JFP 5/7: GOP cuts food stamps to stop military cuts; court rejects hunger strikers' appeal
Just Foreign Policy News, May 7, 2012
GOP cuts food stamps to stop military cuts; court rejects hunger strikers' appeal
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I) Actions and Featured Articles
PressTV: 'US drone strikes grabbing more media attention'
Just Foreign Policy talks to PressTV about increasing awareness in the U.S. about civilian casualties from drone strikes and the fact that contrary to the claims of President Obama and counter-terrorism adviser John Brennan, the U.S. is not just going after "people on a list."
John Brennan Should Tell the Whole Truth About the Drone Strikes
The fact that Brennan publicly addressed the drone strikes is a significant improvement, long overdue. But John Brennan didn't tell the whole truth about the drone strikes. He didn't admit that the U.S. has launched drone strikes in Pakistan and Yemen against people who are not known to be on any list of "suspected terrorists," without knowing who would be killed.
*Action: Urge John Brennan to Tell the Whole Truth about drone strikes in Yemen and Pakistan
Urge John Brennan to tell the whole truth about drone strikes in Yemen and Pakistan by signing our petition. We will hand-deliver the petition when Brennan speaks at the Fordham University commencement in New York City on May 19.
Ask State Department on Twitter to speak out for Palestinian prisoners on hunger strike
Dear @StateDept, what are you doing to protect the lives of the Palestinian hunger strikers? #palhunger
Gareth Porter: US-Afghan Pact Won't End War – or Special Operations Forces Night Raids
Porter says the Memorandum of Understanding on night raids allows the U.S. to unilaterally determine when the Afghan government will have a say on night raids and when it won't.
Eugene Robinson: Why are we in Afghanistan for the long haul?
If we're going to switch to counterterrorism in a couple of years, why not just make the switch now? Obama said we will establish no permanent bases in Afghanistan. But the agreement he signed with President Karzai gives the U.S. continuing use of bases that we built and intend to transfer nominally to Afghan control. What's the difference?
1) House Republicans are advancing legislation to cut $380 billion largely from social programs while protecting military spending, Reuters reports. The cuts to food stamps, child tax credits and Medicaid healthcare for the poor, among others, are certain to stall in the Senate. But they stake out Republicans' negotiating stance on replacing $1.2 trillion in automatic, across-the-board spending cuts due to take effect in January. Democrats claim $35.8 billion in food stamp reductions over 10 years will cut off 1.8 million people from the nutrition assistance program. [A Democratic spokesman is cited as criticizing the House Republican budget for protecting "tax breaks for powerful special interests," but as usual, the Democratic spokesman fails to the note that the House Republican budget protects military spending for "powerful special interests" - JFP.]
2) Israel's High Court turned down Monday an appeal by two Palestinians who have been on hunger strike for the past 70 days to free them from detention without trial, Reuters reports. But the court said authorities should consider freeing them for medical reasons. Around 1,550 Palestinian prisoners have forsworn food in Israeli jails for three weeks in a protest against administrative detentions, wide denial of family visits and solitary confinement.
3) President Obama said the withdrawal of US forces from Afghanistan would free up money to help rebuild the US economy, the Guardian reports. [Obama's argument would seem to apply equally well to the "non-war" U.S. military budget, which would stay flat in real terms rather than being cut under his proposals - JFP.]
4) Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak dismissed the criticism of two retired senior security officials who have warned against an Israeli attack on Iran any time soon, saying they were serving Iranian interests, the Christian Science Monitor reports. The "Olmert gang is traveling around the world and speaking in a way that is serving Iran," Barak said.
5) House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Darrell Issa has told USAID he will seek to block USAID reforms that would allow USAID flexibility to buy more goods and services locally, the NYU Development Institute reports. The report attributes the move to lobbying by U.S. contractors that benefit from the status quo.
