Situation Report

A novel idea: the U.S. should buy Syria’s WMDs

A novel idea: the U.S. should buy Syria’s WMDs

If Syria is moving its chemical weapons, is the U.S. closer to intervening? Unclear as of yet. But intelligence reports over the weekend indicate Assad is in fact moving them, which could change President Obama’s "calculus" on intervention. The NYT this morning quoted a senior American diplomat who has been active in trying to convince the Syrian regime not to use chemical weapons on its people: "These are desperate times for Assad, and this may simply be another sign of desperation."

Obama, in August: "We cannot have a situation in which chemical or biological weapons are falling into the hands of the wrong people…. We have been very clear to the Assad regime but also to other players on the ground that a red line for us is, we start seeing a whole bunch of weapons moving around or being utilized…. That would change my calculus…. That would change my equation." NYT this morning:

Hillary, this morning, asked about new evidence the regime intended to use its stash of chemical weapons: "We are certainly planning to take action if that eventuality were to occur."

A novel idea to prevent WMD from causing problems in Syria: buy them up. We heard from a professor at the University of Richmond who doesn’t specialize in weapons of mass destruction or even foreign policy, but who is aggressively shopping this idea around Washington. $80 million could do the trick, he argued in an op-ed in the Jerusalem Post in August. "In a bold but prudent effort to help stabilize a post-Assad government and to pre-empt the need for either the U.S. or Israel to raid and secure Syria’s WMD stockpiles, the US should offer to buy those WMD now from the Syrian National Council and the Free Syrian Army. As a pre-emptive economic diplomacy carrot, the price should be at least $80 million."

Taylor, a West Point graduate and now a paralegal studies program chair at the University of Richmond, believes the money could be used, Marshall Plan-style, by Syria’s opposition forces to begin to rebuild the country post-war. His plan, of course, assumes that Assad is gone and the U.S. or Israel or international community would enter into negotiations with the Syrian opposition. Taylor fears the weapons, on the move, could turn up anywhere, even Gaza, triggering loud alarm bells.

"That’s beyond a game changer," he told Situation Report.

Taylor’s idea isn’t bad, even if the time may not be just right, says the Institute for the Study of War’s Joseph Holliday. The Syrian regime’s guarantee, as Holliday puts it, is the chemical weapons it possesses. It’s not ready to sell. "I don’t see any reason why that is out of the realm of possibility, I just don’t think we’re there yet," Holliday told Situation Report. "It depends on the sequence of how all this plays out."

Besides, he says, look at what happened in Libya after President Muammar Qaddafi got rid of his chemical weapons. Ultimately, the U.S. and the international community went in. Depending on how the situation in Syria plays out, retaining the power WMDs confer upon the owner will be useful until which time when it’s not. Holliday says while chemical weapons are top of mind, the roles and missions and make-up of a future peacekeeping force is another huge question. But his greatest fear: the direction the security forces take after Assad falls. "It’s scary to think about," he says.

Taylor Op-Ed (paywall):

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Department of Watching Panetta. Word was last week that the Petraeus scandal might keep Panetta in the Pentagon longer than expected — perhaps as late as summer, multiple people told Situation Report. Panetta and defense officials have long been coy on the matter of just when he would be returning to his California walnut farm. Then yesterday AP reported that a decision on top cabinet positions, to include the Pentagon’s top job, could come sooner than expected, and as early as this week. AP listed the usual suspects as possible noms: Chuck Hagel, Michele Flournoy, Ash Carter; then tossed John Kerry’s name in the hat, too, even though it’s widely believed he wants HRC’s job more. An American official told Situation Report that the turnover could be relatively quick: "A change could come as soon as a final decision is made on a new secretary of defense."

AP story:

Carter Ham talks counter-terrorism in Africa. Gen. Carter Ham, commander of U.S. Africa Command, will do a panel discussion this morning in Washington on counter-terrorism at George Washington University.

