As the violence in Syria spirals out of control, top officials in President Barack Obama's administration are quietly preparing options for how to assist the Syrian opposition, including gaming out the unlikely option of setting up a no-fly zone in Syria and preparing for another major diplomatic initiative.
Critics on Capitol Hill accuse the Obama administration of being slow to react to the quickening deterioration of the security situation in Syria, where more than 5,000 people have died, according to the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights. Many lawmakers say the White House is once again "leading from behind," while the Turks, the French, and the Arab League -- which sent an observer mission to Syria this week -- pursue more aggressive strategies for pressuring the Assad regime. But U.S. officials insist that they are moving cautiously to avoid destabilizing Syria further, and to make sure they know as much as possible about the country's complex dynamics before getting more involved.
The administration does see the status quo in Syria as unsustainable. Bashar al-Assad's regime is a "dead man walking," State Department official Fred Hof said this month. Now, the administration is ramping up its policymaking machinery on the issue after several weeks of having no top-level administration meetings to discuss the Syria crisis. The National Security Council (NSC) has begun an informal, quiet interagency process to create and collect options for aiding the Syrian opposition, two administration officials confirmed to The Cable.
The process, led by NSC Senior Director Steve Simon, involves only a few select officials from State, Defense, Treasury, and other relevant agencies. The group is unusually small, presumably to prevent media leaks, and the administration is not using the normal process of Interagency Policy Committee, Deputies Committee, or Principals Committee meetings, the officials said. (Another key official inside the discussions is Hof, who is leading the interactions with Syrian opposition leaders and U.S. allies.)
The options under consideration include establishing a humanitarian corridor or safe zone for civilians in Syria along the Turkish border, extending humanitarian aid to the Syrian rebels, providing medical aid to Syrian clinics, engaging more with the external and internal opposition, forming an international contact group, or appointing a special coordinator for working with the Syrian opposition (as was done in Libya), according to the two officials, both of whom are familiar with the discussions but not in attendance at the meetings.
"The interagency is now looking at options for Syria, but it's still at the preliminary stage," one official said. "There are many people in the administration that realize the status quo is unsustainable and there is an internal recognition that existing financial sanctions are not going to bring down the Syrian regime in the near future."
After imposing several rounds of financial sanctions on Syrian regime leaders, the focus is now shifting to assisting the opposition directly. The interagency process is still ongoing and the NSC has tasked State and DOD to present options in the near future, but nothing has been decided, said the officials -- one of whom told The Cable that the administration was being intentionally careful out of concern about what comes next in Syria.
"Due to the incredible and far-reaching ramifications of the Syrian problem set, people are being very cautious," the official said. "The criticism could be we're not doing enough to change the status quo because we're leading from behind. But the reason we are being so cautious is because when you look at the possible ramifications, it's mindboggling."
A power vacuum in the country, loose weapons of mass destruction, a refugee crisis, and unrest across the region are just a few of the problems that could attend the collapse of the Assad regime, the official said.
"This isn't Libya. What happens in Libya stays in Libya, but that is not going to happen in Syria. The stakes are higher," the official said. "Right now, we see the risks of moving too fast as higher than the risks of moving too slow."
The option of establishing a humanitarian corridor is seen as extremely unlikely because it would require establishing a no-fly zone over parts of Syria, which would likely involve large-scale attacks on Syrian air defense and military command-and-control systems.
"That's theoretically one of the options, but it's so far out of the realm that no one is thinking about that seriously at the moment," another administration official said.
Although the opposition is decidedly split on the issue, Burhan Ghalioun, the president of the opposition Syrian National Council (SNC), earlier this month called on the international community to enforce a no-fly zone in Syria.
"Our main objective is finding mechanisms to protect civilians and stop the killing machine," said Ghalioun. "We say it is imperative to use forceful measures to force the regime to respect human rights."
Is the U.S. bark worse than its bite?
Rhetorically, the administration has been active in calling for Assad to step aside and emphasizing the rights of Syrian protesters, despite the lack of clear policy to achieve either result. "The United States continues to believe that the only way to bring about the change that the Syrian people deserve is for Bashar al-Assad to leave power," White House spokesman Jay Carney said on Dec. 21.
On Tuesday, Dec. 27, the administration hinted at stronger action if the Syrian government doesn't let the Arab League monitors do their work. "If the Syrian regime continues to resist and disregard Arab League efforts, the international community will consider other means to protect Syrian civilians," State Department spokesman Mark Toner said in a statement.
The SNC, the primary organization representing the opposition, has been very clear that it is seeking more than rhetorical support from the United States and the international community. An extensive policy paper titled, "Safe Area for Syria," edited by SNC member Ausama Monajed, laid out the argument for armed intervention by the international community to aid Syrian civilians.
"The Syrian National Council (SNC) is entering a critical phase in the Syrian revolution whereby the hope of a continued campaign of passive resistance to an exceptionally brutal and unrestrained regime is becoming more and more akin to a suicide pact," the paper stated.
But Washington is uncomfortable acting in concert with the SNC: Officials say there is a lack of confidence that the SNC, which is strongly influenced by expatriate Syrians, has the full support of the internal opposition. U.S. officials are also wary of supporting the Syria Free Army, made up of Syrian military defectors and armed locals, as they do not want to be seen as becoming militarily engaged against the regime -- a story line they fear that Assad could use for his own propaganda, officials said.
There is also some internal bureaucratic wrangling at play. This summer, when the issue of sending emergency medical equipment into Syria came up in a formal interagency meeting, disputes over jurisdiction stalled progress on the discussion, officials told The Cable. No medical aid was sent.
For now, the administration is content to let the Arab League monitoring mission play out and await its Jan. 20 report. The officials said that the administration hopes to use the report to begin a new diplomatic initiative in late January at the U.N. Security Council to condemn Assad and authorize direct assistance to the opposition.
The officials acknowledged that this new initiative could fail due to Russian support for the Assad regime. If that occurs, the administration would work with its allies such as France and Turkey to establish their own justification for non-military humanitarian intervention in Syria, based on evidence from the Arab League report and other independent reporting on Assad's human rights abuses. This process could take weeks, however, meaning that material assistance from the United States to the Syrian opposition probably wouldn't flow at least until late February or early March. Between now and then, hundreds or even thousands more could be killed.
There is also disagreement within the administration about whether the Arab League observer mission is credible and objective.
"This is an Arab issue right now, and the Arab League is really showing initiative for the first time in a long time," said one administration official.
"[The Arab League monitoring mission] is all Kabuki theatre," said another administration official who does not work directly on Syria. "We're intentionally setting the bar too high [for intervention] as means of maintaining the status quo, which is to do nothing."
Andrew Tabler, a fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, said that the administration was caught offguard by how the opposition became militarized so quickly. The administration's message had been to urge the opposition to remain peaceful, but that ship has now sailed, he said.
"We have a pretty strong policy of not engaging the Syria Free Army directly, because earlier it was agreed that peaceful protesters had the moral high ground over the regime and were more able to encourage defections," he said. "But there was no clear light at the end of that peaceful protest strategy. We assumed, incorrectly, that the civil resistance strategies used in Egypt and Tunisia were being adopted by the Syrian opposition, but that didn't happen."
Most experts in Washington have a deep skepticism toward the Arab League monitoring mission. For one thing, it is led by a Sudanese general who has been accused of founding the Arab militias that wreaked havoc in Darfur. Also, many doubt that 150 monitors that will eventually be in Syria can cover the vast number of protests and monitor such a large country.
The Assad regime has also been accused of subverting the monitoring mission by moving political prisoners to military sites that are off-limits to monitors, repositioning tanks away from cities only when monitors are present, and having soldiers pose as police to downplay the military's role in cracking down on the protesters.
"It seems awfully risky for the U.S. to be putting its chips all in on that mission," said Tony Badran, a research fellow with the conservative Foundation for Defense of Democracies. "There never was a serious mechanism for it to be a strong initiative."
Badran said that the Arab League monitoring mission just gives the Assad regime time and space to maneuver, and provides Russia with another excuse to delay international action on Syria.
"Now you understand why the Russians pushed the Syrians to accept the monitors," he said. "It allows the Syrians to delay the emergence of consensus."
Brian Katulis, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, said the administration is trying to balance the value of protecting civilians with the interests of trying to ensure a measure of stability in Syria.
"The biggest thing is extensive consultation with as many international allies as possible. That's another feature of this administration," said Katulis. "And when change does come to Syria, the Syrians have to own it."
National Security Council spokesman Tommy Vietor did not respond to requests for comment.
KHALED DESOUKI/AFP/Getty Images
Egypt's ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces is returning to "Mubarak-era tactics of repression," and the U.S. government should condition military funding to Egypt on such repression ending, a bipartisan group of Egypt experts said today.
"Nearly ten months since the start of the Egyptian revolution, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) has yet to take basic steps towards establishing a human rights-respecting, democratic, civilian government," reads a Nov. 17 statement by the Working Group on Egypt, given exclusively to The Cable. "On the contrary, in many areas Egypt is witnessing a continuation or return of Mubarak-era tactics of repression, as well as increasingly obvious efforts by SCAF to extend and even increase its own power in the government well beyond the scheduled parliamentary elections."
The Egypt Working Group, made up of prominent former officials and think tankers from both sides of the aisle, was one of the key voices in the Washington foreign policy community in the lead up to the overthrow of Hosni Mubarak earlier this year. The group has long advocated pressing Egypt to quicken progress toward democratic reform and respect for human rights.
Members of the working group include former NSC Middle East official Elliott Abrams, the Carnegie Endowment's Michele Dunne, Human Rights Watch's Washington director Tom Malinowski, the Center for American Progress's Brian Katulis, Brookings' Robert Kagan, Foreign Policy Initiative's Ellen Bork, the Project on Middle East Democracy's Steve McInerney, the Washington Institute for Near East Policy's Robert Satloff, and others.
The group wrote that -- in addition to repressive policies used against protesters, journalists, and Egyptian minority groups -- the SCAF is also resisting calls to schedule a presidential election and is attempting to retain executive power throughout the drafting of the Egyptian Constitution.
"These policies risk placing Egypt's rulers in conflict with its people once again -- an outcome that would be terrible for Egypt and for the United States. The U.S. should make clear its support for a genuine democratic transition that will require an end to military rule in Egypt, and use all the leverage it has to encourage this goal, including the placing of conditions on future aid to the Egyptian military," the group wrote.
Their view is at odds with that of the head the State Department's new office on Middle East Transitions, William Taylor, who said Nov. 3 that he became convinced on a recent trip to Egypt that the SCAF is eager to get out of the governing business and hand over executive power as soon as possible.
"[The SCAF] wanted to make it very clear to this American sitting on the other side of the table that they didn't like the governing business," Taylor said. "I do believe that they are uncomfortable governing. Some would say they're not doing a great job of it. "
Read the working group's full statement after the jump:
The Senate was all set to consider next year's funding bill for the State Department and foreign operations today, but ended up punting on the bill due to a dispute over Cuba policy and a failure to agree on procedure.
Congress has been rushing to complete work on all the appropriations bills for fiscal year 2012, which started almost two months ago, on Oct. 1. The Senate Democratic leadership's strategy was to move the bills in chunks of three at a time, smaller versions of omnibus bills affectionately known as "minibuses." The State Department and foreign ops appropriations bill was part of a minibus that was supposed to be debated beginning today on the Senate floor. But now that minibus has crashed, and Senate consideration of State Department funding has been postponed indefinitely.
Here's what happened. As The Cable reported on Monday, two senators were refusing to give unanimous consent to debate the State Department minibus, which also included the energy and water appropriations and financial services appropriations bills, because of provisions in the financial services bill that would loosen restrictions on U.S. banks doing business in Cuba.
Sens. Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Robert Menendez (D-NJ) don't want any restrictions loosened on doing business with Cuba. They both spoke on the floor today against the Cuba provisions, along with Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL). But Sen. Jerry Moran (R-KS) spoke in favor of the Cuba provisions, which he had authored, because his state would benefit from the agricultural trade that loosening restrictions would bring.
So even though none of these senators objected to any aspect in the State Department budget, it was caught in the crossfire because it was tied up as part of the "minibus." With Rubio, Menendez, and Nelson objecting to bringing up the minibus with the Cuba language and Moran and Vitter objecting to bringing it up without the language, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) realized he couldn't get unanimous consent for either version of the bill and pulled it from the floor.
Of course, Reid could just call for a cloture vote on whichever version of the bill he prefers, but that would require time Reid doesn't have. With time running out on the continuing resolution (CR) that is temporarily funding the government until Nov. 18, Reid can't afford to spend floor time on individual bills, amendments, or debate.
Requesting a cloture vote would also have opened up the bill to other amendments, unless there was an agreement to limit amendments, which there wasn't. That is actually how the Senate is supposed to work -- but hasn't, for quite a long time.
"This is a result of a dysfunctional appropriations process," one senior GOP Senate aide told The Cable late on Tuesday. "If you are considering appropriations bills in regular order there wouldn't be a problem, but regular order broke down long ago in the Senate and what we saw today was a direct result of utter disregard for regular order and sheer incompetence in running the Senate."
The Senate did actually use the regular procedure to pass the military construction and veteran appropriations bill earlier this year, so there is precedent.
What happens now? Well, the Senate definitely needs to pass a new short-term CR by Friday, which will probably be combined with a different minibus that has already passed the House, the Senate, and has emerged from a House-Senate conference. That minibus is made up of the Agriculture, Commerce-Justice-Science and Transportation-HUD appropriations bill.
After that, the Senate will move to the defense authorization bill, a policy bill that recommends -- but does not set -- funding levels. The process for that bill is also a mess, because the Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) had to rewrite it at the last minute to cut about $20 billion to match the figure reached by Senate defense appropriators. SASC also had to change language on detainee policies to assuage the administration.
