JFP 2/8: 78% back Afghan drawdown; Futenma relocation "effectively dead"

Just Foreign Policy News, February 8, 2012
78% back Afghan drawdown; Futenma relocation "effectively dead"


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Go Straight to the News Summary

I) Actions and Featured Articles

The Real News: US Arms Deal with Bahrain as Crackdown Continues
Just Foreign Policy talks to The Real News about Congressional concerns over Obama Administration plans to sell arms to Bahrain ahead of the February 14 anniversary of the uprising.
http://therealnews.com/t2/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=31&Itemid=74&jumival=7872

House letter supports accelerating Afghan withdrawal
A letter is circulating in the House supporting Panetta announcement of moving up U.S. transition away from combat.
http://blog.livableworld.org/story/2012/2/8/123055/9222

"Occupy AIPAC": March 2-6
On Saturday, March 3rd, there will be a conference on reforming U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East away from AIPAC's priorities and towards supporting peace and popular aspirations in the region: no war with Iran, free Palestine, support the Arab Spring. Co-sponsored by CodePink/Women for Peace, the Institute for Policy Studies, and Just Foreign Policy.
http://www.occupyaipac.org/summit/schedule2012/

Help Support Our Advocacy for Peace and Diplomacy
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II) Summary:
U.S./Top News
1) 78% of Americans approve of Obama's decision to draw down troops from Afghanistan, with 56% strongly approving, the Washington Post reports. 83% approve of "The use of … drone aircraft against terrorist suspects." [This strongly suggests the utility of a "harm reduction strategy" in Washington against the drone strikes, focusing on such issues as the targeting of rescuers and funerals - JFP.]

2) The CIA is expected to maintain a large presence in Iraq and Afghanistan long after the departure of conventional U.S. troops as part of a plan by the Obama administration to rely on spies and Special Operations forces to protect U.S. interests, the Washington Post reports.

Some CIA bases along the border with Pakistan are likely to be closed. As conventional forces depart, the agency will probably concentrate more of its remaining employees at compounds in Kabul and at the Bagram air base, the Post says. As a result, more territory may be ceded to the Taliban. "We can lose the countryside, but I don't think we're going to lose Kabul and Bagram," said the former senior CIA officer.

The departure of U.S. forces from Iraq in December has forced the CIA to shutter many facilities, according to former CIA officials who said the agency's presence has probably been reduced by half, the Post says.

3) Former Israeli spy chief Meir Dagan says Israel does not face an "existential threat" from Iran, AP reports.

4) International traders saying Iran is having trouble buying rice, cooking oil and other staples to feed its 74 million people, Reuters reports. New U.S. financial sanctions imposed since the beginning of this year are playing havoc with Iran's ability to buy imports, commodities traders said.

5) A top Pentagon official said the U.S. overestimated the threat from Al Qaeda after 9/11, the Air Force Times reports. "Al-Qaida wasn't as good as we thought they were on 9/11," said Michael A. Sheehan, the assistant secretary of defense for special operations and low intensity conflict. "Quite frankly, we, the American people, were asleep at the switch, the U.S. government, prior to 9/11. So an organization that wasn't that good looked really great on 9/11," Sheehan said. "Everyone looked to the skies every day after 9/11 and said, 'When is the next attack?' And it didn't come, partly because al-Qaida wasn't that capable. They didn't have other units here in the U.S. … Really, they didn't have the capability to conduct a second attack."

Iran
6) Last week, Iran signaled its willingness to restart talks with the P5+1 about its nuclear program, writes former diplomat and hostage John Limbert for Foreign Policy. Limbert argues that Iran's nuclear program is the hardest issue, because for Iranians the nuclear issue is about their country's place in the world community -- its rights, national honor, and respect. If U.S. negotiators are interested in exploring areas where "yes" is possible, they need to be talking about Afghanistan, [Iraq], terrorism, drugs, piracy, Limbert says.

Okinawa
7) Japan and the US said they were renegotiating a 2006 agreement aimed at removing 8,000 Marines from Okinawa, because the current terms have stalled their departure until progress can be made on relocating a Marine air station on the island, the New York Times reports. Both sides have agreed to rework part of the agreement that makes relocation of Marine Corps Air Station Futenma a precondition for moving the Marines.

Most analysts and politicians now agree that the Futenma relocation plan is effectively dead, the Times says.

