Foreign Policy Briefing 3/17/10


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

U.S./Top News
1) Israeli officials rejected demands by the Obama Administration to cancel a building project in East Jerusalem, the New York Times reports. Secretary of State Clinton said Washington expected action from Israel, and a key US demand is that Israel neither promote nor permit “provocative” acts, meaning anything that would disturb the atmosphere as Palestinians and Israelis prepare for indirect peace talks. That would include new building projects. “The Netanyahu government is trying to make Jerusalem indivisible so that it will not be possible to reach a solution based on two states for two peoples,” Hagit Ofran of Peace Now charged.

2) History suggests that snubbing the US is not as politically beneficial to Israeli leaders as some US pundits have suggested, writes Scott Wilson in a news analysis for the Washington Post. In 1992 George H.W. Bush and Secretary of State Baker warned Israel against building in East Jerusalem and the West Bank. The government of Yitzhak Shamir ignored the demand, and in response, Bush and Baker declined to guarantee $10 billion in loans Israel wanted to build housing for ex-Soviet immigrants. Neither side budged. But in elections that year, Shamir’s party lost, ending his political career. Many Israeli analysts attributed the defeat to his fight with the US. Bush lost his election that year, too, but largely because of the flagging U.S. economy and not his policy toward his Israel.

3) Gen. McChrystal has brought most Special Operations forces under his direct control, the New York Times reports. Only detainee operations and “very small numbers” of Special Operations forces, like the Army’s Delta Force and the Navy’s Seals, are exempted from the directive. Critics, including Afghan officials, human rights workers and some field commanders of conventional American forces, say that Special Operations forces have been responsible for a large number of the civilian casualties in Afghanistan. Afghan and UN officials blame Special Operations troops for most of the 596 civilian deaths attributed to coalition forces last year. A Special Forces unit called in attack helicopters that killed 27 civilians in three trucks on Feb. 21 in Oruzgan Province. Survivors of a Special Forces night raid Feb. 12 said insisted that Americans, who they said were not in uniform [and were therefore unlawful combatants – JFP], conducted the raid and the killings.

4) Gen. Petraeus will testify in Congress this week, The Hill reports. Pentagon officials said they wanted the $33 billion supplemental request approved by the end of May. Congress is expected to vote on the supplemental in mid-April.

5) Two months after the earthquake, and a third of the way to the July deadline to file for temporary protected status,, just 34,427 of the estimated 100,000 to 200,000 undocumented Haitians who were in the US before Jan. 12 have applied, the New York Times reports. Charitable groups blame the lag on the application fees, which total about $500; a broad coalition of charities called on the government to make it easier for applicants to have the fee waived.

6) The Pentagon said it was looking into allegations that a Defense Department official had set up an intelligence unit staffed by contractors to hunt insurgents in Afghanistan and Pakistan under the guise of social and cultural information-gathering, the Washington Post reports. A source close to the intelligence community said that “both the [CIA] and the Special Operations community . . . have been expressing grave concern for a long time.”

7) The White House has renewed its threat to veto the fiscal 2010 intelligence authorization bill over a provision that would force the administration to widen the circle of lawmakers who are informed about covert operations, the Washington Post reports. A provision would give the GAO to review practices and operations throughout the intelligence community also drew a veto threat. The provision would permit any committee of Congress with a claim of jurisdiction over an intelligence activity to request a GAO investigation of that activity.

8) U.S. officials say they had extracted a secret promise from Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu not to allow any provocative steps in East Jerusalem, the Washington Post reports. Now the administration wants Netanyahu to make that deal public – and stick to it.

9) General Douglas Fraser, head of the US Southern Command, told a Senate hearing Thursday he had no evidence of links between Venezuela’s government and Colombian guerrilla groups, AFP reports. Arturo Valenzuela, assistant secretary of state for Latin American affairs, told another congressional panel Wednesday there had been some evidence of some kind of Venezuelan assistance to the FARC. Fraser, however, said he was aware only of “old evidence” of assistance. “But I don’t see that evidence. I can’t tell you specifically whether that continues or not,” he said.

10) Relentless violence in Ciudad Juárez has forced President Calderón to acknowledge that merely concentrating firepower on the drug gangs is not working, the New York Times reports. The Mexican government has begun refocusing much of its energy on attacking social issues in Ciudad Juárez, in what officials say privately could be an experiment for other Mexican cities that are consumed by drug violence.


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