Just Foreign Policy News
February 21, 2011
Votes Friday on military cuts:
Nadler, Lee, Stark, Amendment No. 232, would have cut all but $10 billion for the war in Afghanistan, with the remaining money to be used to withdraw troops.
Defeated 98 – 331. Among Democrats: 91-99; Among Republicans: 7-232.
Polis Amendment No. 46, would have cut Armed Forces personnel in Europe to no more than 35,000
Defeated 74 – 351
Lee Amendment No. 141 would have cut Pentagon funding to Fiscal Year 2008 levels
Defeated 76 – 344
Other amendments to cut the defense budget by Members of both parties were also defeated, aside from the Rooney amendment to cut funds for the second F-35 engines.
Video: ‘We Stand With You as You Stood With Us’:
Statement to Workers of Wisconsin by Kamal Abbas of Egypt’s Centre for Trade Unions and Workers Services
Leahy asked State Department to review aid to Bahrain
"U.S. law prohibits aid to foreign security forces that violate human rights, and there is evidence to apply the law today in Bahrain. I have asked the State Department to consider the application of our law and I urge a prompt decision."
Kristof on apartheid in Bahrain
"If you parachute into a neighborhood in Bahrain, you can tell at once whether it is Sunni or Shia: if it has good roads and sewers and is well maintained, it is Sunni; otherwise, it is Shia."
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1) Palestinians are planning a "day of rage" Friday in response to the US veto of a UN Security Council resolution condemning Israeli settlements, the Guardian reports. Anti-US rallies took place in Bethlehem, Tulkarem and Jenin after the 14-1 vote on the resolution, in which the US stood alone against the rest of the Security Council, including Britain, Germany and France. The use of the veto for the first time under Obama will strengthen perceptions in the Arab world that for the US, protection of Israel overrides a just outcome for Palestinians, the Guardian says. According to the Palestinian press, Obama had suggested to President Abbas that US aid to the Palestinian Authority could be halted if the resolution went ahead. But a Palestinian official told Reuters that "people would take to the streets and topple the president" if Abbas backed down.
2) Afghan government officials alleged Sunday that a U.S. military operation in northeastern Afghanistan killed 65 innocent people, including 22 women and more than 30 children, the Washington Post reports. "According to locals in the area, American helicopters have been constantly bombing the village and have caused tremendous civilian casualties," the governor of Konar province said.
3) The apparent suspension of a police crackdown on Bahraini demonstrators followed two days of lobbying by the Obama administration, the Washington Post reported. President Obama, Secretary of State Clinton, Defense Secretary Gates and national security adviser Donilon were all involved in the lobbying effort, US officials said.
4) Yemeni Leader Rejects Demandshttp://www.nytimes.com/2011/02/22/world/middleeast/22yemen.html?ref=world
5) By late Sunday, the number of those killed in the uprising across Libya had soared to at least 233 according to Human Rights Watch. Al-Jazeera reported that military aircraft on Monday fired on protesters in Tripoli. Reuters reported that two Libyan Air Force fighter pilots defected on Monday and flew their jets to Malta where they told authorities they had been ordered to bomb protesters. Libya’s ambassadors to the U.N. called for Gaddafi to step down.
6) President Karzai said the possibility of the US retaining long-term bases in Afghanistan could only be addressed once peace has been achieved and must take into account the country’s neighbors, Reuters reports. Russia has urged the US not to establish long-term military bases in Afghanistan, suggesting that even discussing the subject could undermine peace efforts and anger Afghanistan’s neighbors.
7) Despite a major escalation in the number of Predator strikes being carried out in Pakistan, data from government and independent sources indicate that the number of high-ranking militants being killed as a result has either slipped or barely increased, the Washington Post reports. After a year in which the CIA carried out a record 118 drone strikes, costing more than $1 million apiece, the results have raised questions about the purpose of the campaign. The CIA is increasingly killing "mere foot soldiers," a senior Pakistani official said. Peter Bergen of the New America Foundation said data on the strikes indicate that 94 percent of those killed are lower-level militants. "I think it’s hard to make the case that the 94 percent cohort threaten the United States in some way," Bergen said.
