JFP 1/2: Santorum wants to bomb Iran; Cuba sanctions threaten Florida coast

Just Foreign Policy News, January 2, 2012
Santorum wants to bomb Iran; Cuba sanctions threaten Florida coast

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Go Straight to the News Summary

I) Actions and Featured Articles

300 Anti-War Voters Can Win the Iowa Referendum Against War With Iran
If turnout is 100,000, and three-tenths of a percentage point separate Romney from Paul, then three hundred anti-war voters in Iowa can strike a resounding blow on Tuesday against the campaign for war with Iran.
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/robert-naiman/300-antiwar-voters-can-wi_b_1179566.html

Ray McGovern & Elizabeth Murray: Steps to preventing war with Iran
Former intelligence officers McGovern and Murray propose concrete measures the Administration could take to prevent war with Iran:
-
Make public a declassified version of the key judgments of the latest National Intelligence Estimate on Iran's nuclear program.
- Improve communication between US navy and Iranian navy.
- Make clear that the US will not support an Israeli military attack on Iran, in particular, that the US will help protect Iraqi airspace from Israeli planes.
http://consortiumnews.com/2011/12/30/urging-obama-to-stop-rush-to-iran-war/

Norman Solomon: Uncle Sam is making the wrong choices
Government is failing to solve economic problems not because it can't, but because of the wrong political priorities, such as wasting money on war.
http://www.pressdemocrat.com/article/20111223/OPINION/111229726/1010/sports

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II) Summary:
U.S./Top News
1) President Obama Saturday signed into law tough new sanctions targeting Iran's central bank and financial sector, in a move that could intensify a brewing Gulf showdown, AFP reports. There are fears that increased sanctions on Iran's central bank could force the global price of oil to suddenly soar, AFP notes. Rising oil prices could crimp the fragile economic recovery in the US and inflict pain on American voters in gas stations - at a time when Obama is running for reelection next year.

2) Rick Santorum says that if he's elected president, he would bomb Iran's nuclear facilities unless they were opened for international arms inspectors, AP reports. [Iran's nuclear facilities are already open to international inspectors, a fact which Santorum and AP presumably know. The AP story echoes a propaganda claim used to justify the US invasion of Iraq: that Iraq wouldn't allow in inspectors, when in fact Iraq did allow in inspectors who didn't find anything because there was nothing to find - JFP.]

3) The human rights crisis in Honduras appears to be growing more acute, writes the Los Angeles Times in an editorial praising Congress for withholding some U.S aid from Honduras. Congress' decision sends an important message the Obama administration has been reluctant to send, the LAT says: President Lobo must demonstrate he's taking measurable steps to prevent human rights abuses and to hold those who commit them responsible.

4) U.S. sanctions against Cuba obstruct efforts to prevent an oil spill that could hit beaches in Florida, Georgia, and South Carolina, writes Capt. Melissa Bert of the U.S. Coast Guard in the Miami Herald. U.S. sanctions prohibit U.S. companies from drilling in Cuba, supplying equipment to or effecting safety regulations in Cuba, or even responding to an oil spill in its waters. Now is the time to issue an export only industry-wide general license for oil spill response in Cuba waters - not in the maelstrom of a crisis, Bert writes.

5) Saying there have been 32,226 U.S. "wounded" in Iraq, as the Pentagon and press reports routinely do, wildly understates the number of US servicemembers who have come back from Iraq less than whole, writes Dan Froomkin at Huffington Post. The true number of military personnel injured in Iraq is in the hundreds of thousands -- maybe even more than half a million -- if you take into account all the men and women who returned from their deployments with traumatic brain injuries, post-traumatic stress, depression, hearing loss, breathing disorders, diseases, and other long-term health problems.

6) US taxpayers should be wary of Defense Secretary Panetta's hyperbole about the dangers of cutting the military budget, writes the Boston Globe in an editorial. In reality, even the most dire proposals for the Pentagon only roll back the Defense Department's budget to what it was in 2007, when the military was fighting two wars.

