- Sign Up
JFP 3/25: Pentagon Contractors Spied on Taliban Reconciliation Talks
Submitted by Robert Naiman on 25 March 2010 - 6:30pm
Just Foreign Policy News
March 25, 2010
Support the work of Just Foreign Policy:
Please donate what you can to support our work.
Protect Obama from AIPAC on Israeli Settlement Expansion
AIPAC lobbyists are demanding that Congress pressure Obama back down from his opposition to Israeli settlement expansion. Urge your representatives in Congress to support President Obama's opposition to Israeli settlement expansion.
Video: Why Are We in Afghanistan?
From the Center for Study of Working Class Life at Stony Brook, a short film that looks at domestic pressures and geo-strategic interests that keep the U.S. in the region. An educational resource for communities, unions, veterans and active duty military, classes, and anyone who wonders why we are in Afghanistan, and what to do about it.
JFP video: Highlights of the Afghanistan Debate
With this video, we summarize the case made by Members of Congress for a timetable for military withdrawal from Afghanistan.
1) Contractors of a spy program that the Pentagon is investigating gathered word of a meeting between Afghan President Hamid Karzai's brother and Mullah Baradar, a top Taliban leader who was arrested weeks later in Pakistan, CNN reports. [This CNN report raises the question of whether this intelligence contributed to Baradar's arrest, and whether some US officials sought with the arrest to deliberately undermine the talks, which were supported by other US officials - JFP.]
2) Staffan de Mistura, the new U.N. envoy to Afghanistan, met delegates from Hezb-i-Islami, one of three insurgent factions fighting against foreign troops in Afghanistan, Reuters reports. Hezb-i-Islami negotiator Mohammad Daoud Abedi told Reuters its leadership was ready to make peace and act as a "bridge" to the Taliban if Washington fulfils plans to start pulling out troops next year. Abedi said the decision to present a peace plan was a direct response to a speech by President Obama in December, when Obama announced plans to deploy an extra 30,000 U.S. troops but set a mid-2011 target to begin a withdrawal.
3) Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu continued to balk at US demands he find a way to reverse the East Jerusalem housing plan in the Ramat Shlomo neighborhood that was announced during Vice President Biden's trip to Israel this month, the New York Times reports. The Obama administration also wanted Netanyahu to allow negotiations with the Palestinians to focus on substantive issues like borders and security. Palestinian President Abbas will decide whether he is willing to go through with the proximity talks after he receives a report from the White House about the discussions with Netanyahu, Palestinian officials said.
4) The Wall Street Journal says the US has softened proposed UN sanctions to win the backing of China and Russia, AFP reports: proposals that would have closed international airspace and waters to Iranian state-owned air cargo and shipping lines had been scrapped. The proposed package of sanctions had also been stripped of plans targeting insurance for certain Iranian companies and the sale of Iranian bonds.
5) Attacks in international media on Brazil's President Lula for refusing to toe the US line on Iran are predictable, writes Mark Weisbrot in Folha de Sao Paulo. Once Washington begins a campaign against a demonized government, the vast majority of the international media jumps on the bandwagon, and anyone who gets in the way of it will pay a price. But Lula has taken a principled position in favor of negotiation and against another war.
6) US and Russian officials say they have broken a logjam in arms control negotiations and expect to sign a treaty next month to cut their nuclear arsenals, the New York Times reports. The US apparently agreed to less intrusive inspections in exchange for Russia agreeing that missile defense only be mentioned in nonbinding language in the preamble of the agreement. A Russian arms control adviser said Russia would retain the ability to scrap the treaty if US missile defenses became a threat.
7) Human rights groups and legal experts say an Obama Administration proposal for the Bagram prison in Afghanistan to take over the "indefinite detention without trial or legal recourse" function of Guantanamo suggests that Obama's policies are becoming more like those of Bush, the Los Angeles Times reports. Human rights activists have objected to what they see as a trend in the administration toward favoring long-term detention of terrorism suspects and military commission proceedings rather than public court trials. "That would be George Bush's wish list," said Christopher Anders, senior legislative counsel for the ACLU.
8) The White House asked Congress for a $2.8 billion emergency aid package to assist Haiti, the Washington Post reports. At least $1 billion of the amount was to reimburse the Defense Department and USAID for money already spent. Some of the money would also go toward paying back Florida and other states for providing health care to Haitian victims. The request includes at least $1 billion in new money for relief and reconstruction, including more than $4oo million for toward rebuilding homes, the electrical system and agricultural and industrial facilities in Haiti and $51 million for rural economic growth and development. The aid package did not appear to contain money for education, which was described as a "priority" by Sen. Lugar.
