Focal Points Blog

Lagarde’s Victory: One Step Forward, Two Steps Back?

Christine Lagarde became the first female to head the IMF on July 5 2011. Since the IMF was established, it has been dominated by Europeans and men. Only six of 30 senior executives and 21.5 percent of all managers have been women, and the BRIC countries (Brazil, Russia, India, and China) control only 10.8 percent of IMF votes. In this context, Lagarde’s position in the IMF is a great victory for women, but it still leaves developing countries with little power.

If the position had gone to the Mexican central bank leader Agustin Cartens, who is also well qualified for the position, he could have brought in a new perspective to the organization. Today many in the developing world continue to be frustrated with the IMF’s structure since it doesn’t reflect the shifting power balance in the global economy. As the Latin America News Dispatch characterized the situation, “Carstens, who gained the backing Latin American nations like Chile and Peru as well as Australia and Canada, believes that emerging markets need to play a much larger role in setting the agenda of the IMF.”

I recently attended the National Organization for Women’s conference in Florida where participants debated the lack of female leaders. Female role models in positions of power could change this situation. Therefore Lagarde’s victory has given me a sense of hope that women can be as ambitious as men. Not only is she the first female leader of the IMF, but she is also the first non-economist to lead the IMF. One of her goals during her term is to increase the presence of developing countries in the organization. She has vowed to give China the third-strongest voice in the organization and to give more voice to countries like Brazil and South Korea.

Not only does she want to create more culture diversity but also gender diversity. Thus, she could bring a new sensibility to the IMF in terms of its policies toward women. She believes that a gender-dominated environment is not healthy. She often says that “too much testosterone” is a problem for the financial sector. Therefore, we can expect Lagarde to enhance women’s position and rights in the IMF.

Although Lagarde promises to diversify the organization, I still believe as a Ghanaian citizen that the position should have been given to a non-European, in particular a woman from a developing country.

One possible candidate is Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala the recently appointed finance minister of Nigeria and a former managing director of the World Bank. Okonjo-Iweala was notable for being the first female minister of finance and minister of foreign affairs under President Olusegun Obasanjo from 2003-2006. Okonjo-Iweala graduated from Harvard University and earned her Ph.D in regional economics and development from MIT. She helped Nigeria obtain its first sovereign debt rating and helping slash Nigeria’s debt by almost $30 billion. Today she is a role model for many Nigerians and Africans at large, in particular women, and the IMF would do well to consider her for its next leader.

Esther Ohrt is a Foreign Policy in Focus intern.

Freedom Flotillas Will Sail Until Blockade of Gaza Is Lifted

The French-flagged ship, Dignité – al Karama, was halted by the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) en route to the shores of Gaza on July 19. The small vessel was boarded and reportedly towed to the Israeli port of Ashdod. There were 16 people on the boat, with French, Greek, Tunisian, Canadian, and Swedish passengers among them. As coalition organizers stated, “It is now the representative of the entire Freedom Flotilla II.”

The ten passengers, three crew, and three journalists, including the respected Israeli journalist, Amira Hass, Greek coalition representative Vangelis Pissias, al-Jazeera television, and a French member of parliament, were in frequent contact with land teams until being cut off by Israeli forces.

The boat was stopped while still in international waters and before entering Gazan waters (let alone Israeli waters, which the flotilla has never planned to enter).

It became the sole representative of the flotilla to escape the clutches of the Greek coast guard when it was able to depart from the island of Kastelorizo late Saturday and head towards Port Said, Egypt on Monday.

The ship did not dock in Egypt (for fear of being trapped by yet another government bowing to U.S.-Israeli pressure), but rather anchored in international waters off the Egyptian coast overnight – precluding the threat of another predawn raid like the IDF pulled last year – to set sail in the morning for Gaza.

Before embarking on their final Tuesday morning run, the activists had previously sent messages from the Mediterranean exclaiming, “Morale here is like the sky and sea, very good …. Gaza, off we go, stay connected!!!”

