JFP 12/29: US-financed Egypt military assaults US-financed democracy groups
Just Foreign Policy News, December 29, 2011
US-financed Egypt military assaults US-financed democracy groups
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Dewey Defeats Truman: CNN Excludes Democrats and Independents From Iowa Caucus Poll
A new CNN poll which is driving a lot of press coverage shows Romney leading Paul in Iowa. But the CNN poll excluded Democrats and independents, whom other polls have shown giving Paul the edge because of his anti-war stance; by ignoring these voters, CNN silenced anti-war voices.
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Mitt Romney has promised a more confrontational military policy towards Iran. His advisers include people who have been cheerleaders for war with Iran, and were cheerleaders for the Iraq war. He has pledged to increase the military budget. His advisers include people directly affiliated with military contractors who stand to profit if there were a new war and the military budget were increased. Furthermore, he opposes withdrawing U.S. troops from Afghanistan, and he opposes the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq.
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1) Writing at Time, Mark Thompson considers whether Iran's threat to close the Strait of Hormuz to oil shipments if the U.S. and Europe try to cut off Iran's exports is a credible threat. Analyses of possible Iranian military action to plug the strait generally note that Iran gets about half of its national budget from oil exports that transit the strait, Thompson notes. But if the next round of sanctions keeps Iranian oil off the world market, that brake on Iranian military action will be gone.
2) Republican presidential contenders Mitt Romney and Rick Perry assailed Ron Paul for saying the U.S. has no business bombing Iran to keep it from acquiring a nuclear weapon, Haaretz reports.
3) Pentagon officials said they are culling generals and admirals from the Pentagon's top-heavy ranks with the Iraq war over and troops in Afghanistan on their way home, the Washington Post reports. But critics have accused the Pentagon of dragging its feet. Benjamin Freeman, a national security analyst at the nonpartisan Project on Government Oversight, noted that the number of generals and admirals on active duty had increased since March.
4) Congress has placed new conditions on a portion of U.S. police and military aid to Honduras due to concern over human rights abuses, writes Alex Main of the Center for Economic and Policy Research. The State Department must investigate whether the Honduran military "is implementing policies to protect freedom of expression and association, and due process of law," whether it is prosecuting "military and police personnel who are credibly alleged to have violated human rights," and whether the Honduran police and military "are cooperating with civilian authorities in such cases."
5) The Obama administration is moving ahead with the sale of nearly $11 billion worth of arms and training for the Iraqi military despite concerns that Prime Minister Maliki is seeking to create a one-party state, the New York Times reports. Some analysts suggest that US threats to withhold military aid over human rights concerns are not credible.
6) MEK members agreed to a deal to leave Camp Ashraf, the New York Times reports.
7) Israeli security forces arrested prominent right-wing settler activists in the West Bank over suspicions they had been monitoring IDF movements, Haaretz reports.
8) US-financed Egyptian security forces stormed offices of nonprofit groups, including at least three democracy-promotion groups financed by the US, the New York Times reports. Security forces hauled away files and computers from the National Democratic Institute and the International Republican Institute, which are financed by the US. Security forces also raided the offices of Freedom House.
1) Can Iran Close The Strait Of Hormuz?
Mark Thompson, Time, December 28, 2011
Since it doesn't have nuclear weapons yet, Iran is playing the lone trump card in its hand: threatening to shut down the Strait of Hormuz through which Persian Gulf oil flows to fuel much of the world's economy. Iranian navy chief Admiral Habibollah Sayyari told state television Wednesday that it would be "very easy" for his forces to shut down the chokepoint. "Iran has comprehensive control over the strategic waterway," he said as his vessels continued a 10-day exercise near the strait. But just how good a trump card is it?
"Iran has constructed a navy with considerable asymmetric and other capabilities designed specifically to be used in an integrated way to conduct area denial operations in the Persian Gulf and SoH, and they routinely exercise these capabilities and issue statements of intent to use them," Jonathan Schroden writes in a recent report for the Pentagon-funded Center for Naval Analyses. "This combination of capabilities and expressed intent does present a credible threat to international shipping in the Strait."
Not so fast, other experts maintain. "We believe that we would be able to maintain the strait," Marine General James Cartwright, then-vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told Congress last year. "But it would be a question of time and impact and the implications from a global standpoint on the flow of energy, et cetera, [that] would have ramifications probably beyond the military actions that would go on."
Of course, brandishing a threat and carrying it out are two different things. "By presuming that Iran can easily close the strait, Western diplomats concede leverage, and the current U.S. habit of reacting immediately and aggressively to Iranian provocations risks unnecessary escalation," Eugene Gholz, a professor at the University of Texas, wrote in Foreign Policy in 2009. "Iran would find it so difficult, if not impossible, to close the strait that the world can afford to relax from its current hair-trigger alert."
Most U.S. military thinkers, speaking privately, seem to agree. There are two linked issues at play here: military and monetary. While it might be challenging for the Iranian navy to shut down commerce flowing through the strait, Iranian moves to carry out that threat could have much the same effect. Oil companies, and the shippers that transport their product by water, are conservative business types, not given to putting their costly tankers and crews in harm's way. But they'd get over it pretty quickly, and commerce would resume, with higher insurance rates.
One point worth noting: analyses of possible Iranian military action to plug the strait generally note that Iran gets about half of its national budget from oil exports that transit the strait. But if the next round of sanctions keeps Iranian oil off the world market, that brake on Iranian military action will be gone.
Iran has been practicing such saber-rattling for decades, and it always sends a nervous twitch through the world oil markets, spiking prices upward. It has done so this week, and oil's per-barrel price has flirted with the $100 mark. That's a drag on the world economic powers seeking to punish Iran for its nuclear-development efforts, and Tehran plainly views it as a net-positive for itself. That's especially true in the year leading up to a U.S. presidential election, where the incumbent is seeking a second term.
About a fifth of the world's oil flows through the strait, which is only 34 miles wide at its narrowest point.
U.S. Navy Commander Rodney Mills examined the military implications of an Iranian move to shut the strait in a 2008 study at the Naval War College. His bottom line:
"There is consensus among the analysts that the U.S. military would ultimately prevail over Iranian forces if Iran sought to close the strait. The various scenarios and assumptions used in the analyses produce a range of potential timelines for this action, from the optimistic assessment that the straits would be open in a few days to the more pessimistic assessment that it would take five weeks to three months to restore the full flow of maritime traffic."
But fighting an Iranian effort to close the strait may not be easy. Iran in recent years has acquired "thousands of sea mines, wake homing torpedoes, hundreds of advanced cruise missiles and possibly more than one thousand small Fast Attack Craft and Fast Inshore Attack Craft," U.S. Navy Commander Daniel Dolan wrote in a report last year at the Naval War College.
But Mills sees all the Iranian rhetoric and war gaming as little more than Persian saber rattling. "Iran gains more from the existence of their threat," he concludes, "than they would by actually carrying it out."
2) U.S. presidential hopefuls attack Ron Paul for objection to Iran nuclear strike
Rick Perry: You don't have to vote for a candidate who will allow Iran to have a nuclear weapon to wipe Israel off the face of the earth.
AP/Haaretz, 19:00 28.12.11
Republican presidential contenders Mitt Romney and Rick Perry on Wednesday assailed Ron Paul for saying the U.S. has no business bombing Iran to keep it from acquiring a nuclear weapon, drawing a sharp contrast with their rising rival as he returned to Iowa days before the lead-off caucuses.
"One of the people running for president thinks it's okay for Iran to have a nuclear weapon," Romney, the former Massachusetts governor, said in this eastern Iowa city in response to a question from the audience. "I don't."
It was the first time that Romney has challenged Paul directly since the Texas congressman jumped in polls. Neither he nor Perry, the Texas governor, named Paul, but the target was clear.
"You don't have to vote for a candidate who will allow Iran to have a nuclear weapon to wipe Israel off the face of the earth. Because America will be next," Perry said in Urbandale, reiterating a line of argument from a day earlier. "I'm here to say: You have a choice," Perry added.
3) Pentagon Thinning Ranks Of Top Brass
Craig Whitlock, Washington Post, December 28
With the Iraq war over and troops in Afghanistan on their way home, the U.S. military is getting down to brass tacks: culling generals and admirals from its top-heavy ranks.
Pentagon officials said they have eliminated 27 jobs for generals and admirals since March, the first time the Defense Department has imposed such a reduction since the aftermath of the Cold War, when the collapse of the Soviet Union prompted the military to downsize.
The cuts are part of a broader plan to shrink the upper ranks by 10 percent over five years, restoring them to the their size when the country was last at peace, before the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
The changes are projected to save only a modest amount of money, but defense officials said they are symbolically important as the Pentagon adjusts to an era of austerity. The Obama administration proposes to squeeze $450 billion from defense budgets over a decade. An additional $500 billion in cuts will be triggered if Congress cannot agree on a deficit-reduction plan in the next year.
Critics, however, have accused the Pentagon of dragging its feet. Benjamin Freeman, a national security analyst at the nonpartisan Project on Government Oversight, said the number of generals and admirals on active duty stood at 970 as of Sept. 30.That represented an increase of six active-duty positions from March, when Gates ordered the cuts. (The Pentagon released updated figures this week, showing 966 generals and admirals on active duty as of Oct. 31, the most recent data available.)
"They made a fairly convincing argument that they had the situation under control and that they were moving full speed ahead, so it's been depressing to see," Freeman said.
In an interview, Gortney said the figures are misleading because they include several officers who have since retired or are in the process of taking other slots.
He said the armed services have up to two years to phase out a job targeted for elimination. "You need time to work this," he added. "You can't just give people their pink slips."
4) Congress Places Conditions on Military and Police Aid to Honduras
Alexander Main, Center for Economic and Policy Research, 28 December 2011
In response to widespread concern in both the House and Senate over human rights abuses involving the Honduran police and military, the United States Congress has placed new conditions on a portion of U.S. police and military aid to Honduras. The legislative language that establishes these new conditions can be found in the Department of State, Foreign Operations and Related Programs Appropriation Actwithin the Consolidated Appropriations Act for Fiscal Year 2012, which was passed by Congress on December 16. It now requires that, before allocating 20% of the funds allocated for Honduras, the State Department must investigate and report back to the Committee on Appropriations whether the Honduran military "is implementing policies to protect freedom of expression and association, and due process of law," whether it is prosecuting "military and police personnel who are credibly alleged to have violated human rights," and whether the Honduran police and military "are cooperating with civilian authorities in such cases."
The human rights situation in Honduras has steadily deteriorated since the military coup d'etat that led to the forced removal of the country's elected president in June 2009. Honduras currently has the highest homicide rate in the world and, since 2010, at least 17 journalists have been assassinated, the majority of whom were critical of the coup. Dozens of anti-coup political activists have also been killed, as well as union leaders, LGBT activists and Afro-indigenous representatives. In the northeastern Bajo Aguan region, forty-two land rights advocates have been murdered since the 2009 coup. Honduran military and police have been allegedly implicated in a number of the many political murders and other politically-motivated acts of violence that have taken place since the coup. Only a tiny number of these crimes have been investigated or prosecuted.
In October, police agents charged with killing two unarmed students, including the son of the Rector of the National Autonomous University of Honduras in Tegucigalpa, were briefly detained and then let go. Earlier this month, a prominent critic of the police, Alfredo Landaverde, was murdered in broad daylight in Tegucigalpa by unidentified assailants. On December 5th, President Lobo signed a decree allowing the military to take on policing functions for a period of 90 days.
Though the U.S. administration has not commented on Honduran police and military involvement in human rights abuses, concern over U.S. support for the country's security forces has grown in Congress. In July, 87 members of the House of Representatives called on Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to suspend police and military assistance to Honduras. On November 28, Howard Berman – the highest-ranking Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee – sent a letter to Secretary Clinton which expressed "grave concern" regarding the "role of Honduran state security forces in human rights abuses." The letter called on Clinton to "evaluate immediately United States assistance to ensure that we are not, in fact, feeding a beast."
Berman's letter touches on the recent killing of the two students, Alejandro Vargas Castellano and Carlos David Pineda, remarking that "as of this writing it appears that no one has been charged, despite overwhelming evidence of police responsibility for the Pineda and Castellanos killings, and we are left with evidence suggesting that very high-ranking officers and officials in the Ministry of Security and National Police may have been responsible for the failure to detain the alleged culprits." The letter also focuses on the killings of land rights activists in the Aguan Valley, and asks "what is the Honduran government's response to reports of repeated joint actions of police and military in the Bajo Aguán with the private security forces of Miguel Facussé, about whom there are significant allegations of drug trafficking? Mr. Facussé does not deny that his security guards killed five campesino activists at El Tumbador on December 15, 2010, and yet no measures have apparently been taken to investigate or prosecute Mr. Facussé or his guards in relations to this crime and others..."
The letter asks a number of specific questions, such as "Have these troops [in the Aguan Valley] received USG training or assistance? What actions is the U.S. undertaking to ensure that President Lobo's government is prosecuting members of the military and police responsible for these crimes (…) ?" Berman expresses the hope that the State Department's "answers will help clarify what we should do regarding future U.S. assistance to Honduras", but it doesn't seem that these answers have been forthcoming.
It is not just Democrats in the House of Representatives that are concerned about continued U.S. government support to Honduras' security forces. In September, the U.S. Senate approved foreign operations appropriations legislation that conditioned police and military assistance to Honduras and stipulated the need for the Honduras government to investigate, prosecute, and punish police officers who have violated human rights. Though the Republican-controlled House of Representatives didn't include any such conditions in the original House version of the foreign operations appropriations legislation, the final Appropriation Act, agreed to by both chambers of Congress, incorporated the conditioning language mentioned above.
5) Weapons Sales to Iraq Move Ahead Despite US Worries
Michael S. Schmidt and Eric Schmitt, New York Times, December 28, 2011
Baghdad - The Obama administration is moving ahead with the sale of nearly $11 billion worth of arms and training for the Iraqi military despite concerns that Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki is seeking to consolidate authority, create a one-party Shiite-dominated state and abandon the American-backed power-sharing government.
The military aid, including advanced fighter jets and battle tanks, is meant to help the Iraqi government protect its borders and rebuild a military that before the 1991 Persian Gulf war was one of the largest in the world; it was disbanded in 2003 after the United States invasion.
But the sales of the weapons - some of which have already been delivered - are moving ahead even though Mr. Maliki has failed to carry out an agreement that would have limited his ability to marginalize the Sunnis and turn the military into a sectarian force. While the United States is eager to beef up Iraq's military, at least in part as a hedge against Iranian influence, there are also fears that the move could backfire if the Baghdad government ultimately aligns more closely with the Shiite theocracy in Tehran than with Washington.
United States diplomats, including Ambassador James F. Jeffrey, have expressed concern about the military relationship with Iraq. Some have even said it could have political ramifications for the Obama administration if not properly managed. There is also growing concern that Mr. Maliki's apparent efforts to marginalize the country's Sunni minority could set off a civil war.
But Iraqi politicians and analysts, while acknowledging that the American military withdrawal had left Iraq's borders, and airspace, vulnerable, said there were many reasons for concern.
Despite pronouncements from American and Iraqi officials that the Iraqi military is a nonsectarian force, they said, it had evolved into a hodgepodge of Shiite militias more interested in marginalizing the Sunnis than in protecting the country's sovereignty. Across the country, they said, Shiite flags - not Iraq's national flag - fluttered from tanks and military vehicles, evidence, many said, of the troops' sectarian allegiances.
This was not a completely unforeseen turn of events. Over the summer, the Americans told high-ranking Iraqi officials that the United States did not want an ongoing military relationship with a country that marginalized its minorities and ruled by force.
The Americans warned Iraqi officials that if they wanted to continue receiving military aid, Mr. Maliki had to fulfill an agreement from 2010 that required the Sunni bloc in Parliament to have a say in who ran the Defense and Interior Ministries. But despite a pledge to do so, the ministries remain under Mr. Maliki's control, angering many Sunnis.
Corruption, too, continues to pervade the security forces. American military advisers have said that many low- and midlevel command positions in the armed forces and the police are sold, despite American efforts to emphasize training and merit, said Anthony Cordesman, an analyst at the Center for Security and International Studies in Washington.
Pentagon and State Department officials say that weapons sales agreements have conditions built in to allow American inspectors to monitor how the arms are used, to ensure that the sales terms are not violated.
