NEWS & VIEWS ROUNDUP & EDITOR’S COMMENTS: December 7

Pakistan could be listed as state sponsor of terrorism

A proposal to place Pakistan on the US government’s list of state sponsors of terrorism is again being reconsidered long after it was first raised in 1992, according to The Times of India. A decision is not expected until after Barack Obama takes office in January and in the intervening period, Islamabad’s response to the Mumbai attack will determine whether Washington moves forward with such a sanction. [continued…]

End of the line for Islamabad

Whether the Pakistani military was involved in the Mumbai attacks remains unclear. The Indians certainly think so. “The attackers were trained in four places in Pakistan by men with titles like colonel and major. They used communication channels that are known ISI channels. All this can’t happen without the knowledge of the military,” one Indian official told me. They’re not alone in their suspicions. “This was a three-stage amphibious operation. [The attackers] maintained radio silence, launched diversionary attacks to pull the first responders out of the way, knew their way around the hotels, were equipped with cryptographic communications, credit cards, false IDs,” says David Kilcullen, a counter-insurgency expert who has advised Gen. David Petraeus. “It looks more like a classical special forces or commando operation than a terrorist one. No group linked to Al Qaeda and certainly not Lashkar has ever mounted a maritime attack of this complexity.” Which would be worse: if the Pakistani military knew about this operation in advance, or if they didn’t?

The situation in South Asia is very complicated. But one thing is clear. All roads lead through Rawalpindi, the headquarters of the Pakistani military. For decades it has sponsored militant groups like Lashkar and the Taliban as a low-cost strategy to bleed India and influence Afghanistan. It now faces a choice. Unless Pakistan changes how it conceives of its interests and strategy, the country will remain an unstable place, distrusted by all its neighbors. Even the Chinese, longtime allies, have begun worrying about the spread of Islamic extremism. Pakistan needs to take a civilian, not a military, view of its national interest, one in which good relations with India lead to trade, economic growth and stability. Of course, in such a world Pakistan wouldn’t need a military that swallows up a quarter of the government’s budget and rules the country like a privileged elite.

The one country that could do more than any other to change the military’s mind-set is America. For India to bomb some Lashkar training camps would be to attack the symptoms, not the source of the rot—and would only fuel sympathy for the militants among ordinary Pakistanis. To the contrary, what the world needs is for Pakistan to decide on its own that its prospects are diminished by tolerance of such groups. American diplomacy has been fast and effective so far. But we must keep the pressure on Islamabad, and get countries like China and Saudi Arabia involved as well. President-elect Barack Obama has proposed aid to Pakistan that has sensible conditions attached, meant to help modernize the country. [continued…]

A new path for Afghanistan

A new strategy is urgently required. It must be a collective effort of Afghans and all their foreign partners. Three sets of questions — yet to be answered properly — should provide the starting point for discussions.

First, what is the Taliban, whom does it represent, how powerful is it and what does does it want? Are Afghans leaving or joining its ranks, and why? How much of the insecurity in Afghanistan can rightfully be attributed to the Taliban?

Second, what will it take to build a strong relationship of mutual confidence between Afghanistan and Pakistan? Such a relationship is indispensable, because it is a geopolitical reality that peace cannot be sustained in Afghanistan if Pakistan is opposed to it.

Third, to what degree are major developments in the region affecting the relationship between Afghanistan and Pakistan and, more generally, shaping the context for progress in Afghanistan?

Seven years ago, the Taliban was routed and vanished from Kabul and other big cities, but it never surrendered to anyone. It stood to reason that its intentions and strength would have a major bearing on the country’s future. The United Nations therefore made two suggestions in early 2002: to reach out to those members of the Taliban potentially willing to join the political process; and to deploy the ISAF outside of Kabul, with significantly increased strength. Both fell on deaf ears. I regret bitterly not having advocated even more forcefully for these proposals at the highest levels. Their pursuit then might have changed the course of events in Afghanistan. [continued…]

U.S. plans a shift to focus troops on Kabul region

Most of the additional American troops arriving in Afghanistan early next year will be deployed near the capital, Kabul, American military commanders here say, in a measure of how precarious the war effort has become.

It will be the first time that American or coalition forces have been deployed in large numbers on the southern flank of the city, a decision that reflects the rising concerns among military officers, diplomats and government officials about the increasing vulnerability of the capital and the surrounding area.

It also underscores the difficult choices confronting American military commanders as they try to apportion a limited number of forces not only within Afghanistan, but also between Afghanistan and Iraq. [continued…]

Shall we call it a depression now?

Today’s employment report, showing that employers cut 533,000 jobs in November, 320,000 in October, and 403,000 in September — for a total of over 1.2 million over the last three months — begs the question of whether the meltdown we’re experiencing should be called a Depression.

We are falling off a cliff. To put these numbers into some perspective, the November losses alone are the worst in 34 years. A significant percentage of Americans are now jobless or underemployed — far higher than the official rate of 6.7 percent. Simply in order to keep up with population growth, employment needs to increase by 125,000 jobs per month.

Note also that the length of the typical workweek dropped to 33.5 hours. That’s the shortest number of hours since the Department of Labor began keeping records on hours worked, back in 1964. A significant number of people are working part-time who’d rather be working full time. Coupled with those who are too discouraged even to look for work, I’d estimate that the percentage of Americans who need work right now is approaching 11 percent of the workforce. And that percent is likely to raise.

When FDR took office in 1933, one out of four American workers was jobless. We’re not there yet, but we’re trending in that direction. [continued…]

Biden unwelcome in Senate huddles, where Cheney wielded power

In a move to reassert Congressional independence at the start of the new presidential administration, the vice president will be barred from joining weekly internal Senate deliberations, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said in an interview with the Las Vegas Sun.

Reid’s decision to exclude Vice President-elect Joe Biden from the Senate arena where he spent most of his adult life is intended to restore constitutional checks and balances that tilted heavily toward the executive branch during the Bush presidency.

One of the most outward symbols of that power shift in the Bush years has been Vice President Dick Cheney’s attendance at weekly Senate Republican strategy luncheons. Cheney’s access to lawmakers enabled the White House to extend its reach into the legislative branch in ways unmatched in modern presidential history. [continued…]

Editor’s Comment — Joe Biden’s selection as Barack Obama’s running mate was seen by many as a major concession to the Washington establishment, but what we can now see Biden was willingly taking on was something that seems unprecidented in politics: to accept a position of diminished power. This really shows his class as an elder statesman — a man who values the restoration of constitutional power above any personal ambitions he may once have cherished. Let’s not forget that it’s less than a year ago that Biden gave up his bid to become president. Sure, he now gets to be vice-president, but in that role he promises to the antithesis of Dick Cheney in the most selfless of ways.

News coverage of climate entering ‘trance’?

I recently asked whether the world is poised to enter an Obama-style “trance” on climate policy given the focus on economic turmoil and plunge in oil prices, which have in the past seemed synchronized with concerns about transforming energy policy. (Keep in mind that the chief executive officer of Gulf Oil said Wednesday that oil could drop to $20 a barrel and gasoline $1 a gallon).

Now Maxwell Boykoff, who studies the media and climate change at Oxford University, has come up with an initial snapshot looking at climate stories over the last four years in 50 newspapers in 20 countries and (along with a colleague, Maria Mansfield) finds that the media may be entering a climate trance (or ending a bubble, depending on your view).

He’s presented these data (click on graph at right) in a side event at the Poznan, Poland, climate conference, where the main event — the high-level sessions — begin early next week. What’s your take on this graph?

In an e-mail, Dr. Boykoff said: “Apart from that Oceania blip in mid-2008, it does seem like stagnation or decreasing coverage. I’m curious about links between that and possible interpretations by negotiators of decreased public pressure to put forward a strong agreement leading into Copenhagen.” [continued…]

Brazil’s decision on deforestation draws praise

Brazil’s decision to set a target for reducing deforestation by 70 percent over the next decade to combat climate change was hailed by environmentalists Friday as a significant goal for a major polluting country.

“This is an enormously important step,” Stephan Schwartzman, an Amazon expert with the Environmental Defense Fund, said by telephone from a climate change conference in Poland. “This is the first time that a major developing country, whose greenhouse gas emissions are a substantial part of the problem, has stepped up and made a commitment to bring down its total emissions. Brazil has set the standard. Now we want to see the U.S. and President Obama come up to it.”

The clear-cutting and burning of the Amazon rain forest for cattle and soybean ranches, roads and settlements makes up one of the world’s largest sources of the types of gases that contribute to global warming. Since reaching a recent peak of 10,588 square miles of forest destroyed in the Amazon in 2004, deforestation dropped for the next three years, before rising slightly this year to 4,621 square miles, according to data from Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research, which monitors deforestation. [continued…]

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