JFP 3/14: Americans Oppose Israeli Strike; GOP dissent grows on Afghanistan
Just Foreign Policy News, March 14, 2012
Americans Oppose Israeli Strike; GOP dissent grows on Afghanistan
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Given the human rights violations in Egypt, the US State Department cannot in good faith certify to the US Congress that the Egyptian government is protecting human rights, Amnesty says.
1) Only one in four Americans favors Israel conducting a military strike against Iran's nuclear program, according to a new poll, the Program on International Policy Attitudes reports. Seven in ten (69%) favor the US and other major powers continuing to pursue negotiations with Iran, a position that is supported by majorities of Republicans (58%), Democrats (79%) and Independents (67%).
If Israel goes ahead with a military strike against Iran's nuclear program and Iran retaliates, but not against American targets, only 25% favor the US providing military forces if Israel requests them (though support is a bit higher among Republicans at 41%. Another 14% favors the US providing diplomatic support only. Few would support open opposition. The most popular position is for the US to take a neutral stance, which is supported by 49%.
2) Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich are now calling for a reassessment of U.S. policy in Afghanistan, suggesting that it may be time to withdraw troops sooner than the Obama administration has planned, the New York Times reports. Republicans are now evenly split over whether the war in Afghanistan has been "worth fighting," according to a new poll by ABC News and The Washington Post, the Times notes.
3) The Obama administration is discussing whether to reduce U.S. forces in Afghanistan by at least an additional 20,000 troops by 2013, reflecting a growing belief within the White House that the mission there has now reached the point of diminishing returns, the New York Times reports. A plan backed by Thomas Donilon, the national security adviser, would be to announce that at least 10,000 more troops would come home by the end of December, and then 10,000 to 20,000 more by June 2013. Vice President Biden Jr. has been pushing for a bigger withdrawal that would reduce the bulk of the troops around the same time the mission shifts to a support role. Military commanders, meanwhile, want to maintain troops in Afghanistan as long as possible.
4) Administration officials said they would pick an American to head the World Bank, the New York Times reports. Officials in the Group of 20 said American officials informed them recently of their intention to "retain control of the bank" [that's how the New York Times put it - JFP.] Possible contenders include Susan Rice, the US ambassador to the UN; Indra Nooyi, the chief executive of PepsiCo; and Lawrence Summers, the former Treasury secretary, the Times says.
5) Two U.N. soldiers from Pakistan have been sentenced to a year in prison for raping a 14-year-old Haitian boy after being convicted in a Pakistani military trial in Haiti, Reuters reports. It was the first time that members of the U.N. military on deployment in Haiti have been tried and sentenced within its borders. The U.N. military mission has faced a growing image problem in Haiti, with some of its members accused of responsibility for introducing a deadly cholera epidemic, Reuters notes.
Several UN soldiers have also been accused of rape, in addition to the Pakistanis, in cases that have fueled public protests and demands that members of the U.N. force be stripped of their immunity and face trial in Haitian courts. Haitian government authorities said were given no advance notice of the Pakistani military tribunal.
6) Rising gasoline prices are driving down Obama's poll numbers to parity with Republicans, the Washington Post reports. [Since the threat of war and sanctions on Iran are a key contributor to higher gas prices, this is something liberal Democrats might wish to consider - JFP.]
7) Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell backed the Obama administration's scheduled withdrawal from Afghanistan, The Hill reports. His remarks highlighted a divide in his party, with Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) slamming the administration's plans to withdraw the 23,000 remaining "surge" troops from Afghanistan by year's end, The Hill notes. A group of 24 senators, including two Republicans, signed a letter last week circulated by Sens. Max Baucus (D-Mont.) and Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) calling for a more rapid withdrawal.
8) A group of U.S. lawmakers is calling for a halt in aid to Honduras until the government there makes progress in investigating a rash of journalist deaths in the past two years, CNN reports. Ninety-four members of Congress signed a letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton Monday, proposing a cutoff to all military and police aid until the issue of human rights violations in Honduras are addressed.
9) Syria's two million Christians appear to be sticking with President Assad out of fear of a radical Islamist takeover, notes Robert Wright in The Atlantic. Word of their allegiance is reaching American Christians, Wright says. The evangelical press is reporting that Syrian Christians fear Assad's fall and is quoting them as warning against foreign intervention. Catholic periodicals convey similar concerns, and illustrate them with reports that Syrian rebels are using Christians as human shields.
1) American Public Opposes Israel Striking Iran
If Israel and Iran Have Military Conflict, Americans Say US Should Stay Out
Program on International Policy Attitudes, March 13, 2012
A new poll finds that only one in four Americans favors Israel conducting a military strike against Iran's nuclear program. Seven in ten (69%) favor the US and other major powers continuing to pursue negotiations with Iran, a position that is supported by majorities of Republicans (58%), Democrats (79%) and Independents (67%).
Consistent with this emphasis on a diplomatic approach, three in four say that the US should primarily act through the UN Security Council rather than acting by itself in dealing with the problem of Iran's nuclear program.
If Israel goes ahead with a military strike against Iran's nuclear program and Iran retaliates, but not against American targets, only 25% favor the US providing military forces if Israel requests them (though support is a bit higher among Republicans at 41%). Another 14% favors the US providing diplomatic support only.
However, few would support open opposition. The most popular position is for the US to take a neutral stance, which is supported by 49%.
Asked what they think the US government would do if Israel strikes, a slight majority (54%) thinks that the US would at least provide diplomatic support, including 32% who think that it would join the conflict militarily.
These are some of the findings of a new poll conducted by the Program on International Policy Attitudes (PIPA) and the Anwar Sadat Chair for Peace and Development at the University of Maryland. The polling project was directed by Steven Kull, Director of PIPA, and Shibley Telhami, Anwar Sadat Professor at the University of Maryland and Nonresident Senior Fellow at the Saban Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution.
Steven Kull, Director of PIPA, comments, "One of the reasons Americans are so cool toward the idea of Israel attacking Iran's nuclear program is that most believe that it is not likely to produce much benefit."
Only 18% believe that a military strike would delay Iran's abilities to develop a nuclear weapon for more than five years--with no partisan differences. As Shibley Telhami points out: "Interestingly, this result is barely different from the view of Israelis who were asked the same question in a February poll I conducted among Israelis, which was fielded by the Dahaf Institute."
A majority believes that a strike would delay Iran just 1-2 years (20%), will have no effect (9%), or will even have the effect of accelerating Iran's program (22%). One in five believes that it would delay Iran's program 3-5 years.
Less than half (42%) believe that a strike would weaken the Iranian government--again, Israelis were similar, with 45% holding this view. A slight majority believe that it would either have no effect (21%) or that the government would even be strengthened (31%).
Also, few Americans believe that a strike will involve a short exchange. A large majority believes an Israeli strike would lead to at armed conflict between Israel and Iran that would last months (26%) or even years (48%). A small number have the more optimistic view that it would last just weeks (12%) or days (9%). Israelis are a bit more optimistic, but still only a minority believes that a conflict would last weeks (19%) or days (18%).
2) Support for Afghan Fight Drops Among G.O.P. Candidates
Richard A. Oppel Jr., New York Times, March 12, 2012
Amid a series of bloody and troubling episodes in Afghanistan that have inflamed Afghan opinion against the United States, Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich are now calling for a reassessment of American policy there - suggesting that it may be time to withdraw troops sooner than the Obama administration has planned.
Their views echo recent polls that show public support for the Afghan war has fallen sharply among voters of all parties.
In an interview Monday on NBC's "Today" show, Mr. Santorum, long among the most hawkish Republican candidates on Afghanistan, signaled that it was time to review America's options. One option, he said, was to leave even sooner than called for in the timeline laid out by the Obama administration, which would turn over security to Afghan forces by 2014 and end the leading combat role for American troops by next year.
"We have to either make the decision to make a full commitment, which this president has not done, or we have to decide to get out, and probably get out sooner," Mr. Santorum said.
One day earlier, Mr. Gingrich, who had previously voiced concern over the direction of the Afghan war, declared on "Face the Nation" that it was time to leave the country.
"We need to understand that our being in the middle of countries like Afghanistan is probably counterproductive," Mr. Gingrich said. "We're not prepared to be ruthless enough to force them to change. And yet we are clearly an alien presence."
He added on "Fox News Sunday" that he feared the mission was one "that we're going to discover is not doable."
Representative Ron Paul of Texas, who has long supported a noninterventionist foreign policy, has long called for a withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan.
The comments by Mr. Gingrich and Mr. Santorum came after news that a United States Army sergeant was suspected of walking off his base in southern Afghanistan and killing 16 Afghan civilians, many of them children.
Despite their most recent comments, Mr. Santorum and Mr. Gingrich have both criticized the withdrawal timetable laid out by Mr. Obama. So, too, has Mitt Romney, the former Massachusetts governor.
Mr. Romney has said he would rely on advice from military commanders for his Afghanistan policy, adding last summer that it was "time for us to bring our troops home as soon as we possibly can, as soon as our generals think it's O.K." He has also said he would not negotiate with the Taliban.
"He's definitely given himself wiggle room," Daniel Drezner, a professor of international politics at Tufts University, said of Mr. Romney's policy toward the country.
What's more clear, Mr. Drezner added, is growing public opposition to a conflict some once described as "the good war."
"There's no question that there has been a rising tide of, 'Why are we in this conflict now,' " he said. "And so as much as Republicans might want to sound hawkish, it's tough to sound hawkish on a conflict where your rationale for being there has evaporated."
"That said," he added, "remember that these guys are fighting for hard-core G.O.P. primary voters," some of whom believe the United States should fight until victory.
But even within the Republican Party, the numbers of such voters may be dwindling: Republicans are now evenly split over whether the war in Afghanistan has been "worth fighting," according to a new poll by ABC News and The Washington Post. That is the least amount of support over the past five years the question has been asked. In February 2007, 85 percent of Republicans responded yes to the same question.
Over all, 60 percent of those surveyed this month said the war has not been worth fighting. Only 28 percent of Democrats - and 33 percent of independents - believe the war has been worth fighting.
The poll was conducted before news of the killings in southern Afghanistan, but after the Koran-burning episode last month that led to huge protests and was blamed for attacks that led to the deaths of several American service members.
3) U.S. Officials Debate Speeding Afghan Pullout
Helene Cooper and Eric Schmitt, New York Times, March 13, 2012
Washington - The Obama administration is discussing whether to reduce American forces in Afghanistan by at least an additional 20,000 troops by 2013, reflecting a growing belief within the White House that the mission there has now reached the point of diminishing returns.
Accelerating the withdrawal of United States forces has been under consideration for weeks by senior White House officials, but those discussions are now taking place in the context of two major setbacks to American efforts in Afghanistan - the killings on Sunday of Afghan civilians attributed to a United States Army staff sergeant and the violence touched off by burning of Korans last month by American troops.
Any accelerated withdrawal would face stiff opposition from military commanders, who want to keep the bulk of the remaining American troops in Afghanistan until the end of 2014, when the NATO mission in Afghanistan is supposed to end. Their resistance puts Mr. Obama in a quandary, as he balances how to hasten what is increasingly becoming a messy withdrawal while still painting a portrait of success for NATO allies and the American people.
The United States now has just under 90,000 troops in Afghanistan, with 22,000 of them due home by September. There has been no schedule set for the withdrawal of the remaining 68,000 American troops, although Mr. Obama said last year that the drawdown would continue "at a steady pace" until the United States handed over security to the Afghan forces in 2014.
