Saturday, June 2, 2012

How Far Would Americans Go to Save Syria?

Not as far as ground troops.


A massacre of more than 100 civilians last week -- including women and children -- cast a pall on U.N. peacekeeping efforts in Syria, provoking near-universal international condemnation. Many in Washington are frustrated, and are urging the United States do, well, something. But a key question lingers for Americans: Do they actually want to use their own military might to stop the killing in Syria?

The answer is probably no, at least for now. A smattering of polls this year show little support for getting U.S. troops involved in Syria, but long-term trends show big majorities of Americans favoring using U.S. troops to stop governments from committing genocide mass killings. The divergent poll results may reflect a pro-intervention philosophy running up against a Syrian crisis that lacks an easy military solution or clear international support for the use of force. Nevertheless, the results illuminate how the public is grappling with the issue right now.

Let's start with evidence against support for an invasion. By a 78 to 14 percent margin, registered voters in a March Fox News poll said the United States should not "put troops on the ground" in Syria. The introduction to that survey question was about as sharp as it could be, noting that the "current dictatorial regime" has "killed more than 7,000 of its own people to try to end the rebellion." And still, nearly eight in 10 said "no" to troops. Air support to protect anti-government groups was somewhat more popular, but the only proposal for Syrian action that gained majority support in the Fox survey was providing humanitarian aid -- 82 percent backed this measure.

After a round of severe and highly publicized bombing in Homs in February, a CNN poll found similar reluctance to do anything. Just 25 percent said the United States had a responsibility to do something about the fighting in Syria; 73 percent said it did not. Twice as many -- 50 percent -- said countries other than the United States have a duty to intervene.

The raw political calculus for U.S. President Barack Obama -- if based on his experience last year in Libya -- does not predict a windfall of public support or satisfaction even if intervention did result in regime change. Obama's Republican opponent, Mitt Romney, has criticized the president's actions so far as a "policy of paralysis" and advocated arming anti-government groups. Such a proposal also receives little support from the public -- just 25 percent in the Fox News poll.

But there's another strain of polling that hints at broader support for military action, particularly in the case of genocide. More than seven in 10 Americans supported the use of U.S. troops "to stop a government from committing genocide and killing large numbers of its own people," according to a 2010 poll by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs. The finding was no one-year fluke: The idea had at least 69 percent support in biennial surveys since 2002, with little falloff during the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

The two results may seem contradictory. On the one hand, Americans are willing to use their own military to step in the way of genocide, but on the other they overwhelmingly oppose such action to prevent such violence in the specific case of Syria.

The Chicago Council survey provides some clues for the divergence. When asked about specific scenarios, support was lower for joining a peacekeeping force in Darfur (56 percent) and still lower for ensuring a peace agreement was kept between Israel and the Palestinians (49 percent).

It may be that Americans have an idea that the United States should intervene in the worst of humanitarian circumstances, but that the military cannot go to every nation where violence breaks out, especially without support from NATO or the United Nations. Syria certainly appears to be in crisis territory, but Americans are not paying a great deal of attention. In addition to a presidential election, the public's gaze is largely stuck on the economy. Fully 37 percent of the public said in April they were following the violence in Syria "not at all closely" in a Pew Research Center poll.

The latest and most shocking violence could change that dynamic, but like the road to peace in Syria, public support military intervention appears to have a long way to go.

-This commentary was published in Foreign Policy on 01/06/2012
-Scott Clement is the polling analyst for the Washington Post

Syrian Intervention Risks Upsetting Global Order

By Henry A. Kissinger

Rock the world

The Arab Spring is generally discussed in terms of the prospects for democracy. Equally significant is the increasing appeal — most recently in Syria — of outside intervention to bring about regime change, overturning prevalent notions of international order.

The modern concept of world order arose in 1648 from the Treaty of Westphalia, which ended the Thirty Years’ War. In that conflict, competing dynasties sent armies across political borders to impose their conflicting religious norms. This 17th-century version of regime change killed perhaps a third of the population of Central Europe.

To prevent a repetition of this carnage, the Treaty of Westphalia separated international from domestic politics. States, built on national and cultural units, were deemed sovereign within their borders; international politics was confined to their interaction across established boundaries. For the founders, the new concepts of national interest and balance of power amounted to a limitation, not an expansion, of the role of force; it substituted the preservation of equilibrium for the forced conversion of populations.

The Westphalian system was spread by European diplomacy around the world. Though strained by the two world wars and the advent of international communism, the sovereign nation-state survived, tenuously, as the basic unit of international order.

The Westphalian system never applied fully to the Middle East. Only three of the region’s Muslim states had a historical basis: Turkey, Egypt and Iran. The borders of the others reflected a division of the spoils of the defunct Ottoman Empire among the victors of World War I, with minimal regard for ethnic or sectarian divisions. These borders have since been subjected to repeated challenge, often military.

The diplomacy generated by the Arab Spring replaces Westphalian principles of equilibrium with a generalized doctrine of humanitarian intervention. In this context, civil conflicts are viewed internationally through prisms of democratic or sectarian concerns. Outside powers demand that the incumbent government negotiate with its opponents for the purpose of transferring power. But because, for both sides, the issue is generally survival, these appeals usually fall on deaf ears. Where the parties are of comparable strength, some degree of outside intervention, including military force, is then invoked to break the deadlock.

This form of humanitarian intervention distinguishes itself from traditional foreign policy by eschewing appeals to national interest or balance of power — rejected as lacking a moral dimension. It justifies itself not by overcoming a strategic threat but by removing conditions deemed a violation of universal principles of governance.

If adopted as a principle of foreign policy, this form of intervention raises broader questions for U.S. strategy. Does America consider itself obliged to support every popular uprising against any non-democratic government, including those heretofore considered important in sustaining the international system? Is, for example, Saudi Arabia an ally only until public demonstrations develop on its territory? Are we prepared to concede to other states the right to intervene elsewhere on behalf of coreligionists or ethnic kin?

At the same time, traditional strategic imperatives have not disappeared. Regime change, almost by definition, generates an imperative for nation-building. Failing that, the international order itself begins to disintegrate. Blank spaces denoting lawlessness may come to dominate the map, as has already occurred in Yemen, Somalia, northern Mali, Libya and northwestern Pakistan, and may yet happen in Syria. The collapse of the state may turn its territory into a base for terrorism or arms supply against neighbors who, in the absence of any central authority, will have no means to counteract them.

In Syria, calls for humanitarian and strategic intervention merge. At the heart of the Muslim world, Syria has, under Bashar al-Assad, assisted Iran’s strategy in the Levant and Mediterranean. It supported Hamas, which rejects the Israeli state, and Hezbollah, which undermines Lebanon’s cohesion. The United States has strategic reasons to favor the fall of Bashar al-Assad and to encourage international diplomacy to that end. On the other hand, not every strategic interest rises to a cause for war; were it otherwise, no room would be left for diplomacy.

As military force is considered, several underlying issues must be addressed: While the United States accelerates withdrawals from strategic interventions in neighboring Iraq and Afghanistan, how can a new military commitment in the same region be justified, particularly when facing comparable problems? Does the new approach — less explicitly strategic and military, and geared more toward diplomatic and moral issues — solve the dilemmas that plagued earlier efforts in Iraq or Afghanistan, which ended in withdrawal and a divided America? Or does it compound the difficulty by staking U.S. prestige and morale on domestic outcomes that America has even fewer means and less leverage to shape? Who replaces the ousted leadership, and what do we know about it? Will the outcome improve the human condition and the security situation? Or do we risk repeating the experience with the Taliban, armed by America to fight the Soviet invader but then turned into a security challenge to us?

The difference between strategic and humanitarian intervention becomes relevant. The world community defines humanitarian intervention by consensus, so difficult to achieve that it generally limits the effort. On the other hand, intervention that is unilateral or based on a coalition of the willing evokes the resistance of countries fearing the application of the policy to their territories (such as China and Russia). Hence it is more difficult to achieve domestic support for it. The doctrine of humanitarian intervention is in danger of being suspended between its maxims and the ability to implement them; unilateral intervention, by contrast, comes at the price of international and domestic support.

Military intervention, humanitarian or strategic, has two prerequisites: First, a consensus on governance after the overthrow of the status quo is critical. If the objective is confined to deposing a specific ruler, a new civil war could follow in the resulting vacuum, as armed groups contest the succession, and outside countries choose different sides. Second, the political objective must be explicit and achievable in a domestically sustainable time period. I doubt that the Syrian issue meets these tests. We cannot afford to be driven from expedient to expedient into undefined military involvement in a conflict taking on an increasingly sectarian character. In reacting to one human tragedy, we must be careful not to facilitate another. In the absence of a clearly articulated strategic concept, a world order that erodes borders and merges international and civil wars can never catch its breath. A sense of nuance is needed to give perspective to the proclamation of absolutes. This is a nonpartisan issue, and it should be treated in that manner in the national debate we are entering.

-This commentary was published in The Washington Post on 02/06/2012
- Henry A. Kissinger was U.S. secretary of state from 1973 to 1977

Obama Order Sped Up Wave Of Cyberattacks Against Iran

By DAVID E. SANGER from Washington

Iran’s nuclear enrichment facility at Natanz.
From his first months in office, President Obama secretly ordered increasingly sophisticated attacks on the computer systems that run Iran’s main nuclear enrichment facilities, significantly expanding America’s first sustained use of cyberweapons, according to participants in the program.

