New York Times

Joint Chiefs: Don't Mess With Dwell Time

If you think there's a house-on-fire emergency demanding that President Obama send 40,000 more troops to Afghanistan right away (is your name Fred Kagan?) you don't just have a problem with President Barack Obama. You have a problem with the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

The Wall Street Journal reports:

At a White House meeting Friday, the Joint Chiefs of Staff urged President Barack Obama to send fresh troops to Afghanistan only if they have spent at least a year in the U.S. since their last overseas tour, according to people familiar with the matter. If Mr. Obama agreed to that condition, many potential Afghanistan reinforcements wouldn't be available until next summer at the earliest.

A recent study by the Institute for the Study of War, a Washington think tank, concluded that the U.S. has only three Army and Marine brigades - about 11,000 to 15,000 troops - capable of deploying to Afghanistan this year after spending at least 12 months back in the U.S.

Note that, by law, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff "is the principal military adviser to the President."

Like every other patriotic American, I want to support our troops. If the Joint Chiefs say our troops need twelve months at home before being sent to Afghanistan, I think we better do what they say.

The rise is military suicides is a key issue driving the Joint Chiefs' concern:

Army officials say the strain of repeated deployments with minimal time back in the U.S. is one of the biggest factors fueling the rise in military suicides.

Obama's Decision on More Troops to "Someone Else's Civil War"

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.

Team Obama Divided, Public Strongly Opposed, to More Troops in Afghanistan

Top officials of the Obama Administration are divided on the expected request of the Pentagon for more troops in Afghanistan, the New York Times reports today.

The military's anticipated request for more troops to combat the insurgency in Afghanistan has divided senior advisers to President Obama as they try to determine the proper size and mission of the American effort there, officials said Thursday.

Leading the opposition is Vice-President Biden:

Leading those with doubts is Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., who has expressed deep reservations about an expanded presence in Afghanistan on the grounds that it may distract from what he considers the more urgent goal of stabilizing Pakistan, officials said.

No-one can plausibly argue that Vice-President Biden has no idea what he's talking about. Remember, this was the guy chosen to balance the ticket with "foreign policy experience," the chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Nor is Biden a pacifist or shy about foreign intervention. He voted for the Iraq war in 2002 and promoted U.S. military intervention in the former Yugoslavia.

Secretary of State Clinton has been "vocal" in favor of more troops and some officials said they expected her to be an advocate for a more robust force, the Times says.

But Biden has the wind of public opinion at his back. A number of recent polls show that the majority of Americans - and the overwhelming majority of Democrats - now oppose the Afghan war. But on the question of sending more troops, public opinion is even more clear. They're against it.

McClatchy News reports, citing a recent poll:

56 percent oppose sending any more combat troops to Afghanistan, while 35 percent support sending more troops.

On Afghanistan, Obama Hanging by G.O.P. Thread

Republican support will be "vital" for continuing the war and occupation of Afghanistan, the New York Times points out today, noting that Obama's reliance on Republican votes for the war means Republicans could pull the plug at any time.

One danger for Mr. Obama is that he may be forced to abandon his own party on Afghanistan for the right, which could put him in a perilous position if Republicans at any point decide they do not want to support a Democratic president on the issue.

In an op-ed Tuesday in the Washington Post, conservative columnist George Will called for the U.S. to withdraw its troops from Afghanistan.

Might George Will's op-ed encourage more Republicans in Congress to speak up in favor of withdrawing U.S. troops -- or in opposition to the increase that is now being planned?

When we get our troops out of Afghanistan will depend to a significant degree on what Republican members of Congress are willing to say and do.

This summer, the House of Representatives took what was in effect a "no confidence" vote on Afghanistan policy: it voted down, 138-278, Representative Jim McGovern's amendment requiring the Pentagon to present Congress with an exit strategy.

The majority of House Democrats supported McGovern's amendment. Among Democrats, the vote was 131-114, or 57 percent to 43 percent. But Republicans were overwhelmingly opposed. Only seven Republicans voted yes; 164 Republicans voted no; in percentage terms, 4 percent yes and 96 percent no.

Amnesty: Honduras Photos and Protestor Testimonies Show Extent of Police Violence

There has been very little attention in the U.S. press to repression in Honduras under the coup regime. Hopefully, that will now change: Amnesty International issued a report today documenting "serious ill-treatment by police and military of peaceful protesters" in Honduras, warning that "beatings and mass arrests are being used as a way of punishing people for voicing their opposition" to the coup.

An Amnesty International delegation interviewed people who were detained after police and military broke up a peaceful demonstration July 30. Most detainees had injuries as a consequence of police beatings.

Esther Major, Central America researcher at Amnesty International, said:

"Detention and ill treatment of protestors are being employed as forms of punishment for those openly opposing the de facto government, and also as a deterrent for those contemplating taking to the streets to peacefully show their discontent with the political turmoil the country is experiencing."

U.S. media often rely heavily on international human rights groups like Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch to report on human rights abuses. So it will be interesting to see how much U.S. press coverage the Amnesty report gets.

If the repression under the coup regime were more widely known, it would be much more difficult for representatives of that regime to peddle their story in Washington that their government is "democratic" and "respects the rule of law." How is the coup's hired gun Lanny Davis going to spin Amnesty's report on police repression of peaceful dissent against the coup?

