Just Foreign Policy News, May 11, 2012
Public overwhelmingly supports large military spending cuts, prefers to tax hikes
Support the Work of Just Foreign Policy
Your support helps us to educate Americans about U.S. foreign policy and create opportunities for Americans to advocate for a foreign policy that is more just. Help us press for an end to the war in Afghanistan and spread opposition to a new war with Iran,
Go Straight to the News Summary
I) Actions and Featured Articles
NDAA expected next week
The National Defense Authorization Act is expected to be considered in the House next week. Amendments are expected to expedite military withdrawal from Afghanistan (Adam Smith, McGovern, Lee), to curtail signature drone strikes (Conyers-Kucinich), to explicitly ban indefinite detention in the U.S. (Smith-Amash) and to cut the military budget (many amendments), among other issues.
The amendment Smith is likely to offer (replacing House GOP text that pushes for U.S. troops to stay in Afghanistan) is here:
Action: More than 1600 Palestinian prisoners are on hunger strike. Where is the State Department?
Ten have been hospitalized; at least two have been characterized as "near death." The prisoners are protesting "administrative detention" – detention without charge – solitary confinement, and denial of family visits. Urge the State Department to speak up to save the lives of the hunger strikers and to protest the detention of Palestinians without charge or trial.
1500 Prisoners on Hunger Strike for Basic Rights: Could Hillary Say Boo?
Is it possible that U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton could say a few words about this situation? She took stronger positions in the past. What might a little bit of pressure accomplish? A few words from the State Department could tip the balance towards a negotiated solution that saves the lives of the hunger strikers and restores prisoners’ rights.
Kucinich/Conyers: Ensure Transparency and Accountability In The U.S. Combat Drone Program
The office of Representative Dennis Kucinich is circulating a letter to President Obama asking that Congress be provided with information on the CIA and JSOCs use of "signature" drone strikes (strikes which do not have a known target, but are based on intelligence matching a "profile" of a suspected terrorist.) The office of Rep. John Conyers has signed on. Urge your Rep. to sign: 202-225-3121.
Conyers to Rice on UN: Help Alleviate the Haitian Cholera Crisis
The office of Rep. John Conyers is circulating a letter to U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice urging UN authorities to play a central role in addressing the cholera crisis in Haiti [a crisis initiated when UN troops brought cholera to Haiti.] Current signers [5/10] include: Conyers, Cohen, Clarke (NY), Moran, Towns, Grijalva, Rush, Lee, Kucinich, Edwards, Stark, Rangel, Brown, Maloney, Schakowsky, Clarke (MI), Waters, Honda, Clay, Lewis (GA), McCollum. Urge your Rep. to support this letter.
Audio: CBC on Declining American Jewish support for Israel
CBC radio talks to Peter Beinart about how young American Jews are turned off by Israel’s policies towards the Palestinians.
Video: The Real News: Two of Mass Palestinian Prisoners’ Hunger Strike "On Verge of Death"
Over 1600 Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jail hold mass hunger strike, two of the arrested pass 70 days without food.
Urge John Brennan to Tell the Whole Truth about drone strikes in Yemen and Pakistan
John Brennan didn’t tell the whole truth about the drone strikes. He didn’t admit that the U.S. has launched drone strikes in Pakistan and Yemen against people who are not known to be on any list of "suspected terrorists," without knowing who would be killed.
Urge John Brennan to tell the whole truth about drone strikes in Yemen and Pakistan.
1) The public wants to cut spending far more deeply than either the Obama administration or the Republicans, the Center for Public Integrity reports. Not only does the public want deep cuts, it wants those cuts to encompass spending in virtually every military domain – air power, sea power, ground forces, nuclear weapons, and missile defense. Two-thirds of Republicans and nine in 10 Democrats supported making immediate cuts – a position at odds with the leaderships of both political parties. The average total cut was around $103 billion, a substantial portion of the current $562 billion base defense budget, while the majority supported cutting it at least $83 billion. These amounts both exceed a threatened cut of $55 billion at the end of this year under so-called "sequestration" legislation passed in 2011.
2) Members of today’s military-industrial complex claim that significant reductions in the military budget would inflict major damage to the economy, write economists Robert Pollin and Heidi Garrett-Peltier in The Nation. The primary economic argument made by members of the military-industrial complex against cutting the Pentagon budget is that it would produce major job losses. But compared with alternative uses, spending on the military is a poor source of job creation. $1 billion in spending on the military will generate about 11,200 jobs. That same $1 billion would create 16,800 jobs through clean energy investments, 17,200 jobs within the healthcare sector or 26,700 jobs through support of education. Just giving the money to households to consume as they choose would generate 15,100 jobs. [Thus, cutting the military budget by $1 billion and returning the money to the public through tax cuts would create 15,100 – 11,200 = 3,900 jobs – JFP.]