Mr. Obama decided to accelerate the attacks — begun in the Bush administration and code-named Olympic Games — even after an element of the program accidentally became public in the summer of 2010 because of a programming error that allowed it to escape Iran’s Natanz plant and sent it around the world on the Internet. Computer security experts who began studying the worm, which had been developed by the United States and Israel, gave it a name: Stuxnet.

At a tense meeting in the White House Situation Room within days of the worm’s “escape,” Mr. Obama, Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. and the director of the Central Intelligence Agency at the time, Leon E. Panetta, considered whether America’s most ambitious attempt to slow the progress of Iran’s nuclear efforts had been fatally compromised.

“Should we shut this thing down?” Mr. Obama asked, according to members of the president’s national security team who were in the room.

Told it was unclear how much the Iranians knew about the code, and offered evidence that it was still causing havoc, Mr. Obama decided that the cyberattacks should proceed. In the following weeks, the Natanz plant was hit by a newer version of the computer worm, and then another after that. The last of that series of attacks, a few weeks after Stuxnet was detected around the world, temporarily took out nearly 1,000 of the 5,000 centrifuges Iran had spinning at the time to purify uranium.

This account of the American and Israeli effort to undermine the Iranian nuclear program is based on interviews over the past 18 months with current and former American, European and Israeli officials involved in the program, as well as a range of outside experts. None would allow their names to be used because the effort remains highly classified, and parts of it continue to this day.

These officials gave differing assessments of how successful the sabotage program was in slowing Iran’s progress toward developing the ability to build nuclear weapons. Internal Obama administration estimates say the effort was set back by 18 months to two years, but some experts inside and outside the government are more skeptical, noting that Iran’s enrichment levels have steadily recovered, giving the country enough fuel today for five or more weapons, with additional enrichment.

Whether Iran is still trying to design and build a weapon is in dispute. The most recent United States intelligence estimate concludes that Iran suspended major parts of its weaponization effort after 2003, though there is evidence that some remnants of it continue.

Iran initially denied that its enrichment facilities had been hit by Stuxnet, then said it had found the worm and contained it. Last year, the nation announced that it had begun its own military cyberunit, and Brig. Gen. Gholamreza Jalali, the head of Iran’s Passive Defense Organization, said that the Iranian military was prepared “to fight our enemies” in “cyberspace and Internet warfare.” But there has been scant evidence that it has begun to strike back.

The United States government only recently acknowledged developing cyberweapons, and it has never admitted using them. There have been reports of one-time attacks against personal computers used by members of Al Qaeda, and of contemplated attacks against the computers that run air defense systems, including during the NATO-led air attack on Libya last year. But Olympic Games was of an entirely different type and sophistication.

It appears to be the first time the United States has repeatedly used cyberweapons to cripple another country’s infrastructure, achieving, with computer code, what until then could be accomplished only by bombing a country or sending in agents to plant explosives. The code itself is 50 times as big as the typical computer worm, Carey Nachenberg, a vice president of Symantec, one of the many groups that have dissected the code, said at a symposium at Stanford University in April. Those forensic investigations into the inner workings of the code, while picking apart how it worked, came to no conclusions about who was responsible.

A similar process is now under way to figure out the origins of another cyberweapon called Flame that was recently discovered to have attacked the computers of Iranian officials, sweeping up information from those machines. But the computer code appears to be at least five years old, and American officials say that it was not part of Olympic Games. They have declined to say whether the United States was responsible for the Flame attack.

Mr. Obama, according to participants in the many Situation Room meetings on Olympic Games, was acutely aware that with every attack he was pushing the United States into new territory, much as his predecessors had with the first use of atomic weapons in the 1940s, of intercontinental missiles in the 1950s and of drones in the past decade. He repeatedly expressed concerns that any American acknowledgment that it was using cyberweapons — even under the most careful and limited circumstances — could enable other countries, terrorists or hackers to justify their own attacks.

“We discussed the irony, more than once,” one of his aides said. Another said that the administration was resistant to developing a “grand theory for a weapon whose possibilities they were still discovering.” Yet Mr. Obama concluded that when it came to stopping Iran, the United States had no other choice.

If Olympic Games failed, he told aides, there would be no time for sanctions and diplomacy with Iran to work. Israel could carry out a conventional military attack, prompting a conflict that could spread throughout the region.

A Bush Initiative

The impetus for Olympic Games dates from 2006, when President George W. Bush saw few good options in dealing with Iran. At the time, America’s European allies were divided about the cost that imposing sanctions on Iran would have on their own economies. Having falsely accused Saddam Hussein of reconstituting his nuclear program in Iraq, Mr. Bush had little credibility in publicly discussing another nation’s nuclear ambitions. The Iranians seemed to sense his vulnerability, and, frustrated by negotiations, they resumed enriching uranium at an underground site at Natanz, one whose existence had been exposed just three years before.

Iran’s president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, took reporters on a tour of the plant and described grand ambitions to install upward of 50,000 centrifuges. For a country with only one nuclear power reactor — whose fuel comes from Russia — to say that it needed fuel for its civilian nuclear program seemed dubious to Bush administration officials. They feared that the fuel could be used in another way besides providing power: to create a stockpile that could later be enriched to bomb-grade material if the Iranians made a political decision to do so.

Hawks in the Bush administration like Vice President Dick Cheney urged Mr. Bush to consider a military strike against the Iranian nuclear facilities before they could produce fuel suitable for a weapon. Several times, the administration reviewed military options and concluded that they would only further inflame a region already at war, and would have uncertain results.

For years the C.I.A. had introduced faulty parts and designs into Iran’s systems — even tinkering with imported power supplies so that they would blow up — but the sabotage had had relatively little effect. General James E. Cartwright, who had established a small cyberoperation inside the United States Strategic Command, which is responsible for many of America’s nuclear forces, joined intelligence officials in presenting a radical new idea to Mr. Bush and his national security team. It involved a far more sophisticated cyberweapon than the United States had designed before.

The goal was to gain access to the Natanz plant’s industrial computer controls. That required leaping the electronic moat that cut the Natanz plant off from the Internet — called the air gap, because it physically separates the facility from the outside world. The computer code would invade the specialized computers that command the centrifuges.

The first stage in the effort was to develop a bit of computer code called a beacon that could be inserted into the computers, which were made by the German company Siemens and an Iranian manufacturer, to map their operations. The idea was to draw the equivalent of an electrical blueprint of the Natanz plant, to understand how the computers control the giant silvery centrifuges that spin at tremendous speeds. The connections were complex, and unless every circuit was understood, efforts to seize control of the centrifuges could fail.

Eventually the beacon would have to “phone home” — literally send a message back to the headquarters of the National Security Agency that would describe the structure and daily rhythms of the enrichment plant. Expectations for the plan were low; one participant said the goal was simply to “throw a little sand in the gears” and buy some time. Mr. Bush was skeptical, but lacking other options, he authorized the effort.

Breakthrough, Aided by Israel

It took months for the beacons to do their work and report home, complete with maps of the electronic directories of the controllers and what amounted to blueprints of how they were connected to the centrifuges deep underground.

Then the N.S.A. and a secret Israeli unit respected by American intelligence officials for its cyberskills set to work developing the enormously complex computer worm that would become the attacker from within.

The unusually tight collaboration with Israel was driven by two imperatives. Israel’s Unit 8200, a part of its military, had technical expertise that rivaled the N.S.A.’s, and the Israelis had deep intelligence about operations at Natanz that would be vital to making the cyberattack a success. But American officials had another interest, to dissuade the Israelis from carrying out their own pre-emptive strike against the Iranian nuclear facilities. To do that, the Israelis would have to be convinced that the new line of attack was working. The only way to convince them, several officials said in interviews, was to have them deeply involved in every aspect of the program.

Soon the two countries had developed a complex worm that the Americans called “the bug.” But the bug needed to be tested. So, under enormous secrecy, the United States began building replicas of Iran’s P-1 centrifuges, an aging, unreliable design that Iran purchased from Abdul Qadeer Khan, the Pakistani nuclear chief who had begun selling fuel-making technology on the black market. Fortunately for the United States, it already owned some P-1s, thanks to the Libyan dictator, Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi.

When Colonel Qaddafi gave up his nuclear weapons program in 2003, he turned over the centrifuges he had bought from the Pakistani nuclear ring, and they were placed in storage at a weapons laboratory in Tennessee. The military and intelligence officials overseeing Olympic Games borrowed some for what they termed “destructive testing,” essentially building a virtual replica of Natanz, but spreading the test over several of the Energy Department’s national laboratories to keep even the most trusted nuclear workers from figuring out what was afoot.

Those first small-scale tests were surprisingly successful: the bug invaded the computers, lurking for days or weeks, before sending instructions to speed them up or slow them down so suddenly that their delicate parts, spinning at supersonic speeds, self-destructed. After several false starts, it worked. One day, toward the end of Mr. Bush’s term, the rubble of a centrifuge was spread out on the conference table in the Situation Room, proof of the potential power of a cyberweapon. The worm was declared ready to test against the real target: Iran’s underground enrichment plant.

“Previous cyberattacks had effects limited to other computers,” Michael V. Hayden, the former chief of the C.I.A., said, declining to describe what he knew of these attacks when he was in office. “This is the first attack of a major nature in which a cyberattack was used to effect physical destruction,” rather than just slow another computer, or hack into it to steal data.

“Somebody crossed the Rubicon,” he said.

Getting the worm into Natanz, however, was no easy trick. The United States and Israel would have to rely on engineers, maintenance workers and others — both spies and unwitting accomplices — with physical access to the plant. “That was our holy grail,” one of the architects of the plan said. “It turns out there is always an idiot around who doesn’t think much about the thumb drive in their hand.”