"I gave my word that we're going to do the defense authorization bill," Reid said on the floor late on Tuesday. "It hasn't been worked out to satisfaction of everyone, but there comes a time when we have to stop negotiating and move to the legislation, and we're going to do that following our finishing the next minibus we have."
But the failure to pass a bill tonight could mean that State Department funding will be put off for months. The debate over the defense authorization bill could take one or two full weeks of floor time, at which point the Senate will probably have to pass another CR to fund the government past the New Year. That CR could also result in a nasty fight. Also, Congress will have to grapple with the supercommittee's actions around that time, for instance working on legislation to undo the "trigger" that would cut $600 billion from defense if the supercommittee fails to strike a deal.
All of this means that there won't be floor time for things like the State Department funding bill until next January, at the earliest.
"If Senate Dem leaders do want to make defense authorization a priority, that's going to take up most of December, and then we have to deal with the supercommittee, sequestration, another CR ... and we're looking at the very serious possibility of another CR fight around Christmas. That is the most likely scenario," the GOP Senate aide said. "But then again it is the Senate, so everything could change again tomorrow."
The State Department is still trying to convince Congress to restore funding for UNESCO, which was cut off after the U.N. cultural agency's members granted full membership to the Palestinians -- but there is little chance lawmakers will change the provision preventing U.S. funding.
State sent an unofficial memo to key congressional offices today titled, "How the Loss of U.S. Funding Will Impact Important Programs at UNESCO." The memo, which was passed to The Cable by a congressional source, argues that UNESCO programs will have to be cut back severely due to the loss of U.S. funding.
State Department spokespeople have said they are working with Congress in the hopes of amending the laws that cut off U.S. funds to any U.N. organization that admits Palestine as a full member, but there is broad bipartisan support for the funding cut-offs and no real congressional effort to change the law.
"The cut-off in U.S. funding may not directly affect extra-budgetary programs funded by other donors, but it will weaken UNESCO's presence in the field and undermine its ability to take on and manage such projects and programs," the memo stated (emphasis theirs).
UNESCO will lose $240 million of funding for fiscal years 2011, 2012, and 2013 -- roughly 22 percent of its budget -- and will have to scale down programs in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, the Horn of Africa, and South Sudan, the memo states.
The memo also lists several ways that UNESCO supports U.S. national security interests. These include "sustain[ing] the democratic spirit of the Arab Spring" and democratic values around the world, promoting nation-building in South Sudan, and encouraging Holocaust education in the Middle East and Africa.
Read the full memo after the jump:
The State Department is trying to convince Congress not to cut U.S. funding for the Palestinian Authority (PA), despite the fact that the Palestinians are defying the United States by seeking statehood at the United Nations and specialized U.N. agencies.
"Congress should be aware of the potential second and third order effects of cutting off assistance to Lebanon and the Palestinian Authority," Andrew Shapiro, assistant secretary of State for political-military affairs, told an audience at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy on Friday. "We must ask ourselves, if we are no longer their partner, who will fill the void? We must think about the other potential partners that could fill the space left behind, and that should give us pause."
When the State and Foreign Ops appropriations bill comes up in the senate, probably next week, foreign aid will be scrutinized like never before by legislators eager to find budget cuts wherever they can. Leaders in both parties have also pledged to cut U.S. aid to the PA in order to punish the Palestinians for seeking statehood outside the peace process.
Just last week, lawmakers reacted angrily to the Palestinians' successful bid to join UNESCO, which triggered a law requiring the U.S. government to halt its contributions to the organization.
Senate Appropriations State and Foreign Ops subcommittee ranking Republican Lindsey Graham (R-SC) told The Cable on Nov. 1 that Congress is poised to cut off all U.S. funding for the PA, which totaled $550 million in fiscal 2011, despite the fact that he still thinks financial support for the PA is a good idea.
"I don't think that's in our near-term or long-term interest, but that's what's going to happen, that's where this thing is headed," Graham said.
The Cable asked Shapiro how the State Department planned to defend PA funding and what the prospects were for success.
"We are in discussions with Capitol Hill about the best way to provide support," Shapiro responded. "Hopefully we'll be able to reach an agreement with Capitol Hill that preserves our interests."
Shapiro also urged Congress not to place conditions on U.S. aid to Egypt, which includes billions in military and economic support funding each year.
"I know that the uncertainty of the Egyptian transition has prompted some in Congress to propose conditioning our military assistance to Egypt. The administration believes that putting conditions on our assistance to Egypt is the wrong approach," Shapiro said. "Now is not the time to add further uncertainty in the region or disrupt our relationship with Egypt. Conditioning our assistance to Egypt risks putting our relations in a contentious place at the worst possible moment."
He also addressed State Department funding of political training for parties in Egypt, even Islamic parties that may have anti-Western agendas.
"As these Arab countries are going into political transitions, a number of new people are coming into the political process, many of whom describe themselves as Islamists. But that doesn't necessarily mean that they are anti-democratic." Shapiro said. "We need to support an effort and structure to channel this energy that's coming into the political process into an understanding of what democracy means and the benefits of it, and our training on the ground is designed to do so."
The Cable also asked Shapiro to explain the State Department's latest thinking on the proposed $53 million arms sale to Bahrain, which is also facing stiff congressional opposition. State has said it will consider the report of an "independent" Bahraini human rights commission before moving forward with the sale. Shapiro said that U.S. policymakers will also consider the Bahrain government's response to the report.
"We have committed that we will not move forward with that sale until the report comes out and we are able to assess the reporting and the Bahraini government response," he said.
Former President George W. Bush's administration signed an agreement in 2008 to withdraw all troops from Iraq by the end of 2011, but policymakers in that administration always expected that agreement to be renegotiated to allow for an extension beyond that deadline, former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice told The Cable.
When President Barack Obama announced on Oct. 21 that he would withdraw all U.S. troops from Iraq by Dec. 31, his top advisors contended that since the Bush administration had signed the 2008 Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA), both administrations believed that all troops should be withdrawn by the end of the year. This was part of the Obama administration's drive to de-emphasize their failed negotiations to renegotiate that agreement and frame the withdrawal as the fulfillment of a campaign promise to end the Iraq war.
"The security agreements negotiated and signed in 2008 by the Bush administration stipulated this date of December 31, 2008, as the end of the military presence. So that has been in law now or been in force now for several years," Deputy National Security Advisor Denis McDonough told reporters on Oct. 21. "So it's difficult to rebut the proposition that this was a known date."
Rice, speaking with The Cable to promote her new book No Higher Honor, said today that when the Bush administration signed the agreement, it was understood by both the U.S. and Iraqi governments that there would be follow-up negotiations aimed at extending the deadline -- a step that would be in both the U.S. and Iraqi interest.
"There was an expectation that we would negotiate something that looked like a residual force for our training with the Iraqis," Rice said. "Everybody believed it would be better if there was some kind of residual force."
Rice said the Iraqi government, despite SOFA's Jan. 2012 end date, was not only open to a new agreement that would include an extension for U.S. troops, but expected that a new agreement would eventually be signed.
"We certainly understood that the Iraqis preserved that option and everybody believed that option was going to be exercised," Rice said.
It's been widely reported that the negotiations between the Obama administration and the Iraqi government this year broke down over the issue of immunity for U.S. troops in post-2011 Iraq. The Obama administration had demanded that immunity be granted by the Iraqi Council of Representatives, the country's primary legislative body, which was unwilling to do so for political reasons.
Rice said that she didn't understand why the Obama administration was unable to reach an agreement on immunity with the Iraqis, considering that the previous SOFA granted immunity to U.S. soldiers and was passed overwhelmingly by the Iraqi parliament at the time.
"We did manage to negotiate an immunity clause that was acceptable to the Iraqis and acceptable to the Pentagon. I don't know what happened in these negotiations," Rice said.
Overall, Rice said that while the Iraqi Army is making progress, it still has flaws that U.S. forces could help remedy, and the wholesale withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq sends the wrong signal to the region.
"They continue to need help on the counterterrorism side and it would have been a good message to Iran [to keep some U.S. forces there]," Rice said. "That would have been a preferable option."
Earlier this year, the self-immolation of one Tunisian fruit vendor sparked a region-wide series of revolutions that upended autocrats around the Middle East. Meanwhile, no less than 10 Tibetan monks have set themselves on fire this year to protest Chinese repression in their homeland, but the international community has yet to take notice.
Lobsang Sangay, the newly-elected prime minister of Tibet's government-in-exile, is in Washington this week to raise awareness of the dire human rights situation in Tibet and to call for U.S. support. He'll be meeting with senators, congressmen, and NGO leaders to educate them on the deteriorating situation in Tibet, but he has not been granted any meetings with senior Obama administration officials -- presumably due to their fear of creating friction in the relationship with China. He sat down Monday for a long, exclusive interview with The Cable.
"The urgent message is the ongoing self-immolations," Sangay said. "That reflects the desperate state that Tibetans are in. They are forced to take such drastic action, which is really sad. The motivation is that they want to highlight the oppressive policies of the Chinese government.... It's tragic."
He met with Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), a long time supporter of the Tibetan cause, and plans to meet with Sens. John McCain (R-AZ), Joe Lieberman (I-CT), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Rep. Steve Chabot (R-OH), and others. He will also speak on Wednesday at the National Press Club and testify before the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission, led by Rep. Jim McGovern (D-MA).
Sangay is hoping Congress will pass a resolution expressing solidarity with the Tibetan people and criticizing the repressive Chinese policies. He is also building support for his effort to provide funding that will help young Tibetans in exile receive an education in India and Nepal. Overall, he is simply hoping to highlight to Washington the worsening plight of Tibetans inside China.
"Many people are giving up their lives thinking the international community will come and hear their voices and support them," he said. "A resolution from Congress will send a message to Tibetans that their sacrifice is not in vain."
He also wants the Obama administration to put pressure on the Chinese government to improve the situation in Tibet. Sangay said the administration has raised the issue "in general" with Chinese leaders, but that he's not aware of any formal, concrete action by the administration on this issue.
The list of Chinese aggressive policies in Tibet is long, Sangay said, including economic marginalization, cultural assimilation, environmental destruction, and political repression. The crackdown on dissent has been increased, particularly in monastic communities, since the Tibetan uprising of 2008.
"Inside Tibet, they are giving up their lives and saying ‘Hear us. We are in a terrible situation and it's not worth living. We want you to acknowledge that you see us and you hear us,'" Sangay said. "So to acknowledge their suffering and to raise their aspirations and concerns, also to the Chinese government, that would go a long way."
We pressed Sangay to comment on the perception that the Obama administration has mistreated the Tibetan government-in-exile -- for example, by downgrading the location and publicity of Obama's meetings with the Dalai Lama and, in one case in Feb. 2010, making the Dalai Lama leave through a back door of the White House and walk past garbage in order to avoid the press.
"If we could have a result-oriented action, that would be most welcome. But a public display of support [by the Obama administration] has a symbolic meaning because that would encourage other countries to follow suit," he said. "We welcome both public and private gestures and public gestures have added significance."
He said the Chinese government is moving thousands of ethnically Han Chinese into Tibet to change the demographics of the region, and is installing party apparatchiks inside Tibetan monasteries under the rubric of "democratic management committees." He also said that an undeclared martial law has resulted in scores of Tibetans being arbitrarily arrested under trumped-up charges and then often disappeared altogether.
"When you read accounts of Chinese action in Africa, it looks like a replication of what is happening in Tibet," Sangay said, alleging that Tibet's water and other natural resources are being diverted out of the region. "Ten major rivers of Asia, which feed about one-third or more of the world's population, flow through Tibet.... You can call water the ‘white gold of the 21st century' and the Chinese are controlling that. It's affecting millions of people in Asia and creating a lot of tension."
So why hasn't the Tibetan crisis gotten as much world attention as the Arab Spring? In short, Sangay said that Chinese censorship and the isolation of the Tibetan community has impaired its ability to broadcast news of its plight.
"That's why I'm here, to make sure that these sacrifices do not go in vain," Sangay said, emphasizing that his government does not encourage self-immolation but feels a duty to speak up for protesters once they have acted.
The Chinese government doesn't recognize Sangay's government and often accuses him of promoting "anti-China splittist activities."
The Chinese government has sought to nominate the next Dalai Lama, a selection that Tibet's spiritual leaders said on Sept. 24 belongs to the current Dalai Lama alone. Sangay denounced China's position as ironic, given its denunciation of the Dalai Lama.
"It's a declared communist party, which believes that religion is poison.... They call the Dalai Lama the devil and they ban his photograph. So they want to choose the devil's incarnate?" Sangay said.
Sangay is not your typical prime minister-in-exile because, following the Dalai Lama's decision to transfer all political authority to the prime minister, he won the first really competitive race for the post. Before that, he spent 15 years in the United States, including time as a fellow at Harvard Law School, where he organized several meetings between Tibetan and Chinese scholars.
Sangay is committed to what's known as the "Middle Way," which refers to a call for Tibet's political autonomy and religious freedom but not independence from China. He sees a model in the example of Hong Kong, which is part of China but operates in its own way.
"I have a track record of someone who invests and believes in dialogue and I've met with hundreds of Chinese scholars," he said. "Many Chinese scholars do believe the Tibet issue is solvable because our demands are quite reasonable. It's the hard liners at the leadership level that are yet to come around."
He also said that the Tibetan issue is a matter of ethnic tolerance in China.
