London Anti-Extremism Conference Must Challenge the Role of Iran

Lord Maginnis   |   January 26, 2015    4:55 PM ET

On Thursday, London hosted a major conference to discuss the ISIS threat and strategies for confronting Islamic extremism around the globe. Unfortunately, this conference took place about a week after Prime Minister David Cameron and US President Barack Obama together expressed support for Obama's commitment to oppose congressional efforts to define new economic sanctions that would be triggered if Iran's Islamic theocracy continue to frustrate international efforts to reach a comprehensive deal over its nuclear programme.

Naturally, Prime Minister Cameron's and President Obama's meeting also focused on the broader issue of Islamic extremism, especially in the aftermath of the terror attacks in Paris during the previous week. But the two leaders' joint commitment to some watered-down conciliation suggests a fundamental misunderstanding of the root causes of the growth of extremism in the Middle East and beyond. One can only hope that last week's conference will have corrected some of the faults in the UK government's policies; but if previous attempts are anything to go by, they are unlikely to have done other than give further encouragement to the incorrigible Mullahs' regime.

Concurrently, the Global Diplomatic Forum leaps on the bandwagon with its one-day Conference entitled "Iran's Re-Engagement with the International Community and its impact on Geopolitics in the Middle East". Apparently no preconditions, no current assessments - just well-intentioned public figures with a dangerously narrow-minded view of the Middle-East.

So what needs to happen if these two conferences are to lead to a comprehensive solution? First and foremost, they need to truly focus on the problem of extremism as a whole, not solely on the ISIS threat as the most prominent example of it. ISIS is a symptom; it is not the disease. And if the participants in these conferences fail to understand that they run the risk of prescribing a solution that alleviates one symptom while exacerbating another.

Both Leaders, in the US and the UK, have, apparently, decided that as long as the headline-grabbing ISIS militants are defeated, virtually any partnership or strategy is justified. Iran is, despite its outrageous interventions in Iraq during the Nouri al-Maliki term in Government, viewed by some as a militarily asset that can oppose the establishment of a Sunni caliphate in its neighbourhood.

But that is only true if Western powers are merely standing against that one specific entity, and not against the overall threat of violent Islamic extremism. If the latter is our true opponent, as last week's conference in London underscored, then it does us no good to dislodge one extremist threat - a Sunni one - by strengthening the position of its Shiite competitor.

Iran's Shiite influence on Iraq and Syria has already been well recognised. In the past month, at least three high-ranking officers from the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) have been killed there. These are representatives of a hard-line paramilitary organisation that has virtually taken control of the war against ISIS by relying on volunteer forces and Shiite militias, impelling them to commit human rights abuses that rival those committed by ISIS.

The National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) reports that there are some thousands IRGC forces active in Iraq today. There should be no doubt that their influence is deepening the sectarian dimensions of the current conflict, and that this is as effective as anything else at driving recruitment for extremists not just within ISIS, but on both sides of the divide.

It would be extremely naïve to think that the broader problem will go away simply when ISIS is destroyed. A significant ISIS threat did not even exist in Iraq until Iran's support allowed the government of Nouri al-Maliki to consolidate power into the hands of a Shiite Cabal, alienating Sunnis from public life and driving some of them into the arms of extremist groups. If someday ISIS ceases to be an option, these same people will find another outlet for their defiance. The best outcome we can hope for, then, is one in which an inclusive, secular Iraqi government provides a safe, workable administration for Iraqis of every shade and complexion.

This may seem like a difficult thing to achieve, but strategy conferences like the one in London last week could have helped to outline the way forward. Yet, they will only serve that purpose if they do not begin from the faulty premise or misunderstanding of the problem. An inclusive Iraqi society is simply impossible so long as Tehran, a Shiite theocracy and leading exporter of sectarian conflict and terrorism, remains as an influential participant in the ongoing conflict. Therefore, one of the first stated goals of Western policy against extremism in the Middle East must be to expel the Iranian regime from Iraq, and from Syria as well.

Allowing Iran to continue to meddle and systematically advance its position in these countries will only exacerbate the sectarian aspects of these civil wars in Iraq and Syria. And by cooperating with Iran and refusing to rein it in, Western powers have effectively tied the hands of moderating influences in the region like the Free Syrian Army and the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI). By so doing, they have not only failed to resolve the sectarian conflict, they have illogically suppressed those alternative ideologies that can make sectarianism and extremism less attractive within Muslim societies.

Ryan Barrell   |   January 22, 2015    5:06 PM ET

Well this is awkward.

It seems they're not such great bros after all - US President Barack Obama doesn't follow our Prime Minister on Twitter.

To give him some credit, he appears to have tried.

He doesn't follow @David_Cameron, but does follow @davidcameron, who isn't a Prime Minister. He's just a regular bloke.

The keen folks at The Next Web found this out while they played with DoesFollow, a tool which allows you to check if two specific people are following each other.


Obama isn't the only one who makes that mistake though. @davidcameron has been heartily sitting on his Twitter handle for 6 years, despite a torrent of abuse from people who think he's the Tory leader.

In thousands of years, when the history books speak of the US/UK Cold War, it will begin with this. Then a subtweet, then eventually it will escalate into a scathing Tumblr post or a violently frank Reddit AMA.

Louise Ridley   |   January 21, 2015    8:45 AM ET

US Republican governor Bobby Jindal tried to provide some snarky commentary on President Obama's 2015 State Of The Union speech, by quipping he could sum it up in a single tweet.

