JFP News, 9/9: Senate Dems Signal Resistance on US Afghan Troop Increase
Just Foreign Policy News
September 9, 2009
Cato Forum: Should the United States Withdraw from Afghanistan?
Monday, September 14, 2009, 12PM Eastern time; broadcast on the internet. With Malou Innocent, Cato; Celeste Ward, RAND; Patrick Cronin, National Defense University; Robert Naiman, Just Foreign Policy; and Ted Galen Carpenter, Cato. Moderated by Christopher Preble, Cato.
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1) Key Senate Democrats signaled Friday that any push by the White House to send more troops to Afghanistan is likely to hit resistance, AP reports. Senate Armed Services Committee Chair Levin said the US must focus more on building Afghanistan's security forces. His cautionary stance was echoed by Sen. Jack Reed.
2) A U.N.-backed complaints panel charged widespread fraud in the Afghan presidential election and ordered a partial recount, the Washington Post reports. The Afghan election commission said Karzai had won 54 percent of 5.4 million valid votes tallied - 91 percent of the total. The results indicate that he probably has enough votes to avoid a runoff with Abdullah, who has 28 percent.
3) US officials urged Karzai not to declare victory until complaints about the process were addressed, the New York Times reports. U.S. officials said a national unity government would be a logical way out of the impasse, suggesting that Karzai could agree to the direct election of provincial governors, which Abdullah has advocated.
4) Britain plans to begin winding down its military involvement in Afghanistan by slashing its troop presence by at least half within five years, The Independent reports. Prime Minister Brown has put the US on notice that he wants to cut UK troop numbers from more than 9,000 to fewer than 5,000 in "three to five years, maximum," the paper says. The Independent also says senior Taliban members recently met representatives from across the Afghan political spectrum to discuss ways of bringing the war to an end. An organizer of the talks said they would eventually produce a solution acceptable to the international community and that he plans to hold a "Grand Assembly of the Afghans" that will agree on proposals for a peace deal, an interim government of technocrats, an interim leader, a date for new elections and a timetable for foreign troop withdrawal.
5) Obama must follow through on his offer to talk to Iran with the intention of success and not the assumption of failure, regardless of what we believe about Iran's intentions, argues the Los Angeles Times in an editorial. China and Russia will only agree to more sanctions if there is a serious effort to negotiate, so now is the time to try, without threatening consequences for failure before the two sides even sit down.
6) The president of the Inter American Development Bank says Latin America and the Caribbean spend three times more in arms and fuel subsidies than on reducing the learning gap between children from low income and high income homes, Mercopress reports. "A third of our third grade students do not understand phrases that begin with 'once upon a time' and most of those in sixth grade can't solve problems with fractions," Luis Alberto Moreno said.
7) The IMF said that Honduras will not be allowed to use its recent IMF allocation until and unless the IMF recognizes the government as the government of Honduras, the Buenos Aires Herald reports. [Since the US and EU don't recognize the coup government, that seems an unlikely prospect at present, as these countries dominate the IMF - JFP.]
8) The U.S. says it will review an Iranian proposal to resume talks on Iran's nuclear program, Bloomberg reports. Foreign Minister Mottaki presented the document in Iran to Western diplomats. Iran's IAEA ambassador Soltanieh said the proposal includes compromises on security, economic and nuclear issues.
9) Venezuela says it will begin exporting 20,000 barrels per day of gasoline to Iran next month, CNN reports. [Iran imports about 128,000 barrels per day of gas - JFP.]
10) Brazilian President Lula said Western powers should stop punishing Iran over its nuclear program and instead talk to it in order to foster peace, Reuters reports. "I think there are a lot of sanctions and not enough conversations with Iran," Lula said in Paris.
11) The Israeli human rights group B'Tselem says the vast majority of Palestinians killed in Israel's operation in Gaza last winter were innocent civilians rather than combatants, Haaretz reports. This is the opposite of what the IDF has said. According to B'Tselem, 1,387 Palestinians were killed, of whom 773 were noncombatants and only 330 were combatants.
