Just Foreign Policy News, March 13, 2012
Reps. urge State to end Honduras aid; Rendell probed on MEK pay
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I) Actions and Featured Articles
Politico: Malou Innocent (CATO) and Robert Naiman (JFP): Afghanistan shooting shows U.S. should stop treading water
Recent events have highlighted the growing animosity between U.S. and Afghan forces – animosity likely to be fatal to current U.S. plans for a long-term U.S. presence. Accelerating the withdrawal of U.S. military forces would most likely save us from a costly strategic defeat in the future.
Mark Weisbrot: Why Jeffrey Sachs would make a better World Bank president
Sachs understands how conditions imposed by the World Bank have harmed developing countries’ economies. He’d reform that.
Dean Baker: Larry Summers: The Wrong Person for World Bank President
Larry Summers is beginning to look more and more like the second incarnation of Richard Nixon. He just keeps coming back. According to the rumor mills and betting lines, Summers is now the top contender for World Bank president. If track records mattered, Summers would be nowhere in contention.
John Conyers: Encourage President Obama to Nominate Professor Jeffrey Sachs as the Next President of the World Bank
Conyers’ letter currently has 24 signers, including 21 members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus and 12 members of the Congressional Black Caucus. The deadline has been extended to close of business Wednesday.
94 Reps. urge Clinton to suspend aid to Honduras; 7 Senators ask State for info on Honduran compliance
On March 12, Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) and 93 fellow House members sent a letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to raise the alarm over human rights violations in Honduras. The letter asks the State Department "to suspend U.S. assistance to the Honduran military and police given the credible allegations of widespread, serious violations of human rights attributed to the security forces."
Arthur S. Brisbane: Lessons From Another War
The New York Times’ Public Editor reviews concerns about the Times coverage of the prospect of war with Iran and finds much of the concern justified.
Eugene Robinson: End the Afghan mission now
It was clear before Sunday’s horrific massacre of civilians that it’s past time for the U.S. mission in Afghanistan to end, Robinson says. Now the only question should be how quickly we can get our troops onto transport planes to fly them home.
1) A group of House Democrats are calling on President Obama to push Dr. Jeffrey Sachs, an economist and global poverty expert to serve as the next president of the World Bank, The Hill reports. The coalition, led by Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.) argued that the global economic leadership position "has often been headed by [a] career politician or a Wall Street Banker," and that it was time to name a man who has spent much of his career focused on global poverty.
2) A "source close to the Bank" claimed that the Obama Administration’s "short list" for nomination to the World Bank president had shrunk to three: Larry Summers, John Kerry, and Susan Rice, AFP reports. [But both Kerry and Rice disclaimed interest in the position, suggesting that the actual "short list" of whoever sponsored this leak just consists of Summers – JFP.]
3) The Treasury Department’s counterterrorism arm is investigating speaking fees paid to former Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell, who is among the most vocal advocates for the Iranian MEK, designated as a terrorist group by the State Department, the Washington Times reports. Rendell and others argue that the MEK should be removed from the list because it has not engaged in violence in more than two decades, the paper notes. [The paper should have noted that US officials have fingered the MEK in the recent killings of Iranian scientists, a fact which obviously tarnishes Rendell’s claim – JFP.]
4) Former Mossad chief Meir Dagan is still voicing opposition to Israel launching preemptive airstrikes against Iran’s nuclear facilities anytime soon, CBS News reports. Dagan believes the Iranian regime is rational, and is proceeding very carefully with its nuclear project; and that an Israeli attack would ignite an regional war; that retaliation would have a devastating impact on daily life in Israel; that a bombing attack would not be effective.
5) The five-nation Brics partnership [Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa] begins its summit in New Delhi on March 29, allAfrica.com reports. Brics will be looking to influence the outcome of the World Bank appointment. Although the Brics leaders may opt to push for a developing nation candidate, a more likely tactic appears to be to break the traditional stranglehold of the Washington-Wall Street axis, but back an alternative Northern hemisphere, or US, candidate, the report says. Among the possible candidates is Jeffrey Sachs, a strong critic of the World Bank’s track record, accusing it of "blunders of huge proportions."
6) Sixty percent of Americans say the war in Afghanistan has not been not worth fighting and just 30 percent believe the Afghan public supports the U.S. mission there, ABC reports. 54 percent say the U.S. should withdraw its forces from Afghanistan without completing its current effort to train Afghan forces.
7) An Afghan government delegation visited Guantanamo to secure approval from five Taliban detainees who may soon be moved to Qatar, a sign that the Obama administration is inching closer to establishing peace talks to end the war in Afghanistan, Reuters reports. Karzai’s government has demanded the five former senior members of the Taliban government, held at Guantanamo for a decade, give their consent before they are transferred to Qatar. U.S. officials have been hoping the behind-the-scenes peace initiative will gain enough momentum to permit Obama to announce the establishment of full-fledged political talks between the Karzai government and the Taliban at a NATO summit in May, Reuters says.
