JFP 10/21: NoEscalation.org - Get Congress on the Record
Just Foreign Policy News
October 21, 2009
NoEscalation.org: Help Us Push and Track Congress on Afghanistan Escalation
Just Foreign Policy, together with Peace Action, Code Pink, United for Peace and Justice, and Voters for Peace, is launching a new project to try to stop U.S. military escalation in Afghanistan. Help us by calling Members of Congress, asking where they stand, and reporting the results. You can also post press clips documenting Congressional opposition to the war (like the Boston Globe item posted today on John Tierney, #2 below.)
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1) Americans are evenly and deeply divided over whether Obama should send 40,000 more troops to Afghanistan, the Washington Post reports. 47 percent of those polled favor the buildup, while 49 percent oppose it. [A recent CNN poll said 6 in 10 oppose sending more troops - JFP.] Just a third of Democrats favor sending about 40,000 more troops to Afghanistan, with 61 percent opposed - 51 percent strongly so. Independents divide on the troop issue, with 47 percent favoring a substantial increase and 50 percent opposing it.
2) Representative John Tierney, who leads a House oversight panel on national security, says "The burden of proof is on those who are advocating more troops," the Boston Globe reports. Tierney said McChrystal lays out an "unrealistic time frame" when he predicts it will take 12 to 24 months to turn things around, noting that the Pentagon has said repeatedly that a full-scale counter-insurgency strategy can take a decade or more. Tierney cited statistics [confirmed by top US officials - JFP] that suggest that fewer than 100 Al Qaeda operatives are now in Afghanistan, where the US already has more than 60,000 troops, while the US has virtually no forces in other countries that have Al Qaeda sanctuaries.
3) Diplomats questioned whether a new vote in Afghanistan could be arranged before the announced date of Nov. 7, and whether a second round of balloting would have more security or less fraud than the first, the New York Times reports. Administration officials expect three weeks of ferocious horse-trading as President Karzai and Abdullah Abdullah decide whether they can strike a deal to avert a runoff. Officials said that if there were a deal it would likely involve Abdullah conceding to Karzai, in return for a major role in overhauling Afghanistan's Constitution to give the president less power.
4) President Obama renewed his vow to have all U.S. combat troops out of Iraq by August, while nudging Prime Minister Maliki to see that his parliament quickly passes a critical election law essential to a vote in January, AP reports. Maliki repeated his call for help from the Obama administration in the cancellation of all U.N. sanctions and resolutions adopted after Saddam Hussein's 1990 invasion of Kuwait.
5) IAEA chief el-Baradei says Iran and world powers have agreed to consider a draft accord drawn up to help end the dispute over Iran's nuclear program, RFE/RL reports. El-Baradei said he hopes for agreement between governments on the draft in two days. Diplomats say the deal contains a call for Iran to send some 75 percent of its low-enriched uranium reserves abroad before the end of this year.
6) UN Ambassador Susan Rice urged Israel to immediately relaunch negotiations, without preconditions, aimed at creating an independent Palestinian state, AP reports.
Palestinians have refused to resume negotiations, demanding that Israel first stop building settlements on war-captured lands they want for their future state. Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu says he will never share control of Jerusalem - a key Palestinian demand - and has given no indication of whether he is prepared to cede large areas of captured land claimed by the Palestinians [East Jerusalem is also war-captured land claimed by the Palestinians - JFP.]
