The United States is in discussions with the National Transitional Council (NTC) about a possible role for international forces in military training and counterterrorism in the new Libya, according to Assistant Secretary of State Jeff Feltman.
Feltman conducted a press call on Wednesday following his visit to Tripoli, where he met with NTC Prime Minister Mahmoud Jibril, Chairman Mustafa Abdel Jalil, and civil society representatives. There are four U.S. military troops on the ground in Libya now, trying to figure out how to secure the battered U.S. embassy, but Feltman said there's a possibility of more U.S. military cooperation with the new Libyan government.
"There are a number of countries including the U.S. that would look favorably on such as a request.... The Libyans themselves have to make clear what they are comfortable with," Feltman said. "We think the Libyans should find a way to define these missions in a way that are respectful for Libyan sovereignty and independence and also protect Libya's security."
Feltman added that U.S. policymakers "will certainly be encouraging Libya to work with us" on counterterrorism issues, noting that there are U.S. government teams on the ground helping the NTC locate dangerous weapons, such as MANPADS and land mines.
Feltman also addressed concerns that groups associated with the new Libyan government might contain Islamist elements, which could push the new government toward an anti-Western stance.
"The Islamists, as we would probably define them, seem to be a relatively small percentage of both the leadership and the rank and file [of the NTC], as best as we can tell," said Feltman. "It is a very religiously devout population and heavily tribal. The tribal allegiances are kicking in to soften or mitigate or cancel out the more Islamic leanings, pulling those who might go astray back into the tribes."
"The debate over this whole question has shifted significantly, evolving away from the fear that some people had about is the revolution being kidnapped by others, to how do we centralize the demands of the fighters, how best do we build an inclusive system for the interim period that allows people to work out their differences," Feltman explained. "It's really a far different debate than it was even a few weeks ago."
What about the U.S. embassy in Tripoli? Feltman surveyed the scene today, and the building is not looking good.
"I think it's no secret that the building was largely looted and it's in pretty serious damage," said State Department spokesman Mark Toner. "So the assessment is that it's pretty severely compromised, but no decision has been made yet on what we're going to do moving forward in establishing an embassy there."
A State Department team led by the embassy's second-in-command Joan Polaschik arrived in Tripoli this past weekend to reestablish the U.S. diplomatic presence there. Ambassador Gene Cretz remains in Washington leading the State Department's Libya Task Force and envoy to the NTC Chris Stevens remains in Benghazi.
At a press conference in Tripoli, Feltman also admitted the U.S. government worked with the regime of Muammar al Qaddafi to round up terror suspects, many of whom were reportedly tortured. Watch Feltman's explanation here:
Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) introduced a bill on Monday that would pressure the Obama administration to sell new F-16 fighters to Taiwan, weeks ahead of the administration's plan to announce a decision on the sale.
The bill expresses the sense of the Senate that because Taiwan needs the new fighters for its self-defense, the United States is required to sell them due to commitments made in the Taiwan Relations Act. It also expresses the view that the fighter sale would boost the U.S. economy by extending thousands of jobs related to F-16 production, a majority of which just happen to be found in Cornyn's home state of Texas.
"The president shall carry out the sale of no fewer than 66 F16 C/D multirole fighter aircraft to Taiwan," the bill specifies.
The path ahead for Cornyn's bill is unclear. He could try to add it to the fiscal 2012 defense authorization or push for a floor vote on the bill itself. By itself, the bill has no chance of being signed by President Obama. As part of the defense authorization bill, which is considered a "must pass" bill, it could be veto bait.
Foreign military sales are the responsibility of the executive branch, but Cornyn's office believes that Congress has the Constitutional and legal authority to compel a foreign military sale. There is no precedent; to date, Congress has never authorized a military sale that wasn't submitted to them by the president.
Taiwan has been asking the administration for permission to buy the new fighters, but reports suggest that the administration is planning to deny that request and offer Taiwan upgrades to their existing fleet of older F16 A/B models instead.
"This sale is a win-win, in strengthening the national security of our friend Taiwan as well as our own, and supporting tens of thousands of jobs in the U.S.," Cornyn said in a statement. "Saying no here would mean granting Communist China substantial sway over American foreign policy, putting us on a very slippery slope."
"Providing the military resources Taiwan needs is in the vital security interest of Taiwan, the national security interest of the United States, and is compelled by the Taiwan Relations Act," Sen. Robert Menendez (R-NJ) said in a statement. "Taiwanese pilots flying Taiwanese fighter aircraft manufactured in the United States represent the best first line of defense for our democratic ally, and delaying the decision to sell F-16s to Taiwan could result in the closure of the F-16 production line, which would cost New Jersey 750 manufacturing jobs."
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton promised Cornyn that the administration would announce its decision on Taiwan arms sales by Oct. 1. That agreement was part of a deal reached between Clinton and Cornyn to move forward with the confirmation of Deputy Secretary of State Bill Burns.
When the Obama administration moved forward with $6.4 billion worth of arms sales to Taiwan in January 2010, the Chinese reacted by cutting off U.S.-China military to military cooperation for more than a year.
On August 1, 181 House members sent a letter to President Obama calling on him to approve the sale of F-16 C/Ds to Taiwan. A May 26 letter to Obama calling on him to quickly notify Congress of the sale of 66 F-16 C/Ds to Taiwan was signed by 45 Senators.
Former Vice President Dick Cheney argued on Friday morning that the waterboarding of terror suspects did not amount to torture because the same techniques had been used on U.S. soldiers during training.
"The notion that somehow the United States was torturing anybody is not true," Cheney told an audience at the American Enterprise Institute at an event to promote his new book. "Three people were waterboarded and the one who was subjected most often to that was Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and it produced phenomenal results for us."
"Another key point that needs to be made was that the techniques that we used were all previously used on Americans," Cheney went on. "All of them were used in training for a lot of our own specialists in the military. So there wasn't any technique that we used on any al Qaeda individual that hadn't been used on our own troops first, just to give you some idea whether or not we were ‘torturing' the people we captured."
Of course, there are some differences between the waterboarding of troops as part of their Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape (SERE) training and the waterboarding of suspected al Qaeda prisoners. For example, the troops in training are not subjected to the practice 183 times, as KSM was. Also, the soldiers presumably know their training will end, and they won't be allowed to actually drown or left to rot in some dark, anonymous prison.
Some in Cheney's party, including Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), believe that waterboarding is torture. Malcolm Nance, a counterterrorism consultant for the U.S. government and a former SERE instructor, has argued repeatedly that waterboarding is torture and called for prohibiting its use on prisoners.
"Waterboarding is slow motion suffocation with enough time to contemplate the inevitability of black out and expiration -- usually the person goes into hysterics on the board. For the uninitiated, it is horrifying to watch and if it goes wrong, it can lead straight to terminal hypoxia. When done right it is controlled death. Its lack of physical scarring allows the victim to recover and be threaten[ed] with its use again and again," he said.
Cheney said the George W. Bush administration had received approval for the "enhanced interrogation program" from all nine congressional leaders who had been briefed on its details: this included the leaders of both intelligence committees, the leaders of both parties, and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA).
When asked if they thought the program should be continued, they all said, "Absolutely," Cheney said. And when asked if the Bush administration should seek additional congressional approval for the program, the nine Congressional leaders unanimously told him, "Absolutely not," according to Cheney's account.
Cheney also said the Bush administration's interrogation policies were partially responsible for recent successes in the fight against al Qaeda, includig the killing of Osama bin Laden.
"I'd make the case we've been successful in part because of the intelligence we have, because of what we've learned from men like Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, back when he was subjected [to enhanced interrogation]," he said.
In the one-hour discussion at AEI with the Weekly Standard's Stephen Hayes, Cheney also talked about huddling with his wife and daughter at Camp David on the evening of Sept. 11, 2001. Camp David was the "secure, undisclosed location" that the Secret Service rushed Cheney to just after the attacks. Other top administration officials met him there over the follow days.
When asked if he ever broke down and cried in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, as had President George W. Bush and other top officials, Cheney said, "Not really," and then grinned sheepishly as the crowd giggled.
"You understand that people will find that peculiar," Hayes noted.
"It wasn't that it wasn't a deeply moving event," Cheney responded. "The training just sort of kicked in, in terms of what we had to do that morning and into the next day."
In a small, windowless office with barren walls in the Pentagon's E-ring, four-star Marine Corps Gen. James Cartwright sits behind an empty desk. He's spent the month of August on "terminal leave," tying up the loose ends of his 40-year military career, in which he rose to become the second-highest-ranking uniformed military man in the nation, before losing his chance at one final promotion.
"Hoss," as he's known to his friends, was always a controversial figure within the military aristocracy: a Marine with a penchant for technology, an iconoclast who made his reputation bucking the conventional wisdom, an insider who was always trying to force the Defense Department to think outside the box. He was often impolitic and caught up in controversy, but his determination to drive the discussion on things like missile defense, cyberwarfare, and military strategy made him stand out as the general who talked straight and wasn't afraid to ruffle feathers.
It was these very qualities that made him "Obama's favorite general," according to Bob Woodward's book Obama's Wars. When asked whether that was true, Cartwright said he believed it was -- once upon a time. He also acknowledged that Obama promised to promote him to chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, but then reneged on that pledge after a whisper campaign against Cartwright, reportedly coming from within the Pentagon, made his appointment politically difficult for the White House.
But looking back he has no regrets.
"I wouldn't change anything. I wouldn't do it any different," Cartwright told The Cable, in the first interview he's given since stepping down. His retirement became official this week.
The break between Cartwright and his two bosses, Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Joint Chiefs Chairman Mike Mullen, came after the contentious debate in late 2009 over the surge of troops in Afghanistan. Cartwright worked with Vice President Joseph Biden on a plan that placed a greater emphasis on counterterrorism than counterinsurgency, and included a smaller footprint with fewer additional troops. They presented that plan to Obama without the prior approval of Gates and Mullen.
Gates has publicly denied that this episode cost Cartwright the chairman's job and said in June that "Hoss Cartwright is one of the finest officers I've ever worked with."
But Cartwright acknowledged in his interview with The Cable that his insistence on giving options for alternative policies in Afghanistan, alternatives Gates and Mullen didn't like, caused a falling-out that along with the whisper campaign in which critics accused him of insubordination and leaked details of an inspector general's investigation into a possible relationship he had with a female aide (he was later cleared of any wrongdoing), scuttled his chances to take the chairman's seat.
"Yeah, they did make it personal," Cartwright said, though careful not to name Gates or Mullen in particular as being behind the effort to smear him. "But at the end of the day, that's their choice. I can live with this skin very easily."
"At the end of the day, the measure of merit was not necessarily whether the relationships were strong," he said. "The measure of merit was: All the things that I needed to do as vice chairman, all the things that Chairman Mullen and Secretary Gates needed to do, none of that stuff ever suffered as a result of this.… The department never suffered. The war fighter never suffered."
Regardless, the Biden-Cartwright plan, known as "counterterrorism plus," eventually lost out to a plan much closer to the counterinsurgency heavy approach that Gates and Mullen were advocating. Cartwright said he never thought he was breaking the chain of command or committing insubordination by dealing directly with Biden or Obama.
"Well, you know, in someone's eyes, maybe I broke the chain of command. But from the standpoint of the law, no. And so I'm very comfortable with where I was," he said. "My job is not to come up with a strategy and say, 'This is the answer.' My job is to give the president and the administration a broad enough range of choices that are credible choices and let them find in it the broader strategy as they look across all the other elements of power that they have."
Within those choices for how to proceed in Afghanistan, Cartwright was in favor of a "counterterrorism plus" approach that would have required fewer surge troops.
"Actually, I was arguing more about balance," he said. "In other words, I believe that if you weren't going to put enough force in to control the entire country, then the tied-down force had to have its flanks protected. And therefore you had to have a mobile force that was more counterterror-type force than you did."
Many in the war-fighting community believe that Cartwright just didn't get it because he never led troops in battle. He rose through the ranks as a Marine aviator and then spent most of the last decade as the head of U.S. Strategic Command or as a top Pentagon official. For the soldier on the field in Afghanistan, Cartwright's idea for fewer troops just placed the troops in battle in greater danger. For many in the military, the choice was to go big or go home.
But Cartwright says he just didn't see it that way -- and when the president asked him for his own opinion, he was bound to give it to him. And he still stands by the advice he gave. Cartwright's view is the emphasis should be on finding ways to wind down the war more quickly and leave Afghanistan in the hands of the Afghans.
"At the end of the day, from a grand strategy standpoint, this is a very cost-imposing strategy on us and, not having a clear idea of how long we're going to stay other than until the cash runs out, is important to understand," he said. "You can't kill your way or buy your way to success in those activities. It's got to be diplomatic. And Afghans have to be convinced that it's time for them to do their own thing."
At his retirement ceremony on Aug. 3, which Mullen and Defense Secretary Leon Panetta attended, Cartwright quoted Teddy Roosevelt's famous speech, "In the Arena," which begins, "It's not the critic who counts, not the man who points out how the strong man stumbled or where the doer of deeds might have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena."
