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‘Reassessing The Cost Of The Post-9/11 Era’

Dan Froomkin of The Huffington Post has an interesting look at the economic and human costs of the response to the 9/11 attacks. He includes the war in Iraq in his calculations and I won’t dispute that the atmosphere in post-9/11 America didn’t exactly loan itself to cautioned diplomacy with regards to Iraq, but it should be noted that President Bush never actually asserted that Saddam Hussein had a hand in the September 11th attacks. Again, Froomkin is speaking of the era as a whole not just the US’s actions in direct retaliation for the attacks, I just wanted to be clear about the facts. Speaking of which, here’s a brief summary (although the whole article is really worth reading):

6000 Americans dead, ‘several hundred thousand’ wounded

100,000+ Iraqis and Afghanis dead, 3.4 million+ remain displaced

Total financial cost: $4-6 trillion. That’s $6,000,000,000,000 or just over 40% of the US’s current national debt.

Colin Powell at the UN, presenting the American case for going to war with Iraq.

Obviously not all of that money could have been saved. For one, the war in Afghanistan actually was directly linked to 9/11. And while we should recognize that aspiring terrorists‘ incompetence probably had more to do with the high-profile failed plots over the last few years, one would encounter difficulty in arguing that absolutely none of the new homeland security measures implemented after 9/11 were a necessary response. Regardless, Froomkin ends on a ‘what if’ note by imagining a world where that $6 trillion was spent on eliminating extreme poverty or providing primary education for children. I found it difficult not to wonder what the consequences of forgoing the two wars would have been for the US and, indeed, the world as a whole.

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Lessons of Libya


Coalition action against Libya

In October 2003, the US intercepted a German-flagged freighter bound for Libya. Onboard the ship were thousands of parts for uranium enrichment centrifuges. Two months later Libya announced that it was discontinuing all of its WMD programs and would comply with the NPT. The announcement was seen as a diplomatic victory for the UK and US, who had been working for months in secret negotiations with Libya.

Just two months ago a NATO-led force began air strikes against Libyan forces loyal to Gaddafi. Although UN resolution 1973 specifically authorizes member states to act in order to protect civilians, the air strikes have served as de-facto support of the rebels. Across the Middle East, protests continue. Indeed, there are daily reports of protesters being killed by government forces in Syria and Yemen. Yet forces have only intervened in a country that not 10 years ago dismantled its WMD program.

Countries such as North Korea and Iran are sure to take notice of this. North Korea in particular has taken paranoid indoctrination against the West to a national level. If the six party talks ever do resume, how can the North negotiate in good faith when the US is now bombing a country that less than eight years ago it was praising for abandoning its nuclear program? Meanwhile Iran is facing a popular movement against its government while seemingly remaining ambivalent about the future of its nuclear program. What lessons will it draw from the coalition action in Libya?

US-Pakistan drama continues

In the wake of Osama bin Laden’s death, tensions between Washington and Islamabad continued to rise. The New York Times is reporting that Pakistani officials have released the name of the CIA station chief in Islamabad. His name was published in a conservative newspaper earlier today, spelled phonetically. This marks the 2nd time in 5 months that a CIA station chief station in Islamabad has been outed by Pakistani authorities. The previous station chief was identified in the media and court papers after a lawsuit was brought against him which alleged wrongful death in a CIA drone strike. He subsequently fled Pakistan after receiving a number of death threats.

Meanwhile today, Pakistan’s Prime Minister, Yousuf Raza Gilani, said that ‘allegations of complicity or incompetence are absurd.’ He further warned that any additional US unilateral action within Pakistan would be met with ‘full force.’ While both the US and Pakistan say they want to continue their strategic partnership, the recent public volleys mark a low point in the relationship between the two governments.

What Bin Laden’s death means

Foreign Affairs has a couple new brief but interesting articles up that attempt to paint a clearer picture of the post-Bin-Laden world:

Richard Falkenrath looks at the domestic and international opposition to the US war on terror and how Bin Laden’s death means an end of ‘the strategic clarity of the post-9/11 era.’

Max Boot compares al-Qaeda to armed political movements of the past and attempts to extrapolate how Osama bin Laden’s death will affect the organization.

News and Links

On days I don’t have a post prepared but still feel the need to update, I’ll post some relevant news articles and let others do the talking for me.

Palestinian National Authority President Mahmoud Abbas (left) meets with Hamas leader Khaled Mashal in Egypt.

    Palestine: Hamas and Fatah, the two Palestinian factions, have reached a unity agreement. This is no doubt an important step towards getting state recognition for Palestine. Al Jazeera has an article on Netanyahu’s take on the deal. (spoiler: He doesn’t like it) Britain and France seemed to welcome the developments. Hamas, however, is still listed as a terrorist organization on the US State Department’s website and publicly mourned the recent death of Osama bin Laden.

