Top Obama administration officials briefed eight senior Senate leaders Tuesday on a pending deal to transfer as many as five Taliban prisoners from the U.S. detention facility at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, to Qatar.
The Cable staked out the classified briefing in the basement of the Capitol building Tuesday afternoon. The eight senators who attended the briefing were Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), Senate Intelligence Committee heads Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and Saxby Chambliss (R-GA), Senate Armed Services chiefs Carl Levin (D-MI) and John McCain (R-AZ), and Senate Foreign Relations Committee leaders John Kerry (D-MA) and Richard Lugar (R-IN).
The identities of the administration briefers were not shared, but we were told it was a high-level interagency briefing team.
All of the senators refused to discuss the contents of the briefing as they exited the secure briefing room in the Senate Visitors' Center. But Levin and McCain both discussed the issue in question before entering the briefing, namely the administration's negotiations with the Taliban over transferring the Taliban prisoners into Qatari custody.
Levin told reporters Tuesday that the briefing was "about the ongoing Taliban reconciliation efforts." Levin is open to the idea of transferring Taliban members to Qatar, but said the devil was in the details.
"It depends on what assurances we have from the [Qatari] government that they are not going to be released," Levin said. "But I also think the Afghans have to be very much involved in any discussions and any process. They weren't for a while."
"We're not releasing them. As I understand it they will be imprisoned in Qatar," Levin continued. But can the Qataris be trusted to keep them behind bars? "That's the question," Levin said.
Levin said he didn't know what the United States was getting in exchange for transferring the prisoners to Qatar, where the Taliban are preparing to open an office. But he said the possible transfer was not a significant concession to the Taliban, provided the prisoners remain in custody. "If that's what [the Taliban] are getting, it's not much of a gain [for them], going from one prison to another."
McCain, talking to reporters before the briefing, lashed out at the idea that the prisoners would be moved to Qatar in a possible exchange for a Taliban statement renouncing international violence, as has been reported.
"The whole idea that they're going to ‘transfer' these detainees in exchange for a statement by the Taliban? It is really, really bizarre," McCain said. "This whole thing is highly questionable because the Taliban know we are leaving. I know many experts who would say they are rope-a-doping us."
McCain said that Congress probably can't stop the administration from going ahead with the transfer if that's what it decides.
"I don't think right now we can do anything about it, but these people were in positions of authority. One of them was responsible for deaths of several Americans," said McCain, referring to reports that the prisoners being considered for transfer include Mullah Khair Khowa, a former interior minister, Noorullah Noori, a former governor in northern Afghanistan, and former army commander Mullah Fazl Akhund.
Is McCain confident that the Qataris will keep the Taliban prisoners locked up? "No I am not. And the Taliban don't think so either, otherwise the Taliban wouldn't want them transferred," he said.
McCain said he was last briefed about the potential deal in December.
Some of the confusion about the negotiations was caused when the State Department's Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan Marc Grossman said on Jan. 22 that talks with the Taliban were a long way off and that no deal to transfer prisoners had been finalized. Grossman was in Kabul when he made the statements and he traveled to Qatar the next day.
On Jan. 28, several former members of the Taliban government said that talks with the United States had begun over the prisoner transfer. "Currently there are no peace talks going on," Maulavi Qalamuddin, the former minister of "vice and virtue" for the Taliban, told The New York Times. "The only thing is the negotiations over release of Taliban prisoners from Guantánamo, which is still under discussion between both sides in Qatar."
At Tuesday morning's open hearing of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, Chambliss pressed Director of National Intelligence (DNI) James Clapper, Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) Director David Petraeus, and National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC) Director Matthew Olsen to confirm that the Taliban under consideration for transfer were still viewed as too dangerous to release by the U.S. intelligence community.
"It appears from these reports that in exchange for transferring detainees who had been determined to be too dangerous to transfer by the administration's own Guantánamo review task force, we get little to nothing in return. Apparently, the Taliban will not have to stop fighting our troops and won't even have to stop bombing them with IEDs," Chambliss said. "I have also heard nothing from the IC[intelligence community] that suggests that the assessments on the threat posed by these detainees have changed. I want to state publicly as strongly as I can that we should not transfer these detainees from Guantánamo."
Clapper said he stood by the original intelligence community assessments, which concluded that the Taliban prisoners at Guantanamo were too dangerous to be released.
"I don't think anyone in the administration harbors any illusions about the potential here," said Clapper. "And of course, part and parcel of such a decision if it were finally made would be the actual determination of where these detainees might go and the conditions in which they would be controlled or surveilled."
Olsen, who led the review task force that evaluated the Guantanamo detainees in 2009, confirmed that the 5 prisoners being considered for transfer "were deemed too dangerous to release and who could not be prosecuted," but Olsen said he had not evaluated those five prisoners since then.
Petraeus said that his staff had been asked for a more recent evaluation of the five prisoners and that the CIA completed risk analyses based on different possible conditions for the Taliban prisoners' transfer.
"In fact, our analyst did provide assessments of the five and the risks presented by various scenarios by which they could be sent somewhere, not back to Afghanistan or Pakistan, and then based on the various mitigating measures that could be implemented, to ensure that they could not return to militant activity," Petraeus said.
All three of the lobbying firms representing the Egyptian government in Washington, D.C., dropped Egypt as a client late Friday amid widespread criticism of the ruling military council's raid of U.S. NGOs in Cairo and its refusal to let American NGO workers leave the country.
The Livingston Group, run by former Rep. Bob Livingston (R-LA), the Moffett Group, run by former Rep. Toby Moffett (D-CT), and the Podesta Group, run by Tony Podesta, unanimously severed their combined $90,000 per month contract with the Egyptian government, Politico reported late Friday, quoting Livingston directly. The three firms had formed what is known as the PLM Group, a lobbying entity created to advocate on behalf of the regime of former President Hosni Mubarak, who was deposed in February 2011 after 18 days of massive street protests. According to the disclosure filings, Egypt has paid PLM more than $4 million since 2007.
The trio came under fire last week for circulating talking points defending Egypt's Dec. 29 raid of several NGOs working to train political parties in Egypt, including three organizations partially funded by the U.S. government. The groups had been working in Egypt for years without being technically registered with the government, but now stand accused of fomenting unrest against the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), which has been ruling the country since Mubarak's ouster.
"It is bad enough when the actions of American lobbyists conflict with U.S. national interests. It is far worse when their influence-peddling undermines American values, as the Egyptian government's lobbyists in Washington are doing in this instance," said Sens. John McCain (R-AZ) and Joe Lieberman (I-CT) in a Jan. 24 statement. McCain is the chairman of the board of the International Republican Institute (IRI), one of the groups that had their Cairo offices raided. The other two groups were the National Democratic Institute, whose board is chaired by former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, and Freedom House.
The anger in Washington against the Egyptian government reached a boiling point when it was revealed Jan. 26 that U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood's son Sam LaHood, the head of IRI's Cairo office, had been barred from leaving Egypt by the government along with five other U.S. citizens.
"To have an American lobbyist lobbying for a government where these activities are taking place -- is there no shame in this town?" said Rep. Frank Wolf on Thursday.
On Friday, Sam LaHood told NPR that he and the other Americans trapped in Egypt could face criminal charges, lengthy trials, and years of prison time.
"If we are referred to trial," LaHood said. "The trial could last up to a year ... and the potential penalty is six months to five years in jail."
The lobbying groups buckled under the public pressure, recognizing that they couldn't influence the SCAF's actions in this case and that their association with the military council was harming their broader image. For years, these firms have been defending the Egyptian military's $1.3 billion annual aid package on Capitol Hill and lobbying for non-military aid to go through the government, and not directly to independent organizations as many democracy advocates urged.
The Cable reported that in late 2010, Bob Livingston personally called Sen. Roger Wicker (R-MS) to get him to kill a Senate resolution calling for greater respect for human rights and democracy in Egypt. Wicker placed a hold on the resolution and it died in the Senate.
Egypt's lobbyists were also responsible for negotiating an endowment the Egyptian government wanted from the Obama administration. But the Mubarak regime demanded the money be given with no annual Congressional oversight, and the negotiations broke down.
Congress did place new restrictions on military aid to Egypt in the most recent appropriations bill passed in December, as a way of pressing the SCAF to move faster toward handing over its executive powers to an elected government.
According to the legislation, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton must certify that the Egyptian government is living up to the 1979 Egypt-Israel peace treaty and that the SCAF is supporting the transition to civilian rule. Multiple congressional aides told The Cable Friday that the aid is now in serious jeopardy.
"Needless to say, this whole crisis is going to make it a lot more difficult for the secretary of state to meet the certification requirements to continue providing assistance to Egypt," one senior Senate aide told The Cable. "People up here are completely seized with this issue. They're putting their friends in a really awful spot."
Another senior Senate aide noted that the Obama administration is doing a lot of work behind the scenes to deescalate the crisis, which is threatening to do long-term harm to the official U.S.-Egypt relationship.
President Barack Obama brought up the raids in a call last week with SCAF leader Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, according to the White House. Clinton, U.S. Ambassador Anne Patterson, Deputy Secretary of State Bill Burns, National Security Advisor Tom Donilon, and Lahood have been working the phones hard, calling contacts in Egypt to send strong messages and implore them to change course. Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Labor, and Human Rights Michael Posner was in Egypt on Jan. 26 and met with high-level Egyptian officials.
"Since the NGO raids in late December, the Obama administration has repeatedly provided paths for the SCAF to deescalate this crisis. Instead they keep escalating -- doubling down on a bad bet that, in the end, will prove ruinous to them," the Senate aide said. "Three weeks ago no one in Congress thought there was a chance in hell that aid to the Egyptian military could ever come under serious threat. It is now an increasingly and shockingly real prospect."
Ironically, McCain and Lieberman had been among the U.S. leaders most supportive of the SCAF and its role in maintaining stability during Egypt's fragile transition.
Many in Washington believe that the SCAF is being heavily influenced on this issue by one civilian Egyptian official, Fayza Abul-Naga, the minister of international cooperation and a holdover from the Mubarak era. In a speech this week, she disavowed the SCAF's previous promises to return the NGOs' raided possessions and cease harassing them as she lashed out at the American NGO groups.
Lorne Craner, the president of IRI, said in an interview Friday with The Cable that there is bad blood between Abul-Naga's ministry and the NGO groups. "Some people say that the people who used to get the money, for example the minister of international cooperation, resent the fact that they are not getting all of the funding," Craner said.
Meanwhile, the Americans and several of their locally hired staffers are enduring hours-long interviews as they await a possible arrest, which would only escalate the crisis.
"Things have gone from bad to worse," Craner said. "You start to think about Americans getting arrested on the streets of Cairo and sitting in a cage in some Cairo court ... And these are our allies."
UPDATE: On Sunday the Egyptian Embassy in Washington issued a statement claiming they dumped the PLM Group, not the other way around:
The Government of Egypt had decided to terminate its contractual relationship with the PLM Group. This decision was transmitted to the Group's principals on January 27th 2012 through an official letter, as the contract stipulates, that either party has the right to terminate the relation within a 60 days prior notice.
It is surprising that a distorted version of this fact is being circulated in some media outlets. It is equally disturbing that articles and media coverage of the issue were made without an attempt to contact the Egyptian Embassy to check the factual basis of the stories reported.
This Press Release attempts to clarify the situation in line with the official documents related to the matter including the letter of termination which was recently transmitted by the Embassy to the PLM Group.
The Cable has obtained a copy of the draft resolution on Syria currently being discussed inside the U.N. Security Council. It calls on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to hand over power to his deputy and says additional measures would be taken if he doesn't comply within 15 days.
U.N. Security Council diplomats are meeting behind closed doors on Friday to discuss what's being called the Arab-European draft resolution on Syria. The Moroccan ambassador is presenting the draft resolution, which is designed to implement the recommendations of the Arab League transition plan laid out on Jan. 22.
The draft resolution condemns "the continued widespread and gross violations of human rights and fundamental freedoms by the Syrian authorities," demands that the Syrian government immediately put an end to all human rights violations, and calls on both sides to end attacks and violence immediately.
The resolution then lays out a political roadmap that matches the Arab League initiative intended to pave the way for a transition "leading to a democratic, plural political system" through the formation of a national unity government, the handing over of all presidential authority to Assad's deputy for a transition period, and then the holding of free and fair elections with international supervision.
Importantly, the draft resolution requests that U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon report on the implementation of the resolution every 15 days and also directs the Security Council "to review Syria's implementation of this resolution [in] 15 days and, in the event that Syria has not complied, to adopt further measures, in consultation with the League of Arab States."
Representatives from the State Department and the U.S. mission to the United Nations did not immediately respond to requests for comment. But State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland spelled out the broad goals the United States has for the final version of the resolution.
"We are looking for a resolution that reflects the commitments that the Arab League was seeking from the Syrian government, that -- in its November 2nd agreement, which unfortunately has not been lived up to by the Syrian side," Nuland said.
She indicated the United States was hopeful that Russia, which has been openly supporting Assad and sending him weapons, will work with the rest of the Security Council to produce a resolution that is strong and effective. Russia and China vetoed European resolution on Syria last fall and Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov said Friday that Russia would veto any resolution that seeks to remove Assad from power.
