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JFP 9/19: JFP/NIAC Iran Fact Check Launched; Call a Senator for No War with Iran
Submitted by Robert Naiman on 19 September 2012 - 4:02pm
Just Foreign Policy News, September 19, 2012
JFP/NIAC Iran Fact Check Launched; Call a Senator for No War with Iran
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I) Actions and Featured Articles
*Action: JFP/NIAC: Tell Meet the Press: Real Journalism Requires Challenging False Information on Iran
On Sunday, Meet the Press allowed Netanyahu to give his stump speech for war on the Iran nuclear issue, without challenging his scaremongering with reference to known facts. Just Foreign Policy and the National Iranian American Council are teaming up to challenge pro-war distortions in the mainstream media with our "Iran Fact Check" campaign. Our first target: Meet the Press. Tell Meet the Press: real journalism requires challenging politicians when they spew false information on Iran.
Jamal Abdi and Robert Naiman: Meet the Press Gives Netanyahu Cheney's Bully Pulpit for War
A decade ago, Meet the Press gave Dick Cheney an uncontested platform to sell Americans a war based on distortions he claimed were an "absolute certainty." Now Meet the Press is giving Netanyahu the bully pulpit for war.
*Action: FCNL: Ask Your Senator to Speak Out Against Drumbeat for War
Call your Senator and ask that he or she speak out on the Senate floor against the drumbeat for war, and in support of the bipartisan Iran Project report from national security experts on the tremendous costs and dubious benefits of a war with Iran. FCNL has set up a toll-free number for you to call your Senator: 1-855-68-NO WAR
John Nichols: Is America Broke? Not With a Robin Hood Tax
John Nichols plugs Rep. Ellison's "Inclusive Prosperity Act," which would impose a 0.5% tax on stock trades. It would also tax trades in bonds, derivatives and currency. That would dampen destabilizing speculative trading and could raise $350 billion a year, money that could be used to promote economic development at home and abroad. $350 billion a year over ten years is about three times the size of the Budget Control Act's deficit reduction target.
Robert F. Worth and Helene Cooper: Mideast Unrest Intensifies Debate on U.S. Intervention in Syria
The increasingly sectarian nature of the conflict and the danger of becoming involved in a proxy war with Iran and Russia have kept the Obama administration and its European allies cautious. Looming over any potential intervention is the specter of Iraq, where a sectarian civil war devastated the country in 2006 and 2007 despite a major American military presence.
"These incidents will further give people pause because already our intelligence agencies have been telling us that amongst the Syrian opposition - the people who we're supposed to support - some of them are Al Qaeda affiliates," said Brian Katulis, a national security expert at the Center for American Progress, a research and advocacy organization with close ties to the Obama White House. It is far from clear that Western intervention in Syria would succeed in ousting Iran, which has deep networks in the country and might prove more adept than any Western or Arab power at operating in a chaotic, post-Assad Syria.
Tim Arango: Turkish Public Sours on Syrian Uprising
The Turkish government is facing a spasm of reproach from its own people over its policy of supporting Syria's uprising; hosting fighters in the south, opposition figures in Istanbul and refugees on the border; and helping to ferry arms to the opposition. While many Turks at first supported the policy as a stand for democracy and change, many now believe that it is leading to instability at home, undermining Turkey's own economy and security. Turkey's call for military intervention, which much of the international community opposes, has only added to the domestic frustration. Now, in the wake of the anti-American protests that have convulsed the Muslim world in reaction to a film that denigrated Islam, it seems less likely that Turkey will find partners in the West to join its call for military action in Syria.
Video Rant: "TokenLibertarianGirl" Calls Out "Republican Hypocrisy on Military Spending"
"Alright. How many times have you been talking to somebody … and then the discussion turns to military spending, and it goes something like this: 'You want to cut defense spending? Why do you hate America?'" Whoa…A large part of the military budget has nothing to do with defending the United States."
1) In a leaked video from a private fundraiser, Mitt Romney asserted that peace in the Middle East is not possible and that a Palestinian state is not feasible, David Corn reports for Mother Jones. Romney claimed that the Palestinians have "no interest whatsoever in establishing peace," and that "The idea of pushing on the Israelis to give something up to get the Palestinians to act is the worst idea in the world." In public, Romney has claimed that he supports the two-state solution and the creation of an independent Palestinian state, but privately he said his policy would be to "kick the ball down the field."
