JFP 1/11: CFR's Elliott Abrams Smears Chuck Hagel on NPR

Just Foreign Policy News, January 11, 2013
CFR's Elliott Abrams Smears Chuck Hagel on NPR

Go Straight to the News Summary

I) Actions and Featured Articles

**Action: NPR, CFR: Don't Enable Elliott Abrams' Smear Campaign on Chuck Hagel
Elliott Abrams, a "fellow" at the Council on Foreign Relations (yes, the same Elliott Abrams who pled guilty of lying to Congress in the Iran-Contra scandal) went on National Public Radio and publicly smeared President Obama's nominee for Secretary of Defense, Chuck Hagel, as an "anti-Semite." The charge itself is completely outrageous and preposterous: if there were a molecule of reasonable doubt, would Sen. Carl Levin and Sen. Dianne Feinstein be strongly backing Chuck Hagel's nomination? Abrams's smear campaign only has a chance of reaching the broad public because CFR and NPR give him a public platform for his smears. Would they give Rush Limbaugh a public platform to call Sandra Fluke a "slut"?

Urge CFR and NPR to stop enabling vile smears of a decorated war hero and public servant, by signing and sharing our petition:
http://signon.org/sign/npr-cfr-dont-enable-elliott?source=c.url&r_by=1135580

**Action: Oliver Stone: End Haiti's Killer Cholera Epidemic -- UN Action Now!
As the third anniversary of the earthquake approaches, more than 25,000 people have signed Oliver Stone's petition to the UN to fund and implement their announced plan to wipe out cholera in Haiti.
http://www.avaaz.org/en/petition/End_Haitis_Cholera_Epidemic_with_UN_Action_Now_1/

**Action: Urge Senators to Question Brennan on Drone Strikes
President Obama has nominated John Brennan to lead the CIA. Human Rights Watch - and the Washington Post editorial board - have called for the CIA to stop conducting drone strikes, because of the CIA's lack of transparency and accountability to international law. Urge your Senators to question Brennan on drone strike policy and the demand that the CIA get out of drone strikes.
http://www.justforeignpolicy.org/act/cia-head-drones

**Action: Senators: Confirm Chuck Hagel as Secretary of Defense
President Obama has nominated Chuck Hagel as the next Secretary of Defense. As Secretary of Defense, Hagel will push to end the war in Afghanistan, cut the Pentagon budget, and avoid war with Iran. Right-wing pro-war groups are trying to obstruct Senate confirmation. 28,000 people have signed a Just Foreign Policy petition at SignOn urging the Senate to confirm Hagel.
http://signon.org/sign/senators-confirm-chuck-1?source=c.url&r_by=1135580

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Summary:
U.S./Top News
1) US use of drone strikes is counter-productive and less effective than the White House claims, according to a study by one of President Obama's former security advisers, the Guardian reports. Michael Boyle, who was on Obama's counter-terrorism group in the 2008 campaign, said growing US reliance on drone strikes was having "adverse strategic effects that have not been properly weighed against the tactical gains associated with killing terrorists" and that civilian casualties were likely to be far higher than had been acknowledged.

2) In an opinion piece in Roll Call, Rep. Barbara Lee calls for the U.S. to commit to a political settlement in Afghanistan and bring our troops home. Budget cuts in the next round of budget talks should be focused on the Pentagon, she argues.

3) General McChrystal, who authored the U.S. counterinsurgency strategy in Afghanistan, said U.S. drone strikes are deeply hated by many people and their overuse could jeopardize Washington's broader objectives, Reuters reports. "What scares me about drone strikes is how they are perceived around the world," McChrystal said. "The resentment created by American use of unmanned strikes ... is much greater than the average American appreciates."

4) Despite a well-established lack of credibility and judgment - he pled guilty to lying to Congress in the Iran-contra scandal - Elliott Abrams got invited by National Public Radio to discuss the nomination of Chuck Hagel, writes Ali Gharib at the Daily Beast. Abrams used the opportunity to call Chuck Hagel an anti-Semite. The Council on Foreign Relations, where Abrams is a "Fellow" - and that's how he was identified on NPR- is facing pressure to be answerable for its Fellow's baseless accusations, Gharib writes.

