Just Foreign Policy News
April 15, 2011
I) Actions and Featured Articles
Update: House vote this morning on the People’s Budget
77 House Members voted this morning for the People’s Budget, which would have ended the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq by zeroing out funding in FY2013. In the context of the budget debate, this was a good result: Progressive Caucus Members turned out for the Progressive Caucus budget, proving that they are a real caucus. Also, lots of Americans found out that there was an alternative to domestic cuts that includes ending the wars, in part because the debate was broadcast on CSpan. Thanks to everyone who contacted House Members and who helped spread the word.
Harry Reid: ‘I’m Not Confident’ Afghanistan Is Going To Work
The headline says it all.
*Action: US Mayors’ resolution to bring the war dollars home
At the June meeting of US mayors, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa will propose a resolution to end the wars and bring the war dollars home. Ask your mayor to co-sponsor.
*Action: FAIR: Stop Blacking Out Progressive Protests
Where did all the anti-war protests go? The corporate media decided not to cover them.
One Campaign: FY11 budget deal protected international AIDS funding
The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria – no cut, funded at $1.05 billion. The President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) – no cut, funded at $4.6 billion.
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1) The striking disparity between US policy towards Bahrain and US policy towards Libya is fueling anti-U.S. sentiment among Bahraini opposition groups, the Washington Post reports. "Even though the American administration’s words are all about freedom and democracy and change, in Bahrain, the reality is that they’re basically a protection for the dictatorship," said Zainab al-Khawaja, a prominent human-rights activist who began a hunger strike after her father, husband and brother-in-law were arrested at her apartment over the weekend. U.S. officials acknowledge the administration has been understated in its criticism of Bahrain, in part to avoid further strain in relations with Saudi Arabia.
With Bahrain’s iron first tightening further, the White House is facing awkward questions from political allies as well as foes. A perceived U.S. double standard on Middle East democracy could become more acute if Washington is seen to ignore widespread abuses, according to current and former diplomats and regional experts.
But administration officials accept that Bahrain is the Saudi "back yard," the Post says.
2) Analysts say Al Jazeera is helping dynastic rulers police the gates of the Gulf to stop the revolts from spreading on their patch, Reuters reports. Scant coverage was given to protests in Bahrain and to the ensuing crackdown by its Sunni rulers. "Bahrain does not exist as far as Al Jazeera is concerned, and they have avoided inviting Bahraini or Omani or Saudi critics of those regimes," said As’ad AbuKhalil, politics professor at California State University. "Most glaringly, Al Jazeera does not allow one view that is critical of Bahraini repression to appear on the air."
3) Civilian budget analysts argued that the Pentagon could save the $400 billion proposed by President Obama just by limiting its future spending increases to the rate of inflation projected by the White House, the New York Times reports. "This is easily absorbable, and it’s not really a cut," said Gordon Adams, a professor at American University who oversaw military budgets in the Clinton White House. Adams worked with a bipartisan group that recommended reducing the Pentagon’s projected spending by $900 billion over 10 years. President Obama’s deficit-reduction commission called for saving $1 trillion over that period, the Times says. [Actually, the Times is wrong here: it was the commission co-chairs who proposed that, not the whole commission, who did not agree on any proposal. The mistake – a common media "error" – isn’t harmful to the public interest in this case, but is harmful in general – JFP.]
4) Panama’s passage of tax-transparency legislation represents a major step in the process of completing a trade agreement with the US, The Hill reports. But Public Citizen criticized the move, noting that the agreement ratified yesterday by Panama’s legislature allows the country’s government to refuse a tax information request "where the disclosure of the information requested would be contrary to the public policy" of Panama. "Given Panama’s longstanding public policy of encouraging tax-haven activities, this loophole is big enough to keep its offshore economy alive and kicking," Public Citizen said.
5) A new report written by two senior members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff raises questions about whether the US isn’t spending too much on its military, notes John Norris in Foreign Policy. The report says the US is overreacting to Islamic extremism and under-investing in its youth.
6) A thousand economists, including recipients of the "Bank of Sweden prize in honor of Alfred Nobel" [there is no "Nobel prize" in economics – JFP] have written the G20, urging them to adopt a "Robin Hood tax" on financial transactions, the Guardian reports. They argue that if a tax were levied on transactions such as currency trading at just 0.05%, it could raise hundreds of billions of dollars to be ploughed into international development and climate change projects..
