JFP 9/21: Neocons back; top R turns on Afghan war; AI demands Quartet save Pal. villages
Just Foreign Policy News, September 21, 2012
Neocons back; top R turns on Afghan war; AI demands Quartet save Pal. villages
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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.
1) "Neocon puppet master" Dan Senor is now driving the foreign policy agenda of Romney and Ryan, writes Maureen Dowd in the New York Times. A moral, muscular foreign policy; a disdain for weakness and diplomacy; a duty to invade and bomb Israel's neighbors; a divine right to pre-emption - it's all ominously familiar. You can draw a direct line from the hyperpower manifesto of the Project for the New American Century, which the neocons used to prod an uninformed president into invading Iraq - a wildly misguided attempt to intimidate Arabs through the shock of overwhelming force, Dowd writes.
2) Over and over, every time the subject of pulling American troops out of Afghanistan has come up, Florida Republican Bill Young has voted to stay the course, the Tampa Bay Times reports. But not anymore: "I think we should remove ourselves from Afghanistan as quickly as we can," Young said. "I just think we're killing kids that don't need to die." Young is chair of the House defense appropriations subcommittee.
The death of 26-year-old Staff Sgt. Matthew S. Sitton was one factor that convinced him to change. Sitton, an Army Ranger, attended the Christian school run by the church Young attends. Before he died, Sitton wrote Young a letter "and told me some things I found hard to believe," Young said.
Sitton told Young about "being forced to go on patrol on foot through fields that they knew were mined with no explanation for why they were patrolling on foot," the congressman said. Young said Sitton predicted his own death, "and what he said would happen happened." He stepped on an improvised explosive device and was killed, leaving behind his wife, Sarah, and their 9-month-old son, Brodey.
Young said he has talked with his Republican colleagues in Congress about his new position on Afghanistan and he believes they feel the same way he does, "but they tend not to want to go public" about it.
3) Now that it's ending, U.S. and NATO military officials are retroactively redefining the goals of the Afghan troop surge, writes Spencer Ackerman for Wired. The new line is that it was about getting the Afghan military prepared to take over the country. That was not the point of the surge when President Obama sold it to the American people. "We must reverse the Taliban's momentum and deny it the ability to overthrow the government," Obama said in December 2009 when he announced his decision to order an additional 30,000 troops to Afghanistan.
4) Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and 28 other members of the 53-member Senate Democratic caucus have signed a letter opposing any cuts to Social Security as part of a deficit reduction package, The Hill reports. Illinois Senator Dick Durbin refused to sign the letter. [The letter makes it more likely that the Pentagon budget will be cut, since Pentagon contractor lobbyists want Social Security to be cut instead of the Pentagon budget - JFP.]
5) The United States and Pakistan are planning a joint effort to draw the Taliban toward peace talks in Afghanistan, the Washington Post reports.
6) The House defeated a proposal to establish a national park celebrating the technological achievements of the Manhattan Project, the office of Rep. Dennis Kucinich reports. In opposing the proposal, Kucinich cited the precedent of the Bradbury Science Museum at Los Alamos where the bomb is celebrated, while the devastation wrought from the bomb is given short shrift. "We should not celebrate the death of hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians or the destruction of two major Japanese cities," said Kucinich. ""Many of our top military officials, including President Eisenhower, have stated that the bomb was not necessary to win the war; it was used for political reasons."
7) A prominent factory monitoring group heavily financed by industry gave a clean bill of health to a Pakistani apparel plant last month, just weeks before a fire engulfed the premises and killed nearly 300 workers, many of them trapped behind locked exit doors, the New York Times reports. The inspectors were working on behalf of Social Accountability International, a monitoring group that obtains much of its financing from corporations. "The whole system is flawed," said Scott Nova, executive director of the Worker Rights Consortium, a monitoring group financed by American universities. "This demonstrates, more clearly than ever, that corporate-funded monitoring systems like S.A.I. cannot and will not protect workers."
8) New evidence suggests that the Taliban had influenced a number of Afghan soldiers and police who killed NATO personnel, write Gareth Porter and Shah Noori for Inter Press Service. A former senior U.S. counterinsurgency adviser says the evidence indicates most Afghan personnel who killed NATO troops and were not already Taliban when they joined the security forces had later become "de facto infiltrators." Retired Lt. Col. Anthony Shaffer, senior fellow and director of communications at the Center for Advanced Defense Studies, says U.S. officers in Afghanistan don't believe the Afghan government's efforts to identify potential Taliban infiltrators or sympathisers will slow the pace of insider killings. "They are all saying it isn't going to have any effect," said Shaffer.