9) Some say the influx of internationally provided free medical care is disrupting Haiti's health care system, though they concede demand cannot be met without international help, the Washington Post reports. Some worry that Haitian doctors will leave the country. "There must be a well-planned transition period to subsidize the Haitian health-care system, have [NGOs] work directly with Haitian providers, and to train sufficient providers and nurses to be able to meet the population's needs," said an expert at Johns Hopkins. A spokeswoman for the WHO said "the international community working in health will not leave before a system is in place, and this is precisely what we are working on . . . to build an accessible system better than what was here before the earthquake."
10) Some US Marines in Marjah say the Afghan soldiers alongside them are lazy and incompetent, McClatchy reports. One platoon leader recently avoided taking Afghan soldiers on patrol in favor of elite Afghan police officers because the soldiers were hours away from ending their tour of duty. "I'm not f***ing with the ANA," the platoon leader said. "F*** those guys. They don't give a f***. They're leaving tomorrow."
11) U.S. and Israeli officials are working on a document dubbed "the blueprint," which covers all issues, including Jerusalem, that need to be resolved to let talks go forward, the Washington Post reports. U.S. officials have pressed Israel to take actions to encourage Palestinians to attend indirect talks, including canceling the Ramat Shlomo project in East Jerusalem, making concrete gestures such as a prisoner release and adding substantive rather than procedural issues to the agenda for talks. Some U.S. requests have not been made public.
12) The "blowup" between the US and Israel shows the relationship is changing, writes Glenn Kessler in the Washington Post. Obama and his aides have cast the settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as a core U.S. national security interest. Gen. Petraeus told Congress: "The conflict foments anti-American sentiment due to a perception of U.S. favoritism toward Israel." His comments raised eyebrows in Washington and overseas because they suggested U.S. military officials were embracing the idea that failure to resolve the conflict had begun to imperil U.S. lives. Secretary Clinton warned AIPAC that whether Israelis like it or not, "the status quo" is not sustainable. The drawing of such lines by the administration has been noticed in the Middle East. "Israeli policies … are causing the United States real pain beyond the Arab-Israeli arena…and therefore the U.S. is reacting with unusually strong, public and repeated criticisms of Israel's settlement policies," wrote Rami Khouri, editor of Beirut's Daily Star. "At the same time Washington repeats [its commitment] to Israel's basic security in its 1967 borders, suggesting that the U.S. is finally clarifying that its support for Israel does not include unconditional support for Israel's colonization policies."
1) Sources: Iran-Contra operative linked to questionable spy program
Barbara Starr, CNN, March 24, 2010
Program used contractors to gather publicly available info in Pakistan and Afghanistan
Pentagon investigating whether contractors also hired local operatives to spy
Former officials tell CNN ex-CIA agent Duane Clarridge has worked on the program
Clarridge was involved in Iran-Contra scandal, was pardoned by first President Bush
Washington - A former high-ranking CIA official who was involved in the Iran-Contra scandal has worked on an alleged ad hoc spy program that the Pentagon is investigating, CNN has learned.
Duane "Dewey" Clarridge - who was pardoned for his alleged role in the Reagan-era scandal by President George H. W. Bush in the waning hours of his presidency in 1992 - is using contacts in Afghanistan and Pakistan to obtain information for the Pentagon, according to former government officials familiar with the current program.
The Pentagon has launched an assessment of the roles of at least three contractor companies with more than $20 million in contracts, according to Pentagon officials
The assessment was prompted by an investigation - currently under way - into a program led by Michael Furlong, a Defense Department official who oversaw contracts aimed at gathering information about Afghanistan and Pakistan.
The program was meant to be limited to gathering what is known as "open-source information," in which publicly available facts are gathered from, for example, local media and public events.
Some of the contractors with the program - retired CIA officers and former military commandos - may have instead hired local agents to gather information on the specific locations and movements of particular individuals and passed it along to military officials for possible lethal strikes, according to government officials and private-sector businessmen familiar with the investigation.
Federal laws and regulations generally prohibit contractors from directly engaging in intelligence collection because it is considered a crucial government function.
The Pentagon is seeking to find out both whether the law was violated and whether funds were inappropriately diverted to conduct these alleged operations.
