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.
As Chinese President Hu Jintao arrives in Washington, The Cable has learned that one of the Obama administration's top Asia hands is on his way out. Retired Marine Corps Gen. Wallace "Chip" Gregson will resign as the Pentagon's top Asia official in April, becoming the first top Obama Asia appointee to be confirmed to depart in 2011.
Gregson has been serving since May 2009 as the assistant secretary of defense for Asian and Pacific security affairs, part of the Office of the Undersecretary of Defense for Policy, run by Michele Flournoy. Gregson told his staff last week that he will leave the Pentagon on or about April 1. His departure will begin the game of musical chairs coming to President Obama's Asia policy team.
Following a reorganization of the Pentagon's policy shop in 2009, Gregson's office was given a portfolio that includes China, Japan, North and South Korea, India, Afghanistan, and Pakistan. Gregson, who focused mostly on the Northeast Asia parts of that portfolio was known as a knowledgeable and competent official who nonetheless played a more subdued role in diplomacy than his State Department counterpart, Assistant Secretary of State Kurt Campbell.
"After Barack Obama's election in November 2008, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates reportedly gave the Pentagon's transition team one bit of advice: 'Send adults, please.' Chip Gregson was one of those adults, if by that we mean balanced, serious, professionalism," said Patrick Cronin, senior director of the Asia Pacific Security Program and the Center for a New American Security. "He also had a long-term strategic vision for how to protect U.S. interests in the Asia-Pacific region, and his successors will be working on some of his ideas for years to come."
Privately, administration sources told The Cable that Gregson ultimately could not keep could not keep pace with the ambitious political agenda set by the State Department, which is seen as the locus of administration power in much of Asia. He is said by these sources to have fallen somewhat out of favor with Flournoy and she is rumored to be behind the drive to replace him with someone who could be more effective.
"Chip is an awfully good guy in a rough and tumble political world," one insider source said.
Gregson's office did not immediate respond to a request for information on what he will do next, and there's no word on who his possible replacement might be. Gregson's principal deputy is Derek Mitchell and his other deputies are Michael Schiffer, Robert Scher, and David Sedney, any of whom could be viable candidates for the job.
The U.S. policy of supporting Taiwan through sales of U.S. weapons is the biggest irritant in the increasingly complicated U.S.-China relationship. This week, just before Chinese President Hu Jintao's visit to Washington, a potential new round of arms sales to Taiwan threatens to overshadow the Obama-Hu summit.
Following the January 2010 sale of $6.4 billion of weapons to Taiwan, the Chinese cut off military-to-military relations with Washington. These relations were only restored this week during Defense Secretary Robert Gates' trip to Beijing, which was somewhat overshadowed by the first flight test of the People Liberation Army's new J-20 stealth fighter. The White House put off the last round of sales until after Obama's November 2009 trip to China. However, it only succeeded in delaying the inevitable Chinese outrage and now the Chinese are saying that no more sales will be tolerated.
"United States arms sales to Taiwan seriously damaged China's core interests and we do not want to see that happen again, neither do we hope that the U.S. arms sales to Taiwan will again and further disrupt our bilateral and military-to-military relationship," Chinese Minister for National Defense Gen. Liang Guanglie said during a joint press conference with Gates Jan. 10.
Gates told the Chinese that the arms sales would continue, as they have for decades, under the Taiwan Relations Act, a U.S. law that mandates that the United States will support Taiwan's self-defense.
"[I]f the relationship between China and Taiwan continued to improve and the security environment for Taiwan changed, then perhaps that would create the conditions for reexamining all of this," Gates said at a roundtable after the meeting. "But that would be an evolutionary and a long-term process, it seems to me. I don't think that's anything that's going to happen anytime soon."
Meanwhile, a new package of arms sales is in the works. The next package is made up of upgrades and add-ons for Taiwan's fleet of 146 F-16 A and B type fighters. Defense News reported Jan. 10 that the Pentagon is planning in the next few weeks to release price and availability data for the materials, which will include advanced avionics and engines.
And today, the Washington Times' Bill Gertz reported that the Obama administration has reached a decision to extend a news arms package to Taiwan, "but is keeping details secret until after next week's visit by Chinese President Hu Jintao." Gertz wrote that the State Department was holding up the sale and that it could total as much as $4 billion.
A State Department official threw a bucket of cold water on the Gertz report, saying that there's no "pending" decision on arms sales to Taiwan and there was no effort to delay arms sales due to the Hu Jintao visit.
"We review Taiwan's defensive capabilities on an ongoing basis. Taiwan frequently tells us what they'd like to have and then we work with Taiwan on equipment that meets their needs," the official said.
Referring directly to Gertz, a reporter whose conservatives views have irritated the State Department on matters ranging from missile defense to Russia to China, the State Department official said, "This particular reporter, as you know, has his own foreign policy."
A Taiwanese government source told The Cable that yes, there was a desire to buy F-16 A/B upgrades from the U.S. but they have no idea about the timing of such a deal, and that it had never been finalized or considered imminent. The source went on to emphasize that Taiwan is still pressing a 2006 request for more advanced F-16 C and D type fighters and is interested in purchasing the fifth generation F-35 fighter as well.
Douglas Paal, who as director of the American Institute in Taiwan was the de facto U.S. ambassador there from 2002 to 2006, said that upgrading Taiwan's F-16s was an ongoing process dating back to 1993 and would continue whether Beijing liked it or not. He also remarked that the Obama administration is smart enough not to act on the sale on the eve of the Hu visit, and doubted that it was ever planning to do so.
"The upgrades will go forward at the appropriate time. I don't think this will be viewed (inside the administration) as the appropriate time," said Paal.
China-Taiwan ties have been warming for years, but haven't yet lessened Taiwanese security concerns or U.S. officials' determination to continue arm sales to the island. Beijing has hundreds of missiles pointed at Taiwan, and continues to shift the balance of power across the strait in its own favor.
"This goes to the heart of the gap in perception on both sides (of the U.S.-China relationship)," said Michael Swaine, a China military expert at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. "Even though you have improvement in cross-strait relations, you have a continued build up of capabilities opposite to Taiwan that are only relevant to Taiwan."
Regardless, a new round of sales still risks upending the U.S.-China relationship, said Bonnie Glaser, senior fellow at the Center for International Studies. "If we do go ahead with a major arms sale to Taiwan then probably all bets are off."
The Obama administration's foreign policy team can claim a few signature accomplishments in its first two years in office: progress on resetting relations with Russia, aiding Iraq's transition to self-rule, strengthening sanctions on Iran, and increasing attention on Southeast Asia. Progress on Middle East peace, the war in Afghanistan, and dealing with North Korea and China haven't gone as smoothly. Now, faced with a divided Congress and looking ahead to another presidential campaign only months away, the Obama administration is looking to make changes in several of its top national security and foreign policy posts.
Within the last six months, Deputy Secretary of State Jack Lew moved over from State to OMB, National Security Advisor Jim Jones resigned in the wake of the latest book by Bob Woodward, and Dennis Blair stepped down from his post as Director of National Intelligence. Over the next six months, another set of officials will move to new jobs or leave the administration altogether. The resulting vacancies will have repercussions throughout the bureaucracy, as other officials jockey for positioning in the hopes of moving up or out of their current roles.
Here is a list of some, but not all, of the top administration policy jobs that could up for grabs in 2011... and who leads the race to fill them
1. Secretary of Defense - Robert Gates, who is the first defense secretary to work for consecutive presidents from opposing parties and has served in the position for four years, has said publicly that he will step down in 2011. Exactly when Gates will leave is unknown, but he is expected to stay at least until the administration has a chance to unveil its fiscal 2012 budget request in mid-February and then brief Congress on it during the early spring.
The candidate who fills Gates' shoes will require the international prestige to meet with foreign leaders on equal terms, the military bona fides to manage the United States' wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the political savvy to guide the Pentagon though what will surely by its most complex interactions with Capitol Hill in many years. The top candidates discussed around town are John Hamre, president of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, Michele Flournoy, Gates' undersecretary for policy (who would be the first female defense secretary), and CIA chief Leon Panetta. The dark horse is former Obama campaign advisor Richard Danzig, who is also chairman of the Center for a New American Security. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's name has been tossed around but is seen as a less likely choice.
2. Deputy Secretary of State - Jim Steinberg, who is intimately involved in scores of issues as the top deputy to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, has been rumored to be leaving for months. We're told that he originally set a two-year deadline for his time at the State Department, but has not yet found a job that would entice him enough to leave -- such as the presidency of a major university.
