Fending off a flurry of direct questions, officials at the White House and State Department on Monday refused to characterize last week's events in Egypt as a military coup.
Though officials did not dispute the fact that Egyptian President Mohamed Morsy, a democratically-elected leader, was ousted by the military in an extrajudicial fashion, they would not say the word "coup," which has an important legal consequence for the $1.5 billion in aid Congress sends to Egypt every year.
"[We are] taking the time to determine what happened, what to label it," White House Press Secretary Jay Carney told reporters.[[LATEST]]
"We're just not taking a position," said State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki.
The Oxford English Dictionary describes a "coup d'etat" as an "illegal seizure of power from a government," which most legal observers agree matches the events that unfolded in Egypt. Though few think the ruling Muslim Brotherhood governed in an inclusive fashion during its one-year in power, and many decried Morsy's authoritarian power grabs over parliament and the judiciary, reporters pushed officials to call a spade a spade.
"Each circumstance is different," Psaki said. "You can't compare what's happening in Egypt with what's happened in every other country."
In a line that seemed to justify the military's actions, Psaki noted that "there were millions of people who have expressed legitimate grievances," referring to opposition protests. "A democratic process is not just about casting your ballots ... There are other factors including how somebody behaves or how they govern ... That's a real factor."
Excerpts of the 11th issue of Inspire magazine, al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula's propaganda rag, has leaked to the web, and focus extensively on the April 15 bombing of the Boston Marathon.
According to the Middle East Media Research Institute, which monitors jihadi web forums, the latest issue leaked when Yemeni journalist Abd al-Razzaq Al-Jamal posted excerpts of the issue to his Facebook page. The images of the issue were provded to The Cable by MEMRI.
The above image is a composite of the bloody scene of the Boston bombing and an image of AQAP's military commander Qassem al-Rimi. It reads:
O American people, your security will not be attained by denying security to other peoples, attacking them or oppressing them. Your security is in the hands of the fools among you who rule you with oppression and aggression. Know that oppression and aggression come back upon the heads of those who use them...
According to MEMRI, "Al-Rimi also threatens the American people that the Boston bombings, the poisoned letters sent to the White House and two U.S. senators, and other events - regardless of who is behind them - ‘prove that your security has lapsed and that the attacks against you are taking a course that nobody can control... [So] save yourselves if you care for your own skin.'"
Unusually, the issue still appears in Arabic. As readers know, the notoriety of Inspire, once dubbed the "Vanity Fair of terrorism" is largely due to its wide availability in English. The online magazine gained new prominence after the Boston bombings when Dzhokhar Tsarnaev told investigators that he and his brother Tamerlan read the periodical's instructions on building bombs prior to the attack, according to law enforcement officials speaking to NBC News. On two separate occasions, the magazine published articles on bomb building using kitchen pressure cookers, the type of weapon used in the attack.
Update: The entire issue is now available online. See below:
With the United Nations now walking back statements by Carla Del Ponte about the use of chemical weapons by Syrian rebels, the storied war-crimes investigator is finding herself in a familiar position: Having her remarks muted by her own organization.
Today, the U.N. issued a statement saying it "wishes to clarify that it has not reached conclusive findings as to the use of chemical weapons in Syria by any parties to the conflict." The statement comes 24 hours after Del Ponte, a lead investigator of the U.N.'s Independent International Commission of Inquiry, suggested that the preponderance of evidence implicates the Syrian rebels over the government. "There are strong, concrete suspicions but not yet incontrovertible proof of the use of sarin gas, from the way the victims were treated," she told a Swiss TV channel. "This was used on the part of the opposition, the rebels, not by the government authorities."
Del Ponte's allegations were further scrutinized Monday by the White House, which called her remarks "incredible," and the State Department, which said the United States believes Syria's large chemical weapons stockpiles remain securely in the hands of the regime.
Del Ponte is a legend in international circles: the nemisis of some of the world's worst tyrants and war criminals. She is a former chief prosecutor of two U.N.-backed tribunals, including the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia and the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda. Just this week, the New Yorker described her as an "indefatigable" lawyer. But that doesn't mean she doesn't come off half-cocked from time to time -- leaving the U.N. to "clarify" her remarks and clean up the mess.
In December 1999, Del Ponte quite dramatically raised eyebrows after being asked if she was prepared to press criminal charges against NATO related to war-crimes allegations in Kosovo. She told London's Observer, "If I am not willing to do that, I am not in the right place: I must give up the mission." Four days later, after an international uproar, her office walked it back, saying "NATO is not under investigation by the Office of the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia. There is no formal inquiry into the actions of NATO during the conflict in Kosovo."
In 2008, Del Ponte again stirred the pot at the U.N. with the publication of her book The Hunt: Me and the War Criminals, which alleged the systematic theft and smuggling of human organs from kidnapped Serbs in the aftermath of the Kosovo war. The allegations were so contested, and controversial, that the Swiss government, for which she worked at the time as its ambassador to Argentina, banned her from promoting the book because of the effect it would have on the country's foreign relations. Authorities on the tribunal, such as Mirko Klarin, described the allegations as "irresponsible and appalling ...She shouldn't put rumours in her book."
Back at the U.N. Tribunal, where she very recently left, Del Ponte's remarks again had to be clarified. "The Tribunal is aware of very serious allegations of human organ trafficking raised by the former Prosecutor, Carla Del Ponte, in a book recently published in Italian under her name," said an ICTY spokesperson. "No evidence in support of such allegations was ever brought before the Tribunal's judges."
Del Ponte also put herself out on the line in 2005 when she accused the Vatican of helping Croatia's most-wanted war crimes suspect, Gen. Ante Gotovina, avoid capture and prosecution, speculating that he was hiding in a monastery in Croatia. Gotovina was later acquitted after an appeal, an outcome Del Ponte protested. "I'm shocked. I was very surprised and shocked." she told Serbian reporters.
This isn't to suggest that Del Ponte's chemical weapons claims are false, but it's worth remembering she has something of a history when it comes to shooting from the hip ahead of an official U.N. consensus.
For decades, the United States has reserved the term "special relationship" for two countries, Britain and Israel, but Secretary of State John Kerry called for a new "special relationship" with China during his recent trip to Asia.
The U.S.-UK "special relationship" has been a hallmark of bilateral relations for decades. Kerry acknowledged it explicitly during his first trip abroad, which began in London, standing alongside British Foreign Secretary William Hague.
"When you think of everything that binds the United States and Great Britain -- our common values, our long shared history, our ties of family, in my case, personal and friendship -- there is a reason why we call this a special relationship, or as President Obama and Prime Minister Cameron wrote, really, a partnership of the heart. It is that," Kerry said on Feb. 25.
Kerry again noted the U.S.-UK special relationship in an April 8 statement expressing condolences for the death of former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.
"We celebrate especially the way, with a hand outstretched across the Atlantic, Lady Thatcher strengthened the Special Relationship between the United States and the United Kingdom -- a relationship that remains a driving force for freedom, justice, and democracy," Kerry said.
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel noted that the U.S. and Israel also have a "special relationship" on his way there April 21.
"I'm going to Israel first because it is a nation that has had a very special relationship with the United States," Hagel said.
But Asia hands were taken aback when Kerry used the term to call for a "special relationship" with China during an April 13 solo press availability in Beijing.
"I do think that today's visit makes it clear that the United States wants a strong, normal, but special relationship with China, and that's a special -- because China is a great power with a great ability to affect events in the world. And we need to work together to do that," Kerry said.
Robert Zarate, policy director at the Foreign Policy Initiative, told The Cable that Kerry may not have realized that he was diluting the exclusivity of the term "special relationship," but that Kerry's overall tone reveals how he wants to position the United States vis-à-vis Asia's greatest rising power.
"By using that term ‘special relationship' to describe his hopes for the U.S.-China relationship's future, I think Secretary Kerry is, consciously or not, expressing the Obama administration's strong desire to accommodate China's great-power rise -- but, as America's allies and partners in Asia will tell you privately, that's a very, very problematic desire," he said.
The Cable also found an instance during the trip when Kerry called the U.S.-Japan relationship "special," although he was at that time referencing the gift of American dogwood trees to Japan in acknowledgment of Japan's gift of cherry blossom trees 100 years prior.
"At this point, the United States has a ‘special relationship' with two countries: the United Kingdom and Israel," Zarate said. "The next country we might want to add to that very short list is potentially Japan, but China, for very obvious reasons, shouldn't even be online for that list yet."
Yohsuke Mizuno-Pool/Kyodo News - Pool /Getty Image
A State Department foreign-service officer was among the six Americans killed Saturday in Afghanistan by a suicide bomber who drove a car laden with explosives into a military convoy.
"Our State Department family is grieving over the loss of one of our own, an exceptional young Foreign Service Officer, killed today in an IED attack in Zabul province, along with service members, a Department of Defense civilian, and Afghan civilians," Secretary of State John Kerry said in a Saturday statement.
Four other State Department
personnel were injured, one critically, Kerry said. The officials along with a
group of Afghans were on their way to donate books to a school in the
provincial capital of Qalat when the attack occurred.
The State Department did not release the name of the foreign service officer killed but said that she had met Kerry during Kerry's trip to Kabul only last week.
"She was everything a Foreign Service Officer should be: smart, capable, eager to serve, and deeply committed to our country and the difference she was making for the Afghan people," Kerry said. She tragically gave her young life working to give young Afghans the opportunity to have a better future."
Three U.S. military personnel were killed in the attack, along with two U.S. civilians and one Afghan doctor. Another U.S. civilian was killed in a separate attack in eastern Afghanistan Saturday, the AP reported. A Taliban spokesman claimed credit for the attack in an interview with the AP.
Kerry has been in touch with the White House, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, Deputy Secretary of State Bill Burns, Undersecretary of State Patrick Kennedy, and U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan James Cunningham, his statement said. Kerry also spoke with the deceased foreign service officer's parents.
"We know too well the risks in the world today for all of our State Department personnel at home and around the world - Foreign Service, Civil Service, political appointees, locally employed staff and so many others," Kerry said. "Every day, we honor their courage and are grateful for their sacrifices, and today we do so with great sadness."
UPDATE: Speaking in Turkey Sunday, Kerry identified the foreign service officer as 25 year old Anne Smedinghoff.
President Barack Obama will travel to Israel, the West Bank, and Jordan next week on his first trip there since taking office, and the schedule is packed with speeches, meetings, and cultural experiences of all kinds.
First Lady Michelle Obama won't be on the trip and Vice President Joe Biden will be at the Vatican attending the formal installment of Pope Francis I, but Secretary of State John Kerry will be with Obama as he visits the region. Nobody expects the president to make any monumental policy announcements or unveil any new plans to revive the Middle East peace process, but Obama will be speaking directly to the Israeli people on their turf for the very first time.
"First of all, let me just say that this is a very important trip for the president. It's his first trip to Israel since becoming president, and the first foreign trip of his second term in office. We felt like this was an important opportunity for the president to go to the region," Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes said Thursday. "More important than that, in some respects, this is an opportunity for the president to speak directly to the Israeli people."
"Beyond that, it's a very important time for him to also reinforce U.S. support for the Palestinian Authority," Rhodes said. "And then, of course, King Abdullah is a very close ally and partner of the United States and Jordan."
