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JFP 3/5: Obama rebuffs AIPAC on red line; US admits Afghan long-term agreement may fail
Submitted by Robert Naiman on 5 March 2012 - 9:01pm
Just Foreign Policy News, March 5, 2012
Obama rebuffs AIPAC on red line; US admits Afghan long-term agreement may fail
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I) Actions and Featured Articles
Have you called Congress yet against the Lieberman bill?
Earlier today, FCNL reported 1,316 calls so far to Senate & House offices urging them to oppose S Res 380 (Lieberman/Graham/Casey) & H Res 568 (Berman-Ros-Lehtinen companion bill) - which seek to pressure President Obama to lower the threshold for a military attack on Iran - using the toll free number that FCNL established: 1-855-686-6927. A particularly great day to call is Tuesday - that's the day that thousands of AIPAC activists will be on the Hill, lobbying Congress to lower the threshold for war. Watch your email for an alert Tuesday.
The Real News: Occupy AIPAC Opposes War and Sanctions Against Iran
The Real News story on Occupy AIPAC has footage from Saturday's Iran panel moderated by Just Foreign Policy, which starts at about the one minute mark. Sanam Anderlini from MIT, Jamal Abdi from NIAC, Kate Gould from FCNL, on what's wrong with sanctions and the danger that the Lieberman bill will push us further towards war.
Here's Kate Gould's talk, focusing on Congress and the Lieberman bill:
Trita Parsi: Obama Draws Red Lines and Distinctions on Iran in AIPAC Speech
While expressing his sympathy and friendship with Israel, Obama did not yield his red line at AIPAC. With the backing of the US Military, he has stood firm behind weaponization rather than weapons capability as the red line.
NIAC: Mr. President, Say No to War of Choice with Iran
As President Obama meets with Prime Minister Netanyahu, NIAC puts a full page ad in the Washington Post, with retired U.S. military leaders calling on President Obama to resist pressure for a war of choice with Iran.
Video: Jewish Activist to AIPAC: Stop Silencing Dissent!
Liza Behrendt, 22 year old member of Young Jewish and Proud, the youth wing of Jewish Voice for Peace, stood up during an AIPAC breakout session called "The Struggle to Secure Israel on Campus" to call attention to the silencing of Palestinians- and young Jews who support them - on U.S. campuses. Liza stood on stage and unfurled a banner that read, "Settlements Betray Jewish Values" and "Tzedek Tzedek Tirdof," the Jewish text from Deuteronomy meaning "Justice, Justice, You Shall Pursue."
Juan Cole: Top Ten Dangers for Obama of Iran Sanctions on behalf of Israel
Sanctions threaten civilians; spark reprisals; strengthen authoritarianism; blockades are illegal; are a "channel-changer" from justice for the Palestinians.
Paul Pillar: We Can Live with a Nuclear Iran
Fears of a bomb in Tehran's hands are overhyped, and a war to prevent it would be a disaster.
1) President Obama used his AIPAC speech to warn against the "loose talk of war" that could serve to speed Iran toward a nuclear weapon, the New York Times reports. Obama declared that he would not tolerate a nuclear-armed Iran and would act - with military force, if necessary - to prevent that from happening. But he made it clear he did not believe a strike on Iran would serve the interests of the U.S. or Israel. For Mr. Obama, the speech was an effort to demonstrate his commitment to Israel's security without signaling U.S. support for a pre-emptive strike against Iran, the NYT says.
Israeli officials are demanding that Iran agree to halt its uranium enrichment before the West resumes negotiations with Iran, the NYT says. The White House has rejected that demand, arguing that Iran would never agree to a blanket ban upfront.
2) The U.S. seems to be acknowledging for the first time that negotiations with Afghanistan may not produce a long-term agreement, as negotiations falter over Afghan demands to halt night raids and transfer detention authority, the New York Times reports. The U.S. - facing constant criticism from Karzai, a fractured Afghan political landscape and the increased targeting of its soldiers - appears to be considering other options for bases in the region, the NYT says. And it has sought out alternative ways to confront Al Qaeda's presence in the Afghan-Pakistani border areas, once a prime element of a long-term relationship.
3) World Bank presidential candidate Jeff Sachs says the World Bank could help lead "a tremendous decline in infant, child and maternal mortality" if it would narrow its focus, the Guardian reports. Development advocates are deeply skeptical about Larry Summers, forever tainted by his vocal support for financial deregulation when he was Bill Clinton's economic adviser, and Hillary Clinton, since she is so closely associated with promoting US foreign policy, the Guardian says.