7) The insistence by the EU and the IMF that the caretaker Portuguese government commit to a long-term plan of fiscal austerity in exchange for a rescue package is unjust and would undermine Portuguese democracy, argues the New York Times in an editorial. The EU and the I.M.F. should give Portugal a bridge loan and wait to negotiate a deal until there is a new government in place. This would give Portuguese voters a chance to vote on proposals by each party to address the emergency, the Times says.
8) U.S. officials rebuffed calls from within NATO to commit more forces to the military operation in Libya, the Washington Post reports.
U.S. officials said Secretary Clinton met with Turkish officials and talked about creating "an exit path" for Gaddafi to step down and leave Libya. A Turkish official said his government hoped to use the Berlin meeting come up with a diplomatic solution, which would include establishing direct communication with Gaddafi, making arrangements for his exit and ensuring that the opposition council sets up a new government that represents all tribes and groups. The official said the international community needs to "open a line of communication" with the Libyan leader to assure him he has a viable exit and convince him that he has no other option.
9) Only 14 of NATO’s 28 members are participating in the Libya operation and only 6 countries are striking targets on the ground in Libya, the New York Times reports. Prodding the allies to provide even a small number of additional planes faces stiff political opposition in many of the 14 countries participating in the NATO-led mission, allied diplomats said.
10) Russia warned NATO it was crucial not to use "excessive military force which will lead to further additional casualties among civilians" in Libya, the New York Times reports. "We believe it is important to urgently transfer things into the political course and proceed with a political and diplomatic settlement," Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov said. On Friday, Lavrov suggested that NATO’s actions had exceeded the U.N. Security Council’s resolution.
11) Obama’s trade policy as embodied in the Colombia agreement ignores key lessons from NAFTA and the 2008 food-price crisis, writes Karen Hansen-Kuhn of the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy. Like NAFTA, the Colombia agreement would subject local farmers to immediate competition from U.S. exports on a broad range of products. Many Colombian farmers will find it difficult to compete with goods whose prices can vary so dramatically. The Mexican experience – in which more than 2 million farmers have been displaced from agriculture – shows that even a long transition may be inadequate when no real alternatives for rural employment exist. Many of those farmers were compelled to migrate to urban areas or the US to find work.
1) As Bahrain stifles protest movement, U.S.’s muted objections draw criticism
Joby Warrick and Michael Birnbaum, Washington Post, Friday, April 15, 4:35 AM
Two months after the eruption of mass protests in Bahrain, the kingdom has largely silenced the opposition, jailing hundreds of activists in a crackdown that has left the Obama administration vulnerable to charges that it is upholding democratic values in the Middle East selectively.
Bahrain’s monarchy, since calling in Saudi troops last month to help crush the protest movement, has been quietly dismantling the country’s Shiite-led opposition. On Friday, the Sunni government announced an investigation into the activities of Bahrain’s largest political party, the Shiite-dominated al-Wefaq, which could lead to its ban.
The Obama administration has repeatedly appealed to the Bahraini government for restraint, and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton this week called for a political process that "advances the rights and aspirations of all the citizens of Bahrain." But the administration has neither recalled its ambassador to Manama nor threatened the kinds of sanctions it imposed on Libya – a striking disparity that is fueling anti-U.S. sentiment among Bahraini opposition groups.
"Even though the American administration’s words are all about freedom and democracy and change, in Bahrain, the reality is that they’re basically a protection for the dictatorship," said Zainab al-Khawaja, a prominent human-rights activist who began a hunger strike after her father, husband and brother-in-law were arrested at her apartment over the weekend.
U.S. officials privately acknowledge that the administration has been understated in its criticism of Bahrain, in part to avoid further strain in relations with Saudi Arabia, a vital U.S. ally and neighbor to the tiny island kingdom. The Saudis, fearing the rise of a pro-Iranian Shiite state on its eastern frontier, urged Bahrain to deal firmly with the throng of protesters that occupied a central square and blocked access to Manama’s main business district.
A month later, however, with Bahrain’s iron first tightening further, the White House is facing awkward questions from political allies as well as foes. A perceived U.S. double standard on Middle East democracy – a problem since the Arab spring movement began three months ago – could become more acute if Washington is seen to ignore widespread abuses, according to current and former diplomats and regional experts.
"We need to worry about the human-rights situation deteriorating there," said Joel Rubin, a former Middle East specialist for the State Department and deputy director of the National Security Network, a Democratic-leaning foreign policy think tank. "It has a real impact on perceptions of American policy in the region."
U.S. officials defend the administration’s ad hoc approach to Middle East democracy movements as prudent, saying each country requires a unique balancing of democratic ideals and compelling security interests.
