National Security Experts

Contributor

Wayne White

Biography provided by participant

Prior to joining the Middle East Institute in 2005, White served as Deputy Director of the Bureau of Intelligence and Research Office of Analysis for the Near East and South Asia. White also served as principal Iraq analyst and head of INR/NESA's Iraq team from 2003 to 2005. He was Chief of INR's Maghreb, Arabian Penninsula, Iran and Iraq division and State Department representative to NATO Middle East working groups from 1990 to 2002. White served as Political Officer at the US interest section in Baghdad in 1983. From 1978-1979, White served as a US Sinai Field Mission peacekeeper. White joined INR/NESA in 1979 as editor of INR's Arab-Israeli Situation Report, and as an analyst for Iraq. He then served as Senior Analyst for Syria and head of NESA's Lebanon Crisis Team. White has traveled extensively in West Africa, North Africa, the Levant, Iraq and the Gulf. He has received the State Department's Superior Honor Award five times, INR Analyst of the Year Award, National Intelligence Medal for Outstanding Achievement, and the Secretary's Career Achievement Award. A Philadelphia native, White has a BA and an MA in Middle East history from Pennsylvania State University.

Recent Responses

June 26, 2012 01:32 PM

In the aftermath of the fall of Mubarak, the security situation in the Egyptian Sinai has deteriorated considerably. Coverage of this situation, which could become serious enough to involve not only Egypt and Israel but also the US, has been vastly overshadowed by the continuing political and economic instability in Egypt proper. Yet, the ominous situation in Sinai could rise to crisis levels quite rapidly sould there be a cross-border terrorist "spectacular" in which a large number of Israelis become casualties.

The most serious aspect of the Sinai mess relates to the dramatic rise in Islamic extremism among a number of Sinai bedouin. This has been compounded by the post-Mubarak government's decision to end its portion of the blockade of the Palestinian Gaza Strip, enabling elements of Hamas to gain easier access to eastern Sinai--the portion of the peninsula closest to the Israeli frontier. A number of cross-border attacks have been launched by various means--and groups--from Sinai, some involving Israeli casualties. With little confidence this situation w

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June 20, 2012 08:44 AM

There is no end in sight for the ongoing strife in Syria, regardless of whether ultimately we will see the overthrow of the authoritarian, ruthless and corrupt Assad regime or the regime's brutal suppression of the bulk of the opposition arrayed against it. Neither side appears able to move decisively against the other. Nonetheless, meaningful foreign military intervention remains highly unlikely.

In the face of a regime determined to kill many thousands more Syrians and continue to ravage population centers to crush the opposition as well as a sizeable opposition still unbowed by the carnage visited upon it, the international community has flailed ineffectively in its efforts to end the violence. Indeed, UN observers who typically are meant to be little more than peacekeepers cannot have much impact on a still fluid, violent situation in in which there is precious little peace to keep. Moreover, any serious armed intervention against perhaps the Arab world's most powerful military would be vastly more demanding than what was required in the Libyan case--probably too d

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June 11, 2012 02:00 PM

While serving 26 years in the US Intelligence Community, we were dogged by numerous harmful leaks of classified information--some just as damaging as the one at issue right now. The most galling aspect of such continuing leaks is that senior politicians--perhaps even some of those publicly denouncing them--have been among the worst offenders.

High-ranking political appointees within the executive branch, members of Congress, and ranking Congressional staffers have nothing approaching the appreciation of the damage done by leaks involving highly classified intelligence and covert operations possessed by the vast majority of less ranking government professionals assessing and given access to intelligence as a substantial part of their daily business and a far more compelling partisan motive for exploiting classified material for political advantage.

Adminstrations--both Republican and Democratic--have leaked sensitive classified material for various political purposes going back decades. Several times when I was serving in the State Department's Bureau of Intelligen

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June 5, 2012 04:49 PM

This question is legitimate because of gains on the part of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) in southern Yemen at the expense of the central government (or what passes for one), capitalizing on the extreme instability at the core of Yemeni politics in the wake of the "Arab Awakening." Nonetheless, the practicalities of making a difference on the ground could prove too daunting.

Since the Yemeni-based AQAP is the leading al-Qaeda "franchise" with respect to mounting terrorist attacks against the US, its territorial gains in Yemen are difficult to ignore. Should it succeed in carving out a more substantial and secure base of operations, it might eventially develop the capacity to operate more effectively than what has fo far been the admittedly shaky terrorist track record detailed by Michael Brenner.

At the same time, however, Pat Lang makes telling points about the corrupt, inept, and tribally riven (even in its northern power base) performance of the Yemeni central government and its fumbling use of US-provided arms--even in better tim

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May 1, 2012 08:13 PM

As long as there are real or perceived national or religious grievances that cannot be resolved politically (or through conventional armed struggle), extremists aroused by such grievances will resort to various forms of asymmetric warfare, including "terrorism," against more powerful opponents. Since 9/11 the US and many of its allies have tried to combat terrorism through military action, improved intelligence, covert operations, vast defensive measures, and PR aimed at "winning hearts and minds." Yet, military action can make matters worse, intelligence is incomplete or flawed, covert ops are isolated stabs at the problem frequently with negative downsides, defensive measures can never be totally effective, and militants and their most committed supporters brush aside Washington's PR (which is uneven and often clumsy in any case).

