Commentary

Congress Members Urge Caution on Colombia Base Agreement

Sixteen Members of Congress - fifteen Representatives and a Senator - have written to Secretary of State Clinton and Secretary of Defense Gates, urging caution in expanding the U.S. military presence in Colombia. The letter is here.

Withdraw from Afghanistan with a Public, Negotiated Timetable

The United States should withdraw its military forces from Afghanistan. The safest, most feasible and most ethical way to bring this about is through the establishment of a public, negotiated timetable for the withdrawal of U.S. forces. Such a timetable should be a core provision of an agreement negotiated by the United States with the Afghan government and with international military partners of the United States in Afghanistan governing the presence of foreign military forces in the country. Such an agreement would bolster the legitimacy of the Afghan government, as well as the legitimacy of the foreign military presence; such an agreement would dramatically increase the patience of the Afghan public, and of Western publics, for the operations of foreign military forces while they remain.

Recent public opinion polls clearly indicate that the American public no longer supports the U.S. war in Afghanistan. When Americans are asked about sending more troops, as General McChrystal is expected to soon propose, the response is even more lopsided opposition. If General McChrystal says he needs more troops to accomplish the mission he has been assigned, and we aren't willing to send more troops, that suggests that the mission needs to change to one that can be accomplished with the number of troops that we are willing to send. If there is no worthwhile mission that can be accomplished with the troops that we are willing to send, then our troops should be withdrawn.

I'm a firm believer in the idea that the United States should promote democracy by setting a good example. If the majority of Americans don't support the war, the U.S. prosecution of the war should not continue indefinitely.

GObama! US Agrees to Talks with Iran

To any naysayers who say President Obama has broken all his promises, I say, with all due respect: "na na na na na":

AP reports:

The United States and five partner countries have accepted Iran's new offer to hold talks, even though Iran insists it will not negotiate over its disputed nuclear program, the State Department said Friday.

I realize that this may be cold comfort if you took Obama seriously when he said that he was going to renegotiate NAFTA. Okay, that promise was not for real, sorry.

But when he said he was going to talk to Iran, apparently he meant it. Who knew?

It could have gone the other way. The US could have said - we offered Iran talks on how Iran was going to stop enriching uranium, and Iran has clearly said that it has no intention of stopping the enrichment of uranium, therefore, Iran has not agreed to our offer of talks.

And therefore, we have no choice but to proceed with efforts to cut off Iran's access to gas imports.

As everyone knows, there are plenty of folks in Washington - and at least one other capital city - who would have applauded such a course.

But Obama decided to take the high road. We said we wanted talks, and Iran is saying that it wants talks, so let's talk. Why not?

Iran says it wants comprehensive talks. So? Who's against comprehensive talks? More US-Iran cooperation could help make the world a better place on a lot of fronts: Afghanistan, Iraq, Israel-Palestine, Lebanon.

Making progress in negotiations on Iran's "nuclear file" will not be trivial. But there is a feasible solution, and everyone knows it. As Robert Dreyfuss wrote recently in The Nation:

Showdown in Brighton on British Troops in Afghanistan

From September 27 to October 1, the British Labour Party is holding its annual conference in Brighton. The Campaign for Labour Party Democracy is putting forward a resolution calling for the British government to bring British troops home from Afghanistan.

If this resolution passes, it will add significantly to the pressure on the British government to move further towards withdrawing its troops. Already, the Independent reports, Britain has told the U.S. it wants to cut UK troop numbers from more than 9,000 to fewer than 5,000 in "three to five years, maximum."

As the CLPD notes in its resolution, the majority of Britons want British troops withdrawn. Two-thirds of Britons want British troops to come home, the Independent recently reported.

The British Labour Party has been "Americanized" somewhat in recent years - power over policy has been moved away from rank-and-file activists. But it's still the case that the passage of a resolution by the Labour Party conference calling for British troops to be withdrawn will be hard for the British government to ignore as it moves into a general election campaign. The expectation that the government should follow the wishes of the people who vote for it is still stronger in Britain than it is in the United States.