3) Six Palestinian prisoners on a hunger strike in Israeli prisons against detention without charge are in danger of "imminent death," ABC News reports. Palestinians called for the international community to intervene. Palestinian officials warned that if prisoners died, there could be an explosion in the West Bank.
4) Part of the justification for the US carrying out drone strikes is their reported success, writes Chris Woods for the Bureau of Investigative Journalism. When "high level militants" are killed, that success is widely trumpeted in the news media. But when civilians are killed, that is barely noted, if at all. That’s giving the public a one-sided view of the drone strikes, Woods notes. That’s why it’s important to name the civilian victims.
5) Agreement on Western military intervention in Syria appeared more remote than ever following a massive suicide bombing on Thursday in Damascus, the Washington Post reports. Suspicions that the bombings were carried out by jihadists who have infiltrated the opposition, one analyst said, "bolster the internal American case that this conflict is simply too complicated and too inflammable to actually put U.S. forces at risk in any meaningful way."
6) An attacker wearing an Afghan Army uniform opened fire on American soldiers in remote eastern Afghanistan on Friday, killing one service member before escaping, the New York Times reports. According to NATO, there have been 15 attacks this year by assailants wearing Afghan Army uniforms on their coalition counterparts, resulting in 20 NATO deaths.
7) Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh said Hamas will not let itself be dragged into a war against Israel if it attacks the nuclear facilities of Iran, Reuters reports. "Hamas is a Palestinian movement that acts within the Palestinian arena and it carries out its political and field actions in a way that suits the interests of the Palestinian people," he said.
8) A Haitian man who has accused six former U.N. troops from Uruguay of sexually abusing him presented evidence to a judge in Uruguay, AP reports. The case has further inflamed Haitian opposition to the continued presence of a U.N. troops in Haiti, AP notes. The U.N. force is unpopular with many Haitians. A cholera outbreak in October 2010 that was likely introduced by a UN battalion from Nepal further infuriated critics, touching off protests against the UN troops. The cholera outbreak has killed more than 6,200 people.
9) Hundreds of mothers and other relatives of people "disappeared" in Mexico’s "war on drugs" held a protest in Mexico City on Mother’s Day to demand justice, EFE reports.
1) Public overwhelmingly supports large defense spending cuts
To trim the deficit, Americans favor much deeper reductions at the Pentagon than their leaders do
R. Jeffrey Smith, Center for Public Integrity, May 11, 2012
[noted by NPR: "Survey: Americans Overwhelmingly Support Defense Cuts," http://www.npr.org/blogs/thetwo-way/2012/05/10/152426302/survey-americans-overwhelmingly-support-defense-cuts]
While politicians, insiders and experts may be divided over how much the government should spend on the nation’s defense, there’s a surprising consensus among the public about what should be done: They want to cut spending far more deeply than either the Obama administration or the Republicans.
That’s according to the results of an innovative, new, nationwide survey by three nonprofit groups, the Center for Public integrity, the Program for Public Consultation and the Stimson Center. Not only does the public want deep cuts, it wants those cuts to encompass spending in virtually every military domain – air power, sea power, ground forces, nuclear weapons, and missile defenses.
According to the survey, in which respondents were told about the size of the budget as well as shown expert arguments for and against spending cuts, two-thirds of Republicans and nine in 10 Democrats supported making immediate cuts – a position at odds with the leaderships of both political parties.
The average total cut was around $103 billion, a substantial portion of the current $562 billion base defense budget, while the majority supported cutting it at least $83 billion. These amounts both exceed a threatened cut of $55 billion at the end of this year under so-called "sequestration" legislation passed in 2011, which Pentagon officials and lawmakers alike have claimed would be devastating.
"When Americans look at the amount of defense spending compared to spending on other programs, they see defense as the one that should take a substantial hit to reduce the deficit," said Steven Kull, director of the Program for Public Consultation (PPC), and the lead developer of the survey. "Clearly the polarization that you are seeing on the floor of the Congress is not reflective of the American people."