8) Five Taliban detainees held at the U.S. Guantanamo Bay military prison have agreed to be transferred to Qatar, Reuters reports.
9) News stories about satellite photographs suggesting efforts by Iran to "sanitize" a military site that the IAEA wanted to inspect are suspect, writes Gareth Porter for Inter Press Service. The claim does not reflect U.S. intelligence, and a prominent think tank that has published satellite photography related to past controversies surrounding Iran’s nuclear program has not found any photographs supporting it.
Porter suggests the allegation may be linked to efforts to push the US to revise its assessment that Iran is not now trying to develop a nuclear weapon.
Paul Brannan, a specialist on interpretation of satellite photography for ISIS, told the New York Times he could not find any photographs of sites at Parchin that suggested clean-up. He told the Times the presence of various kinds of equipment in the vicinity is not an indication of removal of evidence by Iran. "There is no way to know whether or not the activity you see in a particular satellite image is cleansing or just regular work." Brannan said.
10) Israeli officials have appeared to adjust their tone towards the Obama Administration in recognition of the fact that he is likely to be re-elected, writes Bradley Burston in Haaretz. "We hope that if he is re-elected in November," Channel 10 television quoted officials as saying, "that he will appreciate Israel’s restraint, if, in fact, Israel maintains restraint." It was not lost on them that, at a key Congressional briefing Tuesday, the head of the U.S. Central Command, Marine Gen. James Mattis, signaled a rebirth of linkage, warning a joint military affairs committee that the current stalemate in the Israel-Palestine stalemate could not continue, and that talks toward a two-state solution were needed, Burston argues.
11) The top Pentagon civilian and military officials said any U.S. military effort to protect civilians in Syria would take weeks to implement, McClatchy reports. A full-fledged military campaign would take even longer and would have to begin unilaterally, JCS Chair Gen. Dempsey said. Defense Secretary Panetta said Syria’s air defense systems are located within population centers, so U.S. strikes would lead to "severe" civilian casualties.
1) House Dems ask Obama to push global poverty expert to lead World Bank
Peter Schroeder, The Hill, 03/09/12 05:06 PM ET
A group of House Democrats are calling on President Obama to push Dr. Jeffrey Sachs, an economist and global poverty expert to serve as the next president of the World Bank.
The coalition, led by Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.) argued that the global economic leadership position "has often been headed by [a] career politician or a Wall Street Banker," and that it was time to name a man who has spent much of his career focused on global poverty. So far, the letter has garnered the signatures of 20 Democrats.
"It [the World Bank] has often fallen short in its efforts to build sustainable economies and healthy communities for the people of the developing world," the letter stated. "In contrast, Professor Sachs is a development professional and a problem solver – someone who has seen the destabilizing effects of poverty, famine, and resource scarcity first hand, and who has mobilized people and resources to do something about it."
Sachs, currently the director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University and Special Advisor to United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon, is publicly campaigning for the position.
"There have been 11 presidents of the World Bank, and not one of them yet has been an expert in international development," Sachs told The Washington Post. "The world would be better off and America’s interests in a peaceful world would be better served by an expert in development at the bank."
Obama is expected to play a leading role in filling the top spot at the World Bank, which will become open in June. Current President Robert Zoellick has informed the institution he does not plan to extend his time there beyond his five-year tenure.
While the World Bank’s leader is technically chosen by its board, longtime convention has the United States effectively naming its head as the group’s largest contributor. That power comes as part of a long-standing agreement under which the head of the International Monetary Fund comes from Europe.
[…] [But, supposedly, this time there is an "open process" – JFP.]
2) US faces brewing battle for World Bank job
Veronica Smith, AFP, Thu, Mar 8, 2012
The United States faces a brewing battle over who will lead the World Bank as one of its reported candidates ruled the job out and insurgent candidate Jeffrey Sachs won developing country support.
With the March 23 deadline looming for nominations to succeed president Robert Zoellick, Washington — which has always put an American at the helm — had narrowed the field to three, according to a source close to the Bank.
The administration of President Barack Obama is considering US Senator John Kerry, United Nations ambassador Susan Rice and economist Lawrence Summers, the source said.
But Kerry, the Democratic senator who was defeated in a run for the White House by then-president George W. Bush in 2004, says he does not want the job. "Senator Kerry hasn’t been contacted by the administration about the World Bank vacancy," his spokeswoman Jodi Seth said Thursday in an emailed statement. "While he has great respect for the institution and its role in the world, he’s not interested in the position."
