JFP 12/27: Is a Vote for Romney a Vote for War?
Just Foreign Policy News, December 27, 2011
Is a Vote for Romney a Vote for War?
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Is a Vote for Romney a Vote for War?
Shouldn't the fact that the Iraq war was a consequence of George W. Bush becoming president, although that consequence was not apparent in 2000, inform how we judge the likely consequences of Mitt Romney becoming president?
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1) Iran threatened it would block the Strait of Hormuz, the world's most important oil transit point, if Western powers attempt to impose an embargo on Iranian petroleum exports, the New York Times reports. The Strait of Hormuz, a narrow passage that connects the Gulf of Oman to the Persian Gulf, is the route for one third of the world's oil-tanker traffic. "If Iran oil is banned not a single drop of oil will pass through Hormuz Strait," Vice President Rahimi was quoted as saying. Oil prices rose slightly, partly in reaction to Rahimi's remarks, the Times says.
2) A military investigation has concluded it took 45 minutes for a NATO officer to notify a senior allied commander about Pakistan's calls that its outposts were under attack, one of several breakdowns in communication that contributed to killing 26 Pakistani soldiers, the New York Times reports. The report found that competing NATO and US rules of engagement related to operations along the border "lacked clarity and precision, and were not followed."
3) The lesson of recent events is not that the U.S. left Iraq too soon, writes USA Today in an editorial. It is that there are limits to U.S. military power, and they are too easily overlooked in a rush to war.
4) The F-35 is already the most costly U.S. weapons program underway at about $385 billion, writes Walter Pincus at the Washington Post. That number is likely to go much higher if the program is not cut back, Pincus suggests.
5) The WHO says malaria deaths have fallen by more than 25 percent in the last decade, thanks to a coordinated attack on the disease, but that progress remains fragile, the New York Times reports. The biggest gains were made in Africa, where a vast majority of the deaths occur and where donor dollars have been concentrated since the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria and the President's Malaria Initiative were created early in the decade. But the Global Fund is desperate for money. The $2 billion donors give annually is only about a third of what is needed, the WHO report said.
6) Discrimination against Israel's Arab citizens is highlighted in a critical EU paper which breaks new ground by suggesting that the international community has a role in ensuring "genuinely equal treatment" for Israel's Arab minority, The Independent reports. The draft affirms that Israel's treatment of its minorities within its borders should be seen by the international community as a "core issue, not second tier to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict."
7) Ultra-Orthodox Jews have clashed with police in the Israeli town of Beit Shemesh, near Jerusalem, the BBC reports. The town has become a focus of friction between secular Jews and ultra-Orthodox men demanding strict gender segregation and "modest" dress for women. The latest clashes came as police attempted to remove a sign in the town ordering segregation between the sexes. Some 300 ultra-Orthodox residents pelted the police with stones and eggs.
8) Honduras had 82.1 homicides per 100,000 residents last year, the highest per-capita rate in the world, the Washington Post reports. Drug-fueled violence appears to have fostered an overall climate of impunity, in which bullets settle the slightest dispute and anyone can literally get away with murder, the Post says. Journalists, labor activists and gays also are apparently being killed at elevated rates, and political violence has flared since the 2009 coup that deposed President Zelaya.
1) Iran Threatens to Block Oil if West Sets New Sanctions
Rick Gladstone, New York Times, December 27, 2011
Iran issued a blunt warning on Tuesday that it would block the Strait of Hormuz, the world's most important oil transit point, if Western powers attempt to impose an embargo on Iranian petroleum exports in their campaign to isolate the country over its suspect nuclear energy program.
The warning, issued by Vice President Mohammad Reza Rahimi, came as Iran's naval forces were in the midst of a 10-day war games exercise in a vast area of the Arabian Sea and Gulf of Oman. The Strait of Hormuz, a narrow passage that connects the Gulf of Oman to the Persian Gulf, is the route for one third of the world's oil-tanker traffic.