A broad disagreement with the Obama administration’s current spending approach – keeping the defense budget mostly level – was shared by 75 percent of men and 78 percent of women, all of whom instead backed immediate cuts. That view was also shared by at least 69 percent of every one of four age groups from 18 to 60 and older, although those aged 29 and below expressed much higher support, at 92 percent.
Disagreement with the Obama administration’s continued spending on the war in Afghanistan was particularly intense, with 85 percent of respondents expressing support for a statement that said in part, "it is time for the Afghan people to manage their own country and for us to bring our troops home." A majority of respondents backed an immediate cut, on average, of $38 billion in the war’s existing $88 billion budget, or around 43 percent.
Despite the public’s distance from Obama’s defense budget, the survey disclosed an even larger gap between majority views and proposals by House Republicans this week to add $3 billion for an extra naval destroyer, a new submarine, more missile defenses, and some weapons systems the Pentagon has proposed to cancel. Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney has similarly endorsed a significant rise in defense spending.
When it comes to military forces, respondents on average favored at least a 27 percent cut in spending on nuclear arms – the largest proportional cut of any in the survey. They also supported, on average, a 23 percent cut for ground forces, a 17 percent cut for air power and a 14 percent cut for missile defenses. Modest majorities also said they favored dumping some major individual weapons programs, including the costly F-35 jet fighter, a new long-range strategic bomber, and construction of a new aircraft carrier.
[…] While Republicans generally favored smaller cuts, they overwhelmingly agreed with both independents and Democrats that current military budgets are too large. A majority of Republicans diverged only on cutting spending for special forces, missile defenses, and new ground force capabilities.
[…] By far the most durable finding – even after hearing strong arguments to the contrary – was that existing spending levels are simply too high. Respondents were asked twice, in highly different ways, to say what they thought the budget should be, and a majority supported roughly the same answer each time: a cut of at least 11 to 13 percent (they cut on average 18 to 22 percent).
In one exercise, a larger group chose to cut the defense budget (62 percent supported this) than to cut non-defense spending (50 percent) or to raise taxes (27 percent).
2) Don’t Buy the Spin: How Cutting the Pentagon’s Budget Could Boost the Economy
Robert Pollin and Heidi Garrett-Peltier, The Nation, May 9, 2012 [May 28 edition]
Should the enormous US military budget – which is more than double the combined levels of military spending by China, the United Kingdom, France, Russia and Germany – be cut? This question is finally on the table, thanks to the winding down of combat activities in Iraq and Afghanistan and to Washington’s obsession with tamping down the federal deficits that have arisen from the Great Recession. Many who would like to protect the military from the budget knife raise economic arguments to make their case: Won’t cutting military spending be bad for jobs, just when we need to maintain focus on reducing unemployment? Won’t it threaten the country’s long-term technological capabilities?
The matter assumed increased urgency in November after the Congressional supercommittee failed to agree on a deficit-reduction plan. This failure set in motion an agenda for automatic cuts – or "sequestration" of funds – from military and nonmilitary budgets beginning in January 2013. According to the sequestration scenario, absent the adoption of a large-scale deficit-cutting plan, military and nonmilitary spending would face $55 billion per year in automatic cuts over a decade, relative to previously established spending levels. If Congress and the White House devise a way to exempt the Pentagon from the automatic cuts – as seems increasingly likely – the cuts will instead be taken from healthcare, education, social spending, infrastructure and the environment.
Of course, framing the deficit issue in terms of military versus social spending cuts ignores other options, such as raising taxes on the wealthy. It also erroneously assumes that reducing the federal deficit is necessary now, before the economy has settled onto a sustainable recovery path out of the recession. Even more fundamental, today’s debate largely skirts the question of what the military budget needs to be after Iraq and Afghanistan, and fails to grapple honestly with the impact that major military spending reductions would have on the economy, especially in terms of job opportunities and technology.
Members of today’s military-industrial complex – the constellation of forces, including Democratic and Republican politicians, weapons manufacturers, lobbyists and the Pentagon leadership, whose influence President Eisenhower warned against in 1961 – claim that significant reductions in the military budget would decimate US defenses and inflict major damage to the economy. In fact, these claims are demonstrably false.
Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has stated that the planned cuts in the military budget would result, over a decade, in "the smallest ground force since 1940, the smallest number of ships since 1915 and the smallest Air Force in its history." Panetta has said repeatedly that the cuts would amount to nearly $1 trillion. That does indeed sound like a lot, given that the annual level of total military spending is about $700 billion.