[…] Rice, who is also said to be more interested in the secretary of state job than running the world’s giant development lender, has been tightlipped about her plans. Asked as she walked into a UN Security Council debate Thursday whether she was "World Bank bound," the ambassador replied: "C’mon, I’ve got a great job," Inner City Press reported.
[Thus, of the three purported "short list" candidates according to this "source close to the Bank," two of them – Kerry and Rice – have disclaimed interest, and one of them – Larry Summers – has not. This suggests that this "short list" is misdirection – usually, a "short list" only includes people who have indicated that they are interested in a position – and that the insider candidate, at least according to this source, is Summers – JFP.]
[…] Summers, the third person on the apparent White House short list, has his own problems.
Few doubt his qualifications: he was Obama’s first director of the National Economic Council and served as Treasury secretary under then-president Bill Clinton from 1999 to 2001. He is now a Harvard University economics professor.
But many see him as a potentially polarizing figure, and his name has already provoked howls.
Because of a controversy when he was World Bank chief economist in the 1990s, [that is, when he signed a memo that claimed that Africa was "underpolluted" – JFP] "Summers would be perceived as an affront for the Africans," a person close to the World Bank told AFP recently.
Meanwhile, self-nominated development expert Sachs seems to be gaining traction.
The world-renowned US economist, who led the UN committee on the Millennium Development Goals, has picked up a clutch of endorsements from developing countries since announcing his candidacy Friday.
Sachs has listed statements of support from the prime ministers of Jordan, Malaysia, East Timor, Kenya and Namibia on his website, jeffsachs.org.
In an op-ed article Thursday in the British newspaper The Guardian, the Center for Economic and Policy Research welcomed Sachs’s entry into the race. "This is good news for the World Bank and the world, since the bank has considerable influence in developing countries, especially poor ones, and is badly in need of reform," said Mark Weisbrot, co-director of the Washington think tank. "Jeffrey Sachs has a proven track record over the past decade," he said.
Sachs, the director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University and a special adviser to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, has taken his campaign to the social media trail on Twitter. "My intent is to fight poverty hunger and disease as I’ve been doing at UN, Earth Institute, and w/ govs around world," he tweeted.
3) Top Democrat’s speeches for terrorist group probed
Guy Taylor, The Washington Times, Friday, March 9, 2012
The Treasury Department’s counterterrorism arm is investigating speaking fees paid to a longtime Democratic Party leader who is among the most vocal advocates for Iranian dissidents designated as a terrorist group by the State Department.
Former Pennsylvania Gov. Edward G. Rendell told The Washington Times that Treasury investigators have subpoenaed records related to payments he has accepted for public speaking engagements.
Mr. Rendell is among a bipartisan group of prominent former officials – including Cabinet-level Republicans – who have been paid for speeches calling for the removal of the Mujahedeen-e-Khalq (MEK) from the State Department’s list of foreign terrorist organizations.
The MEK, also known as the People’s Mujahedeen of Iran, has long called for the overthrow of the Islamic theocracy in Tehran. The group, which the State Department says was engaged in terrorist attacks on Iranian government targets in the 1980s, has been on the terrorist list since 1997, when President Clinton put it there in an attempt to improve relations with Iran.
Mr. Rendell and others argue that the MEK should be removed from the list because it has not engaged in violence in more than two decades and shares a common enemy with the United States.
[This would have been a great place for the article to point out that US officials have recently fingered the MEK in the killings of Iranian scientists, a fact which obviously tarnishes Rendell’s claim that the MEK has not engaged in violence in more than two decades – JFP.]
While support for its position is widespread in Washington, some observers have raised questions about the legality of accepting payment in exchange for providing assistance or services to a listed terrorist group.
Mr. Rendell, who asserts that he has done nothing illegal, said the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control issued a Feb. 29 subpoena seeking "transactional records about what payments we received for speaking fees."
[…] A Treasury Department spokesman has refused to confirm or deny the subpoena’s issuance, saying the department "does not comment on possible investigations."
"But the MEK is a designated terrorist group; therefore, U.S. persons are generally prohibited from engaging in transactions with or providing services to this group," the spokesman said.
Designated terrorist groups are subject to sanctions, and the spokesman added that "the Treasury Department takes sanctions enforcement seriously and routinely investigates potential violations of sanctions laws."
[…] Mr. Rendell, who once served as general chairman of the Democratic National Committee, is apparently the only person to be subpoenaed among a group of nearly two dozen high-level political figures who have grown increasingly vocal in their calls for the MEK’s removal from the terrorist list.
The group includes Democrats such as former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean and high-profile Republicans such as former Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge and former Attorney General Michael B. Mukasey.
[…] While Mr. Cole stressed his personal belief that individuals have a "First Amendment right to speak out freely" for an organization like the MEK, he said that "it is a crime to engage in any transaction, which would certainly include getting paid to do public relations for them."
