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How Many Should Die To Send Qaddafi to the Hague?

11:52 am in Uncategorized by Robert Naiman

Here is a question I would like pollsters to ask American voters about the Libya War:

Is sending Qaddafi to the International Criminal Court a military objective worth having American troops “fight and possibly die” for?

I haven’t seen any pollster ask this question. Indeed, the fact that sending Qaddafi to the Hague is a de facto military goal of the United States in Libya isn’t even being clearly acknowledged yet in the U.S. media.

However, we can make an educated guess what he response might be, because a Quinnipiac University poll recently asked some questions that are closely related.

Voters say 61 – 30 percent that removing Qaddafi from power is not worth having American troops “fight and possibly die” for, the poll reports. They say 48 – 41 percent that the U.S. should not use military force to remove Qaddafi from power. Furthermore, 74 percent of voters are “very concerned” or “somewhat concerned” that the U.S. will get embroiled in a long-term military conflict in Libya.

This strongly suggests that if American voters were asked, is sending Qaddafi to the International Criminal Court a military objective worth having American troops “fight and possibly die” for, more than 61% would say no and fewer than 30 percent would say yes. Because sending Qaddafi to the Hague is a military objective that includes removing Qaddafi and more.

Yet, with a super-majority of Americans opposed and without Congressional authorization, that is what we are doing: fighting a war to remove Qaddafi from power and send him to the Hague.

It’s very likely that you wouldn’t know this if your only source of information were the U.S. press, which hasn’t been reporting on the divisions among US allies on what an acceptable agreement to end the war would be. But the British press is reporting it.
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When the House Comes Back, You’re Gonna Get In Trouble

1:55 pm in Uncategorized by Robert Naiman

Here is some unsolicited advice for the Obama Administration: you essentially have four days to put US involvement in the Libya war on a path that doesn’t look like open-ended quagmire.

Otherwise, when the House comes back next week, you’re going to get in trouble.

Many people have difficulty imagining the possibility that Congress could give the Obama Administration difficulty over the Libya war. Since 2001, many people think, Congress has rolled over for both the Bush and Obama Administrations on questions of war and peace. Why should now be any different?

The view that Congress has only rolled over misses important history. For example, the legislative fight over a timetable for withdrawal from Iraq was a significant contributor to the fact that we have such a timetable for withdrawal today, even though such a timetable was never enacted legislatively. Congress lost the issue legislatively, but eventually won the issue politically.

But the more important point here that many people aren’t thinking about yet is that the political dynamics of the coming debate over the Libya war could be very different from the debates over Iraq and Afghanistan. If the Libya war is going full-bore next week with heavy US involvement, there could be significant opposition in Congress, especially in the House, from both Democrats and Republicans.

One key difference from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars is that regardless of what many regard as the “true” motivations of those conducting the Libya war – control of energy resources, maintaining U.S. domination over the Middle East, etc., which would be broadly consistent with what many have believed to be the true motivations of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars – the public presentation of the Libya war has been fundamentally different than for those wars. At the heart of the public justifications of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars there were national security stories: weapons of mass destruction and terrorism. Of course, in both cases there were also humanitarian intervention stories overlaid on the national security stories. But the absence of a public national security story – a threat to Americans – for the Libya war makes it fundamentally more vulnerable politically.

A critic of the Libya war can’t easily be accused of being soft on terrorism, or unconcerned about defending the United States. Indeed, Pentagon officials, including Defense Secretary Gates, made sharp public criticisms of calls for U.S. military intervention in Libya, and everyone knows it. So it will be extremely difficult to bully critics of the war by portraying them as soft on defense.

A second key difference from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars is that regardless of whatever else may be true about them, they were authorized by Congress. By taking the US to war without Congressional authorization, the Obama Administration has opened itself to criticism of usurping Congressional authority. This is always a good way to make Congress angry, regardless of the issue at hand, and doing so gives Congress a political opening to pass legislation to limit the Administration’s actions.

