JFP News 10/7: JFP on the BBC Against Afghan Escalation
Just Foreign Policy News
October 7, 2009
BBC World Have Your Say: How many troops are needed in Afghanistan?
Just Foreign Policy joins with Die Linke to make the case against military escalation and for a timetable for military withdrawal.
Urge Congress to Support the Lee Bill
Representative Barbara Lee has introduced a bill [H.R. 3699] prohibiting any increase in the number of U.S. troops in Afghanistan. Urge your Member of Congress to support it.
Is Team Obama Really Rethinking Afghanistan?
Recent articles in the Wall Street Journal suggest that Obama and his advisers are indeed rethinking key assumptions which have underpinned U.S. policy: in particular, the assumption that al Qaeda would have a "safe haven" in Afghanistan if the Taliban regain control of parts of the country. Two other assumptions that have driven U.S. policy also deserve White House review: the assumption that an al Qaeda safe haven in Afghanistan would significantly increase the terrorist threat to the United States, and the assumption that a Taliban military victory would necessarily follow a U.S. military withdrawal.
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1) The Afghan Taliban said they pose no threat to the West but will continue their fight against occupying foreign forces, Reuters reports. "We had and have no plan of harming countries of the world, including those in Europe ... our goal is the independence of the country and the building of an Islamic state," the Taliban said in a statement on the group's website.
2) Administration officials in the Biden camp fear they could close off the path to a more peaceful resolution of the Afghanistan conflict if 40,000 more troops are sent, the Wall Street Journal reports. They believe most of the Taliban fighters, and some of their leaders, are neither hard-core, violent Islamists nor sympathetic to al Qaeda. According to senior administration officials, among those pressing the case most effectively is Afghan scholar Barnett Rubin, a top aide to Richard Holbrooke.
3) Obama told Congressional leaders he would not substantially reduce U.S. forces in Afghanistan as part of the current review, the New York Times reports. Obama and Biden made it clear that the option Biden had proposed was not a pure counterterrorism alternative. Instead, Biden's approach would increase the use of surgical strikes while leaving the overall size of the U.S. force in Afghanistan roughly at the 68,000 troops currently authorized. Speaker Pelosi, Senator Levin, Representative Obey, and Representative Lowey voiced reservations about increasing troops. Senator Kerry said "it would be irresponsible" to send more troops until it became clear "what is possible in Afghanistan." Some Democrats were more supportive of General McChrystal's request, including Senator Feinstein and Representative Skelton.
4) Two pro-Zelaya media outlets that were closed under the emergency decree said the government had not returned seized equipment, preventing them from re-establishing normal operations, AP reports. The main effect was to close down the two main pro-Zelaya media outlets, Radio Globo and Channel 36, AP says.
5) A Pew poll says a solid majority of Americans support direct talks with Iran about its nuclear program, but a similar majority also support military strikes if necessary to stop the country from getting a nuclear weapon, McClatchy reports. The survey found 63 percent of Americans approve of direct negotiations with Iran. 64 percent say the talks will not succeed. Assuming the talks do not work, 78 percent of Americans approve of tougher economic sanctions. 56 percent of Americans don't think those will work, either. 61 percent say it's critical to stop Iran, even if it takes military action, while 24 percent say it's more important to avoid military action even if it means Iran becomes a nuclear power.
6) Brazil's President Lula says the only problem for a political solution in Honduras is the refusal of coup leader Micheletti to step down, Mercopress reports. "For us the solution in Honduras is quite simple: those who participated in the coup should leave office and allow the return of President Zelaya" so that "elections can take place next November, as scheduled and the problem would then have been solved," Lula said.
7) The standoff in Honduras is highlighting the deep divisions in the country's society, which is split between a powerful yet tiny elite and the vast majority of poor, ordinary citizens, NPR reports. Ramon Romero, a professor of economics at the National Autonomous University, says power in Honduras is in the hands of about 100 people from roughly 25 families. Others estimate the Honduran elite to be slightly larger, but still it is a tiny group. "The principal reason why the elites split from Zelaya was for economic and not political reasons," Romero says.
