Sarah Palin is waging a battle inside the Tea Party movement to exempt defense spending from the group's small-government, anti-deficit fervor.
There's growing concern among Republicans -- and especially among the pro-defense neoconservative wing of the party -- that national-security spending, which is under a level of scrutiny and pressure not seen since the end of the Cold War, could fall victim to the anti-establishment, anti-spending agenda of the Tea Party movement. Palin, as the unofficial leader of that movement and its most prominent celebrity, is moving to carve out such funding from any drives to cut overall government expenditures.
There's a sense among GOP insiders that she is not only the perfect figure to make the case, but she's also the only one who can pull it off.
"In the conservative ranks and within the party, she's really quite a crucial piece in this puzzle," said Tom Donnelly, defense fellow at the American Enterprise Institute. "She's got both political and Tea Party/small government bona fides, but she also has a lot of credibility in advocating for military strength."
Although the Tea Party lacks strict organization or the traditional policy discipline found elsewhere on the American right, Palin's presence looms large over the movement. Her endorsements are prized by candidates, and even the most far-right lawmakers oppose her positions at their own risk.
"The Tea Party movement is not something that's set in stone. She can have a bridging effect but she can also have a profound influence on the direction that the Tea Party goes," said Donnelly.
Defense spending could also be a theme of Palin's much-mooted return to the campaign trial in 2012.
"Sarah Palin is uniquely positioned to have an effect and it could also redound in her favor," Donnelly said. "She can lay claim to this issue in ways that give her legitimacy and credibility for her next political move as well."
Palin's drive to lead the charge against defense cuts on the right was on display in a June 27 speech at "Freedom Fest," a conservative gathering in Norfolk, VA, where she sent a clear message to Republicans that deficit reduction can't come at the expense of the military.
"Something has to be done urgently to stop the out of control Obama-Reid-Pelosi spending machine, and no government agency should be immune from budget scrutiny," she said. "We must make sure, however, that we do nothing to undermine the effectiveness of our military. If we lose wars, if we lose the ability to deter adversaries, if we lose the ability to provide security for ourselves and for our allies, we risk losing all that makes America great! That is a price we cannot afford to pay."
Palin also directly took on Defense Secretary Robert Gates, a Republican, challenging his drive to reign in procurement spending and reevaluate the need for certain huge weapons systems and platforms.
"Secretary Gates recently spoke about the future of the U.S. Navy. He said we have to ‘ask whether the nation can really afford a Navy that relies on $3 to $6 billion destroyers, $7 billion submarines, and $11 billion carriers.' He went on to ask, ‘Do we really need ... more strike groups for another 30 years when no other country has more than one?'" Palin said. "Well, my answer is pretty simple: Yes, we can and, yes, we do, because we must."
Calls for defense to be considered for cuts are coming from all corners. In April, President Obama told his new debt commission that "everything must be on the table" when it comes to places to find savings. He also raised the issue in his National Security Strategy, released in May, which said, "Rebuilding our economy must include putting ourselves on a fscally sustainable path. As such, implementing our national security strategy will require a disciplined approach to setting priorities and making tradeofs among competing programs and activities."
Republican Sen. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma sent a letter to the commission explaining exactly why he thinks defense spending is ripe for cost-cutting. "I appreciate that some of these thoughts are controversial," he wrote, "even to the point that I have some reluctance in suggesting them" -- highlighting the sensitivity of even challenging increased defense spending, something of a third rail in GOP politics. "However, if we are to fulfill our mandate, we must make some difficult choices, not just recommend that others do so," he said.
For Gates and leading Democrats like House Armed Services Committee chairman Ike Skelton, D-MO, taking a hard look at the defense budget is necessary to reform a Pentagon that has lost its ability to manage money efficiently now that the Defense Department's coffers have more than doubled since 2001.
Top Democrats in Congress are now beginning to talk about deficits as being detrimental to national security, challenging the conventional wisdom that more defense funding is always better.
"It's time to stop talking about fiscal discipline and national security threats as if they're separate topics: debt is a national security threat, one of the greatest we know of," House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-MD, said in a speech this week.
Opponents of defense budget cuts see Palin as perfectly positioned to make their case to the Tea Party rank and file. The former Alaska governor and vice-presidential candidate remains hugely popular among the conservative base, giving her credibility even within the libertarian wing of the GOP represented by Ron and Rand Paul, two Tea Party favorites.
Norman Podhoretz, the former editor of Commentary and an influential neoconservative, argued in a Wall Street Journal op-ed in March that although Palin has become identified with the Tea Party, on national security she provides a bridge to the hawkish side of the GOP.
"Her views are much closer to those of her conservative opponents than they are to the isolationists and protectionists on the ‘paleoconservative' right or to the unrealistic ‘realism' of the ‘moderate' Republicans who inhabit the establishment center," he wrote.
When Vice President Joseph Biden sat down with Gen. David Petraeus in the outgoing CENTCOM commander's Tampa home for dinner Tuesday evening, it was actually the second private encounter between the two men in as many weeks.
Only seven days prior, Biden and Petraeus had what's called a "pull-aside" meeting at the White House. This meeting was held immediately following the senior Afghanistan strategy session in the Situation Room, where the president decided to ask Petraeus to move to Kabul and run the war in Afghanistan following the sacking of Gen. Stanley McChrystal.
Despite reports that Biden and Petraeus are on opposite sides of the debate over how to prosecute the war, Biden was actually a leading proponent of choosing Petraeus to replace McChrystal, an administration official said. Meeting with Obama in the Oval Office just before the strategy meeting where the decision to fire McChrystal was discussed, Biden gave Obama his strong recommendation to select Petraeus.
After the general accepted the offer, Biden told Petraeus in their pull-aside meeting that he had strongly supported the idea of giving him the command. The two men agreed to meet one more time before Petraeus left for Kabul. Biden happened to be traveling to Pensacola, Florida yesterday to visit areas affected by the Gulf oil spill, so they agreed to meet at Petraeus's Tampa house.
Both at their meeting last week and at Tuesday's dinner, they discussed their mutual support of the president's policy, the official said, trying to put to rest what the administration feels is an overblown discussion of an incident described in a recent book by Newsweek reporter Jonathan Alter, when Biden reportedly said, "In July of 2011 you're going to see a whole lot of people moving out. Bet on it."
"There is not a Biden versus Petraeus dynamic here," the official said. "Both the vice president and the general signed onto the president's policy and both are committed to it." That policy, the official pointed out, included both the surge of 30,000 troops and the July 2011 drawdown date, when the administration says a yet-to-be-determined number of troops will begin to depart.
Inside the policy process last fall, Biden advocated for a more counterterrorism-heavy strategy, rather than a troop-intensive counterinsurgency strategy, out of his genuine skepticism that the Afghan government would rise to the occasion.
And the quote, while accurate, doesn't attempt to define what Biden meant by "a whole lot." The surge was always meant to be a temporary measure, so when some of those 30,000 additional troops come home, that could be considered to be a "lot," the official argued
Nevertheless, Republican senators are seizing upon the Biden quote to allege that the two men are either fighting against each other inside the Obama administration, or just not on the same page regarding the president's Afghanistan policy. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-SC, pressed Petraeus on the quote during his confirmation hearing Tuesday morning, asking him if Biden was "right."
Petraeus referred to their previous meeting at the White House, saying, "The vice president grabbed me and said, ‘You should know I am 100 percent supportive of this policy.'"
The dinner itself was more of a social affair than a business event, with many other people attending, including Mrs. Holly Petraeus, Lt. Gen. John Allen, Command Sgt. Maj. Marvin Hill and his wife, and Biden's national security advisor, Tony Blinken.
Allen was named Wednesday as the new acting head of CENTCOM, succeeding Petraeus. Petraeus was confirmed for his new post Wednesday by a Senate vote of 99-0.
Official White House Photo by David Lienemann
When General David Petraeus testifies today on Capitol Hill, his main job will be to carefully define the timeline for the beginning of America's exit from Afghanistan, a timeline that has stakeholders in Washington and throughout the region confused and concerned.
"As the President has stated, July 2011 is the point at which we will begin a transition phase in which the Afghan government will take more and more responsibility for its own security," Petraeus wrote in his advanced questions submitted to the Senate Armed Services Committee and obtained by The Cable. "As the President has also indicated, July 2011 is not a date when we will be rapidly withdrawing our forces and -switching off the lights and closing the door behind us."
His job will also be to defend President Obama's decision to set a public date for the beginning of the withdrawal in the first place, by arguing that having a time line in the public discussion helps pressure the Afghans to move faster toward being able to govern and secure their country on their own.
"I believe there was value in sending a message of urgency -- July 2011... But it is important that July 2011 be seen for what it is: the date when a process begins, in which the reduction of US forces must be based on the conditions at the time, and not a date when the U.S. heads for the exits," he wrote to the committee. He stressed that multiple times that the pace of the drawdown would be "conditions based."
But even in his own writing to the committee, Petraeus acknowledged that the enemy, the Taliban and other insurgents in Afghanistan, are waiting out the coalition and biding their time until foreign forces decide to leave.
"Insurgent leaders view their tactical and operational losses in 2010 as inevitable and acceptable. The Taliban believe they can outlast the Coalition's will to fight and believe this strategy will be effective despite short-term losses. The Taliban also believe they can sustain momentum and maintain operational capacity," he wrote.
One of the main enablers of any U.S. exit is the development of the Afghan National Security Forces, which has not gone at the pace the coalition had hoped. Petraeus wrote that he would review the situation of the ANSF within four months of assuming command, if confirmed.
As of the latest review, only 5 out of 19 Afghan National Army brigades can function without a majority of their functions supported by the U.S., according to Petraeus, and only 2 out of 7 major headquarters can function properly without significant coalition support. As of June 27, there are 7,261 ANA troops in the city of Kandahar and 6,794 Afghan soldiers in Helmand province, Petraeus wrote.
