JFP News 10/22: Gates, Obama "moving" on troop decision
Just Foreign Policy News
October 22, 2009
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1) Defense Secretary Gates said Thursday he is moving ahead with his recommendation on whether to send more troops to Afghanistan and would first tell the president before a NATO defense ministers meeting this week, Reuters reports. Obama said Wednesday he could reach a decision on his new war strategy for Afghanistan before the outcome of an Afghan election run-off on November 7.
2) Military officials will repeat the security arrangements of August for the November 7 runoff in Afghanistan, the Wall Street Journal reports. Military officials said the August elections had gone off largely successfully from a security standpoint, because the election itself took place without any large-scale, mass-casualty incidents, even though the Taliban and allies carried out dozens of small attacks on Election Day and bigger ones in the weeks leading up to it to scare voters away from the polls. Barely one-third of those eligible voted. 10% of polling sites were unable to open in August because of security issues.
3) Officials of the new Japanese government are "talking back" to the United States, the Washington Post reports. In the past week, officials from the Democratic Party of Japan have announced Japan would withdraw from a mission to refuel warships supporting U.S.-led forces in Afghanistan. They have also pledged to reopen negotiations over a package that involves relocating a U.S. Marine Corps helicopter base in Japan.
4) The Iraqi Parliament announced it had reached a stalemate over drafting an election law, the New York Times reports. That could delay the election scheduled for Jan. 16 and slow the withdrawal of US troops, which could affect the number of troops available for Afghanistan. One parliamentarian argued that it would take time to work out the disputes, and that the date of the election was not so important; he accused the U.S. of excessive interference in Iraqi affairs in its pressure on the parliament to adopt the law.
5) Writing in the New York Times, Nicholas Kristof argues against sending 40,000 more US troops to Afghanistan, on the grounds that more troops are likely to further inflame Pashtun nationalism; al Qaeda is somewhere else; and the money for the additional deployment would pay for half the cost of health care reform.
6) The State Department suspended the visas of more senior figures that backed the coup, Reuters reports. Also Wednesday, Honduran police announced further restrictions on protests, saying they must be authorized by the government 24 hours in advance with a request detailing the people in charge and the time and route the march will take.
7) A Law Library of Congress article uncritically accepted the claims of coup supporters in saying that the ouster of President Zelaya was legally justified, write Viviana Krsticevic and Juan Mendez in Forbes.com. The analysis got two things right: a process for presidential impeachment does not exist under Honduran law, and the armed forces acted illegally when they expelled President Zelaya. But the report goes awry when it concludes that the Honduran Congress had the authority to remove the president. Krsticevic and Mendez note that the Supreme Court based its decision to order Zelaya's detention on the assumption that he posed a flight risk, a rather dubious contention as regards to a sitting president [even more absurd in retrospect, given the subsequent unilateral decision by the military to expel Zelaya from the country - JFP.]
8) Richard Goldstone, lead author of a UN report that found evidence of war crimes committed by Israel and Hamas during last winter's Gaza war, challenged the Obama administration to explain what it has called serious concerns about his report, the New York Times reports. "I have yet to hear from the Obama administration what the flaws in the report that they have identified are," Goldstone told Al Jazeera. The report's recommendations were endorsed last week by the Human Rights Council, which has forwarded the document to the UN General Assembly and Secretary General. The US joined five European nations in voting against the resolution that endorsed the report.
9) Human rights defenders in Colombia are under constant attack for their work, facing murder, death threats, illegal surveillance, arbitrary detentions and prosecutions, activists told the House Human Rights Commission. Last year, 11 rights activists were murdered, according to the Colombian Commission of Jurists, and in the first nine months of this year, nine rights defenders have been reported killed. [One of the witnesses at the Congressional hearing was Gabriel Gonzalez; Human Rights First had complained that the State Department was obstructing Gonzalez' ability to get a visa to come to the US, so apparently the pressure worked - JFP.]
1) Gates says moving ahead on Afghan troop policy
Reuters, Thursday, October 22, 2009 1:04 PM
Seoul - U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said on Thursday he is moving ahead with his recommendation on whether to send more troops to Afghanistan and would first tell the president before a NATO defense ministers meeting this week.
Obama said on Wednesday he could reach a decision on his new war strategy for Afghanistan before the outcome of an Afghan election run-off on November 7.
2) Security Fears Revive Ahead Of Afghan Runoff
Yaroslav Trofimov and Anand Gopal, Wall Street Journal, October 22, 2009
Kabul - The Afghan government, international forces - and the Taliban - began preparations for the Nov. 7 presidential runoff, even as Western officials also continued advocating a power-sharing compromise to avoid the problems of a second round of voting.
