Archive for the ‘Obama Administration’ Category

In the immediate aftermath of the news that Osama bin Laden had been killed, one of the key questions asked by journalists and policymakers was about Pakistan’s complicity – or the lack thereof.  At the center of this political firestorm is Pakistan’s military and intelligence services, a key domestic political constituency. The Pakistani people and the press are now asking themselves the same uncomfortable questions that were asked about the CIA’s assessments of Saddam Hussein’s nonexistent WMDs: did we get it wrong because of incompetence or because we knew about it and looked the other way?  A secondary question, and perhaps bigger in terms of domestic politics, that has emerged in Pakistan: how did American helicopters loaded with Navy SEALs fly into Pakistani airspace and carry out a 40-minute raid without anyone in the national security apparatus noticing?

The fact that the most wanted man in the world was found living in a suburb of Islamabad approximately three hours outside of Islamabad, where he had been living for years within walking distance of a police station and the Pakistani equivalent of West Point is absolutely astounding. It disproved the conventional wisdom that he had been hiding out this entire time in caves in Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas. A Pakistani official familiar with information provided by one of Bin Laden’s wives said that before Abbottabad, the Al Qaeda leader and his family had been living in a village 40 kilometers away near the city of Haripur from as far back as 2003.

Given what we now know about how and where Bin Laden was living makes a decade’s worth of denials from Pakistani leaders ring hollow. However, somebody in the American intelligence community suspected something long before the chilling of U.S.-Pakistani relations of the recent past and last Sunday’s raid. Bill Maher recently dug up a clip from his show from October of 2008 in which then-CNN correspondent Christiane Amanpour said “I just talked to somebody very knowledgeable. She doesn’t think, this woman who is in American intelligence, thinks that he’s [Osama bin Laden] in a villa, a nice comfortable villa in Pakistan, not a cave.”

The criticism and second-guessing of Pakistan has been blistering and relentless since last Sunday. Steve Coll wrote, “The initial circumstantial evidence suggests… that bin Laden was effectively being housed under Pakistani state control.” President Obama’s counterterrorism adviser John Brennan told reporters, “I think it is inconceivable that bin Laden didn’t have a support system in the country that allowed him to remain there for an extended period of time.”

It’s worth keeping in mind that Bin Laden is not the only senior Al Qaeda member to have been caught in an urban area of Pakistan. Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and Abu Faraj al-Libi were apprehended in Rawalpindi and Mardan, respectively, with Pakistani involvement in both operations.

Unfortunately for the Pakistanis, their long track record of denials about Bin Laden’s presence in their country, and the “double game” played by the government – supporting the U.S. effort against Al Qaeda, while at the same time supporting the Taliban and the Haqqani network – means that the burden will be on them to prove that they didn’t know.  This essentially forces them to prove a negative, something which is very difficult to do effectively and beyond dispute.

Pakistan’s intelligence service is already in full-blown damage control mode.  ISI chief Lt. Gen. Ahmad Shuja Pasha is heading to Washington to offer explanations.  The Daily Beast recently reported that Pasha may step down as the government’s fall guy over the Bin Laden intelligence failure.  Pakistan’s embarrassment over the Bin Laden episode may give the United States some political and diplomatic leverage in the short term – perhaps in the form of renewed pressure for actionable intelligence on Mullah Omar or Ayman al-Zawahiri. Expect the U.S.-Pakistan relationship to remain frosty at least until the Pakistanis are able to convince the Obama administration and Congress that they didn’t know Bin Laden’s whereabouts.  However, if evidence emerges that people in the Pakistani government knew about his location and withheld that information from the United States, it will be a whole new ball game.

Update: More Bin Laden raid fallout on the Pakistani domestic political front…  Lawmakers are calling on President Asif Ali Zardari and other senior government officials to resign.

Update II: Apparently part of the ISI’s CYA effort is outing the identity of the local CIA station chief in the Pakistani media.

Update III: Husain Haqqani, Pakistan’s ambassador in Washington, sent out a tweet shooting down the story: “NO, The Nation just ran made up name 4 CIA Stn Chief in I’abad in made up story abt DG ISI’s travels.”