2) Senators are talking to each other about how much the Pentagon budget can be cut, Politico reports. Sen. Levin has proposed an additional $100 billion in Pentagon cuts over ten years in addition to the $487 billion in "cuts" that have already been agreed [that was a cut from a previously projected increase, so in fact the Pentagon budget has only been slightly nicked so far, but cuts beyond $487 billion would start to be real, though $100 billion would be just 1/5 of what the Pentagon would have to give up under the sequester -JFP.] Sen. Graham is demanding that some of the "cuts" already made be restored.
Pentagon spending advocates say Social Security and Medicare benefits will have to be cut to project Pentagon spending, Politico says. "Regardless of who wins, the big deal will have tax increases and spending cuts," said one military industry lobbyist. "The ratio will just be different. With taxes playing a smaller role in a Republican plan, entitlement programs like Medicare will have to play a bigger one to protect defense."
"It's time to find the cuts somewhere else," the lobbyist said. "The defense community should be more outspoken on entitlements." [That is, the military industrial complex should be more vocal in support of cuts to Social Security and Medicare benefits in order to protect the Pentagon budget from cuts - JFP.]
3) The US-led military coalition in Afghanistan said it has temporarily curtailed joint operations with the Afghan Army and police forces, the New York Times reports. Officials said they feared anger over the US-made anti-Islam video could worsen an already deadly spike in attacks on foreign troops by Afghan soldiers and police forces over the past six weeks. Some Afghan soldiers and police forces said most of their units were not yet ready to fight on their own. "It's better to announce a cease-fire so we can also step back and take a nap," said an Afghan police chief.
4) A suicide bomber killed 14 people in Afghanistan Tuesday, including 10 foreigners, most of whom worked under contract with the US government, the New York Times reports. The attack brought to at least 28 the number of deaths attributed to unrest sweeping the Muslim world as a result of a video attacking Islam.
5) A federal appeals court judge granted the Obama administration's request for an "emergency" stay of a ruling by a federal trial judge blocking enforcement of a law authorizing the indefinite detention of terrorism suspects, the New York Times reports. Judge Katherine Forrest had held that the 2001 authorization of military force did not cover mere supporters, as opposed to people who were part of the enemy force, and she questioned whether it covered associated forces. [If Judge Forrest's narrower interpretation of the 2001 AUMF is allowed to stand, it could constrain not only the limits of the Administration's claimed authority to indefinitely detain prisoners, but also to conduct drone strikes, because this language in the 2001 AUMF is the authority the Administration claims for drone strikes - JFP.]
6) There are lessons for handling Iran's nuclear program in the declassified CIA self-analysis of its misreading of Saddam Hussein's reaction to U.N. inspections of his weapons of mass destruction program, writes Walter Pincus in the Washington Post. The CIA now concedes that it misread Iraqi intentions, taking past failure to cooperate as evidence that Iraq must have a covert weapons program. The lesson for today is not to accept Iran's current defiance of the U.N. Security Council or incomplete cooperation with the IAEA as proof that Iran wants a bomb.
7) The story Romney told in the leaked fundraiser video that Iran would be likely to give "a little fissile material to Hezbollah, have them carry it to Chicago or some other place," and say, "'Guess what? Unless you stand down, why, we're going to let off a dirty bomb.'" doesn't make much sense, writes Max Fisher in The Atlantic. It would be very hard for Hezbollah members to get into the U.S.; U.S. border security specifically screens for radioactive material, which is easy to detect; uranium, the material Iran is using in its nuclear program, is highly inefficient material to use in a dirty bomb; the difficulty of bringing nuclear material into the U.S. far exceeds the potential harm that material would add to a conventional explosion.
8) Recently declassified Israeli documents chronicle key conversations between American and Israeli officials before and during the 1982 massacre at two Palestinian refugee camps in Israeli-occupied West Beirut, writes Seth Anziska in the New York Times. The transcripts reveal that US officials failed to exert strong diplomatic pressure on Israel that could have ended the atrocities. As a result, Phalange militiamen operating with Israeli assistance were able to murder at least 800 Palestinian civilians, whom America had pledged to protect just weeks earlier.
9) Former President Jimmy Carter praised Venezuela for having a touch-screen voting system that both stores votes electronically and via paper ballots, allowing easier verification of the election results, Global Atlanta reports. "As a matter of fact, of the 92 elections that we've monitored, I would say the election process in Venezuela is the best in the world," Carter said.
1) Secret Video: On Israel, Romney Trashes Two-State Solution
At a private fundraiser, the GOP candidate calls Middle East peace "almost unthinkable" and says he would "kick the ball down the field."
