The Obama administration has invited a senior delegation from the Khartoum regime to visit Washington for high-level discussions, just after the State Department criticized Sudan heavily in its annual country reports on human rights.
The Sudanese Foreign Ministry first announced Tuesday that senior officials from the ruling National Congress Party (NCP) had been invited to Washington for consultations. Sudan Tribune, an émigré newspaper based in Paris, paraphrased a Sudanese official citing the "mere presence of diplomatic missions in both countries and meetings of ambassadors" as representing "some degree of dialogue between Khartoum and Washington."
Sudan is among the most-sanctioned countries in the world. President Omar al-Bashir has been indicted for genocide by the International Criminal Court, Sudan has been on the State Department's list of state sponsors of terrorism since 1993, and the United States imposed additional sanctions in 1997 and then again in 2003, following the outbreak of government-sponsored violence in Darfur.
Sudan advocacy-group leaders were quick to criticize the administration's decision to invite the NCP officials to Washington, where they are expected to discuss ongoing tensions with South Sudan, the upcoming referendum in the contested region of Abyei, and the ongoing violence in South Kordofan and Blue Nile states.
"United to End Genocide believes that the delegates of Sudan's National Congress Party (NCP) do not deserve to be rewarded by the United States government and invited to Washington, D.C. until they stop committing crimes against the civilians throughout Sudan," said Tom Andrews, the president of the group. "It is imperative that in his new term, President Obama evaluates his previous diplomacy towards Sudan, sets strong policy with clear measures that can help end the suffering of the people of Sudan, and hold the perpetrators accountable before offering rewards."
At Tuesday's State Department press briefing, spokesman Patrick Ventrell acknowledged the invitation but gave few details about why the administration believes it's a good idea to host the Sudanese delegation at this time. He said that presidential adviser Nafie Ali Nafie will lead the delegation, but the exact timing has not been finalized.
"We've planned to receive this delegation for a candid discussion on the conflicts and humanitarian crises within Sudan, including in Darfur and the two areas -- Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile, counterterrorism, human rights and other issues of concern to the U.S. government," Ventrell said. "We've also continued to express our deep concern about another -- a number of other issues. While we've had some progress here, you have ongoing aerial bombardment of Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile and some other areas in terms of Darfur that we're still concerned about. So we've seen some progress, but we still have some concerns and we'll raise them directly with the government."
The delegation announcement comes in the same week that the administration announced it was relaxing some sanctions against Khartoum. The Treasury Department announced April 22 that it would now authorize some professional and educational exchanges with Sudan that had previously been prohibited.
Only three days before relaxing sanctions, the Obama administration heavily criticized Sudan in its annual country reports on human rights practices, released April 19, which documented extreme government-sponsored atrocities and human rights violations.
"The most important human rights abuses included: government forces and government-aligned groups committed extrajudicial and other unlawful killings; security forces committed torture, beatings, rape, and other cruel and inhumane treatment or punishment; and prison and detention center conditions were harsh and life threatening," the State Department report said. "Except in rare cases, the government took no steps to prosecute or punish officials in the security services and elsewhere in the government who committed abuses. Security force impunity remained a serious problem."
Other major abuses in Sudan, according to the State Department, included arbitrary arrest; incommunicado and prolonged pretrial detention; executive interference with the judiciary and denial of due process; obstruction of humanitarian assistance; restriction on freedoms of speech, press, assembly, association, religion, and movement; harassment of internally displaced persons; restrictions on privacy; harassment and closure of human rights organizations; and violence and discrimination against women. Societal abuses including instances of female genital mutilation; child abuse, including sexual violence and recruitment of child soldiers; trafficking in persons; violence against ethnic minorities; denial of workers' rights; and forced and child labor were also reported.
That report prompted a call from the Sudan advocacy community for the administration to employ stronger pressure mechanisms against Khartoum, rather than offering more incentives like visits to Washington or rewards like an easing of sanctions.
"These atrocities and abuses stem from the many conflicts in Sudan, and point to the need for a comprehensive approach to all of Sudan's conflicts," a group of Sudan advocacy organizations wrote in a letter to Obama April 22. "In addition, given the scale of the atrocities perpetrated by the regime, international donors should not provide significant assistance or debt-relief until real and verifiable steps towards peace and democratic transformation are taken."
These groups, along with several members of Congress, also lament that the president has yet to appoint a special envoy to Sudan to replace Amb. Princeton Lyman, who stepped down late last year. The administration is said to be circling around a couple of candidates, but there's been no announcement as of yet.
"This vacancy is symptomatic of a president that has all but forsaken the people of Sudan," Rep. Frank Wolf (R-VA) said in a March floor statement. "Candidate Obama purported to be deeply concerned by the crisis in Sudan and committed to bold actions. Have we seen a fraction of that concern or anything close to bold action since he became president?"
ASHRAF SHAZLY/AFP/Getty Images
The Chinese government has changed its approach to North Korea and taken a tougher line out of frustration with Pyongyang, according to Kurt Campbell, the State Department's top Asia official until last month.
"The most important new ingredient [in the North Korea crisis] has been a recognition in China that their previous approach to North Korea is not bearing fruit. That they are going to have to be much clearer and much more direct with Pyongyang that what Pyongyang is doing is undermining Chinese security," Campbell told an audience at the Johns Hopkins University's School of Advanced International Studies Thursday.
"There is a subtle shift in Chinese foreign policy. You've seen it at the U.N., you've seen it in our private conversations ... I don't think that subtle shift can be lost on Pyongyang," he said. "It's not in their strategic interest to alienate every country that surrounds them. I think they have succeeded in undermining their trust and confidence in Beijing."
In the latest apparent sign of Chinese discontent, Beijing recently rejected a North Korean request to send a diplomat envoy to Pyongyang, a South Korean newspaper reported Thursday.
China has long considered North Korea a useful check against a united, pro-American Korean Peninsula. But Chinese frustration with Beijing could eventually lead to a more dramatic shift in Chinese foreign policy that would change the state of play in Northeast Asia, according to Campbell.
"It's very clear [to China]: If this is a buffer state, what is it good for?" he said.
The White House has promoted a careful dual message throughout this crisis: The United States takes North Korean provocations seriously but doesn't see North Korea's actual military moves as significant.
"They're doing that in a way so that we don't have a set of circumstances where things escalate beyond a point where it can be effectively managed," Campbell explained.
Meanwhile, there are feelers out that might pave the way for a conversation with North Korea that might provide a way out of the crisis.
"Subtle messages have been sent in every corner and in every venue that the door remains open to dialogue," Campbell said. "We have to be prepared to be open to dialogue."
Campbell also revealed that there is one senior administration who prefers the term "pivot" rather than "rebalance" to describe the shift in U.S. attention toward Asia -- President Barack Obama.
Campbell said the initial use of the term "pivot" was later replaced with the term "rebalance" because some misinterpreted the word "pivot" to mean a turn away from Europe, which was not intended as part of the policy.
"I actually think the better terminology is ‘rebalance,'" Campbell said. "And of course, initially the response was very clear from the NSS [National Security Staff in the White House] that really the term that is appropriate is ‘rebalance,' so those of us who use ‘pivot' were sent to reeducation camps and works in the fields."
But White House aides' effort to erase the use of the word "pivot" was ultimately thwarted by their own boss -- Obama.
"The irony of this, after all of this reeducation, it turns out: Who is the person who actually likes the term and the concept of the pivot?" Campbell said. "The president of the United States."
Iraq's national security advisor, Faleh al-Fayyad, said Monday that Qatar and other Arab countries, along with nongovernmental groups, are financing Jabhat al-Nusra, the Syrian jihadi group, with the acquiescence of Turkey.
"These are the same sources that finance al Qaeda," Fayyad said through a translator. "In times of crisis, some countries use al Qaeda; some countries make peace with al Qaeda," he said.
Fayyad and a delegation of Iraqi officials and members of Parliament are in Washington this week for meetings with top U.S. officials, including Vice President Joe Biden, Deputy National Security Advisor Tony Blinken, Deputy Secretary of State Bill Burns, and other senior State Department and Pentagon officials.
Fayyad said his meeting with Biden was "very beneficial and useful." Iraq is hoping to bolster its relations with the United States, including via increased weapons sales and training, and attract greater investment from U.S. companies. The delegation is using this week's meetings to get acquainted with the Obama administration's second-term team.
Fayyad said that Turkey, Qatar, and other Arab countries had pushed the uprising in Syria, soon to enter its third year, toward armed conflict.
But the Iraqis were keen to stress that they bear no goodwill toward Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, whom Fayyad said had caused a lot of suffering over the years in Iraq, and that they sympathized with the suffering of the Syrian people.
"Bashar al-Assad has hurt Iraq the same as Saddam Hussein," said Yassin Maijd, an Iraqi MP traveling with the delgation, noting the similarities of the two countries' Baath parties.
The Iraqis are especially concerned about the rising power of Jebhat al-Nusra, which the United States has designated a terrorist group with ties to al Qaeda in Iraq.
"Very frankly, elements of al Qaeda are very active in certain parts of Syria," Fayyad said, comparing Turkey's role of hosting and facilitating armed groups to that of Syria at the height of the insurgency in Iraq.
Fayyad noted that Iraqi President Nuri al-Maliki had personally warned U.S. President Barack Obama that the conflict could drag on for two years or longer.
Iraq and the United States had previously had sharp differences over Syria, Fayyad acknowledged, but said that Obama's position on Syria -- which he described as pressure aimed at bringing the warring parties to the table -- is now "really good."
Fayyad said that Iraq is willing to cooperate with the international community to find a negotiated end to the conflict in Syria, but warned that Iraq would be less willing to do so if it is not included in the discussions and that it would not tolerate a government that included jihadi groups like Jabhat al-Nusra.
"We will not accept to have the noose around our necks and allow Syria to be divided along sectarian lines," Fayyad said.
Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor Michael Posner will leave government to start a new center for business and human rights at the New York University Stern School of Business.
Posner, who has been at State since September 2009, becomes the latest State Department official to leave since Secretary of State John Kerry replaced Hillary Clinton last month. Other top officials who have already departed include Deputy Secretary Tom Nides, Chief of Staff Cheryl Mills, Undersecretary Maria Otero, Assistant Secretary Kurt Campbell, Policy Planning Director and Deputy Chief of Staff Jake Sullivan, and many others. Posner will join NYU in March, the university said in a Thursday release, and will also serve as a professor in the Stern School's business and society program.
"Global businesses are confronting complex human rights challenges that demand approaches that go beyond ‘corporate social responsibility'. We need rules of the road that address companies' responsibilities to respect human rights in their own operations," Posner said in the release.
Sarah Labowitz, Posner's policy advisor at State, will also join NYU Stern as a research scholar and will help Posner set up the new center. Labowitz also worked as an advisor to State Department Cyber Coordinator Christopher Painter.
Posner's last trip as an administration official was last week, when he traveled to Burma and met with Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, Presidential Advisor Soe Thein, Attorney General Dr. Tun Shin, Deputy Minister of Home Affairs Lt. General Kyaw Zaw Myint, and other high-level government officials in the capital Naypyidaw.
Before joining State, Posner was the founder and president of Human Rights First. He also played a leadership role in several advocacy organizations, including the Fair Labor Association, the Global Network Initiative, and the Voluntary Principles on Security and Human Rights.
"At NYU Stern we categorically reject the ‘or' and embrace the ‘and'. Profits and principle must coexist as citizens and consumers around the globe demand both. Mike is respected around the world for his distinguished 30-year career as a lawyer, advocate and policymaker," Stern Dean Peter Henry said in the statement. "His principled, practical approach to some of the world's toughest human rights and foreign policy challenges will break new ground in business education with the creation of the first center at a business school to focus on human rights."
The resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is simply not a top priority for Israel at this time, according to Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), who just returned from a trip to the region.
Rubio traveled to Israel, the West Bank, and Jordan last week and spoke about his trip Wednesday to an audience at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.
"Israel has a number of issues that they are concerned about and at the top of the list is Iran," Rubio said, noting that he believes Iran is pursuing a nuclear weapon and that only the threat of losing power, not negotiations, will convince the Iranian government to change course.
"I hope there is a breakthrough in the negotiations ... I really hope that's what happens, but I don't believe that's what will happen," Rubio said.
"The second major concern is Syria with regards to weapons," he continued, noting that Syria is being flooded with weapons that will remain there after the regime falls, mostly in the hands of groups hostile to the United States. He said he supports giving elements of the Syrian opposition ammunition, but not weapons.
"You don't have to give them weapons; they've got plenty of weapons, frankly. What they need is ammunition. They run low on that very quickly," he said.
"The third concern that they have in Israel is Egypt," Rubio went on. He said the Israelis view the Muslim Brotherhood as a very patient group that, in the short term, is willing to be very pragmatic, but has a long-term strategy of fundamentally redefining every entity in Egypt and pushing the country in a more Islamic direction. The worsening security situation in Sinai is also a priority for Israel, and the U.S. government should press Egypt to do more, he said.