President Hamid Karzai's rival, former Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah, said Wednesday he has held conversations with President Barack Obama and Karzai, but he said no power-sharing deal with the incumbent was discussed. "Right now we're focusing on the elections," Dr. Abdullah said.
U.S. and European officials fear that the massive fraud that marred the election's first round could happen again - and that the Taliban, who tried to disrupt the Aug. 20 election with a series of deadly attacks, will unleash even greater bloodshed.
But Karzai appears determined to press ahead with an election that would give him a clear-cut mandate to govern. "Both men are talking about the possibility of getting together - but President Karzai first wants to be declared a winner," said Zalmay Khalilzad, the Afghan-born former U.S. ambassador to Kabul who spent the past several days meeting with the two rivals.
According to a person familiar with the negotiations in Kabul, President Karzai deflected pressure from the U.S. and U.N. for a power-sharing deal by pointing out that the Afghan Constitution has no provision for a runoff candidate standing down.
Senior Afghan security officials met in Kabul Wednesday to draw up their plans for handling the runoff, which will be backed by the U.S.-led International Security Assistance Force. An ISAF spokesman, U.S. Navy Lt. j.g. Tommy Groves, said there will be three rings of security for voters: The Afghan police will protect the polling sites, the Afghan army will establish a cordon around the towns and villages, and the international forces will provide backup and a quick-reaction force to prevent Afghan units from being overrun.
The same arrangement was in place during the first round. Military officials said the August elections had gone off largely successfully from a security standpoint, even though the Taliban and allies carried out dozens of small attacks on Election Day and bigger ones in the weeks leading up to it to scare voters away from the polls. Barely one-third of those eligible voted. But the election itself took place without any large-scale, mass-casualty incidents.
The Washington-based National Democratic Institute, which plans to observe the runoff, Wednesday called on international and Afghan forces to be more active "so that secure voting areas are expanded." The group noted that more than 10% of polling sites were unable to open in August because of security issues.
According to a Taliban spokesman, Zabihullah Mujahid, the movement's leadership was meeting on Wednesday - at the same time as Afghan security chiefs were gathering in Kabul - to determine how it would deal with the planned November vote. "It's fresh news and we haven't made any decisions about it yet," he said by telephone.
According to Afghan authorities, millions of ballot papers have been ready for nearly a month. A bigger challenge is to secure the thousands of polling stations, some of which are in areas under Taliban control. United Nations officials called for closing many of these, but the Afghan election officials haven't decided.
In the first round, much of the fraud occurred at these same stations, where no voters turned up and corrupt election officials stuffed ballots in favor of their preferred candidates.
3) U.S. Pressures Japan On Military Package
Washington concerned as new leaders in Tokyo look to redefine alliance
John Pomfret and Blaine Harden, Washington Post, Thursday, October 22, 2009 http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/10/21/AR2009102103567.html
Worried about a new direction in Japan's foreign policy, the Obama administration warned the Tokyo government Wednesday of serious consequences if it reneges on a military realignment plan formulated to deal with a rising China.
The comments from Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates underscored increasing concern among U.S. officials as Japan moves to redefine its alliance with the United States and its place in Asia. In August, the opposition Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) won an overwhelming victory in elections, ending more than 50 years of one-party rule.
In the past week, officials from the DPJ have announced that Japan would withdraw from an eight-year-old mission in the Indian Ocean to refuel warships supporting U.S.-led coalition forces in Afghanistan. They have also pledged to reopen negotiations over a $26 billion military package that involves relocating a U.S. Marine Corps helicopter base in Japan and moving 8,000 U.S. Marines from Japan to Guam. After more than a decade of talks, the United States and Japan agreed on the deal in 2006.
The atmospherics of the relationship have also morphed, with Japanese politicians now publicly contradicting U.S. officials. U.S. discomfort was on display Wednesday in Tokyo as Gates pressured the government, after meetings with Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama, to keep its commitment to the military agreement.
The DPJ rode to power pledging to be more assertive in its relations with the United States and has seemed less committed to a robust military response to China's rise. On the campaign trail, Hatoyama vowed to reexamine what he called "secret" agreements between the LDP and the United States over the storage or transshipment of nuclear weapons in Japan - a sensitive topic in the only country that has endured nuclear attacks.
He also pushed the idea of an East Asian Community, a sort of Asian version of the European Union, with China at its core.
Soon after the election, U.S. officials dismissed concerns that change was afoot, saying campaign rhetoric was to blame. Although most of those officials still say the alliance is strong, there is worry the DPJ is committed to transforming Japan's foreign policy - but exactly how is unclear.