Taking out Osame bin Laden (OBL) and many senior al-Qaeda (AQ) operatives has been helpful in not only disrupting AQ, but also in deflating the aura of invicibility surrounding them among their sympathizers. Nonetheless,

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April 11, 2012 09:49 AM

Parties involved in the Iran-Nuclear talks this weekend still do not appear prepared to compromise sufficiently to break the deadlock (or possibly avert war). Iran seems ready to make some concessions, but quite possibly not enough to meet the demands of the increasingly concerned Americans, Europeans, and the Israelis standing ominously in the wings. Similarly, Washington is hinting it will restrain its demands a bit (sufficiently so to draw criticism from a number of observers in the US and Israel), but probably not enough to secure Iranian acceptance because even this package (especially the closure of Iran's Fordo enrichment facility) is bound to be a hard sell in Tehran.

The backdrop for all this still involves four key unknowns. First, no party outside Iran knows for sure how soon the Iranians could develop a nuclear device. Second, the same might as well be said about whether the Iranian leadership intends to develop such a capability, regardless of one's personal views on the matter. Third, it is unclear just how serious Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu and hi

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March 13, 2012 06:12 PM

In this intensely political year, it will be difficult to have a genuinely frank and open-minded national discussion on an issue such as whether or not to remain in Afghanistan until--or beyond--the 2014 deadline set by the Administration for the end of US combat operations. The recent shooting incident is the third in a fairly rapid series of especially damaging developments that have seriously undermined US popular credibility. Yet, the Administration so far has been gamely sticking to the plan to remain through its original 2014 deadline while some of the Administration's critics maintain that these and other earlier setbacks mean that the US should stay on even longer in an effort to set things right.

The halting course of the military effort, the largely failed attempts to engage the Taliban in a dialogue, the crippled struggle to win (or even avoid losing many more) hearts and minds, plus the iffy performance overall of the Afghan regime upon which we must pin our hopes for a stable future for Afghanistan appear to demand a return to the proverbial drawing board by

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March 5, 2012 05:00 PM

It seems ever more likely that neither Israel nor Iran will step back from the brink in terms of playing their respective parts in the continuously unfolding Iranian nuclear saga. Meanwhile, American policy is moving in the direction of rendering the behavior of both that much more ominous.

For the good of all, President Obama should have maintained that although the US will do all it can to deter Iran from pursuing the development of nuclear weapons, should deterrence fail in that respect, Iran's possession of nuclear weapons would not necessarily be the proverbial end of the world for Israel (or the US). While not taking US military action off the table, it would not be assured, nor would such action on the part of Israel be endorsed.

Instead, in effect, the President accepted in his Sunday speech the "basic truth" that no Israeli government could live with a nuclear armed Iran. One wonders whether he would have been nearly so outspoken had this moment in time not come amidst an intensifying presidential election campaign. In any case, the trigger th

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February 27, 2012 05:20 PM

Washington probably does not have to involve itself in providing arms to the Syrian opposition: others almost certainly will begin doing so at this stage in the bloody standoff between the Assad regime and the opposition.

A number of regional players closer to the action have grown ever more weary waiting vainly for the UN Security Council, the US, NATO, or even the larger foreign support group opposing the Syrian regime's bloodyminded behavior to act decisively and already are hinting that they could begin supplying arms at any time. And since the arms most familiar to Syrians are those widely available from the old Soviet Bloc, others are better positioned to supply arms appropriate to this situation in any case.

Even more important, however, than arms for the opposition is the desperate need for regime opponents to lure quite a few more Syrian soldiers to defect to their side than has been the case so far. The relatively small and scattered groupings of army defectors--supplemented by ill-trained civilians--now battling regime forces cannot hope to stand up to

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February 6, 2012 03:29 PM

Regarding "options" at this point, it is difficult to envision how a major prolongation of our combat role in substantial strength beyond 2013 could produce decisive results toward meaningfully improving the situation in Afghanistan. Many speaking out in favor of a more extensive commitment--some of them, I might add, largely because of their desire to talk tough on security in a presidential election year--are either unwilling or unable to assess realistically the prevailing situation on the ground.

The Taliban and other significant anti-Kabul, anti-NATO elements remain in the field with areas of control that span important real estate. Meanwhile, the Karzai government's deeply rooted corruption and dysfunction affecting so many critical fields of endeavor make it highly unlikely that Kabul will be able to deploy anything approaching the effective and reliable forces needed to fill the void left behind by NATO militaries anytime soon--if ever, for that matter, on a truly national level. Moreover, hopes of a sweeping deal with the Taliban reminiscent of the

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November 8, 2011 10:30 AM

As one presidential campaign has replaced another over the years, it has become pretty clear to me why the period preceeding such elections has become known in many quarters as the political "silly season." This time of frantic jockeying for position is not one in which candidates typically market particularly profound views on our various challenges abroad. In fact, more often than not, candidates are given to bold posturing rather than cogent, workable proposals--rhetoric that often complicates more serious efforts to formulate positions later when they become their party's nominee or succeed in reaching the White House.

Eric Farnsworth perhaps is closest to the mark in urging that candidates be pressed for answers to questions that might prove more revealing as to the manner in which they would tackle various international issues: how they might set limits on US overseas policy in an era of increasing domestic austerity; to what degree are they willing to cooperate with our allies and deal with various other groupings of powers abroad; how do they view th

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October 19, 2011 09:59 AM

Before being able to move on to truly damaging sanctions against Iran, there are the difficulties Washington will encounter (and must address) in convincing other governments--especially beyond the allies with whom it shares sensitive intelligence--that this bizarre alleged plot is truly the real thing.

Most informed observers without political or ideological axes to grind with respect to habitual hostility toward Iran or rushing to Iran's defence practically whatever is charged are at least scratching their heads as to how much weight to assign to the recent allegations. If there is more sensitive intelligence of the smoking gun sort in the possession of the USG, most all observers like me will not get to see it and will remain at the very least a bit skeptical. This will be the same story with key parties like the Russians and Chinese who must be talked out of a veto if anything is to get past the UN Security Council. If these allegations become widely accepted, however, among close US allies with access to what perhaps might be a richer hoard of information, there is

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October 5, 2011 12:38 PM

The killing of Anwar al-Awlaki certainly raises profound legal questions. Nonetheless, he was intensely involved in activities that threatened the lives of other American citizens. Consequently, standing aside in the face of such activities and allowing them to continue unabated--and in a foreign country from which extradition related to legal decisons made here is practically impossible--would have been a highly risky course of action.

