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Archive for May, 2010

Posted by Newshoggers.com on May 31st, 2010

From our partners at Newshoggers.com

By Derrick Crowe

Click here to watch the video

$1,000,000,000,000.00

As of today, that’s how much we’ve spent just in direct costs so far on the stupid wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

One trillion dollars, gone. And we’re just getting warmed up…there are trillions more in future direct and indirect costs coming.

These two wars mutilated our economy. There’s no other way to say it. We’ve taken huge sums of wealth out of the economy and done things with it that further damaged the economy. People are out of work and hurting today because we chose to launch two wars that aren’t worth the cost.

The most glaring example of this dynamic is the use of hundreds of billions of taxpayer money to invade and occupy Iraq, which led to higher oil prices, which hit taxpayers again in their pocketbooks.

Many other examples exist: We pay to train American kids to kill in Afghanistan. We pay to ship them overseas where they die or get injured. We pay for medical care for the survivors. Their families lose both the wounded’s income and often lose additional income when loved ones reduce work hours to stay home and care for the wounded.

The list of these vicious cycles goes on and on. In all cases, our government actually charges us for the privilege of having an even harder time making it in this tough economy.

Actually, it’s worse than that. The government charges us for the privilege of having a tough economy in the first place.

According to the Center for Economic and Policy Research’s (CEPR) Dean Baker:

“In standard economic models, defense spending is a direct drain on the economy, reducing efficiency, slowing growth and costing jobs. …[S]tandard economic models…project that the increase in defense spending since 2000 will cost the economy close to two million jobs in the long run.”

Baker’s point in his article was that groups that scream about potential “job loss” from government “interference” never put that “loss” in any context. Government spending does stimulate economic activity during a downturn. The question is, how stimulative is one type of spending versus another? So let’s make sure we’re playing fair and put this in some perspective in terms of job creation.

It turns out that, excluding tax cuts for consumption, war spending is the least stimulative type of government spending.

An October 2007 study by the Political Economy Research Institute (PERI) found that per $1 billion invested in the following fields, you create wildly different numbers of jobs:

  • Defense: 8,555 jobs
  • Construction for home weatherization/infrastructure: 12,804 jobs
  • Health care: 12,883 jobs
  • Education: 17,687 jobs
  • Mass transit: 19,795 jobs

So if you take $1 billion in taxpayer dollars and spend it on war versus on building energy efficient homes and other infrastructure, the opportunity cost for that spending is 4,249 potential jobs. Spending it on war versus mass transit costs you 11,240 potential jobs.

Now consider that $1 trillion is one thousand billion. Because we’re spending so many billions–now trillions–of dollars on these two wars, we’re losing hundreds of thousands, possibly millions, of potential jobs.

PERI concludes that:

…[B]y addressing social needs in the areas of health care, education, education, mass transit, home weatherization and infrastructure repairs, we would also create more jobs and, depending on the specifics of how such a reallocation is pursued, both an overall higher level of compensation for working people in the U.S. and a better average quality of jobs.

These lost potential jobs aren’t even the whole picture. We also lose the fruits of spending that money in more productive ways, which, according to the National Priorities Project, include:

  • 188,536,667 Students receiving Pell Grants of $5550 OR
  • 8,139,680 Affordable Housing Units OR
  • 461,193,337 Children with Health Care for One Year

But hey, at least these wars are working out well for BP, right?

Had enough? Help us get people talking about the cost of these wars by playing using our new Facebook app to show us your trillion dollar plan, and share it with your friends.

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Posted by Derrick Crowe on May 30th, 2010

Click here to watch the video

$1,000,000,000,000.00

As of today, that’s how much we’ve spent just in direct costs so far on the stupid wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

One trillion dollars, gone. And we’re just getting warmed up…there are trillions more in future direct and indirect costs coming.

These two wars mutilated our economy. There’s no other way to say it. We’ve taken a huge amount of wealth and done things with it that damaged the economy. People are out of work and hurting today because we chose to launch two wars that aren’t worth the cost.

The most glaring example of this dynamic is the use of hundreds of billions of taxpayer money to invade and occupy Iraq, which led to higher oil prices, which hit taxpayers again in their pocketbooks.

Many other examples exist: We pay to train American kids to kill in Afghanistan. We pay to ship them overseas where they die or get injured. We pay for medical care for the survivors. Their families lose both the wounded’s income and often lose additional income when loved ones reduce work hours to stay home and care for the wounded.

The list of these vicious cycles goes on and on. In all cases, our government actually charges us for the privilege of having an even harder time making it in this tough economy.

Actually, it’s worse than that. The government charges us for the privilege of having a tough economy in the first place.

According to the Center for Economic and Policy Research’s (CEPR) Dean Baker:

“In standard economic models, defense spending is a direct drain on the economy, reducing efficiency, slowing growth and costing jobs. …[S]tandard economic models…project that the increase in defense spending since 2000 will cost the economy close to two million jobs in the long run.”

