JFP News 8/26: Out of Afghanistan? Feingold Leads the Way
Just Foreign Policy News
August 26, 2009
Out of Afghanistan? Feingold Leads the Way
Senator Russ Feingold of Wisconsin has broken a Washington taboo: he called for a "timetable" for withdrawal of U.S. military forces from Afghanistan. Just Foreign Policy's Megan Iorio has put together a video with highlights of Senator Feingold's recent remarks on Afghanistan. Watch and spread.
Support the Work of Just Foreign Policy
Your financial contributions to Just Foreign Policy help us create opportunities for Americans to advocate for a just foreign policy.
1) Obama is caught between two important constituencies on Afghanistan - the generals who want more troops, and the base of his own party, whose tolerance for a worsening conflict is quickly evaporating, the Washington Post reports. Sen. Russell Feingold, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, called this week for the first time for Obama to set a "flexible timetable" to withdraw U.S. forces, saying he is "not convinced that simply pouring more and more troops into Afghanistan is a well-thought-out strategy."
2) Admiral Mullen says the U.S. is basically "starting over" in the war in Afghanistan, the Boston Globe reports. Acknowledging that public support for the war is waning, Mullen said the US operation needs "12 to 18 months to turn this thing around." Mullen dismissed calls by some specialists that the U.S. should immediately seek to negotiate with some elements of the Taliban who may be willing to put down their arms in exchange for a political stake in the Afghan government. "I am one that believes that we need to negotiate ... from a position of strength," Mullen said. "We are not in a position of strength."
3) Obama is close to brokering an Israeli-Palestinian deal that will allow him to announce a resumption of the long-stalled Middle East peace talks before the end of next month, the Guardian reports. Key to bringing Israel on board is a promise by the US to adopt a much tougher line with Iran over its alleged nuclear weapons program, the Guardian says. The US, along with Britain and France, is planning to push the UN security council to expand sanctions to include Iran's oil and gas industry, a move that could cripple its economy. In return, the Israeli government will be expected to agree to a partial freeze on the construction of settlements. [This Guardian report is a bit breathless: the US was already planning to push for more sanctions, and Israel's purported "partial freeze" of settlement expansion, which excludes Jerusalem and settlement construction already underway, was already in place; the key question about the push at the UN is whether Russia and China will go along; no new evidence has been put forward that they will. This report appears to be political spin to give Netanyahu cover domestically, so he can say he got something from the U.S. in exchange for the "partial freeze" - JFP.]
4) The Afghan election is being run by Afghan officials, but UN election experts are closely involved and remain a robust presence, Carlotta Gall reports in the New York Times. Some of these observers said that while there were indications that fraud had occurred on a large scale, the procedures around the vote count should catch much of the most blatant vote-rigging.
5) Larry Syverson of Military Families Speak Out, whose son was recently deployed to Afghanistan, writes that he is heartened by poll numbers indicating a majority of Americans have turned against the war, in a letter to the Washington Post. Congress must realize that funding these wars is not supporting our troops but killing them, Syverson says.
6) OAS Secretary-General Insulza held out hope Wednesday for a resolution of the Honduran presidential crisis even after the high-level delegation he led to Honduras failed to arrange for President Zelaya's return, AP reports. "There's still a climate for making one final effort," Insulza told an OAS meeting. Lew Amselem, U.S. representative to the OAS, said the U.S.' decision to stop issuing most visas at its embassy in Honduras sends a clear signal that "it is never acceptable in the 21st century to expel a sitting president from a country." Zelaya's return to finish his presidential term is indispensable to resolving the matter, Amselem said. Sen. Kerry said coup leader Micheletti was choosing crisis over resolution. Micheletti's "uncompromising power-grab" and the growing evidence of abuses of authority "cast a dark shadow" over preparations for the November elections, Kerry said.
7) U.N. inspectors are set to report that Iran has slowed the expansion of its disputed nuclear program and is cooperating more with them just as major powers prepare to discuss harsh sanctions against Iran, Reuters reports. The U.S. intelligence chief has said Iran is unlikely to be technically able to "weaponize" enrichment before 2013.
