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JFP 4/19: Swing voters want troops out; NYT distorted history of anti-nuclear weapon fatwa
Submitted by Robert Naiman on 19 April 2012 - 7:31pm
Just Foreign Policy News, April 19, 2012
Swing voters want troops out; NYT distorted history of anti-nuclear weapon fatwa
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I) Actions and Featured Articles
The US and Iran Are Talking: Why Is the New York Times Peddling Iran Islamophobia?
At long last, the U.S. and Iran are having serious talks about Iran's nuclear program. But the New York Times has told its readers that Iran's Supreme Leader is uniquely and intrinsically untrustworthy when he says that Iran will never pursue a nuclear weapon. Why? Because, according to the Times, Iran's leaders are Shiites, and Shiites have a religious doctrine called "taqiyya," which allows them to lie. Not one named analyst or scholar was cited in support of this claim.
* Take Action: Urge NYT Public Editor to Investigate Iran Islamophobia in NYT reporting on Iran diplomacy
Kate Gould: Bahrain : United States :: Syria : Russia
Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja has been at the forefront of Bahrain's human rights movement and helped lead the mass pro-democracy, nonviolent uprising that began on February 14, 2011. Al-Khawaja has reportedly been subjected to torture, beatings, sexual assault, and a sham trial in a military court that sentenced him to life imprisonment for spearheading the pro-democracy movement in his country. He was beaten so severely in detention that his jaw and skull were cracked, making it nearly impossible for him to eat. Still, the Obama administration has refused to forthrightly call for the release of Al-Khawaja or any of the other jailed Bahraini pro-democracy activists that Amnesty International has identified as prisoners of conscience.
Video - TheYoungTurks: Iran's Supreme Leader: Nuclear Weapons 'A Sin'
Cenk Uygur mocks U.S. TV media for not reporting that Supreme Leader Khamenei has issued a legal ruling declaring the possession of nuclear weapons to be a sin.
Video: Latvia's Recession and Recovery: Are There Lessons for the Eurozone?
Mark Weisbrot debates Anders Aslund: was there another feasible path that would not have led to such a massive loss in employment and income? The experience of Argentina and other countries which devalued their currencies suggests that there was. Iceland got a better deal, because their government resisted the "austerity cure." The United States had an economic stimulus - too small, but the opposite policy to the one being prescribed in Europe. The answer is important, because Latvia is being held up as a model for other countries being pressed to take the "austerity cure."
1) Swing voters, by nearly two-to-one, favor removing U.S. troops from Afghanistan as soon as possible, the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press reports. Just 32% of the public now says that the U.S. should keep troops in Afghanistan until the situation there has stabilized, while 60% favor removing the troops as soon as possible. For the first time in a Pew survey, as many Republicans (48%) favor removing U.S. forces from Afghanistan as soon as possible as support keeping the troops there until the situation is stabilized (45%). 66% of Democrats and 62% of independents say the U.S. should remove troops as soon as possible.
2) The Obama administration's new interest in the 2004 religious verdict, or "fatwa", by Iran's Supreme Leader Khamenei banning the possession of nuclear weapons, long dismissed by national security officials, has prompted the New York Times to review the significance of the fatwa for the first time in several years, Gareth Porter writes for Inter Press Service. But the Times distorted the history of the fatwa, understating Khamenei's categorical opposition to Iran developing "weapons of mass destruction," going back to 2003.
3) It should come as no surprise that Israel's leaders are agitated and openly skeptical over the U.S. entering a new process of diplomatic engagement on Iran's nuclear program, writes Tony Karon in Time. They know that even the best-case diplomatic outcome would fall short of Israel's demands but might do enough to de-escalate the conflict and push the issue off the international community's crisis agenda.
4) The CIA is seeking authority to expand its covert drone campaign in Yemen by launching strikes against terrorism suspects even when it does not know the identities of those who could be killed, the Washington Post reports. Securing permission to use these "signature strikes" would allow the agency to hit targets based solely on intelligence indicating patterns of suspicious behavior. The practice has been a core element of the CIA's drone program in Pakistan for several years, the Post notes. [Thus contradicting the President's that the U.S. only strikes people on a list, although press reports have indicated that CIA "signature strikes" in Pakistan recently have been sharply curtailed due to Pakistani opposition - JFP.]
