Just Foreign Policy News
September 9, 2010
International Days of Action Against the War in Afghanistan, October 7-10
Peace groups around the world have called for local actions marking the ninth anniversary of the US invasion.
Juan Cole: US TV Failure to Report on Pakistani Flood Threatens Americans’ Security
Juan Cole reviews US TV coverage of the flood disaster in Pakistan and finds it sorely wanting.
Bacevich: Washington Rules
Andrew Bacevich’s book, "Washington Rules: America’s Path to Permanent War," is a call for Americans to reject the Washington consensus for permanent war.
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September 24th: JFP "Virtual Brown Bag" with Andrew Bacevich
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1) The rapid turnabout in Kabul Bank’s fortunes has led Afghans to question whether Western-style free-market capitalism is just another broken U.S. promise, along with secure neighborhoods, transparent elections and ambitious development, David Nakamura and Ernesto Londono report in the Washington Post. Many blame the US, saying it did not provide strong oversight and alleging US complicity in last week’s financial meltdown. Over the past nine years, U.S. officials have spent millions of dollars building Afghanistan’s banking sector, trying to divert transactions from the traditional hawala system, in part because the latter’s lack of a paper trail made it convenient for use by "terrorists." But some Afghans now say the hawala system is more trustworthy than Western-style banks.
2) Writing for Inter Press Service, Jim Lobe notes that the Afghanistan Study Group’s conclusions that "nation-building" efforts in Afghanistan are costing too much and that "prospects for success are dim" echoed those of the latest strategic survey released by London’s International Institute for Strategic Studies, which noted that current objectives are too ambitious and too costly. The ASG report called instead for a strategy that would "fast-track a peace process designed to decentralize power within Afghanistan and encourage a power-sharing balance among the principal parties." Signers of the ASG report included former CIA counterterrorism official Paul Pillar, Selig Harrison, and Stephen Walt. [The ASG report is here: http://www.afghanistanstudygroup.org/]
3) Twelve US soldiers face charges over a secret "kill team" that allegedly blew up and shot Afghan civilians at random and collected their fingers as trophies, The Guardian reports.
4) The final U.S. brigade sent to Afghanistan as part of Obama’s surge assumed authority for a swath of eastern Afghanistan, the Wall Street Journal reports. [A year has passed since the surge was being mooted, vindicating assertions at the time that it could not be put in place quickly and that therefore there was no emergency requiring its quick authorization, such as this one from October 13, 2009: "McChrystal’s 40,000 Troop Hoax," http://www.huffingtonpost.com/robert-naiman/mcchrystals-40000-troop-h_b_318691.html ]
5) If Californians pass Prop 19, legalizing marijuana, it could help Mexico get rid of its costly war on drugs, argue publisher Héctor Aguilar Camín and former Foreign Minister Jorge Castañeda in the Washington Post. Until now, Mexican discussion of marijuana legalization has gotten hung up over whether Mexico should wait until the US is willing and able to do the same. Passage of Prop 19 would flip the terms of the Mexican debate: If California legalizes marijuana, will shootouts to stop Mexican cannabis from crossing the border make any sense?
6) Students and professors at Georgetown protested former Colombian President Uribe’s appointment as professor, writes Colombia Reports.
7) The international outcry over a Florida congregation’s plan to burn copies of the Koran on Sept. 11 intensified Thursday, drawing condemnations from world leaders and touching off angry protests in the Muslim world, the New York Times reports. The State Department issued a travel alert saying the burning could catalyze violent anti-American demonstrations. Some Christian churches in Baghdad added armed guards in fear of attack. One Afghan protester said, "if they really try to burn Korans then it’ll give us the clear message that we should fight foreigners in our country, and do the real jihad against them."
8) An anthropological study commissioned by the U.S. military concluded that the US’ tribal Pashtun allies in southern Afghanistan prefer boys, the Washington Times reports. The study, "Pashtun Sexuality," was completed by the Human Terrain Team, a group of anthropologists that work with the U.S. military. One military officer said it is one of the most popular reports downloaded by U.S. soldiers off of the secure network known as the SIPRNET.
9) A Senate resolution condemning Egypt’s record on human rights and free elections has sparked an aggressive lobbying campaign by Egypt, the Washington Post reports. The resolution, introduced by Senator Feingold, outlines continuing allegations of abuse by Egyptian security services. It also condemns President Mubarak for renewing an emergency security law allowing broad arrest powers and indefinite detention of suspects without charges. In a meeting with Mubarak last week, Obama took the unusual step of specifically referring to the need for "credible and transparent elections in Egypt," according to a White House summary. "Continuing to provide uncritical support to an authoritarian regime undermines our credibility as champions of political and civil rights and creates tensions, particularly in the Muslim world, which are ripe for exploitation," Feingold said earlier this year. "Those tensions, in turn, threaten our own national security."
