Commentary

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.

Palestinian Female Prisoners Accuse Israeli Guards of "Humiliating" Searches

A group of female former Palestinian prisoners detained in Israeli jails have accused prison guards of carrying out "humiliating" internal body searches in violation of Israel's prison code, Al Jazeera reports:

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.