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JFP 2/22: MoveOn Calls for 50-state rallies Saturday
Submitted by Robert Naiman on 22 February 2011 - 7:57pm
Just Foreign Policy News
February 22, 2011
MoveOn Calls for 50 State Rallies in Solidarity with Wisconsin
Are you near a state capital? This is a good opportunity to talk to America about bringing our war dollars home.
Lee bill for military withdrawal from Afghanistan
"H.R.780 - To provide that funds for operations of the Armed Forces in Afghanistan shall be obligated and expended only for purposes of providing for the safe and orderly withdrawal from Afghanistan of all members of the Armed Forces and Department of Defense contractor personnel who are in Afghanistan."
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1) Afghan officials expressed outrage over a suggestion by Gen. Petraeus that Afghans caught up in a coalition attack in northeastern Afghanistan might have burned their own children to exaggerate claims of civilian casualties, the Washington Post reports. Two participants in a meeting at the presidential palace said Petraeus dismissed allegations by Karzai's office and the provincial governor that civilians were killed and said residents had invented stories, or even injured their children, to pin the blame on U.S. forces and force an end to the operation. "I was dizzy. My head was spinning," said one participant, referring to Petraeus's remarks. "This was shocking. Would any father do this to his children? This is really absurd."
On Saturday, the provincial governor, sent a fact-finding team to the village of Helgal. They returned with seven injured people, including a woman and a man, both 22 years old, and five boys and girls 16 or younger. Adm. Gregory Smith, the top U.S. military spokesman in Kabul, said they had burns and shrapnel wounds.
"We have observed increased reporting of children being disciplined by having their hands and feet dipped into boiling water. No one is claiming this is the case in this instance, but it may well be," Smith said. [No word yet on whether the U.S. military has "observed increased reporting of children being disciplined" with shrapnel wounds, but one reporter has said he will ask - JFP.]
2) A present and a former US government adviser and a Bahraini human rights advocate say the US military undermined efforts to improve relations with Bahrain's Shiite majority and understated abuses by the Sunni royal family, the New York Times reports. "The problem has been that we have been doing everything we can to cuddle up to the Khalifas and have been consciously ignoring at best the situation of Bahraini Shiites," said Gwenyth Todd, a former political adviser to the Navy in Bahrain who was also an adviser on Middle Eastern affairs at the Pentagon and the White House. "The military here always took a position against the human rights community," said Nabil Rajab of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights. "If the United States does not modify its policy now to take into account the Shia, there is a danger that worries me, if we are seen as backing the government to the end," said a US government official in Bahrain.
3) Rep. Jones' amendment that would have stripped $400 million from a new fund to build Afghanistan's infrastructure was a test vote for Republicans on the war, the San Francisco Chronicle reports. It failed, with support from 36 Republicans, including just a handful of freshmen. The war will cost an estimated $116 billion this year, nearly twice what Republicans hope to save through deep cuts in domestic programs, the Chronicle notes.
4) Admiral Mullen said Iran is not behind popular protests in Bahrain and other countries in the region, AFP reports. "Those are by and large internal issues, as opposed to issues fomented by some external forces," Mullen said. [That's obvious, but it's useful that Mullen said it - JFP.]
5) Tens of thousands of protesters flooded the capital Tuesday in the largest demonstration since a Shiite-led campaign against the government began eight days ago, the Washington Post reports. Neither the police nor the army was visible near the scene of Tuesday's peaceful protest. King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa announced he would release some political prisoners, one of the opposition's conditions for the opening of negotiations. A spokesman for the Bahrain Center for Human Rights said that 23 activists accused last year of plotting to overthrow the government were released early Wednesday.
6) The Egyptian leadership took several high-profile steps Monday to signal that the move to full civilian rule would be rapid, the New York Times reports. Mounir Abdel Nour, secretary general of the opposition Wafd Party, was named tourism minister. The heads of four other ministries were also replaced. But several youth leaders said they opposed the continuation of the Egyptian cabinet after Mubarak's ouster. The leaders of the major ministries - interior, justice and foreign affairs - as well as the prime minister, were put in place by Mubarak. Meanwhile, the country's top prosecutor said he would request that the Foreign Ministry ask governments to freeze any assets of Mubarak, his family and a handful of top associates.