At least three options are now under consideration, according to officials at the White House, the Pentagon and the State Department. One plan, backed by Thomas E. Donilon, the national security adviser, would be to announce that at least 10,000 more troops would come home by the end of December, and then 10,000 to 20,000 more by June 2013.
Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. has been pushing for a bigger withdrawal that would reduce the bulk of the troops around the same time the mission shifts to a support role, leaving behind Special Operations teams to conduct targeted raids. Mr. Biden has long said that the United States mission in Afghanistan is too broad and should focus primarily on a narrow counterterrorism mission against insurgents seeking to attack the United States.
Mr. Obama's military commanders, meanwhile, want to maintain troops in Afghanistan as long as possible. If cuts have to be made, the commanders favor making them at the end of 2013, after the fighting season is largely finished. Any troop cuts made midyear would mean that those forces would not be available during the main fighting season, which runs from spring to early fall.
Additional troop reductions would be consistent with a shift in mission that Mr. Obama plans to announce at a meeting of NATO members in Chicago in May. Under this plan, American troops would step away from the lead combat role to a supporting mission focused primarily on counterterrorism and training Afghan security forces. Mr. Obama will not announce the next troop reduction at the NATO meeting, aides said on Monday, but the size of the reduction will flow from the NATO decision on when to shift the mission in Afghanistan from combat to support.
4) Despite Calls for Alternatives, Another American Is Expected to Lead World Bank
Annie Lowrey, New York Times, March 13, 2012
Washington - Once again, the next head of the World Bank will be an American.
The White House has not yet announced its nominee to lead the 67-year-old development institution, whose president, Robert B. Zoellick, will step down when his term is over at the end of June. But administration officials said this week that they would pick an American by the March 23 deadline for nominees.
That stance has discouraged increasingly powerful emerging-market countries, like Brazil and China, from proposing a strong alternative, observers said.
Since Europe will almost certainly support whomever Washington picks - as the United States backed the candidacy of the former French finance minister Christine Lagarde to head the International Monetary Fund last year - the result is that the American is a lock, they said.
"The United States continues to be very, very powerful despite what you read in the newspapers," said Uri Dadush, the director of the international economics program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. "Unless they decide they are ready for a change, it is going to be very difficult to make a transition."
Moreover, the Group of 20 countries and the World Bank itself have called in recent years for a fairer, more transparent selection process for the top posts at the World Bank and its sister institution, the I.M.F. For the past seven decades, an informal agreement has assured that a European leads the International Monetary Fund and an American the World Bank.
But officials in the Group of 20, speaking on the condition of anonymity to avoid disturbing diplomatic relations, said that American officials informed them recently of their intention to retain control of the bank.
That has discouraged major emerging-markets countries - like China, Brazil, India, Russia and South Africa - from coming together to offer an alternative.
A few expressed outright annoyance at the American position. But none indicated a willingness to fight Washington this go-around.
One American - Jeffrey Sachs, the director of the Earth Institute at Columbia and a development expert - has put himself forward for the position and won the endorsement of countries including Kenya and Malaysia. But he is not under consideration by the White House, according to people familiar with the World Bank process who asked not to be identified because the decision is pending.
"Eleven out of 11 World Bank presidents have been either politicians or bankers," Mr. Sachs said in an interview. "But it's not a bank. It's not a political institution. It's a development institution. Misunderstanding that, we've unfortunately gotten a lot of drift, a lack of focus and strategic insight into what to do. That's why I put my name forward."
Possible contenders include Susan E. Rice, the United States ambassador to the United Nations and a former State Department official with experience working with African countries; Indra K. Nooyi, the India-born chief executive of PepsiCo who is an American citizen; and Lawrence H. Summers, the former Treasury secretary and Obama economic adviser, the sources said.
5) Pakistani U.N. peacekeepers sentenced in Haiti rape case
Joseph Guyler Delva, Reuters, Mon Mar 12, 2012 11:40pm EDT
Port-au-Prince - Two U.N. peacekeepers [sic] from Pakistan have been sentenced to a year in prison for raping a 14-year-old Haitian boy after being convicted in a Pakistani military trial in Haiti, authorities said on Monday.
U.N. spokeswoman Sylvie Van Den Wildenberg said judges from a Pakistani military tribunal came to the impoverished Caribbean nation to hold the trial that resulted in the conviction last week of the peacekeepers. They were found guilty in the rape of the boy in the northern city of Gonaives on January 20.
It was the first time that members of the U.N. military on deployment in Haiti have been tried and sentenced within its borders.
The U.N. peacekeeping mission has faced a growing image problem in Haiti, with some of its members accused of responsibility for introducing a deadly cholera epidemic in earthquake-stricken country in 2010.
Several peacekeepers have also been accused of rape, in addition to the Pakistanis, in cases that have fueled public protests and demands that members of the U.N. force be stripped of their immunity and face trial in Haitian courts.
Haitian Justice Minister, Michel Brunache called the verdict for the two Pakistanis a "small" step in the right direction. "We expected more from the U.N. and the Pakistani government, but now we want to focus on the proper reparation that the victim deserves," Brunache said.
Haitian government authorities were given no advance notice of the military tribunal, he said.
6) Gas prices sink Obama's ratings on economy, bring parity to race for White House
Dan Balz and Jon Cohen, Washington Post, March 11
Disapproval of President Obama's handling of the economy is heading higher - alongside gasoline prices - as a record number of Americans now give the president "strongly" negative reviews on the 2012 presidential campaign's most important issue, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll.
Increasingly pessimistic views of Obama's performance on the economy - and on the federal budget deficit - come despite a steadily brightening employment picture and other signs of economic improvement, and they highlight the political sensitivity of rising gas prices.
The potential political consequences are clear, with the rising public disapproval reversing some of the gains the president had made in hypothetical general-election matchups against possible Republican rivals for the White House. Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney and former senator Rick Santorum (Pa.) now both run about evenly with Obama. The findings come just five weeks after Obama appeared to be getting a boost from the improving economy.
Gas prices are a main culprit: Nearly two-thirds of Americans say they disapprove of the way the president is handling the situation at the pump, where rising prices have already hit hard. Just 26 percent approve of his work on the issue, his lowest rating in the poll. Most Americans say higher prices are already taking a toll on family finances, and nearly half say they think that prices will continue to rise, and stay high.
7) Sen. McConnell offers support for Obama's Afghan drawdown timetable
Jeremy Herb and Carlo Munoz, The Hill, 03/13/12 09:50 PM ET
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) on Tuesday backed the Obama administration's scheduled withdrawal from Afghanistan, a conflict that has reached a critical moment following the alleged slaying of 16 Afghan civilians by a U.S. soldier.
McConnell emphasized he was speaking only for himself, and his remarks highlighted a divide in his party, with Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) slamming the administration's plans to withdraw the 23,000 remaining "surge" troops from Afghanistan by year's end.
While acknowledging that it's been a "very challenging period" in Afghanistan, McConnell urged the White House to stay the course. "We ought to stick with the plan that's been laid out by the administration," he said.
McCain, who has been one of Obama's most outspoken critics on foreign policy, blasted the troop drawdown, saying it "discourages our friends and encourages our enemies."
Obama's strategy for Afghanistan is facing scrutiny from both the left and right following Sunday's killings and the inadvertent burnings of Qurans last month.
The administration on Tuesday dismissed a report that it is considering pulling out more troops than previously scheduled by 2013, even as questions swirled about the path forward for the more than 10-year-old conflict.
But Sunday's killings and the Quran-burning incident have renewed calls from some Democrats and a handful of Republicans to hasten the end of U.S. involvement in the country.
