Before Mitt Romney lost his presidential bid Tuesday night to President Barack Obama, he had set up a multi-layered national security transition team with dozens of experts and former officials who were working to prepare for a Romney administration that will never come to be.
Former Health and Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt was the overall head of "Project Readiness," the secretive transition planning effort run out of Washington, and former World Bank President Bob Zoellick was in charge of the national security substructure, which included teams to prepare for the transition of the National Security Council, the Defense Department, the State Department, USAID, the Homeland Security Department, and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. Brian Hook, former foreign-policy aide to Gov. Tim Pawlenty, was Zoellick's deputy in the effort and played a key role in organizing and directing the now-defunct national security transition structure.
Multiple former Romney foreign-policy advisors told The Cable that the national security agency transition teams were not direct indications of who might get what job in a future Romney administration and that they were separate from the transition project's personnel team, which would vet potential senior officials. The agency teams were meant to swoop in after the election, if Romney won, and prepare the national security bureaucracy for the changes President Romney wanted to impose.
"The project moved pretty well," Rich Williamson, the NSC transition team chair, told The Cable today. "Governor Leavitt did a good job of structurally organizing it. He set in course a process of identifying key issues and trying to develop 100-day plans so that if Romney became president he could start on day one to move the things he was committed to. It was further advanced than any other transition efforts I've seen."
Confidence in Romney's victory persisted until the last minute and the planning was extensive. In recent weeks, preparations included the drive to prepare drafts of agency transition plans and policy papers coordinated by interwoven task forces that focused on specific issues. The drafts were due Tuesday, the same day of the election, multiple former Romney foreign-policy advisors said.
"I feel quite comfortable with the analyses and options we teased out that the president elect would have had to begin to address," Williamson said. "Now we go into the loyal opposition and try to do our job raising concerns, improving the dialogue, and trying to influence how the president proceeds."
Had Romney won, Williamson would have been assisted by two NSC transition team co-chairs: former Navy Secretary William Ball and Harvard Professor Meghan O'Sullivan. The NSC "Team Leader," who led the day-to-day activities of the group under the direction of the chair and co-chairs was Foreign Policy Initiative Executive Director Jamie Fly.
The Pentagon transition team had three co-equal co-chairs: Former Sen. Jim Talent, former Navy Secretary John Lehman, and former Under Secretary of Defense for Policy Eric Edelman. Roger Zakheim, professional staffer for House Armed Services Committee Chairman Buck McKeon (R-CA), was the Pentagon transition team leader.
Former DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff chaired the homeland security transition team, with help from team leader David Howe. The intelligence transition team was chaired by former New Jersey Gov. Tom Kean and former State Department official Philip Zelikow; Michael Allen, chief of staff for House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers (R-MI), was the team leader.
For the State Department there were four co-chairs: former State Department and NSC staffer Dan Fisk, former Treasury Department official and Goldman Sachs executive John Rogers, the Washington Institute for Near East Policy's Michael Singh, and former Ambassador to Brazil Clifford Sobel. The team leader was former State Department official Ken Juster.
Several sources involved in the transition said that Zoellick set up the State Department transition team without any cabinet-level leaders because he wanted to set himself up to become secretary of state if Romney was elected. These sources also said that in the last weeks before the election, Zoellick's role in the project had diminished, partially due to the backlash in GOP foreign-policy circles when his role was revealed.
"After the groups were established, Zoellick's involvement appeared minimal. His deputy, Brian Hook, oversaw the work of the agency and policy groups," said one person involved in the transition project. "It was a collaborative process that helped build and strengthen relationships within the conservative foreign-policy community that will hopefully continue to pay dividends for years to come."
Zoellick did not respond to a request for comment by deadline.
Jessica Kourkounis/Getty Images
For the head of Libya's national election commission, the method by which Americans vote is startling in that it depends so much on trust and the good faith of election officials and voters alike.
"It's an incredible system," said Nuri K. Elabbar, who traveled to the United States along with election officials from more than 60 countries to observe today's presidential elections as part of a program run by the International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES). Your humble Cable guy visited polling places with some of the international officials this morning. Most of them agreed that in their countries, such an open voting system simply would not work.
"It's very difficult to transfer this system as it is to any other country. This system is built according to trust and this trust needs a lot of procedures and a lot of education for other countries to adopt it," Elabbar said.
The most often noted difference between American elections among the visitors was that in most U.S. states, voters need no identification. Voters can also vote by mail, sometimes online, and there's often no way to know if one person has voted several times under different names, unlike in some Arab countries, where voters ink their fingers when casting their ballots.
The international visitors also noted that there's no police at U.S. polling stations. In foreign countries, police at polling places are viewed as signs of security; in the United States they are sometimes seen as intimidating.
Sara Al-Utaibi, IFES deputy country director in Jordan, said that the fact that voting is done differently in different U.S. states is highly unusual. In Maryland, for example, electronic voting is common, whereas in Washington paper ballots predominate. If there are different voting procedures within another country, someone assumes fraud or abuse, she said.
"What's very unique about the way the Americans do it, it's not the process, it's the confidence that's placed in the process," she said. "This is what lacks in other countries. They say if this would happen in Arab countries it would not work the way it does in the United States."
Many of the visiting international officials noted that there were no observers at the polling places to ensure that proper voting procedures were being followed. IFES staffers explained to them that in the United States, election observers are sent by the political parties, which wouldn't use their limited resources inside the District of Columbia, where President Barack Obama is a heavy favorite.
Many of the visiting election officials were from emerging democracies, including Tunisia, Indonesia, Russia, Nigeria, and Yemen. The will spend a total of four days in the United States in a series of workshops and seminars.
"The point is to bring the highest-level commissioners and election staff here so they can connect and exchange ideas," said Ambar Riaz Zobairi, IFES deputy regional director for the Middle East and North Africa. "The overall point is to highlight the very interesting electoral process that we have here."
Provisional ballots are also a source of puzzlement for international officials. American voters who don't find their names on the rolls can vote anyway and verify their eligibility days later, a system not often found abroad. Ballots in foreign countries are often not as complicated as ballots in the United States.
"Their ballots are simple. We have a range of things on our ballot, referendums and such. In most countries, it's just president and parliament," said Cindy McCormick, an IFES consultant with more than 30 years of election monitoring experience.
One observer from Lebanon who did not want to be quoted pressed staffers on how the ballots are handled before and after voting day. He was amazed that ballots are sent directly to poll workers and that the handling of those ballots after the voting ends is also entrusted to local poll workers.
In Morocco, the poll workers take the unused ballots outside at the end of the night and burn them, McCormick said. In Russia, unused ballots are piled up and a poll worker drives a spike though the pile with a hammer. In The Gambia, a country in West Africa, each voter is given exactly one marble, which they place in one of the large marble collecting jars that are set up for each candidate.
"The polls workers are listening because when the marble goes into the jar, there's a ding. And if there are two dings, maybe somebody came in with extra marbles in their pocket, so they call the police," she said.
Asked how Gambians do a recount with the marble-based voting system, McCormick said, "I have no idea."
Josh Rogin/Foreign Policy
Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney has often endorsed the idea of using "enhanced interrogation techniques" if he is elected and doesn't believe that waterboarding is "torture," but he chose the GOP's most fervent critique of such methods to be the co-chair for intelligence personnel in his transition team.
Philip Zelikow, the long-time diplomat and former counselor to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, has been named one of two officials in charge of planning for the intelligence side of a potential Romney administration as part of the Romney campaign's "Project Readiness," multiple sources with direct knowledge of the project confirmed to The Cable. Zelikow, who was also the executive director of the 9/11 Commission, co-chairs the intelligence team with former New Jersey Governor and 9/11 Commission co-chairman Tom Kean.