The Pentagon is giving cyber marching orders to the services. Killer Apps’ John Reed reports that the Pentagon’s Joint Staff and the Office of the Secretary of Defense are preparing to tell the services what their respective roles will be when it comes to cyber security in the coming years. The Pentagon had already told each of the services what missions they needed to perform earlier this year; but things have changed. Reed: "To this end, the Joint Chiefs of Staff and OSD are deciding what cyber capabilities the individual services will need to bring to the table between fiscal years 2014 and 2020. Once that happens — as early as next week — they will tell the service to plan accordingly, accordingly to [Air Force CIO Lt. Gen. Michael Basla]. (Keep in mind that the individual services provide cyber fighting forces to U.S. Cyber Command in the same way they provide traditional forces for the regional combatant commands.)"

Afghanistan is open for business. Afghans want the world to know that despite the war, their country offers huge opportunities for the right investors. And the right investors can help to create opportunity, which creates jobs, which creates stability. The Pentagon recognizes this, and DOD’s Task Force for Business and Stability Operations has been actively engaged in assisting the Afghans to build economic development opportunities, from mining to carpet making. Today, the Afghan-American Chamber of Commerce continues their conference in Washington, with "networking opportunities" and speakers from Afghanistan, the U.S. government, the international community, and the private sector. Afghanistan is beginning to market itself as a war zone rife with high-risk, high-reward opportunity, the Afghan Embassy’s commercial attaché told Situation Report.

"From a foreign investor’s perspective, Afghanistan poses real risks, but you have to keep in mind, we’re still in the midst of a conflict," Shakib Noori says. "Like in other areas of business, though, the more risky a place is, the more profit you get out of it."

As Afghans contemplate life after 2014, when the bulk of American forces withdraw, the government of Afghanistan is preparing for the transition, seeking to bolster economic development opportunities with American firms in the mining, construction, agriculture and services sector. American firms have the kind of expertise Afghans need; Afghanistan has near unlimited opportunity, they argue.

"This is a very important time for Afghanistan as we take the security lead. That is why we continue to promote and support efforts to cultivate a very strong private sector able to absorb the slowed job growth brought about by the security transition," Noori says.

Memo to Jim Perdue. Right now, Afghanistan imports 90 percent of the chickens sold in its markets — from places like the U.S., Brazil, Malaysia, India, Pakistan, and Iran. Afghans recognize they could build their own poultry industry with the help of an American partner. And there is huge demand for "everyone’s favorite meat" in Afghanistan, Noori says. "With 30 million people in Afghanistan, a lot of open land and an appropriate climate, we could easily produce poultry in country, so why don’t we invest in it?" Noori says.
Afghans hope to do for chicken what they did for soda five or six years ago. Until 2006, most soft drinks were imported. Then Coca-Cola and other companies began producing inside Afghanistan. Today, all of the country’s supply is produced in country, Noori says.

The Pentagon has been helping Afghanistan with its carpet industry as well, building two cut-and-wash facilities to minimize what it needs from Pakistan to export its rugs. That is helpful, Noori says. But what Afghanistan really needs is a way to export the rugs through Pakistan. Today it can cost between $7-10 per kilogram to ship rugs by air, a cost some rug-makers will pay to avoid Pakistan repackaging Afghan-made rugs with a "made in Pakistan" label. Afghanistan wants to cut deals with Pakistan that enable Afghans to ship their rugs by ground through Pakistan but maintain the integrity of their source.

"Even though we have cut-and-washing facilities, which help increase production, the major problem right now that is the export process out of Afghanistan. It is a major issue because many of the Afghan carpets end up going to Pakistan before being exported throughout the world and inevitably lose their affinity with Afghanistan."
Conference agenda:

The conference:

Benghazi, bureaucracy, Rice and the talking points: how one former analyst sees it. Nada Bakos thinks she knows what happened and blames it on bureaucracy: "On the eve of the attack, the analysts at the CIA are reading reports from regional embassies, watching news reports, and poring over cables from assets as the ridiculous anti-Islam YouTube video sparks protests across the region. As the attack in Benghazi ensues, they scramble to assess the situation and draft products for the various consumers — the most sensitive pieces go to select people at the White House, Pentagon, Office of the DNI, and National Security Council. If time allows, an alternative product is scrubbed of the most sensitive information for release across various parts of the U.S. government. In other words, the CIA may (or may not) have disseminated two different sets of talking points: one highly classified to protect sources and methods, and a second for broader dissemination."