Wednesday, July 28, 2010


"On Sunday, The New York Times and two other newspapers published summaries and excerpts of tens of thousands of documents leaked to a website known as WikiLeaks. The documents comprise a vast array of material concerning the war in Afghanistan. They range from tactical reports from small unit operations to broader strategic analyses of politico-military relations between the United States and Pakistan. It appears to be an extraordinary collection.

Tactical intelligence on firefights is intermingled with reports on confrontations between senior U.S. and Pakistani officials in which lists of Pakistani operatives in Afghanistan are handed over to the Pakistanis. Reports on the use of surface-to-air missiles by militants in Afghanistan are intermingled with reports on the activities of former Pakistani intelligence chief Lt. Gen. Hamid Gul, who reportedly continues to liaise with the Afghan Taliban in an informal capacity.

At first glance, it is difficult to imagine a single database in which such a diverse range of intelligence was stored, or the existence of a single individual cleared to see such diverse intelligence stored across multiple databases and able to collect, collate and transmit the intelligence without detection. Intriguingly, all of what has been released so far has been not-so-sensitive material rated secret or below. The Times reports that Gul’s name appears all over the documents, yet very few documents have been released in the current batch, and it is very hard to imagine intelligence on Gul and his organization, the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) directorate, being classified as only secret. So, this was either low-grade material hyped by the media, or there is material reviewed by the selected newspapers but not yet made public. Still, what was released and what the Times discussed is consistent with what most thought was happening in Afghanistan.

The obvious comparison is to the Pentagon Papers, commissioned by the Defense Department to gather lessons from the Vietnam War and leaked by Daniel Ellsberg to the Times during the Nixon administration. Many people worked on the Pentagon Papers, each of whom was focused on part of it and few of whom would have had access to all of it.

Ellsberg did not give the Times the supporting documentation; he gave it the finished product. By contrast, in the WikiLeaks case, someone managed to access a lot of information that would seem to have been contained in many different places. If this was an unauthorized leak, then it had to have involved a massive failure in security. Certainly, the culprit should be known by now and his arrest should have been announced. And certainly, the gathering of such diverse material in one place accessible to one or even a few people who could move it without detection is odd.

Like the Pentagon Papers, the WikiLeaks (as I will call them) elicited a great deal of feigned surprise, not real surprise. Apart from the charge that the Johnson administration contrived the Gulf of Tonkin incident, much of what the Pentagon Papers contained was generally known. Most striking about the Pentagon Papers was not how much surprising material they contained, but how little. Certainly, they contradicted the official line on the war, but there were few, including supporters of the war, who were buying the official line anyway....

The WikiLeaks seem to show that like sausage-making, one should never look too closely at how wars are fought, particularly coalition warfare. Even the strongest alliances, such as that between the United States and the United Kingdom in World War II, are fraught with deceit and dissension. London was fighting to save its empire, an end Washington was hostile to; much intrigue ensued. The U.S.-Pakistani alliance is not nearly as trusting. The United States is fighting to deny al Qaeda a base in Afghanistan while Pakistan is fighting to secure its western frontier and its internal stability. These are very different ends that have very different levels of urgency....

The WikiLeaks, from what we have seen so far, detail power, interest and reality as we have known it. They do not reveal a new reality. Much will be made about the shocking truth that has been shown, which, as mentioned above, shocks only those who wish to be shocked. The Afghan war is about an insufficient American and allied force fighting a capable enemy on its home ground and a Pakistan positioning itself for the inevitable outcome. The WikiLeaks contain all the details".

George Friedman, "WikiLeaks and the Afghan War," 27 July 2010 in

"Nearly 40 years ago, the US government was rocked by the publication of what came to be known as the “Pentagon Papers”. In one of the most remarkable leaks in American political history, the documents – a hitherto secret official history of the Vietnam war – were handed to the New York Times. The leak was devastating because it revealed that Lyndon Johnson’s administration had systematically lied over a number of years on aspects of the Vietnam conflict. It played a big role in turning US public opinion further against the Vietnam conflict.

Four decades on, the Obama administration has been hit by what, at first, seems no less remarkable a leak – this time over the way the US has prosecuted the war in Afghanistan. Some 75,000 US military logs have been disclosed, revealing the chaos and mayhem of a war that has had limited strategic success. As leaks go, it may well be the biggest in the history of US intelligence.

Leaked files raise fresh doubts on war - Jul-26Documents show darker side of conflict. Today’s disclosure has one thing in common with its famed predecessor: it comes at a moment of huge public disaffection with the course of the war. In June 1971, the US was 18 months away from its decision to withdraw from Vietnam. Today, President Obama may be moving towards a similar verdict on the ill-fated Afghan conflict. The very fact that such a vast quantity of secret documents has been leaked can only add to the impression that US war management is in disarray.

That, however, is where comparisons end. For in terms of their content, the leaks of 1971 and 2010 are different. The Pentagon Papers of 1971 were drawn up by officials at the heart of US policy-making – and publication exposed how the American people had been lied to. Today’s leaked despatches are low level intelligence reports that are more granular and scattered in their nature. They throw more light on how the Nato military effort has killed innocent civilians. They show how the Taliban has enhanced its insurgent capability. Above all, they indicate how the Pakistani intelligence services are playing a double game, backing the Nato effort while colluding with the Taliban. But there is little here that we did not know before.

Still, that should not diminish their significance. This trove is one more millstone round the neck of a US strategy which has this year seen rising fatalities and a change of commander. It adds more urgency to the question Mr Obama must soon answer. Can the US military effort continue? Or is it time for Plan B?"