But what Panetta and others call $1 trillion in cuts is actually an annual $100 billion reduction added up over ten years to produce the huge-sounding $1 trillion figure. In reality, moving from a roughly $700 billion to $600 billion annual budget is hardly extreme, especially when we consider that this includes cuts tied to ending the US combat role in Iraq and Afghanistan. The 2012 budget for these two wars alone is $115 billion, and the planned budget for 2013 is $88 billion, even after combat is over. The Pentagon has also included for 2014 onward a baseline contingency budget of $44 billion annually for any carryover fighting in Iraq or Afghanistan, or new wars elsewhere. Thus, by the Pentagon’s own estimate, winding down Iraq and Afghanistan will end up saving $44 billion a year after 2013. In the unlikely event that the budgetary sequestration cuts are carried out, an additional $55 billion per year would be cut. That’s how we cut our way from a $700 billion to $600 billion annual military budget.
The graph on page 17 provides some perspective on these figures. As we see, last year’s $700 billion military budget represented 4.7 percent of the country’s GDP. This was higher even than in 2008, Bush’s last year in office, when defense was 4.3 percent of GDP. In 2000, Bill Clinton’s final year in office and before the 9/11 terrorist attacks, military spending was 3 percent of GDP. In today’s economy, the difference between a military budget at 3 percent of GDP versus 4.7 percent is $260 billion. Thus, if we were to return just to the 2000 level of defense spending as a share of the economy, that would itself entail "budget cuts" of about $1 trillion over four years (i.e., $260 billion per year for four years).
If all the cuts being discussed today were enacted – including the $55 billion in sequestration cuts, which, again, seems highly unlikely – the military budget would return to about 3 percent of GDP in 2017, according to the Defense Department’s budget forecast as well as the Congressional Budget Office’s projections. This is assuming – perhaps implausibly – that the United States does not engage in new wars between now and 2017. If we do end up fighting more wars, the budgets to pay for them would be exempt from spending caps. The sky would be the limit. In short, aside from winding down the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, the military cuts being considered are modest and easily reversible.
The primary economic argument made by members of the military-industrial complex against cutting the Pentagon budget is that it would produce major job losses. One widely cited report by Stephen Fuller of George Mason University found that 1 million jobs would be lost through the annual cuts set by the sequestration agreement. The Pentagon claims that military cuts in the range of $1 trillion over the next decade would raise unemployment by one percentage point per year – from, say, 8 to 9 percent. It is hard to assess the accuracy of either of these claims, since neither Professor Fuller nor the Pentagon has provided details about how these estimates were reached.
In any event, it is indisputable that the Pentagon is a major employer in the US economy. How could it be otherwise, given that the Pentagon’s $700 billion budget is equal to nearly 5 percent of the GDP? In fact, Pentagon spending as of 2011 was responsible for creating nearly 6 million jobs, within the military itself and in all civilian industries connected to it. In addition, because of the high demand for technologically advanced equipment by the military, a good share of the jobs created are well paid and professionally challenging.
However, the crucial question is not how many jobs are created by spending, for example, $1 billion on the military. Rather, it is whether spending that $1 billion creates more or fewer jobs when compared with spending $1 billion on alternative public purposes, such as education, healthcare and the green economy – or having consumers spend that same amount of money in any way they choose.
In fact, compared with these alternative uses, spending on the military is a poor source of job creation. As we see in the graph (follow link to article above), $1 billion in spending on the military will generate about 11,200 jobs within the US economy. That same $1 billion would create 16,800 jobs through clean energy investments, 17,200 jobs within the healthcare sector or 26,700 jobs through support of education. That is, investments in clean energy, healthcare and education will produce between 50 and 140 percent more jobs than if the same money were spent by the Pentagon. Just giving the money to households to consume as they choose would generate 15,100 jobs, 35 percent more than military spending.
[…] But why do we get so many more jobs per dollar of spending through investments in healthcare, clean energy and education than through the military? The reasons are straightforward:
– Spending on people versus everything else. Retrofitting buildings entails hiring lots of electricians, carpenters and roofers, with a relatively modest level of spending on machinery, energy, land and heavy-equipment hauling. Building the F-35, by contrast, entails heavy investments in electronic equipment and carefully treated steel, glass and other materials, with less need to hire people.
– Spending within the US economy versus other countries. Even with the ending of direct involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan, the overall amount of overseas spending by the US military and its personnel will remain far higher than when funds are spent on domestic investments in healthcare, clean energy and education. When a higher proportion of a given pot of money is spent within the country, more jobs are provided for US workers.