Zelikow is another GOP senior foreign-policy hand from the realist camp in the top ranks of the Romney transition team. The head of the national security team is former Deputy Secretary of State and former World Bank President Bob Zoellick, a pick that roiled neoconservatives and hawks inside the Romney campaign when it was announced in August. But there are also hawks on the transition team, including former U.N. official Rich Williamson and former Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Eric Edelman.
Zelikow ran afoul of many of his colleagues inside the George W. Bush administration in 2005 when he wrote an internal memo expressing opposition to the Office of Legal Counsel's findings that allowed the use of enhanced interrogation techniques, including waterboarding. He wrote about how his dissenting view was received in a 2009 post on Foreign Policy's Shadow Government blog.
"My colleagues were entitled to ignore my views. They did more than that: The White House attempted to collect and destroy all copies of my memo. I expect that one or two are still at least in the State Department's archives," Zelikow wrote.
In looking to objective standards to inform a judgment about evolving standards of decency or interrogation techniques that shock the conscience, three sources stand out:
- American government practice, by any agency, in holding or questioning enemy combatants -- including enemy combatants who do not have Geneva protection or who were regarded at the time as suspected terrorists, guerrillas, or saboteurs. We are unaware of any precedent in Wold War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, or any subsequent conflict for authorized, systematic interrogation practices similar to those in question here, even where the prisoners were presumed to be unlawful combatants
- Recent practice by police and prison authorities in confining or questioning their most dangerous suspects. This practice is especially helpful since these authorities are governed by substantively similar standards to those that would apply under the [Convention Against Torture], given the Senate's reservation. We have not conducted a review of American domestic practice. From the available cases, it appears likely that some of the techniques being used would likely pass muster; several almost certainly would not.
- Recent practice by other advanced governments that face potentially catastrophic terrorist dangers. [REDACTED]...governments have abandoned several of the techniques in question here.
It therefore appears to us that several of these techniques, singly or in combination, should be considered "cruel inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment" within the meaning of Article 16.
The techniques least likely to be sustained are the techniques described as "coercive,'" especially viewed cumulatively, such as the waterboard, walling, dousing, stress positions, and cramped confinement.
Zelikow's position on enhanced interrogation techniques and waterboarding stands in contrast to Romney, who has made it clear on several occasions that he is not opposed to enhanced interrogation techniques and he does not believe waterboarding constitutes torture.
President Barack Obama signed an executive order early in his presidency limiting interrogation techniques to those specifically allowed in the Army Field Manual, which effectively outlawed waterboarding.
The New York Times reported last month that Romney aides had prepared an internal memo for the candidate that advised him "rescind and replace President Obama's executive order" and permit secret "enhanced interrogation techniques against high-value detainees that are safe, legal and effective in generating intelligence to save American lives."
Following that report, when asked by a reporter if he classifies waterboarding as torture, Romney said, "I don't."
Last November, Romney spokesperson Andrea Saul also said that Romney does not classify waterboarding as torture and would not specify which "enhanced interrogation techniques" he would be open to using if elected.
Last December, Romney said he supported "enhanced interrogation techniques which go beyond those that are in the military handbook right now."
In a 2007 primary debate, Romney refused to classify waterboarding as torture when asked about it directly.
"I oppose torture. I would not be in favor of torture in any way shape or form. As a presidential candidate I don't think it's wise to describe specifically which techniques we would or would not use," he said.
His primary opponent at the time, former prisoner of war Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), shot back at Romney in that debate insisting that waterboarding is in fact torture.
"I'm astonished that you haven't found out what waterboarding is," McCain said. "Governor, let me tell you if we are going to get the high ground in this world and we're going to be the America that we've cherished and loved for more than 200 years, we're not going to torture people."
Multiple requests for comment were not returned by the Romney campaign. Zelikow did not respond to a query by deadline.
Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) suggested Tuesday that President Bill Clinton is getting more and more active in politics this cycle in preparation for Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to run for the presidency in 2016.
"I would never think such a thing and I am certainly not Machiavellian, but I am told that there are some that think this may have a lot to do with 2016 and the president's wife, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton," McCain said Tuesday morning. "Of course I would never suspicion such a thing, but there are some real jerks around who think that might be the case."
McCain was speaking on a conference call following Monday night's debate between President Barack Obama and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney. He said Obama is using President Clinton more and more in the campaign because Romney is gaining in the polls.
"I think [President Clinton's] appeal is obviously there and I don't think it's an accident that as Mitt Romney has surged in the polls there has been increase in the activities of President Clinton," he said.
In a recent interview with Marie Claire, Clinton repeated that she does not plan to run for president in 2016.
"I have been on this high wire of national and international politics and leadership for 20 years," Clinton said. "It has been an absolutely extraordinary personal honor and experience. But I really want to just have my own time back. I want to just be my own person. I'm looking forward to that."
McCain also addressed Obama's comments ridiculing Romney for comparing the size of the U.S. Navy today to its size during World War I.
"I think Governor Romney maybe hasn't spent enough time looking at how our military works. You -- you mentioned the Navy, for example, and that we have fewer ships than we did in 1916. Well, governor, we also have fewer horses and bayonets -- because the nature of our military's changed. We have these things called aircraft carriers where planes land on them. We have these ships that go underwater, nuclear submarines," Obama said. "And so the question is not a game of Battleship where we're counting ships. It's what are our capabilities."
McCain said that Obama's highly touted rebalancing to the Asia-Pacific region was an effort that requires robust ship presence and he said that if defense cuts under sequestration are allowed to take place, shipbuilding industries will suffer across the county and jobs will be lost.
"That was both demeaning to Mitt Romney and it also showed a degree of ignorance on the part of the president," McCain said. "You need naval presence the same way you did back then. Then to justify a steady reduction in shipbuilding, it shows a misunderstanding of the size of the challenge we face in the Asia-Pacific region."
McCain said that Romney had passed the commander-in-chief test at Monday's debate.
"The question in a lot of people's minds before this debate was: Is Mitt Romney capable of being the commander in chief?" McCain said. "I think he achieved that goal last night. I think he made it very clear to Americans, principally women, that he's not going to get us into other conflicts, that he understands the war-weariness of the American people over Iraq and Afghanistan. But he has also pointed out that we are weaker than we were four years ago, and of course in the Middle East that's absolutely true."
McCain did not mention that he supports U.S. airstrikes and the imposition of a no-fly zone in Syria.
Note to Joe Biden: Both Mitt Romney and Barack Obama support leaving troops in Afghanistan after the full handover of security responsibility at the end of 2014, the Romney campaign confirmed during tonight's debate.
Romney promised during the debate that if he were elected president, U.S. troops would be out of Afghanistan according to the timeline set by the Obama administration in conjunction with the government of Hamid Karzai. Romney didn't repeat his previous qualifications that the decision would be made in consultation with the generals on the ground or based on the conditions at the time.
But neither Romney nor Obama talked about the fact that the Obama administration is entering into negotiations with the Karzai government to leave a follow-on force in Afghanistan well past 2014 that would be responsible for counterterrorism missions, training Afghan security forces, and protecting and supplying the State Department's missions in Afghanistan.
Asked by The Cable tonight, Romney campaign Press Secretary Andrea Saul confirmed that Romney does support a "small footprint" of American troops in Afghanistan past the 2014 transition deadline. Romney said so in a November primary debate.
"The commander in chief, perhaps looking at the calendar of the election, decided to bring them home in September instead in the middle of the fighting season. Our commanders said that puts our troops at risk, at danger. ... I think that was a mistake. Our surge troops should have been withdrawn by December of next year, not by September," Romney said. "And the timetable by the end of 2014 is the right timetable for us to be completely withdrawn from Afghanistan, other than a small footprint of support forces."
President Barack Obama and his administration did not only mislead the American people, they misled themselves on what happened the night of Sept. 11 in Benghazi, a top Romney foreign-policy advisor told The Cable ahead of Monday night's debate.
Regardless of whether or not Obama called the events in Benghazi an "act of terror" in the days following the attack, Mitt Romney does not believe the administration's insistence that the attack was related to an anti-Islam video was based solely on reports from the intelligence community, Romney advisor and former National Security Council official Eliot Cohen said in an interview.
"This notion that this was all because the intelligence community gave them bad information is just not correct. The idea that this was all attributable to the trailer for a crackpot movie was just not true," Cohen said. "That's a big fundamental problem that the administration has to deal with, that they did mislead people for a period of time, and what's even scarier, they misled themselves."
Both the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times have reported that the intelligence community didn't formally revise its view that there may have been a protest related to the video until Sept. 22; the intelligence community maintains, according to the Times, that militants involved in the attack were inspired by the breach of the U.S. Embassy walls in Cairo.
But the Romney campaign's critique is broader than its claims of mishandled intelligence.
Cohen said that during Monday night's debate, Romney will likely refer to the administration's reaction to the Benghazi attack to counter the administration's claim that it has dealt a devastating blow to al Qaeda and that al Qaeda is "on its heels," as Obama has said many times in the past.
"They wanted to believe the narrative that this was an understandable if excessive and unacceptable reaction to a provocative piece of video, because the alternative would be to believe that their story, which is that the extremist problem is an essentially an al Qaeda problem, that it's a narrowly defined problem that you can deal with through targeted killings, that al Qaeda was on the verge of strategic defeat, is not true," he said. "In fact you are dealing with a larger problem which has metastasized across the Middle East. That is something they did not want to believe. You get into trouble when you try to fool other people. You get in bigger trouble when you try to fool yourself."
Cohen also criticized Obama for saying the death of four Americans is "not optimal" during an appearance last week on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. Stewart had used the word "optimal" in his question to Obama, but Cohen said that Obama shouldn't have taken the bait.
"For the president to get on a comedy show and say that the death of four Americans is ‘not optimal,' that is a really disturbing way to react to his event. It's absolutely glib," he said. "A president is supposed to be self-aware enough to just use words like ‘tragedy.' He's not supposed to be Jon Stewart. Jon Stewart is a comic; the president is supposed to be something else."
As for the debate, Cohen said that Obama has a natural advantage because he has access to vast amounts of intelligence and hundreds of national security officials, whereas Romney has limited foreign-policy information resources.
"There is a fundamental asymmetry here... The governor and the president both have experience creating jobs. Only one of them has been president with responsibility for the conduct of foreign policy," he said. "I think what you can expect from Governor Romney -- what is reasonable to expect -- is his assessment of how he sees the world, how he sees the larger developments that are out there, a set of principles of he thinks shape foreign policy, a sense of his leadership style, and how he makes decisions, and then an examination of the record of the guy who actually has been in charge for the last four years."
Meanwhile, the Obama campaign has been advertising its message about Romney's foreign-policy competence this week, including through a memo penned by Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry (D-MA) alleging that Romney has failed the "commander-in-chief" test.
"We have that steady and strong leader today in President Obama. Mitt Romney, on the other hand, offers nothing but endless bluster and a record of dangerous blunders, failing at every turn to show he's up to the challenge. In fact, Governor Romney has outlined fewer specific policies for how he would lead on national security issues than any presidential candidate in my memory," Kerry wrote. He is an extreme and expedient candidate who lacks the judgment and vision so vital for the Oval Office, and he's at the top of the most inexperienced foreign policy ticket to run for president and vice president in decades."
JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images
The Mitt Romney campaign announced Wednesday it has stood up a Military Advisory Council made up of more than 300 retired generals and admirals who are ready to do battle for the Republican nominee.
"I am deeply honored to have the support of so many of our most accomplished military leaders," Romney said in a statement. "Together we will restore our military might and ensure that America can defend and protect our interests, our allies, and our people, both at home and abroad. I will never forget that the greatest responsibility of an American president is in exercising the role of commander-in-chief. That role is sacred, and when I am president, I will never put my own political interests ahead of our military and our men and women in uniform."
Among the better-known military men endorsing Romney today are Army Gen. Tommy Franks, the key architect of the military plan to oust Saddam Hussein, former Commandant of the Marine Corps Gen. James Conway, former Pacific Command chief Adm. Timothy Keating, and former Joint Chiefs Chairman Army Gen. Hugh Shelton, who was the top military officer at the end of the Clinton administration and who led the planning for the 1999 intervention in Kosovo. Shelton endorsed Hillary Clinton for president in 2008.
proud to be supporting Mitt Romney in this critical election about our nation's
future," Franks said. "Governor Romney is committed to restoring America's
leadership role in the world. Instead of playing politics with our military, he
will strengthen our defense posture by reversing the president's devastating
defense cuts. The fact of the matter is that we cannot afford another four
years of feckless foreign policy. We need level-headed leadership which will
protect our interests and defend our values with clarity and without apology."
"I consider the unprecedented national debt amongst the five greatest threats to the security of our great nation," said Conway. "And yet, I see no indication the current administration, if re-elected, is intent on changing that trajectory. Clearly defense should bear a portion of the burden in order to regain control of our debt, but the idea of massive military cuts -- at a time of increased global instability -- should not even be in the cards. As I listen to Mitt Romney, I am convinced that he 'gets it'."
Romney campaign aides told The Cable that the council isn't set to have any formal meetings, but that each member has expressed his willingness to endorse the governor and provide expert national security advice if called upon to do so.
"The great thing about the list is the size of it," one aide said. "Just an enormous outpouring of support for the governor. And with it comes a broad range of expertise."
You can view the entire list here.
During Tuesday's debate, President Barack Obama tempered his claims about U.S. success in fighting al Qaeda, jettisoning his oft-repeated campaign-trail claim that the terrorist organization is "on its heels."
"I said that I'd end the war in Iraq, and I did. I said we'd refocus attention on those who actually attacked us on 9/11, and we have gone after Al Qaeda's leadership like never before and Osama bin Laden is dead," Obama said during his second debate with Republican nominee Mitt Romney.
That paragraph is part of Obama's regular stump speech, and he made nearly identical remarks at two campaign stops last week. But in those previous instances, Obama said that al Qaeda was "on its heels," a claim he didn't repeat in front of Tuesday night's national audience.
"Four years ago, I made a few commitments to you. I told you I'd end the war in Iraq, and I did. I said I'd end the war in Afghanistan, and we are. I said we'd refocus on the people who actually attacked us on 9/11 -- and today, al Qaeda is on its heels and Osama bin Laden is no more," he said in a campaign stop in San Francisco on Oct. 9.
Two days later, in another campaign stop in Miami, Obama said nearly the same thing.
"Four years ago, I told you we'd end the war in Iraq -- and we did. I said that we'd end the war in Afghanistan -- and we are. I said that we'd refocus on the people who actually attacked us on 9/11 -- and today, al Qaeda is on its heels and Osama bin Laden is dead," he said.
The attack on the U.S. mission in Benghazi on 9/11 was reportedly the work of the extremist group Ansar al-Sharia, which is thought to have ties to al Qaeda in the Islamic Magreb (AQIM).
