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NightWatch 20100105


For the Night of 5 January 2010

China-Iran: Update. The Chinese Foreign Ministry said on 5 January that dialogue and negotiations are the correct ways to solve the Iran nuclear issue, Xinhua reported, citing a spokeswoman. The spokeswoman said China hopes negotiators will be more flexible and pragmatic, and step up diplomatic efforts, resuming talks as soon as possible.

This looks like a signal that China will not support new sanctions and a warning to not press them.

Burma: Military leader Senior General Than Shwe has urged people to make what he called the "correct choices" when elections are held at some point later this year. He made his comments in a message to mark Independence Day.

He said the military government's seven-step roadmap to "disciplined democracy" was the only way for the country to achieve democracy. The seven steps were formulated in August 2003. They outline the procedure for convening a National Convention that will implement an undefined "genuine and disciplined democratic system," including drafting a new constitution.

A date for the elections has not been set, but they will be the first since 1990, when the military refused to recognize the opposition's victory, under the leadership of Aung San Suu Kyi. The curious thing in South Asia and Africa is how often military men deem themselves experts in democracy, despite being products of a completely undemocratic organization … the military.

Pakistan: According to a report in the Daily Times, President Ali Zardari said on 5 January the struggle with India over Kashmir was a war of ideologies that would last for generations…. what the Pakistani Kashmiris have labeled a thousand-year war.

Addressing a joint session of the Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK or Pakistani Kashmir) Assembly and the Kashmir Council, the President said democratic governments had played a key role in moving forward on the Kashmir dispute, the Associated Press of Pakistan reported. "Whenever dictators took over, they spoke of appeasement. We, from Zulfikar Ali Bhutto to Benazir Bhutto to me... have talked to India on equal terms." When Zulfikar had spoken of waging a thousand-year war, he never said he would not do it through talks or negotiations, he said.

Pakistan-India: The cabinet's Defence Committee met on 5 January and asserted that Pakistan would never allow its security to be jeopardized. The meeting was held in response to statements by the Indian Chief of Army Staff that India was preparing its forces to fight a two-front war with Pakistan and China.

Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani chaired the committee meeting. In a statement issued after the meeting, the committee said Pakistan's defense forces and its strategic and conventional capabilities would continue to be strengthened. It also affirmed the strong commitment of the government and the people of Pakistan to defend the country's honor, dignity, sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity.

Comment: Reading the two reports together, the Pakistani political leadership is now appealing to the military for support. The top two leaders have shifted the focus away from their inability to control the tribal militants, away from Musharraf's unconstitutional political misdeeds, away from Zardari's liability for criminal prosecution should he leave office, and have refocused the media on the threat from India and the Kashmir problem.

The press distorted the Indian statement, describing India as planning to launch a two-front war which is completely false. Apparently it is following government direction to incite the Pakistani populace. Hatred for India is the one issue about which all Pakistanis can agree, and diverts attention from the failings of the government and the military during the past year.

Iran: Update. President Ahmadi-Nejad's economic reform bill to cut government food and energy subsidies was ratified by parliament on 5 January, Press TV reported. The bill now goes to the Guardian Council, which will determine whether it will be approved.

Ahmadi-Nejad was elected on a populist agenda to correct inequities in the distribution of wealth, to reform politics and to keep prices low. Today, he and the parliament just increased the cost of living for everyone, contradicting every promise he made six months ago.

Opposition crackdown. Interior Minister Mostafa Mohammad Najjar said today that members of the opposition could face execution should demonstrations continue, Reuters reported, citing IRNA. Najjar said that anyone who takes part in riots will be considered waging war on God and an opponent of national security. The Foreign Ministry said arrested foreigners face punishment.

A regime so closely aligned with its idea of god should not need to resort to threats so often in order to ensure obedience, one would think. The equation of waging war on god = opposition to national security is also curious.