Unfortunately, the Louisiana governor's attempt to get one over on the president was completely undermined by a big fat grammar mistake.

In his post mocking that he could "save you 45 mins" by boiling down Obama's address to several flippant points, he added "your welcome", instead of the grammatically correct "you're welcome".

The error was swiftly picked up by critics online, including news website Bipartisan Report which highlighted the fact that one of Obama's "free" initiatives that Jindal slammed in the tweet is free community college - something Jindal's English skills suggest he could make use of himself.

Jindal's tweet was retweeted nearly 2,000 times, as commenters wasted no time correcting the mistake.

Jindal is the same politician who was in London this week insisting that Britain is full of "no-go zones" where non-Muslims never go.

The Republican, who is considering running for president himself in 2016, said in a speech in London this week that some immigrants are seeking “to colonise Western countries, because setting up your own enclave and demanding recognition of a no-go zone are exactly that.”

Republican Bobby Jindal INSISTS Britain Is Teeming With No-Go Zones
Last Night's State Of The Union Boiled Down To 10 Key Moments

Jindal is no stranger to commenting on the President's annual address. In 2009 he provided the official Republican video response, which has just been named by USA Today as one of the five worst State of the Union responses in recent years.

Watch his not-to-be-copied performance below:

  |   January 16, 2015   10:14 PM ET

President Barack Obama argued on Friday that a resurgent fear of terrorism across Europe and the United States should not lead countries to overreact and shed privacy protections, even as British Prime Minister David Cameron pressed for more government access to encrypted communications used by US companies.

Obama and Cameron met at the White House just over a week after terror attacks in France left 17 people dead and stirred anxieties on both sides of the Atlantic. In the wake of the attacks, Cameron has redoubled efforts to get more access to online information, while the French government plans to present new anti-terrorism measures next week that would allow for more phone-tapping and other surveillance.

"As technology develops, as the world moves on, we should try to avoid the safe havens that could otherwise be created for terrorists to talk to each other," Cameron said in a joint news conference with Obama.


President Barack Obama and British Prime Minister David Cameron hold a joint news conference in the East Room of the White House in Washington, Friday, Jan. 16, 2015

The response to the Paris attacks could reinvigorate the debate over balancing privacy and security, even as governments and companies still grapple with the backlash against surveillance that followed the 2013 disclosures from former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden. With some in France calling the attacks their country's Sept. 11, there are also fears that the government could respond with laws akin to the sweeping USA Patriot Act that the American Congress quickly approved after the 2001 attacks.

Obama avoided taking a public position on Cameron's call for US-based technology companies like Google, Facebook and Apple to give governments more access to encrypted communications. He urged caution, saying he did not believe the threat level was so great that the "pendulum needs to swing" toward more invasive security measures.

Still, Obama agreed with his British counterpart that governments need to keep pace with rapidly evolving technology. He said that if having a phone number or email address of a potential terrorist isn't enough to disrupt a plot, "that's a problem."

Last fall, FBI Director James Comey complained that new, locked-down operating systems for smartphones made by Apple and Google could hinder law enforcement's ability to investigate and prosecute crime, pointing to cases in which police would have had their hands tied had the phones been encrypted.

Leading American Internet companies expanded their encryption programs in an effort to protect customers' communications in the wake of Snowden's revelations.

The disclosures, contained in top-secret government documents leaked to news organizations, showed the NSA and its British counterpart, GCHQ, were collecting digital communications records from millions of citizens not suspected of a crime.

The prospect of authorized eavesdropping on encrypted communications raised alarms from civil liberties groups, as well as practical concerns that weakening encryption could also put users at risk of hacking.

"There's no way to design a service so that it's secure from North Korea and China while also allowing the British and US governments to gain access," said Christopher Soghoian, principal technologist for the American Civil Liberties Union. "It's either secure or it's insecure."

The head of the Internet Association, a group that counts Facebook, Google, Yahoo, Amazon, eBay and Netflix among its members, said any government access to consumers' data must be "rule-bound, transparent and tailored."

"Just as governments have a duty to protect the public from threats, Internet services have a duty to our users to ensure the security and privacy of their data," association President Michael Beckerman said in a statement.


The pair arrive for their joint news conference in the East Room of the White House in Washington, Friday, Jan. 16, 2015

US and European intelligence agencies are still piecing together the motivations and associations of those responsible for the attacks in Paris on the satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo and a kosher grocery. Three gunmen who carried out the attacks and were killed by police claimed links to al-Qaida and the Islamic State group.

A leader of Yemen's al-Qaida branch claimed responsibility for the attacks at Charlie Hebdo, although intelligence officials say they lean toward an assessment that the Paris terror attacks were inspired by al-Qaida but not directly supervised by the group.

Still, Cameron was blistering in his description of those responsible, calling them part of a "poisonous, fanatical death cult." The attacks spurred Cameron's government to become more vocal in pursuing policies to prevent encryption technologies from keeping Britain's security services from being able to monitor terrorist cells.

Leaders in Washington and in European capitals have grown increasingly concerned about homegrown extremism and threats from foreign fighters with Western passports. However, Obama said the US had an advantage over Europe in combatting Islamic extremism because "our Muslim populations, they feel themselves to be Americans."

"There are parts of Europe in which that's not the case," he said. "It's important for Europe not to simply respond with a hammer and law enforcement and military approaches to these problems."

