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Congress Must Debate the Libya War

1:12 pm in Uncategorized by Robert Naiman

The U.S. is now at war in a third Muslim country, according to the “official tally” (that is, counting Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya but not Pakistan or Yemen, for example.) But Congress has never authorized or debated the U.S. military intervention in Libya. (A sharply disputed claim holds that the Pakistan and Yemen actions are covered by the 2001 authorization of military force, but no-one has dared to argue that the 2001 AUMF covers Libya.)

Some will no doubt claim that the President is acting in Libya within his authority as Commander-in-Chief. But this is an extremely dangerous claim.

To put it crudely: as a matter of logic, if President Obama can bomb Libya without Congressional authorization, then President Palin can bomb Iran without Congressional authorization. If, God forbid, we ever get to that fork in the road, you can bet your bottom dollar that the advocates of bombing Iran will invoke Congressional silence now as justification for their claims of unilateral Presidential authority to bomb anywhere, anytime.

Some Members of Congress have strongly objected to President Obama’s bombing of Libya without Congressional approval.

On the Democratic side, John Larson, chair of the Democratic Caucus in the House, called for President Obama to seek congressional approval. Reps. Jerrold Nadler, Donna Edwards, Mike Capuano, Dennis Kucinich, Maxine Waters, Rob Andrews, Sheila Jackson Lee, Barbara Lee and Eleanor Holmes Norton “all strongly raised objections to the constitutionality of the president’s actions” during a Saturday call organized by Larson, the Politico reports.

“They consulted the Arab League. They consulted the United Nations. They did not consult the United States Congress,” one Democrat[ic] lawmaker said of the White House. “They’re creating wreckage, and they can’t obviate that by saying there are no boots on the ground. … There aren’t boots on the ground; there are Tomahawks in the air.”

“Almost everybody who spoke was opposed to any unilateral actions or decisions being made by the president, and most of us expressed our constitutional concerns. There should be a resolution and there should be a debate so members of Congress can decide whether or not we enter in whatever this action is being called,” added another House Democrat opposed to the Libyan operation.

“Whose side are we on? This appears to be more of a civil war than some kind of a revolution. Who are protecting? Are we with the people that are supposedly opposed to [Qadhafi]? You think they have a lot of people with him? If he is deposed, who will we be dealing with? There are a lot of questions here from members.”

On the Republican side, Senator Richard Lugar, ranking Member on Senate Foreign Relations, told CBS‘ Face the Nation yesterday that if we’re going to war with Libya, we ought to have a declaration of war by the Congress:

A memo distributed to Republican aides in the Senate Armed Services and Foreign Relations Committee made the case that Congressional authorization is necessary and used Barack Obama’s own words to make the case, ABC reported.

The memo quotes Obama when he was in the Senate and there were concerns that then-President George W. Bush would take strike Iran.

“The president does not have power under the Constitution to unilaterally authorize a military attack in a situation that does not involve stopping an actual or imminent threat to the nation,” the memo quotes then-Senator Obama saying on Dec. 20, 2007.

In times like this, you can be sure some journalist will marvel at the “strange bedfellows” coalition of Democrats and Republicans standing up to the President. But there’s nothing strange about this bed. Everyone who wants to live in a constitutional republic belongs in this bed. Everyone who wants to hold the Administration to its promise of a “limited intervention” aimed at “protecting civilians,” rather than overthrowing the Libyan government, and to avoid “mission creep” from the former to the latter, belongs in this bed.

Congressional debate is a key means of compelling the Administration to clearly state its case and its objectives, to be honest and transparent about the potential cost of its proposed policies, and to limit its actions to its stated objectives; and to force Members of Congress to go on the record, in opposition or in support, and to state clearly, if they support, what it is that they support. On cost, for example: each Tomahawk missile is reported to cost on the order of a million dollars. So, firing 110 of them over the weekend cost about $100 million, far more than House Republicans cut from National Public Radio with great fanfare. Shouldn’t Congress consider this expenditure?

Two days into the military intervention, there was already sharp dispute over whether the military intervention that has unfolded has already gone beyond what the UN Security Council authorized and what the Arab League endorsed.

Yesterday, the New York Times reported:

A day after a summit meeting in Paris set the military operation in motion, some Arab participants in the agreement expressed unhappiness with the way the strikes were unfolding. The former chairman of the Arab League, Amr Moussa, told Egyptian state media that he was calling for an emergency Arab League meeting to discuss the situation in the Arab world and particularly Libya.

“What is happening in Libya differs from the aim of imposing a no-fly zone, and what we want is the protection of civilians and not the bombardment of more civilians,” he said, referring to Libyan government claims that allied bombardment had killed dozens of civilians in and near Tripoli.

Today, Moussa appeared to walk back these remarks.

But with Benghazi apparently no longer under Libyan government threat, and with Western bombs falling in Tripoli, this dispute over the scope of Western bombing is virtually certain to intensify.

You can debate the constitutional issue of war powers until the cows come home; but as a practical matter, if Congress doesn’t formally address the issue, such debate isn’t very relevant. If a majority of the House and the Senate support the present US military intervention in Libya, let them say so on the record, at least, by voting for a resolution to authorize military force. If the majority of the House or Senate are opposed, let them say so on the record. A minimum standard for transparency in government is that the House and the Senate go on the record for or against a new war.

UPDATE: Former MoveOn and Democracy for America staffer Ilya Sheyman, who is exploring a run for Congress in Illinois’ 10th Congressional District, has a petition calling for Congress to debate the war in Libya.

Robert Naiman is Policy Director at Just Foreign Policy.

Is David Petraeus a ‘Lying Liar’ About the Drawdown?

9:10 am in Uncategorized by Robert Naiman

"Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them" was former non-Senator Al Franken’s 2003 examination of the lies and distortions of right-wing pundits and politicians.

Such a book, if it were written today, should certainly include a fair and balanced look at some of the lying liars still running our foreign policy: in particular, at Mr. David Petraeus. (Mr. Franken might not be the best candidate for writing such a book today, given that he voted recently against Senator Feingold’s amendment requiring the President to establish a timetable for military withdrawal from Afghanistan, even as Democratic leaders like Senator Durbin supported Feingold’s amendment.)