Names that have been tossed around as Steinberg's replacement include former State Department counselor Wendy Sherman, Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Kurt Campbell, and Undersecretary for Political Affairs Bill Burns. Burns, as a career foreign service officer, would be an unusual choice because the job usually goes to a political appointee -- but he's on the list nevertheless. But as happened with the appointment of Thomas Nides to replace Lew, Clinton could select someone outside the circle of usual suspects in Washington.
3. Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan - The unexpected death last month of Richard Holbrooke has left a void in the administration's Af-Pak leadership team. Acting SRAP Frank Ruggiero has been filling in ably and even scored a meeting with Afghan President Hamid Karzai this week in Kabul. But State Department officials say the search for a permanent replacement for Holbrooke is ongoing.
We've heard the names of Strobe Talbott, former deputy secretary of state and current president of the Brookings Institution, as well as former Undersecretary of State Thomas Pickering mentioned as possible replacements. Ruggiero is not expected to be named as the permanent SRAP. But if the search drags on, Ruggiero's status could be made permanent as he gets more comfortable in the role. This one is Clinton's choice, we're told.
4. State Department Director of Policy Planning - Anne Marie Slaughter, having completed her stewardship of the Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review (QDDR), returns to Princeton University later this month. She will teach a course on -- you guessed it -- the QDDR!
Slaughter's deputy, Derek Chollet, was reportedly offered her job but elected to move over to the National Security Staff as the senior director for strategic planning. The leading contender for Slaughter's job therefore seems to be Jake Sullivan, Clinton's longtime aide and currently her deputy chief of staff. Sullivan could also be up for Chollet's old job if Clinton decides to go the other way and bring in another senior academic in the mold of Slaughter.
5. U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan - Current ambassador Karl Eikenberry, who has fallen out of favor with Afghan President Hamid Karzai and whose criticisms of the Obama administration's war strategy were leaked to the press in January 2010, has been rumored to be on the outs for a long time. The conventional wisdom is that Eikenberry's departure was postponed when Gen. Stanley McChrystal was sacked last June and that his ouster was again delayed due to the untimely death of Holbrooke.
But the U.S. embassy in Kabul can go without a functioning relationship with the Afghan government for only so long. We're told that, sooner rather than later, Eikenberry will be recalled to Washington. Clinton has been tight-lipped about possible replacements, but the short list could include David Barno, a retired lieutenant general who served as the top military commander in Afghanistan and now works as a fellow at the Center for a New American Security. Ruggiero is another possibility, if his Karzai meeting went well.
6. Assistant Secretary of Defense for Special Operations and Low Intensity Conflict (SOLIC) - Michael Vickers, who was immortalized as the boy genius in Charlie Wilson's War, will be leaving this post after being nominated as undersecretary of defense for intelligence, replacing James Clapper, who is now the director of national intelligence. While most posts in the Office of the Secretary of Defense that are up for changes will stay unfilled until there is more clarity concerning Gates' departure, this vacancy probably can't wait until then. The crucial nature of the SOLIC office, which oversees many of the secret operations that have become so central to the effort in Afghanistan mandates it been backfilled with urgency.
There have been several reports that Michael Sheehan, a former top counterterrorism official at the State Department during Bill Clinton's administration, has been offered the job. John Nagl, the president of the Center for a New American Security, had been rumored for the post, but now seems to be in line for the job of principal deputy to Sheehan, if Sheehan takes the gig.
7. Assistant Secretary of State for International Security and Nonproliferation (ISN) - This posting, which has been vacant for two years, is set to be filled in the coming weeks. Acting Assistant Secretary Vann Van Diepen has been managing the ISN bureau, but is not considered a contender for the permanent job due to lingering GOP complaints regarding his role in crafting a controversial 2007 National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Iran's nuclear program.
The Cable reported earlier this month that Tom Countryman, currently a deputy assistant secretary of state in the Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs has been selected for the job, but is currently awaiting final approval from the White House.
8. National Security Council staff - The new leadership of the NSC is now in place, with Tom Donilon as national security advisor, Denis McDonough as his deputy, and Brooke Anderson as chief of staff. Below them, however, a game of musical chairs is underway.
Other top NSC officials who are rumored or reported to be cycling out in the coming months include Asia senior director Jeffrey Bader, who could be replaced by Daniel Russel, the NSC director for Japan and Korea, and Africa senior director Michelle Gavin, who reportedly is being replaced by Mary Yates, the outgoing NSC director for strategic planning. Chollet will take over Yates' job.
We're also hearing that Liz Sherwood-Randall, the NSC's senior director for Europe, could be moving on soon, as well as senior director for Afghanistan and Pakistan Doug Lute. Lute is one of the few holdovers from the George W. Bush administration. The fact that he's been in his post for so long is one reason for the speculation that a search for his replacement could be underway. We're told that very preliminary feelers have been sent out to people such as Barno, but there has been no official confirmation that a replacement is being sought for Lute.
Win McNamee/Getty Images
Defense Secretary Bob Gates is among the most savvy officials in a long time when it comes to navigating the budget debates between Congress, the White House, and the Pentagon. But as the Pentagon's fiscal crisis reaches critical mass, Gates' budget gymnastics are pleasing neither the right nor the left.
Gates held a press conference on Thursday to announce a new set of measures that he said would save $100 billion in "efficiencies," and reduce defense spending by another $78 billion on top of that, over the next five years. He said that these steps were necessary "to tackle the budget deficit and the debt problem."
Gates said that his plan would allow the Defense Department to maintain "modest" growth going forward. He has spoken openly about how his strategy is meant to defend the defense budget from both those on the right that seek ever-increasing military budgets and those on the left, as well as conservative deficit hawks, who seek steep cuts in defense funding as part of the U.S. efforts to reduce the government's massive deficits.
"My hope is that, as we go through the hearings for the fiscal year '12 budget, that we will be able to show those who are interested in protecting defense that we have done that, and those who think that defense ought to contribute to reducing the deficit, that we have done that as well," he told PBS News Hour's Jim Lehrer.
That requires Gates to portray his new saving announcements as "cuts" to please those who are concerned with deficits -- which angers the right -- while simultaneously portraying his efforts as a defense of steadily increasing budgets to mollify defense hawks, which angers the left and those concerned with the deficit.
"We will have modest growth in the defense budget for the next three fiscal years. And, then, the last two years of the five-year period, we will be protected against inflation, but not have real growth," Gates told the press conference.
"These cuts are being made without any commitment to restore modest future growth, which is the only way to prevent deep reductions in force structure that will leave our military less capable and less ready to fight," shot back Rep. Buck McKeon (R-CA), the new head of the House Armed Services Committee.
Gates is not only stuck between two sides of Congress, but also must deal with the White House, which is changing the rules on him in the middle of the game. The whole reason that Gates was forced to find $78 billion in new savings over five years was the agreement he struck with the White House on future budgets was cancelled by Jacob Lew, the new director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB).
Back in August, Gates announced he would find $100 billion in savings but would allow the military services to "keep what they catch." This was Gates' way to incentivize the services to find waste and get out ahead of Congressional drives to cut deeper into the defense budget. But when Lew came in, he directed Gates to trim $150 billion from defense spending over the next five years, and would not allow the Defense Department to keep the savings.
"Gates defended to the teeth the budget request that
he thought the White House had agreed to,"
said Gordon Adams, who directed national security spending at OMB during the Clinton administration and now teaches at American University. "Then Jack Lew comes in and asks him to cut $150 billion more."
Gates eventually negotiated the $150 billion figure down to $78 billion, the amount he announced Thursday. But that's where the math gets really fuzzy, because Gates' $78 billion in cuts aren't really cuts at all. $54 billion comes from the president's announcement to freeze federal civilian worker pay. So Gates is capitalizing on Obama's decision without making any additional sacrifices, Adams said.
Another $14 billion comes from "shifts in economic assumptions... for example, decreases in the inflation rate and projected pay raises," Gates said. Adams explained that means the Pentagon simply changed its figure for projected inflation, which changes how much it predicts everything will cost in the future.
The irony is that the Pentagon for decades has used its own mysterious method to measure inflation, rather than using the common GDP deflator that OMB uses. But usually, the Pentagon is arguing that inflation will be higher. Now, because it suits his needs, Gates is arguing inflation will be less than previously expected.
"It's economic magic," said Adams. "If you believe the rate of inflation will be lower than what you thought it was last year, then you can claim you will have modest growth in the defense budget. But there's no way of knowing. And there's no reason in the last 12 months to think that inflation experienced by DOD is in any way different than what the Pentagon thought it would be last year."
What really irritates Adams and other defense budget analysts is Gates' contention that "ever since World War I, when we have come to the end of wars, we have dramatically reduced our defense spending, cut our military forces, and then ended up in another war."
