JFP 11/16 Trumka: Free Elections Not Possible Now in Honduras
Just Foreign Policy News
November 16, 2009
Trumka: Free Elections Not Possible Now in Honduras
The continued repression of trade unionists by the regime set up in Honduras after a June 28 coup makes it impossible to hold free and fair elections, wrote AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka in a Nov. 13 letter to Secretary of State Clinton. Trumka called on the U.S. government to oppose national elections in Honduras unless President Zelaya is reinstated.
California Dems Call for End to Afghan War
The California Democratic Party has passed a resolution calling for a timetable for military withdrawal.
While Obama Deliberates, Illinois Grad Employees Strike for Education Security
While President Obama mulls flushing another $40 billion a year in our tax dollars down the toilet in Afghanistan, graduate employees at the University of Illinois are on strike to protect their ability to complete their education. If Obama said no to escalation, that would free up $1.7 billion for Illinois to spend on education.
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1) Government estimates place the cost of adding 40,000 American troops and sharply expanding the Afghan security forces, as favored by McChrystal, at $40 billion to $54 billion a year, the New York Times reports. Some administration estimates suggest it could cost up to $50 billion over five years to more than double the size of the Afghan army and police force. Representative Murtha said he thought a majority of the 258 Democrats in the House would vote against any bill to pay for more troops.
2) British officials are increasing pressure on the Afghan government to talk to Taliban leaders as part of a major attempt at reconciliation, the Guardian reports. British officials are proposing that "reconciled Talibs" should be removed from the UN sanctions list. A British memo goes further than past proposals by suggesting a settlement with Taliban leaders directing the counter-insurgency from across the border in Pakistan.
3) According to an Army mental health survey, morale has fallen sharply among U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan, with repeated combat deployments taking a toll on their psychological health and marriages, the Washington Post reports. The percentage of soldiers who rated their unit's morale as high or very high fell from 10.2 percent in 2007 to 5.7 percent in 2009.
4) U.S. Army Specialist Alexis Hutchinson, a single mother, is being threatened with a military court-martial if she does not agree to deploy to Afghanistan, despite having been told she would be granted extra time to find someone to care for her 11-month-old son while she is overseas, Inter Press Service reports. Hutchinson is being confined at Hunter Army Airfield. Her son was placed into a county foster care system.
5) Top Illinois Democrats embraced the idea of sending terrorism suspects from Guantánamo to a maximum-security prison 150 miles west of Chicago, the New York Times reports. Governor Quinn, Senator Durbin and the town's mayor say the plan will provide jobs in an area with high unemployment and make use of a prison now largely sitting empty.
6) World leaders rallied around a new strategy to fight global hunger and help poor countries feed themselves, but failed to pledge funds sought by the U.N., AP reports.
7) Iraq's Sunni Arab vice president threatened to veto the country's election law unless changes are made giving Iraqis living abroad more guaranteed seats in parliament, throwing the January vote into question, AP reports. Delay in the voting could postpone a U.S. plan to withdraw combat troops from Iraq [and therefore delay the ability of the U.S. to deploy new combat troops to Afghanistan - JFP.] Most of the estimated 2 million Iraqis who fled violence following the U.S. invasion are Sunni Arabs.
8) Palestinian officials said they are preparing to ask the UN to endorse an independent state without Israel's consent because they are losing hope they can achieve their aspirations through peace talks, AP reports. Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat told Israel's Army Radio that frustrated Palestinians had decided to turn to the U.N. Security Council after 18 years of on-again, off-again negotiations with Israel. Erekat said Russia and unspecified European nations are "on board" with the Palestinian plan.
9) The Obama administration is stepping up pressure on Pakistan to expand and reorient its fight against the Taliban and Al Qaeda, the New York Times reports. An unnamed U.S. official acknowledged that it made sense for Pakistan to "hedge its bets" in its relations with Afghanistan given its uncertainty about U.S. plans.