Some U.S. officials have voiced concern incidents in which civilians and local insurgents who are not related to attacks on the U.S. are killed could become more frequent if the CIA is given the authority to use signature strikes. "How discriminating can they be?" asked a senior U.S. official familiar with the proposal. Al-Qaeda's affiliate in Yemen "is joined at the hip" with a local insurgency whose main goal is to oust the country's government, the official said. "I think there is the potential that we would be perceived as taking sides in a civil war." The Long War Journal estimates that the U.S. has killed 48 civilians with drone strikes in Yemen since 2009.
5) A new revelation of young American soldiers caught on camera while defiling insurgents' remains in Afghanistan has intensified questions within the military community about whether fundamental discipline is breaking down given the nature and length of the war, the New York Times reports. Combat veterans and military analysts say one factor may be a counterinsurgency strategy that has distributed small units across vast distances to serve at primitive combat outposts. Officers and analysts express concerns that some of these isolated units are falling prey to diminished standards of behavior and revert to what one combat veteran described as "Lord of the Flies" syndrome.
6) Security forces fanned out across Bahrain's capital Thursday in attempts to quell widening unrest that threatened to overshadow the return of the Formula One, AP reports. The lockdown atmosphere in parts of the capital, Manama, spread to key tourist districts.
7) Germany and France are facing sharp criticism for pushing Greece to buy weapons from them even as they demanded that Greece make deep cuts in public spending on health care, the Guardian reports.
8) Bahrain is sliding toward another dangerous eruption of violence, the International Crisis Group reports. Political talks – without which the crisis cannot be resolved – have ground to a halt, and sectarian tensions are mounting. A genuine dialogue between the regime and the opposition and a decision to fully carry out the recommendations of the Bassiouni Report – not half-hearted measures and not a policy of denial – are needed to halt this deterioration, the ICG says.
9) A senior Israeli official said forty percent of the non-Israeli citizens whose names appeared on a Shin Bet blacklist ahead of Sunday's so-called "fly-in" protest by pro-Palestinian activists were added to the list despite the fact that the security service had no concrete information showing they were connected with the protest in any way, Haaretz reports. "We put people on the list who are as far removed from anti-Israel political activity as east is from west," one Foreign Ministry official said. "We have insulted hundreds of foreign citizens because of suspicions, and have given the other side a victory on a silver platter."
10) The New York Times apparently disapproves of the decision by Argentine president Cristina Kirchner to nationalize the country's major oil company, Dean Baker writes for CEPR. But the paper advances a bizarre argument in support of its case: that Brazil's national oil company, which is public, is cleaning the clock of Argentina's, which is private.
1) Most Swing Voters Favor Afghan Troop Withdrawal
Support for U.S. Troop Presence Hits New Low
Pew Research Center for the People & the Press, April 18, 2012
Public support for maintaining U.S. forces in Afghanistan has reached a new low. And as the general election campaign begins, swing voters, by nearly two-to-one, favor removing U.S. troops from Afghanistan as soon as possible.
Nearly two-thirds (65%) of voters who say they are certain to support Barack Obama in the general election favor a rapid U.S. troop withdrawal. But support for a troop pullout is nearly as extensive (59%) among swing voters - those who are either undecided in their general election preferences, lean toward a candidate or say they may still change their minds. Swing voters make up nearly a quarter (23%) of all registered voters.
Voters who express certainty about voting for Mitt Romney in the fall are divided over what to do about U.S. troops in Afghanistan: 48% favor removing them as soon as possible, while 46% support maintaining U.S. forces there until the situation has stabilized.
The latest survey by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press, conducted April 4-15, 2012 among 1,494 adults, including 1,164 registered voters, finds that public support for keeping troops in Afghanistan has reached a new low.
Just 32% of the public now says that the U.S. should keep troops in Afghanistan until the situation there has stabilized, while 60% favor removing the troops as soon as possible. In May 2011, the public was evenly divided over removing U.S. troops from Afghanistan (48% remove troops vs. 47% keep troops there).
Support for keeping U.S. forces in Afghanistan has declined over the past year among Republicans, Democrats and independents. For the first time in a Pew Research Center survey, as many Republicans (48%) favor removing U.S. forces from Afghanistan as soon as possible as support keeping the troops there until the situation is stabilized (45%).