As Israeli deputy foreign minister Danny Ayalon announced Monday, “If this boat is on its way to Gaza, which is a breach of international maritime law (sic!), and tries a provocative act — yes, we shall intercept it… But I assure you we shall try our best to make those on board very comfortable.” Clearly, the Israeli government is still smarting from the public relations drubbing Tel Aviv suffered last year in the wake of its state murder of 9 flotilla passengers. Yet so incongruous was the promise to be gentle that it was difficult not to read it more as some sort of ironic threat. When a mafia don offers you tea and biscotti, do you relax?

The Dignité set off around 6 AM local time this morning. The French-flagged vessel would have been due to touch down on the sandy beaches of the Gaza strip around noon.

First contact by the IDF was made while the small craft was still some 50 miles out. Organizers lost contact with the boat at 10:10 AM, as the IDF began jamming the boat’s communications systems, while it was in international waters, north of Arish, Egypt. The boat was reportedly some 40 miles from Gaza and surrounded by four Israeli naval warships when communication was cut. The French vessel then received direct contact from Israeli forces initiated around 10:30 AM.

The Israeli naval tracking of the ship and initial radio encounter – in which the Dignité can be heard declaring their unwavering intention to sail to Gaza – was recorded by the IDF.

Israeli naval authorities claim the boarding of the ship by Israeli commandos, known as the Shayetet 13, occurred when the Dignité was some 12 nautical miles off the coast of Gaza. Initial reports have thankfully not indicated abusive treatment thus far of the nonviolent activists.

Israeli authorities asserted that the area off the shores of Gaza was under “a maritime security blockade.” The leading Israeli establishment news site, YNet, reports that the Israeli government considers the Dignité members to be “effectively entering Israel illegally.” Anyone who can contemplate how it is possible to illegally enter Israel for attempting entry into Gaza while also believing that Israel does not occupy Gaza is indeed a skillful practitioner of the Orwellian arts of double-think.

The Israeli commandos demanded to know if the boat full of peace activists was armed, maintaining the necessary ruse with presumably straight faces and appropriate earnestness. Doubtless the small pleasure craft was a grave security threat to the mighty warships flanking it.

In another IDF recording, commandoes can be seen boarding the ship from Zodiac boats. One must appreciate a power so smugly out of touch that it obligingly posts footage of its own misdeeds. Passengers were apparently escorted off their ship and onto a naval craft for the journey into detention ashore.

The AP notes that, “Israeli naval commandos… report[ed] no resistance during the takeover in international waters.” A great surprise, to be sure.

Israeli forces have since towed the Dignite to the port at Ashdod, Israel.

I was certainly not alone among the many passengers now returned to our home countries who avidly watched with great enthusiasm the progress of the little yacht, as it finally compelled the Israeli government to enforce its cruel blockade directly, rather than through hapless intermediaries.

Though English language television coverage was, to my knowledge, careful to studiously avert its gaze from the unfolding events, social media came to the rescue. Although I have been a casual user for some time, I confess to having never much relied upon Twitter for news. That changed last night.

As I mastered the finer points of hashtags and compulsively refreshed my #Dignité browser tab, I was scarcely able to look away long enough to pour a new cup of coffee. I was filled with Twitter-fueled, anxious excitement for our Flotilla’s free boat. I relate these feelings only as an indication of the enormous bonds of solidarity we in the Freedom Flotilla have forged amongst ourselves.

A steady stream of updates began issuing forth in the early morning hours on the U.S. East Coast. Messages such as “3:36AM EDT – AthenianDemocra Athenian: #BREAKING #DIGNITE israeli Warships asked for destination-answer #GAZA RT #flotilla” fed the drama. A selected digest of the late-night tweets on the travails of the blockade-running French ship is available online. Through one of the last communications with the outside from the boat, we were able to chart its position in the Mediterranean Sea at the time.

