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JFP 7/21: Congress doubts war strategy; White House backs talks with senior Taliban
Submitted by Robert Naiman on 21 July 2010 - 6:06pm
Just Foreign Policy News
July 21, 2010
Don't Let Petraeus Sabotage Afghan Peace Talks
54% of Americans want the U.S. to establish a timetable for military withdrawal from Afghanistan, CBS News reports. But if General Petraeus has his way, the U.S. will dig in deeper. Petraeus wants the State Department to designate part of the Afghan Taliban as a "foreign terrorist organization," which, as the New York Times noted, would undermine Afghan government efforts to end the war through political reconciliation with the Taliban - efforts that the U.S. claims that it supports [see e.g. Guardian story, below]. Urge your representatives in Congress to oppose Petraeus' "backdoor escalation" to prolong the war.
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1) The White House is revising its Afghanistan strategy to embrace the idea of negotiating with senior members of the Taliban through third parties, a policy it had previously resisted, the Guardian reports. The Guardian says that while the U.S. government is still officially resistant to the idea of talks with Taliban leaders, behind the scenes a shift is under way and Washington is encouraging Karzai to take a lead in such negotiations. U.S. officials said feelers had been put out to the Taliban. Negotiations would be conducted largely in secret, through a web of contacts, possibly involving Pakistan and Saudi Arabia or organizations with back-channel links to the Taliban.
2) Confidence in the Obama administration's strategy in Afghanistan is deteriorating on Capitol Hill, including among prominent lawmakers who had been firm backers of the plan, the Los Angeles Times reports. Although Congress is unlikely to cut off funding, members may seek to attach conditions, such as requiring the administration to outline goals and fixed timetables to reduce the U.S. commitment in Afghanistan.
3) Over the past nine years, it's become accepted that our military's duties include not just deterrence and conventional warfare but counterinsurgency, nation-building, counterterrorism and propping up fragile governments, writes Dan Froomkin in the Huffington Post. But critics told a House panel this week that the experience of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan suggests that rather than engaging in military spending to prepare for such wars in the future, we should be avoiding such wars like the plague.
4) U.S. activists opposed to Israel's naval blockade of Gaza are raising money to pay for a ship from the US to take part in a new protest flotilla scheduled to set sail for Gaza in September or October, Robert Mackey reports for the New York Times. The U.S. ship will be named "The Audacity of Hope."
5) Bolivia, Colombia, El Salvador, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Paraguay and Peru filed motions to join Mexico's legal brief supporting the lawsuit filed by U.S. civil rights groups challenging Arizona's immigration enforcement law, AP reports. Mexico says the law would lead to racial profiling and hinder trade, tourism and the fight against drug trafficking.
6) A poll released Friday shows most people in Kandahar and Helmand provinces in southern Afghanistan view foreign troops negatively and believe the Taliban should join the government, Reuters reports. The poll of Afghans in the two areas found: 75 percent believe foreigners disrespect their religion and traditions; 74 percent believe working with foreign forces is wrong; 68 percent believe NATO forces do not protect them; 65 percent believe the Taliban and its leader, Mullah Mohammad Omar, should join the Afghan government. Seventy percent said recent military actions in their area were bad for the Afghan people and 59 percent opposed a new military offensive being built up by NATO forces in Kandahar.
7) A government-led interagency approach to comprehensively crack down on the funding of illegal Israeli settlements in occupied territory by private groups in the U.S. is needed, writes Yousef Munayyer in Foreign Policy. Such an approach would not require significant changes in policy. The mechanisms for enforcement are already in place. The Financial Crimes Enforcement Network became an official branch of the Treasury Department with the passage of the USA PATRIOT act. It is tasked with enforcing laws and regulations relating to financial crimes like money laundering and foreign terrorism finance. In 1995, President Clinton issued Executive Order 12947 which stated that acts that "disrupt the Middle East peace process constitute an unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security, foreign policy, and economy of the United States" and funding of these acts is illegal and prohibited. Minor changes in legislation or an Executive Order could allow the State Department to maintain a list of settlement organizations which U.S. banks and charities would not legally be allowed to deal with, and would give FinCEN the appropriate authority to crack down on organizations in the US which direct U.S. tax dollars to settlements.
