Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Rio de Janeiro polishes its police ahead of Olympics

Rio de Janeiro polishes its police ahead of Olympics

Christian Science Monitor, The (Boston, MA) - Monday, February 20, 2012
Author: Taylor Barnes,Correspondent
Abstract: As Rio de Janeiro celebrates Carnival, the city looks ahead to the bigger show of the 2016 Olympics.
Maj. Eliezer de Oliveira Farias, a police trainer and evangelical pastor, shouts to 100 police recruits in a muggy classroom: "What are our objectives?"

They chant back: "Reduce lethal violence! Promote peace!"

"Not our objectives?" Oliveira Farias asks next. "To get rid of narcotrafficking! To get rid of criminality!"

Welcome to the Units of Pacifying Police (UPP) project, which these recruits will join.

The pilot program, part of a broader push for police reform, has won international praise for Rio de Janeiro as Brazil polishes its image ahead of the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympics. It is aimed at reducing the police's reliance on violence to address Brazil's high levels of crime.

"Despite Rio not being [at] war, [the police training] had a culture of war," says Juliana Barroso, a security ministry official tasked with reforming the police academy. Ms. Barroso's proposed changes – including human rights training – will extend beyond the 3,500 officers in the UPP program to the entire 39,000 military police, the main force that patrols Brazilian streets. "I want all the police to work from the perspective of attending [to] the citizen – no longer on combating the enemy, but instead protecting society," says Barroso.

The UPPs have made important headway in establishing a 24-hour law enforcement presence and inhibiting armed drug dealers from walking freely in the streets of select favelas, or slums, that have seen years of lethal shootouts between drug traffickers and the police. Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff has promised to spread the model nationwide, with similar programs already taking root in two other cities.

But policing in Brazil is still far from perfect. As the size of the police force grows leading up to 2014, recruitment requirements have been relaxed. Some say low pay and long hours compromise performance. And as Rio makes gains against armed traffickers, another side of the battle – reforming violent and corrupt practices within the traditional police – is far from over.

Just 10 years ago, Rio police received bonuses for killing alleged criminals in shootouts. Rio state police admitted to killing a record 1,330 people in 2007 in these armed confrontations.

Though the bounties are gone, killings by police remain high, averaging three deaths a day since peaking in 2007. And militias formed by off-duty or former policemen are on the rise, moving into low-income areas, extorting protection money from residents, and killing those who oppose them.

Militias now control more favelas than the largest of Rio de Janeiro's three main drug-trafficking factions, according to research from the State University of Rio de Janeiro.

"Nowadays, militia is what worries me more," Rio State's security minister, Jose Mariano Beltrame, said in the Brazilian magazine Epoca.

The new focus on training is a "favorable moment" in Brazil, says Julita Lemgruber, a former police ombudswoman and a professor researching public security at Rio's Candido Mendes University.

"But it's necessary to see this training … [go] beyond theory," she says.

Ms. Lemgruber recently surveyed UPP police attitudes and found nearly 70 percent would rather work in traditional units, despite the UPP's higher pay. That alarmed Lemgruber, as it suggests UPP police may crave action-packed shootouts and are resisting becoming what she refers to as "social workers."

"What we notice is that many [people] enter into the police force with the idea that they will be on the streets combating criminals, armed up to their teeth with this idea of war," Lemgruber says.

Several recent UPP corruption cases suggest that even they haven't given up the practice of extortion associated with the rank-and-file police. In September, some 30 unit members were suspended from one UPP after media reported they were accepting bribes up to $1,140 to let drug dealers return to communities to sell.

the UPP program and push for training reforms has not resolved two major corruption-related problems – irregular schedules and low salary.

Earlier this month, police went on strike in Rio and Bahia states over wages. The murder rate doubled during the 12-day strike in the capital of Bahia, which ended with a 6.5 percent wage increase for police. Rio officers will restart strikes after carnival, police union president Fernando Bandeira said.

Often, Rio cops work one long shift – sometimes 12 hours – followed by two days off. Illegal moonlighting is common, where police provide security to businesses on their days off. Entry-level cops earn close to $670 a month – about twice the minimum wage, but a fraction of apartment rental costs in pricey Rio. That makes the job less than prestigious.