Mr. Rendell and Mr. Ridge acknowledged to The Times that they have been paid for making media appearances and speeches calling for the MEK’s removal from the terrorist list.
[…] Trita Parsi, who heads the National Iranian American Council, said the money is connected to the MEK.
"Everyone on Capitol Hill knows that, once on the terrorist list, the MEK could no longer lobby under their own name, so they created organizations with the same individuals and used those organizations, which are not on the terrorist list, to do the lobbying," Mr. Parsi said. "That includes giving money to U.S. officials to speak on their behalf and speak in support of the MEK while pretending that the money is not coming from the MEK."
The website of the National Iranian American Council maintains a list of groups it claims are raising money for the MEK, and Mr. Parsi said officials from the State Department have privately told him that the MEK sets up "shell organizations" to raise money.
4) The Spymaster: Meir Dagan on Iran’s threat
Transcript, CBS News, Monday March 12, 2012 5:44 AM
Meir Dagan has been described as "hard-charging" and "stops at nothing." For more than eight years, Dagan made full use of those qualities as chief of Mossad, Israel’s intelligence agency, where he focused on keeping Iran from developing a nuclear weapon. When that job ended, Dagan did something unheard of for an ex-Mossad chief: he spoke out publicly, voicing opposition to Israel launching preemptive airstrikes against Iran’s nuclear facilities anytime soon. Dagan believes the Iranian regime is a rational one and even its president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad – who has called for Israel to be annihilated [this is a disputed claim – JFP] – acts in a somewhat rational way when it comes to Iran’s nuclear ambitions.
The following script is from "The Spymaster Speaks" which aired on March 11, 2012. Lesley Stahl is the correspondent. Shachar Bar-On, producer.
When President Obama met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu this past week, the subject was how, when and if to attack Iran’s nuclear facilities, Netanyahu saying Israel can’t afford to wait much longer; Mr. Obama arguing there’s still time to let sanctions and diplomacy do the job. And he said some top intelligence officials in Israel side with him.
Actually, you’ll hear from one of them tonight: Meir Dagan, former chief of the Mossad, Israel’s equivalent of the CIA. It’s unheard of for someone who held such a high-classified position to speak out publicly, but he told us he felt compelled to talk, because he is so opposed to a preemptive Israeli strike against Iran anytime soon.
Dagan headed the Mossad for nearly a decade until last year. His primary, if not his only mission was to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear bomb. And he says there is time to wait, perhaps as long as three years.
Lesley Stahl: You have said publicly that bombing Iran now is the stupidest idea you’ve ever heard. That’s a direct quote.
Dagan: An attack on Iran before you are exploring all other approaches is not the right way how to do it.
Stahl: The dispute seems to come down, though, to whether you are at the end of everything that you can try or whether you have a lot of time left to try other things, which seems to be your position.
Dagan: I never said it’s a lot of time but I think that-
Stahl: Well, more time.
Dagan: More time.
[…] Dagan: The regime in Iran is a very rational regime.
Stahl: Do you think Ahmadinejad is rational?
Dagan: The answer is yes. Not exactly our rationale, but I think that he is rational.
Stahl: Do you think they’re rational enough that they are capable of backing down from this?
Dagan: No doubt that the Iranian regime is maybe not exactly rational based on what I call Western-thinking, but no doubt they are considering all the implications of their actions.
Stahl: Other people think they’re not going to really stop until they have this capability.
Dagan: They will have to pay dearly and all the consequences for it. And I think the Iranians, in this point in time, are going very careful in the project. They are not running in it.
[…] Dagan argues that a preemptive Israeli strike this year would be reckless and irresponsible. The Obama administration agrees that there’s time to wait.
[…] In his memoir, former Vice President Dick Cheney says that in 2007 Dagan came to Washington with intel to make the case for bombing the Syrian nuclear reactor that Israel later took out in a surprise attack. Syria did not retaliate. This time, Dagan thinks it’ll be different. He worries about a rain of missiles which some estimate could be as many as 50,000.
Dagan: We are going to ignite, at least from my point of view, a regional war. And wars, you know how they start. You never know how you are ending it.
We went outside and looked out from his balcony at the bright lights of the very prosperous, modern city of Tel Aviv.
Stahl: If Israel does strike Iran, the retaliation would probably take place right here. Hezbollah could come from the north; Hamas could fire from the south.
Dagan: It will be a devastating impact on our ability to continue with our daily life. I think that Israel will be in a very serious situation for quite a time.
Dagan’s other concern is that a bombing attack would not be effective. It’s been widely reported that there are four main, heavily fortified, nuclear facilities dispersed across Iran. He says it’s more complicated than that.
Dagan: There are dozens of sites.
Stahl: Not four?
Dagan: Not four.
Stahl: So if Israel were to go and have their strike, they’d have to have a dozen hits?