Iran
7) Without a patient search for different ways to deal with Iran, Washington will be stuck with a policy that will not change Iran's practices or its regime and could lead to a catastrophic war, write former ambassadors William Luers and Thomas Pickering in the Washington Post. It is not too late to contain Iran's nuclear program through diplomacy, they write. Multiple, creative efforts to engage Iran's leaders and provide a dignified exit from the corner in which the world community has placed them could achieve more durable solutions at a far lower cost than military actions or threats.

Afghanistan
8) France's defense minister backed U.S. efforts to open peace talks with the Taliban, AP reports.

Israel/Palestine
9) The struggle for women's rights in Israel is inextricably linked to the struggle for Arab rights, writes Peter Beinart in the Daily Beast. Ultra-Orthodox coercion stems in large part from ultra-Orthodox control of key ministries in the Israeli government. Israeli prime ministers give the ultra-Orthodox control over these ministries in return for the Knesset votes that keep them in power. Israeli prime ministers include ultra-Orthodox parties in their governments in large measure because they will not include Israel's Arab parties. What gives the ultra-Orthodox the ability to oppress women is partly a political system in which Israel's Arab citizens are largely barred from power.

Egypt
10) Egypt's military-led government justified its crackdown on human rights and democracy-building organizations, contradicting reports from officials in Washington that Egypt's military rulers had pledged to soften their stance, the New York Times reports. Employees of the raided organizations said the news conference appeared to erase whatever guarantees US officials thought they had won. "Nothing has changed," one said. If the investigation continues, said a researcher for Human Rights Watch in Egypt, "It is going to shut down every human rights organization in Egypt."

Contents:
U.S./Top News
1) Obama signs new Iran sanctions into law
Stephen Collinson, AFP, January 1, 2012
http://www.google.com/hostednews/afp/article/ALeqM5i8aDTUax9ph9ZF781ujYIn1Kr65w

Honolulu, Hawaii - US President Barack Obama Saturday signed into law tough new sanctions targeting Iran's central bank and financial sector, in a move that could intensify a brewing Gulf showdown.

The measures, meant to punish Iran for its nuclear program, were contained in a mammoth $662 billion defense bill, which Obama signed despite having reservations that it ties his hands on setting foreign policy.

The sanctions are meant to hit Iran's crucial oil sector and require foreign firms to make a choice between doing business with Tehran's financial sector and central bank or the mighty US economy and financial sector.

Foreign central banks which deal with the Iranian central bank on oil transactions could also face restrictions, sparking fears of damage to US ties with key nations such as Russia and China which trade with Iran.

Obama signed the bill in Hawaii where he is on vacation, at a time of rising tension with Tehran, which has threatened to block the Strait of Hormuz -- through which more than a third of the world's tanker-borne oil passes.

Obama signed the bill in Hawaii where he is on vacation, at a time of rising tension with Tehran, which has threatened to block the Strait of Hormuz -- through which more than a third of the world's tanker-borne oil passes. The United States has warned it will "not tolerate" such an interruption.

In comments reported Saturday, Tehran's top nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili warned that Iran would "give a resounding and many-pronged response to any threat" made against it.
But Jalili also said Iran was ready to rejoin EU-led talks with major powers on assuaging Western concerns over its nuclear program.

The White House held intense negotiations with Congress on the terms of the law's implementation, given concern that sanctions on Iran's central bank could spark chaos in the global financial system and hike the price of oil.
[...]
The bill, which passed with wide majorities in Congress, did reserve some wiggle room for Obama, granting him the power to grant 120-day waivers if he judges it to be in the national security interests of the United States.
[...]
Senior US officials said Saturday that they would try to implement the new sanctions guidelines in a way that protected the global economy and US foreign policy priorities, in a way which would still inflict pain on Iran.

There are fears that increased sanctions on Iran's central bank could force the global price of oil to suddenly soar, and actually give Tehran a financial windfall on its existing oil sales.

Rising oil prices could also crimp the fragile economic recovery in the United States and inflict pain on American voters in gas stations -- at a time when Obama is running for reelection next year.
[...]