"If Iran oil is banned not a single drop of oil will pass through Hormuz Strait," Mr. Rahimi was quoted as saying by the official Islamic Republic News Agency at a conference in Tehran.
"We are not interested in any hostility," he was quoted as saying. "Our motto is friendship and brotherhood, but Westerners are not willing to abandon their plots."
Mr. Rahimi appeared to be referring to efforts under way by the United States and European Union to restrict Iran's ability to sell oil, its most important export, as part of their increasingly strict economic sanctions in response to Iran's uranium enrichment program. Iran contends the program is purely peaceful but a United Nations report issued last month raised the possibility that it is clandestinely working on a nuclear weapon and missile delivery system.
European Union ministers have said they will take up the question over whether to boycott Iranian oil in coming weeks, and the United States Congress passed a measure this month that could potentially choke Iranian oil exports. Although the United States does not buy Iran's oil, the measure could discourage other buyers, even those who have friendly relations with the United States, by restricting their access to the American market if they do business with Iran's Central Bank, the principal conduit for Iranian oil transactions.
Oil prices rose slightly, partly in reaction to Mr. Rahimi's remarks. At the New York Mercantile Exchange, the benchmark contract was up 75 cents a barrel to $100.43 by late morning.
2) U.S. Report Faults NATO Delays On Pakistan Strike
Eric Schmitt, New York Times, December 26, 2011
Washington - A military investigation has concluded that it took about 45 minutes for a NATO operations officer in Afghanistan to notify a senior allied commander about Pakistan's calls that its outposts were under attack, one of several breakdowns in communication that contributed to airstrikes that killed 26 Pakistani soldiers last month.
Once alerted, the commander immediately ordered a halt to American attacks on two Pakistani border posts. By then, communications between the two militaries had sorted out a chain of errors and the shooting had stopped. The delay, by at least one officer and possibly a second, raises questions about whether a faster response could have spared the lives of some Pakistani soldiers.
Officials "did not respond correctly, quickly enough or with the sense of urgency or initiative required given the gravity of the situation and the well known sensitivity surrounding the Afghan-Pakistan border region," the report found.
An unclassified version of the report, released Monday by the military's Central Command, also revealed for the first time that an American AC-130 gunship flew two miles into Pakistan's airspace to return fire on Pakistani troops who had attacked a joint American-Afghan ground patrol just across the border in Afghanistan.
The 30-page report, which expanded upon a briefing last week by the chief investigator, Brig. Gen. Stephen A. Clark of the Air Force, also found that competing NATO and American rules of engagement related to operations along the border "lacked clarity and precision, and were not followed."
The full report alters and expands upon the impression of the inquiry's findings created by General Clark's briefing, which had emphasized how checks on both sides failed. Among the reason the checks failed, he said, were because American officials did not trust Pakistan enough to give it detailed information about American troop locations in Afghanistan, and Pakistan had not informed NATO of the locations of its new border posts.
The details released Monday add to those failures unexplained delays and a lack of urgency by NATO officers in notifying their superiors of the unfolding late-night debacle that has plunged relations between the two countries to new lows.
The episode, the worst in nearly a decade of fatal cross-border mistakes, exposed the flaws in a system devised to avoid such mistakes. The report criticized an allied practice, in place since at least August, of not divulging to Pakistan the precise location of allied ground troops in Afghanistan for fear Pakistan might jeopardize their operations.
General Clark's report acknowledged that a pivotal allied mistake was not informing Pakistan about the patrol. Without that warning, the Pakistani soldiers would not have known to expect allied forces nearby. NATO and Pakistani forces are supposed to inform each other about operations on the border to avoid this kind of mistake.
3) Too Fast To Get Out Of Iraq? No, Too Quick To Go In
Editorial, USA Today, December 26, 2011
Well, that didn't take long.
