Foreign Policy

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No, We Aren’t All Going to Die Because Ebola Patients Are Coming to US for Treatment

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Scary, color-enhanced electron micrograph of Ebola virus particles. Creative Commons license courtesy of Thomas W. Geisbert, Boston University School of Medicine.

With the death toll now over 700 in an Ebola outbreak that has been building since February, Americans are suddenly up in arms about the virus, but only because it was announced yesterday that up to two Americans infected with the virus may be transported to Atlanta for treatment. Yes, the virus is especially deadly, with a death rate of 70-90% of infected patients, but the virus does not spread particularly efficiently and is not airborne. Writing at CNN.com, biologist Laurie Garrett points out a disaster scenario for the virus. Rather than an outbreak in the US, which seems extremely unlikely, Garrett outlines how the virus could spread in the much more densely populated Nigeria rather than the more remote areas of Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia where it is now concentrated.

Before getting into the details of the current outbreak and its possible spread to Nigeria, a little background on the virus. From the World Health Organization, we have this information on how the virus spreads:

Ebola is introduced into the human population through close contact with the blood, secretions, organs or other bodily fluids of infected animals. In Africa, infection has been documented through the handling of infected chimpanzees, gorillas, fruit bats, monkeys, forest antelope and porcupines found ill or dead or in the rainforest.

Ebola then spreads in the community through human-to-human transmission, with infection resulting from direct contact (through broken skin or mucous membranes) with the blood, secretions, organs or other bodily fluids of infected people, and indirect contact with environments contaminated with such fluids. Burial ceremonies in which mourners have direct contact with the body of the deceased person can also play a role in the transmission of Ebola. Men who have recovered from the disease can still transmit the virus through their semen for up to 7 weeks after recovery from illness.

Of particular relevance to the two patients who may be transported to Atlanta for treatment (they work for Samaritan’s Purse, an aid organization) and the tragic death of Sheik Umar Khan, Sierra Leone’s top Ebola doctor, the information from WHO continues:

Health-care workers have frequently been infected while treating patients with suspected or confirmed EVD. This has occurred through close contact with patients when infection control precautions are not strictly practiced.

The fact that these health care givers become infected because standard infection control precautions are not strictly practiced in no way should suggest that they are uninformed or careless. Instead, Garrett points out in her article the stark realities facing health care providers in the three countries where the outbreak rages:

To show how ill-equipped these nations are to battle disease, per capita spending on health care, combining personal and governmental, amounts to only $171 a year in Sierra Leone, $88 a year in Liberia and $67 a year in Guinea, according to the Kaiser Foundation.

For those who want more detail on the virus, this succinct summary of the structure of the Filovirus family of viruses and their mode of operation is very informative.

For the panic-motivated hypochondriacs among us, initial symptoms of this virus mimic the onset of most other viral infections.

The most recent update from WHO on the outbreak can be read here. The update summarizes the assistance that is being provided to the countries where the outbreak is ongoing. Significantly, WHO is not advocating travel restrictions at this time.

Returning to Garrett’s article, she points out the factors that would lead to chaos should Ebola spread in Nigeria:

Were Ebola to take hold in that country [Nigeria], spreading from person-to-person in a densely populated, chaotic city such as Lagos, the worldwide response would swiftly spin into uncharted political and global health territory.

Consider the following: Nigerian physicians are on strike nationwide; hundreds of girls have been kidnapped from their schools and villages over the past six months by Boko Haram Islamist militants — and none has been successfully freed from their captors by the Abuja government.

Nigeria is in the midst of national election campaigning. President Goodluck Jonathan’s government is, at best, weak. The nation is torn apart by religious tension, pitting the Muslim north against the Christian south. Islamists in the north have long distrusted Western medicine. They have opposed polio vaccination and have kidnapped and assaulted central government health providers.

Garrett’s plea is for an already-planned African summit on Monday to be used to develop a coordinated plan for dealing with the virus:

One way or another, Obama must take advantage of Monday’s Africa summit to press the case for calm and appropriate responses. These would include specific post-Ebola financial commitments to Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea.

The possibility that the epidemic might take hold in Nigeria must be confronted, and plans of action must be considered. The world cannot afford to make decisions in the heat of panic about such things as international airport closures, withdrawal of foreign oil workers, negotiations for outbreak responses with northern imams, hospital and clinic infection control training across thousands of Nigerian health facilities, deployment of international assistance teams for rapid diagnostics and lab assistance and countless other contingencies.

Sadly, Garrett points out important information on the damage that has already been done in this outbreak:

When this Ebola epidemic eventually ends, the health budgets of these nations [Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea] will have been bankrupted, and many of their most skilled and courageous physicians, nurses, Red Cross volunteers and hospital workers will have perished.

