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.
Spencer Ackerman gets the details of an apparently uncomfortable conference call this morning between National Security Council staffers and Karl Eikenberry, the U.S. Ambassador to Kabul, whose confidential cables calling for caution in increasing troop levels in Afghanistan were leaked to the Washington Post.
It was a tense videoconference this morning at the White House, as Ambassador Karl Eikenberry addressed the National Security Council from Kabul just hours after the media got hold of his dissent on the crucial question of sending more troops to Afghanistan. "He is very unpopular here," said a National Security Council staffer.
No one was happy to read in The Washington Post that Eikenberry, who commanded the war himself from 2005 to 2007, thinks that the Karzai government needs to demonstrate its commitment to anti-corruption measures before the administration can responsibly authorize another troop increase. The prevailing theory is that "he leaked his own cables" because "he has a beef with McChrystal," the staffer said. Gen. Stanley McChrystal, Eikenberry's successor as NATO commander in Afghanistan, has requested an increase in troops to support a counterinsurgency strategy with a substantial counterterrorism component.
But Eikenberry - who also briefed the White House by teleconference yesterday - reiterated his concerns. The ambassador told the NSC not to send additional troops to Afghanistan "without an exit strategy" and urged that the president to adopt a "purely civilian approach" with the State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development in the lead, not the military...
Despite the dissatisfaction with Eikenberry's apparent leak, according to the staffer, Obama "demanded" an exit strategy for the war "after Eikenberry's cables." Certain members of the NSC dialed into the conference from the Fort Bragg, N.C. headquarters of the Joint Special Operations Command, which is playing a large if underreported role in shaping Afghanistan strategy. It would appear that much remains fluid in the administration's strategy debates.
Update: Ackerman retracts:
I am retracting this post, published yesterday, titled “Inside This Morning’s White House Afghanistan Meeting: Anger With Eikenberry, ‘Beef’ With McChrystal.”
My original source for the post stands by the account provided. The individual, a National Security Council staffer who spoke on condition of anonymity, has provided truthful and verified information on past stories, and so I trusted the source for this one. Elements of the account have been subsequently borne out: yesterday afternoon, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said that President Obama will ask his Afghanistan-Pakistan advisers to provide him with an exit strategy for the eight-year war, which is congruent with but not identical to my source’s information that Obama has asked the team to derive timetables for troop withdrawal.
But there are greater problems with the post. For one, the source was not actually present for the video teleconference that is the post’s central scene, and passed information to me second-hand. Furthermore, not only has the White House’s Tommy Vietor denied, on the record, that Ambassador Karl Eikenberry participated in a video teleconference yesterday morning, but the other two individuals I named as being present for the meeting — the inspector generals for Iraq and Afghanistan — have, through representatives, denied being present. I cannot subsequently stand by this account.
President Obama has nominated Erin Conaton, the staff director of the House Armed Services Committee, to be the number two official at the Air Force.
If confirmed, Conaton would have a premier role in shepherding the Air Force through an extremely tumultuous time. As undersecretary, she would have a leading role in guiding the Air Force's interactions with Congress and would be involved in several of the major acquisitions issues the service is currently embroiled in.
"Erin is a good person who will be assuming a very tough position," said one Air Force insider, "Her connections to [Chairman Ike] Skelton will really help the Air Force, but she is taking on a heck of a challenge considering all the problems facing the service."
The Air Force has been on the losing side of some high profile inter-government battles as of late. They lost their bid to continue production of the F-22 fighter jet (although their official position was that they agreed with Obama's decision to end production of the plane).
The Air Force is also currently involved in budget negotiations with the Office of the Secretary of Defense over the fiscal 2011 program. Their F-35 fighter program, the largest system in their portfolio, could face cuts in light of over overall pressures and Defense Secretary Robert Gates' push to rebalance priorities toward more irregular and non-conventional capabilities.
The $100 billion Air Force program to replace its fleet of aerial refueling tankers is also in a state of somewhat limbo after two failed attempts to award the contract. The Air Force is also still pushing to get a new bomber and several other items that will be tough sells in this constrained budget environment.
No confirmation hearing has yet been scheduled.