9) Pentagon policy chief Jim Miller said Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's warning this week that Iran would have nearly enough bomb-grade uranium to build a nuclear weapon in six months does not change the U.S. assessment of the need for military action, Foreign Policy reports. [This is actually a misreporting by FP of what Bibi said, see below -JFP.] Miller said enrichment was just one factor in the U.S. calculation of how long it would take for Iran to have a working nuclear bomb. "The timeline, from our perspective, includes the question of how long it takes to enrich, and then how long it would take to go from a certain level of enrichment to weapons grade, and other steps in that process," Miller said.
Defense Secretary Leon Panetta says U.S. and other intelligence agencies, including Israel's, agree that despite Iran's enrichment activities, Iranian leaders have not made the decision to pursue a bomb.
10) The scariest aspect of a U.S.-Iran war game recently organized by Brookings that involved former US officials was the way each side miscalculated the other's responses - and moved toward war even as the players thought they were choosing restrained options, writes David Ignatius in the Washington Post. Each side thought it was choosing limited options, but their moves were interpreted as crossing red lines. Attacks proved more deadly than expected; signals were not understood; attempts to open channels of communication were ignored; the desire to look tough compelled actions that produced results neither side wanted.
11) A group of 30 aid, development, and human rights organizations warned that Israel's eviction and demolition plans for 13 Palestinian villages in the Hebron Hills come as demolition and displacement rates have hit a three-year high, Amnesty International reports. The communities are targeted for demolition or expulsion from the area as the government of Israel plans to use the land for the expansion of an Israeli settlement and to create a closed military zone. The organizations are calling on the Middle East Quartet, meeting on 24 September, to deliver a concrete plan of action that keeps Palestinian families in their homes.
1) Neocons Slither Back
Maureen Dowd, New York Times, September 15, 2012
Washington - Paul Ryan has not sautéed in foreign policy in his years on Capitol Hill. The 42-year-old congressman is no Middle East savant; till now, his idea of a border dispute has more likely involved Wisconsin and Illinois.
Yet Ryan got up at the Values Voter Summit here on Friday and skewered the Obama administration as it struggled to manage the Middle East mess left by clumsily mixed American signals toward the Arab Spring and the disastrous legacy of war-obsessed Republicans.
Ryan bemoaned "the slaughter of brave dissidents in Syria. Mobs storming American embassies and consulates. Iran four years closer to gaining a nuclear weapon. Israel, our best ally in the region, treated with indifference bordering on contempt by the Obama administration." American foreign policy, he said, "needs moral clarity and firmness of purpose."
Ryan was moving his mouth, but the voice was the neocon puppet master Dan Senor. The hawkish Romney adviser has been secunded to manage the running mate and graft a Manichaean worldview onto the foreign affairs neophyte.
A moral, muscular foreign policy; a disdain for weakness and diplomacy; a duty to invade and bomb Israel's neighbors; a divine right to pre-emption - it's all ominously familiar.
You can draw a direct line from the hyperpower manifesto of the Project for the New American Century, which the neocons, abetted by Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld, used to prod an insecure and uninformed president into invading Iraq - a wildly misguided attempt to intimidate Arabs through the shock of overwhelming force. How's that going for us?
After 9/11, the neocons captured one Republican president who was naïve about the world. Now, amid contagious Arab rage sparked on the 11th anniversary of 9/11, they have captured another would-be Republican president and vice president, both jejeune about the world.
Senor is emblematic of how much trouble America blundered into in the Middle East - trillions wasted, so many lives and limbs lost - because of how little we fathom the culture and sectarian politics. We're still stumbling in the dark. We not only don't know who our allies and enemies are, we don't know who our allies' and enemies' allies and enemies are.
As the spokesman for Paul Bremer during the Iraq occupation, Senor helped perpetrate one of the biggest foreign policy bungles in American history. The clueless desert viceroys summarily disbanded the Iraqi Army, forced de-Baathification, stood frozen in denial as thugs looted ministries and museums, deluded themselves about the growing insurgency, and misled reporters with their Panglossian scenarios of progress.
"Off the record, Paris is burning," Senor told a group of reporters a year into the war. "On the record, security and stability are returning to Iraq."
Before he played ventriloquist to Ryan, Senor did the same for Romney, ratcheting up the candidate's irresponsible bellicosity on the Middle East. Senor was the key adviser on Romney's disastrous trip to Israel in July, when Mittens infuriated the Palestinians by making a chuckleheaded claim about their culture.
Senor got out over his skis before Romney's speech in Jerusalem, telling reporters that Mitt would say he respected Israel's right to make a pre-emptive, unilateral attack on Iran's nuclear facilities.
Republicans are bananas on this one. They blame Obama for casting Hosni Mubarak overboard and contradict themselves by blaming him for not supporting the Arab Spring. One minute Romney parrots Bibi Netanyahu's position on Iran, the next Obama's.
