This year's election will likely usher in major changes in Congress on foreign policy and national security, regardless of which party ends up on top once all the ballots are counted and the winners declared.
Pollsters don't expect a sea change in either branch of Congress this year. According to the Real Clear Politics website, which compiles polling data on every race, Democrats have 46 safe or non-contested Senate seats heading into the election, compared with the Republicans' 43, with 11 races classified as "toss ups." RCP's House polling discounts virtually any possibility that Democrats could take over there. The site's average "generic ballot" shows that Republicans have half a percentage-point lead among voters in general, further suggesting that there will be no major shift in the balance of power on Capitol Hill.
But several key committee leadership posts are changing hands, influential leaders are exiting Washington, and a new crop of national security lawmakers is looking to fill their void. The result could be a Congress that has less experience and fewer incentives to work across the aisle or cooperate with the executive branch, playing an increasing role of the spoiler in foreign policy.
A number of influential senators are leaving at the end of this year. When they depart, Congress could lose much of the expertise that they and their staffs have accumulated over decades of service. In the House, both the Republican and Democratic leaders of the House Foreign Affairs Committee (HFAC) could change, as could the GOP leadership slot on the Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC). The Senate Foreign Relations Committee (SFRC) will have at least one new leader, and maybe two, by the end of 2013.
"There are several lawmakers leaving who had been a leading voice on several foreign policy issues over a long period of time," a senior Senate foreign-policy staffer told The Cable. "It's not just the institutional knowledge; it's the relationships they have around the world as well. The Senate's going to be a profoundly different place without them."
One retiring senator with outsized influence is Minority Whip Jon Kyl (R-AZ), who played a leading role in Republican attempts to thwart President Obama's nuclear arms treaty with Russia.
"One senator can make a difference in this system and when that senator dies, retires, or is defeated, that could have a big impact. Such will be the case with Jon Kyl," said John Isaacs, executive director of the Council for a Livable World (CLW), which advocates on issues related to nuclear proliferation.
CLW has been on the opposite side of Kyl on issues including missile defense, nuclear weapons, arms control, and several other topics. The council is also raising funds for several Democratic House and Senate candidates around the country.
But Isaacs has a grudging respect for his chief adversary. "Kyl really was an expert on nuclear weapons and he was effective. He almost single-handedly defeated the Congressional Test Ban Treaty in 1999," Isaacs said. "The anti-arms control crowd will suffer a real loss."
Kyl not only led the GOP caucus on missile defense and nuclear weapons, he used his leadership position to head the opposition to New START in 2010 and he was a key critic of the Russian "reset." His office often held up State Department nominees. Under Obama, he has generally steered the GOP caucus toward confrontation with the White House, commandeering issues away from the ranking Republican on the SFRC Richard Lugar (R-IN), who was more amenable to crossing the aisle.
Lugar won't be returning next year either, as he lost his primary race to Richard Murdouk, who is locked in a tight race with Rep. Joe Donnelly (D-IN). Lugar dutifully led the more realist and less interventionist side of the caucus; he opposed the war in Libya and opposes more U.S. involvement in Syria. Perhaps due to his bipartisan inclinations on foreign policy, he was somewhat marginalized toward the end of his tenure by his own party leadership.
Lugar with likely be replaced as the SFRC's ranking member by Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN), who broadly shares Lugar's worldview but is still building his expertise. "Lugar's a symbol of the way things used to be, bipartisan crossing lines and working with Democrats," Isaacs said, referring to the Nunn-Lugar cooperative threat reduction program and Lugar's support for New START. "Corker seems to a pragmatist somewhat in the mold of Lugar."
The chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-CT), is also retiring this year. Also leaving the Senate are SFRC Asia Subcommittee Chairman and former Navy Secretary Jim Webb (D-VA), who was hugely active on issues such as Burma and U.S. force structure in Korea and Japan, and Sen. Daniel Akaka (D-HI), the longtime former chairman of the Veterans Affairs Committee and current chairman of the Homeland Security Subcommittee on Oversight and Government Management.
There's no clear replacement for the role that Webb and Lieberman played on Asia-Pacific issues. Both traveled to the region often and those relationships need to be maintained, staffers say.
"The question in the next Congress will be who steps in and fills that leadership role," the senior Senate staffer said.
On the Democratic side of the SFRC, if President Barack Obama is reelected, Chairman John Kerry (D-MA) stands a chance of being nominated to replace Secretary of State Hillary Clinton next year. Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA), who would have SFRC seniority, would likely decline the chairmanship to hold on to her chairmanship of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.
The next Democrat in line would be Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ), who is running for his second full term in the Senate this year. Menendez is largely progressive but has been known to challenge the administration regarding his three most prized issues: Cuba, Iran, and the Armenian Genocide. Should he be reelected, Menendez would be in a position for press for Iran sanctions more than the administration wants, and he would likely thwart any progress on changing U.S. policy toward Cuba.
One often overlooked wrinkle on the SFRC: If Obama wins a second term and appoints Kerry secretary of state, Massachusetts would hold a special election. If Sen. Scott Brown (R-MA) loses to Elizabeth Warren next week, he would the clear frontrunner for Kerry's vacated seat, if he decided to run again. So there's a political risk in appointing Kerry secretary of state.
There may even be more changes coming on the SFRC, because its members often seek to exit the once-prized panel. The SFRC is perceived on the Hill as the weakest of the "Class A" committees, as it has no real control over money and no domestic constituency.
"It tends to be a dumping ground for senators who can't get on other committees that they want," said Isaacs. "That's too bad, but that's the way it is."
At the Senate Armed Services Committee, ranking Republican John McCain (R-AZ) has reached his term limit and will have to forgo his committee post if the Democrats retain control of the chamber (though he could keep it if Republicans take power). That would likely elevate Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK) to the committee leadership spot, which might spell doom for Kerry's personal passion, ratification of the Law of the Sea Treaty, which Inhofe has pledged to prevent. McCain, a former Navy pilot, was amenable to at least debating the agreement.
A set of younger and newer senators are moving to fill the foreign-policy gap left by the departure of the veterans. On the GOP side, emerging leaders including Sens. Kelly Ayotte (R-NH), Marco Rubio (R-FL), and Mark Kirk (R-IL). Under McCain's tutelage, Ayotte has been delving into the nuclear portfolio and national security budgeting. Kirk is already a Senate leader on Iran and Israel, with a particular focus on sanctions.
For the Democrats, Sen. Chris Coons (D-DE) has used his SFRC Africa Subcommittee Chairmanship to its potential. He's a Swahili-speaking, tough-on-Iran lawmaker who occupies the seat once held by vice president and former SFRC chairman Joe Biden. Sen. Bob Casey, as head of the SFRC's Middle East subcommittee, is also becoming more and more active.
As for the House, where Republicans have spent the past two years passing bills that die waiting for Senate action, the GOP is virtually assured to hold onto the gavel.
A few changes are in the works. House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairwoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) has reached her term limit and cannot be chairwoman again next year. In one of the most bitter races, ranking member Howard Berman (D-CA) is trailing fellow Democrat Brad Sherman heading into the final days of the campaign. The competition to fill the vacancies at both leadership posts would play out after the new session begins next year.
But it's the Senate, through its influence over the nominating process, that truly matters.
According to James Lindsay, vice president and director of studies at the Council on Foreign Relations, power is moving away from committee chairs and toward individual senators. A single senator's ability to thwart a major piece of legislation or place a hold on a nominee empowers senators like Sens. Rand Paul (R-KY) and Jim DeMint (R-SC), who use their hold power liberally and are generally unmoved by the ire of their colleagues.
"Congress far less often shapes policy in a positive direction. Their main method of effectiveness is to say ‘no,'" Lindsay said. "The greatest impact will be with those who are willing to use their ability to slow things down."
During Tuesday's debate, President Barack Obama tempered his claims about U.S. success in fighting al Qaeda, jettisoning his oft-repeated campaign-trail claim that the terrorist organization is "on its heels."
"I said that I'd end the war in Iraq, and I did. I said we'd refocus attention on those who actually attacked us on 9/11, and we have gone after Al Qaeda's leadership like never before and Osama bin Laden is dead," Obama said during his second debate with Republican nominee Mitt Romney.
That paragraph is part of Obama's regular stump speech, and he made nearly identical remarks at two campaign stops last week. But in those previous instances, Obama said that al Qaeda was "on its heels," a claim he didn't repeat in front of Tuesday night's national audience.