2) GOP's Santorum says he would bomb Iran's nuclear facilities unless inspectors were allowed in
Associated Press, January 1
http://www.washingtonpost.com/national/national-security/gops-santorum-says-he-would-bomb-irans-nuclear-facilities-unless-inspectors-were-allowed-in/2012/01/01/gIQAx12GUP_story.html

Washington - Republican Rick Santorum says that if he's elected president, he would bomb Iran's nuclear facilities unless they were opened for international arms inspectors.

Santorum says President Barack Obama hasn't done enough to prevent the Iranian government from building a nuclear weapon and has risked turning the U.S. into a "paper tiger."

Santorum tells NBC's "Meet the Press" that he would tell Iranian leaders that either they open up those facilities, begin to dismantle them and make them available to inspectors - or the U.S. would attack them.
[...]

3) Holding Honduras accountable
President Porfirio must demonstrate that he's taking measurable steps to prevent human rights abuses.
Editorial, Los Angeles Times, January 2, 2012
http://www.latimes.com/news/opinion/opinionla/la-ed-honduras-20120102,0,7022781.story

Honduras has the highest homicide rate in the world, according to the United Nations, and its government has long been plagued by allegations of corruption and human rights abuses. A 2009 military coup deepened political rifts and eroded public trust in democratic institutions. And a recent Human Rights Watch report found that officials have yet to bring to justice many of those allegedly responsible for violations committed after the coup.

Indeed, the crisis appears to be growing more acute. In November, Rep. Howard Berman (D-Van Nuys) asked Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton to reevaluate U.S. aid to Honduras in light of recent killings, including the deaths of two unarmed students. One of those students was the son of a university rector who served on the truth commission that investigated the 2009 coup, Berman noted. Four police officers were arrested in connection with the deaths but released days later without explanation. And human rights observers say the killings continue. In December, a former anti-narcotics advisor and outspoken critic of government corruption was gunned down and a prominent journalist was shot to death outside her home.

Now Congress has stepped in, cutting off some of the nearly $70 million in annual aid earmarked for the country. That's an important start. Temporarily withholding 20% of the estimated $1.8 million designated for police and military assistance could help persuade President Porfirio Lobo to adopt reforms. His administration, for example, has yet to provide the attorney general's office with promised funding to hire independent investigators; currently, allegations of human rights abuses by police are investigated by the Ministry of Security, the same ministry the police report to. And it could pressure him to speed up funding for a witness protection program, which prosecutors in the attorney general's human rights unit say could help secure testimony from victims.

Congress' decision to withhold a fraction of the total aid to Honduras could be seen as a symbolic gesture. But it still sends an important message, one the Obama administration has been reluctant to send: Lobo must demonstrate that he's taking measurable steps to prevent human rights abuses and to hold those who commit them responsible. Honduras needs assistance, but it also needs to be held accountable.

4) Cuba's oil plans raise red flags
Melissa Bert, Miami Herald, Sat, Dec. 24, 2011
http://www.miamiherald.com/2011/12/24/2559723/cubas-oil-plans-raise-red-flags.html

[Capt. Melissa Bert, U.S. Coast Guard, is a visiting fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations.]

Scarabeo-9 is en route Cuban to waters, 70 miles from Florida. This mobile offshore drilling unit (MODU) is a Chinese-built, Spanish-owned oil rig set to drill for oil along Cuba's northern coast. Cuba is counting on offshore drilling to wean itself from Venezuelan energy dependence. Experts estimate Cuba's continental shelf contains 5 to 20 billion barrels of oil and more than 8 billion cubic feet of natural gas.

Cuba's plans raise red flags. The Scarabeo-9 drilling scenario is a reprise of Deepwater, with similar drilling depth and distance from U.S. shores, and a worst-case discharge even higher than Macondo. An oil blowout in Cuban waters could send crude to the beaches of Florida, Georgia, and South Carolina.

Repsol, a Spanish company, is running the show. Unlike BP, Repsol is not subject to U.S. law. Although Repsol has a strong record, it is not accountable to U.S. citizens in a disaster. Another cause for concern is that U.S. sanctions against Cuba prohibit U.S. companies from drilling in Cuba, supplying equipment to or effecting safety regulations in Cuba, or even responding to an oil spill in its waters.