Romney's cynical braying about Obama appeasement in the midst of the attack on the American diplomatic post in Libya and the murder of the brave ambassador, Christopher Stevens, was shameful. Richard Williamson, a Romney adviser, had the gall to tell The Washington Post, "There's a pretty compelling story that if you had a President Romney, you'd be in a different situation."
He's right - a scarier situation. If President Romney acceded to Netanyahu's outrageous demand for clear red lines on Iran, this global confrontation would be a tiny foretaste of the conflagration to come.
2) U.S. Rep C.W. Bill Young changes course, says U.S. should withdraw from Afghanistan
Craig Pittman, Tampa Bay Times, Tuesday, September 18, 2012
Over and over, every time the subject of pulling American troops out of Afghanistan has come up, U.S. Rep. C.W. Bill Young has voted to stay the course. He opposed resolutions to withdraw, and even a resolution to set a timetable for a full withdrawal.
Not anymore. "I think we should remove ourselves from Afghanistan as quickly as we can," Young, R-Indian Shores, said during a meeting with the Times editorial board Monday. "I just think we're killing kids that don't need to die."
Young is chairman of the House defense appropriations subcommittee as well as the longest serving Republican member of Congress, so his change in position might be expected to carry some weight in Washington.
Young, who has served in Congress since 1970, said he has been a "stay the course" politician since the days of the Vietnam War. But he has also been an advocate for wounded military veterans. He frequently talks of visiting Veterans Administration hospitals to check on their care. He said he came to his new position over the past three months as a result of talking to veterans about what's happening in Afghanistan. "It's a real mess," he said.
The death last month of 26-year-old Staff Sgt. Matthew S. Sitton in the Kandahar province was one factor that convinced him to change. Sitton, an Army Ranger who served with the 82nd Airborne Division, hailed from Largo and attended the Christian school run by the church Young attends.
Before he died, Sitton wrote Young a letter "and told me some things I found hard to believe," Young said. Sitton pointed out problems with the command structure in Afghanistan, he said, problems he said have yet to be resolved.
Young said he did not want to detail all of Sitton's criticisms, but he listed two. In the letter, Sitton told Young about "being forced to go on patrol on foot through fields that they knew were mined with no explanation for why they were patrolling on foot," the congressman said.
Sitton also explained that local streams and rivers were contaminated by pollution, creating a strong risk of bacterial and fungal infection, Young said. Yet when a flood soaked their uniforms, Young said, "they were required to continue patrols without changing their clothes."
Young said Sitton predicted his own death, "and what he said would happen happened." He stepped on an improvised explosive device and was killed, leaving behind his wife, Sarah, and their 9-month-old son, Brodey.
Young said he has talked with his Republican colleagues in Congress about his new position on Afghanistan and he believes they feel the same way he does, "but they tend not to want to go public" about it.
3) Pentagon Invents New Goal for Afghan Surge Now That It's Done
Spencer Ackerman, Wired/Danger Room, September 20, 2012
The Afghanistan troop surge is almost over. But before it ends on October 1, U.S. and NATO military officials are retroactively redefining its goals. Once it was about blunting the momentum of the Taliban. The new line is that it was about getting the Afghan military prepared to take over the country.
As he returned from a trip to Turkey on Tuesday, Gen. Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the point of the surge was to "buy us some time to push back on some Taliban initiatives" and "to buy us some space to grow the Afghan security forces."
Echoing the chairman, Australian Brig. Gen. Roger Noble, a top NATO planning officer in Afghanistan, told Pentagon reporters Wednesday that the surge "effectively covered and enabled the training and fielding of the Afghan national security force" - an "amazing outcome" - and "directly delivered the time and space for the ANSF to stand up and assume the lead for the security of Afghanistan."
That was not the point of the surge when President Obama sold it to the American people. "We must reverse the Taliban's momentum and deny it the ability to overthrow the government," Obama said at West Point in December 2009 when he announced his decision to order an additional 30,000 troops to Afghanistan.
Increased training for the Afghans was always part of Obama's Afghanistan strategy. But it wasn't a main focus of the surge. Most of the increased U.S. forces went to fight the Taliban, so much so that nearly a year later, NATO had a shortfall of troops dedicated to training the Afghans. Inside the White House and the Pentagon, surge opponents like Vice President Joseph Biden and now-retired Gen. Hoss Cartwright argued for an alternative strategy based on training Afghan troops faster and striking only terrorist targets.
At least Dempsey acknowledged that the surge had something to do with fighting the Taliban. But Obama didn't say that 30,000 extra troops would only "push back on some Taliban initiatives." They were supposed to reverse the Taliban's gains.
The rhetorical shift is an implicit admission the surge didn't live up to its objectives. The surge did push insurgents out of parts of Helmand and Kandahar provinces, but it neglected the east, which deteriorated. Afghanistan's most violent districts remain in the places the surge troops went. The war's commander, Gen. John Allen, said last month that enemy attacks were down about three percent from 2011 levels - when it was down two percent from 2010 levels - conceding that "may not be statistically significant." Momentum dented, at best.
