Latest Post: Send the Envoy - Obama, Iran, and Diplomatic Symbolism
Latest Post: Afghanistan - Obama's Camp Bagram Challenge
5:15 p.m. Before we sign off for the night, here's one to watch tomorrow:
President Barack Obama will discuss Iraq and Afghanistan with U.S. defense officials at the Pentagon on Wednesday, part of ongoing talks with military leaders before making final troop deployment decisions.
Good night and peace to all.
4:20 p.m. US envoy George Mitchell, who is in Cairo for the first leg of his Middle East tour, may want to turn around and go home. Really.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton thumbed her nose at Hamas and, indeed, verged on green-lighting another Israeli attack on Gaza. In her first news conference as Secretary, Clinton said:
We support Israel's right to self-defense. The (Palestinian) rocket barrages which are getting closer and closer to populated areas (in Israel) cannot go unanswered....It is regrettable that the Hamas leadership apparently believes that it is in their interest to provoke the right of self-defense instead of building a better future for the people of Gaza.
I cannot find an explanation for this that fits any sensible strategy of diplomacy, apart from the possibility that Clinton is clinging to the idea of working with Israel and the Palestinian Authority, isolating and undermining Hamas. If that is the case, it's a strategy whose time passed three weeks ago amidst the dead in Gaza. (cross-posted from the Israel-Gaza-Palestine thread)
1:40 p.m. All gone a bit quiet in Washington. We'll be back later with an evening update.
11:40 a.m. You First. Iranian Government spokesman says, in response to possible engagement with Washington, "We are awaiting concrete changes from new US statesmen. On several occasions our president has defined Iran's views and the need for a change in US policies."
11:30 a.m. Robert Gates and Hillary Clinton really should talk to each other, that is, unless they're carrying out a clever double act.
Minutes before Gates portrays the global menace of Tehran, the Secretary of State says, ""There is a clear opportunity for the Iranians, as the president expressed in his interview, to demonstrate some willingness to engage meaningfully with the international community. Whether or not that hand becomes less clenched is really up to them."
11:20 a.m. How Dangerous is Tehran? Keeping an ear on the Gates testimony and this comes out as he speaks about Latin America: "These Russian manoeuvres [in the region] should not be of concern to us. On the other hand, Iranian meddling is of concern."
11 a.m. And as for Pakistan....Secretary of Defense Gates assures the Senate Armed Services Committee that US missile strikes will continue: ""Both President Bush and President Obama have made clear that we will go after al Qaeda wherever al Qaeda is and we will continue to pursue that."
10 a.m. It's Official, Iraq and Bin Laden are So Yesterday. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates tells the Senate Armed Services Committee that Afghanistan is now America's "greatest military challenge". That, of course, means more US forces: "We have not had enough troops to provide a baseline level of security in some of the most dangerous areas — a vacuum that increasingly has been filled by the Taliban."
At the same time, Gates is also being cautious about the US "drawdown" of forces in Iraq, "There is still the potential for setbacks — and there may be hard days ahead for our troops."
8 a.m. Islamic insurgents who have taken over the Somalian capital of Baidoa have introduced sharia law. The movement's leaders explained how they intend to govern at a public meeting in the football stadium.
7:15 a.m. The "Military Balance 2009" report of the International Institute for International Studies, released later today, warns that Taliban operations have continued "unabated" and are moving into previously quiet areas. The IISS portrays the situation as a "turning point" for the US and NATO members:
Without more positive developments and a more unified approach to the conflict, it seemed likely that some countries with troops deployed as part of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) mission under Nato command might begin to reappraise their commitments.
7 a.m. Two NATO troops have been killed in Helmand in Afghanistan.
6 a.m. An interesting twist to yesterday's story that the European Union was taking the Mujahedin-e-Khalq/People's Mujahedin Organisation of Iran off its list of terrorist organisations: the US State Department is keeping the organisation on its own list.
5 a.m. A spirited shot across the foreign-policy bows of the Obama Administration from Richard Seymour in The Guardian of London, "Obama the Imperialism". Seymour concludes, "Liberal imperialism is in rude health: it is its victims who are in mortal peril."
Overnight developments (2 a.m. Washington time): President Obama took the diplomatic and publicity initiative big-time last night with his interview with Al Arabiya television. We've posted our analysis and the transcript of the interview.
Elsewhere, the news is not so great. We've posted separately on the challenge posed by "Guantanamo's Big Brother", the Camp Bagram detention facility in Afghanistan, especially with the forthcoming US military surge.
In Somalia, Islamic insurgents have effectively taken what passes for "control", seizing the capital Baidoa.
And the Russians have let Washington know they're around with a symbolic, political, and military move. Moscow has announced that it will build a naval base in Abkhazia, which was formally part of Georgia but which Russia declared to be "independent" after last August's Russian-Georgian war.