12) Caracol Radio says Colombia's Constitutional Court may expedite a ruling on whether to allow a referendum that would permit President Uribe to stand again for re-election, according to Colombia Reports.
1) Dems signal resistance to Afghan troop increase
Lolita C. Baldor and Ken Thomas, Associated Press, September 5, 2009 5:45 AM
Washington - Increasing congressional discord over the next U.S. steps in Afghanistan, coupled with a spike in violence there, is deepening the political divide on the war and how many troops are needed to fight it.
Key Senate Democrats signaled Friday that any push by the White House to send more troops to Afghanistan is likely to hit resistance. And their unease was fueled by another bombing, that left as many as 70 dead, including civilians who were killed when the U.S. blew up tanker trucks hijacked by the Taliban.
That deadly U.S. airstrike in Afghanistan Friday complicates the debate over the need for more U.S. troops, bolstering arguments that Afghan leaders must increasingly fend for themselves.
Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin said the United States must focus more on building Afghanistan's security forces. His cautionary stance was echoed by Sen. Jack Reed, who is also on the committee and spent two days in Afghanistan this week with Levin.
The senators will return to Washington next week, just as President Barack Obama receives a new military review of Afghanistan strategy that officials expect will be followed up by a request for at least a modest increase in U.S. troops battling insurgents in the 8-year-old war.
Obama came into office pledging to shift U.S. focus from the war in Iraq to the Afghan fight, which had long been a secondary priority. But as war-weary Americans have watched another 21,000 troops go to Afghanistan this year, and U.S. casualties rise, support for the war has waned.
As a result, lawmakers say they want the U.S. to more quickly train and equip the Afghan Army and police so the embattled country can take over its own security needs. "There are a lot of ways to speed up the numbers and capabilities of the Afghan army and police. They are strongly motivated," Levin said from Kuwait. "I think that we should pursue that course ... before we consider a further increase in combat forces beyond what's already been planned to be sent in the months ahead."
Levin said there is a growing consensus on the need to expedite training and equipping the Afghan army to improve security in Afghanistan, where 51 U.S. troops died in August, making it the bloodiest month for American forces there since the U.S.-led invasion in late 2001.
2) U.N.-Backed Panel Finds Fraud in Afghan Vote
Partial Recount Ordered on Same Day That Results Show Likely Karzai Victory
Pamela Constable and Karen DeYoung, Washington Post, September 9, 2009
Kabul, Sept. 8 - Afghanistan's troubled presidential election was thrown into further turmoil Tuesday when a U.N.-backed complaints panel charged widespread fraud and ordered a partial recount, just as election officials announced that President Hamid Karzai appeared to have gained enough votes to win.
The growing political crisis threatens to set off a direct confrontation between Karzai and his Western backers, who have been increasingly alarmed by mounting evidence of ballot-box stuffing and other irregularities, much of it reportedly benefiting Karzai's campaign.
In the days immediately following the Aug. 20 vote, U.S. officials were uniform in praising what President Obama called "a successful election." Obama said he looked forward "to renewing our partnership with the Afghan people as they move ahead under a new government."
But the widening fraud issue now seems likely to further prolong the slow election process, leaving the country without a clear leader for weeks or even months while tens of thousands of U.S. and NATO troops are battling the Taliban alongside Afghan forces. Obama's strategy also includes major economic development initiatives, improved delivery of services and a crackdown on corruption - all of which will be difficult to implement without a valid Afghan government.
In a strongly worded statement issued Tuesday, the internationally led Electoral Complaints Commission said it had found "clear and convincing evidence of fraud" at many polling stations, especially across the southern provinces that form Karzai's ethnic support base. The panel said it was ordering Afghanistan's Independent Election Commission to conduct a recount of votes from all polling places where turnout appeared to be more than 100 percent or where a single candidate received 95 percent or more of the votes. The complaints commission is continuing separate investigations into more than 2,000 specific fraud complaints.
Just hours later, the Afghan election commission said Karzai had won 54 percent of 5.4 million valid votes tallied - 91 percent of the total. The results indicate that he probably has enough votes to avoid a runoff with Abdullah, who has 28 percent. Afghan law requires a runoff only if no candidate wins more than 50 percent.
