JFP News 9/1: Conservative George Will Calls for U.S. Withdrawal from Afghanistan
Just Foreign Policy News
September 1, 2009
Can We Get Some Republicans to Defect on Afghanistan?
Conservative columnist George Will had an op-ed in the Washington Post today, calling for the U.S. to withdraw its troops from Afghanistan. We need some Republicans in Congress to listen to George Will.
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1) In an op-ed in the Washington Post, conservative columnist George Will calls for the U.S. to withdraw its troops from Afghanistan. America should do only what can be done from offshore, Will says.
2) A new report by the top commander in Afghanistan is "laying the groundwork" for a request for more troops in the coming weeks, the New York Times reports. But Representative Jim McGovern said that after a recent trip there he was pessimistic about the chances of "success" and did not even know how to define it. "I have this sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach that we're getting sucked into an endless war here," McGovern said.
3) Iran says it has prepared an "updated nuclear proposal" and is ready to talk to world powers, Reuters reports. But a senior U.S. official was dismissive of the report.
4) Sanctions such as a gas embargo won't work to stop Iran's nuclear program, argues anti-Iran hardliner John Bolton in the Wall Street Journal. The U.N. Security Council is no more likely now to approve strict sanctions against Iran than in the past. The EU and Japan's new government are unlikely to support a strong effort outside the UN. Iran is building domestic refining capacity and eliminating government subsidies that inflate demand.
5) Senior Obama Administration officials are divided on the idea of sending more troops to Afghanistan, McClatchy reports. Vice-President Biden is said to be arguing against. A military official concedes that the currently expected request for more troops would only be a "down payment."
6) Writing for The Nation, Katrina vanden Heuvel praises Senator Feingold's call for a timetable for withdrawal from Afghanistan. She contrasts this with Ambassador Holbrooke's definition of success as "we'll know it when we see it," which she describes as "inane."
7) The AFL-CIO and some Democrats are calling for a tenth of a percent tax on every stock transaction, The Hill reports. The tax would discourage speculation, capture excessive profits from Wall Street banks, and fund public priorities. The French government has endorsed the idea as a way to fund development in poor countries. [International development advocates have long called for such a tax - JFP.]
8) Secretary of State Clinton plans to meet Honduran President Zelaya Thursday, as Washington debates formally cutting off aid to the Honduran coup government, Reuters reports.
9) Every Friday for the past four and a half years, several hundred demonstrators - Palestinian villagers, foreign volunteers and Israeli activists - have protested the Israeli barrier separating the village of Bilin from the settlement of Modiin Illit, part of which is built on the village's land, the New York Times reports. The protests have made the farming village a symbol of Palestinian civil disobedience. Bilin lost half its land to the settlement and the barrier. Israel's High Court ordered the barrier to be moved back towards Israel, but two years later, the order has not been implemented.
1) Time to Get Out of Afghanistan
George F. Will, Washington Post, Tuesday, September 1, 2009
"Yesterday," reads the e-mail from Allen, a Marine in Afghanistan, "I gave blood because a Marine, while out on patrol, stepped on a [mine's] pressure plate and lost both legs." Then "another Marine with a bullet wound to the head was brought in. Both Marines died this morning."
"I'm sorry about the drama," writes Allen, an enthusiastic infantryman willing to die "so that each of you may grow old." He says: "I put everything in God's hands." And: "Semper Fi!"
Allen and others of America's finest are also in Washington's hands. This city should keep faith with them by rapidly reversing the trajectory of America's involvement in Afghanistan, where, says the Dutch commander of coalition forces in a southern province, walking through the region is "like walking through the Old Testament."
U.S. strategy - protecting the population - is increasingly troop-intensive while Americans are increasingly impatient about "deteriorating" (says Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff) conditions. The war already is nearly 50 percent longer than the combined U.S. involvements in two world wars, and NATO assistance is reluctant and often risible.