7) The Algerian president's office agreed Tuesday to lift a 19-year state of emergency, AP reports. But no date was given, and a ban on street demonstrations in the capital could be maintained.
8) Raymond Davis, the CIA contractor jailed for fatally shooting two Pakistani men last month, has become a symbol of what many Pakistanis believe is an army of hundreds, perhaps thousands, of shadowy American operatives stalking Pakistani streets, the Washington Post reports. It is unclear how many of the U.S. mission's personnel are private security contractors or intelligence agents, the Post says. Pakistani commentators and opposition parties have filled that vacuum of information in recent days with numbers of their own. Suggestions that all U.S. personnel are spies are feeding popular suspicion about U.S. programs and renewing reservations about the American presence in general. Even some typically pro-U.S. analysts have faulted the US and President Obama for publicly pressuring Pakistan to release Davis, saying such moves affirm perceptions of American arrogance while doing little to help Pakistan's weak civilian government navigate a thorny domestic problem.
1) Petraeus's comments on coalition attack reportedly offend Karzai government
Joshua Partlow, Washington Post, Monday, February 21, 2011; 7:52 PM
Kabul - To the shock of President Hamid Karzai's aides, Gen. David H. Petraeus suggested Sunday at the presidential palace that Afghans caught up in a coalition attack in northeastern Afghanistan might have burned their own children to exaggerate claims of civilian casualties, according to two participants at the meeting.
The exact language Petraeus used in the closed-door session is not known, and neither is the precise message he meant to convey. But his remarks about the deadly U.S. military operation in Konar province were deemed deeply offensive by some in the room. They spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe the private discussions.
They said Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, dismissed allegations by Karzai's office and the provincial governor that civilians were killed and said residents had invented stories, or even injured their children, to pin the blame on U.S. forces and force an end to the operation. "I was dizzy. My head was spinning," said one participant, referring to Petraeus's remarks. "This was shocking. Would any father do this to his children? This is really absurd."
U.S. and Afghan officials are investigating what happened during the three- to four-day operation in the mountains of Ghaziabad district, one of the most dangerous and inhospitable parts of Afghanistan. U.S. military officials said there is no evidence that civilians died. The governor of Konar, Fazlullah Wahidi, disagreed, citing reports from villagers that dozens of women and children perished. Karzai's office placed the civilian death toll at 50.
The key period involves five hours between Thursday night and Friday morning, during which Apache helicopters fired on suspected insurgents who had gathered to attack U.S. and Afghan troops, said Rear Adm. Gregory J. Smith, the top U.S. military spokesman in Kabul.
The insurgents fled down a hillside in small groups, away from any houses. U.S. and Afghan ground troops remained far to the south, Smith said.
During the next five hours, Smith said, surveillance drones tracked the fighters while the Apaches fired 30 mm Gatling guns, rockets and Hellfire missiles. "I have reviewed the footage and found no evidence women and children were among the fighters," he said. "Again, no civilian structures were anywhere near where these engagements took place. It was at night and in very rugged terrain."
According to intercepted conversations, Smith said, insurgents discussed contacting government officials to tell them that civilians were being killed so that coalition helicopters could be stopped from firing. The insurgents also discussed their casualties, "stating they lost 50 and needed help in getting out the wounded and quickly burying the dead," he said.
On Saturday, Wahidi, the provincial governor, sent a three-person fact-finding team up the valley to the village of Helgal. They returned with seven injured people, including a woman and a man, both 22 years old, and five boys and girls 16 or younger. Smith said they had burns and shrapnel wounds, none of them life-threatening.