As this chart of defense spending clearly shows, after World War II, that's just not the case. Spending tapered off somewhat after the Korean War and President Clinton sought a reduction in the 1990s, but defense reformers point out that the biggest shift in defense spending is the drastic increases since 2001.
"The point of reference is the amount of spending we had just before the current wars in the base budget, which in the year 2000 was under $400 billion," said Winslow Wheeler, director of the Strauss Military Reform Project at the Center for Defense Information. "So we've gone up a huge amount and now they're calling $530 billion a disaster? Their rhetoric doesn't match their actions on both ends."
The Defense Department is slated to receive $530 billion for the 2011 fiscal year if Congress fails to pass a budget for the Pentagon when the current temporary funding measure expires in March. $530 billion is also the amount the Pentagon received in fiscal 2010, but it is $18 billion less than what the administration requested and $23 billion less than they would have gotten if Congress had passed the bill last year.
"That will be a disaster for us. We will have real problems," Gates said, about the possibility that the Defense Department would receive $530 billion in funding.
"They're going to have to live within that $530 billion so they better go ahead and plan on that basis," said Wheeler.
For fiscal 2012, the White House has agreed to allow the Pentagon to request $554 billion, which is $12 billion less than what the Pentagon had planned for before negotiating with the White House. That request will be vetted by a new Congress full of Tea Partiers, fiscal conservatives, anti-war lawmakers, and many others who may oppose further budget increases. These lawmakers will also be able to point to calls by the President's deficit commission to take big chunks out of the defense budget in support of their case.
"When you have a potential coalition of Republican budget hawks and those on the left side of the spectrum, that's very real," said Wheeler.
Gates is as skilled as anyone when it comes to handling these competing interests. But his Herculean effort to please all sides may become too difficult even for him this year.
"Gates has been very effective at kicking the can the road and not facing the music," said Wheeler. "But the problem is, that is now catching up to him because the deficit problem is real, the Republicans are under the gun to deal with this, and most of them understand that defense is on the table."
Defense Secretary Robert Gates will travel to China and Japan this week in what will be the most public demonstration of the resumption of the U.S.-China military to military relationship since Beijing suspended cooperation early in 2010. However, the future of military cooperation between the two world powers is far from determined.
The Gates trip follows a series of discussions between U.S. and Chinese defense officials last month on how to improve ties between the Pacific's two most important military powers. The Chinese cut off military relations in February 2010 to protest U.S. arms sales to Taiwan, but the Obama administration has held firm in its stance that military cooperation is mutually beneficial to both countries, and therefore should not be used as leverage over Washington by Beijing .
The question remains whether the People's Liberation Army (PLA) is genuinely interested in deepening its connections to the Defense Department or whether the resumption of talks is a way for Beijing to remove the issue from the agenda of the upcoming summit between President Barack Obama and Chinese President Hu Jintao later this month in Washington.
"The PLA is significantly less interested in this relationship than the political leadership of China." Gates said in June after being denied entry into China during a visit to Singapore for the IISS Shangri-La Dialogue.
Senior defense officials in Washington view the trip as a positive step but note that Gates' meetings are only the start of the effort to build better military ties with China.
"With Secretary Gates' trip, I think we can agree that the military-to-military relationship has been restored," said Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense Michael Schiffer at a Thursday event hosted by the International Institute for Strategic Studies. "This trip represents a step forward, an important one we think."
But there are already a number of signs that the PLA is still skeptical of working with the Pentagon, even as they welcome Gates.
For example, Gates has no plans to visit any PLA facilities that haven't previously been seen by U.S. officials. Such visits are often a sign that the PLA is extending an olive branch, as they did in 2005 when they allowed Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld to visit the PLA's 2nd Artillery headquarters.
(UPDATE: A senior U.S. government official said that Gates will in fact visit the 2nd Artillery HQ to talk strategic issues.)
Also, in advance of the trip, the Chinese have rolled out the J20, their new advanced fighter plane, which is designed to counter (and kind of looks like) the U.S. Air Force's F-22. That's the plane that Gates fought successfully to end production of last year. Last week, U.S. Pacific Command head Adm. Robert Willard told the Japanese daily Asahi Shimbun that the PLA has also reached initial operating capability for its new "carrier killer" anti-ship cruise missile.
"Across a broad array of weapons systems, they are making progress,'' U.S. Navy Vice Adm. David Dorsett told reporters on Wednesday. While the development of the new stealth fighter was anticipated, he said that "the speed at which they are making progress . . . we underestimated.''
So how do we measure if Gates' China trip is a success? The longstanding goals of the Pentagon, in addition to increasing lines of communication, are to press China for more transparency in its military spending and strategic thinking, and to further institutionalize cooperation on maritime security, anti-piracy, and counter-proliferation efforts. But the Pentagon is being clear that it doesn't expect any major steps forward during this visit.
"This is an incremental process. All too often the military-to-military relationship falls victim to people who have very high expectations," said Schiffer. "I would much rather have us make some progress that is tangible... than to put ourselves at risk by having unrealistic expectations."
A full year has passed since a bipartisan group of senators began calling for the sacking of Arnie Fields, the embattled Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR), and those senators are as frustrated as ever that the White House refuses to address the situation.
Sens. Claire McCaskill (D-MO), Tom Coburn (R-OK), and Susan Collins (R-ME), have been pressing the White House to fire Fields since December 2009, following complaints about both the conduct and the work product of the SIGAR office, which is charged with overseeing tens of billions of dollars in Afghanistan reconstruction contracts managed by both the State and Defense Departments. Last July, the Council of Inspectors General on Integrity and Efficiency (CIGIE), which is meant to oversee the overseers, issued a scathing report on SIGAR, which only fueled the fire of lawmakers calling for Fields' removal.
McCaskill and Coburn continued to press the case, but as the congressional session ended last week, McCaskill said she had still not gotten any substantive response from the White House to her many letters and calls for Fields' sacking.
"I visited with people in the White House about Arnie Fields last week and I continue to push as hard as I know how for his removal," McCaskill told The Cable in an exclusive interview Dec. 20. "I have not gotten a satisfactory answer other than ‘we are working on it' and that is not satisfactory."
"I'm frustrated. It's not going as quickly as it should. I've been trying to move this person out of the position for over a year now," McCaskill told The Cable in October. "The White House needs to act. That's where the buck stops. It is way past the time when they should have removed him."
In her capacity as chairwoman of the Homeland Security and Government Affairs subcommittee on Contracting Oversight, McCaskill called Fields to testify on Nov. 18.
"I would say that it's a pleasure but I would be telling a lie if I were to say so," Fields told the lawmakers, who grilled Fields on his office's work, which McCaskill said failed to meet the standards set forth by the law that set up the SIGAR office.
McCaskill pointed out that the taxpayers have given $46.2 million to SIGAR but their investigations have only resulted in collections of $8.2 million.
The hearing also examined General Fields' decision to award a $96,000 sole-source contract for tracking SIGAR's efforts to improve itself to Joseph Schmitz, the former Defense Department inspector general, who resigned in 2005 amid allegations of ethical misconduct and misleading Congress.
So why is Fields still around? The back story is one of bureaucratic inaction and what many on Capitol Hill see as the National Security Staff's failure to deal with the SIGAR problem due to a lack of clarity over whose responsibility it is to make a decision about Fields.
SIGAR is meant to oversee both State and Defense Department (DOD) contracts in Afghanistan. It was created in 2008 due to a realization that neither of these agencies had the capacity to oversee their own contracts in the warzone. But when the NSS first got the request to review SIGAR, they sent the request to the State and Defense Departments' Inspector General's (IG) offices for them to review, multiple Senate aides said.
But this made little sense, as the entire purpose of SIGAR was to do the job that the State and Pentagon IG offices weren't capable of doing. That's when the NSS tasked the review to CIGIE, which issued its harsh verdict on July 16.
The congressional calls for Fields' head only increased after that, which led to an interagency meeting at the White House in the fall to decide what to do about Fields. A State Department official confirmed that both the Pentagon and the State Department were asked to weigh in on the SIGAR situation.
Both the State Department and the Pentagon declined to give a position on Fields at the meeting, noting that it was not their proper role. "We declined to give an opinion on the situation and we remain neutral," a State Department official close to the issue said.
On Capitol Hill, McCaskill said the NSS's decision to seek consensus from State and DOD was a delaying tactic and inappropriate. She said it's not the State or Defense Department's job to act on replacing Fields as the head of SIGAR.
"That's why the White House should just do this," McCaskill said.
