For the head of Libya's national election commission, the method by which Americans vote is startling in that it depends so much on trust and the good faith of election officials and voters alike.
"It's an incredible system," said Nuri K. Elabbar, who traveled to the United States along with election officials from more than 60 countries to observe today's presidential elections as part of a program run by the International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES). Your humble Cable guy visited polling places with some of the international officials this morning. Most of them agreed that in their countries, such an open voting system simply would not work.
"It's very difficult to transfer this system as it is to any other country. This system is built according to trust and this trust needs a lot of procedures and a lot of education for other countries to adopt it," Elabbar said.
The most often noted difference between American elections among the visitors was that in most U.S. states, voters need no identification. Voters can also vote by mail, sometimes online, and there's often no way to know if one person has voted several times under different names, unlike in some Arab countries, where voters ink their fingers when casting their ballots.
The international visitors also noted that there's no police at U.S. polling stations. In foreign countries, police at polling places are viewed as signs of security; in the United States they are sometimes seen as intimidating.
Sara Al-Utaibi, IFES deputy country director in Jordan, said that the fact that voting is done differently in different U.S. states is highly unusual. In Maryland, for example, electronic voting is common, whereas in Washington paper ballots predominate. If there are different voting procedures within another country, someone assumes fraud or abuse, she said.
"What's very unique about the way the Americans do it, it's not the process, it's the confidence that's placed in the process," she said. "This is what lacks in other countries. They say if this would happen in Arab countries it would not work the way it does in the United States."
Many of the visiting international officials noted that there were no observers at the polling places to ensure that proper voting procedures were being followed. IFES staffers explained to them that in the United States, election observers are sent by the political parties, which wouldn't use their limited resources inside the District of Columbia, where President Barack Obama is a heavy favorite.
Many of the visiting election officials were from emerging democracies, including Tunisia, Indonesia, Russia, Nigeria, and Yemen. The will spend a total of four days in the United States in a series of workshops and seminars.
"The point is to bring the highest-level commissioners and election staff here so they can connect and exchange ideas," said Ambar Riaz Zobairi, IFES deputy regional director for the Middle East and North Africa. "The overall point is to highlight the very interesting electoral process that we have here."
Provisional ballots are also a source of puzzlement for international officials. American voters who don't find their names on the rolls can vote anyway and verify their eligibility days later, a system not often found abroad. Ballots in foreign countries are often not as complicated as ballots in the United States.
"Their ballots are simple. We have a range of things on our ballot, referendums and such. In most countries, it's just president and parliament," said Cindy McCormick, an IFES consultant with more than 30 years of election monitoring experience.
One observer from Lebanon who did not want to be quoted pressed staffers on how the ballots are handled before and after voting day. He was amazed that ballots are sent directly to poll workers and that the handling of those ballots after the voting ends is also entrusted to local poll workers.
In Morocco, the poll workers take the unused ballots outside at the end of the night and burn them, McCormick said. In Russia, unused ballots are piled up and a poll worker drives a spike though the pile with a hammer. In The Gambia, a country in West Africa, each voter is given exactly one marble, which they place in one of the large marble collecting jars that are set up for each candidate.
"The polls workers are listening because when the marble goes into the jar, there's a ding. And if there are two dings, maybe somebody came in with extra marbles in their pocket, so they call the police," she said.
Asked how Gambians do a recount with the marble-based voting system, McCormick said, "I have no idea."
Josh Rogin/Foreign Policy
Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) suggested Tuesday that President Bill Clinton is getting more and more active in politics this cycle in preparation for Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to run for the presidency in 2016.
"I would never think such a thing and I am certainly not Machiavellian, but I am told that there are some that think this may have a lot to do with 2016 and the president's wife, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton," McCain said Tuesday morning. "Of course I would never suspicion such a thing, but there are some real jerks around who think that might be the case."
McCain was speaking on a conference call following Monday night's debate between President Barack Obama and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney. He said Obama is using President Clinton more and more in the campaign because Romney is gaining in the polls.
"I think [President Clinton's] appeal is obviously there and I don't think it's an accident that as Mitt Romney has surged in the polls there has been increase in the activities of President Clinton," he said.
In a recent interview with Marie Claire, Clinton repeated that she does not plan to run for president in 2016.
"I have been on this high wire of national and international politics and leadership for 20 years," Clinton said. "It has been an absolutely extraordinary personal honor and experience. But I really want to just have my own time back. I want to just be my own person. I'm looking forward to that."
McCain also addressed Obama's comments ridiculing Romney for comparing the size of the U.S. Navy today to its size during World War I.
"I think Governor Romney maybe hasn't spent enough time looking at how our military works. You -- you mentioned the Navy, for example, and that we have fewer ships than we did in 1916. Well, governor, we also have fewer horses and bayonets -- because the nature of our military's changed. We have these things called aircraft carriers where planes land on them. We have these ships that go underwater, nuclear submarines," Obama said. "And so the question is not a game of Battleship where we're counting ships. It's what are our capabilities."
McCain said that Obama's highly touted rebalancing to the Asia-Pacific region was an effort that requires robust ship presence and he said that if defense cuts under sequestration are allowed to take place, shipbuilding industries will suffer across the county and jobs will be lost.
"That was both demeaning to Mitt Romney and it also showed a degree of ignorance on the part of the president," McCain said. "You need naval presence the same way you did back then. Then to justify a steady reduction in shipbuilding, it shows a misunderstanding of the size of the challenge we face in the Asia-Pacific region."
McCain said that Romney had passed the commander-in-chief test at Monday's debate.
"The question in a lot of people's minds before this debate was: Is Mitt Romney capable of being the commander in chief?" McCain said. "I think he achieved that goal last night. I think he made it very clear to Americans, principally women, that he's not going to get us into other conflicts, that he understands the war-weariness of the American people over Iraq and Afghanistan. But he has also pointed out that we are weaker than we were four years ago, and of course in the Middle East that's absolutely true."
McCain did not mention that he supports U.S. airstrikes and the imposition of a no-fly zone in Syria.
President Barack Obama and Mitt Romney sparred over whether Obama called the Sept. 11 murder of four Americans in Benghazi a "terrorist" attack. In fact, Obama did refer to the attack as an "act of terror," but he did not do so directly in the Rose Garden the next day.
Romney said during Tuesday night's debate that it took 14 days for Obama to acknowledge that the attack was a terrorist attack, while Obama and CNN's Candy Crowley agreed that Obama said so Sept. 12 in remarks in the Rose Garden. In those remarks, journalists noticed, he did not explicitly refer to the Benghazi attack as an "act of terror," though he did use those words.
"No acts of terror will ever shake the resolve of this great nation, alter that character, or eclipse the light of the values that we stand for," he said.
Commentary's interpretation was that he made that he was referring to the original 9/11 attacks, not the Benghazi attack the day before.
"'Acts of terror' could have just as easily been a reference to that. Or maybe it wasn't a direct reference to anything, just a generic, reassuring line he'd added into a speech which did take place, after all, the day after the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks," blogger Alana Goodman wrote.
But on Sept. 13, at a campaign event in Colorado, Obama again used the phrase "act of terror" and this time tied it directly to the Benghazi attack.
"So what I want all of you to know is that we are going to bring those who killed our fellow Americans to justice. I want people around the world to hear me: To all those who would do us harm, no act of terror will go unpunished. It will not dim the light of the values that we proudly present to the rest of the world. No act of violence shakes the resolve of the United States of America," he said.
Romney countered by saying that the Obama administration took too long to acknowledge that there were no protests outside the Benghazi mission before the attack and referred to U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice's Sept. 16 comments claiming that according to the best information at the time, the attack was "spontaneous" and a reaction to an anti-Islam video.
For the first time, Obama said he bears ultimate responsibility for the Benghazi attack, and again promised to bring the attackers to justice.
In one of the most drama-filled moments of the debate, the president said that Romney's statements during and immediately after the attack amounted to a politicization of the issue and he said he found Romney's suggestion that administration officials might have misled Americans about the attack "offensive."
SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images
Vice President Joseph Biden speaks only for himself and President Barack Obama, and neither man was aware that U.S. officials in Libya had asked the State Department for more security before the Sept. 11 attack on the U.S. mission in Benghazi, a top White House official told The Cable.
Biden has come under fire for saying at Thursday night's debate, "We weren't told they wanted more security. We did not know they wanted more security there."