8) The Educational Testing Service has stopped registration for its tests in Iran because, under new U.S. sanctions, it can no longer accept payments from Iran, the Washington Post reports. ETS' popular Test of English as a Foreign Language is required for acceptance to universities worldwide, and the move could hurt the chances of young Iranians hoping to study abroad.
9) A review by the GAO has found that the Obama Administration has failed to set specific targets to determine whether U.S. "drug war" money under the Merida Initiative was having the desired effect of disrupting organized crime groups and reforming law enforcement agencies, Marc Lacey reports in the New York Times. Officials in typically point to the huge quantities of drugs, guns and money being seized and the number of arrests being made as evidence that traffickers are on their heels. Critics point to the continued violence in Mexico as a sign that the traffickers remain strong. Experts saythe number of arrests means little if many detainees are later released or replaced by new recruits. The seizure of huge quantities of drugs does not indicate that traffickers are struggling if even larger loads are getting through to generate big profits. "Nearly three years and $1.6 billion later, our counternarcotics assistance to Mexico and Central America lacks fundamental measurements of success," said Representative Eliot Engel, who sought the spending review.
10) Many international news outlets have suggested that Bolivia's recent threats to expel USAID are in part a political ploy, writes Lisa Skeen for NACLA. But Bolivia's accusations about USAID funding of opposition groups are not hollow and have been consistent since as early as 2006. USAID is notoriously evasive in response to requests for disclosure of the recipients of its political funding. In 2008, Jeremy Bigwood uncovered a memo from the U.S. Embassy in La Paz, detailing a USAID-funded "political party reform project [aimed] at implementing an existing Bolivian law that would . . . over the long run, help build moderate, pro-democracy political parties that can serve as a counterweight to the radical MAS [party of President Morales] or its successors." The project is suspected to have funded groups that challenged Morales in his 2006 election and during the 2008 political crisis.
1) White House shifts Afghanistan strategy towards talks with Taliban
Senior Washington officials tell the Guardian of a 'change of mindset' over Obama administration's Afghanistan policy
Ewen MacAskill and Simon Tisdall, Guardian, Monday 19 July 2010 23.49 BST http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2010/jul/19/obama-afghanistan-strategy-taliban-negotiate
The White House is revising its Afghanistan strategy to embrace the idea of negotiating with senior members of the Taliban through third parties - a policy to which it had previously been lukewarm. Negotiating with the Taliban has long been advocated by Hamid Karzai, the Afghan president, and the British and Pakistani governments, but resisted by Washington.
The Guardian has learned that while the American government is still officially resistant to the idea of talks with Taliban leaders, behind the scenes a shift is under way and Washington is encouraging Karzai to take a lead in such negotiations. "There is a change of mindset in DC," a senior official in Washington said. "There is no military solution. That means you have to find something else. There was something missing." That missing element was talks with the Taliban leadership, the official added.
Barack Obama, apparently frustrated at the way the war is going, has reminded his national security advisers that while he was on the election campaign trail in 2008, he had advocated talking to America's enemies.
America is reviewing its Afghanistan policy which is due for completion in December, but officials in Washington, Kabul and Islamabad with knowledge of internal discussions said feelers had been put out to the Taliban. Negotiations would be conducted largely in secret, through a web of contacts, possibly involving Pakistan and Saudi Arabia or organisations with back-channel links to the Taliban.
The US has no agreed position on who among the leaders of the insurgency should be wooed and who would be beyond the pale.
A source with knowledge of the process said: "There is no agreed US position, but there is agreement that Karzai should lead on this. They would expect the Pakistanis to deliver the Haqqani network in any internal settlement."