The Times of India puts the whole mess into context.

Update IV: Correction. A previous version of this inaccurately referred to Abbottabad as a suburb of the Pakistani capital city of Islamabad. According to Google Maps, Abbottabad is approximately 70 miles to the north. Thanks to Huffington Post reader Kazim Nawab for pointing that out.

Crisis averted.

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T-minus 2 hours and 30 minutes to shutdown

Here’s a good guide from CNN on what will/won’t be affected by the government shutdown.

Update: Also see this guide from the Washington Post about how government agencies will be affected. Their shutdown countdown clock at T-minus 4 hours and counting…

It’s on!

The campaign is expected to file re-election papers with the FEC today. This allows them to start fundraising for the president’s re-election effort, which, given his status of incumbency, should be considerable. According to Jessica Yellin’s sources, the Obama campaign is shooting for a record-breaking $1 billion warchest.

Will be interesting to see how the other Republicans react to this announcement, specifically the ones who haven’t yet declared whether they’re in or out for 2012 – Palin, Trump, Huntsman, Huckabee, and Paul. Will the timing of the president’s announcement force them to tip their hands and commit to the race once and for all?

Let the games begin!

Update: First response from one of the president’s 2012 challengers comes from @MittRomney:

@barackobama I look forward to hearing details on your jobs plan, as are 14m unemployed Americans

Will update this post as other responses come in.

Update II: See this report by CNN’s Jim Acosta on the same issue of how/when the 2012 GOP potentials decide to get in the race.

Update III: Tim Pawlenty responds with this video.

The quote from the candidate: “In order for America to take a new direction, it’s going to take a new president.”

Update IV: The Republican National Committee has launched a new website and a $270,000 money bomb for the next 72 hours – $1,000 for each vote needed in the Electoral College to win the presidency. They also released the following video on their YouTube channel:

Steve Coll makes the case against doing so.

Although not mentioned in this article, Coll has another relevant historical precedent to draw from. In his seminal work “Ghost Wars,” he wrote extensively about how the U.S. provided the mujahedin in Afghanistan with Stinger missiles and other weapons to level the playing field in their fight against the Soviets. According to Coll, the CIA gave between 2,000 and 2,500 missiles to the Afghan rebels during the course of the war.

After the Soviet withdrawal, “the CIA fretted that loose Stingers would be bought by terrorist groups or hostile governments such as Iran’s for use against American civilian passenger planes or military aircraft.” The Bush and Clinton administrations later authorized a highly secret missile buyback program, with each going between $80,000 and $150,000 a piece. The agency estimated that 600 of them were still at large in 1996 (Coll, Ghost Wars p. 11).   The CIA and the Obama administration would not want to see a replay of this scenario in Libya.

Dr. Gupta stays at CNN and Emory Hospital.

With the obscene amounts of money being proposed for the economic stimulus, CNN’s Christine Romans effectively states the obvious: billions are no longer enough.

Peter Orszag, Barack Obama’s nominee to be director of the Office of Management and Budget, has given up his duties blogging for his old job as director of the Congressional Budget Office. The CBO blog will continue under acting director Robert Sunshine.

Here’s hoping that Orszag continues his blogging at the White House.

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Ron Klain, the former chief of staff to Vice President Al Gore, has been asked to fill the same job for Joe Biden.

And for those of you looking for jobs in the federal government, the 2008 edition of the Plum Book is now available.

Update: Politico says Klain has accepted the VP Chief of Staff job.

Update II: Al Gore not interested in any jobs in the new administration.

Update III: Competition for jobs in the new administration is pretty fierce. Check out this graph from a recent article in TIME Magazine.

The most labor-intensive phase is about to begin, as teams of Obama aides descend on more than 100 federal departments and agencies to begin poring over their operations. Meanwhile, the new Administration is looking for more than 300 Cabinet secretaries, deputies and assistant secretaries, plus upwards of 2,500 political appointees who do not require Senate confirmation. Not that there will be any lack of candidates: in the first five days after Obama’s team set up its Change.gov website, 144,000 applications poured in.