Archive for November, 2014
The jailed leader of Turkey’s outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) said Sunday he was hopeful the peace process with the authorities would be concluded successfully within five months with enough determination.
In a statement made public after pro-Kurdish lawmakers visited him in his island prison off Istanbul, Abdullah Ocalan said that a framework for the peace talks to end the three-decade rebellion was about to be finalised.
“He (Ocalan) discussed it with the state officials in detail and they agreed that there is a framework on which negotiations could be carried out,” the statement said.
“If the parties execute the process in a consistent, responsible and determined manner, a major democratic solution that could determine the future of the whole Middle East could be reached within 4-5 months.”
Ocalan however did not specify any solid plans or expectations from the Turkish government in return, but said “the framework will soon be unveiled.”
The PKK, whose rebellion for self-rule left 40,000 dead, had given the government until mid-October to show it is serious about the peace process. But Ankara has yet to come up with a comprehensive road map.
The peace process had appeared to be making progress, until the standoff over the Syrian Kurdish town of Kobane besieged by Islamic State (IS) jihadists. Kurds have been infuriated by the lack of action by Turkey against IS.
In a new upsurge of violence, the Turkish army on Saturday confirmed the jihadists had staged an attack at the Mursitpinar border close to Kobane.
But the army vehemently denied allegations by pro-Kurdish media that the car involved in the strike had come from Turkish territory.
The pro-Kurdish People’s Democratic Party (HDP) on Sunday put down a parliamentary question to the Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, asking for an investigation on whether the attack had been staged from Turkey.
At least 120 people were killed and 270 others wounded on Friday when two suicide bombers blew themselves up and gunmen opened fire on a Muslim congregation at Friday prayers in the central mosque in northern Nigeria’s largest city of Kano, a rescue official said. The official, said the toll could rise, as some of the wounded were in critical condition and may not survive.
A third bomb exploded outside the mosque among a crowd of worshipers.
The attacks come two weeks after the emir of Kano, Muhammad Sanusi II, one of Nigeria’s most influential monarchs, called for self-defense, urging people to procure arms and fight Islamist militant group Boko Haram, which has a significant presence in the area.
The emir made the call at the same mosque where Friday’s attack occurred.
Although there was no immediate claim of responsibility, Boko Haram is the main suspect. Many believe the attacks were reprisals for the emir’s call to arms against the terror group.
A reporter at the morgue of the Murtala Mohammed Specialist Hospital one of two hospitals treating victims of the attacks, counted 94 bodies and was told by a health professional involved in collecting bodies that 38 bodies already had been identified and taken by relations for burial.
“We have around 140 dead bodies brought from the mosque and more than 160 being treated for various injuries,” the health professional said, asking not to be named because he was not authorized to speak on casualties.
“This is only for this hospital. Other corpses and wounded victims have been taken to Nassarawa Specialist Hospital,” he said.
At Nassarawa Specialist Hospital, a rescue worker said the facility had received scores of injured and dead.
“We brought in more than 150 people injured in the attack at the mosque along with dozens of dead bodies,” the rescue worker said.
Hundreds of relations have thronged the morgues and emergency units of the two hospitals to identify their dead relations and tend for those wounded, with doctors and nurses overstretched by the huge number of casualties.
At the Murtala Mohammed hospital, relatives were taking turns entering the morgue in groups to identify loved ones killed in the attacks, then to take bodies for burial after documentation by morgue attendants.
National police spokesman Emmanuel Ojukwu said the two bombers detonated explosives strapped to their bodies within short intervals while gunmen opened fire on worshipers who were trying to escape. At least three men, wearing explosives and armed with AK-47s, arrived in a Toyota Sienna van and opened fire on people fleeing the mosque, Kano Deputy Police Commissioner Sanusi N. Lemo told reporters.
An irate mob pursued the gunmen who had opened fire on worshipers, and people in the mob killed the gunmen, Ojukwu and witnesses said.
“The fact that the people pursued and killed the gunmen with bare hands shows the people have heeded to the call of the emir to fight back,” said resident Sani Akarami.
The emir, who had urged resistance against Boko Haram, was not at the mosque when the attack took place. He is in Saudi Arabia on a pilgrimage, sources close to the emir said.
