evil, just as we have seen imposed on Syria's brutal civil war. Amnesty reports brutality on the part of Malian government forces, too. When the conflict originally exploded, Tuaregs were arrested, tortured, bombed and killed by the security forces, "apparently only on ethnic grounds", Amnesty says. Last July, 80 inmates arrested by the army were stripped to their underwear, jammed into a 5sqm cell; cigarettes were burnt into their bodies; and they were forced to sodomise each other. Back in September 2012, 16 Muslim preachers belonging to the Dawa group were rounded up at a checkpoint and summarily executed by the army. These are acts committed by those who are now our allies.

When the UN Security Council unanimously paved the way for military force to be used at some point last month, experts made clear warnings that must still be listened to. The International Crisis Group urged a focus on a diplomatic solution to restore stability, arguing that intervention could exacerbate a growing inter-ethnic conflict. Amnesty warned that "an international armed intervention is likely to increase the scale of human-rights violations we are already seeing in this conflict". Paul Rogers, professor of peace studies at Bradford University, has argued that past wars show that "once started, they can take alarming directions, have very destructive results, and often enhance the very movements they are designed to counter".

It is conceivable that this intervention could – for a time – achieve its goals of pushing back the Islamist militias, and shore up Mali's government. But the Libyan war was seen as a success, too; and here we are now engaging with its catastrophic blowback. In Afghanistan, Western forces remain engaged in a never-ending war which has already helped destabilised Pakistan, leading to drone attacks that have killed hundreds of civilians and unleashed further chaos. The price of Western interventions may often be ignored by our media, but it is still paid nonetheless.

Western intervention led by France, supported by Britain and with possible US drone attacks on the way will undoubtedly fuel the narrative of radical Islamist groups. As Professor Rogers puts it to me, it will be portrayed as "one more example of an assault on Islam". With the speed and reach of modern forms of communication, radical groups in Western Africa and beyond will use this escalating war as evidence of another front opened against Muslims.
[...]

4) Iraq: US "Troop Surge" Magic Bullet Myth Lives On
Wayne White, LobeLog, January 11th, 2013
http://www.lobelog.com/iraq-us-troop-surge-magic-bullet-myth-lives-on/

[Wayne White is a former Deputy Director of the State Department's Middle East/South Asia Intelligence Office (INR/NESA).]

Criticism of former Senator Chuck Hagel for not backing the 2007 US "troop surge" in Iraq demands an explanation of why that relatively small reinforcement was not the main driver for reversing Iraq's descent into violent chaos. In fact, when proposed in late 2006, there was widespread doubt about its potential for success among experts. And that skepticism was not, as detractors allege, off target. In reality, a different change in Bush Administration Iraq policy was the primary game-changer. Nonetheless, widespread belief still persists that the troop surge alone reversed the downward spiral in Iraq during 2003-2006. Some have tried to correct the record, but without much success.

When I served with the Iraq Study Group (ISG) led by former Secretary of State James Baker and former Congressman Lee Hamilton in 2006, many of its core Middle East experts felt the "troop surge" would fail because it was far too small. It increased US troops in Iraq by less than 20 percent. The situation, which included the robust Sunni Arab insurgency, widespread al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) terrorism and rampant sectarian cleansing, had gotten too far out of control for so few troops to make a real difference. Some believed as many as five times the 21,500 troops the Bush Administration sent in were needed. After all, troop levels had risen and fallen modestly before with little change in what had been a grindingly indecisive anti-insurgency war.

Unknown to the ISG (and evidently most of everyone outside the executive branch) the Bush Administration had quietly made another decision truly capable of sparking a major improvement on the ground in Iraq. The White House agreed to a deal with the bulk of the Sunni Arab insurgents fighting US forces. The insurgents not only wanted to stop fighting US/UK forces, but also to partner with Coalition forces against al-Qaida in Iraq. Although holding their own and inflicting heavy casualties, the insurgents had tired of suffering heavy losses themselves, were appalled by damage to their own communities from the fighting, and had been angered by extremist AQI abuses in their home towns and villages.

In fact, insurgent leaders began approaching US forces over two years earlier with the same offer. But it was rebuffed by the Bush Administration (despite the support of many US military officers in Iraq) because the Shi'a-dominated Iraqi government bitterly opposed such a deal. In late 2006, however, in the face of a severe spike in violence - and despite more objections from the Iraqi government - the US accepted the deal. That triggered what was called Iraq's Sunni Arab "Awakening" (up to 100,000 Sunni Arab insurgents changing sides).