"Four years ago, I made a few commitments to you. I told you I'd end the war in Iraq, and I did. I said I'd end the war in Afghanistan, and we are. I said we'd refocus on the people who actually attacked us on 9/11 -- and today, al Qaeda is on its heels and Osama bin Laden is no more," he said in a campaign stop in San Francisco on Oct. 9.
Two days later, in another campaign stop in Miami, Obama said nearly the same thing.
"Four years ago, I told you we'd end the war in Iraq -- and we did. I said that we'd end the war in Afghanistan -- and we are. I said that we'd refocus on the people who actually attacked us on 9/11 -- and today, al Qaeda is on its heels and Osama bin Laden is dead," he said.
The attack on the U.S. mission in Benghazi on 9/11 was reportedly the work of the extremist group Ansar al-Sharia, which is thought to have ties to al Qaeda in the Islamic Magreb (AQIM).
This month, the White House has been slowly but surely adding qualifications to its claims of progress in destroying al Qaeda, which has seen its ranks in North Africa increase recently.
For example, on Sept. 19 White House spokesman Jay Carney said that Obama's strategy in Afghanistan has "allowed us to take the fight to al Qaeda in the region in a way that we had not been able to before; that led to the decimation of al Qaeda's leadership."
By Oct. 10, after reports emerged tying al Qaeda links the Benghazi attack, Carney was specifying that al Qaeda "central" was hurting in two specific countries.
"Well, what we have said all along, what the president has said all along, is that ... progress has been made in decimating the senior ranks of al Qaeda and in decimating al Qaeda central in the Afghanistan/Pakistan region," adding that al Qaeda "remains our No. 1 foe."
Carney repeated his qualification that al Qaeda is hurting in Southwest Asia, but not necessarily in North Africa, two days later.
"[Obama] has made clear that he would refocus attention on what was a neglected war in Afghanistan, refocus our mission on al Qaeda, and decimating al Qaeda's leadership in Afghanistan and Pakistan -- he has," Carney said Oct. 12.
In his debate Oct. 11, Vice President Joe Biden also declined to say that al Qaeda was completely decimated or on its heels during his debate with Rep. Paul Ryan.
"The fact is we went [to Afghanistan] for one reason: to get those people who killed Americans -- al Qaeda," Biden said "We decimated al Qaeda central; we have eliminated Osama bin Laden. That was our purpose."
SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images
In a speech Monday, former Governor Mitt Romney will criticize President Barack Obama's handling of the Sept. 11, 2012, attack on the U.S. mission in Benghazi and say it was probably the work of al Qaeda, the same group that brought down the World Trade Center and struck the Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001.
"The attacks on America last month should not be seen as random acts. They are expressions of a larger struggle that is playing out across the broader Middle East -- a region that is now in the midst of the most profound upheaval in a century. And the fault lines of this struggle can be seen clearly in Benghazi itself," Romney will say in a foreign-policy-focused address at the Virginia Military Institute, according to excerpts released by his campaign.
"The attack on our consulate in Benghazi on Sept. 11th, 2012, was likely the work of the same forces that attacked our homeland on Sept. 11th, 2001. This latest assault cannot be blamed on a reprehensible video insulting Islam, despite the administration's attempts to convince us of that for so long. No, as the administration has finally conceded, these attacks were the deliberate work of terrorists who use violence to impose their dark ideology on others, especially women and girls; who are fighting to control much of the Middle East today; and who seek to wage perpetual war on the West."
Some in the U.S. intelligence community believe that the attack on the Benghazi consulate that killed Amb. Chris Stevens and three other Americans was led by the Benghazi chapter of Ansar al-Sharia, an extremist group thought to have ties to Al Qaeda in the Islamic Magreb (AQIM), al Qaeda's North Africa affiliate.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton suggested that groups with links to AQIM were responsible for the Beghazi attack in remarks at a U.N. meeting on Sept. 26, but State Department and White House spokepersons have repeated again and again that the precise identity of the attackers remains unknown pending an FBI investigation.
Romney will invoke the original 9/11 attacks as part of his argument that Obama has failed to respond to the rapid changes in the Middle East with a proactive and coherent strategy to preserve American power and influence in the region.
"I know the president hopes for a safer, freer, and a more prosperous Middle East allied with the United States. I share this hope. But hope is not a strategy," Romney will say. "We cannot support our friends and defeat our enemies in the Middle East when our words are not backed up by deeds, when our defense spending is being arbitrarily and deeply cut, when we have no trade agenda to speak of, and the perception of our strategy is not one of partnership, but of passivity.... It is time to change course in the Middle East."
Romney will promise to increase and tighten sanctions against Iran, permanently base one aircraft carrier group each in the Eastern Mediterranean and the Gulf, condition aid to Egypt, and "recommit America to the goal of a democratic, prosperous Palestinian state living side by side in peace and security with the Jewish state of Israel."
On Syria, Romney will promise to identify opposition groups that share American values and make sure they get weapons to defeat the Syrian regime's tanks, helicopters, and fighter jets. He won't say that the United States should arm the rebels directly -- only that it should make sure they get advanced weaponry.
On Afghanistan, Romney will accuse Obama of timing the withdrawal of U.S. forces based on political considerations, a reference to the fact that Obama withdrew all 30,000 "surge" forces last month. But Romney will reiterate his call to complete the withdrawal of combat troops by the end of 2014, so long as the conditions on the ground permit and in consultation with the military chain of command.
"I believe that if America does not lead, others will -- others who do not share our interests and our values -- and the world will grow darker, for our friends and for us. America's security and the cause of freedom cannot afford four more years like the last four years," Romney will say. "The 21st century can and must be an American century. It began with terror, war, and economic calamity. It is our duty to steer it onto the path of freedom, peace, and prosperity."
The Romney campaign held a conference call for reporters Sunday to preview the speech, which included participation by campaign foreign-policy coordinator Alex Wong and senior advisors Rich Williamson and Eliot Cohen.
Wong said that Obama has stepped away from American leadership and undermined the basis of American power. He also said the standing of the United States has been weakened in every region of the world, and likened Obama's foreign policy to that of former President Jimmy Carter.
Williamson said that Obama has a policy of weakness that is provocative to enemies and that his administration hasn't been transparent on the Benghazi attacks.
"The foreign policy of Barack Obama in the Middle East is a mess and is failing, and that should be a part of the discussion," Williamson said.
The Obama campaign preemptively released a statement calling Romney a neophyte and flip-flopper on foreign policy who has fumbled his forays into foreign-policy issues throughout the campaign.
"If Mitt Romney wants to have a debate about foreign policy, we have a message for him: bring it on... To date, all Mitt Romney has offered is bluster and platitudes. He's erratically shifted positions on every major foreign policy issue, including intervening in Libya, which he was against before he was for," Obama for America spokeswoman Liz Smith said in the statement.
"'Mainstream' foreign policy isn't what Mitt Romney is putting forward: having plans to start wars but not end them; wanting to keep 30,000 U.S. troops in Iraq indefinitely; exploding our defense spending to levels the Pentagon has not asked for, with no way to pay for it; insulting our allies and partners around the world on the campaign trail; and calling Russia our number-one geopolitical foe. If that's where Mitt Romney thinks the mainstream is, he needs to find a better compass. It's clear that on every measure, Mitt Romney fails the commander-in-chief test."
The top echelon of Mitt Romney‘s national security transition team is largely in place and it includes both hawkish and centrist GOP foreign-policy professionals, The Cable has learned.
The news comes as debate continues inside the Romney campaign over how much to focus on foreign vs. domestic policy in the home stretch. Politico reported last week that chief strategist Stuart Stevens was leading the camp pushing for a more singular focus on the economy.
But with the final presidential debate set to focus on foreign policy and events in the Middle East continuing to raise questions about President Barack Obama's leadership, those advocating for more foreign policy campaigning have won a victory: Romney will give what the campaign is billing as a major speech on foreign policy at the Virginia Military Institute on Monday, Oct. 8.
Behind the scenes, planning for a national security team that looks suddenly more realistic after Wednesday night's debate is moving along at a steady pace.
The Romney campaign doesn't talk publicly about its broader transition-planning effort -- "Project Readiness," led by former HHS Secretary Mike Leavitt -- but the effort is moving along steadily.
