JFP News, 6/22: House to Consider Exit Strategy from Afghanistan
Just Foreign Policy News
June 22, 2009
Congress Should Require an Exit Strategy from Afghanistan
Rep. McGovern's bill, which would require the Pentagon to submit an exit strategy to Congress, now has 90 sponsors. Rep. McGovern is expected to try to attach his language to the 2010 Defense Authorization. Urge your Represenative to support this effort.
Background: Congress Should Require an Exit Strategy from Afghanistan
Military commanders have suggested the U.S. military will remain in Afghanistan until 2020. If the Pentagon is planning for 11 more years of war, the American people have a right to know it.
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1) Attacks are mounting against President Obama for failing to offer sufficient support to backers of presidential candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi in Iran, writes Paul Saunders of the Nixon Center in the Washington Post. But it is not only unproductive but dangerous for the US to play too visible a role, Saunders argues. Many politicians and commentators seem to suffer from the illusion that the US can have a decisive influence on Iran's political evolution. They appear to believe this despite the fact that engineering Iraqi democracy - which a number of them also urged - has been far more difficult and costly than was advertised at the outset.
2) The US military admitted that it killed an estimated 26 Afghan civilians last month when a warplane did not strictly adhere to rules for bombing, AP reports. Local Afghan officials have said as many as 140 people were killed, and the U.S. report did not rule out that its estimate is low.
3) Gen. McChrystal said he would sharply restrict the use of airstrikes in Afghanistan, the New York Times reports. Even in the cases of active firefights with Taliban forces, he said, airstrikes will be limited if the combat is taking place in populated areas - the very circumstances in which most Afghan civilian deaths have occurred.
4) Gen. McChrystal will order U.S. and NATO forces to break away from fights with militants hiding among villagers, AP reports. McChrystal's predecessor issued rules last fall that told commanders to set conditions "to minimize the need to resort to deadly force." But McChrystal's orders will be more precise and have stronger language ordering forces to break off from battles, a military spokesman said.
5) In January 2003, President Bush told Tony Blair the US had drawn up a plan "to fly U2 reconnaissance aircraft painted in UN colours over Iraq with fighter cover," The Observer reports. Bush said that if Saddam fired at the planes this would put the Iraqi leader in breach of UN resolutions.
6) President Obama should stay out of the Iran election dispute, argues Lipstick Jihad author Azadeh Moaveni in the Daily Beast. "If the supreme leader decides to crackdown on the protests and Ahmadinejad stays in power, then negotiations with the United States might improve our lives,"
7) Scholars said Ayatollah Khamenei's rhetorical attack on Britain Friday may reflect a concern not to slam the diplomatic door opened by President Obama, the New York Times reports.
8) President Obama's special envoy to Sudan said the Sudanese government is no longer engaging in a "coordinated" campaign of mass murder in Darfur, marking a shift in the U.S. characterization of the violence there as an "ongoing genocide," the Washington Post reports. The comments appeared to expose an emerging rift between Scott Gration and Susan Rice, ambassador to the UN, who accused the Sudanese leadership of genocide as recently as two days ago. Gration has advocated easing some American sanctions and upgrading U.S. diplomatic relations with Sudan's government to induce cooperation. Last week, John Holmes, the U.N.'s emergency relief coordinator, credited Gration's mediation with improving the humanitarian situation.
9) Israel plans to allocate 250 million dollars over the next two years for settlements in the occupied West Bank despite US pressure to halt settlement activity, AFP reports. Half the money will be used for construction. "The official figures are nothing but the tip of the iceberg," Peace Now said.
10) A U.N. investigator said the executions of innocent civilians reported by the Colombian Army as "guerrillas killed in combat" are not the responsibility of a few "rotten apples" but a widespread systematic practice, the Miami Herald reports. The Colombian Attorney General's Office is investigating the deaths of more than 1,800 people who were executed and presented as guerrillas killed in combat. More than a thousand servicemen have been implicated in the investigation.
11) With Mexico's midterm elections two weeks away, the most spirited campaigning has been for "none of the above," the New York Times reports. Turnout is typically low for Mexico's midterm elections, and some polls suggest that as many as 60 percent of voters will stay home.
1) Right-Thinking Realism
Paul J. Saunders, Washington Post, Monday, June 22, 2009
Attacks are mounting against President Obama for failing to offer sufficient support to backers of presidential candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi in Iran, with claims that Obama is "siding with the regime" against the Iranian people. This approach to the crisis is derided as "realist" - typically with quotation marks - as well as cold-blooded and insufficiently committed to American values. But the president has struck the right tone in his public statements, calling on Iran's government to stop "all violent and unjust actions" and making clear that Washington and the world are watching. And he is right to avoid becoming more deeply involved in Iran's post-election political crisis, both practically and morally.