4) An AP investigation of CIA drone strikes in Pakistan shows it's possible to do what the US has so far refused to do: meaningfully investigate claims of civilian casualties and publicly evaluate why those killed were targeted, write Erica Gaston and Christopher Rogers in Foreign Policy. The AP report suggests that the U.S. is using loose "guilt by association" standards to define who is a "militant" - and therefore a "legitimate" target - looser than the standards of international law, they write.
5) Israel's 1981 strike on Iraq's Osirak nuclear reactor is often cited in support of an Israeli attack on Iran's nuclear facilities, notes former deputy assistant secretary of defense for the Middle East Colin Kahl in the Washington Post. That's learning the wrong lesson, Kahl writes. The Osirak strike caused Iraq to double down on its nuclear program, which would likely have resulted in a nuclear weapon had Iraq not brought down the wrath of the international community on itself by its invasion of Kuwait. The Osirik strike convinced Iraq to pursue a nuclear weapon and meant that only invasion would stop it from doing so.
6) An alliance of 200 US aid groups has written to the head of the CIA to protest against its use of a doctor to help track Osama bin Laden, linking the agency's ploy to the polio crisis in Pakistan, the Guardian reports. The country recorded the highest number of polio cases in the world last year, a health catastrophe that threatens to spiral out of control.
7) Costa Rican President Laura Chinchilla has added her voice to the Latin American presidents calling for a debate on drug legalization, Bloomberg reports. Drug legalization merits a "serious" debate as a solution to the crime and violence coursing through the region even if it runs up against U.S. opposition, Chinchilla said.
8) Lobbyists for "vulture funds" who bought Argentine debt for cheap and are now pressing for full repayment are lobbying Western governments to use their power to aid the vulture funds, Reuters reports. [The article fails to note the remarkable fact that Nancy Soderberg, co-chair of the vulture funds' lobbying group Argentina Task Force America, is also the President of the Connect US fund, a U.S. NGO which "promotes responsible U.S. global engagement on … development" - JFP.]
9) Environmentalists have a stake in oil-producing countries' efforts to wrest control of their resources from multinational oil companies, argues Mark Weisbrot in the Guardian. This is because these countries seek to reduce oil production to raise the price, and environmentalists also want to reduce oil production and raise the price, since that makes alternatives to fossil fuels more economically competitive.
1) 'Loose Talk of War' Only Helps Iran, President Says
Helene Cooper, New York Times, March 4, 2012
Washington - As Republicans on the campaign trail ramped up their support for Israel in a possible military strike on Iran, President Obama used a speech before a pro-Israel lobbying group on Sunday to warn against the "loose talk of war" that could serve to speed Iran toward a nuclear weapon.
In a forceful address to the group, the influential American Israel Public Affairs Committee, Mr. Obama declared that he would not tolerate a nuclear-armed Iran and would act - with military force, if necessary - to prevent that from happening.
But he made it clear that he did not believe that a strike on Iran would serve the interests of either the United States or Israel. And he chided his Republican critics for, as he described it, putting politics ahead of American national security interests.
"Already, there is too much loose talk of war," Mr. Obama said. "Over the last few weeks such talk has only benefited the Iranian government by driving up the price of oil, which they depend on to fund their nuclear program.
For Mr. Obama, the speech, before some of Israel's loudest and staunchest supporters in the United States, was a political high-wire act, an effort to demonstrate his commitment to Israel's security without signaling American support for a pre-emptive strike against Iran. And it was an effort to confront the Republican presidential candidates who have turned the Iranian nuclear issue into the top item in their litmus test for demonstrating support for Israel.
Even as Mr. Obama was giving his keynote address to the Aipac conference, Newt Gingrich, the former House speaker, was questioning the president's Iran strategy on the Sunday talk shows. "We're being played for fools," Mr. Gingrich said on "State of the Union" on CNN. "Israel is such a small country; it is so compact that two or three nuclear weapons would be equivalent to a second Holocaust."
After Mr. Obama's speech, Mitt Romney, the former Massachusetts governor, said at a campaign stop near Atlanta, "If Barack Obama gets re-elected, Iran will have a nuclear weapon, and the world will change if that's the case." Mr. Gingrich, Mr. Romney and Rick Santorum are also scheduled to address Aipac this week.
Mr. Obama, who has often lamented the United States' invasion of Iraq in 2003, made reference to European and American intelligence assessments that have found no evidence that Iran has decided to pursue a nuclear weapon. Recent assessments by American spy agencies have also reaffirmed intelligence findings in 2007 and 2010 that concluded that Iran had abandoned its nuclear weapons program.
