JFP News 8/13: Religious Leaders Urge Clinton to Suspend Colombia Base Talks
Just Foreign Policy News
August 13, 2009
16 Members of Congress call on Obama to take further measures against Honduran coup regime
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1) Over a hundred religious, national, community organizations and leaders and academics called on Secretary of State Clinton to "suspend negotiations for expanded U.S. military access or operations in Colombia," the Fellowship of Reconciliation reports. "It is rational for regional leaders to see the installation of several U.S. military sites in Colombia as a potential threat to their security," the groups said, because of U.S. support for trans-border attacks from Colombia, a Pentagon statement that it seeks access for "contingency operations" in the region, and the history of U.S. military intervention in Latin America.
2) The U.S. media are failing to scrutinize the U.S. military escalation in Afghanistan, argues former assistant secretary of state Morton Abramowitz in Foreign Policy. Few questions have been asked about the consequences or the morality of the U.S. urging Pakistan to displace two million in the Swat Valley in order to attack militants using air and artillery. Few question that a sustained massive commitment of manpower and money for years to come is the best way to challenge Al Qaeda. Can their planning and training only be done in Afghanistan, as opposed to Yemen or Somalia? What will it cost? How much forces will be needed? The administration finds such questions inconvenient.
3) Obama is making a big mistake in coddling the dictatorship in Honduras, argues Mark Weisbrot in the Sacramento Bee. South American governments will not accept elections under the coup regime. An illegitimate government in Honduras would become a festering sore, with boycotts and economic sanctions of the type that targeted the South African apartheid regime in the 1980s.
4) Colombia's armed forces chief said negotiations could conclude this weekend on a vaguely explained agreement to increase the U.S. military presence in Colombia, the Miami Herald reports. "There's been no clarity, no explanation of why and how the bases will operate," said a former Colombian defense minister.
5) The U.S. is considering pulling US troops out of some remote outposts on Afghanistan's eastern border with Pakistan, McClatchy reports. Abandoning U.S. forward outposts, would be a tacit admission that the presence of U.S. troops has fueled insecurity, McClatchy says. It also would shift the war in Afghanistan from fighting al Qaida and other terrorists, which the U.S. public continues to support, to protecting the Afghan population, which may be harder for the Obama administration to defend in Congress and during next year's congressional elections, McClatchy says.
6) A letter sent last week by the State Department has caused many to question the Obama Administration position on reinstating ousted Honduran President Zelaya, Inter Press Service reports. A spokesman for Foreign Relations Committee chair Senator Kerry said the senator was worried the letter "risks sending a confusing signal" about U.S. commitment to restoring Zelaya to power. The Washington Office on Latin America said the U.S. needs to "send a stronger message to the coup government," by canceling their and their families' visas and freezing their bank accounts.
7) 10,000 protesters in Tegucigalpa denounced the coup and demanded the return of President Zelaya, AP reports. 4,000 Zelaya supporters gathered in San Pedro Sula, the country's second-largest city.
8) Already enraged by the deaths of civilians in U.S. military airstrikes, many Afghans are also demanding more accountability from security contractors, the Los Angeles Times reports. A June report by the Commission on Wartime Contracting in Iraq and Afghanistan says U.S. authorities in Afghanistan have not applied "lessons learned" in Iraq after a 2007 incident in which Blackwater guards shot and killed 17 Iraqi civilians in Baghdad. Members of parliament, responding to complaints from constituents, have proposed legislation cracking down on contractors.
9) Presidential candidate Abdullah Abdullah promised he would set in motion a substantive national reconciliation process with militants if he won the August 20 elections, Pajhwok Afghan News reports. Abdullah denounced the Karzai administration's reconciliation drive as a half-hearted measure.
10) Human Rights Watch says Israeli soldiers opened fire on at least seven groups of Palestinian civilians in Gaza last winter who were carrying white flags, killing 11 people, McClatchy reports. McClatchy documented in January one of the instances that Thursday's report outlines.
1) Religious and Grassroots Leaders Urge Clinton to Suspend Military Base Talks with Colombia
Fellowship Of Reconciliation Colombia Program, August 12, 2009
Over one hundred religious, national, community organizations and leaders and academics today called on Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to "suspend negotiations for expanded U.S. military access or operations in Colombia," a plan that has generated a swell of protest among Latin American countries, including Colombia, the largest recipient of U.S. military aid in the hemisphere.
"It is rational for regional leaders to see the installation of several U.S. military sites in Colombia as a potential threat to their security," the groups said, because of U.S. support for trans-border attacks from Colombia, reported violations of the expiring base agreement with Ecuador, a Pentagon statement that it seeks access for "contingency operations" in the region, and the painful history of U.S. military intervention in Latin America and the Caribbean.
"To broaden relationships with South America and value respect for human rights, the United States should not create a fortress in Colombia in concert with the region's worst rights violators, the Colombian military," the letter said.
Signatories included 20 national religious organizations and leaders and 32 U.S. peace and human rights groups, as well as community organizations, academics, and international NGOs.
The leaders wrote to Clinton as many South American presidents have expressed opposition to the increased U.S. military presence in Colombia. Brazilian President Lula da Silva urged President Obama to joined presidents from the South American Union to discuss the issue later this month in Buenos Aires, and Venezuela President Hugo Chavez said that "the winds of war are blowing" because of the plan for U.S. troops to operate in seven Colombian bases.
2) Tough Questions Nobody Wants to Ask
It's time to scrutinize the basic assumptions behind Obama's escalation in Afghanistan - before it's too late.
Morton Abramowitz, Foreign Policy, August 10, 2009
[Abramowitz is a former assistant secretary of state.]
Over the last few years, castigating the media for its failure to examine the case for war in Iraq, simply accepting the Bush administration's facts and rationales, has become something of a cottage industry. You might think, given the fuss over Iraq, that the media and its critics would be zealously examining our stepped-up efforts in Afghanistan - one of the most extraordinary, difficult, and costly ventures of American foreign policy. But, for the most part, they are not.
Only in the last few months have public figures questioned the case for war in Afghanistan. Recently, Harvard scholar Rory Stewart and 9/11 Commission head Lee Hamilton have asked whether the war is worth U.S. blood and treasure. And no less than General Stanley McChrystal reportedly admitted that U.S.-led forces may be losing - or at least not winning.
For the Iraq war, the media was charged with not seeking out and publicizing the worries of the academics, policy analysts, and others deeply skeptical of urgency of the threat and the Bush administration's stated casus belli. Later, it was accused of overlooking the wider story by embedding reporters in the operations of military units once the war began and focusing attention on tactics and human-interest stories. Now, the United States is building a nation-state in Afghanistan and changing the national-security priorities in Pakistan - whose people overwhelmingly dislike the United States. By and large, the media is not asking those basic and critical questions of Afghanistan.
On Afghanistan, there are few stories of mid-level officials disputing the administration's view of the situation and the U.S. policy approach. For instance, few questions have been asked about the consequences or the morality of the United States urging Pakistan to displace two million in the Swat Valley in order to attack militants using air and artillery. Editorialists tend to be either quiet on the Pakistan-Afghanistan question, or strongly supportive of American efforts. Strategy is almost never questioned. Media watchers seem more interested in determining whether the press is soft or hard on U.S. President Barack Obama. Until a recent uptick in coverage, the number of television minutes and front-page stories had dropped precipitously. And, the American media still has little regular presence in Afghanistan; most well-known columnists visit courtesy of the aircraft of senior American military and diplomatic officials.
But the deepening U.S involvement in Afghanistan under the Obama administration is based on assumptions that merit and require more sustained examination by the media, given the vast importance of the enterprise.
First, the U.S. strategy asserts that al Qaeda remains the real threat to the United States, and that the re-Talibanization of Afghanistan will again permit terrorists to operate more freely. No one questions the threat from al Qaeda. More problematically, though, few question that a sustained massive commitment of manpower and money for years to come is the best way of proceeding. After all, al Qaeda leaders, now said to be residing reasonably securely along the Pakistan border, have networks extending beyond the Afghan state to places like Yemen and Somalia, the latter effectively abandoned by the United States after many years of ineffective meddling. Can their planning and training only be done in Afghanistan?
Third, the administration asserts that if the Taliban is to be permanently prevented from controlling Afghanistan and allowing al Qaeda to roam, it is necessary to build an Afghan state with a strong central government. But such intense, long-term nation-building is much more difficult in Afghanistan than Iraq: The economy is rudimentary and dependent on poppy cultivation, the population is highly illiterate, the ethnic divisions are numerous, the trained officials are few. The administration apparently believes that if significant nation-building progress is made via the military and civilian "surge" in the next year, Congress will provide funds for the longer term. That is an impressive gamble.
And bottom-line questions remain. What will it cost? How much forces will be needed? How long will it take before an Afghan state can reasonably function and the threat of al Qaeda is eliminated? The administration, not surprisingly, finds such questions inconvenient. They tend to deflect them - acknowledging it will be tough and costly, and saying we have to see what can be accomplished over the next year, despite the bad results of the last seven. The enormity of the stakes requires not just faith, but continuing examination of huge sacrifices: in lives lost, military personnel deployed, costs borne, and American credibility engaged.
3) Obama tacitly backs military's takeover of Honduran democracy
Mark Weisbrot, Sacramento Bee, Thursday, Aug. 13, 2009
Washington - President Obama is making a big mistake in coddling the dictatorship in Honduras, and putting his administration at odds with the rest of the hemisphere. It also looks terrible to the world that his government so easily abandons its professed commitment to democracy and the rule of law.
President Manuel Zelaya of Honduras was overthrown by the military on June 28. Most of Latin America saw this as a threat to democracy in the hemisphere, immediately condemned the coup, and strongly supported Zelaya's return. The Organization of American States as well as the General Assembly of the United Nations called for Zelaya's "immediate and unconditional" return.
But the Obama administration has issued a series of conflicting statements, and last week the U.S. State Department sent a letter to Republican Sen. Richard Lugar of Indiana that appeared to blame Zelaya himself for the coup. The letter also said that U.S. policy was "not based on supporting any particular politician or individual," thus further distancing Washington from Zelaya.
These statements were widely publicized in the Honduran media and helped to bolster the dictatorship.
Perhaps more ominously, the Obama administration has not said one word about the atrocities and human rights abuses perpetrated by the coup government. Political activists have been murdered, independent TV and radio stations have been shut down, journalists have been detained and intimidated, and hundreds of people arrested.
Human rights groups in the United States and internationally have denounced this political repression. But Washington has been silent. On the contrary, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton criticized Zelaya - who is not linked to any violence whatsoever - for attempting to return peacefully to his own country.
On Tuesday, 16 Democratic members of Congress sent a letter to President Obama calling on him to "publicly denounce the use of violence and repression of peaceful protestors, the murder of peaceful political organizers and all forms of censorship and intimidation directed at media outlets." Can he ignore this public appeal from his own party? The members of Congress also asked President Obama to "freeze the bank accounts and assets of individuals involved in the coup, and deny them entry into the United States." These and other measures that are easy to implement could force the dictatorship to allow the President Zelaya's return. But the Obama administration has shown no interest in using them.
This problem is not going to go away. In mid-August, the governments of South America issued a joint statement that they will not recognize any president in Honduras that is elected under a dictatorship. This is important because there is a presidential election scheduled for November, and the coup government hopes to stall until then.
But a united South America had made it clear that this is not an option.
Unfortunately, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is very close to the Honduran dictatorship's chief strategists led by Americans Lanny Davis and Bennett Ratcliff - both top-rung Washington lobbyists. Davis was a former counsel to President Bill Clinton and also helped Hillary's own presidential campaign. Most likely Clinton hopes to stall Zelaya's return until shortly before the election.
This would guarantee an unfair election that her friends in the dictatorship would easily win. The presidential election campaign has already started, and the longer it continues under conditions of political repression and censorship, the less likely it is that anyone outside of Washington will consider it legitimate.