8) The American who fatally shot two men in Pakistan last month and who has been described publicly as a diplomat is a security contractor for the CIA, the Washington Post reports. President Obama and other senior administration officials have repeatedly described the man as a diplomat. Officials in Pakistan said the government has known that Davis worked for the CIA and that the U.S. acknowledgment bolsters Islamabad’s case that Davis was not a diplomat and therefore is not entitled to immunity. US officials said the man’s employer was not relevant.
9) WikiLeaks cables show that the US has repeatedly dismissed claims by the Bahraini government that Shia Muslim unrest in Bahrain is backed by Iran, the Guardian reports. "Each time this claim is raised, we ask the GOB to share its evidence," the US embassy reported in August 2008. "To date, we have seen no convincing evidence of Iranian weapons or government money here since at least the mid-1990s … If the GOB had convincing evidence of more recent Iranian subversion, it would quickly share it with us."
1) Palestinians plan ‘day of rage’ after US vetoes resolution on Israeli settlements
US decision to use UN security council veto sparks furious reaction in West Bank and Gaza
Harriet Sherwood, Guardian, Sunday 20 February 2011 13.46 GMT http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2011/feb/20/palestinians-day-rage-us-veto
Jerusalem – Palestinians are planning a "day of rage" on Friday in response to the US wielding its veto against a UN security council resolution condemning Israeli settlements.
The US decision to use its veto has sparked a furious reaction in the West Bank and Gaza.
Anti-US rallies took place in the West Bank towns of Bethlehem, Tulkarem and Jenin this weekend after the 14-1 vote on the resolution, in which the US stood alone against the rest of the security council, including Britain, Germany and France. It voted in contradiction of its own policy.
In Gaza, Hamas described the US position as outrageous and said Washington was "completely biased" towards Israel.
Ibrahim Sarsour, an Israeli-Arab member of the Israeli parliament, the Knesset, said it was time to tell the US president, Barack Obama, to "go to hell".
"Obama cannot be trusted," he wrote in an open letter to the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas. "We knew his promises were lies. The time has come to spit in the face of the Americans."
The Egyptian foreign ministry said the US veto would "lead to more damage of the United States’ credibility on the Arab side as a mediator in peace efforts".
The use of the veto for the first time under Obama will strengthen perceptions in the Arab world that for the US, protection of its ally Israel overrides its desire for a just outcome for Palestinians in the decades-old conflict.
The move is likely to impede US efforts to persuade the parties to return to peace negotiations, which stalled in September over the issue of settlement expansion.
With protests raging across the Middle East against repression, corruption, food prices and dismal economic prospects, Washington is acutely aware that distrust of the US is widespread in the region.
The Israeli prime minister, Binyamin Netanyhu, said his country "deeply appreciated" the US use of its veto. However, some Israeli commentators warned that the vote served to reinforce Israel’s international isolation and said Washington would expect a payback from its ally. They suggested the US would be unwilling to use its veto in similar circumstances again.
The opposition leader, Tzipi Livni, said Israel was "now in political collapse".
"We now find that Germany, Britain and France – all friends of Israel who want to help it defend itself – voted against the positions of Israel, and the US is being pushed into a corner and finds itself with Israel against the world," she said.
The vote, on Friday night, followed frantic diplomatic efforts to prevent the tabling of the resolution, which was carefully worded to reflect official US policy on settlements.
Obama spoke to Abbas on the phone for 50 minutes on Thursday, offering a package of inducements, including public statements, to withdraw the resolution. According to the Palestinian press, Obama also suggested US aid to the Palestinian Authority could be halted if the resolution went ahead. The US secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, made a further telephone call to Abbas on Friday to put pressure on him to abandon the resolution.
However, the Palestinian president – aware of the volatile mood in the region and the backlash he would face if he acceded to Obama’s demands – refused to withdraw. One Palestinian official told Reuters that "people would take to the streets and topple the president" if he backed down.
[…] Underlying the growing gap between the US and Europe on the Israeli-Palestinian issue, Britain, France and Germany issued a joint statement saying settlement construction was against international law.
The veto served to unite the political rivals Hamas and Fatah in condemnation. Palestinian leaders are considering whether to take a resolution on Israel’s settlement policies to the UN general assembly.
2) Afghan officials allege that 65 civilians were killed in U.S. military operation
Joshua Partlow and Habib Zahori, Washington Post, Sunday, February 20, 2011; 11:33 PM
Kabul – Afghan government officials alleged Sunday that a U.S. military operation in the remote mountains of northeastern Afghanistan killed 65 innocent people, including 22 women and more than 30 children, the most serious allegation of civilian casualties in months.
The governor of Konar province, Fazlullah Wahidi, said that NATO forces launched the operation four days ago in the Ghaziabad district, a desolate area near the province’s northern border with Pakistan, where a lethal mix of insurgent groups operate.
"According to locals in the area, American helicopters have been constantly bombing the village and have caused tremendous civilian casualties," Wahidi said in an interview. He said he received his information from residents "trapped" in the village.
American commanders went into crisis mode Sunday, launching an investigation into the incident to find out what happened and prevent the episode from damaging relations with the Afghan government.
[…] A NATO statement said that video and information from the coalition showed that 36 insurgents, who were carrying weapons, were killed. The U.S. troops involved responded to insurgent activity and fired with aircraft and an unmanned Predator drone, the senior military official said. "It’s up in the mountains and it’s not around villages, so we don’t think it’s very likely" they were civilians, the official said.
3) Bahrain unrest: U.S. lobbying effort preceded easing of crackdown on protesters
Joby Warrick, Washington Post, Saturday, February 19, 2011; 10:26 PM
The apparent suspension of a police crackdown on Bahraini demonstrators followed two days of lobbying by the Obama administration, which leaned on the country’s leaders to exercise restraint amid fears that the unrest would be exploited by radical groups with ties to Iran, according to current and former U.S. government officials with detailed knowledge of the events.
The White House’s efforts were complicated by deep divisions within the Bahraini government as hard-liners, having witnessed the collapse of military-backed governments in Egypt and Tunisia, sought to quickly crush the protest movement before it became more powerful. Bahrain also faced pressure from Persian Gulf neighbors who fear similar uprisings from their own Shiite populations, the sources said.
Security forces pulled back from Manama’s Pearl Square as Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad al-Khalifa announced the start of a dialogue with the country’s mainly Shiite-led opposition movement. The White House had been working quietly for several days to undergird efforts by the crown prince and a small group of other Bahraini leaders to end the crackdown and begin implementing some of the political and economic changes demanded by protesters, according to two senior administration officials and a former intelligence official familiar with the diplomatic effort.
"It is a very delicate situation," said one of the administration officials, who like the others insisted on anonymity in discussing the U.S. diplomatic outreach to Bahrain, a close U.S. ally and home to the U.S. Navy’s 5th Fleet. "The private message to the Bahrainis is that they cannot treat this event strictly as a security issue. They’ve got to have political reforms, and they’ve got to get their security forces to exercise restraint."
President Obama condemned the violence against protesters in a statement Friday, and later in the day he phoned King Hamad bin Isa Al-Khalifa, telling him that the country’s stability depended on its willingness to respect the rights of protesters. Even as the two spoke, the president’s message was underscored in a flurry of calls to leaders of Bahrain and other gulf countries. Among those involved were Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates and national security adviser Thomas E. Donilon, the officials said.
In a phone call with Crown Prince Salman on Saturday, Donilon reiterated Obama’s condemnation of the attacks on protesters and expressed support for the steps taken to "show restraint and initiate dialogue with all segments of Bahraini society," according to a White House statement.
