JFP 2/28: Who's blocking Aristide's return? DNC passes resln against Afghan War

Just Foreign Policy News
February 28, 2011

*Action: 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."
Check to see if your Rep. has co-sponsored; ask them to co-sponsor if they haven't. You can reach your Rep. through the Congressional switchboard: 202-225-3121.
You can view the cosponsors here:
http://www.opencongress.org/bill/112-h780/show
You can ask your Rep. to co-sponsor here:
http://www.justforeignpolicy.org/act/hr780

Mark Weisbrot: Haitians Demand New Elections
US pressure forcing election runoff only with candidates they favor.
http://therealnews.com/t2/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=31&Itemid=74&jumival=6288

Anti-War candidate mulling Congressional run in IL-10
"I support a fixed timetable to extricate ourselves from the quagmire in Afghanistan." Ilya Sheyman was Field Director for Democracy for America and National Mobilization Director at MoveOn.
http://www.ilyasheyman.com/issues/

Rolling Stone/Michael Hastings: Military Used Psyops on Congress to Get More Money and Troops
Minnesota Senator Al Franken was a target of the campaign. Franken stood out among Senate progressives when he opposed Feingold's amendment requiring the President to establish a timetable for military withdrawal.
http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/news/another-runaway-general-army-deploys-psy-ops-on-u-s-senators-20110223

Mona Eltahawy's opening remarks at J Street 2011
Egyptian journalist and blogger denounces Qaddafi, calls for end of Gaza blockade, says Camp David treaty is not under threat, nobody wants to go to war in Egypt, but Egyptians will never accept Israel's suppression of the Palestinians.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3U0QRR3ELxw

Help Support Our Advocacy for Peace and Diplomacy
The opponents of peace and diplomacy work every day. Help us be an effective counterweight.
http://www.justforeignpolicy.org/donate

Summary:
U.S./Top News
1) Former president Aristide's continued presence in South Africa has generated speculation that South Africa has succumbed to pressure from the US to keep Aristide from leaving the country before election time, the Mail & Guardian reports from South Africa. On February 24 actor Danny Glover, Reverend Jesse Jackson, author Randall Robinson, and other prominent figures from the US anti-apartheid movement addressed an appeal to South African President Jacob Zuma, urging South Africa to do everything possible to facilitate Aristide's return. But the US and France are believed to be pressuring South Africa not to let Aristide go home.

2) The Democratic Party adopted a resolution pressing for a swift withdrawal of US forces from Afghanistan, the Huffington Post reports. The Democratic National Committee resolution said a withdrawal "must include a significant and sizable reduction no later than July 2011," the position articulated last year by then-Speaker Pelosi and Vice President Biden. Barbara Lee, Mike Honda, and Donna Brazile were among the submitters of the resolution.

3) A report by Michael Hastings in Rolling Stone accuses Gen. William Caldwell, who is in charge of training Afghan troops, of ordering soldiers specializing in "psychological operations" to manipulate visiting members of Congress into providing more troops and funding for the war, the Washington Post reports. Caldwell denied the allegation. The actions, if true, would be illegal. Gen. Petraeus ordered an investigation. The article also alleges that Lt. Col. Michael Holmes was retaliated against with an unrelated reprimand for refusing to carry out the order, which he believed to be illegal.

4) Defense Secretary Gates bluntly told an audience of West Point cadets it would be unwise for the US to ever fight another war like Iraq or Afghanistan, and that the chances of carrying out a change of government in that fashion again were slim, the New York Times reports. "Any future defense secretary who advises the president to again send a big American land army into Asia or into the Middle East or Africa should 'have his head examined,'" Gates said. That reality would require the Army to reshape its budget, Gates said.

5) Tom Malinowski of Human Rights Watch says the US downplayed human rights concerns in its relations with Libya after 2004, ProPublica reports. Malinowski said HRW had not opposed the restoration of diplomatic relations. A U.S. embassy cable from 2008 noted the disappointment of "a number of Libyans" that the US did not "more publicly and directly urge greater respect for human rights" immediately after diplomatic relations were re-established. "Absent a clear message that engagement on human rights will be a necessary adjunct of an expanded U.S.-Libya relationship, meaningful progress in this area is unlikely," the cable released by WikiLeaks said.

Israel/Palestine
6) Palestinian students and youth activists have been coalescing around the popular demand to the schism between the Fatah and Hamas, the New York Times reports. Sharek, an independent Palestinian youth organization with headquarters in Ramallah and Gaza, has adopted the slogan, "The people want an end of the schism," an adaptation of one resounding across the Middle East, "The people want an end of the regime." Ending the division has become more urgent because of the US veto of a UN resolution on Israeli settlements, a Palestinian union official said.

