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Tuesday, November 30, 2010

WikiLeaks Archive — U.S. and Pakistan, Ever Wary -

WikiLeaks Archive — U.S. and Pakistan, Ever Wary -

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — Less than a month after President Obama testily assured reporters in 2009 that Pakistan’s nuclear materials “will remain out of militant hands,” his ambassador here sent a secret message to Washington suggesting that she was worried about just that.

The ambassador’s concern was a stockpile of highly enriched uranium, sitting for years near an aging research nuclear reactor in Pakistan. There was enough to build several “dirty bombs” or, in skilled hands, possibly enough for an actual nuclear bomb.

In the cable dated May 27, 2009, the ambassador, Anne W. Patterson, reported that the Pakistani government was yet again dragging its feet on an agreement reached two years earlier to have the United States remove the material.

She wrote to senior American officials that the Pakistani government had concluded that “the ‘sensational’ international and local media coverage of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons made it impossible to proceed at this time.” A senior Pakistani official, she said, warned that if word leaked out that Americans were helping remove the fuel, the local press would “certainly portray it as it as the United States taking Pakistan’s nuclear weapons.”

The fuel is still there.

It may be the most unnerving evidence of the complex relationship — sometimes cooperative, often confrontational, always wary — between America and Pakistan nearly 10 years into the American-led war in Afghanistan. The cables, obtained by WikiLeaks and made available to a number of news organizations, make it clear that underneath public reassurances lie deep clashes over strategic goals on issues like Pakistan’s support for the Afghan Taliban and tolerance of Al Qaeda, and Washington’s warmer relations with India, Pakistan’s archenemy.

Written from the American Embassy in Islamabad, the cables reveal American maneuvering as diplomats try to support an unpopular elected government that is more sympathetic to American aims than is the real power in Pakistan, the army and intelligence agency so crucial to the fight against militants. The cables show just how weak the civilian government is: President Asif Ali Zardari told Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. that he worried that the military might “take me out.”

Frustration at American inability to persuade the Pakistani Army and intelligence agency to stop supporting the Afghan Taliban and other militants runs through the reports of meetings between American and Pakistani officials.

That frustration preoccupied the Bush administration and became an issue for the incoming Obama administration, the cables document, during a trip in January 2009 that Mr. Biden made to Pakistan 11 days before he was sworn in. In a meeting with Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, the army chief of staff, Mr. Biden asked several times whether Pakistan and the United States “had the same enemy as we move forward.”

“The United States needs to be able to make an objective assessment of Pakistan’s part of the bargain,” Mr. Biden said, according to a Feb. 6, 2009, cable.

General Kayani tried to reassure him, saying, “We are on the same page in Afghanistan, but there might be different tactics.” Mr. Biden replied that “results” would test that.

The cables reveal at least one example of increased cooperation, previously undisclosed, under the Obama administration. Last fall, the Pakistani Army secretly allowed 12 American Special Operations soldiers to deploy with Pakistani troops in the violent tribal areas near the Afghan border.

The Americans were forbidden to conduct combat missions. Even though their numbers were small, their presence at army headquarters in Bajaur, South Waziristan and North Waziristan was a “sea change in thinking,” the embassy reported.

The embassy added its usual caution: The deployments must be kept secret or the “Pakistani military will likely stop making requests for such assistance.”

Within the past year, however, Pakistan and the United States have gingerly started to publicly acknowledge the role of American field advisers. Lt. Col. Michael Shavers, an American military spokesman in Islamabad, said in a statement that “at the request of the Pakistanis,” small teams of Special Operations forces “move to various locations with their Pakistani military counterparts throughout Pakistan.”

Moreover, last week in a report to Congress on operations in Afghanistan, the Pentagon said that the Pakistani Army had also accepted American and coalition advisers in Quetta.

The cables do not deal with the sharp increase during the Obama administration in drone attacks against Al Qaeda and Taliban militants in the tribal areas with Pakistan’s tacit approval. That is because the cables are not classified at the highest levels.

A Deep Skepticism

Over all, though, the cables portray deep skepticism that Pakistan will ever cooperate fully in fighting the full panoply of extremist groups. This is partly because Pakistan sees some of the strongest militant groups as insurance for the inevitable day that the United States military withdraws from Afghanistan — and Pakistan wants to exert maximum influence inside Afghanistan and against Indian intervention.

Indeed, the consul general in Peshawar wrote in 2008 that she believed that some members of the Haqqani network — one of the most lethal groups attacking American and Afghan soldiers — had left North Waziristan to escape drone strikes. Some family members, she wrote, relocated south of Peshawar; others lived in Rawalpindi, where senior Pakistani military officials live.

In one cable, Ms. Patterson, a veteran diplomat who left Islamabad in October after a three-year stint as ambassador, said more money and military assistance would not be persuasive. “There is no chance that Pakistan will view enhanced assistance levels in any field as sufficient compensation for abandoning support for these groups, which it sees as an important part of its national security apparatus against India.”

In a rare tone of dissent with Washington, she said Pakistan would only dig in deeper if America continued to improve ties with India, which she said “feeds Pakistani establishment paranoia and pushes them closer to both Afghan and Kashmir focused terrorist groups.”

The groups Ms. Patterson referred to were almost certainly the Haqqani network of the Afghan Taliban and Lashkar-e-Taiba, a group financed by Pakistan in the 1990s to fight India in Kashmir that is accused of the 2008 terrorist attacks in Mumbai, India.

The highly enriched uranium that Ms. Patterson wanted removed from the research reactor came from the United States in the mid-1960s. In those days, under the Atoms for Peace program, little thought was given to proliferation, and Pakistan seemed too poor and backward to join the nuclear race.

But by May 2009, all that had changed, and her terse cable to the State and Defense Departments, among others, touched every nerve in the fraught relationship: mutual mistrust, the safety of the world’s fastest-growing nuclear arsenal, broken promises and a pervasive fear that any talk about Pakistan’s vulnerability would end whatever cooperation existed.

The reactor had been converted to use low-enriched uranium, well below bomb grade, in 1990, according to the International Atomic Energy Agency, or I.A.E.A. But the bomb-grade uranium had never been returned to the United States and remains in storage nearby. Ms. Patterson’s cable noted that Pakistan had “agreed in principle to the fuel removal in 2007.”

But time and again the Pakistanis balked, and she reported that an interagency group within the Pakistani government had decided to cancel a visit by American technical experts to get the fuel out of the country. She concluded that “it is clear that the negative media attention has begun to hamper U.S. efforts to improve Pakistan’s nuclear security and nonproliferation practices.”

Any progress, she suggested, would have to await a “more conducive” political climate.

On Monday, Pakistan’s Foreign Affairs Ministry issued a statement confirming that “the US suggestion to have the fuel transferred was plainly refused by Pakistan.” It said that the United States had provided the fuel but did not mention that, under the terms of such transfers, the United States retained the right to have the spent fuel returned.

