JFP News 9/21: President Zelaya Returns to Honduras
Just Foreign Policy News
September 21, 2009
A Winnable Fight: No More U.S. Troops to Afghanistan
The stars are aligning for a winnable and worthwhile fight on U.S. policy in Afghanistan in the next several weeks: stopping the Obama Administration from sending more troops.
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) President Zelaya returned to Honduras Monday and took refuge in the Brazilian embassy, Reuters reports. His appearance in Honduras increased pressure on the country's ruler Roberto Micheletti to cede power, Reuters says. Several thousand Zelaya supporters gathered outside the embassy while a military helicopter clattered overhead and a small group of police stood 100 yards away. The U.S. called for restraint. Brazilian Foreign Minister Amorim said he was hopeful Zelaya's return could start a new stage in negotiations to end the crisis.
2) OAS Secretary General Insulza said the de facto government authorities must be responsible for the security of President Zelaya and for the Brazilian Embassy, the Buenos Aires Herald reports. The OAS held an emergency meeting in Washington to decide when Insulza will be able to travel to Honduras.
3) Instead of debating whether to give General McChrystal more troops, the discussion in the White House is now focused on whether the U.S. should vastly expand counterinsurgency efforts along the lines McChrystal has proposed or whether it should begin shifting its approach away from such initiatives and simply target leaders of terrorist groups who try to return to Afghanistan, the Washington Post reports. Obama left little doubt key assumptions in the earlier White House strategy are now on the table, the Post says. "The first question is: Are we doing the right thing?" the president said on CNN. "Are we pursuing the right strategy?" "Until I'm satisfied that we've got the right strategy, I'm not going to be sending some young man or woman over there - beyond what we already have," Obama said. "… I'm not interested in just being in Afghanistan for the sake of being in Afghanistan or saving face or . . . sending a message that America is here for the duration." Some officials charge the military has been trying to push Obama into a corner with public statements such as those by Adm. Mullen that the situation in Afghanistan is "serious and deteriorating" and "probably needs more forces."
4) McChrystal's "confidential" assessment says he needs more forces within the next year and that without them, the conflict "will likely result in failure," the Washington Post reports. McChrystal warns that the Afghan prison system has become "a sanctuary and base to conduct lethal operations" against the government and coalition forces. "There are more insurgents per square foot in corrections facilities than anywhere else in Afghanistan," his assessment says.
5) Honduras' de facto rulers imposed a curfew on Monday after President Zelaya returned the country, Reuters reports. "The government has declared the curfew for the entire country from 4 in the afternoon until 6 a.m. to conserve calm in the country," a spokesman told Reuters.
6) Russian President Medvedev said Israel promised Russia in August it would not launch an attack on Iran, Reuters reports. "When he visited me in Sochi, Israeli President Peres said something important for us all: 'Israel does not plan to launch any strikes on Iran, we are a peaceful country and we will not do this'," Medvedev said.
7) President Obama will meet Israeli and Palestinian leaders Tuesday to try to relaunch peace talks, the BBC reports. A senior US official said the meetings are "clear sign of the President's personal commitment to this issue." Talks have foundered on Israel's refusal to freeze all settlement activity in the West Bank.
8) The U.S. Embassy in Bolivia says it is closing some USAID democracy-promotion programs at the request of the Bolivian government, AP reports. Bolivian officials have charged these programs were being used to finance the Bolivan opposition, which the U.S. has denied.
1) Ousted president Zelaya returns to Honduras
Gustavo Palencia and Edgar Garrido, Reuters, Monday, September 21, 2009 5:58 PM
Tegucigalpa - Ousted President Manuel Zelaya sneaked back into Honduras on Monday almost three months after he was toppled in a coup, and took refuge in the Brazilian embassy to avoid arrest by the de facto government.
Zelaya's ouster on June 28 in a dispute over presidential term limits plunged Honduras into its worst political conflict in decades, and was condemned by U.S. President Barack Obama, the European Union and Latin American governments.
