Inter Press Service » Jim Lobe http://www.ipsnews.net Turning the World Downside Up Wed, 01 Oct 2014 16:29:45 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.9.2 Despite New Pledges, Aid to Fight Ebola Lagginghttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/despite-new-pledges-aid-to-fight-ebola-lagging/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=despite-new-pledges-aid-to-fight-ebola-lagging http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/despite-new-pledges-aid-to-fight-ebola-lagging/#comments Fri, 26 Sep 2014 05:11:33 +0000 Jim Lobe http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136889 Sierra Leone and Liberia alone could have a total of more than 20,000 new cases of Ebola within six weeks and as many as 1.4 million by Jan. 20, 2015, if the virus continues spreading at its current rate. Credit: European Commission DG ECHO/CC-BY-ND-2.0

Sierra Leone and Liberia alone could have a total of more than 20,000 new cases of Ebola within six weeks and as many as 1.4 million by Jan. 20, 2015, if the virus continues spreading at its current rate. Credit: European Commission DG ECHO/CC-BY-ND-2.0

By Jim Lobe
WASHINGTON, Sep 26 2014 (IPS)

Despite mounting pledges of assistance, the continuing spread of the deadly Ebola virus in West Africa is outpacing regional and international efforts to stop it, according to world leaders and global health experts.

“We are not moving fast enough. We are not doing enough,” declared U.S. President Barack Obama at a special meeting on the Ebola crisis at the United Nations in New York Thursday. He warned that “hundreds of thousands” of people could be killed by the epidemic in the coming months unless the international community provided the necessary resources.

He was joined by World Bank President Jim Yong Kim who announced his institution would nearly double its financing to 400 million dollars to help the worst-affected countries – Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone – cope with the crisis.

“We can – we must – all move more swiftly to contain the spread of Ebola and help these countries and their people,” according to Kim, much of whose professional career has been devoted to improving health services for people around the world.

“Generous pledges of aid and unprecedented U.N. resolutions are very welcome. But they will mean little, unless they are translated into immediate action. The reality on the ground today is this: the promised surge has not yet delivered." -- Joanne Liu, international president of Doctors Without Borders (MSF)
“Too many lives have been lost already, and the fate of thousands of others depends upon a response that can contain and then stop this epidemic,” he said.

Indeed, concern about the spread of the epidemic has increased sharply here in recent days, particularly in light of projections released earlier this week by the Atlanta-based U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which has sent scores of experts to the region. It found that Sierra Leone and Liberia alone could have a total of more than 20,000 new cases of Ebola within six weeks and as many as 1.4 million by Jan. 20, 2015, if the virus continues spreading at its current rate.

Moreover, global health officials have revised upwards – from 55 percent to 70 percent – the mortality rate of those infected with the virus whose latest outbreak appears to have begun in a remote village in Guinea before spreading southwards into two nations that have only relatively recently begun to recover from devastating civil wars.

Officially, almost 3,000 people have died from the latest outbreak, which began last spring. But most experts believe the official figures are far too conservative, because many cases have not been reported to the authorities, especially in remote regions of the three affected countries.

“Staff at the outbreak sites see evidence that the numbers of reported cases and deaths vastly underestimate the magnitude of the outbreak, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO), which is overseeing the global effort to combat the virus’s spread.

In addition to the staggering human costs, the economic toll is also proving dire, if not catastrophic, as the fear of contagion and the resort by governments to a variety of quarantine measures have seriously disrupted normal transport, trade, and commerce.

In a study released last week, the World Bank found that inflation and prices of basic staples that had been contained during the last few months are now rising rapidly upwards in response to shortages, panic buying, and speculation.

The study, which did not factor in the latest CDC estimates, projected potential economic losses for all three countries in 2014 at 359 million dollars – or an average of about a three-percent decline in what their economic output would otherwise have been.

The impact for 2015 could reach more than 800 million dollars, with the Liberian economy likely to be hardest hit among the three, which were already among the world’s poorest nations.

“This is a humanitarian catastrophe, first and foremost,” Kim said Thursday. “But the economic ramifications are very broad and could be long lasting. Our assessment shows a much more severe economic impact on affected countries than was previously estimated.”

Moreover, security analysts have warned that the epidemic could also provoke political crises and upheaval in any or all of the affected countries, effectively unravelling years of efforts to stabilise the region.

In a statement released Tuesday, the Brussels-based International Crisis Group (ICG) warned that the hardest hit countries already “face widespread chaos and, potentially, collapse,” in part due to the distrust between citizens and their governments, as shown by the sometimes violent resistance to often military-enforced quarantine and other official efforts to halt the virus’s spread. Food shortages could also provoke popular uprisings against local authorities.

“In all three countries, past civil conflicts fuelled by local and regional antagonisms could resurface,” according to the ICG statement which warned that the virus could also spread to Guinea-Bissau and Gambia, both of which, like the three core nations, lack health systems that can cope with the challenge.

Obama, who Friday will host 44 countries that have enlisted in his administration’s Global Health Security Agenda, himself echoed some of these concerns, stressing that containing Ebola “is as important a national security priority for my team as anything else that’s out there.”

Earlier this month, WHO estimated that it will cost a minimum of 600 million dollars – now generally considered too low a figure –to halt the disease’s spread of which somewhat more than 300 million dollars has materialised to date.

The U.S. has so far pledged more than 500 million dollars and 3,000 troops who are being deployed to the region, along with the CDC specialists. Even that contribution has been criticised as too little by some regional and health experts.

“…[T]he number of new Ebola cases each week far exceeds the number of hospital beds in Sierra Leone and Liberia,” according to John Campbell, a West Africa specialist at the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR), who cited a recent article in the ‘New England Journal of Medicine’.

“It is hard to see how President Obama’s promise to send 3,000 military personnel to Liberia to build hospitals with a total of 1,700 beds can be transformative,” he wrote on the CFR website. “The assistance by the United Kingdom to Sierra Leone and France to Guinea is even smaller,” he noted.

A number of foundations have also pledged help. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which has spent billions of dollars to improve health conditions in sub-Saharan Africa, has committed 50 million dollars, while Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen’s foundation has pledged 65 million dollars to the cause. The California-based William and Flora Hewlett Foundation announced Thursday it had committed five million dollars to be channelled through half a dozen non-governmental organisations.

But whether such contributions will be sufficient remains doubtful, particularly given the dearth of trained staff and adequate facilities in the most-affected countries and the speed at which the pledged support is being delivered – a message that was underlined here Thursday by Joanne Liu, international president of Doctors Without Borders (MSF), which has been deeply engaged in the battle against Ebola.

“Generous pledges of aid and unprecedented U.N. resolutions are very welcome,” she said. “But they will mean little, unless they are translated into immediate action. The reality on the ground today is this: the promised surge has not yet delivered,” she added.

“Our 150-bed facility in Monrovia opens for just thirty minutes each morning. Only a few people are admitted – to fill beds made empty by those who died overnight,” she said. “The sick continue to be turned away, only to return home and spread the virus among loved ones and neighbours.”

“Don’t cut corners. Massive, direct action is the only way,” she declared.

Obama himself repeatedly stressed the urgency, comparing the challenge to “a marathon, but you have to run it like a sprint.”

“And that’s only possible if everybody chips in, if every nation and every organisation takes this seriously. Everybody here has to do more,” he said.

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Nuclear Deal with Iran Likely to Enhance U.S. Regional Leveragehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/nuclear-deal-with-iran-likely-to-enhance-u-s-regional-leverage/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=nuclear-deal-with-iran-likely-to-enhance-u-s-regional-leverage http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/nuclear-deal-with-iran-likely-to-enhance-u-s-regional-leverage/#comments Thu, 18 Sep 2014 00:05:48 +0000 Jim Lobe http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136706 By Jim Lobe
WASHINGTON, Sep 18 2014 (IPS)

A successful agreement on Iran’s nuclear programme could significantly enhance U.S. leverage and influence throughout the Greater Middle East, according to a new report signed by 31 former senior U.S. foreign-policy officials and regional experts and released here Wednesday.

The 115-page report, “Iran and Its Neighbors: Regional Implications for U.S. Policy of a Nuclear Agreement,” argues that a nuclear accord would open the way towards co-operation between the two countries on key areas of mutual concern, including stabilising both Iraq and Afghanistan and even facilitating a political settlement to the bloody civil war in Syria.The study comes amidst what its authors called a “tectonic shift” in the Middle East triggered in major part by the military successes of the Islamic State of Syria and the Levant (ISIL).

“A comprehensive nuclear agreement would enable the United States to perceive [regional] priorities without every lens being colored by that single issue,” according to the report, the latest in a series published the last several years by the New York-based Iran Project, which has sponsored high-level informal exchanges with Iran since it was founded in 2002.

“If the leaders of the United States and Iran are prepared to take on their domestic political opponents’ opposition to the agreement now taking shape, then their governments can turn to the broader agenda of regional issues,” concluded the report, whose signatories included former U.S. National Security Advisers Zbigniew Brzezinski and Brent Scowcroft, as well as more than a dozen former top-ranking diplomats,

Conversely, failure to reach an accord between Iran and the so-called P5+1 (the U.S., Britain, France, Russia, China plus Germany) could result in “Iran’s eventual acquisition of a nuclear weapons, a greatly reduced chance of defeating major threats elsewhere in the region, and even war,” the study warned.

The report comes as negotiations over a comprehensive nuclear agreement between Iran and the P5+1 are set to formally resume in New York Thursday, as diplomats from around the world gather for the opening of the U.N. General Assembly, which will be addressed by both Presidents Barack Obama and Hassan Rouhani, among other world leaders, next week.

The parties have set a Nov. 24 deadline, exactly one year after they signed a Joint Plan of Action (JPOA) in Geneva that eased some economic sanctions against Tehran in exchange for its freezing or rolling back key elements of its nuclear programme.

While the two sides have reportedly agreed in principle on a number of important issues, there remain large gaps between them, particularly with respect to proposed limits on the size of Iran’s uranium-enrichment programme and their duration.

The study also comes amidst what its authors called a “tectonic shift” in the Middle East triggered in major part by the military successes of the Islamic State of Syria and the Levant (ISIL), a development that has been greeted by virtually all of the region’s regimes, as well as the U.S. — which is trying to patch together an international coalition against the Sunni extremist group — as a major threat.

“The rise of ISIS has reinforced Iran’s role in support of the government in Iraq and raises the possibility of U.S.-Iran cooperation in stabilizing Iraq even before a nuclear agreement is signed,” according to the report which nonetheless stressed that any agreement should impose “severe restrictions on Iran’s nuclear activities… [to reduce] the risks that Iran could acquire nuclear weapons.”

Still, the thrust of the report, which includes individual essays by recognised experts on Iran’s relations with seven of its neighbours, focuses on how Washington’s interests in the region could be enhanced by “parallel and even joint U.S. and Iran actions” after an agreement is reached.

Such co-operation would most probably begin in dealing with ISIL in Iraq whose government is supported by both Washington and Tehran.

Indeed, as noted by Paul Pillar, a former top CIA Middle East analyst, both countries have recently taken a number of parallel steps in Iraq, notably by encouraging the removal of Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki and by taking separate military actions – U.S. airstrikes and Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) advisers — to help break ISIL’s months-long siege of the town of Amerli.

“There’s ample potential here for more communication on a source of very high concern to both of us,” Pillar said at the report’s release at the Wilson Center here. “[The Iranians] see the sources of instability in Iraq; they see it is not in their interest to have unending instability [there].”

A second area of mutual interest is Afghanistan, from which U.S. and NATO troops are steadily withdrawing amidst growing concerns about the ability of government’s security forces to hold the Taliban at bay.

While it is no secret that the U.S. and Iran worked closely together in forging the government and constitution that were adopted after coalition forces ousted the Taliban in late 2001, noted Barnett Rubin, an Afghanistan expert who after the 9/11 attacks served in senior positions at the State Department and later the U.N., “what’s not as well known is that the IRGC worked closely on the ground with the CIA and U.S. Special Forces” during that campaign.

With political tensions over recent election results between the two main presidential candidates and their supporters on the rise, according to Rubin, some co-operation between Iran and the U.S. is likely to be “very important” to ensure political stability.

“A nuclear agreement would open the way for a diplomatic and political process that would make it possible to retain some of the important gains we have made in Afghanistan over the past 13 years,” he said.

As for Syria, Iran, as one of President Bashar Al-Assad’s two main foreign backers, must be included in any efforts to achieve a political settlement, according to the report. Until now, it has been invited to participate only as an observer, largely due to U.S. and Saudi opposition.

“The Iranians are not wedded to …the continuation of the Baathist regime,” said Frank Wisner, who served as ambassador to Egypt and India, among other senior posts in his career. In talks with Iranian officials he said he had been struck by “the degree to which they feel themselves over-stretched,” particularly now that they are more involved in Iraq.

The report anticipates considerable resistance by key U.S. regional allies to any rapprochement with Iran that could follow a nuclear agreement, particularly from Israel, which has been outspoken in its opposition to any accord that would permit Iran to continue enriching uranium.

“It goes without saying that this is of primordial importance to Israel,” noted Thomas Pickering, who has co-chaired the Iran Project and served as U.S. ambassador to Israel and the U.N., among other top diplomatic posts.

Washington must make it clear to Israel and its supporters here that an agreement “would certainly improve prospects for tranquillity in the region” and that it would be a “serious mistake” for Israel to attack Iran, as it has threatened to do, while an agreement is in force, he said.

Washington must also take great pains to reassure Saudi Arabia and other Sunni-led Gulf states that a nuclear agreement will not come at their expense, according to the report.

“Such reassurance might require a period of increased U.S. military support and a defined U.S. presence (such as the maintenance of bases in the smaller Gulf States and of military and intelligence cooperation with the GCC (Gulf Co-operation Council) states),” the report said.

“Riyadh would be willing to explore a reduction of tensions with Tehran if the Saudis were more confident of their American ally,” the report said.

Jim Lobe’s blog on U.S. foreign policy can be read at Lobelog.comHe can be contacted at ipsnoram@ips.org

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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U.S. Ground Troops Possible in Anti-ISIS Battlehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/u-s-ground-troops-possible-in-anti-isis-battle/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-s-ground-troops-possible-in-anti-isis-battle http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/u-s-ground-troops-possible-in-anti-isis-battle/#comments Wed, 17 Sep 2014 12:28:21 +0000 Jim Lobe http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136671 General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Credit: DoD/public domain

General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Credit: DoD/public domain

By Jim Lobe
WASHINGTON, Sep 17 2014 (IPS)

U.S. combat troops may be deployed against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) if the strategy announced by President Barack Obama last week fails to make substantial progress against the radical Sunni group, Washington’s top military officer warned here Tuesday.

The statement by the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Martin Dempsey, delivered during testimony before a key Congressional committee, suggested for the first time that the administration may substantially broaden military operations in Iraq beyond air strikes and advising Iraqi and Kurdish forces far from the front lines.As long as Saudi Arabia and Iran do not make common cause, any coalition to combat Islamist fanatics will be half-hearted at best and unrooted in the region at worst." -- Amb. Chas Freeman (ret.)

“If we reach the point where I believe our advisers should accompany Iraqi troops on attacks against specific targets, I will recommend that to the president,” Dempsey told members of the Senate Armed Services Committee.

“At this point, his [Obama’s] stated policy is we will not have U.S. ground forces in direct combat,” he said. “But he has told me as well to come back to him on a case-by-case basis.”

Dempsey’s remarks, which came as Congress appeared poised to approve a pending 500-million-dollar request to train and equip Syrian rebels committed to fighting ISIS, as well as the government of President Bashar al-Assad, appeared certain to fuel doubts about Obama’s plans, particularly given his promise last week that U.S. forces “will not have a combat mission.”

“We will not get dragged into another ground war in Iraq,” he declared in last week’s nationally televised speech in which he also pledged to build an international coalition, including NATO and key regional and Sunni-led Arab states, to fight ISIS forces in both Iraq and Syria.

While Secretary of State John Kerry has since gathered public endorsements for the administration’s strategy to “degrade and ultimately destroy” ISIS, notably at a meeting of Arab states in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, last week and from a larger group of nations in Paris Sunday, scepticism over the strength and effectiveness of such a coalition appears to have deepened.

Although Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and France appear committed to provide some air support to anti-ISIS operations, several key allies, including Britain, have remained non-committal about their willingness to help with military operations.

Turkey, whose army is the largest and most potent in the region and whose porous borders with ISIS-controlled regions in eastern Syria have been fully exploited by the group, has been particularly disappointing to officials here.

Despite repeated appeals, for example, Ankara has reportedly refused to permit U.S. military aircraft to use its strategically located Incirlik air base for carrying out anything but humanitarian missions in or over Iraq, insisting that any direct involvement in the campaign against ISIS would jeopardise the lives of dozens of Turkish diplomats seized by the group at Ankara’s consulate in Aleppo earlier this year.