Just nine days after the departure of U.S. forces, Iraq is looking more like its old self - divided, angry and threatened by civil war and dictatorship - than like the self-reliant democracy President Obama described as the troops came home.
The obvious conclusion is that the U.S. pulled out before the Iraqi army and police were fully prepared to guarantee security and before the American-built political system could fully take root. That much is surely true. The Iraqis weren't ready to take the handoff. But it is also true that the Iraqis wanted control now. The withdrawal date was set in a treaty negotiated with the Bush administration in 2008, and al-Maliki rejected repeated U.S. attempts to extend it so that a contingent of trainers and counter-terrorism forces could stay.
Left with a choice between staying as an occupier or withdrawing, Obama exercised the only sensible option. Not that the outcome leaves Iraq any less of a mess. But the lesson is not that the U.S. left Iraq too soon. It is that there are limits to U.S. military power, and they are too easily overlooked in a rush to war.
The United States had ample power to rout Saddam Hussein. Eventually, it even found the means to suppress the sectarian warfare set off by its post-invasion blunders. But in the end, the U.S. had no more chance of ending Iraq's ancient enmities than it had of defeating a popular revolution in Vietnam or winning a fight against China in Korea.
The charitable interpretation of the Iraq War is that it was a misguided but idealistic bid to establish a democratic beachhead in the Middle East. The less charitable one is that the war was the product of cynical manipulation by men who sought an imperial U.S. role in the post-9/11 world. Both interpretations contain elements of truth. But either way, the war was a tragic mistake, waged at the cost of nearly 4,500 American troops, tens of thousands of severe injuries, and more than $1 trillion.
The official rationale for the war was invalidated long ago. There were no weapons of mass destruction. There was no alliance between Saddam and al-Qaeda.
But regardless, the lesson Americans should take from Iraq is one of realism and humility. The United States should go to war only as a last resort and only then with total commitment to an attainable objective.
The Iraq War never fit that description. With U.S. intervention or without, Iraq was destined to remain what it has been since its creation: a splintered nation beset by sectarian and tribal conflict. With help, it might in time find peace through democracy, or it might revert to dictatorship or civil war. The difference is important to U.S. interests - just not important enough to invest more American lives.
4) F-35 production a troubling example of Pentagon spending
Walter Pincus, Washington Post, December 26
There are 56 F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighters being assembled at Lockheed Martin's facility in Fort Worth. But because only 20 percent of the testing for the most advanced fighter-bomber in U.S. history is completed, each will probably have to get million-dollar-or-more fixes later.
The F-35 is already the most costly U.S. weapons program underway at about $385 billion. But that figure may go higher with overrun of the per-plane contract price for the 56 craft being assembled - along with the future multimillion-dollar fixes likely to be required for them - and the 15 F-35s completed but not yet delivered to the military services.
The plane is being built with the most sophisticated stealth technology, but initial flight tests have turned up hot spots and cracks associated with metal and composites used on most new aircraft.
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) took the Senate floor on Dec. 15 and described the F-35 fighter program as "a mess."
What upset the senator was not just that the cost of each plane had risen nearly 100 percent from its original estimate of $69 million to $133 million today, or the fact that testing was only 20 percent complete while more than 90 planes had already been bought, or the fact that software - key to 80 percent of the stealth plane's warfighting capability - wouldn't be ready for another four years.
It was, he said, that the Pentagon had "sold this program as a fifth-generation strike fighter that would - more so than any other major defense procurement program - be cost-effectively developed, procured, operated and supported."
McCain faulted the Pentagon for using what he called "a concurrent development strategy to procure a high-risk weapon system." Production of the first airplanes began as testing was in its infancy.
McCain said the Pentagon was attempting "generational leaps in capability" but at the same time moving before the underlying design was stable. Developing needed technologies and being able to integrate them remain risky and manufacturing processes are still "immature," he said.