Afghanistan
7) The US military has begun to pull back most of its forces from the Pech Valley, which it once insisted was central to the campaign against the Taliban and Al Qaeda, the New York Times reports. The decision to withdraw reflected a stark assessment by the military that it would have been better served by not having entered the valley in the first place, the Times says. "What we figured out is that people in the Pech really aren't anti-U.S. or anti-anything; they just want to be left alone," said one US military official. "Our presence is what's destabilizing this area."

Bahrain
8) In the largest protest yet, tens of thousands of demonstrators in Bahrain Friday demanded that the king dissolve the government and agree to a transition to a true constitutional monarchy, the New York Times reports. But after 11 days of protests, King Hamad ibn Isa al-Khalifa has not addressed the issue of democratic change.

Egypt
9) A notably bad proposal is already being heard frequently in Washington: that to help Egypt prepare for elections we should support not just the development of political parties, but favor one side of the party spectrum, writes Thomas Carothers of Carnegie in the Washington Post. Former ambassador Martin Indyk, Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, and Rep. Howard Berman have all advanced versions of this bad idea [the latter two are chair and ranking Member of International Relations - JFP.] The US must maintain a bright line between support of key democratic principles - such as political openness and fair competition - and trying to shape particular electoral outcomes, Carothers says.

Iraq
10) At least 13 people were killed in Iraq on Friday as tens of thousands defied an official curfew to join a nationwide "Day of Rage," the Washington Post reports. In Mosul, six people were killed and 21 injured after security guards opened fire on a large crowd gathered in front of the provincial council building to demand jobs and better services. In Tikrit, four protesters were killed and 15 injured when security forces opened fire with live bullets on demonstrators gathered at provincial governor's office.

Algeria
11) Algeria on Thursday officially lifted a state of emergency, AP reports. The decision has long been demanded by opposition parties and civil society. But the Algerian League for the Defense of Human Rights called the move a "ruse aimed at fooling international opinion at a time when Arab regimes are under pressure." The Interior Minister announced that protest marches would continue to be banned in the capital.

Contents:
U.S./Top News

1) Who is grounding Aristide?
Sean Christie, Mail & Guardian (South Africa), Feb 28 2011 18:07
http://mg.co.za/article/2011-02-28-who-is-grounding-aristide/

As Haiti prepares for an election run-off on March 20, ousted former president Jean-Bertrand Aristide's continued presence in South Africa has generated speculation that Pretoria has succumbed to pressure from the United States to keep Aristide from leaving the country before election time.

On February 24 American actor Danny Glover, Reverend Jesse Jackson, African-American lawyer and author Randall Robinson, as well as several prominent figures from the American anti-apartheid movement, addressed an appeal to South African President Jacob Zuma, regarding the return of Aristide.

"Many in Haiti have been greatly inspired by the news of the issuance of president Aristide's passport, some even travelling miles to the airport to greet his return," they wrote in the appeal. "Any delay to the Aristides' prompt travel to Haiti would be yet another disappointment to a people that have already experienced a long list of tragedies, disasters and heartbreak," runs a portion of the appeal.

A diplomatic passport was handed to Aristide's lawyer, Ira Kurzban, on February 7. In January Aristide expressed his readiness to return: "Today, tomorrow, at any time."

The US government, however, has made no secret of its opposition to Aristide's intended return. During a February 9 press briefing, US assistant secretary of state for public affairs, Philip Crowley, was tackled on the issue of Aristide's return:

Asked: "Are you discouraging him from returning? Is he a prisoner of South Africa?" Crowley replied: "We would be concerned that if former president Aristide returned to Haiti before the election, it would prove to be an unfortunate distraction. The people of Haiti should be evaluating the two candidates that will participate in the run-off."

Mark Weisbrot, the co-director of the Centre for Economic and Policy Research in Washington, said that the apparent pressure on Pretoria in regard to Aristide's return was underscored by a series of Wikileaks cables, one of which suggests that the South African government has been under pressure from Brazil to curtail Aristide's activities, and several others that indicate that Brazil has in turn been under much pressure from the US about Haiti, particularly in regard to maintaining its role as head of the United Nation's "stabilisation" mission there.

The South African department of international relations and cooperation has denied any co-option on the Aristide matter, however. "Aristide has asked to go back home; we've agreed with him. We are consulting all the role-players to work out the ideal conditions for him to go back. We can't keep him here against his will," said International Relations Minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane.

Sources close to the matter say Aristide's safety is a consideration. The department would not confirm or deny the belief of a number of civil society organisations that Aristide is being held back until after the March 20 elections at the US's behest.

Sources close to the Aristide affair indicated that the role of the French in his return was worrying. "Given France's interest in Haiti's affairs, there is concern that the French remain unconvinced that Aristide must be allowed to go back," said a source close to the issue. Kurzban said, however, that Aristide could leave the country only with the cooperation of the South African government and this had not been forthcoming.