The Afghan troops are certainly larger than in 2009, but they're also killing their U.S. mentors at record rates. With a presidential election looming, it seems like the military would rather hold up that dubious achievement than to contend that Afghanistan today is a success story.
4) Reid, Senate Dems oppose Social Security cuts in debt deal
Erik Wasson, The Hill, 09/20/12 02:54 PM ET
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and 28 other members of the 53-member Senate Democratic caucus have signed a letter opposing any cuts to Social Security as part of a deficit reduction package.
The letter forms a significant marker as Congress looks toward a possible deficit bargain in the lame-duck session after the election. It says Social Security has problems down the road, but that they should be dealt with separately from any budget deal.
The Senate's number three Democrat, Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), also signed the letter. Notably, Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), who supported Bowles-Simpson, did not.
The letter was organized by Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Mark Begich (D-Alaska), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) and Al Franken (D-Minn.).
"To be sure, Social Security has its own long-term challenges that will need to be addressed in the decades ahead. But the budget and Social Security are separate, and should be considered separately," the letter states.
Sens. Jack Reed (D-R.I.), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.), Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.), Patty Murray (D-Wash.), Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), Daniel Akaka (D-Hawaii), Tim Johnson (D-S.D.), John D. Rockefeller IV (D-W.Va.), Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii), Tom Udall (D-N.M.), Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), Carl Levin (D-Mich.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) and Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.) also signed on.
[This letter and similar initiatives reduce the likelihood that Pentagon contractors who want to replace Pentagon spending cuts with Social Security cuts will get their way, thus increasing the prospect that significant Pentagon spending cuts will be part of the deal - JFP.]
5) U.S., Pakistan plan joint effort to boost peace talks with Taliban
Anne Gearan, Washington Post, Friday, September 21, 12:00 PM
The United States and Pakistan are planning a joint effort to draw the Taliban toward peace talks in Afghanistan, an initiative that could help reconcile some militants and give Pakistan a say in the political future of its larger neighbor. A joint commission, or "action group," would help vet candidates for political rehabilitation, with a goal of helping Afghanistan frame a workable peace deal after U.S. and foreign forces leave the country.
The planned joint vetting was among the main focuses of a nearly five-hour meeting last week between three senior U.S. officials and Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari, officials of both governments said. The session also covered plans to grant Taliban figures living in Pakistan "safe passage" to political talks.
"Whatever you call it, the roadmap . . . will have many aspects to determine who is reconcilable and who is not, how to then move once you determine they are reconcilable, [and] what should be on the table and what should not be on the table," a senior Pakistani official said.
U.S. officials used similar language to describe the goal of the new partnership. "It would look at who is reconcilable and who is not," a U.S. official said, with Pakistan using its historical intelligence ties to Taliban elements to advise the U.S. and Afghanistan.
The U.S.-Pakistan vetting operation would be part of larger cooperation taking place among Afghanistan, Pakistan and the United States despite crosscutting tensions among all three nations.
Pakistan's participation in the Taliban effort is a recognition that some political deal to end the Taliban's 11-year insurgency is likely, or at least possible, after the bulk of foreign forces the country in 2014, officials said. Pakistan's leaders acknowledge they have so far been on the margins of efforts to draw the Taliban into talks.
The Taliban does not appear headed for defeat anytime soon. Large stretches of southern and eastern Afghanistan still remain in the grip of Omar's faction or the Haqqanis, and incipient peace talks with the Afghan government are inconclusive.
The Taliban walked away from talks with U.S. officials in March, saying the United States had reneged on several promises. An offer to open a Taliban political office in Qatar, where full peace talks with the U.S.-backed Afghan government could be held, remains on the table. Plans to build goodwill by releasing five Taliban prisoners from the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, are on hold for now.
An internal Afghan effort to reach out to mid-level Taliban leaders appears to be more promising now, several U.S. and other officials said. The U.S.-Pakistani vetting operation could dovetail with the Afghan effort, they added.
6) Bipartisan Coalition Defeats Manhattan Project Park
Office of Rep. Dennis Kucinich, September 20, 2012
Washington D.C.– Congressman Dennis Kucinich (D-OH) today led a bipartisan coalition of 180 Members of Congress to stand for veterans, for fiscal responsibility and friendship with the Japanese people, voting against H.R. 5987, which would have established a new national park celebrating the technological achievements of the Manhattan Project. The park would have cost American taxpayers $21,000,000 over five years. The bill was considered under a parliamentary procedure that required a 2/3 majority for the bill to pass.
Congressman Kucinich led opposition to the legislation in a late night debate and rallied Members of Congress on the floor today. Kucinich cited the precedent of the Bradbury Science Museum at Los Alamos where the bomb is celebrated, while the devastation wrought from the bomb is given short shrift.
