The mission to kill Osama bin Laden was years in the making, but began in earnest last fall with the discovery of a suspicious compound near Islamabad, and culminated with a helicopter based raid in the early morning hours in Pakistan Sunday.
"Last August, after years of painstaking work by our intelligence community, I was briefed on a possible lead to bin Laden. It was far from certain, and it took many months to run this thread to ground," President Obama told the nation in a speech Sunday night.
"Today, at my direction, the United States launched a targeted operation against that compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan. A small team of Americans carried out the operation with extraordinary courage and capability. No Americans were harmed. They took care to avoid civilian casualties. After a firefight, they killed Osama bin Laden and took custody of his body," he said.
Sitting in a row of chairs beside the podium were National Security Advisor Tom Donilon, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, CIA Director Leon Panetta, Joint Chiefs Chairman Adm. Mike Mullin, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and Vice President Joe Biden. White House Chief of Staff Bill Daley and Press Secretary Jay Carney stood in the back with about a dozen White House staffers.
Since last August, Obama convened at least 9 meetings with national security principals about this operation and the principals met 5 times without the president, a senior administration official said. Their deputies met 7 times formally amid a flurry of other interagency communications and consultations.
ABC News reported that the principals' meetings were held on March 14, March 29, April 12, April 19 and April 28.
Last week Obama finally had enough intelligence last to take action. The final decision to go forward with the operation was made at 8:20 AM on Friday, April 29 in the White House's Diplomatic Room. In the room at the time were Donilon, his deputy Denis McDonough, and counterterrorism advisor John Brennan. Donilon prepared the formal orders.
On Sunday, Obama went to play golf in the morning at Andrews Air Force Base. He played 9 holes in chilly, rainy weather and spent a little time on the driving range, as well. Meanwhile, the principals were assembling in the situation room at the White House. They were there from 1:00 PM and stayed put for the rest of the day.
At 2:00, Obama met with the principals back at the White House. At 3:32 he went to the situation room for another briefing. At 3:50 he was told that bin Laden was "tentatively identified." At 7:01 Obama was told there was a "high probability" the high value target at the compound was bin Laden. At 8:30 Obama got the final briefing.
Before speaking to the nation, Obama called former presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush.
Three senior administration officials briefed reporters late Sunday night on the surveillance, intelligence, and military operations that ended with bin Laden's death at the hands of U.S. operatives.
"The operation was the culmination of years of careful and highly advanced intelligence work," a senior administration official said.
The stream of information that led to Sunday's raid began over four years ago, when U.S. intelligence personnel were alerted about two couriers who were working with al Qaeda and had deep connections to top al Qaeda officials. Prisoners in U.S. custody flagged these two couriers as individuals who might have been helping bin Laden, one official said
"One courier in particular had our constant attention," the official said. He declined to give that courier's name but said he was a protégé of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and a "trusted assistant" of Abu Faraj al-Libbi, a former senior al Qaeda officer who was captured in 2005.
"Detainees also identified this man as one of the few couriers trusted by bin Laden," the official said. The U.S. intelligence community uncovered the identity of this courier four years ago, and two years ago, the U.S. discovered the area of Pakistan this courier and his brother were working in.
In August 2010, the intelligence agencies found the exact compound where this courier was living, in Abbottabad, Pakistan. The neighborhood is affluent and many retired Pakistani military officials live there.
"When we saw the compound where the brothers lived, we were shocked by what we saw," one official said.
The compound was 8 times larger than the other homes around it. It was built in 2005 in an area that was secluded at that time. There were extraordinary security measures at the compound, including 12 to 18 foot walls topped with barbed wire.
There were other suspicious indicators at the compound. Internal sections were walled off from the rest of the compound. There were two security gates. The residents burned their trash. The main building had few windows.
The compound, despite being worth over $1 million, had no telephone or internet service. There's no way the courier and his brother could have afforded it, the official said.
"Intelligence officials concluded that this compound was custom built to hide someone of significance," the official said, adding that the size and makeup of one of the families living there matched the suspected makeup of bin Laden's entourage.
The intelligence community had high confidence that the compound had a high value target, and the analysts concluded there was high probability that target was bin Laden, one official said.
When the small team of U.S. operatives raided the compound in the early morning hours Sunday Pakistan time, they encountered resistance and killed three men besides bin Laden and one woman. The three men were the two couriers and one of bin Laden's sons. The woman was being used as a human shield, one official said. Two other women were injured.
One U.S. helicopter was downed due to unspecified "maintenance" issues, one official said. The U.S. personnel blew up the helicopter before leaving the area. The team was on the ground for only 40 minutes.
A senior defense official told CNN that US Navy SEALs were involved in the mission.
No other governments were briefed on the operation before it occurred, including the host government Pakistan.
"That was for one reason and one reason alone. That was essential to the security of the operation and our personnel," one official said. Only a "very small group of people" inside the U.S. government knew about the operation. Afterwards, calls were made to the Pakistani government and several other allied countries.
"Since 9/11 the United States has made it clear to Pakistan that we would pursue bin Laden wherever he might be," one official said. "Pakistan has long understood we are at war with al Qaeda. The United States had a moral and legal obligation to act on the information it had."
Americans abroad should stay indoors be aware of the increased threat of attacks following bin Laden's killing, the State Department said in a new travel warning issued Sunday night. State also issued a specific travel warning for Pakistan.
"Al Qaeda operatives and sympathizers may try to respond violently to avenge bin Laden's death and other terrorist leaders may try to accelerate their efforts to attack the United States," one official said. "We have always understood that this fight would be a marathon and not a sprint."
CIA Director Leon Panetta and ISAF Commander Gen. David Petraeus will get new assignments Thursday, with Panetta being nominated to head the Pentagon and Petraeus replacing him at the CIA. But the CIA and the military have completely different assessments of the NATO-led force's progress in Afghanistan, placing Petraeus in charge of a bureaucracy largely skeptical of his optimistic analysis of the war.
A senior administration official confirmed Wednesday that President Barack Obama will announce the moves Thursday, along with the appointment of CENTCOM Deputy Commander Gen. John Allen to replace Petraeus and former U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker to replace Karl Eikenberry as envoy to Kabul. If all the Senate confirmations go smoothly, Panetta will take over for Defense Secretary Robert Gates on July 1 and Petraeus will move to the CIA in early September. CIA Deputy Director Michael Morell would act as temporary head of the CIA over the summer.
Petraeus will resign his military commission when he moves to the CIA. But he is not likely to jettison his opinions about the war in Afghanistan, which are much rosier than the assessments that have been coming out of the intelligence community.
"It is ISAF's assessment that the momentum achieved by the Taliban in Afghanistan since 2005 has been arrested in much of the country and reversed in a number of important areas," Petraeus testified on March 16 before the Senate Armed Services Committee. "The progress achieved has put us on the right azimuth to accomplish the objective agreed upon at last November's Lisbon summit, that of Afghan forces in the lead throughout the country by the end of 2014."
He went on to commend the progress of the Afghan security forces and the Afghan police, praising the success of the troop surge in Afghanistan as providing space for the government led by President Hamid Karzai to increase its responsibilities throughout the country. He also praised the Pakistani military's efforts to root out insurgents in their midst.
That analysis is quite different from the intelligence community's latest National Intelligence Estimate on Afghanistan and Pakistan from last December, which stated that large areas of Afghanistan were still vulnerable to quick takeover by the Taliban and that Pakistan was still supporting insurgents in both countries.
The leaked NIE caused a rift between the CIA and the Pentagon, with military officials claiming that the intelligence community was not up to date on progress is Afghanistan. With Petraeus now heading to the CIA, he will be charged with evaluating his own rosy assessments of the course of the war.
"The specific guy who was responsible for producing a positive prognosis is now going to a job where he has to judge his own prognosis and grade his own work," said Stephen Biddle, senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. "The institutional culture of the military is generally optimistic and can do. The institutional culture of the intelligence community is generally skeptical and pessimistic."
Petraeus is an unusually open-minded and intelligence-friendly military officer, Biddle said, but he will nevertheless face a culture clash at the CIA's Langley headquarters.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, the chairwoman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, also expressed some reservations about Petraeus becoming CIA director.
"In Iraq, at CENTCOM and in Afghanistan, Gen. Petraeus has been a consumer of intelligence and has commanded DoD intelligence resources. But that is a different role than leading the top civilian intelligence agency. I look forward to hearing his vision for the CIA and his plans to make sure the CIA is collecting the type of intelligence that policymakers need," she said in a statement e-mailed to The Cable.
It is true, Biddle noted, that Petraeus doesn't have a lot of experience in the intelligence community, but that hasn't previously been a disqualification for the job. "That was also true of lots of past CIA directors," he said.
A more natural promotion for Petraeus might have been to the role of chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, but Vice Chairman Gen. James Cartwright is seen as the leading contender for that post due to his closeness to Obama, and despite accusations that he slept with a drunk subordinate - charges on which he was cleared.
Panetta is set to take over the Pentagon this summer, where he will work directly with Petraeus, who will still be serving as ISAF commander. The summer, typically known as Afghanistan's "fighting season," will represent Panetta's first test as secretary of defense. A senior administration official said that Panetta was initially reluctant to take the job, but finally agreed on April 25.
"Leon loved being the director of the CIA and it showed... It was a difficult decision for him to leave the agency," the official said. "The president asked him, Leon thought about it, consulted with his spouse and family, and on Monday evening, he said yes."
The transition planning at the Pentagon is already underway. Marcel Lettre, formerly the principal deputy assistant secretary of defense for legislative affairs, shifted earlier this year to a new role in Gates's office, managing the transition process for Gates's departure and his successor's arrival. Jeremy Bash, Panetta's chief of staff at the CIA and a former colleague of Lettre's on the staff of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, also could become Panetta's chief of staff at the Pentagon.
Of course, Panetta will immediately be tasked with weighing in on a host of personnel changes at the Pentagon. Will Deputy Secretary Bill Lynn stay on? Nobody knows. Panetta will also have a role in picking the next Joint Chiefs chairman and the next vice chairman if Cartwright, as expected, gets the promotion. A game of musical chairs among senior military officers could also see new jobs for Supreme Allied Commander Europe Adm. James Stavridis, Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Norton Schwartz, Gen. Ray Odierno, and many others.
Meanwhile, will Petraeus, out of uniform and out of the Defense Department, be able to confine himself to the job of producing objective intelligence analysis and stay away from policymaking?
"General Petraeus has deep experience in the areas of intelligence and as director of the CIA I think he would clearly understand what the role is there," the senior administration official said.
When Robert Gates was chosen to be defense secretary, his primary mission was clear: fix the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Now, after President Barack Obama's Wednesday speech declaring he would cut $400 billion from "security" spending over 12 years, the primary credential for Gates' successor is that he be an expert on budgets... and how to cut them.
The White House made the decision to call for $400 billion in cuts to security spending hastily; in fact, it didn't even tell the Pentagon until the day before the speech was delivered. They knew that Gates, who has been simultaneously scrubbing the defense budget while warning against future cuts, won't be the one to implement the new proposal. Gates is expected to leave his post this summer and will pass on to his replacement the unenviable task of finding new cuts in the defense budget and then selling them to Congress.
The successful candidate to replace Gates must therefore have three qualities in spades: deep experience and knowledge about national security budgeting, influence on Capitol Hill, and full agreement with the Obama decision to make the cuts in the first place.
"They're not going to hire somebody who disagrees with the cuts. It would have to be somebody who will unequivocally go along with what they've proposed," says Dov Zakheim, the Pentagon's chief financial officer during the George W. Bush administration.
Which of the rumored candidates to replace Gates saw their chances bolstered when Obama set forth his new budget cutting plan? Several experts told The Cable that CIA Director Leon Panetta and CSIS President John Hamre are the candidates best suited to be Obama's budget hawks atop the Pentagon.