The SIGAR can't be evaluated by the two agencies he is tasked to oversee because it's a clear conflict of interest, said one Senate aide close to the discussions.
"The problem is that the whole thing is perfectly ripe for inaction," the aide said. "If the NSS is waiting for consensus from State and DOD that Fields should go, they aren't likely to get it. From State and DOD's perspective it might be good to have a weak SIGAR over there... This is why you don't ask the agency under review whether or not the IG should go. They can't answer."
But lawmakers such as McCaskill and Coburn also know their power to get rid of Fields is limited. He can only be fired by the president. Congress's has the option to defund his office, but that would have the effect of weakening the oversight of contracts in Afghanistan further.
Fields is seeking a budget of $35.6 million in 2011 and wants to hire about 60 more employees to better track reconstruction spending in Afghanistan.
The United States has committed $51 billion to Afghanistan reconstruction since 2001, and that endowment will reach $71 billion by the end of 2011, according to the AP.
A Democratic House lawmaker is calling on France not to sell advanced anti-tank weapons to Lebanon, out of fear they could fall into the hands of Hezbollah.
"As you know, Lebanon is in a precarious situation whereby Hezbollah is in a powerful position to usurp the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF). If this were to occur, Israel would be in grave danger of having your anti-tank missile used against her," Rep. Steve Rothman (D-NJ) wrote in a Dec. 21 letter to French President Nicolas Sarkozy. "I agree in principle that strengthening the LAF against Hezbollah is an important goal, but I believe that providing the LAF with anti-tank missiles is neither helpful nor necessary in that regard."
Rothman's letter is just the latest in a string of actions from both Democratic and Republican lawmakers questioning the wisdom of continued military assistance to the LAF from both the U.S. and other countries. In November, House Foreign Affairs Chairman Howard Berman (D-CA) and House Foreign Appropriations State and Foreign Ops Chairwoman Nita Lowey (D-NY) released their hold on $100 million of U.S. military assistance to the LAF after months of seeking assurances from the State Department that the materiel would not fall into Hezbollah hands.
Rothman is a member of the House Appropriations Defense -- as well as the State and Foreign Ops -- subcommittees.
Israel has opposed the sale of the HOT* anti-tank missile to the LAF since their 2006 war with Hezbollah and has continued its opposition after a border clash this past August resulted in five deaths. Following the border skirmish, the administration dispatched Frederic Hof, senior aide to Special Envoy George Mitchell, to warn the Lebanese government that U.S military assistance wasn't guaranteed and future Hezbollah mischief would push Congress over its tolerance limit.
U.S. military assistance to the LAF has focused mainly on small arms, munitions, training, and vehicles, such as Harley Davidson motorcycles. The administration believes strongly that the LAF does a good job of keeping control over its military equipment and that strengthening the LAF is the best way to keep it from slipping further toward Hezbollah's control.
"We remain determined to work with the Lebanese government to extend its authority over all of Lebanon, and to advance political and economic reforms that benefit the people of Lebanon," Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Michele Flournoy said on a September trip to Beirut. "This commitment includes U.S. support to the Lebanese Armed Forces, which is part of an international effort to help strengthen the institutions of the Lebanese state and the ability of the Lebanese Government to exercise its sovereignty and authority over all of its territory."
The administration doesn't believe that Hezbollah is on the verge of "usurping" the LAF and doesn't believe that giving aid to Lebanon undermines Israel's "Qualitative Military Edge," a U.S. commitment to always make sure Israel is stronger than its neighbors.
While the Obama team is unlikely to publicly raise the issue of the HOT missile sales during Sarkozy's trip to Washington in January, officials could raise it privately, as did Defense Secretary Robert Gates on the issue of the French sale to Russia of the amphibious assault ship Mistral.
The United States has provided the LAF with over $700 million in assistance since 2007, according to the Congressional Research Service (CRS), and is requesting $132 million more for fiscal 2011. But Congress is sure to ask whether that aid is really being used against the threat from Hezbollah or Israel.
"To the extent that U.S. security assistance is limited to training and items designed to improve Lebanese government capability to contain and potentially disarm Hezbollah and other internal threats, they may become incompatible with the evolving threat perceptions and political intentions of Lebanon's political leadership," wrote CRS. "Events continue to suggest that Lebanese leaders are prepared to seek security assistance and weapons from non-U.S. sources to meet their perceived needs."
*The HOT (Haut subsonique Optiquement Téléguidé Tiré d'un Tube) missile is a long-range, anti-tank weapon that can be mounted from a tank or a helicopter. It is manufactured by MBDA, a joint corporation of French and German defense firms. Its name, roughly translated, means "High Subsonic Optical Remote-Guided Fired from Tube."
Ever since President Barack Obama took office, his administration has refused to sell military equipment to Georgia. In a newly released WikiLeaks cable, the U.S. ambassador to Russia made the argument that U.S. military support to Georgia is unwise because it would upset the U.S.-Russian "reset."
"A decision to move towards a more robust military relationship with Georgia will imperil our efforts to re-start relations with Russia," read a June 2009 cable signed by U.S. Ambassador John Beyrle. "Our assessment is that if we say ‘yes' to a significant military relationship with Tbilisi, Russia will say ‘no' to any medium-term diminution in tensions, and feel less constrained absent reverting to more active opposition to critical U.S. strategic interests."
The U.S.-Russia reset policy is not as important to Russia as its "absolute" priority of expanding its influence in Eurasia, Beyrle wrote. He said that sending military supplies to Georgia would cause Russia to backtrack on other areas of U.S.-Russia cooperation, including joint action to pressure Iran.
Besides, the Russians don't think that the United States possesses the power to force a resolution to the situation in the disputed territories of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, which Russia has occupied since the end of the 2008 Russia-Georgia war, Beyrle explained in the leaked cable.
The Obama administration hasn't actually set forth a policy banning weapons sales to Georgia. They simply haven't sold weapons to Georgia and don't plan on doing so. That de facto ban on arms sales has riled some in Washington, including Senate Foreign Relations Committee ranking Republican Richard Lugar (R-IN).
"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's staff wrote in a December 2009 report. "Consequently, Georgia lacks basic capacity for territorial defense."
Contradicting Lugar, the Beyrle cable argues that arms sales would actually be harmful for Georgian national security, because it increases the likelihood of sparking another war that Georgia would surely lose.
"From our vantage point, a burgeoning military supply relationship with Georgia is more of a liability for Georgia than a benefit," Beyrle wrote. "We recognize that our suggested approach would be deeply dissatisfying to Saakashvili, but we see ... no way to neutralize the advantages of geography, size, and capabilities enjoyed by Russia."
Samual Charap, associate director for the Russia and Eurasia program at the Center of for American Progress, agreed. "Instead of the argument of whether we can fulfill this desire of the Georgian government, we have to step back and say ‘what is the U.S. interest here,'" he said. "There's no such thing as a military balance or a military deterrent in this case."
More broadly, Charap and top administration officials argue that the reset policy with Russia is actually good for Georgia, even if it means that the United States won't sell it weapons.
"I guess the question is: Is Georgia and is the rest of Europe more secure today than they were -- than Europe was when we first got here? And I think our answer is yes," Michael McFaul, senior director for Russia at the National Security Council, said in June.
"The reset protects Georgia because Russia now has a whole lot more to lose," added Charap. "Before, nobody in Moscow was going to think ‘what will they think in Washington,' because they didn't care. Now they care."
Other experts said that while the Beyrle cable reflects just one man's opinion, it fits into a broader pattern of an Obama administration that has ignored Georgia and other parts of central Asia due to a focus on improving U.S.-Russian ties.
"Having a reset policy is fine, but what the administration has not done is create a simultaneous comprehensive policy for the central Asian states," said Alexandros Petersen, senior fellow at the Atlantic Council. "Right now 100 percent of our Georgia policy is about Russia, where it should be about 25 percent."
Petersen agreed that selling arms to Georgia is not a panacea, but should be combined with other types of assistance, including civil institution building, which is mentioned in Beyrle's cable.
"The Georgians love banging the table and saying give us lots of arms, but they are just as myopic as this cable was," Petersen said. "If you're going to do arms sales, you have to do 10 other things relating to bolstering Georgia."
The cable, by alluding to Russian corruption and heavy handedness in the disputed territories, fits into the larger picture of State Department reporting, as revealed by WikiLeaks, which privately emphasizes Russian misbehavior in Georgia. These cables, including reports on Russian military and intelligence attacks inside Georgia dating back to 2004, go well beyond what U.S. diplomats commented on in public.
Although Beyrle's cable does not represent U.S. official policy, some experts see a White House keen to adopt its candid recommendations.