The ambassador’s comments help explain why Mr. Obama and his aides have expressed confidence in Pakistan’s nuclear security when asked in public. But at the beginning of the administration’s review of its Afghanistan and Pakistan strategy, a highly classified intelligence report delivered to Mr. Obama said that while Pakistan’s weapons were well secured, there was deep, continuing concern about “insider access,” meaning elements in the military or intelligence services.

In fact, Ms. Patterson, in a Feb. 4, 2009, cable, wrote that “our major concern is not having an Islamic militant steal an entire weapon but rather the chance someone working in GOP [government of Pakistan] facilities could gradually smuggle enough material out to eventually make a weapon.”

Mr. Obama’s review concluded by determining that there were two “vital” American interests in the region. One was defeating Al Qaeda. The second, not previously reported, was making sure terrorists could never gain access to Pakistan’s nuclear program. That goal was classified, to keep from angering Islamabad.

Asked about the current status of the fuel at the research reactor, Damien LaVera, a spokesman for the National Nuclear Security Administration of the Energy Department, said, “The United States supplied Pakistan with fuel for a research reactor decades ago for the purpose of producing medical isotopes and scientific research.” Implicitly acknowledging that the material remains there, Mr. LaVera added that “the fuel is under I.A.E.A. safeguards and has not been part of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons program.”

One secret cable offers another glimpse into another element of the nuclear gamesmanship between the United States and its Pakistani allies: Even while American officials were trying to persuade Pakistani officials to give up nuclear material, they were quietly seeking to block Pakistan from trying to buy material that would help it produce tritium, the crucial ingredient needed to increase the power of nuclear weapons.

After providing specific details of the proposed sale, a Dec. 12, 2008, secret cable to the American Embassy in Singapore, seeking help to stop a transaction that was about to take place, concluded, “We would have great concern over Pakistan’s potential use of tritium to advance its nuclear weapons program.”

Reports of Army Abuses

The cables also reveal that the American Embassy had received credible reports of extrajudicial killings of prisoners by the Pakistani Army more than a year before the Obama administration publicly acknowledged the problem and before a video that is said to show such killings surfaced on the Internet.

The killings are another growing source of tension between the nations, complicated by American pressure on Pakistan to be more aggressive in confronting militants on its own soil.

In a Sept. 10, 2009, cable labeled “secret/noforn,” meaning that it was too delicate to be shared with foreign governments, the embassy confronted allegations of human rights abuses in the Swat Valley and the tribal areas since the Pakistani Army had begun fighting the Taliban a few months earlier.

While carefully worded, the cable left little doubt about what was going on. It spoke of a “growing body of evidence” that gave credence to the allegations.

“The crux of the problem appears to center on the treatment of terrorists detained in battlefield operations and have focused on the extrajudicial killing of some detainees,” the cable said. “The detainees involved were in the custody of Frontier Corps or Pakistan army units.” The Frontier Corps is a paramilitary force partly financed by the United States to fight the insurgents.

The Pakistani Army was holding as many as 5,000 “terrorist detainees,” the cable said, about twice as many as the army had acknowledged.

Concerned that the United States should not offend the Pakistani Army, the cable stressed that any talk of the killings must be kept out of the press.

“Post advises that we avoid comment on these incidents to the extent possible and that efforts remain focused on dialogue and the assistance strategy,” the ambassador wrote. This September, however, the issue exploded into public view when a video emerged showing Pakistani soldiers executing six unarmed young men in civilian clothes. In October, the Obama administration suspended financing to half a dozen Pakistani Army units believed to have killed civilians or unarmed prisoners.

The cables verge on gossipy, as diplomats strained to understand the personalities behind the fractious Pakistani government, and particularly two men: General Kayani and President Zardari.

Often, the United States finds that Mr. Zardari, the accidental leader after the assassination of his wife, Benazir Bhutto, is sympathetic to American goals — stiff sanctions on terrorist financing, the closing down of terrorist training camps — but lacks the power to fulfill his promises against resistance from the military and intelligence agencies.

Mr. Zardari’s chief antagonist, General Kayani, emerges as a stubborn guarantor of what he sees as Pakistan’s national interest, an army chief who meddles in civilian politics but stops short of overturning the elected order.

Early in the Obama administration, General Kayani made clear a condition for improved relations. As the director general of the Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence, or ISI, from 2004 to 2007, he did not want a “reckoning with the past,” said a cable in 2009 introducing him to the new administration.

“Kayani will want to hear that the United States has turned the page on past ISI operations,” it said. General Kayani was probably referring to the peace accords with the Taliban from 2004 to 2007 that resulted in the strengthening of the militants. If the general seems confidently in charge, the cables portray Mr. Zardari as a man not fully aware of his weakness.

At one point he said he would not object if Abdul Qadeer Khan, revered in Pakistan as the father of its nuclear weapons program, were interviewed by the International Atomic Energy Agency but tacitly acknowledged that he was powerless to make that happen.

Mr. Zardari, who spent 11 years in prison on ultimately unproved corruption charges, feared for his position and possibly — the wording is ambiguous — his life: the cables reveal that Vice President Biden told Prime Minister Gordon Brown of Britain in March 2009 that Mr. Zardari had told him that the “ISI director and Kayani will take me out.”

His suspicions were not groundless. During their fourth meeting in a week in March 2009, a period of political turmoil, General Kayani told the ambassador that he “might, however reluctantly,” pressure Mr. Zardari to resign and, the cable added, presumably leave Pakistan. He mentioned the leader of a third political party, Asfandyar Wali Khan, as a possible replacement.

“Kayani made it clear regardless how much he disliked Zardari he distrusted Nawaz even more,” the ambassador wrote, a reference to Nawaz Sharif, a former prime minister.

By 2010, after many sessions with Mr. Zardari, Ms. Patterson had revised the guarded optimism that characterized her early cables about Mr. Zardari.

“Pakistan’s civilian government remains weak, ineffectual and corrupt,” she wrote on Feb. 22, 2010, the eve of a visit by the F.B.I. director, Robert S. Mueller III. “Domestic politics is dominated by uncertainty about the fate of President Zardari.”

That assessment holds more than eight months later, even as Mr. Obama in October extended an invitation to the Mr. Zardari leader to visit the White House next year, as the leader of a nation that holds a key to peace in Afghanistan but appears too divided and mistrustful to turn it for the Americans.

Jane Perlez reported from Islamabad, and David E. Sanger and Eric Schmitt from Washington. William J. Broad and Andrew W. Lehren contributed reporting from New York.

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Monday, November 29, 2010

WikiLeaks Archive — A North Korea Guessing Game -

WikiLeaks Archive — A North Korea Guessing Game -

WASHINGTON — With North Korea reeling from economic and succession crises, American and South Korean officials early this year secretly began gaming out what would happen if the North, led by one of the world’s most brutal family dynasties, collapsed.

