The Real Threat to Iran’s Clerics

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Afshin Molavi astutely noted yesterday in New America’s debate on the Iranian election aftermath that some of the most important events took place prior to the election – that is, during the electoral debates where Ahmadinejad took on the clerical establishment accusing them, with Rafsanjani as the symbol, of a self-interested betrayal of the revolution. Stratfor’s George Friedman appears to concur arguing the real divide now is not between the reformers and revolutionaries but between the old guard clergy and…

Underestimating the Pakistani Taliban?

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The highest estimate of Taliban fighters in Pakistan (TTP) I had seen or heard until today was 20,000 (though inclusive of newer recruits and “conscripts”). In Afghanistan, the estimates I had seen (depending on whether it was based on US or Pakistani intelligence) ranged from 5,000-15,000 fighters. Somehow I missed an important revised estimate, likely as most of us have been all aflutter over Iranian elections. The Daily Times, a fairly reputable Pakistani daily published out of Lahore and Karachi…

Not Your Grandfather’s Blog… But Close

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Prof. Harvey Sapolsky, legendary former director of the MIT Security Studies program, has taken the plunge into the big bad world of the blogosphere via the British online publication e-International Relations. Some might question the “legendary” status given the absence of even a wikipedia entry, but they might want to consult the lengthy list of government and military research institutions that have sought out his expertise, or perhaps Lt. Gen. Karl Eikenberry, whom I personally heard little over a year…

The Limits of Replicating the “Anbar Awakening”

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Over the past six months, a number of analysts have attempted to dispense with the facile analogy of the Iraq surge to the Afghan surge and dissuade policymakers from grafting the success of Iraq on to US strategy in Afghanistan. Aside from the contextual differences which Filkins, Olson, McCary, and others have pointed out, there are some fundamental clarifications that need to be made on the Iraq surge, specifically the flipping of the Sunni tribes, known as “the Anbar Awakening.”…

MIT’s Foreign Policy Advice to Obama

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Innumerable policy shops and interest group around DC have already put out strategic blueprints for a policy agenda in the new administration. But if President Obama’s staff is committed to new and innovative ideas outside the traditional beltway parameters, as expressed during his campaign, he ought to take a look up at some proposals coming from up North. MIT’s Center for International Studies, where I’ve recently began to hang my hat, has put out a very succinct briefing book on…

Questions for Secretary Gates

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Defense Secretary Gates will be on the hill this morning testifying before the Senate Armed Services Committee on the “hard choices” ahead for the Department of Defense (DOD) spending on big weapon systems. Gates makes a strong case in the recent issue of Foreign Affairs on the need for balance between equipping and training for big wars — to counter great power adversaries or rising challengers (like China, and perhaps Russia) — versus preparing for small wars — counterinsurgency (COIN)…

Coming Down from the Dream, Facing Up to Realities

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The inaugural weekend successfully diverted attention to the festivities and stunning turnout celebrating the historic circumstances of a new administration’s transition to the helm of the most powerful country on earth. But as Washington, and the world for that matter, begins to climb down from this weekend’s euphoria, the newly inaugurated administration will have to contend with a number of new Middle East realities on the ground that cannot adequately be dispensed with the logic and strategies of the past…

Revealing Nuclear Pakistan

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David Sanger has an important and revealing piece coming out Sunday on the security and survivability of Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal. In addition to depicting the vulnerability of Pakistan’s nuclear complex, the article illuminates some other pressing elements the incoming administration will need to apprehend. First, the folly and failure of US laws prohibiting distribution of PALs (permissive action links) is undeniable — though at this point one would assume and hope the US has by bypassed these laws to covertly…

The Original “Change” Candidate

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Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper hosts a reception at his brewery in downtown Denver Monday night after the first day of the Democratic Convention. Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper is a fitting host for the Democratic National Convention not only because of position but because of his identity as an independent, outsider/long-shot candidate who began with a message of “Change” and won a surprising victory when he ran for the office 2003. As a political neophyte with a limited budget, Hickenlooper needed…

Little Tidbits from Denver

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The Liberal Lion Returns — Senator Kennedy, who turbo-charged Sen. Obama’s bid for the Democratic nomination with his endorsement in January, has been out of the public spotlight with a malignant brain tumor, is reportedly scheduled to speak on the opening night of the Democratic convention. For Massachusetts delegates and beyond, it might rank with Paul Pierce’s comeback in Game 1. The Loquacious Lion’s Past — Democratic Vice Presidential Candidate Joe Biden not only overcame innumerable struggles over the course…