Huma Abedin, top staffer to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and wife of former Rep. Anthony Weiner, has a new and unlikely champion -- Sen. John McCain (R-AZ).
Abedin, who is of Pakistani origin, has been tied to the outlandish conspiracy theory that the State Department has conspired with the Muslim Brotherhood to take over Egypt, a notion that contributed to protests in Alexandria last weekend during which Egyptians pelted Clinton's motorcade with tomatoes and shoes while chanting "Monica, Monica," an apparent reference to Monica Lewinsky.
Several reports said the protesters got the idea of a State Department conspiracy with the Muslim Brotherhood from conservative blog posts and conservative lawmakers like Michele Bachmann, who wrote a letter last week to the inspector generals of five U.S. agencies asking them to investigate the alleged infiltration of the Muslim Brotherhood in the U.S. government.
"It appears that there has been deep penetration in the halls of our United States government by the Muslim Brotherhood," Bachmann said in the letter, which mentioned Abedin by name and accuses her of having three family members connected to the Muslim Brotherhood.
The far-right Center for Security Policy (CSP), led by Frank Gaffney, has also been accusing Abedin of having a nefarious connection to the Muslim Brotherhood. Gaffney's assertion is that Saleha Abedin, Huma's mother, is a leader of the Muslim Sisterhood.
In fact, Saleha Abedin is a leading voice on women's rights in the Muslim world and is a member of dozens of organizations. Her main job is as the director of the Institute of Muslim Minority Affairs at the Global Peace Initiative of Women, an organization that promotes dialogue and cooperation among women of various relgions.
McCain took to the Senate floor today to defend Huma Abedin and criticize his conservative colleagues. "I know Huma to be an intelligent, upstanding, hard-working, and loyal servant of our country and our government, who has devoted countless days of her life to advancing the ideals of the nation she loves and looking after its most precious interests," he said.
McCain referenced the Bachmann letter and the CSP report by name and said that there is no evidence that Abedin or any of her family members have ever done anything to counter American interests or ideals.
"To say that the accusations made in both documents are not substantiated by the evidence they offer is to be overly polite and diplomatic about it. It is far better, and more accurate, to talk straight: These allegations about Huma, and the report from which they are drawn, are nothing less than an unwarranted and unfounded attack on an honorable woman, a dedicated American, and a loyal public servant," McCain said. "These attacks on Huma have no logic, no basis, and no merit. And they need to stop now."
McCain, who was the victim of racial smears referencing his adopted daughter during the 2000 presidential campaign, said he understood what it was like to be attacked with lies laced with bigotry. He also said the issue was larger than just one person or one accusation.
"Our reputations, our character, are the only things we leave behind when we depart this Earth, and unjust attacks that malign the good name of a decent and honorable person is not only wrong; it is contrary to everything we hold dear as Americans," McCain said. "I have every confidence in Huma's loyalty to our country, and everyone else should as well."
Republican candidate Mitt Romney's policy on the future of U.S.-led war in Afghanistan war is unclear and confusing, complicating attempts to either support or criticize it during the campaign, according to leading senators from both parties.
On Romney's website, the campaign criticizes President Barack Obama for announcing a "timetable" for the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan and accuses the administration of placing politics over the advice of military commanders by withdrawing 30,000 surge troops by September.
"Gov. Romney supports the 2014 timetable as a realistic timetable and a residual force post-2014. But he would not have announced that timetable publicly, as President Obama did, as doing so encourages the Taliban to wait us out and our allies to hedge their bets," a Romney campaign spokesperson told The Cable.
But when it comes to what a President Romney would do differently from Obama on Afghanistan if and when he became president, the details remain sketchy.
"Mitt Romney will never make national-security decisions based upon electoral politics," the campaign website reads. "Upon taking office, he will review our transition to the Afghan military by holding discussions with our commanders in the field. He will order a full interagency assessment of our military and assistance presence in Afghanistan to determine the level required to secure our gains and to train Afghan forces to the point where they can protect the sovereignty of Afghanistan from the tyranny of the Taliban. Withdrawal of U.S. forces from Afghanistan under a Romney administration will be based on conditions on the ground as assessed by our military commanders."
Last week, The Cable asked several senior senators from both parties whether they supported Romney's plan for Afghanistan. None was able to articulate exactly what that policy is or what the U.S. force in Afghanistan might look like if Romney is elected.
"What is it?" said Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), a Romney supporter and senior member of the Armed Services Committee. "I think [Romney's policy is] ‘listen to the commanders' and if it's that, that's OK with me."
Graham agreed with Romney's criticism of Obama's plan to withdraw the 30,000 surge troops by September, which means the bulk of them will not be around for this summer's fighting season. But overall, Graham supports the Obama plan to adhere to a 2014 deadline for handing over control to the Afghans while keeping a significant U.S. troop presence there afterwards.
"Generally speaking, the only problem I have with President Obama is the acceleration of the withdrawal of the surge forces," Graham said.
Graham wants Romney to publicly endorse a continued U.S. force presence in Afghanistan after the full handover of power in 2014. Obama and Afghan President Hamid Karzai in May signed a Strategic Partnership Agreement that would extend the presence of U.S. troops another 10 years, an agreement Graham helped to negotiate.
"I hope Romney will tell the American people that we are going to have a follow-on force in Afghanistan." Graham said. "It's in our interest to do it."
Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl (R-AZ) said he wasn't sure exactly what Romney's Afghanistan policy entailed and didn't want to get into it.
"You would have to tell me what exactly you mean by ‘his policy.' That's a long discussion that I don't want to get into," Kyl told The Cable.
Part of the challenge for the Romney team is that Republican voters are split on Afghanistan, with 48 percent supporting withdrawing all troops as soon as possible and nearly as many, 45 percent, supporting leaving a follow-on force there until the country is stabilized. The electorate as a whole favors bringing the troops home quickly (60 percent) over keeping troops there longer (32 percent).
"These numbers point to Romney's political bind," wrote James Lindsey, vice president of studies at the Council on Foreign Relations, in an online commentary. "He has talked tough on Afghanistan ever since last June, when Republican national security conservatives blasted him for what they saw as his insufficient commitment to the mission there. Romney responded with much tougher rhetoric even though the policies he favors look a lot like Obama's."
For the Obama team and for Senate Democrats, Romney's apparent unwillingness to get more specific on Afghanistan represents a good opportunity to call into question his foreign-policy bona fides and present Obama as tougher on national security because he has committed to another decade of U.S. troops in Afghanistan.
"Without getting into the campaign rhetoric of what [Romney]'s asserting, I think you've got 50 nations in NATO that agree to a plan in Afghanistan," Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said on ABC's This Week in May. "It's the Lisbon agreement, an agreement that, you know, others, President Bush, President Obama, everyone has agreed is the direction that we go in Afghanistan."
Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin (D-MI) told The Cable that the issue is just one more example of the Romney campaign avoiding tackling tough issues.
"I sure don't know what [Romney's Afghanistan policy] is," Levin said. "From what I've read, I can't fathom his position on Afghanistan any more than I can fathom his position on a whole bunch of other things."
"I don't know that he's flip-flopped on Afghanistan. I don't know that he's ever taken a clear position. It's not like some of the other positions he's so consistently flip-flopped on," Levin said. "Here, I don't know what the flip is or the flop."
Four members of Russia's upper chamber were in Washington last week to ask Congress not to pass human rights legislation targeting Russia and to accuse the late Sergei Magnitsky, for which the legislation was named, of stealing millions through tax fraud.
Russian Federation Council members Valery Snyakin, Vitaly Malkin, Alexey Shernyshev, and Alexander Savenkov were in Washington July 7 through July 13 and met with administration and congressional officials, including Under Secretary of State Wendy Sherman, NSC Senior Director for Russia Alice Wells, Sens. John McCain (R-AZ), Roger Wicker (R-MS), and Bob Corker (R-TN), and Rep. James McGovern (D-MA), among others.
On July 11, the visiting Russian lawmakers held a press conference at the Russian embassy to unveil their parliamentary investigation report on the case of Magnitsky, a Russian anti-corruption lawyer who died after allegedly being tortured in prison by Russian officials. Their message was that Magnitsky was guilty of tax fraud in Russia and that he died due to medical neglect, not torture.
Last month, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee passed the Senate version of the Sergei Magnitsky Rule of Law Act of 2012, a bill that would create a list of human rights violators all over the world and impose banking and visa restrictions on them. The bill was initially designed to punish Magnitsky's captors. The House version still only targets Russian officials.
Before his meeting with the Russian senators, McCain told The Cable he would press the Russian lawmakers on why they are so focused on discrediting Magnitsky, who is facing criminal prosecution for tax fraud even though he has been dead for more than two years.
"I'll ask them why they are putting a dead man on trial. That's not a system of justice that I'm familiar with," McCain said.
In their press conference, the Russian senators spent at least 30 minutes detailing how they believe that Magnitsky worked with William Browder, the CEO of Hermitage Capital, to defraud the Russian government of $230 million in tax revenue. The senators also released extensive autopsy and investigative reports to back up their contention that Magnitsky's death was the fault of his doctors and not Russian government or police officials.
According to that report, the doctors treating Magnitsky in prison made diagnostic errors and didn't prescribe him the right medicines. The report also claims that Magnitsky fought his captors and therefore force had to be used to get him to obey prison orders.
"The injuries on Magnitsky's body were most likely caused by multiple injuring impacts of a blunt object that might be possibly be a rubber baton," the report stated.
Browder told The Cable that the report was part of a new Russian strategy to seem active on the investigation of Magnitsky's death while limiting blame to the medical staff only, rather than the government officials above them.
"From what we have seen in the last few days, the Russians are trying to change their spin from outright threats to being more ‘reasonable,'" Browder said. "They are saying things like ‘please don't rush our investigation' and ‘prosecutions in the Magnitsky case are beginning, we are going after the doctor."
Browder has consistently denied he and Magnitsky are guilty of tax fraud.
Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-MT) has promised to join the Magnitsky bill to another bill that would grant Russia Permanent Normal Trade Relations status and repeal the 1974 Jackson-Vanik law that was meant to punish the Soviet Union for preventing Jewish emigration. His committee will mark up the PNTR bill July 18.
The Obama administration opposes the Magnitsky act, although it acknowledges that with it, Congress is unlikely to grant Russia PNTR status, which is needed for U.S. businesses to take full advantage of Russia's imminent accession to the WTO. The administration has warned that Russia will retaliate and disrupt various aspects of U.S.-Russian cooperation around the world.
Behind the scenes, GOP senators and congressional aides say, the administration is trying to water down the Magnitsky bill, for example by working to get the list of violators classified, and by trying to detach the Magnitsky bill from the PNTR legislation.
Classifying the list of violators would defeat the purpose of shaming them, McCain believes. As for the bill as a whole, "Hillary Clinton is trying to separate it completely. We're not going to let that happen," McCain told The Cable.
Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl (R-AZ), told The Cable that there's no way the GOP caucus will back off its demand to pass the Magnitsky bill as part of any move to grant Russian PNTR status.
"I think we should stand with the Russia people and it's pretty clear that we would be helping the Russia people if we, to the extent that our pressure is meaningful at all with the Russian government, it causes them to rethink their policy of repression against the media and against lawyers like Magnitsky who are just trying to help people and do right," Kyl said. "It has to be part of the trade legislation."
Sen. Ben Cardin (D-MD), the main sponsor of the Magnitsky bill, did not meet with the Russian delegation. He said he was not even aware they were in town.
But Cardin told The Cable that he rejects the Russian senators' claims that there should be no human rights sanctions on those Russian officials who were connected to the Magnitsky case.
"I think Russia should take care of these human rights violators and hold them accountable," Cardin said. "They said they would do it. It's been over two years. They should take care of their own business."
At the press conference, the Russian senators claimed they had convinced those U.S. senators they met to alter their stance and consider the possibility of separating the Mangitsky bill from the PNTR legislation. A McCain spokesman told The Cable that's just not the case.
"He gave them a fair hearing and will consider what they had to say, but it will be a cold day in Gila Bend, Arizona, before he changes his position on this," the McCain spokesman said.
Josh Rogin/Foreign Policy
President Barack Obama announced Wednesday he is lifting the investment ban on Burma, allowing U.S. companies to enter Burma's lucrative energy sector, above the objections of Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi.
"Today, the United States is easing restrictions to allow U.S. companies to responsibly do business in Burma," Obama said in a Wednesday statement. "President Thein Sein, Aung San Suu Kyi and the people of Burma continue to make significant progress along the path to democracy, and the government has continued to make important economic and political reforms. Easing sanctions is a strong signal of our support for reform, and will provide immediate incentives for reformers and significant benefits to the people of Burma."
