Commentary

Team Obama: Afghan Taliban Not a Threat to U.S.

All hands on deck, Obama Nation. The ship of state is turning.

The New York Times reports:

President Obama's national security team is moving to reframe its war strategy by emphasizing the campaign against Al Qaeda in Pakistan while arguing that the Taliban in Afghanistan do not pose a direct threat to the United States, officials said Wednesday.

This shift means that President Obama will not have to approve General McChrystal's request for 40,000 more troops:

the shift in thinking, outlined by senior administration officials on Wednesday, suggests that the president has been presented with an approach that would not require all of the additional troops that his commanding general in the region has requested.

Finally, the Administration is going to distinguish between the Afghan Taliban, an indigenous Afghan movement with Afghan goals, and Al Qaeda, a global movement with a global agenda of attacking the United States:

"Clearly, Al Qaeda is a threat not only to the U.S. homeland and American interests abroad, but it has a murderous agenda," one senior administration official said in an interview initiated by the White House on Wednesday on the condition of anonymity because the strategy review has not been finished. "We want to destroy its leadership, its infrastructure and its capability."

The official contrasted that with the Afghan Taliban, which the administration has begun to define as an indigenous group that aspires to reclaim territory and rule the country but does not express ambitions of attacking the United States. "When the two are aligned, it's mainly on the tactical front," the official said, noting that Al Qaeda has fewer than 100 fighters in Afghanistan.

The Taliban cannot be removed from Afghanistan, Team Obama says:

Is Team Obama Really Rethinking Afghanistan?

Some speculation in the press has suggested that the current White House deliberations on General McChrystal's request for 40,000 more troops in Afghanistan might be largely a political tactic. One theory has suggested that President Obama is running the clock, delaying his decision so he won't have to cross Democrats in Congress while health care reform is hanging fire. Another suggests that the deliberation is for show, so that Democrats will believe that Obama didn't rush to judgment, only reluctantly accepting McChrystal's request after serious deliberation and evaluation.

But two recent articles in the Wall Street Journal suggest that Obama and his advisers are indeed rethinking key assumptions which have underpinned U.S. policy.

On October 5, the Journal reported that President Obama had pressed military commanders over whether "the Taliban still has close ties to al Qaeda and whether the international terrorist group would continue to have a haven should the Taliban regain control of parts of the country."

On October 6, the Journal reported that "intelligence and military officials say they've severely constrained al Qaeda's ability to operate there and in Pakistan - and that's reshaping the debate over U.S. strategy in the region." Some officials, including aides to U.S. envoy Richard Holbrooke, have argued that "the Taliban wouldn't allow al Qaeda to regain its footing inside Afghanistan, since it was the alliance between the two that cost the Taliban their control of the country after Sept. 11."

Popular Resistance to the Coup in Honduras: an Interview with Bertha Caceres

This interview with Honduran human rights activist Bertha Caceres was conducted on September 4 by Beverly Bell, author of Walking on Fire: Haitian Women's Stories of Survival and Resistance and Program Coordinator of Other Worlds.

Bertha Caceres is a co-founder of COPINH, the Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations in Honduras. COPINH addresses human rights issues such as the impunity of large land-owners and the forced eviction of campesinos; illegal de-forestation by corporations; and compensation for victims of human rights violations committed by the Honduran government.

Beverly Bell: Here we are in Havana with Bertha Caceras Flores in the Forum on Emancipatory Paradigms, speaking about the tactics and repression of those behind the coup d'etat.

MoveOn to Obama: Exit Strategy, Not More Troops to Afghanistan

The cavalry has arrived!

MoveOn.org is asking MoveOn members to write to President Obama in opposition to Pentagon/ McCain/Lieberman demands for more U.S. troops to be sent to Afghanistan, Greg Sargent reports.

MoveOn To Call On Obama To Develop Exit Strategy For Afghanistan

In its first direct pressure on President Obama over a major war-and-peace issue, MoveOn will call on the president today to develop an exit strategy for Afghanistan, a MoveOn official confirms to me.

MoveOn will blast an email to its massive list later today calling for members to write to the White House and demand "a clear exit strategy," the official confirms.

Indeed, MoveOn has already sent the email to some of its members. (If you are a MoveOn member and didn't see the email, don't panic - MoveOn typically starts its engagement by sending an email to part of its massive list.)

Sargent publishes the email here.

Pro-war advocates both inside and outside the administration - including John McCain and Joe Lieberman - are calling for a big escalation. The general in charge of Afghanistan is expected to request tens of thousands more troops, and that may just be the beginning. They're cranking up the pressure for an immediate surge.

But other powerful voices are urging caution: Vice President Biden and White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel have raised real concerns about the idea of sending more troops to Afghanistan without a clear strategy, as have Democrats in Congress. And a majority of Americans oppose increasing troop levels.

McChrystal's "Ground Truth": Need Half a Million Boots on the Ground

Journalist Andrea Mitchell has noted that General McChrystal's report to President Obama calls for 500,000 troops in Afghanistan. [That's not 500,000 U.S. troops, but 500,000 troops overall.] Mitchell correctly notes that if you don't believe that the goals in McChrystal's report for increasing the size of the Afghan army are realistic, that should lead you to question agreeing to send more U.S. troops, because the premise of the request for more troops is that if you add more U.S. troops there's going to be "success," and that success, apparently, requires 500,000 boots on the ground. If you don't believe there's going to be success even if you add more U.S. troops, then you shouldn't add more U.S. troops - you should do something else.

McChrystal has suggested that without more U.S. troops we will "fail" - but the same logic says that without more Afghan troops we will also "fail." If adding the additional U.S. troops will not lead to the required addition of Afghan troops, then U.S. policy will "fail," even with the additional U.S. troops.