Let’s hope that Monday sees the beginning of stronger coordination to put more resources where they are needed to halt the spread of this ongoing disaster.

Tortured Diplomacy

The AP has a story reporting (something that was public) that Colin Powell was not briefed on torture from the start, which meant in several cases Ambassadors to affected countries got briefed and instructed not to tell their superiors.

A Senate report on the CIA’s interrogation and detention practices after the 9/11 attacks concludes that the agency initially kept the secretary of state and some U.S. ambassadors in the dark about harsh techniques and secret prisons, according to a document circulating among White House staff.

The still-classified report also says some ambassadors who were informed about interrogations of al-Qaida detainees at so-called black sites in their countries were instructed not to tell their superiors at the State Department, the document says.

[snip]

A former senior CIA official said the secretary of state at the time, Colin Powell, eventually was informed about the program and sat in meetings in which harsh interrogation techniques were discussed. But Powell may not have been informed when the techniques were first used in 2002, the official said.

[snip]

The former CIA official said it would be standard practice for ambassadors informed about a covert operation to be instructed not to share it with others who did not have a “need to know,” as determined by the National Security Agency. Ambassadors in countries in which the CIA set up black sites to interrogate prisoners were usually told about it, said the official, who, like others interviewed for this story, would not be quoted by name because some of the information remains classified.

This narrative — developed as part of the initial Senate Intelligence Committee effort to study torture which ultimately became the torture report — suggests Colin Powell may not have briefed on torture techniques until September 16, 2003.

According to CIA records, pursuant to a request from the National Security
Adviser, the Director of Central Intelligence subsequently briefed the Secretary of
State and the Secretary of Defense on the CIA’s interrogation techniques on
September 16, 2003.

That seems very late — but he was apparently specifically not invited to a July 2003 meeting at which Principals reauthorized torture even in light of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed’s treatment. And these two comments from 2009 were awfully vague.

Remember, in January 2002, Powell and others at State tried very hard to get Bush to adhere to the Geneva Conventions they failed. Which is probably why he didn’t find out for a long time.

In any case, the implication is that Powell’s Ambassadors knew, but Powell did not.

I’ve just started looking at who the Ambassadors in question might be — especially with AP’s anonymous and probably lying CIA source claiming Ambassadors did get told (which the CIA often doesn’t do but which is a violation of protocol) but two stick out right away.

First, there’s Darryl Johnson, Ambassador to Thailand while Abu Zubaydah was being tortured. I don’t know anything about him, but note he presented his credentials on March 29, literally the day after Zubaydah was captured in Pakistan. Imagine asking your hosts to use their military base to torture people on on your second day officially on the job!

Even more interesting is Chris Hill, the lifetime diplomat who was Ambassador to Poland from 2000 through 2004, spanning the period when a number of detainees were being tortured. Hill went on to serve as Ambassador to South Korea immediately thereafter, then became Assistant Secretary of State for East Asia. In the latter two roles he played a key role in the 6-party talks with North Korea and had very significant disagreements with Dick Cheney. Hill then went on to serve as Ambassador to Iraq. I find it interesting to imagine how knowledge of Cheney’s torture might have made their principled disagreements even worse.

Of course, it’s possible AP’s source is lying and none of these men — or the other Ambassadors in the black site countries — really were briefed.

Update: Here’s a 2008 story (there were many similar ones at the time) that insinuates Powell was at the torture meetings. I think it’s meant to deceive.

Will Obama Show Reagan’s Courage and Suspend Tank Transfers to Israel?

In the worst strike yet by Israel against a United Nations school where Palestinian civilians were seeking shelter from the carnage, up to 19 people were killed and 125 were wounded last night when Israeli tanks shelled the school in Jebalya. Citizens in Gaza have very limited options on where to go once Israel issues an ultimatum to evacuate an area. Reuters reports that more than 200,000 have sought refuge in UN schools and other UN buildings since the fighting broke out. Also yesterday, Israeli tanks shelled the only power plant in Gaza, forcing it to be shut down when a fuel tank was hit.

Israel, of course, claims that there was mortar fire from the vicinity of the UN school:

An Israeli military spokeswoman said militants had fired mortar bombs from the vicinity of the school and troops fired back in response. The incident was still being reviewed.

It is hard to see the shelling of the power plant, however, as anything other than collective punishment for all of Gaza. For all of Israel’s yammering about terror tunnels and the scary rockets that Hamas is firing toward Israel, numbers in a CNN article this morning drive home the asymmetry of the conflict. Gaza is home to 1.8 million residents while Israel has a population of 8 million. Israel’s armed forces have 176,000 active personnel. As for Hamas:

The U.S. State Department says there are “several thousand” Gaza-based Hamas militant operatives along with a “reported 9,000-person Hamas-led paramilitary group known as the ‘Executive Force.’”