Dagan: You’ll have to deal with a large number of targets.
Stahl: Here’s something that I saw that you said. You said, "There’s no military attack that can halt the Iranian nuclear project. It could only delay it."
Dagan: Yes, I agree.
5) South Africa: A Ton of Brics
allAfrica.com, 8 March 2012
The five-nation Brics partnership begins its fourth summit – the second attended by South Africa – in New Delhi (29 March 2012) with a momentum and sense of common purpose it has previously lacked.
[…] The Bretton Woods institutions will also be the subject of some attention in New Delhi. Having missed the opportunity last year to collectively lobby that the IMF executive seat go to a developing country candidate, Brics will be looking to influence the outcome of the World Bank appointment, due in June, when current head Robert Zoellick steps down.
Although the Brics leaders may opt to push for a developing nation candidate ahead of the summit, a more likely tactic appears to be to break the traditional stranglehold of the Washington-Wall Street axis, but back an alternative Northern hemisphere, or US, candidate. Among the possible candidates is economic professor Jeffrey Sachs, a director of Columbia University’s Earth Institute, a strong critic of the World Bank’s track record, accusing it of "blunders of huge proportions".
6) Six in 10 Criticize War in Afghanistan; Most Favor Abandoning Training Mission
Gary Langer, ABC News, Mar 11, 2012 2:00pm
Sixty percent of Americans say the war in Afghanistan has not been not worth fighting and just 30 percent believe the Afghan public supports the U.S. mission there – marking the sour state of attitudes on the war even before the shooting rampage allegedly by a U.S. soldier this weekend.
Indeed a majority in a new ABC News/Washington Post poll, 54 percent, say the United States should withdraw its forces from Afghanistan without completing its current effort to train Afghan forces to become self-sufficient.
The survey was completed Saturday. Early Sunday a U.S. service member allegedly left his base in Kandahar and shot and killed more than a dozen civilians in two nearby villages, an incident certain to raise tensions already inflamed by the U.S. military’s inadvertent burning of Muslim holy books at Bagram Air Base last month. That incident sparked violent protests, including a series of incidents in which Afghan soldiers have turned their guns on U.S. forces.
Against that backdrop, the number of Americans who say the war has not been worth fighting, at 60 percent, is up by 6 points from its level last June to just 4 points from its peak, 64 percent, a year ago. Intensity of sentiment is deeply negative: Forty-four percent feel "strongly" that the war has not been worth fighting. Just 17 percent, by contrast, support it strongly.
Criticism of the war had been assuaged to some extent last year by the drawdown of U.S. forces, a step backed by 78 percent of Americans in an ABC/Post poll last month. Taking another tack, this poll, produced for ABC by Langer Research Associates, asked if the United States should keep its forces in Afghanistan until it has trained the Afghan Army to be self-sufficient, or withdraw even without accomplishing that task. Given those competing interests, 43 percent favor completing the training effort; 54 percent, as noted, opt for withdrawal regardless.
While the war lacks majority support on the basis of a cost-benefit evaluation for the United States, support is further eroded by the fact that 55 percent of Americans think most Afghans themselves do not support U.S. efforts in their country, and an additional 15 percent are unsure. Just three in 10 think the U.S. mission enjoys majority support.
Partisanship informs views on the war. Democrats and political independents see it as not worth fighting by broad 40- and 31-point margins, respectively, while Republicans divide evenly on the question. Similarly, liberals and moderates are critical of the war by 49- and 27-point margins; conservatives share this view much more narrowly, by 9 points. And while nearly six in 10 Republicans favor staying until Afghan forces are trained, that drops to 37 percent among others.
A renewal of critical views could have political ramifications for President Obama’s re-election effort. Discontent with the war in Iraq, at similar levels as views on Afghanistan today, badly damaged George W. Bush’s presidency, marking the risk for Obama, especially in an election year.
7) Afghan officials visit Guantanamo in peace bid
Missy Ryan, Reuters, Sat, Mar 10 2012
Washington – An Afghan government delegation visited the Guantanamo Bay military prison this week to secure approval from five Taliban detainees who may soon be moved to Qatar, a sign that the Obama administration is inching closer to establishing peace talks to end the war in Afghanistan.
The delegation, which visited the top-security detention center in Cuba on Monday, included Ibrahim Spinzada, a senior foreign policy aide to Afghan President Hamid Karzai, sources familiar with the subject said.
Government sources in Kabul said Spinzada and Shahida Abdali, a senior Afghan security official, visited the United States this week. The White House said the two officials were in Washington briefly but both the White House and the Pentagon declined comment on the Guantanamo visit.
Karzai’s government has demanded the five former senior members of the Taliban government, held at Guantanamo Bay for a decade, give their consent before they are transferred to Qatar, the small Gulf state where they would under Qatar’s custody.