"We continue to want to work with the Russians so that the whole U.N. Security Council is united in sending the strongest possible message to the Assad regime that the violence has got to end, and we've got to begin a transition," Nuland said.
President Barack Obama's administration has been delaying its planned $53 million arms sale to Bahrain due to human rights concerns and congressional opposition, but this week administration officials told several congressional offices that they will move forward with a new and different package of arms sales -- without any formal notification to the public.
The congressional offices that led the charge to oppose the original Bahrain arms sales package are upset that the State Department has decided to move forward with the new package. The opposition to Bahrain arms sales is led by Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Rep. Jim McGovern (D-MA), and also includes Senate Foreign Relations Middle East and North Africa Subcommittee chairman Robert Casey (D-PA), Senate Majority Whip Richard Durbin (D-IL), and Sens. Robert Menendez (D-NJ), Benjamin Cardin (D-MD), and Marco Rubio (R-FL).
Wyden and Rep. Jim McGovern (D-MA) have each introduced a resolution in their respective chambers to prevent the U.S. government from going through with the original sale, which would have included 44 armored, high-mobility Humvees and over 300 advanced missiles.
The State Department has not released details of the new sale, and Congress has not been notified through the regular process, which requires posting the information on the Defense Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA) website. The State Department simply briefed a few congressional offices and is going ahead with the new sale, arguing it didn't meet the threshold that would require more formal notifications and a public explanation.
At today's State Department press briefing, The Cable asked spokeswoman Victoria Nuland about the new sale. She acknowledged the new package but didn't have any details handy.
Our congressional sources said that State is using a legal loophole to avoid formally notifying Congress and the public about the new arms sale. The administration can sell anything to anyone without formal notification if the sale is under $1 million. If the total package is over $1 million, State can treat each item as an individual sale, creating multiple sales of less than $1 million and avoiding the burden of notification, which would allow Congress to object and possibly block the deal.
We're further told that State is keeping the exact items in the sale secret, but is claiming they are for Bahrain's "external defense" and therefore couldn't be used against protesters. Of course, that's the same argument that State made about the first arms package, which was undercut by videos showing the Bahraini military using Humvees to suppress civilian protesters.
Regardless, congressional opponents to Bahrain arms sales are planning to fight back. Wyden is circulating a letter now to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton stating that Bahrain's government continues to commit human rights violations and should not be rewarded with U.S. arms sales.
"The Bahraini government has shown little progress in improving their human rights record over the last few months and in some ways, their record has gotten worse," Wyden told The Cable on Friday. "Protesters are still being hurt and killed, midnight arrests are still happening and the government continues to deny access to human rights monitors. The kingdom of Bahrain has not shown a true good faith effort to improve human rights in their country and the U.S. should not be rewarding them as if they have."
"Supplying arms to a regime that continues to persecute its citizens is not in the best interest of the United States," Wyden said. "When the government of Bahrain shows that it respects the human rights of its citizens it will become more stable and a better ally in the region; only then should arms sales from the U.S. resume."
That point was echoed by McGovern, who pledged to oppose any arms sales to Bahrain.
"The government of Bahrain continues to perpetrate serious human rights abuses and to deny independent monitors access to the country," McGovern told The Cable. "Until Bahrain takes more substantial and lasting steps to protect the rights of its own citizens, the United States should not reward its government with any military sales."
A State Department official declined to give specifics of the new arms package to The Cable but said that Bahrain was moving in the right direction.
"We have seen some important initial steps from the Bahraini government in implementing the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry's recommendations, but more needs to be done," the official said. "We urge the government of Bahrain to take action on the full range of recommendations that we believe will help lay the foundation for longer-term reform and reconciliation."
Cherif Bassiouni, the chair of the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry that investigated the government crackdown on protests in 2011, recently said in an interview that the administration is not doing enough to pressure the Bahrain regime. "There is merit in naming and shaming and embarrassing, in pushing, in enlisting public opinion, domestic and international. This is not the style of Secretary Clinton or President Obama, and I'm not sure they are necessarily doing the right choice," he said.
Cole Bockenfeld, director of advocacy for the Project on Middle East Democracy (POMED), told The Cable on Friday that the new sale will be perceived by both the government of Bahrain and those in the opposition as a green light for the government to continue its repression.
"In the broader picture of the Arab Spring, this further erodes the credibility of U.S. rhetoric about democracy and human rights in the region," he said. "Rewarding regimes that repress peaceful dissent with arms sales simply does not square with the administration's rhetoric. The administration can no longer afford to endorse the status quo in Bahrain."
Maryam al-Khawaja, the head of the foreign relations office at the Bahrain Center for Human Rights, told The Cable on Friday that the sale of U.S. arms to the Bahraini regime sends the wrong message to the people of Bahrain, and the region in general.
"This message of ‘business as usual' will only strengthen the regime's belief that there will continue to be lack of consequences to their human rights violations internationally," she said. "At a time when the United States is already being criticized for practicing double standards when it comes to the so-called Arab spring, to the protesters in Bahrain, the U.S. selling any arms to the government of Bahrain is exactly like Russia selling arms to Syria. Bahrain has become the United States' test on how serious they are about standing against human rights violations, and they are failing miserably."
UPDATE: Late Friday evening, the State Department sent out a lenghty statement on the arms sales:
We are maintaining a pause on most security assistance for Bahrain pending further progress on reform.
During the last two weeks, representatives from the State Department and Department of Defense briefed appropriate Congressional staff on our intention to release some previously notified equipment needed for Bahrain's external defense and support of Fifth Fleet operations. This includes spare parts and maintenance of equipment. None of these items can be used against protestors.
This isn't a new sale nor are we using a legal loophole. The items that we briefed to Congress were notified and cleared by the Hill previously or are not large enough to require Congressional notification. In fact, we've gone above and beyond what is legally or customarily required by consulting with Congressional staff on items that do not require Congressional notification.
We have and will continue to use our security assistance to reinforce reforms in Bahrain. We have seen some important initial steps from the Bahraini government in implementing the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry's (BICI) recommendations, but more needs to be done. We urge the government of Bahrain to take action on the full range of recommendations that we believe will help lay the foundation for longer-term reform and reconciliation.
We will continue to consult extensively with Congress on this policy.
Defense budgeting has been even more convoluted and politicized than usual this year, mostly because of the looming $600 billion in mandatory defense cuts over ten years, known as the "trigger" or "sequestration." Republicans in Congress are pledging to stop the trigger, but there are different competing plans on how to do so.
Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), the ranking Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, told The Cable Tuesday in an interview that he is only days away from unveiling his proposal to roll back the required defense cuts that are mandated by the Budget Control Act of 2011, signed by President Barack Obama last August. The trigger, which also mandates $600 billion in cuts to Medicaid, was set into motion by the November failure of the congressional bipartisan "supercommittee" to strike a deal to reduce the federal budget by $1.2 trillion over the same period. The cuts are scheduled to go into effect in January 2013.
The only other legislation that has been introduced to avoid sequestration besides McCain's forthcoming proposal is the bill by House Armed Services Committee chairman Buck McKeon (R-CA), which would delay sequestration for both defense and entitlements for one year by reducing the federal workforce through attrition - saving money by not allowing agencies to replace workers -- over the next decade. McKeon's plan would save the approximately $120 billion needed to delay the implementation of sequestration from January 2013 until January 2014.
McCain told The Cable that McKeon's proposal was "not good." McCain said his own plan will only protect the defense budget, not entitlements, from sequestration for one year. McCain said he is also working on another plan to roll back the $460 billion of defense cuts over ten years that the Obama administration announced last April and that are being incorporated into the administration's fiscal 2013 budget request, coming next month.
"We're going to work on a one-year plan for just defense, to start with," McCain said. "We're working on one proposal to avoid sequestration. We're working on another proposal specifically on the $460 billion that's going into effect this year."
Meanwhile, the GOP House leadership has yet to endorse either the McCain or the McKeon ideas. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) told reporters Monday that he had wanted to undo the entire 10 years of defense cuts, but would consider tackling the defense cuts for one year if that's the only possibility. Some on Capitol Hill see that as Cantor moving toward the McKeon bill.
"So if ten years is a problem, then let's go back and maybe we can find one year's worth of pay for that can at least stave off the sequester from being implemented Jan. 1, 2013, so that maybe we can have this election take place and be able to avoid it," Cantor said. "I just think the defense of this country is a priority. It is the priority."
Part of the confusion over what to do about the trigger relates to the statement Obama made on the day the supercommittee failed to reach a deal.
"I will veto any effort to get rid of those automatic spending cuts to domestic and defense spending. There will be no easy off-ramps on this one," Obama declared. "The only way these spending cuts will not take place is if Congress gets back to work to reduce the deficit by at least $1.2 trillion [over ten years]. They've still got a year to figure it out."
Many on Capitol Hill view that statement as an indication the administration won't accept efforts to bypass the trigger that only addresses the defense half of the equation.
Senate Armed Services Chairman Carl Levin (D-MI) has his own idea on how to stave off the deep cuts to both defense and entitlements -- raise taxes.
"We should do something intelligent, which means establish priorities for any reductions but most importantly focus on revenues," Levin told The Cable today. "You've got to have revenues."
But isn't the GOP refusal to raise revenues (read = taxes) the whole reason the supercommittee failed in the first place, we asked Levin? Why does he think it's possible to do it now, in an election year?
"I think the Republicans are going to realize that the public wants fairness in the tax code, they want upper income folks to have their rates restored," Levin said.
While lawmakers decide how to stave off the sequestration cuts, the administration is battling internally over the budget release. Two sources told us that the Pentagon isn't happy about the White House's decision to delay the release of its fiscal 2013 budget request one week, from Feb. 6 to Feb. 13.
The Pentagon is going forward with its plan to preview selected parts of its budget to the public on Thursday, and lawmakers will get special briefings tonight.
Of course, all these discussions could be moot if Congress again fails to pass any appropriations bills in the run-up to the elections in November, as it did in 2010. And after the election, the entire situation could change again... especially if a Republican takes the White House.
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
Almost two years ago, The Cable reported on the Pentagon investigation into the actions of former Afghanistan commander Gen. David Barno, who stands accused of abusing his position as head of the Near East South Asia Center (NESA) at the National Defense University (NDU).
The investigation is complete but the Pentagon won't release it, claiming it is under "legal review," angering lawmakers who have been following the issue.
Barno, who is currently a senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security, ran the NESA center at NDU from 2006 to 2009, following his retirement from the Army as a three-star general. He was the head of Combined Forces Command -- Afghanistan from 2003 to 2005.
A special unit of the Defense Department's Inspector General's office (IG) that focuses on senior officials opened an investigation into his leadership at NDU in 2008, following allegations that he presided over an office that misspent taxpayer funds, abused contractor employees and threatened them with termination, awarded jobs based on favoritism rather than merit, and created an overall atmosphere of fear and intimidation at the center.
Congressional efforts to get the Pentagon to share the results of its investigation have stretched on for years -- and so far have been stymied. In a series of letters between the IG's office and one of the lawmakers following the issue, obtained by The Cable, the IG's office claims that the investigation is under "legal review" and therefore the results can't be shared.
"I am concerned with recent news reports that the Director of the Near East South Asia Center, which is part of the taxpayer funded National Defense University, is alleged to have wasted taxpayer funds and hired government employees due to personal relationships and not merit," Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK), wrote to Inspector General Gordon Heddell, in an April 9, 2010 letter.
Three days later, Assistant Inspector General John Crane wrote to Coburn to tell him the Office of Senior Official Investigations had initiated an investigation into Barno in December 2008, based on anonymous allegations.
"The fieldwork portion of this investigation has been completed and report is being prepared," Crane wrote on April 12, 2010.
In August 2010, Crane wrote to Coburn again to say the Barno investigation report was undergoing an "internal review," and the results would be provided to Coburn after a "final review" was completed. Crane again promised to give Coburn the report in a November 2010 letter.
By February 2011, Crane still had not handed over the report, but claimed in a new letter that the investigation had been reopened due to a new allegation -- but now was finished for real. He promised again to hand over the results as soon as possible.
In May 2011, Crane wrote Coburn yet again and said that the internal review was "taking longer than originally anticipated." The last letter came in August 2011, when Crane told Coburn that the investigation had been reopened to interview one of the accusers but now was under internal review again. "The final results of this investigation will be provided to you as soon as possible," Crane wrote. That was six months ago, and no further information has been provided to lawmakers or the public.
The IG's office and Barno did not respond to requests for comment. The Cable has filed a request under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) for all records related to the Barno investigation and that request is still pending.
The allegations against Barno were described to The Cable by four NESA employees who spoke on the condition of anonymity, out of fear of reprisal. In one example cited by all four employees, a senior staffer close to Barno discouraged the use of Arabic at the center, despite its mandate to engage people from Arabic-speaking countries, creating an abusive work environment. Another focus of the investigators, according to the employees, was Barno's appointment of his chief of operations Rosaline Cardarelli's husband, John Ballard, a former professor of strategic studies at the National War College, as the center's academic dean.
The NESA Center's 2008 alumni symposium, which was held in Prague, also was scrutinized by investigators. NESA employees estimated that more than $250,000 of NESA funds were spent on the trip, but few alumni attended and the reasons for choosing the Czech capital to host alumni from the Near East and South Asia were never clear.
