Around the World

News from around the globe impacting your world.

Japan Raises Nuclear Crisis to Highest Level. Japan raised the crisis level at its crippled nuclear plant Tuesday to a severity on par with the 1986 Chernobyl disaster, citing high overall radiation leaks that have contaminated the air, tap water, vegetables and seawater. More on this story from the Mainichi Daily News and from the BBC.

In related news, Japan's Economic minister says the damage to the country's economy from last month's earthquake and tsunami is worse than first thought. Economic minister Kaoru Yosano said the blow to the Japanese economy is "larger than our original expectations" which were originally estimated at $295 billion dollars. The International Monetary Fund has lowered its 2011 economic growth forecast for Japan, the world's third biggest economy, from 1.6 percent to 1.4 percent. But one economic research company (Capital Economics) says Japan's economy may shrink by 1.5 percent this year. The Voice of America has a full report on the economic impact while Germany's Der Spiegel files a story comparing the northeast of Japan to the Roman ruins of Pompei.

The Libyan Conflict. The rebel held Libyan city of Misurata has come under heavy fire hours after Gaddafi said he would agree to a ceasefire. Meanwhile, Alain Juppé, the French Foreign Minister, says alliance should be doing more to take out heavy weaponry targeting civilians in Misurata. More from Al Jazeera.

Côte d'Ivoire President Urges Reconciliation. In a television address to the nation, President Alassane Ouattara calls on fighters in the Côte d'Ivoire to lay down their arms and promises dignified treatment for Laurent Gbagbo now in custody. The story in The Guardian.

Hosni Mubarak Hospitalized. Former Egyptian President currently under house arrest at his resort home at Sharm el-Sheikh on the Sinai Peninsula has been hospitalized. No details yet as to the cause. Mubarak is 82. Meanwhile, Egypt's Prime Minister Essam Sharaf on Tuesday said that legal steps were underway to probe veracity of charges of corruption and excesses against the deposed leader. The Times of India files a report.

Inflation in the UK Drops Unexpectedly. The Bank of England reported  that Consumer Prices Index (CPI) rate of inflation in the United Kingdom was 4 percent in March, down from 4.4 percent in February. The figures came as the British Retail Consortium (BRC) revealed the biggest sales drop in its 16-year history, with total sales in March dropping 1.9% on a year ago. The full story from The Independent.

Does Rand Paul Want To Abandon NATO?

A new Rasmussen poll shows Democrat Jack Conway just seven points behind Repub Rand Paul in KY-SEN, 49-42. The news of this flimsy lead comes on the heels of a failed money bomb attempt where Paul raised far less than he had been able to do before his comments regarding the Civil Rights Act and the BP oil slick.

Paul just doesn’t know when to stop digging. From the Louisville Courier-Journal:

Republican U.S. Senate nominee Rand Paul said Wednesday that the United States needs to continue rolling back its defenses in Europe and allow counties there to foot the cost of defending the continent.

"You know, it's been 70 years since World War II and I think that the expense for defending Europe really should be borne by Europeans and there should probably be changes as to how many troops" are deployed there, Paul said in response to a question on Germany on WHAS radio's Mandy Connell show.

First of all, though we haven’t “defended” Europe in decades, doing so would be part of our NATO treaty obligations, and asking NATO to step up its commitment to our defense in Afghanistan makes this the wrong time to criticize our role in the organization. Second, many if not most of our installations in Europe are about deployment and logistics, not European defense. As the Courier-Journal article goes on to point out, Germany is home to “Landsthul Regional Medical Center, the largest American hospital outside the United States and the destination of seriously injured soldiers from Iraq and Afghanistan.”

Either Rand Paul is suggesting we abandon NATO, which would make sense given his father’s criticism of the UN, or he doesn’t know a thing about policy but is still willing to run off his mouth, which would make sense given Sarah Palin’s endorsement of her.

Paul’s opponent, Jack Conway, has been a part of our Act Blue page since before the primaries. It’s almost as easy to support him as it is to oppose Paul.

Please Help Us Reach John Kerry, My Own Senator

The lead in the US Army Times says:

"A new initiative to persuade low- and mid-level Afghan insurgents to lay down their weapons and rejoin society is already bearing fruit and holds great promise for the future, say senior officials in the NATO coalition."