– Differences in pay scales. Average pay for all the jobs connected with military spending – including directly employed personnel and those working for military suppliers – is about $60,000 per year. By contrast, with healthcare, clean energy and education, the average annual pay is closer to $50,000, or 20 percent less. If there is a given pot of money available for hiring workers, when you pay each person a higher wage, that will create fewer – if better compensated – jobs.
Does this mean military spending creates more good jobs? Actually, no. Because spending on clean energy, healthcare and education creates so many more jobs overall – as much as 50 to 140 percent more – these investments also create larger numbers (if lower proportions) of decent- to good-quality jobs than the military, as well as many more low-paying jobs.
Considering only jobs paying at least $32,000 per year, clean energy and healthcare both generate well more than the military, while the figure for education spending is more than twice as high. Considering a still narrower category of jobs – only those paying $64,000 or more per year – the totals for clean energy and healthcare are roughly comparable to the military’s, while the figure for education is double that for military spending.
We should also not dismiss the jobs paying below $32,000, in which the totals for clean energy, healthcare and education are all at least twice that for the military. It is certainly better to have more low-paying jobs available than no jobs at all. Low-paying jobs can be improved through union organizing, job training and a reasonable minimum wage, which should be $12 per hour today. Also, prospects for organizing to improve these jobs will rise when there are more low-paying jobs available. It is much harder to fight for improving job quality when the jobs are not there in the first place.
3) With Palestinian Hunger Strikers Near Death, Fear of Violence
Alexander Marquardt, ABC News, May 11, 2012
Tel Aviv – Six Palestinian prisoners on a hunger strike in Israeli prisons are in danger of "imminent death," a result that could trigger an outbreak of violence in the relatively peaceful occupied West Bank, according to Israeli and Palestinian officials and activists.
The six are part of a larger group that some activists estimate is now in the thousands after some 1,600 Palestinians joined a smaller hunger strike on April 17. More joined in solidarity after that. They are protesting a lack of rights in Israeli prisons, as well as "administrative detention" which allows Israel to indefinitely renew six-month prison terms with no charges.
Today was the 74th day of hunger striking for administrative detainees Bilal Diab and Thaer Halahla, currently in a prison clinic despite pleas from the Red Cross and Israel’s Physicians for Human Rights to transfer them to hospitals. The four other prisoners have been striking for over 40 days.
The six "are in imminent danger of dying," the Red Cross said in a statement this week.
[…] "We need immediate intervention now" from the international community, activist Raya Ziada told ABC News. Her brother is in an Israeli prison serving a 30 year sentence. If prisoners die, she said, "I think there will be an explosion of frustration for not intervening."
Top Palestinian officials have warned of an outbreak of violence in the West Bank with President Mahmoud Abbas saying "it is very dangerous."
"If anybody dies today or tomorrow or after a week it would be a disaster and no one could control the situation," he told Reuters earlier this week.
In addition to administrative detention, the protest centers around solitary confinement, family visitation rights and access to books and education. Many of the 4,700 Palestinian prisoners are from the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip and their families are barred from visiting. These punishments came into effect while Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit was held in Gaza by Hamas for five years. He was released in October.
"The atmosphere is really tense and the level of tension and solidarity [with the prisoners] is growing on a public level," said Ghassan Khatib, a spokesman for the Palestinian Authority. "Those prisoners are not asking to be released. They asking for basic rights according to international law."
He said so far there were no indications that Israel was bowing to the pressure. "I don’t know what will happen," Khatib said.
Those in administrative detention are asking to be charged or released, a demand echoed by United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon on Wednesday. Just over 300 Palestinians are in administrative detention, which Israel says is essential to protect the identities of Palestinian informants whose names would otherwise be revealed in court.
4) Analysis: Why we must name all drone attack victims
Chris Woods, Bureau of Investigative Journalism, May 10th, 2012
Sunday’s death of Fahd al-Quso in a CIA drone strike was a significant US success. The admitted al Qaeda bomber had long been sought for his role in the deadly attack on the US navy ship the USS Cole back in 2000.
At the Bureau we logged al-Quso’s name – along with his nephew Fahed Salem al-Akdam – in our Yemen database. Another two names added to the many hundreds we’ve now recorded for the US covert war in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia.
A day earlier, a CIA strike in Pakistan also killed around ten people. Here the information was less clear, with reports vague about who had died. While most claimed that a militant training camp had been struck, a single source claimed those killed were ‘local tribesmen.’ This clearly needs further investigation.