The transfer would be one of a series of good-faith measures that, if U.S. diplomats can surmount remaining hurdles, would set in motion the first substantial political negotiations on the bloody conflict in Afghanistan since the Taliban government was toppled in 2001 in a U.S.-led invasion.
A year after it was unveiled, the Obama administration’s peace initiative may soon offer the United States a historic opportunity to broker an end to a conflict that began as the response to the September 11, 2001, al Qaeda attacks on the United States. The war has dragged on for a decade at great financial and human cost.
But the peace gambit also presents extraordinary risks for Obama, facing the potential for political fallout months before presidential elections, as his government considers backing an arrangement that would give some degree of power to the Taliban, a movement known for its brutality and extreme interpretation of Islam.
Despite months of covert diplomacy, it remains unclear whether the prisoner transfer will go ahead. Doubts are growing about whether the Taliban leadership is willing to weather possible blowback from junior and more hard-core members who appear to oppose negotiations.
U.S. officials have been hoping the behind-the-scenes peace initiative will gain enough momentum to permit Obama to announce the establishment of full-fledged political talks between the Karzai government and the Taliban at a NATO summit in May.
Such an announcement would mark a major victory for the White House and might dispel some of the anxiety created by NATO nations’ plans to gradually pull most of their troops by the end of 2014, leaving an inexperienced Afghan military and wobbly Afghan government to fend off a still-potent insurgency.
The confidence-building measures the administration has proposed also include the opening of the Taliban office in Qatar and a Taliban statement distancing itself from terrorism.
Their possible transfer has become a lightning rod for attack – or at least anxiety – from U.S. politicians from both parties even before the administration formally begins a required congressional notification process.
8) Five Taliban Guantanamo detainees agree to Qatar transfer-Afghan official
Hamid Shalizi, Reuters, 5:47 AM CST, March 10, 2012
Kabul, March 10 – Five Taliban detainees held at the U.S. Guantanamo Bay military prison have agreed to be transferred to Qatar, a move Afghanistan believes will boost a nascent Afghan peace process, President Hamid Karzai’s spokesman said on Saturday.
9) Alleged Photos of "Clean-up" at Iran’s Parchin Site Lack Credibility
Gareth Porter, Inter Press Service, Mar 12
Washington – News stories about satellite photographs suggesting efforts by Iran to "sanitise" a military site that the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has said may have been used to test nuclear weapons have added yet another layer to widely held suspicion that Iran must indeed be hiding a covert nuclear weapons programme.
But the story is suspect, in part because it is based on evidence that could only be ambiguous, at best. The claim does not reflect U.S. intelligence, and a prominent think tank that has published satellite photography related to past controversies surrounding Iran’s nuclear programme has not found any photographs supporting it.
The original Parchin clean-up story by Associated Press correspondent George Jahn, published Mar. 7, reported that two unnamed diplomats from an unidentified country or countries – it was not made clear how many were involved – told him that satellite photos "appear to show trucks and earth-moving vehicles" at the site.
The two diplomats said they suspected Iran "may be trying to erase evidence" of tests of a "neutron device used to set off a nuclear explosion" because "some of the vehicles at the scene appeared to be hauling trucks and other equipment suited to carting off potentially contaminated soil from the site."
However, a third diplomat told Jahn he "could not confirm that", and Jahn was shown no photographs to back up the description offered by his two anonymous sources. Three other diplomats with whom Jahn spoke were apparently unaware of such photographs.
The satellite photographs described to Jahn did not come from U.S. intelligence. Former CIA counterterrorism official Phil Giraldi told IPS that a U.S. intelligence official had confirmed to him that the officials in question were not talking about intelligence provided by U.S. intelligence.
U.S. State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland refused to answer specific questions at a Mar. 8 briefing about whether U.S. intelligence had such satellite photos or whether the U.S. believes that such intelligence exists. She referred to such intelligence only in the conditional tense. "Any evidence that Iran is seeking to cover its tracks would raise only further concern about the true nature of the programme," she said.
That means that the officials were either from Israel or one of its three European allies – the British, French and Germans – who have been working closely with Israel to undermine and finally force a revision of the U.S. intelligence community’s 2007 conclusion that Iran has not worked on developing a nuclear weapon since 2003.
Israel provided a series of documents to the IAEA after that intelligence estimate – as recounted by former IAEA Director General Mohamed ElBaradei in his 2011 memoir – aimed at proving that Iran had secretly tested a detonator for an implosion device and had worked on a neutron initiator as recently as 2007. The timing of the story – just after the possibility of an IAEA inspection visit to the site had been suggested by Iran – is also suspect. The allegation of a clean-up at the site would provide a convenient explanation for the failure of the IAEA to find evidence to support the suggestion in its November 2011 report that Iran constructed a large containment vessel for hydrodynamic tests of nuclear weapons at Parchin.
