Morning News 12/19/10 (to be updated throughout the day)
Yesterday, Congress repealed Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, a Clinton era policy which prohibited gays from serving openly in the military. The Senate approved the bill 65-31, and Obama plans to sign it into law next week. The Department of Defense is warning that the current policy will still be in effect for some time- possibly months- while the necessary changes are implemented.
Although the 2012 elections are about two years away, speculation is heating up about possible GOP candidates. No one has declared officially, although many have made frequent trips to Iowa, which is an important state in the primary process. The list of candidates thought to be considering a run include Ron Paul, Tim Pawlenty, Gary Johnson, Haley Barbour, Mitt Romney, Mitch Daniels, Newt Gingrich, Sarah Palin, Rick Santorum, and Mike Pence. The first Republican Primary debate is scheduled for early May, 2011.
After a tense- albeit small- scuffle off the coast of Yeonpyeong Island on November 23rd, North and South Korea are again finding themselves in a precarious situation. South Korea is planning to go ahead with live-fire military exercises off the coast of the small group of Islands despite North Korea’s repeated calls to cease the drills. The U.S. is apparently planning to take part in the exercises, a move that comes off as needlessly provocative. Russia, on the other hand, seems to be taking a more neutral position, having condemned North Korea for the original retaliation on the 23rd, but also calling on South Korea to halt the exercises in the pursuit of easing tensions.
Following the Obama Administration’s Afghanistan review, the Taliban has issued a response claiming, among other things, that Obama’s cries of progress are “vague” and largely untrue. Regardless as to whether or not Obama’s definition of progress is accurate or not, the average Afghani has seen very little progress since the U.S. invaded in 2001. Afghanistan’s average life-expectancy is 44 years old and where a quarter of children die before they are 5 years old.
One of the primary tools the Administration is utilizing to hunt the Taliban (and Al-Qaeda) are CIA drone attacks. Although technically clandestine, the program has apparently been ramped up during the last parts of 2010, with an estimated 58 attacks having happened after September. This brings the total (estimated) attacks to some 113 for 2010, much higher than 2009’s numbers of 53 total attacks. Nobody knows the exact number of civilian deaths caused by the drone attacks, but the New America Foundation estimates that the drone attacks have led to 25% of all casualties.
The official goal in Afghanistan is to train up Afghan military and police forces to effectively combat Taliban insurgents without U.S. assistance. However, the cost of maintaining all Afghan forces is estimated to be $6 billion annually at a minimum, in a country with a yearly GDP of $27 billion. Afghanistan is one of the poorest countries in the world, so even if the U.S. was successful in training Afghan forces, the economic realities on the ground represent a difficult challenge for long term success in Afghanistan.