Documents provided to CNN detail sensitive information that contractors gathered, including word of a meeting between Afghan President Hamid Karzai's brother and Mullah Baradar, a top Taliban leader who was arrested weeks later in Pakistan. At another meeting with Taliban commanders, an audio message from the reclusive leader Mullah Omar was played, in which he directed who would lead operations after a key member was captured. Another document details the comings and goings at a safe house in Kabul, Afghanistan, used by suspected members of the Haqqani insurgent network.
Rear Adm. Gregory Smith, a spokesman for the U.S.-led force in Afghanistan, told CNN last week that elements of Furlong's project were not clear. "There was ambiguity about how they were going to collect information," he said, and about whether Afghans were to be used to do the work, and how the information might be used. "None of us were comfortable with what this contract meant. We wanted to know how they were going to glean information," Smith said.
Smith said he subsequently terminated Furlong's effort last year because of his concerns. He estimates $6 million to $7 million of the funds allocated were spent and does not know what happened to the balance of the contract money.
Clarridge, the former CIA official allegedly involved in the ad hoc spy ring, worked for the agency for 33 years, heading the agency's Latin American and European divisions and setting up its Counterterrorist Center in 1986, according to a Publisher's Weekly review of his book "A Spy For All Seasons."
He was indicted in 1991 on federal charges of lying to Congress and the Tower Commission, which investigated the Iran-Contra affair, the review says. Investigators said Clarridge was the man who put then-Marine Col. Oliver North in charge of sending money and weapons to anti-Communist fighters in Nicaragua in the 1980s, in contravention of congressional mandates.
2) U.N. envoy meets Afghan insurgents in Kabul
Golnar Motevalli, Reuters, Thursday, March 25, 2010; 10:22 AM http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/03/25/AR2010032500308.html
Kabul - The U.N. envoy to Afghanistan met delegates from one of the country's main insurgent groups in Kabul on Thursday, the first Western diplomat to meet them since they arrived in the capital for peace talks with the government. Staffan de Mistura, the U.N.'s new chief representative in Afghanistan, met a delegation from Hezb-i-Islami at a hotel in Kabul, the mission said. Hezb-i-Islami is one of three insurgent factions fighting against foreign troops in Afghanistan.
"(De Mistura) listened to their points and indicated that their visit in Kabul and the ongoing discussions with Afghan authorities further underscored the importance of Afghan-led dialogue in order to bring stability to this country," the U.N. Assistance Mission in Afghanistan said in a statement.
It is the first known meeting between a Western official and the group since they arrived in Kabul, and comes weeks before President Hamid Karzai plans a peace "jirga" - or council of elders - to which the Taliban have been invited.
On Wednesday, Hezb-i-Islami negotiator Mohammad Daoud Abedi told Reuters its leadership was ready to make peace and act as a "bridge" to the Taliban if Washington fulfils plans to start pulling out troops next year.
Abedi said the decision to present a peace plan was a direct response to a speech by U.S. President Barack Obama in December, when Obama announced plans to deploy an extra 30,000 U.S. troops but set a mid-2011 target to begin a withdrawal.
Reaching out to insurgents, in particular the Taliban, which NATO regards as a much bigger threat than Hezb-i-Islami, is one of Karzai's main priorities and has long had the backing of the United Nations.
3) U.S. Fails to Persuade Israel on Housing Plan
Helene Cooper and Isabel Kershner, New York Times, March 25, 2010
Washington - With Israeli officials saying that construction on a contentious Jewish housing project in East Jerusalem could begin at any time, President Obama seemed to have failed on Wednesday to persuade Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to give a written commitment to rein in any further building and to move ahead on peace talks with the Palestinians.
Mr. Netanyahu left the United States early on Thursday. But before departing for Jerusalem, he said that he thought some progress had been made in healing the rift with Washington, The Associated Press reported. "I think we have found the golden path between Israel's traditional policies and our desire to move forward toward peace," he said, according to The A.P. No joint statement was released after the talks ended.
Israeli and American negotiators huddled in Washington for a second straight day, but Mr. Netanyahu continued to balk at American demands that he find a way to reverse another East Jerusalem housing plan: the one in the Ramat Shlomo neighborhood that was announced during Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr.'s trip to Israel this month, which had ignited the diplomatic storm.
The Obama administration also wanted Mr. Netanyahu to allow scheduled negotiations with the Palestinians to focus on substantive issues like borders and security.
United States and Israeli officials said they would continue to negotiate. "The president has asked the prime minister for certain things to build confidence," the White House spokesman, Robert Gibbs, said.
In a sign of how hard it may be to resolve the dispute, Israeli officials confirmed Tuesday that another East Jerusalem project was under way, this one for 20 residential units in the Shepherd Hotel compound in a neighborhood populated mostly by Palestinians.
The Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, will decide whether he is willing to go through with the proximity talks after he receives a report from the White House about the discussions with Mr. Netanyahu, Palestinian officials said.
4) US softens Iran sanctions plan to win support: report
AFP, March 25, 2010
Washington - The United States has stepped back from a series of harsh measures against Iran and softened proposed UN sanctions to win the backing of China and Russia, the Wall Street Journal reported Thursday. The newspaper said proposals that would have effectively closed international airspace and waters to Iranian state-owned air cargo and shipping lines had been scrapped. The proposed package of sanctions had also been stripped of plans targeting insurance for certain Iranian companies and the sale of Iranian bonds.
The United States is working to develop consensus among the five veto-wielding permanent members of the United Nations Security Council on sanctions punishing Tehran for its nuclear program. But while the United States, Britain and France agree on the need for tough new measures, Russia and particularly China have been more reluctant to sign off on new sanctions.
The Journal said the revised sanctions would more narrowly target "major power centers in Iran, in particular the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps," and would firm up existing pressure on Tehran.
The scrapped proposals included tough new measures that would increase Iran's isolation to unprecedented levels. The US proposals reportedly sought to ban Iran Air and Islamic Republic of Iran Shipping Lines cargo craft from entering international airspace and to prevent the purchase or sale of any Iranian bonds linked to the Tehran government. It would also have prevented "the provision of insurance services to Iranian companies for international transport-related contracts," the Journal said.
Instead, the proposed resolution now seeks to enforce existing sanctions on cargo shipments, urges the country to take additional steps to bar insurance provisions and calls for "vigilance" in transactions involving Iran.
5) Lula Shouldn't Buckle to U.S. Pressure On Iran
Mark Weisbrot, Folha de Sao Paulo, March 24, 2010
President Lula da Silva has come under fire from opponents lately for refusing to join the United States' campaign for increased sanctions against Iran. Washington recently switched from a brief phase of "engagement" with Iran over its nuclear program to the more aggressive posture of threats and confrontation that had been the strategy of the Bush Administration. Lula has argued that this is counter-productive.
Sao Paulo Governor Jose Serra's recent op-ed summarizes the arguments against Lula. He attacks Lula for receiving President Ahmedinejad of Iran, saying his election was "notoriously fraudulent," his government is repressive, and he is a Holocaust denier. Actually the first charge is extremely implausible, as anyone who has looked at the evidence knows. The margin of victory in that election was eleven million votes, and there were hundreds of thousands of witnesses to the vote count at the precinct level. The results were also consistent with both pre-election and post-election polling.
The Iranian government is certainly repressive; although arguably no more so than U.S. allies such as Egypt, which has lately been arresting hundreds of opposition activists and candidates in order to keep them out of the fall election. And Lula has strongly condemned Ahmedinejad's denial of the Holocaust.
Should Lula refuse to meet with Hillary Clinton, who strongly supported the invasion and occupation of Iraq? This completely unnecessary war has killed more than a million people, according to the best estimates. That is also a crime, as are the continued killings of civilians in Afghanistan by U.S. forces.
Lula meets with all sides to the dispute because he is trying to play a mediating role, and to prevent another unnecessary war. That is what mediators do. The Obama team, like that of President George W. Bush, has trouble understanding this concept. They have a "Godfather" approach to international relations: "We will make you an offer you can't refuse."
Lula has an opposite approach, which may come from his experience as a trade union leader: He looks for dialogue, negotiation, and compromise to resolve conflict.
Serra also attacks Lula for refusing to recognize the government of Honduras, which was elected under a dictatorship, while meeting with Ahmedinejad. But the two situations are not comparable: The military overthrow of Honduras' elected government is a threat to democracy in all of Latin America; Iran is not. Brazil cannot influence the internal politics of Iran; whereas Latin America has regional agreements and policy co-ordination that can support democracy and prevent further military coups in the hemisphere. The only common theme here is that Lula is refusing to surrender to Washington's foreign policy priorities.
The pundits could not foresee that the Workers' Party, bringing a former factory worker to the presidency, would have advanced Brazil farther than any prior government as a leader on the world diplomatic stage. But Lula has become one of the most respected leaders in the world, and therefore has unique potential to help resolve some of the world's most serious political conflicts.