Panetta, in addition to being a sitting administration official with the close trust of the White House, was a Democratic congressman for years and has strong relationships among both parties on Capitol Hill. In fact, Panetta was House Budget Committee chairman under President Bill Clinton during the last period of a balanced budget, so his fiscal bona fides are strong. He was also White House chief of staff, which means he has a top-level understanding of how the interagency process works.
Hamre was the Pentagon's chief financial officer and then deputy secretary of defense under Clinton. With eight years as a senior defense official, he knows the Pentagon inside and out, has dealt with the smallest details as well as the top level issues regarding the defense budget, and has extensive ties with the defense industry. Hamre is also well respected on the Hill and is considered a moderate who deals well with both Democrats and Republicans. That could come in handy when it comes time to convince skeptical lawmakers in both parties to go along with the administration's future defense cuts.
Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Michelle Flournoy could also now emerge as a more attractive candidate to succeed Gates. She is well positioned to lead the Pentagon's portion of the "fundamental review of America's missions, capabilities, and our role in a changing world," that Obama announced in his speech. Flournoy led the Pentagon's Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR); the new review will be similar to the QDR except that it is meant to specifically identify budget items that can be cut and spell out their consequences. But Flournoy could theoretically lead that review without actually being named defense secretary. Also, her congressional ties and political experience aren't as extensive compared with Panetta and Hamre.
The details of where exactly the $400 billion in cuts will come from -- and the details of how the review will be conducted -- haven't been worked out yet. Obama said he would work with Gates on the review, but the White House hasn't told any of the agencies what their role will be or if they will have to do separate reviews of their own.
The White House isn't exactly proposing cutting $400 billion over 12 years from the Defense Department alone. Obama intentionally, according to officials, used the phrase "security spending," not "defense spending." For the administration, security spending includes the Pentagon, the State Department, USAID, foreign assistance, Homeland Security, Veterans Affairs, the National Nuclear Security Administration, and the intelligence community, according to Office of Management and Budget (OMB) senior advisor Kenneth Baer.
Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell told The Cable that the Pentagon's portion of the review will be initiated by Gates -- but will not be completed soon and will not alter Gates' departure timeline. Morrell suggested that the review won't be ready for the debate over next year's budget, which will begin in Congress in June.
"We have not yet determined how this is going to be conducted but we do know it will be a serious, comprehensive and consequential review. That means it can't be done in a matter of weeks so as to impact the fiscal 2012 budget, but will likely take months, meaning the effects won't likely be felt until fiscal 2013," Morrel said. "We still have not determined the who, what, where, when, and how."
Although the Obama administration has amortized the $400 billion reduction across a number of department, the Pentagon is likely to suffer the brunt of the cuts as its budget dwarfs the budgets of other "security" agencies. But by having each agency do its own review, the administration may be missing an opportunity to genuinely reform the national security bureaucracy through a process that makes trade-offs and finds efficiencies across agencies.
"American foreign-policy institutions and personnel, moreover, are fractured and compartmentalized, and there is not an adequate interagency process for developing and funding a smart-power strategy," wrote Joseph Nye in an article for Foreign Policy. "Many official instruments of soft or attractive power -- public diplomacy, broadcasting, exchange programs, development assistance, disaster relief, military-to-military contacts -- are scattered around the government, and there is no overarching strategy or budget that even tries to integrate them."
Gordon Adams, former national security spending chief at OMB, now a professor at American University, has calculated that the administration can get the entire $400 million of savings solely from the Pentagon budget. If that budget (which will be $529 billion in fiscal 2011 -- not counting the additional emergency spending on Iraq and Afghanistan), was increased only at the rate of inflation, it would save $428 billion over 12 years compared to the administration's current defense budget plan.
"Even if you only targeted defense, the actual numbers show that defense budgets would continue to grow over the next 12 years, marginally above inflation," he said. "This is a challenge for the next defense secretary but it's not the end of the world as we know it."
Gates was adept at handling budget politics but was sometimes accused of passing off budget gimmicks as real cuts, such as adjusting the expected inflation rate to change his analysis of how much things would cost in the future. Gates' replacement won't be able use such gimmicks, Adams said.
"It's going to take somebody who knows how to manage and is going to make the tough decisions. That becomes the number one attribute for the candidate for the next secretary of defense."
The State Department is giving the Pakistan Counterinsurgency Capability Fund (PCCF) back to the Pentagon for the rest of the year, as part of the budget deal struck between Congress and the administration to avert a government shutdown.
The budget deal took $8.5 billion away from the State Department and foreign operations for the remainder of fiscal 2011. The administration had requested $1.2 billion in the State Department's budget for PCCF this year, but the new budget deal cuts that request by $400 million and transfers the remaining $800 to the Defense Department, under what DOD calls the Pakistani Counterinsurgency Fund (PCF).
The Pentagon was in fact the original owner of that fund. But transferring the money as well as the program's management to Foggy Bottom was a key part of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's plan to assert more State Department control of foreign military assistance programs.
The State Department may have agreed to give up the fund out of convenience. By moving the remaining $800 million of PCCF funding back to DOD, State managed to remove about 10 percent of the total $8.5 billion in budget cuts, thereby saving several other programs.
For next year's budget, State has requested $1.0 billion for PCCF, but nobody knows whether or not that money will be given to State or DOD. State perhaps has a better chance of keeping the PCCF money in fiscal 2012, as opposed to fiscal 2011, because next year the money is being requested as emergency war funding and therefore does not have to fit under the regular budget limits.
Overall, the PCCF funding is one piece of a larger puzzle in which State is competing with DOD for authorities and programs that both have a role in. If the PCCF funding is any indication, these decisions are now largely being made to fit budget realities, and are less a result of considerations over which agency is best suited to manage which issue.
"It looks like the transfer of responsibility for Pakistan counterinsurgency programs from DOD to State, which the Congress wanted to do, has been delayed," said Gordon Adams, former Office of Management and Budget director for national security spending, now a professor at American University. "Could be it was easier to fund the program this way, which sets a bad precedent for the future."
The chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee said on Tuesday that he agreed with the White House that cuts to the defense budget must be part of upcoming budget negotiations.
"Defense has to be on the table," Sen. Carl Levin (D-MI) said in a Tuesday interview. "It means there should be some reductions in some parts of the defense budget. We haven't decided what those are yet, because it depends on a lot of things and it doesn't say how much those cuts should be, because that shouldn't be decided in the abstract."
Levin's comments track with those of Senior White House Advisor David Plouffe, who said on Sunday on ABC's "This Week" that, "We're going to have to look at defense spending."
Levin's Republican counterpart John McCain (R-AZ), said in a Tuesday interview that he strongly disagreed with Levin and that the efficiencies and savings put forth by Defense Secretary Robert Gates earlier this year were sufficient.
"We are in two wars, we are in a crisis in Libya, and before I could say I was for cutting defense, I'd have to be shown a need for them, not just a blanket statement that we should cut defense," said McCain. "That's just crazy and stupid."
The Paul Ryan (R-WI) budget actually calls for steady increases in defense spending: It proposes a $583 billion base defense budget in fiscal 2012, growing to $642 billion in 2016. Meanwhile the Ryan budget would slash State Department and Foreign Ops funding, which was cut by $8 billion in the budget deal struck last week to avoid a government shutdown.
The Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on State and Foreign Ops Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT) said in a Tuesday interview that those cuts were ill advised.
"Most people think that about 20 to 40 percent of the national budget is in foreign aid, it's less than 1 percent," he said. "And A lot of time, what we do there if we do it wise keeps us out of wars."
Drew Thompson, a top China scholar at the Center for the National Interest (a.k.a., the Nixon Center), is entering the administration to become the Defense Department's director for China, Taiwan and Mongolia in the Office of Asian and Pacific Affairs.
Thompson announced his move in an e-mail to friends on Friday. "As you might imagine it has been a wonderful experience for me and it was a difficult decision to leave, but I look forward to new challenges and working with new my colleagues at DOD," he wrote.
Thompson will work under Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense Michael Schiffer. Assistant Secretary Gen. Chip Gregson has left the Pentagon, and while some reports say that former NSC Chief of Staff Mark Lippert is slated to replace him, our sources say that no final decision on that front has been made. Meanwhile, Derek Mitchell is the acting assistant secretary, but he's soon to be named Obama's Special Envoy to Burma.
Thompson is supposed to begin work at the Pentagon on Monday, but that could be delayed if the government shuts down tonight. While it is likely that he would be deemed "essential," the human resources and administration staff who would have to process the paperwork on his first day are likely not.
Before joining the Center for the National Interest, Thompson was national director of the China-MSD HIV/AIDS Partnership in Beijing and, before that, assistant director to the Freeman Chair in China Studies at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS). He lived in Shanghai from 1993 to 1998 and once even worked as president of a Washington, D.C.-based company that manufactured snack food in Qingdao, China.
The Defense Department's three-year-old Africa Command (AFRICOM) has been looking for a permanent home ever since it began operating out of its current location in Stuttgart, Germany. Today, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) revealed that the top contender to host AFRICOM is... Charleston, South Carolina!
"Secretary Gates, I've been told, has instructed the Department of Defense to look for a stateside home for Africa Command, to move you out of Stuttgart and that the leading contender, the most preferred site was Charleston Air Force Base," Graham said at today's Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on AFRICOM.
AFRICOM Commander Gen. Carter Ham said he wasn't aware that Gates had chosen Charleston as the lead contender, but said he liked Charleston all the same.
"Sir, I have visited Charleston and enjoyed that visit very much," said Ham.
"Good. We would like to have you," Graham responded, reassuring the general that Gates had, in fact, chosen Charleston and that the city was ready to provide the Defense Department with all the infrastructure assistance it would need to relocate AFRICOM to South Carolina.
For those tracking the numbers, AFRICOM's current headquarters in Stuttgart is about 800 miles from the closest point in Africa. Charleston is about 4,000 miles from the African continent.
Of course, AFRICOM wouldn't be the first combatant command to be headquartered outside of the region it covers. U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM), which covers the broader Middle East, is located at MacDill Air Force Base near Tampa, Florida, although it has a huge forward operating base in Qatar. U.S. Southern Command (SOUTHCOM), which is responsible for South America and Central America, is located in Miami, relatively close to the region it covers.
But AFRICOM personnel shouldn't start packing their bags just yet. Last month, the Charleston Business Review reported that local business leaders had been told by the Pentagon that the final decision to relocate AFRICOM had been deferred indefinitely.
In other news from the hearing, Ham who was for 12 days running the U.S. intervention in Libya stated that a stalemate in the Libya war "is now more likely," than when the conflict began. "In my personal opinion, that is not the preferred solution," Ham said.
The NATO-led coalition is still attacking regime command-and-control assets in Tripoli and is engaged in an electronic warfare effort to keep the Libyan regime off of TV and radio, he said. He added that there is no effort to kill Libyan leader Col. Muammar al-Qaddafi, but if he happens to be killed, that's perfectly acceptable.
Ham also said that the United States is still flying combat missions over Libya and is still using the AC-130 close air support gunship to help the Libyan rebels, despite previous administration claims that those planes would be removed from the fight.
He also stressed that there must be some negotiated ceasefire.When asked how the war in Libya will end, Ham said, "Sir, I think it does not end militarily."
UPDATE: The Virginia Pilot reports that Virginia Sens. Jim Webb and Mark Warner confirmed that Charleston hasn't been chosen yet. They want AFRICOM to be based in Norfolk, VA, where Joint Forces Command, which is being closed down by Defense Secretary Robert Gates.
If a government shutdown hits Washington on Friday, thousands of government employees will be sent home without pay and soldiers in the field will have to temporarily fight without compensation until the politicians figure it out. But Congressmen get to set their own shutdown rules -- and they will continue to get paid. Most of their staffers won't.