The US has laid down basic conditions for any group seeking negotiations. They are: end all ties to al-Qaida, end violence, and accept the Afghan constitution.
A senior Pakistani diplomat said: "The US needs to be negotiating with the Taliban; those Taliban with no links to al-Qaida. We need a power-sharing agreement in Afghanistan, and it will have to be negotiated with all the parties.
"The Afghan government is already talking to all the shareholders‚ the Taliban, the Haqqani network, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, and Mullah Omar. The Americans have been setting ridiculous preconditions for talks. You can't lay down such preconditions when you are losing."
Asked how Obama's Afghan strategy was progressing, a senior former US government official familiar with the latest Pentagon thinking said: "In a word, poorly. We seriously need to be developing a revised plan of action that will allow us a chance to achieve sufficient security in a more sustainable manner."
Officials have mentioned possible roles in negotiation for the UN and figures such as the veteran UN negotiator, the Algerian Lakhdar Brahimi, who heads, along with the retired US ambassador Thomas Pickering, a New York-based international panel which is looking at such a reconciliation. Another name mentioned is Michael Semple, an Irishman based in Boston at Harvard's Kennedy School who has extensive contacts with the Taliban.
2) Congress' confidence in Obama's war strategy slides
Concerns about the lack of progress in Afghanistan are rising as U.S. lawmakers consider an emergency funding bill.
Paul Richter, Los Angeles Times, July 20, 2010
Washington - With military progress scarce and doubts remaining about the reliability of Afghan President Hamid Karzai, confidence in the Obama administration's strategy in Afghanistan is deteriorating on Capitol Hill, including among prominent lawmakers who had been firm backers of the plan.
Concerns are rising as lawmakers consider a bill for $37 billion in emergency war funding for Afghanistan and Iraq. Although Congress overall still supports the U.S. mission and is unlikely to cut off funding, members may seek to attach conditions, such as requiring the administration to outline goals and fixed timetables to reduce the U.S. commitment in Afghanistan. Democratic and Republican leaders alike have said the lack of specific goals in the Obama plan makes it impossible to define success.
Even among Obama loyalists, a lack of confidence is starting to bubble up. A year ago, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Massachusetts Democrat John Kerry, praised the administration plan as a "comprehensive, considered path forward." Last week he wondered aloud whether it would ever produce results. "Many people are asking whether this is the right strategy," Kerry said at a hearing in Washington. "Some suggest it is a lost cause."
Sen. Richard Lugar of Indiana, the top Republican on the committee and a respected voice on foreign policy, welcomed Obama's plan in November. But last week, he complained about a "lack of clarity" and warned that the United States could continue to spend billions in Afghanistan without ensuring a secure, sustainable democracy. "Arguably, we could make progress for decades - on security, on employment, good governance, women's rights, other goals - expending billions of dollars each year without ever reaching a satisfying conclusion," Lugar said.
Over the administration's objections, lawmakers have been holding up the $37 billion in additional war funding for the last two months, a delay that was unheard of under President George W. Bush.
On July 1, 162 House members voted for an amendment to require the administration to provide Congress an exit strategy and firm timetable for withdrawal of troops.
Last year, a less controversial version of the bill got 24 fewer votes. This time, it received support from Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D- San Francisco), who, as House speaker, rarely votes, and Rep. Jane Harman (D-Venice), who usually votes with hawks and strongly endorsed Obama's plan last year.
Another initial supporter who has turned against the war is Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R- Utah), a conservative with support from the "tea party" movement.
The firing of McChrystal last month has raised doubts on Capitol Hill, said Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. "A lot of folks on both sides of the aisle think this effort is adrift," Corker said in an interview. "A lot of folks you'd consider the strongest hawks in the country are scratching their heads in concern."