It was predictable that Lula would take heat for standing up to the U.S.; once Washington begins a campaign against a demonized government, the vast majority of the international media jumps on the bandwagon, and anyone who gets in the way of it will pay a price. This is true regardless of whether the government is a repressive theocracy, like Iran, or a democracy such as Venezuela or Honduras before the June coup. Lula has taken a principled position in all of these cases, and one that is in the best interests of not only Brazil but of humanity. We citizens of the United States particularly appreciate his efforts to help keep us out of another senseless war, as our own civil society and democratic institutions have too often not been strong enough to do so.
The world needs this kind of leadership - badly.
6) Russia And U.S. Report Breakthrough On Arms Pact
Peter Baker and Ellen Barry, New York Times, March 24, 2010
Washington - The United States and Russia have broken a logjam in arms control negotiations and expect to sign a treaty next month to slash their nuclear arsenals to the lowest levels in half a century, officials in both nations said Wednesday.
After months of deadlock and delay, the two sides have agreed to lower the limit on deployed strategic warheads by more than one-quarter and launchers by half, the officials said. The treaty will impose a new inspection regime to replace one that lapsed in December, but will not restrict American plans for missile defense based in Europe.
President Obama and President Dmitri A. Medvedev of Russia plan to talk Friday to complete the agreement, but officials said they were optimistic that the deal was nearly done. The two sides have begun preparing for a signing ceremony in Prague on April 8, timing it to mark the anniversary of Mr. Obama's speech in the Czech capital outlining his vision for eventually ridding the world of nuclear weapons.
The new 10-year pact would replace the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty of 1991, or Start, which expired in December, and further extend cuts negotiated in 2002 by Mr. Bush in the Treaty of Moscow. Under the new pact, according to people briefed on it in Washington and Moscow, within seven years each side would have to cut its deployed strategic warheads to 1,550 from the 2,200 now allowed. Each side would cut the total number of launchers to 800 from 1,600 now permitted. The number of nuclear-armed missiles and heavy bombers would be capped at 700 each.
Arms control proponents hailed the progress. Daryl G. Kimball, executive director of the Arms Control Association, called it "the first truly post-cold-war nuclear arms reduction treaty." Richard Burt, a former chief Start negotiator who now heads a disarmament advocacy group called Global Zero, said that the two presidents "took a major step toward achieving their goal of global zero."
Administration officials describing the draft treaty said its preamble recognized the relationship between offensive weapons and missile defense, but that the language was not binding. The treaty establishes a new regime of inspections, but the American monitoring team that was based at the Votkinsk missile production factory until Start expired would not be allowed to return on a permanent basis.
Russian analysts said Moscow was happy to have reduced what it saw as the overly intrusive inspection regime mandated by Start but disappointed not to have secured restrictions on missile defense.
Vladimir Z. Dvorkin, a retired major general and arms control adviser, said Moscow would retain the ability to scrap the new treaty if American missile defenses became a threat. "If, for example, the U.S. unilaterally deploys considerable amounts of missile defense, then Russia has the right to withdraw from the agreement because the spirit of the preamble has been violated," he said.
7) Obama backtracking on detainee rights, critics say
Human rights activists object to a focus on overseas prisons and arrests without trials. Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham is weighing in.
Julian E. Barnes and David S. Cloud, Los Angeles Times, March 25, 2010
Washington - The newest option for detaining terrorism suspects - an Afghan prison that serves the same purpose as the lockup in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba - suggests that President Obama's policies are becoming more like those of his predecessor, George W. Bush, in the view of human rights groups and legal experts.
Obama began his presidency vowing to close Guantanamo, end CIA detention practices and transform the post-9/11 system created by Bush. But the administration gradually has backtracked, and is now revisiting some of the practices in use under Bush: military tribunals, detention without trials and overseas prisons.
Human rights activists have objected to what they see as a trend in the administration toward favoring long-term detention of terrorism suspects and military commission proceedings rather than public court trials. In the latest possible shift, administration officials said last week that they may use a prison at the Bagram air base in Afghanistan for long-term detainees captured elsewhere. "That would be George Bush's wish list," Christopher Anders, the senior legislative counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union, said of the possible policy changes.
The activists believe the administration is not unified on the issue, saying that Atty. Gen. Eric H. Holder Jr. believes the president should stick to the positions he outlined during the campaign, while others, including White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, see the detention issue more as a political problem. The administration says no such divisions exist. The White House believes it must compromise with lawmakers to preserve Obama's core detention policies.