David Corn, Mother Jones, Tue Sep. 18, 2012 3:00 AM PDT
At the private fundraiser held May 17 where Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney candidly spoke about political strategy—noting that he saw half of the American electorate as freeloaders and "victims" who do not believe in personal responsibility—he discussed various foreign policy positions, sharing views that he does not express in public, including his belief that peace in the Middle East is not possible and a Palestinian state is not feasible.
Mother Jones has obtained video of Romney at this intimate dinner and has confirmed its authenticity. The event was held at the home of controversial private equity manager Marc Leder in Boca Raton, Florida, with tickets costing $50,000 a plate. During the freewheeling conversation, a donor asked Romney how the "Palestinian problem" can be solved. Romney immediately launched into a detailed reply, asserting that the Palestinians have "no interest whatsoever in establishing peace, and that the pathway to peace is almost unthinkable to accomplish."
Romney spoke of "the Palestinians" as a united bloc of one mindset, and he said: "I look at the Palestinians not wanting to see peace anyway, for political purposes, committed to the destruction and elimination of Israel, and these thorny issues, and I say there's just no way."
Romney was indicating he did not believe in the peace process and, as president, would aim to postpone significant action: "[S]o what you do is, you say, you move things along the best way you can. You hope for some degree of stability, but you recognize that this is going to remain an unsolved problem…and we kick the ball down the field and hope that ultimately, somehow, something will happen and resolve it."
Romney did note there was another perspective on this knotty matter. He informed his donors that a former secretary of state—he would not say who—had told him there was "a prospect for a settlement between the Palestinians and the Israelis." Romney recalled that he had replied, "Really?" Then he added that he had not asked this ex-secretary of state for further explanation.
After saying all that, Romney emphasized that he was against applying any pressure on Israel: "The idea of pushing on the Israelis to give something up to get the Palestinians to act is the worst idea in the world."
In public, Romney has not declared the peace process pointless or dismissed the two-state solution. In July, when the Israeli newspaper Haaretz asked Romney if he supports a two-state solution and the creation of a Palestinian state, he replied, "I believe in a two-state solution which suggests there will be two states, including a Jewish state." Yet Romney's remarks to these funders—this was one of his longest answers at the fundraiser—suggest he might be hiding his true beliefs regarding Israel and the peace process and that on this subject he is out of sync with the predominant view in foreign policy circles that has existed for decades.
2) Hill talks numbers on defense cuts
Kate Brannen and Austin Wright, Politico, September 18, 2012 05:38 AM EDT
It all comes down to the number. After months of dire talk about $1 trillion in cuts to the Pentagon over the next decade if the sequester takes effect, and all the high-minded talk of zero cuts from hawks, defense is going to take another hit regardless of who's in the White House next year. As that realization begins to sink in, critical lawmakers are already starting to play an old-fashioned game of horse trading.
The first move: Name a figure.
Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.) has floated $587 billion in cuts. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) says he can swallow only $400 billion over 10 years. Sen. Kelly Ayotte doesn't have a number yet, but the Republican from New Hampshire says she's a part of the conversation.
Levin, who chairs the Senate Armed Services Committee, was the first to start talking about a magic number. In June, he said he'd like to see an alternate deal that subtracted about $100 billion from the defense budget over the coming decade. That would be in addition to the $487 billion in reductions mandated by Congress last year but far less than the nearly $1 trillion the Department of Defense would've lost when that was combined with the sequester.
Graham, a member of the Armed Services Committee, gave another hint of where the discussions could stand. With Republican Mitt Romney in the White House, Graham said Congress should not only remove the threat of sequester but pare back some of last year's $487 billion in first-round reductions.
"The first thing I want President Romney to do is to cut the budget responsibly and reject sequestration," Graham said. "[Four hundred billion dollars] is all I can live with. … At the end of the day, I'm willing to do $400 billion over 10 [years]."
The difference between Levin's and Graham's positions highlights two potential problems for a Congress trying to approach an alternate deal to reduce defense spending - it not only splits Democrats and Republicans but could split Republican hawks and tea party conservatives like Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, especially if November's elections increase the number of fiscal conservatives in the Senate.
Paul and the influential conservative activist Grover Norquist have both said that Republicans shouldn't treat each defense dollar as sacred, putting them at odds with pro-Pentagon hawks in their own party.
Defense advocates say the Pentagon has already paid its fair share in deficit reduction and next year's Congress will have no choice but to focus on the biggest parts of the federal budget, including entitlements.
"Regardless of who wins, the big deal will have tax increases and spending cuts," said one defense lobbyist, who asked not to be identified. "The ratio will just be different. With taxes playing a smaller role in a Republican plan, entitlement programs like Medicare will have to play a bigger one to protect defense."
