Just Foreign Policy News
February 24, 2009
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Guadeloupe Strikes: A Warning to Obama?
DNI Blair said the global economic crisis was the most serious security challenge facing the U.S. A week later, the French government was sending police reinforcements to Guadeloupe after a month of strikes and protests over low pay and high prices followed by clashes between police and protesters. But reportedly the Administration plans to cut the deficit by "scaling back" Obama's promise to double foreign aid. Rep.Frank wants to cut the military budget by 25%; a mere 4% cut in the military budget would pay for the entire increase in foreign aid Obama promised, and the money would then address "the most serious security challenge facing the U.S." instead of being used for corporate welfare for military contractors.
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1) Amnesty International called for an immediate arms embargo on Israel and all Palestinian armed groups, the Guardian reports. Amnesty called on the Obama administration to suspend military aid to Israel. "To a large extent, Israel's military offensive in Gaza was carried out with weapons, munitions and military equipment supplied by the USA and paid for with US taxpayers' money," Amnesty said.
2) Monday's call by Sen. Lugar for a re-assessment of Washington's effort to isolate Cuba increases the likelihood Obama will make substantial changes in policy toward Havana beyond those he promised, writes Jim Lobe for Inter Press Service. A staff report of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee called for the resumption of bilateral talks on drug interdiction and migration, enhanced cooperation on alternative energy development, and easing restrictions on travel and trade. It also urged Havana's re-integration into the World Bank and the Inter-American Development Bank. In the last several weeks, lawmakers have introduced bills that would lift all travel restrictions on trips to Cuba by U.S. citizens.
3) Democrats controlling Congress are loosening restrictions on allowing people of Cuban descent to visit their relatives on the island, AP reports. A bill wrapping up last year's budget would block enforcement of restrictions imposed by Bush on family travel to Cuba. Once signed by Obama, the legislation would allow Cuban-Americans to travel to Cuba once a year to visit relatives, spend up to $170 a day and visit for an unlimited duration. The legislation would also expand the definition of family to include first cousins, aunts and uncles rather than parents, siblings and grandparents, allowing more people to travel under looser rules.
4) Americans by 2-1 approve of President Obama's decision to send 17,000 additional U.S. troops to Afghanistan, USA Today reports. Half of those surveyed say they'd support a decision to send another 13,000 troops. One of four Americans says Obama should reduce the number of U.S. troops in Afghanistan or withdraw them entirely. 49% say the US will be able to establish a stable enough situation in Afghanistan within the next three years to allow most U.S. troops to be withdrawn; 46% say they won't.
5) There was more to the Iraq surge than additional troops, and it is those elements - changing the troops' mission from offense to defense, increasing support for indigenous forces, and stepping up diplomacy within the nation and among its neighbors - that analysts say could be most relevant for Afghanistan, the San Franscisco Chronicle reports. Analysts say the mission of troops should shift from hunting down insurgents to protecting civilians, and focus money on Afghan rather than US troops. "You can get 70 Afghan soldiers for the price of one American soldier deployed to Afghanistan," noted one analyst. Empowering local leaders may require some political reforms - such as allowing governors to be elected locally instead of appointed by Kabul.
6) If Obama really wants to improve relations with Tehran, working with Ahmadinejad may be his best bet, argues Ali Reza Eshraghi in the New York Times. Ahmadinejad may be the most capable of standing up to Tehran's hard-liners. Khatami may not have the clout among conservatives to take the same kinds of risks.
7) U.N. officials said Iran appears to be putting the brakes on key aspects of its controversial nuclear program, the Washington Post reports. Inspectors of the International Atomic Energy Agency found Iran has slowed the expansion of the underground centrifuge facility where it makes enriched uranium. "They haven't really been adding centrifuges, which is a good thing," IAEA chief ElBaradei said. "Our assessment is that it's a political decision."
1) Suspend military aid to Israel, Amnesty urges Obama after detailing US weapons used in Gaza
White phosphorus shells traced back to America
Activists call for arms embargoes on both sides
Rory McCarthy, The Guardian, Monday 23 February 2009
Detailed evidence has emerged of Israel's extensive use of US-made weaponry during its war in Gaza last month, including white phosphorus artillery shells, 500lb bombs and Hellfire missiles.