DPJ politicians have accused U.S. officials of not taking them seriously. Said Tadashi Inuzuka, a DPJ member of the upper house of Japan's parliament, the Diet: "They should realize that we are the governing party now."
Kent Calder, the director of the Edwin O. Reischauer Center for East Asian Studies at Johns Hopkins University and a longtime U.S. diplomat in Japan, said that if Hatoyama succeeds in delaying a decision on the military package until next year, U.S. officials fear it could unravel.
"I have never seen this in 30 years," Calder said. "I haven't heard Japanese talking back to American diplomats that often, especially not publicly. The Americans usually say, 'We have a deal,' and the Japanese respond, 'Ah soo desu ka,' - we have a deal - and it's over. This is new."
4) Stalemate In Parliament Could Delay Iraq Elections
Rod Nordland, New York Times, October 22, 2009
Baghdad - The Iraqi Parliament announced Wednesday that it had reached a stalemate over drafting an election law. That could well delay the election, scheduled for Jan. 16, and might even slow down the withdrawal of American troops from Iraq.
While the United States is looking for credible elections in Afghanistan, possibly to justify sending more troops there, in Iraq it is looking for credible elections to justify removing more troops.
And any slowdown in the withdrawal here could affect how many American troops are available to go to Afghanistan, should President Obama decide to further increase the troop commitment there.
Now the dispute will go to the Political Council for National Security, composed of the heads of the parliamentary political parties, plus the prime minister, deputy prime ministers, president and vice presidents. But that group may not be any more successful at breaking the deadlock than Parliament. Although the council is smaller, the same political forces are represented.
The official deadline for passing the law, set by the United Nations and the independent Iraqi elections commission to allow enough time to prepare for the polling, was Oct. 15. At best, even in the unlikely event that all the disagreement melted away, the earliest a new law could be enacted would be next week. The election law - and the bickering surrounding it - is exceptionally complicated, and the technical details are deeply entwined with some of Iraq's deepest problems.
Some legislators warned that the impasse might continue for many weeks. "I don't think the date of elections is important," a Kurdish legislator, Mahmoud Othman, said. "Only America is in a hurry for it. I don't know why they are interfering so much in Iraqi affairs."
He said there had been many missed deadlines in Iraq before. "When there is a problem you have to give it some time for it to be solved," Othman said. Under the Constitution the election has to be held by Jan. 31, and the Jan. 16 date was chosen because Shiite religious observances fall during the end of the month, when many Shiites will be on pilgrimages.
Othman said going beyond Jan. 31 would not necessarily make the elections illegitimate. "Nothing in Iraq is very legitimate," he said. "We have violated a lot of things in this country in the last six years."
5) More Troops Are A Bad Bet
Nicholas D. Kristof, New York Times, October 22, 2009
The United States was born of our ancestors' nationalistic resentment of a foreign power whose troops we saw as occupiers, not protectors. The British never fathomed our basic grievance - this was our land, not theirs! - so the more they cracked down, the more they empowered the American insurgency.
Given that history, you'd think we might be more sensitive to nationalism abroad. Yet the most systematic foreign-policy mistake we Americans have made in the post-World War II period has been to underestimate its potency, from Vietnam to Latin America.
We have been similarly oblivious to the strength of nationalism in Afghanistan and Pakistan, particularly among the 40 million Pashtuns who live on both sides of the border there. That's one reason the additional 21,000 troops that President Obama ordered to Afghanistan earlier this year haven't helped achieve stability, and it's difficult to see why 40,000 more would help either.
We have been fighting in Afghanistan for twice as long as we fought in World War II, with a current price tag estimated to be more than $60 billion a year. Standard counterinsurgency ratios of troops to civilians suggest we would need 650,000 troops (including Afghans) to pacify the country. So will adding 40,000 more to the 68,000 already there make a difference to justify the additional annual cost of $10 billion to $40 billion, especially since they may aggravate the perception of Americans as occupiers?
One of the main arguments for dispatching more troops is the terrorist threat from Al Qaeda. But Steven Simon, a National Security Council official in the Clinton years who is now a terrorism expert at the Council on Foreign Relations, notes that there may be more Al Qaeda fighters in Pakistan, Yemen and perhaps Somalia than in Afghanistan. "I'm skeptical that the war in Afghanistan is going to solve the Al Qaeda problem," he said.
Remember also that the minimum plausible cost of 40,000 troops - $10 billion - could pay for two million disadvantaged American children to go to a solid preschool. The high estimate of $40 billion would, over 10 years, pay for almost half of health care reform. Are we really better off spending that money so that more young Americans could end up spilling their blood in Afghanistan without necessarily accomplishing much more than inflaming Pashtun nationalism?