In fact, thumb drives turned out to be critical in spreading the first variants of the computer worm; later, more sophisticated methods were developed to deliver the malicious code.

The first attacks were small, and when the centrifuges began spinning out of control in 2008, the Iranians were mystified about the cause, according to intercepts that the United States later picked up. “The thinking was that the Iranians would blame bad parts, or bad engineering, or just incompetence,” one of the architects of the early attack said.

The Iranians were confused partly because no two attacks were exactly alike. Moreover, the code would lurk inside the plant for weeks, recording normal operations; when it attacked, it sent signals to the Natanz control room indicating that everything downstairs was operating normally. “This may have been the most brilliant part of the code,” one American official said.

Later, word circulated through the International Atomic Energy Agency, the Vienna-based nuclear watchdog, that the Iranians had grown so distrustful of their own instruments that they had assigned people to sit in the plant and radio back what they saw.

“The intent was that the failures should make them feel they were stupid, which is what happened,” the participant in the attacks said. When a few centrifuges failed, the Iranians would close down whole “stands” that linked 164 machines, looking for signs of sabotage in all of them. “They overreacted,” one official said. “We soon discovered they fired people.”

Imagery recovered by nuclear inspectors from cameras at Natanz — which the nuclear agency uses to keep track of what happens between visits — showed the results. There was some evidence of wreckage, but it was clear that the Iranians had also carted away centrifuges that had previously appeared to be working well.

But by the time Mr. Bush left office, no wholesale destruction had been accomplished. Meeting with Mr. Obama in the White House days before his inauguration, Mr. Bush urged him to preserve two classified programs, Olympic Games and the drone program in Pakistan. Mr. Obama took Mr. Bush’s advice.

The Stuxnet Surprise

Mr. Obama came to office with an interest in cyberissues, but he had discussed them during the campaign mostly in terms of threats to personal privacy and the risks to infrastructure like the electrical grid and the air traffic control system. He commissioned a major study on how to improve America’s defenses and announced it with great fanfare in the East Room.

What he did not say then was that he was also learning the arts of cyberwar. The architects of Olympic Games would meet him in the Situation Room, often with what they called the “horse blanket,” a giant foldout schematic diagram of Iran’s nuclear production facilities. Mr. Obama authorized the attacks to continue, and every few weeks — certainly after a major attack — he would get updates and authorize the next step. Sometimes it was a strike riskier and bolder than what had been tried previously.

“From his first days in office, he was deep into every step in slowing the Iranian program — the diplomacy, the sanctions, every major decision,” a senior administration official said. “And it’s safe to say that whatever other activity might have been under way was no exception to that rule.”

But the good luck did not last. In the summer of 2010, shortly after a new variant of the worm had been sent into Natanz, it became clear that the worm, which was never supposed to leave the Natanz machines, had broken free, like a zoo animal that found the keys to the cage. It fell to Mr. Panetta and two other crucial players in Olympic Games — General Cartwright, the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Michael J. Morell, the deputy director of the C.I.A. — to break the news to Mr. Obama and Mr. Biden.

An error in the code, they said, had led it to spread to an engineer’s computer when it was hooked up to the centrifuges. When the engineer left Natanz and connected the computer to the Internet, the American- and Israeli-made bug failed to recognize that its environment had changed. It began replicating itself all around the world. Suddenly, the code was exposed, though its intent would not be clear, at least to ordinary computer users.

“We think there was a modification done by the Israelis,” one of the briefers told the president, “and we don’t know if we were part of that activity.”

Mr. Obama, according to officials in the room, asked a series of questions, fearful that the code could do damage outside the plant. The answers came back in hedged terms. Mr. Biden fumed. “It’s got to be the Israelis,” he said. “They went too far.”

In fact, both the Israelis and the Americans had been aiming for a particular part of the centrifuge plant, a critical area whose loss, they had concluded, would set the Iranians back considerably. It is unclear who introduced the programming error.

The question facing Mr. Obama was whether the rest of Olympic Games was in jeopardy, now that a variant of the bug was replicating itself “in the wild,” where computer security experts can dissect it and figure out its purpose.

“I don’t think we have enough information,” Mr. Obama told the group that day, according to the officials. But in the meantime, he ordered that the cyberattacks continue. They were his best hope of disrupting the Iranian nuclear program unless economic sanctions began to bite harder and reduced Iran’s oil revenues.

Within a week, another version of the bug brought down just under 1,000 centrifuges. Olympic Games was still on.

A Weapon’s Uncertain Future

American cyberattacks are not limited to Iran, but the focus of attention, as one administration official put it, “has been overwhelmingly on one country.” There is no reason to believe that will remain the case for long. Some officials question why the same techniques have not been used more aggressively against North Korea. Others see chances to disrupt Chinese military plans, forces in Syria on the way to suppress the uprising there, and Qaeda operations around the world. “We’ve considered a lot more attacks than we have gone ahead with,” one former intelligence official said.

Mr. Obama has repeatedly told his aides that there are risks to using — and particularly to overusing — the weapon. In fact, no country’s infrastructure is more dependent on computer systems, and thus more vulnerable to attack, than that of the United States. It is only a matter of time, most experts believe, before it becomes the target of the same kind of weapon that the Americans have used, secretly, against Iran.

-This article was published in The New York Times on 01/06/2012
-This article is adapted from “Confront and Conceal: Obama’s Secret Wars and Surprising Use of American Power,” to be published by Crown on Tuesday

Friday, June 1, 2012

The Obama Doctrine: Syria vs. Libya Intervention


Kristoffer Tripplaar / Sipa / Corbis
President Barack Obama delivers remarks during a ceremony to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Vietnam War at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall, May 28, 2012, Washington
As the pressure grows on President Obama to take action in Syria, it’s worth going back to re-read the March 2011 speech he gave explaining his intervention in Libya. In it, Obama made clear that that he was not raising the curtain on a new era of humanitarian intervention—that the criteria for U.S. action should depend on an intersection of our interests and our values. (Or, as he put it: “we must always measure our interests against the need for action.”)

Obama went on to explain why Libya passed that test. The country, he said, was at risk of “violence on a horrific scale”—specifically because of what he described as an impending slaughter in the city of Benghazi. Allowing that slaughter, he said, would have “stained the conscience of the world.” That was the values part. The reason that taking action met our interests, Obama said, was because the U.S. enjoyed “a unique ability to stop that violence: an international mandate for action, a broad coalition prepared to join us, the support of Arab countries, and a plea for help from the Libyan people themselves. We also had the ability to stop Gaddafi’s forces in their tracks without putting American troops on the ground.”

The Obama administration argues that the same criteria don’t apply in Syria. The killing there has been undeniably terrible, with estimates running as high as 13,000 dead since the uprising began. But in Libya, Obama was acting specifically in response to the imminent storming by Gaddafi’s forces of Benghazi, a city of 700,000, where Obama predicted an indiscriminate massacre. Meanwhile, there’s a consensus that military action in Syria would be far riskier than it was in Libya, thanks to Syria’s more sophisticated military forces and air defenses.

The Syrian opposition is also even more splintered and inchoate than were the Libyan rebels, and Assad is more popular than was Gaddafi. International bodies like the United Nations and Arab League haven’t called for intervention, and Syria’s ties to Russia–and Iran–also introduce all sorts of strategic complications that didn’t exist in the case of Libya, which had few reliable friends and little geo-strategic import. Merely arming the opposition, as Romney has proposed to do, eliminates the risk to American soldiers, but the other concerns still apply.

It’s worth noting that, at one point in his Libya speech, Obama did seem to suggest that morality alone can supersede strategic considerations. “Some nations may be able to turn a blind eye to atrocities in other countries. The United States of America is different,” Obama said. “And as President, I refused to wait for the images of slaughter and mass graves before taking action.”

But in this case, Obama has now seen plenty of those images. And yet he has mainly limited himself to the action of working diplomatically to depose Bashar al-Assad. The surviving families of those dead children in Houla must wonder why that is. The unfortunate truth is that Obama didn’t intervene in Libya despite great risk. He did it because it was a relatively low-risk venture. Whatever you think should be done, the same can’t be said about Syria.

-This commentary was published in Time on 01/06/2012

Is It Time For An Arab Gulf Union?

Potential danger for the Gulf lies in the evolution of US policy. America shows signs of tiring of Middle East conflicts

By Patrick Seale

Prompted by the Saudi King Abdullah Bin Abdul Aziz, the six member-states of the Gulf Cooperation Council are considering establishing closer ties. A project on the agenda is the possibility of advancing from a mere regional bloc, which the GCC has been since its foundation in May 1981, to some form of confederation or political union.

This difficult and highly controversial subject is expected to be debated at the highest level when the GCC Supreme Council meets in Riyadh in December. In the meantime, all six governments will be giving careful attention to a report on the subject prepared by a committee of experts.

The objections to a union are readily understood. Each state is clearly anxious to retain control over its finances, and over its foreign and domestic policies. Each state will be reluctant to yield to others part of its sovereignty. Earlier projects for a single currency and a customs union never saw the light of day. They were put on one side, even if not discarded altogether. It was evidently felt that the time was not ripe. The subject, however, is now being revived.

The ambitious confederation project was expected to be discussed at the recent GCC meeting in Riyadh on May 14. Not all the GCC states were represented by their heads of state.

What is driving the GCC to consider closer ties? What is the motivation behind the union project?  Evidently it is the realisation that the region is entering a period of great uncertainty and potential danger. Proponents of the union – the Saudi King first among them – clearly believe that union would give the Arab Gulf a stronger voice and greater weight in international affairs, and would thereby strengthen its capability to defend itself and its interests in a hostile world.

