Archive for September, 2013

DEMPSEY, HAGEL ARRIVE IN SOUTH KOREA AS PART OF MILITARY PIVOT TO ASIA

September 30, 2013

The Washington Times on September 29, 2013, reported that the Pentagon’s top leaders arrived to discuss regional security issues with South Korean military officials amid intensifying crises in the Middle East, deepening cuts in U.S. defense spending and ongoing provocations by North Korea. Excerpts below:

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, travelled to Seoul in part to reassure South Korea that the Obama administration is committed to its so-called pivot to Asia despite setbacks in the military’s budget and growing unrest in the Arab world.

The Pentagon leaders are expected to discuss North Korea’s nuclear program, enhancing South Korea’s intelligence-gathering capabilities and possibly extending the 2015 deadline for Washington to hand over to Seoul wartime operational control of U.S. and South Korean troops.

“We’re constantly re-evaluating each of our roles,” Mr. Hagel told reporters traveling with him. “That does not at all subtract from, or in any way weaken, our commitment — the United States’ commitment — to the treaty obligations that we have and continue to have with the South Koreans.”

During their trip, Mr. Hagel and Gen. Dempsey also will commemorate the 60th anniversary of the U.S.-South Korean mutual defense treaty and visit American troops.

The Pentagon has played a major role in the administration’s refocusing of attention and resources on Asia, which makes the Defense Department’s budget problems a source of worry for South Korea, Japan, Taiwan and other allies in the region.

As the world’s second-largest economy, China has engineered a decade long military buildup that has dwarfed its neighbors, many of which oppose Chinese territorial claims over much of the region’s strategic waterways.

As the Obama administration announced its pivot to Asia in 2011, it also cut the Pentagon’s budget by $500 billion over the next decade and agreed to another $500 billion reduction over 10 years under sequestration — an automatic, across-the-board spending reduction plan.

Officials have insisted that the spending cuts would not affect the Asia pivot. But Adm. Jonathan Greenert, chief of naval operations, said in July that budget constraints would slow the Navy’s plans to home-port 60 percent of its ships in the Pacific by 2020.

“Our Asia Pacific rebalance that I’ve talked to you about before … that will be slowed some due to sequestration, but it will continue on, because that is our focus,” Adm. Greenert said again Sept. 10 at an all-hands call.

Although the pivot aims to strengthen economic, diplomatic and military relationships with allies in the region, Pentagon forces and equipment have become the most tangible signs of cooperation.

The Pentagon plans to deploy a second missile defense radar to Japan to guard against North Korean threats, several more littoral combat ships that will rotate through Singapore and as many as 2,500 Marines in Australia.

In addition, the U.S. is negotiating a military presence at the Philippines’ Subic Bay and has begun a military-to-military relationship with Myanmar, also known as Burma.

However, Mr. Klinger said fewer forces will be stationed permanently in the region as part of the pivot than had been planned before 9/11. Australian defense officials say privately that 1,200 Marines, not 2,500, will rotate through their country.

If sequestration persists into 2014, the Navy will be forced to cancel ship maintenance and lose or delay the procurement of new ships, Adm. Greenert testified in Congress on September 18.

Former Navy Secretary Donald Winter said having fewer available ships will reduce the Navy’s ability to show U.S. resolve in the region.

“If you have vessels that are in a shipyard needing repair, the timeline for getting those completed, and ready to go to sea, the crew worked up and everything is such that they’re really not in any sense usable for any type of contingency response,” Mr. Winter said last week at the Heritage Foundation.

The cuts have been made amid growing instability in the region. North Korea has forged ahead with its nuclear weapons program and six months ago threatened to turn its southern neighbor into a “sea of fire” and hit the U.S. with nuclear-tipped missiles. China has become increasingly assertive in its territorial disputes in the South China Sea.

Stressing that the pivot involves more than shifting military assets, the Obama administration noted some diplomatic and economic progress.