Obama said that that entities owned by the Burmese armed forces and the ministry of defense will not be covered by the general licenses to invest in Burma that the administration is issuing to U.S. companies today.
"Burma's political and economic reforms remain unfinished. The United States Government remains deeply concerned about the lack of transparency in Burma's investment environment and the military's role in the economy," he said.
He also noted that U.S. companies will be required to report on their new activities in Burma and adhere to international corporate governance standards. The president signed a new executive order expanding sanctions against human rights violators in Burma at the same time it repealed the investment ban, which has been in place since the Clinton administration.
Wednesday's announcement comes after an intense internal debate over whether to include Burma's energy and natural resource sectors in the new general licenses. Industry groups such as the U.S.-ASEAN business council, working with oil companies like Chevron, lobbied hard and successfully for a full repeal of the investment ban. They were supported by some lawmakers, such as Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK) and Jim Webb (D-VA).
Human rights groups and other lawmakers, including Sens. John McCain (R-AZ) and Joe Lieberman (I-CT), cautioned the administration to go slow and issue only a partial repeal of the investment ban. They especially wanted the administration to retain bans on U.S. companies working with the Myanmar Oil and Gas Enterprise (MOGE) the state controlled entity through which all energy sector business flows, which they say is still heavily influenced by the Burmese military.
"We share Aung San Suu Kyi's concerns that MOGE's operations lack transparency, that it remains overly influenced by the Burmese military, and that the large amounts of foreign investment flowing into MOGE are not sufficiently accountable to the Burmese people or its parliament," the senators wrote to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in a July 3 letter.
"We are not opposed in principle to U.S. investment in Burma's oil and gas industry. However, it is critical that foreign investment in Burma be carefully structured to benefit the Burmese people and strengthen the political and economic reforms that are at last underway there."
Suu Kyi, who was elected to Burma's parliament in April after more than two decades of house arrest, last month specifically asked foreign governments not to allow their companies to partner with MOGE at this time.
"The Myanmar Oil and Gas Enterprise (MOGE) ... with which all foreign participation in the energy sector takes place through joint venture arrangements, lacks both transparency and accountability at present," she said June 14 in a speech in Geneva. "The [Myanmar] government needs to apply internationally recognized standards such as the IMF code of good practices on fiscal transparency. Other countries could help by not allowing their own companies to partner [with] MOGE unless it was signed up to such codes."
The Obama administration has repeatedly said that it would follow Suu Kyi's lead while cautiously opening up to closer ties with the Burmese regime. The new U.S. ambassador to Burma Derek Mitchell arrived there today.
But in this case, supporters of a more cautious path of easing Burma sanctions inside the administration lost out. They included the State Department Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor (DRL), let by Assistant Secretary of State Michael Posner, and those in the National Security Staff focused on human rights, such as Senior Director for Multilateral Affairs Samantha Power, according to sources familiar with the internal discussions.
Following a Deputies Committee meeting last week, the side that advocated for a broader repeal of the investment ban won out. That side included the State Department's East Asian and Pacific affairs bureau (EAP), led by Assistant Secretary Kurt Campbell, the economics office at State led by Undersecretary Robert Hormats, and the Treasury and Commerce departments. Hormats is set to travel to Burma next week with a contingent of business leaders in tow.
Human rights experts saw today's move as a change from the administraion's original promise to pursue targeted easing of the investment ban. Administration officials promised a sector-by-sector approach whereby the administration would have begun by focusing on sectors of the economy most likely to help the Burmese people, rather than the country's military.
The idea was to encourage development of tourism, banking, agriculture, and manufacturing sectors, while maintaining investment bans on industries such as natural gas, mineral extracting, and timber, which are mostly controlled by the military.
"The pro-industry lobby convinced the administration to back off from the sector-by-sector approach and issue the general license which allows companies to go into any sector, including oil and gas," said Human Rights Watch Washington director Tom Malinowski.
He said that U.S. companies understandably don't want to lose out on market share due to the influx of European corporations now set to do business with Burma's energy and mining sectors, but opening up MOGE to vast new sources of financing could have a negative effect on Burmese political reform.
"All the money the Burmese military uses to finance their wars in the ethnic areas and their procurement of illicit materials from North Korea comes from MOGE. If the military wants to hold on to power and resist civilian oversight, this is what would finance their ability to do that. It represents the bulk of the regime's hard earnings," Malinowski said.
Once corporations make long-term investments in Burma's energy sector, it will be almost impossible to get those countries to abrogate those agreements if the tide turns in Burma and the U.S. government decides it wants to reinstate the investment ban. Chevron's stake in Burma was grandfathered in when the investment ban was originally instituted.
Overall, the concern in the human rights community is that the U.S. government is now making diplomatic decisions about Burma policy based on economic considerations, and not national security or the desire to see the Burmese people live a better life.
"For the last 20 years or so, U.S. policy on Burma was focused on promoting a democratic transition and nonproliferation. The desire of U.S. based companies to get contracts was never on the table until the last couple of months. The fact that is now being balanced against longstanding U.S. interests in Burma really does represent a shift in priorities," Malinowski said.
"The bottom line here is that you have Aung San Suu Kyi asking the administration to hold up on allowing unfettered investment in Burma, and the administration went with Chevron over Aung San Suu Kyi."
NSC spokesman Tommy Vietor told The Cable that the administration shares concerns about MOGE and views MOGE as meriting closer oversight than other firms in Burma. U.S. investors must alert the U.S. government within 60 days of entering into any contract with MOGE, he said
"We are working very hard with MOGE and the wider Government of Burma to quickly improve its operations. We have been pleased with MOGE's and the Government's commitments in this regard, which include engagement with the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI)," Vietor said. "While we share these concerns we believe that there will be benefits both to the people of Burma and to U.S. investors in allowing U.S. companies, in a careful, calibrated and responsible manner, to engage with MOGE."
Aung Din, executive director of the U.S. Campaign for Burma, told The Cable today that Obama's action has freed the Burmese regime and military from any fear of being substantively sanctioned going forward.
"I am sure Obama will be appreciated by the Burmese generals, cronies and U.S. corporations, but not by the people of Burma," he said.
Soe Than WIN/AFP/Getty Images
President Barack Obama intends to nominate Ambassador Richard Olsen to be the next U.S. ambassador to Pakistan, three sources with direct knowledge of the pending appointment told The Cable.
Olsen, a senior member of the foreign service, has been serving as the coordinating director for development and economic affairs at U.S. Embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan, since June 2011. If confirmed, he will replace Ambassador Cameron Munter, who announced in May that he would step down from his post after only 18 months on the job. Munter, who presided over the Islamabad embassy during perhaps the worst period in U.S.-Pakistan relations in over a decade, resigned of his own accord and will retire from the foreign service and join the private sector, these sources said.
Before going to Kabul, Olsen was U.S. ambassador to the United Arab Emirates from 2008-2011. He previously served abroad in Mexico, Uganda, Tunisia, Saudi Arabia, Ethiopia, Iraq, and as deputy chief of mission at the U.S. mission to the NATO. His Washington assignments included stints at the State Department Operations Center, NATO desk, the Office of Israel and Palestinian affairs, and the Office of Iraqi Affairs.
Pakistan watchers and experts saw the choice as a reasonable one and generally said Olsen was a competent and safe choice, but that he faces an uphill battle in moving the relationship forward if and when he gets to Islamabad.
"It will help that Olsen understands some aspects of the region. But Kabul is a different place from Islamabad and Rawalpindi, as he will discover rapidly," said Shuja Nawaz, director of the South Asia Center at the Atlantic Council. "Pakistan is at once more complex and confounding."
Nawaz said that Olsen's success will depend largely on whether he is given power and influence in the interagency policy process. Munter was reportedly overruled several times when he engaged other administration departments on sensitive issues, such as the use of drone strikes or whether the United States should have apologized for killing 24 Pakistan soldiers last November. As the top U.S. representative in Pakistan, Olsen would also be forced to focus on the U.S. military's pursuit of the Haqqani network and the ratcheting up of the U.S. drone program, both unpopular policies in Pakistan.
"Olsen's biggest challenge will be dealing with a Washington that does not have a clear center of gravity in terms of decisions on relations with Pakistan. That was the biggest obstacle faced by Cameron Munter, who impressed many Pakistanis with his zeal and energy but did not get the support he needed from home," Nawaz said.
Some regional experts think Olsen is being set up for failure because he will never be able to resolve the fundamental disputes between the various parts of the U.S. policy bureaucracy over Pakistan policy. The military and the intelligence community are set to ratchet up their kinetic activities inside Pakistan in advance of the U.S. handover of Afghan security control in 2014, a plan that runs in contrast to the State Department's focus on improving government to government relations and raising the image of the U.S. there.
"The best person in the world will not succeed with a defective policy, which is what we have; more accurately, our policy towards Pakistan is fragmented among several entities," said Stephen Cohen, senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. "Will Olsen be accepting or influencing decisions of other agencies, some of which seem to be running their own policy towards Pakistan?"
Administration and congressional sources also confirm that Ambassador James Cunningham is set to be named to succeed Ryan Crocker as the U.S. envoy in Kabul. Crocker's health continues to deteriorate and he is expected to return to the U.S. soon.
In other ambassador news, the White House announced Tuesday that the president intends to nominate Dawn Liberi to be ambassador to Burundi, Stephen Mull to be ambassador to Poland, and Walter North to be ambassador to Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands, and the Republic of Vanuatu.
There's still no word on who will be chosen to replace Ambassador Jim Jeffrey in Iraq, following the withdrawal of former National Security Council staffer Brett McGurk last month. There is some speculation but no hard evidence that former U.S. Ambassador to Syria Robert Ford is in the running.
The Obama administration quietly announced this week that it is scrapping the office of the Global Health Initiative and abandoning plans to move the whole project over to USAID, creating anger and frustration in the non-government organization community.
Following what administration sources described as a knock-down drag-out interagency fight between USAID and CDC over whether the Global Health Initiative, a huge $63 billion project to help the world's poorest announced by President Barack Obama in 2009, would actually be moved to USAID as promised in the State Department's Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review (QDDR), the administration has decided to forgo what the QDDR directed and stop trying to consolidate the leadership of the multi-billion dollar program at USAID.
"As a result of our analysis and conclusions, we have made a collective recommendation to close the QDDR benchmark process and shift our focus from leadership within the U.S. Government to global leadership by the U.S. Government. This recommendation has been accepted," read a July 3 blog post by USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah, Ambassador Eric Goosby, Director Thomas Frieden, and Executive Director Lois Quam.
"At the State Department, the GHI Office (S/GHI) will close and the Office of Global Health Diplomacy (S/GHD) will be stood up. Unlike S/GHI's focus on interagency coordination, the S/GHD office's mandate will be to champion the priorities and policies of GHI in the diplomatic arena.... Global Health Initiative will continue as the priority global health initiative of the U.S. Government.... GHI country teams and GHI planning leads will continue to work to implement GHI strategies under the leadership of the U.S. Ambassador."
The Modernizing Foreign Assistance Network (MFAN), an umbrella group representing development organizations co-chaired by David Beckmann, George Ingram and Jim Kolbe, today issued a harsh criticism of the administration's decision.
"The Obama Administration unfortunately yielded to inertia and interagency turf battles in deciding not to move leadership of the Global Health Initiative (GHI), America's largest development program, to the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), our premier development agency," MFAN wrote. "We are concerned that our partners on the ground will continue to be confused about global health leadership and coordination, which will hamper efforts to effectively transition ownership of development programs to recipient countries.... Viewed through these lenses, the Administration may have undermined its own landmark efforts to increase development effectiveness and accountability."
Development experts Amanda Glassman and Rachel Silverman wrote about the backstory in a blog post on the website of the Center for Global Development. They said the administration has dramatically scaled back its ambitions for GHI by deciding not to consolidate its leadership at USAID.
"The news is deeply disappointing and frustrating on a number of levels. The announcement reflects a breakdown of the inter-agency process. It demonstrates a continued lack of political will to address the hard questions that hamper integration, particularly separate earmarked funding streams and parallel, competing institutions within the U.S. government that had different strategies and relationships with recipient country governments," they wrote. "The bottom line: GHI 1.0 failed on the hard questions, and GHI 2.0 isn't even trying."
The Obama administration is planning to release more than $1 billion of held-up funds to the Pakistani government this month, following Pakistan's opening of the supply lines to Afghanistan. But Congress can thwart that plan and at least one senator is going to try.
Pentagon spokesman Capt. John Kirby confirmed to The Cable on Friday that the Pentagon is planning to give Pakistan $1.1 billion in Coalition Support Funds (CSF), reimbursement money that Pakistan has already spent in the joint effort to fight al Qaeda and the Taliban. The U.S. government has been holding up the money over the past six months while the supply lines were closed. Pakistan closed those supply lines after NATO forces killed 24 Pakistani soldiers near the Afghan border in November, but opened them up again this week after Secretary of State Hillary Clinton finally, publically, said "we're sorry" for the mistakes that led to those killings.