"They are willing to grant autonomy to Hong Kong and Macau because they are Han Chinese ... why they are not granting Tibetans autonomy is because they are Tibetans," he said. "Unless the leadership believes in diversity, they will never understand democracy.... Once they grant autonomy to Tibet, they will come around to embrace diversity, which will be the beginning of the real democratization of China."
President Obama opined on Chinese currency legislation, Pakistani double dealing, and the European debt crisis during his Thursday morning press conference, which was supposed to focus on his jobs bill. Here are the foreign policy highlights of his remarks.
On Chinese currency manipulation:
Obviously we've been seeing a remarkable transformation of China over the last two decades, and it's helped to lift millions of people out of poverty in China. We have stabilized our relationship with China in a healthy way. But what is also true is that China has been very aggressive in gaming the trading system to its advantage and to the disadvantage of other countries, particularly the United States. And I have said that publicly but I've also said it privately to Chinese leaders.
And currency manipulation is one example of it, or at least intervening in the currency markets in ways that have led their currency to be valued lower than the market would normally dictate. And that makes their exports cheaper and that makes our exports to them more expensive. So we've seen some improvement, some slight appreciation over the last year, but it's not enough.
It's not just currency, though. We've also seen, for example, you know, intellectual property, technologies that were created by U.S. companies with a lot of investment, a lot of up-front capital, taken, not protected properly, by Chinese firms. And we've pushed China on that issue as well. Ultimately, I think that you can have a win-win trading relationship with China. I'm very pleased that we're going to be able to potentially get a trade deal with South Korea. But I believe what I think most Americans believe, which is trade is great as long as everybody is playing by the same rules.
On the legislation to penalize currently manipulation currently being considered by Congress:
My main concern -- and I've expressed this to Senator Schumer -- is whatever tools we put in place, let's make sure that these are tools that can actually work, that they're consistent with our international treaties and obligations. I don't want a situation where we're just passing laws that are symbolic, knowing that they're probably not going to be upheld by the World Trade Organization for example, and then suddenly U.S. companies are subject to a whole bunch of sanctions. We've got a -- I think we've got a strong case to make, but we've just got to make sure that we do it in a way that's going to be effective.
Last point is, my administration has actually been more aggressive than any in recent years in going after some of these practices. We've brought very aggressive enforcement actions against China for violations in the tire case for example, where it's been upheld by the World Trade Organization that they were engaging in unfair trading practices, and that's given companies here in the United States a lot of relief.
So, you know, my overall goal is, I believe U.S. companies, U.S. workers, we can compete with anybody in the world. I think we -- we can make the best products. And a huge part of us winning the future, a huge part of rebuilding this economy on a firm basis -- that's not just reliant on, you know, maxed-out credit cards and a housing bubble and financial speculation, but is -- is dependent on us making things and selling things -- I am absolutely confident that we can win that competition. But in order to do it, we've got to make sure that we're aggressive in looking out for the interests of American workers and American businesses, and that everybody's playing by the same rules, and that we're not getting -- getting cheated in the process.
On Pakistan's hedging strategy:
With respect to Pakistan, I have said that my number-one goal is to make sure that al-Qaida cannot attack the U.S. homeland and cannot affect U.S. interests around the world. And we have done an outstanding job, I think, in going after directly al-Qaida in this border region between Pakistan and Afghanistan. We could not have been as successful as we have been without the cooperation of the Pakistan government. And so on a whole range of issues, they have been an effective partner with us.
What is also true is that our goal of being able to transition out of Afghanistan and leave a stable government behind -- one that is independent, one that is respectful of human rights, one that is democratic -- that Pakistan I think has been more ambivalent about some of our goals there. And you know, I think that they have hedged their bets in terms of what Afghanistan would look like, and part of hedging their bets is having interactions with some of the unsavory characters who they think might end up regaining power in Afghanistan after coalition forces have left.
What we've tried to persuade Pakistan of is that it is in their interest to have a stable Afghanistan; that they should not be feeling threatened by a stable, independent Afghanistan. We've tried to get the conversations between Afghans and Pakistans (sic) going more effectively than they have been in the past. But we've still got more work to do. And there is no doubt that there's some connections that the Pakistani military and intelligence services have with certain individuals that we find trouble (sic). And I've said that publicly and I've said it privately to Pakistani officials as well.
On the Pakistan-India relationship:
[The Pakistanis] see their security interests threatened by an independent Afghanistan, in part because they think it will ally itself to India, and Pakistan still considers India their mortal enemy. Part of what we want to do is actually get Pakistan to realize that a peaceful approach towards India would be in everybody's interests and would help Pakistan actually develop -- because one of the biggest problems we have in Pakistan right now is poverty, illiteracy, a lack of development, you know, civil institutions that aren't strong enough to deliver for the Pakistani people. And in that environment you've seen extremism grow. You've seen militancy grow that doesn't just threaten our efforts in Afghanistan but also threatens the Pakistani government and the Pakistani people as well.
So trying to get that reorientation is something that we're continuing to work on. It's -- it's not easy.
On cutting off aid to Pakistan:
You know, we will constantly evaluate our relationship with Pakistan, based on, is overall this helping to protect Americans and our interests? We have a great desire to help the Pakistani people strengthen their own society and their own government. And so, you know, I'd be hesitant to punish, you know, aid for flood victims in Pakistan because of poor decisions by their intelligence services. But there's no doubt that, you know, we're not going to feel comfortable with a long-term strategic relationship with Pakistan if we don't think that they're mindful of our interests as well.
On the European debt crisis:
The biggest headwind the American economy is facing right now is uncertainty about Europe, because it is affecting global markets. The slow-down that we're seeing is not just happening here in the United States: It's happening everywhere. Even in some of the emerging markets like China you're seeing greater caution, less investment, deep concern.
I speak frequently with Chancellor Merkel and President Sarkozy. They are mindful of these challenges. I think they want to act to prevent a sovereign debt crisis from spinning out of control, or seeing the potential breakup of the euro. I think they're very committed to the European project. But their politics is tough because, essentially, they've got to get agreement with not only their own parliaments, they've got to get agreement with 20 parliaments, or 24 parliaments, or 27 parliaments. And engineering that kind of coordinated action is very difficult.
You know, but what I've been seeing over the last month is a recognition by European leaders of the urgency of the situation. And nobody's, obviously, going to be affected more than they will be if the situation there spins out of control. So I'm confident that they want to get this done. I think there are some technical issues that they're working on in terms of how they get a big enough -- how do they get enough fire power to let the markets know that they're going to be standing behind euro members whose -- you know, who may be in a weaker position. But they've got to act fast.
And we've got a G-20 meeting coming up in November. My strong hope is that by the time of that G-20 meeting, that they have a very clear, concrete plan of action that is sufficient to the task.
The Cable reported yesterday that President Barack Obama waived penalties on several countries that recruit child soldiers for the second year in a row. Today, lawmakers moved to ensure that the administration won't keep funding governments that use child soldiers next year.
The administration waived penalties mandated under the Child Soldiers Protection Act (CSPA) against Yemen, Chad, and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). The administration didn't provide a justification for not penalizing South Sudan, because the 2011 Trafficking in Persons (TIP) report, which was released on June 27 and triggers the penalties, names "Sudan," not "South Sudan," as an abuser. South Sudan was declared independent on July 9, 12 days after the report came out.
"South Sudan wasn't a country during the reporting period and isn't subject to the CSPA; there are no penalties to waive under the law," National Security Council spokesman Tommy Vietor told The Cable.
That explanation struck several congressional aides and human rights activists we spoke with today as too clever by half. After all, the TIP report was referring to use of child soldiers by the government of "Southern Sudan" and the Southern People's Liberation Army (SPLA), which hasn't stopped the practice and will receive $100 million of U.S. taxpayers' money this year.
"They're using a legal and technical loophole to continue to build up partnership with a government that needs to be reminded how serious this problem is," said Sarah Margon, associate director for sustainable security and peace building at the Center for American Progress. "It's exactly how not to establish the message that they need to set up their government with full respect for human rights and transparency."
"At the time the TIP report came out, it was obvious South Sudan was going to be an independent country so any responsible person would have taken that into consideration," one senior House aide told The Cable. "Apart from the law, the White House still had discretion to address the issue as a policy matter and it chose not to condition any of the aid on the SPLA completing its demobilization of child soldiers."
The administration made the case that Chad has made sufficient progress on the child soldiers issue, and is no longer subject to penalties. "We've seen the government take concrete steps over the last year to implement policies and mechanisms to prohibit and prevent future government or government-supported use of child soldiers," Vietor said.
"The U.N.'s Chad Country Task Force has reported no verified cases of child soldiers in 2011, and Chad has put in place safeguards to prevent further use or recruitment of child soldiers. The president's reinstatement of assistance to Chad reflects this progress," he explained.
But several activists noted that the United Nations and State Department both kept Chad on their list of countries violating international standards for child recruitment this year, and that international monitors' limited access in Chad calls into question anybody's ability to verify whether the government has stopped using child soldiers.
Several aides and activists were angry at the administration for failing to adequately consult or even inform them of the waivers before they were announced. Administration officials briefed congressional staffers and NGO leaders yesterday, and journalists not at all.
"It also says something about the State Department's willingness to engage with civil society actors," said Margon. "It's a black mark on them in their ability to work with friends and allies on these issues. Why alienate the people who want to work with you on this stuff? It just doesn't make any sense."
Congress has no intention of letting this scenario play out again next year. Rep. Jeff Fortenberry (R-NE), vice chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health and Human Rights, successfully added an amendment to the Trafficking Victims Protection Act reauthorization bill today that would force the administration to give Congress 15 days notice before issuing waivers for the child-soldier penalties.
The amendment would also expand the law to include peacekeeping funds given to violator countries (such as Somalia), and force the White House to show that countries are making progress toward eliminating the use of child soldiers before receiving a waiver. Sens. Richard Durbin (D-IL) and John Boozman (R-AR) have already introduced a companion measure in the Senate.
Not all Capitol Hill staffers were completely unsympathetic to the administration's arguments, however.
One Senate aide referred to the progress noted by the Obama administration in Chad and the partial cut of U.S. military assistance in the DRC as "welcome steps -- steps that might not have occurred without the force of the Child Soldier Prevention Act," noting that they "will require serious follow up attention."
But overall, the administration's roll out of the decision was panned by the NGO and human rights communities, which see the administration's action as undermining the intent of the legislation.
"At a time when Congress is locked in one of the most difficult budget battles I've ever seen, it is shameful that a portion of federal funding continues to help support governments who are abusing children," said Jesse Eaves, World Vision's policy advisor for children in crisis. "This is a very weak decision by an administration paralyzed with inaction. And the worst part is that thousands of children around the world -- not the politicians in the White House or the State Department -- are the ones who will suffer."
GIANLUIGI GUERCIA/AFP/Getty Images
Reps. Gregory Meeks (D-NY) and Dan Burton (R-IN) have started a new congressional caucus to increase engagement with Russia and to push for action to promote Russia's bid to join the World Trade Organization.
Meeks and Burton, the chairs of the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Europe and Eurasia, started the Congressional Russia Caucus last month after returning from a trip to Moscow. They are the only two members of the caucus, just yet, but they're canvassing for new members now. They plan to build connections with Russian officials, increase legislative exchanges with the Russian Duma, and advocate for the repeal of the Jackson-Vanik amendment, a 1974 U.S. law that prevents the United States from granting Russia Permanent Normal Trade Relations (PNTR) status.
"When you think about Russia, they are an important nation in an important part of the world. And we have to make sure we begin to work with them in a post-Cold War way," Meeks told The Cable in an interview on Tuesday.
Meeks said he has been coordinating with the Obama administration, which is supporting Russia's WTO bid as part of its overall effort to reset relations with Russia.
"The administration was very appreciative of us starting this caucus; they thought it was a good idea. They said they looked forward to working with us," Meeks said.
Both Meeks and Burton said they were encouraged to start the caucus after meeting with American businessmen and members of the American Chamber of Commerce in Moscow. Both denied they had benefited financially as a result of their efforts on behalf of the U.S.-Russia relationship.
"We want to engage Russians on economics and trade affairs," Burton said in a Tuesday interview with The Cable. Regarding the repeal of Jackson-Vanik, Burton said, "That's something that the Congress has to do for the U.S. to get all the benefits of Russia joining the WTO. If that doesn't happen, Russia would be entitled to all its benefits [as a WTO member] but the U.S. would be disadvantaged."
Russia's accession to the WTO and the repeal of Jackson-Vanik "would be good for Russia and the world," Burton said.
Burton's position on Russian accession to the WTO and Jackson-Vanik puts him in direct opposition to his own committee chairwoman, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), who said in July that repeal of Jackson-Vanik was impossible. And she's no fan of Russia's once-and-future president, Vladimir Putin.
"Putin's present-day Russia is taking on a more Stalin-era appearance every day," Ros-Lehtinen said in July. "The administration must end its string of concessions to the regime in Moscow, which have not resulted in increased cooperation with the U.S. or an improvement in Russia's human rights record."
Meeks and Burton both also said that they could use the caucus to press Russia toward more progress on democratization, human rights, and respect for the rule of law.
"We do care about those things. What we're going to do is open a dialogue on all these things so we can move in the right direction," Burton said.
Honduran President Porfirio "Pepe" Lobo will meet President Barack Obama today to renew the friendship between the two countries, and ask for help in fighting Honduras's drug war. The meeting comes two years after the Obama administration sided against the process that brought Lobo to power, before reversing itself and embracing the Lobo presidency.
Lobo sat down for an interview with The Cable on Tuesday to talk about his country's 2009 political crisis, the role of the United States in that drama, and the need for strong ties between Washington and Tegucigalpa, which he described as two like-minded democracies fighting together against drugs and for democracy.