"The United States and Israel both assess that Iran does not yet have a nuclear weapon," Mr. Obama said. He also promised vigilance to make sure that Iran's civilian nuclear agenda did not turn into a weapons program.
A European official closely involved in the diplomatic efforts on Iran said on Sunday that "while the intentions of the Iranian regime remain opaque, we don't believe they have made the decision to weaponize."
"There are a lot of moving parts," the official said, speaking on grounds of anonymity. "Meanwhile, the war drumbeat is beating louder in Washington."
Israeli officials are demanding that Iran agree to halt its uranium enrichment, and that the suspension be verified by United Nations inspectors, before the West resumes negotiations with Tehran on its nuclear program. The White House has rejected that demand, arguing that Iran would never agree to a blanket ban upfront.
Last month, Iran abandoned preconditions for resuming international negotiations over its nuclear programs that the West had considered unacceptable. The United States and other countries involved in the negotiations - Britain, China, France, Germany and Russia - are now considering their response to an Iranian letter that for the first time in more than a year appeared to open the door for resuming talks.
Diplomats involved in the negotiations, wary that the Iranians might be trying to stall, are now discussing how to present a concrete set of demands that Iran must first meet.
2) U.S.-Afghanistan Talks Falter Despite Leeway on Detention Facilities
Alissa J. Rubin, New York Times, March 4, 2012
Kabul, Afghanistan - The prospects for a long-term American strategic partnership with Afghanistan appeared to be dimming over the weekend, as negotiations foundered despite a new American willingness to move up the transfer of detention centers to the Afghans to as soon as six months from now, Afghan and American officials said.
The proposed timeline would be a substantial concession from an American negotiation position that even just weeks ago put off a transfer into the indefinite future, basing it on the success of training an Afghan guard force capable of running the complex American detention facilities. However, President Hamid Karzai has stated repeatedly that he wants an immediate transfer of all detainees to Afghan control.
In public statements, Afghan and American officials avoided saying that the talks were dead. But in the past few weeks, statements have taken on an increasingly last-chance tone as outrage over the burning of Korans by American soldiers has appeared to harden the differences between the longtime, if always wary, allies.
The strategic partnership talks have sought to lay out an American commitment to continue aid and support to the Afghan government for the next 10 years. It has been expected that it would be followed by a status-of-forces agreement that would define a potential long-term troop presence in Afghanistan after the 2014 withdrawal deadline.
In a carefully worded statement, however, the Americans raised for the first time the possibility that there would be no partnership agreement at all.
"We have always said it is more important to get the right agreement than to get an agreement," said Gavin Sundwall, the American Embassy spokesman in Kabul.
In fact, in past public statements, the Americans said among other things that it was more important "to get the right agreement than a fast agreement," but they had not publicly raised the possibility that there might not be an agreement at all.
Mr. Karzai's insistence on the complete cessation of night raids is another difficulty for the Americans, who have long insisted that they are critical to keeping the insurgency under control. The Americans and Afghans have said publicly that an increasing number of night raids are being done primarily by Afghan forces, but that some are still under American control and will transition more slowly.
The tension in the talks come as both countries appear to be re-evaluating their relations.
The United States - facing constant criticism from Mr. Karzai, a fractured Afghan political landscape and the increased targeting of its soldiers - appears to be considering other options for bases in the region. And it has sought out alternative ways to confront Al Qaeda's presence in the Afghan-Pakistani border areas, once a prime element of a long-term relationship.
The Afghans, affronted by the American effort to move ahead on peace talks with the Taliban without the Afghan government's initial full involvement, have been reaching out to Pakistan and Iran, holding a meeting with them two weeks ago. Both countries are antagonistic to American interests in Afghanistan and oppose any long-term American bases in the country.
Mr. Karzai's insistence that the United States hand over detainees and detention facilities is popular with the Afghan public. That is both because the United States detains Afghans indefinitely without charge and because there is still a popular image dating from the early years of the war of American detention facilities as abusive places.
However, the challenges to a transfer are enormous, presenting serious security risks both for the Afghan government and American troops. Many of the estimated 3,200 people being detained cannot be tried under Afghan law because the evidence does not meet the legal standards required to be admitted in Afghan courts. Therefore, those people, including some suspected insurgents believed likely to return to the fight if released, would probably have to be released because Afghanistan has no law that allows for indefinite detention for national security reasons.
3) Celebrity economist Jeffrey Sachs bids to head World Bank
Jeffrey Sachs is tipped to be the next president of the World Bank, and pledges to tackle global poverty
Heather Stewart, The Observer, Saturday 3 March 2012
Leading the crusade against global poverty in 2012 might seem a thankless task, as austerity-racked taxpayers in the west lose sympathy with needy foreigners and China bestrides Africa brandishing its chequebook.