1) High Costs Weigh On Troop Debate For Afghan War
Christopher Drew, New York Times, November 15, 2009
While President Obama’s decision about sending more troops to Afghanistan is primarily a military one, it also has substantial budget implications that are adding pressure to limit the commitment, senior administration officials say.
The latest internal government estimates place the cost of adding 40,000 American troops and sharply expanding the Afghan security forces, as favored by Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, the top American and allied commander in Afghanistan, at $40 billion to $54 billion a year, the officials said.
Even if fewer troops are sent, or their mission is modified, the rough formula used by the White House, of about $1 million per soldier a year, appears almost constant.
So even if Mr. Obama opts for a lower troop commitment, Afghanistan’s new costs could wash out the projected $26 billion expected to be saved in 2010 from withdrawing troops from Iraq. And the overall military budget could rise to as much as $734 billion, or 10 percent more than the peak of $667 billion under the Bush administration.
Such an escalation in military spending would be a politically volatile issue for Mr. Obama at a time when the government budget deficit is soaring, the economy is weak and he is trying to pass a costly health care plan.
Senior members of the House Appropriations Committee have already expressed reservations about the potential long-term costs of expanding the war in Afghanistan. And Mr. Obama could find it difficult to win approval for the additional spending in Congress, where he would have to depend on Republicans to counter defections from liberal Democrats.
One senior administration official, who requested anonymity in order to discuss the details of confidential deliberations, said these concerns had added to the president’s insistence at a White House meeting on Wednesday that each military option include the quickest possible exit strategy.
"The president focused a lot on ensuring that we were asking the difficult questions about getting to an end game here," the official said. "He knows we cannot sustain this indefinitely."
Sending fewer troops would lower the costs but would also place limitations on the buildup strategy. Sending 30,000 more troops, for example, would cost $25 billion to $30 billion a year while limiting how widely American forces could range. Deploying 20,000 troops would cost about $21 billion annually but would expand mainly the training of Afghans, the officials said.
Some administration estimates suggest it could also cost up to $50 billion over five years to more than double the size of the Afghan army and police force, to a total of 400,000. That includes recruiting, training and equipment.
The administration said Friday that it planned to cut up to 5 percent at domestic agencies in fiscal 2011 as part of an effort to reduce the federal budget deficit, which rose to $1.4 trillion with the economic stimulus and financial bailouts.
Representative David R. Obey, a Democrat from Wisconsin who heads the House Appropriations Committee, said recently that sending more troops to Afghanistan could drain the Treasury and "devour virtually any other priorities that the president or anyone in Congress had."
Representative John Murtha, Democrat of Pennsylvania and chairman of a subcommittee on defense appropriations, said in an interview that because of concerns about President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan, he thought a majority of the 258 Democrats in the House would vote against any bill to pay for more troops. "A month ago, I would have said 60 to 70," he said. "Can you pass one?" Mr. Murtha said. "It depends on the Republicans."
2) UK Pressing Karzai To Negotiate With Taliban, Says Leaked Memo
Foreign Office and MI6 are backing efforts to remove 'reconciled Talibs' from UN sanctions list
Richard Norton-Taylor, Guardian, Friday 13 November 2009 18.02 GMT http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2009/nov/13/uk-karzai-negotiate-taliban
British officials are increasing pressure on the Afghan government to talk to Taliban leaders as part of a major attempt at reconciliation, it emerged today.
The move is strongly backed by the Foreign Office - notably Sherard Cowper-Coles, the government's special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan - by MI6, and by Lieutenant General Graeme Lamb, former head of the SAS and Britain's senior military officer in Kabul, the Guardian understands.
Lamb was deployed to Afghanistan with the task of persuading insurgents to give up their arms. He believes many young and rank-and-file Taliban fighters carry a sense of "anger and grievances that have not been addressed".
British officials are now proposing that "reconciled Talibs" should be removed from the UN sanctions list, according to a leaked FO memo. "We must weaken and divide the Taliban if we are to reduce the insurgency to a level that can be managed and contained by the Afghan security forces," it says. "This can be achieved by a combination of military pressure and clear signals that the option of an honourable exit from the fight exists," it adds.