"The fourth issue that comes is the Palestinian question with regards to the West Bank," Rubio said. "The sense you get from the Israeli side of that is that is not the No. 1 issue on Israeli minds at this moment."
"It's not that the Palestinian issue isn't important to the Israelis; it's just that in the ranking now, it's lost its place because of all these other issues," Rubio said.
There's a fundamental difference of opinion between the Israeli government and the Obama administration on the priority of dealing with the Palestinian peace process, he said.
"I think the right approach of the U.S. is to view all of these issues through the lens of Israeli security. The more security Israel feels, the likelier it's going to be that these issues move forward to resolution," Rubio said.
Rubio said that Israeli officials were eagerly anticipating the visit next month by President Barack Obama and were curious about whether Obama was coming with a specific plan on the Palestinian peace process or whether he was just going to go to listen.
"I told them I probably wasn't the best source for the president's thinking but my sense of it was the president was probably coming more to listen than to dictate," he said.
Vice President Joe Biden is on a tour of Europe that will include stops in Germany, France, and Britain and meetings with leaders from Russia, the United Nations, and the Syrian opposition.
The White House is framing the trip as chance for Biden to reassert the importance of the trans-Atlantic relationship at the beginning of President Barack Obama's second term. Biden will start by attending the Munich Security Conference, which he last attended in 2009.
"Now he's going back at the start of the second [term]... to take stock of what we've accomplished over the past four years and to look at the agenda going forward," said Tony Blinken, Biden's outgoing national security advisor, who will soon move into his new role as the principal deputy national security advisor at the National Security Council. "It's no coincidence that the vice president went to Europe then and returns to Europe now to help set out our foreign-policy agenda. As President Obama has said, Europe is the cornerstone of our engagement with the world and a catalyst for global cooperation."
Biden left Washington Thursday evening and arrived in Berlin Friday morning for a meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Friday evening he arrives in Munich, where he will give a speech and hold a series of meetings on Saturday. Biden will meet with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, with Lakhdar Brahimi, the U.N. and Arab League Joint Special Representative for Syria, and with Moaz al-Khatib, the president of the Syrian opposition council.
"We'll be discussing our continued political and non-lethal support to the opposition that is helping them coalesce and become more organized and provide certain services like medical services to the Syrian people," said Ben Rhodes, deputy national security advisor for strategic communications. "And we'll be discussing the political way forward. And what we would like to see from other countries, including Russia, is an acknowledgement that Bashar al-Assad must go and that there needs to be a transition within Syria to a new government."
Rhodes also confirmed that Biden and Lavrov will discuss the potential for new nuclear reductions negotiations, as The Cable reported this week.
"On this question of further reductions, the president has spoken to this in the past. For instance, if you look at the speech he gave in Seoul in the spring of last year, he indicated that even as we move forward with the New START reductions and deployed warheads and launchers, that he believes that there's room to explore the potential for continued reductions, and that, of course, the best way to do so is in a discussion with Russia," said Rhodes. "We'll obviously have to carry forward that dialogue going forward."
Saturday evening, Biden will attend Bavarian minister Horst Seehofer's dinner, which honors former National Security Advisor Brent Scowcroft. At last year's Munich Security Conference, the dinner honored former Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-CT).
On Sunday, Biden and his wife will visit the Landstuhl Regional Medical Center before leaving for Paris later Sunday afternoon. On Monday Biden will meet French President François Hollande before moving on to London, where on Tuesday he will meet with Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg and Prime Minister David Cameron for a working lunch at 10 Downing Street. Following lunch, Biden will attend a meeting of Britain's National Security Council.
Blinken said that in his Paris and London stops, Biden will be discussing the ongoing crisis in Mali and ways to increase the ongoing U.S. support for the French-led mission there.
"What we're seeing across North Africa and parts of the Middle East is an extremist threat that is fueled by the reality of porous borders, ungoverned territory, too readily available weapons, increasing collaboration among some of these groups, and, in many cases, a new government that lacks the capacity and sometimes the will to deal with the problem," Blinken said.
"And so this requires a comprehensive approach, as Ben said, bringing to bear our political and economic tools, as well as our military tools, but it also requires a common approach. And so this trip is an opportunity, in all of its stops, for the vice president to confer with leaders about that and to look forward to how we can continue to work together and strengthen our common efforts to deal with this challenge."
Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), one of the new Republicans on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, has no plans to oppose the nominations either of former Sen. Chuck Hagel to be the next defense secretary or current Sen. John Kerry (D-MA) to be the next secretary of state, he told The Cable in an interview.
"I'm going to remain open-minded and hear more about what [Hagel's] plans are and his direction are as he comes forward. I'm not going to make a prior commitment one way or the other," Paul said.
The firm opposition to Hagel has now risen to include five GOP senators. Sen. David Vitter (R-LA) announced he would vote "no" on the nomination, adding him to the list that includes Sens. John Cornyn (R-TX), Dan Coats (R-IN), Tom Coburn (R-OK), and freshman Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX). Other top senators who have expressed reservations but not committed to a "no" vote include Sens. John McCain (R-AZ), Lindsey Graham (R-SC), and new ranking Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee James Inhofe (R-OK).
Paul said he intends to use Hagel's nomination to press the former Nebraska senator on whether he would support the reform of how the United States doles out arms and military aid to foreign countries, especially those that don't follow policies that are in the American national security interest.
"It's an opportunity to talk about the issue and get his opinion about our aid to foreign countries. I would like to ask and will ask [him] whether or not they are aware of the world we live in. Everybody seems to be aware of it, but nobody is changing policy," Paul said.
Paul isn't on the Armed Services Committee, which will vet Hagel, but he is on the SFRC, which will vet Kerry. Paul intends to use Kerry's hearing to press for answers on Benghazi, but he said Kerry's nomination shouldn't be considered until Secretary of State Hillary Clinton testifies before the committee first.
"One of my questions will be: If the buck stops with her, is she taking ultimately responsible for the failure?" he said. "I'd like to know whether she read the cables from Ambassador Stevens... The real point is who was in charge of the security and in the months leading up to the attack, why wasn't there adequate security."
Paul has been active in pushing his idea for cutting foreign aid to the countries of Egypt, Libya, and Pakistan until or unless those countries take steps to cooperate with U.S. foreign policy objectives. Sometimes, Paul has used tactics like holding nominees or objecting the easy passage of bills to get a hearing on his foreign aid amendment.
Those tactics are likely to continue, Paul said, but that's his prerogative as a senator and he doesn't feel guilty about using that power from time to time.
"While people complain about the Senate, in the end we've never held anybody who wasn't released as a nominee eventually," he said.
Paul plans to use his new perch to argue for a scaled-back American role in the world and a reform of American foreign assistance funding.
"There needs to be a voice for people in the country who want to see a less aggressive foreign policy, a more defensive foreign policy, and a less interventionalist foreign policy," he said. "The president says over and over again that we need to do nation building at home, not overseas, but he continues to do both. I think we need to put teeth to the fact that we are running out of money."
Paul will also continue work to ensure that any resolutions or sanctions measures for Iran include language making clear that Congress has not authorized the use of military force there.
"I'm not about to let any war happen without a significant and serious debate in Congress. I wish the president was more like he was a senator when he said no president should go to war without the consent of Congress. Now that's he's president, he's totally forgotten that," he said.
There are some rumors that Paul might be given a ranking Republican position on one of the SFRC subcommittees, which would give him more staff and the ability to work on more issues. He said hasn't been offered such a post but would take it if offered.
There could also be fireworks between him and McCain, who also just joined the SFRC and who opposes Paul on almost every foreign-policy issue.
"You'll just have to wait and see on that," Paul said with a laugh.
Poor coordination in Washington and an overwhelming neglect of security risks at the U.S. mission in Benghazi exacerbated the damage cause by "a series of terrorist attacks" there on Sept. 11, an independent review of the State Department's handling of the events has found.
"A series of terrorist attacks in Benghazi, Libya, on September 11-12, 2012, resulted in the deaths of four U.S. government personnel, Ambassador Chris Stevens, Sean Smith, Tyrone Woods, and Glen Doherty; seriously wounded two other U.S. personnel and injured three Libyan contract guards; and resulted in the destruction and abandonment of the U.S. Special Mission compound and Annex," reads the unclassified version of the report of the State Department's independent Accountability Review Board, which was set up to investigate the attacks.
"Systemic failures and leadership and management deficiencies at senior levels within two bureaus of the State Department ... resulted in a Special Mission security posture that was inadequate for Benghazi and grossly inadequate to deal with the attack that took place," the report, chaired by retired ambassador Thomas R. Pickering, says.
The "two bureaus" referenced in the report were the bureau of diplomatic security (DS) and the bureau of Near Eastern Affairs (NEA). Those bureaus are headed by Eric Boswell and Beth Jones, respectively, though the report does not mention either by name.
Instead, the board faulted "certain senior State Department officials" in those bureaus for "a lack of proactive leadership and management ability appropriate for the State Department's senior ranks in their responses to security concerns posed by Special Mission Benghazi, given the deteriorating threat environment and the lack of reliable host government protection." It did not find, however, that "any individual U.S. Government employee engaged in misconduct or willfully ignored his or her responsibilities," and therefore did not recommend any disciplinary action.
That said, the panel's indictment of the State Department's security preparations are damning. The number of security staff in Benghazi before the attack was inadequate, despite repeated requests for more staffing, and there was an over-reliance on local Libyan guards and poorly skilled employees of a British security contractor, the report found.
"Board members found a pervasive realization among personnel who served in Benghazi that the Special Mission was not a high priority for Washington when it came to security-related requests, especially those relating to staffing," the report states. "In the weeks and months leading up to the attacks, the response from post, Embassy Tripoli, and Washington to a deteriorating security situation was inadequate."
There was no protest outside the U.S. mission, the report confirms. There were also no specific, credible threats of an impending attack on the Benghazi compound, the report says.
The ARB makes 24 specific recommendations, including reexamining dependence on local security at diplomatic posts, reorganizing the diplomatic security leadership and management structure, increasing training for incidents such as these, increasing the number of Marines and diplomatic security agents at high-threat posts, and increasing foreign language training in languages such as Arabic.
"The Accountability Review Board provides a clear-eyed look at serious, systemic challenges that we have already begun to fix," Secretary of State Hillary Clinton wrote in a letter sent Tuesday to the leaders of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and House Foreign Affairs Committee. "I am grateful for its recommendations for how we can reduce the chance of this kind of tragedy happening again. I accept every one of them."
In her letter, Clinton outlined several steps the State Department took in the hours and days after the attack. The State Department increased security at diplomatic posts worldwide, she wrote, immediately ordered an investigation, and "intensified a diplomatic campaign aimed at combating the threat of terrorism across North Africa and bolstering the region's emerging democracies."
"We will have implementation of every recommendation underway by the time the next Secretary of State takes office," Clinton wrote. "There is no higher priority for me or my Department."
Clinton initiated the Accountability Review Board, as required after any diplomatic incident resulting in a loss of life or serious injury, in the days after the attack and the board began its work in early October. In addition to Pickering, the board was led by former Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen (ret.), Catherine Bertini, Hugh Turner, and Richard Shinnick.
A few copies of the classified version of the report were sent to the relevant committees Tuesday afternoon. Pickering and Mullen will brief lawmakers in a classified setting Wednesday. Deputy Secretary Tom Nides and Deputy Secretary Bill Burns will testify in open session in both chambers Dec. 20.
After that, the State Department will defer comment to the FBI.
"Well, with regard to the investigation, that's, as you know, fully in the hands of the FBI now. So they will be responsible for giving whatever press information they feel comfortable with. But my understanding is that they don't intend to do any briefing on the status of the investigation, their work with the Libyans, until they're completed, which they are not yet," State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said at Tuesday's press briefing.
Nides will lead the team responsible for the implementation of the board's recommendations, a notice sent to all State Department employees Wednesday said. That team will also include Under Secretary for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman, Under Secretary for Management Patrick Kennedy, Director General of the Foreign Service Linda Thomas-Greenfield, Executive Secretary John Bass, and Deputy Legal Advisor Mary McLeod. State Department Counselor Harold Koh is leaving government to return to Yale Law School.
"The implementation team met today and will continue meeting regularly to ensure execution of the Board's recommendations as well as other actions directed by the Secretary. Bureaus and offices across the Department can expect to receive taskings in support of this effort from the Executive Secretariat," the notice stated.
The State Department's Inspector General's office will oversee the implementation and report on that independently, acting IG Harold Geisel said in an Oct. 26 letter to Congress.
The report stated that the State Department's diplomatic security bureau is doing a "fine job" overall but is being stretched to its limits by increased demands to protect diplomats in places like Iraq and Afghanistan. The report calls on Congress to support the State Department with the proper resources to protect diplomats.