The GOP foreign-policy world was caught off guard when Leavitt chose former World Bank President Bob Zoellick to lead the national security transition planning, setting off speculation that Romney's national security team after the election would be far more moderate than the top advisors informing his foreign-policy speeches and agenda items during the campaign.
But The Cable has learned from multiple sources close to the campaign that campaign senior advisor for defense and foreign policy Rich Williamson has been named the head of the transition team for the National Security Council, giving him a prominent role should Romney win. Two other officials who are leading the national security transition effort are former Under Secretary of Defense for Policy Eric Edelman and former New Jersey governor and co-chair of the 9/11 Commission Tom Kean.
Some inside the campaign believe Williamson's new role as head of the NSC transition team could place him in line to be national security advisor in a Romney administration. A former assistant secretary of state for international organization affairs who served as George W. Bush's special envoy to Sudan, Williamson has been one of Romney's most visible national security surrogates throughout the campaign. Said to be close to the governor personally, he has also been the voice of some of the campaign's harshest criticisms of Obama's handling of foreign policy. Williamson has railed against Obama for his handling of Libya, the greater Middle East, Israel, Iran, Russia, human rights, and several other topics.
Transition team leaders don't necessarily end up leading the agencies for which they are in charge of planning. In 2008, the Obama campaign's State Department transition team was led by Tom Donilon and Wendy Sherman. Obama chose Hillary Clinton to be secretary of state, Donilon became deputy national security advisor, and Sherman returned to the private sector, only later being appointed to be under secretary of State for political affairs.
The Obama campaign's Pentagon transition team was led by Michèle Flournoy and former Deputy Defense Secretary John White, but Obama chose to stick with Robert Gates as defense secretary and Flournoy became the under secretary of defense for policy.
Edelman, a leading representative of the neoconservative wing of the Republican foreign-policy establishment, was under secretary of defense for policy under Donald Rumsfeld and now sits on the board of directors of the Foreign Policy Initiative, a neoconservative-leaning foreign-policy organization in Washington. Edelman has been quietly active in the campaign for some time.
Kean, like Zoellick, is seen as a moderate, and has not been a visible part of the Romney effort thus far. Zoellick, meanwhile has been meeting all over Washington with foreign-policy hands of all stripes and from both parties. Last month he was spotted in downtown DC eateries on separate occasions lunching with Weekly Standard Editor William Kristol and Obama's former top Asia aide, Jeffrey Bader.
Sources inside the campaign report that the foreign-policy process still centers around young lawyer Alex Wong, the campaign's foreign-policy coordinator, and his boss Lanhee Chen, the campaign's policy director. Former Iraq war spokesman Dan Senor, another board member of FPI, has taken the lead on Vice Presidential candidate Paul Ryan's foreign-policy preparations, which perhaps explains Ryan's increasingly combative rhetoric when talking about Obama's handling of the Middle East crises.
On a conference call with American rabbis Thursday evening, Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney altered his position on what "red lines" he would set for Iran before deciding military action was necessary.
"Your good friend Prime Minister [Benjamin] Netanyahu says that the international community needs to draw a red line for Iran. Do you agree that a red line needs to be drawn, and where would you draw it?," Rabbi Efrem Goldberg asked on the call, a recording of which was provided to The Cable.
"With regards to the red line, I would imagine Prime Minister Netanyahu is referring to a red line over which if Iran crossed it would take military action. And for me, it is unacceptable or Iran to have the capability of building a nuclear weapon, which they could use in the Middle East or elsewhere," Romney said. "So for me, the red line is nuclear capability. We do not want them to have the capacity of building a bomb that threatens ourselves, our friends, and the world."
"Exactly where those red lines [should be drawn] is something which, I guess, I wouldn't want to get into in great detail, but you understand they are defined by the Iranian capability to have not only fissile material, but bomb making capability and rocketry," Romney said.
Romney's remark that the United States should take military action if Iran develops nuclear weapons "capability" matches what many GOP leaders and pro-Israel groups have publicly stated, but it stands in contrast to the "red line" Romney set out in a Sept. 14 interview with ABC News.
"My red line is Iran may not have a nuclear weapon," Romney told network host George Stephanopoulos. "It is inappropriate for them to have the capacity to terrorize the world. Iran with a nuclear weapon or with fissile material that can be given to Hezbollah or Hamas or others has the potential of not just destabilizing the Middle East. But it could be brought here."
Asked if his red line was the same as President Obama's, Romney told ABC, "Yes."
Rabbi Goldberg also asked Romney what exactly he would do differently than the current administration to prevent a nuclear Iran. Romney offered few specifics. He referenced his January 2007 speech at the Herzliya Conference, where he called for several specific measures.
"We recently have done one of them, which is getting crippling sanctions. It's taken a long time to finally come around to that, but that is one of the key elements to changing Iran's course," Romney said. "Sanctions are having an impact on their economy. Unfortunately, they took so long to be put in place that I think Iran is racing forward with their nuclear plans."
He said he would increase the credibility of the military option and U.S. support for dissidents in Iran.
He also called for the indictment of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad for "genocide."
"I think we should indict Ahmadinejad under the Genocide Convention for incitation of genocide," Romney said. "I think that he and the diplomats in Iran should be treated like the pariah[s] they are ... I believe they should be treated the same way we treated South Africa during apartheid."
In the call, Romney did not address the controversy over his remarks at a May fundraiser where he all but counted out the possibility of a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
In a hidden camera video posted by Mother Jones magazine, Romney told a group of donors in May that Palestinians "have no interest whatsoever in establishing peace," and that a two-state solution is "almost unthinkable to accomplish."
"We have a potentially volatile situation but we sort of live with it, and we kick the ball down the field and hope that ultimately, somehow, something will happen and resolve it," Romney said.
"But I always keep open: the idea of pushing on the Israelis to give something up to get the Palestinians to act is the worst idea in the world. We have done that time and time and time again. It does not work," Romney said to the donors. "So the only answer is show them strength. American strength, American resolve, and the Palestinians will some day reach the point where they want peace more than we're trying to force peace on them. Then it's worth having the discussion. So until then, it's just wistful thinking."
Addressing the tension between the Obama and Netanyahu governments, Romney said Thursday, "Our relationship with Israel should be one which the world sees as being extraordinarily close ... and if per chance there are disagreements, we keep those disagreements to ourselves and in private, as opposed to airing them out in public."
Uriel Sinai/Getty Images
Republican challenger Mitt Romney defended his criticism of President Barack Obama's handling of the of the attacks on two U.S. diplomatic and doubled down on his campaign's message that the attacks are evidence that the White House's policies have failed across the region.
"I think it's a terrible course for America to apologize for our values," Romney said, referring to the original U.S. Embassy Cairo statement on the protests there, which was issued before protesters broached the embassy compound walls Tuesday. "They clearly sent mixed messages to the world. And the statement that came from the administration -- and the embassy is the administration ... was a statement which is akin to apology and I think was a severe miscalculation."
Romney called for renewed American leadership in the world, reinforcing his campaign's assertion Tuesday that the embassy attacks are related to the administration's overall approach to the Arab uprisings.
"The attacks in Libya and Egypt underscore that the world remains a dangerous place and that American leadership is still sorely needed. In the face of this violence, America cannot shrink from the responsibility to lead," he said. "American leadership is necessary to ensure that events in the region don't spin out of control. We cannot hesitate to use our influence in the region to support those who share our values and our interests."
"Over the last several years we stood witness to an Arab Spring that presents an opportunity for a more peaceful and prosperous region but also poses the potential for peril if the voices -- forces of extremism and violence are allowed to control the course of events. We must strive to ensure that the Arab Spring does not become an Arab Winter," Romney said.
The Romney campaign's reaction to the events in Egypt and Libya stood in contrast to several statements by GOP congressional leaders Wednesday morning, most of whom avoided any direct criticism of the Obama administration or its policies.
"Yesterday we commemorated the anniversary of the attacks of September 11, and today we are reminded that brave Americans serve us every day at the risk of their own lives. We honor the Americans we lost in Libya, and we will stand united in our response," Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) said in a statement. "Among the things we can all agree on in Washington is that attacks on the U.S. and its representatives will be met with resolve, and that America's presence and defense of our national interests across the globe will not be deterred by the acts of violent extremists."