This month, the White House has been slowly but surely adding qualifications to its claims of progress in destroying al Qaeda, which has seen its ranks in North Africa increase recently.
For example, on Sept. 19 White House spokesman Jay Carney said that Obama's strategy in Afghanistan has "allowed us to take the fight to al Qaeda in the region in a way that we had not been able to before; that led to the decimation of al Qaeda's leadership."
By Oct. 10, after reports emerged tying al Qaeda links the Benghazi attack, Carney was specifying that al Qaeda "central" was hurting in two specific countries.
"Well, what we have said all along, what the president has said all along, is that ... progress has been made in decimating the senior ranks of al Qaeda and in decimating al Qaeda central in the Afghanistan/Pakistan region," adding that al Qaeda "remains our No. 1 foe."
Carney repeated his qualification that al Qaeda is hurting in Southwest Asia, but not necessarily in North Africa, two days later.
"[Obama] has made clear that he would refocus attention on what was a neglected war in Afghanistan, refocus our mission on al Qaeda, and decimating al Qaeda's leadership in Afghanistan and Pakistan -- he has," Carney said Oct. 12.
In his debate Oct. 11, Vice President Joe Biden also declined to say that al Qaeda was completely decimated or on its heels during his debate with Rep. Paul Ryan.
"The fact is we went [to Afghanistan] for one reason: to get those people who killed Americans -- al Qaeda," Biden said "We decimated al Qaeda central; we have eliminated Osama bin Laden. That was our purpose."
SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images
President Barack Obama and Mitt Romney sparred over whether Obama called the Sept. 11 murder of four Americans in Benghazi a "terrorist" attack. In fact, Obama did refer to the attack as an "act of terror," but he did not do so directly in the Rose Garden the next day.
Romney said during Tuesday night's debate that it took 14 days for Obama to acknowledge that the attack was a terrorist attack, while Obama and CNN's Candy Crowley agreed that Obama said so Sept. 12 in remarks in the Rose Garden. In those remarks, journalists noticed, he did not explicitly refer to the Benghazi attack as an "act of terror," though he did use those words.
"No acts of terror will ever shake the resolve of this great nation, alter that character, or eclipse the light of the values that we stand for," he said.
Commentary's interpretation was that he made that he was referring to the original 9/11 attacks, not the Benghazi attack the day before.
"'Acts of terror' could have just as easily been a reference to that. Or maybe it wasn't a direct reference to anything, just a generic, reassuring line he'd added into a speech which did take place, after all, the day after the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks," blogger Alana Goodman wrote.
But on Sept. 13, at a campaign event in Colorado, Obama again used the phrase "act of terror" and this time tied it directly to the Benghazi attack.
"So what I want all of you to know is that we are going to bring those who killed our fellow Americans to justice. I want people around the world to hear me: To all those who would do us harm, no act of terror will go unpunished. It will not dim the light of the values that we proudly present to the rest of the world. No act of violence shakes the resolve of the United States of America," he said.
Romney countered by saying that the Obama administration took too long to acknowledge that there were no protests outside the Benghazi mission before the attack and referred to U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice's Sept. 16 comments claiming that according to the best information at the time, the attack was "spontaneous" and a reaction to an anti-Islam video.
For the first time, Obama said he bears ultimate responsibility for the Benghazi attack, and again promised to bring the attackers to justice.
In one of the most drama-filled moments of the debate, the president said that Romney's statements during and immediately after the attack amounted to a politicization of the issue and he said he found Romney's suggestion that administration officials might have misled Americans about the attack "offensive."
SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images
Vice President Joseph Biden speaks only for himself and President Barack Obama, and neither man was aware that U.S. officials in Libya had asked the State Department for more security before the Sept. 11 attack on the U.S. mission in Benghazi, a top White House official told The Cable.
Biden has come under fire for saying at Thursday night's debate, "We weren't told they wanted more security. We did not know they wanted more security there."
The Cable asked Deputy National Security Advisor for Communications Ben Rhodes whether Biden was speaking for the entire Obama administration, including the State Department, which acknowledged receiving multiple requests for more Libya security in the months before the attacks. Rhodes said that Biden speaks only for himself and the president and neither of them knew about the requests at the time.
The State Department security officials who testified before House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa's panel Wednesday never said they had made their requests to the president, Rhodes pointed out. That would be natural because the State Department is responsible for diplomatic security, not the White House, he said. Rhodes also pointed out that the officials were requesting more security in Tripoli, not Benghazi.
"All of us at post were in sync that we wanted these resources," the top regional security officer in Libya over the summer, Eric Nordstrom, testified. "In those conversations, I was specifically told [by Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Charlene Lamb] ‘You cannot request an SST [Site Security Team] extension.' I determined I was told that because there would be too much political cost. We went ahead and requested it anyway."
Nordstrom was so critical of the State Department's reluctance to respond to his calls for more security that he said, "For me, the Taliban is on the inside of the building."
"We felt great frustration that those requests were ignored or just never met," testified Lt. Col. Andrew Wood, a Utah National Guardsman who was leading a security team in Libya until August.
Issa released the unclassified cables containing those requests.
At Thursday night's debate, Rep. Paul Ryan seemed to suggest that the requests were for Marines to go to Libya, which was not the case. The requests were to extend the tours of a Mobile Security Detachments [MSD] and the Site Security Team [SST] at the U.S. embassy in Tripoli, which are teams of military personnel, not Marines, who can help protect an embassy and its personnel.
"What we should not be doing is rejecting claims for calls for more security in our barracks, in our Marine -- we need Marines in Benghazi when the commander on the ground says we need more forces for security," Ryan said. "There were requests for extra security. Those requests were not honored."
In his prepared testimony, Nordstrom said that "because of Libyan political sensitivities, armed private security companies were not allowed to operate in Libya." Instead, the Benghazi mission, through a British company, hired unarmed Libyan guards to work inside the compound and a local Libyan militia patrolled the exterior of the compound.
Ryan also erred when he criticized the State Department for assigning Marines to protect the ambassador in France but not Amb. Chris Stevens, who died in Benghazi on Sept. 11.
"Our ambassador in Paris has a marine detachment guarding him, shouldn't we have a Marine detachment guarding our ambassador in Benghazi?," Ryan said.
According to the U.S. Embassy Paris website, there is a Marine Security Guard Detachment in the embassy, but they are there primarily to protect classified information and are not part of the ambassador's personal security detail.
Vice President Joe Biden said Thursday night that the United States has successfully completed its one and only mission in Afghanistan: to destroy al Qaeda, seeming to narrow the administration's goals for the war.
"The fact is we went there for one reason: to get those people who killed Americans -- al Qaeda," Biden said during his debate with Rep. Paul Ryan. "We decimated al Qaeda central; we have eliminated Osama bin Laden. That was our purpose."
His running mate President Barack Obama, however, has often said that the mission in Afghanistan was twofold: to defeat al Qaeda and to make sure that it or other extremists groups could not find safe haven in Afghanistan to launch future attacks against the West.
"I want the American people to understand that we have a clear and focused goal: to disrupt, dismantle and defeat al Qaeda in Pakistan and Afghanistan, and to prevent their return to either country in the future," Obama said in a speech when announcing his 30,000-troop surge in March 2009.
Biden presented the mission of standing up the Afghanistan security forces to establish safety and security in Afghanistan as a side effort that was in Afghanistan's security interests but not an American task.