Many politicians and commentators seem to suffer from the illusion that the United States can have a decisive influence on Iran's political evolution. They appear to believe this despite the fact that engineering Iraqi democracy - which a number of them also urged - has been far more difficult and costly than was advertised at the outset. Moreover, Iran's political system is no less complex and is probably less well understood in America than Iraq's was before March 2003. How many American experts, officials or members of Congress have been to Iran in the past 30 years? It is Iran's 66 million citizens, not tough rhetoric or token assistance, who will determine how events in the country unfold.
Recognizing this, it is not only unproductive but dangerous for the United States to play too visible a role in Iran's domestic disturbances.
The question goes far beyond how actively supporting what amounts to a potential revolution in Iran could impact efforts at engagement or a "grand bargain." We must also ask ourselves how the Iranian people would react to U.S. involvement in a country where strong nationalist sentiment buttresses the political position of the country's conservatives and Washington is already regularly blamed for supporting a 1953 coup. Can the United States really help?
The final argument against a stronger public American position on Iran's protests as they now stand is a powerful moral one. The United States encouraged Hungarians in an uprising against their communist leaders in 1956, only to watch as the brave individuals who chose to stand against their regime were killed mercilessly by their own government because they lacked sufficient internal or external support to succeed. If the American people are not prepared to offer real help to the protesters in Tehran's streets - up to and including military force to ensure that they win - it is profoundly immoral to urge Iranians to action from the sidelines. Some of the American commentators and politicians now critical of the president gave the same rhetorical "support" to Georgia's President Mikheil Saakashvili last year, emboldening Saakashvili and contributing to a war that was disastrous for Georgians.
No one advocating support for Mousavi seems prepared to accept responsibility for the outcome. But without doing so, fighting Ahmadinejad to the last Mousavi voter would be far more cold-blooded than anything the Obama administration has done - especially knowing what we know about the Iranian regime.
Mousavi's backers will prevail in Iran if they have sufficient public and political support, including inside the country's military and security services. If they don't, we can hope that they survive and draw useful lessons to try again another day. U.S. efforts to force the issue are more likely to set back Iran's political evolution than to advance it, and President Obama has done the right thing with his measured comments. If the crisis escalates, it may be necessary to do more, something the administration itself has said. Otherwise, those who truly want to see political reform in Iran would do well to stay out of the way.
2) US Accepts Blame for Deaths of 26 Afghan Civilians
Anne Gearan, Associated Press, Saturday, June 20, 2009 4:05 AM
The United States accidentally killed an estimated 26 Afghan civilians last month when a warplane did not strictly adhere to rules for bombing, the U.S. military concluded in a report that recommends even tighter controls to limit deaths that risk turning Afghans against the U.S war effort.
"The inability to discern the presence of civilians and assess the potential collateral damage of those strikes is inconsistent with the U.S. government's objective of providing security and safety for the Afghan people," the report prepared by U.S. Central Command said.
Three U.S. airstrikes conducted after dark near the close of the chaotic fight in the western Farah province probably accounted for the civilian deaths, according to the report released Friday. It contained only mild criticism of the B-1 bomber crew involved, however, and the nation's top military official has already said there is no reason to punish any U.S. personnel.
Local Afghan officials have said as many as 140 people were killed, and the U.S. report did not rule out that its estimate is low. An exact accounting will be impossible, the report said. It concluded that at least 78 Taliban fighters were also killed, along with five Afghan national police officers. Two U.S. personnel and seven Afghan security officers were wounded.
3) U.S. Toughens Airstrike Policy In Afghanistan
Dexter Filkins, New York Times, June 22, 2009
The new American commander in Afghanistan said he would sharply restrict the use of airstrikes here, in an effort to reduce the civilian deaths that he said were undermining the American-led mission.
In interviews over the past few days, the commander, Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, said the use of airstrikes during firefights would in most cases be allowed only to prevent American and other coalition troops from being overrun.
Even in the cases of active firefights with Taliban forces, he said, airstrikes will be limited if the combat is taking place in populated areas - the very circumstances in which most Afghan civilian deaths have occurred. The restrictions will be especially tight in attacking houses and compounds where insurgents are believed to have taken cover.
The statements by General McChrystal signaled the latest tightening of the rules for using airstrikes, which, while considered indispensable for protecting troops, have killed hundreds of civilians.
They have also angered the Afghan government, which has repeatedly criticized American and NATO forces for not taking enough care with civilian lives.
In December, the American commander at the time, Gen. David D. McKiernan, issued guidelines ordering his soldiers to use force that was proportional to the provocation and that minimized the risk of civilian casualties.
4) New US battle rule: No fighting near Afghan homes
Jason Straziuso, Associated Press, Monday, June 22, 2009 2:34 PM
The U.S. commander in Afghanistan will soon order U.S. and NATO forces to break away from fights with militants hiding among villagers, an official said Monday, announcing one of the strongest measures yet to protect Afghan civilians.
The most contentious civilian casualty cases in recent years occurred during battles in Afghan villages when U.S. airstrikes aimed at militants also killed civilians. American commanders say such deaths hurt their mission because they turn average Afghans against the government and international forces.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai has pressed U.S. forces for years to reduce civilian casualties, but his pleas have done little to stem the problem. The U.N. says U.S., NATO and Afghan forces killed 829 civilians in the Afghan war last year.
Gen. Stanley McChrystal, who took command of international forces in Afghanistan this month, has said his measure of effectiveness will be the "number of Afghans shielded from violence" - not the number of militants killed.
McChrystal will issue orders within days saying troops may attack insurgents hiding in Afghan houses if U.S. or NATO forces are in imminent danger, said U.S. military spokesman Rear Adm. Greg Smith.
"But if there is a compound they're taking fire from and they can remove themselves from the area safely, without any undue danger to the forces, then that's the option they should take," Smith said. "Because in these compounds we know there are often civilians kept captive by the Taliban."
McChrystal's predecessor, Gen. David McKiernan, issued rules last fall that told commanders to set conditions "to minimize the need to resort to deadly force."
But McChrystal's orders will be more precise and have stronger language ordering forces to break off from battles, Smith said. The order should have the effect of reducing the use of airstrikes, mortars and artillery in villages.
5) Confidential memo reveals US plan to provoke an invasion of Iraq
Jamie Doward, Gaby Hinsliff and Mark Townsend, The Observer, Sunday 21 June 2009
A confidential record of a meeting between President Bush and Tony Blair before the invasion of Iraq, outlining their intention to go to war without a second United Nations resolution, will be an explosive issue for the official inquiry into the UK's role in toppling Saddam Hussein.
The memo, written on 31 January 2003, almost two months before the invasion and seen by the Observer, confirms that as the two men became increasingly aware UN inspectors would fail to find weapons of mass destruction (WMD) they had to contemplate alternative scenarios that might trigger a second resolution legitimising military action.
Bush told Blair the US had drawn up a provocative plan "to fly U2 reconnaissance aircraft painted in UN colours over Iraq with fighter cover". Bush said that if Saddam fired at the planes this would put the Iraqi leader in breach of UN resolutions.
The president expressed hopes that an Iraqi defector would be "brought out" to give a public presentation on Saddam's WMD or that someone might assassinate the Iraqi leader. However, Bush confirmed even without a second resolution, the US was prepared for military action. The memo said Blair told Bush he was "solidly with the president".
The five-page document, written by Blair's foreign policy adviser, Sir David Manning, and copied to Sir Jeremy Greenstock, the UK ambassador to the UN, Jonathan Powell, Blair's chief of staff, the chief of the defence staff, Admiral Lord Boyce, and the UK's ambassador to Washington, Sir Christopher Meyer, outlines how Bush told Blair he had decided on a start date for the war.
Paraphrasing Bush's comments at the meeting, Manning, noted: "The start date for the military campaign was now pencilled in for 10 March. This was when the bombing would begin."
6) Iranians to Obama: Hush
Lipstick Jihad author Azadeh Moaveni says protesters in Tehran have a surprising view on Obama's silence: Keep it up.
Azadeh Moaveni, The Daily Beast, June 17, 2009
But in conversations with friends and relatives in Tehran this week, I've heard the opposite of what I had expected: a resounding belief that this time the United States should keep out. One of my cousins, a woman in her mid-30s who has been attending the daily protests along with the rest of her family, viewed the situation pragmatically. "The U.S. shouldn't interfere, because a loud condemnation isn't going to affect Iranian domestic politics one way or the other. If the supreme leader decides to crackdown on the protests and Ahmadinejad stays in power, then negotiations with the United States might improve our lives."
I heard these sentiments, remarkably thoughtful for such a passionate moment, echoed from many quarters. President Barack Obama's outreach to Iran, and his offer of a mutually respectful dialogue, has raised the possibility of better relations for the first time in years, and many Iranians worry that a false step might jeopardize that prospect altogether. A friend of mine who studies public relations in Tehran noted that other American allies in the Gulf, Arab dictatorships with no pretence of democracy, are thriving economically. "In the end, a dictatorship that doesn't face U.S. sanctions is better off than one that does," she said. "Now that after 30 years it seems that we have a chance to negotiate with America, it would be a shame if we lost the chance."