"No diplomatic presence is without risk, given past attempts by terrorists to pursue U.S. targets worldwide. And the total elimination of risk is a non-starter for U.S. diplomacy, given the need for the U.S. government to be present in places where stability and security are often most profoundly lacking and host government support is sometimes minimal to non-existent," the report stated.
For the head of Libya's national election commission, the method by which Americans vote is startling in that it depends so much on trust and the good faith of election officials and voters alike.
"It's an incredible system," said Nuri K. Elabbar, who traveled to the United States along with election officials from more than 60 countries to observe today's presidential elections as part of a program run by the International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES). Your humble Cable guy visited polling places with some of the international officials this morning. Most of them agreed that in their countries, such an open voting system simply would not work.
"It's very difficult to transfer this system as it is to any other country. This system is built according to trust and this trust needs a lot of procedures and a lot of education for other countries to adopt it," Elabbar said.
The most often noted difference between American elections among the visitors was that in most U.S. states, voters need no identification. Voters can also vote by mail, sometimes online, and there's often no way to know if one person has voted several times under different names, unlike in some Arab countries, where voters ink their fingers when casting their ballots.
The international visitors also noted that there's no police at U.S. polling stations. In foreign countries, police at polling places are viewed as signs of security; in the United States they are sometimes seen as intimidating.
Sara Al-Utaibi, IFES deputy country director in Jordan, said that the fact that voting is done differently in different U.S. states is highly unusual. In Maryland, for example, electronic voting is common, whereas in Washington paper ballots predominate. If there are different voting procedures within another country, someone assumes fraud or abuse, she said.
"What's very unique about the way the Americans do it, it's not the process, it's the confidence that's placed in the process," she said. "This is what lacks in other countries. They say if this would happen in Arab countries it would not work the way it does in the United States."
Many of the visiting international officials noted that there were no observers at the polling places to ensure that proper voting procedures were being followed. IFES staffers explained to them that in the United States, election observers are sent by the political parties, which wouldn't use their limited resources inside the District of Columbia, where President Barack Obama is a heavy favorite.
Many of the visiting election officials were from emerging democracies, including Tunisia, Indonesia, Russia, Nigeria, and Yemen. The will spend a total of four days in the United States in a series of workshops and seminars.
"The point is to bring the highest-level commissioners and election staff here so they can connect and exchange ideas," said Ambar Riaz Zobairi, IFES deputy regional director for the Middle East and North Africa. "The overall point is to highlight the very interesting electoral process that we have here."
Provisional ballots are also a source of puzzlement for international officials. American voters who don't find their names on the rolls can vote anyway and verify their eligibility days later, a system not often found abroad. Ballots in foreign countries are often not as complicated as ballots in the United States.
"Their ballots are simple. We have a range of things on our ballot, referendums and such. In most countries, it's just president and parliament," said Cindy McCormick, an IFES consultant with more than 30 years of election monitoring experience.
One observer from Lebanon who did not want to be quoted pressed staffers on how the ballots are handled before and after voting day. He was amazed that ballots are sent directly to poll workers and that the handling of those ballots after the voting ends is also entrusted to local poll workers.
In Morocco, the poll workers take the unused ballots outside at the end of the night and burn them, McCormick said. In Russia, unused ballots are piled up and a poll worker drives a spike though the pile with a hammer. In The Gambia, a country in West Africa, each voter is given exactly one marble, which they place in one of the large marble collecting jars that are set up for each candidate.
"The polls workers are listening because when the marble goes into the jar, there's a ding. And if there are two dings, maybe somebody came in with extra marbles in their pocket, so they call the police," she said.
Asked how Gambians do a recount with the marble-based voting system, McCormick said, "I have no idea."
Josh Rogin/Foreign Policy
The House Oversight Committee is demanding answers from the State Department regarding newly discovered documents found in the wreckage of the U.S. mission in Benghazi that reveal U.S. diplomats noticed a Libyan police officer conducting surveillance of the compound the morning before the Sept. 11 attack and that the Benghazi police department had not responded to requests for more security during the visit of Ambassador Chris Stevens, who died in the attack that night.
Two reporters visiting the burned-out compound more than six weeks after the attack, and weeks after the FBI had visited the site, discovered an array of official and personal items that reveal the state of mind of nervous U.S. officials on the morning of Sept. 11, just hours before a group of well-armed men stormed the compound with heavy weapons, an attack that would ultimate result in the death of four Americans. In an exclusive report for Foreign Policy, journalists Harald Doornbos and Jenan Moussa revealed two unsigned draft letters written the day of the attack and warning that a Libyan police officer was spotted taking pictures of the compound.
"Finally, early this morning at 0643, September 11, 2012, one of our diligent guards made a troubling report. Near our main gate, a member of the police force was seen in the upper level of a building across from our compound. It is reported that this person was photographing the inside of the U.S. special mission and furthermore that this person was part of the police unit sent to protect the mission," reads the letter, addressed to Mohamed Obeidi, the head of the Libyan Ministry of Foreign Affairs' office in Benghazi.
Obeidi said he never received the letter. Another letter states that U.S. diplomats had asked the Libyan government for added security for Stevens's visit -- security they apparently didn't get.
"On Sunday, September 9, 2012, the U.S. mission requested additional police support at our compound for the duration of U.S. ambassador Chris Stevens' visit. We requested daily, twenty-four hour police protection at the front and rear of the U.S. mission as well as a roving patrol. In addition we requested the services of a police explosive detection dog," the letter reads. "We were given assurances from the highest authorities in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs that all due support would be provided for Ambassador Stevens' visit to Benghazi. However, we are saddened to report that we have only received an occasional police presence at our main gate. Many hours pass when we have no police support at all."
House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-CA) and National Security Subcommittee Chairman Jason Chaffetz (R-UT), who have been leading a congressional investigation into the security failures surrounding the attack, fired off a letter today to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton regarding the new revelations, obtained by The Cable.
The congressmen are demanding to know whether the Benghazi mission's concerns about Libyan police surveillance and their unanswered requests for more Libyan government security assistance were ever sent to Washington, and if so, why the State Department didn't reveal that before now.
"These documents paint a disturbing picture indicating that elements of the Libyan government might have been complicit in the September 11, 2012 attack on the compound and the murder of four Americans. It also reiterates the fact that the U.S. government may have had evidence indicating that the attack was not a spontaneous event but rather a preplanned terrorist attack that included prior surveillance of the compound as a target," Issa and Chaffetz wrote.
"Given the location where they were found, these documents appear to be genuine and support a growing body of evidence indicating that the Obama Administration has tried to withhold pertinent facts about the 9/11 anniversary attack from Congress and the American people."
The congressmen lamented that important information about the attack is still being discovered by the media and not being given to congressional investigators by the administration. They said the letters call into question repeated State Department claims that there were no warnings before the attack, including when a senior State Department official told reporters Oct. 9 that there had been no security incidents at the consulate that day.
"Everything is calm at 8:30 p.m," the official said during a background briefing. "There's nothing unusual. There has been nothing unusual during the day at all outside."
"These statements appear to be inconsistent with the information included in the documents uncovered by Foreign Policy," Issa and Chaffetz wrote.
The State Department must tell Congress whether the letters were included in any cables, telegrams, or emails and provide copies of those documents "no later than 5:00 p.m. on November 8, 2012," the letter said.
Other documents found at the compound include a printout of an email from Stevens to his political officer regarding the Benghazi visit, a travel itinerary sent to Sean Smith, the other State Department official killed in the attack, and an Aug. 6 copy of the New Yorker addressed to Stevens.
Syrian opposition leaders of all stripes will convene in Qatar next week to form a new leadership body to subsume the opposition Syrian National Council, which is widely viewed as ineffective, consumed by infighting, and little respected on the ground, The Cable has learned.
The State Department has been heavily involved in crafting the new council as part of its effort oust Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and build a more viable and unified opposition. In September, for instance, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton met with a group of Syrian activists who were flown in to New York for a high-level meeting that has not been reported until now.
During the third and final presidential debate, Republican nominee Mitt Romney criticized President Barack Obama's Syria policy as a failure to show "leadership" in laying the groundwork for the post-Assad era and called for "a form of council that can take the lead in Syria."
In fact, over the last several months, according to U.S. officials and Syrian opposition figures, the State Department has worked to broaden its contacts inside the country, meeting with military commanders and representatives of local governance councils in a bid to bypass the fractious SNC.
Many in the SNC are accordingly frustrated with the level of support they've gotten in Washington. "The Obama administration is trying to systematically undermine the SNC. It's very unfortunate," one SNC leader said told The Cable.
But U.S. officials are equally frustrated with an SNC they say has failed to attract broad support, particularly from the Alawite and Kurdish minorities. The new council is an attempt to change that dynamic. Dozens of Syrian leaders will meet in the Qatari capital, Doha, on Nov. 3 and hope to announce the new council as the legitimate representative of all the major Syrian opposition factions on Nov. 7, one day after the U.S. presidential election.
The Obama administration sees the new council as a potential interim government that could negotiate with both the international community and - down the line - perhaps also the Syrian regime. The SNC will have a minority stake in the new body, but some opposition leaders are still skeptical that the effort will succeed.
The Qatar meeting will include dozens of opposition leaders from inside Syria, including from the provincial revolutionary councils, the local "coordination committees" of activists, and select people from the newly established local administrative councils.
"We call it a proto-parliament. One could also think of it as a continental congress," a senior administration official told The Cable.
U.S. officials and opposition leaders are calling the initiative the "Riad Seif plan," named after the former Syrian parliamentarian and dissident who was imprisoned after he signed the Damascus Declaration on respect for Syrians' human rights in 2005. He was released in 2011, beaten up by a Shabiha gang in Noember 2011, and finally allowed to leave Syria in June 2012.
Seif is central to the formation of the new council and is seen as a figure with broad credibility with both the internal and external Syrian opposition.
"We have to get [the internal opposition] to bless the new political leadership structure they're setting up and not only do we have to get them to bless the structure, but they have to get the names on it," the official said, noting that the exact structure of the council will be determined in Qatar, not before.
"We need to be clear: This is what the Americans support, and if you want to work with us you are going to work with this plan and you're going to do this now," the official said. "We aren't going to waste anymore time. The situation is worsening. We need to do this now."
Secretary Clinton's personal involvement came when she met with select members of the 80-member "Friends of Syria" group in New York, which included internal opposition figures and several foreign ministers from the Friends of Syria "core group" of 22 countries.
"The New York meeting was designed to tee up the idea that there has to be a new political structure, not just the SNC," the official said.
Two SNC leaders attended the meeting along with four representatives of the internal opposition, although only one such leader actually came from inside Syria. Of the other three, one traveled from Sweden, one from Jordan, and one from Kuwait. They all spoke briefly and then left the room while the foreign ministers discussed the road ahead.
"We wanted more [from inside Syria] but we couldn't get them out. The other people were chosen by people from the inside," the official said.
Even bringing that individual from within Syria proved to be a major undertaking, however, because he didn't have a passport. It took high-level intervention between the State Department and the Department of Homeland Security. The Syrian caught his flight to New York for the meeting -- but only at the last minute.
The U.S. government will be represented at the Nov. 7 Qatar meeting by Ambassador to Syria Robert Ford, who has been dealing with various opposition groups and weighing in on the composition of the new council, a senior administration official said. For example, Ford pressed for the council to have 50 members in order to include 20 representatives of the internal opposition alongside 15 members of the SNC and 15 other representatives of various Syrian opposition organizations.
The idea is also to create an eight- to 10-member executive body -- made up of technocrats who are not on the new council -- that would be able to work directly with foreign governments on a day-to-day basis on practical items such as the delivery and direction of humanitarian assistance.
"We could finally have an interface to say ‘The needs of this place are greater than the needs of people in that place, so please direct assistance here or there,'" the official said.
The U.S. government is coordinating with governments in Europe and the region to forge consensus on the way ahead with the political opposition inside Syria and outside, the official added.
The Turkish government has been wary of the new effort because it has been heavily invested in the SNC, and the new council intentionally puts the SNC in a minority position.
But Washington's relationship with the SNC has been deteriorating for several months, officials said, and the administration believes the Turks will ultimately come around to embrace the new body.
The mutual recriminations between the Obama administration and the SNC reached a tipping point over the late spring and summer, when two official visits by the SNC to Washington were canceled, one in May and one in July. The May meeting was canceled by the U.S. side because the administration wanted the SNC to visit Moscow first -- a visit that didn't go well, the official said. The July meeting was scuttled by the SNC itself.
But the SNC isn't going away. The group's leaders will hold their own meeting in Qatar on Nov. 3 to establish a new 15-member executive council and potentially a new president.
Other Syrian activists warn that the new council is far from a sure thing.
One external opposition activist with ties to military leaders inside Syria told The Cable there's a risk the Doha meeting could be only the latest example of the opposition's failure to coalesce around a common vision and plan for a post-Assad Syria.
