The US ambassador to Afghanistan is warning against sending more troops to fight in the Afghan war. In a last-minute dissent, Ambassador Karl Eikenberry sent two cables this week casting doubt on a troop escalation until the Afghan government addresses corruption and other internal problems. Eikenberry also criticized the lack of aid and development money allotted for Afghanistan. His request to increase non-military spending by 60 percent has gone unheeded so far. Eikenberry delivered the warning right before President Obama’s war cabinet held a critical meeting Wednesday on proposals to send up to 40,000 additional troops. Eikenberry was appointed earlier this year after retiring from a military career that included commanding US forces in Afghanistan in 2006 and 2007.
Eikenberry’s warning comes as a new poll shows a majority of Americans continue to oppose a troop escalation in Afghanistan. The CNN/Opinion Research Corporation survey found 56 percent of respondents are against a new troop deployment. Fifty-eight percent say they’re opposed to the war overall.
As the administration discussed sending more troops to Afghanistan, President Obama visited Arlington National Cemetery to take part in a Veterans Day ceremony.
President Obama: “For the better part of a decade, they have endured tour after tour in distant and difficult places. They have protected us from danger, and they have given others the opportunity for a better life. So to all of them, to our veterans, to the fallen and to their families, there’s no tribute, no commemoration, no praise that can truly match the magnitude of your service and your sacrifice.”
In Iraq, the Iraqi Interior Ministry says it’s probing allegations the private military firm Blackwater authorized around $1 million to bribe Iraqi officials following the September 2007 killings of seventeen Iraqi civilians in Baghdad. The New York Times revealed this week the payments were approved after the Iraqi government called for Blackwater’s expulsion from Iraq, threatening the company’s lucrative annual contract. It’s unknown if any Iraqi officials ultimately accepted the payments. Meanwhile, former Blackwater vice president Cofer Black has denied an account from other former company executives that he confronted Blackwater founder Erik Prince about the bribes. In a statement, Black said he was “unaware of any plot or guidance for Blackwater to bribe Iraqi officials.”
In other Iraq news, an influential American diplomat is facing growing scrutiny for standing to profit from oil interests in Iraq’s northern Kurdish region. Peter Galbraith was a key adviser to the Iraqi Kurdish government during 2005 negotiations for a national constitution. Galbraith helped the Kurds win provisions assuring control over oil wealth free from the central government in Baghdad. But last month a Norwegian newspaper revealed Galbraith stands to make over $100 million from interests in a Norwegian oil company and a stake in a potentially lucrative Kurdish oilfield in northern Iraq. Galbraith worked for the oil company DNO at the same time as he took part in the talks on Iraq’s constitution. He has been a leading advocate for decentralizing the Iraqi government and dividing the country along ethnic lines. Galbraith recently made headlines over his dismissal from the UN mission in Afghanistan after accusing his superiors of covering up electoral fraud.
In Honduras, the Obama administration is facing growing criticism for the apparent collapse of an agreement to resolve the Honduran political crisis. The ousted President Manuel Zelaya says the US has undermined its pledge to seek his return to office. Last week, Assistant Secretary of State Thomas Shannon said the US would recognize upcoming elections even if Honduran lawmakers refuse to restore Zelaya. On Wednesday, top US diplomat Craig Kelly left Honduras after failing to revive the unity agreement. Earlier, Kelly had said negotiations are still moving forward.
Craig Kelly: “We are moving forward with the talks. We think it is very important for the dialog to advance. We had a good meeting with President Zelaya and with Mr. Micheletti to encourage continuing talks. We think that the solution for the Honduran people is partly in the election, but we move forward with maximum international support, and that this be done through the Tegucigalpa/San Jose agreement. It’s important the two sides continue talking, and we are here to support that process.”
In Israel and the Occupied Territories, Palestinians marked the fifth anniversary of the death of former PLO leader and Palestinian Authority president Yasser Arafat Wednesday. Speaking in Ramallah, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said Israel’s continued occupation of the West Bank and expansion of settlements there prevent any hope of a two-state solution.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas: “We are demanding the vision of a two-state solution. They are disfiguring it. They are putting obstacles before it. They are trying to remove this concept from our route. What do they want?”
Abbas recently announced he won’t seek another term when Palestinians hold national elections early next year.
A new study says unsafe abortions are putting an additional financial burden on struggling health systems in Africa and Latin America. The Guttmacher Institute says the treatment of complications from unsafe abortions results in up to $280 million in extra costs each year.
Back in the United States, a new report says an overly strict enforcement of national anti-terrorism laws is leading to unwarranted denials or delays for thousands of applications for political asylum or residency. According to Human Rights First, more than 18,000 refugees and asylum seekers have been rejected or had their cases indefinitely delayed since 2001, despite no evidence of terrorist activity. Nearly half those cases remain unresolved.
A top pharmaceutical market analysis firm is predicting the drug industry is set to reap a massive windfall from its secretive deal with the White House and Senate Democrats on healthcare reform. Earlier this year, the Obama administration agreed to oppose using government leverage to lower drug prices in return for drug industry pledges to reduce costs by up to $80 billion. A new study by drug industry trade group IMS Health predicts the deal will result in a sales increase of over $137 billion over the next four years. The IMS study predicts that healthcare reform “could lead to higher priced branded products.”
Democratic Senator Christopher Dodd has unveiled a proposal to consolidate bank regulators into a single oversight agency. Dodd’s plan would eliminate the four separate bodies that oversee the nation’s more than 8,000 banks and create a new consumer protection watchdog. Speaking in Washington, Dodd said the measure would address the regulator gaps that led to the nation’s financial collapse.
Sen. Christopher Dodd: “Our proposal will replace the myriad government agencies that failed, in my view, to rein in the risky schemes, with a single, accountable federal banking regulator. We will end — for all time, I hope — 'too big to fail.' Those words should only be used again in a historical context. We cannot allow the collapse of a few firms to threaten the entire economy, our own nation, and others around the globe, for that matter.”
In health news, new figures show around 4,000 Americans have died from the swine flu since its outbreak in April. The Centers for Disease Control figure marks a significant jump from the previous estimate of around 1,200 swine flu-related deaths.
And in media news, the CNN anchor Lou Dobbs has stepped down after nearly three decades. In a surprise announcement, Dobbs said Wednesday’s edition of his program Lou Dobbs Tonight would be his last.
Lou Dobbs: “Over the past six months, it’s become increasingly clear that strong winds of change have begun buffeting this country and affecting all of us, and some leaders in media, politics and business have been urging me to go beyond the role here at CNN and to engage in constructive problem solving, as well as to contribute positively to a better understanding of the great issues of our day.”
Dobbs has been rumored for a new show at Fox News or even as a potential presidential candidate. A coalition of Latino groups recently led a campaign for his removal over his alleged anti-Latino bias in covering immigration reform. Last month, Roberto Lovato of the group BastaDobbs.com spoke at a rally outside CNN’s New York offices.
Roberto Lovato: “What comes out of Lou Dobbs’ mouth is hatred for Latinos and undocumented immigrants in the United States, his support for the extremists that are actually killing immigrants, like the Federation of Immigration Reform and the Minutemen, whose members in Arizona are responsible for the murder of nine-year-old Brisenia Flores and her father. So, Lou Dobbs is not telling his audience to go out and kill and hurt and attack immigrants, but he provides a platform for those that do.”
In a statement, Lovato said, “We are thrilled that Dobbs no longer has this legitimate platform from which to incite fear and hate.”