Lawmakers have been gentle with the military brass. Senators of both parties showered praise on Army Gen. David H. Petraeus last month when he was confirmed to replace McChrystal. But they are losing their inhibitions about roughing up the administration's civilian representatives.
When Richard C. Holbrooke, special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan, appeared on Capitol Hill last week, Corker complained that after listening for 90 minutes he had "no earthly idea what our objectives are on the civilian front. So far, this has been an incredible waste of time."
Lawmakers' strong reactions are partly about politics in an election year. According to an ABC TV- Washington Post poll released last week, only 43% of Americans believe the war is worth fighting.
Although developments are bolstering members of Congress who oppose the war, many war supporters in centrist or liberal districts are feeling vulnerable, analysts say. In the center, "positions are becoming much more problematic," said Ross K. Baker, a former Senate aide and expert on Congress.
Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Huntington Beach), a staunch conservative who has turned against the war, said that "there's growing apprehension in Congress, and there should be."
3) After Iraq And Afghanistan: More Of The Same - Or No Thanks?
Dan Froomkin, Huffington Post, 07-20-10 04:15 PM
At a rare congressional hearing Tuesday morning about how to spend less - not more - on defense, panelists raised a question that has barely ever been asked on Capitol Hill. Namely: What lesson have we learned from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan? Is it that we should prepare for similar conflicts in the future, or that we should avoid them like the plague?
Over the past nine years, it's gradually become accepted that our military's duties include not just deterrence and conventional warfare but counterinsurgency, nation-building, counterterrorism and propping up fragile governments.
A recent Congressional Research Service report determined that the more than $1 trillion that's been spent on Afghanistan and Iraq make the "war on terror" the second most expensive U.S. military action, in constant dollars, after World War II.
So when it comes to making substantial cuts in the country's enormously expanded military budget, said Gordon Adams, a professor of international relations at American University, "the key is going to be in mission discipline."
"We are at a point in American history where a serious, baseline discussion of strategy and mission is essential," Adams told a House oversight subcommittee for national security and foreign affairs.
Congress needs to do a "hard scrub" when it comes to what missions it considers appropriate for the armed forces going forward, he said. "Which ones are most important to the security of the U.S.?" Is the chief takeaway from Afghanistan and Iraq "that our national security is engaged every time there is a terrorist attack, every time there is a insurgency," and so on?
Carl Conetta, co-director of the Project on Defense Alternatives, noted that defense spending is now at levels significantly above the peaks of the Cold War, and is up 96 percent in constant dollars since 1998. "We need to look at this budget with new eyes," he said.
"The fabulous cost, slow progress, and uncertain outcome of recent efforts at regime change, armed nation-building, and large-scale counter-insurgency make them a poor strategic choice, when other approaches are available for fighting terrorism and countering proliferation," Connetta said in his written testimony.
Even among supporters of the wars, "few seem eager to repeat the exercise elsewhere in the future," he wrote. "Can we draw a broader lesson from this?"
4) American Activists Plan Gaza Flotilla Ship Named for Obama Book
Robert Mackey, New York Times, July 20, 2010, 1:25 PM
A group of Americans opposed to Israel's naval blockade of Gaza is raising money online to pay for a ship from the United States to take part in a new protest flotilla scheduled to set sail for the Palestinian territory in September or October. In an appeal for money posted on the Web site UStoGaza.org, the activists say they are "planning to launch a U.S. boat to Gaza, joining a flotilla of ships from Europe, Canada, India, South Africa and parts of the Middle East."
They add that the American ship will be named after President Barack Obama's second book:
"We turn to you to help make the U.S. boat, The Audacity of Hope, a reality. We must raise at least $370,000 in the next month. These funds will be used to purchase a boat large enough for 40-60 people, secure a crew, and cover the licensing and registering of the boat. In addition, the funds will subsidize some other costs of sending a U.S. delegation. [...]
From the deck of The Audacity of Hope, we will be in a powerful and unique position to challenge U.S. foreign policy and affirm the universal obligation to uphold human rights and international law."