And an illegitimate government in Honduras would become a festering sore, with boycotts and economic sanctions of the type that targeted the South African apartheid regime in the 1970s and 80s.
The Obama administration can still change course and support democracy in Honduras. But time is rapidly running out.
4) US Says It Might Operate From - but Not Run - Colombian Military Bases
Gerardo Reyes, Miami Herald, Thu, Aug. 13, 2009
Colombia's armed forces chief Wednesday said negotiations could conclude this weekend on an agreement to increase the U.S. military presence in the South American country - a vaguely explained deal that has sparked strong protests in the hemisphere.
Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez has warned that "the winds of war are blowing." Bolivia's Evo Morales urged Latin Americans to "rescue" Colombia from the grip of U.S. imperialism. Argentina's Cristina Kirchner called the move "belligerent." And Fidel Castro alleged it could "block social change" in the region.
Even moderates like Brazil's Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva joined the more strident leftists in expressing concerns, indicating that the controversy is undermining the Obama administration's efforts to forge warmer ties with the region and reviving memories of past U.S. interventions around the hemisphere.
Gen. Freddy Padilla, commander of the Colombian armed forces, told reporters that negotiations over the Washington-Bogotá agreement could be concluded by this weekend. He spoke to reporters at the Palanquero air force base northwest of Bogotá, one of the possible FOLs ["Forward Operating Locations"].
But exactly what the FOLs would include remained vague Wednesday - perhaps work spaces for pilots, crewmen and ground mechanics as well as secure communications and firefighting units (in case of plane crashes), as well as warehouses for spare aviation parts or emergency humanitarian supplies.
Both U.S. and Colombian officials have acknowledged that they mishandled the public relations side of the deployments, initially saying little or nothing in the face of media reports of plans for up to seven new U.S. military "bases" in Colombia. "There's been no clarity, no explanation of why and how the bases will operate," said Rafael Pardo, former Colombian defense minister and presidential hopeful in the 2010 elections.
5) U.S. Studies Pulling Troops From Remote Afghan Posts
Jonathan S. Landay and Nancy A. Youssef, McClatchy Newspapers, August 13, 2009
Kabul - The U.S. military commander in Afghanistan is considering pulling American troops out of some remote outposts on the country's mountainous eastern border with Pakistan, where local guerrillas are allied with the Taliban and al Qaida, U.S. officials told McClatchy.
Abandoning U.S. forward outposts, and possibly turning them over to Afghan forces, would be a tacit admission that the presence of American troops has fueled insecurity by embroiling them in local feuds and driving some local tribes to align with the Taliban.
"These (outposts) are costly and dangerous and not doing much to bring security to the people or connect the people to their government," said a U.S. official who's familiar with the region. "The terrain is too rugged, the infrastructure and especially roads do not exist and couldn't be built on short order, and the population is too low and too dispersed."
American commanders had hoped that sending more troops to the border area, coupled with a new Pakistani drive against the militants on its side of the border, could deprive al Qaida and the Taliban of a sanctuary and end infiltration from Pakistan.
However, two senior U.S. officials said, there's no sign that the Pakistani military is prepared to move against the militants, and as one of them put it: "There's no point swinging a hammer if there's no anvil there."
Instead, American forces have found themselves tied down in costly clashes with insurgents, and it now may make more sense to move them to more populated areas to bolster security for a redoubled effort to rebuild the war-torn country, U.S. officials said.
Despite President Barack Obama's decision to boost the American contingent to 68,000 troops by this fall, there's uncertainty about further increases next year given the continued instability in Iraq and public angst over rising casualties in Afghanistan and federal spending at home.
Given these limitations, the officials said, McChrystal wants to focus the troops he has on Afghanistan's population centers. "It's a concession that we don't have enough troops," said a U.S. military officer at the Pentagon. "It may seem counterintuitive to move the fight closer to population centers, but being farther away hasn't worked."
Abandoning more outposts where U.S. forces have suffered significant casualties would be a boon to the propaganda-savvy Taliban and their patron, al Qaida, which almost certainly would trumpet any redeployment as an American retreat.
