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JFP 11/18: Bipartisan Reps urge Obama to stick to drawdown, real review
Submitted by Robert Naiman on 18 November 2010 - 8:34pm
Just Foreign Policy News
November 18, 2010
*Action: Urge Obama to Keep 2011 Drawdown Promise
Press reports have said the Administration plans to "publicly walk away" from its promise to withdraw troops from Afghanistan starting in July 2011, which Vice-President Biden and Speaker Pelosi said would be a "serious drawdown" (Pelosi) involving "a whole lot of people" (Biden.) The White House insists there is no change. Which is it? Urge President Obama to keep his promise with a serious and significant drawdown in July 2011.
McKeon's Right: Petraeus Must Testify on Afghan Review
House Republicans are demanding that Gen. Petraeus appear in person to testify on the Administration's December review of policy in the war in Afghanistan, the Politico reports. But the Pentagon doesn't want Petraeus to testify. According to Politico, the key reason that the Pentagon doesn't want Petraeus to testify is that they are trying to bury the review because they have nothing good to report.
Afghan women respond to "Calgary Herald" on NATO occupation of Afghanistan
Women organizers from Afghans for Peace respond to claims that Afghan women support the war.
Beverly Bell: "The People Must Be Agents of Change": The Lambi Fund of Haiti
Beverly Bell interviews Josette Pérard, director of Fon Lanbi Haiti, the Haitian counterpart of the Lambi Fund, on community development in Haiti.
South of the Border on DVD
Oliver Stone's documentary South of the Border is now available on DVD. The DVD includes an interview with Brazil's outgoing President Lula, in which he calls out the U.S. push for "free trade." You can get the DVD here.
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1) Ten Democratic and Republican Members of Congress urged President Obama to keep his promises to drawdown troops from Afghanistan in 2011 and to conduct a meaningful review of Afghanistan policy next month, Rep. Lee's office reports in a press release. The letter also called for the President to "clearly define by when all U.S. forces will return home from Afghanistan." The Members were: Jim McGovern, Walter Jones, Barbara Lee, Ron Paul, Michael Honda, John Duncan, Lynn Woolsey, Tim Johnson, John Conyers, and Dennis Kucinich.
2) At a NATO summit this weekend, President Obama and other NATO leaders will endorse a plan to gradually turn combat responsibility over to the Afghan army and police by 2014, a timetable that will keep tens of thousands of U.S. combat troops in Afghanistan well beyond the end of Obama's first term, the Los Angeles Times reports. Obama and his advisers now appear unlikely to consider deep reductions in U.S. forces next year, the LAT says. Michael O'Hanlon, a Brookings analyst who supports the war, said if the insurgency remains as strong as ever next summer, Obama could face renewed pressure to shift course from European governments and his own advisers. "If the strategy doesn't reduce the violence by next July they will need a Plan B," said O'Hanlon.
3) There were more protests in Haiti against the presence of UN troops, Al Jazeera reports. The UN mission was seen by many Haitians as an "occupying force," one analyst said.
4) A bipartisan group of budget experts called Wednesday for steep cuts in future military spending, just as leaders of a presidential debt-reduction commission proposed last week, the New York Times reports. The plan released Wednesday would freeze the Pentagon's spending, which tops $700 billion a year, at this year's levels from fiscal 2012 through 2016. The Pentagon budget would lose $431 billion in additional spending that the CBO had projected it would receive during that period. Even if annual inflation adjustments were restored in 2017, the Pentagon would still lose $1.1 trillion in cumulative spending by 2020. Gordon Adams, who led a team that prepared the group's recommendations on military spending, said his group believed that the Pentagon could reduce the number of uniformed personnel by 275,000 as the Afghanistan war wound down. The group also recommended canceling all three versions of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. At a projected cost of $382 billion, the F-35 is the Pentagon's most expensive program. Both panels recommended canceling the V-22 and the Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle.
