Tales from the Trail

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

Israel and India vs Obama’s regional plans for Afghanistan








Will Israel and India -- the first the United States' closest ally and the second fast becoming one of the closest -- emerge as the trickiest adversaries in any attempt by the United States to seek a regional solution to Afghanistan?

The Washington Post reported earlier this week that the incoming administration of President-elect Barack Obama plans to explore a more regional strategy to the war in Afghanistan — including possible talks with Iran.

The idea has been fashionable among foreign policy analysts for a while, as I have discussed in previous posts here and here. The aim would be to capitalise on Shi'ite Iran's traditional hostility to the hardline brand of Sunni Islam espoused by the Taliban and al Qaeda to seek its help in neighbouring Afghanistan. At the same time India would be encouraged to make peace with Pakistan over Kashmir to end a cause of tension that has underpinned the rise of Islamist militancy in Pakistan and left both countries vying for influence in Afghanistan.

But Israel has already cautioned Obama against talking to Iran, which it said would be a seen as a sign of weakness in efforts to persuade Tehran to curb its nuclear programme. And Obama's suggestion that the United States should try to help resolve the Kashmir dispute has raised hackles in India, which resents any outside interference in what it sees as a bilateral dispute. That could make the two countries important allies in combating -- or at least reshaping -- any attempt to remould U.S. strategy. 

India and Israel have already built close defence ties, as underlined by this Times of India article.  And according to this Asia Times article by former Indian diplomat M K Bhadrakumar, India's growing relationship with Israel, combined with U.S. pressure, is pushing Delhi to break off what was once a strategic partnership with Tehran. "At the root of it lies unprecedented US-Israeli interference in India's Iran policy," he writes.

In slip up, Palin calls Afghanistan “our neighboring country”

SAN FRANCISCO – Republican vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin called Afghanistan “our neighboring country” on Sunday in a speech that could revive questions over her tendency to stumble into linguistic knots.rtx95kp.jpg

Three days after a mostly gaffe-free debate performance, the Alaska governor fumbled during a speech in which she praised U.S. soldiers for “fighting terrorism and protecting us and our democratic values”.

“They are also building schools for the Afghan children so that there is hope and opportunity in our neighboring country of Afghanistan,” she told several hundred supporters at a fundraising event in San Francisco.

Veep debate includes zingers … and a few gaffes

The vice presidential contenders Joe Biden and Sarah Palin offered their share of zingers and even a couple gaffes during their one and only debate on Thursday in St. Louis.


Biden tried to link the health care plan offered by Palin and presidential hopeful John McCain to Palin’s past support of a now-famous congressional earmark to fund a bridge to a small island that was labeled the “Bridge to Nowhere.”  

“So you’re going to have to place — replace a $12,000 plan with a $5,000 check you just give to the insurance company.  I call that the ‘Ultimate Bridge to Nowhere,’” Biden said.
Meanwhile, Palin corrected her rival about the offshore drilling for energy resources when Biden said “drill, drill drill.” 

Obama cancels plan to visit troops in Germany

 BERLIN – U.S. presidential candidate Barack Obama dropped a plan to visit wounded U.S. troops in Germany to avoid perceptions that the stop was political.

obama-wave.jpg“Senator Obama had hoped to and had every intention of visiting our troops to express his appreciation and gratitude for their service to our country,” said retired Air Force Maj. Gen. Scott Gration, an adviser to Obama, the presumptive Democratic nominee.

Gration said the Pentagon had informed Obama’s staff that a visit to Landstuhl Regional Medical Center would be viewed as a a campaign event and Obama opted against going forward with it.

Obama’s Berlin speech echoes Democratic victory address

BERLIN – White House hopeful Barack Obama’s speech in Berlin urging Europeans to do more to help confront global security threats included some echoes of another Obama speech: the one he gave on June 3 when he clinched the Democratic nomination.

rtx8398.jpgAddressing more than 200,000 people in Berlin’s Tiergarten Park, Obama pressed Europe to stand with the United States in helping to stabilize Afghanistan and send a “direct” message to Iran to abandon its nuclear weapons ambitions.

“This is the moment when we must renew our resolve to rout the terrorists who threaten our security in Afghanistan, and the traffickers who sell drugs on your streets,” Obama said.  “This is the moment we must help answer the call for a new dawn in the Middle East.”

While Obama does Afghanistan, McCain does…baseball

NEW YORK – It’s a Sunday, Democrat Barack Obama is abroad, and John McCain is where? At a baseball game.  

The Republican presidential candidate, who is hoping to draw some attention away from his White House rival’s high profile trip to john-rudy.jpgEurope and the Middle East, kicked off his week by taking in an afternoon of America’s favorite game.

Who needs to go to the Middle East to be hot?

Dressed in a cap and sunglasses on a boiling day, McCain joined his friend and former rival Rudy Giuliani at Yankee Stadium, signing baseballs for surprised fans and enjoying a hot dog. 

TV anchors hunt for Obama exclusives on foreign trip

WASHINGTON – Democratic presidential hopeful Sen. Barack Obama drags with him a gaggle of reporters (wire services, newspaper, radio and television) wherever he goes, but when he heads overseas soon, he will have some television news stars accompanying him.

rtx5hvb.jpgAll three broadcast television network anchors, ABC’s Charlie Gibson, CBS’s Katie Couric and NBC’s Brian Williams, are negotiating to tag along, and according to the Washington Post they could each have an exclusive interview in different countries.

Obama is expected to travel through Europe (there has already been a kerfuffle about where he speaks in Berlin) and the Middle East, and he is also expected to make stops in Iraq and Afghanistan to see firsthand the status of the wars. He has been an outspoken critic of the conflicts, arguing the Bush administration took its eye off al Qaeda in Afghanistan to go to war with Iraq.

McCain glad Obama taking Hagel with him on foreign trip

OMAHA, Nebraska – U.S. Republican presidential candidate John McCain considers Nebraska Republican Sen. Chuck Hagel a friend.

rtr1lk90.jpg“A very dear, close friend of mine, and I’ve cherished his friendship for many, many years” is how McCain put it on Wednesday.

So what does he think about Hagel, an outspoken Iraq war opponent, going with Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama on a visit to Iraq and Afghanistan?

Publisher apologizes for ‘Obama bin Laden’ gaffe

WASHINGTON – White House hopeful Barack Obama often says his “funny name” is one of the things that makes his status as the Democratic frontruobama4.jpgnner so unexpected.
    But at a luncheon with U.S. newspaper publishers and editors on Monday, a publisher made an embarrassing gaffe when asking the Illinois senator a question about the Taliban and al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden — but accidentally said “Obama” instead of “Osama.”
    “I think that was Osama bin Laden,” Obama corrected him.
    Realizing he had made an error, the publisher, Dean Singleton, chairman of the board of the Associated Press and founder of the NewsMedia Group newspaper company, apologized.
    “If I did that, I’m so sorry,” Singleton said.
    Obama made light of the mistake, drawing a mixture of laughter and some relief in the audience, which had been taken aback by the gaffe.
    “No, no, this is part of the exercise I’ve been going through for the last 15 months,” Obama said. “Which is why it’s pretty impressive that I’m still standing here.”

- Photo credit: Reuters/Jason Cohn (Obama addresses members of the Alliance for American Manufacturing)