One of the activists whose name appears beneath the appeal for funds is Rashid Khalidi, a Palestinian-American professor at Columbia whose friendship with Mr. Obama was briefly made into a campaign issue in October 2008 by Senator John McCain.
Another of the activists who signed the appeal is Iara Lee, a Brazilian-American filmmaker who smuggled out more than an hour of video shot during the deadly Israeli raid of a previous flotilla of ships in May.
On Friday, Ms. Lee argued in the Huffington Post that the nine activists who were killed on board one of the ships as they resisted Israeli commandos were not, as Israel has claimed, "terrorists." Ms. Lee used some of the video she shot on board the flotilla's main ship, the Mavi Marmara, to produce a video report (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/iara-lee/slandering-the-good-guys_b_649604.html) on the aid organization that helped sponsor it, the Humanitarian Relief Foundation, often called the I.H.H.
5) LatAm nations bid to join Mexico in Arizona case
Associated Press, Monday, July 19, 2010; 9:44 PM
Phoenix - Seven other Latin American countries want to join Mexico in supporting a lawsuit challenging Arizona's immigration enforcement law.
Bolivia, Colombia, El Salvador, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Paraguay and Peru filed separate, nearly identical motions to join Mexico's legal brief supporting the lawsuit filed by U.S. civil rights and other advocacy groups.
A federal judge formally accepted Mexico's filing July 1 but did not immediately rule on the latest motions filed late last week.
Mexico says the law would lead to racial profiling and hinder trade, tourism and the fight against drug trafficking.
The law is to take effect July 29. It requires that police conducting traffic stops or questioning people about possible legal violations ask them about their immigration status if there is "reasonable suspicion" that they're in the country illegally.
6) NATO not winning Afghan hearts and minds: poll
Adrian Croft, Reuters, Sat, Jul 17 2010
London - NATO is failing to win hearts and minds in Afghanistan, according to a poll released on Friday showing most people in Taliban heartlands view foreign troops negatively and believe the Taliban should join the government. However, 55 percent of Afghans surveyed by the International Council on Security and Development (ICOS) think-tank believed NATO and the Afghan government were winning the war against Taliban insurgents.
The survey was based on interviews last month with 552 Afghan men in Kandahar and Helmand provinces in southern Afghanistan, the scene of some of the most intense fighting.
The poll of Afghans in the two areas found:
- 75 percent believe foreigners disrespect their religion and traditions
- 74 percent believe working with foreign forces is wrong
- 68 percent believe NATO forces do not protect them
- 65 percent believe the Taliban and its leader, Mullah Mohammad Omar, should join the Afghan government.
Seventy percent said recent military actions in their area were bad for the Afghan people and 59 percent opposed a new military offensive being built up by NATO forces in Kandahar.
Fifty-five percent of those polled believed that foreign troops were in Afghanistan for their own benefit, to destroy or occupy the country, or to destroy Islam.
7) Time to crack down on settlement funding
Yousef Munayyer, Foreign Policy, Tuesday, July 20, 2010 - 12:18 AM
[Munayyer is Executive Director of the Jerusalem Fund and the Palestine Center.]
To say that the proliferation of Israeli settlements in Occupied Palestinian Territory is an impediment to peace is an understatement. As Israel continues to gobble up Palestinian land, the individual rights of landowners and the Palestinian people are trampled upon, leaving no realistic peace process of which to speak.
Ever since the Israeli occupation began in 1967, the United States has held that the transfer of Israel's civilian population into those territories is illegal and contrary to the Fourth Geneva Convention, an agreement that both Israel and the United States are party to. Consecutive presidential administrations have taken public stances against settlement building.
President Obama's recent national security strategy identifies securing a peace agreement as a key national security interest. Last year, in Cairo, President Obama restated the importance of a peace agreement and said that the United States does not recognize the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlements.