The Cable asked Deputy National Security Advisor for Communications Ben Rhodes whether Biden was speaking for the entire Obama administration, including the State Department, which acknowledged receiving multiple requests for more Libya security in the months before the attacks. Rhodes said that Biden speaks only for himself and the president and neither of them knew about the requests at the time.
The State Department security officials who testified before House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa's panel Wednesday never said they had made their requests to the president, Rhodes pointed out. That would be natural because the State Department is responsible for diplomatic security, not the White House, he said. Rhodes also pointed out that the officials were requesting more security in Tripoli, not Benghazi.
"All of us at post were in sync that we wanted these resources," the top regional security officer in Libya over the summer, Eric Nordstrom, testified. "In those conversations, I was specifically told [by Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Charlene Lamb] ‘You cannot request an SST [Site Security Team] extension.' I determined I was told that because there would be too much political cost. We went ahead and requested it anyway."
Nordstrom was so critical of the State Department's reluctance to respond to his calls for more security that he said, "For me, the Taliban is on the inside of the building."
"We felt great frustration that those requests were ignored or just never met," testified Lt. Col. Andrew Wood, a Utah National Guardsman who was leading a security team in Libya until August.
Issa released the unclassified cables containing those requests.
At Thursday night's debate, Rep. Paul Ryan seemed to suggest that the requests were for Marines to go to Libya, which was not the case. The requests were to extend the tours of a Mobile Security Detachments [MSD] and the Site Security Team [SST] at the U.S. embassy in Tripoli, which are teams of military personnel, not Marines, who can help protect an embassy and its personnel.
"What we should not be doing is rejecting claims for calls for more security in our barracks, in our Marine -- we need Marines in Benghazi when the commander on the ground says we need more forces for security," Ryan said. "There were requests for extra security. Those requests were not honored."
In his prepared testimony, Nordstrom said that "because of Libyan political sensitivities, armed private security companies were not allowed to operate in Libya." Instead, the Benghazi mission, through a British company, hired unarmed Libyan guards to work inside the compound and a local Libyan militia patrolled the exterior of the compound.
Ryan also erred when he criticized the State Department for assigning Marines to protect the ambassador in France but not Amb. Chris Stevens, who died in Benghazi on Sept. 11.
"Our ambassador in Paris has a marine detachment guarding him, shouldn't we have a Marine detachment guarding our ambassador in Benghazi?," Ryan said.
According to the U.S. Embassy Paris website, there is a Marine Security Guard Detachment in the embassy, but they are there primarily to protect classified information and are not part of the ambassador's personal security detail.
Vice President Joe Biden said Thursday night that the United States has successfully completed its one and only mission in Afghanistan: to destroy al Qaeda, seeming to narrow the administration's goals for the war.
"The fact is we went there for one reason: to get those people who killed Americans -- al Qaeda," Biden said during his debate with Rep. Paul Ryan. "We decimated al Qaeda central; we have eliminated Osama bin Laden. That was our purpose."
His running mate President Barack Obama, however, has often said that the mission in Afghanistan was twofold: to defeat al Qaeda and to make sure that it or other extremists groups could not find safe haven in Afghanistan to launch future attacks against the West.
"I want the American people to understand that we have a clear and focused goal: to disrupt, dismantle and defeat al Qaeda in Pakistan and Afghanistan, and to prevent their return to either country in the future," Obama said in a speech when announcing his 30,000-troop surge in March 2009.
Biden presented the mission of standing up the Afghanistan security forces to establish safety and security in Afghanistan as a side effort that was in Afghanistan's security interests but not an American task.
"It is the responsibility of the Afghans to take care of their own security," he said. "The primary objective is almost completed. Now all we're doing is putting the Kabul government in a position to be able to maintain their own security. It's their responsibility, not America's."
Ryan criticized the Obama administration for withdrawing those surge troops during the 2012 fighting season; Obama fulfilled his pledge to withdraw all 30,000 surge troops by the end of September. But Biden argued that the Afghan fighting season was in spring, not summer.
Ryan pointed out that former Joint Chiefs Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen and former ISAF Commander David Petraeus had both testified that withdrawing the surge troops earlier increased the risks for the remaining troops in Afghanistan.
"Let me start by saying that I support the president's decisions, as do Generals Mattis and Petraeus. We were given voice in this process. We offered our views freely and without hesitation, and they were heard," Mullen testified last year.
"I provided assessments of risk. I provided recommendations. We discussed all of this, again at considerable length... All voices were heard in the Situation Room. And ultimately, the decision has been made," Petraeus testified.
The Obama campaign sent out a quote Thursday evening from current Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey supporting the timing of the surge withdrawal.
The intended purpose of the surge was "to buy us some time to push back on some Taliban initiatives -- particularly in the south and southwest -- and to buy us some space to grow the Afghan security forces... That objective clearly has been met,' Dempsey said last month.
The Obama campaign also noted in an e-mail to reporters that the Romney campaign's position on Afghanistan has changed over the course of the campaign. Biden said Romney's statements supporting Obama's 2014 deadline for withdrawal weren't credible because the Republican candidate has also said he would listen to generals and consider conditions on the ground before making a final decision.
"[Ryan] and the governor say it's based on conditions, which means ‘it depends.' It does not depend for us. It is the responsibility of the Afghans to take care of their own security," Biden said in what appear to be the most emphatic statements on the 2014 departure date by an Obama administration official. "We are leaving in 2014. Period."
In Obama's December 2009 speech announcing the surge, he put it differently: "Just as we have done in Iraq, we will execute this transition responsibly, taking into account conditions on the ground."
More recently, in May 2012, Obama said, "I don't think that there's ever going to be an optimal point where we say -- this is all done, this is perfect, this is just the way we wanted it and now we can wrap up all our equipment and go home. This is a process, and it's sometimes a messy process, just as it was in Iraq."
Ryan said that the Romney campaign does support the 2014 date but would not have committed to it publicly "because we don't want to broadcast to our enemies ‘Put a date on your calendar, wait us out, and then come back.'"
The U.S. mission would not be complete and successful until Afghanistan can no longer be a safe haven for extremists who want to attack America, he said.
"We agree with the administration on their 2014 transition," said Ryan. "But we want to see the 2014 transition be successful, and that means we want to make sure our commanders have what they need to make sure that it is successful so that this does not once again become a launching pad for terrorists."
Former Senator Rick Santorum used the rising violence in the Middle East as the basis for a fundraising e-mail sent out by his political advocacy organization today.
"The news coming out of the Middle East is deeply saddening and concerning. Karen and I first want to express our condolences to the families of Ambassador Stevens and the three other American officials who were killed in the recent terrorist attacks. Their service to our country was heroic and this senseless act of violence is horrifying," begins the e-mail signed by Santorum and sent out by Patriot Voices, the nonprofit 501(c)4 advocacy group he co-founded after he lost his primary bid.
"The incidents in Cairo and Benghazi are tragic. As we continue to learn more details, we must look to the immediate future and ask ourselves what does America stand for, and how will we stand for it?" Santorum wrote.
The organization has two missions: to help Mitt Romney defeat Barack Obama and to promote conservative policies and values, according to Santorum's statements in June when it launched.
Like Romney, Santorum linked the recent violence to Obama's overall approach to the region and Santorum's e-mail tracks the Romney campaign's argument that the Obama administration has been too conciliatory to adversaries, too cold to allies such as Israel, and has "led from behind" in foreign policy.
"Please continue to stand with me as we advocate for policies that properly defend Americans and their principles abroad. President Obama's approach of apologizing to our enemies, turning our backs on our allies, and leading from behind weakens America and empowers our enemies. If American ideals are to remain prosperous here and abroad, the appeasement policies of this president must stop," Santorum wrote.
The end of the e-mail contains the pitch with a link to the Patriot Voices donation page.
"Here at Patriot Voices, we are committed to ensuring that President Obama is not reelected and that commitment is even stronger following his reaction to these attacks," it reads. "We will not back down in this effort. Please join with us today. Sincerely, Rick Santorum."
Santorum posted a longer critique of the Obama administration's handling of the Middle East today on the conservative website RedState.com earlier today.
"Radical Islam stands against this and remains our number one national security challenge. Pretending otherwise does not change that," he wrote. "I'm not convinced that the President understands or believes this reality -- not because of his heart but because of his policies and priorities."
