Commentary

Rep. Lee anti-escalation event in Oakland Monday 11/23

Representative Barbara Lee, whose bill HR 3699 would prohibit an increase in US forces deployed to Afghanistan, is having an event on 3699 and an exit strategy for Afghanistan in Oakland Monday, at the Dellums Federal Building, at noon.

The flyer is here.

Please spread this information around to contacts in the Bay area and the California press. Perhaps this event can have some impact on other Members of the California delegation...

Will the National Democratic Institute Support the Coup in Honduras?

A statement put out by Senator Lugar's office this week contained a striking revelation: apparently, the State Department intends to fund election observer missions of the International Republican Institute and the National Democratic Institute for the controversial November 29 Honduras election supervised by the coup regime. If the US sends election observers before President Zelaya is restored, it would prepare the ground for recognizing the coup regime and its election as legitimate, putting the U.S. at odds with the rest of the hemisphere. Funding election observers appears to be part of a strategy of legitimizing the June coup against President Zelaya.

Both the IRI and the NDI are funded by Congress through the National Endowment for Democracy.

The International Republican Institute is affiliated with the Republican Party and the National Democratic Institute is affiliated with the Democratic Party. The IRI has a sordid history of anti-democratic actions, like supporting the 2004 coup in Haiti.

The NDI, on the other hand, is at least nominally accountable to the Democratic Party, so its involvement in trying to legitimize elections under the coup regime is quite surprising. Democratic leaders in Congress, like Senator Kerry and Representative Berman, have strongly opposed the coup. Congressional Democrats have urged President Obama not to recognize elections under the coup regime.

Mark Weisbrot on Senator Lugar's Call to Recognize Honduran Election

Senator Richard Lugar's office has issued a statement supporting recognition of the Honduran elections on November 29. Just Foreign Policy President Mark Weisbrot comments:

This is not surprising, Lugar has been with his party leadership on this all along, including his letter in July that got the State Department to write their response that appeared to blame Zelaya for the coup. Honduras has become a real cause for the Republican party leadership, which sees it as a strategic battle in their long-term fight against the Latin American left (which for them includes Lula). Although Lugar is of course different from them, for some reason he has joined with them in this battle.

This has to be a disappointment to people who see Lugar as a moderate, since it is tough for a moderate to defend the position that a a group of people can overthrow the elected president, arrest, jail, and beat thousands of people, torture and even kill some people, close down opposition media intermittently throughout the legally designated 3-month electoral campaign period, and then have a valid "election" -- no matter how "clean" it is on election day.

 Lugar's statement will give some lobbyists, pundits, editors, etc. some ammunition to say that not only the wingnuts that hold this position.

The State Department effectively has the same position as Lugar in what it is trying to accomplish, but for now is reluctant to state it unambiguously, so as not to further distance itself from Latin America. So it does help all parties, including the State Department, that want to legitimate the election.

Draft Media Advisory for the President's Afghanistan Escalation Speech

In the event that President Obama announces a military escalation in Afghanistan - some press reports have speculated that in the next few weeks President Obama will announce that he will send tens of thousands of more troops in 2010 to remain for the indefinite future - groups around the U.S. will be having protests and vigils to coincide with the President's speech. Just Foreign Policy has drafted a "sample" press advisory for use by local groups. Adapt as you see fit. The sample press advisory is here.

Progressive Caucus Requests Meeting with Obama on Afghanistan

On November 17, the Congressional Progressive Caucus sent a letter to President Obama, noting support in the CPC for a timeline for the withdrawal of U.S. troops, opposition to sending more troops, support for redirecting resources from the military to aid, and support for reconciliation in Afghanistan; and requesting a meeting with the President to discuss these concerns. The letter is posted here.

Illinois Grad Employees Strike for Education Security

While former Illinois Senator Barack Obama mulls flushing another $40 billion a year in our tax dollars down the toilet in Afghanistan - that's the estimated annual cost of sending 40,000 more troops for the next several years - graduate employees at the University of Illinois, a "land grant" public institution, are going on strike at 8 AM this morning Chicago time to protect their ability to complete their education, against threats from the University administration to withdraw tuition waivers from graduate employees.

For many teaching assistants and graduate assistants, the withdrawal of a tuition waiver would be an educational death sentence, a de facto financial expulsion from the University. But even though access to a tuition waiver is a basic condition of employment, since without also being students graduate employees would lose their jobs, the University of Illinois administration refuses to bargain the issue with the members of the Graduate Employees Organization, a local of the American Federation of Teachers, even though under Illinois labor law the GEO is the recognized bargaining agent for graduate employees.