Sens. John McCain (R-AZ), Joe Lieberman (I-CT), and Lindsey Graham (R-SC), issued a joint statement that echoed Romney's concerns about the path of the Arab Spring and urged international support for Libyan democracy, but emphasized that the details of Tuesday's attacks are still unknown.
"There is still much we do not know about what happened in Benghazi yesterday. What is clear, however, is that the attackers must be apprehended and punished. We appreciate that senior Libyan leaders have condemned these cowardly attacks, and we now look to the Libyan government to ensure that the perpetrators are swiftly brought to justice, and that U.S. diplomats are protected. We have confidence that our own government will provide all necessary assistance to this end," they said.
One senior Republican senator, Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK), joined with Romney today in tying the tragic events in Libya and Egypt to Obama's policies in the Middle East.
"Sadly, America has suffered as a result of President Obama's failure to lead and his failed foreign policy of appeasement and apology. The world must know beyond doubt that America will not allow these types of attacks on our people. Obama's failed leadership is in direct contrast with Ambassador Stevens' brave leadership and effort to protect Americans at the consulate," Inhofe said in statement.
Inhofe called for congressional hearings to investigate the intelligence and security failures that proceeded the attacks.
House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairwoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) indirectly criticized the administration's response Tuesday in remarks ahead of a committee hearing Wednesday morning.
"Let us be clear: There is no justification for the murder of our diplomats and attacks of our embassies. We have nothing for which we should apologize," she said. We must ensure that the perpetrators of this recent round of 9/11 attacks are held accountable."
In separate statements Wednesday morning, President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton condemned the attacks, expressed aguish about the deaths of four Americans, including U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens, and promised to press for a full and swift investigation.
"We're working with the government of Libya to secure our diplomats. I've also directed my administration to increase our security at diplomatic posts around the world. And make no mistake: We will work with the Libyan government to bring to justice the killers who attacked our people," Obama said.
"Since our founding the United States has been a nation that respects all faiths. We reject all efforts to denigrate the religious beliefs of others. But there is absolutely no justification for this type of senseless violence. None. The world must stand together to unequivocally reject these brutal acts. Already, many Libyans have joined us in doing so, and this attack will not break the bonds between the United States and Libya."
Clinton spoke in detail about Stevens's record of working on behalf of Libyans and praised the Libyan government's response to the crisis so far.
"When the attack came yesterday, Libyans stood and fought to defend our post. Some were wounded. Libyans carried Chris's body to the hospital, and they helped rescue and lead other Americans to safety. And last night, when I spoke with the president of Libya, he strongly condemned the violence and pledged every effort to protect our people and pursue those responsible," she said.
"Today many Americans are asking -- indeed, I asked myself -- how could this happen? How could this happen in a country we helped liberate in a city we helped save from destruction? This question reflects just how complicated and, at times, how confounding the world can be. But we must be clear-eyed, even in our grief. This was an attack by a small and savage group, not the people or government of Libya," she said.
"The friendship between our countries, born out of shared struggle, will not be another casualty of this attack. A free and stable Libya is still in America's interest and security, and we will not turn our back on that, nor will we rest until those responsible for these attacks are found and brought to justice."
CHARLOTTE - Following what Obama campaign officials said was the personal intervention of President Barack Obama, the Democratic National Committee reversed itself and altered their platform Wednesday afternoon to include language identifying Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.
After defending their decision to keep such language out of the platform as recently as this afternoon, convention leaders today proposed two amendments to the platform adopted on Tuesday, one to add a mention of God and one to add a mention of Jerusalem.
"Jerusalem is and will remain the capital of Israel. The parties have agreed that Jerusalem is a matter for final status negotiations. It should remain an undivided city accessible to people of all faiths," the new platform language stated.
An Obama campaign official told The Cable late Wednesday that the change in platform was made to reflect the personal views of Obama, who believes that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel and who "personally intervened" to ask for the platform change.
"Mitt Romney spent last week claiming the Republican platform didn't reflect his personal views. That's why the platform was amended, to make clear what the president's personal views are on Jerusalem," the official said.
The official acknowledged that the administration's policy remains not to weigh in on the final status of Jerusalem, which is an issue to be decided by the parties. But the official said that Obama's views and the administration policy are two separate things.
“This makes crystal clear what the President’s personal view is. The policy has not changed. The president has a personal view and the administration has a policy. They’re not incompatible but there are reasons that the administration’s policy is that the Jerusalem is a final status issue," the official said. “We wanted to make the President’s views clear.”
The Romney campaign was quick to call on Obama to publicly
state that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel, as his party's platform language
"Mitt Romney has consistently stated his belief that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel. Although today's voice vote at the Democratic National Convention was unclear, the Democratic Party has acknowledged Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. President Obama has repeatedly refused to say the same himself. Now is the time for President Obama to state in unequivocal terms whether or not he believes Jerusalem is Israel's capital," said campaign spokeswoman Andrea Saul.
The amendments required two thirds of delegates' support for adoption and the voice votes inside the arena were so inconclusive, the chair had to call for votes three times. After declaring that two thirds of the delegates had approved the amendments, the hall erupted in boos and howls.
Earlier Wednesday, drafters of the platform and top Democrats including former Rep. Robert Wexler defended the absence in the platform of language affirming Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.
"There's a difference between running for president and governing," a Democratic official involved in the drafting process told The Cable earlier today. "And when you govern on this issue, the official position of the United States has been for years and from administrations of both parties that the status of Jerusalem is a final-status issue."
But Democrats were heavily criticized by Romney, Paul Ryan, and many others for not including the Jerusalem language in the platform. AIPAC also told The Cable Wednesday that they had asked for the Jerusalem language in their submission to the DNC but had not seen the final text before the platform went to print.
AIPAC had other gripes about the platform, such as that it didn't contain previous references to Hamas, Palestinian refugees, and language saying that Israel is America's closest ally in the region, but they decided late Wednesday to get behind the new platform language and move on.
"We welcome reinstatement to the Democratic platform of the language affirming Jerusalem as Israel's capital," AIPAC said in a statement provided to The Cable. "Together, these party platforms reflect strong bipartisan support for the US - Israel relationship."
CHARLOTTE - Changes between the 2008 Democratic Party platform's language on Israel and the 2012 version were due to a deliberate effort to refocus the platform toward President Barack Obama's policies, two officials directly involved in its drafting process told The Cable.
Leading pro-Israel groups such as AIPAC were heavily involved in the platform-drafting process, saw final language of the draft platform, and told platform drafters they were satisfied with it, both officials said.
Certain parts of the pro-Israel community are up in arms this week over the fact that the latest version of the platform doesn't include certain passages from the previous version, such as language affirming that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel, specific mentions of the terrorist group Hamas, and language spelling out the party's position that Palestinian refugees would be settled outside of Israel as part of any comprehensive arrangement to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
For its part, AIPAC denies signing off on the final language.
"Any assertion that AIPAC had prior knowledge of the deletion of language including on Jerusalem, Israel as the most reliable ally, Hamas, or the refugees is categorically false," AIPAC spokesman Patrick Dorton told The Cable. "AIPAC was never provided with a final copy of the Middle East part of the platform."
"Jerusalem as the capital was part of AIPACs written submission to the platform but we did not see, review, or sign off on the final text,” Dorton said.
Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney weighed in personally Tuesday, saying in a statement, "It is unfortunate that the entire Democratic Party has embraced President Obama's shameful refusal to acknowledge that Jerusalem is Israel's capital ... As president, I will restore our relationship with Israel and stand shoulder to shoulder with our close ally."
A Democratic official directly involved in the drafting process told The Cable that the drafters made a deliberate and conscious decision to reframe the Israel section of the platform around Obama's record, to limit the section to cover his existing policies, and to intentionally avoid any and all final-status issues.
"There's a difference between running for president and governing," the official said. "And when you govern on this issue, the official position of the United States has been for years and from administrations of both parties that the status of Jerusalem is a final-status issue."
The official listed a number of final-status issues, including borders and settlements, that the Obama administration has determined should be subject to negotiation between Israelis and Palestinians, so the platform drafters decided that the party should stay out of them as well.
"There is a difference when you're writing a platform for an incumbent president. We made a decision to make the platform very much a focus on what the president has been doing. It's not a purely aspirational document," the official said. "On Israel the decision was decided to focus the extraordinary support the president has given to Israel. The decision was to frame the platform plank around that."
Two GOP platforms during George W. Bush's leadership of the Republican Party called out Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and vowed to move the U.S. Embassy there, but Bush never actually carried out his promise, the official pointed out. He also pointed to the 2012 GOP platform, which no longer identified Israel as the "undivided" capital of the Jewish state.
"Is it the Republican position that Jerusalem should be divided?" the official asked. "We are the party in power, so the official administration positions on these final-status issues can't be irrelevant."
Here in Charlotte, a huge debate has erupted over whether or not the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) had seen the final draft of the 2012 DNC platform and been satisfied with it during a July drafting session in Minneapolis and another final drafting session in early August in Detroit. Some anonymous sources are telling reporters that AIPAC "loved" the platform while other anonymous voices saying that AIPAC "was not in the room" when the platform was being worked on.
The Democratic official involved in the drafting said that AIPAC had been consulted very closely, was fully aware of the final draft, and suggested some changes that were in fact incorporated, but never objected to the platform's failure to mention Jerusalem as Israel's capital.
"AIPAC was in the room in Minneapolis and Detroit and I know for a fact that AIPAC was shown the final copies of the draft language," the official said. "They were there for the entire time. They were shown the final draft by a number of platform committee members, and they offered suggestions. They just didn't mention Jerusalem."
What's more, at the second drafting session in Detroit, AIPAC's proxies had every opportunity to offer amendments if there was anything about the Israel plank of the platform they didn't like.
"In Detroit, the draft platform is made public to everyone was there," the official said. "If this was an issue they felt passionate about, they could have offered an amendment and there were no amendments offered by Jewish constituency groups. None."
The Israel platform language was drawn largely from speeches Obama has already made, the official said. The language was shared with certain members of the White House who are authorized to interact with the campaign, but there was no formal vetting of the platform by the administration.
Former Florida Rep. Robert Wexler, now the president of the S. Daniel Abraham Center for Middle East Peace, was a member of the platform drafting committee and took part in the formation of the Israel section of the platform in Minneapolis in late July. Wexler independently confirmed to The Cable that AIPAC was present at all public parts of the drafting process and had regular interactions with drafting committee members, suggested some changes to the platform that were adopted, but never brought up the Jerusalem issue with him or others as far as he knows.
"The platform was not a checklist of final-status issues," Wexler said. "[AIPAC] told me they thought the language was pro-Israel and satisfactory. They had many opportunities to raise significant concerns and that definitely didn't happen."
"The firestorm that has been raised relates to final-status issues and Jerusalem. The Obama administration policy on Jerusalem is identical to that of Bush, Clinton, and every president since Lyndon Johnson. It's a false story," said Wexler. "The Likud position is American should not dictate final-status issues to the Israelis or to anyone, and that's what the platform does: It encourages the parties to negotiate without outlining their position."
Wexler also pushed back on the criticism that Hamas is not specifically called out in the platform, saying that the platform covers all Palestinian terror groups.
"That's a bunch of junk," Wexler said about the criticism. "The platform doesn't say ‘Hamas,' but it says that any potential Palestinian partner has to meet the conditions necessary for peace. That's even stronger and of course it applies to Hamas."
He said the outcry is overblown and that the media storm over the platform is simply a reflection of Republican attempts to politicize the Israel issue ahead of the election.
"The Democratic platform's language relative to Israel is undeniably, 100 percent pro-Israel," he said. "To make Israel a wedge issue is harmful to both the U.S. and Israel. And the centerpiece of America's decades-long relationship with Israel is that it's a bipartisan issue. If you deeply care about the well-being of Israel as an American, then you will realize that this kind of rhetoric is not good for either Israel or the United States."
JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, as a sitting administration official, does not have any role at the Democratic National Convention next week in Charlotte. But she seems to gone out of her way to avoid the festivities, as she is traveling this week and next to the Cook Islands, Indonesia, China, Timor-Leste, Brunei, and Russia.
"The Cook Islands this year are the hosts of one of the most important institutions of the Pacific called the Pacific Island Forum," a senior State Department official said Thursday. "It's a group that meets yearly with a number of working groups. It's been in existence almost half a century; it's very significant."
It's not Charlotte, but it is a big gathering. Last year, the administration sent 50 officials to the forum, representing 17 different federal agencies. Deputy Secretary of State Tom Nides led the delegation in 2011. The official said this trip was part of the administration's rebalancing toward Asia, with a special focus on the smaller countries around the region's periphery.
"Sometimes when we talk about the Asia Pacific, the A is the capital and P is small. And our attempt here is to underscore that we have very strong, enduring, strategic, moral, political, humanitarian interests across the region. It's an area in which we invested substantially historically -- blood and treasure," the official said.
"I just returned about two weeks ago from my own trip around the Pacific," the State Department official said. (Your humble Cable guy did did not attend the briefing, so we have no direct knowledge of the identity of the briefer, but the State Department publicly announced the foreign travel of Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Kurt Campbell earlier this month.)
Clinton will meet in the Cook Islands with Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard and New Zealand Prime Minister John Key and will be joined by Pacific Command head Adm. Sam Locklear, the anonymous State Department official said.
In Indonesia, Clinton will meet President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa. Expect her to press Indonesia to work better with other ASEAN countries to come to a consensus position on how to confront China over the South China Sea. ASEAN failed to come to a consensus position at the ASEAN Regional Forum in July, despite Washington's urgings.
Next, Clinton is off to Beijing to meet with President Hu Jintao, Vice President Xi Jinping, and State Councilor Dai Bingguo. She will also have "intense meetings" with Foreign Minister Yang Jiachi, the official said. Topics on the agenda include the South China Sea, North Korea, Iran, Syria, and Afghanistan.
"I think the secretary intends very clearly to underscore our continuing interest in maintaining a strong, positive relationship between our two countries," the official said. "We recognize how critically important that is, and one of the challenges before us is to demonstrate how we deal with areas in which we have differing perceptions and where we face challenging issues on the ground, or in this case in the water."
After Beijing, Clinton will go to Timor-Leste and visit a coffee plantation. Next is Brunei, which will host the East Asia Summit in 2013, probably after Clinton leaves office. Then, she will go to an island off the shore of Vladivostok for the APEC summit, where she'll lead a large U.S. delegation and will likely hold a series of high-level bilateral meetings.
Pressed to explain exactly how the administration plans to advance U.S. and allied interests related to the South China Sea dispute on the trip, the official offered few specifics.
"I would say that the United States has sought to articulate a very clear set of principles that animate our strategic approach to the Asia Pacific region, and particularly to the South China Sea. Those will continue," the official said.
"We have had very intense consultations with every key player in the Asia Pacific region. I think one of the messages that we seek to carry on this trip is that it is absolutely essential that cooler heads prevail in every capital, and that great care be taken on these issues, and that, in fact, all of these complex territorial matters have existed for decades. They have been managed generally effectively for decades, and during this period we've seen some of the most manifest Asian prosperity. We need that to continue. This is the cockpit of the global economy, and so care must be taken across the board."
SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images
TAMPA - A series of speakers at the Republican National Convention Wednesday ripped into President Barack Obama's foreign policy, but offered few clear insights into how Mitt Romney's might differ.
Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, the only top Bush administration official to speak at the convention, was arguably the star of the evening, speaking to cheers and applause when she said that countries around the world are confused and concerned about Obama's position on crucial national security issues.
"Indeed that is the question of the moment -- ‘Where does America stand?'" she said. "When our friends and our foes, alike, do not know the answer to that question -- clearly and unambiguously -- the world is a chaotic and dangerous place. The U.S. has since the end of World War II had an answer -- we stand for free peoples and free markets, we are willing to support and defend them --- we will sustain a balance of power that favors freedom."
Without referring to the president directly, Rice called on the United States to boost its support for human rights, democracy, and dissident movements in authoritarian. She did, however, repeat the by-now familiar charge, a reference to an administration official's anonymous quote in a New Yorker article, that Obama has been "leading from behind" abroad.
"[I]f we are not inspired to lead again, one of two things will happen -- no one will lead and that will foster chaos --- or others who do not share our values will fill the vacuum," she said. "My fellow Americans, we do not have a choice. We cannot be reluctant to lead -- and one cannot lead from behind."
Rice indirectly criticized the Obama administration for failing to pursue new free trade agreements, moving too slowly to secure new sources of energy, and mishandling the economy. She touted the idea of "American exceptionalism" and said that a Romney administration wojuld restore American power by bolstering economic growth and drawing clearer distinctions between friends and enemies.
"Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan understand this reality -- that our leadership abroad and our well being at home are inextricably linked. They know what needs to be done. Our friends and allies must be able to trust us. From Israel to Poland to the Philippines to Colombia and across the world -- they must know that we are reliable and consistent and determined. And our adversaries must have no reason to doubt our resolve -- because peace really does come through strength. Our military capability and technological advantage will be safe in Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan's hands," she said.
Rice referenced the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks at the beginning of her remarks, but didn't mention the wars in Iraq or Afghanistan or any of the controversial counterterrorism policies that she presided over as national security advisor and secretary of state.
She said that under a Romney administration, the United States will remain the most powerful country on Earth but didn't get into the details of how the former Massachusetts governor would tackle critical challenges such as the crisis in Syria, Iran's nuclear program, or the Middle East conflict.
"Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan have the experience and the integrity and the vision to lead us -- they know who we are, what we want to be and what we offer the world," she said.
Earlier in the evening, Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) lashed out at Obama's handling of national security and foreign policy in more explicit language and said that Romney's election was needed to maintain world peace and stability.
"His election represents our best hopes for our country and the world," McCain said. "Unfortunately, for four years, we've drifted away from our proudest traditions of global leadership -- traditions that are truly bipartisan. We've let the challenges we face, both at home and abroad, become harder to solve. We can't afford to stay on that course any longer."
McCain criticized Obama for setting a timeline for withdrawal from Afghanistan, a timeline Romney has endorsed, and accused the president of slashing funding for the military and abandoning the cause of human rights.
"In other times, when other courageous people fought for their freedom against sworn enemies of the United States, American presidents -- both Republicans and Democrats -- have acted to help them prevail," he said. "Sadly, for the lonely voices of dissent in Syria, and Iran, and elsewhere, who feel forgotten in their darkness, and sadly for us, as well, our president is not being true to our values."
The Romney campaign has been careful to avoid spelling out specific prescriptions on international affairs, preferring instead to touch on broad themes. Analysts and reporters have scrutinized his statements and those of his advisors, trying to discern whether the candidate is more of a foreign-policy realist or a neoconservative at heart.
In an interview with The Cable Wednesday, former Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty explained that Romney subscribes to the "Mitt Romney school" of foreign policy.
"Knowing Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan quite well, I would say to you that they are directionally and foundationally sturdy and sound, and quite Reaganesque in that regard," Pawlenty said. "Mitt Romney is a prolific reader and a student of history ... I'm highly confident it will not be amateur hour."
TAMPA - Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney was right when he called Russia America's "No. 1 geopolitical foe" and a Romney administration would confront Moscow on its poor record on democracy, human rights, and the rule of law, two top foreign-policy advisors to the GOP candidate said Tuesday.
"Russia is a significant geopolitical foe. Governor Romney recognizes that," Romney advisor Rich Williamson said at a Tuesday afternoon event hosted by the Foreign Policy Initiative. "That's not to say they are the same sort of direct military threat as they were."
Williamson, joined on the panel by top advisor Pierre-Richard Prosper, said that the Russian government under Vladimir Putin has made strategic opposition to the West and the United States in particular a premier plank of its agenda. A Romney administration would end the Russian "reset" and confront Russia on Syria, Georgia, Iran, and several other issues, he said.
"They are our foe. They have chosen a path of confrontation, not cooperation, and I think the governor was correct in that even though there are some voices in Washington that find that uncomfortable," he said. "So those who say, ‘Oh gosh, oh golly, Romney said they're our geopolitical foe' don't understand human history. And those who think liberal ideas of engagement will bend actions also don't understand history. We're better to be frank and honest."
Ronald Reagan called Russia an "evil empire" but was still able to negotiate nuclear reductions with the Soviet Union, Williamson said.
"They weren't so precious and sensitive not to work with us when we have mutual interests," he said. "The reset has failed. They are crowding out civil society, they are trampling human rights, and they are opposed to us in a number of interests... We have to reset the failed reset policy."
Prosper focused on the controversial elections that returned Putin to the presidency last December and the ongoing clampdown on opposition and activist groups.
"Russia is calling itself a democracy but it is not behaving like a democracy," he said. "When is the last time we have seen Russia on the side of peace? When is the last time we have seen Russia on the side of humanity?"
Also on the panel were Pavel Khodorkovsky, the son of jailed Russian tycoon Mikhail Khordokovsky, and Vladimir Kara-Murza, a Russian journalist blacklisted for his support of the Magnitsky bill, legislation to sanction Russian human rights violators that is being linked in Congress to a bill to grant Russia Permanent Normal Trade Relations status.
The GOP draft platform makes it the official policy of the Republican Party to support passage of the Magnitsky bill.
"Russia should be granted Permanent Normal Trade Relations, but not without sanctions on Russia officials who have used the government to violate human rights," the platform states. "We support enactment of the Magnitsky Rule of Law Accountability Act as a condition of expanded trade relations with Russia."
TAMPA - China's state-controlled media lashed out at GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney Monday, warning that his policies would poison U.S.-China relations.
"By any standard, the U.S. Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney's China policy, as outlined on his official campaign website, is an outdated manifestation of a Cold War mentality," read a commentary in Monday's China Daily. "It endorses the ‘China threat' theory and focuses on containing China's rise in the Asia-Pacific through bolstering the robust U.S. military presence in the region."
The Chinese state-owned outlet said that Romney was "provoking" China by promising to supply Taiwan with aircraft and other military platforms and called his China approach "pugnacious."
"[H]is China policy, if implemented, would cause a retrogression in bilateral ties and turn the region into a venue for open confrontation between China and the U.S.," the commentary stated.
China Daily also compared Romney'sapproach with President Barack Obama's "pivot" toward Asia. The current administration is adding "fuel to the fire" in the South China Sea by involving itself in regional disputes, the commentary argued, but Romney's China policies would sour relations even further.
"It requires political vision as well as profound knowledge of Sino-U.S. relations as a whole, to make sensible policy recommendations about what are widely recognized as the most important bilateral ties in the world," the commentary states. "Romney apparently lacks both."
The China-East Asia page of the Romney campaign website promises that a Romney administration would increase U.S. naval presence in the Pacific and increase military assistance to regional allies "to discourage any aggressive or coercive behavior by China against its neighbors."
The Romney campaign is also vowing to shine a brighter light on China's human rights abuses.
"Any serious U.S. policy toward China must confront the fact that China's regime continues to deny its people basic political freedoms and human rights. A nation that represses its own people cannot be a trusted partner in an international system based on economic and political freedom," the website reads.
But as the China Daily commentary notes, campaign rhetoric and government policy aren't always the same thing. U.S. presidential candidates of both parties have long taken a more strident tone toward China on the campaign trail, only to dial back their rhetoric while in office.
Nor is the Romney team's position on China clear, as top campaign advisors disagree on how to deal with the Middle Kingdom's rise as a world power.
The two co-chairs of Romney's Asia-Pacific policy team, former State Department official Evan Feigenbaum, a moderate realist, and Aaron Friedberg, a hawkish scholar, evince sharply different views on China.
At the top of the Romney advisory structure, generalists like former U.N. Ambassador John Bolton are much more wary of a rising China than realists such as former World Bank President Bob Zoellick, who as a top State Department official urged China to become a "responsible stakeholder" in world affairs.
As for Romney, he has promised to brand China a currency manipulator on day one of his presidency and the RNC draft platform posted by Politico calls on China to move toward democracy and condemns its South China Sea claims.
"We will welcome the emergence of a peaceful and prosperous China, and we will welcome even more the development of a democratic China," the draft platform reads. "Its rulers have discovered that economic freedom leads to national wealth. The next lesson is that political and religious freedom lead to national greatness. The exposure of the Chinese people to our way of lifecan be the greatest force for change in their country."
Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, his would-be vice president Paul Ryan, and defense hawks in Congress are wrong that savings can't be found in the U.S. defense budget, according to Grover Norquist, the influential president of Americans for Tax Reform, who said that he will fight using any new revenues to keep military spending high.
"We can afford to have an adequate national defense which keeps us free and safe and keeps everybody afraid to throw a punch at us, as long as we don't make some of the decisions that previous administrations have, which is to over extend ourselves overseas and think we can run foreign governments," Norquist said Monday at an event at the Center for the National Interest, formerly the Nixon Center.