The most immediate danger to the rich Gulf States may lie within the Arab world itself. The uprisings of the past year have dealt damaging blows to several Arab economies, those of Egypt and Yemen in particular. Tunisia has seen its income from tourism collapse. Syria is in the deadly clutches of a destructive civil war. Jordan has been spared an uprising but is in great need of help. Poverty and over-population are the key problems of many of these countries, where a substantial slice of the population struggles to survive on less than $2 (Dh7.34) a day. In great contrast, average per capita income in the GCC last year was $33,005, while the GCC’s combined Gross Domestic Product (GDP) was no less than $1.3 trillion.

This huge disparity between rich and poor in the Arab world is potentially a source of great danger. If much of the region sinks into post-revolutionary chaos and violence, the Gulf will not escape the backlash. Individual Gulf States already help out their poorer Arab neighbours with bilateral aid programmes. But it may be time for the GCC as a whole to set up a well-funded Arab Bank of Reconstruction and Development dedicated to rescuing weaker Arab economies. The model is there in the shape of the European Bank of Reconstruction and Development, which helped revive Eastern Europe and Russia itself, after the collapse of Communism and the breakup of the Soviet empire.

Another potential danger for the Gulf lies in the evolution of American policy. The United States shows signs of tiring of Middle East conflicts, which explains its profound reluctance to intervene militarily in Syria. Increasingly, it is turning its attention to the Asia/Pacific region in order to contain what it sees as the rising challenge from China. As a result, it may be unwise for the Gulf to rely unduly on American protection.

America’s priority today is to protect Israel, not the Arabs. The reason is simple. While Israel and its American friends exercise great influence in Washington, Arab influence is waning because the US is becoming less dependent on Arab oil and gas. Rising oil production in Brazil, Canada and in the US itself is changing America’s perceptions of where its interests lie. The Arabs should not be surprised if, over the coming years, the US were to reduce its military presence in the Gulf. Even today, if something like the 1990 Kuwait crisis were to occur, would the US be willing to deploy 500,000 men to resolve it? After the costly wars in Iraq and Afghanistan — and in today’s harsh financial climate — the US and its European allies would not have the will or the means to intervene to protect an endangered Arab Gulf state as they did in 1991.

So long as the Palestine problem remains unresolved, Israel will remain a major threat to all the Arab states – the Gulf States included. Israel’s current policy is to colonise the West Bank and deny the Palestinians statehood, while at the same time retaining and reinforcing its military dominance over the entire region. In pursuit of this latter objective, Israel — and its neoconservative American friends – pushed the US into invading and destroying Iraq, a country Israel saw as a potential threat. Israel is now pushing the US to weaken and destroy Iran, together with its nuclear programme, which it sees as a potential threat to its own regional monopoly of nuclear weapons. How does this affect the Gulf?

Any military strike against Iran by Israel or the US could have disastrous consequences for the Arab Gulf since it could find itself in the line of fire. Rather than fearing a US-Iranian agreement on the nuclear issue, the Arabs should welcome any such deal as it would remove the threat of an Israeli attack.

These are only some of the many threats facing the Arab Gulf. The increasingly destructive civil war in Syria; the deepening sectarian divide between Sunnis and Shiites; the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood across the region are other potentially destabilising trends which could affect the stability and security of the Arab Gulf.

Faced with these formidable challenges, King Abdullah is certainly right in thinking that the GCC needs to tighten the bonds between its members, pool their resources, coordinate their strategies, streamline their aid to bankrupt Arab countries and improve the joint effectiveness of their armed services in order to present a strong and unified face to the world.

-This commentary was published in Gulf News on 01/06/2012
-Patrick Seale is a commentator and author of several books on Middle East affairs, Asad of Syria: The Struggle for the Middle East; and Abu Nidal: A Gun for Hire

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Maliki Consolidates Power, And Critics Fail To Keep Pace

By Reidar Visse

                                                            Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki
On Tuesday, Prime Minister Nouri Al Maliki chaired a successful cabinet meeting in the northern, Sunni-dominated city of Mosul. There had been call for a Kurdish boycott but multiple sources confirm that at least the Kurdish deputy premier did in fact participate. One report claimed just three ministers (and two Kurds) were absent, and only then because of travel abroad.

After completing the cabinet meeting, Mr Maliki returned to Baghdad where the Iraqi Oil Ministry's fourth bidding round went ahead on Wednesday. The gathering of foreign oil companies in Baghdad marked the conclusion of a three-year process aimed at ramping up Iraq's energy production and regaining a leading status in the international energy market.

Meanwhile, less than 80 kilometres away, in the Kurdish capital of Erbil, other Iraqi politicians had a different agenda on Tuesday. Here, the discontent among the Kurds, the secular and Sunni-backed Iraqiyya bloc and the Shiite Islamist Sadrists were gathering to discuss their next move in a campaign to withdraw confidence in Mr Maliki. In their view, the prime minister's increasing tendency of concentrating power in his own hands represents a threat to the very idea of democracy in Iraq and can be rebuffed only through his removal.

Which of these two very different visions will prevail is difficult to say at this point. However, it cannot escape notice that Mr Maliki enjoys some strategic advantages as the incumbent. It is his enemies who need to make the next move to change the status quo, and they have certainly experienced some problems lately in agreeing on exactly what to do.

First, in late April, critics gathered at Erbil and issued a 15-day ultimatum to Mr Maliki to adhere to previous political agreements that led to the formation of his second cabinet in December 2010 (most of which he had since chosen to ignore, not entirely without justification since much of this was constitutionally problematic in any case).

When the ultimatum expired in mid-May, another meeting was held in Najaf, with a second ultimatum being framed more or less as an order to Ibrahim Al Jaafari (the parliamentary head of the Shiite bloc to which both Mr Maliki and his current enemies in the Sadrist camp belong) to find a new prime minister candidate. But after a meeting of the Shiite alliance Mr Jaafari issued a reply to the Najaf ultimatum, making it perfectly clear that the alliance as a body had no intention of replacing Mr Maliki.

Having seen two of their bluffs called, the onus is now on the Erbil gathering of Mr Maliki's critics, who need to come up with a course of action that will avoid loss of face. A third summit in the Kurdish resort of Dukan on Wednesday did not issue any decisive statement.

Theoretically, the most viable alternative is to stop working through the Shiite alliance, which after two tries is evidently unable to deliver what the critics want. The more realistic option involves going straight to a vote of no confidence in the Iraqi parliament.

Having the vote is easy - it can be proposed by the president or a mere fifth of parliamentary members. But the absolute-majority threshold for succeeding (163 votes) is more difficult. The Iraqi parliament of 325 members is on average filled by around 200 deputies; accordingly any realistic no confidence bid should have a buffer of at least 10 extra votes to compensate for votes likely to be lost because of absenteeism. Even if all the Sadrists (who hold 40 seats) and the Kurdish alliance (43 plus a maximum of 13 deputies of smaller Kurdish groupings) should vote, the main question relates to Iraqiyya, which has already formally dwindled from 91 to around 85 as a result of defections.

Additionally, at least a dozen of the remaining 85 have made it clear they have no intention of joining a no confidence motion. This means a no confidence vote may come to rely on smaller Shiite parties like ISCI or Fadila, but even they could prove insufficient if the Iraqiyya segment sceptical of a no-confidence vote continues to grow.

At least some of the Iraqiyya deputies who remain undecided will probably try to consider the whole question through the lenses of ordinary Iraqis. From their perspective, the contrasts stand out. In Baghdad, there is a government working to complete a set of deals with foreign companies designed to ramp up oil production. And in Kurdistan - an area where Arabic is understood by a dwindling number of people - is an anti-government gathering made up to a considerable extent by people who talk about Kurdish independence much of the time and whose sole remaining link with Baghdad is the annual budget they receive, mainly from oil produced in southern Basra.

At the same time, those wavering Iraqiyya deputies will likely see problematic aspects with regard to Mr Maliki's tenure. They may agree on the need for a strong central government, but may also be concerned that it is about to get just too strong and heavy-handed.

Alas, on both sides of the political divide are signs that ad hoc solutions are being proposed entirely without reference to the Iraqi constitution. Mr Maliki's critics think they can simply replace him with someone more likeable without going through the entire constitutional procedure of appointing a new prime ministerial candidate and then forming the next cabinet from scratch. For their part, defenders of the prime minister warn of a possible "popular revolt".

At a minimum, it is to be hoped that whoever wins the latest political tug of war will adhere to constitutional procedure in their fight to prevail. A failure to do so is likely to trigger some of the more alarmist scenarios circulating.

-This commentary was published in The National on 01/06/2012
-Reidar Visser is an historian on Iraq

The Curious Case Of Benjamin Netanyahu

Will Israel’s prime minister turn out to be a great man, or just a great maneuverer?


                                                 Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu

James Baker temporarily banned him from the State Department. Madeleine Albright described him as an Israeli Newt Gingrich (and it wasn't a compliment). Bill Clinton emerged from his first meeting with Benjamin Netanyahu in 1996 (then serving his first term as prime minister) more than a little annoyed by his brash self-confidence. "Who's the fucking superpower here?" Clinton exclaimed to aides.

Netanyahu is the first Israeli premier to trigger truly bipartisan recoil.