"The police are very stigmatized here," Barroso says.

Some say the police have lowered standards as they try to build up UPP forces to over 60,000 cops by the start of the Olympics. Data on police entrance exams obtained by the Monitor show that 15 percent of applicants gained entrance to the police academy in 2008 and 12 percent in 2009. That number jumped to 50 percent in 2010.

The uptick in acceptance rates is due in part to the removal of a previously required psychological assessment. Nearly half of all applicants used to fail this part of the exam, which tested aggression and response to stress, says an official in the Rio state police administration. He asked not to be named for fear of losing his job.

"Did the candidates get better? No, they made the exam easier," says the official. "A policeman is a lot more than putting on a uniform and a weapon and [going out] on the street," the official says.

McCain: Egypt and US 'must remain friends'

McCain: Egypt and US 'must remain friends'

Christian Science Monitor, The (Boston, MA) - Monday, February 20, 2012
Author: Sarah El Deeb, Associated Press
Abstract: Sen. John McCain tried to smooth over tensions with Egypt following the country's decision to prosecute 16 American democracy workers
Sen. John McCain said today US relations with Egypt are changing a year after the ouster of Hosni Mubarak, but the two countries "must remain friends." McCain, the senior Republican senator from Arizona, was speaking at a business conference in Cairo just before meeting with the country's military leaders, who took power after Mubarak stepped down in the face of a popular uprising. 
US-Egypt relations are at their lowest points in decades, strained over the government's crackdown on foreign-funded nonprofit groups working for democracy in Egypt. Egyptian authorities have referred 16 Americans and 27 others who worked for the various groups to a criminal trial expected to begin on Feb. 26. McCain chairs one of the four American groups targeted. "Egypt is changing. It is true, and as such, the nature of America's partnership with Egypt is also changing," McCain told a room full of US and Egyptian businessmen. "But ... we must remain the strongest of friends, politically, economically and militarily. We must maintain and strengthen the key pillars of that partnership, especially our commercial and trading relationship and where the people of Egypt and their newly elected government make the right decisions about the policies that will shape their sovereign nation's future," he said. "We must be here to reinforce and support them." Washington has threatened to cut $1.5 billion in aid over the crackdown on the democracy groups. Egypt under Mubarak was Washington's closest Arab ally in the Middle East and a loyal partner in the fight against Islamic extremism and terror. Mubarak also kept the 1979 peace treaty with Israel, a cornerstone of US foreign policy in the Mideast. But with the military on the defensive over criticism that it has bungled the transition to democracy and the rise of an Islamist-dominated parliament, Egypt appears to be more ready to publicly challenge the U.S. and Israel, even at the risk of losing critical foreign aid. That stance taps into widespread anti-Israel and anti-US sentiment in Egypt. The ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces has regularly accused "foreign hands" of backing continued protests against its rule. And the Islamist parties that control about two-thirds of the newly elected parliament have threatened to review the peace treaty with Israel if US aid to Egypt is halted. Four US-based nonprofit groups are among those targeted, as well as a German agency. They are accused of operating in Egypt illegally and of fomenting protests calling for the ruling military council to immediately hand over power to a civilian authority. 
McCain, a member of the Senate's Armed Services Committee, is leading a Congressional committee visiting various countries in the Middle East as well as Afghanistan. Egypt's state news agency MENA said the head of the ruling military council, Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi, is discussing with McCain and the Congressional delegation developments and changes in US-Egypt relations, as well as the nature of activities of civil society groups in Egypt in light of the democratic transition. McCain chairs the International Republican Institute, one of the four American groups targeted. But he didn't mention the case in his remarks. He instead stressed the importance of the relationship between the two countries, focusing on commercial and trade relations. He said the American people are committed to the success of Egypt's transition, which he called "a brand experiment in democratic rule and economic empowerment." He said one of the main challenges to Egypt's transition to democracy remains the deteriorating economic situation in the country of 85 million. "Unless Egypt can create jobs for the millions of young people in this country who desire a future of dignity for themselves, the politics of Egypt will be unsettled and the forces of extremism here could grow more and more powerful," he said. 