Honduran Coup Leader Backs Proposal for Zelaya's Return

A month after the coup in Honduras, there's now a clear sign of progress in bringing it to an end. The head of the coup government has indicated that he personally supports a compromise proposal put forward by Costa Rican mediator President Arias that would allow for President Zelaya's restoration. The New York Times reports:

 

The head of Honduras's de facto government, Roberto Micheletti, has expressed support for a compromise that would allow the ousted president of his country to return to power, according to officials in the de facto government and diplomats from the region.

Previously, Micheletti had repeatedly said that the restoration of President Zelaya was off the table, causing the talks to break down. Now, he says he needs international help in getting the real powers behind the coup - the Honduran business elite - to stand down.

Can any doubt remain about the key role of the United States government in this situation? The Times notes

 

The call from Mr. Micheletti came one day after the United States increased pressure on the de facto Honduran government by withdrawing diplomatic visas from four high-level officials

One day after the U.S. canceled four visas. One day.

Of course the U.S. is not just any country in this situation. As the Washington Post reported yesterday,

 

CSM, WSJ Respond to Criticism of Claim of Plurality for Honduran Coup

On Sunday, I wrote a piece here criticizing the Christian Science Monitor, the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, and Reuters for inaccurately reporting a poll result to claim that a plurality of Hondurans supported the coup against President Zelaya.

The Wall Street Journal has now published a "Corrections & Amplifications" note attached to the original piece and the Christian Science Monitor has published a response to the criticism to which the original article is now linked. There has been no public response yet, as far as I am aware, from the Washington Post or Reuters.

Credit where credit is due: both the CSM and WSJ have now in some form publicly acknowledged the dispute and provided an explanation. (In hindsight, the inaccuracy of the original CSM and WSJ reports is arguably more clear-cut than that of the Post and Reuters reports - see below.)

But the responses leave some central questions unanswered: did these outlets rely on the Honduran newspaper La Prensa as a sole source? If so, why? Will they act differently in the future?

To recap: here are the original reports as they appeared in the four outlets.

LAT, Arias: US Must Pressure Honduran Coup Leaders

Some people may have hoped that the problem of the coup in Honduras would magically go away once talks began between President Zelaya and leaders of the coup regime under the mediation of Costa Rica's President Oscar Arias. But of course it wasn't so and it isn't so. For the mediation to succeed, a key ingredient is required: sustained and escalating US pressure on the coup regime, until it agrees to the restoration of President Zelaya.

As the Los Angeles Times explains in an editorial today:

The coup leaders

 

seem to believe that if they can shoulder the hardships until November elections, all will be forgiven. Not so. The Obama administration needs to make it clear now that elections held under those conditions will not be regarded as legitimate and that such a plan would only prolong Honduras' troubles. Meanwhile, the U.S. should consider imposing sanctions on individuals involved with the coup, such as canceling visas and freezing bank accounts.

Indeed, while everybody in the U.S. supposedly loves President Arias, a Nobel laureate with a track record of helping to resolve deep conflicts in the region under difficult conditions, few people in the U.S. (with perhaps the praiseworthy exception of the LAT editorial board) seem to be listening to what Arias is saying.

As the New York Times reported Sunday (perhaps you missed this in the 17th paragraph):

 

U.S. Press Falsely Claims Honduran Plurality for Coup

Did a CID-Gallup poll last week indicate that a plurality of Hondurans support the military coup against democratically elected President Zelaya? Yes, according to the Washington Post [July 9], the Wall Street Journal [July 10], the Christian Science Monitor [July 11], and Reuters [July 9], which all reported that the poll showed 41% in favor of the coup, with only 28% opposed.

But in fact the poll showed that 46% - a plurality - were *opposed* to the coup, according to the New York Times[July 10], the Associated Press [July 11] - and the president of CID-Gallup, in an interview with Voice of America on July 9.

As of this writing - Sunday evening, 5:30 pm Eastern time - none of the outlets which reported the poll incorrectly had corrected their earlier, inaccurate, reports. [UPDATE 7/15: The Journal and the Monitor have now responded to the criticism.]

Reuters, AP Legitimize Honduran Coup Regime as "Interim Government"

Words matter - particularly the words used by major media to describe contested political events, words that can bias perceptions towards the interests of the powerful. Are those wielding power in Honduras today a "de facto" government, or are they an "interim" or "caretaker" government?

On Sunday, the following instructive exchange took place between senior U.S. officials and reporters in a State Department briefing on the Organization of American States' response to the coup in Honduras:

 

QUESTION: Sir, just a follow-up. Can you confirm that the caretaker government has reached out to the OAS and asked to open new negotiations? Does this mean that they're going to consider letting President Zelaya finish out his term? And what of the reports that Venezuelan troops are moving towards Honduras?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE: I have seen no reports indicating that Venezuelan troops are moving towards Honduras. In regard to the second, we understand that the caretaker government has - I wouldn't call it a caretaker government, I would refer to it as the de facto regime -

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL TWO: De facto authorities.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE: -- or authorities - has indicated to the OAS that it would like to begin a process of dialogue.

In today's press, I checked to see what characterization of the coup regime different outlets were using in their reporting.