On Wednesday, March 20, Obama will arrive in Tel Aviv and attend an arrival ceremony with Israeli President Shimon Peres and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. He will also view an Iron Dome missile battery there. Then Obama will go to Peres's residence, after which they will make statements. Obama will then go to Netanyahu's residence for a bilateral meeting, have a press conference with the prime minister there, and then join him for a working dinner.
"The president and Prime Minister Netanyahu, as you've heard us say, have spent more time together one-on-one than, frankly, any other leader that the president has spent some time with since he came into office," Rhodes said.
On Thursday, March 21, Obama will begin his day with a visit to the Israel Museum, where he is very much looking forward to seeing the Dead Sea Scrolls, according to Rhodes. He will also visit a technology exhibition at the museum.
After that, Obama will go to Ramallah and hold a bilateral meeting with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, followed by a press conference and then a working lunch. Then Obama will join Prime Minister Salam Fayyad at the Al-Bireh Youth Center, also in Ramallah.
On Thursday afternoon, Obama will go to Jerusalem and deliver a big speech at the Jerusalem International Convention Center to an audience that will include students from every major Israeli university, except from Ariel University in the West Bank. The White House explained that invitations were only extended to schools that partner with the U.S. embassy and Ariel is not one of those schools.
"The president's speech I think will focus on the nature of the ties between the United States and Israel, the broad agenda that we work on together on security, on peace, on economic prosperity," said Rhodes. "And I think he'll have a chance to speak to the future of that relationship, so discussing not just the nature of the challenges that we face today, but where the United States and Israel are working to move together as we head into the future of the 21st century."
The Cable asked Rhodes why Obama chose not to speak in front of the Israeli Knesset, as President Bill Clinton did in 1994 and George W. Bush did in 2008. Rhodes said Obama wanted to talk to Israeli youth directly.
"What we told the Israeli government is that the president was very interested in speaking to the Israeli people, and that, in particular, he wanted to speak to young people.... And in this instance, we felt like bringing together an audience of university students from a broad range of partners that our embassy has in Israel would allow him to speak, again, not just to political leadership -- who he'll be meeting with on the trip -- but to the Israeli public and Israeli young people," he said.
On Thursday night, Obama will attend a dinner at Peres's residence. On Friday morning, Obama will go to Mount Herzl and lay wreaths at the graves of Theodor Herzl, the founder of modern political Zionism, and slain Israeli Prime Minister Yitzak Rabin. Later on Friday, Obama will visit Yad Vashem, the Israeli Holocaust memorial museum, and the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem.
On Friday afternoon, Obama will move on to Amman, Jordan, where he will be greeted by King Abdullah II and have a bilateral meeting, a joint press conference, and a dinner. On Saturday, Obama will visit the ancient site of Petra and then head back to Washington.
Rhodes said that the Jordan stop was important to Obama for three reasons: it is a security partner, it is heavily involved in the Syria crisis, and it is on a path of reform that could ensure its stability over time.
"We believe that the Jordanians are very sincere and committed to a reformed agenda, and the president wants to reinforce the need to make continued progress in that regard -- because ultimately reform is the path to lasting stability in terms of a government that is a partner of the United States and responsive to the Jordanian people," Rhodes said.
Former National Security Advisor Jim Jones said Tuesday that the former U.S. military base where a group of Iranian dissidents live is like a prison and the conditions there are worse than the U.S. facility at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.
Jones was a keynote speaker Tuesday at a Nowrouz lunch reception hosted by the Iranian American Cultural Society of Michigan, a group that advocates on behalf of the Mujahedeen e-Khalq (MEK), an Iranian opposition group that was designated by the State Department as a foreign terrorist organization until last October. The organization is one of several Iranian-American organizations believed to be a front group for channeling MEK money to famous American lawmakers and former senior officials, according to State Department officials and congressional aides. The groups insist they are independent.
The State Department agreed to remove the MEK from its list of terrorist organizations, a designation the group earned after a terrorist attack in the 1980s that killed six Americans, because the MEK agreed to move from its secretive compound, Camp Ashraf, on the Iran-Iraq border, to Camp Liberty, a former U.S. military base near the Baghdad airport.
But the MEK has been complaining about the conditions at Camp Liberty ever since the move, along with its powerful and often paid friends in the U.S. foreign policy community.
"The facility at Camp Hurriya (Arabic for "freedom") has become more of a prison than a camp," said Jones, who added that the alleged terrorists imprisoned at Guantánamo "are treated far better."
Jones criticized both the U.S. and Iraqi governments for ignoring what he called a "growing human rights debacle," said the MEK at Camp Liberty "continue to languish in horrible conditions," and put forth that the camp "should be more aptly named ‘Camp Shame.'"
Jones did not disclose whether he was being paid for his advocacy on behalf of the MEK.
Jones also openly criticized the Obama administration's policy of engagement with the government of Iran and said that the Iranian regime is simply using the negotiations with the international community to buy time to build a nuclear weapon.
Jones also called for regime change in Iran.
"We say to the so-called leaders of the Iranian regime: ‘Your days are numbered,'" he said.
The lunch event was held in the ostentatious Kennedy Caucus Room in the Senate Russell Office Building and was organized by former Congressman Patrick Kennedy, who once paraphrased his uncle President John F. Kennedy's famous "I am a Berliner" quote by declaring, "I am an Ashrafi."
The other speakers were former Congressman Lee Hamilton and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who accused Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki of conspiring with Iran to murder MEK members. Gingrich pointed to the attack on Camp Liberty in February that killed seven members of the group, which he said was perpetrated by the Iraqi military.
"This is a deliberate plan by Maliki to humiliate the United States and prove our irrelevance and curry favor with the Iranians," Gingrich said.
Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) popped into the event make quick remarks about Iran but didn't say anything about Camp Liberty or the MEK. The Cable caught up with Sessions afterwards and asked him what he really thought about the MEK. Sessions said he trusted Jones on the issue.
"I believe that General Jones is correct that this has been an unfortunate mistake," he said, referring to the conditions at Camp Liberty. "I didn't know it was that bad. But I know it went from a good facility to a bad one."
The lunch began with grilled eggplant, dolmeh, cherry tomatoes, olives, mint, and bread. The entrée was beef and sliced boneless chicken kabob with grilled tomatoes and rich rice with saffron. Persian pastries were served for dessert.
Josh Rogin / Foreign Policy
The White House's top national security official defended the Obama administration's rebalancing toward Asia and pledged to continue that policy in President Barack Obama's second term in a speech Monday.
National Security Advisor Tom Donilon addressed the Asia Society in New York Monday afternoon on the U.S. government's Asia policy and said that changing administrations in China, Japan, and South Korea this year marked a crucial point in the future of Asian diplomacy and America's role in the region. The U.S. rebalancing toward Asia, also known as the "pivot," was Obama's premier strategic foreign policy initiative in the first term, he said.
"It was clear [in 2009] that there was an imbalance in the projection and focus of U.S. power. It was the president's judgment that we were over-weighted in some areas and regions, including our military actions in the Middle East," Donilon said. "At the same time, we were underweighted in other regions, such as the Asia-Pacific. Indeed, we believed this was our key geographic imbalance."
For a definition of the strategy, Donilon pointed Asia hands to Obama's Nov. 2011 address to the Australian Parliament in Canberra, which coincided with the announcement of greater U.S. military deployment in Australia and Southeast Asia.
"So make no mistake, the tide of war is receding, and America is looking ahead to the future that we must build," Obama said then. "Our new focus on this region reflects a fundamental truth -- the United States has been, and always will be, a Pacific nation."
But Donilon focused on defending the pivot against accusations that it necessarily denotes a turn away from American engagement in the Middle East or Europe. He also pushed back against the widely held regional view that the strategy is meant to contain China's rise.
"Here's what rebalancing does not mean. It doesn't mean diminishing ties to important partners in any other region. It does not mean containing China or seeking to dictate terms to Asia. And it isn't just a matter of our military presence," Donilon said. "It is an effort that harnesses all elements of U.S. power -- military, political, trade and investment, development and our values."
He also emphasized that America's commitment to the Asia-Pacific region will not be diminished by the country's fiscal woes or the defense cuts that will have come as a result of the sequester. Donilon pledged to keep former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta's promise to commit 60 percent of the U.S. naval fleet to the Pacific by 2020 and he promised the United States would "prioritize" the region when rolling out new military platforms and technologies.
"In these difficult fiscal times, I know that some have questioned whether this rebalance is sustainable. After a decade of war, it is only natural that the U.S. defense budget is being reduced. But make no mistake: President Obama has clearly stated that we will maintain our security presence and engagement in the Asia-Pacific," he said. "Specifically, our defense spending and programs will continue to support our key priorities -- from our enduring presence on the Korean Peninsula to our strategic presence in the western Pacific."
Donilon also paid tribute to deceased Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan Richard Holbrooke and praised his dedication to diplomacy in search of peace. Holbrook aide Vali Nasr released a new book this month arguing that the White House national security team, led by Donilon, systematically stifled Holbrooke's efforts to push forward on a diplomatic solution to the Afghanistan war.
"Richard was famous for his work from the Balkans to South Asia. But he was also a real Asia hand as the youngest-ever assistant secretary of state for East Asia," Donilon said. "Richard dedicated himself to the idea that progress and peace was possible -- a lesson we carry forward, not only in Southwest Asia, where he worked so hard, but across the Asia-Pacific."
Read Donilon's full remarks, as prepared for delivery, here.
Iraq's national security advisor, Faleh al-Fayyad, said Monday that Qatar and other Arab countries, along with nongovernmental groups, are financing Jabhat al-Nusra, the Syrian jihadi group, with the acquiescence of Turkey.
"These are the same sources that finance al Qaeda," Fayyad said through a translator. "In times of crisis, some countries use al Qaeda; some countries make peace with al Qaeda," he said.
Fayyad and a delegation of Iraqi officials and members of Parliament are in Washington this week for meetings with top U.S. officials, including Vice President Joe Biden, Deputy National Security Advisor Tony Blinken, Deputy Secretary of State Bill Burns, and other senior State Department and Pentagon officials.
Fayyad said his meeting with Biden was "very beneficial and useful." Iraq is hoping to bolster its relations with the United States, including via increased weapons sales and training, and attract greater investment from U.S. companies. The delegation is using this week's meetings to get acquainted with the Obama administration's second-term team.
Fayyad said that Turkey, Qatar, and other Arab countries had pushed the uprising in Syria, soon to enter its third year, toward armed conflict.
But the Iraqis were keen to stress that they bear no goodwill toward Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, whom Fayyad said had caused a lot of suffering over the years in Iraq, and that they sympathized with the suffering of the Syrian people.
"Bashar al-Assad has hurt Iraq the same as Saddam Hussein," said Yassin Maijd, an Iraqi MP traveling with the delgation, noting the similarities of the two countries' Baath parties.
The Iraqis are especially concerned about the rising power of Jebhat al-Nusra, which the United States has designated a terrorist group with ties to al Qaeda in Iraq.
"Very frankly, elements of al Qaeda are very active in certain parts of Syria," Fayyad said, comparing Turkey's role of hosting and facilitating armed groups to that of Syria at the height of the insurgency in Iraq.
Fayyad noted that Iraqi President Nuri al-Maliki had personally warned U.S. President Barack Obama that the conflict could drag on for two years or longer.
Iraq and the United States had previously had sharp differences over Syria, Fayyad acknowledged, but said that Obama's position on Syria -- which he described as pressure aimed at bringing the warring parties to the table -- is now "really good."
