CHARLOTTE - Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry (D-MA) will lacerate Mitt Romney on foreign policy in a major speech tonight at the Democratic National Convention.
"In this campaign, we have a fundamental choice," Kerry will say, according to speech excerpts provided to The Cable. "Will we protect our country and our allies, advance our interests and ideals, do battle where we must, and make peace where we can? Or will we entrust our place in the world to someone who just hasn't learned the lessons of the last decade?"
Kerry will speak on a night peppered with remarks by national security types, including retired Lt. Gen. Walter Dalton, the lieutenant governor of North Carolina, retired Adm. John B. Nathman, and Delaware attorney general and Iraq war veteran Beau Biden, the vice president's son. Following Kerry will be the final events of the convention, including speeches by Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL), Vice President Joe Biden, and President Barack Obama.
Kerry will hit Romney on his positions on a range of national security issues and will hammer the former Massachusetts governor for failing to outline a clear policy on the war in Afghanistan, a word that Romney didn't mention once in last week's acceptance speech.
"It isn't fair to say Mitt Romney doesn't have a position on Afghanistan. He has every position," Kerry will say.
Kerry plans to defend Obama's record on Israel, Iran, Russia, and arms control, and he will push back against the Romney campaign's refrain that Obama doesn't believe in "American exceptionalism."
"Our opponents like to talk about ‘American Exceptionalism.' But all they do is talk. They forget that we are exceptional not because we say we are, but because we do exceptional things," Kerry will say. "The only thing exceptional about today's Republicans is that -- almost without exception -- they oppose everything that has made America exceptional in the first place."
Kerry will point out that Romney criticized the idea of going into Pakistan to pursue Osama bin Laden but Obama gave the order that led to bin Laden's death.
"Ask Osama Bin Laden if he's better off now than he was four years ago!" Kerry will say.
Kerry will also make what The Cable believes is the first mention by either campaign of the only war Obama ever started, the 2011 NATO-led attack on Libya.
"When a brutal dictator promised to kill his own people ‘like dogs', President Obama enlisted our allies, built the coalition, shared the burden -- so that today, without a single American casualty -- Muammar Qaddafi is gone and Libya is free," Kerry will say.
Obama inherited a terrible foreign-policy position from the Bush administration and worked to improve it, Kerry will argue.
"So here's the choice in 2012: Mitt Romney -- out of touch at home, out of his depth abroad, and out of the mainstream?" he will say. "Or Barack Obama -- a president giving new life and truth to America's indispensable role in the world, a commander in chief who gives our troops the tools and training they need in war -- the honor and help they've earned when they come home. A man who will never ask other men and women to fight a war without a plan to win the peace."
In anticipation of Kerry's foreign policy speech, the Romney campaign released a long memo penned by campaign policy director Lanhee Chen entitled, "The Foreign Policy & National Security Failures Of President Obama," which lays out 10 separate lines of attack on the Obama administration's national security record.
"President Obama's failure on the economy has been so severe that it has overshadowed his manifold failures on foreign policy and national security," the memo states. "An inventory of his record shows that by nearly all measures, President Obama has diminished American influence abroad and compromised our interests and values. In no region of the world is the U.S. position stronger than it was four years ago... It is a failed record that no amount of bluster in Charlotte can mask."
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CHARLOTTE - Following a tumultuous and embarrassing episode Wednesday in which the Democratic National Committee suddenly altered its platform to embrace Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, top Democrats are pointing fingers in every direction.
After defending their decision to keep language on final status issues out of the platform all morning Wednesday, convention leaders reversed themselves Wednesday afternoon and proposed two amendments to the platform adopted on Tuesday, one to add a mention of God and one to add a mention of Jerusalem. That decision followed a full day of pressure brought on the DNC and the administration by lawmakers, AIPAC, and other Jewish elected officials in Charlotte.
"Jerusalem is and will remain the capital of Israel. The parties have agreed that Jerusalem is a matter for final status negotiations. It should remain an undivided city accessible to people of all faiths," the new platform language states.
An Obama campaign official told The Cable late Wednesday that the change in platform was made to reflect the personal views of the president, who believes that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel and who "personally intervened" to ask for the platform change. The official explanation is that the omission of the Jerusalem line was an oversight by platform drafting staff, even though people involved in the drafting said Wednesday that the omission was intentional, as a means of avoiding discussing final-status issues altogether.
"There's a difference between running for president and governing," an official involved in the process told The Cable Wednesday. "And when you govern on this issue, the official position of the United States has been for years and from administrations of both parties that the status of Jerusalem is a final-status issue."
By Thursday morning, top campaign officials took to the airwaves to point fingers at the platform drafters in an attempt to deflect responsibility from the DNC and the Obama campaign leadership.
DNC Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz said the omission was a "technical error" during the drafting process. David Axelrod blamed the controversy of the Israel platform on unspecified "others" on whom the president was depending to draft the platform and said that Obama had asked for the platform change when he became aware of the issue.
The campaign did not respond to a request for comment on who the "others" were, but it's been well reported that the two officials given the responsibility for overseeing the drafting of the Israel platform plank in July and August were Obama campaign national security advisor co-chair and former Pentagon official Colin Kahl and former Florida Rep. Robert Wexler.
The Cable asked Kahl Thursday whether the campaign was unfairly pointing fingers at him and Wexler in an attempt to deflect blame on the issue. He didn't directly address the question, but said the drafters never meant to say that Jerusalem was not the capital of Israel.
"I don't think there was any intention by the drafters to signal any change in U.S. policy. Clearly, it was misinterpreted that way. So the president intervened to correct the record and they changed the platform," he said. "We are where we are. We should move on. The platform is changed."
Kahl also defended the overall platform plank on Israel, which he said focused on the security and financial assistance the Obama administration has given to Israel and avoided getting into any final-status issues.
"Nobody can read the Democratic platform on Israel and come away with the sense that it's not pro-Israel. It's extraordinarily pro-Israel. More importantly, the administration has been supportive of Israel in an unprecedented manner," he said.
Wexler staunchly defended the original platform language in an interview with The Cable Wednesday and staunchly defended the new platform language in an interview today. He said that the party's position on Jerusalem never wavered.
"The position of the Democratic Party has always been that Jerusalem is the capital of the state of Israel. I have a 13-year voting record in Congress that is consistent with that," he said. "It's the same platform; now it's got two more sentences. The original language was all pro-Israel language. Now it has the language on Jerusalem, too. I'm glad they did that. The policy hadn't changed. There was confusion, and the president wanted to clear it up. It was as simple as that."
Some people involved in the discussions over the issue here
in Charlotte were upset by what they saw as Kahl and Wexler's poor handling of
the issue, both before the convention and after the platform became a
controversy in Charlotte.
"Colin Kahl and Bob Wexler bear personal responsibility for the platform debacle and the embarrassment caused to the president and the party," said one source involved in the back and forth over the platform change. "They led a secretive, exclusionary process, rather than an inclusive one, recklessly threw out the longstanding platform language, and then attempted to cover their tracks by misleading stakeholders about what they had done and with whom they had consulted."
One Democratic official directly involved in the platform-drafting process rejected that criticism and argued that AIPAC and other critics could have weighed in on the Israel plank of the platform at the time.
"To say that any one or two people were responsible for the language on Israel in the Democratic Party platform is flat wrong," the official said. "This platform was adopted by a committee of over 100 representatives, and numerous advocacy groups had the opportunity to formally participate in the process. It's wrong to point fingers at one or two people, both of whom have been steadfast supporters of Israel and have worked to strengthen the U.S.-Israel relationship while inside government and out."
At a series of events in Charlotte Wednesday, lawmakers and Jewish elected officials from around the country pressured the administration to do something to sort out the flap. Buzzfeed reported that a full third of the Senate Democratic caucus pressed top officials including White House Chief of Staff Jack Lew and former Pentagon official Michèle Flournoy on the issue at a Wednesday lunch hosted by AIPAC.
One Democratic senator told The Cable that he had only become aware of the flap on Wednesday and immediately raised objections to the platform omissions with the administration. Multiple sources told The Cable that several lawmakers pressed the White House directly Wednesday, including Reps. Steny Hoyer (D-MD), Shelley Berkley (D-NV), Steve Israel (D-NY), Eliot Engel (D-NY), and Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY).
AIPAC also decided Wednesday to go public about its objections to the platform after Democratic officials said on background that AIPAC had signed off on the original platform, a claim AIPAC strongly denied.
Delegates inside the convention hall Wednesday evening told The Cable they were happy with the platform change, if for no other reason that it would end the controversy over what they believed was a non-issue.
"If those simple changes are going to make people feel more comfortable with our platform and allow us to be more inclusive, than that's what we need to do," said Emily Mixter, a Michigan delegate.
Jeremy Moss, an alternate delegate from Michigan, said the change was needed to assure delegates the policy hadn't changed.
"I'm a Jewish elected official, and this was an important part of the platform that was included in years past," he said. "They excluded language that was in the platform in years prior, which is something that I didn't understand."
Rod Smith, chairman of the Florida Democratic Party, told The Cable that there's no contradiction between a party platform that states Jerusalem is the capital of Israel and an administration policy that refused to recognize it.
"The administration's policy is what has been a bipartisan policy, which is that this is an issue to be decided between the parties. So are we going to dictate this? Of course not. But do we prefer Jerusalem as the capital? Of course we do," he said.
Smith also commented on the perception that the crowd inside the hall did not actually vote in favor of the new platform plank but the convention heads ignored the crowd and declared that two-thirds of delegates had voted for it.
"I've taken some voice votes and I've received some voice votes, and I can tell you it's in the ear of the beholder," he said. "I've been at a lot of conventions. Something will always spring up. It never fails. Something on the floor surprises you. That will never stop."
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CHARLOTTE - Following what Obama campaign officials said was the personal intervention of President Barack Obama, the Democratic National Committee reversed itself and altered their platform Wednesday afternoon to include language identifying Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.
After defending their decision to keep such language out of the platform as recently as this afternoon, convention leaders today proposed two amendments to the platform adopted on Tuesday, one to add a mention of God and one to add a mention of Jerusalem.
"Jerusalem is and will remain the capital of Israel. The parties have agreed that Jerusalem is a matter for final status negotiations. It should remain an undivided city accessible to people of all faiths," the new platform language stated.
An Obama campaign official told The Cable late Wednesday that the change in platform was made to reflect the personal views of Obama, who believes that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel and who "personally intervened" to ask for the platform change.
"Mitt Romney spent last week claiming the Republican platform didn't reflect his personal views. That's why the platform was amended, to make clear what the president's personal views are on Jerusalem," the official said.
The official acknowledged that the administration's policy remains not to weigh in on the final status of Jerusalem, which is an issue to be decided by the parties. But the official said that Obama's views and the administration policy are two separate things.
“This makes crystal clear what the President’s personal view is. The policy has not changed. The president has a personal view and the administration has a policy. They’re not incompatible but there are reasons that the administration’s policy is that the Jerusalem is a final status issue," the official said. “We wanted to make the President’s views clear.”
The Romney campaign was quick to call on Obama to publicly
state that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel, as his party's platform language
"Mitt Romney has consistently stated his belief that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel. Although today's voice vote at the Democratic National Convention was unclear, the Democratic Party has acknowledged Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. President Obama has repeatedly refused to say the same himself. Now is the time for President Obama to state in unequivocal terms whether or not he believes Jerusalem is Israel's capital," said campaign spokeswoman Andrea Saul.
The amendments required two thirds of delegates' support for adoption and the voice votes inside the arena were so inconclusive, the chair had to call for votes three times. After declaring that two thirds of the delegates had approved the amendments, the hall erupted in boos and howls.