"It's time to find the cuts somewhere else," the lobbyist said. "The defense community should be more outspoken on entitlements." That could include the politically sensitive "entitlements" included in the defense budget, including pay and benefits for troops - another reason a deal would have to come after the election and perhaps early in the tenure of a new Congress.
3) Coalition Sharply Reduces Joint Operations With Afghan Troops
Matthew Rosenberg, New York Times, September 18, 2012
Kabul, Afghanistan - In a significant blow to a core element of the Western exit strategy from Afghanistan, the American-led military coalition said Tuesday it has temporarily curtailed joint operations with the Afghan Army and police forces.
The new limits were a sign of how American priorities were being drastically reordered amid a wave of anti-American sentiment brought on by an anti-Islam movie, which has sparked riots across the Muslim world and on Tuesday was the motive behind a suicide bombing here that killed 14 people, 10 of them foreigners.
Coalition officials said they feared that anger over the American-made film, which mocks the Prophet Muhammad, could worsen an already deadly spike in attacks on foreign troops by Afghan soldiers and police forces over the past six weeks. Under the rules issued on Sunday, a general's approval will be required for foreign forces to work with Afghans on a tactical level - a broad category that covers everything from joint patrols into Taliban territory to hands-on training behind the fortified walls of a shared outpost.
Until now, junior officers from both sides were able to organize patrols or small operations on their own. An American captain, for instance, could send men from his company to reinforce Afghans in a firefight without seeking higher approval. But now those officers would need approval from a two-star general who commands thousands of service members.
The shift away from a top-to-bottom partnership with Afghans, even on a temporary basis, represented a sharp departure from efforts to pull Afghan forces closer to the coalition's own so they could battle the Taliban together and, at the same time, let Afghanistan's nascent army and police lean on and learn from foreign troops.
We are not stepping away from this," said Lt. Col. Richard W. Spiegel of the Army, a coalition spokesman. "Things might look a little different, but we're not walking away."
Yet such talk did little to reassure Afghan soldiers and police forces, a number of whom said most of their units were not yet ready to fight on their own - an assessment shared by the Pentagon's own public reporting.
"It's better to announce a cease-fire so we can also step back and take a nap," said Abdul Qayom Baqizoi, the police chief of Wardak Province in central Afghanistan.
Amid the growth in popular anti-American sentiment, President Hamid Karzai and top officials in his government have also begun this week to publicly push back on Washington's demands that they hold thousands of prisoners indefinitely at a prison recently turned over by the Americans.
The Afghan government made clear on Sunday that it wants the Americans to immediately turn over another 600 prisoners they are still holding.
The government followed up on Tuesday by saying that Afghan law does not provide for the indefinite detention of prisoners.
4) Suicide Bomber in Afghanistan Strikes Minibus, Killing Mostly Foreign Workers
Rod Nordland and Sangar Rahimi, New York Times, September 18, 2012
Kabul, Afghanistan - A suicide bomber killed 14 people on Tuesday, including 10 foreigners, most of whom worked as flight crew members under contract with the United States government, officials said. The attack brought to at least 28 the number of deaths attributed to unrest sweeping the Muslim world as a result of a video parodying the Prophet Muhammad.
A spokesman for an Afghan insurgent group, Hezb-i-Islami, claimed responsibility for the bombing and said it was carried out by an 18-year-old woman "in response to the film insulting the Prophet Muhammad and Islam."
The attack took place as word emerged that the American-led military coalition fighting the insurgents had sharply curtailed ground-level operations with the Afghan Army and police forces. The new limits were prompted by a spike in attacks on international troops by Afghan soldiers and police officers over the past six weeks. There was also fear that anger over the anti-Islam video could prompt such attacks, American officials said.
The deaths in Kabul on Tuesday were the first here so far connected to the video, and came as the authorities cracked down on attempted street demonstrations and asked Internet providers to block sites hosting a clip of the film, posted under the name "Innocence of Muslims," shutting down access to Google, YouTube and Gmail in the process.
Access to Google and Gmail in Afghanistan appeared to have been restored by Monday afternoon, though officials said YouTube remained blocked for most Internet users. Google, which owns YouTube, declined a White House request to remove the video, saying it did not violate Google's rules on hate speech. In Egypt, a radical cleric issued a fatwa calling for the killing of everyone involved in the video, according to a report posted on militants' Web sites.