"Today's vote goes to show that Congress can still work in the interest of the American people. This bipartisan coalition stood strong to defend the moral position of the American nation. The technology which created the bomb cannot be separated from the horror the bomb created. We should not celebrate the death of hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians or the destruction of two major Japanese cities no matter how proud we are of our ability to innovate," said Kucinich.
"Many of our top military officials, including President Eisenhower, have stated that the bomb was not necessary to win the war; it was used for political reasons. We should not diminish the brave soldiers who put their lives on the line in World War II by crediting the bomb with winning the war. Our soldiers won the war."
7) Inspectors Certified Pakistani Factory as Safe Before Disaster
Declan Walsh and Steven Greenhouse, New York Times, September 19, 2012
Islamabad, Pakistan - A prominent factory monitoring group heavily financed by industry gave a clean bill of health to a Pakistani apparel plant last month, just weeks before a fire engulfed the premises and killed nearly 300 workers, many of them trapped behind locked exit doors.
In August, two inspectors who visited the factory, Ali Enterprises in Karachi, to examine working conditions gave it a prestigious SA8000 certification, meaning it had met international standards in nine areas, including health and safety, child labor and minimum wages. The two inspectors were working on behalf of Social Accountability International, a nonprofit monitoring group based in New York that obtains much of its financing from corporations and relies on 21 affiliates around the world to do most of its inspections.
Weeks later, a fire swept the plant on Sept. 12, trapping hundreds of workers in a building with barred windows and just one open exit, resulting in one of the worst industrial disasters in history - one that killed nearly twice as many workers as the landmark Triangle shirtwaist factory fire of 1911 in New York.
The Karachi tragedy is a huge embarrassment to the factory monitoring system, in which many Western garment and electronics companies rely on auditing groups to provide a coveted seal of approval to their low-cost suppliers in the developing world.
As the blaze spread - much as the Triangle fire did a century earlier - some workers were forced to leap from upper-floor windows, suffering serious injuries; many more died of smoke inhalation and from searing temperatures inside the building. A German discount textile chain has said its jeans were being manufactured in the plant at the time.
The calamity has led to bitter recriminations in Pakistan, where textile exports play a vital role in a faltering economy. For international rights campaigners, the fact that the factory had been certified by a respected Western organization made clear the failings of a controversial 15-year-old industry initiative.
"The whole system is flawed," said Scott Nova, executive director of the Worker Rights Consortium, a monitoring group based in Washington that is financed by American universities. "This demonstrates, more clearly than ever, that corporate-funded monitoring systems like S.A.I. cannot and will not protect workers."
The SA8000 certification, which was begun in 1997, is central to the work of Social Accountability International, whose stated mission is "to advance the human rights of workers around the world," and which is supported by companies like Gap; Gucci, in Italy; and Groupe Carrefour, in France, as well as representatives of some labor rights groups.
Based on International Labor Organization and United Nations standards, the group says on its Web site that the certification has "improved the lives of over 1.8 million workers in over 3,000 factories, across 65 countries and 66 industrial sectors."
But Richard M. Locke, a professor of political science at the M.I.T. Sloan School of Management who has written extensively about monitoring, said the Ali Enterprises fire suggested that such claims were exaggerated.
"Even after a decade or more of such private monitoring efforts, these programs - no matter how well funded or designed or how well trained their auditors are - simply do not in and of themselves produce sustained and significant improvements in labor standards in most supply chain factories," Professor Locke said.
Tessel Pauli, coordinator for the Clean Clothes Campaign, a European antisweatshop group, criticized the audit process. "Workers are often told what to tell the auditor," she said. "The inspections are announced, and there is time to do things like open exit doors that other times are locked."
After the Ali Enterprises fire, some surviving workers said they had been warned of a visit by inspectors and coached to lie about their working conditions, under threat of dismissal.
8) Taliban Outflank U.S. War Strategy with Insider Attacks
Gareth Porter and Shah Noori, Inter Press Service, Sep 20 2012
Washington/Kabul - Sharply increased attacks on U.S. and other NATO personnel by Afghan security forces, reflecting both infiltration of and Taliban influence on those forces, appear to have outflanked the U.S.-NATO command's strategy for maintaining control of the insurgency.
The Taliban-instigated "insider attacks", which have already killed 51 NATO troops in 2012 – already 45 percent more than in all of 2011 – have created such distrust of the Afghan National Army (ANA) and national police that the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) command has suspended joint operations by NATO forces with Afghan security units smaller than the 800-strong battalion of Kandak and vowed to limit them in the future.
ISAF had intended to carry out intensive partnering and advising of ANA and police units below battalion level through 2012 to get them ready to take responsibility for Afghan security. Now, however, that strategy appears to have been disrupted by the insider attacks, and Afghan military and civilian officials are seriously concerned.