Tellingly, CNN does not separate Palestinian civilians from Hamas militants when it first touches on casualty figures, stating only that “more than 1200 Palestinians have been killed”. The Reuters article linked above puts the number this morning at 1270. Only later in the CNN article do we learn that Israel estimates that it has killed “more than 300″ Hamas militants. That means that Israel’s own estimate is that 76% of the Palestinians they have killed are civilians. For all of Israel’s claims about the “pin-point precision” of its attacks, that is a horrible track record.

Of course, Israel hides behind claims of Hamas using civilians as human shields to justify the high civilian death rate. The problem, though, is that it is impossible to see how Israel faces any sort of imminent danger from any Hamas militants who may be hiding among Palestinian refugees (or even in the terror tunnels!). While the death toll of Palestinian civilians is approaching a thousand in this conflict, a grand total of three Israeli civilians have died, along with 53 soldiers who have died once Israeli forces crossed into Gaza. The UN is taking as many precautions as they can to screen the refugees in their shelters, and they have found and disclosed rockets that operatives tried to hide in shelters three times now.

Given the horrific numbers of civilians killed and the clearly punitive nature of bombing the power plant, it is time to visit the regulations and policies that apply to US arms and arms funding that flows to Israel. Consider this policy pronouncement in Defense News in April of this year, where we learn that:

a State Department official said Washington’s classified Conventional Arms Transfer Policy has been updated to make clear that the US will not transfer arms, equipment or training to countries that commit genocide, crimes against humanity or violate international humanitarian law.

The law against collective punishment is clear and the ratio of civilians to militants killed, along with the repressive blockade and power plant bombing would seem to be slam dunks for proving collective punishment.

Further, none other than the war mongers’ best friend Ronald Reagan actually intervened (pdf) in arms transfers to Israel once when they over-stepped the bounds of humanity:

Questions raised regarding the use of U.S.-supplied military equipment by Israel in Lebanon in June and July 1982, led the Reagan Administration to determine on July 15, 1982, that Israel “may” have violated its July 23, 1952, Mutual Defense Assistance Agreement with the United States (TIAS 2675). Concerns centered on whether or not Israel had used U.S.-supplied anti-personnel cluster bombs against civilian targets during its military operations in Lebanon and the siege of Beirut. The pertinent segment of that 1952 agreement between Israel and the United States reads as follows:

The Government of Israel assures the United States Government that such equipment, materials, or services as may be acquired from the United States … are required for and will be used solely to maintain its internal security, its legitimate self-defense, or to permit it to participate in the defense of the area of which it is a part, or in United Nations collective security arrangements and measures, and that it will not undertake any act of aggression against any other state.

It should be noted that none of the critical terms such as “internal security,” “legitimate self-defense,” or “act of aggression” are defined within this 1952 U.S.-Israeli agreement. The House Foreign Affairs Committee held hearings on this issue in July and August 1982. On July 19, 1982, the Reagan Administration announced that it would prohibit new exports of cluster bombs to Israel. This prohibition was lifted by the Reagan Administration in November 1988

Note that Israeli tanks appear to have been involved in the shelling of both the school and the power plant. That would make tanks and their ammunition perfect candidates to replace the cluster bombs in a repeat of Reagan’s move in 1982. From the figures in this document (pdf, see this pdf for a guide to the categories), it appears that in 2013, the US provided over $620 million worth of assistance in the category of “Tanks and Military Vehicles” to Israel, just among the figures reported by the State Department rather than the Defense Department.

Of course, don’t look for Obama to have the courage to stem the flow of money and weapons to Israel any time soon. In the meantime, it will be up to outside groups to apply what little pressure they can.

Update: From the UN statement on the shelling of the school (the sixth one hit!):

Last night, children were killed as they slept next to their parents on the floor of a classroom in a UN designated shelter in Gaza. Children killed in their sleep; this is an affront to all of us, a source of universal shame. Today the world stands disgraced.

We have visited the site and gathered evidence. We have analysed fragments, examined craters and other damage. Our initial assessment is that it was Israeli artillery that hit our school, in which 3,300 people had sought refuge. We believe there were at least three impacts. It is too early to give a confirmed official death toll. But we know that there were multiple civilian deaths and injuries   including of women and children and the UNRWA guard who was trying to protect the site.  These are people who were instructed to leave their homes by the Israeli army.

The precise location of the Jabalia Elementary Girls School and the fact that it was housing thousands of internally displaced people was communicated to the Israeli army seventeen times,  to ensure its protection; the last being at  ten to nine last night, just hours before the fatal shelling.