"Washington still has considerable leverage in Iraq by freezing or withdrawing its security assistance packages, issuing travel advisories in more stark terms that will have a direct impact on direct foreign investment, and reassessing diplomatic relations and trade agreements," said Matthew Sherman, a former State Department official who spent more than three years in Iraq. "Now is the time to exercise some of that leverage by publicly putting Maliki on notice."
As the American economy continues to sputter, some analysts believe that Mr. Maliki and the Iraqis may hold the ultimate leverage over the Americans.
"I think he would like to get the weapons from the U.S.," Mr. Pollack said. "But he believes that an economically challenged American administration cannot afford to jeopardize $10 billion worth of jobs."
If the United States stops the sales, Mr. Pollack said, Mr. Maliki "would simply get his weapons elsewhere."
6) Iraq: Exiles To Leave Camp
Jack Healy, New York Times, December 29, 2011
About 400 members of an Iranian exile group agreed Wednesday to leave a camp in eastern Iraq, another step in international efforts to end a tense, sometimes violent, impasse between Iraq's government and the 3,400 people inside Camp Ashraf. The plan would move the residents to a former American military base in Baghdad, where they would ultimately relocate outside Iraq. The camp is populated by members of the Mujahedeen Khalq, or People's Mujahedeen, a group that has fought in years past to bring down the Iranian government.
7) Israel arrests extremists for tracking IDF forces in West Bank
Overnight operation takes place in Jerusalem, settlements of Yitzhar, Itamar, Harsha, and Kiryat Arba; activists: Israel Police has gone mad.
Chaim Levinson, Haaretz, 08:31 29.12.11
Security forces arrested prominent right-wing activists in the West Bank early Thursday, over suspicions they had been monitoring Israel Defense Forces in the region.
Earlier this month, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu approved a series of steps that would crack down on Jewish extremists responsible for recent violent attacks on IDF soldiers and other targets, but rejected a recommendation to label them a "terror group."
Netanyahu approved issuing administrative detention orders for the Jewish extremists, as is usually done with Palestinians suspected of being a security risk.
Moreover, the prime minister approved trying the Jewish activists in military courts, which would effectively expedite their sentencing and make their punishment more severe.
Early Thursday, a joint operation by Israel Police and Shin Bet forces arrested six right-wing activists, over suspicions that they had gathered intelligence on IDF movements in the West Bank.
8) Egypt's Forces Raid Offices of Nonprofits, 3 Backed by U.S.
David D. Kirkpatrick and J. David Goodman, New York Times, December 29, 2011
Cairo - Egyptian security forces stormed 17 offices of nonprofit groups around the country on Thursday, including at least three democracy-promotion groups financed by the United States, as part of an investigation that the military rulers say will reveal foreign hands in the recent outbreak of protests.
In Cairo, heavily armed men wearing the black uniforms of the central security police tore through boxes, hauled away files and computers and prevented employees from leaving offices of two of the American groups, the National Democratic Institute and the International Republican Institute, which are affiliated with American political parties and financed by the United States government. The security forces also raided the offices of the Washington-based Freedom House.
The raids were a stark escalation in what has appeared to be a campaign by the country's military rulers to rally support by playing to nationalist and anti-American sentiment here.
"General prosecutor & central security stormed N.D.I. office in Cairo & Assiut," an employee of the National Democratic Institute wrote in a text message from inside its offices. "We are confined here as they're searching and clearing out office."
Human rights advocates have urged the Egyptian government to drop its investigation into foreign funding of civil society, which prosecutors have described as treason. A September report by state security prosecutors identified what it said were more than two dozen unregistered groups receiving foreign funding and operating in Egypt. By the country's law on associations, the violation is punishable with imprisonment.
The Republican and Democratic institutes have worked openly since 2005 and had been assisting with election monitoring during the country's parliamentary vote.
In separate statements on Thursday, the two groups said they were troubled by the sudden raids on their offices. "Cracking down on organizations whose sole purpose is to support the democratic process during Egypt's historic transition sends a disturbing signal," the N.D.I. president Kenneth Wollack was quoted as saying.
The statement from the International Republican Institute was even more direct. "It is ironic that even during the Mubarak era I.R.I. was not subjected to such aggressive action," the group said.
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