This makes the premise of a recent New York Times story exposing the extent of funds from American tax payers to support the continuation of Israeli settlements so disturbing. The story highlighted an issue that has long been problematic for activists and policy-makers alike. Hundreds of millions of U.S. tax dollars in deductible contributions are funneled into occupied territory through American charities to fund the enterprise that is killing the very peace process the United States aims to champion.
The extent of the networks operating here in the United States to support Israel's settlements is vast and likely much greater than what the Times story revealed. Certainly, charities in the business of subsidizing colonization have made efforts to disguise their contributions, and these efforts will continue as more light is shed on these controversial transactions.
The time has come for a comprehensive effort to crack down on this obvious loophole in U.S. foreign policy. Stating opposition to settlements, while allowing pro-settlement groups in this country to funnel tax dollars to Israel's hilltop colonies, undergirds the perception of hypocrisy Middle Easterners are all too accustomed to associating with the United States.
Thus far, actions to counter the efforts of pro-settlement funders using a tax-deductible status have been limited to filing complaints with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). Through this method, activists have been able to register a complaint with the IRS, usually claiming a settlement-funding charity either engages in misleading fundraising or funds discriminatory practices.
Yet even though these efforts are noble attempts by activists to halt funding to settlements, they have yielded few results and rely on the IRS to follow through on complaints with little precedent or the tangible evidence necessary to open investigations.
A new approach is necessary to ensure that U.S. tax dollars are in line with U.S. foreign policy. Instead of a citizen-initiated, grassroots effort to mobilize the IRS, a government-led interagency approach to comprehensively crack down on the funding of illegal Israeli settlements in occupied territory is needed.
Luckily, such an approach would not require significant changes in policy, the rearranging of agencies or even significant expansion of any particular agency. The mechanisms for enforcement are already in place.
FinCEN, or the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network, became an official branch of the Treasury Department with the passage of the USA PATRIOT act in 2002. It is tasked with enforcing laws and regulations relating to financial crimes like money laundering and foreign terrorism finance. The foreign component of this policy, of course, involves the State Department. When it comes to combating international terrorism finance, for example, the agencies work together to prevent funding to organizations designated by the State Department as Foreign Terrorist Organizations.
In fact, in 1995, then President Clinton issued Executive Order 12947 which stated that acts that "disrupt the Middle East peace process constitute an unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security, foreign policy, and economy of the United States" and funding of these acts is illegal and prohibited. In this context, the Executive Order was targeting militant organizations, Arab and Jewish alike, who used violence against civilians.
Minor changes in legislation or an Executive Order could allow the State Department to maintain a similar list of settlement organizations which American banks and charities would not legally be allowed to deal with, and would give FinCEN the appropriate authority to crack down on organizations in the United States which direct U.S. tax dollars to settlements.
8) New sanctions crimp Iran's shipping business as insurers withhold coverage
Thomas Erdbrink and Colum Lynch, Washington Post, Wednesday, July 21, 2010; A13
Tehran - Just weeks after the United States and the United Nations imposed new rounds of sanctions on Iran, Tehran's ability to ship vital goods has been significantly curtailed as some of the world's most powerful Western insurance companies cut off Iranian shippers out of fear that they could run afoul of U.S. laws, the insurers say.
The new measures pose a serious test for Iran. In particular, the U.S. sanctions, which threaten to penalize foreign companies that sell fuel and other refined petroleum products to Iran, have forced ports and freighting companies across the globe to reevaluate their Iranian business. Dozens of Iranian vessels that transport crude oil, industrial equipment and other goods and supplies in and out of the Islamic Republic have been denied insurance coverage for weeks, insurance company representatives said.
But Russia and India have made it clear that they intend to continue legitimate trade with Iran, providing Tehran with hope that some nations will accept its solution for the insurance crisis: coverage guaranteed by the Iranian government.
