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THE WEEKLY WIRE

The Weekly Wire

October 19, 2009
 

Legislation          

On Wednesday (10/14), the House passed H.R. 1327, authorizing state and local governments to divest from companies who do business with Iran's energy sector. The bill passed in a

On Wednesday (10/14), the House passed H.R. 1327, authorizing state and local governments to divest from companies who do business with Iran's energy sector. The bill passed in a 414-6 roll call vote, and was referred to the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs.

 

Also on Wednesday (10/14), Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) introduced resolution H.Res. 833 "honoring the 60th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between the United States and the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan" and commemorating the 10th anniversary of King Abdullah II's ascension to the throne.

 

On Thursday (10/15), Rep. Trent Franks (R-AZ) introduced H.R. 3832, which would place additional sanctions on refined petroleum imports to Iran and would require the Secretary of Defense to develop plans for military action against Iran's nuclear program.

 

Also on Thursday (10/15), Rep. Dan Burton (R-IN) introduced, with two co-sponsors, a resolution (H.Res. 840) condemning violations of religious freedom in the Middle East. The resolution was referred to the House Committee on Foreign Affairs.

 

Also on Thursday (10/15), the President signed the Enhanced Partnership with Pakistan Act of 2009, granting $7.5 billion in aid to Pakistan over the next five years, with certain conditions that attempt to assert the preeminence of Pakistan's civilian government over its military. The bill was known informally as the Kerry-Lugar Bill, after its two Senate co-sponsors.

 


Congressional Hearings

 

On Thursday (10/15), the House Committee on Foreign Affairs held a hearing, "Afghanistan Policy at the Crossroads."  Witnesses included Steve Coll, President of the New America Foundation, J. Alexander Thier, Director for Afghanistan and Pakistan Programs at the United States Institute of Peace, and Frederick W. Kagan, Resident Scholar at the American Enterprise Institute.  A full transcript will be available on the committee's website.  Chairman Berman (D-CA) gave opening remarks at the outset of the hearing. 

 

Also on Thursday (10/15), the Senate Foreign Relations Committee held a hearing, "U.S. International Broadcasting into War Zones: Iraq and Afghanistan."  Witnesses included Joaquin Blaya, D. Jeffrey Hirschberg, and Steven J. Simmons, all of the Broadcasting Board of Governors.

 

From Washington

 

U.S. Mission Facing Deep Challenges in Afghanistan: The head of the UN mission to Afghanistan admitted there had been "widespread fraud" in the Afghan elections, and an Afghan member of the Electoral Complaints Commission resigned in protest of the international members of the Commission. Problems with the Afghan government led some to question whether the American mission can succeed, if it has not yet already failed, though others said America does not need a legitimate Afghan government to achieve its goals. Several members of Congress suggested alternative strategies to empower the Afghan government, while Gen. McChrystal's request for more troops and what to do with the Taliban were also considered.

 

Confronting Iran: Secretary of State Hillary Clinton failed to reach an agreement with Russia about imposing economic sanctions on Iran over its nuclear program. Clinton claimed the administration is not yet decided on increasing sanctions on Iran, though some see that posture as giving Iran a blank check. Others think sanctions will hurt the Iranian Green Movement, rather than the regime. Howard Berman, chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, described sanctions as a last resort, but scheduled a mark-up of the Iran Refined Petroleum Sanctions Act for Wednesday, October 28. The Iranian parliament has already agreed to reduce energy and food subsidies, perhaps in a bid to blame the U.S. for Iran's economic woes. The idea of a military attack on Iran also continued to have support from some quarters, as did calls for regime change. The next stage of talks takes place today, as Iranian, American, French, and Russian technical experts meet at the IAEA office in Vienna.

 

Debate over New Pakistani Aid Package: A rash of recent terrorist attacks may have contributed to President Obama's decision to sign the Kerry-Lugar Bill providing aid to Pakistan. The bill has met with criticism both in Pakistan and in the U.S. as some see conditions in the bill as an affront to Pakistani sovereignty and others as a hindrance to counter-insurgency goals. Some thought the bill was aimed at reducing the domestic influence of the Pakistani army. Senator Kerry (D-MA) and Chairman Berman (D-CA) responded to these charges, though some doubt that Pakistanis were convinced.

 

Middle East Reacts to Nobel Decision: The Nobel Prize Committee's decision to award the Peace Prize to Barack Obama was received with surprise in the Middle East. Some leaders congratulated the president, while others expressed doubts about his record. The Iranian blogosphere was particularly critical, with many saying a Green Movement leader like Mehdi Karroubi should have received the prize. Iranian Nobel Laureate Shirin Ebadi warned Obama of the "huge responsibility" that comes with the prize.

 

Also Worth Reading

 

Jeffrey Fleishman of the LA Times examines the implications for the U.S. of various succession scenarios in Egypt and Saudi Arabia, as President Hosni Mubarak and King Abdullah look increasingly frail. He fears that Iran and Syria would move to exploit new leadership, but also believes the new leaders would face increasing dissent at home.