The Fifth Amendment to the US Constitution explicitly guarantees the right to life of American citizens in the absence of due process of law to determine when to withdraw that right. Having only limited legal expertise, I am hardly familiar with various aspects of US law that might be available related to revoking citizenship as a prelude to taking more aggressive action against such dangerous US nationals overseas. From my tour as a US consular officer abroad, I do recall that a 1960's Supreme Court ruling, "Afroyim vs. Rusk," held that the government may revoke the citizenship of those who served in "the armed forces of

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September 27, 2011 01:28 PM

Since he first became prime minister in 1996, Bibi Netanyahu has made quite clear he will do practically anything to block fair-minded US-Israeli-Palestinian diplomacy aimed at the establishment of a viable Palestinian state.

With this not yet clear, the Clinton Administration tried to work with Netanyahu for several years, with candid senior American peace negotiators since concluding that Bibi was highly deceptive--perhaps even a flat-out liar. Particularly devastating about Netanyahu's behavior back then was that when he first assumed office, there was still reason to hope for a final settlement. Since then, with US support--or Washington essentially looking the other way--Netanyahu's destruction of the peace process at such a decisive and hopeful juncture has led to even more determined Israeli moves aimed at creating facts on the ground that now have made crafting a realistic vision of a genuine Palestinian state near impossible. Israeli settlement expansion has been massive, the network of Israeli "security" roads to settlements (and related checkpoints

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August 30, 2011 04:42 PM

Military cooperation largely between NATO and the anti-Qadhafi opposition has not been without its problems, US participation pressed the envelope on bypassing robust domestic consensus building, the rebel effort against this tyrant was slow-going for quite some time, the end game also will likely be messy, and establishing sound governance in a country long so ill-managed and still multi-factional after Qadhafi's fall will be a tough slog. Nonetheless, the US kept its participation to a minimum, key NATO allies demonstration a capablity to lead and persist in a substantial military endeavor, and one of the only two full-blown bloody-minded tyrants & international pariahs challenged by the so-called "Arab Spring" (the other being Assad & Co.) is much closer to exiting the world stage. All in all, I believe it was worth the effort despite the inevitable questions and challenges.

Because of the political blowback in Washington amidst two other major military commitments abroad and a serious fiscal crisis, the Obama Administration approached involvement in

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August 8, 2011 06:54 PM

While I agree with much of what Sydney has said below, I do not credit Tea Party Republicans--most any post-Ronald Reagan Republicans--with "consistency."

A conservative Republican at the time (a family tradition), I voted for Ronald Reagan in 1980. Aside from habit, I was profoundly motivated by the mounting debt rung up by the Carter Administration. Unfortunately, amidst the stress and overtime of being the lead State/INR intelligence analyst covering the new Iraq-Iran War, I hadn't taken seriously enough Republican rhetoric about so-called "supply side economics." Not only did the new Republican conservatives believe tax cuts would greatly stimulate the economy (which they did at a time of recession in 1981-1982), but they plunged the US into the largest deficits since WWII--in fact, the first time the US had run annual fiscal deficits of that magnitude without either a major war or a full-blown depression. If that wasn't enough, when the country emerged from its early 1980's recession (and despite the fact that the new economic approach did not

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July 26, 2011 09:58 AM

Regardless of how various observers feel about the decision to intervene in Libya on behalf of the opposition against Qadhafi, there is simply too much now at stake given what already has been done (and not done elsewhere) to falter in supporting the opposition. This is particularly the case when so many important governments already have crossed the proverbial Rubicon in recognizing en masse the opposition council as the recognized government of Libya (regardless of Muammar Qadhafi's eventual status--once again in play it would seem).

First off, given that even the Arab League also called for military intervention in Libya, this is the only instance in which the West has come to the aid of a beleaguered Arab opposition facing a brutal crackdown on the part of a notorious tyrant. Naturally, there is plenty of room to criticize relative inaction in the face of such parallel cases of ruthlessness in Syria & Bahrain (with Yemen perhaps too chaotic to lend itself to any effective political or military intervention), but the standing of the US and NATO would be that much

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July 18, 2011 01:29 PM

Much of the reluctance to comply with the existing 2011 deadline to pull out US troops is based on the fear--especially in senior American political and military circles in the field and in Washington--that all Hell could break loose in Iraq following a more definitive US withdrawal and what US leaders have managed to characterize as a "success" for several years could turn quite sour. Although the situation in Iraq after a more complete American withdrawal could be dicer in some respects, I tend to believe there is less chance of a truly serious breakdown at this point than do some other observers.

While governance in Iraq remains in an unsettled state and in many ways wanting, in the wake of the terrible bloodletting of 2006-2007 in particular there is considerable popular reluctance to take steps in the direction of significant violence to resolve--or dramatize--remaining grievances. The situation in disputed areas around the perimeter of the KRG certainly remains a leading concern, but an outbreak there of widespread violence also seems a bit less likely th

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June 28, 2011 05:36 PM

Simply put, there is no denying that in a variety of respects Afghanistan is still a mess--in terms of overall security, governance, the deficit of popular loyalty toward central authority, and resentment toward the NATO presence. In this situation, no so-called "strategy" geared to rather sweeping short-term goals is likely to succeed. Indeed, even a more persistent NATO approach, albeit unlikely, spanning a somewhat longer timeframe aimed at acceptable stability might be somewhat doubtful.