Contents:
U.S./Top News
1) Washington Post-ABC News Poll
http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/politics/polls/postabcpoll_020412.html

[...]
13. Changing topics, thinking about the following decisions of the Obama administration, please tell me whether you strongly approve, somewhat approve, somewhat disapprove, or strongly disapprove.

2/4/12 - Summary Table

--- Approve ---- -- Disapprove -- No
NET Str. Smwt. NET Smwt. Str. op.
a. Keeping open the prison at Guantanamo
Bay for terrorist suspects 70 42 28 24 12 13 5
b. The drawdown of U.S. troops from
Afghanistan 78 56 23 19 10 9 2
c. The use of unmanned, "drone" aircraft
against terrorist suspects overseas 83 59 23 11 7 4 6

14. (IF APPROVE OF DRONE AIRCRAFT) What if those suspected terrorists are American citizens living in other countries? In that case do you approve or disapprove of the use of drones?


Approve Disapprove No opinion
2/4/12 79 17 4

13c/14 NET:

----- Disapprove ------ No
Approve NET At first Now do opinion
2/4/12 65 26 12 14 9
[...]

2) CIA Is In Baghdad, Kabul For Long Haul
Greg Miller, Washington Post, February 7
http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/cia-digs-in-as-americans-withdraw-from-iraq-afghanistan/2012/02/07/gIQAFNJTxQ_story.html

The CIA is expected to maintain a large clandestine presence in Iraq and Afghanistan long after the departure of conventional U.S. troops as part of a plan by the Obama administration to rely on a combination of spies and Special Operations forces to protect U.S. interests in the two longtime war zones, U.S. officials said.

U.S. officials said that the CIA's stations in Kabul and Baghdad will probably remain the agency's largest overseas outposts for years, even if they shrink from record staffing levels set at the height of American efforts in those nations to fend off insurgencies and install capable governments.

The withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq in December has moved the CIA's emphasis there toward more traditional espionage - monitoring developments in the increasingly antagonistic government, seeking to suppress al-Qaeda's affiliate in the country and countering the influence of Iran.

In Afghanistan, the CIA is expected to have a more aggressively operational role. U.S. officials said the agency's paramilitary capabilities are seen as tools for keeping the Taliban off balance, protecting the government in Kabul and preserving access to Afghan airstrips that enable armed CIA drones to hunt al-Qaeda remnants in Pakistan.

As President Obama seeks to end a decade of large-scale conflict, the emerging assignments for the CIA suggest it will play a significant part in the administration's search for ways to exert U.S. power in more streamlined and surgical ways.

As a result, the CIA station in Kabul - which at one point had responsibility for as many as 1,000 agency employees in Afghanistan - is expected to expand its collaboration with Special Operations forces when the drawdown of conventional troops begins.

Navy Adm. William McRaven, the Special Operations commander who directed the raid that killed Osama bin Laden last year, signaled the transition during remarks Tuesday in Washington. "I have no doubt that Special Operations will be the last to leave Afghanistan," McRaven said.

The CIA declined to comment. But current and former intelligence officials quibbled with the accuracy of McRaven's assertion. "I would say the agency will be the last to leave," said a CIA veteran with extensive experience in Afghanistan and Pakistan. "We were the first to get there" after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, the former official said.
[...]
The agency controls counterterrorism pursuit teams made up of dozens of Afghan fighters funded and trained by the CIA. The CIA has largely bankrolled and built the Afghan intelligence service. And the agency maintains a constellation of bases along the border with Pakistan.

Some of those sites are likely to be closed, current and former officials said. The 2010 death of seven CIA employees and contractors in a suicide bombing by a double agent at a CIA base in Khost province underscored the vulnerability of such remote outposts. As conventional forces depart, officials said, the agency will probably concentrate more of its remaining employees at compounds in Kabul and at the Bagram air base north of the capital.

As a result, more territory may be ceded to the Taliban. "We can lose the countryside, but I don't think we're going to lose Kabul and Bagram," said the former senior CIA officer, who added that the agency could end up adding paramilitary personnel in Afghanistan as the size of the U.S. military deployment shrinks.

The Obama administration has said it plans to pull about 22,000 troops out of Afghanistan by September, reducing the overall U.S. force to 68,000. Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta fanned speculation that the drawdown could be accelerated by saying last week that the United States hoped to end its combat mission in Afghanistan by mid-2013.
[...]
The agency controls counterterrorism pursuit teams made up of dozens of Afghan fighters funded and trained by the CIA. The CIA has largely bankrolled and built the Afghan intelligence service. And the agency maintains a constellation of bases along the border with Pakistan.