Harsh words about Mr. Petraeus? Yes. Justified? Absolutely.

Consider: Mr. Petraeus has been leading a campaign of "domestic information operations" to browbeat Congress and the American people to accept limiting the size of, and possibly even a delay of, the drawdown of US troops from Afghanistan in July 2011 that President Obama promised when he acceded to the military’s demand for a "surge" of 30,000 troops in Afghanistan last fall.

In a recent interview with NBC‘s "Meet the Press," Petraeus implied that he might recommend against any withdrawal of US forces next summer, causing the White House to reaffirm its commitment to the July 2012 deadline in response, saying, "The date is not negotiable."

"Certainly, yes," [Petraeus] said when the show’s host, David Gregory, asked him if, depending on how the war was proceeding, he might tell the president that a drawdown should be delayed.

These words make David Petraeus a ‘lying liar.’ Because asking for more time if the "surge" didn’t work within 18 months is exactly what David Petraeus promised not to do when the "surge" was decided.

As Newsweek reported, in an excerpt from Jonathan Alter’s book "The Promise" (all emphasis mine):

Obama was moving … toward conclusions and eventually presidential orders. This would not be a five- to seven-year nation-building commitment, much less an open-ended one. The time frame the military was offering for both getting in and getting out must shrink dramatically, he said. There would be no nationwide counterinsurgency strategy; the Pentagon was to present a "targeted" plan for protecting population centers, training Afghan security forces, and beginning a real – not a token – withdrawal within 18 months of the escalation.

On Sunday, Nov. 29, having made his decision, the president decided to hold a final Oval Office meeting with the Pentagon brass and commanders in the region who would carry out his orders. He wanted to put it directly to the military: Gates, Mullen, Cartwright, Petraeus, and national-security adviser Jim Jones, without any of the others. Obama asked Biden to come back early from Thanksgiving in Nantucket to join him for the meeting.

As they walked along the portico toward the Oval Office, Biden asked if the new policy of beginning a significant withdrawal in 2011 was a direct presidential order that couldn’t be countermanded by the military. Obama said yes.


Inside the Oval Office, Obama asked Petraeus, "David, tell me now. I want you to be honest with me. You can do this in 18 months?"

"Sir, I’m confident we can train and hand over to the ANA [Afghan National Army] in that time frame," Petraeus replied.

"Good. No problem," the president said. "If you can’t do the things you say you can in 18 months, then no one is going to suggest we stay, right?"

"Yes, sir, in agreement," Petraeus said.

"Yes, sir," Mullen said.


The president then encapsulated the new policy: in quickly, out quickly, focus on Al Qaeda, and build the Afghan Army. "I’m not asking you to change what you believe, but if you don’t agree with me that we can execute this, say so now," he said. No one said anything.

"Tell me now," Obama repeated.

"Fully support, sir," Mullen said.

"Ditto," Petraeus said.


If conditions didn’t stabilize enough to begin an orderly withdrawal of U.S. forces (or if they deteriorated further), that would undermine the Pentagon’s belief in the effectiveness of more troops. The commanders couldn’t say they didn’t have enough time to make the escalation work because they had specifically said, under explicit questioning, that they did.

As far as I am aware, Mr. Petraeus has never disputed Mr. Alter’s account of these events.

And as far as I am aware, no reporter has asked Mr. Petraeus during his current media tour about the contradiction between his current advocacy for delaying the withdrawal and his "Yes, sir" under explicit questioning that he would not ask for more time. I look forward to being corrected on this point.

No doubt, some will respond cynically to the blatant contradiction between what Petraeus is saying now and what he said in November. "So, Petraeus is a lying politician – what else is news?" But the point is that while Petraeus acts like a lying politician, he is treated by the mainstream media as if he were beyond politics, above criticism, merely a professional military man giving his neutral, unbiased, impartial professional military advice. That lack of scrutiny makes Petraeus a more dangerous liar than a politician.

A friend claims he has a reliable method for getting kicked off a jury. When the judge asks him if he is more likely to believe the testimony of a policeman over that of any other citizen, my friend will say that he is less likely to believe the testimony of a policeman, explaining that policemen, compared to other citizens, are almost never prosecuted for perjury, so they have less disincentive to lie under oath, and a person evaluating a policeman’s testimony compared to other testimony should take that into account.

The same considerations apply to Mr. Petraeus’ treatment by the media. Because they subject him to less scrutiny than they do to ordinary politicians, even when he is making political statements – and the decision to withdraw or not to withdraw troops is fundamentally a political decision, not a military one – Petraeus has less disincentive to lie than other politicians.

This week, the number of U.S. deaths in the Afghanistan war since President Obama took office surpassed the number of deaths under President Bush (download a web counter here; spread the news here.)

This should be the occasion for a fundamental rethink of what we are doing in Afghanistan, including a debate on establishing a timetable to complete a military withdrawal. The last thing we need to be doing now is handing over decision-making to an unelected leader named David Petraeus. If his clear statement in November that he would not ask for more time cannot now be trusted, why should we now trust anything else he has to say about questions that are fundamentally political, especially the drawdown?

Meanwhile, Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting is appealing to NBC to have a guest on "Meet the Press" to talk about the war besides Mr. Petraeus and his disciples. You can support FAIR’s effort here.

By U.S. Deaths, As of Today, Afghanistan is Obama’s War

10:00 am in Uncategorized by Robert Naiman

575. That’s how many U.S. soldiers have lost their lives in the Afghanistan war since Barack Obama became President at noon on January 20, 2009, according to the website, which tracks U.S. soldiers’ deaths using reports received from the Department of Defense – and which is widely cited in the media as a source of information on U.S. deaths.

According to the same website, 575 is also the number of U.S. soldiers who lost their lives in the Afghanistan war during the Presidency of George W. Bush.

Therefore, total U.S. deaths in Afghanistan have doubled in Afghanistan under President Obama, and when the next U.S. soldier is reported dead, the majority of U.S. deaths in Afghanistan will have occurred under President Obama.

