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Submitted by Robert Naiman on 12 July 2010 - 1:41pm
A commonly proffered argument against negotiations to end the war in Afghanistan has been: "why should the Afghan Taliban negotiate, when they think they are winning?" For many months, this argument was offered by Administration officials to explain why they would not yet pursue serious negotiations with senior leaders of the Afghan Taliban.
More recently, Administration officials are saying that they have moved significantly.
Washington is eager to make [peace negotiations with high-ranking insurgents] happen - perhaps more eager than most Americans realize. "There was a major policy shift that went completely unreported in the last three months," a senior administration official tells Newsweek..."We're going to support Afghan-led reconciliation [with the Taliban]." U.S. officials have quietly dropped the Bush administration's resistance to talks with senior Taliban and are doing whatever they can to help Karzai open talks with the insurgents, although they still say any Taliban willing to negotiate must renounce violence, reject Al Qaeda, and accept the Afghan Constitution. (Some observers predict that those preconditions may eventually be fudged into goals.)
The Administration's shift - if real - is tremendously good news for ending the war. But even if this accurately reflects the intentions of the Administration, the arguments made earlier against serious negotiations are still politically powerful, in part because the Administration made them, and will likely be thrown back in the Administration's face by some of its Republican critics if efforts at a negotiated settlement begin to bear fruit. Therefore, these arguments still need to be countered, even if the Administration is no longer making them.
Submitted by Robert Naiman on 30 June 2010 - 1:52pm
With the House poised to consider the Pentagon's request for $33 billion for more death in Afghanistan, Speaker Nancy Pelosi has told the Huffington Post she expects a "serious drawdown" of U.S. troops from Afghanistan in the summer of 2011. The House Rules Committee has now approved an amendment for consideration on the war supplemental that will allow Speaker Pelosi to "put her money where her mouth is."
Some folks in Washington who want the war and occupation in Afghanistan to continue indefinitely are trying to pretend there has been no commitment made for a significant drawdown, or indeed any drawdown at all, in the summer of 2011. Speaker Pelosi is in a unique position to weigh in on this question, since the House could put the drawdown in writing when it considers the war supplemental, by approving an amendment introduced by Representatives McGovern and Obey to try to lock in the drawdown.
In Jonathan Alter's book, The Promise, Vice-President Biden told us that we can "bet" on "a whole lot of people moving out" in July 2011. Under pressure, presumably from people in the Pentagon who want a "serious drawdown" in July 2011 to be hostage to "conditions," Biden's people have tried to walk back this statement by saying it was an "offhand comment" made as Biden was leaving an interview.
But if you actually read Alter's text, "offhand comment" is hard to swallow. Here's the paragraph:
Submitted by Robert Naiman on 8 June 2010 - 3:55pm
Until quite recently, it seemed that Turkey had a clearly defined role in the Middle East, from the standpoint of U.S. policy. They were the "good Muslims," who were part of NATO, who contributed troops to U.S. wars, and who had good relations with Israel.
In the past few weeks, therefore, some Americans may have been startled to see the government of Turkey seemingly playing a very different role. First, together with Brazil, Turkey negotiated a nuclear fuel swap agreement with Iran to defuse the standoff over Iran's nuclear program and forestall a controversial U.S./Israeli push for new sanctions against Iran at the U.N. Although the deal was very similar to one proposed by the Obama Administration - and Brazil and Turkey had a letter from Obama encouraging them to press forward with the deal - Obama Administration officials dismissed the deal, and far from being grateful to Turkey and Brazil, made a show of being angry. But instead of being chastened, Turkey and Brazil insisted their deal was good - invoking their letter from Obama to demonstrate their case - and insisted that the U.S. should pursue it.
Submitted by Robert Naiman on 3 June 2010 - 9:41am
Former UN Assistant Secretary General Denis Halliday said it was imperative that the Obama administration supported Ireland's call on the Israeli authorities to ensure safe passage for the Irish-flagged Rachel Corrie to carry humanitarian aid to Gaza, the Irish Times reports. Speaking by satellite phone from on board the Rachel Corrie, Halliday called on Irish-Americans to lobby the Obama Administration: "We also feel there is a role for the Irish diaspora here, in the US and elsewhere to lobby politicians over this continued illegal blockade of Gaza, which is causing such hardship to the Palestinian people."