As recently as a month ago, a majority of Republicans (53%) said they favored staying in Afghanistan until the situation stabilized, while 41% favored a troop withdrawal.
Currently, 66% of Democrats and 62% of independents say the U.S. should remove troops as soon as possible, while about three-in-ten (29%) in each group favors keeping forces in Afghanistan.
The proportion of independents who favor a troop pullout has increased 11 points since last May (from 51%) immediately after the killing of Osama bin Laden. Over this period, the percentage of Democrats favoring a troop withdrawal has increased 16 points (from 50% in May)
2) Report on Iran's Nuclear Fatwa Distorts Its History
Gareth Porter, Inter Press Service, Apr 18
Washington - The Barack Obama administration's new interest in the 2004 religious verdict, or "fatwa", by Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei banning the possession of nuclear weapons, long dismissed by national security officials, has prompted the New York Times to review the significance of the fatwa for the first time in several years.
Senior Obama administration officials have decided to cite the fatwa as an Iranian claim to be tested in negotiations, posing a new challenge to the news media to report accurately on the background to the issue. But the Apr. 13 New York Times article by James Risen rehashed old arguments by Iran's adversaries and even added some new ones.
Former Obama White House Iran policy coordinator Dennis B. Ross, known for his close ties with Israel and hardline views on Iran, was quoted as suggesting that Khamenei may not be committed to nuclear weapons after all. But Ross implies that the reason is U.S. sanctions and perhaps the threat of war rather than that the 2004 fatwa was a genuine expression of policy.
The Times report repeated a familiar allegation, attributed to unnamed "analysts", that the fatwa is merely a conscious deception justified by the traditional Shi'a legal principle called "Taqiyyah". But a quick fact check would have shown that "Taqiyyah" is specifically limited to hiding one's Shi'a faith to avoid being killed or otherwise seriously harmed if it were acknowledged.
Risen also cited unnamed "analysts" who argued that Khamenei's recent statements that Iran had not and would not develop nuclear weapons were contradicted by remarks he had made last year "that it was a mistake for Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi of Libya to give up his nuclear weapons program".
But the quote from Khamenei complained that "this gentleman wrapped up all his nuclear facilities, packed them on a ship and delivered them to the West and said, 'Take them!' " Khamenei then added,"Look where we are, and in what position they are now."
Khamenei's references to "all his nuclear facilities" - not to his nuclear weapons programme, as claimed by Risen - and to the contrast between the ultimate fate of the Gaddafi regime and the Islamic Republic's survival appear to have been suggesting that merely having a nuclear programme without nuclear weapons can be a deterrent to attack.
That same point has been made by other Iranian officials who cite the Japanese model as one for Iran to emulate.
In another effort to discredit the fatwa, Risen wrote that Khamenei's predecessor, Ayatollah Khomeini, reversed his initial opposition to the Shah's nuclear programme as inconsistent with Islam in 1984, and "secretly decided to restart the nuclear weapons program".
Risen cited no source for that statement, but it is apparently based on an article by David Albright in the Tehran Bureau's "Iran Primer". Albright wrote, "A 2009 internal IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency) working document reports that in April 1984, then President Ali Khamenei announced to top Iranian officials that Khomeini had decided to reactivate the nuclear program as the only way to secure the Islamic Revolution from the schemes of its enemies, especially the United States and Israel."
Even if that report, coming from an unidentified IAEA member country, was accurate, Risen misreported it, again substituting "nuclear weapons program" for "nuclear program".
But the claim cited in the IAEA working document is also demonstrably false, because it is well documented that the Islamic Republic had decided to continue Iran's nuclear programme in 1981 and even made a formal request in 1983 for the IAEA to help it convert yellowcake into reactor fuel.
The only reference in the Times report to Khamenei's role in the 2003 nuclear policy turning point was the statement that Khamenei "ordered a suspension of Iran's nuclear weapons program…."
In fact, however, Khamenei did far more than "suspend" nuclear weapons work. He invoked the illicit nature of such weapons in Islam in order to enforce a policy decision to ban nuclear weapons work.