Critics of Washington’s strategy are also concerned that Kerry may have reduced the chances for co-operation with another potentially key anti-ISIS ally – Iran – which he explicitly excluded from participation in any international coalition due to its support for Assad and its alleged status as a “state sponsor of terror”.

While Kerry Monday said Washington remained open to “communicating” with Tehran — which, along among the regional powers, has provided arms and advisers to both Kurdish and Iraqi forces — about its efforts against ISIS, Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who earlier this month reportedly authorised limited co-operation over ISIS, ridiculed the notion, insisting that it was Iran who had rebuffed Washington.

But Kerry’s exclusion of Iran from the anti-ISIS coalition, according to experts here, was motivated primarily by threats by Saudi Arabia and the UAE to drop out if Tehran were included – a reflection not only of the ongoing Sunni-Shi’a conflict in the region, especially in the Syrian civil war, but also of the difficulty Washington faces in persuading governments with widely differing interests to unite behind a common cause.

“Leaving Iran out of the collective effort to contain and eventually destroy ISIS, especially after what happened in Amerli [a town whose siege by ISIS was eventually broken by a combination of U.S. airpower and Iranian-backed militias and Iraqi troops], defies logic and sanity and cannot be explained away by anyone in Iran,” noted Farideh Farhi, an Iran specialist at the University of Hawaii.

“It suggests to many [in Iran] that the fear of legitimising Iran’s role in regional security continues to be a driving force in U.S. foreign policy,” she told IPS in an email exchange.

Indeed, the success of Obama’s strategy may well depend less on U.S. military power than on his ability to reconcile and reassure key regional actors, including Iran.

“To have any hope of success, America’s do-it-yourself approach needs to be replaced with an effort to facilitate co-operation between the region’s great Muslim powers,” according to Amb. Chas Freeman (ret.), who served as Washington’s chief envoy to Riyadh during the first Gulf War.

“… As long as Saudi Arabia and Iran do not make common cause, any coalition to combat Islamist fanatics will be half-hearted at best and unrooted in the region at worst,” he told IPS.

Despite these difficult diplomatic challenges faced by Obama, most of the scepticism here revolves around his military strategy, particularly its reliance on air power and the absence of effective ground forces that can take and hold territory, especially in predominantly Sunni areas of both western and north-central Iraq and eastern Syria.

While U.S. officials believe that Kurdish peshmerga forces and the Iraqi army – with Iranian-backed Shi’a militias – can, with U.S. and allied air support, roll back most of ISIS’s more-recent gains in Iraq, it will take far more time to wrest control of areas, including cities like Fallujah and Ramadi, which the group has effectively governed for months.

Obama announced last week that he was sending nearly 500 more military personnel to Iraq, bringing the total U.S. presence there to around 1,600 troops, most of whom are to serve as trainers and advisers both for the peshmerga and the Iraqi army.

According to Dempsey, however, these troops have not yet been authorised to accompany local forces into combat or even to act as spotters for U.S. aircraft.

As for Syria, Washington plans to train and equip some 5,000 members of the Free Syrian Army (FSA), a fractious coalition of “moderate” fighters who have been increasingly squeezed and marginalised by both pro-government forces and ISIS and who have often allied themselves with other Islamist groups, including Jabhat al-Nusra, an Al Qaeda affiliate.

It will take at least eight months, however, before that force can take the field, according to Dempsey and Pentagon chief Chuck Hagel. Even then, they said, such a force will be unable “to turn the tide” of battle. Dempsey’s said he hoped that Sunni-led Arab countries would provide special operations forces to support the FSA, although none has yet indicated a willingness to do so.

Hawks, such as Republican Sens. John McCain and Lindsey Graham, have argued that these plans are insufficient to destroy ISIS in either country.

Some neo-conservative defence analysts, such as Max Boot of the Council on Foreign Relations and Frederick Kagan of the American Enterprise Institute, have called for as many as 25,000 U.S. ground troops, including thousands of Special Forces units to work with “moderate” Sunni forces, to be deployed to both countries in order to prevail. They have also warned against any co-operation with either Iran or Assad in the fight against ISIS.

Jim Lobe’s blog on U.S. foreign policy can be read at Lobelog.comHe can be contacted at ipsnoram@ips.org

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Declining Majority Still Supports “Active” U.S. Role in World Affairshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/declining-majority-still-supports-active-u-s-role-in-world-affairs/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=declining-majority-still-supports-active-u-s-role-in-world-affairs http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/declining-majority-still-supports-active-u-s-role-in-world-affairs/#comments Mon, 15 Sep 2014 23:40:22 +0000 Jim Lobe http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136636 Navy Petty Officer 3rd Class Jeoffrey Keever is bathed in blue light as he writes the status of each aircraft on the status board in the Carrier Air Traffic Controller Center aboard the USS John F Kennedy (CV 67) during flight operations on April 15, 2005. Credit: public domain

Navy Petty Officer 3rd Class Jeoffrey Keever is bathed in blue light as he writes the status of each aircraft on the status board in the Carrier Air Traffic Controller Center aboard the USS John F Kennedy (CV 67) during flight operations on April 15, 2005. Credit: public domain

By Jim Lobe
WASHINGTON, Sep 15 2014 (IPS)

Despite elite concerns about growing “isolationism” in the U.S. electorate, nearly six in 10 citizens believe Washington should “take an active part in world affairs,” according to the latest in a biennial series of major surveys of U.S. foreign-policy attitudes.

Nonetheless, the number of citizens who believe that the U.S. should “stay out of world affairs” is clearly on the rise, according to the survey, which was conducted in May by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs and released here Monday.It’s clear that Americans are fatigued by a decade of war, but describing them as isolationist is misleading." -- Chicago Council President Ivo Daalder

Forty-one percent – the highest percentage since World War II — of the more than 2,000 adults polled chose the “stay-out” option, including 40 percent of self-identified Republicans and 48 percent of independents.

“For the first time ever, Republicans are more likely than Democrats to say the U.S. should stay out of world affairs,” said Dina Smeltz, the Council’s chief pollster and co-author of an accompanying report, “Foreign Policy in the Age of Retrenchment”. She noted that the proportion of Republicans who say they want the U.S. to stay out of world affairs has nearly doubled since 2006.

Nonetheless, her co-author, Council president Ivo Daalder, insisted that the public was not turning away from global engagement. “It’s clear that Americans are fatigued by a decade of war, but describing them as isolationist is misleading,” he said.

“They understand that we live in a dangerous world and that our safety and security will at times require a resort to arms. When that clearly is the case, Americans will support using force,” according to Daalder, who served U.S. ambassador to NATO during President Barack Obama’s first term.

Indeed, the survey suggested the public accords a high priority to military power.

Nearly two-thirds of respondents (65 percent) said they believed current defence spending – which makes up almost 40 percent of the world’s total military expenditures – should remain the same or be increased, and nearly six in 10 (71 percent) said they want to maintain or increase the number of as many long-term U.S. bases overseas as there are now, the highest level ever recorded since the Council first asked the question in 1974.

More than half (52 percent) said “maintaining U.S. superior military power” was a “very important” foreign policy goal – lower than the 68 percent who took that position in 2002, but on a par with the findings of the mid-1990’s.

In addition, 69 percent said they would favour military action, including the use of U.S. troops, to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons, although support for military engagement was considerably less strong (around 45 percent) for other specific cases, such as defending Israel or South Korea against attack or even the Baltic states – despite their NATO membership — against a Russian invasion.

In other findings, the Council’s survey, which has long been considered among the most authoritative on U.S. foreign policy attitudes, found that, by a margin of more than three to one (77 to 23 percent), respondents believe that economic power is more important than military power; and that public support for economic globalisation – particularly among Democrats – has reached a record high.

It also found that that about four in 10 respondents believe China poses a “critical threat” to the U.S. That was down substantially from the mid-50-percent range that prevailed during the 1990s until 9/11 Al Qaeda attacks on New York and the Pentagon.

At the same time, anti-Russian sentiment has returned to Cold-War levels, according to Daalder, who noted the poll was conducted when Russian actions against Crimea dominated the headlines.

The new survey’s release comes amidst renewed concerns here over the threat posed by Islamist extremism, as represented by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) whose sweep from its stronghold in eastern Syria into central and northern Iraq earlier this summer triggered the first direct intervention by U.S. military forces in Iraq since 2011.

Several major polls released over the last two weeks – and especially following the video-taped beheadings by ISIS of two U.S. reporters — have shown strong public support for U.S. air strikes against ISIS, particularly among Republicans who, as the Council’s survey demonstrated, had previously appeared increasingly divided between its dominant interventionist wing and an ascendant libertarian faction led by Kentucky Sen. Ron Paul.

But the current rallying behind military action may be short-lived, according to Daalder. “It would be a mistake to think that the current public mood will last forever,” he cautioned. “That support [for military action] is highly conditional … on success.”

Nonetheless, the Council’s survey found strong support for air strikes against alleged terrorists already in May when respondents were interviewed.

Seven in 10 respondents said they supported air strikes against terrorist training camps and other facilities, as well as the assassination of terrorist leaders. And 56 percent said they supported attacks by U.S. ground troops against terrorist targets.

The notion that the public has become increasingly isolationist has been stoked by a series of surveys over the past year, notably a Pew Research Center poll from last year that, for the first time, found a majority (52 percent) of respondents who agreed with the proposition that “the U.S. should mind its own business internationally and let other countries get along the best then can on their own.”

But that finding was not surprising to Steven Kull, long-time director of the University of Maryland’s Program on International Policy Attitudes (PIPA), who sees it as an expression of public frustration with a “leadership [that] is more invested in American [global dominance] than most Americans are,” especially in the wake of Washington’s experience in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

It may also help explain the sharp rise in the percentage of Republicans who now believe the U.S. should “stay out of world affairs.”

In 2007, 85 percent and 73 percent of Republicans said the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, respectively, were worth fighting. Seven years later, the respective percentages have fallen to 34 percent and 40 percent. Independents and Democrats, by contrast, have been consistently more sceptical about both wars.

The Council poll also found a more general convergence in foreign-policy views between members of the two parties, particularly with respect to their approaches to China, Iran, and Syria, although Republicans tended to be more hawkish on the use of force, while Democrats were more likely to favour more U.S. support for the U.N. and peacekeeping activities.

The sharpest partisan differences, on the other hand, were on immigration and U.S. policy in the Middle East, with Republicans consistently showing more support for Israel.

Asked to choose among 18 possible “critical threats” against the U.S., cyber-warfare was cited most often (69 percent), followed by “international terrorism” (63 percent), “the possibility of unfriendly countries becoming nuclear powers” (50 percent), and “Iran’s nuclear program” (58 percent).

Among 15 possible “very important” foreign-policy goals, about three of four respondents cited protecting U.S. jobs, reducing U.S. dependence on foreign oil, and preventing the spread of nuclear weapons.

“Helping to bring a democratic form of government to other nations” was the least favoured; only 17 percent of respondents cited that as a “very important goal.” That was half the level recorded in 2002 — after Washington succeeded in ousting the Taliban in Afghanistan and just before its invasion of Iraq.

Asked what circumstances might justify using U.S. troops abroad, 71 percent of respondents cited “to deal with humanitarian crises” and “to stop a government from committing genocide and killing large numbers of its own people.” Sixty-nine percent cited “to stop Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons.” Fifty-four percent cited “to ensure the oil supply.”

Strengthening the United Nations has declined as a “very important goal” for U.S. foreign policy from a high of 57 percent in 2002 to 37 percent in this year’s survey. Half of Democrats rated it as a “very important goal,” but only 27 percent of Republicans agreed.

Jim Lobe’s blog on U.S. foreign policy can be read at Lobelog.comHe can be contacted at ipsnoram@ips.org

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Obama’s Anti-ISIS Strategy Met with Scepticismhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/obamas-anti-isis-strategy-met-with-scepticism/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=obamas-anti-isis-strategy-met-with-scepticism http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/obamas-anti-isis-strategy-met-with-scepticism/#comments Fri, 12 Sep 2014 00:14:35 +0000 Jim Lobe http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136594 President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden meet with members of the National Security Council in the Situation Room of the White House, Sept. 10, 2014. Credit: Official White House Photo by Pete Souza

President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden meet with members of the National Security Council in the Situation Room of the White House, Sept. 10, 2014. Credit: Official White House Photo by Pete Souza

By Jim Lobe
WASHINGTON, Sep 12 2014 (IPS)

U.S. President Barack Obama’s new strategy to “degrade, and ultimately destroy” the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) is being met with widespread scepticism among both hawks and doves, as well as regional specialists.

While Congress is expected to acquiesce, if not formally authorise, the plans he outlined in his nationally televised prime-time speech Wednesday night, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have not been shy about expressing reservations.“The proverbial 64,000-dollar question is whether the seemingly mediocre Abadi government can peel enough of [the Sunni Arab tribes and veteran Awakening cadres] away from active and passive support for ISIS or from the sidelines.” -- Wayne White

“While the president presented a compelling case for action, many questions remain about the way in which [he] intends to act,” said Republican House Speaker John Boehner.

Indeed, while he adopted a determined and confident tone that won plaudits even from Republicans like Boehner, it is no secret here that Obama, who has made Washington’s extraction from Middle East wars a legacy issue for his presidency, has consistently resisted pressure to escalate U.S. military involvement in the region.

Speaking on the eve of the 13th anniversary of al-Qaeda’s 9/11 attacks on New York and the Pentagon, Obama announced that he will increase U.S. support for Iraq’s army and the Kurdish Peshmerga with more training, intelligence, and equipment and will dispatch 475 U.S. military personnel to join the 1,000-plus who have deployed there since ISIS swept across much of the northern and central part of Iraq in June.

At the same time, he pledged that the campaign “will not involve American combat troops fighting on foreign soil.”

In addition, he said the U.S. will carry out airstrikes against ISIS targets “wherever they exist,” not only in Iraq, but, most significantly, in Syria, as well.

Washington, he said, is also assembling “a broad coalition of partners”, including NATO, and, more importantly, the Sunni-led Gulf states, Jordan, and Lebanon whose governments pledged support for the anti-ISIS campaign and the new government of Iraqi Prime Minister Haider Al-Abadi, during a meeting Thursday with Secretary of State John Kerry in Jiddah.

And Obama asked Congress to swiftly approve a pending request for 500 million dollars to train and equip anti-government and anti-ISIS Syrian rebels.

Saudi Arabia, a major backer of various factions in the three-year insurgency against President Bashar Al-Assad, has agreed to host training camps for these “moderate” rebels, according to administration officials.

This “comprehensive and sustained counter-terrorism strategy” – which he compared to Washington’s long-standing operations in Yemen and Somalia — will “take time to eradicate a cancer like ISIL (Islamic State of Syria and the Levant),” Obama said, using the administration’s preferred acronym.

While the plan gained guarded approval from most lawmakers – who, facing mid-term elections in November, are particularly sensitive to a sudden hawkish shift in public opinion – many said it raised as many questions as it answered, including whether Obama has the legal authority to order strikes against ISIS, especially in Syria, without getting explicit Congressional authorisation.

At the same time, hawks questioned whether the strategy – notably Obama’s pledge not to introduce combat troops – was sufficient to achieve its goals.

“Obama’s ‘strategy’ has no chance of success,” wrote Frederick and Kimberly Kagan of the neo-conservative American Enterprise Institute (AEI) and the Institute for the Study of War, respectively, on the Weekly Standard’s website.

The two Kagans, who helped devise the Bush administration’s “Surge” to curb Iraq’s Sunni-Shi’a conflict in 2007, argued that a counter-terrorism (CT) strategy would not work against a full-fledged insurgency, which they said ISIS has become. “It’s awfully hard to develop a sound strategy when you start by misdiagnosing the problem so profoundly,” they wrote. Frederick Kagan has argued that 10-15,000 U.S. troops are necessary for Iraq alone.

Others disagreed. “Getting more U.S. troops on the ground is precisely what … [ISIS chief Abu Bakr] Al-Baghdadi wants,” Col. Lawrence Wilkerson (ret.), former Secretary of State Colin Powell’s chief of staff, told IPS. “A target-rich environment is what they want, and in their area.

“If the Iraqis and others are not up to defeating [ISIS] forces, then U.S. and allied airpower, some advice on the ground, and intelligence assistance should be sufficient to do so. …[ISIS] is not 10 feet tall, not even four – despite all the media hype to the contrary,” he said.

In Iraq, defeating ISIS will depend largely on whether Abadi follows through on his pledge to share power with Sunni Arabs and fully integrate them into a new security structure, according to regional experts.

“One hundred years of war …has demonstrated that air power can only succeed if a robust ground force is ready to take advantage of air strikes to physically take and occupy territory,” according to Wayne White, a former top State Department Middle East intelligence officer now with the Middle East Institute (MEI).

“The president is not ignorant of this dictum: hence, his part in ousting the loathsome [former Prime Minister Nouri al-] Maliki and the need for a credibly inclusive new government in Baghdad that can revive the Iraqi Army,” he wrote in an email exchange.