If Boko Haram is found to be responsible for these latest attacks it would be the second worst attack on Kano by the militants.
On January 20, 2012 at least 185 people were killed and scores injured in coordinated bomb and shooting attacks on security formations in the city by Boko Haram gunmen.
Kano is one of the areas where Boko Haram has fought an anti-government campaign to institute Sharia, or Islamic law. Attacks attributed to the group in Kano include a wave of bombings that killed 180 people in one day in 2012 and a suicide bombing that killed six people, including three police officers, at a gas station this month.
Boko Haram, which means “Western education is a sin,” still is believed to be holding more than 200 girls it abducted in April from a school in Chibok, Borno state.
Also this month, Boko Haram’s leader said the girls had been converted to Islam and married off, and he denied the government’s claim that it had reached a ceasefire agreement with the group.
President Goodluck Jonathan extended his condolences to the victims of the mosque attack and directed officials to conduct a full-scale investigation, Nigerian state broadcaster NTA.
Syria rejected as “fabricated” U.S. accusations that its forces are targeting civilians with air strikes and said Washington would do better to criticize hardline Islamic State militants who have killed American citizens.
The U.S. State Department said on Wednesday it was “horrified” by Syrian government bombings in Raqqa province which it said had killed “dozens of civilians and demolished residential areas”.
“The Syrian Arab Army does not target civilians and will not do so,” state news agency SANA quoted Information Minister Omran al-Zoubi as saying late on Thursday.
He said Washington got its information from “terrorist organizations” in Syria such as Islamic State and al Qaeda’s Nusra Front.
Tuesday’s government strikes on the northern province killed 95 civilians, according to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. Raqqa is the stronghold of Islamic State, a hardline al Qaeda offshoot which has seized land in Syria and Iraq.
Both the Syrian military and U.S.-led forces are bombing Syrian targets in separate campaigns and both say they are pursuing militant groups.
“The U.S. State Department should rather have shown respect for the souls of American victims at the hands of terrorists from the Daesh (Islamic State) organization and not directed fabricated accusations towards the Syrian state which has been facing terrorism for years,” Zoubi was quoted by SANA as saying.
Three U.S. civilians – two journalists and an aid worker – have been beheaded by Islamic State.
The United States has backed anti-government rebels and wants to train and equip some to counter Islamic State. Qatar has been running a camp for rebels, sources say.
The government of President Bashar al-Assad has characterized all opponents of his rule as extremists.
“Everyone has to choose between two options – either you are with terrorism, Daesh, Nusra Front and others or you are countering terrorism,” Zoubi said.
The United Nations estimates that some 200,000 people have been killed in Syria’s civil war since 2011.
Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi was in Vienna for the P5+1 talks with Iran that aimed to solve a long-standing impasse over Iran’s nuclear program. With the outcomes of the talks in doubt, Beijing is showing its support for continued discussions and continued outreach to Tehran.
Wang met with his Iranian counterpart, Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, on the sidelines of the talks. In that meeting, Wang made it clear that China sees itself as a neutral arbitrator in the talks (unlike the U.S.). China, “as a responsible negotiating party,” seeks “a comprehensive agreement over the matter, which meets the common interests of the international community, including Iran,” Xinhua paraphrased Wang as saying. With the West and Iran at an impasse over the extent of permissible nuclear development in Iran, China’s positioning could help shift the tenor of talks.
For starters, Wang noted that China supports an extension of negotiations. Monday’s deadline came and went without a breakthrough; according to Reuters, diplomatic sources expect negotiations to resume next month. Negotiators could also push for a formal extension of the existing interim agreement, which allows for limited sanctions relief while Iran takes concrete steps to limit its nuclear program. In Monday’s press conference Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying told reporters, “The Chinese side … is exploring better ways to advance the negotiation in light of the current situation.”
Hua added that China “has been playing a constructive role in its own way in the course of negotiations.” With her insistence on China being constructive “in its own way” (negotiating with “Chinese characteristics”), Hua tacitly acknowledged that China is not quite playing the role that the Western powers, particularly the U.S. would like to see. The Obama administration made getting Chinese cooperation on the Iran nuclear issue a major focus on its early diplomacy with China, always hoping that a tougher Chinese stance would force Tehran to accede to Western restrictions on nuclear development.