The University administration claims that in a time of financial constraint, it needs "flexibility" to undermine a basic condition of graduate employment. It's true, of course, that the University is financially constrained, given the decline in government support for public higher education. But how the University responds to that environment is a choice. Trying to balance your budget by taking essentials away from the weakest people in the food chain is a choice - a choice often made, but still a choice.

Our Corrupt Occupation of Afghanistan

Is it just me, or is the pontification of Western leaders about corruption in Afghanistan growing rather tiresome?

There is something very Captain Renault about it. We're shocked, shocked that the Afghans have sullied our morally immaculate occupation of their country with their dirty corruption. How ungrateful can they be?

But perhaps we should consider the possibility that our occupation of the country is not so morally immaculate - indeed, that the most corrupt racket going in Afghanistan today is the American occupation.

US military officials in Kabul estimate that a minimum of 10 percent of the Pentagon's logistics contracts in Afghanistan consists of protection payments to insurgents, Aram Roston reports in The Nation. In southern Afghanistan - where General McChrystal wants to send more troops - security firms can't physically protect convoys of American military supplies. There's no practical way to move the supplies without paying the Taliban. So, like Milo Minderbinder in Catch-22, we're supplying both sides of the war.

A Hundred Cities Against Escalation As the President Announces It

Recent press speculation suggests at least even odds that sometime in November, President Obama will give a speech announcing that he intends to send tens of thousands of more U.S. troops to Afghanistan in 2010. Not a temporary "surge," but a permanent escalation. While certainly it's good news - at least temporarily - that AP is reporting that President Obama "won't accept any of the Afghanistan war options before him without changes," and that the Washington Post is reporting that U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan Karl Eikenberry is lobbying strongly against sending more troops, note that AP goes on to say:

Obama is still expected to send in more troops to bolster a deteriorating war effort.

He remains close to announcing his revamped war strategy - troops are just one component - and probably will do so shortly after he returns from a trip to Asia that ends Nov. 19.

Mr. Netanyahu, Tear Down This Wall

On the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, Western leaders are full of self-congratulation. But their paeans to universal freedom ring hollow, when they bear large responsibility for another wall constricting human freedom: the apartheid wall dividing the Palestinian West Bank.

Israeli authorities refer to it as a "separation barrier," but that's misleading. The wall doesn't separate pre-1967 Israel from the West Bank. If that's all it did, it would be an entirely different political object. Instead, the wall cuts deep into the Palestinian West Bank, separating Palestinians from each other and from their land, and signaling to the Palestinians that Israel intends to annex territory that Palestinians want for an independent Palestinian state. The fact that Western countries that support the Israeli government - above all the United States - say nothing about the West Bank wall signals to Palestinians that Western support for Palestinian statehood is merely rhetorical.

Today, AFP reports, Palestinians tore down a chunk of the wall near Ramallah.

AFP notes that 85 percent of the planned wall is inside the West Bank, and it would leave 9.5 percent of the West Bank and 35,000 West Bank Palestinians between the barrier and the Green Line that marks the 1967 border with Israel.

The World Court issued a resolution in 2004 calling for those parts of the barrier that are inside the West Bank to be torn down and for further construction in the territory to cease. Israel and Western countries have ignored the World Court resolution.

Two years ago Israel's own High Court ruled against the route of the wall near the Palestinian village of Bilin, but the Israeli government ignored the ruling of its own highest court.

WaPo Slants Afghan News with Biased News Header

On October 27, the Washington Post reported on the resignation of Matthew Hoh, a top U.S. official in Afghanistan, in protest of the U.S. war, noting that Hoh had come to believe that the U.S. military presence in Afghanistan was simply fueling the insurgency.

But the editors of the Washington Post are still slanting their news coverage in a way that promotes the assumption that the United States is "combating extremism," rather than fueling extremism.

Stories on the Washington Post website about what the U.S. is doing in Afghanistan and Pakistan - including the story on Hoh's resignation - are introduced by a "header" that says:

"The AfPak War
Combating Extremism in Afghanistan and Pakistan"

In using this header on news articles about U.S. policy in Afghanistan and Pakistan, the Washington Post editors are skewing the news, reinforcing an assumption that Matthew Hoh and other critics of the war are trying to challenge, that U.S. policy is combating extremism.

Not only does the Post's "combating extremism" header reinforce the assumption that the U.S. is "combating extremism," the "AfPak War" designation also reinforces the assumption that Afghanistan and Pakistan are "one theater" of conflict. In particular, it promotes the assumption that the war in Afghanistan is justified on the basis of promoting stability in Pakistan. Many Afghans and Pakistanis, as well as critics of the Afghanistan war, see this assumption as false, counterproductive and even offensive.