“…The proverbial 64,000-dollar question is whether the seemingly mediocre Abadi government can peel enough of [the Sunni Arab tribes and veteran Awakening cadres] away from active and passive support for ISIS or from the sidelines,” White added. “Only a sizeable Sunni Arab force from within could make considerable headway along with airstrikes in unhinging ISIS from key holdings like cities and large towns.”

Even if the strategy in Iraq succeeds, however, attacking ISIS in Syria will be far more difficult, in major part because Western-backed rebel factions are “much weaker than two years ago,” according to former acting CIA chief Michael Morrell whose assessment echoed that of most regional experts, some of whom, such as former the former U.S. Amb. to Baghdad, Ryan Crocker, have argued for working with Assad as the lesser evil – a step that the administration appears so far to reject.

“The speech left major questions about Syria unanswered,” said Paul Pillar, a former top CIA Middle East analyst. “If ISIS is to be set back, who fills that vacuum? If it is the Assad regime, how does that square with the continued U.S. opposition to that regime? If it is supposed to be someone else, how does that square with the persistent lack of unity, strength, and credibility of the so-called moderate opposition?”

Along with Wilkerson, regional experts worried that Obama’s strategy is susceptible to “mission creep”.

“If the air strikes do not ‘defeat’ ISIS, what policy will the president pursue considering that he ruled out putting boots on the ground?” asked Emile Nakhleh, a former director of the CIA’s political Islam strategic analysis programme.

He also questioned the commitment of the Sunni Arab states that signed on to the strategy in Jiddah “considering that domestic radical Islamists are already posing a serious challenge to such countries as Saudi Arabia and Jordan.”

Thomas Lippman, a Gulf specialist at MEI, agreed that the coalition that Obama was putting together could prove problematic, noting that its members “…are united about what they DON’T want — namely more ISIS — but are not united about what they DO want. And many of them are suspicious about some of the others,” he said in an email exchange.

He noted that Turkey, with the most potent military force in the region and whose Incirlik air base has been used in the past for U.S. operations over Iraq, had participated in the Jiddah meeting Thursday but failed to sign the summit statement.

Like Wilkerson, Nakhleh also suggested that Obama’s hand been forced as a result of the “media frenzy about the hyped-up ISIS threat” which some commentators have blamed on the sensational coverage of the recent beheadings by ISIS of two U.S. journalists and overheated rhetoric by some of Obama’s top officials, including Kerry and Pentagon chief Chuck Hagel.

A poll conducted last week by ABC News and the Washington Post found 71 percent support for air strikes against “Sunni insurgents in Iraq” – up from 54 percent in mid-August and 45 percent in mid-June as ISIS swept across Iraq.

Jim Lobe’s blog on U.S. foreign policy can be read at Lobelog.comHe can be contacted at ipsnoram@ips.org

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Global Commission Urges Decriminalisation of Drug Usehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/global-commission-urges-decriminalisation-of-drug-use/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=global-commission-urges-decriminalisation-of-drug-use http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/global-commission-urges-decriminalisation-of-drug-use/#comments Wed, 10 Sep 2014 01:02:09 +0000 Jim Lobe http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136563 Coca field in an Amazon jungle village. Credit: Courtesy of Central Asháninka del Río Ene/IPS

Coca field in an Amazon jungle village. Credit: Courtesy of Central Asháninka del Río Ene/IPS

By Jim Lobe
WASHINGTON, Sep 10 2014 (IPS)

A top-level international panel called Tuesday for a major shift in global drug-control policies from prohibition to decriminalisation and regulation.

In a 43-page report, the Global Commission on Drug Policy denounced what has been known for more than four decades as the “war against drugs” as a failure and argued that new approaches prioritising human rights and health were urgently needed.“There’s no question now that the genie of reform has escaped the prohibitionist bottle.” -- Ethan Nadelmann of the Drug Policy Alliance

“In this report, we set out a broad roadmap for getting drugs under control,” wrote former Brazilian President Fernando Henrique Cardoso, who chairs the Commission. “We recognize that past approaches premised on a punitive law enforcement paradigm have failed, emphatically so.

“They have resulted in more violence, larger prison populations, and the erosion of governance around the world. …The Global Commission on Drug Policy instead advocates for an approach to drug policy that puts public health, community safety, human rights, and development at the center,” according to Cardoso.

Such an approach would, among other changes, encourage governments to regulate markets in currently illicit drugs, beginning with marijuana, coca leaf, and certain psycho-active drugs; seek alternatives to prison for low-level, non-violent participants in the drug trade; and ensure equitable access to essential medicines, especially opiate-based pain medications, according to the report, “Taking Control: Pathways to Drug Policies That Work.” It called for a pragmatic approach that would include experimentation and trial and error.

The report’s recommendations, which come as governments prepare for the 2016 U.N. General Assembly Special Session (UNGASS) on Drugs, drew a mixed response from the U.S. government which has largely driven international drug policy since former President Richard Nixon first declared a “war on drugs” in 1971.

“We agree that we should use science-based approaches, rely on alternatives to incarceration for non-violent drug offenders, and ensure access to pain medications,” said Cameron Hardesty of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy.

“…However, we disagree that legalisation of drugs will make people healthier and communities safer. Our experience with the tobacco and alcohol industries show that commercialization efforts rely upon increasing, not decreasing use, which in turn increases the harm associated with the use of tobacco and alcohol. In fact, if we take Big Tobacco as prologue, we can predict that that approach is likely to cause an entirely new set of problems,” she said.

Nonetheless, independent analysts said the Commission’s recommendations are likely to substantially advance the growing debate over drug policy if, for no other reason, than its membership is not easily dismissed.

In addition to Cardoso, its 21 members include former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, former U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour, former Colombian President Cesar Gaviria, former Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski, former Chilean President Ricardo Lagos, and former Mexican President Ernesto Zedillo, as well as former U.S. Secretary of State George Shultz and former Chairman of the U.S. Federal Reserve Paul Volcker.

The report was released at a press conference that featured several of the Commission’s members in New York City Tuesday morning.

“This is a very important report that will provoke more serious discussion and debate,” Michael Shifter, president of the Inter-American Dialogue, an influential Washington-based inter-hemispheric think tank, told IPS. “There have already been significant changes at the state level [in the U.S.] and in some countries in Latin America, and this will push things along.”

In 2011, the Commission published its first report in which it also condemned the drug war as a failure and made a series of recommendations designed to “break the taboo” against considering legalisation and regulation of some drugs as alternatives.

Having broken the taboo, the Commission offered political cover for some Latin American leaders, including former Mexican President Felipe Calderon, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos, Guatemalan President Otto Perez Molina, and Uruguayan President Jose Mujica (whose country last December became the world’s first to regulate the legal production, distribution, and sale of marijuana), to endorse far-reaching reform.

In mid-2013, the Organisation of American States (OAS) also released a report commissioned by the region’s reads of states that included legalisation as a policy alternative and that strongly favoured the view that drugs should be seen increasingly as a public health, rather than a security issue.

Among other measures, it proposed legalising and regulating marijuana production, distribution and sales – a recommendation that has since been adopted by voters in the U.S. states of Colorado and Washington. Nearly half of all U.S. states have legalised cannabis for medical purposes, and 17 states have decriminalised personal possession.

Virtually all observers agree that the drug war has been a signal failure. As prices drop for drugs that are have become purer with each passing year, governments have been spending an estimated 100 billion dollars annually on enforcement measures. The U.N. has estimated the value of global illicit drug trade at over 350 billion dollars.

The Commission offered a number of general recommendations in its report, beginning with a call for a “fundamental re-orientation of policy priorities” that would replace traditional goals and measures — such as amounts of drugs seized, the number of people arrested, prosecuted, and convicted for drug law violations – with “far more important” benchmarks, such as reducing drug-related harms, such as fatal overdoses, HIV infections, crime, violence, human rights abuses, and the power of criminal organisations that profit from the drug trade.

In addition to calling for equitable access to essential medicines, regulating markets for some drugs, and relying on alternatives to incarcerating non-violent, low-level participants in illicit drug markets, such as farmers and carriers, the report called for governments to be “far more strategic” in efforts to reduce the power of criminal organisations.

It noted that militarised “crackdowns” may actually increase criminal violence and public insecurity without actually deterring drug production, trafficking or consumption.

“…(I)n the longer term, drug markets should be responsibly regulated by government authorities. Without legal regulation, control and enforcement, the drug trade will remain in the hands of organised criminals. Ultimately this is a choice between control in the hands of governments or gangsters; there is no third option in which drug markets can be made to disappear,” according to the report.

“The idea behind this report and its timing is to ensure that there can be no repeat of the empty slogans, such as “a drug-free world, we can do it,” which was the theme of the UNGASS on Drugs in 1998, said John Walsh, a drug-policy expert at the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA).

“To avoid a repeat, the idea is to ensure that a genuine debate will be unavoidable. That doesn’t mean that the world’s countries will rally around this new paradigm of legal regulation instead of prohibition, but the hope is that these issues cannot be ignored.”

“There’s no question now that the genie of reform has escaped the prohibitionist bottle,” said Ethan Nadelmann, the veteran director of the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA). “The former presidents and other Commission members pull no punches in insisting that national and global drug control policies reject the failed prohibitionist policies of the 20th century in favour of new policies grounded in science, compassion, health and human rights.”

Jim Lobe’s blog on U.S. foreign policy can be read at Lobelog.comHe can be contacted at ipsnoram@ips.org

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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ISIS Carrying Out Ethnic Cleansing on “Historic Scale”http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/isis-carrying-out-ethnic-cleansing-on-historic-scale/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=isis-carrying-out-ethnic-cleansing-on-historic-scale http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/isis-carrying-out-ethnic-cleansing-on-historic-scale/#comments Wed, 03 Sep 2014 00:27:56 +0000 Jim Lobe http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136462 Journalist Steven Sotloff, moments before he was killed, in a screen capture from the video posted by ISIS. Credit: IPS

Journalist Steven Sotloff, moments before he was killed, in a screen capture from the video posted by ISIS. Credit: IPS

By Jim Lobe
WASHINGTON, Sep 3 2014 (IPS)

While the administration of U.S. President Barack Obama ponders broader actions against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), Amnesty International Tuesday accused the group of carrying out ethnic cleansing in Iraq on a “historic scale.”

In a 26-page report, which was based on on-site investigations and interviews with victims and witnesses of mass executions and abductions, the London-based rights group said the threats to ethnic minorities in the areas under ISIS’s control “demand a swift and robust response … to ensure the protection of vulnerable communities who risk being wiped off the map of Iraq.”

“The group that calls itself the Islamic State (IS) has carried out ethnic cleansing on a historic scale in northern Iraq,” the report said. “Amnesty International has found that the IS has systematically targeted non-Arab and non-Sunni Muslim communities, killing or abducting hundreds, possibly thousands, and forcing more than 830,000 others to flee the areas it has captured since 10 June 2014.”

Amnesty’s report was released as another major international rights organisation, New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW), charged ISIS with executing between 560 and 770 men – all or most of them Iraqi army soldiers – in Tikrit after it took control of that city on June 11 as part of its stunning drive across northern and central Iraq. The following day, ISIS itself claimed to have executed 1,700 “Shi’a members of the army.”

The new HRW estimate, which was based on testimony from a survivor and analyses of videos and satellite imagery, was triple the death toll HRW had reported at the end of June. The group said the imagery confirmed the existence of three more mass execution sites in and around Tikrit in addition to the two it had reported earlier.

“Another piece of this gruesome puzzle has come into place, with many more executions now confirmed,” said Peter Bouckaert, HRW’s emergencies director. “The barbarity of the Islamic State violates the law and grossly offends the conscience.”

The United Nations Human Rights Council voted Monday to send a fact-finding team to Iraq to investigate possible war crimes by ISIS.

“The reports we have received reveal acts of inhumanity on an unimaginable scale,” Flavia Pansieri, the deputy high commissioner for human rights, told the Council.

The Amnesty and HRW reports came as ISIS posted a video purporting to show its beheading of a U.S. reporter, Steven Sotloff, who had been kidnapped in August 2013 while he was covering the civil war in Syria for Time magazine and the Christian Science Monitor, among other publications.’

The grisly video, which is certain to add pressure on the Obama administration to expand recent U.S. airstrikes against ISIS to include targets in Syria, as well as in Iraq, followed the release of a video of the beheading by ISIS two weeks ago of another U.S. reporter, James Foley. It also came after an emotional videotaped appeal aired last week by Sotloff’s mother to ISIS’ leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, to spare her son.

Sotloff had appeared in the Foley video, with the purported executioner, who is believed to be a British national, warning that Sotloff would be next to be killed unless Obama ceased conducting air strikes against ISIS positions around Mt. Zinjar and convoys approaching Erbil, the capital of Kurdistan.

Obama, however, has since broadened the U.S. target list. Dozens of air strikes have been carried out in coordination with ground attacks by Iraqi special forces, Shi’a militias, and Kurdish peshmerga fighters in a counteroffensive that initially recaptured the giant Mosul dam from ISIS forces and, more recently, reportedly broke the group’s siege of the largely Shi’a Turkomen town of Amerli.

“I’m back, Obama,” the same masked executioner said on the latest video. “I’m back because of your arrogant foreign policy toward the Islamic State, because of your insistence on continuing your bombings.”

“We take this opportunity to warn those governments that enter this evil alliance of America against the Islamic State to back off and leave our people alone,” he added, while standing over yet another unidentified captive who is believed to be a British citizen.

For its part, the White House released a statement noting that it had seen the video and that the intelligence community was working to determine its authenticity. “If genuine, we are appalled by the brutal murder of an innocent American journalist and we express our deepest condolences to his family and friends.”

Obama, who left Tuesday for the NATO summit in Wales later this week, is expected to urge other members of the alliance to adopt a coordinated strategy of diplomatic, economic, and military pressure against ISIS, which spread from its base in eastern Syria into Iraq’s Al-Anbar province in early 2014 before its sweep down the Tigris and Euphrates river valleys into northern and central Iraq beginning in June.

Among other measures, Washington wants its European allies to adhere to U.S. and British policies against ransom payments to free citizens who are captured by ISIS – a practice that has reportedly become a major source of income for the group.

Secretary of State John Kerry and Pentagon chief Chuck Hagel are also scheduled to visit key allies in the Middle East next week, especially in the Sunni-led Gulf states, to persuade them to crack down harder against their citizens who fund or otherwise support ISIS, offer greater support to a new government in Baghdad, and possibly contribute direct support for expanded international military efforts against the group.

Like the administration itself, U.S. lawmakers, who return here from their summer recess next week, are divided on how aggressively Washington should take military action against ISIS.

While many Republicans are urging Obama to conduct air strikes – and even deploy ground forces – against the group in Syria, as well as Iraq, many Democrats are concerned that such an escalation could well lead to Washington’s becoming bogged down in yet more Middle Eastern conflicts.

Some key Democrats, however, are becoming more hawkish, a process that is likely to strengthen as a result of Sotloff’s execution.

“Let there be no doubt we must go after ISIS right away because the U.S. is the only one that can put together a coalition to stop this group that’s intent on barbaric cruelty,” said Florida Sen. Bill Nelson Tuesday in announcing legislation that would give Obama legal authority to strike ISIS in Syria.

In its report, Amnesty detailed mass killings last month by ISIS forces of hundreds of non-Sunni Muslim men and boys as young as 12 in the predominantly Yazidi regions in Nineveh Province, as well as the mass abductions of women and children, many of whom, according to the report, are being held in Mosul, Tal ‘Afar, and Bi’aj under pressure to convert to Sunni Islam. Many others remain unaccounted for.

“The Islamic State is carrying out despicable crimes and has transformed rural areas of Sinjar into blood-soaked killing fields in its brutal campaign to obliterate all trade of non-Arabs and non-Sunni Muslims,” said Donatella Rovera, Amnesty’s senior crisis response adviser currently based in northern Iraq.

In addition to Yezidis, targeted groups include Assyrian Christians, Turkmen Shi’a, Shabak Shi’a, Kakai and Sabean Manaeans, as well as many Arabs and Sunni Muslims who are believed to oppose ISIS, according to the report which also called for Iraq’s government to disband Shi’a militias, some of which are believed to have targeted Sunni communities in the region.

“Instead of aggravating the fighting by either turning a blind eye to sectarian militias or arming Shi’a militias against the Islamic State as the authorities have done so far, Iraq’s government should focus on protecting all civilians regardless of their ethnicity or religion,” according to Rovera.

Edited by Stephanie Wildes

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Obama Mulling Broader Strikes Against ISIS?http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/obama-mulling-broader-strikes-against-isis/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=obama-mulling-broader-strikes-against-isis http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/obama-mulling-broader-strikes-against-isis/#comments Sat, 23 Aug 2014 00:06:55 +0000 Jim Lobe http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136289 President Barack Obama meets with National Security Advisor Susan E. Rice and Tony Blinken, Deputy National Security Advisor, in the Oval Office, Aug. 1, 2014. Credit: Official White House Photo by Pete Souza

President Barack Obama meets with National Security Advisor Susan E. Rice and Tony Blinken, Deputy National Security Advisor, in the Oval Office, Aug. 1, 2014. Credit: Official White House Photo by Pete Souza

By Jim Lobe
WASHINGTON, Aug 23 2014 (IPS)

This week’s video-taped beheading of a U.S. journalist by the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) has spurred renewed calls for President Barack Obama to broaden Washington’s military efforts to strike the terrorist group, including in Syria.