Dear Britain: "Get Out of Afghanistan, So We Can Get Out"

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown faces a grassroots challenge over the war in Afghanistan at this month's Labour Party conference, the Guardian reports:

Gordon Brown faces fresh questions over the war in Afghanistan at this month's Labour party conference, with grassroots activists circulating a motion demanding that troops be withdrawn.

I'd give anything for the opportunity to address this conference.

I'd wait until one or two people gave speeches arguing that Britain had to keep its troops in Afghanistan out of friendship with the United States. Then I'd ask to be recognized, and I'd say,

"As an American, I thank the honorable gentlemen and ladies for their kind words of friendship towards the people of the United States. I assure you, as you know very well, that the feelings are reciprocated.

"But I beg you, in the name of humanity: show your love differently than by continuing to support this war. Do not love us like a drinking buddy who gives liquor to an alcoholic. Do not love us by staying, teeth gritted, in a car whose driver has had too much to drink. Do not love us by holding back your criticism, or praising our war policy with faint damnation.

"Like the majority of Britons, the majority of Americans oppose this war. Fifty-seven percent of Americans say they oppose the war in Afghanistan, CNN reports.

Team Obama Divided, Public Strongly Opposed, to More Troops in Afghanistan

Top officials of the Obama Administration are divided on the expected request of the Pentagon for more troops in Afghanistan, the New York Times reports today.

The military's anticipated request for more troops to combat the insurgency in Afghanistan has divided senior advisers to President Obama as they try to determine the proper size and mission of the American effort there, officials said Thursday.

Leading the opposition is Vice-President Biden:

Leading those with doubts is Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., who has expressed deep reservations about an expanded presence in Afghanistan on the grounds that it may distract from what he considers the more urgent goal of stabilizing Pakistan, officials said.

No-one can plausibly argue that Vice-President Biden has no idea what he's talking about. Remember, this was the guy chosen to balance the ticket with "foreign policy experience," the chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Nor is Biden a pacifist or shy about foreign intervention. He voted for the Iraq war in 2002 and promoted U.S. military intervention in the former Yugoslavia.

Secretary of State Clinton has been "vocal" in favor of more troops and some officials said they expected her to be an advocate for a more robust force, the Times says.

But Biden has the wind of public opinion at his back. A number of recent polls show that the majority of Americans - and the overwhelming majority of Democrats - now oppose the Afghan war. But on the question of sending more troops, public opinion is even more clear. They're against it.

McClatchy News reports, citing a recent poll:

56 percent oppose sending any more combat troops to Afghanistan, while 35 percent support sending more troops.

On Afghanistan, Obama Hanging by G.O.P. Thread

Republican support will be "vital" for continuing the war and occupation of Afghanistan, the New York Times points out today, noting that Obama's reliance on Republican votes for the war means Republicans could pull the plug at any time.

One danger for Mr. Obama is that he may be forced to abandon his own party on Afghanistan for the right, which could put him in a perilous position if Republicans at any point decide they do not want to support a Democratic president on the issue.

In an op-ed Tuesday in the Washington Post, conservative columnist George Will called for the U.S. to withdraw its troops from Afghanistan.

Might George Will's op-ed encourage more Republicans in Congress to speak up in favor of withdrawing U.S. troops -- or in opposition to the increase that is now being planned?

When we get our troops out of Afghanistan will depend to a significant degree on what Republican members of Congress are willing to say and do.

This summer, the House of Representatives took what was in effect a "no confidence" vote on Afghanistan policy: it voted down, 138-278, Representative Jim McGovern's amendment requiring the Pentagon to present Congress with an exit strategy.

The majority of House Democrats supported McGovern's amendment. Among Democrats, the vote was 131-114, or 57 percent to 43 percent. But Republicans were overwhelmingly opposed. Only seven Republicans voted yes; 164 Republicans voted no; in percentage terms, 4 percent yes and 96 percent no.

Can We Get Some Republicans to Defect on Afghanistan?

In an op-ed today in the Washington Post, conservative columnist George Will dissociates himself clearly from Republicans who support escalating the war in Afghanistan.