US Ambassador to Egypt Anne Patterson said American investors met with newly elected Egyptian lawmakers, some of whom were also businessmen. She said despite the stress in US-Egypt relations, the US businessmen want to be "deeply involved" in the new Egypt. 

Meanwhile, airport officials said a US citizen arriving to Egypt from Germany was arrested for assaulting a passport control officer after she complained over being asked to buy an entry visa. Head of passport control at the airport Maj. Gen. Magdy el-Samman said the 31-year old American of Palestinian descent also spat at and scuffled with a policewoman "unnecessarily." Another airport security official, Maj. Gen Salah Ziada, said the passenger will be deported pending a prosecutor's decision, and her name put on a travel blacklist.

Johannesburg no longer a no-go for tourists, investors

Johannesburg no longer a no-go for tourists, investors

Christian Science Monitor, The (Boston, MA) - Monday, February 20, 2012
Author: Hamilton Wende, Correspondent
Abstract: Johannesburg has a reputation for high crime, but efforts to rejuvenate the South African city are having an impact.
In recent decades, downtown Johan­nesburg achieved near-mythical status as being one of the most dangerous places in the world. Its spiraling crime rate and rapid urban decay drove white business and residents out. Foreign visitors were warned to stay away for fear of their lives, and investment in the city ground to a near halt. 

But in the last few years a remarkable turnaround has gathered momentum. A number of city blocks have been reclaimed, where middle-class people of all races sip coffee and type on laptops at sidewalk cafes. Buildings that only a few years ago were derelict shells partitioned into slum quarters where people lived without water, sewer systems, or electricity are now gleaming office buildings with marble floors and brand-new elevators. A growing number of quality, affordable residential apartment buildings have been built or are being renovated. Private security guards are visible on many street corners and the authorities have mounted high-tech security cameras that cover the entire downtown area. "The city is much safer than it used to be," says Edna Mamonyane, spokeswoman for the Johannesburg Metro Police Department. "We are very happy at the way things are turning." Private-public partners kept the faith Statistics from Johannesburg Central Police station show murder and attempted murder down by more than 60 percent since 2003. Theft and carjacking have dropped similarly. In the rejuvenated areas there is very little crime. "The success of the inner-city rejuvenation was spawned by a group of private- and public-sector leaders who sustained their activities and faith during the lean times," says Gaynor Mashamaite-Noyce, deputy director of communications for the City of Johannesburg. One of the earliest investors was Gerald Olitzki. "I've been called crazy more times than you can imagine," he says. "But this city never died. At least 1 million people came through here every day, even though it was increasingly decaying." In 1994, when the African National Congress party came to power, after decades of racist apartheid government, Mr. Olitzki approached them for a mandate to revive the inner city, which was already suffering badly. His plan was to renovate the area around a central bus terminal. He renamed it "Gandhi Square." It took him seven years to establish, but by 2000 it finally happened. He leans over a map of Johannesburg. "We are creating a central spine," he says, his finger tracing a route down Main Street and Fox Street, which runs through the heart of the city. "Each phase takes less and less time to achieve. We have a private lease for 45 years, and it is our obligation to clean and secure it." There are still a number of shockingly derelict buildings dotting the urban landscape. Some of them have been invaded by criminal gangs, who take over a building and extort rent from the tenants. "All of these are pieces of the jigsaw puzzle. They're starting to come together," Olitzki says. When the city declined it was like a disease spreading, he says. "Its revival is that process in reverse." There are still many no-go areas in Johan­nesburg, but the same process is happening now all across the inner city. Art galleries, a couple of boutique hotels, restaurants, and cutting-edge fashion stores are opening monthly. Latest success in old industrial quarter The latest and trendiest example of urban renewal is happening in the old industrial quarter of Jeppestown. Known as the Maboneng Precinct, it combines affordable apartments, office space, retail space, art galleries, theaters, a boutique hotel, and a cinema to create a community-based living area with more than 90 percent occupancy. It is a popular place for tourists and suburbanites to visit over the weekend. The young developer of Maboneng, Jonathan Liebmann, sums up the optimism of the new Johannesburg: "The city is back," Mr. Liebmann says. "It's not the old city of the 1960s and the 1970s. It's a new African city with multilayered experiences."