"Congress has its own shutdown planning and set of guidelines," a senior administration official told reporters on a Wednesday conference call about the potential shutdown. The legislative branch is subject to the shutdown but is able to set its own rules on who gets to keep working, who gets paid, and who gets retroactively reimbursed.
A senior administration official confirmed to The Cable that even if the taps are shut off, all Congressmen will later be reinbursed their entire salaries no matter how long the shutdown lasts. Staffers who are deemed essential enough to keep working through the crisis could also get paid, but most will be sent home, without pay for the forced leave.
On the conference call, the officials confirmed The Cable's report that uniformed members of the military will not get paid during the shutdown, although they will get the money back later (not with interest). The officials also confirmed that the vast majority of Defense Department, State Department, and USAID civilians would be furloughed, as well as most White House staff.
"We expect that a significant number of DOD employees, unfortunately, would be furloughed during this shutdown," the official said.
We're told by multiple State Department officials that planned trips have already been cancelled and some officials abroad are being told to return home early, put newly incurred costs on their credit cards, and hope for reimbursement later.
A host of other important government services would also be suspended. The Internal Revenue Service would stop processing paper tax return filings and doing audits. The Federal Housing Administration, which guarantees one of every three mortgages, would stop functioning. The Small Business Administration would stop approving loans for small businesses.
"This would have a significant effect on our economic momentum," the official said.
Ramping up the pressure even further, the official also wanted Washington residents to know that unless Republicans agree to a deal, "The Cherry Blossom parade will not happen this weekend."
Officially called the National Cherry Blossom Festival Parade, the longtime spring tradition in downtown D.C. features "lavish floats, giant helium balloons, marching bands, and performers... in an energy-filled spectacle of music and showmanship seen only once a year."
One consequence of a government shutdown -- which will occur on April 8 unless Congress passes a new funding bill -- is that members of the military will no longer be paid, even though they will continue to work and fight. And as legislators and the Obama administration struggle to avoid a shutdown, officials are preparing contingency plans to keep key national security and foreign policy activities running when the money tap runs dry.
Programs that are essential for the safety and security of the country are exempted from a shutdown, but the administration still has to figure out where to draw the line between essential and non-essential functions, and how to keep key national security functions going without money.
The White House Office of Management and Budget sent an e-mail to deputies of most government agencies Monday night to direct them to prepare for a shutdown.
"The president has been clear that he does not want a shutdown... But we are aware of the calendar, and to be prudent and prepare for the chance that Congress may not pass a funding bill in time, OMB today encouraged agency heads to begin sharing their contingency plans with senior managers throughout their organization to ensure that they have their feedback and input," OMB senior advisor Kenneth Baer said in a statement about the email. "As the week progresses, we will continue to take necessary steps to prepare for the possibility that Congress is unable to come to agreement and a lapse in government funding ensues."
In the event of a shutdown, all uniformed military personnel would continue to work but would stop receiving paychecks, an official familiar with the government's planning told The Cable. As April 8 falls in the middle of the Defense Department's two-week pay period, military personnel would actually receive a paycheck totaling half the normal amount. A large number of Pentagon civilians would be furloughed without pay for the duration of the shutdown. Support structures for military families, such as military schools, would remain open. When the shutdown ends, the soldiers would get their back pay but the civilians might not.
Most personnel at U.S. foreign missions would be retained, the official said, although about two-thirds of the State Department and USAID staff in Washington would be furloughed. Non-emergency passport services for Americans would also likely be suspended. Up to three-quarters of the staff at the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative would be sent home without pay.
U.S. diplomats and military officials would still be able to travel for important meetings, but "it will be a much, much, much tougher standard," the official said, explaining that travel would be approved only "if it is integral to the foreign relations and safety and security of the country."
The shutdown would also impact government organizations that help American companies do business abroad. For example, the Export-Import Bank would stop approving new loan guarantees or insurance policies, the official said, which could cost American exporters $2 billion to $4 billion each month in income and jeopardize deals already in progress.
Veterans are actually exempted from the consequences of the shutdown because the Veterans Administration receives advance appropriations and therefore already has its money for the rest of the year. Law enforcement activities at the Justice Department and the Homeland Security Department would also continue without interruption, the official said.
Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell told reporters on Tuesday that if the shutdown happens on April 8 at midnight, the Defense Department would "retain the ability and the authority to continue to protect our vital interests around the world, to continue to safeguard the nation's security, to wage the wars we're fighting and the operations that we are conducting right now."
Morrell said that Deputy Secretary Bill Lynn was leading the internal effort to plan for a shutdown. He also said that no decision on suspending military paychecks had been made, although our sources said that the checks would definitely stop.
Obama made the case on Tuesday that a government shutdown would hurt America's fragile economic recovery and its credibility with a range of domestic and international actors.
"At a time when the economy is just beginning to grow or we're just starting to see a pickup in employment, the last thing we need is a disruption that's caused by a government shutdown; not to mention all the people who depend on government services," Obama said.
Responding to reports President Barack Obama secretly authorized covert action to support the Libyan rebels, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee said that actually arming the Libyan rebels would require his approval and he hasn't given it.
Rep. Mike Rogers (R-MI) said in a late Wednesday interview that the Obama administration's top national security officials were deeply split on whether arming the rebels was a good idea. In a classified briefing Wednesday with lawmakers, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Defense Secretary Robert Gates, Joint Chiefs Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen, and Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, Rogers said it was clear that there were deep divisions between the cabinet officials regarding the wisdom of arming the rebels.
"I've never seen an uneasiness amongst their national security cabinet members as I have seen on this. It's kind of odd," said Rogers. He declined to say which cabinet members were supporting arming the rebels and which were opposed, but he said it was obvious that they disagreed.
"Everything from body language to the way they are addressing members of Congress, it's very clear that there's lots of tension inside that Cabinet right now. This to me is why it's so important for the president to lead on this," said Rogers. "I think [Obama's] reluctant on this, at best. And there are differences of opinion and you can tell that something just isn't right there."
Rogers wouldn't confirm or deny the report that Obama issued what's known as a "presidential finding" authorizing the intelligence community to begin broadly supporting the Libyan rebels, because such findings are sensitive and classified. But he said that if Obama wanted to arm the rebels, the president would need Rogers' support, which he doesn't yet have.
"Any covert action that happens would have to get the sign off of the intelligence chairmen, by statute. You won't get a sign off from me," Rogers said referring to National Security Act 47. "I still think arming the rebels is a horrible idea. We don't know who they are, we only know who they are against but we don't really who they are for. We don't have a good picture of who's really in charge."
Rogers said that the issues of providing covert support and actually arming the rebels are separate issues.
"There is a public debate about arming the rebels... that somehow got intertwined and it probably shouldn't have."
But Rogers has no objections to putting CIA operatives on the ground to gather information on who the rebels are. National Journal reported late Wednesday that about a dozen CIA officers are now on the ground in Libya doing just that.
"That should be happening anyway, through public means, through intelligence, all of that should be happening," he said. "The agencies are by statute and by law allowed to go overseas to collect information, that means any country."
The intelligence committees do need to be notified about major intelligence operations, either before or immediately after in exigent circumstances, a committee staffer said.
Rogers said he was concerned about al Qaeda's involvement with the Libya opposition.
"The number 3 guy in al Qaeda right now is Libyan. They have put a fair number of fighters into Iraq from Libya. So it is a place where al Qaeda is, [but] that doesn't mean this is an al Qaeda effort."
He also said that the Libyan regime, led by Col. Muammar al Qaddafi, still possesses stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction.
"The administration missed a big opportunity when they didn't talk about chemical weapons stockpiles. I've seen it personally with these eyeballs. Their biological weapons program, we think we got it all but we're not sure," said Rogers. I worry a lot about who is safeguarding that material. We believe right now it is in the hands of the regime."
"Mustard gas in the hands of bad guy, you don't have to have a large scale event to have that be an incredibly dangerous terrorist weapon. And there are other things that he has as well."
The White House issued a statement late Thursday from Press Secretary Jay Carney that the Obama administration was not arming the rebels as of now.
"No decision has been made about providing arms to the opposition or to any group in Libya. We're not ruling it out or ruling it in. We're assessing and reviewing options for all types of assistance that we could provide to the Libyan people, and have consulted directly with the opposition and our international partners about these matters," the statement read.
Two senior administration officials held a late evening conference call with reporters Thursday night to explain how NATO agreed to take over military operations in Libya and why the U.S. and NATO leadership seem to be giving totally conflicting messages on whether NATO is taking over political control of the war as well:
Congress may hold a vote on President Barack Obama's decision to attack Libya when lawmakers return from recess next week, according to Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL).
Durbin, along with Sens. Carl Levin (D-MI) and Jack Reed (D-RI) held a conference call with reporters on Wednesday afternoon as part of the White House's damage control effort following the widespread and bipartisan criticism over of the lack of congressional consultation before the intervention in Libya, and the lack of clarity over the mission's goals.
"None of us can say with any certainty what will happen when we return, but under the War Powers Act, any senator can ask under privilege of the Senate to call this question, as to whether or not we will support these actions taken by the president," Durbin said. "I think it's consistent with our constitutional responsibility to take up that question," through a vote
Asked by The Cable how Congress plans to pay for the Libya intervention, the costs of which are approaching $1 billion, Durbin said, "I haven't heard anything on that score yet."
The War Powers Resolution of 1973, which Durbin said provides for a vote, 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.
The law also stipulates that if both chambers of Congress pass a resolution calling for the withdrawal of U.S. forces, the president must comply. If such a resolution is introduced, it must be reported out of that chamber's foreign relations committee within 15 days. After that it automatically becomes the pending business of that chamber and must be voted on within 3 days.
"There may be some people who will try to end the [Libya] effort, if they try they won't come anywhere near success in the Senate," Levin said. "The reason I think the president will gain bipartisan support for his action is because he's proceeded in a way which is cautious, thoughtful. He has put the ducks in a row before deciding to put the United States in the lead for a short period of time."
Durbin and Levin each made one of the two arguments the White House has used for why the military intervention in Libya was justified -- that the intervention was necessary to halt a humanitarian crisis in Libya, and that it was needed to support the democratic revolution in the Arab world.
"The short term military goal had to be taken very, very quickly or there would have been a slaughter in Benghazi, which has been avoided," Levin said.
"The United States is trying to make sure our position is consistent with our national values," Durbin said.The senators also defended the White House's consultations with Congress, referring to a March 17 classified briefing at the Capitol, which occurred while the administration was already pressing for intervention at the United Nations, and a March 18 briefing at the White House, only 90 minutes before the plan to attack was announced.
The Senate will have its first chance to press the administration on the Libya war on Tuesday, when Adm. James Stavridis, commander of U.S. European Command (USEUCOM), testifies before the Senate Armed Services Committee, which Levin chairs.
Levin acknowledged that while the major military operations to establish the no-fly zone may end soon, the U.S. military commitment to the overall mission is open ended. Chief of Naval Operations Gary Roughead also said Tuesday he did not know exactly what the transition of command would mean for U.S. military involvement.
"Involvement in terms of being the lead in establishing the no-fly zone will be very short. Involvement in terms of supporting the continuation of the no-fly zone I think will be ongoing," Levin said.
The U.S. military does not know when it will hand off control of the intervention in Libya to an international coalition, or whether a transfer of power will allow it to reduce its role in the war, according to the Navy's top military officer.
Adm. Gary Roughead, the Chief of Naval Operations, said that he has received no guidance on the path ahead for command and control of the no-fly zone, no-drive zone, no-sail zone, arms embargo enforcement, and any other missions currently being managed by U.S. Africom Commander Gen. Carter Ham, who is in Germany. NATO has been battling internally over whether to take command, while the French government's latest proposal is to set up a "political steering committee" made of Western and Arab foreign ministers.