Baker’s point in his article was that groups that scream about potential “job loss” from government “interference” never put that “loss” in any context. Government spending does stimulate economic activity during a downturn. The question is, how stimulative is one type of spending versus another? So let’s make sure we’re playing fair and put this in some perspective in terms of job creation.

It turns out that, excluding tax cuts for consumption, war spending is the least stimulative type of government spending.

An October 2007 study by the Political Economy Research Institute (PERI) found that per $1 billion invested in the following fields, you create wildly different numbers of jobs:

  • Defense: 8,555 jobs
  • Construction for home weatherization/infrastructure: 12,804 jobs
  • Health care: 12,883 jobs
  • Education: 17,687 jobs
  • Mass transit: 19,795 jobs

So if you take $1 billion in taxpayer dollars and spend it on war versus on building energy efficient homes and other infrastructure, the opportunity cost for that spending is 4,249 potential jobs. Spending it on war versus mass transit costs you 11,240 potential jobs.

Now consider that $1 trillion is one thousand billion. Because we’re spending so many billions–now trillions–of dollars on these two wars, we’re losing hundreds of thousands, possibly millions, of potential jobs.

PERI concludes that:

…[B]y addressing social needs in the areas of health care, education, education, mass transit, home weatherization and infrastructure repairs, we would also create more jobs and, depending on the specifics of how such a reallocation is pursued, both an overall higher level of compensation for working people in the U.S. and a better average quality of jobs.

These lost potential jobs aren’t even the whole picture. We also lose the fruits of spending that money in more productive ways, which, according to the National Priorities Project, include:

  • 188,536,667 Students receiving Pell Grants of $5550 OR
  • 8,139,680 Affordable Housing Units OR
  • 461,193,337 Children with Health Care for One Year

But hey, at least these wars are working out well for BP, right?

Had enough? Help us get people talking about the cost of these wars by playing using our new Facebook app to show us your trillion dollar plan, and share it with your friends.

Share this:
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Posted by Josh Mull on May 30th, 2010

I am the Afghanistan Blogging Fellow for The Seminal and Brave New Foundation. You can read my work on The Seminal or at Rethink Afghanistan. The views expressed below are my own.

As of this morning, the cost of our war in Afghanistan hit the $1 Trillion mark:

You can head over to Facebook and tell us what you would do with a trillion dollars. You’d be surprised at what you could be getting for that money. You could buy Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn many times over, or buy health care for everyone. Only it’s just a game, isn’t it? You’re not really buying that stuff. But as the video says, you’re not really getting what you’re paying for in Afghanistan either.

You’re not any safer because of that money. If anything, you’re less safe because of that wasted money. California had to cut its “Healthy Families” program, among countless other basic human services. We’re supporting corrupt drug addicts and committed war mongers overseas. We even have airplanes literally falling out of the sky because of how our broken our economy is. That trillion dollars is gone, the war is coming up to its 104th month, and we have only disaster to show for it.

But don’t be fooled by our Facebook app. It’s more than just a game. No, you can’t buy Bill Gates or the Large Hadron Collider, but you can actually force the government to spend money on programs which do make us safer. You can even cut off the war ending funding entirely. After all, the cost is just hitting $1 trillion, it’s not stopping there. It’s only going up, faster and faster as President Obama’s escalation continues. It’s not as simple as dropping your items in a shopping cart, but it doesn’t take much more than that either. With just a little bit of action, you can go way beyond a Facebook game and actually accomplish real change. (more…)

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Posted by robertgreenwald on May 29th, 2010

We’ve fallen off an ugly cliff this Sunday. At 10 a.m., all of those little cost of war counters that have been furiously spinning away on countless websites crossed the $1 trillion mark. No alarm sounded. No bell rang. But, on the day before Memorial Day, the cost of the wars in cold, hard cash follows the human cost of the Afghanistan war into a new order of magnitude.

Click here to watch the video

Just how much is $1 trillion? Let’s put it into real-world terms. For that amount of money, you could do fantastic, life-changing things like:

  • Provide jobs for 1 million music/arts teachers for a year, and
  • Provide health care for 1 million children for one year.

And then, just for fun, you could also:

  • Buy Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.

If you did all three of these things, you’d still have $925 billion to spare.

These wars aren’t making us safer. They aren’t worth the cost, and we don’t need them. What people do need are jobs and help when they don’t have enough work or any work at all. But instead of leading on the jobs issue, they’re delaying and dissembling about the cost–while spending trillions on war! For example, the Senate just skipped town instead of staying in session long enough to pass an unemployment insurance extension. HuffPost Hill spells out what that means:

On June 1, several programs, including extended unemployment benefits, will expire. By the end of the week, 19,400 people will prematurely stop receiving checks, according to data from the Department of Labor. …By the end of the following week, the number of premature unemployment exhaustions will climb to 323,400. The week after that, 903,000. By the end of the month, 1.2 million.