Another cold war with Russia would be a savings grace to our weapons industry

Fearing West, Putin pledges biggest military buildup since cold war

Christian Science Monitor, The (Boston, MA) - Monday, February 20, 2012
Author: Fred Weir, Correspondent
Abstract: Vladimir Putin, less than two weeks away from presidential polls, pledged $772 billion on arms over the next decade.
Russia needs to launch a major military buildup to prepare for life in a dangerous world where international law is breaking down, the West feels free to intervene in sovereign countries, and rivals could invade Russia to seize its rich trove of natural resources, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has warned.

In his fifth programmatic article detailing what he will do if he wins a new six-year presidential term in elections that are now less than two weeks off, Mr. Putin pledged, among other things, the biggest rearmament program in Russia since the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Over the next decade, Putin writes, $772 billion to be spent on 400 new intercontinental ballistic missiles, 2,300 late-generation tanks, 600 modern combat aircraft – including at least 100 military-purpose space planes – eight nuclear ballistic missile submarines, 50 surface warships as well as a whole new inventory of artillery, air defense systems, and about 17,000 new military vehicles.

"The processes of global transformation currently underway may carry all sorts of risks with them, many of them unpredictable," Putin wrote Monday in the government-owned Rossiskaya Gazeta. "In a situation of global economic and other kinds of hardships, it may be very tempting for some to resolve their problems at others’ expense, through pressure and coercion…. It is no wonder that we already hear some voices saying that it is 'only natural' that resources of global significance should soon be declared as being above national sovereignty.… We must exclude any such possibility, even a hypothetical one, with respect to Russia. This means that we should not tempt anybody with our weakness."

He also warns that US plans to build a globe-spanning missile defense shield will have to be countered with new generations of weapons designed to keep Russia's strategic nuclear deterrent effective.

"We are forced to take decisive steps to bolster our national aerospace defense system to counter the US and NATO efforts in the deployment of missile defense," Putin writes. "One cannot be 'too patriotic' about this issue. Russia’s military response to the global US missile shield, including its European part, will be effective and asymmetrical, a match for US missile defense policy."

Russians doubt feasibility of Putin's plans

In previous articles, Putin has pledged to reform Russia's troubled political system, deal with the rising threat of nationalism to the country's political stability, and resolve the demographic crisis that could see Russia's population shrink by nearly a quarter in the next four decades.

This is not the first time Putin has promised to upgrade Russia's chronically underfunded and over-structured armed forces, whose shortcomings were clearly displayed during the brief 2008 summer war with neighboring Georgia. Many of the new weapons have been in the pipeline for some time, but bottlenecks in Russia's severely degraded Soviet-era military industry have led to breakdowns, lengthy delays, and complaints of substandard products.

"Unfortunately all that Putin says about making our military industry capable of delivering all these new weapons remains little more than slogans," says Alexander Golts, military expert with the online newspaper Yezhednevny Zhurnal. "While Putin has a lot of good things to say about the course of [structural] military reform, he has simply not taken on board the need for sweeping reform of Russian military industry. Every year our military procurement program fails to meet its targets, and there is no sign this is going to change anytime soon."

Russia's armed forces have been dramatically transformed over the past five years by a sweeping restructuring that has eliminated the gargantuan Soviet "mobilization army," with its hundreds of "phantom" divisions that are meant to be filled out by reservists in times of war. Tens of thousands of top-level officers have been cashiered, the length of mandatory male military service has been reduced from three years to one, and about 100 mobile combat brigades – largely staffed by professional soldiers – have taken the place of hundreds of unwieldy World War II-era armored divisions as the core of Russia's army.

"There's a lot of good sense in this article, including the projection that military conscripts will make up just 15 percent of the armed forces by 2020," says Mr. Golts. "For the first time he has stated that the goal is, effectively, to create a modern all-volunteer force. That is to be applauded."

But many experts warn that even if the massive rearmament program Putin is advocating is desirable and affordable for Russia, it may be simply not feasible. The Soviet-era military-industrial complex, with its vast webs of subcontractors, has shriveled and the skilled workers and engineers that once populated it have long since disappeared.

