Newly elected French President François Hollande is coming to the White House next week to meet with President Obama ahead of the G8 and NATO summits. Two items are sure to be on the agenda: Hollande's call for a "New Deal" (as it were) in European economic policy that would restore growth rather than continue budget austerity, and Hollande's promise to speed up the withdrawal of French troops from Afghanistan.
Press reports suggest that Obama's agenda for the meeting will include trying to induce Hollande to renege on his pledge to withdraw French troops from Afghanistan. That would be a terrible mistake, a terrible waste of a unique opportunity for Obama to agree with Hollande on a common position for speeding up the withdrawal of all foreign forces that they can announce at the NATO summit in Chicago.
The fact is, at the level of rhetoric, Obama and Hollande already agree on ending the war, as they already agree that the European austerity policy has failed and should be replaced by a policy of restoring economic growth. A common Obama-Hollande front on ending the war and ending European austerity would be in the interest of the American 99%, the European 99%, and the Afghan 99%. (As the Obama Administration has correctly pointed out, austerity in Europe hurts Americans too, because when Europe is in recession, Europeans buy fewer American goods and services.)
Below is the text of a sign-on letter being circulated by Reps. Barbara Lee and Walter Jones calling on President Obama to expedite US military withdrawal from Afghanistan.
Sign on to Letter to President Obama: Expedite Withdrawal from Afghanistan
From: The Honorable Barbara Lee
The American people have overwhelmingly come to the conclusion that our brave men and women in uniform have accomplished all that we have asked of them and it is time to bring them home from Afghanistan.
Members of Congress need to stand with seven out of ten Americans (including 52% of GOP voters) who oppose the war in Afghanistan.
We invite you to sign on to the letter below which closes on May 10, 2012 (ahead of the NATO Summit in Chicago). The letter calls on the President to expedite our troops’ return and speed up the transition to having Afghans in charge of Afghanistan.
Member of Congress
Member of Congress
Current Co-Signers (49): Adam Smith, Baldwin, Bass, Capps, Chu, Yvette Clarke, Clay, Cohen, Conyers, Costello, John Duncan, Edwards, Ellison, Farr, Filner, Frank, Grijalva, Hahn, Alcee Hastings, Heinrich, Hinchey, Holt, Honda, Jackson Jr., Tim Johnson, Kucinich, Lewis, Lofgren, Maloney, McCollum, McGovern, Michaud, George Miller, Moore, Nadler, Olver, Pingree, Polis, Rangel, Richardson, Loretta Sanchez, Serrano, Slaughter, Stark, Mike Thompson, Tonko, Frederica Wilson, Woolsey, Yarmuth.
May 10, 2012
The Honorable Barack Obama
President of the United States
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20500
Dear President Obama:
President Obama went to Afghanistan and made a speech celebrating an agreement between the United States and Afghanistan. We haven't seen the agreement, so we don't really know what they're celebrating, but according to press reports, the agreement is symbolic rather than substantive.
According to icasualties.org, which tallies statistics from the Department of Defense, 381 U.S. soldiers have died in Afghanistan since Osama bin Laden was killed a year ago on May 2, 2011.
No U.S. official has explained to us yet what we won in Afghanistan since May 2, 2011, that justified the additional sacrifice that we have made in Afghanistan since Osama bin Laden's death. No U.S. official has presented a case that we are safer than we were a year ago as a result of our additional sacrifice in Afghanistan, still less that our increased safety was sufficient to justify the additional sacrifice of the last year.
In his speech in Afghanistan, President Obama said: "We devastated al Qaeda's leadership, taking out over 20 of their top 30 leaders."
It sounds like an impressive statistic, until you try to understand what it really means.
A key reason that it's relatively easy to scaremonger about predictions regarding Social Security's finances decades in the future is that the language often used to talk about Social Security's finances isn't immediately comparable to anything else that most people can relate to. A number that isn't comparable to other numbers you know is a meaningless number. How big a difference is seven trillion dollars? It sounds like a huge number. But in a context devoid of comparable numbers, it's a meaningless number.
Responding to the 2012 Social Security Trustees report, Robert Greenstein of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities put the Trustees' projections about the future finances of the Social Security system in the context of the current debate about tax policy:
The revenue loss over the next 75 years from making [the tax cuts enacted under President Bush] permanent would be about two times the entire Social Security shortfall over that period. Indeed, the revenue loss just from extending the tax cuts for people making over $250,000 -- the top 2 percent of Americans -- would itself be nearly as large as the entire Social Security shortfall over the 75-year period. Members of Congress cannot simultaneously claim that the tax cuts are affordable while the Social Security shortfall constitutes a dire fiscal threat.
At long last, the United States and Iran are engaged in serious talks about Iran's nuclear program. But instead of celebrating the fact that President Obama is keeping his promise to the people who voted for him to pursue diplomatic engagement with Iran, the New York Times has suggested to its readers that Iran's Supreme Leader is uniquely and intrinsically untrustworthy when he says that Iran will never pursue a nuclear weapon. Why? Because, according to the Times, Iran's leaders are Shiites, and Shiites have a religious doctrine called "taqiyya," which allows them to lie.
No scholar or analyst was cited by the New York Times in support of this argument, which should have been a red flag for Times editors for an argument claiming that the leadership of a country against which the United States has threatened war is essentially different from us because they belong to a different religion.
Last Saturday - the same day the United States and Iran were having "constructive and useful" discussions on Iran's nuclear program in Istanbul, according to EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton - the New York Times published a piece titled, "Seeking Nuclear Insight in Fog of the Ayatollah's Utterances," over the byline of James Risen.