5) The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development said governments in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet republics should do more to build strong institutions, the New York Times reports. "Selling off a large state-owned enterprise or utilities to private ownership will not necessarily lead to great efficiency and ultimate benefits to consumers unless there is a regulator in place to enforce rules and ensure fair competition," the bank said. [The concession is remarkable because the EBRD has been aggressively pro-privatization - JFP.]
6) A dozen Mexican-born women who live in El Paso are staging a hunger strike in front of the White House to demand that development funds be allocated to the border zone, EFE reports. The demonstrators, who belong to La Mujer Obrera, nine days ago began a fast to call attention to the precarious situation in which many women live along the border, spokesperson Rubi Orozco said. The demonstrators are pushing a plan for the immediate investment of $1.5 million for the Southwest Regional Development Authority. The women are part of a group of 35,000 workers who lost their jobs with the closing of companies after the enactment of NAFTA.
7) One of the Afghan war's key assumptions is the partnership between US and Afghan troops, the Washington Post reports. The reality is that mutual suspicion and dissatisfaction are easy to find.
8) A blogger jailed for four years for writings deemed insulting to Islam and for calling President Mubarak "a symbol of tyranny" has been released, AP reports. Abdel Kareem Nabil was the first blogger in Egypt convicted specifically for his writings.
9) Venezuela has deported three suspected left-wing rebels to Colombia, a sign of improving relations, the BBC reports. Colombia says one belongs to the FARC rebel group, while the other two allegedly belong to the ELN. The deportations came a day after Colombia promised to extradite a drug suspect to Venezuela rather than the US.
1) Barbara Lee, Members Urge President to Uphold Promises for Review, July 2011 Drawdown in Afghanistan
Office of Rep. Barbara Lee, November 18, 2010
Washington, D.C. - Today, Congresswoman Barbara Lee (CA-09) joined a bipartisan group of House Colleagues in sending President Obama a letter emphasizing the need for a comprehensive review of U.S. strategy in Afghanistan and the importance of following through on the scheduled start of withdrawal in July of 2011.
"Simply put, the failed military-first strategy in Afghanistan is not working," said Congresswoman Lee. "It is time to focus on bringing this war to a close."
The letter, sent to the White House in advance of the scheduled review of U.S. strategy in Afghanistan this December, urges the President "to avoid making this a review limited to assessing the military tactics within Afghanistan and instead address the fundamental question: Is the war in Afghanistan and the price our nation is paying for this war truly in the national security interest of the United States?"
The letter goes on to request that the President remain committed to his pledge for the start of U.S. withdrawal in July 2011 as well as for the Administration to "clearly define by when all U.S. forces will return home from Afghanistan."
[The full letter is posted at the link. The signers were: James B. McGovern, Walter B. Jones, Barbara Lee, Ron Paul, Michael M. Honda, John J. Duncan, Jr., Lynn C. Woolsey, Timothy V. Johnson, John Conyers Jr., and Dennis J. Kucinich - JFP]
2) U.S. appears ready to acknowledge a long haul in Afghanistan
As NATO leaders meet in Lisbon this weekend, the U.S. is expected to endorse a plan for slow withdrawal and gradually handing over security responsibility by 2014.
David S. Cloud, Los Angeles Times, November 17, 2010
Washington - President Obama built his Afghanistan strategy around the bet that he could quickly turn around a "must win" war by narrowing his goals and sending more troops. This weekend he will make his clearest acknowledgement yet that doing so will actually take years.
At a summit in Lisbon this weekend, Obama and other NATO leaders will endorse a plan to gradually turn combat responsibility over to the Afghan army and police by 2014, a timetable that will keep tens of thousands of U.S. combat troops in Afghanistan well beyond the end of Obama's first term.
U.S. and Afghan officials previously have made it clear that Afghanistan will need U.S. help against the insurgency for many years, but the transition plan being presented in Lisbon will be the first time Obama publicly backs such a time frame.
The review of policy in Afghanistan and Pakistan, which began last month, is no longer expected to result in recommendations for changes to the strategy, a senior administration official said. Obama and his advisers now appear unlikely to consider deep reductions in U.S. forces next year.