Other friends I spoke with cited various reasons why the United States should maintain its discrete posture. "If Obama's position until now has been to respect Iran, then he really has no choice but to watch first how things unfold. Mousavi hasn't produced any facts yet, no one has produced evidence of fraud," said my friend Ali, a 40-year-old photographer. "That's what is needed before Obama takes a major stand."
My older relatives fretted particularly that any real criticism by the United States would be used as a pretext by Ahmadinejad to blame the protests on "outside enemies," a reflexive response for the president when dealing with even housing inflation and the rising price of tomatoes. "It's better for Obama to stay out of this. Given what happened with Bush in Florida, Ahmadinejad can always claim the United States is in no position to lecture anyone about fair elections," my aunt noted.
7) Ayatollah Taps Into Distrust Rooted in History
John F. Burns, New York Times June 20, 2009
When Ayatollah Ali Khamenei used his speech at Friday Prayer in Tehran to denounce Britain as "the most evil" of Iran's enemies, he was striking a chord with a deep resonance in the psyche of Iranians, the legacy of a long history of British imperial intrusions into their country's affairs.
Singling out Britain, and not the "great Satan" of the United States, so often the bugaboo for Iran's leadership since the Islamic Revolution of 1979, might seem an odd choice for Iran's supreme leader, when the government he leads faces its greatest crisis in 30 years.
But British scholars on Iran said Ayatollah Khamenei's attack on Britain was characteristic of a Tehran leadership that resorts under pressure to a mix of crude stereotypes that play well at home. They said it might also reflect a concern not to slam the door opened by President Obama, who is offering a new dialogue in his search for a diplomatic solution to the impasse over Iran's nuclear program.
8) Sudan's 'Coordinated' Genocide in Darfur Is Over, U.S. Envoy Says
Colum Lynch, Washington Post, Thursday, June 18, 2009
President Obama's special envoy to Sudan, retired Air Force Maj. Gen. J. Scott Gration, said Wednesday that the Sudanese government is no longer engaging in a "coordinated" campaign of mass murder in Darfur, marking a shift in the U.S. characterization of the violence there as an "ongoing genocide."
"What we see is the remnants of genocide," Gration told reporters at a briefing in Washington. "The level of violence that we're seeing right now is primarily between rebel groups, the Sudanese government and . . . some violence between Chad and Sudan."
Gration's remarks come as the Obama administration is finishing a review of its Sudan policy. The comments appeared to expose an emerging rift between Gration and Susan E. Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, who accused the Sudanese leadership of genocide as recently as two days ago.
Last week, the Obama administration held a high-level "deputies" meeting to finalize a comprehensive policy plan to be presented to Cabinet members and later to the president. But those talks have stalled as a result of differences over how to strike a balance between rewards and penalties to bring about Sudanese cooperation.
Gration has advocated easing some American sanctions and upgrading U.S. diplomatic relations with Sudan's government to induce cooperation. He has also sought to position himself as a principal mediator between the Sudanese government and its adversaries in western Sudan's Darfur region, southern Sudan and Chad.
Speaking at the State Department, Gration announced plans to host an international conference in Washington on Tuesday to bolster a fragile peace deal between the government of Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir and leaders of the oil-rich southern region. Gration expressed concern that a landmark 2005 agreement ending Africa's bloodiest conflict is in peril as the country prepares for national elections early next year.
Bashir's peace envoy, Gazi Salah Eddin, and Malik Agar, a representative of the Sudanese People's Liberation Movement, were expected to arrive in Washington on Wednesday at the head of large delegations. They will be joined next week by officials from more than 32 countries and organizations, including the U.N. Security Council's five veto-wielding powers, and the foreign ministers of Ethiopia and Kenya.
Since his appointment three months ago, Gration has struck a far more conciliatory tone toward the Sudanese government than Obama's advisers did during the campaign, when they proposed the imposition of a no-fly zone over Darfur to prevent Sudanese air raids on villages. "We need to have engagement with all parties to save lives in Sudan, to bring about a lasting peace," Gration said.
Gration said his initial contacts with Sudan have led to the resumption of humanitarian aid activities in Darfur, citing the recent arrival of several international charities. "We've essentially closed the humanitarian gap that existed in Darfur when the 13 [nongovernmental organizations] were expelled," he said.
Last week, John Holmes, the U.N.'s emergency relief coordinator, credited Gration's mediation with improving the humanitarian situation. But he said the latest aid workers "have not yet replaced, and cannot easily or rapidly replace, the capacity and skills lost."
9) 250mln dlrs for settlements in Israel budget: radio
AFP, Sun Jun 21, 3:27 am ET
Israel plans to allocate 250 million dollars over the next two years for settlements in the occupied West Bank despite US pressure to halt settlement activity, army radio said.
The figure is contained in the 2009-2010 budget, which passed its first reading in the Knesset parliament last week, it said. Some 125 million dollars (90 million euros) is to be used for various security expenses, with most of the rest destined for housing construction, it said.
The Peace Now anti-settlement watchdog said that the settlement spending in the two-year budget was likely to be higher and "spread over several sections of the budget."
"The official figures are nothing but the tip of the iceberg and the Israelis will pay not only a political price for the settlements, but also an economic one," the head of the group Yariv Oppenheimer said.
10) U.N. probe: Colombian army killed many innocents
Gonzalo Guillen and Gerardo Reyes, Miami Herald, Thu, Jun. 18, 2009
The executions of innocent civilians reported by the Colombian Army as "guerrillas killed in combat" are not the responsibility of a few "rotten apples" in the armed forces - as the Colombian government says - but a widespread systematic practice, a U.N. investigator said.
Philip Alston on Thursday asked Colombia to acknowledge and stop the executions, known as "false positives." In military jargon, the word "positive" is used to refer to an operational success.
In his preliminary report, at the end of a 10-day visit, Alston cited as an example of the nonjudicial executions the case of a young soldier killed while he was on medical leave and whose case was published last week in a three-part series in El Nuevo Herald and The Miami Herald. Alston said he did not find any evidence that the executions were carried out as an official government policy or with the knowledge of President Alvaro Uribe.
According to Alston, the number of cases, their occurrence in different geographic zones, and the diversity of the military units involved, indicate that the executions were carried out in a more-or-less systematic manner by a significant number of Army elements."
The Colombian Attorney General's Office is investigating the deaths of more than 1,800 people who were executed and presented as guerrillas killed in combat. More than a thousand servicemen have been implicated in the investigation.
Alston said he does not rule out that some of the victims were guerrillas, but said that the government has not given him any proof of that "other than emphatic assertions."
"The evidence that shows victims wearing newly ironed camouflage garments or wearing field boots four sizes bigger than their feet, or left-handed individuals holding a pistol in their right hand . . . negate even more the suggestion that they were guerrillas killed in combat," Alston said.
He added that "among the dangerous guerrillas" killed by the Army there were "16- and 17-year-old adolescents, a young man with the mental capacity of a 9-year-old" and "a devoted head of family whose two brothers-in-law are in active military service."
11) Disgruntled Mexicans Plan an Election Message to Politicians: We Prefer Nobody
Marc Lacey, New York Times, June 21, 2009
With Mexico's midterm elections two weeks away, the most spirited campaigning has been for a candidate with no name, no face and no particular policy positions. Call him Nulo.
Nulo - Spanish for null and void - is drawing support from disgruntled Mexicans who say the country's politicians are focused more on their own power games than on the people they are supposed to serve. So, instead of urging voters to throw their weight behind any of the real candidates vying to be elected mayors, governors or members of Congress on July 5, Nulo's backers are calling on Mexicans to nullify their ballots - and vote for no one at all. "There have been campaigns like this in the past, but it's never caught fire," said Daniel Lund, president of the MUND Group, a Mexico City polling firm. "Now, it's catching fire."
Support for the Voto Nulo campaign has spread on the Internet, where supporters extol the virtues of sending Mexican political parties a stark message: Voting for nothing is better than backing the politicians currently running the country.
Mexico was essentially a one-party state until 2000, when the Institutional Revolutionary Party, known as the PRI, finally lost its grip on the presidency. But a sense of frustration has developed in recent years as more choices on the ballot have not, in the minds of many Mexicans, translated into a more responsive government.
Experts do not expect a surge by Nulo to significantly change the distribution of support for the various parties. The PRI has been leading in most polls, followed by Mr. Calderón's National Action Party and, in a distant third place, the left-leaning Democratic Revolution Party.
With Nulo's campaign getting the kind of buzz candidates desire, other creative protest efforts have sprung up. Some are pushing for voters to write in figures from the country's past, like Pancho Villa, a revolutionary leader, or Benito Juárez, a beloved president from the 19th century.
Turnout is typically low for Mexico's midterm elections, which take place every three years, and some polls suggest that as many as 60 percent of voters will stay home next month, supporting none of the real candidates and not Nulo, either.
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