While Obama himself has long resisted pressure from neo-conservatives and other hawks to intervene more directly in Syria’s civil war, senior administration officials suggested strongly in the wake of ISIS’s grisly execution of James Foley that expanding U.S. military intervention across the border was indeed on the table.The administration’s strategy will depend on co-operation from Sunni-led Gulf states, especially Saudi Arabia, which have withheld support from Iraq under Maliki.

The most pointed remark in that regard came from the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Martin Dempsey, who until now has been considered one of the strongest opponents of any expanded U.S. military role in the region, particularly in Syria where ISIS has emerged as the strongest among the rebel groups fighting the regime of President Bashar al-Assad.

“To your question, can they be defeated without addressing that part of their organisation which resides in Syria,” Dempsey said in answer to a reporter’s question, “the answer is no. That will have to be addressed on both sides of what is essentially at this point a non-existent border.”

Asked whether the Pentagon was indeed considering striking ISIS in Syria, Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel, who described the group’s potency as “beyond anything that we have seen” and a “long-term threat” to the U.S., said simply, “We’re looking at all options.”

Similarly, in a briefing with reporters in Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts, where Obama is currently vacationing, his deputy national security adviser, Ben Rhodes echoed that position.

“We’re actively considering what is necessary to deal with that threat, and we’re not going to be restricted by borders,” he said, noting that the beheading was considered by the administration to constitute a “terrorist attack against our country. …If you come after Americans, we’re going to come after you wherever you are.”

The tougher line on ISIS, whose sweep from bases in eastern Syria and al-Anbar province in western Iraq through much of northern and central Iraq in June and subsequent advances into Kurdish-controlled territory earlier this month stunned officials here, comes in the wake of some progress by the administration in addressing the crisis.

On the military front, the nearly 100 U.S. airstrikes, which were carried out over the past week in co-ordination with Kurdish pesh merga and U.S.-trained Iraqi special forces, appear to have succeeded in pushing back ISIS forces from much territory they had gained in the Kurdish region and in depriving the militants of their control of the huge Mosul dam.

On the political front, the resignation of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and his replacement by Haider al-Abadi broke a long-standing deadlock in Baghdad and, at least theoretically, opened the door to the formation of a less sectarian government in which the minority Sunni and Kurdish communities will gain a real share of power.

The administration clearly hopes that such an outcome will persuade many Sunnis – including mainly secular former Baathist officials and military officers – who have been allied with ISIS in the latter’s campaign against Maliki to break the militants, much as they did against ISIS’s predecessor, Al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI), during the so-called “Anbar Awakening” movement in 2006-7.

“Baathists want the ouster of Maliki to regain some of the stature and political participation that they’ve been denied since the fall of Saddam Hussein,” Human Rights Watch Iraq specialist Letta Tayler told foreignpolicy.com. “And that’s a very different goal from setting up a caliphate…”

Of course, the likelihood that such an outcome can be achieved will depend heavily on the cooperation – or at least acquiescence – of other key external players besides the U.S., of which Iran is considered the most important given its influence with the various Shia parties that have dominated Iraq’s government since the 2003 U.S. invasion.

In addition to Iran, however, the administration’s strategy will depend on co-operation from Sunni-led Gulf states, especially Saudi Arabia, which have withheld support from Iraq under Maliki and largely failed to vigorously enforce laws and international sanctions against those of its citizens who have provided financial and other support to Al Qaeda, its affiliates, and, more recently, ISIS.

Washington has been encouraged by the favourable reaction to Abadi’s appointment from King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia — who, like Jordan’s king, appears increasingly alarmed by ISIS’s expansion — and hopes it will be followed by efforts to persuade key Sunni tribes in Iraq to break with the militants and participate in a new government in Baghdad.

Much the same approach applies to its strategy against ISIS in Syria, where it faces a much trickier situation given U.S. opposition to the Assad regime, whose forces, however, are increasingly seen here as the only significant barrier to ISIS’s expansion there.

Western-backed “moderate” rebels of the Free Syrian Army (FSA) have steadily lost ground to both government forces and to ISIS, as well as other “jihadi” groups, over the past year and have become increasingly marginal to the conflict.

While Obama last month pledged 500 million dollars in new assistance, including military aid, for the FSA to fight both the regime and the jihadi groups, officials have said the vetting and training of new fighters will take many months to complete and, even then, is unlikely to be able to be able to tilt the battlefield in any substantial way for the foreseeable future, if at all.

Thus, the primary battlefield beneficiary of U.S. strikes against ISIS in Syria is likely to be Assad, a prospect that cannot please Sunni-led allies, including Saudi Arabia and Turkey, which, despite their new concerns about the threat posed by ISIS, have invested heavily in the Syrian president’s ouster.

Nonetheless, the administration is likely to push hard on its allies to co-operate in weakening ISIS in Syria, as well as Iraq, mainly by cutting off private external funding of the group and sealing porous borders that have been used to infiltrate ISIS fighters and recruits into Syria.

To gain their co-operation, Obama may have to offer key concessions, such as accelerating aid and supplying more advanced weaponry to non-jihadi groups, and supplying additional guarantees to Gulf states that feel threatened by any rapprochement between Washington and Tehran.

To defeat ISIS, according to Dempsey, military means will not be sufficient. “(It) will come when we have a coalition in the region that takes on the task of defeating ISIS over time.

“It requires a variety of instruments, only one small part of which is airstrikes,” he said. “I’m not predicting those will occur in Syria, at least not by the United States of America. But it requires the application of all the tools of national power – diplomatic, economic, information, military.”

Jim Lobe’s blog on U.S. foreign policy can be read at Lobelog.comHe can be contacted at ipsnoram@ips.org

Edited by: Kitty Stapp

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Public Offers Support for Obama’s Iraq Interventionhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/public-offers-support-for-obamas-iraq-intervention/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=public-offers-support-for-obamas-iraq-intervention http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/public-offers-support-for-obamas-iraq-intervention/#comments Mon, 18 Aug 2014 23:50:31 +0000 Jim Lobe http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136199 By Jim Lobe
WASHINGTON, Aug 18 2014 (IPS)

Despite rising criticism of his foreign policy– even from his former secretary of state – U.S. President Barack Obama’s decision last week to carry out airstrikes against Islamic State of Iraq and al-Shams (ISIS) militants in northern Iraq enjoys relatively strong public support, at least so far.

Over half (54 percent) of respondents in a poll released here Monday by the Pew Research Center and USA Today said they approved of the airstrikes, which appear to have helped reverse some of the gains made by ISIS fighters against Kurdistan’s pesh merga earlier this month.The survey comes as the administration broadened its air campaign against suspected ISIS targets in northern Iraq and rushed arms and other supplies to U.S.-trained Iraq special forces units and the pesh merga.

Thirty-one percent said they disapproved of the strikes, while 15 percent of the 1,000 randomly selected respondents who took part in the survey, which was carried out between Thursday and Sunday, declined to give an opinion.

The poll found major partisan differences, with self-described Republicans markedly more hawkish than Democrats or independents, although a majority of Democratic respondents said they also supported the airstrikes.

However, a majority (57 percent) of Republicans said they were concerned that Obama was not prepared to go “far enough to stop” ISIS, while a majorities of Democrats (62 percent) and independents (56 percent) said they worried that he may go too far in re-inserting the U.S. military into Iraq three years after the last U.S. combat troops were withdrawn. Overall, 51 percent of respondents expressed the latter fear.

That concern was felt particularly strongly by younger respondents, members of the so-called “millennial” generation, whose foreign-policy views have tended to be far more sceptical of the effectiveness of military force than those of other generational groups, according to a number of polls that have been released over the past two years.

Thus, while respondents over the age of 65 were roughly equally split between those who expressed concern about Obama doing too little or going too far, more than two-thirds of millennials said they were worried about the U.S. becoming too involved in Iraq, while only 21 percent voiced the opposing view.

The survey comes as the administration broadened its air campaign against suspected ISIS targets in northern Iraq and rushed arms and other supplies to U.S.-trained Iraq special forces units and the pesh merga, the Kurdish militia whose forces proved unable to defend against ISIS’s initial advances that took its forces to within 35 kms of Erbil, Kurdistan’s capital.

When Obama last week announced Washington’s renewed intervention in Iraq, he stressed its limited aims: to protect Iraqi minorities, notably thousands of Yazidis besieged by ISIS on the slopes of Sinjar, against “genocide”, and Erbil, where the U.S. has a consulate and hundreds of personnel, including dozens of U.S. military advisers, part of a much larger contingent dispatched to Iraq in June after ISIS conquered Mosul, the country’s second-largest city and routed several divisions of the Iraqi army.

Obama also said Washington intended to protect “critical infrastructure” in the region, which he did not define further at the time. In a letter to Congress released Sunday, however, he declared that ISIS’s control of the strategic Mosul dam, which is Iraq’s largest and supplies much of the country with water and electricity, constituted a threat to the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad.

“The failure of the Mosul Dam could threaten the lives of large numbers of civilians, endanger U.S. personnel and facilities, including the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, and prevent the Iraqi government from providing critical services to the Iraqi populace,” the letter asserted.

Indeed, U.S. warplanes and unmanned aircraft, operating in co-ordination with the pesh merga and Iraqi special forces, repeatedly struck ISIS positions there in the last few days. By Monday evening, the pesh merga and Iraqi government forces said they had successfully retaken the dam.

The initial success of the U.S. air campaign – 68 airstrikes have been carried out to date, according to Washington’s Central Command (CentCom) – follows Thursday’s resignation of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, a critical step, in the administration’s view, toward establishing a less-sectarian government capable of reaching out to disaffected Sunnis who have joined or co-operated with ISIS without necessarily sharing the group’s extreme and violent ideology.

Obama has long insisted that U.S. military assistance to Baghdad would be calibrated according to the degree to which its Shia-led government was willing to compromise with the Sunni and Kurdish minorities.

U.S. pressure helped persuade Maliki to step down in favour of Haider al-Abadi, a fellow-Shiite and Dawa party leader who Washington hopes will be more willing to share power with both Sunnis and Kurds. But experts here give as much or more credit to Iran – the latest example – along with critical role played by the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, which is considered by the U.S. to be a terrorist group, in rescuing the Yazidis and bolstering the pesh merga — of how the growing threat posed by ISIS to the region’s various regimes has upset its geo-political chessboard.

The initial success of both Obama’s military intervention and his role in removing Al-Maliki will likely help counter the steadily accumulating chorus of attacks – mostly by neo-conservatives and Republicans – on his foreign-policy prowess.

Even some in his own party, including, most recently, his former secretary of state and presumptive 2016 Democratic presidential nominee, Hillary Clinton, have complained that he should have provided more support to “moderate” factions in Syria’s insurgency earlier in that country’s civil war and that he was too passive for too long in responding to ISIS’s advances in Al-Anbar province earlier this year.

But the latest survey, as most others released over the past year, suggest that Obama’s caution reflects the public mood, and especially the sentiments of younger voters, as well as the Democratic Party’s core constituencies.

In addition to asking whether they feared Obama would either do too much or too little in countering ISIS in Iraq, the pollsters asked respondents whether they thought the “U.S. has a responsibility to do something about the violence in Iraq.”

Overall, 44 percent answered affirmatively, while 41 percent said no, and 15 percent said they didn’t know.

Those results marked a major change from when the same question was posed in July. At that time 39 percent said yes, but a 55-percent majority answered in the negative, and six percent said they didn’t know.

While the change may be attributed to the sense of increased threat posed by ISIS to the U.S. itself, much of the news media coverage since the beginning of August focused on the plight of minority communities, especially Christians and Yazidis, threatened by ISIS’s latest campaign.

The percentage of respondants who believe the U.S. has a responsibility to take action in Iraq is significantly higher than the percentages that took the same position when the U.S. intervened in Libya and when Obama said he was prepared to conduct military action against Syria after the chemical attacks.

Detailed surveys about foreign-policy attitudes conducted over the past decade have suggested that U.S. respondents are most likely to favour unilateral military action in cases where it could prevent genocide or mass killings.

Jim Lobe’s blog on U.S. foreign policy can be read at Lobelog.comHe can be contacted at ipsnoram@ips.org

Edited by: Kitty Stapp

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Qualified Backing for Obama’s Iraq Interventionhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/qualified-backing-for-obamas-iraq-intervention/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=qualified-backing-for-obamas-iraq-intervention http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/qualified-backing-for-obamas-iraq-intervention/#comments Sat, 09 Aug 2014 00:37:12 +0000 Jim Lobe http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136022 President Barack Obama meets with his national security advisors in the Situation Room of the White House, Aug. 7, 2014. Credit: Official White House Photo by Pete Souza

President Barack Obama meets with his national security advisors in the Situation Room of the White House, Aug. 7, 2014. Credit: Official White House Photo by Pete Souza

By Jim Lobe
WASHINGTON, Aug 9 2014 (IPS)

U.S. President Barack Obama’s authorisation of limited military action in northern Iraq, announced in a national television address late Thursday night, has so far received support – albeit highly qualified in some cases — from across the mainstream political spectrum.

While Republican hawks have welcomed the move in hopes it may presage a much broader regional intervention in Syria, as well as in Iraq, many Democrats expressed worries that the decision, unless strictly confined to its “humanitarian” objectives, could become a “slippery slope” into a new quagmire just three years after Obama extracted the last U.S. combat troops from Baghdad.“Airdrops of relief aid will save Yezedi lives, but airpower cannot determine Iraq's political future.” -- Harvard Prof. Stephen Walt

“We know that our military intervention will not alone solve the long sectarian and religious conflicts in Iraq,” said California Rep. Loretta Sanchez in reacting to the announcement. “It is essential we avoid mission creep because our men and women in uniform cannot endure another war in Iraq and nor can the American people.”

Obama’s announcement capped a week in which forces of the radical Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) made sweeping gains in northern Iraq, coming within as little as 45 kms of Kurdistan’s capital, Erbil, and triggering a new flood of refugees from predominantly Christian and other minority communities that had been protected by the Kurdish peshmerga militias which withdrew in the face of ISIL’s onslaught.

Particularly dramatic was the plight of tens of thousands of Yezidis, followers of an ancient religion tied to Zoroastrianism, who fled to Mt. Sinjar to escape ISIL’s forces and have been besieged there for days without adequate supplies of food and water.

In his remarks Thursday, Obama cited their plight as one of two main justifications – the other being the protection of the several hundred U.S. diplomatic and military personnel who are based in the Kurdish capital — for his decision to authorise the deployment of U.S. warplanes both to carry out “targeted strikes” against ISIL positions “should they move toward [Erbil],” provide relief to the besieged Yezidis “to prevent a potential act of genocide,” and increase military aid to both the peshmerga forces and Iraq’s army.

He announced that U.S. aircraft had already begun providing “humanitarian airdrops of food and water” on Mt. Sinjar and was consulting with other countries and the U.N. on how best to alleviate the situation, presumably by working with Turkey to open a land corridor for the Yazidis to reach a safe haven across the border.

The Pentagon subsequently announced that it carried out two rounds of air strikes against ISIL targets Friday.

Obama’s actions were offered qualified praise by Republican hawks who have harshly criticised the president for months for not doing more, including using air power, to bolster Iraqi government and Kurdish forces in the face of ISIL’s initial takeover of most of Anbar Province and its subsequent sweep into much of northern Iraq, including Mosul, the country’s second largest city.

“The President is right to provide humanitarian relief to the Iraqi civilians stranded on Mount Sinjar and to authorise military strikes against forces that are threatening them, our Kurdish allies, and our own personnel in northern Iraq,” said Republican Sens. John McCain and Lindsey Graham in a joint statement. “However, these actions are far from sufficient to meet the growing threat that ISIS [another name for ISIL] poses.”

Calling for a “comprehensive strategy to degrade ISIS,” the Senate’s two leading hawks added that it “should include the provision of mitiary and other assistance to our Kurdish, Iraqi, and Syrian partners who are fighting ISIS, …U.S. air strikes against ISIS leaders, forces and positions both in Iraq and Syria; (and) support to Sunni Iraqis to resist ISIS.”

“And none of this should be contingent on the formation of a new government in Baghdad,” they added in a slap at the administration’s insistence that U.S. military aid to the Shi’a-dominated government currently headed by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki be calibrated according to the degree that any new government – whose composition is currently the subject of intense negotiations in Baghdad — demonstrates its commitment to sharing power with the Sunni minority from which ISIL derives its popular support, as well with the Kurds.

But in his remarks Thursday night, Obama insisted that he would stick to his conditions for providing more assistance to Baghdad.

“Iraqi leaders need to come together and forge a new government that represents the legitimate interests of all Iraqis, and that can fight back against the threats like ISIL,” he said. “Once Iraq has a new government,” he added, “the United States will work with it and other countries in the region to provide increased support to deal with this humanitarian crisis and counter-terrorism challenge.”

He also tried to reassure Democrats, as well as a war-weary public, that his latest decisions would not result in a major new military commitment. “As Commander-in-Chief, I will not allow the United States to be dragged into fighting another war in Iraq,” he stressed. “The only lasting solution is reconciliation among Iraqi communities and stronger Iraqi security forces.”

That declaration did not reassure some, however. While virtually no one criticised the mission to aid the besieged Yezidis, the decision to carry out air strikes was greeted with considerably less enthusiasm among many Democrats and critics of the 2003 Iraq war.

“When we bomb ISIS, which is a horrible group, we have to realise that we are heading down the path of choosing sides in an ancient religious and sectarian war inside Iraq,” warned Massachusetts Rep. Jim McGovern, key sponsor of a resolution that was approved last month by a 370-40 margin in the House of Representatives that requires Congress to authorise any sustained deployment of U.S. combat troops to Iraq.

“The impulse to aid the Yezidis is understandable, but the commitment to help them could easily become open-ended and drag the United States back into the Iraqi quagmire,” Harvard Prof. Stephen Walt, a leading foreign policy “realist”, told IPS. “Airdrops of relief aid will save Yezedi lives, but airpower cannot determine Iraq’s political future.”

While conceding that he, too, was “nervous about what could be the next step that could lead us to get more deeply involved,” another prominent realist and a former top Middle East analyst for the Central Intelligence Agency, Paul Pillar, the administration’s decision to use airpower against ISIL to defend the Kurds – even if it was billed as protecting U.S. personnel in Erbil – was sound.

“I think the administration is on defensible ground by using lethal force to prevent further inroads against the de facto Kurdish state …while not getting any more deeply immersed in the intra-Arab conflicts in the rest of Iraq that have sectarian dimensions and that can only be a lose-lose situation for the United States,” Pillar told IPS.

“There clearly is a slippery-slope hazard that we have to be mindful of, and all indications are that the administration is very mindful of it.”

Jim Lobe’s blog on U.S. foreign policy can be read at Lobelog.comHe can be contacted at ipsnoram@ips.org

Edited by: Kitty Stapp

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Africa Activists Urge Obama to Act on Extractive Industries Lawhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/africa-activists-urge-obama-to-act-on-extractive-industries-law/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=africa-activists-urge-obama-to-act-on-extractive-industries-law http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/africa-activists-urge-obama-to-act-on-extractive-industries-law/#comments Tue, 05 Aug 2014 00:50:47 +0000 Jim Lobe http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135935 Artisanal diamond miners at work in the alluvial diamond mines around the eastern town of Koidu, Sierra Leone. Credit: Tommy Trenchard/IPS

Artisanal diamond miners at work in the alluvial diamond mines around the eastern town of Koidu, Sierra Leone. Credit: Tommy Trenchard/IPS

By Jim Lobe
WASHINGTON, Aug 5 2014 (IPS)

As the three-day U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit got underway here Monday, anti-corruption activists urged President Barack Obama to prod a key U.S. agency to issue long-awaited regulations requiring oil, gas, and mining companies to publish all payments they make in countries where they operate.

“The companies need to be held accountable, and we would ask President Obama to also support us in this message,” said Ali Idrissa, the national co-ordinator of Publiez Ce Que Vous Payez (Publish What You Pay, or PWYP), in Niger, a country rich in uranium and iron deposits.Anti-corruption activists are losing patience with what they see as pressure by the extractive industries to prevent the emergence of tough new disclosure requirements.

“We need to look at the entire production chain of these extractive industries; we need to continue putting pressure on this industry …so we can fight poverty and corruption and ensure we have a better development,” he added.

Idrissa, one of scores of African activists who have descended on Washington for this week’s unprecedented gathering, was speaking at a forum sponsored by the Open Society Foundations (OSF), Global Witness, Human Rights Watch, and Oxfam America, among other groups, on civil society efforts to promote government and corporate transparency and accountability on the continent.

The activists, whose numbers are dwarfed by the size of official government delegations, most of which are led by heads of state, as well as U.S. and African corporate chiefs eager to explore business prospects, nonetheless claimed at least part of the spotlight Monday.

At what was billed as a “Civil Society Forum Global Town Hall” meeting at the National Academy of Sciences, both Vice President Joe Biden and Secretary of State John Kerry echoed Idrissa’s concerns in general remarks.

“Widespread corruption is an affront to the dignity of your people and direct threat to each of your nations,” Biden declared. “It stifles economic growth and scares away investment and siphons off resources that should be used to lift people out of poverty.”

Kerry also stressed the importance of “transparency and accountability” not only in attracting more investment but also in “creat(ing) a more competitive marketplace, one where ideas and products are judged by the market and their merits, and not by a backroom deal or a bribe.”

While their words gained applause, it was clear from the OSF forum that anti-corruption activists are losing patience with what they see as pressure by the extractive industries to prevent the emergence of tough new disclosure requirements from the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), the federal agency that regulates U.S. stock and related markets.

At issue is section 1504 of the 2010 Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, an anti-corruption provision that requires all extractive companies listed on U.S. stock exchanges to publish each year all payments they make to the U.S. and foreign governments in the countries where they operate.

According to the legislation, which is designed to counter the so-called “resource curse” that afflict many developing countries, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa, taxes, royalties, fees, production entitlements and bonuses should all be reported down to the project level.

Eight of the world’s 10 largest mining companies and 29 of the 32 largest active international oil companies would be covered by the Act, which requires the SEC to develop specific regulations to implement its intent.

After nearly two years of consultations with businesses, activists, and other interested parties, the SEC issued draft regulations, but they were immediately challenged in a lawsuit filed by the American Petroleum Institute (API), a lobby group that represents the powerful oil and gas industry here.

The SEC has since reported that it does not plan to resume the rule-making process until March, 2015, a source of considerable frustration for the anti-corruption activists.

In the meantime, the European Union (EU), whose member countries have historically shown much less willingness than Washington to enact legislation to deter bribery and corruption by its companies operating abroad, has adopted and begun to enforce its own tough disclosure measures that go beyond the energy and mining industries to include timber companies as well.

“Until 2000, corruption and bribery by European [companies] was not only legal; it was tax-deductible,” Mo Ibrahim, a Sudanese-British telecommunications entrepreneur and prominent philanthropist for good governance in Africa, told the OSF Forum. “The United States, which has been a leading light on corruption, is now dragging its feet. Do you have a backbone, or what?”

He echoed the concerns of an open letter sent to Obama and signed by the heads of the national chapters of PWYP, an OSF-backed international anti-corruption group, in Guinea, Niger, Tanzania, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Chad, Ghana, and Nigeria, on the eve of this week’s Summit.

“It has been more than four years since you signed the Dodd-Frank Act, section 1504 of which obliges all U.S. listed extractive companies to publish the payments they make,” the letter, which was also signed by the African representatives on the PWYP global steering committee. “The law will yield crucial data that can help us hold our governments to account, but it has yet to come into effect.

“We ask you to urge the SEC for a swift publication of the rules governing section 1504 to ensure that they are in line with recent EU legislation and the emerging global standard for extractive transparency,” it said, adding that more also needs to be done to strengthen multilateral rules on taxation and creating a public registry of corporate beneficial ownership information as other critical parts of the anti-corruption struggle in Africa.

Harmonising the SEC regulations with those of the EU is particularly critical, according to Simon Taylor, co-founder and director of London-based Global Witness. “If the SEC gets it wrong, we will then have a double standard,” he noted, suggesting that some European companies could move to the U.S. if the latter’s requirements are less stringent.

API and other critics of the section 1504 have argued that strict rules will put U.S. companies at a disadvantage in bidding for mining or drilling rights, especially vis-à-vis China whose trade investment in Africa, particularly in the continent’s extractive resources, have exploded over the past decade and now far exceeds the U.S.

Beijing has failed so far to join the 12-year-old Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI), an Oslo-based international organisation that promotes transparency and currently includes 44 governments, as well as extractive companies, civil-society groups, international development banks, and institutional investors.

But Ibrahim said it was “not acceptable for Europeans or Americans to say, ‘We want to be moral and ethical, but we can’t until this guy’” joins. “China is learning; it can understand and can change. They’re trying to find their feet [in Africa].”

George Soros, the billionaire philanthropist who created OSF, as well as a number of other foundations, said it was important to get China on board because “otherwise they are the spoilers. It is so important that I think we have to be willing to reconsider the whole structure of the [EITI which] they consider [to be] a post-colonial invention.

“They have to be involved in the creation of the system that they will abide by. That’s where civil society in Africa can be influential,” he added.

Jim Lobe’s blog on U.S. foreign policy can be read at Lobelog.comHe can be contacted at ipsnoram@ips.org

Edited by: Kitty Stapp

 

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U.S. Summit Seeks to Play Catch-Up in Africahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/u-s-summit-seeks-to-play-catch-up-in-africa/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-s-summit-seeks-to-play-catch-up-in-africa http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/u-s-summit-seeks-to-play-catch-up-in-africa/#comments Sun, 03 Aug 2014 16:43:04 +0000 Jim Lobe http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135893 The explosion in Chinese involvement with Africa is of particular concern to policy-makers here for strategic reasons. Credit: Kit Gillet/IPS

The explosion in Chinese involvement with Africa is of particular concern to policy-makers here for strategic reasons. Credit: Kit Gillet/IPS

By Jim Lobe
WASHINGTON, Aug 3 2014 (IPS)

Despite worsening crises in Ukraine, Gaza, and elsewhere in the Middle East, the administration of President Barack Obama hopes next week to focus at least some more positive attention on Africa.

The U.S.-Africa Leadership Summit, which will bring presidents, prime ministers, and other top officials of some 50 African nations here, is designed to demonstrate Washington’s continued interest in the continent, particularly in matters affecting its pocketbook.“This is really a very high-profile photo-op to better position U.S. stakeholders to compete for the continent’s natural resources." -- Emira Woods

In speeches and briefings leading up to the three-day meeting, whose centrepiece will be Tuesday’s U.S.-Africa Business Forum, U.S. officials have highlighted the economic opportunities offered by increased trade and investment in Africa.

“(W)e hope to see increased U.S. investment as one of the Summit’s key outcomes,” said Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Linda Thomas-Greenfield at the Atlantic Council Thursday in previewing the Summit whose theme is “Investing in the Next Generation”.

“When we talk about the fact that most of the world’s fastest-growing economies are in sub-Saharan Africa, we’re also seeing a burgeoning middle class of African consumers and an expanding market for U.S. direct investment. This means enormous growth opportunities for American business and new jobs for Africans and Americans,” she told the group.

Washington is being playing economic catch-up in Africa, a region where its military engagement has grown far more quickly, largely due to its efforts to counter the proliferation of radical Islamist groups in North Africa, Somalia, and the Sahel.

As noted by the Council on Foreign Relations recently, the U.S. has gone from a leading trading partner with Africa “to being far surpassed by the European Union and China.”

The EU’s trade over the last decade has more than doubled to more than 200 billion dollars last year, while China’s trade with the continent has mushroomed from some 10 billion dollars in 2000 to more than 170 billion dollars in 2013.

By contrast, U.S.-African bilateral trade has actually declined – from about 100 billion dollars in 2011 to only 60 billion dollars last year.

Most of that trade consisted of imports from Africa – mainly oil and other natural resources — while exports to the continent have largely stagnated at around 20 billion dollars annually over the past five years, despite the rapid growth of the continent’s consumer market extolled by Thomas-Greenfield and featured in a front-page analysis in the New York Times earlier this month entitled “Africans Open Fuller Wallets to the Future.”

The explosion in Chinese involvement with Africa is of particular concern to policy-makers here for strategic reasons, although they routinely go to great lengths to insist that they welcome Beijing’s commitment to promoting development in the region.

“President Obama has made clear that we welcome other nations being invested in Africa infrastructure, and, frankly, China can play a constructive role in areas like developing African infrastructure,” Benjamin Rhodes, Obama’s deputy national security adviser, told reporters earlier this week.

At the same time, Obama himself offered words of warning appeared designed to resonate in some African nations that have witnessed recent protests over Chinese labour practices.

“(M)y advice to African leaders is to make sure that if, in fact, China is putting in roads and bridges, number one, that they’re hiring African workers; number two, that the roads don’t just lead from the mine, to the port, to Shanghai,” he told The Economist magazine.

All but a handful of the region’s heads of state have been invited, and most, including the presidents of the region’s two economic powerhouses, South Africa and Nigeria, are expected to attend.

Omitted were Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe, the subject of U.S. diplomatic sanctions, Sudanese President Omar Al-Bashir, who has been indicted for crimes against humanity by the International Criminal Court (ICC), as well as the leaders of the Central African Republic (CAR), Eritrea, and the Western Sahara, which, despite its membership in the African Union (AU) is occupied by Morocco, a close U.S. ally.

Despite his indictment by the ICC, Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta was included, in part because Nairobi is seen as a “key regional partner” of Washington’s, according to Rhodes.

Sierra Leone President Ernest Bai Koroma and Liberian President Ellen Sirleaf Johnson, the region’s only female head of state and a long-standing Washington favourite, will reportedly be staying home in order to deal with the Ebola outbreak which has killed more than 700 people in recent weeks and which U.S. officials hope will not overshadow the “good news” of African economic growth and opportunity that the Summit will spotlight.

Given his African roots, Obama’s 2008 election spurred hopes that he would give the region unprecedented attention.

During his first term, however, he spent less than one day there – in Ghana – and offered no major new initiatives, although he maintained multi-billion-dollar funding levels for – and eased restrictions on — George W. Bush’s highly popular President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR). He also played a key role in securing independence for South Sudan and supporting UN and AU peacekeeping efforts across the region, especially in Somalia.

Last summer, he travelled to Senegal, South Africa and Tanzania where he unveiled his “Power Africa” programme – an initiative designed to increase access to electricity to some 20 million households and businesses in six countries by leveraging some 14 billion dollars in private investment from seven billion dollars in federal aid and guarantees.

Congress has yet to authorise the programme, and officials hope next week’s Summit will boost its prospects, as well as those for the renewal of the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA), a trade initiative launched under Bill Clinton that provides duty-free access for some 6,000 products from sub-Saharan Africa. It is due to expire next year.

In addition to the Business Forum, Obama will participate with the other leaders on panels at the State Department Wednesday covering investment, “peace and regional stability” and “governing for the next generation.”

The Summit will also include an all-day conference at the National Academy of Science Monday for civil-society representatives, an event that was added to the agenda in response to criticism from human-rights, development, and anti-poverty activists here who complain that the Summit is too heavily weighted toward business interests.

“There’s no doubt that this is a continent that is rising in economic terms,” said Emira Woods, an Africa specialist at the Institute for Policy Studies here. “But it’s also rising in terms of inequality and environmental damage, and these aren’t on the main agenda.

“This is really a very high-profile photo-op to better position U.S. stakeholders to compete for the continent’s natural resources, particularly in oil, gas, mining, and biofuels, without regard to the basic human needs of its people at a moment when they lack even the basics of a health-care infrastructure that can effectively halt the spread of the Ebola virus,” she told IPS.

Jim Lobe’s blog on U.S. foreign policy can be read at Lobelog.com.

Edited by: Kitty Stapp

The writer can be reached at ipsnoram@ips.org

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World Bank Board Declines to Revise Controversial Draft Policieshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/world-bank-board-declines-to-revise-controversial-draft-policies/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=world-bank-board-declines-to-revise-controversial-draft-policies http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/world-bank-board-declines-to-revise-controversial-draft-policies/#comments Thu, 31 Jul 2014 01:11:09 +0000 Jim Lobe http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135842 By Jim Lobe
WASHINGTON, Jul 31 2014 (IPS)

A key committee of the World Bank’s governing board Wednesday spurned appeals to revise a  draft policy statement that, according to nearly 100 civil-society groups, risks rolling back several decades of reforms designed to protect indigenous populations, the poor and sensitive ecosystems.

While the Committee on Development Effectiveness did not formally endorse the draft, it approved the document for further consultation with governments, non-governmental organisations (NGOs), and other stakeholders over the coming months in what will constitute a second round a two-year review of the Bank’s social and environmental policies.“The proposed ‘opt-out’ for protections for indigenous peoples, in particular, would undermine existing international human rights law." -- Joji Carino

At issue is a draft safeguard framework that was designed to update and strengthen policies that have been put in place over the past 25 years to ensure that Bank-supported projects in developing countries would protect vulnerable populations, human rights, and the environment to the greatest possible extent.

“The policies we have in place now have served us well, but the issues our clients face have changed over the last 20 years,” said Kyle Peters, the Bank’s vice president for operations policy and country services.

He stressed that the draft provisions would also broaden the Bank’s safeguard policies to include promoting social inclusion, anti-discrimination, and labour rights, and addressing climate change.