8) Iran has enlisted the support of more than 100 nonaligned nations in its push for a ban on military attacks on nuclear facilities, George Jahn reports for AP. The 118-nation Nonaligned Movement backs Iran in a letter submitted to the International Atomic Energy Agency endorsing Iran's plan to submit a resolution on the topic when IAEA nations meet Sept. 14.
10) The Palestinian economy won't prosper until it is released from the restrictions of the Israeli occupation, writes Palestinian-American businessman Sam Bahour in the Wall Street Journal. Analyses by the World Bank suggest Israel's repressive practices will not permit the Palestinian economy to develop meaningfully, Bahour writes. Fresh water per capita in Israel is four times that of the West Bank and Gaza; restrictions on movement of people and access to natural resources have stifled economic growth; Israeli restrictions are blocking Palestinian exports.
1) On Afghanistan, Political Test For Obama
Some Democrats Question Buildup Sought by Generals
Scott Wilson and Joshua Partlow, Washington Post, Wednesday, August 26, 2009
President Obama is caught between two important constituencies as he recalibrates his policy in Afghanistan - the generals who want more troops, and the base of his own party, whose tolerance for a worsening conflict is quickly evaporating.
As the Obama administration prepares for a report from its senior field commander that is likely to request additional forces, congressional Democrats, in particular, have begun to question the wisdom of further reinforcements on top of the 62,000 U.S. troops already deployed in Afghanistan, with an additional 6,000 scheduled to arrive by year's end. The criticism comes as international fatalities in Afghanistan have risen to historic highs after a presidential election undermined by Taliban violence and low voter turnout.
The domestic criticism is largely coming from those in the left wing of Obama's party, who say the president's plan to send more troops, monetary assistance and civilian advisers to Afghanistan does not include a well-defined exit strategy. Sen. Russell Feingold (D-Wis.), a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, called this week for the first time for Obama to set a "flexible timetable" to withdraw U.S. forces, saying he is "not convinced that simply pouring more and more troops into Afghanistan is a well-thought-out strategy."
Congressional Democrats' calls for a strategic rethinking have coincided with a downward turn in U.S. public opinion toward the war, which will mark its eighth year in October. A Washington Post-ABC News poll published last week showed that a majority of Americans do not think the war is worth fighting and that nearly one-third think the United States is "losing."
The senior administration official said support for the Afghan and Iraq wars has often followed the public's sense of the economy; when times are bad, concerns grow that too much money is being spent on foreign wars. As the economy begins to show signs of improvement, the administration thinks the case for remaining in Afghanistan may be easier to explain.
2) Top Officer Offers A Dire Assessment On Afghanistan
Bryan Bender, Boston Globe Staff, August 26, 2009
The nation's top military officer, in a deeply pessimistic assessment of the war in Afghanistan, said yesterday that due to years of neglect the United States is basically "starting over" in its battle against the radical Taliban movement and its Al Qaeda allies.
Acknowledging that public support for the war is waning, Navy Admiral Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said that the US operation needs "12 to 18 months to turn this thing around."
"This is the eighth year, but there is a newness here," Mullen told the Globe yesterday in Boston. "There is a starting again, or starting over. Iraq has been the focus, it hasn't been Afghanistan."
But Mullen dismissed calls by some specialists that the United States should immediately seek to negotiate with some elements of the Taliban who may be willing to put down their arms in exchange for a political stake in the Afghan government. General David Petraeus, who is overseeing US forces in both Afghanistan and Iraq, in recent weeks has also suggested that negotiations with some members of the Taliban could help reduce violence in parts of Afghanistan. "I am one that believes that we need to negotiate . . . from a position of strength," Mullen said. "We are not in a position of strength."
3) Barack Obama on brink of deal for Middle East peace talks
Ewen MacAskill and Julian Borger, The Guardian, Tuesday 25 August 2009 20.00 BST http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2009/aug/25/barack-obama-middle-east-peace
Barack Obama is close to brokering an Israeli-Palestinian deal that will allow him to announce a resumption of the long-stalled Middle East peace talks before the end of next month, according to US, Israeli, Palestinian and European officials.