Clinton didn't mention the funds when she announced the deal to re-open the supply lines. Kirby didn't say the money was a quid pro quo deal in exchange for opening up the Ground Lines of Communication (GLOC), as other officials and experts allege, but he did acknowledge that the two issues are linked.
"Now that the GLOCs are open, we intend to submit the approximately $1.1 billion in approved receipts under the Coalition Support Fund for costs associated with past Pakistani counter-terrorism operations," Kirby told The Cable. "Now that the GLOCs are open, we are prepared to move forward with these claims."
Kirby said that congressional leadership was kept in the loop during the discussions with Pakistan about re-opening the supply lines. "We look forward to working closely with Congress to process these claims," he said.
Multiple Senate offices told The Cable that the notification for releasing the $1.1 billion to the Pakistan military has not yet reached Capitol Hill but is expected in the coming days. After Congress receives the notification, lawmakers have 15 days to object to the release or the funds will go through.
Congressional anger at Pakistan is at an all-time high, and not just because of the closing of the supply lines, which have cost U.S. taxpayers about $100 million extra per month, according to Kirby. Lawmakers are upset that the Pakistani military can't or won't eliminate the safe havens in Pakistan where insurgents live and from where they launch cross-border attacks on U.S. forces in Afghanistan.
Lawmakers are also upset that the Pakistani courts have condemned Shakil Afridi, the doctor who worked with the CIA to help positively identify Osama bin Laden. Afridi was sentenced last month to 33 years in jail for treason. Last week, before the deal over the supply lines was announced, Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) told The Cable he would force a vote on an amendment to halt all aid to Pakistan this month, due to the Afridi case.
"My goal is that the guy who helped us get bin Laden will not be in prison for the rest of his life," Paul said in an interview.
Afridi has an appeals hearing on July 19, so Paul is planning to wait and see if the Pakistani courts reverse themselves before he uses a rare procedural move to force a vote to cut off all aid to Pakistan.
"I've decided to try to have the vote on July 20 to give them one more chance to review his case," Paul said.
Senate leadership is dead set against letting Paul have a vote on his amendment, out of concern that senators won't want to publically stand up in defense of sending more American taxpayer money to our greatest frenemy. But Paul said he plans to use Senate Rule 14 to force a vote and his office has collected 33 signatures from other senators on a petition to push for that vote. It's not clear if this legislative tactic will work, but Paul is confident.
"I can go around the leadership on that. I don't think they can stop me from having a vote. There will be a vote on Pakistan," Paul said. "It doesn't happen very often, but I have the signatures and I can get a vote."
Paul met with the State Department and Pakistani Ambassador Sherry Rehman last week. After the GLOC deal was struck this week, The Cable asked Paul spokeswoman Moira Bagley if the Kentucky senator would also try to stop the release of the CSF money. She said he would.
"Sen. Paul is dedicated to seeing Dr. Afridi -- an integral figure in finding Osama bin Laden -- released from prison in Pakistan. He is prepared to use all legislative tools possible to obtain this goal, including blocking U.S. taxpayer-funded aid to the government of Pakistan until they cooperate with this request," she said. "Should the opportunity to block these ... funds come before the Senate, Sen. Paul will urge his colleagues to do so."
The funding is technically under the jurisdiction of the House and Senate Armed Services Committees, but the leaders of those committees were out of town this week and their offices declined to comment on the CSF funding because they have not yet received the notification.
Clinton did a great job negotiating the re-opening of supply routes from
#Pakistan to #Afghanistan," Senate Armed Services Committee
ranking Republican John McCain (R-AZ) tweeted on July 4, but it's not clear if he will support the
release of the $1.1 billion CSF. McCain is currently traveling in Afghanistan
and the Middle East, he could not be reached for comment.
If Congress does let the funds go through, that could be a key confidence-building measure between the two countries, which are trying to dig themselves out of the worst period in the bilateral relationship in over a decade.
If Congress halts the funds, the very short uptick in relations will be scuttled and the two nations will return to their all-too-familiar pattern of retaliation and recriminations. But there's little chance that Pakistan will close the supply lines, now that they are open again.
"Several trucks have gone through, and they will continue," Kirby told Pentagon reporters at a Thursday briefing. "I mean, this will continue now that the gates are open."
Mark Wilson/Getty Images
Echoing the laments of pundits like Thomas Friedman of the New York Times, U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood argued Saturday that China outpaces the United States in building major transportation infrastructure like high-speed rail because of its authoritarian system and because the Chinese don't have the Republican Party holding up progress.
"The Chinese are more successful [in building infrastructure] because in their country, only three people make the decision. In our country, 3,000 people do, 3 million," LaHood said in a short interview with The Cable on the sidelines of the 2012 Aspen Ideas Festival on June 30. "In a country where only three people make the decision, they can decide where to put their rail line, get the money, and do it. We don't do it that way in America."
LaHood said that despite this, democracy is still preferable. "We have the best system of government anywhere on the planet. It is the best. Because the people have their say," he said.
During his conference session at the festival, LaHood blamed Republicans in Congress, especially the Tea Party freshman class elected in 2010, for the relative lack of progress in moving forward with high-speed rail even though the administration has obligated more than $11 billion to the effort.
"Two years ago, between 50 to 60 Republicans were elected to the House of Representatives to come to Washington to do nothing, and that's what they've done and they've stopped any progress. Those people don't have any vision about what the government can do. That's been a real inhibitor in our ability to think outside the box and think big," he said.
"We used to be No. 1. We're not No. 1 anymore. We're No. 23," he continued. "Previous generations have always left something to the next generation. We owe it to the next generation to leave them something. We shortchange the next generation if we don't leave them high-speed rail. That's our obligation."
LaHood boldly predicted in his remarks at the conference that 80 percent of Americans will be connected with passenger rail within the next 25 years. He said that this will be accomplished through a series of commitments by the federal government, state governments, and the private sector.
"That's how they did in Europe, that's how they did it in Asia, and that's how we will do it in America," he said. "There's no turning back on this. We're not going to turn back. And you know why? Because that's what the people want. That's why... there's no stopping high speed rail."
LaHood heavily criticized the governors of Wyoming and Florida, who have rejected federal attempts to move forward with high-speed rail in their states, and he fought off a heckler from California who said that high-speed rail was not a wise investment of taxpayer money.
"Doing nothing is not acceptable. Don't be coming here and telling me it's not acceptable if you don't have an alternative. It's coming to California," LaHood exclaimed. "All the studies show, if you build it they will come."
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U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton leaves Washington today on a two-week trip that includes a stop in Israel, a stop in Egypt, and a new effort to head off a possible new round of tensions with Palestinian leaders.
Clinton's travel will take her to France, Japan, Mongolia, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Egypt and Israel. The first item on Clinton's international agenda is Syria, and Clinton will attend the Friday meeting in Paris of the Friends of Syria group, the U.S.- and Turkey-led diplomatic initiative that is meant to coordinate international action to resolve the Syrian crisis.
Clinton isn't expected to make any significant changes in the U.S. position on Syria, which is still, in a nutshell, to avoid direct intervention, look the other way while Gulf Arab states arms the opposition, and work with Russia to facilitate a Yemen-like political transition.
"[T]he secretary will consult with her colleagues on steps to increase pressure on the Assad regime and to support UN-Arab League Special Envoy Annan's efforts to end the violence and facilitate a political transition to a post-Assad Syria," read a statement sent out by the State Department today.
While she's in Paris, Clinton will also meet with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, "to discuss both parties' efforts to pursue a dialogue and build on President Abbas' exchange of letters with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu," the State Department said.
Reuters reported that reported that Clinton requested the meeting and will also press Abbas not to pursue a new United Nations resolution that condemns settlements in "occupied" territories. Expectations on the Palestinian side for any progress in Paris are low, according to Reuters.
On the Israeli side, Defense Minister Ehud Barak told an audience last week at the 2012 Aspen Ideas Festival that a new unilateral settlement freeze was not likely. "The Palestinians under Abu Mazen refused once and again to get into the room without a precondition... I believe that most of the responsibility is on their shoulders," he said.
The U.S. and Palestinian leaderships have also been at loggerheads over the Palestinian drive to seek membership in U.N. bodies, such as UNESCO. U.S. law required the end of all American contributions to UNESCO after that body admitted Palestine as a member earlier this year.
On July 8, Clinton will go on to Tokyo to attend an international conference on the future of Afghanistan, a follow-up to last December's conference in Bonn, Germany. In Tokyo, Clinton will talk about the "transformation decade" in Afghanistan, which she will say begins in 2015, after the bulk of U.S. and international forces leave that country.
"The Afghan Government in turn will lay out its plan for economic reform and continued steps toward good governance," the State Department said in its release.
The next day Clinton will go to Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, to speak to a meeting of the Governing Board of the Community of Democracies, an informal multilateral coalition of countries that promotes democratic values,, speak at a women's conference, and meet with President Tsakhiagiin Elbegdorj and Prime Minister Sükhbaataryn Batbold.
On July 10 Clinton moves on to Hanoi for a day of meetings with government and business leaders before traveling to Vientiane, Laos, on July 11. Her stop in Laos will mark the first visit to that country -- one of the world's last avowedly communist states -- by a U.S. Secretary of State in 57 years and Clinton will meet with Prime Minister Thongsing Thammavong.
After her brief stop in Laos, Clinton will arrive late in the day July 11 in Cambodia. While there, she will participate in three major conferences: the ASEAN Regional Forum, the East Asia Summit Foreign Ministers Meeting, and the U.S.-ASEAN Post-Ministerial Conference. Tensions between China and its neighbors over maritime disputes is sure to be high on the agenda.
After two days in Phnom Penh, Clinton will go to the city of Siem Reap on July 14 to meet with business leaders and deliver the keynote address at the Lower Mekong Initiative Gender Equality and Women's Empowerment Dialogue. The Lower Mekong Initiative is a development-focused forum that joins the U.S. with several southeast Asian nations.
The next day it's off to Cairo, where Clinton is reported to have a meeting scheduled with the new President Mohamed Morsy. She will stay in Egypt until July 16, and will meet with senior government officials, civil society, and business leaders, and inaugurate the U.S. consulate in Alexandria.
The last stop on Clinton's tour is Israel, where she will be meeting with as yet undisclosed Israeli leaders "to discuss peace efforts and a range of regional and bilateral issues of mutual concern," the State Department said.
Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney is also expected to travel to Israel to meet with leaders there sometime this summer.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said "sorry" to Pakistan today and announced that Pakistan would resume allowing U.S. military goods to flow through its border with Afghanistan, but her near-apology was only one piece in a much larger set of moving parts in the effort to restore some normalcy to the troubled U.S.-Pakistan relationship.
"We are sorry for the losses suffered by the Pakistani military," Clinton said in a Tuesday statement, referring to the Nov. 25 incident when NATO forces killed 24 Pakistan soldiers on the Pakistan-Afghanistan border. "We are committed to working closely with Pakistan and Afghanistan to prevent this from ever happening again."
Clinton spoke with Pakistani Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar by phone Tuesday and said that Khar had promised Pakistan would reopen its supply lines for U.S. military flows into Afghanistan, which have been closed down for six months in retaliation for the killings. Pakistan dropped its demand for fees of up to $5,000 per truck and will not even charge the $250 per truck the United States was paying before the incident occurred, Clinton said.
She also indicated that the progress announced today carried with it the prospect of tackling some of the larger issues plaguing the bilateral relationship, namely Pakistan's reluctance to go after the Taliban and other militant groups as well as what the United States sees as Pakistan's refusal to play a useful role in reconciliation talks to end the Afghanistan war.
"Foreign Minister Khar and I talked about the importance of taking coordinated action against terrorists who threaten Pakistan, the United States, and the region; of supporting Afghanistan's security, stability, and efforts towards reconciliation; and of continuing to work together to advance the many other shared interests we have," Clinton said.
Tuesday's announcement came after months of protracted and often excruciating negotiations between the two governments. On the U.S. side of the table, the process was led by Deputy Secretary of State Tom Nides, who was in Pakistan Monday, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Asian and Pacific Affairs Peter Lavoy, and Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan Marc Grossman.
ISAF Commander Gen. John Allen also traveled to Pakistan twice over the past two weeks, once at the invitation of Pakistani Army Chief of Staff General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani and again as part of larger discussions regarding the NATO mission in Afghanistan.
The internal U.S. process that led to today's remarks by Clinton was extensive -- and rocky at times. It has been well reported that the State Department, especially soon-to-be-former U.S. Ambassador Cameron Munter, urged the White House to apologize long ago but was overruled due to objections from the Defense Department, where officials were angered by the fact that the Pakstani military accused the U.S. military of killing the soldiers intentionally.