"The United States is our most important foreign ally, it's our strongest relationship and it has been so historically," Lobo said. "That's the way it is and I'm sure it will continue to be so."
Back in 2009, the State Department sided strongly with former President Manuel Zelaya, who was seized by the military and taken out of Honduras in what some called a coup. Zelaya snuck back into Honduras in September 2009 and holed up in the Brazilian embassy while the Obama administration worked to restore him to power.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton even met with Zelaya in Washington, suspended aid to Honduras, and revoked the visas of Honduran officials. Later, Honduras was cut off from Millennium Challenge Corporation assistance.
Eventually, it became apparent that the de facto regime in Tegucigalpa, led by Roberto Micheletti, was winning the internal struggle and that new elections would take place. The administration began shifting its position in October 2009 and finally threw Zelaya under the bus when Lobo won the election and Zelaya rejected a deal that would have returned him temporarily to power.
Zelaya hurt his case and alienated the Obama administration when he starting accusing "Israeli mercenaries" of poisoning him with mind-altering gas and radiation while he was inside the Brazilian embassy.
But that's all water under the bridge as far as Lobo is concerned.
"The Unites States has always supported democracy and the rule of law. Whether it is Zelaya, whether it is Lobo, this is what the United States has always looked for," Lobo said. "They always said that as soon as there are elections and the Hondurans elect the president, the situation with Honduras would be the same as it had always been, and this is the way it happened."
Most U.S. trade and assistance to Honduras has been restored, although they are still not able to receive grants from the MCC.
We asked Lobo if he forgave the Obama administration for sticking with Zelaya for so long and initially opposing the process that led to his election.
"They haven't done anything to us!" Lobo exclaimed. "The United States was the only country that maintained an ambassador in Honduras and was extremely helpful in eventually finding a path out of the crisis."
Lobo is meeting with a host of senior officials in addition to Obama, including Deputy Secretary of State Bill Burns, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, Agricultural Secretary Tom Vilsack, and Attorney General Eric Holder. He'll also hold meetings with leaders at the Organization of American States and the Inter-American Dialogue.
His main goal is to seek financial and technical assistance for Honduras's worsening problem with drug cartels, which have increasingly moved into Central America due to the crackdown in Mexico.
"[W]e need to have help to do more investigations and we need to seek reforms in the national police as well as in the armed forces," Lobo said. "We have a strong ally in the U.S. because this is the market, this is where the consumers are. We are basically on the corridor and this we cannot change. We also seek the United States to launch an effective fight against consumption."
On Tuesday morning, Lobo had breakfast with Sens. Jim DeMint (R-SC) and Marco Rubio (R-DL). DeMint was key in shifting U.S. policy away from Zelaya and traveled to Honduras in the middle of the crisis, against the State Department's objections, to meet with Zelaya's foes.
DeMint told The Cable in an interview on Tuesday that the Lobo government had made progress in repairing its relationships around the world but that more attention from the United States was needed.
"If we focus on Mexico and Columbia, the criminals move to places like Honduras," DeMint said. "They are a good friend and they are very pro-American and there aren't many pro-American countries left in the world."
The State Department may be facing its toughest budget season ever, but there are still plenty of lawmakers who are ready to defend funding for diplomacy and development, according to Deputy Secretary of State Tom Nides.
Congress rejected, by a 20 to 78 vote, an attempt by Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) last week to fund $6.9 billion in emergency disaster relief by taking the money out of the State Department's foreign assistance budget. Sens. John Kerry (D-MA), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), and Lindsey Graham (R-SC) all came to the State Department's defense.
"I think getting 78 votes against it was pretty darn good," Nides told The Cable in an interview. "We have bipartisan support. Clearly the great majority of the Senate thought it was not the right thing to do... Even in difficult times, people don't want to do things that would dramatically impact our national security."
Graham responded to Paul and defended foreign aid funding in a speech at the Council on Foreign Relations Sept. 16. Graham explained how he defends foreign aid to the man on the street, a man he called "Bubba."
"Here's what I'd tell ‘Bubba,' when he asked," Graham said. "I'd say, listen, I got it, pal. We're not going to write any more checks to dictators and let them waste your money. We're just not going to through money. But less than 1 percent of what we spend at the federal level is on foreign assistance."
Nides said that Graham has been "enormously helpful" in defending foreign assistance. "He fundamentally believes that the funding of State Department and USAID is critical to our national security. His argument is not that we should be funding these things just based on humanitarian grounds, as important as that may be."
The chairs of the Senate Foreign Relations Africa subcommittee, Sens. Chris Coons (D-DE) and Johnny Isakson (R-GA) have also emerged as advocates for foreign assistance funding. In a Sept. 19 letter to the chairs of the Senate Appropriations State and Foreign ops subcommittee, obtained by The Cable, they defended funding for development assistance and the USAID operations accounts, both of which are slashed in the House version of next year's appropriations bill.
"Development assistance is a reflection of our moral imperative to assist others in need, a critical demonstration of American leadership in the world," they wrote. "We are keenly aware of the budgetary pressures facing Congress... we are concerned that reductions to development assistance will undermine U.S. priorities in Africa and throughout the developing world."
Nides said that the House version of the State and Foreign Ops appropriations bill, which would give $39.6 billion in fiscal 2012 to international affairs funding, "would have dramatic impact on the operations of the State Department." The Senate version, which would provide about $44.6 billion, is "more reasonable," he said.
Nides said that the State Department and USAID have succeeded in being added to the national security discussion -- but that also places diplomacy and development funding in competition with national security accounts, including the defense budget.
"You've got to fund defense, but not at the cost of depleting your diplomacy and development. That would be shortsighted," he said.
The supercommittee that is working on discretionary budget cuts this fall must deal with caps on "security" spending, which bundles defense, diplomacy, and development funding into one big pool of money. And that could leave the U.S. diplomatic corps as the odd man out.
The State Department does have one very powerful friend who sits on that committee, Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman John Kerry (D-MA). So does Nides think Kerry will use his supercommittee perch to come to State's defense?
"My assumption is that he'll do whatever he can to be supportive, but first and foremost he's going to have to do what's in the best interest of the American people," said Nides. "I think he will determine that that includes protecting our national security, and that includes funding for State and USAID."
U.S. Ambassador to Syria Robert Ford keeps putting himself in harm's way. This Sunday, he attended the funeral of a Syrian activist shortly before it was attacked by Syrian security forces.
"US amb. Robert Ford shows up at the wake of slain #syria activist Giyath Matar. An hour later the funeral tent is trashed by security forces," tweeted Washington Post foreign correspondent Liz Sly Tuesday afternoon.
We found a video that shows Ford at the funeral, which took place on Sept. 11. The State Department today confirmed to The Cable that he was in attendance. We also found a video (warning: graphic) of Matar's tortured and mutilated body, posted by the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which has been meticulously documenting cases of alleged abuse against domestic protesters by the Syrian security forces.
"Security forces corpse [sic] submitted his corpse to his family and told them that you can make from his body a ‘Shawerma' sandwich!!!" the human rights organization reported.
Ford, who was installed as the U.S. envoy to Damascus in a recess appointment, was approved by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee today. But unless he can overcome a tough confirmation fight on the Senate floor, he will be forced to return to Washington at the end of the year.
The group also posted a video of the body of Ahmad Sulaiman Ayrut, who they allege was killed in the government attack on Matar's funeral.
The State Department condemned Matar's killing at a Monday press briefing, but only later confirmed to The Cable Ford's attendance at the funeral. So far, State has not commented on the violence at the funeral.
"This was a very high-profile human rights activist in Syria, apparently arrested on September 6th and died in custody -- again, further evidence of this regime's brutality, indiscriminate force, and absolute disregard for human life and for the human rights of its citizens," said spokeswoman Victoria Nuland.
There was no mention of Ford's attendance on the U.S. embassy of Damascus's Facebook page. The last Facebook posting by Ford came on Sept. 8, where he references threats being made on his life by supporters of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
"[Commenter] Mujtaba Xr warns me that I will face being killed if I continue my criticism of the repression in Syria. I take his post to be a perfectly good example of the kind of intolerance that has provoked such discontent in Syria," Ford wrote. "Remember that I am one of the few international observers here on the ground; if only the Syrian government would allow international media to move around the country freely like we did in Iraq!"
Ford's close call comes only two weeks after he was physically assaulted by a regime supporter while standing outside an anti-government sit-in by some lawyers at the Syrian Bar Association. The State Department didn't say anything about that incident either, until it was reported by The Cable.
Of course, it's possible that Ford is actually trying to get himself kicked out of Syria by the Assad regime. That would allow the Obama administration to spotlight Assad's intolerance and allow the State Department to avoid a fight over Ford's Senate confirmation.
The State Department has opened a brand-new office to manage U.S. policy toward countries attempting democratic transitions in the Middle East.
William Taylor, senior vice president for conflict management at the U.S. Institute of Peace, has moved over to Foggy Bottom to lead the new office, called the Middle East Transitions office, which began operations this week. His deputy is Tamara Cofman Wittes, who is now dual hatted, also continuing on deputy assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern Affairs. Taylor's chief of staff is Karen Volker, who until August was director of the Middle East Partnership Initiative (MEPI), which is now directed by Tom Vajda. MEPI also falls under Wittes' portfolio. Taylor reports up to Deputy Secretary of State Bill Burns and Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Jeffrey Feltman.
In a Monday interview with The Cable, Taylor said his office will begin by leading State Department coordination on policy toward Egypt, Tunisia, and Libya, the three Middle East countries that are trying to make the shift from dictatorship to democracy.
"The idea is we want to focus energy and policy attention on how we support these three transition countries," he said. "The idea is to be sure this gets top-level attention in the department."
Taylor's office will have about 10 to 12 people, and he said he hopes to soon add a resident senior advisor from both USAID and the Pentagon. The office is meant to be permanent, and would expand its operations to cover countries like Syria and Yemen -- if and when those countries attempt a democratic transition.
Taylor's first job will be to lead an effort to develop support strategies for Egypt, Libya, and Tunisia. Then, his office will go about trying to implement those strategies by working within State, around the interagency process, and then with international financial institutions, non-governmental organizations, and stakeholders on the ground. Taylor said he will attend National Security Council meetings on issues related to his brief.
In President Barack Obama's May 19 speech on the Middle East, he promised to work on establishing enterprise funds for Egypt and Tunisia, which are accounts meant to support start up programs and activities abroad, and said that U.S. support for democracy will "be based on ensuring financial stability; promoting reform; and integrating competitive markets with each other and the global economy -- starting with Tunisia and Egypt."
Taylor said that the administration was still eager to pursue enterprise funds for these countries, but that legislation would be needed to get it done.
"We're looking at the possibly of enterprise funds model as a possible model for these transition countries but we're going to need a lot of support from Congress," he said, adding that State would also ask Congress for authorizations and appropriations to support the new transitions initiative at State. New funding for diplomatic initiatives is a tough sell in this tight fiscal environment, but transition funding does have some support in both parties.
Taylor was chosen for the job in part because he played a key role in a similar diplomatic effort following the collapse of the Soviet Union. In 1991, the State Department put together the Freedom Support Act Office, which managed relations with former members of the Soviet bloc.
That office was run by Ambassador Richard Armitage and reported up to Deputy Secretary of State Lawrence Eagleburger. Taylor worked for Armitage in that office and eventually became its director, a position he held until 2001. The Freedom Support Act Office was combined with the Support for East European Democracy (SEED) office and still exists today.
Taylor was U.S. ambassador to the Ukraine from 2006 to 2009, and before that served as Washington's envoy to the Mideast Quartet. In 2004 and 2005, he directed the Iraq Reconstruction Management Office in Baghdad, and from 2002 to 2003 he served in Kabul as coordinator of U.S. government and international assistance to Afghanistan.
China's one-child policy has caused decades of sex-selective abortions and killing of baby girls that has resulted in over 30 million "unmarriageable" Chinese men, who are causing a rise in instability and sex trafficking, former ambassador and GOP presidential candidate John Huntsman wrote to Washington in a diplomatic cable newly released by WikiLeaks.
After Vice President Joe Biden said he was "not second-guessing" China's one-child policy during his trip to Beijing, all the GOP presidential candidates criticized both the policy and Biden, for seeming to endorse it. Even after Biden issued a clarification and called the policy "repugnant," House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) said that was not enough and called on the administration to end its contributions to the U.N. Population Fund (UNFPA).
But while Boehner and some GOP candidates are new to the debate over China's one-child policy, Huntsman, who served as Obama's ambassador in Beijing and who adopted a Chinese girl years ago, warned of the policy's grave implications in a January 2010 cable.
"Abnormally high sex ratio at birth and excess female child mortality both contribute directly to the sex ratio imbalance in China," Huntsman wrote. "Social consequences of this imbalance include an estimated excess of over 30 million unmarriageable males, a potentially destabilizing force that threatens to cause unrest in the most economically marginalized areas, and could lead to increased gender violence through demand for prostitution and trafficking in girls and women."
He said there is general agreement that the "abnormally high sex ratio" is due to the selective abortion of girls and the "excess female mortality," is caused by the killing of baby girls after they are born. Both are due to the "interaction of a strong cultural preference and pressure for sons with China's strict birth limitation policy," Huntsman said.
Due to the policy, Huntsman explained that there are about 32 million Chinese men under 20 years old who will not be able to find female partners and are called "bare branches." Richer, urbanized men attract the available women, Huntsman said, meaning that the single men who can't find women are usually found in poor and rural areas, searching for sex.
"Increased demand for sex workers and shortage of women to marry could lead to more trafficking of girls and women for future brides or the sex industry," the cable said, adding that while the Chinese government has begun talking about this problem, it has yet to take basic corrective steps, such as criminalizing sex-selective abortions.
