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An Anti-War Candidate Announces for President

11:20 am in Uncategorized by Robert Naiman

Last week, former New Mexico governor Gary Johnson announced his candidacy for President of the United States.

This was a historic event, because 1) Gary Johnson wants to end the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and 2) Gary Johnson is a Republican. He also wants to slash the military budget.

Gary Johnson is also opposed to the “war on drugs,” which he has called “an expensive bust“. Indeed, as The Hill noted:

Last year, he teamed up with singer Melissa Etheridge and actor Danny Glover for a Hollywood rally in favor of Proposition 19 — an initiative that would have legalized marijuana in California.

This suggests that Gary Johnson can play well with others around issues of common concern.

It is tremendously important that there be at least one Republican candidate for President who is against the war in Afghanistan.

Polls show that Republican voters have turned against the war. But the majority of Republican voters who want US troops out of Afghanistan are so far almost totally unrepresented by Republican officials in Washington. Gary Johnson’s campaign could break through the national Republican wall, because as a candidate for president, Gary Johnson will be able to get into the media, and the national Republican party leadership – “the party’s ruling class,” as The Hill put it – won’t be able to silence him. Even if he doesn’t get a dime from Lockheed or Raytheon, they won’t be able to keep him off the stage in the early Republican debates, and that will change the discussion.

A Washington Post/ABC News poll in March found that 56% of Republicans think the United States should “withdraw a substantial number of U.S. combat forces from Afghanistan this summer.” That is, the majority of Republican voters are ahead of the Obama Administration, which hasn’t yet committed to a substantial withdrawal this summer.

But the high-water mark in the House so far for Republican support on any initiative against the indefinite continuation of the Afghanistan war is nine votes. That’s about 5% of the Republicans in the House. 5% versus 56% – that’s a pretty big gap. The enforcement of the will of the Republican Party’s “ruling class” against the will of the majority of Republican voters is a key pillar sustaining the war.

This pillar of the war must be attacked. The candidacy of Gary Johnson is a weapon for doing so.

Of course, Gary Johnson’s candidacy faces obstacles. He is not a billionaire. He is not backed by the party establishment – no candidate against the war will be. He will not be backed by the establishment media.

On the other hand, Gary Johnson’s candidacy has a potential X weapon: Americans who typically don’t vote in Republican primaries and caucuses who want to end the war.

After all, we all want to support democracy in Cairo and Madison. Why not support democracy in the Republican Party on the question of the war?

Now, some may be thinking, what does this have to do with me? I am not a “Republican.”

But whether you are a “Republican” or not, you have to live with the consequences of the fact that the national Republican Party is not representing the majority of Republican voters who want to see US troops come out of Afghanistan, because this is a key buttress of the continuation of the war.

Corporations back Republicans and Democrats, as it suits their perceived interests. So do labor unions, environmentalists, women’s groups, and gay rights groups. Why should peace advocates be any different? What one does in November in one thing; what one does in the primary season is another. If there is no Democratic primary for President, if there is no anti-war primary for Congress where you live, why waste your anti-war vote in an uncontested primary?

Many states have open primaries: any voter can vote in any primary. In other states, you have to register with a given party in order to participate in that party’s primary. New Hampshire – a critical, early state, where the Eugene McCarthy campaign showed the Lyndon Johnson Administration the depth of anti-war sentiment – is in-between: if you register as an “undeclared” voter, you can vote in any primary.

But even if you live in a state with a “closed primary” – check with local authorities for rules and deadlines – political parties in America are squishy things. Who’s to say you’re not a “Republican”? You are if you say you are. In the future, you can say something else.

Of course, many people will consider the temporary assumption of a “Republican” identity, even for a day, as a bridge too far.

But consider: if you could stop the killing in Afghanistan by temporarily assuming a “Republican” identity, would that not be morally justified?

In Jewish law, the protection of human life takes precedence over all. Therefore, voting in a Republican primary to end the war is a mitzvah.

And what would Jesus do in this situation? Wouldn’t Jesus vote in a Republican primary to end the war? As the Bible says,

“Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves; so be as wise as serpents and as innocent as doves.”

Robert Naiman is Policy Director at Just Foreign Policy.