Three administration sources confirmed to The Cable that between December and early spring, the National Security Council convened at least 8 separate high-level meetings to debate the apology, and ultimately, the White House earlier this year decided to issue one.
The Pakistani government in early Spring asked the White House not to issue the apology because the Pakistani parliament was in the middle of its comprehensive review of the bilateral relationship. Then, following deadly attacks in Kabul on NATO forces in April, which were traced back to the Pakistan-based Haqqani network, the White House took the apology off the table.
That's why today's comments by Clinton came as a huge surprise to many Pakistan-watchers. But experts saw in her comments a careful dance that the administration thinks represents a compromise, because Clinton never actually said the word "apology" or "apologize."
"It allows the administration to say to Congress, we didn't ‘apologize,' we said we were ‘sorry,'" said Shuja Nawaz, director of the South Asia Center at the Atlantic Council. He emphasized that discussions about several thorny issues in the relationship are still ongoing.
Asked directly at today's press briefing if the "sorry" comment constituted an "apology," State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland wouldn't say that it did.
"The statement speaks for itself, the words are all there, and I'm not going to improve on it here," she said.
In conjunction with Tuesday's announcement, the Obama administration has agreed to hand over about $1.2 billion to the Pakistanis in Coalition Support Funds (CSF) that were owed but delayed as part of the overall unhappiness between the two governments, two administration sources confirmed. Pakistan, which views the funds as reimbursements the United Sates agreed to pay in exchange for Pakistan's help in fighting the war on terror, argues that America owes it a larger sum.
"It's not a coincidence," Nawaz said, referring to the timing of the CSF funding. "This was part of the overall discussion."
The deal may not stop there.
Pakistan might still ask for money to help repair the infrastructural wear and tear that comes along with thousands of NATO trucks traversing its highways. The Pakistanis might also demand a new system that institutes some regularity in the CSF funds because the U.S. government currently demands detailed receipts and then rejects about 40 percent of the Pakistani reimbursement requests.
In the past, the United States has used delays in the CSF funds to punish Pakistan when the administration is frustrated with Pakistani actions.
"Internally on the U.S. side, when the administration has been pissed off at the Pakistanis, they've just said, ‘Oh, we'll slow down the CSF funds and just not tell them,'" one former U.S. official told The Cable.
Getting the CSF funding was always the real goal of the negotiations as far as the Pakistanis were concerned, according to the former official.
"The Pakistani government doesn't care about the transit fees as much as they care about the coalition support funds," the official said. "CSF offers them more of a short-term benefit. The reason they were making such a big deal about the transit fees before was because that was their negotiating position."
The U.S. side still wants concrete steps to show that the Pakistani government is moving more aggressively to stem the flow of fighters from its territory into Afghanistan, where they regularly attack and kill U.S., NATO, and Afghan forces. Both sides want a better system of on-the-ground operational coordination to make sure incidents like the November killings aren't repeated.
Clinton didn't mention the CSF funds in her speech, perhaps because that money could still be held up by Congress, which has been engaged in some serious bipartisan Pakistan-bashing, especially since a Pakistani court sentenced the doctor who helped the CIA find Osama bin Laden to 33 years in prison.
After the administration notifies Congress it wants to release the funds, a notification that could come today, Congress has 15 days to reject it or the money gets released.
A key Republican in the debate over Pakistan will be Sen. Lindsey Graham, a senior member of the House Armed Services Committee and the ranking Republican on the Senate Appropriations State and Foreign Operations subcommittee. In a Tuesday statement, Graham indicated he would support the administration's position.
"These supply lines are essential to supporting our troops in Afghanistan and I believe the terms and conditions negotiated by Secretary Clinton's team are acceptable to American interests throughout the region," he said.
But Graham also indicated that any thawing of the U.S.-Pakistan relationship would only be endorsed by Congress if and when Pakistan gets more serious about helping in Afghanistan.
"This agreement is a good step in the right direction, but more has to be done between the United States and Pakistan in the area of counterterrorism," he said. "If the Pakistani military intelligence services would engage in aggressive efforts to combat terrorism in coordination with coalition forces, it would tremendously enhance our successes in Afghanistan, provide stability to the Pakistani government, and eventually a better life for people on both sides of the border."
Nawaz warned that the relationship is still very fragile and that any number of things could send it spiraling downward once again, including a clumsy drone strike, a U.S. troop incursion into Pakistan, or another attack on NATO forces by Pakistan-based militants.
"This is only a Band Aid for this relationship. Any number of new crises or recurring crises is likely to trigger another round of recrimination," he said. "‘Sorry' was the hardest word, but it's a bit too early to celebrate. We're not yet out of the woods."
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Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the former top commander of international forces in Afghanistan, said this week that the United States should bring back the draft if it ever goes to war again.
"I think we ought to have a draft. I think if a nation goes to war, it shouldn't be solely be represented by a professional force, because it gets to be unrepresentative of the population," McChrystal said at a late-night event June 29 at the 2012 Aspen Ideas Festival. "I think if a nation goes to war, every town, every city needs to be at risk. You make that decision and everybody has skin in the game."
He argued that the burdens of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan haven't been properly shared across the U.S. population, and emphasized that the U.S. military could train draftees so that there wouldn't be a loss of effectiveness in the war effort.
"I've enjoyed the benefits of a professional service, but I think we'd be better if we actually went to a draft these days," he said. "There would some loss of professionalism, but for the nation it would be a better course."
The wars in Afghanistan and Iraq placed unfair and extreme burdens on the professional military, especially reservists, and their families, McChrystal said.
"We've never done that in the United State before; we've never fought an extended war with an all- volunteer military. So what it means is you've got a very small population that you're going to and you're going to it over and over again," he said. "Because it's less than one percent of the population... people are very supportive but they don't have the same connection to it."
Reservists following multiple deployments have trouble maintaining careers and families and have a "frighteningly high" rate of suicide, he said.
"The reserve structure is designed for major war, you fight and then you stop, but what we've done instead is gone back over and over to the same people," he said. "We're going to have to relook the whole model because I don't think we can do this again."
McChrystal was speaking at a panel focused on how to manage marriage in the military. He was joined by Annie, his wife of 35 years, and the discussion was moderated by CNN's Suzanne Malveaux.
Multiple deployments often result in divorces and split families, he said.
"The marriages I see most strained are the senior NCOs and officers who have four or five tours... you're apart so much that it's hard to have a marriage if you're not together at least a critical mass of time, and that's tough," McChrystal said.
Malveaux asked McChrystal how he has managed to get through 35 years of marriage.
"One day at a time," he responded.
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Lt. Gen. Patrick O'Reilly, the head of the Missile Defense Agency, mismanaged his office, harassed and bullied his senior staff, and overall failed in his leadership of the Pentagon's largest program, according to a previously undisclosed internal report obtained exclusively by The Cable.
O'Reilly "engaged in a leadership style that was inconsistent with standards expected of senior army leaders," in violation of Army regulations on ethics and leadership, according to a May investigation and report by the Defense Department's Inspector General's office that was never released to the public. The IG's office is recommending that Pentagon leadership take "corrective action," against O'Reilly.
The report found that O'Reilly regularly yelled and screamed at subordinates, often in public, demeaned and belittled employees, and behaved in such a way as to result in the departure of at least six senior staffers from MDA during his tenure.
"We determined that LTG O'Reilly's behavior and leadership were inconsistent with the [Joint Ethics Regulation's] emphasis on primary ethical values of fairness, caring, and respect for all DOD employees and with [Army Leadership regulations'] requirement to treat subordinates with dignity, respect, fairness, and consistency," the report stated.
The IG's office gave O'Reilly a chance to respond and in March, O'Reilly told the IG that he disagreed with its conclusions and denied several of the specific allegations in the report. But O'Reilly couldn't deny that senior staff have been fleeing his command. The IG's office said in the report that it stood by its findings.
"We recommend the Secretary of the Army consider appropriate corrective action with regard to LTG O'Reilly," the IG said.
The IG's office interviewed O'Reilly and 37 other witnesses to his behavior before issuing the scathing report. The inspectors determined that although O'Reilly has had a distinguished, multi-decade career in the military and is known to be a hard worker who gets things done, his management of the MDA office has been nothing short of disastrous.
Here are some of the descriptions of his leadership given by subordinates and highlighted in the report:
- The worst manager I've worked for in 26 years of public service;
- As a leader, as a director, whatever, he's the worst;
- In terms of leadership, bottom;
- Absolutely last, out of all the generals I've served under;
- Without a doubt... the worst leader I've worked for, the worst;
- He has probably been 100 degrees out from everything I've learned about leadership;
- How not to act;
- What doesn't kill you makes you stronger; and
- Not the command climate I would have set.
In one incident, O'Reilly screamed at an employee for 10-15 minutes in a hotel lobby because the employee booked a hotel with the word "resort" in its title. O'Reilly was afraid of news stories that would make MDA seem like it was living it up on trips. The employee reported that O'Reilly forced him/her to curse in admitting the mistake, even though that employee didn't want to use profanity.
"You fucked up, you tell me you fucked [up], admit you fucked up," O'Reilly screamed at the staffer, according to the witness. "This is fucking unacceptable. I want you to tell me you fucked up."
"I fucked up," the staffer finally said, after trying to explain him/herself in a more nuanced way.
Other witnesses said that O'Reilly often screamed and yelled during video conferences and staff meetings, which discouraged staff from speaking up at meetings for fear of being berated. One witness described O'Reilly's personality as "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde."
Other witness statements about O'Reilly's leadership described it as "condescending, sarcastic, abusive," "management by blowtorch and pliers," and one senior official compared the senior staff's predicament to "beaten wife syndrome."
A senior MDA official told the IG that "LTG O'Reilly would ‘berate you, make you feel like you're the dirt beneath his feet,' then pay a compliment to rebuild the employee, and later repeat that cycle," the IG report stated.
O'Reilly reportedly also at one time or another called various employees, "a bunch of god damned idiots," "just a moron who he'd gladly choke," "a dumb fuck," and an "ignorant ass." O'Reilly told the IG office he didn't remember making those comments.
The names of the senior officials who fled O'Reilly's command were redacted from the report, but some of their titles weren't. They served as the former program director for sensors, the former director for operations, the former director of quality, safety, and mission assurance, and the former program director for target and counter-missions.
One senior staffer who left under duress was Katrina MacFarland, MDA's acquisitions chief, who is now the assistant secretary of defense for acquisitions following an interim stint as president of the Defense Acquisitions University.
In his response to the IG, O'Reilly wrote that the witness testimony amounted to "subjective perceptions," and "extrapolations of inaccurate perceptions of isolated incidents."
He is scheduled to retire this November but the IG office is recommending disciplinary action now. MDA spokesman Rich Lehner declined to comment on the report.
The Missile Defense Agency received $8.4 billion in fiscal 2012. In 2011, MDA was ranked 228 out of 240 in the list of best places to work in the federal government, as compiled by the Partnership for Public Service.
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Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak said June 30 that Iran will successfully develop a nuclear weapon in "several years" if the international community doesn't stop it.
"In my judgment ... if nothing will be done about it, within several years Iran will turn nuclear," Barak said during his featured interview at the 2012 Aspen Ideas Festival, conducted by Thomas Friedman of the New York Times.
The estimate appeared more distant than other recent statements by top Israeli leaders. "They are getting there, and they are getting very, very close," Israeli Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu said in March about Iran's nuclear clock.
Barak repeated the Israeli government's insistence that Israel reserves the right to strike Iran to prevent Iran from going nuclear, even without the cooperation or approval of the United States.
"We cannot afford delegating the decision even into the hands of our most trusted allies, which are you," he said to applause.
But he also said that there are no differences between U.S. and Israeli intelligence estimates on the progress of Iran's nuclear program.
"Several years ago the [2007 U.S. National Intelligence Estimate] raised some questions. Now there are no differences between our intelligence," Barak said.
When asked by Friedman if U.S. President Barack Obama is a friend of Israel, Barak said, "Yes, clearly so."
Friedman also asked Barak why the Israeli government doesn't just institute a new settlement freeze as a means of restarting the defunct peace negotiations between the Israelis and the Palestinians. Barak said that wasn't going to happen.
"The Palestinians under Abu Mazen refused once and again to get into the room without a precondition... I believe that most of the responsibility is on their shoulders," he said.
Barak said he respects the Egyptian people's decision to elect Muslim Brotherhood leader Mohamed Morsi as their new president and he expects the new Egyptian government to live up to all its international commitments, including the Israeli-Egyptian peace treaty. But he said that the new government could align itself with Hamas.