7) A "graphic history" (i.e. a "comic") puts the coup in Honduras in the context of US interventionism in the region, the Guardian reports. The Honduran Coup, A Graphic History tells how the forebears of Dole and Chiquita turned Central America into one big plantation. The authors do not accuse Obama of fomenting Honduras's current trauma but suggest, like many analysts and Latin American leaders, that the administration could be doing more to restore President Zelaya. [Alternet published the whole sequence: http://www.alternet.org/images/slideshows/houduras_coup/illustration.php -JFP. ]
8) Supporting the Baluchi terrorist group Jundullah as a way to pressure the Iranian government would be an extremely bad idea, argues Jamsheed Choksy in Foreign Policy. Strengthening Baluchi insurgents would also threaten Afghanistan and Pakistan, Choksy notes. Iranian and Pakistani officials and citizens think that Saudi funding for Baluch rebels in Iran had tacit U.S. consent in the Bush Administration, and Jundullah still does not appear on the State Department's list of terrorist groups. [Choksy says officials in the Bush administration "at the very least strongly considered," supporting Jundullah, but according to US press reports at the time, this understates the case - JFP.]
1) U.S. Deeply Split On Troop Increase For Afghan War
Majority says nation lacks clear strategy
Dan Balz and Jon Cohen, Washington Post, Wednesday, October 21, 2009
As President Obama and his war cabinet deliberate a new strategy for the war in Afghanistan, Americans are evenly and deeply divided over whether he should send 40,000 more troops there, and public approval of the president's handling of the situation has tumbled, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll.
Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, has recommended the substantial increase in troop strength, and 47 percent of those polled favor the buildup, while 49 percent oppose it. Most on both sides hold their views "strongly." The survey also found that a large majority of Americans say the administration lacks a clear plan for dealing with the problems in Afghanistan.
Obama faces a possible loss of support among his Democratic base if he decides to order the kind of substantial troop increase McChrystal recommended. Just a third of Democrats favor sending about 40,000 more troops to Afghanistan, with 61 percent opposed - 51 percent strongly so.
The troop issue clearly exposes the partisan divide. The new poll found that more than two-thirds of all Republicans favor an increase, including 51 percent who strongly support McChrystal's recommendation.
Independents divide on the troop issue, with 47 percent favoring a substantial increase and 50 percent opposing it.
2) Tierney Skeptical Of Afghan Buildup
Bryan Bender, Boston Globe, October 21, 2009
Washington - As President Obama considers a request for tens of thousands of more troops in Afghanistan, he faces a growing number of skeptics within his own party.
Among them is Representative John Tierney, a Salem Democrat who leads a House oversight panel on national security. "The burden of proof is on those who are advocating more troops," Tierney said yesterday at the National Press Club. "I haven't been convinced yet."
Indeed, Tierney said he believes the recent assessment by Army General Stanley A. McChrystal, the top commander in Afghanistan, raises as many questions as it answers when asking for 40,000 additional troops to mount a more comprehensive counter-insurgency campaign.
For example, the general lays out an "unrealistic time frame" when he predicts it will take 12 to 24 months to turn things around, Tierney asserted, noting that the Pentagon has said repeatedly that a full-scale counter-insurgency strategy can take a decade or more.
Another inconsistency, the congressman said, lies in what is widely accepted as the main objective of the US strategy: preventing Afghanistan from reverting to a haven for the Al Qaeda terrorist network.
Tierney cited statistics that suggest that fewer than 100 Al Qaeda operatives are now in Afghanistan, where the United States already has more than 60,000 troops, while the US has virtually no forces in other countries that have Al Qaeda sanctuaries.
3) With New Afghan Vote, Path Forward Is Unclear
Sabrina Tavernise, Mark Landler and Helene Cooper, New York Times, October 21, 2009
Kabul - President Hamid Karzai's concession of the need for a runoff election in Afghanistan appears to have prevented his country from slipping into paralysis, but has created a new landscape of risks and uncertainty.
Karzai's concession was a critical first step toward creating a credible Afghan government, coming after heavy pressure from European and American officials, including veiled threats that his actions could affect pending decisions about troops levels, according to one American official who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the delicacy of the matter.
But diplomats immediately questioned whether a new vote could be arranged before the announced date of Nov. 7, and whether a second round of balloting would have more security or less fraud than the first, in which nearly a quarter of ballots were thrown out by international auditors. "There are huge constraints to delivering in the second round," said one Western official. "Can you deliver a result that is any different from the one we've already got?"
