Commentary

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.

Joint Chiefs: Don't Mess With Dwell Time

If you think there's a house-on-fire emergency demanding that President Obama send 40,000 more troops to Afghanistan right away (is your name Fred Kagan?) you don't just have a problem with President Barack Obama. You have a problem with the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

The Wall Street Journal reports:

At a White House meeting Friday, the Joint Chiefs of Staff urged President Barack Obama to send fresh troops to Afghanistan only if they have spent at least a year in the U.S. since their last overseas tour, according to people familiar with the matter. If Mr. Obama agreed to that condition, many potential Afghanistan reinforcements wouldn't be available until next summer at the earliest.

A recent study by the Institute for the Study of War, a Washington think tank, concluded that the U.S. has only three Army and Marine brigades - about 11,000 to 15,000 troops - capable of deploying to Afghanistan this year after spending at least 12 months back in the U.S.

Note that, by law, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff "is the principal military adviser to the President."

Like every other patriotic American, I want to support our troops. If the Joint Chiefs say our troops need twelve months at home before being sent to Afghanistan, I think we better do what they say.

The rise is military suicides is a key issue driving the Joint Chiefs' concern:

Army officials say the strain of repeated deployments with minimal time back in the U.S. is one of the biggest factors fueling the rise in military suicides.

Obama's Decision on More Troops to "Someone Else's Civil War"

On October 27, the Washington Post reported the resignation of Matthew Hoh, a top U.S. civilian official in Afghanistan, in protest of the U.S. war in Afghanistan. Hoh charged that "the United States is asking its troops to die in Afghanistan for what is essentially a far-off civil war," the Post reported. In his letter of resignation, Hoh wrote,

"I fail to see the value ... in continuous U.S. casualties or expenditures of resources in support of the Afghan government in what is, truly, a 35-year old civil war."

"The Pashtun insurgency," Hoh asserted, "is fed by what is perceived by the Pashtun people as a continued and sustained assault, going back centuries, on Pashtun land, culture, traditions and religion by internal and external enemies. The U.S. and NATO presence and operations in Pashtun valleys and villages, as well as Afghan army and police units that are led and composed of non-Pashtun soldiers and police, provide an occupation force against which the insurgency is justified."

The appearance in mainstream U.S. media of the credible assertion that the United States is intervening militarily on one side in another country's civil war, especially a conflict with an ethnic character, might be expected to have a significant impact on public perceptions of whether continuation of U.S. military involvement was justified. One of the great political and media debates of 2006-7 was whether the United States was involved in a civil war in Iraq.

Kerry, Berman Protest Law Library Report Justifying Honduras Coup

Senator Kerry - chair of Senate Foreign Relations - and Rep. Berman - chair of House International Relations - have written a letter of protest to the Librarian of Congress over a Law Library of Congress report that sought to justify the coup in Honduras.

Kerry and Berman request that the Law Library of Congress withdraw the report and issue a corrected version, noting that the report "has contributed to the political crisis...contains factual errors and is based on a flawed legal analysis..."

The letter is published here.

Congress Members Denounce Mixed US Messages on Honduras Coup

Rep. Raul Grijalva and 15 Members of Congress have written to President Obama, urging him to end the de facto policy of mixed messages regarding the coup in Honduras.

In particular, the Members note that the unprofessional personal attacks on President Zelaya by the head of the US delegation to the Organization of American States, Lewis Amselem, have contributed to the belief by the coup regime that it can resist international pressure to stand down.

Anselem's antics are very difficult to justify when one considers that Secretary of State Clinton has identified coup leader Micheletti as the main obstacle to a negotiated solution.

The 16 Members of Congress call on President Obama to state unequivocally that the US will not recognize elections in Honduras organized by the coup regime.

The letter is posted here.