It would be a serious error to judge the success of the Flotilla simply by its movement through the Mediterranean. The true goal is to raise global awareness of the horror of the blockade upon the youthful population of Gaza, whether that entails physically reaching Gaza or not. Yet there was an undeniable element of emotional satisfaction to be had in seeing the Dignité make a run for it.

“The Freedom Flotillas will keep sailing until the illegal blockade of Gaza is ended,” vowed Dylan Penner, a passenger from the Canadian boat, the Tahrir.

Nor is the detention of the Dignité the end of this flotilla. The departure of the French boat, loaded with representatives from across the Flotilla coalition, “prov[es] that the will of global civil society cannot be intimidated.”

Moreover, organizers declared, “the remaining ships in Freedom Flotilla II: Stay Human are regrouping to fulfill our obligations to the besieged people of Gaza and to the hundreds of thousands of ordinary people around the world who funded and organized this act of solidarity. As long as the illegal blockade of Gaza remains in place, ships will sail to confront it.”

The call has already gone out for people to mobilize immediately at the nearest Israeli embassy or consulate to protest the stopping of the French boat. Protests were announced for later today in cities in Canada, France, and Greece almost as soon as the boat was seized.

Messages of support can be sent to the passengers of the Dignité here (though, as they are now under detention, there is no telling when they will see them).

Meanwhile, the U.S. boat, The Audacity of Hope, continues to languish in indefinite detention in a military port outside Athens – punishment for challenging the Greek government’s complicity in Gaza’s collective punishment. As the Greek authorities are ultimately acting under instruction from the U.S. and Israel, we are calling for all citizens to apply continued pressure to Washington, through daily phone calls to the U.S. State Department.

The movement of international solidarity has emerged stronger from our time in Athens. And we’re only getting started!

Steve Fake was a passenger on the U.S.-flagged Audacity of Hope in Athens. He is co-author of The Scramble for Africa: Darfur – Intervention and the USA (Black Rose Books). He currently lives in New Orleans.

Haiti’s Recovery Ultimately Contingent on Education

Katya(Pictured: Katya.)

Log #1 — July 15, 2011

This morning I woke up after the best night’s sleep I think I’ve had in a while. There’s absolutely nothing compared to being home. I landed in Haiti yesterday afternoon. The hustle and bustle of the people and the sights and sounds of the streets is something I missed dearly. With that, however, came the tent cities, the NGOs, and ridiculous amount of traffic. It is something that after a while, you get used to seeing.

This afternoon I went to a summer program where I used to be a counselor before I moved from Haiti. The program is called Rescue One. It works with children from underprivileged neighborhoods in Port-au-Prince and organizes a huge summer camp for them every year. The children make arts and crafts, get some schooling, and just be children. When I arrived the kids were in the middle of doing their arts and crafts. There was one girl who wanted me to take a picture of what she had made. It was a stitching of a heart made out of yarn and paper.

As she held the picture out in front of her, it made me think of the Haitian youth and how important they are to Haiti’s future. As a young Haitian myself, I recognize the need for the youth to be engaged in Haiti’s rebuilding process. We are fresh and young, unfettered by the old establishment and its cycle of corruption and inefficiency. If Haitian youth were given the chance to rise to their full potential, Haiti’s future would look much brighter than it does now. Out of all the investments being poured into Haiti right now, none of it seems to be going to educate the Haitian youth. Most NGOs and even the Haitian government are too busy trying to meet basic needs. But no struggling nation can ever be great without planning for the future. Invest in education. Invest in woman and girls. Invest in the youth. The youth are the heart of Haiti, and they need to be given a pulse.

Tania Smith, a student at the American University School of International Service, is a Foreign Policy in Focus intern.

Iran Missile Tests Timed to Capitalize on Gates’s Acknowledgment U.S. Tired of War?