Leader, "Afghanistan Leaks," 26 July 2010 in

The voluminous leaks of American military cables from the Afghanistan theatre which have been very recently published by the Australian online journal, Wikileaks, has resulted in a great deal of comment in the American and European press and media. Much of it, of a nature similar to that of the bien-pensant leader in the Financial Times of Monday last. What is then one to make of this 'event'? Does it (AKA the leaks and the content revealed by the same): i) reveal to the general public anything which was not known previously? ii) can it be said to have a negative impact upon the support of the war effort in Europe and the United States? I venture to say that the answer to both of these queries is an emphatic 'non'. And, that the entire matter is merely an example in our decadent age of what the great Anglo-Irish poet once referred to as the tendency in modern life of:

'if folly link with elegance / no man knows which is which'

William Butler Yeats, 'The Old Stone Cross'.

In point of fact the entire episode is what in Braudelian terms would be called a 'mere event', une eventment. AKA, something of the most fleeting importance. All of the alleged revelations that the cables make mention of are of things such as that the Pakistani Military Intelligence was and is on a sub rosa basis providing assistance to elements of the Taliban. Such has been widely known for upwards of fifteen years now. Since, pace Ahmed Rashid and others, ipso facto the Taliban was created by Pakistani Military in the very first place. Similarly, it has been widely known and reported in the Western media that American Drone attacks have been killing innocent civilians in both Afghanistan and Pakistan. Also widely known is the fact that the Taliban have been undefeated on the battlefield by NATO forces.

As per our other contention: that the so-called revelations by WikiLeaks will result in a decline in the support for the War? This is both unlikely and unproven by events so far. Au fond, public 'support' for the war, has been soft by its nature. No NATO country is sending draftees to Afghanistan. And, in point of fact there are only three or four countries besides the Americans whose troops can actually be said to be engaged in real combat in that country. Given the relatively low rates of casualties (as compared to say those of the Vietnam War), and, the relatively low cost of the war (in GDP terms again as compared to the Vietnam War), it is difficult to see that public opinion, per se, will suddenly in the absence of any other strong outside variable cause a change in the current American strategy. What may, and, indeed is I believe the only variable which might result in a change in the current American strategy, is a change in elite, American opinion about the war. Something which is of course the vrai raison as to why the USA decided to quit the Vietnam debacle in the Spring of 1968. As per the accounts of both Dean Acheson and Townsend Hoopes clearly show. The publication of the Pentagon Papers in 1970, had little to do with this decision as the chronology clearly shows. Similarly, it is quite likely that come say 2012 or 2013, that the current or any future American Administration will decided that it is time indeed to 'cut our losses', and regardless of the consequences both regionally and elsewhere as well as the prestige factor, to follow a policy (in the words of Churchill) of 'Scuttle'. However, make no mistake, if such a thing does indeed occur, it will not be because of this WikiLeaks episode. All this evenment shows is that there is still a need for the employment of Lettres de Chachet in our day and age.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010


This Government understands that foreign policy and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office primarily exist to serve and protect the interests and needs of the British people in the broadest sense and must be anchored in that way if they are to command public support and confidence. Yes, much of the day to day business of the Foreign Office is necessarily conducted overseas. Some of it is secret. Most of it is complex. But these things should not be an obstacle to our foreign policy being well understood, firmly grounded in the lives of British people and accountable to them. In seven weeks so far as Foreign Secretary I have seen innumerable instances of where our work delivers results and protects Britons abroad. I am convinced that the skills and expertise of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office are more necessary than ever and that marshalled effectively they can play a leading role in supporting our economy and contributing to a safer and more equitable world.

I returned to frontbench politics five years ago expressly to shadow Foreign Affairs and obviously hoping to occupy the office I now hold. During that time in Opposition it became increasingly apparent to me that the previous Government had neglected to lift its eyes to the wider strategic needs of this country, to take stock of British interests, and to determine in a systematic fashion what we must do as a nation if we are to secure our international influence and earn our living in a world that is rapidly changing. My coalition colleagues and I are utterly determined to supply that leadership. The Prime Minister has signalled our intention to chart a clear way forward by launching a strategic review of our defence and security needs, led by the requirements of foreign policy as well inevitable financial constraints, and that review will conclude by the autumn. It will be a fundamental reappraisal of Britain’s place in the world and how we operate within it as well as of the capabilities we need to protect our security....

For although the world has become more multilateral as I have described, it has also become more bilateral. Relations between individual countries matter, starting for us with our unbreakable alliance with the United States which is our most important relationship and will remain so. Our shared history, value and interests, our tightly linked economies and strong habits of working together at all levels will ensure that the US will remain our biggest single partner for achieving our international goals. But other bilateral ties matter too, whether they are longstanding ties which have been allowed to wither or stagnate or the new relations that we believe we must seek to forge for the 21st century. Regional groups are certainly strengthening across the world, but these groups are not rigid or immutable. Nor have they diminished the role of individual states as some predicted. Today, influence increasingly lies with networks of states with fluid and dynamic patterns of allegiance, alliance and connections, including the informal, which act as vital channels of influence and decision-making and require new forms of engagement from Britain....

In the world I have described our approach to foreign affairs cannot be, to borrow the arguments of a former Conservative Prime Minister and Foreign Secretary Lord Salisbury, to “float lazily downstream, occasionally putting out a diplomatic boat hook to avoid collisions.” The country that is purely reactive in foreign affairs is in decline. So we must understand these changes around us and adapt to meet them.

