Commentary

By How Many Days Can We Shorten This War?

Recently I watched the 2007 Lebanese film "Under the Bombs." The movie tells the story of the U.S.-supported Israeli invasion of Lebanon in the summer of 2006, wrapping the historical events inside a fictional narrative. Watching the movie reminded me of Just Foreign Policy's efforts with Jewish Voice for Peace and others to stop that war.

At the time, it seemed clear that the war could not go on indefinitely; the international community would not allow it. But how long would it be allowed to go on? If we could shorten it by one day, innocent civilians would live and not die. The 34-day conflict resulted in 1,191 deaths, the UN Human Rights Council reported. Using this figure, on average, each day of the war killed 35 more people; each day we shortened it saved 35 lives.

Today Afghanistan is holding the first round of its presidential election. Regardless of the outcome, one thing is clear from the campaign: the majority of Afghans are sick and tired of war. "There is broad agreement the war must end," reports Carlotta Gall in the New York Times. There is broad support in Afghanistan for negotiations with insurgents to end the war. The debate inside Afghanistan is on what process negotiations should follow, and whether the Afghan government is really following through on its stated commitment to negotiations.

Amnesty: Honduras Photos and Protestor Testimonies Show Extent of Police Violence

There has been very little attention in the U.S. press to repression in Honduras under the coup regime. Hopefully, that will now change: Amnesty International issued a report today documenting "serious ill-treatment by police and military of peaceful protesters" in Honduras, warning that "beatings and mass arrests are being used as a way of punishing people for voicing their opposition" to the coup.

An Amnesty International delegation interviewed people who were detained after police and military broke up a peaceful demonstration July 30. Most detainees had injuries as a consequence of police beatings.

Esther Major, Central America researcher at Amnesty International, said:

"Detention and ill treatment of protestors are being employed as forms of punishment for those openly opposing the de facto government, and also as a deterrent for those contemplating taking to the streets to peacefully show their discontent with the political turmoil the country is experiencing."

U.S. media often rely heavily on international human rights groups like Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch to report on human rights abuses. So it will be interesting to see how much U.S. press coverage the Amnesty report gets.

If the repression under the coup regime were more widely known, it would be much more difficult for representatives of that regime to peddle their story in Washington that their government is "democratic" and "respects the rule of law." How is the coup's hired gun Lanny Davis going to spin Amnesty's report on police repression of peaceful dissent against the coup?

What Did a US-funded Poll Say About a Karzai First-Round Victory?

The British newspaper The Telegraph is claiming that a US funded poll indicates that Hamid Karzai will not win re-election as President of Afghanistan in the first round. "Hamid Karzai 'will not' win Afghan election outright," the headline says. The Telegraph reports:

The US government-funded poll found that the president of Afghanistan led his rivals by a wide margin, but lacked the 50 per cent of the vote necessary to avoid a second round.

The poll put Mr Karzai on 36 per cent of the vote and his nearest rival, Dr Abdullah Abdullah on 20 per cent among registered voters.

A fifth of Afghans are still undecided or would not answer the survey, the poll by a Washington-based research firm reported.

...

Ramazan Bashardost, a former planning minister and anti-corruption minister, has seven per cent of the vote and Dr Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai, former finance minister, has three per cent, the research by Glevum Associates found in the second week of July.

But here's how the Washington Post reported the same poll:

In a poll released Monday, Karzai led with 45 percent of the vote among decided voters, compared with 25 percent for Abdullah Abdullah, a former foreign minister. The U.S.-government-funded poll by Glevum Associates, conducted July 8-19, had Ghani fourth, with 4 percent of the vote.

Mr. Obama, You Do Have a Button to Reverse the Coup in Honduras

The good news is that Latin American criticism of the Obama Administration's failure to pressure the coup regime in Honduras has reached the level that Obama himself can no longer ignore it. The bad news is that Obama's response so far seems to be to stay the course: talk left, act right.

Reuters reports:

President Barack Obama said on Friday that he has no quick way to resolve the political crisis in Honduras, where supporters of a coup are refusing to let ousted President Manuel Zelaya return to power.
...
"I can't press a button and suddenly reinstate Mr. Zelaya," Obama said.