For example, the U.S.-Korea Free Trade Agreement became effective last year, and negotiations for the multilateral Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal are underway. The U.S. also has boosted development aid to the region by about 7 percent, and has increased official visits and attendance at regional summits.

Nonetheless, the defense part of the pivot is “extremely important” to U.S. allies in the region, and talk of defense cuts has created “uncertainty and unpredictability,” said Bonnie S. Glaser, a researcher at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

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IRAN HACKS US NAVY SITE AS OBAMA NEGOTIATES WITH TEHRAN

September 29, 2013

Washington Times on September 28, 2013, reported that Iran is said to have stepped up cyberattacks on the U.S. military. The news comes at a time when President Obama and Iranian President Hasan Rouhani communicated by phone call for the first time since the Carter administration.

Cyberintrusions aimed at an unclassified computer network belonging to the U.S. Navy began the week of Sept. 15, just before a planned upgrade, The Wall Street Journal reported.

“Iran is very active,” said James Lewis, a former State Department official and cybersecurity specialist at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, to The Wall Street Journal. “They’re better than we thought.”

PAKISTANI GIRL HONOURED AS HARVARD UNIVERSITY’S HUMANITARIAN OF THE YEAR

September 28, 2013

Daily Telegraph, London, on September 28, 2013, reported that Malala Yousafzai, an outspoken proponent for girls’ education, was at Harvard to accept the 2013 Peter J. Gomes Humanitarian Award. Harvard President Drew Gilpin Faust said she was pleased to welcome Malala because of their shared interest in education. Excerpts below:

Malala was shot in the head in October 2012. Militants said she was attacked because she was critical of the Taliban, not because of her views on education.

The 16-year-old Malala said she hopes to become a politician because politicians can have influence on a broad scale.

She spoke nostalgically about her home region, the Swat Valley, and said she hopes to return someday. She called it a “paradise” but described a dangerous area where militants blew up dozens of schools and sought to discourage girls from going to school by snatching pens from their hands. Students, she said, reacted by hiding their books under their shawls so people wouldn’t know they were going to school.

“The so-called Taliban were afraid of women’s power and were afraid of the power of education,” she told hundreds of students, faculty members and well-wishers who packed Harvard’s ornate Sanders Theatre for the award ceremony.

“…when I was in Birmingham, I didn’t know where I was, I didn’t know where my parents are, I didn’t know who has shot me and I had no idea what was happening,” she said. “But I thank God that I’m alive.”

RUSSIA WARNS JAPAN OVER TRAVEL TO DISPUTED ISLANDS

September 27, 2013

NewsMax on September 26, 2013, published a report by Thomson/Reuters on Russia threatening to ban visa-free travel for Japanese officials to four disputed Pacific islands if they make statements demanding the territories be returned to Japan. Excerpts below:

The renewed tension could set back a fresh drive by the countries’ leaders to end a decades-old territorial dispute over the small islands north of Hokkaido which were seized by Soviet troops at the end of World War II.

The spat over the islands, known as the Southern Kuriles in Russia and as the Northern Territories in Japan, has prevented Moscow and Tokyo signing a treaty formally ending hostilities and still hinders efforts to improve relations.

[The Foreign Ministry] underlined in a written statement that visa-free travel was permitted for Japanese officials as a “humanitarian act,” mainly to enable them to visit the graves of their ancestors.

The ministry made clear it was referring to comments by Ichita Yamamoto, Japan’s Minister of State for Okinawa and Northern Territories Affairs, during a visit to the islands and quoted him as saying that his view of “the need to return territories” was reinforced by his trip.

Tokyo did not immediately respond. Asked about the Russian Foreign Ministry’s warning at a news conference, Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said he was not aware of it and declined further comment.

A report by the Nikkei business daily on a news conference given by the minister on Sept. 23 following his visit appeared to contain no inflammatory comments.

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Japan’s prime minister, Shinzo Abe, agreed to revive talks on the islands during a summit in Moscow in April. Any new tensions over the islands would be likely to set back those efforts.