Some of those sites are likely to be closed, current and former officials said. The 2010 death of seven CIA employees and contractors in a suicide bombing by a double agent at a CIA base in Khost province underscored the vulnerability of such remote outposts. As conventional forces depart, officials said, the agency will probably concentrate more of its remaining employees at compounds in Kabul and at the Bagram air base north of the capital.

As a result, more territory may be ceded to the Taliban. "We can lose the countryside, but I don't think we're going to lose Kabul and Bagram," said the former senior CIA officer, who added that the agency could end up adding paramilitary personnel in Afghanistan as the size of the U.S. military deployment shrinks.

The Obama administration has said it plans to pull about 22,000 troops out of Afghanistan by September, reducing the overall U.S. force to 68,000. Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta fanned speculation that the drawdown could be accelerated by saying last week that the United States hoped to end its combat mission in Afghanistan by mid-2013.
[...]
At the high point of the U.S. military surge in Iraq, the CIA had as many as 700 employees in the country. Most worked in Baghdad's Green Zone, but hundreds were also scattered across safe houses in population centers and regional U.S. military outposts.

The departure of U.S. forces in December has forced the agency to shutter many of those facilities, according to former CIA officials who said the agency's presence has probably been reduced by half.

"We had bases all over the country, but that's not the case anymore," said a second former CIA officer who served in Iraq. The development is likely to hamper intelligence collection, the former officer said. "You can't put hundreds of people in the embassy and expect that to be your platform in Iraq."

3) Former spymaster says Israel does not face existential threat, implying from Iran
AP, February 8, 2012
http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/middle-east/former-spymaster-says-israel-does-not-face-existential-threat-implying-from-iran/2012/02/08/gIQAr0ijyQ_story.html

Tel Aviv, Israel - A former Israeli spymaster who has accused the country's leaders of barreling toward a rash military strike in Iran says Israel's survival is not at risk.

The assessment by Meir Dagan appeared to put him at odds with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has repeatedly warned that a nuclear-armed Iran could put Israel's existence in jeopardy.

Dagan made his observation Wednesday at a time of mounting speculation that Israel is planning to attack Iranian nuclear facilities in the next few months.

Dagan spoke at the launch of a political reform movement. Responding to an audience question, he said he does not think Israel faces an "existential threat." He did not explicitly mention Iran, but such language in Israel generally refers to Iran.

4) Signs build that Iran sanctions disrupt food imports
Niluksi Koswanage and Parisa Hafezi, Reuters, February 8, 2012
http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/02/08/us-iran-asia-trade-idUSTRE8170Q420120208

Kuala Lumpur/Tehran - More evidence emerged of the crippling impact of new sanctions on Iran, with international traders saying Tehran is having trouble buying rice, cooking oil and other staples to feed its 74 million people weeks before an election.

New U.S. financial sanctions imposed since the beginning of this year to punish Tehran over its nuclear program are playing havoc with Iran's ability to buy imports and receive payment for its oil exports, commodities traders said.

Iran denies that sanctions are causing serious harm to its economy, but Reuters investigations in recent days with commodities traders around the globe show serious disruptions to its imports. That is having a real impact on the streets of Iran, where prices for basic foodstuffs are soaring.
[...]
Traders in Asia told Reuters on Tuesday that Malaysian exporters of palm oil - the source of half of Iran's consumption of a food staple used to make margarine and confectionary - had halted sales to Iran because they could not get paid.

That followed news on Monday that Iran had defaulted on payments for rice from top supplier India, and news last week that Ukrainian shipments of maize had been cut nearly in half.

Rice is one of the main staples of the Iranian diet. With the rial currency plummeting, prices have more than doubled to $5 a kilo at bazaars in Iran from about $2 last year.

Maize is used primarily as animal feed, and the cost of meat has almost tripled to about $30 a kilo, beyond the budget of many middle class Iranian families.
[...]
But traders in Malaysia's capital Kuala Lumpur said palm oil shipments to Iran had largely been halted since late last year, after U.S. and European sanctions made it difficult for buyers to obtain letters of credit and make payments via middlemen in the United Arab Emirates.
[...]
A margarine factory owner in Iran, who asked not to be identified, said there was a shortage in supply of the oils needed to make margarine that could halt production soon.

"The way things are going, I predict that over next three to four months our edible oil will run out because of sanctions. It is no longer being imported and Iran itself cannot produce that much."