But Jeffrey Sachs, the US celebrity economist, has already put his hat in the ring for the soon-to-be-vacant post of president of the World Bank – and he's enthusiastic about the challenge.
"This is potentially a time of remarkable breakthroughs in development," he says. "We're seeing so many demonstrations and so many success stories. There are clusters of knowhow and technology that are extremely powerful."
As one example, he says new developments in healthcare mean that "we are on the edge, if we manage and implement it properly, of a tremendous decline in infant, child and maternal mortality".
What's required, he says, is not expanding the World Bank's reach – its 9,000 employees already operate in more than 100 countries and it has lent more than $103bn since the financial crisis in 2008 – but narrowing its focus, rolling out new technologies and spreading development best practice.
Long before the current incumbent, Robert Zoellick, announced last month that he would step down this summer, two names had been widely suggested as Washington's choice for his successor: the former treasury secretary Larry Summers and secretary of state Hillary Clinton.
Development advocates are deeply sceptical about both: Summers will forever be tainted by his vocal support for financial deregulation when he was Bill Clinton's economic adviser, while Hillary Clinton is so closely associated with promoting US foreign policy – it is her day job, after all – that she might struggle to endear herself to China, India and the bank's other increasingly powerful middle-income shareholders.
4) The 'willy-nilly' drone doctrine
Erica Gaston and Christopher Rogers, Foreign Policy, Thursday, March 1, 2012
[Gaston is a human rights lawyer for the Open Society Foundations specializing in civilian casualty issues. Rogers is also a human rights lawyer for the Open Society Foundations specializing in human rights and conflict in Afghanistan and Pakistan.]
Last weekend, the Associated Press released a study of ten drone strikes in Pakistan in the last 18 months. This is the most ambitious journalistic investigation of drones so far, which also does what the Obama administration has so far failed to do: to meaningfully investigate claims of civilian casualties and publicly evaluate why those killed were targeted.
The study found that at least 138 militants were killed, while the remaining 56 were civilians and tribal police. It is difficult to extrapolate much from ten cases. But if the same pattern held true for other strikes, the civilian casualty rate would be far less than is commonly asserted in Pakistani public discourse -- but also far higher than the Obama Administration has suggested previously. Senior counterterrorism official John Brennan has in the past suggested the civilian casualty rate was zero, whereas President Obama has described it as "few." In contrast, Pakistani public discourse often suggests that most casualties of drone strikes are civilians. The AP article quotes prominent Pakistani public figure Imran Khan on drones: "Those who lie to the nation after every drone attack and say terrorists were killed should be ashamed."
The coverage of the AP study so far (and even the headline of the story itself) has largely focused on the discrepancy between the AP's finding that mostly militants were killed in the drone strikes it examined, and the common assertion in Pakistani media and politics that drones are primarily killing innocent civilians. Inflated civilian casualty claims due to drones are certainly a problem in Pakistan. They not only distort public discourse and policy-making, but they also inhibit sound analysis of what is causing civilian casualties, and possible steps to prevent and mitigate civilian harm in the future. However, reading the AP reporting as only exposing the hot air behind bogus civilian casualty claims misses the real contribution this study makes to the overall debate about drones.
The AP study is novel because it is based on something more substantial than the whispers of anonymous officials in the halls of Islamabad and Washington. AP took the time (and risk) to actually speak to those who knew the individuals killed, who saw the strike take place, and in some cases buried family members.
What's more, contrary to those who suggest that any ground reports will be hopelessly compromised by propaganda and anti-American bias, what the villagers interviewed told the AP smacks of truthfulness. If the local villagers were motivated to lie to inflate civilian casualties -- as one of the anonymously cited intelligence officials in the AP story seems to suggest -- they certainly gave AP the wrong impression. According to the 80 villagers AP interviewed, militants were the only victims in six of the ten strikes examined.
And while the AP found that militants were killed more frequently than civilians, it did find civilian casualties in a number of strikes. This begs the question: if the AP is doing assessments like this, why isn't the U.S. government? To the best of our knowledge, U.S. review of drone strikes consists of video footage before, during, and after the incident. For example, following one strike in which AP found that three women and two children were killed, the anonymous intelligence officials' rebuttal was that women and children had not been observed prior to the strike. Certainly no public investigations of drone strike cases -- of the type that typically follow allegations of civilian casualties by the U.S. military in Afghanistan -- have been forthcoming.