A third factor is that half of the House Democratic Caucus is already livid over the Obama Administration’s repeated escalations of the Afghanistan quagmire. In just the last month, half of the House Democratic caucus has voted to essentially eliminate funding for the war in Afghanistan; half of the House Democratic Caucus has voted to require that US forces be withdrawn from Afghanistan by the end of the year. Numerically, these votes were drowned out by the fact that the overwhelming majority of House Republicans have continued to vote for the war; but on the Libya war, House Republicans aren’t tied down to a previous position, and have much more room for maneuver because there is no public national security justification. Meanwhile, The Hill notes, the Libya war is burning through the cuts that House Republicans won to reduce the deficit.

Of course, if a significant number of Congressional Republicans turn against the Libya war, then we can expect a major effort to bully Democrats to “support the President,” regardless of what they think about the merits of the war, or the fact that the Administration did not seek Congressional authorization. But it may be hard to bully some Democrats to “support the President” on the Libya war while the President is burning them on Afghanistan; indeed, many Democrats, not just the most liberal ones, have already spoken out against the Libya war and the Administration’s decision to launch it without Congressional authorization.

Moreover, many Democrats understand that a dangerous precedent will be set if President Obama is allowed to bomb Libya without Congressional authorization; if Obama can bomb Libya without Congress’ approval, a future President Palin could bomb Iran without Congress’ approval.

If Congress decides to take action, it can do many things.

One thing Congress could easily do is expressly prohibit the introduction of US ground troops to Libya. Such action would be hard for the Administration to oppose politically, because it is an overwhelmingly popular position politically, and because President Obama has promised not to introduce US ground troops into Libya. So Congress would simply be nailing President Obama’s promise to the wall.

A second thing Congress could do is prohibit US manned aircraft from flying over Libyan airspace. This would ensure that no US pilots are shot down over Libya, or crash in Libya for any other reason, as happened this week. Thus, no US pilots could be killed or injured or become hostages.

A third thing Congress could do is establish a timetable for the withdrawal of US military forces from the conflict.

A fourth thing Congress could do is establish a ceiling – for example, a billion dollars – of what the Administration can spend on the Libya war without further authorization.

Of course, Congress could do many other things if it so chooses, including shutting down US participation in the war immediately.

Making such proposals the subject of legislative debate is an intrinsic good, regardless of whether they are enacted into law; they are a form of pressure that will limit the ability of the Administration to escalate the war.

There are important historical precedents.

As a 2004 CRS report on the history of the War Powers Resolution notes, in 1990-1 the first Bush Administration tried to argue that it did not need explicit Congressional authorization to attack Iraq. Then, as now, the President argued, among other things, that he was implementing a UN Security Council resolution and that he did not need additional Congressional authority. But Members of Congress disputed this claim; 45 Democrats sought a judicial order enjoining the President from offensive military operations unless he consulted with and obtained an authorization from Congress. The request for injunction was denied, but on grounds that did not address the underlying legal claim. In the event, Congressional leaders announced that they were going to debate the issue and there was a Congressional authorization of force.

In October 1995, the House, by a vote of 315-103, passed a resolution asserting that “no United States Armed forces should be deployed on the ground in the territory of the Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina to enforce a peace agreement until the Congress has approved such a deployment.” In December 1995, the House narrowly defeated H.R. 2770, which would have prohibited the use of Federal funds for the deployment “on the ground” of U.S. Armed Forces in Bosnia-Herzegovina “as part of any peacekeeping operation, or as part of any implementation force,” by a vote of 210-218. The House then approved H.Res. 302 reiterating “serious concerns and opposition” to the deployment of U.S. ground troops to Bosnia.

On April 28, 1999, the House of Representatives passed H.R. 1569, by a vote of 249-180, prohibiting the use of funds appropriated to the Defense Department from being used for the deployment of “ground elements” of the U.S. Armed Forces in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia unless that deployment were specifically authorized by law.

The same day the House defeated, in a dramatic 213-213 tie vote, S.Con.Res. 21, the Senate resolution passed on March 23, 1999, that supported military air operations and missile strikes against Yugoslavia.

Two days later, the ACLU sent a letter to Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott:

We are writing to urge that you insist on strict compliance with the Constitution in connection with the commitment of U.S. troops in Kosovo, Yugoslavia and surrounding areas. The possible commitment of U.S. ground troops requires prior congressional authorization under the U.S. Constitution and the War Powers Resolution. In fact, such authorization is also required for any air and missile strikes by U.S. forces in connection with any air war in Yugoslavia. Mere consultation with members of Congress, while a step in the right direction, does not meet the constitutional requirement that congressional authorization precede U.S. military intervention.