Mark Sedwill, NATO's senior civilian representative to Afghanistan, said this week that the transition to Afghan control could go into "2015 and beyond." The year 2014 is a "goal" that is "realistic but not guaranteed," he said.
Some analysts contend that if the insurgency remains as strong as ever next summer, Obama could face renewed pressure to shift course from European governments and advisers skeptical of the Afghan war. "If the strategy doesn't reduce the violence by next July they will need a Plan B," said Michael O'Hanlon, a military scholar with the Brookings Institution, a Washington think tank. [O'Hanlon strongly supports the war, so the fact that he is saying this is noteworthy - JFP]
3) Fresh protests rock Haiti capital
Police fire tear gas into a camp for displaced people as protests accusing UN troops of bringing cholera turn violent.
Al Jazeera, 18 Nov 2010 20:44 GMT
Police in Haiti have fired tear gas into a camp for internally displaced people in Port-au-Prince, the capital, following violent riots. The unrest followed protests against the presence of United Nations peacekeepers in the country, as locals become increasingly angry over a cholera outbreak that many people blame on Nepalese troops. The disease has killed more than 1,100 people in about three weeks.
Demonstrators set up burning barricades as vehicles were pelted with stones on Thursday. Several hundred rock-throwing youths attacked an open-top lorry carrying members of Minustah, the UN force in Haiti.
The young demonstrators, many of them in their teens, shouted slogans such as "Cholera: It's Minustah who gave it to us!" and "Minustah, go home" as the protests spread.
It was the fourth day the country had seen such demonstrations. The UN denies that it is responsible for the cholera outbreak. Earlier this week, at least two people were killed in riots against the UN in the north of Haiti.
Al Jazeera's Cath Turner in Port-au-Prince, said that rioting has escalated in the capital. "The military wing of the national police have fired tear gas directly into the homeless camp across the road from the national parliament - Champ de Mars.
"Sources are telling us that there are scenes of parents and kids running around there trying to escape the tear gas.
"There are also UN troops monitoring this, and there are reports that they earlier fired tear gas at protesters. So really things are coming to a head now."
However, a spokesman for Minustah, the UN mission in Haiti, told Al Jazeera there was no exchange of gun fire between UN troops and local residents.
Professor Peter Hallward, an expert in Haitian politics at Kingston University in the United Kingdom, told Al Jazeera that the UN mission was seen by many Haitians as an "occupying force".
"The UN has been there since 2004, to police the consequences of a coup, a coup that overthrew Jean Betrande Aristide, who was elected with a huge mandate several years before that." he said.
"It is seen as the force that came in to pacify the people and persuade them to accept this coup that was a violation of their sovereignty."
Hallward said he believed that Haiti would be able to function without the UN force. "It didn't need the UN before, it didn't need the coup ... The fundamental problem here is that the coup overturned the political system, the continuity of a government that was trying to improve the situation of the people," he said.
According to medical experts, cholera could kill 10,000 people and cause 200,000 infections in Haiti in the coming year. "Our projections show that we could have around 200,000 cases of infection in Haiti over the next six to twelve months," Ciro Ugarte, a regional adviser for the Pan-American Helath Organisation (PAHO), told the AFP news agency.
More than 18,000 people have been treated in hospitals and clinics since the mid-October outbreak, not including those who have died.
4) A Second Group of Experts Calls for Cutting Military Programs to Lower U.S. Debt
Christopher Drew, New York Times, November 17, 2010
A bipartisan group of budget experts called Wednesday for steep cuts in future military spending, just as leaders of a presidential debt-reduction commission proposed last week. Taken together, the reports are likely to intensify pressure to reduce Pentagon spending and cancel troubled weapons programs as part of a broad effort to reduce federal budget deficits.
But the proposals, which would cut back on expensive planes like the F-35 fighter and the V-22 Osprey, represent only the start of what could be a long debate. And it is already clear that many of the suggestions will be hotly disputed in Congress.