Iraq-Saudi Arabia: Relations are strained again over insulting remarks by a Saudi Sunni cleric about the most revered Shia cleric in Iraq, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani.

In a Friday sermon in Riyadh, a leading Wahhabi cleric, Mohammad al-Ureifi, called Grand Ayatollah al-Sistani an "atheist and debauched." He also attacked Iraqi Shias, accusing them of conspiring with Yemen's Huthis against Saudi Arabia with Iran's support.

Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, a Shiite, strongly criticized the Saudi religious institutes, whom he said have a tendency to launch attacks on Shia clerics because of their hostile attitude towards Shia Muslims, Agence France-Presse reported. Duh!

Saudi Arabia has the authority and ability to control Friday sermons. They demonstrate it every time there has been a terrorist attack in the Kingdom by ordering all imams to denounce the attackers. This proven capability compels the conclusion that al-Ureifi's remarks are not offensive to the King.

After US forces depart, Saudi Arabia will remain an implacable enemy of Shiite controlled Iraq and will never forgive the US for creating the first Shiite government in an Arab country.

Special Comment: First impressions. Publication of Major General Mike Flynn's criticism of his own area of responsibility, intelligence, was headline news around the world. The document -- Fixing Intel: A Blueprint for Making Intelligence Relevant in Afghanistan -- deserves detailed study, but even a cursory examination indicates astonishing, fundamental problems, despite nine years of fighting in Afghanistan.

First, Flynn is the Director of Intelligence in Afghanistan, the J2, under General McChrystal. He is supposed to own all the intelligence in the theater, but clearly and amazingly he does not.

Second, the J2 is supposed to be a producer of intelligence for the Commander, but the report suggests he is more like a customer of intelligence produced by national agencies. That is the organizational model DIA adopted for the Joint Staff in the Pentagon in 2006. The Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff, is the only four-star rank flag officer in the US armed forces without his own fully dedicated intelligence staff. The Chairman's J2 is a DIA customer, though he is also a DIA flag officer.

While that unusual circumstance might be tolerable in Washington, it is inconceivable that such a bizarre arrangement would be exported to a hot combat zone. Flynn's report indicates that it has been.

Third, the news media have ignored the extraordinary fact that Flynn published his views in an unclassified outlet. This implies an admission that he lacks the respect and authority to make changes within his own chain of command. That can only be true if he is a customer of intelligence that others produce, rather than the head of his own analytical centers.

What quality and degree of frustration compel a J2 to resort to the unclassified media to plead his case for fixing his own command responsibility?

Fourth, the US has been fighting in Afghanistan since 2001. Whatever semantic games people choose to play about the nature of the fight, the information Flynn wants is just basic to any intelligence problem in support of forces in combat. The information exists. The volume of intelligence reporting on Afghanistan is beyond belief. The detail is extraordinary for anyone who takes the time to read it.

National agencies and Commands were accustomed to know how to mine low grade ore/information to obtain high grade results, routinely. Moreover, combat units always have been sources of actionable tactical intelligence, a historical fact that some in the Afghanistan command seem to think is novel and that they discovered. That is what debriefing is all about. When did the US Army forget that lesson?

Cultural and other detailed local studies are not new requirements for intelligence. DIA once excelled at this work, 40 years ago. So what happened? What's going on in US intelligence that good people must reinvent old wheels that have existed since World War II?

Fifth, a year ago CJCS Admiral Mullen promised the Afghanistan command everything it needed. DIA set up a 300 person support cell. A year later General Flynn suggests this promise has not been kept or the effort has made no difference, in a year. He wrote that he has enough analysts, but for some reason can't direct them to do what he judges the Combat Command needs. How can this be possible?

Sixth, why would any nation send its young men and women to fight under these conditions? They do not know and cannot tell who the enemy is, as the attack at FOB Chapman demonstrated, and cannot rely on intelligence to provide the answers, according to Flynn.

More on this after a more careful review of the report.

End of NightWatch for 5 January.

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