5) Claims by CIA director-designate Brennan that US intelligence services received 'no information' about any civilians killed by US drones in the year prior to June 2011 do not appear to bear scrutiny, writes Chris Woods for the Bureau of Investigative Journalism. Brennan claimed in a major speech in summer 2011 that there had not been 'a single collateral death' in a covert US strike in the previous year. But three months beforehand, a major US drone strike had killed 42 Pakistanis, most of them civilians. Pakistan's concerns about the strike were widely reported in the media at the time and were conveyed by the U.S. Ambassador to Pakistan to the highest levels of the U.S. government, suggesting senior US officials were aware of dozens of civilian deaths just weeks before Brennan's claims to the contrary.

6) A top aide to Sen. Mark S. Kirk, R-IL., has been distributing anti-Chuck Hagel emails to a large, undisclosed listserv of staffers - including Democrats - beginning as early as Dec. 20, Roll Call reports. Richard Goldberg, a deputy chief of staff in Kirk's office who also focuses on foreign policy issues, has been sending as many as three emails a day to the list, which includes reporters, Republican policy staffers and some Democrats. The chatter within Republican circles is that Kirk's office has been taking a lead role in the campaign against Hagel's confirmation. Kirk has long been an outspoken supporter of Israel and an ally of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee.

Iran
7) For many Iranians, the black market is now the only way to get needed - or even life-saving - drugs as Western sanctions over the country's nuclear program have indirectly limited normal supplies to hospitals and pharmacies, AP reports. But others can't afford the high prices.

Afghanistan
8) US officials have raised the possibility of a complete military withdrawal from Afghanistan for the first time, as President Karzai arrived in Washington for talks, the Guardian reports. Ben Rhodes, deputy national security adviser, said the White House is prepared to consider all options for US troop levels after 2014, including a so-called "zero option."

General Allen has recommended keeping between 6,000 and 15,000 troops in the country after 2014. A US official told Reuters the White House has asked for scenarios for between 3,000 and 9,000 troops to remain.

The prospects for peace talks has been helped by Pakistan's recent release of groups of imprisoned Taliban commanders, the Guardian says. Hopes have been further raised by a meeting in France between the Taliban and the Afghan high peace council last month, which US officials have described as "promising."

Contents:
U.S./Top News
1) US drone attacks 'counter-productive', former Obama security adviser claims
US reliance on drones to target terrorists undermines rule of law, is ineffective and has strategic drawbacks, argues Michael Boyle
Nick Hopkins, Guardian.co.uk, Monday 7 January 2013 11.25 EST http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2013/jan/07/obama-adviser-criticises-drone-policy

The United States' use of drones is counter-productive, less effective than the White House claims, and is "encouraging a new arms race that will empower current and future rivals and lay the foundations for an international system that is increasingly violent", according to a study by one of President Obama's former security advisers.

Michael Boyle, who was on Obama's counter-terrorism group in the run-up to his election in 2008, said the US administration's growing reliance on drone technology was having "adverse strategic effects that have not been properly weighed against the tactical gains associated with killing terrorists".

Civilian casualties were likely to be far higher than had been acknowledged, he said.

In an article for the Chatham House journal International Affairs, Boyle said the conventional wisdom over the use of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) needed to be challenged.

He said there was an urgent need for greater transparency because most Americans remained "unaware of the scale of the drone programme ... and the destruction it has caused in their name".

US use of drones has soared during Obama's time in office, with the White House authorising attacks in at least four countries: Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia. It is estimated that the CIA and the US military have undertaken more than 300 drone strikes and killed about 2,500 people.

Administration officials have argued their use is lawful, though the Pentagon's most senior lawyer, Jeh Johnson, recently admitted that the US was heading for a "tipping point", beyond which it should no longer pursue terrorists by military means because the organisation that Congress authorised the military to pursue in 2001 had in effect been destroyed.
[...]
Boyle, who teaches at La Salle University, Philadelphia, said the government claim that drones were an effective tool that minimised civilian casualties was "based on a highly selective and partial reading of the evidence".

He argues one of the reasons why the US has been "so successful in spinning the number of civilian casualties" is that it has reportedly adopted a controversial method for counting them: all military-age men in a strike zone are classed as militants unless clear evidence emerges to the contrary.

"The result of the 'guilt by association' approach has been a gradual loosening of the standards by which the US selects targets for drone strikes," his study says.