The endemic dysfunction and corruption characteristic of national government under Karzai & Co. represents a serious threat to stability regardless of military developments on the ground. And compared with, say, Iraq, governance across Afghanistan is hindered by the absence of a tradition of more settled engagement often in the setting of cities and larger towns plus myriad difficulties inherent in more rugged terrain. Making matters still worse is the low probability that adequate and truly nationally effective army and police organizations can be put in place anytim

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June 20, 2011 12:06 PM

Yes, the American public is tired of overseas military commitments following the prolonged fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq. Furthermore, severe recession since 2008 has made American voters that much more sensitive to comitments abroad that involve US expenditures. And, although not an expert on the War Powers Act, it does appear that the Congress is within its rights to call the Administration to account regarding American military involvement in the effort to assist the Libyan opposition to take down Qadhafi's 40-year tyranny.

Yet it is ironic that so many of those in Congress--and other critics--calling into question the continuation of US support for the campaign associated with Libya are the same voices that helped drive the US toward conflict in Iraq--the premier source of widespread American war weariness. Furthermore, it is unlikely that the effort in Afghanistan would be in such bad shape now had so many of those same political actors not so irresponsibly left the mission in Afghanistan to languish for over 5 years on the back burner while most US military att

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June 14, 2011 01:43 PM

Secretary Gates' comments about the need for our European allies to shoulder more of the defense burden are not completely off the mark, but for a variety of reasons are unhelpful, coming as they do at a time when that simply is not going to happen for financial reasons and many of our NATO allies are in the midst of stretching their militaries to the limits to accomplish goals shared by the United States.

It is quite true that quite a number of European NATO member states reached economic levels of recovery following the devastation of the Second World War consistent with taking on more of the burden of European defense and even more power projection beyond that 30-40 years ago in the midst of the Cold War. However, the US tended to accept a more burdensome role than appropriate in part because it wished to call the shots and felt it could better execute, in a variety of respects, the overall mission encompassing both strategic and tactical defense against potential Soviet aggression in any case. Consequently, at a time when pressing hard for more European defense expen

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June 8, 2011 09:34 AM

President Saleh's medical evacuation to Saudi Arabia so far does not represent a clear break between Saleh's era and whatever is to follow. Saleh reportedly remains unwilling to formalize the GCC-backed agreement to step down, and his two powerful sons (most significantly Republican Guard commander Ahmed Saleh) remained behind apparently with the objective of safeguarding as many of Saleh's remaining equities as possible in the face of challengers.

A major concern overall should be Yemen's most typical historic status of decentralization, sometimes chaotic and violent, with Saleh's period of domination somewhat of an anomaly. And even Saleh's long tenure was marred by weak central authority and a powerful insurgency in the earliest years, a post-unification civil war with the south, prolonged regional rebellions like the Houthi rebellion, and frequent conflict with local forces such as militant Islamists. I suppose one could hope that taken as a whole, Saleh brought to Yemen, one way or another, more central authority than has been characteristic of Yemen and that such

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June 3, 2011 12:38 PM

Reacting to one of Sydney Freedberg's points, one wonders whether key minority Alawite elements comprising the core of the Asad regime and the ruling Syrian Ba'th Party may view as yet another driver for responding so vigorously to the current challenge the rather dismal fate of the Sunni Arab minority that had dominated the Ba'th Party regime of Saddam Hussein in the course of neighboring Iraq's more pluralistic post-2003 political order.

In Iraq, they witnessed not only the overthrow of Saddam Hussein and his senior power structure, but also the banning of most all of Iraq's over one million Ba'th Party members and tens of thousands of mainly minority Sunni Arabs associated with Saddam's security and intelligence services from any future role in Iraqi political life. Moreover, the new political order dominated by Iraq's Shi'a majority (and until recently its also previously downtrodden Kurdish minority) has denied much of Iraq's broader Sunni Arab community a meaningful role in power sharing as well as access to the same level of economic benefits enjoyed by Iraq's now

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June 1, 2011 10:34 AM

Addressing the issues in the second paragraph of questions above, it is important for Western players like the US to realize that the authoritarian order in Syria is far more powerful than the somewhat similarly repressive regime now besieged in Libya. Those with expectations for change and either contemplating or taking related actions on the international front to bring this about should bear this in mind.

The Libyan military--even the elite units under Khamis al-Qadhafi--are among the worst trained and maintained formations in the Arab world, despite that country's oil wealth. By contrast, Syria's is perhaps the best all-round military outside those wealthy oil rich Arab states than can afford state of the art arms and legions of foreign technicians and advisors to help maintain them. With Israel as its presumed adversary in military planning, Damascus has felt driven to sustain an especially high level of indigenous training, discipline and readiness based largely on Russian or other eastern European hardware (of which it has some rather advanced systems). Its elit

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May 24, 2011 05:26 PM

There does not seem to have been much with which to kick start the stalled Israeli-Palestinian peace process in the combined remarks of President Obama contained in his major address last week and his subsequent speech to AIPAC over the weekend.

The president's comments related to the 1967 border as a meaningful starting point for Israeli-Palestinian negotiations over territory were greatly compromised by substantial qualifiers to this principle. Most notably, the President made especially clear in his AIPAC remarks that an agreed upon boundary would, in fact, have little resemblance to the ceasefire line serving as a border until the 1967 Arab-Israeli War. He assured AIPAC that, in effect, Israel's desire for the incorporation of substantial amounts of the West Bank to accommodate major settlement blocks would have to be taken into consideration. It also appeared as if the critical aspects of a final settlement involving the status of Jerusalem and the rights of Palestinian refugees need not be worked out until the issues of security and boundaries largely had been res

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May 18, 2011 04:38 PM

Defense Secretary Gates and Admiral Mullen warned Wednesday about the damage that could result from continued revelations about the raid to take out Osama Bin Laden (and, presumably, information that has gotten out about the nature of the trove of materials carted off from Bin Laden's compound). Gates also told reporters today that it is his belief that someone in the Pakistani government outside the senior leadership knew of the presence of Osam Bin Laden (OBL) at his Abbottabad hideout.