Cuba's pollution response capability is unknown. The Deepwater Horizon response was the largest and most sophisticated in history, but was conducted on site before the oil reached shore, with hundreds of vessels, thousands of responders, and state of the art technology. Waiting until oil coats America's beaches is too late.

Responses off Cuba are particularly challenging. The surface currents are three to four times faster than off Florida's Panhandle. Skimming oil or burning it may not be possible. Dispersants, which break down oil for biodegradation, may be the only option, but must be applied at the source within 96 hours. Otherwise, slicks could overwhelm coastal containment booms, which are damaging to the coral reefs, marshes, and sea grass of the Southeast. Getting to the oil at the well head, as was done in Deepwater, will be the key to preventing massive oil onshore.

Yet instead of working directly with Cuba to prepare, the U.S. is restrained by sanctions policy. This needs to end.
[...]
It is time to incorporate Cuba, as the U.S. does throughout the Caribbean, Mexico, and Canada, where operational agreements specify routine exercises, emergency response coordination, communication protocols, and joint operations.

Next, the U.S. government should work through sanction hurdles. The offshore gas and oil industry in the U.S. is the best source for remotely operated submersibles and undersea containment technologies. Currently, no U.S. companies are authorized to cap wells or conduct relief drilling in Cuba waters. Licensing cannot wait. Now is the time to issue an export only industry-wide general license for oil spill response in Cuba waters - not in the maelstrom of a crisis.
[...]

5) How Many U.S. Soldiers Were Wounded in Iraq? Guess Again.
Dan Froomkin, Huffington Post, 12/30/11
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/dan-froomkin/iraq-soldiers-wounded_b_1176276.html

Reports about the end of the war in Iraq routinely describe the toll on the U.S. military the way the Pentagon does: 4,487 dead, and 32,226 wounded.

The death count is accurate. But the wounded figure wildly understates the number of American servicemembers who have come back from Iraq less than whole.

The true number of military personnel injured over the course of our nine-year-long fiasco in Iraq is in the hundreds of thousands -- maybe even more than half a million -- if you take into account all the men and women who returned from their deployments with traumatic brain injuries, post-traumatic stress, depression, hearing loss, breathing disorders, diseases, and other long-term health problems.

We don't have anything close to an exact number, however, because nobody's been keeping track.

The much-cited Defense Department figure comes from its tally of "wounded in action" -- a narrowly-tailored category that only includes casualties during combat operations who have "incurred an injury due to an external agent or cause." That generally means they needed immediate medical treatment after having been shot or blown up. Explicitly excluded from that category are "injuries or death due to the elements, self-inflicted wounds, combat fatigue" -- along with cumulative psychological and physiological strain or many of the other wounds, maladies and losses that are most common among Iraq veterans.

The "wounded in action" category is relatively consistent, historically, so it's still useful as a point of comparison to previous wars. But there is no central repository of data regarding these other, sometimes grievous, harms. We just have a few data points here and there that indicate the magnitude.

Consider, for instance:

The Pentagon's Defense and Veterans Brain Injury Center reports having diagnosed 229,106 cases of mild to severe traumatic brain injury from 2000 to the third quarter of 2011, including both Iraq and Afghan vets.

A 2008 study of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans by researchers at the RAND Corporation found that 14 percent screened positive for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and 14 percent for major depression, with 19 percent reporting a probable traumatic brain injury during deployment. (The researchers found that major depression is "highly associated with combat exposure and should be considered as being along the spectrum of post-deployment mental health consequences.") Applying those proportions to the 1.5 million veterans of Iraq, an estimated 200,000 of them would be expected to suffer from PTSD or major depression, with 285,000 of them having experienced a probable traumatic brain injury.

A 2008 study published in the New England Journal of Medicine found that 15 percent of soldiers reported an injury during deployment that involved loss of consciousness or altered mental status, and 17 percent of soldiers reported other injuries. (Using that ratio would suggest that 480,000 Iraq vets were injured one way or the other.) More than 40 percent of soldiers who lost of consciousness met the criteria for post-traumatic stress disorder.

