Members of Haiti's elite complained to the U.S. Embassy in 2005 about eroding security in the country.
A Taliban representative told U.S. officials in 1996 that the Taliban had shut down "Arab" training camps in Afghanistan, and had no idea where Osama bin Laden was. A U.S. embassy official met with a Taliban representative the following year to discuss the Afghan drug trade and the group's sheltering of bin Laden.
A 1999 State Department meeting with future Afghan President Hamid Karzai, identified here as the "son of an important Afghan tribal leader."
The U.S. Embassy in Islamabad sizing up the Taliban's Mullah Omar, circa 1997.
Beijing was unhappy about North Korean nuclear tests in 2006, but powerless to stop them.
The Japanese island of Okinawa, host to a longstanding U.S. military presence, is tilting toward China and away from the United States.
Bahrain's recent crackdown on its Shiite minority came out of Saudi Arabia's playbook.
Julian Assange is reportedly backing off of plans to publish his memoirs.
A medic in Britain's Royal Navy has been sentenced to seven months' detention for refusing to train on account of WikiLeaks-inspired moral objections.
An excellent telling of the sad saga of Pfc. Bradley Manning from New York. (The online friend whose chats with Manning provide much of the new information in the piece has also made their correspondence available for download.)
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Over the weekend, WikiLeaks decided to drop what (if memory serves) is its largest single release to date from its cache of U.S. State Department emails, almost all of them from the U.S. Embassy in London over the past few years. We'll be picking through the good bits here over the next few days, although at first glance they seem short on blockbusters, which may explain why they haven't commanded much attention in the media. (That, and the whole dumping-hundreds-of-cables-on-a-Friday-night thing.)
The London cables mostly concern foreign policy issues where Britain's interests are closely aligned with the United States', the war in Afghanistan among them; the effort to thread the needle between the British government's commitment to the war and waning support for it among the British public is a common theme. One cable offers a lengthy account of then British Foreign Secretary David Miliband's November 2008 meeting with Afghan President Hamid Karzai in Kabul, in which Karzai tells Miliband (in the cable's paraphrase) that "it would be difficult or impossible to hold a credible Presidential election" the following year in Afghanistan, ticking off five particularly problematic provinces. (On that much, he was right.)
Karzai also expresses optimism about the United States' new president-elect, Barack Obama, but in his conversation with Miliband you can see the seeds of the estrangement between the Afghan and American presidents that would characterize the years that followed. There's the issue of American-employed private contractors, who Karzai would order out of his country in August 2010:
Afghanistan wanted to end the way in which the Americans sub-contracted major parts of their aid program to "doubtful contractors." He was also concerned that many of the private security companies were little more than "criminal organizations." The same applied to some of the transport companies used by the U.S.; it had become apparent to Karzai that the transport companies were responsible for much of the insecurity on the highways, in order to extract higher fees and insurance payments from the Americans.
Karzai also tells Miliband that he's leery about the United States dispatching more soldiers to his country:
Karzai emphasized that more U.S. troops were not the answer. He hoped the Americans would consult the Afghan Government before sending more troops. Karzai said that the U.S. had failed to send the troops for which Karzai had asked in 2002, but now it might be too late.
Miliband brings up the inevitable question of how all of this ends, and according to the cable suggests that "reconciliation" -- presumably with the Taliban -- "subject to strict conditions, would obviously be part of that."
Karzai agreed, saying that he had consulted "the whole Afghan people," and they were all in favor of reconciliation. They wanted to "bring over the good guys, while excluding the bad guys." Karzai realizes that the U.S., Russia and Iran had doubts about reconciliation, but this was something that the Afghan people wanted, and which he was bound to press ahead.
Two weeks after a leaked cable cost a U.S. ambassador his job, another diplomat has found his life suddenly complicated by WikiLeaks -- this time in the Netherlands. Yesterday WikiLeaks published a September 2009 cable from the U.S. embassy in the Hague detailing U.S. Ambassador to NATO Ivo Daalder's efforts to keep the Dutch from bailing on the war in Afghanistan after 2010. Among Daalder's interlocutors is a Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs official named Pieter de Gooijer, who at one point in the conversation suggests a means by which Daalder could secure the further support of the Netherlands in the war effort:
De Gooijer encouraged Daalder to ask [U.S. Treasury] Secretary [Timothy] Geithner to tell [Dutch] Finance Minister [Wouter] Bos that the Netherlands would not have a seat in G20 discussions but for its contributions in Afghanistan. Bos is head of the Labor party and key to the Dutch cabinet's decision on Afghanistan.
Whatever efforts were ultimately made to persuade Bos failed; the Dutch cabinet collapsed last February over the issue of Afghanistan deployment, when the contingent of Labor ministers -- who remained staunchly opposed to keeping troops in the country -- resigned. Dutch troops pulled out of Afghanistan in August.
The new revelation doesn't look all that great for de Gooijer, who last week was named the Netherlands' ambassador to the European Union. Since the cable was published, his appointment has been blocked by Frans Timmermans, a Labor member of Parliament, on the grounds that de Gooijer can't be trusted. The Dutch government has recently proposed sending Dutch troops back to Afghanistan for an Afghan police training mission, but 70 percent of the respondents in a poll taken this month were opposed to the idea, as is Timmermans's party.
WikiLeaks also claimed its first private-sector casualty today, in the form of Berry Smutny, the CEO of the German space technology company OHB System AG. Smutny was fired after appearing in a WikiLeaks cable calling Galileo, a 4.5 billion-euros-and-counting European satellite navigation system on which OHB System is a contractor, a "stupid idea."