As a former intelligence officer, I have been appalled by the continued seepage of information reqarding the nature of the materials found during the raid that are now being translated, examined and presumably exploited. Senior USG officials should have acted to put a lid on such revelations within 24-48 hours of the raid, not this late in the game. Many al-Qaeda operatives either already knew or presumeed the worst about the potential threat to them and their operations posed by the contents of the OBL hoard, but that is no excuse for advertising the specific type of information the

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May 10, 2011 08:00 PM

The Administration appears to recognize the need to exploit the treasure trove of information taken away from the Osama bin Laden (OBL) compound in ways that might further damage al-Qaeda as quickly and as boldly as possible since the data literally grows operationally more stale by the hour. However, regarding some revelations that might possibly be contained in the hoard found with OBL, Washington and other major allied players should proceed with greater caution.

Other al-Qaeda kingpins, key facilitators, couriers, etc. probably began altering their locations and perhaps even certain aspects of their mode of operation and internal communications within hours of the word of the compromise of OBL's hideout in an attempt to reshuffle rapidly the challenge to US targeteers. This llikely reaction will steadly degrade the actionable aspects of the information to the US and its allies. Yet, even if most all the targeting information gleaned from the hoard is rendered OBE by the time it can be exploited, it still will be a source of many of those small "nuggets"

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April 4, 2011 07:49 PM

In a last word on our previous topic of Libya, I would like to note retrospectively the extent to which I believed at the time--and still do--that the severity of the crisis in Japan probably impacted adversely on US government decisionmaking, especially in the critical week before the White House opted to involve the US militarily in the parallel crisis in Libya.

Outside this forum, especially in radio appearances at the time,I stated my sense on several occasions that the massive crisis in Japan almost certainly prevented Washington policymakers from as thorough an examination of the implications (positive and negative) relevant to the decision on what to do (and not to do) with respect to Libya as would have been the case otherwise.

Perhaps at no recent juncture since the months following 9/11 has a White House been compelled to face such multiple challenges overseas in so short a time. Already in the Middle East, the Administration was in the midst of addressing continuing post-change developments in Egypt and Tunisia, new challenges to incumbent regimes in Bah

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March 29, 2011 12:50 PM

There are some significant differences in the evolution of the unrest in Bahrain, Libya, Yemen & Syria, as there was when longstanding regimes in Tunisia and Egypt were challenged.

The President did a rather good job last night in pointing out the compelling reasons why an initially rather hesitant US allowed itself to be pressed into action by various overseas quarters related to Libya: its five star status one of the region's three most chronically ruthless and bloodily repressive regimes. That is not to say that the Bahriani and Egyptian regimes, for example, have not been guilty of heavy-handed repression, but not even close to the scale and lethality Qadhafi has employed. Nor have these other regimes, including even Ali Abdullah Salih's in Yemen, engaged extensively in international terrorism or bankrolled (and armed) appalling human rights violators farther afield such as a Charles Taylor. Moreover, prior to UNSC-sanctioned intervention, Qadhafi already had slain well over a thousand civilians and ravaged the property and infrustructure of heavily populated

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March 22, 2011 04:28 PM

As the US reportedly prepares not only to shift the command structure away from one with the US in the lead and diminish the tempo of overall US operations, there has been an especially galling failure to fulfill an obligation that relates to one of the most critical aspects of the enforcement of UNSCR 1973 (and a strong official position announced in public by President Obama).

UNSCR 1973 authorizes--practically requires--that combat aircraft operating over Libya under the resolution act to stop pro-regime Libyan forces from threatening the civilian population. Additionally, President Obama declared last Thursday as "non-negotiable" the immediate withdrawal of pro-regime forces from the cities of Zawiya, Misratah & Ajdabiya. So far, aside from one missile strike nearly 3 days ago against one pro-regime target near Misratah (a military school from with pro-regime forces were shelling the city), practically nothing has been done to take under attack regime forces continuing a heavy series of assaults (including shelling) against Misratah and besieging and

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March 18, 2011 12:54 PM

I tend to line up with Michael Brenner, but it will be interesting to see where things stand with respect to what the US actually intends to do after the President speaks this afternoon.

In part because of over a week of prior US footdragging, collective international military support for the opposition comes very late in what has become a less advantageous game. Through unremitting military, para-military and police brutality, rushed in part to get ahead of intervention much like this, Qadhafi largely has crushed open opposition resisitance in the west: Zawiya, Zintan and other locales retaken with much violence, and now a rush to finish off opposition resistance in Libya's 3rd largest city Misrata amidst the declaration of a ceasefire. In the east, enthusiastic but poorly trained and armed opposition fighters have been driven out of Ras Lanouf and Marsa al-Brega, and the city of Ajdabiya has been practically surrounded. All must be done to assist the opposition to preserve their current holdings as a baseline. That should include Misrata since, ceasefire aside, much

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March 15, 2011 03:26 PM

It would appear that the time has passed for action that could prevent a Qadhafi triumph over the Libyan opposition, so perhaps it is appropriate that we move on to inquire as to the impact of events in Libya for its neighbors. I believe, however, that the consequences of US, NATO and EU inaction in the face of the exceptionally brutal suppression of the most promising challenge to Qadhafi's ugly, erratic and wasteful 40-plus years of rule will extend far beyond Libya's immediate neighborhood.