Army Chief of Staff George Casey took to the airwaves Sunday to warn the public not to overemphasize unconfirmed reports about anti-American and religious statements allegedly made by alleged Fort Hood gunman Major Nidal Hasan.
"I think we need to be very careful here about speculating based on anecdotes like that," Casey said on ABC's This Week, "We all want to know what happened and what motivated the suspect, but I think we need to be very, very careful here in these early days to let the investigation take its course."
He warned that any effort to prejudge Hasan as a terrorist or as having religious motivations could cause unnecessary and harmful effects for the 3,000 plus Muslims currently serving in the military.
"I think the speculation could potentially heighten backlash against some of our Muslim soldiers. And what happened at Fort Hood was a tragedy, but I believe it would be an even greater tragedy if our diversity becomes a casualty here," Casey said.
Meanwhile, Senator Joseph Lieberman, I-CT, was on Fox news talking all about Hasan's motivations and warning that the attack could be a new model of terrorism on U.S. soil.
"It's clear that he was, one, under personal stress and, two, if the reports that we're receiving of various statements he made, acts he took, are valid, he had turned to Islamist extremism," Lieberman said, "And therefore, if that is true, the murder of these 13 people was a terrorist act and, in fact, it was the most destructive terrorist act to be committed on American soil since 9/11."
Lieberman stated that the evidence was not all in, but he went on to detail each and every reported allegation of Hasan's anti-American behavior, including reports that he compared suicide bombers to U.S. soldiers who have sacrificed their lives in war and that he shouted ‘Allah Ahkbar' during the attack.
"The fact that he did that at the moment of these murders - if that's confirmed, of course - raises genuine concerns that this was a terrorist act," Lieberman said, ""There's concern from what we know now about Hasan that, in fact, that's exactly what he was, a self-radicalized home-grown terrorist."
He promised to start an investigation in his Homeland Security Committee as to Hasan's motives. The Army declined to comment Lieberman's investigation.
Chris Kleponis/Getty Images
For the protocol-obsessed Japanese, scheduling a cabinet-level meeting and then canceling it is a rare occurrence. But that's exactly what happened today when the State Department had to withdraw its announcement that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton would meet Friday with Japanese Foreign Minister Katusya Okada.
The diplomatic SNAFU is emblematic of the shifting ground underneath the U.S.-Japan alliance. The Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ), which took over the government in September, campaigned on a pledge to reform relations with the U.S., but now in power, they are battling internally to determine how far and wide those changes should go. The latest twist certainly won't dampen the view of those who've proclaimed a "crisis" in the U.S. relationship with Japan since the elections; a State Department official told The Cable that Clinton was still holding time in her Friday schedule, just in case Okada is able to make the trip.
Reports out of Japan suggest that Okada wanted to secure a deal on his pet issue, the Futenma air base in Okinawa, ahead of President Obama's trip to Tokyo next week. But Okada is being reined in by Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama, who doesn't want Okada gallivanting around making policy while the issue is still a matter of intense internal discussion within the Japanese government.
And both sides are trying to recover from a tumultuous couple of weeks in the relationship following the Tokyo visit of Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who was seen as focusing too much on Futenma, a minor issue for the U.S. but a major emotional hot button for the Japanese.
More broadly, the center of gravity in the U.S.-Japan relationship may be shifting from the Defense Department to the State Department. While Okada might have wanted to focus on Futenma, administration sources said that Clinton's goal was much broader. She wanted to start engaging the new Japanese leadership on a larger set of strategic issues, from Afghanistan to China and everything in between.
The agenda shows the Obama administration's desire to focus less on incremental military issues such as military basing and start bringing the discussion with the new Japanese government around to larger strategic issues. But the Obama administration is unable to advance the conversation due to the ongoing foreign policy fight within the Japanese cabinet.
Hatoyama is refereeing a complex battle between various elements of his party and his cabinet over the direction of Japanese foreign policy, especially with regard to the U.S.-Japan alliance. Okada's interests may lie in making things for Hatoyama as difficult as possible, hence the (maybe) cancelled trip.
Inside the Japan policy infrastructure in Washington, the officials in charge of managing the relationship are taking a two pronged-approach. The first element of their strategy is "wait and see," letting the new DPJ government settle internal disputes and then come to the U.S. side with policy positions, negotiating stances, and the like.