This is problematic because, while video surveillance can be an aide to investigation, it often presents an incomplete picture. Even with the best intelligence in the world, the conflict in the tribal areas of Pakistan is murky, as are the activities and affiliation of individuals operating within it. Across the border in Afghanistan, where troops have years of experience with the terrain and the communities, and greater field intelligence and access, mistakes are regularly made. The Administration's claims that such mistakes are almost impossible to avoid, or its attempts to dismiss claims to the contrary as propaganda alone, willfully disregards all the military has learned in its past ten years in Afghanistan and Iraq.
In addition, video surveillance is often not enough to determine who is a civilian or who is a combatant under international law. Under international law, members of an armed group that is party to the conflict, or civilians who directly participate in hostilities can be directly targeted. While there are ongoing international legal debates about what constitutes "direct participation," the provision of food, shelter or medical care to one of the parties to a conflict, or mere association with one warring party does not constitute participation.
In Afghanistan, our organization, Open Society Afghanistan, has had more access to investigate such cases, and found that civilians have sometimes been killed or detained because their proximity to insurgent groups led to a sort of "guilt by association." Studies like the AP report raise concerns that the United States may be applying the same broad standards for direct participation in Pakistan. In one strike documented by the AP, 38 civilians and tribal police were reportedly killed at a public jirga -- a level of civilian harm that U.S. intelligence officials disputed on the grounds that "the group targeted was heavily armed, some of its members were connected to al-Qaida," according to the article. The AP analysis of the incident based on villagers' accounts found that some militants were present but that the majority was comprised of civilians, tribal elders, and tribal police -- many of whom may well have been armed given the cultural context and insecurity in Waziristan.
The lack of transparency in the Obama's Administrations' drone policy have made it impossible to know how the U.S. government chooses its targets in any given incident, and thus difficult to get any real traction on important questions of civilian harm. The Obama Administration's response to such concerns has ranged from outright denial to mere assertions that its strikes comply with international law (for example, in speeches by Legal Advisor Harold Koh and counter-terrorism advisor John Brennan). In a recent chat forum, President Obama dismissed the potential civilian harm from drones, as "not huge" concerns and assured those on the chat room that the U.S. use of drones was "judicious" and not "willy-nilly." Such remarks were the most candid, but also disturbingly casual in addressing these critical concerns.
The AP's findings starkly illustrate where the Obama Administration is falling short on public accountability for civilian casualties. At the same time, reaction to the AP report demonstrates how the debate over the percentage of civilian casualties can distract attention from equally critical issues, specifically the complete lack of transparency and how the U.S. distinguishes between militants and civilians. The Administration's closeted response to serious public concerns about its drone program does not befit its stated democratic values. Given the prominence of drones to U.S. national security policy, and the demonstrated consequences of these strikes, we need to move beyond the "willy-nilly" standard of killing.
5) Before attacking Iran, Israel should learn from its 1981 strike on Iraq
Colin Kahl,Washington Post, March 2, 2012
[Kahl is associate professor at Georgetown University's Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service and a senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security. From 2009 to 2011, he was the deputy assistant secretary of defense for the Middle East.]
On June 7, 1981, eight Israeli F-16 fighter jets, protected by six F-15 escorts, dropped 16 2,000-pound bombs on the nearly completed Osirak nuclear reactor at the Tuwaitha complex in Iraq. Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin and other prominent members of the government such as Ariel Sharon saw the reactor as central to Iraqi President Saddam Hussein's quest to build nuclear weapons, and they believed that it posed an existential threat to Israel.
The timing of the strike was justified by intelligence reports suggesting that Osirak would soon become operational. Two days later, Begin explained the raid to the public: "We chose this moment: now, not later, because later may be too late, perhaps forever. And if we stood by idly, two, three years, at the most four years, and Saddam Hussein would have produced his three, four, five bombs . . . another Holocaust would have happened in the history of the Jewish people."
Three decades later, eerily similar arguments can be heard regarding the threat of a nuclear-armed Iran. Last May, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahutold a joint session of the U.S. Congress that "the hinge of history may soon turn, for the greatest danger of all could soon be upon us: a militant Islamic regime armed with nuclear weapons." In a Feb. 2 speech in Israel, Deputy Prime Minister Ehud Barak channeled Begin in making the case for possible military action against Iran, arguing that "those who say 'later' may find that later is too late." And late last month, Barak sought to discredit Israeli President Shimon Peres's reported opposition to a possible strike on Iran by pointing to his dissent during the 1981 attack.