In the attack on Tuesday, the suicide bomber drove a car full of explosives at high speed head-on into a minibus carrying foreign workers on Airport Road, killing all 12 people aboard and two people on the road, according to the police.
5) U.S. Appeals Judge Grants Stay of Ruling on Detention Law
Charlie Savage, New York Times, September 18, 2012
Washington - A high-profile ruling by a federal trial judge last week blocking enforcement of a law authorizing the indefinite detention of terrorism suspects is on hold for now.
Late Monday, a federal appeals court judge in New York granted the Obama administration's request for an "emergency" stay of the ruling, by Judge Katherine Forrest of United States District Court, who issued a permanent injunction against a provision of the National Defense Authorization Act of 2011 listing conduct that could result in detention without trial.
The Obama administration had urged the appeals court on Monday morning to block the injunction, saying that Judge Forrest's ruling had gone beyond the new statute and jeopardized some of its existing authority to hold certain wartime prisoners under the 11-year-old Authorization for Use of Military Force against the perpetrators of the Sept. 11 attacks.
In a one-page order, Judge Raymond J. Lohier of the Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit granted the interim stay until a panel of judges hold a hearing on the matter, scheduled for Sept. 28. It is not yet clear which judges on the appeals court will be assigned to the panel.
The National Defense Authorization Act was controversial in part because it was vague: Congress said that not only members of Al Qaeda and the Taliban were detainable, but also substantial supporters of those groups or of associated forces, without specifying what kind of conduct could make someone detainable and which associated forces were off limits.
But Judge Forrest contended that the original force authorization did not cover mere supporters, as opposed to people who were part of the enemy force, and she questioned whether it covered associated forces.
[If this interpretation of the 2001 AUMF were to stand, it would not only constrain the government's use of indefinite detention, but also the government's use of drone strikes, because the Administration is using the 2001 AUMF as its authorization for drone strikes - JFP.]
6) Lessons from the past for today's Iran
Walter Pincus, Washington Post, September 17
There are lessons for handling Iran's nuclear program in the declassified CIA self-analysis of its misreading of the late Iraqi president Saddam Hussein's reaction to U.N. inspections of his weapons of mass destruction program.
The 16-page report, first disclosed 13 days ago by the National Security Archive at George Washington University, concludes with some findings relevant to the Iranian situation.
The study, done in 2006, found that CIA analysts wrongly "tended to focus on what was most important to us - the hunt for WMD (weapons of mass destruction) - and less on what would be most important for a paranoid dictatorship to protect."
Today, the U.S. government views Iran's actions - many permitted by the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) - as signs of a country seeking a nuclear weapons capability, if not the weapons themselves.
Why? Because Iran's original move to build its own enrichment facilities were undertaken secretly and acknowledged only after being discovered by U.S. intelligence and publicized by anti-Tehran exiles.
The CIA report draws attention to Iraq's "cheat and retreat" policy in the early 1990s of concealing WMD items and activities. The United States and its allies saw the efforts as coverups that validated intelligence analysts' "assessments that Iraq intended to deny, deceive, and maintain forbidden capabilities." Thus when Iraq decided in 1995 to destroy its existing WMDs and come clean, after Saddam's son-in-law defected and talked about the programs, there was doubt.
Has Iran's original deceptions and subsequent intransigence led the United States and others to disregard Tehran's claim that it only wants to make fuel for its research reactors and power plants?
The CIA report cautions that U.S. analysts should have viewed Saddam's late WMD disclosures through "an Iraqi prism." They would have seen the that Iraqis wanted to protect "their reputation, their security, their overall technological capabilities and their status needed to be preserved," according to the report.
The lesson for today is not to accept Iran's current defiance of the U.N. Security Council as proof that Tehran wants a bomb. The CIA report notes that in Iraq's case, "deceptions were perpetrated and detected, but the reasons for those deceptions were misread."
The current cleanup at Iran's Parchin military base, while delaying a visit from inspectors with the International Atomic Energy Agency, is being viewed as Tehran trying to hide previous work on possible weapons-building experiments. The CIA report says that "Baghdad destroyed rather than revealed items, attempting to make its inaccurate assertions of no program correct in a legalistic sense." Such Iraqi attempts "to find face-saving means to disclose previously hidden information, however, reinforced the idea that Baghdad was deceptive and unreliable," the CIA said.
The CIA report also showed that some U.S. and U.N. actions led Iraq's leaders to believe the goal was to change the ruling regime rather than just halt Tehran's WMD program. Two steps were noted: one was when U.N. inspectors began to look into Iraq's security apparatus and concealment apparatus; the other was when the U.S. Congress in 1998 approved the Iraq Liberation Act, which provided funds to Iraqi exile groups.