Earlier Wednesday, drafters of the platform and top Democrats including former Rep. Robert Wexler defended the absence in the platform of language affirming Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.
"There's a difference between running for president and governing," a Democratic official involved in the drafting process told The Cable earlier today. "And when you govern on this issue, the official position of the United States has been for years and from administrations of both parties that the status of Jerusalem is a final-status issue."
But Democrats were heavily criticized by Romney, Paul Ryan, and many others for not including the Jerusalem language in the platform. AIPAC also told The Cable Wednesday that they had asked for the Jerusalem language in their submission to the DNC but had not seen the final text before the platform went to print.
AIPAC had other gripes about the platform, such as that it didn't contain previous references to Hamas, Palestinian refugees, and language saying that Israel is America's closest ally in the region, but they decided late Wednesday to get behind the new platform language and move on.
"We welcome reinstatement to the Democratic platform of the language affirming Jerusalem as Israel's capital," AIPAC said in a statement provided to The Cable. "Together, these party platforms reflect strong bipartisan support for the US - Israel relationship."
CHARLOTTE - Changes between the 2008 Democratic Party platform's language on Israel and the 2012 version were due to a deliberate effort to refocus the platform toward President Barack Obama's policies, two officials directly involved in its drafting process told The Cable.
Leading pro-Israel groups such as AIPAC were heavily involved in the platform-drafting process, saw final language of the draft platform, and told platform drafters they were satisfied with it, both officials said.
Certain parts of the pro-Israel community are up in arms this week over the fact that the latest version of the platform doesn't include certain passages from the previous version, such as language affirming that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel, specific mentions of the terrorist group Hamas, and language spelling out the party's position that Palestinian refugees would be settled outside of Israel as part of any comprehensive arrangement to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
For its part, AIPAC denies signing off on the final language.
"Any assertion that AIPAC had prior knowledge of the deletion of language including on Jerusalem, Israel as the most reliable ally, Hamas, or the refugees is categorically false," AIPAC spokesman Patrick Dorton told The Cable. "AIPAC was never provided with a final copy of the Middle East part of the platform."
"Jerusalem as the capital was part of AIPACs written submission to the platform but we did not see, review, or sign off on the final text,” Dorton said.
Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney weighed in personally Tuesday, saying in a statement, "It is unfortunate that the entire Democratic Party has embraced President Obama's shameful refusal to acknowledge that Jerusalem is Israel's capital ... As president, I will restore our relationship with Israel and stand shoulder to shoulder with our close ally."
A Democratic official directly involved in the drafting process told The Cable that the drafters made a deliberate and conscious decision to reframe the Israel section of the platform around Obama's record, to limit the section to cover his existing policies, and to intentionally avoid any and all final-status issues.
"There's a difference between running for president and governing," the official said. "And when you govern on this issue, the official position of the United States has been for years and from administrations of both parties that the status of Jerusalem is a final-status issue."
The official listed a number of final-status issues, including borders and settlements, that the Obama administration has determined should be subject to negotiation between Israelis and Palestinians, so the platform drafters decided that the party should stay out of them as well.
"There is a difference when you're writing a platform for an incumbent president. We made a decision to make the platform very much a focus on what the president has been doing. It's not a purely aspirational document," the official said. "On Israel the decision was decided to focus the extraordinary support the president has given to Israel. The decision was to frame the platform plank around that."
Two GOP platforms during George W. Bush's leadership of the Republican Party called out Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and vowed to move the U.S. Embassy there, but Bush never actually carried out his promise, the official pointed out. He also pointed to the 2012 GOP platform, which no longer identified Israel as the "undivided" capital of the Jewish state.
"Is it the Republican position that Jerusalem should be divided?" the official asked. "We are the party in power, so the official administration positions on these final-status issues can't be irrelevant."
Here in Charlotte, a huge debate has erupted over whether or not the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) had seen the final draft of the 2012 DNC platform and been satisfied with it during a July drafting session in Minneapolis and another final drafting session in early August in Detroit. Some anonymous sources are telling reporters that AIPAC "loved" the platform while other anonymous voices saying that AIPAC "was not in the room" when the platform was being worked on.
The Democratic official involved in the drafting said that AIPAC had been consulted very closely, was fully aware of the final draft, and suggested some changes that were in fact incorporated, but never objected to the platform's failure to mention Jerusalem as Israel's capital.
"AIPAC was in the room in Minneapolis and Detroit and I know for a fact that AIPAC was shown the final copies of the draft language," the official said. "They were there for the entire time. They were shown the final draft by a number of platform committee members, and they offered suggestions. They just didn't mention Jerusalem."
What's more, at the second drafting session in Detroit, AIPAC's proxies had every opportunity to offer amendments if there was anything about the Israel plank of the platform they didn't like.
"In Detroit, the draft platform is made public to everyone was there," the official said. "If this was an issue they felt passionate about, they could have offered an amendment and there were no amendments offered by Jewish constituency groups. None."
The Israel platform language was drawn largely from speeches Obama has already made, the official said. The language was shared with certain members of the White House who are authorized to interact with the campaign, but there was no formal vetting of the platform by the administration.
Former Florida Rep. Robert Wexler, now the president of the S. Daniel Abraham Center for Middle East Peace, was a member of the platform drafting committee and took part in the formation of the Israel section of the platform in Minneapolis in late July. Wexler independently confirmed to The Cable that AIPAC was present at all public parts of the drafting process and had regular interactions with drafting committee members, suggested some changes to the platform that were adopted, but never brought up the Jerusalem issue with him or others as far as he knows.
"The platform was not a checklist of final-status issues," Wexler said. "[AIPAC] told me they thought the language was pro-Israel and satisfactory. They had many opportunities to raise significant concerns and that definitely didn't happen."
"The firestorm that has been raised relates to final-status issues and Jerusalem. The Obama administration policy on Jerusalem is identical to that of Bush, Clinton, and every president since Lyndon Johnson. It's a false story," said Wexler. "The Likud position is American should not dictate final-status issues to the Israelis or to anyone, and that's what the platform does: It encourages the parties to negotiate without outlining their position."
Wexler also pushed back on the criticism that Hamas is not specifically called out in the platform, saying that the platform covers all Palestinian terror groups.
"That's a bunch of junk," Wexler said about the criticism. "The platform doesn't say ‘Hamas,' but it says that any potential Palestinian partner has to meet the conditions necessary for peace. That's even stronger and of course it applies to Hamas."
He said the outcry is overblown and that the media storm over the platform is simply a reflection of Republican attempts to politicize the Israel issue ahead of the election.
"The Democratic platform's language relative to Israel is undeniably, 100 percent pro-Israel," he said. "To make Israel a wedge issue is harmful to both the U.S. and Israel. And the centerpiece of America's decades-long relationship with Israel is that it's a bipartisan issue. If you deeply care about the well-being of Israel as an American, then you will realize that this kind of rhetoric is not good for either Israel or the United States."
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CHARLOTTE — Top Obama campaign officials are warning convention-goers here in North Carolina this week that Republicans are planning a nationwide campaign to "lie" about the president's effort to avoid the looming defense cuts known as "sequestration."
"We are under attack. Romney will try to hang sequestration around the president's neck," said Robert Diamond, the Obama campaign's national veterans and military families vote director, at a reception hosted by the Truman National Security Project here on Monday. Diamond's speech was a call to arms for Democrats to mount a grassroots campaign to defend President Barack Obama's record on defense spending.
"[The Romney campaign] will visit North Carolina, Virginia, Florida, New Hampshire, and every other state with military in it and lie to the American people about sequestration," Diamond said. "That is their line of national security attack. They don't have anything else to talk about."
Top Obama national security campaign officials and surrogates drove home the Obama campaign's message on defense spending and sequestration at a Tuesday event hosted by Bloomberg News, which included remarks from Obama campaign national security advisory team co-chair and former Pentagon official Michèle Flournoy, former Rep. Patrick Murphy, an Iraq war veteran, congressional candidate and Iraq war veteran Tammy Duckworth, and former Assistant Secretary of Defense Doug Wilson.
Flournoy argued that the impending cuts of $600 billion over 10 years to the defense budget as mandated by the Budget Control Act of 2011, which Congress passed and the president signed, would probably be delayed somehow by Congress before the implementation date of Jan. 2.
"I would bet my mortgage that [Congress] will at the very least buy themselves some time. They will do something to extend that deadline on Jan 2," she said.
But Flournoy said that the Pentagon has understandably been reluctant to plan for sequestration and that the law doesn't allow for careful planning anyway, just crude across-the-board cuts to all defense programs.
"Why would you want to support planning for something that would really harm national security when what you really need to do is put your fiscal house in order?" she asked. "If you go much further down this road, you will start giving up major pillars of American strategy and the Pentagon's resistance to planning for this is because it's such a bad idea."
Flournoy also criticized Mitt Romney's pledge to peg defense spending to 4 percent of GDP, pointing out that he hasn't offered an explanation of how to pay for that, considering that he doesn't support new revenues.
"When you ask Governor Romney, ‘What is your detailed defense plan?' there isn't an answer," she said. "You get an answer that is fundamentally incoherent: I want to raise defense spending to 4 percent of GDP but I don't want to put revenues on the table. It doesn't add up."
The Cable asked Flournoy how she would implement the cuts mandated by sequestration if she became the next defense secretary.
"I'm going to completely disregard the premise of your question because I think it's false," she said, denying that she is in contention to be the first woman defense secretary in American history in a second Obama administration.
CHARLOTTE — The 2012 Democratic National Platform, released Monday night ahead of the Democratic National Convention, argues that the United States is on the rise in terms of power and influence around the world due to President Barack Obama's foreign policy and that the decade of war that followed 9/11 is now coming to a close.
The defense and foreign-policy section of the platform, entitled, "Stronger in the World, Safer and More Secure At Home," begins by arguing that Obama inherited a nation at war that was suffering declining power and influence abroad, but that he reversed that trend and set U.S. foreign policy on the right path.
"Around the world and here at home, there were those who questioned whether the United States was headed toward inevitable decline," the platform states. "Under the leadership of President Obama and the Democratic Party, the tide of war is now receding, and America is looking ahead to a new future."
The platform touts Obama's actions to end the war in Iraq, his decision to green-light the mission that killed al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, and his moves to withdraw U.S. troops from Afghanistan. The platform claims that al Qaeda is on the path to defeat and that international forces have reversed the Taliban's momentum in Afghanistan. The Obama administration has therefore been able to shift the focus of U.S. foreign policy to Asia and divert resources to the home front, the platform explains.
"These actions have enabled a broader strategic rebalancing of American foreign policy," it states. "After more than a decade at war, we can focus on nation-building here at home and concentrate our resources and attention abroad on the areas that are the greatest priority moving forward. This means directing more energy toward crucial problems, including longstanding threats like nuclear proliferation and emerging dangers such as cyber attacks, biological weapons, climate change, and transnational crime. And it means a long-overdue focus on the world's most dynamic regions and rising centers of influence."
The platform also touts the president's narrowing of the global fight against Islamist extremists, although his administration has largely continued the counterterrorism policies of the George W. Bush era and in some cases expanded on the tactics used to fights extremists, such as through stepped-up drone strikes.
"Importantly, President Obama also shifted away from the Bush administration's sweeping and internationally divisive rhetoric of a ‘global war on terrorism to a more focused effort against an identifiable network of people: al Qaeda and its affiliates," the platform reads.
On Afghanistan, the platform takes a shot at Republican nominee Mitt Romney directly, accusing him of not being clear with the American people.