The military now understands that insurgents are aching for a way to put down their arms and re-join society.  Will American political leaders see that they are being penny-wise and pound-foolish?  For lack of what we spend on the military occupation every 2 weeks, this insurgency could be deflated and American troops could be on their way home sooner rather than later.  

In addition to precious lives, the war is now costing us, according to General Barry McCaffrey, about $9 billion a month, which he called the war's "burn rate."  

That would pay for a Cadillac health plan for every American, OR a Maserati green jobs program, OR a $100 billion reduction of the deficit each year.  Which is better depends on your political leanings.  It could be split among all three.  With war, no one's getting any of it, except for military contractors.

The Army Times reports:

"Though the Afghanistan "reintegration" initiative is only now getting off the ground, hundreds of insurgents have taken advantage of it and many others are waiting for the Afghan government and the coalition to announce the specifics of the reintegration plan, said Maj. Gen. Mike Flynn,the director of intelligence for the International Security Assistance Force."

One young fighter actually came down the mountain on his own to ask if there were any jobs, so he could give up, along with his 50 fighters.  Most likely mostly brothers and cousins.  They would take work and relocation to just quit.  They didn't want cash payments, they wanted jobs, and the dignity of work, any work.  The Army Times writes:

"Coalition officials have monitored insurgents talking about the reintegration effort...The essence of the conversations is that the insurgents want to know what the finished reintegration plan will be,"

NATO and the Afghan government have found out that most Afghan insurgents are economically desperate young men who fight for the Taliban wage, and that they can be brought in from the cold with simple jobs which benefit their communities, and a modicum of vocational training.  They don't want to be Taliban.  They want to learn to be carpenters, and bricklayers.  Hence the new Afghan Reintegration initiative which will be discussed at the London Conference on Afghanistan tomorrow, Thursday.  The Conference may be NATO's last chance to get it right.

The Army Times:

The [reintegration] initiative is based on the strong belief at ISAF headquarters that most insurgents are not ideologically committed to their leaders’ aims and would be willing to quit fighting under the right conditions.  "What we’re finding is the dissatisfied, disenfranchised, traumatized folks who are the ones who are the foot soldiers for the ideologues or the radical folks ... often find themselves in a position where if they need to take care of their family, the only way to do that is to implant IEDs or to fire shots at the coalition," said Col. John Agoglia, director of the counterinsurgency training center here. "A majority of these folks, if given the means to provide for themselves and their family, will very easily lay down their weapons."

Here is the problem.  The current initiative aims only at Taliban fighters laying down their arms, not the rest of the fighting-age males suffering from 40 percent unemployment.  For the amount the US spends in less than two weeks on military operations, about $4 billion, a program can be put in place which will put to work those who have NOT joined the Taliban.  Otherwise, this could be perceived as rewarding folks who did join the Taliban, to the exclusion of those who "said no."

The administrative apparatus would be the National Solidarity Plan, which has been widely hailed by players across the board, from the US military to Afghan civil society.  It may be the one part of the Karzai government which actually works.

What about jobs for Americans rather than Afghans?  News flash: Any funding for your job programs are going down the toilet of war.  $100 billion per year, remember?  According to McCaffrey's estimated "burn rate."  Not spending four dollars to save one hundred dollars is called penny-wise and pound-foolish.

So far most civilian aid to Afghanistan has been miserly and ineffective, compared to military costs.  They have been aimed at contractor profits, to build substandard schools with no teachers and clinics with no doctors.  You wake up one fine day and there is a school across the meadow.  But you didn't get paid to help build it, and you still can't eat.

NATO has found something else out about simple income programs, paying men to clear irrigation ditches, improve dirt roads with shovels and gravel, or clear rubble from canals which lays exactly as it fell when the Soviets bombed it.  It solves the security problem.  NATO's General Chris Kolenda told the Army Times:

"I’ve seen time and again, when communities have sufficient support and leverage they just start kicking these guys [the Taliban] out of their local areas."

This turns "No development without security" on its head.  The truth is, there can be no security without development.  NATO is finding out that, in a land of mountain warriors where you get your first AK when you are 12, breaking the economic hold of the Taliban's $10 a day is often all that is necessary for insurgents to turn their guns the other way.