Other officials said that without somewhere to hold and question terrorism suspects, capturing militants around the world becomes more problematic. At least in the short term, these officials said, Bagram could be used to hold extremists captured in other countries.
The proposal is controversial. Military officials, including the top U.S. and allied commander in Afghanistan, argue that using the prison for such detainees could complicate the war effort by providing a propaganda weapon that extremists could use against the U.S.
8) White House Requests $2.8 Billion Aid Package
Mary Beth Sheridan, Washington Post, Wednesday, March 24, 2010; 9:46 PM http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/03/24/AR2010032403168.html
The White House asked Congress on Wednesday for a $2.8 billion emergency aid package to assist Haiti in the wake of the Jan. 12 earthquake that killed more than 200,000 people.
The request appeared to be on the high end of what lawmakers were expecting. But at least $1 billion of the amount was to reimburse the Defense Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development for money they had already spent in the relief operation. Some of the money would also go toward paying back Florida and other states for providing health care to Haitian victims.
The request includes at least $1 billion in new money for relief and reconstruction, according to details that the White House gave Congress.
More than $4oo million would go toward rebuilding homes, the electrical system and agricultural and industrial facilities in Haiti. Another $51 million would be aimed at fostering rural economic growth and development, a priority of Haiti's government, which wants to reduce the previous overcrowding in the capital, Port-au-Prince.
At least $230 million would be for programs to improve governance, the justice system and security. In addition to providing money for reconstruction, the proposal would set aside $212 million for a multi-donor plan to reduce Haiti's foreign debt.
"This emergency funding for Haiti is a must," Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, said in a statement. "It's a nonnegotiable measurement of how the United States responds to a humanitarian emergency."
The aid package did not, however, appear to contain money for education, which was described as a "priority" by Sen. Richard G. Lugar (Ind.), the top Republican on the Foreign Relations Committee.
Lawmakers say the proposed aid would probably be spent over a period of two or three years. Congress will probably not vote on the supplemental budget request for a few weeks.
9) Steady supply of medical services begins to pressure Haiti's doctors
Lois Romano, Washington Post, Thursday, March 25, 2010; A12 http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/03/24/AR2010032403146.html
Jerry and Marlon Bitar are prominent Haitian surgeons, identical twins who have done everything together for all of their 48 years. They both studied medicine in France, returned to Haiti in 2000 to take over a clinic serving low-income patients, and built a separate private practice that has given them national prominence and paid the bills.
In the weeks following the deadly Jan. 12 earthquake, they worked 18-hour days side by side, performing 900 surgeries and amputations free of charge between both of them. And now, their lives are defined by the same split reality: "before the earthquake" and "after the earthquake."
Sitting in their cramped office, the brothers tell the story of most Haitian medical providers and hospitals. Since the earthquake, Haiti has been awash with doctors from all over the world providing the kind of top-notch care rarely experienced in this chronically poor country. It has been a gift of epic proportions, the Bitars say, in a place burdened with disorganized health care, and high rates of HIV and tuberculosis.
But as the immediate crisis starts to wane, more and more patients with maladies unrelated to the earthquake are turning to international health-care teams led by the World Health Organization, raising concerns about Haiti's ability to care for its own once the relief teams pull out and need for rehabilitation and long-term care grows.
The Bitars ask what appears to be a simple question: How can the country's medical structure be rebuilt when hundreds of humanitarian teams are still providing health care for free? The surgeons say they have no income - not from the poor and not from their private practice. For one, 700,000 people are now homeless with no access to funds. For another, the hospitals, the Bitars and others say, are finding it hard to compete with the visitors. With no end in sight, some of the nation's doctors have already left, and others are considering leaving. "We have not been able to make payroll for two months," Jerry Bitar said.
Marlon added: "I am very worried that many of our good doctors will leave. The humanitarian hospitals, they don't ask for any money. Yesterday, I went to one and saw two of my private-paying patients getting treatment there."
Indisputably, international organizations are carrying the Haitian health-care system today - and will continue into the indefinite future. Many Haitian health-care providers were among the 230,000 killed in the earthquake, and others have not shown up for work, dealing with their own losses. The nursing school at the University Hospital collapsed during exams and killed essentially an entire first-year class of nursing students.