"Mitt Romney has been both for and against our timeline to end the war in Afghanistan, but he has failed to outline any policy ideas for how he would bring our troops home and, at times, has suggested he would leave them there indefinitely," the platform says.
The platform also has sections on nuclear non-proliferation, cyber security, global development, Iran, North Korea, and accuses Romney of promoting a "Cold War mentality" by portraying Russia as America's "No. 1 geopolitical foe."
U.S. President Barack Obama's campaign message at this week's Democratic National Convention will be that Mitt Romney's campaign has been avoiding foreign policy -- and when the former Massachusetts governor does talk about it, he puts forward a set of policies that is backwards-looking and frightening.
"We're living in an upside-down world, because for the first time in a generation the Democrats and President Obama hold a decisive advantage in the polls going into the election in terms of the confidence the American people have on foreign policy and national security issues," Colin Kahl, former Obama defense official and co-chair of the Obama campaign's national security advisory team, told The Cable in an interview.
The polls have consistently shown Obama with a double-digit advantage when it comes to foreign policy and national security, and that could be in part because the Republicans have avoided focusing on the issue, especially at their convention in Tampa, he said.
"In Tampa, Republicans were ignoring foreign policy," Kahl said, pointing out that only Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) and former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice spoke about foreign policy much at all, while Romney and his running mate, Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan, barely mentioned it.
"We will honor America’s democratic ideals because a free world is a more peaceful world," Romney said in his acceptance speech in Tampa. "This is the bipartisan foreign policy legacy of Truman and Reagan. And under my presidency we will return to it once again."
Kahl pointed out that Romney didn't mention Afghanistan, the troops fighting overseas, or veterans during his speech.
"The most bizarre element of Mitt Romney's speech is here's a guy who is auditioning to be the commander in chief of the most powerful country on Earth and he forgets to mention the war in Afghanistan, where we have almost 80,000 men and women in harm's way," Kahl said. "He didn't even mention the war in Afghanistan much less let the American people know what he wants to do about it."
The Obama campaign will hammer that theme by making sure its officials and surrogates talk about the ongoing war in Afghanistan with a particular focus on veterans. There are a host of veterans' panel and training events, some being run by the DNCC's Veterans Advisory Group, the DNC Veterans and Military Families Council, and the Truman National Security Project, a center left advocacy organization.
In addition to holding training sessions for veterans and military families on messaging and getting out the military vote for Obama, groups like the Truman Project will hold public events such as a breakfast panel Sept. 5 with former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, former Under Secretary of Defense for Policy Michèle Flournoy, the other co-chair of the Obama campaign's national security advisory group, and Iraq veteran and congressional candidate Tammy Duckworth.
Obama and his team this week will also tout the president's record on fighting terrorism, his decision to green-light the mission that killed al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, and the fulfillment of his 2008 campaign promise to end the war in Iraq.
Kahl said that the Obama campaign will push back on Romney's claim that Obama doesn't believe in American exceptionalism. "Guess what: Democrats think American is exceptional and great too. We love our country as much as the Republicans do. So that's not a distinction between us," he said.
Kahl speculated that the Romney campaign has been reluctant to talk about several foreign-policy issues, such as the war in Afghanistan, because in many areas the former governor's policies aren't actually all that different from the president's.
"They like to describe our current policies but masquerade that description as criticism. Any criticism on Afghanistan obscures the fact that Mitt Romney basically endorses the president's way forward, as far as we can tell. On Israel and Iran, Romney talks tough but his policies would be identical to those of President Obama," he said.
Romney does have distinctly different policies from Obama on dealing with major powers like Russia and China, but those policies are risky and backward-looking, Kahl argued.
"In those few areas where there are differences, [Romney's] policies are downright scary, whether it's calling Russia our No. 1 geopolitical foe or threatening to start a trade war with China on day one of his administration," he said.
In his acceptance speech in Tampa, Romney touched on a few foreign policy issues, briefly.
"Every American is less secure today because he has failed to slow Iran's nuclear threat. In his first TV interview as president, he said we should talk to Iran. We're still talking, and Iran’s centrifuges are still spinning," Romney said. "President Obama has thrown allies like Israel under the bus..."
Kahl said those arguements are just rhetoric and that Romney doesn't have policies that would change the U.S. approach to Iran or Israel in any significant way.
"On Israel, by any objective measure Obama has been a better for Israel's security than any president in modern times," said Kahl. "On Iran, Mitt Romney's writings on this have been descriptions of the president's policies described as criticisms. The only difference you get is bluster and tough talk. Some of his surrogates like John Bolton want to go to war yesterday, but it's not clear that's where Mitt Romney is."
Republicans often accuse Obama of "spiking the football" after the killing of bin Laden, but Kahl said that Republicans have no right to claim the moral high ground on that issue.
"That's a little ironic from a party whose last president landed on an aircraft carrier and declared ‘Mission Accomplished' in Iraq," he said. "Brining justice to Osama bin Laden is something that all Americans should be proud of. This was an extraordinarily tough call."
Democratic groups will be speaking about a range of other national security and foreign policy issues this week in Charlotte as well. Flournoy and former assistant secretary of defense for public affairs Douglas Wilson will speak at an event on the defense budget hosted by Bloomberg Sept. 4. Nuclear non-proliferation will be discussed at a Sept. 5 event put on by the Council for a Livable World and featuring former ambassador Peter Galbraith. Former State Department official Tamara Wittes will speak at a Sept. 5 event on the role of women in the new Middle East.
On Thurs, Sept. 6, Truman will hold a series of discussions on foreign policy featuring Kahl, Wilson, Zvika Krieger, senior vice president at the S. Daniel Abraham Center for Middle East Peace, Janine Davidson, former deputy assistant secretary of defense for plans, Steven Koltai, former senior advisor for entrepreneurship to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and Paula Broadwell, author of All In, a biography of CIA director and retired general David Petraeus.
Also on Thursday, the National Democratic Institute will team up with the U.S. Global Leadership Coalition to put on an event featuring Albright, Flournoy, former U.S. Ambassador to India Tim Roemer, former Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg, and White House Chief of Staff Jack Lew.
All of those events lead into a
national security themed segment of the final program Sept. 6 at Bank of
America stadium, which will feature a speech by Senate Foreign Relations
Committee Chairman John Kerry
"The American people understand that President Obama has been a strong commander-in-chief, and we're looking forward to highlighting these important issues at the convention," an Obama campaign official said. "Senator Kerry will speak to how the President has restored America's leadership in the world, has taken the fight to our enemies, and has a plan to bring our troops home from Afghanistan just like he did from Iraq. He will contrast the President's strong leadership in this area with Mitt Romney, who has embraced the go-it-alone, reckless policies of the past that weakened America's place in the world and made us less secure here at home."
Mitt Romney will promise to restore American leadership in the areas of democracy promotion, trade, energy, and he will pledge to build up the military in his speech tonight accepting the GOP nomination for president.
"We will honor America's democratic ideals because a free world is a more peaceful world. This is the bipartisan foreign policy legacy of Truman and Reagan. And under my presidency we will return to it once again," the former Massachusetts governor will say tonight, according to excerpts released by the campaign.
That phrasing tracks closely with what senior foreign-policy advisor Rich Williamson said to The Cable last week, although Williamson included John F. Kennedy in the list with Harry Truman and Ronald Reagan.
"The America we all know has been a story of the many becoming one, uniting to preserve liberty, uniting to build the greatest economy in the world, uniting to save the world from unspeakable darkness," Romney will say, hitting on the campaign's theme of getting tougher with adversaries.
"That America, that united America, will preserve a military that is so strong, no nation would ever dare to test it," Romney will add, reinforcing his campaign's promise to increase funding for the military.
Romney will say he has a plan to make the United States "energy independent" by 2020. He will promise to pursue new trade agreements and impose consequences on those countries that cheat in trade. He will take a swipe at Europe and pledge to avoid a Europe-like economic crisis.
"To assure every entrepreneur and every job creator that their investments in America will not vanish as have those in Greece, we will cut the deficit and put America on track to a balanced budget," Romney will say.
He will begin the speech by talking about the hopes that President Barack Obama would be a paradigm-shifting leader -- hopes that Republicans argue have been dashed.
"Four years ago, I know that many Americans felt a fresh excitement about the possibilities of a new president. That president was not the choice of our party, but Americans always come together after elections. We are a good and generous people who are united by so much more than divides us. When that hard-fought election was over -- when the yard signs came down and the television commercials finally came off the air, Americans were eager to go back to work, to live our lives the way Americans always have -- optimistic and positive and confident in the future. That very optimism is uniquely American," he will say.
"I wish President Obama had succeeded because I want America to succeed. But his promises gave way to disappointment and division. This isn't something we have to accept. Now is the moment when we CAN do something. With your help we will do something." (Emphasis in the original.)
Romney will conclude by promising to be the paradigm-shifting leader that he believes Obama is not.
"If I am elected president of these United States, I will work with all my energy and soul to restore that America, to lift our eyes to a better future. That future is our destiny. That future is out there. It is waiting for us. Our children deserve it, our nation depends upon it, the peace and freedom of the world require it," Romney will say. "And with your help we will deliver it. Let us begin that future together tonight."
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, as a sitting administration official, does not have any role at the Democratic National Convention next week in Charlotte. But she seems to gone out of her way to avoid the festivities, as she is traveling this week and next to the Cook Islands, Indonesia, China, Timor-Leste, Brunei, and Russia.
"The Cook Islands this year are the hosts of one of the most important institutions of the Pacific called the Pacific Island Forum," a senior State Department official said Thursday. "It's a group that meets yearly with a number of working groups. It's been in existence almost half a century; it's very significant."
It's not Charlotte, but it is a big gathering. Last year, the administration sent 50 officials to the forum, representing 17 different federal agencies. Deputy Secretary of State Tom Nides led the delegation in 2011. The official said this trip was part of the administration's rebalancing toward Asia, with a special focus on the smaller countries around the region's periphery.
"Sometimes when we talk about the Asia Pacific, the A is the capital and P is small. And our attempt here is to underscore that we have very strong, enduring, strategic, moral, political, humanitarian interests across the region. It's an area in which we invested substantially historically -- blood and treasure," the official said.
"I just returned about two weeks ago from my own trip around the Pacific," the State Department official said. (Your humble Cable guy did did not attend the briefing, so we have no direct knowledge of the identity of the briefer, but the State Department publicly announced the foreign travel of Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Kurt Campbell earlier this month.)
Clinton will meet in the Cook Islands with Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard and New Zealand Prime Minister John Key and will be joined by Pacific Command head Adm. Sam Locklear, the anonymous State Department official said.
In Indonesia, Clinton will meet President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa. Expect her to press Indonesia to work better with other ASEAN countries to come to a consensus position on how to confront China over the South China Sea. ASEAN failed to come to a consensus position at the ASEAN Regional Forum in July, despite Washington's urgings.
Next, Clinton is off to Beijing to meet with President Hu Jintao, Vice President Xi Jinping, and State Councilor Dai Bingguo. She will also have "intense meetings" with Foreign Minister Yang Jiachi, the official said. Topics on the agenda include the South China Sea, North Korea, Iran, Syria, and Afghanistan.
"I think the secretary intends very clearly to underscore our continuing interest in maintaining a strong, positive relationship between our two countries," the official said. "We recognize how critically important that is, and one of the challenges before us is to demonstrate how we deal with areas in which we have differing perceptions and where we face challenging issues on the ground, or in this case in the water."
After Beijing, Clinton will go to Timor-Leste and visit a coffee plantation. Next is Brunei, which will host the East Asia Summit in 2013, probably after Clinton leaves office. Then, she will go to an island off the shore of Vladivostok for the APEC summit, where she'll lead a large U.S. delegation and will likely hold a series of high-level bilateral meetings.