US soldiers have started using a term they picked up from the Afghans, the "upset brothers," upset because they have watched billions being squandered on showcase development, but their hungry lives never changed.  After 2 years of WPA-type jobs the informal economy can stand on its own.

Afghans are very enterprising people.  They don't need factories.  They hacksaw an old Soviet shipping container in half and hang a curtain across the front for a door. Then you scrounge for old bicycle parts and you've got a parts store.  But you need a few bucks to pay the guys doing the sawing, and for the new curtain, and for pegs, grease, and naval jelly.

And security is the by-product.  What a deal!  Colonel Kolenda, one of the many NATO officers who seems to have gone native judging by his nuanced understanding and admiring tones when speaking of Afghan society, tells the Army Times "The Afghans have this great saying — ‘If you sweat for it, you protect it.’"

The legislation to make this happen is a fairly straightforward congressional appropriation, which pumps up what works: the National Solidarity Plan.  Activists have been about the Capitol in DC talking to congress members about it.  They have met with many offices who say they are behind it, but it takes the lead of the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee to make the $4 billion happen.  "Anybody on the committee would be good," a staffer in Senate Appropriations told us, "Kerry, as chairman, is the key.  With Kerry behind it, the appropriation request to support the policy will happen."

But John is hard to get hold of.  We have called many times for an appointment, even with a foreign policy staffer, visited his office in DC, dropped off materials for the proper staffer, but no one ever calls you back.  Worse, he is my own senator, and many of us are constituents.  

Shucks, even a Texas congressman was ready to march down the hall to meet us about our proposal, being told we came all the way to DC and all, without an appointment, until he found out we weren't constituents, which is fine.  He was ready to shake hands and give us our 3 minutes of face time, and make the big shots in the other room wait.  No one was going to call him out of touch.  We still had a nice talk with his staffer.

We know it's just crossed wires, John, we know you're a busy man.  Perhaps input from other folks excited that there is a light at the end of the tunnel would help.  The US can easily afford this, since it's what we spend anyway on bullets and bombs in 2 weeks.  It could bring stability to Afghanistan, cut short a war, and save $9 billion a month for other purposes.  It could save an awful lot of American and Afghan, lives.  Tomorrow is the London Conference.  This would be a perfect time to file the legislation.  It would be fitting that a man whose remarkable career began with principled opposition to a war crowned it with a vital achievement which will stop one.

Please take the time to call Senator's Kerry's office, leave a message for him to "Please submit the Exit Strategy Appropriation proposed by Jobs for Afghans."  Follow up with an email with this post copied-and-pasted and the link for this PRESS RELEASE.  To his credit the Senator's general mailbox is accessible to anyone, not just constituents.  Thank you.
(202) 224-2742 - Phone
(202) 224-8525 - Fax

The diarist represents Jobs for Afghans.


Selling the Afghan Plan - Clinton Heads to Brussels

Secretary of State Clinton headed to Brussels to attend a meeting of NATO's main political council in an effort to secure more troop commitments for the US-led NATO ISAF mission in Afghanistan. The Secretary of State is also to meet with representatives of the 18 non-NATO countries that have troops in Afghanistan or are expected to send troops in 2010.

NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said earlier in the week that the NATO alliance will contribute at least 5,000 more troops to the war effort "and probably a few thousand more." I suspect that the Administration is probably looking to secure a total of 10,000 troops from our NATO allies. So far here are the announced commitments: Britain has pledged extra 500; Italy "about 1,000"; Poland 600; Portugal 150; Spain 200; Solvakia 250; Macedonia 80. Non-NATO countries include Georgia which is sending 900 and South Korea which will contribute 500. More on the troop level expectations from the BBC.

During her visit, Secretary Clinton is also scheduled to meet separately with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov for talks on a follow-on to the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty that expires at midnight Friday. While the President had set a deadline to seal an agreement before the expiration of the SAR Treaty back in July when he visited Moscow, both sides have now said they don't expect to complete a draft agreement before the existing treaty expires. Still both the US and Russia expect to have an agreement in place by the end of the year and in the interim will make arrangements for monitoring each other's nuclear arsenals.

Before Secretary Clinton embarked on her diplomatic mission to sell the Obama Afghan plan, she recorded two separate video messages for the people of Afghanistan and Pakistan. The video messages were intended to "echo the themes and messages" from the President's West Point speech on his Afghan war plan.