This week, he said the pushback he received was the unavoidable consequence of doing his duty.
"If getting criticized was my worry, if that was the merit of the job, then I wouldn't be there anyway. You do what you think is right," he said. "At the end of the day, you do your own self-reflection. You look in the mirror and you say: Is the integrity where it belongs? Is anything you provided in the way of advice so far off the base as to be reprehensible? I never came to the conclusion in either case that either the integrity had suffered or that the advice was bad advice."
As he sits in his uniform at his empty office, Cartwright thinks about what he wants to do next. He said he might enter a think tank or academia while he decides how to contribute to military policy from the civilian side of the discussion. He leaves the Pentagon with a sense of accomplishment and without remorse.
"My advice wasn't always taken, but it always at least informed the debate, which was my measure of merit," said Cartwright. "That people were so strongly against it at times, well shoot … these are big decisions."
Deputy Secretary of State Tom Nides said yesterday that the State Department doesn't want to get into a budget battle with the Pentagon over funding, but that he's aware that dwindling national security funding may make competition inevitable.
"We at State and USAID are not trying to rob the Pentagon to pay ourselves," Nides said in a speech at the Center for American Progress. "As everyone knows, we're facing the process of major budget cuts. These cuts could be the most significant we have had in two decades, and they could have a devastating impact on the work that we do."
Nides, who has only been at State since the beginning of this year, recounted the rise in State Department and USAID funding that began in 2007, but which is now set to be reversed in what promises to be the most frugal spending season in a generation. The State Department's fiscal 2011 budget turned out to be 13.6 percent below what was originally requested, and the current House appropriation bill would cut that figure by another 18 percent in fiscal 2012.
Talking about the ever increasing role of the State Department in conflict zones and the need to maintain American engagement in a changing world, Nides pointed out that State will get $4 billion more for war operations this year, while the Pentagon budget for war operations will go down by $45 billion.
"It is helpful ... [but] we cannot just fund our efforts in the frontline states and gut our base budget for everything else we do in the world," Nides said.
So what's the solution? According to Nides, there should be a unified national security budget that would join defense, diplomacy, and development into one big pool of cash. And in fact, the government is actually moving in that direction.
Nides noted that the deal to raise the debt ceiling that President Barack Obama struck with Congress last month actually combines diplomacy and development with defense under the heading of "security spending" legislation for the first time, meaning that Congress is getting on board with the idea. "That is the good news," he said.
But there's a risk that State could get burned in this shift. As we've reported several times, GOP leaders might have agreed to this aspect of the deal because they want to disproportionally cut State and USAID while not cutting defense, and still be able to claim they cut spending for "security."
Nides is well aware of the threat. "There is a real risk that Congress could decide to shield defense spending and other categories of spending by cutting everything else, and that, my friends, is the bad news," he said.
Nides' predecessor Jack Lew, now the head of the Office of Management and Budget, said recently that the debt ceiling deal will cut $420 billion from "security spending" over the next ten years, with $350 billion of that coming from "defense."
But the truth is that future Congresses will determine how much gets cut from "security" and how much from "defense" -- and the Pentagon has a lot more friends in Congress than Foggy Bottom.
State does have one friend on the supercommittee that is responsible for making the first round of cuts: Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman John Kerry (D-MA). So that should solve everything, right?
The Political-Military (PM) bureau at the State Department has a host of new leaders this week, including a new principal deputy, another new deputy, and two new senior advisors.
Andrew Shapiro is the assistant secretary for PM and reports up to Undersecretary of State for Arms Control Ellen Tauscher. Shapiro and Tauscher aren't going anywhere, but below them there are a lot of new faces. Thomas Kelly replaces Kurt Amend as principal deputy assistant secretary for PM. Amend retired from the State Department and will now join the private sector after 22 years in the Foreign Service, though after only about a year as the No. 2 official at PM.
Kelly's most recent post was as consul general at the U.S. embassy in Sao Paolo, Brazil, where he worked directly for Ambassador Tom Shannon. Kelly's return to Washington is something a reunion for him and Shannon, because Shannon is filling in as acting undersecretary of state for political affairs while the State Department awaits the confirmation of President Barack Obama's nominee, Wendy Sherman.
Before Brazil, Kelly served as deputy chief of mission for three years (2004-2007) in Vilnius, Lithuania, under current State Department Executive Secretary Steve Mull, and then in Buenos Aires, Argentina, under current Ambassador to Mexico Tony Wayne. His job will be to run the bureau when Shapiro is on the road and manage the counter piracy, political advisors, and congressional and public affairs offices.
Amend was actually dual-hatted as principal deputy assistant secretary and as the official in charge of PM's negotiations and agreements team, so Shapiro brought on Tom Daughton as a senior advisor to handle the latter part of Amend's portfolio. Daughton's most recent positions were as deputy chief of mission in Lebanon and Algeria.
His main responsibilities are to handle security negotiations for status of forces agreements, such as the negotiations to reposition U.S. forces in Japan that Amend handled, and issues related to navigation and overflight rights for U.S. forces abroad. Importantly, this includes the Northern Distribution Network, which speed goods from Russia and Central Asia to U.S. forces in Afghanistan. Daughton reports up to Kelly.
Maj. General Walter Givhan has also joined the PM bureau as a deputy assistant secretary, replacing Maj. Gen. Tom Masiello, who was a brigadier general when he joined PM but who just was awarded his second star and has now returned to the Pentagon as the director of special programs in the office of the undersecretary of defense for acquisition, technology and logistics.
Givhan is now the highest ranking military officer at the State Department, and his appointment is meant to cement the presence of a high-ranking active duty officer in PM, a State Department official told The Cable. Before Masiello, an active-duty military general hadn't served in a high ranking PM position since the 1980s, although retired officers have played roles, including former assistant secretary Mark Kimmitt, who retired as a brigadier general before coming to State.
The State Department official also said that Deputy Secretary Bill Burns' father was an active duty military officer and a deputy assistant secretary in the PM bureau, and that Burns recommended returning a high-ranking active-duty military man to the management tier of the PM bureau.
Givhan has responsibility for overseeing policy and plans, global peacekeeping issues, DOD force posture issues, and weapons removal and abatements. He is currently State's point person in the effort to secure the thousands of MANPADS currently floating around Libya. Givhan also is in charge of the international security operations office, a 24/7 military action support team.
Last but not least,
Shapiro has hired Max Bergmann as a
senior advisor in the PM front office. Bergmann was most recently working with
the Ploughshares Fund and the Center for American Progress, where he blogged a
lot about New
START on CAP's Think
Progress site. He's also the editor of an American soccer blog called "Association
This week's toppling of the Qaddafi regime in Libya shows that the Obama administration's multilateral and light-footprint approach to regime change is more effective than the troop-heavy occupation-style approach used by the George W. Bush administration in Iraq and Afghanistan, a top White House official told Foreign Policy today in a wide-ranging interview.
"The fact that it is Libyans marching into Tripoli not only provides a basis of legitimacy for this but also will provide contrast to situations when the foreign government is the occupier," said Ben Rhodes, deputy national security advisor for communications, in an exclusive interview on Wednesday with FP. "While there will be huge challenges ahead, one of the positive aspects here is that the Libyans are the ones who are undertaking the regime change and the ones leading the transition."
Despite criticism from Congress and elsewhere, President Barack Obama's strategy for the military intervention in Libya will not only result in a better outcome in Libya but also will form the basis of Obama's preferred model for any future military interventions, Rhodes said.
"There are two principles that the president stressed at the outset [of the Libya intervention] that have borne out in our approach. The first is that we believe that it's far more legitimate and effective for regime change to be pursued by an indigenous political movement than by the United States or foreign powers," said Rhodes. "Secondly, we put an emphasis on burden sharing, so that the U.S. wasn't bearing the brunt of the burden and so that you had not just international support for the effort, but also meaningful international contributions."
Rhodes said that the United States is not going to be able to replicate the exact same approach to intervention in other countries, but identified the two core principles of relying on indigenous forces and burden sharing as "characteristics of how the president approaches foreign policy and military intervention."
Rhodes also weighed in on several other aspects of the Libya saga:
The recent debt ceiling debacle and Congress's threat to force a default has hurt America's standing and credibility as a world leader, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said today.
Clinton and Defense Secretary Leon Panetta appeared at a joint event this morning at the National Defense University, moderated by the George Washington University's Frank Sesno. Their discussion focused on the future of the national security budget, but also touched on Afghanistan, Pakistan, Libya, Syria, and the fight inside Washington over America's fiscal future.
When asked directly about the recent debt debate, Clinton referred to her recent trip to Hong Kong, where she assured world leaders that the United States always eventually deal with its internal challenges -- after exhausting all other options. But she said the episode had a negative effect on U.S. international leadership.
"It does cast a pall over our ability to project the kind of security interests that are in America's interests," she said. "This is not about the Defense Department or the State Department or USAID. This is about the United States of America. And we need to have a responsible conversation about how we are going to prepare ourselves for the future."
She then went on to defend national security spending, particularly as it relates to diplomacy and development, linking it to the U.S. rivalry with China.
"We can't be abruptly pulling back or pulling out when we know we face some long-term challenges about how we're going to cope with what the rise of China means," Clinton argued.
Vice President Joe Biden is on his way to China this week and officials previewing the trip said he will defend the debt deal during his visit there.
Clinton and Panetta's event seemed designed to project a unified front between the Obama administration's top foreign policy officials ahead of the looming budget battle, where caps in discretionary spending mandated in the debt deal could result in huge cuts for the State Department and USAID.
"We know we are going to have to put everything on the table. I'm not saying we should be exempt ... I'm just saying that as we look at everything that is on the table, we have to try to do a reasonable analysis of what our needs and interests are," Clinton said.
"If you go out to the American public and you say ‘what's the easiest thing to cut?' it's always foreign aid," Clinton said. "We understand that we have a case to make and there is a new way of looking at it."
Panetta expressed general support for a holistic approach toward a national security budget that includes defense, diplomacy, and development. But he didn't go as far as his predecessor, Robert Gates, in advocating a rebalancing of budget priorities away from the Pentagon and toward the State Department.
"Our national security is our Defense Department and our military power and also our State Department and our diplomatic power," Panetta said. "We all know we are going to have to be able to exercise some fiscal restraint as we go through our budgets.... What I hope this committee doesn't do is walk away from its responsibility to look at the entire federal budget."
Panetta also repeated the administration's claim that the debt deal would cut $350 billion from the defense budget, a claim disputed by experts and top lawmakers. Panetta then warned that if the 12-person "supercommittee" fails to strike a deal to cut $1.5 trillion in spending by Thanksgiving, triggering an automatic $600 billion in addition defense cuts, it "would have devastating effects on our national defense."
"It would result in hollowing out the force. It would terribly weaken our ability to respond to the threats in the world. But more importantly, it would break faith with the troops and with their families," Panetta said. "And a volunteer army is absolutely essential to our national defense. Any kind of cut like that would literally undercut our ability to put together the kind of strong national defense we have today."
Regarding the State Department's budget, Panetta didn't advocate increases, but he did say it was "absolutely essential to our national security."
Panetta refused to comment on reports that the Pakistani military gave the Chinese military access to a downed U.S. helicopter that was used in the mission to kill Osama bin Laden. He did say that they United States has no choice but to continue to work with Pakistan.
"They have relations with the Haqqanis... there's a relationship with the LeT [Lashkar-e-Taiba]. And yet, there is no choice but to maintain a relationship with Pakistan. Why? Because we are fighting a war there, we are fighting al Qaeda there, and they do give us some cooperation in that effort," he said.
Clinton referred to the last scene of the movie Charlie Wilson's War, in which lawmakers decided not to fund civilian programs for Afghanistan after supporting the Afghan military resistance to the Soviet invasion. She said the Pakistanis have a similar view of the United States "that needs to be respected."
"They are partners, but they don't always see the world the way we see the world, and they don't always cooperate with us on what we think -- and I'll be very blunt about this -- is in their interests.," she said.
Clinton also said it was not important whether the Obama administration actually insists that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad leaves power. There have been several reports that the administration was planning on announcing explicitly that the Syrian leader should leave, but then decided not to at the last minute.
"I'm not a big believer in arbitrary deadlines when you're dealing with a complicated situation," Clinton said. "It's not going to be any news if the United States says Assad needs to go... If Turkey says it, if King Abdullah says it, if other people say it, there is no way the Assad regime can ignore it."
Nobody, including the leaders of the Senate Armed Services Committee, could figure out exactly how the debt ceiling deal will actually impact defense budgets, so Office of Management and Budget (OMB) Director Jack Lew wrote a long blog post today trying to explain it as best he could.