A Tehran market wholesaler said: "There is a big shortage of margarine in the market, due to drop in imports. What is being sold now is our previous stockpiles."

A default by Iranian buyers on purchases of 200,000 tonnes of Indian rice is potentially more crippling. The average Iranian eats 40 kilos of rice a year, 45 percent of which is imported, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. India is the main supplier.
[...]

5) Official: U.S. misjudged al-Qaida capabilities
Andrew Tilghman, Air Force Times, Tuesday Feb 7, 2012 17:44:18 EST
http://www.airforcetimes.com/news/2012/02/military-al-qaida-overestimated-020712w/

With the benefit of more than a decade of hindsight, America may have misjudged the true threat posed by al-Qaeda in the immediate aftermath of the 2001 terrorist attacks, a top Pentagon official said Tuesday.

"Al-Qaida wasn't as good as we thought they were on 9/11," said Michael A. Sheehan, the assistant secretary of defense for special operations and low intensity conflict.

"Quite frankly, we, the American people, were asleep at the switch, the U.S. government, prior to 9/11. So an organization that wasn't that good looked really great on 9/11," Sheehan told a room full of special operators in Washington who were attending an annual Special Operations, Low Intensity Conflict Planning Conference.

"Everyone looked to the skies every day after 9/11 and said, 'When is the next attack?' And it didn't come, partly because al-Qaida wasn't that capable. They didn't have other units here in the U.S. … Really, they didn't have the capability to conduct a second attack."
[...]


Iran
6) We Need to Talk to Iran, But How?
John Limbert, Foreign Policy, February 7, 2012
Thirty-two years of sanctions and bluster haven't worked. It's time to try something different.
http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2012/02/07/we_need_to_talk_to_iran_but_how

[John Limbert, a former hostage in Iran, is professor of Middle Eastern studies at the U.S. Naval Academy. In August 2010 he left the U.S. State Department, where he had served as deputy assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern affairs.]

It was easy enough to miss amid all the chest-thumping, threats, and talk of imminent strikes filling the airways, but last week, Iran signaled its willingness to restart talks with the P5+1 (the five U.N. Security Council members plus Germany) about its nuclear program. "We hope the P5+1 meeting will be held in near future," Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi said, as a group of inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) toured the country.

The last round of such talks ended inconclusively in Istanbul in January 2011, and it has taken more than a year to get close to a new meeting. Although no date has been set for the new talks, it's not too early to begin planning for how to make them more productive than past negotiations. Here are a few steps that could put us on a road more promising than the current ominous exchanges.

1. Don't Underestimate The Risk Of Miscalculation

It is tempting to dismiss the current talk of war as bluff and bluster. Although there is certainly much hot air in the current talk of Iran's closing the Strait of Hormuz or of imminent Israeli attacks on Iran, its very volume and frequency should make us worry. Each threat, each warning, each "red line" declared threatens to trap the parties in rhetorical corners. Even worse, a party might start believing its own defiant rhetoric and fail to distinguish between real and imaginary threats.

Complicating the issue is the fact that the United States and Iran have almost never spoken officially to each other in more than 30 years. Diplomats do not meet; officials do not talk; and military officials to not communicate. Instead of contact in which each side can listen to the other, take the measure of personalities, and look for underlying interests behind public positions, each side has imputed the worst possible motives to the other, creating an adversary both superhuman (devious, powerful, and implacably hostile) and subhuman (violent, irrational, and unthinking).

This mutual demonization -- born of fear and contempt -- raises the risk that a simple confrontation will lead to miscalculation and full-scale conflict. Put simply, today, in the absence of direct communication, it would be very difficult to de-escalate a potential incident in the Persian Gulf or Afghanistan. With each side assuming the worst about the other, a minor incident could lead both sides into military and political disaster.
[...]
If these future talks -- or any talks -- deal only with Iran's nuclear program, they will fail. For better or worse, the nuclear program has become highly symbolic for the Iranian side. Exchanges on the subject have become an exercise in "asymmetric negotiation," in which each side is talking about a different subject to a different audience for a different purpose. The failure of such exchanges is certain, with both sides inevitably claiming afterward, "We made proposals, but they were not listening."