"We don’t make decisions about questions like intervention based on consistency or precedent," Denis R. McDonough, Obama’s deputy national security adviser, said recently in explaining why U.S. policy on Libya differs from that on Bahrain. "We make them based on how we can best advance our interests in the region."
In the case of Bahrain, the United States has key military interests. The kingdom is home to the U.S. Navy’s 5th Fleet; it is also seen as a strategically important bulwark against Iranian power in the region. But even more vital is the U.S. relationship with Saudi Arabia, a critical ally in the Middle East for half a century.
Saudi Arabia and the United States have fundamentally different views of what is happening in Bahrain, why it is happening and who is responsible for it. Saudi officials deny that Bahrain has cracked down on legitimate demonstrators, insisting that action has been taken only against radicals seeking to provoke the government. A senior U.S. official held the opposite view, saying: "The crackdown is a fact."
Administration officials accept that Bahrain is the Saudi "back yard," a point emphasized by a member of the Saudi legislative council, Majlis al-Shura, during a visit to Washington last week. "Bahrain is our Cuba," said the official, who spoke at a forum organized by the New America Foundation.
"We don’t believe the uprising is real," said another shura member. Most of Bahrain’s Shiites "are happy; a small minority is causing the problem," he said. "Maybe some are oppressed, but 1 percent is causing the trouble."
Whatever the makeup of the protest movement, the intensity of the crackdown stunned Bahraini opposition leaders as well as many Middle East experts, who are dismayed by the dismantling of reforms that had cemented the island’s reputation as progressive and Western-friendly. Until the crackdown on March 14, many of the thousands of protesters who jammed the capital’s Pearl Square were confident that the movement sweeping the region would bring new political freedoms and economic equality for the country’s majority Shiite population.
"Only a month ago, we had a feeling of change and respect for democracy and human rights. Now we feel as though we are all in a big prison," said Mohammed al-Maskati, president of the Bahrain Youth Society for Human Rights. "They want to attack everyone who was involved in the protests."
In addition to jailing activists and banning Shiite-led opposition parties, Bahraini authorities fired civil servants and even professional athletes who participated in demonstrations.
The country’s only independent newspaper was taken over last week and its editor forced to resign. And on Monday, the New York-based Human Rights Watch alleged that at least three opposition figures had died in Bahraini prisons under suspicious circumstances. While Bahraini authorities attributed the deaths to natural causes, Human Rights Watch said in a report that one of the victims’ bodies bore "signs of horrific abuse."
Some government opponents accuse the United States of failing to put enough pressure on Bahrain and the neighboring Persian Gulf kingdoms that supported the crackdown. One prominent human rights activist described Bahraini protesters as "very, very disappointed" by the mild American response.
2) Gulf media find their red line in uprisings: Bahrain
Andrew Hammond, Reuters, Thu Apr 14, 2011 8:41am GMT
Dubai – Pan-Arab broadcasters who played a key role reporting Arab uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt are helping dynastic rulers police the gates of the Gulf to stop the revolts from spreading on their patch, analysts say.
Qatar-based Al Jazeera, the leading Arabic language network, was pivotal in keeping up momentum during protests that toppled Zine al-Abdine Ben Ali and Hosni Mubarak, both entrenched rulers who were no friends of Qatar’s ruling Al Thani dynasty.
When Al Jazeera’s cameras turned to Yemen, it was as though its guns were trained on the next target in an uprising longtime Arab leaders were convinced was of the channel’s making.
Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh, whose impoverished country of 23 million is not a member of the affluent Gulf Arab club, accused Al Jazeera of running an "operations room to burn the Arab nation." His government has revoked the Al Jazeera correspondents’ licences over its coverage in Yemen.
For viewers watching protests spread across the region, the excitement stopped abruptly in Bahrain. Scant coverage was given to protests in the Gulf Cooperation Council member and to the ensuing crackdown by its Sunni rulers, who called in Saudi and Emirati troops in March under a regional defence pact.
Protests in Oman and Saudi Arabia have also received scant attention in recent months. "Bahrain does not exist as far as Al Jazeera is concerned, and they have avoided inviting Bahraini or Omani or Saudi critics of those regimes," said As’ad AbuKhalil, politics professor at California State University.
"Most glaringly, Al Jazeera does not allow one view that is critical of Bahraini repression to appear on the air. The GCC has closed ranks and Qatar may be rewarded with the coveted post of secretary-general of the Arab League."
Despite a wealth of material, there were no stirring montages featuring comments by protesters or scenes of violence against activists in Bahrain. Al Jazeera has produced such segments to accompany Egyptian and Tunisian coverage.