For Israelis considering a strike on Iran, Osirak seems like a model for effective preventive war. After all, Hussein never got the bomb, and if Israel was able to brush back one enemy hell-bent on its destruction, it can do so again. But a closer look at the Osirak episode, drawing on recent academic research and memoirs of individuals involved with Iraq's program, argues powerfully against an Israeli strike on Iran today.
To begin with, Hussein was not on the brink of a bomb in 1981. By the late 1970s, he thought Iraq should develop nuclear weapons at some point, and he hoped to use the Osirak reactor to further that goal. But new evidence suggests that Hussein had not decided to launch a full-fledged weapons program prior to the Israeli strike. According to Norwegian scholar Målfrid Braut-Hegghammer, a leading authority on the Iraqi program, "on the eve of the attack on Osirak . . . Iraq's pursuit of a nuclear weapons capability was both directionless and disorganized."
Moreover, as Emory University political scientist Dan Reiter details in a 2005 study, the Osirak reactor was not well designed to efficiently produce weapons-grade plutonium. If Hussein had decided to use Osirak to develop nuclear weapons and Iraqi scientists somehow evaded detection, it would still have taken several years - perhaps well into the 1990s - to produce enough plutonium for a single bomb. And even with sufficient fissile material, Iraq would have had to design and construct the weapon itself, a process that hadn't started before Israel attacked.
The risks of a near-term Iraqi breakthrough were further undercut by the presence of French technicians at Osirak, as well as regular inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency. As a result, any significant diversion of highly enriched uranium fuel or attempts to produce fissionable plutonium would probably have been detected.
By demonstrating Iraq's vulnerability, the attack on Osirak actually increased Hussein's determination to develop a nuclear deterrent and provided Iraq's scientists an opportunity to better organize the program. The Iraqi leader devoted significantly more resources toward pursuing nuclear weapons after the Israeli assault. As Reiter notes, "the Iraqi nuclear program increased from a program of 400 scientists and $400 million to one of 7,000 scientists and $10 billion."
Iraq's nuclear efforts also went underground. Hussein allowed the IAEA to verify Osirak's destruction, but then he shifted from a plutonium strategy to a more dispersed and ambitious uranium-enrichment strategy. This approach relied on undeclared sites, away from the prying eyes of inspectors, and aimed to develop local technology and expertise to reduce the reliance on foreign suppliers of sensitive technologies. When inspectors finally gained access after the 1991 Persian Gulf War, they were shocked by the extent of Iraq's nuclear infrastructure and how close Hussein had gotten to a bomb.
Ultimately, Israel's 1981 raid didn't end Iraq's drive to develop nuclear weapons. It took the destruction of the Gulf War, followed by more than a decade of sanctions, containment, inspections, no-fly zones and periodic bombing - not to mention the 2003 U.S. invasion - to eliminate the program. The international community got lucky: Had Hussein not been dumb enough to invade Kuwait in 1990, he probably would have gotten the bomb sometime by the mid-1990s.
Iran's nuclear program is more advanced than Hussein's was in 1981. But the Islamic republic is still not on the cusp of entering the nuclear club. As the IAEA has documented, Iran is putting all the pieces in place to have the option to develop nuclear weapons at some point. Were Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei to decide tomorrow to go for a bomb, Iran probably has the technical capability to produce a testable nuclear device in about a year and a missile-capable device in several years. But as Director of National Intelligence James Clapper told the Senate Arms Services Committee on Feb. 16, it does not appear that Khamenei has made this decision.
Moreover, Khamenei is unlikely to dash for a bomb in the near future because IAEA inspectors would probably detect Iranian efforts to divert low-enriched uranium and enrich it to weapons-grade level at declared facilities. Such brazen acts would trigger a draconian international response. Until Iran can pursue such efforts more quickly or in secret - which could be years from now - Khamenei is unlikely to act.
Should Israel rush to war, Iran might follow Hussein's example and rebuild its nuclear program in a way that is harder to detect and more costly to stop. And while there seems to be consensus among Iranians that the country has a right to a robust civilian nuclear program, there is no domestic agreement yet on the pursuit of nuclear weapons. Even the supreme leader has hedged his bets, insisting that Iran has the right to pursue technological advances with possible military applications, while repeatedly declaring that possession or use of nuclear weapons would be a "grave sin" against Islam.
After an Israeli strike, that internal debate would be settled - hard-line arguments would win the day.
Short of invasion and regime change - outcomes beyond Israel's capabilities - it would be nearly impossible to prevent Iran from rebuilding its program. Iran's nuclear infrastructure is much more advanced, dispersed and protected, and is less reliant on foreign supplies of key technology, than was the case with Iraq's program in 1981.