"Mubarak despised them. But the new regime might find some a certain kind of brotherhood and have a different kind of relationship (with Hamas)," he said. "A child cannot choose its parents; a country cannot choose its neighbors."
On Syria, Barak said that the U.S. needs to do more to push Assad from power more quickly, working with Russia and Turkey.
"The longer it stretches, the more chaotic the morning after will be," he said. "There is a need for American leadership, from wherever you choose to lead."
The impending release of a highly critical report by the State Department's Inspector General's office prompted the sudden resignation Friday of U.S. Ambassador to Kenya Scott Gration, according to administration and congressional sources.
The report was described to The Cable by multiple people briefed on its contents as one of the worst reviews of an ambassador's performance written by the IG's staff in several years. The bulk of the criticisms focused on Gration's terrible relationship with embassy staff since he took over as ambassador in February 2011 following a controversial two-year stint as President Barack Obama's special envoy for Sudan. The report is complete, but Gration still has the opportunity to write a formal response before the report is publicly released, these sources said.
Gration, a retired Air Force general, was always a contentious figure inside the Obama administration. After becoming one of the first senior military figures to openly support and actively campaign for Obama in 2007, he was embraced by the team that would eventually form the president's closest national security inner circle. Deputy National Security Advisor Denis McDonough once described Gration as one of the top three national security advisors to Obama, along with former Navy Secretary Richard Danzig and former Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Merrill McPeak. He was rumored during the transition to be a candidate to lead NASA.
Gration's roots in Africa run deep. He grew up in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Kenya to missionary parents and speaks fluent Swahili. As Sudan envoy, he took a stance widely seen among activists as too solicitous to the Khartoum regime, focusing more on incentives than pressures -- or, as he infelicitously once described them, "cookies" and "gold stars." That stance caused friction between Gration and other top Obama officials, especially U.N. ambassador Susan Rice.
By mid-2010, Gration's relationships with various groups working on Sudan had also deteriorated, and by late in the year, Gration was lobbying internally to be appointed to the Kenya post, arguing that his years of ties to that country would serve him well. Following the reasonably successful January 2011 referendum that ratified Sudan's split into two countries, Gration got his wish and was given the job he sought.
But Gration's independent streak and insistence on doing things his own way, outside of the interagency policy process, ran afoul of the embassy staff in Nairobi almost immediately. Multiple sources familiar with the disputes confirmed reports Friday that Gration preferred to use his Gmail account for official business and set up private offices in his residence -- and an embassy bathroom -- to conduct business outside the purview of the embassy staff.
Other sources close to the embassy who worked with Gration related several anecdotes circulated by current and former embassy staff that are meant to highlight Gration's erratic, controlling, and sometime bullying behavior.
Gration is said to have, upon entering the embassy, ordered that all heights of all the tables be adjusted and that all the clocks in the embassy be recalibrated, an indication of his eccentric style of micromanagement.
At one point in his battles with his newfound employees, Gration told embassy staff he would "shoot them in the head" if they didn't follow his instructions, and the staff formally complained about that remark, according to one unconfirmed account.
Gration often bragged about his close ties to the White House and to the president himself, although the White House stopped returning his phone calls after the IG's investigation results became known inside the administration. Gration was twice disciplined by the State Department for making public statements that did not comport with administration policy, although the exact details of those statements is unclear.
E-mails sent to Gration's State Department account seeking comment were not returned. The State Department declined to comment on the above allegations, but also declined to deny them.
Some in Washington had the perception that Gration was performing well as ambassador and maintained close ties to the Kenyan government leadership. Congressional aides said that they were waiting for the report and reserving judgment on Gration until all the facts became clear.
In his note announcing his resignation, Gration highlighted his differences with his Obama administration interlocutors. "Differences with Washington regarding my leadership style and certain priorities lead me to believe that it's now time to leave," Gration said.
For the community in Washington that follows U.S.-Kenya relations, the focus going forward should be on finding a new envoy who can hit the ground running, as Kenya's political system faces severe risks in the wake of an explosion of ethnic and tribal violence following the December 2007 election.
Kenya is also in the front lines of the battle to stabilize Somalia, as the Kenyan military's campaign to oust that country's al Qaeda-linked al-Shabab militants from their southern stronghold has been met with fierce resistance and threats of terrorist retaliation.
"In light of the potential for violence in Kenya during the run-up to the 2013 national elections, and the challenges of sustaining full implementation of constitutional reform, we urge President Obama to immediately nominate a senior individual with deep conflict prevention expertise to replace Ambassador Scott Gration," read a statement Friday by the Kenya Working Group, a team of experts organized by the Center for Strategic Studies and the Center for American Progress.
"The President's nominee should understand Kenya's complex history and the current political landscape - as well as that of the surrounding region. Given the crucial but delicate transition underway in Kenya, the nominee must also understand the critical role the U.S. government can play supporting Kenyan efforts to realize a successful democratic transition, and have the ability to work productively with all U.S. agencies and key international partners present in Kenya."
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The Obama administration announced Thursday that it will exempt China and Singapore from economic sanctions for the next 180 days because the two countries have significantly decreased their crude oil imports from Iran.
An authoritative statement published on a China energy website on June 27 indicated a structural change in China's crude oil imports due to the downward pressure on the economy, including a 25 percent year-on-year reduction between January and May of crude oil imports from Iran to China and a prediction that crude oil imports from Iran would decrease for 2012 relative to last year.
"A total of 20 world economies have now qualified for such an exception," Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's official statement reads. "Today marks an important milestone in the implementation of the NDAA[National Defense Authorization Act] and U.S. sanctions toward Iran."
Iran estimates that sanctions have caused a 20 to 30 percent reduction in oil exports so far, and the International Energy Agency calculates that reducing crude exports will cost Iran at least $8 billion in lost revenue each quarter. The growing impact of sanctions has also caused massive inflation and a sharp increase in unemployment. Substantial sanctions on 24 Iranian banks will also make it increasingly difficult for Iran to support the rial and conduct international trade.
A new round of technical talks under the auspices of the "P5+1" are scheduled for July 3 in Istanbul, but the State Department plans to forge ahead with applying additional pressure on Iran.
U.S. senators grilled Derek Mitchell, nominated by President Barack Obama on May 17 as the first U.S. ambassador to Burma in two decades, in a confirmation hearing Wednesday, but they used the session primarily to urge the administration to allow American investment in the country's oil and gas sectors.
Mitchell has served as special coordinator for Burma policy since last year, but democratic reforms and the election of opposition leader and Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi to parliament have prompted the Obama administration to step up its diplomatic engagement with the Burmese government.
Although the State Department has proposed a "sector by sector" plan to renewing private sector relations, the White House has not decided if it will lift sanctions on Burma's notoriously opaque and abusive energy industry.
"There's nothing I can say here definitively on this, because it is an ongoing internal, interagency discussion," Mitchell told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. "But ... we are not looking to exclude any sectors from this."
Senator James Inhofe (R-OK), addressing "rumors" that the administration plans to "exclude oil firms from new rules allowing U.S. investment in the country," argued that such a policy would be detrimental to U.S. companies as foreign firms continue to sign oil and gas exploration agreements with Burma.
"This or any other ‘carve-out strategy' would be a strategic mistake," he said. "I believe that U.S. companies including the oil and gas companies can play a positive role in the effort by demonstrating high standards or responsibility, responsible business conduct, and transparency -- including respect for human rights in Burma."
Suu Kyi, on the other hand, is not as optimistic, and cautioned foreign firms against partnering with the state-owned Myanmar Oil and Gas Enterprise earlier this month during a speech in Geneva.
In January, Burma's Energy Ministry estimated its natural gas reserves at 22.5 trillion cubic feet, and the international bidding process for 25 offshore oil and gas blocks is scheduled to take place within two to three months.
The Senate Foreign Relations Committee has approved a bill to sanction human rights violators around the world, named after Sergei Magnitsky, the Russian anti-corruption lawyer who died after allegedly being tortured in prison by Russian officials.
The Cable has obtained the latest draft of the Senate version of the Sergei Magnitsky Rule of Law Act of 2012, which passed the committee unanimously Tuesday afternoon by a voice vote after a short debate. The bill imposes restrictions on the financial activities and travel of foreign officials found to have been connected to various human rights violations in any country. The House version of the bill, approved by the House Foreign Affairs Committee earlier this month, targets only Russian human rights violators. That difference that will have to be worked out between the two chambers before the bill can become law.
"This bill is absolutely motivated by the circumstances of Sergei Magnitsky, but it is universal in its application," said Sen. Ben Cardin (D-MD), the main sponsor of the bill, after the vote. "The sponsors of the House bill have encouraged me to keep it universal, so I think it will not be difficult to get the House to go along with the universality."
The de-emphasis of Russia in the bill is ostensibly meant to tamp down Russian anger over the legislation. The Russian government has promised widespread retaliation, saying that passage of the Magnitsky Act could negatively affect Russian cooperation with Washington on issues ranging from Afghanistan and Iran to nuclear weapons.
Cardin said the bill will now be joined with legislation introduced earlier this month to grant Russia Permanent Normal Trade Relations (PNTR) status, needed so that U.S. businesses can take advantage of Russia's pending accession to the World Trade Organization (WTO). The PNTR bill introduced by Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-MT) earlier this month and co-sponsored by Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) would also repeal the 1974 Jackson-Vanik law that sanctioned the Soviet Union for denying Jews the right to emigrate.
"When PNTR comes to the floor, that's the driving force behind the timing [of passing the Magnitsky bill in the full Senate]," Cardin said. He added that if it was done in July that would also coincide with pending action by the Russian Duma to formally join the WTO. Whether Baucus would join the two bills in his committee or on the Senate floor is still unclear.
The bulk of the debate inside Tuesday's SFRC business meeting focused on Cardin's amendment to adjust the way the list of names of human rights violators is managed. Cardin's amendment would impose some more requirements on the administration if it wants to keep the names of the human rights violated secret in a classified annex, rather than publish them publicly.
SFRC Chairman John Kerry (D-MA) was the lone vote against the Cardin amendment and unsuccessfully tried to get Cardin to withdraw the amendment during the hearing. He is working to preserve more administration flexibility in administrating the classified list of human rights violators and said that there would be more changes in the bill before it reaches the Senate floor.
"We need to be very mindful of the need for the United States not to always be pointing fingers ... in some ways we could be doing better ourselves on a number of things," Kerry said. "Nevertheless, human rights are in our DNA and we will always be a nation that stands up for and fights for human rights."
Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN) was set to offer an amendment that would sunset the penalties in the bill, meaning that they would expire after five years. Ultimately he decided not to offer the amendment because it was sure to fail, according to multiple Senate aides, but he might offer it at a later stage of the process.
The perception among Hill aides in both parties is that the administration is working hard behind the scenes to weaken the penalties in the Magnitsky bill and provide the State Department greater leeway to keep the names of the violators from becoming public. Kerry and Cardin tried to dispel that idea after the meeting.
"I want as strong a bill as possible," Kerry said, declining to go into specifics of what the administration was telling him about the bill.
Cardin said the administration is still not taking a public position on the Magnitsky Act or the changes being proposed by various senators as the bill moves forward.
"The administration chose not to comment and I think that's where they are," Cardin said.
Earlier Tuesday, McCain sent a letter to President Barack Obama asking him to use existing executive orders to sanction the Klyuev Group, a Russian crime organization alleged to be involved in Magnitsky's persecution.
In remarks Tuesday morning at a Freedom House event, McCain lashed out against the idea of keeping the names of the human rights violators subject to the Magnitsky bill secret.
"The fact is, our whole effort here is to make public the names and actions of the people that we think are engaged in these crimes, so I really have deep concerns about that," McCain said. "On the Magnitsky issue, the State Department has been less than enthusiastic... I think it's based on an unfounded assumption or optimism that things are going to improve between the United States and Russia. I have not seen that improvement."
Allison Good contributing reporting.
The Justice Department has already summoned hundreds of government officials for interviews in its investigation of national security leaks, meaning that the investigation is already well underway, according to Senate Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein (D-CA).
"We are three weeks into the investigation by the two prosecutors. Literally hundreds of people have been summoned for interviews," Feinstein said in a short interview Tuesday. "So the process has begun and my view is that the process should be allowed to run."
Feinstein was responding to calls from several GOP senators for an independent special counsel to investigate recent leaks into classified national security program. Thirty-one GOP senators wrote a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder calling for an independent counsel Tuesday.