First off, there will be consequences related to the overall popular image of the US and the West throughout the region. Despite the presumption that Russia and China would have stood in the way of a UN Security Council blessing for a Libyan no-fly zone (NFZ), their reputational standing is unlikely to change all that much because so little has been expected of them for so long. Likewise, since so little is expected of the establishment Arab League, the lack of direct assistance on the part of its members most likely will not be a major source of grievance either. By contrast, th

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March 8, 2011 09:20 AM

The merits and drawbacks of a possible Libyan No-Fly Zone (NFZ) have quite a lot of relevance for potential oppositionists in other especially ruthless authoritarian regimes throughout the region (most especially Iran & Syria, but perhaps also Algeria where the military junta showed a tremendous ability to mete out its share of violence during the near civil war of the 1990’s).

I know opinions regarding a Libyan NFZ are quite varied and that even after reading what I have to say below, I could remain very much a minority voice, but in light of my own coverage of the Iraq NFZ’s during their entire duration—and from various angles--while an intelligence official in State/INR, I believe I can comment with some context. Last week, I heard a number of wholly negative opinions expressed by active or retired senior military personnel in the context of hearings or in the media. I believe some of these objections are incorrect, misleading or possibly so. Such questionable objections are as follows:

- The demand on US aerial resources is far too great

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February 7, 2011 04:21 PM

Although the international media remains focused heavily on the demonstrators in Tahrir Square, developments overall may be shifting at least some advantage back to the military clique surrounding President Mubarak.

Vice President Omar Suleiman & his military colleagues appear to be following a calculated strategy to wear down the determination of the broader domestic base undergirding the demonstrators. Ugly confrontations with the demonstrators (probably ordered by the military in the first place, although it has distanced itself artfully from such activity) largely have been halted, some tempting concessions have been offered to the opposition (although whether they will be carried out fully & in good faith is another thing), the continued closure of much of the capital's institutions and businesses as well as ongoing shortages of money & supplies is generating pressure causing many Egyptians (even those sympathetic with the demonstrators) to yearn for a return a state of affairs more closely resembling normalcy.

Meanwhile, the leadership's improve

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February 1, 2011 10:01 AM

Before seemingly becoming dismissive of the Egyptian opposition as a key part of the solution to the current instability in Egypt, it is necessary to take a closer look at the army.

Yes, army personnel up to even the highest levels came from many of the humblest segments of the Egyptian population. That said, so did army generals like Sadat and Mubarak. Yet, both of them became dangerously divorced from the population and associated with dysfunctional, tone deaf and corrupt governance quite oblivious of the desperate needs of the general population from which they arose many decades earlier. Some of he army's most senior officers, many of them cronies of Mubarak, fall into the same category. Unlike the army's rank and file that does share many of the grievances of those demonstrating for change in the streets, many senior military brahmins have long lost the so-called "common touch."

So while the army more generally benefits from being far more popular than other institutions and retaining considerable credibility, certain senior officers of the army s

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January 10, 2011 12:10 PM

Michael Brenner and Daniel Goure have raised very relevant points that certainly will weigh heavily on those making--and influencing--critical decisions affecting Pentagon spending over the next several years.

Nonetheless, very briefly, all concerned should be profoundly concerned about the long-term fundamentals of the US economy and the resultant course of realistic fiscal allocations. It is quite likely that the US will continue to face extremely difficult choices, especially regarding massively expensive (but widely popular), entitlement programs that, even with considerable adjustments and savings, will likely pose ever more crushing fiscal burdens within just the next 10 years. Additionally, there are other pressing national, state and local priorities such as infrastructure maintenance already lagging dangerously because of serious fiscal difficulties or the result of other aspects of spending (or tax relief) regularly assigned higher priorities over the past 3 decades in particular.

Should the US economy not bounce back rather dramatically and the overall

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November 15, 2010 12:45 PM

Perhaps the proverbial 400 lb. gorilla in the room in the fiscal debate is what appears to be a profound contradiction in the thinking of many conservative lawmakers and their supporters: the simultaneous desire to lower taxes while trying to achieve far lower fiscal deficits.

As Ron Marks has noted, in order to make a significant dent in the federal deficit, serious thought must be given to taking on many previous political sacred cows. And, yes, Republicans and Democrats doubtless will clash sharply over which ones to tackle because each side will target those important to the other side as most expendable. This is likely to be one major source of gridlock in Washington.

Yet, especially damaging is the widespread belief that lower taxes will bring enough fiscal stimulation to offset a considerable amount of budgetary red ink. This concept failed badly during the 1980's when initiated by the Reagan Administration, instead causing deficits to balloon. And the US economy was far more vigorous and balanced 25-30 years ago. Following that course now, as with the

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November 1, 2010 11:11 AM

First off, I agree with quite a few of Michael Brenner's observations. Much of the action over the next two years that becomes the core of the Republican agenda in Congress if one--or both--houses of Congress fall under Republican control will be on domestic issues, not foreign affairs.

That said, there probably will be a frantic effort during the November-January period prior to the new Congress's seating during which Democratic Congressional leaders will try to ram at least one piece of legislation with some foreign policy implications through the Congress: proposed immigration reform. It is quite likely, however, that such a hectic last ditch effort will founder.

Much of what will happen thereafter on both the foreign and domestic fronts quickly will focus on scoring points related to the 2012 elections. On the domestic front, it probably will mean a considerable amount of gridlock. However, Democrats concerned about another blow to their power in 2012 may well try to steal some Republican thunder by associating themselves with far more robust budget-cutting

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October 25, 2010 10:43 AM

There is a point that goes well beyond the single case of the UK that perhaps should to be underscored as a sidebar to this discussion: at a time when the U.S. finds it so difficult to make substantial military cuts despite its most serious economic crisis since the Great Depression, U.S. allies around the globe have far greater latitude to do so.