It also would shift the war in Afghanistan from fighting al Qaida and other terrorists, which soldiers are trained to do and which the American public continues to support, to protecting the Afghan population and training local forces, which may be harder for the Obama administration to defend in Congress and during next year's congressional elections.
6) Obama Administration Restating Its Position on Honduran Coup?
Marina Litvinsky, Inter Press Service, 12 Aug
Washington - A letter sent last week by the U.S. State Department has caused many to question the Obama Administration position on reinstating ousted Honduras President Manuel Zelaya.
In an Aug. 4 letter to Senator Richard Lugar - the ranking Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee - signed by Assistant Secretary of State for Legislative Affairs Richard Verma, the U.S. condemned the coup, though said Zelaya was to blame for his ousting and did not call for his return.
"Our policy and strategy for engagement is not based on supporting any particular politician or individual," said the letter. "We also recognise that President Zelaya's insistence on undertaking provocative actions contributed to the polarisation of Honduran society and led to a confrontation that unleashed the events that led to his removal."
Vicki Gass, a Honduras specialist at the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA), said the letter highlighted U.S. support for a democratic government and the rule of law in Honduras, not necessarily support of Zelaya. "The U.S. hasn't supported Zelaya," she told IPS. "They support democratic order, which means his return, but that doesn't mean they like him."
Frederick Jones, a spokesman for Foreign Relations Committee chairman, Senator John Kerry, said Friday that the senator was worried the letter "risks sending a confusing signal" about U.S. commitment to restoring Zelaya to power.
Gass said the U.S. response has been inconsistent. "[The U.S.] needs to be more forceful in condemning the coup and more consistent within the state department," said Gass.
She said the U.S. needs to "send a stronger message to the coup government," by initially cancelling their and their families' visas and freezing their bank accounts.
The State Department letter angered Latin American leaders, who have also been critical of the U.S.'s lack of action in Honduras. There have been protests outside of the U.S. embassy in Honduras.
7) Honduran Protesters Seek Return of Zelaya
Associated Press, August 12, 2009
Tegucigalpa, Honduras - Thousands of people opposed to Honduras's interim government marched into the capital Tuesday after staging weeklong walks across the country, in one of the largest demonstrations in support of President Manuel Zelaya since his ouster in a coup in late June.
A long column of about 10,000 protesters carrying Honduran flags and signs denouncing interim President Roberto Micheletti arrived in downtown Tegucigalpa, where Mr. Zelaya's wife, Xiomara Castro, welcomed them. "It's been 45 days of resistance and the people are still on the streets," she told the crowd.
An additional 4,000 Zelaya supporters gathered in San Pedro Sula, the country's second-largest city.
8) Deadly Contractor Incident Sours Afghans
Four men with the U.S. firm once known as Blackwater are said to be under investigation in the deaths of two Afghans. A U.S. report found serious fault with private security firms in Afghanistan.
David Zucchino, Los Angeles Times, August 13, 2009
Kabul - Mirza Mohammed Dost stood at the foot of his son's grave, near a headstone that read, "Raheb Dost, martyred by Americans."
His son was no insurgent, Dost said. He was walking home from prayers on the night of May 5 when he was shot and killed on a busy Kabul street by U.S. security contractors. "The Americans must answer for my son's death," Dost said as a large crowd of young men murmured in approval.
The shooting deaths of Raheb Dost, 24, and another Afghan civilian by four gunmen with the company once known as Blackwater have turned an entire neighborhood against the U.S. presence here.
Already enraged by the deaths of civilians in U.S. military airstrikes, many Afghans are also demanding more accountability from security contractors who routinely block traffic and bark orders to motorists and pedestrians.
As the war escalates in Afghanistan and the U.S. seeks to win over a wary public, incidents such as the one that left Raheb Dost dead raise uneasy ghosts of the Iraq war. With more than 70,000 security contractors or guards in Afghanistan and billions of dollars at stake in lucrative government contracts, the consequences of misconduct are significant.