"The longer the delay, the less of a possibility there is of president Aristide going back as the issue of his return will be up to whoever is the new president, and one candidate, the Duvalier, Michel Martell [former night club owner Martell defended the regime of former Haitian despot Jean-Claude Duvalier in a press conference], has already qualified his position about Aristide coming back. He doesn't want it," he said.

Kurzban said Aristide's safety would be in greater jeopardy after the March 20 elections than before. "This (concern for Aristide's safety) is just a ruse cooked up by the US to try to keep Aristide out of the country permanently, as it has attempted to do for the past seven years, because after March 20 there will be a new president and it can then claim new circumstances," he said.

The US government, with Brazil, which leads the UN peacekeeping force there, has been criticised for massaging Haiti's electoral process. Aristide's party, Fanmi Lavalas, was excluded from participation in the November 28 2010 elections by the electoral council. The results of the election were then modified according to the findings of a report made by an Organisation of American States Expert Verification Mission, perceived by many as Washington-controlled.
[...]

2) DNC Pressures Obama, Passes Resolution Endorsing Swift End To Afghanistan War
Amanda Terkel, Huffington Post, 02/27/11
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/02/26/afghanistan_n_828710.html

[Full text of resolution at link - JFP.]

Washington - Members of the Democratic National Committee (DNC) gave President Obama a rare push on Saturday, adopting a resolution attempting to encourage the administration to move toward a speedier withdrawal from Afghanistan.

The DNC is currently holding its annual winter meeting, where its hundreds of members from all around the country converge in Washington, D.C. to discuss finances, debate resolutions, and of course, figure out how elect (and re-elect) Democrats - including Obama - in 2012.

The resolution adopted Saturday states that "the Democratic Party supports prioritizing job creation and a swift withdrawal of U.S. armed forces and military contractors in Afghanistan which must include a significant and sizable reduction no later than July 2011."

The resolution cites the length of the war (nearly ten years), the cost (more than $100 billion per year), the lack of public support (72 percent want to "speed up the withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan") and the argument that the conflict does not require a military solution.

"The passage of my resolution places the Democratic Party squarely on the side of American people who overwhelmingly support a swift withdrawal from Afghanistan, beginning with a significant and sizeable reduction in U.S. troop levels by no later than July of this year," said Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.), who submitted the resolution. Other submitters were DNC Vice Chairs Donna Brazile and Rep. Mike Honda (D-Calif.) and DNC Secretary Alice Germond.

The Obama administration's policy is to begin withdrawing U.S. troops from Afghanistan in July 2011 and fully transfer security responsibilities over to Afghan forces by 2014. The pace of withdrawal is yet to be determined.
[...]
The DNC resolution pushes the administration to see to "a significant and sizable reduction" in July, or even sooner - a prospect the administration has not endorsed.

Lee recently introduced legislation in Congress that would end combat operations in Afghanistan and limit funding to the redeployment of U.S. troops and military contractors. The measure attracted nearly 50 co-sponsors.
[...]

3) Army general in Afghanistan accused of ordering psychological tactics on members of Congress
Felicia Sonmez, Washington Post, 02/24/2011
http://voices.washingtonpost.com/2chambers/2011/02/carl_levin_pentagon_must_inves.html

A U.S. Army general in Afghanistan is accused of ordering soldiers specializing in "psychological operations" to manipulate visiting members of Congress into providing more troops and funding for the war, according to a new report in Rolling Stone magazine.

The article has prompted the commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan to order an investigation. Gen. David Petraeus said Thursday that he ordered the probe "to determine the facts and circumstances surrounding the issue."

Several lawmakers who allegedly had been targeted released statements calling the allegations "disturbing" but did not indicate whether they had been aware of any "psy-ops" effort.

The allegations were outlined in a Rolling Stone article by Michael Hastings, whose June profile revealing disparaging remarks made by retired Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal about members of the Obama administration ended McChrystal's military career.

In the new Rolling Stone article, Lt. Col. Michael Holmes said that he was ordered by Gen. William Caldwell, a three-star general in charge of training Afghan troops, to perform psychological operations on visiting VIPs. When he refused, he was officially reprimanded.

Holmes said his unit was repeatedly pressured for four months to assess how best to get Caldwell's message across to a host of visitors, including the members of Congress, Adm. Mike Mullen of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the Czech ambassador to Afghanistan, the German interior minister and a host of influential think tank analysts.

Caldwell sent a statement to Rolling Stone that "categorically denies the assertion that the command used an Information Operations Cell to influence Distinguished Visitors." The request was made by the command of William Caldwell, the lieutenant general who allegedly ordered the illegal "psychological operations" on members of Congress and other VIPs.