"As the U.S. ambassador to Russia, naturally he is going to a focus on a better relationship with Russia, so you can't say this necessarily this trickles up to the Obama administration's policy," said Petersen. "But a senior official at State is clearly saying we should throw Georgia under the bus."
ALEXEY NIKOLSKY/AFP/Getty Images
European governments were told about the Barack Obama administration's decision to drastically alter U.S. plans for ballistic missile defense in Europe only 25 minutes before the official announcement, according to a tranche of leaked diplomatic cables released on Sunday by the self-described whistleblower website WikiLeaks. This detail is the latest piece of evidence that the administration botched its September 2009 rollout of the policy change.
"The White House is expected to announce a Presidential decision at approximately 9:55 a.m. (Washington, D.C.) on September 17 regarding a U.S. European-based BMD adaptive regional architecture, which is significantly different from the Bush Administration's plan to deploy 10 ground-based interceptors in Poland and a BMD tracking radar in the Czech Republic," read a diplomatic cable sent that day from Foggy Bottom to several dozen diplomatic posts in Europe.
"ACTION REQUEST: Addressee Posts are instructed to deliver the talking points to Host Governments in paragraph 4 on Thursday, September 17, as a non-paper, but no earlier than 9:30 a.m."
Of course, if European governments were reading the news reports, including an exclusive report the night before on The Cable, they would have known that top Obama administration officials, including Undersecretary of State for Arms Control Ellen Tauscher, Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Michèle Flournoy, and Assistant Secretary of Defense Alexander Vershbow, were making a hastily arranged late night trip to Poland and the Czech Republic to brief leaders there on the decision, after word leaked out ahead of the administration's schedule.
"What happened was that some of the consultations that we had abroad started creating some leaks with erroneous information about what the plan was," Flournoy told The Cable the next day.
A poorly worded headline in a carefully placed "authorized leak" article in the Wall Street Journal compounded the SNAFU. "U.S. to Shelve Nuclear-Missile Shield," read the story, which was exactly the opposite of the administration's talking points, which highlighted that the plans were merely being adjusted.
The leaked cable also reveals how the administration prioritized the need for secrecy above the need to brief allies and partners.
"Action Request addressees should attempt to provide pre-notifications immediately prior to the public announcement of the Presidential decision but not before 9:30 a.m. EDT; with the different time zones involved," the cable stated. "Washington recognizes that some notifications may not occur until after the White House public announcement."
Multiple European diplomats involved in the discussions have told The Cable that they were rebuffed by the White House in their attempts to get advance clarification of the decision to scuttle long-range missile defense interceptors in Poland and advanced radar in the Czech Republic planned by the George W. Bush administration. The administration's "Phased Adaptive Approach" envisions replacing that equipment with sea-based interceptors aimed at combating shorter range missiles.
Western European diplomat told The Cable that the NSC's Senior Director for Europe Liz Sherwood-Randall refused to disclose the details of the long-planned decision to that country's ambassador the night before the announcement, even after reports of the move had broken in the press.
The cable, which directs U.S. diplomats to explain the merits of the new approach for dealing with Iran, also includes specific talking points for consultations with specific countries. For Russia, for example, it emphasizes that missiles and radars used under the new approach do not have the capability to threaten or track Russian intercontinental ballistic missiles.
U.S. diplomats were also instructed that they could tell foreign governments they were getting briefed before the Russians, although that was not always the case.
"We would like to explain the President's decision to you before our public announcement and before we speak with Russia," the diplomats were told to say.
But in the section that outlines talking points to be given to Russian diplomats, the cable read, "The National Security Advisor, General [Jim] Jones, will be delivering a similar message to [Russian] Ambassador [Sergey] Kislyak before the [president's] announcement."
Martin H. Simon-Pool/Getty Images
U.S. diplomats collecting personal information on foreign officials is neither new nor unusual, multiple State Department officials told The Cable, in response to the release of hundreds of thousands of sensitive diplomatic messages by the self-described whistleblower website WikiLeaks.
One of the most discussed of the more than 200 diplomatic cables WikiLeaks has released from its reported cache of over 250,000 is a July 31, 2009 cable sent from Washington to several diplomatic missions entitled, "Reporting and collection needs: The United Nations." Classified as SECRET by Michael Owens, the State Department's acting director for operations at the Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR), the cable outlines a long list of personal information the U.S. intelligence community wanted U.S. diplomats to collect about U.N. and foreign officials, including cell phone numbers, e-mail addresses, internet "handles," passwords, credit card account numbers, and frequent flyer account numbers.
The new National HUMINT Collection Directive was only one of several that asked U.S. diplomats to collect human intelligence around the world, has been roundly portrayed in domestic and foreign media as directing diplomats to act as intelligence assets. The U.K.'s Guardian newspaper's article was entitled, "US diplomats spied on UN leadership." The New York Times said that the cables "appear to blur the traditional boundaries between statesmen and spies."
But in an interview with The Cable on Sunday evening, State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said that these activities did not mean that U.S. diplomats were being asked to act as intelligence assets.
"Our diplomats are just that, diplomats," Crowley said. "They represent our country around the world and engage openly and transparently with representatives of foreign governments and civil society. Through this process, they collect information that shapes our policies and actions. This is what diplomats, from our country and other countries, have done for hundreds of years."
Another State Department senior official objected to the contention that these directives came from Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, despite the fact that they are marked as being from "SECSTATE." Germany's Der Spiegel, in their write up of the State Department cables, called them "Orders from Clinton."
"The long-standing practice at the State Department is to include the secretary's name at the end of every cable sent from Washington," Undersecretary of State for Management Patrick Kennedy told The Cable. "This practice has not included that the secretary review or approve the hundreds of thousands of cables sent each year."
But the leaked directives to U.S. diplomats to report about foreign officials are causing considerable angst inside the State Department, where many officials believe that the nature of the communiqués are being misreported and misinterpreted.
"What this cable represents is an annual wish list from intelligence managers that just highlights for the U.S. government issues of particular interest and just asks if they come across any of these areas in the course of their normal duties that they report it through appropriate channels," one State Department official told The Cable on background basis.
"Overseas, it's being misconstrued that the Secretary of State is tasking diplomats to do intelligence duties, and that's not the case," the official said.
At their Foggy Bottom headquarters, State has set up an internal working group that is working in shifts around the clock, "monitoring the situation and supporting our senior staff and embassies around the world," the official said. "We follow the same process whenever a major event occurs."
Specifically, the cables show that U.S. diplomats in New York were asked to collect Biographic and biometric information on ranking North Korean diplomats. Separate cables disclosed on Sunday show that U.S. diplomats overseas were asked for specific reporting on officials from the Palestinian territories, Paraguay, Bulgaria, and Africa's Great Lakes region.
The State Department officials emphasized to The Cable the distinction between diplomats who collect information as part of a wide range of duties and intelligence personnel, who have a singular and specific mission. The official also argued that other countries do the same thing and that the intelligence gathered by U.S. diplomats also benefits Washington's allies.
"Information collection is something that diplomats of every country do every day. These areas of particular interest, they're not just ours," the official said. "This is information that's of use to us, and to our allies and friends with whom we're trying to solve regional and global challenges."
"We're not asking our diplomats to do anything substantially different from what they've been doing for eons," the official continued. "Every diplomat and mission around the world is doing the same thing."
The State Department wrote Saturday to the leaders of the self-described whistleblower website WikiLeaks, telling them the U.S. government won't negotiate ahead of the expected release of hundreds of thousands of sensitive documents.
The State Department's top legal advisor Harold Koh wrote Saturday to WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange and his attorney Jennifer Robinson in response to a letter WikiLeaks sent the same day to U.S. Ambassador to the United Kingdom Louis Susman. The State Department rejected WikiLeaks' request for the names of individuals who may be "at significant risk of harm" due to the release of the sensitive documents.
"Despite your stated desire to protect those lives, you have done the opposite and endangered the lives of countless individuals. You have undermined your stated objective by disseminating this material widely, without redaction, and without regard to the security and sanctity of the lives your actions endanger. We will not engage in a negotiation regarding the further release or dissemination of illegally obtained U.S. Government classified materials," Koh wrote.
He said that if WikiLeaks was genuinely interested in protecting those individuals, they should stop publishing secret materials, return them to the U.S. government, and erase them from their databases.
The State Department has learned through conversations with The New York Times, The Guardian and Der Spiegel that WikiLeaks has given them access to approximately 250,000 documents for publication. The release could come as early as Sunday.
The release would place lives at risk, according to the State Department, including the lives of "journalists to human rights activists and bloggers to soldiers to individuals providing information to further peace and security."