Over an official lunch in late February, a top South Korean official confidently told the American ambassador, Kathleen Stephens, that the fall would come “two to three years” after the death of Kim Jong-il, the country’s ailing leader, Ms. Stephens later cabled Washington. A new, younger generation of Chinese leaders “would be comfortable with a reunited Korea controlled by Seoul and anchored to the United States in a benign alliance,” the diplomat, Chun Yung-woo, predicted.

But if Seoul was destined to control the entire Korean Peninsula for the first time since the end of World War II, China — the powerful ally that keeps the North alive with food and fuel — would have to be placated. So South Korea was already planning to assure Chinese companies that they would have ample commercial opportunities in the mineral-rich northern part of the peninsula.

As for the United States, the cable said, “China would clearly ‘not welcome’ any U.S. military presence north of the DMZ,” the heavily mined demarcation line that now divides the two Koreas.

This trove of cables ends in February, just before North Korea began a series of military actions that has thrown some of Asia’s most prosperous countries into crisis. A month after the lunch, the North is believed to have launched a torpedo attack on the Cheonan, a South Korean warship, that killed 46 sailors.

Three weeks ago it revealed the existence of a uranium enrichment plant, potentially giving it a new pathway to make nuclear bomb material. And last week it shelled a South Korean island, killing two civilians and two marines and injuring many more.

None of that was predicted in the dozens of State Department cables about North Korea obtained by the organization WikiLeaks, and in fact even China, the North’s closest ally, has often been startlingly wrong, the cables show. But the documents help explain why some South Korean and American officials suspect that the military outbursts may be the last snarls of a dying dictatorship.

They also show that talk of the North’s collapse may be rooted more in hope than in any real strategy: similar predictions were made in 1994 when the country’s founder, Kim Il-sung, suddenly died, leaving his son to run the most isolated country in Asia. And a Chinese expert warned, according to an American diplomat, that Washington was deceiving itself once again if it believed that “North Korea would implode after Kim Jong-il’s death.”

The cables about North Korea — some emanating from Seoul, some from Beijing, many based on interviews with government officials, and others with scholars, defectors and other experts — are long on educated guesses and short on facts, illustrating why their subject is known as the Black Hole of Asia. Because they are State Department documents, not intelligence reports, they do not include the most secret American assessments, or the American military’s plans in case North Korea disintegrates or lashes out.

They contain loose talk and confident predictions of the end of the family dynasty that has ruled North Korea for 65 years. Those discussions were fueled by a rash of previously undisclosed defections of ranking North Korean diplomats, who secretly sought refuge in the South.

But they were also influenced by a remarkable period of turmoil inside North Korea, including an economic crisis set off by the government’s failed effort to revalue its currency and sketchy intelligence suggesting that the North Korean military might not abide the rise of Mr. Kim’s inexperienced young son, Kim Jong-un, who was recently made a four-star general despite having no military experience.

The cables reveal that in private, the Chinese, long seen as North Korea’s last protectors against the West, occasionally provide the Obama administration with colorful assessments of the state of play in North Korea. Chinese officials themselves sometimes even laugh about the frustrations of dealing with North Korean paranoia.

When James B. Steinberg, the deputy secretary of state, sat down in September 2009 with one of China’s most powerful officials, Dai Bingguo, state councilor for foreign affairs, Mr. Dai joked that in a recent visit to North Korea he “did not dare” to be too candid with the ailing and mercurial North Korean leader. But the Chinese official reported that although Kim Jong-il had apparently suffered a stroke and had obviously lost weight, he still had a “sharp mind” and retained his reputation among Chinese officials as “quite a good drinker.” (Mr. Kim apparently assured Mr. Dai during a two-hour conversation in Pyongyang, the capital, that his infirmities had not forced him to give up alcohol.)

But reliable intelligence about Mr. Kim’s drinking habits, it turns out, does not extend to his nuclear program, about which even the Chinese seem to be in the dark.

On May 13, 2009, as American satellites showed unusual activity at North Korea’s nuclear test site, officials in Beijing said they were “unsure” that North Korean “threats of another nuclear test were serious.” As it turns out, the North Koreans detonated a test bomb just days later.

Soon after, Chinese officials predicted that negotiations intended to pressure the North to disarm would be “shelved for a few months.” They have never resumed.

The cables also show that almost as soon as the Obama administration came to office, it started raising alarms that the North was buying up components to enrich uranium, opening a second route for it to build nuclear weapons. (Until now, the North’s arsenal has been based on its production of plutonium, but its production capacity has been halted.)

In June 2009, at a lunch in Beijing shortly after the North Korean nuclear test, two senior Chinese Foreign Ministry officials reported that China’s experts believed “the enrichment was only in its initial phases.” In fact, based on what the North Koreans revealed this month, an industrial-scale enrichment plant was already under construction. It was apparently missed by both American and Chinese intelligence services.

The cables make it clear that the South Koreans believe that internal tensions in the North have reached a boiling point. In January of this year, South Korea’s foreign minister, who later resigned, reported to a visiting American official that the South Koreans saw an “increasingly chaotic” situation in the North.

In confidence, he told the American official, Robert R. King, the administration’s special envoy for North Korean human rights issues, that a number of “high-ranking North Korean officials working overseas” had recently defected to the South. Those defections were being kept secret, presumably to give American and South Korean intelligence agencies time to harvest the defectors’ knowledge.

But the cables also reveal that the South Koreans see their strategic interests in direct conflict with China’s, creating potentially huge diplomatic tensions over the future of the Korean Peninsula.

The South Koreans complain bitterly that China is content with the status quo of a nuclear North Korea, because they fear that a collapse would unleash a flood of North Korean refugees over the Chinese border and lead to the loss of a “buffer zone” between China and the American forces in South Korea.

At one point, Ambassador Stephens reported to Washington, a senior South Korean official told her that “unless China pushed North Korea to the ‘brink of collapse,’ ” the North would refuse to take meaningful steps to give up its nuclear program.

Mr. Chun, now the South Korean national security adviser, complained to Ambassador Stephens during their lunch that China had little commitment to the multination talks intended to force North Korea to dismantle its nuclear arsenal. The Chinese, he said, had chosen Wu Dawei to represent Beijing at the talks. According to the cable, Mr. Chun called Mr. Wu the country’s “ ‘most incompetent official,’ an arrogant, Marx-spouting former Red Guard who ‘knows nothing about North Korea, nothing about non-proliferation.’ ”

But the cables show that when it comes to the critical issue of succession, even the Chinese know little of the man who would be North Korea’s next ruler: Kim Jong-un.

As recently as February 2009, the American Consulate in Shanghai — a significant collection point for intelligence about North Korea — sent cables reporting that the Chinese who knew North Korea best disbelieved the rumors that Kim Jong-un was being groomed to run the country. Several Chinese scholars with good contacts in the North said they thought it was likely that “a group of high-level military officials” would take over, and that “at least for the moment none of KJI’s three sons is likely to be tapped to succeed him.” The oldest son was dismissed as “too much of a playboy,” the middle son as “more interested in video games” than governing. Kim Jong-un, they said, was too young and inexperienced.