While most politicians have cringed upon seeing their name in WikiLeaks cables, the Huntsman campaign sees the cable as reinforcing their message on China and human rights. A senior advisor to Huntsman told The Cable today that the diplomatic cable is evidence that as ambassador, Huntsman championed human rights far more than the administration.
"Not only was he advocating behind the scenes, but he publicly spoke out on behalf of dissidents and human rights, even in his farewell speech," said the advisor. "Given the vice president's recent comments on the one-child policy, it's clear the Obama administration is incapable of leading on this issue -- something Ambassador Huntsman is unquestionably prepared to do,"
In that farewell speech, Huntsman said that the United States will continue to advocate on behalf of imprisoned Chinese dissidents, explicitly naming Liu Xiaobo, Chen Guangcheng and Ai Weiwei, who has since been released.
"The United States will never stop supporting human rights because we believe in the fundamental struggle for human dignity and justice wherever it may occur. We do so not because we oppose China but, on the contrary, because we value our relationship," he said.
Huntsman campaign spokesman Tim Miller said that the campaign could not discuss confidential cables, but said that as an adoptive father whose daughter was abandoned by her parents in China, Huntsman was intimately familiar with the impact of the one-child policy.
"One-child runs counter to the fundamental value of human life and has myriad other negative consequences including an increase in sex trafficking and prostitution, as well as a destabilization of the family unit," Miller said.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was criticized in early 2009 for seeming to back off the issue of human rights when dealing with the Chinese government. She said, "We know what they are going to say" and "Our pressing on those issues can't interfere on the global economic crisis, the global climate change crisis and the security crisis."
More recently, administration officials have been more public in their criticisms of China's human rights practices, often talking about the case of Ai Weiwei. Clinton called China's human rights record "deplorable," in a May interview with the Atlantic. "They're worried, and they are trying to stop history, which is a fool's errand. They cannot do it. But they're going to hold it off as long as possible," she said.
Hundreds of supporters of the Mujahedin-e-Khalq (MEK) movement converged on the State Department on Friday to hear former U.S. congressmen and senior officials call for the U.S. government to take the MEK off its list of foreign terrorist organizations.
Former Rep. Patrick Kennedy (D-RI) emceed the rally in front of the State Department headquarters. The event also featured speeches by former Gov. Ed Rendell (D-PA), former FBI Director Louis Freeh, former CIA Deputy Director of Clandestine Operations John Sano.
"One of the greatest moments was when my uncle, President [John F.] Kennedy, stood in Berlin and uttered the immortal words ‘Ich bin ein Berliner,'" Kennedy exclaimed. "Today, I'm honored to repeat my uncle's words, by saying [translated from Farsi] ‘I am an Iranian,' ‘I am an Ashrafi."
The crowd erupted in cheers and applause and began chanting, "MEK yes, mullahs no! They are terrorists, they must go!"
Kennedy advocated taking the MEK off the terrorist list, which it has been on since 1997, and accused the Iraqi government of committing war crimes by killing innocent members of the MEK at Camp Ashraf. 3,400 MEK members live in the desert camp in Iraq under restrictive conditions.
"To my friends in the State Department behind us, who continue to hold fast to an old policy that is supported by Tehran, you are on the wrong side of history," Kennedy shouted. "To [Iraqi Prime Minister] Nouri al-Maliki, your brutal and deadly assault on Camp Ashraf will land you in the International Criminal Court, where you will be held accountable."
"I love you," Kennedy told the crowd. "If you take the MEK off the list, you will unshackle a group that will help take out the mullahs in Iran."
Next up was Rendell, who called on the international community to militarily intervene in Camp Ashraf, comparing it to Muammar al-Qaddafi's assault on Benghazi earlier this year.
"The international community conducted a military intervention in Libya to protect innocent civilians. We should do the same thing to protect the innocent people in Camp Ashraf," Rendell said.
MEK leader Maryam Rajavi, who lives in Paris with her husband Massoud Rajavi (who hasn't been seen in public since 2003), is banned from traveling to the United States. But she spoke to the rally via a video message on a big screen, and accused the State Department of giving implicit permission to the Iranian and Iraqi governments to kill children.
"The terror listing in the U.S. is openly used as a justification to legitimize such bloodletting, by both the cruel mullahs as well as their proxy government in Iraqi," she said. "Therefore, the Iranian people are asking the United States, ‘Why are you not annulling the license to kill our children?'"
The Cable's informal headcount put the number of attendees at about 1,000 to 1,500, with long lines of young Iranian-Americans wearing shirts with photos of dead MEK members imprinted on them. Some attendees had photos of the Rajavis on their shirts. Add to that flags, confetti, and a full drum line.
We asked Kennedy if he had been paid for his appearance at the rally, but he refused to answer. Ali Safavi, president of a pro-MEK group Near East Policy Research, said the speakers were paid through a speakers bureau, which receives money from wealthy Iranian-Americans in the United States. He also said those Iranian-Americans work with the law firm DLA Piper, but he denied the allegation that DLA and these individuals help funnel money from the MEK to the former U.S. officials.
In a crowd made up of people who were mostly of Middle Eastern origin, a group of African-American attendees wearing MEK gear stood out. One man, who would only identify himself as "The Great Lonnell," was holding a "Delist the MEK" banner while wearing a shirt that said, "Behold the Great Beast."
"We are here representing on behalf of the Iranian community. This vicious dictator who is calling himself a president is murdering these people, he's slaying them, and nothing is getting done," the Great Lonnell said. "And they are here rallying to get the attention of a government that has deaf ears."
The Great Lonnell came to Washington from Staten Island, NY -- along with 200 people from a church he attends -- to support the MEK's struggle for human rights. He and his group have been attending MEK rallies for several months, he said.
The Great Lonnell then pulled your humble Cable guy aside and asked to pitch Foreign Policy another story.
"Do you want to write my own story?" he asked. "I am the Beast that will come to the earth, from Revelations in the Old Testament. I am that person."
The Cable was not able to confirm that The Great Lonnell was in fact the Beast from Revelations.
UPDATE: Zaid Jilani and Ali Gharib from ThinkProgress interviewed attendees at the rally, many who had tenuous if any links to the MEK and little understanding of why there were there. Many had traveled from far away on fully funded trips. Some appeared to be homeless. Watch the video here:
Josh Rogin/Foreign Policy
The U.N. sanctions committee struck a deal to release to the Libyan Transitional National Council (TNC) $1.5 billion of frozen Qaddafi assets late on Thursday afternoon, but only a fraction of those funds will actually be placed in the TNC's hands.
Under the compromise between the U.S. -led members of the committee and South Africa, the lone holdout, the official document releasing the funds won't specify that the money is being released to the TNC -- it will only say that the funds are going to the "relevant Libyan authorities." A senior U.S. official said that this would have no practical effect, but explained that it allowed South Africa, which has not yet formally recognized the TNC, to sign on to the agreement.
The $1.5 billion represents about half of the frozen funds held in the United States and only a fraction of the estimated $30 billion of Qaddafi funds frozen worldwide.
$500 million of the newly-thawed assets will go to U.N. organizations involved in relief missions in Libya and will be disbursed directly to them. Another $500 million will be paid directly to fuel vendors, with $300 million of those funds reimbursing vendors for fuel that has already been delivered, leaving $200 million for future fuel needs.
The last $500 million will be placed in the hands of what's called the temporary financial mechanism, an account created by the Libya Contact Group, which is made up of countries supporting the TNC. The TNC will have to go to the Contact Group with specific bills or receipts to get the money, which will be given to them on a case-by-case basis for education, health, or humanitarian needs.
The TNC has assured the United States that none of the money will be used for military items, the senior U.S. official said.
"Today, we have secured the release of $1.5 billion in Libyan assets that had been frozen in the United States. This money will go toward meeting the needs of the people of Libya. We urge other nations to take similar measures. Many are already doing so," Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said in a statement.
"As funds are released, we look to the Transitional National Council to fulfill its international responsibilities and the commitments it has made to build a tolerant, unified democratic state -- one that protects the universal human rights of all its citizens."
Clinton also called on the TNC to prevent revenge and reprisal attacks against Qaddafi supporters , protect Qaddafi's weapons stockpiles from falling into the wrong hands, provide basic services, and move quickly to start the process of democratic transition.
A Reuters reporter found 30 dead Qaddafi loyalists Thursday in a military encampment in central Tripoli who appeared to have been executed.
"From the beginning, the United States has played a central role in marshalling the international response to the crisis in Libya," Clinton said.
Meanwhile, today in Istanbul, Deputy Secretary of State Bill Burns led the U.S. delegation to the political directors' level meeting of the Libya Contact Group, its first since the Qaddafi regime fell. Assistant Secretaries of State Jeffrey Feltman and Phil Gordon also attended. The issue of whether to introduce foreign troops in Libya was discussed.
"It is our understanding that the TNC is unlikely to request a formal peacekeeping force, but it may need U.N. and international community help supporting its policing needs. And precisely what it may ask for remains to be determined," said State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland.
Clinton will attend the ministerial level meeting of the contact group in Paris next week.
The Cable also asked the senior U.S. official why the U.S. government calls the rebel council the TNC, when the rebel council seems to refer to itself as the NTC (National Transitional Council).
"The TNC in its own documents and statements, refers to itself sometimes as the TNC and sometimes as the NTC, so we've chosen to stick with the TNC, which they began using first, since they seem to use both," the official said.
This week's toppling of the Qaddafi regime in Libya shows that the Obama administration's multilateral and light-footprint approach to regime change is more effective than the troop-heavy occupation-style approach used by the George W. Bush administration in Iraq and Afghanistan, a top White House official told Foreign Policy today in a wide-ranging interview.
"The fact that it is Libyans marching into Tripoli not only provides a basis of legitimacy for this but also will provide contrast to situations when the foreign government is the occupier," said Ben Rhodes, deputy national security advisor for communications, in an exclusive interview on Wednesday with FP. "While there will be huge challenges ahead, one of the positive aspects here is that the Libyans are the ones who are undertaking the regime change and the ones leading the transition."
Despite criticism from Congress and elsewhere, President Barack Obama's strategy for the military intervention in Libya will not only result in a better outcome in Libya but also will form the basis of Obama's preferred model for any future military interventions, Rhodes said.
"There are two principles that the president stressed at the outset [of the Libya intervention] that have borne out in our approach. The first is that we believe that it's far more legitimate and effective for regime change to be pursued by an indigenous political movement than by the United States or foreign powers," said Rhodes. "Secondly, we put an emphasis on burden sharing, so that the U.S. wasn't bearing the brunt of the burden and so that you had not just international support for the effort, but also meaningful international contributions."
Rhodes said that the United States is not going to be able to replicate the exact same approach to intervention in other countries, but identified the two core principles of relying on indigenous forces and burden sharing as "characteristics of how the president approaches foreign policy and military intervention."
Rhodes also weighed in on several other aspects of the Libya saga:
U.S. Ambassador to Syria Robert Ford went on another trip outside Damascus to view the anti-government protests on Tuesday, this time in direct violation of travel restrictions placed on him by the Assad regime.
"Ambassador Ford went down to Jassem, which is about 70 kilometers south of Damascus, to see for himself what was up there," State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said at today's press briefing. "This has been another town that has been engaged in peaceful protest. He was there for about four hours. He had a chance there to talk to a number of Syrians, including those in the opposition, and then he drove back to Damascus."
Sounds like a nice little trip: another example of Ford's commitment to justify his continued presence in Damascus -- against the opposition of many congressmen and foreign policy pundits -- and a useful means of engaging with the Syrian opposition.
But after Ford's trip to the city of Hama last month to observe the unrest there, the Syrian government slapped travel restrictions on the U.S. envoy and his team, barring them from leaving Damascus. The State Department in turn retaliated with similar restrictions barring Syrian diplomats from leaving the Washington area.
Of course, Ford could have requested permission to leave Damascus, but instead he chose to tell the Syrian government about his trip only after he returned to the U.S. embassy.
"In this case, he informed the Syrian Foreign Ministry after the visit, and he made clear to them that the reason that he didn't inform them before the visit was because they haven't been approving any visits by anybody, anywhere," Nuland said. She explained that Ford had requested permission three times over the last six weeks to go to the city of Aleppo, but was denied in all three cases.
"So is he trying to get expelled from the country?" one member of the State Department press corps asked Nuland.
"He is trying to do his job, which is to be able to maintain broad contacts with a broad cross section of Syrians and to make sure that they know where the United States stands," she responded. She added that Ford had received the support of State Department leadership in advance of the trip.
Meanwhile, Syrian ambassador to Washington Imad Moustapha, who has been neglecting his blog lately, has returned to Washington after spending some time back home. Moustapha is being investigated by the FBI for allegedly using Syrian embassy resources to spy on Syrian-Americans in Washington with the aim of intimidating them and threatening their families back in Syria.
How would the State Department feel if Moustapha just ignored the U.S. government and began hopping around the United States without permission? Nuland said that he would be granted permission if he requested to travel somewhere, and that some Syrian officials had recently been granted permission to travel to California.
After the briefing, a State Department official held a little gaggle with reporters on a background basis, as is the post-briefing custom. One reporter pressed the official to acknowledge that, if the tables had been turned and a foreign ambassador didn't follow rules laid out by the U.S. government, he would be expelled.
All the official would say is, "In this case, after he was turned down three times, we just felt he needed to do his job."
Ford's expulsion from Damascus would actually solve a tricky problem for the State Department, which is facing a tough confirmation fight for him this fall. Ford was sent to Damascus last year under a recess appointment, which expires at the end of the year. The only way for Ford to stay in Damascus longer than that is for the Senate to confirm him.