Key to bringing Israel on board is a promise by the US to adopt a much tougher line with Iran over its alleged nuclear weapons programme. The US, along with Britain and France, is planning to push the United Nations security council to expand sanctions to include Iran's oil and gas industry, a move that could cripple its economy.
In return, the Israeli government will be expected to agree to a partial freeze on the construction of settlements in the Middle East. In the words of one official close to the negotiations: "The message is: Iran is an existential threat to Israel; settlements are not."
As well as a tougher US approach to Iran, which the Israelis see as their top priority, the deal would see Israel offering a temporary and partial moratorium on the expansion of settlements on the West Bank in return for moves by Arab states towards normalisation of relations. This would allow Obama to announce talks on the bigger Israeli-Palestinian issues - borders, the future of Jerusalem and the future of Palestinian refugees - with the US sitting in as a mediator.
Israel is offering a nine- to 12-month moratorium on settlement building that would exclude East Jerusalem and most of the 2,400 homes that Israel says work has already begun on.
If Iran does not respond to UN demands that it stop enriching uranium by time of the UN and G20 summits, the US, Britain and France are to lead a UN security council push to expand sanctions, expected to target Iran's dependence on imports of refined petroleum products and its reliance on foreign technology to develop its oil and gas industry.
Russia and China are expected to object to such punitive measures, and any western attempt to enforce a partial embargo threatens to breach the broad international consensus on handling Iran.
4) Wide Fraud Is Charged As Afghans Tally Votes
Carlotta Gall, New York Times, August 26, 2009
Kabul, Afghanistan - The preliminary results from Afghanistan's election gave both President Hamid Karzai and his chief rival, Abdullah Abdullah, nearly 40 percent of the vote on Tuesday as accumulating charges of widespread fraud cast new doubts on the credibility of the election.
The returns announced were based on just 10 percent of ballots from a variety of provinces and seemed carefully balanced to keep emotions calm as election officials came under increasing pressure from all sides to demonstrate that the presidential election was fair.
But even as election officials announced the first glimpse of returns, presidential candidates presented a growing bank of evidence of vote rigging. Most of it appeared to favor President Karzai, and in some cases, to have taken place with the complicity of election or security officials.
Election officials and monitors also emphasized that the results announced Tuesday were not enough to project an outcome. They showed Mr. Karzai leading with 38 percent of the vote and Mr. Abdullah second with 36.5 percent. Just over half a million votes have been tallied from 10 percent of the polling stations around the country, said Daoud Ali Najafi, deputy director of the election commission.
The election - only Afghanistan's second for president - is being run by Afghan officials, but United Nations election experts are closely involved and remain a robust presence, an international observer said.
Some of these observers, who did not want to be identified while the votes were still being counted, said that while there were indications that fraud had occurred on a large scale, the procedures around the vote count should catch much of the most blatant vote-rigging.
Ballots were counted Thursday night at most polling stations, but not at some, usually because of insecurity in Taliban areas. Election officials, as well as candidates' agents and monitors, were able to collect those results and call them into their respective headquarters. Yet the candidates may not have a full picture of the returns since they did not have agents in every location.
Election officials have declined to release the early telephone reports from their officials. They have insisted instead on waiting until the sealed documents from each polling station are brought to Kabul, verified and entered into computers in a double entry system to prevent fraud.
Both the election commission and a separate body, the Election Complaints Commission, are also conducting audits and investigating irregularities. The commission's software is designed to detect unusual voting patterns that could indicate fraud, officials said. Suspect numbers or polling stations will be set aside and if proved fraudulent will be excluded from the count.
5) A Changing Tide On The Wars
Larry Syverson, Letter to the Washington Post, Wednesday, August 26, 2009
[Syverson is a member of the board of Military Families Speak Out.]
As someone whose son was recently deployed to Afghanistan, I'm heartened by poll numbers indicating a majority of Americans have turned against the war there [news story, Aug. 20].
President Obama has tried to frame the war in Afghanistan as a "good" war, as opposed to the "bad" war in Iraq. It appears the American people are not buying his analogy.