10) Hundreds of Honduran workers, students and members of the National Popular Resistance Front gathered Tuesday to demand a 15 percent increase in the minimum wage, the return of ousted former President Zelaya and a constitutional convention, EFE reports. The current minimum monthly salary in Honduras is about $289.
11) The Mexican debate over drug legalization is likely to grow more animated if Californians approve an initiative on Nov. 2 to legalize marijuana for recreational use, McClatchy reports. Mexicans are keeping a close eye on the vote. "If they vote ‘yes’ to approve the full legalization of marijuana, I think it will have a radical impact in Mexico," said a political scientist at the National Autonomous University.
1) Crisis Casts New Doubt On U.S. Effort
David Nakamura and Ernesto Londono, Washington Post, September 9, 2010; A1
Kabul – Kabul Bank became the pride of Afghanistan’s financial system by offering the conveniences and thrills of 21st-century capitalism: branches in far-flung provinces, plentiful ATMs, and lottery prizes of cash and houses.
But the scene outside the bank’s headquarters Wednesday was far from that modern ideal: Police used batons to beat back hundreds of government employees desperate to cash their paychecks amid fears that Kabul Bank will go bankrupt because of alleged corruption among its top executives.
This rapid turnabout in Kabul Bank’s fortunes has led Afghans to question whether Western-style free-market capitalism is just another broken U.S. promise, along with secure neighborhoods, transparent elections and ambitious development. Many here blame the United States, saying it did not provide strong oversight and alleging American complicity in last week’s financial meltdown.
"The problem with the U.S. is they always implement the modern formula in Afghanistan, and that’s not possible in a country like this," said Siddiq Ahmad Usmani, chairman of the Afghan parliament’s Budget and Finance Committee. "They’re responsible for whatever crisis will come to our country."
Depositors have mobbed Kabul Bank over the past week, withdrawing $300 million of its $500 million in cash assets. Some have sought to move their money into accounts at one of two national banks run by the Finance Ministry. Those two banks have received new deposits this week totaling $60 million, a ministry official said.
But many others who closed their accounts said they intend to keep their money at home. Only 5 percent of Afghans have a bank account, so this vote of no confidence could be devastating to the nation’s fledgling banking sector. "I would never keep my money in the bank," said Shafaq Gebarn, 31, an employee at the Education Ministry who was among scores waiting outside a Kabul Bank branch this week to cash his paycheck. "I’d rather keep it in a pot at home. I’ll get a pistol and two hand grenades to protect it."
For centuries, Afghans conducted financial transactions almost exclusively through the "hawala" system, a trust-based network of money handlers who took cash deposits and arranged for them to be collected by clients’ business partners or relatives in other provinces. The deals were sealed with handshakes rather than paperwork.
Even today, some Afghans say they prefer the hawala system because of its personal touch. Bari Hashimi, 50, an executive at a financial company, said he intends to withdraw the $10,000 he has deposited in Kabul Bank. "These things that have happened in the last week have destroyed our trust," Hashimi said. The hawala system might not be perfect, he added, "but at least if it’s a person [you know], you can get your money back by any means."
Because hawalas operate with no official oversight and produce virtually no paper trail, their popularity was a major concern for U.S. officials after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. American officials sought to implement a Western-style banking sector in Afghanistan that would make it more difficult for terrorists to get money, while promising Afghans that a regulated financial system would be more reliable and trustworthy.
Over the past nine years, U.S. officials have spent millions of dollars building Afghanistan’s banking sector from the ground up. Treasury Department and USAID officials worked alongside the Afghan Finance Ministry and the government-controlled Central Bank, designing a financial system that now has $3.6 billion in assets.
[…] The way the bank conducted business, along with the perception that Afghanistan’s Central Bank and the U.S. Treasury Department failed to regulate the banking system, have angered Afghans and frayed their trust. "This is a huge blow," said Daoud Sultanzoy, a parliament member who has railed against corruption. "The free market depends on the most important thing being trust and confidence. . . . This tells people that democracy and the free market do not work. It’s just a sham."
Sultanzoy said the Americans set a bad example by bailing out Wall Street firms after their meltdown. "It’s hard for Americans to come here and tell people they’re criminals who’ve done something they haven’t done," Sultanzoy said. "The perception among Afghans is that America was complacent and complicit in this, too."
2) Calls for Change of Strategy Grow Louder
Jim Lobe, Inter Press Service, Sep 8
Washington – Amid continued high levels of violence and a steady stream of reports of high-level government corruption in Kabul, a growing number of foreign policy specialists are urging President Barack Obama to reconsider his counterinsurgency (COIN) strategy in Afghanistan.
In a new report released here Wednesday, a bipartisan group of some three dozen former senior officials, academics, and policy analysts argued that the administration’s ambitious "nation-building" efforts in Afghanistan are costing too much in U.S. blood and treasure and that, in any event, "(p)rospects for success are dim."
Calling for an accelerated timetable for reducing the U.S. military presence there, the "Afghanistan Study Group", which also urged intensified efforts to reach a negotiated solution with the Pashtun-based Taliban, echoed many of the points made in the latest strategic survey which was released by the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) in London Tuesday.
"(A)s the military surge reaches its peak and begins to wind down, it is necessary and advisable for outside powers to move to a containment and deterrence policy to deal with the international terrorist threat from the Afghan/Pakistan border regions," said IISS’s director-general, John Chipman, in introducing this year’s report.
"At present the COIN strategy is too ambitious, too removed from the core security goals that need to be met, and too sapping of diplomatic and military energies needed both in the region and elsewhere," he noted. "(F)or Western states to be pinned down militarily and psychologically in Afghanistan will not be in the service of their wider political and security interests."
[…] The administration has indeed been split for some time. The so-called COINistas have argued for a major "nation- building" effort combined with a military campaign directed against the Taliban which they depict as inseparable from al Qaeda. Others within the administration, reportedly led by Vice President Joseph Biden, have argued for a less ambitious counterterrorism campaign (CT) aimed more narrowly against al Qaeda on both sides of the Afghan-Pakistan border.
In that respect, the Study Group, whose membership spanned the political spectrum from the Democratic left to the libertarian right but was weighted most heavily towards "realists" who, until George W. Bush generally dominated the post-World War II foreign policy elite, is aligned more closely with the CT advocates.
Quoting arch-realist Henry Kissinger, the report noted that "Afghanistan has never been pacified by foreign forces," and that "(w)aging a lengthy counterinsurgency war in Afghanistan may well do more to aid Taliban recruiting than to dismantle the group, help spread conflict further into Pakistan, unify radical groups that might otherwise be quarrelling amongst themselves, threaten the long-term health of the U.S. economy, and prevent the U.S. government from turning its full attention to other pressing problems."
"We’ve been creating enemies faster than friends," noted Paul Pillar, who served as the CIA’s National Intelligence Officer for the Middle East and South Asia from 2000 to 2005, at the report’s release at the New America Foundation (NAF). Complaining of a "disconnect" between the conduct of the war and U.S. aim of destroying and disabling al Qaeda, he described the U.S. intervention in Afghanistan as "a nine-year-long mission creep".
The report called instead for a five-pronged strategy that would "fast-track a peace process designed to decentralise power within Afghanistan and encourage a power-sharing balance among the principal parties"; intensify diplomatic efforts with Afghanistan’s neighbours and others "to guarantee Afghan neutrality and foster regional stability"; and lead an international effort to develop the country’s economy.
Obama, it said, should "firmly stick to his pledge to begin withdrawing U.S. forces in the summer of 2011 – and earlier if possible. U.S. force levels should decline to the minimum level needed to help train Afghan security forces, prevent massive human rights atrocities, resist an expansion of Taliban control beyond the Pashtun south, and engage in robust counter-terrorism operations as needed."
In particular, U.S. forces should maintain their capabilities "to seek out known Al Qaeda cells in the region and be ready to go after them should they attempt to relocate elsewhere or build new training facilities," the report said. "Al Qaeda is no longer a significant presence in Afghanistan, and there are only some 400 hard-core Al Qaeda members remaining in the entire Af/Pak theatre, most of them hiding in Pakistan’s northwest provinces."
Besides Pillar, other signers of the report included Gordon Adams, a top White House budget official for national security under the Clinton administration who is currently with the Stimson Center; Steve Clemons, the head of NAF’s American Security programme; Patrick Cronin, a senior advisor at the Center for a New American Security; W. Patrick Lang, who served as the top Middle East/South Asia officer in the Pentagon’s Defence Intelligence Agency during the 1990s; Selig Harrison, an Afghan specialist at the Center for International Policy; and Stephen Walt, a Harvard University scholar considered a leader of the "realist" school of international relations.
3) US soldiers ‘killed Afghan civilians for sport and collected fingers as trophies’
Soldiers face charges over secret ‘kill team’ which allegedly murdered at random and collected fingers as trophies of war
Chris McGreal, The Guardian, Thursday 9 September 2010
Washington – Twelve American soldiers face charges over a secret "kill team" that allegedly blew up and shot Afghan civilians at random and collected their fingers as trophies.
Five of the soldiers are charged with murdering three Afghan men who were allegedly killed for sport in separate attacks this year. Seven others are accused of covering up the killings and assaulting a recruit who exposed the murders when he reported other abuses, including members of the unit smoking hashish stolen from civilians.
In one of the most serious accusations of war crimes to emerge from the Afghan conflict, the killings are alleged to have been carried out by members of a Stryker infantry brigade based in Kandahar province in southern Afghanistan.
[…] The second victim, Marach Agha, was shot and killed the following month. Gibbs is alleged to have shot him and placed a Kalashnikov next to the body to justify the killing. In May Mullah Adadhdad was killed after being shot and attacked with a grenade.
The Army Times reported that a least one of the soldiers collected the fingers of the victims as souvenirs and that some of them posed for photographs with the bodies.
Five soldiers – Gibbs, Morlock, Holmes, Michael Wagnon and Adam Winfield – are accused of murder and aggravated assault among other charges. All of the soldiers have denied the charges. They face the death penalty or life in prison if convicted.
The killings came to light in May after the army began investigating a brutal assault on a soldier who told superiors that members of his unit were smoking hashish. The Army Times reported that members of the unit regularly smoked the drug on duty and sometimes stole it from civilians.
4) Surge Is Fully Deployed To Afghanistan
Julian E. Barnes, Wall Street Journal, September 9, 2010
Sharana, Afghanistan – The final U.S. brigade sent to Afghanistan as part of President Barack Obama’s surge strategy assumed authority for a swath of the country’s eastern territory Wednesday.
The 4th Brigade of the 101st Airborne Division has only a short time to make an impact before the harsh winter of eastern Afghanistan, due to set in by November, makes travel and combat difficult.
Commanders are also under pressure to show progress ahead of a meeting of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization in November and the Obama administration’s next strategy review, in December.
[…] The ceremony Wednesday officially put in place the last of the 30,000 infantry troops ordered into the country by Mr. Obama in December.
The 4th Brigade, known as Task Force Currahee, was the only large unit assigned to eastern Afghanistan as part of the Obama administration’s troop build-up. The majority of the surge forces were sent to southern Afghanistan to participate in operations around Kandahar and Helmand provinces.
The first members of Task Force Currahee began arriving in Paktika in July. The majority of the forces arrived in the country in August and began a process of taking over from the 101st Division’s 3rd Brigade.
5) California’s Prop 19, on legalizing marijuana, could end Mexico’s drug war.
Héctor Aguilar Camín and Jorge G. Castañeda, Washington Post, September 5, 2010
[Aguilar Camín is publisher of the Mexican magazine Nexos. Castañeda was Mexico’s foreign minister from 2000-3 and teaches at NYU.]
Mexico City – On Nov. 2, Californians will vote on Proposition 19, deciding whether to legalize the production, sale and consumption of marijuana. If the initiative passes, it won’t just be momentous for California; it may, at long last, offer Mexico the promise of an exit from our costly war on drugs.
The costs of that war have long since reached intolerable levels: more than 28,000 of our fellow citizens dead since late 2006; expenditures well above $10 billion; terrible damage to Mexico’s image abroad; human rights violations by government security forces; and ever more crime. In a recent poll by the Mexico City daily Reforma, 67 percent of Mexicans said these costs are unacceptable, while 59 percent said the drug cartels are winning the war.
We have believed for some time that Mexico should legalize marijuana and perhaps other drugs. But until now, most discussion of this possibility has foundered because our country’s drug problem and the U.S. drug problem are so inextricably linked: What our country produces, Americans consume. As a result, the debate over legalization has inevitably gotten hung up over whether Mexico should wait until the United States is willing and able to do the same.
Proposition 19 changes this calculation. For Mexico, California is almost the whole enchilada: Our overall trade with the largest state of the union is huge, an immense number of Californians are of Mexican origin, and an enormous proportion of American visitors to Mexico come from California. Passage of Prop 19 would therefore flip the terms of the debate about drug policy: If California legalizes marijuana, will it be viable for our country to continue hunting down drug lords in Tijuana? Will Wild West-style shootouts to stop Mexican cannabis from crossing the border make any sense when, just over that border, the local 7-Eleven sells pot?
The prospect of California legalizing marijuana coincides with an increasingly animated debate about legalization in Mexico. This summer, our magazine, Nexos, asked the six leading presidential candidates whether, if California legalizes marijuana, Mexico should follow suit. Four of them said it should, albeit with qualifications. And last month, at a public forum presided over by President Felipe Calderón, one of us asked whether the time had come for such discussion to be taken seriously. Calderón’s reply was startlingly open-minded and encouraging: "It’s a fundamental debate," he said. ". . . You have to analyze carefully the pros and cons and the key arguments on both sides." The remarks attracted so much attention that, later in the day, Calderón backtracked, insisting that he was vehemently opposed to any form of legalization. Still, his comments helped stimulate the national conversation.
A growing number of distinguished Mexicans from all walks of life have recently come out in favor of some form of drug legalization. Former presidents Ernesto Zedillo and Vicente Fox, novelists Carlos Fuentes and Angeles Mastretta, Nobel Prize-winning chemist Mario Molina, and movie star Gael García Bernal have all expressed support for this idea, and polls show that ordinary Mexicans are increasingly willing to contemplate the notion.
Indeed, as we have crisscrossed Mexico over the past six months on a book tour, visiting more than two dozen state capitals, holding town hall meetings with students, businesspeople, school teachers, local politicians and journalists, we have witnessed a striking shift in views on the matter. This is no longer your mother’s Mexico – conservative, Catholic, introverted. Whenever we asked whether drugs should be legalized, the response was almost always overwhelmingly in favor of decriminalizing at least marijuana.
The debate here is not framed in terms of personal drug use but rather whether legalization would do anything to abate Mexico’s nightmarish violence and crime. There are reasons to think that it would: The White House Office of National Drug Control Policy has said that up to 60 percent of Mexican drug cartels’ profits come from marijuana. While some say the real figure is lower, pot is without question a crucial part of their business. Legalization would make a significant chunk of that business vanish. As their immense profits shrank, the drug kingpins would be deprived of the almost unlimited money they now use to fund recruitment, arms purchases and bribes.
In addition, legalizing marijuana would free up both human and financial resources for Mexico to push back against the scourges that are often, if not always correctly, attributed to drug traffickers and that constitute Mexicans’ real bane: kidnapping, extortion, vehicle theft, home assaults, highway robbery and gunfights between gangs that leave far too many innocent bystanders dead and wounded. Before Mexico’s current war on drugs started, in late 2006, the country’s crime rate was low and dropping. Freed from the demands of the war on drugs, Mexico could return its energies to again reducing violent crime.
[…] For now we’ll take California’s ballot measure. If our neighbors to the north pass Proposition 19, our government will have two new options: to proceed unilaterally with legalization – with California but without Washington – or to hold off, while exploiting California’s move to more actively lobby the U.S. government for wider changes in drug policy. Either way, the initiative’s passage will enhance Calderón’s moral authority in pressing President Obama.
Our president will be able to say to yours: "We have paid an enormous price for a war that a majority of the citizens of your most populous and trend-setting state reject. Why don’t we work together, producer and consumer nations alike, to draw a road map leading us away from the equivalent of Prohibition, before we all regret our short-sightedness?"
6) Georgetown students protest against Uribe
Kirsten Begg, Colombia Reports, Wednesday, 08 September 2010
Students and professors at Washington D.C.’s Georgetown University Wednesday protested against former Colombian President Alvaro Uribe’s appointment as an invited professor. Under the name of "Coalition Adios Uribe," the protesters criticized Uribe’s human rights record during his eight years as Colombian president.
Georgetown’s naming of Uribe as a "distinguished scholar in the practice of global leadership" at the university’s Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service has been controversial, with critics arguing that the former leader does not represent the ideals promoted by the school.
While students handed out flyers criticizing Uribe, a peace studies professor at Georgetown, Mark Lance, told the crowd that "our message with this process is clear. We want to educate the university and the community on what Uribe has done. We want to remember the victims of ‘democratic security,’ to draw attention to the contributions that the U.S. has made to help Colombia, and, above all, to the fact that the decision to name Uribe as a distinguished scholar was not open to students or professors and has been kept secret until now."
7) Planned Koran Burning Draws International Scorn
Jack Healy and Steven Erlanger, New York Times, September 9, 2010
The international outcry over a tiny Florida congregation’s plan to burn copies of the Koran on Sept. 11 intensified on Thursday, drawing vocal condemnations from world leaders and touching off angry protests in corners of the Muslim world.
Although some protests in Afghanistan and Pakistan rippled with scenes of burning American flags, the outrage in the streets seemed largely isolated. Officials in Muslim countries urged restraint, seeking to head off any violent reactions if the Florida church goes ahead with its plans to set fire to several copies of the Koran on the ninth anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks this Saturday.
Meanwhile, President Obama joined a litany of high-ranking American officials to condemn the Koran burning, saying that the act, amplified by a global media, could put American troops at risk and fan anger against the United States. Mr. Obama called the planned event "a destructive act" and said it would be a "recruitment bonanza for Al Qaeda."
American embassies and consulates were reviewing their security policies, and several diplomatic missions in the Muslim world posted statements prominently on their Web sites condemning the planned event. The State Department issued a travel alert on Thursday saying the burning could catalyze violent anti-American demonstrations.
In 2005, violent protests erupted in Afghanistan and Pakistan world after Newsweek published report – one it later retracted – saying that American interrogators at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, had flushed a Koran down the toilet. At least 17 deaths were blamed on the riots.
[…] The relationship between the United States and the Muslim world, deeply strained by wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, has been further aggravated in recent months by a furious debate over an Islamic group’s plans to build a community center two blocks from the World Trade Center site.
And the timing of the planned Koran burning is especially sensitive, falling this year at the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. In Iraq, the Web site of Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki carried a message saying that "all measures" should be taken to prevent "this ugly act."
[…] Some Christian churches in Baghdad added armed guards in fear of attack. A young parishioner at St. George’s Anglican church, established in British colonial times, said that if there were reprisals in Iraq, Mr. Jones should take responsibility. "If we are killed or kidnapped our women or sisters killed, or something happens to our churches," said the man, Daoud Jajuu, 20, "I want him to know that it has nothing to do with Iraq. All the blame is on him. He is in a free country but we are not. We are in a country at war."
The president of Pakistan, Asif Ali Zardari, condemned the planned burning as despicable and said it could cause "irreparable damage to inter-faith harmony and also to world peace." Leaders in Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim nation, and India urged President Obama to intervene.
[…] In the northeast Afghan province of Kapisa, one protester, Mohammad Basher, 30, said "if they really try to burn Korans then it’ll give us the clear message that we should fight foreigners in our country, and do the real jihad against them." Mr. Basher was one of hundreds of people taking part in a demonstration organized by a candidate in the country’s upcoming parliamentary elections. One government official characterized the protest as a campaign ploy to stir up anti-American sentiment.
The French, British and German governments, all with troops serving in Afghanistan, have joined the condemnations.
France’s Foreign Ministry called the idea "an incitement to hatred," with spokesman Bernard Valero calling it an "insult to the memory of the victims of Sept. 11, like all the victims of acts of terrorism inspired by intolerance and the twisting of religion."
The German chancellor, Angela Merkel, said on Wednesday that burning Korans would be a "repugnant" sign of disrespect, and the Vatican said it would be an "outrageous and grave gesture." Brig. Gen. Hans-Werner Fritz, the commander of German troops in Afghanistan, said the burning would "provide a trigger for violence towards all ISAF troops, including the Germans in northern Afghanistan."
[…] The leader of the world’s Anglicans, Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, also added his voice to the condemnation. In a message to mark the end of the holy month of Ramadan, he said "the threat to desecrate scriptures is deeply deplorable and to be strongly condemned by all people."
A British Muslim said that he and others would burn the American flag outside the United States Embassy on Sept. 11 to protest any burning of the Koran, and expected similar flag-burnings around the world.
Dalil Boubakeur, the head of the Grand Mosque of Paris, appealed to Muslims not to "fall for provocation and to respond with wisdom while expressing their compassion" for the victims of Sept. 11.
8) Inside the Ring: Gay Afghans
Bill Gertz, Washington Times, 2:35 p.m., Wednesday, September 8, 2010
[…] As if Army Gen. David H. Petraeus, U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan, did not have enough to worry about waging counterinsurgency warfare, an anthropological study commissioned by the U.S. military concluded that the United States’ tribal Pashtun allies in southern Afghanistan prefer boys.
The study, "Pashtun Sexuality," was completed by the Human Terrain Team, a group of anthropologists that work with the U.S. military, according to reporter Eli Lake, who obtained a copy of the report.
The unclassified 18-page report, produced in 2009, stated that while many Pashtun men consider homosexuality to be forbidden under Islam, they do not consider sexual relations between boys and men to be homosexuality.
"A culturally-contrived homosexuality (significantly not termed as such by its practitioners) appears to affect a far greater population base than some researchers would argue is attributable to natural inclination," the report stated in one of its key findings.
The report also said that "homosexuality is strictly prohibited in Islam, but cultural interpretations of Islamic teaching prevalent in Pashtun areas of southern Afghanistan tacitly condone it in comparison to heterosexual relationships in several contexts."
Pashtun tribes and clans make up the largest ethnic group in southern Afghanistan and are a major focus of U.S. and allied military efforts to win their support against the Taliban.
The report surveyed recent literature on the subject and provided some anecdotes. One story involves an army medic who was asked in earnest by a Pashtun man how he could impregnate his wife.
One aspect of Pashtun society is that young, hairless boys are often taken as lovers by more powerful men. These boys are usually known as "Halekons." The report said, "known frequently as halekon, ashna, or bacha bereesh, ‘beautiful’ beardless boys are coveted, almost as possessions, by men of status and position for sexual relationships. Further, the more attractive or talented the boy is deemed, the more his presence elevates the status of his patron."
One military officer said it is one of the most popular reports downloaded by U.S. soldiers off of the secure network known as the SIPRNET.
9) Egypt pushes back against Senate resolution on elections, human rights
Dan Eggen, Washington Post, Wednesday, September 8, 2010; 7:24 PM
A Senate resolution condemning Egypt’s record on human rights and free elections has sparked an aggressive Washington lobbying campaign by the longtime U.S. ally, which argues that the measure could harm the Middle East peace process and its relationship with the United States.
The resolution, under consideration in the Foreign Relations Committee, outlines continuing allegations of abuse by Egyptian security services. It also condemns President Hosni Mubarak for renewing an emergency security law allowing broad arrest powers and indefinite detention of suspects without charges.
"Authorities in Egypt continue to harass, intimidate, arbitrarily detain and engage in violence against peaceful demonstrators, journalists, human rights activists, and bloggers," the resolution says. It adds that the Obama administration should "make respect for basic human rights and democratic freedoms a priority" in its relations with Egypt.
Egypt, which spent more than $1.5 million on U.S. lobbying efforts last year, has responded with a quiet but persistent effort to derail the resolution, according to legislative aides familiar with the discussions.
[…] The debate comes amid fast-moving events in the Middle East, including a planned trip by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton to Egypt next week as part of the administration’s attempt to restart the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks. Egypt is also planning parliamentary elections this fall and a presidential election next year amid persistent reports that Mubarak, 82, is in failing health.
The developments have prompted increasing calls for reform from human rights groups and some U.S. lawmakers. The administration openly criticized Mubarak’s decision this year to extend the emergency security law, which has been renewed repeatedly since 1981.
In a meeting with Mubarak last week, President Obama also took the unusual step of specifically referring to the need for "credible and transparent elections in Egypt," according to an official White House summary of the discussion.
The Senate resolution, authored by Sen. Russell Feingold (D-Wis.), has garnered particular attention in Cairo because of its prominent list of backers. Co-sponsors include Sens. John McCain (Ariz.), the former GOP presidential nominee; Richard J. Durbin (Ill.), the Democratic majority whip; Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.); and Joseph I. Lieberman (I-Conn.).
Egypt is one of the leading recipients of U.S. foreign aid, receiving about $1.5 billion last year. The country has accelerated its lobbying spending in Washington from $214,000 in 2006 to $1.5 million last year, according to disclosure records filed with the Justice Department.
[…] In a statement earlier this year, Feingold said that the coming period in Egypt "could be one of transition, possibly one of tumult," and that the United States should take advantage of the opening to push for greater reforms.
"Continuing to provide uncritical support to an authoritarian regime undermines our credibility as champions of political and civil rights and creates tensions, particularly in the Muslim world, which are ripe for exploitation," Feingold said. "Those tensions, in turn, threaten our own national security."
Even so, the resolution doesn’t go as far as previous legislation enacting specific punishments for Egypt’s behavior. In 2007, for example, Congress approved legislation to withhold $100 million in annual aid to the country; then-Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice got around the penalty by invoking a waiver.
10) Hondurans Demand Higher Wages, Return of Ousted Leader.
EFE, September 8, 2010
Tegucigalpa – Hundreds of Honduran workers, students and members of the National Popular Resistance Front gathered on Tuesday to demand a 15 percent rise in the minimum wage, the return of ousted former President Mel Zelaya and a constitutional convention. The demonstrators moved to the center of Tegucigalpa in two marches that departed from university campuses.
A leader of the resistance front, Carlos Reyes, told Efe that "thousands of other" demonstrators held work stoppages and blocked stretches of highway in important cities in the country’s 18 provinces.
[…] The current minimum monthly salary in Honduras is about 5,500 lempiras ($289).
11) Weary of drug war, Mexico debates legalization
Tim Johnson, McClatchy Newspapers, September 09, 2010
Mexico City – A debate about legalizing marijuana and possibly other drugs – once a taboo suggestion – is percolating in Mexico, a nation exhausted by runaway violence and a deadly drug war. The debate is only likely to grow more animated if Californians approve an initiative on Nov. 2 to legalize marijuana for recreational use in their state.
Mexicans are keeping a close eye on the vote, seeing it as a bellwether. "If they vote ‘yes’ to approve the full legalization of marijuana, I think it will have a radical impact in Mexico," said Jorge Hernandez Tinajero, a political scientist at the National Autonomous University.
Discussion about legalization flew onto the agenda last month, the outcome of President Felipe Calderon’s pressing need to win more public support for waging war against criminal organizations profiting hugely from drug trafficking. As he held a series of open forums with politicians and civic leaders about faltering security, Calderon suddenly found himself amid a groundswell of suggestions that legalization – which he described as "absurd" – should be considered.
Among those throwing their weight behind legalization was former President Vicente Fox, a member of Calderon’s own conservative National Action Party. "We should consider legalizing the production, distribution and sale of drugs," Fox wrote on his blog during the series of forums. "Legalizing in this sense does not mean that drugs are good or don’t hurt those who consume. Rather, we have to see it as a strategy to strike and break the economic structure that allows the mafias to generate huge profits in their business."
Calderon immediately said Mexico couldn’t act on its own to legalize. "If drugs are not legalized in the world, or if drugs are not legalized at least in the United States, this is simply absurd, because the price of drugs is not determined in Mexico. The price of drugs is determined by consumers in Los Angeles, or in New York, or in Chicago or Texas," he said.
[…] Edgardo Buscaglia, an expert on Mexico’s criminal syndicates, said Mexico’s government is too weak to legalize and regulate narcotics and marijuana. "You need to have regulatory capacity in place," he said. "Mexico does not even have the capacity to regulate its pharmaceutical products."Without a better framework, any move to take away penalties for narcotics would "amount to a subsidy to drug organizations," he said, as prices and demand remain buoyant for illegal narcotics in the U.S. and other countries.
Legislators in August 2009 quietly decriminalized the possession of less than 5 grams of marijuana, the equivalent of about four joints. Tiny amounts of cocaine, heroin, ecstasy, LSD, and methamphetamine also are no longer subject to criminal penalties. Further measures have been blocked, however, such as one before two committees of the Chamber of Deputies to permit the use of marijuana for medical purposes, as 14 U.S. states allow. Others have been put before the Senate, the legislative assembly of Mexico City and before a local congress in the state of Mexico.
Experts said they can’t fully weigh arguments about the impact that legalization of marijuana in California might have on this country of 111 million, or whether steps toward legalization here would weaken drug syndicates. That’s because so little is known publicly about the revenue streams of cartels, the extent of production of marijuana, crystal meth and heroin, and the range of revenue from other criminal enterprises. Counternarcotics officials say several Mexican cartels, particularly the Familia Michoacana, are deeply involved in marijuana production and sales in California.
Alex Kreit, an expert on drug law at the Thomas Jefferson School of Law in San Diego, said the fallout from Proposition 19, whichever way voters lean, might not be immediate. Opinion polls show a near toss-up over whether voters will approve or reject it.
If the initiative passes, it would have an impact only in localities that take steps to permit the cultivation, distribution and sale of marijuana, he said. "If this passes, it doesn’t mean that all of a sudden that people who are growing marijuana in large amounts are going to be doing so legally," he said.
If the initiative loses by a large margin, Kreit said, it could "be the death knell" for legalization. If it goes the other way, it could "start to create a feeling of inevitability" in the U.S. and Mexico toward the legalization of marijuana. "I almost view it as similar to the gay marriage issue. People’s views are changing very quickly," Kreit said.
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