President Barack Obama's flawed approach to the Middle East and his failure to assert American leadership throughout the Arab Spring resulted in reduced American influence in the region and set the stage for Tuesday's assaults on U.S. diplomatic posts led by Islamic extremists, Romney senior foreign policy advisor Rich Williamson told The Cable Tuesday night.
The attacks Tuesday on two U.S. diplomatic posts were directly related to "the loss of American leadership and prestige throughout the Middle East because of the Obama administration's failed policies in that region," Williamson said in an extensive interview late Tuesday evening.
The interview took place before it was known that four Americans died in the armed assault on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, including Ambassador Chris Stevens. President Barack Obama issued a statement this morning confirming reports of Stevens' death and condemning the attacks.
"Right now, the American people have the families of those we lost in our thoughts and prayers. They exemplified America's commitment to freedom, justice, and partnership with nations and people around the globe, and stand in stark contrast to those who callously took their lives," Obama said in the statement. "I have directed my Administration to provide all necessary resources to support the security of our personnel in Libya, and to increase security at our diplomatic posts around the globe."
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said in a seperate statement Wednesday morning that foreign service officer Sean Smith was also killed. The names of the other two U.S. citizens killed have not yet beeen released, pending notification of their families.
Tuesday night, while the attacks were still ongoing, Williamson said that the governments in Egypt and Libya as well as the Obama administration bear responsibility for the deteriorating security environment that led to the attacks.
"The events in Egypt and Libya show the failure of the Egyptian and Libyan governments to uphold their obligations to keep our diplomatic missions safe and secure and the regard in which the United States is held under President Obama in these two countries," he said. "It's all part of a broader scheme of the president's failure to be an effective leader for U.S. interests in the Middle East."
The Obama administration has failed to develop, much less communicate, a coherent or consistent approach to protecting American interests throughout the Arab Spring, Williamson argued. The events in Egypt and Libya are part of a broader story of what he characterized as the administration's lack of leadership in responding to the Syria crisis, a mishandling of the U.S.-Israel relationship, and a failed engagement policy with Iran, he charged.
Tuesday's attacks are not isolated incidents, but rather are part of an increasing and disturbing trend of anti-American incidents that illustrate the administration's failed policies, according to Williamson.
"The region's in turmoil and this president has not provided effective leadership," Williamson said. "It's a pattern and the pattern sees the U.S. with reduced influence, reduced respect, reduced capacity to project its interests and our security is at risk because of the greatest danger, which is a nuclear breakout by Iran."
Williamson said that the Obama administration had reduced funding for civil society and democracy programs in the Middle East during its first years in office and de-emphasized the Bush administration's "Freedom Agenda." Romney expressed the same sentiment in an interview in Israel in July, where he expressed concern about the path of the Arab Spring.
"The Arab Spring is not appropriately named. It has become a development of more concern and it occurred in part because of the reluctance on the part of various dictators to provide more freedom to their citizens. President [George W.] Bush urged [deposed Egyptian President] Hosni Mubarak to move toward a more democratic posture, but President Obama abandoned the Freedom Agenda and we are seeing today a whirlwind of tumult in the Middle East in part because these nations did not embrace the reforms that could have changed the course of their history, in a more peaceful manner."
In Egypt, the Obama administration stood by Mubarak for too long, thereby alienating the revolutionaries and reducing U.S. capacity to influence the new government, Williamson argued. In Libya, the administration "led from behind" and was dragged into intervening by Britain and France, he said, and then failed to follow up sufficiently to support their transition to a stable democracy.
Regarding Syria, Williamson referred to Romney's call in 2011 for the administration to engage more with the opposition, and said that the administration's limited supported for the opposition now was "a day late and a dollar short" -- insufficient to respond to the brutality of the Syrian regime and the deaths of more than 20,000 Syrian civilians.
Romney supports working with allies to arm the Syrian opposition, and Williamson said the fact that Tuesday's attack in Benghazi was perpetrated by militias that were part of last year's Libyan revolution shouldn't hurt the current push to arm the Syrian opposition now. If the administration had engaged the opposition earlier, he arged, that concern would have been alleviated by now.
"Anyone who has any sophistication knows that we weren't going to get a U.N. Security Council resolution from Russia. You would have to be deaf, dumb, and blind not to know that would be the result. So the administration wasted valuable time and the cost is 20,000 Syrian lives. That's not what I would call effective foreign policy," he said.
Romney has said little about the Arab Spring. His few public statements on the uprisings have focused on his fear that the once-hopeful movement is taking a turn for the worse and that the democratic reformers who started the revolutions are losing out to the Islamic groups that are assuming power.
"We're facing an Arab Spring which is out of control in some respects because the president was not as strong as he needed to be in encouraging our friends to move toward representative forms of government," Romney said last October.
The Romney campaign has previously promised to return to a focus on promoting democracy and put an increased priority on human rights. Williamson said the Obama administration's downplaying of those issues had exacerbated the region's problems.
"Maybe if [Obama] had continued to support democracy and civil society in these countries the way that Bush did, the way they should, maybe the more moderate forces would have better prepared to compete for political power," he said.
He also criticized Obama for not meeting with Benjamin Netanyahu while the Israeli prime minister is visiting the United States for the opening of the U.N. General Assembly. Amid accusations by anonymous Israeli officials that the president had turned down Jerusalem's request for a meeting, the White House said Tuesday that it was a scheduling issue, not a slight, but Williamson is skeptical.
"This president has played more than 100 rounds of golf, more than any president in U.S. history, but he can't find time to meet with the head of state of one of our closest allies facing a national threat. It's mindboggling," he said.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton issued a statement Tuesday night confirming that one State Department officer had been killed in the armed attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi. The battle in Benghazi between armed militants and the Libyan government army in the streets near the consulate raged into the night, and Clinton phoned Libyan National Assembly leader Mohammed Magarief to urge him to commit more resources to protecting Americans.
In a separate incident Tuesday, protests at the U.S. Embassy in Cairo resulted in several protesters breaching the compound's walls and replacing an American flag with the black banner of al Qaeda. There were no injuries in that incident, which the protesters claimed was inspired by an obscure U.S.-made film's depiction of the Prophet Mohammed.
The Romney campaign issued a statement late Tuesday criticizing a press release on the Cairo Embassy website that focused on the issue of religious incitement and religious freedom. That press release had been heavily criticized by conservative websites and by the Republican-controlled House Foreign Affairs Committee throughout the day as an "apology" for the assault, although it was issued before the embassy breach.
"I'm outraged by the attacks on American diplomatic missions in Libya and Egypt and by the death of an American consulate worker in Benghazi," Romney said in the statement. "It's disgraceful that the Obama Administration's first response was not to condemn attacks on our diplomatic missions, but to sympathize with those who waged the attacks."
The Romney campaign had initially sent out the statement under embargo, presumably to adhere to its pledge to avoid negative campaigning on the 11th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, but then allowed reporters to publish it earlier.
The White House distanced itself from the embassy statement late Tuesday, saying it hadn't been cleared with Washington. Clinton's statement also referred to that controversy.
"Some have sought to justify this vicious behavior as a response to inflammatory material posted on the Internet. The United States deplores any intentional effort to denigrate the religious beliefs of others. Our commitment to religious tolerance goes back to the very beginning of our nation. But let me be clear: There is never any justification for violent acts of this kind."
A previous version of this story stated that Romney supports U.S. directly arming the Syrian opposition. A senior Romney campaign official clarified that Romney has not yet called for the U.S. to directly arm them.
CHARLOTTE — Top Obama campaign officials are warning convention-goers here in North Carolina this week that Republicans are planning a nationwide campaign to "lie" about the president's effort to avoid the looming defense cuts known as "sequestration."
"We are under attack. Romney will try to hang sequestration around the president's neck," said Robert Diamond, the Obama campaign's national veterans and military families vote director, at a reception hosted by the Truman National Security Project here on Monday. Diamond's speech was a call to arms for Democrats to mount a grassroots campaign to defend President Barack Obama's record on defense spending.
"[The Romney campaign] will visit North Carolina, Virginia, Florida, New Hampshire, and every other state with military in it and lie to the American people about sequestration," Diamond said. "That is their line of national security attack. They don't have anything else to talk about."
Top Obama national security campaign officials and surrogates drove home the Obama campaign's message on defense spending and sequestration at a Tuesday event hosted by Bloomberg News, which included remarks from Obama campaign national security advisory team co-chair and former Pentagon official Michèle Flournoy, former Rep. Patrick Murphy, an Iraq war veteran, congressional candidate and Iraq war veteran Tammy Duckworth, and former Assistant Secretary of Defense Doug Wilson.
