JFP News 8/7: the Minimum Wage and the Coup in Honduras
Just Foreign Policy News
August 7, 2009
The Minimum Wage and the Coup in Honduras
The coup in Honduras - and the at best grudging and vacillating support in Washington for the restoration of President Zelaya - has thrown into stark relief a fundamental fault line in Latin America and a moral black hole in U.S. policy toward the region: What is the minimum wage which a worker shall be paid for a day's labor?
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1) A new national poll indicates that support among Americans for the war in Afghanistan has hit a new low, CNN reports. Fifty-four percent say they oppose the war in Afghanistan, up 6 points from May. Three-quarters of Democrats oppose the war; nearly two-thirds of Republicans support it.
2) The Obama administration has backed away from its call to restore ousted Honduran President Zelaya, McClatchy reports, based on the letter the Administration sent to Senator Lugar. Some 1,000 pro-Zelaya demonstrators protested outside the U.S. Embassy in Tegucigalpa after the State Department letter was made public in the Honduran media.
3) The State Department's intelligence analysts continue to think that Iran will not be able to produce weapons-grade material before 2013, the Washington Post reports. According to the assessment, State Department analysts think an Iranian decision to produce highly enriched uranium is unlikely to be made "for at least as long as international scrutiny and pressure persist."
4) The Obama administration is struggling to come up with a long-promised plan to measure whether the war in Afghanistan is being won, the New York Times reports. Some lawmakers said the delay might prove costly. "We have been in Afghanistan now for more than seven and a half years," said Rep. Skelton, chair of the House Armed Services Committee. "These metrics are required to help make the case for the American people that actual progress is being made, or if we need to change the course to another direction. I think that time is not on our side."
5) Counterinsurgency expert David Kilcullen, who will be a senior adviser to Gen. McChrystal, says the US will see two more years of heavy fighting in Afghanistan and then either hand off to a much improved Afghan fighting force or "lose and go home," AP reports. Under his "best-case scenario," allied forces would turn the corner in those two years, followed by about three years of transition to a newly capable Afghan force and about five years of "overwatch."
6) President Zelaya was ousted in a military coup after betraying his own kind: a small clique of families that dominates the Honduran economy, AP reports. Elites across Latin America are watching the standoff closely, as they plot their own strategies to combat democratically elected presidents who push for a more even distribution of income. Zelaya still enjoys broad support in Honduras, especially among the working class, AP says.
7) Afghan President Karzai is trying to cut a deal with one of his rivals to knock out his leading contender and ensure a decisive victory, The Independent reports. [The article suggests but does not substantiate U.S. collusion in the scheme - JFP.]
8) Eliot Engel, Shelley Berkley, and other Members of Congress close to AIPAC and the ADL have criticized the Obama Administration for giving an award to former Irish President Mary Robinson, the New York Times reports. The article raises the possibility that the protest is retaliation for the Obama's Administration's insistence that Israel halt construction of Jewish settlements in the West Bank.
9) Secretary of State Clinton promised more aid, training and equipment to Somalia's president, the New York Times reports. She warned of unspecified consequences for Eritrea if it continued what she said was its support for Al Shabab and its efforts to destabilize Somalia. Eritrea denies the charge; the truth is unclear, the NYT says.
10) Residents of the Puerto Rican island of Vieques say the U.S. Navy's plan for removing hazardous unexploded munitions by detonating them in the open air are exposing them again to risk, the New York Times reports. The Navy says the unexploded bombs are too powerful to be set off in detonation chambers.
1) Support for Afghan war drops, CNN poll finds
CNN, Thu August 6, 2009
Washington - A new national poll indicates that support among Americans for the war in Afghanistan has hit a new low.
Forty-one percent of people questioned in a CNN/Opinion Research Corp. survey released Thursday say they favor the war in Afghanistan - down 9 points from May, when CNN polling suggested that half of the public supported the war.
Fifty-four percent say they oppose the war in Afghanistan, up 6 points from May.
"Afghanistan is almost certainly the Obama policy that Republicans like the most," CNN Polling Director Keating Holland said. "Nearly two-thirds of Republicans support the war in Afghanistan. Three-quarters of Democrats oppose the war."