"It is the responsibility of the Afghans to take care of their own security," he said. "The primary objective is almost completed. Now all we're doing is putting the Kabul government in a position to be able to maintain their own security. It's their responsibility, not America's."
Ryan criticized the Obama administration for withdrawing those surge troops during the 2012 fighting season; Obama fulfilled his pledge to withdraw all 30,000 surge troops by the end of September. But Biden argued that the Afghan fighting season was in spring, not summer.
Ryan pointed out that former Joint Chiefs Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen and former ISAF Commander David Petraeus had both testified that withdrawing the surge troops earlier increased the risks for the remaining troops in Afghanistan.
"Let me start by saying that I support the president's decisions, as do Generals Mattis and Petraeus. We were given voice in this process. We offered our views freely and without hesitation, and they were heard," Mullen testified last year.
"I provided assessments of risk. I provided recommendations. We discussed all of this, again at considerable length... All voices were heard in the Situation Room. And ultimately, the decision has been made," Petraeus testified.
The Obama campaign sent out a quote Thursday evening from current Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey supporting the timing of the surge withdrawal.
The intended purpose of the surge was "to buy us some time to push back on some Taliban initiatives -- particularly in the south and southwest -- and to buy us some space to grow the Afghan security forces... That objective clearly has been met,' Dempsey said last month.
The Obama campaign also noted in an e-mail to reporters that the Romney campaign's position on Afghanistan has changed over the course of the campaign. Biden said Romney's statements supporting Obama's 2014 deadline for withdrawal weren't credible because the Republican candidate has also said he would listen to generals and consider conditions on the ground before making a final decision.
"[Ryan] and the governor say it's based on conditions, which means ‘it depends.' It does not depend for us. It is the responsibility of the Afghans to take care of their own security," Biden said in what appear to be the most emphatic statements on the 2014 departure date by an Obama administration official. "We are leaving in 2014. Period."
In Obama's December 2009 speech announcing the surge, he put it differently: "Just as we have done in Iraq, we will execute this transition responsibly, taking into account conditions on the ground."
More recently, in May 2012, Obama said, "I don't think that there's ever going to be an optimal point where we say -- this is all done, this is perfect, this is just the way we wanted it and now we can wrap up all our equipment and go home. This is a process, and it's sometimes a messy process, just as it was in Iraq."
Ryan said that the Romney campaign does support the 2014 date but would not have committed to it publicly "because we don't want to broadcast to our enemies ‘Put a date on your calendar, wait us out, and then come back.'"
The U.S. mission would not be complete and successful until Afghanistan can no longer be a safe haven for extremists who want to attack America, he said.
"We agree with the administration on their 2014 transition," said Ryan. "But we want to see the 2014 transition be successful, and that means we want to make sure our commanders have what they need to make sure that it is successful so that this does not once again become a launching pad for terrorists."
Russia's announcement Wednesday that it will not participate in the Nunn-Lugar program to reduce the threat of loose nuclear materials is a slap in the face to President Barack Obama's effort to make arms control a feature of his "reset" policy with Russia, two top advisors to Mitt Romney said Thursday.
The New York Times described Moscow's move to end the 20 year, $8 billion program, started in 1993 by Sens. Sam Nunn (D-GA) and Richard Lugar (R-IN), to secure loose nukes in Russia and decommission old Russian military inventories as "a potentially grave setback in the already fraying relationship between the former cold war enemies." In a breakfast meeting with reporters Thursday, the Romney advisors said that the news is only the latest indication that the Obama administration has misread Russia's intentions and actions.
"The reset policy has been a complete disaster, partly because the administration has simply not understood how to deal with Russia," said Romney advisor and former Pentagon comptroller Dov Zakheim. "Russia is pursuing a classic policy that Russia has pursued since at least Peter the Great... If they perceive you to be strong, they will work with you. They do not perceive us to be strong."
Russia can be worked with, as evidenced by U.S.-Russian cooperation to transfer military supplies through Russia to Afghanistan, he said. But the Russian exit from Nunn-Lugar, as well as Moscow's decision last month to expel the U.S. Agency for International Development, shows that the Kremlin no longer feels the need to work with the United States constructively.
"This administration, because the Russians perceive it to be weak, it not in a position to move these guys," said Zakheim. "The whole reset program is a complete flop."
Dov's son Roger Zakheim, another top Romney advisor who also works on the staff of House Armed Services Committee Chairman Buck McKeon (R-CA), said the end of Nunn-Lugar deals a blow to the administration's overall nonproliferation agenda.
"The administration touted New START and we were critical of that because it was a victory for the Russians, who gave no concessions... This to me is another natural consequence of the fact the Russians are the only ones that gain fruit from this relationship," he said.
"This president is trying to get down to zero and remove WMD from across the world; now he can't even get the bilateral cooperation that's been done for years. [His agenda] is kind of evaporating on his own watch."
As president, Obama has made arms control a central feature of his reset policy with Russia, spending enormous amounts of time and political capital to push for ratification of New START in 2010. He also has made securing loose nuclear material a feature of his foreign-policy agenda, hosting a 44-nation summit on the issue in Washington the same year.
As a senator and member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in 2006, Obama joined with Lugar to sponsor a bill to expand the Nunn-Lugar to include conventional weapons.
In a statement Wednesday, Lugar said that in August meetings with Russian officials, the Russian government told him they wanted changes to the Nunn-Lugar umbrella agreement but that he was surprised by the announcement Russia was ending its participation in the program altogether.
In August alone, the program helped the securing of six nuclear weapons train transport shipments and destroyed 153.2 metric tons of chemical weapons nerve agent, Lugar said.
"The Nunn-Lugar scorecard now totals 7,610 strategic nuclear warheads deactivated, 902 intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) destroyed, 498 ICBM silos eliminated, 191 ICBM mobile launchers destroyed, 155 bombers eliminated, 906 nuclear air-to-surface missiles (ASMs) destroyed, 492 SLBM launchers eliminated, 684 submarine launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs) eliminated, 33 nuclear submarines capable of launching ballistic missiles destroyed, 194 nuclear test tunnels eliminated, 3192.3 metric tons of Russian and Albanian chemical weapons agent destroyed, 590 nuclear weapons transport train shipments secured, security at 24 nuclear weapons storage sites upgraded, 39 biological threat monitoring stations built and equipped," the statement read. "Perhaps most importantly, Ukraine, Kazakhstan, and Belarus are nuclear weapons free as a result of cooperative efforts under the Nunn-Lugar program. Those countries were the third, fourth and eighth largest nuclear weapons powers in the world."
The Russian Foreign Ministry said in a statement Wednesday that the State Department had proposed an extension for the program that was unacceptable to Moscow. "Our American partners know that their proposal is at odds with our ideas about the forms and basis for building further cooperation in that area," the statement said, adding that Russia needed "a more modern legal framework."
A top advisor to the Romney campaign argued in a book that the United States must at times negotiate with some of the world's most objectionable actors, including terrorists, rogue states, and even the Taliban.
"What kind of foreign policy can we expect from a Romney administration? In preparing for his presidential bid, Mitt Romney has carefully curated an inner circle of advisors, among them a well-regarded former U. S. diplomat named Mitchell Reiss," reads a marketing e-mail sent out last month for the 2010 book by Reiss, who served as the State Department director of Policy Planning under Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and is now a senior advisor to Romney.
"In his book Negotiating with Evil, Reiss explores one of the most critical questions in foreign policy today -- when, and how, should we negotiate with terrorists? Drawing upon his experiences in Northern Ireland and North Korea, he presents an argument that the United States not only should, but at times must enter into conversations with hostile foreign elements."
Reiss became an unlikely figure in the Republican primary debates when Romney explicitly rejected Reiss's call to open up negotiations with the Taliban as a means of ending the decade long war in Afghanistan, and said no negotiations should take place with the Taliban while they are fighting American soldiers.
In his book, Reiss doubled down on that call, praising the Obama administration for opening up channels of communication with the Taliban in 2009, though he criticizes the Obama team for fumbling those interactions.
"The president appeared to recognize that the United States could not kill or capture every Taliban member," Reiss wrote. "Some would have to be co-opted, accommodated, or bargained with in order for Washington to accomplish its mission."
Reiss's travels over three years in the Middle East, Europe, and South Asia informed the writing of his book, he said in the introduction.
"The United States has numerous examples of leaders engaging with terrorists and rogue regimes," he wrote, pointing out that the founding fathers paid off the Barbary pirates for protection of American assets on the high seas and Teddy Roosevelt cut a deal with a pirate who kidnapped an American citizen in Tunisia.
Lyndon Johnson negotiated with North Korea to secure the release of 83 American prisoners captured on the U.S.S. Pueblo, Richard Nixon pressed for the release of Palestinian prisoners during a hostage crisis over two hijacked airliners, Jimmy Carter returned $8 billion in frozen assets to Iran during the hostage crisis there, and Ronald Reagan sent weapons to Iran to secure the release of U.S. hostages in Beirut, Reiss pointed out.
"American presidents have negotiated with terrorists and rogue regimes to secure the release of hostages, to arrange temporary ceasefires, and to explore whether a more permanent truce might be possible, although they have sometimes gone to great lengths to disguise their direct involvement," Reiss wrote.
George H.W. Bush negotiated with Saddam Hussein, Bill Clinton's administration sat down with Hamas and the Taliban, and George W. Bush cut a deal on weapons of mass destruction with Muammar al-Qaddafi and initiated several rounds of negotiations with North Korea, Reiss noted. His book sought to explain when the U.S. government should engage the world's worst actors -- and when it should not.
"The most powerful reason not to engage with certain enemies is the judgment that no amount of concessions will pacify their hostile behavior," he wrote. "Attempts to do so are usually termed ‘appeasement' and may result in disaster."
As for dealing with terrorists, Reiss argued that non-state actors are less dangerous and less powerful than states that wish American harm, and therefore should be treated as such. Domestic politics makes talking to terrorists tricky, but that's no reason to ignore them, he argues.
"Although terrorist groups have blood on their hands, they are responsible for relatively few deaths; over the last forty years, the number of American victims of international terrorism is roughly the same as the number of people killed by lightening," he wrote. "In short, there may be tangible benefits to talking to terrorists, and real penalties for failing to do so."
In a speech Monday, former Governor Mitt Romney will criticize President Barack Obama's handling of the Sept. 11, 2012, attack on the U.S. mission in Benghazi and say it was probably the work of al Qaeda, the same group that brought down the World Trade Center and struck the Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001.
"The attacks on America last month should not be seen as random acts. They are expressions of a larger struggle that is playing out across the broader Middle East -- a region that is now in the midst of the most profound upheaval in a century. And the fault lines of this struggle can be seen clearly in Benghazi itself," Romney will say in a foreign-policy-focused address at the Virginia Military Institute, according to excerpts released by his campaign.
"The attack on our consulate in Benghazi on Sept. 11th, 2012, was likely the work of the same forces that attacked our homeland on Sept. 11th, 2001. This latest assault cannot be blamed on a reprehensible video insulting Islam, despite the administration's attempts to convince us of that for so long. No, as the administration has finally conceded, these attacks were the deliberate work of terrorists who use violence to impose their dark ideology on others, especially women and girls; who are fighting to control much of the Middle East today; and who seek to wage perpetual war on the West."
Some in the U.S. intelligence community believe that the attack on the Benghazi consulate that killed Amb. Chris Stevens and three other Americans was led by the Benghazi chapter of Ansar al-Sharia, an extremist group thought to have ties to Al Qaeda in the Islamic Magreb (AQIM), al Qaeda's North Africa affiliate.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton suggested that groups with links to AQIM were responsible for the Beghazi attack in remarks at a U.N. meeting on Sept. 26, but State Department and White House spokepersons have repeated again and again that the precise identity of the attackers remains unknown pending an FBI investigation.
Romney will invoke the original 9/11 attacks as part of his argument that Obama has failed to respond to the rapid changes in the Middle East with a proactive and coherent strategy to preserve American power and influence in the region.
"I know the president hopes for a safer, freer, and a more prosperous Middle East allied with the United States. I share this hope. But hope is not a strategy," Romney will say. "We cannot support our friends and defeat our enemies in the Middle East when our words are not backed up by deeds, when our defense spending is being arbitrarily and deeply cut, when we have no trade agenda to speak of, and the perception of our strategy is not one of partnership, but of passivity.... It is time to change course in the Middle East."
Romney will promise to increase and tighten sanctions against Iran, permanently base one aircraft carrier group each in the Eastern Mediterranean and the Gulf, condition aid to Egypt, and "recommit America to the goal of a democratic, prosperous Palestinian state living side by side in peace and security with the Jewish state of Israel."
On Syria, Romney will promise to identify opposition groups that share American values and make sure they get weapons to defeat the Syrian regime's tanks, helicopters, and fighter jets. He won't say that the United States should arm the rebels directly -- only that it should make sure they get advanced weaponry.
On Afghanistan, Romney will accuse Obama of timing the withdrawal of U.S. forces based on political considerations, a reference to the fact that Obama withdrew all 30,000 "surge" forces last month. But Romney will reiterate his call to complete the withdrawal of combat troops by the end of 2014, so long as the conditions on the ground permit and in consultation with the military chain of command.
"I believe that if America does not lead, others will -- others who do not share our interests and our values -- and the world will grow darker, for our friends and for us. America's security and the cause of freedom cannot afford four more years like the last four years," Romney will say. "The 21st century can and must be an American century. It began with terror, war, and economic calamity. It is our duty to steer it onto the path of freedom, peace, and prosperity."
The Romney campaign held a conference call for reporters Sunday to preview the speech, which included participation by campaign foreign-policy coordinator Alex Wong and senior advisors Rich Williamson and Eliot Cohen.
Wong said that Obama has stepped away from American leadership and undermined the basis of American power. He also said the standing of the United States has been weakened in every region of the world, and likened Obama's foreign policy to that of former President Jimmy Carter.
Williamson said that Obama has a policy of weakness that is provocative to enemies and that his administration hasn't been transparent on the Benghazi attacks.
"The foreign policy of Barack Obama in the Middle East is a mess and is failing, and that should be a part of the discussion," Williamson said.
The Obama campaign preemptively released a statement calling Romney a neophyte and flip-flopper on foreign policy who has fumbled his forays into foreign-policy issues throughout the campaign.
"If Mitt Romney wants to have a debate about foreign policy, we have a message for him: bring it on... To date, all Mitt Romney has offered is bluster and platitudes. He's erratically shifted positions on every major foreign policy issue, including intervening in Libya, which he was against before he was for," Obama for America spokeswoman Liz Smith said in the statement.
"'Mainstream' foreign policy isn't what Mitt Romney is putting forward: having plans to start wars but not end them; wanting to keep 30,000 U.S. troops in Iraq indefinitely; exploding our defense spending to levels the Pentagon has not asked for, with no way to pay for it; insulting our allies and partners around the world on the campaign trail; and calling Russia our number-one geopolitical foe. If that's where Mitt Romney thinks the mainstream is, he needs to find a better compass. It's clear that on every measure, Mitt Romney fails the commander-in-chief test."
