Commentary

Egypt Says It Will Block International Gaza Freedom Marchers

On December 31, together with more than 1000 peace advocates from around the world, I'm planning to join tens of thousands of Palestinians in a march in Gaza to the Erez border crossing to protest the Israeli blockade of Gaza, and to demand international action to relieve Gaza's humanitarian crisis.

Unfortunately, it appears that the Egyptian government has just announced that it will not allow the internationals to enter Gaza as planned. If so, that would be a shame.

But this apparent decision could be reversed with sufficient public pressure, in Egypt and around the world. Concerned individuals can write to the Egyptian Embassy in Washington and to the Foreign Ministry in Cairo. There is also contact information for the Egyptian consulates in Chicago, Houston, New York, and San Francisco here.

The aim of the march is to call on Israel and the international community to lift the siege, and to respond to Gaza's humanitarian crisis. The international participants will also take in badly needed medical aid, as well as school supplies and winter jackets for the children of Gaza. Dec. 27 will mark the first anniversary of the Israeli invasion, from which Gaza has not recovered, in large measure because of the ongoing Israeli blockade, which has prevented Gaza from rebuilding.

Of course, if the Egyptian government decision stands, and the international participants are not allowed to enter Gaza, then much less international attention will be drawn to the ongoing blockade, and that would be an unfortunate setback for peace efforts, because the need for international attention is great.

WaPo Changes "AfPak" News Header

In November, members of Just Foreign Policy wrote to the Washington Post, asking it to change its "AfPak" news header: stories about the US war in Afghanistan were preceded by the news header:

"The AfPak War: Combating Extremism in Afghanistan and Pakistan"

Just Foreign Policy noted that this news header editorialized in news stories, promoting the claims that 1) the US is "combating extremism" in Afghanistan and Pakistan and 2) Afghanistan and Pakistan are "one theater" of conflict.

The Washington Post has now changed its news header, taking on board the second criticism but not the first. It now reads:

"Obama's War: Combating Extremism in Afghanistan and Pakistan"

See, for example, the news story on Matthew Hoh's resignation, which is now preceded by this header.

U.S. official resigns over Afghan war
http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/10/26/AR200910...

Of course, one consequence of Hoh's critique of the war is that the United States is not, in fact, "combating extremism," but rather promoting it.

Two Candles in Congress Against the Siege of Gaza

Many Americans don't realize that although it might be true that the American Israel Public Affairs Committee can get seventy Senators to sign a napkin, that doesn't mean AIPAC can stop Members of Congress from taking actions to improve U.S. policy towards the Palestinians - actions that could have a real impact in improving living conditions for Palestinians on the ground. This week two such measures are being considered by Members of the House.

Representatives Jim McDermott [D-WA-7] and Keith Ellison [D-MN-5] are circulating a letter that calls on President Obama to press for an easing in the Israeli blockade of Gaza by making it easier for Palestinians, aid workers, and journalists to enter and leave Gaza and by improving the access of Palestinian civilians to necessities such as clean water, food, fuel and medicine.

The McDermott-Ellison letter asks for "immediate improvement" in the following areas:

- Movement of people, especially students, the ill, aid workers, journalists, and those with family concerns, into and out of Gaza;
- Access to clean water, including water infrastructure materials,
- Access to plentiful and varied food and agricultural materials;
- Access to medicine and health care products and suppliers;
- Access to sanitation supplies, including sanitation infrastructure materials;
- Access to construction materials for repairs and rebuilding;
- Access to fuel;
- Access to spare parts;
- Prompt passage into and out of Gaza for commercial and agricultural goods; and
- Publication and review of the list of items prohibited to the people of Gaza.

Can Arlen Specter End the War in Afghanistan?

Who knew Pennsylvania Senator Arlen Specter would emerge as one of the most vocal opponents in the Senate of the President's military escalation in Afghanistan?

But so it is. In an op-ed this week in the Philadelphia Inquirer, Specter not only challenges the "surge"; he also challenges fundamental premises of the war. Specter writes:

I'm opposed to sending 30,000 more American troops to Afghanistan because I don't believe they are indispensable in our fight against al Qaeda.
[...]
But if al Qaeda can organize and operate out of Yemen, Somalia or elsewhere, then why fight in Afghanistan, which has made a history of resisting would-be conquerors - from Alexander the Great in the 3rd century BC, to Great Britain in the 19th and early 20th centuries, to the former Soviet Union in the 1970s and 1980s?

What can one Senator do? Well, one Senator can introduce legislation, for starters. At this writing, there isn't a single piece of legislation before the Senate that expresses opposition to continuing the war indefinitely. This is in marked contrast to the House, where Representative McGovern's bill requiring the Pentagon to present Congress with an exit strategy from Afghanistan has more than 100 co-sponsors. That's like having 23 Senators.

But Arlen Specter is in a unique position to do much more than introduce legislation. He could turn his Pennsylvania Democratic Senate primary into a referendum on the Afghanistan war, because his primary opponent, Joe Sestak, supports the war and supports the escalation:

Obama Invokes "Just War," But Is the War in Afghanistan "Just"?