In a report released today, Amnesty International detailed the weapons used and called for an immediate arms embargo on Israel and all Palestinian armed groups. It called on the Obama administration to suspend military aid to Israel.
The human rights group said that those arming both sides in the conflict "will have been well aware of a pattern of repeated misuse of weapons by both parties and must therefore take responsibility for the violations perpetrated".
The US has long been the largest arms supplier to Israel; under a current 10-year agreement negotiated by the Bush administration the US will provide $30bn in military aid to Israel.
"As the major supplier of weapons to Israel, the USA has a particular obligation to stop any supply that contributes to gross violations of the laws of war and of human rights," said Malcolm Smart, Amnesty's Middle East and North Africa programme director. "To a large extent, Israel's military offensive in Gaza was carried out with weapons, munitions and military equipment supplied by the USA and paid for with US taxpayers' money."
2) Lugar Report Gives Momentum to Anti-Embargo Push
Jim Lobe, Inter Press Service, Feb 23
Monday's call by Sen. Richard Lugar for a major re-assessment of Washington's nearly half-century effort to isolate Cuba increases the likelihood that U.S. President Barack Obama will make substantial changes in policy toward Havana beyond those he promised during his election campaign, according to experts here.
"What's significant is that this is the senior statesman for foreign policy in the Republican Party, someone who doesn't have a long track record of advocating for changes in Cuba policy, who has decided to come out and really put his stamp on this issue by saying that the U.S. embargo doesn't favour our national interest," said Daniel Erickson, a Cuba specialist at the Inter-American Dialogue, a think tank here.
"The fact is that Lugar has pre-empted Obama with his own proposals for changing the policy and in so doing creates a context that is much more favourable to changing the policy beyond the narrow of issue of lifting restrictions on Cuban-American travel and remittances" to the island, added Erickson, author of 'The Cuba Wars,' a recently published book on U.S.-Cuban relations.
"What you are seeing is momentum-building," agreed Geoff Thale, a Cuba specialist at the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA), a human rights group that has long opposed the trade embargo. "With the policy already under review by the administration, Lugar is creating political space for Obama to take stronger action than he otherwise might."
In an introduction to a staff report he released Monday, Lugar, the ranking Republican and former chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said Washington "must recognize the ineffectiveness of our current policy and deal with the Cuban regime in a way that enhances U.S. interests."
"After 47 years... the unilateral embargo on Cuba has failed to achieve its stated purpose of 'bringing democracy to the Cuban people'," Lugar wrote, "while it may have been used as a foil by the regime to demand further sacrifices from Cuba's impoverished population," he noted, adding that the report, entitled 'Changing Cuba Policy - In the United States National Interest', "provides significant insight and a number of important recommendations to advance U.S. interests with Cuba."
The report itself, published on the first anniversary of the transfer of power from former President Fidel Castro to his brother, Raul, and based in part on four-day trip to Cuba by a staff delegation last month, called for the resumption of bilateral talks on drug interdiction and migration, enhanced cooperation on alternative energy development, and easing restrictions on travel and trade.
It also urged Havana's re-integration into western-dominated international institutions, such as the World Bank and the Inter-American Development Bank, among other steps Washington could take as part of process of "sequenced engagement" designed to "develop trust" between the two nations.
"I think he will go beyond the Cuban-American curbs and at least go back to the circumstances (that prevailed) at least at the end of the (Bill) Clinton administration," said William LeoGrande, a Cuba specialist and dean of the School of Government at American University. "Remember, it was a Republican-controlled Senate that approved the sale of food and medicine to Cuba back in 2000, so I don't think there is significant political risk."
In the last several weeks, lawmakers, including Lugar in the Senate, have quietly introduced bills that, if passed, would lift all travel restrictions on trips to Cuba by U.S. citizens, a step that could inflict a decisive blow against the embargo. Such legislation passed in both the House of Representatives and Senate in 2003 and 2004 but was dropped when Bush threatened to veto the bills.
3) US Congress Easing Restrictions on Cuba Travel
AP, February 23, 2009
Democrats controlling Congress are loosening restrictions on allowing people of Cuban descent to visit their relatives on the island.
A huge bill wrapping up last year's budget would block enforcement of restrictions imposed by President Bush in 2004 on family travel to Cuba. The Bush rules limit family visits to once every three years for no more than 14 days. Travel spending is now capped at $50 per day.
Once signed by Obama, the legislation would allow Cuban-Americans to travel to Cuba once a year to visit relatives, spend up to $170 a day and visit for an unlimited duration.
The legislation would also expand the definition of family to include first cousins, aunts and uncles rather than parents, siblings and grandparents. That would allow many more people to travel to the island under the looser rules that apply to Cuban-Americans and legal immigrants.
4) Poll: Most Back Obama's Troop Plan For Afghanistan
Susan Page, USA Today, February 23, 2009
Americans by 2-1 approve of President Obama's decision to send 17,000 additional U.S. troops to Afghanistan despite skepticism over whether they can succeed in stabilizing the security situation there within the next few years.
A USA Today/Gallup Poll taken Friday through Sunday shows a reservoir of support for Obama's first major military decision as president. Two-thirds express approval of his order to expand the U.S. deployment to Afghanistan by 50%; one third disapprove.
Half of those surveyed say they'd support a decision to send another 13,000 troops, which would fulfill the request by U.S. commanders to nearly double the U.S. force in Afghanistan even as troops are being withdrawn from Iraq.
Even so, there is measurable opposition. One of four Americans says Obama should reduce the number of U.S. troops in Afghanistan or withdraw them entirely. That opposition is stronger among Obama's fellow Democrats than among Republicans: 29% of Democrats, compared to 17% of Republicans.
Americans are split over whether the United States will be able to establish a stable enough situation in Afghanistan within the next three years to allow most U.S. troops to be withdrawn. While 49% say they will, another 46% say they won't. Most of those predict a stalemate between the United States and the Taliban.
5) Applying Iraq's Broader Lessons In Afghanistan
Matthew B. Stannard, San Fransicso Chronicle, Tuesday, February 24, 2009
As the United States and NATO craft a new strategy for Afghanistan, they are likely to apply counterinsurgency lessons learned at great cost during the war in Iraq. Last week, President Obama ordered 17,000 more troops to Afghanistan, prompting comparisons to the "surge" strategy in Iraq.
But there was more to the surge than just additional troops, and it is those elements - changing the troops' mission from offense to defense, increasing support for indigenous forces, and stepping up diplomacy within the nation and among its neighbors - that analysts say could be most relevant for Afghanistan.
First, many analysts say, the mission of U.S. and NATO troops should shift from hunting down insurgents to protecting civilians. "The biggest lesson from Iraq - and it holds true in Afghanistan - is the center of gravity is the population, and the security of the population, in a counterinsurgency," Johnson said.
A more fundamental problem, Nagl said, is that the size of the Afghan force has been defined by what Afghanistan can afford, a problem he suggested the international community should address with money, not military. "You can get 70 Afghan soldiers for the price of one American soldier deployed to Afghanistan. Just on a pure pocketbook issue, this is the way to win this war," he said.
Reaching out to other nations - friendly and otherwise - is another component many analysts hope to see in a new Afghanistan strategy. Afghanistan is within the spheres of influence of Iran, China, Russia, India and Pakistan, home of the restive tribal areas where Afghanistan's insurgents find safe haven.
Diplomatic hands must also be extended to the Afghans themselves - another lesson from the surge in Iraq, during which local militias and leaders were given financial and political incentive to cooperate.
"The biggest thing we're learning from Iraq is the Tip O'Neill thing, which is 'All politics are local,'" Barfield said. "The biggest thing we did was in Iraq was we sat down ... with people and said, 'What are our common interests?' "
The same thing is needed in Afghanistan, Johnson said, but using methods that reflect the diffused village culture of the rural insurgency.
So far, he said, the United States has focused on supporting the central government. Instead, Johnson envisions the deployment of perhaps 200 teams combining U.S. and Afghan troops and civilian specialists in subjects such as agriculture and hydrology.
Empowering local leaders may require some political reforms - such as allowing governors to be elected locally instead of appointed by Kabul - and risks reawakening warlordism if it is not handled with care, analysts warn.
