Just Foreign Policy News
August 25, 2010
Why Should the Senate Fund "Enduring" U.S. Military Bases in Afghanistan?
Walter Pincus reports in the Washington Post that the Pentagon is planning military construction for years of U.S. combat in Afghanistan. But the Senate could still refuse to fund it; in 2008, Congress rejected a similar Pentagon request for "long term" military construction in Iraq.
Ask your Senators to Oppose Construction of Long-Term U.S. Bases in Afghanistan
NYT Exploits Own Iraq Death Toll Denial to Trash Venezuela
It’s bad enough that the New York Times won’t report that hundreds of thousands of Iraqis have lost their lives as a result of the U.S. invasion and occupation. But now the Times has used its own failure to accurately report the death toll in Iraq as a benchmark to claim that violence in Venezuela is worse.
Daily Show: Fox News is Funding "Terror Mosque"
Fox News anchors and guests are vilifying Saudi prince and financier Alwaleed bin Talal as a financial backer of Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, the Muslim-American clergyman who seeks to build a community center in lower Manhattan. The problem: Alwaleed bin Talal is part owner of Fox News.
Spread the News About the US Death Toll in Afghanistan
This week, the number of US deaths in the war since Obama took office exceeded the death toll under Bush. Spread the news to build pressure for ending the war.
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Bacevich: Washington Rules
Andrew Bacevich’s new book, "Washington Rules: America’s Path to Permanent War," is a call for Americans to reject the Washington consensus for permanent war, and to demand instead that America "come home."
Get the book
(The book may also be available in your local bookstore or public library.)
September 24th: JFP "Virtual Brown Bag" with Andrew Bacevich
Oliver Stone’s "South of the Border," scheduled screenings:
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1) The commandant of the U.S. Marine Corps said it will be a "few years" before U.S. forces in Afghanistan can turn over full responsibility for security operations to Afghan troops, CNN reports.
2) U.S. aid to Pakistan has not purchased goodwill, Griff White reports for the Washington Post. Pakistani analysts say a system that relies largely on Beltway contractors to devise the plans and get the work done has yielded few results.
3) Pakistani intelligence officials said missiles fired from a U.S. drone aircraft killed 13 militants and 7 civilians in North Waziristan Monday, Reuters reports. Four women and three children were among the dead, said the officials.
4) A team of investigators from US-led forces went to northeast Afghanistan Tuesday after local officials reported a night raid by NATO commandos Sunday morning had left 8 civilians dead and 12 wounded, Dexter Filkins reports in the New York Times. The governor said two women and a child were among the dead.
5) The UN said 800,000 flood victims could be reached only by air, and it called for 40 more helicopters from the international community to help take aid to people isolated by the flooding, Salman Masood reports in the New York Times. Flooding that began in late July has now affected 17 million people, according to UN estimates – roughly one-tenth of the population. An estimated 1,600 people have died, the UN said, and only one million of an estimated six million people in need have received emergency shelter.
6) Somali insurgents stormed a Mogadishu hotel and killed at least 30 people, including 4 lawmakers, exposing how vulnerable Somalia’s government is, Jeffrey Gettleman reports in the New York Times. Several Somali politicians said the shrinking government enclave in Mogadishu could soon vanish altogether. Several Somali officials have conceded that if it were not for the African Union forces, the government would fall, most likely in hours.
7) An Israeli military court has convicted the Palestinian organizer of regular protests against Israel’s West Bank wall, prompting the EU to express concern, AFP reports. EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton expressed deep concern that "the possible imprisonment of Mr Abu Rahma is intended to prevent him and other Palestinians from exercising their legitimate right to protest against the existence of the separation barriers in a non-violent manner," her office said. "The EU considers the route of the barrier where it is built on Palestinian land to be illegal," it quoted her as saying. A brother of the activist stressed that the conviction "will not discourage people from protesting against the Apartheid Wall."
8) Secretary of State Clinton has been pushing behind the scenes for Iyad Allawi to be prime minister or at least in charge of the Iraqi security forces, though he has been unable to put together a ruling coalition, writes Juan Cole for CNN. Washington’s interference could boomerang on the Obama administration; the political gridlock and power vacuum could foment instability. Washington should stop trying to shoehorn its favorite into office, should stop showing favoritism to some ethnic groups over others, and should show some understanding of the necessity for good relations between Iraq and Iran. The U.S. has done enough damage, and can best help Iraqis by allowing them to return to being an independent country.
9) Venezuelan President Chavez and his opponents launched campaigns on Wednesday for legislative elections, Frank Jack Daniel reports for Reuters. Opposition parties are all but guaranteed gains in the Sept. 26 vote after they boycotted the last election for lawmakers five years ago. Despite sky-high crime and economic woes, Chavez remains Venezuela’s most popular politician. Most analysts expect Chavez’s socialist party to hold a reduced majority in the parliament.
1) Marine Corps commandant: It’ll be ‘years’ before Afghans take over
Larry Shaughnessy, CNN, August 24, 2010
Washington – It will be a "few years" before U.S. forces in Afghanistan can turn over full responsibility for security operations to Afghan troops, the commandant of the U.S. Marine Corps said Tuesday.
"I think it will be a few years before conditions on the ground are such that we would expect to be able to turn it over to the Afghan forces," Gen. James Conway told reporters at the Pentagon. "And I think there’s a mindset that needs to accompany that on the part of our Marines, that it may be awhile."
2) Billions of aid dollars buy U.S. little goodwill in Pakistan
Griff Witte, Washington Post, Tuesday, August 24, 2010; A01
Tarbela, Pakistan – Everyone here remembers the Americans. They came with their blueprints, their engineering know-how and their money. By the time they left in the early 1970s, they had helped build a world-class dam that kept parts of Pakistan dry this month while vast stretches of the country drowned. "This dam gives great benefit to the nation, and if not for the Americans it would never have been constructed," said Syed Naimat Shah, a local contractor.
But Shah hasn’t seen any new assistance from the Americans in decades, and apparently many Pakistanis haven’t, either. The U.S. government has provided about $18 billion in civilian and military aid to Pakistan since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks made this country America’s most essential, and vexing, ally. Yet according to a Pew Research Center survey released last month, half of Pakistanis believe the United States gives little to no assistance here.
[…] The Kerry-Lugar funds, which will be spread over five years, were intended to help erase the widespread perception that the United States cares only about supporting Pakistan’s military.
Indeed, most U.S. assistance over the past nine years has paid for night-vision goggles, F-16 fighter jets, unmanned surveillance planes and other tools that help the army battle the Taliban, but has done little to convince Pakistanis that the United States cares about their well-being.
Still, the United States will have spent nearly $5 billion in civilian assistance by the end of the year, and that money is supposed to buy goodwill.
By almost all accounts, it hasn’t. Although the United States has received praise here for its speedy response to the summer’s catastrophic floods, Pakistanis remain suspicious of American motives. In the Pew poll, nearly six in 10 Pakistanis described the United States as an enemy; only one in 10 called it a partner.
Javed Ashraf Qazi, Pakistan’s former education minister and onetime top spy, thinks he knows the reason. When Qazi was appointed education minister in 2004 after retiring from the military, he expected that U.S. assistance would help him raise standards. There was much to do: Pakistan’s public schools are in deplorable condition, with more than half lacking electricity and teachers earning as little as $50 a month.
But Qazi said he soon discovered that the United States did not even coordinate its programs with the education ministry. Most of the money seemed to go to U.S. consultants "who would carry out a study for something or other that we did not need."
One program was geared toward "setting up democratic schools in Pakistan," he said. "I was very curious to know what the hell is a democratic school."
Another, he said, involved spending millions to send Pakistani teachers to Washington for months of training. Qazi wondered why the United States had not just paid for training in Pakistan, which could have had many times the impact.
Invited to Washington himself, Qazi said he finally lost his patience at a meeting in a State Department office once used by Gen. George C. Marshall, architect of Europe’s reconstruction. "I said, ‘You do the opposite of what Marshall did. You don’t ask us what we want to do. You tell us what you want to do,’ " he said.
The complaint is a familiar one here. A program to train female health workers, for instance, was duplicating the work of a similar Pakistani government program. A recently announced plan to put solar panels on the roofs of the elite and private Beaconhouse school system, meanwhile, has been widely derided as out of touch when many public schools lack even roofs.
Pakistani analysts say a system that relies largely on Beltway contractors to devise the plans and get the work done has yielded few results. Wilson, the USAID director, said his agency is transitioning away from that system and toward the Pakistanis themselves.
But doing so poses its own set of challenges. Pakistan’s government is rated among the most corrupt in the world, and the United States has a lengthy process for certifying the accountability of its partners. As a result, very little of the Kerry-Lugar money has hit the ground nearly a year after the bill’s passage.
3) US Drone strike kills 20 people in Pakistan
Haji Mujtaba and Kamran Haider, Reuters, Mon, Aug 23 2010
Miranshah, Pakistan – Missiles fired from a U.S. pilotless drone aircraft killed 13 militants and 7 civilians in Pakistan’s North Waziristan on Monday, Pakistani intelligence officials said.
They said the missiles were fired at a militant hideout. Most of the militants killed were members of the Afghan Taliban. Four women and three children were among the dead, said the officials. "The missiles hit a militant compound and a house adjacent to it. We have confirmed reports of 20 dead," said one of the intelligence officials.
4) New Case of Civilian Deaths Investigated in Afghanistan
Dexter Filkins, New York Times, August 24, 2010
Kabul, Afghanistan – A team of investigators from the American-led forces here headed to a volatile corner of northeast Afghanistan on Tuesday after local officials reported that a nighttime raid by NATO commandos there had left 8 civilians dead and 12 wounded.
Details were sketchy, but the governor of Tala Wa Barfak, a district in Baghlan Province, said the Afghans had been killed in the village of Naik early Sunday by what appeared to have been a raid carried out by special forces.
The governor, Mohammed Ismail, said a group of tribal elders he had sent to the village had returned with details. Among the dead were two women and a child, he said. Six of the dead were found in Naik, and two more villagers were found later in a field farther away, he said. "It was a cruel act against the civilians," he said.
Witnesses said the raid began Sunday at 2 a.m., when a number of helicopters descended on Naik. Groups of commandos entered a pair of houses, where the gunfire began, the witnesses said.
[…] Afghanistan is a tribal society, and the results of botched raids are often difficult to overcome. Mahmood Haqmal, a spokesman for the governor of Baghlan Province, put it this way: "If coalition forces kill one civilian, 20 other family members will pick up weapons and stand against them."
5) 800,000 Pakistanis Cut Off From Road
Salman Masood, New York Times, August 25, 2010
Islamabad, Pakistan – More rain threatened Pakistan on Wednesday as aid workers pleaded for more help and additional helicopters to reach hundreds of thousands of people isolated by record floods.
The Pakistan Meteorological Department forecast thundershowers and occasional heavy rain into Friday in Punjab Province, Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa Province and Kashmir.
On Tuesday, the United Nations said 800,000 people could be reached only by air, and it called for 40 more helicopters from the international community to help take aid to people isolated by the flooding. "These unprecedented floods pose unprecedented logistical challenges, and this requires an extraordinary effort by the international community," John Holmes, the United Nations Emergency Relief Coordinator, said in a prepared statement.
Reinforcing its call for more helicopters, the United Nations cited the destruction of access roads and bridges in Pakistan’s north, particularly the Swat Valley in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, the Gilgit-Baltistan region and the Pakistani-administered part of Kashmir. The flooding has also isolated people in the country’s Punjab and Sindh Provinces, according to the World Food Program, a United Nations agency that specializes in delivering food aid to areas affected by crises.
Marcus Prior, a spokesman for the organization, said: "In northern areas that are cut off, markets are short of vital supplies, and prices are rising sharply. People are in need of food staples to survive. There is currently no other way to reach these flood victims, other than by helicopter."
Pakistani officials said the need for helicopters extended to Baluchistan Province in the southwest, where canal banks have given way, cutting road links. Thousands of families were marooned in the Jaffarabad District of Baluchistan, with no links to the rest of the country, the officials said.
[…] Unusually heavy monsoon rains led to flooding that began in late July and has now affected 17 million people, according to United Nations estimates – roughly one-tenth of the population. An estimated 1,600 people have died, the United Nations said, and only one million of an estimated six million people in need have received emergency shelter.
6) Insurgents In Somalia Kill At Least 30 In Hotel Attack
Jeffrey Gettleman, New York Times, August 24, 2010
Nairobi, Kenya – Somali insurgents disguised in government military uniforms stormed a Mogadishu hotel on Tuesday and killed at least 30 people, including 4 lawmakers, laying bare how vulnerable Somalia’s government is, even in an area it claims to control.
The insurgents methodically moved room to room, killing hotel guests who tried to bolt their doors shut, Somali officials said. When government forces finally cornered the insurgents, two blew themselves up with suicide vests.
The attack shows that "operational momentum has shifted to the insurgents, who can go anywhere they want except where the African peacekeepers are deployed," said J. Peter Pham, senior vice president at the National Committee on American Foreign Policy.
Several Somali politicians said that the government was so thoroughly under siege that it could work only from behind fortified, sandbagged positions, and that the shrinking government enclave in Mogadishu, the capital, could soon vanish altogether.
[…] The most powerful insurgents are the Shabab, a militant Islamist group that has stoned civilians to death and pledged allegiance to Al Qaeda. The Shabab seem to be constantly two steps ahead of Somalia’s transitional government, analysts say, even though the government receives tens of millions of dollars in security aid from the United States and other Western countries.
American officials have said the government, however weak and disorganized, is the best bulwark against a Shabab-ruled Somalia, though the Shabab already rule much of Somalia.
The battle now seems to be turning to Mogadishu, specifically the few neighborhoods that the government still marginally controls, like the areas around the presidential palace, seaport and airport. This year, Somali government officials promised to sweep the Shabab out of the capital and expand their zone.
But government forces have been plagued by defections and apathy, Somali commanders concede, and it seems that the Shabab are the ones on the offensive. The hotel raid followed intense shelling against government positions on Monday, which killed dozens of people and sent shells crashing into camps for internally displaced people.
[…] Analysts said that Tuesday’s raid on the hotel, though, was something different, with gunmen going toe-to-toe against government forces in an area teeming with government troops, which seemed to be a sign of increasingly brazen and confident insurgents.
Somalia has lurched from crisis to crisis since 1991, when the central government collapsed. Several Somali officials have conceded that if it were not for the African Union peacekeepers, the government would fall, most likely in hours.
7) Israel military court convicts anti-wall protester
AFP, Wed Aug 25, 6:22 am ET
Jerusalem – A military court has convicted the Palestinian organiser of regular protests against Israel’s West Bank wall, prompting the European Union to express concern on Wednesday.
The court at Ofer prison, near Ramallah, on Tuesday convicted Abdullah Abu Rahma, 39, for "participating (in), organising and inciting" protests in the West Bank village of Bilin, said the Committee against The Wall which he heads.
EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton expressed deep concern "that the possible imprisonment of Mr Abu Rahma is intended to prevent him and other Palestinians from exercising their legitimate right to protest against the existence of the separation barriers in a non-violent manner," her office said. "The EU considers the route of the barrier where it is built on Palestinian land to be illegal," it quoted her as saying in a statement.
A brother of the activist, Ratib Abu Rahma, stressed that the conviction "will not discourage people from protesting against the Apartheid Wall."
Regular demonstrations by Palestinian activists and foreign supporters staged for the past several years in Bilin and nearby Nilin, both close to the city of Ramallah, are billed as non-violent.
But they frequently turn into clashes between rock-throwing Palestinian youths and Israeli troops firing tear-gas and rubber bullets. [That is, rubber-coated steel bullets – JFP.] […] Israel has so far completed 413 kilometres (256 miles) of the planned 709-kilometre (435-mile) barrier, according to UN figures. When completed, 85 percent of the wall will have been built inside the West Bank, taking land from Palestinian villages like Bilin and Nilin.
In 2004, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) issued a non-binding resolution calling for those parts of the barrier that are inside the West Bank to be torn down and for further construction in the territory to cease. Israel has ignored the ICJ ruling.
8) Now U.S. should get out of Iraq’s politics
Juan Cole says some in U.S. worry leaving Iraq will reignite chaos, but that fear is misplaced
U.S. meddling has caused the chaos, he says, and Iraq should be left to settle its own affairs
U.S. presence has muddled politics without improving situation
Cole: U.S. can best help Iraqis by allowing them to return to being an independent country
Juan Cole, CNN, August 22, 2010
Americans may worry that the end to the U.S. combat mission in Iraq will reignite violence and chaos there. But the fear is misplaced.
Iraqi nationalists have greeted the withdrawal of the last U.S. combat brigade as a milestone on the way to Iraq’s re-emergence as a sovereign country.
Washington was never able to control Iraq fully, and its meddling was partly responsible for the calamities that have befallen that country in the last seven years. Iraqis will better be able to settle their affairs and move forward once the U.S. stops interfering.
Some of the anxiety about the withdrawal has to do with the failure of Iraqi politicians to form a government so many months after the March 7 parliamentary elections. But Washington shares blame for that failure, because of the pressure it is bringing on behalf of its favored candidate, Ayad Allawi.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has been pushing behind the scenes for Allawi to be prime minister or at least in charge of the Iraqi security forces, even though he has been unable to put together a ruling coalition.
Allawi’s secular Iraqiya party, backed by some 80 percent of Iraq’s Sunni Arabs, won 91 seats in a parliament of 325, giving it the largest single bloc. But to gain a ruling majority, Allawi has to ally either with the prime minister, Nuri al-Maliki (who controls 89 seats), or the Shiite fundamentalist party, the Iraqi National Alliance (which has 70 seats).
Both alliances are possible but unlikely. Washington wants to sideline the fundamentalists, which it views as too close to Iran, and so is pushing for an Allawi-al-Maliki partnership. At the same time, Iran is trying to bring together all the Shiites – moderates and fundamentalists – in hopes they will dominate the government and turn Iraq into a friendly neighbor.
Washington’s interference could boomerang on the Obama administration; the political gridlock and power vacuum could foment instability. But the deadlock has nothing to do with whether U.S. combat troops remain in the country or not.
Some point to the string of big bombings in Baghdad this spring and summer as a signal of the danger of leaving. But back when there were 150,000 U.S. combat and support troops in Iraq, big bombings in downtown Baghdad were routine. The guerrillas were setting roadside bombs for U.S. troops, often killing and injuring innocent Iraqis. The attacks are much less frequent now. Indeed, in July 2009, the first month that U.S. troops ceased patrolling major cities, attacks and civilian casualties fell by a third.
Many Americans argue that the Bush administration’s decision to send 30,000 more troops to Iraq in 2006-2007 was decisive in reducing civilian deaths from 2,500 a month to about 300 or 400. But they neglect other reasons for the fall in violence.
Most importantly, the Shiites won the civil war and drove most Sunni Arabs from mixed Sunni-Shiite neighborhoods of Baghdad. Once that was done, obviously, violence subsided significantly.
This Shiite victory allowed militias such as the Mehdi Army to begin standing down when the U.S. demanded it. Sunni Arabs began turning to an alliance with the Americans, both to expel the Sunni fundamentalists and for help in defending themselves from Shiite militias.
U.S. troops were not able to forestall Baghdad’s transformation into a Shiite city because they did not control the alleyways and tenement buildings where key battles were fought. How combat troops would suddenly enable the U.S. to prevent bombings of government buildings is not clear to me.
At the same time, U.S. favoritism to Kurds and Shiites encouraged these groups to adopt an inflexible attitude toward Sunni Arabs and probably caused ethnic and sectarian violence. The Shiite-dominated government knows that the U.S. would bomb insurgent Sunni Arabs if they gave it trouble, and so has consistently missed opportunities to reconcile with Sunnis. Left to their own devices, Iraqis might be better able to come to an understanding with one another.
Iraqis face crushing problems in the wake of seven years of war and occupation. Some 4 million have been forced from their homes, 2.7 million of them inside the country. Many cannot return despite the fall in violence because their neighborhoods have been ethnically cleansed and local militias would kill them. U.S. combat troops were unable to prevent the displacement of millions and are unlikely to be able to reverse it.
Iraq is a country of widows, orphans and unemployed youth. It does not generate enough electricity to meet the needs of the people, and a substantial portion of the population still lacks regular access to potable water. The poor security situation discourages foreign investment.
U.S. combat troops cannot build power plants or provide potable water. The new Iraqi army is well-trained and well-equipped enough to patrol cities independently now. The U.S. can be helpful to Iraq through aid projects aimed at rebuilding destroyed infrastructure and promoting literacy.
Washington should stop trying to shoehorn its favorite into office, should stop showing favoritism to some ethnic groups over others, and should show some understanding of the necessity for good relations between Iraq and Iran (which are becoming major trading partners). When it comes to the military and political balance, the U.S. has done enough damage, and can best help Iraqis by allowing them to return to being an independent country.
9) Venezuela vote race starts, Chavez foes eye gains
Legislative vote test of Chavez support ahead of 2012
Opposition gains assured after boycott five years ago
Crime tops agenda as campaigns launched
Frank Jack Daniel, Reuters, August 25, 2010
Caracas – Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and his opponents launched campaigns on Wednesday for legislative elections that test the socialist’s support after a year of recession and will give his critics a louder voice.
Buoyant Chavez supporters organized parties and fireworks around Caracas after midnight to kick off a race dominated by criticism of the government’s record on tackling Venezuela’s appalling murder rate. "Let’s go to battle!" Chavez’s campaign chief Aristobulo Isturiz bellowed at one raucous nocturnal rally.
Struggling opposition parties are all but guaranteed gains in the Sept. 26 vote after they boycotted the last election for lawmakers five years ago, leaving parliament in the major U.S. oil supplier entirely in the hands of the president’s allies.
[…] Despite sky-high crime and economic woes, the ex-soldier who has polarized Venezuela between supporters of his pro-poor policies and those who call him a dictator remains Venezuela’s most popular politician.
[…] Most analysts expect Chavez’s socialist party to hold a reduced majority in the parliament, helped by changes to electoral districts that critics call gerrymandering.
There is a slim chance the opposition will win the most seats, which would create headaches for Chavez and cause political instability. Their goal is to win at least a third of seats in the legislature, which would limit the ability of Chavez’s socialist party to change major legislation.
Usually an expert at setting the political agenda, especially ahead of elections, Chavez seems to have been caught off balance by a campaign from opposition media to highlight the government’s failure to tackle violent crime.
Venezuela has one of the world’s highest murder rates with between 13,000 and 16,000 people killed last year according to leaked police numbers and a non-governmental watchdog, respectively. Already-high murder figures have soared since Chavez took office.
Last week a court ordered two newspapers to desist from publishing violent pictures after they printed a gory archive photo of bodies piled up in a morgue.
The government, which also responded angrily to a New York Times story comparing Venezuela violence to Iraq, says it is working hard to bring down crime and that a new national police force has slashed homicide rates in a Caracas pilot project.
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