"These sanctions have not affected us much," said Mohammad Hussein Dajmar, the managing director of the Islamic Republic of Iran Shipping Lines (IRISL), which has 160 ships in its fleet. "The world has many ports. We will sail to those nations that want to do business with us."
Even the U.S.-based Educational Testing Service has stopped registration for its tests in Iran because, under the U.S. sanctions, it can no longer accept payments from the Islamic Republic. The company's popular Test of English as a Foreign Language is required for acceptance to universities worldwide, and the move could hurt the chances of young Iranians hoping to study abroad.
9) Report Says U.S. Fails to Assess Drug Aid to Mexico
Marc Lacey, New York Times, July 20, 2010
Mexico City - Despite claims by the United States and Mexico that drug traffickers are feeling the effects of the countries' joint offensive, a review by the Government Accountability Office has found that millions of dollars have been spent without enough regard for whether the money is doing any good.
The office did say in a report to be released Wednesday that the Obama administration had done a better job in recent months of spending the roughly $1.6 billion set aside to fight drug traffickers in Mexico and Central America. Critics in the region have said bureaucratic hurdles have delayed the aid, which includes training and helicopters.
But the report said the State Department, which is overseeing the so-called Merida Initiative to combat drugs in the region, had failed to set specific targets to determine whether the money was having the desired effect of disrupting organized crime groups and reforming law enforcement agencies. "Without targets to strive toward, State cannot determine if it is meeting expectations under the Merida Initiative," the report said.
Officials in Washington and Mexico City typically point to the huge quantities of drugs, guns and money being seized and the number of arrests being made as evidence that traffickers are on their heels. Critics, however, point to the continued violence in Mexico as a sign that the traffickers remain strong.
Nearly 25,000 people have been killed in drug-related violence since President Felipe Calderón took office at the end of 2006. Recent days have been particularly bloody, with an attack on a birthday party in Torreón that killed 17 people and a car bombing in Ciudad Juárez.
Precisely measuring the success or failure of the drug war is exceedingly hard, experts say. The number of arrests means little if many detainees are later released or replaced by new recruits. The seizure of huge quantities of drugs does not indicate that traffickers are struggling if even larger loads are getting through to generate big profits.
Violence could be a sign of the traffickers' strength, or it could indicate their weakness and desperation, as the Mexican government has contended. "It's tricky," said an American official involved in the drug fight who was not authorized to speak on the record. He suggested that polling on the public perception of the police might be a way to gauge whether Mexican law enforcement was being properly overhauled.
Representative Eliot L. Engel, the New York Democrat who sought the spending review, said in a statement, "Nearly three years and $1.6 billion later, our counternarcotics assistance to Mexico and Central America lacks fundamental measurements of success."
10) Dubious Progress in Bolivia-U.S. Reconciliation
Lisa Skeen, NACLA, Jul 19 2010
At a June 5 meeting of coca farmers in Cochabamba, Bolivian president Evo Morales threatened to expel the U.S. government's primary foreign assistance organization, USAID, from Bolivia. Morales accused USAID of lending financial support to organizations that oppose his government and for inciting civil unrest. On July 8, in a show of independence from foreign influence, the mayors of the northern Pando department expelled the agency from their territory, but to date, Morales' threats have not been carried out on a national level.
The threat is perhaps less notable for its content than for its context. The announcement was made just days after Bolivian Foreign Minister David Choquehuanca met with U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs, Arturo Valenzuela, as part of ongoing talks aimed at reestablishing full diplomatic relations, after a damaging political dispute in 2008. Both men described the meeting as effective, and Choquehuanca proudly announced that "we have advanced more than 99% toward signing this new framework agreement of mutual respect." However, Choquehuanca's glowing announcement was not accompanied by any formal agreement or concrete plans to reinstate ambassadors.