It also could mean abandoning the quest for a Western-style centralized democratic government in Afghanistan, and instead focusing on simpler ambitions, Nagl said: preventing the country from becoming a terrorist sanctuary or triggering a regional crisis, and helping the Afghan people build a sustainable government of their own design.
6) Our Friend In Tehran
Ali Reza Eshraghi, New York Times, February 23, 2009
[Eshraghi, former newspaper editor in Iran, is visiting scholar at the University of California.]
Mahmoud Ahmadinejad - the Iranian leader Washington loves to hate - has only a few more months left in his presidential term. But this is not cause for celebration. If President Barack Obama really wants to improve relations with Tehran, working with Ahmadinejad may be his best bet. In a speech earlier this month commemorating the Islamic revolution's anniversary, an event normally reserved for anti-American rhetoric, Ahmadinejad declared Iran's readiness to talk to the United States. The election of a new president in June could slam shut a rare window of opportunity.
Obama seems to understand this. He recently said that he will be looking for "openings" in the months ahead for face-to-face talks with Iran. President Nicolas Sarkozy of France cautioned that it would be wiser to hold off on talks until after the Iranian presidential elections. But this would be a bad idea. While it is too early to predict the elections' outcome, Ahmadinejad is hardly guaranteed to win. Perhaps Sarkozy believes that the victory of a more moderate president, like Mohammad Khatami, would set the stage for more productive talks with Iran. In reality, Ahmadinejad may be the most capable of standing up to Tehran's hard-liners. Khatami may not have the courage - or the clout among conservatives - to take the same kinds of risks.
But Ahmadinejad's boldest moves have been toward the United States. Shortly after the American presidential election, Ahmadinejad wrote a letter to Obama congratulating him on his historic victory. This marked the first time, at least since the revolution, that an Iranian leader congratulated the winner of an election in the United States. To be sure, some wonder if this friendly gesture reflected official sentiment in Tehran. Ahmadinejad is, after all, not the most powerful or influential person in his country. Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei basically steers Iran's foreign policy. But it is foolish to believe that Ahmadinejad was truly acting alone. He could not have sent a congratulatory letter to Obama without at least the tacit permission of the supreme leader.
Obama has expressed interest in engaging in dialogue with Iran, and there is no time to waste. Over the next few months he should initiate negotiations without preconditions and establish formal diplomatic ties with Iran. Ahmadinejad, for all his faults, has taken unprecedented steps to reach out to the United States. Iran's next leader may not be able to do the same. Obama must seize the opportunity to shake the Iranian president's outstretched hand.
7) Iran Easing Aspects Of Nuclear Program
Report Cites Lag at Centrifuge Facility
Joby Warrick, Washington Post, Friday, February 20, 2009; A14
Iran appears to be putting the brakes on key aspects of its controversial nuclear program, U.N. officials said yesterday in a report that nonetheless showed Tehran edging closer to nuclear-weapons capability.
Inspectors of the International Atomic Energy Agency found that Iran has slowed the expansion of the underground centrifuge facility where it makes enriched uranium, a key ingredient in nuclear bombs, according to the agency's report. The slower pace was interpreted by some U.N. officials as a conciliatory gesture in advance of any diplomatic overtures by the Obama administration.
"The pace of installing and bringing centrifuges into operation has slowed quite considerably since August," a senior U.N. official said in briefing journalists on the new IAEA inspection report. The official, speaking on the condition that he remain anonymous, said the agency "has no information" to explain the slowdown.
Yet, the official said, while curtailing growth in some areas, Iran continues to amass enriched uranium and, in theory, may have already acquired enough to make a nuclear bomb. Such a move would require months or years of additional work, after Iran first expelled U.N. inspectors from the country, he said.
IAEA inspectors have seen no evidence that Iran is preparing to take such a step, and the agency is confident that none of Iran's enriched uranium is being secretly removed for weapons work. "All the material is under containment and surveillance," the U.N. official said.
The new details were contained in a pair of IAEA inspection reports prepared by the nuclear watchdog in advance of a meeting of IAEA member states next month. On Tuesday, IAEA chief Mohamed ElBaradei hinted at the report's findings at a news conference and suggested that Iran may be attempting to send a positive message to President Obama. "They haven't really been adding centrifuges, which is a good thing," ElBaradei said. "Our assessment is that it's a political decision."
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