The memo, which is believed to have been sent to the Afghan government, goes further than past proposals by suggesting what it calls a "strategic initiative" - a settlement with Taliban leaders directing the counter-insurgency from across the border in Pakistan.
The memo calls for an Afghan-led, internationally backed process that works on three levels - firstly "tactical", involving reintegrating foot soldiers and their immediate commanders; secondly, "operational", involving the reintegration of the Taliban's "shadow governors", senior commanders and their forces; and thirdly: "strategic".
Cowper-Coles and British military chiefs have also called for political power devolved back to tribal elders. Unlike the FO, however, military commanders say that aid should be channelled through local and district governors rather than through the Karzai government in Kabul.
3) U.S. Soldiers' Morale Down In Afghanistan
Obstacles to getting mental health care cited in Army survey
Ann Scott Tyson, Washington Post, Saturday, November 14, 2009 http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/11/13/AR2009111304266.html
Morale has fallen sharply among U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan, with repeated combat deployments taking a toll on their psychological health and marriages, according to an Army mental health survey released Friday.
The percentage of soldiers who rated their unit's morale as high or very high fell from 10.2 percent in 2007 to 5.7 percent in 2009, according to the survey. Individual morale rates remained steady, with about 16 percent saying their morale was high or very high.
Meanwhile, soldiers in Afghanistan are having greater difficulty getting help for psychological problems, for a variety of reasons, including a shortage of psychiatrists and other mental health workers, the survey showed.
4) Army Sends Infant to Protective Services, Mom to Afghanistan
Dahr Jamail, Inter Press Service, Nov 13
Ventura, California - U.S. Army Specialist Alexis Hutchinson, a single mother, is being threatened with a military court-martial if she does not agree to deploy to Afghanistan, despite having been told she would be granted extra time to find someone to care for her 11-month-old son while she is overseas.
Hutchinson, of Oakland, California, is currently being confined at Hunter Army Airfield near Savannah, Georgia, after being arrested. Her son was placed into a county foster care system.
Hutchinson has been threatened with a court martial if she does not agree to deploy to Afghanistan on Sunday, Nov. 15. She has been attempting to find someone to take care of her child, Kamani, while she is deployed overseas, but to no avail.
According to the family care plan of the U.S. Army, Hutchinson was allowed to fly to California and leave her son with her mother, Angelique Hughes of Oakland.
However, after a week of caring for the child, Hughes realised she was unable to care for Kamani along with her other duties of caring for a daughter with special needs, her ailing mother, and an ailing sister.
In late October, Angelique Hughes told Hutchinson and her commander that she would be unable to care for Kamani after all. The Army then gave Hutchinson an extension of time to allow her to find someone else to care for Kamani. Meanwhile, Hughes brought Kamani back to Georgia to be with his mother.
However, only a few days before Hutchinson's original deployment date, she was told by the Army she would not get the time extension after all, and would have to deploy, despite not having found anyone to care for her child.
Faced with this choice, Hutchinson chose not to show up for her plane to Afghanistan. The military arrested her and placed her child in the county foster care system.
Currently, Hutchinson is scheduled to fly to Afghanistan on Sunday for a special court martial, where she then faces up to one year in jail.
Hutchinson's civilian lawyer, Rai Sue Sussman, told IPS, "The core issue is that they are asking her to make an inhumane choice. She did not have a complete family care plan, meaning she did not find someone to provide long-term care for her child. She's required to have a complete family care plan, and was told she'd have an extension, but then they changed it on her."
5) Illinois Site May Be Path To Closing Guantanamo
Charlie Savage, New York Times, November 16, 2009
Washington - Top Illinois Democrats on Sunday wholeheartedly embraced the idea of sending terrorism suspects from Guantánamo Bay to a maximum-security prison about 150 miles west of Chicago, raising the possibility of a major breakthrough in the Obama administration’s efforts to close the military detention facility in Cuba.
But while Gov. Patrick J. Quinn and Senator Richard J. Durbin endorsed housing the detainees at the Thomson Correctional Facility, a maximum-security prison in a rural area, other local leaders were drumming up opposition to the idea, which could still face considerable opposition in Congress.
For the White House, which confirmed the administration’s interest, it could be the best chance so far to cut through the legal and political knots that have stopped it from closing down the prison camp in Cuba. For supporters in Illinois, it is an attractive economic opportunity. And just as opponents have done elsewhere, some in Illinois cast this plan as an unacceptable risk.
Mr. Quinn and Mr. Durbin, in news conferences to promote the plan, said that turning over the state prison, which is unoccupied, to the federal penal system, and using it for maximum-security inmates including as many as 100 captives from the campaign against terrorism, would create several thousand jobs.
As a home-state ally of Mr. Obama, Mr. Quinn provided the kind of enthusiasm no other governor has offered. He called the proposal "good for our state, good for economy and good for our public safety." By some estimates, it would provide 3,200 jobs and cut the local unemployment rate in half.
For months, an interagency administration task force has been examining ways to handle the Guantánamo population, including looking at state and federal prisons around the country that might be used. Thomson, a maximum-security state prison that was built in 2001 at a cost to Illinois taxpayers of about $120 million, only to sit almost unused, is one of them.
Its chances got a lift last month when the president of the Village of Thomson, Jerry Hebeler, contacted Mr. Quinn’s office to suggest a federal takeover of the prison, according to a letter Mr. Quinn sent to Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates and Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. last week. Mr. Quinn agreed and personally raised the issue in a meeting with Mr. Obama two weeks ago.
6) Countries Agree on New Approach to Fight Hunger
Associated Press, November 16, 2009
Rome - World leaders at a food summit on Monday rallied around a new strategy to fight global hunger and help poor countries feed themselves, but failed to pledge funds sought by the U.N.
The summit approved its final declaration during its first hours in a show of broad consensus. Countries pledged to substantially increase aid to agriculture in developing nations, so that the world's 1 billion hungry can become more self-sufficient.
The summit did not commit to a specific figure of $44 billion a year for agricultural aid that the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization says will be necessary in the coming decades.
The agency, which is hosting the three-day summit at its Rome headquarters, had also hoped countries would adopt 2025 as a deadline to eradicate hunger. But the declaration instead focused on a pledge set nine years ago to halve the number of hungry people by 2015.
7) Iraqi Official's Threat Puts Vote In Question
Iraqi Sunni Arab VP threatens to veto election law
Sameer N. Yacoub, Associated Press, Sunday, November 15, 2009 2:05 PM http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/11/15/AR2009111501588.html
Baghdad - Iraq's Sunni Arab vice president threatened Sunday to veto the country's election law unless changes are made giving Iraqis living abroad more guaranteed seats in parliament, throwing the January vote into question.
The veto threat comes a week after lawmakers passed the long-delayed legislation, paving the way for national polls in January. Any delay in the voting could derail a U.S. plan to withdraw combat troops from Iraq, a process scheduled to ramp up following the election.
Tareq al-Hashimi gave parliament until noon on Tuesday to amend the election bill and ensure greater representation for voters outside of Iraq, most of whom are Sunni Arabs like al-Hashimi.
"If the law is not amended by the parliament or the electoral commission by reconsidering the distribution of ... seats, I will definitely use my constitutional right," al-Hashimi said on al-Hurra television, referring to his veto power over legislation as vice president and a member of the three-person presidential council.
"I will not allow the passage of a law that contradicts the constitution and the principles of justice regardless of the price to be paid," he added.
Earlier Sunday, in a letter to parliament, al-Hashimi said the election bill lawmakers passed a week ago "did not give fair treatment to the large segment of Iraqi people who are living abroad and who were forced to leave their country for reasons beyond their control."
Most of the estimated 2 million Iraqis who fled the sectarian violence in their homeland are Sunni Arabs. The vast majority now live in Jordan and Syria.