Regardless of how these wars are framed, Americans do not support them. To most Americans, both wars are bad. The American people should demand that the president bring all our troops home now. If he refuses, we should ask our members of Congress to defund the wars. Congress must realize that funding these wars is not supporting our troops but killing them.
6) OAS chief still hopes for Honduran settlement
Foster Klug, Associated Press, Wednesday, August 26, 2009 4:57 PM
Washington - The head of the Organization of American States held out hope Wednesday for a resolution of the Honduran presidential crisis even after the high-level delegation he led to the Central American country failed to arrange for ousted President Manuel Zelaya's return.
OAS Secretary-General Jose Miguel Insulza urged a quick acceptance of compromise accords before campaigning heats up for the Nov. 29 presidential election to pick Zelaya's successor.
"There's still a climate for making one final effort," Insulza told an OAS meeting, speaking through an interpreter. Insulza was briefing the organization after returning from a visit to Tegucigalpa, Honduras' capital, with a group of Western Hemisphere foreign ministers.
Lew Amselem, the U.S. representative to the OAS, said the U.S.' decision to stop, starting Wednesday, issuing most visas at its embassy in Honduras sends a clear signal that "it is never acceptable in the 21st century to expel a sitting president from a country." Opposition to Zelaya's return is fairly widespread, he said, but "nothing changes the fact that a president was forcibly deposed and exiled. That's the issue."
Zelaya's return to finish his presidential term is indispensable to resolving the matter, Amselem said.
U.S. Sen. John Kerry, Democratic chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said Micheletti was choosing crisis over resolution. Micheletti's "uncompromising power-grab" and the growing evidence of abuses of authority "cast a dark shadow" over preparations for the November elections, Kerry said.
8) IAEA to report Iran atom slowdown ahead of talks
Mark Heinrich, Reuters, Wed Aug 26, 2009 5:41am EDT
Vienna - U.N. inspectors are set to report that Iran has slowed the expansion of its disputed nuclear program and is cooperating more with them just as major powers prepare to discuss harsh sanctions against Tehran.
Whatever they ultimately decide will hinge on how the report is interpreted: is Iran really shifting policy away from nuclear defiance to open doors to negotiations, or making only temporary gestures timed to keep Russia and China opposed to truly biting sanctions and buy Tehran time to fine-tune uranium enrichment?
Skeptical Western power diplomats leaned toward the second scenario as they awaited the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) report, due for release on Thursday or Friday in Vienna.
To help win over Russia and China, Western powers want the IAEA to release with the report a classified summary of its inquiry into Western intelligence reports alleging Iran illicitly studied how to design a nuclear bomb, diplomats said.
A diplomat close to the IAEA said this was being considered, after a year of Iranian stonewalling that has stalled the inquiry, with Tehran dismissing the intelligence material as forgeries.
But the IAEA has no evidence showing undeniably that Iran has a bomb agenda, he said, and IAEA head Mohamed ElBaradei was loath to publish the summary for fear it could be used for political ends and make the agency look biased against Iran.
Diplomats said the IAEA was expected to report that Iran had not expanded the number of centrifuges enriching uranium at its underground Natanz plant since the end of May - after boosting capacity steadily over the previous three years.
But they said that on top of some 5,000 centrifuges that were refining uranium as of May 31, Iran had installed well over 2,000 more which could be added to the production line within a few weeks after routine test runs under vacuum.
This mean Iran could resume expansion quickly, if it wanted.
A senior Vienna diplomat said Iran's hesitation to launch more enriching centrifuges looked technical in nature because some active machines had been taken down for maintenance and repairs. The rest were enriching normally, he said.
Some analysts say Iran now has enough low-enriched uranium to convert into the high-enriched version needed for an atomic bomb. But the U.S. intelligence chief has said Iran is unlikely to be technically able to "weaponize" enrichment before 2013.
8) Iran gets support for ban on nuke plant attacks
George Jahn, AP, August 26, 2009
Vienna - Iran, whose nuclear facilities are under threat of possible Israeli military strikes, has enlisted the support of more than 100 nonaligned nations in its push for a ban on such attacks, according to documents shared with The Associated Press.