Altogether, the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America group estimates that nearly 1 in 3 people deployed in those wars suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, or traumatic brain injury. That would mean 500,000 of the 1.5 million deployed to Iraq.
[...]

6) Pentagon Should Do More Cutting, Less Complaining About Budget
Editorial, Boston Globe, January 02, 2012
http://bostonglobe.com/opinion/editorials/2012/01/02/pentagon-should-more-cutting-less-complaining-about-budget/p9XJzkTvVunsBJP1OlCacJ/story.html

As Congress wrangles over how to rein in the federal debt, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has been ringing the alarm bells about what will happen if the Pentagon is asked to cut more than the $450 billion that it has already agreed to shave off its planned budget over the next ten years. Deeper cuts, he has warned Congress, will turn the world's greatest military into a "paper tiger." He has used the word "catastrophic" to describe just how bad it will be.

While there is no doubt that it will be painful to cut costs while fighting a war in Afghanistan, US taxpayers should be wary of such hyperbole. In reality, even the most dire proposals for the Pentagon only roll back the Defense Department's budget to what it was in 2007, when the military was fighting two wars. Panetta complains that the cuts would leave America with the smallest navy since 1915. But with weapons systems exponentially more powerful today, such comparisons distort the truth.

It remains to be seen whether the Pentagon will face an 8 percent cut in planned spending over 10 years - about $488 billion out of some $6 trillion - that Panetta has already planned for, or if it will be hit with an additional $500 billion in across-the-board cuts triggered by the failure of the congressional super committee to reach a deficit-reduction deal. Either way, the military will have to do more with less. And that isn't necessarily a bad thing.

Tighter budgets should force the Pentagon to be smarter about which weapons systems it chooses to build. Over the past decade, the Pentagon has spent $32 billion on systems it ultimately cancelled, according to the Cambridge-based Project on Defense Alternatives.

Congress should also stop forcing the military to buy weapons it doesn't want. For years, Congress kept on paying to develop an alternative engine for a new fighter aircraft - to the tune of $2.4 billion - even though the Pentagon begged it to stop. That kind of lobbyist-induced decision-making has helped push the Pentagon's budget from $361 billion in 1998 to $697 billion last year.
[...]
The best response to Panetta's apocalyptic predictions comes from Panetta himself. In 1992, when Panetta was a House member on a budget-cutting committee, Defense Secretary Dick Cheney complained to him that cuts to the Pentagon's budget "would end up destroying the finest military force this nation has ever fielded."

Panetta replied, "I think the most dangerous threat to our national security right now is debt, very heavy debt." Panetta said he had no problem with America policing the world. "My problem is how the hell are we going to pay for it." Now that the roles are reversed, today's Congress should tell him the very same thing.

Iran
7) Counter Iran With Diplomacy, Not Threats
William H. Luers and Thomas R. Pickering, Washington Post, December 30
http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/military-action-isnt-the-only-solution-to-iran/2011/12/29/gIQA69sNRP_story.html

[Luers served as U.S. ambassador to Czechoslovakia from 1983 to 1986 and as president of the UN Association from 1999 to 2009. Pickering, undersecretary of state for political affairs in the Clinton administration, served as U.S. ambassador to Russia, Israel, Jordan and the UN.]

"Since wars begin in the minds of men, it is in the minds of men that the defenses of peace must be constructed."

- Archibald MacLeish, 1945,preamble to the Constitution of UNESCO

The American people hear from government officials and presidential candidates nearly every day about military action against Iran. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta recently said that the United States and Israel would not allow Iran to get a bomb. Are these words standard fare for an election year? A strategy to restrain Israel from unilateral action? Or do these threats signify that war is in the "minds of men"?

Conservative ideologues taste the possibility that a leader whom they might influence may return to the White House. Former House speaker Newt Gingrich has already pledged to appoint John Bolton, a neoconservative superstar, as his secretary of state. Is it surprising that Gingrich, who has said he would rather plan a joint operation with Israel against Iran than force the Israelis to go it alone, is the candidate with the strongest commitment to military action?