But, according to a number of civil-society groups, the draft, which was leaked over the weekend, not only fails to tighten key safeguards, in some cases, it weakens them substantially.

“The World Bank has repeatedly committed to producing a new safeguard framework that results in no-dilution of the existing safeguards and which reflects prevailing international standards,” according to a statement sent to the Bank’s executive directors Monday by Bank on Human Rights (BHR), a coalition of two dozen human-rights, anti-poverty, and environmental groups that sponsored the letter.

“Instead, the draft safeguard framework represents a profound dilution of the existing safeguards and an undercutting of international human rights standards and best practice,” the coalition, which includes Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and the NGO Forum of the Asia Development Bank, among other groups, said.

Perhaps the most dramatic example of that dilution is a provision that would permit borrowing governments to “opt out” of the Indigenous Peoples Standard that was developed by the Bank to ensure that Bank-funded projects protected essential land and natural-resource rights of affected indigenous communities.

“We have engaged with social and environmental safeguard development with the World Bank for over 20 years and have never seen a proposal with potential for such widespread negative impacts for indigenous peoples around the world,” said Joji Carino, director of the Forest Peoples Programme.

“The proposed ‘opt-out’ for protections for indigenous peoples, in particular, would undermine existing international human rights law and the significant advances seen in respect for indigenous peoples rights in national laws,” she added.

But Mark King, the Bank’s chief environmental and social standards officer, insisted that the draft’s provisions represented a “strengthening of existing policy” that, among other provisions, introduces “Free, Prior and Informed Consent of Indigenous Peoples” in all Bank-supported projects.

“In exceptional circumstances when there are risks of exacerbating ethnic tension or civil strife or where the identification of Indigenous Peoples is inconsistent with the constitution of the country, in consultation with people affected by a particular project, we are proposing an alternative approach to the protection of Indigenous Peoples,” he said, adding that any such exception would have to be approved by the Bank’s board.

The Bank, which disburses as much as 50 billion dollars a year in grants and loans, remains a key source of project funding for developing countries despite the rise of other major sources over the past 20 years, notably private capital and, more recently, China and other emerging economies, which have generally imposed substantially fewer conditions on their lending.

Faced with this competition, the Bank has been determining how to make itself more attractive to borrowers by, for example, streamlining operations and reducing waste and duplication. But some critics worry that it may also be willing to exercise greater flexibility in applying its social and environmental standards – a charge that Bank officials publicly reject, despite the disclosure of recent internal emails reflecting precisely that concern.

Under prodding by NGOs and some Western governments in the 1980’s and 1990’s, the Bank had established itself as a leader in setting progressive social and environmental policies.

More recently, however, “it has fallen behind the regional development banks and many other international development institutions in terms of safeguarding human rights and the environment,” according to Gretchen Gordon, BHR’s co-ordinator.

“The Bank has an opportunity to regain its position as a leader in the development arena, but unfortunately this draft backtracks on the last decade of progress,” she told IPS. “We hope that the [next round of] consultations will be robust and accessible to the people and communities who are most affected, and that at the end of the day, the Bank and its member states adopt a strong safeguard framework that respects human rights.”

While welcoming the Bank’s new interest in issues such as discrimination and labour rights, the BHR statement criticised what it called the framework’s movement from “one based on compliance with set processes and standards, to one of vague and open-ended guidance…”

According to the statement, the draft threatens long-standing protections for people who may be displaced from their homes by Bank-backed mega-projects and may permit borrower governments and even private “intermediary” banks to use their own standards for assessing, compensating and resettling affected communities “without clear criteria on when and how this would be acceptable.”

In addition, according to BHR, the draft fails to incorporate any serious protections to prevent Bank funds from supporting land grabs that have displaced indigenous communities, small farmers, fishing communities and pastoralists in some of the world’s poorest countries to make way for major agro-industrial projects.

“We had hoped that the new safeguards would include strong requirements to prevent governments like Ethiopia from abusing its people with Bank funds,” said Obang Metho, executive director of the Solidarity Movement for a New Ethiopia, a group that has brought international attention to Bank-backed land grabs in his home country. “But we are shocked to see the Bank instead opening the flood-gates for more abuses.”

The draft was based on a five-month-long consultation involving more than 2,000 people in more than 40 countries and a review of other multilateral development banks’ environmental and social standards, according to the Bank.

In a teleconference with reporters, King denied that the Bank was lowering its existing standards. In addition to broadening existing standards, he said, the Bank will “use as much as possible the borrower country’s own existing systems to deliver social and environmental outcomes that are consistent with our values.”

He and Peters also stressed that more attention will be paid to assessing and addressing the risks of social and environmental damage during project implementation, as opposed to the more “up-front approach” the Bank has taken in the past.

Jim Lobe’s blog on U.S. foreign policy can be read at Lobelog.com.

Editing by: Kitty Stapp

The writer can be reached at ipsnoram@ips.org

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U.S., Obama’s Image Remains Positive Worldwidehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/u-s-obamas-image-remains-positive-worldwide/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-s-obamas-image-remains-positive-worldwide http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/u-s-obamas-image-remains-positive-worldwide/#comments Mon, 14 Jul 2014 23:53:43 +0000 Jim Lobe http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135566 By Jim Lobe
WASHINGTON, Jul 14 2014 (IPS)

While Republicans and other right-wingers claim that President Barack Obama has inflicted unprecedented damage on Washington’s global reputation, a major new global survey suggests that the image of the U.S. remains generally positive.

The survey, which was based on nearly 50,000 interviews of respondents in 44 countries, found that the U.S. remains substantially more popular than China, widely considered Washington nearest geopolitical rival, in every major region except the Middle East.

A global median of 65 percent respondents said they held a positive view about the U.S., with majorities in 30 of 43 nations (not including the U.S. itself) expressing a favourable opinion.

By contrast, a median of 49 percent said they felt positively about China, while 55 percent said they had an unfavourable view of the Asian giant. The most negative opinions were expressed in Europe and among some of Asia’s closest neighbours, particularly those which are contesting Beijing’s increasingly assertive territorial claims.

As for Obama himself, the first U.S. African-American president remains broadly popular, with a median approval rating of 56 percent – about 15 percentage points higher than in the U.S. itself — with half or more of the public in 28 of the 44 countries expressing confidence that he will “do the right thing” in world affairs.

But, like the U.S. itself, Obama’s image remains poorest in Arab countries, Turkey, and Pakistan. By contrast, Obama’s approval ratings climbed some 10 percentage points (to 71 percent) in Israel between 2013 and 2014.

Indeed, Israel was the only country of 21 nations surveyed in 2009, when he became president and expectations for his tenure were highest around the world, where Obama’s approval ratings improved over the five-year period.

The latest survey, however, also found major plunges in his popularity in Germany and Brazil, compared to 2013, which Pew analysts attributed to revelations that the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) has been conducting major spying operations on the phone conversations of the two countries’ leaders.

It also found a sharp drop in positive assessments of Obama in Russia – down to only 15 percent of respondents – which Pew said was most likely related to the sharp uptick in bilateral tensions over ongoing crisis over Ukraine and Moscow’s annexation of Crimea.

The Pew poll, which was conducted between mid-March and early June, is the latest in an annual series that the organisation’s “Global Attitudes Project” has carried out since 2002. The surveys have covered public opinion on a broad range of international issues in as few as nine and as many as 47 each year over that period.

The survey is quite comprehensive in scope, and its results are released in instalments over the summer. Last week, for example, Pew released findings regarding Russia’s global image, which, according to the survey, had suffered in every region of the world over the past year, particularly in Europe and the U.S. where nearly three in four respondents reported unfavourable views of Moscow.

The 44 countries polled in the latest survey, for which full results will be released in stages over the coming weeks and months, included nine European countries – France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Poland, Russia, Spain, the UK, and Ukraine; seven countries in the Greater Middle East – Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Palestine, Tunisia, and Turkey; and 11 Asian nations – Bangladesh, China, India, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, Pakistan, Philippines, South Korea, Thailand, and Vietnam.

In Latin America, the survey included Argentina, Brazil. Chile, Colombia, El Salvador, Mexico, Nicaragua, Peru, and Venezuela; while seven sub-Saharan countries were surveyed – Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria, Senegal South Africa, Tanzania, and Uganda. The U.S. itself was included in the survey.

In addition to comparing perceptions and images of the U.S. and China, the latest showed focused on international reaction to disclosures by former NSA employee Edward Snowden about Washington’s use of electronic surveillance of foreign leaders and citizens, as well as Washington’s reliance on drone aircraft to kill alleged terrorists in foreign countries.

The survey found strong opposition nearly across the board – except in the U.S. itself — to both activities, although it also found little evidence in most countries that they had significantly harmed Washington’s image.

In 37 of the 44 countries, half or more of respondents said they disapproved of drones strikes against suspected terrorists. In 26 countries, more than seven of 10 respondents said they opposed the practice.

As important, perhaps, the survey found that opposition to drones strikes has grown steadily – and significantly in a number of countries, particularly Senegal, Uganda, France, Germany, the Philippines, Mexico, Japan, and even within the U.S. itself – compared to 2013, when Pew asked the same question.

Overall, opposition was found to be strongest in Latin America, the Greater Middle East, Greece, Senegal, Spain, and Japan. On the other hand, pluralities and majorities in Israel, the U.S., Nigeria, and Kenya said they approved of Washington’s use of drone strikes.

As to the NSA’s monitoring activities, majorities in most countries said they approved of efforts to spy on terrorists. At the same time, majorities in nearly all of the countries said they opposed U.S. monitoring of emails and phone calls of foreign leaders, and particularly average citizens. That latter sentiment was particularly strong in Greece, Brazil, Egypt, Jordan, and Tunisia, according to the survey.

On China’s image, pluralities or majorities in all Latin American and sub-Saharan African countries covered by the survey held positive views. In other regions, however, impressions were far more mixed.

Majorities in the U.S., France, Spain, Poland, Germany, and Italy held said their overall views were negative, while in Ukraine and Russia, nearly two thirds of respondents said they had a positive image of China. The Greater Middle East was similarly split, with the most positive views found in Tunisia and Palestine, while Jordan and Turkey were strongly negative.

Majorities in six of the 10 Asian countries (not including China itself) of up to 78 percent (Pakistan) expressed favourable views, while respondents in the three countries with which China has ongoing maritime disputes – Philippines, Vietnam, and Japan – were strongly negative. In India, where the land border with China remains in contention, a plurality of respondents voiced negative view of their northern neighbour.

The survey found a growing belief — compared to 2008 when Pew asked the same question — that China will eventually replace the U.S. as the world’s greatest superpower or has already done so.

A global median of 49 percent of respondents agreed with that proposition, compared to 32 percent who disagreed. In 2008, just before the global financial crisis that broke out with the collapse of the U.S. investment firm Lehman Brothers, the split was 41 percent who agreed that China would surpass the U.S. and 39 percent who disagreed.

The latest poll found that the view that Beijing will indeed replace Washington as the pre-eminent global power was strongest in Europe (60 percent) and weakest in Asia (42 percent).

The poll also found significant generation gaps on several issues. Younger respondents were found to hold significantly more favourable views of the U.S. than their older fellow-citizens in more than half of the countries, particularly in Asia (including China), Latin America, and Africa.

Similarly, younger respondents also held significantly more favourable views of China than their older counterparts, particularly in Western Europe, Latin America, and Africa.

Jim Lobe’s blog on U.S. foreign policy can be read at Lobelog.com.

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Bahrain’s Expulsion of U.S. Official Sets Back Ties, Reform Hopeshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/bahrains-expulsion-of-u-s-official-sets-back-ties-reform-hopes/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=bahrains-expulsion-of-u-s-official-sets-back-ties-reform-hopes http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/bahrains-expulsion-of-u-s-official-sets-back-ties-reform-hopes/#comments Tue, 08 Jul 2014 01:55:35 +0000 Jim Lobe http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135419 By Jim Lobe
WASHINGTON, Jul 8 2014 (IPS)

Monday’s expulsion order by Bahrain against a visiting senior U.S. official has set back tentative hopes for internal reforms that could reconcile the kingdom’s Sunni-led government with its majority Shia community and drawn a sharp protest from Washington.

The surprise declaration that Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor Tom Malinowski was persona non grata (PNG) was greeted with calls by rights groups here and in Bahrain for a strong reaction on Washington’s part.Preoccupied by more pressing crises elsewhere in the region, notably Syria, Egypt, Libya, and now Iraq, the administration has appeared to give Bahrain a lower priority.

For its part, the State Department said it was “deeply concerned” about the expulsion order and denounced the action as “not consistent with the strong partnership between the United States and Bahrain.”

Moreover, the fact that the expulsion order came just two weeks after the widely welcomed acquittal on terrorism charges of a top leader, Khalil al-Marzouq, of the Shi’ite-led al-Wefaq opposition party has created consternation among officials and other observers regarding the kingdom’s intentions.

“This is really an alarm that the U.S. should’ve been hearing for some time now — that it needs to reassess its relationship with the Bahrain government,” said Brian Dooley, a Gulf expert at Human Rights First (HRF).

“It’s an unreliable government with an increasingly erratic ruling family that, on the one hand, is quite happy with U.S. military support, but, on the other, also vilifies U.S. diplomats,” he told IPS in a telephone interview.

Malinowski, an outspoken critic of Bahrain as the Washington director of Human Rights Watch until his nomination as assistant secretary last year, was accused of having “intervened flagrantly in Bahrain’s internal affairs and held meetings with a particular party to the detriment of other interlocutors, thus discriminating between one people, contravening diplomatic norms, and flouting normal interstate relations.”

The charge was apparently related to his attendance without the presence of a Foreign Ministry official at a Sunday night Ramadan gathering hosted by al-Wefaq, according to Simon Henderson, a Gulf expert at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

While the declaration said Malinowski should leave the country “immediately”, State Department spokesperson Jan Psaki told reporters Monday afternoon that he “remains on the ground” in Bahrain and that U.S. officials were in “close touch” with their counterparts in Manama.

Some seven hours later, she issued a stronger written statement noting that Malinowski’s visit to the kingdom “had been coordinated far in advance and warmly welcomed and encouraged by the government of Bahrain, which is well-aware that U.S. government officials routinely meet with all officially-recognized political societies.”

As noted by Henderson, “Being PNG’ed is rare and typically seems to occur when an intelligence officer operating under diplomatic cover is discovered by the host government. For it to happen between allies – and to be publicly revealed – is quite unusual.”

Rarer still is the PNG’ing of a senior official who is not stationed in the host country, according to administration sources who noted that Malinowski’s immediate predecessor as assistant secretary, former HRF director Michael Posner, had visited Bahrain half a dozen times without incident despite well-publicised meetings with opposition and civil-society leaders.

Home to the U.S. Navy’s Fifth Fleet, Bahrain occupies a strategic position in the Gulf that the Pentagon. Tied to Saudi Arabia’s Eastern Province by a causeway, it faces Iran across the Gulf.

Like the other Gulf monarchies, Bahrain’s royal family, the al-Khalifas, are Sunni. But, unlike other members of the Gulf Co-operation Council (GCC), they rule over a majority Shia population which has long pressed for democratic reform.

During the so-called “Arab Spring” of early 2011, popular pressure for reform featured major demonstrations by opposition and civil-society groups, both Shia and Sunni.

These protests, however, were met with a crackdown by the regime – reinforced by troops and police from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates — in which several dozen people were killed, several thousand more arrested, hundreds tortured by security forces and in many cases forced to sign confessions, among other abuses, according to an exhaustive report released in November, 2011, by an independent international commission headed by an Egyptian-American jurist, Cherif Bassiouni.

While King Hamad pledged to implement reforms recommended by the commission, virtually no progress has been made to date, according to independent human-rights groups who have noted that, if anything, sectarian tensions have only become worse, often flaring into violence and street battles between Shia youths and security forces.

While Washington, including President Barack Obama himself, has admonished Manama about its human-rights record, called for full implementation of the Bassiouni recommendations, and encouraged reconciliation, it has taken no concrete actions against the government beyond suspending delivery of those parts of a 53-million-dollar arms deal that could be used against peaceful demonstrators.

Preoccupied by more pressing crises elsewhere in the region, notably Syria, Egypt, Libya, and now Iraq, the administration has appeared to give Bahrain a lower priority, although the charges against Marzouq came a day after Vice President Joseph Biden spoke by phone with King Hamad and assured him of “America’s enduring and overlapping interests in Bahrain’s security, stability, and reform.”

Malinowski’s visit was a follow-up to Posner’s periodic visits to demonstrate Washington’s continuing concerns.

“The Bahraini government’s decision to expel Mr. Malinowski for meeting with Al-Wefaq mainstream Shia opposition party belies the government’s recent public relations claims that it was encouraging the opposition to participate in the upcoming elections,” according to Emile Nakhleh, an expert on Bahrain and a former senior regional analyst at the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) who was himself threatened with expulsion by the Bahraini government when he was a Fulbright Scholar there in 1972.

“Declaring Mr. Malinowski persona non grata should be viewed as part and parcel of Al Khalifa’s incendiary policy of continued massive human rights violations against the Shia majority and the stoking of sectarianism.”