With Afghan Runoff Audit Hopelessly Mired, Clock Running Out on US Hopes for BSA

I’m wishing that I had started a spreadsheet a couple of years ago to track the various deadlines the US has issued for having a signed Bilateral Security Agreement in hand. Such an agreement would authorize US troops to remain in Afghanistan with criminal immunity after the current agreement expires at the end of this year. Just a search of the tag “Bilateral Security Agreement” brings back three pages of posts on the topic at Emptywheel.  Early in the process, the US position was that the mental giants in our military needed a full year to plan whether or not we were withdrawing completely, and so a signed BSA had to be in hand by the beginning of 2014. Then, after Karzai defied the loya jirga and stated that he would not sign the agreement while in office, the US pinned its hopes on the presidential elections, since the two leading candidates both stated they would sign the agreement immediately upon winning. There was the unrealistic hope that a clear winner would emerge from the first round of voting in April, but that did not come to pass.  The runoff was originally slated for May 28, then moved to June 7 and finally took place June 14. But when the preliminary results of the runoff showed Abdullah moving from beating Ghani by a million votes in the first round to losing to him by a million votes in the runoff, the problems with counting votes in Afghanistan have moved to the center of the ongoing crisis.

The crisis shows no prospect of abating. Even though Kerry brokered an extra-constitutional “unity government” agreement between Abdullah and Ghani (and there has even been a nebulous conference on the new structure), the dim prospects for these two actually sharing power can be seen in how long the arguments over how to audit the runoff votes has carried on. We have had countless pronouncements out of Kabul that the snail’s pace of the audit will accelerate any day now, once the two sides agree on the procedure. The UN finally put forward its own proposal for a procedure yesterday since the candidates could not agree on one. Further disruptions in the audit will come next week as two more days will be lost to Eid. With thousands of ballot boxes still to be audited, there is no way that an official final tally will be issued by the specified August 2 date Karzai had planned for inauguration of the new president.

It’s hard to see how Kerry’s fantasy of a shared government will ever come to pass. Each candidate in the runoff will have strong grounds for declaring the results fraudulent should the other be declared the winner of the audit, and I think that is behind the impasse on developing an audit procedure. The argument can be made that there is no legitimate government in place since Karzai’s term has already expired, so there simply is no way to say who should be responsible for signing a BSA at this point. Back in December, the US openly floated the idea of working around Karzai to get someone else to sign the agreement. I’m thinking that plan is being dusted off again this week in Washington.

Kerry and the rest of the Obama administration have already shown that they are quite willing to work outside Afghanistan’s constitution when it is in their interest (as demonstrated by the shared government plan). As noted above, Karzai’s term officially expired in May. I look for the US work-around of Afghanistan’s constitution to continue and for some sort of interim government to be declared once one or both of the candidates formally abandon(s) the audit process. You can bet that government will be headed by someone who will sign the BSA immediately. But remaining in Afghanistan likely also will suddenly require a lot more US troops since it also seems likely that violence will break out between supporters of Abdullah and Ghani rather than the two sharing the new government. I doubt Obama has the courage to simply walk away from Afghanistan, but in my opinion that still remains the best option for both the US and Afghanistan. Walking away is needed because it seems clear at this point that a US presence in Afghanistan serves only to make the situation worse.

Kerry Castigates Putin For Using US Strategy of Training, Arming Rebels

So far, I have suffered no ill effects from this outdated beer.

So far, I have suffered no ill effects from this outdated beer.

Aside from the fact that the only craft beer served at the National Security Caucus session at Netroots Nation 2014 was an outdated California beer rather than a local Michigan beer, it was a session marked by interesting discussion. I received quite a bit of support during that discussion for noting that the US response to any crisis anywhere, for far too long, has been simply to ask “Which group should we arm?”. Further, I noted, as we had heard in the “Iran: Diplomacy or War?” session, there is reason for optimism among those of us who favor diplomacy over violence in the successful removal and ongoing destruction of Syria’s chemical weapons rather than the missile strikes the US had been planning and in the remaining strong possibility of a diplomatic solution to the Iran nuclear technology issue instead of a war to destroy the technology. I illustrated that point by mentioning the tragic downing of MH17 and how that demonstrated the folly of training and arming rebel groups that often veer into extremist actions that result in atrocities. That point ties to the mad push to arm Syria’s rebels with the shorter range MANPAD antiaircraft missiles even though they are less powerful than the Buk missile that took down MH17. As I noted, will Syrian “moderates” promise us never to take the MANPADS to a site where civilian aircraft are within range, and would there be any reason to believe such a promise?