HuffPo’s Ryan Grim and Arthur Delaney put that in even more context:

It will be the third time this year that lawmakers have allowed extended unemployment benefits to lapse, and the second time they’ve decided to leave town for recess fully knowing the lapse would cause panic and confusion among blameless layoff victims — not to mention what Katz calls a “huge” administrative burden on state workforce agencies.

This is a disaster. People are losing jobs or have already been unemployed long-term. And while Congress is “nickel-and-diming” people who are suffering, those cost of war counters keep spinning.

Help us get the word out: check out our new Facebook app and show us how you’d spend the $1 trillion wasted on war, and share it with your friends.

Then, if you haven’t yet, join Rethink Afghanistan on Facebook.

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Posted by Newshoggers.com on May 29th, 2010

From our partners at Newshoggers.com

By Steve Hynd

This Sunday, May 30, at a little after 10 a.m., the National Priorities Project's Cost of War counter will hit the $1 trillion dollar mark for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. What would you do with $1 trillion dollars, the amount that's been spent on America's invasions and long occupations to no good end?

Click here to watch the video

One thing you could do would be clean up the Gulf – possibly several hundred times over!

BP PLC has estimated the cost to clean up the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico is $930 million so far

Costs are rising fast in the Gulf, they're up 20% since Monday, but a trillion dollars is a lot of money.

What's your One Trillion Dollar Plan? Play the game yourself on Facebook.

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Posted by Just Foreign Policy on May 28th, 2010

From our partners at Just Foreign Policy

Today eighteen Senators voted for Senator Feingold’s amendment to the war supplemental requiring the President to establish a timetable for the redeployment of U.S. military forces from Afghanistan. This could be a turning point in U.S. policy on the war in Afghanistan.

With this vote, the number of Senators on the record in support of the policy of establishing a timetable for military withdrawal just increased from two to eighteen: on Tuesday, Senator Boxer added her name to S.3197, Senator Feingold’s bill that would have the same effect.

The other sixteen Senators who voted yes were Baucus [D-MT]; Brown [D-OH]; Cantwell [D-WA]; Dorgan [D-ND]; Durbin [D-IL]; Gillibrand [D-NY]; Harkin [D-IA]; Leahy [D-VT]; Merkley [D-OR]; Murray [D-WA]; Sanders [I-VT]; Schumer [D-NY]; Specter [D-PA]; Tester [D-MT]; Udall [D-NM]; and Wyden [D-OR]. (Noteworthy votes against included Senator Franken and Senator Feinstein. Last September, Feinstein called for a specific date for the withdrawal of American forces.)

This "surge" in Senate support for a timetable for withdrawal should make it easier to build support in the House for a withdrawal timetable when the House considers the war supplemental, as it is expected to do after the Memorial Day recess.

Already, 92 Members of the House have co-sponsored H.R. 5015, Representative McGovern’s companion legislation requiring a timetable for withdrawal, including members of the House Democratic leadership, like Rep. Barney Frank and Rep. George Miller; if you add in Members who earlier this year supported Representative Kucinich’s withdrawal resolution, more than 100 Members of the House are already on the record in favor of a timetable for military withdrawal.

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Posted by Just Foreign Policy on May 27th, 2010

From our partners at Just Foreign Policy

Today eighteen Senators voted for Senator Feingold’s amendment to the war supplemental requiring the President to establish a timetable for the redeployment of U.S. military forces from Afghanistan. This could be a turning point in U.S. policy on the war in Afghanistan.

With this vote, the number of Senators on the record in support of the policy of establishing a timetable for military withdrawal just increased from two to eighteen: on Tuesday, Senator Boxer added her name to S.3197, Senator Feingold’s bill that would have the same effect.

The other sixteen Senators who voted yes were Baucus [D-MT]; Brown [D-OH]; Cantwell [D-WA]; Dorgan [D-ND]; Durbin [D-IL]; Gillibrand [D-NY]; Harkin [D-IA]; Leahy [D-VT]; Merkley [D-OR]; Murray [D-WA]; Sanders [I-VT]; Schumer [D-NY]; Specter [D-PA]; Tester [D-MT]; Udall [D-NM]; and Wyden [D-OR]. (Noteworthy votes against included Senator Franken and Senator Feinstein. Last September, Feinstein called for a specific date for the withdrawal of American forces.)

This "surge" in Senate support for a timetable for withdrawal should make it easier to build support in the House for a withdrawal timetable when the House considers the war supplemental, as it is expected to do after the Memorial Day recess.

Already, 92 Members of the House have co-sponsored H.R. 5015, Representative McGovern’s companion legislation requiring a timetable for withdrawal, including members of the House Democratic leadership, like Rep. Barney Frank and Rep. George Miller; if you add in Members who earlier this year supported Representative Kucinich’s withdrawal resolution, more than 100 Members of the House are already on the record in favor of a timetable for military withdrawal.

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Posted by Josh Mull on May 27th, 2010

I am the Afghanistan Blogging Fellow for The Seminal and Brave New Foundation. You can read my work on The Seminal or at Rethink Afghanistan. The views expressed below are my own.

This morning while the Beltway media was covering President Obama’s pitiful attempt to hose and toothbrush the oil off his suffocating administration, they predictably missed a real moment of democratic accountability just a few blocks away. While the press was putting on their concerned eyebrows and asking Obama polite questions (that’ll teach him!), the Senate was taking a big step toward ending the war in Afghanistan. Robert Naiman writes:

Today eighteen Senators voted for Senator Feingold’s amendment to the war supplemental requiring the President to establish a timetable for the redeployment of U.S. military forces from Afghanistan. This could be a turning point in U.S. policy on the war in Afghanistan.

With this vote, the number of Senators on the record in support of the policy of establishing a timetable for military withdrawal just increased from two to eighteen: on Tuesday, Senator Boxer added her name to S.3197, Senator Feingold’s bill that would have the same effect.

Why is this a victory? First off, 18 votes in the Senate is a lot. There’s only 100, so 2 to 18 is a massive jump. But there’s more:

This “surge” in Senate support for a timetable for withdrawal should make it easier to build support in the House for a withdrawal timetable when the House considers the war supplemental, as it is expected to do after the Memorial Day recess.

Already, 92 Members of the House have co-sponsored H.R. 5015, Representative McGovern’s companion legislation requiring a timetable for withdrawal, including members of the House Democratic leadership, like Rep. Barney Frank and Rep. George Miller; if you add in Members who earlier this year supported Representative Kucinich’s withdrawal resolution, more than 100 Members of the House are already on the record in favor of a timetable for military withdrawal.[...]

A handful more of co-sponsors on McGovern’s resolution would virtually guarantee that if the House is allowed to consider an amendment like the one the Senate voted on today, the majority of Democrats would vote no. This would establish “there should be a timetable for withdrawal” as the mainstream Democratic position, pressuring the Obama Administration to create one, just as Congressional pressure helped create the July 2011 deadline for the drawdown of U.S. forces in Afghanistan to begin.

These 18 politicians aren’t luminous agents of peace working to save the world (Nobel Committee, please wait this one out). No, these are United States Senators. They’re our Americanized version of wealthy, land-owning lords. Their every institutional and professional instinct commands them to side with the elite, with the Commander-in-Chief, with power. Getting 18 Senators to buck the President’s demands for no accountability is a big accomplishment.

And again, these are politicians. They didn’t move to check the President because they’re brilliant, they did it because of you. But there is a bit of bad news here. The unchecked president and his forces in the establishment are fighting this change, fiercely, every step of the way. And they are also achieving victories.

(more…)

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Posted by alexthurston on May 27th, 2010

This article originally appeared at TomDispatch.com.

What do you make of it when Afghan War commander General Stanley McChrystal now refers to the only significant offensive he’s set in motion — the attempt to drive the Taliban out of Marjah, a collection of villages in Helmand Province — as “a bleeding ulcer”?  Or what about his upcoming summer “offensive” to drive the Taliban out of the second largest Afghan city, Kandahar, which has recently been verbally downgraded from an “operation” to something called “Cooperation for Kandahar,” now also referred to as a “military presence” so as not to offend local sensibilities with a hint of the coming violence.  What do you make of it when Dion Nissenbaum and Jonathan Landay of McClatchy Newspapers report in mid-May that the American non-operation in Kandahar, scarcely beginning, is already showing signs of “faltering,” while Karen DeYoung of the Washington Post describes it as a “go-for-broke move that even its authors are unsure will succeed,” adding: “There is no Plan B.”

Or what about when Gareth Porter, who has been doing top-notch reporting on the Afghan War for Inter Press Service, points out McChrystal’s striking recent Kandahar flip-flop.  Back in March, his team was talking about getting rid of Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s half-brother Wali Karzai, Kandahar’s major powerbroker, a man reputedly deeply involved in the drug trade, and an asset or former asset of the CIA.  (“The only way to clean up Chicago,” said McChrystal’s intelligence chief General Michael Flynn back then, “is to get rid of Capone.”) More recently, however, they have executed a 180-degree turn and decided not only to leave him in place, but to intensify their work with him.  “The reaffirmation of ties between the U.S. and [Wali] Karzai,” writes Porter, “ensures that the whole military effort in the province is locked into Karzai’s political strategy for maintaining his grip on power.”

Consider this but a brief snapshot of Obama’s flailing war in Afghanistan.  As TomDispatch regular Dilip Hiro makes clear in his latest canny analysis, the president of what was, until recently, the global power is losing his grip not just on Afghanistan, but on the planet.  Hiro, whose latest book, After Empire: The Birth of A Multipolar World, offers a deep look into international power shifts, has been writing about the downward slope of American power at this site since 2007.  Tom

The American Century Is So Over
Obama’s Rudderless Foreign Policy Underscores America’s Waning Power

By Dilip Hiro

Irrespective of their politics, flawed leaders share a common trait. They generally remain remarkably oblivious to the harm they do to the nation they lead. George W. Bush is a salient recent example, as is former British Prime Minister Tony Blair. When it comes to foreign policy, we are now witnessing a similar phenomenon at the Obama White House.

Here is the Obama pattern: Choose a foreign leader to pressure.  Threaten him with dire consequences if he does not bend to Washington’s will. When he refuses to submit and instead responds vigorously, back off quickly and overcompensate for failure by switching into a placatory mode.

In his first year-plus in office, Barack Obama has provided us with enough examples to summarize his leadership style. The American president fails to objectively evaluate the strength of the cards that a targeted leader holds and his resolve to play them.

Obama’s propensity to retreat at the first sign of resistance shows that he lacks both guts and the strong convictions that are essential elements distinguishing statesmen from politicians. By pursuing a rudderless course in his foreign policy, by flip-flopping in his approach to other leaders, he is also inadvertently furnishing hard evidence to those who argue that American power is on the decline — and that the downward slide of the globe’s former “sole superpower” is irreversible.

Those who have refused to buckle under Obama’s initial threats and hardball tactics (and so the impact of American power) include not just the presidents of China, a first-tier mega-nation, and Brazil, a rising major power, but also the leaders of Israel, a regional power heavily dependent on Washington for its sustenance, and Afghanistan, a client state — not to mention the military junta of Honduras, a minor entity, which stood up to the Obama administration as if it were the Politburo of former Soviet Union.

Flip-Flop on Honduras

By overthrowing the civilian government of President Manuel Zelaya in June 2009, the Honduran generals acquired the odious distinction of carrying out the first military coup in Central America in the post-Cold War era. What drove them to it? The precipitating factor was Zelaya’s decision to have a non-binding survey on holding a referendum that November about convening a Constituent Assembly to redraft the constitution.

Denouncing the coup as a “terrible precedent” for the region and demanding its reversal, President Obama initially insisted: “We do not want to go back to a dark past. We always want to stand with democracy.”

Those words should have been followed by deeds like recalling his ambassador in Tegucigalpa (just as Bolivia, Brazil, Cuba, Ecuador, Nicaragua, and Venezuela did) and an immediate suspension of the American aid on which the country depends. Instead, what followed was a statement by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton that the administration would not formally designate the ouster as a military coup “for now” — even though the United Nations, the Organization of American States, and the European Union had already done so.

This backtracking encouraged the Honduran generals and their Republican supporters in Congress. They began to stonewall, while a top notch public relations firm in Washington, hired by the de facto government of the military’s puppet president Roberto Micheletti, went to work.

These moves proved enough to weaken the “democratic” resolve of a president who makes lofty speeches, but lacks strong convictions when it comes to foreign policy. Secretary of State Clinton then began talking of reconciling the ousted president and the Micheletti government, treating the legitimate and illegitimate camps as equals.

Having realized that a hard line stance vis-à-vis Washington was paying dividends, the Honduran generals remained unbending. Only when Clinton insisted that the State Department would not recognize the November presidential election result because of doubts about it being free, fair, and transparent did they agree to a compromise a month before the poll. They would let Zelaya return to the presidential palace to finish his term in office.

That was when rightwing Republican Senator Jim DeMint, a fanatical supporter of the Honduran generals, swung into action. He would give Republican consent to White House nominees for important posts in Latin America only if Clinton agreed to recognize the election results, irrespective of what happened to Zelaya. Clinton buckled.

As a result, Obama became one of only two leaders — the other being Panama’s president — in the 34-member Organization of American States to lend his support to the Honduran presidential poll. What probably appeared as a routine trade-off in domestic politics on Capitol Hill was seen by the international community as a humiliating retreat by Obama when challenged by a group of Honduran generals. Other leaders undoubtedly took note.

A far more dramatic reversal awaited Obama when he locked horns with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. 

Wily Netanyahu Trumps Naïve Obama

On taking office, the Obama White House announced with much fanfare that it would take on the intractable Israeli-Palestinian dispute right away. On examining the 2003 “road map” to peace backed by the United Nations, the United States, Russia, and the European Union, it discovered Israel’s promise to cease all settlement-building activity.

In his first meeting with Netanyahu in mid-May 2009, Obama demanded a halt to the expansion of Jewish settlements in the West Bank and occupied East Jerusalem, already housing nearly 500,000 Jews.  He argued that they were a major obstacle to the establishment of an independent Palestinian state. Netanyahu balked — and changed tack by stressing the existential threat that Iran’s nuclear program posed to Israel.

Obama slipped into the Israeli leader’s trap.  At their joint press conference, he linked the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks with the Iranian nuclear threat. Then, to Netanyahu’s delight, he gave Tehran “until the end of the year” to respond to his diplomatic overtures. In this way, the wily prime minister got the American president to accept his linkage of two unrelated issues while offering nothing in return.

Later, Netanyahu would differentiate between the ongoing expansion of present Jewish settlements and the creation of new ones, with no compromise on the former. He would also draw a clear distinction between the West Bank and East Jerusalem which, he would insist, was an integral part of the “indivisible, eternal capital of Israel,” and therefore exempt from any restrictions on Jewish settlements.

Reflecting the Obama administration’s style, Clinton offered a strong verbal riposte: “No exceptions to Israeli settlement freeze”. These would prove empty words that changed nothing on the ground.

When Netanyahu publicly rejected Obama’s demand for a halt to settlement construction in the West Bank, Obama raised the stakes, suggesting that Israeli intransigence endangered American security.

On October 15th, after much back-channel communication between the two governments, Netanyahu announced that he had terminated the settlements talks with Washington. Having said this, he offered to curb some settlement construction during a later meeting with Clinton. This won him the secretary of state’s effusive praise for an “unprecedented” gesture, and a call for the unconditional resumption of the Palestinian-Israeli peace talks.

The Palestinians were flabbergasted by this American volte-face. “I believe that the U.S. condones continued settlement expansion,” said stunned Palestinian government spokesman Ghassan Khatib. “Negotiations are about ending the occupation and settlement expansion is about entrenching the occupation.”

In December, Netanyahu agreed to a 10-month moratorium on settlement building, but only after his government had given permission for the construction of 3,000 new apartments in the occupied West Bank. Sticking to their original position, the Palestinians refused to revive peace talks until there was a total freeze on settlement activity.

On March 9, 2010, just as Vice-President Joe Biden arrived in Jerusalem as part of Washington’s campaign to kick-start the peace process, the Israeli authorities announced the approval of yet more building — 1,600 new homes in East Jerusalem. This audacious move, meant to underline Israel’s defiance of Washington, left Biden — as well as Obama — fuming.

With the House of Representatives adopting his health reform bill on March 24th, Obama was on a domestic roll when he met Netanyahu in Washington the next day. He reportedly laid out three conditions for defusing the crisis: an extension of the freeze on Jewish settlement expansion beyond September 2010; an end to further Jewish settlement projects in East Jerusalem; and withdrawal of the Israeli forces to the positions held before the Second Intifada in September 2000. He then left Netanyahu at the White House to consult with his advisers and get back to him if “there is anything new.” Again, however, as with the Honduran generals Obama’s tough talk remained just that: talk.

The purpose of all this activity was to get the Palestinians to resume peace negotiations with Israel, which they had broken off when that country attacked the Gaza Strip in December 2008. Netanyahu was prepared to talk as long as no preconditions were set by the Palestinians.

In the end, he got what he wanted. He met neither Palestinian preconditions nor those of the Obama administration. Simply put, it was Obama who bent to Netanyahu’s will. The tail wagged the dog.

The hapless officials of the Palestinian Authority read the writing on the wall. After some ritual huffing and puffing, they agreed to participate in “proximity talks” with the Netanyahu government in which Washington’s Middle East envoy, George Mitchell, would shuttle back and forth between the two sides. These started on May 9th. Over the next four months, Mitchell’s tough task will be to try to narrow the yawning differences on the terms of Palestinian statehood — when both sides now know that Obama will shy away from pressuring Israel where it hurts.

Spat With China, Then a Sudden Thaw

Obama’s problems with the People’s Republic of China (PRC) began in November 2009 when, to his disappointment, the Chinese government failed to accord him the royal treatment he had expected on his first visit to the country.

Washington-Beijing relations cooled further when the Obama administration greenlighted the sale of $6.4 billion worth of advanced weaponry to Taiwan, including anti-missile missiles, and Obama met the Dalai Lama, Tibet’s spiritual leader, at the White House. The PRC regards Taiwan as a breakaway province and Tibet as an integral part of the republic.

Senior U.S. officials described the moves as part of Obama’s concerted drive to “push back” at China which, in his view, was punching above its weight. Along with these moves went unrelenting pressure on Beijing, in private and in public, to revalue its currency, the yuan.  The administration repeatedly highlighted a legal provision requiring the Treasury Department to report twice a year on any country that has been manipulating the rate of exchange between its currency and the American dollar to gain unfair advantage in international trade. That the next due date for such a report — a preamble to possible sanctions — was April 15th was repeated by U.S. officials ad nauseam.

In mid-April, Obama was convening an international summit on nuclear security in Washington.  He was eager to have as many heads of state as possible attend. At the very least, he wanted the leaders of the four nuclear powers with U.N. Security Council vetoes — Britain, France, Russia, and China — present.

That provided Chinese President Hu Jintao with a powerful card to play at a moment when a White House threat to name his country as a currency manipulator hung over his head. He refused to attend the Washington nuclear summit. Obama blinked. He postponed the Treasury Department’s judgment day. In return, Hu came and met Obama at the White House.

That tensions existed between Beijing and Washington did not surprise China’s leaders, a collective of hard-nosed realists.  Their attitude was reflected in an editorial in the official newspaper, the China Daily, soon after Obama’s inauguration. “U.S. leaders have never been shy about talking about their country’s ambition,” it said. “For them, it is divinely granted destiny no matter what other nations think.” The editorial went on to predict that “Obama’s defense of U.S. interests will inevitably clash with those of other nations.”  And so they have, repeatedly.

Such realism contrasted starkly with the mood prevalent at the White House where it was naively believed that a few well scripted speeches in foreign capitals by the eloquent new president would restore U.S. prestige left in tatters by George W. Bush’s policies. What the president and his coterie seem not to have noticed, however, was an important Pew Research Center poll. It showed that, following Obama’s public diplomacy campaign, while the image of the U.S. had indeed risen sharply in Europe, Mexico, and Brazil, any improvement was minor in India and China, marginal in the Arab Middle East, and nonexistent in Russia, Pakistan, and Turkey.

Stuck in its self-congratulatory mode, the Obama team paid scant attention to the full range of options that other powers had for retaliating to its pressure. For instance, it did not foresee Beijing threatening sanctions against major American companies supplying weapons to Taiwan, nor did it anticipate the stiff resistance the PRC would offer to revaluing the yuan.

Some attributed Beijing’s behavior to a rising Chinese nationalism and the fears of its leaders that bending under pressure from “foreigners” would play poorly at home. But the real reasons for Chinese resistance had more to do with hard economics than popular sentiment. In the wake of the Great Recession of 2008-09, symbolized by the collapse of the gigantic Lehman Brothers investment bank, China’s leaders noted tectonic changes occurring in the international economic balance of power — at the expense of the hitherto “sole superpower.”

While the U.S. and European economies contracted, Beijing quickly adopted policies aimed at boosting domestic demand and infrastructure investment.  This resulted in impressive expansion: 9% growth in the gross domestic product in 2009 with a prediction of 12% in the current year. This led Goldman Sachs’ analysts to advance their forecast of the year when China would become the globe’s number one economy from 2050 to 2027.

For the first time since World War II, it was not the United States that pulled the rest of the world out of negative growth, but China. The U.S. has emerged from the financial carnage as the most heavily indebted nation on Earth, and China as its leading creditor with an unprecedented $2.4 trillion in foreign reserves.

Its cash-rich corporations are now buying companies and future natural resources from Australia to Peru, Canada to Afghanistan where, last year, the Congjiang Copper Group, a Chinese corporation, offered $3.4 billion — $1 billion more than the highest bid by a Western metallurgy company — to secure the right to mine copper from one of the richest deposits on the planet.

Karzai the Menace Becomes Karzai the Indispensable

On assuming the presidency, Obama made no secret of his dislike for his Afghan counterpart, Hamid Karzai. To circumvent his central government’s pervasive corruption, senior American officials came up with the idea of dealing directly with Afghan provincial and district governors. In the presidential election of August 2009, their preference for Abdullah Abdullah, a serious rival to Karzai, was widely known.

When Karzai resorted to massive vote rigging to ensure his reelection and turned a deaf ear to Washington’s exhortations to clean up his administration, Obama decided to use a stick to bring Washington’s latest client regime in line. In a dramatic gesture, he undertook an air journey of 26 hours — from Washington to Kabul — over the last weekend in March to deliver a 26-minute lecture to Karzai on the corruption and administrative ineptitude of his government. The Afghan leader had few options but to listen in stony silence.

When, however, Karzai read a news story in which an unnamed senior American military official suggested that his younger half-brother, Ahmed Wali, the power broker in the southern province of Kandahar, deserved to be put on the Pentagon’s current list of drug barons to be killed or captured, his patience snapped.

An incensed Afghan president responded by claiming that the U.S. was deliberately intensifying and widening the war in Afghanistan in order to stay in the region and dominate it.  He added that, if Washington’s pressure continued, he might join the Taliban. (He had, in fact, been a significant fundraiser for the Taliban after they captured Kabul in September 1996.)

Obama reacted as he had done in the past. When facing a serious challenge, he retreated.  From being a stick wielder he morphed into a carrier of carrots during a Karzai visit to Washington early this month (that, in March, administration officials were threatening to postpone indefinitely).

The high point of the wooing of Karzai — worthy of being included in a modern version of Alice in Wonderland — was a dinner Vice-President Joe Biden gave for the Afghan dignitary at his residence.  At the very least Karzai must have been bemused. In February, Biden had staged a dramatic walk-out halfway through a dinner at the Afghan president’s palace after Karzai denied that his government was corrupt or that, if it was, he was at fault.

Despite the Obama administration’s “red carpet treatment” and “charm offensive,” Karzai was boldly honest at a joint press conference with Obama when he described Iran as “our bother country, our friend.”

The same sentiments would soon be expressed by another leader — in Brazil.

President da Silva Thumbs His Nose at Obama

Ever since assuming the presidency of Brazil in 2003, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva has, when necessary, not hesitated to challenge U.S. policy moves. He has clashed with Washington on world trade (the Doha round), global warming, and continuing U.S. sanctions against Cuba.

In December 2008, he chaired a meeting of 31 Latin American and Caribbean countries, which excluded the United States, at the Brazilian tourist resort of Sauipe. The next month, instead of going to the World Economic Forum at Davos, Switzerland, da Silva attended the Eighth World Social Forum at Belem at the mouth of the Amazon River.

He was critical of the way Obama compromised democracy in Honduras, and, despite the Obama administration’s dismay and opposition, he invited Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to Brasilia in November 2009 for talks on the Iranian nuclear program, his first attempt at high-profile international diplomacy. (A week earlier he had warmly received Israeli president Shimon Peres in the Brazilian capital.)  Six months later, he paid a return visit to Tehran — and made history, much to the chagrin of Washington.

Acting in tandem with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, da Silva revived a putative October 2009 nuclear agreement and brokered an unexpected deal with Ahmadinejad.  Iran agreed to ship 1,200 kilograms of its low-enriched uranium to Turkey; in return, Russia and France would provide 120 kilograms of 20% enriched uranium for a medical research reactor in Tehran.

Taken by surprise and rattled by the success of Brazil and Turkey in the face of American disapproval, the Obama administration reverted to the stance of the Bush White House and demanded that Iran suspend its program to enrich nuclear fuel. It then moved to push an agreement on further U.N. sanctions against Iran, as if the Brazilians and Turks had accomplished nothing.

This refusal to register reality was myopic at best. The blinkered view of the present White House ignores salient global facts. The influence of mid-level powers on the world stage is on the rise. Their leaders feel — rightly — that they can ignore or bypass the Obama administration’s demands. And, on the positive side, they can come together on certain international issues and take diplomatic initiatives of their own with a fair chance of success.

By now, from Afghanistan to Honduras, Brazil to China, global leaders large and small increasingly sense that the Obama administration’s bark is worse than its bite, and though the U.S. remains a major power, it is no longer the determinative one.  The waning of the truncated American Century is by now irreversible.

Dilip Hiro is the author of 32 books, the latest being After Empire: The Birth of A Multipolar World (Nation Books).

Copyright 2010 Dilip Hiro

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Posted by The Agonist on May 26th, 2010

From our partners at The Agonist

McChrystal shifts to raids – and Wali Karzai

General Stanley McChrystal’s team once talked openly about the need to remove from power Ahmed Wali Karzai, Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s brother and the most powerful man in Kandahar.

Last October, as reports of Wali Karzai’s role in the opium trade were circulating, McChrystal’s intelligence chief General Michael T Flynn said, “If we are going to conduct a population-centric strategy in Afghanistan, and we are perceived as backing thugs, then we are just undermining ourselves.”

“The only way to clean up Chicago,” Flynn declared, “is to get rid of [Al] Capone.” The parallel between the legendary crime boss and Wali Karzai could hardly have been clearer.

But by the end of March, Dexter Filkins was reporting in the New York Times that US officials had decided that Wali Karzai “will be allowed to stay in place”. ~ Gareth Porter

** Obama and Petraeus Running Secret Wars ~ Newshoggers
** McChrystal calls Marjah a ‘bleeding ulcer’ in Afghan campaign
** US soldier beaten after reporting crimes: officials
** Car bomb hits outside NATO base in Kandahar city
** Main US Rifle Not Effective Enough In Afghanistan
** Rethink Afganistan!
** The absence of debate over war ~ Glenn Greenwald

Troops in Afghanistan Now Outnumber Those in Iraq

For more than a year it has been called “Obama’s War,’’ but on Tuesday the numbers made it official: For the first time since the United States led the invasion of Baghdad during the Bush administration in 2003, there were more American troops deployed to Afghanistan than Iraq — 94,000 compared with 92,000.

** US military deaths in Iraq war at 4,400

Please check comments for related articles and discussion

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