He also said that a comprehensive plan to reintegrate some Taliban fighters is under final review with President Hamid Karzai and "offers the potential to reduce violence and provide realistic avenues to assimilate Pashtun insurgents back into Afghanistan society."
Petraeus promised to take a look at the rules of engagement that U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan feel are tying their hands in the fight, but he didn't say whether he was leaning toward changing them or not.
Meanwhile, confusion over the president's timeline persists both in Washington and abroad as interested parties try to interpret the July 2011 date in a way that serves their own political interests.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-CA, said Monday that there would be "a serious drawdown" next summer, seemingly getting ahead of the administration in an effort to appease the liberal wing of her caucus, which is threatening to not support more funding for the war.
Two of the committee members Petraeus will face today, Sens. John McCain, R-AZ, and Lindsey Graham, R-SC, held a press conference Thursday to announce their opposition to setting any public date, no matter what the caveats.
Foreign leaders are especially confused, particularly the Afghan and Pakistani governments, who see a difference between public promises of drawdowns and private assurances from the administration that the July 2011 date would not precipitate large scale troop reductions.
One high level diplomatic source said that Pakistani and Afghan leaders believe that they were told by National Security Advisor Jim Jones that there was not going to be a big withdrawal and the there would be "no reduction in commitment" in July 2011.
But regardless of whether the administration sent mixed messages, the nuance of their time line policy has been misunderstood or ignored in the region, as various actors start to plan strategies with the expectation that U.S. troops are leaving.
"In retrospect, despite all the caveats, it was a mistake to put such a date certain for the beginning of withdrawal," said Shuja Nawaz, director of the South Asia Center at the Atlantic Council. "The word beginning was lost and it strengthens the ability of different interests to hedge, which is exactly what they've been doing."
It's the obligation of each U.S. secretary of defense to make a speech when the portrait of his predecessor is unveiled in the halls of the Pentagon. Defense Secretary Robert Gates's speech Friday, delivered while standing next to former Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, was full of not-so-subtle indications about how Gates views Rumsfeld's stewardship of the Defense Department.
Gates hardly mentioned at all the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan that Rumsfeld planned and executed and that took up the vast majority of his time and attention until Gates was brought in to fix them. Gates also made several references to Rumsfeld's famously combative personality, while trying to speak favorably about his predecessor's efforts to modernize the military.
After briefly mentioning "the rapid removal of two odious regimes in Afghanistan and Iraq" when talking about the aftermath of 9/11, Gates only referred to the wars in Afghanistan one more time, giving Rumsfeld guarded praise for making the military more expeditionary in nature.
Even in that reference, Gates was touting the success of the surge in Iraq that took place only after Rumsfeld resigned in November 2006.
"Without these institutional changes set in motion by Secretary Rumsfeld, we would not have been able to surge five army brigades into Iraq on short notice, or have the quality and quantity of UAVs that have made such a difference on the battlefield," he said, referring to unmanned aerial vehicles.
Rumsfeld reportedly opposed the surge.
The speech included no mention of the handling of the first four years of the wars in Afghanistan or Iraq. Nor did Gates note that Rumsfeld's drive to modernize the military was based on using technology rather than more people, a policy Gates has in many ways reversed by growing the ground force by tens of thousands of soldiers and marines.
Gates did praise the Navy's Fleet Response Plan, which was updated under Rumsfeld, the building up of the Special Operations forces, and Rumsfeld's efforts to update the organizational structure of U.S. forces in Germany, Korea, and Japan.
Gates also praised the front office staff that Rumsfeld left behind in his personal office. Those staffers might remember what Gates referred to as Rumsfeld's "own unique and bracing style of personal management," which including dropping "snowflakes" all over the Pentagon. Snowflakes were the often very short memos or questions Rumsfeld would send down from up on high, landing on people's desks all day long.
"Self described as ‘genetically impatient,' he did not brook much nonsense or suffer fools gladly," Gates said, referring to Rumsfeld's treatment of the briefers who faced him each day.
But Gates revealed that there was a way to ensure Rumsfeld would be nicer: bring his wife Joyce along.
"I'm told that the secretary's staff always looked forward to Joyce's presence on trips as that assured a happier -- and thus less demanding -- boss."
UPDATE: Rumsfeld's spokesman Keith Urbahn writes in to argue that Gate's comments were completely supportive and praising of Rumsfeld.
"Secretary Gates' remarks were unfailingly courteous in tone and substance -- in fact so much so that both SecDefs displayed more than a little emotion during the speech," he said, calling Gates' remarks "a plainly gracious and graceful tribute to the man who preceded him in office."
As the debate over the road ahead in Afghanistan heats up in Congress, Democrats are using the power of the purse to seek broad changes in the administration's policy and express their unhappiness with the Afghan government led by President Hamid Karzai.
In the latest move, a leading House appropriator promised Monday to remove all the Afghanistan foreign operations and aid money from next year's funding unless she can be assured none of the funds are being wasted due to corruption in the Afghanistan government.
"I do not intend to appropriate one more dime for assistance to Afghanistan until I have confidence that U.S. taxpayer money is not being abused to line the pockets of corrupt Afghan government officials, drug lords, and terrorists," foreign ops subcommittee chairwoman Nita Lowey, D-NY, said. "Furthermore, the government of Afghanistan must demonstrate that corruption is being aggressively investigated and prosecuted."
Her subcommittee will mark up the fiscal 2011 state and foreign ops appropriations bill Wednesday. When they do, billions of dollars the president requested for all sorts of non-military work in Afghanistan will not be in the bill.
A spokesperson for Lowey said she was responding, in part, to two articles published Monday that described some of the abuses of U.S. taxpayer funds going to Afghanistan. The Wall Street Journal reported that more than $3 billion of cash has been flown out of the Kabul airport over the last three years, packed in suitcases, and a joint U.S.-Afghan investigation is underway. The Washington Post reported Monday that Karzai is protecting high-level political officials from scrutiny related to the missing funds.
Lowey's spokesman told The Cable that the largest pots of money to be affected are about $3.3 billion in economic support funds and about $450 million requested for anti-narcotics and law enforcement aid to Afghanistan. Other accounts to be excluded include global health money, anti-terrorism funds, and military training funds for Afghanistan army officers. Humanitarian aid would not be affected.
Lowey also tied the issue to the still struggling U.S. economy, a theme that House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-MD, focused on in a separate speech today. Democrats in Congress are preparing to go home to their districts after this week for a July 4 recess that will kick off the congressional campaign season. Accordingly, they are amplifying their rhetoric about deficit spending and expressing their unhappiness with the progress of the war in Afghanistan.
"Too many Americans are suffering in this economy for us to put their hard-earned tax dollars into the hands of criminals overseas," Lowey said.
unclear exactly how Lowey's bill will be treated after it passes out of her
committee. There is not much chance the Congress will pass a full slate of
funding bills this year at all. Hill sources said that the current thinking is
to pass one bill that will keep the government running until after the
elections, called a continuing resolution. In past years, those catch-all
spending bills often have had big changes from what the committees put forth,
so the money could be added back later on.
It's also unclear exactly how the Afghan government, much less the Obama administration, could actually assure Lowey that the billions of dollars being sent to Afghanistan are not being siphoned off by corrupt officials for illicit purposes.
The office of Kay Granger, R-TX, the ranking Republican on Lowey's committee, did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
UPDATE: Granger issued this statement late Monday afternoon:
"I share similar concerns with Chairwoman Nita Lowey about today's press reports alleging the shipment of billions of dollars in donor funds out of Afghanistan. However, I cannot support cancelling all FY2011 Afghanistan funding for the State Department and USAID until all the facts are clear and we know the impact this could have on our troops on the ground. When General Petraeus helped craft the current Afghan strategy last year it was not exclusively a military strategy - the State Department and USAID were intended to be key partners in the overall effort."
The new and temporary head of the NATO ISAF mission in Kabul has a clear message in the wake of the firing of Gen. Stanley McChyrstal: Don't worry, everything about the mission will stay exactly the same.
That message, which British Lt. Gen. Nick Parker communicated through an interview with NATO television today, is meant to reassure local and international stakeholders that there won't be disruptions in the complex ongoing operations by NATO forces. He also expressed sadness about the sudden ouster of General McChrystal, but echoed President's Obama's call to focus not on the drama, but on the job at hand.
"Nobody expected this to happen. We wouldn't have planned it or chosen it, but it makes no difference," Parker said. "What we're doing continues yesterday, today, tomorrow - there isn't any change, so I think we want to be very careful about not making too much of something which is very sad, we all regret it, but nothing here has changed at all - we continue with our mission."
"But this is more than a man, this is about the mission and we all know that and there's a group of people in Afghanistan who are completely committed to the NATO mission and we will not miss a beat and I can absolutely assure you that nothing will change."
Amb. Mark Sedwell, NATO's senior civilian representative in Afghanistan, echoed Parker's contention that there will be no change in the strategy to following the change in leadership.
"That strategy remains the basis of the campaign and the campaign remains on course," he said.
President Obama's decision to replace Gen. Stanley McChrystal in Afghanistan with Gen. David Petraeus will do little to reassert civilian control over the U.S. mission there, according to the former No. 2 U.N. official in Afghanistan.
Announcing the move today in front of the White House, Obama said that U.S. democracy "depends upon institutions that are stronger than individuals. That includes strict adherence to the military chain of command, and respect for civilian control over that chain of command."
But Amb. Peter Galbraith, who was fired from his role as deputy of the U.N. mission in Kabul last year after privately raising concerns about the widespread fraud perpetrated by Afghan President Hamid Karzai in the presidential election, told The Cable in an exclusive interview that Obama's decision to change commanders in Afghanistan ignores the need to have the diplomats, not the generals, in the lead.
"The president needs to make clear that it is the ambassador that speaks for the U.S. and the commanding general is not the one who is making U.S. policy," Galbraith said.
Galbraith argues that in the aftermath of the dispute between Special Representative Richard Holbrooke and Karzai following last year's presidential election and the revelation that Amb. Karl Eikenberry did not see Karzai as a credible partner, Obama allowed McChrystal to become the primary connection to the Afghan leader. Meanwhile, the top two civilian officials were marginalized.