On Thursday, Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.), chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee and one of the alleged psy-ops targets, urged the Pentagon to investigate the allegations. He said in a statement that he was "confident that the chain of command will review any allegation that information operations have been improperly used in Afghanistan."

Other lawmakers allegedly targeted by the program were Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.), Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.), Jack Reed (D-R.I.), Al Franken (D-Minn.); and Rep. Steve Israel (D-N.Y.) of the House Appropriations Committee.
[...].

4) Gates Warns Against Any More Wars Like Iraq or Afghanistan
Thom Shanker, New York Times, February 25, 2011
http://www.nytimes.com/2011/02/26/world/26gates.html

West Point, N.Y. - Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates bluntly told an audience of West Point cadets on Friday that it would be unwise for the United States to ever fight another war like Iraq or Afghanistan, and that the chances of carrying out a change of government in that fashion again were slim.

"In my opinion, any future defense secretary who advises the president to again send a big American land army into Asia or into the Middle East or Africa should 'have his head examined,' as General MacArthur so delicately put it," Mr. Gates told an assembly of Army cadets here.

That reality, he said, meant that the Army would have to reshape its budget, since potential conflicts in places like Asia or the Persian Gulf were more likely to be fought with air and sea power, rather than with conventional ground forces.

"As the prospects for another head-on clash of large mechanized land armies seem less likely, the Army will be increasingly challenged to justify the number, size, and cost of its heavy formations," Mr. Gates warned.
[...]

5) As U.S. Rebuilt Ties With Libya, Human Rights Concerns Took a Back Seat
Marian Wang, ProPublica, Feb. 23, 2011
http://www.propublica.org/blog/item/as-u.s.-rebuilt-ties-with-libya-human-rights-concerns-took-a-backseat
[...]
Under the recent Bush administration, the U.S. lifted sanctions and formally restored full diplomatic relations with Libya after its government renounced terrorism and dismantled its nuclear weapons program in 2003. At the time, the shift was heralded by State Department officials as "a success in our foreign policy." A BBC correspondent went so far as to call it a "fairy tale."

The State Department said that normalizing relations with Libya would "enable us to engage with Libyans more effectively on all issues," naming human rights as one of the top priorities. A 2010 Congressional Research Service report described the U.S. rationale this way:

From 2004 onward, Bush Administration officials argued that broader normalization of U.S.-Libyan relations would provide opportunities for the United States to address specific issues of concern to Congress, including the outstanding legal claims, political and economic reform, the development of Libyan energy resources, and human rights.

Critics, however, said that as the U.S. restored diplomatic ties with the repressive regime, it put narrow strategic interests ahead of democracy and human rights.

"The State Department continues to engage Arab dictators at the expense of dissidents who support transitions to peaceful, modern societies," Libyan-American activist Mohamed Eljahmi wrote in a Washington Post column in 2008. Eljahmi's brother, Fathi Eljahmi, was a prominent Libyan democracy activist who died in 2009 after years of persecution and imprisonment by the Libyan government. As a U.S. senator, Joe Biden interceded on Eljahmi's behalf, leading to his release, but it was temporary-Eljahmi was abducted again two weeks later.

"It's tricky," Tom Malinowski, Washington Director of Human Rights Watch, told me. Malinowski said that Human Rights Watch was not against diplomatic normalization, but said that "at times during that period, human rights were downplayed more than we felt appropriate to smooth the path to more normal relations."
[...]
A U.S. embassy cable from 2008 noted the disappointment of "a number of Libyans" that the United States did not "more publicly and directly urge greater respect for human rights" immediately after diplomatic relations were re-established.

"Absent a clear message that engagement on human rights will be a necessary adjunct of an expanded U.S.-Libya relationship, meaningful progress in this area is unlikely," read the cable, which was released as part of the WikiLeaks cache.
[...]

Israel/Palestine

6) Young Seek to End West Bank and Gaza Schism
Isabel Kershner, New York Times, February 24, 2011
http://www.nytimes.com/2011/02/25/world/middleeast/25ramallah.html

Ramallah, West Bank - Young Palestinians watching the revolutions in Egypt, Tunisia and elsewhere in the region have no shortage of their own protest-worthy causes.

There is the 43-year Israeli occupation; frustration with the entrenched and aging leadership of the Palestine Liberation Organization; lack of freedoms under the competing Palestinian authorities in the West Bank and Gaza; and more recently, anger over last Friday's American veto of a United Nations Security Council resolution condemning Israeli settlement activity as illegal, a move that they said showed the "double standard" of the United States.