Halliday has some experience with this issue, having resigned from his position as UN Humanitarian Coordinator in Iraq in 1998 over the impact of UN/US sanctions on Iraqi civilians.
The issue of the Gaza blockade has tremendous resonance in Ireland, partly because of Ireland's high degree of engagement in international humanitarian causes - John Ging, head of the UN Relief and Works Agency in Gaza, who had called on the international community to break the siege by sending ships loaded with aid, is also Irish - but also, of course, because the Irish people have some experience with the consequences for civilians of a colonial blockade.
Submitted by Robert Naiman on 26 May 2010 - 3:16pm
Sao Paulo - New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman is on the warpath. Not only against his "Great Satan" of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, but also against Brazil's President Lula and Turkey's Prime Minister Erdogan, because they had the temerity to succeed in negotiating an agreement with Iran to try to de-escalate the confrontation between the United States and Iran over Iran's nuclear program without the subsequent approval of Washington. [Apparently Brazil and Turkey had White House approval to try - a week before the effort, but it seems that they did not have White House approval to succeed.]
Friedman claims that a May 17 picture of Iran's president joining Lula and Erdogan "with raised arms" after their signing of a "putative deal" to defuse the crisis over Iran's "nuclear weapons program" [does the New York Times do fact-checking on Friedman?] was "about as ugly as it gets."
If it's literally true that that picture was "as ugly as it gets," then presumably that would imply that it was at least as ugly - if not more ugly - than, for example, the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003, an invasion which was clearly illegal under the U.N. Charter, as former U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan affirmed in 2004, an invasion which likely resulted in the deaths of more than a million Iraqis - and an invasion which Tom Friedman supported, as he explained to Charlie Rose in May 2003:
Submitted by Robert Naiman on 12 May 2010 - 9:44am
When President Obama visited Afghanistan in March, he assured U.S. troops that "the United States of America does not quit once it starts on something."
But according to Sunday's New York Times, it ain't necessarily so. When it comes to combating AIDS in the world's poorest countries, the greatest nation on earth has apparently decided to cry "Uncle."
Clinics in Uganda are turning people away, on orders from the U.S. government. A U.S.-run program in Mozambique has been told to stop opening clinics.
Why? According to lying U.S. officials, we don't have the money to maintain our commitment. Budgets are tight. We had to bail out Wall Street.
But the numbers on offer don't make any sense. Michel Sidibe, executive director of Unaids, says there is a global shortfall of about $17 billion for controlling the epidemic. The expected U.S. share of such a shortfall would be about a third, or $5.6 billion. Meanwhile, Congress is about to be asked to fork over $33 billion in our tax dollars for more war in Afghanistan. This $33 billion would only pay for four months of the war, until the end of the fiscal year, when next year's appropriation will become available.
So on an annual basis, we're being asked to spend almost 20 times more on killing in Afghanistan than it is claimed that we don't have to help stop Africa and Haiti from being decimated by AIDS.
Or, to put it another way: if we could end the war in Afghanistan, then every year we'd save $99 billion compared to the world in which the war continues. We could use $5.6 billion to pay what we owe on controlling the AIDS epidemic, and have $93.4 billion left for domestic job creation, tax cuts, going to the beach, whatever ya want.
Submitted by Robert Naiman on 28 January 2010 - 1:48pm
On foreign policy, while the President said some good things, he missed key opportunities to say better things. In particular, he missed opportunities to promote reconciliation as an essential way of ending our wars and promoting peace. In speaking about U.S. domestic politics, the President is eloquent in his efforts to promote reconciliation, but he seems to have lost his voice in applying these ideas to our foreign policy.
The President renewed his promise to end the war in Iraq, including his promise to have all U.S. combat troops out by August, and to bring all of our troops home from Iraq. He also said we will support the Iraqi government as they hold elections, and partner with Iraqis to promote peace and prosperity. But there was a key omission here: the word "reconciliation." Hundreds of candidates have been disqualified from running in the March parliamentary election; Sunni and secular candidates have been particularly targeted. If this move is allowed to stand, reconciliation in Iraq will be imperiled, the civil war could be reignited, and Iraq's relationship with its predominantly Sunni Arab neighbors would be further strained. The U.S. is working to overturn the exclusion; by refering more explicitly to those efforts, the President could have promoted Iraqi reconciliation.