A record 44 United States troops were killed in Afghanistan in July, and 11 have been killed this month.
2) U.S. drops call to restore ousted Honduran leader
Tyler Bridges, McClatchy Newspapers, Thu, Aug. 06, 2009
Tegucigalpa, Honduras - The Obama administration has backed away from its call to restore ousted Honduran President Manuel Zelaya to power and instead put the onus on him for taking "provocative actions" that polarized his country and led to his overthrow on June 28.
The new position was contained in a letter this week to Sen. Richard Lugar, R-Ind., that also rejected calls by some of Zelaya's backers to impose harsh economic sanctions against Honduras.
While condemning the coup, the letter pointedly failed to call for Zelaya's return. "Our policy and strategy for engagement is not based on supporting any particular politician or individual," said the letter to Lugar, the ranking Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
The new U.S. position is likely to undercut diplomatic efforts to bring about Zelaya's return, analysts said.
It may in time help the administration win confirmation for three top State Department officials President Barack Obama has appointed to deal with the region. Senate Republicans have put their nominations on hold to protest U.S. policy in Honduras.
Some 1,000 pro-Zelaya demonstrators protested outside the U.S. Embassy in the capital, Tegucigalpa, Thursday after the State Department letter was made public in the Honduran media.
3) Iran Years From Fuel For Bomb, Report Says
U.S. Analysts Also Discount Strength Of Russian Military
Walter Pincus, Washington Post, Friday, August 7, 2009
Despite Iran's progress since 2007 toward producing enriched uranium, the State Department's intelligence analysts continue to think that Tehran will not be able to produce weapons-grade material before 2013, according to a newly disclosed congressional document.
The updated assessment, by the State Department's Bureau of Intelligence and Research, emphasizes that the analysis is based on Iran's technical capability and is not a judgment about "when Iran might make any political decision" to produce highly enriched uranium.
The intelligence community agrees that a political decision has not yet been made. According to the assessment, State Department analysts think such a decision is unlikely to be made "for at least as long as international scrutiny and pressure persist."
The views on Iran's nuclear program are contained among answers in a document supplied by Director of National Intelligence Dennis C. Blair to the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence after a hearing in February. Steven Aftergood, a senior research analyst at the Federation of American Scientists, obtained the document through a Freedom of Information Act request and published it Thursday on his Web site.
4) White House Struggles To Gauge Afghan Success
David E. Sanger, Eric Schmitt and Thom Shanker, New York Times, August 7, 2009
Washington - As the American military comes to full strength in the Afghan buildup, the Obama administration is struggling to come up with a long-promised plan to measure whether the war is being won.
Those "metrics" of success, demanded by Congress and eagerly awaited by the military, are seen as crucial if the president is to convince Capitol Hill and the country that his revamped strategy is working. Without concrete signs of progress, Obama may lack the political stock - especially among Democrats and his liberal base - to make the case for continuing the military effort or enlarging the American presence.
In some cases, old measurements are being thrown out. Commanders in Afghanistan say they no longer pay much attention to how many enemy fighters are killed in action. Instead, they are trying to count instances in which local citizens cooperate with Afghan and allied forces.
And in drafting a metric important to senior members of Congress, the administration is considering conducting an opinion poll to determine Afghan public perception of official corruption at national, provincial and district levels. This would give insight into how Afghan citizens view police performance at the neighborhood level all the way up to the quality of national political appointments.
But as the architects of similar metrics in Iraq learned, even the best-constructed measures can miss the larger truth.
In 2005 and 2006, for example, the White House was often citing the "rat rate" in Iraq, a measure of good tips from Iraqis about the location of insurgents or the planting of roadside bombs. "We thought this was a good measure of how well the public was turning against" Al Qaeda and other insurgents, said Peter D. Feaver, a professor at Duke University who served in the National Security Council at the time. "What we discovered was that the rat rate numbers steadily improved over the course of 2006 - and the violence was rising."
That experience helps to explain why the Obama administration has taken so much time. But some frustrated lawmakers said the delay might prove costly. "We have been in Afghanistan now for more than seven and a half years," said Representative Ike Skelton, a Democrat of Missouri and the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee. "These metrics are required to help make the case for the American people that actual progress is being made, or if we need to change the course to another direction. I think that time is not on our side."