"Accepting Peace Prize, Obama Evokes 'Just War,'" notes the headline in the New York Times, referring to President Obama's speech accepting the Nobel Peace Prize. President Obama did indeed invoke the concept of a "just war." But tellingly, he did not try to argue that the U.S. war in Afghanistan meets the criteria to be judged as a "just war."

A plausible explanation for the President's failure to argue that the war in Afghanistan is a "just war" is that he recognizes that such an argument would not be convincing.

As President Obama noted in his speech, there are criteria involved in the "just war" concept. It isn't just a matter of proclaiming that a war is justified. There are tests.

This matters, because a substantial part of the U.S. and world population subscribes to the theory of "just war." In particular, more than a fifth of the U.S. population are estimated to identify as Catholics. The concept of "just war" - that wars can be considered "just" only if they meet certain criteria - is an official doctrine of the Catholic Church.

Here's part of what the official Catechism of the Catholic Church has to say about this:

Avoiding war

2307 The fifth commandment forbids the intentional destruction of human life. Because of the evils and injustices that accompany all war, the Church insistently urges everyone to prayer and to action so that the divine Goodness may free us from the ancient bondage of war.

2308 All citizens and all governments are obliged to work for the avoidance of war.

We Need a Clean Vote Now on Afghanistan Escalation

Under our constitutional democracy, Congress has the power and the responsibility to establish a policy on President Obama's plans to send 30,000 more U.S. troops to Afghanistan, and, if Congress opposes sending more troops, to try to block or alter this policy. The question now is whether Congress will act before the policy is implemented, and whether it will do so in a "clean" vote - an up or down vote solely on the question of sending more troops, unentangled with unrelated issues like flood relief for farmers or extending unemployment benefits.

If Congress does not act quickly, the President's proposal may become an accomplished fact. Already, President Obama has ordered Marine units to be deployed later this month. If Congress waits for months to debate the issue, most of the new troops may already be in place.

Anti-war Representatives are pressing for an early vote on funding for more troops so President Obama's policy will be judged by Congress before thousands of additional troops are sent into combat, the Politico reports. "Let us have this debate before he moves forward," Rep. Jim McGovern [D-MA] said. "I'd like it to be before we escalate one single American troop over there."

Grijalva letter to Obama on Honduran elections

In a letter to President Obama on November 25, Rep. Grijalva urged reconsideration of U.S. support for elections in Honduras under the coup regime.

Upcoming Exit Ramp? What Was Wrong With This One?

Recent press reports suggest that President Obama is likely to try to sugarcoat his announcement next week of a major military escalation in Afghanistan with talk of "exit ramps": opportunities in the future to evaluate and possibly reduce the U.S. military commitment. That's supposed to make opponents of military escalation feel better, the media suggests. The New York Times reports:

The troops will be dispatched in phases, and Mr. Obama is likely to declare that he will review the deployment next year, to evaluate its progress.

"That gives him the flexibility to tell the Democrats that his commitment is limited," the Times says.

But it's hard to see why this should be at all reassuring. After all, we just had such an evaluation, which, despite the widespread view that the present policy has failed, resulted in the policy choice of sending 50% more troops that the President is about to announce. Why should we expect the next evaluation by the same actors to be substantially different from the one that just took place, if the data is the same?

Indeed, just as the President plans to assure us that we don't have an open-ended commitment, so he plans to reassure the governments of Pakistan, Afghanistan, and our European allies that we do, in fact, have an open-ended commitment. Which President Obama should be believed?

Supposedly, we have to tell Pakistan that we are not leaving because if they think that we are leaving, they will hedge their bets and back and protect their ally Mullah Omar, in order to protect their influence and what they perceive to be their national interests in Afghansitan.

Mark Weisbrot: Valenzuela Speech Suggests U.S. Will Blame Zelaya

Commenting on Arturo Valenzuela's recent speech to the OAS (a link to the speech follows Mark's comment), Mark Weisbrot writes:

Yesterday, President Obama's new top State Department official for Latin America, Arturo Valenzuela, delivered a speech about Honduras at the meeting of the Permanent Council of the Organization of American States. The speech provides some important information about the State Department's strategy going forward. As before, this strategy is oriented toward legitimizing the coup government.

It appears that the State Department is still clinging to the October 30th "accord," and not just the "elections" to legitimize the government. So perhaps they still have hopes of reaching a deal with Zelaya after the election, or they are just pretending that they have such hopes, but one of these two things is the implication in this speech. When Zelaya refuses to be part of the farce, the implication here is that Washington will blame Zelaya for rejecting the implementation of the "accord."  (This of course is despite the fact that Micheletti torpedoed the accord immediately by declaring himself head of the "unity government.") I would think that they Obama administration could also win Republican support for this position, even people like Senator DeMint, thus closing the gap that some of the administration seems to worried about on the domestic front.

Their problem remains that practically no other country in the world is buying their line.

Valenzuela's speech is here.

 

Mark Weisbrot: Letter to the Wall Street Journal

Mark Weisbrot sent the following letter to José de Cordoba, a reporter for the Wall Street Journal, in response to the article which is posted at the end.