"It is a very difficult situation," said Thomas D. Kirsch, a professor at the Johns Hopkins medical school and an expert in developing-world health issues who was recently in Haiti. "If these organizations pulled out, the system would be worse than ever, and as long as there is free care available, that's where the Haitians will go and the Haitian doctors will have no business. . . . There must be a well-planned transition period to subsidize the Haitian health-care system, have [nongovernmental organizations] work directly with Haitian providers, and to train sufficient providers and nurses to be able to meet the population's needs."
Nyka Alexander, a spokeswoman for the World Heath Organization, said that "the international community working in health will not leave before a system is in place, and this is precisely what we are working on . . . to build an accessible system better than what was here before the earthquake." One part of the plan, she said, was suggested by locals: Build mobile clinics so people don't have to rely on emergency rooms.
"It's going to require strong leadership from the Ministry of Health to develop new policies, training and better pay," said Dana Van Alphen, a doctor handling disaster management in Haiti with the Pan American Health Organization.
The Bitars concede that they are overwhelmed with the new needs thrust upon them, and that current resources are not enough to meet demands.
10) Afghan Soldiers Way Below Standard, Exasperated Marines Say
Dion Nissenbaum, McClatchy Newspapers, Wed, March 25, 2010
Marjah, Afghanistan - If the U.S. Marines at Combat Outpost Turbett have any problems with their Afghan colleagues, they're with the Afghan soldiers who followed them into battle against Taliban fighters, not with the elite police officers who've stepped in to help fill the security vacuum.
While the Marines praise the Afghan National Civil Order Police force, they can barely conceal their contempt for the Afghan soldiers who live alongside the Americans in this one-time drug den in Marjah.
The greatest concern is that the shortcomings of the Afghan soldiers could undermine U.S.-led efforts to present ANCOP as the new, more respectable face of the Afghan government.
Marines routinely disparage soldiers in the Afghan National Army as lazy and incompetent. One platoon leader recently avoided taking Afghan soldiers on patrol in favor of ANCOP officers because the soldiers were hours away from ending their tour of duty.
"I'm not f***ing with the ANA," the platoon leader said. "F*** those guys. They don't give a f***. They're leaving tomorrow." He asked not to be identified because of the sensitivity of the issue.
The simmering frustrations boiled over last weekend as the Afghan force that fought alongside the Marines prepared to hand things over to a new batch of incoming soldiers.
During the transition, an Afghan soldier was caught trying to steal a care package for a Marine sent from the United States. One of the new arrivals collapsed from a suspected heroin overdose and had to be spirited away on a helicopter.
On their last day, the departing Afghans refused to clean up their cluttered living space, prompting the Marines to threaten to seize the Afghan soldiers' ammunition until they complied.
Covert hashish use among the Afghan soldiers was so prevalent that the Marines adopted a "don't ask, don't tell" policy unless they were directly confronted with the problem.
Tim Coderre, a sheriff's deputy from Wilmington, N.C., who's working with the Marines as a law enforcement adviser, spent part of the weekend trying to figure out how to reimburse a local storekeeper after discovering that an Afghan soldier apparently had stolen cell phones and SIM cards from the shop.
Since the Afghan soldiers present as much of a public face in Marjah as the Afghan police do, their shortcomings could reflect poorly on the overall campaign.
11) Obama, Netanyahu meet for hours as U.S. pushes for outreach to Palestinians
Glenn Kessler, Washington Post, Thursday, March 25, 2010; A13 http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/03/24/AR2010032403089.html
U.S. and Israeli officials struggled Wednesday to resolve a sharp dispute over U.S. demands that Israel make goodwill gestures to lure Palestinian officials back to the negotiating table.
U.S. and Israeli officials are working on a document dubbed "the blueprint," which covers all issues, including Jerusalem, that need to be resolved to let talks go forward. Netanyahu will attempt to sell it to his cabinet while Mitchell will take it to Arab and Palestinian officials for approval.
Netanyahu's talks with Obama were shrouded in an unusual news blackout, with no statement issued after the meeting and no official photographs released. U.S. officials said that the two men met one-on-one at the White House for about 1 1/2 hours. Netanyahu then huddled with his senior staff in the Roosevelt Room for a further 1 1/2 hours before requesting a second meeting with Obama. The president returned from the White House residence, and Netanyahu is said to have made some kind of counteroffer in that half-hour meeting that did not meet with U.S. acceptance.
"There are areas that they discussed last night, some of which they agree and some of which they disagree," White House press secretary Robert Gibbs told reporters, declining to discuss details. "The conversation was honest and straightforward."