A Government Accountability Office report from April said the forecast was for "about 10,000 more [engineering design] changes through January 2016." The GAO added, "We expect this number to go up given new forecasts for additional testing and extension of system development until 2018."
Making this initially a cost-plus contract was "a recipe for disaster," according to McCain, who noted that development costs alone have topped $56 billion.
At a time when government discretionary budgets - including defense - face sharp reductions over the coming decade, the F-35 story is a troubling example of Pentagon spending.
By January, when the new Defense Department budget will go up to Capitol Hill, it is expected that the current cost estimate per F-35 will again increase, while production will be slowed to limit future fixes.
At the beginning of the program, there were to be 3,000 F-35s built, since it would replace the fighter-bombers in each of the three services and also be sold to foreign allies.
In March 2004, when development problems caused the Defense Department to extend time and increase projected costs, the Navy and Marine Corps cut their number of the planes by 400, reducing the total U.S. purchase to 2,457.
The Simpson-Bowles deficit-reduction commission in December called for eliminating the Marine Corps vertical-lift version, which has had serious development issues, and canceling 600 planes planned for the Air Force and Navy, using instead new F-18s or F-16s. The panel's reasoning: The Pentagon "does not need an entire fleet with the stealthy capabilities" provided by the F-35.
In his new book, "The Wounded Giant," Brookings Institution senior fellow Michael O'Hanlon calls for cutting the overall purchase to 1,250, canceling the more costly Navy version, reducing the Marine Corps F-35Bs by 10 percent or more, and limiting the Air Force to 800 F-35As. The difference would be made up by buying more F-16s and recognizing the role of unmanned aircraft.
There is a cautionary tale to be found in what happened to the F-22. When concept development of that stealth fighter began in 1986, the Soviet Union was the enemy and the Air Force needed 750 of the planes for the air-to-air superiority mission. By 1991, when the first development contract was signed, the Soviet Union had collapsed . By 2006, the Air Force cut its needs to 381 F-22s and added air-to-ground attack and intelligence-gathering capabilities.
In 2009, faced with several crashes and other problems, plus the oncoming F-35, Gates limited the purchase to 187 F-22s. Reasons given for ending the F-22 program were cost overruns and budget restraints.
Ironically, the last F-22 came off the Lockheed assembly line just two weeks ago and is to be delivered to the Air Force next year. Considered a more capable air-to-air combat fighter than the F-35, F-22s have been sent to the Pacific, where their intelligence-gathering is considered useful. Air Force testimony on Capitol Hill in May put the cost of the last F-22s at $153.2 million per aircraft and noted that upgrades were still being made to the plane's software.
Changes in the 20 years between 1986 and 2006 caused a reduction of almost half the original F-22s sought. We should expect no less to happen between now and 2021. Prepare for that by limiting the F-35 purchases and looking into new technologies to plan what the future mix of manned and unmanned aircraft could be to meet the threats of 2031.
5) Malaria: World Health Organization Says Deaths Have Dropped 25 Percent in Last Decade
Donald G. McNeil Jr., New York Times, December 26, 2011
Malaria deaths have fallen by more than 25 percent in the last decade, thanks to a coordinated attack on the disease, but that progress remains fragile, the World Health Organization announced this month.
About 655,000 victims - mostly children - died of malaria in 2010, the report estimated. A decade ago, estimates were closer to a million, though the counting was shakier.
The biggest gains were made in Africa, where a vast majority of the deaths occur and where donor dollars have been concentrated since the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria and the President's Malaria Initiative were created early in the decade.
However, the report warned, that progress could easily evaporate. Malaria rebounded in the 1970s when mosquitoes became resistant to pesticides and the parasites that cause the disease became resistant to chloroquine. Eradication programs begun in the colonial era fell apart as newly independent countries sank into poverty.
The Global Fund is desperate for money. The $2 billion donors give annually is only about a third of what is needed, the report said.
