JFP 11/20: Sen. Specter: "We ought not to add troops to Afghanistan"
Just Foreign Policy News
November 20, 2009
[The Just Foreign Policy News may be intermittent in the next few weeks, as the editor will be traveling. The normal schedule will resume on December 7.]
Monday: Call the White House Against Escalation in Afghanistan
There will be a national call-in day to the White House Monday against military esclalation in Afghanistan. The White House Comment Line is 202-456-1111.
Mark Weisbrot: Letter to the Wall Street Journal
Mark Weisbrot gives Jose de Cordoba of the Wall Street Journal a hand by sending him a "translation" of a recent article about Honduras.
Will the National Democratic Institute Back the Coup in Honduras?
The US-funded National Democratic Institute and International Republican Institute want to send observers to the Nov. 29 elections in Honduras - a step towards recognizing the elections of the coup regime, which would put the U.S. at odds with most of Latin America. Ask your Represenative to oppose funding for observers of the Nov. 29 election unless President Zelaya is reinstated.
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1) Senator Arlen Specter said an exit strategy from Afghanistan was needed, Reuters reports. "We ought not to add troops to Afghanistan, I even question staying there, unless it is indispensable to our fight against al-Qaeda," Specter said. Speaker Pelosi told NPR there was not strong support among Democrats in Congress for "any big ramp-up of troops" in Afghanistan.
2) Before announcing an escalation in Afghanistan, Obama should consider the proposals of the Congressional Progressive Caucus that have been excluded from his review of Afghanistan policy, argues Katrina vanden Heuvel in her blog at the Nation.
3) Defense Secretary Gates said any new U.S. forces President Obama sends to Afghanistan could move into the country swiftly, Anne Gearan reports for AP. Gearan says Gates' language suggested that the decision to send many more troops had already been made. On Capitol Hill, a group of House Democrats who oppose a hefty troop increase, including Reps. Obey and Murtha, proposed that the president impose a war tax each year to pay for operations.
4) The U.S. military says the vast majority of the 700 detainees at its biggest prison in Afghanistan could eventually be released because they're fighting more for money than ideology, USA Today reports. Brig. Gen. Mark Martins said 10% to 20% of the inmates at Bagram are considered "irreconcilable" Taliban fighters. The rest are candidates for eventual rehabilitation and release, he said. The Taliban offers its foot soldiers better salaries than the Afghan army in some cases, and unemployment in Afghanistan is as high as 40%.
5) It's unlikely that any nation - except maybe the U.S. - will recognize Pepe Lobo if he wins the Nov. 29 Honduran election, writes Tim Padgett in Time Magazine. Unless President Zelaya is restored to office before next week's balloting, which looks extremely unlikely, the international community is poised to brand the vote illegitimate. "You can't use an election to clean the slate after a coup," says Christopher Sabatini, senior policy director at the Council of the Americas in New York City. "It just threatens to roll back democratic norms in Central America by decades." [Ironically, Sabatini was formerly the Director for Latin America and the Caribbean at the National Endowment for Democracy, where he managed the NED grant programs to the International Republican Institute and the National Democratic Institute - which are now poised to try to legitimize the Nov. 29 elections in Honduras, contrary to Sabatini's claim - JFP.]
6) Eight years after being invaded by the U.S., UNICEF says Afghanistan is the most dangerous place in the world for a child to be born, Reuters reports. Afghanistan has the highest infant mortality rate in the world - 257 deaths per 1,000 live births, and 70 percent of the population lacks access to clean water, UNICEF said.
7) Current and former U.S. intelligence officials said Mullah Mohammed Omar has found refuge from potential U.S. attacks in Karachi with the assistance of Pakistan's intelligence service, the Washington Times reports. Pakistani officials denounced the reports, and claimed that if the US had such intelligence, it had not been shared with Pakistan.
8) "Anti-Americanism" in Pakistani news media has reached "a fever pitch," the New York Times reports. A Gallup Pakistan poll released in August found that a majority of Pakistanis saw the United States as the biggest threat to Pakistan, far more than the percentages naming India or the Taliban.