Fayyad said that Iraq is willing to cooperate with the international community to find a negotiated end to the conflict in Syria, but warned that Iraq would be less willing to do so if it is not included in the discussions and that it would not tolerate a government that included jihadi groups like Jabhat al-Nusra.
"We will not accept to have the noose around our necks and allow Syria to be divided along sectarian lines," Fayyad said.
Secretary of State John Kerry said Wednesday that Iran has an "elected" government, echoing a comment for which Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel was pilloried in his confirmation hearing last month.
"Iran is a country with a government that was elected and that sits in the United Nations," Kerry said in France standing alongside French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius. "And it is important for us to deal with nation-states in a way that acts in the best interests of all of us in the world."
The comment is similar to what Hagel said on Jan. 31 when he told the Senate Armed Services Committee Iran was "an elected, legitimate government, whether we agree or not."
Some might beg to differ with that assessment.
The 2009 election of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was widely suspected to be rigged. His challenger, Mir-Hossein Mousavi said so at the time and Iran saw days of unrest after Ahmadinejad was proclaimed to have secured 63 percent of the vote.
Vice President Joe Biden said on Meet the Press "there's some real doubt" whether Ahmadinejad won. "There's an awful lot of questions about how this election was run," he said. White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said at the time, "I think there are a number of factors that give us some concern about what we've seen."
Hagel had to walk back his declaration that Iran was "an elected, legitimate government" after being challenged in the hearing by Democratic New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand.
"I can understand if you meant it's a legal entity that has international relations and has diplomatic relations, that is a member of the UN, I do not see Iran or the Iranian government as a legitimate government, and I'd like your thoughts on that," Gillibrand said.
"What I meant to say, should have said, it's recognizable," Hagel replied. "It's been recognized, is recognized at the United Nations. Most of our allies have embassies there. That is what I should have said."
JACQUELYN MARTIN/AFP/Getty Images
As Chuck Hagel proceeded toward confirmation Tuesday, several Republican senators said that he will have a lot of work ahead of him to prove himself and repair his relationships in the Senate after the Pentagon nominee's long and bruising confirmation battle.
The Senate voted 71-27 Tuesday to end the long debate over the nomination, and Hagel is expected to be confirmed by a smaller number of votes than that Teusday afternoon. He will begin his tenure as defense secretary with significantly less Senate support than his two predecessors, Bob Gates and Leon Panetta, and after several GOP senators attacked his stance on a variety of issues, his competence, and his willingness to be transparent with Congress.
Senate Armed Services Chairman Carl Levin (D-MI) said Tuesday that after Hagel is confirmed, senators on both sides of the aisle will figure out a way to work with him for the benefit of the country and that Hagel won't punish GOP senators for putting up roadblocks during his confirmation process.
"He's a professional. We're professionals. We've all served together; we've all been through the rough and tumble of politics. Frankly, we're friends. Even those who voted against him would count themselves as friends," Levin said. "Everybody here who has worked with Senator Hagel realizes that he's not the kind of person who carries grudges ... I don't see any negative effect on his capability to run the Defense Department."
Several GOP senators who were directly involved in the Hagel fight told a different story. They all said they were willing to work with Hagel but that it was Hagel's responsibility, not the Senate's, to mend fences and prove that he can do the job.
"I think he will be entering weak based on his performance. He has to up his game," said Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), a leader of the anti-Hagel campaign. "That's his challenge: to prove to Congress that he's capable of doing his job. I hope he will."
Graham never got many of the items he requested as part of the Hagel fight, including FBI interviews of the survivors of the Sept. 11, 2012, attack on the U.S. mission in Benghazi, the names of those survivors, and a final answer on who changed the talking points that U.N. ambassador Susan Rice used to talk about the attack on Sept. 16.
But Graham said he can still use the nomination of John Brennan for CIA director to get the information he wants. Meanwhile, Hagel has to show his ability to lead the military and demonstrate that he will stick by the testimony he gave at his confirmation hearing, some of which contradicted his past statements on policy matters.
"Senator Hagel has got to prove to people that he's up to the job," said Graham. "Hopefully he'll live up to his testimony. After his hearing, he's tough on Iran, supportive of Israel, and he thinks sequestration is bad."
Senate Foreign Relations Committee ranking Republican Bob Corker (R-TN) told The Cable Tuesday that the long and bitter confirmation process has done harm to Hagel's reputation but that Hagel can fix it if he tries.
"There's no question that this process has been very damaging to him. There's no question this has not been a positive thing for him," Corker said. "My guess is that after this thing is over he's going to need to really go to work and show that he can and will be a tremendous leader at the Defense Department."
Senate Armed Services Committee member Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) said that she will vote no on the Hagel nomination but that she is willing to work with him, as long as he takes the first steps.
"It is my hope, if he is confirmed as secretary of defense, that he will sit down with everyone on the committee and I will do everything in my power to work with him and I hope he takes different positions as secretary of defense than he did in the Senate," Ayotte said. "Traditionally, it's been a strong measure to have your secretary of defense have overwhelming bipartisan support, and he does not have that. So he's going to have to work extra hard to work with us on the committee. I will work with him."
Even Sen. Mike Johanns (R-NE), who supported Hagel's nomination and voted to end the debate two weeks ago, said that it was Hagel's responsibility to build new relationships of trust.
"I think people will try to work with him and the key for Chuck Hagel is that he reach out and I think he intends to do that," Johanns told The Cable. "He has to reach out and if he does that he will be OK."
UPDATE: The Senate confirmed Hagel Tuesday afternoon in a 58-41 vote.
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry used his first major speech since taking office to argue that the State Department and its activities serve U.S. communities here at home, an effort to defend the budgets for diplomacy and development against an axe-wielding Congress.
Kerry chose the University of Virginia, the school founded by Thomas Jefferson, America's first secretary of state, as the site of his first address.
"So why is it that I'm at the foot of the Blue Ridge instead of on the shores of the Black Sea? Why am I in Old Cabell Hall and not Kabul, Afghanistan?" Kerry said. "The reason is very simple: I came here to underscore that in today's global world, there is no longer anything foreign about foreign policy. More than ever before, the decisions we make from the safety of our shores don't just ripple outward - they also create a current right here in America."
He described the work of the State Department as not just security-related, but also crucial to promoting the U.S. economy and creating jobs.
"It's not just about whether we'll be compelled to send our troops into another battle, but whether we'll be able to send our graduates into a thriving workforce," he said. "That's why I'm here."
Kerry's emphasis marks a shift away from the focus of his predecessor, Hillary Clinton, who worked in her first two years to emphasize that the State Department and USAID budgets were part of the national security function of government. Later in her tenure, after Republicans took control of Congress and began rolling back the budget increases at State and USAID, Clinton expanded the State Department's emphasis on "economic statecraft."
This year, the State Department faces not only a tough budget environment, but also the threat of so-called sequestration, which Kerry warned this week could force the State Department to stop humanitarian aid to millions of people, cut foreign assistance to Israel, and delay efforts to ramp up diplomatic security abroad after the Sept. 11 attack on the U.S. mission in Benghazi.
Kerry said Wednesday that the total State Department and foreign aid budget amounts to just over 1 percent of the federal budget, although critics often inflate that number. He also said that battling for foreign policy funding is made more difficult due to the fact that those funds have almost no domestic constituency or high-profile political advocates.
"Unfortunately, the State Department doesn't have our own Grover Norquist pushing a pledge to protect it," Kerry said. "We don't have millions of AARP seniors who send in their dues and rally to protect America's investments overseas... We need to change that. I reject the excuse that Americans just aren't interested in what's happening outside their immediate field of vision."
Kerry emphasized that lifting people in foreign countries out of poverty is not just a reinforcement of American values but can also create markets for American goods and therefore help the U.S. economy.
"Let me be very clear: Foreign assistance is not a giveaway. It is not charity. It is an investment in a strong America and free world," he said.
He also called on Congress to avoid the sequester, lest it hurt America's credibility abroad.
"Think about it: It is hard to tell the leadership of any number of countries that they must resolve their economic issues if we don't resolve our own," he said. "Let's reach a responsible agreement that prevents these senseless cuts. Let's not lose this opportunity to politics."
Read the whole speech here:
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry will embark next week on a two-week tour of Europe and the Middle East, with a heavy focus on Syria and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Kerry will leave Feb. 24 on his first overseas voyage since replacing Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and will visit the United Kingdom, Germany, France, Italy, Turkey, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Qatar, outgoing spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said in a statement Tuesday.
"He's characterizing this first trip more broadly as a listening tour," Nuland explained.
It's an ambitious trip that will bring Kerry back to Washington on March 7, two weeks before President Barack Obama is set to travel to Israel, the West Bank, and Jordan. But Kerry won't be going to any of those countries, despite some chatter around State that he had wanted to include those stops.
"Given the fact that the government's coalition negotiations in Israel are still under way, the secretary will be traveling there with the president when he visits later in the spring in lieu of making his own separate trip in February to Jerusalem and Ramallah," Nuland explained.
In Germany, Kerry will be able to reconnect with the city of Berlin, where he lived as a child when his father was a Foreign Service officer there, Nuland said. At Kerry's Feb. 4 introductory remarks to State Department employees, he told the story of how as a 12-year-old, he rode his bicycle into communist-controlled East Berlin and became aware of the stark reality of living behind the Iron Curtain and the value of living in a free democracy.
In Paris, the French-led international intervention in Mali will top the agenda. In Rome, Kerry will attend a multilateral meeting on Syria and meet with the leaders of the Syrian opposition coalition.
"My understanding is that we're expecting eight to 10 of the countries who have been the biggest supporters of the opposition to be there and also for the opposition to be in that meeting, to present its views on how it's going and how the international community can continue to support," Nuland said. "And then there'll be a separate meeting that the secretary will have with the SOC [Syrian opposition coalition] leadership."
Syria will also be high on the agenda in Ankara, where Kerry will also discuss counterterrorism. In Cairo, Kerry will meet with senior Egyptian officials, Arab League Secretary Nabil El-Araby, other political figures, civil society leaders, and the business community "to encourage greater political consensus and moving forward on economic reforms," Nuland said.
In Riyadh, Kerry will meet with Saudi leadership and also attend a ministers'-level meeting of the Gulf Cooperation Council. From there he will go on to Abu Dhabi and then Doha, where Syia, Afghanistan, and Middle East peace will top the issue list, according to Nuland.
Reporters at Tuesday's briefing noted that there are no Asia stops on Kerry's first trip, although Clinton made her first overseas trip to that region and the "rebalancing" of American attention to Asia was a cornerstone of U.S. foreign policy in Obama's first term.
"I think were we to add any more stops on this first trip, an already long excursion would be even longer. I think you can certainly expect that Secretary Kerry will visit Asia early in his tenure," Nuland said. "I'm getting tired just thinking about it."
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The State Department will have to stop humanitarian aid to millions of people, cut foreign assistance to Israel, and delay efforts to ramp up diplomatic security abroad after the Sept. 11 attack in Benghazi, if sequestration goes into effect next month, according to Secretary of State John Kerry.
At the beginning of March, across-the-board cuts to all discretionary spending accounts will go into effect, based on the 2011 Budget Control Act and the failure of the "supercommittee" to agree upon discretionary budget cuts in 2012. Congressional appropriators are planning to reorganize those cuts when the continuing resolution that has been temporarily funding the government expires at the end of March, a GOP Congressman told The Cable.