"The consequences can be seen in the targeting of mosques or funeral processions that kill non-combatants and tear at the social fabric of the regions where they occur. No one really knows the number of deaths caused by drones in these distant, sometimes ungoverned, lands."

Boyle questions the claim that drone strikes have been effective in killing so-called high-value targets, saying records suggested lower-ranked foot soldiers were the ones who had been hit in greatest numbers.

And he also said the strikes had a debilitating effect on local populations and their governments.

"Despite the fact that drone strikes are often employed against local enemies of the governments in Pakistan and Yemen, they serve as powerful signals of the regimes' helplessness and subservience to the United States and undermine the claim that these governments can be credible competitors for the loyalties of the population," he writes.

"The vast increase in the number of deaths of low-ranking operatives has deepened political resistance to the US programme in Pakistan, Yemen and other countries."
[...]

2) Solving the Fiscal Impasse Starts and Ends at the Pentagon
Rep. Barbara Lee, Roll Call, Jan. 9, 2013, 10:47 a.m.
http://www.rollcall.com/news/solving_the_fiscal_impasse_starts_and_ends_at_the_pentagon-220653-1.html

As Afghan President Hamid Karzai returns to the United States this week, he will meet President Barack Obama at a time when the overwhelming majority of the American people and a strong bipartisan coalition of Congress believe it is long past time to bring the war to a safe and expedited close. Most Americans realize that instead of spending billions of dollars extending our military presence in Afghanistan, we need to commit to a political settlement, bring all of our troops safely home and invest in jobs as well as nation-building here at home.

Yet for too long, we have given the Pentagon blank checks while neglecting our crumbling roads, our aging water systems and our struggling schools. From 2000 to 2010, overall spending on the base defense budget rose from $300 billion to $700 billion. That massive increase in spending, combined with $1.4 trillion (and counting) spent on two wars, and the projected hundreds of billions in costs to care for our returning veterans, were all committed even as we passed tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans. This is an unprecedented and disastrous policy course that led directly to the debt problem we have today.

After a decade of tax giveaways and extravagant defense spending, Congress has passed more than $1.7 trillion in spending cuts to critical domestic programs on which all American families rely. Most of this came in the summer of 2011 as part of a deal to raise the debt ceiling without any revenue. Now, with the fiscal cliff deal behind us, the coming weeks will bring even more heated debate surrounding our budget, across-the-board cuts called sequestration and how to continue growing our economy by protecting the American dream for all. Here is what we should do:

Brings our troops home: Last month, almost 100 bipartisan members of the House of Representatives joined me and the overwhelming majority of the American people in reaffirming our strong conviction to bring the war in Afghanistan to a safe and expedited close. It is long past time to hand over security responsibility to the Afghans and ensure a seamless transition for our brave troops from active duty to civilian life. Doing so would save tens of billions of dollars this year alone.
[...]
Achieve sensible cuts to out-of-control Pentagon spending: In 2011, the U.S. government spent about $718 billion on defense and international security assistance - more than it spent on Medicare and more than the next 13 nations spent on defense combined, including China, Russia, the United Kingdom and France. There are many proposals from a wide variety of groups from across the political spectrum that detail defense savings on par with or beyond the cuts called for under the sequestration portion of the Budget Control Act of 2011. The Project on Defense Alternatives, CATO Institute, Taxpayers for Common Sense, Center for American Progress, and Bowles-Simpson Commission have all called for deep cuts in defense spending ranging from $350 billion to $590 billion beyond the cuts already in place. Making sensible cuts would help create a cost-effective military aligned with 21st-century threats.
[...]

3) Retired general cautions against overuse of "hated" drones
David Alexander, Reuters, Mon, Jan 7 2013
http://www.reuters.com/article/2013/01/07/us-usa-afghanistan-mcchrystal-idUSBRE90608O20130107

Washington - Aerial reconnaissance and attack drones have had a liberating effect on U.S. military forces, but they are deeply hated by many people and their overuse could jeopardize Washington's broader objectives, retired General Stanley McChrystal said on Monday.

McChrystal, who authored the U.S. counterinsurgency strategy in Afghanistan, said use of drones had enabled him to carry out missions with smaller groups of special operations forces because the "eye in the sky" provided backup security.