Reflecting the degree to which the alleged intelligence has been given credence by being amplified without any questioning by the rest of the news media, an AFP report Saturday suggested that, even if Iran now agrees to an IAEA visit to the Parchin site, "it will find itself accused of having cleaned up the site beforehand."
Further casting doubt on the motive behind the story, the same allegation was made to the same AP reporter more than three and a half months earlier. On Nov. 22, Jahn reported that a single official of an unidentified state had "cited intelligence from his home country, saying it appears that Tehran is trying cover its tracks by sanitizing the site and removing any evidence of nuclear research and development."
That assertion came in the wake of the IAEA Board of Governors meeting in November, as the IAEA Safeguards Department was planning to request a visit to the site at Parchin, where the agency had just reported nuclear weapons-related testing had been carried out in a large explosive containment chamber, according to unnamed "Member States".
The claim of satellite intelligence showing Iranian efforts to clean up a site at Parchin has not been supported by the Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS), the Washington, D.C. think tank that had defended allegations in last November’s IAEA report about foreign expertise having assisted in the alleged construction of a containment vessel at Parchin in 2000.
Paul Brannan, a specialist on interpretation of satellite photography for ISIS, told the New York Times that he had looked at many photos of Parchin but so far had not found any photographs of the "specific site" – meaning the site at which the unnamed officials had claimed there were equipment and vehicles indicating possible removal of evidence of past tests.
But Brannan went even further to say he could not find any photographs of sites at Parchin that suggested clean-up. He told the Times the presence of various kinds of equipment in the vicinity is not an indication of removal of evidence by Iran.
"There is no way to know whether or not the activity you see in a particular satellite image is cleansing or just regular work." Brannan added, "There’s a lot of activity there – always."
The new alarm over alleged satellite images recalls the accusation by the George W. Bush administration in close consultation with Israel in 2004 that Iran was using high explosives to test nuclear weapons at Parchin.
ISIS Executive Director David Albright told interviewer Scott Horton of Antiwar Radio in July 2009 that he had "gotten a tip" in September 2004 that high explosives testing at Parchin "could be used for nuclear weapons".
ISIS then published a series of satellite photographs that the organisation said were "consistent" with facilities for such nuclear testing.
The satellite images were then cited by Undersecretary of State John Bolton as alarming evidence of covert Iranian nuclear weapons work. The United States and its Western allies put strong pressure on the IAEA to get Iran to agree to a visit to Parchin.
But Bolton and the IAEA had only vague suspicions rather than hard intelligence to go on. The IAEA asked to visit four entirely different areas of the 24-square-mile Parchin facility for places that Israeli intelligence believed were consistent with some kind of nuclear- related testing activity.
The Iranians insisted that the IAEA inspectors could only visit one area per visit, even though they were allowed to visit five different buildings of their own choosing each time. The result was embarrassing visits in January 2005 and again in November that found nothing to justify the suspicions.
Another IAEA mission to Parchin that concedes that the information it had been given by those unnamed member states was false would deal a serious blow to the efforts of Israel and its European allies to refute the 2007 U.S. intelligence estimate.
10) Netanyahu just got nervous
Should Obama win a second term, Netanyahu stands to lose as much as anyone.
Bradley Burston, Haaretz, 08.03.12
There’s something in the air. Something new. Something as recent as this week’s AIPAC conference. And for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, it’s not something to be desired. American conservatives have begun to think out loud that President Barack Obama will win re-election in November. Citing the GOP’s disastrous showing in the 1964 presidential election, influential Washington Post columnist George Will suggested this week in a tone of some resignation ("The presidency is not everything") that conservatives might better use their energies by concentrating instead on Congressional and Senate races.
No one will be following the campaign more closely than the man adored by Republicans nationwide as the favorite son they can never adopt, Benjamin Netanyahu. And should Obama win a second term, perhaps recouping a measure of Congressional strength on his coattails, Netanyahu stands to lose as much as anyone.
Much of the prime minister’s policy-making strategy has been based on educated hopes for a steady decline in Obama’s first-term electoral strength and a Netanyahu-friendly Republican taking the White House in 2012. Marshalling conservative allies in Congress and the Jewish community, Netanyahu seemed to have shattered the Obama administration’s linkage of Israeli-Palestinian peace progress (with its attendant threats to the settlement enterprise ) and resolution of other regional issues, notably Iran. But it’s a different Netanyahu coming home this week. The Prime Minister’s Office is no longer betting on Obama to lose. You can hear the change in the words of Israeli officials. Before the shift, during the run-up to AIPAC and a closely watched meeting at the Oval Office, the prime minister had five senior U.S. senators over to lunch, a group headed by Republican former presidential candidate John McCain. Officials, riding a frankly pro-Republican wave of sentiment, later quoted Netanyahu as telling the senators he was "disappointed" with Obama administration statements on Iran, adding that the public opposition of administration leaders – apparently including the president – to an attack on Iran "serves the Iranians."