Paul Vale   |   January 16, 2015    6:04 PM ET

Barack Obama gave David Cameron’s team a pre-election boost with a high-profile endorsement at a joint press conference at the White House on Friday. Using words that will delight the PM's team, the president gave a glowing tribute to Cameron before the pair detailed issues of joint concern, from cybersecurity to the fight against the Islamic State.

Addressing a recent admission from Cameron that Obama occasionally calls him “bro”, the president joked that commentators had got into a "tizzy" about the term.

"Put simply, David is a great friend. He is one of my closest and most trusted partners in the world," the President said. "On many of the most pressing challenges that we face we see the world the same way. Great Britain is our indispensable partner, and David has been personally an outstanding partner - and I thank you for your friendship."

obama cameron

US President Barack Obama and Britain's Prime Minister David Cameron hold a press conference in the East Room of the White House on January 16, 2015, in Washington, DC

In a statement published before the press conference it was revealed that Britain and the United States are to establish a new joint group to counter the rise of violent extremism in the wake of the Paris terror attacks and they remained determined to confront the "poisonous and fanatical ideology" of the extremists wherever it occurred.

He said the new UK-US group would look at what more they could do to identify and counter the threat in their own countries while learning from each other's experience. At the same time, Britain is to step up its support to Iraqi forces fighting Islamic State terrorists with the deployment of additional intelligence and surveillance assets.

"Britain and America both face threats to our national security from people who hate what our countries stand for and are determined to do us harm," Cameron told the press conference. "In recent weeks, we have seen appalling attacks in Paris, in Peshawar, in Nigeria. The world is sickened by this terrorism.

obama cameron

Cameron: 'Britain and America both face threats to our national security from people who hate what our countries stand for and are determined to do us harm'

"So we will not be standing alone in this fight. We know what we are up against. And we know how we will win. We face a poisonous and fanatical ideology that wants to pervert one of the world's major religions - Islam - and create conflict, terror and death. With our allies we will confront it wherever it appears. But, most important of all, we must also fight this poisonous ideology, starting at home."

Obama said that the Paris attacks, which left 17 people dead, underlined the continuing threat from terrorist groups. "We will continue to do everything in our power to help France to seek the justice that is needed. All our countries are working together seamlessly to prevent attacks and defeat these terrorist networks," he said.

"The Paris attacks underscored again how terrorist groups like al Qaida and Isil are actively trying to inspire and support people within our own countries to engage in terrorism. We both recognise that intelligence and military force alone is not going to solve this problem so we are also going to keep working together on strategies to counter violent extremism that radicalises, recruits and mobilises people, especially young people, to engage in terrorism. "

Jessica Elgot   |   January 16, 2015    7:29 AM ET


The video seems, for the first few seconds, like one of the now ubiquitous jihadist recruit videos from one of the terror-aligned groups in Iraq - professionally shot, calling for recruits, and extremely violent.

But then the video's message begins to change. "Come to the Islamic State and learn new skills, like blowing up mosques, crucifying and executing Muslims. Travel is inexpensive, because you won't need a return ticket." The message is accompanied by gruesome images of a suicide bombing in a mosque, crucifixions and bloodied dead fighters. It is the project of an American government initiatives 'Think Again, Turn Away' which aims to win back some of the territory on the internet battleground where the jihadists have been comprehensively winning.

Now the fight is going to the second front, cyber terrorism, and Britain will play a crucial role.

obama cameron

US President Barack Obama (R) walks with British Prime Minister David Cameron through the colonnade as they are on their way for a working dinner at the Blue Room of the White House

A cyber cell of British and American intelligence and security agents is being created to defeat online attacks in an "unprecedented" deal to be struck by David Cameron and Barack Obama in talks at the White House today.

A rolling programme of war games will be staged across the Atlantic starting with attacks on the City and Wall Street to test their resilience.

It comes as a report by government listening post GCHQ warns the computer networks of British companies are under attack on a daily basis by hackers, criminal gangs, commercial rivals and foreign intelligence services.

The US Central Command's had its Twitter and YouTube hacked this week with the perpertrators claiming to have valuable documents about service personnel, though that was later disputed. President Obama is also toughening up the American response in the wake of the embarrassing and damaging North Korean hack on Sony Pictures and the infiltration of Pentagon Twitter and YouTube sites.

Ahead of a meeting in the Oval Office, Cameron said: "Just as we have worked with our closest ally, the US, to protect our people and our countries from traditional threats, so we must work together to defend ourselves from new threats like cyber attacks.

"This is an evolving threat which poses a real risk to our businesses and that's why we're taking our cooperation with the US to an unprecedented level. This is about pooling our effort so we stay one step ahead of those who seek to attack us.

"The joint exercises and training of our next generation of cyber experts will help to ensure that we have the capability we need to protect critical sectors like our energy, transport and financial infrastructure from emerging threats."

Under the plans GCHQ and MI5 will join forces with NSA and FBI to turn an American cyber cell into a transatlantic operation, to improve information sharing about threats.

Simulated attacks will be carried out to test systems, with institutions in the financial sector, including the Bank of England and a number of commercial banks being put to the test later this year.

A new generation of cyber agents will be trained up and a new Fulbright Cyber Security Award created to allow the most talented researchers to carry out research placements for up to six months.

Cameron has pledged to give security services more powers to monitor online exchanges between terror suspects and will raise the problem of terrorists using social media firms to plot in today's talks.

He told reporters that potential police murders had been spotted and prevented through use of communications data.