8) The Pentagon appears to be stepping up preparations for a possible attack on Iran's nuclear facilities, ABC reports. The Pentagon is shifting spending from other programs to fast forward the development and procurement of the "bunker-busting" Massive Ordnance Penetrator.
1) Afghan Taliban Say They Pose No Threat to the West
Sayed Salahuddin, Reuters, Wed Oct 7, 2009 12:15pm EDT
Kabul - The Afghan Taliban pose no threat to the West but will continue their fight against occupying foreign forces, they said on Wednesday, the eighth anniversary of the U.S.-led invasion that removed them from power.
U.S.-led forces with the help of Afghan groups overthrew the Taliban government during a five week battle which started on October 7, 2001, after the militants refused to hand over al Qaeda leaders wanted by Washington for the September 11 attacks on America.
"We had and have no plan of harming countries of the world, including those in Europe ... our goal is the independence of the country and the building of an Islamic state," the Taliban said in a statement on the group's website www.shahamat.org.
"Still, if you (NATO and U.S. troops) want to colonize the country of proud and pious Afghans under the baseless pretext of a war on terror, then you should know that our patience will only increase and that we are ready for a long war."
2) Behind Afghan War Debate, A Battle Of Two Books Rages
Peter Spiegel and Jonathan Weisman, Wall Street Journal, October 7, 2009
Washington - The struggle to set the future course of the Afghan war is becoming a battle of two books - both suddenly popular among White House and Pentagon brain trusts.
The two draw decidedly different lessons from the Vietnam War. The first book describes a White House in 1965 being marched into an escalating war by a military viewing the conflict too narrowly to see the perils ahead. President Barack Obama recently finished the book, according to administration officials, and Vice President Joe Biden is reading it now.
The second describes a different administration, in 1972, when a U.S. military that has finally figured out how to counter the insurgency is rejected by political leaders who bow to popular opinion and end the fight.
It has been recommended in multiple lists put out by military officers, including a former U.S. commander in Afghanistan, who passed it out to his subordinates.
The two books - "Lessons in Disaster," on Obama's nightstand, and "A Better War" on the shelves of military gurus - have become a framework for the debate over what will be one of the most important decisions of Obama's presidency.
In Washington, books are flying off shelves. None of the major bookstores near the White House have the recently released paperback edition of "Lessons in Disaster" in stock, and one major shop in the Georgetown area, Barnes & Noble, said all its remaining copies were being held for buyers.
"Lessons in Disaster" entered West Wing circulation after Deputy National Security Adviser Tom Donilon, one of the top foreign-policy voices in the White House, gave it to White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel after reading it himself.
Emanuel read the book in a weekend, then showed it to the president, who was already working on his own copy. Instead, Emanuel gave his copy to senior White House adviser David Axelrod, according to an administration official familiar with the book's path.
Once in Obama's hands, the book drew attention throughout the administration's foreign-policy ranks.
There are striking similarities between the debates of today and yesteryear. Now, as in the 1960s, the discussion in the administration is how to best defeat a perceived national-security threat. In both periods, the U.S. had partnered with corrupt governments with tainted leaders.
For opponents of a major troop increase, led by Biden and Emanuel, "Lessons in Disaster" - which traces the hawkish war stance and eventual disavowal of it by Vietnam-era national-security adviser McGeorge Bundy - encapsulates their concerns about accepting military advice unchallenged.
"Bundy said we debated a number and not a use," said Gordon M. Goldstein, the book's author, referring to troop deployments. "That's a really critical observation which goes to the heart of what's going on right now in the White House."
Administration officials in the Biden camp fear they too could close off the path to a more peaceful resolution of the conflict if 40,000 more troops are sent. They believe most of the Taliban fighters, and some of their leaders, are neither hard-core, violent Islamists nor sympathetic to al Qaeda.