The threat posed by Bahrain’s protests was closer to home. Their success would have set a precedent for broader public participation in a region ruled by Sunni dynasties. More alarming for those dynasties, it would have given more power to Bahrain’s majority Shi’ites, distrusted by Sunni rulers who fear the influence of regional Shi’ite power Iran.
From an early stage, Al Jazeera framed the movements in Tunisia, Egypt and then Yemen as "revolutions" and subverted government bans on its coverage by inviting viewers to send in images captured on mobile phones to a special address.
"Despite being banned in Egypt, Al Jazeera went to great lengths to provide non-stop live coverage of events. It did not do that in Bahrain," said political analyst Ghanem Nuseibeh. "Unless it can address concerns about its coverage of Bahrain, Al Jazeera will suffer reputation damage."
Al Jazeera acknowledged "challenging terrain" in Bahrain.
"There has been a particularly heavy news agenda in recent months, with uprisings taking place simultaneously in multiple countries across the Arab region," a spokesman said. "Editorial priorities are weighed on a number of factors at any given moment. All news organizations have faced these pressures, but despite this and the challenging terrain in Bahrain, we have covered events in the country extensively."
Al Jazeera has won plaudits for revolutionising Arab media since 1996, but observers have seen coverage fluctuate on some issues depending on the whims of Qatar’s rulers.
A major oil and gas power, Qatar employs vast resources to back Al Jazeera, whose English-language sister channel has not shown the same reserve when it comes to the Gulf states.
A U.S. diplomatic cable released by WikiLeaks in December said U.S. diplomats saw Al Jazeera, owned by the state Qatar Media Corporation, as a bargaining tool in its foreign policy.
Qatar has launched a foreign policy drive over Libya. It has recognized the rebels as Libya’s legitimate authority and joined the West’s airstrikes on the forces of Muammar Gaddafi — a veteran Arab ruler long on bad terms with his Gulf peers.
Al Jazeera has followed with heavy coverage of Libya.
Meanwhile, attention to the protests in Syria — whose anti-Israeli stance had ensured Bashar al-Assad years of positive coverage — has been slow to pick up. It has lacked the in-depth discussions given over to more favoured Arab uprisings.
[…] Qatar and Saudi Arabia — rivals for leadership roles in the Gulf — ended years of frosty ties in 2007. The result was the end of any serious discussion of Saudi politics on Al Jazeera.
3) Obama Puts Deficit Ball Back In Pentagon’s Court
Thom Shanker and Christopher Drew, New York Times, April 14, 2011
Washington – When Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates disclosed his new military budget plan in January, he ordered $78 billion in cuts over five years, on top of several hundred billion dollars in savings already found by canceling weapons programs and identifying business efficiencies.
Mr. Gates said that those were wrenching decisions for the Pentagon, and that he opposed further reductions in spending growth.
But President Obama has now called for substantially tightening the Pentagon’s budget again, ordering the national security establishment as a whole to slice $400 billion in projected spending through the 2023 fiscal year. The decision was relayed by the White House to Mr. Gates one day before Mr. Obama’s speech on Wednesday.
Within hours of the president’s address, military planners warned that meeting the reduced spending targets might require cutting the size of the force even beyond current projections as troops come home from Iraq and Afghanistan – and this would mean, they said, accepting new risks.
But some civilian budget analysts argued that while the president’s directive sounded sweeping, the Pentagon could save that much money just by limiting its future spending increases to the rate of inflation projected by the White House.
"This is easily absorbable, and it’s not really a cut," said Gordon Adams, a professor at American University who oversaw military budgets in the Clinton White House. He said that while the Pentagon would no longer see real growth in spending if Congress approved Mr. Obama’s plan, it would be able to retain its current purchasing power.
Until now, Mr. Obama has avoided putting his name behind sweeping proposals to cut military spending for fear that the Republicans would brand him as a typical soft-on-defense Democrat, and he was pleased that his defense secretary, a Republican, went after poor-performing procurement programs and management inefficiencies, plowing much of the savings right back into the military.
[…] Administration officials pointed out that the $400 billion would not be drawn from the special budget paying for the wars – and that it would not come just from the Pentagon, either. The cuts will be found across the vast national security apparatus, including the State Department, Homeland Security, Veterans Affairs, the office of the director of national intelligence and the nuclear weapons programs under the Energy Department.
[…] But Mr. Adams and Todd Harrison, an analyst with the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, said Mr. Obama’s plan would not force sharp cuts in the military’s purchasing power, as occurred when the cold war ended.