Pressed to explain exactly how the administration plans to advance U.S. and allied interests related to the South China Sea dispute on the trip, the official offered few specifics.
"I would say that the United States has sought to articulate a very clear set of principles that animate our strategic approach to the Asia Pacific region, and particularly to the South China Sea. Those will continue," the official said.
"We have had very intense consultations with every key player in the Asia Pacific region. I think one of the messages that we seek to carry on this trip is that it is absolutely essential that cooler heads prevail in every capital, and that great care be taken on these issues, and that, in fact, all of these complex territorial matters have existed for decades. They have been managed generally effectively for decades, and during this period we've seen some of the most manifest Asian prosperity. We need that to continue. This is the cockpit of the global economy, and so care must be taken across the board."
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TAMPA - A series of speakers at the Republican National Convention Wednesday ripped into President Barack Obama's foreign policy, but offered few clear insights into how Mitt Romney's might differ.
Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, the only top Bush administration official to speak at the convention, was arguably the star of the evening, speaking to cheers and applause when she said that countries around the world are confused and concerned about Obama's position on crucial national security issues.
"Indeed that is the question of the moment -- ‘Where does America stand?'" she said. "When our friends and our foes, alike, do not know the answer to that question -- clearly and unambiguously -- the world is a chaotic and dangerous place. The U.S. has since the end of World War II had an answer -- we stand for free peoples and free markets, we are willing to support and defend them --- we will sustain a balance of power that favors freedom."
Without referring to the president directly, Rice called on the United States to boost its support for human rights, democracy, and dissident movements in authoritarian. She did, however, repeat the by-now familiar charge, a reference to an administration official's anonymous quote in a New Yorker article, that Obama has been "leading from behind" abroad.
"[I]f we are not inspired to lead again, one of two things will happen -- no one will lead and that will foster chaos --- or others who do not share our values will fill the vacuum," she said. "My fellow Americans, we do not have a choice. We cannot be reluctant to lead -- and one cannot lead from behind."
Rice indirectly criticized the Obama administration for failing to pursue new free trade agreements, moving too slowly to secure new sources of energy, and mishandling the economy. She touted the idea of "American exceptionalism" and said that a Romney administration wojuld restore American power by bolstering economic growth and drawing clearer distinctions between friends and enemies.
"Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan understand this reality -- that our leadership abroad and our well being at home are inextricably linked. They know what needs to be done. Our friends and allies must be able to trust us. From Israel to Poland to the Philippines to Colombia and across the world -- they must know that we are reliable and consistent and determined. And our adversaries must have no reason to doubt our resolve -- because peace really does come through strength. Our military capability and technological advantage will be safe in Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan's hands," she said.
Rice referenced the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks at the beginning of her remarks, but didn't mention the wars in Iraq or Afghanistan or any of the controversial counterterrorism policies that she presided over as national security advisor and secretary of state.
She said that under a Romney administration, the United States will remain the most powerful country on Earth but didn't get into the details of how the former Massachusetts governor would tackle critical challenges such as the crisis in Syria, Iran's nuclear program, or the Middle East conflict.
"Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan have the experience and the integrity and the vision to lead us -- they know who we are, what we want to be and what we offer the world," she said.
Earlier in the evening, Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) lashed out at Obama's handling of national security and foreign policy in more explicit language and said that Romney's election was needed to maintain world peace and stability.
"His election represents our best hopes for our country and the world," McCain said. "Unfortunately, for four years, we've drifted away from our proudest traditions of global leadership -- traditions that are truly bipartisan. We've let the challenges we face, both at home and abroad, become harder to solve. We can't afford to stay on that course any longer."
McCain criticized Obama for setting a timeline for withdrawal from Afghanistan, a timeline Romney has endorsed, and accused the president of slashing funding for the military and abandoning the cause of human rights.
"In other times, when other courageous people fought for their freedom against sworn enemies of the United States, American presidents -- both Republicans and Democrats -- have acted to help them prevail," he said. "Sadly, for the lonely voices of dissent in Syria, and Iran, and elsewhere, who feel forgotten in their darkness, and sadly for us, as well, our president is not being true to our values."
The Romney campaign has been careful to avoid spelling out specific prescriptions on international affairs, preferring instead to touch on broad themes. Analysts and reporters have scrutinized his statements and those of his advisors, trying to discern whether the candidate is more of a foreign-policy realist or a neoconservative at heart.
In an interview with The Cable Wednesday, former Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty explained that Romney subscribes to the "Mitt Romney school" of foreign policy.
"Knowing Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan quite well, I would say to you that they are directionally and foundationally sturdy and sound, and quite Reaganesque in that regard," Pawlenty said. "Mitt Romney is a prolific reader and a student of history ... I'm highly confident it will not be amateur hour."
The biggest looming question about how a President Mitt Romney would steer the American ship of state is whether he would favor the realist tendencies of the Republican Party establishment or the neoconservative leanings of its younger generation.
Former Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty, mooted by some as a possible secretary of state in a Romney administration, told The Cable in an exclusive interview Wednesday that Romney won't choose either side and would rather chart his own foreign-policy vision based on his core beliefs about how the world works and what American's role should be in it.
"I would put him in the Mitt Romney school," Pawlenty when asked to which school of foreign policy the former governor adheres.
Romney won't choose between one camp or the other and will chart out his policies on international issues on a case-by-case basis, Pawlenty said. But the evidence so far shows that Romney is more certainly more hawkish and aggressive than President Barack Obama, he said.
"If you look at [Romney's] philosophical and directional comments and policy positions, you see him speak to the importance of a strong America and that strength being backed up by the capabilities provided by a robust funding of the military," Pawlenty said.
"I think you've seen Romney take a more robust approach [than Obama] on issues such as how you deal with Russia, how you deal with China, how you deal with arming and equipping the rebels on the ground in Syria without putting American boots on the ground," Pawlenty said. "In terms of where that falls within the gradations of conservative foreign policy, I put him in the Mitt Romney's school, not somebody else's school."
The questions over Romney's foreign-policy core identity is paramount because he has little hands-on experience on international affairs, the former governor's critics say.
At a Wednesday event hosted by the Foreign Policy Initiative, a neoconservative-leaning organization, Pawlenty argued that Romney's chief national security credential is his core confidence in his foreign- policy vision and knowledge.
"Knowing Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan quite well, I would say to you that they are directionally and foundationally sturdy and sound, and quite Reaganesque in that regard," Pawlenty told the audience. "Mitt Romney is a prolific reader and a student of history ... I'm highly confident it will not be amateur hour."
Pawlenty, the co-chair of Romney's campaign and a top surrogate, holds well-formed foreign policy views on a range of issues and spoke often during his bid for president about his views on foreign policy, which combines a hawkish approach to dealing with enemies with an emphasis on soft power and support for foreign aid.
He is among a few names rumored to be in contention for the job of secretary of state in a future Romney administration, along with Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-CT) and Council on Foreign Relations President Richard Haass. Lieberman skews toward neoconservatism, Haass toward realism, with Pawlenty somewhere in between. The head of national security transition planning on the Romney campaign's "Readiness Project" is former World Bank President Bob Zoellick, a devout realist who may want the Foggy Bottom job for himself.
Pawlenty said he is not working with the "Readiness Project" in a formal way yet and declined to say whether he would accept a top job in a future Romney administration.
"I don't know what my future holds but I will tell you I'm thoroughly enjoying my time in the private sector," he said.
Stay tuned tomorrow for Part 2 of The Cable's exclusive interview with Pawlenty, which includes new information on how a Romney administration would deal with the challenges of Iran, Syria, Middle East peace, and the looming defense budget cuts.
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TAMPA - The Democratic Party is planning to feature national security and foreign policy at its convention next week in an unprecedented way, fueling concern here in Tampa that the Romney campaign isn't paying enough attention to those issues.
Despite some think-tank events around town featuring Romney campaign foreign-policy advisors, there was almost no mention of foreign policy or national security Tuesday at the convention itself, outside of New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie's call for "a second American century." Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was at Mitt Romney's side inside the convention hall Tuesday night and former U.N. Ambassador John Bolton was spotted in Romney's VIP box, but that was about it.
That's sure to change tonight with speeches by GOP leaders including Rice, Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), former Gov. Tim Pawlenty, Sen. John Thune (R-SD), and Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY). Rice said at an event Wednesday afternoon that she will speak about American leadership in her speech. Expect McCain to hammer on the theme that Obama has been leading from behind on foreign policy, an argument he laid out in an essay for Foreign Policy today.
"For the past four years, President Barack Obama has unfortunately pursued policies that are diminishing America's global prestige and influence," McCain wrote. "This is a recipe for America's decline as a great power, and we cannot afford to continue on that course."
GOP foreign-policy hands here in Tampa are concerned that the party and the campaign and losing ground in the foreign-policy debate and are warning that the Romney campaign's strategy of deprioritizing national security in favor of focusing on the economy may leave them unprepared if simmering crises in places like Syria or Iran push themselves to the fore.
"World events are likely to intrude on this presidential race and Republicans will need to be ready with more than just imagery," one GOP official told The Cable. "Hopefully over the last two days the convention will devote some time to national security, especially given the Democrats' plans to do so in Charlotte."
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TAMPA - In a move that is sure to ignite a firestorm of speculation about who would be Secretary of State in a second Obama administration, President Barack Obama has chosen Sen. John Kerry (D-MA) to deliver a key national security themed speech on the final night of the Democratic National Convention.
An Obama campaign official told The Cable Tuesday that Kerry, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and a highly rumored candidate to replace Hillary Clinton in Foggy Bottom when she steps down next year, will headline a special segment of the program on Thursday, Sept. 6, focusing on national security. The Sept. 6 program will take place at Bank of America stadium and will conclude with Obama's speech accepting his party's nomination for a second term.
The move is a reflection of the Obama campaign's growing confidence in the area of national security versus a candidate in Mitt Romney who is seen as being light on national security and foreign policy experience and whose campaign has deprioritized discussing national security in an effort to keep the focus on Obama's economic record.
"President Obama's strong record on national security and veterans issues is clear - from ending the war in Iraq responsibly, to refocusing on al-Qaeda and decimating its leadership, to taking care of our men and women in uniform when they return home. These issues will play a significant role throughout the week of the Democratic Convention," the Obama campaign official said.
Kerry has always denied he is lobbying for Clinton's job, but insiders say he is on a short list along with U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice and National Security Advisor Tom Donilon. Rice is rumored to be the front runner, due in part to her longtime personal relationship with Obama, which dates back to his time as a senator.
Donilon's chances are said to have diminished since he became the focus of accusations that the Obama White House has been leaking classified national security information for political purposes. Those accusations could make Donilon's Senate confirmation difficult.
Rice and Donilon are not speaking at the convention, but that's not an indication of their stature or chances for promotion. Sitting national security officials aren't permitted to engage directly in election-related political activities.
The Kerry speech in Charlotte is also a chance for the Obama campaign to push back against the groups of special operations veterans that are mobilizing a campaign to attack Obama's national security record by pointing to the leaks and accusing Obama of spiking the football after the killing of Osama bin Laden.
When Kerry ran for president unsuccessfully in 2004, his service in Vietnam, during which he was awarded three purple hearts, was attacked by a series of well-funded groups such as Swift Boat Veterans for Truth. Some of those same veterans are the ones organizing the anti-Obama veterans groups this year.
The Obama campaign official described Kerry as "a decorated combat veteran, and a tribute to the men and women of the United States Armed Forces."