"Right now, the opposition groups are very vague and there's no agreement on who's representing who and what and where," this opposition activist said. "Right now there is a lot of risk that this will be another failed approach that will not achieve anything."
But the Obama administration's efforts go beyond the attempt to stand up the new council.
Although members of Ford's staff have been in communication with representatives of the opposition Free Syrian Army for some time, in July, Ford made his first in-person contact with the FSA during a visit to Cairo. A special conference call was arranged earlier this month between Ford and several FSA commanders, the official confirmed.
The Obama administration is well aware of the growing influence of opposition military commanders and the effort by Islamist extremists, including groups linked to al Qaeda, to gain influence over the direction of Syria's burgeoning civil war.
"There's a rising presence of Islamist extremists. So we need to help these [military council leaders], the majority of them are secular, relatively moderate, and not pursuing an overly vicious agenda," the official said.
But the Obama administration remains reluctant to directly provide weapons to the FSA and has all but ruled out committing U.S. military assets to the fight, despite the hopes of many Syrian opposition figures that the Nov. 6 election will mark an inflection point.
"We are providing to the political opposition all kinds of assistance and we're going to ramp that up, as the secretary has said," the official said. "I don't think there's going to be a big change after the election."
Corruption in Iraq is at an all-time high and several other major indicators of progress in the country are on a downward trend, according to a new U.S. government report.
Earlier this month, the Iraqi government fired Central Bank of Iraq (CBI) Governor Sinan al-Shabibi amid allegations of corruption, a move that is both a symptom and a consequence of increased corruption in Iraq and also a possible power grab by Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, according to the report, published Tuesday by the Office of the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction.
"This peremptory and constitutionally questionable move occurred as an audit of the CBI's foreign currency auctions surfaced. The audit purportedly found that perhaps 80% of the $1 billion purchased at weekly CBI-managed auctions was tied to illegal transactions, with the funds subject to those transactions potentially lost abroad to money laundering," the report reads.
It continues: "This development is symptomatic of a troubled year in Iraq, evidenced by increasing corruption, resurgent violence, deepening ethno-sectarian strains, growing apprehensions about the conflict in Syria, and widening divides within the coalition government."
Special Inspector Stuart Bowen, in an interview with The Cable, said it's unclear whether the firing of Shabibi was a direct power grab by Maliki, but it does open up the possibility that Maliki will now have greater access to the vast capital reserves the bank holds.
"The facts are that Governor Shabibi was widely respected around the globe amongst financial ministers for building up Iraq's reserves to about $65 billion. And I did know from my discussions in Iraq there was some desire in Iraq to access some of that money for capital expenditure purposes and Shabibi had exerted a firm hand in preventing its use," Bowen said. "The government of Iraq wanted to access some of those reserves."
The Iraqi government's public explanation is that Shabibi was not diligent enough in combatting the money laundering that was going on at the bank, mostly through weekly auctions of dollars for Iraqi dinars. Bowen said that Abdul-Basit Turki, the head of the Board of Supreme Audit, made that money-laundering determination. Basset is now the acting governor of the Central Bank of Iraq.
"The matter of corruption was brought to me by a number of ministers, who noted to me that it's as bad as it's ever been," Bowen said.
The report points to several other negative indicators. For example, Iraq suffered its worst day of violence in more than two years when Vice President Tariq al-Hashimi was sentenced to death in absentia last month, charges that are widely viewed as political in nature. Iraq's relationship with Turkey is deteriorating, the ongoing violence in Syrian presents both political and humanitarian problems for Iraq, and a temporary resolution of Baghdad's oil revenue sharing dispute with the Kurds has not solved the overall problem, the report said.
Official numbers for staffing at the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, America's largest, have actually gone up despite State Department claims that the embassy was in the process of being downsized. Apparently, the number of staff had been underreported in the past.
"U.S. Embassy-Baghdad reported that 16,035 persons supported the U.S. Mission in Iraq at the end of the quarter, including 1,075 U.S. government civilian employees and 14,960 contractor personnel. The Embassy said the discrepancy was due to earlier underreporting of certain staff categories," the report stated.
"My expectation is that it will be shrinking. We had conflicting reporting about the size of the staff at the embassy," Bowen said. "We'll just have to wait to see how that evolves over the next couple of quarters."
SIGIR also announced in its report the conclusion of several investigations that resulted in either guilty pleas or convictions of persons abusing U.S. taxpayer funds in Iraq, including the guilty plea of the former chief of party in Baghdad for USIP of wire fraud.
Earlier this month, two former employees of the contractor Parsons were sentenced to prison for terms of 27 and 15 months for "conspiring to commit kickbacks, wire fraud, and mail fraud, and for filing false tax returns" and will pay about $2 million in restitution to the U.S. government. And Monday, UK-based Iraqi subcontractor Ahmed Sarchel Kazzaz was sentenced to 15 months in prison and ordered to pay about $1 million in restitution and forfeit another $1 million.
The U.S. government has obligated $60.5 billion to Iraqi relief and reconstruction since 2003.
In January, the SIGIR office will release its final lessons report and three more audits, and then the office will begin to roll up its operations unless Congress sees fit to extend its funding past March. If not, the hope is to take about 20 staffers from SIGIR's investigative unit and move them over to the Office for the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR), Bowen said.
"We have over 80 cases ongoing... the Hill has expressed in continuing the investigative part of SIGIR after the office officially closes down," he said.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers cannot produce about $1 billion of receipts for fuel and other supplies it bought in Iraq using Iraqi money, a government investigation has found.
The total amount of funds unaccounted for has now reached a staggering $7 billion, officials say -- and they warn that the Iraqi government is likely to demand at least some of that money back.
The United States has been managing billions of dollars of Iraqi money through the U.N.-created Development Fund for Iraq (DFI) since 2003, money that was the result of Iraqi oil and gas sales or was left over from the "oil-for-food" program. The Army Corps of Engineers has been spending that money on energy and infrastructure programs in Iraq, but its recordkeeping was so poor that the Corps cannot prove it actually received goods for about $1 billion of the money it spent, according to the report, which was released Friday by the office of the Special Inspector General for Iraqi Reconstruction (SIGIR).
SIGIR reviewed $1.1 billion of DFI-related transactions by the Corps and found that a key document, the receiving report -- which documents that the goods or services were actually delivered to the intended recipients -- was missing for 95 percent of the transactions.
"Missing receiving reports involved commodities vulnerable to fraud and theft, such as fuel, televisions, and vehicles. SIGIR has not concluded that fraud or theft occurred, but the absence of receiving reports raises questions," the report stated. "Instead of using the required receiving reports to document fuel deliveries in Iraq, USACE officials told us that they maintained a fuel delivery log book. However, the log book is missing. In the absence of receiving reports and the fuel delivery log book, USACE has no evidence that shows whether fuel products paid for with DFI funds were received."
The Corps also didn't have enough trucks with meters to determine how much fuel was being delivered to more than 100 sites around Iraq. Nor has the Corps completed the required financial audits, so it's impossible to determine the status of all the DFI contracts, SIGIR says.
"Without these audits, USACE cannot close out these contracts and task orders and assess whether the contractor owes the U.S. money, whether the U.S. owes the contractor money, and ultimately, whether the U.S. needs to return unused DFI funds to the [government of Iraq]," the report said.
In an interview with The Cable, Deputy Inspector General Glen Furbish said that even though there's no evidence of fraud, there's a good chance the Iraqi government will try to seek some or all of this money from the U.S. government.
"Our inability to show that goods were received will always leave that question in the minds of the Iraqis as to whether we used their money appropriately," Furbish said. "We've sensed for some time that there is probably going to be an effort to make a claim against the U.S. for the unaccountable funds and this will probably be a piece of that ultimate claim."
This latest report is only the latest in a series of reports that delve into how the DFI money was used, and the total amount of money not properly accounted for is around $7 billion, Furbish said. SIGIR will release a final report on the U.S. government's handling of the DFI funds in January.
"This primarily means that our administrative handling of this money was not good," he said. "[The Iraqi government] may assert that our failure to keep records creates a claim for them."
The SIGIR office also released today a final report on the State Department's handling of Quick Response Funds (QRF), money that was handed out in Iraq, often by Provincial Reconstruction Teams, for projects that may or may not have ever materialized.
The State Department and USAID managed about $258 million in QRF funds but the results of the projects funded are unclear.
"From the available records, we could generally determine how funds were intended to be used, but we could not assess whether all of the goods and services were actually purchased, received, or transferred to beneficiaries," the report stated.
Furbish said that for many of these projects, the money was handed out but nobody ever followed up on the programs, largely because it was too dangerous to check on small reconstruction projects in the middle of the war.
"They have always maintained that we are asking a bit too much for a wartime program, in terms of us being bean counters and asking if people got something for their money," Furbish said. "Call us bean counters if you want, but if you can't show us what you spent the money on, I think you've got a control weakness."
State has made improvements in its handling of the QRF funds going forward, but department officials told SIGIR that it's impossible to go back and figure out what happened to the money spent in the early years on these projects, Furbish said.
"Cash on the battlefield is problematic in so many ways. It probably shouldn't even be allowed," he said.
Obama administration officials and outside experts believe that the Sept. 11 e-mails sent by the State Department's operations center referring to claims of responsibility by an extremist group might have been wrong, especially since that group denied responsibility the next day.
On Wednesday, several outlets reported that emails sent on the night of the attack from the State Department operations center to administration officials described the assault as it was in progress and noted that the extremist group Ansar al-Sharia had claimed responsibility on Facebook and Twitter.
The first email, sent on Sept. 11 at 4:05 p.m. Washington time, reported that 20 armed men had fired on the compound, that explosions were heard, and that Amb. Christopher Stevens and three other personnel were in the compound safe haven. The second email at 4:54 stated that the shooting had stopped. The third email said that Ansar al-Sharia had claimed credit on Facebook and Twitter.
But the official Facebook and Twitter pages of the Ansar al-Sharia Benghazi chapter showed no such Facebook posting on the night of Sept. 11, only a posting the next day denying that the group had been responsible for the attack, according to Aaron Zelin, an expert who monitors jihadist websites. The group's official Facebook page was taken down in the days after the attack but its official Twitter feed is still active, though the most recent tweet was on Sept. 14.
The group also posted on Facebook and Twitter a YouTube video on Sept. 12 praising the attack but emphasizing that it was not organized or officially led by Ansar al Sharia. The video leaves open the possibility that individual members of the group may have been involved in the attack.
"We commend the Libyan Muslim people in Benghazi [that were] against the attack on the [Muslim] Prophet [Muhammad]," a summary of the video states. "Katibat Ansar al-Sharia [in Benghazi] as a military did not participate formally/officially and not by direct orders."
Zelin, a researcher at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, captured screenshots of the Facebook page, and said they suggest that the State Department operations center got it wrong when it emailed officials saying the group had claimed responsibility.
"Based on the original reaction from Katibat Ansar al-Sharia in Benghazi (ASB), the language would suggest that the attack was not planned by the senior leadership, but rather members in an individual capacity were involved," Zelin told The Cable in an email. "Further, because this video statement was not posted until 7AM EST on the 12th on ASB's official Facebook page and Twitter account, it calls into question the leaked emails, which stated there was a statement claiming responsibility the night of the attack. It is possible staffers were mistaken in the heat of the moment. Not only was there no statement from ASB until the following morning, but it did not claim responsibility."
The group also released an official statement on Sept. 12 along the same lines, stating that the attack was not an official operation, as noted by Bill Roggio of the Long War Journal.
"Ansar al-Shariah Brigade didn't participate in this popular uprising as a separate entity, but it was carrying out its duties in al-Jala'a hospital and other places where it was entrusted with some duties. The Brigade didn't participate as a sole entity; rather, it was a spontaneous popular uprising in response to what happened by the West," the statement said.
Also on Sept. 12, a spokesman for Ansar al-Sharia praised the attack and said, according to the New York Times, "We are saluting our people for this zeal in protecting their religion, to grant victory to the prophet. The response has to be firm."
A senior State Department official told The Cable that the State Department operations center heard about the alleged Sept. 11 Facebook posting claiming responsibility secondhand, from the U.S. Embassy in Tripoli. The State Department hasn't determined whether the ops center email was correct or not, and either way, such emails are just spot reports and are not considered intelligence products.
"Whatever claim of responsibility that was issued that first night was withdrawn soon after by the Sept. 12 statements," the official said. "While some are interpreting it otherwise, this more than anything speaks to the fluidity of information that night and the days that followed."
The White House has refused to comment on which officials received the emails or when.
Pressed Wednesday to explain how the State Department ops center emails could be reconciled with official claims in the days after that there was no evidence the attack was "pre-planned," White House Press Secretary Jay Carney referred to the Sept. 12 statements from Ansar al-Sharia disavowing responsibility.
"This was an open-source, unclassified email about a posting on a Facebook site. I would also note I think that within a few hours, that organization itself claimed that it had not been responsible. Neither should be taken as fact. That's why there's an investigation underway," Carney said.