In the explanation, he said that the national security budget will actually only be cut by $4 billion next year compared to this year, and that the money might not even come from the Pentagon budget. It will divided over the "security" budget, which includes the Defense Department, State, foreign aid, intelligence, the Department of Homeland Security, Veterans Affairs, and some Department of Energy programs,
As The Cable reported several times, there are no actual defense budget cuts guaranteed in the debt ceiling bill, despite the White House's claim that the deal puts the nation on track to "save" $350 billion in defense spending over the next ten years. Lew admitted that the $350 billion figure is based on comparisons to a CBO baseline projection, not the current budget, and he also admitted that actual cuts will be determined years from now by the administration and future Congresses.
"Under baseline estimates, [the debt deal] would cut approximately $420 billion over 10 years," from security spending, Lew wrote. "Assuming roughly proportional cuts, we project that of that $420 billion, $350 billion would be from the budget category of defense, and approximately $330 billion of that would be specifically from the Department of Defense."
But wait, that's only if you compare the "cuts" to the CBO baseline, which assumes that defense spending will go up 2 percent each year. So how much would the debt deal cut from the "security" budget compared to the fiscal 2011 budget?
"The agreement reduces discretionary security spending in FY 2012 by $4 billion as measured from FY 2011, and then only increases that reduced amount by $2 billion in FY 2013," Lew wrote.
After that, the spending caps don't make any distinctions between "security" and "non-security" budget accounts, so the "savings" are anyone's guess. If you compare the White House's "projection" of security savings to its April fiscal framework, which called for $400 billion in security savings over 12 years, it appears pretty much consistent. If you compare the security savings projection to the long-term budget plan the administration published in February, "this new path will save some $600 billion, including about $500 billion from national defense," Lew said.
Of course, that February budget plan is no longer seen by anybody as a potential option, especially since the White House itself replaced it in April with the new "fiscal framework" Lew mentioned. It's like your boss promising you a raise, then taking away the promise of the raise, and then telling you, "Look how much money we saved!"
The second part of the debt ceiling bill promises that another $600 billion in projected defense cuts will automatically go into effect unless the new Congressional "supercommittee" agrees on $1.5 billion in new cuts next year, which isn't likely. But Lew is warning that this is only a threat the administration doesn't actually want to implement those cuts.
"Make no mistake: the sequester is not meant to be policy. Rather, it is meant to be an unpalatable option that all parties want to avoid," Lew wrote.
But if for some reason Congress can't compromise in the supercommittee, lawmakers can always spread those $600 billion of cuts over the 10 years in a way that will make it another Congress's headache several years into the future.
In the end, it all lies in the hands of Congress. "Of course, the precise funding levels and the specifics of how these cuts would be taken will have to be worked out by the administration and Congress over the next decade," Lew said.
Meanwhile, new Defense Secretary Leon Panetta sent out a message yesterday that he is fine with the defense "cuts" in the first part of the bill, because that's what the military was expecting anyway.
"The reductions in defense spending that will take place as a result of the debt ceiling agreement reached by Congress and the President are in line with what this Department's civilian and military leaders were anticipating, and I believe we can implement these reductions while maintaining the excellence of our military," Panetta wrote.
But he, like Lew, is warning that the $600 billion in "cuts" in the trigger mechanism are dangerous, and that Congress better learn how to compromise, and fast.
"This potential deep cut in defense spending is not meant as policy. Rather, it is designed to be unpalatable to spur responsible, balanced deficit reduction and avoid misguided cuts to our security," Panetta said. "Indeed, this outcome would be completely unacceptable to me as Secretary of Defense, the President, and to our nation's leaders."
Cable has learned that Herbert
Richardson, the acting special
for Afghanistan reconstruction (SIGAR) is stepping down after only six months on the job, leaving that troubled office without a leader for the second time this year.
Richardson has been running the SIGAR office since the January firing of Arnie Fields, who was finally removed from his position after more than a year of complaints by senior senators including Claire McCaskill (D-MO), Tom Coburn (R-OK), and Susan Collins (R-ME). Fields was criticized for running an oversight office that failed to produce results in the effort to find waste, fraud, and abuse in the tens of billions of dollars in contracts for Afghanistan reconstruction.
Richardson was never nominated to be permanent SIGAR and was leading the office as acting chief. But he will return to the private sector this month, according to four sources with direct knowledge of his decision. The SIGAR office declined requests for comment and said that Richardson was unavailable, in meetings all day. There's no word yet on who will take over as SIGAR.
On Capitol Hill, concerned lawmakers and staffers were actually hopeful that Richardson was improving the performance of the SIGAR office. Today, those congressional offices are back to voicing their usual disappointment and skepticism.
"He stopped some of the suck that was going on there, but it was only six months," one GOP senate aide told The Cable. "At this point they are supposed to be firing on all cylinders. And now that he's leaving, who knows."
"He came in with such fanfare and their team said there would be a ‘culture change' with his arrival," said a House Democratic staffer. "So much for culture change if it was dependent upon leadership."
Coincidentally, SIGAR officials were on the Hill this morning to brief staffers on their quarterly report. Richardson was expected to attend but did not show up. One staffer who attended the briefing said that SIGAR officials failed to mention that Richardson is leaving and the briefing itself left a lot to be desired.
"It was a weak briefing because they have a weak product," this House staffer said. "They just aren't producing convictions at a pace comparable to the results being produced by their counterparts at [the office of the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction] SIGIR in terms of Iraq."
SIGIR, which was established first and is led by the well respected Stuart Bowen, has a shrinking mission as the U.S. presence in Iraq winds down. Some lawmakers, such as Rep. Mike Honda (D-CA) are calling for SIGIR and SIGAR to be combined into something called the office of the Special Inspector General for Overseas Contingency Operations (SIGOCO), an idea that SIGAR has lobbied hard against.
"Rather than a piecemeal and reactive approach to the oversight of billions of dollars in these situations, we need a dedicated shop run by a proven investigator who can report to the National Security Council, and the Defense and State departments, without being cowed by political pressure," Honda told The Cable. "A permanent Office for Contingency Operations, whose mandate would transcend political timetables, would send the message that transparency, efficiency and efficacy are institutional priorities, and waste and corruption will not be tolerated."
One Senate staffer noted that the law that established SIGAR actually gives the president the authority to combine that office with its Iraq counterpart, placing them both under the control of Bowen.
"Everyone is looking for cuts of agencies that are not performing or duplicative," this staffer said. "We could shut down SIGAR, give some of that money to the DOD Inspector General's office, some for debt reduction, and call it a day."
The United States has committed $51 billion to Afghanistan reconstruction since 2001; that endowment will reach $71 billion by the end of 2011, according to the AP.
UPDATE: Late Thursday afternoon, Richardson put out a statement confirming our report. "After more than 37 years of public service, I've decided to accept an opportunity in the private sector, at a time when I'm convinced SIGAR has changed course, is producing results, and is being led effectively by the new leadership team that I've put in place," he said.
The two heads of the Senate Armed Services Committee told The Cable today that even they have no idea how much the debt ceiling deal will cut from national defense, because the specifics of the cuts are still unknown.
Depending on which reports you read today, the bill to raise the debt ceiling and cut at least $2.1 trillion from the budget over the next decade, is either a huge win for the Pentagon or a dangerous cut to the military budget that will "sap American military might worldwide." The Cable reported yesterday that the White House's assertion that the bill puts the nation on track to save $350 billion in defense spending over 10 years was just a guess, considering that the bill doesn't say anything about "defense" cuts. The bill only sets caps on "security" spending, which includes Defense, State, USAID, intelligence, the Department of Homeland Security, the National Nuclear Security Administration, and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.
Today, Sens. Carl Levin (D-MI) and John McCain (R-AZ) both told The Cable that the actual effect of the debt deal on the Pentagon will be determined by budget and appropriations lawmakers in both chambers after Congress returns from its one-month summer recess.
"I don't know where the White House gets the $350 billion number from," said Levin, confirming that the deal only sets caps for the "security" budget and then only for the first two years. Levin said he does expect "significant" cuts to the military budget, but that he has to wait for allocations to come from Senate budget leaders to determine how much the Pentagon will get in fiscal 2012.
When Levin gets that figure, he will then have to rewrite the fiscal 2012 defense authorization bill to adjust for the new allocations. He is also waiting for the appropriators to weigh in, he said. And while there's little chance the Senate will actually pass an appropriations bill before the fiscal year ends on Sept. 30, it will nevertheless be lawmakers who decide exactly what gets cut and by how much.
"There will be a negative and deep effect on the military if the cuts happen," Levin said, but added that the amount of defense cuts is currently "unknown."
If the new joint committee established to agree on an additional $1.2 trillion of cuts fails to come to terms, the bill mandates that $600 billion in cuts come directly from the "defense" account. But that's a fight for another day, Levin said.
When asked how much the debt deal cuts the Pentagon budget, McCain said, "I'm not sure."
"There are some reductions but it's my understanding they were spread out over a number of accounts," he said.
Multiple Hill sources told The Cable that it was House Armed Services Committee chairman Buck McKeon (R-CA) who led the push for the cuts to be spread over several "security" accounts, rather than focusing them solely on defense. McKeon convened a meeting of disgruntled committee members Monday morning, and then met with House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) on Monday afternoon to urge lawmakers to protect the defense budget.
By spreading the initial cuts over security agencies, defense hawks hope to minimize the impact of any cuts on the Pentagon. Ironically, their strategy hinges on embracing the concept what heretofore has been the Obama administration's definition of "security," which includes diplomacy, intelligence, veterans affairs, homeland security, and foreign aid. Republicans have traditionally defined "security" as only defense, intelligence, and the Department of Homeland Security.
An administration official told The Cable on Monday that the administration calculates that the bill will save $420 billion over 10 years in overall security spending, with $350 billion of that coming from defense and the rest spread out over other agencies. But the administration official admitted those specifics are not in the bill.
That $420 billion is a replacement for the $400 billion in security spending cuts that Obama called for only a couple of months ago, so military spending expectations in the defense industry probably won't change much. But there are no details on that plan either, so it's impossible to know what the effects will be.
Winslow Wheeler, head of the Strauss Military Reform Project at the Center for Defense Information, said that the whole notion of the cuts is misleading anyway, because the numbers are being compared projections that were inaccurate in the first place.
"There will be reductions ... but the actual figure is also masked by the fact that the debt deal is compared to a ten year CBO ‘baseline,' which is [the fiscal] 2011 spending levels adjusted according to arcane rules and inflated by a highly unreliable projection of long term future inflation," he said.
"The debt deal kicks the defense budget can down the road for this and future Congresses. People should not read precision and certainty into a political deal specifically designed to be uncertain and indistinct."
Despite the White House's claim that the new debt deal would cut $350 billion from defense spending over the next ten years, there are no specifics in the bill on defense cuts -- and no way to tell what the final cuts will be.
"The deal puts us on track to cut $350 billion from the defense budget over 10 years," the White House said in a fact sheet today. "These reductions will be implemented based on the outcome of a review of our missions, roles, and capabilities that will reflect the President's commitment to protecting our national security."
But if you look at the text of the bill, there is simply no language on how much the defense budget will actually be cut. 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. After that, the spending caps don't make any distinctions between budget accounts. In the end, the actual fiscal 2012 spending numbers will be set by congressional appropriators in the House and the Senate, hopefully before the fiscal year ends on Sept. 30.
So how does the White House claim that it is cutting $350 billion from defense?
"From the discretionary caps in first tranche of the bill, there is approximately $420 billion in security savings. Of that, $350 billion is from defense (function 050) savings," an administration official told The Cable today.
But former officials and budget experts said that those details are not in the actual bill and are subject to the whim of future Congresses.
"There's actually no way to tell. It's not possible to calculate," Gordon Adams, former OMB national security chief in the Clinton administration, told The Cable today. "The whole deal is designed to be opaque about the things you really want to know, such as how much defense will be cut.... This is classic Washington Kabuki theater."
The defense budget was $529 billion for fiscal 2011 and the entire "security" budget was $688.5 billion. The debt deal caps fiscal 2012 security spending at $684 billion, which means a cut of about $4.5 billion compared to fiscal 2011 levels. That money could come from defense, or it could come from the State Department, the Department of Homeland Security, the National Nuclear Safety Administration, or another department. Nobody knows.
The fiscal 2013 security cap is $686 billion.
The caps will prevent security spending from going up, but the details are still in lawmakers' hands and therefore anything could happen, said Gordon.
"It's more disciplined because now there's a cap. Now they have to duke it out at the [committee] chairmen's level," he said.
And those committee chairmen are already working on it. We're told that defense hawks, including House Armed Services Committee Chairman Buck McKeon (R-CA), huddled with House GOP leadership this afternoon to demand answers to exactly how much the deal would impact defense.
"I will support this proposal with deep reservations. Our senior military commanders have been unanimous in their concerns that deeper cuts could break the force. I take their position seriously and the funding levels in this bill won't make their job easier. Still, this is the least bad proposal before us," McKeon said in a late afternoon statement.
McKeon may have secured some assurances from the House leadership about the specifics of the security cuts, Gordon speculated. A spokesperson for McKeon did not respond to queries by deadline.
What McKeon and other defense hawks are really worried about is the trigger mechanism, which would automatically cut $600 billion from the base defense budgets over 10 years if the new joint committee can't make a deal on $1.2 trillion of additional cuts. After "mechanical adjustments," which are ways to predict the real value of the cuts considering other factors, that $600 billion cut is estimated by the administration to actually be about $534 billion.
While it's unclear whether McKeon got assurances on today's deal, it is clear that his primary concern is about the joint committee and the trigger mechanism, not the security spending caps that he is voting for today.
"What is clear is we have cut what we can from the Department of Defense, and given what's at stake it is essential that the joint committee include strong national security voices. There is no scenario in the second phase of this proposal that does not turn a debt crisis into a national security crisis," he said. "Defense cannot sustain any additional cuts either from the joint committee or the sequestration trigger."
By the way, the White House didn't mention today that it had already promised to cut $400 billion from security spending, although there are no details on that plan either.
Interestingly, if you add the $350 billion in defense cuts announced by the White House as part of today's deal with the $534 billion in defense cuts in the trigger mechanism, it totals $884 billion. That number is suspiciously close to the $886 billion in defense cuts proposed in the plan put forth by theSenate's bipartisan budget group the Gang of Six, which President Barack Obama has already endorsed.
"It just happens to lead you to [Gang of Six leader Sen. Kent] Conrad's number," said Gordon. "I suspect it's not a coincidence."
When the government was threatened by a shutdown last April, federal agencies spent weeks preparing intricate contingency plans for what would happen if the funding spigot ran dry. But now, only four days before the government could lose its ability to borrow, federal employees still have no idea what the worst-case scenario would mean for them.
The Treasury Department and the Office of Management and Budget will determine which government employees, programs, and contractors will be paid in the event of a default.. As explained in this Slate article by FP alum Annie Lowrey, the federal government won't be able to make 40 to 45 percent of its payments if it loses its ability to borrow money on Aug. 2. "The White House and Treasury have a tested playbook for a shutdown," Lowrey writes. "They do not have one for the debtpocalypse."
If the debt ceiling isn't raised before the deadline it doesn't necessarily mean an immediate default -- but sooner rather than later, the federal government will have to stop paying a large chunk of its bills. Treasury and OMB do have some ideas about what will get funded and what won't, but they aren't yet sharing those details publicly.
"While only Congress has the ability to ensure the government pays all of its bills, Treasury will provide more information in the coming days as we get closer to August 2 regarding how the government would operate without new borrowing authority if Congress failed to act," OMB spokeswoman Moira Mack told The Cable.
No official guidance has been sent out from Treasury or OMB on what to do in case of a default.
The State Department hasn't sent any guidance out to employees on how their salaries or programs might be affected next week, multiple officials told The Cable. State has been busy urging foreign governments not to panic about the debt crisis, while communicating that a debt default will probably be avoided.
"The political wrangling in Washington is intense right now. But these kinds of debates have been a constant in our political life throughout the history of our republic. And sometimes, they are messy," Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said in Hong Kong on Monday. "But this is how an open and democratic society ultimately comes together to reach the right solutions."
But as the deadline looms, officials are increasingly crossing their fingers in the hope that their projects won't be on the Treasury and OMB chopping block.
"How do you prepare for the unthinkable?" said one State Department source. "Nobody thought it would get to this point."
The Pentagon seems to be furthest ahead in planning what it will do in case the federal government's checks stop coming. The Pentagon's Deputy Director for Contingency Contracting and Acquisition Policy Richard Ginman told reporters at a Defense Writers Group breakfast Wednesday that defense contractors who can't be paid immediately will be compensated later, with interest.
Ginman said that the Pentagon, like other parts of the federal bureaucracy, won't be able to decide what they will have to sacrifice in the case of a default. "I don't believe that we are going to be the masters of our own destiny," he said.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's (D-NV) newest plan to cut the deficit includes $1 trillion in "savings" from winding down the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, but the numbers just don't add up.
Reid's plan, unveiled in a press conference today, claims to save $2.7 trillion over 10 years, including $1.2 billion in cuts to discretionary spending, $400 million in "interest savings," and over $1 trillion from "winding down the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan."
The $1 trillion in defense "savings" that Reid is claiming his plan provides is based against a projection the Congressional Budget Office put out last March that said war costs would top $1.67 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.
The CBO made its projection based on simple math and it never had any connection to policy realities, as the Congressional Research Service explained in a new report today.
"The CBO baseline reflects CBO's March 2011 estimate of FY2011 overseas funding with increases at the rate of inflation in subsequent years," said the new report, which was crafted for congressional offices but obtained by The Cable. "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."
In other words, the CBO number, which puts the cost of the wars at $1.7 trillion over the next ten years, was the projection if the U.S. 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.
The reality is that it is impossible to estimate the costs of the wars, because fundamental questions about U.S. policy toward both countries remain unanswered. For example, will the Afghanistan drawdown be complete by 2014, and what will be the pace of the drawdown? Will all U.S. troops be out of Iraq by the end of the year?
The CBO also put out numbers for war costs that assumed a gradual drawdown of troops. In fact, they put out two numbers, based on two different possible policy options. If U.S. policymakers decided to drawdown to 45,000 troops in both countries by 2015, the CBO projected that the cost of the wars would be $624 billion over 10 years. A steeper drawdown to 30,000 troops by 2013 would make the projection $422 billion over the next decade.
Reid appears to be counting the difference between the CBO's $1.7 trillion projection and its estimates of the cost of the wars after a steep drawdown as "savings." But that's problematic, because the base figure is simply a very high projection that has no connection to policy. Either way, the actual future drawdown plan is unknown.
A fact sheet issued by Reid's office only said, "Winding down the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan will save $1 trillion. Paul Ryan's budget also included this savings in its deficit reduction calculation, which was supported by 235 House Republicans and 40 Senate Republicans."
It's ironic that Reid defends his $1 trillion figure by pointing to the Ryan budget, because that document took its projections of future war costs from the Obama administration's February budget. In that report, OMB budgeted an annual sum of $50 billion for the both wars. But that estimate was also made without knowing future U.S. policies toward Iraq and Afghanistan, and it's doubtful that the wars will cost $50 billion each year until 2020.
Gordon Adams, who led OMB's national security division during President Bill Clinton's administration, wrote that the $50 billion estimate was "what budget folks (like me) call a ‘plug' -- we know something will go there, but we don't know what it is."
By comparing fake numbers to each other, politicians can appear to be saving money, he claimed, without having to make actual defense cuts. Meanwhile, there's no real impact on the deficit.
"It abuses the budget process because the savings are mythological, not real, so they enforce no discipline on the Defense Department," Adams wrote. "And they are a fraud on the public, who will think a budget deal has cut the defense budget, when it has done no such thing."
In an interview today, Adams told The Cable that the whole episode is just another example of our leaders focusing on optics rather than getting down to the hard work of actually fixing our fiscal situation.
"Because it's too hard to really tackle the defense budget, first Ryan and now Reid have reached for these pseudo savings," he said. "The bottom line here is these are not budget savings. It doesn't make any sense."
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton wants her new deputy, Bill Burns, confirmed so badly that she called Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) from India and gave in to his demands for a decision on Taiwan arms sales.
Clinton promised Cornyn that the administration would make a call on selling 66 new F-16 fighter planes to Taiwan and release the long overdue congressionally mandated report on Taiwan's air power capabilities. But there's a catch: The administration won't announce the decision and release the report until Oct. 1. But the promise of a decision was enough for Cornyn to lift his hold on Burns' nomination.
"Sen. Cornyn asked the administration to do two things: submit the late Taiwan airpower report and accept Taiwan's letter of request for new F-16C/D fighters," a Cornyn staffer told The Cable today. "Secretary Clinton indicated that on October 1st he would have both the report and an up-or-down decision on the F-16C/D sale, which was satisfactory to Sen. Cornyn."
We've been told by three sources that there was an emergency Principals Committee meeting at the White House on Taiwan arms sales last Friday. A fourth source flatly denied that the meeting took place. Either way, it's clear that there was some frantic administration discussion on this issue that led to the decision to meet Cornyn's demands.
The administration might ultimately say no to the sale of the new C and D models of the F-16 fighter jet, but offer the Taiwanese upgrade packages for their existing fleet of older A and B models. Or they could say yes to the new sales and the upgrades, or no to both options.
Why did Clinton choose the Oct. 1 date? Nobody knows for sure, but one piece of speculation is that it is well past Vice President Joe Biden's trip to Beijing in late August but still well before the November meeting of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) countries in Honolulu in November. By making its decision then, some speculate that the administration may be trying to minimize the impact of any negative Chinese reaction to the moves.
Rupert J. Hammond-Chambers, the president of the U.S. Taiwan Business Council, told The Cable today that the fact that the report and the decision on new F-16 sales will be announced in October is an indicator that the administration is planning to say no to the new plane sales.
"It's good to know the administration will eventually make the decision on the F-16s. But by delivering the report at the same time as announcing the decision, they negate the importance and effectiveness of the report. And it seems likely that they won't announce a decision to sell Taiwan new F-16s only about a month before Hu Jintao is scheduled to come to the U.S." he said. "We're just not that excited about the way this has played out."
If the answer is no on to new F-16 sales, expect the GOP to step in and criticize the administration for what they see as kowtowing to Chinese complaints.
"If and when the administration makes the wrong decision, we get to beat them up politically for letting China control U.S. arms sales," said a senior GOP Senate aide from another office.
Cornyn also wanted the administration to acknowledge Taiwan's official letter of request for the new planes, which Taipei has been trying to submit since 2006. But if the administration makes a decision on the sale, the letter requesting the sale becomes moot, congressional sources said.
But Burns's road to confirmation isn't in the clear. Sources say there is at least one more hold on his nomination that the State Department is working furiously to resolve. Sen. Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) put the Burns nomination on the "Hotline" today, which means he will be confirmed if there are no objections. So if Burns isn't confirmed tonight, that will be a clear indication that not all senators' demands have been satisfied.
Burns is also scheduled to meet with Sen. Mark Kirk (R-IL) next Tuesday, according to congressional sources, to discuss Kirk's concerns about Iran policy and U.S. plans to deploy missile defense radar in Turkey. If Kirk doesn't like what he hears, there could be yet another roadblock to Burns' confirmation.
The White House was also upset by a Wednesday report by Washington Times' columnist Bill Gertz, who blamed National Security Staff Director Evan Medeiros for delaying the F-16 sale decision, the Taiwan air power report, and a related report regarding the Chinese military. Gertz's story, which was sourced to unnamed GOP congressional staff members, alleged that Medeiros was at odds with Asia officials around the government.
"Bill Gertz is the most prolific fiction writer since J.K. Rowling," NSC spokesman Tommy Vietor told The Cable. "This story has absolutely no basis in fact. Evan isn't holding up a single one of these items. Anyone who is even remotely informed about the process would know that. Unfortunately the anonymous officials cited in this article don't fall into that category."
UPDATE: The Cable regrets that we did not contact Gertz to give him the opportunity to respond to Vietor's assertion that his column was "fiction." Gertz e-mailed his response today, saying, "I stand by my reporting."
The State Department is engaged in an intensive effort to convince Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) to lift his hold on the nomination of Bill Burns as deputy secretary of state, but Cornyn is demanding the administration clarify its policy on Taiwan arms sales before he'll do so.
Cornyn's hold on Burns's nomination has been in place since June 23, and it doesn't look like he will remove it any time soon. Cornyn likes Burns personally, his staff told The Cable, and he thinks Burns is right for the job, but Cornyn is using his power to hold up the nomination as leverage to force the Obama administration to do two things: release a long overdue report on Taiwan's air power capabilities to Congress, and finally acknowledge the Taiwan government's letter of request to buy 66 F-16 fighter planes from the United States.
"My primary concern is that the Obama Administration has allowed China to basically wield a veto over a U.S. arms sale that is in our national security interests, and I am troubled by the precedent this might set for the future of U.S.-China relations," Cornyn told The Cable. "It is outrageous, but not surprising that they are blocking a trade deal that supports many high-skilled jobs across the nation and would give our stalled economy a much-needed boost."
The F-16 is built by Lockheed Martin and related jobs are spread out over 44 states, but the bulk of the manufacturing and assembly takes place in Texas.
The State Department has been working hard behind the scenes to convince Cornyn to lift his hold. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has personally engaged Cornyn twice on the issue, once in a phone call and once by approaching him in person at an unrelated event. What's more, the State Department has been calling defense firms to ask them to find projects that could deliver jobs to Texas as a way to compensate Cornyn if the F-16 production line closes due to a lack of orders, according to three sources with direct knowledge of the interactions. One of the options the administration is considering is to offer Taiwan a package of upgrades for their existing fleet of older F-16s, the A and B models, which would provide Texas with a lower amount of jobs.
But Cornyn is not about to lift his hold on Burns in exchange for some Texas defense jobs, his staffer told The Cable in an interview.
"They seem to think we can be bought off with jobs on unrelated issues, but this is not a Texas parochial issue. This is about allowing the Chinese to have a veto over U.S. arms sales to anybody," the staffer said. "That's just unacceptable to let them do that, and that's exactly what's happening."
Congress mandated that the Obama administration issue a report on Taiwan's air power capabilities in the fiscal 2010 defense authorization bill, but that report is now several months late. Cornyn's staffer said that the Pentagon completed the report months ago but that the State Department is holding it up, and the report was last seen sitting on the desk of former Deputy Secretary James Steinberg.
"The State Department refuses to sign off on it," the staffer said. "It's in final form, it's been sitting there since February at the State Department, and they don't intend to sign it any time soon."
At an event at the Heritage Foundation, Cornyn said that Clinton told him she needed three more months before releasing the report, but the secretary didn't explain why. It's possible the administration wants to wait until after Vice President Joe Biden travels to China to meet Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping, who is likely the next leader of the country, next month.
Our administration sources tell us that the State Department is not holding up the report unilaterally. Rather, they say that the administration is waiting to release parts of the report in order to have it be accompanied by a new overall approach to the issue, which they are still finalizing.
These sources also say there is some worry inside the administration that Cornyn will not be satisfied until or unless the administration actually agrees to sell Taiwan the planes.
As for Taiwan's letter of request to buy F-16s, the administration has been playing a game with the Taiwanese -- telling them privately not to submit the letter so the administration wouldn't have to formally reject it and can continue to claim that no official request has been made.
But senators and lobbyists working on the F-16 issue have been pressing the Taiwanese to just go ahead and make the request public in order to place pressure on the administration and force them to declare their position on the arms sales, one way or the other.
"We've been encouraging the Taiwanese to tape it to the front door and walk away, like getting served a subpoena," said a Washington lobbyist who works on the F-16 issue. He said the Taiwanese have been trying to get the United States to accept the letter since 2006.
Cornyn also wants the administration to acknowledge publicly that the Taiwanese want to buy the F-16s, and then make clear either that the United States is willing or unwilling to fulfill that request.
"If you think that selling Taiwan new F-16s is not in our interest, then say it. Stop hiding behind this ‘we haven't received an LOR from Taiwan' argument. We know they have just intimidated them out of submitting it. It's just a farce," the staffer said. "Come clean and stop playing this game."
There's very little chance the Obama administration would move forward with selling F-16s to Taiwan in the first place. The White House delayed the delivery of a $6.2 billion arms package to Taiwan that was left over from the Bush administration until after President Obama visited Beijing in November 2009. But when the delivery finally went through in January 2010, the Chinese went ballistic and cut off military-to-military relations with Washington.
The U.S. government is required by law to provide for the defense of Taiwan under the Taiwan Relations Act, but for years the United States has failed to provide Taiwan with the types of high-end systems that would allow the country to maintain parity with China. Meanwhile, the Chinese continue to stockpile missiles and other weapons on the coast opposite Taiwan.
"We have de facto ceased abiding by the TRA," said Bush administration Pentagon China official Dan Blumenthal. "We are supposed to sell arms to Taiwan based on their objective defense needs. Does Taiwan not need an air force? This started under Bush and has continued under Obama."
Heading into the 2012 presidential election season, Taiwan's friends in Washington, both on the Hill and on K Street, are preparing a new push to elevate the F-16 debate from an insider's policy discussion into a political issue. Their argument will be as much about jobs as U.S. national security: They plan to make the case that if Taiwan doesn't get to buy the F-16, the production line will close and thousands of U.S. workers will be out of a job.
"In the absence of the Taiwan order for 66 F-16s, the coming closing of the F-16 line in Fort Worth, Texas heralds a double hit for the interests of the United States that encompasses the strategic tool that the line represents for US national security interests as well as the essential job skills and manufacturing prowess that the F-16 supply chain and production facility represent for the US economy," said Rupert J. Hammond-Chambers, the president of the U.S. Taiwan Business Council.
The advocates say that without new orders, the F-16 production line will close in October 2013, and new orders for parts will start to peter out as early as the end of this year. They point to a report produced by Lockheed Martin, which makes the F-16, showing a state-by-state breakdown of the thousands of jobs that would be lost if the jet fighter's production line is closed.
"Particularly hard hit are states such as Texas, Florida and Ohio with in excess of 1,000 high paying aerospace jobs per state lost. This will be devastating for communities in these states indeed for all of the 40 plus states in the country whose communities contribute to the production of F-16s," Hammond-Chambers said.
Meanwhile, the Burns nomination remains stalled and the path to a compromise between Cornyn and Clinton remains unclear.
"They want the issue to go away, but we're not going to let it go away," the Cornyn staffer said.
What's more, if Cornyn does lift his hold, that doesn't mean it will be smooth sailing for Burns's nomination. We have confirmed that there is at least one more GOP Senate hold on the Burns nomination due to a separate issue.
When Secretary of State Hillary Clinton gets to Istanbul on Friday, senators and their staffs will be watching closely to see if she moves the ball forward on an agreement to station U.S. missile defense radar there, an agreement many Republicans oppose.
"We write with concern over recent reports that the administration may be nearing completion of a bilateral agreement with the Turkish Government to base a U.S. AN/TPY-2 (X-Band) radar in Turkey," wrote Sens. Jon Kyl (R-AZ) and Mark Kirk (R-IL) in a July 12 letter to Clinton and Defense Secretary Leon Panetta obtained by The Cable.
The senators want the radar to be based in either Georgia or Azerbaijan, which they argue are better locations for defending against a missile attack from Iran. But more broadly, they are concerned that Ankara will place a number of onerous restrictions on the radar, such as demanding that no data be shared with Israel. The senators have also accused Turkey of violating U.S. sanctions against Iran, which they said calls into question their reliability as a partner in organizing a missile defense system aimed at Tehran.
In a May 12 meeting with Principal Deputy Under Secretary of Defense for Policy James Miller, a senior Missile Defense Agency representative told the senators that "a forward-deployed X-Band radar in either Georgia or Armenia would have significant advantages for the missile defense of the United States," the senator wrote.
The senators wrote a May 16 letter to Miller asking for a complete analysis of alternative sites, but they said that they have yet to receive any response.
Kyl and Kirk also suggested that they will attempt to thwart any missile defense agreement with Turkey unless the Turks agree to share data with Israel, stop violating Iran sanctions laws, and keep the system under the control of U.S. personnel.
For both the Obama administration and the George W. Bush administration preceding it, international missile defense deployment has always been based on both security and diplomatic considerations. The Bush administration plan to place missile defense infrastructure in Poland and the Czech Republic was a key aspect of strengthening relationships with those two countries, until the Obama administration scuttled it.
A senior GOP Senate aide explained the insider rationale to The Cable.
"Secretary Clinton knows the Congress well and she knows that support for a radar in Turkey will quickly collapse on both sides of the aisle if the Turks get any control over its operational activity or veto rights over sharing data with Israel," the aide said. "Given Turkey's strained relationship with Israel and non-compliance with U.S. sanctions against Iran, there's a strong feeling that if the Turks have any operational control over the radar we can be sure it will be turned off the day we need it most."
The Senate indefinitely delayed its plan to debate the war in Libya on Tuesday, with Republicans decrying the very fact that the topic was on the table in the first place.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) cancelled the Senate's July 4 recess after President Barack Obama taunted lawmakers for leaving town while the country careens toward a fiscal crisis due to the lack of a deal over how to raise the debt ceiling. But since there's no progress on that front, Reid brought up the Kerry-McCain resolution to authorize Obama's military intervention in Libya.
But several senior Republicans took to the floor on Tuesday afternoon to object to debating the Libya mission at all and pledged to vote no on moving to debate the war -- arguing that the budget crisis was more pressing. Sensing that the vote was doomed to fail, Reid pulled the measure off the floor.
"Just to speak to how dysfunctional the U.S. senate is, we're here over the debt ceiling, but instead of focusing on the issue at hand, we're going to focus on something that's irrelevant possibly and has nothing to do with why we're here," Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN), said on the Senate floor on Tuesday afternoon. "Let's not take up an issue that will have no effect on and has nothing to do with the debt ceiling, and take on those issues that will."
Corker is a senior member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Several other key Republicans, such as Senate Armed Services Committee members Robert Wicker (R-MS) and Jeff Sessions (R-AL), promised to vote no on cloture, arguing not the merits of the war but rather the need to move immediately to budget matters.
The Senate has avoided a full vote on the Libya war for over three months and the complicated politics of the issue have placed both Republicans and Democrats in an uncomfortable position. For Democrats, they are being pressed by the administration to back the president's decision. Voting no risks the ire of the White House. But if they vote yes, their constituencies may fault them for supporting yet another war with an uncertain timeframe and costs.
For Republicans, voting no would risk ceding the national security high ground to a Democratic president; voting yes would put them on record pledging more American treasure to yet another unpopular and expensive foreign intervention.
Before Reid pulled the measure, several other senators were also set to vote no on debating the Libya war tonight based on their opposition to the mission or their anger at the president for not properly consulting Congress before attacking. Senators opposed to the Libya war overall include Sens. Jim Webb (D-VA), Ron Paul (R-KY), and Senate Foreign Relations Committee ranking Republican Richard Lugar (R-IN).
In his own floor speech on Thursday, Lugar objected to authorizing the Libya mission based on the cost and his dissatisfaction with the administration's justifications.
"American intervention in Libya did not come as a result of a disciplined assessment of our vital interests or an authorization debate in Congress," Lugar said. "A civil war in Libya is not a priority that required American military and economic investments. It is an expensive diversion that leaves the United States and our European allies with fewer assets to respond to other contingencies."
Lugar maintains that the War Powers Resolution does apply to the mission in Libya, despite the administration's claim there are no "hostilities" going on there, and he continues to demand clearer explanations of the mission's objectives, timelines, and costs.
"Even if one believes that the president somehow had the legal authority to initiate and continue U.S. military operations in Libya, it does not mean that going to war without Congress was either wise or helpful to the operation," Lugar said. "There was no good reason why President Obama should have failed to seek congressional authorization to go to war in Libya."
The House already rejected a similar measure to authorize the Libya war by a 123 to 295 vote on June 24. The House also narrowly rejected a motion to largely defund the mission, but that measure would have passed if not for some lawmakers' belief that it constituted a backdoor authorization for the war.
If today's vote had passed with 60 yes votes, a full debate over the war would have immediately followed, setting up a final vote on the Kerry-McCain resolution on Thursday afternoon.
But now, the Libya war debate will be shelved in the Senate until Reid brings it up again, probably after the debt ceiling deadline of Aug. 2, and perhaps much later. Our Hill sources tell us they expect the any further senate debate over Libya to be postponed until after the August congressional recess.
Following the House of Representatives' stunning rebuke of the Obama administration's intervention in Libya last Friday, the Senate will weigh in tomorrow with a host of new proposed restrictions on President Barack Obama's war authorities.
The House voted overwhelmingly Friday not to authorize the Libya intervention and then narrowly rejected a measure that would have cut off most of the funding for the mission. A majority of lawmakers wanted to cut off the funds for Libya, but the vote failed because many congressmen believed that the bill, which left some of the funding in place, amounted to a "back door authorization" for the war.
The Senate Foreign Relations Committee will hold a hearing tomorrow with State Department Counselor Harold Koh to examine the administration's claim that the Libya war does not amount to "hostilities," and therefore does not require congressional authorization under the War Powers Resolution.
After the hearing, the committee will hold a business meeting to consider a bill by Chairman John Kerry (D-MA) and Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) that would authorize the Libya intervention. The committee could very well approve the bill, but not before several changes are made through amendments, most of them coming from ranking Republican Richard Lugar (R-IN).
"In this case, President Obama made a deliberate decision not to seek a Congressional authorization of his action, either before it commenced or during the last three months. This was a fundamental failure of leadership that placed expedience above Constitutional responsibility," Lugar will say at Tuesday's hearing, according to prepared remarks obtained by The Cable.
"At the outset of the conflict, the President asserted that U.S. military operations in Libya would be ‘limited in their nature, duration, and scope.' On this basis, the administration asserted that the actions did not require a declaration of war. Three months later, these assurances ring hollow," Lugar will say. "American and coalition military activities have expanded to an all but declared campaign to drive [Col. Muammar al] Qaddafi from power. The administration is unable to specify any applicable limits to the duration of the operations. And the scope has grown from efforts to protect civilians under imminent threat to obliterating Libya's military arsenal, command and control structure, and leadership apparatus."
Expect Lugar and other senators to challenge Koh on evidence that he was previously a staunch critic of granting the president unilateral war-making authority before joining the Obama administration. Koh reportedly supported the argument that the Libya intervention fell short of "hostilities" during the intra-administration debate on the topic.
When the committee does take up the Kerry-McCain resolution, Lugar will lead off with five amendments -- to limit the funds to only truly supportive functions like refueling and intelligence support, prevent any funding for ground troops, require the president to report every 60 days on the costs and progress of the Libya war, make sure it's clear Congress won't pay for reconstruction, and finally, to establish that it's the Senate's view that the Libya war does include "hostilities" and does fall under the War Powers Resolution.
Some or all of these could be approved by the committee, but the last one is almost sure to pass, given widespread congressional rejection of the administration's claim that legislative authorization is not required.
"You'll see overall consensus that their finding on a lack of ‘hostilities' doesn't stand," Lugar spokesman Mark Helmke told The Cable. "The overall mood is that you have to have authorization, and the question then is: Do enough Democrats feel comfortable with the other restrictions?"
Inside the committee, three Democrats have expressed reservations about the Libya war and could join with Republicans to restrict the president's authorities: Sens. Jim Webb (D-VA), Barbara Boxer (D-CA), and new committee member Richard Durbin (D-IL).
Webb said on Sunday's Meet the Press that he would support Lugar's amendments, and he criticized the Libya mission harshly.
"The president did not come to the Congress, and the reasons that he used for going in defy historical precedent," Webb said. "We weren't under attack, we weren't under an imminent attack, we weren't honoring treaty commitments, we weren't rescuing Americans. So, on the one hand, there's a very serious issue of precedent here."
Boxer pressed Kerry during a back and forth on the Senate floor on June 22, pushing him to confirm that the Libya resolution would not authorize ground troops and would expire in one year. Durbin supports the Kerry-McCain resolution but does not agree with the administration's argument that congressional authorization is unnecessary.
There are several other amendments expected Tuesday. Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN) has two amendments: one that would require the administration to seek reimbursement of the expenses of the mission from frozen Libyan assets and one that would require the administration to brief Congress every 15 days. Corker wants the authorization for the Libya war to expire after 6 months, as opposed to the 12 months granted under the Kerry-McCain measure.
Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ) will offer an amendment that would call for further action on the investigation of the bombing of Pan Am 103, which was conducted by members of the Qaddafi regime. Going against the grain, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) will offer three amendments: to require the president to consult Congress before deploying ground troops, use the frozen assets to pay for U.S. operations, and clarify that Qaddafi's removal is the official policy of the U.S.
If and when SFRC finally approves the Kerry-McCain resolution to authorize the Libya war, that will mark the end of the Libya debate in the Senate for a while. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) is not expected to begin the full Senate floor debate until after the July 4 recess.
Obama administration officials are claiming a partial victory today because the House rejected a measure to defund the Libya war, even after rejecting a separate measure that would have authorized the war. But the numbers don't tell the whole story.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton tried to put lipstick on the pig of today's admonishment of the administration by Congress, saying that she was "gratified that the House has decisively rejected efforts to limit funding" for the intervention. She was referring to the House's rejection of a bill put forth by Rep. Tom Rooney (R-FL) that would have shut off the spigot of funds for most, but not all, U.S. military operations in Libya.
The vote failed 180-238 - but, in fact, there were more than enough lawmakers to pass the measure. Of the 149 Democrats who stuck with the president, up to 70 of them are totally opposed to the Libya intervention and want to see it completely defunded as soon as possible. They voted "no" on the Rooney's bill because they thought it was too weak, did not cut off all funds, and implicitly authorized the intervention.
These 70 Democrats make up the Congressional Progressive Caucus (CPC), the largest caucus within the House Democratic Caucus, whose leadership includes Reps. Mike Honda (D-CA), Barbara Lee (D-CA), Lynn Woolsey (D-CA) and Raul Grijalva (D-AZ).
"Members of Congress voted no because the bill provided funding and legal authority for everything we're currently doing. It was back door authorization. Members didn't support authorizing what we're doing now in Libya," Michael Shank, Honda's spokesman, told The Cable. "The majority of the CPC voted no on the Rooney vote because of this."
In other words, if the GOP had put forth a stronger anti-Libya resolution, the progressive Democrats would have joined them and it would have passed. Despite what Clinton or other administration officials may say, the bill's failure cannot be seen as an endorsement of the Libya war.
The argument that the Rooney bill indirectly authorized the Libya war was made Friday on the House floor by many, including Rep. Tom McClintock (R-CA), who said:
"This bill purports to cut off funding for combat in Libya. In doing so it simply forbids what the constitution already forbids, the waging of war without explicit congressional authorization. But then it specifically grants to the president what up until now he has completely lacked: Congressional authority to engage in every conceivable belligerent act short of actually pulling the trigger."
"Refueling bombers on their way to targets, identifying and selecting targets, guiding munitions to their targets, logistical support, operational planning... these are all acts of war in direct support of belligerence at war and this bill authorizes them," he said. "Let's not enter a war through the backdoor when we have already decided not to enter it through the front."
And in case there was any doubt on the CPC's position, their leaders issued the following statement:
The Co-Chairs of the Congressional Progressive Caucus Peace and Security Taskforce call on Congress and the President to immediately end our war in Libya. The US has been engaged in hostilities for over 90 days without congressional approval, which undermines not only the powers of the legislative branch but also the legal checks and balances put in place nearly 40 years ago to avoid abuse by any single branch of government.
We call on our colleagues in Congress to exercise their legitimate authority and oversight and immediately block any funding for this war. Before the Executive branch further weakens the War Powers Resolution, and before we attack another country in the name of our "responsibility to protect," we must recommit ourselves to our Constitutional duty and obligation to hold the purse strings and the right to declare war. For decades, the House recognized the need for appropriate checks and balances before another war was waged. We must do the same. We call on Congress to exhibit similar foresight by promptly ending this war and pledging to uphold the laws that characterize America's commitment to democratic governance.
The top U.S. admiral involved in the Libya war admitted to a U.S. congressman that NATO forces are trying to kill Libyan leader Muammar al-Qaddafi. The same admiral also said he anticipated the need for ground troops in Libya after Qaddafi falls, according to the lawmaker.
House Armed Services Committee member Mike Turner (R-OH) told The Cable that U.S. Admiral Samuel Locklear, commander of the NATO Joint Operations Command in Naples, Italy, told him last month that NATO forces are actively targeting and trying to kill Qaddafi, despite the fact that the Obama administration continues to insist that "regime change" is not the goal and is not authorized by the U.N. mandate authorizing the war.
"The U.N. authorization had three components: blockade, no fly zone, and civil protection. And Admiral Locklear explained that the scope of civil protection was being interpreted to permit the removal of the chain of command of Qaddafi's military, which includes Qaddafi," Turner said. "He said that currently is the mission as NATO has defined."
"I believed that we were [targeting Qaddafi] but that confirmed it," Turner said. "I believe the scope that NATO is pursuing is beyond what is contemplated in civil protection, so they're exceeding the mission."
Later in the same briefing, Turner said, Locklear maintained that the NATO mission does not include regime change. "Well, certainly if you remove Qaddafi it will affect regime change," Turner said that he replied. "[Locklear] did not have an answer to that."
Locklear also said that, upon Qaddafi's removal, ground troops would be needed during the immediate period of instability, Turner said. In fact, Locklear said publicly that a "small force" might be necessary following the collapse of the Qaddafi regime in a May 30 conference in Varna, Bulgaria.
Turner joined hundreds of other lawmakers in voting against authorizing the Libya war on Friday morning. The authorization resolution was defeated 123 to 297. A subsequent vote on a bill to defund the Libya mission also failed 180-238 .
Turner has been opposed to the Libya war from the start and even introduced a resolution opposing the effort. For him, Friday's chaotic Libya debate was a direct result of the administration's neglect and disrespect of Congress throughout the debate over the mission.
"The president hasn't come to Congress and said any of this, and yet Admiral Locklear is pursuing the targeting of Qaddafi's regime, Qaddafi himself, and contemplating ground troops following Qaddafi's removal," Turner said. "They're not being straightforward with Congress... It's outrageous."
Ignoring Congress allowed the administration to ignore the large, looming questions about the Libya war that congressmen are asking -- especially today, as another vote to defund the mission looms before the House next month, when the defense appropriations bill is set to be debated. But if the House does vote to defund the mission, Turner said, Obama will have nobody to blame but himself.
"I believe that this administration has handled this so badly, that if they had come to Congress, I think they would have done more of their homework. They have not done a full assessment of their mission, its scope, or the consequences if they're successful. Congress would have required that," Turner said. "Now it's a little late."
The House of Representatives, in a culmination of over three months of Congressional frustration with the Obama administration's handling of the Libya intervention, voted against authorizing the war 123-295 and is set to vote for cutting off most of the funding for the mission.
The resolution to authorize the President Obama's intervention in Libya, sponsored by Rep. Alcee Hastings (D-FL), garnered only 8 GOP votes.
But all of this could have been avoided if overworked top Obama administration officials had not been too physically exhausted to pay a little more attention to Capitol Hill, according to the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee.
"It's crazy that we're fighting over this the way we are," Rep. Buck McKeon (R-CA) said in a roundtable with reporters just now.
The scene here at the Capitol on this sunny, summer Friday morning is surreal, as the three-hour debate continues. Lawmakers, who must still vote a resolution to cut off all funds for the war sponsored by Rep. Tom Rooney (R-FL), are continuously unleashing statements on why the Libya war represents a threat to the Constitution, a plundering of the Treasury, or an overreach of U.S. power.
The arguments against the war are all over the map. Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-NY) actually said the votes were the best way to prevent a decades-long slide into "monarchy." Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX) launched into a diatribe about the abuse of wartime contractors.
Democrats like Howard Berman (D-CA) and Jim McDermott (D-WA) tried to defend the president's policy by making the humanitarian argument and focusing on the limited nature of U.S. involvement. But they were shouted down by the war's opponents, many even from within their own party. "What, we don't have enough wars going on?" said Dennis Kucinich (D-OH), sarcastically.
To be clear, the votes today won't actually force President Barack Obama to terminate the U.S. military intervention in Libya. But though the votes are largely symbolic, that doesn't mean they aren't hugely important. The Obama administration realizes the negative impact of a rebuke by the House, and is even resorting to rhetoric that implies the GOP might actually be helping Col. Muammar al-Qaddafi.
"Who's side are you on?" Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said earlier this week, showing her deep frustration with Congressional opposition to the Libya war.
McKeon said this was exactly the kind of unhelpful statement that showed the administration's lack of respect for Congress and its fumbling of the politics of the Libya war.
"She is one of the ones that caused us to be where we are," McKeon shot back, in response to a question from The Cable.
So how did we get here? On March 17 -- the same day that Obama was pursuing the authorization for war at the United Nations and two days after he decided he wanted to attack Libya -- the president had a 90-minute lunch with House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) but never mentioned Libya once, McKeon said. McKeon left Washington that night, only to receive a phone call 10 a.m. Friday morning, saying, "The president wants you in the White House in an hour for a meeting."
"It's like at the last minute somebody thought ‘here's something we should check off, talk to the Congress,'" McKeon said.
When Clinton and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates eventually did come to Capitol Hill to brief Congress a week later, someone asked Clinton directly to address the issue of Congressional authorization and the War Powers Resolution.
"[Clinton] said, paraphrase, ‘It doesn't matter what you think, we're doing what we're doing.'" McKeon said. "I heard from a lot of people on both sides of the aisle that that really bothered them."
"Somebody else told me Secretary Clinton was living on about 3 or 4 hours sleep a night. So I just gave her the benefit of the doubt on that, I figured she was just tired and stressed when she made that comment," McKeon added.
McKeon then asked Gates to brief his committee for 3 hours, but Gates negotiated down the amount of time, telling McKeon, "I am exhausted... just physically," McKeon said.
Communication with Congress did not improve from then on, leaving lawmakers to come up with their own views on the war, McKeon said.
"There are a lot of people in the conference that feel the president has violated the constitution. And yet, some of those same people, they're not opposed to the mission in Libya," McKeon said." They think if he had met with Congress or in some way done a better job of setting up what he was going to do, they would feel much more comfortable and we wouldn't even be at the point where we are at."
McKeon is the quintessential GOP defense hawk in Congress. He is for steadily increasing defense budgets. He thinks Obama made a mistake by announcing the drawdown of troops in Afghanistan. He is concerned that the GOP is risking its credibility on national security.
"Conservative Republicans have a three legged stool: defense, fiscal responsibility, and social issues. Right now the stool is out of balance because fiscal matters are dominating everything," he said.
But when it comes to Libya, even he just doesn't see the logic of the endeavor.
"Why aren't we in Syria, why aren't we in Yemen," McKeon said. [Obama's] argument, you could drive a tank through it. It doesn't make sense."
He doesn't believe President Obama's contention that the United States has taken itself out of the lead role in Libya. And he doesn't buy that a NATO-led mission that's dependent on the U.S. military is much different than any other international mission where the U.S. military is involved.
"The President is in a box because he's getting hit from the left as far as anything he does with the military, so he used [NATO] as cover," McKeon said. "NATO is us. So I think that was just a thing the president kind of used to say ‘hey it's not us.' They can't do it without us."
McKeon believes that the Libya war is currently in a stalemate, hindered by a mission plan that is meant to protect Libyan civilians, but does not permit the targeting of the despot who is killing those civilians.
So what does McKeon think we should do now? Kill Qaddafi. "We should get him, whatever it takes."
Does that include ground troops, we asked? "No."
One of the most prominent, remaining Obama administration justifications for continuing the war in Afghanistan is the need to squash the threat of attacks on the U.S. But top administration officials don't believe there has been a terrorist threat coming from Afghanistan since at least 2004.
"The goal that we seek is achievable, and can be expressed simply: no safe-haven from which al Qaeda or its affiliates can launch attacks against our homeland, or our allies," President Obama said in his Wednesday evening speech to the nation, where he promised to withdraw 10,000 troops this year and all 33,000 surge troops by next summer.
In a conference call with reporters earlier Wednesday, a "senior administration official" said no terrorist threat from Afghanistan has been present for 7 or 8 years, well before the Obama administration surged troops there in 2009.
"On the threat side, we haven't seen a terrorist threat emanating from Afghanistan for the past seven or eight years. There has been clearly fighting and threats inside of Afghanistan, but the assessment of anywhere between 50, 75 or so al Qaeda types that are embedded in Haqqani units, basically, tactical fighting units inside of Afghanistan, they are focused inside Afghanistan with no indication at all that there is any effort within Afghanistan to use Afghanistan as a launching pad to carry out attacks outside of Afghan borders," the official said. "The threat has come from Pakistan over the past half-dozen years or so, and longer."
Later in the same conference call, the "senior administration official" repeated the administration's view that there's no terrorist threat coming from Afghanistan and used that assumption to argue there will be no danger in removing the surge troops.
"And so, in taking a look at the drawdown of U.S. troops, the 10,000 this year and then the 33,000 by next summer, it is certainly the view of the people who have been prosecuting this effort from the administration that this is not going to increase the threat," the official said. "Again, we don't see a transnational threat coming out of Afghanistan in terms of the terrorist threat and it's not going to affect at all the threat in Pakistan either."
Of course, if the Taliban regain control of Afghanistan, that could all change. Obama's GOP critics were quick to criticize the president for talking extensively about wrapping up the war and apparently going against the advice of ISAF Commander Gen. David Petraeus.
"When America goes to war, America needs to win. We need to close out the war successfully, and what that means now is not nation-building. What it means is to follow General Petraeus's advice and to get those security forces built up where they can pick up the slack as we draw down," said GOP presidential candidate Tim Pawlenty.
"I think we have undercut a strategy that was working." Sen. Lindsey Graham said on CNN. "I think the 10,000 troops leaving this year is going to make this fighting season more difficult. Having all of the surge forces leave by next summer is going to compromise next summer's fighting season."
For those on both the left and right who wanted Obama to withdraw from Afghanistan even more quickly, the acknowledgement that no terrorist threat exists there only reinforces their argument for a speedy exit.
"Our troops have done everything we've asked them to. They've routed the Taliban, dismantled Al Qaeda, and facilitated democratic elections," said GOP candidate Jon Huntsman. "Now it is time we move to a focused counter-terror effort which requires significantly fewer boots on the ground than the President discussed tonight."
"It has been the hope of many in Congress and across the country that the full drawdown of U.S. forces would happen sooner than the President laid out - and we will continue to press for a better outcome," said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA).
Meanwhile, former officials and experts complained that Obama's speech seemed to acknowledge that the U.S. will never be able to prevent the Taliban from playing a role in Afghanistan's future, but failed to spell out a diplomatic solution that addresses how to incorporate the Taliban into the Afghan government.
"I would have liked to have heard much more from him about a diplomatic strategy," Vali Nasr, a former top advisor to the late Richard Holbrooke, said on MSNBC immediately following the speech. "If you cannot end the war militarily, the only other way the war is going to go away is through some kind of deal in which the protagonists agree to a peace settlement. And we haven't done much of that. It hasn't been part of the debate about sending the troops in and it hasn't been a part of the debate of pulling troops out."
"Ultimately wars are fought on battlefields, but they have to finish around the table, and the administration hasn't really outlined how it is going to get there," Nasr said.
The Senate Armed Services Committee unveiled a new bill on Friday that includes provisions to halt the Obama administration's plans to reshape the U.S. military presence in Okinawa, Guam, and South Korea.
Committee chairman Carl Levin (D-MI) and ranking Republican John McCain (R-AZ), along with Jim Webb (D-VA), called for an entirely new plan for basing U.S. troops in East Asia on May 11, arguing that the current plans were no longer feasible or cost effective. They proposed halting the realignment of U.S. troops in South Korea, scaling back the plan to drastically increase the U.S. military presence on Guam, and changing the plan to relocate the controversial Futenma Air Base on Okinawa to a new facility elsewhere on the island.
Today, the committee's bill put many of those ideas in play by including them in its annual policy bill. If the bill is approved by the Senate, and if these ideas then survive negotiations with the House, the administration's already troubled plan would be placed on hold.
"The current plans for maintaining our troops there are unsustainable. They are incredibly expensive," Levin told reporters on a Friday conference call. "The costs... are out of sight and can no longer be sustained."
Specifically, the bill does four things. First, it prohibits funding the realignment of U.S. Marine Corps forces from Okinawa to Guam until the commandant of the Marine Corps provides an updated plan, and requires the defense secretary to submit a master plan to Congress detailing construction costs and schedules. Second, the bill requires the Department of Defense to study the feasibility of relocating some of the Air Force assets at Kadena Air Base on Okinawa to other bases in Japan or to Guam, and moving Marine Corps aviation assets currently at Marine Corps Air Station Futenma to Kadena Air Base rather than building an expensive replacement facility at Camp Schwab, another base located on Okinawa. This idea is extremely unpopular in Japan.
Third, the bill would cut approximately $150 million in military construction projects requested for the realignment of U.S. Marine Corps forces from Okinawa to Guam. And fourth, the bill would prevent the obligation of any funds for "tour normalization" on the Korean Peninsula until the secretary of the Army provides Congress with a master plan to complete the program. Tour normalization is the term for allowing service members to bring their families to South Korea to create a more "normal" long-term lifestyle for them there.
In total, these moves are all a part of the senators' goal to scale back the ambitious Okinawa-Guam relocation plan and cut costs by preventing the build up of more military infrastructure in South Korea.
"These recommendations are workable, cost-effective, will reduce the burden on the Okinawan people, and will strengthen the American contribution to the security of the region," Webb said in a statement.
President Barack Obama and members of the National Security Staff rejected the senators' ideas when Obama met Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan on the sidelines of the G8 last month in France.
"The two leaders agreed that it's important for Japan to continue its efforts to follow through on the agreement of last May to implement the realignment road map on Okinawa in order to ensure that the U.S.-Japan alliance and the basing arrangements are on a solid footing as we continue to work to enhance, revitalize and modernize our alliance," NSC Senior Director Dan Russel said after the meeting.
But Levin said there was no point pretending that the current plans were either implementable or sustainable and that he was determined to use the Congress's power of the purse to force the administration to explain its plans in more detail and then change them if necessary.
"We are basically putting these changes on hold in all three places, Korea, Guam, Okinawa, while this major review is taking place," he said. "We are not withdrawing or reducing our presence, we are trying to streamline it... we do this is a way which is honest and which is sustainable."
For Levin, the move is part of his overall effort to show that his committee is budget conscious. "The problem is the current plan isn't affordable, not workable. And on the Okinawa part with Camp Schwab, it is so expensive, so massive, so unachievable, and so unwise."
Overall, the Senate bill, which was negotiated behind closed doors, would provide $682.5 billion for national defense in fiscal 2012, including $117.8 billion for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and $18.1 billion for national security programs in the Energy Department. The funding would be $5.9 billion less than requested for the base defense budget.
You can also read a very long summary sheet on the bill compiled by the committee.
SINGAPORE - Political reconciliation talks with the Taliban could begin as early as this winter, but only if the U.S. keeps up the military pressure and convinces the Taliban they are losing the war, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said Saturday
"There is a generally accepted view that nearly all conflicts of this kind eventually come to a close with some kind of a political settlement, but the reality is, in my view, that the prospect of a political settlement does not become real until the Taliban and the others... begin to conclude that they cannot win militarily," Gates said following his remarks here at the 10th annual IISS Shangri-La Security Dialogue.
After 15 months of ejecting the Taliban from their home territories in the regions of Helmand and Kandahar, the momentum is on the side of the Afghan government and the NATO coalition, but if there's a military pullback, the prospects for negotiations decrease, he said.
"If we can sustain those successes, if we can further expand the security bubble, we have enough evidence that the Taliban are under pressure and that their capabilities are being degraded, that perhaps this winter the possibility of some kind of political talks or reconciliation might be substantive enough to offer some hope of progress," said Gates.
The Obama administration is devising a strategy for the way forward in Afghanistan referred to internally as "Plan 2014" that may call for U.S. troop reductions beginning this year. But Gates, who leaves office July 1, is warning against such a pullback.
"My own view is that the political opportunities will flow from military pressure. And only as long as the military pressure is kept on and there are further gains, will the prospects for a political solution improve," he said.
Gates reiterated the U.S. position that any reconciliation with the Taliban must include their agreement to sever ties with al Qaeda, agree to adhere to the Afghan constitution, and lay down their arms. But he acknowledged that the Taliban are here to stay.
"The Taliban are probably a part of the political fabric of afg at this point and can... potentially have a political role in the future of that country," said Gates.
Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), the ranking Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, told The Cable in a Saturday interview that he totally agreed with Gates's assessment and would continue to press for heavy military pressure to continue.
"It's very simple. What motivation would the Taliban have to talk if they think they're winning. It clearly is a situation where if they think that they losing... then they will be willing to have serious talks," McCain said.
But McCain admitted that whatever progress has been made militarily in Afghanistan, problems remain with the effort in Pakistan, the relationship with Afghan President Hamid Karzai, and corruption in the Afghan government
"If they had good government, they probably wouldn't have the insurgency in the first place," McCain said.
SINGAPORE - The U.S. will increase its military involvement and commitment to Asia, especially Southeast Asia, despite having a cash-strapped, worn out military machine, Defense Secretary Robert Gates told a conference of major Asian military leaders Saturday morning.
"History's dustbin is littered with dictators and aggressors who underestimated America's resilience, will, and underlying strength," he declared.
Gates, speaking at the 10th annual IISS Shangri-La Security Dialogue, laid out several ways in which the U.S. will ramp up its military presence in the region, adding attention and resources to the military relationships with countries such as Singapore and Australia, in order to maintain America's position as the guarantor of regional peace and security. The moves are not directed specifically at China, Gates' aides claimed.
"[W]e meet today at a time when the United States faces a daunting set of challenges at home and abroad, when questions are being raised about the sustainability and credibility of our commitments around the world. These questions are serious and legitimate," Gates told the audience of defense and military officials from 35 Asian and Pacific countries.
He acknowledged that the U.S. military is strained from 10 years of war in Iraq and Afghanistan and that the U.S. economy is forcing unprecedented downward pressure on defense budgets.
"But at the same time, it is important, in this place, before this audience, to recognize an equally compelling set of facts with respect to America's position in Asia. A record demonstrating that, irrespective of the tough times the U.S. faces today, or the tough budget choices we confront in the coming years, that America's core interests as a Pacific nation - as a country that conducts much of its trade in the region - will endure," he said.
Gates laid out several ways in which the U.S. was preparing to increase its military presence and infrastructure in Southeast Asia. In Australia, he talked about increasing the U.S. Naval presence "to respond more rapidly to humanitarian disasters," upgrading military facilities on the Indian Ocean, and ramping up military training exercises, "activities that could involve other partners in the region," he said.
For Singapore, Gates said the U.S. would deploy more ships there, including the new Littoral Combat Ship, move more U.S. military supplies to Singapore to "improve disaster response," and upgrade command and control capabilities there.
"Taken together, all of these developments demonstrate the commitment of the United States to sustaining a robust military presence in Asia - one that underwrites stability by supporting and reassuring allies while deterring, and if necessary defeating, potential adversaries," Gates said.
Gates talked in his speech about the new U.S. military focus on what's called "Air-Sea Battle," which is meant to overcome anti-access and area denial scenarios "to ensure that America's military will continue to be able to deploy, move, and strike over great distances in defense of our allies and vital interests."
But don't think of China when thinking about those "potential adversaries," three senior defense officials told reporter in a background briefing before the speech.
"A lot of this seems to be aimed at reassuring allies, but that seems to have beneath it more of an adversarial relationship with China, as opposed to the today message of ‘chummy, chummy,'" one reporter pointed out to the officials.
"You assume all those things are directed at China... they aren't exclusively China related, but it obviously does apply to them as well," a senior defense official said.