Overall, all four employees reported an atmosphere at the center that was intimidating and unfriendly, where contractors were unable to collect money for overtime hours worked and feared termination if they complained, and where Barno's top staffers monitored email and phone calls of employees to the point of harassment.
"I've never seen a situation in which such a small agency is mismanaged so badly," one NESA employee with decades of government experience told The Cable at the time. "It is to me incredible that you can have, on one hand, such mismanagement and that no one is prepared, evidently, to do anything about it."
Mansoor Ijaz, the main figure in the "Memogate" scandal that is rocking the highest levels of the Pakistani political establishment, told his U.S. go-between Gen. Jim Jones in a private e-mail that there were three people who "prepared" the now-infamous memo, not just former Pakistani Ambassador to Washington Husain Haqqani.
Ijaz is set to travel to Islamabad next week to testify before the Supreme Court of Pakistan's inquiry commission on the memo, which he delivered through Jones to then Joint Chiefs Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen last May. Ijaz has repeatedly claimed the memo was authored solely by Haqqani on behalf of Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari. The memo offered to replace Pakistan's military and intelligence leadership and reorient Pakistani foreign policy in exchange for U.S. government help to prevent a purported impending military coup in the wake of the killing of Osama bin Laden.
Haqqani resigned over the scandal and is now living under virtual house arrest on Gilani's compound, but he has always denied being the author of the memo. Now, in the previously unreported May 9 e-mail from Ijaz to Jones that accompanied the memo, obtained by The Cable, Ijaz told Jones the document was prepared by three people, not just Haqqani.
"In further reference to our telephone discussions on Pakistan and its relations with the United States, I am attaching herewith a document that has been prepared by senior active and former Pakistan government officials, some of whom served at the highest levels of the military-intelligence directorates in recent years, and as senior political officers of the civilian government," Ijaz wrote to Jones only 8 days after bin Laden was found hiding in the military town of Abbotabad.
Last month, Ijaz handed over the e-mail to the Supreme Court's Registrar Faqir Hussain in advance of Ijaz's testimony next week. Ijaz told Jones in the e-mail that the memo "has the support of the President of Pakistan," but Ijaz didn't mention in the e-mail that Haqqani was involved in the memo or the scheme in any way.
"I personally know two of the three men," Ijaz wrote to Jones, referring to the three men who allegedly prepared the document. "I believe they are men of honor and integrity, although they have been away from the games played in Islamabad for some time."
"Thanks for standing up with me on this," wrote Ijaz. "I don't know if it will work, but we have to try."
Jones replied May 11 "Message delivered," referring to the fact he had passed the memo on to Mullen.
In an Oct. 10 Financial Times op-ed where he revealed the existence of the memo, Ijaz wrote that the scheme was devised by "a senior Pakistani diplomat" whom Ijaz later alleged was Haqqani, but Ijaz didn't mention the existence of the other two other officials in that article.
In an interview on Thursday with The Cable, Ijaz confirmed the authenticity of the e-mail he sent to Jones but said its contents did not contradict his various other statements. Ijaz said that the Jones e-mail was meant as a general overview but didn't reflect the details of the involvement of the other two men, whom he identified as Jehangir Karamat, who served as Army chief of staff and U.S. ambassador under former military dictator Gen. Pervez Musharraf, and Mahmud Ali Durrani, a former National Security Advisor for Gilani, who was fired in 2009 over an unrelated dispute.
"There was only one author of the memo and that was Haqqani, but the way Haqqani presented it to me was that there was a team of people back in Pakistan involved and the two names he gave me were Karamat and Durrani," Ijaz told The Cable.
Ijaz said his current understanding is that Karamat and Durrani were involved in some unclear way in the scheme to overhaul Pakistan's military and intelligence leadership but were not involved in the actual drafting or delivery of the memo, as far as he knows.
"My impression at the time I wrote the email to Jones was that they had been probably a part of the thinking process about the ideas in the memorandum. They were probably involved at least in thinking through how you execute these things," Ijaz told The Cable. "They certainly did not have anything to do with the actual drafting of the memorandum or the delivery of the message. Then again, maybe they did, I don't know. Who the hell knows? What I put down in the e-mail was what Haqqani told me."
In his written statement to the Supreme Court, Ijaz claims that Karamat and Durrani were names given to him by Haqqani "as people that would be involved in forming the new national security team," but he did not identify them as being involved in the preparation of the document.
"[Haqqani] said there was a like-minded group of people in Islamabad that would be brought on board by ‘the boss'; -- a reference I understood to mean President Asif Ali Zardari -- as the new national security team once tensions had dissipated. He mentioned two names I recognized (Jehangir Karamat and Mahmud Durrani) but added that they would be approached once this was all over -- a point I took to mean they were unaware of this operation in advance," Ijaz wrote in his statement.
The military-civilian rift over the memo reached even higher levels of confrontation this week as Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani on Wednesday sacked Defense Secretary Khalid Naeem Lodhi for "gross misconduct and illegal action." Lodhi gave the Supreme Court statements pertaining to Memogate from Pakistan's military and intelligence leadership without going through the civilian government first.
The firing of Lodhi followed a warning by Army chief Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani that Gilani's earlier statements, calling the actions of Kayani and Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate spy agency Ahmed Shuja Pasha related to Memogate "unconstitutional," could have "grievous consequences." Gilani had criticized the two for submitting statements to the court without going through the civilian leadership first. The stakes could not be higher in Pakistan, where the civilian government is fighting for survival and the military is seeking to assert its dominance over politics.
The newly revealed e-mail also seems to corroborate Jones's secret affidavit to the court in which Jones swore that Ijaz "gave me no reason to believe that he was acting at the direction of Ambassador Haqqani, with his participation, or that Ambassador Haqqani had knowledge of the call or the contents of the message."
Later in the affidavit, Jones hedged by writing, "I do not recall whether Mr. Ijaz claimed that Ambassador Haqqani had anything to do with the creation of the memo. I have no reason to believe that Ambassador Haqqani had any role in the creation of the memo, nor that he had any prior knowledge of the memo."
In his own affidavit to the court, Ijaz directly disputed Jones' account of events. Jones says that Ijaz called him on the phone a few days before the delivery of the memo. Ijaz refutes that call ever took place. Ijaz also swears that he did tell Jones about Haqqani's involvement during their May 9 phone call, only because Jones was extremely skeptical of the authenticity of the memo.
"I made clear to him near the end of the call that Pakistan's ambassador to the US was the originator of the message," Ijaz wrote in his affidavit. "Gen. Jones continued to express reservations but when I told him this was not for him or I to decide, that if what the ambassador was saying about the potential for a military takeover was true, that we simply had a responsibility to make sure the private message Haqqani wanted conveyed got through to its destined recipient. He responded by saying he would do it if the message was in writing."
In his affidavit, Ijaz again claims that Haqqani was the sole author of the memo. "The content of the Memorandum originated entirely from Haqqani, was conceived by Haqqani and was edited by Haqqani," Ijaz wrote.
Ijaz has always said that his back-channel dealings were in furtherance of his desire to expose the inappropriate influence of Pakistan's military and intelligence sectors on domestic politics. That said, since the scandal broke he has been harshly critical of the civilian government led by Zardari. The entire scandal rests largely on Ijaz's credibility and his account of events as compared to Haqqani's.
Ijaz met with Pasha Oct. 22 in London and handed over evidence he says implicates Haqqani, including Blackberry Messenger communications that Ijaz says prove Haqqani's involvement in the conspiracy. In a twist of irony, when Ijaz gets to Pakistan next week, his security will be reportedly be provided by Kayani, the military leader he originally conspired to overthrow.
In his e-mail to Jones, Ijaz also claimed that he was working with Sen. Tom Daschle and Navy Secretary Ray Mabus to deliver the document. Ijaz told The Cable today that he reached out to Daschle in an effort to reach Mabus as a conduit to Mullen -- but it never panned out.
"Daschle's condition [before becoming involved] was that the memo had to have Zardari's signature and be written on his letterhead. That sort of defeats the purpose [of the back channel], so that option was out," said Ijaz. "They were never involved directly in this. I never had any direct contact with Daschle or Mabus."
The resignation of President Barack Obama's chief of staff shows that the White House is unstable and its national security policies remain dangerous, a top surrogate for GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney told The Cable today.
"This unexpected move of Bill Daley out points to a lack of stability," said former Senator Jim Talent in a Tuesday interview.
Talent, who is one of Romney's closest advisors on national security, also harshly criticized Obama's decision to revamp U.S. military strategy, which he announced at the Pentagon on Jan. 5. The new strategy review, released only weeks ahead of Obama's fiscal 2013 budget request, calls for a "smaller and leaner" military and backs off from previous strategy documents that mandated the U.S. military maintain the capability to fight two major wars at the same time.
"I think it's going to encourage provocative actions around the world," said Talent. "It's a signal that America's not going to continue exercising a leadership role, it's very dangerous. And you know that one of the amazing things about it is that it's explicitly a budget-driven decision, in other words there's no pretense that this is a change based on strategic analysis."
When announcing the new defense strategy, Obama said, "The tide of war is receding" -- but the Romney team doesn't see it that way at all.
"That sends the wrong message, it encourages other countries to believe that they can provoke and challenge us, and it will end up costing us more money," said Talent. "It's so much an explicit confession of bankruptcy in terms of defense policy, I almost don't know how to respond to it."
In fact, Talent said that Obama's strategic review is more damaging than the military cuts made by President Bill Clinton's administration following the end of the Cold War.
"That two-war standard was continued in the post-Cold War era by the Clinton administration and was deemed necessary in the 1990s -- and that was before the 9/11 attacks, that was before the rise of Chinese power, and that was before Russia reassumed a more aggressive posture," said Talent. "So if it was necessary according to President Clinton in the 1990s before those additional risks ... how could it not be necessary now?"
Talent laid some of the top foreign policy priorities in a Romney administration, framing them as areas where it was necessary to fix Obama's missteps. These include a new policy to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon, the importance of channeling China in a direction of peaceful competition rather than aggression, the need to reestablish the strength of traditional allies, the need for the United States to play a larger leadership role in the international community, and the need to reverse Obama-era defense cuts and restore military strength.
"Governor Romney believes that the Obama administration has pursued a policy of weakness across the spectrum of areas," Talent said.
Richard Ellis/Getty Images
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
Former Defense Secretary Robert Gates championed a rebalancing of foreign policy funding away from the military, arguing that the United States should pool soldiers' and diplomats' shared resources to better manage projects in warzones. Now, after his departure, the first true test of that idea is going into effect.
Gates, who famously warned in 2008 of the "creeping militarization" of U.S. foreign policy, was talking about his idea for a new $2 billion pooled fund that State and Defense would share for security capacity building, stabilization, and conflict prevention in dangerous areas of the world, where both the military and the diplomatic core operate, until his departure this year.
The Obama administration acted on that idea this year by proposing a $50 million starter fund in its fiscal 2012 budget request which it called the Global Security Contingency Fund (GSCF), meant for responding to "urgent and emergent challenges." The idea is that approval to spend the money would require the approval of both secretaries, but the State Department would be more or less in charge.
"Secretary Gates called for pooled funding and this is the direct result of that and the first test of whether State and DOD can really work together on this kind of thing," a senior State Department official said in an interview with The Cable. "This is really an example of how State and DOD, rather than engage in bureaucratic gamesmanship, have decided to work together to solve these problems."
"For us, GSCF is the new model," the official said. "This is the model we think makes the most sense, particularly in budget-constrained times."
The new GSCF office will have a State Department official as a director, a Pentagon official as a deputy director, and will be located at the State Department, the official said. Nobody has been selected for the positions yet. The rough model for the office is the interagency "Pakistan cell," which manages various aspects of Pakistan funding now.
There's only one hitch: Congress. In the fiscal 2012 budget bill passed by Congress last week and signed by President Barack Obama, the $50 million to start GCSF was omitted. But Congress did give the administration the authority to start the project using funding from other accounts, including money earmarked for the Pakistani military.
Accordingly, GSCF will be funded this year by money appropriated to Foreign Military Financing (FMF) and what's called the Pakistani Counterinsurgency Capability Fund (PCCF), a pool of cash that is used to reimburse the Pakistani military for money it spends helping the United States fight Islamic extremists.
The PCCF program, meanwhile, is another ongoing saga in the jostling between State and DOD for control over money and power in countries where they both operate.
Originally housed at the Pentagon as the Pakistani Counterinsurgency Fund (PCF), the program was originally supposed to be transferred over to State in 2009. But at that time, State didn't have the capacity to manage it, so the transfer was delayed. In 2010, State finally took over the program, only to lose it again in 2011 during the last-minute budget slashing that accompanied the April 2011 deal to raise the debt ceiling. Now for 2012, the program is back at State again.
State will receive $850 million for PCCF in fiscal 2012, and this year State put the funding in its Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) account. By placing the program in the OCO account, the money is not counted as part of State's regular budget and therefore is more protected from the budget-cutting knives on Capitol Hill. The Pentagon is still heavily involved: In order to get the money to the Pakistani military, State actually passes the funds through the Pentagon, which implements the program on the ground by doling out the cash to the Pakistani army.