Mr. Adams worked last year with a bipartisan group – led by former Senator Pete V. Domenici, Republican of New Mexico, and Alice M. Rivlin, a former budget director in the Clinton administration – that recommended reducing the Pentagon’s projected spending by $900 billion over 10 years. President Obama’s deficit-reduction commission called for saving $1 trillion over that period. [Actually, it was the commission co-chairs, not the whole commission, who did that – the whole commission did not agree on any proposal – a common media "error." The error isn’t harmful in this case, but in the case of the co-chairs other recommendations, it is – JFP.]
Mr. Adams said the $400 billion was less than half of that and about 7 percent of what the administration had projected spending on the military over the next 12 years.
Military spending has grown at an inflation-adjusted average of 7 percent a year in the decade since the terrorist attacks of 2001 – the rate is nearly 12 percent a year before adjusting for inflation – including the costs of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
In passing a compromise 2011 spending bill on Thursday, Congress cut the Pentagon’s base budget to $530 billion from the $540 billon that Mr. Gates had said was critical. Mr. Adams said that multiplying that $530 billion by the inflation rates used by White House officials could produce savings of $401.7 billion compared with a previous administration proposal.
4) US, Panama nearing agreement on trade deal
Vicki Needham, The Hill, 04/14/11 06:35 PM ET
Panama’s passage of tax-transparency legislation represents a major step in the long-stalled process of completing a free-trade agreement with the United States.
Panama’s legislature cleared on Wednesday a tax information exchange agreement (TIEA), dealing with Panama’s history as a tax haven. It is expected to be signed Friday by President Ricardo Martinelli, clearing the way for a final agreement on a third trade deal within the past five months.
Martinelli also recently signed new labor laws into effect as part of the requirements to complete an agreement with U.S. officials to move the trade deal forward.
[…] At least one group, Public Citizen, was livid about the deal, saying politicians in Panama are already discussing a constitutional challenge to the tax agreement in the country’s Supreme Court, according to a Thursday statement.
"The tax agreement ratified yesterday by Panama’s legislature allows the country’s government to refuse a tax information request ‘where the disclosure of the information requested would be contrary to the public policy’ of Panama," said Todd Tucker, research director of Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch. "Given Panama’s longstanding public policy of encouraging tax-haven activities, this loophole is big enough to keep its offshore economy alive and kicking.
"We simply have no idea how and if Panama will cooperate with its tax commitments and other longstanding congressional demands for tax haven reforms."
5) The Y Article
The Pentagon’s secret plan to slash its own budget.
John Norris, Foreign Policy, April 13, 2011
[Norris is executive director of the Sustainable Security program at the Center for American Progress.]
On Friday, April 8, as members of the U.S. Congress engaged in a last-minute game of chicken over the federal budget, the Pentagon quietly issued a report that received little initial attention: "A National Strategic Narrative." The report was issued under the pseudonym of "Mr. Y," a takeoff on George Kennan’s 1946 "Long Telegram" from Moscow (published under the name "X" the following year in Foreign Affairs) that helped set containment as the cornerstone of U.S. strategy for dealing with the Soviet Union.
The piece was written by two senior members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in a "personal" capacity, but it is clear that it would not have seen the light of day without a measure of official approval. Its findings are revelatory, and they deserve to be read and appreciated not only by every lawmaker in Congress, but by every American citizen.
The narrative argues that the United States is fundamentally getting it wrong when it comes to setting its priorities, particularly with regard to the budget and how Americans as a nation use their resources more broadly. The report says Americans are overreacting to Islamic extremism, underinvesting in their youth, and failing to embrace the sense of competition and opportunity that made America a world power. The United States has been increasingly consumed by seeing the world through the lens of threat, while failing to understand that influence, competitiveness, and innovation are the key to advancing American interests in the modern world.
Courageously, the authors make the case that America continues to rely far too heavily on its military as the primary tool for how it engages the world. Instead of simply pumping more and more dollars into defense, the narrative argues:
"By investing energy, talent, and dollars now in the education and training of young Americans — the scientists, statesmen, industrialists, farmers, inventors, educators, clergy, artists, service members, and parents, of tomorrow — we are truly investing in our ability to successfully compete in, and influence, the strategic environment of the future. Our first investment priority, then, is intellectual capital and a sustainable infrastructure of education, health and social services to provide for the continuing development and growth of America’s youth."
Yet, it is investments in America’s long-term human resources that have come under the fiercest attack in the current budget environment. As the United States tries to compete with China, India, and the European Union, does it make sense to have almost doubled the Pentagon budget in the last decade while slashing education budgets across the country?