The U.S. strategy is "clear, hold and build." Clear? Taliban forces can evaporate and then return, confident that U.S. forces will forever be too few to hold gains. Hence nation-building would be impossible even if we knew how, and even if Afghanistan were not the second-worst place to try: The Brookings Institution ranks Somalia as the only nation with a weaker state.
But before launching New Deal 2.0 in Afghanistan, the Obama administration should ask itself: If U.S. forces are there to prevent reestablishment of al-Qaeda bases - evidently there are none now - must there be nation-building invasions of Somalia, Yemen and other sovereignty vacuums?
U.S. forces are being increased by 21,000, to 68,000, bringing the coalition total to 110,000. About 9,000 are from Britain, where support for the war is waning. Counterinsurgency theory concerning the time and the ratio of forces required to protect the population indicates that, nationwide, Afghanistan would need hundreds of thousands of coalition troops, perhaps for a decade or more. That is inconceivable.
So, instead, forces should be substantially reduced to serve a comprehensively revised policy: America should do only what can be done from offshore, using intelligence, drones, cruise missiles, airstrikes and small, potent Special Forces units, concentrating on the porous 1,500-mile border with Pakistan, a nation that actually matters.
Genius, said de Gaulle, recalling Bismarck's decision to halt German forces short of Paris in 1870, sometimes consists of knowing when to stop. Genius is not required to recognize that in Afghanistan, when means now, before more American valor, such as Allen's, is squandered.
2) Groundwork Is Laid For New Troops In Afghanistan
Peter Baker and Dexter Filkins, New York Times, September 1, 2009
Washington - A new report by the top commander in Afghanistan detailing the deteriorating situation there confronts President Obama with the politically perilous decision of whether to deepen American involvement in the eight-year-old war amid shrinking public support at home.
The classified assessment submitted Monday by Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, who took over American and NATO forces in Afghanistan in June, did not request additional American troops, American officials said, but they added that it effectively laid the groundwork for such a request in coming weeks.
While details of the report remained secret, the revised strategy articulated by General McChrystal in recent public comments would invest the United States more extensively in Afghanistan than it has been since American forces helped topple the Taliban government following the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. Taking a page from the 2007 strategy shift in Iraq, he has emphasized protecting civilians over just engaging insurgents.
For Obama, who already ordered an additional 21,000 troops to Afghanistan this year, the prospect of a still larger deployment would test his commitment to a war he did not launch even as it grows more violent by the month.
He already faces growing discontent among his liberal base, not only over the war but also over national security policy, health care, gay rights and other issues.
An expanded American footprint would also increase Obama's entanglement with an Afghan government widely viewed as corrupt and illegitimate. Multiplying allegations of fraud in the Aug. 20 presidential election have left Washington with little hope for a credible partner in the war once the results are final.
The latest tally, with nearly half of the polling stations counted, showed President Hamid Karzai leading with 45.9 percent against 33.3 percent for his main opponent, Abdullah Abdullah, Reuters reported.
But the White House left open the possibility that Obama would send more troops. "There's broad agreement that for many years, our effort in Afghanistan has been under-resourced politically, militarily and economically," Robert Gibbs, the White House press secretary, said Monday. He went on to use the words "under-resourced" and "under-resource" six more times during his daily briefing.
Gates said Monday that despite the "gloom and doom" that has characterized recent discussion, Afghanistan today is a "mixed picture."
He said he would consider any troop requests in the coming weeks, but told Bloomberg News that he was concerned about "the implications of significant additional forces in terms of the foreign footprint in Afghanistan, whether the Afghans will see this as us becoming more of an occupier or their partner, and how do you differentiate those."
With polls showing falling support for the Afghan war, critics in Congress have grown increasingly vocal in calling for withdrawal.
Representative Jim McGovern, Democrat of Massachusetts, returned from Afghanistan last week and said that despite the capable Americans now there, he was pessimistic about the chances of success and did not even know how to define it. "I have this sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach that we're getting sucked into an endless war here," he said in an interview.
3) Iran says ready for nuclear talks with world powers
Parisa Hafezi, Reuters, Tue Sep 1, 2009 1:53pm EDT
Tehran - Iran has prepared an "updated nuclear proposal" and is ready to talk to world powers, state television quoted the Islamic Republic's chief nuclear negotiator as saying on Tuesday.
The announcement was made a day before six world powers were expected to hold high-level talks in Germany on what to do about Iran's contentious nuclear program. The West suspects the Islamic state is seeking to build bombs. Iran denies the charge.
"Iran has prepared an updated nuclear proposal and is ready to resume negotiations with world powers," al-Alam, Iran's Arabic-language satellite channel, quoted chief nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili as saying.
The official IRNA news agency quoted him as saying Iran was ready to use its "capacities to remove common concerns on the international scene."
Such language may cause suspicion in Western capitals that Iran's proposal, like others before, fails to specifically address their concerns about its nuclear ambitions and is a ruse to buy time and avert the threat of more punitive measures.
A senior U.S. official was dismissive of the remarks attributed to Jalili, a leading nuclear hard-liner, saying there was "not a hint of substance" in them.
The official told Reuters he believed the comments were "timed to split the P-5 (powers) by giving China and Russia reason to break ranks on Iran sanctions." Moscow and Beijing, major trade partners of Iran, have long opposed harsh sanctions.
4) Sanctions Won't Work Against Iran
The mullahs are addressing their vulnerability to a gasoline shortage.
John Bolton, Wall Street Journal, August 31, 2009, 10:48 P.M. ET
[Bolton was U.N. Ambassador under President Bush. Bolton agrees with critics of the sanctions that they won't work - of course, his conclusion is that harsher action is needed - JFP.]
Last week, International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director General Mohamed elBaradei attempted to whitewash Iran's nuclear weapons program by issuing a report ignoring substantial information about weaponization activities and downplaying continued noncooperation.
Even the Obama administration apparently now understands that resuming the long-stalled "Permanent-Five plus-one" negotiations (the U.N. Security Council's permanent members plus Germany) with Iran is highly unlikely to halt Tehran's nuclear ambitions.
Accordingly, President Obama is readying two alternatives. One is to characterize "freezing" Iran's nuclear program at existing levels as a "success." However, this less than complete termination of Iran's nuclear program would run contrary to years of determined clandestine efforts. Such a freeze is utterly unverifiable and amounts to surrender. This will result in a nuclear-armed Iran.
The other Obama administration ploy is "strong sanctions" imposed by the United States and other countries. This will also be a "success" only in the sense that it will allow the administration to claim a win. It won't actually prevent Iran from getting nuclear weapons.
One idea for robust sanctions now before Congress is to prohibit exports of refined petroleum products-such as gasoline-to Iran. Today, Iran imports 40% of its daily refined petroleum consumption. Other proposals include international financial and insurance-related sanctions.
These ideas are well-intentioned and worth pursuing. If imposed, they will create shortages that will likely increase internal dissatisfaction with Iran's regime, thereby hopefully contributing to its ultimate demise. But no one should believe that tighter sanctions will, in the foreseeable future, have any impact on Iran's nuclear weapons program.
Six years ago more stringent measures against Iran might have worked, but today they are an idea whose time has come and gone. Their inadequacy stems from several causes.
First, the U.N. Security Council is no more likely now to approve strict sanctions against Iran than in the past. The prospects for Russian and Chinese support are between slim and none, since endorsing sanctions would harm their own economic and political interests in Iran. The most to expect from the council is a fourth sanctions resolution, as weak and ineffective as its predecessors, and only after weeks or months of agonizing negotiations.