Full letter text after the jump:
10 incoming GOP senators wrote to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) today to demand the right to vote on the New START treaty with Russia. Senator-elect Mark Kirk (R-IL) didn't sign that letter, but his staff told The Cable that he hasn't decided how he will vote yet and won't decide until he receives several specific things from the Obama administration.
Kirk is a key vote, and not just because he is a moderate GOP lawmaker with decades of military and foreign policy experience. Kirk will fill the seat being vacated by appointee Roland Burris, which means he will be seated this year, probably shortly after the Thanksgiving break. So if somehow the administration is able to secure a vote on New START this year, Kirk will be one of three brand-new senators who will vote on the pact, along with Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Chris Coons (D-DE). Among them, Kirk is the only Republican taking over for a departing Democrat.
"The Senator-elect wants to carefully review all available information before making a decision on this matter," Kirk spokesman Lance Trover told The Cable Thursday.
An aide to Kirk explained to The Cable that Kirk is asking for multiple pieces of information before he makes up his mind: copies of the complete negotiating record of the treaty; documents related to a parallel discussion on U.S.-Russian missile defense cooperation conducted by Undersecretary of State for Arms Control Ellen Tauscher and her Russian counterpart deputy foreign minister Sergei Rybakov; classified briefings on the reliability of America's nuclear warheads from the directors of the Sandia, Los Alamos, and Lawrence Livermore National Laboratories; U.S. Strategic Command's written analysis prepared to support the treaty negotiations; planning documents showing the administration' commitment to modernize the three legs of the U.S. nuclear deterrent; and formal briefings from the Departments of State, Defense, and Energy.
That's a lot of data for the administration to pull together for Kirk before the end of the year. The administration has so far refused to provide senators with the full negotiating record or the inside details of the Tauscher-Rybakov discussions, so that could also be a stumbling block in the effort to win Kirk's vote.
On a conference call Thursday afternoon, The Cable asked Ben Chang, deputy spokesman for the National Security Staff, if the administration would entertain the idea of handing over the full negotiating record for New START.
Chang wouldn't say. But he reiterated that " there is time on the Senate calendar to get the treaty ratified this year and we are committed to do so."
So what about the other two new senators who will be seated during the lame duck? We haven't been able to get a response from Coons on his position, but Manchin spokesperson Lara Ramsburg told The Cable that "Joe Manchin's governing philosophy on defense policy will be to listen to our commanders and generals on the ground, and before he can cast a vote for or against START II, he will need to assess their recommendations." We're still trying to figure out just what that means, considering that every military leader from Defense Secretary Robert Gates on down has voiced strong support.
Meanwhile, President Barack Obama continues to pledge to push for a treaty vote this year and has tasked Vice President Joseph Biden to work on it "day and night."
"It is a national security imperative that the United States ratify the New START treaty this year," Obama said Thursday. "There is no higher national security priority for the lame duck session of Congress. The stakes for American national security are clear, and they are high."
The measure to repeal the ban on gays serving openly in the military may have to be dropped from the defense authorization bill in order to get the bill passed this year, said Senate Armed Services Committee chairman Carl Levin (D-MI).
"I'm trying to get the bill through Congress. I'm the committee chairman for a 900 page bill. ‘Don't Ask, Don't Tell' is two pages of 900 pages. My focus is different from the media focus. I'm just trying to get a bill passed," Levin told reporters at the Capitol building on Tuesday.
While no final decisions have been made, Levin said one option was to separate the language on repealing "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" from the rest of the bill, and then making two separate efforts to pass the both pieces of legislation.
"I'm trying to get both done. And if I can't get both done, I want to get one of them done," Levin said.
He said no decisions will be made until Congress receives the military's survey on the effect of repealing the ban, details of which were leaked to the Washington Post. 70 percent of troops responding to the survey said that the effects of repealing the ban would be "positive, mixed or nonexistent."
Levin said he asked Defense Secretary Robert Gates to release the survey before the Dec. 1 scheduled release date, but hasn't heard back yet. He plans to hold hearings right after the survey is released and then figure out what to do next.
A long debate over the bill could mean that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) won't be able to allot precious floor time to the bill during the lame duck session of Congress.
"I don't know if this is one of the things [Reid] is trying to do. There are a lot of things he is trying to do [in the lame duck session]," Levin said.
If and when the repeal language is removed from the defense bill, that doesn't mean the legislation is good to go. Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), the ranking Republican on the Armed Services Committee, still has concerns about how the bill deals with Iraq reconstruction funding and language dealing with abortions in the military.
But McCain told The Cable that if the Don't Ask, Don't Tell language was removed, the rest of the issue could be worked out on the Senate floor through the regular debate and amendment process. But the Don't Ask, Don't Tell language has to be gone for good.
"If we have a commitment from the House that it won't be put in by the House and sent back, we can do it [this year]," McCain said.
The incoming head of the House Armed Services Committee, Rep. Buck McKeon (R-CA) said that he will use his new perch to push for increases in defense spending -- beyond what the White House and Defense Secretary Robert Gates are calling for.
McKeon, speaking at a policy conference organized by the Foreign Policy Initiative, a conservative think tank, said that while he supports Gates' drive to find $100 billion in efficiencies within the defense budget, he is worried that, once the defense secretary identifies possible cuts, deficit-minded officials and lawmakers will seek to take that money away from the Pentagon.
"I am extremely concerned that no matter what the intentions of Secretary Gates may be, the administration and some in Congress will not allow the secretary to keep the savings identified in his efficiencies initiative," McKeon said. "Sustaining growth for the Department of Defense requires leadership from the White House and the Office of Management and Budget. Once savings from this efficiencies initiative are identified, what's to stop them from taking this money, too?"
In fact, the two co-chairs of the president's Debt Commission proposed last week to divert this money away from the defense budget. They said the $100 billion Gates is looking to save should be applied directly to the deficit, and also proposed other drastic cuts in defense programs and entitlements as part of the overall effort to solve the nation's fiscal problems.
As far as Gates is concerned, his cost-saving measures are not meant to enable overall cuts in the defense budget. He is seeking to protect 1 percent real growth in the budget, which has more than doubled -- from just over $300 billion in 2001 to almost $700 billion for fiscal 2010 -- when the costs of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are taken into account.
But McKeon said that even 1 percent real growth going forward is not good enough.
"One percent real growth in the defense budget over the next five years is a net cut for investment and procurement accounts. A defense budget in decline portends an America in decline. It will undermine our ability to project power, strengthen our adversaries and weaken our alliances," McKeon said.
He pointed to the report of an independent panel created by Congress to respond to Gates' Quadrennial Defense Review led by former National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley and former Defense Secretary William Perry to support his argument. That panel recommended significant new investments in naval power and ever increasing defense budgets in the future.
"Let me put this in the simplest terms possible: cutting defense spending amidst two wars is a red line for me and should be a red line for all Americans," McKeon said.
In a roundtable discussion with reporters following his remarks, McKeon said he did not expect the fiscal 2010 defense authorization bill, which is now before the Senate, to be passed this year.
"For the first time in 40 years, we may not have a defense authorization bill passed," he said. "We need to get it done before the appropriations bill gets done so we can maintain relevance."
He also maintained his opposition to including a measure in the defense bill that would repeal the ban on gays serving openly in the military, which is currently supported by the Democratic leadership.
"Whether it be the hate crimes legislation, immigration, or don't ask don't tell, the defense bill has been used as a vehicle to divide instead of unite the Congress," McKeon said. "This must end today."
A joint letter demanding more information about the Obama administration's proposed $60 billion arms sale to Saudi Arabia was sent to top administration officials on Friday with the signatures of 198 lawmakers from both sides of the aisle.
The letter, first reported on The Cable, was coordinated jointly by outgoing House Foreign Affairs Committee chairman Howard Berman (D-CA) and incoming chairwoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL). Addressed to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Defense Secretary Robert Gates, it spells out a long list of concerns lawmakers have about the sale and demands answers to several questions about how the deal fits into U.S. national security strategy. The lawmakers question whether Saudi Arabia is acting in conjunction with U.S. interests and whether the deal has enough checks and balances to ensure U.S. as well as Israeli interests.
"We are writing to raise concerns and pose a number of strategic questions about the impact such sales would have on the national security interests of the United States and our allies," the lawmakers wrote. The deal would be the largest arms sale in U.S. history and another $30 billion sale of Naval technology to the Kingdom is also said to be in the works.
The Obama administration defends the deal as vital, and Israel has raised few objections. But although lawmakers haven't said they will move to kill the sale, they aren't forswearing that course of action, either.