"Unfortunately, as part of his love offensive, Obama made a mistake in letting Karzai choose his interlocutor," Galbraith said.
Holbrooke was delivering a "tough love" message before he was pushed to the side. Now Karzai, who "heads a mafia state," according to Galbraith, has no incentive to make the reforms that would allow his government to achieve the credibility it needs.
"Eikenberry was right," Galbraith said, referring to the ambassador's leaked memos, which were published by the New York Times in January "He said the strategy wouldn't work because we don't have a credible partner and the strategy is not working."
As for McChrystal, Galbraith gave him credit for changing the tactics of the military operations in Afghanistan, but gave him low marks for the diplomatic role he was playing with Karzai and his government.
"He understood that you can't win the war by just killing lots of Taliban, but there's no evidence that he understood the key flaw with his strategy, which is that you need a credible partner, which we don't have," he said.
The president was totally justified in sacking McChrystal, Galbraith said. But if there's no credible partner in Afghanistan, there's only one policy option left to him.
"Withdraw most of the troops," he said. "There's no point having thousands of troops there pursuing an objective that can't be achieved."
House Armed Services Committee chairman Ike Skelton said Tuesday that his constituents aren't interested one way or the other in the congressional drive to repeal the military's "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy, but he's going to keep opposing it anyway.
During the congressional recess, Skelton toured his home state of Missouri, made numerous speaking appearances, met with several veterans groups, and only one person even mentioned it ... in passing.
"I was everywhere in my district, everywhere. It just wasn't raised," Skelton said. "There are other things on people's minds, like jobs and the economy."
Nevertheless, he pledged to continue to oppose repealing the 1993 legislative language, of which he was the original sponsor, despite the fact that a large majority of Congress has voted to end the ban on gays serving openly in the military. "I oppose it, period," he said.
Not only is Skelton not talking to his voters about his crusade to preserve the ban, he's not talking to the military people his committee represents, either.
"The only feedback I've gotten is from the secretary himself. I have not talked about it with folks in the military at length," he said.
So why is Skelton so determined to keep the law in place, above the objections of the White House, Defense Secretary Robert Gates, Joint Chiefs Chairman Mike Mullen, the House of Representatives, and the Senate Armed Services Committee? It's about the kids, apparently.
"What do mommas and daddies say to a seven-year-old child about this issue? I don't know," Skelton said. "I think it would be a family issue that would concern me the most ... What they might see in their discussions among the kids."
He also linked the repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" to the administration's fight to end development of a second engine model for the F-35 fighter plane. Obama and Gates have promised to veto Skelton's defense policy bill if Congress insists on adding more than $400 million for the engine, which the military says it doesn't need.
If Obama wants to repeal the law, he won't want to follow through on his very clear threat to veto the bill over the fighter engine, Skelton suggested.
"It's rather interesting, because there's an item in the bill called 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' that the president thinks keenly strong about. Now will he veto a bill that has that in it?," Skelton wondered aloud. "I'm sure that goes through the creases of his mind."
Congressional Quarterly/Getty Images
Beijing's refusal to accept Defense Secretary Robert Gates's offer to visit China this week has exposed divisions inside the Chinese Communist Party structure and is also causing Washington to take a hard look at what's now seen as an overly optimistic view of the current state of the relationship.
U.S. officials admit privately that the the Gates snub is a bad sign, one that contradicts the impression they had coming off the U.S.-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue that saw more than 200 U.S. officials travel to China just two weeks ago. Officials said that they still hold out hope that Gates will be granted a visit soon, but their confidence about China's willingness to improve military-to-military relations is quickly eroding, and the road ahead is far from clear.
"Nearly all of the aspects of the relationship between the United States and China are moving forward in a positive direction, with the sole exception of the military-to-military relationship ... the PLA [People's Liberation Army] is significantly less interested in this relationship than the political leadership of China." Gates said Thursday in a rare open rebuke of the Chinese military. Gates made the remark en route to Singapore, where defense officials from all the Pacific countries except for China are convening for the annual Shangri-la Dialogue.
The conventional wisdom in Washington is that China is still protesting U.S. arms sales to Taiwan. But an administration official told The Cable that it's just not that simple. There is a struggle inside the Chinese Communist Party between those who want to more forcefully confront the U.S. on a range of issues, mostly within the PLA, and those who genuinely seek better ties, and the faction favoring confrontation is gaining ground.
At the May dialogue in Beijing, that dichotomy was exposed during bilateral meetings in an unusually open way. In what were otherwise constructive, albeit predictable exchanges, "The Chinese representative from the PLA ... could not have been more out of step with the meeting," a senior U.S. official told reporters during the plane ride back to Washington.
"Many on the Chinese side you could tell were going, ‘Oh my God, this is not the message we should be giving the United States and our visitors at this time," the official said. "And actually, several of us went up after, and said, ‘That was unhelpful. That's not the direction that we want to take the mil-to-mil relationship.'"
Still, as of that point, top U.S. officials were nonetheless convinced that Gates would be granted a visit soon. Another senior U.S. official remarked at the time how remarkable it was that the Chinese seemed to have gotten over their anger about the Taiwan arms sales so quickly.
Not so fast. Here's the statement Chinese embassy spokesman Wang Baodong gave The Cable in response to queries about Beijing's refusal to receive Gates.
"Military to military ties are an important part of China-US relations. China has been attaching importance to fostering mutual trust and cooperation between the two countries in the military field, and is willing to engage with the US side for exchanges and cooperation in the principle of respect, equality, mutual trust, and reciprocity. China hopes the US side conscientiously respects China's core interests and major concerns, to create conditions for resumption and healthy advancement of their bilateral military relations."
Wang also noted that there were mil-to-mil exchanges in Beijing. The PLA's deputy chief of staff, Lt. Gen. Ma Xiaotian, met with Admiral Robert Willard, head of Pacific Command, and Wallace "Chip" Gregson, assistant secretary of defense for Asian and Pacific security affairs.
But what Wang didn't mention is that Willard and Gregson had meetings with members of the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs and other parts of the Chinese government as well. That surely irked PLA representatives. The credit for those meetings goes to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who fought hard, over Chinese objections, to make sure the U.S. military was well represented in the dialogue, because she saw the PLA trying to cut off ties.
"The military in China would like to control those avenues of discussion," one senior U.S. official said. "But because Secretary Clinton is prominent, and is saying, ‘I'd like to do that,' the Chinese would very much like to say, ‘Actually, it's not convenient for us.' And they tried, but she insisted."
China watchers in Washington lament that the Obama administration apparently had concluded that Beijing was just blustering about the arms sales and are calling on the administration to revise its expectations about the relationship.
"We need to be firm yet restrained: firm in our commitment to befriend a Taiwan serious about improving cross-strait relations; restrained in our belief that Chinese rhetoric is often inflated and their core interests include growing cooperation with the United States," said Patrick Cronin, director of the Asia Security program at the Center for a New American Security.
Some critics wonder aloud why the U.S. is always in the position of the ardent suitor when it comes to deepening military relations with China. After all, the U.S. is still the world's pre-eminint military power and the Chinese refusal to engage is a net loss for China, they say.
"The Chinese are seeking leverage wherever they think they may find it to persuade us to curtail or stop completely U.S. arms sales to Taiwan -- and our actions surely give them the impression they have leverage by holding out on mil-mil contacts," said Randall Schriver, former deputy assistant secretary of State for East Asia.
It is almost unthinkable, however, that Beijing would succeed in persuading Washington its decades-long policy of arming Taipei. The Obama administration has made it more than clear that the U.S. will continue to support Taiwan's defense as spelled out in the Taiwan Relations Act -- especially given that the balance of power across the Taiwan Strait is tipping heavily toward the Chinese side.
"There was nothing new, surprising or noteworthy in the Obama arms sale," said Dan Blumenthal, former China desk director at the Pentagon. "The real problem is China's unrelenting build-up even during a time of nonexistent cross-strait tension."
"As the United States, Japan,
and South Korea take measures to increase their combined deterrent capabilities
against North Korea, a country that borders China, now would seem an
opportune time for China to seek military dialogue with the United States,"
he said. "China needs this dialogue more than we do."
"There are good reasons for us to exercise strategic patience and engender the feeling in China that things won't start again in a serious way until China asks for it," said Schriver.
Usually, attempts by fiscally conservative lawmakers to force Congress to actually pay for "emergency" funding never go anywhere. But on Thursday, this amendment put forth by Sens. Tom Coburn and John McCain, which would reduce federal spending and sell federal property to pay for the just-passed $60 billion war supplemental bill, went down by a close 47-50 vote.
Eight democrats crossed the aisle to vote for the measure, but two Republicans didn't sign on. If they had (and the eight Dems held), the amendment could have actually passed. Who were they? Ohio Sen. George Voinovich, who voted against the amendment, and Georgia Sen. Saxby Chambliss, who was out recovering from hernia surgery.
As one GOP Senate aid put it, "We were a hernia and an appropriator away from almost paying for the war."
In unveiling his first formal National Security Strategy Thursday, U.S. President Barack Obama called for "a strategy of national renewal and global leadership," emphasizing U.S. economic strength as the foundation of American power and promising to deepen U.S. alliances and partnerships around the world.
The Cable has obtained the text of the 52-page document, which the White House is planning to roll out later today.
The NSS was the product of months of deliberation and consultation inside the administration. Its lead author is Ben Rhodes, the president's lead foreign-policy speechwriter and a deputy national security advisor. It represents both a repudiation of some of the most controversial aspects of the Bush-era strategy and a continuation of many of its key elements.
The opening letter from President Obama begins with a call to arms:
"Time and again in our nation's history, Americans have risen to meet -- and to shape -- moments of transition. This must be one of those moments," it starts. "We live in a time of sweeping change. The success of free nations, open markets, an social progress in recent decades has accelerated globalization on an uprecedented scale."