The Obama administration won some limited cooperation from China on this front, despite Beijing’s traditional abhorrence of sanctions. However, ever since the P5+1-Iran talks heated up with an interim agreement last November, China has been moving closer to Tehran, seizing the chance to develop a sound relationship with a Middle Eastern power player while international conditions allow. Chinese oil imports from Iran surged to 630,000 barrels per day in the first six months of 2014, up 48 percent from the same period in 2013 (thanks in part to reduced Western sanctions as part of the interim agreement). Meanwhile, total trade between the China and Iran was worth nearly $40 billion in 2013, according to China’s foreign ministry. China exports electronics, textiles, steel, and industrial chemical products to Iran and mainly imports crude oil, ores, and other raw materials.
Increased economic ties have been accompanied by a surge of interactions in the political and military arenas. China and Iran are seeking greater cooperation on counter-terrorism as well as more conventional military cooperation. In September, the two countries held their first-ever joint naval exercise in the Persian Gulf. Iran followed that up by sending its naval chief to Beijing in October, where both countries promised more military cooperation in the future. On the diplomatic front, Iranian Foreign Minister Zarif travelled to Beijing for the Istanbul Process meeting at the end of October. Zarif met with Chinese State Councilor Yang Jiechi and the two promised to deepen China-Iran cooperation. Chinese President Xi Jinping has also met several times with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, most recently in Shanghai on the sidelines of the Conference on Interaction and Confidence Building Measures in Asia.
Increased cooperation points to the growing importance Iran has for China’s national interests. Beijing has always had a vested interest in Iran as an energy source. However, in the past few years, Iran has increased in strategic importance for Beijing. Good relations with Iran, both economically and politically, will be helpful to Chinese interests as it “marches west” with its Silk Road initiatives. Meanwhile, Iran is also seeking alternative partners as it continues to struggle with engaging the West. New organizations backed by China, from the Shanghai Cooperation Organization to the Asian Infrastructure Development Bank, provide room for Iran in international forums, something Tehran largely lacks in U.S.-backed organizations.
What does all this have to do with the P5+1 talks? As Iran grows closer to China, including increased engagement with Chinese-led international and multilateral organizations, there’s less incentive for Iran to make sacrifices in order to secure more normal relations with the West. Even economic sanctions will have less bite as China continues to deepen its own economic engagement with Tehran, particularly considering the hefty investments that are likely to follow China’s Silk Road Economic Belt into Iran. China has made it quite clear that it is looking out for Iran’s interests, not only the West’s, at the talks in Vienna; that means the West will need to take Iran’s concerns seriously as well in order to actually reach a deal.
The apoplectic and apocalyptic will scoff at the suggestion that this past week’s executive amnesty could help fuel a partial revitalization of our republic. So why is there room for optimism that something can be done–and what?
President Obama’s threatened and now announced executive amnesty has, not for the first time, drawn pundits, politicians, and the American people, Left and Right, back to the Constitution to reflect on what, exactly, the president and Congress are supposed to do. That, in and of itself, is a good thing–an indication that, at some level, we all still recognize the need to square our political behavior with our (collective) political principles.
Judging by the results, those on the Left have not liked what they have found in the Constitution. The leading talking point of the last week has been “Republican presidents (including Ronald Reagan) did the same thing.” A number of people have shown that, in fact, the actions of President Reagan and his successor, George H.W. Bush, are clearly distinguishable from President Obama’s.
But suppose they weren’t. Tu quoque (“you too!”) may be good politics, but it’s bad logic and, if possible, worse legal and constitutional reasoning. (It’s not a solid defense against speeding to suggest that you were only keeping pace with the car in front of you.) Better to conclude that both Republican and Democratic presidents have violated the plain intent of the Constitution than to wrench the Constitution into justifying what they did, simply out of partisan loyalty. Are any of us willing to prostitute our integrity for parties so unworthy of the sacrifice?
The president’s (slightly) more sophisticated defenders have resorted to a “devil made me do it” defense. Who’s the “devil” in this case? First choice is, naturally, House Republicans, who, according to outgoing Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, had 510 days to do something about immigration, starting the clock from when the Senate passed an immigration reform bill.
Choosing not to legislate is, of course, a perfectly legitimate legislative act–one that Harry Reid (tu quoque) knows a lot about, with more than 300 House bills awaiting action in the Senate. Surely the House doesn’t have to pass a bill it disapproves to keep the president from implementing part of what it disapproves. Shorter Senator Reid: heads I win; tails you lose.
But if the House’s (in)action is perfectly legitimate and we’re still stuck, then maybe the devil is actually the (founders-designed) system. That, at least, was the suggestion of Garrett Epps, writing for The Atlantic last week. Prof. Epps argues in ominous tones that we could use a “six month moratorium on paeons to the wisdom of the framers,” since they failed to anticipate “divided government”–when one party controls the Congress and another party the presidency–leaving us in a “dangerous” position that will “probably” lead to government “shutdown, perhaps default, and possibly impeachment.”
Much could be said in response to this charge against the founders–starting with the fact that the they didn’t justanticipate divided government, they designed the government to be divided with the separation of legislative, executive, and legislative powers. If they erred, it was in assuming (a) that the government would be divided as much (or more) legislature against executive as Party X against Party Y and (b) that parties would be more numerous and fluid than they have turned out to be.
They hoped, in other words, for something better in congressional leaders than sycophantic ideologues, like Senator Reid, who invite the president to “go big” in usurping legislative authority, but they harbored no illusions that their system would facilitate expansive legislative programs, which were neither needed (see Federalist 53) nor conducive to self-government (see Federalist 62).
Gridlock, most of the time, was a better option that bad or frequent lawmaking–and the occasional times when it frustrated good initiatives were a reasonable price to pay for avoiding the assaults to enterprise and liberty of a voluminous and unstable legal code.
That, in fact, was one of the two reasons Alexander Hamilton gives in Federalist 73 to justify the president’s veto power. The other (and, in Hamilton’s view, even more important) is equally instructive in this case: to protect the president “against the depredations of the [Congress]”–that is, to maintain the separation of powers.
The president needed such protection, both Madison and Hamilton argued, because of the natural strength of the legislative branch in a republican system. As our regime has democratized, we’ve argued elsewhere, the executive branch has become ascendant–indeed all but hegemonic.
As a result, while we still need a presidential veto to protect the executive branch from the (infrequent) assaults of the Congress, we need, much more, an understanding and forthright application of the Congress’s own “veto” power.
The idea of a legislative veto in our system should be something of an absurdity because there are very few places under the Constitution where the executive branch has the initiative–a precondition for a veto power (you veto someone else’s measure, after all).
However, in our day of pseudo-law executive orders and claims of prosecutorial discretion, pseudo-treaty executive agreements, and a dormant Congressional power to declare war, presidents have seized the initiative in almost every area of policy-making. As a result, Congress must consciously and publicly reconceive its appropriation (and correlative defunding) power as not only policy-making, but policy-stopping.
To inactivate or deactivate programs and agencies with the power of the purse is legislative activity fully within its Constitutional authority.
In quiet ways, of course, this is already done. As The Federalist’s Sean Davis writes:
Congress adds riders and prohibitions to appropriations bills all the time. Why? Because it can [“Article 1, Section 9 of the U.S. Constitution”]:
‘No money shall be drawn from the treasury, but in consequence of appropriations made by law[.]‘
And from that power of the purse come the most powerful words in federal law:
“Notwithstanding any other provision of law, no funds shall be appropriated or otherwise made available for ______.”
What has yet to happen, however, is for Congress to make the political case, in any kind of systematic or persuasive way, that defunding parts of the federal bureaucracy is not a precursor to a Congress-initiated government shutdown and default, the two horsemen of the Progressive fiscal apocalypse (see Prof. Epps), but a defensive mechanism needed to protect Congress from the “depredations” of the president.
Congressional Republicans, in other words, would improve their ability to respond to the president’s assaults if they spent more time talking about the need for a Constitutional course correction and less time making idle and often insincere threats. When the crisis point in the game of chicken comes, it is too late for a previously chest-thumping Congress, with all the rhetorical disadvantages of diffuse leadership and political division (not to mention a hostile press), to win the sympathy of the general public.