Passing the PCCF funds though the Pentagon this year will subject them to new policy restrictions in the fiscal 2012 defense authorization bill that require the administration to certify that Pakistan is using the money to fight extremists, rather than to build up conventional forces opposite India.
"The administration did have concerns that [these new restrictions] would hinder the flexibility of the program, but the Congress, obviously concerned about the nature of our relationship with Pakistan, insisted on these requirements," the State Department official said.
But how do you certify the Pakistanis are spending the money as intended? "That's going to be the issue," the official said.
The Pentagon issued its report on the Nov. 25 raid where NATO forces killed 24 Pakistani soldiers at an outpost along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border, admitting that the U.S. military made mistakes that led to the incident. The Pentagon and State Department "deeply regret" the attack, but refuse to accede to Pakistani demands they issue an explicit apology.
"For the loss of life -- and for the lack of proper coordination between U.S. and Pakistani forces that contributed to those losses -- we express our deepest regret," the Pentagon said in a Thursday statement about the incident, which has pushed U.S.-Pakistani relations to new lows and has resulted in Pakistan cutting off supply lines for NATO forces in Afghanistan, which are still closed.
U.S. and NATO investigators found that the NATO forces "acted in self defense and with appropriate force after being fired upon." The investigators also determined "there was no intentional effort to target persons or places known to be part of the Pakistani military, or to deliberately provide inaccurate location information to Pakistani officials."
That quote refers to the Pakistani claim that NATO identified a location for the attack nine miles away from where they were actually attacking, which is what led to Pakistan telling NATO there were no Pakistani troops there troops in the area they were attacking.
The NATO explanation of the incident directly conflicts with the Pakistani military's own account of the incident, as explained by a Pakistani defense official to reporters in Washington last week. Pakistan's military has concluded that the NATO helicopters and planes strafed two Pakistani outposts intentionally, and they say that repeated pleas by Pakistani officials to halt the operation as it was being carried out were ignored.
At a Thursday morning briefing, Air Force Brig. Gen. Stephen Clark, who led the investigation, acknowledged that NATO was using the wrong map template and therefore gave the Pakistanis the wrong location during the attack
Clark also said there was reluctance to share the information about the ongoing attack with the Pakistani side because of an "overarching lack of trust" between the two militaries. The report said both sides had made mistakes during the incident due to poor coordination and communication.
At the State Department today, reporters pressed spokesman Mark Toner to explain why the U.S. government won't just say "I'm sorry," as the Pakistanis are demanding.
"We've expressed our deep regret for the loss of life and for the lack of proper coordination between the U.S. and Pakistani forces that contributed to these losses. And you know, we do accept responsibility for the mistakes that we made," said Toner. "I think there's a shared responsibility in this incident."
The New York Times reported last month that the State Department and U.S. Ambassador to Pakistan Cameron Munter had urged the White House to issue an apology to quell Pakistani outrage, at both the official and the popular level, but the Pentagon objected.
The U.S. government is working hard behind the scenes to smooth over relations. Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey called Pakistani Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani on Wednesday and offered to send a briefing team to Islamabad. CENTCOM Commander Gen. James Mattis also called Kayani. Munter spoke with Pakistani Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar.
After being pressed several times on the question of the difference between expressing "regret" and issuing an "apology," Toner finally parsed it out the best he could.
"I think ‘we regret' speaks to a sense of sympathy with the Pakistani people, I mean, in this case, but more broadly with the people affected by any incident or tragedy and, you know, speaks to the fact that we're accepting responsibility for any of our actions that may have contributed to it," said Toner. "I don't know -- an apology -- you know, you can figure that out for your own. I can only say what we're trying to express through this investigation and through the conclusion of this investigation."
"It's pretty clear from this entire conversation that you're under orders not to use the words ‘sorry' or ‘apologize,'" one reporter said to Toner.
Toner's only response to that was: "Ok. Next question?"
NATO forces deliberately attacked two Pakistani Army outposts and ignored established rules of cooperation in the Nov. 26 assault that resulted in the death of 24 Pakistani soldiers, a senior Pakistani defense official said today.
The attack sparked the latest rift in the sinking U.S.-Pakistan relationship. The Pakistani government shut down NATO's supply lines into Afghanistan in response to the attack, refused to attend the Bonn conference on Afghanistan reconstruction this month, and indicated it would undertake a full review of its security cooperation with NATO and the United States. The U.S. government and the Obama administration expressed private "condolences" for the attack, which is currently under investigation by NATO, but has refused to explicitly apologize.
A senior defense official at the Pakistani embassy in Washington invited a group of national security reporters on Thursday morning to give an extensive briefing on the events of Nov. 26 -- from the Pakistani point of view.
The official placed the blame squarely on NATO forces and said it was completely impossible that the killings were accidental.
"I have a story to tell and this is the story of those brave people who left us in the middle of a cold, November night on a barren mountain top," the official said, before going into intricate details of what he called the "Mohmand Incident," named after the region where the attack took place.
The attack started at about midnight, the official said, with a helicopter assault on the Pakistani outpost named "Volcano," a small bunker on a mountain ridge near the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. Pakistani soldiers at the neighboring "Boulder" outpost responded by firing at the helicopters, after which helicopters and fixed-wing NATO aircraft strafed both outposts, destroying them, the official said.
The Pakistani conclusion that this was a "deliberate" attack is based on the belief that these areas had been cleared of terrorist activity, that there was no indication of insurgent activity at the time, and that there was no way to mistake the Pakistani outposts as terrorist encampments, the official argued.
"This was in plain view on a barren ridge, not a place terrorists would be inclined to use as a hideout," the official said.
Moreover, NATO and Pakistani officials had put in place an intricate system of operational information sharing that was completely violated, according to the official, which reinforced the Pakistani conclusion that the attack was intentional.
The official refused to speculate as to why NATO would deliberately attack and kill two dozen Pakistani soldiers, only saying that this was the official conclusion of the Pakistani military leadership.
The Pakistani official also claimed that the NATO official in charge at the nearby Pakistani-NATO coordination center had apologized for giving the Pakistani Army incomplete and incorrect information regarding where NATO forces were attacking. In fact, the official claimed that the apology came in the middle of the attack, but that the NATO airplanes kept attacking.
According to the official, NATO officials notified the Pakistani side of the operation just before it began, but gave Pakistan incorrect coordinates that indicated it was actually taking place nine miles to the north of the actual attack site. The Pakistanis asked NATO to delay the operation amid the confusion, the official said, but the NATO official in charge refused, only to apologize later as the attack was taking place.
About an hour into the attack, at approximately 1 a.m., NATO then told the Pakistani side the attack had stopped, the official said, but the Pakistanis later discovered it continued until about 2:15 a.m.
"This was at least one hour and 10 minutes beyond when our friends in NATO told us that the helicopters had pulled back," the official said. "The actual magnitude of this tragedy we knew only when day broke."
Well-established operating procedures should have dictated that the attack stop as soon as communications with the Pakistani forces in the area were established, but that didn't happen, the official said.
"We are supposed to share information about impending operations regardless of size.... And in case we are fired upon, the responsibility to take action is on the country from where the fire is originating," the official said. "It's not for the U.S. military to engage. NATO is supposed to pass on the information regarding the point of origin [of the fire]."
The official also rejected the idea that the NATO helicopters were responding to fire coming from the Pakistani side or chasing insurgents as part of some sort of hot pursuit.
"There was no prior firefight," the official said.
NATO is expected to release the results of its own investigation into the assault next week, and the Pakistani claims today could be an attempt to pre-empt that announcement by establishing its own narrative beforehand.
Either way, the fallout from the incident has already had a detrimental effect on Pakistani military and popular opinion toward cooperation with NATO and U.S. military forces.
"There is a sense of outrage," the official said. "It's there on the street, amongst the leadership -- political as well as military -- and among the rank and file of the military. The sheer magnitude of this thing is unbelievable."
PASCAL GUYOT/AFP/Getty Images
Here we go again. Only months after the United States and Iraq failed to come to an agreement on a post-2011 troop presence, NATO is now scrambling to negotiate an extension of its own training mission in Iraq, and the prospects don't look good.
"Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has repeatedly asked NATO to stay," Ivo Daalder, the U.S. Ambassador to NATO, said at a Friday morning breakfast meeting of the Defense Writers Group, an organization that brings reporters together with senior officials to discuss world affairs over greasy eggs and bacon.
"We are trying to make that desire for the NATO training mission to stay a reality," said Daalder, explaining that intense negotiations are underway but that, without an agreement by Dec. 31, all NATO trainers will have to leave Iraq.
Daalder acknowledged that the main sticking point in the negotiations is the requirement that NATO troops in Iraq be given immunity from prosecution in Iraqi courts. The lack of an agreement on immunity for U.S. troops was the main reason that the American presence was not extended beyond this year.
The White House maintains that President Barack Obama always wanted to withdraw all troops from Iraq by the end of 2011, but several officials in the Defense and State Departments had publicly and privately been working hard to negotiate an extension. Ultimately, all the senior officials within the Obama administration agreed that, without immunity for U.S. troops, an extension was not possible.
The Obama administration had demanded in its negotiations with the Iraqi government that any immunity agreement would have to be formally approved by Iraq's parliament, known as the Council of Representatives (COR), in order to reassure the U.S. government that the immunity would be honored. Due to the explosiveness of the issue in domestic Iraqi politics, that proved impossible.
Pressed by The Cable, Daalder wouldn't say whether the NATO negotiators were demanding that any immunity agreement be passed by the COR, but he did say that any agreement on immunity would have to be acceptable to all 28 NATO member states, including the U.S. government.
"The same immunity problem of the American trainers' agreement is facing us today with NATO," Qassim al-Aaraji, a member of the COR's security and defense committee, told Military Times on Thursday.
The Iraqi army is badly in need of assistance as it tries to make up for the lack of U.S. military support. The Iraqi armed forces have not developed to the point where they can conduct large-scale maneuvers, coordinate air and ground forces, or manage a complicated logistics system for military supply, according to several reports from Iraq.
NATO hasn't given up on the negotiations, but it now has less than one month to complete the negotiations, and then to receive approval of any agreement by both NATO and Iraq.
"We are working it hard. Time is running out," Daalder said.
Meanwhile, Vice President Joe Biden's trip to Iraq this week has ended. Administration officials traveling with him made clear that, after U.S. troops leave this month, they are not coming back.
"There is no discussion, no contemplation, no thought of returning U.S. troops to Iraq," a senior administration official told reporters traveling with Biden on Wednesday.
That seems to contradict what Defense Secretary Leon Panetta told the Senate Armed Services Committee on Nov. 15, when he said, "Our hope would be that this isn't just a State Department presence, but that ultimately we'll be able to negotiate a further presence for the military as well."
The Cable has obtained the document at the center of the "memo-gate" controversy, sent allegedly from the highest echelons of Pakistani's civilian leadership to Adm. Michael Mullen in the wake of the killing of Osama bin Laden. The memo offered to reshape Pakistan's national security leadership, cleaning house of elements within the powerful military and intelligence agencies that have supported Islamic radicals and the Taliban, drastically altering Pakistani foreign policy -- and requesting U.S. help to avoid a military coup.
The Cable confirmed that the memo is authentic and that it was received by Mullen. The Pakistani Ambassador to the United States Husain Haqqani -- the rumored author of the memo -- has offered to resign over what has become a full-fledged scandal in Islamabad. The Cable spoke this evening to the man at the center of the controversy and the conduit of the memo, Pakistani-American businessman Mansoor Ijaz.
"Civilians cannot withstand much more of the hard pressure being delivered from the Army to succumb to wholesale changes," reads the memo, sent to Mullen via an unidentified U.S. interlocutor by Ijaz. "If civilians are forced from power, Pakistan becomes a sanctuary for UBL's [Osama bin Laden's] legacy and potentially the platform for far more rapid spread of al Qaeda's brand of fanaticism and terror. A unique window of opportunity exists for the civilians to gain the upper hand over army and intelligence directorates due to their complicity in the UBL matter."
The memo -- delivered just 9 days after the killing of bin Laden -- requests Mullen's help "in conveying a strong, urgent and direct message to [Pakistani Army Chief of Staff] Gen [Ashfaq Parvez] Kayani that delivers Washington's demand for him and [Inter-Services Intelligence chief] Gen [Ahmad Shuja] Pasha to end their brinkmanship aimed at bringing down the civilian apparatus."
"Should you be willing to do so, Washington's political/military backing would result in a revamp of the civilian government that, while weak at the top echelon in terms of strategic direction and implementation (even though mandated by domestic political forces), in a wholesale manner replaces the national security adviser and other national security officials with trusted advisers that include ex-military and civilian leaders favorably viewed by Washington, each of whom have long and historical ties to the US military, political and intelligence communities," the memo states.
The memo offers a six-point plan for how Pakistan's national security leadership would be altered in favor of U.S. interests. President Asif Ali Zardari would start a formal "independent" inquiry to investigate the harboring of bin Laden and take suggestions from Washington on who would conduct that inquiry. The memo promised this inquiry would identify and punish the Pakistani officials responsible for harboring bin Laden.