This grim landmark should be reported in the media, and White House reporters should ask Robert Gibbs to comment on it. It is quite relevant to Gibbs’ implicit attempt to marginalize critics of the war in Afghanistan by claiming that they wouldn’t be satisfied with anything less than the abolition of the Pentagon. The majority of Americans – including the overwhelming majority of Democrats, and at least 60% of House Democrats – are deeply skeptical of the Administration’s Afghanistan policy not because they are knee-jerk pacifists – obviously they are not – but because the human and financial cost of the war is rising, we have nothing to show for the increased cost, and the Administration has not articulated a clear plan to reach the endgame; indeed, Administration officials, led by General Petraeus, have just launched a public relations campaign to undermine the substantial drawdown in troops next summer that Democratic leaders in Congress, including Speaker Nancy Pelosi, have said that they expect.

This grim landmark is not reported directly by the website – you have to have to go to the right places on the website to retrieve the data and then calculate it from the data given. The data retrieval and arithmetic is straightforward, but I will carefully explain it here so that any reader – and particular any reporter and news editor – can easily reproduce it.

The top-level organization of the website is divided into two parts, according to the designations previously given to the "two wars" by the Department of Defense: "Operation Iraqi Freedom" and "Operation Enduring Freedom." The latter designation includes not just U.S. deaths in Afghanistan, but also non-Iraq U.S. deaths in the conflicts formerly known collectively as the "Global War on Terror"; for example, it includes deaths in the Philippines and Djibouti, far away from Afghanistan.

But you can find in the database U.S. deaths in Afghanistan since 2001 by year and month by first going to this link, and then, underneath the table that initially appears under "Fatalities by Year and Month," choosing in the pop-up menus, "US" for nationality, "All Fatalities" for Fatality Type, and "Afghanistan Only" for Theatre.

You should then see a table that looks like this (view as web page) (download excel spread sheet).

As shown beneath the table, when you sum the yearly totals you get:

Total: 1150
2001-2008: 564
2009-2010: 586

But this wouldn’t give the right figures for Bush and Obama, because it would allocate all of January 2009 to Obama, when he was only President from noon on January 20.

Subtracting the 14 deaths of January 2009 from the total for 2009-10 gives:

2001-2008: 564
2009-2010 (not counting 1/09): 572

You can find the daily data for January 2009 by going to this link:

Scrolling down to January 2009, of the 14 deaths in Afghanistan (there was a January 30 death in Djibouti), 11 took place before January 20 and 3 took place after January 20.

Adding 11 to 564 and 3 to 572 gives:

Bush: 575
Obama: 575

News media generally like landmarks as a way to visit and explain the U.S. death toll from the wars.

This landmark is surely a worthy candidate for consideration.

I expect Robert Gibbs to be asked about it.

Robert Naiman is Policy Director at Just Foreign Policy.

Speaker Pelosi, Put Afghan Drawdown On Record w/McGovern-Obey

11:58 am in Uncategorized by Robert Naiman

With the House poised to consider the Pentagon’s request for $33 billion for more death in Afghanistan, Speaker Nancy Pelosi has told the Huffington Post she expects a "serious drawdown" of U.S. troops from Afghanistan in the summer of 2011. The House Rules Committee has now approved an amendment for consideration on the war supplemental that will allow Speaker Pelosi to "put her money where her mouth is."

Some folks in Washington who want the war and occupation in Afghanistan to continue indefinitely are trying to pretend there has been no commitment made for a significant drawdown, or indeed any drawdown at all, in the summer of 2011. Speaker Pelosi is in a unique position to weigh in on this question, since the House could put the drawdown in writing when it considers the war supplemental, by approving an amendment introduced by Representatives McGovern and Obey to try to lock in the drawdown.

In Jonathan Alter’s book, The Promise, Vice-President Biden told us that we can "bet" on "a whole lot of people moving out" in July 2011. Under pressure, presumably from people in the Pentagon who want a "serious drawdown" in July 2011 to be hostage to "conditions," Biden’s people have tried to walk back this statement by saying it was an "offhand comment" made as Biden was leaving an interview.

But if you actually read Alter’s text, "offhand comment" is hard to swallow. Here’s the paragraph:

At the conclusion of an interview in his West Wing office, Biden was adamant. “In July of 2011 you’re going to see a whole lot of people moving out. Bet on it,” Biden said as he wheeled to leave the room, late for lunch with the president. He turned at the door and said once more, “Bet. On. It.”

"Bet on it." Isn’t that what we say to each other in English when we’re very, very sure of something? How about when we Repeat. It. For. Emphasis? When Scarlett O’Hara said, "As God is my witness, I’ll never be hungry again," was that an "offhand comment," too?

More importantly, in the context of Alter’s account, Biden’s comment isn’t an outlier; it’s the main theme.

Read the rest of this entry →

Speaker Pelosi, War Funding Next Week is No “Emergency”

3:34 pm in Uncategorized by Robert Naiman

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi says she is committed to passing an emergency war supplemental before the July Fourth recess, Roll Call reports.

Let us be perfectly clear, as President Obama might say. There is no "emergency" requiring the House to throw another $33 billion into our increasingly bloody and pointless occupation of Afghanistan before we all go off to celebrate the anniversary of our Declaration of Independence from foreign occupation.

This fact – that there is no emergency requiring an immediate appropriation – is absolutely critical, because the claim that there is some "emergency" requiring an immediate infusion of cash, otherwise there will be some new apocalyptic catastrophe, is the means by which the Pentagon and the White House hope to dodge two sets of questions about the war supplemental urgently being asked by Democratic leaders in the House.

Secretary Gates has complained that if the war money is not approved by July 4, the Pentagon might have to do "stupid things" like furlough civilian Pentagon employees. I am not in favor of furloughs, even of Pentagon employees (can we furlough someone who approves breaking into Afghans’ homes in the middle of the night and killing pregnant women?), but as "stupid" goes, furloughing Pentagon employees doesn’t hold a candle to laying off public school teachers, which is the likely consequence of allowing the Pentagon and the White House dodge their critics in the House.

The war funding proposal has been sitting in the inbox for six months. What kind of "emergency" is that? The $33 billion represents about five percent of the gargantuan Pentagon budget. The Pentagon can live with a little more delay, while we get answers to some urgent questions.

