New York Times

We've Caught the Taliban Chief! Can We Go Home Now?

How the U.S. handles the Pakistani arrest of the top Afghan Taliban military commander, and the aftermath of the U.S. military assault in Marja, may have a decisive impact on whether we get to withdraw our troops from Afghanistan soon, or in the far-off future. Some analysts - like Gareth Porter - think the key motivation of the present U.S. military escalation is political in the bad sense: in order to negotiate with the Afghan Taliban, first the U.S. has to "show that nobody pushes us around," just as President Bush had to escalate militarily in Iraq before he could cut deals with the Sunni Awakening and the Mahdi Army militia. It's a grim world in which the most powerful country kills people to look tough; but right now, the way to minimize human suffering is for the U.S. to take advantage of recent "successes" to take a high road towards going home.

The arrest of Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar could cut two ways, the New York Times notes. While it's obviously a psychological blow, at the least, against the Afghan Taliban, it could complicate efforts to reach a peace deal:

 

Team America Kills Five Kids in Marja

"Civilian casualties are inevitable," said U.S. officials before launching their weekend military assault on Marja in southern Afghanistan, and in this case, they were telling the truth. Yesterday, the New York Times reports, a U.S. rocket strike "hit a compound crowded with Afghan civilians... killing at least 10 people, including 5 children."

What justification has been provided by the government of the United States for its decision to kill these five children?

It will be argued that the government of the United States did not decide to kill these five children specifically, and that's absolutely true. The U.S. government did not decide to kill these particular children; it only decided to kill some Afghan civilians, chosen randomly from Marja's civilian population, when it decided to launch its military assault. These five children simply had the misfortune of holding losing tickets in a lottery in which they did not choose to participate.

Recall the U.S. government's instructions to Marja's residents before the assault:

 

Afghan villagers should stay inside and "keep their heads down" when thousands of U.S. Marines launch a massive assault on a densely-populated district in coming days, NATO's civilian representative to Afghanistan said Tuesday.

[...]

NATO forces have decided to advise civilians in Marjah not to leave their homes, although they say they do not know whether the assault will lead to heavy fighting.

These five kids were staying inside, as instructed. It didn't save them from U.S. rockets. Perhaps they weren't keeping their heads down.

Save Democracy in Japan

Voters in Japan have spoken. They don't want the U.S. military Futenma base in Okinawa.

But instead of respecting the will of the majority of Japanese voters, U.S. officials have tried to bully the newly elected reformist Japanese government into reneging on its election promise to remove the US military base from Okinawa.

Since, as the world knows, the United States of America stands for "promoting democracy," why don't we promote democracy by getting our base out of Okinawa like Japanese voters want?

Last summer, Japan had a national election. Yukio Hatoyama, the new prime minister whose coalition won the election, campaigned on a promise to move the US military's Futenma base off Okinawa. But US officials pressured the Japanese government to break its election pledge, warning the Japanese government of "serious consequences" if it did not accept the base, the Washington Post reported. Threats by U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates caused Japanese news media to describe him as a "bully," the New York Times reported.

Eat Your Spinach: Time for Peace Talks in Afghanistan

In the last week the New York Times and Inter Press Service have reported that the Obama Administration is having an internal debate on whether to supports talks with senior Afghan Taliban leaders, including Mullah Muhammad Omar, as a means of ending the war in Afghanistan. Senior officials like Vice President Biden are said to be more open to reaching out because they believe it will help shorten the war.

Wouldn't it be remarkable if this remained merely an "internal debate" within the Obama Administration? Wouldn't you expect that the part of public opinion that wants the war to end would try to intervene in this debate on behalf of talks in order to end the war?

As an administration official told the New York Times,

"Today, people agree that part of the solution for Afghanistan is going to include an accommodation with the Taliban, even above low- and middle-level fighters."

And in fact, US and British officials have been saying for months that the "endgame" in Afghanistan includes a negotiated political settlement with the Afghan Taliban.

Now, suppose you tell Mom that you want to have ice cream. And Mom says, you can have ice cream when you've eaten your spinach. Wouldn't you eat your spinach? If you don't eat your spinach now, you didn't want ice cream very badly.

UN: Time for Direct Talks with Afghan Taliban Leaders

The top United Nations official for Afghanistan has called for direct talks with senior Taliban leaders. Is anyone in Washington listening?

The New York Times reported Sunday that Kai Eide, the United Nations special representative for Afghanistan, "called on Afghan officials to seek the removal of at least some senior Taliban leaders from the United Nations' list of terrorists, as a first step toward opening direct negotiations with the insurgent group."

Eide also called on the U.S. to speed its review of the roughly 750 detainees in its military prisons in Afghanistan - another principal grievance of Taliban leaders.

Eide said he hoped that the two steps would open the way for face-to-face talks between Afghan officials and Taliban leaders.

"If you want relevant results, then you have to talk to the relevant person in authority," Mr. Eide said. "I think the time has come to do it."

It's an unquestioned dogma in official Washington that while of course every informed person knows that the endgame in Afghanistan is a negotiated political settlement with the Afghan Taliban, the time is not ripe for negotiations; the Afghan Taliban have to be weakened first through military escalation, because their leaders are not ready to talk peace.

It's never explained how U.S. officals know that Afghan Taliban leaders are not ready to talk peace, unless the definition of "talking peace" is "acceding to U.S. demands." A reasonable inference is that these statements by U.S. officials are a dodge: U.S. officials are not ready to talk peace.

Will History Recall the Haiti Airlift?