The Obama administration halted the Bush policy of regime change for Iran, but many Republicans still favor it. Some Iranian officials see a pattern in IAEA inspectors seeking to add additional sites for visits that can only end with regime change. They also weigh presidential and congressional campaign statements for signs that regime change is still a U.S. goal.
One other cautionary note from the study: When, in fact, Iraq provided its report that said it had destroyed its WMD arms and ended its WMD programs, "past Iraqi deceptions led to suspicion of Iraq's motives" and its leaders "would have had to take specific steps with [U.N. inspectors] to overcome perceptions of dishonesty."
Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei repeated on Aug. 30 assurances that Iran wants only to pursue peaceful uses of atomic energy and is not seeking a nuclear weapon. As early as 2006, he issued a religious fatwa that said the production, stockpiling and use of nuclear weapons was forbidden under Islam.
Some present and former U.S. officials believe that this tie to Islamic law provides Khamenei with a means to strike a deal with the West to limit enrichment to low levels. However, the broader reaction is that Iran could forget about Islamic law if domestic or foreign events lead to a decision to build a bomb.
7) Romney's 5 Oddest Fundraiser Statements on Israel, Iran, and Peace, The Atlantic, Max Fisher, The Atlantic, September 18, 2012
In a secretly recorded meeting with donors, the presidential candidate offered some surprising thoughts on the Middle East. In a closed-door meeting with fundraisers, leaked video of which was just released, presidential candidate Mitt Romney made a number of unusually candid statements.
4) "If I were Iran -- a crazed fanatic, I'd say let's get a little fissile material to Hezbollah, have them carry it to Chicago or some other place, and then if anything goes wrong, or America starts acting up, we'll just say, 'Guess what? Unless you stand down, why, we're going to let off a dirty bomb.' I mean this is where we have -- where America could be held up and blackmailed by Iran, by the mullahs, by crazy people."
This is an odd threat to speculate on for four reasons: (1) Post-2001 U.S. no-fly lists are so sensitive that even Nelson Mandela struggled to get off them, so it's hard to foresee Hezbollah members skating in and out of the U.S. (2) U.S. border security specifically screens for radioactive material, which is particularly easy to detect because it is ... radioactive. (3) Any bomb is dangerous, and that includes a bomb that would disperse poisonous radiation, but a "dirty bomb" is not the same thing you might have seen on 24. Uranium, the material Iran is using in its nascent program, "is simply not a good radioactive bomb material," as the Federation of American Scientists explained. That's not to say that dirty bombs are fine and dandy, but the difficulty of bringing nuclear material into the U.S. far exceeds the potential harm that material would add to a conventional explosion, which is enough of a threat on its own. (4) All of which is to say that there are plenty of reasons that the U.S. president should be and is highly concerned about Iran's nuclear program, but this somewhat outlandish scenario would be pretty far down the list.
8) A Preventable Massacre
Seth Anziska, New York Times, September 16, 2012
On the night of Sept. 16, 1982, the Israeli military allowed a right-wing Lebanese militia to enter two Palestinian refugee camps in Beirut. In the ensuing three-day rampage, the militia, linked to the Maronite Christian Phalange Party, raped, killed and dismembered at least 800 civilians, while Israeli flares illuminated the camps' narrow and darkened alleyways. Nearly all of the dead were women, children and elderly men.
While Israel's role in the massacre has been closely examined, America's actions have never been fully understood. This summer, at the Israel State Archives, I found recently declassified documents that chronicle key conversations between American and Israeli officials before and during the 1982 massacre. The verbatim transcripts reveal that the Israelis misled American diplomats about events in Beirut and bullied them into accepting the spurious claim that thousands of "terrorists" were in the camps. Most troubling, when the United States was in a position to exert strong diplomatic pressure on Israel that could have ended the atrocities, it failed to do so. As a result, Phalange militiamen were able to murder Palestinian civilians, whom America had pledged to protect just weeks earlier.
Israel's involvement in the Lebanese civil war began in June 1982, when it invaded its northern neighbor. Its goal was to root out the Palestine Liberation Organization, which had set up a state within a state, and to transform Lebanon into a Christian-ruled ally. The Israel Defense Forces soon besieged P.L.O.-controlled areas in the western part of Beirut. Intense Israeli bombardments led to heavy civilian casualties and tested even President Ronald Reagan, who initially backed Israel. In mid-August, as America was negotiating the P.L.O.'s withdrawal from Lebanon, Reagan told Prime Minister Menachem Begin that the bombings "had to stop or our entire future relationship was endangered," Reagan wrote in his diaries.