Diplomatic sources told The Cable that the United States has communicated to its European partners that it wants to hand off command of the Libya war by the end of this week. But the White House hasn't said whether it supports the French plan. Meanwhile, the Navy, which is conducting the bulk of the operations, has no idea what the transfer of control will look like, or when it might take place.
"We are very mindful of the transition to another command and control lead or structure," Roughead told a meeting of the Defense Writers Group, a set of reporters who interview senior officials over greasy eggs and bacon. "There are a lot of political aspects to it.... Obviously I'm interested in the transition to a different command and control structure."
"Do you have any clarity at all on what the follow-up transition command structure is going to be?" Wired's Spencer Ackerman asked Roughead.
"They're still working that," Roughead said, adding that he doesn't believe the absence of a future command structure has a negative impact on the ongoing operations. He said previous models of international command and control don't apply.
Roughead also said there's no guarantee that U.S. military forces would be able to decrease their presence or activities when the transition takes place. In other words, the U.S. military might give up control, but still be doing most of the work.
"We have to look at what the design is going to be... and then you'll make your force structure decisions based on that," Roughead said.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton promised a quick handover of control in a Tuesday interview with ABC News.
"It will be days. Whether it's by Saturday or not depends upon the evaluation made by our military commanders along with our allies and partners," she said.
Asked who the mission will be handed over to, Clinton said, "That is still being worked out."
Clinton also left open the possibility that Libyan leader Col. Muammar al-Qaddafi could stay in power even after the military mission in Libya is complete, as President Obama did in a Tuesday interview with NBC.
"Now obviously, if we want to see a stable, peaceful, hopefully someday democratic Libya, it is highly unlikely that can be accomplished if he stays in power as he is," Clinton said.
"It may sound like I'm trying to minimize it and I'm not... when you look at the expenses of what we in the Navy incurred, given the fact that the forces were already there, those costs are sunk for me," he said. "The Growlers [U.S. navy electronic jamming warplanes] we brought in were being flown in Iraq anyway."
Following two days of intensive discussions in Brussels, NATO has agreed to support -- but not command -- operations in Libya. Meanwhile, France has proposed a high-level international "political steering committee" to actually run the war. But does the Obama administration support that idea?
"NATO has now decided to launch an operation to enforce the arms embargo against Libya," NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said in a statement from Brussels on Tuesday evening. He said U.S. Admiral James Stavridis was activating NATO ships and aircraft to "monitor, report and, if needed, interdict vessels suspected of carrying illegal arms or mercenaries."
NATO has also "completed plans to help enforce the no-fly zone" that will be brought into force "if needed, in a clearly defined manner," to support the effort to protect the Libyan people," Rasmussen said.
Rasmussen didn't say whether NATO would perform the command-and-control function of the no-fly zone, something that Turkey has objected to because the "all necessary measures" language of Security Council Resolution 1973 includes the bombing of Libya. France objected to NATO being in command of the war operations on a day-to-day basis and has now proposed a new "political steering committee," made up of foreign ministers from the United States, European, and Arab states, to oversee the war.
A French diplomat told The Cable that the details of the proposal would be worked out over the next few days. "It was always understood that there would be two stages of operations. The one that started on Saturday and a second phase in which NATO would play a role," the French diplomat said.
French Foreign Minister Alain Juppé announced on Tuesday that the British are in agreement with the proposal but the French government has not said anything about the position of the Obama administration.
So is the Obama administration on board? White House spokesman Tommy Vietor did not respond to a request for comment on the French proposal. Obama spoke with Sarkozy Tuesday and "the two Presidents agreed on the means of using NATO's command structures to support the coalition," the French government said in a read out.
It's not clear how the French steering committee would be in operational control of the war, but the proposal includes that the committee would be in charge of the "strategic decisions" involving military action, the diplomat said.
If enacted, the proposal would allow President Barack Obama to fulfill his pledge to transfer leadership of the war out of American hands within "a matter of days," as he said Monday.
The French position is that the steering committee idea would allow NATO to bring its military capabilities to bear without putting an exclusively Western label on the military intervention. Qaddafi has called the campaign a "colonial crusade" by western nations.
"The only constraint is that we need to keep the Arabs involved," the French diplomat said. "In order to do that we need to use NATO capabilities and we need to [provide so that] Arab countries stay involved."
The NATO meetings on Monday were contentious. The French and German representatives reportedly stormed out of the meeting, albeit for very different reasons. France was upset at Rasmussen for openly criticizing France in the meeting and questioning their reliability as an ally. Germany is opposed to the military intervention altogether.
"We do not want to be sucked into a position of eventually seeing German soldiers fighting in Libya," Germany's foreign minister Guido Westerwelle said.
"There was confusion yesterday but we are safely now going in the right direction," the French diplomat reported.
Our sources also report that Washington has made it clear that they want to see the transfer of leadership for the Libya mission leave U.S. hands by the end of the week. Whether the Obama administration and the Defense Department are comfortable with a French led international steering committee making decisions about the actions of U.S. military forces remains to be seen.
The head of U.S. Africa Command, charged with running the operation in Libya, said that the international coalition in Libya will not help the rebels' military units, only civilians targeted by Libyan leader Muammar al-Qaddafi's forces -- assuming they can tell the difference between the two.
"We do not provide close air support for the opposition forces. We protect civilians," Gen. Carter Ham, the top military official in charge of the operation, told reporters in a conference call on Monday. The problem is, there is no official communication with the rebel forces on the ground and there is no good way to distinguish the rebel fighters engaged against the government forces from civilians fighting to protect themselves, he said.
"Many in the opposition truly are civilians...trying to protect their civilian business, lives, and families," said Ham. "There are also those in the opposition that have armored vehicles and heavy weapons. Those parts of the opposition are no longer covered under that ‘protect civilians' clause" of the U.N. Security Council resolution that authorized military intervention.
"It's a very problematic situation," Ham admitted. "Sometimes these are situations that brief better at the headquarters than in the cockpit of an aircraft."
So how are pilots in the air supposed to tell the difference? If the opposition groups seem to be organized and fighting, the airplanes imposing the no-fly zone are instructed not to help them.
"Where they see a clear situation where civilians are threatened, they have... intervened," said Ham. "When it's unclear that it's civilians that are being attacked, the air crews are instructed to be very cautious."
"We have no authority and no mission to support the opposition forces in what they might do," he added.
What's more, the coalition forces won't attack Qaddafi's forces if they are battling rebel groups, only if they are attacking "civilians," Ham explained. If the Qaddafi forces seem to be preparing to attack civilians, they can be attacked; but if they seem to be backing away, they won't be targeted.
"What we look for, to the degree that we can, is to discern intent," said Ham. "There's no simple answer."
One thing that the coalition is clear about is that there is no mission to find or kill Qaddafi himself.
"I have no mission to attack that person, and we are not doing so. We are not seeking his whereabouts or anything like that," Ham said.
He acknowledged that the limited scope of the mission in Libya could result in a stalemate, which would achieve the objective of protecting civilians but allow Qaddafi to remain in power.
"I have a very discreet military mission, so I could see accomplishing the military mission and the current leader would remain the current leader," Ham said. "I don't think anyone would say that is ideal."
He said the United States was looking to transfer leadership of the mission to an international organization or structure within a few days. U.S. planes flew about half of the 60 sorties above Libyan airspace on Sunday and are expected to fly less than half of the sorties Monday.
The attack on one of Qaddafi's compounds over the weekend targeted a command and control building inside the compound, and did not represent a widening of the mission to attack Qaddafi's core military infrastructure, Ham said.
President Obama laid out the rationale for military action against Libya Friday afternoon, arguing that the coming attacks would be limited to protecting the Libyan people and preventing the violence there from destabilizing the region.
Obama repeatedly emphasized that the military intervention will be led by Europe and the Arab states, based on the U.N. Security Council resolution passed 10-0 Thursday evening.
"Muammar Qaddafi has a choice," Obama said. "The resolution that passed lays out very clear conditions that must be met. The United States, the United Kingdom, France and Arab states agree that a cease-fire must be implemented immediately. That means all attacks against civilians must stop. Qaddafi must stop his troops from advancing on Benghazi; pull them back from Adjadbiya, Misrata and Zawiya; and establish water, electricity and gas supplies to all areas. Humanitarian assistance must be allowed to reach the people of Libya."
"Let me be clear, these terms are not negotiable. These terms are not subject to negotiation. If Qaddafi does not comply with the resolution, the international community will impose consequences, and the resolution will be enforced through military action," Obama said.
Many in Washington have called for Obama to spell out exactly why military intervention in Libya is related to U.S. core national interests, including Sen. Richard Lugar (R-IN), who came out against attacking Libya Thursday. Obama directly addressed this point in his remarks.
"Now, here's why this matters to us," he said. "Left unchecked, we have every reason to believe that Qaddafi would commit atrocities against his people. Many thousands could die. A humanitarian crisis would ensue. The entire region could be destabilized, endangering many of our allies and partners. The calls of the Libyan people for help would go unanswered. The democratic values that we stand for would be overrun. Moreover, the words of the international community would be rendered hollow."
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will travel to Paris on Saturday to meet with her European and Arab counterparts to coordinate enforcement of the resolution, Obama said. The resolution also strengthens the arms embargo on the Libyan regime. British, French, and Arab League leaders have agreed to take the leadership role in enforcing the resolution, Obama added.
The military action will explicitly not be used to drive Qaddafi from power, the president said.
"The United States is not going to deploy ground troops into Libya, and we are not going to use force to go beyond a well-defined goal, specifically the protection of civilians in Libya," said Obama.
In remarks Friday morning, Clinton indicated that more may have to be done beyond the no-fly zone and no-drive zone currently being set up over Libya. "While this resolution is an important step, it is only that -- an important step. We and our partners will continue to explore the most effective measures to end this crisis," she said.
Qaddafi's foreign minister Musa Kusa Friday declared a cease fire and a halt to all military operations, but Clinton rejected that declaration. "We are going to be not responsive or impressed by words. We would have to see actions on the ground. And that is not yet at all clear," she said.
At the start of this week, the consensus around Washington was that military action against Libya was not in the cards. However, in the last several days, the White House completely altered its stance and successfully pushed for the authorization for military intervention against Libyan leader Col. Muammar al-Qaddafi. What changed?
The key decision was made by President Barack Obama himself at a Tuesday evening senior-level meeting at the White House, which was described by two administration officials as "extremely contentious." Inside that meeting, officials presented arguments both for and against attacking Libya. Obama ultimately sided with the interventionists. His overall thinking was described to a group of experts who had been called to the White House to discuss the crisis in Libya only days earlier.
"This is the greatest opportunity to realign our interests and our values," a senior administration official said at the meeting, telling the experts this sentence came from Obama himself. The president was referring to the broader change going on in the Middle East and the need to rebalance U.S. foreign policy toward a greater focus on democracy and human rights.
But Obama's stance in Libya differs significantly from his strategy regarding the other Arab revolutions. In Egypt and Tunisia, Obama chose to rebalance the American stance gradually backing away from support for President Hosni Mubarak and Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali and allowing the popular movements to run their course. In Yemen and Bahrain, where the uprisings have turned violent, Obama has not even uttered a word in support of armed intervention - instead pressing those regimes to embrace reform on their own. But in deciding to attack Libya, Obama has charted an entirely new strategy, relying on U.S. hard power and the use of force to influence the outcome of Arab events.
"In the case of Libya, they just threw out their playbook," said Steve Clemons, the foreign policy chief at the New America Foundation. "The fact that Obama pivoted on a dime shows that the White House is flying without a strategy and that we have a reactive presidency right now and not a strategic one."
Inside the administration, senior officials were lined up on both sides. Pushing for military intervention was a group of NSC staffers including Samantha Power, NSC senior director for multilateral engagement; Gayle Smith, NSC senior director for global development; and Mike McFaul, NSC senior director for Russia. .