Flournoy argued that the impending cuts of $600 billion over 10 years to the defense budget as mandated by the Budget Control Act of 2011, which Congress passed and the president signed, would probably be delayed somehow by Congress before the implementation date of Jan. 2.
"I would bet my mortgage that [Congress] will at the very least buy themselves some time. They will do something to extend that deadline on Jan 2," she said.
But Flournoy said that the Pentagon has understandably been reluctant to plan for sequestration and that the law doesn't allow for careful planning anyway, just crude across-the-board cuts to all defense programs.
"Why would you want to support planning for something that would really harm national security when what you really need to do is put your fiscal house in order?" she asked. "If you go much further down this road, you will start giving up major pillars of American strategy and the Pentagon's resistance to planning for this is because it's such a bad idea."
Flournoy also criticized Mitt Romney's pledge to peg defense spending to 4 percent of GDP, pointing out that he hasn't offered an explanation of how to pay for that, considering that he doesn't support new revenues.
"When you ask Governor Romney, ‘What is your detailed defense plan?' there isn't an answer," she said. "You get an answer that is fundamentally incoherent: I want to raise defense spending to 4 percent of GDP but I don't want to put revenues on the table. It doesn't add up."
The Cable asked Flournoy how she would implement the cuts mandated by sequestration if she became the next defense secretary.
"I'm going to completely disregard the premise of your question because I think it's false," she said, denying that she is in contention to be the first woman defense secretary in American history in a second Obama administration.
TAMPA - The time for diplomacy with Iran is quickly coming to an end and the United States should soon "start the clock ticking" as a warning that the United States is prepared and willing to use military force to stop Iran from developing a nuclear weapon, according to Romney campaign co-chair Gov. Tim Pawlenty.
Neither the Iranians nor the Israelis see as credible Barack Obama' statements that containment of a nuclear Iran is not an option and that the president would use force to prevent that from happening, Pawlenty told The Cable in an exclusive interview on the sidelines of the Republican National Convention. A Mitt Romney administration would employ various new tactics to increase U.S. leverage over the Iranians and bolster the credibility of the threat of military action, he said.
"Options would include concluding the negotiations are not working, that the Iranians aren't taking them seriously, bringing them to a temporary or permanent end, and start the clock ticking on other alternatives and letting the Iranians know that," Pawlenty said.
Pawlenty's comments come just as the International Atomic Energy Agency issued a new report stating that the Iranian regime has more than doubled the number of centrifuges at its Fordow facility and that Iran had engaged in clean-up activities at its Parchin military complex that would hamper the IAEA's ability to investigate.
Also, a prominent Iranian nuclear scientist named Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, who was previouslt believed to have been sidelined, is back at work on the Iranian nuclear program,The Wal Street Journal reported today.
The international community has limited visibility into Iran's actions, Pawlenty said. "We don't have the kind of sustained interaction with and relationship with Iran over the last 30 years. We are operating in an information-deprived environment in that regard," he said.
He also warned that Iran may have spread its nuclear research and production facilities into heavily populated civilian areas, which would make a military effort to eliminate Iran's nuclear capabilities much more expansive.
"A lot of the public discourse around how and whether and when there might be military action on Iran focuses on bunker-busting bombs and installations under mountains. That may not only be the only locations where they have those capabilities," said Pawlenty. "Imagine that it's not limited to mountains and rural areas. Imagine that they have created some redundant capabilities and placed them in tunnels under cities. If you want to identify and eliminate those capabilities, it takes on additional challenges."
Pawlenty said the Obama administration resisted imposing crippling sanctions over the last three years and that sanctions even now don't seem to be changing the Iranian regime's calculus.
"We don't know yet, but measured by the Iranians' posture and position, it's fair to say it hasn't yet worked," he said.
Pawlenty endorsed the idea floated by Romney advisor Elliott Abrams last week that now is the time for Congress to pass an authorization of the use of military force against Iran.
"As for me, I thought Elliott had a good idea. I don't know that it would be dispositive, but it couldn't hurt and it probably would help," he said.
In the end, even a military strike might not be effective in eliminating all of Iran's nuclear facilities, Pawlenty cautioned.
"I don't think anybody can say with certainty that if there were an attack on Iran it would have precisely predictable outcomes and consequences," he said. "I think you can increase the likelihood of favorable outcomes, but given the complexity of the situation I don't think you can give any guarantees."
TAMPA - The Democratic Party is planning to feature national security and foreign policy at its convention next week in an unprecedented way, fueling concern here in Tampa that the Romney campaign isn't paying enough attention to those issues.
Despite some think-tank events around town featuring Romney campaign foreign-policy advisors, there was almost no mention of foreign policy or national security Tuesday at the convention itself, outside of New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie's call for "a second American century." Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was at Mitt Romney's side inside the convention hall Tuesday night and former U.N. Ambassador John Bolton was spotted in Romney's VIP box, but that was about it.
That's sure to change tonight with speeches by GOP leaders including Rice, Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), former Gov. Tim Pawlenty, Sen. John Thune (R-SD), and Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY). Rice said at an event Wednesday afternoon that she will speak about American leadership in her speech. Expect McCain to hammer on the theme that Obama has been leading from behind on foreign policy, an argument he laid out in an essay for Foreign Policy today.
"For the past four years, President Barack Obama has unfortunately pursued policies that are diminishing America's global prestige and influence," McCain wrote. "This is a recipe for America's decline as a great power, and we cannot afford to continue on that course."
GOP foreign-policy hands here in Tampa are concerned that the party and the campaign and losing ground in the foreign-policy debate and are warning that the Romney campaign's strategy of deprioritizing national security in favor of focusing on the economy may leave them unprepared if simmering crises in places like Syria or Iran push themselves to the fore.
"World events are likely to intrude on this presidential race and Republicans will need to be ready with more than just imagery," one GOP official told The Cable. "Hopefully over the last two days the convention will devote some time to national security, especially given the Democrats' plans to do so in Charlotte."
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TAMPA — Mitt Romney's topforeign-policy advisors said Thursday that the presumptive Republican nominee is not ready to support growing international calls for establishing a no-fly zone inside Syria.
"The governor has not called for a no-fly zone. Close friends of his such as Sens. McCain, Lieberman, and Graham have called for a no-fly zone for weeks. That is not a step that Governor Romney has made," senior campaign advisor Rich Williamson told The Cable on the sidelines of a foreign-policy event here at the Republican National Convention.
The Washington representatives of the internal Syrian opposition and the Free Syrian Army publicly called on the Obama administration to support a no-fly zone inside Syria this week. French President François Hollande said Monday that France would recognize a rebel government if the Syrian opposition declared one, and French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian signaled support for a no-fly zone last week.
Williamson and other panelists at the event, hosted by the International Republican Institute, including former Sen. Jim Talent, former Sen. NormColeman, and former Rep. Vin Weberall heavily criticized President Barack Obama's handling of the Syria crisis over the last 18 months.
But the Romney team struggled to draw clear distinctions between its policy and what the Obama administration is already doing. For now, the Romney camp is sticking to its calls for arming the rebels directly but not using U.S. military assets inside Syria.
"If we had taken Romney's advice on working with the opposition to help organize them and help the moderates and help arm the opposition, we wouldn't be in the crisis we are in now," Williams told The Cable.
Romney would have not wasted time placating Russia at the U.N. Security Council and would have assembled a "coalition of the relevant" tosupport the Syrian rebels diplomatically, politically, and with weapons to fight the regime, Williamson said.
"When the U.S. has vital interests at stake, it's now going to play Mother-May-I with the Security Council ... as we've seen with the Security Council on Syria and the intransigence of Moscow," he said.
Coleman said that the Obama administration is "leading from behind" on Syria and that strategy hurts U.S. effectiveness across the spectrum of international issues.
"The challenge we're facing is that some of those folks in the coalition of the relevant are questioning U.S. resolve ... so the lack ofleadership has consequences that in the end make it more difficult to form the kind of coalitions we need to solve problems," he said.
"President Hollande has pointed in the direction that wehave wanted to go for a long time," Weber said. "You have to give him credit for providing leadership in a situation where the U.S. has not provided leadership."
Talent compared the situation to the international intervention in Bosnia and pointed to Bill Clinton's reluctance to intervene until the situation had dramatically worsened.
"When you're leading from behind -- and let's face it, that's what the administration has been doing -- you don't have control over events," he said.
Williamson acknowledged that the Obama administration is working with the opposition to vet rebel groups and help them organize, but said that a President Romney would have been doing so a long time ago.
"We appreciate the fact that only 13 months after Governor Romney suggested [working with the opposition], President Obama took his advice, but 17,000 people have died," Williamson said. "Allowing things to drift, holding your breath, crossing your fingers, and hoping things are getting better doesn't solve the problem. Where has the U.S. been? The answer unfortunately is missing in action."
Mitt Romney's foreign-policy and national security qualifications have come under intense scrutiny following the presumptive Republican nominee's controversy-laden trip abroad. In a series of interviews Thursday, several top GOP senators tried their best to explain exactly what Romney's credentials to be commander-in-chief are.
Your humble Cable guy roamed the hallways of the Capitol today, the last day before senators leave town for the five-week August recess, asking any Republicans we could find the same question: What are Mitt Romney's qualifications to be commander-in-chief?
The answers ranged from the fact that he led the state national guard as governor of Massachusetts to his extensive travel abroad to his two years as a missionary in France and his all-around management ability.
When The Cable asked that question to Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI) in the elevator, who was standing alongside Sen. Al Franken (D-MN), Franken started laughing and said, "I gotta hear this." Johnson is in charge of coordinating policy and messaging between the GOP Senate caucus and the Romney campaign. Johnson took a deep breath, thought about the question for another second, and then replied.
"Listen, he's certainly traveled the world in business, which is good," Johnson said, before another long pause. He then pivoted to the economy. "Mitt Romney understands that if you are going to have strong national security you have to have good economic security and it starts there," Johnson said.
But what about Romney's experiences or credentials to lead the nation's military and foreign policy?
"Listen, you know what his experience is, and there are very few people who run for president who have all kinds of foreign-policy experience," Johnson said. "You rely on a strong foreign-policy team and that's what he'd do as well."
Senate Armed Services Committee member John Cornyn (R-TX) said that Romney will depend on those around him to manage national security and foreign policy.
"Well, of course, nobody who's never been president before has the experience but I think part of it is his leadership qualities and his intelligence and his character that will allow him to listen to the experts and do a good job," he said.
Senate Armed Services Committee member Jeff Sessions (R-AL) said that Romney was a good manager and argued that the Defense Department, along with the rest of the federal government, could use better management.
"In truth, what maybe the greatest need for America is a commander-in-chief who can manage, who knows has to set priorities, and who can count costs and manage the departments and agencies," said Sessions. "I think the man has judgment. He seems to instinctively understand foreign policy and, of course, he was commander of the national guard."
Senate Armed Services Committee member and rumored vice presidential candidate Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) pointed to Romney's executive experience as governor of Massachusetts.
"First of all, he has been a governor, just like Ronald Reagan was, and that executive experience bodes well when you come into the presidency. And we've got a history in our country that those who have had that executive experience have been able to take on the foreign-policy issues," she said.
"And I also believe his personal educational background and his experience in the private sector and his having turned around the Olympics in Salt Lake -- when you put it together he's very qualified to be commander-in-chief," she added.
Ranking Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee John McCain (R-AZ), whose 2008 campaign concluded that Romney had "no foreign policy experience," told The Cable today that Romney's qualifications to be commander-in-chief should be compared to then Sen. Barack Obama's qualifications when he ran for president.
"[Romney] has traveled extensively, beginning with when he was a Mormon missionary," McCain said. "He's had a 25-year relationship with [Israeli Prime Minister] Benjamin Netanyahu. He's very aware of all of those issues, and as governor of the state of Massachusetts, he dealt a lot with foreign leaders."
"He's got all the right instincts," McCain said. "To me, he's Reaganesque."
Carsten Koall/Getty Images
Presumptive Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney was criticized Tuesday for giving a national security speech light on details, and today a top Republican pundit called on him to stop downplaying the importance of national security on the stump.
Weekly Standard editor William Kristol called out Romney today for what he sees as the candidate's unhelpful statements on national security priorities. Kristol references a Wall Street Journal article in which Romney is said to quote former Secretary of State James Baker saying that President Ronald Reagan decided not to have any national security meetings in his first 100 days as president, after Baker convened one meeting related to Latin America.
"And after the meeting, President Reagan called me in and said, ‘I want no more national-security meetings over the next 100 days-all of our time has to be focused on getting our economy going,'" Romney recalled Baker saying, according to the Journal.
Kristol actually reviewed the archives of Reagan's meetings from the Reagan Foundation records and said the anecdote was either false or that Reagan's comments were never meant to be taken literally.
"In fact, I'll buy Jim Baker a very good dinner next time he's in Washington if he or anyone else can find a 100-day stretch (or a 10-day stretch) of the Reagan presidency in which President Reagan was involved in no national security meetings," Kristol wrote. "To say nothing of the fact that he ran for the presidency highlighting national security issues, and was a historic president in large part because of his national security accomplishments.
"So, reminder to Mitt Romney: With respect to the presidency, national security isn't a bug; it's a feature," Kristol said.
Romney's use of the anecdote also upset former Bush advisor Marc Thiessen, who wrote on the website of the American Enterprise Institute that Romney's use of the anecdote shows a misunderstanding of the presidency and the world the next president will inherit.
"But the fact that Romney thinks it would be desirable to ignore the world for his first 100 days is troubling," Thiessen wrote. "Yes, the American people are focused on the economy -- and understandably so. But Romney isn't running for Treasury secretary -- he is running for commander in chief. And those responsibilities begin on Day 1 of his presidency."
In a rare moment amid a presidential campaign more often focused on bread-and-butter issues like jobs, economic growth, and deficit spending, the Barack Obama and Mitt Romney teams are ramping up their foreign-policy messaging this week as the former Massachusetts governor sets off for a major trip abroad.
In what has become a new ritual of American politics, both candidates will address the Veterans of Foreign Wars conference in Reno this week.
Ahead of Obama's Monday afternoon visit there, the president's campaign released a new video touting his administration's treatment of veterans and the president's moves to complete the withdrawal of all U.S. troops from Iraq last year.
Romney will speak to the conference on Tuesday before heading off on a three-nation foreign trip. On July 25, Obama surrogate and former Pentagon official Michèle Flournoy will square off with Romney advisor Rich Williamson, George W. Bush's envoy to Sudan, in a debate at the Brookings Institution.
Earlier Monday, Flournoy and Colin Kahl, another former defense official, held a conference call with reporters, during which Kahl pledged that Obama would visit Israel in his second term if he is re-elected.
Kahl's pledge comes in response to the Romney camp's criticism that the president has been a fickle ally of Israel, a critique the GOP candidate is looking to exploit during his upcoming stop in Jerusalem.
After Romney speaks to the VFW Tuesday, he heads off that evening to London to attend the opening ceremonies of the Olympics and meet with British officials. Romney then goes on to Israel and Poland before returning to the United States.
On their own conference call with reporters, several Romney policy advisors emphasized that Romney will not be criticizing Obama's foreign policy on the trip.
"This trip is really an opportunity for the governor to learn and listen," said Lanhee Chen, the Romney campaign's policy director. "There are a number of challenges the world is facing today and this is an opportunity for him to visit three countries that each have a strong and important relationship with the U.S."
"So this trip demonstrates Governor Romney's belief in the worth and necessity of standing with our allies and locking arms with our allies," said Chen. "Each of these nations shares our love of liberty as well as our fortitude to defend it. They are each pillars of liberty and have fought through periods where liberty was under siege. This trip is an opportunity for us to demonstrate a clear and resolute stand with those nations that share our values."
The Obama campaign set his own marker for Romney's trip.
"He'll need to prove to the American people that he sees foreign-policy issues as worthy of substantive discussion rather than just generalities and sound bites in this campaign," said Obama senior advisor Robert Gibbs Monday. "This trip and this campaign begs several questions and I think Mitt Romney owes it to the American people to say where he stands on these important issues as he's trying out to be leader of the free world."
In London, Romney will meet with the leaders of the British government and opposition, including Prime Minister David Cameron, Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne, Foreign Minister William Hague, Labor Party leader Ed Miliband, Liberal Democrat Party leader Nick Clegg, and former prime minister Tony Blair.
In Israel, Romney will meet with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, President Shimon Perez, Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, Kadima Party Leader Shaul Mofaz, and U.S. Ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro.