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A story in the Guardian on Monday, reporting on another cable from the paper's WikiLeaks master cache, opens with a bang:
The United Nations' drugs czar told NATO that Afghan insurgents were withholding thousands of tonnes of heroin and treating their drugs like "savings accounts" to manipulate street prices in the west, according to a leaked US cable.
The cable is from May 2009, and details a briefing by Antonio Maria Costa, then the United Nations' top drug official, at NATO headquarters, on the occasion of the release of his office's 2009 Afghan opium survey. My first thought reading the Guardian piece was, Wow, the U.N. drug czar has no idea what he's talking about. Then I read the cable. It turns out this is what's actually in there:
Costa said that Afghanistan has 12,400 tons of opium stocks because it produces more than the world consumes. Costa believes the insurgency is withholding these stocks from the market and treating them like "savings accounts." He said the stocks pose a serious threat as it could be used to finance the insurgency. Costa encouraged intelligence organizations to keep focus on the storage and movement of Afghanistan's opium stocks.
Costa is talking about the price of unrefined opium within Afghanistan, not the price of the finished product in London or New York -- which means the Guardian is unfairly saddling Costa with its own rather large analytical error here. If you want the long explanation for why, read this very useful paper on the Afghan opium trade and counternarcotics strategy, released by New York University's Center for International Cooperation in June, written by drug policy experts Jonathan Caulkins, Mark Kleiman, and Jonathan Kulick. If you want the short answer, read this bit of it:
[T]he price of raw opium, and even refined heroin ready for export from Afghanistan, contributes only modestly to the retail prices facing heroin users in drug-importing countries -- the effect of falling opium prices in Afghanistan would be tiny in remote markets such as western Europe, larger but still quite modest in nearer markets, and substantial only within Afghanistan itself. Effects in the United States, if any, would be even smaller than those in western Europe, since the U.S. heroin market is currently supplied primarily from Colombia and Mexico.
Rising prices are similarly insignificantly affected by price fluctuations inside Afghanistan -- which is why supply-side-only counternarcotics strategies, in Afghanistan or anywhere else, tend to work poorly.
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If there was a protagonist in the WikiLeaks cables released last week, it would be a petite, blond, Arkansas-born career diplomat, Anne Patterson, who until recently had been the U.S ambassador to Pakistan.
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Is Tehran convinced the United States is out to steal its oil? Here's Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev, in a cable describing a Jan. 14, 2009, meeting in the capital city of Astana between Nazarbayev and U.S. Gen. David Petraeus, in which the Kazakh leader recounts his recent conversations with Iran's leaders:
[Nazarbayev] said Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khameni told him that even if Iran compromises on the nuclear issue, the United States would always find another reason to criticize "because they hate us -- all the United States wants is to conquer the entire region and steal the oil." General Petraeus interjected, "We could have bought all the oil in the region for 100 years for what we've spent in Iraq!" Nazarbayev, looking a bit amused, said, "I know. I'm just telling you what he said."
The cable, signed by Richard Hoagland, the U.S. ambassador to Kazakhstan, is also interesting for Nazarbayev's pretty shrewd insights into Afghan politics. Nazarbayev is worried about publicized efforts to bring the Taliban into the Kabul government. Petraeus, then the head of U.S. Central Command, replies that this is just an attempt to break up the movement, while roping certain elements into the power circle. That's all well and good, Nazarbayev replies, but suggests that the Taliban is all about control, and not sharing power: "The Taliban leadership will never change its position," Nazarbayev says.
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An April 2008 cable describes a meeting between Sen. (then presidential candidate) John McCain and then British Conservative Party leader David Cameron. Much of the discussion focuses on Iraq, where McCain said he felt the security situation was improving, but still had concerns about developments in the South, particularly Basrah:
Cameron asked McCain what he thought was happening in the south of Iraq. McCain said he was very worried. He said it was like "Chicago in the 20's" and "could go at any time." The Iranians were there and the Iraqis were likely to find "the going to be extremely difficult." "Just because its quiet," said McCain, "doesn’t mean it's good. It is quiet for all the wrong reasons."
McCain also made an interesting observation about former British Prime Minister Tony Blair's work as a Mideast negotiator:
Cameron asked whether Quartet Leader Tony Blair was optimistic. McCain said he admired Blair for his steadfastness, but what McCain had noticed in international relations was the tendency of statesmen to be optimistic once they become negotiators.
The two also discussed Afghanistan, with McCain perturbed by developments in neighboring Pakistan and Cameron expressing doubts about Hamid Karzai's level of control:
Cameron told McCain that he and his party focused on Afghanistan as the key foreign police issue. This was due, not least, to the timeline for when the Conservatives might come into office (2010 or 2009 at the earliest) and the fact that British troops were meant to be out of Iraq by then. Cameron also raised Pakistan, noting that 60,000 individuals travel to Pakistan from the UK each year and that this has implications for the UK's own significant domestic "terror threat." Cameron said he was interested in exploring the idea of whether ISAF and Enduring Freedom operations could be combined, as well as whether an increase in military presence was required or an enhanced civilian presence was more important. McCain replied that Afghanistan is complicated by the uncertainty in Pakistan. "We all like Karzai," he said, "but his is a very weak government." Cameron said NATO troop capacity was "patchy" and there appeared to be perpetual problems with shortages of air transport support. McCain said he was worried about Pakistan. "If they don't cooperate and help us, I don't know what we are going to do," he said. He added, "Waziristan hasn't been ruled for 2,000 years." On a positive note, McCain praised the fighting capacity of Afghans, whom he called "great fighters." Cameron said each year he met with Karzai, and each year he had the sense Karzai's sphere of influence was shrinking.