But within months, a senior Chinese diplomat, Wu Jianghao, was telling his American counterparts that Kim Jong-il was using nuclear tests and missile launching as part of an effort to put his third son in place to succeed him, despite his youth.

“Wu opined that the rapid pace of provocative actions in North Korea was due to Kim Jong-il’s declining health and might be part of a gambit under which Kim Jong-il would escalate tensions with the United States so that his successor, presumably Kim Jong-un, could then step in and ease those tensions,” the embassy reported back to Washington in June 2009.

But carrying out plans for an easy ascension may be more difficult than expected, some are quoted as saying. In February of this year the American Consulate in Shenyang reported rumors that Kim Jong-un “had a hand” in the decision to revalue the North’s currency, which wiped out the scarce savings of most North Koreans and created such an outcry that one official was executed for his role in the sudden financial shift. The cables also describe secondhand reports of palace intrigue in the North, with other members of the Kim family preparing to serve as regents to Kim Jong-un — or to unseat him after Kim Jong-il’s death.

Andrew W. Lehren contributed reporting from New York.

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Sunday, November 28, 2010

WikiLeaks Archive — Cables Uncloak U.S. Diplomacy -

WikiLeaks Archive — Cables Uncloak U.S. Diplomacy -

WASHINGTON — A cache of a quarter-million confidential American diplomatic cables, most of them from the past three years, provides an unprecedented look at backroom bargaining by embassies around the world, brutally candid views of foreign leaders and frank assessments of nuclear and terrorist threats.

Some of the cables, made available to The New York Times and several other news organizations, were written as recently as late February, revealing the Obama administration’s exchanges over crises and conflicts. The material was originally obtained by WikiLeaks, an organization devoted to revealing secret documents. WikiLeaks intends to make the archive public on its Web site in batches, beginning Sunday.

The anticipated disclosure of the cables is already sending shudders through the diplomatic establishment, and could conceivably strain relations with some countries, influencing international affairs in ways that are impossible to predict.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and American ambassadors around the world have been contacting foreign officials in recent days to alert them to the expected disclosures. On Saturday, the State Department’s legal adviser, Harold Hongju Koh, wrote to a lawyer for WikiLeaks informing the organization that the distribution of the cables was illegal and could endanger lives, disrupt military and counterterrorism operations and undermine international cooperation against nuclear proliferation and other threats.

The cables, a huge sampling of the daily traffic between the State Department and some 270 embassies and consulates, amount to a secret chronicle of the United States’ relations with the world in an age of war and terrorism. Among their revelations, to be detailed in The Times in coming days:

¶ A dangerous standoff with Pakistan over nuclear fuel: Since 2007, the United States has mounted a highly secret effort, so far unsuccessful, to remove from a Pakistani research reactor highly enriched uranium that American officials fear could be diverted for use in an illicit nuclear device. In May 2009, Ambassador Anne W. Patterson reported that Pakistan was refusing to schedule a visit by American technical experts because, as a Pakistani official said, “if the local media got word of the fuel removal, ‘they certainly would portray it as the United States taking Pakistan’s nuclear weapons,’ he argued.”

¶ Gaming out an eventual collapse of North Korea: American and South Korean officials have discussed the prospects for a unified Korea, should the North’s economic troubles and political transition lead the state to implode. The South Koreans even considered commercial inducements to China, according to the American ambassador to Seoul. She told Washington in February that South Korean officials believe that the right business deals would “help salve” China’s “concerns about living with a reunified Korea” that is in a “benign alliance” with the United States.

¶ Bargaining to empty the Guantánamo Bay prison: When American diplomats pressed other countries to resettle detainees, they became reluctant players in a State Department version of “Let’s Make a Deal.” Slovenia was told to take a prisoner if it wanted to meet with President Obama, while the island nation of Kiribati was offered incentives worth millions of dollars to take in a group of detainees, cables from diplomats recounted. The Americans, meanwhile, suggested that accepting more prisoners would be “a low-cost way for Belgium to attain prominence in Europe.”

¶ Suspicions of corruption in the Afghan government: When Afghanistan’s vice president visited the United Arab Emirates last year, local authorities working with the Drug Enforcement Administration discovered that he was carrying $52 million in cash. With wry understatement, a cable from the American Embassy in Kabul called the money “a significant amount” that the official, Ahmed Zia Massoud, “was ultimately allowed to keep without revealing the money’s origin or destination.” (Mr. Massoud denies taking any money out of Afghanistan.)

¶ A global computer hacking effort: China’s Politburo directed the intrusion into Google’s computer systems in that country, a Chinese contact told the American Embassy in Beijing in January, one cable reported. The Google hacking was part of a coordinated campaign of computer sabotage carried out by government operatives, private security experts and Internet outlaws recruited by the Chinese government. They have broken into American government computers and those of Western allies, the Dalai Lama and American businesses since 2002, cables said.

¶ Mixed records against terrorism: Saudi donors remain the chief financiers of Sunni militant groups like Al Qaeda, and the tiny Persian Gulf state of Qatar, a generous host to the American military for years, was the “worst in the region” in counterterrorism efforts, according to a State Department cable last December. Qatar’s security service was “hesitant to act against known terrorists out of concern for appearing to be aligned with the U.S. and provoking reprisals,” the cable said.

¶ An intriguing alliance: American diplomats in Rome reported in 2009 on what their Italian contacts described as an extraordinarily close relationship between Vladimir V. Putin, the Russian prime minister, and Silvio Berlusconi, the Italian prime minister and business magnate, including “lavish gifts,” lucrative energy contracts and a “shadowy” Russian-speaking Italian go-between. They wrote that Mr. Berlusconi “appears increasingly to be the mouthpiece of Putin” in Europe. The diplomats also noted that while Mr. Putin enjoys supremacy over all other public figures in Russia, he is undermined by an unmanageable bureaucracy that often ignores his edicts.

¶ Arms deliveries to militants: Cables describe the United States’ failing struggle to prevent Syria from supplying arms to Hezbollah in Lebanon, which has amassed a huge stockpile since its 2006 war with Israel. One week after President Bashar al-Assad promised a top State Department official that he would not send “new” arms to Hezbollah, the United States complained that it had information that Syria was providing increasingly sophisticated weapons to the group.

¶ Clashes with Europe over human rights: American officials sharply warned Germany in 2007 not to enforce arrest warrants for Central Intelligence Agency officers involved in a bungled operation in which an innocent German citizen with the same name as a suspected militant was mistakenly kidnapped and held for months in Afghanistan. A senior American diplomat told a German official “that our intention was not to threaten Germany, but rather to urge that the German government weigh carefully at every step of the way the implications for relations with the U.S.”