Although 145 million mosquito nets were delivered to Africa in 2010, they tear easily and the insecticide embedded in them fades within three years.
6) Secret paper reveals EU broadside over plight of Israel's Arabs
Memo seen by The Independent highlights tensions between Tel Aviv and Europe.
Donald Macintyre, The Independent, Tuesday 27 December 2011
A growing gulf between Israel's Jewish and Arab communities is highlighted in a critical EU paper which breaks new ground by suggesting that the international community has a role in ensuring "genuinely equal treatment" for the country's Arab minority.
The confidential 27-page draft prepared by European diplomats and seen by The Independent charts a wide range of indicators showing that Israeli Arabs suffer "economic disparities ... unequal access to land and housing ... discriminatory draft legislation and a political climate in which discriminatory rhetoric and practice go unsanctioned."
While EU leaders regularly criticise Israel over its activities in occupied territory – including the growth of settlement building – the draft is unusual in tackling a highly sensitive issue within Israel's borders.
The draft affirms that Israel's treatment of its minorities within its borders should be seen by the international community as a "core issue, not second tier to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict".
The diplomats also highlight a recent spate of Knesset bills which "would have denied some Israelis their citizenship, legalised discrimination in access to housing, and limited freedom of speech". While the paper acknowledges that the "most discriminatory" elements of such legislation have largely been softened or eliminated, such bills "have a chilling effect on Jewish-Arab relations".
It also points out that despite "robust anti-incitement laws" and the fact that the Israeli Prime Minister "eventually" issued a condemnation, no action was taken against 47 state-employed municipal rabbis who called for Jews not to let property to Arabs.
The paper points out that while being up to 20 per cent of the population, Israeli Arabs own only 3 per cent of the land. It says Arab average earnings are only 61 per cent of those in the Jewish community, with 50 per cent of Israeli Arabs living in poverty, according to the OECD.
7) Beit Shemesh ultra-Orthodox Jews clash with police
BBC, 26 December 2011
Ultra-Orthodox Jews have clashed with police in the Israeli town of Beit Shemesh, near Jerusalem.
One police officer was slightly hurt and a number of Orthodox Jews detained, say reports.
The town has become a focus of friction between secular Jews and ultra-Orthodox men demanding strict gender segregation and "modest" dress for women. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed on Sunday to end attempts to enforce segregation of the sexes.
The latest clashes came as police attempted to remove one of several signs in the town ordering segregation between the sexes.
Some 300 ultra-Orthodox residents pelted the police with stones and eggs, slightly injuring one officer, and rubbish bins were set on fire.
A television crew attempting to film in the town were also surrounded and harassed - the second alleged attack in two days on journalists.
On Sunday, a crew from Channel 2 news were attacked as they were filming, say reports, with rocks allegedly thrown at their van.
The alleged assault came days after Channel 2 aired a story about an eight-year-old American girl, Naama Margolese, who said she was afraid to walk to school because ultra-orthodox men shouted at her.
The broadcast has inflamed secular opinion, with activists planning to hold a rally in Beit Shemesh on Tuesday to counter what they say is intimidation by sections of the ultra-orthodox community.
Some ultra-Orthodox Jews will also reportedly be joining the rally in an effort to distance themselves from "extremists".
8) Grim toll as cocaine trade expands in Honduras
Nick Miroff, Washington Post, December 26
San Pedro Sula, Honduras - In the most murderous part of the most murderous country in the world, the families of murdered sons and husbands and sisters meet each month in a concrete building next to the Nuestra Senora de Guadalupe church.
They sit in plastic chairs, leaning forward to speak, and the anguish pours out. There is the dread of birthdays, anniversaries and Christmas. Or knowing who the killer is, and that he will not be arrested, and the perversity of that.
The group had 10 families when it started three years ago. Today it has 60, and all but one of their cases remain unsolved.