Ever since the administration was blindsided by Israel's March 9 announcement that it intends to build 1,600 housing units in a disputed area of Jerusalem, U.S. officials have pressed Israel to take actions to encourage Palestinians to attend indirect talks, including canceling the project, making concrete gestures such as a prisoner release and adding substantive rather than procedural issues to the agenda for talks. Some U.S. requests have not been made public.
Gibbs made no apologies for the low profile of the Netanyahu visit, which appeared to be the diplomatic equivalent of taking the Israeli leader to the woodshed. "We've handled different visits in different ways, and this is the way we felt most comfortable handling this one," Gibbs said.
As Obama met with Netanyahu, news leaked in Israel that approval had been given to construct 20 additional housing units in East Jerusalem, in the Palestinian neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah. The United States had previously objected to the project, which would be built on the site of the Shepherd Hotel, the former home of the late Haj Amin Husseini, a former mufti, or Islamic law scholar, of Jerusalem. It is now owned by Florida developer Irving Moskovitz.
Reports from Israel differed on the significance of the new approval, and U.S. officials said they were seeking "clarification" from the Israeli government. Netanyahu has defended Israel's right to build in East Jerusalem, which Israel annexed in 1967 in an act not recognized internationally, but the Obama administration has urged him to ensure that housing projects there do not spoil the atmosphere for talks.
12) Dispute with Israel underscores limits of U.S. power, a shifting alliance
Glenn Kessler, Washington Post, Wednesday, March 24, 2010; 9:39 AM http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/03/24/AR2010032400879.html
The two-week-old dispute between Israel and the United States over housing construction in East Jerusalem has exposed the limits of American power to pressure Israeli leaders to make decisions they consider politically untenable. But the blowup also shows that the relationship between the two allies is changing, in ways that are unsettling for Israel's supporters.
President Obama and his aides have cast the settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, not just the relationship with Israel, as a core U.S. national security interest. Gen. David H. Petraeus, the head of the military's Central Command, put it starkly in recent testimony on Capitol Hill: "The conflict foments anti-American sentiment due to a perception of U.S. favoritism toward Israel." His comments raised eyebrows in official Washington - and overseas - because they suggested that U.S. military officials were embracing the idea that failure to resolve the conflict had begun to imperil American lives.
The cooling in the U.S.-Israel relationship coincides with an apparent deepening of Israel's diplomatic isolation. Anger has grown in Europe in the wake of Israel's suspected misuse of European passports to kill a Palestinian militant in Dubai, the United Arab Emirates. On Tuesday, British Foreign Secretary David Miliband announced the expulsion of a senior diplomat over the incident, an unusually drastic step for an ally. Relations with Turkey, a rare Muslim friend of Israel for decades, have hit a new low.
Obama and his aides have strongly pledged support for Israel's security - including a reiteration by Clinton when she addressed AIPAC on Monday - but they have continued to criticize its settlement policies in tough terms. Clinton notably did not pull her punches on the issue when she addressed the pro-Israel group, warning that whether Israelis like it or not, "the status quo" is not sustainable. The drawing of such lines by the administration has been noticed in the Middle East.
"Israeli policies have transcended personal affront or embarrassment to American officials and are causing the United States real pain beyond the Arab-Israeli arena. This is something new, and therefore the U.S. is reacting with unusually strong, public and repeated criticisms of Israel's settlement policies and its general peace-negotiating posture," Rami Khouri, editor at large of Beirut's Daily Star, wrote this week. "At the same time Washington repeats it ironclad commitment to Israel's basic security in its 1967 borders, suggesting that the U.S. is finally clarifying that its support for Israel does not include unconditional support for Israel's colonization policies."
Arab leaders have long said that a peace deal would be possible if the United States pressured Israel. But many experts say such hope is often misplaced. In the case of East Jerusalem, Netanyahu believes that a halt to construction represents political suicide for his coalition, so no amount of U.S. pressure will lead him to impose a freeze - at least until he is in the final throes of peace talks.
"U.S. pressure can work, but it needs to be at the right time, on the right issue and in the right political context," said Robert Malley, a peace negotiator in the Clinton White House. "The latest episode was an apt illustration. The administration is ready for a fight, but it realized the issue, timing and context were wrong. The crisis has been deferred, not resolved."
Just Foreign Policy
Just Foreign Policy is a membership organization devoted to reforming US foreign policy so it reflects the values and interests of the majority of Americans.