In September of 2008, Morales accused the U.S. ambassador, Phillip Goldberg, of fomenting unrest after anti-government protests turned deadly. He expelled Goldberg along with officials of USAID and the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), which had been operating in the country for 35 years and was a key component of the U.S. War on Drugs. The Bush administration responded by expelling Bolivia's ambassador, Gustavo Guzmán, and suspended its cooperation with Bolivia under the Andean Trade Promotion and Drug Eradication Act (ATPDEA), ending the country's duty-free access to U.S. markets.
Though the U.S. State Department denied Morales' accusations about Goldberg, many prominent academics and foreign policy experts, including members of NACLA's editorial staff, signed an open letter to then-Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice expressing their "deep concern" that the "United States government, by its own admission, is supporting opposition groups and individuals in Bolivia that have been involved in the recent whole-scale destruction, violence, and killings."
Many international news outlets, however, have suggested that Morales's recent threats to expel USAID are in part a political ploy to restore domestic support for his administration. Many of Bolivia's ascendant indigenous organizations have grown increasingly critical of Morales's emphasis on revenue-generating extractive industries - natural gas in particular - which undermine his commitment to respect indigenous land rights and conservation. The June threats, they suggest, may be little more than an attempted rallying cry against a common imperial enemy, not unlike characterizations of Hugo Chávez. Despite their domestic political usefulness, Morales's accusations about USAID are not hollow and have been consistent since as early as 2006.
USAID has never been politically neutral. Directed by the U.S. Secretary of State, the organization is designed to support U.S. foreign policy objectives. In his recent confirmation hearings, Mark Feierstein, who was nominated to head the organization in Latin America by the Obama administration on May 12, said "USAID's programs are not charity. They may reflect the generosity of the American people; but they are not only from the American people, as the agency's motto says, they are for the American people."
The organization is notoriously evasive in response to requests for disclosure of the recipients of its political funding. The main website of USAID in Bolivia omits any direct mention of political programs, instead it emphasizes its support for the Bolivian government and its plans to "improve citizen access to health services and education and increase employment opportunities." However, the budget request for 2009 tells a different story. Of the roughly $100 million requested, $46 million was slated to go to "Peace and Security" programs (which includes the ominous sub-program "Stabilization Operations and Security Sector Reform") and over $28 million would go to "Governing Justly and Democratically" programs.
Historically, there is plenty of evidence that the United States has "aggressively intervened" in Bolivia, at least in part through its USAID programs. According to author Reed Lindsay: "the U.S. government has spent millions of dollars to rebuild discredited political parties, to undercut independent grassroots movements, to bolster malleable indigenous leaders with little popular support and to dissuade Bolivians from talking about whether they should have greater ownership rights over their natural resources. The funds have been distributed under the banner of 'democracy promotion,' a central plank of U.S. foreign policy since the early 1980s that has become increasingly prominent in recent years."
In October 2008, Investigative journalist Jeremy Bigwood uncovered a memo from the U.S. Embassy in La Paz, detailing a USAID-funded "political party reform project [aimed] at implementing an existing Bolivian law that would . . . over the long run, help build moderate, pro-democracy political parties that can serve as a counterweight to the radical MAS [party of President Morales] or its successors." The project is suspected to have funded groups that challenged Morales in his 2006 election and during the 2008 political crisis.
The United States has shown no signs of reforming the organization, and has taken further steps that would seem to undermine reconciliation efforts with Bolivia. The nomination of Feierstein to head USAID's Latin American programs is itself something of a snub to the Bolivian President. Feierstein is the vice president of the powerful political consultancy firm Greenberg, Quinlan and Rosner (GQR), which was hired by former Bolivian president Gonzalo Sànchez de Lozada to consult on polling and strategy for his victorious 2002 presidential campaign. Lozada later resigned and fled to the United States in 2003 to evade possible prosecution for the murders of at least 60 protesters by troops under his command. Calls for Lozada's extradition are widespread in Bolivia, and Morales has appealed to the U.S. government for support on multiple occasions, to no avail.
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