"We are living in constant fear," said Blanca Alvarez, wearing a pin bearing a portrait of her dead son, Jason, shot in a carjacking in 2006. "We have had marches for peace, wearing white, releasing white balloons into the air. Nothing is going to change here. Nothing."
Honduras had 82.1 homicides per 100,000 residents last year, the highest per-capita rate in the world, according to a global homicide report published by the United Nations in October that included estimates for Iraq and Afghanistan. Security concerns prompted the U.S. Peace Corps to announce last week that it would pull all 158 volunteers out of Honduras.
As in Guatemala and El Salvador, Honduras's neighbors in the Northern Triangle region of Central America, the homicide problem goes back decades. But as Mexico's billionaire drug mafias expand their smuggling networks deeper into Central America to evade stiffer enforcement in Mexico and the Caribbean, violence has exploded, as if the cocaine were gasoline tossed on a fire.
Honduras's grim tally reached 6,239 killings in 2010, compared with 2,417 in 2005, and researchers say the count will be even higher this year. The largest number of homicides occurred here around San Pedro Sula, a once-booming manufacturing center that is fast becoming the Ciudad Juarez of Central America.
That troubled city on the U.S.-Mexico border and San Pedro Sula share more than a reputation for low-wage assembly plants and fratricidal violence. They are at opposite ends of the billion-dollar smuggling chain that extends from the north coast of Honduras to the United States.
It starts on the isolated beaches and jungle airstrips of Honduras's Mosquitia region, where 95 percent of the suspected drug flights from South America to Central America land, according to U.S. narcotics agents. U.S. radar detected 90 such flights into Honduras last year, compared with 24 in 2008, marking a major shift in trafficking patterns that indicates a strong preference for the country's rugged geography and feeble institutions.
Overall, U.S. officials estimate that 25 to 30 tons of cocaine arrive in Honduras each month by air and sea - one-third of the world's total volume - before continuing north into Mexico through Guatemala and Belize on fast boats, fishing vessels or cargo trucks. "Honduras is by far the world's largest primary transshipment point for cocaine," said a U.S. official working here who spoke on the condition of anonymity, citing security protocols.
Researchers caution that the surge in killings here cannot be attributed entirely to narcotics trafficking. As in Ciudad Juarez, drug-fueled violence appears to have fostered an overall climate of impunity, in which bullets settle the slightest dispute and anyone can literally get away with murder.
Journalists, labor activists and gays also are apparently being killed at elevated rates, and political violence has flared since the 2009 coup that deposed leftist President Manuel Zelaya. Then there are the thousands of other Hondurans who seemingly have nothing to do with the drug trade who have been slain in carjackings, muggings and hotheaded feuds.
"If a person kills someone and the next day they're sitting in a restaurant drinking coffee as if nothing happened, then that person feels they have permission to kill anyone they want," said Jose Antonio Canales, a priest who works with the support group for victims' families. "There is total impunity."
The United States has been drawn deep into Honduras's counter-drug fight, spending at least $50 million on security assistance since 2008, according to U.S. officials.
"This is a poor country where 65 percent of the people live in poverty and the government's law enforcement budget cannot begin to compare to the funds that drug trafficking organizations have," U.S. Ambassador Lisa Kubiske said in an interview here. "It's clear the country needs help."
Armed American drug agents are on the front lines of anti-narcotics operations, launching helicopter raids into the jungles of Mosquitia from the Soto Cano air base, where the United States has a large military presence. U.S. advisers are teaching police how to gather evidence and are helping modernize Honduras's ghoulish prison system. The United States has provided armored vehicles to protect judges from assassination and sophisticated mobile X-ray equipment that can scan vehicle cargo at checkpoints and border crossings.
But setbacks have undercut recent security improvements. On Dec. 7, former security minister Alfredo Landaverde - an outspoken critic of growing police corruption tied to organized crime - was gunned down in his car, a day after assassins pumped 37 bullets into the vehicle of radio journalist Luz Marina Paz Villalobos.
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