There is evidence that there was a long-simmering debate within the Islamic Republic behind the scenes over whether Iran should leave the door open to a nuclear weapons programme or not. Both Khamenei and Rafsanjani had publicly opposed the idea of possessing nuclear weapons in the mid-1990s, but pressure for reconsideration of the issue had risen, especially after the aggressive posture of the George W. Bush administration toward Iran.
In 2003, the debate came to a head, because Iran was reaching the stage where it would either have to cooperate fully with the IAEA or be accused of violating its commitments under the Non-Proliferation Treaty, provoking serious international consequences.
The Atomic Energy Organization, which had gotten much more freedom from bureaucratic control in 1999-2000, was dragging its feet on cooperation with the IAEA, and some scientists, engineers and military men did not want to give up the option to develop a nuclear weapons programme.
Under those circumstances, in a Mar. 21, 2003 speech in Mashad, Khamenei began speaking out again on Islam's opposition to weapons of mass destruction. "We are not interested in an atomic bomb. We are opposed to chemical weapons," he said, adding, "These things are against our principles."
In July, he repeated his renunciation of all weapons of mass destruction.
When the IAEA passed a resolution demanding that Iran suspend enrichment and adopt an intrusive monitoring system in September, the Atomic Energy Organization and its bureaucratic and political allies were arguing that there was no danger of being taken to the U.N. Security Council because Russia and China would protect Iran's interests.
And hardliners were arguing publicly that Iran should withdraw from the NPT rather than make any effort to convince the West that Iran did not intend to make nuclear weapons.
Sometime in September and October, Khamenei ordered the designation of the Secretary of Supreme National Security Council Hassan Rohani, who reported directly to him, as the single individual responsible for coordinating all aspects of nuclear policy.
A key task for Rohani was to enforce Khamenei's ban on nuclear weapons. Later, Rohani recalled telling then President Mohammed Khatemi that he wasn't sure all agencies "were willing to cooperate 100 percent" and predicted "both disharmony and sabotage".
It was Rohani himself who announced on Oct. 25, 2003, that Khamenei believed that nuclear weapons were illegal under Islam.
A few days later, one of Khamenei's advisers, Hussein Shariatmadari, president of Kayhan newspapers, told Collier, "Those in Iran who clandestinely believed they could develop nuclear weapons have now been forced to admit that it is forbidden under Islam."
Ever since then, Iranian officials have often referred to Khamenei's fatwa against nuclear weapons.
3) For Israel, the Problem with Iran Diplomacy Is the Prospect of Nuclear Compromise
Tony Karon, Time Magazine, April 19, 2012
Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu amplified his skepticism of President Obama's Iran strategy on Wednesday, when he used a Holocaust remembrance speech to warn that Iran was building nuclear weapons in order to destroy Israel. "The Iranian regime is acting openly and decisively toward our destruction, and it is acting feverishly to develop a nuclear weapon to achieve this goal," Netanyahu said, two days after accusing the Administration and its partners of giving Iran a "freebie" in last weekend's nuclear talks in Istanbul. The combination of those statements creates an impression that the Israelis see the current diplomacy with Iran as prevarication in the face of a mortal threat to Israel - a message calculated to raise the domestic political heat on President Obama.
Of course, the U.S. and Israeli intelligence assessment is that Iran is not in fact currently embarked on a feverish dash to build nuclear weapons; it has not yet taken the strategic decision to build such weapons even as it steadily accumulates the capability to do so. And even Netanyahu's Defense Minister, Ehud Barak, has suggested that a nuclear-armed Iran would be unlikely to launch a nuclear attack on Israel, given Israel's own capability to "lay waste" to Iran. Administration officials believe that because Iran has not yet opted to build nuclear weapons and the pressure of steadily escalating sanctions has made Tehran more amenable to compromise, it remains possible to seek a deal to limit Iran's nuclear work - and that if it could be achieved, such a solution represents the best and most durable solution. Still, it should come as no surprise that Israel's leaders are agitated and openly skeptical over the U.S. entering a new process of diplomatic engagement on Iran's nuclear program. They know that even the best-case diplomatic outcome would fall short of Israel's demands but might do enough to de-escalate the conflict and push the issue off the international community's crisis agenda.