Some have dismissed the concern occasioned by Mitchell's comments by saying of course there aren't going to be half a million U.S. troops in Afghanistan. It's certainly true that there aren't going to be half a million U.S. troops in Afghanistan. But supporters of sending more troops have to answer this: to defend sending another 40,000 U.S. troops to Afghanistan, they have to defend their scenario that there's going to be 350,000 Afghan boots on the ground. Otherwise - according to General McChrystal - their plan is not going to work. Furthermore, they should say now what they will propose then if adding 40,000 more U.S. troops does not produce 350,000 Afghan troops. Do they promise not to ask for more U.S. troops? Would anyone believe such a promise?

Hillary: Now Is the Time to Restore President Zelaya

Honduran President Manuel Zelaya returned to Honduras yesterday; President Zelaya is under the protection of the Brazilian Embassy in Tegucigalpa. The coup regime immediately declared a curfew; Honduran military and police have surrounded the embassy, violently dispersing President Zelaya's supporters.

As Secretary of State Clinton has noted, the question of whether President Zelaya can return to Honduras has been resolved by events. He has returned. The question is now restoring him to office.

Speaking after meeting with Costa Rican President Arias, Secretary Clinton said:

now that President Zelaya is back, it would be opportune to restore him to his position under appropriate circumstances, get on with the election that is currently scheduled for November, have a peaceful transition of presidential authority, and get Honduras back to constitutional and democratic order in a very - on a very clear path toward that goal.

That's good. But before there can be a diplomatic resolution of the crisis, the US must make clear to the coup regime that a violent crackdown will not be a way out. The reports from Honduras indicate that a violent crackdown is already underway.

Brazil's Foreign Minister Amorim has warned that any threat to President Zelaya or the Brazilian embassy would be a grave breach of international law. OAS Secretary General Insulza said the de facto authorities must be responsible for the security of President Zelaya and for the Brazilian Embassy.

But an adviser to the coup regime's foreign ministry claimed that international law would not stop the coup regime from raiding the Brazilian embassy.

A Winnable Fight: No More U.S. Troops to Afghanistan

The stars are aligning for a winnable and worthwhile fight on U.S. policy in Afghanistan in the next several weeks: stopping the Obama Administration from sending more troops.

It should be winnable, because: the public is against sending more troops, the overwhelming majority of Democrats are against sending more troops, key Democrats in Congress have begun to speak out against sending more troops, the Obama Administration is divided, President Obama hasn't taken a public position, and the Obama Administration has signaled that it will not take a public position for several weeks. The delay gives opponents time to mobilize, more Members of Congress the opportunity to speak out before the Administration solidifies its position.

It's a worthwhile fight, among other reasons, because if we want the U.S. government to seriously pursue diplomatic efforts to resolve the Afghanistan conflict politically, we have to jam them up on the "military option."

On October 1, the U.S. plans to talk to Iran. This is happening, in part, because Washington doesn't see a "military option" in Iran now. Part of the reason Washington doesn't see a military option in Iran is because they don't perceive the U.S. public as supporting a military option.

Denying the Pentagon access to more U.S. troops isn't the most subtle, nuanced way to influence U.S. policy. But it's the main lever that the public has.

The political battle over more U.S. troops isn't a battle over what's going to happen in Afghanistan next month. The troop increase that President Obama approved earlier this year has not yet been completed. It's a political battle about what's going to happen in the next several years.

Indeed, if President Obama were to approve 10,000 more troops beyond the increase already approved, the likely effect over time would be simply to replace the troops from other countries that are almost certain to leave.

Venezuela's "troubling" military spending?

Secretary of State Clinton has urged Venezuela to be "transparent" about its military spending - implying that Venezuela's military spending is something that should be of concern to Americans. The blog Borev.net publishes a pair of graphs that help put this concern in context. Looking at military spending for 2007-8, among Brazil, Colombia, Chile, and Venezuela, Venezuela comes in last, both in absolute terms, and as a share of GDP.

 

UN inquiry finds Israel guilty of Gaza war crimes

A United Nations fact-finding inquiry has found that Israel committed war crimes during its attack on Gaza last winter, Al Jazeera reports:

Paul Pillar: Afghanistan a "Terrorist Haven"? So What?

It's been a parameter of debate that the United States cannot allow Al Qaeda to re-establish a "terrorist haven" in Afghanistan. When I say it has been a parameter of debate, I mean that even many critics of the war, and those who have argued for a timetable for withdrawal or exit strategy, have accepted this as an assumption, and argued that there are better ways to achieve this goal than by maintaining the U.S. military occupation of Afghanistan. (As recently as Monday, I made such an argument.)

But in today's Washington Post, Paul Pillar challenges this assumption.

Paul Pillar has what one could call "impeccable establishment credentials." Pillar was deputy chief of the counterterrorist center at the CIA from 1997 to 1999.

Pillar asks:

How much does a [terrorist] haven affect the danger of terrorist attacks against U.S. interests, especially the U.S. homeland?

And he answers:

not nearly as much as unstated assumptions underlying the current debate seem to suppose. When a group has a haven, it will use it for such purposes as basic training of recruits. But the operations most important to future terrorist attacks do not need such a home, and few recruits are required for even very deadly terrorism. Consider: The preparations most important to the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks took place not in training camps in Afghanistan but, rather, in apartments in Germany, hotel rooms in Spain and flight schools in the United States.

As Pillar notes,

The issue today does not concern what was worth disrupting eight years ago. And it is not whether a haven in Afghanistan would be of any use to a terrorist group -- it would.