On Tuesday, as the AIPAC conference ended, government figures in Jerusalem took a markedly different tack, one that began to confront the possibility that Obama may occupy the Oval Office for four fateful second-term years. "We hope that if he is re-elected in November," Channel 10 television quoted officials as saying, "that he will appreciate Israel’s restraint, if, in fact, Israel maintains restraint."
It was not lost on them that, at a key Congressional briefing Tuesday, the head of the U.S. Central Command, Marine Gen. James Mattis, signaled a rebirth of linkage, warning a joint military affairs committee that the current stalemate in the Israel-Palestine stalemate could not continue, and that talks toward a two-state solution were needed.
It wasn’t supposed to be like this. By this time, aided by and aiding the Republican-in-all-but-name Netanyahu government, Obama and talk of an urgent need for negotiations toward two states were supposed to be on their way out. But as the U.S. economy recovers and the Republican Party guts itself in efforts to field a credible candidate to face Obama, the Netanyahu government is weighing a challenge that may prove politically second only to that of a nuclear Tehran – an Obama victory.
At issue are the twin underpinnings of the Netanyahu government, expansion of settlements and resistance to granting concessions to Palestinians. They are the cement that has kept in place an ill-fitting collection of political building blocks.
Second-term U.S. presidents often have much more freedom to bring influence to bear on their Israeli allies, a factor of significance if Obama seeks to forge an Israeli-Palestinian peace as the cornerstone of his presidency.
Should Obama win, Netanyahu may have to radically rethink the composition of his government, as well as his strategy with respect to the Palestinians. He may have no choice but to begin to put substance to his commitment – empty until now – toward a two-state solution.
11) Pentagon leaders reject military intervention in Syria
Nancy A. Youssef, McClatchy Newspapers, Wed, Mar. 07, 2012
Washington – Any U.S. military effort to protect civilians in Syria  would take weeks to implement, the top Pentagon civilian and military officials said Wednesday, underscoring the limited U.S. options for ending President Bashar Assad’s violent campaign against Syrian rebels.
Another option – a full-fledged military campaign against Assad – would take even longer and would have to begin unilaterally as the United States is the only nation whose military could weaken Syria’s vast air defense systems, Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told the Senate Armed Services committee.
Defense Secretary Leon Panetta added that Assad’s air defense systems are located within population centers, which would likely lead to civilian casualties. There would be "severe collateral damage," Panetta said.
Panetta and Dempsey offered the first outlines of what a military campaign would look like even as they cautioned increasingly frustrated members of Congress against unilateral U.S. military action against the Assad regime. The Obama administration has called for Assad to step down but can do little on its own to make that happen – exposing its limited options for alleviating a crisis that President Barack Obama called "heartbreaking and outrageous" at a White House news conference on Tuesday.
[…] Panetta told the Senate panel that the Obama administration was trying to build an international consensus, adding that without international legal justification, intervening would be a mistake. However, Russia and China have blocked action by the U.N. Security Council, effectively killing chances for a multilateral military intervention like the one NATO mounted in Libya.
Meanwhile, the United States has allotted $10 million in humanitarian aid, which so far has reached 4,000 families in the besieged Syrian city of Homs, Panetta said. "This terrible situation has no simple answers," Panetta said.
Panetta also said the administration was seeking to deliver radios and other "non-lethal aid" to the rebels, but it was unclear which segments of the fragmented opposition – which includes Syrian exiles in Europe and the patchwork fighting force known as the Free Syrian Army – would receive that aid. Dempsey said the opposition was comprised of as many as 100 different groups.
Earlier this week, the commander of U.S. forces in the Middle East, Marine Gen. James Mattis, told the same Senate panel that the makeup of the Free Syrian Army was murky, adding, "It’s good to know who you’re dealing with" before providing direct U.S. assistance.
At the same time, Mattis conceded that Assad’s forces "are gaining momentum on the battlefield."
That did little to assuage complaints from Republicans, led by Arizona Sen. John McCain, who have demanded the United States do more to dislodge Assad. McCain noted Assad’s ties to Iran, which is locked in a confrontation with the United States, Western powers and Israel over its nuclear program.
[…] Dempsey said that Syria’s military, the world’s 13th largest, has five times the air defenses of Libya and a large supply of chemical weapons.
His and Panetta’s comments signaled that Obama appeared no closer to ordering a military intervention. Dempsey said that the president had asked for a commander’s assessment of the U.S. military options. But Obama hasn’t asked for a contingency plan, Panetta said, which would involve identifying the U.S. forces that would be deployed to carry out the mission.
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