Three Republican senators -- Sens. John McCain (R-AZ), Lindsey Graham (R-SC), and Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) -- nonetheless sent a letter Wednesday to President Barack Obama demanding an explanation as to how the new reports reconcile with administration accounts of the attack at the time and since.
"These emails make clear that your Administration knew within two hours of the attack that it was a terrorist act and that Ansar al-Sharia, a Libyan militant group with links to Al-Qaeda, had claimed responsibility for it. This latest revelation only adds to the confusion surrounding what you and your Administration knew about the attacks in Benghazi, when you knew it, and why you responded to those tragic events in the ways that you did," they wrote.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton Wednesday criticized the idea that the State Department ops center emails or the alleged Facebook posting they mentioned could be definitive in any way.
"Posting something on Facebook is not in and of itself evidence, and I think it just underscores how fluid the reporting was at the time and continued for some time to be," Clinton said. "What I keep in mind is that four brave Americans were killed, and we will find out what happened, we will take whatever measures are necessary to fix anything that needs to be fixed, and we will bring those to justice who committed these murders. And I think that that is what we have said, that is what we are doing, and I'm very confident that we will achieve those goals."
UPDATE: After House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-CA) sent a letter to the president today based on the State Department e-mails, his Democratic counterpart Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD) issued a statement criticizing Issa for not mentioning that the content of the e-mails was in dispute.
Over and over again, Republicans have launched partisan accusations based on limited and inaccurate information, and in this case Chairman Issa disregarded conflicting reports that Ansar al-Sharia disavowed responsibility for the attack less than 24 hours later," said Cummings. "It’s time to stop shamelessly politicizing this tragedy and let the independent investigation complete its work without interference."
Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) suggested Tuesday that President Bill Clinton is getting more and more active in politics this cycle in preparation for Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to run for the presidency in 2016.
"I would never think such a thing and I am certainly not Machiavellian, but I am told that there are some that think this may have a lot to do with 2016 and the president's wife, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton," McCain said Tuesday morning. "Of course I would never suspicion such a thing, but there are some real jerks around who think that might be the case."
McCain was speaking on a conference call following Monday night's debate between President Barack Obama and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney. He said Obama is using President Clinton more and more in the campaign because Romney is gaining in the polls.
"I think [President Clinton's] appeal is obviously there and I don't think it's an accident that as Mitt Romney has surged in the polls there has been increase in the activities of President Clinton," he said.
In a recent interview with Marie Claire, Clinton repeated that she does not plan to run for president in 2016.
"I have been on this high wire of national and international politics and leadership for 20 years," Clinton said. "It has been an absolutely extraordinary personal honor and experience. But I really want to just have my own time back. I want to just be my own person. I'm looking forward to that."
McCain also addressed Obama's comments ridiculing Romney for comparing the size of the U.S. Navy today to its size during World War I.
"I think Governor Romney maybe hasn't spent enough time looking at how our military works. You -- you mentioned the Navy, for example, and that we have fewer ships than we did in 1916. Well, governor, we also have fewer horses and bayonets -- because the nature of our military's changed. We have these things called aircraft carriers where planes land on them. We have these ships that go underwater, nuclear submarines," Obama said. "And so the question is not a game of Battleship where we're counting ships. It's what are our capabilities."
McCain said that Obama's highly touted rebalancing to the Asia-Pacific region was an effort that requires robust ship presence and he said that if defense cuts under sequestration are allowed to take place, shipbuilding industries will suffer across the county and jobs will be lost.
"That was both demeaning to Mitt Romney and it also showed a degree of ignorance on the part of the president," McCain said. "You need naval presence the same way you did back then. Then to justify a steady reduction in shipbuilding, it shows a misunderstanding of the size of the challenge we face in the Asia-Pacific region."
McCain said that Romney had passed the commander-in-chief test at Monday's debate.
"The question in a lot of people's minds before this debate was: Is Mitt Romney capable of being the commander in chief?" McCain said. "I think he achieved that goal last night. I think he made it very clear to Americans, principally women, that he's not going to get us into other conflicts, that he understands the war-weariness of the American people over Iraq and Afghanistan. But he has also pointed out that we are weaker than we were four years ago, and of course in the Middle East that's absolutely true."
McCain did not mention that he supports U.S. airstrikes and the imposition of a no-fly zone in Syria.
President Barack Obama and his administration did not only mislead the American people, they misled themselves on what happened the night of Sept. 11 in Benghazi, a top Romney foreign-policy advisor told The Cable ahead of Monday night's debate.
Regardless of whether or not Obama called the events in Benghazi an "act of terror" in the days following the attack, Mitt Romney does not believe the administration's insistence that the attack was related to an anti-Islam video was based solely on reports from the intelligence community, Romney advisor and former National Security Council official Eliot Cohen said in an interview.
"This notion that this was all because the intelligence community gave them bad information is just not correct. The idea that this was all attributable to the trailer for a crackpot movie was just not true," Cohen said. "That's a big fundamental problem that the administration has to deal with, that they did mislead people for a period of time, and what's even scarier, they misled themselves."
Both the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times have reported that the intelligence community didn't formally revise its view that there may have been a protest related to the video until Sept. 22; the intelligence community maintains, according to the Times, that militants involved in the attack were inspired by the breach of the U.S. Embassy walls in Cairo.
But the Romney campaign's critique is broader than its claims of mishandled intelligence.
Cohen said that during Monday night's debate, Romney will likely refer to the administration's reaction to the Benghazi attack to counter the administration's claim that it has dealt a devastating blow to al Qaeda and that al Qaeda is "on its heels," as Obama has said many times in the past.
"They wanted to believe the narrative that this was an understandable if excessive and unacceptable reaction to a provocative piece of video, because the alternative would be to believe that their story, which is that the extremist problem is an essentially an al Qaeda problem, that it's a narrowly defined problem that you can deal with through targeted killings, that al Qaeda was on the verge of strategic defeat, is not true," he said. "In fact you are dealing with a larger problem which has metastasized across the Middle East. That is something they did not want to believe. You get into trouble when you try to fool other people. You get in bigger trouble when you try to fool yourself."
Cohen also criticized Obama for saying the death of four Americans is "not optimal" during an appearance last week on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. Stewart had used the word "optimal" in his question to Obama, but Cohen said that Obama shouldn't have taken the bait.
"For the president to get on a comedy show and say that the death of four Americans is ‘not optimal,' that is a really disturbing way to react to his event. It's absolutely glib," he said. "A president is supposed to be self-aware enough to just use words like ‘tragedy.' He's not supposed to be Jon Stewart. Jon Stewart is a comic; the president is supposed to be something else."
As for the debate, Cohen said that Obama has a natural advantage because he has access to vast amounts of intelligence and hundreds of national security officials, whereas Romney has limited foreign-policy information resources.
"There is a fundamental asymmetry here... The governor and the president both have experience creating jobs. Only one of them has been president with responsibility for the conduct of foreign policy," he said. "I think what you can expect from Governor Romney -- what is reasonable to expect -- is his assessment of how he sees the world, how he sees the larger developments that are out there, a set of principles of he thinks shape foreign policy, a sense of his leadership style, and how he makes decisions, and then an examination of the record of the guy who actually has been in charge for the last four years."
Meanwhile, the Obama campaign has been advertising its message about Romney's foreign-policy competence this week, including through a memo penned by Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry (D-MA) alleging that Romney has failed the "commander-in-chief" test.
"We have that steady and strong leader today in President Obama. Mitt Romney, on the other hand, offers nothing but endless bluster and a record of dangerous blunders, failing at every turn to show he's up to the challenge. In fact, Governor Romney has outlined fewer specific policies for how he would lead on national security issues than any presidential candidate in my memory," Kerry wrote. He is an extreme and expedient candidate who lacks the judgment and vision so vital for the Oval Office, and he's at the top of the most inexperienced foreign policy ticket to run for president and vice president in decades."
JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images
During Tuesday's debate, President Barack Obama tempered his claims about U.S. success in fighting al Qaeda, jettisoning his oft-repeated campaign-trail claim that the terrorist organization is "on its heels."
"I said that I'd end the war in Iraq, and I did. I said we'd refocus attention on those who actually attacked us on 9/11, and we have gone after Al Qaeda's leadership like never before and Osama bin Laden is dead," Obama said during his second debate with Republican nominee Mitt Romney.
That paragraph is part of Obama's regular stump speech, and he made nearly identical remarks at two campaign stops last week. But in those previous instances, Obama said that al Qaeda was "on its heels," a claim he didn't repeat in front of Tuesday night's national audience.
"Four years ago, I made a few commitments to you. I told you I'd end the war in Iraq, and I did. I said I'd end the war in Afghanistan, and we are. I said we'd refocus on the people who actually attacked us on 9/11 -- and today, al Qaeda is on its heels and Osama bin Laden is no more," he said in a campaign stop in San Francisco on Oct. 9.
Two days later, in another campaign stop in Miami, Obama said nearly the same thing.
"Four years ago, I told you we'd end the war in Iraq -- and we did. I said that we'd end the war in Afghanistan -- and we are. I said that we'd refocus on the people who actually attacked us on 9/11 -- and today, al Qaeda is on its heels and Osama bin Laden is dead," he said.
The attack on the U.S. mission in Benghazi on 9/11 was reportedly the work of the extremist group Ansar al-Sharia, which is thought to have ties to al Qaeda in the Islamic Magreb (AQIM).
This month, the White House has been slowly but surely adding qualifications to its claims of progress in destroying al Qaeda, which has seen its ranks in North Africa increase recently.
For example, on Sept. 19 White House spokesman Jay Carney said that Obama's strategy in Afghanistan has "allowed us to take the fight to al Qaeda in the region in a way that we had not been able to before; that led to the decimation of al Qaeda's leadership."
By Oct. 10, after reports emerged tying al Qaeda links the Benghazi attack, Carney was specifying that al Qaeda "central" was hurting in two specific countries.
"Well, what we have said all along, what the president has said all along, is that ... progress has been made in decimating the senior ranks of al Qaeda and in decimating al Qaeda central in the Afghanistan/Pakistan region," adding that al Qaeda "remains our No. 1 foe."
Carney repeated his qualification that al Qaeda is hurting in Southwest Asia, but not necessarily in North Africa, two days later.
"[Obama] has made clear that he would refocus attention on what was a neglected war in Afghanistan, refocus our mission on al Qaeda, and decimating al Qaeda's leadership in Afghanistan and Pakistan -- he has," Carney said Oct. 12.
In his debate Oct. 11, Vice President Joe Biden also declined to say that al Qaeda was completely decimated or on its heels during his debate with Rep. Paul Ryan.
"The fact is we went [to Afghanistan] for one reason: to get those people who killed Americans -- al Qaeda," Biden said "We decimated al Qaeda central; we have eliminated Osama bin Laden. That was our purpose."
SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images
President Barack Obama and Mitt Romney sparred over whether Obama called the Sept. 11 murder of four Americans in Benghazi a "terrorist" attack. In fact, Obama did refer to the attack as an "act of terror," but he did not do so directly in the Rose Garden the next day.
Romney said during Tuesday night's debate that it took 14 days for Obama to acknowledge that the attack was a terrorist attack, while Obama and CNN's Candy Crowley agreed that Obama said so Sept. 12 in remarks in the Rose Garden. In those remarks, journalists noticed, he did not explicitly refer to the Benghazi attack as an "act of terror," though he did use those words.
"No acts of terror will ever shake the resolve of this great nation, alter that character, or eclipse the light of the values that we stand for," he said.
Commentary's interpretation was that he made that he was referring to the original 9/11 attacks, not the Benghazi attack the day before.
"'Acts of terror' could have just as easily been a reference to that. Or maybe it wasn't a direct reference to anything, just a generic, reassuring line he'd added into a speech which did take place, after all, the day after the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks," blogger Alana Goodman wrote.
But on Sept. 13, at a campaign event in Colorado, Obama again used the phrase "act of terror" and this time tied it directly to the Benghazi attack.
"So what I want all of you to know is that we are going to bring those who killed our fellow Americans to justice. I want people around the world to hear me: To all those who would do us harm, no act of terror will go unpunished. It will not dim the light of the values that we proudly present to the rest of the world. No act of violence shakes the resolve of the United States of America," he said.
Romney countered by saying that the Obama administration took too long to acknowledge that there were no protests outside the Benghazi mission before the attack and referred to U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice's Sept. 16 comments claiming that according to the best information at the time, the attack was "spontaneous" and a reaction to an anti-Islam video.
For the first time, Obama said he bears ultimate responsibility for the Benghazi attack, and again promised to bring the attackers to justice.
In one of the most drama-filled moments of the debate, the president said that Romney's statements during and immediately after the attack amounted to a politicization of the issue and he said he found Romney's suggestion that administration officials might have misled Americans about the attack "offensive."