On the other side of the ledger were some Obama administration officials who were reportedly wary of the second- and third-degree effects of committing to a lengthy military mission in Libya. These officials included National Security Advisor Tom Donilon and Deputy National Security Advisor Denis McDonough. Defense Secretary Robert Gates was also opposed to attacking Libya and had said as much in several public statements.
Not all of these officials were in Tuesday night's meeting.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called into the meeting over the phone, a State Department official confirmed. She was traveling in the region to get a first-hand look at how the new U.S. Middle East strategy is being received across the Arab world. Denied a visit with Egyptian youth leaders on the same day she strolled through Tahir Square, Clinton may have been concerned that the United States was losing the battle for the hearts and minds of the Arab youth at the heart of the revolution.
When Clinton met with the G8 foreign ministers on Monday, she didn't lay out whether the United States had a favored response to the unfolding crisis in Libya, leaving her European counterparts completely puzzled. She met Libyan opposition leader Mahmoud Jibril in Paris but declined to respond positively to his request for assistance. This all gave the impression that Clinton was resisting intervention. In fact, she supported intervention, State Department official said, but had to wait until the Tuesday night meeting so that she didn't get out ahead of U.S. policy.
At the end of the Tuesday night meeting, Obama gave U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice instructions to go the U.N. Security Council and push for a resolution that would give the international community authority to use force. Her instructions were to get a resolution that would give the international community broad authority to achieve Qaddafi's removal, including the use of force beyond the imposition of a no-fly zone.
Speaking before the U.N. Security Council following Thursday's 10-0 vote, Rice made the humanitarian argument that force was needed in Libya to prevent civilian suffering.
"Colonel Qaddafi and those who still stand by him continue to grossly and systematically abuse the most fundamental human rights of Libya's people," Rice said. "On March 12, the League of Arab States called on the Security Council to establish a no-fly zone and take other measures to protect civilians. Today's resolution is a powerful response to that call-and to the urgent needs on the ground."
U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon also said on Thursday that the justification for the use of force was based on humanitarian grounds, and referred to the principle known as Responsibility to Protect (R2P), "a new international security and human rights norm to address the international community's failure to prevent and stop genocides, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity."
"Resolution 1973 affirms, clearly and unequivocally, the international community's determination to fulfill its responsibility to protect civilians from violence perpetrated upon them by their own government," he said.
Inside the NSC, Power, Smith, and McFaul have been trying to figure out how the administration could implement R2P and what doing so would require of the White House going forward. Donilon and McDonough are charged with keeping America's core national interests more in mind. Obama ultimately sided with Clinton and those pushing R2P -- over the objections of Donilon and Gates.
Congress was not broadly consulted on the decision to intervene in Libya, except in a Thursday afternoon classified briefing where administration officials explained the diplomatic and military plan. Rice was already deep in negotiations in New York.
Obama's Tuesday night decision to push for armed intervention was not only a defining moment in his ever-evolving foreign policy, but also may have marked the end of the alliance between Clinton and Gates -- an alliance that has successfully influenced administration foreign policy decisions dating back to the 2009 Afghanistan strategy review.
"Gates is clearly not on board with what's going on and now the Defense Department may have an entirely another war on its hands that he's not into," said Clemons. "Clinton won the bureaucratic battle to use DOD resources to achieve what's essentially the State Department's objective... and Obama let it happen."
UPDATE: A previous version of this story stated that Vice President Joseph Biden pushed for the imposition of a no fly zone in Libya. Friday afternoon, a senior White House official told The Cable that, in fact, Biden shared the same concerns of Gates, Donilon and McDonough and that those concerns have been addressed by the policy announced by the president.
The State Department, the Defense Department, and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) are sending emergency assistance to Japan in the wake of the devastating earthquake and tsunami disaster, while a host of agencies work to mitigate the collateral damage in Hawaii and the West Coast.
"I'm heartbroken by this tragedy," President Barack Obama said at his Friday press conference. "On behalf of the American people, I conveyed our deepest condolences, especially to the victims and their families, and I offered our Japanese friends whatever assistance is needed."
Obama was awoken at 4 a.m. Friday morning with the news that the 8.9 magnitude earthquake had struck off the shore of Japan, near the island of Honshu. The president spoke with Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan shortly thereafter. U.S. Ambassador to Japan John Roos spoke with Foreign Minister Takeaki Matsumoto and moved U.S. embassy personnel to a new location as a precaution.
Assistant Secretary of State for Consular Affairs Janice L. Jacobs told reporters Friday that there are no reports yet of U.S. citizens killed or injured by the disaster, but that State has set up a task force and citizens in Japan can reach them at email@example.com. U.S. citizens in need outside Japan should write to firstname.lastname@example.org. The State Department also issued a travel alert advising U.S. citizens not to visit Japan.
Assistant Secretary of State Kurt Campbell was in Tokyo on Wednesday when the first "foreshock," which was a magnitude 7.2 earthquake, struck. However, he was in Mongolia when the big quake hit at 2:36 p.m. Tokyo time on Thursday afternoon.
USAID has taken lead on the international crisis response, and is sending a Disaster Assistance Response Team (DART) to Japan. It is also coordinating the dispatch of the Fairfax County Urban Search and Rescue (USAR) Team and the Los Angeles County Search and Rescue Team, both of which responded in conjunction with USAID to the January 2010 earthquake in Haiti. Each USAR team will have about 72 people, some dogs, 75 tons of rescue equipment, and USAID disaster experts in tow.
"We are working with the government of Japan to provide any assistance needed in the rescue effort as quickly as possible," USAID administrator Rajiv Shah said in a statement.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said at a meeting of the President's Export Council Friday that the U.S. military delivered coolant to a nuclear plant in Japan. The Japanese government has declared an "atomic power emergency" at the Fukushima No. 1 plant in Fukushima Prefecture.
"We just had our Air Force assets in Japan transport some really important coolant to one of the nuclear plants," Clinton said. "You know Japan is very reliant on nuclear power and they have very high engineering standards but one of their plants came under a lot of stress with the earthquake and didn't have enough coolant," Clinton said.
No major damage has been reported to U.S. naval forces stationed in Yokosuka. The Joint Chiefs of Staff said they were responding to the crisis in the following ways: "The USS Tortuga in Sasebo, Japan, is preparing to load landing craft and to leave for the disaster areas as early as this evening. The USS Essex, with the embarked 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit, arrived in Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia, this morning. The ship is preparing to depart as early as this evening. The USS Blue Ridge, in Singapore, is taking on humanitarian assistance and disaster relief supplies and preparing to depart tomorrow morning. The USS Ronald Reagan carrier strike group, at sea in the western Pacific on its way to Korea, can respond if directed."
"I've been kept informed all day long about the tsunami in Japan, the earthquake and tsunami," Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who is in Bahrain, said in a statement. "As best we can tell, all of our people are OK, our ships and military facilities are all in pretty good shape. We obviously have huge sympathy for the people of Japan and we are prepared to help them in any way we possibly can. It's obviously a very sophisticated country, but this is a huge disaster and we will do all, anything we are asked to do to help out."
Back in the United States, the response is being led by FEMA in coordination with the U.S. Geological Survey and the NOAA National Weather Service. FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate said on a conference call that FEMA had dispatched an emergency team to Hawaii.
Dave Applegate, senior science advisor for earthquakes and geologic hazards at USGS, said that waves peaked in Hilo, Hawaii at around 9 a.m. local time and should have died down by now. Crescent City Harbor, CA saw waves of about 8 feet at around noon. While no substantial damage was reported on the west coast of the United States, the damage in Japan is massive.
"Economic losses are estimated to be in the tens of billions, just from the shaking alone, not the tsunami," Applegate said, explaining that the force of the earthquake was equal to 30 times the strength of the Great 1906 San Francisco Earthquake.
The quake broke a segment of the plate boundary between the Pacific plate and an extension of the North American plate and more aftershocks are expected. There's a 5 percent chance the aftershocks could be even worse than Thursday's quake, Applegate said.
"They will continue for not just days but weeks and months or even years."
For a list of ways to contribute to the aid effort in Japan, click here.
UPDATE: The Associated Press reported late Friday that Clinton misspoke and that the Japanese had politely declined the U.S. offer to bring nuclear coolant to the Fukushima power plant.
Former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's chief of staff accused Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward on Tuesday of practicing "access journalism," and said that Woodward has been repeatedly accused of "tilting the facts," "misleading remarks," "disingenuous statements," and placing "book sales above journalism."
Keith Urbahn, who is also Rumsfeld's official spokesperson, made the accusations in a statement to reporters in response to Woodward's scathing critique of Rumsfeld's recently released memoir, Known and Unknown.
"Rumsfeld's memoir is one big clean-up job, a brazen effort to shift blame to others -- including President Bush -- distort history, ignore the record or simply avoid discussing matters that cannot be airbrushed away. It is a travesty, and I think the rewrite job won't wash," Woodward wrote on Foreign Policy's Best Defense blog, run by Tom Ricks.
Woodward expressed skepticism of Rumsfeld's claim that he kept no notes of a crucial Sept. 12, 2001, meeting, during which Rumsfeld allegedly brought up the idea of attacking Iraq. Woodward also noted that Rumsfeld's book contradicted his own previous statements about when the Bush administration began discussing an invasion of Iraq, and criticized Rumsfeld for trying to absolve himself of blame for the post-invasion mistakes.
Urbahn accused Woodward of favoring his sources and granting them anonymity in exchange for access, while pushing his own storyline ahead of the facts.
"The well known story about Bob Woodward is that he practices what is derided as ‘access journalism,' whereby he favors those who provide him with information and gossip and leak against their colleagues," he said in a statement, which was also posted on Rumsfeld's Facebook page. "Those who refuse to play along, such as Donald Rumsfeld, then pay the price."
Woodward's critique referenced multiple interviews with Rumsfeld, including three hours spent with Rumsfeld over two days in July 2006.
Urbahn implied that Woodward had fabricated a famous interview conducted at the death bed of CIA Director Bill Casey where Casey admitted guild and implicated President Ronald Reagan, in the Iran-Contra affair.
"There is most notoriously the supposed deathbed conversation he had with former CIA Director Bill Casey that implicated President Reagan in the Iran-Contra affair and just so conveniently provided the perfect scene for a book Woodward was writing on the CIA -- even though Mr. Casey was reported to be nearly comatose at the time and witnesses, including Mr. Casey's widow, denied Woodward's account," Urbahn said.
"Woodward ends his latest attempt to defend his version of events by suggesting that at some point in the future ‘when all the records are available,' new facts and assertions that come to light will differ from those in Known and Unknown," Urbahn said. "If this means Woodward is now committed to writing a serious book of history based on contemporaneous documents and first-hand sources he is to be commended."
A host of top U.S. military officials held a secret day-long meeting with Pakistan's top military officers on Tuesday in Oman to plot a course out of the diplomatic crisis that threatens the U.S.-Pakistan relationship.
The United States was represented by Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. David Petraeus, commander of International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), Adm. Eric Olson, commander of U.S. Special Operations Command, and Marine Corps Gen. James Mattis, commander of U.S. Central Command, Stars and Stripes reported. The Pakistani delegation included Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, Pakistan's chief of army staff, and Maj. Gen. Javed Iqbal, director general of military operations.
The meeting was planned long ago and covered various aspects of the U.S.-Pakistani relationship, but a large portion was dedicated to the diplomatic crisis surrounding Raymond Davis, the CIA contractor who was arrested in Lahore, Pakistan, last month after fatally shooting two armed Pakistani men.
"Where do you go to think seriously and bring sanity to a maddening situation? Far from the madding crowd to a peaceful Omani luxury resort of course. So that's what the military leadership of the US and Pakistan did," wrote Gen. Jehangir Karamat in a read out of the meeting obtained by The Cable and confirmed by a senior Pakistani official. Karamat is a former chief of Pakistan's army, and also served as Pakistan's ambassador to the United States from 2002 to 2004.