This will be Romney's forth trip to Israel. He made a family trip there in the late 1990s and then visited in January 2007 and gave a speech at the annual Herzliya conference. In January 2011, Romney visited Israel as part of a three-nation trip that also included stops in Afghanistan and Jordan.
Romney is visiting Poland at the invitation of former president and Solidarity leader Lech Walesa and he will also meet with Polish President Bronislaw Komorowski, Prime Minister Donald Tusk, and Foreign Minister Radek Sikorski. He will also visit Polish sites of historical significance, his advisors said.
In Poland, Romney will thank Poland for its commitments of troops in Iraq and Afghanistan and tout Poland's relative economic success during the European fiscal crisis.
"This is a country that stands in sharp contrast economically to the rest of Europe... and Poland's success is rooted in its commitment to the principles of free market economies and capitalism," said Romney advisor Ian Brzezinski.
Although Romney will hold public events at all three stops, don't expect any big policy speeches or attacks on the administration's international actions.
"This trip is solely an opportunity to listen and the contrasts will be kept here in the States," said campaign spokeswoman Andrea Saul.
New York Times columnist David Brooks had some harsh words for Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney on Tuesday.
"Mitt Romney has been wandering around the country trying to find a place to disagree with Barack Obama," he said during a panel discussion at the U.S. Global Leadership Coalition's annual conference. "He's desperately trying, and every time he does, he looks like an idiot, because he has to say something so far out there on Russia or whatever it is."
The former governor has certainly taken a tough and colorful approach to U.S.-Russia foreign policy issues. In March, Romney called Russia the United States' "No. 1 geopolitical foe" -- a questionable assertion -- and described President Obama's reset policy as an "abject failure" in June -- a far more defensible critique.
Former senator Norm Coleman (R-MN), the Romney campaign's foreign-policy surrogate at the conference, countered Brooks' rebuke with an outline of the Republican candidate's foreign-policy qualifications and goals.
"As president, Governor Romney will apply the full spectrum of hard and soft power to influence events before they erupt into conflict," he stated.
Coleman also emphasized Romney's commitment to international economic cooperation.
"A Romney administration would put expanded free trade back at the center of our foreign and economic policy," he said. "In his first hundred days he'll launch a campaign to promote economic opportunity in Latin America and.... create the Reagan economic zone, a partnership among countries committed to free enterprise and free trade."
Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry (D-MA) took to the Senate floor Tuesday to pick apart Mitt Romney's latest op-ed on Iran.
"The United States cannot afford to let Iran acquire nuclear weapons. Yet under Barack Obama, that is the course we are on," Romney wrote in Tuesday's Washington Post. "As president, I would move America in a different direction."
Romney said he would increase the Navy's shipbuilding rate from 9 to 15 ships per year and pledged to "press forward" with ballistic missile-defense systems aimed at Iran and North Korea. He also promised to press for "ever-tightening sanctions," to speak out in support of democracy in Iran, visit Jerusalem on his first trip as president, place aircraft carrier groups in the Eastern Mediterranean and the Persian Gulf, and increase coordination with Israel.
"Most important, I will buttress my diplomacy with a military option that will persuade the ayatollahs to abandon their nuclear ambitions. Only when they understand that at the end of that road lies not nuclear weapons but ruin will there be a real chance for a peaceful resolution," Romney wrote. "Either the ayatollahs will get the message, or they will learn some very painful lessons about the meaning of American resolve."
Kerry said on the floor today that Romney's op-ed troubled him and he said Romney's attack on the administration's Iran policy was "as inaccurate as it was aggressive." The timing of the op-ed, when Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was in Washington, was additionally unfortunate, in Kerry's view.
"We should all remember that the nuclear issue with Iran is deadly serious business that should invite sobriety and serious-minded solutions, not sloganeering and sound bites. This can't become just another applause line on the Republican presidential stump," Kerry said. "Talk has consequences, and idle talk of war only helps Iran by spooking the tight oil market and increasing the price of the Iranian crude that pays for its nuclear program. And to create false differences with the president just to score political points does nothing to move Iran off a dangerous nuclear course."
"Worst of all, Governor Romney's op-ed does not even do readers the courtesy of describing how a President Romney would do anything different from what the Obama administration has already done," Kerry said. "Just look at this op-ed. From his opening paragraphs, Romney garbles history."
Kerry disputed Romney's assertion that President Jimmy Carter's efforts to negotiate the release of U.S. hostages in Iran in 1981 was "feckless," and his claim that Obama was the most "feckless" president since Carter, considering he ordered the raid that killed Osama bin Laden.
"I don't know if Governor Romney has checked the definition of the word ‘feckless' lately, but that ain't it," Kerry said.
Kerry then goes point by point through Romney's op-ed to argue that Obama has basically the same Iran policy Romney is proposing. Kerry even quotes Ambassador Nick Burns, President George W. Bush's lead negotiator on Iran, who said, "The attacks on Obama basically say, ‘He's weak and we're strong.' But when you look at the specifics, you don't see any difference."
"So when you add it all up, Mitt Romney is just trying to ignore, twist, and distort the administration's policy to drive a wedge in our politics," Kerry said. "We're going to have a bruising election season. And so we should. That's how we decide big issues in the United States. We always have. But let's have an honest debate, not a contrived one. Governor Romney can debate the man in the White House instead of inventing straw men on the op-ed pages."
Obama himself criticized the GOP presidential candidates for their rhetoric on the possibility of a war with Iran during his press conference today.
"You know, those folks don't have a lot of responsibilities. They're not commander in chief. And when I see the casualness with which some of these folks talk about war, I'm reminded of the costs involved in war. I'm reminded that the decision that I have to make in terms of sending our young men and women into battle and the impact that has on their lives, the impact it has on our national security, the impact it has on our economy," Obama said.
"This is not a game. And there's nothing casual about it. And, you know, when I see some of these folks who have a lot of bluster and a lot of big talk, but when you actually ask them specifically what they would do, it turns out they repeat the things that we've been doing over the last three years, it indicates to me that that's more about politics than actually trying to solve a difficult problem."
John McCain's 2008 presidential campaign prepared an extensive opposition research file on Mitt Romney that spelled out several of Romney's flip flops on foreign policy and painted him as naïve and inexperienced on international affairs and national security.
"Romney has no foreign policy experience," reads the first bullet point in the foreign-policy section of the 200-page McCain opposition research file, posted Tuesday night by Buzzfeed. A former senior McCain campaign staffer confirmed its authenticity to The Cable. Twenty pages of the document are devoted to foreign-policy-related quotes and anecdotes the McCain campaign thought could be damaging to Romney during their 2008 primary battle.
The McCain campaign concluded that Romney was vulnerable because of statements he made seeming to endorse a "secret" timetable for Iraq withdrawal and for saying that the death of Osama bin Laden would result in a "very insignificant increase in safety" for America and that such effort was "not worth moving heaven and earth and spending billions of dollars" to catch one person.
The oppo file notes that Romney's former company Bain Capital received a $2.3 million contract from the National Iranian Oil Company in 2004, after Romney left the firm, and owned a chemicals company called SigmaKalon that still operated an office in Tehran as of the time of the McCain campaign document's writing.
In 2005, Romney endorsed a plan by Citgo, which is controlled by the Venezuelan government of President Hugo Chávez, to give low priced heating oil to Massachusetts residents, the McCain document noted.
Overall, the McCain's campaign's broad conclusion was that "Romney's foreign affairs resume is extremely thin, leading to credibility problems."
Neither Romney nor President Obama served in the military, so Romney's lack of service may not become a 2012 general election issue. But the staff of Navy veteran and former prisoner-of-war McCain documented that Romney received a two-and-a-half year deferment from the Vietnam draft so that he could go on his Mormon mission to France.
Upon returning to the United States, Romney received a three-year student deferment and then drew a lottery number that allowed him to wait out the end of the draft, the document noted. There was never any evidence that Romney's powerful father intervened in any way.
"I didn't go on a mission to avoid the draft ... There was nothing wrong with [the deferments]. I followed the process like any other kid ... I never asked my dad in any way to be involved with the draft board," Romney said at the time.
The McCain research also shows that Romney's ambivalence toward George W. Bush's war in Iraq, which has come up again in recent weeks, actually dates back years. In 2007, Romney rejected the Bush administration's comparison of the U.S. presence in Iraq with the U.S. presence in South Korea and criticized an enduring troop presence there.