The U.S. military "did have initial reports that the feet and hands of the children appeared to have been burned," Smith said. "We have observed increased reporting of children being disciplined by having their hands and feet dipped into boiling water. No one is claiming this is the case in this instance, but it may well be."
Petraeus apparently had suggested something along these lines at the national security council meeting Sunday, remarks that "really bothered everyone," including Karzai, one participant said.
"He claimed that in the midst of the [operation] some pro-Taliban parents in contact with a government official decided to create a civilian casualty claim to pressure international forces to cease the [operation]. They burned hands and legs of some of their children and sent them to the hospital," a second participant said.
The anger greeting this message showed the political challenges inherent in dealing with allegations of civilian casualties, particularly in remote and dangerous areas where investigations prove difficult. The Karzai government has repeatedly taken the U.S.-led coalition to task for killing noncombatants over the years.
"Killing 60 people, and then blaming the killing on those same people, rather than apologizing for any deaths? This is inhuman," one Afghan official said.
2) Dim View of U.S. Posture Toward Bahraini Shiites Is Described
Michael Slackman, New York Times, February 21, 2011
Manama, Bahrain - The United States military undermined efforts to improve relations with Bahrain's Shiite majority and understated abuses by the Sunni royal family, according to one present and one former American government adviser and a Bahraini human rights advocate.
As Bahrain's leaders struggle to hold back a rising popular revolt against their absolute rule, Washington's posture toward the Shiite majority, which is spearheading the opposition, could prove crucial to future relations with this strategically valuable Persian Gulf nation. The United States Navy's Fifth Fleet is based here, helping ensure the flow of oil through the Strait of Hormuz and the gulf, and safeguarding American interests in this volatile region.
Over the years, the military, according to the advisers and the human rights advocate, believed that King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa and his court were reform-minded leaders who could advance democracy and preserve stability. That narrative contrasts sharply with the experience of the Shiites, as documented by human rights groups and some of the military's own advisers.
"The problem has been that we have been doing everything we can to cuddle up to the Khalifas and have been consciously ignoring at best the situation of Bahraini Shiites," said Gwenyth Todd, a former political adviser to the Navy in Bahrain from 2004 to 2007 who was also an adviser on Middle Eastern and North African affairs at the Pentagon and the White House. "We could find ourselves in a very bad situation if the regime has to make major concessions to the Shia, unless we change our tone."
Ms. Todd, who was assigned as an informal liaison between the Navy and the Shiites, was dismissed from her duties in December 2007 in a formal letter that cited "unauthorized contact with foreign nationals," "financial irresponsibility" and "disclosure of classified information." But an American official who is familiar with the details of her case and is still working in Bahrain confirmed the details of Ms. Todd's experience with the Navy and the details she provided, including a glowing letter of recommendation written by a high-ranking Navy official in 2009.
The government advisers and Nabil Rajab of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights said that over the years, the United States military was reluctant to believe the degree of the royal family's discrimination against Shiites in politics, employment, housing and human rights. Mr. Rajab said that he was invited to speak in Washington and was told by two senators that the military encouraged them not to meet with him, or even to host him. He did not want to identify the senators because he thought it might embarrass them.
"The military here always took a position against the human rights community," Mr. Rajab said. "The U.S. did not build up any good relations with the opposition. They always categorize them as fundamentalist or extremist in their reports, in order to justify their political position in support of the government."
In Bahrain, as in Egypt and Tunisia, the United States finds itself again torn by its desire to preserve relations with autocratic leaders who back American foreign policy interests and by the danger of further alienating Arab public opinion by failing to promote democracy. At the moment, feelings toward the United States are neutral, and in some circles even positive, but they could slip toward hostile, opposition advocates said.
"If the United States does not modify its policy now to take into account the Shia, there is a danger that worries me, if we are seen as backing the government to the end," said a United States government official in Bahrain who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the news media.
The United States Embassy in Bahrain is working hard behind the scenes to ease the crisis, and American officials say their pressure persuaded the Bahraini government to consider political reforms and halt the use of lethal force that killed seven demonstrators and wounded many more.