Iran missile tests: domestic and geopolitical probes and the key to disarm it

Recently, Iran has publicly stated that it launched two ballistic missiles with medium-range capability at least months three months after the fact. This perhaps to break the silence about the experiment in, literally, untested Indian Ocean waters, which was contrary to in-house desert test in Iran. Had the rest of the world not noticed this unusual break with tradition? Iran’s military technological aspirations have long been ignored in the West where confidence in the tight international sanctions reigns supreme. Abolghasem Bayyenat notes this characteristic skepticism in his July 6th piece “The politics of Iran’s space program” published by Foreign Policy in Focus.

As Bayyenat notes, Iran’s technological progress cannot be ignored. With regard to its recent military exercises, these couldn’t have gone unnoticed by US spy planes operating in the region, but they were not acknowledged publicly by American authorities. But not the British though: William Hague, the British Foreign Secretary told parliament two weeks ago that these tests included testing missiles capable of delivering a nuclear payload. This, he said, was in contravention of U.N (Security Council) resolution 1929 that enshrines a number of sanctions, which among other things ban Iran from such ballistic missile tests. As such, this announcement that came close on the heels of a ten-day military exercise of the elite Guards was a denial of British accusations about nuclear capability experiments.

Military fetes – a domestic politics diversionary tactic?

What this means is that Iran is playing a whole different, multiple hands ball game. On the one hand, it hopes to distract the West from the real story in Iran. That is, the simmering dissatisfaction with the government there since the 2009-2010 elections. There is no doubt that both the launch of what President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad called “the ambassador of death” – a long-range bomber drone – in August 2010 and the missile tests between January and February 2011 were calculated to drown the groundswell of disgruntled Iranians. At the same time, Iranian leaders faced with domestic turmoil are harking to that old foreign policy ploy of attempting to create diversion through these military fetes. Tehran streets, however, did not bite the bait hence the series of protest, which began on February 14 that dovetailed with the general surge of citizen demonstrations in most parts of North Africa and the Middle East around the same time. Diversionary military showmanship having failed and faced with rabid heat from the streets, the government turned to mass arrests including those of the two main leaders of the Iranian political reform, Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi, which has temporarily fixed the problem. This security-enforced lull in the streets has emboldened the powers that be to up the stakes through more sabre rattling the latest one coming at the end of June.

By jove, the Americans are er…tired

If the US isn’t keeping tabs on the Iranian public, Tehran’s thumb is on the former’s public pulse. It may have been a coincidence but the latest round of missile tests came seven days after the outgoing US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates acknowledged that Americans were “tired of a decade of war.” This came a day before President Barack Obama announced plans to withdraw troops from Afghanistan amid concerns about the cost of the war – on the economy and casualties. In addition, Tehran must have also plucked some extra courage from US engagement with NATO in Libya since March, thus aware of how stretched the American military is at this time. Tehran is aware that the US cannot afford, logistically and economically, to continue policing the world, promote democracy or secure its interests abroad militarily. This reality’s an invitation for Iran to play even where it hasn’t ventured. Analysts see the launch of missiles from northern Iran into the mouth of the Indian Ocean as a demonstration of being able to attack US interests in the Middle East or its bases in East Africa. While appreciating the danger posed by nuclear proliferation in Iran, there is need to pursue nonproliferation less hawkishly. If there’s any lesson that can be drawn from the miracle of the Arab Spring, it is the need for American alertness with regard to the state of domestic democracy around the world and to foster it through peaceful change.

Leading by example

For this to happen, the US must lead by example: this will entail promoting forces of democracy through more acceptable tools such as cultural and educational channels as Miriam Pemberton of the Institute for Policy Studies argues in her News Eagle piece of March 2011. As such, there ought to be less emphasis on military spending, which is currently fiscally hemorrhaging the US. Disarming Iran literally will entail much more than the threat of a military intervention. This, instead, must involve allying itself with democratic forces that have demonstrated the quest for change and have paid the price in the process.

Nicholas Kariuki Githuku is an intern at Foreign Policy in Focus.