Until then, State and USAID are working on how to adjust to the impending new budget reality and Kerry is warning that the consequences will be severe.
"Sequestration would force the Department and USAID to make across-the-board reductions of $2.6 billion to fiscal 2013 funding levels under the continuing resolution," Kerry wrote in a letter to Sen. Barbara Milkuski (D-MD) on Feb. 11. Cuts of this magnitude would seriously impair our ability to execute our vital missions of national security, diplomacy, and development."
Kerry also said that sequestration would hurt the State Department's efforts to ramp up security for diplomats abroad. State is still waiting for Congress to approve State's request to shift an additional $1 billion to that effort.
"These cuts would severely impair our efforts to enhance the security of U.S. government facilities overseas and ensure the safety of the thousands of U.S. diplomats serving the American people abroad," Kerry wrote.
Here are some specific cuts that Kerry said would be necessary if sequestration happens:
Unspecified cuts to international peacekeeping operations, counter narcotics programs, counterterrorism efforts, and non-proliferation activities
Kerry also warned that the State Department might not be able to effectively provide emergency services to Americans in trouble abroad, to properly vet visa applications, and or issue passports to Americans in a timely manner.
"I hope that Congress can act to avoid these severe, across-the-board cuts to programs that further U.S. national security, advance America's economic interests, protect Americans at home and abroad, and deliver results for the American people," Kerry wrote.
Secretary of State John Kerry called all the foreign ministers of countries that deal with North Korea following Monday's nuclear test and all but one of them picked up the phone -- Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.
Speaking to reporters Wednesday, Kerry made his first remarks about the new nuclear test, which the North Koreans warned the State Department about in advance.
"With respect to the DPRK, President Obama made it crystal clear last night and previously in all comments, as have other countries, that North Korea's nuclear weapons and ballistic missile program are a threat now to the United States of America, because of what they are pursuing specifically, as well as to global security and peace," Kerry said.
"Following their latest provocation, which we have termed and believe is reckless and provocative, needlessly, I called Foreign Minister Kim of South Korea, I talked to Foreign Minister Kishida of Japan, I talked to Foreign Minister Yang of China, and we have placed a phone call to Foreign Minister Lavrov, and consulted with all of them with respect to the steps that we need to take," Kerry went on. "The international community now needs to come together with a swift and clear, strong, credible response, as pledged in the U.N. Security Council Resolution 2087."
The now-defunct six-party talks on North Korea's nuclear program included the United States, China, Japan, South Korea, North Korea, and Russia. But Russia's leaders are the only members of that group with whom Kerry hasn't spoken this week.
At Wednesday's State Department press briefing, outgoing Spokeswoman Victoria Nuland denied that Kerry was frantically trying to reach Lavrov. (The Cable has confirmed that Nuland will soon be replaced at the podium by White House Deputy Press Secretary Jen Psaki.)
"There's been nothing frantic about it. He reached out to Foreign Minister Lavrov yesterday, made it clear again today that he's ready to talk whenever Foreign Minister Lavrov can find the time," Nuland said.
On Tuesday, Nuland said that Kerry had called Lavrov early in the morning and was hoping to connect with him by the end of that day. Lavrov has been traveling in Africa, she noted.
Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had similar difficulty reaching Lavrov quickly by phone. In early 2012, Lavrov was traveling in Australia and didn't return Clinton's call about a pending U.N. resolution on Syria.
One reporter asked Nuland Wednesday whether the State Department had communicated to the Russian Foreign Ministry its displeasure of Russia's announcement that it will continue to fulfill arms sales contracts to the Syrian regime.
"I think it's fair to say... that in every conversation with a senior Russian leader, from President Putin through Foreign Minister Lavrov and all the way down, the issue of Russia's continued resupply of Syria comes up," Nuland said.
"Maybe you could text him," one reporter joked.
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In his State of the Union speech Tuesday evening, U.S. President Barack Obama significantly scaled down his rhetoric on the Syria crisis, lowering the high expectations he set only a year ago.
"We will keep the pressure on a Syrian regime that has murdered its own people, and support opposition leaders that respect the rights of every Syrian," Obama said Tuesday.
But in his 2012 State of the Union Address, Obama made a bold prediction that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and his government would quickly come to the realization that change in Syria was inevitable.
"As the tide of war recedes, a wave of change has washed across the Middle East and North Africa, from Tunis to Cairo; from Sana'a to Tripoli. A year ago, Qaddafi was one of the world's longest-serving dictators -- a murderer with American blood on his hands. Today, he is gone," Obama said last year. "And in Syria, I have no doubt that the Assad regime will soon discover that the forces of change cannot be reversed, and that human dignity cannot be denied."
He now seems have some doubt.
Obama's 2012 speech came only five months after he first declared that Assad had to go.
"The future of Syria must be determined by its people, but President Bashar al-Assad is standing in their way," Obama said in a written statement in August 2011. "For the sake of the Syrian people, the time has come for President Assad to step aside."
Now, 18 months after that call, Assad remains in place and the civil war in Syria rages on, with an estimated 70,000 civilian deaths, according to the United Nations. The Obama administration has resisted getting involved in the conflict other than through the dispersal of a limited amount of humanitarian aid.
The New York Times revealed recently that the White House decided not to arm and train elements of the Syrian opposition last summer over the objections of the State Department, the Defense Department, and the CIA.
Obama did say Tuesday, "In the Middle East, we will stand with citizens as they demand their universal rights, and support stable transitions to democracy."
"The process will be messy, and we cannot presume to dictate the course of change in countries like Egypt; but we can -- and will -- insist on respect for the fundamental rights of all people," he said. "And we will stand steadfast with Israel in pursuit of security and a lasting peace. These are the messages I will deliver when I travel to the Middle East next month."
He didn't explicitly mention the Sept. 11 attack on the U.S. mission in Benghazi that killed Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans, though he did salute "the courage and sacrifice of those who serve in dangerous places at great personal risk -- our diplomats, our intelligence officers, and the men and women of the United States Armed Forces."
Note: Obama made much stronger comments about the fate of the Assad regime in a video message released late last month. Here's what he said:
We're under no illusions. The days ahead will continue to be very difficult. But what's clear is that the regime continues to weaken and lose control of territory. The opposition continues to grow stronger. More Syrians are standing up for their dignity. The Assad regime will come to an end. The Syrian people will have their chance to forge their own future. And they will continue to find a partner in the United States of America.
North Korea warned the State Department it would test a nuclear weapon, U.S. officials acknowledged Tuesday, but they refused to confirm explicitly that the warning came through what's known as the "New York channel."
Secretary of State John Kerry was not caught off guard by Monday's nuclear test, State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland told reporters Tuesday.
"As you know, there had been some reason to believe that the North Koreans might take this provocative step, so he had been briefed. He was well-prepared in advance," Nuland said.
Pressed by reporters to explain exactly how Kerry knew the test was coming, Nuland acknowledged that the North Korean government had given the State Department a head's up.
"The DPRK did inform us at the State Department of their intention to conduct a nuclear test without citing any specific timing prior to the event," she said.
Nuland declined to say when the warning was given, but South Korea's Yonhap news agency reported that North Korea warned both Washington and Beijing about the test during the day on Monday.
Nuland also wouldn't say how the warning was conveyed. "It was our usual channel. Let's put it that way," she said. She added that the message was received "at the level that we usually deal with that channel at, which is sort of deputy desk director or manager for that account."
Reporters unsuccessfully pressed Nuland to admit that she was referring to what's commonly known in Asia policy circles as the "New York channel," which has been the method for the U.S. government to communicate with the North Korean government for decades.
A former U.S. official who worked on North Korea in past administrations described how the "New York channel" works in an interview Tuesday with The Cable.
"Basically what happens is, at North Korea's U.N mission in New York, there's a person there who is specially designated as the point of contact for the United States. All the other people there work on other issues," the former official said. "It's been the main channel of communication between the North Korean government and the U.S. government. We don't have any other channels we use."
That person is currently Han Song-ryol, North Korea's deputy ambassador to the United Nations, who also represented North Korea at two unofficial meetings with U.S. interlocutors in 2012 that were reported by The Cable, one in Singapore and one in Dalian, China.
Han and his small staff have been setting up so-called Track 2 meetings and passing letters between Pyongyang and Washington for years, but that's not his only job. He is also the lead North Korea official for dealing with any Americans who want to do business with North Korea. He links U.S. businessmen to North Korea contacts, he helped arrange the Google trip to North Korea last month, and he coordinates with NGOs who work in North Korea, the former official said.
So why is the State Department so reluctant to just admit what many people know: that the U.S. government uses the New York channel to talk to North Korea?
"They're afraid of their shadows," the former official said. "It's like ‘No one can know we are actually communicating with these people because they are bad.'"
The Senate Armed Services Committee was set to approve the nomination of Chuck Hagel for secretary of defense Tuesday, but several Republican senators told The Cable they will insist he receive 60 votes on the Senate floor before he is confirmed.
The committee debated the Hagel nomination in anticipation of a Tuesday afternoon vote that is expected to fall along party lines, with all committee Republicans voting against the nomination. After the committee acts, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) is expected to call for a final floor vote on Thursday, just before the Senate goes on vacation. Several GOP senators told The Cable Tuesday that they will not agree to a simple up or down vote on the Senate floor this week, including Senate Armed Services Committee ranking Republican James Inhofe (R-OK), Senate Minority Whip John Cornyn (R-TX), John McCain (R-AZ), and Lindsey Graham (R-SC).
(UPDATE: The committee approved Hagel late Tuesday by a 14-11 vote that fell along party lines.)
Inhofe's demand for 60 votes is related to his overall objection to Hagel becoming defense secretary, which is based on Hagel's past record on issues ranging from Iran, Israel, Hamas, and cuts to the defense budget. Inhofe also wants Hagel to further disclose financial records related to his past speeches.
"We're going to require a 60-vote threshold," Inhofe told The Cable.
Cornyn told The Cable, "There is a 60-vote threshold for every nomination."
Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin (D-MI) told The Cable that he is confident Hagel can avoid a filibuster.
"If there's a filibuster, I think there will be more than 60 votes to stop a filibuster," Levin said.
Levin is adding up the 55 Democrats in the Senate, all of whom are expected to support Hagel, with the two Republicans who support Hagel, Thad Cochran (R-MS) and Mike Johanns (R-NE), and the senators who have pledged not to filibuster Hagel, such as McCain.
Inhofe insisted that his demand for a 60-vote threshold is not a "filibuster." Inhofe said he will object to unanimous consent for a simple majority vote, which will prevent Reid from bringing the Hagel nomination to the floor without first filing for cloture, which requires 60 votes to proceed to a final vote.
"It's not a filibuster. I don't want to use that word," Inhofe said.
It may be a distinction without a difference, but it's a distinction that GOP senators like McCain are prepared to embrace. McCain has repeatedly said he is opposed to filibustering Hagel but told The Cable Tuesday that he would vote against a cloture vote this week if the White House doesn't provide the information he has requested on the president's actions the night of the Benghazi attack.
"We need to know what the president's conversations were," McCain said. "I would vote no [on cloture] on Thursday [unless the information is provided]."
Graham is also opposed to a "filibuster" of Hagel, but told The Cable today he would place a "hold" on the Hagel nomination after the committee vote.
