Huma Abedin, top staffer to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and wife of former Rep. Anthony Weiner, has a new and unlikely champion -- Sen. John McCain (R-AZ).
Abedin, who is of Pakistani origin, has been tied to the outlandish conspiracy theory that the State Department has conspired with the Muslim Brotherhood to take over Egypt, a notion that contributed to protests in Alexandria last weekend during which Egyptians pelted Clinton's motorcade with tomatoes and shoes while chanting "Monica, Monica," an apparent reference to Monica Lewinsky.
Several reports said the protesters got the idea of a State Department conspiracy with the Muslim Brotherhood from conservative blog posts and conservative lawmakers like Michele Bachmann, who wrote a letter last week to the inspector generals of five U.S. agencies asking them to investigate the alleged infiltration of the Muslim Brotherhood in the U.S. government.
"It appears that there has been deep penetration in the halls of our United States government by the Muslim Brotherhood," Bachmann said in the letter, which mentioned Abedin by name and accuses her of having three family members connected to the Muslim Brotherhood.
The far-right Center for Security Policy (CSP), led by Frank Gaffney, has also been accusing Abedin of having a nefarious connection to the Muslim Brotherhood. Gaffney's assertion is that Saleha Abedin, Huma's mother, is a leader of the Muslim Sisterhood.
In fact, Saleha Abedin is a leading voice on women's rights in the Muslim world and is a member of dozens of organizations. Her main job is as the director of the Institute of Muslim Minority Affairs at the Global Peace Initiative of Women, an organization that promotes dialogue and cooperation among women of various relgions.
McCain took to the Senate floor today to defend Huma Abedin and criticize his conservative colleagues. "I know Huma to be an intelligent, upstanding, hard-working, and loyal servant of our country and our government, who has devoted countless days of her life to advancing the ideals of the nation she loves and looking after its most precious interests," he said.
McCain referenced the Bachmann letter and the CSP report by name and said that there is no evidence that Abedin or any of her family members have ever done anything to counter American interests or ideals.
"To say that the accusations made in both documents are not substantiated by the evidence they offer is to be overly polite and diplomatic about it. It is far better, and more accurate, to talk straight: These allegations about Huma, and the report from which they are drawn, are nothing less than an unwarranted and unfounded attack on an honorable woman, a dedicated American, and a loyal public servant," McCain said. "These attacks on Huma have no logic, no basis, and no merit. And they need to stop now."
McCain, who was the victim of racial smears referencing his adopted daughter during the 2000 presidential campaign, said he understood what it was like to be attacked with lies laced with bigotry. He also said the issue was larger than just one person or one accusation.
"Our reputations, our character, are the only things we leave behind when we depart this Earth, and unjust attacks that malign the good name of a decent and honorable person is not only wrong; it is contrary to everything we hold dear as Americans," McCain said. "I have every confidence in Huma's loyalty to our country, and everyone else should as well."
GOP presidential candidate Michele Bachmann is advocating for increases in defense spending and criticizing President Barack Obama's planned Pentagon cuts, but her math is about $150 billion off.
Here's what she said yesterday Jay Sekulow radio show while campaigning in South Carolina:
BACHMANN: What people recognize is that there's a fear that the United States is in an unstoppable decline. They see the rise of China, the rise of India, the rise of the Soviet Union and our loss militarily going forward. And especially with this very bad debt ceiling bill, what we have done is given a favor to President Obama and the first thing he'll whack is five hundred billion out of the military defense at a time when we're fighting three wars. People recognize that.
Several articles focused on the fact that she called Russia the "Soviet Union," despite the Soviet Union having collapsed 20 years ago. Here at The Cable, we also find it odd that a candidate for the nation's highest office could forget the Cold War ended, but Bachmann's more substantive flub was her claim that Obama is going to cut $500 billion from the defense budget.
The administration claims that the debt deal passed and signed by Congress would cut $350 billion from the defense budget over ten years. We've reported that those numbers are just an estimate and not guaranteed. Regardless, if that is what Bachmann was referring to, her number was still way off.
What's more, it's not as if these cuts are the president's sole doing: They were part of a deal the White House made with House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH), and passed by the GOP-led House. And most of the Tea Party GOP lawmakers who voted against the debt deal objected to the lack of more cuts; they didn't oppose the bill because it cut defense.
Perhaps Bachmann was talking about the "trigger" mechanism that would automatically cut defense by $600 billion over ten years if the 12-person legislative "supercommittee" can't agree on a plan for $1.5 trillion in new discretionary spending cuts. But again, those would be Congress's cuts as much as Obama's, and Bachmann's math would still be off by $100 billion.
Whatever her explanation, Bachmann's comment contributed to her emerging identity as the Tea Party's new hawk, forcefully seeking to separate out national security from the Tea Party's cost-cutting, budget-slashing, government-shrinking agenda.
Bachmann met with Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) in June to discuss national security issues and, in a June 28 interview with NPR, she criticized Obama's decision to draw down troops in Afghanistan faster than what military commanders recommended, accusing the president of placing political considerations ahead of national security.
What's clear is that national security and foreign policy are becoming lines of attack for more and more GOP candidates as they look to distinguish themselves from their primary rivals, and to probe Obama's potential weaknesses in the general election. What's also clear is that these candidates' accuracy on these issues continues to be poor.