6) Israel should immediately charge or release people jailed without charge or trial under so-called administrative detention, Human Rights Watch said. Physicians for Human Rights – Israel said the two prisoners who had been on hunger strike the longest were at risk of fatal muscular atrophy and blood clotting. According to a 2006 study by the British Medical Association, "during the 1980 and 1981 hunger strikes in Northern Ireland […] death generally occurred between 55 and 75 days." In general, "the final stage" of a hunger strike occurs between 45 to 75 days "due to cardiovascular collapse or severe arrhythmias," the study said.
Israel's international legal obligations require it to inform those arrested of any charges against them, Human Rights Watch notes. Israel's practice of jailing West Bank Palestinians inside Israel violates the Geneva Conventions, which prohibit an occupying power from detaining members of the occupied population outside the occupied territory.
7) A conference in New York City showed the public rift among Israeli leaders over Iran policy, the Jewish Daily Forward reports. Former Israeli Prime Minister Olmert said Iran is neither the Nazi-like existential threat that Netanyahu claims it to be nor the simple target Netanyahu claims Israel can overcome alone. Olmert was constantly interrupted by booing, hissing, and cries of "Neville Chamberlain," the Forward says.
8) U.S. officials say they have abandoned plans for a consulate in northern Afghanistan after spending $80 million, deeming the location for the proposed compound too dangerous, the Washington Post reports. The decision to give up on the site is a clear sign that, as the U.S. draws down troops amid mounting security concerns, U.S. diplomats are being forced to reassess how to safely keep a viable presence in Afghanistan, the Post says.
9) U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan Crocker said that even though in the U.S.-Afghanistan agreement the U.S. "pledges not to use Afghan territory or facilities as a launching point for attacks against other countries," that doesn't mean U.S. drone strikes from Afghanistan into Pakistan will stop, The Hill reports. Crocker claimed the U.S. would still be able to strike Pakistan in "self-defense." [According to another report, when Crocker talks about "the right of self-defense" here he is talking about the right of self-defense under the UN Charter. This is an extremely expansive definition of "self-defense" if it is used to justify a continuation of everything the U.S. has done in the past, for example, if it is used to justify "signature" drone strikes on "suspected terrorists," which would not fall under any traditionally accepted definition of "self-defense against armed attack" - JFP.]
10) An April 27 Los Angeles Times story that said it would be a "shift in the U.S. position" and a "significant concession" if the U.S. agreed that could Iran continue enriching uranium up to 5% purity overstated the case, given that it has been the longstanding position of the U.S., going back to the Bush Administration, that Iran could exercise its rights under the NPT to enrich uranium once international concerns had been addressed, argues Peter Crail of the Arms Control Association. If there is a shift, Crail argues, it's that the U.S. is now stating this more openly.
1) U.S. House Republicans target social cuts to shield military
David Lawder, Reuters, Mon May 7
Washington - Republicans in the House of Representatives on Monday will fire their first shots of the next deficit-reduction battle, advancing legislation to cut nearly $380 billion largely from social programs while protecting defense spending.
The cuts to food stamps, child tax credits and Medicaid healthcare for the poor, among others, are certain to stall in the Democratic-controlled Senate. But they stake out Republicans' negotiating stance on replacing $1.2 trillion in automatic, across-the-board spending cuts that are due to take effect in January.
The "Sequester Replacement Act" authored by influential House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan and expected to be approved by the panel on Monday, also will underscore the deep differences between Republican and Democratic spending priorities as campaigns for November's elections gain momentum.
Already, House Democrats are pouncing on the effort as hurting the poor, claiming that $35.8 billion in food stamp reductions over 10 years will cut off 1.8 million people from the nutrition assistance program.
"Democrats will continue to draw a strong contrast between the lopsided Republican plan to protect tax breaks for powerful special interests at the expense of the rest of America, and the Democratic plan that takes a balanced approach to deficit reduction," said Chris Van Hollen, the top House Budget Committee Democrat.
[It's striking that Van Hollen is apparently afraid to talk about the fact that the Republican plan protects military spending - apparently, military spending benefits "powerful special interests" Van Hollen is afraid to take on directly - JFP.]