"There are a lot of questions to be answered on this," a GOP House aide told The Cable. "If Israel doesn't strongly object that doesn't mean it's not problematic."
Assistant Secretary of State for Political-Military Affairs Andrew Shapiro, whose office was key in negotiating the deal, told reporters on Oct. 20 that he did not anticipate strong resistance to the deal on Capitol Hill.
"Congress is a big place and there are a lot of members, and there may be differing opinions about the sale. But we feel comfortable that we have done adequate pre-consultations with members of Congress that there will not be a barrier to completing this sale," Shapiro said.
The bipartisan National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform released its proposal Wednesday to slash $200 billion from the federal budget by 2015, including $100 billion in cuts to the defense budget.
"We have a patriotic duty to come together on a plan that will make America better off tomorrow than it is today," wrote the co-chairs, former GOP Senator Alan Simpson and Clinton White House Chief of Staff Erskine Bowles, in their draft proposal. "America cannot be great if we go broke. Our economy will not grow and our country will not be able to compete without a plan to get this crushing debt burden off our back."
$100 billion is exactly the amount Defense Secretary Robert Gates proposed in August to save through cost-cutting initiatives over the next five years. But Gates' proposal is meant to incentivize services to find savings by letting them "keep what they catch," and was actually a move to defend the administration's call for ongoing 1 percent real growth in the defense budget going forward.
Simpson and Bowles want that $100 billion to be applied directly to deficit reduction, which they calculate would save $28 billion in 2015. But they don't stop there. The heads of the commission also proposed freezing military pay for three years, reducing procurement by 15 percent, reducing overseas basing personnel by one third, doubling Gates' promise to cut contractors by 10 percent, reducing research funding by 10 percent, and modernizing the military's healthcare system known as Tricare, the costs of which have been spiraling out of control.
In their "illustrative list" of proposed defense cuts, the commission co-chairs identified a host of Pentagon programs that they feel should be scaled back or eliminated. They recommended ending procurement of the V-22 Osprey, cancelling the Marines Corps' Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle and its version of the F-35 fighter, replacing half of the planned Navy F-35 fighters with F-16s and F18s, cancelling the Navy's "sea-basing" plan, and scuttling the Army's Joint Light Tactical Vehicle (JLTV), Ground Combat Vehicle, and Joint Tactical Radio.
Wired journalist Spencer Ackerman points out that this is just one more salvo in the ongoing battle over whether it's time to start cutting the defense budget in order to address the nation's deteriorating fiscal situation.
"None of this is binding. It'll take the support of 14 out of 18 commission members to even get Congress to consider Simpson and Bowles' proposals, something congressional leaders have pledged to do. The full commission has until December 1 to vote on the plan, and as David Kurtz writes, the commissioners don't seem pleased with what Simpson and Bowles are offering," Ackerman writes. "Admiral Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, has called the national debt the single greatest threat to national security. Now to see what resistance develops to Bowles and Simpson's effort at confronting it."
Nevertheless, those in the defense community who have been calling for cuts, such as the members of the Sustainable Defense Task Force, are praising the recommendations as a step in the right direction.
"Even though this appears to be a good start, the devil in the details," said Carl Conetta, co-director of the Project on Defense Alternatives. "For example, the cuts may double-count to some extent by claiming Gates' proposed saving as a subtraction from currently proposed deficits. Still, defense is cut close to its proportion of spending - which is a good place to start."
The White House is trying to stay out of the fray, for now.
"The president will wait until the bipartisan fiscal commission finishes its work before commenting," White House spokesperson Bill Burton said in a statement. "He respects the challenging task that the co-chairs and the commissioners are undertaking and wants to give them space to work on it. These ideas, however, are only a step in the process towards coming up with a set of recommendations and the President looks forward to reviewing their final product early next month."
The White House has begun its next comprehensive review of the war in Afghanistan. But don't expect it to resolve the political struggle over the course of the war: The review won't examine policy options and won't weigh in on how the war effort should be modified going forward.
The National Security Staff began what they are calling the "annual Afghanistan-Pakistan review" two weeks ago and is now in the "data collection" phase, a senior Obama administration official told reporters on a conference call Tuesday afternoon. NSS staff went on a 12-day trip to Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Brussels recently to gather data for the review, and reports from various agencies and outposts are due this week. When that step is completed, the second phase of the review will begin. In early December, the White House plans to move to the third and final phase, which will be about organizing its findings. Some of those findings will be shared with Capitol Hill and perhaps the public in the second half of December or early January.
But unlike the last administration Afghanistan policy review, which resulted in Obama's troop surge decision last March, this review team is being told not to make policy recommendations. That work will be left to the National Security Staff (the new name for the National Security Council) to deal with after the review is completed.
"The president defined our task, and that is simply that we are to assess how this approach is working," the official said. "He specified that this is a diagnostic look at the strategy. It is not, on the other hand, prescriptive. That is, we are not in the business of formulating policy alternatives or different courses of action or so forth."
The interagency team will focus on two questions in conducting the review. First: Is the strategy on the right path, and are the resources committed producing the desired results? Secondly, is the pace of those results sufficient to match the timelines that Obama set during his March speech on the war effort?
"Our bywords are ‘path' and ‘pace,'" the official said.
Neither the exact findings of the review, nor details of the metrics used by the administration to measure progress in Afghanistan and Pakistan, will be released to the public. But when pressed, the official described the broad categories of metrics the administration is utilizing.
There are eight general categories of metrics, three focusing on Afghanistan, three focusing on Pakistan, and two focusing on the overall counterterrorism effort, the official said. The sub-metrics will gauge a number of factors, including trends in violence, the degree to which local areas are controlled by the Afghan government , and the quality and quantity of Afghan security forces.
The question of whether Pakistan is making progress on combating insurgents operating inside its borders is a "very fundamental underlying question for the review," the official said. "We do not dispute that there are still safe havens in Pakistan which are fundamentally part of the equation for our campaign in Afghanistan and getting at those safe havens is fundamental to our approach."
The official defended the administration's decision to keep most of the details of the metrics as well as the details of the review and its conclusions out of the public view.
"This is designed to be an inside the administration perspective," the official said. "There will some sharing of findings at the end of the process, but there's no intent now to share internal metrics and measurements, because since we're in an active conflict zone, the degree to which we share these kinds of details could put lives at risk and jeopardize the kind of progress we're trying to generate."
At the end of the review process, the review will compile a list of policy issues that need to be addressed and tee those up for the National Security Staff to deal with in the first six months in 2011. But don't expect the White House to voluntarily share the details of those discussions either, the official warned.
"There's a good deal that we don't intend to make public."
Twenty-nine leading human rights organizations wrote to President Obama on Friday to express their disappointment with his decision last week to waive sanctions against four countries the State Department has identified as using child soldiers.
The human rights and child advocacy community was not consulted before the White House announced its decision on Oct. 25 to waive penalties under the Child Soldiers Prevention Act of 2008, which was supposed to go into effect last month, for violators Chad, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Sudan, and Yemen. The NGO leaders, along with officials on Capitol Hill, also expressed their unhappiness about the announcement, and their exclusion from the decision making process, in an Oct. 29 conference call with senior administration officials. Today, they backed up their complaints in writing and called on the administration to mitigate the consequences.
"We believe that your waiver undermines the intent of the law and sends an unfortunate message that the administration is not seriously committed to ending the use of child soldiers," the groups wrote to Obama. "By giving a blanket waiver, the administration has also given up the significant leverage that the law provides to influence the child recruitment practices of its military allies."
A secret administration justification memo spelled out the reasons that the White House ultimately decided to forgo the sanctions for each country, explaining why cooperation with these troubled militaries was in the U.S. national interest. But critics countered that these interests could have been maintained without gutting the law.
"We recognize that the United States has a complex set of national interests in each of these countries, including for example, counter-terrorism concerns in Yemen," they wrote. "However, the administration could have accommodated these concerns while also showing that it was taking the Child Soldiers Prevention Act seriously and using its leverage strategically to effectively end the use of child soldiers."
In the administration's conference call reported first on The Cable , the National Security Council senior director Samantha Power argued that staying engaged with these militaries while "naming and shaming" them was actually the most effective way to make progress on the child soldiers issue.
In their letter, the human rights groups rejected that argument. "This approach has been ineffective thus far," they noted. "Continuing existing programs -- as the U.S. has done for years -- without other changes in the approach is unlikely to yield change."
The groups had some specific recommendations for how the administration could mitigate the damage caused by waiving the sanctions. They want the administration to establish benchmarks to gauge whether these troubled militaries are actually making progress on demobilizing child soldiers, publicly commit to not transfer lethal materials to these armies, and start engaging the NGO community and congressional offices about these issues in an organized and transparent manner.
