Foreign Policy

The Big Question: Should the U.S. military get out of Afghanistan?

Some of the nation's top political commentators, legislators and intellectuals offer insight into the biggest question burning up the blogosphere today. ...

Today's question:

June was the deadliest month of the nine-year-long Afghanistan war.  Should the U.S. get out of Afghanistan? Why or why not?


U.S. politicians deny the obvious injury; U.S. manufacturing bleeds

In the film “Monty Python and the Holy Grail,” King Arthur severs both of the Black Knight’s arms during a sword fight, but the Black Knight attempts to battle on.

The king admonishes him: “You’ve got no arms left.”

The knight refutes that: “Yes I have.”

“Look,” at the obvious, the king tells him.

“Just a flesh wound,” retorts the knight, who clearly is suffering a state of denial.


Sanctions strengthen Tehran's resolve

The U.N. Security Council this month voted to pass sanctions against Iran, the fourth round of sanctions since 2006 designed to limit Tehran’s nuclear program. President Obama has called these latest sanctions "the toughest sanctions ever faced by the Iranian government." However, the sanctions won’t end Iran's efforts to enrich uranium, nor will they impede the Islamic republic’s efforts at regional hegemony.

The new sanctions, combined with additional U.S. and EU measures, have only served to strengthen hardliners in Tehran. Iran’s Foreign Minister Ramin Mehmanparast defiantly proclaimed at a news conference that “sanctions will not stop Iran’s nuclear work” and will “make us more decisive to become self-sufficient.” When it comes to digging in their heels regarding sanctions, we should take the Iranians at their word.


Give General Petraeus every opportunity to succeed (Sen. John McCain)

Mr. President: It is my honor to rise today to speak on behalf of the nomination of General David Petraeus to be commander of the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan, and commander of U.S. Forces-Afghanistan.  General Petraeus is quite simply one of the finest military leaders our country has ever produced. And we are all grateful for his willingness to answer the call of service in yet another critical mission — a mission that will once again take him far away from his family, especially his beloved wife Holly, whose support and sacrifice over many decades, both for General Petraeus and for our men and women in uniform, can never be overstated. General Petraeus is an American hero, and I urge my colleagues to confirm his nomination.


General Petraeus will render invaluable service to our nation (Sen. Carl Levin)

I come to the Senate to speak in strong support of the nomination of Gen. David Petraeus, who is once again stepping forward to render invaluable service to our nation, as he has so often in the past.

Certainly the events that bring Gen. Petraeus to this moment were unforeseen. But we can be certain that when confirmed, he will bring highly experienced leadership and a profound understanding of the president's strategy in Afghanistan, which he helped shape as commander, U.S. Central Command.


Dissuading Iran from developing a nuclear weapon

Last Thursday, on the same day that Congress passed its Comprehensive Iran Sanctions, Accountability and Divestment Act, I hosted a lively discussion to debate the future of Iran policy with experts from around the capital.


Opening Cuba to travel a bailout for Castro (Rep. Tom Rooney)

As the House Agriculture Committee prepares to vote Wednesday on a bill that would lift the travel ban on Cuba bolster the Castro regime with American tourism dollars, I remember the words of Alexander Solzhenitsyn, who wrote about the horrors of living in a Soviet gulag. Solzhenitsyn noted, “We are slaves there from birth, but we are striving for freedom. You, however, were born free. If so, then why do you help our slave owners?”

According to a 2008 State Department report, Castro’s regime was holding at least 205 political prisoners at the end of that year, and as many as 5,000 citizens served sentences without ever being charged with a specific crime. Just a few months ago, political prisoner Orlando Zapata Tamayo died after an 86-day hunger strike. And today, American citizen Alan Gross is being held prisoner without charges for his efforts to help the Cuban people use the Internet.


Cleaning up democracy: The rightful return of President Zelaya (Rep. Michael Honda)

Swirling south of here, in a gulf between the Americas, a crisis is brewing and already affecting the livelihoods of millions of people, threatening food and energy security, and undermining our nation’s reputation regionally. Yet it has nothing to do with an oil spill.

There is an ever-growing gulf of political proportions gumming up U.S.-Latin-American relations, and it has nothing to do with BP and everything to do with Honduras, a country from which I recently returned. The need for a cleanup, incidentally, is equally paramount. Instead of oil, however, what needs cleaning up this time is Honduras’ democracy.

The residue left in Honduras from last year’s coup — a coup that ousted democratically elected President Manuel Zelaya and installed interim President Roberto Micheletti, a favorite of the Honduran political establishment — remains ever-present in the minds of many mainstream leaders in and throughout Latin America. Protests by Brazil, Venezuela, Argentina and others within the Union of South American Nations persist at a vehement pitch as Honduras marked the one-year anniversary of the coup on Monday.

The claim, furthermore, that Honduras’s current president, Porfirio Lobo, was elected into power via free and fair elections is questioned by many of the leaders in the region, who believe that Lobo’s rule remains illegitimate. Anti-Lobo sentiment inspired a recent boycott threat by several South American countries of the European Union-Latin American summit meeting in Madrid last month. The invited Lobo backed out, abstaining from the summit.

Here’s the real rub for the U.S. in all of this: Given Washington’s subsequent silence on the coup, on Zelaya’s exile and on the call for investigations, we are not only losing an opportunity to enhance democracy for the people of Honduras, but simultaneously endangering allegiances throughout South America and undermining our multilateral efforts elsewhere.

Before the gulf widens further, and without changing course too dramatically, the U.S. can still restore relations with Latin America. The foundational framework is already there. President Barack Obama’s original outreach — his Summit of the Americas’ pro-engagement speech in Trinidad and Tobago, his ending of travel restrictions to Cuba, and his extension of a diplomatic hand to Venezuela — began to rebuild the damage done by President George W. Bush-era policies. Latin America first reacted favorably, but floundered soon after, wanting more walk, less talk.

We now have an opportunity to walk the talk. This month, the Organization of American States announced at its annual meeting that it plans to send a high-level delegation to Honduras to “study the political process,” a first step in a series of confidence-building mechanisms aimed ultimately at readmitting Honduras to the OAS. So too must the U.S. thoughtfully assess Honduran polity before encouraging a full return to the intercontinental body.

Holding Honduras accountable to a host of reform measures should be a stated prerequisite for OAS readmission. First, one of the best ways to build confidence among South American leaders, the OAS and the people of Honduras is for the U.S. to call for the rightful and responsible return of Zelaya calmly and quickly. This demonstrates the Honduran government’s commitment to a sometimes painful part of any democracy — the willingness to countenance criticism and civic concern.

Second, the U.S. must ensure international oversight of any investigative and reconciliatory initiatives, including the Honduran government’s truth commission and the alternative truth body established by human rights groups (which are doubtful of government intent and neutrality).

Third, the U.S. must not let arbitrary arrests, beating and killings of government opponents and journalists and the sacking of judges continue unabated and unaddressed — it sends the wrong signal to Honduras’s democracy and the wrong sign to the rest of Latin America.

Finally, I have joined my colleagues in Congress on a letter to Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton requesting that the State Department direct Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor Michael Posner to visit Honduras and make a prompt assessment of what is occurring there with regards to human and political rights. Without an early and accurate report, we would be reluctant to see U.S. support for Honduras continue without significant restrictions.

If Washington wants to welcome a new era in Latin American relations, the quickest way to usher it in (and with it all the associated trade and diplomatic benefits), is for America to help Honduras hone in on human rights, rule of law, accountable governance and freedom of movement for opposition figures like Zelaya. Our calls for something similar in Cuba and Venezuela will continue to ring hollow as long as Honduras remains exempt from similar American sentiment.

As the OAS realizes its report for July and discerns Honduras’ readiness for OAS resubmission, let us not miss this window to weigh in with equal candor and commitment to cleaning up coup-prone environments. This is our moment to show Honduras and the rest of Latin America that we are serious about a clean democracy, at home and abroad.


Saudi King Abdullah can be a strong partner for President Obama

When King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia visits President Obama today at the White House, the American president will be meeting with a world leader who is of consequence on the global scene. Whether the challenge is climate change, homelessness resulting from man-made and natural disasters, the fight against religious extremism, a just resolution of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict or stabilizing crude oil prices, King Abdullah has offered his out-stretched hand of partnership to the world. President Obama should reach out to the reform-minded king and form a new partnership with the Saudi monarch that takes into account the new challenges of the 21st century.


We are losing our nation to lies about the necessity of war (Rep. Dennis Kucinich)

In a little more than a year the United States flew $12 billion in cash to Iraq, much of it in $100 bills, shrink wrapped and loaded onto pallets. Vanity Fair reported in 2004 that "at least $9 billion" of the cash had "gone missing, unaccounted for." $9 billion.

Today, we learned that suitcases of $3 billion in cash have openly moved through the Kabul airport.