Although Barak often warns that Israel must strike before Iran's facilities are so protected that they enter a "zone of immunity" from Israeli military action, Iran would be likely to reconstitute its program in the very sites - and probably new clandestine ones - that are invulnerable to Israeli attack. An Israeli strike would also end any prospect of Iran cooperating with the IAEA, seriously undermining the international community's ability to detect rebuilding efforts.
Barely a week after the Osirak raid, Begin told CBS News that the attack "will be a precedent for every future government in Israel." Yet, if history repeats itself, an Israeli attack would result in a wounded adversary more determined than ever to get a nuclear bomb. And then the world would face the same terrible choices it ultimately faced with Iraq: decades of containment to stall nuclear rebuilding efforts, invasion and occupation - or acquiescence to an implacable nuclear-armed foe.
6) CIA tactics to trap Bin Laden linked with polio crisis, say aid groups
CIA's ploy to use a fake vaccination scheme to track down bin Laden has increased distrust of polio drops in Pakistan
Saeed Shah, Guardian, Friday 2 March 2012 11.57 EST http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2012/mar/02/aid-groups-cia-osama-bin-laden-polio-crisis
Islamabad - An alliance of 200 US aid groups has written to the head of the CIA to protest against its use of a doctor to help track Osama bin Laden, linking the agency's ploy to the polio crisis in Pakistan.
The country recorded the highest number of polio cases in the world last year, a health catastrophe that threatens to spiral out of control.
In July the Guardian revealed that the CIA used a Pakistani doctor, Shakil Afridi, in the hunt for Bin Laden. In the weeks before the 3 May operation to kill Bin Laden, Afridi was instructed to set up a fake vaccination scheme in the town of Abbottabad, in order to gain entry to the house where it was suspected that the al-Qaida chief was living, and extract DNA samples from his family members.
However the ruse has provided seeming proof for a widely held belief in Pakistan, fuelled by religious extremists, that polio drops are a western conspiracy to sterilise the population.
"The CIA's use of the cover of humanitarian activity for this purpose casts doubt on the intentions and integrity of all humanitarian actors in Pakistan, thereby undermining the international humanitarian community's efforts to eradicate polio, provide critical health services, and extend life-saving assistance during times of crisis like the floods seen in Pakistan over the last two years," the InterAction coalition wrote to the CIA director, David Petraeus.
The group, which includes the International Rescue Committee, Mercy Corps and Care, said that as well as damaging the drive against polio and other health problems in Pakistan, the CIA's tactics had endangered the lives of foreign aid workers. In recent months, at least five international NGO workers, including a British doctor, have been kidnapped by presumed Islamic extremists.
"The CIA-led immunisation campaign compromises the perception of US NGOs as independent actors focused on a common good, and casts suspicion on their humanitarian workers. The CIA's actions may also jeopardise the lives of humanitarian aid workers in Pakistan," the letter said.
7) Costa Rica Pres. Wants Drug Legalization Debate
Adam Williams and Flavia Krause-Jackson, Bloomberg, March 01, 2012
Drug legalization in Central America merits a "serious" debate as a solution to the crime and violence coursing through the region even if it runs up against U.S. opposition, said Costa Rican President Laura Chinchilla.
"If we keep doing what we have been when the results today are worse than 10 years ago, we'll never get anywhere and could wind up like Mexico or Colombia," Chinchilla said yesterday in an interview in San Jose.
While U.S. opposition to legalization is well-known, Central Americans "have the right to discuss it" because "we are paying a very high price," said Chinchilla, 52.
8) Vultures swoop on Argentina
Alan Wheatley, Reuters, February 29, 2012 @ 6:14 pm
Holdouts against a settlement of Argentina's defaulted debt are opening a new front in their campaign for a juicy payout more than a decade after the biggest sovereign default on record.
Lobbyists for some of the investors who hold about $6 billion in Argentine debt are in London to persuade Britain to follow the lead of the United States, which last September decided to vote against new Inter American Development Bank and World Bank loans for Buenos Aires.
Washington believes Argentina, a member of the Group of 20, is not meeting its international obligations on a number of fronts. Apart from the dispute with private bond holders, Argentina has yet to agree with the Paris Club of official creditors on a rescheduling of about $9 billion of debt. It has refused to let the International Monetary Fund conduct a routine health check of the economy. And it has failed to comply with the judgments of a World Bank arbitration panel.
In short, Argentina is not playing by the rules of the international game, says Rob Shapiro, a former U.S. under secretary of commerce, who is now co-chair of the Argentina Task Force America.