According to Viktor Baranets, a former Defense Ministry spokesman who writes a military column for the daily Komsomolskaya Pravda, barely half of the more than 2,200 key Soviet-era military factories are still operating, and many of them are on the verge of bankruptcy today.

"This is the first time Putin has spoken about this in such a tough way," says Mr. Baranets. "But in order for this plan to come to life, we need to see our military industries restored and many new plants built. Putin has yet to prove that he's got both feet on the ground with these promises, and that he's not just making fools of people."

Preparing for war with the West

The political subtext in Putin's article is the scary suggestion that the world is drifting into a dangerous phase in which international institutions like the United Nations no longer work and Western countries feel free to intervene militarily in sovereign states, as they did last year in Libya.

Moscow has firmly opposed any kind of international action on the current crisis in Syria, and is actually preparing to stage war games in southern Russia this summer to prepare for possible fallout from a feared US military strike against Iran.

"Today, we see how new regional and local wars break out one after another," Putin wrote. "We see zones of instability and artificially maintained, managed chaos emerging. Furthermore, we see how some are purposefully provoking such conflicts in the immediate vicinity of Russia’s borders.… We see the fundamental principles of international law being devalued and eroded."

A few experts argue that debates about the feasibility of Putin's rearmament plans are beside the point, and that his insistence on getting Russia ready for war with the West ought to be the focus of public scrutiny.

"This is the vision of a very disturbed person, who openly declares that the world is against him and Russia, and we need to build defenses against everyone," says Pavel Felgenhauer, a military columnist for the opposition weekly Novaya Gazeta.

"Putin's plan calls for spending enormous amounts of money to prepare for war with America, to be a superpower player again and surpass the West in the quality of our weaponry. This is not merely unachievable, it's paranoid. The USSR, which was much bigger and more powerful than Russia, was bankrupted by engaging in this sort of arms race. It's the wrong direction entirely," Mr. Felgenhauer says

As Greece awaits bailout, southern Europe seethes

As Greece awaits bailout, southern Europe seethes

Christian Science Monitor, The (Boston, MA) - Monday, February 20, 2012
Author: Robert Marquand, Staff writer
Abstract: European governments are expected to sign off on a second bailout for Greece today. But conditions set on rescue money have fueled populist unrest in southern Europe.
The mood is growing surly in the south of Europe as austerity measures take hold. With unemployment at 20 percent in some countries – and youth unemployment as high as 50 percent – warnings are growing sharper about a troubling rise of populist feeling.

The current chaos in Greece presents a vivid example.

Ahead of a key March deadline, the Greek government agreed – after much political agonizing and protesters' torching of dozens of buildings throughout Athens – to a number of cuts demanded by the European Union and International Monetary Fund in exchange for a bailout necessary to remain solvent. Minimum wages and public jobs will be cut. More taxes will be raised and collected. Greece will cede a substantial amount of economic sovereignty to international lenders.

Many Greeks are aware they hold a lion's share of the blame for their predicament. But the effect of ongoing screw-tightening by Germany, the growing admission throughout Europe that Greece is poised to default, and the Greeks' inability to see a way out of the crisis has deepened discontent and humiliation.

In the days leading up to the Feb. 13 government approval of the latest rounds of cuts, Greeks in the streets accused their leaders of betrayal for acceding to international lenders' demands. They compared the government to the military dictatorship that ruled the country until the mid-1970s.

Isn't Greece simply paying the price of reform – one that Spain, Portugal, Ireland, and Italy all have to pay, to some degree?

Perhaps. But austerity may have consequences that aren't easily seen on the accounting books: How much austerity can a democratic government impose before it loses the trust of citizens needed to make reforms?

Mario Monti, Italy's new, widely respected leader, issued a blunt warning last month to German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who has led Europe's austerity march. Without growth and greater European solidarity, public anger in Italy could cause it "to flee into the arms of populists," Mr. Monti cautioned.

Populism in Europe is a slippery term with a bad history. In the "prosperity Europe" of the past 50 years, angry populism was a memory from the 1930s or a spasm of antiforeigner hatred – skinheads, neo-Nazis, anti-elite, and anti-Europe hate groups, basically.