Unfortunately, the lesson Republicans have learned from their previous encounters with President Obama is that a “shutdown” must be avoided at all costs. But if not satisfying the president’s fiscal demands is tantamount to causing a shutdown, we’re back where we started on the immigration question: heads the president win; tails Republicans lose.
Madison wrote in Federalist 48: “It will not be denied, that power is of an encroaching nature, and that it ought to be effectually restrained from passing the limits assigned to it.” This is the state of affairs that President Obama has furthered and taken advantage of in his personal appropriation of legislative power on a host of issues. The One Hundred Fourteenth United States Congress would go down as the one of the finest and most dutifully active and vigilant if it were to employ its power of the purse to ensure that constitutional government of, by, and for the American people did not perish on its watch.
David Corbin is a Professor of Politics and Matthew Parks an Assistant Professor of Politics at The King’s College, New York City. They are co-authors of “Keeping Our Republic: Principles for a Political Reformation” (2011). You can follow their work on Twitter or Facebook.
In a shock announcement Monday, the Secretary of defense Chuck Hagel announced that he would be departing President Barack Obama’s national security team, creating new uncertainty over the direction of American policy, notably regarding the threat posed by Isis and the US role in Afghanistan.
While there had been chatter for a while of tensions between Mr Hagel, a former Republican Senator from Nebraska, and the White House, his ousting after barely two years caught many in Washington off guard and will unsettle America’s allies. He will remain in the job until a successor is found.
That process is likely to be fraught. Whomever is chosen by Mr Obama to take Mr Hagel’s place, and there is talk of his favouring former under-secretary of defence Michele Flournoy, ensuring that they win confirmation in a Senate that after January will have a Republican majority will not be simple. There seemed little doubt that Mr Hagel, 68, was bowing out under pressure, even though officials said the decision had been reached by “mutual” agreement. Discussions about his position had been ongoing for some weeks. He submitted his resignation on Monday morning and Mr Obama quickly accepted it.
Mr Hagel, who was the first enlisted soldier to serve as Secretary of Defence and a veteran of the Vietnam war, was popular with the ranks. He was thanked fulsomely by Mr Obama at a White House ceremony confirming the reshuffle also attended by Vice-President Joe Biden.
Mr Hagel is the first senior member to leave the cabinet since the Republican sweep in midterm elections on 4 November. Mr Obama, who on several fronts has appeared to take on a more assertive pose since those elections, called him an “exemplary defence secretary” who has “devoted himself to our national security and our men and women in uniform across six decades”. He also said he valued the fact that Mr Hagel had “given it to me straight” in private conversations about policy in the Oval Office.
That was seen by some, however, as a polite reference to what had been deepening disagreements between the two men. For his part, Mr Hagel is known to have been frustrated by his inability to penetrate the tight circle of national security advisors around Mr Obama.
Many critical policy questions all of key interest to America’s allies, including Britain, remain unresolved and the replacing of Mr Hagel may be the moment they are met head-on. Certainly that is what Republicans are bound to press hard for.
“This personnel change must be part of a larger re-thinking of our strategy to confront the threats we face abroad, especially the threat posed by the rise of ISIL,” John Boehner, the House speaker, said in a statement, using a different acronym for Isis.
On Afghanistan, Mr Obama is rumoured to be preparing to reverse himself and allow a small number of soldiers to stay in the country beyond the end of the year, with limited combat roles.
On Isis, few in Washington doubt that Mr Obama will have to confront more squarely the realities on the ground and whether he can hold to his promise to the American people not to deploy ground troops to defeat it.
Many in the US military, including General Martin Dempsey, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, have made clear their view that some combat role for US soldiers may become necessary.
If Mr Obama, who was elected on a promise to end American involvement in wars overseas, especially in Iraq and Afghanistan, is preparing to embrace a more forceful pose in the last quarter of his presidency, then cutting Mr Hagel loose may be part of the shift. That surely is the hope of Republicans who will attempt to use hearings to confirm his success to push the US onto a newly hawkish track.