But love or hate him, we'd better get used to him. The youngest premier in Israel's history when first elected in 1996, and only the third elected to nonconsecutive terms, he's already emerged as a permanent fixture in Israeli politics. And now, presiding over the deepest governing coalition in Israel's history, Netanyahu is here to stay. Indeed, depending on how things go this November, he could even outlast his latest rival, Barack Obama.

The question, of course, is what he'll do with his newfound political clout and staying power.
Uncertainties abound. The Middle East is in turmoil. Wherever you look -- Syria, Egypt, the dangerous political split among Palestinians, Iran and the bomb -- there will be unknowns and dangers for the Israelis for some time to come.

And Israel has its own problems, and a leadership crisis, too. It is undergoing a political transition from a generation of founders who -- whatever their imperfections -- fashioned a remarkable country against extraordinarily grim odds. The era of David Ben Gurion, Menachem Begin, Yitzhak Rabin, Shimon Peres, and Ariel Sharon has given way to a younger generation of leaders who seem to lack the judgment, authenticity, and legitimacy of their predecessors.

Can Netanyahu become the connecting link? Is he a transformative leader who can lead Israel to peace with the Palestinians and out of the shadow of the Iranian bomb? In short, is he the right man at the right place at the right time to craft a bold strategy for Israel on peace, and perhaps war?
Unfortunately, the past doesn't inspire much confidence about the future.

Bibi vs. Netanyahu

Netanyahu's first term as prime minister, from 1996 to 1999, revealed a risk-averse, deeply conservative politician hewing closely to his Likud Party's line -- a man not of history and vision, but instead a clever politician whose primary interest was in maintaining a tough-minded image as a defender of Israel's security, one deeply suspicious and unsentimental about the Arabs.

In the wake of Rabin's assassination and Peres's unsuccessful bid to succeed him, Netanyahu emerged as a critic of the peace process begun at Oslo in 1993. He was deeply suspicious of Yasir Arafat and the Americans, and focused more on protecting settlements (indeed, expanding them), and fighting terror than on an expansive view of the peace process. His September 1996 decision to open the Hasmonean tunnel in Jerusalem sparked some of the worst Israeli-Palestinian violence since the Oslo process began.

And yet, paradoxically, it was that same tunnel crisis that triggered a diplomatic process that would produce two interim agreements between Arafat and Netanyahu (handshakes, too). This would make Bibi -- Oslo's worst critic -- the first Likud prime minister to concede any West Bank territory. And to Netanyahu's credit, by focusing on Palestinian security performance and accountability, there was a dramatic reduction in terror attacks during those years.

But unlike Rabin -- also a tough negotiator, but one with a strategy -- Netanyahu seemed to have no purpose other than maneuver and delay. He might be prepared to take one step forward by signing the Hebron agreement with the Palestinians in early 1997, but then he would take a step back a month later to compensate his political base by moving ahead with settlement construction in the controversial Har Homa neighborhood in Jerusalem.

It was during these years that several Clinton administration officials who would later serve with Obama -- including Rahm Emanuel and Hillary Clinton -- got their first impressions of Bibi. And they no doubt helped shape the new president's view of the prime minister as something of a con man. Obama's wrong-headed decision to push for a freeze on settlement construction (from which he would later back down) may well have been a result of their message: You can't work with this guy; you need to confront him.

And yet, Netanyahu's first term as premier (and part of his second) also revealed that he could be moved. His career is full of strategic retreats: He said he wouldn't sign an agreement with Arafat, but he did. He said wouldn't give back West Bank land, but he did. He said wouldn't agree to the concept of a Palestinian state even on paper, but he has. And he said he'd never agree to a settlement freeze, even a de facto one -- but then he did for 10 months (though only outside of Jerusalem).

In a sense, Bibi, the tough-talking Likud pol, is at war with Netanyahu, the man who aspires to be a great Israeli prime minister. And this tension leaves him open to compromise but also to retrenchment.

Netanyahu's brash exterior masks a more uncertain, unsure, and conflicted interior. He desperately wants to succeed -- and like most politicians, wants to be loved. He knows he'll have to take risks to succeed, but he's not conditioned by either nature or ideology to accept them -- particularly when it comes to deals with the Palestinians. So his mode is to take a step forward and then a step or two back.
The truth
 is Bibi has never been tested as prime minister with either a huge diplomatic opportunity or a national security crisis that forced him to take real risks. And unlike Rabin, Peres, or his Defense Minister Ehud Barak, he has no real history of proactive risk-taking on the peace or national security side. One example -- the attempted assassination of Hamas leader Khalid Meshaal in Amman in 1997 -- ended disastrously.

On the two critical foreign-policy issues facing Israel today -- Iran and the Palestinians -- it stands to reason that Netanyahu would be more inclined to take risks on the former and avoid them on the latter. Indeed, the peace process is well out of Netanyahu's comfort zone precisely because it bumps up against his own mistrust of the Arabs, his ideology, and party politics. Countering the Iranian nuclear threat, on the other hand, is much more in line with Bibi's view of the kind of heroic action consistent with his self-image.

"Men make history, but rarely as they please"

Karl Marx, while wrong about so many things, was dead-on accurate when he uttered the quote above.

We have a cardboard cutout version of leadership: Leader A confronts Situation B and then, through sheer will, creates Transformation C. But life doesn't work that way, and success in politics certainly doesn't.

Transformative change is an interaction between human agency and circumstances often beyond the leader's control. Teddy Roosevelt, lamenting his own missing crisis, once said that no one would have known Abraham Lincoln's name had there been no civil war. Only with a crisis at hand can leaders -- assuming they are blessed with the right character and capacity -- exploit and help shape what they inherit.

There are clearly crises galore in Israel's neighborhood. But given the sheer number of uncertainties, whether any Israeli leader can exploit them is another matter. Even under somewhat normal circumstances, Netanyahu just hasn't proved to be a risk taker -- at least on the peace issue. And in a region where the margin for error is slim to none, the odds that Netanyahu will risk much on the Palestinians are slim. Alon Pinkas, Israel's former consul general in New York and a former advisor to both Peres and Barak, believes that that Netanyahu sees two fundamental threats to the existence of Israel: a nuclear Iran and a settlement with the Palestinians that takes Israel back to the June 1967 borders.

I've heard all the counterarguments: The best bet for Israel is to make peace now. Iran will be weakened, Arabs democrats strengthened, the demographic pressures on Israel defused, and so on.
These arguments are all compelling. But there's one man they haven't convinced: Bibi Netanyahu. In any case, a breakthrough in the negotiations would require a risk-ready, courageous Israeli leader who knew his own mind and a Palestinian partner with the full backing of Arab leaders. You'd need to stage-manage and orchestrate a diplomatic process with coordinated and dramatic gestures to sustain an agreement in an environment where Arab leaders are either missing, besieged, or hostage to publics increasingly vocal about their anti-Israeli sentiments.

Netanyahu fears many things. But his fear of being played the fool, being humiliated or weakened politically, and taking risks without guaranteed reward is his most pronounced fear of all. He's not nearly as self-confident or willful as his right-wing predecessors Begin and Sharon. Nor, despite his huge governing coalition, is he nearly as universally respected in Israel. To achieve great things means risking great failure. And this requires a truly historic figure.

Bibi: Man of history or man of the past?

Netanyahu is the first Israeli prime minister born after the creation of the state of Israel. And yet, modern as he is when it comes to so many matters -- technology and economic reform, for example -- he's deeply mired in the past. The Holocaust and his late father's writings on the Spanish Inquisition shaped him, and continue to weigh heavily. Rabin would never have used Holocaust imagery to describe Israel's security predicament, and yet Bibi frequently uses analogies from the 1930s when he describes the Iranian threat.

And it's not an act. For Netanyahu, the Jewish people are at risk. It's deeply ingrained in his approach to the world. To be sure, Jews worry for a living -- their dark history compels them do to so. But Bibi worries about everything, including the Americans, whom he believes (perhaps rightly at times) don't understand Israel's situation. You live in Chevy Chase, he once told me -- we don't have any margin for error in our neighborhood.

Ehud Olmert used to say that Israeli prime ministers sleep with one eye open. Bibi sleeps with two open. He's constantly on guard.

The paradox of the deep bench

A number of very smart columnists have been making the argument lately that Netanyahu's deep coalition now gives him a chance to lead, and no excuses not to. But some of the boldest Israeli steps have been taken under very different circumstances: Rabin signed Oslo with a narrow coalition, and Barak attempted to push through Camp David with essentially no government. There's no doubt that if Netanyahu wanted to make peace with the Palestinians, he'd be better positioned now with Kadima leader Shaul Mofaz at his side. But the unity government with Kadima is more a coalition designed to ensure domestic peace and tranquility than to forge a deal with the Palestinians.

Think about it. The unity government insulates Bibi from the pressures of the right wing, improves Israel's global image (if only slightly), defers the chances of elections for at least a year, positions him as a unity prime minister if Israel strikes Iran, and makes an internal challenge on the peace process almost impossible, as Mofaz has agreed to abide by Bibi's rules.

It also protects Bibi against the prospects of a reelected Obama coming after him on the Palestinian issue. At least for the next year or so, the existing government guidelines prevail -- guidelines that make a deal with any Palestinian partner unlikely. To alter this situation, an American president would have to line up the Palestinians, the Arabs, and the international community to make an offer that even Netanyahu couldn't refuse, except at the cost of undermining his own political future. And that's a tall -- perhaps impossible -- order.

Leaders are sometimes found, or perhaps created, in the most unexpected places. And the most intransigent among them can change -- take Begin, Rabin, Sharon, and Olmert. Indeed, the history of peacemaking in Israel is not a history of the peaceniks, it's one of transformed hawks -- men of the right and center right who were changed by circumstance and by necessity, war, and diplomacy.