He then pivots sharply to the tense national security atmosphere and the war against Islamic extremism -- though the word "Islamic" is no longer in the document, as the administration seeks to head off concerns that the United States is at war with the Muslim world:
"For nearly a decade, our nation has been at war with a far-reaching network of violence and hatred," it reads. "Moreover, as we face multiple threats -- from nations, non-state actors, and failed states -- we will maintain the military superiority that has secured our country, and underpinned global security, for decades."
Nodding repeatedly to the economic turmoil that has so far defined his 16 months in office, Obama calls for a focus on strengthening the U.S. economy:
"Yet as we fight the wars in front of us, we must see the horizon behind them -- a world in which America is stronger, more secure, and is able to overcome our challenges while appealing to the aspirations of the people around the world. To get there we must pursue a strategy of national renewal and global leadership -- a strategy that rebuilds the foundation of American strength and influence."
The opening letter makes arguments for all the national-security themes Obama has emphasized since coming to office: integrating defense with diplomacy and development, using all the instruments of national power, rebuilding old alliances while adding new ones, and sharing the responsiblities of world governance based on common interests.
"The burdens of a young century cannot fall on American shoulders alone," Obama wrote.The Cable - The Obama administration's National Security Strategy, May 2010
Secretary of Defense Robert Gates's push to change how the Defense Department sets its strategic and spending priorities faces its next major test in Congress Thursday, and Gates is heavily involved in seeing it through behind the scenes.
"The attacks of September 11th, 2001, opened a gusher of defense spending that nearly doubled the base budget over the last decade, not counting supplemental appropriations for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Which brings us to the situation we face and the choices we have today -- as a defense department and as a country," Gates said in a May 8 speech at the Eisenhower Library in Abilene, Kansas. "Given America's difficult economic circumstances and parlous fiscal condition, military spending on things large and small can and should expect closer, harsher scrutiny. The gusher has been turned off, and will stay off for a good period of time."
There's a torrent of speculation that Gates will leave office early next year (he's only said he will reevaluate at years' end), and Gates has been giving a series of speeches leveling harsh criticisms of the way the United States goes about organizing and funding its national security infrastructure. Given the entrenched interests on Capitol Hill, within the military, and in the wider defense community, it's the kind of initiative only an official with unassailable credibility and the freedom of not worrying about his next job can pull off.
Gates successfully won his first battle with Congress, ending production of the F-22 fighter, through a mixture of public and private moves that showed his deft ability to play both an inside and an outside political game.
His next big battle kicks off tomorrow, when lawmakers will try to thwart Gates's effort to rein in the other major fighter program, the F-35, by finally canceling plans to build a second engine model for the plane.
Every year, successive administrations have submitted budgets without the engine funding, while lawmakers add about $500 million to build a second engine for the F-35. And every year, Congress has won, getting the funding approved and avoiding a veto. This year could be different.
Gates is serious about this year's veto threat. He deployed Ashton Carter, the under secretary of defense for acquisitions, to the Hill today to make the case privately behind the scenes. Carter is arguing for an amendment (pdf) put forth by House leadership member John Larson, D-CT, Chellie Pingree, D-ME, and Rep. Tom Rooney, R-FL, that would strip the bill of the funds.
Gates is expected to send a letter in support of the amendment Thursday when the bill hits the House floor.
It's an oversimplification to say that Gates wants to cut the overall level of defense spending. His chief ambition is to cut waste and compel each service to find areas to bring down their costs. "This can only work if the services are incentivized to cut costs, they can keep what they catch," said Pentaon spokesman Geoff Morrell.
But this latest initiaive dovetails with Gates other main initiative, to rebalance military spending toward the current conflicts, which necessarily means more pressure on the budgets of the Air Force and the Navy.
The F-35 program, which has been years delayed and billions over budget, is at the top of his target list for cuts.
"Is it a dire threat that by 2020 the United States will have only 20 times more advanced stealth fighters than China?," Gates asked in the speech. "These are the kinds of questions Eisenhower asked as commander-in-chief. They are the kinds of questions I believe he would ask today."
It's very plausible that Congress will ignore Gates's plea and send the bill with the F-35 engine money in it to Obama, daring him to make himself a target by vetoing a national-security bill. But Gates is laying down political cover for the president on this one, making a public case for the cuts while simultaneously working behind the scenes.
"What is required going forward is not more study. Nor do we need more legislation. It is not a great mystery what needs to change. What it takes is the political will and willingness, as Eisenhower possessed, to make hard choices -- choices that will displease powerful people both inside the Pentagon and out."
The Pentagon is actively lobbying for the State Department and USAID as next year's budgets get formed, and now we can add Adm. Michael Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, to the list of Defense Department leaders who are going out on a limb to support money for diplomacy and development.
In separate letters to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-NV, and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-CA, Mullen criticized the $4 billion cut that Sen. Kent Conrad, D-ND, proposed for the fiscal 2011 budget request in his budget resolution. That cut has already been criticized by Defense Secretary Robert Gates, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and the entire development community.
"We are living in times that require an integrated national security program with budgets that fund the full spectrum of national security efforts, including vitally important pre-conflict and post-conflict civilian stabilization programs," Mullen wrote. "Diplomatic programs are critical to our long-term security."
But the Pentagon isn't just writing letters. Hill sources say that Pentagon officials of various stripes are actually lobbying foreign affairs appropriators while making the rounds on Capitol Hill. Traditionally, the Pentagon guys talk to the defense appropriators, leaving the foreign affairs lobbying to the State Department.
There's also new traction on Gates's idea for a $2 billion jointly managed fund to handle issues that overlap the security and diplomatic spheres. The Pentagon is actively pushing the idea, Hill sources say, while the pushback is actually come from the State Department, which is still skeptical the funds could be jointly managed in a fair and uncomplicated way.
Regardless, Gates's push to actually take money from his own department and giving it to State is real, despite some bureaucratic wrangling over the assistance. And the Pentagon's lobbying will no doubt have an effect if and when Conrad's budget resolution makes it to the Senate floor. We're hearing that a bipartisan effort led by Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman John Kerry, D-MA, is preparing to try to roll back Conrad's cuts. Then again, Congress might not even tackle the issue directly this year.
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
When Barack Obama met briefly with Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama on the sidelines of last month's nuclear summit, he asked the Japanese leader to follow through on his promise to resolve the U.S.-Japan dispute over relocating the Marine Corps base on Okinawa.
But as Hatoyama's self-imposed May deadline approaches, it doesn't look like the prime minister is going to be able to deliver, and some Japanese lawmakers are now going public with their criticism of the way the Obama administration has handled the issue.
One of them is Kuniko Tanioka, a member of Japan's upper house of parliament and the ruling Democratic Party of Japan, and a close advisor to Hatoyama. During a visit to Washington Tuesday, Tanioka leveled some of the harshest criticism from a Japanese official to date of the Obama team's handling of the Futenma issue, which is still unresolved despite months of discussions.
"We are worried because the government of the United States doesn't seem to be treating Prime Minister Hatoyama as an ally," she told an audience at the East-West Center. "The very stubborn attitude of no compromise of the U.S. government on Futenma is clearly pushing Japan away toward China and that is something I'm very worried about."
Some Japan hands in Washington see Tanioka as marginal, a left-wing backbencher who just recently entered Japanese politics in 2007. But she is close to Hatoyama and serves as the "vice manager" for North America inside the DPJ's internal policy structure.
At issue is a 2006 agreement between the Bush administration and the former Japanese government run by the Liberal Democratic Party. That agreement would have moved the Futenma Air Station, which sits in the middle of a populated area of Okinawa, to a less obtrusive part of the island.
Hatoyama and the DPJ campaigned on the promise to alter the plan but ran into a wall when U.S. officials initially insisted the old agreement be honored, even though the old government had been thrown out.
Since then, Pentagon and State Department officials have been conducting quiet negotiations, but the administration is still waiting for the Japanese side to propose a detailed alternative to the current plan.
Meanwhile, huge protests in Okinawa have constrained Hatoyama's room for maneuver -- and Tanioka said the United States was partly to blame.
"It seems to us Japanese that Obama is saying ‘You do it, you solve, it's your problem,'" she said, noting that public opinion polls in Japan show increasing dissatisfaction with the presence of U.S. military forces there.
Obama should have granted Hatoyama a bilateral meeting during the recent nuclear summit if he is really concerned about Futenma, she said, not just a passing conversation at dinner.
"If it is such a serious problem, then he should have sat down. If it's not so serious of a problem, he should say so."
Administration officials have also said repeatedly that they are willing to consider adjustments to the current Futenma relocation plan, but it has to be "operationally feasible," meaning it meets Marine Corps needs, and "politically feasible," meaning that the Japanese host communities can go along.
Therein lies the problem, according to Tanioka, because, she says, "There is no politically feasible plan."
"Washington works under the assumption the original plan was feasible. It was not," she said.
While Tanioka acknowledges that Hatoyama and the DPJ have made some mistakes, especially in dealing with the media, she suggested that now the security relationship itself could be in danger.
"It's getting much worse than I expected," she said. "They are going to start saying ‘all bases out,' not only the Marines."
Every year, the Pentagon asks for money for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan with the understanding that it won't be enough and that Congress will have to give even more money before the year is out. And every year Congress waits until the very last minute to give out the additional money.
This year is no different. Despite the fact that Congress gave the administration $130 billion to last them until the fiscal year ends in October, that didn't include the $33 billion needed for President Obama's Afghanistan surge or the $2.8 billion that's now needed to help Haiti recover from its earthquake.
Congressional Quarterly, Congress' Bible on all things legislative, has been writing for weeks that the new supplemental war-funding bill was imminent, but as of yet, no bill has surfaced. And the Senate's top appropriator, war veteran Daniel K. Inouye, D-HI, is getting impatient.
The Cable caught up with Inouye on the subway linking the Capitol with the Senate office buildings and asked him when Congress would get going on the war bill.