Have we forgotten what Iraq and the United States have been through since 2002? Were it not for that ill-begotten war, thousands of Americans (and Iraqis) might still be living. America would be a trillion dollars richer and still be the proud, respected and economically healthy nation the world had known.

The defenses of peace were built in many of America's most illustrious minds since World WarII - but only after those minds had been humbled by the ravages wrought by their earlier decisions. Robert McNamara and McGeorge Bundy recognized, after the fact, the disasters caused by their certitude in Americanizing the Vietnam War. Super Cold Warrior Dean Acheson turned out to be the most influential member of Lyndon Johnson's "Wise Men" to urge him to stop the failed war in Vietnam. More recently, dozens in leadership positions at the start of the Iraq war realized too late the folly of that decision and the incompetence of its execution.

Asked in the mid-1950s whether he would consider strikes against the Soviet Union to preempt its nuclear weapons program, Dwight D. Eisenhower, our president most expert on the limits of military power, replied: "A preventive war, to my mind, is an impossibility today. How could you have one, if one of its features would be several cities lying in ruins, where many, many thousands of people would be dead and injured and mangled? ... That isn't preventive war; that is war."

Military action is becoming the seemingly fail-safe solution for the United States to deal with real and imagined security problems. The uncertain and intellectually demanding ways of diplomacy are seen as "unmanly" and tedious - likely to involve compromise or even "appeasement." President Obama made efforts to engage Iranian leaders his first year in office but, when rebuffed, turned in a different direction. Since then, our most effective diplomacy regarding Iran has been to muster support worldwide for an unprecedented series of sanctions and ostracization.

Iran presents a serious threat to U.S. and regional security, one that would grow immensely if its nuclear program produces weapons. The United States must set out on a relentless search for a better way to get at this seemingly unknowable regional power. Without that patient search for different ways to deal with Tehran, Washington will be stuck with a policy that will not change Iran's practices or its regime and could lead to a catastrophic war.

We and our colleagues in the Iran Project - an initiative of ours that has suggested diplomatic strategies and encouraged direct U.S.-Iran discussions for nearly a decade - have for three years proposed ways to contain Iran's nuclear program, wall it off from developing weapons and engage Iran in a dialogue on other regional issues. It is not too late.

History teaches that engagement and diplomacy pay dividends that military threats do not. Deployment of military force can bring the immediate illusion of "success" but always results in unforeseen consequences and collateral damage that complicate further the achievement of America's main objectives. Deploying diplomats with a strategy while maintaining some pressure on Iran will lower Tehran's urgency to build a bomb and reduce the danger of conflict.

The slow, elusive diplomatic process to achieve U.S. objectives does not provide the sound-bite satisfaction of military threats or action. Multiple, creative efforts to engage Iran's leaders and provide a dignified exit from the corner in which the world community has placed them could achieve more durable solutions at a far lower cost. It is a lesson that those urging military action against Iran have failed to learn. Clearly, the Iraq war did not build "the defenses of peace" in their minds. And such efforts must truly fail before more forceful action is made in a genuinely multilateral action, endorsed by the U.N. Security Council.

Acheson, that brilliant strategist and close friend of Archi­bald MacLeish, criticized advocates of "massive retaliation" in the 1950s. It would be mad, he said, to "embrace disaster in order to escape anxiety." Greater knowledge and closer contact with an enemy reduce anxiety and reveal surer ways to avoid disaster.

Afghanistan
8) French defense minister backs efforts to open peace talks with Taliban
Associated Press, January 1
http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/asia-pacific/french-defense-minister-backs-efforts-to-open-peace-talks-with-taliban/2012/01/01/gIQAVFtsTP_story.html

Kabul, Afghanistan - France's defense minister on Sunday backed U.S. efforts to open peace talks with the Taliban, saying a proposed Taliban liaison office outside Afghanistan would provide a venue for those within the radical Islamic movement who are willing to explain their positions.

The idea of opening a Taliban political office in Doha, the capital of the Gulf nation of Qatar, has become the central element of efforts to draw the insurgent movement into peace talks and end more than a decade of war.

Speaking at the end of a brief visit to French troops, Gerard Longuet said he had asked Afghan President Hamid Karzai about the idea.

Karzai "explained the reasons ... for Doha as a venue for meetings where the Taliban who wish to do so can express themselves and meet with Afghans or members of the coalition who wish to talk to them," Longuet said. "It seems that there is a part among the forces fighting against the (government), there is a will to explain themselves, to be understood. We should never close that door."

Earlier this week, a senior U.S. official told The Associated Press that Washington plans to continue a series of secret meetings with Taliban representatives in Europe and the Persian Gulf region next year.

The U.S. outreach this year had progressed to the point that there was active discussion of two steps the Taliban seeks as precursors to negotiations, the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the issue.

Trust-building measures under discussion involve setting up a Taliban headquarters office and the release from the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, of about five Afghan prisoners believed to be affiliated with the Taliban.
[...]

Israel/Palestine
9) Ultra-Orthodox Attacks on Israel's Women Linked to Arab Inequality
Peter Beinart, Daily Beast, Dec 29, 2011 4:45 AM EST
http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2011/12/29/ultra-orthodox-attacks-on-israel-s-women-linked-to-arab-inequality.html

Israelis are properly protesting ultra-Orthodox Jews' assault of a girl for dressing "immodestly" as a bid to make women second-class citizens, but they must realize that the struggle for women's rights is linked to the struggle for Arab rights.

Since the Gaza war in early 2009, Israel has largely enjoyed a respite from Arab and Palestinian violence. And as a result, Israeli Jews have been liberated to focus on their other great enemy: each other.

The first sign was the social protests that erupted this summer, protests in which Jewish Israelis took to the streets to denounce not Hamas or Iran or Mahmoud Abbas, but the oligarchs who have gobbled up much of their nation's wealth. The second sign came this week, when 10,000 Israelis demonstrated in the city of Beit Shemesh against the efforts of ultra-Orthodox Jews to consign Jewish women to second-class citizenship in the Jewish state.

Ultra-Orthodox (or Haredi) Judaism-it can never be stressed too often-is not Judaism as it was practiced in centuries past. Traditional Judaism was fluid and diverse and accommodated itself to the practical requirements of the day. Ultra-Orthodox Judaism, by contrast, is a modern creation born out of terror and hatred of the Enlightenment, which in the 19th century seduced many previously cloistered European Jews. Although ultra-Orthodox Jews claim to reject religious innovation, ultra-Orthodoxy is constantly innovating because it is based, above all, on the rejection of secular values. And since secular values change, ultra-Orthodoxy does too.
[...]
The good news is that Israelis are taking to the streets to fight this moral depravity. And when it comes to the struggle against ultra-Orthodox misogyny, American Jewish leaders feel far more emboldened to criticize Israeli policy than they do on the issue of Palestinian rights.

The bad news is that many Israeli and American Jewish opponents of ultra-Orthodox coercion do not recognize that the struggle for women's rights and the struggle for Arab rights are inextricably linked. They are linked because ultra-Orthodox coercion stems in large part from ultra-Orthodox control of key ministries in the Israeli government. Israeli prime ministers give the ultra-Orthodox control over these ministries in return for the Knesset votes that keep them in power.

And why must Israeli prime ministers include ultra-Orthodox parties in their governments? In large measure because they will not include Israel's Arab parties. Israel's Arab citizens (those within Israel's 1967 borders) can vote and elect representatives to the Knesset. But by tradition, an Israeli government cannot rely on Arab parties to stay in power. It must enjoy a Jewish majority in the Knesset. Some justify this tradition by noting that the political parties favored by Israeli Arabs are non-Zionist: they wish Israel were not a Jewish state. But, as it happens, some of the ultra-Orthodox parties that have sat in Israeli governments are non-Zionist too, since many ultra-Orthodox Jews believe that the creation of a Jewish state should await the messiah.