The 251,287 cables, first acquired by WikiLeaks, were provided to The Times by an intermediary on the condition of anonymity. Many are unclassified, and none are marked “top secret,” the government’s most secure communications status. But some 11,000 are classified “secret,” 9,000 are labeled “noforn,” shorthand for material considered too delicate to be shared with any foreign government, and 4,000 are designated both secret and noforn.

Many more cables name diplomats’ confidential sources, from foreign legislators and military officers to human rights activists and journalists, often with a warning to Washington: “Please protect” or “Strictly protect.”

The Times has withheld from articles and removed from documents it is posting online the names of some people who spoke privately to diplomats and might be at risk if they were publicly identified. The Times is also withholding some passages or entire cables whose disclosure could compromise American intelligence efforts.

Terrorism’s Shadow

The cables show that nearly a decade after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, the dark shadow of terrorism still dominates the United States’ relations with the world. They depict the Obama administration struggling to sort out which Pakistanis are trustworthy partners against Al Qaeda, adding Australians who have disappeared in the Middle East to terrorist watch lists, and assessing whether a lurking rickshaw driver in Lahore, Pakistan, was awaiting fares or conducting surveillance of the road to the American Consulate.

They show American officials managing relations with a China on the rise and a Russia retreating from democracy. They document years of painstaking effort to prevent Iran from building a nuclear weapon — and of worry about a possible Israeli strike on Iran with the same goal.

Even when they recount events that are already known, the cables offer remarkable details.

For instance, it has been previously reported that the Yemeni government has sought to cover up the American role in missile strikes against the local branch of Al Qaeda. But a cable’s fly-on-the-wall account of a January meeting between the Yemeni president, Ali Abdullah Saleh, and Gen. David H. Petraeus, then the American commander in the Middle East, is nonetheless breathtaking.

“We’ll continue saying the bombs are ours, not yours,” Mr. Saleh said, according to the cable sent by the American ambassador, prompting Yemen’s deputy prime minister to “joke that he had just ‘lied’ by telling Parliament” that Yemeni forces had carried out the strikes.

Mr. Saleh, who at other times resisted American counterterrorism requests, was in a lighthearted mood. The authoritarian ruler of a conservative Muslim country, Mr. Saleh complains of smuggling from nearby Djibouti, but tells General Petraeus that his concerns are drugs and weapons, not whiskey, “provided it’s good whiskey.”

Likewise, press reports detailed the unhappiness of the Libyan leader, Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi, when he was not permitted to set up his tent in Manhattan or to visit ground zero during a United Nations session last year.

But the cables add to the tale a touch of scandal and alarm. They describe the volatile Libyan leader as rarely without the companionship of “his senior Ukrainian nurse,” described as “a voluptuous blonde.” They reveal that Colonel Qaddafi was so upset by his reception in New York that he balked at carrying out a promise to return dangerous enriched uranium to Russia. The American ambassador to Libya told Colonel Qaddafi’s son “that the Libyan government had chosen a very dangerous venue to express its pique,” a cable reported to Washington.

The cables also disclose frank comments behind closed doors. Dispatches from early this year, for instance, quote the aging monarch of Saudi Arabia, King Abdullah, as speaking scathingly about the leaders of Iraq and Pakistan.

Speaking to another Iraqi official about Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, the Iraqi prime minister, King Abdullah said, “You and Iraq are in my heart, but that man is not.” The king called President Asif Ali Zardari of Pakistan the greatest obstacle to that country’s progress. “When the head is rotten,” he said, “it affects the whole body.”

The American ambassador to Eritrea reported last year that “Eritrean officials are ignorant or lying” in denying that they were supporting the Shabab, a militant Islamist group in Somalia. The cable then mused about which seemed more likely.

As he left Zimbabwe in 2007 after three years as ambassador, Christopher W. Dell wrote a sardonic account of Robert Mugabe, that country’s aging and erratic leader. The cable called Mr. Mugabe “a brilliant tactician” but mocked “his deep ignorance on economic issues (coupled with the belief that his 18 doctorates give him the authority to suspend the laws of economics).”

The possibility that a large number of diplomatic cables might become public has been discussed in government and media circles since May. That was when, in an online chat, an Army intelligence analyst, Pfc. Bradley Manning, described having downloaded from a military computer system many classified documents, including “260,000 State Department cables from embassies and consulates all over the world.” In an online discussion with Adrian Lamo, a computer hacker, Private Manning said he had delivered the cables and other documents to WikiLeaks.

Mr. Lamo reported Private Manning’s disclosures to federal authorities, and Private Manning was arrested. He has been charged with illegally leaking classified information and faces a possible court-martial and, if convicted, a lengthy prison term.

In July and October, The Times, the British newspaper The Guardian and the German magazine Der Spiegel published articles based on documents about Afghanistan and Iraq. Those collections of dispatches were placed online by WikiLeaks, with selective redactions of the Afghan documents and much heavier redactions of the Iraq reports. The group has said it intends to post the documents in the current trove as well, after editing to remove the names of confidential sources and other details.

Fodder for Historians

Traditionally, most diplomatic cables remain secret for decades, providing fodder for historians only when the participants are long retired or dead. The State Department’s unclassified history series, entitled “Foreign Relations of the United States,” has reached only the year 1972.

While an overwhelming majority of the quarter-million cables provided to The Times are from the post-9/11 era, several hundred date from 1966 to the 1990s. Some show diplomats struggling to make sense of major events whose future course they could not guess.

In a 1979 cable to Washington, Bruce Laingen, an American diplomat in Teheran, mused with a knowing tone about the Iranian revolution that had just occurred: “Perhaps the single dominant aspect of the Persian psyche is an overriding egoism,” Mr. Laingen wrote, offering tips on exploiting this psyche in negotiations with the new government. Less than three months later, Mr. Laingen and his colleagues would be taken hostage by radical Iranian students, hurling the Carter administration into crisis and, perhaps, demonstrating the hazards of diplomatic hubris.

In 1989, an American diplomat in Panama City mulled over the options open to Gen. Manuel Noriega, the Panamanian leader, who was facing narcotics charges in the United States and intense domestic and international political pressure to step down. The cable called General Noriega “a master of survival”; its author appeared to have no inkling that one week later, the United States would invade Panama to unseat General Noriega and arrest him.

In 1990, an American diplomat sent an excited dispatch from Cape Town: he had just learned from a lawyer for Nelson Mandela that Mr. Mandela’s 27-year imprisonment was to end. The cable conveys the momentous changes about to begin for South Africa, even as it discusses preparations for an impending visit from the Rev. Jesse L. Jackson.

The voluminous traffic of more recent years — well over half of the quarter-million cables date from 2007 or later — show American officials struggling with events whose outcomes are far from sure. To read through them is to become a global voyeur, immersed in the jawboning, inducements and penalties the United States wields in trying to have its way with a recalcitrant world.

In an era of satellites and fiber-optic links, the diplomatic cable retains the archaic name of an earlier technological era. It has long been the tool for the secretary of state to dispatch orders to the field and for ambassadors and political officers to send their analyses back to Washington.