6) World economists urge G20 ministers to accept Robin Hood tax
1,000 number-crunchers have written to policymakers asking them to impose levy on City speculators to help poor
Heather Stewart, Guardian, Wednesday 13 April 2011 20.55 BST
[…] In a letter addressed to policymakers from the G20 countries, the economists urge them to impose a "Robin Hood tax", which would emulate the English folk hero by robbing from the rich to give to the poor. Signatories include Jeffrey Sachs, director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University who is an influential adviser to Ban Ki-moon, secretary general of the United Nations; Dani Rodrik, from Harvard, and Ha-Joon Chang, from Cambridge. Nobel prize winners Joseph Stiglitz and Paul Krugman have also backed the letter.
They argue that if a tax were levied on transactions such as currency trading at just 0.05%, it could raise hundreds of billions of dollars to be ploughed into international development and climate change projects. Some of the proceeds could also be retained by governments in the countries where the transactions take place, including the UK, helping to repair the hole in governments’ coffers.
"The financial crisis has shown us the dangers of unregulated finance, and the link between the financial sector and society has been broken," the letter says. "It is time to fix this link and for the financial sector to give something back to society." It adds that a financial transaction tax is "technically feasible" and "morally right".
7) An Undemocratic Bailout
Editorial, New York Times, April 14, 2011
Portugal needs international help to meet its debt obligations. But the insistence by the European Union and the International Monetary Fund that the caretaker Portuguese government commit to a long-term plan of fiscal austerity and economic reform in exchange for a rescue package is misguided.
The government of Prime Minister José Sócrates fell in March after the opposition rejected its austerity plan to address the economic crisis and is holding on to office only until special elections, which are scheduled for June 5. Not only would any reform package from the outgoing government lack legitimacy, it would lack credibility with investors, who would suspect the next government might not live up to what will inevitably be very painful terms.
Rather than try to hammer out a definitive package, the European Union and the I.M.F. should give Portugal a bridge loan and wait to negotiate a deal until there is a new government in place. This would give Portuguese voters a chance to vote on proposals by each party to address the emergency.
In the meantime, Europe needs to rethink its all-pain-all-the-time approach to bailouts. The terms imposed on Greece and Ireland are stifling growth. On Wednesday, Germany acknowledged Greece may have to restructure its debts – rather than pay them in full.
Representatives from the European Union and the I.M.F. landed in Lisbon on Tuesday to negotiate a bailout plan expected to be worth $115 billion. The formula, by now, is predictable: deep budget cuts, cuts to public-sector wages and tax increases. They are also likely to demand that Portugal privatize state-run enterprises and reform labor laws to make it cheaper to hire and fire workers.
The approach assumes sharp fiscal tightening will right Portugal’s finances, ignoring how a precipitous drop in government spending will cripple growth and Portugal’s ability to repay its debts. And it is unjust, demanding outsize, lasting sacrifices from the Portuguese people in order to repay Portugal’s creditors 100 cents on the euro.
There is time to get this right. Lisbon appears to have the funds it needs to meet a $7 billion debt-service payment coming due on Friday. While it does not have the money to meet a $10 billion payment on June 15, the European Union could provide short-term financing – with few strings attached – until a definitive deal could be negotiated with the new government. That is the best hope of coming up with a deal that Portugal’s new government and its voters can support – and one creditors will trust.
8) At NATO summit, U.S. resists calls for greater engagement in Libya
William Wan and Leila Fadel, Washington Post, Thursday, April 14, 8:30 PM
Berlin – At a summit of NATO nations that opened here Thursday, U.S. officials played down emerging rifts among allies and rebuffed calls from within NATO for its members to commit more forces to the military operation in Libya.
Since the United States turned over command of the airstrikes in Libya to NATO at the end of March, there has been growing criticism from some in the coalition – particularly France and Britain – that other allies need to do more to help Libya’s rebel opposition battle Libyan leader Moammar Gaddafi.
French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said he asked Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton in a closed-door meeting Thursday whether the United States could contribute additional fighter planes to the effort but did not receive an encouraging response. "I got the sense that the Americans will stick to their same line," Juppe said. "That is, to maintain their current policy of intervening with forces as they are needed, depending on the situation and where the assets they have are particularly useful."
U.S. officials have pushed back against such demands, saying that NATO has not yet asked the United States directly for additional assets and pointing out that they are already supplying many support-type planes. They also say they believe other countries will eventually come forward.
[…] At a Thursday morning news briefing ahead of the summit, U.S. officials insisted that NATO commanders in charge of the operation have everything they need. "If the commanders feel they need more capability, the commanders will ask for more capability. That’s not what they are doing so far," said a senior U.S. administration official who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
During the Berlin meeting, however, NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said commanders had indeed sought more military assets, specifically requesting equipment capable of precision attacks on ground forces.