Henderson also warned that Malinowski’s expulsion could derail plans to hold elections in Bahrain this fall, as well as other confidence-building measures “intended to encourage al-Wefaq’s participation.”

“If so, that could please some factions in Bahrain, including the minority Sunnis who regard their Shiite countrymen with suspicion.” The expulsion, he said, “represents a hugely convenient nadir in bilateral relations, which both countries will need to rebuild quickly before the negative consequences spread.”

Jim Lobe’s blog on U.S. foreign policy can be read at Lobelog.com.

 

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U.S.: What Is the Greatest Threat of Them All?http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/06/u-s-what-is-the-greatest-threat-of-them-all/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-s-what-is-the-greatest-threat-of-them-all http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/06/u-s-what-is-the-greatest-threat-of-them-all/#comments Sat, 28 Jun 2014 02:02:42 +0000 Jim Lobe http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135236 By Jim Lobe
WASHINGTON, Jun 28 2014 (IPS)

This month’s stunning campaign by Sunni insurgents led by the radical Islamic State of Syria and the Levant (ISIL) against the mainly Shi’a government of Iraqi President Nouri Al-Maliki is stoking a growing debate here about the hierarchy of threats facing the United States in the Middle East and beyond.

On one side, many foreign policy “realists” have argued that the greatest threat is precisely the kind of violent Sunni jihadism associated with Al Qaeda, whose prominence, however, now appears to have been eclipsed by the even more violent ISIL.Obama, who has vowed to keep the U.S. out of a regional Sunni-Shi’a civil war, is eager to reassure allies that he has no intention of partnering with Iran to save Maliki.

In their view, Washington should be ready, if not eager, to cooperate with Iran, which, like the U.S., has rushed military advisers, weapons, and even drone aircraft to Baghdad, in order to protect the Iraqi government and help organise a counter-offensive to regain lost territory.

Some voices in this camp even favour working with Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad, whose air force reportedly bombed ISIL positions inside Iraq Wednesday, to help repel the threat.

“There’s only one strategy with a decent chance of winning: forge a military and political coalition with the power to stifle the jihadis in both Iraq and Syria,” according to the former president of the influential Council on Foreign Relations, Leslie Gelb.

“This means partnering with Iran, Russia, and President Assad of Syria. This would be a very tricky arrangement among unfriendly and non-trusting partners, but the overriding point is that they all have common interests,” he wrote in The Daily Beast.

On the other side, pro-Israel neo-conservatives and aggressive nationalists, who maintain their hold — if increasingly shakily — on the Republican Party, vehemently oppose any such cooperation, insisting that Tehran poses Washington’s greatest strategic threat, especially if it succeeds in what they depict as its determination to obtain nuclear weapons.

For them, talk of any cooperation with either Syria or Iran, which they accuse of having supported Al Qaeda and other Sunni jihadist groups in the past, is anathema.

“(W)e should not aid our stronger adversary power against our weaker adversary power in the struggle underway in Iraq,” according to George W. Bush’s ambassador to the U.N., John Bolton, now with the American Enterprise Institute.

“U.S. strategy must rather be to prevent Tehran from re-establishing its scimitar of power stretching from Iran through Iraq and Syria to Lebanon,” he wrote for FoxNews in an op-ed that called for renewed U.S. efforts to overthrow “the ayatollahs”.

The hawks have instead urged, among other things, Washington to deploy special operations forces and airpower to attack ISIL in both Iraq and Syria while substantially boosting military aid to “moderate” rebel factions fighting to oust Assad.

Yet a third camp argues that the current fixation on ISIL — not to say, the 13-year-old pre-occupation with the Middle East more generally — is overdrawn and misplaced and that Washington needs to engage a serious threat re-assessment and prioritise accordingly.

Noting disappointingly that Obama himself had identified “terrorism” as the greatest threat to the U.S. in a major foreign policy speech last month, political theorist Francis Fukuyama cited Russia’s recent annexation of Crimea and increased tensions over maritime claims between China and its U.S.-allied neighbours as greater causes for concern.

“He said virtually nothing about long-term responses to the two other big challenges to world order: Russia and China,” Fukuyama wrote in a Financial Times column entitled “ISIS risks distracting us from more menacing foes.”

In the face of ISIL’s advance, the administration appears to lean toward the “realist” camp, but, for a variety of reasons feels constrained in moving more decisively in its direction.

Indeed, at the outset of the crisis, both Obama and his secretary of state, John Kerry, made clear that they were open to at least consulting, if not cooperating with Tehran in dealing with the ISIL threat.

Kerry even sent his top deputy, William Burns, to explore those possibilities in a meeting with senior Iranian officials on the sidelines of nuclear negotiations in Vienna – the highest-level bilateral talks about regional-security issues the two governments have held in memory.

But the sudden emergence of a possible de facto U.S.-Iranian partnership propelled its many foes into action.

These included not only neo-conservatives and other anti-Iran hawks, including the powerful Israel lobby here, but also Washington’s traditional regional allies, including Israel itself, as well as Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

They have long feared a return to the pre-1979 era when Washington recognised Tehran as the Gulf’s pre-eminent power and, in any case, have repeatedly ignored U.S. appeals in the past to reconcile themselves to a new Iraq in which the majority Shi’a community will no longer accept Sunni predominance.

“Some [U.S. allies] worry that the U.S. is seeking a new alliance with Iran to supplant its old alliance system in the region,” wrote Michael Singh, a former Bush Middle East aide now with the pro-Israel Washington Institute for Near Policy (WINEP), on the same day of the Vienna meeting.

“As misplaced as these worries may be, an American embrace of an Iranian security role in Iraq – or even bilateral talks with Iran on regional security that exclude other stakeholders – will only exacerbate them,” he warned in the neo-conservative editorial pages of the Wall Street Journal which has published a flood of op-eds and editorials over the past two weeks opposing any cooperation with Iran on Iraq.

Faced with these pressures, Obama, who has vowed to keep the U.S. out of a regional Sunni-Shi’a civil war, is eager to reassure those allies that he has no intention of partnering with Iran to save Maliki himself (to whom the Iranians appear to remain committed, at least for now).

U.S. officials have made no secret of their preference for a less-sectarian leader who is capable of reaching out to the Sunni community in Iraq in ways that could prise it loose from ISIL’s grip or influence.

That no doubt was a major part of the message conveyed by Kerry – along with the dangers posed by ISIL, even to Saudi Arabia itself — in his meeting in Jeddah Friday with King Abdullah, who until now has clearly viewed Tehran as the greater threat.

Similarly, the White House announcement Thursday that it will ask Congress to approve a whopping 500 million dollars in military and other assistance to “moderate” rebel groups in Syria to fight both Assad and ISIL also appeared designed to reassure the Saudis and its Gulf allies that Washington remains responsive to their interests, even if the aid is unlikely to materialise before some time next year.

While that announcement may please U.S. hawks and Washington’s traditional allies in the region, it is unlikely to strengthen those in Tehran who favour cooperating with the U.S. on regional security issues. Indeed, it risks bolstering hard-liners who see the conflict in both Iraq and Syria in sectarian terms and accuse Washington of siding with their Sunni rivals in the Gulf.

That the announcement was made on the same day that Baghdad thanked Damascus for bombing ISIL positions in Iraq, however, illustrates the complexities of the tangled alliances at play and the urgent questions for U.S. policy-makers: whom is the greatest threat and whom best to work with in defeating it?

Jim Lobe’s blog on U.S. foreign policy can be read at Lobelog.com.

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In Latest Republican Split, Tea Party Takes on Export-Import Bankhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/06/in-latest-republican-split-tea-party-takes-on-export-import-bank/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=in-latest-republican-split-tea-party-takes-on-export-import-bank http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/06/in-latest-republican-split-tea-party-takes-on-export-import-bank/#comments Thu, 26 Jun 2014 01:23:16 +0000 Jim Lobe http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135192 By Jim Lobe
WASHINGTON, Jun 26 2014 (IPS)

U.S. Big Business is going all out to protect a favoured government agency, the 80-year-old Export-Import Bank (Ex-Im), from a full-fledged assault by the populist “Tea Party” wing of the Republican Party.

At stake is Congressional re-authorisation of the Bank, which provides loans, guarantees, and credit insurance to foreign buyers of U.S. exports. Last year, it approved nearly 4,000 such transactions with a record estimated value of 37.4 billion dollars in exports.“I think the business community is getting a little bit of a wake-up call because they’ve been thinking that Republicans are their friends on everything, and it just turns out that ideology is trumping pragmatism.” -- Democratic Rep. Chris Van Hollen

While the re-authorisation should easily pass the Senate, where it is supported by the majority Democrats and many, if not most, Republicans, the problem lies in the Republican-led House of Representatives, which has increasingly become a Tea Party stronghold.

Business groups were stunned over the weekend when the incoming House Majority Leader, Kevin McCarthy, announced he would oppose re-authorisation despite his two-decade-long record of supporting it.

When House Speaker John Boehner declined to take a position either pro or con, top executives of the powerful U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) went into overdrive on Capitol Hill.

“With Americans overwhelmingly focused on the need to create jobs and grow our economy, business owners are understandably perplexed by the inside-the-(Washington-)Beltway campaign against the Ex-Im Bank,” said Chamber president Thomas Donohue, in releasing a letter signed by more than 800 companies and industry associations in support of the re-authorisation.

Still, Tea Party advocates and lawmakers are not giving any ground. At a hearing on the Bank Wednesday, the chairman of the House Financial Services subcommittee, Texas Rep. Jeb Hensarling, charged that its programmes amounted to “corporate welfare” designed to benefit “some of the largest, richest, most politically connected corporations in the world.”

The battle has emerged as the latest focus of a persistent – and some say growing — split within the party between what is often referred to as “Wall Street” and “Main Street.”

Indeed, the Tea Party was born and energised by what its constituents viewed as the government’s giants “bail-outs” – under both Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama — of Wall Street banks and other huge corporations following the Sep 2008 financial crisis.

The more-establishment and populist wing of the Republican Party have also clashed over immigration, fiscal, trade, and education policies. Consisting of both social conservatives and anti-government libertarians, the Tea Party – to the degree it has maintained any ideological coherence — has generally tried to move the Republican leadership to the far right.

While its forces have suffered a number of setbacks this spring during Republican primary elections for Congress, the surprise defeat earlier this month of Majority Leader Eric Cantor, who favoured slightly more-mainstream immigration and fiscal policies – by an obscure and poorly financed Tea Party challenger shocked Washington insiders.

The insurgent candidate, a college economics professor named Dave Brat, campaigned on an anti-government platform that strongly opposed liberalising immigration laws and what he called “crony capitalist programmes that benefit the rich and powerful.”

So strengthened were Tea Party forces within the House Republican caucus by Brat’s victory that many Capitol Hill observers credited it with McCarthy’s surprising reversal on Ex-Im funding. His change of heart appears to have been a condition for his election by key caucus members to succeed Cantor as Majority Leader.

Created in the early days of Franklin Roosevelt’s “New Deal”, Ex-Im has survived and prospered under Republican and Democratic presidents alike. This, despite complaints from the right that its operations amounted to government interference in the free market and, from the left, that the Bank’s support for exporters amount to “corporate welfare”, a phrase ironically adopted by then-Sen. Barack Obama to describe the Bank when he ran for president in 2008.

As originally conceived, its mission has been to create jobs at home by financing sales of U.S. exports to buyers overseas. Over the years, it has become a model for similar institutions, called export credit agencies (ECAs), established by dozens of other major exporting nations.

In recent decades, its single biggest beneficiary by far has been the Boeing Co., the giant Chicago-based aerospace firm, which has long depended on Ex-Im’s support in its competition with Europe’s Aerobus Industries. Other major beneficiaries include Caterpillar, General Electric, and Bechtel.

While much of the Bank’s opposition in the past has come from Democrats who, like Obama in 2008, described it as a corporate giveaway, the party’s lawmakers voted for it unanimously two years ago and still support it, as does the Obama administration which has made boosting U.S. exports a top priority since taking office.

The country’s biggest labour union federation, the AFL-CIO, has also strongly supported re-authorisation.

While left-wing criticism is now virtually non-existent, the Bank has long been a target for Tea Party adherents, whose mobilisation played a critical role in giving Republicans their majority in the House since the 2010 Congressional elections.

In 2012, they tried, albeit unsuccessfully, to kill the agency, arguing that the subsidies and other help provided by the Bank to U.S. exporters makes them “less and less competitive in the global market,” as their then-champion in the Senate, Jim DeMint, contended at the time.

DeMint, now head of the far-right Heritage Foundation, has, along with the Club for Growth, spearheaded the current campaign against re-authorisation.

The campaign gained more traction this week with the revelation by the Wall Street Journal that four Bank staff members have been suspended or removed amidst investigations into reported kickbacks.

But the major business groups are fighting back hard, arguing that U.S. companies would be placed at a severe disadvantage in competing for business abroad if the re-authorisation wasn’t approved.

“Failure to reauthorize Ex-Im would amount to unilateral disarmament in the face of other governments’ far more aggressive export credit programs, which have provided their own exporters with an estimated one trillion dollars in financing support in recent years,” according to the letter signed by the business organisations.

“Export credit agencies in China, France, Germany, Brazil, and Korea have provided significantly more support for their exporters than Ex-Im has provided to U.S. exporters – in some cases, more than seven times what Ex-Im Bank has provided on an annual basis.”

Most observers here believe that the Bank will be eventually be re-authorised, as the Chamber and NAM mobilise endorsements from small and medium-sized companies which have benefited from its largesse. That could include reducing the amounts Ex-Im can lend to foreign companies and limiting its authority to aid companies owned by foreign governments.

Democrats, meanwhile, are clearly enjoying this latest battle between the Tea Party and the business community.

“This is a perfect example of ideology run amok,” noted Democratic Rep. Chris Van Hollen, a rising star in the party, said Wednesday of the Tea Party’s campaign against the Bank. “I think the business community is getting a little bit of a wake-up call because they’ve been thinking that Republicans are their friends on everything, and it just turns out that ideology is trumping pragmatism.”

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Obama, Rights Groups Protest Egypt Sentencinghttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/06/obama-rights-groups-protest-egypt-sentencing/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=obama-rights-groups-protest-egypt-sentencing http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/06/obama-rights-groups-protest-egypt-sentencing/#comments Mon, 23 Jun 2014 23:47:15 +0000 Jim Lobe http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135139 Rights groups say the sentences are evidence of the Egyptian regime’s increasingly totalitarian nature. Credit: Cam McGrath/IPS

Rights groups say the sentences are evidence of the Egyptian regime’s increasingly totalitarian nature. Credit: Cam McGrath/IPS

By Jim Lobe
WASHINGTON, Jun 23 2014 (IPS)

The administration of President Barack Obama joined international human rights groups around the world in “strongly condemn(ing)” Monday’s conviction and sentencing by an Egyptian court of three Al Jazeera journalists and 15 others for their alleged association with the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood.

The White House, however, did not indicate what actions it was prepared to take, if any, in response to the verdicts, which it said “flouts the most basic standards of media freedom and represents a blow to democratic progress in Egypt.”We all know that the judiciary in Egypt has been the arm of the state for years. I feel embarrassed for our secretary of state to have to sit there and listen while the foreign minister says the judiciary is independent.” -- Emile Nakhleh

In a statement, it appealed instead to the new government of President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, the former general, Egypt’s strongman since the military coup that ousted President Mohamed Morsi almost exactly one year ago, to commute the sentences or pardon the defendants, as well as others who have been convicted for political reasons.

“Perhaps most disturbing is that this verdict comes as part of a succession of prosecutions and verdicts that are fundamentally incompatible with the basic precepts of human rights and democratic governance,” according to the White House statement.

“These include the prosecution of peaceful protesters and critics of the government, and a series of summary death sentences in trials that fail to achieve even a semblance of due process.”

Monday’s verdicts, which were also strongly denounced by a number of Western governments and press watchdog groups, immediately followed Sunday’s visit by Secretary of State John Kerry to Cairo where he met with both Sisi and Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry during which he reportedly appealed for a more conciliatory approach to the Muslim Brotherhood.

On the eve of his arrival, however, an Egyptian court confirmed death sentences against the Brotherhood’s spiritual leader, Mohamed Badie, and 182 supporters in a mass trial that has also been broadly condemned by rights groups and Western governments.

Kerry’s visit, which was billed as an attempt to rebuild ties after a partial freeze on U.S. military aid following the coup and the subsequent killings of hundreds of Brotherhood protestors in Cairo, marked the highest-level meeting Sisi has held with a U.S. official since his election to the presidency last month.

Officials accompanying Kerry on the trip told reporters before his arrival that Washington had quietly restored all but about 78 million dollars of the 650 million dollars earlier this month. It was the first of two tranches of military aid earmarked for Egypt this year.

Washington has provided Cairo with an average of about 1.3 billion dollars in military aid annually over the past two decades.