But Ryan's views are at odds with those of Norquist and other budget hawks, who argue that defense budgets can be trimmed. Ryan's budget plan provides for increasing military spending and doesn't suggest any tradeoff or specific defense reforms.
"Other people need to lead the argument on how can conservatives lead a fight to have a serious national defense without wasting money," Norquist said. "I wouldn't ask Ryan to be the reformer of the defense establishment."
Avoiding $54 billion of arbitrary defense cuts next year as a result of the Budget Control Act of 2011, in what's known as "sequestration," has been a focus of Romney's campaign and one of his main points of contrast with President Obama. Romney's views align him with defense hawks who are leading that effort on the Hill, such as House Armed Services Committee Chairman Buck McKeon (R-CA) and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), who support closing tax loopholes and deductions to avoid sequestration.
"You will get serious conversation from the advocates of Pentagon spending when they understand ‘here's the dollar amount, now make decisions," Norquist said. "They want to argue you have to raise taxes -- you can't solve the problem."
Norquist vowed to fight any effort to use the money saved by tax reform to pay for military spending or to avoid the sequester.
"You have guys saying ‘can we steal all your deductions and credits and give it to the appropriators,' and then when we get tax reform there will be no tax reform," Norquist said, referring to defense hawks. "The idea is that you are going to raise taxes on people to not think through defense priorities."
But Norquist predicted that the defense hawks will lose the battle inside the GOP. The ultimate decision-makers, he said, would be the heads of the House Ways and Means Committee and the Senate Finance Committee, not the respective Armed Services Committees.
"Here's the good news. There's a very small number of them," Norquist said about the defense hawks. "The handful of [Republicans] that support that are either not coming back or they don't know yet that they are not coming back."
The Pentagon wastes money on bloated weapons systems, bases, and programs that are protected by politicians for parochial reasons, he said. Norquist said the defense hawks were not serious about saving money or reforming the Pentagon.
"If you're not looking like you're trying, nobody wants to help you, starting with me... There's a lack of seriousness," he said. "The guys who are saying ‘we're not going to cut Pentagon spending but we want to raise taxes,' they aren't making a sale... They are saying it's not a tax increase. It is, it is, it is."
Norquist said he believes in a non-interventionist foreign policy that eschews nation-building, much like the one former president George W. Bush campaigned on before he decided to invade Iraq and Afghanistan.
"Bush decided to be the mayor of Baghdad rather than the president of the United States. He decided to occupy Iraq and Afghanistan rather than reform Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. That had tremendous consequences," he said. "Rather than doing Doha [the trade round], we did Kabul."
Romney has promised to keep defense spending at 4 percent of U.S. GDP, but Norquist doesn't believe that defense spending should be pegged to the size of the U.S. economy or any other arbitrary number. He argued that the Republican Party needs to reexamine the actual defense needs and then work from there to determine how much to spend.
"Richard Nixon said that America's national defense needs are set in Moscow, meaning that we wouldn't have to spend so much if they weren't shooting at us," he said. "The guys who followed didn't notice that the Soviet Union disappeared."
JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images
The Obama campaign Thursday called on Mitt Romney to clarify his policy on Afghanistan and highlighted a Romney's advisor's comments downplaying the importance of the issue.
"'Real Americans' care that Romney hasn't outlined a plan for Afghanistan," was the title of an e-mail sent out by the Obama campaign Thursday afternoon on behalf of Rob Diamond, the campaign's director for veterans and military families. Diamond was responding to comments Thursday morning made by Romney Senior Communications Adviser Tara Wall on MSNBC that "real Americans" don't care about Romney's Afghanistan policy.
Wall was responding to questions about an exclusive July 16 report on The Cable, in which we documented that senior senators on both sides of the aisle couldn't articulate Romney's Afghanistan policy, which currently contains sparse specifics on what Romney would do in Afghanistan if elected president.
"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," Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl told The Cable.
When asked about those comments by MSNBC's Luke Russert, Wall demurred and called the issue a distraction.
"I'm not going to get into the details of that," she said. "Unfortunately it's disappointing that the attacks, these recent attacks on all these issues outside of what the issues are relative to Mitt Romney are diverting away from what real Americans want to talk about. And real Americans want to talk about getting back to work."
Diamond said that real Americans care about the mission in Afghanistan and he criticized Romney for supporting the Paul Ryan budget, which would reduce spending for veterans affairs by $11 billion per year compared to the administration's plan. Overall, the Obama campaign called on Romney to specify exactly what his plan in Afghanistan would be.
"Americans deserve to know what Mitt Romney would do as Commander-in-Chief, and rather than outlining a plan to end the war, he has thus far simply criticized the President for setting a timetable to bring our troops home," said Daimon. "If Governor Romney and his advisors don't have an answer because they don't have a plan, they should let us know that, too."
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.
Mitt Romney has created an international confrontation over his claim that Russia is America's "No. 1 geopolitical foe," but most national security leaders in Congress, including Republicans, simply don't think Russia deserves that stature.
Romney doubled down on his criticism of Russia and the Obama administration's handling of the U.S.-Russia relationship in a Tuesday op-ed for Foreign Policy, in which he again criticized Obama for telling Russian President Dmitry Medvedev on a hot mic that he needed "space" on issues such as missile defense because he would have more "flexibility" after the November election. Medvedev said that Romney's comments "smell of Hollywood" and that presidential candidates "need to use one's head, one's good reason."
"It is not an accident that Mr. Medvedev is now busy attacking me. The Russians clearly prefer to do business with the current incumbent of the White House," Romney shot back.
On Capitol Hill, top Republicans have little praise for Medvedev or Russia and maintain that Moscow has played an unhelpful international role and represses its own citizens. But these lawmakers see Russia as a power in decline and therefore not worthy of the title of America's "No. 1 geopolitical foe."
"I don't see them as our No. 1 strategic foe because they've got a weak economy and structurally are not very strong. China could potentially be more harming to our interests because of the growth of their economy and the growth of their military," Senate Armed Services Committee member Lindsey Graham (R-SC) told The Cable.
Russia is in decline on many fronts, due to a lack of a moral direction by Kremlin combined with rampant corruption and a regime that's desperately trying to hang on to power, Graham said.
"I think Russia is behaving in a manner very inconsistent with being a mature member of the international community, but I see Russia as a declining power because they choose to embrace a model that never ended well in history. Instead of helping the world do things like get rid of Assad, they seem to be ambivalently or actively encouraging people to do bad things," he said.
Senate Armed Services Committee ranking Republican John McCain (R-AZ) told The Cable that he agreed with Romney that Obama's comments about flexibility on missile defense were alarming, but he wouldn't say Russia was the No. 1 geopolitical foe of the United States.
"I think they are a strategic challenge," McCain said. "They continue to supply [Syrian President] Bashar al Assad while he slaughters Syrians and they continue to obviously oppose our missile-defense systems. They continue to be an oppressive and repressive regime.
"Fortunately in many ways they are declining. But this recent consolidation of power shows a lack of democracy there," McCain said.
In a Wednesday morning appearance on Fox and Friends, McCain expressed more support for Romney's Russia claim.
"I think in many respects [they are the number one geopolitical foe]," McCain said. "Look at what they are doing in Syria right now... they continue to prop up North Korea and obviously now they have a president for life."
Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-CT), another member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, lamented the backsliding of democracy in Russia but also denied that Russia the No. 1 geopolitical foe in the world.
"I wouldn't have put in the way Mitt Romney did, but I don't dismiss his thoughts," Lieberman told The Cable. "China's rising; Russia seems to be in a holding pattern but still quite strong militarily. And they have been in the way of progress in a lot of things going on in the world."
"The developments in Russia have been one of the most disappointing things that have happened in the world over the last 20 years or so," he said. "When the Berlin Wall fell and the first wave of Russian democracy came, I was very optimistic. But both internally they are a very repressive society and externally, it's better than the Cold War but we're still bumping into Russia too many times, as in Syria."
Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry (D-MA) told The Cable that the U.S.-Russia relationship is not nearly as bad as Romney makes it seem and actually has potential for productivity and progress.
"Russia's cooperating with us on some things, it's not on others. The threat of religious extremism is not centered in Russia; it's centered in South Asia and the Middle East and that is an enormous and time-consuming challenge for all of our national security enterprises." Kerry said. "So I think [Romney] is vastly and significantly off target as well as in terms of potential of the upsides with Russia if we move forward on a number of things."