Our new Government’s vision of foreign affairs therefore is this: a distinctive British foreign policy that is active in Europe and across the world; that builds up British engagement in the parts of the globe where opportunities as well as threats increasingly lie; that is at ease within a networked world and harnesses the full potential of our cultural links, and that promotes our national interest while recognising that this cannot be narrowly or selfishly defined. What I call instead our enlightened national interest requires a foreign policy that is ambitious in what it can achieve for others as well as ourselves, that is inspired by and seeks to inspire others with our values of political freedom and economic liberalism, that is resolute in its support for those around the world who are striving to free themselves through their own efforts from poverty or political fetters. It is not in our character as a nation to have a foreign policy without a conscience or to repudiate our obligation to help those less fortunate. Our foreign policy should always have consistent support for human rights and poverty reduction at its irreducible core and we should always strive to act with moral authority, recognising that once that is damaged it is hard to restore....

Third, we believe that we must achieve a stronger focus on using our national strengths and advantages across the board to help build these strong bilateral relations for the United Kingdom as well as complement the efforts of our allies, whether it is the appeal of our world class education system, the standing of our Armed Forces and defence diplomacy or the quality of our Intelligence Services and GCHQ which are unique in the world and of inestimable value to the UK....

It must be a Foreign Office that is astute at prioritising effort, seeking out opportunities , negotiating on behalf of the UK, so that we can continue to lead through the power of our ideas and our ability to contribute to solutions to global challenges such as climate change and nuclear proliferation for which there can only be a collective response. It will have a crucial role in helping to maintain the UK’s economic reputation and restore our economic competitiveness, working with UKTI, for which I have joint responsibility with my colleague Vince Cable, to use our global diplomatic network even more to support UK business in an interventionist and active manner, encouraging small businesses to take their products into international markets, prising open doors and barriers to engagement on behalf of the whole of Government and acting as the essential infrastructure of Britain in the world.

Under this Government, the job of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office will be to provide the connections and ideas that allow the whole of the British state and British society to exercise maximum influence in the world and to give the lead that allows foreign policy to be supported actively by other government departments. And fifth, we are determined as a Government to give due weight to Britain’s membership of the EU and other multilateral institutions. It is mystifying to us that the previous Government failed to give due weight to the development of British influence in the EU. They neglected to ensure that sufficient numbers of bright British officials entered EU institutions, and so we are now facing a generation gap developing in the British presence in parts of the EU where early decisions and early drafting take place. Since 2007, the number of British officials at Director level in the European Commission has fallen by a third and we have 205 fewer British officials in the Commission overall. The UK represents 12% of the EU population. Despite that, at entry-level policy grades in the European Commission, the UK represents 1.8% of the staff, well under the level of other major EU member states. So the idea that the last government was serious about advancing Britain’s influence in Europe turns out to be an unsustainable fiction. Consoling themselves with the illusion that agreeing to institutional changes desired by others gave an appearance of British centrality in the EU, they neglected to launch any new initiative to work with smaller nations and presided over a decline in the holding of key European positions by British personnel. As a new Government we are determined to put this right. Some will argue that our constrained national resources cannot possibly support such an ambitious approach to Foreign Policy or to the Foreign Office. It is true that like other Departments the Foreign Office will on many occasions have to do more with less and find savings wherever possible and that because of the economic situation we inherited from the previous Government the resources Britain has available for the projection of its influence overseas are constrained. But we will not secure our recovery or our future security and prosperity without looking beyond our shores for new opportunities and new partners. No country or groups of countries will increase the level of support or protection they offer to us and no-one else will champion the economic opportunity of the British citizen if we do not. We must recognise the virtuous circle between foreign policy and prosperity. Our foreign policy helps create our prosperity and our prosperity underwrites our diplomacy, our security, our defence and our ability to give to others less fortunate than ourselves....

William Hague, "British Foreign Policy in a Networked World," 1st July 2010 in

Britain’s diplomats have taken to William Hague. As officials across Whitehall compare private scorecards on their new political masters, Mr Hague has emerged with pretty much top marks. Some speculate he could turn out to be the most powerful foreign secretary in recent memory – just as the UK’s voice in world affairs grows weaker.

The word among the mandarins is that Mr Hague knows his mind, is quick on the uptake and does the work. He is comfortable making decisions – not something that can be said of all his cabinet colleagues. Most importantly, he has David Cameron’s confidence.

The Conservative prime minister has promised to restore the Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s command of foreign policymaking. Mr Cameron, who seems uninterested in most things abroad, intends to concentrate his attention on domestic policy. As time passes this may well change – the global stage is a seductive place even, or perhaps especially, for the leaders of middle-ranking powers. For now, though, Mr Hague is writing the international script. Behind the scenes he is fighting to expand his department’s influence. Co-ordination of the UK’s European Union policy has long belonged to the Cabinet Office. Mr Hague wants to run it from his own department.

In other circumstances this power grab would be cause for serious concern among those who want Britain to remain enthusiastically engaged on its own continent. But Mr Cameron’s coalition agreement with Nick Clegg’s Liberal Democrats has tempered Mr Hague’s deep-rooted Euroscepticism....

Doubts about Britain’s capacity to do good in the world, the foreign secretary says, are not synonymous with retreat. Mr Hague insists that the Conservatives have not returned to office to preside over the decline of the UK’s international role. This is easier said than done. Reorganising the way Whitehall formulates foreign policy, concentrating resources on building relationships with rising powers such as India and Turkey, and better exploiting Britain’s diplomatic and soft power advantages all sound sensible enough. But they are unlikely to counter the big economic and geopolitical shifts in the world.

Realism comes with a price tag. If Mr Blair’s premiership saw Britain overreach itself, the new pragmatism carries uncomfortable echoes of the Conservative government’s reluctance to intervene against the slaughter in the Balkans during the 1990s. Touring the foreign policy establishment in Washington last week my sense was that Barack Obama’s administration already views Britain as a diminished player. There is some sympathy with Mr Cameron’s focus on domestic economics, not least because the US has its own deficit to worry about. But the underlying perception is that Britain is unwilling to pay the price for international influence. My guess is that similar calculations are being made in Delhi, Beijing and Ankara.