Though Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-CT) reversed himself and now supports keeping Ford in place as ambassador, there are still multiple GOP senators who have no intention of letting Ford's nomination get through the Senate.
Given these dynamics, Ford's unauthorized visit to Jassem represents a win-win scenario for the State Department. On the one hand, it bolsters the State Department's case that Ford is a crucial link to the Syrian revolution. And if he gets thrown out of Syria, State can avoid a messy confirmation fight they are almost sure to lose.
Representatives from the countries that are aiding the Libyan Transitional National Council (TNC) will convene in Istanbul, Turkey, this Thursday to develop new plans for assisting the Libya rebels as they assume control over their country.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who is currently in New York, has been working the phones on Libya all day. First, she had a conference call with Chris Stevens, the State Department's special envoy to the TNC, and Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Jeffrey Feltman, who was then in Cairo. She then spoke with TNC chairman Mustafa Abdul Jalil.
Clinton then convened a call with several members of the Libya Contact Group, including French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe, Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini, German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, Norwegian Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Stoere, Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt, Canadian Foreign Minister John Baird, Denmark's Foreign Minister Lene Espersen, the UAE Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed, and Qatari's Prime Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim bin Jabor al Thani.
"The agenda covered financial support for the TNC and the Libyan people, continuing efforts to ensure the protection of civilians, reinforcing the TNC's efforts to pursue an inclusive and broad-based democratic transition, and preparations for immediate needs for essential services and humanitarian relief," State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said at Monday's briefing.
The State Department will be sending Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs Phil Gordon to Istanbul for the Contact Group meeting, which is being held at the political directors' level. Typically, the State Department would send the undersecretary of state for political affairs to such a meeting, but that position is vacant while the administration awaits the confirmation of Wendy Sherman, President Barack Obama's nominee for that post.
The Cable reported last week that U.S. Ambassador to Brazil Tom Shannon will be temporarily brought back to Washington to stand in for Sherman while she awaits confirmation, but Nuland said that Shannon would begin work in Washington late Monday and Gordon, who has been assisting Clinton during this crisis, was prepared to go to Istanbul to represent the United States.
Feltman was in Benghazi last week and emphasized the importance of preventing retribution and violence in his discussions with the TNC, Nuland said.
Several Qaddafi officials reached out to the State Department in the final days leading up this weekend's event, but the State Department didn't pursue negotiations with any of them, Nuland said.
"There have been lots of feelers from lots of folks claiming to represent Qaddafi, including more desperate ones in the last 48 to 24 hours. But none of them were serious because none of them met the standard that we insist on, that the international community insisted on, which is to start with his willingness to step down," she said.
The TNC's top priority at the Istanbul meeting will be to convince the international community to speed up the release of some of the estimated $30 billion in frozen Qaddafi assets. Those assets are frozen both by U.N. Security Council resolutions and unilateral measures taken by the United States and others.
"Our diplomats will work with the TNC as they ensure that the institutions of the Libyan state are protected, and we will support them with the assets of the Qaddafi regime that were frozen earlier this year," President Obama said today.
The State Department has sped up the process for releasing some of the funds to the TNC, Nuland said. It is pursuing a dual-track approach, preferring to work with the U.N. sanctions committee but also planning to release money unilaterally if the United Nations does not act quickly.
"I can't give you a precise answer of how much and when, but know that we are focused like a laser on it now," she said.
Daniel Serwer, senior fellow at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, said that the U.N. sanctions committee route could be extremely tedious and that the administration should start by giving the TNC funds slowly, while also requiring the TNC to account for how it is spending the money.
"What's important is to begin a steady flow and to have mechanisms in place to insure transparency and accountability in the flow," he said. "The TNC needs a flow of funds, it doesn't need to be a giant flow. Giant flows of money can be poisonous in these kinds of situations."
GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney said on Monday that the first order of business for the new Libya government, after it secures control over the country, should be to hand over the man responsible for the bombing of Pan Am flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland in 1988.
"The world is about to be rid of Muammar al-Qaddafi, the brutal tyrant who terrorized the Libyan people. It is my hope that Libya will now move toward a representative form of government that supports freedom, human rights, and the rule of law. As a first step, I call on this new government to arrest and extradite the mastermind behind the bombing of Pan Am 103, Abdelbaset Mohmed Ali al-Megrahi, so justice can finally be done," Romney said in a statement Monday.
Megrahi, a Libyan intelligence officer and the former head of security for Libyan Arab Airlines, was convicted of murder and sentenced to life in prison in Scotland in 2001. Qaddafi agreed to pay the Lockerbie victims about $2.7 billion in 2002 as part of a deal that saw Libya's gradual reintegration into the world community, and led to Qaddafi's regime being taken off the State Department's list of state sponsors of terrorism.
Megrahi was released under compassionate grounds in 2009, under the belief he was dying of cancer, with only months left to live. He is reportedly still alive. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee held a hearing on Megrahi in September 2010 to investigate how the decision to release Megrahi was made, but no British officials agreed to testify.
Last month, Megrahi was spotted on video at a pro-Qaddafi rally in Tripoli.
It's not only Romney who has lamented the decision to release Megrahi, and called on the new Libyan government to transfer him back to international custody.
"The families of the victims of Pan Am Flight 103 have suffered so much
already, and the images of Megrahi at a pro-Qaddafi rally in Libya only add
salt to their wounds," said Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) on July 27. "Parading one terrorist
out to support another is an affront to justice and further affirmation that
Megrahi was released from prison on false pretenses. We will continue to
fight for justice on behalf of the Pan Am 103 families."
In June, Lautenberg and Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ) called on Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Attorney General Eric Holder to put the Megrahi issue at the top of the U.S. agenda when dealing with a new Libya government.
"While we recognize there are many critical foreign policy decisions to be made with regard to Libya at this extraordinary time, we ask that justice for the Lockerbie victims and their families remain a top priority and not be overlooked," they wrote.
Romney has been a critic of the Obama administration's approach to Libya, saying that the United States should lead on such international issues rather than playing second fiddle to European countries.
"America has been feared sometimes, has been respected, but today, that America is seen as being weak. We're following the French into Libya," he said in March. "I appreciate the fact that others are participating in this effort, but I think we look to America to be the leader of the world."
Romney supported the military intervention in Libya but criticized Obama for relying too much on multilateral organizations for legitimacy.
"[Obama] calls for the removal of Moammar Gadhafi but then conditions our action on the directions we get from the Arab League and United Nations," Romney said in March. "He's tentative, indecisive, timid and nuanced."
In July, when the war appeared to be at a stalemate, Romney further criticized Obama for not explaining the endgame in Libya and for exceeding the mandate provided by U.N. Security Council Resolution 1973.
"We approved the humanitarian mission as a people," he said. "We did not approve an expanded and muddled mission, which is what we see."
UPDATE: Gov. Rick Perry's campaign issued this statement on today's Libya news:
The crumbling of Muammar Ghadafi's reign, a violent, repressive dictatorship with a history of terrorism, is cause for cautious celebration. The lasting impact of events in Libya will depend on ensuring rebel factions form a unified, civil government that guarantees personal freedoms, and builds a new relationship with the West where we are allies instead of adversaries.
Former Gov. John Huntsman's campaign sent out the following:
The impending fall of Colonel Gaddafi is one chapter in the developing story of a nation in turmoil. Gaddafi has been a longtime opponent of freedom, and I am hopeful -- as the whole world should be -- that his defeat is a step toward openness, democracy and human rights for a people who greatly deserve it.
UPDATE #2: Menendez called for Megrahi to be expedited to the U.S. in a Monday afternoon statement sent to The Cable.
The Qaddafi reign of terror is ending and the TNC, as the legitmate government of Libya, must move quickly to embrace democratic reform. To that end the, TNC should extradite al-Megrahi to the United States to answer for the bombing of Pan Am flight 103. There would be no better signal to the world that a new Libya believes in justice and has every intention to adhere to international law.
Now that the Libyan rebel movement, led by the Transitional National Council (TNC), appears to be taking over Tripoli, their need for access to the frozen billions of dollars of Qaddafi assets is even more urgent, the TNC's top representative in Washington told The Cable today.
Ali Aujali, the former ambassador for Qaddafi who defected in March and now serves as the charge d'affaires at the rebel-controlled embassy in Washington, said that the TNC's long struggle for control over the funds that were frozen by U.N. Security Council resolutions and U.S. executive orders must be overcome for the rebels to assert control in Tripoli.
"The immediate next step is to get Qaddafi, that's number one. Number two, we need money. The third thing is that TNC will move to Tripoli as soon as it's a secure place," Aujali said. "We need this money, because we need to supply food, we need medical treatment for our injured, we need to pay salaries, we need to run facilities."
For more than three weeks, the U.N. sanctions committee has been considering whether to unfreeze some of the estimated tens of billions of dollars in frozen Libya assets. But Aujali said it is the position of the TNC that it does not need the approval of the sanctions committee to access the funds.
"I don't think we need sanctions committee authorization because the TNC will inherit the regime," he said. The U.N. has not officially recognized the TNC as the government of Libya.
But don't expect the TNC to keep the institutions of the Qaddafi regime intact. Aujali said that the institutions of the Libya state were so corrupted and so controlled by the Qaddafi family that they are of little use in the new Libya.
"All the institutions are to serve Qaddafi and his Green Book. We need to build everything from zero: democratic institutions, civil society, government organizations. Everything was controlled by Qaddafi and his sons," he said.
While the exact schedule has not been set, Aujali's understanding is that, after the TNC moves to Tripoli, it will set up a conference to draft a new constitution, which will then be approved or rejected by the Libyan people in a referendum. He said the TNC would then start to organize elections, a process he predicted could take about eight months.
Aujali said the TNC was committed to preventing retribution on the ground in Tripoli and upholding the ideals of inclusiveness and respect for the rule of law. He implored the U.S. government to increase its coordination and support for the rebels.
"I want the administration to unfreeze the frozen money, to commit to support the Libyan people, to interact with the TNC as much as they can, and to keep the NATO mission action until the threat of Qaddafi is no more," he said.
Aujali said that he hasn't been in regular contact with the State Department over the weekend, because he's been focusing on following the events on the ground in Tripoli. But CNN reported that Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Jeffrey Feltman, who is in Cairo and was recently in Benghazi, was contacted by Qaddafi regime officials as recently as Saturday.
"I think they were looking for a way to find a lifeline, buy time, to prevent what was then becoming inevitable, which was the uprising in Tripoli," he said.
In an interview with ABC News Monday morning, Feltman said that it was clear the rebels were winning that that he didn't think a violent unraveling of the security situation was likely in Libya, as happened in Baghdad when Iraqi President Saddam Hussein fell.
"A lot of that sectarian mix that existed in Saddam Hussein's Iraq doesn't exist here in Libya," Feltman said. He also said that "the overwhelming vision that we are hearing" from people across Libya is that "they want a Libya that is moderate, that is secular."
Anthony Cordesman, senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said on Monday that the Obama administration needs to develop an aggressive yet nuanced plan to increase U.S. involvement and aid in Libya to support the TNC, while at the same time not giving the impression that Western ideas were being imposed there.
"Bad as our current economic problems are, it would be incredibly foolish not to offer aid to Libya (and Egypt, Tunisia, and any other states caught up in this wave of change.)," he said. "Failing to provide that aid will not simply be penny wise and pound foolish; the price of such a U.S failure will eventually be paid in U.S. and allied blood."
President Barack Obama said yesterday that he wants to see Syrian President Bashar al-Assad step down from office, and promised to implement more sanctions on the Syrian regime. But conservatives in Washington have several additional ideas for how to up the pressure on Assad.
Thirty-two mostly conservative national security experts wrote a letter to Obama today on the letterhead of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies commending him for calling on Assad to step down and urging him to quickly ramp up the pressure on his regime. "We are concerned... that unless urgent actions are taken by the United States and its allies, the Assad regime's use of force against the Syrian people will only increase and the already significant death toll will mount," the letter said.
The signatories want Obama to push hard for multilateral energy sector sanctions and to advocate for the passage of new Syria sanctions legislation, which was introduced in Congress earlier this month. They also think the administration should encourage Germany, Italy, and France to stop buying Syrian oil, forcefully urge energy trading firms from Switzerland, Holland, and elsewhere to stop selling Syria refined petroleum products, and sanction any person involved in Syrian pipeline construction, including insurance firms, shipping companies, financing entities, and ports managers.
They also want harsher sanctions on Syria's central bank, punishment for anybody who buys Syrian debt, additional U.N. sanctions based on Syria's record of weapons and nuclear proliferation, and the recalling of U.S. Ambassador Robert Ford.
The letter reminded the president that the fall of the Assad regime would not only be a boon for the Syrian people, but also have "game-changing implications" for the balance of power in the Middle East. "It would deny Iran the use of its major ally as a proxy for terrorism, stem the flow of Syrian arms to Hezbollah, reduce instability in Lebanon, and lessen tensions on Israel's northern border," the signatories wrote.
The group commended Obama's new executive order that requires the immediate freeze of all Syrian government assets that fall under U.S. jurisdiction and prohibits U.S. citizens from doing any business with the Syrian government. The new sanctions also ban the import of Syrian petroleum products into the United States, and ban Americans from doing business with Syrian petroleum companies.
The signers include former NSC Middle East official Elliott Abrams, the Council on Foreign Relations' Max Boot, Weekly Standard Editor Bill Kristol, AEI's Fred Kagan, the Brookings Institution's Bob Kagan, former National Security Adviser Robert McFarlane, former CIA Director James Woolsey, top GOP consultant Randy Scheunemann, and former NSC official Jamie Fly, now executive director of the Foreign Policy Initiative.