The United States agreed to deploy Marines to Lebanon as part of a multinational force to supervise the P.L.O.'s departure, and by Sept. 1, thousands of its fighters - including Yasir Arafat - had left Beirut for various Arab countries. After America negotiated a cease-fire that included written guarantees to protect the Palestinian civilians remaining in the camps from vengeful Lebanese Christians, the Marines departed Beirut, on Sept. 10.
Israel hoped that Lebanon's newly elected president, Bashir Gemayel, a Maronite, would support an Israeli-Christian alliance. But on Sept. 14, Gemayel was assassinated. Israel reacted by violating the cease-fire agreement. It quickly occupied West Beirut - ostensibly to prevent militia attacks against the Palestinian civilians. "The main order of the day is to keep the peace," Begin told the American envoy to the Middle East, Morris Draper, on Sept. 15. "Otherwise, there could be pogroms."
By Sept. 16, the I.D.F. was fully in control of West Beirut, including Sabra and Shatila. In Washington that same day, Under Secretary of State Lawrence S. Eagleburger told the Israeli ambassador, Moshe Arens, that "Israel's credibility has been severely damaged" and that "we appear to some to be the victim of deliberate deception by Israel." He demanded that Israel withdraw from West Beirut immediately.
In Tel Aviv, Mr. Draper and the American ambassador, Samuel W. Lewis, met with top Israeli officials. Contrary to Prime Minister Begin's earlier assurances, Defense Minister Sharon said the occupation of West Beirut was justified because there were "2,000 to 3,000 terrorists who remained there." Mr. Draper disputed this claim; having coordinated the August evacuation, he knew the number was minuscule. Mr. Draper said he was horrified to hear that Mr. Sharon was considering allowing the Phalange militia into West Beirut. Even the I.D.F. chief of staff, Rafael Eitan, acknowledged to the Americans that he feared "a relentless slaughter."
On the evening of Sept. 16, the Israeli cabinet met and was informed that Phalange fighters were entering the Palestinian camps. Deputy Prime Minister David Levy worried aloud: "I know what the meaning of revenge is for them, what kind of slaughter. Then no one will believe we went in to create order there, and we will bear the blame." That evening, word of civilian deaths began to filter out to Israeli military officials, politicians and journalists.
At 12:30 p.m. on Sept. 17, Foreign Minister Yitzhak Shamir hosted a meeting with Mr. Draper, Mr. Sharon and several Israeli intelligence chiefs. Mr. Shamir, having reportedly heard of a "slaughter" in the camps that morning, did not mention it.
The transcript of the Sept. 17 meeting reveals that the Americans were browbeaten by Mr. Sharon's false insistence that "terrorists" needed "mopping up." It also shows how Israel's refusal to relinquish areas under its control, and its delays in coordinating with the Lebanese National Army, which the Americans wanted to step in, prolonged the slaughter.
Mr. Draper opened the meeting by demanding that the I.D.F. pull back right away. Mr. Sharon exploded, "I just don't understand, what are you looking for? Do you want the terrorists to stay? Are you afraid that somebody will think that you were in collusion with us? Deny it. We denied it." Mr. Draper, unmoved, kept pushing for definitive signs of a withdrawal. Mr. Sharon, who knew Phalange forces had already entered the camps, cynically told him, "Nothing will happen. Maybe some more terrorists will be killed. That will be to the benefit of all of us." Mr. Shamir and Mr. Sharon finally agreed to gradually withdraw once the Lebanese Army started entering the city - but they insisted on waiting 48 hours (until the end of Rosh Hashana, which started that evening).
Continuing his plea for some sign of an Israeli withdrawal, Mr. Draper warned that critics would say, "Sure, the I.D.F. is going to stay in West Beirut and they will let the Lebanese go and kill the Palestinians in the camps."
Mr. Sharon replied: "So, we'll kill them. They will not be left there. You are not going to save them. You are not going to save these groups of the international terrorism."
Mr. Draper responded: "We are not interested in saving any of these people." Mr. Sharon declared: "If you don't want the Lebanese to kill them, we will kill them."
Mr. Draper then caught himself, and backtracked. He reminded the Israelis that the United States had painstakingly facilitated the P.L.O. exit from Beirut "so it wouldn't be necessary for you to come in." He added, "You should have stayed out."
Mr. Sharon exploded again: "When it comes to our security, we have never asked. We will never ask. When it comes to existence and security, it is our own responsibility and we will never give it to anybody to decide for us." The meeting ended with an agreement to coordinate withdrawal plans after Rosh Hashana.