The memo pledges that Pakistan would then hand over top al Qaeda and Taliban officials residing in Pakistan, including Ayman Al Zawahiri, Mullah Omar, and Sirajuddin Haqqani, or give U.S. military forces a "green light" to conduct the necessary operations to capture or kill them on Pakistani soil, with the support of Islamabad. "This commitment has the backing of the top echelon on the civilian side of our house," the memo states.
The memo also promises a new Pakistani national security leadership that would bring transparency and "discipline" to Pakistan's nuclear program, cut ties with Section S of the ISI, which is "charged with maintaining relations to the Taliban, Haqqani network" and other rogue elements, and work with the Indian government to punish the perpetrators of the 2008 terrorist attack in Mumbai.
Ijaz, who has a long and controversial record of acting as an unofficial messenger for the Pakistani and U.S. governments, has claimed repeatedly that the memo came from a senior Pakistani official close to Zardari and was given to Mullen through a U.S. interlocutor close to the then-serving Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman.
Today, in an exclusive interview with The Cable, Ijaz alleged that Pakistan's U.S. ambassador, Husain Haqqani, was not only the author of the memo, but the "architect" of the entire plan to overthrow Pakistan's military and intelligence leadership, and was seeking U.S. help.
"Haqqani believed he and the president (Zardari) could redraft the architectural blueprint of how Pakistan should be governed in the future -- with civilians in command of the armed forces and intelligence services and the memorandum's content was geared in that direction," Ijaz said.
Over the past month, the rumors of the memo and its contents have ballooned into a huge political crisis in Pakistan. Islamabad's military leadership has pressed Zardari to start a full inquiry and the president has summoned Haqqani to the capital to explain himself. Haqqani offered to resign from his post on Wednesday, and told The Cable that he will travel to Pakistan on Friday.
On Wednesday, The Cable first reported that Mullen confirmed the existence of the secret memo delivered to him through an intermediary from Ijaz on May 10. On Nov. 8, Mullen's former spokesman Capt. John Kirby told The Cable that Mullen had no recollection of receiving the memo, but a week later, Kirby confirmed that Mullen had searched his records and discovered that he had indeed received the Ijaz memo -- but that he gave it no credibility and never acted on it.
Ijaz said Haqqani's proposal, as detailed in the memo and in a series of Blackberry Messenger conversations between Ijaz and Haqqani, included the establishment of a "new national security team" in which the ambassador would be National Security Advisor of Pakistan. An official with the initials "JK" would be the new foreign minister and an official with the initials "NB" would assume a new civilian post in charge of Pakistan's military and intelligence agencies.
Ijaz read out several alleged Blackberry Messenger conversations he alleges he had with Haqqani while planning the scheme and drafting the memo. The Cable was unable to verify the veracity of these conversations; as read out by Ijaz, they paint a picture of him and Haqqani devising a coded language worthy of a spy movie to discuss the memo while under possible surveillance.
For example, when Ijaz asked Haqqani to consider adding access by U.S. investigators to bin Laden's wives to the offer, the wives were referred to as "the three stooges," Ijaz said. Haqqani would use the words "my friend" or "boss" to refer to Zardari. "There was an orchestration to cover our tracks even at that moment because there was always a possibility this could get out," Ijaz said.
Once the memo was final, Ijaz said he approached three U.S. interlocutors, all of whom had served at the highest levels of the U.S. government. One of them was a current serving official, one was a former military official, and one was a former civilian government official, Ijaz said.
"All three of them expressed skepticism about the offers that were being made. Frankly, when you read it, you will see that these offers are sort of a sellout of Pakistan to the United States," Ijaz said.
Ijaz said the text of the memo proves Haqqani's involvement because it is full of detailed Pakistani government information that a mere businessman would never have had access to. Ijaz said, however, that he can't confirm whether Zardari had any direct knowledge of the memo or the promises contained therein. All the assurances that Zardari was involved and approved of the memo came from Haqqani, he said.
"I believe, with what we know today, that the president probably gave him a blanket power of attorney to conduct the stealth operation and never wanted to know the details, which he left to Haqqani happily," Ijaz said.
But why would Haqqani, who has extensive connections throughout the U.S. government, need to pass the memo through Ijaz? Haqqani and Zardari needed plausible deniability, said Ijaz, in case the issue blew up into a scandal.
And it has.
"Haqqani was likely the sole architect of the back-channel intervention and needed a plausibly deniable go-between to make it work. I fit that bill perfectly because he knew the Pakistanis, who have been assassinating my character and diminishing my person for decades, would have at me with glee if things went wrong ... if a leak occurred purposefully or accidentally," Ijaz said.
Why did Ijaz decide to reveal the existence of the memo in the first place, as he did in an Oct. 10 op-ed in the Financial Times, especially if he really is a secret go-between? Ijaz said it was his effort to defend Mullen from attacks in the Pakistani press after Mullen sharply criticized the ISI and its links to the Haqqani network in his harshly worded closing congressional testimony on Sept. 22.
"I felt very strongly about how Adm. Mullen was mistreated by the Pakistani press after he had testified in Congress and shed light on the harsh truth about Pakistan's intelligence service brinkmanship," Ijaz said. "So I felt it was necessary to set the record straight."
The whole story is mired in the web of relationships and dealings both Haqqani and Ijaz have had over the years in their roles as members of the Pakistani elite in Washington. Ijaz had considered Haqqani a friend and Haqqani had even spoken at one of the charity events Ijaz organized.
Ijaz said he respects Haqqani, believes his motives are patriotic, and sees him as a needed presence in the troubled U.S.-Pakistan relationship.
"Haqqani has had a reputation since he became ambassador as being more of America's ambassador to Pakistan than Pakistan's Ambassador to America, but that's an unfair charge," Ijaz said. "He is someone who is trying to help people there understand who we are and help people here understand what kind of a mess [Pakistan] is."
"In that sense, he's done a very credible job and it would be a loss for Pakistan to see him go," Ijaz said. "I still consider him a friend."
In a long statement given to The Cable over e-mail today, Haqqani flatly denied all of Ijaz's allegations:
I refuse to accept Mr Ijaz's claims and assertions. I did not write or deliver the memo he describes not did I authorize anyone including Mr Ijaz to do so.
I was in London and stayed at the Park Lane Intercontinental on the date in May mentioned in one of the alleged conversations but I was there to meet senior British govt officials, including Sir David Richards Chief Of General Staff and Mr Tobias Ellwood then parliamentary Secretary for Defense. These officials will confirm that threat of a coup was not on my mind at the time, the state of US-Pakistan relations was.
I fail to understand why Mr Ijaz claims on the one hand to have helped the civilian government by delivering his memo and on the other insists on trying to destroy democracy by driving a wedge between elected civilians and the military in Pakistan with his persistent claims. It is bizarre to say the least.
Mr Ijaz, whom I have known and communicated with off and on for ten years, once said to me he was richer and smarter than me so I should pay attention to him. Clearly he does not think about the consequences of his actions.
He may be the only so-called secret emissary in the world who likes so much publicity. He has yet to explain why, if all he says is correct, he wrote his Oct 10 oped and himself deliberately blew the cover off his own secret memo and mission.
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:
Congressional Democrats on the budget-cutting "supercommittee" want to count $1 trillion that the United States will not spend fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan over the next 10 years as "savings," even though there was never a plan to extend the wars that long in the first place.
House Assistant Democratic leader and supercommittee member James Clyburn (D-SC) mentioned this plan on Fox News Sunday, describing it as part of the supercommittee's efforts to agree on $1.2 trillion in discretionary spending cuts over 10 years before its Nov. 23 deadline. Republicans have supported this idea in the past but as of yet, not within the context of the supercommittee's deliberations.
"We believe and the CBO believes that there is around $917 billion to be saved over the next 10 years from the overseas contingency account. And we ought to count that," Clyburn said.
The problem with Clyburn's idea is that the money he is referring to -- emergency spending for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan -- was never budgeted to remain at current levels over the next ten years. The money can only be counted as "savings" when compared to CBO projections from last March, which were based on a mathematical formula -- not the actual future costs of the wars.
However, it never has been anybody's plan to maintain current troop levels in Iraq and Afghanistan over the next 10 years, so the "savings" are completely illusory.
The White House used this gimmick in September, when it released its $4.4 trillion plan to cut the deficit. The gimmick was also used by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) in the plan he released last July to avert a debt-ceiling crisis. Paul Ryan's budget last April also included this savings in its deficit reduction calculation, which was supported by 235 House Republicans and 40 Senate Republicans.
Clyburn also said the supercommittee Democrats are interested in spending the war "savings."
"We ought to use that savings to plow it back in to fix Social Security, that will allow it to be sovereign for another 75 years, to plow it into job creation programs that would get people back to work, and paying taxes, and off of food stamps and off of unemployment," he said.
The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan -- which have cost more than $1 trillion since 2001, according to the Congressional Research Service -- were completely funded by off-budget borrowing and classified as "emergency spending," meaning that eliminating those costs does not actually return any money to the Treasury.
"Isn't that a classic Washington budget gimmick, to count savings on money that wasn't going to be spent anyway?" asked Fox host Chris Wallace.
Clyburn responded that these savings were more realistic than counting future economic growth as revenue, which is part of the Republican approach inside the supercommittee.
"It sounds to me like you guys have a lot of work to do in 10 days," Wallace said.
Two top Senate GOP defense hawks laid out for The Cable how they plan to save the defense budget -- if the congressional "supercommittee" fails to reach an agreement, triggering $600 billion in defense cuts over ten years.
Sens. John McCain (R-AZ) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC) are part of a larger effort to protect the defense budget from the "sequestration" mechanism, which would automatically be activated if the supercommittee fails to agree by Thanksgiving on $1.2 trillion of discretionary spending cuts over 10 years. They sent a letter last week to the Pentagon asking for a detailed analysis of the consequences for the military if the trigger is pulled.
"The secretary of defense and all the service chiefs say that it would do irreparable damage to our national security, so obviously we need to do something about it," McCain told The Cable on Tuesday. "My intent is that sequestration on national defense will not take place."
McCain said he would introduce and support a law to undo the Budget Control Act of 2011, which codified the deal to raise the debt ceiling.
"We'll do everything we can to prevent [the trigger] being implemented," McCain said. "You can't bind future Congresses."
The threat of large defense cuts, along with a parallel trigger that would cut entitlements, was intended to be so objectionable that the supercommittee would have an incentive to make a deal. When asked, McCain rejected the idea that by undermining the trigger, he and Graham are taking pressure off the supercommittee to make the required bipartisan cuts.
"There is sufficient pressure on the supercommittee, they will not be swayed either way by our concern about sequestration of national defense," McCain said.
Graham went into more detail about what hawks will seek as a replacement for the defense trigger.
"I hope the supercommittee can do its job, but we can't just live on hope around here. So if they fail, what do we do?" Graham said. "If the committee fails, I am not going to allow the triggers to be pulled that would shoot the Defense Department in the head."
Graham said he would put forth a substitute to the triggers, "something where the whole country shares in the failure of the supercommittee, not just the Defense Department and Medicare providers."
A scrum of reporters cornered supercommittee member Sen. John Kerry (D-MA) coming out of the Tuesday Democratic caucus lunch, and your humble Cable guy elbowed his way to the front of the pack. We decided to first ask several questions about the IAEA report on Iran, to the chagrin of the other reporters desperate for supercommittee quotes.
When Kerry did turn to answering questions about the supercommittee, he said, "We've got some distance to travel and we're working very hard to do that."
Kerry said he was not "optimistic," but he was "hopeful," the super ommittee would succeed.
"Everybody's working in ... uh ... good faith," he said, with a wry grin on his face.
On Oct. 10, Pakistani-American businessman Mansoor Ijaz dropped a bombshell: Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari, he alleged, had offered to replace Pakistan's military and intelligence leadership and cut ties with militant groups in the wake of Osama bin Laden's killing in Abbottabad.
Ijaz also alleged in his op-ed in the Financial Times that Zardari communicated this offer by sending a top secret memo on May 10 through Ijaz himself, to be hand-delivered to Adm. Michael Mullen, then chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and a key official managing the U.S.-Pakistan relationship. The details of the memo and the machinations Ijaz describes paint a picture of a Zardari government scrambling to save itself from an impending military coup following the raid on bin Laden's compound, and asking for U.S. support to prevent that coup before it started.
Mullen, now retired, denied this week having ever dealt with Ijaz in comments given to The Cable through his spokesman at the time, Capt. John Kirby.
"Adm. Mullen does not know Mr. Ijaz and has no recollection of receiving any correspondence from him," Kirby told The Cable. "I cannot say definitively that correspondence did not come from him -- the admiral received many missives as chairman from many people every day, some official, some not. But he does not recall one from this individual. And in any case, he did not take any action with respect to our relationship with Pakistan based on any such correspondence ... preferring to work at the relationship directly through [Pakistani Army Chief of Staff] Gen. [Ashfaq Parvez] Kayani and inside the interagency process."
Mullen's denial represents the first official U.S. comment on the Ijaz memo, which since Oct. 10 has mushroomed into a huge controversy in Pakistan. Several parts of Pakistan's civilian government denied that Ijaz's memorandum ever existed. On Oct. 30, Zardari spokesman Farhatullah Babar called Ijaz's op-ed a "fantasy article" and criticized the FT for running it in the first place.