Second, for those who understand the Security Council reality, most talk of enhanced sanctions envisages a coalition of the willing, consisting essentially of America, Japan and the European Union. But the EU's record to date, and Japan's likely policy under its new government (soon to be run by the Democratic Party of Japan), are hardly likely to produce a stiff, serious and sustained effort. Iran itself will offer countless reasons why sanctions should be suspended, reduced or ignored, and a disquieting amalgam of Western governments, businesses and commentators will agree at every step. It is very likely that EU resolve will fracture and Japan will follow suit. Moreover, many other countries will use the lack of a Security Council imprimatur to conduct business with Tehran, shredding the coalition's sanctions, and thereby weakening EU resolve still further.
Third, Iran is hardly standing idly by while sanctions that target its refined petroleum products are debated by the U.S. and other countries. Tehran's leaders are acutely aware of their vulnerability and are moving to address it. Iran, with extensive Chinese involvement, has already begun building new refineries and expanding existing facilities with the aim of approximately doubling domestic capacity by 2012. This will more than compensate for its current refining shortfall. Whether Iran can complete these projects on schedule remains to be seen, but the level of effort is intense and serious.
Tehran is also eliminating government subsidies that make retail gasoline cheaper than it otherwise would be. This will raise prices and thereby reduce consumption. Slashing consumer benefits is rarely popular, but this step alone will substantially reduce the pressure on Iran's refineries to produce. One can also be sure that the Revolutionary Guards' access to gasoline will not be diminished. Iran claims to have substantially increased its strategic gasoline reserves over the past year (though that increase has not been confirmed).
5) Pentagon Worried About Obama's Commitment to Afghanistan
Nancy A. Youssef, McClatchy Newspapers, Mon, Aug. 31, 2009
Washington - The prospect that U.S. Army Gen. Stanley McChrystal may ask for as many as 45,000 additional American troops in Afghanistan is fueling growing tension within President Barack Obama's administration over the U.S. commitment to the war there.
On Monday, McChrystal sent his assessment of the situation in Afghanistan to the Pentagon, the U.S. Central Command, the Joint Chiefs of Staff and NATO. Although the assessment didn't include any request for more troops, senior military officials said they expect McChrystal later in September to seek between 21,000 and 45,000 more troops. There currently are 62,000 American troops in Afghanistan.
However, administration officials said that amid rising violence and casualties, polls that show a majority of Americans now think the war in Afghanistan isn't worth fighting. With tough battles ahead on health care, the budget and other issues, Vice President Joe Biden and other officials are increasingly anxious about how the American public would respond to sending additional troops.
The officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they weren't authorized to talk to the media, said Biden has argued that without sustained support from the American people, the U.S. can't make the long-term commitment that would be needed to stabilize Afghanistan and dismantle al Qaida. Biden's office declined to comment.
Monday's assessment initially was to include troop recommendations, but political concerns prompted White House and Pentagon officials to agree that those recommendations would come later, advisers to McChrystal said. Although the White House took a hands-off approach toward Afghanistan earlier this summer, Pentagon officials said they're now getting more questions about how many troops might be needed and for how long.
Some White House officials said the administration feels it was pressured to send the additional 17,500 combat troops and 4,000 trainers earlier this year, before the administration was comfortable with its plan for Afghanistan, because of the country's election in August.
Obama now feels that McChrystal and his superior, Army Gen. David Petraeus, the head of the Central Command, are pressuring him to commit still more troops to Afghanistan, a senior military official said. The official said that retired Marine Gen. James Jones, Obama's national security adviser, told McChrystal last month not to ask for more troops, but that McChrystal went ahead anyway and indicated in interviews that he may need more.
Pentagon officials said that White House officials have told them they fear that McChrystal's expected request for more troops won't be his last.
The additional troops are "only a down payment on what would be required to turn things around, and everyone knows that," said another senior military official, who said that's true in part because estimates of what the Afghan forces can do and when they'll be fully capable of handling security threats are being downgraded.