For Americans, the concern is technical and legal matters such as the amounts of low- and high-enriched uranium, as well as the type and number of centrifuges in Iran's possession. For Iranians, the negotiations are about their country's place in the world community -- its rights, national honor, and respect. As such, any Iranian negotiator who compromises will immediately face accusations of selling out his country's dignity.
[...]
So if not nukes, what should the talks be about? If U.S. negotiators are interested in going beyond the most difficult issue on the table -- Iran's nuclear program -- and exploring areas where "yes" is possible, they need to be talking about Afghanistan, [Iraq], terrorism, drugs, piracy, and other areas where, in a rational world, there exists basis for agreement. Such will never happen, however, if U.S. and Iranian officials cannot talk to each other.
[...]
Although the Geneva deal eventually collapsed, those 2009 talks are still the only high-level meeting between U.S. and Iranian officials during Barack Obama's presidency. Iranians and Americans need to be talking again at that level, and about much more than just their nuclear programs. In the preparations for the next round of talks, the Americans -- through the designated P5+1 channel -- should make two points:

1. Burns looks forward to a bilateral meeting with his Iranian counterpart.

2. He is prepared to listen to Iranian concerns on all issues and explore areas of potential agreement and further discussion.
[...]
The United States should be wary of overplaying its hand -- something it often accuses the Iranians of doing. It should be realistic about the effectiveness of so-called "punishing" and "biting" sanctions. Just who gets punished and bitten by these measures? Such actions may have their effects, though perhaps not on those in Tehran whom America is seeking to influence.
[...]
Whenever negotiations occur, there will be no quick breakthroughs. If there is any progress, it will be slow, and it will measured in small achievements -- something not said, a handshake, an agreement to meet again, a small change in tone. Above all, what is needed is patience and forbearance. The Americans cannot simply throw up their hands and say, "Well, we tried, but they are just too irrational (or devious, or suspicious). Let's return to what we have always done." One thing is clear: Three decades of demonization and hostility have accomplished nothing. Both sides need to stop shouting and start listening.

Okinawa
7) Japan and United States Hope to Strike New Okinawa Deal
Martin Fackler, New York Times, February 8, 2012
http://www.nytimes.com/2012/02/09/world/asia/japan-in-talks-to-renegotiate-part-of-okinawa-deal-with-united-states.html

Tokyo - Japan and the United States said Wednesday that they were renegotiating a 2006 agreement aimed at removing 8,000 Marines from Okinawa, because the current terms have stalled their long-delayed departure until progress can be made on relocating an important Marine air station on the island, a chronic underlying irritant in relations between the two countries.

Both sides have agreed to rework part of the agreement that makes relocation of the air station, the Marine Corps Air Station Futenma, a precondition for moving the Marines, who along with their dependents were supposed to be transferred to Guam by 2014.

The large Marine contingent on Okinawa, a vestige of the American occupation of postwar Japan, has long been resented by the island's residents, and many Okinawans want the Futenma air station closed, not merely relocated. The requirement that the Marine presence cannot be reduced without progress on the air station has effectively frozen the entire deal.
[...]
The United States would keep a substantial military footprint on Okinawa even after the air station is relocated and the 8,000 Marines are removed. The island would still be host to 10,000 other Marines as well as the Air Force's Kadena Air Base, the largest United States airfield in the Asia-Pacific.

Still, by decoupling the removal of the Marines from the more contentious Futenma air station issue, Mr. Gemba said his government hopes to finally begin reducing the military burden on Okinawa, and assuaging the anger of Okinawan voters.

He said he did not yet have a timeframe for when the Marines would leave, though he said it would be "soon." Analysts said the transfer would likely take longer than the 2014 deadline of the current agreement, which was originally reached in 1996 following the gang rape of an Okinawan schoolgirl by American servicemen.

Mr. Gemba said Japan had taken the initiative in proposing Wednesday's plan out of a sense of responsibility for the delays, suggesting that they were due to Tokyo's inability to convince Okinawans to accept a new Marine air base. He said he hoped to end a festering problem that had threatened to cause a rift with the United States, Japan's postwar protector, with 50,000 military personnel in Japan. Those fears were reinforced in December, when the United States Congress, under pressure to cut the fiscal deficit, voted to cut $150 million from the 2012 budget to pay for the transfer to Guam.
[...]
"I think this will be a big step forward," Mr. Gemba said. "We are working hard to regain even a bit of the trust of the people of Okinawa."

That trust had been lost two years ago, when then Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama reneged on a campaign promise to move the Futenma base off the island. The resulting feelings of angry betrayal on the island have been so intense that most analysts and politicians now agree that the Futenma relocation plan is effectively dead.
[...]

-

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It would be better to trust in the program. As many people will rely on it.

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