1) Pelosi calls Afghan Karzai "unworthy partner"
Susan Cornwell, Reuters, Fri Nov 20, 2009
Washington - Afghan President Hamid Karzai is an "unworthy partner" who does not deserve a big boost either in U.S. troops or civilian aid, U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi said.
Pelosi, a skeptic on sending more troops to Afghanistan, also said in an interview with National Public Radio aired on Friday that there was not strong support among her fellow Democrats in Congress for "any big ramp-up of troops" to oppose resurgent Taliban forces.
She told NPR she had asked fellow Democrats to give President Barack Obama room to decide his Afghan strategy, which is expected to be announced in the coming weeks. Once Obama, also a Democrat, announces his decision, lawmakers would "not be shy" about responding, she said.
Democratic Senator Arlen Specter said an exit strategy was needed. "We ought not to add troops to Afghanistan, I even question staying there, unless it is indispensable to our fight against al-Qaeda," he said in remarks reported by "The Cable," a daily newsletter from Foreign Policy magazine.
2) An Alternative to Escalation in Afghanistan
Katrina vanden Heuvel, The Nation, 11/20/2009
President Obama is expected to make a decision regarding his Afghanistan strategy after Thanksgiving. Before doing so, he would be wise to consider an alternative which has, until now, been excluded from the systematic review of the gravest decision a president must make. That alternative is laid out clearly in a just-released letter to President Obama from the Congressional Progressive Caucus' Afghanistan Taskforce.
Through careful consultation with a wide array of experts, including those who testified at a series of forums on Afghanistan earlier this year, the Taskforce has developed a smart, alternative approach that would be more effective in providing for both US and Afghanistan security, and far less costly in treasure and lives.
In the letter, Taskforce Chair Michael Honda, along with CPC co-chairs, Representatives Raúl Grijalva and Lynn Woolsey, and CPC members, Representatives Barbara Lee and James McGovern, outline their strategy and request a meeting.
The legislators write that their "perspectives have manifested…via Congressional Progressive Caucus Member-led legislation" including: a timeline for eventual troop withdrawal, prohibiting funds for additional troop surges, reorienting the mission so that 80 percent of US resources are devoted to economic and political development and 20 percent towards security, and prioritizing diplomacy and development over the use of force.
"We now have an opportunity to realign our defense development and diplomatic engagement to ensure political, economic, and social security for a nation deeply impoverished," the letter closes. "This new tack, if taken today, can transform the conflict while remaining consistent with America's strategic interests."
You can also contact the White House and ask the President to expand his review so it includes the proposals of the CPC's Afghanistan Taskforce.
3) Gates Says Afghan Surge Could Happen Swiftly
Anne Gearan, Associated Press, Friday, November 20, 2009 12:53 AM
Washington - Defense Secretary Robert Gates said any new U.S. forces President Barack Obama sends to Afghanistan could move into the country swiftly, despite logistical hassles that force almost all major deliveries of troops and supplies to go by air.
His wording suggested that, as expected, Obama will soon approve an increase in the already record U.S. force of 68,000 in Afghanistan. Months of deliberations over the flagging war are ending, with an announcement of a substantial troop increase expected in the next two weeks. "I anticipate that as soon as the president makes his decision, we can probably begin flowing some forces pretty quickly after that," Gates said.
Gates and Vice Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the coming troop infusion is a bigger logistical challenge than the Iraq "surge," which added forces at the rate of roughly one brigade a month.
Afghanistan's forbidding terrain, lack of roads and other infrastructure and the fact that forces and equipment are still tied up in Iraq are all complicating factors. "It's not going to be a brigade a month because of the infrastructure piece, the ability to receive it, literally, in Afghanistan, as well as all the other moving parts," Mullen said.