"What scares me about drone strikes is how they are perceived around the world," he said in an interview. "The resentment created by American use of unmanned strikes ... is much greater than the average American appreciates. They are hated on a visceral level, even by people who've never seen one or seen the effects of one."

McChrystal said the use of drones exacerbates a "perception of American arrogance that says, 'Well we can fly where we want, we can shoot where we want, because we can.'"
Drones should be used in the context of an overall strategy, he said, and if their use threatens the broader goals or creates more problems than it solves, then you have to ask whether they are the right tool.

President Barack Obama's heavy reliance on drones to wage war against al Qaeda in Afghanistan, Pakistan and elsewhere has provoked questions about the use of the aircraft and the legality of targeted killings.

4) Elliott Abrams's Truth Problem
Ali Gharib, Daily Beast, Jan 9, 2013 2:45 PM EST
http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2013/01/09/elliott-abrams-s-truth-problem.html

Why does anyone still take Elliott Abrams seriously? After a role in a scandalous cover-up of U.S.-backed atrocities in El Salvador in the 1980s, Abrams was finally held to account, if only for a decade, when he plead to convictions on two misdemeanor counts—and was disbarred—for lying to Congress, under oath, in the Iran-Contra affair. By the 21st century, however, Abrams was back and took up residence in the second Bush administration, where he led the way on disastrous policy after disastrous policy. And yet Abrams's postings under Bush somehow rehabilitated his image, leading after his departure from government to a posting at the prestigious Council on Foreign Relations. Despite what you think might be a well-established lack of credibility and judgment, Abrams got invited by National Public Radio to discuss the nomination of Chuck Hagel to serve as Barack Obama's defense chief. Here's the rather remarkable ending of the exchange with host Melissa Block:

ABRAMS: I think he has a chance at his confirmation hearing to show that he is not what he appears to be, which is frankly an anti-Semite. It's not just being anti-Israel. He's got a problem with what he calls "the Jews," "the Jewish lobby." I think if he cannot satisfy people that he is not, in fact, bigoted against Jews, he certainly should not be confirmed.

BLOCK: You're saying, Mr. Abrams, that you consider Chuck Hagel to be an anti-Semite, not just have to positions on Israel that you don't agree with, but you consider him to be an anti-Semite.

ABRAMS: I think if you look at statements by Hagel, and then you look at the statements by the Nebraska Jewish community - about his unresponsiveness to them, his dismissal of them, his hostility to them—I don't understand really how you can reach any other conclusion that he seems to have some kind of problem with Jews. ...There's an animus here, an animus that was visible to the Jews of the Nebraska. And that's what the committee needs to look into.

I was surprised that Block sounded surprised at Abrams's answer. After all, Abrams wrote more or less the same same thing on the website of the Weekly Standard, the very publication that launched the first attack scurrilously labeling Hagel an anti-Semite. In the piece, Abrams cited the testimony of several members of the Nebraska Jewish community who go on at great length in an article for a far-right wing Jewish newspaper. Abrams went on: "And the record seems unchallenged: Nebraskan Jewish activists and officials have said he was hostile, and none—including Obama supporters and Democratic party activists—have come forward to counter that allegation." Except the unanimity Abrams relies on simply does not exist. Late last year, the Israeli-born Rabbi Aryeh Azriel of Temple Israel in Omaha, Nebraska, wrote the local paper to note his long friendship with Hagel and recounted the defense chief-designate's visits to his congregation. The next day, Azriel told the Huffington Post that the anti-Semitism accusations against Hagel were "extremely stupid, and definitely not helpful."

Earlier this week, I spoke to another member of the Nebraska Jewish community, Richard Robinson, the head of Norfolk Iron and Metal in Norfolk, Nebraska. "The guy would be a superb Secretary of Defense. He's very intelligent. He's very worldly," Robinson said of Hagel, whom he described as a friend of nearly 20 years. I asked about the allegations of anti-Semitism, like those hurled by Abrams: "That's the most ridiculous thing I've ever heard. He's very fair and open-minded," Robinson told me. "He doesn't have an ounce of bigotry in him. He's not anti-Semitic; he's not anti-Israel. I can't believe people are making these accusations about him." If Abrams had bothered to do a little research instead of relying solely on a right-wing newspaper, he would have seen that the unanimity he holds up is a sham.
[...]
Abrams's remarks about Hagel are getting noticed: the Council on Foreign Relations, as establishment as think tanks get, is facing pressure to be answerable for its fellow's baseless accusations. Remarkably, CFR pushed out Henry Siegman after "complaints from Jewish members" about his outspoken criticisms of Israel's right-wing leadership. One wonders if the group faces similar complaints about Abrams's conduct. And that gets at the real scandal here, which is not Chuck Hagel's record, but that anyone takes Abrams at his word despite his voluminous history of mendacity.