The first set of questions the Pentagon and the White House want to dodge can be crudely summarized as: now that we’ve dumped McChrystal, what the hell are we doing in Afghanistan?

Yesterday, thirty Members of the House sent a letter to Speaker Pelosi, demanding that the questions about the war raised by Michael Hastings’ Rolling Stone article be answered before the House votes on the Pentagon’s request for more money.

According to Hastings’ article, "Instead of beginning to withdraw troops next year, as Obama promised, the military hopes to ramp up its counterinsurgency campaign even further." A senior military official says, "There’s a possibility we could ask for another surge of U.S. forces next summer," which is a pants-on-fire contradiction to the promises made when the last increase of forces was announced. Meanwhile, McChrystal’s Chief of Operatons, Maj. Gen. Bill Mayville, said: "It’s not going to look like a win…This is going to end in an argument." If it’s going to end in an argument anyway – Mayville is surely right – why shed more blood? Don’t we have a right and obligation to demand a straightforward and concrete accounting of what the additional bloodshed is purportedly going to achieve?

Ninety-eight Members of the House – almost a quarter – have now signed on to legislation demanding that President Obama establish a timetable for military withdrawal from Afghanistan. Shall the House not debate establishing a timetable for military withdrawal before voting on more money for pointless killing?

The second set of questions the Pentagon and the White House want to dodge can be crudely summarized as: what the hell is the federal government doing about Main Street’s economic crisis? While it is not the responsibility of the Pentagon to do something about Main Street’s economic crisis, it is the obligation of the Pentagon to defend more Pentagon spending as the best use of public resources, at a time when states and local governments are looking at mass layoffs of public employees, including school teachers.

This is the question that House Appropriations chair David Obey put on the table when he said he would sit on the war appropriation until the White House acted on House Democratic demands to unlock federal money to aid the states in averting a wave of layoffs of teachers and other public employees.

But on money to save teachers’ jobs, the White House is still Absent Without Leave, hiding behind the purported threat of a Senate filibuster, just as it did on the public option for health insurance. If it fought for teachers, the White House could win. But it isn’t fighting, because unlike the war funding, teachers’ jobs are not a White House priority.

If we want this to change, Obey has to be able to make good on his threat. And that means the House has to be willing to call the Pentagon’s bluff.

Robert Naiman is Policy Director at Just Foreign Policy.

Reset: Stephen Kinzer’s Vision of a New U.S. Relationship with Turkey and Iran

6:57 am in Uncategorized by Robert Naiman

Until quite recently, it seemed that Turkey had a clearly defined role in the Middle East, from the standpoint of U.S. policy. They were the "good Muslims," who were part of NATO, who contributed troops to U.S. wars, and who had good relations with Israel.

In the past few weeks, therefore, some Americans may have been startled to see the government of Turkey seemingly playing a very different role. First, together with Brazil, Turkey negotiated a nuclear fuel swap agreement with Iran to defuse the standoff over Iran’s nuclear program and forestall a controversial U.S./Israeli push for new sanctions against Iran at the U.N. Although the deal was very similar to one proposed by the Obama Administration – and Brazil and Turkey had a letter from Obama encouraging them to press forward with the deal – Obama Administration officials dismissed the deal, and far from being grateful to Turkey and Brazil, made a show of being angry. But instead of being chastened, Turkey and Brazil insisted their deal was good – invoking their letter from Obama to demonstrate their case – and insisted that the U.S. should pursue it.

Meanwhile – with much more spectacular results, as it turned out – Turkey gave indirect backing to an international convoy of ships carrying humanitarian aid to Gaza in protest and defiance of the U.S.-approved Israeli-Egyptian siege of Gaza’s civilian population. When the Israeli military attacked the convoy, killing nine Turkish citizens, Turkey threatened to break diplomatic relations with Israel, unless Israel apologized, agreed to an international investigation of the attack, and lifted the blockade on Gaza. Meanwhile, Turkey sharply criticized the Obama Administration’s unwillingness to condemn the Israeli attack or to support an international investigation. In the wake of this high-profile confrontation, Egypt announced that it would leave its border with Gaza open indefinitely, and went so far as to claim credit for having "broken the blockade."

Does Turkey’s new, more independent foreign policy represent a threat to America? Or might Turkey’s new policies present an opportunity for a new alignment that addresses and de-escalates the conflicts of the broader Middle East?

Since many Americans know little about Turkey, many may find it plausible when Liz Cheney claims that "it looks like" Turkey is "supporting Hamas" in "wanting to destroy the state of Israel."

It’s a very opportune time to hear from former New York Times correspondent and bestselling author Stephen Kinzer, whose new book "Reset: Iran, Turkey, and America’s Future" was published Tuesday. Kinzer argues that the world has changed sufficiently since the Cold War so that a fundamental rebalancing of U.S. relationships in the Middle East, away from excessive attachment to the current policies of the Israeli and Saudi governments and towards greater cooperation with Turkey and Iran, would be in the interests of the United States. [Kinzer will be speaking about the book in a free webinar Friday; here are some other upcoming Kinzer appearances.]

Kinzer’s case for a new relationship with Turkey and Iran may strike many Americans as unintuitive, particularly in the case of Iran. But Kinzer’s basic point is that a strategic vision for the future isn’t merely an extrapolation from the present: it’s an ability to envision a future realignment that would be fundamentally different, just as President Nixon saw the possibility for a fundamentally different relationship between the U.S. and China, based on "mutual interests and mutual respect," as President Obama put it in his speech to the Turkish Parliament in April 2009.

Kinzer begins his case with the story of Howard Baskerville, the Rachel Corrie, if you will, of U.S.-Iran relations: a young American whose life and death suggests the possibility of a different relationship between the U.S. and Iran, one based on sympathy for Iranian national aspirations. Baskerville was a Presbyterian schoolteacher from Nebraska working in the city of Tabriz when royalist forces supported by Russia and Britain – who had agreed between themselves in 1907 to partition the country into spheres of influence – laid siege to the city during the Constitutional Revolution. Baskerville – like the nine Turks – was trying to break the siege when he was killed by a sniper in April 1909. Today, Kinzer notes, Baskerville is among the most honored foreigners in Iran: schools and streets are named after him; a bust of him is on display at Constitution House in Tabriz.