Despite the death sentences confirmed Saturday, Kerry told reporters in Cairo after meeting Sisi that he was “absolutely confident” that all of the aid would soon be restored, although the State Department said later Monday it was “constantly reviewing” what aid should be provided.

Analysts here said the timing of Kerry’s announcement – coming so soon after the latest death sentences and on the eve of the reporters’ sentencing — was particularly unfortunate and effectively reduced what leverage Washington enjoys over the new government.

“He should’ve at least waited to make the announcement until the verdict [in the reporters’ trial] came out, because he knew it was scheduled today,” said Emile Nakhleh, a former senior analyst on the Middle East and political Islam for the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).

“Frankly, it’s pathetic for the United States to be in the position where we see clear violations of human rights and the most elementary principles of judicial practice hiding under the pretence that this is an independent judiciary,” he told IPS.

“We all know that the judiciary in Egypt has been the arm of the state for years. I feel embarrassed for our secretary of state to have to sit there and listen while the foreign minister says the judiciary is independent.”

The three Al-Jazeera journalists, all of whom had previously worked for mainstream international news media, include Egyptian-Canadian Mohamed Fahmy, Australian Peter Greste; and Egyptian Baher Mohamed.

Detained since a raid on their studio in the Marriott Hotel in Cairo last December and charged with membership in the Brotherhood and fabricating video footage to “give the appearance Egypt is in a civil war,” the three were sentenced to seven years in a maximum-security prison, with an additional three years for Mohamed for possessing a spent shell he kept as a souvenir.

The other defendants, mostly students, were accused of aiding the reporters in allegedly fabricating the footage. While two were acquitted, most were sentenced to seven years in prison; those tried in absentia were sentenced to 10 years.

“The trial was a complete sham,” according to Philip Luther, director of the Middle East and North Africa at Amnesty International.

“This is a devastating verdict for the men and their families, and a dark day for media freedom in Egypt, when jouirnalists are being locked up and branded criminals or ‘terrorists’ simply for doing their job.”

He was joined by Joe Stork, the deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch, who complained that the prosecution had offered “zero evidence of wrongdoing” and noted that current U.S. law requires that military aid be withheld pending real progress on the human rights situation in Egypt.

The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) also denounced the verdicts as “shocking and an extremely disturbing sign for the future of the Egyptian press,” while Reporters Without Borders in Paris said they offered evidence of the “Egyptian regime’s increasingly totalitarian nature.”

Kerry issued his own condemnation of the verdicts in between urgent meetings with Iraqi political leaders in Baghdad Monday. He called the conviction and sentences “chilling” and “draconian” and “a deeply disturbing setback to Egypt’s transition.”

He said he had phoned Shoukry Monday “to make very clear our deep concerns” and appealed for Sisi’s government “to review all of the political sentences and verdicts pronounced during the last few years and consider all available remedies, including pardons.”

But Nakhleh said Washington’s appeals are unlikely to have the desired effect. “The appeal by the White House for clemency isn’t going to carry any weight with the Sisi government,” he told IPS. “We’ve really lost all credibility.” He called for Congress to re-impose the aid freeze.

Indeed, the powerful chairman Senate Foreign Operations Appropriations Committee, Sen. Patrick Leahy, suggested late Monday that he would work for such a freeze in light of the latest verdicts.

“The harsh actions taken today against journalists is the latest descent toward despotism,” he said in a statement. “Through discussions with Secretary Kerry and others over recent weeks, I agreed to the release of the bulk of these funds for sustainment purposes, but further aid should be withheld until they demonstrate a basic commitment to justice and human rights.”

CPJ’s director, Joel Simon, said the Al-Jazeera journalists have become “pawns” in a conflict between the Egypt and Qatar, which supported the Brotherhood and Morsi’s government, in particular. Since Morsi’s ouster, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Kuwait have replaced Doha has Cairo’s main financial supporter.

Riyadh has even vowed to provide the government with any military aid withheld by the U.S.

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Neo-Cons, Hawks Can’t Get No Iraq Tractionhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/06/neo-cons-hawks-fail-to-gain-traction-on-iraq/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=neo-cons-hawks-fail-to-gain-traction-on-iraq http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/06/neo-cons-hawks-fail-to-gain-traction-on-iraq/#comments Sat, 21 Jun 2014 16:28:12 +0000 Jim Lobe http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135116 U.S. soldiers in Basra, Iraq. Credit: PEOSoldier/CC-BY-2.0

U.S. soldiers in Basra, Iraq. Credit: PEOSoldier/CC-BY-2.0

By Jim Lobe
WASHINGTON, Jun 21 2014 (IPS)

Despite their ubiquity on television talk shows and newspaper op-ed pages, neo-conservatives and other hawks who propelled the U.S. into war in Iraq 11 years ago are falling short in their efforts to persuade the public and Congress that Washington needs to return.

Indeed, in contrast to the uncritical position taken by virtually all of the country’s media in the run-up to the 2003 invasion, a number of mainstream outlets are openly questioning the advice now being dispensed by the hawks about what to do about the dramatic advances by radical Sunni Islamists across northern and central Iraq over the last ten days.

The most stunning example – if, for no other reason that it took place on the hawks’ favourite news channel – came this week when Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly introduced former Vice President Dick Cheney as “the man who helped lead us into Iraq in the first place.”

“It’s a lonely job being an interventionist these days.” -- Washington Post reporter Dana Milbank
“You said (former Iraqi President) Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction,” she said. “You said we would be greeted as liberators. You said the (Sunni) insurgency was in the last throes, back in 2005. And you said after our intervention that extremists would have to ‘rethink their strategy of jihad.’ Now, with almost one trillion dollars spend there, with 4,500 American lives lost there, what do you say to those who say, ‘You were so wrong about so much at the expense of so many’?”

“Well,” Cheney, who had just co-authored a Wall Street Journal op-ed with his daughter, Liz Cheney, in which they had used the same phrase to describe President Barack Obama’s policy, replied. “I just fundamentally disagree, Reagan – uh, Megyn.”

Similarly, the normally staid and respectful New York Times published what could only be described as a mocking profile of Bush’s former U.N. ambassador, John Bolton, for his tirades against Obama’s policies. The article referred to the “homecoming week for the Bush administration” featuring a “cavalcade of neoconservatives newly emerged on cable television and in hawkish policy seminars to say ‘We told you so’ on Iraq.”

And when Republican Sen. John McCain, perhaps the strongest voice in Congress for intervention in Syria, called on the Senate floor for “immediate action” against the forces of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) to prevent their further advance toward Baghdad, Washington Post reporter Dana Milbank asked simply, “When John McCain makes a case for war, does anyone hear him?”

Indeed, the scepticism that has greeted the Iraq war hawks over the past week has been so strong that Michael Rubin, a colleague of Bolton’s at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) – the neo-conservative think tank that played a leading role in both planning and cheerleading the 2003 invasion — felt compelled to complain about “Media McCarthyites” who are allegedly stifling legitimate policy debate.

But, as Milbank pointed out, “It’s a lonely job being an interventionist these days.” Polls over the past several years have consistently shown a public that is more than war-weary. Disillusionment has grown not only with Washington’s military interventions in both Iraq and Afghanistan, but also with the effectiveness of U.S. military power in general.

A poll conducted by Ipsos/Reuters last week found that 55 percent of respondents opposed U.S. military intervention of any kind, while only 20 percent supported it, and that there was little difference between self-identified Republicans and Democrats.

Those trends have clearly damaged the political standing and credibility of the hawks, especially those – such as Cheney, Bolton, former Undersecretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz, Weekly Standard Editor Bill Kristol – who played such prominent roles in promoting the Iraq war and are now calling for renewed intervention, at least in the form of air strikes, if not re-introducing U.S. combat forces.

Their diminished influence was made clear already nine months ago when they failed to rally lawmakers – even most Republicans – behind air strikes against military and other government targets in Syria after Obama accused Damascus of carrying out a chemical-weapons attack that killed hundreds of civilians.

The hawks now face a similar problem on Iraq. Thus far, even the Republican leadership in Congress appears satisfied with the steps announced by Obama Thursday – enhanced aerial surveillance by U.S. drones and aircraft and the dispatch of up to 300 military advisers to help reverse ISIL’s advance, possibly in preparation for air strikes against targets deemed threatening to U.S. national-security interests.

Washington is also pressing Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki, whom virtually all observers here blame for systematically alienating Iraq’s Sunni population, to renounce a third term or agree to share power in a way that can swing major sectors in the Sunni opposition to the government’s side.

While most Iraq specialists here have insisted that air strikes or any additional U.S. military commitment be conditioned on Maliki’s agreement to these terms, as well as a major diplomatic effort designed to enlist the help of Iraq’s neighbours – most importantly Iran and Saudi Arabia – in stabilising the country, the hawks have argued that Washington lacks the military leverage (meaning tens of thousands of U.S. troops) to bring about such a solution.

For this, they blame Obama’s decision to withdraw all U.S. troops in 2011 after the Iraqi parliament declined to act on a deeply unpopular Status of Forces agreement (SOFA) that would have provided legal immunity to any remaining U.S. forces.

Indeed, consistent with their more general efforts at depicting Obama’s foreign policy as one of weakness and retreat, the hawks have focused most of their commentary on the withdrawal decision as the cause of the current crisis – as opposed to their own responsibility for the 2003 invasion and its consequences, including the destruction of the Iraqi state and the rise of sectarianism – than on what the U.S. should do now in the face of ISIL’s offensive.

Israel-centred neo-conservatives are especially worried about the administration’s interest in engaging Iran on Iraq, a development that began last week with a high-level – albeit brief – meeting alongside ongoing international talks on Tehran’s nuclear programme.

When a prominent Republican hawk, Sen. Lindsey Graham, endorsed the notion that Tehran, which, like Washington, has supported the Maliki government, could play a key role in dealing with ISIL – thus giving the administration political cover for pursuing the option – neo-conservatives objected vehemently.

“The idea that the United States, a nation bent on defending democracy and safeguarding stability, shares a common interest with the Islamic Republic of Iran, a revolutionary theocracy that is the No. 1 state sponsor of terrorism in the world, is as fanciful a notion that Neville Chamberlain and Adolf Hitler could work together for the good of Europe,” wrote neo-conservatives Michael Doran, a top Bush Middle East aide, and Max Boot of the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) in the Washington Post.

That theme was picked up by the Cheneys who wrote that “only a fool” would engage Iran on Iraq, ignoring the “reality” – as former Secretary of State James Baker (and Dick Cheney’s colleague in the Bush I administration) – put it, “that Iran is already the most influential external player in Iraq and so any effort without Iranian participation will likely fail.”

Of course, one of the many unintended consequences of the 2003 invasion and the Shi’a ascendancy during the U.S. occupation was to move Iraq much closer to Iran.

(END)

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International Cooperation on Key Issues Fell in 2013http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/06/international-cooperation-on-key-issues-fell-in-2013/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=international-cooperation-on-key-issues-fell-in-2013 http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/06/international-cooperation-on-key-issues-fell-in-2013/#comments Fri, 06 Jun 2014 23:43:37 +0000 Jim Lobe http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=134845 By Jim Lobe
WASHINGTON, Jun 6 2014 (IPS)

International cooperation on key global challenges declined in 2013, according to a new “report card” released here Friday by the influential Council on Foreign Relations (CFR).

Particularly disappointing were international efforts in dealing with terrorism, nuclear non-proliferation and global finance, according to the report which, however, found some gains in two areas – dealing with or preventing armed conflict and improving global health.

The report also found that cooperation on climate change, which last year’s report card found to be worth the lowest grade – a “D” – of all the major issues on which the report card focused, was neither better nor worse than the previous four years assessed by the 50-some experts who constituted the jury.

“The report card confirms a clear trend,” said Stewart Patrick, director of CFR’s International Institutions and Global Governance (IIGG) programme, which issued the report. “Around the world, leaders are less willing to compromise and cooperate in global institutions – even when their interests align.”

U.S. leadership in mobilising other governments and international institutions to address these critical issues also seemed to falter during 2013, he added.

“The United States appears to be losing interest or capacity to marshal collective action to fight trans-national threats and or promote global goods,” according to Patrick.

The new report used last year’s inaugural report, which assessed progress in global governance in the six critical trans-national challenges over the period 2008 through 2012, as a benchmark.

It awarded grades based on the assessments of more than 50 experts – almost all of them from Washington- or New York-based academic institutions and think tanks, including CFR itself, as well as other mainstream organisations, such as the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, the Center for Strategic and International Studies, and the Brookings Institution. In that respect, the assessments appear to reflect very much a U.S.-centred perspective.

In addition to the “D” on climate change, last year’s edition awarded “Bs” to global cooperation in combating terrorism and global finance, a “C+” on dealing with armed conflict, a “C” on non-proliferation and global health. To the extent the grades either rose or fell in this year’s report, they did so only fractionally; for global finance, for example, the grade fell from “B” to “B-“.

Nonetheless, the overall assessment was negative. “Despite a steady if uneven global economic recovery, multilateral efforts to mitigate global risks and threats were at best lackluster,” according to the report. “In virtually every issue area, the dearth of effective global leadership proved a major stumbling block to more effective international cooperation.”

In addition to assigning grades, the report card, consistent with its schooling metaphor, identified class “leaders”, “laggards”, “truants,” and “detentions”, and awarded stand-outs with “gold stars” and “most improved” prizes in each issue area.

On climate change, for example, it named the European Union (EU) and the Pacific Islands as the class “leaders” in 2013.

This was due to the former’s advocacy for a strong successor to the Kyoto agreement and commitment to spend as much as 180 billion euros on climate-related projects in both the EU and developing countries over seven years. And the Islands were recognised for the Majuro Declaration for Climate Leadership that commits member states to a speedy transition to low-carbon economies.

China and the U.S., on the other hand, were given the “laggard” label for their failure, despite their status as the world’s top two emitters of carbon dioxide, to produce ambitious plans to curb their emissions. And Australia and Russia were deemed “truants” for repealing anti-pollution taxes and stymieing negotiations for a Kyoto successor, respectively.

At the same time, Canada was placed in “detention” for its government’s continuing reversals on its goals for reducing emissions.

While levels of cooperation on global finance were deemed “respectable” in 2013, some collaborative efforts faded, according to the report. It praised the leadership of the new Financial Stability Board (FSB) and the U.S. Federal Reserve, but noted how little progress has been made in strengthening the EU’s financial governance and the failure of the Group of 20 (G20) to coordinate policy more closely.

It also assessed as “poor” the progress – or lack of progress – in reforming the governance of international financial institutions, notably the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, to give a stronger voice to emerging economies. It blamed the U.S. Congress – named as “truant” – for failing to approve the pending reforms.

On nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament, the report card cited little or no progress on key issues, including ratifications by major players of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) or the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) and the reduction of existing nuclear arsenals.

On the plus side, the report praised the agreement reached last November between Iran and the so-called P5+1 (U.S., Britain, France, Russia, China plus Germany) on curbing Tehran’s nuclear programme.

Significantly, the report failed to name any “leader” and awarded a gold star to the P5+1 and “most improved” to Iran and Myanmar. Pakistan and Russia, on the other hand, were deemed “laggards” for their “obstinate positions” on disarmament and “worrying modernisation activities.”

Israel and India were identified as “truants” for failing to take steps to join the NPT, while detention was given to North Korea for testing another nuclear device and explicitly incorporating nuclear weapons into its national security strategy.

On dealing with armed conflict, the report card noted that U.N. and regional peacekeeping efforts improved markedly in 2013, in part due to the strong mandates given operations in Mali and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

But these improvements could not overcome the pall cast by the ongoing civil war in Syria and the flare-up of armed conflicts in several African states, notably in South Sudan and the Central African Republic (CAR).

The report also complained that the international community needed to focus more on preventive measures, such as mediation, peace-building and state-building.

It praised France and the U.N. Department for Peacekeeping Operations as class “leaders” and awarded a gold star to the U.N. Department of Political Affairs.

The Economic Community of West African States and the African Union were deemed “most improved,” while laggards included the International Criminal Court (ICC), which has failed to address impunity in other regions besides Africa, the U.N. Peace-building Commission, and the U.N. Security Council due primarily to its failure to approve meaningful resolutions to halt the violence in Syria.

On global health, the report card praised the cooperation by both state and non-state actors in dealing with HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria and in expanding vaccinations for other infectious diseases. On the other hand, the report said the international community has fallen short on dealing with non-communicable diseases and in strengthening national health systems.

The U.S. and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the largest source of non-governmental funding to global health initiatives by far, continue to be class “leaders”, according to the report which awarded gold stars to the World Bank for a new focus on health; India for its successful eradication of polio; and Rwanda for achieving the steepest drop in child mortality in recorded history.

“Most improved” was given to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria for major reforms that it carried out in its management.

Pakistan, however, was deemed truant due to the sharp rise in the number of polio cases and the government’s failure to protect vaccination officials from attacks by the Pakistani Taliban, the report card also suggested that the U.S. effort to track Osama bin Laden by mounting a fake vaccination campaign contributed to that failure.

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