It took nearly two more years of hard fighting to bring most all Sunni Arab insurgents into the arrangement, weaken the power of AQI, and curb sectarian cleansing. The modest US "troop surge" improved tactics set in motion by General David Petraeus, and gains in Iraqi Army professionalism helped too, but these were not nearly as critical as what some called the far more sweeping "deal with the devil."

Sadly, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who objected to the deal well into 2008, continues to exclude the Sunni Arab community from the Iraqi political mainstream. Despite assurances to the contrary, he has hounded many Sunni Arab fighters who took part in the "Awakening", arresting and even taking out a good number of them. This has soured Sunni Arabs on Maliki and his Shi'a allies, causing enough Sunni Arabs to resume assisting AQI to make it difficult to stop the lethal bombings.

Why the decision to make this deal with the vast majority of the insurgents was withheld from the Iraq Study Group (and others) is unknown to me. It almost surely would have changed our recommendations, and likewise might well have made lawmakers like Chuck Hagel less skeptical of what otherwise appeared to be an inadequate fix in the face of a far greater challenge.

Equally bizarre has been the sloppy use of the US "troop surge" by most American media outlets as misleading shorthand for everything that altered the Iraqi playing field back in 2007-2008. As a result, critics continue to hound opponents (like Hagel) about a troop surge that could well have been a military failure if not for the stunning, belated, and initially secretive deal that transformed most of our Sunni Arab foes in Iraq into American allies.

5) The Surge and Other Popular Neocon Myths
James A. Russell, LobeLog, January 15th, 2013
http://www.lobelog.com/the-surge-and-other-popular-neocon-myths/

[James Russell serves as an associate professor in the Department of National Security Affairs at the Naval Post-Graduate School in Monterey, Ca.]

As the Senate prepares for what will be contentious confirmation hearings for Chuck Hagel to be the next Secretary of Defense, it is important to debunk some of the popularized narratives that are being offered by neoconservative commentators as they attempt to seize control of important issues that will likely come up during the confirmation process.

Hagel was one of the few who had the guts to question the Iraq invasion when it was politically unpopular to do so, was right about the disastrous consequences of the invasion for US power and prestige, and rightly raised questions about the increase in troop levels committed as part of the so-called "surge" in 2007. As noted by Wayne White in this blog, there are many misconceptions and myths perpetrated about the surge and its relationship to America's experience in the war.

Neoconservative commentators have successfully shaped a popular narrative suggesting that the surge helped spur the famous Anbar Awakening that turned the tide in Iraq and somehow helped "win" the war. There are grains of truth in these assertions, but these half-truths have been used to support wholly unfounded and full-blown myths that are still spouted in print by columnists like Charles Krauthammer, Elliott Abrams and others.

My book on ground operations in Iraq from 2005-07 in Anbar and Mosul deals extensively with local politics in Anbar during the period and provides an entirely different picture of the awakening and its circumstances that had little to do with the surge. Like all complex phenomena, the awakening occurred in a particular context and with a history that has been largely omitted from popular narratives about the war.

The first of the so-called tribal "flips" started in 2005 in Al Qaim due in part to a dispute involving the Albu Mahal tribe and its interest in controlling border and smuggling operations. The Albu Mahals subsequently became the "desert protector" force in 2005; Marines issued them uniforms and installed them in local police stations to start directing traffic and performing other constabulary duties. In a pattern that would be repeated elsewhere around the province, the Marines turned a blind eye to the Albu Mahal's smuggling operations in exchange for this support - so long as the smuggling did not support insurgent activities. The Marines initially tried to set up local militias in 2004 in the city of Hit in Anbar - efforts that failed miserably as the units disintegrated when insurgents attacked them.

The Awakening spread from western Anbar in 2005 and culminated in Ramadi in the summer/fall of 2006 - before the surge had even begun. By the time the surge happened in the spring of 2007, there were already over 1,000 former Sunni tribal and nationalist insurgents manning police checkpoints in and around Ramadi.

The tribal flip had to do with many factors – national-level political developments and the rising power of the Shi'ites and the realization by Sunni tribal leaders that only the US could protect them from the ascendant Shi'ites. They grasped the obvious in late 2006: their continued alliance with the jihadists would lead to their destruction. They had also become disaffected with the non-Iraqi jihadists and their brutal methods of intimidation. They also resented the way these jihadists had seized control over the smuggling routes in Anbar that had supported Sunni tribes for decades.

In the fall of 2006, US commanders in Ramadi stood by as the 1920s Brigade and other Sunni nationalist insurgents dragged the jihadists out of the mosques on Fridays and blew their brains out. Importantly, the improved tactical proficiency of US units - a proficiency driven by desperation and willingness to learn and adapt - played a role in supporting the awakening process. US brigade and battalion commanders deserve great credit for forming personal relationships with tribal leaders like Abdul Sittar Abdu Risha that helped immeasurably as the awakening process gathered momentum in the fall of 2006.

Contrary to popular myths now being offered up on the airwaves, the White House and Gen. David Petraeus were not involved in decisions by brigade and battalion commanders to start forming these local alliances. My research on this period of the war shows that these commanders took these steps out of desperation and because they couldn't think of anything else to do to reduce insurgent violence.

Many myths surround the Awakening and the surge – myths popularized by the neocons and the mainstream media, as well as by fawning narratives in books by Paula Broadwell and others about how brilliant senior leaders engineered this change in the landscape of Iraq. Like all narratives, however, their stories contain only grains of truth.

The increase in US troop numbers were important in tamping down violence in Iraq, and the bloody and brutal campaign undertaken by the Joint Special Operations Command in 2007 in Baghdad eviscerated the insurgent networks in and around the capital. But, the surge was not responsible for the Awakening and it did not "win" the war, as asserted by the neoconservatives.

The net result of the surge was to help create circumstances to cover the US retreat so the neoconservatives and others could assert we had in fact achieved something worthwhile in Iraq. The problem with this is that there are still those out there that believe the information operations (IO) campaign that was itself part of the surge. We ended up believing our own invented press releases - a process now repeating itself in Afghanistan.

This IO campaign regrettably succeeded, and there is today no national-level debate over the disastrous US experience in Iraq. That absence means that columnists like Krauthammer and other neocons can make unsupported and unchallenged assertions about the "surge" and its circumstances.

Importantly, it means that the same neoconservative figures who helped sell the Iraq war in the first place can also, with straight faces, go after figures like Chuck Hagel, who, whatever his faults, turned out to be right about Iraq. If Hagel was right about Iraq, maybe it says something about other judgments he might have to make as our next secretary of defense.

Maybe this country would be better off with senior leaders willing to take politically unpopular positions on important questions and have the strength of their convictions to carry those arguments into the senior reaches of government.

Israel/Palestine
6) Israeli Forces Kill Palestinian in West Bank Confrontation
Isabel Kershner, New York Times, January 15, 2013
http://www.nytimes.com/2013/01/16/world/middleeast/israeli-forces-kill-palestinian-in-west-bank-confrontation.html

Jerusalem - Israeli forces fatally shot a Palestinian teenager during a confrontation along the West Bank barrier on Tuesday, underscoring the potential for spiraling violence after weeks of simmering restiveness in the area.

Two more Palestinians, both men in their early 20s, were fatally shot in recent days along Gaza's border with Israel, one of them in disputed circumstances. The use of live ammunition against unarmed protesters in the West Bank has become less common after years of relative stability.

But disturbances have increased across the West Bank since mid-November, when Israel embarked on a fierce eight-day military campaign against the rocket-launching infrastructure in the Gaza Strip, controlled by the militant group Hamas. The rising tensions also come after years of stagnation in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process and against the background of a dire financial crisis that has prevented the Palestinian Authority, the interim self-rule body in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, from paying tens of thousands of government workers their full salaries on time.

With Israeli commentators speculating about the prospect of a third Palestinian intifada, or uprising, the military says it has been acting with restraint in order to avoid escalating tensions further.

The teenager killed on Tuesday was identified as Samir Ahmad Awwad, 16, from the village of Budrus, in the Ramallah district of the West Bank. Muhammad Marar, the head of the village council, told the Palestinian independent news agency Maan that a group of students leaving the village high school after an examination threw stones at Israeli soldiers gathered nearby and that the soldiers responded with live fire.

A spokesman for the Israeli military said that several Palestinians had approached the security fence and damaged it in an attempt to cross. He added that soldiers at the scene "responded in order to prevent an infiltration" and that live fire was used.

Citing witnesses, Palestinian activists said that Mr. Awwad was walking away from light clashes that had erupted by the barrier when he was hit from behind by three bullets in his leg, head and torso. The activists distributed photographs of the boy's corpse.