At a contentious news conference, election commission spokesman Daoud Ali Najafi said officials had "quarantined" about 600 suspicious ballot boxes, but he offered no response to the written recount order. He said a recount could take two to three months.
3) U.S. In Delicate Spot As Fraud Claims Mount In Afghan Vote
Mark Landler and Helene Cooper, New York Times, September 9, 2009
Washington - On Monday, as the vote-counting in Afghanistan was nearing an end, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton was briefed by the American ambassador in Kabul, Karl W. Eikenberry. The same day, the ambassador delivered a blunt message to the front-runner, President Hamid Karzai: "Don't declare victory."
The slim majority tentatively awarded Karzai in Afghanistan's fraud-scarred election has put the Obama administration in an awkward spot: trying to balance its professed determination to investigate mounting allegations of corruption and vote-rigging while not utterly alienating the man who seems likely to remain the country's leader for another five years.
Clinton and Ambassador Eikenberry, senior administration officials said, wanted to prevent Karzai or his backers from pre-empting an outside investigation of allegations of irregularities in the Aug. 20 vote.
"We realize that the allegations have reached such a level that we need to be very careful to allow the process to breathe," said an administration official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly on the matter. "The message was, Let's make sure that the electoral bodies do their work, and do it rigorously."
For the United States, the problem is twofold: the fraud complaints against Karzai are almost certain to undercut his legitimacy if he is sworn in for another term as president, and American officials want whoever is president to have credibility with the Afghan people and with the international community.
Yet the more outside observers complain about fraud, the more alienated Karzai may become, and the less willing he may be to work with the United States or its allies, administration officials said. "We are still going to probably have to deal with him," another American official said. "This just makes the morning after a lot more difficult."
A possible path out of the morass, said another American official, would be if Karzai and the runner-up, Abdullah, were able to work out a deal under which Abdullah, a former Afghan foreign minister, would join the new Karzai government.
"Everybody's thinking about this," the official said. "It would be like getting Hillary Clinton to endorse Obama at the convention. Getting Karzai's people to work on Abdullah and get him to come into the government is too obvious for people not to be considering it."
Such a deal would be difficult for Abdullah, experts said, given the temptation for him to condemn the vote as a fraud. But officials said Karzai could entice him if he were to agree to the direct election of provincial governors, which Abdullah has advocated, or to limit the influence of powerful warlords.
Even privately, administration officials are reluctant to confirm that there was wholesale fraud of the kind that would invalidate the election. While there were clearly numerous egregious instances of fraud or vote-rigging, these officials said, it would take further investigation to judge whether, as one put it, "this whole thing is rotten, top to bottom."
Their caution reflects the fact that while the initial vote-counting has reached its conclusion, the Electoral Complaints Commission, an Afghan and international panel that will certify the final count, is still in the early stages of an investigation that could take several weeks.
But it also reflects a recognition that the administration will have to keep dealing with Karzai, especially as it enters a treacherous phase in its engagement in Afghanistan. Raising too many doubts about Karzai's legitimacy could make it impossible to work with him later.
"Even if we get a second round of voting, the odds are still high that Karzai will win," said Bruce Riedel, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution who advised the administration on its Afghan policy. "We have a fundamental interest in building up the legitimacy of the Karzai government."
4) British troop numbers to be cut in Afghanistan
Gordon Brown tells US he will scale down UK military involvement in the next three to five years.
Brian Brady and James Fergusson, The Independent, Sunday, 6 September 2009
Britain has laid plans to begin winding down its military involvement in Afghanistan, by slashing its troop presence by at least half within five years.
Gordon Brown has put the United States on notice that he wants to cut UK troop numbers from more than 9,000 to fewer than 5,000 in "three to five years, maximum", according to senior sources at the Ministry of Defence. Ministers stress that they will not abandon Afghanistan, but they want to scale back the UK presence to levels similar to those committed by other Nato member states.
The anticipated acceleration of the withdrawal, at a time when commanders have warned the nation to steel itself for decades of bloody fighting against the Taliban, is the first time officials have admitted that there is a timetable for a British exit.