Khalil Ebrahim al-Marzooq, a leader in the opposition party Al Wefaq and one of 18 members of Parliament to resign in protest of the killings, said he appreciated those efforts. But some demonstrators have asked why the White House encourages Iranians to rise up for democracy but acts less forcefully in Bahrain's case. Mr. Marzooq agreed the United States could do more. "The United States should assertively emphasize the Bahrain Shiites should get their rights," he said.
3) Bid To End Afghan War Funding Hits GOP Roadblock
Carolyn Lochhead, San Francisco Chronicle, Tuesday, February 22, 2011
Washington - Amid a battle in the House over how to cut billions in spending, liberal Rep. Barbara Lee of Oakland joined conservative Republicans Ron Paul of Texas and Walter Jones of North Carolina last week on a bill that could save more than $100 billion a year by ending the war in Afghanistan.
But they confront an even stranger coalition that opposes a quick pullout: President Obama and most of the 87 newly elected House Republicans, many of whom are backed by the Tea Party.
A test vote on Jones' amendment to a House bill to fund the government for the rest of the year would have stripped $400 million from a new fund to build Afghanistan's infrastructure. It failed, with support from 36 Republicans, including just a handful of freshmen.
At the same time, most Republicans backed amendments to slash a wide array of domestic programs, including U.S. infrastructure such as water, air traffic and rail projects. The war will cost an estimated $116 billion this year, nearly twice what Republicans hope to save through deep cuts in domestic programs.
Most Republicans, including newcomers who joined the successful effort to eliminate $450 million for a second engine for the F-35 fighter plane, voted to support the Afghan infrastructure fund.
"It's possible - possible - that there are 10 to 20 (new GOP members) who we believe could be with us, with the right individual talking to them, who could possibly join us in bringing troops out," Jones said. "The older members are locked in with the leadership on the Republican side and want to keep the troops over there, so there's not much hope there. But we do have some potential with 10 to 20 Tea Party types, and we'll be working with those people."
Paul was more pessimistic. "We don't have any money to do infrastructure in this country," Paul said. "That vote wasn't very encouraging. We have a long way to go."
Since Obama escalated the war in 2009, bringing troop levels to more than 100,000, public opinion has increasingly soured, according to many polls. A recent CBS News poll showed 72 percent of the public favors a faster withdrawal; while a Gallup/USA Today poll this month showed majorities of Democrats, independents and Republicans favoring a speedier pullout.
The GOP, once all but united on higher military spending and continuation of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, has begun to splinter between its neoconservative wing, which dominated during the George W. Bush administration, and the small-government, libertarian wing that has strong roots in the Tea Party movement.
Several leaders influential with the Tea Party, including former House Majority Leader Dick Armey of Texas and anti-tax activist Grover Norquist, have urged Republicans to scrutinize military spending and rethink support of the wars.
4) Iran not behind Mideast protests: Mullen
AFP, February 21, 2011
Doha - Iran foments instability in the Middle East but is not behind popular protests in Bahrain and other countries in the region, top US military officer Admiral Mike Mullen said Monday in Qatar. "Iran, I still believe, is a country that continues to foment instability in the region, take advantage of every opportunity," said Mullen, who is the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
But "from my perspective that has not been the principal focus of what happened in Egypt or what happened in Bahrain or any of these other countries," he said, referring to popular protests against various Middle East regimes. "Those are by and large internal issues, as opposed to issues fomented by some external forces," Mullen said, although "there's always concerns in this region with Iran and certainly the US has them as well as all the regional players."
5) Bahrainis protest peacefully in capital
Michael Birnbaum, Washington Post, Tuesday, February 22, 2011; 5:31 PM
Manama, Bahrain - Tens of thousands of protesters waving red-and-white Bahraini flags flooded the central district of the capital Tuesday in the largest demonstration since a Shiite-led campaign against the government began eight days ago.