"That's what I've been asking!" Inouye said, noting that the House side has to go first and then the Senate can follow.
So what's going on in the House? Well, for one thing, the man who usually in charge of the bill, John Murtha, died unexpectedly in February. Murtha was famous for larding up the supplemental bills with other military items he couldn't fit into the Pentagon's $500 billion-plus regular budget.
That leaves the work to the subcommittee staff, led by Rep. Norm Dicks, D-WA, and the full appropriations staff led by Rep. David Obey, D-WI.
"The Committee is working to put the package together," said Ellis Brachman, Obey's spokesman, who declined to give any specific deadline.
"No date set yet but it will be soon," said one House leadership aide. "We are committed to getting it done for our troops within the necessary time frame," another House leadership aide said.
What's that timeframe? Well, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-MD, had said previously he wanted to get it done by the Memorial Day congressional recess. But that isn't likely.
House Democratic leadership likes to use the war funding bills to tidy up any other loose ends in funding because the bill is on the credit card and doesn't count against budget statistics. Republican lawmakers have already promised to fight any attempts this year to add non-war related items to the bill.
And the anti-war Democrats like Rep. Jim McGovern, D-MA, could once again oppose the bill because it doesn't specifically outline the end of the war scenario. That would force, once again, the Democratic leadership to get GOP support to pass the measure.
So when does Inouye want to see the bill acted on, we asked him?
"Yesterday," he said.
As if the endorsement of Defense Secretary Robert Gates weren't enough, the development community has rounded up 50 senior retired military officers to support its drive to shift money and authorities from the Pentagon to Foggy Bottom.
"While our military power can provide the logistics and organizational support to help those in need in times of humanitarian crisis, as demonstrated by our current efforts in Haiti, it can only help create the conditions necessary to allow the other tools of statecraft - our diplomatic, development and humanitarian programs - to effectively address these issues," reads a letter to Congress organized by the U.S. Global Leadership Coalition, a network of more than 400 businesses and non-governmental organizations.
The group is trying to protect the president's $58.5 billion fiscal 2011 budget request as it winds its way through the legislative process. That's the biggest request ever for foreign operations and international assistance, but in this time of fiscal peril, lawmakers are expected to try to use that part of the budget request to fund other priorities.
Among the letter's signatories is retired Gen. Michael Hagee, who was commandant of the U.S. Marine Corps from 2003 to 2006, and retired Adm. James Loy, commandant of the U.S. Coast Guard from 1998 to 2002. Hagee and Loy sat down Tuesday morning to explain their activism on behalf of the diplomatic and development community to The Cable.
Hagee said the letter is remarkable because it represents the opinions of "50 retired three-and-four-star good-old boys," who have seen first-hand the military's encroachment upon traditional development issues, which was unavoidable but now needs to be addressed.
"But you can't get the capability and the capacity unless you get the resources," Hagee explained.
Loy said the military officials represent a broader swath of senior officers that agree with Gates's pledge to rebalance the tools of American statecraft because using the military to do development is just not the right way to do business.
"Our collective experience from lots of time in uniform and in very significant positions around the world in military jobs have convinced us that the notion of American influence has to be dealt with in multiple ways," he said.
We're hearing that Congress is planning to take up the fiscal 2011 State Department and foreign operations budget bill in May.
Gen. David Petraeus, the top U.S. military commander in the Middle East, did not formally request that the West Bank and Gaza be placed under his command's domain, he told a Senate panel Tuesday.
Petraeus was reacting to an article on Foreign Policy's Middle East Channel last week reporting that he briefed the Joint Chiefs of Staff about his concerns over how a lack of progress in the dispute between Israel and the Palestinians could jeopardize U.S. national security interests. The article originally stated that Petraeus followed up with a white paper sent to the White House that recommended the Palestinian territories be taken out of European Command's area of responsibility and placed with his own Central Command.
But in testimony today before the Senate Armed Services Committee, Petraeus denied that he made such a request and downplayed the discussions that he and other senior military leaders have had over the issue.
"Although some staff members have, various times, and I have discussed and you know, asking for the Palestinian territories or something like that to be added ... I have never made that a formal recommendation for the Unified Command Plan, and that was not in what I submitted this year," Petraeus said. "Nor have I sent a memo to the White House on any of this."
The article was updated to say that CENTCOM did in fact recommend that the Palestinian territories be added to its portfolio, but made that recommendation to the Joint Chiefs, not the White House.
On Tuesday, a senior military official close to Joint Chiefs Chairman Michael Mullen emailed Foreign Policy to say that "while the Chairman certainly did receive a briefing by Gen. Petraeus' team, he was not ‘stunned' by it. Indeed, he found it somewhat out of date."
Retired Admiral William "Fox" Fallon, who was CENTCOM commander from 2007 to 2008, said that when he was in charge of the region, discussion about adding parts of Israel and the Palestinian territories to his portfolio was commonplace.
"It's been discussed in the past and I'm open to that kind of discussion when the time is right," Fallon told The Cable. "Frankly, during my time it wasn't right because we had two burning hot wars going on and didn't really need another major diplomatic challenge."
"From my perspective, in many respects it might be easier because the whole rest of the Middle East is part of CENTCOM, but in the end that's going to be a political decision," Fallon explained. "There are certain advantages to having it all in one pot but there's a lot friction there. Certainly it's worth exploring..."
Overall, Petraeus testified that the tensions caused by the dispute between Israel and its neighbors does have an "enormous effect" on other regional issues.
"My thrust has generally been, literally, just to encourage that process that can indeed get that recognition that you talked about, and indeed get a sense of progress moving forward in the overall peace process, because of the effect that it has on particularly what I think you would term the moderate governments in our area," he told Sen. John McCain, R-AZ.
U.S. Vice President Joe Biden was reported to have told Israeli President Bibi Netanyahu that Israel's actions to stall the peace process are endangering American troops in Afghanistan, although the White House is now denying he used such stark language.
But a State Department official, speaking on background, did acknowledge the administration's feeling that the peace process and U.S. activities throughout the Middle East are closely interconnected.
"If there's hope associated with a peace process, that can have a constructive impact both in Israel and Palestine and beyond. Where a process stagnates, that can also have implications," the official said. "We understand how important this issue is not only to the immediate parties but to the region as a whole. That's why we see this process as closely identified with broader U.S. interests in the region."
When top Obama administration officials went to Beijing last week, they had a broad agenda for discussion, including Iran, climate change, and North Korea. What did the Chinese want to talk about? Taiwan, Taiwan, and Taiwan.
Several China experts close to both sets of officials said that Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg and National Security Council Senior Director Jeffrey Bader went to China with the understanding that they would have substantive discussions on some key issues of U.S. interest, but the Chinese side used the opportunity to try to bargain for an end to U.S. arms sales to Taiwan, something Beijing has wanted for decades and now feels bold enough to demand.
"It was all about Taiwan," said Bonnie Glaser, senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), "The message that the Chinese are giving us is ‘We've had enough; we're fed up. We've been living with this issue of U.S. arms sales for too long and it's time to solve it.'"
The Obama team has been noticing increased confidence on the Chinese side when dealing with the United States, and some officials see that as partly a result of the rise of hard-liners within the Chinese system who advocate a tougher stance toward Washington.
But asking the Obama administration to end Taiwan arms sales shows a profound misunderstanding of U.S. foreign-policy decision making, several experts said.
"Do they really think they have a chance in hell of ending our arms sales to Taiwan? I find that shocking, but that's what they're telling us," Glaser said of the Chinese. "I can't imagine why they think that U.S. interests have somehow changed on this issue. Ultimately that's why we sell them, because it's in our interest, not to piss off China."
Charles Freeman, who holds the Freeman Chair (no relation) in China Studies at CSIS, said the Chinese are trying to raise the price of their cooperation on Iran and other issues by bringing up their long displeasure over the Taiwan arms-sales issue.
"There is a strong push from Beijing to get that core issue as their big ask and there's a desire to reopen discussions about what a plan to eliminate arms sales to Taiwan would look like," he explained. "There is some sense that we can trade Iran for Taiwan, but that's a non-starter for the Obama administration. The Chinese don't seem to understand that."
Meanwhile, although the Obama administration moved forward, eventually, with the Bush administration's left over deal to sell Taiwan some arms, the White House declined to see Taiwan any F-16 aircraft as part of the recent $6.2 billion arms sales package.
Some China watchers fear that the Obama administration is cementing a custom by which the U.S. continues to sell some arms to Taiwan while simultaneously ignoring the ongoing decline of the island's actual defense capabilities in the face of massive and increasing Chinese deployments across the Taiwan Strait.
That's the implication of this recent unclassified report by the Defense Intelligence Agency to the Office of Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, which outlines how Taiwan's air defenses, which are dependent on U.S. equipment, are old and eroding quickly.
Of course, it was the Bush administration that first decided to remove the F-16s from the package of arms being sold to Taiwan and actually refused to accept a letter requesting the planes, experts note. But Obama's decision to continue the practice is seen by many as directed more at maintaining a delicate relationship with mainland China than it is on any analysis of Taiwan's security posture.
"Decisions are being made solely on the basis of what would least provoke China, not on the basis of what Taiwan would actually need to defend itself," said former Pentagon China official Dan Blumenthal, now with the American Enterprise Institute. "In deciding in effect that Taiwan does not need the aircraft, they are deciding Taiwan doesn't need an air force, which puts both U.S. and Taiwan air defenses at greater risk."
Taiwan is nowhere close to ending its lobbying effort to buy the newer F-16 planes. Defense News¸ which first highlighted the DIA document, reported today that Taiwan's defense ministry is releasing a new study claiming Chinese fighter superiority. Several Taiwanese lawmakers wrote to House and Senate foreign relations leaders to ask for a follow-on sale of F-16 fighters.
"If America softens its support for our country at this critical time we believe it will have an adverse effect on cross-Strait relations as Taiwan's negotiating position is weakened and the PRC may then seek to capitalize on our situation," the letter stated.