The second part of the approach is "Don't blink," meaning that the U.S. interlocutors are trying to avoid overreacting to what some see as antagonistic or contradictory statements on the alliance coming out of different DPJ leaders. Also, the U.S. managers are determined not to negotiate away any of their positions while the new Japanese government is going through its growing pains.
"We're waiting for them to give us some indication of where they see the path as leading from here," said one senior U.S. official dealing with the U.S.-Japan alliance.
There is also a feeling among Obama administration Japan managers that the reports about the "crisis" in U.S.-Japan relations have been way overblown and that while a number of issues in the alliance are now up for discussion, which is new, that is not necessarily a bad thing.
"You can take any of this stuff and make a story out of it, but none of these issues are unmanageable," the official said, "The U.S. and Japan still rely on each other in a lot of fundamental ways."
The official said that there is a pretty clear path out of the current tense situation, whenever the Japanese are ready to take it. For example, on the issue of the plan for the relocation of the Futenma air base, U.S. officials believe that ultimately there is no real alternative to the current plan. Okada's idea, to combine Futenma with the Kadena air base, is seen as a non-starter inside the Obama administration.
However, there are "sweeteners" that could alleviate some concerns of Okinawa residents and allow Hatoyama and Okada to save face by claiming they got concessions before ultimately accepting the bulk of the current plan as is.
But the talks between the United States and Japan haven't gotten to that stage and probably won't by the time Obama visits Tokyo next week. Obama himself is said to be too far above the issue to negotiate such details and is likely to simply affirm the strength of the alliance, mark its 50th anniversary, and leave the negotiations for lower officials to resume after the trip.
Traditionally, the Japan relationship inside Washington more heavily managed by the Defense Department as compared to relations with other countries. There are historical and logistical explanations for this phenomenon, but with new administrations on both sides, a change might be in store.
At the National Security Council, the Japan policy is managed by Jeffrey Bader, a former Ambassador and senior State Department official and Daniel Russel, former State Department Japan office director.
At the State Department, Assistant Secretary Kurt Campbell is in charge of all things Japan, aided by Japan desk chief Kevin Maher. Campbell has been back and forth to Tokyo several times since assuming his post and is scheduled to stop in Tokyo on Thursday on his way home from Burma.
The Japan team at the Pentagon is centered around Assistant Secretary Gen. Chip Gregson, Principal Deputy Derek Mitchell, Deputy Michael Schiffer, and Japan desk officer Suzanne Bassala.
Photo: Pool/Getty Images
President Obama today nominated of Philip Coyle, a leading critic of Bush administration missile defense schemes, to be a top White House scientific advisor.
Coyle, who was the head weapons tester at the Pentagon during the Clinton administration, was nominated to become the Associate Director for National Security and International Affairs at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. There he will lead a team tasked with giving scientific advice to Obama on a range of national security issues and will report to Director John Holdren.
Since his last tour at the Pentagon, Coyle has been a leading analyst on weapons systems for the Center for Defense Information, a component of the World Security Institute, a defense-minded think thank. From that perch, he's been actively involved in several of the national security debates involving advanced technology and a staunch watchdog on the missile defense system the Bush administration rushed to deploy throughout its tenure.
Coyle has often pointed out that the testing done by the Pentagon on ballistic missile defense components since 2001 has been either shoddy or thin. Moreover, he has repeatedly questioned the basic rationale for investing billions to deploy ballistic missile defense around the world, especially in Eastern Europe.
"In my view, Iran is not so suicidal as to attack Europe or the United States with missiles," he testified before the House Armed Services Strategic Forces subcommittee in February, "But if you believe that Iran is bound and determined to attack Europe or America, no matter what, then I think you also have to assume that Iran would do whatever it takes to overwhelm our missile defenses, including using decoys to fool the defenses, launching stealthy warheads, and launching many missiles, not just one or two."
Coyle has often argued that the Bush administration rushed to deploy missile defense systems around the world to build momentum and keep money flowing into the program. He has repeatedly said that the Missile Defense Agency has been amassing hardware that is either not aligned with the threat or can't be relied on in case of an actual emergency.