Meanwhile, U.S. military commanders in Kabul feel the political clock ticking, saying they think they have no more than 18 months to show some kind of progress, even as most agree that they don't have enough troops.
Success could mean as little as making the levels of violence plateau, two military officials told McClatchy.
6) Feingold Gets Afghanistan Right
Katrina vanden Heuvel, The Nation, 08/31/2009
Senator Russ Feingold was way ahead of the Senate curve in insisting on a timetable for withdrawal from Iraq, and last week he got it right again in calling for a flexible timetable to bring US troops out of Afghanistan.
In an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal, Feingold writes that "we must recognize that our troop presence contributes to resentment in some quarters and hinders our ability to achieve our broader national security goals." He voices particular concern about the war destabilizing Pakistan-"a witch's brew of threats to our national security that we cannot afford to further destabilize." He also points out that this "nation-building experiment...may distract us from combating al Qaeda and its affiliates, not just in Pakistan, but in Yemen, the Horn of Africa and other terrorist sanctuaries."
Feingold lays out a compelling case for an alternative course-"a civilian-led strategy discouraging any support for the Taliban by Pakistani security forces, and offer[ing] assistance to improve Afghanistan's economy while fighting corruption in its government. This should be coupled with targeted military operations and a diplomatic strategy that incorporates all the countries in the region."
Senator Feingold is expressing what many progressives now believe. Overall, 51 percent of Americans say the war is not worth fighting, including 7 in 10 Democrats. Yet too many top Democrats have become part of a poorly reasoned bipartisan consensus that threatens to entrap the US in another costly occupation. In contrast, progressives who want to see President Obama succeed see Afghanistan as a threat to his presidency- especially to his domestic agenda, as resources, lives and political capital are lost in the "graveyard of Empires".
This is perhaps a watershed moment for progressives. Nearly 100 Representatives in the House are calling for an exit strategy, and now we have an ally in the Senate to rally around in demanding a sane timetable-one that is a much needed contrast to Af-Pak Special Representative Richard Holbrooke's inane description of success in Afghanistan as, "We'll know it when we see it."
7) AFL-CIO, Democrats Push New Wall Street Tax
Alexander Bolton, The Hill, 08/30/09 11:17 AM ET
The nation's largest labor union and some allied Democrats are pushing a new tax that would hit big investment firms such as Goldman Sachs reaping billions of dollars in profits while the rest of the economy sputters.
The AFL-CIO, one of the Democratic Party's most powerful allies, would like to assess a small tax - about a tenth of a percent - on every stock transaction.
Small and medium-sized investors would hardly notice such a tax, but major trading firms, such as Goldman, which reported $3.44 billion in profits during the second quarter of 2009, may see this as a significant threat to their profits.
"It would have two benefits, raise a lot of revenue and discourage speculative financial activity," said Thea Lee, policy director at the AFL-CIO.
"The big disadvantage of most taxes is that they discourage some really productive activity," she said. "This would discourage numerous financial transactions. People flip their assets several times in an hour or a day. They make money but does it really add to the productive base of the United States?"
Lee said that taxing every stock transaction a tenth of a percent could raise between $50 billion and $100 billion per year, which could be used to pay for infrastructure projects and other spending priorities. She said the tax could be applied nationwide or internationally.
An aide to a liberal Senate Democrat said a transaction tax seems like a good idea but did not know who might champion the cause in the upper chamber. An aide on the Senate Finance Committee was not aware of discussion of the proposal. [Senator Sanders was a strong advocate of taxing financial transactions as a Member of the House - JFP.]
Taxing financial transactions has gained some momentum in Europe. Lord Adair Turner, chairman of the Financial Services Authority, Britain's top banking regulator, voiced support for taxing financial transactions in a recent magazine interview. The French government has endorsed the idea as a way to fund development in poor countries.
The proposal to tax financial transactions is also known as a "Tobin tax," after the late American economist and Nobel laureate James Tobin. Tobin proposed a transactions tax in the early 1970s to discourage currency speculation after the collapse of the Bretton Woods fixed-exchange-rate system.
8) Clinton to meet Zelaya, U.S. mulls cutting off aid
Reuters, Tuesday, September 1, 2009 4:51 PM
Washington (Reuters) - U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton plans to meet ousted Honduran President Manuel Zelaya on Thursday, the State Department said as Washington debates formally cutting off aid to the Honduran government.
Despite worldwide condemnation of the June 28 coup against Zelaya, who was whisked into exile in a military plane while still in his pajamas, Roberto Micheletti's interim government has said it will not be pressured into stepping down.
Micheletti so far has rejected proposals put forward by mediator Costa Rican President Oscar Arias that would have allowed Zelaya to return to power before November elections in the poor Central American nation.
Clinton's Washington talks with Zelaya, a wealthy landowner who moved toward the left after taking office, take place against the backdrop of an extended U.S. government debate on whether he was deposed by the military.
Under U.S. law, if it were determined that the military had removed him, the U.S. government would be obligated to terminate aid to the government in question.
The U.S. government already has suspended about $18 million in U.S. aid to the Honduran government that would be affected if Clinton makes the determination.
U.S. officials said the Millenium Challenge Corporation, a U.S. government corporation that gives funds to poor countries with a record of sound policies, has about $135 million in aid for Honduras that would have to be scrutinized and could be in jeopardy.
9) In Village, Palestinians See Model for Their Cause
Ethan Bronner, New York Times, August 28, 2009
Bilin, West Bank - Every Friday for the past four and a half years, several hundred demonstrators - Palestinian villagers, foreign volunteers and Israeli activists - have walked in unison to the Israeli barrier separating this tiny village from the burgeoning settlement of Modiin Illit, part of which is built on the village's land. One hundred feet away, Israeli soldiers watch and wait.
The protesters chant and shout and, inevitably, a few throw stones. Then just as inevitably, the soldiers open fire with tear gas and water jets, lately including a putrid oil-based liquid that makes the entire area stink.
It is one of the longest-running and best organized protest operations in the history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and it has turned this once anonymous farming village into a symbol of Palestinian civil disobedience, a model that many supporters of the Palestinian cause would like to see spread and prosper.
For that reason, a group of famous left-leaning elder statesmen, including former President Jimmy Carter - who caused controversy by suggesting that the Israeli occupation of the West Bank amounted to apartheid - came to Bilin on Thursday and told the local organizers how much they admired their work and why it was vital to keep it going.
The retired Anglican Archbishop Desmond Tutu, also on the visit, said, "Just as a simple man named Gandhi led the successful nonviolent struggle in India and simple people such as Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King led the struggle for civil rights in the United States, simple people here in Bilin are leading a nonviolent struggle that will bring them their freedom."
Tutu, a South African Nobel Peace Prize winner, spoke on rocky soil, surrounded by the remains of tear gas canisters and in front of coils of barbed wire, part of the barrier that Israel began building in 2002 across the West Bank as a violent Palestinian uprising was under way. Israel said its main purpose was to stop suicide bombers from crossing into Israel, but the route of the barrier - a mix of fencing, guard towers and concrete wall - dug deep into the West Bank in places, and Palestinian anger over the barrier is as much about lost land as about lost freedom.
Bilin lost half its land to the settlement of Modiin Illit and the barrier and took its complaint to Israel's highest court. Two years ago, the court handed it an unusual victory. It ordered the settlement to stop building its new neighborhood and ordered the Israeli military to move the route of the barrier back toward Israel, thereby returning about half the lost land to the village.
"The villagers danced in the street," recalled Emily Schaeffer, an Israeli lawyer who worked on the case for the village. "Unfortunately, it has been two years since the decision, and the wall has not moved."
The village is back in court trying, so far in vain, to get the orders put into effect.
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