Myanmar May Be Closer to Becoming Burma Again Than You Think

As a concession to demands for reform, the generals of Myanmar’s ruling junta permitted elections in 2010. Rigged, though, they resulted in a victory for the military-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party. While long-time junta chief Than Shwe stepped aside, the new president is his former adjutant Thin Sein. In other words, a junta by any other name.

But, at least the brutal Than Shwe was sidelined, right? Turns out, operating in the shadows only gives him more leeway to get into even more mischief.

At Dictator Watch, Roland Watson writes that Than Shwe is “continuing his quest for nuclear arms, as the May interdiction by the U.S. of a North Korean ship bound for Burma illustrates. … The WMD program is in no way sidelined.”

While that’s a distant threat, more to the point, “Setting up a puppet government has freed him to focus on the war” against Myanmar’s ethnic minorities. But, “the Burma Army is becoming stretched, and suffering large-scale casualties. Further, these casualties are more frequently extending into the officer ranks. Than Shwe doesn’t give a damn about rank and file soldiers, but he relies on mid and upper level officers for his support.” However, “An important issue with the Civil War is how much Than Shwe’s orders are being followed. … As they are increasingly targeted by the resistance, and die, the survivors will become less likely to follow his orders.” In fact

The Tatmadaw [Myanmar government army] is already having a hard time with the Karen, Shan and Kachin [ethnic minorities, as are those listed next]. Will its commanders agree to open even more fronts, against the Wa, Mongla and Mon, especially since the morale of the rank and file, already low, must be plunging even further?

Strike while the iron is hot? Watson again.

Some people are calling for the hostilities throughout all of Burma to cease. This too is a mistake. The Tatmadaw is [an] invading army, a colonizing force, in the ethnic areas. It should be treated as such, and fought against tooth and nail. The goal should be to inflict as many casualties as possible. Then, not only is there a good chance that the commanders will ignore Than Shwe’s orders; the coherence of the Tatmadaw itself may crack, leading to its downfall.

As for Aung San Suu Kyi

Is she a pacifist true-believe … or is her position more pragmatic, to avoid conflict if at all possible? … With the Civil War escalating, the pro-democracy movement’s commitment to nonviolence is being reexamined. … Her recent remarks in the BBC’s Reith Lectures have clarified her position. From the first lecture, in response to a question:

It’s possible because I have said in the lectures that I do not hold to non-violence for moral reasons, but for practical and political reasons, because I think it’s best for the country. And even Ghandiji, who is supposed to be the father of non-violence, said that between cowardice and violence, he’d choose violence any time.”

Finally, writes Watson

Simply put … the Tatmadaw cannot win the Civil War in Burma. Given the terrain, and their tenacity, the ethnic resistance armies can never be summarily defeated. [In fact] the expanding conflict in Burma is a good thing. It can be the “short burst of violence” that Daw Suu finds acceptable. If the ethnic armies can continue to wear down the Tatmadaw, and the people find a way to renew their protests … Than Shwe can be expelled.

Will Fukushima Survivors Be Doubly Victimized With Radiation Sickness and Stigmatization?

Watching ARS: Fukushima, the sequel to Acute Radiation Syndrome (ARS): Hiroshima and Nagasaki, play out on the world stage spurred me to view an actual drama about radiation sickness. Black Rain, the 1988 film by Shohei Imamura, begins with, and occasionally flashes back to, the bombing of Hiroshima. It depicts the lives of a group of survivors five years later when they begin to succumb to ARS.

As you may be aware, radiation sickness was a stigma to many in post-war Japan. A primitive response, to be sure, but one which served as a coping mechanism. Film reviewer Roger Ebert provided some insight into how it works shortly after Black Rain was released in the United States (emphasis added).