The islands were seized by the Soviet Union, of which Russia was then the biggest part, after it declared war on Japan in August 1945 and days before Japan surrendered, forcing about 17,000 Japanese to flee. They are near rich fishing grounds.

Japan and Russia are still nominally at war, although hostilities ended shortly after Japan surrendered. The conclusion of a peace treaty depends on the resolution of the territorial dispute.

ED FEULNER ON HOW TO HANDLE MONSTERS

September 26, 2013

Washington Times on September 24, 2013, published a commentary by Ed Feulner on US handling of interventions. He wrote that it goes without saying that Syrian President Bashar Assad is a monster. He’s killed thousands of his own citizens, unleashed chemical weapons against rebels, and is closely associated with Iran’s dangerous rulers.

It also needs to be said, though, as President John Quincy Adams did, that the United States “goes not abroad in search of monsters to destroy.”

Adams was speaking in 1821, explaining the foreign policy of the Founders. His father played a vital role in the creation of the country, and J.Q. Adams helped it grow and thrive decades later. He was serving as secretary of state when he discussed American foreign policy, and he went on to serve a term as president.

This all matters as we consider how to handle Syria, and its resident monsters, today.

As analyst Marion Smith writes in a Heritage Foundation special report, the Founders provide a handy guide about how the country should handle foreign problems today.

“America’s Founders actually advocated and acted upon the idea that prosperity at home comes through active trade abroad and that peace is best secured through military strength and foreign respect of U.S. sovereignty and the principles of liberty,” he writes. They were neither isolationist nor interventionist. They were pragmatic.

He adds that the Founders were wary of permanent political alliances, foreign intrigue at home and coercive foreign powers. They aimed to protect America’s strategic independence and support U.S. interests.

Using that standard, the United States should only use military force if it serves a vital national interest. That’s a far cry from a progressive foreign policy, of course. That concept, born a century or so ago, teaches that the United States should act only when our interests are not at stake, since promoting our self-interest would be inherently bad.

It’s an idea the Founders would have dismissed out of hand.

Despite his progressive tendencies, President Obama seems to be saying he agrees with the Founders. Discussing the use of chemical weapons in Syria, he said: “This attack is an assault on human dignity. It also presents a serious danger to our national security.” While the first part of that statement is clearly true, the second part is far from proved.

It is indeed dangerous for Syria to have chemical weapons, but it would be far worse for those weapons to end up in the hands of al Qaeda or Hezbollah terrorists. While the administration has offered some halfhearted reasons for intervening, it hasn’t explained how U.S. vital interests are at risk, nor has it shown that the American people would be gravely threatened if our military doesn’t intervene.

That doesn’t mean we should do nothing at all. In a recent paper, regional expert Jim Phillips laid out some steps our government should take to contain Syrian aggression. He writes that the United States should:

• Work with friends and allies to prevent terrorists from obtaining Mr. Assad’s chemical weapons.

• Cultivate allies within the Syrian opposition, especially non-Islamist forces that would be willing to monitor the disposition of Mr. Assad’s chemical weapons, track their movements, and destroy or seize them if necessary.

• Work with regional allies to strengthen non-Islamist opposition forces and accelerate the fall of the Assad regime.
Whenever anything bad happens, seemingly anywhere in the world, all eyes seem to turn to the United States. We’re the world’s leading nation, but we cannot be the world’s policeman.

It’s clearly in our best interest to help shape a stable Syria, one that doesn’t threaten its own people or its neighbors and one that surrenders its chemical weapons and other weapons of mass destruction. Those outcomes will require American involvement, but don’t require American military intervention.

It’s a crucial difference, one the Founders would have appreciated.

Ed Feulner is founder of the Heritage Foundation (heritage.org).