Zelaya had been in exile mostly in Nicaragua while a de facto government that backed the coup against him became more entrenched in office, defying international calls to allow the leftist president to return.
But his sudden appearance in Honduras on Monday increased pressure on the country's ruler Roberto Micheletti to cede power and increased the chance of violent protests or a standoff at the embassy.
"I am the legitimate president chosen by the people and that is why I came here," Zelaya told Reuters by telephone from inside the Brazilian embassy.
Several thousand Zelaya supporters gathered outside while a military helicopter clattered overhead and a small group of police stood some 100 yards (meters) away.
The United States called for restraint in Honduras, one of the poorest countries in the Western Hemisphere and a staunch U.S. ally during Cold War conflicts in Central America.
Obama has cut aid to Honduras since the coup and pushed for Zelaya's return but refused Zelaya's demands for tougher sanctions against the coup leaders. His administration called on all sides to remain calm following Zelaya's return.
"At this point, all I can say is reiterate our almost daily call on both sides to exercise restraint and refrain from ... any activities that could provoke violence," said State Department spokesman Ian Kelly.
Latin American leftist governments have accused the U.S. administration of not doing enough to force Zelaya's return to power.
Micheletti, whose government is not recognized internationally, earlier on Monday vowed to have Zelaya detained.
"The moment that we know he has entered the country we are going to go ahead with his arrest. We have search and capture teams to carry out his arrest," Micheletti told Reuters before news broke that Zelaya had taken refuge in the embassy.
In New York, Brazilian Foreign Minister Celso Amorim said he was hopeful Zelaya's return could start a new stage in negotiations to end the Honduran crisis.
It was not clear if Brazil's government knew of Zelaya's plan to take refuge at the embassy before he arrived.
2) OAS Secretary General calls for responsibility from de facto gov't
OAS holds emergency meeting, Insulza asks for 'calm,' curfew imposed
Buenos Aires Herald, September 21, 2009
The OAS' Secretary General, José Miguel Insulza, spoke about Manuel Zelaya's presence at the Brazilian Embassy in Tegucigalpa, asking for those involved to remain calm. The Organization of American States (OAS) is currently holding an emergency meeting in Washington, D.C., to decide when Insulza will be able to travel to the Central American country.
"The constitutional President of Honduras, José Manuel Zelaya, is in Tegucigalpa at the Brazilian Embassy. I am asking for calm on the part of those involved in this process, and I am asking for the responsibility of the de facto government authorities, who must be responsible for the security of President Zelaya and for the Brazilian Embassy."
3) Changes Have Obama Rethinking War Strategy
Rajiv Chandrasekaran and Karen DeYoung, Washington Post, September 21, 2009
From his headquarters in Kabul, Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal sees one clear path to achieve President Obama's core goal of preventing al-Qaeda from reestablishing havens in Afghanistan: "Success," he writes in his assessment, "demands a comprehensive counterinsurgency campaign."
Inside the White House, the way forward in Afghanistan is no longer so clear.
Although Obama endorsed a strategy document in March that called for "executing and resourcing an integrated civilian-military counterinsurgency strategy," there have been significant changes in Afghanistan and Washington since then. A disputed presidential election, an erosion in support for the war effort among Democrats in Congress and the American public, and a sharp increase in U.S. casualties have prompted the president and his top advisers to reexamine their assumptions about the U.S. role in defeating the Taliban insurgency.
Instead of debating whether to give McChrystal, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, more troops, the discussion in the White House is now focused on whether, after eight years of war, the United States should vastly expand counterinsurgency efforts along the lines he has proposed - which involve an intensive program to improve security and governance in key population centers - or whether it should begin shifting its approach away from such initiatives and simply target leaders of terrorist groups who try to return to Afghanistan.
McChrystal's assessment, in the view of two senior administration officials, is just "one input" in the White House's decision-making process. The president, another senior administration official said, "has embarked on a very, very serious review of all options." The officials spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal White House deliberations.