The Bachmann campaign did not respond to requests for comment.
Foreign policy turned out to be a prominent part of Thursday night's GOP primary debate. The questions covered a range of countries -- and the accuracy of the candidates' responses was similarly all over the map.
Almost all the candidates committed unforced errors when talking about foreign policy and national security. Tim Pawlenty made the first mistake, when he referred to Michael Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, as a "general." Mullen is an admiral in the U.S. Navy. Pawlenty also said that Gen. David Petraeus told him that it would take "two years from last summer to have an orderly and successful wind down of our mission in Afghanistan, at least in terms of our troop withdrawal, and President Obama has accelerated that."
"Two years from last summer" would mean that Petraeus was calling for significant troop withdrawals by the summer of 2012. That's exactly the timeline that Obama has set for the withdrawal of the 30,000 surge troops. Pawlenty is correct that Obama wants to withdraw U.S. forces faster than what Petraeus recommended, but his explanation of Petraeus's timeline was off.
Mitt Romney tried to clear up the confusion over his comments on Afghanistan in the last debate, when he said, "It's time for us to bring our troops home as soon as we possibly can -- as soon as our generals think it's okay.... One lesson we‘ve learned in Afghanistan is that Americans cannot fight another nation's war of independence." Some Republicans interpreted that statement as Romney calling for a quick exit.
Last night, Romney said he always supported a slower exit than what Obama has announced, but he incorrectly stated that U.S. military leaders "recommended to President Obama that we should not start drawing our troops down until after the fighting season in 2012." But nowhere in congressional testimony have Mullen and Petraeus ever said the drawdown should begin after the 2012 summer fighting season, nor have they said that in any other public forum.
Adding to the inaccuracy, Jon Huntsman called for more engagement with the Chinese government. "We need a strategic dialogue at the highest levels between the United States and China," he said. "That's not happening."
As Obama's former ambassador to China, Huntsman surely must know that there have already been two rounds of the "U.S.-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue," which was initiated in 2009, led by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, and included over 200 U.S. officials and a similar number of Chinese government representatives.
In fact, Huntsman even participated in the dialogue in Beijing in May 2010 and wrote a blog post about it, where he said that Clinton and Geithner "both told me they viewed the dialogue as a broad success. I couldn't agree more."
That's not to mention that Obama and President Hu Jintao have met personally 9 times, Clinton meets with her counterpart Yang Jiechi on a regular basis, and Vice President Joe Biden will travel to Beijing next week to see Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping.
Newt Gingrich was called on in the debate to clear up what many saw as his changing position on Libya: he called for a no-fly zone on March 7, just before the Libya war began, and then said after the operation began, "I would not have intervened."
Gingrich accused the debate moderator, Fox News's Bret Baier, of using a "gotcha" question for asking him to clarify his position and then said that he called for the no fly-zone on March 7 because Obama "that day had announced gloriously to the world as the president of the United States that Qaddafi had to go." But, in fact, Obama first called for Qaddafi's departure on March 3, four days earlier.
Gingrich then said Obama reversed his position on Libya, claiming that the president shifted away from his call for Qaddafi to leave power in favor of a humanitarian intervention. In reality, Obama has always maintained that Qaddafi must go, although he is clear that the mandate of the military intervention in Libya does not include the mission to oust Qaddafi,
On Syria, Pawlenty mischaracterized Obama and Clinton's statements on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. "Until recently, [Obama] and Hillary Clinton suggested that Bashar Assad was a reformer. He's not a reformer, he's a killer." In fact, Obama has never referred to Assad as a reformer. Clinton said in March that she had heard from "lawmakers" who had visited Damascus that the Syrian president was a reformer.
A good portion of the foreign policy section of last night's debate featured a battle over Iran policy between Ron Paul, Rick Santorum, and others. But that debate was riddled with factual errors and mischaracterizations.
Paul, who has taken the mantle of the Tea Party isolationist wing of the GOP, said that the CIA had confirmed they have no evidence that Iran was working on a nuclear weapon. Although a 2007 National Intelligence Estimate concluded that Iran had halted its drive to produce a nuclear weapons, in March 2010, a CIA report to Congress concluded that "Iran continues to develop a range of capabilities that could be applied to producing nuclear weapons, if a decision is made to do so." In June of that year, CIA chief Leon Panetta said that the Iranians "are developing their nuclear capability and that raises concerns," and "[w]e think they have enough low-enriched uranium right now for two weapons."
Santorum contended that Iran "has killed more American men and women in uniform in Iraq and Afghanistan than the Iraqis and the Afghanistanis [sic] have." Yes, Iran has supplied al Qaeda in Iraq with weapons and supported militant groups such as the Mahdi Army, resulting in the deaths of many U.S. troops, but the link to Afghanistan is extremely tenuous. Put simply, there are no statistics that support Santorum's claim.
Whether foreign policy becomes a key part of the GOP primary debate remains to be seen. But so far, the accuracy and command of details on foreign policy issues leaves a lot to be desired.
John Hudson reports on national security and foreign policy from the Pentagon to Foggy Bottom, the White House to Embassy Row, for The Cable.