The strategic defence review, with its anticipated deep cuts to the armed forces, reinforces this impression. So too does Mr Cameron’s obvious anxiety to withdraw troops from Afghanistan as soon as it is decently possible. Even in these financially straitened times there are things to be done to deploy better Britain’s strengths in the world. A useful new report written by Robin Niblett, director of the Chatham House think-tank, suggests the country’s diplomacy could be reinvigorated by a sharper focus on core strategic objectives. Some of these are as much economic – sustaining an open trading system – as political.

The paradox for Mr Hague is that a powerful foreign secretary is ultimately not much use without a strong British contribution to global security. Sometimes this demands deployment of military force – to keep open the sea lanes, for peace-keeping missions and, occasionally, to confront threats from hostile or failing states. Britain’s over-riding national interest lies in a rules-based international system. To preserve those rules it has to show it is ready to help police them.

Philip Stephens, "Realism grabs hold of British Foreign Policy," 5 July 2010, in

“It must be our objective to maintain our position as a great power, and this has, been our main purpose since 1900, when British power was at its zenith. It can be argued, and it was so argued before the last war, that our resources are no longer equal to this task, and that we ought to content ourselves with a more modest role….If we accepted a lesser role, it would be so modest as to be intolerable. We have plenty of enemies and if we relaxed our grip scarcely a British interest outside of the United Kingdom would survive”.

Sir Roger Makins, “Some Notes on British Foreign Policy,” 11 August 1951 in British Documents on the End of Empire. Series A. Volume II. (1992), pp. 373-379.

With the new British Prime Minister, David Cameron, in Washington, DC to clean-up the BP mess among other things, it is I believe worthwhile to focus a bit on British foreign policy in the contemporary world. Fortunately or unfortunately (I believe very much the latter), we are no longer in a world that it can be taken as a given, that in the words of the most influential and perhaps brilliant and wise British Ambassador to the United States in the 20th Century (there being some rather fierce competition), Sir Oliver Franks in his Reith Lectures of 1954:

"It can be stated very simply. Britain is going to continue to be what she has been, a Great Power. This is something that the British people assume and act upon."

Sir Oliver Franks,Britain and the Tide of World Affairs, 1955, p. 5.

A state of mind, which while not disappearing immediately in the aftermath of the Suez Crisis, did commence at that time if not earlier to gradually dissipate. The upshot being not only the wholesale 'retreat from Empire,' in the late 1950's and 1960's, but the gradual dismantling of British power positions in places like Singapore ('East of Suez') and the Persian Gulf. Currently, according to recent figures, the United Kingdom has barely more than 240,000 total personnel. Which admittedly is a far cry from the 600,000 of the late fifties and even the close to 400,000 of the mid to late sixties. On the other hand, it is well to remember that the United Kingdom has the largest defence expenditure in the world after the USA and the PRC (see the relevant figures from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute in www.milexdata.sipri). And, it probably has the second greatest 'power projection' capability in the world after the USA. Admittedly, the comparisons between the two powers on this level are rather stark by differential. Regardless, the fact of the matter is that the UK, while a diminished player, nay perhaps even a 'very diminished player', is still deemable as one of the 'Great Powers', in the military and even the economic sense (depending upon whose numbers one accepts the sixth largest economy in the world). Now, if one were to read some of the commentary of people like our ever bien-pensant, Mr. Stephens, or from a more conservative viewpoint, David Blackburn of the London Spectator (see:, one would get the impression that as far as the UK's ability to carry on as a great power, the 'game is up', and the new age of austerity will wipe away any claims to such a power position. Well, perhaps that is the case, but, per se there is nothing intrinsic about the UK's current economic state which mandates that it must become another Holland or Spain on a larger scale. And, indeed the mots uttered by the Premier Cameron, reinforcing those enunciated elsewhere by his clever and first-rate, Foreign Secretary William Hague, in the Wall Street Journal yesterday, while in some ways banal, do show that he does seem to realize that the Anglo-American relationship, is still one of the bedrocks of the UK's power position in the world, and indeed as a Great Power:

"The US-UK relationship is simple: It’s strong because it delivers for both of us. The alliance is not sustained by our historical ties or blind loyalty. This is a partnership of choice that serves our national interests....

I am hard-headed and realistic about US-UK relations. I understand that we are the junior partner—just as we were in the 1940s and, indeed, in the 1980s. But we are a strong, self-confident country clear in our views and values, and we should behave that way.

The US is a global power, with shorelines facing the Pacific and Atlantic, so of course it must cultivate relations with Indonesia, China and others, just as it has to with Europe. We’re living in a new world where the balance of power in different regions is shifting, and the US is strengthening its ties with rising powers. Britain is doing the same thing. That’s why I’m off to Turkey and India shortly and why we have a strategic relationship with China. In a world of fast-growing, emerging economies, we have a responsibility to engage more widely and bring new countries to the top table of the international community. To do so is pro-American and pro-British, because it’s the only way we will maintain our influence in a changing world".

"PM's article in the Wall Street Journal: UK-US relations," 19 July 2010, in

Which is not to argue that the UK government, either the current one, or any other one for that matter, should throw all of its eggs in the Anglo-American basket. But, the fact of the matter, is that the European Union is as far as machtpolitk goes, merely a eunuchpure et simple. Something which the recent German discussions about in essence disbanding (or close to it) their army just reinforces. As does the unwillingness of much of the European Union powers, both inside and outside of NATO, to willingly fight, much less win military conflicts outside of their immediate borders. To repeat: failing the UK's willingness to stay up to the mark, in terms of militay force and force projection, and, the value of the United Kingdom as both an ally to the USA, and, as a Great Power, fall to practically nothing. Rien plus.The ultimate denouement being the realization of a situation which the American Secretary of State, John Foster Dulles warned of in his last days on earth:

"We must now accept the fact that something has happened, not just to British politicians of both parties, but to the British people. The British no longer can be one of the foundation stones of our alliance, of our security, of our habits of the conduct of our diplomacy."

John Foster Dulles, circa April-May 1959, as quoted by Livingston Merchant, in the Livingston Merchant Papers, Princeton University, Princeton, New Jersey.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010


"In the end, both the U.S. and Russian models — indeed most intelligence models — are built on the core assumption that the more senior the individual, the more knowledge he and his staff have. To put it more starkly, it assumes that what senior (and other) individuals say, write or even think reveals the most important things about the country in question. Thus, controlling a senior government official or listening to his phone conversations or e-mails makes one privy to the actions that country will take — thus allowing one to tell the future.

Let’s consider two cases: Iran in 1979 and the Soviet Union from 1989 to 1991. The fall of the shah of Iran and the collapse of the Soviet empire were events of towering importance for the United States. Assume that the United States knew everything the shah’s senior officials and their staffs knew, wrote, or said in the period leading up to the Iranian Revolution. Or assume that the shah’s prime minister or a member of the Soviet Union’s Politburo was a long-term mole.

Either of those scenarios would not have made any difference to how events played out. This is because, in the end, the respective senior leadership didn’t know how events were going to play out. Partly this is because they were in denial, but mostly this is because they didn’t have the facts and they didn’t interpret the facts they did have properly. At these critical turning points in history, the most thorough penetration using either American or Russian techniques would have failed to provide warning of the change ahead. This is because the basic premise of the intelligence operation was wrong. The people being spied on and penetrated simply didn’t understand their own capabilities — i.e., the reality on the ground in their respective countries — and therefore their intentions about what to do were irrelevant and actually misleading.

We started with three classes of intelligence: capabilities, intentions and what will actually happen. The first is an objective measure that can sometimes be seen directly but more frequently is obtained through data held by someone in the target country. The most important issue is not what this data says but how accurate it is. Intentions, by contrast, represent the subjective plans of decision-makers. History is filled with intentions that were never implemented, or that, when implemented, had wildly different outcomes than the decision-maker expected. From our point of view, the most important aspect of this category is the potential for unintended consequences. For example, George W. Bush did not intend to get bogged down in a guerrilla war in Iraq. What he intended and what happened were two different things because his view of American and Iraqi capabilities were not tied to reality.

American and Russian intelligence is source-based. There is value in sources, but they need to be taken with many grains of salt, not because they necessarily lie but because the highest-placed source may simply be wrong — and at times, an entire government can be wrong. If the purpose of intelligence is to predict what will happen, and it is source-based, then that assumes that the sources know what is going on and how it will play out. But often they don’t.

Russian and American intelligence agencies are both source-obsessed. On the surface, this is reasonable and essential. But it assumes something about sources that is frequently true, but not always — and in fact is true only with great infrequency on the most important issues. From our point of view, the purpose of intelligence is obvious: It is to collect as much information as possible, and surely from the most highly placed sources. But in the end, the most important question to ask is whether the most highly placed source has any clue as to what is going to happen.

Knowledge of what is being thought is essential. But gaming out how the objective and impersonal forces will interact and play out it is the most important thing of all. The focus on sources allows the universe of intelligence to be populated by the thoughts of the target. Sometimes that is of enormous value. But sometimes the most highly placed source has no idea what is about to happen. Sometimes it is necessary to listen to the tape of Gorbachev or Bush planning the future and recognize that what they think will happen and what is about to happen are very different things.

The events of the past few weeks show intelligence doing the necessary work of recruiting and rescuing agents. The measure of all of this activity is not whether one has penetrated the other side, but in the end, whether your intelligence organization knew what was going to happen and told you regardless of what well-placed sources believed. Sometimes sources are indispensable. Sometimes they are misleading. And sometimes they are the way an intelligence organization justifies being wrong".

Dr. George Friedman, "Russian Spies and Strategic Intelligence," 12 July 2010, in

No doubt in the world of spy satellites, the National Security Agency and whatnot, there are rationales to be had for all the spending and public attention that is put on the old-fashioned art of 'human intelligence', id est., spies. Even if one abstracts out the whole public fascination, there is at the margins some degree of reason for the all the importance placed on spies and spying. However, the thing to remember of course is the caveat that I deliberately used: 'at the margins'. Why this qualifier? Simply because with one or two exceptions: Richard Sorge, Oleg Penkovsky come immediately to mind, human intelligence has not been a very important variable in the diplomatic history of the 20th century. Certainly, there has been nothing in human intelligence to compare in importance to say the ULTRA machine of the Second World War, say. Which as the late Sir Francis Hinsley commented, probably aided the Western Allies to such an extent that it shorten their war by at least two to three years (Sir Francis Hinsely, British Intelligence during the Second World War: its influence on strategy and operations, vol I. 1979). The alternative argument is that for all the successes of Sovietskaya Vlast and its minions during the Cold War in penetrating (in some cases almost entirely) various Western intelligence agencies, those said successes did nothing to prevent the downfall of Sovietskaya Vlast (for this argument, see: Sir Christopher Andrew, Defend the Realm: the authorized History of MI-5, 2009, pp. 833-844 and passim). Which is not to argue that one should willingly tolerate say Russian and Chinese spying in this or any other Western Country if one can help it. However, the larger point is that one should not lose sight of the relatively un-importance of professional spying by other governments both here and abroad. And, in point of fact, one can only commend wholeheartedly the manner in which the American government and its Russian counterpart handled the entire recent 'spy scandal'. In essence to the great extent possible putting the entire matter to bed as quickly as possible. Ultimately one can only agree with the late Earl of Stockton, Mr. Harold Macmillan who once complained to the head of MI-5, Sir Roger Hollis, that:

"When my gamekeeper shoots a fox, he doesn't go and hang it up outside the Master of the Foxhounds' drawing room; he buries it out of sight. But, you just can't shoot a spy as you did in the war. You have to try him...better to discover him, and then control him, but never catch him."

Alistair Horne, Macmillan, Vol. II: 1957-1986, pp. 460-461.

Friday, July 09, 2010


"Israel and the US have made up. After much-publicised policy differences, snubs and personal acrimony between the Obama White House and the government of Benjamin Netanyahu, everything is now back on an even keel. Or so both sides would have us believe. As Mr Netanyahu now interprets it: “You can have differences on occasion in the best of families and the closest of families.” Mr Obama asserts that the Israeli premier is “willing to take risks for peace”, and looks forward to direct talks resuming between Israelis and Palestinians, pointing towards an independent Palestinian state in the occupied territories currently being colonised by Israel.

Short of any content to actually substantiate this, Tuesday’s White House summit looks like a holding operation, a political armistice. Mr Netanyahu will have less trouble at home, especially in keeping the Labour party inside his otherwise irredentist coalition. Mr Obama and the Democrats avoid opening a flank to the powerful pro-Israel lobby ahead of the mid-term elections in November.

But what has changed, beyond the choreographed atmospherics?

There is not a shred of evidence Mr Netanyahu is willing to give up the occupied land needed for a viable Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza, with East Jerusalem as its capital. Indeed, on the eve of the Washington meeting, B’Tselem, the Israeli human rights group, published a study showing Israel has now taken 42 per cent of the West Bank, with 300,000 settlers and 200,000 in east Jerusalem. A year after Mr Obama said “the United States does not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlements”, the Israeli occupation continues to expand, despite a notional freeze, and it is inexorably pushing a two-states division of the Holy Land beyond reach".

Leader, "Israeli Mood Music at the White House," 8 July 2010, in

"Notwithstanding some hints dropped here and there, so far, there is nothing of substance emerging from the incoming Administration of the junior Senator from Illinois, with the absurd name. However, in from some ultra-intelligent commentators, like my acquaintance, Professor Joshua Landis of Syria Comment, there is a hope, that the incoming Administration, will in some fashion or other reverse the failed policies of the Bush Regime towards the Near East, and, in particular towards: Syria, Persia, the Lebanon and of course Israel. This seems to me, based upon the prior history of incoming, American, especially Democratic Administrations, a very forlorn hope indeed....If Benyamin Netanyahu's Likuid Party were to win the elections, and, drag its feet concerning negotiations with the Palestinians, `a la its performance in its prior periods in power (1996-1999, 2001-2005), expect that the new American Administration, while perhaps in a sotto voce fashion, expressing its 'disappointment' with the newest developments in Israel, will do nothing of substance to revive the 'peace process'".

Charles G. V. Coutinho, "Whistling Dixie? Thoughts on what lies ahead for American Near Eastern Policy," 11 November 2008, in

"If you want things to stay as they are, things will have to change."

Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa, Il Gattopardo [The Leopard]. Translated by Archibald Colquhoun. 1960, p. 40.

The Netanyahu visit to the White House this week, had all the hallmarks of a triumph for the Israeli leader: the American President praised him in exuberant fashion as someone who is willing "to take risks for peace." Terms which as some have noted seemed to eerily echo ex-President George Bush's words about the former Israeli Premier Ariel Sharon not so many years ago (see: "US and Israel Patch up relationship," 6 July 2010, in The Israeli Premier was given the all hallmarks of the red-carpet treatment which he was not given previously by the current American Administration. And, from what one is able to judge from the public statements made, it would appear that Netanyahu was able to utter not one word which indicates that he is prepared to change Israeli policy substantively towards either Gaza (Netanyahu had already loosened a wee bit the blockade prior to his American trip) or peace talks with the Palestinian Authority. Much less anything of substance as it relates to say the continuation of building settlements on the West Bank. As the Israeli commentator, Aluf Benn noted in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz:

"Netanyahu carefully avoided uttering so much as a word deviating from the political right's line, and his comments placed him firmly in the camp of Moshe Ya'alon and Benny Begin. Netanyahu warned that an Israeli withdrawal from the territories was liable to bring terrorism and rockets, as occurred in Gaza. He also called on the Palestinian Authority to alter its school textbooks. He promised only steps on the ground, without elaborating. In a press briefing, he made it clear that these steps would not include the transfer of parts of Area C to the Palestinians so that they can build a road to their new city of Rawabi, near Ramallah. The settlers are adamantly against the Rawabi project, claiming the city will adversely affect the quality of the environment and their lives - and Netanyahu has the settlers' interests in mind".