"Mansoor Ijaz's allegation is nothing more than a desperate bid by an individual, whom recognition and credibility has eluded, to seek media attention through concocted stories," Babar said. "Why would the president of Pakistan choose a private person of questionable credentials to carry a letter to U.S. officials? Since when Mansoor has become a courier of messages of the president of Pakistan?"
On Oct. 31, Ijaz issued a long statement doubling down on his claims and threatened to reveal the "senior Pakistani official" that purportedly sent him on his mission. Ijaz quoted Gordon Gekko from the movie Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps, telling Zardari and his staff, "If you stop telling lies about me, I might just stop telling the truth about you."
The Pakistani press has given credence to Ijaz's story because it was published in the Financial Times. "The FT is not likely to publish something which it cannot substantiate if it was so required, so any number of denials and clarifications by our diplomats or the presidency will only be for domestic consumption and would mean nothing," wrote one prominent Pakistani commentator.
This is only the latest time that Ijaz has raised controversy concerning his alleged role as a secret international diplomat. In 1996, he was accused of trying to extort money from the Pakistani government in exchange for delivering votes in the U.S. House of Representatives on a Pakistan-related trade provision.
Ijaz, who runs the firm Crescent Investment Management LLC in New York, has been an interlocutor between U.S. officials and foreign government for years, amid constant accusations of financial conflicts of interest. He reportedly arranged meetings between U.S. officials and former Pakistani Prime Ministers Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif.
He also reportedly gave over $1 million to Democratic politicians in the 1990s and attended Christmas events at former President Bill Clinton's White House. Ijaz has ties to former CIA Director James Woolsey and his investment firm partner is Reagan administration official James Alan Abrahamson.
In the mid-1990s, Ijaz traveled to Sudan several times and claimed to be relaying messages from the Sudanese regime to the Clinton administration regarding intelligence on bin Laden, who was living there at the time. Ijaz has claimed that his work gave the United States a chance to kill the al Qaeda leader but that the Clinton administration dropped the ball. National Security Advisor Sandy Berger, who served under Clinton, has called Ijaz's allegations "ludicrous and irresponsible."
Then Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Susan Rice, now the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, has previously acknowledged that Ijaz brought the Clinton administration offers of counterterrorism cooperation from Sudan but said that actual cooperation never materialized.
So why is Ijaz's story so popular in Pakistan, despite his long history of antagonizing the Pakistani government with such claims? According to Mehreen Zahra-Malik, who wrote about the Ijaz scandal on Oct. 29 in Pakistan's The News, it's all part of the culture of secrecy and conspiracy in Pakistani politics that the current civilian and military leadership in Islamabad has only continued to foster.
"When secrecy and conspiracy are part of the very system of government, a vicious cycle develops. Because truth is abhorrent, it must be concealed, and because it is concealed, it becomes ever more abhorrent. Having power then becomes about the very concealment of truth, and covering up the truth becomes the very imperative of power -- and the powerful," she wrote. "The end result: a population raised on a diet of conspiracy."
Attempts to reach Ijaz for comment were unsuccessful.
Win McNamee/Getty Images
The top U.S. official at NATO said Monday that there is zero planning -- or even thinking -- going on about a military intervention in Syria.
"There has been no planning, no thought, and no discussion about any intervention into Syria. It just isn't part of the envelope of thinking, among individual countries and certainly among the 28 [full NATO members]," said Ivo Daalder, the U.S. ambassador to NATO. "If things change, things change. But as of today, that's where the reality stands."
Daalder, speaking to an audience at the Atlantic Council, is in town along with NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen, who will meet later today with President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. They will be discussing the NATO summit to be held in Chicago next May and taking a victory lap following the fall of Libyan leader Muammar al-Qaddafi.
Daalder said that there were three overarching conditions that need to be met before the Obama administration would even consider any future military intervention such as occurred in Libya.
"The formula was that there needs to be a demonstrable need, regional support, and sound legal basis for action," said Daalder. "It's those three things we need to look for before we even think about the possibility of action. None of them apply in Syria."
Daalder also noted that there is not enough evidence that air strikes would be effective in Syria, that the opposition and the Arab League have not asked for intervention, and that the U.N. Security Council has refused to act.
Daalder said several times that the United States had not been "leading from behind" in Libya, and he offered his take on the Obama administration's foreign-policy philosophy, as implemented during the Libya intervention.
"The administration came to power with a particular view about how the world worked. And that was a view that in an age of globalization, security was no longer principally determined by geography, but developments anywhere in the world could have a major security impact at home, so as a result you had to find a way to work with others," he said. "The lynchpin of Obama foreign policy was rebuilding partnerships and alliances."
"As part of that analysis, there was also a belief that the era when the United States could decide, determine, and do everything by itself had also come to an end," he said.
The United States is conducting an exercise to examine the lessons learned during the Libya intervention. However, Daalder said that although the European countries ran short of key items such as precision missiles during the war, the United States was perfectly well-prepared and did everything basically right throughout the mission.
"I'm not sure there is a lesson we need to learn for the United States," Daalder said. "In terms of capabilities, we know where the shortfalls are, but they are European shortfalls.... We could have done this campaign by ourselves. But the wise decision was not to do something we could, because others could help too."
Daalder also acknowledged that NATO-Russia talks over missile defense cooperation are at an impasse over a dispute regarding Russian demands for written assurances that U.S. systems are incapable of being used against Russia. The United States has no intention of giving such assurances, according to Daalder.
"We have put on the table numerous proposals for cooperation, which in many ways take their proposals as the basis," he said.
"They want a written guarantee that is legally binding that says the system will be incapable and will never be directed against them," he said. "And we have said that a legal guarantee like that is not something we want nor something we could ratify."
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."
Bahrain's government is under pressure -- not just from protesters in Manama, but also from parts of the Washington foreign policy community, who want to delay U.S. arms sales to the country. Bahraini Foreign Minister Shaikh Khalid bin Ahmed al-Khalifa has been in town for over a week meeting with officials and lawmakers to assuage U.S. concerns over the kingdom's domestic crackdown, and sat down for a lengthy interview with The Cable.
Khalifa's message was clear: The Bahraini government is sensitive to international concerns about its treatment of protesters, pledges to follow the recommendations of an upcoming commission report on its actions, and wants to reinforce that the international community should not lose sight of the broader security situation in the region, characterized by the Iranian threat.
"I'm here to see our friends in the administration and Congress to try to explain what's happening in Bahrain," he said. "We are just before the issuance of the commission of inquiry's report. I'm here to show our commitment to that, how we will accept it and do all that is necessary to implement it."
That report, being written by Bahraini Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI), was established by King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa and is chaired by human rights advocate and professor M. Cherif Bassiouni. It is expected to be released on Nov. 23. Bassiouni has faced some criticism for making statements that appear to be to conciliatory to the regime, but he recently promised his report will give the Bahraini government "some bitter pills to swallow."
After five U.S. senators wrote to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton earlier this month to protest the pending $53 million sale of armored Humvees and missiles to Bahrain, the State Department wrote a letter to Congress last week linking the arms sale directly to the BICI report.
Khalifa said his government has been alarmed by congressional opposition to the arms sale, but said that he trusts the Obama administration to judge the outcome of the commission's report fairly. He also argued that a delay in completing the arms sale would not be in the interest of regional security.
"What worries us is that we don't need to delay any requirement for the necessary architecture to protect the region. Bahrain is a cornerstone of that," he said. "That's what I'm talking about here and I'm finding very listening ears."
Of course, one component of that emerging regional security architecture is the Peninsula Shield Force, made up of dozens of tanks and approximately 40,000 troops that came to Bahrain via Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and the UAE during the height of the unrest in March. Those forces are still there but are "purely to deter external threats," Khalifa maintains.
Opposition groups claim that 30 protesters have been killed by the government during its domestic crackdown, and more than 1,000 have been arrested. Independent organizations such as Human Rights Watch have reported that the government has employed brutal tactics, including using masked thugs to sweep up lawyers and other activists in nighttime raids.
The Obama administration has several interests in Bahrain, the fact that the U.S. Fifth Fleet is stationed there being chief among them. Bahrain is also a client state of Saudi Arabia and policymakers have voiced fears that a victory by the protest movement would strengthen Iranian influence in the country.
Khalifa didn't meet with any of the senators who signed the letter, but he did meet with Sens. John McCain (R-AZ), John Kerry (D-MA), Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Mark Kirk (R-IL), Marco Rubio (R-FL), and Rep. Steve Chabot (R-OH).
Rubio, a strong supporter of the U.S.-Bahrain relationship, sent his own letter to Clinton arguing that the administration should delay the sale of the Humvees, but not the missiles. Rubio wrote that the administration should delay the sale of "any items within the proposed weapons package that could be used to disrupt peaceful dissent."
Khalifa told The Cable that no military hardware has been used against protestors. "Our soldiers did help the police under the banner of the police... but no military hardware was used," he said. Several videos have surfaced of armored troop carriers allegedly firing on protesters and journalists.
So what is the urgency of the U.S. arms sale? Khalifa said that if the United States wants to advance deepening security ties with the Arab Gulf states, any delays would only send the wrong signal to the region's adversaries, principally Iran.
"The claims of torture, that is in the hands of the commission of inquiry," Khalifa said. He said that all government police are clearing identified and sometimes they use overwhelming force during arrests because of the chaotic situation in some Bahraini towns. "If the arrest happens at night, some of the villages are not in a very orderly place. So maybe the arrest was to minimize chaos," he explained.
Khalifa said he didn't have any information on the specific case of Jaleela al-Saman, vice president of the Bahrain Teachers Association, who was reportedly arrested for the second time last week in a night-time raid. Khalifa said that any federal employee who was unfairly dismissed will be rehired.
Khalifa acknowledged that dozens of Shiite mosques and other religious structures have been destroyed by the government in recent months, a step that President Barack Obama condemned in his May 19 speech on the Arab uprisings. However, he said that the structures were demolished for violating building codes or infringing on property that didn't belong to them, not as part of a crackdown on protestors.
"What wasn't helpful was the timing of that happening," he said. "Why were those structures targeted during the national safety situation? That's a serious question. It was ill-timing. It should not have happened in association with restoring law and order in Bahrain."
He added that some Sunni religious structures were also destroyed, and he pledged that the government will pay for the cost of rebuilding structures if they are in adherence with laws and codes, and that "will start soon."
It's too early to tell if Khalifa's charm offensive has had any impact. Rubio spoke with The Cable after meeting with the foreign minister, and said he hadn't changed his view on the arms sales package ... yet.
"We have a special obligation to our allies to encourage them on the road to democracy. I don't expect them to get there overnight," Rubio said. "Bahrain is a country that is friendly and helpful to us, but I believe that their status quo politically is unsustainable and in the long term undermines their ability to resist the pressures put on them not just internally, but also from Iran."
The Obama administration, meanwhile, continues to point to the BICI report as a key element that will inform the next steps in its relations with the kingdom. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland repeated that mantra today following Khalifa's meeting at the State Department with Clinton.
"This investigation, we hope, will speak not only to individual incidents, but also to systemic changes that can be made to prevent future such abuses," Nuland said. "And we will look not only for a full, transparent, independent report, but also for the government to take steps to redress shortcomings that are found."
Khalifa struck a confident note that, in the end, it will all work out between the United States and Bahrain.
"We're allies, we're friends. If your friends don't give you advice, what kind of friends are they?" he said. "I think definitely, with commitment, we will sail through this."
The Obama administration late Thursday formally announced the appointment of Mark Lippert as the next assistant secretary of defense for Asian and Pacific Affairs.
Lippert was one of President Barack Obama's earliest and closest advisors on foreign policy, having been with Obama since his days as a senator. He was a key figure in Obama's presidential campaign and served as chief of staff of the National Security Council (NSC), a position that had not existed in George W. Bush's administration but which Obama resurrected in 2009.
Lippert was pushed out of the White House after an internal struggle with then National Security Advisor Jim Jones, who blamed Lippert for a series of negative leaks to the press about Jones' mismanagement of the NSC.
"In July , Jones laid out his case to Obama and others. All seemed to agree that it was rank insubordination. Obama promised to move on Lippert," Woodward wrote. "On October 1, the day of the McChrystal speech in London, the White House press secretary issued a three-paragraph statement that Lippert was returning to active duty in the Navy. The statement made it sound as though this had been Lippert's choice. ‘I was not surprised,' Obama said in the statement, ‘when he came and told me he had stepped forward for another mobilization, as Mark is passionate about the Navy.'"
Jones was later pushed out himself, after being blamed by top White House officials for a series of leaks to the press about the White House's top advisors, whom he called "the water bugs, the "Politburo," "the mafia," and the "campaign set," according to Bob Woodward's book Obama's Wars.
While serving overseas on multiple tours, Lipper was an intelligence officer for the Navy Seals and participated Navy Special Warfare missions in Africa.
The Lippert nomination was an open secret in Washington as early as April, but the nomination never came. The rumor was that Defense Secretary Robert Gates did not want Lippert, a close confidant of the White House clique, burrowed inside the Office of the Secretary of Defense. Now, with Gates gone, that obstacle has apparently been removed. The Cable reported in July that Lippert was never removed from the White House payroll system, although an administration official said he did not receive his White House pay and benefits while on active duty.