The cables come with their own lexicon: “codel,” for a visiting Congressional delegation; “visas viper,” for a report on a person considered dangerous; “démarche,” an official message to a foreign government, often a protest or warning.

Diplomatic Drama

But the drama in the cables often comes from diplomats’ narratives of meetings with foreign figures, games of diplomatic poker in which each side is sizing up the other and neither is showing all its cards.

Among the most fascinating examples recount American officials’ meetings in September 2009 and February 2010 with Ahmed Wali Karzai, the half brother of the Afghan president and a power broker in the Taliban’s home turf of Kandahar.

They describe Mr. Karzai, “dressed in a crisp white shalwar kameez,” the traditional dress of loose tunic and trousers, appearing “nervous, though eager to express his views on the international presence in Kandahar,” and trying to win over the Americans with nostalgic tales about his years running a Chicago restaurant near Wrigley Field.

But in midnarrative there is a stark alert for anyone reading the cable in Washington: “Note: While we must deal with AWK as the head of the Provincial Council, he is widely understood to be corrupt and a narcotics trafficker.” (Mr. Karzai has repeatedly denied such charges.) And the cables note statements by Mr. Karzai that the Americans, informed by a steady flow of eavesdropping and agents’ reports, believe to be false.

A cable written after the February meeting coolly took note of the deceit on both sides.

Mr. Karzai “demonstrated that he will dissemble when it suits his needs,” the cable said. “He appears not to understand the level of our knowledge of his activities. We will need to monitor his activity closely, and deliver a recurring, transparent message to him” about the limits of American tolerance.

Not all Business

Even in places far from war zones and international crises, where the stakes for the United States are not as high, curious diplomats can turn out to be accomplished reporters, sending vivid dispatches to deepen the government’s understanding of exotic places.

In a 2006 account, a wide-eyed American diplomat describes the lavish wedding of a well-connected couple in Dagestan, in Russia’s Caucasus, where one guest is the strongman who runs the war-ravaged Russian republic of Chechnya, Ramzan Kadyrov.

The diplomat tells of drunken guests throwing $100 bills at child dancers, and nighttime water-scooter jaunts on the Caspian Sea.

“The dancers probably picked upwards of USD 5000 off the cobblestones,” the diplomat wrote. The host later tells him that Ramzan Kadyrov “had brought the happy couple ‘a five-kilo lump of gold’ as his wedding present.”

“After the dancing and a quick tour of the premises, Ramzan and his army drove off back to Chechnya,” the diplomat reported to Washington. “We asked why Ramzan did not spend the night in Makhachkala, and were told, ‘Ramzan never spends the night anywhere.’ ”

Scott Shane reported from Washington, and Andrew W. Lehren from New York. Reporting was contributed by Jo Becker, C. J. Chivers and James Glanz from New York; Eric Lichtblau, Michael R. Gordon, David E. Sanger, Charlie Savage, Eric Schmitt and Ginger Thompson from Washington; and Jane Perlez from Islamabad, Pakistan.

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U.S. and South Korea Begin Naval Exercises -

U.S. and South Korea Begin Naval Exercises -

SEOUL, South Korea — The United States and South Korea began naval exercises on Sunday that were meant as a warning to North Korea for recent provocations, including last week’s deadly artillery attack on a island populated by South Koreans in the Yellow Sea.

At the same time, China stepped up its diplomatic efforts to cool tempers in the region, with a senior envoy holding a meeting on Sunday morning with South Korea’s president and Beijing announcing that it had invited a senior North Korean official for talks this week. China also called for an emergency meeting of the so-called six-party talks on North Korea's nuclear program, news agencies reported.

North Korean artillery was heard Sunday on the island, though no shells landed there and South Korea considered it just a drill, according to a spokesman for South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff. The North Koreans also shot off artillery on Friday, after a visit by an American general to the island, called Yeonpyeong.

The announcement of the naval exercises last week raised already heightened tensions, angering both North Korea and its patron, China, and stirring intense speculation in the South Korean news media about whether the North would respond violently.

After the announcement, China warned against “any military act” in its exclusive economic zone without permission, according to the state-run Xinhua news agency. But virtually all the waters to the west of the Korean Peninsula fall within that 200 nautical mile limit. It was not immediately clear if the American and South Korean flotilla, which included the United States aircraft carrier George Washington, had sailed into that area.

China’s diplomatic efforts came after days of entreaties from Washington and its allies to exert a moderating influence on North Korea.

The Chinese envoy, state counselor in charge of foreign affairs, Dai Bingguo, met with South Korea’s president, Lee Myung-bak, as part of a previously unannounced visit to Seoul, according to a senior South Korean official.

China’s diplomatic initiative also included the planned talks with Choe Tae-bok, chairman of North Korea’s Supreme People’s Assembly, who will pay an official visit to China starting Tuesday.

The United States has hoped that China would use its leverage over North Korea to restrain it from any further attacks, but so far China has not rebuked the North’s leaders, at least in public. And when China did finally make a strong public statement late last week on the attack — the one warning against military actions in its economic zone — it directed its pique at the United States for the naval exercises.

The show of force was designed both to deter further attacks by the North and to signal to China that unless it reins in its unruly ally, it may see an even larger American presence in the vicinity.
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Saturday, November 27, 2010

Korean War Games Continue Despite Rising Tensions : NPR

Korean War Games Continue Despite Rising Tensions : NPR

The United States and South Korea prepared for war games Sunday as South Koreans demanded vengeance over a deadly North Korean artillery bombardment that has raised fears of more clashes between the bitter rivals.

The North, meanwhile, worked to justify one of the worst attacks on South Korean territory since the 1950-53 Korean War. Four South Koreans, including two civilians, died after the North rained artillery on the small Yellow Sea island of Yeonpyeong, which is home to both fishing communities and military bases.

North Korea said civilians were used as a "human shield" around artillery positions and lashed out at what it called a "propaganda campaign" against Pyongyang.

It claimed the United States orchestrated last Tuesday's clash so that it could stage joint naval exercises in the Yellow Sea with the South that include a U.S. nuclear powered supercarrier — enraging the North and making neighboring China uneasy.

China sent a senior official, State Councilor Dai Bingguo, to Seoul on Saturday for talks with Foreign Minister Kim Sung-hwan, South Korea's Yonhap news agency reported. Dai, accompanied by chief Chinese nuclear negotiator Wu Dawei, discussed Tuesday's attack and international talks on ending North Korea's nuclear programs, it said.

The North Korean attack on an area with a civilian population marked a new level of hostility along the rivals' disputed sea border. Only eight months ago, according to the findings of a South Korean-led international investigation, a North Korean torpedo sank a South Korean warship in waters farther west, killing 46 sailors.

The aggression could be linked to the North's attempt to strengthen its government as it pursues a delicate transfer of power from leader Kim Jong Il to a young, unproven son. It also may reflect Pyongyang's frustration that it has been unable to force a resumption of stalled international talks on receiving aid in return for nuclear disarmament.