New evidence suggests that the Taliban had influenced a number of ANA and police who killed NATO personnel. Last month, the Taliban's media arm released a video showing a Taliban commander in eastern Kunar province welcoming two ANA soldiers who they said had killed U.S. and Afghan troops earlier in the year. Based on the video, the Long War Journal judged that neither of the soldiers had been a Taliban infiltrator but had made the decision in response to Taliban urging.
Douglas Ollivant, who was senior counterinsurgency adviser to the U.S. commander of the regional command for eastern Afghanistan in 2010 and 2011, told IPS the evidence indicates that most Afghan personnel who killed NATO troops and were not already Taliban when they joined the security forces had later become "de facto infiltrators".
In the Afghan rural social context, the local Taliban and the Afghan troops and soldiers "all know each other", Ollivant said. "It's not like they are from two different planets."
Lt. Col. Danny Davis, who traveled extensively across Afghanistan during his 2010-2011 tour of duty there, found evidence that the Taliban had indeed achieved influence over the Afghan security forces who were supposed to be helping U.S.-NATO forces root out the insurgents.
In a draft report he wrote earlier this year, which had circulated within the U.S. government and was leaked to Rolling Stone magazine, Davis wrote, "In almost every combat outpost I visited this year, the troopers reported to me they had intercepted radio or other traffic between the ANSF and the local Taliban making essentially mini-nonaggression deals with each other."
In Zharay district of Kandahar province, Davis wrote, he found the Afghan security forces were "in league with the Taliban".
For many months the U.S. has been putting intense pressure on the Afghan government to prevent such killings by "revetting" the personnel files of ANA and police personnel. Just last week, the government announced that it had removed "hundreds" of security forces from its ranks.
But there is very little the Afghan government can do to ensure against Afghan troops turning against NATO. "Vetting is virtually impossible in a place like Afghanistan," former British commander Col. Richard Kemp told the Guardian.
There are no detailed files on the young recruits into the army and police. The only information on the vast majority of new recruits is a statement from village elders vouching for them.
Retired Lt. Col. Anthony Shaffer, senior fellow and director of communications at the Center for Advanced Defense Studies, told IPS that U.S. officers in Afghanistan don't believe the Afghan government's efforts to identify potential Taliban infiltrators or sympathisers will slow the pace of insider killings. "They are all saying it isn't going to have any effect," said Shaffer.
The decision by ISAF to pull back from joint operations with smaller Afghan units is regarded by Afghan officials and observers as a major boost to the Taliban and a potentially serious blow to the already shaky ANA and police.
Retired ANA Gen Atiqullah Amarkhail acknowledged in an interview with IPS that insider attacks "have destroyed the NATO trust in the Afghan security forces". The halt in joint operations with Afghan security forces will "really embolden and raise the morale of the Taliban", he said. "The Taliban consider that they have achieved the goal they have been working for and are proud that they made coalition forces stop helping Afghan security forces."
9) Netanyahu's enrichment warning not swaying U.S., says Pentagon policy chief,
Kevin Baron, Gordon Lubold , Foreign Policy, September 19, 2012
Pentagon policy chief Jim Miller said Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's warning this week that Iran would have nearly enough bomb-grade uranium to build a nuclear weapon in six months does not change the U.S. assessment of the need for military action.
[This is actually a misreporting of what Netanyahu said. Netanyahu implied Iran would have enough medium-enriched uranium for a bomb; the uranium would have to be further enriched to be "bomb-grade." It's a striking fact that much of the press reporting of what Netanyahu said is *actually worse* than what Netanyahu said - JFP.]
Miller, under secretary of defense for policy, in an exclusive interview with the FP National Security channel on Wednesday, said that enrichment was just one factor in the U.S. calculation of how long it would take for Iran to have a working nuclear bomb.
"The timeline, from our perspective, includes the question of how long it takes to enrich, and then how long it would take to go from a certain level of enrichment to weapons grade, and other steps in that process," Miller said. "And so, as we look at that potential timeline we certainly believe, as I said, that we have time." [Note that Miller is distinguishing between Iran's current enrichment and "weapons grade," something that the authors of this piece failed to do in their lead paragraph - JFP.]
On Sunday, as part of a blitz of U.S. media appearances, Netanyahu told CNN, "They're moving very rapidly, completing the enrichment of the uranium they need to produce a nuclear bomb. In six months or so they'll be 90 percent of the way there. I think it's important to place a red line before Iran."
[Netanyahu's "90 percent" has been interpreted by arms control experts to refer to the gap between Iran's current enrichment and "weapons grade" - some say that enriching uranium to 20%, as a technical capacity matter, is "90% of the way" to being able to enrich it to weapons grade. That technical consideration of course doesn't account for the political obstacles to enriching to "weapons grade," for example, the need to kick out UN inspectors currently monitoring Iran's enrichment to 20%, who would detect efforts to enrich this uranium to weapons grade -JFP.]
