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.
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.
The British newspaper The Telegraph is claiming that a US funded poll indicates that Hamid Karzai will not win re-election as President of Afghanistan in the first round. "Hamid Karzai 'will not' win Afghan election outright," the headline says. The Telegraph reports:
The US government-funded poll found that the president of Afghanistan led his rivals by a wide margin, but lacked the 50 per cent of the vote necessary to avoid a second round.
The poll put Mr Karzai on 36 per cent of the vote and his nearest rival, Dr Abdullah Abdullah on 20 per cent among registered voters.
A fifth of Afghans are still undecided or would not answer the survey, the poll by a Washington-based research firm reported.
Ramazan Bashardost, a former planning minister and anti-corruption minister, has seven per cent of the vote and Dr Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai, former finance minister, has three per cent, the research by Glevum Associates found in the second week of July.
But here's how the Washington Post reported the same poll:
In a poll released Monday, Karzai led with 45 percent of the vote among decided voters, compared with 25 percent for Abdullah Abdullah, a former foreign minister. The U.S.-government-funded poll by Glevum Associates, conducted July 8-19, had Ghani fourth, with 4 percent of the vote.
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,
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.
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.]
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.
Predictably, the Washington Post and New York Times the have given op-ed space in recent days to people seeking to justify the military coup in Honduras, and blaming the coup on President Zelaya (the same writer in the latter case. )
Meanwhile, the Honduran military's top legal adviser was talking to the Miami Herald. Army attorney Col. Herberth Bayardo Inestroza was, shall we say, a little off-message.
In the interview, Col. Inestroza made two admissions that were remarkable in light of the efforts by pundits and Republicans in the United States to justify the coup.
First: he admitted that the coup was initiated by the military, and that it broke the law:
"We know there was a crime there," said Inestroza, the top legal advisor for the Honduran armed forces. "In the moment that we took him out of the country, in the way that he was taken out, there is a crime."
This much, of course, was obvious. But much more remarkable was Inestroza's admission of what the core issue for the Honduran military was: taking orders from a leftist.
"We fought the subversive movements here and we were the only country that did not have a fratricidal war like the others," he said. "It would be difficult for us, with our training, to have a relationship with a leftist government. That's impossible."
So, this is democracy, according to the Honduran military: we won't take orders from a leftist, because of our "training."