The attack laid bare weaknesses 60 years after the Korean War in South Korea's defenses against the North, which does not recognize the border drawn by the U.N. at the close of the conflict and which considers waters around Yeonpyeong as its territory.
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Winning the Class War -

Winning the Class War -

Even as millions of out-of-work and otherwise struggling Americans are tightening their belts for the holidays, the nation’s elite are lacing up their dancing shoes and partying like royalty as the millions and billions keep rolling in.

Recessions are for the little people, not for the corporate chiefs and the titans of Wall Street who are at the heart of the American aristocracy. They have waged economic warfare against everybody else and are winning big time.

The ranks of the poor may be swelling and families forced out of their foreclosed homes may be enduring a nightmarish holiday season, but American companies have just experienced their most profitable quarter ever. As The Times reported this week, U.S. firms earned profits at an annual rate of $1.659 trillion in the third quarter — the highest total since the government began keeping track more than six decades ago.

The corporate fat cats are becoming alarmingly rotund. Their profits have surged over the past seven quarters at a pace that is among the fastest ever seen, and they can barely contain their glee. On the same day that The Times ran its article about the third-quarter surge in profits, it ran a piece on the front page that carried the headline: “With a Swagger, Wallets Out, Wall Street Dares to Celebrate.”

Anyone who thinks there is something beneficial in this vast disconnect between the fortunes of the American elite and those of the struggling masses is just silly. It’s not even good for the elite.

There is no way to bring America’s consumer economy back to robust health if unemployment is chronically high, wages remain stagnant and the jobs that are created are poor ones. Without ordinary Americans spending their earnings from good jobs, any hope of a meaningful, long-term recovery is doomed.

Beyond that, extreme economic inequality is a recipe for social instability. Families on the wrong side of the divide find themselves under increasing pressure to just hold things together: to find the money to pay rent or the mortgage, to fend off bill collectors, to cope with illness and emergencies, and deal with the daily doses of extreme anxiety.

Societal conflicts metastasize as resentments fester and scapegoats are sought. Demagogues inevitably emerge to feast on the poisonous stew of such an environment. The rich may think that the public won’t ever turn against them. But to hold that belief, you have to ignore the turbulent history of the 1930s.

A stark example of the potential for real conflict is being played out in New York City, where the multibillionaire mayor, Michael Bloomberg, has selected a glittering example of the American aristocracy to be the city’s schools chancellor. Cathleen Black, chairwoman of Hearst Magazines, has a reputation as a crackerjack corporate executive but absolutely no background in education.

Ms. Black travels in the rarefied environs of the very rich. Her own children went to private boarding schools. She owns a penthouse on Park Avenue and a $4 million home in Southampton. She was able to loan a $47,600 Bulgari bracelet to a museum for an exhibit showing off the baubles of the city’s most successful women.

Ms. Black will be peering across an almost unbridgeable gap between her and the largely poor and working-class parents and students she will be expected to serve. Worse, Mr. Bloomberg, heralding Ms. Black as a “superstar manager,” has made it clear that because of budget shortfalls she will be focused on managing cutbacks to the school system.

So here we have the billionaire and the millionaire telling the poor and the struggling — the little people — that they will just have to make do with less. You can almost feel the bitterness rising.
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News from The China Post Korean crisis serves as warning of our own risk

News from The China Post

Korean crisis serves as warning of our own risk

Saturday, November 27, 2010
The China Post news staff

As the American nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS George Washington headed for Korean waters yesterday, a day after North Korea fired artillery shells at a South Korean island, killing two South Korean marines and two civilians, and wounding 15 others, the tensions on the Korean Peninsula have become the focus of the world governments and the media.
Although Pyongyang claimed that the two Koreas are at the "brink of war," the general opinion is that the shelling was not a precursor to war but an act of provocation either to boost the status of North Korean's heir apparent, the 25-year-old Kim Jong-un, or to force the U.S. back to the negotiating table.

South Korean President Lee Myung-bak was credited by both international press and domestic opinion for the calm and restraint he showed in the handling of the crisis. Although known as a hardliner on the North Korea issue, Lee's first directive after the shelling was to stop the situation from escalating.

"The question for South Korea is how much more serious can these attacks get before the risk of doing nothing and showing there's no cost is worse than the risk of prompting an overreaction by North Korea," an analyst from the Beijing-based risk consultancy Control Risks was quoted by the Wall Street Journal as saying. "My own view is we're still not at that level."

Overreaction by South and North Korea could result in catastrophe. With Seoul only 33 miles from the demarcation line and with North Korean missiles' capable of reaching any point in the South, an all-out war, or even escalated clashes, could cause devastation in one of Asia's key economies.

Taiwan also has a stake in the situation. While cross-strait relations have improved in the past two years after President Ma Ying-jeou took office, mainland China and Taiwan are still far from agreeing to denounce the use of force to settle the "One China" issue. In many simulated military scenarios, strategists regard the Korean conflict and the involvement of U.S. forces in East Asia as a possible trigger of cross-strait military escalation.

The government took the laudable steps of emphasizing its continual alert on the situation while posing a calm stance by not raising advisory levels for trips to South Korea. However, while there are reasons to hope for the best, Taiwan should also be ready if things take an unexpected turn.

As tension at the Korean Peninsula builds, Taiwan should prepare its plans to show the people and investors that the government is ready and that cross-strait relations remain stable in order to protect the nation and its still recovering economy.

First of all, Taiwan should show that while remaining vigilant of the Korean situation, there will be no sudden unexpected escalation of military action on Taiwan's part. Restraint and dialogue are key at a time when the region is virtually held hostage by what Matthew Lee (李世明), director-general of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs' Department of East Asian and Pacific Affairs, characterized as the "manic depressive" North Korea.

On the other hand, Taiwan should also actively establish the channel of dialogue with mainland China. The government could begin by continuing cross-strait interactions on all levels. At the same time it should also be explicit in its status as part of the global community by joining the international call for China to condemn North Korea's actions.

The key to such plans lies not only in handling the current situation but also in establishing a paradigm of cross-strait communication to cope with future extraordinary situations. Cross-strait ties are all the more important at difficult, or strange, times.

Last but not least, the government and the opposition should come to an understanding, even if it is unwritten, that the nation should have a united voice on the Korean conflict, that domestic political grandstanding in Taiwan would not be another unexpected factor in an already tricky situation.