The host of uncertainties left open the prospect of what administration officials and their Western allies expect will be three weeks of ferocious horse-trading as Karzai and his principal challenger, Abdullah Abdullah, decide whether they can strike a deal to actually avert a runoff, which would carry enormous political risks for both of them, as well as strategic ones for the United States and its allies.
Yet officials said that if there was a deal it would likely involve Abdullah conceding to Karzai, in return for a major role in overhauling Afghanistan's Constitution to give the president less power.
A senior administration official described the international pressure on Karzai as a "full court press" that also included not-so-subtle threats delivered by telephone to Karzai's defense minister, Gen. Abdul Rahim Wardak.
Gen. James L. Jones, the national security adviser, and Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates both called General Wardak to press him to persuade Karzai to concede, a senior administration official said. "Wardak wants more American troops," said this official, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was discussing private conversations. "They both told Wardak that this would affect the decision-making process on the troops."
4) Obama stands by Iraqi troop pullout
Steven R. Hurst, Associated Press, Tuesday, October 20, 2009 4:23 PM http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/10/20/AR2009102002415.html
Washington - President Barack Obama renewed his vow Tuesday to have all U.S. combat troops out of Iraq by next August, while nudging Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to see that his parliament quickly passes a critical election law essential to a nationwide vote in January.
Without an election law, the vote could be delayed, snarling American plans to begin significantly scaling back U.S. troop presence after the national referendum.
"We have seen in the last several months a consolidation of a commitment to democratic politics inside of Iraq," Obama said. "We are very interested, both of us, in making sure that Iraq has an election law that is completed on time so that elections can take place on time in January."
Vice President Joe Biden also pressed al-Maliki on the election legislation when they met a day earlier.
Al-Maliki also repeated his call for help from the Obama administration in the cancellation of all U.N. sanctions and resolutions adopted after Saddam Hussein's 1990 invasion of Kuwait, saying Iraq is a democracy and has no weapons of mass destruction .
5) Iran, Powers Get Draft Nuclear Deal For Approval
RFE/RL, October 21, 2009
International Atomic Energy Agency chief Muhammad el-Baradei says Iran and world powers have agreed to consider a draft accord drawn up to help end the dispute over Iran's nuclear program.
El-Baradei spoke at a press conference in Vienna after three days of talks between Iranian officials and representatives of the United States, Russia, and France. "I have circulated a draft agreement that reflects, in my judgment, a balanced approach to how to move forward," he said.
He said the draft is being sent to Tehran and the capitals of the other countries involved for consideration by national leaders. "The deadline for the parties to give, I hope, affirmative action is [October 23] - two days from now. And if we do get an affirmative action, then I hope we will have an agreement that we can send to the [IAEA] Board of Governors," he said.
He said that if the draft is approved, it should provide room for negotiations on broader steps to end the nuclear crisis.
Few details of the draft deal are available so far, but diplomats at the talks say it contains a call for Iran to send some 75 percent of its low-enriched uranium reserves abroad before the end of this year for conversion into fuel for a Tehran reactor producing medical isotopes.
This would reduce the risk cited by the West that Iran intends to develop nuclear bombs by trying to refine to a high purity a growing stockpile of low-enriched uranium.
Some diplomats are quoted as saying Russia is the country to which the uranium would be sent for processing into nuclear fuel. Once processed, it is unsuitable for use in atomic weapons.
"That transaction using Iran's low-enriched uranium to be manufactured into fuel is a very important confidence-building measure that can defuse the crisis that has been going on for a number of years and open space for negotiation," el-Baradei said.
Iran's ambassador to the IAEA, Ali Asghar Soltanieh, declined to say anything substantive, but he told journalists that all details will be available on October 23.