Although we’re not alone in recording US covert drone strikes, the Bureau also tries to identify by name all of those killed – both civilian and militants. And those names – which the Bureau recently presented at a Washington DC drone summit – reveal some startling truths about the US drone campaign.
To date in Pakistan, we have been able to identify 170 named militants killed by the CIA in more than 300 drone strikes. Among them are many senior figures, including Baitullah Mehsud, leader of the Pakistan Taliban; Ilyas Kashmiri, an al-Qaeda linked strategist; and Nek Mohammed, once a militant thorn in Pakistan’s side.
Certainly these drone strikes have severely affected the ability of militants to operate openly in Pakistan’s tribal areas. The recently-declassified ‘bin Laden papers’ talk of the impact of the CIA’s attacks, with the Taliban ‘frankly exhausted from the enemy’s air bombardments.’
Yet there’s a darker side to this coin. The Bureau has also been able to name 317 civilians killed in US attacks in Pakistan. Between 170 and 500 further civilians have yet to be identified.
On October 30 2011, for example, we know that the CIA killed four chromite miners in Waziristan – foreman Saeedur Rahman, and miners Khastar Gul, Mamrud Khan and Noorzal Khan. And on July 12 last year, field researchers working for the Bureau found that drones returned to attack rescuers, killing four Taliban and four civilians we named as Shabbir, Kalam, Waqas and Bashir.
[…] At stake may be the very definition of a ‘civilian’ in the modern battlefield. ABC’s George Stephanopoulos recently pressed US chief counter terrorism adviser John Brennan on his remarkable claim in June 2011 that the CIA had not killed ‘a single non-combatant in almost a year.’
In reply, Brennan said that ‘over a period of time before my public remarks [that] we had no information about a single civilian, a noncombatant being killed.’
Even a cursory examination of credible media reports between June 1st 2010 and June 29 2011 (when Brennan made his original claim) shows that dozens of civilians were reported killed in that period. Among those who died were more than 40 tribal elders and villagers in a single disastrous CIA strike in March 2011. That attack led to public protests from Pakistan’s president, prime minister and army chief.
Perhaps the CIA’s own human intelligence-gathering abilities are so poor in Pakistan that it can no longer identify civilians killed on the ground. Perhaps the Agency has been misleading Congress and the President about the true extent of civilian deaths. Alternatively, the very definition of civilian may have been radically changed. If the latter is true – and it seems the most likely scenario – then this has worrying implications.
[…] Part of the justification for the US carrying out drone strikes without consent is their reported success. And naming those militants killed is key to that process. Al Qaeda bomber Fahd al-Quso’s death was widely celebrated.
Yet how many newspapers also registered the death of Mohamed Saleh Al-Suna, a civilian caught up and killed in a US strike in Yemen on March 30?
By showing only one side of the coin, we risk presenting a distorted picture of this new form of warfare. There is an obligation to identify all of those killed – not just the bad guys.
5) Suicide attack in Syria makes international action less likely
Karen DeYoung, Washington Post, May 10
Agreement on additional international action in Syria appeared more remote than ever following a massive suicide bombing on Thursday in Damascus, as foreign leaders pointed fingers of responsibility for the violence in opposite directions.
Obama administration officials said they could not confirm who carried out the attack, but placed the blame squarely on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad for allowing the situation to escalate rather than complying with a United Nations resolution ordering a cease-fire supervised by U.N. monitors.
Russia, whose approval is necessary at the Security Council for any further U.N.-authorized action, accused countries supporting the U.S.-backed Syrian opposition of intentionally instigating heightened violence to justify military intervention.
"Some of our foreign partners are taking steps to ensure, both literally and figuratively, that the situation explodes," Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said, making clear that he was "referring to the bombings."
Lavrov made his remarks at a news conference in Beijing, alongside his Chinese counterpart, Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi, who reiterated his government’s rejection of "outside military intervention in Syria."
[…] Bombings like the Damascus suicide attack, which the Syrian government blamed on terrorists, "bolster the Russian case" against aiding the opposition, said Shashank Joshi of the Royal United Services Institute, a British think tank.
But suspicions that the bombings were carried out by jihadists who have infiltrated the opposition, he said, "also bolster the internal American case that this conflict is simply too complicated and too inflammable to actually put U.S. forces at risk in any meaningful way."
The most likely partners in any U.S. military operation, including those who took part in last year’s Libya intervention, are even more reluctant. "This time last year, Joshi said, the British government "was in a much stronger position" both politically and economically. "We just entered a double-dip recession last week."