    Afghanistan/Pakistan: The New York times has a brief but interesting article regarding the relationship between Afghanistan and Pakistan.

    Libya: A prosecutor for the ICC has petitioned for an arrest warrant for Gaddafi and two others for war crimes. While the prosecutor specifically cited examples of systematically killing unarmed civilians, there have also been recent allegations that pro-Gaddafi soldiers are using rape as a weapon against the Libyan populace.

    South Korea/North Korea: South Korea has conducted a routine artillery exercise on islands near the disputed sea boundary line with North Korea. The North did not publicly respond to the exercise but some aspect of the impoverished nation will likely be a topic for the next update, so I thought I’d link this.

Iran’s nuclear trouble continues

A new computer virus that seemed to be targeting Iranian government facilities has been discovered. Iranian officials announced last week that they had detected a new attempt to infiltrate government computers. Public acknowledgement of this new virus, now called ‘Stars’, comes less than a year after the 2010 revelation that a separate virus, Stuxnet, was responsible for the difficulty the Persian nation has encountered in operating its uranium centrifuges. Iranian officials, along with several prominent western cyber-security experts, have attributed the origin of Stuxnet to the United States and Israel. Neither the US nor Israel has accepted responsibility for the virus. Little information is as yet publicly available about the newer Stars virus although it reportedly takes the form of official-looking data and is ‘hard to eliminate in its original form.’ [GSN]

ahmajinedad

Ahmajinedad inspects Iranian centrifuges

Iran has acknowledged that its enrichment efforts had been delayed by the earlier Stuxnet virus. The virus violently manipulates the spinning speed of rotors inside centrifuges used to separate isotopes of uranium. While doing so, it reports normal operating conditions to the control mechanism thus avoiding an emergency shutdown. The P1 centrifuges being used by Iran are highly sensitive machines and the sudden increases and decreases in speed that Stuxnet subjected them to would have undoubtedly rendered them inoperable. Some speculate that code contained in Stuxnet could cause the centrifuges to literally explode.

Ralph Langer explains Stuxnet

Experts believe that Stuxnet has set back any Iranian program towards a nuclear weapon – real or imagined – by several years. This no doubt gives Israel some breathing room in its debate about a possible preventive strike, ala its universally condemned 1981 destruction of the Osirak nuclear reactor which was under construction in Iraq. (It’s worth noting that while the Osirak facility was destroyed, many contend that the strike may have actually accelerated Iraq’s nuclear weapons program.) Regardless, with the emergence of this new cyber attack, it’s clear that somebody has decided to devote considerable resources to sabotaging the Iranian nuclear program. The level of sophistication and explicit objectives of these viruses, coupled in consideration with last year’s assassinations of Iranian nuclear scientists, certainly limits that list of potential somebodies.

Extras:

Richard Betts on the Israeli decision to strike Osirak

Arms Control Wonk breaks down the components of a centrifuge

In an Israeli cockpit during Operation Opera

Bin Laden’s death forces awkward questions about US relationship with Pakistan

Osama bin Laden is dead, killed at the hands of a US Navy SEAL team in Abbottabad, Pakistan. Despite initial claims to the contrary, Pakistani officials had no prior knowledge of the operation and they are undoubtedly going to face tough questions over the upcoming days and weeks. Abbottabad is a city of 100,000 people only 80 miles from Islamabad, the capital of Pakistan. The complex Bin Laden had been living in was several times larger than any of the neighboring properties and, despite the apparent affluence of its inhabitants, lacked both telephone and internet connections. The outside walls are up to 18 feet tall in some places and covered in barbed wire and the residents burned their trash instead of leaving it outside for pickup.

It seems impossible that the Pakistani government could not have known of Bin Laden’s presence here. While President Obama did give a shout-out to Pakistan for its ‘cooperation’ in his announcement last night, the revelation that Osama bin Laden had been hiding out in a Pakistani city less than two hours away from Islamabad – and not some tribal region cave along the border – could not have come at a worse time for US-Pakistan relations. The ongoing drone strikes targeted at militants along the border with Afghanistan, the recent arrest of admitted CIA contractor Raymond Davis, and the ever-present American sentiment that Inter-Services Intelligence, the Pakistani intelligence agency, is actively aiding the insurgency in Afghanistan have all led to a massive cooling of relations between the two nations. It will be interesting to see what effect the raid on Bin Laden’s compound has on the US-Pakistan partnership and, indeed, the war on terror.