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JFP 1/3: Taliban agree to Qatar office; Pentagon to give up two war capacity
Submitted by Robert Naiman on 3 January 2012 - 7:50pm
Just Foreign Policy News, January 3, 2012
Taliban agree to Qatar office; Pentagon to give up two war capacity
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Juan Cole: Will his New Sanctions on Iran Cost Obama the Presidency?
The new Iran sanctions law, pushed by AIPAC on behalf of Netanyahu, might hurt Obama's election chances. Iran's military exercises in the Persian Gulf, aimed at reminding the world that it can play the spoiler and stop one-sixth of the world's petroleum from reaching the market, helped put Brent crude up to $108 a barrel.
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1) The Afghan Taliban announced it had struck a deal to open a political office in Qatar that could allow for direct negotiations with the U.S. over the endgame in the Afghan war, the New York Times reports. A spokesman for the Taliban said that along with a preliminary deal to set up the office in Qatar, the group was asking that Taliban detainees held at Guantánamo be released. US officials said another idea under consideration was the establishment of cease-fire zones within Afghanistan.
2) Pakistani Islamist militants pledged to cease their insurgency against Pakistani security forces, and join the Afghan Taliban's war against NATO troops in Afghanistan, McClatchy reports.
3) Defense Secretary Panetta is set this week to reveal his strategy that will guide the Pentagon in cutting hundreds of billions of dollars from its budget, the New York Times reports. Panetta is expected to outline plans that will make it clear that the Pentagon will not maintain the ability to fight two sustained ground wars at once.
4) The Obama Administration and Congress, acting at the behest of the US airline industry, are trying to obstruct European efforts to regulate European airline emissions, the New Yorker reports. The heads of several of the nation's leading environmental groups noted that the Administration is "actively thwarting other countries' efforts to effectively and efficiently reduce greenhouse gas emissions," a position that is incompatible with the Administration's own stated commitment to avoiding "a dangerous rise in global average temperatures."
5) Iran's army chief warned that a US aircraft carrier that left the Persian Gulf through the Strait of Hormuz last week should not return, the New York Times reports. General Salehi did not say what action Iran would take if the carrier were to re-enter the Persian Gulf.
6) A Russian defense official said Iran has no long-range missiles, AFP reports. Iran reported testing three missiles on Monday. Two of the missiles can fly a maximum 200 kilometres (120 miles), generally considered short-range weapons, although Iranian media and a navy spokesman described one of them as "long-range."
7) According to tallies by Mexico's leading media outlets, about 12,000 people were slain last year in Mexico's drug violence, the Washington Post reports. More than 50,000 people have been killed during President Calderon's U.S.-backed military confrontation with organized crime and drug trafficking, which began in 2006.
1) Taliban to Open Qatar Office in Step Toward Peace Talks
Matthew Rosenberg, New York Times, January 3, 2012
Kabul, Afghanistan - Giving its first major public sign that it may be ready for formal talks with the American-led coalition in Afghanistan, the Taliban announced Tuesday that it had struck a deal to open a political office in Qatar that could allow for direct negotiations over the endgame in the Afghan war.
The step was a reversal of the Taliban's longstanding public denials that it was involved or even willing to consider talks related to its insurgency, and it had the potential to revive a reconciliation effort that stalled in September, with the assassination of the head of Afghanistan's High Peace Council.
In a statement, Zabiullah Mujahid, a spokesman for the Taliban, said that along with a preliminary deal to set up the office in Qatar, the group was asking that Taliban detainees held at the American prison in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, be released. Mr. Mujahid did not say when the Qatar office would be opened, or give specifics about the prisoners the Taliban wanted freed.
"We are at the moment, besides our powerful presence inside the country, ready to establish a political office outside the country to come to an understanding with other nations," the statement said, citing "an initial agreement with Qatar and other related sides."
American officials have said in recent months that the opening of a Taliban mission would be the single biggest step forward for peace efforts that have been plagued by false starts.
The opening of an office in Qatar is meant to give Afghan and Western peace negotiators an "address" where they can openly contact legitimate Taliban intermediaries. That would open the way for confidence-building measures that Washington hopes to push forward in the coming months. Chief among them, American officials said, is the possibility of transferring a number of "high-risk" detainees - including some with ties to Al Qaeda - to Afghan custody from Guantánamo Bay.
The American officials said that another idea under consideration was the establishment of cease-fire zones within Afghanistan, although that prospect was more uncertain and distant.
Though there were public hints of interest, Western officials in Kabul were questioning as recently as last month whether the Taliban were indeed ready or willing to talk. Tuesday's announcement will help to erase those doubts, Western officials said, although they stressed that the process was closer to the beginning than the end and that there was no assurance that a final settlement could be reached.
2) Militants agree to truce with Pakistan, unite against NATO
Tom Hussain, McClatchy Newspapers, January 2, 2012
Islamabad, Pakistan - Pakistani Islamist militants on Sunday pledged to cease their four-year insurgency against Pakistani security forces, and join the Taliban's war against NATO troops in Afghanistan.
The agreement reunited four major Pakistan-based militant factions under the flag of Mullah Mohammed Omar, the Taliban chief, an announcement by the militants said.
The agreement coincided with negotiations between the Pakistani militants and the government in Islamabad, held since October.
The pact would enable Mullah Omar to reinforce the Taliban ranks, while the pledged cessation of attacks against the Pakistani security forces would allow the militants greater freedom to launch cross-border attacks into Afghanistan.
"It will take a lot of pressure off the militants, and deepen the tensions between the U.S. and Pakistan," said Mansur Mahsud, director of research at the Fata Research Center, an independent think tank. "There will be angry complaints by the Americans, and counter-accusations by Pakistan that NATO isn't stopping raids by Pakistani insurgents from Afghan territory."
3) Panetta to Offer Strategy for Cutting Military Budget
Elisabeth Bumiller and Thom Shanker, New York Times, January 2, 2012
Washington - Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta is set this week to reveal his strategy that will guide the Pentagon in cutting hundreds of billions of dollars from its budget, and with it the Obama administration's vision of the military that the United States needs to meet 21st-century threats, according to senior officials.
In a shift of doctrine driven by fiscal reality and a deal last summer that kept the United States from defaulting on its debts, Mr. Panetta is expected to outline plans for carefully shrinking the military - and in so doing make it clear that the Pentagon will not maintain the ability to fight two sustained ground wars at once.
Instead, he will say that the military will be large enough to fight and win one major conflict, while also being able to "spoil" a second adversary's ambitions in another part of the world while conducting a number of other smaller operations, like providing disaster relief or enforcing a no-flight zone.
Pentagon officials, in the meantime, are in final deliberations about potential cuts to virtually every important area of military spending: the nuclear arsenal, warships, combat aircraft, salaries, and retirement and health benefits. With the war in Iraq over and the one in Afghanistan winding down, Mr. Panetta is weighing how significantly to shrink America's ground forces.
There is broad agreement on the left, right and center that $450 billion in cuts over a decade - the amount that the White House and Pentagon agreed to last summer - is acceptable. That is about 8 percent of the Pentagon's base budget. But there is intense debate about an additional $500 billion in cuts that may have to be made if Congress follows through with deeper reductions.
Mr. Panetta and defense hawks say a reduction of $1 trillion, about 17 percent of the Pentagon's base budget, would be ruinous to national security. Democrats and a few Republicans say that it would be painful but manageable; they add that there were steeper military cuts after the Cold War and the wars in Korea and Vietnam.
"Even at a trillion dollars, this is a shallower build-down than any of the last three we've done," said Gordon Adams, who oversaw military budgets in the Clinton White House and is now a fellow at the Stimson Center, a nonprofit research group in Washington. "It would still be the world's most dominant military. We would be in an arms race with ourselves."
Nowhere is balancing budget and strategy more challenging than in deciding how large a ground combat force the nation needs and can afford. The Army chief of staff, Gen. Ray Odierno, the former commander in Iraq, points out that the Army had 480,000 people in uniform before the Sept. 11 attacks, and at that number was supposed to be able to fight two wars at once.
But the Army proved to be too small to sustain the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and was increased to its current size of 570,000. The Army is now set to drop to 520,000 soldiers, beginning in 2015, although few expect that to be the floor. The reality is that the United States may not be able to afford waging two wars at once.
Studies by the Center for a New American Security, the Sustainable Defense Task Force and the Cato Institute, which represent a spectrum of views on defense spending, estimate that the savings from cutting the ground force could range from $41 billion by reducing the Army to 482,400 and the Marine Corps to 175,000 (from its present size of 202,000) all the way up to $387 billion if the Army drops to 360,000 and the Marines to 145,000. The final numbers will make it clear that the United States could not carry out lengthy stability and nation-building efforts, like those ordered for Afghanistan and Iraq, without a huge mobilization of the National Guard and the Reserves.
Senator Tom Coburn, Republican of Oklahoma, advocates saving $69.5 billion over 10 years by reducing by one-third the number of American military personnel stationed in Europe and Asia
"This option would leave plenty of military capability by maintaining strategic air bases and naval ports to provide logistics links," Mr. Coburn wrote in a report on his budget proposals. Many Congressional budget experts also see ways to save billions of dollars by consolidating Defense Department facilities, schools and installations.
One of the largest expenses the Pentagon faces is to replace its aging strategic nuclear forces. While America's nuclear warheads are relatively inexpensive to maintain on a day-to-day basis, all three legs of the nuclear triad that deliver the punch - submarines, bombers and ground-based missiles - are reaching the end of their service life at just about the same time.
"The world has changed," said Stephen W. Young, a senior analyst with the Union of Concerned Scientists, a nuclear watchdog group. "The United States can be more than secure with a far smaller arsenal than what we currently have."
4) Obama's Climate Betrayal
Elizabeth Kolbert, New York Times, December 30, 2011
Some international disputes are significant for symbolic reasons, others for substantive ones. The current conflict between the United States and the European Union over airline-emissions limits is both. Unfortunately this means that the U.S. is doubly on the wrong side. The Obama Administration ought to be applauding the Europeans. Instead it's threatening a trade war.
The conflict over the limits, which are scheduled to take effect on New Year's Day, has been brewing for nearly fifteen years. In highly condensed form, it runs as follows:
Back in 1997, when the Kyoto Protocol was drafted, it included a directive for nations to work together to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions from air travel. (Currently, aviation emissions account for only three percent of global CO2 emissions; however, that figure is expected to grow dramatically in coming decades.) The International Civil Aviation Organization, or I.C.A.O., was asked to come up with rules that its membership, which includes virtually every nation in the world, could agree to.
Perhaps not surprisingly, given the generally dismal record of such negotiations, the I.C.A.O. failed to come up with such rules. Several years ago, it officially gave up trying. At that point, the E.U. decided to step up to the proverbial plate. The European Parliament passed a law requiring airlines that fly in and out of Europe either to live within an emissions allotment or to purchase credits on Europe's carbon market. (Essentially, the E.U. is just adding the airlines to its existing emissions trading system.) When fully implemented, the requirements should reduce greenhouse-gas emissions each year by the equivalent of taking thirty million cars off the road.
Obviously, European carriers will be the ones most significantly affected by the new requirements. Still, even the marginal costs that the rules would impose on U.S. airlines were deemed-by them, at least-to be too high. In a wonderfully cynical move, U.S. carriers worked particularly diligently to ensure that the I.C.A.O. would never issue emissions limits, then turned around and challenged the E.U.'s rules on the grounds that only the I.C.A.O. should be able to issue such limits. United Airlines, American Airlines, and the Air Transport Association of America went so far as to challenge the E.U.'s rules in court, but, in a decision handed down earlier this month by Europe's highest court, in Luxembourg, they lost.
That should have been the end of things-were the positions reversed, the U.S. would clearly expect the Europeans to abide by a Supreme Court ruling. But no. Two weeks ago, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Transportation Secretary Raymond LaHood wrote a letter to E.U. commissioners, demanding that they suspend the rules, or else.
"Absent such willingness on the part of the E.U., we will be compelled to take appropriate action," the pair wrote. It's not clear exactly what "appropriate action" they meant, but the transportation secretary possesses the power to impose retaliatory sanctions on foreign airlines. Meanwhile, the House of Representatives has approved a bill forbidding U.S. airlines from complying with the E.U. rules; the Senate is considering a similar measure.
Now, by trying to block others' attempts to tackle the problem, the U.S. is behaving in a manner that seems best described as unforgivable. Last week, in a letter to Secretaries Clinton and LaHood, the heads of several of the nation's leading environmental groups noted that the Administration is "actively thwarting other countries' efforts to effectively and efficiently reduce greenhouse gas emissions," a position that is incompatible with the Administration's own stated commitment to avoiding "a dangerous rise in global average temperatures." The groups urged the Administration to abide by the European court's decision, "just as the Administration would wish other nations to respect the decision of the U.S. Supreme Court."
5) Iran Warns the United States Over Aircraft Carrier
J. David Goodman, New York Times, January 3, 2012
Iran's military sharpened its tone toward the United States on Tuesday with a blunt warning that an American aircraft carrier that left the Persian Gulf through the strategic Strait of Hormuz last week should not return.
The warning, by Iran's army chief, was the latest and most aggressive volley in a nearly daily exchange of barbed statements between Iran and the United States. Iran has just finished ambitious naval exercises near the strait, and it has repeatedly threatened to close the passage - through which roughly one-fifth of all the crude oil traded worldwide passes - if Western powers move forward with new sanctions on Iran's petroleum exports.
"We recommend to the American warship that passed through the Strait of Hormuz and went to Gulf of Oman not to return to the Persian Gulf," said Maj. Gen. Ataollah Salehi, the commander in chief of the army, as reported by Iran's official news agency, IRNA. "The Islamic Republic of Iran will not repeat its warning."
General Salehi did not say what action Iran would take if the carrier were to re-enter the Persian Gulf.
6) Russia says Iran has no long-range missiles
AFP, January 3, 2012
Iran has no long-range missiles, a Russian defence official said Tuesday in Moscow's first response to a series of tests conducted by Tehran near the vital Strait of Hormuz oil supply route.
"Iran does not have the technology to create intermediate or long-range inter-continental ballistic missiles," defence ministry spokesman Vadim Koval told the Interfax news agency. "And it will not get such missiles any time soon," he added.
Iran reported testing three missiles close to the Gulf oil-transit waterway on Monday amid preparations by Western powers to impose more economic sanctions over Tehran's nuclear drive.
Two of the missiles can fly a maximum 200 kilometres (120 miles), generally considered short-range weapons, although the Iranian media and a navy spokesman described one of them as "long-range".
7) In Mexico, 12,000 killed in drug violence in 2011
William Booth, Washington Post, January 2
Mexico City - About 12,000 people were slain last year in Mexico's surging drug violence, according to grim tallies reported Monday by the country's leading media outlets. Annual indexes of torture, beheadings and the killing of women all showed increases.
More than 50,000 people have been killed during President Felipe Calderon's U.S.-backed military confrontation with organized crime and drug trafficking, which began in 2006.
The Calderon government, after promising to update figures regularly, has not reported its own death count, perhaps because the trend line does not look good. A government spokesman said new figures would be released later this month. The ruling party is facing national elections this summer, in which the main opposition party threatens to retake the presidency.
The daily newspaper Reforma, one of the nation's most respected independent news outlets, reported 12,359 drug-related killings in 2011, a 6.3 percent increase compared with the previous year. There were 2,275 drug killings in 2007, Reforma said.
Other media reported similar numbers.
Daily Milenio recorded 12,284 drug-related deaths last year.
La Jornada counted 11,890 deaths in 2011, which it says is an 11 percent decrease from the previous year. Regardless, in its annual tally La Jornada featured a cartoon that showed Father Time 2011 lying in the desert with his head chopped off.
In the Reforma count, the number of bodies that showed signs of torture grew to 1,079. Beheadings reached almost 600, up from 389 the year before. Reforma also found that women increasingly were victims of drug violence, with more than 900 slain last year.
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