Some are nationalists trying to rid their country of foreigners. Some leaders are willing to flip sides depending on the deals on offer or the momentum on the ground. Many more are simply doing it for the money paid by Taliban leaders.
According to senior administration officials, among those pressing the case most effectively is Barnett Rubin, a top aide to Richard Holbrooke, Obama's special representative to the region. Rubin declined a request for an interview. A senior military official said it is unclear whether Holbrooke supports such a view. A White House official said Holbrooke had breakfast with Biden Tuesday morning.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates has begun to signal his resistance. At a round-table discussion at George Washington University Monday night, he made clear he believed the two groups remain closely linked and that a return of the Taliban would aid in al Qaeda's reemergence. He said: "There's no question in my mind that if the Taliban took control of significant portions of Afghanistan, that that would be added space for al Qaeda to strengthen itself."
3) Obama Meeting Advisers Amid Debate on Afghan Policy
Peter Baker and Jeff Zeleny, New York Times, October 8, 2009
Washington - Eight years to the day after the start of the war in Afghanistan, the White House and Congress were agonizing on Wednesday about what to do next in that isolated, mountainous country that has been called "the graveyard of empires."
A day after telling Congressional leaders that he would not substantially reduce American forces in Afghanistan or shift the mission to just hunting terrorists there, President Obama was scheduled to confer with his national security team Wednesday afternoon on Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Obama had summoned the lawmakers to assure them that he would keep their concerns in mind as he considered the request of General McChrystal for as many as 40,000 more troops. Several administration officials and lawmakers who attended the session on Tuesday said Obama was intent on using it to dismiss any impression that he would consider pulling out of Afghanistan. "There is no option that would entail a dramatic reduction in troops," said one administration official, who, like others quoted in this article, requested anonymity to discuss the closed-door meeting.
Obama and Biden made it clear that the option Biden had proposed was not a pure counterterrorism alternative, relying only on drones and Special Forces to track down leaders of Al Qaeda. Instead, Biden's approach would increase the use of such surgical strikes while leaving the overall size of the American force in Afghanistan roughly at the 68,000 troops currently authorized.
A joint appearance afterward on the White House driveway by the two top Democratic Congressional leaders demonstrated Obama's political challenge. "The one thing that I thought was interesting was that everyone, Democrats and Republicans, said whatever decision you make, we'll support it basically," said Senator Harry Reid, the majority leader.
But Representative Nancy Pelosi, the House speaker, smiled and raised her eyebrows in apparent disagreement. "Whether we agreed with it or voted for it remains to be seen when we see what the president puts forth," she said. "But I think there was a real display of universal respect for the manner in which he was approaching it."
At least three Democrats - Pelosi; Senator Carl Levin, the Armed Services Committee chairman; and Representative David R. Obey, the Appropriations Committee chairman - voiced reservations during the meeting about increasing troops, according to those in attendance.
"There were a number of people who spoke out with a lot of caution about getting in deeper and what the endpoint is," Levin said in an interview. Levin, who promoted accelerated training of Afghan forces, then met alone with Obama to expand on his views.
Others shared their skepticism in interviews. "Clearly, there is hesitancy about the prospect of sending 40,000 more troops," said Representative Nita M. Lowey, Democrat of New York.
Senator John Kerry, chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, said after the meeting that "it would be irresponsible" to send more troops until it became clear "what is possible in Afghanistan."
Some Democrats were more supportive of General McChrystal's request, including Senator Dianne Feinstein, head of the intelligence committee, and Representative Ike Skelton, head of the Armed Services Committee.
4) Ousted Honduran leader dismisses decree decision
Ben Fox, AP, October 6, 2009
Tegucigalpa, Honduras - Ousted President Manuel Zelaya on Tuesday dismissed the withdrawal of an emergency decree that curbed civil liberties, calling it a meaningless gesture from a coup-imposed government that refuses to restore him to power.
Two pro-Zelaya media outlets that were closed under the decree said the government had not returned seized equipment, preventing them from re-establishing normal operations. Channel 36 owner Esdras Amado Lopez called the lifting of the decree "a lie aimed at deceiving the international community."
Zelaya criticized Interim President Roberto Micheletti for lifting the emergency decree Monday only after security forces arrested dozens of protesters and closed down two critical media outlets. He expressed frustration that interim leaders continue to oppose his reinstatement less than two months before Nov. 29 presidential elections.
"Roberto Micheletti continues to mock the people, declaring that he is completely revoking the decree after achieving the most possible harm," Zelaya, who is holed up in the Brazilian Embassy with dozens of supporters, said in a statement.
The ousted president - who was visited Tuesday by four European Union Parliament members on a fact-finding mission - said refusal to return him to power "puts the electoral process at risk and deepens the institutional and political crisis in our beloved Honduras."
Even many backers of the June 28 coup had denounced the Sept. 27 emergency decree, arguing that it undermined the interim government's portrayal of itself as a democracy and could damage the validity of the presidential election that Micheletti hopes will make Zelaya's demands moot.
The order empowered police and soldiers to break up public meetings, arrest people without warrants and restrict the news media.
The main effect was to close down the two main pro-Zelaya media outlets, Radio Globo and Channel 36, and Micheletti said they would remain shut down until their owners "come to the courts to recover their right to be on the air."
"We thought that when the decree was revoked, the equipment would be returned, but that has not happened," said Yesenia Herculano, an activist with Honduras' Committee for Free Expression. "There has been no progress."
Meanwhile, 12 people active in protests sought political asylum in the Guatemalan Embassy. Maria Cruz Alfaro, a pro-Zelaya activist, said the 12 Lenca Indians, including several children, have been harassed by security forces over the past three months and have had several friends beaten and arrested for taking part in anti-coup protests. "They are afraid," she said.
5) Poll: If talks fail, Americans back military strike on Iran
Steven Thomma, McClatchy Newspapers, Tue, Oct. 06, 2009
Washington - A solid majority of Americans support direct talks with Iran about its nuclear program, but a similar majority also support military strikes if necessary to stop the country from getting a nuclear weapon, according to a new poll released Tuesday.
The survey by the nonpartisan Pew Research Center found 63 percent of Americans approve of direct negotiations with Iran, seemingly endorsing Barack Obama's pledge as a candidate to meet with Iran or any other rogue nation. Another 28 percent oppose talks with Iran.
Diplomats from the US and five other countries met with counterparts from Iran last week in Switzerland, the highest level talks with the country in three decades.
But Americans are skeptical about the prospects - 64 percent say the talks will not succeed at getting Iran to stop its suspected work on a nuclear weapon while just 22 percent believe the talks will eventually pay off.
Assuming the talks do not work, 78 percent of Americans approve of tougher economic sanctions, while just 12 percent do not approve. Despite the majority support for sanctions, 56 percent of Americans don't think those will work, either.
Finally, 61 percent say it's critical to stop Iran, even if it takes military action, while 24 percent say it's more important to avoid military action even if it means Iran becomes a nuclear power.
"There is broad willingness across the political spectrum to use military force to prevent Iran from going nuclear," says the Pew report. The numbers:
-71 percent of Republicans support military action if necessary; -66 percent of independents; -51 percent of Democrats.
6) The only "problem" for a solution in Honduras is Micheletti, says Lula da Silva
Mercopress, Tuesday, October 6th 2009 - 10:46 pm UTC
Brazilian President Lula da Silva said Honduras's interim government is illegitimate, and called for de facto president Roberto Micheletti and his administration to step down.
Speaking to reporters in Stockholm, Sweden, Tuesday, the Brazilian president said the crisis in Honduras would be solved if the leaders of the June 28 coup simply left office and returned democratically-elected president Manuel Zelaya to office.
"For us the solution in Honduras is quite simple: those who participated in the coup should leave office and allow the return of President Zelaya" so that "elections can take place next November, as scheduled and the problem would then have been solved".
"The only difficulty is that there's a president that shouldn't be there" he added standing next to Swedish Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt, and currently rotating president of EU, and the head of the European Commission, Jose Manuel Barroso.