6) US envoy: Lip service for Mideast peace not enough
Josef Federman, Associated Press, Wednesday, October 21, 2009 2:56 PM http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/10/21/AR2009102101865.html
Jerusalem - The Obama administration's ambassador to the United Nations told Israelis on Wednesday that it is not enough just to pay "lip service" to peace and urged the government to immediately relaunch negotiations, without preconditions, aimed at creating an independent Palestinian state.
Ambassador Susan Rice, in an address at a high-powered conference hosted by Israeli President Shimon Peres, assured Israelis - many of whom are wary of Obama's Mideast agenda - that her government is committed to their security.
President Barack Obama has been attempting to restart talks between Israelis and Palestinians since taking office. The Palestinians have refused to resume negotiations, demanding that Israel first stop building settlements on war-captured lands they want for their future state.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says he is ready to start talking, but has laid out a hard-line agenda that has made the Palestinians suspicious of his intentions. Netanyahu says he will never share control of Jerusalem - a key Palestinian demand - and has given no indication of whether he is prepared to cede large areas of captured land claimed by the Palestinians.
7) 'Comic' retells Honduran coup and Manuel Zelaya arrest
Graphic history frames overthrow of president in relation to century of US skullduggery in central America
Rory Carroll, Guardian, Wednesday 21 October 2009 12.11 BST http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2009/oct/21/comic-graphic-history-honduras-coup
At first glance it could be a children's comic - but in fact it's a journalistic take on the Honduran crisis with an attention to context that puts conventional media coverage to shame.
The Honduran Coup, A Graphic History by Dan Archer and Nikil Saval frames the overthrow of the president, Manuel Zelaya, in relation to a century of US skullduggery in central America.
Most media reports go back only to June this year when conservative opponents ousted the leftist leader because he was getting cosy with Venezuela's Hugo Chávez.
With a leftist slant, Archer, a "comix journalist and instructor" at Stanford University, and Saval, a PhD candidate at Stanford, zip through the main events: Zelaya's arrest and exile, his sneaking back into Honduras last month, his refuge in the Brazilian embassy and the security force crackdown on his supporters.
But to explain how and why it came to this, the authors then jump back to the 1900s when - with White House support - two US fruit giants (now known as Dole and Chiquita) turned central America into one big plantation. We fast-forward to the cold war and see the US toppling leftists and propping up rightwing governments and their murderous militaries.
Archer and Saval do not accuse Obama of fomenting Honduras's current trauma but they do suggest, like many analysts and Latin American leaders, that the administration could be doing more to restore Zelaya to power. By flipping the pages of history this graphic novel reminds us why the White House is dragging its heels.
8) Iran's Enemy Is Not America's Friend, Foreign Policy, October 20, 2009
Why supporting the terrorists who are trying to take down the Revolutionary Guard will only come back to haunt us.
Jamsheed K. Choksy, Foreign Policy, October 20, 2009 http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2009/10/20/irans_enemy_is_not_americas_friend
[Choksy is a professor of Central Eurasian, Indian, Iranian, Islamic, and international studies and the former director of the Middle Eastern studies program at Indiana University.]
On Oct. 18, a suicide bomber in southeastern Iran killed at least 42 people and wounded scores of others in a lethal attack on senior commanders of Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC).
The Shiite IRGC doesn't make an especially sympathetic victim - it has quashed dissent in Iran since the 1979 Islamic Revolution and is now helping spearhead an autocracy there. The group taking credit for the attack, Jundallah (God's Soldiers), also known as the People's Resistance Movement of Iran, is a Sunni organization. It seeks full rights for Baluch tribesfolk specifically and Sunni Muslims generally either within a majority Shiite Iran or as a separate state. Hence it battles the Shiite clerics, secular autocrats, military, and paramilitary forces who rule Iran with an iron fist, styling itself a coalition of freedom fighters.
But that does not make Iran's Sunni insurgents the good guys, not by a long shot. Their tactics are reminiscent of Hezbollah, Sri Lanka's Tamil Tigers, al Qaeda, and the Taliban plus its local allies in Afghanistan and Pakistan. In fact, they derive inspiration and knowledge from that wider network of terrorist organizations.
Jundallah emerged in 2003, spawned by the Baluchi Autonomist Movement of the 1980s and 1990s. The movement's militants attempted to assassinate President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in 2005 at Zabol along Iran's eastern border with Afghanistan and Pakistan. Three months later, the group killed civilians at nearby Tasuki just before the Iranian New Year. The group took responsibility for fatal car bomb attacks on the IRGC at Zahedan and Saravan in 2007, 2008, and earlier this year. The Jundallah also has attacked Shiite mosques and kidnapped civilians. The Iranian government has retaliated by executing captured militants.
Pishin, the area of the latest attack, like Zabol, Zahedan, Saravan, and other hot spots of Sunni rebellion in Iran, lies along the poorly defined borderland that is a stronghold of armed Baluch tribes - many with ethnic and ideological links to the Afghan and Pakistani Taliban. Those tribes have traditionally been hostile to all three states and desirous of their own territory. Pakistan's military has confronted rebellious Baluch tribesmen since that country's independence in 1947. A deadly mix of narcotics, weapons, petroleum, and luxury goods flows through the region. Income from that illicit trade has funded separatist militants, religious fundamentalists, and international terrorists for the past three decades.
The Iranian government has charged that the United States, Britain, and even Pakistan are linked to Sunni militant activities within its borders as part of ongoing attempts at regime change. Although accepting Pakistan's official condemnation of Jundallah-planned attacks, Iran's leadership claims the group's leaders enjoy safe haven in Pakistan and insists that Pakistan cooperate in arresting and extraditing them to Iran for trial.
The Iranian charges are not made up from whole cloth, but they are probably still not true. There has long been talk of funding coming to the rebels from the Saudis - with U.S. knowledge - as part of tensions between Sunni Arabs and Shiite Iranians stretching as far back as the Arab conquest of Iran in the seventh century to more recent competition for dominance in the Persian Gulf, Afghanistan, and Lebanon. Sources of those claims allegedly include Jundallah's top leadership. Moreover, public and private reports indicate that officials in the George W. Bush administration at the very least strongly considered the idea themselves. Both Iranian and Pakistani officials and citizens think that Saudi funding for Baluch rebels in Iran had tacit U.S. consent at that time. Hard-liners against Iran in Washington still raise the option as a means of destabilizing Iran's antagonistic regime.
Indeed, the Barack Obama administration might be tempted to use direct or indirect funding as a means of surrogate warfare to further pressure Iran's government. Violent anti-Iranian Sunni groups like Jundallah have not been placed on the U.S. State Department's terrorism list. And the Obama administration might feel that it's already being punished for the perception that it's funding the rebels and may as well try to reap some of the rewards.
But this would be shortsighted. The basic problem with any strategy to destabilize Iran via Sunni tribal rebellions is that Baluch nationalism spans three countries - not just Iran, but also Afghanistan and Pakistan. Supporting a pan-Baluchistan movement would only worsen societal instability and national fragmentation in West Asia and South Asia.
Militant groups, especially ones linked to ethnic and religious notions, have brought little but trouble to the world. It is important to recall the obvious: The United States and its partners once supported the Taliban materially because they were battling the Soviets and Russians. The United States shouldn't repeat the mistake, fooling itself that Sunni Baluch nationalists will be better disposed toward the West just because they are now fighting a common foe in the Iranian government.
Yes, there might be the temptation to exert pressure, via internal strife, on Ahmadinejad's autocratic regime for eliciting nuclear and international compromises. But Iran's Sunni insurgency isn't just bad news for the IRCG - it's also bad news for the Middle East, Asia, and the United States. Ultimately, therefore, whether or not the Iranian regime's charges of foreign interference are accurate, no country should welcome or aid an insurgency in eastern Iran. NGOs for terrorism really are harder to subdue than nation-states supporting such activities.
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