Just Foreign Policy News, May 18, 2012
GOP cops nixing Afghan vote in fear; anon officials diss civilian death claim
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I) Actions and Featured Articles
House GOP Leaders Block Amendment Solidifying Afghanistan Withdrawal Timeline
By refusing to allow a vote on the McGovern-Jones amendment, the GOP leadership exposed the Achilles heel of the war policy. Until now the Administration has gotten away with a having a two-faced policy: presented to the American people as a timetable for withdrawal, but understood by the Pentagon and the Republican leadership as allowing tens of thousands of U.S. troops to remain in Afghanistan forever. Now we know how to kill the Pentagon’s fantasy of keeping tens of thousands of U.S. troops in Afghanistan forever: nail the Administration’s pseudo-timetable for withdrawal to the wall.
John Isaacs: House GOP Wins on Defense Bill Using Sleazy Tactics
The House Republican leadership carefully picked amendments permitted to be offered on the House floor and barred others they weren’t sure they could defeat.
NDAA update: indefinite detention
The Smith-Amash amendment to the NDAA to clarify that indefinite detention is not legal in the U.S. – backed by the ACLU – failed on a vote of 182-238, with 163 Democrats voting in favor and 19 against, and 19 Republicans voting in favor and 219 against.
[Those who voted yes voted for the position that everyone should be protected from indefinite detention on U.S. soil, whether they are Americans or not. Thus, a yes vote was – inter alia – a vote for the position that Palestinians should be protected from indefinite detention in the U.S. So, a good question to ask Members of Congress who voted yes: "If you think that the U.S. government should not be allowed to indefinitely detain Palestinians, do you agree that the Israeli government should also not be allowed to do it?"] The roll call is here:
NDAA update: war with Iran
The Conyers amendment stipulating that nothing in the NDAA authorizes the use of force against Iran passed by voice vote. This sets a good precedent for amending future anti-Iran measures to stipulate that they also do not authorize the use of force.
NDAA update: Overseas military bases/troops in Europe
Doggett amendment to examine overseas military bases in criteria used to consider and recommend domestic military installations for closure or realignment was adopted by voice vote.
Coffman-Polis amendment to authorize and request the President to remove all Brigade Combat Teams that are permanently stationed in Europe and replace them with a rotational force was adopted 226-196.
Democracy Now: U.S. Secret Drug War in Honduras: Botched DEA Raid Leaves 2 Pregnant Women, 2 Men Dead
Democracy Now interviews Dana Frank on the killings in Honduras, and picks up the question asked of State Dept. spox Nuland about the DEA role: "I don’t understand. It was an advice and support role. What did they advise and support? Did they say, hey this looks like a good target, shoot it? "
*Action: Support Turkey’s Opposition to Israeli Government’s Participation in NATO Summit
The Republic of Turkey has objected to the participation of the Israeli government in the NATO meeting in Chicago on the grounds that the Israeli government still has not been held to account for its assault on the 2010 Gaza Freedom Flotilla, which left Turkish citizens and an American citizen dead. Veterans of the Gaza Freedom Flotillas have initiated a letter/petition to Turkey in support of its position and in support of sanctions against the Israeli government until it respects international law with respect to Palestinian human rights. You can add your name here:
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 [5/16] 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, Wilson (FL), Capuano, Blumenauer, McDermott, Ellison, Johnson (GA), Gutierrez, Jackson, Deutch. The Conyers letter was cited in a New York Times editorial. Urge your Rep. to support this letter.
1) Two GOP congressional sources said House Republicans pulled the plug on a vote on a bipartisan amendment that would force the Obama administration to stick firmly to its timetable for getting U.S. troops out of Afghanistan because they were concerned it would pass, CNN reports. The source stressed Republicans didn’t want to "roll the dice" and have a vote setting firm dates for the administration’s war policy. Rep. Walter Jones Jones said he would try again to attach the language to the defense spending bill when it comes up. "This is supposed to be the people’s House – that means we listen to the people. How about listening to the 72% of those who say get out of Afghanistan?
2) The New York Times and the Washington Post allowed anonymous U.S. officials to disparage allegations of civilian deaths in a DEA drug raid in Honduras, violating the papers’ guidelines for citing anonymous sources, writes Peter Hart for Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting. Neither paper explained why officials had to be cited anonymously. [One of the anonymous officials’ claims – that there is something dubious about diving for lobsters at night – is easily refuted by a quick internet search – JFP.]
3) The military spending authorization bill passed by the House exceeds spending limits enshrined in the Budget Control Act of 2011 by $8 billion, the New York Times reports. An amendment to reduce spending by $8 billion and stick to statutory spending caps failed, 252 to 170, with 29 Democrats siding with 223 Republicans. The bill would thwart the Obama administration’s efforts to close the military prison at Guantánamo, and would impede its ability to carry out the nuclear arms reduction treaty ratified by the Senate in 2010. Democrats helped pass a conservative Republican’s amendment that would end the permanent deployment of combat brigades in Europe.
4) U.S. officials concede that "success" in Afghanistan is being defined further down, the New York Times reports. "The goal is to have an Afghanistan again that has a degree of stability such that forces like Al Qaeda and associated groups cannot have safe haven unimpeded," said Thomas Donilon, Obama’s national security adviser. [Before, the goal was to deny Al Qaeda a "safe haven." Now, apparently, the goal is to deny Al Qaeda a "safe haven unimpeded" – JFP.]
"The real question for everybody now is, can you hold this thing together to the point where, yes, the Pakistanis will have some influence, and Iran will have major influence in the northwest, and we’ll lose influence in the south and the east but we might be able to hold onto Kandahar," said Anthony Cordesman, military analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. "That would be Afghan good enough."
5) In the State Department briefing, spokeswoman Victoria Nuland suggested that it was not a big deal that U.S. Ambassador Dan Shapiro said the U.S. was ready to attack Iran, because the Pentagon has all kinds of contingency plans. When a reporter asked if that meant that Ambassador Shapiro could have said that about any country, Nuland said that was correct.
6) Aid groups said Israel demolished dozens of Palestinian homes, water cisterns and farm buildings built with European funds in 2011, AFP reports. The aid groups called on the EU to take action to stop the demolitions of structures built with European aid.
7) A Palestinian elementary school in the southern Hebron hills was shut down after Israel’s Civil Administration confiscated the vehicle used to transport teachers to it, Haaretz reports. The Civil Administration also issued a demolition order against the school, though residents have no access to any other school: the nearest is 20 kilometers away.
1) House Republicans don’t allow vote forcing Administration to stick to Afghanistan timetable
Deirdre Walsh, CNN, May 17, 2012
Washington – House Republicans pulled the plug on a vote Thursday on a bipartisan amendment to a defense bill that would force the Obama administration to stick firmly to its timetable for getting U.S. troops out of Afghanistan.
Republicans were concerned the amendment could pass, according to two GOP congressional sources. Instead, GOP members decided to allow limited debate on Afghanistan, but just on one amendment sponsored by California Democrat Barbara Lee that was guaranteed to fail. It would essentially end the war in Afghanistan by limiting funding to the "safe and orderly withdrawal" of U.S. troops.
One of the Republican sources stressed that there were a combination of factors for not allowing a vote on the timetable proposal, including "a lack of White House engagement." GOP leaders expected a bloc of their own members to support the measure and they couldn’t rely on the White House to lobby Democrats against it.
The source stressed Republicans didn’t want to "roll the dice" and have a vote setting firm dates for the administration’s war policy, which would expose significant reservations about the president’s plan, which GOP leaders have largely supported.
Democratic Rep. Jim McGovern of Massachusetts, who pushed for the vote on the timetable amendment with North Carolina Republican Rep. Walter Jones, decried the decision to deny a vote on his proposal on Thursday. "What is the Republican leadership afraid of? Are they afraid a bipartisan majority of this House will vote to follow the will of the American people and change our Afghanistan policy?" he said.
McGovern explained that his amendment required the president to stand by his commitment to transition all combat operations to the Afghan government by the end of 2013 and complete the transition of all military and security operations by the end of 2014. It would have also required the administration to come back to Congress for approval if it wanted any troops to stay beyond 2014.
Jones told CNN he was confident the amendment would have passed. "That’s the reason they didn’t bring it up," he said.
[…] Last year McGovern and Jones offered a similar amendment to the defense bill that would require the administration to give a detailed timetable, but that failed narrowly – 204-215, and the close vote surprised many in the Obama administration. Jones said that in addition to the 26 who voted for the measure last year he was told by colleagues he could get another seven or eight Republican votes, which could have potentially changed the outcome this time.
A frustrated Jones said he would try again to attach the language to the defense spending bill when it comes up. "This is supposed to be the people’s House – that means we listen to the people. How about listening to the 72% of those who say get out of Afghanistan? We’re stone deaf for whatever reason I don’t understand."
2) NYT, WaPo Let Unnamed U.S. Officials Spin Honduras Killings
Peter Hart, FAIR, 05/18/2012
The details are somewhat murky, but we know the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency is heavily involved in counternarcotics in Honduras. A shooting incident last Friday reportedly left four innocent people dead–including two pregnant women. Questions are being raised about whether they were shot by DEA agents who were apparently going after a boat carrying drug smugglers.
The story has become a scandal in Honduras, as the New York Times reports today (5/18/12): ‘Residents of the isolated Mosquito Coast of Honduras have burned down government buildings and are demanding that American drug agents leave the area immediately’
With a story like this, evidently the Times thinks it can get important information from–what a surprise–unnamed U.S. officials: ‘While acknowledging that the circumstances of a middle-of-the-night firefight are murky, an American official briefed on the matter cast doubt on the local account.’
What follows is a long, detailed account of what the United States says happened–which, for whatever reason, a named government official cannot say. And, according to the official, the whole town where the shooting happened is suspicious:
‘The official also expressed doubts that villagers would be out fishing in the middle of the night, near where helicopters had landed an hour or so earlier. The official added that the large number of people seen in surveillance video unloading the plane showed that many members of the impoverished community of Ahuas were involved in drug trafficking.
"There is nothing in the local village that was unknown, a surprise or a mystery about this," the official said. "What happened was that, for the first time in the history of Ahuas, Honduran law enforcement interfered with narcotics smuggling."’
The Washington Post has a similar take (5/18/12):
‘U.S. officials said Thursday that at least "several" DEA agents had served as advisers during the raid but that the American officers, while armed for self-defense, did not fire their weapons.
The U.S. officials, representing law enforcement agencies, and diplomats who have been briefed on the mission also cast doubt on the allegations that innocent people were killed during the 2 a.m. mission, though they said an investigation is ongoing. The U.S. officials said it was not unusual for local authorities to work with smugglers and also said they wondered why innocent civilians would be on the water in the middle of the night.’
Both papers, remember, have rules about when people should be granted anonymity. In both cases it would seem the papers think that readers deserve to know why a source must remain anonymous. The Post and Times don’t bother to make any such case in either story on Honduras, leaving readers with the impression that these people who were killed were probably up to no good. That’s a pretty remarkable thing to say; it’s a lot easier to say when a newspaper will let you say it without naming you.
3) House Vote Upholds Indefinite Detention of Terror Suspects
Jonathan Weisman, New York Times, May 18, 2012
Washington – The House on Friday turned back an unusual coalition of liberals and conservatives and voted down legislation to reject explicitly the indefinite detention of terrorism suspects apprehended on United States soil.
House lawmakers then approved a broad military policy bill that would break Pentagon spending caps agreed to just last summer.
The bill, the National Defense Authorization Act for the fiscal year that begins in October, makes clear that House Republicans – and many Democrats – are opposed to including the Pentagon in the coming era of fiscal austerity. The $642 billion measure, approved 299 to 120, exceeds spending limits enshrined in the Budget Control Act of 2011 by $8 billion.
The measure would thwart the Obama administration’s efforts to close the military prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, and would impede its ability to carry out the nuclear arms reduction treaty ratified by the Senate in 2010.
In one unexpected twist, Democrats on Friday helped pass a conservative Republican’s amendment that would end the permanent deployment of combat brigades in Europe.
"I’ve always felt there could be cuts in defense that don’t in any way compromise defense capability," said Representative Mike Coffman, Republican of Colorado and a military veteran, who won passage of the cut. Republicans, he said, "tend to focus on spending as a metric of their commitment to defense, sometimes as the only metric."
Well before the final vote, the White House promised a veto if the final version maintained the House spending levels and tied President Obama’s hands on detainee and nuclear policies.
[…] Democrats said those demands belied the Republicans’ posture of fiscal rectitude. With a budget deficit exceeding $1 trillion, Republicans have taken tax increases and defense cuts off the table, leaving only domestic spending on the chopping block.
"These guys are talking out of both sides of their mouth," said Representative Chris Van Hollen of Maryland, the ranking Democrat on the Budget Committee. "Despite all their talk of deficit reduction, they’re putting more money into the Pentagon than the Pentagon has asked for."
[…] This year, Democratic leaders had some surprise support. Representative Justin Amash of Michigan, a Tea Party-backed freshman Republican, teamed up with Representative Adam Smith, Democrat of Washington, to declare that terrorism suspects apprehended on United States soil should not be detained indefinitely without charge or trial.
But the left-right coalition fizzled in the face of charges that the two lawmakers were coddling terrorists. On the 238-to-182 vote against the amendment, as many Democrats – 19 – voted against it as Republicans voted for it.
"We’ve got a ways to go still, but there are a lot of Republicans who are listening now," Mr. Amash said. "I’m confident that most of them are going to go back to their districts, and they are going to get hammered on this issue."
That left-right coalition did hold when Mr. Coffman proposed to remove the Army’s permanent brigade combat teams stationed in Europe and replace them with a cheaper rotational force, not accompanied by family members, permanent housing and other support. Only 63 Republicans joined him, but that was enough to win approval, given the overwhelming support of Democrats.
But over all, the defense bill proved the power of the Pentagon and its diffuse installations, even as Republicans push the nation’s fiscal straits to the top of the political agenda. An amendment by Representative Barbara Lee, Democrat of California, to reduce spending by $8 billion and stick to statutory spending caps failed, 252 to 170, with 29 Democrats siding with 223 Republicans.
4) U.S. Redefines Afghan Success Before Conference
Helene Cooper and Thom Shanker, New York Times, May 17, 2012
Washington – Leaders of the NATO nations will meet in Chicago on Sunday to set in motion the massive machinery necessary to wind down the war in Afghanistan.
But even as American officials prepare a list of benchmarks they can cite as achieved in the war effort – expect to hear much about strategic partnership agreements and assurances that the Afghan people have not been abandoned – they acknowledge privately that the bar has been significantly lowered on how success in Afghanistan is defined after 11 years of combat.
"Look, this is Afghanistan," one administration official said in an interview. "Is it going to be Switzerland? No. But is good enough for Afghanistan? That’s where we need to get to."
In fact, the phrase "Afghan good enough" has been making the rounds at the White House, State Department, the Pentagon and inside the many research organizations scattered around Washington. Gone is the much greater expectation that NATO will leave behind a cohesive central government with real influence beyond Kabul and a handful of other population centers. Gone is the assumption that Helmand Province, Kandahar and the rest of the heavily contested south – where the bulk of the 2010 influx of troops was sent – will remain entirely in the control of the central government once that area is transferred to Afghanistan’s fledgling national security forces.
In previewing the meeting for reporters on Thursday, President Obama’s national security adviser, Thomas E. Donilon, described a hoped-for outcome in Afghanistan that was far less ambitious than what American officials once envisioned. "The goal is to have an Afghanistan again that has a degree of stability such that forces like Al Qaeda and associated groups cannot have safe haven unimpeded, which could threaten the region and threaten U.S. and other interests in the world," Mr. Donilon said.
With Afghan forces assuming the lead role in 2013 for protecting the country and its government, Mr. Donilon said the NATO allies hoped to leave behind "a set of security assets that allow it to provide for that modicum of stability" that will allow Afghanistan to protect itself against Al Qaeda and ensure that the United States’ core goal – making sure that Al Qaeda cannot again use Afghanistan as a base from which to target the West – is met.
While Kandahar and other population centers in the south have seen a decrease in Taliban attacks since the surge forces arrived, insurgent attacks have increased in less populated southern areas, military officials report. The heads of the Senate and House intelligence committees, appearing on CNN’s "State of the Union" program two weeks ago, and reporting on a recent trip to Afghanistan, said the Taliban were gaining ground, something that is bound to accelerate once the NATO troops give way to Afghan-led forces.
"I think we’d both say that what we found is that the Taliban is stronger," Senator Dianne Feinstein, Democrat of California, said, seated next to Representative Mike Rogers, Republican of Michigan.
Anthony H. Cordesman, a longtime military analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, wrote a paper three weeks ago called "Time to Focus on ‘Afghan Good Enough.’ "
"Is progress sustainable?" Mr. Cordesman wrote. "Almost certainly no."
"The real question for everybody now is, can you hold this thing together to the point where, yes, the Pakistanis will have some influence, and Iran will have major influence in the northwest, and we’ll lose influence in the south and the east but we might be able to hold onto Kandahar."
Mr. Cordesman added: "That would be Afghan good enough."
Senior NATO military commanders in Afghanistan say they are well aware of the narrowing goals for their effort in Afghanistan. "We trained for a number of lines of operation in addition to the security line, whether education, civil society, economic development, you know, the whole government-in-a-box thing," said one NATO military commander in Afghanistan. "Now, it’s only security. How much security can we bring before we go home? And how quickly we can train up Afghan forces to take over the security mission?"
5) State Department Daily Press Briefing
Victoria Nuland, Spokesperson, May 17, 2012
[…] QUESTION: Are they going to be talking about what Ambassador Shapiro was talking about earlier this week about how the U.S. is ready to attack Iran?
MS. NULAND: Well, first of all, let me just make clear that Ambassador Shapiro’s comments were designed to reflect completely what the President has said all along, which is that even as we move forward with the P-5+1 discussions with Iran and hope that we can settle these issues through diplomacy, that we nonetheless take no option off the table.
QUESTION: Well, he went a bit further than that. He said that it’s more than just being on the table; we’re ready now. Like all it’d be —
MS. NULAND: Well, as Secretary Panetta has —
QUESTION: — a snap of the fingers and all of a sudden we’ve got missiles headed towards wherever.
MS. NULAND: Well, I think Secretary Panetta has also spoken to the fact that it is the responsibility of his building to have appropriate contingency planning. So I don’t think that should be any surprise either.
QUESTION: Okay. So in other words, this is – it should not be a surprise that he could have said this about – the ambassador could have said this about any country?
MS. NULAND: Correct.
QUESTION: Because you have contingency plans to attack any country?
MS. NULAND: Except Buffalo, New York.
6) EU Palestinian aid projects destroyed by Israel: NGOs
AFP, May 13, 2012
Jerusalem – Israel demolished dozens of Palestinian homes, water cisterns and farm buildings built with European funds in 2011, and over 100 such structures are at risk, aid groups said in a report on Monday.
The figures, compiled by a group of local and international NGOs chaired by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), were published just ahead of a meeting of EU foreign ministers in Brussels.
The report from the Displacement Working Group (DWG) said Israel razed 62 European-funded structures last year, and another 110 such projects were at risk.
The DWG said that affected structures were financed by France, the Netherlands, Britain, Poland, Ireland and the European Commission.
France last month protested to Israel’s ambassador in Paris over the demolition of two water cisterns in the Hebron area in the southern West Bank, which were financed under a French agricultural cooperation project.
OCHA says that a total of 620 structures in the Israeli-occupied West Bank were torn down in 2011, of which 62 were European-funded.
Of those affected, 600 were in the Area C zone of the occupied West Bank where Israel has full civilian and security control. Twenty of the demolitions were in Area B, where Israel and the Palestinian Authority have joint responsibility.
The Israeli military body in charge of civilian aspects of life in the West Bank says it is obliged to issue demolition orders against structures erected without the required construction permits.
But Willow Heske, spokeswoman for UK charity Oxfam, told AFP that the permit regime "is discriminatory and is in contradiction of international law."
"In our experience trying to work within the permit regime, it can sometimes take up to two years… just to get a denial," she said. "We see that settlers are getting zoning and building permission in these areas with no trouble, this is obviously discriminatory and is in contradiction of international law."
The aid groups who compiled the report called on the EU to take action.
"Aid from the international community, including European governments, is wasted when aid-funded projects are demolished," Oxfam’s country director Nishant Pandey said in a statement accompanying the data. "European governments can ensure that their citizens’ money is going for good by calling on the government of Israel to end the demolition of aid projects and civilian infrastructure in Area C," Pandey said.
CIDSE, an international alliance of Catholic development agencies, said EU donors should get tough. "The EU must take a stand on ensuring respect for international humanitarian law, so that Palestinians can develop their communities," the organisation’s Deborah Casalin said in the joint statement. "Member states should systematically monitor and report any impediments to aid delivery, and demand reparation."
7) IDF closes Palestinian school to make way for West Bank training zone
Civil Administration issues demolition order against the school, though residents have no access to any other.
Akiva Eldar, Haaretz, May.14, 2012 | 12:30 AM http://www.haaretz.com/news/diplomacy-defense/idf-closes-palestinian-school-to-make-way-for-west-bank-training-zone-1.430233
A Palestinian elementary school was shut down last week after Israel’s Civil Administration confiscated the vehicle used to transport teachers to it.
Teachers initially tried coming to the school, located in the Jinba cave village in the southern Hebron hills, by donkey, but this proved disruptive since they were often late.
On Sunday, the administration also confiscated the car of a veterinarian employed by the Palestinian Authority when he came to the village to vaccinate sheep. The vehicles were seized as part of a stepped-up enforcement campaign in Area C, the part of the West Bank under full Israeli control.
The Civil Administration also issued a demolition order against the school, though residents have no access to any other school: The nearest is in Yatta, 20 kilometers away.
In addition, it ordered an access road, tents, mud huts, sheepfolds and solar energy facilities razed, reinstating demolition orders frozen by agreement with the state prosecution in 2007.
In 1999, the area was declared a live-fire exercise zone by the Israel Defense Forces, meaning people aren’t allowed to live there. The residents were evicted but petitioned the High Court of Justice, which issued an interim injunction allowing them to return until it issues a final ruling. Ever since, the case has been stuck in court, with the state requesting and receiving continual postponements of the deadline for filing its response. Last month, the state promised to file its response within 30 days.
The residents’ attorney, Shlomo Lecker, told Haaretz that the wave of confiscations and demolition orders is a serious violation of the High Court’s injunction. "It’s the state that asked to delay hearing the petition for the last 12 years, and you can’t expect hundreds of residents of the cave village to have their lives put on hold for such a long time – that the access road to the site would be blocked, and they would be denied the possibility of giving their children compulsory education," he said.
Dror Etkes, who has monitored West Bank settlement activity for years, told Haaretz that three settlement outposts had recently expanded into the live-fire zone: Avigail, Mitzpeh Yair and Havat Ma’on. "But as far as I know, there are no restrictions on their movement in the area, and none of their vehicles have been confiscated," he said. "I also don’t know of any active army exercise area within this live-fire zone. In most of it, there never were any exercises."
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