Lawmakers haggled for weeks over the election law before passing it on Nov. 8, much to the relief of the United States, which has tied its withdrawal of all combat troops to the national vote. U.S. military officials have said that they will begin to draw down forces about 60 days after the election, with the idea that the country will be on stable footing by then.
8) Palestinians to seek endorsement of statehood
They plan to ask the United Nations for its support without Israel's consent
Associated Press, Sun., Nov . 15, 2009
Jerusalem - Palestinian officials said Sunday they are preparing to ask the United Nations to endorse an independent state without Israel's consent because they are losing hope they can achieve their aspirations through peace talks.
The announcement drew a harsh rebuke from Israeli officials.
Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat told Israel's Army Radio that frustrated Palestinians had decided to turn to the U.N. Security Council after 18 years of on-again, off-again negotiations with Israel. "The purpose of such a move is to keep hope alive in the minds of the Palestinians," he said.
U.S. efforts to restart Israeli-Palestinian peace talks are deadlocked. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has urged the Palestinians to negotiate with him but they refuse, saying Netanyahu must first stop building settlements on lands they claim.
Even if the U.N. endorses the Palestinian idea, it would be virtually impossible to implement while Israel remains in control of the West Bank and east Jerusalem - captured land where the Palestinians want to build their state. The Palestinians already declared independence unilaterally on Nov. 15, 1988. The move was recognized by dozens of countries, but never implemented on the ground.
As one of the five permanent members of the Security Council, the U.S. wields veto power over any resolution. Israeli media predicted that the U.S., Israel's key ally, would veto the move.
Hammad said Abbas would travel to Cairo Wednesday to discuss the plan with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.
There was no immediate reaction from Security Council members. But Erekat said Russia, another permanent member of the Security Council, and unspecified European nations are "on board" with the Palestinian plan.
9) U.S. Asks More From Pakistan In Terror War
Eric Schmitt and David E. Sanger, New York Times, November 16, 2009
Washington - The Obama administration is stepping up pressure on Pakistan to expand and reorient its fight against the Taliban and Al Qaeda, warning that failing to do so would undercut the new strategy and troop increase for Afghanistan that President Obama is preparing to approve, American officials say.
While Afghanistan has dominated the public discussion of Mr. Obama’s strategy, which officials say could be announced as early as this week, Pakistan is returning to center stage in administration planning. As the president traveled to Asia, his national security adviser, Gen. James L. Jones, was quietly sent to Islamabad, its capital.
His message, officials said, was that the new American strategy would work only if Pakistan broadened its fight beyond the militants attacking its cities and security forces and went after the groups that use havens in Pakistan for plotting and carrying out attacks against American troops in Afghanistan, as well as support networks for Al Qaeda.
General Jones praised the Pakistani operation in South Waziristan but urged Pakistani officials to combat extremists who fled to North Waziristan.
General Jones also delivered a letter from Mr. Obama to Pakistan’s president, Asif Ali Zardari, in which Mr. Obama said he expected Mr. Zardari to rally the nation’s political and national security institutions in a united campaign against extremists threatening Pakistan and Afghanistan, said an official briefed on the conversations, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the talks were confidential.
For their part, Pakistani officials have told the Americans that they harbor two deep fears about Mr. Obama’s new strategy: that the United States will add too many troops on the Afghan side of the border, and that the American effort will end too soon.
Their first concern, described by officials on both sides of the recent discussions, is that if Mr. Obama commits an additional 30,000 or more troops, it will inevitably push more Taliban fighters across the border into Pakistani territory and complicate the South Waziristan offensive.
If Pakistanis voice concerns about a lack of American commitment, they express equal concern that sending tens of thousands more American troops to Afghanistan could force Taliban militants into Pakistan.
"Whatever we do - put in more troops or put in fewer troops - they’ll freak out," said an American intelligence officer who spoke on condition of anonymity to avoid jeopardizing his relations with Pakistani officials. But the intelligence officer acknowledged that the long-term security picture and the American commitment in Afghanistan were still unclear. "Look, if I were in Pakistan, I’d be hedging my bets, too," the officer said. "We need to be much more convincing that we have a better game plan."
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