The letter was led by Sen. Lindsey Graham (SC) and signed by Sens. Lamar Alexander (TN), Kelly Ayotte (NH), John Barrasso (WY), Roy Blunt (MO), John Boozman (AR), Richard Burr (NC), Saxby Chambliss (GA), Susan Collins (ME), John Cornyn (TX), Mike Crapo (ID), Jim DeMint (SC), Mike Enzi (WY), Charles Grassley (IA), John Hoeven (ND), Mike Johanns (NE), Mark Kirk (IL), Mitch McConnell (KY), John McCain (AZ), Jerry Moran (KS), Lisa Murkowski (AK), Rand Paul (KY), Rob Portman (OH), James Risch (ID), Pat Roberts (KS), Marco Rubio (FL), Jeff Sessions (AL), John Thune (SD), Pat Toomey (PA), David Vitter (LA), and Roger Wicker (MS).
Feinstein said that if the current process proves ineffective, she would reconsider. She also said that despite reports Tuesday the Defense Department was the subject of the investigation, her information is that the investigation is looking into the actions of officials throughout the executive branch.
"My understanding is that many dozens of FBI personnel have been asked to come in for interviews. I think it is a robust investigation and that's what we want," she said. "A special counsel takes four or five months to get set up and hire staff and become functioning. This is already functioning and has been for three weeks."
In a short interview, Graham rejected that argument and promised to push not only for an independent investigation but one that is expanded to cover more leaks over a greater period of time.
"I cannot believe this is good policy to allow an administration to investigate itself," he said. "[Feinstein] was OK with an independent counsel to investigate [lobbyist Jack] Abramoff and [former CIA case officer] Valerie Plame because the argument was the Bush administration was too tied to the suspected wrongdoing. I can assure you I'm not going to let this go."
Graham called for a special counsel that senators could support, and said that there are Democrats he might endorse for the role but that he won't accept the two Justice Department officials chosen by Holder .
Graham also called for the investigation to be expanded well beyond the two leaks that he said are the subjects of the investigation: U.S. involvement in the Stuxnet virus that disabled Iranian nuclear centrifuges and the details of a foiled airplane bomb plot originating out of Yemen.
He said the investigation should include the leaks of details of the May 2011 raid in Abbotabad that resulted in the killing of al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, the disclosures of secret U.S. bases in Africa and a secret U.S. drone base in Pakistan, the disclosure of the process the president uses to compile his "kill list," and disclosures of details of negotiations between the U.S. and the Taliban over a prisoner swap for Army private Bowe Bergdahl.
The Cable pointed out that two of those leaks were disclosed publicly by Feinstein herself. She disclosed the existence of the Pakistan drone base in an open hearing in 2009 and disclosed the details of the Taliban negotiations in a March interview with The Cable.
"My beef is not with Senator Feinstein. My beef is with a system that's failing," Graham said. "I think that this failure is politically motivated. The leaks have tried to create a political advantage for this president. Nothing Senator Feinstein has done or said has been in that mode."
Feinstein's leaks may have been accidental and her disclosures about negotiations with the Taliban didn't actually compromise any counterterrorism operations in the field, so the investigation should be limited to the actions of administration officials, Graham said.
"This is part of a plan to compromise our programs for political purposes, in my view. That's the allegation I'm making," he said.
The House Foreign Affairs Committee will start work on a State Department authorization bill it hopes can be the first international affairs policy bill to pass Congress in several years.
The Cable has obtained the draft bill, which will be the basis for a debate and amendments Wednesday in a markup session to be led by HFAC Chairwoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL). In a note sent to committee members, the majority staff emphasized that the 76-page bill was meant to be one that both parties could support and pass without much controversy.
"We appreciate all of the input and forbearance that has gone into the creation of this limited, bipartisan collection of basic authorities on which we can reach consensus, in the hope of being able to authorize the State Department for the first time in a decade," the note read.
Whether or not the bill will remain bipartisan and noncontroversial after the markup remains to be seen. Last year, the House committee marked up a State Department authorization bill and added provisions through amendments that would have done things like defunded American contributions to the Organization of American States and restricted foreign aid to a host of countries -- nonstarters for the Obama administration. That bill never made it over to the Senate.
Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman John Kerry (D-MA) marked up a Senate version of the State Department authorization bill in 2010 but that bill was never acted on by the full Senate. The authorization bills are supposed to set policies before the appropriations bills are enacted to distribute funds. The last time a State Department authorization bill was passed by both chambers and signed into law was 2003.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is in Los Cabos, Mexico, with President Barack Obama for the G-20 summit, where she will participate in discussions focusing on the European economic crisis. Clinton is slated to hold a bilateral meeting with Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu this afternoon.
President Obama is expected meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin on the sidelines of the summit -- a meeting that could be tense after Clinton accused Russia of sending attack helicopters to the Syrian regime. Robert Hormats, Under Secretary for Economic Growth, Energy, and the Environment, is accompanying the secretary and the president.
Nearly half the Senate told President Barack Obama today that unless Iran gives three specific concessions at this weekend's talks with world powers in Moscow, he should abandon the ongoing negotiations over the country's nuclear program.
"It is past time for the Iranians to take the concrete steps that would reassure the world that their nuclear program is, as they claim, exclusively peaceful," wrote 44 senators in a Friday bipartisan letter organized by Sens. Robert Menendez (D-NJ) and Roy Blunt (R-MO). "Absent these steps, we must conclude that Tehran is using the talks as a cover to buy time as it continues to advance toward nuclear weapons capability. We know that you share our conviction that allowing Iran to gain this capability is unacceptable."
The senators wrote that the "absolute minimum" Iran must do immediately to justify further talks is to shut down the Fordo uranium enrichment facility near Qom, freeze all uranium enrichment above 5 percent, and ship all uranium enriched above 5 percent out of the country.
"We understand that this was the very proposal that the P5+1 advanced during the Baghdad meeting," the senators wrote, referring to the permanent five members of the U.N. Security Council plus Germany. "Were Iran to agree to and verifiably implement these steps, this would demonstrate a level of commitment by Iran to the process and could justify continued discussions beyond the meeting in Moscow."
Few expect the Moscow meeting to yield unilateral steps by Iran of the nature sought by the senators. The letter also makes no mention of what confidence-building measures the United States or the international community could or should take in exchange for Iran's own steps.
On June 11, the P5+1 held a meeting in Strasbourg at the political directors' level to prepare for the upcoming Moscow talks.
The senators urge the president not to ease or delay the embargo, writing that only when the Iranian government believes the sanctions are to be "unremitting and crippling" will a diplomatic breakthrough will be possible.
"On the other hand, if the sessions in Moscow produce no substantive agreement, we urge you to reevaluate the utility of further talks at this time and instead focus on significantly increasing the pressure on the Iranian government through sanctions and making clear that a credible military option exists," they wrote. "As you have rightly noted, ‘the window for diplomacy is closing.' Iran's leaders must realize that you mean precisely that."
The letter is also signed by Charles Schumer (D-NY), Susan Collins (R-ME), Benjamin Cardin (D-MD), Johnny Isakson (R-GA), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Kelly Ayotte (R-NH), Joseph Lieberman (I-CT), James Risch (R-ID), Ron Wyden (D-OR), David Vitter (R-LA), Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ), Jerry Moran (R-KS), Mark Pryor (D-AR), John Cornyn (R-TX), Robert Casey Jr. (D-PA), John Boozman (R-AR), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Jeff Sessions (R-AL), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Scott Brown (R-MA), Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), Mike Crapo (R-ID), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), John Hoeven (R-ND), Jeff Merkeley (D-OR), Daniel Coats (R-IN), Christopher Coons (D-DE), Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), Ben Nelson (D-NE), Patrick Toomey (R-PA), Michael Bennet (D-CO), Mike Lee (R-UT), Daniel Inouye (D-HI), Rob Portman (R-OH), Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), Dean Heller (R-NV), Jon Tester (D-MT), Kay Hagan (D-NC), Bill Nelson (D-FL), Mark Warner (D-VA), Carl Levin (D-MI), and Mark Begich (D-AK).
"The message of this letter is that Congress' patience is running out when it comes to meetings that don't yield results," said a senior Senate aide. "The Iranians have been given every last opportunity to demonstrate their good faith and step back from the brink. Instead, they keep pushing forward with their nuclear program, and we keep asking for yet another round of talks. This is not sustainable."
The current U.S. ambassador to Iraq and his two most recent predecessors joined together to defend the nomination of Brett McGurk to be the next U.S. envoy in Baghdad, countering calls from several GOP senators for President Barack Obama to withdraw the nomination.
"We write to express our enthusiastic support for Brett McGurk's nomination to serve as the next U.S. Ambassador to Iraq," Jim Jeffrey, Chris Hill, and Ryan Crocker wrote in a letter today to Senate Foreign Relations Committee heads John Kerry (D-MA) and Richard Lugar (R-IN), obtained by The Cable.
"Each of us has previously served in this post, and we share a unique perspective on what it entails," they wrote. "Equally important, each of us has served alongside Brett over a period that now spans eight years. We know him well and we have all relied on him at critical moments. It is from these personal experiences that we note our strongest possible endorsement of Brett's nomination, and we urge the Senate to act swiftly in confirming him."
Jeffrey has been the ambassador in Iraq since 2010, Hill served in that post from 2009 to 2010, and Crocker held the job from 2007 to 2009. Crocker is now the ambassador to Afghanistan and is expected to leave that job soon due to health reasons.
In their letter, the former ambassadors argue that McGurk showed his understanding of the complexities facing Iraq in his June 6 confirmation hearing and said that he has the full trust and confidence of the current leadership team at the embassy.
"We urgently need an ambassador in Iraq and, if confirmed, Brett will be ready to lead from day one," they said.
The former ambassadors noted that the Obama administration called on McGurk to return to Iraq after he left government service in 2009 and said that they relied on McGurk's expertise, leadership, and judgment when dealing with sensitive and important issues. They also said McGurk "cares deeply about Iraq and its people" and "is uniquely positioned to build on all that America has sacrificed over this past decade and to establish the strongest possible relationship between our two countries."
"We need an Ambassador to Iraq," the ambassadors wrote. "Brett is the right man for the job."
McGurk's confirmation vote in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee is scheduled for June 19. Kerry has yet to say whether or not he will vote in favor of McGurk's nomination.
"Senator Kerry has said that there are questions and we're in the process of finding answers and evaluating the situation," his spokeswoman Jodi Seth told The Cable
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah, Deputy National Security Advisor Denis McDonough, actor Ben Affleck, and Pakistani Ambassador Sherry Rehman are all joining together this week for a major conference devoted to preventing childhood death.
The U.S., Ethiopian, and Indian governments are the hosts of the two-day Call to Action for Child Survival, being held Thursday and Friday at Washington's Georgetown University. Other notable speakers at the conference include Sen. Johnny Isaakson (R-GA), Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-LA), HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake, the first lady of Mozambique Maria Da Luz Guebuza, Joseph Potasnik, executive vice president of the New York Board of Rabbis, and many others.
More than 700 leaders from the private sector, government, and civil society will be there, including representation from more than 80 countries, with over 50 countries represented at the ministerial level.
"Every child deserves to have a fifth birthday and even this year more than seven and a half million children will die before their fifth birthday," Shah told The Cable in an interview.
"We've brought together experts around the world to create a new partnership that will be launching to really help eliminate preventable child death," he said. "We think that goal is achievable and we're having this call to action on Thursday."
The event will follow another large development conference going on in Washington this week. Wednesday was the last of three days in the first annual Frontiers in Development conference, also hosted by USAID at Georgetown.
Sen. Richard Lugar (R-IN) spoke at the Monday-morning kickoff session of the conference and made a detailed argument in favor of U.S. foreign aid budgets despite the nation's fiscal woes.
"Amid these financial threats and budgetary realities, it is inevitable that some will question the role of the United States in global development," he said. "But I would assert this morning that development assistance, when properly administered, remains a bargain for U.S. national security and for our own economic and moral standing in the world."
The conference also featured speeches by Joyce Banda, President of Malawi, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, President of Liberia, Atifete Jahjaga, President of Kosovo, NATO Supreme Allied Commander Europe Adm. James Stavridis, NSC Senior Director Gayle Smith, former Irish President Mary Robinson, Sen. Ben Cardin (D-MD), Deputy Secretary of State Tom Nides, former presidential daughter Barbara P. Bush, and actress Mandy Moore.
"We think development is going through this amazing transformation and it's a transformation based on absolute demand for results when we spend taxpayer dollars and when we work abroad," Shah told The Cable. "This conference is one step in that direction. It's intended to bring thought leaders from around the world together."
No taxpayer dollars are being used for the event, Shah said. It's funded privately by groups such as the Gates Foundation and the Rockefeller Foundation.
"They recognize we are at a pivotal moment where we can either elevate development and make it a serious part of how America projects values abroad in an effort to build a safer and more prosperous world, or we can turn the other way and cede our historic leadership role in this space to other emerging economies in Asia and elsewhere," he said. "It's our choice."
Six Republican senators, all on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee (SFRC), have formally asked President Barack Obama to withdraw the nomination of Brett McGurk to be the next U.S. ambassador to Iraq.