"The anti-access capabilities investments, there's only one country that worries us, and that's China," another reporter pointed out.
"That's only one part of talking about our interests and our continuing engagement in the region," another senior defense official insisted.
So how is the U.S. going to pay for all this? Well, that's not exactly clear. The Pentagon is doing a top to bottom review now in order to help find the $400 billion of cuts in security spending that President Obama ordered over the next 12 years.
Gates said that the review isn't complete but certain types of modernization programs would be protected, including air superiority and mobility, long-range strike, nuclear deterrence, maritime access, space and cyber, and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance.
"Though the review is not complete, I am confident that these key remaining modernization programs - systems that are of particular importance to our military strategy in Asia - will rank at or near the top of our defense budget priorities in the future," he said.
Gates' speech contained none of the criticisms of China's People's Liberation Army that he laid out in his speech to the same conference last year. "We are also now working together with China to build a positive, cooperative, and comprehensive relationship," he said.
SINGAPORE — U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Chinese Defense Minister Gen. Liang Guanglie held a 55-minute meeting Friday behind closed doors on the sidelines of the IISS Shangri-La Security Dialogue. Both sides claimed progress in U.S.-China military relations, while largely avoiding contentious issues such as U.S. arms sales to Taiwan and growing competition in Southeast Asia.
Your humble Cable guy was in the room for the first 5 minutes before being ushered out by security, and heard both leaders praise the resumption of military-to-military ties, which began again last May following the People Liberation Army's early 2010 decision to sever ties in response to the United States' $6.4 billion arms sale to Taiwan.
"President Hu and President Obama both believe that our military to military ties are an underdeveloped part of our relationship between the United States and China. In recent months our two countries have made some progress in toward rectifying this imbalance by jointly identifying areas of cooperation," Gates said at the start of the meeting. "As I leave office at the end of this month, I do so believing that our military relationship is on a more positive trajectory."
"It is critically important to maintain a dialogue in areas where we disagree, so we can have greater clarity about each other's intentions," Gates continued. "Together we can show the world the benefits that arise when great nations collaborate on matters of shared interest."
Liang struck a similarly positive note, saying that, "since the beginning of this year... the mil-to-mil relations and technical cooperation between the two militaries have made some positive progress."
According to three senior U.S. defense officials who briefed reporters on the rest of the meeting, both military leaders spent the bulk of the time reviewing points of agreement and pledging cooperation on areas of shared strategic interest -- piracy, disaster response, and North Korea -- while avoiding areas of conflict.
"Of course, there were areas of disagreement raised, but they were acknowledged and moved on from," one of the officials who was in the room reported.
For example, when Liang raised the issue of future U.S. arms sales to Taiwan, as Chinese leaders do in every meeting, Gates gave a clear but curt one line response.
"We know each other's points on Taiwan well," Gates told Liang, according to the officials.
And when Liang criticized what he referred to as voices in the United States that China believes are hyping the Chinese military threat, Gates responded that there are anti-U.S. voices in China as well, but that on neither side do the negative voices represent the views of each country's leadership.
"The reality is that some will always oppose this relationship moving forward, but it is our responsibility to keep it moving forward," Gates said.
Gates also stressed that incoming Defense Secretary Leon Panetta will continue the effort to advance U.S.-China military ties. But Gates won't leave the issue totally behind.
"He said he hopes to continue to monitor the forward progress in retirement, with a fishing line in hand," one defense official reported.
Gates also noted in the meeting that Joint Chiefs Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen will travel to China in July, a reciprocal visit following PLA Chief of General Staff Chen Bingde's visit to Washington last month.
The cordial U.S.-China exchanges could turn more adversarial as the conference goes on. Gates speaks Saturday and is expected to lay out a range of new ideas for how the United States plans to increase its military involvement in Southeast Asia. The moves are widely seen as a response to growing Chinese assertiveness in the region. Liang speaks Sunday.
The discussion was only one of four bilateral meetings Gates held Friday. He also met with Japanese Defense Minister Toshimi Kitazawa, Singaporean Permanent Secretary for Defense Chiang Chie Foo, and Malaysian Prime Minister Najib bin Tun Hj Abdul Razak.
The Cable asked the senior defense officials what Kitazawa had to say about Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan's bombshell announcement this week that he would resign his post.
"That was not discussed," one official said.
Josh Rogin/Foreign Policy
President Barack Obama's favorite general , Joint Chiefs Vice Chairman James Cartwright, appears to be successfully fighting off a whisper campaign about his suspect personal behavior, as several senators offered praise this week for his service. In the event that Cartwright is nominated to succeed Adm. Mike Mullen as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, this bipartisan support bodes well for his eventual confirmation.
Cartwright, who was identified as Obama's favorite in Bob Woodward's Obama's Wars, is seen as the frontrunner for the position of Joint Chiefs chairman when Mullen steps down this autumn. However, unidentified enemies in the Pentagon and on Capitol Hill have launched a campaign to undermine his chances to be nominated. According to Pentagon sources, many top brass have never forgiven Cartwright for going around Mullen and providing Obama with an alternative plan for Afghanistan during the debate over the Afghanistan surge that included recommendations for a smaller U.S. footprint in the country.
Cartwright was also the subject of a classified Inspector General's report that looked into anonymous allegations that he acted inappropriately with a young, female aide on an overseas trip in 2009. Cartwright was cleared of those charges, but Pentagon sources also report that Cartwright's treatment of his wife, including that he asked her to leave his house, has irked other senior officers' wives, including Mullen's wife.
Nevertheless, the whisper campaign against him continues. The latest salvo came Thursday in a thinly sourced report in the Washington Times, which stated that Cartwright "is said to be under scrutiny by three senators who were alerted to character issues," and repeated the rumor that his wife, Sandee Cartwright, "is planning to go public with her feelings about her husband."
The Washington Times identified the three women senators who supposedly are upset with Cartwright as Sens. Susan Collins (R-ME), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), and Barbara Boxer (D-CA). Collins is on the Armed Services Committee, which would need to approve Cartwright's nomination.
The Cable caught up with Collins, who denied she had ever expressed any concerns about Cartwright to the White House, the Pentagon, or anybody else.
"I have worked with Gen. Cartwright. I think very highly of Gen. Cartwright. I haven't taken a position [on him becoming Joint Chiefs chairman] because he hasn't been nominated," Collins told The Cable. "But I think highly of him and I've worked closely with him over the past few years, so that information is completely wrong."
Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK), the second-ranking Republican on the committee, told The Cable that he also had no reservations about Cartwright's possible nomination and would support Cartwright if Obama chooses him.
The committee's chairman, Sen. Carl Levin (D-MI), said he wasn't aware there were any senators who had expressed concerns about Cartwright's extracurricular activities as alleged in the IG report.
"I don't know that there's any senator upset about it. I've delved into it and I think, no problems there," Levin told The Cable. Levin said he would strongly support Cartwright if he were nominated, "because I think he's extraordinarily competent."
If Cartwright doesn't get the nod, however, there are several top military officers waiting in the wings. The Wall Street Journal reported Thursday that the list includes: Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, the current Army chief of staff; Army Gen. Ray Odierno, who is now in charge of closing down Joint Forces Command; Adm. Eric Olson, the head of U.S. Special Operations Command; and Adm. James Stavridis, NATO's supreme commander in Europe.
In just over a week, 60 days will have passed since the war in Libya began. But Congress has no plans to exercise its rights under the War Powers Act to either approve or stop the administration's use of U.S. military forces to fight the army of Col. Muammar al-Qaddafi.
The War Powers Resolution of 1973 allows the president to commit U.S. forces for 60 days without the explicit authorization of Congress, with another 30 days allowed for the withdrawal of those forces.
"The constitutional powers of the President as Commander-in-Chief to introduce United States Armed Forces into hostilities, or into situations where imminent involvement in hostilities is clearly indicated by the circumstances, are exercised only pursuant to a declaration of war, a specific statutory authorization, or a national emergency created by attack upon the United States, its territories or possessions, or its armed forces," the law states.
But the administration won't be immediately pressed to follow the law if nobody in Congress intends to enforce it. Both leaders of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee told The Cable on Tuesday that there are no plans for Senate action on the war in Libya -- before or after the deadline.
"I'm not hearing from my colleagues that they feel the War Powers situation is currently in play because we're deferring to NATO," committee chairman Sen. John Kerry (D-MA) told The Cable. Kerry had been working on a resolution with Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) but the text was never finalized.
Kerry said there's nothing on the schedule either in his committee, where a resolution based on the War Powers Act would have to originate, or on the Senate floor. "I'm certainly prepared to listen and be responsive," if senators want to debate the war, he said.
Sen. Richard Lugar (R-IN), the committee's ranking Republican, told The Cable he also doesn't see any action on the horizon, but he called on the Senate to start conducting oversight of the war and demanding more details from the Obama administration.
"I'm one who believes that there does need to accountability, if not a declaration of war under the War Powers Act, at least some specific resolution that would give authority," Lugar said. "But even absent that, some definition from the president of what our plan is, what our metrics would be, and by this time what the costs have been, quite apart from the estimate of what they will be."
Asked if the president is legally required to begin ending U.S. military involvement when the 60-day window closes, Lugar said it's a possibility.
"That is certainly one strong interpretation of this. I'll examine that when we come to it," he said. "The War Powers Act has been argued through several administrations as to whether the president feels bound by it or not."
Overall, he and many others in the Senate lament that the budget debate and other issues have pushed the Libya discussion to the back burner.
"There has never has been the correct focus on Libya with regard to congressional hearings or congressional debate," Lugar said.
Lt. Gen. John Allen is set to take over command of the war in Afghanistan when Gen. David Petraeus becomes CIA director in September. The battle against the Taliban remains the centerpiece in the Afghanistan effort, but the development mission -- the world's largest and most challenging -will also be a focus for Allen.
In a long interview with USAID's Frontline magazine, Allen talked about the development challenges in Afghanistan and recounted his experiences working with development professionals in the Mediterranean in the 1970s, running the task force that led the U.S. government response to the Asian tsunami of 2004-2005, and coordinating development projects in Iraq during the surge from 2006 to 2008. He promised to push for increased cooperation between soldiers and aid workers and fight for USAID's continued support from the military and Congress.
Here are some excerpts:
On the challenges in the military-civilian relationship in a warzone:
It's largely in the sequencing. Ten years ago, I'd have said it was cultural. Not today. Yes, the development and military cultures are inherently different, but after a decade of war, where our paths in many ways are now inextricably linked, our institutional cultures are largely in harmony and we draw strength from the relationship. This includes development NGOs as well.... When the development and military entities are closely tied together in planning and execution --"within the hearing of the guns" -- we have all the ingredients for success. While there remains room for improvement, we're far more advanced and effective in this relationship than we were just 10 years ago.
On how to achieve better cooperation between the military and development personnel on the ground:
For the military, working better on the ground with USAID can come specifically from establishing a close working relationship with the USAID elements which will be operating with or alongside the military units. During periods of conflict, this ideally begins at the unit's home station before the deployment and continues without interruption right down to the ground level during the deployment and employment. If we've done this right, USAID or development personnel who'll be in the same area have had the chance to participate in the military unit's training during its preparations and in its mission rehearsal exercises prior to deployment.
On development's role in preventing conflicts:
As we start our second decade of counterinsurgency efforts in CENTCOM, it has become clear to us that one of the best ways we can defend our nation is to prevent factors that combine in our region which severely stress social systems ... ultimately creating a critical mass of hopelessness, and frequently leading to insurgency and conflict. Indeed, the social turmoil playing out in our region, the so-called Arab Spring, is a direct result of these societal forces boiling over....
On why domestic support for development is lower than support for the military:
I honestly think it is simply a combination of word association and exposure. Through the media, particularly since 9/11, your average American has had far more day-to-day exposure to the military culture than to the development world. Americans are accustomed to and generally understand the broad mission areas of the military in ways they never had prior to 9/11. In contrast, they may not have had any exposure to, or understanding of, the art and science of development.
In many respects, USAID's efforts can do as much -- over the long term -- to prevent conflict as the deterrent effect of a carrier strike group or a marine expeditionary force. There are adversaries in the CENTCOM region who understand and respect American hard power, but they genuinely fear American soft power frequently wielded in the form of USAID projects. While the hard power of the military can create trade, space, time, and a viable security environment, the soft power of USAID and the development community can deliver strategic effects and outcomes for decades, affecting generations.
On the budget fight over funding for USAID:
The development programs carried out by USAID directly support the president's National Security Strategy and are a sound expenditure of our nation's precious resources. As you note, some do feel that expending funds in support of development projects is a luxury. This argument complements the ever increasing concerns over the economic realities facing our government. The fiscal pie is only so big and the ability to carve out a larger slice -- no matter who you are -- will only continue to become more challenging.
Read the entire interview later this afternoon at www.usaid.gov/frontlines.
John Hudson reports on national security and foreign policy from the Pentagon to Foggy Bottom, the White House to Embassy Row, for The Cable.