Obama, appearing on several Sunday-morning television news shows, left little doubt that key assumptions in the earlier White House strategy are now on the table. "The first question is: Are we doing the right thing?" the president said on CNN. "Are we pursuing the right strategy?"
"Until I'm satisfied that we've got the right strategy, I'm not going to be sending some young man or woman over there - beyond what we already have," Obama said on NBC's "Meet the Press." If an expanded counterinsurgency strategy in Afghanistan contributes to the goal of defeating al-Qaeda, "then we'll move forward," he said. "But, if it doesn't, then I'm not interested in just being in Afghanistan for the sake of being in Afghanistan or saving face or . . . sending a message that America is here for the duration."
But senior U.S. officials in Washington contend that much about Afghanistan has changed since March, when Obama stood before a row of flags, flanked by his secretaries of state and defense, and announced the new strategy. The dynamics have even shifted since McChrystal arrived in mid-June and began his assessment.
The principal game-changer, in the view of White House officials, was Afghanistan's presidential election last month, which was compromised by fraud, much of it in support of President Hamid Karzai. Although the results have not been certified, he almost certainly will remain in office, but under a cloud of illegitimacy that could complicate U.S. efforts to promote good governance.
Some officials charge that the military has been trying to push Obama into a corner with public statements such as those by Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, that the situation in Afghanistan is "serious and deteriorating" and "probably needs more forces." One official questioned whether McChrystal had already gone beyond his writ with public statements describing the protection of the Afghan population as more important than killing Taliban fighters.
When Obama announced his strategy in March, there were few specifics fleshing out his broad goals, and the military was left to interpret how to implement them. As they struggle over how to adjust to changing reality on the ground, some in the administration have begun to fault McChrystal for taking the policy beyond where Obama intended, with no easy exit.
4) McChrystal: More Forces or 'Mission Failure'
Top U.S. Commander For Afghan War Calls Next 12 Months Decisive
Bob Woodward, Washington Post, Monday, September 21, 2009
The top U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan warns in an urgent, confidential assessment of the war that he needs more forces within the next year and bluntly states that without them, the eight-year conflict "will likely result in failure," according to a copy of the 66-page document obtained by The Washington Post.
Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal says emphatically: "Failure to gain the initiative and reverse insurgent momentum in the near-term (next 12 months) - while Afghan security capacity matures - risks an outcome where defeating the insurgency is no longer possible."
His assessment was sent to Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates on Aug. 30 and is now being reviewed by President Obama and his national security team.
McChrystal concludes the document's five-page Commander's Summary on a note of muted optimism: "While the situation is serious, success is still achievable."
But he repeatedly warns that without more forces and the rapid implementation of a genuine counterinsurgency strategy, defeat is likely. McChrystal describes an Afghan government riddled with corruption and an international force undermined by tactics that alienate civilians.
He provides extensive new details about the Taliban insurgency, which he calls a muscular and sophisticated enemy that uses modern propaganda and systematically reaches into Afghanistan's prisons to recruit members and even plan operations.
In a four-page annex on detainee operations, McChrystal warns that the Afghan prison system has become "a sanctuary and base to conduct lethal operations" against the government and coalition forces. He cites as examples an apparent prison connection to the 2008 bombing of the Serena Hotel in Kabul and other attacks. "Unchecked, Taliban/Al Qaeda leaders patiently coordinate and plan, unconcerned with interference from prison personnel or the military."
The assessment says that Taliban and al-Qaeda insurgents "represent more than 2,500 of the 14,500 inmates in the increasingly overcrowded Afghan Corrections System," in which "[h]ardened, committed Islamists are indiscriminately mixed with petty criminals and sex offenders, and they are using the opportunity to radicalize and indoctrinate them."
Noting that the United States "came to Afghanistan vowing to deny these same enemies safe haven in 2001," he says they now operate with relative impunity in the prisons. "There are more insurgents per square foot in corrections facilities than anywhere else in Afghanistan," his assessment says.
