Is America really prepared to withdraw all its troops from Afghanistan at the end of the year? Even the European nations that also have troops in Afghanistan are none too sure. On the one hand, it is assumed in European capitals that the White House statement on Tuesday – saying that the US military had been instructed to prepare for a full withdrawal from Afghanistan – is partly bluff. It is well known that the Americans are getting on very badly with President Hamid Karzai, and want to put pressure on him. On the other, some of America’s Nato allies fear that the US might be using the argument with Karzai, as an excuse to scale back a post-2014 military commitment that they were already uncomfortable with.
By Richard McGregor in Washington
After sensitive details of the raid that killed Osama bin Laden began leaking, an infuriated Robert Gates, then secretary of defence, stormed into the office of Tom Donilon, the national security adviser.
“Why doesn’t everybody just shut the f*** up?” said the incensed Pentagon chief.
President Barack Obama applauds Robert Gates at a ceremony to mark the latter's retirement as US defence secretary in 2011
Robert Gates, the former US defence secretary, is unusual in that he has a reputation both for being loyal – and for being outspoken. He has pulled off this feat by being a model of sober discretion in office, while throwing verbal bombs on his way out – or from retirement. In speeches given in 2011, shortly before stepping down from the Pentagon, Gates came up with two memorable zingers. He told European leaders that, unless they spent more on defence, Nato would become a “military irrelevance.” And he told West Point cadets that any future defence secretary who advised the president to send a big American land army into Asia or into the Middle East or Africa should ‘have his head examined.”
Now Gates is at it again. Extracts just-released from his memoirs include some tough criticism of President Barack Obama - including the suggestion that the president did not believe in his own Afghanistan strategy, and as a result was constantly looking for the exit. He recalls, sitting in the White House, watching President Obama discussing Afghanistan, and thinking “For him it’s all about getting out.”
By Luisa Frey
♦ Women are leading the revolution in Chile, writes the FT’s Benedict Mander. Michelle Bachelet and Evelyn Matthei, who will face each other in the second round of presidential elections, and young communist Camila Vallejo are good examples.
♦ As corruption scandals are revealed in Malawi, even the president has admitted that she does not know where the money has gone.
♦ In Libya, the increasingly violent rivalries between the militias that overthrew the Gaddafi regime are rendering the elected government even more powerless.
♦ “How is Hamid Karzai still standing?” asks the New York Times. As the deadline for registering candidates for next year’s presidential election approaches, Afghanistan’s future seems to depend on the fraught internal family politics of the Karzais.
♦ The New York Times describes how a law from 1938, which allowed Nazis to seize thousands of artworks seen as un-German or Jewish, now makes their recovery difficult.
♦ The Guardian says walls are being built to divide people from their neighbours around the world - from a luxury community in Brazil to barriers along the US/Mexico border and walls that separate ethnic groups in Homs, Syria.
One of the most striking and harrowing statistics that I have come across recently is the number of American military veterans who are committing suicide. Last year some 6,500 veterans killed themselves. That compares to 3,532 US military personnel who were killed in the Iraq war. The suicide rate among veterans is running at 22 a day.
♦ While most in Turkey acknowledge that every Turkish ruling class has sought to put its stamp on Istanbul, there is a growing sense that none has done so as insistently as the current government. Philip Stephens thinks Mr Erdogan’s heavy-handed response has only proved the protesters right. However, the protesters themselves have been let down on all sides, says Dani Rodrik: “Sadly, there is no organised political movement that can give voice and representation to the protesters that have made their point so loudly and clearly in recent days.”
♦ As Bradley Manning’s trial continues, he has a strong network of supporters behind him – more than 20,000 people have raised $1.25m for his defence.
♦ When Ben Bernanke spoke to the graduating class at Princeton this year, he seemed to confirm his intention to retire. John Cassidy considers why he would do so despite being in good health and good standing.
♦ US infantry are training Afghan troops to take over Afghanistan’s Wardak province, while trying to protect Highway 1, the lifeline that runs between Wardak and Kabul and, ultimately, their exit route out of the country.
♦ Jonah Blank explains how the US military will have to start negotiating like the Pashtuns: “A Pashtun proverb states: ‘A man with the power to fight doesn’t need to bargain.’ For more than a decade, power and money have shielded America from the necessity of negotiation. That luxury is over.”
The former Republican senator can expect a bumpy ride as he answers questions on how he would play the role of President Obama’s new defence secretary. Hagel needs to persuade at least five of his former colleagues to support him to avoid a filibuster that would torpedo his appointment.
Ben Fenton, from the FT’s Live News Desk, and Johanna Kassel follow the hearing.
Facing a grilling: Chuck Hagel (Getty)
Chuck Hagel’s keenly awaited confirmation hearing on Thursday to be the next US defence secretary is likely to be dominated by the hot-button issues that have already got him into trouble with some of his fellow Republicans (and a few Democrats) – his position on Israel, his opposition to Iran sanctions, his criticism of the Iraq war and his views on gays.
If so, that will be a shame, because it would be both interesting and important to hear him explain what his brand of “principled realism” actually means for US foreign policy. The hearing could provide a seminal debate on America’s global role. Here are ten questions he should be asked.
1) Defence budget. You said in September 2011 that the defence budget was “bloated”. That was before the Pentagon announced $485bn in cuts over the next decade. Is the budget still bloated? Are more cuts possible or necessary?
2) Pentagon cuts. To meet the cuts that have already been announced, will the Pentagon need to axe some important capabilities? Can the US still afford all of its aircraft carrier groups? Is the F-35 jet fighter too expensive to support? Does the US need such a large presence in Europe?
By Gideon Rachman
In their second terms, many American presidents decide to strut the global stage. Richard Nixon had his overture to China. Bill Clinton became obsessed by the Middle East peace process. George W. Bush was embroiled in the Middle East war process.