"Lots of attacks have been prevented," he told ITN. "We've had, since I've been Prime Minister, a major attack stopped every year. In the last few months a whole series of more minor attacks, the potential murders of police officers have been spotted. And on many occasions either communications data - who was calling who from where and when - has been vital or an intercept itself has been vital."

The Prime Minister said there was a broad agreement between Britain and the US over the powers needed to deal with terrorists communicating online. "We face the same challenge in Britain and in America," he told Sky News. "There is a broad agreement that we need to have the powers, in extremis, to intercept communications between terrorists. That is what America does today. It is what Britain does today.

"We share the intelligence and information between us and this has saved countless lives, not just in Britain and America but in other countries as well."

Cameron said the British system had "huge safeguards against intrusion" into privacy. He added: "I believe the British public will back me when I say that we shouldn't allow terrorists to talk to each without being able, in extremis, with a warrant from the Home Secretary signed personally by her, to intercept those calls."

Everyone Hates Mitt Romney

Paul Vale   |   January 16, 2015   12:00 AM ET

Everyone hates Mitt Romney. Everyone. Not just the 47% of Americans he dismissed as welfare takers during his slapstick presidential charge in 2012, and not just the workers he said he "loves to fire" during the same burlesque campaign.

Absolutely everyone hates him. Democrats, Republicans, the Tea Party... even the British, including David Cameron and Boris Johnson, who rounded on the former governor after the then-candidate suggested the country was ill-prepared to host the 2012 Olympic Games.

That'll be the same Olympics that were globally hailed as the best in decades, though in Mitt's defense he did enter a dancing horse with a Twitter account as compensation...

This week, backpedaling on assurances that after two failed presidential bids he would not run again, Romney announced to donors that he was thinking of running again.

Adding levity to the proposal, the multi-millionaire corporate raider, who once disdained social welfare programs and made fun of poor people for wearing plastic ponchos, leaked that he was going to run as the poverty candidate -- as in the Republican candidate most concerned about the poor.

Even Romney can spot that inequality is the current cause célèbre. However shoehorning a man who once said "corporations are people" into Russell Brand's "doyen of the downtrodden" plimsolls will be a Sisyphean task. It would be easier for Donald Trump to run as an African-American, or Hillary as a man.

Yet antipathy for Romney is not just bubbling up from the hoi polloi. Rupert Murdoch, another who thinks that wealth and politics are perfectly good bedfellows, called Romney a "terrible candidate" this week, adding that the 67-year-old had "had his chance".

Trump too, speaking on MSNBC, said that Romney "blew it" in 2012, the bewigged birther dismissing his fellow businessman as "a dealmaker that couldn't close the deal".

Even Sarah Palin, a woman whose political opinion has not evolved beyond the unlettered populism responsible for her preposterous tilt at the VP's job in 2008, pushed for "new energy... new blood... and new ideas".

Following the leak of Romney's intention, the other likely presidential candidates formed a firing squad. Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker took aim, saying, "I think it's difficult to make an argument about moving forward when you're arguing about things from the past," while Kentucky Senator Rand Paul pulled the trigger, calling Romney "yesterday's news".

Another desirous of the Oval Office is Texas Senator Ted Cruz, who returned to his oft-quoted line from Ronald Reagan demanding "bold colours" (Cruz) not "pale pastels" (Romney). According to Republican mythology, the long-dead Gipper currently sits on the right hand of God (receiving a pedicure from Ayn Rand) so Cruz's dismissal carried all the weight of scripture.

So everyone hates Mitt. Except, it seems, the business executives and donors who are pushing for Romney round three, along with his loyal spokesman, Eric Fehrnstrom, who like Cruz invoked the divine to defend his client. "Reagan ran three times," said Fehrnstrom this week, "Mitt learns from experience. If he does run, he will run his strongest campaign yet."

Romney leads several polls, mainly due to his name recognition from 2012, and the fact that no other candidate has officially thrown their Stetson into the ring. Yet the most relevant poll was taken in 2012, when Obama secured a second term at Romney's expense when a Republican victory seemed very achievable. After that defeat, Romney 2016 seems impossible.

As Jonathan Chait put it in New York Magazine this week, "Nothing could convince me that Romney will actually run for president, not even Romney taking the oath of office."

Prosperity Can Save the World

Joana Alfaiate   |   January 15, 2015    5:38 PM ET

Prime Minister David Cameron and President Obama have come together to champion prosperity. The two leaders highlight the importance of economic growth - but they define prosperity as being also the rule of law, peace and freedom. These Western values have become a matter of life and death: Obama and Cameron explicitly urge their citizens to defend them from those who claim our way of life is 'decadent' and must be crushed. The leaders have an unlikely ally in Ed Balls, who has also made an appeal for 'inclusive prosperity'.

Obama, Cameron and Balls are behind the curve. The Legatum Prosperity Index™ has been working for the last eight years on defining prosperity as wealth and wellbeing in all-encompassing terms: economy, entrepreneurship, governance, education, health, security, freedom and community. The Index ranks 142 countries based on these indicators, - covering 96% of the world's population and 99% of global GDP -, putting them together to reach an overall prosperity rank. For the Legatum Institute, "prosperity" is the term that embodies the true achievement of a better life, one where living standards are high, countries are peaceful and safe, and people are healthy, educated and free.