People packed into Pearl Square, the focal point of the protests, as calls from the country's Shiite majority for concessions from the Sunni monarchy mounted. But the day brought little political resolution.
A red-and-white ribbon of cheering protesters filled the eastbound lanes of an almost two-mile stretch of highway, streaming into the square to reiterate calls for changes that would give the country's Shiites better opportunities and a say in the government, which the royal family leads.
Earlier, King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa had announced that he would release some political prisoners, one of the opposition's conditions for the opening of negotiations, but it remained unclear how many would actually be freed. A spokesman for the Bahrain Center for Human Rights said that 23 activists accused last year of plotting to overthrow the government were released early Wednesday, a significant concession.
Neither the police nor the army was visible near the scene of Tuesday's peaceful protest. [...]
6) Egypt's Leaders Signal Commitment to Civilian Rule
Sharon Otterman, New York Times, February 21, 2011
Cairo - The military and civilian leadership controlling Egypt in the wake of a popular revolution took several high-profile steps on Monday to reassure Egyptians that it shared their fervor for change and to signal to foreign leaders that the move to full civilian rule would be rapid.
At the same time, the country's top prosecutor, Abdel Meguid Mahmoud, said he would request that the Foreign Ministry ask governments to freeze any assets of Mr. Mubarak, his family and a handful of top associates. The Associated Press, citing unnamed security officials, said Mr. Mubarak's local assets were frozen as soon as his government fell.
Last week, the Swiss government, acting on its own, froze tens of millions of dollars belonging to Mr. Mubarak, his family or top associates. The fact that the caretaker Egyptian government had not requested the move prompted opposition members to express fears that it was shielding Mr. Mubarak, a former Air Force chief, and his relatives.
While the military remains firmly in control, the caretaker government has begun taking steps toward a more inclusive political world, appointing an opposition member for the first time to a ministry post: Mounir Abdel Nour, the secretary general of the Wafd Party, one of Egypt's oldest political parties, was named the tourism minister for the interim government on Sunday. In an interview, Mr. Nour said he was hopeful that tourism, now at a fraction of its normal level, would soon get back on track.
The heads of four other ministries were also replaced, and the government announced it would not appoint a minister of information, in an apparent acknowledgment that old forms of media control by the government were increasingly becoming an anachronism. The new culture minister, Mohamed El Sawy, is the director of a popular culture center in Cairo.
Some opposition leaders pressed for more changes. In meetings with foreign diplomats on Monday, several youth leaders said they opposed the continuation of the Egyptian cabinet after Mr. Mubarak's ouster. The leaders of the major ministries - interior, justice and foreign affairs - as well as the prime minister himself, were put in place by Mr. Mubarak before his fall.
As sporadic demonstrations continued in Cairo, including several in solidarity with revolutionary movements in Libya and elsewhere in the region, a coalition of youth groups called online for a large return rally on Tuesday in Tahrir Square, the center of the revolution, and said they hoped a million people would attend.
The group, known as the Coalition of January 25 Youth, said in a statement on Facebook that it was calling people to the streets "due to the procrastination of Supreme Military Council in responding to the legitimate demands of the Egyptian people and the continuation of all the figures of the former Egyptian regime, in their ministerial posts."
7) Algeria lifting 19-year-old state of emergency
Elaine Ganley, Associated Press, Tuesday, February 22, 2011; 2:39 PM
Algiers, Algeria - The Algerian president's office agreed Tuesday to lift a 19-year state of emergency in a bid to defuse spiraling and potentially dangerous discontent across the nation.
The office of President Abdelaziz Bouteflika said the president had approved a government decision earlier in the day to lift the restrictive measure, put in place by the army in February 1992 to combat Islamist extremists.
The brief statement said the change was "imminent" but gave no date.
Lifting the measure is a two-step process. The ordinance - which does not pass through parliament - that put the state of emergency in place must be replaced with another. "This (new) ordinance will enter into practice as soon as its imminent publication in the Official Journal," the brief statement said.