5) New questions over CIA nominee Brennan's denial of civilian drone deaths
Chris Woods, Bureau of Investigative Journalism, January 9th, 2013
http://www.thebureauinvestigates.com/2013/01/09/new-questions-over-cia-nominee-john-brennans-denial-of-civilian-drone-deaths/

Claims by the Central Intelligence Agency's new director-designate that the US intelligence services received 'no information' about any civilians killed by US drones in the year prior to June 2011 do not appear to bear scrutiny.

John Brennan, President Obama's nominee to take over the CIA, had claimed in a major speech in summer 2011 that there had not been 'a single collateral death' in a covert US strike in the past year due to the precision of drones. He later qualified his statement, saying that at the time of his comments he had 'no information' to the contrary.

Yet just three months beforehand, a major US drone strike had killed 42 Pakistanis, most of them civilians. As well as being widely reported by the media at the time, Islamabad's concerns regarding those deaths were also directly conveyed to the 'highest levels of the Administration' by Washington's then-ambassador to Pakistan, it has been confirmed to the Bureau.

This confirmation suggests that senior US officials were aware of dozens of civilian deaths just weeks before Brennan's claims to the contrary.

The CIA drone strike in Pakistan on March 17, which bombed the town of Datta Khel in North Waziristan and killed an estimated 42 people, has always seemed a contradiction of Brennan's official statement.

The attack was later justified by an anonymous US official as a so-called 'signature strike' where the identities of those killed was unknown. They insisted that 'a large group of heavily armed men, some of whom were clearly connected to al Qaeda and all of whom acted in a manner consistent with AQ-linked militants, were killed.'

In fact the gathering was a jirga, or tribal meeting, called to resolve a local mining dispute. Dozens of tribal elders and local policemen died, along with a small number of Taliban.

Within hours of the attack Pakistan's prime minister and army chief publicly condemned the mass killing of dozens of civilians. Pakistan's president also later protested about the strike to a visiting delegation from the US House Armed Services Committee, led by Congressman Rob Wittman.

An official Pakistani government document issued at the time reports that Washington's then-ambassador Cameron Munter was summoned to the Foreign Ministry in Islamabad on March 18 for a dressing-down.

A strongly worded statement reported that 'Ambassador Munter was categorically conveyed that such strikes were not only "unacceptable" but also constituted "a flagrant violation of humanitarian norms and law".'

Munter also intended 'to convey Pakistan's message to the US Administration at the highest levels,' the Foreign Ministry press release claimed.

While some challenge Pakistan's portrayal of some aspects of the meeting, it is not disputed that the Ambassador did indeed convey Pakistan's concerns to the highest levels in the US government.

Yet three months after the Datta Khel strike, John Brennan would insist that covert US drone strikes were so accurate that they were no longer killing civilians, and had not done so for the previous 12 months.

He told an audience on June 29 that 'I can say that the types of operations… that the US has been involved in, in the counter-terrorism realm, that nearly for the past year there hasn't been a single collateral death because of the exceptional proficiency, precision of the capabilities that we've been able to develop.'

The Datta Khel attack was not the only time that civilians had died in the period referred to by Brennan. Working with veteran Pakistani reporter Rahimullah Yusufzai and field researchers in the tribal areas, the Bureau identified and published details of 45 civilians known at the time to have been killed by CIA drones in ten strikes between August 2010 and June 2011, the date of Brennan's speech. Many of those killed had died at Datta Khel.

The Bureau presented a summary of its findings to the White House and to John Brennan's office in July 2011. Both declined to comment.

Nine months later, George Stephanopoulos of ABC News challenged Brennan on his original claims.