France, in the midst of installing a new government whose policies have not been fully articulated, sees the two situations as vastly different.
"It’s not a small difference with Libya, it’s a huge difference," one French official said. "The opposition has no territory" in Syria, and little unity. Syria’s air defenses dwarf those of Libya’s, and its vast stores of chemical and biological weapons, currently under Assad’s control, could be up for grabs if the government falls.
"But it’s also a political question," the French official said. "For many, particularly the Europeans, the only legitimate body to call for military action is the United Nations."
On Syria’s borders, Turkey and Jordan have said that no military action is possible without U.N. approval; both fear being left to pick up the pieces if the Syrian government disintegrates without an internationally sanctioned and guided replacement.
6) American Soldier Killed by Assailant in Afghan Army Uniform
Graham Bowley, New York Times, May 11, 2012
Kabul, Afghanistan – An attacker wearing an Afghan Army uniform opened fire on American soldiers in remote eastern Afghanistan on Friday, killing one service member before escaping, in what appeared to be another in a recent string of assaults on coalition soldiers by their Afghan partners.
The shooting took place early Friday in a camp run by the Afghan National Army, where the American troops had gone to train Afghan soldiers, said Attaullah, the police chief of Ghaziabad district in Kunar Province near the Pakistan border. The attacker, who was on guard at the camp, also wounded two other American soldiers before he fled into the surrounding area – a mountainous region that has seen heavy fighting in recent months as the coalition has sought to reopen crucial supply lines but which still remains largely under Taliban control, Attaullah and other local Afghan officials said. Attaullah said the suspected attacker, named Mamood, was originally from Helmand Province.
[…] There has been a disturbing quickening in the pace of shootings of NATO soldiers by their Afghan counterparts in a year that has seen provocative acts by American soldiers including the burning of Korans at a military base in February and a deadly rampage against Afghan civilians in March ascribed to an American soldier.
In the so-called green-on-blue episodes, members of the Afghan security forces turn their weapons on their coalition partners. The killings are raising tensions and complicating NATO’s efforts to train Afghan soldiers and eventually withdraw Western forces from the country.
[…] According to NATO, there have been 15 attacks [this year] by assailants wearing Afghan Army uniforms on their coalition counterparts, resulting in 20 NATO deaths.
7) Hamas says it will not go to war for Iran
Samia Nakhoul and Michael Stott, Reuters, May 10, 2012
Gaza – The Islamist movement Hamas will not let itself be dragged into a war against Israel if it attacks the nuclear facilities of Hamas ally Iran, Gaza leader Ismail Haniyeh said on Thursday.
"Hamas is a Palestinian movement that acts within the Palestinian arena and it carries out its political and field actions in a way that suits the interests of the Palestinian people," he said at his headquarters in the enclave. "Iran did not ask anything from us and we think Iran is not in need of us," the prime minister of the Hamas government told Reuters in an interview.
[…] Haniyeh said the current hunger strike by hundreds of Palestinians in Israeli prisons was a test of Israel’s commitment to universal humanitarian principles which must be recognized. He warned that the death of any prisoner would have "negative repercussions", but did not elaborate.
"I do not wish that any prisoner in Israeli jails is martyred and so I demand that they implement international law in respect to the prisoners, who should be regarded as prisoners of war," he said.
[…] Israel, he said, must keep the promises it made when captive Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit was released by Hamas last October after more than five years in confinement, in exchange for the liberation of some 900 Palestinians jailed by Israel.
The Islamic Jihad movement in Gaza, which has often exempted itself from the tacit truce agreements Hamas has made with Israel, has said it will escalate violence if a prisoner dies. "We had a meeting with the leadership of the Islamic Jihad and they have confirmed that any negative development in the issue of prisoners would be discussed among the national front and in a meeting for factions," Haniyeh said. "They will not take a unilateral action outside of a national consensus."
Wearing a sober grey suit to complement his carefully trimmed grey beard, the Hamas leader was measured in his responses as he was interviewed in a salon of his office suite. He displayed an amused irony over the effort to mend the internal split in the Palestinian national movement. "It’s not dead. But it’s not moving," he laughed.
Hamas and the Fatah movement led by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas have curbed the overt hostility that divided them for years, after fighters of the Islamist movement drove the secular Fatah militia out of Gaza in 2007.
But true reconciliation has eluded them. "We have gone a long way to reach a Palestinian-Palestinian agreement but there are some external and internal obstacles," Haniyeh said, citing United States and Israeli pressure on Abbas not to make any partnership with a movement shunned in the West as a terrorist organization.