Over $120 billion has been spent on ballistic missile defense since its inception during the Reagan administration.
Coyle's views line up with Ellen Tauscher, who was then the subcommittee chairwoman but who is now Undersecretary of State for Arms Control and International Security, which oversees missile defense diplomacy.
Tauscher was part of the decision making process that led to huge changes in the Bush administration plans for missile defense in Poland and the Czech Republic. The Obama plan now calls for more short and medium range systems, most of them mobile. These are changes Coyle has also supported.
Coyle must now be confirmed by the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation. The vetting and confirmation process could take months.
But a real policy dispute lies at the heart of the story, senior diplomatic and military sources in Baghdad tell The Cable. Increasingly, the two men are said to differ over the proper American role in Baghdad, specifically with regard to how heavy a hand the U.S. should apply in trying to influence the decisions of the Iraqi government led by Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki.
The clashing approaches speak to both the institutional culture of the two organizations and their different view of U.S. priorities and interests during this critical time of pullback in the U.S. presence in Iraq, the sources said. "State has a respect for sovereignty and institutional relations," one official explained. "DOD is much more activist and hands on in pretty much every area. Their attitude is if there's a problem you get in there and do what you can to fix it."
The current dispute between the two camps centers around how involved the U.S. should be in the Maliki government's coalition politics ahead of Iraq's January 2010 elections, an event that has Middle East hands worried after the Iraqi parliament again failed Monday to pass a crucial law that would govern the polls. The U.S. government has hinged the entire redeployment strategy around the elections law, one government official working on Iraq in Washington said, warning that if it the process drags on, the withdrawal of U.S. troops will have to be correspondingly delayed.
Maliki has assembled a wide coalition for the upcoming poll. But according to reports, Iraq's lower house of parliament, the Council of Representatives (COR), might remove members of the Independent High Election Commission or withdraw its vote of confidence in the body at the prime minister's behest -- a move that military officials want to try to forestall.
But because the State Department places a high priority on holding the January elections on time as a precursor to fulfilling President Obama's withdrawal timeline, the embassy favors a more hands-off approach, and the White House is said to agree.
"State believes it would be fraught with danger to intervene on these COR decisions, and yet at the same time, it is equally dangerous if the COR decides to remove IHEC officials so close to the election," one senior military source in the region said, arguing that State's concerns about the Jan. 10 election date slipping are overblown.
A senior diplomatic source in Iraq responded by presenting the issue of U.S. involvement in Maliki's dealings as a balance between risk and reward.
"To what extent do we try to pick winners? What are the risks of that? How have we fared in the past with such an approach? This is not so much a civil-military problem, but it does go to the heart of how to disengage," the source explained. "Subtly versus with a heavy hand, could well determine what kind of partner we might have in Iraq."
The source also said State is very involved in the COR processes, including having embassy officers in every meeting and exerting influence when appropriate, such as in prodding individual members and suggesting solutions to get around impasses. "We are on it like the proverbial Iraqi carpet," the source said.
Clash of civilizations
Maliki alluded to the controversy in his remarks Monday after meeting with President Obama, saying that the two had "discussed the issue of the elections and the importance that these elections be held on time based on the national principles."
But the elections aren't the only issue in dispute, some Iraq experts say, pointing to the several outstanding issues between the Maliki government and both the Sunni and Kurdish communities as additional examples of how the State Department wants to disengage from Iraq at a faster pace than the military there.
"The question is, in this period of transition: What are the few things we really need to get traction on, and how much leverage do we have to do that?" said Sam Parker, an Iraq expert at the U.S. Institute of Peace. "It's about how much you should get involved."
Major disputes still exist between the Maliki government and the Iraqi minority communities over such things as the status of the city of Kirkuk, the distribution of oil profits, and payments to former Sunni insurgents who have been persuaded to lay down their arms.
"Odierno continues to believe that the Sunni community depends on the U.S. to defend them against the Maliki government," said one Washington Iraq expert. "State doesn't believe that the U.S. military should play a significant role in any of that."
Stephen Biddle, a senior fellow at the Center on Foreign Relations, said that part of the dispute was a lack of agreement on the trustworthiness of Maliki.