"We have communicated to the people in the region and the country that we're not looking to have a permanent presence in Iraq and I don't think we want to communicate that we were just kidding about that," Romney said at the time.
Some of the research Team McCain collected on Romney had little political value, but was funny nonetheless.
In a 2007 speech to Cuban-American activists in Miami, Romney tried out his Spanish and said, "Patria O Muerte, Venceremos," which he didn't realize was a favorite phrase of former Cuban President Fidel Castro that means, "Fatherland or death, we shall overcome."
In the same speech, Romney was also accused of stealing a line from the movie Scarface and mispronouncing the name of then Florida State House Speaker (now senator and rumored vice presidential contender) Marco Rubio. Romney called him "Mario."
After Turkey's Foreign Ministry lashed out at GOP presidential hopeful Rick Perry for saying that Turkey is led by "Islamic terrorists," the Perry campaign doubled down on those remarks and told The Cable the incident shows why Perry is bolder than President Barack Obama and GOP rival Mitt Romney on foreign policy.
"Governor Perry will not apologize because he doesn't think the comments merit an apology. He will not back down from the comments," Perry's top foreign policy advisor Victoria Coates told The Cable on Tuesday.
Coates was reacting to the Turkey's statement that it "strongly condemned" Perry's comments at Monday's GOP presidential debate, when Perry said Turkey was ruled by "what many would perceive to be Islamic terrorists." He continued by saying, "Not only is it time for us to have a conversation about whether or not they belong to be in NATO, but it's time for the United States, when we look at their foreign aid, to go to zero with it."
"Turkey joined NATO while the governor was still 2 years old," the Turkish Foreign Ministry statement said. "It is a member that has made important contributions to the trans-Atlantic alliance's conflict-full history. It is among countries that are at the front lines in the fight against terrorism."
Perry himself defended the comments Tuesday afternoon. "This is a country that's got some explaining to do to the United States," Perry told CNN's Wolf Blitzer, "The idea that [Prime Minister Recep Tayyip] Erdogan's regime has somehow or other earned our respect is not correct."
Coates pointed to the question by Fox News Channel's Bret Baier, which referred to the increased murder rate of women in Turkey, the lack of press freedom, and Turkey's support for the Palestinian militant group Hamas.
"The key to the whole business is to look at the question and the way it was asked," she said. "It's an important distinction that what [Perry is] saying is that the Turkish leadership is engaging in behavior that many people would associate with Islamic terrorists."
She added that Perry, who lived in Turkey as an Air Force pilot decades ago, would prefer to have a good relationship with Ankara, but "the governor's point is that [Turkish bad behavior] is not going to get better if we ignore it."
So would Perry, if elected president, put Turkey on the State Department's list of state sponsors of terrorism, along with Hamas supporters Iran and Syria? Not exactly.
"No, we would not list Turkey as a state sponsor of terrorism. We don't have any evidence of them engaging in international terrorist acts," Coates explained. "I think we know they are extremely supportive of Hamas, but these things go in stages."
But what about the new U.S. missile defense installation in Turkey and the Obama administration's efforts to encourage Turkey to push for positive change in Syria?
"We need to be very mindful of how much responsibility we hand over for something as important as the missile defense sites," said Coates. "And up until recent days, Turkey has been quite close to Syria."
Coates then called out the Romney campaign for not yet weighing in on the issue.
"It is not untypical for Gov. Perry to be more forthright about situations like this than Gov. Romney. He has less concern for niceties and is more concerned with the national security of our country," she said.
The Obama administration is ultimately responsible for "appeasing unfortunate Turkish behavior" -- part of its larger foreign-policy flaw of pursuing engagement at all costs, according to the Perry campaign.
"It is a pattern of the Obama administration that [Gov. Perry] finds deeply concerning, that outreach and engagement is the goal, whereas Gov. Perry feels that furthering American interests is the goal."
State Department spokesman Mark Toner defended Turkey at Tuesday's press briefing and said Turkey is not run by Islamic terrorists.
"We absolutely and fundamentally disagree with that assertion," Toner said. "Turkey, as I said, is a strong partner in the region. We've seen it make a very courageous stand against what's going on in Syria, for example. It continues to play a very positive and constructive role in the region. And it is, as often cited, an example of so-called Islamic democracy in action."
The Romney campaign did not respond to requests for comment.
The resignation of President Barack Obama's chief of staff shows that the White House is unstable and its national security policies remain dangerous, a top surrogate for GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney told The Cable today.
"This unexpected move of Bill Daley out points to a lack of stability," said former Senator Jim Talent in a Tuesday interview.
Talent, who is one of Romney's closest advisors on national security, also harshly criticized Obama's decision to revamp U.S. military strategy, which he announced at the Pentagon on Jan. 5. The new strategy review, released only weeks ahead of Obama's fiscal 2013 budget request, calls for a "smaller and leaner" military and backs off from previous strategy documents that mandated the U.S. military maintain the capability to fight two major wars at the same time.
"I think it's going to encourage provocative actions around the world," said Talent. "It's a signal that America's not going to continue exercising a leadership role, it's very dangerous. And you know that one of the amazing things about it is that it's explicitly a budget-driven decision, in other words there's no pretense that this is a change based on strategic analysis."
When announcing the new defense strategy, Obama said, "The tide of war is receding" -- but the Romney team doesn't see it that way at all.
"That sends the wrong message, it encourages other countries to believe that they can provoke and challenge us, and it will end up costing us more money," said Talent. "It's so much an explicit confession of bankruptcy in terms of defense policy, I almost don't know how to respond to it."
In fact, Talent said that Obama's strategic review is more damaging than the military cuts made by President Bill Clinton's administration following the end of the Cold War.
"That two-war standard was continued in the post-Cold War era by the Clinton administration and was deemed necessary in the 1990s -- and that was before the 9/11 attacks, that was before the rise of Chinese power, and that was before Russia reassumed a more aggressive posture," said Talent. "So if it was necessary according to President Clinton in the 1990s before those additional risks ... how could it not be necessary now?"
Talent laid some of the top foreign policy priorities in a Romney administration, framing them as areas where it was necessary to fix Obama's missteps. These include a new policy to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon, the importance of channeling China in a direction of peaceful competition rather than aggression, the need to reestablish the strength of traditional allies, the need for the United States to play a larger leadership role in the international community, and the need to reverse Obama-era defense cuts and restore military strength.
"Governor Romney believes that the Obama administration has pursued a policy of weakness across the spectrum of areas," Talent said.
Richard Ellis/Getty Images
GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney on Monday called on the United States to take the opportunity of dictator Kim Jong-Il's death to push for regime change in North Korea, a distinctly different message than the calls for stability and caution coming from President Barack Obama's administration
"Kim Jong-il was a ruthless tyrant who lived a life of luxury while the North Korean people starved. He recklessly pursued nuclear weapons, sold nuclear and missile technology to other rogue regimes, and committed acts of military aggression against our ally South Korea. He will not be missed," Romney said in a Monday morning statement. "His death represents an opportunity for America to work with our friends to turn North Korea off the treacherous course it is on and ensure security in the region. America must show leadership at this time. The North Korean people are suffering through a long and brutal national nightmare. I hope the death of Kim Jong-il hastens its end."
The Obama administration has taken a different tone, urging caution and patience as power transfers to Kim's third son, Kim Jong Un. Obama was informed of the reports of the North Korean leader's death at 10:30 p.m. last night, and spoke at midnight with South Korean President Lee Myung-bak.
"The President reaffirmed the United States' strong commitment to the stability of the Korean Peninsula and the security of our close ally, the Republic of Korea" White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said in statement. "The two leaders agreed to stay in close touch as the situation develops and agreed they would direct their national security teams to continue close coordination."
The administration's stance is to not provoke the new leader, out of concern that he may take aggressive actions to demonstrate his strength both externally and within the top echelons of North Korea's political system.
"There's concern that Kim Jong-Un may now try to prove himself," a senior government official told ABC News. "He's young, inexperienced, brash and untested. And while he had the support of his father, it's unclear if he has the respect of his generals."
North Korea fired a short-range missile off of its east coast immediately following Kim's death, in a move some analysts believe was meant as a message to the South Korean security establishment and the 28,500 U.S. troops that are stationed on the Korean Peninsula.
White House Communications Director Dan Pfieffer said Monday morning that the White House has been in close contact with its allies, Japan and South Korea. He said he was not aware of any direct, high-level talks between White House officials and top leadership in Beijing. The State Department has yet to comment.