Another American in Iran in this period whose contribution suggested the possibility of a different relationship between the U.S. and Iran was Morgan Shuster, appointed Treasurer General of Persia by the Iranian parliament in May 1911. The goal of his appointment was to assist the Iranian Parliament in resisting British and Russian control. Shuster argued that it was essential for the effective functioning of the Iranian state for it to be able to collect taxes – including from wealthy landowners under British and Russian protection. The Russians and the British had other ideas, and in December 1911, Russia demanded that Parliament dismiss Shuster in 48 hours, and promise not to employ foreigners without the permission of the Russians and the British. When Parliament refused to comply, Russian troops occupied Tehran, and under Russian and British pressure, Shuster was dismissed.

In February 1921, in the face of widespread Iranian resistance to direct British control, the commander of British forces in Iran, General Edmond Ironside, told Reza Shah that if he staged a coup, Britain would not object. Four days later, Reza Shah successfully carried out a coup. Although Reza Shah came to power with British support, he took some measures to limit British influence, and when he tried to keep Iran neutral in World War II, Britain forced him to abdicate in favor of his son, Mohammad Reza Shah, in September 1941.

After the war, many Iranians wanted and expected more democracy and more freedom from British control, and by 1950 Mohammad Mossadegh was a key standard-bearer of these two ideas. When the American oil company Aramco made a fifty-fifty split of oil revenues with Saudi Arabia, Iranians demanded the same deal from the British-controlled Anglo-Iranian Oil Company (now known as British Petroleum.) But the British refused to raise Iran’s 16 percent share. In response to the British refusal to negotiate, in the spring of 1951, the Parliament voted to nationalize Iran’s oil and made Mossadegh Prime Minister.

To prevent Iran from successfully reclaiming its oil, Britain ordered all British oil technicians to return home, mounted a boycott campaign to make sure oil technicians from other countries did not come to Iran, persuaded oil companies in other countries, including the US, to refuse to buy any oil Iran produced, imposed a naval blockade on Iran to prevent tankers from entering to pick up oil, and froze Iran’s accounts in London and stopped exporting key commodities to Iran. Sound familiar?

These measures, of course, brought tremendous economic hardship to Iran. Unemployment and poverty increased. But the Iranian government under Mossadegh refused to capitulate to British pressure. Britain tried its hand at "democracy promotion" – bribing members of Iran’s parliament to support a no-confidence notion against Mossadegh – but their plotting was discovered, and Mossadegh shut down the British embassy, sending home all the British "diplomats" – including the British spies who had been assigned the task of overthrowing him. The British turned to the Truman Administration, but Truman wasn’t interested in promoting regime change in Iran, believing that the impasse was largely due to excessive British greed. But the incoming Eisenhower Administration was easily sold on the idea of promoting regime change.

How did CIA operative Kermit Roosevelt orchestrate the coup that ousted Mossadegh? Today it would be called "democracy promotion," and perhaps it would be funded by the so-called National Endowment for Democracy. Roosevelt bribed "newspaper columnists, mullahs, and members of Parliament" to denounce Mossaedegh; they called him "an atheist, a Jew, a homosexual, and even a British agent," Kinzer notes. Roosevelt hired a street gang to rampage through Tehran, "firing pistols and smashing windows while shouting, ‘We love Mossadegh and Communism!’" Then Roosevelt hired a second street gang to attack the first one, "seeking to portray Mossadegh as unable to control his own capital city." A mob of several thousand, unaware that it was acting under the direction of the CIA, converged on Mossadegh’s house. Military units began shelling the house. Hundreds of people were killed. Mossadegh was arrested and imprisoned for three years, followed by house arrest for life.

If Truman’s view had won out rather than Eisenhower’s, and the US had not overthrown Mossadegh, perhaps today we would know Mossadegh as a George Washington of Iran. The "murder of Hamlet’s dad" of the Kinzer story is that instead of supporting a George Washington of Iran, we overthrew him, because he nationalized Iran’s oil. And the central question of the Kinzer story is not avenging the death of Hamlet’s dad, but trying to rectify it, with the goal being that the end of the story not be a stage littered with bodies but a negotiated agreement and a new relationship.

To illustrate the enduring impact of the coup on U.S.-Iran relations, Kinzer relates a story told by Bruce Laingen, the senior American diplomat held hostage in Iran after students took over the US embassy in 1979, motivated in part by fears of another US-backed coup. One day, after Laingen had spent more than a year as a hostage, one of his captors visited him in his cell. Laingen exploded, shouting that this hostage-taking was immoral, illegal and "totally wrong." His captor replied: "You have nothing to complain about. The United States took our whole country hostage in 1953."

Yet in response to a reporter’s question in February 1980 about the coup – almost a year before Laingen’s interaction with the guard – then-President Carter said, "That’s ancient history, and I don’t think it’s appropriate or helpful for me to go into the propriety of something that happened 30 years ago."

If it’s true, as many are fond of saying, that "those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it," then an obvious corollary would be that those who want to repeat history have a vested interest in keeping history off the table of discussion. And when one considers the policies being advocated by the likes of the Washington Post editorial board towards Iran today, they bear a strong resemblance to the policies adopted by Britain and the U.S. towards Iran in 1953: sanctions, "democracy promotion," regime change.

In his speech in Cairo a year ago, President Obama acknowledged US involvement in the 1953 coup, the first US President to do so. "In the middle of the Cold War, the United States played a role in the overthrow of a democratically elected Iranian government," Obama said.

Of course, the US intervention did not end with the 1953 coup; for the next twenty-five years, the US strongly backed the Shah’s autocratic rule. Kinzer writes: "With the United States firmly behind him, the shah became an absolute dictator." Several members of Congress raised questions about human rights; they were told that the shah had made "important changes" and there was a "gratifying trend" toward respect for dissent. But as Kinzer notes, Amnesty International observed in 1975 that "no country in the world has a worse record in human rights than Iran."