The calls for Ford's recall have been echoed in both the House and Senate. House Foreign Relations Committee Chairwoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) yesterday praised the administration's move but reiterated her call for Ford for come back to Washington.
Several nations such as Saudi Arabia and Kuwait have recalled their ambassadors from Damascus but the Obama administration argues that Ford's activities on the ground, including a recent visit to protests in Hama, are helping the opposition. Ros-Lehtinen disagrees.
"It is also important that the administration take the next step in ending its engagement policy and reverse its mistake of sending a U.S. ambassador to Syria," she said in a statement. "The continued presence of an ambassador in Damascus sends a mixed message to the Syrian regime and gives legitimacy to Assad and his cronies."
Full text of the letter after the jump:
The recent debt ceiling debacle and Congress's threat to force a default has hurt America's standing and credibility as a world leader, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said today.
Clinton and Defense Secretary Leon Panetta appeared at a joint event this morning at the National Defense University, moderated by the George Washington University's Frank Sesno. Their discussion focused on the future of the national security budget, but also touched on Afghanistan, Pakistan, Libya, Syria, and the fight inside Washington over America's fiscal future.
When asked directly about the recent debt debate, Clinton referred to her recent trip to Hong Kong, where she assured world leaders that the United States always eventually deal with its internal challenges -- after exhausting all other options. But she said the episode had a negative effect on U.S. international leadership.
"It does cast a pall over our ability to project the kind of security interests that are in America's interests," she said. "This is not about the Defense Department or the State Department or USAID. This is about the United States of America. And we need to have a responsible conversation about how we are going to prepare ourselves for the future."
She then went on to defend national security spending, particularly as it relates to diplomacy and development, linking it to the U.S. rivalry with China.
"We can't be abruptly pulling back or pulling out when we know we face some long-term challenges about how we're going to cope with what the rise of China means," Clinton argued.
Vice President Joe Biden is on his way to China this week and officials previewing the trip said he will defend the debt deal during his visit there.
Clinton and Panetta's event seemed designed to project a unified front between the Obama administration's top foreign policy officials ahead of the looming budget battle, where caps in discretionary spending mandated in the debt deal could result in huge cuts for the State Department and USAID.
"We know we are going to have to put everything on the table. I'm not saying we should be exempt ... I'm just saying that as we look at everything that is on the table, we have to try to do a reasonable analysis of what our needs and interests are," Clinton said.
"If you go out to the American public and you say ‘what's the easiest thing to cut?' it's always foreign aid," Clinton said. "We understand that we have a case to make and there is a new way of looking at it."
Panetta expressed general support for a holistic approach toward a national security budget that includes defense, diplomacy, and development. But he didn't go as far as his predecessor, Robert Gates, in advocating a rebalancing of budget priorities away from the Pentagon and toward the State Department.
"Our national security is our Defense Department and our military power and also our State Department and our diplomatic power," Panetta said. "We all know we are going to have to be able to exercise some fiscal restraint as we go through our budgets.... What I hope this committee doesn't do is walk away from its responsibility to look at the entire federal budget."
Panetta also repeated the administration's claim that the debt deal would cut $350 billion from the defense budget, a claim disputed by experts and top lawmakers. Panetta then warned that if the 12-person "supercommittee" fails to strike a deal to cut $1.5 trillion in spending by Thanksgiving, triggering an automatic $600 billion in addition defense cuts, it "would have devastating effects on our national defense."
"It would result in hollowing out the force. It would terribly weaken our ability to respond to the threats in the world. But more importantly, it would break faith with the troops and with their families," Panetta said. "And a volunteer army is absolutely essential to our national defense. Any kind of cut like that would literally undercut our ability to put together the kind of strong national defense we have today."
Regarding the State Department's budget, Panetta didn't advocate increases, but he did say it was "absolutely essential to our national security."
Panetta refused to comment on reports that the Pakistani military gave the Chinese military access to a downed U.S. helicopter that was used in the mission to kill Osama bin Laden. He did say that they United States has no choice but to continue to work with Pakistan.
"They have relations with the Haqqanis... there's a relationship with the LeT [Lashkar-e-Taiba]. And yet, there is no choice but to maintain a relationship with Pakistan. Why? Because we are fighting a war there, we are fighting al Qaeda there, and they do give us some cooperation in that effort," he said.
Clinton referred to the last scene of the movie Charlie Wilson's War, in which lawmakers decided not to fund civilian programs for Afghanistan after supporting the Afghan military resistance to the Soviet invasion. She said the Pakistanis have a similar view of the United States "that needs to be respected."
"They are partners, but they don't always see the world the way we see the world, and they don't always cooperate with us on what we think -- and I'll be very blunt about this -- is in their interests.," she said.
Clinton also said it was not important whether the Obama administration actually insists that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad leaves power. There have been several reports that the administration was planning on announcing explicitly that the Syrian leader should leave, but then decided not to at the last minute.
"I'm not a big believer in arbitrary deadlines when you're dealing with a complicated situation," Clinton said. "It's not going to be any news if the United States says Assad needs to go... If Turkey says it, if King Abdullah says it, if other people say it, there is no way the Assad regime can ignore it."
Vice President Joe Biden heads to Northeast Asia today to meet with the man who could be the next president of China, take in some Mongolian culture, and then pay his respects to Japan, which is still recovering from the tsunami that hit the country in March.
Biden will spend four days in China, one day in Mongolia, and two days in Japan -- his first trip to Asia as vice president but his umpteenth visit as a U.S. political leader. He first traveled to China in 1979 as part of the first congressional delegation to visit after the United States and China normalized relations. The highlight of the visit will be his meeting with Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping, who is expected to replace Hu Jintao as president sometime next year.
"One of the primary purposes of the trip is to get to know China's future leadership, to build a relationship with Vice President Xi, and to discuss with him and other Chinese leaders the full breadth of issues in the U.S.-China relationship," said Tony Blinken, Biden's national security advisor, in a conference call with reporters. "Simply put, we're investing in the future of the U.S.-China relationship."
On Thursday, Biden will have two meetings with Xi in Beijing and a meeting with Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao, followed by a formal banquet hosted by Xi in the evening. On Friday, Biden will have a roundtable discussion with U.S. and Chinese business leaders, followed by another meeting with Wen and a meeting with Hu.
Saturday, Biden will visit the U.S. embassy in Beijing to meet with the staff and spend some time with the new U.S. Ambassador Gary Locke. He will then head off for the city of Chengdu, in Sichuan province, becoming the first U.S. political leader to visit the city. That night, Biden and Xi will visit a high school in Dujiangyan City that was rebuilt following the 2008 earthquake.
Sichuan province, which borders Tibet, is where two Tibetan monks set themselves on fire in recent days, to protest the Chinese government's policy of suppressing Tibetan culture and "reeducating" Tibetan spiritual leaders.
"I think the vice president can be expected to reinforce the message to the Chinese that there is great value in their renewing their dialogue with the representatives of the Dalai Lama, with the goal of peacefully resolving differences," said NSC Senior Director Danny Russel, who didn't comment directly on the recent protests.
One subject that Biden will be trying to avoid in China is the matter of U.S. arms sales to Taiwan. Reports yesterday said that a Pentagon team traveled to Taiwan to deliver the message that the United States will not be selling the Taipei the new F-16 C/D model fighter planes it wants, but would be willing to sell upgrades for its older A/B models.
"I think it's important to make clear that on the issue of Taiwan that the vice president has no plans to raise the Taiwan issue, certainly not arms sales during his trip. He is not going to China to address that issue," Russel said.
Of course, it's extremely likely that the Chinese will raise it, and will want to know the details of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's promise to Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) that the administration would announce its decision on Taiwan arms sales by Oct. 1.
On Aug. 22, Biden goes to Mongolia, becoming the first No. 2 to visit there since Vice President Henry Wallace in 1944. Mongolian President Tsakhia Elbegdorj scored a visit to the Oval Office in June. Biden will meet with him, as well as Prime Minister Sukhbaatar Batbold. Then, the Mongolians will put on a cultural display that will include archery, wrestling, and horse racing.
Biden leaves for Tokyo that night and will spend two days in Japan, including a visit to the earthquake damaged city of Sendai. He will meet with the embattled Prime Minister Naoto Kan and visit with American troops.
The U.S. debt crisis will be one topic that will be on all Asian leaders' minds during Biden's trip. China and Japan are the top two holders of U.S. government debt, respectively. Lael Brainard, the Treasury Department's undersecretary for international affairs and the wife of Assistant Secretary of State for East Asia Kurt Campbell, outlined Biden's message to Asia on America's debt.
"The vice president will be in a good position to talk about the very strong deficit reduction package that we concluded here recently. Obviously, the United States has the capacity, the will, and the commitment to tackle our major fiscal and economic challenges," she said.
But Biden will also carry the message that China has to stop depending on its trade imbalance with the United States to feed its ever growing economy.
"I think as we move forward on addressing our fiscal challenges, Chinese policy makers know that they can no longer count on the U.S. consumer to provide that demand to the global economy," she said.
Almost a month after Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced that the United States now sees the Libyan Transitional National Council (TNC) as the official government of Libya, the TNC is on the verge of reclaiming the Libyan embassy in Washington but it's nowhere near getting its hands on billions of dollars in frozen assets formerly held by Muammar al-Qaddafi.
The Libyan rebels, who are represented in Washington by former Qaddafi envoy Ali Aujali, have been working out of donated office space in northwest Washington for months. The State Department signed an order last week handing control of the Libyan embassy, located in the Watergate complex, over to the rebels. However, they have yet to move in to their new digs
Sources close to the TNC mission in Washington said that Aujali is in Canada right now, helping the Canadian government expel their own Qaddafi officials and setting up the TNC embassy in Ottowa. He is planning to return to the United States after the State Department finalizes his diplomatic status, which will allow him to become the official head of mission of the new Libyan embassy.
When that happens, the TNC will gain access to the $13 million in the embassy's bank accounts, which is probably enough to keep the lights on, pay salaries, and maybe even pay their lobbyists, Patton Boggs. But the bulk of Qaddafi's funds remain frozen and will likely remain so for quite a while.
"We had difficult internal U.S. procedures with regard to the banking situation, et cetera," State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said at Tuesday's briefing. "And we're also in an environment where U.N. Security Council Resolution 1970 put some restrictions on what we can do. So we're continuing to work internally on various routes to get some of this money to the TNC."
There is probably only about $150 to $200 million of frozen Qaddafi money in U.S. banks, but even that money is affected by the U.N. sanctions. The rest of the $30 billion is held outside the U.S. banking system. What's more, Nuland said that the United States wants to make sure that the money "if given, is used properly and for humanitarian purposes."
"So it's going to be a little bit of time yet, but please know that we are working on it and we're working on it hard," she said.
Meanwhile, the State Department continues to communicate privately to the TNC that the investigation into the killing of their military commander, Abdel Fatah Younis, last month is crucial to maintaining the TNC's credibility and reputation.
Publicly, Nuland portrayed the killing and the reorganization of their cabinet as a watershed moment in the TNC's evolution into a functioning, democratic organization ‘So, frankly, while the killing was an awful event, the fact [is] that the TNC has not just stood pat but has really taken this as an opportunity for internal reflection, for renewal," she said.
One of the State Department press corps members responded to her, "I'm not sure I've ever heard a glass-half-full explanation better than that one in a long time."
U.S. Ambassador to Syria Robert Ford told the single senator that attended his confirmation hearing today that while the administration's sanctions on the Syrian regime are working, newly proposed congressional sanctions probably won't do much good.
Ford, who was sent to Damascus under a recess appointment because he could not be confirmed last year, was back in Washington for one more confirmation push before his recess appointment expires on Dec. 31. The U.S. envoy was expected to face harsh criticism from a number of GOP senators who believe the Obama administration has not been tough enough on regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. But after the debt ceiling vote was done, most lawmakers patted themselves on the back and immediately skipped town. Only Sen. Bob Casey (D-PA) was left by the time Ford's hearing begun.
Ford played it cautiously for most of Casey's questioning, repeating administration calls for a transition to democratic rule in Syria, condemning the brutality of the regime against its people, and praising the Syrian opposition while being clear-eyed about the challenges that the opposition faces.
"It's a diverse group, they're not very well organized. That's not surprising," Ford testified, explaining that he meets with opposition representatives constantly. "It's important for the Syrian opposition to develop their ideas, Syrian ideas, for their democratic transition."
Ford also joined the meeting between Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Syrian activists earlier today at the State Department.
"It's really important now to give these Syrians an ear and to amplify their voices," he said at the hearing. "My job is to help establish the space for Syrian activists ... to develop and organize the political transition that must occur if Syria is to be stable again."
When asked about the prospect of new congressional sanctions, Ford indicated that the bill introduced today by Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Mark Kirk (R-IL), and Joseph Lieberman (I-CT), might not be the best way to put pressure on the Assad regime. Their bill would authorize President Barack Obama to close off the U.S. financial system, markets, and federal contracts to companies that invest in Syria's energy sector, purchase the country's oil, and sell gasoline to Syria.
"Unilaterally, additional American measures probably aren't going to have that big of an impact," said Ford. "The big companies working in the energy sector in Syria are from Europe or Syria's neighbors."
"We would look to find ways to with our partners to enhance our [existing] sanctions," he added, adding that those discussions are underway. "The challenge is getting targeting that works and really has an impact."
However, Ford did make a point to emphasize that the administration's Syria sanctions, which have designated several Syrian regime officials as targets for asset freezes, are effective. More such designations are expected in the coming days.
"The [administration's] sanctions do bite. We do see more business people slowly shifting sides, and that's important," he said. "So we do think sanctions are having an impact."