That piece contained the following paragraph:
Complicating matters further, some analysts say that Ayatollah Khamenei's denial of Iranian nuclear ambitions has to be seen as part of a Shiite historical concept called taqiyya, or religious dissembling. For centuries an oppressed minority within Islam, Shiites learned to conceal their sectarian identity to survive, and so there is a precedent for lying to protect the Shiite community.
The US in Afghanistan: A Tale of Urination, Desecration, Extermination, and ... Posing with Corpses?
Afghans showing that they are not altogether pleased with a recent Koran burning incident at a US base in Afghanistan.
It appears that public embarrassments are becoming a monthly occasion for the US occupation in Afghanistan. In January, a video was released on the internet depicting four US soldiers urinating on the corpses of three dead Afghans. The purportedly unintentional burning of Korans at Bagram base ignited violent protests throughout the country in February. And last month, a US soldier was indicted on charges of killing 17 Afghan villagers in a macabre night-time massacre.
So what has April brought us from Afghanistan? No, it's not spring showers--and whatever it is, it is certainly unlikely to result in May flowers. It's eighteen photographs featuring US soldiers posing with Afghan body parts. Classy.
What difference will it make to the lives of Palestinians in the West Bank when the world meets their demands for freedom and self-determination?
One difference it will make: like other peoples of the world, the Palestinians will get to decide who they can invite to visit them.
Right now, if you, as a citizen of the United States, Canada, or Europe, decide that you want to visit Bethlehem, a Palestinian city in the West Bank - the same Bethlehem that Christians believe to be the birthplace of Jesus - you have two ways to begin your journey. You can fly to Israel, and cross the 1967 border to the West Bank. Or you can fly to Jordan, and cross to the West Bank over one of the bridges. But whichever way you go, you cannot pass to Bethlehem without the permission of the Netanyahu government, which controls all the paths you can take to Bethlehem.
If you are a Likud supporter, flying into the Israeli airport should present no problem. But if you are a supporter of Palestinian rights, the Netanyahu government could stop you from going to Bethlehem on purely political grounds, even if you have never committed any crime and have no intention of ever committing one, even if you have never attended a Palestinian protest in the West Bank and have no intention of attending one. You could be barred by the Netanyahu government from going to Bethlehem simply for the thought crime of supporting Palestinian human rights.
Indeed, even American Jews can be barred by the Netanyahu government from traveling to Bethlehem for the thought crime of supporting Palestinian rights.
Given the economic, political, and diplomatic support given to the Netanyahu government by North America and Europe, this is a spectacular state of affairs. You might think that governments and media in North American and Europe would express forceful concern if their citizens' right to travel were obstructed by a government they were doing so much to support.
Just yesterday, Santorum announced the suspension of his presidential campaign, leaving Mitt Romney the presumptive Republican candidate for president. The Obama campaign has moved quickly, announcing today it's on (no, really, they said this) by releasing a factsheet on Facebook about their likely opponent, entitled, "Five Things You Need to Know About Mitt Romney." The image has become a viral sensation, with over 15,000 likes, 2,800 comments, and 7,000 shares at the time of writing. I've embedded a copy to the right. Take a look.
Okay, first fact is predictable.
Second one ... wait, what?
He opposes the President's plan to end the war in Afghanistan and would leave troops there indefinitely.
Does this mean that Obama is NOT planning to leave troops in Afghanistan indefinitely? How did I miss the President announcing a date for full withdrawal from Afghanistan? Did I black out or something? When did this happen? What great news!
When President Obama nominated global health superhero Dr. Jim Young Kim to lead the World Bank, Harvard development economist Dani Rodrik remarked, "It's nice to see that Obama can still surprise us."
Is it possible that Obama could pleasantly surprise us in the upcoming talks with Iran over its nuclear program? Much of the media coverage would suggest otherwise.
Nonetheless, there are actually quite a few positive signs that we can point to:
1. There have been no reported major explosions in Iran or assassinations of Iranian scientists recently, as have seemed to occur in the run-up to previous talks. This could be a sign that U.S. pressure on Israel and the Iranian MEK terrorist group is working to keep things quiet on that front. There is some evidence that this might be the case.
2. No-one appears to be talking about Israel much at all. Israeli officials appear to be keeping a relatively low profile, and Israeli Defense Minister Barak recently put forward a proposed list of Western demands that is at least on the planet of plausibility - in particular, Barak made no demand that Iran cease enriching uranium.
3. Thanks in no small part to the leadership of Senate Majority Leader Reid, Congress has also been relatively quiet. And this week Congress is out of session.
If you sometimes find yourself at a bit of a loss of what to make of the on-again, off-again drumbeat for war with Iran, you should at least have the consolation that you're in good company. Close students of U.S. and Israeli policy who oppose war have expressed divergent views about how great the threat of war is, especially in the shorter run. (There is much less divergence about the long-term prospects: if there is no progress on the diplomatic front, the weight of expert opinion is that the long-term prognosis is very bad, from the point of view of avoiding war.)
The problem of accurately perceiving the danger is complicated by the multiple motivations of those currently being the war drums. Clearly, among other things, the war drums are a political gambit to attack President Obama and elect Romney. The war drums are also a channel-changer from the continued dispossession of the Palestinians and the political shifts in the Middle East brought about by the Arab Spring. At the same time, the war drums are part of a campaign to constrict political space for a diplomatic resolution with Iran, thereby making war with Iran more likely in the future.
The lack of urgency resulting from this murky picture presents a dilemma for anti-war activists. If people were convinced that there were a 90% chance of war in the next three months, if the White House were leading a crusade for war, many people would be in the streets.
But that is not the situation we are in. Our situation is more akin to what one analyst described as a "slow-motion Cuban missile crisis." We are on a path to war with Iran, but we are not on a quick path to war with Iran. We are on a slow path to war with Iran.