"The US had to point out that once beyond a tipping point the situation would be taken over by political forces that could not be controlled," Karamat wrote about the meeting, referring to the reported split between the CIA and the Pakistani Inter-services Intelligence (ISI) that erupted following the Davis shooting.
In Oman U.S. officials implored the Pakistani military to step up its involvement in the Davis case, following the Pakistani government's decision to pass the buck to the judicial system on adjudicating Davis' claim of diplomatic immunity. However, their concerns also went beyond this most recent diplomatic spat.
"[T]he US did not want the US-Pakistan relationship to go into a free fall under media and domestic pressures," Karamat wrote. "These considerations drove it to ask the [Pakistani] Generals to step in and do what the governments were failing to do-especially because the US military was at a critical stage in Afghanistan and Pakistan was the key to control and resolution."
"The militaries will now brief and guide their civilian masters and hopefully bring about a qualitative change in the US-Pakistan Relationship by arresting the downhill descent and moving it in the right direction."
A senior Pakistani official confirmed the accuracy of Karamat's analysis to The Cable. The official said that the Davis incident would hopefully now be put on a path toward resolution following a feeding frenzy in the Pakistani media, which has reported on rumors of an extensive network of CIA contract spies operating outside of the Pakistani government's or the ISI's knowledge.
"The idea is to find a solution whereby the Davis incident does not hijack the U.S.-Pakistan relationship," the official said. The most probable outcome, the official explained, is that Davis would be turned over to the United States, following a promise from the U.S. government to investigate the incident.
The United States would also compensate the families of the two Pakistani men killed by Davis, and a third man who died after two other U.S. embassy personnel ran him over while racing to the scene of the shooting. Negotiations between U.S. officials and the family members are already underway, the official said.
Shuja Nawaz, director of the South Asia Center at the Atlantic Council, said that it was the responsibility of the Pakistani Foreign Ministry, led until recently by Shah Mahmood Qureshi, to resolve the Davis case. Qureshi was removed as Foreign Minister after reportedly refusing to go along with the government's plan to grant Davis immunity.
"It's really the Foreign Ministry's responsibility," said Nawaz, "But in the absence of action by the civilian government, if the military can help persuade them to resolve this matter and find the way, that's all for the better."
But once the Davis case is resolved, there's still much work to be done in repairing the relationship between the CIA and the ISI. The ISI is widely suspected of airing its anger with the CIA in both the Pakistani and U.S. media. The latest example was Wednesday's Associated Press story that featured a never-before released ISI "statement" that said the Davis case was putting the entire ISI-CIA relationship in jeopardy.
The CIA and the ISI are talking, the Pakistani official said, but the path toward reconciliation will be a long one.
"It's a spy game being played out in the media and the CIA has told the ISI to cut it out," the official said. "The relationship remains testy. But after the meeting between Mullen and Kayani the likelihood of some resolution has increased."
Inside the Pakistani government, the Davis case has exacerbated internal tensions between the civilian government, led by President Asif Ali Zardari, and the ISI. Pakistani news agencies have been reporting that the Pakistani embassy in Washington has approved hundreds of visas for American officials without proper vetting, increasing the ease with which covert CIA operatives could enter the country.
Pakistan's Ambassador to Washington Husain Haqqani has denied that any visas had been issued from his embassy without proper authorization. An analysis of Pakistani visas granted to U.S. government employees, conducted by the Pakistani government, shows there has been no significant increase in the number of visas issued since 2007.
Regardless, the gentlemen's agreement between the ISI and the CIA that the two organizations would keep each other informed on each other's actions in Pakistan has now broken down.
"It's a vicious circle. Davis was in Pakistan because Pakistan can't be trusted. But Davis getting caught has increased the mistrust," the Pakistani official said. "Their interests are no longer congruent. Eventually the ISI and the CIA will have to work out new rules of engagement."
The House GOP funding bill currently under debate would slash over $1 billion from the government agencies that work to keep nuclear weapons out of the hands of rogue states and terrorists -- money that Senate Republicans fought to increase only last fall during the debate over the New START treaty with Russia.
The continuing resolution (CR) that the House is expected to pass this week would reduce the administration's $11.2 billion request for the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) by $1.1 billion, or 10 percent. The NNSA maintains the nation's nuclear stockpile, runs the nuclear lab complex, and fights the illegal trade of nuclear technology and material. Non-proliferation programs face the most drastic reductions.
Ironically, Senate Republicans spent much of last year pressing the Obama administration over new increases in NNSA spending on nuclear modernization. Led by Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl (R-AZ), the GOP successfully convinced Obama to pledge $85 billion over 10 years to modernize the nuclear stockpile as part of the deal to ratify New START. Kyl ultimately voted no on the treaty.
The House GOP funding proposal has angered non-proliferation advocates. "House Republicans are being penny wise and pound foolish," said John Isaacs, executive director of the Council for a Livable World.
The House leadership has exempted "security" spending from their proposed cuts in the bill, but the NNSA is part of the Energy Department and so falls outside of the GOP's definition.
"Part of the problem is the indiscriminate budget cutting by House Republicans that reduces all programs except those strictly labeled defense, even though they are hacking away at the most useful federal program to prevent the gravest threat to the United States, nuclear weapons in the hands of terrorists," Isaacs said.
When the House sends the bill over to the Senate next week, Senate Republicans will push to restore the NNSA funding, multiple congressional aides close to the process told The Cable.
"The House GOP wasn't a part of any of the START-modernization discussions and there hasn't been time to get them up to speed," said one senior GOP Senate aide, who also blamed the Democrats for failing to complete any FY 2011 spending bill before last November's elections.
The House GOP proposal would cut $647 million, or 24 percent, from the $2.7 billion request for NNSA's nuclear nonproliferation activities; would cut $312 million, or 4.5 percent, from the $7 billion request for its weapons activities; and would cut $103 million, or 10 percent, of the $1.1 billion request for NNSA's naval nuclear reactor program.
The cuts in the non-proliferation budget would delay Obama's initiative to secure all vulnerable nuclear material in four years, which was the focus of the 44-nation Nuclear Security Summit he hosted in Washington last April, a senior administration official told The Cable.
On Feb. 14, President Obama requested $11.78 billion for NNSA in fiscal 2012, an increase of 5.1 percent from the $11.2 billion requested for fiscal 2011. NNSA Administrator Thomas D'Agostino defended that increase in a speech at the annual meeting of the Energy Communities Alliance annual meeting on Thursday.
"Despite the economic challenges facing our nation and the budget pressures being felt throughout the federal government, the president demonstrated his commitment to our mission by proposing an unprecedented investment in ensuring the nuclear security of our country and our allies," he said. "That investment is a reflection of his vision for our nation, and of the critical role we play."
In testimony on Capitol Hill on Wednesday, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said that the United States has an interest in keeping troops in Iraq beyond 2011, citing the security problems that the Iraqi government would face in the event of a complete U.S. withdrawal.
Under questioning from Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-CA), Gates said that the U.S. government still plans to withdraw all troops from Iraq by the end of the year, as was agreed under the 2008 U.S.-Iraq Status of Forces Agreement, leaving only about 150 Defense Department personnel at the U.S. embassy in Baghdad. Hunter, however, continued to press Gates for his personal opinion on the matter.
"How can we maintain all of these gains that we've made through so much effort if we only have 150 people there and we don't have any military there whatsoever," Hunter asked. "We'd have more military in Western European countries at that point than we'd have in Iraq, one of the most central states, as everybody knows, in the Middle East?"
Gates responded that not only was it in the U.S. interest to keep more troops in country, but that the Iraqis need more American troops there as well.
"The truth of the matter is, the Iraqis are going to have some problems that they're going to have to deal with if we are not there in some numbers," Gates testified. "They will not be able to do the kind of job in intelligence fusion. They won't be able to protect their own airspace. They will have problems with logistics and maintenance."
Gates won't be around in 2012; he's pledged to leave office sometime this year. But he told Congress that the U.S. government will honor its commitment to completely withdraw from Iraq in 2011, even if he personally doesn't think it's a good idea for either country.
"It's their country. It's a sovereign country," Gates said. "This is the agreement that was signed by President Bush and the Iraqi government, and we will abide by the agreement unless the Iraqis ask us to have additional people there."
The Obama administration was caught by surprise on Thursday night when President Hosni Mubarak spoke to the Egyptian people and initially declined to step down as leader of the country. Following the speech, Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Joint Chiefs Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen quickly phoned their counterparts in the Egyptian military.
Today, the military assumed control of the Egyptian government and Vice President Omar Suleiman announced in a recorded statement that Mubarak had stepped down from the presidency. "Secretary Gates spoke with [Defense Minister] Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi again last night," Pentagon press secretary Geoff Morrell confirmed to The Cable.
"It was his fifth phone conversation with the Egyptian defense minister since the situation in Egypt began."
Captain John Kirby, spokesman for the Joint Chiefs, confirmed to The Cable that Mullen called Egyptian Army Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Sami Anan following the Mubarak speech. Mullen and Anan have spoken four times since Jan. 25, and the last call before Thursday night was on Saturday, Feb. 5, Kirby said.
Both Morrell and Kirby declined to give details on the substance of the calls.
Press secretary Robert Gibbs told reporters on Friday morning that President Barack Obama did not call Mubarak after the speech. The last reported call between Vice President Joseph Biden and Suleiman was Feb. 8, when Biden pressed Suleiman to expand his dialogue with opposition groups.
The Gates and Mullen phone calls are emblematic of the sustained but quiet engagement with their military counterparts that the Pentagon has been undertaking throughout the crisis. That effort has been especially important in recent days, as the military's role has increased and its allegiances have come under closer scrutiny.
The Pentagon even sent out a quiet request to scores of U.S. military officers last week, asking them to contact any Egyptian military members they might know through past associations at American military colleges, the Washington Post reported.
The officers weren't told to deliver any specific messages. The outreach has been rather about collecting information from the Egyptian military and making sure that the military-to-military relationship remained intact, a Pentagon official said, adding that similar outreach has occurred between the Pentagon and its interlocutors in other countries, including Israel.
The White House and the State Department have disagreed on how much pressure to place on Mubarak and Suleiman. The Pentagon has sided mostly with State, arguing for more support of existing Egyptian institutions of power, especially the military. Some observers see the Pentagon as inclined to favor supporting the Egyptian military due its own interests and natural institutional biases.
"The Pentagon is simply so used to letting the Egyptian military have what they want," said one former U.S. official who dealt with the Pentagon on Egypt. "The Pentagon has wanted to keep their involvement at a strictly military-to-military level. So they are reluctant to be part of diplomacy at the top level, but insistent in being engaged in their own diplomacy for their own interest."
Regardless, the direct intervention of top Pentagon and U.S. military officials at key times throughout the crisis may have influenced the Egyptian military's behavior at key junctures, such as when the Egyptian military was implicated in the crackdown of journalists and human rights activists last weekend. Pentagon officials believe their outreach contributed to the relative restraint of the Egyptian Army.
It's unclear whether Gates and Mullen's telephone diplomacy last night actually influenced the events that unfolded only hours later. But the Pentagon's relationships with the Egyptian military are now among the most crucial avenues of communication and influence for U.S. policy toward Egypt going forward.
Today's first hearing of the Republican-led House Foreign Affairs Committee was dominated by the question of how much the United States should fear the empowerment of Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood and what leverage should be used against the Egyptian military to get them to behave in accordance with U.S. interests.
Chairwoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) opened the hearing with a broad criticism of the Obama administration's handling of the crisis in Egypt, which she said is now tilting too far in support of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and is failing to counteract the threat posed by the rise of Islamist parties such as the Muslim Brotherhood.
"Instead of being proactive, we have been obsessed with maintaining short-term, personality-based stability -- stability that was never really all that stable, as the events of the recent week demonstrate," she said.