Overall, the message Kerry will deliver will be that Obama has made progress in correcting what Democrats see as the foreign policy failures of the George W. Bush administration and that Romney would return America to those policies.
"The American people understand that President Obama has been a strong commander-in-chief, and we're looking forward to highlighting these important issues at the convention," the Obama campaign official said. "Senator Kerry will speak to how the President has restored America's leadership in the world, has taken the fight to our enemies, and has a plan to bring our troops home from Afghanistan just like he did from Iraq. He will contrast the President's strong leadership in this area with Mitt Romney, who has embraced the go-it-alone, reckless policies of the past that weakened America's place in the world and made us less secure here at home."
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TAMPA — Mitt Romney's topforeign-policy advisors said Thursday that the presumptive Republican nominee is not ready to support growing international calls for establishing a no-fly zone inside Syria.
"The governor has not called for a no-fly zone. Close friends of his such as Sens. McCain, Lieberman, and Graham have called for a no-fly zone for weeks. That is not a step that Governor Romney has made," senior campaign advisor Rich Williamson told The Cable on the sidelines of a foreign-policy event here at the Republican National Convention.
The Washington representatives of the internal Syrian opposition and the Free Syrian Army publicly called on the Obama administration to support a no-fly zone inside Syria this week. French President François Hollande said Monday that France would recognize a rebel government if the Syrian opposition declared one, and French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian signaled support for a no-fly zone last week.
Williamson and other panelists at the event, hosted by the International Republican Institute, including former Sen. Jim Talent, former Sen. NormColeman, and former Rep. Vin Weberall heavily criticized President Barack Obama's handling of the Syria crisis over the last 18 months.
But the Romney team struggled to draw clear distinctions between its policy and what the Obama administration is already doing. For now, the Romney camp is sticking to its calls for arming the rebels directly but not using U.S. military assets inside Syria.
"If we had taken Romney's advice on working with the opposition to help organize them and help the moderates and help arm the opposition, we wouldn't be in the crisis we are in now," Williams told The Cable.
Romney would have not wasted time placating Russia at the U.N. Security Council and would have assembled a "coalition of the relevant" tosupport the Syrian rebels diplomatically, politically, and with weapons to fight the regime, Williamson said.
"When the U.S. has vital interests at stake, it's now going to play Mother-May-I with the Security Council ... as we've seen with the Security Council on Syria and the intransigence of Moscow," he said.
Coleman said that the Obama administration is "leading from behind" on Syria and that strategy hurts U.S. effectiveness across the spectrum of international issues.
"The challenge we're facing is that some of those folks in the coalition of the relevant are questioning U.S. resolve ... so the lack ofleadership has consequences that in the end make it more difficult to form the kind of coalitions we need to solve problems," he said.
"President Hollande has pointed in the direction that wehave wanted to go for a long time," Weber said. "You have to give him credit for providing leadership in a situation where the U.S. has not provided leadership."
Talent compared the situation to the international intervention in Bosnia and pointed to Bill Clinton's reluctance to intervene until the situation had dramatically worsened.
"When you're leading from behind -- and let's face it, that's what the administration has been doing -- you don't have control over events," he said.
Williamson acknowledged that the Obama administration is working with the opposition to vet rebel groups and help them organize, but said that a President Romney would have been doing so a long time ago.
"We appreciate the fact that only 13 months after Governor Romney suggested [working with the opposition], President Obama took his advice, but 17,000 people have died," Williamson said. "Allowing things to drift, holding your breath, crossing your fingers, and hoping things are getting better doesn't solve the problem. Where has the U.S. been? The answer unfortunately is missing in action."
The main group representing the Free Syrian Army (FSA) in Washington is calling for the United States and the international community to forcibly establish a partial no-fly zone in Syria for the first time since the 18-month revolution began.
The Syrian regime's increased use of air power to attack Syrian cities, combined with the increased control over land by the Syrian rebels, makes the idea viable, said Louay Sakka, co-founder of the Syrian Support Group (SSG), in an interview with The Cable.
The SSG is the main link between the U.S. government and the FSA and has emerged in recent months as the key organization in Washington dealing directly with the internal Syrian political and military leadership.
"This is right now the time for a no-fly zone to take place. We need to stop the fixed-wing and helicopters from attacking," Sakka said. "The regime cannot hold ground without air power or heavy artillery. Things have changed in many ways. The fighter jets cannot attack only the FSA; they have random targeting and that means a lot casualties: children, women, older people, people who have nothing to do with the fight, and they are dying in huge numbers."
The SSG's call for a no fly zone comes just as reports are surfacing that the Syrian military closed off the Damascus suburb of Daraya last week and began a brutal assault resulting in hundreds of civilian deaths. Some 30,000 Syrians fled to neighboring countries last week alone, pushing the external refugee total over the 200,000 mark, according to U.N. figures.
But an administration official speaking on condition of anonymity told The Cable that the White House is still resisting any move that would see U.S. military assets used inside Syria, such as through a no-fly zone, but opponents of intervention are slowly losing ground.
"It's a Donilon call at the end of the day," the official said, referring to National Security Advisor Tom Donilon, who is leading a complicated interagency policy process on the Syria crisis. "There's not enthusiasm but there are differences of opinion about a no-fly zone," the official said. "There is no rush to do it."
The Assad regime's lack of use of fixed-wing aircraft was cited internally as a reason not to declare at no-fly zone and that reason no longer applies, the official argued. Opponents of a no-fly zone have also argued that the Syrian internal opposition had not formally requested it. That reason is also no longer operative.
"There's a question of whether or not our government is willing to reject the request. Or they could take it into consideration for a long time," the official said. "There's a recognition that some decision has to be made. We are quickly reaching a turning point due to the escalation."
The official confirmed that rebels are taking a serious toll on the regime's armor in Aleppo and Idlib provinces, pushing the regime to rely more heavily on its air superiority and massive artillery bombardments.
"These local rebel groups are gaining in organization and territory but they are there's still a significant gap in their capacity to fight back against the 500-pound bombs being dropped by regime aircraft," the official said, but warned, "No other countries are going to go all in until they see what the Americans are going to do."
The French government is pushing the Obama administration toward a decision, as in Libya a year ago. French President François Hollande said Monday that France would recognize a rebel government if the Syrian opposition declared one, and French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian signaled support for a no-fly zone last week.
Sakka said that based on his interactions with Obama administration officials, he believes that U.S. involvement in a no-fly zone is being seriously considered now.
"If we brought it up a few weeks ago [to the administration], their reaction was ‘Don't even think about it.' And now the reaction is ‘We're thinking about it,'" he said. "That's a good step forward. Now we're looking for them to move it from a plan to implementation."
Sakka acknowledges that a no-fly zone would include using foreign military assets to attack Syrian air defenses and perhaps even engage Syrian aircraft directly. Turkey and other countries are ready to move toward that if the United States would agree to the idea, and safe zones already established in Turkey could be expanded to include a 10-kilometer buffer zone along the border inside Syria, he said.
"We need an area inside Syrian soil that we know cannot be attacked by the regime. And that's what we think is doable... This is the minimum required at this stage," Sakka said. "It will be a big mistake down the road not to do this now before the amount of casualties is so big and the amount of destabilization happens that it spreads further outside Syria."
The SSG is working closely with the State Department, especially the office of Ambassador to Syria Robert Ford, to increase the U.S. understanding of the internal Syrian opposition. The SSG is also helping various local rebel councils organize into a more coherent chain of command that can communicate effectively both among themselves as well as with outsiders, potentially tackling another key obstacle the United States says stands in the way of more robust and direct American support to the FSA.
The SSG's effort to become the conduit between the U.S. government and the FSA seems to be working. Earlier this summer, the State Department and Treasury Department changed policy to allow the SSG to send cash from the United States to the FSA -- cash the FSA can use for weapons despite the administration's refusal to directly arm the rebels.
One American politician urging intervention is Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-CT) who was in Paris last week and met with Le Drian, as well as French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, National Security Adviser Paul Jean-Ortiz, Foreign Ministry Political Director Jacques Audibert, Hollande's military advisor, Gen. Benoit Puga, Eric Chevallier, the French ambassador to Syria, and members of the Syrian opposition based in Paris.
"I'm very encouraged by the discussions I had with the French leadership about Syria," Lieberman told The Cable from Paris. "As Assad has sharply escalated his use of attack helicopters and fighter aircraft against the Syrian people in recent weeks, there is an increasingly clear and compelling case for a limited no-fly zone. While this would require no U.S. combat forces on the ground, it could have a strategically significant impact by reinforcing the emerging rebel safe zones in northern Syria and allowing the opposition the space they need to organize politically and establish a transitional government on Syrian soil."
Two leading congressmen are calling on the Obama administration to use its leverage in international financial institutions to press for greater fiscal transparency in Burma, formally known as Myanmar, and ensure progress in the human rights situation in the Southeast Asian country as it emerges from decades of isolation.
The two leaders of the House Committee on Financial Services, Chairman Spencer Bachus (R-AL), and ranking Democrat Barney Frank (D-MA) wrote a letter Aug. 22, obtained by The Cable, to Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner asking him to safeguard the fragile reform process in Burma and ensure that Burma's opening to the world is done according to international financial management standards and with respect to the welfare of the Burmese people. Today Burmese President Thein Sein reshuffled his cabinet, replacing key ministers with reform minded appointees.
The lawmakers specifically called out the Myanmar Oil and Gas Enterprise (MOGE), which saw sanctions relief from the U.S. government despite suspected corruption and ties the Burmese military. Obama lifted the ban on U.S. companies doing business with MOGE in July, over the objections of Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi, now a member of the circumscribed Burmese legislature.
"We are cautiously optimistic that Burma will continue to implement necessary reforms, but we believe vigilance on questions of government transparency and human rights remain critical," the lawmakers wrote. "We urge the administration to use its leadership at the IFIs [international financial institutions] to emphasize fiscal transparency, systems of accountability and respect for human rights and to insist that the institutions pay close attention to the urgent social needs of the Burmese people."
They want the IMF's Code of Good Practice on Fiscal Transparency enforced on all branches of the Burmese government, including the military and MOGE. The code would require the government and its state enterprises (including MOGE), in essence, to publish their revenues and expenditures and subject them to public and parliamentary oversight, as well as an independent auditing process.
"Such transparency is necessary is necessary not only to allow the IFIs to properly supervise the use of multilateral aid but also to help end corruption and the off budget funding of the Burmese military," the letter states.
Burma is a resource-rich county that could provide for its people but remains mired in corruption and mismanagement, Tom Malinowski, Washington director of Human Rights Watch, told The Cable.
He said that IFI lending for big infrastructure projects, absent fiscal transparency reforms, could reinforce those bad habits, making the promotion of fiscal transparency central to the IFIs' mission. The IFIs hold good leverage over the Burmese government because infrastructure development is one of the regime's key goals.
"The key question in Burma's reform process is whether elected civilians will wrest full control over the country from the military establishment, including control of revenues from Burma's lucrative oil and gas and mineral exports. It's not just Aung San Suu Kyi who wants this - Burma's reformist president and its new parliament also have a huge stake in figuring out where the money is and asserting their authority to oversee how it's spent," Malinowski said. "It would help them if the IFI's prioritized fiscal transparency - providing technical assistance to help the Burmese get there, and holding up lending for big infrastructure projects until they do."
Carjackings, robberies, kidnappings, and militia violence all are on the rise in Libya, prompting the State Department to warn U.S. citizens to stay away from the North African country, nearly a year after Libyan rebels seized the capital Tripoli from Muammar al-Qaddafi's forces.
Ironically, the State Department resumed full consular services for travel to and inside Libya today, but simultaneously advised Americans the country was too dangerous to visit. Militias are rounding up foreigners with little regard to the actual law or due process and the State Department has little influence with them, the department is warning.
"The Department of State warns U.S. citizens against all but essential travel to Libya," reads the new travel warning issued today. "The incidence of violent crime, especially carjacking and robbery, has become a serious problem. In addition, political violence in the form of assassinations and vehicle bombs has increased in both Benghazi and Tripoli."
The warning is the first the State Department has issued since September 2011 and the first since the July 7 elections in Libya, which saw the Transnational National Council, which has been running the country since Qaddafi's fall, replaced this month by the General National Congress. Those elections were deemed to be free and fair, but now political uncertainly has been replaced by insecurity on the streets of Libya's major cities.
"Despite this progress, violent crime continues to be a problem in Tripoli, Benghazi, and other parts of the country," the travel warning said. "In particular, armed carjacking and robbery are on the rise. In addition, political violence, including car bombings in Tripoli and assassinations of military officers and alleged former regime officials in Benghazi, has increased. Inter-militia conflict can erupt at any time or any place in the country."
The State Department noted the kidnapping of 7 members of the Iranian Red Crescent delegation by an Islamic Libya militia late last month. The delegation had been invited by the government but was being questioned by the militia "to determine whether their activities and intentions aimed to spread the doctrine of Shiite Islam," a Libyan official told AFP.
Islamic extremists are also blamed for a string of attacks on historical and sacred religious sites over the past days aimed at Muslims of the Sufi sect and conducted in some cases with the help of uniformed members of Libya's Interior Ministry. Interior Minister Fawzi Abdel A'al resigned due to the scandal Sunday night.
Militias are also apprehending foreigners for "perceived or actual violations of Libyan law," and the State Department might not be able help because the militias may not be sanctioned or controlled by the government.
Adm. William McRaven, the head of Special Operations Command and the architect of the raid that killed Osama bin Laden, wrote a memo to the special operations community making clear that using the "special operations" moniker for political purposes is not OK.
McRaven sent an unclassified memo, not released to the public but obtained by The Cable, that began with an admonishment of special operators who write books about secret operations, such as the forthcoming book No Easy Day¸ which was written by a Navy SEAL who claims to have been part of the May 1, 2011 raid on bin Laden's Abbottabad compound. Fox News reported Thursday that the author is 36-year-old Matt Bissonnette, whom defense officials say never cleared the book with anyone in the Pentagon.
But the second half of McRaven's memo referred to the multiple groups of former special operators who have formed political groups to criticize President Barack Obama for what they see as taking undue credit for the bin Laden raid and accusing him of leaking its details to the press. Those groups are made up of former military men who had no connection to the actual raid, who often have Republican political leanings and longtime animus against Obama, and some of whom say the president was not born in the United States.
"I am also concerned about the growing trend of using the special operations ‘brand,' our seal, symbols and unit names, as part of any political or special interest campaign," McRaven wrote in an implicit but clear reference to groups like the Special Operations OPSEC Education Fund and Special Operations Speaks (SOS).
"Let me be completely clear on this issue: USSOCOM does not endorse any political viewpoint, opinion or special interest," McRaven wrote. "I encourage, strongly encourage active participation in our political process by both active duty SOF personnel, where it is appropriate under the ethics rules and retired members of the SOF community. However, when a group brands itself as Special Operations for the purpose of pushing a specific agenda, then they have misrepresented the entire nature of SOF and life in the military."
"Our promise to the American people is that we, the military, are non-partisan, apolitical and will serve the President of the United States regardless of his political party. By attaching a Special Operation's moniker or a unit or service name to a political agenda, those individuals have now violated the most basic of our military principles," McRaven wrote.
His remarks are stronger but along the same lines as those by Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey, who said the groups' efforts were counter to the ethos of the military.
"It's not useful. It's not useful to me," Dempsey said Wednesday. "And one of the things that marks us as a profession in a democracy, in our form of democracy, that's most important is that we remain apolitical. That's how we maintain our bond and trust with the American people."
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Recently departed U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan Ryan Crocker was arrested earlier this month for driving under the influence and hit and run in his hometown of Spokane, WA.
Washington state troopers placed Crocker under arrest the evening of Aug. 14 after he allegedly fled the scene of an accident and registered a blood-alcohol level nearly twice the legal limit, Washington's KXLY reported today. Crocker was reported to have swiped a semi-tractor trailer with his 2009 Ford Mustang while trying to make a right turn across two lanes of traffic from the leftmost lane. An eyewitness took down his vehicle information and gave it to the police. There were no injuries.
Crocker was placed under arrest and taken to the local precinct, where he blew a 0.16 blood-alcohol level in his first sobriety test. He registered a 0.152 BAC on his second test. The trooper on the scene said that Crocker was noticeably intoxicated but cooperative. He could not have been unaware of the accident, the troopers said.
He posted $1,000 bail for each charge and pleaded not guilty to both charges the next day. Crocker's next court hearing is Sept. 12 and he has been ordered not to consume alcohol or drugs unless prescribed and he will have to submit to alcohol testing beginning tomorrow.
The State Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
One of America's most distinguished diplomats. Crocker stepped down as America's envoy in Kabul last month due to health problems. He had come out of retirement in 2011 to take the Afghanistan job at the personal request of President Barack Obama following a four-decade career in the Foreign Service, during which he served as U.S. ambassador to Iraq, Pakistan, Syria, Kuwait, and Lebanon.
He was dean of the George Bush School of Government and Public Service from 2010 to 2011. President George W. Bush once called him "America's Lawrence of Arabia." His replacement, former Ambassador to Israel James Cunningham, was confirmed by the Senate Aug. 3 and is in Kabul now.
In June, the White House withdrew Obama's nominee to be ambassador to the Netherlands Timothy Broas following his arrest for drunk driving and resisting arrest.
Two top foreign-policy advisors to Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney laid out policies for dealing with Iran this week and neither matches what the former Massachusetts governor has said on the issue.
Former senior National Security Council aide Elliott Abrams, who has been rumored as a potential top official in a future Romney administration, wrote on the Weekly Standard's website Aug. 21 that now is the time for Congress to authorize the use of military force against Iran as a means of preventing Israel from striking Iran's nuclear facilities.
"Why would Israel, with so much less power than the United States, decide to take on a task at the far outer edge of its military capacities? Why not leave that task to the superpower, which would do a much better job? The answer is simple: Israelis do not believe the United States will perform the task-will ever use military force, even as a last resort, to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons," Abrams wrote.
Abrams said that Israel does not trust President Barack Obama's repeated assurances, including at the AIPAC conference in March, that he will not allow Iran to get the bomb and that he is prepared to use military force. Abrams quotes Gen. Amos Yadlin, a former head of Israeli military intelligence who said last week that many Israelis don't believe Obama.
"There is a certain feeling in Israel that perhaps the president's declaration at AIPAC is not sufficient, and that maybe much more binding and stronger steps need to be taken," Yadlin said.
Congress is unlikely to pass an authorization to use force in Iran before the election. There are only a handful of legislative days in September and before lawmakers left town for the August recess, the Senate wasn't even able to pass a highly touted bipartisan resolution stating the sense of the Senate that containment of a nuclear Iran is not acceptable.
On Wednesday, another senior Romney foreign-policy advisor, former U.N. Ambassador John Bolton, laid out a different policy prescription for Iran in the Washington Times. He agrees with Abrams that Obama's assurances about preventing a nuclear Iran are not credible, but suggests that Israel must be allowed to strike on its own if necessary.
"The hard reality, therefore, is that Israel must make its own military decision, preferably one based on physics, not politics. Israel most likely still has time if it wishes to act independently, but there is no guarantee how long," he wrote.
One line in particular caught the attention of Obama campaign national security advisory team spokeswoman Marie Harf: "Even if Mitt Romney wins, there is no guarantee U.S. policy could change quickly enough to stop Iran." She tweeted: "John Bolton, off msg?"
Bolton's line seems to contradict the line Romney used in primary debates, when he said, "If we re-elect Barack Obama, Iran will have a nuclear weapon. If you elect Mitt Romney, Iran will not have a nuclear weapon."
Asked about the discrepancy by The Cable, the Romney campaign referred back to the candidate's speech in Jerusalem, in which he affirmed his opposition to the idea of containing a nuclear Iran and stressed that the threat of a nuclear Iran is urgent and is a top national security priority.
"It is sometimes said that those who are the most committed to stopping the Iranian regime from securing nuclear weapons are reckless and provocative and inviting war. The opposite is true. We are the true peacemakers. History teaches with force and clarity that when the world's most despotic regimes secure the world's most destructive weapons, peace often gives way to oppression, to violence, or to devastating war," Romney said.
"We must not delude ourselves into thinking that containment is an option. We must lead the effort to prevent Iran from building and possessing nuclear weapons capability. We should employ any and all measures to dissuade the Iranian regime from its nuclear course, and it is our fervent hope that diplomatic and economic measures will do so. In the final analysis, of course, no option should be excluded. We recognize Israel's right to defend itself, and that it is right for America to stand with you."
The Obama campaign told The Cable that Romney hasn't put out a policy plan for Iran that is substantively different from what the current administration is doing now.
"Mitt Romney continues to engage in reckless rhetoric on Iran, while failing to outline any policy ideas to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon beyond what President Obama has already done - including implementing crippling sanctions, increasing diplomatic pressure, and putting a credible military option on the table," said campaign spokesman Adam Fetcher. "Gov. Romney owes it to the American people to say whether he thinks there's still time for diplomacy to work or if he thinks it's time to take military action against Iran - but he's been silent."
The head of the Pakistan military's public relations branch told The Cable that a new book claiming a Pakistani intelligence official tipped off the U.S. government about the whereabouts of Osama bin Laden is false.
A forthcoming book by journalist Richard Miniter claims that a senior colonel in Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) directorate walked into the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad in Dec ember 2010, five months before the bin Laden raid, and told U.S. officials about bin Laden's whereabouts. The book also reports that the bin Laden compound was "carved out" of Abbottabad's Kakul Military Academy and that senior Pakistani military officials may have been briefed on the raid in advance.
Maj. Gen. Asim Saleem Bajwa, the recently appointed director general of Pakistan's Inter-Services Public Relations and the top spokesperson for the Pakistani military and intelligence community, told The Cable by e-mail that Miniter's story is just wrong.
"This is a fabricated story," he said. "Any such story will not have basis and is an attempt to malign Pakistan and Pakistan Army."
The tale implies that the ISI had some advance knowledge that bin Laden had been hiding in Abbottabad with several members of his family before the May 1, 2011, U.S. raid, Bajwa said.
"You can find twists in [the Miniter story] to show as if Pakistan was helping terrorists, which is incorrect," he said.
Pakistan's former ambassador to Washington Husain Haqqani told a Washington audience Wednesday that although he could not comment on ISI activities the night of the bin Laden raid, he was sure that the civilian government in Pakistan was caught by surprise about the raid and bin Laden's whereabouts.
But Haqqani called on the Pakistani government to complete its long-promised report on who helped bin Laden and his family hide and survive in a secret compound near a military academy for more than five years.
"It's Pakistan's responsibility to the world to say who did it," Haqqani told an audience at the Center for the National Interest, formerly known as the Nixon Center. "It doesn't have to be the government, it doesn't have to be the military, but whoever it is, we have to come clean on that, because that is the only way we will assure the rest of the world that Pakistan's government and Pakistan's state has its hands clean on this whole thing."
The Pakistani government must explain how Osama bin Laden was able to hide in Abbottabad for years and reveal who in Pakistan helped him, Pakistan's former Ambassador to Washington Husain Haqqani said Wednesday.
"It's Pakistan's responsibility to the world to say who did it," Haqqani told an audience at the Center for the National Interest, formerly known as the Nixon Center. "It doesn't have to be the government, it doesn't have to be the military, but whoever it is, we have to come clean on that, because that is the only way we will assure the rest of the world that Pakistan's government and Pakistan's state has its hands clean on this whole thing."
Haqqani said that he has no information on how the late al Qaeda leader lived with a large number of family for five years in a military garrison town, but that there were clearly sympathizers in Pakistan that supported bin Laden and the government has failed to issue any report on who they were.
"There's no report on bin Laden yet. No one is saying it was the government ... but somebody helped him. Somebody bought the place for him, somebody paid for the electricity bills, somebody helped bring food there, and at least that should be identified and it hasn't been," he said. "Somebody knew. I mean, nobody lives anywhere without anybody knowing. Even Friday knew where Robinson Crusoe was. Somebody in Pakistan knew. Who that somebody is, it's Pakistan's responsibility to identify."
Haqqani speculated that bin Laden might have been helped by a private group, a set of individuals, people in Pakistan's jihadi groups, or people in Pakistan's Islamic political parties. He said the U.S.-Pakistani relationship is hampered by the lack of official answers.
"The bin Laden event was a very huge event from the point of view of American psyche and it hasn't registered in Pakistan sufficiently ... I tried very hard at that time in Islamabad to get people to realize that people in Washington really want answers," he said.
A forthcoming book by journalist Richard Miniter claims that a senior colonel in Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence directorate walked into the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad in Dec. 2010, five months before the bin Laden raid, and told U.S. officials about bin Laden's whereabouts. The book also reports that the bin Laden compound was "carved out" of the Kakul Military Academy and that senior Pakistani military officials may have been briefed on the raid in advance.
Haqqani said he has no idea what the ISI knew or did but he can be sure that the civilian leadership in Pakistan had no idea that the Abbottabad raid was coming on the night of May 1, 2011.
"We really, on the Pakistani side, were totally taken by surprise by what happened on May 1, 2011. That said, a full, proper investigation on the Pakistani side is needed to find out how Osama bin Laden lived in Pakistan and who supported him, within or outside the government," said Haqqani.
Haqqani returned to Washington earlier this year following three months of house arrest in Pakistan while the Pakistani Supreme Court investigated the "Memogate" scandal, in which Haqqani stood accused of being behind a secret memo passed from Pakistani-American businessman Mansoor Ijaz to Joint Chiefs Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen, calling on the United States to support an overthrow of the military and intelligence leadership in Pakistan.
A commission set up by the Supreme Court eventually determined that Haqqani was behind the memo, but Haqqani maintains that he was not and that the commission's ruling was politically motivated. He has not been indicted on any charges and is free to go back to Pakistan, he said, but fears for his safety if he were to travel there. He returns to Boston this fall to resume teaching at Boston University.
Haqqani's new book, Magnificent Delusions, is set to come out later this year. The book argues that, since 1947, Washington and Islamabad's tumultuous relationship has been based on the false assumption that if the two countries could simply engage enough, they could develop a close strategic relationship based on overlapping interests.
"I have reached the conclusion that 60 years is long enough for two countries to understand if they really do see things each other's way," he said. "The two countries should look for a non-alliance future that is not based on security assistance and aid."
Opinions of the two countries among their respective populations is at historical lows, Haqqani noted, and the relationship won't change for the better until the unhealthy dynamic of giving and then threatening to withdraw U.S. aid to Pakistan is ended, he argued.
"Pakistan ends up behaving like Syria while wanting to be treated like Israel," Haqqani said.
He called for an amicable divorce in the relationship.
"If in 65 years if you haven't been able to find sufficient common ground to live together and you've had three separations and four affirmations of marriage, then maybe the better way is to find friendship outside of the marital bond," he said.
AAMIR QURESHI/AFP/Getty Images
The Obama administration decided Tuesday to allow Americans to send hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash to Iran to help with earthquake relief in a rare relief of tight financial sanctions imposed on the country in response to its controversial nuclear program.
The Treasury Department issued a 45-day general license to allow officially registered NGOs to send up to $300,000 to Iran for humanitarian relief and reconstruction activities related to two Aug. 11 earthquakes that struck northern Iran and killed more than 250 people. Food and medicine aid is already exempted from sanctions against Iran. The George W. Bush administration took a similar action in 2003.
Deputy National Security Advisor Denis McDonough explained on the White House blog that the Iranian government had refused to accept offers of official help for earthquake victims from the U.S. government, so the administration decided this was the best way to facilitate aid to the disaster area.
"In a disappointing decision, the government of Iran has chosen not to accept our offer of humanitarian assistance," he wrote. "This step allows the American people to support organizations providing humanitarian relief activities, including the distribution of emergency medical and shelter supplies, as well as those pursuing broader efforts to rebuild affected areas."
McDonough emphasized that the move was a temporary one and does not alter the administration's approach to sanctioning Iran writ large.
"We remain committed to rigorously implementing the measures and sanctions in place to increase the pressure on the Iranian regime, and to continue increasing the costs of Iran's non-compliance with its international obligations related to its nuclear program," he said.
Iran watchers have noted the delay in issuing the license, which came 10 days after the earthquake. When the Bush administration took a similar action, it did so just 4 days after the 2003 Bam disaster. Sources close to the administration told The Cable that there was significant debate about whether or not to issue the license.
State Department officials argued in favor of granting the license, while the White House resisted the move, worried about how even a temporary and limited relief of sanctions against Iran would play in the media so close to the presidential election. Eventually, with the support of top State Department officials, the White House was persuaded to agree to the move, these sources said.
The National Iranian American Council, a group representing Iranian-Americans, was also heavily involved in pushing for the issuance of the license. NIAC founder and president Trita Parsi told The Cable that his organization mobilized parts of the Iranian-American community, which sent more than 3,000 letters to the White House asking officials to allow more earthquake relief.
"Last time Bush did it, the U.S. won a tremendous amount of goodwill. And every time humanity trumps politics, the entity that takes the initiative wins a lot of soft power and political capital," Parsi said.
The obstacles facing NGOs who want to send cash to Iran are daunting, Parsi cautioned. He said that NIAC contacted 15 banks about wiring the money into Iran and 14 of them resisted the idea because working with Iranian banks is too risky, even when dealing with transactions that are exempted by sanctions.
"From their perspective, it's not worth the risk," he said. "We hope the banks will take note of this and start doing things that are permissible, because otherwise this general license may have no effect at all."
There is also some concern, including on Capitol Hill, as to whether the money sent to Iran might somehow find its way into the wrong hands. "While all Americans support the Iranian people in this time of distress, we need to make sure assistance sent to Iran is not diverted or misused by the Iranian government," a senior Senate aide said. "When you allow cash transfers rather than monetizing aid, that's a recipe for disaster."
Parsi said the best way to prevent the money from getting into Iranian government hands is to work through respected NGOs that are based in the United States and have a presence in Iran.
There are some checks on the aid, Treasury officials say.
"The license specifically forbids any dealings with entities on the OFAC SDN list such as the IRGC," Treasury Department spokesman John Sullivan told The Cable, referring to the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps. "There is also a mandated report to the Treasury and State Departments so we can make sure the money does not end up in the wrong hands."
The administration team, which left Washington today, is being led by Acting Assistant Secretary Beth Jones and will include representatives from the Defense Department and the intelligence community. The trip is part of what the Obama administration has styled as its efforts to promote a change in the Syrian government outside of the U.N. Security Council, through interactions with like-minded countries and increased interactions with the internal Syrian opposition.
The meetings Wednesday represent the first implementation of the new arrangement with the Turkish government, which Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced following her Aug. 11 visit to Turkey. Reports from the trip said that Clinton had agreed to consider a no-fly zone and increase operational planning with the Turks, but this week the State Department sought to manage expectations about the "new" approach.
"[R]emember what the secretary committed to when she was in Istanbul, which was an interagency conversation, U.S. and Turkey sitting down together to share operational picture, to talk about the effectiveness of what we're doing now, and about what more we can do," State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said Tuesday. "So this was not a bricks-and-mortar center. I don't want you to get the wrong idea. This is a bilateral conversation across the interagency."
Clinton made a point on her trip to Turkey of meeting with Syrian activists who operate inside Syria but she snubbed the Syrian National Council, which has set itself up as the main civilian body representing the opposition. Clinton did not meet with leaders of the Free Syrian Army, however.
"Our position on this one hasn't changed. We are providing nonlethal assistance to the Syrian opposition... but also, increasingly, training for those future leaders of the NGO sector, some of the types of groups that the secretary met with when she was in Istanbul," Nuland said.
Some of those activists have been complaining that they aren't getting the non-lethal assistance. A Washington Post report Monday said that activists were turning to the black market for gear because they hadn't received any satellite phones or other components of the $25 million the administration has authorized in non-lethal aid.
The Office of Syrian Opposition Support, which is in charge of the aid program, began working in June and has faced delays in getting the aid to the people on the ground, the Post reported. It is "fair to say that it's very much a work in progress. We are moving as aggressively as possible now that we have cleared many of the cobwebs in our own system and with our allies," Assistant Secretary of State Rick Barton told the paper.
Nuland defended the State Department's activity at Tuesday's briefing and suggested that the activists who spoke with the Post just happened not to be the ones getting the assistance.
"We are doing training on free media, countering the government's circumvention technology, legal and justice and accountability issues, and how to deal with the crimes that have been committed during this conflict, programs for student activists who are encouraging peaceful protest on the university campuses, programs for women," she said. "So we are extremely active, and if there are a few guys who are hanging out in Turkey who haven't actually gotten this stuff, it's because we're focused on the groups inside Syria."
U.S. President Barack Obama announced today that Peace Corps Director Aaron Williams has resigned.
"From working tirelessly to improve volunteer support to his leadership in reforming and modernizing the agency, Aaron has been a champion of the thousands of remarkable Peace Corps Volunteers serving across the globe," Obama said in a statement. "I know the positive change that Peace Corps Volunteers make, and under Aaron's leadership the agency's work has been at the forefront of this Administration's efforts to increase global engagement. I want to extend my thanks to him for his dedicated service and wish him and his family the best."
Williams has been heading the Peace Corps since being confirmed in August 2009. A lifelong development professional and former USAID official, Williams presided over several changes in the aid agency, including its expansion into countries including Sierra Leone, Indonesia, Columbia, Tunisia, and Nepal.
In a statement, Williams cited "personal and family considerations" as the reason for his departure.
But his tenure will likely be remembered for the sexual-assault scandal that rocked the corps in 2011 and brought significant congressional criticism of Williams's handling of the revelation that the Peace Corps had not properly responded to increased reports of attacks on female volunteers in foreign countries.
ABC News did a series of reports highlighting cases of rape and sexual assault against Peace Corps volunteers in which the victims said that Peace Corps leadership discouraged them from reporting the assaults and failed to take steps to ensure their safety.
After initially resisting cooperating with the ABC investigation, Williams testified before the House Foreign Affairs Committee and pledged to change the policies and culture of the Peace Corps, which several victims testified was focused on blaming the victims of sexual assault.
"There is no doubt that what these courageous women have done has opened our eyes to what we need to correct and we need to correct it now," Williams testified at the May 2011 hearing. "Rest assured, this type of thing, blaming the victim, will not continue in the Peace Corps of today."
Senate Appropriations State and Foreign Ops Subcommittee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT), praised Williams' handling of the scandal and his time as head of the Peace Corps in a statement today.
