Foreign Policy Briefing 2/23/10


This summary briefing comes to us through the courtesy of Just Foreign Policy.

U.S./Top News
1) Dutch Prime Minister Balkenende said he expected Dutch troops to come home from Afghanistan before the end of the year, after efforts to keep them there longer caused the government to collapse, the New York Times reports. The war in Afghanistan has been increasingly unpopular among voters in in many parts of Europe, creating strains between governments trying to please the US and their own people.

2) Afghan officials said at least 27 civilians were killed in a NATO airstrike in Uruzgan province, the Los Angeles Times reports. The Afghan Cabinet condemned the strike, calling it “unjustifiable.” Military officials said the airstrike was not connected to the assault on Marja. NATO says at least 16 civilians have been killed by Western troops in the course of the offensive in Marja.

3) Scenes from the battlefield in Marja suggest that the day when the Afghan Army will be able to perform complex operations independently remains far off, the New York Times reports. In every engagement between the Taliban and one front-line Marine unit, the operation has been led in almost every significant sense by US officers and troops. That fact raises questions about President Obama’s goal of beginning to withdraw US forces in July 2011, the Times says.

4) In a remarkable reversal of the IMF’s past opposition to capital controls, IMF economists urged developing nations to consider using taxes and regulation to moderate vast inflows of capital so they don’t produce asset bubbles and other financial calamities, the Wall Street Journal reports. They said said emerging markets with controls in place – like Brazil and Chile – had fared better than others in the global downturn. In another reversal, the IMF recently suggested the world might be better off with a higher level of inflation than central bankers now are targeting, the Journal notes.

5) A South African scientist says the widespread use of anti-retroviral drugs could eradicate the AIDS epidemic by slashing transmission rates, the Independent reports. A study published in 2008 showed that it is theoretically possible to cut new HIV cases by 95 per cent within 10 years of implementing a program of universal testing and prescription of ART drugs. Dr. Brian Williams said the the cost of treating a growing number of AIDS patients and the economic cost of young adults dying off would be higher than giving out free ART drugs to everyone who needs them.

6) The ACLU has filed a lawsuit against USAID for refusing to comply with FOIA requests for documents related to USAID-funded abstinence-only-until-marriage programs abroad, RH Reality Check reports. An audit by the Office of Inspector General surveyed faith-based organizations using USAID funds and found USAID funds were being used for religious activities, in violation of U.S. law. The US “cannot be in the business of exporting religiously infused abstinence-only-until-marriage programs that we know fail to give young people the information they need to stay healthy,” the ACLU said.

7) Just 20 percent of Gaza fishermen are still able to make a living from fishing due to Israeli restrictions, writes Pam Rasmussen for Truthout. Agreements between Israel and the PLO stipulate that Gaza fishermen have the right to fish up to 20 nautical miles from the Gaza coastline, but Israel never honored the agreement. Israeli gun boats have attacked Gaza fishermen just one or two miles from the shore; in 2009, one fisherman was killed, 20 fishermen and civilians were wounded.

8) Clashes erupted in the West Bank city of Hebron between Palestinian youths and Israeli soldiers after after Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu enraged Palestinian residents by adding a disputed Hebron shrine to Israel’s list of national heritage sites, AP reports. The UN’s Mideast envoy criticized the Israeli decision.

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9) The international community is dusting off a plan to expand Haiti’s low-wage garment assembly industry to increase exports to the US, AP reports. Garment workers earn $3.09 a day to produce suits that sell in the U.S. for $550. Under the HOPE II Act, Haiti exports textiles duty-free to the U.S. for a decade. Factory profit margins average about 22 percent. Haitian lawmakers raised the country’s minimum from $1.72 a day to almost $5 in response to protests. But owners complained, and President Preval refused to enact the law; a compromise allowed non-garment workers to get $5/day and workers producing garments for the US market to get $3.09/day. Even factory owners acknowledge that garment-industry wages are too low to feed, clothe and house workers and their families.

10) Israel’s air force introduced a fleet of drones that would put Iran in range, AP reports. But drones have been much less successful in conflicts where the opponents possessed better anti-aircraft weapons like Iran does, AP notes. During NATO’s onslaught against Serbia, Serbian forces quickly forces shot down 42 U.S. drones.

11) An Iranian diplomat said Iran hopes to double trade with Iraq to $8 billion this year, Reuters reports. Iran is the main trading partner of Iraq; the main areas of trade are the construction, food and industrial sectors.

12) A leading Sunni party, the Iraqi National Dialogue Front, announced it will boycott Iraq’s upcoming elections because its leader was barred from participating, the Los Angeles Times reports. Party leader Saleh Mutlak said the decision to boycott was triggered by comments made by US Army Gen. Ray Odierno, alleging Iranian influence. But the secular coalition to which Mutlak’s party belongs announced it will contest the election and resume campaigning.

13) The U.S. has lifted an advisory warning US travelers of security concerns in Syria, as the US tries to improve relations, AP reports. [A welcome development, but it is remarkable how transparently political the State Department determination is; because the US is trying to improve relations with Syria, it is now safe for Americans to travel there – something Americans and US institutions that take the State Department’s travel advisories as an indicator of actual safety would do well to keep in mind – JFP.]

14) A truce between Darfur’s most powerful rebel group and the government of Sudan could pave the way for finally bringing peace to Darfur, AP reports. The truce set to be signed Tuesday was bolstered by the dramatic improvement in relations between Sudan and Chad, which sponsored the truce only days after declaring the end to its long proxy war with Sudan.

15) President Correa charged that Ecuador’s inclusion on an international list of nations accused of lagging in the fight against money laundering is a hypocritical punishment for its relations with Iran, Mercopress reports. Ecuador’s private bank association also said it thought Ecuador’s relations with Iran were behind Ecuador’s inclusion on the list.

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