From Poppies to Pomegranates

Below are the transcribed remarks of Secretary Clinton to the people of Afghanistan. A link to the video is here.

On Tuesday, President Obama presented an overview of our country's strategy for engagement in Afghanistan and with Pakistan. This strategy is the product of broad consultation, including with many of our partners in Afghanistan. As President Obama described, the United States is committed to Afghanistan's long-term security and stability. Together with our allies, we will pursue a coordinated military and civilian approach to strengthening Afghanistan's government, promoting economic growth, and defeating the insurgents who threaten the stability of your country and the region.

As President Karzai begins his second term, we have a window of opportunity to work together as partners to improve Afghanistan's government to make it more capable, accountable, and effective so it better serves you, the Afghan people. We seek to improve access to education and justice, to strengthen the rule of law and improve governance, and most importantly, to widen economic opportunity and increase jobs so people have the chance to support their families.

We want to help the Afghan people make the move from poppies to pomegranates so Afghanistan can regain its place as an agricultural leader in South Asia. We want to support Afghanistan's efforts to provide for your own security. And we want to help Afghans disrupt, dismantle, and defeat the violent extremist groups that seek to transform Afghanistan into a safe haven for insurgents and terrorists.

We know that the Afghan people are the only ones who can defeat the insurgency once and for all, and you're the only ones who can build a successful democracy that lasts. So the United States is committed to partnering with you, the people of Afghanistan, over the long term as you seek to achieve these goals and build a country that is safe and secure, where your children can live in peace, where families can plan for a better future, and where all people have the opportunity to make the most of your potential. We look forward to working with you for that better future.

Thank you very much.

There's more...

Admiral Mullen: "More Troops and More Time"

The building of a case more troops for Afghanistan continues to be built unabated by officials of the American national security state. Today it was the turn of the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen, whose reconfirmation hearing turned into a spirited discussion of US policy in Afghanistan. Admiral Mullen told the Senate Armed Services Committee chaired by Senator Carl Levin of Michigan that success in Afghanistan would require more troops and certainly much more time.

Admiral Mullin might have added more money, though perhaps that is an underlying and unspoken assumption. It is, however, dangerous politics to ignore the financial costs of the Afghan War (pdf). The war in Afghanistan has cost US tax-payers $171.7 billion as of year 2008. The cost of the Afghan war this year alone will reach $77.1 billion. Projected costs over the long term are likely to total more than half a trilliondollars when future occupation and veterans' benefits are taken into account. Interest payments could add another $200 billion to that figure. This financial aspect of the Afghan war remains largely absent from the debate. The question of whether we can actually afford the massive outlays that the counter-insurgency strategy advocated by the Obama Administration needs to be considered.

The story from the New York Times:

Admiral Mullen said that no specific troop request had yet been received from Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, the senior American and NATO commander in Afghanistan.

"But I do believe that -- having heard his views and having great confidence in his leadership -- a properly resourced counterinsurgency probably means more forces, and, without question, more time and more commitment to the protection of the Afghan people and to the development of good governance," Admiral Mullen said.

"We will need resources matched to the strategy," he added.

Broad as they were, Admiral Mullen's comments were his most specific to date in a public setting on whether more troops would have to be sent to Afghanistan, and they and seem certain to frame the debate facing the White House, Congress and the nation in coming weeks.

The hearing officially was called to consider Admiral Mullen's nomination to serve a second term as chairman, but it immediately turned into an analysis of the administration's broader policy for Afghanistan and Pakistan, in particular whether more American combat forces should be sent rapidly or whether it would be wiser to immediately begin shifting the bulk of the fighting to local forces.

A range of officials have said that the White House hopes to have several weeks at least before being faced with dealing with any requests for more forces for Afghanistan -- and the political implications of such a request here at home.

It is to Senator Levin' credit that he is insisting that accelerated efforts to train and equip Afghan security forces should precede any deployment of American troops beyond those already committed by the Obama administration. Nonetheless, it is clear that neither American military leaders nor much of the American political establishment is fully leveling with the American public on the true costs of this war. Each dollar spent on war in Afghanistan is a dollar not spent on human needs here at home. It is time to put country first.

There's more...


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