2) Israeli court rules against Palestinian hunger strikers
Ali Sawafta, Reuters, May 7, 2012
Ramallah, West Bank - Israel's Supreme Court turned down on Monday an appeal by two Palestinians, who have been on hunger strike for the past 70 days, to free them from detention without trial.
But in its decision, released by the Justice Ministry, the court said security authorities should consider freeing them for medical reasons.
Thaer Halahla and Bilal Diab, described by the court as active members of the Islamic Jihad militant group, have been refusing food in protest at their "administrative detention", a policy Israel applies in many security-related cases.
Around 1,550 Palestinian prisoners have forsworn food in Israeli jails for three weeks in a protest against the detentions, wide denial of family visits and solitary confinement.
Qaddoura Fares, chairman of the main Palestinian prisoners' organization, decried the ruling as a "death sentence" and accused the court of being politically motivated.
"The court knows the gravity of their status and health, but it has decided to reject the petition. This court is a tool of the (Israeli intelligence services)," Fares said.
The scope of the hunger strike has posed a new challenge to Israel, which has come under international criticism over detention without trial and could face a violent Palestinian backlash if any of the protesters die.
Looking frail, Halahla and Diab had appealed against their detention on Thursday, appearing in court in wheelchairs. Their lawyers and human rights groups said their lives were in jeopardy, and Diab was taken back to an Israeli hospital after he fainted.
In its ruling, the court said "administrative detention causes unease to every judge" but was a "necessary evil" because Israel is "constantly fighting terror".
But it drew authorities' attention to a law under which a prisoner can be released conditionally "if as a result of his illness, his days are numbered or if keeping him in prison significantly endangers his life".
Many Palestinians have family members in prison or experienced detention first-hand during decades of Israeli occupation in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Solidarity tents have been pitched in main squares from Gaza to Ramallah.
3) Barack Obama: use former war budget to boost US economy
US president kicks off election campaign by declaring that US should move focus from foreign wars to domestic growth
Guardian, Saturday 5 May 2012 07.17 EDT
Barack Obama has declared that his goal of defeating al-Qaida is within reach and that the withdrawal of US forces from Afghanistan would free up money to help rebuild the US economy.
The US president said on Saturday that it was time to focus on domestic concerns, such as helping the middle class who have been squeezed by the economic downturn.
Four days after he visited Afghanistan, Obama said that money saved from ending wars should be used to reduce the country's debt and to boost healthcare, education and infrastructure.
"The tide of war has turned in Afghanistan," he said in his weekly radio and internet address. "We've broken the Taliban's momentum. We've built strong Afghan security forces. We've devastated al-Qaida's leadership. And one year ago our troops launched the operation that killed Osama bin Laden. The goal that I set to defeat al-Qaida and deny it a chance to rebuild is within reach.
"After more than a decade of war, it is time to focus on nation-building here at home."
He said the country should concentrate on economic issues, such as tax disparities and targeted government spending.
[Obama's argument would seem to apply equally well to the "non-war" part of the military budget, which has increased dramatically during a "decade of war," but under Obama's proposed budget "non-war" military spending will stay roughly constant in real terms rather than decreasing - JFP.]
4) Where does the Israeli security establishment stand on attacking Iran?
A look at disclosed positions.
Dan Murphy, Christian Science Monitor, May 6, 2012
In an interview released Thursday, Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak made no bones about attacking the commitment to Israel's security of two retired senior security officials.
Former Mossad boss Meir Dagan and former Shin Bet boss Yuval Diskin have joined former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert in recent weeks in warning against an Israeli attack on Iran any time soon. Mr. Barak dismissed their views as serving Iranian interests, saying the "Olmert gang is traveling around the world and speaking in a way that is serving Iran."
With Israeli elections now looking set for early September, and already being framed by the Israeli press as a referendum on the hawkish Iran policy of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's government, expect a flood of statements, arguments and analysis on this issue in the months ahead.