In executing his Full Ginsburg yesterday, US Secretary of State John Kerry reached new heights of hypocrisy, as he went from Sunday morning talk show to talk show, proclaiming the evils of Russian actions in Ukraine. The evils for which Kerry is castigating Putin are precisely the evils that the US has been unleashing on the world in places like Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen, Syria and beyond. From today’s New York Times:

 In presenting the most detailed case yet alleging Russia’s involvement in the Ukraine crisis, Secretary of State John Kerry said on Sunday that Russia had funneled large quantities of heavy weapons to Ukrainian separatists and trained them how to operate SA-11 antiaircraft missiles, the type of system that is believed to have been used to shoot down the Malaysian airliner over eastern Ukraine.

“We know for certain that the separatists have a proficiency that they’ve gained by training from Russians as to how to use these sophisticated SA-11 systems,” Mr. Kerry said on the CNN program “State of the Union.”

Just as when CIA Director John Brennan got his panties in a wad over al Qaeda training death squads in Syria after we had trained our own death squads to send there, Kerry is now saying that Russia choosing a group to arm and train is a horrible thing even though he has been instrumental in helping the Obama administration to do the exact same thing in other areas.

And just as the US now faces problems in its upcoming training of Iraqi troops because of the previous failures in training Iraqi troops, there is reason to believe that the atrocity of MH17 may be due in part to failed training by the Russians. From today’s Washington Post:

Meanwhile, in Kiev, the U.S. Embassy said American intelligence analysts had confirmed the authenticity of recorded conversations in which rebel leaders bragged about shooting down what they thought was a Ukrainian military transport plane moments after the Malaysian jetliner was blown apart.

So even though the separatists are good at using the missiles to blow aircraft out of the sky (the Times article notes they have downed “almost a dozen Ukrainian transport planes, reconnaissance aircraft and helicopters”), it would appear that they haven’t quite worked out that whole target verification thing and that this tragedy may not have been an intentional targeting of civilians as much as it is a training failure. But yes, the Russians own a large portion of this tragedy, as the evidence seems strong that they provided the weapon along with instructions on firing it (if not the full lesson on target verification). And their tactics in doing do were taken directly from the US playbook, all the way down to the training being an abject failure.

Why Challenge the Washington Consensus Now?

A number of outlets are reporting on the BRICS move to establish a competitor to the World Bank.

The so-called BRICS countries agreed to form an international development bank with aspirations to challenge the dominance of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund.

Leaders of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa said Tuesday that the New Development Bank will start with $50 billion in capital and $100 billion as a currency reserve fund for liquidity crises. Operating details still need to be resolved.

Still, the BRICS bank, which could add more member nations, represents a bid to expand the influence of the BRICS emerging markets and act as a counterbalance to institutions run by the U.S. and other developed nations, experts said.

“This is about the consolidation of BRICS 2.0,” said Marcos Troyjo, professor of international and public affairs at Columbia University and co-director of the BRICLab Center. “If BRICS 1.0 was about capturing investor attention to the scale of their economic relevance, BRICS 2.0 is about embarking on institution building.”

I absolutely understand the reason for the move. These large countries have been demanding more influence over the World Bank for years, to no avail. And US policies like Quantitative Easing have been really damaging to some of the countries, particularly Brazil. Though, this move may well come too late for Brazil and certainly for Dilma Roussef.

“I don’t think that if Brazil was now to be thinking about these plans from the drawing board, it would really be thinking about a Brics development bank,” says James Lockhart-Smith, a Latin America risk analyst at Maplecroft in New York. “It would be more focused on restarting growth in the country.”

But at a time of slow growth, Brazil probably needs these economies on side more than ever. Add to that, trade with economically troubled Argentina – traditionally one of its biggest trading partners – has become more difficult in recent years.

So while I understand the move, I wonder why now — aside from the fact that the World Cup provided a handy excuse for a meeting in Rio de Janeiro. It may be too late for Dilma, and India’s new neoliberal Prime Minister Narenda Modi seems like an odd fit for the group.

Meanwhile, consider this. While Russia won’t get any of the big perks in the new bank (it will be headquartered in Shanghai, India will pick the first President, Brazil will pick the first Chairman, and the bank will be denominated in — really! — dollars), Putin was also making other interesting moves in the hemisphere, at least according to RT (definitely click through for Putin’s expression, which surely is staged to be that stern).

Moscow and Havana have reportedly reached an agreement on reopening the SIGINT facility in Lourdes, Cuba – once Russia’s largest foreign base of this kind – which was shut down in 2001 due to financial problems and under US pressure.