In his original interview with CNN, Romney made clear that he doesn't see Russia as the number one immediate security challenge. He said Russia is the greatest American foe "in terms of a geopolitical opponent, the nation that lines up with the world's worst actors. Of course, the greatest threat the world faces is a nuclear Iran."
Responding to a call from advocacy groups, Mitt Romney's campaign has released a statement promising to protect "innocents" and prosecute human rights abuses by the Khartoum government in Sudan and what is now South Sudan.
"Mitt Romney recognizes that for too long far too many Sudanese have been victims of war crimes and other atrocities committed by the government in Khartoum and its proxies," the Romney campaign said in Tuesday statement. "In Southern Sudan, millions died as a result of ethnic and religious targeted killings during the long civil war. Among those brutally targeted were Christians and adherents of traditional African religions, Dinka, Nuer, and members of other ethnic groups. In Darfur, non-Arab populations have been and continue to be victims of a slow-motion genocide. And since independence of the Republic of South Sudan, Khartoum has committed a range of atrocities in border regions that have claimed countless lives and displaced hundreds of thousands."
The Romney campaign accused the Khartoum regime, led by President Omar al-Bashir, of inciting and arming rebel groups with the objective of undermining the South Sudanese government, stealing hundreds of millions of dollars of South Sudan's oil money, and impeding the flow of humanitarian assistance.
"Governor Romney is committed to protecting innocents from war crimes and other atrocities, ensuring that humanitarian aid reaches those desperately in need, holding accountable those leaders who perpetrate atrocities, and achieving a sustainable peace for all who live in Sudan and the Republic of South Sudan," the statement said.
The Romney campaign was responding to a call for support from the organization Act for Sudan, an alliance of grassroots advocacy organizations. Last December, the group sent a list of questions related to the events in Sudan to all the presidential candidates. So far, only the Romney campaign has responded.
In November, Act for Sudan sent an open letter to President Obama that was signed by 66 organizations, urging him to ramp up administration efforts to protect civilians and provide humanitarian relief for the people of Sudan and South Sudan.
"We believe the United States is not doing enough to uphold its responsibility to protect innocent civilians from atrocities perpetrated by the Sudanese government," the letter stated. "We, therefore, respectfully request that your administration make it a top priority to provide the necessary protection and change the ruthless political calculations of the National Congress Party."
President Barack Obama is personally enamored with a recent essay written by neoconservative writer Bob Kagan, an advisor to Mitt Romney, in which Kagan argues that the idea the United States is in decline is false.
"The renewal of American leadership can be felt across the globe," Obama said in his State of the Union address Tuesday evening. "From the coalitions we've built to secure nuclear materials, to the missions we've led against hunger and disease; from the blows we've dealt to our enemies, to the enduring power of our moral example, America is back."
"Anyone who tells you otherwise, anyone who tells you that America is in decline or that our influence has waned, doesn't know what they're talking about," Obama said.
Just hours earlier on Tuesday, in an off-the-record meeting with leading news anchors, including ABC's George Stephanopoulos and NBC's Brian Williams, Obama drove home that argument using an article written in the New Republic by Kagan titled "The Myth of American Decline."
Obama liked Kagan's article so much that he spent more than 10 minutes talking about it in the meeting, going over its arguments paragraph by paragraph, National Security Council spokesman Tommy Vietor confirmed to The Cable.
National Security Advisor Tom Donilon will also discuss Kagan's essay and Obama's love of it Thursday night with Charlie Rose on PBS.
Kagan's article examines and then sets out to debunk each of the arguments that America is in decline, which include commonly held assumptions that America's power and influence are waning due to its economic troubles, the rise of other world powers, the failure of U.S. efforts to solve big problems like the Middle East conflict, and the seeming inability of the U.S. government to tackle problems.
"Much of the commentary on American decline these days rests on rather loose analysis, on impressions that the United States has lost its way, that it has abandoned the virtues that made it successful in the past, that it lacks the will to address the problems it faces. Americans look at other nations whose economies are now in better shape than their own, and seem to have the dynamism that America once had, and they lament, as in the title of Thomas Friedman's latest book, that ‘that used to be us,'" Kagan writes.
But Kagan argues that the United States has gone through several similarly challenging periods in the past and has always managed to rebound and come out ahead. He writes that American decline is a risk, and a dangerous one at that, but by no means is it a foregone conclusion.
"In the end, the decision is in the hands of Americans," he writes. "Decline, as Charles Krauthammer has observed, is a choice. It is not an inevitable fate-at least not yet. Empires and great powers rise and fall, and the only question is when. But the when does matter. Whether the United States begins to decline over the next two decades or not for another two centuries will matter a great deal, both to Americans and to the nature of the world they live in."
For the White House, the Kagan article, and the forthcoming book it's based on, The World America Made, offer the perfect rebuttal to GOP accusations that Obama has willingly presided over a period of American decline or has been "leading from behind" on foreign policy.
Romney hits on this theme often, such as when he said in a December debate, "Our president thinks America is in decline. It is if he's president, it's not if I'm president."
In his foreign policy white paper, Romney states clearly that he believes that Obama has resigned himself to American decline.
"A perspective has been gaining currency, including within high councils of the Obama administration, that regards the United States as a power in decline. And not only is the United States regarded as in decline, but that decline is seen as both inexorable and a condition that can and should be managed for the global good rather than reversed," the white paper reads.
But as the economy slowly improves, that argument is harder to make, and the Obama campaign is now trying to use Romney's own assessment against him.
"Governor Romney may be rooting for slips and falls here. We're concentrating on moving this economy forward," Obama's political advisor David Axelrod said earlier this month.
The fact that it is Kagan refuting Romney's argument is especially sweet for the White House, because Kagan is a special advisor to the Romney campaign on national security and foreign policy.
Contacted by The Cable, Kagan said he was pleased Obama liked his essay and he is further pleased that Obama is not resigned to an America in decline.
"I think it's important that the president also doesn't see the nation in decline and I hope his policies reflect that and not the idea we should be accommodating American decline as a lot of people are recommending," said Kagan. "I hope he rejects that and still believes we should provide the kind of leadership we are capable of."
Kagan is currently a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and a columnist for the Washington Post.
Saul Loeb-Pool/Getty Images
The State Department said today that Jay Leno has the right to make jokes about religions, even if they offend people in foreign countries, as did his Jan. 19 joke about GOP presidential hopeful Mitt Romney's summer home being a famous Sikh temple.
The Indian Sikh community is in an uproar about the joke, in which Leno showed photos of the houses of GOP presidential contenders but replaced Mitt Romney's summer house with a photo of the Golden Temple of Amritsar, the holiest temple in Sikhism, implying that Romney's wealth has no limits. The Sikh community has called on its members to complain to NBC, started a petition to decry the joke, and created a "Boycott Jay Leno" Facebook group that has over 3,000 members.
"This is not the first time that this show host has targeted Sikhs in his monologue. Previously, in 2007 he called Sikhs ‘diaper heads.' In 2010, he remarked, falsely so, in his monologue that President [Barack] Obama could not visit Sri Darbar Sahib because of requirements of wearing a turban. Clearly, Jay Leno's racist comments need to be stopped right here," the petition reads.
Overseas Indian Affairs Minister Vayalar Ravi told the BBC that the joke was "quite unfortunate and quite objectionable," and called upon Nirupama Rao, the Indian ambassador to the United States, to bring up the issue with the State Department.
As of Monday afternoon, India had not lodged a formal complaint about the joke, State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said at Monday's press briefing. But she said that people can joke about whatever they want in the United States and it's probably not an issue that concerns the U.S. government.
"I think that Mr. Leno would be appreciative -- I hope he'll be appreciative if we make the point that his comments are constitutionally protected in the United States under free speech, and frankly, they appeared to be satirical in nature," Nuland said.
"But from a U.S. official government perspective, we have absolute respect for all the people of India, including Sikhs there. President Obama was the first president ever to host a celebration in honor of Guru Nanak Dev Ji, who's the first Sikh guru, for example," she said. "And you know, our view is obviously that Sikh Americans have contributed greatly to the United States."
John Hudson reports on national security and foreign policy from the Pentagon to Foggy Bottom, the White House to Embassy Row, for The Cable.