Barbara Boxer: Champion In The Senate AgainstThe Afghanistan War

10:34 am in Uncategorized by Robert Naiman


afghanistan by The U.S. Army, on Flickr

If you’ve ever spent quality time trying to move an agenda through Congress, you know that moving an agenda isn’t just about lobbying individual Members. You need a “champion” for your issue. The champion introduces your bill. The champion recruits other offices to sign up. The champion introduces an amendment that carries the same idea as the bill and lobbies other Members to vote for it. The champion circulates letters to other offices. The champion raises the profile of your issue in the media.

When Wisconsin Senator Russ Feingold lost his bid for re-election, advocates working to end the war in Afghanistan lost their champion in the Senate. It was Feingold’s office that introduced the bill, introduced the amendment, circulated the letter, led the lobbying of other offices, led the charge in the media.

Now California Senator Barbara Boxer has re-introduced Feingold’s bill requiring the President to establish a timetable for the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan – a timetable with an end date. So far, Senators Dick Durbin, Tom Harkin, Kirsten Gillibrand, and Sherrod Brown have signed on as co-sponsors of Senator Boxer’s bill.

The re-introduction of this bill is extremely timely and important, for two reasons.

First, the White House is currently debating how to follow through on the President’s promise to begin withdrawing troops from Afghanistan in July. Will it be a mere token withdrawal, signifying nothing, as the Pentagon has demanded? Or will it be a “significant and sizable reduction” that sends a clear signal to everyone in Afghanistan and the U.S. that U.S. troops are on their way out, as the Democratic Party has demanded?

In this context, it’s very important for Senators to speak up. And signing on to a bill that says that the President has to establish a timetable for U.S. withdrawal that has an end date is an essential way to speak up.

When a Senator signs on to a bill like the Boxer bill, that Senator is basically communicating two things: first, I am unhappy with the status quo and I think that the Administration needs more pressure from people who think the way I do; second, if an amendment is introduced that contains the same basic idea as this bill, I am likely to vote for that amendment.

It’s this second function – stalking horse for an amendment – that is the principal reason that the text of the bill matters. Otherwise, the Senators are basically signing a piece of paper that says, “I am concerned about what the Administration is doing and I think that the Administration needs more pressure from people who think like me.”
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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.

The UN Security Council Has Not Authorized Regime Change in Libya

10:30 am in Uncategorized by Robert Naiman

It’s a great thing that the Obama Administration has resisted calls for unilateral U.S. military action in Libya, and instead is working through the United Nations Security Council, as it is required to do by the United Nations Charter.

Now, the Administration needs to follow through on this commitment to international law by ensuring that foreign military intervention remains within the four corners of what the UN Security Council has approved. If it does not, and instead Western powers take the view that we now have a blank check to do whatever we want, the certain consequence will be that it will be much more difficult to achieve Security Council action in a similar situation in the future, and those who complain that the Security Council is too cautious will have only themselves to blame.

Some of the reporting on the Security Council resolution has been misleading. The Security Council has not authorized military action for any purpose. The Security Council has authorized military action necessary to protect civilians. It has not authorized military action to overthrow the Libyan government. Clearly, some people do want foreign military action to assist in the overthrow of the Libyan government, but such action has not been approved by the Security Council.

The text of the UN Security Council resolution can be found here.

Here is the first action item:

1. Demands the immediate establishment of a cease-fire and a complete end to violence and all attacks against, and abuses of, civilians;

The Libyan government has announced a cease-fire. It is certainly true, as Western leaders have noted, that announcing a cease-fire is not at all the same thing as implementing one. But before Western military forces start bombing Libya, efforts to achieve a cease-fire must be exhausted. To do otherwise would be to make a mockery of the Security Council.
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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.

“No Fly Zone”? Senator Kerry, the UN Charter is Supreme Law

12:47 pm in Uncategorized by Robert Naiman

United Nations Headquarters

United Nations Headquarters by United Nations Photo, on Flickr

Surely no-one has been surprised to see Senator McCain engaged in what Defense Secretary Gates has rightly called “loose talk” about the use of U.S. military force in Libya.

But to see Senator John Kerry, the Democratic head of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee – the man who as a Vietnam veteran joined other anti-war veterans in asking who would be the last American to be asked to die in Vietnam – engage in such “loose talk” – that is a more painful cut.

Of course, this is the same Senator Kerry who voted to authorize the U.S. invasion of Iraq in October 2002, even though such action was never authorized by the UN Security Council, and was therefore a major war crime in international law – the crime of aggression. And this is the same Senator Kerry who, as a presidential candidate in August 2004, stood by his vote for the war.

Here is a basic fact about the world that mainstream U.S. media – and politicians like John Kerry – generally find distasteful to acknowledge. The Charter of the United Nations rules out the use of military force by one UN member state against another except in two cases: self-defense against armed attack, and actions approved by the UN Security Council.

Obviously, Libya has not attacked the United States, and there is no realistic prospect that it will do so.

Therefore, because it is an act of war, in order to be legal under international law, the imposition of a no-fly zone over Libya must be approved by the UN Security Council. There is no way around it.

The United Nations Charter is not an obscure document that can be safely ignored when it is convenient to do so. It is the founding document of the United Nations. It is the Constitution of the world.

And it is legally binding on the United States, because it is a treaty obligation. According to the U.S. Constitution, treaty obligations are “the supreme law of the land.”

So a no-fly zone over Libya must be approved by the UN Security Council. For anyone to claim otherwise is to use the same argument that the Bush Administration used when it ignored the UN to invade Iraq. If it was illegal for the U.S. to invade Iraq – and it was – then it is illegal for the U.S. or NATO to unilaterally impose a no-fly zone over Libya.

If a no-fly zone must be approved by the UN Security Council, then it must be approved by Russia and China. This is not a mistake. It is not an accident of history. The Framers of the UN Charter gave the power to approve military action to the Security Council, and gave five countries a permanent veto, because approving military action was supposed to be hard. The Soviet Union and the United States each held one of the five vetoes. In this sense, the world isn’t different than it was in 1945. Getting UN approval for military action is supposed to be difficult. It’s supposed to require a broad consensus.
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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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“Orderly Transition,” or “Nothing Burger” Reforms? Benchmarks for US Policy in Egypt

12:46 pm in Uncategorized by Robert Naiman

To the disappointment of many, the Obama Administration’s policy of “orderly transition to democracy” in Egypt, which just a few days ago seemed to be embracing pro-democracy protesters’ demand that Egyptian leader Mubarak leave office, now seems to be backtracking to the idea that Mubarak and Vice-President Suleiman can lead a credible process of transition to democracy, despite the unwillingness of the U.S.-backed Egyptian government so far to accept any concrete demand for reform.

Many protesters and analysts fear that the strategy of the Egyptian government – and by extension, the de facto strategy of the Obama Administration, which is backing the Egyptian government – will simply be to “run the clock” and outlast the protesters, without putting Egypt on a path to democracy.

The vague “reforms” and “concessions” announced so far by the Egyptian government – and the apparent silence of the Obama Administration about anything concrete, as well as the track record of the Mubarak government of vaguely promising reform without delivering it and the US track record of years of ineffectual pressure – lend support to the “run the clock” view.

So far the “reforms” and “concessions” that have been reported have been a “nothing burger” as far as the transition to democracy is concerned. The government has promised to support the creation of a committee that will recommend changes in March. As things stand, such changes will have to be ratified by the pro-Mubarak parliament created by the last rigged election.

What’s to study? Key reforms necessary to put Egypt on a path to democracy are well-known. If the Egyptian government wanted to establish its bona fides, it could enact some of these reforms immediately, and declare its intention to enact others. And if the Obama Administration wanted to establish its bona fides, it could press publicly for such reforms to be announced and implemented immediately, making clear that failure to enact these reforms will have consequences for U.S. military aid to the Egyptian government and other benefits controlled by the Obama Administration, such as issuance of U.S. visas to Egyptian officials.

The public justification for the Obama Administration to back Mubarak and Suleiman is the need for an orderly transition, the need to prevent chaos.

But there is no plausible argument – except perhaps in the minds of senior Egyptian officials backed by the Obama Administration – that key reforms would lead to chaos.

If it is really the plan of the Obama Administration that the already-scheduled election in September will be a “free and fair election,” then some of these reforms should be implemented immediately. Some of the following reforms could be enacted within days; the government’s intention to enact others could be announced immediately; the Obama Administration could announce immediately its intention to hold the Egyptian government accountable – with the threat of withdrawal of some U.S. aid and other benefits within the purview of the Obama Administration, such as U.S. visas for Egyptian officials – for the speedy enactment of these reforms.

First, the Egyptian government can immediately stop arresting and harassing local and international journalists, bloggers, democracy activists, and human rights lawyers and release or charge and bring to court everyone it has detained. Some estimates have put the number of people arrested since January 25 at more than ten thousand.

Second, the Egyptian government can immediately move to repeal the emergency law, which in 2008 the Egyptian Organization for Human Rights declared to be “the main source for violations against human rights,” noting “a close relationship between the declaration of a state of emergency” and a pattern of routine torture.

Third, the Egyptian government can immediately announce that all political parties, including new ones, will be allowed to compete in the September election without discrimination, and that reforms will be enacted to bring this about.

Fourth, the Egyptian government can immediately announce that the September election will be fully observed by Egyptian judges and independent monitors, and that reforms will be enacted to bring this about.

Fifth, the Egyptian government can immediately announce that state media will be neutral in the September elections, and that reforms will be enacted to bring this about.

The implementation of all of these reforms may not be immediately feasible, but there is no justification for delaying the statement of intent to enact them.

Furthermore, there is no justification for the Obama Administration not to explicitly embrace these demands, since it is obvious that failure to enact these demands would be incompatible with a “free and fair election.”

These reforms are benchmarks for judging the seriousness of the Obama Administration about democracy in Egypt. The Obama Administration should explicitly call for these reforms and explicitly link them to the continuation of U.S. aid and other benefits within the purview of the Administration. Members of Congress should publicly call for these reforms and seek them to enact them into law as benchmarks for the continuation of U.S. aid.

If these reforms are not enacted, what we are likely to see is not an “orderly transition to democracy,” but an “orderly transition” to Mubarakism without Mubarak.

The U.S. has long been perceived in the region as backing dictators. But the protests in Egypt have raised the stakes of continuing this perception. If the U.S. chooses dictatorship over democracy now, this perception of the U.S. in the region – “backs dictators” – will be set for a long time.

Robert Naiman is Policy Director at Just Foreign Policy.

Can US Support UN Resolution on Israeli Settlements? Yes We Can!

6:08 pm in Uncategorized by Robert Naiman

A key resolution on the Israel-Palestine conflict is now before the UN Security Council. Largely echoing stated US policy, the resolution embraces negotiations, endorses the creation of a Palestinian state, and demands an immediate halt to Israeli settlement construction in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. But even though the resolution echoes US policy, President Obama is under pressure to veto the UN resolution from forces in Washington who want to protect the Israeli occupation of the West Bank.

Can President Obama say no to this pressure? Yes, he can! have written to President Obama, urging him to instruct our Ambassador to the United Nations to vote yes on this initiative, noting that it echoes US policy.

It’s not an immutable law of the universe that the U.S. has to veto U.N. resolutions critical of Israeli settlement expansion in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Indeed, last year, the U.S. promised the Palestinians to “consider allowing UN Security Council condemnation of any significant new Israeli settlement activity,” the Guardian reported.

Some DC conventional wisdom suggests that there is no way politically that President Obama can fail to comply with any demand from the “Israel lobby” to veto the UN resolution.

But there are reasons in this case to doubt whether this conventional wisdom must necessarily be right.

The “Israel lobby” isn’t as internally unified on the question of Israeli settlement expansion in the West Bank as it is on say, U.S. aid to Israel. A lot of folks who “support Israel” do not support the expansion of Israeli settlements in the West Bank, because it is obvious that there is a fundamental contradiction between Israeli settlement expansion in the West Bank and a peaceful resolution of the conflict. There is a choice to be made: settlement expansion or peace. We cannot have both.

There would be a real cost to a U.S. veto that would be higher today than in the past. There isn’t any credible excuse for a U.S. veto in the Security Council of the U.S.’ own position that can be sold internationally, and particularly in the Middle East, at a time when the U.S. is facing unprecedented challenges on a number of fronts. The arguments that have been used so far in Washington to try to justify a U.S. veto won’t wash internationally. The UN Security Council isn’t an “anti-Israel” venue – a venue where the U.S. has a veto won’t ever be “anti-Israel” in any meaningful sense of the term. Indeed, the key players in the Security Council look a lot like the key players in the “Quartet” that is supposedly overseeing the “peace process” – the U.S., the EU, Russia, and the U.N. And the purpose of the resolution isn’t to dodge negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians; it explicitly embraces them. The purpose is to try to make those negotiations meaningful by effectively imposing a parameter on them that all sides have already agreed to, but that the U.S. has failed to effectively enforce: a freeze on Israeli settlement expansion.

As Time Magazine noted last week, after Tunisia, Arab governments feel under greater pressure from “the Arab street.” This is not a time when the U.S. can rely on Arab governments to protect the U.S. government from contradictions in the U.S. position.

The leak of documents yesterday by Al Jazeera and the Guardian on the U.S.-led “peace process” expose that “process” as currently being a charade which is not leading towards a resolution of the conflict (in case there was anyone who still had any doubts about that.)

Here’s Tzipi Livni, then Israel’s foreign minister, in 2007:

At a west Jerusalem meeting in November 2007, [Livni] told [Ahmed Qureia, then senior Palestinian negotiator] that she believed Palestinians saw settlement building as meaning “Israel takes more land [so] that the Palestinian state will be impossible”; that “the Israel policy is to take more and more land day after day and that at the end of the day we’ll say that is impossible, we already have the land and we cannot create the state”. She conceded that it had been “the policy of the government for a really long time”.

At the end of 2007, though, “it is still the policy of some of the parties but not the government”.

Of course, the parties to which Livni then referred now are the Israeli government. And for the forseeable future, in the absence of effective outside pressure, “take more and more land day after day and that at the end of the day we’ll say that is impossible, we already have the land and we cannot create the state” will continue to be the policy of the Israeli government.

All this is going to put more pressure on the pro-U.S. wing of the Palestinian leadership and the pro-U.S. Arab governments to demonstrate that they have something else going on besides the failed U.S.-led “peace process.” If the door to the UN Security Council is closed to them, that energy is going to go somewhere. It’s likely that alternative venues and channels for that energy are going to be much more disliked by the U.S. than the UN Security Council, where the U.S. holds a veto.

If the U.S. wants to keep governments in the region onside against Iran’s nuclear program, a U.S. veto in the Security Council of the U.S.’ own position on Israeli settlements is not going to help with that. On the contrary: a U.S. veto of its own position on Israeli settlement expansion is going to force U.S. allies in the region to put more distance between themselves and the U.S.

This is not a time when the U.S. can easily afford to take more hits politically in the region. The current U.S. gambit in Lebanon does not seem to be going well at the moment. It may well turn out that, as in the recent past, current efforts by the U.S. to reduce the influence of Hizbullah over the government in Lebanon will backfire by producing a government in Lebanon in which Hizbullah has even more influence than before. If this happens, it will make governments in the region even warier of being perceived as close to the U.S.

If the U.S. vetoes the U.N. resolution, it will signal to the region that the U.S. is incapable of meaningfully supporting international efforts for a just resolution of the Israel-Palestine conflict. A U.S. veto will embolden the most reactionary forces in Israel, which have been escalating their efforts to silence Israeli dissent against the occupation.

But if the U.S. supports the resolution, it will signal to the region that the U.S. is no longer determined to stand in the way of international efforts to promote a just resolution.

We have been in a situation like this before. In 2008, the right wing of the “Israel lobby” pushed the U.S. House to pass a resolution that essentially called for a U.S. naval blockade of Iran, which of course would be an act of war, although the resolution did not use those exact words. The DC conventional wisdom said that resolution would go through the House “like a hot knife through butter.” But it did not turn out to be so. When peace groups got activated, and it became an issue outside of the usual circles, many House Democrats took a second look, and decided that a resolution pushing the U.S. towards war with Iran was not just another resolution written by the “Israel lobby” for Congress to sign.

This could be like that. Because the draft UN Security Council resolution echoes stated U.S. policy, because the U.S.-led “peace process” is in a state of total collapse, because U.S. leadership in the region is facing unprecedented challenge, it’s not a no-brainer politically for the U.S. to veto. The international political price of a veto will be high, and the domestic political price for failing to veto is likely to be minimal – if this becomes an issue on which a broader public gets engaged.

This is a historic opportunity for President Obama to show leadership and back up the words of his speech in Cairo with deeds. Urge President Obama to support the UN resolution condemning Israeli settlement construction in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.