The sale of newer F-16s to Taiwan, the "C" and "D" versions, is also part of a larger drive to keep the production lines open for the plane. The major advocates are from the Texas and Georgia delegations, whose states stand to benefit most. Since the F-16 is also in the hunt for new sales to India, those with an interest there would also be inclined to make sure the line doesn't close.
"At some point this year, the F-16 supply chain will begin to shut down as there are no new orders and the U.S. and its allies switch to the F-35," said one Washington Asia hand. "Once this happens it is cost-prohibitive to restart the line. This industrial time constraint will force the political decision either to sell the aircraft to Taiwan or not. If no, for all intents and purposes the island will have no real means of defending its airspace."
With all the talk in Washington about Amb. Karl Eikenberry's leaked cables opposing President Obama's surge strategy, his military counterpart Gen. Stanley McChrystal is right on message, predicting the path to victory will be clear by the time the troops start to leave in the middle of next year.
McChrystal is setting six-month milestones for progress in a talk in Kabul, shown in this video provided by NATO TV:
"I believe that by this coming summer, it's going to be obvious to the people in this room that things have changed, but it won't be obvious to people 3,000 miles or 10,000 miles away," he says in the video, predicting progress just as additional combat troops begin to arrive
"I think by next December, we'll be able to show with hard numbers and things, real progress," McChrystal goes on, without getting into specifics. "We'll be able to go ‘Look, here's more areas we cover, here's this, this, this.'"
Here's the kicker:
"And I think by the summer of 2011, it will be enough progress where the Afghans and the Taliban particularly, believe it, believe they're not going to win," McChrystal says, identifying the breaking point of the Taliban as around the same time U.S. forces are slated to begin withdrawing.
Seeming to contradict himself, McChrystal also speaks at length about the need to have a sustained presence in remote Afghan areas to convince locals to take the huge risk of turning on the Taliban and siding with Afghan and NATO forces. He talks about the need to stay and prove to locals that their long-term interest is in supporting and even defending the government before the coalition can transfer security to Afghan control.
McChrystal also addresses the controversial issue of reintegrating Taliban fighters. Most foreign fighters can't be reintegrated, he says, and most local fighters won't switch sides -- they will simply decide to stop attacking the government forces.
"I think a lot of reintegration won't be formal," says McChrystal. "It will just be, you'll just notice there are fewer of them."
It's somewhat conventional wisdom in Washington to assume that if Taiwan moves closer to China, that might not be in the interests of the United States. Not so, argues a new report coming out Tuesday from the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
What's more, the U.S. should encourage such movement, argues the report, a result of a cross-strait project led by CSIS's Bonnie Glaser that she and others will discuss at an event at the think tank Tuesday. Now is the right time for confidence building measures between China and Taiwan, despite the several internal and international obstacles that remain, the report explains.
"U.S. support for cross-strait military CBMs is consistent with the long-standing U.S. position that differences between the two sides of the strait should be settled peacefully through negotiations," the report states. The authors also talk about the belief in Taiwan "that talks with Beijing on military CBMs cannot begin without visible support from the United States, which many in Taiwan see as necessary to reduce Taiwan's sense of vulnerability and counter the impression domestically that [Taiwanese President] Ma [Ying Jeou] is tilting toward mainland China."
In an interview, Glaser said that privately, the Taiwanese are calling for more public support from the Obama administration across the board, in order strengthen their hand vis-à-vis Beijing. President Ma has made some significant movements toward rapprochement, but now faces pressure to reassert Taiwanese autonomy, according to Glaser.
"Taiwan is saying to the Obama administration, we need more visible signs of support," she said, "Although the U.S.-Taiwan relationship is strong in the military arena, it's not visible."
Similarly, President Obama had focused on the Chinese side of the equation, delaying a pending sales package to Taiwan until after his administration's relationship with Beijing could be set on a secure footing. Now, following his trip there, the White House is expected to go ahead with the sale as well as other actions that are likely to rile the Chinese Communist Party, such as meeting with the Dalai Lama.
"The Obama administration has got the message that Taiwan wants more. The administration's plan is to do more."
The U.S. Embassy in Baghdad is planning to double its ranks as it takes over a host of missions for the military there, according to America's No. 2 diplomat in Iraq.
"If Congress gives us the money we are asking for, this embassy is going to be twice the size it is now. It's not going down, it's getting bigger," said Robert Ford, the deputy chief of mission in Baghdad, in an exclusive interview with The Cable.
As the military continues to drawdown in Iraq, the U.S. Embassy there is taking over many of the "critical missions" that the military has been heavily involved in for years, and fundamental changes in the American role in Iraq are coming. Moreover, the State Department has a very different approach to various issues than many in the military who have served there -- leading to some concerns about the handoff among senior military leaders.
One of the chief missions being handed over is the training of the Iraqi police. The Obama administration has prepared a budget request for that program that would vastly increase the number of people working on police training. That request, if granted, could increase the overall U.S. diplomatic presence in Baghdad from around 1,400 to more than 3,000 total personnel, including contractors, said Ford.
"My biggest problem here is figuring out where are these people going to live, how are we going to get the security for them, how are we going to get food for them, and how are we going to get their mail delivered," he said.
The Baghdad embassy is already the largest in the world and bursting at the seams with people and equipment.
Regarding State's takeover of the Iraqi police training mission, the embassy has worked out the details with the military but the result will look much different from the current mission."It is different qualitatively from what the military has been doing," said Ford.
The new police training will focus more on "middle management," to include human resources, operational planning, and building institutional capacity, "rather than showing a new recruit how to wear a uniform and how to shoot a gun," Ford added.
Another major change coming will be the reduction and eventually transformation of Provincial Reconstruction Teams in Iraq, the expeditionary units that provide various types of assistance in each and every Iraqi province. Currently there are about 600 civilian and 400 military personnel in PRTs, but when the military guys leave, the PRTs will cease to exist in their current form.
The U.S. will reduce the number of PRTs in Iraq from 22 to 16 by August, according to Ford. After August, the PRTs will shift their focus to more consular and diplomatic duties, he said.
"We understand that there is a utility in keeping a robust diplomatic engagement," he said. "If we get the budget, we will have diplomatic presences in strategically vital provinces. They will have some of the same functions, but we're not going to call them PRTs."
"They Are Not Actually Doing the Research"
Some senior military commanders in Iraq and experts back in Washington are concerned that the changes planned by the embassy risk sacrificing U.S. leverage and influence in Iraqi issues. They also allege that State hasn't done the analytical spadework to properly understand the implications of the changes they are proposing.
"I think there is a self-limiting quality to how U.S. Embassy Baghdad is functioning," said Maj. Gen. Robert Caslen, the recently returned commander of all multinational forces in Iraq's northern region, in an interview with The Cable. "They are not actually doing the research to say this is what we need and if you don't give me this, this is what we are going to have to take away and here is the effect it will have on the effort."
"Rather they are going through things and saying this is what we think the piece of the pie is we're are going to get and here is some stuff we could do for that money. That's all fine and good, but if you don't actually accomplish the mission in the end, then you actually fail. What good is that?"
For example, Caslen said the PRTs role in actually helping Iraqis in rural areas with reconstruction is vital and abandoning it in any way would be a mistake.
"The task that [the Iraqis] value more than anything is reconstruction and that clearly is a PRT task," Caslen said. Regarding plans to alter the PRTs away from the reconstruction mission, he said, "That course of action puts our future relationship at risk ... We definitely need the PRTs."
Ford rejected the notion that the embassy hasn't done the research and planning needed to understand the implications of the moves. The embassy has worked out a detailed joint campaign plan with Gen. Raymond Odierno, the top military commander in Iraq, for the way forward, he said.
An Iraq expert in Washington who travels frequently to the region said that the different approaches to Iraq between the embassy and some in the military reflect their different institutional cultures.
"State as an organization historically has been about interactions between normal states and about traditional diplomacy. Historically, it's not an expeditionary agency; it's not in their DNA," said the Iraq expert. "So there's always been this tendency in Iraq to try to make the relationship more normal in a way that fits into State's traditional way of doing business."
Ford's view is that it's simply time for the United States to start taking its hand off the bicycle seat and let the Iraqis learn to fend for themselves.
"The Iraqi government, little by little, is growing more capable itself," said Ford. "Therefore, the things that we need to do must adjust. The Iraqis can and should do more for themselves, and frankly, they want to."
Were you keeping a list of senior GOP lawmakers who are weighing in to oppose the potential French sale of the Mistral-class amphibious assault ship to Russia? If so, add Indiana Senator Richard Lugar to that list.
Lugar, the top Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations committee, released a report Tuesday that calls on NATO to take a lead role in coordinating security assistance to Georgia, the culmination of a staff project that included a trip to Tbilisi in late October. The report's conclusions are stark in terms of Lugar's view on how Georgia is faring one year after the Russian invasion.
"As a result of Russian diplomatic pressure and threats to restrict commercial ties with entities selling defense articles to Georgia, the Georgian military has been unable to replenish much of its military capacity that was eviscerated in the war," the report reads.
The last tranche of U.S. post-war assistance to Georgia, $242 million to round out the $1 billion commitment, was notified to Congress in December and went through without objection. The report highlights that the Obama administration decided not to use any of that money to shore up Georgia's lethal capabilities.
"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. Consequently, Georgia lacks basic capacity for territorial defense."
Lugar argues that Georgian military weakness increases the risk of armed conflict by pinning the Georgians into a desperate position and raising the possibility of conflict-starting miscalculations.
Despite the unfortunate headline in this otherwise strong Associated Press article, Lugar is not calling on NATO to arm Georgia, exactly. His more nuanced view is that NATO must establish a leadership role in maintaining the security balance in the Caucasus, which is tipping more every day toward the Russian advantage.
That's where the French sale of the Mistral comes in. Several senior GOP lawmakers have come out strongly against the potential sale of the ship, introducing bills and writing letter focused on strategic or tactical concerns.
Lugar's concern is more of a diplomatic one, and it relates to the integrity of NATO as much as the security of Georgia. He references the possible sale of the Mistral specifically.
