Petraeus determined, Pentagon reports some progress

With David Petraeus in Paris vaunting the necessity of success in Afghanistan, the Pentagon has just issued a nuanced account of where things stood on September 30.

The Pentagon:

“Progress across the country remains uneven, with modest gains in security, governance, and development in operational priority areas. The deliberate application of our strategy is beginning to have cumulative effects and security is slowly beginning to expand. Although significant challenges exist, some signs of progress are evident.”

General Petraeus:

“Il est vital que l’Afghanistan ne redevienne jamais plus un sanctuaire pour les extrémistes”, a-t-il résumé lors d’une conférence à Sciences-Po Paris. La seule façon d’atteindre cet objectif est, selon lui, “d’aider les Afghans à assurer leur sécurité eux-mêmes”.

Or, for those without enough French to challenge my translation:  “It is vital that Afghanistan never again become a sanctuary for extremists,” he said in a lecture at the Institute of Political Studies in Paris, “the only way of achieving this objective is to help the Afghans to ensure their own security.”

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Even paranoids have enemies

While the U.S. press is portraying the flareup between North and South Korea as part of a pattern of irrational and provocative behavior by Pyongyang, Leon V. Sigal in an Arms Control Today piece prepared before recent events portrayed a more nuanced picture of mutual disappointment and flagging commitment by the U.S., South Korea and Japan to engagement with the North.  While Sigal’s proposals for re-opening a peace process with Pyongyang require examination by someone more expert in this part of the world than I am, his account of past events (and his anticipation of more problems along the maritime boundary) merits a read.

There is no justification for what North Korea has done, but its motives need to be understood more fully if escalation or repetition is to be avoided.

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Fool me once…

The New York Times reports this morning that the supposed Taliban commander reported to have been in talks with the Coalition and the Afghan government was in fact an impostor.

Embarrassing as it is to be snookered even once, it would be much worse if it happens again.  Maybe the demand for cash should have aroused more suspicion even the first time around.  Would a genuine Taliban representative really require payment?

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Scientist sees centrifuges, others see international catastrophe

The press has underlined the risks North Korea’s recently revealed centrifuges entail,and others have been quick to draw broad international conclusions (see Simon Henderson,  But it is well worth reading Siegfried Hecker’s original report, which is cautiously judicious, while raising many important questions.

Certainly Henderson goes a bit far in speculating about hydrogen bombs.  He is on more solid ground in his discussion of possible nuclear and missile trade, once considered unlikely to happen by nonproliferation experts.

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Biden forgets Moqtada

You’ll all notice the Vice President’s piece in the New York Times this morning, which is a fine summary of what remains to be done in Iraq, but neglects to mention that the new Iraqi government will include the Sadrists, a violently anti-American political force that Washington tried to block from joining the governing coalition.  Does this presage a changed American attitude, or just a polite effort to put the best face on things?

P.S.:  Note the vigorous support for the “National Council for Higher Policies” (it comes out differently in every translation), which is the main thing Allawi gained from eight months of negotiation.

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Weekend reading and touring

More than 10 years managing programs at USIP have left me well behind in the bookreading category.  This week’s efforts will be focused on finishing Joseph Stiglitz’ and Linda Bilmes’ The Three Trillion Dollar War, now two years old but still edifying, and Michael Mandelbaum’s more recent and even more edifying The Frugal Superpower, which examines the constraints fiscal stringency will put on American foreign policy. Both are well-written, easy reads, on which I’ll comment more fully once I’ve finished them.

I’m also planning a visit today to President Lincoln’s Cottage, where he spent many nights during the Civil War.  Adjacent to a Union cemetery, the cottage is today largely unfurnished.  But the National Park Service tour somehow manages to evoke the environment in which Lincoln deliberated on slavery and war.  There is nothing like your own civil war for beginning to understand other people’s civil wars.

I’ll be on the road tomorrow but hope to be up and running again bright and early Monday.  Have a fine weekend!

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