For now, because of a lack of capacity, "productive interrogations and detainee intelligence collection have been reduced" at Bagram. "As a result, hundreds are held without charge or without a defined way-ahead. This allows the enemy to radicalize them far beyond their pre-capture orientation. The problem can no longer be ignored."
5) Curfew imposed in Honduras after Zelaya's return
Gustavo Palencia, Reuters, 21 Sep 2009 21:45:48 GMT
Tegucigalpa - Honduras' de facto rulers imposed a curfew on Monday after ousted President Manuel Zelaya returned the country and took refuge in the Brazilian Embassy, a spokesman for the interim leaders said. "The government has declared the curfew for the entire country from 4 in the afternoon until 6 a.m. to conserve calm in the country," spokesman Rene Zepeda told Reuters. Thousands of Zelaya's supporters surrounded the Brazilian Embassy in Tegucigalpa, with a 100 police wearing riot gear deployed nearby.
6) Kremlin says Israel promised not to strike Iran
Conor Humphries, Reuters, Sunday, September 20, 2009 11:29 AM
Moscow - Israel promised Russia it would not launch an attack on Iran, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said in an interview aired on Sunday in which he described such an assault as "the worst thing that can be imagined."
Israel has hinted it could forcibly deny Iran the means to make an atomic bomb if it refuses to suspend uranium enrichment and has criticized Russia for agreeing to supply to Tehran S-300 anti-aircraft weapons that could complicate an attack.
In an interview with CNN recorded on Tuesday, Medvedev denied Moscow was backing Iran but said it had the right to supply defensive weapons and said sanctions against Tehran should only be used as a last resort.
An attack would lead to "a humanitarian disaster, a vast number of refugees, Iran's wish to take revenge and not only upon Israel, to be honest, but upon other countries as well," Medvedev said, according to a Kremlin transcript.
"But my Israeli colleagues told me that they were not planning to act in this way and I trust them."
During a meeting in the Russian resort of Sochi in August, Israeli President Shimon Peres said Israel would not attack Iran, Medvedev said. After the meeting, Peres told journalists Medvedev had promised to reconsider a contract to sell S-300s to Iran.
"When he visited me in Sochi, Israeli President Peres said something important for us all: 'Israel does not plan to launch any strikes on Iran, we are a peaceful country and we will not do this'," Medvedev said.
7) Obama to meet Middle East leaders
BBC, 20 September 2009
President Barack Obama will meet Israeli and Palestinian leaders on Tuesday to try to relaunch peace talks. Mr Obama will hold separate talks with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, before a joint meeting.
Efforts to restart the peace process have so far been blocked by disagreements over Israeli settlements. A senior US official told the BBC that there was no expectation of an announcement after Tuesday's meetings. He said the meetings are "clear sign of the President's personal commitment to this issue."
The announcement of the meetings, which will take place on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in New York, came after US envoy George Mitchell's latest round of shuttle diplomacy ended without agreement.
The US envoy held a series of meetings with Mr Netanyahu last week in a fresh attempt at getting a deal on Jewish settlement activity.
Mr Mitchell was hoping for a consensus before all sides attend the UN General Assembly, but he returned to the US without reaching any agreement.
Mr Abbas and the US administration have been demanding a complete freeze on Israeli construction activity.
Mr Netanyahu had previously offered a temporary freeze for several months, but not in East Jerusalem or in cases where homes have already been approved.
He noted this week that there had been a slowdown in settlement construction, but that work would continue on 2,400 units currently being built.
8) US closing some programs in Bolivia
AP, September 20, 2009
La Paz, Bolivia - The U.S. Embassy in Bolivia says it is closing some democracy-promotion programs at the request of the Bolivian government. The Embassy tells The Associated Press on Sunday that the local government asked it in August to close some programs run by the U.S. Agency for International Development. It says it is doing so. One of the programs that is closing trains local leaders. Officials of Bolivia's leftist government have suggested in the past that some money is diverted to financing the opposition. U.S. officials deny that.
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.