From the UK to South Korea, U.S. allies around the world rely partly or largely upon the U.S. for their own defense. Most have benefitted greatly in minimizing their defense spending for over 60 years and therefore have had considerably more freedom to spend those savings on their national infrustructures, education, health care, greater subsidies to maximize exports, etc. By contrast, the U.S., the last line of global defense in so many respects, has shouldered most of the burden of paying its own way in maintaining a huge global military presence since the Second World War.

It can legitimately be argued that the U.S. itself has been partly to blame, especially since the end of the Cold War, for generating global commi

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September 27, 2010 12:16 PM

There are reasons here at home that have increased the threat of domestic terrorism. Although such terrorism certainly is not limited to the American Muslim Community (or Muslims coming from abroad), as the Oklahoma City bombing demonstrated so shockingly, insensitivity and misbehavior on our own part has made this problem worse.

Although some leading Western European countries have more problematic track records regarding their own Muslim communities, there still is a reservoir of hostility toward Muslims in general on the part of many Americans that is worthy of concern. The latest salient examples were the threat on the part of an irresponsible Christian minister to burn Korans and the heated controversy over the construction of an Islamic center a few blocks from Ground Zero. Nonetheless, every year since 9/11 especially, American Muslims can point to other examples of behavior--ranging from the insensitive to the outrageous & the local to the more widely publicized--that reflect a range of emotions from intolerance to outright hostility.

Then there have

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September 20, 2010 12:15 PM

It is very difficult indeed to make focused predictions with respect to U.S. politics and foreign policy beyond the November elections. And, as at least one other contributor has suggested concerning the Tea Party movement, its goals on specific issues are rather amorphous in many cases, in part because it derives its strength from a fairly diverse pool of discontent, frustration, and, in many cases, even considerable anger.

One scenario likely to emerge should the Republicans retake control of even one house of Congress, regardless of the inherent electoral strength of the Tea Party, is a shift toward stalemate many key domestic issues. Such a situation would not only be driven by electoral reality, but also by the intense levels of emotion now affecting much of American politics. And beyond emotion, there is a substantial ideological--even religious--strain that increasingly has colored political debate. In the presence of emotion and religious sentiment, rational political debate and inter-party compromise becomes even more elusive (and controversial within certain

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July 19, 2010 07:32 PM

Having followed the circumstances surrounding the so-called "Anbar Miracle," the "Awakening" phenomenon or what has been characterized by other names from my perch within the Intelligence Community through 2005 and outside since, I doubt very much that Iraq-like results are achievable in Afghanistan.

That said, I commend James Kitfield for focusing attention specifically on this critical aspect of the Afghan and Iraq wars, as opposed to the "surge" in Afghanistan (or Iraq), because the question places front and center the issue that was, by far, most critical in turning around the security situation in Iraq, as it may well prove to be in Afghanistan.

The Sunni Arab "Awakening" (a term I will use since if affected 3 major Iraqi provinces outside al-Anbar, including Baghdad) was much like a ripe fruit ready for the picking when Washington finally turned to that option in Fall 2006. Unlike the situation in Afghanistan today involving the various components of the Taliban, a substantial number of Sunni Arab insurgents began seeki

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June 28, 2010 10:08 AM

I could not agree more with Steven Metz that the McChrystal debacle should not be viewed as a reason to question the overall imbed relationship between the media and the military, nor other aspects of closer involvement.

If there are quarters who wish to review the imbed program and other aspects of enhanced (and largely improved) relations between the two, that issue should be considered separate from the the McChrystal affair. McChrystal and his staff appear to have behaved irresponsibly. That they did so in the presence of a reporter from the more hard-hitting Rolling Stone Magazine may have made matters worse. But I doubt very much that other publications in a similar position would not have reported at least some of the comments attributed to McChrystal and his staff, which simply represented a major story.

The policy of enhanced access to the military on the part of the media has now been in place for some years, and other senior commanders (notably Gen. Petraeus) have not only avoided similar problems, but often have been able to use their close relations

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May 25, 2010 12:33 PM

Pushing beyond the immediate fate of Admiral Dennis Blair and some of the politically-related issues associated with that, I fear the challenge of attempting another thoroughgoing overhaul of our national intelligence apparatus paralleling the creation of the DNI structure could be rather dicey.

I agree wholeheartedly with former Intelligence Community colleague Pat Lang that the former DCI-dominated structure was tilted far too much in the direction of CIA, and that tendency often made for adverse consequences (as with some of the undue emphasis on CIA-generated human intelligence, not to mention the vigorous advocacy of same on the part of a DCI, that played such a significant role in the flawed WMD-related assessment that helped pave the way for the costly 2003 invasion of Iraq and its aftermath). National Intelligence Officers overseeing the estimative process (most often CIA personnel still reporting regularly and in person to the DCI on the progress of national intelligence products--a privilege not accorded supposedly otherwise equivalent counterparts in other

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May 17, 2010 07:39 AM

The US remains somewhat wary of President Karzai’s push for an accommodation with substantial elements of the Taliban. Some of the interest in this option stems from the success associated with the deal concluded with the bulk of the Sunni Arab insurgency in Iraq, the so-called “Awakening.” Although such comparisons cannot be taken too far, there are some similarities—and differences—between the two cases that are worth reviewing, with Afghanistan currently a seemingly less promising environment for such an arrangement.

In one respect, at first glance,circumstances in Afghanistan might seem more favorable than they were in Iraq during 2006-2007 when such a deal took shape so successfully. Unlike Karzai, the Shi’a-dominated Iraqi government of Prime Minister Maliki was bitterly opposed to the arrangement that emerged with Sunni Arab insurgents because of the profound gulf between the Sunni Arab and Shi’a communities during and after the sectarian bloodletting of 2006-2007, oppression of the Shi’a under Saddam Hussein’s

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May 10, 2010 09:47 AM

Like Steven Metz, I expected far more of this in the years following 9/11 because it can be particularly difficult to identify and neutralize "lone ranger" efforts aimed at carrying out acts of terrorism. I am gratified, of course, that very few of these attacks have happened--at least so far, and that each foiled effort helps tighten up loose ends like the infrequency with which watch lists were being checked by airlines.

That said, it is important that we do not overreact. Dictionary definitions of "terror" include: "panic or dread,"and "intense, overpowering fear." We must endeavor to maintain our perspective amidst such relatively limited or unsuccessful attempts at terrorism. The fact is that terror itself regularly grips the broader public with fear considerably greater than that inspired by the dreadful homocide rates in some American metropolitan areas or even the hemorrhage of highway deaths and serious injuries across the country per week, even though the likelihood of being a victim or the former is vastly less than t

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May 3, 2010 08:41 AM

As we all know, the Middle East region has been chronically tense, punctuated by conflict, but there have been recent developments that suggest a potential worsening under some reasonably plausible scenarios. Though concerned, I am, however, reluctant to be “alarmist” at this point: not only are events scenario-dependent and often play out over long periods of time, but gaps remain in our information and understanding of key drivers.

One of the latest topics of concern and speculation stems from reporting of shipments of more powerful surface to surface missiles from Syria to Hezbollah in Lebanon. Such deliveries have not been fully confirmed, but, if they have taken place, they might be the result of linkages between the possibility of Israeli military action against Iran and Tehran’s likely contingency planning for Hezbollah counter-strikes should such an Israeli attack take place. Despite UN and Israeli reassurances last week, if such missiles did enter Lebanon and are located, the Israelis might attack them to warn against further missile deploy

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April 26, 2010 10:02 AM

Al Qaeda in the Afghan-Pakistani context (and beyond) as it was organized pre-9/11, is now a more dispersed phenomenon and more difficult to assess as to its viability and its ability to pose a continuing threat. The chipping away at its more familiar structure certainly has hurt the organization, but over the years it has spawned additional nodes that make other potential sources of terror in some way associated with it or inspired by it still rather difficult to grapple with in any comprehensive manner.

A decline in high-profile attacks worldwide suggests strongly that AQ's overall capabilities have eroded (or been stymied somewhat by security countermeasures). Nonetheless, I doubt anyone has a firm grasp on the potential for rebound among the disparate elements across the globe inspired by its message or energized by similar grievances.

That said, the importance of the existance of the organization's original leadership structure to worldwide terrorist operations in its name remains a bit of a question mark. Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the head of al Qaeda in I

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April 5, 2010 12:19 PM

President Hamid Karzai has been and is likely to remain a serious drag on US, NATO and Afghan efforts to bring meaningful stability to the overall situation in Afghanistan, period. Pat Pexton's comparison with the likes of South Vietnam's Ngo Dinh Diem is spot-on. My own preference is Nguyan Van Theiu, who was involved at the most senior levels of South Vietnamese governance virtually for the entire period of robust American involvement through to the fall of Saigon (1965-1975). The damaging performance of Diem's successors, especially Theiu, is, however, instructive with respect to dampening hope in the minds of some that either Karzai's departure from the scene one way or another would effect signficant improvement in Afghan governance or, in the minds of many others, that he can somehow be compelled to alter his unhelpful behavior substantially.

He is, as some have noted, the product of his culture (or at least a slice of it in some contexts), and can be expected to take actions such as attempting to play to his domestic gallery as in his contrived charges of for

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March 1, 2010 09:34 AM

Putting Americans at greater risk to save local lives is not an appropriate way to frame this issue. If unrestrained American military power is unleashed in these complex asymmetric scenarios, we risk jeopardizing the entire US military (and civilian) effort. That, in turn, also could place all American, NATO, other foreign and allied Afghan personnel at greater risk.

I personally find cultural limitations on military operations such as night raids jaw-grindingly frustrating. But then again I know full well that we are operating in an alien environment that demands military adjustment and adaptability. The fact is that when we enter into a fight in remote places like Afghanistan, we already have lost one major tactical military advantage: choice of battlefield. In many engagements--or entire wars--that alone can decide the ultimate outcome. In Iraq, we stumbled considerably, both politically and militarily, because of the unique demands of another foreign battlefield--damaging years that diverted critical US attention and resources away from the demanding Afghani

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February 22, 2010 03:58 PM

Quite frankly, in macro terms, a great amount of precious US blood has been shed and treasure spent since 2003 to purchase little more than quite a bit of grief--for both Americans and Iraqis.

Yes, the Saddam Hussein regime was overturned. However, that regime's worst crimes--ranging from genocide at home and wars beyond Iraq's borders--were committed between 1980 (the outbreak of the Iraq-Iran War) and 1994 (roughly, the completion of Saddam's campaign to drain the bulk of Iraq's southern marshes to destroy an ancient Shi'a culture there). Since US intervention, even fairly low estimates concede that at least 125,000 to 150,000 Iraqis have died one way or another in the carnage, probably tens of thousands of others, and an even greater number probably have been seriously wounded or maimed. Additionally, Iraq's basic infrustructure, weakened by years of UN sanctions, was devastated by the Anglo-US invasion, post-war neglect, and insurgent sabotage. All manner of public services, also hammered by sanctions, suffered far more cruelly since 2003, and governance at all

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