Internally, he said, some factions in Abbas’s Palestinian Authority – which administers the West Bank – were dragging their heels because they benefited from the division.
Haniyeh said the Palestinian cause had been "the biggest beneficiary" of the Arab Spring revolutions in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Yemen.
The reconciliation accord of 2011 was brokered with Egypt’s mediation, as was the prisoner swap for Shalit, he noted. "Governments that had close ties with the Israelis at the expense of Palestinian rights have gone," he said. "Respect for the Palestinian cause among Arab people has been restored."
"Arab nations are increasingly embracing the concerns of the Palestinian people in regard to Jerusalem, prisoners and the (Israeli) blockade on Gaza," he said.
Benefits so far from neighboring Egypt may have been few, but they would come in time "when political life settles" and a new president, parliament and government were in power.
One immediate advantage from the toppling of Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak in 2011 was access to blockaded Gaza from the Egyptian Sinai via the Rafah crossing, he said. "We hope that with the will of the Egyptian people and political stability in Egypt things will get better and the policies towards Palestine will also be improved," he said.
8) Haitian who alleges abuse testifies in Uruguay
Associated Press, May 10, 2012
Montevideo, Uruguay – A 19-year-old Haitian man who has accused six former U.N. peacekeepers [sic] from Uruguay of sexually abusing him in the poor Caribbean country presented evidence to a judge Thursday, and authorities now have two months to decide whether the case merits a trial.
[…] The man, whose case has further inflamed Haitian opposition to the continued presence of a U.N. peacekeeping [sic] force, entered the courtroom in the afternoon.
[…] Last year, the man alleged that he was sexually abused at a U.N. base by six Uruguayan marines who were serving in the U.N. peacekeeping [sic] mission in Haiti. One of the peacekeepers [sic] recorded the rowdy scene on a cellphone, showing the accuser being pinned down on a mattress as a partially clothed marine simulated rape.
The suspects and their lawyer initially called it a prank that got out of hand, angering many Haitians who already had been demanding a departure by all U.N. peacekeepers [sic].
[…] The U.N. force is unpopular with many Haitians. A cholera outbreak in October 2010 that was likely introduced by a battalion from Nepal further infuriated critics, touching off riots against the peacekeeping [sic] contingent. The cholera outbreak has killed more than 6,200 people since it surfaced, Haiti’s Health Ministry says.
[At the time, the BBC described them as "protests" against the UN troops, rather than "riots" – JFP.]
9) Mothers of Mexico’s "Disappeared" March for Justice
EFE, May 10, 2012
Mexico City – Hundreds of mothers and other relatives of the "disappeared" held a protest in this capital on Thursday – Mother’s Day in Mexico – to demand justice.
People from across the country brought the "Caravan of National Dignity" to Mexico City’s main thoroughfare, the Paseo de la Reforma, where they carried placards and photos of their missing loved ones while chanting: "they were taken from us alive, we want them back alive."
The march concluded at the emblematic Angel of Independence monument, where the organizers presented a program that calls on authorities to create a national database of the disappeared and establish a special federal prosecutor’s office to handle the cases. The activists also want a standardized, nationwide protocol for investigations, among other measures.
The marchers urged Mexicans not to remain indifferent to the suffering of the thousands of families shattered by forced disappearance, a scourge that has become more common since December 2006, when newly inaugurated President Felipe Calderon "decided to wage his war on drug trafficking."
More than 50,000 have died in the conflict pitting rival cartels against each other and against a military-law enforcement apparatus that is itself implicated in crime, corruption and human rights abuses.
Rosario Villanueva, mother of Oscar, missing since his 2009 arrest by federal police in the northern state of Coahuila, said she still clings to hope of finding her son alive. "My soul left my body and I would not have been able to go on if it had not been for psychiatric treatment," she said. "This has been very hard. One learns of so many cases as bad or worse. It’s a horrific situation, but we will keep fighting."
Next to Villanueva is Patricia Reyes, whose 18-year-old daughter, Rocio, was last seen more than two years ago. "No one does anything, because the governments themselves are complicit in this situation," she says.
"We were at home and it was 9:30 at night when some eight or 10 members of the Mexican arm came and took my daughter. Just like that, without telling me why," Reyes recounts.
Just Foreign Policy is a membership organization devoted to reforming US foreign policy so it reflects the values and interests of the majority of Americans. The archive of the Just Foreign Policy News is here: