Just Foreign Policy News
September 17, 2009
A Winnable Fight: No More U.S. Troops to Afghanistan
The stars are aligning for a winnable and worthwhile fight on U.S. policy in Afghanistan in the next several weeks: stopping the Obama Administration from sending more troops. If the Administration sends 10,000 more troops, they’ll just replace the Canadian, Italian, and British troops that are leaving.
Cutting Off the Honduran Coup’s Air Supply
Laura Carlsen reviews the Obama Administration’s ambiguous policy moves towards the coup in Honduras.
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1) The U.S. intelligence community is reporting to the White House that Iran has not restarted its nuclear-weapons development program, Newsweek reports. The latest update to policymakers has been that as of now – two years after the period covered by the 2007 National Intelligence Estimate – U.S. intelligence agencies still believe Iran has not resumed nuclear-weapons development work. Top policymakers are being told that there is no significant disagreement among U.S. intelligence agencies and experts about the latest assessments regarding Iran’s nuclear effort.
2) The White House is scrapping a Bush-era plan for an Eastern European missile-defense shield, saying a redesigned defensive system would be cheaper, quicker and more effective against the threat from Iranian missiles, the Wall Street Journal reports. [The Journal publishes an illuminating map suggesting that medium-range Iranian missiles would not reach the west coast of Turkey – JFP.]
3) The White House presented Congress with eight general yardsticks to measure success in Afghanistan and Pakistan, but didn’t say how they’d help the administration determine how well U.S. policy in the region is working, McClatchy reports. About half the metrics are subjective. A senior administration official stressed that the U.S. isn’t engaged in nation building in Afghanistan, even though one of the sub-metrics calls for measuring "public perception of Afghanistan’s justice sector and commitment to providing the rule of law at the national, provincial, and local levels."
4) President Obama said he would not be rushed in deciding whether to send more troops to Afghanistan, the Los Angeles Times reports. The "metrics" announced by the Administration go well beyond the stated goal of defeating Al Qaeda, the LAT notes.
5) Italian Prime Minister Berlusconi said Thursday it would be best for international troops to leave Afghanistan soon, after a bomb blast in Kabul killed six Italian soldiers, AP reports. A key coalition partner in Berlusconi’s government said he hoped Italy’s troops could leave within three months. Italy has about 2,800 soldiers in Afghanistan.
6) Israeli Defense Minister Barak said he does not view Iran as a threat to the existence of Israel, Reuters reports. Yedioth Ahronoth quoted Barak as saying "Iran does not constitute an existential threat against Israel."
7) Israeli officials dismissed the call of the UN fact-finding mission’s report on the war in Gaza for the Israeli government to begin an independent investigation of "serious violations" of international humanitarian and human rights law, including evidence of war crimes, during the military campaign, the New York Times reports. The report said if no independent inquiry gets under way in Israel within six months, the UN Security Council should refer the matter to the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court. A group of nine rights organizations said they had written to Israel’s attorney general to demand he establish an independent body to investigate the military’s activities in Gaza, but he rejected their request.
8) Senator Lugar introduced legislation this week to include Uruguay and Paraguay in the Andean Trade Promotion and Drug Eradication Act, which authorizes the President to grant reduced tariffs to promote alternatives to the production of cocaine, according to the website Just the Facts. The bill would also extend ATPDEA to December 31, 2012. Currently, Ecuador, Colombia and Peru benefit from ATPDEA; Bolivia has been suspended.
9) President Uribe is enmeshed in a scandal over growing evidence his main intelligence agency carried out an extensive illegal spying operation focused on his leading critics, including members of the Supreme Court, opposition politicians, human rights workers and journalists, the New York Times reports. Some of the most recent disclosed intercepts were recorded just weeks ago. The scandal intensified in recent weeks with the disclosure of an intercept of call between a top official at the US Embassy and a Supreme Court justice investigating ties of Uribe’s political supporters to paramilitary death squads. A State Department spokesman said last week the accusations of illegal wiretapping were "troubling and unacceptable." But in the same statement, he said Colombia’s human rights record was satisfactory enough to meet standards allowing Uribe’s government to receive all of the military assistance included in the $545 million in U.S. aid that Colombia was set to receive this year.
1) Intelligence Agencies Say No New Nukes in Iran
Secret updates to White House challenge European and Israeli assessments.
Mark Hosenball, Newsweek, Sep 16, 2009
The U.S. intelligence community is reporting to the White House that Iran has not restarted its nuclear-weapons development program, two counterproliferation officials tell Newsweek. U.S. agencies had previously said that Tehran halted the program in 2003.
The officials, who asked for anonymity when discussing sensitive information, said that U.S. intelligence agencies have informed policymakers at the White House and other agencies that the status of Iranian work on development and production of a nuclear bomb has not changed since the formal National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Iran’s "Nuclear Intentions and Capabilities" in November 2007. Public portions of that report stated that U.S. intelligence agencies had "high confidence" that, as of early 2003, Iranian military units were pursuing development of a nuclear bomb, but that in the fall of that year Iran "halted its nuclear weapons program." The document said that while U.S. agencies believed the Iranian government "at a minimum is keeping open the option to develop nuclear weapons," U.S. intelligence as of mid-2007 still had "moderate confidence" that it had not restarted weapons-development efforts.
One of the two officials said that the Obama administration has now worked out a system in which intelligence agencies provide top policymakers, including the president, with regular updates on intelligence judgments like the conclusions in the 2007 Iran NIE. According to the two officials, the latest update to policymakers has been that as of now – two years after the period covered by the 2007 NIE – U.S. intelligence agencies still believe Iran has not resumed nuclear-weapons development work. "That’s the conclusion, but it’s one that – like every other – is constantly checked and reassessed, both to take account of new information and to test old assumptions," one of the officials told Newsweek. It is not clear whether U.S. agencies’ confidence in this judgment has grown at all since the 2007 statement.
[…] An Obama administration official says that top policymakers are being told that there is no significant disagreement among U.S. intelligence agencies and experts about the latest assessments regarding Iran’s nuclear effort. That may encourage the White House’s efforts to continue to try to engage Iran in diplomatic dialogue, including discussion of Iran’s nuclear ambitions. A spokesperson for National Intelligence Director Dennis Blair’s office, which is responsible for producing NIEs and updates on Iranian nukes, had no comment.
2) U.S. Changes Course on Eastern European Nuclear-Missile Shield
Obama Says Redesign to Strengthen America’s Defenses
Peter Spiegel, Wall Street Journal, September 17, 2009, 4:20 P.M. ET
Washington – The White House is scrapping a Bush-era plan for an Eastern European missile-defense shield, saying a redesigned defensive system would be cheaper, quicker and more effective against the threat from Iranian missiles.
"After an extensive process, I have approved the unanimous recommendations of my secretary of defense and my joint chiefs of staff to strengthen America’s defenses against ballistic-missile attack," President Barack Obama said in an announcement Thursday morning.
The previous administration’s plans will be changed, moving away from the installation of a missile-defense shield in the Czech Republic and Poland in the near future. A second phase to begin in 2015 could result in missiles being placed on land in Eastern Europe.
[…] Defense Secretary Robert Gates said the decision to abandon the Bush administration’s plans came about because of a change in the U.S. perception of the threat posed by Iran.
Gates said intelligence experts concluded the short- and medium-range missiles were "developing more rapidly than previously projected" in Iran. The findings are a major reversal from the Bush administration, which pushed aggressively to begin construction of the Eastern European system before leaving office in January.
The Bush administration proposed the European-based system to counter the perceived threat of Iran’s developing a nuclear weapon that could be placed atop its increasingly sophisticated missiles. There is widespread disagreement over the progress of Iran’s nuclear program toward developing such a weapon, but miniaturizing nuclear weapons for use on long-range missiles is one of the most difficult technological hurdles for an aspiring nuclear nation.
The Bush plan infuriated the Kremlin, which argued the system was a potential threat to its own intercontinental ballistic missiles. U.S. officials repeatedly insisted the location and limited scale of the system – a radar site in the Czech Republic and 10 interceptor missiles in Poland – posed no threat to Russian strategic arms.
The Obama administration’s assessment concludes that U.S. allies in Europe, including NATO members, face a more immediate threat from Iran’s short- and medium-range missiles and is ordering a shift toward the development of regional missile defenses for the Continent, according to people familiar with the matter. Such systems would be far less controversial.
[The Wall Street Journal article publishes a picture that estimates the range of short-range and medium range Iranian missiles. According to the picture, short-range missiles would not reach the western boundary of Iraq; medium-range missiles would not reach the west coast of Turkey; it is not clear that they would reach Israel. The map is mislabeled; the outer ring should be labeled "medium range" – JFP.]
3) White House Issues Yardsticks for Success in Afghanistan
Nancy A. Youssef, McClatchy Newspapers, Thu, Sep. 17, 2009
Washington – The White House Wednesday presented Congress with eight general yardsticks to measure success in Afghanistan and Pakistan, but didn’t say how they’d help the administration determine how well U.S. policy in the region is working.
Indeed, White House officials said they weren’t sure if they’d use the metrics to help President Barack Obama decide whether to send more American troops to Afghanistan, according to a senior administration official who briefed reporters Wednesday.
Instead, the administration official, who spoke with reporters on the condition of anonymity, said the White House devised the metrics to hold itself accountable. A senior defense official, however, said the metrics also are designed to help guide the White House as it begins what could be weeks of deliberations about the way ahead in Afghanistan and Pakistan, six months after it first laid out its goals there.
[…] Obama said Wednesday that he wants "absolute clarity about what the strategy is going to be."
It’s not clear, however, that the metrics presented Wednesday will provide that clarity. Some metrics could be measured using statistics such as polls or economic variables, but about half of them are subjective, and each metric has between four and 14 sub-metrics. Two that are classified weren’t released.
One metric, for example, calls for the U.S. and its allies to defeat extremist insurgencies, "secure the Afghan populace, and develop increasingly self-reliant Afghan security forces that can lead the counterinsurgency and counterterrorism fight with reduced U.S. assistance."
The 14 sub-metrics for that goal include: measure the level of corruption within the Afghan security forces; public perceptions of the security forces; the capability and size of the Afghan police and army; and percent of the population living under insurgent-controlled or government-controlled communities.
Others yardsticks include economic and political development in Afghanistan and Pakistan and improved security forces in both nations.
Other goals, especially those directed at Pakistan, might be difficult for the United States to reach, since it has few troops and little leverage in that country, where anti-Americanism has been rising.
For example, one metric calls for the development of "Pakistan’s counterinsurgency capabilities," adding the United States should "continue to support Pakistan’s efforts to defeat terrorist and insurgent groups."
The senior administration official stressed that the United States isn’t engaged in nation building in Afghanistan, even though one of the sub-metrics calls for measuring "public perception of Afghanistan’s justice sector and commitment to providing the rule of law at the national, provincial, and local levels."
4) Obama says he won’t rush Afghanistan troop decision
The president will not decide on sending additional troops until he has ‘the strategy right,’ he says.
Julian E. Barnes, Los Angeles Times, September 17, 2009
On a day when his administration outlined ambitious goals for Afghanistan and Pakistan, President Obama also moved Wednesday to call a timeout in the escalating national debate over a possible troop increase in Afghanistan.
Obama insisted he would not be rushed in deciding whether to send more troops – an action favored by top military leaders but questioned by a growing number of Democrats – saying that additional time is needed to refine strategy and assess needs.
Yet the lofty goals set by the White House – such as promoting an Afghan government that can combat extremism and corruption while supporting human rights – represent difficult, time-consuming work likely to require additional military and nonmilitary commitments at a time of flagging support from Obama’s wary political base.
The U.S. troop level is already due to rise to 68,000 this year, and the prospect of sending more personnel has triggered a backlash among leading congressional Democrats. Many Republicans, meanwhile, have sided with military commanders in urging Obama to send additional troops.
Obama sought Wednesday to cool that debate, staking out a middle position in an appearance with Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who is planning to withdraw his nation’s 2,500 troops in 2011. Obama said he was not going to decide whether to escalate until he had "the strategy right."
"You don’t make determinations about resources, and certainly you don’t make determinations about sending young men and women into battle, without having absolute clarity about what the strategy is going to be," Obama said.
But as the administration outlined its goals and ways of measuring progress in the troubled region Wednesday, some lawmakers complained that the yardsticks were too general or vague.
Objectives include disrupting terrorist networks in Afghanistan and Pakistan; improving Pakistan’s ability to battle insurgents; expanding Afghan forces and defeating the insurgency in Afghanistan; and upgrading the Afghan government, including its judiciary and support for human rights.
The goals are based on a strategy announced by the Obama administration in March. Since then, there have been few details from the Pentagon or State Department about how the U.S. government would put that strategy into action.
But the objectives as well as the "metrics" to measure them go well beyond the stated goal of defeating Al Qaeda in both Pakistan and Afghanistan. Yardsticks for progress in the two nations focus at least as much on rooting out the Taliban and on the nations’ having resilient, reliable and friendly governments.
5) Berlusconi: best to exit Afghanistan soon
Frances D’Emilio, Associated Press, Thursday, September 17, 2009 3:20 PM
Rome – Premier Silvio Berlusconi said Thursday it would be best for international troops to leave Afghanistan soon, after a bomb blast in Kabul killed six Italian soldiers in Italy’s deadliest day yet in the conflict.
Berlusconi insisted there was no timetable for withdrawal, and said any decision would be made together with Italy’s allies. The explosion also wounded four Italian soldiers. "We are all convinced it’s best for everybody to get out soon," Berlusconi told reporters in Brussels. His comments were carried on Italian state TV.
But he quickly added that Italy is "dealing with an international problem. It’s not a problem that that a country that’s present (in Afghanistan) can take on by itself, irrevocably. That would betray the agreement and trust with the other countries" in the mission.
The premier said Italy had already planned on bringing home some 400-500 soldiers, referring to extra troops who had beefed up Italy’s contingent for the recent Afghan elections.
[…] Italy has about 2,800 soldiers in Afghanistan. Thursday’s victims, part of a contingent deployed in Kabul, bring to 20 the number of Italian troops who have died in Afghanistan, according to the Defense Ministry.
Comments from the conservative premier and some of his allies in government appeared to show some political confusion over what effect the attack will have on Italy’s staunch commitment to helping the United States militarily in Afghanistan.
Italy’s defense minister, Ignazio La Russa, said early in the day that the "cowardly" attack in the Afghan capital would not affect Italy’s commitment. But later Thursday he indicated the role of Italy’s mission would be reviewed.
And a key coalition partner in Berlusconi’s government said he hoped Italy’s troops could leave within three months. "I hope that at Christmas all can return home," Reforms Minister Umberto Bossi told reporters in northern Italy.
6) Israel Defence Chief: Iran Not An Existential Threat
Reuters, September 17, 2009, 2:58 a.m. ET
Jerusalem – Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak was quoted Thursday as saying he does not view Iran as a threat to the existence of the Jewish state, a view that would seem to depart from Israeli statements of the recent past.
Israel’s mass-circulation Yedioth Ahronoth daily quoted Barak, the head of Israel’s centre-left Labour party, as saying "Iran does not constitute an existential threat against Israel."
In response to a question about Tehran’s nuclear program which Israel has said it sees as destined to produce atomic weapons that could put its existence at risk, Barak said in an interview with the paper: "I am not among those who believe Iran is an existential issue for Israel."
7) Israel Rejects Call for Gaza Inquiry
Isabel Kershner, New York Times, September 17, 2009
Jerusalem – Israeli officials on Wednesday bluntly dismissed one of the main recommendations of the United Nations fact-finding mission’s report on the three-week war in Gaza last winter: a call for the Israeli government to begin an independent investigation of "serious violations" of international humanitarian and human rights law, including evidence of war crimes, during the military campaign.
Mark Regev, a spokesman for the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, said that the internal military investigations into the Israeli Army’s conduct in Gaza already under way were "a thousand times more serious" than the investigation just completed by the United Nations mission led by Richard Goldstone, a respected South African judge.
[…] The report, released on Tuesday, says that if no appropriate independent inquiry gets under way in Israel within six months, the United Nations Security Council should refer the matter to the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court. It made a similar recommendation for Palestinian authorities, calling for an inquiry into evidence of war crimes committed by Palestinian armed groups firing rockets into Israel.
[…] Amid the furor, some in Israel concurred with the panel’s call for further investigation. A group of nine rights organizations said in a statement that they had written to Israel’s attorney general to demand that he establish an independent body to investigate the military’s activities in Gaza, but that he rejected their request.
8) New legislation to extend ATPDEA to Paraguay and Uruguay
Abigail Poe, Just the Facts, Wednesday, September 16, 2009
Senator Richard Lugar (R-IN) introduced new legislation – S. 1665: ATPDEA Expansion and Extension Act of 2009 – this week to include Uruguay and Paraguay in the Andean Trade Promotion and Drug Eradication Act (ATPDEA). Presently, Ecuador, Colombia and Peru benefit from ATPDEA, which authorizes the President to grant duty-free treatment or reduced tariffs to a wide range of products, with the goal of promoting economic development and providing alternatives to the production of cocaine. (Bolivia has been suspended from eligibility due to its failure to cooperate with U.S. counternarcotics policy).
In April of this year, similar legislation was introduced in both the House and the Senate, which called for the extension of ATPDEA benefits to Paraguay. Senator Lugar’s new bill aims to extend benefits to both Paraguay and Uruguay.
The ATPDEA Expansion and Extension Act of 2009 asks for Uruguay’s wool-based textiles to be included under ATPDEA’s benefits, which currently excludes from duty-free treatment "textiles and apparel articles" that previously have not been deemed eligible. It also asks for a two-year extension of ATPDEA benefits to all eligible countries – moving the current ‘expiration date’ from December 31, 2009 to December 31, 2012.
Senator Lugar introduced the legislation on Monday, one day before Uruguayan President Tabaré Vásquez made an official visit to the United States.
9) A Scandal Over Spying Intensifies in Colombia
Simon Romero, New York Times, September 17, 2009
Bogotá, Colombia – President Álvaro Uribe, the top ally of the United States in Latin America, is enmeshed in a scandal over growing evidence that his main intelligence agency carried out an extensive illegal spying operation focused on his leading critics, including members of the Supreme Court, opposition politicians, human rights workers and journalists.
The scandal, which has unfolded over months, intensified in recent weeks with the disclosure of an audio intercept of a top official at the United States Embassy. Semana, a respected news magazine, obtained an intercept of a routine phone call between James Faulkner, the embassy’s legal attaché, and a Supreme Court justice investigating ties of Uribe’s political supporters to paramilitary death squads.
Other recordings obtained in investigations by journalists and prosecutors point to resilient multiyear efforts to spy on Uribe’s major critics by the Department of Administrative Security, a 6,500-employee intelligence agency – possibly South America’s largest – that operates directly under the authority of the president’s office.
The agency, known widely by the acronym DAS, has been the focus of accusations of illegal spying before. But this case is sowing fear among Uribe’s critics in the political elite, coming as the president, a conservative populist, presses ahead with a project to secure a third term.
[…] "Uribe is seriously weakening Colombia’s democracy," said Ramiro Bejarano, a lawyer and opposition leader who was a director of DAS in the 1990s. Earlier this year, Semana obtained recordings, transcripts of intercepts and other files from current and former DAS employees that showed that Bejarano was among several senior opposition leaders whose phones were illegally tapped by DAS. Five appointees have led DAS since Uribe came to power in 2002. The first four resigned amid claims of illegal surveillance and are being formally investigated by Colombia’s attorney general.
The accusations against Uribe’s first DAS director, Jorge Noguera, are the most serious. He is charged with organizing the murders of three trade union activists and a well-known sociologist, Alfredo Correa d’Andreis. The charges are based on reports that under his leadership, DAS gave paramilitary leaders their names on an assassination list.
Noguera stepped down in 2005, when Uribe appointed him consul in Milan. Noguera has since left that position, and the government has distanced itself from him. But all of Noguera’s successors – including the current director, Felipe Muñoz, are under scrutiny over reports of irregularities, notably wiretaps, which are illegal in Colombia without a court order. Some of the most recent disclosed intercepts were recorded just weeks ago. Others were made over several years earlier this decade.
For instance, the Special Intelligence Group, a secret DAS unit also known as G-3, operated into 2006 and focused on monitoring human rights groups critical of Uribe’s government, like the Colombian Commission of Jurists and the José Alvear Restrepo Lawyers’ Collective.
"Chills went down my spine when I discovered the lengths that DAS went through to watch my every movement," said Alirio Uribe, a human rights lawyer (no relation to President Uribe) for the José Alvear Restrepo Collective who, through prosecutors’ investigations and congressional testimony, gained access to part of the file that G-3 kept on him and his wife and children.
He compared what he saw in the file, which included photos of his children, transcripts of phone and e-mail conversations, details on his finances and evidence that DAS agents rented an apartment across from his home to monitor him, to "The Lives of Others," the Academy Award-winning 2006 German film about Stasi surveillance in East Germany.
"The DAS was searching for evidence that we received money from the guerrillas, and of course they found none because there was none to find," Uribe said. "What does this say about our society and our form of government if the president’s own intelligence service deems NGO’s its enemies and fit for violations of this kind?"
[…] For the United States, which works closely with DAS on many intelligence-gathering issues, the scandal complicates its warm relations with Uribe’s government, the recipient of more than $5 billion in security aid from Washington this decade.
Ian C. Kelly, a State Department spokesman, said last week that the accusations of illegal wiretapping were "troubling and unacceptable." But in the same statement, he said Colombia’s human rights record was satisfactory enough to meet standards allowing Uribe’s government to receive all of the military assistance included in the $545 million in American aid that Colombia was set to receive this year.
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