The air war was never authorized. That didn’t stop it; a legal effort to block the air war on this basis was ultimately dismissed in the courts on the grounds that 1) Congressional action had sent contradictory messages, and if it had wanted to explicitly prohibit the air war from continuing, Congress could have done so and 2) the Members of Congress who sued did not have standing since they did not represent the majority of Congress.

Nonetheless, the failure of the House to pass the resolution in support of the air war had a salutary political effect on the Clinton Administration: it made the Administration less intransigent in international diplomacy to resolve the crisis. After the vote, President Clinton suggested that there could be a “pause” in NATO’s bombing of Yugoslavia to allow space for diplomacy. There was a peace accord a month later, in which the Clinton Administration accepted terms it likely could have achieved without the bombing.

So far, there has been no serious diplomatic effort backed by the West to resolve the crisis in Libya without the escalation of violence; efforts by others to achieve a diplomatic resolution have been dismissed. It seems likely that the only way to convince the US, France and Britain to give negotiations a chance is to put some obstructions in the current path towards military escalation. Therefore, the best thing Congress can do to help save lives in Libya right now is to construct some political obstacles to further military escalation.

Moreover, as we all know from bitter experience, there is an intrinsic tendency of wars to escalate and expand. Those who support the current military operations, but do not want them to expand and escalate, should support efforts to prevent their expansion.

Robert Naiman is Policy Director at Just Foreign Policy.

Washington Smackdown: Petraeus vs. “Substantial Drawdown”

12:59 pm in Uncategorized by Robert Naiman

Gen. David Petraeus spoke today before the Senate Armed Services Committee, and is speaking tomorrow before the House Armed Services Committee, selling Congress a “progress” story about the war in Afghanistan that isn’t believed by US intelligence analysts. Whether Members of Congress choose to believe Petraeus’ reassurances over the assessments of the U.S. intelligence community (“who you gonna believe, me or your lying eyes?”) could prove decisive in determining whether the July drawdown of U.S. forces from Afghanistan that President Obama has promised will be “token,” as the Pentagon wants, or is “substantial,” as the overwhelming majority of Americans want. The stakes are high: a substantial drawdown of U.S. forces from Afghanistan this year would save many American and Afghan lives and tens of billions of dollars, and would open political space in Afghanistan for a negotiated political settlement that ends the civil war.

The Los Angeles Times reported:

When Gen. David H. Petraeus appears before Congress on Tuesday to tout progress in Afghanistan, he will face a series of pessimistic assessments about the state of the war, including the intelligence community’s conclusion that tactical gains achieved by a U.S. troop surge have failed to fundamentally weaken the Taliban.

At a hearing last week,

Gen. Ronald Burgess, head of the Defense Intelligence Agency, offered a sobering view – one that is shared by the CIA, U.S. officials say – that contrasted sharply with the optimism expressed in recent days by Petraeus, who will appear before the Senate Armed Services Committee, and Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates.

“The Taliban in the south has shown resilience and still influences much of the population, particularly outside urban areas,” Burgess said, speaking of a region where the U.S. has been focusing many of its resources.

The U.S.-led coalition has been killing Taliban militants by the hundreds, he said, but there has been “no apparent degradation in their capacity to fight…”

There is a politically feasible alternative to General Petraeus’ urgings to “stay the course.” That alternative is for the Obama Administration to follow through on its promise to begin withdrawing troops in July with a substantial drawdown of U.S. forces. A bipartisan letter to President Obama circulating in the House, signed by more than 50 Members so far, is urging the President to carry out a significant withdrawal. (You can urge your Representative to sign the letter here.)

This alternative is politically feasible because:

a) a super-majority of Americans support a substantial withdrawal;
b) the Democratic Party is on record in favor of a “swift withdrawal” that begins with “a significant and sizeable reduction in U.S. troop levels by no later than July of this year”;
c) influential voices in the Administration, including Vice-President Biden, have argued in favor of a substantial withdrawal of forces, beginning in July; and
d) a substantial withdrawal of U.S. forces would bring tangible benefits, including fewer American and Afghan lives lost, tens of billions of dollars saved at a time when budget deficits are being invoked as a justification for draconian cuts in domestic spending, and improved prospects for a negotiated political resolution that ends the war.

Public opinion:

Nearly three-quarters of Americans say Obama should withdraw a “substantial number” of combat troops from Afghanistan this summer, including 80% of independents, the Washington Post reports. Nearly two-thirds of Americans say the war in Afghanistan is not worth fighting, including two-thirds of independents.

The Democratic Party:

Last month, the Democratic National Committee passed a resolution stating that “the Democratic Party supports prioritizing job creation and a swift withdrawal of U.S. armed forces and military contractors in Afghanistan which must include a significant and sizable reduction no later than July 2011.” Last July, Nancy Pelosi said she expected to see a “serious drawdown” from Afghanistan in the summer of 2011.

Vice-President Biden:

Last year, Vice-President Biden told us we could “bet” on “a whole lot of people moving out” in July 2011.

Tangible benefits of a substantial withdrawal:

Fewer U.S. soldier deaths

If U.S. soldiers being killed in Afghanistan is bad, then more U.S. soldiers being killed in Afghanistan is more bad and fewer U.S. soldiers being killed in Afghanistan is less bad.

Since 2001, the more U.S. soldiers there are in Afghanistan, the more get killed.

In January 2009, there were a about 34,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan, which at that point, was the highest level so far. Today, there are nearly 100,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan. The consequence of this escalation in terms of U.S. troop deaths has been that 837 U.S. soldiers have been killed in Afghanistan since President Obama took office, as opposed to 575 U.S. soldiers who were killed in Afghanistan under President Bush (as shown by the “U.S. Deaths in Afghanistan: Obama vs Bush” web counter.)

US Deaths in Afghanistan: Obama vs Bush. Click here to learn more.

The 837 U.S. soldiers who were killed under President Obama were killed over a period of roughly 26 months. The 575 U.S. soldiers who were killed in Afghanistan under President Bush were killed over a period of roughly 114 months. So, on average, under President Bush, 5 U.S. soldiers were killed in Afghanistan per month, while under President Obama, 32 U.S. soldiers have been killed in Afghanistan per month, a net increase of 27 U.S. soldiers killed per month. Thus, if we returned to the average Bush-era troop levels in Afghanistan, as opposed to the average Obama-era levels, we would save the lives of 27 U.S. soldiers per month, or about 326 U.S. soldiers over the course of a year.

Of course, it is not likely that we would return to average Bush era troop levels in Afghanistan immediately. Suppose we assume, very modestly, that a substantial drawdown occurs over the course of a year, that is, by July 1, 2012, as President Obama runs for re-election, there are fewer than 30,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan, a few less than when he took office. We’d expect the monthly death rate then to return to about 11 U.S. soldiers per month, for an average death rate over the year of about 22 per month. This would still save the lives of about 120 U.S. soldiers over the course of the year.

Fewer Afghan civilian deaths

If Afghan civilians being killed is bad, then more Afghan civilians being killed is more bad and fewer Afghan civilians being killed is less bad.

Since 2001, the more U.S. soldiers there are in Afghanistan, the more Afghan civilians get killed.

Unlike the U.S. soldiers, we don’t know precisely how many civilians have been killed in the war in Afghanistan, and we likely never will. There are different estimates by different parties, which make comparisons over time much more challenging .

However, we do know clearly what the trend has been in Afghanistan since 2008: more U.S. troops in Afghanistan, more civilian deaths. The UN has reported a 15 percent increase in civilian deaths between 2009 and 2010, following a 14 percent increase between 2008 and 2009. So, if we reduced troop levels to 2008 levels, we should be able to reduce civilian deaths by 24%. It’s certain that the UN figures are an undercount of civilian deaths, but even taking them at face value, a reduction in civilian deaths over the period of 24% would save the lives of 329 Afghan civilians.

Tens of billions of dollars saved, countering claimed need for domestic cuts

A rough estimate has been that it costs about $10 billion to put 10,000 US soldiers in Afghanistan for a year. Suppose that this figure is roughly correct for our purposes here. Suppose a “token withdrawal” over the course of the year following July 1 consists of no more than 10,000 troops. And suppose a “substantial withdrawal” would leave no more than 30,000 US troops in Afghanistan on July 1, 2012 – again, just a bit less than the level when President Obama took office.

If we pretend that the withdrawal of troops would happen at a constant rate, then the first scenario is like having 95,000 troops in Afghanistan on average for a year, and the second scenario is like having 65,000 troops there on average for a year. Thus, a “substantial drawdown” would result in an average of 30,000 less troops in Afghanistan over the course of the year, resulting in a savings of $30 billion – half of what the House Republican leadership wants to save by eliminating the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and Americorps, and cutting money for infant nutrition, community health centers, Head Start, and rental assistance, among other things.

Open political space for a negotiated resolution

Finally, a significant reduction of U.S. troops in Afghanistan would create political space in Afghanistan for a negotiated political resolution to end the war, as Afghan President Karzai and others have argued.

As Reuters reported on March 2:

“Admitting that there was ‘friction’ with his Western allies over strategy in Afghanistan, Karzai said he had told his allies the military surge should be scaled back to permit negotiations. ‘The military is less inclined to accept it (this argument). The political side, the civilian side, is more inclined to it,’ he said.”

“Substantial drawdown” isn’t pie in the sky. Congress can make it happen. Urge your Representative to speak up.

Robert Naiman is Policy Director at Just Foreign Policy.

In Libya, Diplomacy Could Save Lives and the World Economy

10:18 am in Uncategorized by Robert Naiman


LIBYAN MONEY by Libda's Gallery, on Flickr

Secretary of State Clinton defended the State Department budget in Congress this week by pointing out that diplomatic interventions can prevent expensive wars. Now the State Department has a spectacular opportunity to demonstrate Secretary Clinton’s argument by example. It can support robust diplomatic efforts to resolve the crisis in Libya without a further escalation in violence.

Pipe dream? The Wall Street Journal reports today that the price of oil fell on world markets when Al Jazeera reported that Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi had accepted a plan proposed by Venezuela that called for a multinational commission to mediate the conflict with rebel groups; Reuters reports that Arab League Secretary-General Amr Moussa said the peace plan was “under consideration.”

Of course, this doesn’t mean that peace is about to break out. For example, a leader of the rebels has reportedly rejected the call for peace.

But here are some facts that should create an opening for diplomacy: the armed rebels seem to have very little military prospect of taking Tripoli. The Libyan government seems to have very little military prospect of retaking most rebel-held territory…
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The Richard Holbrooke Memorial Peace Talks to End the Afghan War

9:24 am in Uncategorized by Robert Naiman

When a Member of Congress dies, sometimes other Members name a bill after that Member that advances some cause identified with the Member. So, for example, we had the “Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act” – Kennedy was a champion of volunteer service.

Such naming has multiple effects. Of course it honors the departed. But, like the Spanish hero El Cid, whose companions suited him up and placed him on his horse to drive off their foes, it also gives the departed one last ride into battle. When you name something the “Our esteemed colleague who just passed” Act, you’re laying down a challenge – don’t leave this one on the cutting room floor. And everyone gets to cheat death a little by giving the departed one last accomplishment associated with that person’s name.

The uncompleted challenge of Richard Holbrooke’s diplomatic career was a peace deal in Afghanistan. It was the hope of many that Holbrooke would help broker a peace deal between the warring factions in Afghanistan and between their regional patrons that would end the war. This hope was encouraged by Holbrooke’s role in negotiating the 1995 Dayton Accords that ended the war in Bosnia.

This unfinished business was apparently very much on Holbrooke’s mind as they prepared him for surgery from which, presumably, he had some inkling that he might not return.

You’ve got to stop this war in Afghanistan,” Holbrooke said, according to family members.

Are peace talks to end the war a pipe dream? Not according to many Afghanistan experts with decades of experience in the country.

In a letter to President Obama, the experts argue that

- With Pakistan’s active support for the Taliban, it is not realistic to bet on a military solution.

- The Taliban’s leadership has indicated its willingness to negotiate, and it is in our interests to talk to them.

The experts ask President Obama to “sanction and support a direct dialogue and negotiation with the Afghan Taliban leadership residing in Pakistan.”

The signers of the letter include people whose names one sees regularly cited as experts on Afghanistan in major U.S. media: Ahmed Rashid, Gilles Dorronsoro, Anatol Lieven, and Alex Strick van Linschoten. That they are experts with many years of experience in Afghanistan does not prove that they are right; it proves that their proposal deserves a fair hearing.

This week finds us at another fork in the road, as the Administration reviews its Afghanistan policy one year after the last major decision to escalate militarily. The Pentagon has lobbied hard for this review to not to have any meaningful policy consequences. It would be a grave mistake to allow the Pentagon to dictate this. The failure of military escalation to produce any meaningful positive result should have the consequence that the Administration moves much more aggressively to support meaningful peace talks with the Afghan Taliban leadership and the Pakistani military to end the war.

Suit Holbrooke up in his armor, and place him on his horse. We need real peace talks now.

Why Peaceniks Should Care About the Afghanistan Study Group Report

11:17 am in Uncategorized by Robert Naiman

There is a tradition among some peace activists of striking a pose of annoyed indifference to the question of how to get out of an unpopular war. "There are three ways to get out," goes one waggish response. "Air, land, and sea."

This is funny and emotionally satisfying, and also represents a truth for peace activists: ending the war is a first principle, not something contingent on whether a particular means of doing so satisfies someone else’s notion of what is practical.

On the other hand, peace activists can’t be satisfied with being right; they also are morally compelled to try to be effective. And part of being effective is giving consideration to, and seeking to publicize, arguments are likely to end the war sooner rather than later. It’s not likely, for example, that discussing ways in which the war might be useful for the long-term maintenance of the "capitalist world system" will turn the Washington debate against war in the short run. If, on the other hand, central to the official story is a claim that the war is a war against Al Qaeda, but senior U.S. officials publicly concede that there is no significant Al Qaeda presence today in Afghanistan, that is certainly a fact worth knowing and spreading.

This is why it is important for as many people as possible to read and digest the short and accessible report of the "Afghanistan Study Group" which has been publicly unveiled this week. The assumptions and conclusions of the ASG report should be the subject of a thousand debates. But there are a few things about it that one can say without fear of reasonable contradiction. The authors of the report oppose the war and want to end it. The principal authors of the report are Washington insiders with a strong claim to expertise about what sort of arguments are likely to move Washington debate. The authors of the report have a strategy for trying to move Washington debate so that at the next fork in the road, the choice made is to de-escalate the war and move towards its conclusion, rather than to escalate it further. Therefore, the arguments made deserve careful consideration. They may not be particularly useful for making posters for a demonstration. But for lobbying Congressional staff, writing a letter to the editor, or making any other presentation to people who are not already on our side, the arguments of the Afghanistan Study Group are likely to be useful. . . . Read the rest of this entry →

ObamaNation Wants Taliban Talks, Not Military Escalation, in Afghanistan

5:13 am in Uncategorized by Robert Naiman

Americans elected President Obama in part based on his promise to put diplomacy and international cooperation, rather than the use and threat of military force, at the center of his foreign policy. With respect to Afghanistan and Pakistan, while there have been some encouraging signals, in terms of actually implemented policies the folks who voted for Obama are not yet getting the "diplomacy first" that they were promised.

Last week the Washington Post reported that 55% of Democrats support negotiations with the Afghan Taliban, and that 56% of Democrats think the U.S. should focus more on economic development in Afghanistan than on defeating the Taliban militarily. Given that not all "Democrats" voted for Obama, and not all "Republicans" voted for McCain, and that pro-diplomacy Democrats and Republicans were more likely to vote for Obama than McCain, these numbers may understate the case.

The Washington Post-ABC poll asked:

Would you support or oppose the U.S. negotiating with elements of the Taliban if they agreed to suspend attacks on U.S., NATO and Afghan forces?

Among Democrats the answers were: 55% yes, 39% no, 6% no opinion.

The poll asked:

Do you think the U.S. should focus more on economic development in Afghanistan or more on defeating the Read the rest of this entry →