Gates did not directly answer a question about whether the United States could hold out more troops as leverage toward reform of Afghanistan's shaky, corrupt government. Afghan President Hamid Karzai, inaugurated Thursday for a second five-year term, wants more U.S. help to secure his country against the Taliban-led insurgency.
On Capitol Hill, a group of more liberal House Democrats who oppose a hefty troop increase, including Reps. Dave Obey of Wisconsin and John Murtha of Pennsyvlania, proposed that the president impose a war tax each year to pay for operations. The bill would exempt service members and their families.
4) U.S.-run prison in Afghanistan holds few Taliban diehards
Theodore May, USA Today, November 19, 2009
Bagram Air Force Base, Afghanistan - The U.S. military says the vast majority of the 700 detainees at its biggest prison in Afghanistan could eventually be released because they're fighting more for money than ideology.
That means it may prove easier than previously thought to make peace with some Taliban insurgents through job projects and other economic development efforts, experts said.
Brig. Gen. Mark Martins told USA Today that 10% to 20% of the inmates at the U.S.-run prison in Bagram are considered hard-core, or "irreconcilable," Taliban fighters. The rest are candidates for eventual rehabilitation and release, he said.
The focus on rehabilitating less dangerous prisoners echoes a successful strategy in Iraq, where thousands of prisoners in U.S. facilities were released in the past three years.
The strategy could work in Afghanistan, too, because "many people join the Taliban just for money," says Lal Gul Lal, head of the Afghanistan Human Rights Organization. The militant group offers its foot soldiers better salaries than the Afghan army in some cases, and unemployment in Afghanistan is as high as 40%. "If there is development, if there are jobs and opportunities for the people … I think the Taliban will not be strong like (they are) now," Lal said.
5) Unmagical Realism in Central America
Tim Padgett, Time Magazine, Monday, Nov. 30, 2009
Tegucigalpa - If he holds his handy lead in the polls, Porfirio (Pepe) Lobo will be the next President of Honduras. Problem is, the last man elected to that office, Manuel Zelaya, was ousted last summer in a military coup. That makes it unlikely that any nation - except maybe the U.S. - will recognize Lobo if he wins the Nov. 29 election. But as he relaxes in his opulent house near Honduras' capital Tegucigalpa after a day of campaigning, Lobo sounds unfazed. "I practice Taekwondo for serenity," he says with his trademark Cheshire cat smile. "We have to hold this election, and the world has to recognize it, because Hondurans have to move on."
It would be great if a presidential election could magically transport the small, impoverished Central American nation beyond the political crisis that has gripped it since the June 28 coup. But unless Zelaya is restored to office before next week's balloting, which looks extremely unlikely, the international community is poised to brand the vote illegitimate. Instead, the election will confirm that Honduras has slipped back into the political chicanery and military meddling that typified the 1970s and '80s. "You can't use an election to clean the slate after a coup," says Christopher Sabatini, senior policy director at the Council of the Americas in New York City. "It just threatens to roll back democratic norms in Central America by decades."
Zelaya had sought to address such problems in Honduras, where 70% of the population lives in poverty and the richest 10% owns more than 40% of the wealth. But measures like a minimum-wage hike irked the political and business élite who fear Zelaya's ties to firebrand Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez. Zelaya overreached in June when he defied a Supreme Court order not to hold a referendum asking if a constitutional-reform assembly should be held. But instead of trying him legally for that crime, Zelaya's foes committed their own - flying him off to exile at gunpoint. (They rationalized the move by insisting Zelaya was plotting to lift Honduras' own ban on presidential re-election, though his referendum never broached the issue.) The Obama Administration joined the world in condemning the putsch; and it thought it had the crisis resolved last month when it got Zelaya and interim President Roberto Micheletti to agree to let Honduras' Congress vote on Zelaya's restoration. But the legislature has refused to act before the Nov. 29 election, effectively kiboshing the accord. The U.S. has said it may endorse the election anyway - and risk looking as if it's condoning yet another coup in Latin America. Meanwhile, supporters of Zelaya, who is holed up in the Brazilian embassy in Tegucigalpa after sneaking back into the country in September, have vowed to boycott the vote and may even try to block it.