According to its website, the group's aim is to "vigorously pursue" a "just and fair" reconciliation of the Argentine government's default in December 2001 on some $95 billion of debt.
Nancy Soderberg, the group's other-co chair and another senior official from the Clinton administration, added: "We're not trying to isolate Argentina. We just want them to be responsible." She penned a piece in Britain's Daily Telegraph on Wednesday to make her case.
[Soderberg's involvement as co-chair of "Argentina Task Force America" - a political front group for the vulture funds who want the U.S. government to squeeze Argentina so the vulture funds can get more money on the bad debt that they bought on the cheap - is remarkable, given that she is President of the Connect US fund, a U.S. NGO which "promotes responsible U.S. global engagement on … development."- JFP.]
9) Venezuela's Opec stand is a win for climate change campaigners
Environmentalists who support developing countries' fight against polluters should also back their struggle for control of oil
Mark Weisbrot, guardian.co.uk, Friday 2 March 2012 17.54 EST http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/cifamerica/2012/mar/02/venezuela-opec-stand-win-climate-change
But what about fights between multinational oil giants and the governments of oil-producing states over control of resources? Do people who care about the environment and climate change have a stake in these battles? It appears that they do, but most have not yet noticed it.
In December of last year, Exxon Mobil won a judgment against the government of Venezuela for assets the government had nationalized in 2007. The award was actually a victory for the government of Venezuela: Exxon had sued for $12bn, but won only $908m. After subtracting $160m the court said was owed to Venezuela, Exxon ended up with a $748m judgment. The ruling was made by an arbitration panel of the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC). On 15 February, Venezuela paid Exxon $250m and announced that the case was settled.
Some background: the dispute arose out of the Venezuelan government's decision to take a majority stake in oil extraction, in accordance with its law. In 2005, it entered into negotiations with foreign oil companies to purchase enough of their assets in order to achieve a majority stake. Almost all the negotiations, with dozens of companies, were successful – with only Exxon and ConocoPhillips going to arbitration (Conoco is still negotiating).
Exxon adopted a strategy of trying to make an example of Venezuela, so that no other government would try to mess with it. Exxon went to European courts to freeze $12bn of Venezuelan assets, but this was reversed within a matter of weeks. They also went to arbitration at the ICC, and at the World Bank's arbitration panel, ICSID (the latter case still pending). But the ICC gave Exxon much less than the Venezuelan government had reportedly offered it in negotiations.
The decision was noted with intense interests among oil industry specialists – and was seen by developing country governments as an important victory for the developing world – but didn't get much attention in the mass media. This is a big precedent – and, of course, there are other countries that will continue to have disputes with oil companies over control of resources.
Why should environmentalists care? Well, for those of us who would like to slow the accumulation of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, we would like to keep more oil in the ground. That is one reason why most environmentalists would support a carbon tax, which would raise the price of carbon emissions. The main reason that Venezuela insisted on a majority share in these oil projects is that it wants to control production. Venezuela is a member of Opec, and abides by the organization's quotas. If you want to reduce climate disruption, then you have a big interest in whether governments that want to reduce oil production are able to do so.
A higher price of oil due to reduced production by oil-producing countries reduces oil consumption in the same way that a carbon tax does. It also encourages the development of non-fossil fuel alternatives, including solar and wind technologies, which become more economically feasible at higher oil prices. (Of course, higher prices do also encourage non-Opec countries to produce more oil, and Opec members to cheat on the cartel, and a carbon tax would not have that same effect; but this would be an argument for a stronger and more inclusive Opec.)
On the other side, our adversaries have always had the goal of flooding the world with cheap oil, which would greatly accelerate global warming. Before Hugo Chávez was elected in Venezuela, the national oil company (PDVSA) shared that goal with Washington. But as soon as he was elected, Chávez successfully pushed Opec to reduce production, moving oil prices off their deep low point of $11 a barrel in 1998. The US State Department, in a 2002 report (pdf), admitted that the US government "provided training, institution-building, and other support to individuals and organizations understood to be actively involved" in the military coup that briefly overthrew Venezuela's elected government that year. That same report also stated that one of the main reasons for Washington's "displeasure" with Chávez was "his involvement in the affairs of the Venezuelan oil company and the potential impact of that on oil prices".
Of course, it is not politically popular for anyone to appear pro-Opec in the rich, oil-consuming countries. But most environmentalists are willing to support policies, such as a carbon tax, that are not necessarily going to win elections this year. So they should also recognize that they have an immediate stake in the producing states' struggle with multinational companies over control of fossil fuel and other natural resources.
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