"Now the White House is reportedly making matters worse by apparently re-examining its position on dealing with the Muslim Brotherhood, but also stating that a new Egyptian government should include a whole host of important nonsecular actors. The Muslim Brotherhood had nothing to do with driving these protests, and they and other extremists must not be allowed to hijack the movement toward democracy and freedom in Egypt."
Ros-Lehtinen repeated her argument that the United States should try to impose strict criteria on the process to ensure only "responsible actors" can participate in Egyptian governance, which she defined as those who renounce violent extremism and pledge to uphold Egypt's international commitments, including its peace treaty with Israel.
Rep. Howard Berman (D-Calif.), Ros-Lehtinen's Democratic counterpart, didn't have any nice things to say about the Muslim Brotherhood either.
"Like many I am skeptical about the Muslim Brotherhood's commitment to democracy. The Brotherhood wants Egypt to be governed by religious law rather than man-made law, a problematic position for a democrat. It has a bloody history," he said. "Even in the best-case scenario where the Brotherhood proves itself fully committed to democracy, there is every reason to believe it will try to influence the Egyptian government in ways that undermine U.S. interests and that will make Egypt a regressive, less-tolerant place."
Prior to the start of the hearing, Berman formally announced the names of the new ranking Democrats on the various subcommittees, including Rep. Gary Ackerman (D-N.Y.) on the Middle East subcommittee. Ackerman offered the most scathing criticism of the Obama administration's handling of the Egypt crisis at the hearing.
"In Egypt I fear that we are snatching failure from the jaws of success," he said. "The Obama administration now appears to be wavering about whether America really backs the demands of the Egyptian people or just wants to return to stability, which is a facade."
Ackerman turned the hearing into a discussion of the Egyptian military's role and the trustworthiness of Vice President Omar Suleiman, the former head of Mubarak's national intelligence agency. Ackerman criticized what he sees as a gap between the administration's rhetoric and its policy, and called on the White House to suspend military aid to Egypt now.
"The people yearn to be free. We must plant ourselves firmly on their side," he said. "We need to suspend our aid to Egypt. We simply cannot afford to be seen in Egypt as being a bankroll to oppression."
For his part, Berman disagreed with Ackerman and said that the United States should continue to use aid as leverage against the military, in order to pressure Suleiman and others to act in ways that support U.S. interests and values.
The foreign-policy experts that appeared before the committee largely agreed that military aid should be continued for the time being, but not if the Egyptian military proves to be impeding rather than advancing the course of reform.
"The Army may not have made up its mind yet. Now is the time to signal to them this aid is conditional," said former National Security Council official Elliott Abrams.
"The United State doesn't have so many levers," said Robert Satloff, executive director of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. "Why would we throw away this arrow before it's absolutely apparent that the Egyptian Army has made a choice to suppress and refuse change? That seems to be unwise."
The experts disagreed on how the United States should handle the Muslim Brotherhood. Abrams said that "conditions that forbid religious parties are actually quite useful." Satloff urged a middle-of-the-road approach.
"Don't exaggerate [the danger of the Brotherhood], and also don't be naive," he said.
Lorne Craner, president of the International Republican Institute, argued that there are plenty of other secular political organizations in Egypt for the United States to work with besides the Muslim Brotherhood.
"We have to stop presenting ourselves with the choice that Mubarak gave us. There are groups in the middle," he said.
But Ackerman was skeptical that those groups were ready to take on a leadership role after decades of suppression. "If you over-pesticide your garden, you only get the weeds that survive," he said.
The other ranking Democrats on the committee announced today were Brad Sherman (D-Calif.) on the subcommittee on terrorism, nonproliferation, and trade; Russ Carnahan (D-Mo.) on the subcommittee on oversight and investigations; Donald Payne (D-N.J.) on the subcommittee on Africa, global health, and human rights; Eni Faleomavaega (D-American Samoa) on the subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific; Gregory Meeks (D-N.Y.) on the subcommittee on Europe and Eurasia; and Elliott Engel (D-N.Y.) on the subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere.
Berman also announced a plan to introduce the "Hezbollah anti-terrorism act of 2011," which would limit U.S. foreign assistance to Lebanon until President Obama certifies that none of the funds will go to Hezbollah-controlled agencies and that the Lebanese government is dismantling Hezbollah's military infrastructure.
The State Department now acknowledges that "elements" of the Egyptian military have taken part in the violent crackdown on journalists and activists in Cairo over the past few days, calling into question the positive influence and neutrality of the military, which the Obama administration praised last week.
Human rights activists in Washington and Cairo reported last week uniformed Egyptian military personnel were directly involved in the arrest, detention, and interrogation of human rights activists in Egypt, including the raid on the Hisham Mubarak Law Center, which included the arrest of Human Rights Watch researcher Daniel Williams. In a gripping first-hand account on Monday, Williams explained the extensive role of Egyptian military personnel in his incarceration.
"The initial impression was that the military sided with the demonstrators yet provided order amid the chaos, which is why I was surprised to see the soldier on the chair, harassing the human rights workers about a ‘suspicious meeting' with foreigners bent on ‘ruining our country,' Williams wrote on Monday at The Daily Beast. "There was no doubt that the army was in charge of the raid. At one point, a major general showed up at the Hisham Mubarak center and other officers worked hand in glove with a uniformed policeman, plainclothes state security agents and assorted abusive henchmen."
Williams was brought with other activists and a Japanese photographer to Camp 75, a military headquarters in northeast Cairo, where he was interrogated and held for 36 hours.
"The raid on the Hisham Mubarak Law Center exemplifies the persistence of abusive security practices under a military establishment, which claims it wants transition from the past," he wrote. "But in this and other cases, now being documented by Human Rights Watch, the army was clearly in charge of arbitrary and sometimes violent arrests, even if the beatings and torture had been "outsourced" to other agencies or thugs."
Pressed on the issue by The Cable at today's briefing, spokesman P.J. Crowley said the State Department was aware that some military units participated in the raids but also pointed out that other military units played a role in protecting journalists and maintaining a measure of stability in Tahrir Square.
"To the extent that there were elements within the military that participated in these abuses of journalists and others last week, they should be held fully accountable," Crowley said. "By the same token, when you look at the streets of Cairo over the past several days since the violence on Wednesday, the military did play a constructive role."
Crowley said that the State Department has formally raised the issue of military involvement in the crackdowns with their Egyptian interlocutors but declined to relate the specifics of those conversations.
A State Department official, speaking on background, said that the Egyptian military was acting during the crisis "in some instances constructively, in some instances not." The official suggested that "elements" of the military were involved, specifically military police units, which have ties to the Ministry of Interior, the department believed to be orchestrating the crackdowns.
Regardless, the acknowledgement of Egyptian military involvement in the crackdowns on activists and journalists comes only four days after Crowley praised the military. "We are very impressed with the posture and the professionalism displayed by the Egyptian military," Crowley said at a Feb. 3 press briefing.
The military's involvement in the raids is a troubling indicator for the Obama administration and others that the army is not altogether playing a mediating role during Egypt's transition process.
"It's a worrying sign of things to come," Heba Morayef, Middle East researcher for Human Rights Watch," told McClatchy, "because the military is going to play a big role going forward."
Top Obama administration officials pressed the Egyptian military on Thursday to intervene on behalf of the activists, journalists, and protesters being attacked by groups of thugs supporting Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, as concerns grew in Washington about the military's role and agenda.
Vice President Joseph Biden placed responsibility for restoring calm in the streets of Cairo squarely in the hands of Vice President Omar Suleiman, who is also chief of the country's intelligence apparatus, when the two leaders spoke over the phone on Thursday afternoon.
"[Biden] stressed that the Egyptian government is responsible for ensuring that peaceful demonstrations don't lead to violence and intimidation and for allowing journalists and human rights advocates to conduct their important work, including immediately releasing those who have been detained," stated a White House readout of the conversation.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton specifically called on the Egyptian military, which had been staying neutral during the crisis, to take on a greater role.
"There is a clear responsibility by the Egyptian government, including the Army, to protect those threatened and hold accountable those responsible for these attacks," she said on Thursday. "The Egyptian government must demonstrate its willingness to ensure journalists' ability to report on these events to the people of Egypt and to the world."
There are conflicting reports about the Egyptian military's role in the crackdown on journalists and activists. The Cable reported earlier on Thursday that Human Rights Watch researcher Daniel Williams was arrested on Thursday morning in a raid conducted by police as well as military personnel.
The reportedly direct involvement of the Egyptian military in the raids is unsettling because until yesterday the military had been viewed as largely neutral in the clashes between the pro-Mubarak and anti-regime groups.
Human Rights Watch Washington Director Tom Malinowski said that based on today's events, the military's neutrality is no longer intact.
"I think neutrality for the Egyptian military is really impossible in this situation. If they do nothing, that's not neutrality; that tips the balance toward the ruling party," he said. Malinowski is also a member of the bipartisan Egypt Working Group, which issued a new statement on Thursday calling on the White House to make clear that military aid to Egypt will be suspended if the military fails to protect peaceful protests.
The Obama administration is working hard behind the scenes, especially through senior defense officials including Defense Secretary Robert Gates, to impress upon the Egyptian military the need to protect protesters and support a peaceful government transition. Joint Chiefs Chairman Adm. Michael Mullen spoke on Wednesday with Egyptian Army Lt. Gen. Sami Enan about the clashes and the military's role.
"Broadly speaking, the military has played a very important and constructive role in being a stabilizing force on the ground, particularly relative to what the situation looked like prior to the weekend," State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said on Thursday. "We are very impressed with the posture and the professionalism displayed by the Egyptian military."
Around Washington, the Obama administration's increasing dependence on the Egyptian military is becoming a cause of concern.
"There are reliable sources telling us that the current professional assessment in the Administration is that hoping for a military coup to kick out Mubarak is the best short-term outcome," Chris Nelson wrote in his insider Washington newsletter, the Nelson Report. "A sense coming from professionals at [the State Department is] that for all the angry rhetoric being directed at the leadership of the military, the primary emotions now at the leadership level are ambivalence and conflicting interests."
In an article on the Foreign Policy website on Wednesday, Naval Postgraduate School professor Robert Springborg argued that the military's game all along has been to feign neutrality and protect itself as a guarantor of stability as a plot to ultimately protect the regime and thwart the drive for real democracy.
"The president and the military, have, in sum, outsmarted the opposition and, for that matter, the Obama administration," Springborg wrote. "They skillfully retained the acceptability and even popularity of the Army, while instilling widespread fear and anxiety in the population and an accompanying longing for a return to normalcy."
For now, the State Department is not yet blaming the Egyptian military for the violence perpetrated against journalists and activists on the streets of Cairo, but did acknowledge that Interior Ministry personnel have been involved.
"There are very strong indications that this is part of a concerted effort," State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said on Thursday. "I can't tell you who is directing it, but with the increasing number of instances of people roughed up, journalists' cars attacked, offices broken into, journalists detained, these do not seem to be random events."
The true test of could come Friday, when more protests, raids, and clashes are expected.
"We are bracing for significant increase in the number of demonstrators on the streets, and with that, given yesterday's events, the real prospect of a confrontation," Crowley said.
MARCO LONGARI/AFP/Getty Images
Four Republican senators are calling on the Obama administration to place a sensitive missile defense-related radar site in Georgia, rather than in Turkey, as is currently planned.
"We believe that the U.S. should deploy the most effective missile defenses possible -- in partnership with our allies -- that provide for the protection of the U.S. homeland, our deployed forces, and our allies," began a Feb. 3 letter to Defense Secretary Robert Gates signed by Sens. Jon Kyl (R-AZ), James Risch (R-ID), Mark Kirk (R-IL), and James Inhofe (R-OK).