When President Obama unveiled his new strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan in March, he emphasized the importance of these measures. "We will set clear metrics to measure progress and hold ourselves accountable," Obama said. "We'll consistently assess our efforts to train Afghan security forces and our progress in combating insurgents. We will measure the growth of Afghanistan's economy and its illicit narcotics production. And we will review whether we are using the right tools and tactics to make progress towards accomplishing our goals."
All that now seems unlikely to be completed before his field commanders finish their proposals for carrying out their marching orders. Their recommendations were originally due at the Pentagon within the next two weeks, but Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates issued expanded instructions for the assessment to the commanders last weekend and gave them until September to complete their report.
Skeptical lawmakers have implored Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, Gates and Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, to produce what Obama promised, and they have made specific recommendations of their own.
5) Adviser: US has 2 more tough years in Afghanistan
Anne Gearan, Associated Press, Thursday, August 6, 2009 8:05 PM
Washington - An incoming adviser to the top U.S. general in Afghanistan predicted Thursday that the United States will see about two more years of heavy fighting and then either hand off to a much improved Afghan fighting force or "lose and go home."
David Kilcullen, a counterinsurgency expert who will assume a role as a senior adviser to Gen. Stanley McChrystal, has been highly critical of the war's management to date. He outlined a "best-case scenario" for a decade of further U.S. and NATO involvement in Afghanistan during an appearance at the U.S. Institute of Peace.
Under that timeline, the allied forces would turn the corner in those two years, followed by about three years of transition to a newly capable Afghan force and about five years of "overwatch."
"We'll fight for two years and then a successful transition, or we'll fight for two years and we'll lose and go home," Kilcullen said.
6) Honduran Coup Shows Business Elite Still in Charge
Associated Press, August 6, 2009, 5:32 p.m. ET
Tegucigalpa - Honduran President Manuel Zelaya was ousted in a military coup after betraying his own kind: a small clique of families that dominates the economy. Now those same families stand as the greatest obstacle to the U.S.-backed drive to return him to power.
Elites across Latin America are watching the standoff closely, as they plot their own strategies to combat democratically elected presidents such as Venezuela's Hugo Chavez who have demonized the wealthy as they push for a more even distribution of income.
Washington has shunned the interim government so as not to legitimize it, while lobbying Honduras' business leaders in an effort to resolve the crisis. It's an acknowledgment of the tremendous sway those elites hold on the country.
The cadre of bankers, industrialists, hoteliers and media barons has responded with a mix of bafflement and infuriation, many of them unable to understand how the United States - where they attend universities, forge business ties and shop at malls - could support a president they see as an agent of Chavez.
The international community is concerned about setting a precedent if Zelaya is not returned to power. Heather Berkman, a Central America expert with the Eurasia Group, said the elites in other Latin American countries could feel empowered to try to force out their own leaders. "Zelaya rocked the boat," Berkman said, "and these people made him fall off."
Honduras inspired the term "banana republic" when U.S.-owned plantations of fruit, coffee and tobacco dominated the country. Homegrown capitalists acted as intermediaries for U.S. companies such as Standard Fruit, then diversified into fast-growing sectors of finance, textiles, tourism, construction and electricity.
Zelaya still enjoys broad support in Honduras, especially among the working class. On Thursday, thousands of Zelaya supporters marched from towns across the country toward Tegucigalpa and San Pedro Sula, where they plan to converge Monday to demand their president's return.
7) Secret Deal To Keep Karzai In Power
Afghan President's alliance with rival designed to prevent civil war after election
Jerome Starkey, The Independent, Friday, 7 August 2009
With less than two weeks to go until national elections, the Afghan President, Hamid Karzai, is trying to cut a secret deal with one of his rivals to knock out his leading contender and ensure a decisive victory to avoid the chaos that a tight result might unleash.
Mr Karzai and his main challenger, Abdullah Abdullah, hail from different ethnic groups and different regions. If neither wins outright in round one on 20 August, officials fear Afghanistan could be engulfed by violence reminiscent of the civil war of the 1990s.