But two days earlier, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta told Foreign Policy in an exclusive interview that U.S. and other intelligence agencies, including Israel's, agree that despite Iran's enrichment activities, Iranian leaders have not made the decision to pursue a bomb.
"What intelligence basically tells us now is that they have not made that decision," Panetta said. "And that while they continue to do enrichment, they have not made a decision to proceed with a nuclear weapon. And I have to tell you that I think the intelligence community, whether it's Israeli intelligence or United States intelligence, has pretty much the same view."
U.S. intelligence officials believe they have one year to 18 months from that decision-point before Iran has bomb -- implying the Pentagon (or anyone else) has that long to attempt a preventive strike.
10) Lessons from an Iranian war game
David Ignatius, Washington Post, September 20
Perhaps it was the "fog of simulation." But the scariest aspect of a U.S.-Iran war game staged this week was the way each side miscalculated the other's responses - and moved toward war even as the players thought they were choosing restrained options.
The Iran exercise was organized by Kenneth Pollack, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution's Saban Center for Middle East Policy. It included former top U.S. officials as Washington policymakers, and prominent Iranian American experts playing Tehran's hand. I was allowed to observe, on the condition that I wouldn't name the participants.
The bottom line: The game showed how easy it was for each side to misread the other's signals. And these players were separated by a mere corridor in a Washington think tank, rather than half a world away.
Misjudgment was the essence of this game: Each side thought it was choosing limited options, but their moves were interpreted as crossing red lines. Attacks proved more deadly than expected; signals were not understood; attempts to open channels of communication were ignored; the desire to look tough compelled actions that produced results neither side wanted.
Let's walk through the simulation to see how the teams stumbled up the ladder of escalation. The game was set in July 2013, with some broad assumptions: It was assumed that President Obama had been reelected, the P5+1 negotiations remained deadlocked and Israel hadn't launched a unilateral attack.
The game controllers added some spicy details: Assassinations of Iranian scientists were continuing; and the United States, Israel and Britain were developing a new cyberweapon (imaginary code name: National Pastime) to disrupt power to Iran's nuclear and military facilities. Even so, the Iranian supreme leader thought that America was a paper tiger, telling aides: "The Americans are tired of the fight, and they are led by a weak man with no stomach for the struggle."
Meanwhile, Iran was pushing ahead with its nuclear program; it had a rough design for a weapon and, in three to four months, would have enough highly enriched uranium to make two bombs.
The action started on July 6 with an Iranian terror operation: A bomb destroyed a tourist hotel in Aruba, killing 137 people, many of them Americans, including a vacationing U.S. nuclear scientist. The damage at the hotel was far greater than the Iranians had expected.
The U.S. team recommended strong retaliatory moves to signal Iran that it had crossed an "unacceptable threshold." The United States bombed a Revolutionary Guards camp in eastern Iran; launched a cyberattack that disrupted power at 40 Iranian security facilities; and warned Iranian operatives in 38 countries that they were known and vulnerable. U.S. military leaders in the game complained that these calibrated moves were half-measures.
Bombing the Iranians' homeland rocked their team. It crossed a red line, in a way the U.S. side hadn't anticipated. The Tehran players spurned a secret message from Obama, delivered through Russia, warning of "dire consequences" if the nuclear program wasn't stopped; the imaginary Iranian defense minister called it a "bluff." The Iranians wanted to respond forcefully but not so much so that they would trigger an attack on their nuclear facilities.
Then the Iranian team made what proved a devastating mistake. After rejecting the most aggressive options (such as attacking Fifth Fleet headquarters in Bahrain), they chose limited actions, described as the "random mining" of the Strait of Hormuz and "harassment" of U.S. ships in the Persian Gulf. The Iranians also dispersed their stockpile of uranium, but only half, to signal they were still willing to negotiate. But the United States missed the message.
"They've crossed our red line," responded the imaginary U.S. national security adviser - expressing the group's mistaken view that the Iranians had decided to close the strait and attack U.S. vessels. As tensions increased, oil prices headed toward $200 a barrel.
U.S. military options were between harsh and harsher: (a) reopen the strait by force and deliver an ultimatum that Iran stop its nuclear program within 24 hours; or (b) hit Iran's nuclear facilities simultaneously with reopening the strait. Military logic seemed to require the strongest move. The U.S. team ultimately voted, 5 to 3, for an attack across Iran to disable the nuclear program and destroy coastal defenses.
The unsolved puzzle for the U.S. side was how to stop the conflict, once it started. The Iranians, for their part, had decided to bleed the United States in a protracted struggle. The lesson of the exercise, concluded Pollack, is that "small miscalculations are magnified very quickly."