The 118-nation Nonaligned Movement backs Tehran in a letter submitted to the International Atomic Energy Agency endorsing Iran's plan to submit a resolution on the topic when IAEA nations meet next month.
While Iran says the language of any resolution will be kept general, the move is clearly directed against Israel and to a lesser extent the U.S. Both nations - Israel more overtly - have not ruled out an attack as a last resort if the international community fails to persuade Tehran to freeze its nuclear activities.
The IAEA's 150-nation general conference convenes Sept. 14. The annual conference regularly pits Israel backed by the U.S. and its other Western nations, against Islamic states and other nonaligned countries seeking to censure Israel and its nuclear secrecy.
Israel is believed to possess nuclear arms but refuses to confirm or deny its status. Again this year, its rivals are pushing for conference resolutions demanding that Israel open up its facilities to IAEA perusal.
The Iranian proposal was revealed to the AP last week. That and the nonaligned support, outlined in a letter shared with the AP on Wednesday, aims to give Islamic nations additional leverage at the conference.
The IAEA conference already passed a resolution in September 1990. But Iran argues a new resolution is called for because the use of nuclear power - and the corresponding international damage that any attacks would cause - have greatly increased since then.
Israeli warplanes have attacked nuclear sites before, and Iran appeared to be trying to ramp up diplomatic pressure on the Jewish state in hopes of reducing the chances of an attack.
Still, Israeli strategists face more formidable odds than they did against Iraq or Syria if contemplating any attack on Iran.
Its main known nuclear site at Natanz, a city about 300 miles (500 kilometers) south of Tehran, is far underground in a cavernous fortified hall where thousands of centrifuges churn out enriched uranium, a potential core for nuclear warheads.
Its above ground facilities - the Bushehr light-water reactor and the Arak heavy water reactor under construction - are ringed by anti-aircraft defenses.
10) Israel Still Strangles the Palestinian Economy
Sam Bahour, Wall Street Journal, August 21, 2009
[Bahour is a Palestinian-American businessman who lives in the West Bank.]
Palestinians are as eager as anyone to see positive economic development for their tormented country. But they know full well that real economic progress awaits their release from Israeli military occupation (West Bank, East Jerusalem) and siege (Gaza Strip).
Consider the recent media promotion of the Netanyahu government's view that the occupied West Bank is witnessing rapid economic growth. Thomas Friedman picked up on that theme in his New York Times column, as did Michael Oren, Israel's ambassador to the United States, in this newspaper. The selective economic data they provide ignore the reality: Occupied Palestinian territory is not a sovereign country where traditional economic measures apply.
I was the manager who oversaw the establishment of the first modern mall in the West Bank-the Plaza Shopping Center in El Bireh. I can attest that the success of a West Bank mall rests on a thin layer of elite consumer privilege poised precariously over a chasm of widespread disempowerment. Until West Bank Palestinians gain free and open access to the world economy, beyond the markets of the occupying power, major enterprises in Palestinian towns will suffer.
Objective analyses by the World Bank suggest that Israel's repressive practices will not permit the Palestinian economy to develop meaningfully.
On water, a bank report from April 2009 notes that the "availability of water resources is highly disparate, with fresh water per capita in Israel approximately four times that of WBG [West Bank and Gaza]."
On mobility: "In the West Bank, restrictions on movement of people and access to natural resources has stifled economic growth."
On security: "Recurrent destruction of trees, private homes and public infrastructure, as well as [Israeli] settlers' encroachments on private land create a permanent state of insecurity."
On trade: "[Palestinians] exporting through Israel is becoming more difficult and . . . the current alternative through Jordan is severely limited. For Palestinian exporters to effectively compete on the international market they must be allowed to use modern door-to-door logistical systems."
David Craig, World Bank country director for the West Bank and Gaza, gave a realistic assessment in summing up a December bank report: "The Palestinian economy has the potential for dramatic growth, even in the midst of the current global recession. This can only be achieved by the private sector through export oriented growth. The new [Israeli] restrictions described in this report undermine this goal."
Just Foreign Policy
Just Foreign Policy is a membership organization devoted to reforming US foreign policy so it reflects the values and interests of the majority of Americans.