But in recent days, Palestinian students and youth activists have been finding a voice and a focus, coalescing around a single popular issue that they believe will help the Palestinians in all of the above: ending the schism between the West Bank, where the mainstream, secularist Fatah dominates the Palestinian Authority, and Gaza, which is under the control of Fatah's rival, the Islamic militant group Hamas.

"This split weakens us," said Hatem Abdul Rahim, 26, from Nablus, who volunteers for Sharek, an independent Palestinian youth organization with headquarters in Ramallah and Gaza. "It leaves the door open for the occupiers to do whatever they want."

Sharek, which provides youth activities and programs, organized its first protest against the split and for national unity in mid-February in Ramallah. At the time, the Palestinian Authority and Hamas were both preventing demonstrations in support of the revolutions in Egypt and Tunisia because they worried about being seen as taking sides in Middle East disputes and about the protests' spilling out of control. But national unity is a consensus issue among Palestinians, and one to which the rival leaderships say that they subscribe.

This seemed like an appropriate time to present new positions, said Hazem Abu Helal, 27, a youth activist at Sharek, in an interview, because "the dictatorships surrounding us were the reason for the situation we are in now."

Sharek held a news conference this week in Ramallah to present a youth manifesto, adopting the slogan, "The people want an end of the schism," an adaptation of one resounding across the Middle East, "The people want an end of the regime."
[...]
Repeated Egyptian-brokered efforts at reconciliation between Hamas and Fatah have failed. But the renewed call for unity, spearheaded by the young people, seems to be catching on.

On Thursday, hundreds of Palestinians converged on Manara Square in Ramallah for a peaceful rally for national unity. In an unusual gesture, the diverse political groups that were participating put aside their own symbols and all marched under the Palestinian flag.

"Ending the division has become more urgent because of the American veto," Suheil Khader, a Palestinian union official, said at the demonstration. "We would rather be hungry than pay with our dignity."

Demonstrations against the veto and for national reconciliation have spread to other parts of the West Bank. And given the demand in the region for more government accountability, leaders in both the West Bank and Gaza have appeared eager to respond.

In the past few days, Palestinian officials have started talking about new efforts for unification. Ismail Radwan, a Hamas official in Gaza, said that his movement was consulting with national groups to find a new basis for national reconciliation. Nabil Shaath, a member of the Fatah Central Committee, said he was in contact with Hamas figures and would be heading to Gaza soon.

Salam Fayyad, the Palestinian Authority prime minister, is floating the idea of forming a new unity government including Hamas, which could pave the way for national elections and for a more comprehensive reconciliation agreement.

If Hamas was committed to maintaining a cease-fire with Israel, it could retain its security control in Gaza and share in the other, practical functions of government, according to Ghassan Khatib, spokesman for the government in the West Bank.

Yasser Abed Rabbo, a senior Palestinian official and aide to the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, spoke positively of the youth initiatives for national reconciliation in an interview with the official Voice of Palestine radio on Wednesday. "We also support and encourage them," he said, "as they represent the Palestinian people's will."

Any genuine reconciliation, which still may be a long way off, would further complicate the prospect of peace with Israel. But the Palestinians suspended short-lived negotiations last September after Israel refused to renew a moratorium on construction in West Bank Jewish settlements.

As Mr. Khatib put it, "Do you see any negotiations that we should be worried about?"
[...]

Afghanistan
7) U.S. Pulling Back In Afghan Valley It Called Vital To War
C. J. Chivers, Alissa J. Rubin and Wesley Morgan, New York Times, February 24, 2011
http://www.nytimes.com/2011/02/25/world/asia/25afghanistan.html

Kabul, Afghanistan - After years of fighting for control of a prominent valley in the rugged mountains of eastern Afghanistan, the United States military has begun to pull back most of its forces from ground it once insisted was central to the campaign against the Taliban and Al Qaeda.

The withdrawal from the Pech Valley, a remote region in Kunar Province, formally began on Feb. 15. The military projects that it will last about two months, part of a shift of Western forces to the province's more populated areas. Afghan units will remain in the valley, a test of their military readiness.

While American officials say the withdrawal matches the latest counterinsurgency doctrine's emphasis on protecting Afghan civilians, Afghan officials worry that the shift of troops amounts to an abandonment of territory where multiple insurgent groups are well established, an area that Afghans fear they may not be ready to defend on their own.

And it is an emotional issue for American troops, who fear that their service and sacrifices could be squandered. At least 103 American soldiers have died in or near the valley's maze of steep gullies and soaring peaks, according to a count by The New York Times, and many times more have been wounded, often severely.

Military officials say they are sensitive to those perceptions. "People say, 'You are coming out of the Pech'; I prefer to look at it as realigning to provide better security for the Afghan people," said Maj. Gen. John F. Campbell, the commander for eastern Afghanistan. "I don't want the impression we're abandoning the Pech."