Can Benjamin Netanyahu be such a transformed hawk?

Ami Ayalon, a former head of Shin Bet and one of the most astute analysts of the region's politics, told me recently that Netanyahu has the chance to do that and more. Theodor Herzl envisioned the idea of a Jewish state, and Ben Gurion helped to create and fashion it. Through peace with the Palestinians, Ayalon observed, Netanyahu now has an opportunity to secure its Jewish and democratic character.

I'd love to believe it. But I won't be holding my breath.

-This commentary was published in Foreign Policy on 30/05/2012
-Aaron David Miller is a public policy scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars and a former U.S. Middle East negotiator. His new book, Can America Have Another Great President?, will be published 2012

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

The Five Worst Atrocities Of The Syrian Uprising

Time and again, the Syrian regime has shocked the world. But those hoping the international community would be spurred into action have been just as frequently disappointed.


The Syrian government's crackdown on protesters and armed rebels has produced a seemingly endless stream of grim and grisly days, with more than 9,000 civilians perishing in the violence since March 2011, according to U.N. estimates. Yet some incidents have garnered more international attention than others, either due to the scale of the bloodshed or the savagery of the attack.
The slaughter of more than 100 people on Friday in Houla, a series of villages near the Syrian city of Homs, is proving to be one of these incidents. The U.N. Security Council unanimously condemned the killings, U.N. envoy Kofi Annan hurriedly organized a meeting with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in an effort to salvage his peace plan, and governments around the world expelled Syrian ambassadors and diplomats. Der Spiegel is calling the massacre "Syria's My Lai," while Reuters has described it as "an atrocity that shook world opinion out of growing indifference." But a look at the incidents that have played this role most prominently during the 14-month-old uprising suggests that the outrage will fade away once the headlines do.
Last May, gruesome images of 13-year-old Hamza al-Khatib's mutilated body stunned the international community. Here's how the New York Times described the footage at the time:
Video posted online shows his battered, purple face. His skin is scrawled with cuts, gashes, deep burns and bullet wounds that would probably have injured but not killed. His jaw and kneecaps are shattered, according to an unidentified narrator, and his penis chopped off.
"These are the reforms of the treacherous Bashar," the narrator says. "Where are human rights? Where are the international criminal tribunals?"
Human rights activists claimed that the boy had been arrested at a protest in southern Syria, tortured to death, and handed over to his family in return for their silence. Syria's state-run media, for its part, contended that Hamza died from gunshot wounds during an attack by armed groups on Syrian forces, and that Bashar al-Assad met with the boy's family to express his condolences as soon as authorities were able to identify the corpse.
Hamza's death inspired a popular Facebook page and mass anti-government demonstrations across Syria. "Arab revolutions -- and associated social and international media -- seem to thrive on icons," the BBC's Jim Muir wrote at the time, "and the Syrian revolt appears to have found one."
As Ramadan approached last July, activists wondered whether the Muslim holy month would breathe new life into their movement, since people would have an easier time organizing protests while gathering in mosques for evening prayers after each day's fast. But on the eve of Ramadan, the Syrian military stormed Hama, which had become a protest hub as soon as government forces withdrew from the area in late June (the flashpoint city had previously been the scene of a chilling massacre in 1982 under Bashar al-Assad's father). Activists feverishly uploaded videos of the violence, which left as many as 300 people dead in six days, according to opposition activists.
In response, U.S. President Barack Obama and the Russian Foreign Ministry issued their strongest critiques of the Assad regime yet, and regional powers such as Turkey and Saudi Arabia turned heads by sharply escalating their criticism. Turkish President Abdullah Gul called the bloodshed "unacceptable" while Saudi King Abdullah urged Damascus to "stop the killing machine" and recalled his ambassador to Syria. Nevertheless, a U.N. Security Council resolution condemning the violence never got off the ground.
In December 2011, as Arab League officials prepared to travel to Syria to monitor a peace plan, activists reported that Syrian forces had surrounded villagers in a valley in the northern Jabal al-Zawiya region of Idlib province, killing more than 100 people with an onslaught of rockets, tank shells, and bombs in an effort to root out army defectors -- particularly ahead of the Arab League mission. Rami Abdul-Rahman of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights called the attack "an organized massacre" and the "bloodiest day of the Syrian revolution" up to that point,  while the Syrian government did not comment on the claims.
In the aftermath of the assault, the opposition Syrian National Council called for the U.N. Security Council and Arab League to hold emergency meetings and develop plans to protect Syrian civilians. But the incident mainly elicited tough words from Western leaders and the Arab League peace initiative ultimately failed.
In early February, Syrian forces began a month-long siege of the Baba Amr district of Homs that eventually forced the rebel Free Syrian Army to withdraw from its stronghold. As photos and video attest, the relentless bombardment reduced the neighborhood to rubble. While there has not been an overall estimate of the death toll in Baba Amr, Reuters noted at the time that residents who fled to Lebanon spoke of "a martyr if not more" in every house and "the smell of decomposed bodies, sewage, and destruction" hanging in the air. The American reporter Marie Colvin and French photographer Remi Ochlik were among those who died in the shelling.
While China and Russia blocked aggressive action against Syria at the U.N. Security Council, they did join other world powers in demanding that U.N. humanitarian chief Valerie Amos be granted access to Baba Amr. When Syrian officials eventually acquiesced, Amos was devastated by what she saw. "That part of Homs is completely destroyed," she explained, "and I am concerned to know what has happened to the people who live in that part of the city."
On May 25, 2012, 108 people -- including 49 children and 34 women -- were murdered in Houla, according to the United Nations, with entire families gunned down in their homes and most of the victims summarily executed. The Syrian regime blamed the violence in the largely Sunni area, which the Syrian military had been shelling in possible retaliation for a rebel assault on an Alawite village, on "armed terrorist groups," while witnesses and survivors told U.N. investigators that pro-government militias were responsible for the bloodshed. A couple days later, opposition activists reported a bloody government assault on nearby Hama.
Repeated violations of Kofi Annan's peace plan had made a mockery of the ceasefire for some time before the slaughter in Houla. But the news threw the international community's failure to resolve the crisis in Syria into sharp relief. The U.N. Security Council condemned the Syrian government's use of heavy weapons in Houla in a rare display of solidarity, though the non-binding statement did not assign blame for the executions and Russia, which has long vetoed more robust Security Council action on Syria, later argued that Syrian rebels -- and perhaps a mysterious "third force" -- were partly to blame for the massacre. Still, the New York Times claims that the Security Council's move armed Annan with a "new mandate" for his peace plan as he met with Assad in Damascus, and the coordinated decision by Western countries to expel Syrian diplomats has left the Assad regime more isolated than ever before.
To be sure, the Syrian government isn't the only party that has been accused of atrocities. Last June, for example, the Syrian authorities blamed armed gangs for killing more than 120 security forces in the northwestern town of Jisr al-Shughour, though opposition activists denied the allegations. And U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon suggested earlier this month that al Qaeda militants orchestrated twin suicide car bombings in Damascus that killed 55 people.
But beyond the confusion about who is behind the atrocities is the question of whether these high-profile massacres have meaningfully altered the trajectory of the Syrian conflict. Even in the wake of the Houla killings, there's little appetite among world powers for military intervention, and engineering a Yemen-style transfer of power in Syria at this juncture could be incredibly difficult. As Reuters noted on Tuesday, Russia does not appear to see Houla as a "game-changer" when it comes to supporting tougher action against Syria at the Security Council.
When this week's frenzied but largely symbolic diplomatic activity subsides, in other words, the international community may be no closer to devising a solution to the intractable crisis in Syria than it was before this weekend's horrific violence.
-This commentary was published in Foreign Policy on 29/05/2012
-Uri Friedman is an associate editor at Foreign Policy

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Drones: How Obama Learned To Kill

The Obama campaign touts a commander in chief who never flinches, but the truth is more complex. In an excerpt from his new book, Kill or Capture: The War on Terror and the Soul of the Obama Presidency, Daniel Klaidman reveals a lot of secrets.

By Daniel Klaidman
‘Kill or Capture: The War on Terror and the Soul of the Obama Presidency’ by Daniel Klaidman