But in "austerity Europe" populism has a new and more powerful economic dimension: the unemployed, sitting on the street with no sense of future.

Rising authoritarian appeal

Southern Europe's democratic tradition is relatively new. Besides Greece, Spain and Portugal were also run by dictators until the 1970s.

When the Italian and Greek governments fell last autumn, technocrats were appointed to take over, rather than new leaders being elected. There is no guarantee that the next elections will bring to power those seeking the sunny uplands of democracy, rather than demagogues.

Austerity has brought a dramatic and abrupt shift to Europe's political scene. In Greece, reports suggest a shattering of the political center, new interest in the far right and left, continuing anti-immigrant sentiment, and growing support for more authoritarian politicians.

Romania's former prime minister, Emil Boc, stepped down last month amid mounting street protests against austerity.

In Hungary, run by the Soviets until 1989, strongman President Viktor Orbán has shown a willingness to change his nation's constitution and control the media to stay in power – with the backing of a growing far right.

Nor is populist feeling restricted to the more peripheral countries. In France, the far-right Marine Le Pen has been turning heads ahead of the April 22 presidential election. She looks askance at the euro, would take a protectionist approach to trade, abhors globalization and immigration, and says France is decaying.

"Our country is in the process of underdevelopment, of Third Worldization," she argues. Ms. Le Pen now scores 20 percent in the polls and is scaring the pants off President Nicolas Sarkozy's reelection team. Surveys last month found more than 30 percent of French see her ideas favorably.

"With an austerity policy, my best prediction is zero growth for years," says Jean-Paul Fitoussi of Sciences Po in Paris. "What would change that is a rising populism," he says, which could bring political disarray, which would make things even worse. "Already, 33 percent of French agree with Le Pen about globalization and the euro. It's a definite wild card."

Europe lacks a unifying narrative

It may be too early for the direst predictions. No armies of brown shirts or Bolsheviks are appearing on Europe's streets just yet. Some fear and anger was dampened after the European Central Bank quietly loaned $639 billion to banks in December 2011.

But the underlying direction of Europe is not toward the robust growth and idealistic integration that characterized the Continent in the postwar era.

Rather, the current period is witnessing the disappearance of the narratives of the past decades. Talk of shared values is giving way to talk of national interests and competition. The grand narratives that brought solidarity – the cold war, the "End of History," the "Clash of Civilizations," the "Return of History" – are over. The lack of a shared project at a time of austerity is causing fragmentation, the rise of populist sentiments, and the sapping of trust.

The Italian social thinker Raffaele Simone argues in a recent work, "The Sweet Monster," that Europe is preoccupied with the surface attractions of celebrity culture and new technology, and it merely seeks to sustain its comfort levels. Such a condition, in which older narratives of justice and human rights are ignored, is a seedbed for extremism and anger he says, whether against immigrants or elites.

London-based Adam Posen of the Peter­son Institute for International Economics argued at Chatham House last month that Western economies were not on the brink, comparing them to a post-Gilded Age period of the late 20th century, what he calls "the Old Normal," and thinks a "backlash" against inequity is still a decade away.

Still, he was concerned about the speed of global changes and said the prescription of austerity may have unintended consequences. Speaking of the Irish bailout last year and Monti's warning to Ms. Merkel, Mr. Posen said, "It is mind-boggling to watch the Irish be asked to eat their children, as Jonathan Swift suggested.... It is entirely right and justified for my friend Mario Monti to stand up and say, 'If we're going to do this much austerity, you better ... give us something or there is going to be a horrible backlash.'"

It 'boils down to trust'

The issue boils down to trust, says Felix Roth of the Center for European Policy Studies in Brussels. Trust is often indefinable, but crucial for democracy, and without it, he says, "What we worry about is that people will find their own solutions via populist leaders and say we don't [care] anymore."

Mr. Roth has worked out measurable "trust" quotients for Europe. In 2010, less than one-quarter of the populations of Spain, Ireland, and Greece trusted their parliaments, and "approximately 70 percent do not trust it anymore," he wrote in "The Eurozone Crisis and Its Effects on Citizens' Trust in National Parliaments."

Spain went from a "plus 23" trust quotient in 2008 on Roth's scale to "minus 50" in the past year. Italy's levels of trust in its institutions today is at a "minus 70," which he calls "serious."