The reorganization, which follows the complete Afghan and American withdrawals from isolated outposts in nearby Nuristan Province and the Korangal Valley, runs the risk of providing the Taliban with an opportunity to claim success and raises questions about the latest strategy guiding the war.

American officials say their logic is simple and compelling: the valley consumed resources disproportionate with its importance; those forces could be deployed in other areas; and there are not enough troops to win decisively in the Pech Valley in any case.

"If you continue to stay with the status quo, where will you be a year from now?" General Campbell said. "I would tell you that there are places where we'll continue to build up security and it leads to development and better governance, but there are some areas that are not ready for that, and I've got to use the forces where they can do the most good."

President Obama's Afghan troop buildup is now fully in place, and the United States military has its largest-ever contingent in Afghanistan. Mr. Obama's reinforced campaign has switched focus to operations in Afghanistan's south, and to building up Afghan security forces.

The previous strategy emphasized denying sanctuaries to insurgents, blocking infiltration routes from Pakistan and trying to fight away from populated areas, where NATO's superior firepower could be massed, in theory, with less risk to civilians. The Pech Valley effort was once a cornerstone of this thinking.

The new plan stands as a clear, if unstated, repudiation of earlier decisions. When Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, the former NATO commander, overhauled the Afghan strategy two years ago, his staff designated 80 "key terrain districts" to concentrate on. The Pech Valley was not one of them.

Ultimately, the decision to withdraw reflected a stark - and controversial - internal assessment by the military that it would have been better served by not having entered the high valley in the first place.

"What we figured out is that people in the Pech really aren't anti-U.S. or anti-anything; they just want to be left alone," said one American military official familiar with the decision. "Our presence is what's destabilizing this area."
[...]

Bahrain
8) Protesters in Bahrain Demand More Changes by King
Michael Slackman and Nadim Audi, New York Times, February 25, 2011
http://www.nytimes.com/2011/02/26/world/middleeast/26bahrain.html

Manama, Bahrain - In by far the largest protest yet here, tens of thousands of demonstrators packed the city's streets on Friday and closed a stretch of highway as they demanded that their king dissolve the government and agree to a transition to a true constitutional monarchy.

The protest - which appeared to be twice as large as one on Tuesday that drew about 100,000 people - cut through Manama, the capital, with staggering numbers for a population of just 500,000. They marched in two huge, roaring crowds from the south and from the west, converging at Pearl Square.

"This is another great day for our movement," said Abbas al-Mawali, 30, a security guard who joined the march. "We won't stop until our demands are met. We will have a march like this every day if we have to."

But after 11 days of protests, King Hamad ibn Isa al-Khalifa has slowly moved to meet protesters' demands, taking incremental steps. Late Friday, he fired three cabinet ministers, but not the prime minister - one of the opposition's top demands. He also has not addressed the issue of democratic change.

His emphasis appears to have been on defusing the protests and repairing the damage to Bahrain's international reputation after the army fired on protesters last week, as well as on limiting concessions to ones that do not affect the government's power.

"The government released prisoners and said it will investigate what happened; it will make some small changes in the government," said a rights worker who is not being identified to protect him from potential reprisals by the government. "The whole region is changing. Now is our chance. I am saying, If we don't do this now, we never will."

The protesters, meanwhile, have not articulated a strategy for bringing about change, beyond new protests and camping out in the square.

The unrest has been led by members of the nation's Shiite majority, who have long been politically marginalized and who have accused the Sunni king and his government of discrimination.
[...]
Since the start of the crisis, the government's response has evolved. First the king unleashed his armed forces, who killed seven protesters and wounded dozens. Then, under international pressure, he withdrew the police and military from the capital, called for a national dialogue, released 300 political prisoners and pointed to the protests as evidence of his government's tolerance.
[...]

Egypt
9) How not to promote democracy in Egypt
Thomas Carothers, Washington Post, Thursday, February 24, 2011
http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2011/02/24/AR2011022406530.html

[Carothers is vice president for studies at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace - JFP.]

As the U.S. government assesses the uprisings across the Middle East and scrambles to support Egypt's fledgling democratic transition, many ideas are on the table. One notably bad proposal is already being heard frequently in Washington: that to help Egypt prepare for elections we should support not just the development of political parties - a reasonable though sensitive undertaking - but favor one side of the party spectrum. That is, of course, the secular liberal side we feel comfortable with.

This is a recipe for trouble.

Former ambassador Martin Indyk recently called for the U.S. government "to mobilize funding for the well-oiled American democracy promotion machinery that can help Egypt's youthful secular forces organize for the coming elections." Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) has said that "engaging the Muslim Brotherhood must not be on the table." Rep. Howard Berman (D-Calif.) noted that we should not tell Egyptians who can participate in their political life, but that, nevertheless, "our job is to create an alternative" to the Muslim Brotherhood.

