Just Foreign Policy News
February 10, 2010
UK Stars Campaign for Financial Transactions Tax to Save Public Services, Help World’s Poor
Plus the video is way funny.
Respect Democracy in Japan
Voters in Japan have spoken. They don’t want the US Futenma military base in Okinawa. Ask President Obama and Congress to respect the will of the majority in Japan.
If Michael Moore Would Run for President
If Michael Moore would run for President in 2012, it could be a game-changer in American political life. It would likely shorten the war in Afghanistan by at least six months, and the U.S. and Afghan lives that would be saved would alone justify the effort.
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1) Few civilians have managed to escape the Afghan town of Marjah ahead of a planned US/NATO offensive, raising the risk of civilian casualties, McClatchy News reports. "If (NATO forces) don’t avoid large scale civilian casualties, given the rhetoric about protecting the population, then no matter how many Taliban are routed, the Marjah mission should be considered a failure," said an analyst with the International Crisis Group.
2) Pakistan has told the US it wants a central role in resolving the Afghan war and has offered to mediate with Taliban factions, the New York Times reports. So far, the US has been more eager to push Pakistan to fight Taliban than to negotiate with them, and has not endorsed Pakistan’s new approach. One strand of thinking within the Obama administration calls for allowing the Pakistanis to keep the Haqqanis as part of Pakistan’s sphere of influence in southern Afghanistan, but only if Pakistan forces the Haqqanis to break with Al Qaeda and to push militants out of its areas, a US official said.
3) The Washington Post refers to trade agreements negotiated with South Korea and Colombia as "free trade" agreements even though an important part of both deals involves increasing protectionist barriers in the form of patent and copyright protection, notes Dean Baker in Beat the Press. This increased protection will raise costs and lead to increased economic distortions.
4) Doctors Without Borders praised an Indian court for rejecting an appeal from pharmacuetical giant Bayer demanding that India tie registration of medicines to their patent status. "We are delighted with this decision – at the moment in India we are seeing a number of multinational pharmaceutical companies trying to use litigation to stifle generic competition," MSF said. "By rejecting Bayer’s attempts to introduce patent linkage, the Indian courts have ensured that public health safeguards like compulsory licensing can be used to open up generic production of life-saving medicines including antiretrovirals for millions in India and beyond." [Access to generic medicines in many poor countries depends crucially on access to generics in India and Brazil, because these (even poorer) countries have no hope of generating their own generic pharmaceutical industry – JFP.]
5) Even if the reformers miraculously swept into power in Iran, that wouldn’t help much on the nuclear front, notes Robert Wright in the New York Times. On the nuclear dispute with the West, opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi has been at least as hard line as President Ahmadinejad [actually, much more so, as Wright subsequently explains – JFP.] In October, negotiators reached a deal that could have defused the nuclear issue, at least for a while. Then, after Ahmadinejad hailed this deal as a "victory" for Iran, it was denounced not just by some conservatives in Tehran but by the "progressive" Mousavi. The deal collapsed, and Ahmadinejad eventually discovered the wisdom of Mousavi’s position. An analysis by the Program on International Policy Attitudes found that 78 percent of Mousavi supporters say Iran should not "give up its nuclear activities regardless of the circumstances." But most Iranians said they would accept intrusive international inspections if the West would concede Iran’s right to enrich uranium. Unfortunately, the US has yet to agree to this bargain.
6) Brazilian Foreign Minister Amorim said the world still has "room for dialogue" with Iran, Bloomberg reports. Amorim said Iran has a right to develop a "peaceful" nuclear program and shouldn’t develop nuclear weapons, and that tighter economic sanctions on Iran would hurt the general population.
7) The UN said efforts to persuade Afghan farmers to stop growing opium poppies have failed in the past year, predicting as much land will be under poppy cultivation this year as in 2009, Reuters reports. A report found that a downward trend in poppy cultivation, which fell by more than a third from 2007 to 2009, had ended.
8) Lebanon’s prime minister voiced concern Wednesday about "escalating" Israeli war threats, and said his government will support Hezbollah if a new war breaks out with Israel, AP reports. "We hear a lot of Israeli threats day in and day out," Prime Minister Hariri said. "Every day we have Israeli warplanes entering Lebanese airspace. This is something that is escalating, and this is something that is really dangerous…I think they’re (Israelis) betting that there might be some division in Lebanon, if there is a war against us," Hariri said. "There won’t be a division in Lebanon. We will stand against Israel."
9) Sponsors of two bills allowing Americans to travel freely to Cuba hope to revive them this year, Reuters reports. Republican Jeff Flake said the votes were there to pass the Freedom to Travel to Cuba Act this year but the Democratic majority in the House was divided over whether to take it to the floor for a vote. The bill has 178 backers in the House, 40 votes short of the 218 needed but still a "big number," Flake said. The U.S. National Tour Association estimates at least 850,000 Americans would fly to Cuba in the first year after sanctions were lifted.
1) As Afghan Assault Looms, Many Civilians Haven’t Fled
Saeed Shah, McClatchy Newspapers, February 10, 2010 09:02:17 AM http://www.mcclatchydc.com/afghanistan-pakistan/story/84126.html
Kabul, Afghanistan – As U.S.-led coalition troops prepare for a long-awaited offensive against the Taliban in southern Afghanistan, few civilians have managed to escape the town at the center of the operation, raising the risk of civilian casualties that could undermine the Obama administration’s military strategy for the country.
The U.S.-led force said Tuesday that fewer than 200 families – around 1,200 people – had left the town of Marjah and the surrounding area, which have a population of about 80,000. "Commanders in the area are reporting no significant increase in persons moving out of Nad-e Ali district in the last month," the U.S.-led International Security Assistance Force said in a statement. "Despite reports of large numbers of civilians fleeing the area, the facts on the ground do not support these assertions."
Thousands of U.S., British and Afghan soldiers are poised to push into the area, with preliminary operations reported to have begun late Tuesday. Afghan police will accompany the soldiers in an effort to establish law and order quickly.
The presence of a large number of civilians could make the operation much trickier and provide a test of the new coalition military doctrine of protecting the population. A large media contingent from around the world will accompany the troops, recording their progress.
An estimated 2,000 Taliban fighters are dug in and are believed to have planted roadside bombs and booby-trapped buildings. Residents said the insurgents had dug trenches in a traffic circle and mined the roads out of town. It may be too late for those who haven’t escaped by now.
"If (NATO forces) don’t avoid large scale civilian casualties, given the rhetoric about protecting the population, then no matter how many Taliban are routed, the Marjah mission should be considered a failure," said Candace Rondeaux, an Afghanistan-based analyst at the International Crisis Group, an independent research and campaigning organization.
2) Pakistan Is Said To Pursue Role In Afghan Talks With U.S.
Jane Perlez, New York Times, February 10, 2010
Islamabad, Pakistan – Pakistan has told the United States it wants a central role in resolving the Afghan war and has offered to mediate with Taliban factions who use its territory and have long served as its allies, American and Pakistani officials said.
The offer, aimed at preserving Pakistan’s influence in Afghanistan once the Americans leave, could both help and hurt American interests as Washington debates reconciling with the Taliban.
Pakistan’s army chief, Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, made clear Pakistan’s willingness to mediate at a meeting late last month at NATO headquarters with top American military officials, a senior American military official familiar with the meeting said.
It is a departure from Pakistan’s previous reluctance to approach the Taliban. The meeting included the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Adm. Mike Mullen; the head of Central Command, Gen. David H. Petraeus; and the commander of American and allied troops in Afghanistan, Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, the official said. "The Pakistanis want to be part of discussions that could involve reconciliation," the official said.
Pakistan’s desire to work with the United States in an Afghanistan endgame is likely to be discussed when the national security adviser, Gen. James L. Jones, visits Islamabad, this week. So far, the United States has been more eager to push Pakistan to fight Taliban than to negotiate with them, and has not endorsed Pakistan’s new approach.
The Pakistani offer makes clear that any stable solution to the war will have to take into account Afghanistan’s neighbors, in a region where Pakistan, India, China, Iran and others all jostle for power.
Pakistani officials familiar with General Kayani’s thinking said that even as the United States adds troops to Afghanistan, he has determined that the Americans are looking for a fast exit. The impression, they said, was reinforced by President Obama’s scant mention of the war in his State of the Union address.
What the Pakistanis can offer is their influence over the Taliban network of Jalaluddin and Siraj Haqqani, whose forces American commanders say are the most lethal battling American and NATO soldiers in Afghanistan.
[…] In return for trying to rein in the Haqqanis, Pakistan will be looking for a friendly Afghanistan and for ways to stem the growing Indian presence there, Pakistani and American officials said.
In briefings last week with reporters at his army headquarters, the usually reticent General Kayani repeated his offer at NATO to play a constructive role, while making it clear Pakistan was seeking broad influence in southern Afghanistan. The Haqqani network would be one of Pakistan’s strongest levers to do that.
American officials said Washington was still debating the contours of any negotiated solution. But a baseline for Pakistan, they said, would be for it to engineer a separation between the Haqqani network and the Qaeda leadership.
[…] The reluctance to take on the Haqqanis preserves them as both a prize to be delivered at the negotiating table and a potential asset for Pakistan in postwar Afghanistan, said Syed Rifaat Hussain, professor of international relations at Islamabad University, who is close to the Pakistani Army. "Haqqani is the guy we are banking on to regain lost influence in Afghanistan," Mr. Hussain said. "When Pakistan says we are well positioned to help, that means the Haqqanis."
One strand of thinking within the Obama administration calls for allowing the Pakistanis to keep the Haqqanis as part of Pakistan’s sphere of influence in southern Afghanistan, but only if Pakistan forces the Haqqanis to break with Al Qaeda and to push militants out of its areas, an American official said. That would be a tall order for Pakistan, Mr. Hussain said. "The question is, how much influence do we have over Haqqani?" he said. "We have influence but not controlling influence."
[…] Pakistani efforts to persuade the Haqqanis to break with Al Qaeda have not made much headway, according to Pakistani intelligence and military officials, who declined to be named because they were not authorized to talk about the issue. According to a Pakistani military official, the Pakistanis would first have to resolve where Qaeda fighters would go and whether they might be given safe passage to Yemen or another location.
As the Pakistani military works out the details of its negotiating stance on Afghanistan, Washington is taking notice, said Daniel Markey, senior fellow for South Asia at the Council on Foreign Relations. "The United States side is pretty worried about seeing a deal emerge that suits everyone other than us," he said.
3) Post Makes Things Up In Pushing "Free Trade" Deals, Again
Dean Baker, Beat the Press, February 8, 2010
The Washington Post ran another appeal for congressional passage of trade agreements negotiated with South Korea and Colombia. It refers to these deals as "free trade" agreements even though an important part of both deals involves increasing protectionist barriers in the form of patent and copyright protection. This increased protection will raise costs and lead to increased economic distortions.
The Post has a long history of making things up to promote trade agreements. For example, a 2007 editorial promoting NAFTA told readers that Mexico’s GDP had quadrupled from 1988 to 2007. The actual increase over this period was 83 percent. The Post never printed a correction of this grossly exaggerated growth figure. (NAFTA took effect in 1994, so it not clear why the paper chose 1988 as the beginning year to assess NAFTA’s impact.)
4) Indian Court Gives Boost to Access to Medicines as Latest Appeal by Bayer is Rejected
Doctors Without Borders/MSF, February 9, 2010
New Dehli/Geneva – In a welcome move for access to medicines, the Delhi High Court has rejected the appeal filed by the German pharmaceutical company Bayer Corporation against an earlier court order which had rejected the implementation of a drug regulatory system which essentially linked registration of medicines to their patent status.
In August 2009, the Delhi High Court had rejected the petition filed by Bayer Corporation, seeking to stop the Drug Controller General of India (DCGI) from granting marketing approval to a generic version of a cancer drug patented by Bayer.
"We are delighted with this decision – at the moment in India we are seeing a number of multinational pharmaceutical companies trying to use litigation to stifle generic competition," said Dr. Tido von Schoen-Angerer of Médecins Sans Frontières’ Campaign for Access to Essential Medicines. "By rejecting Bayer’s attempts to introduce patent linkage, the Indian courts have ensured that public health safeguards like compulsory licensing can be used to open up generic production of life-saving medicines including antiretrovirals for millions in India and beyond. We hope this judicial precedent of safeguarding public health in patent disputes will continue, as matters such as these, and the forthcoming Novartis case go up to the Supreme Court."
5) Listen to the Iranian People
Robert Wright, New York Times, February 9, 2010
Thursday promises to be another dramatic day in Iran, and to lift hopes here in the West. It’s the 31st anniversary of the 1979 revolution, and opposition leaders have scheduled rallies of the sort that the increasingly repressive government has had trouble gracefully repressing. As we watch reformers once again face off against the black-clad motorcycle-riding Basij militia, it will be tempting to hope that maybe, somehow, the good guys will win this time; and with a new, liberal regime ascendant, maybe the "Iran problem" – in particular, the nuclear standoff, which took a turn for the worse this week – can at last be solved.
Unfortunately, we’ll be kidding ourselves. Even if the reformers miraculously swept into power, that wouldn’t help much on the nuclear front. Here the opposition leader, Mir Hossein Mousavi, has been at least as hard line as President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. The reason is that the Iranian people – reformers and conservatives alike – feel pretty strongly about the nuclear issue. The sooner we get clear on why, the better our hopes of resolving this mess.
The inimitable Ahmadinejad has made it easy to frame the power struggle in Iran with gratifying simplicity: an authoritarian religious zealot bent on acquiring a nuclear bomb versus reasonable moderates who see things our way. But this framing suffered a little-publicized setback a few months ago.
In October, negotiators in Geneva reached a deal that could have defused the nuclear issue, at least for a while: Iran would send much of its low-enriched uranium abroad, where it would be further enriched and then returned in a form suited for medical use and not weaponizable.
Then, after Ahmadinejad hailed this deal as a "victory" for Iran, it was denounced not just by some conservatives in Tehran but by the "progressive" Mousavi. The deal collapsed, and Ahmadinejad eventually discovered the wisdom of Mousavi’s position. Just this week he proudly announced that the uranium in question would be enriched by Iran – not to weapons-grade levels (90 percent), but to medical-use levels (20 percent), an achievement that would move Iranian scientists along the learning curve toward weapons-grade.
The timing is convenient. Coming right before Thursday’s demonstrations, the move may be an attempt by Ahmadinejad to seize the mantle of nationalism – in effect, to beat Mousavi at the game Mousavi started when he helped sabotage the Geneva deal in the first place.
In any event, last week saw the release of a big report that helps explain why playing the nuclear card is such good politics. It’s an analysis by the University of Maryland’s Program on International Policy Attitudes (PIPA) of several opinion polls conducted in Iran over the past year. (There’s a tendency on the part of American commentators to minimize the importance of public opinion in authoritarian states, but the reason authoritarians try so heavy-handedly to manipulate opinion is that they fear it – especially once an unruly opposition movement has emerged, as in Iran.)
Perhaps the best news in the PIPA report is that the Iranian public isn’t committed to getting the bomb. Given the choice between developing 1) nuclear weapons and nuclear energy, 2) nuclear energy only or 3) no nuclear technology, 55 percent of Iranians (and 57 percent of Mousavi supporters) chose door number two, while only 38 percent (and 37 percent) wanted the bomb.
But note that almost no one chose door number three. So if your goal is to get Iran to give up its nuclear program altogether, I recommend finding another goal.
[…] Though most Iranians say sanctions already imposed on the country have hurt it, 86 percent of them – and 78 percent of Mousavi supporters – say that Iran should not "give up its nuclear activities regardless of the circumstances."
This resistance to external punishment suggests that a new round of United Nations sanctions might not be a game changer even if, as now seems unlikely, China let them get through the Security Council. Less auspicious still are the blunter, and unilateral, sanctions that have gotten overwhelming support in Congress.
[…] When asked about Iran’s having a nuclear energy program but not doing the enriching, only 31 percent of Iranians – and 43 percent of Mousavi backers – were on board. This helps explains Mousavi’s political logic in denouncing the Geneva deal; for many Iranians enrichment on their soil has become the focal point of pride.
However, a follow-up question was posed to those Iranians – slightly more than half – who had flat-out rejected this idea of a nuclear program sans enrichment: How about if Iran were allowed to enrich uranium but gave "international inspectors unrestricted access to all Iranian nuclear facilities to make sure that it is not making an atomic bomb?" Most said they were fine with this.
[…] When you collate the results for these two questions, the upshot is good news: only a minority of Iranians insist that Iran be able to enrich uranium without international monitoring.
Now, in a way, this isn’t saying much. The whole idea behind the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (N.P.T.), to which Iran is a party, is that you get to use nuclear energy peacefully in exchange for inspections designed to ensure peaceful use. And, anyway, these inspections have proved inadequate in Iran. Iran’s Natanz reactor was being inspected regularly when we caught wind of a second reactor near Qom. Kind of makes you wonder about the value of inspections under the N.P.T.!
But that’s the point. Garden variety N.P.T. inspections are now widely acknowledged to be inadequate because they depend so heavily on which facilities a country chooses to declare eligible. There are various ideas about giving inspectors broader latitude – most notably via the "additional protocol" to the N.P.T. But the additional protocol doesn’t apply unless a member nation chooses to ratify it, and so far Iran hasn’t ratified it. Why don’t we take this opportunity to try to change that?
In particular: Why don’t we offer Iran something its public cherishes – the acknowledged right to enrich uranium – in exchange for radically more intrusive inspections, along with ratification of the additional protocol? A version of this idea has been advanced by a group of experts that was convened by the American Foreign Policy Project and co-chaired by former Ambassador Thomas Pickering and the aforementioned Gary Sick.
[…] I’m not betting that Iran would accept this deal, but I don’t see the downside of finding out, and that’s something we’ve never done; no comparable deal has ever been put on the table. The closest such overture was a 2008 offer that would have imposed tougher inspections but denied Iran the right to enrich uranium as allowed under the N.P.T. until "the confidence of the international community in the exclusively peaceful nature of your nuclear program is restored" – which to the average Iranian means, "not until America says so."
6) Brazil’s Amorim Says There Is ‘Room for Dialogue’ With Iran. Bloomberg
Iuri Dantas, Bloomberg, Feb. 9
Brasilia – Brazilian Foreign Minister Celso Amorim said the world still has "room for dialogue" with Iran amid a heightening dispute over the Middle Eastern country’s plans to develop nuclear technology.
Amorim, speaking to reporters in Brasilia, said Iran has a right to develop a "peaceful" nuclear program and that the country shouldn’t develop nuclear weapons. Tighter economic sanctions on Iran would hurt the general population, Amorim said.
7) Anti-Poppy Campaign Has Failed, United Nations Says
Reuters, February 10, 2010
Efforts to persuade farmers to stop growing opium poppies have failed in the past year, the United Nations said Wednesday, predicting as much land will be under poppy cultivation this year as in 2009. A report found that a downward trend in poppy cultivation, which fell by more than a third from 2007 to 2009, had ended.
8) Lebanon backs Hezbollah against Israel
Zeina Karam, Associated Press, Wednesday, February 10, 2010; 9:00 AM
Beirut – Lebanon’s prime minister voiced concern Wednesday about "escalating" Israeli war threats, and said his government will support the Shiite Muslim group Hezbollah if a new war breaks out with the Jewish state.
Saad Hariri’s comments come amid heightened tensions in the Middle East following some of the sharpest exchanges in years between Israel and its Arab neighbors.
It also comes in the context of improved relations between Hariri’s Western-backed coalition and the Iranian-backed Hezbollah since the two sides were forced to coexist in a fragile national unity government formed in November.
The cabinet includes two ministers from the militant group Hezbollah, which fought Israel to a standstill in a monthlong war in 2006 and clashed with supporters of Hariri in 2008. "We hear a lot of Israeli threats day in and day out," Hariri said in an interview posted on the BBC’s Web site Wednesday. "Every day we have Israeli warplanes entering Lebanese airspace. This is something that is escalating, and this is something that is really dangerous."
Hariri said Lebanon, which has a notoriously fractious political system, would unite if there is a fresh conflict with Israel. "I think they’re (Israelis) betting that there might be some division in Lebanon, if there is a war against us," Hariri said. "There won’t be a division in Lebanon. We will stand against Israel. We will stand with our own people."
9) Cuba travel bill buried in political agenda
Esteban Israel, Reuters, Tuesday, February 9, 2010
Washington – A bipartisan drive in Congress to end a Cold War-era travel ban on Cuba was buried during the healthcare reform debate but its supporters hope to dig it out this year.
Sponsors of two bills allowing Americans to travel freely to Cuba, introduced last year in the Senate and the House of Representatives, say a flood of dollars from the pro-embargo Cuban-American lobby might also have played a part.
"Support has not waned but it’s clear that the debate over healthcare has consumed the first year of the (Obama) administration and has had a similar impact in terms of congressional action," Representative Bill Delahunt, a Democrat and one of the authors of the bill, told Reuters.
Co-sponsor Jeff Flake, a Republican representative, said the votes were there to pass the Freedom to Travel to Cuba Act this year but the Democratic majority in the House was divided over whether to take it to the floor for a vote. "This is not an issue that is at the top of their agenda or anywhere close and it’s also an issue that splits part of their caucus," he said. "I still think it could happen this year."
The bill has 178 backers in the House, 40 votes short of the 218 needed but still a "big number," Flake said.
If passed, the act would be a bold step toward ending the 48-year U.S. trade embargo against Cuba and likely would flood the communist-run Caribbean island with American tourists attracted by its beaches and revolutionary mystique.
The U.S. National Tour Association estimates at least 850,000 Americans would fly to Cuba, just 90 miles off the Florida coast, in the first year after sanctions were lifted. U.S. and Cuban tour operators will meet next month in the Mexican resort of Cancun to draw up plans for that day.
[…] Divisions among Democrats emerged in November when 53 representatives signed a letter against any changes in the U.S. Cuba policy based on human rights concerns.
Public Campaign said 51 of the 53 had received a total of more than $850,000 in contributions from the U.S.-Cuba Democracy Public Action Committee and other pro-embargo donors.
"The letter, I think, was a strong indication the votes are not there," Representative Debbie Wasserman Schultz, a Democrat from Florida who gathered the signatures, told Reuters. "I have about 20 more Democrats who didn’t sign the letter but would not vote to lift the travel ban. That, combined with the overwhelming majority of Republicans, indicates the votes are just not there."
Supporters of the bill acknowledge the Public Action Committee has been effective. "They’ve always had money and, in Washington, money talks," said Delahunt.
[…] Senator Byron Dorgan, a Democrat whose bill has 38 co-sponsors, said the current policy only punishes Americans. "This describes the goofy position we put ourselves in by inhibiting the right of the American people to travel," Dorgan said. "Do you think there will be a ghost of a chance of saying we are going to now restrict the right of the American people to travel to China? You will be run out of town."
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