The plan released Wednesday included a five-year freeze on Pentagon spending, along with sweeping changes in taxes and other federal programs, to reduce projected deficits by $5.9 trillion through 2020. It was prepared by a group led by former Senator Pete V. Domenici of New Mexico, who was the senior Republican on the Senate Budget Committee for more than a quarter-century, and Alice M. Rivlin, who served both Congress and then-President Bill Clinton as a budget director.
Their proposal would freeze the Pentagon's spending, which tops $700 billion a year, at this year's levels from fiscal 2012 through 2016.
That would mean the Pentagon budget would not even be adjusted for inflation, and the military would lose $431 billion in additional spending that the Congressional Budget Office had projected it would receive during that period. And even if annual inflation adjustments were restored in 2017, the Pentagon would still lose $1.1 trillion in cumulative spending by 2020.
"Would this be easy? No," said Gordon Adams, a professor at American University who led a team that prepared the group's recommendations on military spending. But given that the Pentagon accounts for more than half of the government's discretionary spending, "We think it's a reasonable plan," he said.
Last week, the leaders of a commission created by President Obama proposed cuts in weapons systems and other expenditures that could add up to $100 billion by 2015.
The recommendations from both groups have come after nearly a decade of rapid increases in military spending, and they are setting up the first serious debate since the terrorist attacks of 2001 about the size and cost of the armed services.
Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates has sought to get ahead of the budget-cutting demands by showing that he can squeeze more efficiency from the Pentagon's bureaucracy. He has called for the Pentagon's budget to keep growing at 1 percent a year after inflation, plus the costs of the war in Afghanistan.
He is also pushing for 2 or 3 percent in annual savings in the department's contracting practices. He wants to use the money for other military needs. But both of the debt-reduction reports said any such savings should be used to lower the federal deficits.
Mr. Adams said his group believed that the Pentagon could reduce the number of uniformed personnel by 275,000 as the Afghanistan war wound down.
The group also recommended canceling all three versions of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. At a projected cost of $382 billion for 2,457 planes, the F-35, made by Lockheed Martin, is the Pentagon's most expensive program.
Last week, the president's commission suggested canceling the most complex version of the plane, which can take off almost vertically, while reducing purchases of the conventional and aircraft-carrier variants.
Both panels also recommended canceling the V-22, a combination of a winged plane and a helicopter, and the Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle, an amphibious assault craft.
5) European Bank Calls for Stronger State Role in Ex-Communist Bloc
Judy Dempsey, New York Times, November 17, 2010
Berlin - Having helped the former Communist bloc make the transition to free-market capitalism, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development on Wednesday suggested that it was time to improve the role of the state again.
In an annual report, the bank said governments in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet republics should do more to build strong institutions so that markets and the privatization process could function better.
"Selling off a large state-owned enterprise or utilities to private ownership will not necessarily lead to great efficiency and ultimate benefits to consumers unless there is a regulator in place to enforce rules and ensure fair competition," the bank said.
Such a call is a major shift for a bank that had put much emphasis on reducing the role of the state and on encouraging private ownership and market forces when it was first established nearly 20 years ago.
After taking stock of previous privatizations in a region that stretches from Poland to Mongolia, the E.B.R.D. said that markets could not function properly unless there were effective and well-run public institutions in place. A balance is needed if growth is to be sustained, the report said.
6) Mexican Women Stage Hunger Strike in Front of White House.
EFE. November 17, 2010
Washington - A dozen Mexican-born women who now live in El Paso, Texas, are staging a hunger strike in front of the White House to demand that development funds be allocated to the border zone.
The demonstrators, who belong to the grassroots organization La Mujer Obrera, nine days ago began a fast to call attention to the precarious situation in which many women live along the border, spokesperson Rubi Orozco told Efe.
"The border is the poorest area in the country, and along it only security policies are implemented. We need development based on communities and not more factories that seek cheap labor," Orozco emphasized.
By means of sending letters to President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama and meeting with congressmen and officials at federal agencies, the demonstrators are hoping to push a plan for the immediate investment of $1.5 million for the Southwest Regional Development Authority.