The principles guiding the ongoing talks between negotiators from Iran and the P5+1 group, as laid out by chief Western negotiator and EU Foreign Policy chief Catherine Ashton on Saturday, are compliance with the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and a sustained process of step-by-step concrete actions undertaken on a basis of reciprocity. That framework alone is cause for disquiet in Israel, which is not a signatory to the NPT and which insists that Iran cannot be allowed to maintain any uranium-enrichment capability. Although the NPT obliges Iran to account for all its nuclear work to the satisfaction of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) - which Iran has yet to do - it also guarantees Iran's right to enrich uranium for peaceful purposes. A diplomatic solution based on the NPT, therefore, would be one that strengthens the safeguards against Iran using its nuclear capability to build weapons but would not dismantle and remove Iran's enrichment capability as Israel - as well as France and more hawkish elements in Washington - has demanded. The Obama Administration's position on the issue has been ambiguous, having initially inherited the Bush Administration's zero-enrichment stance but more recently spoken of Iran's having the right to a peaceful nuclear program in line with the NPT.
The examples of Japan, Brazil and Argentina, all of which could relatively quickly build nuclear weapons should they choose to, highlights the fact that the NPT allows signatories to develop nuclear "latency" or "breakout capacity" while remaining compliant. Iran has arguably already acquired that capability - its officials claim as much, even as they insist that the Islamic Republic would not actually build them. (Nuclear latency carries many of the deterrent advantages of actually having a weapon but without the same costs: President Obama, for example, has vowed to take military action if that became necessary to stop Iran from building a bomb but sees no need to do so on the basis of the present status quo.)
Iran may well have expanded its 20% enrichment precisely in order to create leverage that can be traded away to secure its core objectives of easing international pressure and gaining Western acceptance of its right to low-level enrichment of uranium. If so, it will expect an incremental easing of sanctions in exchange for its own steps, in line with the principle of reciprocity. A confidence-building deal that ended 20% enrichment in Iran would not resolve the nuclear standoff, but it would stop the "ticking clock" of escalation and allow time and space for a more sustained process of negotiating a diplomatic solution. The danger perceived by Israeli leaders is that while such a deal might reverse some alarming recent steps by Iran (expanding 20% enrichment), it would likely reinforce previous status quo of low-level enrichment that Israel had deemed unacceptable, while taking the Iran issue off the front burner.
4) CIA seeks new authority to expand Yemen drone campaign
Greg Miller, Washington Post, April 18
The CIA is seeking authority to expand its covert drone campaign in Yemen by launching strikes against terrorism suspects even when it does not know the identities of those who could be killed, U.S. officials said.
Securing permission to use these "signature strikes" would allow the agency to hit targets based solely on intelligence indicating patterns of suspicious behavior, such as imagery showing militants gathering at known al-Qaeda compounds or unloading explosives.
The practice has been a core element of the CIA's drone program in Pakistan for several years. CIA Director David H. Petraeus has requested permission to use the tactic against the al-Qaeda affiliate in Yemen, which has emerged as the most pressing terrorism threat to the United States, officials said.
If approved, the change would probably accelerate a campaign of U.S. airstrikes in Yemen that is already on a record pace, with at least eight attacks in the past four months.
For President Obama, an endorsement of signature strikes would mean a significant, and potentially risky, policy shift. The administration has placed tight limits on drone operations in Yemen to avoid being drawn into an often murky regional conflict and risk turning militants with local agendas into al-Qaeda recruits.
A senior administration official, who like others spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive internal deliberations, declined to talk about what he described as U.S. "tactics" in Yemen, but he said that "there is still a very firm emphasis on being surgical and targeting only those who have a direct interest in attacking the United States."
U.S. officials acknowledge that the standard has not always been upheld. Last year, a U.S. drone strike inadvertently killed the American son of al-Qaeda leader Anwar al-Awlaki. The teenager had never been accused of terrorist activity and was killed in a strike aimed at other militants.
Some U.S. officials have voiced concern that such incidents could become more frequent if the CIA is given the authority to use signature strikes.
"How discriminating can they be?" asked a senior U.S. official familiar with the proposal. Al-Qaeda's affiliate in Yemen "is joined at the hip" with a local insurgency whose main goal is to oust the country's government, the official said. "I think there is the potential that we would be perceived as taking sides in a civil war."
U.S. officials said that the CIA proposal has been presented to the National Security Council and that no decision has been reached.
The Long War Journal, a Web site that tracks drone operations, estimates that there have been 27 strikes in Yemen since 2009 and that 198 militants and 48 civilians have been killed.
5) Images of G.I.'s and Remains Fuel Fears of Ebbing Discipline
Thom Shanker and Graham Bowley, New York Times, April 18, 2012
Washington - A new revelation of young American soldiers caught on camera while defiling insurgents' remains in Afghanistan has intensified questions within the military community about whether fundamental discipline is breaking down given the nature and length of the war.
The photographs, published by The Los Angeles Times on Wednesday, show more than a dozen soldiers of the 82nd Airborne Division's Fourth Brigade Combat Team, along with some Afghan security forces, posing with the severed hands and legs of Taliban attackers in Zabul Province in 2010. They seemed likely to further bruise an American-Afghan relationship that has been battered by crisis after crisis over the past year, even as the two governments are in the midst of negotiations over a long-term strategic agreement.
The images also add to a troubling list of cases - including Marines videotaped urinating on Taliban bodies, the burning of Korans, and the massacre of villagers attributed to a lone Army sergeant - that have cast American soldiers in the harshest possible light before the Afghan public. Accordingly, combat veterans and military analysts are beginning to look inside the catchall phrase "stress on the force" to identify factors that could be contributing to the breaches.
One potential explanation put forth by these analysts is the exhaustion felt by the class of non-commissioned officers that forms the backbone of the all-volunteer force: the sergeants responsible for training, mentoring and disciplining small groups of 18- and 19-year-old soldiers at the small-unit level, hour by hour, patrol by patrol.
Another factor, they say, may be the demands of a counterinsurgency strategy that has distributed small units across vast distances to serve at primitive combat outposts. Self-reliance required in isolation may promote heroic camaraderie. But the rugged terrain, logistical challenges and the in-your-face violence of the insurgency may also present great challenges to the noncommissioned officers in charge of these small units, operating far beyond the more consistent senior supervision in past wars.
Officers and analysts express concerns that some of these isolated units are falling prey to diminished standards of behavior and revert to what one combat veteran described as "Lord of the Flies" syndrome, after the William Golding novel portraying a band of cultured British schoolboys reverting to tribal violence when severed from society.
6) Bahrain's capital on edge amid fears of widening Formula 1 protests
Associated Press, Thursday, April 19, 10:35 AM
Manama, Bahrain - Nervous shop owners closed their doors and security forces fanned out across Bahrain's capital Thursday in attempts to quell widening unrest that threatened to overshadow the return of the Formula One Grand Prix to the Gulf kingdom.
Sporadic clashes, including riot police firing tear gas and stun grenades at protesters, broke out even as authorities tried to present a sense of stability before Sunday's race. Bahrain called off the competition last year amid unrest in a sharp blow to the country's Sunni rulers, who are facing an uprising by the island nation's Shiite majority.
Two members of one of the F1 teams, Force India, decided to leave Bahrain after a team vehicle was caught in a traffic jam Wednesday because of a hurled firebomb. The lockdown atmosphere in parts of the capital, Manama, also spread to key tourist districts, including the main gold market, which normally would be bustling with visitors in town for the F1.
Most shops in the gold market were shuttered and stores in other shopping areas closed early because of fears of clashes spilling into the narrow streets.
Nearly 50 people have been killed since February 2011 in violence between security forces and protesters from Bahrain's Shiite majority, which seeks to break the near monopoly on power by the island nation's Sunni monarchy.
7) German 'hypocrisy' over Greek military spending has critics up in arms
Athens' fondness for weaponry, and willingness of Germany and France to feed it, under fire as Greece struggles with debt crisis
Helena Smith, Guardian, Thursday 19 April 2012 12.01 EDT
Athens - A few months before submarines became the talk of Athens, Yiannis Panagopoulos, who heads the Greek trade union confederation (GSEE), found himself sitting opposite Angela Merkel at a private meeting the German chancellor had called of European trade unionists in Berlin.
When it came to his turn to address the leader, he instinctively popped the question that many in Greece have wanted to ask. "After running through all the reasons why austerity wasn't working in my country I brought up the issue of defence expenditure. Was it right, I asked, that our government makes so many weapons purchases from Germany when it obviously couldn't afford such deals and was slashing wages and pensions?"
Merkel's reaction was instant. "She immediately said: 'But we never asked you to spend so much of your GDP on defence,'" Panagopoulos recalled. "And then she mentioned the issue of outstanding payments on submarines she said Germany had been owed for over a decade."
Greek profligacy may be blamed for triggering the debt crisis that now threatens to tear the eurozone apart, but if there is one area where Berlin is less excoriating of state largesse it is in Athens's extravagant taste for arms.
Behind the frequent exhortations that Greece rein in spending after living "beyond its means" – admonishments made most loudly by Merkel and her finance minister Wolfgang Schäuble – there is another reality that paints Germany in a less than flattering light, according to MPs, military experts, economists and scholars.
"If there is one country that has benefited from the huge amounts Greece spends on defence it is Germany," said Dimitris Papadimoulis, an MP with the Coalition of the Radical Left party.
"Just under 15% of Germany's total arms exports are made to Greece, its biggest market in Europe," Papadimoulis said the MP, reeling off figures from a scruffy armchair in his party's parliamentary office. "Greece has paid over €2bn (£1.6bn) for submarines that proved to be faulty and which it doesn't even need.
"It owes another €1bn as part of the deal. That's three times the amount Athens was asked to make in additional pension cuts to secure its latest EU aid package."
According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (Sipri), France is not far behind. Some 10% of its total arms sales go to Greece, which is a member of Nato. From 2002 to 2006, Greece was the world's fourth biggest importer of conventional weapons. It is now the 10th.
Speculation is rife that international aid was dependent on Greece following through on agreements to buy military hardware from Germany and France.
8) Conflict Risk Alert: Bahrain
International Crisis Group, 16 Apr 2012
Brussels - Beneath a façade of normalisation, Bahrain is sliding toward another dangerous eruption of violence. The government acts as if partial implementation of recommendations from the November 2011 Independent Commission of Inquiry (the Bassiouni Report) will suffice to restore tranquillity, but there is every reason to believe it is wrong. Political talks – without which the crisis cannot be resolved – have ground to a halt, and sectarian tensions are mounting. A genuine dialogue between the regime and the opposition and a decision to fully carry out the Bassiouni Report – not half-hearted measures and not a policy of denial – are needed to halt this deterioration.
Clashes between young protesters and security forces occur nightly, marked by the former's use of Molotov cocktails and the latter's resort to tear gas. Several have died, in most cases reportedly due to tear gas inhalation. The 9 April explosion of a handmade bomb in al-Akar, a Shiite village in the east of the Kingdom, which injured seven policemen, crossed a significant threshold and could be followed by worse. Already, even before authorities could investigate, pro-government Sunni vigilante groups retaliated, vandalising two cars and a supermarket owned by a Shiite firm accused of supporting the February 2011 protests.
Amid these and other violent events – including the death of a young protester apparently shot from a civilian car – there are two potential time bombs. The first concerns Bahrain's scheduled hosting of a Formula 1 race on 22 April. On 8 April, the Coalition of the Youth of the February 14 Revolution, an umbrella for an array of opposition groups that commands the loyalty of Shiite neighbourhoods, warned that it would consider participants, sponsors and spectators as regime allies and declared that it would not accept blame for "any violent reaction" during the event. The Bahrain Centre for Human Rights has pledged to use the expected presence of foreign tourists and journalists to highlight human rights violations; the government's 15 April arrest of human rights activists shows that it will try hard to prevent this.
Despite internal disagreements over the wisdom of proceeding with the Grand Prix, and amid repeated opposition calls to cancel, the Fédération Internationale de l'Automobile, the Formula 1 governing body, gave its definitive go-ahead on 13 April. The regime is trying to make the competition a symbol of national unity and is banking on it symbolising a return to stability. Instead it is underscoring deep divides and risks further inflaming the situation.
The second time bomb relates to the fate of Abdulhadi Alkhawaja, a well-known human rights activist. Charged with attempting to overthrow the regime due to his participation in last year's demonstrations, he has been on a hunger strike since 8 February to protest his conviction and obtain his release. Despite a groundswell of support for his cause in Bahrain and around the world, the regime has not relented. His death likely would spark a serious intensification in anti-regime activism.
The only path out of the current crisis is a return to dialogue and negotiations over real political reforms, much as the Bassiouni Report suggested. The regime has shown little enthusiasm for talks – not least because its Sunni supporters oppose them, fearing that any accommodation of the opposition's proposals could jeopardise their privileged status. Both of them insist that violence must end before dialogue can begin. The opposition argues in turn that the regime is unserious about resuming talks, let alone reforms; that it torpedoed secret negotiations held in February by leaking them to the public; and that it failed to follow up on demands put forward by the opposition a month later at the government's request.
To break this stalemate and move forward, the government should fully implement the Bassiouni Report's recommendations, releasing all political prisoners (including Alkhawaja) and holding senior officials accountable for excessive force and torture. It also must begin reforming the security forces, ensuring they fully reflect Bahrain's make-up by integrating members of all communities. For its part, the opposition should abjure violence more explicitly than in the past and declare its readiness to participate in a dialogue on reform without preconditions.
The alternative is a serious escalation in violence and the empowerment of hardliners on both sides.
9) Israeli official: 40% of names on Shin Bet fly-in blacklist were not activists
Security service had no evidence that 470 of the 1,200 people whom Israel labeled as 'pro-Palestinian activists' intended to do anything illegal, source says; French diplomat and his wife among those whose tickets to Israel were canceled.
Barak Ravid, Haaretz, 01:18 16.04.12
Forty percent of the non-Israeli citizens whose names appeared on a Shin Bet blacklist ahead of Sunday's so-called "fly-in" protest by pro-Palestinian activists were added to the list despite the fact that the security service had no concrete information showing they were connected with the protest in any way.
This information comes from a high-ranking Israeli source with knowledge of the blacklist, who added that the Shin Bet also had no solid grounds for believing that 470 of the 1,200 people whom Israel labeled as "pro-Palestinian activists" intended to do anything illegal.
"We put people on the list who are as far removed from anti-Israel political activity as east is from west," one Foreign Ministry official said. "We have insulted hundreds of foreign citizens because of suspicions, and have given the other side a victory on a silver platter."
"Direct damage has been done to tourism and to Israel's good name," the official said.
10) The NYT Doesn't Like Argentina's Decision to Nationalize Repsol
Dean Baker, Center for Economic and Policy Research, Thursday, 19 April 2012 04:19
It seems that the NYT disapproves of the decision by Argentine president Cristina Kirchner to nationalize YPF, the country's major oil company. At least that would be the impression of an article on reactions to this decision.
The article begins by telling us about a "fiery" speech in which Ms. Kirchner justified her decision to nationalize the company, which is currently owned by Repsol, a Spanish oil company. The piece concludes with a critical comment from Daniel Altman, who is identified as "an expert on Argentina's economy at the Stern School of Business at New York University." Altman is probably better known as a former New York Times business reporter, who did not specialize in coverage of Latin America.
In between the article gives us the views of many people who do not approve of the decision, although the article does point out that the company was just privatized back in the 90s and also that most other Latin American countries with substantial energy resources have a state owned oil company.
The article includes a bizarre [passage] telling readers:
"Yet in Brazil, where Petrobras's achievement of energy independence and huge offshore oil discoveries have made it a model for oil companies in other developing nations, the YPF expropriation served as an opportunity to draw important contrasts with the situation in Argentina.
As recently as 2000, Brazil still relied on oil imports from Argentina to meet energy needs, buying about 74,000 barrels of a day from its neighbor.
Now the tables are turned. Petrobras, through its acquisition of Perez Companc, an independent Argentine oil company, has aggressively expanded in Argentina to the point where concerns have emerged here as to Petrobras's exposure if Mrs. Kirchner opts to expand her nationalizations."
It is not clear what "important contrasts" readers are expected to draw from this comparison. The piece seems to be describing the operations of a highly successful state-owned oil company which appears to be gaining ground at the expense of the privately-owned company in Argentina. This would be exactly the sort of argument that someone would make to justify the nationalization of YPF, although it is not clear if this is the conclusion the reader is expected to reach.
The reality is that there are examples of successful state-run companies, as this article shows. There are also many examples of poorly run government enterprises, just as there are many examples of poorly run private companies.
Whether or not Argentina will be able to improve the operation of YPF if it carries through the nationalization of the company remains to be seen. While there is evidence that might shed insight on this question, the article does not present any.
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