If confirmed, Lippert will succeed Gen. Chip Gregson, who resigned in April. Following a reorganization of the Pentagon's policy shop in 2009, Gregson's office was given a portfolio that includes China, Japan, North and South Korea, India, Afghanistan, and Pakistan. Gregson, who focused mostly on the Northeast Asia part of that portfolio, was known as a knowledgeable and competent official who nonetheless played a less prominent role in diplomacy than his State Department counterpart, Assistant Secretary of State Kurt Campbell.
Privately, administration sources told The Cable that Gregson ultimately could not keep pace with the ambitious political agenda set by the State Department, which is seen as the locus of administration power in much of Asia. He is said by these sources to have fallen somewhat out of favor with Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Michele Flournoy, a close confidant of Campbell's. Flournoy and Campbell founded the Center for a New American Security before entering the Obama administration.
Unlike Gregson, Lippert has no experience working in the Pentagon and no direct experience working on East Asian diplomacy. Chris Nelson of the Nelson Report, an insiders' newsletter on Asia policy, presented the administration's case for Lippert in his report on Thursday.
"During the Campaign, he was the principal liason (sic) between the Asia advisory team run by Jeff Bader, who became the Senior Director for Asia at the NSC, and the candidate; Second, his exhaustive, face-to-face involvement with the President, and senior NSC, State and DOD staff, on all Asia related matters during his year at the NSC," Nelson wrote, adding that Lippert "still has the deepest trust of Obama and his folks."
In April, it was reported by Nelson that when the Lippert nomination was first floated, Sens. John McCain (R-AZ) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC) objected, "due to Lippert's well-known opposition, while at the White House, to Obama's ‘surge' in Afghanistan." Neither McCain nor Graham has ever publicly expressed an objection to the Lippert nomination.
We've called around, and there aren't any Senate offices that are pledging to hold up the Lippert nomination -- yet. However, one senior Senate GOP aide told The Cable in July that "Mark Lippert's nomination to be assistant secretary of defense for Asia would be tremendous hold bait and an opportunity for the Senate to get a hearing on all of the president's China and Taiwan's policies."
The Asia policy shop in the Pentagon had been run by Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense Derek Mitchell, until he was tapped to become special representative and policy coordinator for Burma. Now the office is run by acting Assistant Secretary Peter Lavoy, who came over from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is leading a very high-level delegation to Pakistan later this week to try one more time to set U.S.-Pakistan relations back on track, before they go off the rails altogether.
The State Department won't confirm that Clinton is visiting Pakistan as part of her tour this week, which we're told will include stops in Libya, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Tajikistan, and Oman. But two senior officials have confirmed to The Cable that when Clinton arrives in Pakistan (we'll keep dates secret for security reasons), she'll be joined by CIA Director David Petraeus, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Gen. Martin Dempsey, Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Michèle Flournoy, and several other administration officials.
Pakistani media already reported that the very senior U.S. delegation will have meetings with Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari, Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani, Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar, and Chief of Army Staff Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani. The trip was set up by the special representative for Pakistan and Afghanistan, Marc Grossman, who was in Islamabad last week.
"It's Hillary's initiative," one senior official told The Cable. "This is what Hillary convinced the administration to do because although the relationship has been at its lowest in some years, the U.S. side doesn't want to pronounce their effort to improve the U.S.-Pakistan relationship dead."
The Obama team had been playing a game of "good cop, bad cop" with the Pakistanis as a means of ratcheting up pressure, following the uptick of attacks on Americans traced back to militant groups residing in Pakistan. U.S. officials have stated publicly that these groups are working with either the implicit or the explicit sanctioning of Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI).
"Hillary is trying to position herself in the middle and say to Pakistan that there are those of us who want to engage and others who want to fold. How long do you want to play this game of poker?" the official said.
The mixture of threats and outreach coming from different parts of the Obama administration had the side effect of confusing their Pakistani interlocutors, according to experts. Now the administration wants to put forth one clear message, delivered by top diplomats and top military and intelligence officials all in the same room.
"The problem is still that different parts of the U.S. government, as far as Pakistan is concerned, are giving different messages," said Shuja Nawaz, director of the South Asia Center at the Atlantic Council. "There needs to be a concise, unified message from Washington as to what the intentions are. In terms of high-level contact, we really haven't had that for a long while, so it's very critical."
The Obama administration is also trying to reprise the basic idea of the now defunct U.S.-Pakistan Strategic Dialogue, which was meant to improve coordination of policy within both governments and also move the relationship from a "transactional" to a "strategic" one.
Some top officials no longer believe that a "strategic" relationship with Pakistan is possible, and around Washington, there is a growing realization that U.S. and Pakistani long-term strategic interests may not align, said Bruce Riedel, the Brookings Institution scholar who led Obama's first review of Afghanistan-Pakistan policy in 2009.
"We must recognize that the two countries' strategic interests are in conflict, not harmony, and will remain that way as long as Pakistan's army controls Pakistan's strategic policies," Riedel wrote in an Oct. 15 New York Times op-ed. "We must contain the Pakistani Army's ambitions until real civilian rule returns and Pakistanis set a new direction for their foreign policy."
In an interview Monday, Riedel told The Cable that the administration should abandon its efforts to seek help from the Pakistanis in bringing the Haqqani network and other militant groups to the table for peace negotiations, especially after the killing of former Afghan President Burhanuddin Rabbani by the Pakistan-based Taliban leadership.
"Grossman's primary mission of trying to find political reconciliation with the Taliban has been overtaken by events," Riedel said. "When one party murders the leader on the other side, we pretty much have an answer as to whether or not there's going to be a political reconciliation process."
The administration plans to warn the Pakistani government about the turning tide of public opinion in Washington against Pakistan and congressional threats to punish Pakistan. But if the Pakistanis don't change their approach to these groups, it's unclear what sticks the administration could really use against Pakistan to compel better behavior.
Overall, the Obama administration wants Pakistan to know it can't accept Americans being killed because of what's happening inside Pakistan. But there aren't expected to be any grand, new initiatives or new proposals to lift bilateral relations from what all sides agree is the lowest point in years.
"The U.S.-Pakistani relationship has been deteriorating all year, from the Raymond Davis case to the Osama bin Laden raid to the attack on the American Embassy in Kabul," said Riedel. "And there's really no evidence the bottom is in sight; it may be getting worse and worse."
The Obama administration's negotiations with the government of Iraq regarding a post-2011 U.S. troop presence are ongoing, but the prospects of reaching an agreement are dwindling fast, according to close observers of the process.
"I would just say that, despite some of the reports that you may have seen over the weekend, that no final decisions have been made," State Department spokesman Mark Toner told reporters today in response to several reports over the weekend that the negotiations to keep thousands of U.S. military personnel in Iraq past 2011 have broken down.
"At the present time I'm not discouraged because we're still in negotiations with the Iraqis," Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said Monday.
Discussions with the Iraqis have focused on the administration's demand that U.S. troops remaining in Iraq have immunity from Iraqi courts. In August, Iraqi Ambassador Samir Sumaida'ie told The Cable that a deal on immunity was in the works and that the Iraqis would formally request an extension of thousands of U.S. troops' presence "in our own sweet time."
But the current U.S.-Iraq bilateral agreements dictate that all U.S. troops must withdraw by the end of the year, and as time runs out, the chances of a deal on immunity are fading fast.
Ramzy Mardini, a scholar at the Institute for the Study of War who traveled to Iraq in July, said that the reason a deal isn't likely is because, though there is a consensus among Iraqi leaders of the necessity for a post-2011 U.S. military presence, State Department lawyers determined that the immunity is necessary and can only be ensured if the Iraqi parliament formally endorsed it.
That's impossible for an Iraqi legislature that is not strong enough to publicly support what many Iraqis will view as an extension of the American occupation, Mardini said, and the Obama administration won't budge from this condition.
"That's the red line for the U.S., and unfortunately that's the red line for the Iraqis as well," he said. "Now the talk has gone to a new phase where it doesn't seem that we're going to get the immunities that are needed, and that's a deal breaker for the U.S."
The Iraqi parliament is actually on holiday right now and returns to work Nov. 20. Upon returning, its next adjournment will be Dec. 5, so that constitutes the window of opportunity for a measure to offer immunity. But nobody thinks that is likely.
The Iraqi government has always wanted the immunity to be granted through a government-to- government memorandum of understanding. Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki told Al-Masar television station on Monday, "The immunity we had said is not possible, and from the beginning we have said that it can't get the approval from the parliament."
Officially, the U.S.-Iraq bilateral negotiations are led by U.S. Ambassador James Jeffrey and Army Gen. Lloyd Austin, the top U.S. commander in Iraq. But the key interlocutor on the immunity issue is Brett McGurk, who served on the National Security Council during the Bush and Obama administrations and was brought back in by Obama to renegotiate the Bush-era agreements.
For observers like Mardini, the entire episode is symbolic of the Iraqi government's fragility and its inability to make decisions, as well as of the Obama administration's failure to adequately transition from a military to a diplomatic strategy in Iraq.
"The Obama administration came into office with the wrong mindset in Iraq. From the get-go, it was a hands-off diplomatic approach," he said. "We had all our eggs in the military and security baskets, and when that's gone, there won't be much left to sustain. The reality on the ground is that the U.S. is at risk of losing its influence in Iraq."
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
Congress and the NGO community are gearing up to fight the Obama administration's plan to sell $53 million worth of weapons to Bahrain, which is proceeding on schedule despite that country's crackdown on protesters.
The State Department argued in its Sept. 14 notification to Congress that the proposed sale will contribute to U.S. national security "by helping to improve the security of a major non-NATO ally that has been, and continues to be, an important force for political stability and economic progress in the Middle East."
The administration is planning to sell Bahrain 44 armored, high-mobility Humvees and over 300 advanced missiles, 50 of which are bunker-buster missiles similar to those sold secretly to Israel in 2009.
"Bahrain will use the enhanced capability as a deterrent to regional threats and to strengthen its homeland defense," the notification reads.
But the government of Bahrain, led by King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa, has been engaged in a months-long struggle with a predominantly Shiite protest movement. Opposition groups claim that 30 protesters have been killed by the government and more than 1,000 have been arrested. The government also called in a Saudi-led force in March that included dozens of tanks to bolster their position, effectively putting the country on lockdown.
Independent organizations such as Human Rights Watch have reported that the Bahrain government has used brutal tactics, including using masked thugs to sweep up lawyers and other activists in nighttime raids. Today, the government announced new trials for 20 medics whose long jail sentences provoked outrage in the international community.
"In Bahrain, steps have been taken toward reform and accountability,
but more are required,"
President Obama said in his Sept. 21 speech at the U.N. "America is a close friend of Bahrain, and we will continue to call on the government and the main opposition bloc - the Wifaq - to pursue a meaningful dialogue that brings peaceful change that is responsive to the people."
The Obama administration has several interests in Bahrain, the fact that the U.S. Fifth Fleet is stationed there being chief among them. Bahrain is also a client state of Saudi Arabia and policymakers have voiced fears that a victory by the protest movement would strengthen Iranian influence in the country.
Regardless, a growing group of lawmakers and non-governmental organizations are gearing up to oppose the State Department's plan to sell weapons to Bahrain. Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Rep. Jim McGovern (D-MA) are circulating a resolution that would stop the sale from going through.
"Providing arms to a government that is actively committing human rights violations against peaceful protestors is at odds with United States foreign policy goals," Wyden told The Cable. "We should be promoting democracy and human rights in the region and not rewarding a regime that is jailing and in some cases killing those who choose to peacefully protest their government and anyone who supports them. This resolution will prevent the U.S. from providing the Kingdom of Bahrain with weaponry until they show a real commitment to respecting human rights."
"The Humvees are particularly worrisome for a regime that is quashing protests," said one Senate aide who works on the issue. "But the overall principle of selling arms to this regime as they use live ammunition to kill protesters is just awful and we're going to do what we can to try to stop it."
Other senior senators are just becoming aware of the issue, but their initial reactions are a mixture of concern and criticism of the Bahrain government.
"I'm cautious about empowering this regime now in Bahrain. The internal conflict in Bahrain needs to be settled," Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) told The Cable. "I'm not so sure I would go down that road right now [in terms of arms sales]."
"I didn't even we were doing that until you told me," Graham admitted, thanking your humble Cable guy for bringing the issue to his attention.
Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-CT) also seemed conflicted about the idea of selling more weapons to Bahrain but declined to outright oppose the idea.
"I'm troubled by what's happened in Bahrain, but Bahrain has been a wonderful ally and our 5th Fleet there is critical to the security of the whole region," he told The Cable. "I'd be hesitant to cut off sales, but it is awkward now."
Senate Foreign Relations Middle East Subcommittee chairman Bob Casey (D-PA) also said he was concerned about the violence against protesters in Bahrain but didn't want to commit to a position about the arms sales either way.
"We're looking at it, because we want to do everything we can to hold a country like that to high standards," Casey told The Cable.
The big question is what Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman John Kerry (D-MA) thinks. Kerry's committee has first crack at any resolution to oppose the sale, and the resolution's backers want his support. But -- despite Kerry's denials that he is seeking the secretary of state job -- he rarely picks fights with the White House in public. His office did not answer requests for comments on the topic.
Human Rights First, an international human rights organization, wrote an open letter to Kerry last month calling on him to oppose further arms sales to Bahrain.
"Stopping this arms sale to a country currently abusing the rights of its citizens is in step with your long record of opposition to arming tyrants," the letter states. "Arms sales to Bahrain at this time would contradict the United States' twin interests of regional stability and peaceful reform. If the United States aspires to be a global human rights leader... it should not reward the current repression with weapons."
The Project on Middle East Democracy (POMED) also drafted a letter to Congress, signed by a dozen organizations including Human Rights Watch and Freedom House, urging Congress "to take immediate action to block a proposed arms sale to Bahrain until it ends abuses against peaceful protesters and takes meaningful steps toward political reform and accountability for recent and ongoing serious human rights violation."
Cole Bockenfeld, director of advocacy for POMED, told The Cable that the arms sale will have a devastating effect on U.S. credibility in the Arab world.
"The sale will unquestionably be perceived by both the government of Bahrain and those in the opposition as a green light for the government to continue its brutal repression," he said. "In the broader picture of the Arab Spring, this further erodes the credibility of U.S. rhetoric about democracy and human rights in the region."
UPDATE: Wyden introduced his resolution Thursday, a copy of which can be found here.
The Obama administration is playing a word game regarding Taiwan's request for new F-16 fighter planes; it isn't selling Taiwan the planes -- but it won't rule it out either.
After the administration announced late last month its decision to offer Taiwan a $5.8 billion package of upgrades to its aging fleet of F-16 A/B model fighters, most observers assumed that meant the United States would not sell Taiwan the 66 new F-16 C/D model fighters it has requested. But two senior officials testified today that the sale of the new fighters is still on the table and they denied that China's objections played any part in their Taiwan arms sales decision making.
"We have not ruled out any future aircraft decisions. We understand Taiwan's interest in F-16 Cs and Ds, and this is under consideration," said Peter Lavoy, the acting assistant secretary of defense for Asian and Pacific affairs, who testified at Tuesday's hearing before the House Foreign Affairs Committee along with Kurt Campbell, assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs.
Lavoy testified that the administration decided to sell the A/B fighter upgrades now because "it is an immediate priority," but committee ranking member Howard Berman (D-CA) pointed out that selling new planes to Taiwan might actually be quicker than upgrading the old planes. Lavoy didn't respond directly to that question.
Both Campbell and Lavoy argued that the upgrade package being offered to Taiwan would provide the same capability as new planes and would result in having more planes available, since Taiwan has 145 F-16 A/B fighters.
But several committee members pressed Campbell and Lavoy to explain why the administration didn't sell Taiwanese leaders the new fighter jets they clearly want, if in fact Chinese sensitivities were not an issue.
"They may live with the upgrade, but their clear preference is for F-16Cs and D's," said Rep. Gerry Connolly (R-VA).
"We know they interest in the C's and D's and we are considering that request," said Lavoy.
"I think what he means, Congressman, is that we've ruled nothing out," Campbell quickly chimed in.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton promised Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) a decision on the sale of F-16 C/D fighters to Taiwan by Oct. 1, as part of a deal that saw Cornyn lift his hold on the confirmation of Deputy Secretary of State Bill Burns.
In an interview on Tuesday, Cornyn told The Cable that he doesn't think Clinton reneged on her promise because he doesn't believe that F-16 C/D sales to Taiwan are actually still under consideration.
"I think we got a decision and it was negative," Cornyn said. "They claimed the upgrades were sufficient but they aren't. I think that's a little attempt to distract from their mistaken policy. I think they are clearly afraid to antagonize China."
Campbell, however, emphasized that the Obama administration has offered more sales of weapons to Taiwan than any other administration, including a $6.4 billion arms package that was announced in January 2010. He also testified that the administration never consulted with or briefed the Chinese before announcing the most recent Taiwan arms sales decision and he said Chinese concerns had no bearing on administration thinking.
"I know why they would say that," Cornyn responded, with thick skepticism in his voice.
Top Obama administration officials have divided up responsibilities for applying pressure and offering an outstretched hand to the Pakistani government, in a new diplomatic strategy that some officials have dubbed "coercive diplomacy."
"The Obama administration is totally fed up and have decided to up the ante," said one official familiar with the new approach, explaining that inside the administration, "pressing for Pakistani behavior change is the new mantra."
Outgoing Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen, who has visited Pakistan 27 times since 2008, clearly assumed the role of "bad cop" when he testified on Sept. 22 that the U.S. government believes the Pakistan-based Haqqani network, with the help of Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), was responsible for the recent bombing of the U.S. embassy in Kabul. Mullen upped the ante further, saying the Haqqani network was a "veritable arm" of the ISI, a charge anonymous U.S. officials walked back on Tuesday.
Also heading up the "bad cop" team is new Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, who seemed to threaten increased U.S. military incursions into Pakistan on Sept. 16. An official familiar with the strategy said that even more threatening statements by Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), who declared on Sept. 25 that there would be broad bipartisan support for U.S. military attack on Pakistan, were coordinated with the administration as part of their new campaign to apply pressure on Pakistan. The State Department is also considering whether to add the entire Haqqani network to its list of foreign terrorist organizations, but no decision has yet been made.
The administration may also be using the media as part of its new campaign to exert new pressure on Pakistan. On Monday, a story appeared in the New York Times with an excruciatingly detailed account of a 2007 ambush of American officials by Pakistani militants.
Meanwhile, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is leading a parallel "good cop" effort with the Pakistani government. She has sought ways out of the current diplomatic crisis by increasing her personal engagement with her Pakistani counterparts, as evidenced by her three-and-a-half hour meeting with new Pakistani Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar on Sept. 18 on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly.
According to one official inside the meeting, Clinton told Khar, "We want this relationship to work. Give us something to work with."
"The secretary's message was that, given the efforts of the Haqqani Network on the 13th of September [the day of the assault on the U.S. embassy in Kabul], that this was an issue that we had to deal with and that this is a threat to both Pakistan and the United States," a senior State Department official said about the meeting. "That part of the conversation concluded that joint efforts need to be made to end this threat from the Haqqanis, and that Pakistan and the United States ought to be working together on this and not separately."
Other U.S. officials inside that meeting included Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan Marc Grossman and his deputy Dan Feldman. Afghan reconciliation was also a main topic of the meeting.
In her meeting with Khar, Clinton tried to find specific ways to address the threat of Pakistan-based extremists operating with impunity in Afghanistan.
"It is possible for the United States and Pakistan to work together to identify those interests that we have in common and then figure out how to act on them together," the State Department official said. "And I'd say that that if that could be the overriding philosophy or kind of headline that came out of this meeting, that'd be a very good thing for both sides."
After initially making some harsh statements against the U.S. Khar has now settled on a message that mixes her desire to defend Pakistani pride with the need to project the Pakistani civilian government's willingness to find a way out of the crisis.
Khar said this morning on NPR that the U.S. and Pakistan "need each other" and "are fighting against the same people" but "Pakistan's dignity must not be compromised."
Clinton's strategy is also reflective of the feeling of some inside the administration that the late Special Representative Richard Holbrooke's drive to transform the U.S.-Pakistan relationship from a "transactional" one to a "strategic" relationship is now a lost cause.
"The strategic relationship is over, we're back to transactional with Pakistan," one U.S. official recently told The Cable. "We can call it ‘long-term transactional' if we want, but that's the way it is now."
Amid all the tough talk, on-the-ground intelligence cooperation between the United States and Pakistan continues. CIA Director David Petraeus and ISI chief Ahmed Shuja Pasha met in Washington on Sept. 20 and put into force a new intelligence sharing agreement, an official briefed on the agreement said. Pasha also reportedly met with top White House officials at the residence of Pakistani Ambassador Husain Haqqani.
Inside Pakistan, there is speculation that the United States may be bluffing about its threat to increase military strikes inside Pakistan. The Pakistani government is also grappling with a fervent anti-U.S. media and a realization that its control over the ISI, much less the Haqqani network, is ultimately limited. But U.S. aid to Pakistan will never be effective leverage in convincing Pakistani to change its basic approach to dealing with groups like the Haqqani network, the official said.
"Pakistan is unwilling to align its strategic vision with America's worldview," the official said. "Meanwhile, the mood toward Pakistan in Washington is the worst it's ever been."
The Obama administration is taking a lot of criticism for its as yet unannounced decision to sell Taiwan a new arms package that does not include new F-16 fighter planes, and a senior administration official used some verbal gymnastics to offer a defense of the decision without actually confirming it.
"This is with regard to Taiwan and the question of a U.S. decision one way or the other, which as you know, has not yet been formally notified to Congress with regard to the sale of F-16s," a senior administration official told reporters at the Waldolf Astoria hotel in New York on Monday evening. "Our view is that something has gotten lost in translation in the last couple of days on this issue."
The official couldn't acknowledge that reports of the sale were true, because Congress has to be notified before officials talk about foreign military sales to the press. So the official defended the decision by temporarily "assuming" the news reports were accurate.
"I will base my comments on those assuming that those leaks are true. But of course, I can't confirm them until after formal congressional notification this week," the official said.
"Assuming the reports leaked about the proposal to refurbish F-16s are true and that obviously can't be confirmed even on background until a formal congressional notification later this week -- weapons sales to Taiwan since 2009 will be greater than in the previous four years, and they will be double the sales that occurred between 2004 and 2008."
The official then defended the offer to Taiwan of upgrades for its aging fleet of F-16 A/B fighters and the rejection of Taiwan's request for 66 new F-16 C/D fighters, again without confirming that's the administration's decision.
"Assuming the decision is to upgrade F-16 A/B, they will provide essentially the same quality as new F-16 C/D aircraft at a far cheaper price. And Taiwan would stand to get 145 A/Bs versus only 66 C/Ds. And we're obviously prepared to consider further sales in the future," the official said.
The official then argued that the Obama administration has been active on strengthening relations with Taiwan.
"In addition, the administration has taken strong steps to deepen relations with Taiwan in concrete ways beyond this dossier, including Visa Waiver Program, education initiatives, trade and energy initiatives, and helping Taiwan to have more access to international fora like the World Health Organization."
The actual announcement of the Taiwan arms sales decision and its actual defense are expected later this week.
UPDATE: Earlier today Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) filed his bill to require the administration to sell at least 66 new F-16 C/D multirole fighter jets to Taiwan as an amendment to the Generalized System of Preferences bill that is currently on the Senate floor, which is a vehicle for Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA).
The White House today adopted Rep. Paul Ryan's dubious claim that winding down the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan would save $1 trillion over the next decade.
"The plan produces approximately $4.4 trillion in deficit reduction net the cost of the American Jobs Act," the White House said in a fact sheet issued to accompany President Barack Obama's new plan to cut the deficit. "$1.1 trillion from the drawdown of troops in Afghanistan and transition from a military to a civilian-led mission in Iraq."
The more than $1 trillion in defense "savings" that the White House claims is based on a projection the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) put out last March, which found that war costs would top $1.7 trillion over the next ten years. However, that projection was never meant to accurately forecast the costs of the wars over the next decade. The report just took this year's costs for Iraq and Afghanistan ($159 billion) and added inflation for every year in the future.
In other words, the CBO number was the projection if the United States kept the current number of troops in Iraq and Afghanistan until 2020. However, nobody ever thought that was the plan. The CBO was required to do the math that way, as they do with all such projections.
At today's White House briefing, reporters were quick to point out that Obama never planned to keep that many troops in Iraq and Afghanistan for the next ten years. Office of Management and Budget (OMB) Director Jack Lew's response was to point out that the House GOP had used the same faulty logic in Paul Ryan's budget plan.
"There is no doubt that those are going to be savings when presented to Congress. The Republican budget in the House took account of them," Lew said, referring to the Ryan budget plan that the House passed in April.
It's also true that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) claimed the same "savings" in the plan he released to avert a debt ceiling crisis, although that plan never got any traction. But the CBO issued a report on the day Reid's plan was released to make it clear that its projection should not be used in this way.
"It is important to note that the administration projection is not really a policy-based estimate -- CBO takes the most recent number and that becomes their baseline," said the report, which was crafted for congressional offices and obtained by The Cable.
The White House's gambit is only its latest attempts to claim savings from cutting defense when actually no cuts exist. The White House claimed it had cut $350 billion from defense over ten years as part of the debt ceiling deal, but actually there are no defense cuts in the bill.
What the bill does is set spending caps for "security" spending, which the administration defines as defense, homeland security, intelligence, nuclear weapons, diplomacy, and foreign aid. There's no breakdown that defines which of these agencies get what, so there's no way to be sure that all the cuts would come from "defense." Moreover, the spending caps are split between "security" and "non-security" discretionary spending only for fiscal 2012 and fiscal 2013.
If the next five Congresses actually cut the defense budget by $350 billion and if the Congressional supercommittee fails to find another $900 billion in discretionary cuts, that would "trigger" another $600 billion cuts in defense over ten years. Added to the $350, that would total about $1 trillion in defense "savings."
But Lew was clear that the trigger, which officials are now referring to as "sequestration," is not something the administration wants to happen.
"I don't know any serious policymakers on either side of the aisle who think sequestration is a good place to go," he said. "It was designed to be something that would have bad consequences wherever you look because it is not a serious set of policies."