A group of 24 senators, including two Republicans, signed a letter last week circulated by Sens. Max Baucus (D-Mont.) and Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) calling for a more rapid withdrawal. "They should have been gone a long time ago," said Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), who signed the Baucus letter. "Having people exposed in the situation that we're in is just too lethal."
8) U.S. legislators threaten aid cut to Honduras over deaths
Elvin Sandoval, CNN , Wed March 14, 2012, 2:47 PM EDT,
Tegucigalpa, Honduras -- A group of U.S. lawmakers is calling for a halt in aid to Honduras until the government there makes progress in investigating a rash of journalist deaths in the past two years.
Ninety-four members of Congress signed a letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton Monday, proposing a cutoff to all military and police aid until the issue of human rights violations in Honduras are addressed.
Local human rights groups say Honduras will remain one of the deadliest countries for journalists as long as there is impunity for their murderers, pointing to the deaths of 19 journalists since President Porfirio Lobo Sosa took office in January 2010.
The latest calls for action come after the killing of radio host Fausto Valle in northern Honduras this week. His attackers killed him with machetes.
Human rights activists say that the government moves too slowly, and has failed to bring perpetrators to justice for the killings.
According to press freedom groups, a total of 21 journalists have been killed in Honduras since 2003.
By authorities' own count, arrests have been made in only four cases, though the motives behind the killings remain unknown.
9) The Emerging Neocon-Christian Split Over Syria
Robert Wright, The Atlantic, Mar 13 2012, 11:08 AM ET
As the carnage in Syria continues, support in America for military intervention will presumably grow. But can the support spread very far beyond its current base--neoconservatives and a smattering of liberal interventionists? Backers of intervention will be challenged in their recruiting by what you could call the "strange bedfellows" problem.
For starters, if we give the insurgents arms and air support, as some propose, that would seem to put us on the same side as al-Qaeda.
The flip-side of the strange bedfellows problem is the kindred enemies problem: Are we really ready to go to war against two million Christians? According to Tony Karon's reporting in Time, President Assad hopes to keep Christians in his coalition by harnessing their fear of a radical Islamist takeover.
So far they seem to be sticking with him, and word of their allegiance is reaching American Christians. The evangelical press is reporting that Syrian Christians fear Assad's fall and is quoting them as warning against foreign intervention. Catholic periodicals convey similar concerns, and illustrate them with, for example, reports that Syrian rebels are using Christians as human shields. And Jihad Watch, the right-wing website run by Robert Spencer, a Catholic, bemoans what will happen to Syrian Christians as "Assad's enemies divide the spoils of the fallen regime." (Spencer has in the past been skeptical of interventions, but he reaches conservative Christians who have been less skeptical.) The alliance between neocons and conservative Christians that has worked in the past is going to be harder to put together this time.
10) Report: U.S. asked Russia to warn Iran of 'last chance' to avoid military strike
Clinton reportedly told her Russian counterpart to rely message to Tehran that it must engage in talks with world powers or face a military strike within months, according to Russian daily Kommersant.
Haaretz, 11:58 14.03.12
The United States has asked Russia to deliver an ultimatum to Iran, warning the Islamic Republic that it has one last chance for talks before a military strike, the Kommersant daily quoted Russian diplomats as saying on Wednesday.
According to the Russian newspaper, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton asked her Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov in New York on Monday to tell Tehran that it has one last chance to solve the conflict peacefully by making progress in the talks with the P5+1 group - United States, Britain, France, Russia, China, and Germany. Otherwise, an attack on Iran's nuclear facilities will occur within months, the diplomats said.
The report in Kommersant did not give further details regarding the kind of military action the U.S. was threatening, but quoted Russian diplomats at the UN as saying they believe that it is a "matter of when, not if" Israel would strike Iran's nuclear facilities.
Last week, Clinton said that there is still space for diplomacy to resolve Iran's nuclear standoff with the West shortly after European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton announced that the P5+1 group agreed to restart talks with Iran. A time and venue of the talks has yet to be set.
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