One of the main reasons bad old habits have lingered is that despite the gains of the past decade or so, the same few families and business groups continue to control the region's economy. The 14 clans that commanded El Salvador's vital coffee industry, for instance, have morphed into eight conglomerates in recent years, but they still have a choke hold on the country's finances. In Honduras, such tycoons as José Rafael Ferrari and Freddy Nasser monopolize sectors like broadcasting and energy - and, say analysts, continue to exert incredible influence on the government.
6) Afghanistan is world's worst place to be born: UN
Stephanie Nebehay, Reuters, Thursday, November 19, 2009 4:08 PM http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/11/19/AR2009111902706.html
Geneva - Eight years after a U.S.-led invasion ousted the Taliban from power in Afghanistan, the war-ravaged state is the most dangerous place in the world for a child to be born, the United Nations said on Thursday.
It is especially dangerous for girls, the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) said in launching its annual flagship report, The State of the World's Children.
Afghanistan has the highest infant mortality rate in the world - 257 deaths per 1,000 live births, and 70 percent of the population lacks access to clean water, the agency said.
As Taliban insurgents increase their presence across the country, growing insecurity is also making it hard to carry out vital vaccination campaigns against polio, a crippling disease still endemic in the country, and measles that can kill children.
"Afghanistan today is without a doubt the most dangerous place to be born," Daniel Toole, UNICEF regional director for South Asia, told a news briefing in Geneva.
7) Taliban Chief Takes Cover In Pakistan Populace
Eli Lake, Sara A. Carter and Barbara Slavin, Washington Times, November 20, 2009
Mullah Mohammed Omar, the one-eyed leader of the Afghan Taliban, has fled a Pakistani city on the border with Afghanistan and found refuge from potential U.S. attacks in the teeming Pakistani port city of Karachi with the assistance of Pakistan's intelligence service, three current and former U.S. intelligence officials said.
Mullah Omar, who hosted Osama bin Laden and other al Qaeda leaders when they plotted the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, had been residing in Quetta, where the Afghan Taliban shura - or council - had moved from Kandahar after the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan in 2001.
Two senior U.S. intelligence officials and one former senior CIA officer told The Washington Times that Mullah Omar traveled to Karachi last month after the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. He inaugurated a new senior leadership council in Karachi, a city that so far has escaped U.S. and Pakistani counterterrorism campaigns, the officials said.
The officials, two of whom spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the topic, said Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence agency, the ISI, helped the Taliban leaders move from Quetta, where they were exposed to attacks by unmanned U.S. drones.
The development reinforces suspicions that the ISI, which helped create the Taliban in the 1990s to expand Pakistani influence in Afghanistan, is working against U.S. interests in Afghanistan as the Obama administration prepares to send more U.S. troops to fight there.
Bruce Riedel, a CIA veteran and analyst on al Qaeda and the Taliban, confirmed that Mullah Omar had been spotted in Karachi recently. "Some sources claim the ISI decided to move him further from the battlefield to keep him safe" from U.S. drone attacks, said Mr. Riedel, who headed the Obama administration's review of policy for Afghanistan and Pakistan last spring. "There are huge madrassas in Karachi where Mullah Omar could easily be kept."
Mr. Riedel also noted that there had been few suicide bombings in Karachi, which he attributed to the Taliban and al Qaeda not wanting to "foul their own nest."
A U.S. counterterrorism official said, "There are indications of some kind of bleed-out of Taliban types from Quetta to Karachi, but no one should assume at this point that the entire Afghan Taliban leadership has packed up its bags and headed for another Pakistani city."
A second senior intelligence officer who specializes in monitoring al Qaeda said U.S. intelligence had confirmed Mullah Omar's move through both electronic and human sources as well as intelligence from an unnamed allied service.
Pakistani officials said they were perplexed by the U.S. reports regarding Mullah Omar and denied that the ISI had facilitated a move by the Quetta shura to Karachi.
Nadeem Kiani, a spokesman for the Pakistani Embassy in Washington, said the U.S. has not provided Pakistan with any credible intelligence regarding Mullah Omar's whereabouts.
"We have no evidence of his presence in Pakistan," Mr. Kiani said. "If anybody in the U.S. government knows of any Quetta shura or Karachi shura, why don't they share that intelligence with Pakistan so we can take care of the issue ourselves? We have not been made aware of any presence of Mullah Omar in the region."
8) Pakistani Politics Take on a Nationalist Tone
Sabrina Tavernise, New York Times, November 20, 2009
Islamabad, Pakistan - These days, politics here look more and more like a movie Pakistanis have seen before.
Anti-Americanism is peaking. Enemies of the state lurk around every corner, if the nationalist media is to be believed. President Asif Ali Zardari could hardly be more unpopular. Political insiders make a sport of handicapping how long it will be before he falls.
It is a familiar plot line. The question on Pakistani minds now is whether the movie will end differently this time. It is an increasingly urgent concern in a country where no elected civilian government - undone by its own vices and undercut by a powerful military and intelligence establishment - has ever survived a full term.
The last time Pakistan was in this situation was in the early 1990s, when the United States was fighting a war in the Persian Gulf and Nawaz Sharif, then the prime minister, and Benazir Bhutto, the opposition leader, were accused of corruption and traitorous sellouts to Pakistan's archenemy, India.
What followed is history: a decade of weak civilian governments that changed almost with the seasons and, in 1999, a coup by Pervez Musharraf, a general, whose rule lasted for nine years. The events were part of the pattern of weak civilian governments punctuated by military coups that Pakistan has lived through for nearly all of its 62 years.
The military and intelligence establishment remains unassailable. It is both revered and feared by Pakistanis, who suspect its nationalist fringes of maneuvering behind the scenes, with help from allies in the news media, to keep civilian governments off balance.
At the same time, the news media today need little prodding, and are more diverse, powerful and nationalistic of their own accord than at any other point in the nation's history. "The media has a larger-than-life role," said Maleeha Lodhi, a former Pakistani ambassador to the United States. "It's been setting the agenda for the country."
Pakistanis themselves are not entirely comfortable with that development. In a Gallup Pakistan poll released last Friday, nearly one-third of 2,765 Pakistanis surveyed blamed the media for political instability in the country, according to the Gilani Research Foundation, which released it.
The anti-Americanism is part of that new media explosion. "It reached a fever pitch," said Madiha Sattar, a journalist with the monthly magazine The Herald, who wrote a cover article on the topic in October.
At times, it feels menacing. Newspapers have published the local addresses of American diplomats, and identified the director of a nonprofit group as "a Canadian Jew," in an article about a visa blacklist.
Some of that tone, which also contains deep strains of anti-Semitism, comes from a national education system that was put into place by the dictator Gen. Muhammad Zia ul-Haq, whose textbooks and ideology were aggressively Islamist and ultranationalist.
"The state-supported Islamist-jihadi politics of the last 30 years has had a profound impact on the mind-set of the new urban middle classes," Mr. Sethi said. "This mind-set is anti-U.S., anti-India. It's a jihadi-nationalist mind-set."
But there are concrete reasons for the anger, too, he said. First among them are America's wars in the region, a sentiment reflected in another Gallup Pakistan poll, released in August, which found that a majority of Pakistanis saw the United States as the biggest threat to Pakistan, far more than the percentages naming India or the Taliban.
Other sources of the anger spring from the complex history the two countries share. Almost any Pakistani can recite the narrative: in its obsession with the cold war, the United States showered General Zia with aid, even though he had crushed Pakistan's progressives and executed a popularly elected leader in Mr. Bhutto.
Then, when the cold war ended, the United States abandoned the region and imposed sanctions on Pakistan for its nuclear program.
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