A perennial tension in supporting democracy abroad is maintaining a clear line between bolstering key democratic principles - such as political openness and fair competition - and trying to shape particular electoral outcomes. When we begin to choose favorites from a field of political competitors and seek to give them a boost, we step over this line. Not only do such efforts at engineering electoral outcomes undercut our credibility, they also usually backfire against the very people we are trying to help. Witness the futility of the efforts of U.S. diplomats in Iraq to throw U.S. weight behind certain candidates or parties during the various elections since 2005.

If Egyptians decide to allow the Muslim Brotherhood to participate in the next presidential and parliamentary elections - a decision they will make through their own constitutional reform process - we will have to make a clear choice if we wish to aid Egypt's political party development. Either we open our programs to all legally registered nonviolent parties, or we stay away from political party support.

It is possible that the Brotherhood may choose not to take part in whatever U.S. party training programs we offer. (These are likely to focus on party organization, campaign methods and other basics.) But then again they might, and that would not be so bad. The National Democratic Institute, operating with U.S. government funds, has been an active, effective supporter of political party development in numerous Arab countries for the past 10 years. It has frequently included Islamist parties in its activities, such as the Islamic Action Front in Jordan, the Party for Justice and Development in Morocco, and Islah in Yemen. That inclusion has not hurt U.S. interests and has led to many fruitful dialogues between Arab political Islamists and Americans.

While carrying out research in Indonesia in 2004, I was struck to learn that the International Republican Institute was including in its multiparty training programs the Prosperous Justice Party (PKS), a conservative Islamist party known at the time for organizing fiery anti-American demonstrations outside the U.S. Embassy there. Neither the IRI representative in Jakarta, with whom I spoke, nor PKS officials expressed concern about this relationship. I asked the vice president of the PKS why his party was working with a U.S. government-funded organization affiliated with the Republican Party, at a time when a Republican-led U.S. government was being denounced by Muslims around the world for the invasion of Iraq. He expressed admiration both for U.S. Republicans' political skills and the fairmindedness with which they approached Indonesia's political scene.

It is good that the U.S. government has woken up after decades of support for dictatorship in Egypt and is ready to stand on the side of democracy. We should be acutely aware, however, that unlike Central and Eastern Europe in 1989, local political actors in the Arab world harbor enormous and often bitter skepticism of our democratic bona fides. Our pro-autocracy record in the region is well-known, and our new stance is still taking shape: Shortly after President Obama said his government stands ready to assist Egypt in its pursuit of democracy, Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Mike Mullen visited the Gulf to "reassure" America's autocratic allies there of continued U.S. friendship.

If we want to help democracy take root in Egypt, our "job," to use Berman's term, is first to begin building our own credibility. Proceeding on the basis of democratic principles such as openness and inclusion rather than political favoritism and exclusion would be a good way to start.

Iraq
10) 13 killed in Iraq's 'Day of Rage' protests
Stephanie McCrummen, Washington Post, Friday, February 25, 2011; 9:53 AM
http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2011/02/24/AR2011022403117.html

Baghdad - At least 13 people were killed in Iraq on Friday as tens of thousands defied an official curfew to join a nationwide "Day of Rage," echoing protests that have roiled the Middle East and North Africa since January.

Despite pleas by the government and Shiite religious leaders for Iraqis to stay home, demonstrators gathered by the hundreds and thousands from Basra in the south to Mosul and Kirkuk in the north.

The protests were mostly peaceful but often angry, as Iraqis stormed at least three provincial offices and set fire to another. Fatalities were reported in Mosul, Tikrit and a town near Kirkuk after security personnel opened fire on the crowds.

Protesters vented their frustration at local officials as well as Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, demanding jobs, more electricity and clean water and better pensions and medical care. In the southern province of Basra, about 10,000 demonstrators forced the resignation of the provincial governor.

And as the sun began to set, protesters in Mosul, Tikrit and Ramadi were clashing with security forces, demanding that local officials step down. Security forces used tear gas, sound bombs and at times live bullets to disperse the crowds.

In Baghdad, where Maliki imposed a curfew that banned cars and even bicycles from the streets, people walked, often many miles, to reach the city's Tahrir Square. Several thousand had gathered by early afternoon.

Surrounded by hundreds of police, soldiers and rooftop snipers, with military helicopters buzzing overhead, protesters waved Iraqi flags and signs reading "Bring the Light Back" (a reference to the lack of electricity), "No to Corruption!" and "I'm a Peaceful Man."
[...]
Many said they were shocked by the "indefinite" curfew on cars and bikes imposed late Thursday night, saying the government's attempts to prevent them from demonstrating only motivated them more.
[...]
In Mosul, six people were killed and 21 injured after security guards opened fire on a large crowd gathered in front of the provincial council building to demand jobs and better services. Abdulwahid Ahmed, head of Al Salam Hospital, said all of the dead and injured had been shot. Black smoke could later be seen billowing from the government building, the Associated Press reported.