6) Honduras regime uses noise attack as U.S. cuts visas
Mica Rosenberg, Reuters, Wed Oct 21, 10:11 pm ET
Tegucigalpa - Honduras' de facto leaders blasted loud music outside the embassy where Manuel Zelaya is sheltering on Wednesday and refused to buckle under increased pressure from Washington for the ousted president's return.
Talks to resolve the political crisis in Honduras sparked by a June 28 coup are deadlocked over whether leftist Zelaya can be reinstated to power.
Overnight, the caretaker government sent the army to play loud rock music, military band tunes, church bells and recordings of pig grunts over loudspeakers outside the embassy, a Reuters photographer inside the embassy said. Zelaya called it "torture."
The crisis in Honduras has become a headache for President Barack Obama, who had pledged better relations with Latin America. Regional governments worry Obama is not doing enough to pressure Honduras' de facto leader Roberto Micheletti, appointed by Congress after the coup.
The U.S. State Department suspended the visas of more senior figures that backed the coup on Wednesday. It marked the second time Washington pulled diplomatic and tourist visas over the crisis. "We just urge the two sides to stick to it. We urge the de facto regime in particular to help open a pathway for international support of the election by concluding the agreement," State Department spokesman Ian Kelly said.
On Wednesday, Honduran police announced further restrictions on protests, saying they must be authorized by the government 24 hours in advance with a request detailing the people in charge and the time and route the march will take, in an effort to quell near daily rallies in favor of Zelaya.
7) Honduras Havoc: Was the presidential ouster illegal?
Viviana Krsticevic and Juan Mendez, Forbes.com, 10.22.09, 10:20 AM ET
[Krsticevic is executive director of the Center for Justice and International Law. Mendez is former president of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, and visiting professor at American University's Washington College of Law.]
U.S. policymakers are currently debating the appropriate response to a coup that ousted Honduran President Manuel Zelaya from power June 28. But as they continue discussions on a way forward for the Latin American nation, it is essential they have all the facts straight. Note, then, a recent Law Library of Congress analysis regarding the legality of the removal of Zelaya. The report misunderstands several basic tenets of Honduran law.
The analysis, prepared by Senior Foreign Law Specialist Norma C. Gutierrez at the request of Rep. Aaron Schock, R-Ill., does get two things right: First, a process for presidential impeachment does not exist under Honduran law; second, the armed forces acted illegally when they forcibly expelled President Zelaya to Costa Rica. Unfortunately, the thinly sourced analysis gets many other basic facts wrong.
The report goes most seriously awry when it concludes that the Honduran Congress had the authority to remove the president. This conclusion hinges on the observation that the Honduran Constitution authorizes Congress to "approve or disapprove" of the conduct of the President and that Congress "implicitly exercised its power of constitutional interpretation in the case of Zelaya when it decided that its power to 'disapprove' the president's actions encompassed the power to remove him."
Dubious legal reasoning aside, it is doubtful that the Honduran Congress has the power to interpret the country's constitution. In fact, one of the provisions the report cites to support the existence of such authority does not exist. The provision in question-Article 218, section 9 of the constitution-was struck down by the Honduran Supreme Court more than six years ago.
Citing the U.S. Supreme Court's seminal Marbury v. Madison decision, the Honduran Supreme Court affirmed the rather basic principle that for true separation of powers to exist, the courts-rather than the legislature-must have ultimate authority to interpret the constitution. This principle is further enshrined in the 2004 Law on Constitutional Justice.
It is at the very least doubtful, therefore, that the Honduran Congress has the power to interpret the country's constitution, much less do so in a way that substitutes "remove" for "disapprove." The analysis completely misses this point.
Moreover, even before the Honduran Supreme Court struck down the power of the country's Congress to interpret the constitution, this authority was never "implicitly exercised" as Gutierrez suggests it was when Zelaya was removed. Rather, Congress adopted formal interpretations of the constitution by issuing decrees that took effect at the moment they were published in the official register; the Honduran Congress' own Web site shows that such formal interpretations have been issued only 10 times since the adoption of the current constitution in 1982.
The decree that removed President Zelaya included no such formal interpretation of the constitution, nor any reference to Congress's purported power to interpret the constitution, suggesting that the legislature itself was well aware of the limits on its own authority.
There is little evidence, therefore, to support Gutierrez's conclusion that Congress engaged in an implicit interpretation of the Honduran Constitution when it deposed Zelaya, much less that such an interpretation was constitutionally permissible. On the contrary, there is every reason to conclude Congress unconstitutionally exceeded its authority by granting itself an impeachment power that does not exist under Honduran law.