Meanwhile, President Carter, who had claimed that "human rights is the soul of our foreign policy," had this to say to the Shah in late 1977: "Iran, under the great leadership of the Shah, is an island of stability in one of the more troubled areas of the world. This is a great tribute to you, your Majesty, and to your leadership – and to the respect, admiration, and love which your people give to you." A year later, throngs of Iranian were chanting: "Death to the American Shah!" And in January 1979, the Shah fled.

But even after the Shah fell, from the point of view of many Iranians, U.S. intervention in Iran did not cease. It is believed by many Iranians that the U.S. had a hand in Saddam Hussein’s decision to invade Iran in 1980. What is beyond dispute is that the US vigorously backed Iraq during the war, at a time when "American intelligence officers knew that Iraqi commanders would employ chemical weapons" against Iran, according to an August 2002 report in the New York Times, which noted that "Iraq’s use of gas in that conflict is repeatedly cited by President Bush … as justification for ”regime change” in Iraq."

But despite this history, Kinzer notes, after the September 11 attacks, Iran actively collaborated with the U.S. against al Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan, common foes. The State Department produced a report saying that the U.S. had a "real opportunity" to remake its relationship with Iran, a report endorsed by the CIA. But in January 2002, to the bewilderment of the Iranians, President Bush denounced Iran as part of an "axis of evil." Nonetheless, a year later, Iran proposed comprehensive talks with the United States. Iran would ask the U.S. to lift economic sanctions, guarantee Iran access to peaceful nuclear technology, and oppose anti-Iranian terrorist groups. In exchange, Iran would accept "full transparency" in its nuclear program, end any "material support" for Hizbullah, Hamas, and Islamic Jihad, increase its cooperation with the U.S. against al Qaeda, and accept Israel within its 1967 borders. But the Bush Administration ignored the proposal.

It’s important to note that while the President of Iran has changed since that 2003 Iranian proposal, the Supreme Leader – the final arbiter in foreign affairs and security policy – has not. This suggests that a similar negotiation might still be possible. Indeed, the recent successful negotiation by Brazil and Turkey with Iran for the nuclear fuel swap along the lines previously endorsed by the Obama Administration also suggests that the prospect of meaningful agreements between the U.S. and Iran is quite realistic, should the U.S. choose to pursue them.

And Turkey is uniquely positioned to act as a bridge, not just as a bridge between the U.S. and Iran, but between Israel and the Arab countries, and potentially, between the U.S. and the Taliban. For the last several years, Turkey has pursued a foreign policy of trying to improve relations with its neighbors, and trying to help its neighbors improve their relations with each other. Turkey mediated talks between Israel and Syria. Turkey helped persuade Iraqi Sunnis to participate in the post-Saddam Iraqi political process. Despite the recent conflict with Israel, it’s still far and away the Muslim country with the best relationship with Israel, including a strong relationship between the two countries’ militaries. "No other nation is respected by Hamas, Hizbullah, and the Taliban while also maintaining good ties with the Israeli, Lebanese, and Afghan governments," Kinzer writes.

Turkey has escaped from America’s orbit…Turkey’s new role, however, holds great promise for the United States. As a Muslim country intimately familiar with the region around it, Turkey can go places, engage partners, and make deals that America cannot. What it has done to separate itself from the United States – refusing to allow American troops to invade Iraq from Turkish territory, for example, or denouncing Israel’s actions in Gaza – has enhanced its reputation in other Muslim countries. That strengthens its ability to influence them.

Some powerful Americans appear to believe that negotiating, reconciling, and perhaps building a partnership with Iran would be a form of surrender. Henry Kissinger crystallized this view when asked how the U.S. should deal with its Muslim adversaries:

"They want to humiliate us," he said. "We need to humiliate them."

But the goal of diplomacy should be to advance our interests, not to punish, Kinzer argues. None of the chief American goals in the Middle East, including stabilizing Iraq, achieving a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians, and marginalizing Al Qaeda, are likely to be achieved without Iran’s cooperation. An isolated Iran is likely to be a spoiler. An integrated Iran could be a stabilizing power, a provider of security, a motor of economic development.

Kinzer lists some potential benefits of a new relationship with Iran, including:

- Iran can do more than any other country to assure peace in Iraq.
- Iran can help stabilize Afghanistan.
- Iran can help moderate and broker agreements with groups like Hamas and Hizbullah.
- An alliance between the U.S. and Iran would weaken Al Qaeda, their common foe.
- Improved relations would open up new opportunities for economic cooperation.

U.S. presidents have rejected compromise with Iran because the U.S. would have to recognize Iran as an important power with legitimate security interests. But Iran is already a regional power, Kinzer notes. That’s not going to change, no matter what the U.S. does. The smart policy is to acknowledge this fact, just as Nixon’s policy acknowledged the regional power of China.

When the U.S. and China signed the Shanghai Communiqué of 1972, China was engaged in behavior that was at least as offensive to the U.S. as anything that Iran is doing today. China was supplying weapons to the anti-U.S. insurgency in Vietnam. Nixon did not make "good behavior" a condition of negotiation. Agreement came first; changes in behavior followed.

During the presidential campaign, Senator Obama was articulating these ideas: don’t make as a precondition of the negotiation things that you are trying to achieve. But recently, the Obama Administration seems to have reverted to the Bush Administration’s policy, appearing to insist that Iran suspend the enrichment of uranium before the U.S. and Iran have anything to talk about.

Yet, the presence of Turkey on the scene could be a game-changer. In the last few weeks, we’ve gone from a situation where the siege of Gaza was a non-issue to the U.S. to one in which the U.S. is saying that the siege of Gaza must go. What intervened were a set of actions in which Turkey played an indispensable role. If Turkey can play a similar role with respect to the dispute between the U.S. and Iran over Iran’s nuclear program, the world will become a fundamentally different – and much better – place.

On Helping – If Not On Killing – Is America a Quitter?

6:49 am in International Aid and Development by Robert Naiman

When President Obama visited Afghanistan in March, he assured U.S. troops that "the United States of America does not quit once it starts on something."

But according to Sunday’s New York Times, it ain’t necessarily so. When it comes to combating AIDS in the world’s poorest countries, the greatest nation on earth has apparently decided to cry "Uncle."