In Tikrit, four protesters were killed and 15 injured when security forces opened fire with live bullets on demonstrators gathered at provincial governor's office. The crowd was demanding that detainees be released from prisons and chanting slogans against Maliki. "Get out! Get!" they yelled, as local authorities looked down on them from the building's balconies.

At least three people died in Hawija, a mostly Arab town near the troubled northern city of Kirkuk, after police began shooting at a crowd of demonstrators who stormed the local council building. Maj. Abbas Mohammed al-Jibouri, a local security official, said the police were forced to withdraw and that demonstrators were in control of the area.

Protest organizers had hoped the nationwide demonstrations would inject a fresh concept into the exercise of Iraq's fledgling democracy: peaceful expression of discontent. They insisted their goal was to demand a better government, not a new one.

But the days leading up to the protests were defined by anxiety and the increasingly familiar features of Maliki's bare-knuckle governing style.

On Tuesday night, security forces ransacked Iraq's nonprofit Journalistic Freedoms Observatory, which is supporting the protest, carting off computers, hard drives and files. On Wednesday, hundreds of soldiers and police began fortifying Tahrir Square, checking IDs and photographing the smattering of protesters who had begun unfurling banners reading "No to bribes!" and "The oil money is for the people!"

Maliki, who had begun the week welcoming the protest, urged people in a televised speech Thursday to stay away. He said the event seemed "suspicious" and was likely to be infiltrated by al-Qaeda or perhaps loyalists of Saddam Hussein's Baath Party or "terrorists" seeking to co-opt it for their own purposes.
[...]
But perhaps the biggest blow to the planned protest came from the Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, one of the few Iraqi leaders able to command hundreds of thousands of followers into the streets.

Returning to Iraq from Iran on Wednesday, Sadr issued a careful statement welcoming peaceful protests but urged his devotees to delay participating for six months, to give the government more time to address widespread complaints. Once one of the government's main enemies, the fiercely anti-American cleric is now part of Maliki's fragile governing coalition, and analysts speculate that he would rather not see it collapse, at least not now.

The cleric's move "will have the intended effect of calming things down," said Joost Hiltermann, Middle East program director for the International Crisis Group.
[...]

Algeria
11) Algeria's state of emergency is officially lifted
Elaine Ganley, Associated Press, Thu Feb 24, 4:12 pm ET
http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20110224/ap_on_re_af/af_algeria

Algiers, Algeria - Algeria on Thursday officially lifted a state of emergency ordered 19 years ago as the country catapulted into a period of chaos. The measure was entered into the Official Journal, undoing the procedures that put it in place, the official APS news agency reported, citing a statement from the president's office.

The decision to do away with the restrictive measure has long been demanded by opposition parties and civil society. It comes amid a flurry of strikes and protests and was clearly a gesture aimed at restoring a measure of calm. Tumult in the Arab world increased a sense of unease.

However, the lifting of the state of emergency was only a partial victory. Interior Minister Dahou Ould Kabila announced earlier Thursday that protest marches would continue to be banned in the capital. "The moment does not appear to have arrived to authorize marches in Algiers," he said in an Algerian radio interview.
[...]
The state of emergency banned protest marches, though they were occasionally tolerated in regions outside Algiers. It also increased the powers of local governors and police.
Lifting it is, for many citizens, a psychological comfort as it signals that Algeria is stable and safe after what the country refers to as its "national tragedy," the battle against Islamist insurgents that claimed an estimated 200,000 lives - security forces, Islamists and civilians caught in the middle.

However, some see the move as a mere tactic to placate. The Algerian League for the Defense of Human Rights called it a "ruse aimed at fooling international opinion at a time when Arab regimes are under pressure."
[...]
The Algerian military has been the real power behind the politicians since independence from France in 1962. Bouteflika, elected in 1999, is the first civilian president since the brief tenure of the newly-free nation's first chief of state, Ahmed Ben Bella. But experts maintain that Bouteflika's decision-making power is limited.

-

Just Foreign Policy is a membership organization devoted to reforming US foreign policy so it reflects the values and interests of the majority of Americans. The archive of the Just Foreign Policy News is here:

http://www.justforeignpolicy.org/blog/dailynews


Tags:

Post new comment

The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.
  • No HTML tags allowed
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.

More information about formatting options

CAPTCHA
This question is for testing whether you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.
Image CAPTCHA
Enter the characters shown in the image.