The Law Library of Congress report also fails to mention a series of due process violations that took place in the criminal proceedings against President Zelaya. According to the report, "the Supreme Court, based on its constitutional powers, heard the case against Zelaya and applied the appropriate procedure mandated by the Code of Criminal Procedure." However, the report fails to identify several questionable aspects of these proceedings.
For example, Zelaya was not read his rights, informed of the charges against him or provided access to his lawyers while being detained and forcibly expelled from the country. In addition, the Supreme Court based its decision to order Zelaya's detention on the assumption that he posed a flight risk, a rather dubious contention as regards to a sitting president.
Finally, the Supreme Court ordered the armed forces to capture Zelaya and search the presidential residence, despite the fact that article 293 of the Honduran Constitution explicitly establishes that the national police execute legal decisions and resolutions.
Strong opinions exist on the recent events in Honduras. The Obama administration and the international community have determined that President Zelaya's removal constituted a coup d'etat, while some in Congress have questioned this conclusion. But everyone should agree on the need for policymakers to have access to reliable information.
Honduras' de facto government has employed creative legal arguments to justify not only the June 28 coup but the severe repression of civil liberties that followed. By embracing these weak rationalizations, the Law Library of Congress has rendered itself complicit in the illegal acts of an authoritarian and undemocratic regime.
8) Goldstone Asks White House to Identify 'Flaws' in His Report
Sharon Otterman, New York Times, October 23, 2009
Richard Goldstone, the lead author of a United Nations report that found evidence of war crimes committed by Israel and Hamas during last winter's Gaza war, challenged the Obama administration in an interview broadcast Thursday to explain what it has called serious concerns about his report.
In the interview on Al Jazeera, Goldstone, a South African jurist, said that the official American response to the 575-page report had been ambivalent. The Obama administration, he said, "joined our recommendation calling for full and good-faith" domestic investigations of the alleged crimes in both Israel and Gaza, "but said that the report was flawed."
"But I have yet to hear from the Obama administration what the flaws in the report that they have identified are," Goldstone said. "I mean, I would be happy to respond to them, if and when I know what they are." He added: "Of course I'm concerned and would like to engage with the Obama administration, at least informally."
The report found evidence that some Israeli soldiers had intentionally killed Palestinian civilians during the three-week conflict in violation of the laws of war. It described the Israeli military assault on Gaza as "a deliberately disproportionate attack designed to punish, humiliate and terrorize a civilian population, radically diminish its local economic capacity both to work and to provide for itself, and to force upon it an ever increasing sense of dependency and vulnerability."
It also said there was evidence that the Palestinian militant rocket attacks on towns in southern Israel constituted war crimes.
The report's recommendations were officially endorsed last week by the Human Rights Council in Geneva, which has forwarded the document to the United Nations General Assembly and Secretary General Ban Ki-moon. The United States joined five European nations in voting against the resolution that endorsed the report, and Israeli officials have lobbied hard to discredit it.
9) Colombia Rights Defenders say They're Under Constant Attack
A congressional hearing in Washington focused on the persecution of human rights defenders in Colombia.
Sibylla Brodzinsky, Miami Herald, 10.21.09
Bogota - Human rights defenders in Colombia are under constant attack for their work, facing murder, death threats, illegal surveillance, arbitrary detentions and prosecutions, activists told a congressional panel in Washington on Tuesday.
Speaking before the House Human Rights Commission, Colombian activist Gabriel Gonzalez recounted how he spent more than a year in jail on charges of being a member of the country's leftist guerrillas. A judge threw out the charges as baseless, but the ruling was overturned and he could face another seven years in prison on the same accusation.
His is one of dozens of cases, U.S. and Colombian rights groups say, where human rights defenders are prosecuted based on flimsy charges as part of an effort to intimidate them.
Margaret Sekaggya, United Nations Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, who visited Colombia in September, told the panel that she remained concerned over what she has called a "pattern of harassment and persecution against human rights defenders."
Sekaggya challenged the government of President Alvaro Uribe to "genuinely address" their concerns.
Rights activists and community organizers have long been among the primary targets of both right-wing paramilitary forces and leftist rebel armies in Colombia, with more than 60 murdered between 2002 and 2008. Violence has abated greatly with the demobilization of more than 30,000 paramilitary fighters and the routing of guerrillas from major urban areas.
But last year, 11 rights activists were murdered, according to the Colombian Commission of Jurists, and in the first nine months of this year, nine rights defenders have been reported killed.
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