Clinics in Uganda are turning people away, on orders from the U.S. government. A U.S.-run program in Mozambique has been told to stop opening clinics.

Why? According to lying U.S. officials, we don’t have the money to maintain our commitment. Budgets are tight. We had to bail out Wall Street.

But the numbers on offer don’t make any sense. Michel Sidibe, executive director of Unaids, says there is a global shortfall of about $17 billion for controlling the epidemic. The expected U.S. share of such a shortfall would be about a third, or $5.6 billion.

Meanwhile, Congress is about to be asked to fork over $33 billion in our tax dollars for more war in Afghanistan. This $33 billion would only pay for four months of the war, until the end of the fiscal year, when next year’s appropriation will become available.

So on an annual basis, we’re being asked to spend almost 20 times more on killing in Afghanistan than it is claimed that we don’t have to help stop Africa and Haiti from being decimated by AIDS.

Or, to put it another way: if we could end the war in Afghanistan, then every year we’d save $99 billion compared to the world in which the war continues. We could use $5.6 billion to pay what we owe on controlling the AIDS epidemic, and have $93.4 billion left for domestic job creation, tax cuts, going to the beach, whatever ya want.

But it’s not just about the money. It’s also about focus. The stupid, cruel, brutal, and pointless war in Afghanistan is sucking up political oxygen that could be used for good – like combating poverty and disease.

And we know how to the end the war. The war will start to wind down as soon as the U.S. agrees to the policy of establishing a timetable for military withdrawal and begins serious negotiations with the senior leadership of Afghanistan’s insurgencies.

Members of Congress could easily do something about this. They could pledge to vote no on $33 billion for more war, and they could sign on as co-sponsors to the Feingold-McGovern bill, which would require the President to establish a timetable for military withdrawal. Already, nearly half of the House Democratic Caucus is on the bill.

And President Obama could easily do something about this too. When he meets with President Karzai today, he could agree to President Karzai’s request that the U.S. should fully back Afghan government peace talks with the Afghan Taliban, as leaders of the U.S. peace movement are calling on Obama to do.

Meanwhile, AIDS treatment advocates are fighting back against the apparent decision of U.S. officials to "cut and run" from the fight against AIDS in Africa. Tomorrow night, activists will confront President Obama and Speaker Pelosi at a $15,000 per person dinner in New York. Many of these activists are the same folks that forced President Clinton and Vice-President Gore to get off their hands on treatment for global AIDS in the late 1990s. With public support, they will prevail.

Will Obama Say Yes to Afghan Peace Talks?

8:02 am in Uncategorized by Robert Naiman

Afghan President Hamid Karzai is coming to Washington next week to meet with President Obama. Afghan government officials have said that their top priority for these talks is to get President Obama to agree that the U.S. will fully back efforts of the Afghan government to reconcile with senior leaders of the Afghan Taliban insurgency in order to end the war.

On the merits, saying yes to the Afghan government’s request for US support for peace talks would seem like a no-brainer.

Either Hamid Karzai is the legitimate President of Afghanistan or he is not. If Hamid Karzai is not the legitimate President of Afghanistan, then Western forces must leave the country immediately, because they have no legitimate basis to remain. But if Hamid Karzai is the legitimate President of Afghanistan, then it’s a slam dunk that his government’s policy of national reconciliation ought to take precedence over Pentagon demands for more killing.

Either the opinions of the people of Afghanistan on questions of war and peace in their country matter or they do not. If they do not matter, then everyone in Washington pontificating about "democracy" or "governance" or "legitimacy" or "corruption" in Afghanistan please shut up immediately and remain silent. If the opinions of the Afghan public do matter, then it’s a slam dunk that the Afghan public’s demand for peace talks ought to take precedence over Pentagon demands for more killing.

Every Western press report from Afghanistan that addresses this issue says that the overwhelming consensus of public opinion in Afghanistan supports peace talks to end the war.

Just this week, Jonathan Steele reported in the Guardian that across Afghanistan, talking to the Taliban is seen as "the only credible way" to end the war, "even among Afghanistan’s small but determined group of woman professionals." Steele interviews a range of Afghan professional women to illustrate his point.

Member of Parliament Shukria Barakzai explains why she supports peace talks:

"Everybody has been trying to kill the Taliban but they’re still there, stronger than ever. They are part of our population. They have different ideas but as democrats we have to accept that. Every war has to end with talks and negotiations. Afghans need peace like oxygen. People want to keep their villages free of violence and suicide bombers."

If "Afghan women now overwhelmingly want talks with the Taliban," Steele writes, "the same is true of many of the country’s male politicians, particularly the Pashtun." The perception of many Pashtun politicians is that the US invasion put the warlords of the predominantly Tajik Northern Alliance in power, marginalizing the country’s largest ethnic group, the Pashtun. These Pashtun politicians see a national reconciliation process and new political dispensation with the primarily Pashtun Taliban as a way to end this marginalization of the Pashtuns and incorporate them into the government.

U.S. officials who want to continue the killing concede that the endgame is a negotiated political solution with the Afghan Taliban, but insist that the "time is not right" because "the Taliban have no reason to negotiate," and that we have to kill more of them to "force the Taliban to the negotiating table."

Like Iraq WMD, this is a stupid lie repeated endlessly by all the stupid people until all the stupid people believe it.

When the U.S. government decides to attack a problem diplomatically, this is not how U.S. government officials talk about it. Instead, they emphasize common interests and opportunities for agreement, seeking to expand the political space for diplomacy. This is equally true under Democratic and Republican Administrations; it was true under the Bush Adminstration. The fact that the U.S. government is downplaying the prospect of peace shows you that the U.S. government is not trying to achieve peace. So when U.S. government officials claim that the Taliban aren’t ready for peace, they are really just restating what we already know: that the U.S. government isn’t ready for peace.

Note that a component of the Afghan Taliban leadership has already put a peace plan on the table. In March, a delegation from Gulbuddin Hekmatyar’s insurgent group Hezb-i-Islami presented a formal 15-point peace plan to the Afghan government. A spokesman for the delegation said the Afghan Taliban would be willing to go along with the plan if a date was set for the withdrawal of foreign forces from the country.