 


From the Middle East

 

Campaigning Begins for Tunisian 'Election': Tunisia kicked off its official campaign season last weekend. President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali - in power for the past 22 years - launched his bid for a fifth term promising jobs and democracy, while the Interior Ministry seized the party newspaper of one of his opponents. Tunisia's political system assures that Ben Ali will once again receive 95-99% of the vote, observers said.

 

Violence and "_blank">claims that protestors were raped, an announcement that Karroubi welcomed. The Iranian judiciary also sentenced three dissidents to death. The Green Movement and other Iranians are divided on President Obama's engagement with the regime, given its abuses, but former President Mohammad Khatami wrote on his website that the protestors will not be deterred, as Karroubi and others demanded time on television to explain their accusations. The daughter of a close aide to President Ahmadinejad applied for asylum while screening her anti-torture movie in Germany.

 

Afghanistan Headed for Run-Off? The increasingly likely prospect of a run-off election in Afghanistan led some to worry about a repeat of the problems with the last election. Some still contend a power-sharing agreement would be a better solution, while others see a run-off as essential to hopes for establishing the legitimacy of the Afghan government.

 

Parliament Misses a Deadline in Iraq: The Iraqi parliament failed to decide whether election lists will be open or closed, casting doubt on the elections scheduled for January. Some Iraqi politicians are seeking support in Iran, as observers warn that successful elections are vital. Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki shut down a university associated with his political rivals. Parliament did approve a draft budget for 2010.

 

And Deadline Looming in Palestine: There may be a deadline approaching for Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad's plan to produce a unity agreement between Fatah and Hamas, but President Mahmoud Abbas' initial decision not to pursue the Goldstone Report may have fostered even greater divisions. Egyptian officials have delayed the signing of an agreement due to Hamas' new demands. President Abbas said he will hold elections in January if Hamas does not sign the document.

 

Regional Powers Still Pushing for Cabinet Deal in Lebanon: Syrian President Bashar Assad and Saudi King Abdullah put pressure on Lebanon's parliament to form a unity cabinet. Meanwhile, an unexplained explosion at the house of a Hezbollah member led to speculation about the existence of illegal weapons in southern Lebanon. Turkey's recent diplomatic agreement with Syria and protests against conditions in Gaza led some to believe it is seeking a leadership role in the Middle East.

 

Egyptian Opposition Active: The Egyptian al-Wafd party continued to encourage Mohamed El-Baradei to run for president in 2011. Opposition groups spoke out against the possible inheritance of the presidency by Gamal Mubarak, though some acknowledge that their tactics seem likely to fail.  Meanwhile, Hamas accused the Egyptian government of torturing its spokesman to death - charges the Egyptians denied - and Freedom House announced it would send a delegation to Egypt.

 

Progressive Islamic Leaders Targeted: Conservative Sheikh Saad Al Shethry resigned from an influential Saudi council after being criticized by a journalist for his comments condemning the new King Abdullah University of Science and Technology, where male and female students are mixed. Also, the progressive Grand Imam of Al Azhar University in Cairo is the subject of a lawsuit over the recently imposed ban on face veils at the school.

 

Divisions Spurring More Conflict in Yemen: Agreements were made to open up humanitarian corridors in northern Yemen to help refugees from recent fighting. The causes and implications of the fighting are still unclear, though the divisions in the country are obvious.

 

The Maghreb Lagging Behind Sub-Saharan Africa? The Mo Ibrahim Foundation's latest index of governance rates the Arab countries of North Africa as considerably less democratic and less free than most countries of Sub-Saharan Africa.

 

Also Worth Reading

 

In an interesting essay on CNN's website, Cynthia Schneider and Nadia Oweidat argue that moderate voices in the Arab world are being shut out of public discourse by censors. Moderate Islam already exists in the contemporary Arab world, but it has been silenced to the point where more radical voices dominate the conversation.

 

In Case You Missed It

 

On Wednesday (10/14), The John Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies hosted a lecture by Francis Fukuyama, the director of the International Development Program, on "The Origins of Accountable Government." The event was the final of a series of discussions entitled "Getting to Denmark: Where the State, Rule of Law and Accountable Government Come From."  To view POMED's notes from the lecture, click here.

 

Also on Wednesday (10/14), the Cato Institute hosted a book forum on John C. Hulsman's book To Begin the World Over Again: Lawrence of Arabia from Damascus to Baghdad. Hulsman is the Alfred von Oppenheim Scholar in Residence at the German Council on Foreign Relations. The two other panelists were Daniel Serwer, vice president of the Centers of Innovation at the United States Institute of Peace, and Christopher Preble, director of Foreign Policy Studies at the Cato Institute. Cato's Justin Logan moderated.  For POMED's notes from the discussion, click here.


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