[snip]

Russia considered reopening the Lourdes base since 2004 and has sealed a deal with Cuba last week during the visit of the Russian President Vladimir Putin to the island nation, reports Kommersant business daily citing multiple sources.

Russia shut down the base to more easily reschedule debt held by the US. Along with reopening the base, Russia will forgive a bunch of outstanding Cuban debt to Russia.

The timing of this — a year after Snowden’s disclosures, but more importantly, as the US continues to try increasingly unilateral sanctions against Russia’s involvement in Ukraine — makes a ton of sense. The US refuses to believe it can’t impose its will in Ukraine, in spite of increasing reluctance from our European partners, especially Germany, to ratchet up the pressure. Reopening a front in America’s back yard as the US bunkers down on Ukraine makes perfect sense.

For some reason, the US appears to have believed it could simply impose its will indefinitely on the rest of the world. They appear not to have considered that, at some point, such behavior would provide the rest of the world cause to fight back.

Kerry, UN Fail to Resolve Afghan Election Crisis

Two photos from Reuters today sum up the status of the Afghan presidential election. Ghani appears confident and ready to work with Kerry, while Abdullah gives Kerry the side eye.

Two photos from Reuters today sum up the status of the Afghan presidential election. Ghani appears confident and ready to work with Kerry, while Abdullah gives Kerry the side eye.

Three short weeks from tomorrow marks the date on which Afghanistan’s new president is to be sworn in. The problem, though, is that Abdullah Abdullah refuses to believe that he could have beaten Ashraf Ghani by a million votes in the first round and then lost to him by a million votes in the runoff a few weeks later. Both US Secretary of State John Kerry and the UN have tried to defuse the crisis, but neither effort has had any effect whatsoever.

No words are needed to describe Kerry’s failure. In their story on Kerry’s visit to Kabul today, Reuters carried photos of Ghani and Abdullah with Kerry in front of the same backdrop of US and Afghan flags. The photo of Ghani and Kerry could pass as a propaganda photo handed out jointly by the two governments to promote a continued relationship between the US and Afghanistan with Ghani as the new president. The photo with Abdullah, on the other hand, shows a deeply distrustful Abdullah casting a sideways glance at Kerry, who seems not to have the courage to look Abdullah in the eye, let alone shake hands as he did with Ghani. Perhaps Abdullah and Kerry did shake hands, but photographer Jim Bourg seems to have captured the essence of the crisis perfectly.

Meanwhile, the UN proposal for additional auditing has fallen flat. From the New York Times:

The United Nations proposal centered on a special audit of suspected fraudulent votes, and it appeared to be a winner when the office of President Hamid Karzai called reporters shortly after midnight Friday, the beginning of the Afghan weekend, to spread the news of the new plan.

Aimal Faizi, the spokesman for Mr. Karzai, said the president was backing the proposal, which involved a deeper audit of votes from 8,000 polling stations, or about 43 percent of the 8.1 million ballots cast. The plan had been presented to Mr. Karzai on Thursday evening by Jan Kubis, the special United Nations envoy for Afghanistan, who was to brief Mr. Abdullah and Mr. Ghani about it later on Friday, Mr. Faizi said.

But within minutes, Mr. Abdullah’s campaign said it had already made clear to United Nations officials that the plan was not acceptable during discussions on Thursday about possible ways out of the crisis. A senior aide to Mr. Abdullah said the campaign had its own plan, which would entail audits of votes from about 11,000 of the roughly 22,000 polling stations.

Western reports on the election crisis that I have read have danced around a very important central issue without ever addressing it. The huge problem that Afghanistan faces is that there is no real way to audit this election after the fact. Elections in Afghanistan do not take place in the way that elections in the West are conducted. Once outside of Kabul, Afghan society is structured around village life and women often live their entire lives without going outside the walls of the family compound. Village elders carry huge influence for all residents of the village.

In his book No Good Men Among the Living, Anand Gopal provided a couple of very informative vignettes of previous presidential elections. On page 156, we have this from the 2004 election: Continue reading

Abdullah Supporters Reject Preliminary Results, Urge Parallel Government

A few numbers will serve to highlight both the rage of Abdullah Abdullah’s supporters and the extent of the fraud which they believe to have been perpetrated on behalf of Ashraf Ghani in Afghanistan’s presidential election. In the first round of the election, there were 7,018,049 votes cast and Abdullah fell just short of winning outright (which would have occurred had he topped 50% of the vote) with 45% of the vote. Ghani finished well behind him, at 31.6%. Yesterday, the preliminary results of the June 14 runoff were announced. This time, there were 8,109,403 votes cast, an increase of just over 15% from the first round. It should also be noted that turnout in the first round represented about a 50% increase from the 2009 election. Ghani somehow surged to 54% of the vote this time, leading Abdullah by 1,024,249 votes.