"I think the president has stonewalled the Congress on Benghazi. I think a lot of people are worried that we don't have all the information on Chuck Hagel," said Graham. "I'm not inclined to filibuster. I'm going to hold him and Reid is not going to not honor my hold and try to hold the vote on Thursday."
Senate aides told The Cable that the earliest Reid could call for a cloture vote would be Wednesday, according to Senate rules. That would set up a final vote for Friday, unless there were unanimous consent to move the vote up to Thursday. If the vote doesn't happen by Friday, it would be delayed until after the President's Day recess.
Graham said that if Reid is able to force a Senate floor vote on Thursday, he is optimistic that the GOP caucus will hold ranks and prevent cloture from being invoked, which would delay the final vote.
"I hope our colleagues will say they are pushing a controversial nominee too fast," said Graham. "I think our caucus believes that having cloture on Hagel this soon with this many unanswered questions and the Obama administration stonewalling the Congress is inappropriate by Harry Reid."
Ultimately, most senators said that eventually Hagel will receive an up-or-down vote in the Senate and when that happens, he is expected to come out on top.
"I would think at some point he will be confirmed," Johanns told The Cable.
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The U.S. ambassador to Georgia and several other American diplomats had to leave the national library in Georgia's capital of Tbilisi after a mob of angry protesters tried to prevent the Georgian president from giving a speech there.
U.S. Ambassador to Georgia Richard Norland gave remarks in Tbilisi after President Mikheil Saakashvili was forced to cancel his planned speech due to a violent crowd that prevented him, his top advisors, and several Georgian lawmakers from entering the front door, even attacking them physically.
"There are certain basic principles in democracy and no matter how strongly you feel about an issue or how much you feel you've been wronged there is no excuse for using violence, for punching parliamentarians as they go in to hear a speech by the president," Norland said in remarks after the incident. "We condemn this violence."
The audience waiting for the speech, including Norland, made their way out of the library at their own pace -- via the back door in an orderly exit to stay away from the crowd out front, a U.S. official told The Cable.
Raphael Glucksmann, a senior advisor to Saakashvili, told The Cable that the crowd physically assaulted the mayor of Tbilisi, Gigi Ugulava, who is one of the main leaders of the opposition, along with many opposition members of parliament, journalists, and civil society activists. Videos of the incident can be seen here and here.
The violence continued into Friday evening and Saakashvili made his speech from the presidential palace. The Georgian Minister of Interior Irakli Garibashvili eventually showed up on the scene and threatened any protesters employing violence with arrest.
Garibashvili said to reporters on the scene that the police had set up a safe route for Saakashvili to enter the library but that the president decided to try to go through the main entrance where the protesters had assembled.
"Our political opponents came here from the direction where protesters were mobilized and they did not use corridor which was secured for them by the police; so we suspect that they deliberately staged this provocation," Garibashvili said.
Norland that said the government needed to keep the peace.
"We condemn the violence and we believe there should be an investigation and those who are responsible for a crime should be prosecuted... Clearly the government has the responsibility to provide law and order," he said.
The violence and conflict inside Georgia has continued ever since last October's highly contentious parliamentary elections, which unseated Saakashvili's United National Movement party for the first time since Georgia became a democracy and brought to power the Georgian Dream party, led by the new Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili.
Saakashvili remains president until October and both sides have pledged to adhere to a policy of "cohabitation" until then, but the political mood in Tbilisi is still tense, in part because of the ongoing prosecutions of several former senior officials -- cases seen by many observers as politically motivated.
While in Washington last November, Georgian Foreign Minister Maia Panjikidze told The Cable that the officials under investigation are "criminals and guilty." Several U.S. senators were so troubled by those comments they wrote to her to urge the new Georgian government to avoid selective prosecutions and follow the rule of law.
"I understand obviously that Western governments have to engage with Georgian new authorities but I also do think that some stronger statements coming from them would be very helpful to calm things on the ground," Saakashvili's advisor Glucksmann said.
"We condemn today's violence in Tbilisi," State Department Spokeswoman Victoria Nuland told The Cable. "We urge all parties to work together constructively to advance Georgia's democratic and economic development."
VANO SHLAMOV/AFP/Getty Images
Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta and Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey were in favor of the plan last year advocated by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and CIA Director David Petraeus to arm the Syrian opposition, Dempsey testified Thursday.
On Feb. 2, the New York Times reported that Clinton and Petraeus worked together on a plan last summer that would have seen the United States vet and train opposition groups and supply certain parts of the Syrian opposition with weapons. The White House rejected the Clinton-Petraeus plan, according to the paper.
"The plan had risks, but it also offered the potential reward of creating Syrian allies with whom the United States could work, both during the conflict and after President Bashar al-Assad's eventual removal," the Times wrote.
During testimony before the Senate Armed Service Committee Thursday, Dempsey said both he and Panetta supported the idea of training and arming select parts of the Syrian opposition when Clinton and Petraeus proposed it.
"Did you support the recommendation by then Secretary of State Clinton and then head of CIA General Petraeus that we provide weapons to the resistance in Syria? Did you support that?" Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) asked Panetta and Dempsey.
"We did," Dempsey responded.
McCain issued a statement later Thursday on the exchange that focused on the fact that the White House overruled the leadership of the State Department, the Defense Department, and the CIA when it rejected the Clinton-Petraeus proposal.
"I was very pleased to hear both Secretary Panetta and Chairman Dempsey state that they supported this proposal, which unfortunately was refused by the White House. What this means is that the President overruled the senior leaders of his own national security team, who were in unanimous agreement that America needs to take greater action to change the military balance of power in Syria," McCain said. "The crisis in Syria represents a graphic failure of American leadership. I urge the President to heed the advice of his former and current national security leaders and immediately take the necessary steps, along with our friends and allies, that could hasten the end of the conflict in Syria. The time to act is long overdue, but it is not too late."
A GOP member of Congress told The Cable Thursday that congressional leaders were briefed on the plan at the time, and that many of them supported it.
"I had a conversation with Petraeus at the time and I was very open to that. In talking it through extensively, there was some merit to what they were proposing ... It was going to be limited to groups that we were going to certify that were secular and more moderate in nature," the lawmaker said. "The guys who are going to determine the future of Syria are the guys on the ground with the weaponry."
The State Department and USAID are increasing their humanitarian aid for Syria but have no intention of moving any of that money through the Syrian opposition coalition, as several senators have called for.
U.S. Ambassador to Syria Robert Ford, Assistant Secretary for Populations, Refugees, and Migration Anne Richard, and USAID Assistant Administrator for Democracy, Conflict, and Humanitarian Assistance Nancy Lindborg just returned from a trip to Turkey, Jordan, and Kuwait. In Kuwait, they pledged $155 million of additional U.S. humanitarian aid to help alleviate the suffering caused by the Syrian civil war, bringing the total U.S. aid commitment to $365 million.
Richard and Lindborg said on a Wednesday conference call with reporters that State and USAID don't work through government structures and therefore won't be dispersing any of that aid through the Syrian opposition coalition, which President Barack Obama has recognized as the legitimate representative of the Syrian people.
"Globally we provide our humanitarian assistance through the U.N. system and our NGO partners and this is specifically to ensure that there is a global humanitarian architecture that can get assistance to people who need it the most," said Lindborg. "We don't provide humanitarian assistance through other governments anywhere globally."
State Department Spokeswoman Victoria Nuland told The Cable that although the aid won't be given directly to the Syrian opposition coalition, a portion of the new funds will be dispersed in coordination with the coalition and its partners inside Syria.
"We are intensifying our work with the Syrian opposition coalition to channel assistance to those NGOs who can effectively deliver humanitarian aid on its behalf to the most needy in Syria, especially those in areas where the Assad regime has systematically blocked or limited UN access," Nuland said.
Last month, seven U.S. senators from both parties traveled to some of the same refugee camps and met with the Syrian opposition coalition leaders, after which they publicly called for the U.S. government to funnel some aid through the opposition leadership in order to bolster their legitimacy and credibility.
"We are delivering significant humanitarian assistance into Syria, but it's going through international aid agencies and being distributed out of Damascus, rather than in ways that strengthen the credibility and the reach and the effectiveness of the Syrian opposition council," said Sen. Chris Coons (D-DE).
The State Department delegation did meet with the Syrian opposition coalition's assistance coordination unit in Turkey and is working with them to determine where aid is needed inside Syria. The State Department has a full time liaison with that unit to help them increase their own capabilities, Lindborg said. But they won't be getting any U.S. humanitarian assistance.
"Aid is supposed to be delivered not based on one's political beliefs or which side one's picking in a war, or which faction one belongs to, but based on need. We want to work with them, but right now they're not built as an organization to deliver aid," Richard said.
"We are always very respectful of the role of Congress. We're being especially sweet to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee staff now because we don't know which ones are going to come over the State Department and be our bosses," said Richard.
Forty-nine percent of food aid is reaching contested or opposition-held areas, Richard said, and aid is reaching all regions of Syria, although aid workers are frustrated that aid is not reaching everyone who is in need. The United States is also spending about $50 million to help a range of local governance and civil society organizations get established inside Syria.
The trio visited refugees camps in Turkey and Jordan and lamented the plight of those there, especially women and children, who make up 80 percent of the refugee camp populationsin the countries surrounding Syria. There are currently 240,000 refugees in Jordan, 171,000 in Turkey, 256,000 in Lebanon, 83,000 in Iraq, Richard said. Another 2.5 million Syrians are internally displaced inside the country, according to U.N. figures, which Richard said were the most reliable figures available.
The officials said the NGO groups that are delivering the aid on the ground are largely independent but acknowledged that their leaders may also have some ties to the Syrian government. Seventy percent of the total international humanitarian aid is going to groups that are supervised by the Syria government, the officials said.
The Syrian regime is not in control of any of the aid but it does control access to many of the communities where the aid is going, the officials noted. They also said the Syrian regime has been more willing recently to allow aid to flow to more areas inside Syria.
"We think they have calculated that they have to pacify parts of the country by letting some aid go through," said Richard.
The senators all said that the refugees on the ground don't believe that the United States helping them and are increasingly bitter toward the United States.
"We heard a visceral frustration and outright anger, especially from the refugees, about the inadequate level of the U.S. support and assistance in their struggle against the Assad regime," McCain said. "This woman warned us that these Syrian children would, in her words, seek revenge on those who did not help Syria in its hour of greatest need."
The aid doesn't have any markings identifying the United States as its source, which could account for the confusion, the State Department officials said.
"Our aid is not being branded. We are not putting flags on the aid so perhaps it's not as visible as it is in other situations. But that is a priority to ensure that it reaches people and that it doesn't create additional insecurity," Lindborg said. "However, the bottom line is that there hasn't been enough."
Former Nebraska Sen. Chuck Hagel testifies Thursday before the Senate Armed Services Committee as part of his bid to become the next defense secretary, and behind the scenes, senators are quietly lining up on both sides of the confirmation fight.
The White House seems confident that Hagel, after gaining the public endorsements of key Democrats like Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY), is on a glide path to confirmation. Hagel has been working the halls of the Senate diligently, meeting with senators from both parties. Several key Democrats have announced their support and some officials argue that this foretells a confirmation victory for Hagel and President Barack Obama.
"Senator Hagel's meetings on the Hill are going very well, and that's why you saw over the past two weeks a number of strong endorsements," an official working on the confirmation told The Cable, pointing to the strong support for Hagel within the Democratic caucus.