Critically, the person likely to run those hearings, as the likely next chair of the Senate Armed Services Committee, is Senator John McCain. He will be manoeuvring to ensure that in the end it is effectively he who picks America’s next defence secretary and not Mr Obama.
The Arizona hawk has criticised Mr Obama relentlessly for being flabby on Syria and Iraq policy and has lamented the withdrawal from Afghanistan and Iraq.
Today, he said Mr Hagel had been “frustrated with aspects of the administration’s national security policy and decision-making process”.
He added: “His predecessors have spoken about the excessive micromanagement they faced from the White House and how that made it more difficult to do their jobs successfully. Chuck’s situation was no different.”
As a possible candidate, Ms Flournoy, who was number three in the Pentagon in Mr Obama’s first term, has respect on both sides of the aisle from Congress and is considered a centrist.
Mr Obama may be tempted to nominate her in part because she would make the first female US defence secretary.
Other names being mentioned today were Senator Jack Reed, Democrat of Rhode Island and a former officer with the Army’s 82nd Airborne; and Ashton Carter, a former deputy secretary of defence.
The talks in Vienna aim for a deal that could transform the Middle East, open the door to ending economic sanctions on Iran and start to bring a nation of 76 million people in from the cold after decades of hostility with the West.
The cost of failure to reach a deal could be high. Iran’s regional foes Israel and Saudi Arabia are watching the Vienna talks nervously. Both fear a weak deal that fails to curtail Tehran’s nuclear ambitions, while a collapse of the negotiations would encourage Iran to become a threshold nuclear weapon state, something Israel has said it would never allow.
It became increasingly clear during a week of intensive negotiations between the top U.S. and Iranian diplomats that what officials close to the talks have been predicting privately for weeks is proving to be correct: a final deal is still too far off to hammer out by the parties’ self-imposed deadline.
A European official said the possibility of securing a final agreement “seems physically impossible”, echoing comments by Iranian officials.
With the deadline less than 24 hours away, the issue was one of several options for negotiations raised in U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry’s latest meeting with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, a senior U.S. official said on condition of anonymity.
The United States, Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China began the final round of talks with Iran on Tuesday to clinch a pact under which Tehran would curb its nuclear work in exchange for lifting economically crippling sanctions.
German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier spoke of a deep divide between Iran and the six powers, saying they were “still far apart on many issues”.
But British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond said they would launch one more attempt to get a final agreement.
“At the moment we’re focused on the last push, a big push Monday morning to try and get this across the line,” he told reporters. “Of course if we’re not able to do it, we’ll then look at where we go from there.”
Some Western officials describe two possible options for a likely rollover. Under one scenario, described as the “stop the clock option”, the talks would simply break off and experts from the parties would reconvene in a few weeks for another attempt.
A lengthier option would be a formal extension into next year, adding new elements to an interim accord from last year.
International Crisis Group’s senior Iran analyst Ali Vaez said there could be a “no-cost extension in which the parties would continue negotiating without discussing the terms of a new interim agreement or a firm deadline, with the hope of hammering out the final agreement by the year’s end”.
Several Western officials have questioned the value of repeatedly extending the talks, saying there is little reason to expect the Iranians will show the flexibility needed to end the impasse in the weeks and months ahead. They have questioned the Iranian leadership’s desire to compromise.
Tehran blames the West for the deadlock, saying it has consistently made unreasonable demands of Iran.
They have also warned that the upcoming change in U.S. Congress, where hardline Republicans will soon dominate both houses, means U.S. lawmakers may push for new sanctions on Iran, which the Obama administration has said could torpedo the talks.
The negotiations aim to end Western suspicions that Iran is seeking an nuclear bomb capability, while allowing Iran to have the civilian nuclear program it says is its right under international rules. Tehran denies seeking nuclear weapons.
In a breakthrough preliminary deal reached a year ago, the United States and European Union agreed to ease some sanctions on Iran while Tehran agreed to some curbs on its nuclear programs. But a final deal proved elusive, with the sides forced to extend an earlier deadline in July.
The main sticking points in the talks are the scope of Iran’s enrichment program, the pace of lifting sanctions that have crippled Iran’s economy and the duration of any deal.