"The opposition of citizens is growing far too strong, and we aren't talking about the Assad regime and Syria," Roth told the Monitor. "These are European states. Austerity has limits, but I'm not sure economists have put this in their models.

"To get reforms to work you need trust, which isn't there," he says. "So they won't get implemented, and that's what you have been seeing in Greece."
Section: World
Dateline: Paris
Record Number: 20120220_468970
Copyright (c) 2012 The Christian Science Monitor (www.CSMonitor.com). For re-use permission, please contact copyright@csps.com
To bookmark this article, right-click on the link below, and copy the link location:

US military officials urge caution on attacking Iran

US military officials urge caution on attacking Iran

Christian Science Monitor, The (Boston, MA) - Monday, February 20, 2012
Author: Anna Mulrine, Staff writer
Abstract: The problem is that many of the Iranian targets – buried deeply underground – would be beyond the reach of the Israeli military, in what Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Martin Dempsey calls a “zone of immunity.”
Senior Pentagon officials are making no secret of the fact that despite the apparent stepped-up drumbeat to war with Iran, they believe a strike on the country is “not prudent” right now.

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Martin Dempsey, put this view – held by many in the Department of Defense – in perhaps the strongest terms yet this week.

True, Israel could bomb Iran and delay the country’s ability to create nuclear weapons “probably for a couple of years,” General Dempsey told CNN Sunday.

The problem is that many of the Iranian targets – buried deeply underground – would be “beyond the reach” of the Israeli military, in what Dempsey called a “zone of immunity.”

What’s more, Iran would likely retaliate by closing the Strait of Hormuz using mines and swarming boats. It might also activate proxy cells to attack not just Israel, but possibly US interests in Iraq or US troops in Afghanistan.

RELATED – What would happen if Iran had the bomb?

Precisely how Iran would chose to respond to a strike is “the question with which we all wrestle,” Dempsey said, “and the reason we think that it’s not prudent at this point to decide to attack Iran.”

Equally important, senior defense officials emphasize, while it’s clear that Iran aspires to nuclear technology, it is far from certain whether the country is intent on actually weaponizing this technology,

This was the finding of the Director of National Intelligence (DNI)’s recent assessment on security threats facing the United States. Right now, Iran is “more than capable of producing enough highly-enriched uranium for a weapon if it’s political leaders – specifically the supreme leader himself – chooses to do so,” DNI head James Clapper told the Senate Armed Services Committee February 16.

Yet so far they do not appear to have made that choice, Lt. General Ronald Burgess, director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, told lawmakers in the same hearing.

“The agency assesses Iran as unlikely to initiate or intentionally provoke a conflict,” he said, concluding that though the possibility of Iran building a nuclear weapon is “technically feasible,” it is “practically not likely.”

If attacked, however, Iran could “attempt to employ terrorist surrogates worldwide,” close the Straits of Hormuz “at least temporarily,” and “may launch missiles against US forces [in Iraq or Afghanistan] and our allies in the region,” General Burgess said.

For these reasons, both Mr. Clapper and Burgess told lawmakers that it is their opinion that Israel has not yet decided to strike Iran, either.

The urging of the United States to hold off on strikes may also have something to do with this decision, Dempsey conceded.

“I’m confident that they understand our concerns that a strike at this time would be destabilizing and wouldn’t achieve their long-term objectives,” he told CNN’s Fareed Zakaria.

Indeed, the hype surrounding Iran’s nuclear ambitions belies a considerable degree of rationality, Dempsey said, adding that Iran does not appear to be a highly irrational or unpredictable actor on the world stage. “We are of the opinion that the Iranian regime is a rational actor.”

At the same time, while international pressure in the form of sanctions has continued to increase, Tehran is “not close to agreeing to abandoning its nuclear program,” Burgess added.

Dempsey for his part urged continued international sanctions, but said the Pentagon would continue its planning, making “options available should the nation decide to do something in Iran.”

Whether or not that will come to pass, Dempsey declined to hazard a guess. “Fortunately,” he said, “I’m not a betting man.”

RELATED – What would happen if Iran had the bomb?