Actually, Mr. Obama, you do have a button. You're probably right that it won't "suddenly" reinstate Mr. Zelaya. What's much more likely is that pressing your button would make the coup regime much more likely to accept the compromise proposal put forward by the Costa Ricans to allow President Zelaya's reinstatement. Since your Administration sponsored the Costa Rican process, it seems natural that you would do something to make it work. Why not press your button and see what it does?

Sixteen Democratic Members of Congress - Representatives Raul Grijalva, Jim McGovern, John Conyers, Jose Serrano, Chaka Fattah, Mike Honda, Barbara Lee, Jesse Jackson, Jim Oberstar, Dennis Kucinich, Bill Delahunt, Jan Schakowsky, Donna Christensen, Sheila Jackson Lee, Sam Farr, and Linda Sanchez - have urged you to freeze U.S. assets and suspend U.S. visas of coup leaders in Honduras. Why haven't you already done so, or even threatened to consider it?

Honduran Coup Decree Shows Coup "Justification" Was After the Fact

Supporters in the U.S. of the coup in Honduras have frequently made two claims to justify it which are demonstrably false, which have nonetheless been widely accepted in the U.S., because they have been largely unchallenged in the U.S. media: the Honduran Congress authorized Zelaya's removal, and the basis for that removal was Article 239 of the Honduran Constitution, which forbids someone from being President if he has already been President, and says that anyone who advocates changing this provision will cease to be President.

The actual decree of the Honduran Congress is attached. Note the following.

1) the document never mentions Article 239.

2) the document is dated "MIERCOLES 1 DE JULIO DEL 2009," i.e. Wednesday, July 1, 2009, three days after the coup on Sunday, June 28.

So: 1) the decree of the Honduran Congress, which is being cited as justification for it, was produced when the coup was already three days old, and 2) this decree never mentioned Article 239.

Note that President Zelaya didn't advocate any change to term limits. He proposed a nonbinding referendum on whether there should be a constitutional convention. Even had the nonbinding referendum been successful, there is no plausible scenario in which it would have led to a change in this provision of the constitution prior to the scheduled November election in which Zelaya was to be replaced and in which he was not a candidate. At most it would have resulted in a binding referendum for a constitutional referendum on the same November ballot on which Zelaya would have been replaced. So the claim that President Zelaya was "trying to extend his term" is not only false, but logically impossible.

The Minimum Wage and the Coup in Honduras

The coup in Honduras - and the at best grudging and vacillating support in Washington for the restoration of President Zelaya - has thrown into stark relief a fundamental fault line in Latin America and a moral black hole in U.S. policy toward the region.

What is the minimum wage which a worker shall be paid for a day's labor?

Supporters of the coup have tried to trick Americans into believing that President Zelaya was ousted by the Honduran military because he broke the law. But this is nonsense. A Honduran bishop told Catholic News Service,

 

"Some say Manuel Zelaya threatened democracy by proposing a constitutional assembly. But the poor of Honduras know that Zelaya raised the minimum salary. That's what they understand. They know he defended the poor by sharing money with mayors and small towns. That's why they are out in the streets closing highways and protesting (to demand Zelaya's return)"

This is why the greedy, self-absorbed Honduran elite turned against President Zelaya: because he was pursuing policies in the interests of the majority. The Washington Post noted in mid-July,

 

To many poor Hondurans, deposed president Manuel "Mel" Zelaya was a trailblazing ally who scrapped school tuitions, raised the minimum wage and took on big business.

In a statement condemning support for the coup by U.S. business groups, the International Textile, Garment and Leather Workers' Federation expressed its concern that under the coup regime, there are

 

Mr. Mousavi's Gas Embargo on Iran?

In serious contention for Dumbest Washington Consensus for September is the idea of cutting off Iran's gas imports to pressure Iran to stop enriching uranium. A majority of Representatives and Senators have signed on to legislation that seeks to block Iran's gas imports, a top legislative priority for the so-called "Israel Lobby." But it's a stupid idea. Let us count the ways.

One: there is no indication that Russia and China will go along with it. Even Europe is split, Reuters reports. Turkey is also likely to be unenthusiastic - a country that has good relations with Iran, has a long border with Iran, and is currently on the UN Security Council. A U.S.-sponsored gas embargo on Iran isn't likely to have much impact if Russia, China, Turkey and half of Europe aren't cooperating - after all, it's not the U.S. that's exporting gas to Iran - unless it is imposed by force.