Related articles
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Friday, November 26, 2010

Pentagon preps for WikiLeaks release of secret Iraq reports - U.S. news - Security -

Pentagon preps for WikiLeaks release of secret Iraq reports - U.S. news - Security -

WASHINGTON — The Pentagon is reviewing its war database to prepare for potential fallout from WikiLeak's expected release of secret documents related to the Iraq war, according to NBC News.
The release could come as early as Sunday evening.
"The problem is we have no idea what WikiLeaks has or is going to release, so we're preparing for the worst," one senior Pentagon official told NBC News on Friday.
WikiLeaks, the controversial online organization set up to reveal government secrets, has indicated it would release as many as 400,000 classified logs from Iraq. In July, WikiLeaks released at least 75,000 classified U.S. military documents on the Afghan war, including the names of informants and other strategic reports in Afghanistan.
U.S. officials have warned that public revelations about intelligence information can have unpredictable consequences, potentially undermining efforts to monitor and disrupt militants plotting attacks.
Pentagon officials told NBC News they were scouring over 400,000 documents from Iraq they suspect could be what WikiLeaks plans to release next.
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Breaking News, Weather, Business, Health, Entertainment, Sports, Politics, Travel, Science, Technology, Local, US & World News-

Breaking News, Weather, Business, Health, Entertainment, Sports, Politics, Travel, Science, Technology, Local, US & World News-

Visit for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

Thursday, November 25, 2010

BBC News - The Korean crisis and US carrier diplomacy

Topographic map of Korean Peninsula.Image via WikipediaBBC News - The Korean crisis and US carrier diplomacy

By Nick Childs
Defence and security correspondent, BBC News

The nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS George Washington and its escorts are heading for the waters off the Korean peninsula, in the aftermath of the flare-up between North and South Korea. This is very much gunboat diplomacy 21st Century-style.
Indeed, the George Washington has already been deployed there this year, following the rise in tensions after the sinking in March of the South Korean warship Cheonan - widely blamed on the North.
Then, as now, it was to send a series of messages - supposedly of reassurance to the South, and deterrence to the North.
It is a move that the United States has made many times in response to crises during the Cold War and since.

In many ways, the US fleet of aircraft carriers has been as much a diplomatic instrument as a military tool. The US Navy proudly boasts that in virtually every crisis, the first question every US president asks is: "Where is the nearest carrier?"
For example, the United States deployed the nuclear-powered carrier USS Enterprise to the Bay of Bengal as a show of strength during the Indo-Pakistani war in 1971.
Similarly, a US carrier was sent to the waters off Libya in 1981 in a stand-off, and two US fighters actually shot down two Libyan combat planes.
In 1996, at a time of tension with Beijing over Taiwan, President Bill Clinton despatched two aircraft carriers to the region.

And throughout the 1990s, during various flare-ups with the Iraqi leader, Saddam Hussein, Washington signalled its seriousness by how many carriers it dispatched to the Gulf - on occasions, as many as three.

Carrier envy

No other country has a carrier force like the Americans have.
And whenever you go aboard a US carrier, there is almost always a moment when you'll be talking to the captain on the bridge.

He'll expansively wave a hand in the direction of the huge flight deck and make some remark about it being four acres of sovereign US territory that can be parked off any shore to send any message that Washington wants to send.

For that reason, emerging powers like India and China are thinking seriously about building up carrier forces of their own.

But will Pyongyang get whatever message Washington is sending in that direction?
It did not seem to the last time the George Washington was deployed.
And will it be enough to reassure Seoul?

There are other sensitivities as well. Beijing has already complained about this deployment, as it did the last one, which then led to a change of plan about where exactly the George Washington operated.
In a time of growing strategic competition between the United States and a rising China, the US carrier force in the Pacific is an important symbol.

It is a signal of US determination to maintain a presence.

At the same time, there is a heated debate over the significance of China's moves to develop a ballistic missile designed specifically to target carriers.

It also explains why there was consternation in Washington when a Chinese submarine unexpectedly surfaced close to a US carrier strike group on exercise south of Japan in 2007.
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Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Why Now For North Korea's Provocation?

Belligerence and Internal Weakness - Room for Debate -

Belligerence and Internal Weakness - Room for Debate -

What steps should the U.S. take after the artillery attack on a South Korean island?

A number of experts discuss varying viewpoints on how to deal with the DPRKs recent attack on the R.O.K.

The Maddow Blog - Unemployment: Get used to it

The Maddow Blog - Unemployment: Get used to it

The Federal Reserve predicts the jobless rate will stay above 9 percent for all of next year and above 8 percent for 2012. That's bad news in general for Americans, and maybe very bad news for one President Barack Obama. Ezra Klein suggests unemployment rate might be the only number that really matters.

Americans appear to favor government spending to stimulate job growth. Republican lawmakers, not so much -- and why should they? If you want to make President Obama a one-termer, as incoming House Speaker John Boehner certainly does, keep more people out of work.

And don't expect much help from the GOP while you sweat this one out. Republicans in the House have signaled that they're fine with denying an extension of unemployment benefits. "So happy I get to donate my unemployment compensation toward deficit reduction for the government on 12/4/10," writes @jae.

Congressional Black Caucus Gains Power, Focuses on Jobs - BV Black Spin

Congressional Black Caucus Gains Power, Focuses on Jobs - BV Black Spin

While the mid-term elections were a blood bath for the Democrats, one group that came out surprisingly unscathed was the Congressional Black Caucus. Members of the CBC and the Hispanic Caucus will hold roughly one-third of all Democratic seats in Congress (61 out of 190), increasing their power within government. They also plan to use this influence to focus on job creation.

The Democrats who took the greatest drubbing during mid-terms tended to be the centrists of the party. The Black and Hispanic caucuses, however, only lost four out of 60 bids for re-election. Silvestre Reyes of Texas, a member of the Hispanic caucus is now the ranking member of the Armed Services Committee, and Maxine Waters will be the second leading Democrat on the Financial Services Committee. Their increases in power came largely because of the defeats of other Democrats.

"We'll have to make our case for our priorities from a minority position so it will obviously be more difficult to advance the CBC agenda," Rep. Bobby Scott told the Wall Street Journal. "What we spend our time on will depend to a large extent on what the majority does."

One area in which the CBC will focus their energy is job creation. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. is planning to introduce legislation to create a jobs bill that he compares to the Works Progress Administration of 1935. He argues that Democrats should push for such a bill to prove that they are worthy of being in power.

Not every member of the CBC is on the same page. Allen West out of Florida is a Republican Tea Party candidate who has opposed most of President Obama's policies. West was accused of torturing a man he suspected of helping the insurgents when he served in the Iraq War. He was forced to retire after the incident, where he reportedly shot a bullet past the man's head to fake his execution. He has even referred to the work of the CBC as "failed liberal social welfare policies," and said they have not worked. West is likely to be a thorn in the side of both the CBC and the Democratic Party, but being black never meant you had to be on the same page.

The work of the Congressional Black Caucus has always been important to all Americans, particularly the poor and those of color. Their focus on creating jobs has never been more critical, and we are all hopeful that they can find more creative ways to get the job done. Recent investigations into the work of Charles Rangel, Maxine Waters and other members of the CBC have been disturbing in light of the fact that there may be a concerted effort to undermine the power of the caucus. Either way, they must continue to march forward, and they will.