But only one GOP senator has come out in support -- Sen. Thad Cochran (R-MS) -- and several Republicans have promised to oppose Hagel's nomination. Dozens of other Republican senators are keeping their powder dry, refusing to say on the record which way they are leaning. They are being lobbied hard by their colleagues and several well-heeled outside interest groups.
Most undecided senators point to Thursday's hearing as the measure of whether or not they will ultimately support Hagel. But despite their reluctance to commit, staffers and operatives working on both sides of the confirmation battle have a good idea about which senators are likely to vote which way.
Some GOP senators have firmly stated their opposition to Hagel's confirmation and will not back down. They include Sens. James Inhofe (R-OK), David Vitter (R-LA), Roger Wicker (R-MS), Tom Coburn (R-OK), Pat Roberts (R-KS), Dan Coats (R-IN) and John Cornyn (R-TX). Asked Tuesday if he would block Hagel or just vote against him, Inhofe said, "One step at a time."
Cornyn is said to be leading the anti-Hagel effort inside the GOP caucus, according to multiple Senate aides. In a brief interview with The Cable, Cornyn said he was talking to other senators about Hagel "just on a personal basis."
"It's not a leadership position, but I'm opposed to the Hagel nomination," he said.
Several other GOP senators have strongly indicated they will oppose the Hagel nomination but have not explicitly promised to vote no. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) has criticized the nomination several times and said this week he would block a vote until Defense Secretary Leon Panetta testifies on Benghazi, though a hearing is not yet scheduled. Sen. John Barrasso (R-WY) penned a blistering Wall Street Journal op-ed criticizing Hagel last week. Sen. Pat Toomey (R-PA) has said he has "deep concerns" about the Hagel nomination.
"We had a nice, healthy talk. Y'all just should just show up Thursday," Graham said Tuesday after meeting with Hagel.
GOP senators and their aides are predicting a confrontational hearing and claim that the committee might approve Hagel on a party-line vote, with all or nearly all GOP committee members voting against him. Several other GOP senators are said to be leaning to oppose the nomination, including Sens. Ted Cruz (R-TX), Kelly Ayotte (R-AZ), Mike Enzi (R-WY), Roy Blunt (R-MO), Mark Kirk (R-IL), and several others. (Cruz, along with Inhofe and Cornyn, was one of only three senators to vote Tuesday against John Kerry's nomination to be secretary of state.)
A limited number of GOP senators are now the target of intense lobbying because they have not clearly indicated, even privately, which way they are leaning. Sens. John McCain (R-AZ) and Bob Corker (R-TN) are the two most influential in this group. McCain, a former "close friend" of Hagel's, has been critical of the nominee's stance on Iran, while Corker, a staunch supporter of nuclear modernization, has repeatedly and disapprovingly invoked Hagel's commitment to nuclear force reductions.
"It was a pleasant conversation," McCain said Tuesday after meeting with Hagel for 45 minutes. Asked if Hagel had addressed his McCain's concerns, McCain said, "No he has not."
Corker met with Hagel Jan. 25 for 53 minutes and still declined to endorse him for the Pentagon job. "These hearings matter a great deal to me," Corker told The Cable. "I spent a lot of time with Hagel on Friday talking about nuclear modernization... You shouldn't take pro or con from this conversation."
The Cable asked Corker if Hagel was modifying his positions on subjects like Iran, Israel, and nukes out of political expediency in order to get confirmed.
"That's a very good point and we'll certainly be tuned in to see if that's the case," Corker replied.
Other fence-sitters include Sens. Susan Collins (R-ME), Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), Lamar Alexander (R-TN), Rand Paul (R-KY), Saxby Chambliss (R-GA), Richard Shelby (R-AL), Richard Burr (R-NC), Orrin Hatch (R-UT), Chuck Grassley (R-IO), and Johnny Isakson (R-GA). Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has also not weighed in on the Hagel nomination.
Collins met with Hagel for 90 minutes last week and told The Cable Tuesday she would reserve judgment on the nomination until after the hearing.
"We had a good discussion, but it's obvious that we have very different views on some fundamental issues," Collins said. "So I want to hear more from him on a number of issues and the hearing affords that opportunity."
The anti-Hagel forces are keeping up the pressure, for example by having 400 members of the group Christians United for Israel lobbying senators on Capitol Hill this week.
There's a wide recognition that Hagel's confirmation hearing is going to be contentious. Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin (D-MI) said this week that there might actually have to be two hearings to air all the committee members' concerns.
"It depends on whether we don't have enough time, or something shows up [during the back-and-forth] that requires a second hearing," Levin said.
Even with dozens of GOP senators voting no, the conventional wisdom remains that Hagel will ultimately get confirmed, even if it is with a historically low, but nevertheless filibuster-proof majority.
For Hagel's opposition, the best-case scenario is that only a few Republicans break ranks and a couple of Democrats do break ranks, giving the Hagel opposition the 40 votes needed to filibuster the vote on the nomination. They recognize that is unlikely and a filibuster of a cabinet nominee is extremely rare, but they plan to continue their effort well past Hagel's confirmation hearing, hoping that more embarrassing quotes from Hagel's past surface or a new scandal comes to light.
"There's a lot of White House spin about Hagel's clear path to confirmation, but they have a real fight on their hands -- and they know it," one GOP source close to the committee said.
For the team of officials, staffers, and outsiders working to bolster the Hagel nomination, they believe that Hagel's Thursday testimony will take the wind out of the sails of the opposition and set the record straight on the former senator's views.
"It's unfortunate that you have a number of senators that decided to take a very public very aggressive position weeks ahead of the confirmation hearing without actually speaking to the nominee," one Hagel supporter close to the process told The Cable. "This hearing is the first honest opportunity for Hagel to explain his positions, defend his record out in the open, and he will forcefully address much of the misinformation about his record that has been advanced by a small minority of folks on the Hill."
"We think we are in a good, strong position going forward, but nobody takes anything for granted in this business," an official working on behalf of the confirmation effort added.
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Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry (D-MA) will not chair Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's hearing on the Sept. 11 attack on the U.S. mission in Benghazi, which is expected to take place next week.
Kerry is in the unique position of being the chairman of the committee before which he will testify as part of his confirmation process to replace Clinton in Foggy Bottom. Although no final dates have been confirmed, Clinton is expected to testify on Benghazi Jan. 22, and Kerry's confirmation hearing is expected to happen as soon as Jan. 23. Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ), Kerry's presumptive successor as SFRC chairman, is expected to chair both hearings.
"Kerry will not preside over the Benghazi hearing because he doesn't want to put his colleagues in an awkward situation. Also, he already presided over a Benghazi hearing last month," a committee aide told The Cable. "Senator Kerry will remain SFRC chair until he is confirmed."
Committee sources told The Cable that Kerry's decision not to resign as committee chair before he is confirmed is based on two calculations. First of all, he doesn't want to appear presumptive, just in case he is not confirmed, although he is widely expected to sail through. Secondly, if for some reason he is not confirmed, Kerry would want to retain his committee chairmanship as a fallback plan.
The musical chairs at SFRC have become a complicated dance for the committee staff, some of whom are helping Kerry to prepare for his hearing and some of whom are helping the rest of the committee prepare to vet Kerry. The State Department is also prepping Kerry for his hearing, and the nominee has been spending a lot of time at the State Department for briefings, but his staff is leading the preparations. Menendez's staff is assisting in the preparation for the Kerry hearing as well, committee sources said.
SFRC ranking Republican Bob Corker (R-TN) said last week he thinks the Clinton hearing will take place on Jan. 22.
"I had some very good conversations with her chief of staff," Corker told MSNBC's Andrea Mitchell Jan. 8. "My sense is, Andrea, that her hearing probably will take place the morning of the 22nd... I think they feel she's going to be healthy enough to come in that day."
Clinton is preparing for the hearing now. "The secretary is going through all the steps this department is taking to implement the recommendations of the Accountability Review Board," State Department Spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said today.
Over at State, speculation abounds about who Kerry may or may not bring with him if and when he moves over to State. The conventional wisdom is that many officials close to Clinton will depart, but some of them may stay, meaning that Kerry might not bring in as many of his own people as Clinton did back in 2009.
There's also concern that the White House might try to populate State with current and former NSC officials as a bid to assert more control over State. Clinton had secured 100 percent control over personnel assignments as part of her deal with President Barack Obama when she accepted the secretary of state job. Kerry has no such arrangement.
KAREN BLEIER/AFP/Getty Images
Two major left-leaning foreign policy organizations have merged and they are both throwing their weight behind the nomination of Chuck Hagel to be the next secretary of defense.
The Truman National Security Project, a left-leaning national security group that focuses on leadership development and grassroots political messaging, has joined forces with the Center for National Policy, a more traditionally styled national security think tank, both organizations announced Wednesday.
"This partnership is going to combine values based national security policy and politics into a single organization will the tools of both and we hope that organization will help define what leadership means in a changing world," said Michael Breen, who will be the executive director of the new combined organization. "We're creating what we believe will be a preeminent national security organization that combines political power, community building and the leadership strengths of the Truman Project with the policy heft and the heritage that the Center for National Policy brings."
Truman and CNP will retain their names and keep separate boards of directors, but they will merge their staffs, which total about 30 people, and their budgets, which total about $5 million. Rachel Kleinfeld remains president of the Truman Project and Scott Bates remains president of the Center for National Policy; both serve as senior advisors to the other partner organization.
On a conference call Wednesday, the leaders all endorsed the Hagel nomination, noting that the former Nebraska's senator's national security vision and policies, especially as espoused in his 2004 essay in Foreign Affairs named "A Republican Foreign Policy," match the longstanding views of both organizations.
"Hagel certainly shares with us that all of the tools of national power and statecraft are required to address our challenges. Military power is essential but also are a host of other tools," said Breen.
"Chuck Hagel put his life on the line for his country. The president has asked him to serve. I think it's the president's prerogative to get the people that he wants if they are qualified and he seems well qualified," Bates said.
Although it clearly leans to the left, the Truman National Security Project does not self-identify with either political party. The group's mantra is "Training a new generation of progressives to lead on national security." Its board of advisors includes Clinton era Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, Carter era official and CFR President Emeritus Leslie Gelb, former Democratic Senator Gary Hart, Clinton era Defense Secretary Bill Perry, Former Clinton Chief of Staff John Podesta, and former Policy Planning Director Anne-Marie Slaughter.
The Center for National Policy also does not outright identify with either party. Its leadership has included senior Democrats including Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, Secretaries of State Madeline Albright, Cyrus Vance, Ed Muskie and former 9/11 Commissioner Timothy Roemer.
"With a national footprint and deep reach in Washington, and a set of values-driven policies, we think we can help this administration and help future administrations and congresses put their values and the security platform together and lead a whole new generational march on what our policy should be for America," Kleinfeld said. "We hope to make big waves."
Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), one of the new Republicans on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, has no plans to oppose the nominations either of former Sen. Chuck Hagel to be the next defense secretary or current Sen. John Kerry (D-MA) to be the next secretary of state, he told The Cable in an interview.
"I'm going to remain open-minded and hear more about what [Hagel's] plans are and his direction are as he comes forward. I'm not going to make a prior commitment one way or the other," Paul said.