[…] U.S. officials said Clinton also met with Turkish officials on Thursday and talked about creating "an exit path" for Gaddafi to step down and leave Libya. Turkey maintains a unique position as the only country in NATO that still has a functioning embassy in Tripoli, as well as a consulate in Benghazi.
A senior Turkish official said his government hoped to use the Berlin meeting to come up with a diplomatic solution, which would include establishing direct communication with Gaddafi, making arrangements for his exit and ensuring that the opposition council sets up a new government that represents all tribes and groups.
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has maintained telephone contact with Gaddafi and his sons since before the start of the military operations, Ibrahim Kalin, Erdogan’s senior adviser, said in an interview late Wednesday. On each occasion, Erdogan "urged Gaddafi to leave peacefully," Kalin said.
"If the Berlin meeting produces results," Kalin said, a cease-fire could be declared within days. Although he acknowledged the difficulty of dealing directly with Gaddafi, he said the international community needs to "open a line of communication" with the Libyan leader, through Arab interlocutors or Turkey itself, to assure him he has a viable exit and convince him that he has no other option.
9) NATO Showing Strain Over Approach to Libya
Steven Lee Myers and Judy Dempsey, New York Times, April 14, 2011
Berlin – NATO’s foreign ministers, showing the strains of fighting two wars at once, tried to play down divisions over the intensity of the air campaign against Libya on Thursday, urging patience and resolve as the alliance carried out what one official called "a significant level" of attacks on Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi’s forces.
[…] NATO leaders meeting in Berlin also said they were united in forcing Libya’s military to end its assaults on civilians in rebellious cities – and ultimately in forcing Colonel Qaddafi to leave power – but rifts remained over how to accomplish those goals.
Only 14 of the alliance’s 28 members are actively participating in the operation – joined by other nations like Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and Sweden – and only 6 of those are striking targets on the ground in Libya. That has prompted France and Britain in particular to call for an intensification of the war effort by more allies. "Britain is bearing the brunt" of the airstrikes, a diplomat said on Thursday, speaking on condition of anonymity, to discuss internal debates. "We need nations to contribute."
[…] An American military official said that as few as eight additional ground-attack planes would help relieve the growing strains placed on the allied pilots who are flying strike missions around the clock, as well as the ground crews that are supporting the missions. But prodding the allies to provide even that relatively small number of additional planes faces stiff political opposition in many of the 14 countries participating in the NATO-led mission, allied diplomats said.
The meeting in Berlin was the latest in a series of far-flung diplomatic efforts involving a disparate coalition of countries trying to break what has emerged as a stalemate on the ground, with Colonel Qaddafi’s forces controlling almost all of the western part of the country and rebels the east.
10) Russia Warns NATO Over the Size of Libya Attacks
Judy Dempsey, New York Times, April 15, 2011
Berlin – As NATO leaders sought additional aircraft Friday to oppose the forces of Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi in Libya, Russia warned the alliance not to use too much military force there.
The Russian foreign minister, Sergey V. Lavrov, said it was crucial not to use "excessive military force which will lead to further additional casualties among civilians."
"We believe it is important to urgently transfer things into the political course and proceed with a political and diplomatic settlement," he said at a news conference at the end of a two-day meeting here of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s foreign ministers.
Russia has strongly opposed the NATO mission in Libya from the start, getting support from Brazil, China and India.
On Friday, Mr. Lavrov suggested that NATO’s actions had exceeded the U.N. Security Council’s resolution, which calls for a no-flight zone and protection of the civilian population. He said that at one point some counties had wanted to send ground forces into Libya, in breach of the mandate, though he then conceded that that did not happen.
NATO officials dismissed Mr. Lavrov’s criticism. "We are strictly adhering to the U.N mandate," said NATO’s secretary general, Anders Fogh Rasmussen.
[…] Britain and France had asked its NATO allies to provide more strike aircraft so that the coalition could hit targets in Libya with more precision. But it was clear Friday that several big alliance members, including Italy, Spain and Poland, were not willing to provide strike aircraft.
11) The US-Colombia Trade Agreement: A Volatile Agenda on Agriculture
Karen Hansen-Kuhn, Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, Friday, April 15, 2011
The new Obama trade policy, as embodied in its free-trade agreement with Colombia, sadly resembles the old Bush trade policy: promoting growth in exports and investment at the expense of local economies and resilient food systems. This is unfortunate, not only because it fails to deliver Obama’s promised "21st-century" trade agenda, but also because it ignores some of the key lessons from NAFTA and the 2008 food-price crisis. Globalization has tied our economies together so that price changes in one country transmit around the world, increasing hunger and undermining efforts to rebuild rural communities and resilient food systems.