Aluf Benn, "Smiles and Ambiguity," 9 July 2010 in

As Benn notes, "The White House has pulled a 180 with regard to Netanyahu." With all this being said, where does that leave the peace process in the aftermath of the American Administration's capitulation to the Israeli leader? Simply put, pretty much where I predicted that it would be, back in November 2008: that there will be no big American push on the peace front. At least not until after the 2012 elections (if that). Notwithstanding the futile hopes of people like that perpetual bien pensant, Philip Stephens or the Liberal American commentator Gershom Gorenberg (see: Gershom Gorenberg, "Publicity over Peace?" 9 July 2010, in; Philip Stephens, "Obama has more cards to play in the Middle East," 9 July 2010, in With the only possibilities of any movement on the peace front in the Near East being dependent upon the Israeli Premier's willingness to forgo his alignment with his right-wing coalition allies and claim the mantle of far-sighted statesman `a la Sadat, Begin, et cetera, et cetera. How likely is something of this sort occurring? If I had to make a wager I would surmise that it is not as unlikely as some may think. Surely, even a confirmed Likuidnik like the Israeli premier probably sees that the current, eternal holding pattern cannot last forever. Particularly if the Americans are able to block Persia from acquiring nuclear weapons capability. And, that by saving what can be saved, of the Zionist project, he will have accomplished something which can be said to rank with the greatest achievements of the founders of the Israeli State. A slim hope I agree, but, in the current atmosphere, faute de mieux.

Wednesday, July 07, 2010


"And I want to say publicly what I have said privately. I came to Georgia with a clear message from President Obama and myself. The United States is steadfast in its commitment to Georgia's sovereignty and territorial integrity. The United States does not recognize spheres of influence. President Obama and I have also communicated this message directly to our Russian counterparts, most recently during our meetings in Washington on June 24th.

We continue to call for Russia to abide by the August 2008 cease fire commitment signed by President Saakashvili and President Medvedev, including ending the occupation and withdrawing Russian troops from South Ossetia and Abkhazia to their pre-conflict positions. We also stressed the need for humanitarian access to the territories. And we will continue to work toward a peaceful resolution of the conflict through established international mechanisms and constructive non-violent channels....

We are committed to supporting Georgians, Georgians who are working to build a future that is freer, more democratic, more prosperous, and more secure. And I personally am looking forward to watching Georgia's continuing progress. And I thank you, Mr. President, for these very constructive discussions....

Now, we are engaging with Russia bilaterally, in talking to Russian leaders about our concerns. But we also are engaging multilaterally through the Geneva process and in OSCE. We have expressed our concerns about the Russian Government's construction of permanent military bases. We have made clear that we consider such construction to be in contradiction to Russia's 2008 cease fire commitments. And we continue to call on Russia to fully comply with the cease fire agreement that they signed, including the withdrawal of their troops to the pre-conflict positions, and humanitarian access to the separatist regions....

Well, we would, of course, like to see action immediately. And that is one of the reasons why, as I responded to the young woman's question, we engage with Russia in many different settings, one of which is in Geneva. We believe that the Geneva discussions are an important international forum to try to enhance transparency, to help decrease tensions, to promote regional stability. And we welcome the openness of various parties toward using the incident prevention and response mechanism, the so-called IPRM. And we strongly urged South Ossetia to immediately resume use of the IPRM. Similarly, we have asked Russia to encourage South Ossetia to return to that mechanism.

Now, for several rounds, the Geneva discussions have focused on a non-use of force agreement. And during the June 8th discussions, the most recent ones, we underscored and emphasized the fact that the August 12, 2008 cease fire agreement signed by the Georgian and Russian leadership, mediated by French President Sarkozy, already establishes both sides' commitment to the non-use of force. Full implementation of that agreement by Russia renders an additional non-use of force agreement unnecessary.

So, we are calling on the Russians to enforce the agreement that they signed back in August of 2008. The United States believes that another such agreement is something that may perhaps be positive, but only if it includes the Russian Federation and meets the concerns of all the parties, and includes meaningful implementation measures, and does not politicize the status issue.

And the United States reminded the Russian delegation this past June 8th again that any unilateral steps that Russia has taken, such as its recognition of these regions as independent, do not relieve Russia of the commitments President Medvedev made in the August 12th cease fire agreement....

Well, first, with respect to Russia's claims to any sphere of influence, the United States flatly rejects that. We are living in a time when independent sovereign states have the right to make their own decisions about organizations they wish to join, to make determinations that are in the best interests of their own people and how they see their own future. And it is an important part of the ongoing historical movement that Georgia's independence is part of to reinforce that fundamental human right to one's own destiny.

Why does the United States care about Georgia? Because, number one, we respect and honor the sacrifices that the Georgian people have made throughout a very long history of a lot of very difficult challenges. The resilience and resolve of the Georgian people has come through time and time again. The Rose Revolution inspired Americans. It was an uprising that was very much in keeping with our own founding ideals. We just celebrated the 234th anniversary of our declaration of independence. We had to conduct a revolutionary war against then our colonial power. You did it much more peacefully, all things said and done, and we admire that....

So, we admire what Georgia has accomplished, and we are Georgia's friend. We are Georgia's partner. We are Georgia's supporter in both word and deed, because we want to see Georgia's independence and territorial integrity, democracy, and prosperity succeed".

Secretary Clinton quoted in "Joint Press Availability With Georgian President Saakashvili, in Tbilisi, Georgia, 5 July 2010, in

"Georgia and South Ossetia should sort out their relations themselves, not seek solutions from third-party countries, such as the United States.”

Russian Premier Vladimir Putin, 6 July 2010, quoted in

"I don't want you to think as the French do that the Americans are impossible."

Dean Acheson, 20 November 1952, quoted by Sir Charles A. E. Shuckburgh, Descent to Suez: Diaries 1951-1956, 1986, p.55.