In a keynote speech on Friday, the Prime Minister confirmed that he was considering a short-term increase in British troops in Afghanistan, as a prelude to a British exit.
In a further indication of growing pressure to prevent the campaign running out of control, The Independent on Sunday has learned that senior Taliban members recently met representatives from across the Afghan political spectrum to discuss ways of bringing the war to an end.
The round-table talks, which took place at the Art boutique hotel in Dubai from 13-16 August, were brokered by Humayun Jarir, a former deputy foreign minister and one of the four signatories of the UN Bonn Agreement establishing Afghanistan's transitional government in December 2001.
Mr Jarir, who now heads a movement for national unity that includes representatives from nearly all the main political, tribal and religious movements, is also the estranged son-in-law of Gulbuddin Hekmatyar. Hekmatyar, the leader of the Hizb-i-Islami party, is the Taliban's principal ally and a US State Department-designated "global international terrorist".
"There were no press conferences. We just wanted to talk," Mr Jarir said last week. "We want peace, but any solution to the fighting must be an Afghan one. There has to be purely Afghan dialogue and negotiation - and there can be no settlement without the Taliban and Hizb-i-Islami."
A senior insider at the MoD last night said talking to the Taliban would be a key element of any lasting peace in Afghanistan. He said British ministers had already met low-level Taliban on routine visits to the country.
The August round of talks was at least the third such to be held in Dubai, which as a part of the United Arab Emirates was one of only three countries to formally recognise the Taliban government when it was in power between 1996 and 2001. The two Taliban representatives, whom Mr Jarir declined to name "for security reasons", were senior members of the Quetta shura, the inner circle of clerics and commanders surrounding the Taliban leader, Mullah Omar. "There are many different opinions within the Quetta shura," he said. "Some favour fighting, some a diplomatic solution. Omar listens to all opinions, but only he makes policy decisions."
Mr Jarir said he was confident the talks would eventually produce a solution acceptable to the international community and plans to hold a "Grand Assembly of the Afghans" that will agree on proposals, not just for a peace deal but an interim government of technocrats, an interim leader, a date for new elections and a timetable for foreign troop withdrawal.
5) The U.S. and Iran: It's time to talk
Editorial, Los Angeles Times, September 8, 2009
A conversation with the Tehran regime is the best option for dealing with our differences. The possibility of failure shouldn't Obama from making the effort.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy may have said it best some years ago when he declared that the only real alternative to "an Iranian bomb or the bombing of Iran" was a concerted diplomatic push by world powers to address that country's nuclear program. President Obama took office on a promise to engage with hostile governments, and soon after, extended a specific offer of direct U.S. talks with Tehran, with a September sell-by date.
Just in time last week, Iran's chief negotiator announced that he has an "updated nuclear proposal" and is ready to accept Obama's invitation. The proposal is expected to be unveiled before the U.N. General Assembly meets later this month, but already critics are warning that Iran will use the talks to stall for time to advance its nuclear ambitions and weaken international resolve for economic sanctions.
Maybe so. But even if that is Tehran's plan, Obama must follow through on the offer. He must pursue talks seriously, with the intention of success and not the assumption of failure.
Iran maintains its right under international law to have a nuclear program for civil purposes. The U.S. and its allies believe that has been used as cover for Iran's continuing efforts to develop nuclear weapons - an outcome opposed even by key powers China and Russia. The options available for addressing this issue are well known to all: negotiations, with political and economic incentives; pressure through economic sanctions; military action or, if all that fails, containment.
Let's start with the obvious: Bombing Iran is a terrible idea. Although strikes on nuclear sites could delay weapons development for a few years, retribution against the U.S. and its allies would be felt across the region for far longer. Even if Israel did the bombing, America would be blamed.
Containment is a last resort, to be used only if Iran develops a nuclear weapon. As believers in nonproliferation, we don't want to see it come to that; a nuclear Iran would further destabilize an already unstable region and prompt other countries to follow suit.