The firm opposition to Hagel has now risen to include five GOP senators. Sen. David Vitter (R-LA) announced he would vote "no" on the nomination, adding him to the list that includes Sens. John Cornyn (R-TX), Dan Coats (R-IN), Tom Coburn (R-OK), and freshman Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX). Other top senators who have expressed reservations but not committed to a "no" vote include Sens. John McCain (R-AZ), Lindsey Graham (R-SC), and new ranking Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee James Inhofe (R-OK).
Paul said he intends to use Hagel's nomination to press the former Nebraska senator on whether he would support the reform of how the United States doles out arms and military aid to foreign countries, especially those that don't follow policies that are in the American national security interest.
"It's an opportunity to talk about the issue and get his opinion about our aid to foreign countries. I would like to ask and will ask [him] whether or not they are aware of the world we live in. Everybody seems to be aware of it, but nobody is changing policy," Paul said.
Paul isn't on the Armed Services Committee, which will vet Hagel, but he is on the SFRC, which will vet Kerry. Paul intends to use Kerry's hearing to press for answers on Benghazi, but he said Kerry's nomination shouldn't be considered until Secretary of State Hillary Clinton testifies before the committee first.
"One of my questions will be: If the buck stops with her, is she taking ultimately responsible for the failure?" he said. "I'd like to know whether she read the cables from Ambassador Stevens... The real point is who was in charge of the security and in the months leading up to the attack, why wasn't there adequate security."
Paul has been active in pushing his idea for cutting foreign aid to the countries of Egypt, Libya, and Pakistan until or unless those countries take steps to cooperate with U.S. foreign policy objectives. Sometimes, Paul has used tactics like holding nominees or objecting the easy passage of bills to get a hearing on his foreign aid amendment.
Those tactics are likely to continue, Paul said, but that's his prerogative as a senator and he doesn't feel guilty about using that power from time to time.
"While people complain about the Senate, in the end we've never held anybody who wasn't released as a nominee eventually," he said.
Paul plans to use his new perch to argue for a scaled-back American role in the world and a reform of American foreign assistance funding.
"There needs to be a voice for people in the country who want to see a less aggressive foreign policy, a more defensive foreign policy, and a less interventionalist foreign policy," he said. "The president says over and over again that we need to do nation building at home, not overseas, but he continues to do both. I think we need to put teeth to the fact that we are running out of money."
Paul will also continue work to ensure that any resolutions or sanctions measures for Iran include language making clear that Congress has not authorized the use of military force there.
"I'm not about to let any war happen without a significant and serious debate in Congress. I wish the president was more like he was a senator when he said no president should go to war without the consent of Congress. Now that's he's president, he's totally forgotten that," he said.
There are some rumors that Paul might be given a ranking Republican position on one of the SFRC subcommittees, which would give him more staff and the ability to work on more issues. He said hasn't been offered such a post but would take it if offered.
There could also be fireworks between him and McCain, who also just joined the SFRC and who opposes Paul on almost every foreign-policy issue.
"You'll just have to wait and see on that," Paul said with a laugh.
Stanley McChrystal, the retired general and former head of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, was shocked by the Rolling Stone article that led to his firing, he reveals in a soon-to-be-published memoir.
"Sir, we have a problem," McChrystal aide Charlie Flynn told McChrystal upon waking him up at 2:00 in the morning one night in Afghanistan. "The Rolling Stone article is out and it's really bad."
"'How in the world could that story have been a problem?' I thought, stunned," McChrystal wrote in the memoir, which is set to be released Jan. 7. (The Cable obtained a copy of the book independently from a local bookstore and was not a party to a publisher's embargo on the information contained within.)
McChrystal was referring to the article "The Runaway General," by Rolling Stone correspondent Michael Hastings, in which Hastings details his time with McChrystal's staff on a stay over in Paris in 2010. In the article, Hasting documents McChrystal staffers insulting top Obama administration officials including Vice President Joe Biden and the late Amb. Richard Holbrooke. Obama recalled McChrystal to Washington and demanded his resignation shortly after the article's publication.
McChrystal does not mention Hastings by name, but he does describe the Rolling Stone affair as a failed attempt to give the reporter an insight into the brotherhood of his soldiers.
"I was surprised by the tone and direction of the article," McChrystal wrote. "For a number of minutes I felt as though I'd likely awaken from a dream, but the situation was real. Regardless of how I judged the story for fairness or accuracy, responsibility was mine. And its ultimate effect was immediately clear to me."
McChrystal said he was called back to Washington that night, but he already knew his career in the military was over and decided to resign right away.
"From the moment I'd seen the article, I'd known there were different options on how to act, and react, to the storm I knew I would face," he wrote. "But I knew only one decision was right for the moment and for the mission. I didn't try to figure out what others might do; no hero's or mentor's example came to mind. I called no one for advice."
The Rolling Stone article was not the first time McChrystal had run afoul of the leadership in Washington. He also reflects in his book on the angst following his October 2009 speech at London's Institute for Strategic Studies, where he rejected the idea of a counterterrorism-focused mission in Afghanistan, right in the middle of the White House's internal policy review.
Joint Chiefs Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen woke McChrystal in the middle of the night to communicate the administration's concerns over his remarks. But McChrystal wrote that neither he nor President Barack Obama raised the issue of the speech when the two met the next day for a previously scheduled meeting aboard Air Force One in Copenhagen.
"My response (to a reporter's question in London) was reported as a rebuttal of other policy options for Afghanistan and as criticism of the vice president's views," he wrote. "It wasn't intended as such, but I could have said it better."
Overall, McChrystal's book paints a portrait of a commander who was not well-suited to handling the intense media spotlight that come with being the leader of a controversial war during a period of domestic turmoil. He was also taken aback that his strategic assessment in the fall of 2009 calling for 40,000 more troops in Afghanistan was leaked to the press as well.
"In retrospect, I never felt entirely the same after the leak of the strategic assessment and then the unexpected storm raised by the London talk," McChrystal wrote. "I recognized, perhaps too slowly, the extent which politics, personalities, and other factors would complicate a course that, under the best of circumstances, would be remarkably difficult to navigate."
In his book, McChrystal also defends his actions related to the death of Army ranger and NFL star Pat Tillman, who was killed by friendly fire in Afghanistan in 2010. McChrystal led the process of recommending Tillman for a Silver Star, which included reporting "devastating enemy fire." Later it was revealed that there was no enemy fire and Tillman had been killed by accident by coalition forces.
"[McChrystal] deliberately helped cover up Pat's death and he has never adequately apologized to us for doing that," Mary Tillman, Pat's mother, told ABC News in 2011. Pat's brother Kevin testified to Congress that Army leaders including McChrystal misled the family, altered witness statements, and printed incorrect details on Tillman's Silver Star commendation, all as part of a campaign of "deliberate and calculated lies."
McChrystal has said before that he failed to properly review the Silver Star recommendation and that it was not "well written." In his book, McChrystal insists that there was no intentional cover-up.
"Five investigations were conducted and accusations of intentional deception, cover-up, and exploitation of Corporal Tillman's death for political purposes were propagated. Sadly, truth and trust were lost in this process," McChrystal wrote. "Genuine concerns over slow and incomplete communication with the family increasingly became mixed with suspicions of intentional misconduct."
McChrystal said he intended to be forthright with the family and assumed they would be notified that fratricide was a possibility in Tillman's death. But he stood by the decision to issue the Silver Star commendation with incomplete information.
"In the citation, we thus sought to document what I believe was his heroism, without drawing official conclusions about friendly fire that were still premature," he wrote. "Any errors, which I should have caught, were not the result of any intention to misrepresent or mislead."
President Barack Obama is expected to name Chuck Hagel as his choice for defense secretary as early as Monday, as critics of the former Nebraska senator prepare to go to war to fight his expected nomination.
White House officials and sources close to Hagel declined to confirm to The Cable that Hagel is the president's choice to be the replace Leon Panetta at the helm of the Pentagon, but several sources close to the process said have told The Cable that the White House and Hagel have been in touch on a regular basis and that Hagel is indeed the expected pick. Decisions about the timing and logistics of the announcement are being finalized now.
The Cable had previously confirmed that Hagel successfully complete the vetting process, as have Deputy Defense Secretary Ash Carter and former Under Secretary of Defense for Policy Michele Flournoy.
Meanwhile, Hagel's detractors are moving forward with their campaign against the nomination, which has been expanding ever since The Cable first reported in November that Hagel was in consideration for the Pentagon post. That campaign has included anonymous Senate aides calling Hagel an anti-Semite, the Washington Post editorial board writing that, "Chuck Hagel is not the right choice for defense secretary," and the Emergency Committee for Israel, which counts among its board members Weekly Standard editor Bill Kristol, running a television ad criticizing Hagel's opposition to unilateral sanctions against Iran. "For secretary of defense, Chuck Hagel is not a responsible option," the ad claims.
"Even if one left aside Chuck Hagel's dangerous views on Iran and his unpleasant distaste for Israel and Jews, a dispassionate analyst would have to conclude that the case for Hagel is extraordinarily weak," Kristol wrote in an editorial Friday, in which he urged Obama to choose Carter, Flournoy, or Navy Secretary Ray Mabus.
The Log Cabin Republicans took out a full page ad in the New York Times to oppose the potential Hagel nomination. Following the publication of the ad, the leader of the group, R. Clarke Cooper, resigned in what he stated was a previously planned departure. He had previously expressed support for Hagel. Cooper and Hagel are both combat veterans.
Three Senate Republicans have come out firmly against Hagel's potential nomination, Sens. John Cornyn (R-TX), Dan Coats (R-IN), and Tom Coburn (R-OK). Cornyn said he can't vote for Hagel due to Hagel's "problem with Israel." Coats said Hagel "has had so much disrespect for the military." Coburn said Hagel "does not have the experience to manage a very large organization like the Pentagon."
Other GOP senators have expressed reservations about Hagel without committing to a no vote. Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), who previously praised Hagel as a close and dear friend, suggested recently that Hagel is not a real Republican. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), said on Fox News Sunday, "There would be very little Republican support for his nomination. At the end of the day, there will be very few votes."
Today's Sen. Mark Kirk (R-IL) gave the following statement about the potential Hagel nomination to The Cable:
"I appreciate and respect Senator Hagel's record of service to our country, especially as a decorated combat veteran," Kirk said. "While he has not yet been nominated, I am concerned about his past record and statements, particularly with regard to Iran and the U.S.-Israel relationship. Should he be nominated to serve as Secretary of Defense, I will join my colleagues on both sides of the aisle in a rigorous examination of these and other issues of concern."
Hagel's supporters, a loose conglomerate of former staffers and friends, have been working hard to defend Hagel from the onslaught of criticism, despite a lack of White House support that would come if the nomination materializes. They point out that Hagel is a decorated Vietnam veteran who served as the deputy administrator of the Veterans Administration during the Reagan administration and as the head of the USO. Hagel also co-authored the 9/11 GI bill as a senator.
They also note he has served in many private and public sector management roles, including as chief of staff to Rep. John Y. McCollister (R-NE), deputy commissioner general of the United States for the 1982 World's Fair in Knoxville, Tennessee, and chief operating officer of the 1990 Economic Summit of Industrialized Nations (G-7 Summit) in Houston, Texas.