One is at a complete loss to understand the rationale for the American Secretary of State's diplomatically speaking maladroit comments in Tbilisi. Given the mostly positive state of Russo-American relations in the past couple of months. A state of affairs which was the result of approximately a year of hard work, and repositioning of American policy in places as different as Georgia, Ukraine, Central Asia and even Poland, one is hard put to explain the behavior of Mme. Clinton. Indeed, the common presumption prior to these statements being made was that the American Secretary of State would (in the mots of the Financial Times, published on the 3rd of July) "tread lightly in Russia's back yard" (Sic! See: Roman Olearchyk, "Clinton treads lightly in Russia's back yard," 3 July 2010, in The usage of the term 'occupation' to characterize the Russian presence in South Ossetia and Abkhazia was for all intents and purposes a red flag, in a positive sense to the regime in Tbilisi, and in a negative sense to Moskva. Ergo Grazhdanin Putin's irate statement in response. And, while one may very well argue that the Clinton statements were mere eyewash to appease the the discontented and previously ignored Saakashvili ruling clique in Georgia, the fact that Moskva chose not to regard her language in these more benign terms is enough to my mind to question both her motives and her language (for the view that Clinton's language was in essence diplomatically innocuous, see: Andrei Fedyashin, "Hillary Clinton in Russia's zone of privileged interests," 6 July 2010, in And, make no mistake: in any grossmachtpolitik sense, there are no real American or indeed Western interests worthy of the name in Georgia. And, much the same could be said for Ukraine. Indeed, the only sense to be derived from the entire tour is her visit to the Aliyev family kleptocracy in Baku. Where it can be plausibly argued that for reasons of both its presence on the border of Persia, its supplies of oil and natural gas, and its role as an increasing important transit route for American and Allied forces in Afghanistan (on the importance of Baku to the American strategy in the region, see: George Friedman, "Geopolitical Weekly: The Caucasian Cauldron," 7 July 2010, in With that being said, one only hopes that the USA will allow the Kavkas return to its prior non-important level of interest. Otherwise one fears the negative repercussions on Russo-American relations.

Monday, July 05, 2010


"Golda Meir....was an original. Her childhood in the Russia of pogroms and her youth as a pioneer in the harshness of Palestine had taught her that only the wary are given the opportunity to survive and only those who fight succeed in that effort....She was a founder of her country. Every inch of land for which Israel had fought was to her a token of her people's survival; it would be stubbornly defended against enemies; it would given up only for a tangible guarantee of security. She had a penetrating mind, leavened by earthiness and a mischievous sense of humor. She was not taken in by rhetoric, or particularly interested in the finer points of negotiating tactics. She cut to the heart of the matter. She answered pomposity with irony and dominated conversations by her personality and shrewd psychology. To me me acted as a benevolent aunt towards an especially favored nephew, so that even to admit the possibility of disagreement was a challenge to family hierarchy producing emotional outrage."

Henry Alfred Kissinger, White House Year, 1979, p. 370.

The leading Israeli Opposition leader, Mme. Livni, spoke before the assembled and select audience of the Oxonian Society, at the famed (if admittedly poshlost) Russian Tea Room, here in Manhattan on the 1st of July. Among her other remarks, Mme. Livni mentioned that: i) she was skeptical, as then Minister of Justice, about then elections in Gaza back in 2007, but that it was mainly American insistence which brought them about. With the result that the radical Hamas grouping won said elections and soon enough took over the entire Gaza Strip from the Palestinian Authority (hereafter PA); ii) she stated that she would never enter into coalition with the ruling Likuid (her original political home), as the latter is too unwilling to compromise on the issue of the West Bank. And, that at present what was needed was a "complete change in government policy vis-`a-vis the Palestinians"; iii) she condemned out of hand, Human Rights activists who endeavored to obtain her arrest recently in both Brussels and in London. And, that she would not be stopped from proceeding with future visits to both capitals in the future; iv) `a la her predecessor as foreign minister (and perhaps Premier?) she stated that while she would prefer to have the support of the 'international community', she would rather forgo the same if such was at 'the price of Israeli security'; v) apropos the Israel's relations with Ankara, she recalls that as Foreign Minister back in 2006-2008, she told Turkish Premier Erdogan that he should refrain from legitimizing Hamas, by his actions and statements. She blames Ankara's recent, anti-Israeli foreign policy statements on the European Union's failure to admit Turkey as a member. And, that the AK government needs to be spoken to by the West in a firm manner concerning its policies; vi) concerning what would or should occur if Persia's attempts to acquire Nuclear Weapons were not stopped by the sanctions regime, recently strengthened by the United Nation's Security Council, Livni did not care to elaborate a response; vii) concerning future negotiations with the PA, Livni says that the PA leaders need to be realistic and not become obsessed with issues of amour propre. And, that overall she is both 'realistic' and 'optimistic' about the success of any such talks in the future; viii) apropos the issue of Israel's international standing and its perceived decline, Livni offered up the idea that this state of affairs could only be changed by a change in Israeli policy on the issue of the Palestinians; ix) Livni concluded her talk by stating that: a) Persia was a negative influence on the possibilities of peace; b) that time works against the possibility of peace; c) and, that Israel would not negotiate with Hamas as peace partner. With that she concluded her talk and was enthusiastically acclaimed by her audience.

What does one make of the above? And, of this potential future Israeli Premier? In terms of her personal qualities, Mme. Livni is an intelligent, well-spoken and lively political personality. Without necessarily having the same home-spun, babushka qualities that the late Golda Meir, Livni was able to draw on the audience's sympathies by bringing up her own family's story in the context of current Israeli policies. In terms of her political positioning, it appears that she is presenting herself and her party (Kadima) as the friendlier, more diplomatically acceptable in terms of International opinion, alternative to the current Likuid government. Her comments while positioning her to the 'left' of Netanyahu and company, hardly present her as a radical alternative to the current government. Given her own past, and in particular her support for both the Lebanon War and the Gaza War, this is hardly very surprising. Overall, one is lead to conclude that this able and attractive personality, if she does indeed gain the premiership in the future, will steer the Israeli ship of state in waters which are rather well known to both friend and foe alike.