Barack Obama came to the White House with no military background and negligible national-security experience. But he inherited an American killing machine that was very much on the offensive, hunting suspected terrorists from the lawless regions of Pakistan to the militant strongholds of Somalia. Within days of his inauguration he faced life-and-death decisions. One of them went terribly wrong.
Obama had just signed a series of executive orders aimed at rolling back the worst excesses of the Bush administration’s war on terror, and he was flush with the possibilities of what could be accomplished in the years ahead. Learning his way around the labyrinthine West Wing, he poked his head into an aide’s office. “We just ended torture,” he said. “That’s a pretty big deal.” Now, on the morning of Jan. 23, CIA director Michael Hayden informed the president of a drone missile strike scheduled to take place in the tribal areas of Pakistan, near the Afghan border.
The targets were high-level al Qaeda and Taliban commanders. Hayden, accustomed to briefing the tactically minded George W. Bush, went into granular levels of detail, describing the “geometry” of the operation to the new president. Obama, who preferred his briefings concise, grew impatient and irritated with Hayden. But he held his tongue, and raised no objections.
Tribesmen a world away, in the tiny village of Karez Kot, later heard a low, dull buzzing sound from the sky. At about 8:30 in the evening local time, a Hellfire missile from a remotely operated drone slammed into a compound “of interest,” in CIA parlance, obliterating a roomful of people.
It turned out they were the wrong people. As the CIA’s pilotless aircraft lingered high above Karez Kot, relaying live images of the fallout to its operators, it soon became clear that something had gone terribly awry. Instead of hitting the CIA’s intended target, a Taliban hideout, the missile had struck the compound of a prominent tribal elder and members of a pro-government peace committee. The strike killed the elder and four members of his family, including two of his children.
Obama was understandably disturbed. How could this have happened? The president had vowed to change America’s message to the Muslim world, and to forge a “new partnership based on mutual respect and mutual interest.” Yet here he was, during his first week in the White House, presiding over the accidental killing of innocent Muslims. As Obama briskly walked into the Situation Room the following day, his advisers could feel the tension rise. “You could tell from his body language that he was not a happy man,” recalled one participant.
Obama settled into his high-backed, black-leather chair. Hayden was seated at the other end of the table. The conversation quickly devolved into a tense back-and-forth over the CIA’s vetting procedures for drone attacks. The president was learning for the first time about a controversial practice known as “signature strikes,” the targeting of groups of men who bear certain signatures, or defining characteristics associated with terrorist activity, but whose identities aren’t known. They differed from “personality” or “high-value individual” strikes, in which a terrorist leader is positively identified before the missile is launched.
Sometimes called “crowd killing,” signature strikes are deeply unpopular in Pakistan. Obama struggled to understand the concept. Steve Kappes, the CIA’s deputy director, offered a blunt explanation. “Mr. President, we can see that there are a lot of military-age males down there, men associated with terrorist activity, but we don’t always know who they are.” Obama reacted sharply. “That’s not good enough for me,” he said. But he was still listening. Hayden forcefully defended the signature approach. You could take out a lot more bad guys when you targeted groups instead of individuals, he said. And there was another benefit: the more afraid militants were to congregate, the harder it would be for them to plot, plan, or train for attacks against America and its interests.
Obama remained unsettled. “The president’s view was ‘OK, but what assurances do I have that there aren’t women and children there?’?” according to a source familiar with his thinking. “?‘How do I know that this is working? Who makes these decisions? Where do they make them, and where’s my opportunity to intervene?’?”
In the end, Obama relented—for the time being. The White House did tighten up some procedures: the CIA director would no longer be allowed to delegate the decision to carry out a drone strike down the chain. Only the director would have that authority, or his deputy if he was not available. And the White House reserved the right to pull back the CIA’s signature authority in the future. According to one of his advisers, Obama remained uneasy. “He would squirm,” recalled the source. “He didn’t like the idea of ‘kill ’em and sort it out later.’?”
Still, Obama’s willingness to back the drone program represented an early inflection point in his war on terror. Over time, the attacks grew—far beyond anything that had been envisioned by the Bush administration. When Obama accepted the Nobel Peace Prize in December 2009, he had authorized more drone strikes than George W. Bush had approved during his entire presidency. By his third year in office, Obama had approved the killings of twice as many suspected terrorists as had ever been imprisoned in Guantánamo Bay. “We’re killing these sons of bitches faster than they can grow them,” the head of the CIA’s counterterrorism division boasted to The Washington Post in 2011.
The president had come a long way in a short time. Schooled as a constitutional lawyer, he had had to adjust quickly to the hardest part of the job: deciding whom to kill, when to kill them, and when it makes sense to put Americans in harm’s way. His instincts tilted toward justice and protecting the innocent, but he also knew that war is a messy business no matter how carefully it is conducted. He saw the drones as a particularly useful tool in a global conflict, but he was also mindful of the possibility of blowback.
In this overheated election season, Obama’s campaign is painting a portrait of a steely commander who pursues the enemy without flinching. But the truth is more complex, and in many ways, more reassuring. The president is not a robotic killing machine. The choices he faces are brutally difficult, and he has struggled with them—sometimes turning them over in his mind again and again. The people around him have also battled and disagreed. They’ve invoked the safety of America on the one hand and the righteousness of what America stands for on the other.
Obama’s discomfort with being “jam-med” into broad signature-style attacks extended to the military, which was conducting its own counterterror campaigns. Unlike the CIA, when the military engaged in kill missions outside of conventional battlefields—in places like Yemen or Somalia—it needed presidential approval for each individual attack. And the military was more prone to broaden its targets.
In March 2009, most of the top generals were itching to take the war deep into Somalia. This desperately poor, chaotic country was home to Al-Shabab, then a loose affiliate of al Qaeda. The military saw Somalia as a time bomb, and wanted to act before it was too late.
At a Situation Room meeting, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Adm. Mike Mullen, briefed the president and his national security advisers on a “kinetic opportunity” in southern Somalia, Al-Shabab’s stronghold. There was intelligence that a high-level operative associated with the group would be attending a “graduation ceremony” at an Al-Shabab training area. But the military couldn’t pinpoint his precise location at any given time. So why not just take the whole camp out? The Pentagon had even prepared a “strike package” that could devastate an entire series of training areas. Obama was skeptical, but listened without revealing his doubts. At the end of Mullen’s presentation, Obama said, “OK, let’s go around the table.”
In effect Obama was inviting dissent with Admiral Mullen. None of the principals raised objections. But then Obama pointed to one of the uniformed men sitting just behind Mullen, against the wall: James “Hoss” Cartwright, the four-star Marine general and vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs. Obama knew Cartwright, and valued his candor. “Mr. President, generally the wars we’ve been prosecuting have had these rules,” Cartwright said in a low-key, Midwestern manner. An enemy “did something to us, we went in and did something back—and then we had a moral obligation to put back together whatever we broke. In these places where they have not attacked us, we are looking for a person, not a country.”
Cartwright was now beginning to veer off from Mullen, his superior officer. Then he laid it on the line: “If there is a person in the camp who is a clear threat to the United States we should go after him. But carpet bombing a country is a really bad precedent.” Some of the other military men began to shift in their chairs. “I ask you to consider: where are we taking this activity? Because the logical next thing after carpet bombing is that we go there and open up a new front.”
Obama seized on Cartwright’s words to lay down his own marker. “That’s where I am,” he said. He told his assembled advisers that he was committed to getting bad guys—terrorists who posed a clear and demonstrable threat to Americans—but that he wanted “options” that were precise. The signature strike against Al-Shabab was a no go.
Cartwright, on the other hand, was on an upward trajectory within the corridors of the White House. What would emerge in early 2009 was an unusual alliance that would serve to guide Obama through the shadow wars: Cartwright would join Obama’s top counterterrorism aide, John Brennan, in advising the president about terrorist targets, the three forming a kind of special troika on targeted killings.
By this time, Brennan had already established himself as an imposing figure in the White House. Massively built, with closely cropped hair, a ruddy complexion, and deep-set eyes that could appear menacing at times, “Mr. Brennan,” as he was referred to deferentially by junior White House staffers, was seen as “the real thing,” a bona fide CIA terrorist hunter who had been on the trail of Osama bin Laden for a decade. “He is like a John Wayne character,” David Axelrod said. “I sleep better knowing that he is not sleeping.”
In the coming months and years, Brennan and Cartwright would find themselves pulling the president out of black-tie dinners or tracking him down on a secure phone to discuss a proposed strike. Obama could be known to muster a little gallows humor when Cartwright or Brennan showed up at the Oval Office unannounced. “Uh-oh, this can’t be good,” he would say, arching an eyebrow. One of Brennan’s least favorite duties was pulling Obama away from family time with his wife and daughters for these grim calls.
The three men were making life-and-death decisions, picking targets, rejecting or accepting names put forward by the military, feeling their way through a new kind of war—Obama’s war. But such decisions took their toll. In quiet conversations with his advisers, the president would sometimes later reflect on whether they knew with certainty that the people they were targeting posed a genuine and specific threat to American interests.
Similar angst and debate was coursing through the administration as a whole. Every targeted killing, in fact, had to be lawyered—either by the CIA’s attorneys, in the case of agency operations, or by other lawyers when the military was involved. If any two men typified the assertion of law in the terror wars, it was Harold Hongju Koh and Jeh C. Johnson. As the top lawyers at the State Department and the Pentagon, respectively, they exercised considerable influence over counterterrorism operations. But their ideological differences—Koh a liberal idealist who had served as the Clinton administration’s top human-rights official, and Johnson a pragmatic centrist and former prosecutor—colored their legal interpretations. Koh could be brusque and tactless with his colleagues, though he would just as easily break into boyish giggles when something amused him. Johnson, a former partner in a white-shoe Manhattan law firm, was restrained in manner, and a deft inside operator.