The senators are responding to statements from the Turkish government that it would only agree to host the new radar, known as TPY-2, if the United States agrees not to share with Israel any of the information gathered by the radar site, which is part of a NATO system discussed at the recent Lisbon summit. Turkey also wants command and control over the radar and wants NATO to remove any references to Iran as the threat targeted by the missile shield.
For all these reasons, the senators think Georgia would be a better option.
"We believe that the Republic of Georgia's geographic location would make it an ideal site for a missile defense radar aimed at Iran, and would offer clear advantages for the protection of the United States from a long range missile as compared to Turkey," the senators wrote. "What's more, the Republic of Georgia should be a significant partner for future defense cooperation with the U.S."
The senators asked Gates to tell them if Georgia was under consideration as a possible host for the radar site and, if not, what other alternatives the Pentagon is considering.
The prospects of NATO or the Obama administration actually placing a missile defense radar site in Georgia are slim, considering that Georgia is not in NATO and that the consequences for U.S. -Russia and NATO-Russia relations could be devastating.
But the letter is a sure sign that the new Congress is prepared to ramp up its advocacy of restoring defense cooperation with Georgia, which has slowed to a crawl since the 2008 Russian invasion. Other senators who are calling for more military support and cooperation for Georgia include John McCain (R-AZ), Joe Lieberman (I-CT), and Richard Lugar (R-IN), the ranking Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
"The United States, under substantial Russian diplomatic pressure, has paused the transfer of lethal military articles to Georgia, and no U.S. assistance since the war has been directly provided to the Georgian Ministry of Defense," Lugar wrote in a December 2009 report. "Consequently, Georgia lacks basic capacity for territorial defense."
When the Hisham Mubarak Law Center in Cairo was raided by state security forces on Thursday, Human Rights Watch researcher Daniel Williams was swept up in the arrests. But before he was carted off to prison, Williams had the presence of mind to call a friend in Cairo and leave his cell phone line open, to broadcast the raid as it unfolded.
The Law Center is a hub and meeting space for various human rights and civil society groups in Egypt and has been amazingly active since the protests began Jan. 25. On Thursday morning, a joint squad of police and military personnel in their respective uniforms raided the Center, interrogated all inside, and forcibly transported dozens of Egyptians and foreigners alike to an unknown detention facility, where Williams remains now.
Before his cell phone was confiscated, the person on the other end of the line, who must remain anonymous for his own safety, heard the violent details of the incident. Police and army personnel were heard ordering the activists up against the wall, started yelling at them, and then claimed they were there to protect them from the pro-regime thugs who were assembled and chanting just outside the doors and who harassed the activists as they were escorted from the building.
"We could let you go out in the crowd and they will kill you or you can come with us," the police and army personnel said, according to Human Rights Watch Washington Director Tom Malinowski, who has been working furiously to try to free Williams and the others arrested in Thursday's crackdown by coordinating efforts with administration officials and human rights groups in Washington and Cairo.
Following the on-site interrogations, the police and army personnel accused all the Egyptians working at the Law Center of being affiliated with Hamas and accused all the foreigners at the Center of being affiliated with Israeli intelligence service Mossad.
"So it's a Hamas-Mossad conspiracy apparently," Malinowski told The Cable with a sigh.
Meanwhile, human rights groups in Washington have been working closely though a stream of emails and phone call with the Obama administration to share information, coordinate action, and press the Mubarak regime to halt the arrests and release the imprisoned activists and journalists.
Primarily, this effort by the administration is run out of the U.S. embassy in Cairo, where Ambassador Margaret Scobey has taken the lead on maintaining ties to Egyptian non-governmental organizations and political opposition groups, instructing her staff to reach out to them to make sure they are safe and sharing information about what's going on. There are also officials in the State Department and the National Security Council who have longstanding ties with these groups and are working the phones on a constant basis, an administration official said, declining to provide details of those interactions.
"The Obama administration has raised with the Egyptian government the need to release people who have been detained for peaceful activism or journalism," Malinowski said. The list of foreign journalists reported to be under arrest is changing moment to moment.
For those in the human rights community who have been watching the crisis in Egypt descend into violence, the regime is clearly responsible.
"What we've seen in the last 24 hours is a counter attack by the ruling party and security apparatus of Egypt, which may be willing to concede Mubarak but isn't willing to concede the dictatorship," said Malinowski. "These thugs are part of the ruling party's army, they deploy it routinely on election days to intimidate voters and they deployed it yesterday as well."
The reported direct involvement of the Egyptian military in the raids is unsettling because until yesterday, the military had been largely neutral in the clashes between the pro-Mubarak and anti-regime groups. But it's not known if they are totally complicit in the crackdown or if they are participating in order to prevent the police from becoming too brutal.
The Obama administration is working hard behind the scenes, especially through senior defense officials including Defense Secretary Robert Gates, to impress upon the Egyptian military the need to protect protestors and support a peaceful government transition. Joint Chiefs Chairman Adm. Michael Mullen spoke Wednesday with Egyptian Army Lt. Gen. Sami Enan about the clashes and the military's role.
"He assures me that they're very focused on this, and they will continue to be a stabilizing influence within their country," Mullen said after the call. "So far, the Egyptian military have handled themselves exceptionally well."
But in light of the raid on the Law Center, human rights activists are no longer sure the military is neutral.
"The military's stance toward yesterday's counterattack is ambiguous," Malinowski said. "But as bad as things are, they would be worse if not for the pressure the administration has been putting on the military."
Meanwhile, the Egypt Working Group, a bipartisan team of experts that has been advising the administration, issued a new statement on Thursday calling on the White House to make clear that military aid to Egypt will be suspended if the military fails to protect peaceful protests and the transition doesn't start promptly -- as the administration has demanded.
For those who are working to secure the safety of activists like Williams, how the Egyptian military acts during these crackdowns will expose what their true motivations are going forward.
"This is an important part of the larger picture that the administration is looking at. It's one test of whether the regime, which includes the military, is in fact heeding President Obama's call for transition to orderly democracy."
As the Obama administration and the rest of the Washington foreign policy community struggle to come to terms with the unfolding events in Egypt, top White House officials and an increasing number of top lawmakers seem to agree that the U.S. should not suspend military aid to the Egyptian military in the near term.
The speculation over whether U.S. military aid to Egypt, which totaled $1.3 billion last year, would be suspended hit a high pitch on Jan. 29 when White House spokesman Robert Gibbs told reporters, "We will be reviewing our assistance posture based on events now and in the coming days." That same day, House Foreign Affairs Chairwoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) said in a statement, ""The United States must leverage its long-standing assistance to press Mr. Mubarak to let the voice of his people be heard through legitimate democratic elections."
But Secretary of State Hillary Clinton walked that back on Jan. 30, telling ABC News, "There is no discussion as of this time about cutting off any aid. We always are looking and reviewing our aid."
And on Monday, House Appropriations State and Foreign Ops subcommittee chairwoman Kay Granger (R-TX) also indicated that aid to Egypt would not be cut off anytime soon.
"While there are calls for eliminating Egypt's economic and military aid, I urge caution when deciding what the U.S. response will be," she said. "It is critical that we are deliberate about the actions we take. Egypt has been a moderate influence in the Middle East and has a peace agreement with Israel."
U.S. aid to Egypt totaled $1.55 billion in fiscal 2010, which includes $1.3 million in direct military aid. That's down from a high of $2.1 billion in total U.S. assistance in fiscal 1998. For fiscal 2011, the Obama administration had requested $250 million in economic support funds. That request is still pending.
The Obama administration's response to political upheaval this month in Lebanon is the most recent indicator of how they view the continuation of military aid to a country where the political winds are blowing against the interests of the United States.
Despite the fact Lebanon now has a prime minister backed by Hezbollah, the U.S. will continue funding to the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) for now, Deputy National Security Advisor Denis McDonough said in a Jan. 27 roundtable that included The Cable.
"We think that it's a very important independent institution," McDonough said about the LAF. "That's why we support the Lebanese Armed Forces, not because of their association or non-association with Hezbollah, but rather because of their independence -- their independence from any political actor. We think that's very important, we're going to continue to work with them, but obviously we're going to take a look at each of the developments along the way."
The U.S. relationship with the Egyptian military closely mirrors the U.S. relationship with the LAF, said Andrew Tabler, next generation fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.
"The military in Egypt right now is maintaining control and they've been responsible regarding the protesters, so they're definitely a force that the U.S. government wants to maintain favor with at this stage," Tabler said.
The administration's latest message, that military and foreign aid suspension is not in the works, is due to the fact that the military aid is directly tied to Egypt's peace accord with Israel - and, of course, because the political situation in Cairo is still in flux, Tabler said.
"The administration is sending a signal to the Egyptian military that if you act responsibly we'll stand behind you. I think that's a smart policy."
The White House sent former U.S. Ambassador to Egypt Frank Wisner to Cairo, where he is now holding high-level meetings with Egyptian officials at the behest of the Obama administration.
"Frank Wisner is in Cairo. The U.S. government did ask him to go," White House spokesman Tommy Vietor confirmed to The Cable. "As someone with deep experience in the region, he is meeting with a Egyptian officials and providing his assessment."
Earlier on Monday, State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley declined to name Wisner as an official representative of the Obama administration, but explained that Wisner was sent both to deliver the administration's message to Mubarak's people and to bring back information to be fed back into the decision making process.
"We have asked him to add his perspective to our analysis on current developments," Crowley said. "He has traveled to Cairo; is on the ground now. And we look forward to hearing his views when he returns."
Wisner is not officially an "envoy," Crowley noted, and administration officials declined to specify exactly who he would meet with, such as embattled President Hosni Mubarak or presidential candidate-in-waiting Mohamed ElBaradei. But Crowley said Wisner was chosen due to his longstanding ties to the Mubarak regime.
"He's a private citizen, he's a retired diplomat, he's a former ambassador to Egypt, he knows some of the key players within the Egyptian government," Crowley said, adding that Wisner "has a history with some of these key figures."
Council on Foreign Relations Egypt expert Steven Cook put it plainly. "Wisner is known to be close to Mubarak," he said.
It's exactly that history that concerns Egypt hands in Washington now that Wisner's has been given a new role in the center of Obama's policy. Before his stints on Enron's board of directors and as vice chairman of AIG, Wisner had a multi-decade career as a foreign service officer, with stints as ambassador in Zambia (‘79-‘82), Egypt (‘86-‘91), Philippines (‘91-‘92), India (‘94-‘97) and as undersecretary of defense for policy (‘93-‘94).
Since leaving AIG in 2009, Wisner has been active on Egypt policy and is said by several Egypt hands in Washington to have pushed to create a group of scholars and academics in Washington to advocate for strengthening ties to the Mubarak regime. That group, which was never fully formed, was to be a counter weight to the bipartisan Egypt Working Group led by the likes of former NSC official Elliott Abrams and the Carnegie Endowment's Michele Dunne. The Abrams-Dunne group had been pushing for a harder line against Mubarak in the months leading up to the current crisis.
Wisner's advocacy for reaching out to Mubarak was on display at a private and off-the-record meeting on Egyptian succession held last summer at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, where Wisner made several pro-Mubarak arguments, according to two people who attended the session.
"He's the exact wrong person to send. He is an apologist for Mubarak," said one Washington Middle East hand who saw Wisner as unlikely to demand that Mubarak must step down or else suffer consequences from Washington -- or, failing that, deliver a strong rebuke.
But Dunne said that since Wisner is "trusted and liked" by Mubarak and others he'll be meeting with, he's the perfect pseudo-envoy. "He's ... someone who could deliver a tough message if he's given one to deliver," she said.
Wisner's father, Frank Wisner Sr., was the CIA agent portrayed in the film The Good Shepherd. Wisner was previously married to Christine de Ganay, former wife of Pal Sarkozy, the father of French president Nicolas Sarkozy.
John Hudson reports on national security and foreign policy from the Pentagon to Foggy Bottom, the White House to Embassy Row, for The Cable.