In yesterday’s announcement, we learned that some votes have been thrown out over suspected fraud:

In Monday’s announcement, Mr. Nuristani said that the Independent Election Commission, while tallying the preliminary results, had already thrown out more than 11,000 votes from 1,930 polling stations. About 60 percent of the disqualified votes had been cast in favor of Mr. Ghani, with the reminder cast for Mr. Abdullah.

While 11,000 fraudulent votes sounds like a lot, note that Abdullah’s camp was already suspicious of the huge increase in turnout for the runoff compared to the first round. While there still is additional review of the voting planned which could eliminate more votes, the 11,000 votes discarded falls far short of the 2009 election and the first round this year:

In contrast to 2009, when more than 1.2 million votes were found to be fraudulent and were discarded, the two commissions threw out only 375,000 votes this time.

In the eyes of Abdullah supporters, it is easy to question how Ghani could have more than doubled the number of votes he received in the runoff (going from about 2.2 million votes to over 4.4 million) while Abdullah, who had been far ahead, only added about three hundred thousand votes (going from 3.2 million to 3.5 millon). Somehow, we are supposed to believe that Abdullah has the support of only 44-45% of the Afghan electorate, no matter how many show up and that Ghani was able to magically obtain the vote of every Afghan who voted for someone other than Ghani or Abdullah in the first round while also getting 56% of those new more than one million voters who turned up for the runoff.

It is little wonder, then, that Adbullah’s supporters completely reject the results announced yesterday:

Presidential candidate Abdullah Abdullah’s team said it would reject preliminary results from the runoff election unless fraudulent votes were excluded from the count, his running mate Mohammad Mohaqeq said in an interview with TOLOnews on Monday evening.

/snip/

Mohaqeq warned that if their team denounces the results, so to will people in various provinces, and then the government and the election commission will be responsible for the consequences.

“We want to say to the people of Afghanistan that if our conditions aren’t accepted and the assigned commission doesn’t reach an outcome and our condition that invalid votes be distinguished from genuine votes is not accepted, we will not accept the results and consequences will follow and responsibility will be on the government, the rigging commission and rigging team,” Mohaqeq said.

Abdullah has declared himself the victor, but for now is holding off on announcing a parallel government:

Embattled Afghan presidential contender Abdullah Abdullah defiantly mobilized thousands of his supporters in the heart of the capital Tuesday, vowing to challenge preliminary election results that show him trailing his rival, amid accusations of massive fraud.

“You are the victorious; you have won the vote — there is no question,” Abdullah shouted to a cheering crowd at a spacious conference hall in western Kabul. “We would rather be torn into pieces than accept this fraud,” he said. “We reject these results . . . and justice will prevail.” The former foreign minister alleges election officials rigged the vote in favor of his opponent, former finance minister Ashraf Ghani, in a June 14 presidential runoff.

There were fears that Abdullah and his team would use the rally to declare a parallel government, which would have aggravated Afghanistan’s political crisis and raised the risk of bloodshed. But Abdullah stopped short of announcing his own cabinet Tuesday, drawing jeers from the audience, which urged him to declare himself president.

“Long live Abdullah!” his supporters cried. “Announce your government!”

John Kerry is slated to visit Kabul on Friday and is warning that the US will withdraw support for Afghanistan if a parallel government is announced. Given the speed at which events seem to be unfolding, Friday could well be too late for Kerry to have any impact (if that ever had been possible anyway). Does Kerry’s announcement signal that the US will only accept Ghani as the winner?

Iraq Crisis Puts US on Same Side With Assad, Iran Quds Force

As I pointed out two weeks ago, US foreign and military policy is now so muddled that the primary response to any ongoing crisis is to choose a side to arm without thought to the inevitable blowback that will come from trying to pick winners and losers in otherwise internal affairs of far-flung countries. As the meltdown of the US-trained Iraqi military accelerates, we now see a situation whose supreme irony would be hilarious if only so many lives were not senselessly caught in the crossfire. Two developments of that sort stand out today.

First is the news that Syrian aircraft have carried out a strike against ISIS targets inside Iraq. Because Iraq has been pleading with the US to carry out attacks of this sort, it appears that early reports first assumed that US drones had been involved:

Syrian government aircraft bombed Sunni militant targets inside Iraq on Tuesday, further broadening the Middle Eastern crisis a day after Israeli warplanes and rockets struck targets inside Syria.

Iraqi state media initially reported that the attacks near Iraq’s western border with Syria were carried out by U.S. drones, a claim that was quickly and forcefully denied by the Pentagon.