'Do you stand by the statement you have made in the past that, as effective as they have been, [drones] have not killed a single civilian?' the interviewer asked. 'That seems hard to believe.'

Brennan was robust, insisting that 'what I said was that over a period of time before my public remarks that we had no information about a single civilian, a noncombatant being killed.'

A later report in the New York Times provided a possible explanation for Brennan's robustness. The paper revealed that Washington 'counts all military-age males in a strike zone as combatants, according to several administration officials, unless there is explicit intelligence posthumously proving them innocent.'

Since all of the civilians killed at Datta Khel were adult males, officials may simply have discounted their deaths. There are no indications that the CIA has amended its records since.

The Bureau has now raised its estimate of the number of civilians killed in the period Brennan claimed none had died to 76, including eight children and two women. The new figures are based in part on our own research and on studies by Associated Press and Stanford and New York universities.
[...]

6) Has Kirk's Office Been Running a Secret Anti-Hagel Campaign?
Meredith Shiner, Roll Call, Jan. 9, 2013, 5:05 p.m.
http://www.rollcall.com/news/has_kirks_office_been_running_a_secret_anti_hagel_campaign-220664-1.html

A top aide to Sen. Mark S. Kirk, R-Ill., has been distributing anti-Chuck Hagel emails to a large, undisclosed listserv of staffers - including Democrats - beginning as early as Dec. 20, according to the more than a dozen emails obtained by CQ Roll Call.
Richard Goldberg, a deputy chief of staff in Kirk's office who also focuses on foreign policy issues, has been sending as many as three emails a day to the list, which CQ Roll Call confirmed includes reporters, Republican policy staffers and some Democrats. The emails typically include links or text of articles that cast Hagel - a former Republican senator from Nebraska and President Barack Obama's secretary of Defense nominee - in a negative light.

Many Republicans have expressed reservations about Hagel's appointment, questioning the Vietnam War veteran's positions on Israel and Iran sanctions, two issues upon which Kirk has concentrated throughout his congressional career. But Kirk himself has not publicly opposed Hagel's nomination, especially not to the extent that the emails from his staffer collectively suggest.
[...]
When asked about Goldberg's emails, Kirk's office reiterated the senator's concerns, but did not address whether Goldberg was authorized or asked to mount the anti-Hagel campaign.
[...]
The chatter within Republican circles, however, is that Kirk's office has been taking a lead role in the campaign against Hagel's confirmation. Two sources said they expect Kirk will be more vocal about his concerns in the coming days.

The Illinois Republican has long been an outspoken supporter of Israel and an ally of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. AIPAC has remained relatively quite since Obama announced Hagel as his pick for the Pentagon's top seat, but it remains unclear how the powerful lobby - at the center of one of Hagel's most controversial remarks - will advise its friends in Congress.
[...]


Iran
7) Iran's health care crisis deepens along with ailing economy as international sanctions bite
Associated Press, January 8
http://www.washingtonpost.com/business/irans-heath-care-crisis-deepens-along-with-ailing-economy-as-international-sanctions-bite/2013/01/08/fffd7834-59ae-11e2-b8b2-0d18a64c8dfa_story.html

Tehran, Iran - For the first time in more than a decade, the black market pharmaceutical peddlers are back on Nasser Khosrow Street near Tehran's main bazaar.

"Medicine, medicine," the street dealers shout. "Any kind you want."

Business is brisk. For many Iranians, such underground channels are now the only way to get needed - or even life-saving - drugs as Western sanctions over the country's nuclear program have indirectly limited normal supplies to hospitals and pharmacies.

But for others, even the sidewalk touts are not an option. Iran's sinking currency has more than doubled the prices of some of the imported medicines and supplies, potentially putting them out of reach for lower-income patients.

While medicine and humanitarian supplies are not blocked by the economic embargoes on Iran, the pressures are clearly evident in nearly every level of Iranian health care. It's a sign of the domino effect of sanctions on everyday life.

Restrictions on Iran's access to international banking networks mean major obstacles to pay for imported medicine and equipment - the same troubles facing many businesses in need of shipments from abroad.

Meanwhile, the nation's slumping currency - seen as collateral damage from sanctions - has driven up prices sharply. An imported wheelchair now costs 10 times more than last fall. A blood-sugar test kit has more than doubled to 540,000 rials, or about $18.