"The key question is, What model of Maliki's motivations do we use as we make policy?" said Biddle. "As long as it's at least an open possibility that he's opportunistic or trying to consolidate power in his office in an unnatural way, either one of those implies increased U.S. engagement."
Some Iraq experts defend State's approach as the most pragmatic and realistic way to acknowledge the fact that the Americans are leaving Iraq.
"The Defense Department has to come to terms with the fact that its influence is waning there," said Marc Lynch, director of the Institute for Middle East Studies at George Washington University.
"Sure, Chris Hill isn't doing as much on a personal level as [previous U.S. ambassador] Ryan Crocker did, but it's not clear that he should be," said Lynch. "The surge improved things militarily, but the political problems remain and those will have to be solved by the Iraqis. There is little we can do about it at this point."
President Obama expressed strong support for Afghanistan commander Gen. Stanley McChrystal in his meeting with lawmakers this afternoon, Senate Armed Services Committee chairman Carl Levin reported upon returning to Capitol Hill.
Several lawmakers used their short speaking time at the marathon briefing/discussion at the White House to weigh in on the firestorm created by the perception that McChrystal's statements in speeches and interviews were meant to pressure Obama to increase troop levels or represented insubordination because he was getting ahead of the ongoing Afghanistan policy review.
"People talked about how good of a commander he's got in the field and [Obama] agreed. People said he ought to put a lot of stock in what that commander says, and he agreed with that. Of course, others pointed out that there's a chain of command above McChrystal that he ought to listen to, and he agreed with that as well," Levin said.
But Levin said that story was overblown and that the president and his field commander are on the same page.
"There's no rift with McChrystal," said Levin, "[Obama] said he picked McChrystal and he wants McChrystal to be direct ... He reiterated that McChrystal is very supportive of the deliberative process and getting the strategy right before focusing on the troop levels or resources."
Someone who is not on the same page as McChrystal is Levin himself, who said he told Obama clearly at the large meeting and during a private conversation afterwards that he was opposed to sending more combat troops past what it would take to protect additional trainers for the Afghan security forces.
"I don't think we should be sending in more combat troops, because the downsides of doing that outweigh the additional value," Levin said, who added that "A lot of Republicans spoke as if they very much support what he is trying to do, in terms of the general direction in which he's heading."
War makes strange bedfellows...
The Senate Intelligence Committee's ranking Republican, Kit Bond, R-MO, calls into The Cable to give some insider details on the Afghanistan strategy briefing he attended at the White House just now.
The meeting was heavy on strategy, light on specifics, and generally had a positive and bipartisan tone, Bond reports. His main takeaway was that Obama pledged not to return to a counterterrorism approach, where troops "shoot and then fall back to the base," Bond said.
Obama told the lawmakers that "nobody on his team was proposing that," Bond reported, which lawmakers took to mean that the president was leaning toward a strategy heavily focused on counterinsurgency, which is of course more manpower intensive.
And though Obama didn't reveal whether or not he will approve Gen. Stanley McChrystal's request for up to 40,000 more troops, the president did talk about the need for Congress to quickly approve additional funding quickly if and when more troops are sent over there.
"If he provides more troops, we are going to need more resources," was the message the White House was sending, according to Bond, who interpreted that to mean another supplemental funding bill could be in the offing.
Bond's message to the president was similar to that of Sen. John McCain, namely that time is of the essence and the new strategy needs to be announced now and explained to the public.
"Obama said he understands the urgency but still wants to consider all options," Bond said.
Every lawmaker who wanted to had the opportunity to say his or her piece, but only for one to two minutes, so everybody had to make it short and sweet. So many congressmen took that opportunity that the meeting lasted much longer than had been planned.
There was no discussion in the meeting of the demand by Republicans that McChrystal be allowed to testify in open hearing, Bond said.
As Barack Obama continues to ponder his war strategy in Afghanistan, members of Congress are waging their own battle over whether the president's top generals should testify in public.
Today, Democratic Senators beat back John McCain's proposal to require the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, Gen. Stanley McChrystal, to testify in open hearing, but Republicans are only beginning to escalate their calls for sending more troops to the war-torn country.
The vote came as an amendment to the defense funding bill, which is on the Senate floor this week. McCain's amendment would have required testimony by McChrystal, the head of Central Command Gen. David H. Petraeus, the U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan Karl W. Eikenberry, and Adm. James G. Stavridis, the top U.S. commander in Europe.
The vote fell along party lines, as did the immediate subsequent vote on a pared-down version put forth by Senate Armed Services Committee chairman Sen. Carl Levin, which passed. That language would require hearings only after President Obama makes a decision about the way forward in Afghanistan. Levin's amendment suggested testimony from everybody from Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Chairman of Joint Chiefs Adm. Mike Mullen, Petraeus, Stavridis, McChrystal, Eikenberry, and ambassador to Pakistan Anne W. Patterson.
Democrats fear a repeat of the 2007 Iraq debate, when then Iraq commander Petraeus's congressional testimony was elevated to the level of gospel, crowding out other views as the administration lobbied for its "surge" strategy. They want to give Obama some time and cover to make his decision.
"This is a highly deliberative moment where personal and private conversations are taking place between the president and his advisors," Sen. John Kerry, D-MA, told The Cable. "For the moment I think the president has the right to make that decision."
But even Democrats point to Nov. 15, the deadline that McCain proposed, as the time by which they want to see an announcement from Obama so that the testimony can go forward.
"I don't think 45 days is necessarily too much to ask for," said Democratic Nebraska Sen. Ben Nelson, who pointed out that the House Armed Services Committee has already submitted a request for McChrystal's testimony without any response from the White House.
Regardless, between now and then, Senate Republicans will make a mantra out of calling for McChrystal's testimony, honing in on an issue they think plays well for them politically, calling for Obama to heed the advice of the "commanders on the ground," who are asking (as they always do) for more troops.
The congressional newspaper Roll Call has details of the GOP communications plan (subscription only):
According to leadership aides, [Minority Leader Mitch]McConnell will continue to make near-daily floor speeches on the issue. Other members of the Republican leadership, as well as the rank and file, are also expected to chime in, focusing on the need for McChrystal to testify before the Senate and for the administration to call for a deployment of more troops to Afghanistan.
A senior GOP leadership aide acknowledged that McConnell is following a messaging strategy similar to one that he has used previously on a number of other issues, most notably the closure of the Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, detention facility, the rising national debt, the costs of health care reform and the $787 billion stimulus bill.
Under his strategy, McConnell and a handful of his lieutenants will lay the foundation for the GOP's message over the next several weeks, using floor speeches as their primary vehicle.
Republicans have seen some success using this strategy in the past. For instance, McConnell used it this spring to slowly build momentum on the Guantánamo Bay prison closure, helping push the issue to the front burner and build opposition to the Obama administration's strategy.
U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Christopher Hill denied today the substance and details of a report by fellow Foreign Policy blogger Tom Ricks yesterday, which quoted anonymous sources as claiming that Hill's relationship with U.S. Iraq commander Gen. Ray Odierno was "deteriorating rapidly" due to fundamental differences over America's role there.
"Ray Odierno and I have an excellent relationship," Hill wrote in an e-mail to The Cable. "In addition to working together on all things Iraq in this crucial period of handover from the military to civilians, we smoke cigars together, we talk college and NFL football, we even talk baseball, not easy since Ray is a huge Yankees fan and I am, um, from New England."
Hill said he didn't ever remember meeting Ricks in the Balkans. Moreover, he criticized Ricks for reporting the alleged rift without visiting Iraq since he took over as ambassador and for not contacting him for comment before running with the story.
Moreover, Hill denied that the rift exists in the first place.
"Whatever 'source' he had was obviously not someone privy to my relationship with Ray. In short, Ricks is 180 degrees wrong about our relationship," Hill said, "I know Ray Odierno agrees with me that living and working in this place is tough enough without having to deal with this sort of thing out of Washington."
For his part, Ricks is standing by his reporting and publishing accounts from dissatisfied officials who interacted with Hill when he was the lead North Korea nuclear crisis negotiator.
Odierno himself will have an opportunity to weigh in tomorrow when he testifies before the House Armed Services Committee.
John Hudson reports on national security and foreign policy from the Pentagon to Foggy Bottom, the White House to Embassy Row, for The Cable.