For decades, the primary problem for agriculture had been low prices, stimulated by U.S. and European agricultural policies that compelled farmers to continue to produce more and more to make up in volume what was lost in falling prices, and to seek ever expanding markets, whether at home or abroad. Cheap imports flooded the markets of developing countries, devastating small-scale farmers in poor countries while failing to stabilize farm incomes in the U.S. and Europe.
Trade policy is not neutral; it is a specific set of rules, embodied in agreements that tend to favor specific actors. Rather than learning the lessons of the 2008 food-price crisis, that governments need the ability to shield key markets from extremes so they can rebuild food systems, the rules in the Obama administration’s first two trade agreements proudly replicate the 20th-century model. White House fact sheets on the U.S.-Colombia Trade Promotion Agreement proclaim that the trade deal: "Immediately eliminates duties on almost 70 percent of U.S. farm exports including wheat, barley, soybeans, soybean meal and flour, high-quality beef, bacon, almost all fruit and vegetable products, peanuts, whey, cotton, and the vast majority of processed products."
Like NAFTA, the Colombia agreement would subject local farmers to immediate competition from U.S. exports on a broad range of products. While prices are high for now, many Colombian farmers will find it difficult to compete with goods whose prices can vary so dramatically. As in Mexico under NAFTA, tariffs on corn and a few other sensitive products will be phased out over a longer period (although the agreement does allow countries to speed up that transition). The Mexican experience-in which more than 2 million farmers have been displaced from agriculture-shows that even a long transition may be inadequate when no real alternatives for rural employment exist. Many of those farmers were compelled to migrate to urban areas or the United States to find work.
The White House fact sheet also boasts that the agreement: "Immediately eliminates Colombia’s use of Andean Price Bands (variable tariffs), thereby ensuring that Colombia stops applying high duties under this mechanism."
Colombia and other Andean countries have utilized price bands to stabilize prices. When prices are high, tariffs remain low, and when prices drop, tariffs are raised temporarily to stabilize prices. This is similar to the Special Safeguard Mechanism, one of the central proposals made by developing countries in the WTO talks to protect food security and rural livelihoods, a proposal resisted by the U.S. government since the Bush administration. Its removal could undermine Colombian farmers, as well as contribute to rising food-price volatility in other Andean countries.
While Article 2.18 of the Colombia FTA allows for temporary safeguards, they can only be triggered by sudden increases in the quantity of goods, not volatility in prices. Those safeguards could only be applied to goods not already subject to duty-free treatment. That provision also specifies that any safeguard mechanisms agreed to at the WTO would not apply to goods from parties in this agreement.
In describing "Trade and the U.S.-Colombia Partnership," the administration cites the Colombian government’s proposals to restore land to those displaced by civil conflicts. Whatever the merits may be of that program, there is no assurance that farmers facing competition from exports, or new investments facilitated by expanded trade, would be able to stay on their land. ActionAid Guatemala has documented numerous cases of Guatemalan farmers pressured by palm oil and sugar producers to sell their land to make way for industrial-scale monocrop production. Many of these farmers had been granted titles in the wake of that country’s civil war, only to lose them again when inadequate access to credit and other inputs made it impossible for them to earn a living. Deregulation of financial services provided for in the new trade deal could reduce available farm credit. The U.S.-Colombia accord replicates most of the investment and financial services provisions in NAFTA and CAFTA.
The lessons of this export-led model are not encouraging for U.S. farmers either. Despite rising agricultural exports, the number of small but commercially viable farms has dropped by 40 percent in the last 25 years. Very small farms serving local markets (and relying on off-farm income), and very large farms, have increased substantially. In a new report, Tim Wise documents shrinking farm incomes among small- to medium-scale farms, as "Expenses have risen to gobble up higher sales revenues, and government payments have declined because some are triggered by lower prices. With the recession, off-farm income has declined dramatically, leaving family farm households worse off than they were earlier when crop prices were low."
U.S. farmers, like their Colombian counterparts, need reliable public support and consistent market signals so that they can invest in local, regional and national food production to feed their communities and their nations. Trade should supplement local food systems, not seek to replace them. The U.S.-Colombia Trade Promotion Agreement will leave farmers and consumers at the mercy of volatile prices and markets rather than learning from the very real experiences of very recent history to build a new approach that ensures fair, healthy and resilient food systems for all. We’re still waiting for a 21st-century trade policy.
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