7) Rich Vs. Poor At Root Of Honduran Political Crisis
Jason Beaubien, NPR, October 5, 2009 4:33 PM
In Honduras on Monday, de facto president Roberto Micheletti lifted an emergency decree and restored some civil liberties. He imposed the decree last week after nationwide protests erupted following the return of ousted President Manuel Zelaya.
The protracted presidential standoff is highlighting the deep divisions in the country's society, which is split between a powerful yet tiny elite and the vast majority of poor, ordinary citizens.
"In Honduras, we are accustomed to a government of the rich," says Marixa Gorgos, a pro-Zelaya demonstrator. "And the problem for our president, Mel Zelaya, was that he worked for the poor."
Micheletti initially shut the country's airports and borders. At different times, Micheletti declared nationwide curfews, closed down pro-Zelaya media outlets and banned public gatherings. But Zelaya supporters, including Gorgos, continued to defy the ban.
"I'm here and I'm part of this fight because I don't want my children to live the same way I lived," she says, meaning in a country so sharply divided between the rich and poor.
Honduras is one of the original "banana republics." In the 1800s, U.S. firms set up fruit companies that exploited cheap Honduran labor to export bananas to the port of New Orleans.
While things have improved since the days of the company store, the vast majority of Hondurans remain in poverty.
Ramon Romero, a professor of economics at the National Autonomous University, says power in Honduras is in the hands of about 100 people from roughly 25 families. Others estimate the Honduran elite to be slightly larger, but still it is a tiny group.
Romero says the country's elite have always selected the nation's president. They initially helped Zelaya get into office, and then they orchestrated his removal from power.
Micheletti and his supporters say Zelaya, despite only having a few months left in his term, was on the verge of creating a socialist state modeled after Hugo Chavez's Venezuela.
But Romero, the economics professor, says this was a ruse. "The principal reason why the elites split from Zelaya was for economic and not political reasons," Romero says.
8) Is the U.S. Preparing to Bomb Iran?
Is the U.S. Stepping Up Preparations for a Possible Attack on Iran's Nuclear Facilities?
Jonathan Karl, ABC, Oct. 6, 2009
Is the U.S. stepping up preparations for a possible attack on Iran's nuclear facilities?
The Pentagon is always making plans, but based on a little-noticed funding request recently sent to Congress, the answer to that question appears to be yes.
First, some background: Back in October 2007, ABC News reported that the Pentagon had asked Congress for $88 million in the emergency Iraq/Afghanistan war funding request to develop a gargantuan bunker-busting bomb called the Massive Ordnance Penetrator (MOP). It's a 30,000-pound bomb designed to hit targets buried 200 feet below ground. Back then, the Pentagon cited an "urgent operational need" for the new weapon.
Now the Pentagon is shifting spending from other programs to fast forward the development and procurement of the Massive Ordnance Penetrator. The Pentagon comptroller sent a request to shift the funds to the House and Senate Appropriations and Armed Services Committees over the summer.
The comptroller said the Pentagon planned to spend $19.1 million to procure four of the bombs, $28.3 million to accelerate the bomb's "development and testing", and $21 million to accelerate the integration of the bomb onto B-2 stealth bombers.
The notification was tucked inside a 93-page "reprogramming" request that included a couple hundred other more mundane items.
Why now? The notification says simply, "The Department has an Urgent Operational Need (UON) for the capability to strike hard and deeply buried targets in high threat environments. The MOP is the weapon of choice to meet the requirements of the UON." It further states that the request is endorsed by Pacific Command (which has responsibility over North Korea) and Central Command (which has responsibility over Iran).
The request was quietly approved. On Friday, McDonnell Douglas was awarded a $51.9 million contract to provide "Massive Penetrator Ordnance Integration" on B-2 aircraft.
This is not the kind of weapon that would be particularly useful in Iraq or Afghanistan, but it is ideally suited to hit deeply buried nuclear facilities such as Natanz or Qom in Iran.
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