By allowing the argument to proceed on Mr. Sharon's terms, Mr. Draper effectively gave Israel cover to let the Phalange fighters remain in the camps. Fuller details of the massacre began to emerge on Sept. 18, when a young American diplomat, Ryan C. Crocker, visited the gruesome scene and reported back to Washington.
Years later, Mr. Draper called the massacre "obscene." And in an oral history recorded a few years before his death in 2005, he remembered telling Mr. Sharon: "You should be ashamed. The situation is absolutely appalling. They're killing children! You have the field completely under your control and are therefore responsible for that area."
On Sept. 18, Reagan pronounced his "outrage and revulsion over the murders." He said the United States had opposed Israel's invasion of Beirut, both because "we believed it wrong in principle and for fear that it would provoke further fighting." Secretary of State George P. Shultz later admitted that "we are partially responsible" because "we took the Israelis and the Lebanese at their word." He summoned Ambassador Arens. "When you take military control over a city, you're responsible for what happens," he told him. "Now we have a massacre."
But the belated expression of shock and dismay belies the Americans' failed diplomatic effort during the massacre. The transcript of Mr. Draper's meeting with the Israelis demonstrates how the United States was unwittingly complicit in the tragedy of Sabra and Shatila.
Ambassador Lewis, now retired, told me that the massacre would have been hard to prevent "unless Reagan had picked up the phone and called Begin and read him the riot act even more clearly than he already did in August - that might have stopped it temporarily." But "Sharon would have found some other way" for the militiamen to take action, Mr. Lewis added.
Nicholas A. Veliotes, then the assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern affairs, agreed. "Vintage Sharon," he said, after I read the transcript to him. "It is his way or the highway."
The Sabra and Shatila massacre severely undercut America's influence in the Middle East, and its moral authority plummeted. In the aftermath of the massacre, the United States felt compelled by "guilt" to redeploy the Marines, who ended up without a clear mission, in the midst of a brutal civil war.
On Oct. 23, 1983, the Marine barracks in Beirut were bombed and 241 Marines were killed. The attack led to open warfare with Syrian-backed forces and, soon after, the rapid withdrawal of the Marines to their ships. As Mr. Lewis told me, America left Lebanon "with our tail between our legs."
The archival record reveals the magnitude of a deception that undermined American efforts to avoid bloodshed. Working with only partial knowledge of the reality on the ground, the United States feebly yielded to false arguments and stalling tactics that allowed a massacre in progress to proceed.
The lesson of the Sabra and Shatila tragedy is clear. Sometimes close allies act contrary to American interests and values. Failing to exert American power to uphold those interests and values can have disastrous consequences: for our allies, for our moral standing and most important, for the innocent people who pay the highest price of all.
9) Carter Praises Venezuela, Scolds U.S. on Electoral Processes
Trevor Williams, Global Atlanta, 09.17.12
Atlanta - When Hugo Chavez won Venezuela's election in 2006, not everyone was happy about the results. Still, former President Jimmy Carter said at the Carter Center Sept. 11, the controversial leader won "fairly and squarely."
He steered clear of Mr. Chavez's political views, but Mr. Carter praised the South American country for a touch-screen voting system that both stores votes electronically and via paper ballots, allowing easier verification of the election results. "As a matter of fact, of the 92 elections that we've monitored, I would say the election process in Venezuela is the best in the world," Mr. Carter said, noting the center's extensive work monitoring elections around the globe.
Responding to a question during the kickoff of the annual Conversations at the Carter Center series, Mr. Carter also pointed out that elections in Latin America as a whole have improved significantly over the past few decades. For example, he said Mexico only recently held its first "honest" election, which the Carter Center was allowed to monitor last month.
However, while candidates in Mexico and nearly every other Latin American country depend on public money to finance campaigns, the U.S. has seen an influx of "financial corruption" following court rulings that have eased the flow of private money into candidates' coffers, he said. "Every other country has public financing of all the elections process," he said. "If you qualify to run for office, you get public financing and outside money does not affect the outcome of the election."
Although public financing remains is an option for U.S. candidates, nominees from both major political parties have opted to raise more funds through private donations.
Mr. Carter called for the U.S. Supreme Court to reverse its 2010 ruling in the landmark case of Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, in which the court agreed it was unconstitutional for the government to restrict anonymous donations to third-party political groups. "We have one of the worst election processes in the world, and it's almost entirely because of the excessive influx of money," Mr. Carter said.
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