When Cameron and Obama talk of the threats to 'our' way of life - they mean the atrocities in Paris by al-Qaeda, the violent video killings of Islamic State, the murderous pillaging of Boko Haram, the attacks on the school in Peshawar, and to Russia's aggressive actions in Ukraine. Security and freedom is under threat; prosperity stands between these values and violence, repression, and impunity.

The US and the UK may not have an unblemished record when it comes to true prosperity. Neither is the freest country in the world, (the US ranks 21st in Personal Freedom in the 2014 Prosperity Index, placing it below Uruguay, Costa Rica, Malta or Portugal). But in terms of other variables, like rule of law, tolerance, and social capital, these two nations enjoy a high level of overall prosperity -- the US ranks 10th of 142 countries in 2014 for its good overall performance; while the UK ranks 13th. This lends the leaders of these two nations the authority to urge others to follow suit: only if governments can secure such all-important values for their citizens can they protect ordinary people from the violence of extremists.

Chris York   |   January 12, 2015    1:30 PM ET

Britain First have kissed goodbye any chance they could ever be seen as even a remotely credible political force after posting what could be their most bizarre Facebook update to date.

In response to the absence of a United States contingent at the huge solidarity march in Paris on Sunday, the pseudo-political group joined the ranks of fully signed up conspiracy theorists with an explanation that would make Donald Trump blush:

Latching on to a conspiracy theory more than a decade after it was debunked, Britain First appeared to suggest that Barack Obama had sympathy with the Islamists behind the Paris attacks.

The US president has been dogged by false rumours of his "true" religion ever since he campaigned for the US senate in 2004.


Despite repeated denials and the assertion that visiting Indonesia or having the middle name "Hussein" doesn't automatically make you a terrorist, the gossip has persisted.

Other bastions of right-wing lunacy who also believe Barack Obama is a Muslim include...



pamela geller

So, they're in good company.

Sorcerers, Apprentices, Broomsticks: The US Has Not Done Enough to Support Democracy in Pakistan, Peace With India

Catriona Luke   |   January 9, 2015   11:26 AM ET

Writing sensitive diplomatic documents is probably the world's second oldest profession. A mountainous, inaccessible central Asian country with immense strategic importance, causes a regional governor to urgently dispatch a memo to the equivalent of the State department. This country, he writes, autonomously governed 'ruled on theocratic lines, is likely to be a stronger guarantee against Soviet advance to the borders of India than any resumption of effective [he mentions a large neighbouring state] control'.

'This country' might have been Afghanistan, but the memo sent by Sir Olaf Caroe, governor of North West Frontier, in June 1935 concerned Tibet, at that time a semi-British protectorate in a 37-year reprieve from Chinese rule that has marked its porous history from the 18th century.

Olaf Caroe as well as being a 'Forward policy man' to his fingertips, was a proponent of the creation of Pakistan not only because he had a sentimental attachment to the Pathans, but because like many of his Indian Civil Service generation he was obsessed by the Soviet threat. After 1947 and as a regular visitor to Washington he influenced the Americans on the 'uncertain vestibule' of buffer states between the Soviet Union, the subcontinent and the oil-rich Persian Gulf.

His geopolitical treatise Wells of Power: the oilfields of south west Asia (1951) and his role in the formation of the 1955 Baghdad Pact, modelled on Nato, for the US, Turkey, Iran, Pakistan and Iraq, allowed him to persuade Allen W. Dulles, the first civilian director of the CIA, that the imperial lessons of military hardware and a tight hand on the geo-political tiller was necessary to keep them aligned to the west. It was complemented by Seato, the Southeast Asia Treaty Organisation, founded in 1954 to prevent communism from gaining ground in the region. Pakistan was a member and hence a recipiant of US military aid.

In the 1950s Dulles modelled the fledgling CIA on British imperial lines, and staffed it with Ivy Leaguers. Within seven years the great games division of the CIA had a) deposed Mossadeq and backed the return of the shah in Iran on the slightest of rumours that the Soviets had an eye on Iran oil; b) overthrown the elected leftist prime minister (Jacobo Arbenz) in Guatemala to replace him with a military junta; c) begun the long process of pouring military aid into Pakistan (see Kamran Shafi's excellent article for Tribune Pakistan, "A gentle reminder", 2011) which culminated in the backing of Ayub Khan's military coup in 1958 and the decision to build a new capital at Islamabad suspiciously close to Rawalpindi GHQ.

Washington's reasoning on this was to do with India. Nehru's relationship with Moscow (five years plans, massive state nationalisation) which deepened under the successive governments of his daughter Indira Gandhi. The second volume of Christopher Andrew's and Vasili Mitrokhin's The Mitrokhin Archives shows how effectively the Soviet Union penetrated and bought India from the 1960s - their most successful client state outside Europe - in a combined policy of stagnation of its economy and repression of its political structures. It threw up a flurry of counterweight alliances - the US with Pakistan, China with Pakistan and from the 1970s Saudi Arabia with Pakistan, all of which came to benefit and inflate Pakistan's military and consequently make it almost impossible for democracy to take root.

As ever it was the decisions made in remote capitals that had the most devastating effects. At the time of the fall of East Pakistan in 1971 as Gary J Bass, professor of politics at Princeton, has shown in "The Blood Telegram: Nixon, Kissinger, and a Forgotten Genocide," disgraceful White House diplomacy attended the birth of Bangladesh. Washington gave the Pakistan military carte blanche to murder 300,000 Bengalis, most of whom were Hindus, and forced 10 million to flee to India. The cause: that Nixon and Kissinger in wanting to extract the US from Vietnam in a face-saving way - and obsessed as ever with the Soviets - opened a channel to split Moscow and Beijing with the help of Pakistan's military leader Yahya Khan. Yahya was Nixon's intermediary to Chou Enlai and he later helped prepare the ground for Kissinger and then Nixon to visit China.