The committee has set a vote on the McGurk nomination for June 19, but that vote is now in doubt.
The GOP senators' concerns include that McGurk does not have enough experience for the job, that he was a key part of the unsuccessful effort to negotiate a residual U.S. troop presence in Iraq past 2011, that he isn't accepted by some Iraqi political groups, and that his judgment and conduct in Iraq as exposed in leaked e-mails with a reporter he was dating have hurt his credibility.
"Recent information has surfaced that calls into question the prudence of moving forward with the nominee at this time," wrote Sens. Jim DeMint (R-SC), James Inhofe (R-OK), Marco Rubio (R-FL), John Barrasso (R-WY), Mike Lee (R-UT), and James Risch (R-ID). "As members of the committee, with the responsibility of providing advice and consent, we write to respectfully urge you to reconsider this nomination. There are strong concerns about Mr. McGurk's qualifications, his ability to work with Iraqi officials, and now his judgment."
The letter was first reported by the Washington Free Beacon.
The senators wrote that McGurk, who has served in Iraq and in the White House in various capacities over the past 8 years, has "little direct management experience," leaving him unprepared to head up the largest U.S. embassy in the world, in the center of an extremely volatile region. His most recent position was as a senior advisor to Ambassador Jim Jeffrey, focusing on the Status of Forces Agreement negotiations in 2011 that broke down over a dispute about legal immunity for U.S. troops in Iraq.
The senators also indirectly referenced a letter from Waheed Al Sammarraie, the D.C. representative of the office of former Iraqi prime minister and opposition leader Ayad Allawi, who wrote to Congress saying that his party would not work with McGurk due to the would-be ambassador's allegedly close ties to Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. That letter was later retracted and most Iraqi political groups have said they would work with McGurk if he becomes ambassador.
The senators also referenced the revelation that McGurk's relationship with his current wife Gina Chon began while he was serving as a national security official in Iraq. The Wall Street Journal accepted Chon's resignation Tuesday, saying that she had improperly shared unpublished news articles with McGurk and failed to disclose their relationship to her editors.
"The public release of information detailing unprofessional conduct demonstrates poor judgment and will affect the nominee's credibility in the country where he has been nominated to serve... Together these issues cannot be overlooked," the senators wrote. "The U.S.-Iraq relationship is of utmost importance to us, and we respectfully request that you withdraw this nominee and nominate someone with the qualifications necessary to ensure success in this position."
The White House and State Department did not immediately respond to requests for comment on the letter. Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry (D-MA) also did not immediately respond.
The Democrats hold a majority on the committee and could approve McGurk's nomination over GOP objections. Then the nomination would then go to the floor, where it could face holds from any or all of the senators who signed the letter. McGurk also faces opposition outside the committee from Sens. John McCain (R-AZ), and Mark Kirk (R-IL).
White House spokesman Jay Carney defended the McGurk nomination at his briefing today.
"The President has nominated Brett McGurk to be the ambassador to Iraq. We believe that our nation will be greatly served by his experience in Iraq, and we look forward to the Senate's advice and consent on his appointment," he said.
Last week, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton traveled to Istanbul to convene a new worldwide forum of countries to share info and help integrate efforts to fight terrorism -- but Israel wasn't invited.
In her opening remarks at the June 7 forum, Clinton framed the terrorism challenge as a common world cause and emphasized the need to build up civilian institutions, coordinate anti-terror efforts, and establish a unified, long-term strategy for fighting terrorist groups' ideology and their sources of funding.
"We view this forum as a key vehicle for galvanizing action on these fronts and for driving a comprehensive, strategic approach to counterterrorism," Clinton said, standing alongside Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davotoglu. The United States and Turkey are the co-chairs of the initiative, known as the Global Counterterrorism Forum.
Although Clinton mentioned that terrorism is a challenge in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Mali, Somalia, Yemen, Nigeria, the Maghreb, Turkey, and Europe, she didn't mention Israel or any of the groups that support terrorist attacks against Israeli interests, such as Hamas and Hezbollah.
"We underscore our condemnation of all acts of terrorism, which cannot be justified on any grounds whatsoever, and our continuing commitment to oppose terrorism irrespective of the motives of the perpetrators of such acts," read the September 2011 political declaration that established the forum.
Although 29 countries and the European Union were invited to be founding members, Israel was not. After facing repeated questions at last week's briefings, the State Department put out the following explanation as to why Israel was not included:
"Our idea with the Global Counterterrorism Forum (GCTF) was to bring together a limited number of traditional donors, front line states, and emerging powers develop a more robust, yet representative, counterterrorism capacity-building platform. A number of our close partners with considerable experience countering and preventing terrorism are not included among the GCTF's founding members," the statement said. "We have discussed the GCTF and ways to involve Israel in its activities on a number of occasions, and are committed to making this happen."
The founding members are Algeria, Australia, Canada, China, Colombia, Denmark, Egypt, the European Union, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Jordan, Morocco, The Netherlands, New Zealand, Nigeria, Pakistan, Qatar, Russia, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Spain, Switzerland, Turkey, the United Arab Emirates, the United Kingdom, and the United States.
The State Department's explanation wasn't enough to satisfy critics of the administration, who point out that Israel is an ally and has more experience with terrorism and counterterrorism than, say Japan, or Switzerland.
Sens. Joe Lieberman (I-CT) and Mark Kirk (R-IL) joined together Monday to protest the Obama administration's decision to exclude Israel from the new forum, in a letter to Clinton.
"As you know, there are few countries in the world that have suffered more from terrorism than Israel, and few governments that have more experience combating this threat than that of Israel," they wrote. "We strongly believe that Israel would both benefit from, and contribute enormously to, this kind of exchange. We look forward to hearing from you about whether the administration shares our view that Israel rightfully belongs as a full participant in the and what, if any, steps you are prepared to take to right this wrongful omission."
The Israeli government hasn't publicly complained about the snub and the Israeli embassy in Washington declined to comment, but multiple Congressional sources said that Israeli officials have complained privately to them, saying the Israeli government was unhappy about being left out.
"Obviously the U.S. is looking to adhere to the wishes of Turkey and the Turks have made it very clear they don't want the Israelis there," said Jonathan Schanzer, vice president for research at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies. "But since this is a U.S.-sponsored event, hosted in Turkey, the U.S. should not be listening to anybody about who they should or should not invite."
The bill to grant Russia Permanent Normal Trade Relations (PNTR) was introduced in the Senate Tuesday and the head of the Senate Finance Committee promised he will combine it with a bill to sanction Russian human rights violators.
Sen. Max Baucus (D-MT), who is the main sponsor of the PNTR bill and who will shepherd the legislation through his Finance Committee and then on the floor, has agreed to link it to the Magnitsky bill and pledged to pass them both this year. In doing so, Baucus secured the support of Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) for the PNTR bill, which includes a repeal of the 1974 Jackson-Vanik law that was set in place to punish the Soviet Union for refuses to let Jews emigrate.
"It is clear the Magnitsky Act has overwhelming support in the Senate and growing support in the House," Baucus wrote in a letter today to McCain, Sen. Ben Cardin (D-MD), Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-CT), and Sen. Roger Wicker (R-MS). "It is equally clear that many of our colleagues are rallying around the position you have advanced -- that the repeal of Jackson-Vanik for Russia must be accompanied by passage of the Magnitsky Act. I am fully committed to ensuring that the Senate can act on both items this year."
After receiving that letter, McCain joined with Baucus, International Trade Subcommittee Ranking Member John Thune (R-SD), and Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry (D-MA) in unveiling the PNTR legislation, which they said allows U.S. business to take full advantage of the Russian market when Russia officially joins the WTO later this summer.
"This is an opportunity to double our exports to Russia and create thousands of jobs across every sector of the U.S. economy, all at no cost to the U.S. whatsoever. We give up nothing as part of this process -- not one single tariff reduction -- so it's truly a one-sided benefit for the U.S.," Baucus said in a press release. "Jackson-Vanik served its purpose during the Cold War, but it's a relic of another era that now stands in the way of our farmers, ranchers and businesses pursuing opportunities to grow and create jobs... The clock is ticking for us to move, so we need to act now."
"As I and others have made clear, the extension of Permanent Normal Trade Relations status and the repeal of the Jackson-Vanik amendment for Russia must be accompanied by passage of the Magnitsky Act," McCain said in the release. "I appreciate Senator Baucus's written commitment that he will work for Senate passage of both of these pieces of legislation as soon as possible this year. As we take steps to liberalize U.S. trade with Russia, as we should, we must also maintain our long-standing support for human rights and the fight against corruption in Russia."
The Obama administration has opposed the Magnitsky Act in public while working quietly with Cardin to make changes to the bill just in case its passage can't be avoided. The latest draft version of the bill, circulated by Cardin and obtained by The Cable, seeks to make it more difficult to add names to the list of human rights violators that the bill creates and adds ways for the administration to waive penalties against those violators.
By gaining McCain's support, Baucus has removed a major obstacle to the passage of PNTR for Russia. But now, with McCain on board, Baucus's PNTR bill is linked to the Magnitsky Act in such a way that if the administration opposes or seeks to water down the Magnitsky bill without McCain's agreement, both pieces of legislation could be in jeopardy.
The House Foreign Affairs Committee approved its own version, the Sergei Magnitsky Rule of Law Accountability Act of 2012, last week. The legislation is named for the anti-corruption lawyer who died in a Russian prison, after allegedly being tortured, two years ago. But committee chairwoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) doesn't support joining Magnitsky with the bill to grant PNTR status to Russia.
"Ros-Lehtinen considers PNTR separate from Magnistky and the issue of Russian human rights, and is opposed to linking Magnitsky to any effort to repeal Jackson-Vanik," her spokesperson Brad Goehner said.
A new issue has emerged in the confirmation of Brett McGurk to become the next ambassador to Iraq and it has nothing to do with the intimate e-mails he sent to a Wall Street Journal reporter in 2008.
One Republican senator is now making an issue out of McGurk's role in the case of Ali Musa Daqduq, the alleged Hezbollah commander who was transferred from U.S. to Iraqi custody last December and acquitted in an Iraqi court last month. He remains in Iraqi custody pending an automatically triggered appeal, but could be released thereafter.
The Daqduq issue is just the latest concern various Republican senators have raised over McGurk's nomination. Some GOP lawmakers want answers about his relationship in Iraq with reporter Gina Chon while he was negotiating the U.S.-Iraq Status of Forces Agreement in 2008. The Wall Street Journal accepted Chon's resignation today. Others question McGurk's role in the failed negotiations to extend the U.S. troop presence in Iraq past 2011, and his overall qualifications for the job.
Daqduq, a Lebanese citizen whom U.S. military officials claim is a Hezbollah commander, was imprisoned by U.S. forces in Iraq and accused of leading a team that kidnapped and killed five U.S. soldiers in Iraq in January 2007. Last December, 21 U.S. senators wrote a letter urging the administration not to hand him over out of concern that the Iraqi government might release him.
On Monday, Sen. Mark Kirk (R-IL) sent McGurk a series of questions demanding answers on the U.S. government's actions on the case as well as McGurk's personal involvement.
"How would you characterize your role in the transfer of Hezbollah terrorist Ali Musa Daqduq from U.S. to Iraqi custody?" reads the first question.
"Before the American withdrawal from Iraq last year, what steps, if any, did you take to stop the transfer of Hezbollah terrorist Ali Musa Daqduq from U.S. custody?" the next question reads.
Kirk asked McGurk if he will agree to provide Congress with copies of all State Department and National Security Council emails, letters, communications, telephone call readouts and readouts of meetings that mention Ali Musa Daqduq in all of 2011.
Kirk also wants to know what efforts are underway to get Daqduq back in U.S. custody, whether the U.S. government has formally requested his extradition, and whether McGurk would support the sale of military equipment to Iraq if the Iraqi government doesn't handover Daqduq.
Republican senators have also criticized McGurk for beginning his relationship with Chon, to whom he is now married, while he was simultaneously exchanging information with her regarding U.S. government activity.
Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK) already cancelled a meeting with McGurk over that issue as well as over unconfirmed allegations that McGurk was caught on video engaging in improper sexual behavior on the roof of Saddam Hussein's Republican Palace in 2004.
Now, Sen. James Risch (R-ID), who praised McGurk in his confirmation hearing last week, is also expressing reservations about his confirmation.
"Prior to these email revelations, I had reservations about confirming Brett McGurk as ambassador to Iraq," Risch told The Cable through a spokesman. "Now that additional issues have been raised, more information will be needed and I reserve final judgment until all the facts are brought to light."
Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), the first senator to raise concerns about the McGurk nomination, was apparently unswayed by last week's hearing. "His concerns regarding Mr. McGurk's time in Iraq, particularly related to his failure to negotiate a residual force as everyone envisioned, remain," said McCain spokesman Brian Rogers.
No senator can issue a formal hold on the McGurk nomination until the Senate Foreign Relations Committee votes to approve it, and no vote has been scheduled. But the concerns about McGurk's professional and private actions in Iraq are mounting and may reach a tipping point soon, Republican Senate aides say.
"Senator Kirk's questions touch on one of the most emotional issues involved in the McGurk nomination and several senators might have placed holds on McGurk for this reason alone," one senior GOP Senate aide said. "This, on top of McGurk's other problems, creates serious doubt as to the future of this nomination."
UPDATE: According to a State Department official, McGurk left Iraq on Oct. 22, 2011, was not involved in the negotiations with Iraq over the issue, and was serving as a senior advisor to the ambassador focused on other matters. "Simply put, Brett McGurk was not involved in the Daqduq issue in any way, shape, or form," the official said.
The nomination of Brett McGurk to be the next U.S. ambassador to Iraq is now facing increased opposition in the Senate due to allegations he had an affair with a reporter in Baghdad in 2008 while working as a top White House advisor and may have been videotaped while engaged in a sex act on the roof of Saddam Hussein's Republican Palace with a different woman.
McGurk, who served as a senior National Security Council official and the lead negotiator of the U.S.-Iraq Status of Forces Agreement in 2008, allegedly held an extended affair with Gina Chon, a Wall Street Journal reporter, that began four years ago in Iraq, according to intimate and occasionally graphic e-mails exposed on the Cryptome website earlier this week. The Washington Free Beacon reported today that McGurk was married to another woman at the time and is married to Chon now.
The leaked e-mails, which could not be independently verified and were published on the Flikr site of an anonymous user named Diplojoke, show McGurk pursuing and then canoodling with Chon, a Wall Street Journal reporter who was also in Baghdad at the time.
McGurk and Chon did not respond to requests for comment. The State Department declined to comment.
Over in the Senate, one leading lawmaker is taking the allegations seriously. The Cable has confirmed that Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK), the second ranking Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, cancelled a scheduled meeting with McGurk this week when he heard about the e-mails and an allegation that McGurk was caught on video engaged in a sex act on the roof of Baghdad's Republican Palace, as alluded to by State Department whistleblower Peter Van Buren on his blog.
Inhofe's spokesman told The Cable that the senator won't proceed on the McGurk nomination until both allegations are cleared up.
"The senator always prefers to meet with nominees personally before giving his support. In regards to this nominee, Senator Inhofe has heard some concerning issues, and until those issues are cleared up, he will not meet with Mr. McGurk," Inhofe's spokesman Jared Young told The Cable.
Inhofe hasn't placed a formal hold on the McGurk nomination yet, but he is considering it.
Multiple sources told The Cable the State Department has investigated the allegation about McGurk's activity on top of the palace but was unable to find any evidence of that incident. It's unclear whether State is investigating the circumstances surrounding McGurk's affair with Chon.
Neither of these incidencts were mentioned at McGurk's confirmation hearing Wednesday. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee now must approve his nomination, but no vote has yet been scheduled.
Inhofe's objection would be only one of the several potential holds McGurk could face on his path to the nomination.
As The Cable reported in March, Senate Armed Services Committee ranking Republican John McCain (R-AZ) has reservations about McGurk taking on the Baghdad post over concerns that McGurk has never led an embassy and or any large organization and because McGurk was a key part of the failed SOFA negotiations to extend the U.S. troop presence in Iraq beyond 2011.
There are also concerns on Capitol Hill that McGurk may be too close to Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, impairing his ability to work with all segments of Iraq's political society. When he was nominated, Waheed Al Sammarraie, the D.C. representative of the office of former Iraqi Prime Minister Ayad Allawi, the leader of the opposition, wrote a letter to Congress that said, "I would like to inform you that Aliraqia Bloc and the liberal trend will not deal with new assigned ambassador to Iraq Mr. Brett Mcgurk for his loyalty and bounds with the Islamic party."
The House Foreign Affairs Committee marked up a bill today to punish Russian human rights violators, moving that bill closer to passage in conjunction with another bill to grant Russia privileged trade with the United States.
Chairwoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) convened her committee on Thursday morning to approve the House version of the Sergei Magnitsky Rule of Law Accountability Act of 2012, legislation meant to promote human rights in Russia that is named for the anti-corruption lawyer who died in a Russian prison, after allegedly being tortured, two years ago. Her committee counterpart Rep. Howard Berman (D-CA) said during the markup he supports joining the Magnitsky bill with a coming bill to grant Russia Permanent Normal Trade Relations (PNTR) status, which would include a repeal of the 1974 Jackson-Vanik amendment, established to punish Russia for not allowing Jews to emigrate during the Soviet period.
"The entire world knows that the state of democracy and human rights in Russia, already bad, is getting worse," Ros-Lehtinen said at the markup. "Moscow devotes enormous resources and attention to persecuting political opponents and human rights activists, including forcibly breaking up rallies and jailing and beating those who dare to defy it. Instead of the rule of law, Russia is ruled by the lawless."
The Obama administration is publicly opposed to the Magnitsky bill, especially the effort to connect it to Jackson-Vanik repeal, and has been working behind the scenes with bill sponsors such as Sen. Ben Cardin (D-MD) to alter the legislation. "From our point of view this legislation is redundant to what we're already doing," U.S. Ambassador Russia Mike McFaul said in March.
One of the administration ideas is to expand the Magnitsky bill to deal with human rights violators from all countries, but doing so wouldn't eliminate strong Russian objections to the bill. A short amendment added to the House version today by Ros-Lehtinen makes clear that the bill is directed only at Russia.Cardin even came up with a new draft version of the legislation in April. The Cable obtained an internal document showing exactly what changed in the bill. For example, the new version makes it more difficult to add names to the list of human rights violators that the bill would create, potentially softening the bill's impact on Russian officials
The Senate Foreign Relations Committee delayed consideration of the Magnitsky bill in April, so that the details inside the bill could be ironed out. Sen. John Kerry (D-MA) has promised to take up the bill in that committee at their as yet unscheduled next business meeting. He has also said he supports joining the Magnitsky bill with legislation to repeal Jackson-Vanik.
In both chambers, the bill faces cross jurisdiction with the finance and possible judiciary committees, which means they would also have to approve the legislation, because it deals with financial sanctions and criminal prosecutions. The Senate Finance Committee under chairman Max Baucus (D-MT) is where the Russian PNTR bill would begin as well, although it's not clear whether the PNTR bill, which would include the repeal of Jackson-Vanik, would be joined with the Magnitsky bill in committee or on the floor.
The House Foreign Affairs Committee also approved today a bill calling for the International Olympic Committee to hold a moment of silence at the 2012 London games to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the murder of 11 Israeli Olympic team members in Munich. The IOC has thus far refused requests to hold a moment of silence, saying that it is unnecessary and would establish an unwelcome precedent. That drive is being led by Reps. Eliot Engel (D-NY), Nita Lowey (D-NY), and Steve Israel (D-NY).
Another bill approved today by the HFAC would express "sense of the House of Representatives with respect toward the establishment of a democratic and prosperous Republic of Georgia and the establishment of a peaceful and just resolution to the conflict with Georgia's internationally recognized borders."
The committee also approved a resolution expressing support for efforts to combat the Lord's Resistance Army and secure the imprisonment of Joseph Kony, a bill calling upon the Turkey to reopen the Ecumenical Patriarchate's theological school at Halks, and the "Donald M. Payne International Food Assistance Act of 2012," which is mean to improve the quality and effectiveness of U.S. food assistance programs abroad.
Kris Connor/Getty Images
Singapore - When Defense Secretary Leon Panetta speaks Saturday morning at the 2012 Shangri-la Security Dialogue, the crowd will be hoping he puts some more meat on the bone in explaining the U.S. military rebalancing toward Asia.
Speaking to reporters on his plane after leaving Hawaii, Panetta previewed his remarks in Singapore and explained the purpose of his cross-Asia journey, which will also include stops in Vietnam and India. But he stopped short of making or promising any news on how the U.S. shift to Asia will be implemented and whether or not there is concrete action to match the flowery rhetoric.
"Look, obviously, the purpose of this trip is to define the new defense strategy for the region and particularly the emphasis on the rebalancing to the Asia-Pacific region," Panetta said. "In Singapore I'm going to be talking to the Shangri-La Security Dialogue and there I'll again define the Asia-Pacific rebalance and our new strategy. And I'll also engage in a number of bilateral and multilateral meetings to listen to them, to listen to their thoughts, but also to define for them what our new strategy is all about."
Here on the ground in Singapore, there's already a lot of anticipation over what new information, if any, Panetta will divulge. In an article Wednesday for Foreign Policy, former NSC Asia official Mike Green wrote that the Shangri-la attendees will be disappointed if Panetta just repeats the same commitments to increase America's presence in Asia without explaining exactly what that will look like and whether the U.S. is willing to pay for it.
"It has become a cliché for U.S. defense secretaries to proclaim emphatically at Shangri-La that the United States is a Pacific power, as if the McKinley administration hadn't established that fact over a hundred years ago. What our friends and allies really want to know is whether this administration is prepared to resource its Asia strategy," wrote Green.
On the plane, Panetta reiterated the four basic principles that underpin the U.S. engagement strategy, namely to promote a rules-based regional order, to build stronger regional partnerships, including with China, to strengthen the U.S. military presence in Asia, and to strengthen U.S. power projection in the region. But the details of each pillar were sketchy.
For example, with regard to strengthening the U.S. presence in Asia, Panetta said, "We want to do that through a key element of our new strategy which is developing these innovative rotational exchanges and deployments that we've already begun to do in Australia, that we're working on in the Philippines, and that we're working on elsewhere as well. And also to obviously build on our key alliances and partnerships in the region. "
The Australia deployments were actually announced at last year's Shangri-la dialogue by former Defense Secretary Robert Gates and no concrete plan for new deployments is expected this weekend. One reporter tried to get Panetta to name any other country where rotational deployments might be used, but Panetta declined to specify.
Regarding U.S. power projection, Panetta said, "We're going to be having a higher proportion of our forces that will be located in the Asia-Pacific." Of course, the U.S. is withdrawing troops from Europe and the Middle East, so a "higher proportion" doesn't actually mean any new U.S. forces for the Asia-Pacific region.
"We want to develop some new platforms for the kind of operations that I talked about in that region as well," Panetta continued. "And we want to obviously continue to invest in new technologies that will help us build a stronger power projection in the region as well."
One reporter asked Panetta directly if he will announce any details on increased military cooperation with Asia allies. Panetta responded by saying he will be in a listening mode.
"One of the things I hope to do in this process is not just to talk to them, but to listen to their needs as well. And, you know, I think we have a number of capabilities that we can bring to bear here. We can obviously provide advice. We can provide assistance. We can provide technological help. We can provide weaponry that is necessary. So I'm going to be listening to all of these countries and listen to what kind of assistance makes sense in developing that partnership relationship," he said.
Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey, speaking to American Forces Press Service on his own plane ride to Singapore, said he is also planning on doing a lot of "listening" at the conference and during his many bilateral meetings.
"What I already know is that we've been very clear about the need for cooperation in the maritime domain [involving] freedom of navigation," he said. "I think that's exactly the right position to place ourselves. But beyond that, I want to hear what these 27 nations [at the Shangri-La Dialogue] have to say, both to us and to each other -- because it will clearly be one of the most prominent issues."
There's a lot of writing in the Chinese media this week that the Shangri-la dialogue will be a forum to gang up on China, especially when it comes to China's aggressive actions in the South China Sea. The People's Daily had a front page commentary this week that railed against U.S. interceding in that dispute.
"Issues that arise from the South China Sea need to be solved through negotiations by China with the claimants," states the commentary said. "Intervention by external sources will only make existing contradictions more complicated and sharpen conflicts further, especially when a force of hegemony intervenes."
But if China is left out of the discussions on regional security this weekend, that is at least partially due to the fact that they have significantly downgraded their representation at the conference. Defense Minister Liang Guanglie decided not to return this year, perhaps to avoid another set of tough questions from your humble Cable guy.
"Liang Guanglie is a no-show in Singapore this year. The Defence Minister preferred to talk to his ASEAN counterparts in Cambodia, where he could express China's displeasure at recent events in the South China Sea in bilateral meetings - especially in the two-way with the Philippines," reads a commentary on the Interpreter, a blog of Australia's Lowy Institute.
"Shangri-La shouldn't discomfort Beijing too much. Ministers don't have to announce anything nor issue a formal concluding statement. This is the summit that makes a virtue out of not having official achievements."
John Hudson reports on national security and foreign policy from the Pentagon to Foggy Bottom, the White House to Embassy Row, for The Cable.