Two: Iran has threatened to retaliate against a U.S.-sponsored gas embargo by stopping its oil exports to the West. There is a historical precedent that ought to give Americans and Britons some pause: when Britain wanted to punish the democratically elected Mossadegh government for nationalizing Iran's oil, Britain imposed an embargo on Iranian oil exports, enforced by the British Navy. Fine, Mossadegh said, we don't care. Let it stay in the ground. When the embargo failed, the British tried to overthrow Mossadegh in a coup. When that failed, the British asked the U.S. to intervene, and the CIA and British intelligence overthrew Mossadegh. How does returning to the British colonialism script for Iran fit in with the whole outreach to the Muslim world thing?

In Honduras, Simon Says: "End Your Coup"

The relationship between the actions of the Obama Administration and the actions of the coup government in Honduras is starting to look like those children's games where you follow the order of the leader, but only if he says the special phrase. The Obama Administration says it wants to see President Zelaya restored. When the Administration appears to mean business, the coup regime appears to move towards compromise. When the Administration signals that its words are not to be heeded, the coup regime reasserts its intransigence.

Wednesday afternoon, it was reported that the leader installed by the coup had told Costa Rican mediators he personally accepted a compromise that would allow President Zelaya to return, but needed help in convincing the Honduran business elite to go along. This followed by one day the U.S. announcement that it had suspended the U.S. diplomatic visas of four leaders of the coup government. Initial press reports of the U.S. action indicated it was an escalation of U.S. pressure.

But subsequent statements by U.S. officials downplayed the idea that it was an escalation of U.S. pressure, asserting that it was just a continuation of the existing policy of not recognizing the coup government.

Predictably, then, the reports of movement in the coup government's position were followed by reassertions by the coup government that there was no change: President Zelaya could not return.

The State Department said it wants to restore democracy. But apparently the State Department didn't say "Simon Says."

When the mediation by Costa Rican President Arias was announced, there was much fanfare about what a clever diplomatic stroke it was by the State Department, taking the issue out of the hands of the South Americans.

Honduran Coup Leader Backs Proposal for Zelaya's Return

A month after the coup in Honduras, there's now a clear sign of progress in bringing it to an end. The head of the coup government has indicated that he personally supports a compromise proposal put forward by Costa Rican mediator President Arias that would allow for President Zelaya's restoration. The New York Times reports:

 

The head of Honduras's de facto government, Roberto Micheletti, has expressed support for a compromise that would allow the ousted president of his country to return to power, according to officials in the de facto government and diplomats from the region.

Previously, Micheletti had repeatedly said that the restoration of President Zelaya was off the table, causing the talks to break down. Now, he says he needs international help in getting the real powers behind the coup - the Honduran business elite - to stand down.

Can any doubt remain about the key role of the United States government in this situation? The Times notes

 

The call from Mr. Micheletti came one day after the United States increased pressure on the de facto Honduran government by withdrawing diplomatic visas from four high-level officials

One day after the U.S. canceled four visas. One day.

Of course the U.S. is not just any country in this situation. As the Washington Post reported yesterday,

 

Rep. Grijalva Urges U.S. Pressure on Coup Regime in Honduras

It's been a month since Honduran President Manuel Zelaya was deposed in a military coup. Negotiations on restoring democracy supported by the United States broke down when the coup regime refused to accept a compromise that would allow President Zelaya to return.

The Obama Administration still says it is working for President Zelaya's return, but so far it has not responded to the call from Hondurans for increased U.S. pressure on the coup regime.

Indeed, when President Zelaya tried to increase pressure on the coup regime by threatening to return to Honduras without an agreement, Secretary of State Clinton attacked President Zelaya as "reckless," instead of expressing any concern about repression by the coup regime against President Zelaya's supporters.

Now Rep. Raul Grijalva is leading a Congressional effort to urge the Obama Administration to increase U.S. pressure on the coup regime by canceling U.S. visas and freezing bank accounts of coup leaders. Representatives McGovern, Conyers, and Serrano have signed on to Rep. Grijalva's letter to President Obama.

This isn't just about one man. It's about whether the 60% of Hondurans who live in poverty have a path to reform and redress of their grievances. President Zelaya was exiled for seeking reform of Honduras' constitution - a longstanding demand of social movements in Honduras.