Think about that one for a minute. Last fall, the US was agonizing over how to find and arm only those groups fighting the Assad government in Syria that are “moderate” so that we didn’t arm the then fledgling ISIS group. But now, inside Iraq, state media is initially unable to distinguish an action taken by Assad from one taken by the US. That is, Assad, whom we are fighting inside Syria, is on our side inside Iraq.

The second development is a pairing of US interests with one we have been fighting for a much longer time. The New York Times brings us the latest on Iranian assistance to Iraq in its struggle against ISIS. The initial part of the report seems routine:

Iran is flying surveillance drones over Iraq from an airfield in Baghdad and is secretly supplying Iraq with tons of military equipment, supplies and other assistance, American officials said. Tehran has also deployed an intelligence unit there to intercept communications, the officials said.

The secret Iranian programs are part of a broader effort by Tehran to gather intelligence and help Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki’s government in its struggle against Sunni militants with the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.

But when the Times drills down to detail on how the assistance is being delivered, we get into more strange times:

Gen. Qassim Suleimani, the head of Iran’s paramilitary Quds Force, has visited Iraq at least twice to help Iraqi military advisers plot strategy. And Iran has deployed about a dozen other Quds Force officers to advise Iraqi commanders, and help mobilize more than 2,000 Shiite militiamen from southern Iraq, American officials said.

Wait. Iran’s IGRC, and especially its Quds Force, is supposed to be still absolutely opposed to the US and even drops comments trying to disrupt the P5+1 negotiations on Iran’s nuclear program now and then. And yet, here they are, sending their head to Iraq to prop up al-Maliki as well as sending “about a dozen other Quds Force officers to advise Iraqi commanders”. Hmm. Advisers. That sounds familiar. Returning to the Washington Post story cited above: Continue reading

Will Obama Treat Victoria Nuland More Leniently than PJ Crowley?

Over three years ago, State Department spokesperson PJ Crowley had to resign after he called Chelsea Manning’s treatment “ridiculous and counterproductive and stupid.”

In a bizarre NYT story suggesting that Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs Victoria Nuland’s husband, Robert Kagan, had influenced Obama with a critique of his foreign policy, it quotes Nuland suggesting she agrees with her husband’s critique.

His wife and unofficial editor, Victoria Nuland, is an assistant secretary of state and one of the country’s toughest and most experienced diplomats, whose fervor for building democracy in Ukraine recently leaked out in an embarrassing audio clip.

[snip]

Ms. Nuland declined to comment on her husband’s critique of her current boss’s foreign policy. “But suffice to say,” she said, “that nothing goes out of the house that I don’t think is worthy of his talents. Let’s put it that way.”

Nuland is not going to comment but she thoroughly agrees with Kagan’s attack on her boss’ foreign policy, I guess.

This dig probably won’t be noted, but it does seem remarkably aggressive, even if Nuland is only slamming Obama’s policies second-hand.

Nevertheless, she won’t pay a price for calling out her boss. That’s true, I’m guessing, because John Kerry seems to love being a NeoCon and he likely has some discretion over her role. And because the NeoCons don’t get held to account in DC for their dangerous provocations.

Still, it appears that it’s a firing offense to call out inhumane treatment inconsistent with our values, but not one for calling out insufficient imperial designs.

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Emptywheel Twitterverse
bmaz My daughter's date for night does not seem to appropriately love Kiki The Wonderdog. How is this gonna work out? http://t.co/wcXX1ECjLy
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emptywheel RT @shephardm: #Somalia's new police chief once wanted for "war crimes" in Canada. Our @TorontoStar report: http://t.co/q5eVsJN8No http://t…
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emptywheel @dangillmor Don't get me wrong--I'm not betting against that.
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emptywheel @dangillmor Several GOPers have called it torture too.
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emptywheel @BiellaColeman Which? Zoinks or doinks? We're halfway to a comic tho. @adamgoldmanwp @matthewacole
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emptywheel Now that everyone has gotten on my anti-Brennan bus, can we revisit what role he had in setting up the NYPD CIA-on-the-Hudson please?
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emptywheel @ThePlumLineGS Shhh. Don't tell them yet.
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emptywheel @lrozen He refused to keep torturing even in spite of DTA? Dunno, but I'm pretty sure it wasn't lying.
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emptywheel @adamgoldmanwp The thought of using even a marginally more sensual word in the context of Petraeus gives me hives.
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emptywheel People! CIA Directors don't get fired for lying. They get fired for doinking their biographer.
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emptywheel @sarahjeong I'm with folksy torture, that's a keeper.
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emptywheel RT @trevortimm: If you have the CIA torture report & are in a transparent mood, here's a list of the news orgs running @SecureDrop: https:/…
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