If it sounds like the pragmatism of geo-politics to safeguard "the free world", The Blood Telegram also shows in the age of 'Reds under the Beds' Nixon and Kissinger to be stupid and vulgar especially in their attitudes toward the Indian administration, which they regarded in its pro-Soviet alignment as repulsive and shifty, and especially in their opinion of Indira Gandhi. "The old bitch," Nixon called her. "I don't know why the hell anybody would reproduce in that damn country but they do."

So it is not too difficult to imagine the scenes in the White House when Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, the civilian prime minister, sat down on a sofa with Mrs Gandhi at Shimla in July 1972 and talked about peace and the Line of Control. The meeting, the news got about in Foggy Bottom, was brokered from Moscow.

Kissinger made repeated efforts to warn Bhutto off, ostensibly on the grounds of Pakistan's nuclear programme (which they equally turned a blind eye to in the 1980s) but the reality is that Washington found Zulfikar Ali impossible to control - in contrast to the military establishments that Washington favoured - and they wanted him out.

When the Soviets invaded Afghanistan in 1979, US-Pakistan policy was not so far removed from Caroe's 'theocratic lines'. Combined aid from the US and Saudi Arabia poured into Afghanistan to fund the mujahideen. Arnold Raphael, the serving US ambassador, who went down in the Bahawalpur plane crash with Zia and Pakistan's top military and ISI brass, in August 1988, was known to have lobbied Washington to have the hard-line director of ISI, General Hamid Gul with his links to the fundamentalist, acid-throwing Gulbuddin Hekmatyar in the Afghan Alliance, to take over from a failing Zia in Pakistan.

This may have been too much even for Washington. But the sideways consequence was the vast re-arming of the Pakistan military through the 1980s and the increase of the ISI from a staff of 2000 in 1978 to 40,000 (with a $1 billion budget) a decade later. Anatol Lieven notes that "Zia used the ISI to channel US and Arab aid to the mujahedin. A good deal of this money stuck to the ISI's fingers." With joint funding streams from Washington and the Gulf, the ISI /military was now able to direct foreign policy, influence media coverage in Pakistan, blackmail elected governments and undermine the democratic process. By the end of the 1980s the ISI enjoyed a position of status quo that even today is only slowly being eroded.

In this, most foolishly, the west was complicit: Christopher Andrew, the Cambridge intelligence academic noted in the chapter on Pakistan in The Mitrokhin Archives: The World, during the 1980s Zia's rule from a western perspective, provided near ideal conditions of stability.

For a great part of the first decade of this century it was said in the western media that the US-Pak relationship is one of mutual need. More accurately, it may also be read as one of mutual responsibility for Pakistan not being able over six decades to reach its economic, democratic and social development potential, and at times has been prevented from coming to peace with its neighbour India.

That is not to say that the geo-politics practised in and around the subcontinent by other states - Saudi Arabia, Russia, Iran, China have been any better. The Russian occupation of Afghanistan 1978-87 resulted in 876,825 deaths.

But with Washington seemingly once again turning a blind eye to democratic struggles once again in Pakistan in 2015, you might once again wonder at their under-used capacity to propel India and Pakistan to peace.

In the last week of January Barack Obama will be the state guest at India's annual Republic Day celebrations. He will be the first US head of state to have visited India twice, and it will be the second summit-level meeting between Obama and Modi in four months.

The issue, after 60 years, might be whether this is once again in response to the shifting geo-political alliances of the region, or whether Obama has his head screwed on the right way and might actually move US policy in favour of peace between India and Pakistan. That would be a first.

Paul Vale   |   January 8, 2015    4:46 PM ET

NEW YORK -- President Obama is under pressure from a bi-partisan group in Congress that is demanding the infamous 28 pages of redactions in the official 9/11 report be declassified.

Former Senator Bob Graham, who penned the report into the attacks in 2001, has joined a growing chorus of voices demanding the redacted pages, which detail links between the terrorists and the Saudi Arabian government, be made public.

Entitled the Joint Inquiry Into Intelligence Activities Before and After the Terrorist Attacks of September 2001, the original report was published in December 2002, however President Bush demanded that 28 pages of the 828-page dossier were blacked out in an effort to protect America’s relationship with the Saudis.

twin towers

The north tower of the World Trade Center burns after s hijacked airplane hit it September 11, 2001 in New York City

Speaking to ABC News, Democratic Graham said on Wednesday: "The 28 pages primarily relate to who financed 9/11 and they point a very strong finger at Saudi Arabia as being the principal financier. The position of the United States government has been to protect Saudi Arabia.

"At virtually every step of the judicial process, when the United States government was called upon to take a position, it has been a position adverse to the interests of United States citizens seeking justice and protective of the government which, in my judgment, was the most responsible for that network of support."

Graham, along with fellow Democrat Stephen Lynch and Republican Walter Jones, are now pushing for legislation forcing Obama to declassify the documents. Should a link between Saudi Arabia and the attackers be revealed, families of the victims could sue the Saudi Kingdom through the American courts.