The state of emergency bans large gatherings and demonstrations throughout the country, though protests have been tolerated at times outside the capital. It also increased the powers of police and regional governors.
It was not immediately clear just how generous authorities will be in putting Algeria on a new footing. However, they have indicated that a ban on street demonstrations in the capital could be maintained, making the change but a partial victory for opposition forces and civil society who have long demanded it be done away with - partly in hopes they can hold protests.
8) In aftermath of shooting, rising skepticism about American presence in Pakistan
Karin Brulliard, Washington Post, Tuesday, February 22, 2011; 6:23 PM
Islamabad, Pakistan - Raymond Davis, the American CIA contractor jailed for fatally shooting two Pakistani men last month, has quickly assumed the role of Pakistan's public enemy No. 1. But not far behind him are those who have come to be known as "Raymond Davises."
Davis's name has become a byword for a presumed army of hundreds, perhaps thousands, of shadowy American operatives stalking Pakistani streets. So important is his silence to protecting their mission, according to some Pakistani media reports, that the United States might spring him from prison in an action-movie-style rescue operation - or have its agents poison him.
But officials and analysts said the speculation about multitudes of American gunslingers also reflects widespread hostility toward the U.S. presence, which has spiked since the shooting and could represent a particularly ominous turn for the United States' rapidly expanding mission in Pakistan.
As the Obama administration has boosted economic and development assistance for Pakistan over the past two years, it has deployed U.S. diplomats and aid workers more widely to implement education programs, flood relief and other projects. The apparently growing belief that many Americans work as sinister agents could imperil those efforts or endanger those carrying them out, U.S. and Pakistani officials said.
"It's going to be very difficult, moving forward, for a lot of regular diplomats and development workers to work here without constantly having to deal with a sense of insecurity on the part of the Pakistanis - accusations, suspicion, skepticism," said Mosharraf Zaidi, a commentator and policy adviser who has worked as a contractor for the U.S. Agency for International Development.
It is unclear how many of the U.S. mission's personnel are private security contractors or intelligence agents, many of whom work alongside Pakistani agents on counterterrorism operations, including the CIA drone program. A U.S. Embassy spokeswoman declined to provide figures; according to data provided by the Pakistani Embassy in Washington, 3,555 U.S. diplomats, military officials and employees of "allied agencies" were issued visas in 2010, most of which were valid for only three months.
Pakistani commentators and opposition parties have filled that vacuum of information in recent days with numbers of their own. In a recent newspaper column, Raoof Hasan, a media adviser to the chief minister of Punjab province, of which Lahore is the capital, wrote of "scores of other Raymonds roaming the roads." Last week, the chief of Jamaat-e-Islami, a religious party, told a gathering of tribal elders that there are "thousands of Raymond Davises."
But as outrage over the Davis shooting mounts, suggestions that all U.S. personnel are spies are feeding popular suspicion about the battery of U.S. programs here and renewing reservations about the American presence in general. "They may be justifying their work as for an NGO or other U.S. agency, but their prime purpose of their stay in the city is to spy," Fakhr-e-Alam Khan, a leader of a religious party, said of U.S. workers in the northwestern city of Peshawar.
The rhetoric has alarmed U.S. officials, who have struggled to win hearts and minds in a nation where the opacity of some of their activities has made them unpopular, but where that unpopularity has in turn made them operate even more privately.
A former senior Pakistani security official who spoke on the condition of anonymity warned that future run-ins between American officials and ordinary Pakistanis could result in "mob justice."
"There are huge sensitivities," the former official said. "This is not Iraq or Afghanistan. We are not under occupation."
Even some typically pro-U.S. analysts have faulted the United States and President Obama for publicly pressuring Pakistan to release Davis, saying such moves affirm perceptions of American arrogance while doing little to help Pakistan's weak civilian government navigate a thorny domestic problem.
"It has certainly added to all the wrong kinds of impressions . . . about the United States in Pakistan," said Tariq Fatemi, a former Pakistani diplomat who has often written favorably about the United States.
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