Traditionally in Israeli politics, former security bosses have held a lot of sway, both directly as in the case of Barak (he entered politics after serving as chief of staff of the Israeli Defense Forces) and more broadly in the court of public opinion. There are currently 18 former top tier security leaders in Israel: seven former heads of the international spy agency, Mossad; five former leaders of the Shin Bet internal security service; and six former heads of the IDF.
The current head of the IDF, Gen. Benny Gantz, indicated recently that war should not be imminent, that Iran is a rational actor and predicted that it will be deterred from seeking a nuclear bomb out of fear of what comes next.
Where do the former security chiefs stand? Here's an incomplete list of stated positions and leanings. I hope to update this as more people speak or change their positions.
1. Meir Dagan. The former head of the Mossad, who served from 2002-2011, called a unilateral Israeli attack on Iran "the stupidest thing I have ever heard" in March. He said that full success in destroying Iran's nuclear facilities is unlikely, and that the likely outcome would be for the country to redouble it's clandestine nuclear efforts in response to attack and remove all supervision from the International Atomic Energy Agency. He also worries about a broader war. "It will be followed by a war with Iran. It is the kind of thing where we know how it starts, but not how it will end."
2. Yuval Diskin. Mr. Diskin ran the Shin Bet from 2005-2011. In April, he declared both Netanyahu and Barak unfit to lead Israel, accused them of "misleading the public on the Iran issue," and said that contrary to their position that military action would deter Iran "many experts say that an Israeli attack would accelerate the Iranian nuclear race."
3. Shaul Mofaz. Gen. (Ret.) Mofaz was IDF chief of staff between 1998-2002, leaving his post when he was appointed defense minister. Mofaz is now a leader of the Kadima party, an opponent of Netanyahu's Likud that is now moving into campaign mode. In April he spoke in favor of Diskin's criticisms of the government on Iran issues, and said that their public attacks on the former Shin Bet head "suggested a fear" of responding to the substance of his criticisms.
4. Gabi Ashkenazi. Gen. (Ret.) Ashkenazi was chief of staff of the IDF from 2007-2011, and urged patience on Iran's nuclear program last month. "I think we still have time. It is not tomorrow morning. It is better to persuade our friends in the world and the region that it is a global threat and [the government] has done a good job on this."
5. Amnon Lipkin-Shahak. Gen. (Ret.) Lipkin-Shahak was head of the IDF from 1995-1998 and then entered politics, seeking to unseat Netanyahu from the premiership in 1999. He hasn't spoken about Iran's nuclear issue, but has taken consistently more dovish positions than the current government. While running for the Knesset in 1999 he described Netanyahu as "dangerous" for Israel's security and not to be trusted. Last year he was a signatory of the Israeli Peace Initiative, which calls for "the establishment of a Palestinian state on the West Bank and the Gaza Strip on the basis of the 1967 lines, and territory swaps on a 1:1 basis, in limited scope" and for Jerusalem to "be the capital of both peoples, whereas the Jewish neighborhoods, the Western Wall and the Jewish Quarter will be under Israeli sovereignty and the temple mount shall remain under a special no-sovereignty regime ("G-d sovereignty") with special arrangements. Israeli Jerusalem will be acknowledged as the capital of Israel." These positions put him sharply at odds with Netanyahu and his supporters.
5) Save the Poor Beltway Bandits!
NYU Development Institute, May 7
It is a rare day that we former Aid Watchers congratulate the US Agency for International Development on self-imposed changes that will actually help aid benefit the poor.
Today is not that day.
That day was February 6, when USAID changed its own rules to allow itself flexibility to buy more goods and services locally. Buying and contracting locally, rather than shipping goods from the US and contracting services through American companies, can be a cheaper and more efficient use of US aid dollars. It can also help local economies thrive, and strengthen small businesses, local governments, and NGOs.