The top echelon of Mitt Romney‘s national security transition team is largely in place and it includes both hawkish and centrist GOP foreign-policy professionals, The Cable has learned.
The news comes as debate continues inside the Romney campaign over how much to focus on foreign vs. domestic policy in the home stretch. Politico reported last week that chief strategist Stuart Stevens was leading the camp pushing for a more singular focus on the economy.
But with the final presidential debate set to focus on foreign policy and events in the Middle East continuing to raise questions about President Barack Obama's leadership, those advocating for more foreign policy campaigning have won a victory: Romney will give what the campaign is billing as a major speech on foreign policy at the Virginia Military Institute on Monday, Oct. 8.
Behind the scenes, planning for a national security team that looks suddenly more realistic after Wednesday night's debate is moving along at a steady pace.
The Romney campaign doesn't talk publicly about its broader transition-planning effort -- "Project Readiness," led by former HHS Secretary Mike Leavitt -- but the effort is moving along steadily.
The GOP foreign-policy world was caught off guard when Leavitt chose former World Bank President Bob Zoellick to lead the national security transition planning, setting off speculation that Romney's national security team after the election would be far more moderate than the top advisors informing his foreign-policy speeches and agenda items during the campaign.
But The Cable has learned from multiple sources close to the campaign that campaign senior advisor for defense and foreign policy Rich Williamson has been named the head of the transition team for the National Security Council, giving him a prominent role should Romney win. Two other officials who are leading the national security transition effort are former Under Secretary of Defense for Policy Eric Edelman and former New Jersey governor and co-chair of the 9/11 Commission Tom Kean.
Some inside the campaign believe Williamson's new role as head of the NSC transition team could place him in line to be national security advisor in a Romney administration. A former assistant secretary of state for international organization affairs who served as George W. Bush's special envoy to Sudan, Williamson has been one of Romney's most visible national security surrogates throughout the campaign. Said to be close to the governor personally, he has also been the voice of some of the campaign's harshest criticisms of Obama's handling of foreign policy. Williamson has railed against Obama for his handling of Libya, the greater Middle East, Israel, Iran, Russia, human rights, and several other topics.
Transition team leaders don't necessarily end up leading the agencies for which they are in charge of planning. In 2008, the Obama campaign's State Department transition team was led by Tom Donilon and Wendy Sherman. Obama chose Hillary Clinton to be secretary of state, Donilon became deputy national security advisor, and Sherman returned to the private sector, only later being appointed to be under secretary of State for political affairs.
The Obama campaign's Pentagon transition team was led by Michèle Flournoy and former Deputy Defense Secretary John White, but Obama chose to stick with Robert Gates as defense secretary and Flournoy became the under secretary of defense for policy.
Edelman, a leading representative of the neoconservative wing of the Republican foreign-policy establishment, was under secretary of defense for policy under Donald Rumsfeld and now sits on the board of directors of the Foreign Policy Initiative, a neoconservative-leaning foreign-policy organization in Washington. Edelman has been quietly active in the campaign for some time.
Kean, like Zoellick, is seen as a moderate, and has not been a visible part of the Romney effort thus far. Zoellick, meanwhile has been meeting all over Washington with foreign-policy hands of all stripes and from both parties. Last month he was spotted in downtown DC eateries on separate occasions lunching with Weekly Standard Editor William Kristol and Obama's former top Asia aide, Jeffrey Bader.
Sources inside the campaign report that the foreign-policy process still centers around young lawyer Alex Wong, the campaign's foreign-policy coordinator, and his boss Lanhee Chen, the campaign's policy director. Former Iraq war spokesman Dan Senor, another board member of FPI, has taken the lead on Vice Presidential candidate Paul Ryan's foreign-policy preparations, which perhaps explains Ryan's increasingly combative rhetoric when talking about Obama's handling of the Middle East crises.
Mitt Romney pledged Tuesday to shift foreign aid toward the private sector and deprioritize humanitarian aid in favor of promoting free enterprise and business development around the world.
In remarks at the Clinton Global Initiative, Romney laid out his most detailed proposals on foreign aid thus far, including his plan to move foreign aid to rely more on public-private partnerships that enlist American corporations to the cause of helping the developing world.
"Free enterprise has done more to bless humanity than any other economic system not only because it is the only system that creates a prosperous middle class, but also because it is the only system where the individual enjoys the freedom to guide and build his or her own life. Free enterprise cannot only make us better off financially, it can make us better people," Romney said.
He said that America was a compassionate nation but that Americans wonder why foreign aid often falls victim to corruption and doesn't seem to solve the problems of the developing world. Romney believes that is because the private sector is now playing a much larger role in the developing world than foreign governments.
"If foreign aid can leverage this massive investment by private enterprise, it may exponentially expand the ability to not only care for those who suffer, but also to change lives," Romney said. "For American foreign aid to become more effective, it must embrace the power of partnerships, access the transformative nature of free enterprise, and leverage the abundant resources that can come from the private sector."
Romney then said he would lower the priority of foreign aid as a means to address humanitarian needs, such as health, as well as foreign aid as a means to promote U.S. strategic interests. He said the foreign aid goal that will receive "more attention and a much higher priority" if he is elected would be "aid that elevates people and brings about lasting change in communities and in nations."
Romney invoked the name of Muhammed Bouazizi of Tunisia, "the street vendor whose self-immolation sparked the Arab Spring," and said his protest was based on his desire to work to provide for his family.
"Work. That must be at the heart of our effort to help people build economies that can create jobs for people, young and old alike," Romney said. "Work builds self-esteem. It transforms minds from fantasy and fanaticism to reality and grounding. Work will not long tolerate corruption nor quietly endure the brazen theft by government of the product of hard-working men and women."
A Romney administration would initiate "Prosperity Pacts" through which the U.S. government would work with the private sector to eliminate trade and investment barriers in developing nations in exchange for U.S. aid packages that focus on "developing the institutions of liberty, the rule of law, and property rights," he said.
"The aim of a much larger share of our aid must be the promotion of work and the fostering of free enterprise," said Romney. "Nothing we can do as a nation will change lives and nations more effectively and permanently than sharing the insight that lies at the foundation of America's own economy--free people pursuing happiness in their own ways build a strong and prosperous nation."
"I've laid out a new approach for a new era," he said. "We'll couple aid with trade and private investment to empower individuals, encourage innovators, and reward entrepreneurs."
Romney started his speech with a joke about Clinton's speech endorsing President Barack Obama during the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte.
"If there's one thing we've learned this election season, it's that a few words from Bill Clinton can do any man a lot of good," Romney said. "After that introduction, I guess all I have to do is wait a day or two for the bounce."
Note: The headline on this story has been changed to better reflect Romney's proposals.
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On a conference call with American rabbis Thursday evening, Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney altered his position on what "red lines" he would set for Iran before deciding military action was necessary.
"Your good friend Prime Minister [Benjamin] Netanyahu says that the international community needs to draw a red line for Iran. Do you agree that a red line needs to be drawn, and where would you draw it?," Rabbi Efrem Goldberg asked on the call, a recording of which was provided to The Cable.
"With regards to the red line, I would imagine Prime Minister Netanyahu is referring to a red line over which if Iran crossed it would take military action. And for me, it is unacceptable or Iran to have the capability of building a nuclear weapon, which they could use in the Middle East or elsewhere," Romney said. "So for me, the red line is nuclear capability. We do not want them to have the capacity of building a bomb that threatens ourselves, our friends, and the world."
