FPI Overnight Brief: May 20, 2009

Democracy and Human Rights

The Wall Street Journal editorializes that "Whenever somebody gets a suspiciously large share of a vote, we tend to cock an eyebrow. So forgive us for not feeling wholly at ease with the margin -- 86.9%, to be exact -- by which the U.N.'s General Assembly recently voted to give the United States its first-ever seat on the Human Rights Council... Then there's the matter of the company the U.S. now gets to keep on the Council: Cuba, China, Cameroon, Russia and Saudi Arabia also took seats on the Human Rights Council, never mind that Freedom House rates all of them as 'not free.' The margins by which they won were, typically, only slightly below the margins to which they are accustomed in their own domestic 'elections.' Call these regimes the 90% club."


Deutsche Welle reports that "The European Union and other mediators expressed worry when Russian delegates walked out of the Geneva talks late Monday. Yet everyone was back at the table on Tuesday, according to a United Nations official. Russia had been upset that pro-Russian separatists from the breakaway region of Abkhazia were not present. Abkhazia had reportedly boycotted the talks, which are being mediated by the EU, the UN and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE)."


The Wall Street Journal reports that "President Dmitry Medvedev has created a special commission to counter what he says are increasingly aggressive attempts to rewrite history to Russia's disadvantage. Supporters said the commission is needed to tackle anti-Russian propaganda in the former Soviet Union, an area Moscow regards as its backyard, but liberal historians called the initiative a return to Soviet-era controls. In a signal that the Kremlin is continuing its assertive foreign policy despite Russia's weakening economy, Mr. Medvedev, in a decree made public Tuesday, ordered the commission to investigate and counter falsified versions of history that damage Russia's 'international prestige.'"

United Kingdom

The Times of London reports that "Parliament was forced to surrender its ancient right to run its own affairs on a momentous day in which the Speaker, Michael Martin, paid for the scandal over MPs' expenses with his job. The Prime Minister announced that the financial affairs of MPs would be taken over by independent regulators. The Commons Fees Office, which approved the expenses claims that have brought the political system into gross disrepute, will be abolished. Gordon Brown said that Westminster would no longer operate like a gentlemen's club, making its own rules, and said that the moves would change centuries of history for Parliament."

The War

The Wall Street Journal reports that "Bowing to political pressure, Senate Democrats said Tuesday that they planned to withhold funding to close the prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, until President Barack Obama presents a plan for handling its 241 detainees. Democrats also plan to prevent the administration from spending any money to transfer Guantanamo detainees to the U.S. during the current fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30. Both restrictions are contained in an amendment to a $91.3 billion measure funding the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan; the amendment is expected to be approved in the Senate as early as Wednesday."

Government Executive reports that "Despite...increased pressure on a force strained from more than seven years of war, the Army chief of staff did not embrace an offer from a senior Senate Armed Services Committee member to boost his authorized personnel strength by 30,000. [General George] Casey and Army Secretary Pete Geren said the Army would be able to provide the additional forces needed during the transition from Iraq to Afghanistan, because it has slightly exceeded its authorized limit of 547,000 soldiers, a year ahead of schedule."


Radio Free Europe reports that "U.S. Vice President Joe Biden has begun a three-day tour of the Balkans, arriving at Sarajevo airport for what is seen as a bid to show Washington's commitment in the volatile former Yugoslavia. Biden plans to spend the day in Bosnia-Herzegovina, together with Javier Solana, the European Union's foreign policy chief. Solana has said that the visit will bring the United States and Europe together on Balkan diplomacy... The U.S. vice president is expected to call on the rival leaders to enact reforms that are critical to Bosnia's hopes of joining the European Union and the NATO military alliance."


The Washington Post reports that "The Pentagon says U.S. soldiers are still finding large numbers of Iranian-made weapons in Iraq, despite's Iran's denials. Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell says a large cache of Iranian explosives was found a week ago, and the top U.S. general in Iraq recently told reporters about another large find. Morrell says the military also sees evidence of Iranian training among Iraqi terrorist groups."

The American Enterprise Institute announced its Critical Threats Project. Directed by AEI's Frederick W. Kagan, the CTP launched its website, Irantracker.org, last month at an AEI event keynoted by Senator Joe Lieberman. The website examines Iran in many dimensions, including Iranian soft power, hard power, support for terrorism, the nuclear program, trade, domestic politics, and the IRGC. Irantracker.org includes Michael Rubin's "Iran News Roundup" and writing from in-house and outside experts.

Xinhua reports that "Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki reiterated Tuesday that Iran welcomes U.S. policy change in action, the official IRNA news agency reported. Iran warmly welcomes practical change in the U.S. approaches, Mottaki was quoted as saying at a joint press conference with his visiting Iraqi counterpart Hoshyar Zebari in Tehran. 'We have shown different reactions to U.S. change of behaviors at different junctures and once we witness a practical change of policy in the new U.S. administration, we will welcome it,' he said."


Radio Free Europe reports that "On May 20, lawmakers in Moldova will begin the process of selecting a successor to Vladimir Voronin, the country's long-time leader. The constitution barred Voronin from seeking a third consecutive term. So on May 12, all 60 Communists in the 101-seat legislature -- and no opposition deputies -- raised their hands and elected him speaker of parliament. But Voronin's Communist Party is one vote short of the 61 needed to elect the next president, meaning it must persuade at least one opposition deputy to vote for the Communist nominee. The opposition is vowing to boycott the vote in order to prevent the Communists from coaxing out the extra vote it needs."


Al Jazeera reports that "Hillary Clinton, the U.S. secretary of state, has pledged $110m in humanitarian aid to Pakistan as part of Washington's new strategy for helping Islamabad counter the Taliban. Clinton announced the aid package during a press conference at the White House on Tuesday. She said the money is meant to ease the plight of at least two million Pakistanis who have fled fighting in the country's Swat valley and are living in squalid tent cities. U.S. officials said $100m in aid would flow from Clinton's state department and the other $10m will come from the defense department."

The Toronto Globe and Mail reports that "Pakistan has asked Canada to lift an 11-year ban on military exports to the South Asian country as it steps up a fight at home against the Taliban, Defence Minister Peter MacKay said yesterday. 'We're contemplating that,' Mr. MacKay said in an interview after meeting Pakistan's top leaders in Islamabad. 'Clearly, disengagement did not work.' Canada prohibited military exports to Pakistan in May, 1998, after the country's first nuclear weapons test."


The Council on Foreign Relations released Winning the Information War in Afghanistan and Pakistan: "With overwhelming firepower, Western armies rarely lose in combat to Taliban fighters in Afghanistan. But in the communications battle, the militants appear to hold the edge. The gap has grown especially wide in the Afghan war zone, analysts say... Richard Holbrooke told journalists in March 2009 that 'the information issue--sometimes called psychological operations or strategic communication' has become a 'major, major gap to be filled' before U.S.-led forces can regain the upper hand. As part of its new strategy for the Afghan war, the White House has called for an overhaul of 'strategic communications' in Afghanistan... Christopher Paul, a social scientist at the RAND Corporation and an expert in U.S. public diplomacy, says the Pentagon remains the only U.S. government agency with an official definition of strategic communication... Civilian agencies, meanwhile, continue to grapple with message crafting and delivery."


AFP reports that "Ethiopian forces who pulled out of Somalia four months ago returned to the war-torn country Tuesday after Islamist rebels launched an offensive to topple the fledgling government, witnesses said. Ethiopia, however, denied returning to Somalia, where it had previously intervened to help the government defend itself against Islamists. 'No Ethiopian troops have entered Somalia,' Ethiopian state minister for communications Ermias Legesse told AFP. Witnesses in Kalabeyrka village, about 20 kilometers (12 miles) from the border with Ethiopia, reported seeing troops in dozens of armored vehicles mounting roadblocks."

North Korea

Chosun Ilbo reports that "America's top military officer has for the first time mentioned the possibility of a second nuclear test by North Korea. Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, said there are reports indicating that North Korean leader Kim Jong-il is considering a new nuclear test, but Mullen declined to confirm or deny them... It is unclear whether Mullen's comments meant to imply that Washington was formally acknowledging North Korea as a nuclear state, a semantic question that appears to concern U.S. officials less than their South Korean counterparts. Officially, the U.S. government refuses to recognize the communist country as a nuclear power..."


CNN reports that "Venezuela temporarily seized a pasta-making plant Friday belonging to U.S.-based food giant Cargill, citing a production quota dispute. Rafael Coronado, Venezuela's deputy minister for food, announced the takeover live on the state-run Venezolana de Television channel. He said the plant did not meet production levels for pasta sold at lower, government-mandated prices... The Venezuelan government will take over the plant for 90 days, he said, and then will determine what steps to take next."

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The Foreign Policy Initiative seeks to promote an active U.S. foreign policy committed to robust support for democratic allies, human rights, a strong American military equipped to meet the challenges of the 21st century, and strengthening America’s global economic competitiveness.
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