Mainstream media are now reporting the shortage of medical supplies in Haiti, a shortage created in part by the US decision to prioritize the inflow of military flights over humanitarian aid.

Doctors without Borders (MSF) said days were lost because the main airport in Port-au-Prince, under U.S. control, had been blocked by military traffic, Reuters reports.

"We lost three days," [Francoise Saulnier, the head of MSF's legal department] told Reuters Television in an interview. "And these three days have created a massive problem with infection, with gangrene, with amputations that are needed now, while we could have really spared this to those people."

[...]

"And now everything has been mixed together and the urgent and vital attention to the people has been delayed (for) military logistics, which is useful but not on day three, not on day four, but maybe on day eight. This military logistic has really jammed the airport and led to this mismanagment."

Mark Weisbrot, writing in the Guardian, noted that

On Sunday, Jarry Emmanuel, air logistics officer for the UN's World Food Programme, said: "There are 200 flights going in and out every day, which is an incredible amount for a country like Haiti ... But most flights are for the US military."

The New York Times reported Thursday that

Help Haiti? Let Haitians Stay and Cancel Haiti's Debt

President Obama and Secretary of State Clinton have pledged that the US will do all it can to help Haiti following the devastating earthquake. But while getting assistance into Haiti right now is extremely difficult, there are two things the Obama Administration could do immediately to help Haiti that are entirely within its control. It could grant "Temporary Protected Status" to undocumented Haitians in the U.S. - so they can stay here instead of adding to Haiti's burden, work legally, and send home money to help their relatives - and it could support the cancellation of Haiti's debts to the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, where the U.S. Treasury department has decisive influence. So far the Administration has refused to move on either issue. Why the delay?

Even the Washington Post editorial board - on foreign policy, not usually known for singing Kumbaya - calls the Administration to account on both issues.

On Temporary Protected Status for Haiti, the Post says:

Gaza Freedom March: What We Accomplished

Cairo - Some of us reached Gaza and participated in the Gaza Freedom March as planned. Some of us traveled via Israel to the Israeli border with Gaza and protested the blockade on Gaza alongside Israelis. All of us significantly raised the profile of dissent - particularly, American dissent - against the blockade of the people of Gaza imposed by Israel and Egypt, with the backing of the United States and the acquiescence of Europe. The groundwork is being laid for future campaigning in the U.S. for "citizen sanctions" against the Israeli government that could help change the balance of forces influencing U.S. policy, so that U.S. policy becomes a force for peace, rather than continuing to perpetuate the Israel/Palestine conflict as the U.S. is doing today.

The New York Times (yes, the New York Times had two articles on the march) reported:

Hundreds of demonstrators gathered on both sides of the Israeli-Gazan border on Thursday to mark a year since Israel's three-week war in Gaza, and to call for an end to the blockade of the area imposed by Israel and Egypt. About 85 of the several hundred demonstrators inside Gaza were foreigners, part of a group of more than 1,000 who arrived in Cairo in hopes of entering the territory but who were stopped by the Egyptian authorities. After days of negotiation, Egypt permitted a small delegation to cross the normally closed border at the southern Gazan city of Rafah.

Hundreds of us - confined to Cairo - protested against the Israeli/Egyptian blockade where we were. Our protests in Cairo were front-page news in the Egyptian press - and were reported in the U.S. as well.

The Christian Science Monitor reported:

Under International Pressure, Egypt Yields Ground to Gaza Freedom March

Cairo - Twelve hours before this writing, it appeared that 50,000 Palestinians in Gaza planning to march to the Erez border crossing with Israel on Thursday in protest of the continuing blockade on Gaza might not be accompanied by any of the 1400 internationals who had come to Egypt planning to join the Gaza Freedom March.

But on Tuesday Egypt agreed to let 100 of the 1400 marchers depart for Gaza Wednesday morning. This came as just the story of the Egyptian government crackdown on largely Western peace activists was starting to spill from the Arab media and European media into the US press.

Egypt's partial concession means that 50,000 Palestinian marchers will have 100 companions representing some 40 countries to act as a deterrent against Israeli government violence - and to help get the story out about Gazans nonviolently protesting the blockade.

Egypt's concession leaves 1300 of us here in Cairo to continue to press the case on the Egyptian government - together with many sympathetic Egyptians - that Egypt should cease supporting the U.S.-Israeli blockade on Gaza.

Egypt Blocks Americans from Gaza March, Stops Aid Convoy

Cairo - The government of Egypt is taking a spectacularly hard line against international solidarity efforts in support of civilians in Gaza on the one-year anniversary of the Israeli invasion, blocking peace marchers from the U.S., Canada, and Europe from even approaching the Egyptian border with Gaza and blocking an aid convoy that has the support of the Turkish government from entering Egypt at Nuweiba. Even a peaceful protest at UN offices in Cairo was largely walled off from public view by Egyptian police.

It seems that any pretense of Egyptian government concern for the suffering of Palestinian civilians has been dropped, along with the pretense that there is anything less than 100% cooperation from Egypt and its US and European patrons with Israel's program of punishing Gaza's population for the political crime of having provided majority support to the Hamas movement in a legislative election.

Meanwhile there is largely a U.S. press blackout of these striking developments. A search of the New York Times and the Washington Post only turns up a tiny AP story on the websites of the Times and the Post.

As has frequently been the case, Agence France-Presse [AFP] pays more attention to these developments. On Monday, AFP reports that Hedy Epstein and other members of the Gaza Freedom March have begun a hunger strike to press the Egyptian government to allow them to enter Gaza: