Afghan Army Follies
September 28, 2009

Steve Coll is pessimistic: The history of the Afghan Army since 1970 is one in which the Army has never actually been defeated in the field, but has literally dissolved for lack of political glue on several occasions. Coll watched the Soviets learn this the hard way. He writes that a strong and legitimate government, perhaps in which Karzai and Abdullah work together, may be the only way to avoid another repeat.

Riedel: Counterterrorism Won't Work
September 28, 2009

Former CIA man Bruce Riedel, who chaired Obama's (first) Afghanistan strategy review earlier this year, writing with co-author Michael O'Hanlon, warns against what you might call the Biden strategy: The fundamental reason that a counterterrorism-focused strategy fails is that it cannot generate good intelligence. Al-Qaeda and the Taliban know not to use their cellphones and satellite phones today, so our spy satellites are of little use in finding extremists.

Kerry on Afghanistan: "Test every assumption and examine every option."
September 28, 2009

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman is sounding ever-more skeptical about a big escalation in Afghanistan. I do wonder a little why, as SFRC chair, he didn't start asking the questions and testing the assumptions for the past eight months. (Maybe he would say the tainted election changed everything.) Regardless, keep an eye on Kerry. I'd be surprised to see him take a position at odds with whatever Obama does, but it's possible.

The End of the Beginning
September 28, 2009

With apologies to Winston Churchill, President Obama may not have presided over the beginning of the end of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict last week in New York, but he seems finally to have marked the end of an embarrassing beginning to his Middle East diplomacy. The president and his senior advisors came to office nine months ago eager to say and do what George W. Bush didn’t.

Keeping Iran's Secrets
September 27, 2009

Qom is not a chance locale for a nuclear enrichment plant.  It is one of Shi'a Islam's sacred cities, a destination of pilgrimage, a center of scholarship (whatever scholarship there is in a faith closed off to the world), the site of one of the holiest shrines of the faith. Israel would not dare attack it, and America would not even think of such an assault. In any case, it was kept secret for several years. Yes, the Iranians had kept it secret for several years. Apparently, the United States and some of its allies had known about it and also kept it secret.

The Israeli Prime Minister
September 26, 2009

The New York Times gave about six inches to Bibi Netanyahu's speech at the General Assembly, and this in an article he shared with Hugo Chavez who spoke for four times the duration allowed by the rules. This is a habit among tyrants, and Chavez is no exception. The same Times page carried a 24-inch piece about Gadhafi, not on his filibuster at the U.N. (which it covered more than amply on Thursday), but dealing with the dictator's appearance at the Council on Foreign Relations.

Diplomatic Circles
September 26, 2009

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was back in New York this week, making his fifth annual pilgrimage to the UN General Assembly. In the past, Ahmadinejad's carefully calibrated theatrics before or during his trips--comparable only to his new soul-mate Hugo Chavez, or the equally delusional, self-declared messiah, Moammar Qaddafi--focused all attention on the regime's nuclear adventurism, or his own shameless denial of the Holocaust and repeated demands for Israel's "oblivion from the map." His glib sound bites were broadcast with astonishing repetition.

What Shapes Sanctions
September 26, 2009

The announcement that Iran has been constructing a covert facility to enrich nuclear fuel for the last few years without notifying the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) raises the stakes for the upcoming October 1 meeting of six leading countries with Iran. The underground facility is located on an Iranian Revolutionary Guard base outside the religious city of Qom. U.S. officials say Iran was forced to acknowledge the site in vague terms to the IAEA earlier this week only after it became clear that the U.S.

September 25, 2009

So, just one day after Presidents Obama and Sarkozy, together with Gordon Brown, warned Iran that they've determined that"the size and configuration of this [their newly disclosed nuclear facility at Qom] is inconsistent with a peaceful program",the Venezuelan government drops a diplomatic bombshell, as Mining Minister Rodolfo Sanz confirms the longstanding rumors that Iran is also helping Venezuela prospect for Uranium in Southern Bolívar State. Iran has helped us on the aereal-geophysics fly-overs, and on geochemical analysis," the chavista minister said, adding that initial evaluat

Toobin: Don't Torture Zazi
September 25, 2009

The New Yorker's Jeff Toobin offers a good response to my open question about how we should be handling Najibullah Zazi, an accused al Qaeda terrorist who may be in league with men still on the loose: Time to break the waterboard out of storage? I think not—and not just because it’s illegal. The U.S. Attorney’s office in Brooklyn which is bringing the case (and where I was a prosecutor in the early nineties) filed a brief where it outlined the reasons why Zazi should be detained rather than released on bail.