Washington Post

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:

WaPo Changes "AfPak" News Header

In November, members of Just Foreign Policy wrote to the Washington Post, asking it to change its "AfPak" news header: stories about the US war in Afghanistan were preceded by the news header:

"The AfPak War: Combating Extremism in Afghanistan and Pakistan"

Just Foreign Policy noted that this news header editorialized in news stories, promoting the claims that 1) the US is "combating extremism" in Afghanistan and Pakistan and 2) Afghanistan and Pakistan are "one theater" of conflict.

The Washington Post has now changed its news header, taking on board the second criticism but not the first. It now reads:

"Obama's War: Combating Extremism in Afghanistan and Pakistan"

See, for example, the news story on Matthew Hoh's resignation, which is now preceded by this header.

U.S. official resigns over Afghan war
http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/10/26/AR200910...

Of course, one consequence of Hoh's critique of the war is that the United States is not, in fact, "combating extremism," but rather promoting it.

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.

"Lessons in Disaster": If Obama Caves to the Pentagon, He's No Jack Kennedy

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."

McChrystal's 40,000 Troop Hoax

It's a time-honored Washington tradition. If you want to bully the government into doing something unpopular and the public into accepting it, manufacture a false emergency. Iraq war? If you don't approve it, mushroom cloud. Banker or IMF bailout? If you don't approve it, financial collapse. Social security privatization? If you don't approve it, the system will go "bankrupt." Our brand is crisis, as James Carville might say.

General McChrystal says that if President Obama does not approve 40,000 more U.S. troops for Afghanistan, and approve them right away, "our mission" - whatever that is - will likely "fail" - whatever that is.

But even if President Obama were to approve General McChrystal's request, the 40,000 troops wouldn't arrive in time to significantly affect the 12-month window McChrystal says will be decisive. So McChrystal's request isn't about what's happening in Afghanistan right now. It's about how many troops the U.S. will have in Afghanistan a year from now and beyond.

There is no emergency requiring a quick decision by President Obama. The current situation in Afghanistan is being used as a bloody shirt to try to lock America into to an endless war, and, as Andrew Bacevich argues in the Boston Globe, lock the Obama Administration into the continuation of military force as the main instrument of U.S. foreign policy.

The Washington Post reports:

In his 66-page assessment of the war, McChrystal warns that the next 12 months will probably determine whether U.S. and international forces can regain the initiative from the Taliban.

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.

Can We Get Some Republicans to Defect on Afghanistan?

In an op-ed today in the Washington Post, conservative columnist George Will dissociates himself clearly from Republicans who support escalating the war in Afghanistan.

U.S. forces "should be substantially reduced," Will writes. "America should do only what can be done from offshore." Will's piece carries this clear-cut headline: "Time to Get Out of Afghanistan."

Might George Will's op-ed encourage more Republicans in Congress to speak up in favor of withdrawing U.S. troops?

Whether we get our troops out of Afghanistan anytime in the next five years 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% to 43%. But Republicans were overwhelmingly opposed. Only seven Republicans voted yes; 164 Republicans voted no; in percentage terms, 4% yes and 96% no.

There's been a lot of wailing and gnashing of teeth - as there should be - about Democrats not representing their constituents on the war. But the story on the Republican side is worse, and changing U.S. policy will require turning that around as well.

The Washington Post reported on August 20 that "A majority of Americans now see the war in Afghanistan as not worth fighting, and just a quarter say more U.S. troops should be sent to the country. " Seven in 10 Democrats said the war was not worth fighting, while seven in 10 Republicans said that it was.

By How Many Days Can We Shorten This War?

Recently I watched the 2007 Lebanese film "Under the Bombs." The movie tells the story of the U.S.-supported Israeli invasion of Lebanon in the summer of 2006, wrapping the historical events inside a fictional narrative. Watching the movie reminded me of Just Foreign Policy's efforts with Jewish Voice for Peace and others to stop that war.

At the time, it seemed clear that the war could not go on indefinitely; the international community would not allow it. But how long would it be allowed to go on? If we could shorten it by one day, innocent civilians would live and not die. The 34-day conflict resulted in 1,191 deaths, the UN Human Rights Council reported. Using this figure, on average, each day of the war killed 35 more people; each day we shortened it saved 35 lives.

Today Afghanistan is holding the first round of its presidential election. Regardless of the outcome, one thing is clear from the campaign: the majority of Afghans are sick and tired of war. "There is broad agreement the war must end," reports Carlotta Gall in the New York Times. There is broad support in Afghanistan for negotiations with insurgents to end the war. The debate inside Afghanistan is on what process negotiations should follow, and whether the Afghan government is really following through on its stated commitment to negotiations.