The crackdown was fueled in part by tensions between Bahrain’s Sunni-led government and a Shiite majority that makes up more than 60 percent of the population. Bahraini officials have long feared an uprising by Shiites, citing links between some Shiite opposition groups and Iran. But U.S. officials sought to convince gulf counterparts that the greater danger is from spiraling violence that would drive more Shiite Bahrainis into siding with extremists.
A former U.S. intelligence official with experience in the region agreed, saying that continuing repression would backfire by radicalizing elements of the protest movement. "The failure of the United States to back the protests will fuel anger against the U.S. government and drive the Shia toward Iran," the former official said. "Someone will step in to exploit this situation, and Iran is already moving to do that."
4) Yemeni Leader Rejects Demands
Laura Kasinof and J. David Goodman, New York Times, February 21, 2011
Sana, Yemen – President Ali Abdullah Saleh, looking shaken at a news conference here on Monday, said he would not give in to the demands of protesters who have sought his ouster during 10 days of sustained demonstrations around Yemen. "Why do they want to return to chaos?" he said, offering instead to sit down with the protesters and discuss political reforms, rather than abandon his three decades of authoritarian rule.
Mr. Saleh’s embattled government has faced street demonstrations both from organized opposition parties, who have extracted concessions but demanded further reforms, and from young protesters seeking to emulate the revolutions that toppled the leaders of Egypt and Tunisia.
Those two groups appear to be drawing closer. The Joint Meeting Parties, an umbrella group of opposition parties, said in a statement that it would "unite with the young protesters," strongly condemning the "murder and acts of repression and terrorism suffered by young people and activists at the hands of the authorities."
The statement was the most explicit support of the youth offered yet by the more established opposition, which quickly dismissed Mr. Saleh’s offer of dialogue as insincere.
The opposition parties have said that they would only agree to talks if they include leaders from the southern separatist movement, a demand that Mr. Saleh has so far not addressed.
Ten ruling party members of Parliament resigned in protest on Sunday because of the violence, according to Abdel Aziz Jabari, one of the members who gave up power. "We present our resignations in protest over what is happening in the Yemeni arena," Mr. Jabari said in an interview, "and over not holding the corrupt ones accountable and out of the necessity to respect the law and the Constitution."
Mr. Saleh, an American ally in the fight against the Yemeni branch of Al Qaeda, called the demonstrations against his government a provocation, accusing the opposition of being beholden to foreign influence. "The arbiter is the people and not the American Embassy, the United States or the E.U.," Mr. Saleh said in his speech, The Associated Press reported.
The State Department has condemned attacks against protesters by government supporters in Yemen.
5) Military helicopters reportedly fire on protesters in Libya
Sudarsan Raghavan and Leila Fadel, Washington Post, Monday, February 21, 2011; 4:18 PM
Sanaa, Yemen – Libyan leader Moammar Gaddafi’s regime showed more signs of crumbling Monday as scores of people were reportedly killed in the capital, witnesses said military helicopters shot at protesters on the ground, and the U.S. ordered non-essential diplomats to leave the North African nation.
The six-day-old uprising had reached the capital, Tripoli, by Monday morning, with reports of buildings being set ablaze and looting in some neighborhoods. In Libya’s second-largest city of Benghazi in the eastern part of the country, anti-government demonstrators celebrated on the streets, with reports growing that the city was now under their control.
Faiz Jibril, an opposition leader in exile, said that his contacts inside Libya have told him that eastern Libya has been liberated from pro-Gaddafi forces. He said helicopter gunships were striking protesters in Tripoli, where thousands have gathered in Green Square. The military was also conducting air-strikes on protesters walking from Misruata, which protesters took over, to Tripoli, he said.
[…] The U.S. State Department ordered all non-essential diplomats and embassy family members to leave the country. United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon held an "extensive conversation" with Gaddafi and emphasized the violence "must stop immediately," the U.N. said in a statement. Libya’s ambassadors to the U.N. called for Gaddafi to step down.
[…] Tribal leaders railed against Gaddafi while reports swirled of soldiers defecting from their units to the opposition. There were also reports of senior Libyan officials resigning from their posts, outraged by the killings carried out by security forces.