A June report by the Commission on Wartime Contracting in Iraq and Afghanistan cites serious deficiencies among private security companies in Afghanistan in training, performance, accountability and effective use-of-force rules.
The report says U.S. authorities in Afghanistan have not applied "lessons learned" in Iraq after a 2007 incident in which Blackwater guards shot and killed 17 Iraqi civilians in Baghdad. Iraq revoked the firm's license, and five contractors face U.S. federal manslaughter and weapons charges.
The Afghan Interior Ministry has stepped up licensing of security contractors and is demanding stricter monitoring. The ministry says it wants limits on the number of contractors here, even as the Pentagon considers hiring a private security firm to provide more guards for its military bases.
Members of parliament, responding to complaints from constituents, have proposed legislation cracking down on contractors.
Since February, oversight of security contractors in Afghanistan has been entrusted not to Congress or the Pentagon, but to a British-owned private contractor, Aegis. The company was hired by the American government after the U.S. military said it lacked the manpower and expertise to monitor security contractors. Aegis is supposed to help U.S. authorities make sure contractors are properly trained, armed and supervised.
The wartime contracting commission, set up by the U.S. last year, expressed concern over "limited U.S. government supervision" of private security contractors in Afghanistan. Many are unlicensed and unregulated, said Zemaray Bashary, an Interior Ministry official.
The U.S. military employs 4,373 private security contractors, according to the wartime contracting commission. More than 4,000 are Afghans, many of them former militia fighters who help guard U.S. and coalition bases.
The State Department employs 689 security contractors, most for U.S. Embassy security. American employees traveling in certain areas are protected by Xe contractors supervised by State Department security agents.
9) Abdullah promises substantive dialogue with militants
Bashir Ahmed Naadem, Pajhwok Afghan News, Aug 12, 2009
Kandahar - A leading presidential candidate Wednesday promised that he would set in motion a substantive national reconciliation process with militants if he won the August 20 elections.
Addressing a mammoth gathering arranged in his support in this southern city, the birthplace of the Taliban movement, Dr. Abdullah Abdullah denounced the Karzai administration's reconciliation drive as a half-hearted measure.
Accompanied by his vice-presidential pick and several Wolesi Jirga members, the National United Front nominee argued the current wave of unrest in the country amply proved that the present peace initiative was a non-starter.
If voted into power, the former minister pledged, he would put in place a system of merit in addition to raising a national security force that would obviate the need for the presence of foreign troops in Afghanistan over the next three years.
10) Report: Israeli Troops Fired on Gazans Waving White Flags
Dion Nissenbaum, McClatchy Newspapers, August 13, 2009 08:15:37 AM
Jerusalem - Israeli soldiers battling Hamas militants last winter in Gaza opened fire on at least seven groups of Palestinian civilians who were carrying white flags, killing 11 people, according to a Human Rights Watch report released Thursday.
During the three-week conflict, the U.S.-based human rights group says, Israeli soldiers in separate parts of Gaza killed five women, four children and two men as they used white flags to try to escape the battle zone.
The report raises new questions about the actions of Israeli soldiers during the military offensive. A United Nations investigation into possible war crimes continues. McClatchy documented in January one of the instances that Thursday's report outlines.
"The Israeli military needs to investigate," said Fred Abrahams, a Human Rights Watch investigator who conducted research in Gaza on some of the cases. "We want the IDF (Israel Defense Forces) to get to the bottom of it."
Human Rights Watch said it uncovered no evidence in these seven cases that the civilians holding white flags were being used by Gaza militants as human shields.
In its report, Human Rights Watch concludes that the research "strongly indicates that, at the least, Israeli soldiers failed to take all feasible precautions to distinguish between civilians and combatants before opening fire, as required by the laws of war."
"At worst," the group says, "the soldiers deliberately shot at persons known to be civilians."
According to Israeli and Palestinian human rights groups, the Israeli military killed about 1,400 Palestinians during the conflict. Most of them, according to research by the various groups, were women, children and men who weren't directly involved in the fighting.
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