The question that naturally follows is what to do if talks fail. While reluctant to endorse measures that would hurt average Iranians or reunite the populace in an anti-American fury, this page recognizes that tough sanctions would be the obvious next step. We also realize that if China and Russia are ever going to agree to such a thing, it will be only after a serious effort to negotiate has been made. So now is the time to try, without threatening consequences for failure before the two sides even sit down.
6) Education gap in Latinamerica and with other regions widening
Mercopress, Tuesday, September 8th 2009
Latinamerica and the Caribbean spend three times more in arms and fuel subsidies than in the learning gap between children from low income and high income homes, a sum estimated in 14 billion US dollars, according to the president of the Inter American Development Bank, IDB, Luis Alberto Moreno.
The sum said Moreno "sounds exorbitant in these hard times" but last year the region spent three times more in the Armed Forces and in subsidies to reduce the fuel bill, which represents 42 billion US dollars.
Although defence and transport have their room in the national budgets, giving 46 million children from the region the opportunities they should have, it could help better understand the long battle to reduce inequality, according to Moreno.
"A third of our third grade students do not understand phrases that begin with 'once upon a time' and most of those in sixth grade can't solve problems with fractions", said Moreno.
7) IMF says Honduras will not have access to its funds until de facto gov't is recognized.
The IMF will hold a meeting to discuss the issue
Buenos Aires Herald, September 8, 2009
The International Monetary Fund said that Honduras will not be able to use the 163 million dollars in SDR that make up part of a larger sum of money, 250,000 dollars, until the organization recognizes the government.
"The current de facto government will not be able to use these funds until a decision is made about whether or not the IMF recognizes this government as the Government of Honduras," said the organization in a press release.
An IMF spokesperson said that the organization has not made a decision about when they will meet to decide if Roberto Micheletti's de facto government, which ousted Manuel Zelaya's administration on June 28, will be recognized as Honduras' official government.
The SDR is a virtual currency created by the Fund, which administrates a small market where the governments of different countries exchange them for actual currency.
Finally, the IMF said that the organization does not have any type of financial agreement with Honduras.
8) U.S. to Review Iranian Proposal Aimed at Spurring Nuclear Talks
Peter S. Green and Ladane Nasseri, Bloomberg, Sept. 10
The U.S. will review an Iranian proposal to resume stalled talks on the Islamic republic's disputed nuclear program, Susan Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, said yesterday in New York.
Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki presented the document in Tehran yesterday to diplomats from Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia and Switzerland. Switzerland accepted the proposals on behalf of the U.S., which doesn't have diplomatic relations with Iran.
Aliasghar Soltanieh, Iran's ambassador to the UN's nuclear agency, said in Vienna yesterday the proposal includes compromises on security, economic and nuclear issues.
"We hope that we can organize a new round of negotiations within the framework of the new package," Iran's state-owned Press TV news agency cited Mottaki as saying two days ago.
"We hope that what is contained in that response is a serious and substantive and constructive reply" to proposals made previously by the six nations, Rice said.
9) Venezuela to export gasoline to Iran
Iran reportedly produces 60 percent of its domestic gasoline demand
According to Press TV, Iran imports the remaining 40 percent
Venezuelan president says Iran's nuclear ambitions are for peaceful purposes
CNN, September 7, 2009
Tehran - Venezuela will begin exporting 20,000 barrels per day of gasoline to Iran next month as the nations strengthen bilateral cooperation, according to Iranian state media and the Venezuelan government.
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and his Venezuelan counterpart Hugo Chavez announced the agreement Sunday. It will begin in October, according to Iran's Press TV and a Venezuelan government statement. Chavez said Iran will pay about $800 million a year for the gasoline.
Iran produces 60 percent of its domestic gasoline demand and imports the remaining 40 percent, Press TV reported. Despite having large oil reserves, Iran lacks the refining capacity to cover all of its internal gasoline consumption.
The leaders had said on Saturday that they plan to stand up against "imperialist" foes - a reference to the United States and other nations opposing Iran's nuclear program - by cooperating on a range of issues, including nuclear power.