Submitted by Robert Naiman on 12 January 2010 - 12:43pm
Add Illinois to Pennsylvania as states where there is a contested Senate primary in which the war in Afghanistan has become an issue. The Chicago Tribune reports that the two leading contenders for the Democratic nomination for Barack Obama's former seat in the Senate have staked out diametrically opposed positions.
A Tribune poll last month reported that Alexi Giannoulias and Cheryle Jackson were the leading contenders for the Democratic nomination.
On Afghanistan, the Tribune reports that Cheryle Jackson wants to end the war, while Giannoulias supports it:
"It is time to take care of America again and time to bring our troops home," said Democratic Senate contender Cheryle Jackson, a former president of the Chicago Urban League. "Until we stop spending hundreds of billions on wars, we will not have the focus or money to solve the challenges we face at home."
But first-term state Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias, a Democrat, said he fully supported Obama's strategy for Afghanistan and indicated that those who oppose it are engaging in wishful thinking.
Indeed, Cheryle Jackson's first TV ad takes direct aim at the wars - "It's time to leave Afghanistan and Iraq":
Submitted by Robert Naiman on 2 November 2009 - 2:09pm
On October 27, the Washington Post reported the resignation of Matthew Hoh, a top U.S. civilian official in Afghanistan, in protest of the U.S. war in Afghanistan. Hoh charged that "the United States is asking its troops to die in Afghanistan for what is essentially a far-off civil war," the Post reported. In his letter of resignation, Hoh wrote,
"I fail to see the value ... in continuous U.S. casualties or expenditures of resources in support of the Afghan government in what is, truly, a 35-year old civil war."
"The Pashtun insurgency," Hoh asserted, "is fed by what is perceived by the Pashtun people as a continued and sustained assault, going back centuries, on Pashtun land, culture, traditions and religion by internal and external enemies. The U.S. and NATO presence and operations in Pashtun valleys and villages, as well as Afghan army and police units that are led and composed of non-Pashtun soldiers and police, provide an occupation force against which the insurgency is justified."
The appearance in mainstream U.S. media of the credible assertion that the United States is intervening militarily on one side in another country's civil war, especially a conflict with an ethnic character, might be expected to have a significant impact on public perceptions of whether continuation of U.S. military involvement was justified. One of the great political and media debates of 2006-7 was whether the United States was involved in a civil war in Iraq.
Submitted by Robert Naiman on 27 October 2009 - 12:30pm
President Obama knows better than to agree to General McChrystal's proposal for military escalation in Afghanistan. He read the book.
On October 7, the Wall Street Journal reported that top officials of the Obama Administration, including President Obama himself, had recently read Gordon Goldstein's book on the path to U.S. military escalation in Vietnam: Lessons in Disaster: McGeorge Bundy and the Path to War in Vietnam.
The Journal reported that "For opponents of a major troop increase, led by Biden and Emanuel, "'Lessons in Disaster' ... encapsulates their concerns about accepting military advice unchallenged."
Indeed, a central theme of the book is President Kennedy's willingness, on the question of ground troops in Vietnam, to do what President Obama has not yet done regarding demands for military escalation in Afghanistan: stand up to the U.S. military and say no.
Journalist Seymour Hersh, a close student of the U.S. military since he broke the story of the My Lai massacre, says the U.S. army is "in a war against the White House - and they feel they have Obama boxed in." Hersh says the only way out is for Obama to stand up to the Pentagon. "He's either going to let the Pentagon run him or he has to run the Pentagon," Hersh said. If he doesn't, "this stuff is going to be the ruin of his presidency." The only way for the U.S. to extricate itself from the conflict, Hersh says, is to negotiate with the Taliban. "It's the only way out," he said. "I know that there's a lot of discussion in the White House about this now. But Obama is going to have to take charge, and there's no evidence he's going to do that."