Jo Becker, advocacy director for the children's rights division at Human Rights Watch, said the groups are also preparing some specific recommendations for the administration for each of the four countries.
So is the White House dealing well with the NGO groups involved, following last week's botched roll out? "They're certainly paying attention to this issue now," said Becker. "They say this is a priority and we would like to take them at their word."
The letter was signed by the African Centre for Justice and Peace Studies, the African Faith & Justice Network, the American Federation of Teachers, Amnesty International USA, the Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America, Caring for Kaela, Child Protection International, the Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers, the 3D Security Initiative, the Fellowship of Reconciliation, Foreign Policy in Focus , the Friends Committee on National Legislation, Human Rights First, Human Rights Program, the University of Minnesota, Human Rights Watch, the International Labor Rights Forum, International Justice Mission, Multifaith Voices for Peace and Justice, National Consumers League, the Open Society Policy Center, Oxfam America, Pax Christi USA, Physicians for Human Rights, Presbyterian Church USA, the Ramsay Merriam Fund, Refugees International, Resolve, the United Methodist Church, and the General Board of Church & Society.
On a recent trip to Afghanistan, Special Representative Richard Holbrooke got a first-hand taste of why Afghans, and especially the Afghan leadership, are so eager to get rid of private security contractors operating in their country after taking a scary car ride around Kabul against his wishes.
In a briefing with reporters last week, Holbrooke revealed the story of how security contractors in Afghanistan refused to take his orders -- highlighting the problem of outsourcing security functions to private corporations. After recounting the incident, Holbrooke said that he better understood Afghan President Hamid Karzai's concerns about private security contractors. Karzai still plans to kick all private security contractors out of Afghanistan, despite administration efforts to negotiate the details.
Holbrooke related an episode that occurred during a trip to Afghanistan. "I was driving through the street in a vehicle. I was a little bit late to a meeting. There was traffic. The vehicle, which was armored, of course, was careening around in a way I felt very uncomfortable about," Holbrooke said. "And I said to the guy sitting next to the driver, who was cradling a big weapon -- I said, ‘You don't have to drive that way. Slow down.'... And he said to me, 'I don't work for you, sir.' And I said, 'Who do you work for?' And he just was silent again. And I was outraged. I was embarrassed. So I know where President Karzai's coming from on this."
Aid groups in Afghanistan have been scrambling to figure out how to comply with Karzai's August decree that all private security contractors must leave Afghanistan by the end of this year. Some international aid groups are already preparing to shut down projects if their safety can't be assured. The Obama administration has been discussing the decree with Karzai, in the hopes of expanding exemptions for contractors who are protecting U.S. government personnel to cover some other groups, such as those that protect international aid workers, that the United States feels are crucial to success of the international mission.
Those negotiations are being conducted by U.S. Ambassador Karl Eikenberry, Gen. David Petraeus, the U.N. representative Steffan di Mistura, the British Embassy, and the British Department for International Development. Holbrooke supports these negotiations, which have already resulted in the deadline being extended until February, but said he said he personally agrees with the thrust of Karzai's decree.
"Afghanistan is a sovereign country and respect for its sovereignty was necessary," Holbrooke said. "You had tens of thousands of security guys from all sorts of countries wandering around heavily armed, some of them illegal, some of them highly corrupt, some not corrupt, under multiple contracts. You can't have a country in a situation like that. So now, to get it under control and still be able to protect the international aid workers if they need protection, to get it under control without creating different sets of problems is a real challenge."
Karzai will announce the final rules pertaining to his decree on private security contractors in Afghanistan on Nov. 15, after which there will be a 90-day implementation period.
"This will outline the process by which there will be a transition from the current situation, which is intolerable and untenable, to a point where private security companies do not exist or exist only under conditions that the government is comfortable with and that they operate," Holbrooke said.
The White House spent an hour Friday afternoon trying to convince angry Hill staffers and human rights activists that "naming and shaming" governments that recruit child soldiers, rather than imposing Congressionally-mandated sanctions on them, will better address the problem. But advocacy leaders are upset with the administration and rejected top White House officials' contention that removing sanctions against four troubled states will be a positive move.
The White House began a conference call on the issue Friday afternoon by apologizing to the NGO and Hill community for the decision's botched rollout, which was announced only through a short official presidential memorandum on Monday and then reported on by The Cable on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday. The call was off the record and not for press purposes, but a recording was made available to The Cable.
"This is a call that should have happened before you read about the administration's child soldiers' posture in the newspaper," said Samantha Power, the National Security Council's senior director for multilateral affairs and human rights. "Given the way you all heard about the implementation of the statute, I can understand why some of the reactions that you had were prevalent."
Power defended the president's decision to waive penalties under the Child Soldiers Prevention Act of 2008, which was set to go into effect this month, for Chad, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Sudan, and Yemen. She argued that identifying these countries as violators while giving them one more year to stop recruiting underage troops would help make progress.
"Our judgment was brand them, name them, shame them, and then try to leverage assistance in a fashion to make this work," said Power, adding that this was the first year the Obama administration had to make a decision on this issue, so they want to give the violator countries one more year to show progress.
"In year one to just say we're out of here, best of luck, we wish you well... Our judgment is we'll work from inside the tent."
But Hill staffers and advocacy leaders on the call weren't buying what Power was selling. They were upset that they learned about the decision via The Cable, and challenged Power on each point that she made.
For example, Jo Becker, advocacy director for the children's rights division at Human Rights Watch, pointed out that the law was passed two years ago.
"The law was enacted in 2008, so countries have had two years to know that this was coming down the pike," she said. "So the consequences of the law really shouldn't be taking anyone by surprise, so to say countries need a year to get their act together is really problematic."
She also disputed Power's contention on the call that "there's evidence that our diplomatic engagement and this military assistance has resulted in some changes."
"The U.S. has been providing training for years already with no real change on the ground," said Becker. "We haven't seen significant changes in practice so far from the engagement approach, so that seems to indicate to me we need to change the approach, maybe withholding programs until we see changes on the ground."
"I think the logic of engagement is something reasonable people can disagree on," Power responded. "There's probably empirical evidence on both sides."
Advocates on the call did acknowledge Chad's efforts on child soldier demobilization, but lamented that little or no progress has been seen in the DRC or with South Sudan's Southern People's Liberation Army (SPLA). But they wanted to know: If the administration believes that the threat of the sanctions has caused progress, then how does removing that threat keep the pressure on?
"Why remove that leverage now when we've seen it's been so valuable?" asked Scott Stedjan, senior policy advisor at Oxfam America
Jesse Eaves, policy advisor for children in crisis at World Vision, was one of several on the call to wonder why the administration decided to waive all sanctions, rather than using a part of the law that allows the continuation of military assistance to violator countries, along as that assistance goes toward military professionalization.
"Naming and shaming has not worked," he said. "You can give support under the law. Much of the aid that's even discussed in the justification memo that many of us have seen can still be given to these countries if they show a reasonable attempt to demobilize child soldiers."
Overall, Power wanted to point out that the administration is still intent on fighting the use of child soldiers and that waiving the sanctions doesn't mean that all pressures will stop. She promised that if these countries don't shape up, the administration will take a tougher line when reevaluating the sanctions next year.
Power repeatedly attempted to argue that the attention over the president's decision to waive sanctions was exactly the kind of public pressure needed to spur violator governments to change. However, her argument was complicated by the fact that the administration failed to tell anyone about the decision and announced it with no rollout or explanation whatsoever.
"I do think there's something different between what happened in 2008 [when the law passed] versus actually being named this week," she said. "And we're already seeing out in the field via our embassies a huge amount of discomfort and angst on the part of those countries about being branded in this way."
Power said at the end of the call that the administration plans to capitalize on the fallout from its decision. She said that the administration planned on "[u]sing the attention from this moment and the leverage of having abstained from having put the sanctions in effect right now and saying... ‘You're not going to get so lucky next time if we don't see some progress.'"
Overall, the call showed that the White House realized it botched the rollout of the decision but is standing by the decision itself. Next, they will have to defend it on Capitol Hill, where staffers are set to receive a special briefing on the issue next week.
"I think it's unfortunate that the NGO community and those in Congress who wrote the law were not involved in its implementation," said Kody Kness, an aide to Sen. Sam Brownback (R-KS), one of the lead sponsors of the law. "I think that's a missed opportunity."
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The Cable goes inside the foreign policy machine, from Foggy Bottom to Turtle Bay, the White House to Embassy Row.