Chavez backed Iran's claims that its nuclear ambitions are for peaceful purposes. "There is not a single proof that Iran is building ... a nuclear bomb," Chavez said after the leaders met, according to Press TV. "Soon they will accuse us also of building an atomic bomb."
10) Brazil's Lula rejects Iran sanctions, urges talks
Estelle Shirbon, Reuters, Sun Sep 6, 2009 1:06pm EDT
Paris - Western powers should stop punishing Iran over its nuclear program and instead talk to it in order to foster peace, Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva said on Sunday.
A rising diplomatic power campaigning to gain a permanent seat at the United Nations Security Council, Brazil has adopted a much more conciliatory line toward Iran than Western allies including the United States. "I think there are a lot of sanctions and not enough conversations with Iran," Lula said during an interview with three French media, TV5 Monde, RFI radio and Le Monde newspaper.
U.S. President Barack Obama has given Iran until later in September to take up an offer from the United States, Russia, Britain, China, France and Germany to discuss trade benefits if Tehran shelves nuclear enrichment. The alternative is to face harsher sanctions.
Lula rejected the idea of new sanctions, urging Western leaders to talk to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. "I think Obama should talk to him, (French President Nicolas) Sarkozy should talk to him, (British Prime Minister) Gordon Brown should talk to him, I should, everybody should," he said.
"Stop punishing him. Third-level U.N. officials take decisions that punish a country and make it more and more isolated. It will get harder and harder to reach an agreement," he said, speaking through a French interpreter.
11) Rights group: Most Gazans killed in war were civilians
Avi Issacharoff, Haaretz, 09/09/2009
The vast majority of the Palestinians killed in Israel's operation in the Gaza Strip last winter were innocent civilians rather than combatants, according to a new report to be published by the B'Tselem organization Wednesday morning. This is the opposite of what the Israel Defense Forces has said.
According to B'Tselem, 1,387 Palestinians were killed during the three weeks of Operation Cast Lead, of whom 773 were noncombatants and only 330 were combatants.
The remaining 248 were Hamas policemen killed when Israel bombed Palestinian police facilities at the start of the operation. The IDF has argued that these policemen, as armed Hamas members, should be considered combatants. However, B'Tselem noted that they took no part in the actual fighting. In 36 cases, the organization was unable to determine whether the casualties were combatants or noncombatants.
Of the civilians killed, 320 were minors under the age of 18 and another 109 were women, the organization said.
The IDF, in contrast, claims that 1,166 Palestinians were killed during Cast Lead, of whom 709 were Hamas combatants and 295 were civilians. It said it was unable to determine the status of the remaining 162.
The IDF lists 89 children under age 16 and 49 women among the fatalities, whereas B'Tselem lists 252 children under 16 and 111 women over this age.
Unlike the IDF, however, B'Tselem listed each casualty by name, and said it had collected eyewitness testimony, death certificates or other evidence for each.
The organization's spokeswoman, Sarit Michaeli, told Haaretz that B'Tselem researchers had examined every possible source of information, from the findings of in-house IDF investigations to lists prepared by Palestinian human rights organizations. However, she said, they were unable to compare their fatality list to that of the IDF, because the army refused to give it to them.
12) Constitutional Court may shorten referendum procedure
Adriaan Alsema, Colombia Reports, Tuesday, 08 September 2009 07:59
Colombia's Constitutional Court does not rule out the possibility that the re-election referendum could go through a shortened review procedure as time for the popular vote is running out.
Court president Nilson Pinilla told Caracol Radio on Monday that the high court has not yet discussed the possibility for a shortened review process for the popular vote, but will do so next week after the Court returns from Cartagena, where it takes part in the 16th Congress of Latin-American Constitutional Courts.
Pinilla denied allegations that the court's referendum ruling is "in the pocket" as President Alvaro Uribe has been able to pick one third of the magistrates in the two terms he served.
The court must rule on the constitutionality of the referendum bill that was approved by Congress recently and ratified by Uribe on Monday. Supporters of the referendum fear a slow procedure in the court could kill the president's chance for re-election, as the elections already scheduled for May and the President is obliged to confirm his candidacy before November 30.
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