“I have great admiration for Director Williams. I watched him restore the credibility and reaffirm the mission of one of America’s finest organizations. What he and the Peace Corps have achieved shows the best face of America," Leavhy said.
Siding with the Brits in their escalating feud with Ecuador about the status of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, the State Department declared today that the United States does not believe in the concept of ‘diplomatic asylum' as a matter of international law.
Ecuador dragged Britain into an emergency meeting of the Permanent Council of the Organization of American States Friday at OAS headquarters in Washington, calling for a foreign ministers' meeting following the British threat to go into the Ecuadoran embassy in London and get Assange, who is wanted for questioning in connection with sexual assault charges in Sweden.
Ecuador formally granted Assange political asylum Thursday, but today the State Department said the United States doesn't agree that such a thing exists.
"The United States is not a party to the 1954 OAS Convention on Diplomatic Asylum and does not recognize the concept of diplomatic asylum as a matter of international law," the office of Spokesperson Victoria Nuland said in a Friday statement. "We believe this is a bilateral issue between Ecuador and the United Kingdom and that the OAS has no role to play in this matter."
That statement is a shift from the stance the State Department took yesterday, when Nuland said that Washington would stay out of the dispute and that the American position was that the Brits were making decisions based on British, not international law.
"This is an issue between the Ecuadorans, the Brits, the Swedes," Nuland said Thursday. "It is an issue among the countries involved and we're not planning to interject ourselves."
The United States can only formally grant asylum to political figures once they actually are on U.S. soil, as dictated by the Refugee Act of 1980. But the U.S. has a long record of protecting political targets inside U.S. embassy complexes, most recently with Chinese blind dissident Chen Guangcheng last December.
That might seem like a distinction without a difference to many. However, Chen never sought or was granted asylum; he simply asked to study in the United States and the Chinese government eventually assented.
In 1989, the U.S. granted "temporary refuge" to Feng Lizhi, a leader of the Tiananmen Square pro-democracy movement, who fled to the U.S. Embassy in Beijing and stayed there for 384 days before Chinese authorities allowed him to go to the United States, but officially only for "medical treatment."
Joseph Stalin's daughter Svetlana sought refuge in 1967 via the U.S. Embassy in India and was eventually granted U.S. citizenship.
The war of words between Britain and Ecuador escalated Thursday over the fate of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, but the State Department said the United States is staying out of it.
Ecuador formally granted Assange political asylum Thursday as the WikiLeaks founder continues to hole up in the Ecuadoran embassy in London, where he has been since June avoiding extradition to Sweden for questioning related to allegations of sexual assault. Earlier this week, the British government affirmed its right to go into the embassy and get Assange, provoking a harsh diplomatic response from the Ecuadoran government.
"The United Kingdom does not recognize the principle of diplomatic asylum," British Foreign Secretary William Hague told reporters Thursday. "There is no ... threat here to storm the embassy. We are talking about an Act of Parliament in this country which stresses that it must be used in full conformity with international law."
Ecuador's Foreign Minister Ricardo Patino said that he fears if Assange is sent to Sweden he could then be sent on to the United States, where he would not be able to receive a fair trial. Patino called Assange an enemy of the "corrupt" media and U.S. "imperialism."
In Washington, State Department Spokeswoman Victoria Nuland told reporters Thursday that the U.S. government takes no position on the extradition of Assange to Sweden and that the United States is not involved in the issue at the diplomatic level.
"This is an issue between the Ecuadorans, the Brits, the Swedes," said Nuland. "It is an issue among the countries involved and we're not planning to interject ourselves."
Nor has the United States gotten involved on the issue of Assange's current location or where he might end up, Nuland said. She declined to say if the United States supported the British position that it does not recognize the principle of political asylum in the first place.
Reporters at the briefing pointed out that the U.S. has invoked the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations in the past, which states, "The premises of the mission shall be inviolable. The agents of the receiving State may not enterthem, except with the consent of the head of the mission." But Nuland declined to get into that issue, saying only that the Brits were invoking British law in this case.
"Well, if you're asking me for a global legal answer to the question. I'll have to take it and consult 4,000 lawyers," Nuland said. "With regard to the decision that the Brits are making or the statement that they made, our understanding was that they were leaning on British law in the assertions that they made with regard to future plans, not on international law."
Pressed on whether or not the United States has been involved in the Assange extradition in any way, Nuland said not as far as she knows. She added that she doesn't think the Justice Department was planning on charging him with anything anyway.
"My information is that we have not involved ourselves in this," she said. "But with regard to the charge that the U.S. was intent on persecuting him, I reject that completely."
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North Korean officials threatened to reconsider existing agreements with the United States in a recent meeting in Singapore, two sources familiar with the discussions told The Cable.
The North Korean warning comes as analysts speculate that Pyongyang may be preparing a fresh nuclear test, a development that could raise tensions in Asia and embarrass U.S. President Barack Obama in the middle of a closely fought re-election campaign.
Top U.S. experts held a "track two" meeting in the island nation in late July, during which the North Koreans hardened their negotiating position and rejected any return to the latest deal struck between the two sides, but nevertheless left the door open to further talks with the United States and the international community.
The meeting was the first of its kind since North Korea tried and failed to launch a rocket into space in April, which precipitated a U.S. withdrawal from the Feb. 29 bilateral agreement to give North Korea food aid in exchange for concessions on the country's nuclear and missile programs.
At the secret meetings in Singapore, the North Koreans told two U.S. experts they were no longer interested in resurrecting that arrangement and said they were reconsidering their previous agreements to eventually denuclearize as well.
On the North Korean side of the table were Han Song-ryol, North Korea's deputy ambassador to the United Nations and Choe Son Hui, the deputy director-general of the North American affairs bureau in the DPRK foreign ministry. On the American side were six experts led by Joel Wit, a former U.S. nuclear negotiator, and including Corey Hinderstein, vice president of the international program at the Nuclear Threat Initiative. Some reports said that there was a also a July meeting in New York between Han and Clifford Hart, the U.S. special envoy to the defunct Six-Party Talks.
"The agenda [in Singapore] focused on a variety of issues. One important topic was the future of U.S.-North Korean relations," said one source familiar with the meeting. "The other topics were nuclear safety, nuclear security, cooperative ways of monitoring denuclearization, and the whole raft of issues people discuss at nuclear summits."
When the conversation was on the future of bilateral relations, the North Korean side made clear it was no longer interested in the Feb. 29 agreement, which included a moratorium on nuclear and missile testing, a return of international inspectors, and 240,000 tons of food aid, both sources said.
The North Koreans now want the United States to make concessions up front.
"Their position has shifted. Whereas before, under the Leap Day deal, it was simultaneous actions, as with the September 2005 joint statement, simultaneous actions were one of the key aspects. There is now emphasis on unilateral action by the U.S. and then the North Koreans may respond," one source said.
The North Koreans told their American interlocutors they were thinking internally about whether or not to scuttle the September 2005 joint statement altogether. That statement committed North Korea to eventually getting rid of its nuclear weapons program.
An Aug. 9 article in the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists written by Frank Pabian and Sigfried Hecker speculated that North Korea may be only weeks away from completing the preparations necessary to conduct a third nuclear test using either a plutonium or highly-enriched uranium (HEU) device or both. At the Singapore meeting, the North Koreans didn't broach the topic.
"They didn't make any explicit statements about their nuclear program," one source said, "but I think it's very clear that their program is moving forward. That doesn't necessarily mean nuclear tests. It's quite likely their HEU program is also moving forward."
The source noted that as part of their formal presentation, the very first point the North Korean officials made was that their new leadership is not changing the late leader Kim Jong Il's line that North Korea has no eternal enemies or eternal friends.
"That's a very clear signal that they still want to make continuing efforts to improve relations with the U.S. and are indeed are interested in that. But they are toughening their position and that's in part because they are feeling pretty good about where they are," the source said.
The North Koreans believe they have weathered the Obama administration's policy of "strategic patience" -- waiting for Pyongyang to make the first move while strengthening ties with U.S. allies in Asia.
"The North Koreans feel pretty confident in their position. They are still keeping the door open to improving ties with the U.S. but the price is getting higher and it's becoming more difficult," the source said. "At some point somebody will be back to the table with them. They are getting ready for that with a much tougher negotiating position. They think they're sitting pretty."
Of course, North Korea still faces a food crisis, devastating floods, and an economic crisis. Pyongyang might seek to trade nuclear concessions in exchange for aid, as it has in the past. But as long as the country continues to get assistance from China, its motivation to make concessions is low.
"They probably can continue to progress economically while avoiding making concessions on the nuclear front with the support of China and that seems to be the option that they've chosen," the source observed.
Two congressmen who lead on human rights issues wrote to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton last week to urge her to address the growing crisis in Tibet, where tensions, protests, and self-immolations are mounting.
"We write to urge that you undertake stronger, more coordinated, visible international steps with regards to the People's Republic of China's policies and practices towards Tibetans," wrote Reps. Jim McGovern (D-MA), chairman of the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission and Frank Wolf (R-VA), in an Aug. 9 letter. "We appreciate your efforts with regards to courageous individuals such as Chen Guangcheng. Yet we believe that the United States can and must significantly increase diplomatic and international pressure on the Chinese government to reverse the crisis in Tibet."
The congressmen noted that more than three dozen Tibetans have self-immolated in protest over the last year alone amid an increasingly restrictive environment that includes arbitrary detention, sham trials, harsh prison sentences, the use of reeducation camps, and a sharp increase in the Chinese military presence in and around Tibet.
They also noted the Chinese crackdown on religious freedom in Tibet, as reported in the 2011 State Department International Religious Freedom Report released last month, and the new Chinese policy of expelling ethnic Tibetans from Lhasa while importing Han Chinese.
"The situation is unambiguously deteriorating, and none of these actions comport with the Chinese government's rhetoric of respect for the rights of ethnic minorities, religious freedom, or a quest for a ‘harmonious society' in the region," the congressmen wrote.
In an interview last month with The Cable, the Tibetan prime minister in exile, Lobsang Sangay, called on the Obama administration to send a fact-finding mission to Tibet.
"At the larger level, if Tibetans are ignored, essentially what you're ignoring is nonviolence and democracy," Sangay said. "So in that sense I think from a democratic point of view, from a nonviolent point of view, supporting Tibet is vital because we are trying to be and we have proven in the last five decades to be a torchbearer of nonviolence and democracy."
The congressmen called on Clinton to convene an international meeting on Tibet, perhaps alongside the U.N. General Assembly meetings in New York next month, and to establish a contact group with other countries that are concerned about the situation.
"As the United States continues its ‘pivot' towards Asia, it is important that the U.S. demonstrate that it is not deaf to the desperate appeals for help and support emanating from the Tibetans," they wrote.
Anita Friedt has been appointed principal deputy assistant secretary of state for the bureau of arms control, verification, and compliance (AVC), two administration officials confirmed to The Cable.
Friedt previously worked as a director the National Security Council under Gary Samore and George Look, where she was the point of contact for the negotiation and then the ratification of the New START Treaty. She left the White House last summer but was in limbo while the State Department worked on bringing her over to Foggy Bottom.
Friedt reports up to assistant secretary of state for AVC Rose Gottemoeller. But since Gottemoeller is the acting undersecretary of state for arms control and in charge of the entire "T" family, the daily running of the AVC bureau will probably fall to Friedt.
She replaces Marcie Reis, who left in May to take over as the U.S. ambassador to Bulgaria.
John Hudson reports on national security and foreign policy from the Pentagon to Foggy Bottom, the White House to Embassy Row, for The Cable.