Reported by ABC News, Terry Strada, of the group 9/11 Families United for Justice, whose husband died in the attack, demanded the pages be published. She said: "Where is the outrage, I want to know that Saudi Arabia, a country, our supposed ally, not only bankrolled al Qaeda and the worst terror attack on US soil, but was also instrumental in implementing an intricate web of operatives in numerous places around the world."


Below are pictures from the opening of the 9/11 memorial in 2014:

Paul Vale   |   January 7, 2015    3:12 PM ET

World leaders have condemned the attack on satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo in France, an assault by three gunmen that left 12 dead and scores injured.

The attackers stormed the newsroom in central Paris and began firing indiscriminately on Wednesday morning. Witnesses told police that the gunmen shouted "we have avenged the prophet," according to Agence France-Presse.

The assailants, who were caught on film fleeing after the attack, remain on the loose. French interior minister Bernard Cazeneuve said a manhunt is under way to trace the perpetrators of the raid.

Cazeneuve said "all the means" of the justice and interior ministries have been mobilised to "neutralise the three criminals who have committed this barbaric act".

Below, global leaders react to events in Paris:

British Prime Minister David Cameron: "The murders in Paris are sickening. We stand with the French people in the fight against terror and defending the freedom of the press."

American President Barack Obama: "France, and the great city of Paris where this outrageous attack took place, offer the world a timeless example that will endure well beyond the hateful vision of these killers. We are in touch with French officials and I have directed my Administration to provide any assistance needed to help bring these terrorists to justice."

Russian President Vladimir Putin: "Moscow resolutely condemns terrorism in all its forms. Nothing can justify terrorist attacks."

narendra modi
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi: "[A] condemnable and despicable attack in Paris. Our solidarity with [the] people of France. My thoughts are with [the] families of those who lost their lives."

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Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper: "I'm horrified by the barbaric attacks in France. Our thoughts and prayers are with the victims and their families."

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Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff: "It is an unacceptable attack on press freedom, a fundamental value of democratic societies."

President of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker: "I am profoundly shocked by the brutal and inhumane attack on the Charlie Hebdo premises. It is an intolerable act, a barbaric act that concerns us all, as humans, and as Europeans. My thoughts go out to the victims and their families. I wish to express, both personally and on behalf of the European Commission, our greatest solidarity with France.”

matteo renzi
Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi: "Violence will always lose out against freedom."

German Chancellor Angela Merkel: "I was shocked to learn of the despicable attack on the newspaper in Paris. I would like to express to you and your compatriots in this hour of suffering the sympathy of the German people as well my own sorrow, and convey my condolences to the victims' loved ones."

mariano rajoy
Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy: "My firm condemnation of the terrorist attack in Paris. My condolences and solidarity to the French people and the victims."

dalil boubakeur
Head of the French Muslim Council Dalil Boubakeur: "We absolutely condemn such an act and we look forward to the authorities meting out justice. The [Muslim] community is dumbfounded by what has happened."

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Secretary General of NATO Jens Stoltenberg: “I strongly condemn the terrorist attack at the office of the Charlie Hebdo magazine in Paris today. This was a barbaric act and an outrageous attack on press freedom."

mevlut cavusoglu
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu: "Whatever is its reason or target, we are against all kinds of terror. People's freedom of belief should also be respected. It shouldn't be ridiculed or scorned. Islam is a religion of peace and it is not right to associate it with terrorism."

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Danish Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt: "Completely defenceless and innocent people became the victims of what appears to be an attack on free speech. The French society, like ours, is open, democratic and based on a free and critical press. Those are values that are deeply rooted in all of us, and which we shall protect. "It is also those very values that make France a strong society that can withstand an attack like this."

francois hollande
French President François Hollande:"This is a terrorist attack, there is no doubt about it. We are under threat because we are a country of freedom and because we are a country of freedom we ward off threats and will punish aggressors."


Paul Vale   |   January 6, 2015    7:05 PM ET

NEW YORK -- For the first time in eight years, the Republican Party has assumed control of the US Congress, having taken the Senate from the Democrats in the midterm elections last year.

On Tuesday at noon, Vice President Joe Biden swore in senators new and old, while Mitch McConnell of Kentucky took his place as majority leader in the chamber.

In the House of Representatives, which has been controlled by Republicans since 2010, veterans and newcomers recited the pledge of allegiance. Yet despite the recent elections victories, the GOP remains a party mired in disunity.

As members of the House were filing in, behind the scenes Speaker John Boehner was the target of a Tea Party coup to unseat him in favour of a more conservative, less “establishment” leader. The coup, however, fell somewhat short and Boehner, alongside the even more “establishment” McConnell, will lead their party in Congress over the next session.

Despite the discord, Republicans looked to assert themselves straight away by moving to approve the stalled Keystone XL pipeline, which would run from Canada to the Gulf coast.

President Obama retains a veto on legislation sent from Congress, which the White House said on Tuesday he would use to block the pipeline - a project that Obama and many Democrats have decried as a retrograde step in combatting global warming.

The pipeline is the opening battle in what is likely to be a long and difficult war between Congress and the White House for the remainder of Obama's term.

And though Republicans and Democrats have talked compromise in the weeks leading up to the new session, Republicans’ desire to dismantle the past six years of Obama governance means a series of vetoes and ultimately a shutdown is the most likely outcome in the months ahead.

Here are the top items on the Republican agenda:

Energy: The Senate's first bill would approve construction of the proposed Keystone XL pipeline, designed to pump oil from Canada to the US Gulf Coast. Republicans and some Democrats call the project a job-creator, but Obama and other Democrats consider it a pathway to worsening global warming. The House seems likely to approve the measure quickly. The GOP also plans legislation expediting US natural gas exports.