"Failing a coordinated, NATO-led strategy for security assistance in the region, allies run the risk of disturbing an already fragile political balance and engendering an excessive nationalization of Georgian defense policy."
It remains to be seen if NATO will embrace the role of coordinator for security for Georgia, especially since Georgia seems as far away from NATO membership as ever. But regardless of whether Georgia get in or stays out, NATO is going have stake in Georgian security issues from now on and Lugar's point is that should include ensuring NATO allies don't take unilateral measures to upset the military balance.
Now that President Obama has officially signed the defense bill, giving the U.S. military $626 billion for the fiscal year that started Oct. 1, the question becomes: When will the Pentagon need more money?
It depends on whom you ask. If you're House Defense Appropriations Chairman John Murtha, D-PA, the military will need more war money next spring to pay for Obama's surge of troops to Afghanistan. That troop increase is expected to cost between $25 and $30 billion, on top of the $128 billion given in today's bill for "ongoing contingency operations," as the wars are now called.
"Tell me how you're gonna pay for this war without a supplemental. You can't do it," Murtha said. He predicted the supplemental would total about $40 billion. (That's about $10 to $15 billion more than the cost of the surge, but lawmakers never find it difficult to find additional things to spend on.)
Murtha said the money that Obama signed into law Monday wouldn't cover the war costs even without the surge, saying, "There would be a supplemental whether you had to pay for the additional troops or not."
Adm. Michael Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said last month the Pentagon would need more money sometime next year, and that was also before the new Afghanistan strategy was announced.
But if you ask folks in the White House's Office of Management and Budget, they say that additional war money might not be needed at all beyond what was just given.
"We will look to see how much of these costs can be addressed through funds already budgeted," said OMB spokesman Tom Gavin told The Cable. "If needed, the administration will work with Congress on any necessary additional funding." (emphasis added)
So what's the real story here? Well, according to the Congressional Research Service, the burn rate (the cost of obligations and pay) for Iraq and Afghanistan was at about $11 billion per month as of the end of September, meaning that the funding signed into law today could last almost the whole fiscal year, but only if you don't count the surge.
Gavin said that the White House was looking to refine the cost of the Afghanistan surge now. Of course, the administration could request the war funding in its fiscal 2011 budget request in February, but seeing how long it took to get the fiscal 2010 money, that might not be a great idea.
The most likely scenario is that the White House will have to submit a separate request for money to pay for the surge, lawmakers will add a whole host of items they couldn't fit into the regular budget, and Obama will take some flak for once again compromising on his pledge to transparently budget and pay for the wars.
Congress has already approved $1.07 trillion for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, CRS reported.
U.S. Centcom commander Gen. David Petraeus said last week that the United Arab Emirates, a key U.S. ally in the Persian Gulf, has the capability to overpower Iran's Air Force.
"The Emirati Air Force itself could take out the entire Iranian Air Force, I believe, given that it's got ... somewhere around 70 Block 60 F-16 fighters, which are better than the U.S. F-16 fighters," Petraeus said during remarks at a recent conference put on in Bahrain by the International Institute for Strategic Studies.
In a related development, the new nuclear agreement between the U.S. and the UAE entered into force today, with the signing ceremony presided over by Under Secretary of State for Arms Control Ellen Tauscher and UAE Ambassador Yousef Al Otaiba.
"In today's world, we must find ways to meet the demand for clean energy and to recognize the right that all nations have to pursue the peaceful use of nuclear power. But we need to achieve this balance without increasing the risk of the proliferation of nuclear weapons and material," Tauscher said.
She praised the UAE for agreeing to import nuclear fuel, rather than producing it through reprocessing or enrichment. Tauscher also praised the UAE as a partner in the drive to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon.
The agreement, often referred to as the 123 agreement, provides for transfers of nuclear technology and knowhow to the UAE in exchange for its commitment to nonproliferation standards. (Meanwhile there are still concerns that members of the ruling family of Ras Al Khaimah in the UAE are actually facilitating illicit weapons transfers to Iran.)
President Obama sent the agreement to Congress in May. It was negotiated and signed by the previous administration.
There's a lot more to the story of congressional angst over the performance of the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) than was told in today's article by the Associated Press.
The AP story mentions a letter from Sens. Tom Coburn, R-OK, Susan Collins, R-ME, and Claire McCaskill, D-MO, sharply criticizing the SIGAR office for failing to recruit competent staff, focusing on the wrong issues (like female participation in the Afghan elections), and an overall lack of auditing and investigative reports since the office was established over a year ago.
But the letter is only the latest in a long series of congressional criticisms of the office. SIGAR was established in 2008 to oversee some $39 billion of U.S. taxpayer funds that have been appropriated for reconstruction projects in Afghanistan. To date, the office has received $23 million for its work.
McCaskill and others have been critical of SIGAR all year, and not just based on the three items found in Tuesday's letter. This October memo being circulated by Hill staffers, and obtained by The Cable, gets at a more fundamental concern: that the quality and content of SIGAR's audits and reports are seen in Congress as shoddy and substandard.
For example, SIGAR's first audit on the Defense Department's Combined Security Transition Command-Afghanistan (CSTC-A), which oversees the development of the Afghan security forces, is only four pages long and makes no mention of whether the $400 million spent on a training contract there was well used.
"It appears to have been written in such a way that SIGAR could say they had at least one audit complete before they were in existence for a year," the congressional memo states.
SIGAR's second audit is only two pages long, not counting appendices and the title page and table of contents, and devoid of any real breakthroughs as well, according to the memo. The criticisms go on and on.
When writing about the Afghanistan presidential elections in SIGAR's sixth audit, SIGAR said that the U.S. should "continue to build the [Independent Election] Commission's capabilities so that democratic principles and the electoral processes are sustained," barely mentioning the widespread fraud in that election and also failing to comment on what happened to the some $500 million of U.S. funds committed to that effort.
In an audit about the Commander's Emergency Response Program, which is a pool of money given to military commanders to address short-term needs with little oversight, auditors "did not visit any CERP sites nor did they cite any examples of wasted taxpayer dollars or funding that could have been better utilized," according to the memo.
SIGAR's assistant inspector general in charge of audits, John Brummet, defended the organization's work in an interview Wednesday with The Cable.
For example, regarding CSTC-A, Brummet said that his office's audit "was high-value work and we were able to get some significant changes in the contract oversight performed by CSTC-A." As for why SIGAR didn't examine the contractor directly, Brummet said he simply didn't have enough auditors to do the job, a problem that both SIGAR and Congress have been working on.
Regarding the Afghanistan elections, Brummet said SIGAR is conducting public-opinion polls in Afghanistan to gauge how much fraud was present in the elections. He again pointed to the lack of personnel needed to do more investigative work.
Overall, Brummet acknowledged that SIGAR's audits and investigations has resulted in zero returned taxpayer dollars, and that zero contractors have been disbarred as a result of SIGAR's audits and investigations.
"Our critics want us to spend more time focused on the performance of contractors and that's what we're trying to do right now, to expand that work," he said.
Brummet also commented on some of the numerous stories circulating about SIGAR's interactions with both the State and Defense Departments. For example, the U.S. Embassy in Kabul won't give SIGAR enough housing space for its employees there, packing four to six employees into a single shipping container-sized unit in some cases.
"Having people that have distinguished professional careers and asking them to go share a hooch with five other people is tough," he said.
He also responded to the concern that SIGAR is too close to the Pentagon, specifically Deputy Secretary of Defense William Lynn. Lynn is said to be the administration's point man on engaging Congress regarding concerns about SIGAR, and Brummet confirmed that Lynn has written a response to Congress regarding another letter senators sent to SIGAR. He couldn't explain why Lynn and the Pentagon were charged to write on behalf of SIGAR, which Hill sources expressed concerns about considering that SIGAR is supposed to be overseeing the work of the Defense Department.
The SIGAR website also is hosted by the military.
Lastly, Brummet confirmed that SIGAR's chief, Special Inspector General Arnold Fields, was scheduled to travel to Kabul to attend the inauguration of Afghan President Hamid Karzai but then cancelled his trip after discussions with the State Department.
The posture of McCaskill's office in the SIGAR scandal is curious as well. After coming to Congress and joining the Senate Armed Services Committee in 2006 pledging to be an outspoken champion of oversight and reform, McCaskill has been relatively quiet this year, perhaps so as not to openly criticize the administration of the president whose campaign she cochaired.
There will be a hearing on SIGAR's oversight work on Dec. 17, but that's nine months after McCaskill wrote her first letter, which said that 2009 would "be a critical year for the fledgling democracy in Afghanistan."
UPDATE: A SIGAR spokesperson called into The Cable to add some more information to the story. The problem of bad living conditions in Kabul is widespread and doesn't represent a specific embassy action against SIGAR, the spokesman said. Also, the spokesman relayed that the lack of auditors that hampered SIGAR's investigative abilities early on has now been largely corrected.
UPDATE2: Adrianne Marsh, the communications director for McCaskill, called in to vigorously dispute the characterization that the senator has been "relatively quiet this year" in chairing the Subcommittee on Contracting Oversight. "This is a commitment and it doesn't matter who the president is," she said, pointing to numerous press statements
EMMANUEL DUNAND/AFP/Getty Images
When President Obama spoke to troops at Alaska's Elmendorf Air Force Base last month, the unit there parked a shiny new F-22 fighter plane in the hangar. But according to multiple sources, White House aides demanded the plane be changed to an older F-15 fighter because they didn't want Obama speaking in front of the F-22, a controversial program he fought hard to end.
"White House aides actually made them remove the F-22-said they would not allow POTUS to be pictured with the F-22 in any way, shape, or form," one source close to the unit relayed.
Stephen Lee, a public affairs officer at Elmendorf, confirmed to The Cable that the F-22 was parked in the hangar and then was replaced by an F-15 at the White House's behest.