For most of Obama’s first term, the two men fought a pitched battle over legal authorities in the war on al Qaeda. Like Johnson, Koh had no problem going after AQ’s most senior members. But things got murkier when the military wanted to kill or capture members of other jihadist groups. Johnson took a more hawkish position, arguing that the United States could pursue AQ members or “co-belligerents” more expansively. The two men battled each other openly in meetings and by circulating rival secret memos.
Despite their differences, both men were grappling with the same reality: their advice could ensure death for strangers who lived thousands of miles away—or spare them. It was an especially unlikely turn for Koh, a former dean of Yale Law School. At Yale he had memorized the names and faces of his students, bright-eyed idealists who wanted to use the law to improve the world. Now he studied highly classified PowerPoint slides that detailed the intelligence against individual terrorist targets. (The military dryly called them “baseball cards.”) “How did I go from being a law professor to someone involved in killing?” he wondered.
At the Pentagon even Johnson felt stressed by the institutional impulse to always do more, not less. Like Koh, he wondered whether he could withstand the heavy pressure exerted by the military to expand operations. After approving his first targeted killings one evening, he watched the digital images of the strike in real time—“Kill TV,” the military calls the live battlefield feed. Johnson could see the shadowy images of militants running drills in a training camp in Yemen. Then suddenly there was a bright flash. The figures that had been moving across the screen were gone. Johnson returned to his Georgetown home around midnight that evening, drained and exhausted. Later there were reports from human-rights groups that dozens of women and children had been killed in the attacks, reports that a military source involved in the operation termed “persuasive.” Johnson would confide to others, “If I were Catholic, I’d have to go to confession.”
In early 2010, on a secure conference call with Obama’s top counterterrorism advisers, Johnson stunned many of his colleagues when he nixed the targeted killings of members of Al-Shabab. The decision came just as the military was ramping up its operations in Somalia. Pentagon officers left the meeting without saying a word to Johnson. It was a lonely moment for an ambitious lawyer who was used to getting along with his uniformed colleagues. But he did have one supporter: Koh told Johnson this was his “finest moment.”
The amity didn’t last, however. The military kept up its pressure on Johnson, and mounted a fierce campaign to persuade him to change his position on Al-Shabab. Officers brought him intelligence and “threat streams” about terrorist activities, and told him “bad things” would happen if they couldn’t act first. Johnson understood the political risks. There would be an uproar if Al-Shabab launched a successful attack against the United States and it later turned out that Obama administration lawyers had declared the group off limits. Finally, some months after Al-Shabab militants bombed a soccer stadium in Uganda, killing 74 people, he changed tack.
The Koh-Johnson rivalry was reignited during a secure call with the White House in the fall of 2010. The military wanted to hit three top Al-Shabab leaders. The two lawyers agreed on a pair of the targets, but Koh differed on the case of Sheikh Mukhtar Robow. He had studied the intelligence and saw credible evidence that Robow represented a less extreme faction of Al-Shabab that was opposed to attacking America. While Johnson was fine with targeting Robow, Koh forcefully insisted that the “killing would be unlawful.” Robow was removed from the targeting list. But the pressure to expand the list rarely lets up. After Al-Shabab’s top leader swore his organization’s allegiance to al Qaeda earlier this year, Obama officials renewed their earlier debate. Robow’s life again hangs in the balance.
One targeted killing that inspired little angst was the raid on Osama bin Laden in May 2011. Rather, its success got everyone itching to intensify the fight. Brimming with confidence, the generals believed they could deliver a “knock-out blow” to al Qaeda and its most dangerous affiliate, al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) in Yemen. The military began talking about “running the table” in Yemen, while the CIA began pushing to expand its signature strikes both there and in Somalia. It was the same approach Admiral Mullen and some top generals had backed in the first weeks of Obama’s administration but which the president had rejected. Obama at that time had wanted to stay “AQ-focused,” as he put it, and not unnecessarily widen the conflict.
But in May 2011, the military proposed killing 11 AQAP operatives at once, by far the largest request since it stepped up operations in Yemen. The Arab Spring’s turmoil had spread to the country, and al Qaeda was moving quickly to take advantage of the chaos. Gen. James Mattis, who heads U.S. Central Command, warned darkly of an emerging new terror hub in the Horn of Africa. Obama and a few of his senior advisers, however, were wary of getting dragged into an internal conflict—or fueling a backlash—by targeting people who were not focused on striking the United States. Obama and his aides reduced the target list to four people, all of whom were eliminated.
The pressure didn’t abate, however. Brennan came to believe that the commander in chief needed to make an unequivocal statement—to brush back the people calling for more and larger attacks. The chance came in mid-June, during a regularly scheduled “Terror Tuesday” briefing. At one point during the discussion, one of the president’s military advisers made a reference to the ongoing “campaign” in Yemen. Obama abruptly cut him off. There’s no “campaign” in Yemen, he said sharply: “We’re not in Yemen to get involved in some domestic conflict. We’re going to continue to stay focused on threats to the homeland—that’s where the real priority is.”
In Barack Obama’s mind, Anwar al-Awlaki was threat No. 1. The Yemen-based leader of AQAP had grown up in the United States, spoke fluent American-accented English, and had a charisma similar to that of Osama bin Laden: soft eyes, a mastery of language, and a sickening capacity for terror. Obama told his advisers that Awlaki was a higher priority than even Ayman al-Zawahiri, who had succeeded bin Laden as al Qaeda’s top commander. “Awlaki had things on the stove that were ready to boil over,” one of Obama’s national-security advisers observed. “Zawahiri was still looking for ingredients in the cupboard.”
What worried President Obama most was Awlaki’s ingenuity in developing murderous schemes that could evade America’s best defenses. Already he had launched the Christmas Day plot, in which a Nigerian operative had nearly brought down a packed airliner by trying to set off explosives hidden in his underwear. Then, in October 2010, AQAP had managed to put improvised bombs—ink toner cartridges filled with explosive material—on cargo planes headed to the United States. (They were intercepted as a result of a tip from Saudi intelligence.) During the summer of 2011 Obama was regularly updated on a particularly diabolical plan that AQAP’s master bomb builder, Ibrahim Hassan Tali al-Asiri, was devising. The intelligence indicated that he was close to being able to surgically implant bombs in people’s bodies. The wiring was cleverly designed to circumvent airport security, including full-body scanners. AQAP’s terror doctors had already successfully experimented with dogs and other animals.
The president made sure he got updates on Awlaki at every Terror Tuesday briefing. “I want Awlaki,” he said at one. “Don’t let up on him.” Hoss Cartwright even thought Obama’s rhetoric was starting to sound like that of George W. Bush, whom Cartwright had also briefed on many occasions. “Do you have everything you need to get this guy?” Obama would ask.
But that sense of fierce determination was a product of long experience and didn’t come easily. By the time United States intelligence agents got Awlaki in their sights, Obama had adjusted and readjusted his views on targeted killings several times. Usually he tried to measure the possible benefits of a specific killing or killings against the possible downsides, including the slaying of innocents and getting the United States more deeply embroiled in civil conflicts. The Awlaki case was in a special category, however: By almost anyone’s definition, he was a threat to the homeland, but he was also an American citizen, born in New Mexico.
The capture of a Somali operative who worked closely with Awlaki produced key intelligence, including how he traveled, the configuration of his convoys, his modes of communication, and the elaborate security measures he and his entourage took. Finally, in the spring and summer of last year, U.S. and Yemeni intelligence started to draw a bead on him. A tip from a Yemeni source and a fatal lapse in operational security by the cleric eventually did him in.
The standing orders from Obama had always been to avoid collateral damage at almost any cost. In many instances, Cartwright would not even take a proposed operation to the president if there was a reasonable chance civilians would be killed. But as the Americans were closing in on Awlaki, Obama let it be known that he didn’t want his options preemptively foreclosed. If there was a clear shot at the terrorist leader, even one that risked civilian deaths, he wanted to be advised of it. “Bring it to me and let me decide in the reality of the moment rather than in the abstract,” he said, according to one confidant.
In September, U.S. intelligence tracked Awlaki to a specific house in Al Jawf province, where he stayed for two weeks—often surrounded by children. On the morning of Sept. 30, however, Awlaki and several of his companions left the safe house and walked about 700 yards to their parked cars. As they were getting into the vehicles, they were blown apart by two Hellfire missiles.
Within less than six months, Obama had taken out America’s two top enemies, delivering crippling blows to al Qaeda’s morale and its ability to conduct fresh attacks. And yet perhaps no other action upset liberals and civil libertarians more than the killing of Anwar al-Awlaki. What Obama considered a necessary and lawful act of war, one that was vital to protecting the lives of Americans, his critics saw as a summary execution of an American citizen without trial—on the basis of secret evidence. Even Bush had not gone that far. One of the president’s top advisers says he was unmoved, however. Despite all of the hand-wringing by critics, Obama had “no qualms.”
And the shadow wars continued. Throughout 2011, Obama’s basic strategy held: he approved missions that were surgical, often lethal, and narrowly tailored to fit clearly defined U.S. interests. But even as Awlaki and others were taken out, Yemen fell further into chaos, and AQAP gained more and more territory—even threatening the strategic port city of Aden. It looked like the military’s dire warnings were becoming a reality.
By 2012 Obama was getting regular updates on a Saudi double agent who’d managed to penetrate AQAP. He had volunteered to be a suicide operative for al-Asiri, AQAP’s master bomb maker, and instead delivered the latest underwear-style explosive device to his handlers. By then the military and CIA were pushing again for signature-style strikes, but they’d given them a new name: terrorist-attack-disruption strikes, or TADS. And this time, after resisting for the first three years of his presidency, Obama gave his approval.
The White House was worried that Yemeni forces were collapsing under the brutal AQAP assault. The more territory AQAP controlled, the more training camps they could set up, and the easier it would be to plot and plan attacks against the United States and its interests. Obama concluded that he had no choice but to defend the Yemeni Army against a common enemy. “They are decapitating Yemeni soldiers and crucifying them,” one senior administration official said in justifying the American escalation. “These are murderous thugs, and we are not going to stand idly by and allow these massacres to take place.”
In the spring of 2012, the United States carried out more drone attacks in Yemen than in the previous nine years combined—dating all the way back to when the CIA conducted its first such operation.
-This article was published in the Newsweek on 28/05/2012 and it is excerpted from Kill or Capture: The War on Terror and the Soul of the Obama Presidency by Daniel Klaidman. Copyright 2012 by Daniel Klaidman. To be published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt on June 5, 2012