U.S. forces "should be substantially reduced," Will writes. "America should do only what can be done from offshore." Will's piece carries this clear-cut headline: "Time to Get Out of Afghanistan."

Might George Will's op-ed encourage more Republicans in Congress to speak up in favor of withdrawing U.S. troops?

Whether we get our troops out of Afghanistan anytime in the next five years will depend to a significant degree on what Republican Members of Congress are willing to say and do.

This summer, the House of Representatives took what was in effect a "no confidence" vote on Afghanistan policy: it voted down, 138-278, Representative Jim McGovern's amendment requiring the Pentagon to present Congress with an exit strategy.

The majority of House Democrats supported McGovern's amendment. Among Democrats, the vote was 131-114, or 57% to 43%. But Republicans were overwhelmingly opposed. Only seven Republicans voted yes; 164 Republicans voted no; in percentage terms, 4% yes and 96% no.

There's been a lot of wailing and gnashing of teeth - as there should be - about Democrats not representing their constituents on the war. But the story on the Republican side is worse, and changing U.S. policy will require turning that around as well.

The Washington Post reported on August 20 that "A majority of Americans now see the war in Afghanistan as not worth fighting, and just a quarter say more U.S. troops should be sent to the country. " Seven in 10 Democrats said the war was not worth fighting, while seven in 10 Republicans said that it was.

Senator Kennedy's Most Important Vote

As Senator Ted Kennedy has been eulogized in recent days, almost all of the discussion of his "legacy" has focused on domestic issues. Only a few have noted what Senator Kennedy himself said was the most important vote he ever cast in the U.S. Senate: his vote against the U.S. invasion of Iraq.

Economist Dean Baker, asked by the Beltway newspaper The Hill to comment on "the most significant aspect of Senator Kennedy's legacy," wrote:

I'll just agree with Senator Kennedy on this one. He said that his vote against the Iraq War was the most important vote that he cast the whole time he was in the Senate.

At a time when most of the political establishment, and certainly most of the media establishment, was cowed by an administration yelling about the threat of terrorism, Senator Kennedy stood back and looked at the evidence in a serious manner.
[...]
This was a display of courage and sound judgment at a time when these character traits were virtually absent from the halls of power in official Washington.

Democratic politicians are often praised by establishment pundits for showing "leadership" if they stand on the side of powerful against the interests of those they were elected to represent. But most people would see Senator Kennedy's vote against the war as a better example of "leadership": standing up for the people you were elected to represent, in the face of significant pressure to do otherwise. It's not surprising that the same media institutions which failed to challenge the Bush Administration's "faith-based" case for the war in Iraq would pass over this opportunity to remind everyone that they failed to show the same leadership as Senator Kennedy did when the nation needed it most.

State Department Recommends Aid Cutoff to Honduras

After two months, the State Department is poised to formally declare what was obvious to most of the world: on June 28, Honduras experienced a military coup.

State Department staff have recommended to Secretary of State Clinton that the ouster of Honduran President Zelaya be formally declared a "military coup," which could cut off as much as $150 million in U.S. funding, Reuters reports.

The semi-official story has been that State Department lawyers were studying the events in Honduras to see if they met the "technical definition" of a "military coup." But all along the State Department made clear that it was purposely delaying its formal determination to give "diplomacy" - the talks in Costa Rica between representatives of President Zelaya and representatives of the coup regime - a chance to work.

It was never explained why making this determination - which, under U.S. law, requires a cutoff of aid to the coup government - would have interfered with "diplomacy." On the contrary: it was immediately obvious that the obstacle to a negotiated solution was the intransigence of the coup regime, which refused to accept a compromise proposal that would allow President Zelaya to return. So, as many Latin American governments argued - including the Costa Rican government - if the U.S. wanted a negotiated solution, it needed to ramp up pressure on the coup regime.

But the State Department is now, at last, conceding that its previous efforts were insufficient. Better late than never - much better.

No doubt Republicans in Congress who have supported the coup regime in Honduras will now complain loudly when Secretary Clinton makes her formal determination - assuming that she follows the recommendation of her staff.

In anticipation of right-wing Republican complaints, it is important to note two key facts.