Reuters reported that two Libyan Air Force fighter pilots defected on Monday and flew their jets to Malta where they told authorities they had been ordered to bomb protesters.
At least 61 people had been killed in the protests overnight in Tripoli, al-Jazeera television reported, quoting medical sources. It also reported that security forces were looting banks and other government building in Tripoli, that protesters had ransacked several police stations and that military aircraft on Monday fired on protesters.
[…] By late Sunday, the number of those killed in the uprising across Libya had soared to at least 233, most of them in Benghazi, according to Human Rights Watch. Other news reports placed the death toll at 200 or much higher.
U.S. and European Union officials on Sunday condemned Libya’s crackdown and called for an end to the violence. State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said the United States is "gravely concerned" and has received "multiple credible reports that hundreds of people have been killed and injured." Many of the victims had been killed with machine guns, witnesses said.
6) Afghan Leader Says U.S. Bases Depend On Neighbors
Hamid Shalizi, Reuters, February 19, 2011, 11:30 pm
Kabul (Reuters) – The possibility of the United States retaining long-term bases in Afghanistan could only be addressed once peace has been achieved and must take into account the country’s neighbors, the Afghan president said on Saturday.
Russia has urged the United States not to establish long-term military bases in Afghanistan, suggesting that even discussing the subject could undermine peace efforts and anger Afghanistan’s neighbors.
[…] "Some American officials have suggested the U.S. government wants permanent bases in Afghanistan in the framework of enduring and strategic ties between the two countries," Afghan President Hamid Karzai told a news conference. "I have heard about Russian concern. We are not living in an island in which its surroundings are empty, we live in a restive region with major neighbors," he said.
Karzai suggested any decision about long-term U.S. military bases would have to be discussed by parliament or a loya jirga, or traditional gathering of elders. "Any agreement between Afghanistan and U.S. ties on the issue of bases must first result in peace in Afghanistan," Karzai said.
7) Increased U.S. drone strikes in Pakistan killing few high-value militants
Greg Miller, Washington Post, Monday, February 21, 2011; 12:07 AM
CIA drone attacks in Pakistan killed at least 581 militants last year, according to independent estimates. The number of those militants noteworthy enough to appear on a U.S. list of most-wanted terrorists: two.
Despite a major escalation in the number of unmanned Predator strikes being carried out under the Obama administration, data from government and independent sources indicate that the number of high-ranking militants being killed as a result has either slipped or barely increased.
Even more generous counts – which indicate that the CIA killed as many as 13 "high-value targets" – suggest that the drone program is hitting senior operatives only a fraction of the time.
After a year in which the CIA carried out a record 118 drone strikes, costing more than $1 million apiece, the results have raised questions about the purpose and parameters of the campaign.
Senior Pakistani officials recently asked the Obama administration to put new restraints on a targeted-killing program that the government in Islamabad has secretly authorized for years.
The CIA is increasingly killing "mere foot soldiers," a senior Pakistani official said, adding that the issue has come up in discussions in Washington involving President Asif Ali Zardari. The official said Pakistan has pressed the Americans "to find better targets, do it more sparingly and be a little less gung-ho."
Experts who track the strikes closely said a program that began with intermittent lethal attacks on al-Qaeda leaders has evolved into a campaign that seems primarily focused on lower-level fighters. Peter Bergen, a director at the New America Foundation, said data on the strikes indicate that 94 percent of those killed are lower-level militants.
"I think it’s hard to make the case that the 94 percent cohort threaten the United States in some way," Bergen said. "There’s been very little focus on that question from a human rights perspective. Targeted killings are about leaders – it shouldn’t be a blanket dispensation."
Even former CIA officials who describe the drone program as essential said they have noted how infrequently they recognized the names of those killed during the barrage of strikes in the past year.
8) U.S. officials: Raymond Davis, accused in Pakistan shootings, worked for CIA
Greg Miller, Washington Post, Monday, February 21, 2011; 5:05 PM
The American who fatally shot two men in Pakistan last month and who has been described publicly as a diplomat is a security contractor for the CIA who was part of a secret agency team operating out of a safe house in Lahore, U.S. officials said.
The contractor, Raymond A. Davis, 36, has been detained in a Pakistani jail since his arrest. He has said he opened fire on two Pakistani men after they attempted to rob him at a traffic signal in Lahore.
The disclosure compounds an already combustible stand-off between the United States and Pakistan at a time of growing distrust between them and complicates U.S. efforts to win Davis’s release.
President Obama and other senior administration officials have repeatedly described Davis as a diplomat who was assigned to the U.S. consulate in Lahore and have said he is entitled to immunity from prosecution in Pakistan.
But in fact, Davis has spent much of the past two years working as part of a group of covert CIA operatives, whose mission appears to have centered on conducting surveillance of militant groups in large cities including Lahore.
At the time of his arrest, Davis was based at a house with five other CIA contractors as well as an agency employee, a U.S. official said, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter.
[…] Officials in Pakistan said the government has known that Davis worked for the CIA and that the U.S. acknowledgment bolsters Islamabad’s case that Davis was not a diplomat and therefore is not entitled to immunity.
Davis’s affiliation with the CIA was "one of the major reasons" for the complications surrounding the case, a senior Pakistani official said. The broader impact, the official said, will be in "adding to the public anger and anguish, and hence more pressure on authorities in Islamabad not to succumb to the American pressure to hand over Davis."
State Department officials on Monday reiterated that Davis was entitled to diplomatic immunity under the terms of the Vienna Convention, which has been ratified by Pakistan, the United States and most other countries. A senior official, asked whether diplomatic immunity applied to CIA employees posted abroad, said Davis’s employer was not relevant.
[…] One U.S. official said Davis and the others working out of a Lahore safe house "were hooked up with JSOC," the U.S. military’s Joint Special Operations Command, which has taken on an increasingly important role in intelligence-gathering missions in Pakistan.
9) WikiLeaks cables show no evidence of Iran’s hand in Bahrain unrest
US sources dismissive of Bahraini allegation, and as early as 2008 noted tensions between its Shia majority and Sunni rulers Ian Black, Guardian, Tuesday 15 February 2011 14.45 GMT
The United States has repeatedly dismissed claims by the Bahraini government that Shia Muslim unrest in the Gulf island state is backed by Iran.
US diplomatic cables released by WikiLeaks show that the accusation made by the Manama government – which is facing street protests demanding political reforms from an opposition inspired by the Egyptian and Tunisian uprisings – is not backed by hard evidence.
"Each time this claim is raised, we ask the GOB (government of Bahrain) to share its evidence," the US embassy reported in a secret dispatch in August 2008. "To date, we have seen no convincing evidence of Iranian weapons or government money here since at least the mid-1990s … If the GOB had convincing evidence of more recent Iranian subversion, it would quickly share it with us."
Bahrain, home to the US fifth fleet, is unique in the Gulf in having a Shia majority – 60-70% of the 500,000 strong population – ruled by the Sunni Al-Khalifa dynasty. The government has been concerned in recent years that any conflict with Iran would generate sympathy from the Shia population, the cables show.
"Regional tensions may be adding to longstanding domestic tensions as well, contributing to the stridency of sectarian voices in Bahrain," US diplomats reported. "The majority of Bahraini citizens are part of the Shia underclass, and their grievances, expressed both in legal political activity and in street skirmishes between youths and police, are at the center of all domestic politics here."
[…] US officials also dismissed Bahraini allegations that the Iranian regime controls al-Haq, an extra-parliamentary Shia opposition movement involved in the current protests. Yet again, there was no "convincing evidence" for this. King Hamad told US diplomats that Bahrainis were receiving training from Hezbollah in Lebanon, "but admitted he had no definitive proof". Nor, despite US embassy requests, was there "convincing evidence" to back up speculation that the Syrian government was complicit in fostering subversion.
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