"The whole country is armed. Everybody has weapons. You have to keep everyone happy," an Afghan analyst said. Mr Abdullah's campaign staff have threatened to hold demonstrations should Mr Karzai win, insisting that he could only do so fraudulently.
Mr Abdullah's supporters, who are largely Tajik, have warned of Iranian-style protests, but "with Kalashnikovs", should the President win a second term. Although Mr Karzai, a Pashtun, is still the favourite, his supporters fear that a third candidate, Ashraf Ghani, could split the Pashtun vote, depriving the President of the 51 per cent share he needs to win, and opening the door to Mr Abdullah.
Yesterday, details emerged of how the President was trying to join forces with Mr Ghani to unite the Pashtun vote and knock Mr Abdullah out of the race. Officials said the President had offered Mr Ghani a job as chief executive - a new post described as similar to prime minister. "If Ghani agrees to the terms, Karzai will dump his team and move forward, with Karzai as President and Ghani as chief executive," a campaign official told The Independent last night.
Richard Holbrooke, the US special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan, and Karl Eikenberry, the US ambassador, are understood to have discussed the proposal with Mr Ghani late last month. "It makes sense," a policy analyst with close links to the US administration said. "Holbrooke likes Ghani, and he has come round to the fact that Karzai will probably win."
The idea of a chief executive was hatched in Washington as a way of handing the responsibility of running the government to a skilled technocrat. Mr Ghani has an impressive pedigree as a former university professor and finance minister. Two years ago, he was a contender to head the World Bank. What he lacks - and what might make the deal attractive to him - is the grassroots support that Mr Karzai and Mr Abdullah enjoy.
US embassy officials have denied any involvement in back-room deals. Foreign diplomats are desperate to avoid being seen to be influencing the election but the international community is equally keen to avoid bloodshed when the results are announced.
8) Jewish Groups Say Obama's Pick for Medal Has Anti-Israel Bias
Mark Landler, New York Times, August 7, 2009
Washington - President Obama's decision to bestow one of the nation's highest honors on Mary Robinson, the first woman to serve as Ireland's president, has touched off protests by Jewish groups and lawmakers, who claim she has shown a persistent anti-Israel bias in her work as a human rights advocate.
Obama plans to award the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation's highest civilian honor, to Mrs. Robinson and 15 others at a ceremony next week at the White House.
In recent days, Representative Eliot L. Engel, Democrat of New York, Representative Shelley Berkley, Democrat of Nevada, and other lawmakers have criticized Obama's choice. They say that in her role as the United Nations human rights commissioner, Mrs. Robinson was one-sided in her criticism of Israel and allowed hostility toward it to infect the global debate on human rights.
Much of the criticism centers on Mrs. Robinson's leadership of an antiracism conference in Durban, South Africa, in 2001. The delegations from the United States and Israel walked out in the middle to protest a torrent of anti-Israel and anti-Semitic statements, which critics say Mrs. Robinson did little to stop.
The White House has defended the decision to grant her the honor, saying it also recognizes her role as a crusader for women's rights. Mrs. Robinson, a lawyer, was elected in 1990 as Ireland's first female president. "We don't necessarily agree with every statement she has ever made," said Tommy Vietor, a White House spokesman. "But it's clear that she has been an agent of change and a fighter for good."
Mrs. Robinson said she was "surprised and dismayed" by the protests. In a telephone interview on Thursday, she said she had fought unsuccessfully to prevent the Durban meeting from devolving into an attack on Israel. "This is old, recycled, untrue stuff," Mrs. Robinson, who now runs Realizing Rights, a human rights group in New York, said from California. "I have been very critical of the Palestinian side. My conduct continues to be on the side of tackling anti-Semitism and discrimination."
The honor has also been opposed by Jewish groups like the Anti-Defamation League and the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. The spat over Mrs. Robinson comes amid rising tension between the United States and Israel over the Obama administration's insistence that Israel halt construction of Jewish settlements in the West Bank.
9) Clinton Offers Assurances To Somalis
Jeffrey Gettleman, New York Times, August 7, 2009
Nairobi, Kenya - Somalia's beleaguered transitional government received desperately needed support on Thursday as Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton praised its president as "the best hope we've had for some time," then strongly warned Eritrea to stop supporting insurgents in the country.