The airmen there took offense to the Obama aides' demand, sources told The Cable, seeing it as a slight to the folks who are operating the F-22 proudly every day. They also expressed bewilderment that the White House staff would even care so much as to make an issue out of the fact that the F-22 was placed in the hangar with the president.
A White House official, commenting on background basis, told The Cable that yes, there were discussions about which plane or planes would be in the hangar, but that they were not meant as an insult to the pilots and other personnel who work on the F-22. The official couldn't elaborate on why the White House aides felt it necessary to get involved in the matter in the first place.
The official pointed to Obama's speech to the troops that day, where he praised both the 90th Fighter Squadron, known as the "Dicemen," and the 525th Fighter Squadron, the "Bulldogs," both of which operate the F-22.
Even so, the Air Force personnel thought it odd the White House wanted to display the older plane rather than the more advanced plane that, in the eyes of its supporters, represents the latest and greatest in American aviation.
The Obama administration fought hard and successfully to cut off production of the F-22 at 187 planes, a number Defense Secretary Robert Gates endorsed but that was hundreds less than originally planned and about half of the 381 planes Air Force leadership lobbied hard for in the years preceding Obama's inauguration.
"It's one thing to be against further production; quite another to slight the folks who are flying them in the operational world," one source said, adding that "the F-15 pictured was put into service roughly around the same period when Obama graduated from college. It's vintage."
The White House has now confirmed that President Obama will announce the addition deployment of 30,000 new U.S. troops to Afghanistan, as well as a plan to start withdrawing troops in July of 2011.
Two administration officials briefed reporters on a conference call Tuesday afternoon ahead of Obama's Tuesday evening speech at the West Point military academy. The officials called the increase a "surge" and said that while the withdrawal would begin in July 2011, the pace and end point of the withdrawal would be determined by Obama at a later time.
"This surge will be for a defined period of time," one of the officials said, "What the president will talk about tonight is a date ... by which he will begin to transfer the leadership role to our Afghan partners."
"He will not tonight specify the end of that process or the pace at which he will proceed. That date and process will be determined by conditions on the ground."
The idea of a time frame for withdrawal of U.S. forces is a controversial one, especially among lawmakers, who reacted strongly to reports of a three-year time frame Tuesday morning. The White House later denied those reports to The Cable.
One of the administration officials sought to preempt criticisms of a set date for withdrawal by saying that leaving the withdrawal endpoint flexible would prevent Afghans from simply stalling until American troops leave.
"If the Taliban thinks they can wait us out, they are misjudging the president's approach," the official said, while adding, "It does put everyone under pressure to do more, sooner."
Sen. John McCain, R-AZ, has already come out against the White House plan to begin withdrawal in 2011.
The 30,000 figure includes two or three full combat brigades plus one full brigade-sized element focused exclusively on training Afghan security forces. All new combat troops will be partnered with Afghan forces in some fashion.
The new strategy will also include a beefed-up commitment to Pakistan, although the administration officials declined to give specifics. More on that later....
As President Obama gets ready to roll out his new Afghanistan-Pakistan strategy, some leading Democrats are focusing on the cost of the pending troop escalation. But they are unlikely to apply actual legislative pressure on the White House to find the money.
The debate was heightened by the introduction of a bill by House Appropriations Chairman David Obey, D-WI, and John Larson, D-CT, a member of the House leadership, that would impose a 1 percent surtax on most Americans to pay for the wars.
But as with most bill introductions in Congress, House leadership has no plans to actually move the bill and most insiders recognize it as a way for those Democrats who oppose escalation to stake out a semi-critical posture while also seeming to be fiscally responsible.
"That's a message bill, not one we will pass," one very well placed Democratic source told The Cable.
Congressional Quarterly has also reported that defense appropriations subcommittee Chairman John Murtha, D-PA, acknowledged that "he knew the bill would not be enacted and that advocates of a surtax were simply trying to send a message about the moral obligation to pay for the wars."
Rough estimates put the cost of any escalation at about $1 million per added troop, per year. Obama is expected to announce Tuesday the deployment of 30,000 new soldiers and Marines, which would make the price tag at least $30 billion in 2010, in addition to the ongoing costs of fighting the wars with currently deployed resources.
The Obama administration pledged upon taking office to move to "honest budgeting" for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and did include war costs as part of its formal fiscal 2010 budget request. But that request, around $130 billion, will be insufficient to pay for war operations this fiscal year and a supplemental spending bill is expected in early Spring.
The White House also placed a $50 billion "placeholder" in its budget projections for fiscal 2011 and beyond, a figure nobody believes is enough to keep the war machine humming, no matter what new strategies are announced. So the Obama administration's promise to pay for the wars was doomed to be broken even before a troop escalation was contemplated.
White House spokesman Robert Gibbs told reporters Monday that there would not be a "lengthy discourse" on how Obama intends to pay for his new strategy in his speech Tuesday at West Point.
"I think the president will... elude to the cost. I don't know if it gets down to the granularity of the exact dollar amount for each and every thing," Gibbs said, "Some of that's going to depend on logistical decisions that are ultimately made."
More broadly, Obey has not been shy about his skepticism about a continued U.S. commitment to Afghanistan. When giving the money for fiscal 2010, he went out on a limb and warned that he might not be willing to support funding for the wars if progress wasn't shown in one years' time. Those comments were widely criticized.
The Obama administration specifically requested that the Senate Armed Services Committee postpone a planned briefing today on the Fort Hood massacre, The Cable has learned, in another clear sign that the White House is pushing Congress away from doing its own investigative work into the tragedy.
The briefing, which had been announced last week to include Secretary of the Army John McHugh and Army Chief of Staff Gen. George Casey, was to be for members and staff only.
The development shows the administration is following up on remarks made by Obama over the weekend encouraging Congress to hold off pursuing independent action on the case while the government is still investigating.
"I know there will also be inquiries by Congress, and there should," Obama said in his weekly address on Saturday traveling around Asia. "But all of us should resist the temptation to turn this tragic event into the political theater that sometimes dominates the discussion here in Washington. The stakes are far too high."
A spokesman for the committee confirmed to The Cable that the briefing was postponed at the administration's behest. The meeting was set to be closed, but knowing how Congress leaks like a sieve, the administration may not have wanted to risk giving lawmakers who want to try Hasan in the press any more ammunition. General Casey cautioned last week that too much public speculation could lead to a "backlash" against Muslim soldiers.
Several members of the committee have been out in front of the administration in making statements about the alleged shooter Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan and his alleged links to extremists, which may or may not have been overlooked by the military.
Among the committee members who are working actively on the "Hasan is a terrorist" angle is Joseph Lieberman, I-CT, who has pledged to use his Homeland Security committee to launch an investigation into Hasan's motives.
Committee ranking Republican John McCain might also be looking for evidence to support his statements regarding Hasan. During a question-and-answer session following his speech at the University of Louisville, McCain said of the incident, "I believe it was an act of terror."
A White House spokesman did not respond to a request for comment.
UPDATE: "Tomorrow morning, an interagency briefing team will go to the Hill to brief House and Senate leaders and committee chairs and ranking members. This is the latest in a series of engagements with the Hill since the horrific events at Fort Hood, and further evidence of the administration's commitment to appropriately inform Congress without interfering in the prosecution of this case," said White House spokesman Tommy Vietor.
Undersecretary of State for Arms Control and International Security Ellen Tauscher is in India today, meeting with counterparts before heading to the Czech Republic and Turkey.
She will talk missile defense in the Czech Republic and non-proliferation in Turkey, her spokesman said. The Czechs could have a new role in the administration's reformed scheme for missile defense, in light of the changes announced to the previous plan to deploy interceptors in Poland and advanced radar in the Czech Republic, what was termed the "third site." In India, Tauscher will lead a dialogue on non-proliferation.
Tauscher previewed her trip and talked about the status of missile defense plans and other strategic initiatives at the George Washington University on Tuesday. Primarily, she rejected the contention that the administration had abandoned Polish and Czech missile defense plans. Both countries have been offered alternative ways to participate in missile defense going forward, she said.
"We didn't abandon the third site," Tauscher said. "We already have two sites that protect the United States from the emerging Iranian long-range threat," she added, referring to existing sites in California and Alaska.
Aegis ships with SM-3 missiles will be deployed in the Mediterranean Sea and will be able to protect southern Europe by 2011, with land based SM-3 missiles "in a NATO-ized system" by 2015.
"The idea of putting a third site with a redundant capability in Poland to protect us against a threat that wasn't emerging as we expected, and have us naked now [to shorter range threats]... I thought it was crazy."
Back at home, Tauscher is preparing for two major efforts, to get the Senate to ratify follow on the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) treaty and to seek ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. Both pushes are slated for early next year.
She expressed confidence that the administration would be able to secure a START follow on by the time the current treaty expires on December 5. Negotiations with the Russians in Geneva are being led by Assistant Secretary of State Rose Gottemoeller and are ongoing.
Senate Republicans have been somewhat open to supporting a START follow on, if certain concessions are met, but on CTBT leading GOP lawmakers such as Jon Kyl, R-AZ, are promising a fight.
"The CTBT will be very difficult to ratify. The opposition still remembers why they opposed it back in 1999, some of them are still in the Senate," she said, "And we still have a lot of people that don't know why they would be for it because there are 40 senators that have never voted on a treaty."
She said there is a "grand bargain" to be struck with regard to CTBT, which will include reassuring people that the nuclear arsenal is safe and secure even without testing. The Nuclear Posture Review will come out in January or February, she said, and the fiscal 2011 budget will come out around the same time.
Tauscher reiterated that the Reliable Replacement Warhead, a Bush administration program to build a new class of nuclear weapons, would not be in the 2011 budget. She said the Bush administration did a poor job explaining the program, giving the wrong impression to other countries.
"We had to kill it to save it," she said, explaining that it will be replaced with a nuclear stockpile modernization program, which will increase reliability and confidence in the current stock of warheads.
The Cable goes inside the foreign policy machine, from Foggy Bottom to Turtle Bay, the White House to Embassy Row.