11) Quartet action needed to keep Palestinian villages on the map
Demolitions have tripled in three years, with villages in Hebron Hills now under threat
Amnesty International, 21 September 2012
The government of Israel's eviction and demolition plans for 13 Palestinian villages in the Hebron Hills  come as demolition and displacement rates have hit a three-year high, adding to the uncertainty about the future for Palestinians living in the Israeli-controlled Area C of the West Bank, a group of 30 aid, development, and human rights organizations warned today.
The communities are targeted for demolition or expulsion from the area as the government of Israel plans to use the land for the expansion of an Israeli settlement and to create a closed military zone .
The organizations are calling on the Middle East Quartet, who will be meeting informally on Monday, 24 September in New York, to visit the affected communities and address the violations that are happening on the ground. The agencies said the Quartet needs to move beyond words and deliver a concrete plan of action that keeps Palestinian families in their homes while working to ensure all parties are meeting their obligations under international law. The Quartet's plan must, therefore, press the government of Israel to immediately reverse policies and practices that violate international human rights and humanitarian law and lead to forced evictions, forced displacement, and demolitions in Area C.
Nishant Pandey, Country Director for Oxfam said: "The Quartet has issued 39 statements condemning the government of Israel's violations of international law, yet the number of people displaced by unlawful demolition of Palestinian homes continues to increase at an unprecedented rate. Words have so far failed to bring meaningful change to people's lives and the Quartet must now show Palestinians and Israelis that it is committed to working towards a just, durable peace."
The demolition and eviction plan for the Hebron Hills would leave 1,650 Palestinians homeless , without access to the land they need for farming and raising animals to feed their families. Many of them are already living in substandard conditions because of Israeli restrictions on Palestinian building in Area C.,
Ann Harrison, Middle East and North Africa Deputy Director for Amnesty International said: "The Quartet must face the facts on the ground in the occupied West Bank: escalating demolitions and whole villages threatened with forced eviction. Ensuring respect for international human rights and humanitarian law should be the cornerstone of the Quartet's work. Only if it confronts these ongoing violations head on can the Quartet contribute to a just and sustainable solution."
The threat to villages in the Hebron Hills comes as new figures reveal that the rate of demolitions has tripled in the past three years, with the average number of people displaced increasing 98 percent during this same time .
Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch, said: "It's time for the Quartet to stop the euphemisms: Israel's demolitions of Palestinian homes and other structures without military necessity violate its obligations as an occupying power. The Quartet should press the government of Israel to end these violations immediately."
The agencies said that the increasing concerns of Palestinians in areas which they were working with had prompted them to speak out now. Oxfam has recently had a mobile veterinary unit impounded in the area and was given notice that it is not permitted to enter the villages where it is working to help 148 families earn a decent living raising goats and sheep. A number of other agencies have received demolition or stop work orders for aid projects in the villages.
David White, Country Director for CARE International said: "The families we work with are terrified that any day they could lose their homes and the health clinic provided by CARE International. Tomorrow they could wake up and everything they have worked their entire lives to build could be gone. We are providing people with essential health services, but no amount of humanitarian or development assistance can help people overcome this feeling of despair. The Quartet needs to put forth a plan of action that brings the security people desperately need to lead a dignified life."
 The 13 villages include the Palestinian village of Susiya, which has received demolition orders due to its proximity to an adjacent Israeli settlement, and 12 nearby villages in an area that has been designated by the Israeli Civil Administration (ICA) as a closed military zone for the purpose of military training, referred to as "Fire Zone 918." The 13 Hebron Hills villages are all located in Area C, which is the 60 percent of the West Bank where Israel controls planning and zoning, as well as security.
 In total, more than 18 percent of the West Bank, which is equivalent to the amount of land in which the Palestinian Authority exercises civil and security control, has been designated as a closed military "fire zone," rendering the areas effectively off limits for Palestinians. These "fire zones" are almost exclusively located in Area C, with approximately 5,000 Palestinians from 38 villages living within these areas, leaving them at increased risk of physical harm as well as eviction and demolition.
150 Palestinians are under threat of being displaced from Susiya, where the ICA has handed over demolition orders for more than 50 structures including homes, a community center, solar panels and renewable energy systems, animal shelters, and other income generating structures. Another 1,000 Palestinians have been issued orders of eviction from 8 villages within "Fire Zone 918." An additional 500 people from the 4 other villages within "Fire Zone 918" are at increased risk of displacement due to demolition orders against their homes. In recent months, some structures including aid projects like (windmills, water cisterns, animal pens, and tents) have already been demolished in Susiya and "Fire Zone 918."
 From 2009 to 2012, the monthly average of demolitions in the West Bank rose from 23 to 64, while the monthly average number of people displaced by Israeli demolitions of their homes rose from 52 to 103.
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