OBAMA HITS BACK AT PUTIN: ‘AMERICA IS EXCEPTIONAL’

September 25, 2013

Washington Times on September 24, 2013, reported that addressing the United Nations, President Obama shot back at his Russian counterpart and stated, in no uncertain terms, that America will continue to be a global leader. Excerpts below:

“The danger for the world is that the United States … may disengage, creating a vacuum of leadership that no other nation is ready to fill. I believe that would be a mistake,” Mr. Obama said. “I believe America must remain engaged for our own security. I believe the world is better for it. Some may disagree, but I believe that America is exceptional — in part because we have shown a willingness, through the sacrifice of blood and treasure, to stand up not only for our own narrow self-interest, but for the interests of all.”

His comments were a direct response to the recent New York Times op-ed article by Russian President Vladimir Putin, who blasted “American exceptionalism” and added that nations must be considered equals.

OBAMA PRESSURED BY LAWMAKERS TO STAND GROUND AGAINST IRAN

September 24, 2013

Fox News on September 23, 2013, reported that on the heels of criticism over his handling of the stand-off with Syria, President Obama is facing pressure from Congress to stand his ground with Iran — in the run-up to the U.N. General Assembly session in New York where Hassan Rowhani will make his debut visit as Iran’s president. Excerpts below:

Rowhani has sent signals over the last few weeks that he’s willing to engage the U.S. in talks over his country’s nuclear program. Obama revealed in an interview a week ago that he and the newly elected Iranian leader have been exchanging letters.

The communication raised the possibility that Obama, or perhaps Secretary of State John Kerry, might meet on the sidelines of the U.N. session, and jump-start a new round of talks aimed at convincing Iran to abandon any pursuit of nuclear weapons and open up its program to inspectors.

Senators Bob Menendez, D-N.J., and Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., though, urged Obama to tread cautiously.

“Like you, we viewed the election of Hassan Rouhani as an indicator of discontent amongst the Iranian people and we have taken note of recent diplomatic overtures by Iran,” they wrote. “However, whatever nice words we may hear from Mr. Rouhani, it is Iranian action that matters.”

They continued: “Iran is not a friend whose word can be taken as a promise. The test of Iranian seriousness must be verifiable action by Iran to terminate its nuclear weapons program.”

The senators specifically called on Obama to use his U.N. speech to reiterate the U.S. position that the country will not allow Iran to achieve nuclear weapons capability, and that the U.S. demands “verifiable action” from Iran in order to reach a “diplomatic accord.”

Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., wrote Obama a similar letter, urging “that any diplomatic outreach to Iran reemphasize that the United States will not allow Iran to acquire a nuclear weapons capability and that any relief from crippling economic sanctions on Iran will only be provided if Iran takes meaningful and verifiable actions to halt its nuclear activities.”

Iran’s support for Syria’s Bashar Assad has further complicated any attempt to re-start talks with the West over its nuclear program.

CHRISTIANS ATTACKED: AT LEAST 78 KILLED IN SUICIDE BOMBING AT PAKISTAN CHURCH

September 23, 2013

Fox News on September 22, 2013, published an AP report on a pair of suicide bombers blowing themselves up amid hundreds of worshippers at a historic church in northwestern Pakistan on Sunday, killing 78 people in the deadliest-ever attack against the country’s Christian minority. Excerpts below:

A wing of the Pakistani Taliban claimed responsibility for the bombing, raising new questions about the government’s push to strike a peace deal with the militants to end a decade-long insurgency that has killed thousands of people.

The Jundullah arm of the Taliban said they would continue to target non-Muslims until the United States stopped drone attacks in Pakistan’s remote tribal region. The latest drone strike came when missiles hit a pair of compounds in the North Waziristan tribal area, killing six suspected militants.

The attack on the All Saints Church, which wounded 141 people, occurred as worshippers were leaving after services to get a free meal of rice offered on the front lawn, said a top government administrator, Sahibzada Anees.

“There were blasts and there was hell for all of us,” said Nazir John, who was at the church in the city’s Kohati Gate district along with at least 400 other worshippers. “When I got my senses back, I found nothing but smoke, dust, blood and screaming people. I saw severed body parts and blood all around.”

