Gates Stays

It’s all but official now that Robert Gates will be staying on as secretary of defense after Obama takes office.:

[Senior adviser David] Axelrod said Obama enjoys and invites strong opinions and there will be no “potted plants” in his Cabinet. 

Gates has been negotiating with Obama emissaries over his deputies — some will be retained, and some new — and how the Pentagon will be run.

It’s obvious that Richard Danzig will be getting an understudy’s job somewhere in the mix.

I like the move because Gates hasn’t hesitated to crack down on incompetence, particularly in the Air Force. As for those lefties saying that the new national security team looks too hawkish for their taste, they must not have been paying attention. Obama told anyone who would listen that he intends to pivot attention to Afghanistan and Pakistan.

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Closet Enemies

The NYT looks at Obama’s diplomatic challenges vis-a-vis Pakistan. They don’t seem to get that the army there sparked the terrorism related to Kashmir, or that it’s hostile to us because we won’t side with Pakistan against India. But the Pakistanis have a few blind spots too:

Exhibit A for the Pakistanis is India’s nuclear deal with the United States, which allows India to engage in nuclear trade even though it never joined the global Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. Pakistan, with its recent history of spreading nuclear technology, received no comparable bargain.

The nuclear deal was devised in Washington to position India as a strategic counterbalance to China. That is how it is seen in Pakistan, too, but with no enthusiasm.

“The United States has changed the whole nuclear order by this deal, and in doing so is containing China, the only friend Pakistan has in the region,” said Talat Masood, a retired Pakistani Army general.

Let’s see if we can come with the reasons why India’s bomb doesn’t particularly bother the US, shall we?:

  1. They haven’t sold it or the underlying technology to anyone else.
  2. There doesn’t seem much chance that US-Indian interests would clash so violently as to invite them to use the bomb against us.

Such niceties don’t really seem to be understood in Islamabad.

Supply Issues

The US is trying to find new supply routes into Afghanistan because the Taliban and their friends are causing trouble for convoys on both sides of the Khyber Pass:

A week ago, a bold Taliban raid on a NATO supply convoy on the Pakistani side of the pass forced authorities to temporarily close traffic through Torkham [the first Afghan border town]. For days after the attack on the 23-truck convoy, many of the hundreds of truckers who regularly traverse this treacherous route were stranded, forced to watch their profits dwindle. Pakistani authorities reopened the NATO supply route through Torkham on Monday after assigning extra security to the convoys.

But on Tuesday, a day after the reopening, dozens of truck drivers seemed far from certain that their troubles were over. The attack in the Khyber tribal area on the Pakistani side of the border last week was one in a series in recent months that has cost NATO suppliers millions in losses this year. In March, insurgents set fire to 40 to 50 NATO oil tankers near Torkham. A month later, Taliban raiders made off with military helicopter engines valued at about $13 million.

The solution in part lies in running supplies through Russia, which illustrates why getting into a pissing match over Georgia or missile defense is not such a hot idea at the moment.

Old News

USA Today writer John Diamond is out with a book, “The CIA and the Culture of Failure,” that purportedly documents serial failures of tradecraft in the agency and a long-term politicization of its product. Folks like Jeff Stein at CQ are inclined to see this as new:

Diamond, who written about the CIA for the Associated Press, the Chicago Tribune and USA Today, also has several news breaks in the book, including:
  • How a deliberate undermining of the CIA was critical to the neo-conservative push for the defense build-up in the 1970s and 80s, national missile defense in the 1990s and the invasion of Iraq in 2003.
  • How the chance arrest by Pakistan of a suspect, Mohammed Sadeeq Odeh, in the U.S. embassy bombing in Kenya tipped off bin Laden and caused al-Qaeda to change its plans for a leadership meeting, rendering the Clinton administration’s retaliatory strike an embarrassing miss.
  • How the Iraq/WMD failure, one of the most consequential in CIA history, stemmed from one of the Agency’s most notable successes. The great misjudgment prior to the Iraq invasion was the failure — by the White House, Congress, and the CIA itself — to even consider the possibility that this combined effort to disarm Iraq had, in fact, succeeded. 

None of this, alas, is any great revelation to those of us who followed the “Team B” disputes of the 1970s and have read books like Adrian Levy and Catherine Scott-Clark’s “Deception.” The folks in Langley couldn’t find water if they fell out of a boat.

Turks as Friends

Turkey’s offer to mediate between the Obama administration and Iran is getting good reviews.

Ezra Klein:

Anne-Marie Slaughter, Ivo Daalder, Susan Rice, and others have for some time been pushing this concept of “strategic leadership,” wherein America begins thinking more about its interests than its preeminence. Part of that means being willing to let allies take a leadership role in the regions where they’re most influential. It’s obvious enough how you do that in, say, Eastern Europe, but less so in the Muslim world. Unless, of course, Turkey is willing to step into a leadership role. And there’s evidence they want to do exactly that.

Patrick Barry:

A bajillion years ago, back when there were Byzantines, they called Istanbul the navel of the world, a metaphor which is at once gross but also useful for understanding Turkey’s traditional role as a node for East-West activity.  For centuries, Turkey has managed to fuse together cultures that to everyone else appared irreconcilable.  Today, for reasons political and economic, cultural and strategic, they seem willing to take on that part again.

A cautionary analogy, however, is the historical fact that Pakistan helped broker the Nixon Administration’s opening to China — to curry favor with both the Americans and Chinese. It didn’t make them a pivot, just a client, and not a particularly reliable one at that.