GOP presidential hopeful Newt Gingrich's foreign policy beliefs are largely undefined and he has already flip-flopped on important issues, said Mitt Romney surrogate and former presidential candidate Tim Pawlenty.
"Newt's current views on foreign policy are a work in progress," Pawlenty told The Cable in a Tuesday interview following his speech at the Foreign Policy Initiative (FPI) 2011 Forum. "Some of this has yet to be revealed as it relates to Newt. Mitt's been out talking about foreign policy issues in detail for a long time. So his foreign policy positions are much more developed than Newt's."
Calling Romney the most qualified GOP candidate on foreign policy and national security issues, Pawlenty -- who said he is co-chairman of Romney's campaign -- also accused Gingrich of twice changing his position on U.S. policy toward Libya.
"[Gingrich] was for the no-fly zone, then he backed off the no-fly zone, then he was for it again," said Pawlenty. "I think he whirled around two or three times on the Libya question."
In fact, Gingrich called for a no-fly zone on March 7, just before the Libya war began, and then said after the operation began, said "I would not have intervened." Romney has also come under fire for what many have seen as a shifting position on President Barack Obama's military intervention in Libya.
Pawlenty declined to say that Romney outright rejects Gingrich's recent claim that the Palestinian identity is "invented." However, he did say that Romney probably wouldn't use those exact words -- at least not before checking with the Israeli government.
"One of the tests that Mitt would apply to using phrases that characterize people or organizations in a tense situation would be to call the prime minister of Israel and say, ‘If I used a characterization like this, would it be helpful or hurtful to Israel's goals and objectives in the region and their security,'" said Pawlenty. "Mitt articulated that he doesn't think that kind of rhetoric would be helpful to that situation."
Gingrich's recent attack on Palestinian identity does seem to contradict his previous writing on the issue. In a memo sent to the Defense Department leadership in 2003 titled "Seven Strategic Necessities," he advocated strong support for moderate Palestinians who were fighting against Hamas.
"The only hope for peace between Israel and the Palestinian people is for the United States to overtly ally with those Palestinians who will accept Israel if they have safety, health, prosperity and freedom and in this alliance defeat and ultimately eliminate the threat of the terrorists, " Gingrich wrote at the time. "Victory in the Israel-Palestinian conflict thus inherently means victory both in a campaign against terrorists and in a campaign to build a safe, healthy, prosperous, free Palestinian society."
Pawlenty maintained that Romney has the clearest and most detailed foreign policy positions of any GOP primary candidate. "He is calling for a reset of the reset with respect to Russia, and he would take a much more forceful stance with China in regards to their manipulation and pegging of their currency," Pawlenty said.
In what seemed like a threat of a trade war, Pawlenty said that as president, Romney would label China as a "currency manipulator," give it "fair warning" to change its behavior, and then invoke "financial consequences" on various trade relations with China.
What foreign policy experience would Romney bring to the presidency, we asked?
"Well, he as a governor has had exposure to many of these issues, not in the same way a president would have," Pawlenty explained. "For example, he was the commander-in-chief of the National Guard on state duty and when you come into contact with the military that regularly, you obviously learn command-and-control structures, techniques, and the like."
Romney also led a homeland security committee inside the National Governors Association and has traveled extensively abroad, Pawlenty said.
"When you are an executive leader you learn executive function and in the case of being a governor, you are significantly immersed in security and homeland security issues," Pawlenty said.
Does Romney give Obama any credit for recent victories in capturing and killing Islamist extremists?
"Mitt has acknowledged that President Obama did a good job in hunting down Osama bin Laden and others, but he has also noted that many of the techniques and tools that were presumably used in finding and killing those individuals were developed in the previous administration, and some of which President Obama opposed," Pawlenty said.
During the Q&A session following Pawlenty's FPI speech, Brookings scholar Robert Kagan suggested that Pawlenty would be a good choice for secretary of state in a future Romney administration. Pawlenty declined to put himself forward for that role.
"I'm happy to help Mitt as a volunteer doing all that I can. In my view, on foreign policy, he is clearly the most knowledgeable, the most capable, and the most electable," Pawlenty said. "But it would irresponsible to the campaign to start talking about winning the election and dividing up positions."
GOP presidential candidate Newt Gingrich is rolling out his foreign policy and national security team today, as the candidates get ready to spar on foreign policy issues tonight.
Newt's team, which has been working together informally for months, is led by Herman Pirchner, the founding president of a small, conservative think tank in Washington called the American Foreign Policy Council (AFPC). Also on Team Newt is AFPC Vice President Ilan Berman and AFPC Senior Fellow for Asian Studies Stephen Yates, a former staffer for Vice President Dick Cheney.
Cheney's top Middle East advisor David Wurmser is also part of the Newt campaign advisory team, along with former President Ronald Reagan's National Security Advisor Robert McFarlane, Reagan-era National Security Council (NSC) senior directors Norman Bailey and Ken deGraffenreid, Reagan-era Undersecretary of State for security assistance, science, and technology Bill Schneider, former CIA Director James Woolsey, and others. We're also told Newt is talking to former Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Peter Pace and former Central Command head Gen. John Abizaid.
If Newt's foreign policy team seems a little long in the tooth, it is. Most of these experts have known Newt for decades, and see themselves as helping a candidate who already boasts a long track record and well-formed intellectual identity when it comes to foreign policy.
"I have depended on the counsel of this world-class group of experts throughout my career, and I am honored that they have decided to be with me as we work to ensure that the United States remains the safest, strongest, and freest country in the world," Gingrich said in his Tuesday press release. "I look forward to drawing on their vast knowledge and experience as we assert our vision of an exceptional America that, contrary to what Barack Obama may believe, will continue to be both the world's leading power and most assiduous defender of freedom for generations to come."
"In order to lead, one must have a comprehensive knowledge of world issues and dynamics that can only come from decades of study and experience," said Pirchner. "I have worked with Speaker Gingrich for many years, and in these dangerous times, he is by far the best candidate to lead when American lives and American interests are at stake."
As House speaker, Gingrich weighed in on the U.S. interventions in Bosnia, Kosovo, and Haiti and was a key supporter of North American Free Trade Agreement and other major Clinton-era trade deals. Since leaving politics, he has researched, as an independent scholar, the roles of Reagan and Pope John Paul II in the closing days of the Cold War. He holds a PhD in modern European history.
As to his stance on foreign policy, Gingrich is not a realist in the sense of Henry Kissinger or Brent Scowcroft, nor is he a neoconservative in the model often attributed to Paul Wolfowitz or Doug Feith.
"I don't think either of those labels would apply to Newt Gingrich," Yates told The Cable today. "His world view is one that emphasizes being actively competitive. We don't need to impose our will in the world but we ought not to be hiding behind our desks."
For a more detailed idea of how President Gingrich would organize his national security and foreign policy priorities, a campaign advisor provided to The Cable a memo Newt sent to the Defense Department leadership in 2003 titled "Seven Strategic Necessities."
"We need an elevated debate about the larger zone of American security and the threats to that security," Newt wrote.
He advocated that the debate over national security should aim to divide the nation into three factions: "Those who would hide and ignore reality (essentially the McGovern-Dean Democrats), those who pretend to be responsible but really want to carp and complain without an effective alternative, and those who understand that this will be a hard campaign and may take years and will involve mistakes."
Newt also advocated strong support for moderate Palestinians who were fighting against Hamas for control of Palestinian society and government.
"The only hope for peace between Israel and the Palestinian people is for the United States to overtly ally with those Palestinians who will accept Israel if they have safety, health, prosperity and freedom and in this alliance defeat and ultimately eliminate the threat of the terrorists, " he wrote. "Victory in the Israel-Palestinian conflict thus inherently means victory both in a campaign against terrorists and in a campaign to build a safe, healthy, prosperous, free Palestinian society."
Several members of Newt's foreign policy team will be on hand tonight for the AEI/Heritage/CNN foreign policy-focused presidential debate. Your humble Cable guy and Foreign Policy's Election 2012 team will be at the debate and covering it in real time, so watch this space.
For a rundown of Newt's foreign policy positions during this campaign season, check out his profile on FP's new Election 2012 channel here. See a full list of Newt's foreign policy advisory team with bios after the jump:
John Hudson reports on national security and foreign policy from the Pentagon to Foggy Bottom, the White House to Embassy Row, for The Cable.