The black market still finds ways to get medical supplies through smuggling routes or by simply carrying shipments by hand, but the prices can be even higher than on regular shelves.
[...]
Scenes of overcrowded state hospitals are now common across Iran after fees for private health care have nearly doubled in recent months. The costs in state-run facilities are far cheaper, but that also comes with shortages and long waits.

"Sometimes we don't even have serum for dehydrated patients, said a young doctor, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was worried that comments to the media could jeopardize his job at a state-run hospital.

The prices for other items have soared in recent months: radiology film up 240 percent; helium gas for MRIs up 667 percent; filters for kidney dialysis up 325 percent. The cost of one round of chemotherapy for cancer has reached 200 million rials, or $65,000, from 800 million rials, or $25,000, last year.

The independent Hamshari daily quoted a father - who was not named in the article - as saying his child died because he couldn't afford the higher price of an artificial heart valve.

At a major pharmacy in Tehran, a 53-year-old father slumped over - his head in his hands - as he looked at the prices for medicine for his teenage daughter, who is suffering from stomach cancer.

"How can I afford buying medicine as prices have doubled over a week?" said Hooshang, who gave only his first name.
[...]
At a recovery center in Tehran, 8-year-old Milad Rostami's mother watches over him carefully. The boy suffers from hemophilia and is currently recovering from knee surgery. His mother, Fatemeh, knows there is a long waiting list for a blood product needed to halt bleeding if the boy falls or re-injures his knee.

"There is no hope," said Ahmad Ghavidel, head of Iran's Hemophilia Association, a charity body. "There is no hope for his health."

At dawn in another part of Tehran, patients are leaving the emergency room at the state-run hospital. Some carried pills, but others could get no treatment.

"I don't know how many of them will survive until my next shift," said Rahmati, the nurse. "I did my best, but I know it was not the best for them."
[...]

Afghanistan
8) US Contemplates Afghanistan Military Withdrawal on Eve of Karzai Visit
Adviser says Obama is willing to consider all options on troop levels as he meets with Afghan president in Washington
Richard Adams, Guardian, Wednesday 9 January 2013 02.54 EST
http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2013/jan/08/us-afghanistan-withdrawal-military-karzai

Washington - US officials have raised the possibility of a complete military withdrawal from Afghanistan for the first time, as President Hamid Karzai arrived in Washington for three days of discussions over military and economic ties.

In a briefing for journalists in advance of Karzai's visit, Ben Rhodes, deputy national security adviser, said the White House is prepared to consider all options for US troop levels after 2014, including a so-called "zero option" if conditions allowed.

On Friday Karzai holds his first face-to-face talks with President Barack Obama since last year's Nato summit in Chicago, shortly after the pair had signed a long-term strategic framework agreement.
[...]
Asked if the troop level options included zero, Rhodes replied: "That would be an option we would consider." Later he added: "We wouldn't rule out any option … we're not guided by keeping any [specific] number of troops in the country."

The White House warned that no agreements or decisions are expected to result from this week's visit by Karzai, describing it as "a good time for the two presidents to sit down and consult" ahead of the US military draw-down and the Afghan elections scheduled for April 2014.
[...]
General John Allen, the Nato commander and top US general in Afghanistan, has recommended keeping between 6,000 and 15,000 troops in the country after 2014. An unnamed US official told Reuters the White House has asked for scenarios for between 3,000 and 9,000 troops to remain.

But the Afghan leader is said to want an end to US military operations in villages, as well as protection from militants based across the border with Pakistan.
[...]
Officials are also to broach the on-again, off-again peace talks between the Taliban and the Afghan government.

The prospects for talks has been helped by Pakistan's recent release of groups of imprisoned Taliban commanders, including eight people on New Year's Eve, following an improvement in the Afghan-Pakistan relations that are crucial to any hopes of a peaceful settlement.

Hopes have been further raised by a meeting in France between the Taliban and the Afghan high peace council last month, which US officials have described as "promising". Direct talks with the Karzai government have been ruled out by the Taliban, which wants to negotiate with the American government, while the US says that the Taliban should speak directly to the Afghan government.

"We have a clearer path toward Afghan-led peace talks than we have had in the past, and I think that is what will be discussed," Lute said.
[...]

--
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