Hagel has also been president and CEO of the Private Sector Council, a nonprofit organization formed to assist federal government agencies, chairman of the Atlantic Council, a non-partisan think tank, co-founder and president of Collins, Hagel & Clarke, a marketing and communications firm, co-founder of Vanguard Cellular Systems Inc., one of the nation's first non-wire cellular telephone carriers, and president of McCarthy & Co., an investment banking firm in Omaha, Nebraska.
Hagel is also currently co-chairman of Obama's Intelligence Advisory Board, a member of the secretary of defense's Policy Advisory Board, and chairman of the Vietnam Veteran War Commemoration Advisory Committee.
A bipartisan group of former senators and national security officials wrote to Obama last week to express support for Hagel's nomination. That letter was signed by former Defense Secretary Frank Carlucci, former National Security Advisor Brent Scowcroft, former Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker, and others.
Former U.S. Ambassador to Iraq and Afghanistan Ryan Crocker also weighed in this week in support of a Hagel pick.
"Mr. Hagel would run the Defense Department; it would not run him," Crocker wrote in the Wall Street Journal. "And as America's wars abroad wind down, it is clear from his record of service to veterans -- and his own experience as one of them -- that they would receive the support they deserve after they have put their lives on the line for the country."
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Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will return to work next week, after a being released from the hospital following a blood clot in her brain, the State Department said today.
Clinton, who has not been seen in public since she originally fell ill with a stomach virus Dec. 7, was originally scheduled to return to work this week. Her illness was compounded when she was fainted and sustained a concussion. She was admitted to the hospital Dec. 30 after the blood clot was discovered. She was treated with anti-coagulants at New York-Presbyterian Hospital and was released Wednesday morning.
Clinton is now resting at her home in Chappaqua, NY, and is getting ready to return to Washington and be back at her desk at the State Department next week, State Department Spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said today.
"She's looking forward to getting back to the office. She's very much planning to do so next week," Nuland said.
There's no date yet for Clinton to testify before the Senate and House foreign relations committees on the Sept. 11 attack on the U.S. mission in Benghazi, but those details are being worked out now.
"She is committed to testifying and we are working with the relevant committees to find an appropriate date," said Nuland
Clinton has been taking calls from senior State Department officials and receiving papers at home and officials who have spoken with her have described her as "sounding upbeat" and "raring to go," according to Nuland.
Her doctors have still advised her to hold off on international travel for the time being, which will come as a disappointment to the Korean and Japanese governments, who had been expecting a visit from Clinton this month, although that trip had never been officially announced.
Meanwhile, Sen. John Kerry (D-MA), was at the State Department for a series of briefings Wednesday and was sent home with reams of briefing books as part of his preparation for confirmation hearings to become the next secretary of state.
Clinton's doctors Lisa Bardack of the Mt. Kisco Medical Group and Gigi El-Bayoumi of the George Washington University, released a statement on Clinton's condition Tuesday, prior to her release.
"In the course of a routine follow-up MRI on Sunday, the scan revealed that a right transverse sinus venous thrombosis had formed. This is a clot in the vein that is situated in the space between the brain and the skull behind the right ear. It did not result in a stroke, or neurological damage. To help dissolve this clot, her medical team began treating the Secretary with blood thinners. She will be released once the medication dose has been established. In all other aspects of her recovery, the Secretary is making excellent progress and we are confident she will make a full recovery. She is in good spirits, engaging with her doctors, her family, and her staff," they said.
On Wednesday, Clinton aide Philippe Reines released a statement confirming her release from the hospital.
"Secretary Clinton was discharged from the hospital this evening. Her medical team advised her that she is making good progress on all fronts, and they are confident she will make a full recovery. She's eager to get back to the office, and we will keep you updated on her schedule as it becomes clearer in the coming days," he said. "Both she and her family would like to express their appreciation for the excellent care she received from the doctors, nurses and staff at New York Presbyterian Hospital Columbia University Medical Center."
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will return to the State Department next week after three weeks of recovery from a stomach virus and a related concussion, The Cable has confirmed.
Clinton's ongoing recovery will still prevent her from flying abroad, but will allow plans to move forward for her to testify in open hearing on the Sept. 11 attack on Benghazi, testimony that she was unable to give -- as per her doctor's orders -- on Dec. 20. Her return to a public schedule could also end the weeks of conspiracy theorizing and wild speculation about whether or not she was faking or misrepresenting her illness to avoid testifying.
"The secretary continues to recuperate at home. She had long planned to take this holiday week off, so she had no work schedule. She looks forward to getting back to the office next week and resuming her schedule," Clinton aide Philippe Reines told The Cable.
Reines declined to say whether Clinton was at her Washington home or her house in Chappaqua, New York, but he said she did spend the holidays with her family. There's no definite schedule for her Benghazi testimony, but she has pledged to appear before both House and Senate foreign relations committees in January.
Since Dec. 9, when Clinton's stomach illness was first disclosed as the reason she pulled out of a planned trip to the Middle East and North Africa, a torrent of conservative pundits and media outlets have suggested or outright accused her of avoiding the public eye. Insinuations that Clinton was faking or exacerbating her illness to avoid the Benghazi issue came from the New York Post, the Daily Caller, hosts on Fox News's evening shows, Rep. Allen West (R-FL), the conservative website Pajamas Media, the Investors' Business Daily website, conservative blogger Lucianne Goldberg, and others.
The National Enquirer actually claimed that Clinton was suffering from brain cancer. "Considering the source I can't believe we even have to say this. But it's absolute nonsense," Reines said.
Former U.N. Ambassador John Bolton became the highest-ranking former government official to publicly accuse Clinton of faking her illness on Dec. 18.
"Every Foreign Service officer in every foreign ministry in the world knows the phrase that I'm about to use. When you don't want to go to a meeting or a conference or an event, you have a 'diplomatic illness.' And this is a diplomatic illness to beat the band," Bolton said.
"I certainly hope it's nothing serious, but this was
revealed in a way that I think that was not transparent, and I think there is
an obligation here, especially if Secretary Clinton decides to run for
president, to indicate what happened," Bolton said. "She may beat testifying
this week, but she's not going to escape it forever."
Bolton's accusation came three days after Clinton's doctors, Lisa Bardack of the Mt. Kisco Medical Group and Gigi El-Bayoumi of the George Washington University, issued a detailed statement about the secretary's injuries.
"Secretary Clinton developed a stomach virus, leading to extreme dehydration, and subsequently fainted. Over the course of this week we evaluated her and ultimately determined she had also sustained a concussion. We recommended that the Secretary continue to rest and avoid any strenuous activity, and strongly advised her to cancel all work events for the coming week," they said.
But Bolton accused Clinton of a pattern of avoiding the public that predated her illness and concussion. "The secretary has stayed out of the limelight ever since the attack of Sept. 11," he said.
In fact, Clinton held 14 press availabilities and gave nine separate press interviews between Sept. 12 and Dec. 7, when she fell ill. She also briefed the full House and the full Senate Sept. 20 on Benghazi.
In an e-mail to The Cable Thursday, Bolton explained that his comments on Clinton's illness were meant to highlight the administration's lack of openness about her medical condition.
"A fair listener would understand that my central point was the lack of transparency about her status," Bolton said. "Such a lack of transparency cannot be sustained in a presidential campaign, for example, where observers might infer that her condition was worse than it actually was. That's what I said, fair and balanced."
In addition to the Dec. 15 doctor's statement, the State Department has issued four separate statements on Clinton's health, on Dec. 9, 10, 15 and 19. Thursday's statement to The Cable marks the fifth time Clinton's representatives have spoken on the record about her progress outside of the State Department briefing room. In a background quote to ABC news Dec. 17, a U.S. official went into even more detail.
"According to the official, the secretary had two teams of doctors, including specialists, examine her. They also ran tests to rule out more serious ailments beyond the virus and the concussion. During the course of the week, Clinton was on an IV drip and being monitored by a nurse, while also recovering from the pain caused by the fall," ABC reported.
Top GOP lawmakers have rallied to Clinton's defense. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) told The Cable that he believes Clinton has been honest and forthright about her medical condition.
"I have no doubts that Secretary Clinton has been ill and suffered a concussion. I know she will testify and statements to the contrary are misplaced," said Graham.
In a press conference last week, Graham said he wants Clinton to testify on Benghazi before she steps down from office, but reiterated that her illness was real and serious.
"To those who suggest that she's dodging her responsibilities because she's not sick, I think that's inappropriate and not true," Graham said. "I know she's sick now. I know she is not appearing because she really is ill."
House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairwoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) acknowledged the veracity of Clinton's illness at her Dec. 20 hearing and Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) also backed Clinton up in a Dec. 19 Fox News appearance.
"I must say, I have never seen Secretary Clinton back down from a fight. And I have never seen her back down. And I believe that she is now not physically well enough to testify and she will testify the middle of January," he said.
Outrage over the charge that Clinton has been misleading the American public about her illness extends well past Washington. The NFL Players Association, apparently concerned about the seeming trivialization of similar injuries, felt compelled to weigh in and admonish those who would downplay the secretary's ordeal.
"A concussion is a serious injury that should not be discounted or belittled for political purposes," NFLPA Assistant Executive Director George Atallah said in a statement. "The Players Association has worked tirelessly not only to address this problem at the professional level, but to educate the general public about the risks to youths playing sports of all kinds. Efforts to raise awareness and teach prevention are undermined whenever someone dismisses the impact of a concussion. We must set a better example consistent with what we know to be the medical truth."
KEVIN LAMARQUE/AFP/Getty Images
Russian President Vladimir Putin is punishing Russian orphans to spite the United States, a top State Department spokesman said Thursday.
Putin pledged Thursday to sign a bill barring Americans from adopting Russian children after the upper house of the Russian parliament passed the legislation unanimously. The bill is being seen as retaliation for a new U.S. law that punishes Russian human rights violators by restricting their access to visas and their ability to do business in the United States.
That bill, the Sergei Magnitsky Accountability and Rule of Law Act of 2012, was named after the Russian anti-corruption lawyer who died in prison, allegedly after being tortured by Russian officials.
State Department spokesman Patrick Ventrell said Thursday that the Russian bill would needlessly result in the suffering of the most vulnerable Russian orphans, who bear no responsibility for the political feud between Moscow and Washington.
"We have repeatedly made clear, both in private and in public, our deep concerns about the bill passed by the Russian parliament that, if signed by President Putin, would halt intra-country adoptions between the United States and Russia. Since 1992 American families have welcomed more than 60,000 Russian children into their homes, and it is misguided to link the fate of children to unrelated political considerations," Ventrell said. "The welfare of children is simply too important to tie to the political aspects of our relationship."
CBS News reported Thursday that 100,000 Russians have signed a petition against the legislation, which would block dozens of Russian children who are near the end of the adoption process from traveling to America and effectively end the flow of adoptees, tens of thousands of whom have been taken in by American families over the last 20 years.
"The bill is named in honor of Dima Yakovlev, a Russian toddler who was adopted by Americans and then died in 2008 after his father left him in a car in broiling heat for hours. The father was found not guilty of involuntary manslaughter," CBS reported.
The State Department also criticized sections of the bill that would further restrict Russian civil society organizations from working with American partners. Harsh reporting restrictions and the threat of treason charges for Russians working with international NGOs have compelled several aid organizations to flee Russia in recent months.
"The decades of cooperation between Russian and American NGOs have been beneficial to both our countries and our citizens," Ventrell said. "We have also been clear that our interaction with Russian civil society has always been nonpartisan and transparent."
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