This information is not a highly classified state secret. It was reported in the New York Times.

It’s kind of breathtaking that the warmonger Washington punditocracy can continue on its merry Energizer bunny way, insisting that there is no basis for peace talks, completely ignoring that fact that a fraction of the insurgency has put a peace plan on the table and claims that the bulk of the insurgency is ready to support the plan if foreign forces will agree to a timetable for withdrawal. But that’s what happens when your raw material for analysis isn’t what’s actually happening in Afghanistan, but what other stupid people in Washington are saying about what is happening in Afghanistan. If the stupid people in Washington aren’t talking about peace talks, then the prospect of peace talks doesn’t exist.

Of course, from the standpoint of the warmongers, a peace plan that requires a timetable for the withdrawal of foreign forces is a "non-starter."

But from the point of view of the values and interests of the majority of Americans, the opposite is true: the fact that the insurgents’ peace plan requires a timetable for the withdrawal of U.S. forces is a stunningly attractive feature of the insurgents’ peace plan.

Among Democrats in particular, the idea of a timetable for withdrawal of U.S. forces is spectacularly popular.

Already, eighty-two Members of Congress have co-sponsored Representative Jim McGovern’s bill requiring a timetable for the withdrawal of U.S. forces, including such liberal heavyweights as Barney Frank and Henry Waxman. Among House Democrats from President Obama’s home state of Illinois, it’s now 2-1 in favor of a timetable for withdrawal, with Reps. Costello, Schakowsky, Davis, Gutierrez, Jackson, Quigley, Hare, and Rush co-sponsoring McGovern’s bill, leaving only Reps. Bean, Foster, Halvorson, and Lipinski still on the sidelines.

When we compel the U.S. government to accept the policy of a timetable for military withdrawal, we remove the fundamental U.S. obstacle to peace in Afghanistan.

Until now, there have been just a handful of voices in the U.S. debate openly calling for real U.S. support of Afghan peace talks, such as Ahmed Rashid, writing in the Washington Post; Robert Dreyfuss, writing in the Nation; Tom Hayden, writing in the Los Angeles Times; and Gareth Porter, in his reporting for Inter Press Service.

But now that President Karzai is expressly meeting with President Obama for the purpose of securing US agreement to back Afghan peace talks, it’s time to make American public support for peace talks more visible.

Jim Fine of the Friends Committee on National Legislation and I want to place an ad in the DC press next week when President Karzai visits, calling on President Obama to say yes when President Karzai asks him to support peace talks in Afghanistan. If you agree, show us some love.

Robert Naiman is Policy Director at Just Foreign Policy.

Can Cheryle Jackson End the War in Afghanistan?

10:23 am in Uncategorized by Robert Naiman

Add Illinois to Pennsylvania as states where there is a contested Senate primary in which the war in Afghanistan has become an issue. The Chicago Tribune reports that the two leading contenders for the Democratic nomination for Barack Obama’s former seat in the Senate have staked out diametrically opposed positions.

A Tribune poll last month reported that Alexi Giannoulias and Cheryle Jackson were the leading contenders for the Democratic nomination.

On Afghanistan, the Tribune reports that Cheryle Jackson wants to end the war, while Giannoulias supports it:

"It is time to take care of America again and time to bring our troops home," said Democratic Senate contender Cheryle Jackson, a former president of the Chicago Urban League. "Until we stop spending hundreds of billions on wars, we will not have the focus or money to solve the challenges we face at home."


But first-term state Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias, a Democrat, said he fully supported Obama’s strategy for Afghanistan and indicated that those who oppose it are engaging in wishful thinking.

Indeed, Cheryle Jackson’s first TV ad takes direct aim at the wars – "It’s time to leave Afghanistan and Iraq":

The leading contenders for the Democratic nomination for Senate in Pennsylvania have also staked out opposing positions, with incumbent Senator Arlen Specter opposing military escalation and challenger Joe Sestak supporting military escalation.

It is, of course, during the election cycle – especially the primary election cycle – that our political system is most vulnerable to public opinion, and that vulnerability, if seized upon, can have a lasting effect on national politics. As a result of 2006 primary election cycle – in which, most prominently, Ned Lamont defeated Joe Lieberman for the Democratic nomination for Senate in Connecticut – opposition to the war in Iraq became established nationally as the predominant Democratic position, and the subsequent Washington fight over Iraq policy helped pave the way for timetable for the withdrawal of U.S. forces to which the Bush Administration ultimately agreed. At the beginning of the 2008 presidential primary cycle, all the leading contenders for the Democratic nomination – including Barack Obama – were insisting that the U.S. must threaten Iran with military force. By the end of the cycle Obama was the diplomacy candidate.

Spectacularly, even opposition to U.S. policies towards Israel and the Palestinians is surfacing in the Jane Harman-Marcy Winograd race, with Rep. Henry Waxman accusing Winograd of insufficient loyalty to Israel and Winograd standing her ground.

So, if you want to change national policy – in particular, if you want to end the war in Afghanistan – now is the time to raise your voice. Find out where the candidates in the Senate and House primaries stand on the wars – and raise the alarm.

Will Speaker Pelosi Stand Up to the IMF?

2:49 pm in Uncategorized by Robert Naiman

It would be an exaggeration to say that Congress has a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity this week to reform the policies of the International Monetary Fund. If the future is like the past, if Congress misses this opportunity, another one will come along – in about 10 years or so.

This week, House and Senate leaders are meeting in a conference committee to work out the differences between the House and Senate versions of the supplemental appropriations bill. The Senate version of the bill is likely to include $100 billion and new authorities for the IMF, but the House version of the supplemental bill did not include funds for the IMF. The Senate is debating amendments now as I write. The conference committee will almost surely meet soon after Senate passage; the stated goal is to pass the supplemental before the Memorial Day recess.

Concrete, observable reforms of the IMF’s policies in poor countries should be part of any agreement: there should be no "blank check" for the IMF. The IMF is imposing policies in developing countries we wouldn’t accept in the U.S. – when we have a recession, our government spends money to help the economy recover, as we did in President Read the rest of this entry →