USAID plans to increase its funds spent through local actors to 30 percent by 2015, from 11 percent in 2011. Huzzah. This small but promising change means that hundreds of local nonprofits will no longer have to go through contractor middlemen. It means that where public financial management systems are strong and representative enough, more local governments can be helped with direct support rather than through experts employed by American contractors. It also means that the American companies (the so-called "Beltway Bandits") that earn hundreds of millions of dollars in contracts each year from USAID stand to lose a little.
Naturally, these firms have accepted the prospect of this loss in revenue with equanimity, acknowledging that the reforms will improve outcomes for the proper beneficiaries of aid, and have set about adapting their business model to the new funding environment.
Haha, that was a joke. They've actually gone and hired a major Washington lobbying firm to kill the reforms in Congress. Joining forces as the Professional Services Council and the public-facing Coalition of International Development Companies (from the website: "Did You Know…that funding through international development companies offers superior accountability and transparency?") they have employed the Podesta Group, which, according to lobbying disclosure forms, has been hard at work "promoting the work of international development companies" in Congress at PSC's behest.
And the Podesta Group has delivered: House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-California) has told USAID he will seek to block these reforms, just in time for the markup of the international affairs budget beginning next week.
"This agency is no longer satisfied with writing big checks to big contractors and calling it development," thundered USAID head Raj Shah in a speech in DC last year. The Beltway Bandits and their lobbyists only want him to take out the words "no longer" and then utter the remaining sentence.
6) Israel: Stop Jailing People Without Charge or Trial
Prisoner on Hunger Strike Protesting Administrative Detention Near Death
Human Rights Watch, May 2, 2012
Jerusalem – Israel should immediately charge or release people jailed without charge or trial under so-called administrative detention, Human Rights Watch said today.
Two men have been on hunger strike since February 29, 2012, to protest their situation, and an Israeli doctors' group said that one of them is at imminent risk of death. The men have been denied access to their families, apparently as punishment for their hunger strike. The Supreme Court will hear an appeal of their administrative detention orders on May 3.
"It shouldn't take the self-starvation of Palestinian prisoners for Israel to realize it is violating their due process rights," said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. "Israel should stop holding prisoners for extended periods without charge."
Diab was previously convicted of membership in Islamic Jihad, a Palestinian group whose armed wing has claimed responsibility for attacks on Israeli civilians. Human Rights Watch has condemned such attacks as war crimes and possible crimes against humanity. Halahleh is also allegedly a member of the group. However, Israel has not charged either man with any crime or allowed the men to see or contest any evidence against them, instead placing them in administrative detention for renewed six-month periods, which Israel contends is a preventive rather than punitive form of detention.
A doctor from Physicians for Human Rights – Israel visited the two men on April 30. The doctors' group reported that both had suffered "drastic weight loss," were bedridden, and at risk of fatal muscular atrophy and blood clotting. Diab was also at risk of heart arrhythmia, had a very low pulse and blood pressure, possible nerve damage, and internal bleeding.
The men have gone without food for 64 days. According to a 2006 study by the British Medical Association, "during the 1980 and 1981 hunger strikes in Northern Ireland […] death generally occurred between 55 and 75 days." In general, "the final stage" of a hunger strike occurs between 45 to 75 days "due to cardiovascular collapse or severe arrhythmias," the study said.
Israel's international legal obligations require it to inform those arrested of the reasons for the arrest at the time, to promptly inform them of any charges against them, and to bring them before a judge, and in criminal cases, to provide a fair and public trial in which the defendant may challenge any witnesses against them. In its concluding observations on Israel in 2010, the United Nations Human Rights Committee, which monitors states' compliance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, criticized Israel's "frequent and extensive use of administrative detention," and called on Israel to "refrain from using [it]" and to "complete as soon as possible" a review of relevant legislation.
Israel's practice of jailing West Bank Palestinians inside Israel violates the Geneva Conventions, which prohibit an occupying power from detaining members of the occupied population outside the occupied territory. Israel's practice of expelling detainees, such as al-Shalabi, to Gaza violates prohibitions on the forcible transfer or deportation of members of the occupied population.
7) Explosive Dust-Up Over Iran Policy
Conference Exposes Wide Rifts Among Israelis and Diaspora
J.J. Goldberg, Jewish Daily Forward, May 02, 2012, issue of May 11, 2012
On a sunny Sunday afternoon in late April, Israel put its raucous, divided political culture on full exhibition in New York for a day - and New York did not like what it saw.
The occasion was the first-ever Jerusalem Post Conference, an all-day public seminar on Israeli policy, held on April 29 at Manhattan's Marriott Times Square Hotel. The star-studded event brought together some two dozen Israelis from the worlds of government, defense, philanthropy and journalism, along with a handful of American Jewish activists, and put them on a stage before a paying audience of 1,200 for a day of speeches and panel discussions.
Though billed in advance as a "hugely important" exploration of "the major issues facing the Jewish people," the conference generated headlines in Israel and around the world mostly for its showcasing of Israeli politics as usual: a parade of political attacks, grandstanding, name-calling and shouting matches, punctuated by repeated catcalling from the audience and occasional bursts of reasoned analysis.
Among its notable points were a former Israeli prime minister attacking the incumbent prime minister, a Jerusalem Post editor attacking the president of the United States to loud cheers from many in the audience and an Israeli cabinet minister and a former Mossad intelligence director accusing each other of lying and sabotage.
An emotional climax came in the late morning, when famed Harvard University legal scholar Alan Dershowitz came to the stage and begged the assembled to tone down their rhetoric. "The first rule" in gatherings like this, he said, is "do not ever, ever boo a president of the United States" when "speaking on behalf of the state of Israel." The audience of mostly American Jews greeted his plea with a mixture of polite applause and derisive boos.
Dershowitz went on to offer what he called "rule number two: Please, Israelis, do not bring your domestic political battles to any forum here." Rather, he urged, "speak in a united fashion" and "present the consensus case." This point won spirited audience applause and was echoed later in the day by another leading Diaspora commentator, Australian-Israeli businessman Isi Leibler.
But as one Israeli after another rose to speak, it became clear that the plea was futile, for the simple reason that there is no Israeli consensus to present.
The main division among conference speakers pitted Israeli government officials, led by Environmental Affairs Minister Gilad Erdan and Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon, against three former generals: former Mossad director (and reserve major general) Meir Dagan, former army chief of staff Gabi Ashkenazi and former air force commander Elyezer Shkedy. The government officials were backed by a conservative journalist, Jerusalem Post Deputy Managing Editor Caroline Glick, while the generals were joined by the conservative-turned-liberal former prime minister Ehud Olmert. It was Glick's attack on President Obama, to catcalls and standing ovations from the audience, that prompted Dershowitz's plea for moderation.
The most heated disagreements between the two sides concerned Israeli policy toward Iran and the Palestinians - in one case, whether Israel should consider a solo military strike against Iran's nuclear program, as the government officials believed and the generals did not; in the other case, whether peace is achievable in the near term with the current Palestinian leadership, which Olmert and Dagan believed and the government officials furiously rejected.
The debate echoes a steadily worsening public rift in Israel between Netanyahu and a growing list of former defense and intelligence chiefs over those two issues. The latest to turn against the prime minister is former Shin Bet domestic security director Yuval Diskin, who caused a furor on April 27 with a speech denouncing Netanyahu's policies and questioning his fitness to lead.
Diskin's criticisms echoed nearly identical complaints voiced by Dagan a year ago. Both men served under Netanyahu until early 2011, together with then-army chief Ashkenazi. Dagan has claimed that the three of them together had managed while in office to restrain dangerous impulses toward "adventurism" on Iran by Netanyahu and his defense minister, Ehud Barak. Dagan worried aloud who would do so now that the three had retired. Diskin made a similar argument in his April 27 speech, accusing Netanyahu and Barak of "messianic" impulses.
Ashkenazi had not publicly acknowledged his disagreements with Netanyahu until the New York conference, where he spoke out for the first time in favor of Israeli restraint toward Iran. Echoing Dagan, Olmert and ex-air force chief Shkedy, Ashkenazi said Israel should face Iran as part of an international alliance with its "friends in the region and around the world," rather than going it alone. He added that sanctions against Iran had "worked in the past," citing Iran's freezing of nuclear research under pressure in 2003.
It was Diskin's still-fresh speech that prompted the most heated exchange at the New York conference two days later. Dagan, asked during a panel discussion what he thought of Diskin's comments, described the former Shin Bet chief as a "serious man" with deep convictions and rich counter-terrorism experience. Erdan, the environment minister, retorted that Diskin was motivated by a personal grudge. Dagan then called Erdan a "liar," at which point Erdan accused Dagan and Diskin of "sabotaging" Israeli security. The two men tensed in their chairs and appeared to be on the verge of exchanging blows.
At the Marriott, Iran was Olmert's main focus. The Islamic Republic, he said, is neither the Nazi-like existential threat that Netanyahu claims it to be nor the simple target Netanyahu claims Israel can overcome alone. For all Israel's strengths, Olmert said, "we should face the international community with quieter tones." It isn't healthy for either party, he said, if America is seen as "under the command of the state of Israel."
The ex-prime minister's comments were well received when he appeared in March at the J-Street conference in Washington. But they were red meat for the conservative Jerusalem Post crowd, which was largely male, middle-aged and at least one-third Orthodox. Olmert was constantly interrupted by booing, hissing, cries of "Neville Chamberlain" and calls in American-accented Hebrew of "maspik kvar" (enough already) and "lech habaita" (go home), which he deflected with steadily decreasing composure.
The day's most startling insight, however, was Olmert's response to the scorn heaped by conservatives on Dagan, Diskin and their colleagues. "What has happened that all the leaders of Israel's security services suddenly think in the same way?" Olmert asked. "Until they expressed their opinion in public, they were brave and admired fighters. Suddenly, they are enemies of Israel? Suddenly, they don't care about Israel's security?"
He was looking at Erdan, but he could just as well have been addressing the rowdy audience with the implied question he didn't ask: What do you know that these fellows don't?
8) U.S. abandons consulate site in Afghanistan, citing security risks
Ernesto Londoño, Washington Post, May 5
After signing a 10-year lease and spending more than $80 million on a site envisioned as the United States' diplomatic hub in northern Afghanistan, American officials say they have abandoned their plans, deeming the location for the proposed compound too dangerous.
Eager to raise an American flag and open a consulate in a bustling downtown district of the northern Afghan city of Mazar-e Sharif, officials in 2009 sought waivers to stringent State Department building rules and overlooked significant security problems at the site, documents show. The problems included relying on local building techniques that made the compound vulnerable to a car bombing, according to an assessment by the U.S. Embassy in Kabul that was obtained by The Washington Post.
The decision to give up on the site is the clearest sign to date that, as the U.S.-led military coalition starts to draw down troops amid mounting security concerns, American diplomats are being forced to reassess how to safely keep a viable presence in Afghanistan. The plan for the Mazar-e Sharif consulate, as laid out in a previously undisclosed diplomatic memorandum, is a cautionary tale of wishful thinking, poor planning and the type of stark choices the U.S. government will have to make in coming years as it tries to wind down its role in the war.
9) Drone strikes in Pakistan could continue under US-Afghan agreement
Jeremy Herb, The Hill, 05/03/12 11:55 AM ET
U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan Ryan Crocker acknowledged Wednesday that the new strategic partnership agreement signed by the United States and Afghanistan does not lead to an end to drone strikes in countries like Pakistan.
The 10-page agreement signed by President Obama and Afghan President Hamid Karzai on Tuesday says that the United States "pledges not to use Afghan territory or facilities as a launching point for attacks against other countries."
But Crocker said Wednesday that the language does not prevent the U.S. military from acting in self-defense - which means that drone strikes in Pakistan could continue.
"There is nothing in this agreement that precludes the right of self-defense for either party and if there are attacks from the territory of any state aimed at us we have the inherent right of self-defense and will employ it," Crocker said at a press briefing on the deal, according to AFP, when he was asked about drone strikes against the Taliban and al Qaeda in Pakistan.
[According to another report, when Crocker talks about "the right of self-defense" here he is talking about the right of self-defense under the UN Charter. This is an extremely expansive definition of "self-defense" if it is used to justify a continuation of everything the U.S. has done in the past, for example, if it is used to justify "signature" drone strikes on "suspected terrorists," which would not fall under any traditionally accepted definition of "self-defense against armed attack." If Pakistan pressed its case internationally against this definition, the U.S. would be in an awkward spot - JFP.]
10) U.S. Position on Iran Enrichment: More Public Recognition Than Policy Shift
Peter Crail, Arms Control Association, April 30, 2012
An April 27 Los Angeles Times story reports that "U.S. officials said they might agree to let Iran continue enriching uranium up to 5% purity, which is the upper end of the range for most civilian uses, if its government agrees to the unrestricted inspections, strict oversight and numerous safeguards that the United Nations has long demanded."
The story says that the prospect for such an arrangement "would be a significant concession" on the part of the United States and "a shift in the U.S. position that Iran must halt all enrichment activities."
The conclusions drawn by the L.A. Times misreads the history of the U.S. position and U.S. efforts to resolve the Iran nuclear issue with the P5+1.
Although there has long been a preference on the part of the United States and many of its allies for zero enrichment in Iran (indeed, opposition to the spread of any uranium enrichment capability to any additional countries has been long-standing U.S. policy and an important nonproliferation principle), the potential to discuss with Iran the conditions under which it could continue enrichment is not new. In fact, it is built into the proposals that the P5+1 have offered Iran since 2006, spanning the George W. Bush and Barack Obama administrations.
Then as now, the P5+1 require Iran to suspend uranium enrichment. The 2006 proposal, and it's 2008 update, include a review mechanism for that suspension to determine whether concerns over Iran's nuclear activities had been fully resolved, thereby meeting key conditions under which Iran could potentially resume enrichment. That proposal is still on the table.
Such a review mechanism appears consistent with what a senior administration told the LA Times: "A senior administration official said that if Iran fulfills U.S. and other world powers' demands for strict enforcement of U.N. monitoring and safeguards, "there can be a discussion" of allowing low-level domestic enrichment, "and maybe we can get there, potentially."
The shift by the Obama administration appears to be more a matter of its willingness to publicly state that there could be conditions under which Iran could maintain some enrichment capabilities, rather than a willingness to entertain the idea in the first place.
In March 2011, Secretary Clinton told the House Foreign Affairs Committee regarding Iran's claimed right to enrichment, "it has been our position that under very strict conditions Iran would, sometime in the future, having responded to the international community's concerns and irreversibly shut down its nuclear weapons program, have such a right under IAEA inspections."
As White House WMD Coordinator Gary Samore said in an Arms Control Today interview the following month:
"What Secretary Clinton said has made explicit what has always been implicit in our policy, going back to the Bush administration, that if Iran were to satisfy the UN Security Council that its nuclear intentions were peaceful, then we would have no objection to Iran engaging in the full suite of peaceful nuclear activities."
The most critical shift by the Obama administration was lifting the precondition that the United States would not hold talks with Iran as part of the P5+1 until Iran already carried out a key goal of those talks, suspending uranium enrichment. In doing so, Washington showed that it is far more committed to reaching a peaceful resolution to the nuclear file.
While a negotiated solution in which Iran abandons enrichment would be ideal-Iran does not need to enrich uranium because it imports its nuclear fuel and enrichment capabilities should be consolidated rather than spread-there is no foreseeable peaceful resolution that does not entail potential Iranian enrichment.
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