Health care: Republicans want to weaken Obama's 2010 health care overhaul. Leading off in the House: Legislation making it easier for smaller businesses to avoid providing health coverage to their workers by hiring veterans who already have government coverage. Another bill would exempt companies from covering employees who work under 40 hours weekly — up from the current 30-hour cutoff. Votes on a full repeal of the law are likely, but a certain veto by Obama awaits if it reaches him.

Immigration: A bill financing the Department of Homeland Security lapses in late February. Republicans would extend the agency's funding but want language blocking Obama's executive actions shielding from deportation as many as 4 million immigrants in the US illegally. Republicans also want to beef up enforcement of immigration laws while easing restrictions on incoming farm and highly skilled workers.

Budget: House Republicans want to balance the budget in 10 years. Senate Republicans haven't embraced that timeline, but GOP leaders agree that federal spending must be curbed. Republicans will likely use must-pass spending bills to challenge Obama on anti-pollution and business regulations.

Taxes: The GOP wants to lower income tax rates for corporations and other businesses, with lost revenue recovered by plugging unspecified loopholes. Democrats might go along if extra money is raised for building highways.

Other votes: Speeding congressional approval of trade treaties; hindering Obama's outreach to Cuba and Iran; Obama's nominations of Loretta Lynch for attorney general and Ashton Carter for defense secretary; renewing expired terrorism risk insurance; preventing expiration of the highway construction trust fund, the Export-Import Bank and federal borrowing authority.

Paul Vale   |   January 2, 2015    7:38 PM ET

Barack Obama has moved to impose further sanctions on North Korea over the hack of Sony Pictures Entertainment, signing an executive order on Friday to further censure the rogue state.

Although the US has already sanctioned North Korea over its nuclear program, these are the first sanctions punishing Pyongyang for alleged cyber attacks.

The Obama administration says the sanctions affect three North Korean entities, including a government intelligence agency and a North Korean arms dealer. The US is also sanctioning 10 individuals who work for those entities or the North Korean government.

Those sanctioned are barred from using the US financial system, and Americans are prohibited from doing business with them.

The White House says this is just the first part of the US response to the Sony incident.

Though disputed, the cyber attack against Sony was believed to be an act of retaliation for the film “The Interview”, starring Seth Rogen and James Franco, which depicts the fictional death of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.

In response to the attack, Sony pulled the Christmas Day release of the film, but later reversed the decision allowing it to be show on demand and in selected theatres.

In December, North Korea’s Internet suffered a prolonged outage, an incident Pyongyang blamed on America, while decrying the president as a “monkey”.

The following statement was released by the White House on Friday:

Today, the President issued an Executive Order (E.O.) authorizing additional sanctions on the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. This E.O. is a response to the Government of North Korea’s ongoing provocative, destabilizing, and repressive actions and policies, particularly its destructive and coercive cyber attack on Sony Pictures Entertainment.

The E.O. authorizes the Secretary of the Treasury to impose sanctions on individuals and entities associated with the Government of North Korea. We take seriously North Korea’s attack that aimed to create destructive financial effects on a US company and to threaten artists and other individuals with the goal of restricting their right to free expression.

As the President has said, our response to North Korea's attack against Sony Pictures Entertainment will be proportional, and will take place at a time and in a manner of our choosing. Today's actions are the first aspect of our response.

North Korea has denied involvement in the cyberattack, which led to the disclosure of tens of thousands of confidential Sony emails and business files, then escalated to threats of terrorist attacks against movie theaters. Many cybersecurity experts have said it's entirely possible that hackers or even Sony insiders could be the culprits, not North Korea, and questioned how the FBI can point the finger so conclusively.

Senior US officials, who briefed reporters on condition of anonymity, dismissed those arguments and said independent experts don't have access to the same classified information as the FBI.

"We stand firmly behind our call that the DPRK was behind the attacks on Sony," one official said, using an acronym for the North's official name, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea.

Those sanctioned include North Koreans representing the country's interests in Iran, Russia and Syria. Any assets they have in the US will be frozen, and they'll be barred from using the US financial system. Americans will be prohibited from doing business with them, the Treasury Department said.

At the United Nations, no one answered the phone at North Korea's UN Mission, and calls to a diplomat there were not answered. Sony, too, declined to comment.

While denying any role in a cyberattack, North Korea has expressed fury over the Sony comedy flick "The Interview," which depicts the fictional assassination of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. Sony initially called off the film's release after movie theaters decided not to show the film. After President Barack Obama criticized that decision, Sony decided to release the film in limited theaters and online.

The White House called the sanctions "the first aspect of our response" to the Sony attack - a declaration that raised fresh questions about who was behind a nearly 10-hour shutdown of North Korean websites last week.

Despite widespread speculation, the US never said whether it was responsible for shutting down North Korea's Internet. But North Korea had a blunt response. Its powerful National Defense Commission blamed the outage directly on the US and hurled racial slurs at Obama.

On Friday, US officials still wouldn't say who was responsible. Yet they pointed out that there had been media reports suggesting North Korea shut down its own Internet.

North Korea and the US remain technically in a state of war because the 1950-53 Korean War ended with an armistice, not a peace treaty. The rivals also are locked in an international standoff over North Korea's nuclear and missile programs and its alleged human rights abuses.