What gives the ultra-Orthodox the ability to oppress women, in other words, is partly a political system in which Israel's Arab citizens are largely barred from power. What the protesters in Beit Shemesh and their supporters in the United States need to remember is the fundamental interconnectedness of equal citizenship. When you deny it to one group, you produce ripple effects that undermine the equality of others as well. Israel's declaration of independence promises "complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of race, religion and sex." For Israel to fulfill that promise to its female citizens, it must start fulfilling it to its Arab ones as well.

Egypt
10) Undercutting Vow of Softer Stance, Egypt Again Defends Office Raids
David D. Kirkpatrick, New York Times, January 1, 2012
http://www.nytimes.com/2012/01/02/world/middleeast/backing-off-vow-of-softer-stance-egypt-backs-office-raids.html

Cairo - Egypt's military-led government on Sunday justified its recent crackdown on human rights and democracy-building organizations as a defense against foreign interference in its politics, defying international pressure and contradicting reports from senior officials in Washington that Egypt's military rulers had pledged to soften their stance.

Egypt's defense of the raids escalates a diplomatic feud with Washington that began last Thursday with raids by armed police officers on the offices of 10 nonprofit groups, including 3 supported mainly by the United States government: the National Democratic Institute, the International Republican Institute and Freedom House.

Egypt's continued support of the raids is also the latest indication that the military rulers who took over after the ouster of former President Hosni Mubarak share his government's dim view of the international norms of democracy and human rights. Facing escalating domestic and international pressure to turn over power, the ruling military council has appeared increasingly willing to use force without apology to intimidate its critics, including directing assaults on demonstrators that have left more than 80 people dead and hundreds wounded over the last three months.

The raids on the nonprofit groups have sent a tremor of fear through the network of human rights watchdogs that have documented and strongly criticized abuses by the military.

As recently as Friday, United States officials said that Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta had received assurances from Egypt's top military officer and de facto chief executive, Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, that his government would stop the raids, allow the groups to reopen, and return confiscated computers and other property. State Department officials said the United States envoy to Egypt, Ambassador Anne W. Patterson, had heard similar promises from Egyptian officials, including a member of the ruling military council.

But in Egypt's first public explanation of last week's raids, Faiza Abu El-Naga, the civilian cabinet official in charge of "international cooperation," offered a different account of those conversations. Ambassador Patterson, Ms. Abu El-Naga said, had offered assurances about the American-sponsored groups.

"The ambassador promised that these organizations will fix their legal status," she said, "and we promised to review their applications, provided that they abide by the requirements of Egyptian law." Representatives of the State Department and the embassy would not comment on Sunday.

Employees of the raided organizations - most still unable to re-enter their offices - said the news conference by Ms. Abu El-Naga appeared to erase whatever guarantees the American officials thought they had won. "Nothing has changed," one said, speaking on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly.

Ms. Abu El-Naga, herself one of the last senior civilians left over from Mr. Mubarak's government, called the raids a legitimate step in a continuing investigation into suspected violations of Mubarak-era laws. If enforced, those laws would all but eliminate any independent human rights or civil society group here.

Mr. Mubarak more or less tolerated a variety of such groups, provided that they submitted to the close supervision of the secret police. But he kept on the books laws that required any such group to obtain a license, which was almost never granted. His disapproval deterred almost any domestic financing for such groups, forcing them to turn to donors in the United States and Europe. And he imposed another rule expressly barring foreign financing for unlicensed groups or unauthorized purposes.
[...]
If the investigation continues, said Heba Morayef, a researcher for Human Rights Watch in Egypt, "It is going to shut down every human rights organization in Egypt."

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Are some of the NGOs present in Cairo there to work on behalf of the US and its interests, or are they not? I do not defend the repression by the military (which closely resembles the repression the US not only tolerated by enabled for so long under Mubarak - again in the defense of "its interests"). But their concern for the US's interference abroad - an interference it has practiced throughout the globe at least since the late 19th century, via NGOs and myriad other pathways, up to and including assassination and the overthrow of democratically elected governments - is legitimate: Despite its pious claims, the US does not interfere abroad to promote democracy, but to promote its business/strategic interests.

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