American Soldier Massacres 16 Afghan Villagers. The Fallout.
News broke over the weekend of a terrible war crime committed by an American soldier in Afghanistan who left his base and methodically killed 16 villagers near Kandahar. The Taliban has vowed revenge. There are legitimate worries that this atrocity and the Koran burning undermine the Obama administration’s plan for a negotiated settlement with the Taliban. “President Obama and his aides had once hoped that by now they would have cemented the narrative that the Taliban were a spent force being pounded into peace negotiations and recognizing that they could never retake control of the country. But in conversations on Sunday, both in Washington and Kabul, some American military and civilian officials acknowledged that the events would embolden the hard-liners within the Taliban, who oppose negotiations with a force that is leaving the country anyway and who want to use the next two years to appeal to the understandable national allergy to foreign occupation. ‘The fear,” one American military official said, ‘is that all these incidents, taken together, play into the Taliban’s account of how we treat the Afghan religion and people. And while we all know that’s a false account — think how many the Taliban have killed, and never once taken responsibility — it’s a very hard perception to combat.’” (NYT http://nyti.ms/xzSrWd)
Kofi Annan Leaves Syria. Rejected by Assad, but Still “Optimistic”
Kofi Annan visited Damascus this weekend for face to face meetings with Bashar al Assad. As expected, it did not go very well but Annan seems to expect this is to be a long process. “Kofi Annan has ended talks with President Bashar al-Assad and left Syria with little sign of progress on halting the country’s growing political bloodshed. “I am optimistic for several reasons,” Annan said in Damascus on Sunday. “The situation is so bad and so dangerous that all of us cannot afford to fail.” There was no clear response from Assad to Annan’s “concrete proposals” for a ceasefire, dialogue and humanitarian aid. Assad told Annan opposition “terrorists” were blocking any political solution. (Reuters http://reut.rs/xfEeib)
Japan Earthquake and Tsunami, One Year On
One year ago an earthquake, tsunami and ensuing nuclear disaster struck the east coast of Japan, killing an estimated 19,000 people. So how far have we come? “One year later, the mega-disaster — 3/11, as it’s known here — remains a present crisis more so than a part of history. It left scores jobless and homeless. It caused at least $200 billion in damage to ports, roads, buildings and other infrastructure, straining an already stagnant economy. Government bickering delayed the passage of reconstruction budgets, and authorities’ much-criticized response to the nuclear emergency at the Fukushima Daiichi facility led to a breakdown in public trust. The disillusionment with government shows itself in the current debate over nuclear power, where many local communities refuse to allow the restart of reactors on their shorelines. At the moment, just two of Japan’s 54 reactors are in operation, a sharp reversal in a country that before last year depended on nuclear power for one-third of its energy. The reversal comes with a cost, because utility companies have been forced to import fossil fuels to maintain a reliable energy supply, potentially leading to higher bills for consumers and a perpetual trade deficit for the country.” (WaPo http://wapo.st/zFcAZi)