Clearly, the senators who sponsored the bill disagree with Ford's assessment that additional sanctions will not have an impact.
"The United States should impose crippling sanctions in response to the murder of civilians by troops under the orders of Syrian President Assad," Kirk said in a release. "The Arab Spring will sweep away this dictatorship, hopefully with the help of American sanctions similar to those leveled against the Iranian regime."
Kirk and Sen. Jon Kyl (R-AZ) have been among the most critical senators of the administration's approach to Syria. Both argue that Ford's presence there represents an unwise concession to the government. The Cable caught up with Kyl in the Senate hallways on Tuesday and asked him if he will try to thwart Ford's nomination.
"I don't have any plans with regard to his nomination," Kyl said.
We predicted that the senators on the committee might not show up for the hearing, so we caught some SFRC members earlier in the day to see where they stood on the administration's strategy of slowly but surely increasing pressure on the Assad regime.
"I think we do should everything we can to ratchet up our pressure on Syria," said SFRC member Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ). "The administration has made a series of good movements seeking to tighten the noose economically and anything we can do to enhance that will have my support."
"I don't understand their Syria policy," said Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), a SFRC member who is calling for a tougher administration stance. "I wish there was a little more clarity on it, I'm sorry there isn't."
At the hearing, Casey praised Ford and recounted reports of the Syrian authorities torturing children. He said that Assad "must step down" and that more can be done to pressure Syria in international bodies.
"Ambassador Ford's recent trip to Hama was a testament to his commitment to represent the values of the United States," Casey said.
Ford speculated that the members of the U.N. Security Council were now more ready than before to take action on Syria. He also said that while Hezbollah continues to support the Syrian government, the group has been silent recently due to the anger their pro-Assad statements aroused among the Syrian people.
On the core issue of whether Assad should go, Ford stuck with the administration's position that Assad has lost legitimacy in the eyes of his people, but stopped short of calling for him to step down now.
"Our conclusion is that this regime is unwilling or unable to lead the democratic transition the Syrian people are demanding," he said. "And there's really no difference between unwilling or unable as far as we're concerned."
Before Ford's hearing, half a dozen senators showed up for the confirmation hearings of two more sitting ambassadors who have to go through the process again because they received recess appointments: Ambassador to Turkey Frank Ricciardone and Ambassador to the Czech Republic Norm Eisen.
Wednesday's scheduled hearing for Wendy Sherman to become undersecretary of State for political affairs was outright cancelled because no senators were going to be there.
Ricciardone no longer has to worry about the complaints of now-retired Sen. Sam Brownback, but he still faces potential opposition from Kirk and Menendez. Kirk doesn't want the administration to make a missile defense deal with Turkey and Menendez wants the administration to refer to the destruction of the Armenian population during and after World War I as "genocide."
Eisen, who left his post as White House ethics czar in August 2010, was held up last year by Finance Committee ranking Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) over alleged actions and misrepresentations related to the June 2009 removal of Gerald Walpin as inspector general for the Corporation for National and Community Service.
Eisen said that representing the United States in the Czech Republic had special meaning for him, because his mother was born there but was forced to flee due to Nazi persecution. Lieberman, who is not on the committee, showed up to introduce Eisen and commended those in attendance for not being part of the "the herd of senators who fled town after the vote."
The House will mark up a funding bill for the State Department and foreign operations Wednesday that would cut the international affairs budget by billions and restrict U.S. involvement in a host of international organizations.
The House Appropriations State and Foreign Ops subcommittee, led by Rep. Kay Granger (R-TX), unveiled its fiscal 2012 appropriations bill today in advance of tomorrow's markup. The bill would provide State and USAID with $39.6 billion in discretionary funding next year, which is 18 percent, or $8.6 billion, below the fiscal 2011 level. The fiscal 2011 level, which was reached as part of a deal to avoid a government shutdown in April, was already $8 billion less than originally requested by the Obama administration. The State Department did move about $3.5 billion from its regular budget to a new "Overseas Contingency Operations" account for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, so the apples-to-apples reduction is closer to $5 billion.
Democrats on the committee and NGO leaders reacted with frustration at the bill's cuts to dozens of State Department and foreign assistance programs, as well as its proposal to slash USAID operating expenses by more than a third.
"I am disappointed that the 2012 State and Foreign Operations Appropriations Act funds priorities that are critical to our national security and global leadership at inadequate levels, and includes divisive and partisan policy riders that are counter-productive to effective diplomacy and development," said subcommittee ranking Democrat Nita Lowey (D-NY) in a statement today. "At a time when the demands we place on our diplomatic and development workforce are increasing, it is short-sighted to downsize the Department of State and USAID."
House Appropriations Committee ranking Democrat Norm Dicks (D-WA) blamed the Republican leadership for not giving Granger enough total funds picture to properly support the development programs.
"Once again the Republican leadership has presented us with a completely inadequate subcommittee allocation that will reduce our influence overseas and damage the security of our nation," he said. "Core program funding in this bill... would mean layoffs at both the State Department and USAID."
The State and Foreign Operations appropriations bill usually enjoys wide bipartisan support, but this year will be an exception. House Democratic aides said that the bill was crafted in a way to satisfy GOP political priorities and without much consideration for comity or consensus across the aisle.
"The decision was apparently made that this would be a Republican bill," one House Democratic aide said.
For employees at State and USAID, the cuts could be particularly biting. The bill cuts the $1.35 billion USAID operations budget to around $900 million and would eliminate what's known as "localization pay" for diplomats abroad, which would immediately bring down their salaries.
"We're starting to see the kinds of cuts that will affect the ability of agencies to implement important tools of our foreign assistance and our foreign policy," said Mark Green, a former U.S. Ambassador to Tanzania and currently senior director at the U.S. Global Leadership Coalition. "We understand that every part of the government is on the table, but what we're looking at here is a very small part of the budget taking significant cuts."
The administration had requested $51.2 billion for State and USAID for fiscal 2012, but nobody is even discussing that number anymore, because the current debt crisis negotiations promise to change the amounts of funding available for all discretionary accounts.
The fluid fiscal situation also spells uncertainty for Granger's bill, which could probably pass on the House floor but would face resistance in the Democrat-controlled Senate. But due to the debt crisis, the Senate isn't planning to start work on appropriations bills until at least September, which doesn't leave a lot of time to work with the House to come up with a compromise before the fiscal year begins on Oct. 1.
The policy riders in the bill include a reinstatement of the Mexico City Policy, which would ban federal funding for organizations that promote abortion. This was also added to the House Foreign Affairs Committee's fiscal 2012 authorization bill, though that piece of legislation isn't expected to become law either.
The bill would defund U.S. contributions to the U.N. Human Rights Council, cap U.S contributions to U.N. peacekeeping at 25 percent of the overall peacekeeping budget (which would put the United States in arrears), blocks U.S. contributions to the U.N. Population Fund, cut funding for programs meant to address climate change, restrict 30 percent of U.S. future contributions to the United Nations until it publishes all of its internal financial audits online (which isn't likely), and rescinds already appropriated funds for the International Monetary Fund.
In a letter sent on Monday to Granger and Lowey, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce urged the committee not to cut funding for multilateral financial institutions or democracy-promotion programs abroad, both of which face cuts in the bill.
"The International Affairs budget and these agencies play a vital enabling role for U.S. companies to tap foreign markets and create jobs and prosperity at home," the Chamber wrote. "Although it represents less than 1.5% of the total federal budget, the International Affairs budget is critical to creating jobs, saving lives, protecting U.S. diplomats and embassies abroad, and fighting terrorism and the spread of weapons of mass destruction."
The committee recommended funding the Overseas Contingency Operations account at $7.6 billion, which is technically $1.1 billion less than requested, but that is because about $1 billion of Pakistan counterinsurgency funding was transferred back to the Pentagon's jurisdiction.
"This bill reforms and refocuses the way we spend our foreign aid. We have established tough oversight and accountability measures that will make sure my constituents' tax dollars are not wasted overseas while making sure we support our national security priorities and key allies," Granger said in a statement. "In this difficult geopolitical and economic climate, the American people deserve policies that are based on our principles."
The House Foreign Affairs Committee just spent two full days and nights marking up a State Department and foreign operations authorization bill in an effort that the committee's ranking Democrat says was a "waste of time" for a bill that has no chance of becoming law.
"There's no doubt that this was a bad bill as it started, and even though we knew it could get worse, we could not imagine it would get as bad as it did," Rep. Howard Berman (D-CA), said in a Friday interview with The Cable.
Berman said that the original draft of the bill, which included sweeping restrictions on foreign aid to countries around the world, was bad enough. But the over 100 amendments introduced by GOP congressmen sent an even more harmful signal to the world, he said -- namely, that the United States wanted to disengage from international forums and punish countries that don't always agree with the U.S. government.
"The thinking [on the GOP side] is, ‘something happens I don't like, and the way to deal with it is I throw a tantrum.' It's a series of tantrums," Berman said. "It's an absence of a notion between what we're doing and what the consequences of what we're doing are. It's operating from a gut instinct and them not using their heads."
What's more, since the bill has so many provisions and amendments that would undo the Obama administration's foreign policy, it's destined to fail in the Democrat-led Senate, much less be signed by the president.
"This bill's never going to be law. We spent from morning until late night, two straight days and hundreds of hours surrounding that markup, dealing with amendments and language on something that will have no impact on U.S. foreign policy because it will never come close to becoming law," Berman said.
He compared it to his time as a student in the Young Democrats movement in college, when the group would have spirited policy debates and issue resolutions just for the sake of theater and practice. "At the end of the day it was just a piece of paper, and that's what this is," he said.
But unlike the Young Democrats of the 1960s, the HFAC markup in 2011 does have a real and negative effect on U.S. power and influence, Berman said, because those watching the debate assume it has real implications.
"It was a waste of time, but people around the world in other countries and other governments don't know that it's a total waste of time and will never become law and they think this is where U.S. policy is heading and they are going to react," he said.
"So even the act of doing this hurt American interests, because it creates anger and hostility and makes all the things we need to do more difficult."
Berman highlighted an amendment to the bill sponsored by Western Hemisphere subcommittee chairman Connie Mack (R-FL) that would withdraw all U.S. contributions to the Organization of American States, calling it a "very extreme position."
Berman also criticized another amendment that would prohibit assistance to countries that vote against America at the United Nations a majority of the time on any and all votes, pointing out that amendment would prevent the United States from sending aid to Jordan -- despite the fact that Jordan is among the most pro-Western Arab countries and a supporter of Middle East peace.
"Passing an amendment to prohibits any assistance in any country where any government votes against us at the U.N. more than 50 percent of the time... whose interest is that serving?" Berman said.
The U.N. amendment would also make aid to Pakistan would be impossible because Pakistan would fall into that category. But Berman pointed out that directly contradicted the committee's message when the committee voted39-5 not to cut off all assistance to Pakistan, rejecting an amendment by Rep. Dana Rohrabacher.
"Faced with an opportunity to cut off all economic aid to Pakistan, they rejected it on an overwhelmingly vote. But in three other amendments that the majority supported, they cut off all aid to Pakistan," he said.
The bill also would impose a ban on funding for international organizations that offer abortion counseling to clients, a version of what's known as the Mexico City Policy. Berman called it the "Mexico City Policy on steroids," because it does not allow exemptions for HIV/AIDS funding.
Some of the bill's provisions that Berman thought most counterproductive were more local. For example, the bill would eliminate USAID's new budget office.
"We want a more efficient and focused development assistance, we want better controls, so let's make sure that the agency that's in charge of this can't function," said Berman, characterizing the provision as "going back to the goal of incapacitating USAID."
A spokesman for HFAC Chairwoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) said she was unavailable for an interview on Friday due to her travel schedule.
Only one day after extending diplomatic recognition to the Libyan rebels, three top Obama administration officials met with representatives of the Qaddafi regime in Tunisia, a State Department official confirmed.
Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Jeffrey Feltman, U.S. Ambassador to Libya Gene Cretz, and National Security Staff Senior Director for Strategic Planning Derek Chollet met with as-yet unidentified Qaddafi representatives on Sunday, the official told reporters via e-mail late Monday afternoon but only to make sure they understood the U.S. position that Qaddafi must go.
"We had heard frequently from senior Libyan officials who evinced a sense that U.S. was in different place from others," the official wrote, adding that the officials "wanted to send a crystal clear message face to face" that there was no room for negotiation over that one point.
Because the information was sent to reporters over e-mail, there was no opportunity to ask follow up questions, such as whether any other negotiations regarding the war in Libya were discussed. Several requests for additional comment from the State Department and the National Security Staff were declined.
But, according to the official, if the goal of the meeting really was to convey to that Qaddafi must go, it was a success.
"Based on feedback from others who spoke to the Qadhafi officials, the United States' message was received," the official wrote, adding that other allies as well as the newly-recognized Transitional National Council were consulted about the meeting.
And don't expect this to be the start of a process.
"We support the United Nations channel and there will be no U.S. channel," the official said. "This was a one-time occurrence."
In another statement, delivered to reporters in New Delhi, where Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is traveling, the official elaborated a bit further.
The meeting was held "to deliver a clear and firm message that the only way to move forward is for Gaddafi to step down," the official said. "This was not a negotiation. It was the delivery of a message."
UPDATE: An administration official responded to The Cable's requests late Monday evening and said the meeting was around 3 hours long and was initiated from the U.S. side.
"Did we set it up, sure. We wanted to go deliver this message," the official said. "We decided that it would be a good idea to make clear that it very clear, face to face, in an unambiguous way, that we support the U.N. channel and they won't get another track out of us."
The Cable goes inside the foreign policy machine, from Foggy Bottom to Turtle Bay, the White House to Embassy Row.