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Vice President Joseph Biden speaks only for himself and President Barack Obama, and neither man was aware that U.S. officials in Libya had asked the State Department for more security before the Sept. 11 attack on the U.S. mission in Benghazi, a top White House official told The Cable.
Biden has come under fire for saying at Thursday night's debate, "We weren't told they wanted more security. We did not know they wanted more security there."
The Cable asked Deputy National Security Advisor for Communications Ben Rhodes whether Biden was speaking for the entire Obama administration, including the State Department, which acknowledged receiving multiple requests for more Libya security in the months before the attacks. Rhodes said that Biden speaks only for himself and the president and neither of them knew about the requests at the time.
The State Department security officials who testified before House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa's panel Wednesday never said they had made their requests to the president, Rhodes pointed out. That would be natural because the State Department is responsible for diplomatic security, not the White House, he said. Rhodes also pointed out that the officials were requesting more security in Tripoli, not Benghazi.
"All of us at post were in sync that we wanted these resources," the top regional security officer in Libya over the summer, Eric Nordstrom, testified. "In those conversations, I was specifically told [by Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Charlene Lamb] ‘You cannot request an SST [Site Security Team] extension.' I determined I was told that because there would be too much political cost. We went ahead and requested it anyway."
Nordstrom was so critical of the State Department's reluctance to respond to his calls for more security that he said, "For me, the Taliban is on the inside of the building."
"We felt great frustration that those requests were ignored or just never met," testified Lt. Col. Andrew Wood, a Utah National Guardsman who was leading a security team in Libya until August.
Issa released the unclassified cables containing those requests.
At Thursday night's debate, Rep. Paul Ryan seemed to suggest that the requests were for Marines to go to Libya, which was not the case. The requests were to extend the tours of a Mobile Security Detachments [MSD] and the Site Security Team [SST] at the U.S. embassy in Tripoli, which are teams of military personnel, not Marines, who can help protect an embassy and its personnel.
"What we should not be doing is rejecting claims for calls for more security in our barracks, in our Marine -- we need Marines in Benghazi when the commander on the ground says we need more forces for security," Ryan said. "There were requests for extra security. Those requests were not honored."
In his prepared testimony, Nordstrom said that "because of Libyan political sensitivities, armed private security companies were not allowed to operate in Libya." Instead, the Benghazi mission, through a British company, hired unarmed Libyan guards to work inside the compound and a local Libyan militia patrolled the exterior of the compound.
Ryan also erred when he criticized the State Department for assigning Marines to protect the ambassador in France but not Amb. Chris Stevens, who died in Benghazi on Sept. 11.
"Our ambassador in Paris has a marine detachment guarding him, shouldn't we have a Marine detachment guarding our ambassador in Benghazi?," Ryan said.
According to the U.S. Embassy Paris website, there is a Marine Security Guard Detachment in the embassy, but they are there primarily to protect classified information and are not part of the ambassador's personal security detail.
Vice President Joe Biden said Thursday night that the United States has successfully completed its one and only mission in Afghanistan: to destroy al Qaeda, seeming to narrow the administration's goals for the war.
"The fact is we went there for one reason: to get those people who killed Americans -- al Qaeda," Biden said during his debate with Rep. Paul Ryan. "We decimated al Qaeda central; we have eliminated Osama bin Laden. That was our purpose."
His running mate President Barack Obama, however, has often said that the mission in Afghanistan was twofold: to defeat al Qaeda and to make sure that it or other extremists groups could not find safe haven in Afghanistan to launch future attacks against the West.
"I want the American people to understand that we have a clear and focused goal: to disrupt, dismantle and defeat al Qaeda in Pakistan and Afghanistan, and to prevent their return to either country in the future," Obama said in a speech when announcing his 30,000-troop surge in March 2009.
Biden presented the mission of standing up the Afghanistan security forces to establish safety and security in Afghanistan as a side effort that was in Afghanistan's security interests but not an American task.
"It is the responsibility of the Afghans to take care of their own security," he said. "The primary objective is almost completed. Now all we're doing is putting the Kabul government in a position to be able to maintain their own security. It's their responsibility, not America's."
Ryan criticized the Obama administration for withdrawing those surge troops during the 2012 fighting season; Obama fulfilled his pledge to withdraw all 30,000 surge troops by the end of September. But Biden argued that the Afghan fighting season was in spring, not summer.
Ryan pointed out that former Joint Chiefs Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen and former ISAF Commander David Petraeus had both testified that withdrawing the surge troops earlier increased the risks for the remaining troops in Afghanistan.
"Let me start by saying that I support the president's decisions, as do Generals Mattis and Petraeus. We were given voice in this process. We offered our views freely and without hesitation, and they were heard," Mullen testified last year.
"I provided assessments of risk. I provided recommendations. We discussed all of this, again at considerable length... All voices were heard in the Situation Room. And ultimately, the decision has been made," Petraeus testified.
The Obama campaign sent out a quote Thursday evening from current Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey supporting the timing of the surge withdrawal.
The intended purpose of the surge was "to buy us some time to push back on some Taliban initiatives -- particularly in the south and southwest -- and to buy us some space to grow the Afghan security forces... That objective clearly has been met,' Dempsey said last month.
The Obama campaign also noted in an e-mail to reporters that the Romney campaign's position on Afghanistan has changed over the course of the campaign. Biden said Romney's statements supporting Obama's 2014 deadline for withdrawal weren't credible because the Republican candidate has also said he would listen to generals and consider conditions on the ground before making a final decision.
"[Ryan] and the governor say it's based on conditions, which means ‘it depends.' It does not depend for us. It is the responsibility of the Afghans to take care of their own security," Biden said in what appear to be the most emphatic statements on the 2014 departure date by an Obama administration official. "We are leaving in 2014. Period."
In Obama's December 2009 speech announcing the surge, he put it differently: "Just as we have done in Iraq, we will execute this transition responsibly, taking into account conditions on the ground."
More recently, in May 2012, Obama said, "I don't think that there's ever going to be an optimal point where we say -- this is all done, this is perfect, this is just the way we wanted it and now we can wrap up all our equipment and go home. This is a process, and it's sometimes a messy process, just as it was in Iraq."
Ryan said that the Romney campaign does support the 2014 date but would not have committed to it publicly "because we don't want to broadcast to our enemies ‘Put a date on your calendar, wait us out, and then come back.'"
The U.S. mission would not be complete and successful until Afghanistan can no longer be a safe haven for extremists who want to attack America, he said.
"We agree with the administration on their 2014 transition," said Ryan. "But we want to see the 2014 transition be successful, and that means we want to make sure our commanders have what they need to make sure that it is successful so that this does not once again become a launching pad for terrorists."
Russia's announcement Wednesday that it will not participate in the Nunn-Lugar program to reduce the threat of loose nuclear materials is a slap in the face to President Barack Obama's effort to make arms control a feature of his "reset" policy with Russia, two top advisors to Mitt Romney said Thursday.
The New York Times described Moscow's move to end the 20 year, $8 billion program, started in 1993 by Sens. Sam Nunn (D-GA) and Richard Lugar (R-IN), to secure loose nukes in Russia and decommission old Russian military inventories as "a potentially grave setback in the already fraying relationship between the former cold war enemies." In a breakfast meeting with reporters Thursday, the Romney advisors said that the news is only the latest indication that the Obama administration has misread Russia's intentions and actions.
"The reset policy has been a complete disaster, partly because the administration has simply not understood how to deal with Russia," said Romney advisor and former Pentagon comptroller Dov Zakheim. "Russia is pursuing a classic policy that Russia has pursued since at least Peter the Great... If they perceive you to be strong, they will work with you. They do not perceive us to be strong."
Russia can be worked with, as evidenced by U.S.-Russian cooperation to transfer military supplies through Russia to Afghanistan, he said. But the Russian exit from Nunn-Lugar, as well as Moscow's decision last month to expel the U.S. Agency for International Development, shows that the Kremlin no longer feels the need to work with the United States constructively.
"This administration, because the Russians perceive it to be weak, it not in a position to move these guys," said Zakheim. "The whole reset program is a complete flop."
Dov's son Roger Zakheim, another top Romney advisor who also works on the staff of House Armed Services Committee Chairman Buck McKeon (R-CA), said the end of Nunn-Lugar deals a blow to the administration's overall nonproliferation agenda.
"The administration touted New START and we were critical of that because it was a victory for the Russians, who gave no concessions... This to me is another natural consequence of the fact the Russians are the only ones that gain fruit from this relationship," he said.
"This president is trying to get down to zero and remove WMD from across the world; now he can't even get the bilateral cooperation that's been done for years. [His agenda] is kind of evaporating on his own watch."
As president, Obama has made arms control a central feature of his reset policy with Russia, spending enormous amounts of time and political capital to push for ratification of New START in 2010. He also has made securing loose nuclear material a feature of his foreign-policy agenda, hosting a 44-nation summit on the issue in Washington the same year.
As a senator and member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in 2006, Obama joined with Lugar to sponsor a bill to expand the Nunn-Lugar to include conventional weapons.
In a statement Wednesday, Lugar said that in August meetings with Russian officials, the Russian government told him they wanted changes to the Nunn-Lugar umbrella agreement but that he was surprised by the announcement Russia was ending its participation in the program altogether.
In August alone, the program helped the securing of six nuclear weapons train transport shipments and destroyed 153.2 metric tons of chemical weapons nerve agent, Lugar said.
"The Nunn-Lugar scorecard now totals 7,610 strategic nuclear warheads deactivated, 902 intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) destroyed, 498 ICBM silos eliminated, 191 ICBM mobile launchers destroyed, 155 bombers eliminated, 906 nuclear air-to-surface missiles (ASMs) destroyed, 492 SLBM launchers eliminated, 684 submarine launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs) eliminated, 33 nuclear submarines capable of launching ballistic missiles destroyed, 194 nuclear test tunnels eliminated, 3192.3 metric tons of Russian and Albanian chemical weapons agent destroyed, 590 nuclear weapons transport train shipments secured, security at 24 nuclear weapons storage sites upgraded, 39 biological threat monitoring stations built and equipped," the statement read. "Perhaps most importantly, Ukraine, Kazakhstan, and Belarus are nuclear weapons free as a result of cooperative efforts under the Nunn-Lugar program. Those countries were the third, fourth and eighth largest nuclear weapons powers in the world."
The Russian Foreign Ministry said in a statement Wednesday that the State Department had proposed an extension for the program that was unacceptable to Moscow. "Our American partners know that their proposal is at odds with our ideas about the forms and basis for building further cooperation in that area," the statement said, adding that Russia needed "a more modern legal framework."
Darrel Issa (R-CA), the committee chairman leading House Republicans' investigation into the Obama administration's handling of the attack on the U.S. mission in Benghazi, has concealed witnesses, withheld documents, publicly aired unconfirmed allegations, and excluded Democrats from a hastily planned trip to Libya last weekend, according to his colleagues across the aisle.
"Although Chairman Issa has claimed publicly that ‘we are pursuing this on a bipartisan basis,' the Committee's investigation into the attack in Benghazi has been extremely partisan," reads a memo circulated today by the Democratic staff of the committee and obtained by The Cable. "The Chairman and his staff failed to consult with Democratic Members prior to issuing public letters with unverified allegations, concealed witnesses and refused to make one hearing witness available to Democratic staff, withheld documents obtained by the Committee during the investigation, and effectively excluded Democratic Committee Members from joining a poorly-planned congressional delegation to Libya."
On Wednesday, Issa, who heads the House Oversight Committee, will hold his much-anticipated hearing on the administration's actions leading up to and following the attack that cost the lives of Amb. Chris Stevens and three other Americans. The hearing, entitled, "The Security Failures of Benghazi," will feature testimony from Under Secretary of State for Management Patrick Kennedy, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for International Programs Charlene Lamb, Regional Security Officer Eric Nordstrom, who was stationed in Libya before the attacks, and Lt. Col. Andrew Wood, a Utah National Guardsman who was leading a security team in Libya until August.
The hearing follows up on an Oct. 2 letter from Issa and Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT), the chairman of the national security subcommittee, to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, in which Issa said the committee had received information "from individuals with direct knowledge of the events in Libya" that the Sept. 11 attack was "the latest in a long line of attacks" on Western diplomatic assets in Benghazi.
That letter was based on testimony from Nordstrom, according to the memo, who told the committee that the State Department had ignored two cables he send requesting more security. Nordstrom blamed the allegedly low security staffing in Benghazi on Lamb, whom he claims said that only three security agents were needed because there was a "safe haven" nearby. But Issa and Chaffetz sent their letter to Clinton less than 12 hours after interviewing Nordstrom, who was not in Libya at the time of the attack, the memo alleges.
"[Nordstrom's] statements were not confirmed before the letter was sent, and the State Department was not given an opportunity to respond before the allegations were made public," the memo said.
Wood spelled out his allegations in a series of interviews this week, including one with CBS News, in which he alleged that the State Department had declined his request to maintain a "Site Security Team," in Libya past August. But Issa concealed the majority staff's conversations with Wood from the Democratic side of the committee until Oct. 5, the same day he appeared on CBS, according to the memo.
"Chairman Issa has refused multiple requests to make Lt. Col. Wood available to speak with Democratic Members or staff prior to the hearing on Wednesday. In addition, although Republican staff provided an email address for Lt. Col. Wood after he appeared on CBS Evening News, Lt. Col. Wood has failed to respond to any inquiries from Democratic staff," the memo states.
Issa and Chaffetz also effectively excluded Democratic committee members and staff from joining a congressional delegation to Libya last weekend by concealing the trip until less than 24 hours before it was scheduled to leave, the memo charges.
"Republican staff did not inform the minority until last Thursday that a delegation would be departing the next day, Friday, October 5, 2012, for Tripoli. Due to this inadequate notice, no Democratic Members or staff were able to join," the memo says. "Based on a copy of the itinerary provided to the minority staff, it also appears that this delegation was hastily and inadequately planned. The itinerary did not identify a single U.S. government official, Libyan official, or other individual the Committee planned to interview during the entire delegation. In fact, the itinerary listed as the sole Committee activity in Libya: ‘TBD.'"
The memo also criticizes Mitt Romney and several congressional Republicans for taking issue with the statements of Obama administration officials in the immediate aftermath of the Benghazi attack, especially the Sept. 16 statements by U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice, in which she said that the assessment at that time was that the attack was spontaneous and inspired by an anti-Islam video.
"The State Department has been cooperating fully with the Committee's investigation. It has agreed to all requests for hearing witnesses, it has offered additional hearing witnesses beyond those requested, it has promptly organized transcribed interviews with Department officials, it has been collecting documents sought by the Committee, and it has offered additional briefings for Committee staff," the memo states, although it notes that House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) excluded Oversight Committee leaders from a classified briefing on the issue Tuesday.
"Contrary to House Rules, the Chairman and his staff refused to provide copies of documents obtained by the Committee during this investigation and concealed witnesses, preventing the minority from questioning these witnesses directly in order to gain a more complete understanding of their views and to vet the accuracy of claims made by Chairman Issa," the memo states.
The memo also argues that it was the House GOP that slashed funding for State Department security and embassy protections prior to the attack.
The House passed appropriations bills that cut $248 million from the administration's request for the Worldwide Security Protection account in fiscal 2011 and 2012, and $211 million from the Worldwide Security Upgrades portion of the Embassy Security, Construction and Maintenance (ESCM) account in those years.
The final amounts given to both accounts after the Senate weighed in were $88 million above the House levels, but still $371 million below what the administration requested.
"Since gaining the majority in 2011, House Republicans have voted to reduce embassy security funding by approximately half a billion dollars below the amounts requested by the Obama Administration," the memo states.
Last week, committee ranking Democrat Elijah Cummings (D-MD) expressed concern that partisanship was overtaking the investigation.
"While I fully support careful, responsible, and robust congressional oversight, I do have concerns about rushing to hold a public hearing based on incomplete information if the purpose is to meet some arbitrary political timetable. On such a critically important issue, I believe we should proceed in a bipartisan and responsible manner by gathering the facts before drawing any public conclusions," he said.
A spokesman for Issa did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Mark Wilson/Getty Images
In a speech Monday, former Governor Mitt Romney will criticize President Barack Obama's handling of the Sept. 11, 2012, attack on the U.S. mission in Benghazi and say it was probably the work of al Qaeda, the same group that brought down the World Trade Center and struck the Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001.
"The attacks on America last month should not be seen as random acts. They are expressions of a larger struggle that is playing out across the broader Middle East -- a region that is now in the midst of the most profound upheaval in a century. And the fault lines of this struggle can be seen clearly in Benghazi itself," Romney will say in a foreign-policy-focused address at the Virginia Military Institute, according to excerpts released by his campaign.
"The attack on our consulate in Benghazi on Sept. 11th, 2012, was likely the work of the same forces that attacked our homeland on Sept. 11th, 2001. This latest assault cannot be blamed on a reprehensible video insulting Islam, despite the administration's attempts to convince us of that for so long. No, as the administration has finally conceded, these attacks were the deliberate work of terrorists who use violence to impose their dark ideology on others, especially women and girls; who are fighting to control much of the Middle East today; and who seek to wage perpetual war on the West."
Some in the U.S. intelligence community believe that the attack on the Benghazi consulate that killed Amb. Chris Stevens and three other Americans was led by the Benghazi chapter of Ansar al-Sharia, an extremist group thought to have ties to Al Qaeda in the Islamic Magreb (AQIM), al Qaeda's North Africa affiliate.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton suggested that groups with links to AQIM were responsible for the Beghazi attack in remarks at a U.N. meeting on Sept. 26, but State Department and White House spokepersons have repeated again and again that the precise identity of the attackers remains unknown pending an FBI investigation.
Romney will invoke the original 9/11 attacks as part of his argument that Obama has failed to respond to the rapid changes in the Middle East with a proactive and coherent strategy to preserve American power and influence in the region.
"I know the president hopes for a safer, freer, and a more prosperous Middle East allied with the United States. I share this hope. But hope is not a strategy," Romney will say. "We cannot support our friends and defeat our enemies in the Middle East when our words are not backed up by deeds, when our defense spending is being arbitrarily and deeply cut, when we have no trade agenda to speak of, and the perception of our strategy is not one of partnership, but of passivity.... It is time to change course in the Middle East."
Romney will promise to increase and tighten sanctions against Iran, permanently base one aircraft carrier group each in the Eastern Mediterranean and the Gulf, condition aid to Egypt, and "recommit America to the goal of a democratic, prosperous Palestinian state living side by side in peace and security with the Jewish state of Israel."
On Syria, Romney will promise to identify opposition groups that share American values and make sure they get weapons to defeat the Syrian regime's tanks, helicopters, and fighter jets. He won't say that the United States should arm the rebels directly -- only that it should make sure they get advanced weaponry.
On Afghanistan, Romney will accuse Obama of timing the withdrawal of U.S. forces based on political considerations, a reference to the fact that Obama withdrew all 30,000 "surge" forces last month. But Romney will reiterate his call to complete the withdrawal of combat troops by the end of 2014, so long as the conditions on the ground permit and in consultation with the military chain of command.
"I believe that if America does not lead, others will -- others who do not share our interests and our values -- and the world will grow darker, for our friends and for us. America's security and the cause of freedom cannot afford four more years like the last four years," Romney will say. "The 21st century can and must be an American century. It began with terror, war, and economic calamity. It is our duty to steer it onto the path of freedom, peace, and prosperity."
The Romney campaign held a conference call for reporters Sunday to preview the speech, which included participation by campaign foreign-policy coordinator Alex Wong and senior advisors Rich Williamson and Eliot Cohen.
Wong said that Obama has stepped away from American leadership and undermined the basis of American power. He also said the standing of the United States has been weakened in every region of the world, and likened Obama's foreign policy to that of former President Jimmy Carter.
Williamson said that Obama has a policy of weakness that is provocative to enemies and that his administration hasn't been transparent on the Benghazi attacks.
"The foreign policy of Barack Obama in the Middle East is a mess and is failing, and that should be a part of the discussion," Williamson said.
The Obama campaign preemptively released a statement calling Romney a neophyte and flip-flopper on foreign policy who has fumbled his forays into foreign-policy issues throughout the campaign.
"If Mitt Romney wants to have a debate about foreign policy, we have a message for him: bring it on... To date, all Mitt Romney has offered is bluster and platitudes. He's erratically shifted positions on every major foreign policy issue, including intervening in Libya, which he was against before he was for," Obama for America spokeswoman Liz Smith said in the statement.
"'Mainstream' foreign policy isn't what Mitt Romney is putting forward: having plans to start wars but not end them; wanting to keep 30,000 U.S. troops in Iraq indefinitely; exploding our defense spending to levels the Pentagon has not asked for, with no way to pay for it; insulting our allies and partners around the world on the campaign trail; and calling Russia our number-one geopolitical foe. If that's where Mitt Romney thinks the mainstream is, he needs to find a better compass. It's clear that on every measure, Mitt Romney fails the commander-in-chief test."
The top echelon of Mitt Romney‘s national security transition team is largely in place and it includes both hawkish and centrist GOP foreign-policy professionals, The Cable has learned.
The news comes as debate continues inside the Romney campaign over how much to focus on foreign vs. domestic policy in the home stretch. Politico reported last week that chief strategist Stuart Stevens was leading the camp pushing for a more singular focus on the economy.
But with the final presidential debate set to focus on foreign policy and events in the Middle East continuing to raise questions about President Barack Obama's leadership, those advocating for more foreign policy campaigning have won a victory: Romney will give what the campaign is billing as a major speech on foreign policy at the Virginia Military Institute on Monday, Oct. 8.
Behind the scenes, planning for a national security team that looks suddenly more realistic after Wednesday night's debate is moving along at a steady pace.
The Romney campaign doesn't talk publicly about its broader transition-planning effort -- "Project Readiness," led by former HHS Secretary Mike Leavitt -- but the effort is moving along steadily.
The GOP foreign-policy world was caught off guard when Leavitt chose former World Bank President Bob Zoellick to lead the national security transition planning, setting off speculation that Romney's national security team after the election would be far more moderate than the top advisors informing his foreign-policy speeches and agenda items during the campaign.
But The Cable has learned from multiple sources close to the campaign that campaign senior advisor for defense and foreign policy Rich Williamson has been named the head of the transition team for the National Security Council, giving him a prominent role should Romney win. Two other officials who are leading the national security transition effort are former Under Secretary of Defense for Policy Eric Edelman and former New Jersey governor and co-chair of the 9/11 Commission Tom Kean.
Some inside the campaign believe Williamson's new role as head of the NSC transition team could place him in line to be national security advisor in a Romney administration. A former assistant secretary of state for international organization affairs who served as George W. Bush's special envoy to Sudan, Williamson has been one of Romney's most visible national security surrogates throughout the campaign. Said to be close to the governor personally, he has also been the voice of some of the campaign's harshest criticisms of Obama's handling of foreign policy. Williamson has railed against Obama for his handling of Libya, the greater Middle East, Israel, Iran, Russia, human rights, and several other topics.
Transition team leaders don't necessarily end up leading the agencies for which they are in charge of planning. In 2008, the Obama campaign's State Department transition team was led by Tom Donilon and Wendy Sherman. Obama chose Hillary Clinton to be secretary of state, Donilon became deputy national security advisor, and Sherman returned to the private sector, only later being appointed to be under secretary of State for political affairs.
The Obama campaign's Pentagon transition team was led by Michèle Flournoy and former Deputy Defense Secretary John White, but Obama chose to stick with Robert Gates as defense secretary and Flournoy became the under secretary of defense for policy.
Edelman, a leading representative of the neoconservative wing of the Republican foreign-policy establishment, was under secretary of defense for policy under Donald Rumsfeld and now sits on the board of directors of the Foreign Policy Initiative, a neoconservative-leaning foreign-policy organization in Washington. Edelman has been quietly active in the campaign for some time.
Kean, like Zoellick, is seen as a moderate, and has not been a visible part of the Romney effort thus far. Zoellick, meanwhile has been meeting all over Washington with foreign-policy hands of all stripes and from both parties. Last month he was spotted in downtown DC eateries on separate occasions lunching with Weekly Standard Editor William Kristol and Obama's former top Asia aide, Jeffrey Bader.
Sources inside the campaign report that the foreign-policy process still centers around young lawyer Alex Wong, the campaign's foreign-policy coordinator, and his boss Lanhee Chen, the campaign's policy director. Former Iraq war spokesman Dan Senor, another board member of FPI, has taken the lead on Vice Presidential candidate Paul Ryan's foreign-policy preparations, which perhaps explains Ryan's increasingly combative rhetoric when talking about Obama's handling of the Middle East crises.
Two top senators on the Foreign Relations Committee don't want to wait for the State Department to do its own investigation into the Sept. 11 attack in Benghazi that killed four Americans including Ambassador Chris Stevens; they want Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to show them Stevens's diplomatic cables and other correspondence now.
"While we appreciate the sensitivities associated with this ongoing investigation, we must insist on more timely information regarding the attacks and the events leading up to the attacks," wrote Sens. Bob Corker (R-TN) and Johnny Isaakson (R-GA) in a letter to Clinton Tuesday.
They acknowledged that Clinton is in the process of setting up an Accountability Review Board, although its chairman former Deputy Secretary of State Thomas Pickering said Monday that the panel hasn't started it work yet. But the senators don't want to wait for the board to finish its report, which might not be transmitted to Congress until next spring.
"To that end, we request that you transmit to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee all communications between the U.S. Mission to Libya and the State Department relevant to the security situation in Benghazi in the period leading up to the attacks, including, but not limited to, cables sent from Ambassador Stevens," they wrote.
The senators noted that Libya officials have said they warned the U.S. government about rising threats in Benghazi just before the attacks and they referenced the CNN reports, culled at least partially from Stevens's personal diary, stating that the ambassador believed his life was in danger.
"Despite these warnings, the State Department sought and received a waiver from the standard security requirements for the consulate," the senators wrote.
"We are extremely concerned about conflicting reports over the events leading up to the attacks. Specifically, we are concerned over the apparent lack of security preparations made despite a demonstrable increase in risks to U.S. officials and facilities in Benghazi in the period leading up to the attacks."
The top Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee said Monday that the Obama administration has not found any evidence that a former Guantánamo Bay inmate was involved in the Sept. 11 attack on the Benghazi consulate that killed four Americans, including Ambassador Chris Stevens.
Rep. Adam Smith (D-WA) emerged from a classified briefing with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton Sept. 21 saying that administration officials had discussed Sufyan Ben Qumu, who was released from Guantánamo into Libyan custody in 2007, as a "person of interest" in the Benghazi investigation. But today in a conference call organized by the left-leaning National Security Network, Smith clarified that he had heard nothing directly tying Ben Qumu to the Benghazi attack.
"All I meant was that the person I mentioned has known al Qaeda affiliations and was in Libya. And really, that's it," Smith said. "Whether or not he was directly involved with the people engaged in the attack, there's no evidence of that."
Smith said the Libyan government had been quick to condemn the attack and help with the investigation. But he slammed Republicans for referencing the Ben Qumu rumor and other reporting about the attack to criticize the administration's handling of the crisis.
"It is fairly disturbing the number of Republicans who have leapt to erroneous conclusions about what this means and have missed no opportunity to bash on the president rather than try to find a common approach to this," he said. "That has been extremely unhelpful."
Former Deputy Secretary of State Thomas Pickering said on the call that he had not yet started work on the Accountability Review Board (ARB) that Clinton appointed him to lead to investigate the Benghazi attack.
"As far as I know no other members have been appointed and obviously the process has not yet begun," Pickering said.
The ARB will have five members, four appointed by Clinton and one appointed by Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, according to a senior State Department official. The board will investigate, "the extent to which the incident was security related; whether the security systems and security procedures at that mission were adequate; whether the security systems and security procedures were properly implemented; the impact of intelligence and information availability; and such other facts and circumstances which may be relevant to the appropriate security management of the United States missions abroad," according to the law that established the board's mandate.
By law, the board must be convened within 60 days of the incident. Such panels typically take an average of 65 days to complete their work, and Clinton must submit the findings to Congress within 90 days of receiving them. According to that timeline, the board would issue its report in January and Congress could receive it as late as next April.
Both Smith and Pickering emphasized that they did not believe that time had run out to convince Iran not to pursue a nuclear weapon, and both argued that increased U.S. military involvement in Syria would only inflame the violence in the country.
"The situation in Syria is horrific. It is a full scale civil war," said Smith "It's a matter of whether or not there is an option that would make the situation better and reduce the violence in Syria."
On a conference call with American rabbis Thursday evening, Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney altered his position on what "red lines" he would set for Iran before deciding military action was necessary.
"Your good friend Prime Minister [Benjamin] Netanyahu says that the international community needs to draw a red line for Iran. Do you agree that a red line needs to be drawn, and where would you draw it?," Rabbi Efrem Goldberg asked on the call, a recording of which was provided to The Cable.
"With regards to the red line, I would imagine Prime Minister Netanyahu is referring to a red line over which if Iran crossed it would take military action. And for me, it is unacceptable or Iran to have the capability of building a nuclear weapon, which they could use in the Middle East or elsewhere," Romney said. "So for me, the red line is nuclear capability. We do not want them to have the capacity of building a bomb that threatens ourselves, our friends, and the world."
"Exactly where those red lines [should be drawn] is something which, I guess, I wouldn't want to get into in great detail, but you understand they are defined by the Iranian capability to have not only fissile material, but bomb making capability and rocketry," Romney said.
Romney's remark that the United States should take military action if Iran develops nuclear weapons "capability" matches what many GOP leaders and pro-Israel groups have publicly stated, but it stands in contrast to the "red line" Romney set out in a Sept. 14 interview with ABC News.
"My red line is Iran may not have a nuclear weapon," Romney told network host George Stephanopoulos. "It is inappropriate for them to have the capacity to terrorize the world. Iran with a nuclear weapon or with fissile material that can be given to Hezbollah or Hamas or others has the potential of not just destabilizing the Middle East. But it could be brought here."
Asked if his red line was the same as President Obama's, Romney told ABC, "Yes."
Rabbi Goldberg also asked Romney what exactly he would do differently than the current administration to prevent a nuclear Iran. Romney offered few specifics. He referenced his January 2007 speech at the Herzliya Conference, where he called for several specific measures.
"We recently have done one of them, which is getting crippling sanctions. It's taken a long time to finally come around to that, but that is one of the key elements to changing Iran's course," Romney said. "Sanctions are having an impact on their economy. Unfortunately, they took so long to be put in place that I think Iran is racing forward with their nuclear plans."
He said he would increase the credibility of the military option and U.S. support for dissidents in Iran.
He also called for the indictment of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad for "genocide."
"I think we should indict Ahmadinejad under the Genocide Convention for incitation of genocide," Romney said. "I think that he and the diplomats in Iran should be treated like the pariah[s] they are ... I believe they should be treated the same way we treated South Africa during apartheid."
In the call, Romney did not address the controversy over his remarks at a May fundraiser where he all but counted out the possibility of a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
In a hidden camera video posted by Mother Jones magazine, Romney told a group of donors in May that Palestinians "have no interest whatsoever in establishing peace," and that a two-state solution is "almost unthinkable to accomplish."
"We have a potentially volatile situation but we sort of live with it, and we kick the ball down the field and hope that ultimately, somehow, something will happen and resolve it," Romney said.
"But I always keep open: the idea of pushing on the Israelis to give something up to get the Palestinians to act is the worst idea in the world. We have done that time and time and time again. It does not work," Romney said to the donors. "So the only answer is show them strength. American strength, American resolve, and the Palestinians will some day reach the point where they want peace more than we're trying to force peace on them. Then it's worth having the discussion. So until then, it's just wistful thinking."
Addressing the tension between the Obama and Netanyahu governments, Romney said Thursday, "Our relationship with Israel should be one which the world sees as being extraordinarily close ... and if per chance there are disagreements, we keep those disagreements to ourselves and in private, as opposed to airing them out in public."
Uriel Sinai/Getty Images
Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) was all set to get his full Senate vote today on his bill to cut all U.S. aid to Egypt, Libya, and Pakistan; and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) was set to get a vote on his resolution to establish the sense of the Senate that containment of a nuclear Iran is not an option for U.S. policy.
But the entire deal was derailed by a last-minute effort by Senate leaders to add a new bill to the agreement, a "Sportsman Act" sponsored by Sen. Jon Tester (D-MT), who is up for re-election. Tester's bill would ease restrictions on hunting, fishing, and shooting on federal public lands.
On Thursday afternoon, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) said that he had worked out a deal with Paul to move on all of the Senate's outstanding business this afternoon, including a continuing resolution to fund the government past Oct. 1. Under the deal, Paul would get one hour of debate and a vote on his bill to cut all U.S. aid to Egypt, Libya, and Pakistan. There would also be a one-hour debate on the containment resolution, which was also led by Sens. Joe Lieberman (I-CT) and Bob Casey (D-PA). (Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) had objected to the deal late Wednesday but lifted his objection Thursday.)
Then suddenly Thursday afternoon, Reid announced there would be no more votes and he took a swipe a Sen. Scott Brown (R-MA), accusing him of wanting to avoid his evening debate with challenger Elizabeth Warren.
Multiple senators and staffers said late Thursday that it was Reid, however, who derailed the deal at the last minute by attempting to add the Tester bill, prompting an objection by the GOP Senate leadership.
"Today, [Senate Minority Leader Mitch] McConnell has agreed to the same UC [unanimous consent agreement] that was offered last night by Senator Reid, but now Senator Reid wants a UC that includes not just the Paul, Graham, and [continuing resolution] votes, but also a vote on the Tester amendment," Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN) said Thursday afternoon.
All Senate business is on hold while the leadership of both caucuses negotiates behind closed doors. Paul had repeatedly threatened to oppose unanimous consent to move any legislation unless he got his vote, so without a deal, Senate leaders would have to go through long voting procedures that could keep lawmakers in town well into the weekend.
Senators do hope to leave town this weekend, so a deal Friday is widely expected. A deal would also pave the way for the Senate to confirm a host of ambassadors before leaving Washington, including the nominees for envoy posts in Iraq and Pakistan.
The containment resolution has more than 80 co-sponsors and is expected to pass by a wide margin. The Paul bill to prohibit aid to Egypt, Libya, and Pakistan is not expected to pass.
Lawmakers and Africa hands rallied Thursday behind President Barack Obama's decision to nominate Robert Godec to be the next U.S. ambassador to Kenya.
If confirmed, Godec would follow Obama confidant J. Scott Gration, who resigned in June ahead of a scathing internal report that rated him among the worst ambassadors in the diplomatic corps (Gration insists he was a great ambassador).
Unlike Gration, a political appointee, Godec is a career Foreign Service officer who has previously led an embassy -- in Tunisia -- and has diplomatic experience working in the Nairobi embassy as well. Godec is the charge d'affaires at the Kenya embassy now, and served as the State Department's principal deputy coordinator for counterterrorism from 2009 to 2012.
Sen. Chris Coons (D-DE), the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations African Affairs Subcommittee, told The Cable that he will push to confirm Godec as quickly as possible when the Senate returns for a lame-duck session following the November elections.
"Ambassador Godec is a smart choice and I hope the Senate will move quickly to advance his nomination," said Coons. "Given the emerging threats in the region, his background in counterterrorism and career in the Foreign Service -- even being stationed in Nairobi earlier in his career -- make him unquestionably qualified for this critically important role. One of the United States' top priorities, certainly in the short term, will be helping ensure Kenya's elections in March are free, fair, and peaceful. These elections are critically important not only to Kenya, but to the stability of the region."
The upcoming elections and the potential for explosive political violence are a key focus of Kenya watchers in Washington. Last week, Human Rights Watch released a report stating that politicians seeking office have been complicit on both sides of the growing violence in Kenya's coastal region, with the central government doing little to hold them accountable.
"I'm very pleased to see President Obama officially nominate a new U.S. ambassador to Kenya, particularly a Foreign Service officer with regional and country specific experience like Ambassador Godec. That's going to very important in order to reverse what's been a worrisome U.S. policy of neglect and drift," said Sarah Margon, deputy Washington director of Human Rights Watch and co-chair of the Kenya Working Group. "What he's going to need to do is make a clear commitment to a U.S. policy based on democracy, human rights, and the rule of law, particularly given the upcoming elections. And he needs to address lack of accountability for the political violence in Kenya."
CHARLOTTE - Vice President Joe Biden highlighted President Barack Obama's decision to green light the May 2011 raid that killed Osama bin Laden as a key indicator of his qualification to be president -- but Biden didn't mention, as he has in the past, that he advised Obama against going through with the raid at the time.
"Barack understood that the search for bin Laden was about a lot more than taking a monstrous leader off the battlefield. It was about righting an unspeakable wrong, healing a nearly unbearable wound in America's heart. He also knew the message we had to send to terrorists around the world -- if you attack innocent Americans, we will follow you to the ends of the earth. Most of all, the President had faith in our special forces -- the finest warriors the world has ever known," Biden said in his speech accepting the Democratic nomination for vice president.
Biden detailed the deliberations over whether or not to take the risk of violating Pakistan's sovereignty by sending Navy SEALs into Abbottabad to get bin Laden.
"We sat for days in the Situation Room. He listened to the risks and reservations about the raid. And he asked the tough questions. But when Admiral McRaven looked him in the eye and said-‘Sir, we can get this done,' I knew at that moment Barack had made his decision. His response was decisive. He said, ‘Do it.' And justice was done," Biden said, referring to Special Operations Command chief Adm. William H. McRaven.
Biden criticized Mitt Romney for saying in 2007 that "it's not worth moving heaven and earth," to catch one person. "He was wrong. If you understood that America's heart had to be healed, you would have done exactly what the president did. And you too would have moved heaven and earth -- to hunt down bin Laden and bring him to justice."
But Biden never mentioned that just before Obama made that call, the vice president told his boss not to do it.
In January, Biden told a retreat of House Democrats that he was one of the few dissenters in that Situation Room debate over the raid.
Obama said to Biden, "Joe, what do you think?" according to an account of Biden's remarks in the New York Times. Biden told Obama, "Mr. President, my suggestion is, don't go. We have to do two more things to see if he's there."
Obama made the decision to go the next day.
John Hudson reports on national security and foreign policy from the Pentagon to Foggy Bottom, the White House to Embassy Row, for The Cable.