The immediate impulse of the Japanese in the aftermath of such a cataclysm, Imamura shows in his film, is to re-establish the rhythms and values of traditional life. By returning to old ways, the wound can be healed and even denied. That’s the act that metastasizes the illness by guaranteeing its perpetuation as an infection on society.…

Imamura’s anger in “Black Rain” is directed not so much at those who dropped the bomb on Hiroshima as at the way his Japanese characters immediately started behaving as if somehow it has been their own fault. [They] seem almost to be apologizing for having been beneath the fallout.

This syndrome is embodied in the inability of an attractive young woman, Yasuko, to hold on to suitors when they learn that she was exposed to the nuclear fallout encapsulated in the grimy raindrops that fell on her shortly after the bomb dropped. It resurfaced in a story originally thought to be an Internet myth. On June 11, at the Australian, Rick Wallace reported:

It was supposed to be a lifetime highlight, but the wedding plans of a bride-to-be from Fukushima have turned into a nightmare thanks to the new post-crisis phenomenon of radiation discrimination. her plans turned to ashes when her future mother-in-law blurted out: “What if we don’t have a healthy child because of the radiation?”

Among other such incidents

The government of the city of Tsukuba, just northeast of Tokyo, was forced to apologise after forcing Fukushima area refugees who had sought shelter to obtain “radiation-free” certificates or undergo screening. The Mayor of Minamisoma, a town of 71,000 that lies 25km from the Fukushima Dai-ichi plant, said this week … “I was told by a mother with some children that when they went to a different area of Japan, they were warned by other children: ‘You are contaminated don’t come near me.’

But Wallace reminds us that, for the most part, “Japanese society’s cohesion and strength has shone through during this disaster.”

Though still a somewhat insular society, especially considering its international status, Japan has become far too modern to regress to the kind of prejudice it demonstrated against the radiation sickness victims of World War II. But visions of racial purity, dormant since World War II, may re-emerge. In addition, radiation sickness may be responded to as HIV often is, with the attendant fears about contact with bodily fluid. One just hopes that the vast majority of Japanese swallow those fears and leave them unvoiced in polite company. And God knows – stereotype alert – the Japanese are polite.

Afghanistan Bleeding U.S. Financially Even More Than It Did the Soviet Union

Cross-posted from the IPS blog.

At this moment the hollow debate on the deficit has sucked up almost all the oxygen in the Capitol. Yet the war in Afghanistan which costs us hundreds of billions of dollars a year is scarcely mentioned. Sixty-four percent of the people of this country believe that the war in Afghanistan is not worth fighting, so representing “the people” should mean using Congressional power to end that war — not least because the war budget is the biggest potential source of money to pay for jobs.

Congress isn’t doing that yet. But it’s encouraging to remember that there are a few — painfully few! — members of Congress still prepared to really represent the views of their constituents. Seattle-area Congressman Jim McDermott spoke on the floor of the House this week, focusing once again on the unacceptable costs of the Afghanistan war.

McDermott identified the war as reflecting the kind of military expansion that brings about the collapse of empires. And he even took on the popular claim that it was Ronald Reagan’s presidency that brought down the Soviet Union, reminding us all that it was military spending, especially in Afghanistan, that actually brought about Soviet collapse.

Crucially, McDermott noted that the U.S. is now spending two-and-a-half times as big a percentage of its GDP on its ten-year war in Afghanistan, as the Soviet Union spent during its ten years of war in Afghanistan. Here’s the speech:

Obsolete Pentagon Programs Among Beneficiaries of House Funding Increases

Last week the House passed a defense spending bill that increases military spending $17 billion over last year’s allocation. While many hawkish commentators have blasted Obama’s deficit reduction plan for supposedly prioritizing domestic spending over national defense, the shape of the recent House bill demonstrates that not all military spending is motivated by legitimate security concerns. ExecutiveGov describes the broad outlines of what went into this bill:

The bill would provide $530 billion to the Pentagon and $119 billion to cover the costs of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. It would provide a 1.6 percent increase in pay and buy various warships, aircraft and weapons, including a C-17 cargo plane that the Pentagon did not request but is good news for the Boeing production line in Long Beach, Calif.

The Chicago Tribune also notes a questionable spending addition introduced in the House:

[The Bill] also barred the Pentagon from retiring six of 66 B-1 bombers, as the White House prefers. So what if these Cold War-era bombers look increasingly less vital in an age of pilotless drones? The measure prohibiting the use of funds to shelve the planes was sponsored by Texas Republican Randy Neugebauer — whose district happens to include a B-1 base.

Gooznews offers yet another example of an earmark slipped into the bill to serve political interests:

[T]he legislation includes $453.3 million for refurbishing 70 M1A2 Abrams tanks in Lima, Ohio. A coalition of legislators led by Ohioans Jim Jordan, a Republican from Lima, and Marcy Kaptur, a Democrat from Toledo, earmarked $272 million more than the Pentagon had requested in order to keep the plant, which employs about 1,000, operating throughout next year.

In anticipation of the bill’s passage, the White house threatened a veto “citing limits in the legislation on the president’s authority to transfer detainees from the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and money for defense programs the administration didn’t want.”

Before passage, the bill faced two attempts at limiting the size of the budget increase, from Barney Frank (D-MA) on the Democratic side and tea party-backed freshman Rep. Mick Mulvaney, (R-SC):

In Congress this year, anti-war lawmakers and budget-conscious tea partyers have banded together to try to rein in military spending with some success.

“We are at a time of austerity,” Frank said. “We are at a time when the important programs, valid programs, are being cut back.”

Frank’s amendment to cut $8.5 billion failed on a 244-181 vote Thursday.

“Many of us have gone around back home and told people how serious we are,” Mulvaney said. “But how can we look them in the eye and tell them that we are serious about cutting spending and then come in and plus up the base defense budget?”

He added: “We have made hard decisions. We have made hard choices. The Defense Department needs to do exactly the same.”

His amendment to set the Pentagon budget at current levels failed 290-135.

Only 12 Republicans and 75 Democrats opposed bill in its final form, and many of those nay votes reflected a belief that the bill left the military underfunded. While Rep. Tom Price, (R-Ga), chairman of the House Republican Policy Committee, stated that “House Republicans demonstrated responsible leadership that sets priorities and does not jeopardize our national security interests and our nation’s ongoing military efforts,” the House has in fact constructed a bill that burdens taxpayers with additional spending of little relevance to national security concerns. Contrary to the Congressman’s statement, parochial political interests have been the priority, not national interests.

For more insights on how the budget allocation process often prevents rational allocations of security resources, review the “Budget Process Reform” section of FPIF’s FY 2012 Report on a Unified Security Budget.

In addition to facing a potential presidential veto, the house’s bill must also be reconciled with the Senate’s defense spending bill, which remains in committee. Some reports note that military reductions remain within the realm of the possible:

The secret Senate Democratic budget resolution drafted by Senate Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) and shared with the White House suggests even larger cuts to the Pentagon which would see its budget slashed by more than $800 billion over 10 years, according to sources.

Bold action would be required to realize these potential cuts to the soaring military budget. Political leaders and the American people must recognize that defense cuts do not always equate to cuts in national security. Indeed, in this time of soaring budget deficits, a military spending bill that cuts out politically motivated programs would do little to damage American security, and would offer an opportunity to reallocate resources in more rationale directions.

Keith Menconi is an intern at Foreign Policy in Focus.

On Heels of Anti-BDS Bill, Israel’s Right-Wing Parties Seek to Further Limit Dissent

Cross-posted from Mondoweiss.

Preface: BDS is a campaign initiated in 2005 by Palestinian NGOs of Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions against Israel until it treats the Palestinian people with human rights and in accordance with international law. — Editor

Flush with victory from the passage of the anti-BDS bill by the Knesset on Monday, the nationalist Yisrael Beitenu party and Netanyahu’s Likud party are pushing two controversial legislative bills, both designed to further limit dissent and debate within Israel.