Budrus lies adjacent to the barrier, a system of fences, walls, razor wire and patrol roads that Israel has built over the last decade with the stated purpose of keeping Palestinian suicide bombers out of Israeli cities. However much of it cuts through West Bank territory and Budrus became an early symbol of Palestinian popular resistance against the barrier. Activists held regular protests as it was being built and caused the Israeli planners to reroute it so as to take in less of the village land.
[...]

Afghanistan
7) U.S. to Give Spy Drones to Afghans, Karzai Says
Azam Ahmed, New York Times, January 14, 2013
http://www.nytimes.com/2013/01/15/world/asia/us-to-give-spy-drones-to-afghans-karzai-says.html

Kabul, Afghanistan - President Hamid Karzai announced Monday that the United States would give Afghanistan its own fleet of aerial surveillance drones and would speed up the handover of detainees held by American forces. It was his first public comments since returning from a visit to Washington.

Mr. Karzai said repeatedly that the meetings in Washington had yielded nearly everything his country hoped for, including the promised end to raids conducted by foreign forces in Afghan homes and villages. He and President Obama held a joint news conference on Friday announcing an accelerated turnover of security responsibility to Afghan forces next year, the end of foreign raids by spring and the handover of detainees still under American control.

That last issue in particular has been a sore point after the continued American detention of some suspected insurgents despite an agreement that the Afghan authorities would take full control of detention.
[...]
Though Mr. Karzai took pains to note that the drones would be unarmed, such aircraft could significantly help the Afghan forces' reconnaissance and surveillance abilities. Spy drones have been a crucial part of efforts to track down Taliban insurgents in the country and watch over coalition forces in the field. But the aircraft have been operated strictly by Western forces.
[...]

Bahrain
8) Revealed: America's Arms Sales To Bahrain Amid Bloody Crackdown
Justin Elliott, ProPublica, Jan. 15, 2013, 6:59 a.m.
http://www.propublica.org/article/americas-arms-sales-bahrain-crackdown

Despite Bahrain's bloody crackdown on pro-democracy protesters, the U.S. has continued to provide weapons and maintenance to the small Mideast nation.

Defense Department documents released to ProPublica give the fullest picture yet of the arms sales: The list includes ammunition, combat vehicle parts, communications equipment, Blackhawk helicopters, and an unidentified missile system.

The documents, which were provided in response to a Freedom of Information Act request and cover a yearlong period ending in February 2012, still leave many questions unanswered. It's not clear whether in each case the arms listed have been delivered. And some entries that only cite the names of weapons may in fact refer to maintenance or spare parts.
[...]
While the U.S. has maintained it is selling Bahrain arms only for external defense, human rights advocates say the documents raise questions about items that could be used against civilian protesters.

"The U.S. government should not be providing additional military equipment that could make matters worse," said Sunjeev Bery, Middle East advocacy director for Amnesty International USA.

There have been reports that Bahrain used American-made helicopters to fire on protesters in the most intense period of the crackdown. Time magazine reported in mid-March 2011 that Cobra helicopters had conducted "live ammunition air strikes" on protesters.

The new Defense Department list of arms sales has two entries related to "AH-1F Cobra Helicopters" in March and April 2011. Neither the exact equipment or services being sold nor the delivery timetable are specified.

The U.S. is also playing a training role: In April 2012, for example, the Army News Service reported that an American team specializing in training foreign militaries to use equipment purchased from the U.S. was in Bahrain to help with Blackhawk helicopters.
[...]
The administration put a hold on one proposed sale of Humvees and missiles in Fall 2011 following congressional criticism. But Foreign Policy reported that other unspecified equipment was still being sold without any public notification.

The new documents offer more details on what was sold during that period - including entries related to a "Blackhawk helicopter armament" in November 2011 and a missile system in January 2012.

In May 2012, the administration announced it was releasing some unspecified items to Bahrain's military that "are not used for crowd control" while maintaining a hold on the Humvees and TOW missiles.

State Department spokesman Noel Clay told ProPublica, "We continue to withhold the export of lethal and crowd-control items intended predominately for internal security purposes, and have resumed on a case-by-case basis items related exclusively to external defense, counter-terrorism, and the protection of U.S. forces."
[...]

--
Just Foreign Policy is a membership organization devoted to reforming US foreign policy so it reflects the values and interests of the majority of Americans. The archive of the Just 'Foreign Policy News is here:

http://www.justforeignpolicy.org/blog/dailynews

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