Survivors wailed and hugged one another in the wake of the blasts. The white walls of the church, which first opened in the late 1800s, were pockmarked with holes caused by ball bearings contained in the bombs to cause maximum damage. Blood stained the floor and the walls. Plates filled with rice were scattered across the ground.

The attack was carried out by two suicide bombers who detonated their explosives almost simultaneously, said police officer Shafqat Malik.

The 78 dead included 34 women and seven children, said Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan. Another 37 children were among the 141 wounded, he said.

The number of casualties from the blasts was so high that the hospital ran short of caskets for the dead and beds for the wounded, said Mian Iftikhar Hussain, a former information minister of surrounding Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province who was on the scene.

“This is the deadliest attack against Christians in our country,” said Irfan Jamil, the bishop of the eastern city of Lahore.

The bishop in Peshawar, Sarfarz Hemphray, announced a three-day mourning period and blamed the government and security agencies for failing to protect the country’s Christians.

“If the government shows will, it can control this terrorism,” said Hemphray. “We have been asking authorities to enhance security, but they haven’t paid any heed.”

Hundreds of Christians burned tires in the street in the southern city of Karachi to protest the bombing.

Islamic militants have carried out dozens of attacks across the country since Sharif took office in June, even though he has made clear that he believes a peace deal with the Pakistani Taliban is the best way to tamp down violence in the country.

Pakistan’s major political parties endorsed Sharif’s call for negotiations earlier this month. But the Taliban have said the government must release militant prisoners and begin pulling troops out of the northwest tribal region that serves as their sanctuary before they will begin talks.

There are many critics of peace talks who point out that past deals with the Taliban have fallen apart and simply given the militants time to regroup.

“I don’t think appeasement will work,” said Farhatullah Babar, a senior leader of the main opposition group, the Pakistan People’s Party. “This is a message from them that they don’t believe in negotiations. If they don’t, we should also stand up and fight them.”

The U.S. has repeatedly demanded that Pakistan take stronger action against Islamic militants, especially members of the Afghan Taliban who use the country as a base for cross-border attacks on American troops in Afghanistan.

ISRAELI SOLDIER ABDUCTED, KILLED BY PALESTINIAN

September 22, 2013

Washington Times on September 21, 2013, published an AP report on Israel’s intelligence agency saying a Palestinian lured an Israeli soldier to a village in the West Bank and killed him. Excerpts below:

The Shin Bet agency says the soldier’s body was found in a well early on Saturday a Palestinian village near the city of Qalqiliya in the northern West Bank.

The military says the soldier’s family has been notified.

HACKERS ATTACK SOUTH KOREAN THINK TANKS; PYONGYANG’S CYBERWARRIORS ACCUSED

September 21, 2013

Washington Times on September 16, 2013, reported that a group of hackers using Internet addresses accessible from North Korea have been waging an “unsophisticated” campaign to spy on defense think tanks, government agencies and other security-related targets in South Korea, according to computer security researchers. Excerpts below:

In a posting to its email list, a researcher from the Russian security outfit Kaspersky Lab analyzed malicious software, or malware, that he said had attacked 11 organizations based in South Korea.

“Taking into account the profiles of the targeted organizations — South Korean universities that conduct research on international affairs, produce defense policies for government, [a] national shipping company, support groups for Korean unification — one might easily suspect that the attackers might be from North Korea,” wrote Kaspersky Lab’s Dmitry Tarakanov.

Mr. Tarakanov, who dubbed the malware campaign “Kimsuky,” said it was designed to steal logins and passwords from infected machines and had been running since April.

The attackers used 10 network addresses assigned to Internet service providers (ISPs) in Chinese provinces bordering North Korea, Mr. Tarakanov stated.

South Korean intelligence officials have accused North Korea of being behind previous cyberattacks, including one on March 20 that wiped data from thousands of computers at South Korean banks and TV stations.
Seoul says Pyongyang’s cyberwarfare unit has as many as 3,000 trained hackers.