Mrs. Clinton met with Sheik Sharif Sheik Ahmed, elected Somalia's president in January, for more than an hour. She promised more aid, training and equipment, in addition to the millions of dollars' worth of weapons the United States has recently shipped to his government.
She warned of unspecified consequences for Eritrea if it continued what she said was its support for Al Shabab and its efforts to destabilize Somalia. "It's long past time for Eritrea to cease and desist its support for Al Shabab," she said. "We intend to take action if they do not cease."
American leaders have made this threat before, though usually not in such direct language. Eritrea continues to deny any links to Somali militants, though that is hard to verify, as Eritrea is a highly secretive, tightly controlled nation with few allies.
10) New Battle On Vieques, Over Navy's Cleanup Of Munitions
Mireya Navarro, New York Times, August 7, 2009
Vieques, Puerto Rico - The United States Navy ceased military training operations on this small island in 2003, and windows no longer rattle from the shelling from ships and air-to-ground bombings.
Gone are the protests that drew celebrities like Benicio Del Toro and Robert F. Kennedy Jr. Real estate prices and tourism have boomed: a 157-room Starwood W hotel is expected to open by December on the island, which is seven miles east of Puerto Rico's mainland.
But Vieques, once the largest training area for the United States Atlantic Fleet Forces, is still largely defined by its old struggles. Once again, residents have squared off against the American military.
The Navy has begun removing hazardous unexploded munitions from its old training ground by detonating them in the open air. It also proposes to burn through nearly 100 acres of dense tropical vegetation to locate and explode highly sensitive cluster bombs.
But what could have been a healing process has been marred by lingering mistrust. As the Navy moves to erase a bitter vestige of its long presence here, residents assert that it is simply exposing them again to risk.
"The great majority of emergency room visits here last year were for respiratory problems," said Evelyn Delerme Camacho, the mayor of Vieques. "Can they guarantee that contaminants or smoke won't reach the population? Would we have to wait and see if there's a problem?"
Given the history of grievances, many locals are aghast that the Navy's methods involve burnings and detonations whose booms can be heard in some residential areas, setting people on edge. They have spoken out at public hearings and in legislative resolutions.
But Christopher T. Penny, head of the Navy's Vieques restoration program, said the unexploded bombs are too powerful to be set off in detonation chambers. And he said that experiments to cut through the dense vegetation with a remote-control device had not had much success.
Environmental Protection Agency officials who are overseeing the project say that such on-site detonations are typical of cleanups at former military training ranges. Jose C. Font, an E.P.A. deputy director in San Juan, says they pose no threat to human health as long as limited amounts are exploded each time, the wind is calm and air quality is monitored constantly.
Puerto Rico's legislature, meanwhile, has asked President Obama to keep a campaign promise to "achieve an environmentally acceptable cleanup" and "closely monitor the health of the people of Vieques and promote appropriate remedies."
Other battles loom. Most of the 26,000 acres the Navy used to own on the eastern and western ends of Vieques - making up about three-fourths of the island - have been turned over to the Department of the Interior, which plans to maintain the land as a wildlife preserve.
The Fish and Wildlife Service has already opened up small portions of the area to the public as a wildlife refuge that includes gorgeous undeveloped beaches where sea turtles like the loggerhead and hawksbill nest.
But Mayor Delerme Camacho said that once the cleanup is over, Vieques's residents want to be able to use the land for housing and ecotourism, too. Already, those eager to build have staked out makeshift claims with signs on trees within a chunk of 4,000 acres transferred by the Navy to the municipal government.
Though fishermen can now catch red snapper and yellowtail unfettered by the Navy's target practice, and visitors have discovered the rural charms of a place where horses roam freely on the roads, Vieques still has high rates of poverty and lacks a full-fledged hospital.
Ismael Guadalupe, 65, a retired teacher and leader in the long resistance to the Navy's operations here, said that while the training is over, the fighting continues. "As one of our sayings goes, 'If we had to eat the bone, now we should be able to eat the meat,' " he said.
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