The first, and frankly scarier, of the bills proposes the creation of a “commission of inquiry” to investigate outspoken human rights groups like B’Tselem. The idea was first floated over a year ago but gained traction in sync with the anti-BDS bill. Now Yisrael Beiteinu is pushing for a vote as early as Next Wednesday.

“The Boycott Law has whetted the appetite of the settler Coalition,” MK Zahava Gal-On, chairwoman of the Knesset’s Meretz contingent, told Ynet. “This is an attempt at perpetuating the persecution of left-wing and civil organizations. What will be the next step? Sham trials? Throwing people into gulags.”

The proposal, she added, is nothing less than “a political inquisition.”

Meanwhile, the second bill, which was proposed by Likud MKs Yariv Levin and Zeev Elkin, seeks to grant the Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee veto power over appointments to the Israeli Supreme Court. This would effectively give the members of the committee co-equal power with the Judicial Appointments Committee over the appointment process for Supreme Court justices and Supreme Court presidents.

What’s the big deal? One of the bill’s primary sponsors, Yariv Levin, argued that “the [judicial appointments’] bill will break the control of the elite, the radical left in the justice system and restore the sovereignty of the people and the introduction of democratic life in Israel. Those who see themselves fit to annul legislation should be subject to public scrutiny through a democratic and transparent process.”

But to the bill’s critics, the proposal is the opposite of democratic. Not only does it threaten to erase the separation between two historically independent branches of government, it also looks an awful lot like an attempt to “politicize” judicial appointments. Some of the bill’s opponents, like Hadash MK Dov Hanin, have gone so far as to suggest that it is a direct attempt to intimidate judges.

“This proposal was intended to send the Supreme Court a threatening and powerful message ahead of the hearing on the legality of the Boycott Law,” he told Ynet.

“A wave of anti-democratic legislation is threatening to drown us,” he added.

Paul Mutter is a graduate student at the Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute at NYU and a contributor to Foreign Policy In Focus.

Will Iraqi Commandos Trained by U.S. Be Turned Into Another Republican Guard?

Anxiety Hovers Over Iraqi Commandos reads the title of Tim Arango’s July 13 “Baghdad Bureau” post in the New York Times. When one reflects back on all the suicide bombings directed at Iraqi police trainees, that would seem to be an understatement. Arango managed to secure an “embed” with a U.S. Special Operations unit training Iraqis to be commandos. He writes:

These units have worked together since 2003, and so a certain anxiety about what comes next for Iraq — and for their relationships — hung over the conversation. … “Most of the people don’t want the Americans to leave,” said one Iraqi commander, offering his analysis of public opinion here. … He had harsh words for Moktada al-Sadr … who has threatened renewed violence in the country if an element of American forces stays behind this year to keep training Iraqi security forces. … The Americans will leave soon, but the fighting will continue. … “These people are fighting a war in their own country,” said one of the soon-to-depart Americans.

One assumes that Arango’s skimpy post is the first in a series, but he gives no such indication. Since it raises more questions than it answers we contacted Jack Murphy, an eight-year veteran of the 5th Special Forces Group, who has just published a new military action novel Reflexive Fire. His last assignment overseas before leaving the service last year was training these same commandos in northern Iraq. Murphy responded:

The options I see for the guys we trained:

1. The Iraqi government uses them to eliminate political opposition (this has been happening for years now).
2. The Iraqi government disbands them because they see any competent military unit as a threat to their own political power.
3. These units go rogue and becomes bandits or a gang.
4. The Iraqi government doesn’t understand how these units work so they use them as their own bodyguards.

Of course probably all four of those things will happen at the same time when we leave.

It would be yet another Iraq tragedy if the commandos were used as Saddam Hussein did his Republican Guard. One would hope that, before withdrawing, the United States would create an incentive system for Iraq to keep the commando corps self-sustaining.

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