Though the SRDA was formally created by 2008 legislation, "they have never allocated funds to it, and it's in danger of disappearing if it doesn't have a budget before 2012," Orozco said.
The group's proposal is for the authorities to coordinate the economic aid directly to the organizations through public and private initiatives.
The women from El Paso, all of whom are affected directly or indirectly by the violence in neighboring Ciudad Juarez - Mexico's murder capital - are part of a group of 35,000 workers who lost their jobs with the closing of companies after the enactment of the North American Free Trade Agreement in 1994.
Many of them found refuge in La Mujer Obrera, where they could learn a trade and help their community through small businesses, hunger striker Ana Gomez told Efe.
But the organization's work has been frustrated by the "needs of school, work, health programs," Rosalia Hernandez, another demonstrator, told Efe.
"We're making this hunger strike so that the government will turn its eyes to our community," Hernandez emphasized. "We need them to allocate funds to women's organizations all along the frontier and not just to security, to making walls and weapons."
7) Despite friendly rhetoric, suspicion abounds between Afghan and U.S. troops
Joshua Partlow, Washington Post, Thursday, November 18, 2010; 2:25 PM
Maqur, Afghanistan - They stood at attention in the gravel lot under a bright autumn sun, 22 Afghan police officers in matching bulletproof vests. All wore helmets, chin straps fastened, as they clutched their rifles to their chests with both hands.
Col. Mohammad Daud, the district police chief, surveyed his men with evident pride. A general would be arriving soon, and they were ready.
Observing the scene from the nearby shade, an American soldier reached a different conclusion.
"They're [expletive] worthless," he said.
"I've never seen them in any formation before," he said. "They're never in uniform."
"They're a joke."
One of the Afghan war's key assumptions is encapsulated by three endlessly repeated Dari words: "shohna ba shohna," or "shoulder to shoulder," the chosen metaphor of military brass to describe the American partnership with Afghan troops: two nations side by side in the long hard march against the Taliban.
The reality is not so seamless. Early this month, an Afghan soldier allegedly turned his rifle on his American partners and shot dead two U.S. soldiers in Helmand province. Such fratricide remains an anomaly. But mutual suspicion and dissatisfaction are easier to find, as barriers of language and culture compound the daily frustrations of fighting.
8) Blogger Released From Jail
Associated Press, November 17, 2010
A prominent blogger jailed for four years for writings deemed insulting to Islam and for calling President Hosni Mubarak "a symbol of tyranny" has been released, his brother said Wednesday. Abdel Kareem Nabil was the first blogger in Egypt convicted specifically for his writings in a case that government critics said was intended to serve as a warning to others. Mr. Nabil, who wrote under the name Kareem Amer, was a scathing critic of conservative Muslims, directing much of his criticism at Al Azhar University, the pre-eminent institution of religious thought in Sunni Islam, where he was studying law. He denounced the school as "the university of terrorism," accusing it of promoting radical ideas and suppressing free thought. He was released Monday after being held, without explanation, for 10 days beyond the end of his sentence, said his brother, Abdel Rahman. The Cairo-based Arabic Network for Human Rights Information said last week that during that time he was subjected to repeated beatings by an officer at the State Security Investigation office in Alexandria.
9) Venezuela deports left-wing 'rebels' to Colombia.
BBC, 17 November 2010
Venezuela has deported three suspected left-wing rebels to Colombia, a sign of improving relations. Colombia says one belongs to the Farc rebel group, while the other two allegedly belong to the ELN.
Earlier this year, then Colombian President Alvaro Uribe alleged Venezuela was harbouring rebels. The deportations came a day after Colombia promised to extradite a drug suspect, Walid Makled, to Venezuela rather than the United States.
In July, Venezuela broke off diplomatic ties with its neighbour, following accusations that it allowed guerrillas from the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia or Farc to operate from camps within Venezuela. Relations between Mr Chavez, and his then counterpart, Mr Uribe, were particularly strained. However, tensions have eased considerably since the inauguration in August of the current Colombian President, Juan Manuel Santos.
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