"Exactly where those red lines [should be drawn] is something which, I guess, I wouldn't want to get into in great detail, but you understand they are defined by the Iranian capability to have not only fissile material, but bomb making capability and rocketry," Romney said.
Romney's remark that the United States should take military action if Iran develops nuclear weapons "capability" matches what many GOP leaders and pro-Israel groups have publicly stated, but it stands in contrast to the "red line" Romney set out in a Sept. 14 interview with ABC News.
"My red line is Iran may not have a nuclear weapon," Romney told network host George Stephanopoulos. "It is inappropriate for them to have the capacity to terrorize the world. Iran with a nuclear weapon or with fissile material that can be given to Hezbollah or Hamas or others has the potential of not just destabilizing the Middle East. But it could be brought here."
Asked if his red line was the same as President Obama's, Romney told ABC, "Yes."
Rabbi Goldberg also asked Romney what exactly he would do differently than the current administration to prevent a nuclear Iran. Romney offered few specifics. He referenced his January 2007 speech at the Herzliya Conference, where he called for several specific measures.
"We recently have done one of them, which is getting crippling sanctions. It's taken a long time to finally come around to that, but that is one of the key elements to changing Iran's course," Romney said. "Sanctions are having an impact on their economy. Unfortunately, they took so long to be put in place that I think Iran is racing forward with their nuclear plans."
He said he would increase the credibility of the military option and U.S. support for dissidents in Iran.
He also called for the indictment of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad for "genocide."
"I think we should indict Ahmadinejad under the Genocide Convention for incitation of genocide," Romney said. "I think that he and the diplomats in Iran should be treated like the pariah[s] they are ... I believe they should be treated the same way we treated South Africa during apartheid."
In the call, Romney did not address the controversy over his remarks at a May fundraiser where he all but counted out the possibility of a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
In a hidden camera video posted by Mother Jones magazine, Romney told a group of donors in May that Palestinians "have no interest whatsoever in establishing peace," and that a two-state solution is "almost unthinkable to accomplish."
"We have a potentially volatile situation but we sort of live with it, and we kick the ball down the field and hope that ultimately, somehow, something will happen and resolve it," Romney said.
"But I always keep open: the idea of pushing on the Israelis to give something up to get the Palestinians to act is the worst idea in the world. We have done that time and time and time again. It does not work," Romney said to the donors. "So the only answer is show them strength. American strength, American resolve, and the Palestinians will some day reach the point where they want peace more than we're trying to force peace on them. Then it's worth having the discussion. So until then, it's just wistful thinking."
Addressing the tension between the Obama and Netanyahu governments, Romney said Thursday, "Our relationship with Israel should be one which the world sees as being extraordinarily close ... and if per chance there are disagreements, we keep those disagreements to ourselves and in private, as opposed to airing them out in public."
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Republican challenger Mitt Romney defended his criticism of President Barack Obama's handling of the of the attacks on two U.S. diplomatic and doubled down on his campaign's message that the attacks are evidence that the White House's policies have failed across the region.
"I think it's a terrible course for America to apologize for our values," Romney said, referring to the original U.S. Embassy Cairo statement on the protests there, which was issued before protesters broached the embassy compound walls Tuesday. "They clearly sent mixed messages to the world. And the statement that came from the administration -- and the embassy is the administration ... was a statement which is akin to apology and I think was a severe miscalculation."
Romney called for renewed American leadership in the world, reinforcing his campaign's assertion Tuesday that the embassy attacks are related to the administration's overall approach to the Arab uprisings.
"The attacks in Libya and Egypt underscore that the world remains a dangerous place and that American leadership is still sorely needed. In the face of this violence, America cannot shrink from the responsibility to lead," he said. "American leadership is necessary to ensure that events in the region don't spin out of control. We cannot hesitate to use our influence in the region to support those who share our values and our interests."
"Over the last several years we stood witness to an Arab Spring that presents an opportunity for a more peaceful and prosperous region but also poses the potential for peril if the voices -- forces of extremism and violence are allowed to control the course of events. We must strive to ensure that the Arab Spring does not become an Arab Winter," Romney said.
The Romney campaign's reaction to the events in Egypt and Libya stood in contrast to several statements by GOP congressional leaders Wednesday morning, most of whom avoided any direct criticism of the Obama administration or its policies.
"Yesterday we commemorated the anniversary of the attacks of September 11, and today we are reminded that brave Americans serve us every day at the risk of their own lives. We honor the Americans we lost in Libya, and we will stand united in our response," Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) said in a statement. "Among the things we can all agree on in Washington is that attacks on the U.S. and its representatives will be met with resolve, and that America's presence and defense of our national interests across the globe will not be deterred by the acts of violent extremists."
Sens. John McCain (R-AZ), Joe Lieberman (I-CT), and Lindsey Graham (R-SC), issued a joint statement that echoed Romney's concerns about the path of the Arab Spring and urged international support for Libyan democracy, but emphasized that the details of Tuesday's attacks are still unknown.
"There is still much we do not know about what happened in Benghazi yesterday. What is clear, however, is that the attackers must be apprehended and punished. We appreciate that senior Libyan leaders have condemned these cowardly attacks, and we now look to the Libyan government to ensure that the perpetrators are swiftly brought to justice, and that U.S. diplomats are protected. We have confidence that our own government will provide all necessary assistance to this end," they said.
One senior Republican senator, Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK), joined with Romney today in tying the tragic events in Libya and Egypt to Obama's policies in the Middle East.
"Sadly, America has suffered as a result of President Obama's failure to lead and his failed foreign policy of appeasement and apology. The world must know beyond doubt that America will not allow these types of attacks on our people. Obama's failed leadership is in direct contrast with Ambassador Stevens' brave leadership and effort to protect Americans at the consulate," Inhofe said in statement.
Inhofe called for congressional hearings to investigate the intelligence and security failures that proceeded the attacks.
House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairwoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) indirectly criticized the administration's response Tuesday in remarks ahead of a committee hearing Wednesday morning.
"Let us be clear: There is no justification for the murder of our diplomats and attacks of our embassies. We have nothing for which we should apologize," she said. We must ensure that the perpetrators of this recent round of 9/11 attacks are held accountable."
In separate statements Wednesday morning, President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton condemned the attacks, expressed aguish about the deaths of four Americans, including U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens, and promised to press for a full and swift investigation.
"We're working with the government of Libya to secure our diplomats. I've also directed my administration to increase our security at diplomatic posts around the world. And make no mistake: We will work with the Libyan government to bring to justice the killers who attacked our people," Obama said.
"Since our founding the United States has been a nation that respects all faiths. We reject all efforts to denigrate the religious beliefs of others. But there is absolutely no justification for this type of senseless violence. None. The world must stand together to unequivocally reject these brutal acts. Already, many Libyans have joined us in doing so, and this attack will not break the bonds between the United States and Libya."
Clinton spoke in detail about Stevens's record of working on behalf of Libyans and praised the Libyan government's response to the crisis so far.
"When the attack came yesterday, Libyans stood and fought to defend our post. Some were wounded. Libyans carried Chris's body to the hospital, and they helped rescue and lead other Americans to safety. And last night, when I spoke with the president of Libya, he strongly condemned the violence and pledged every effort to protect our people and pursue those responsible," she said.
"Today many Americans are asking -- indeed, I asked myself -- how could this happen? How could this happen in a country we helped liberate in a city we helped save from destruction? This question reflects just how complicated and, at times, how confounding the world can be. But we must be clear-eyed, even in our grief. This was an attack by a small and savage group, not the people or government of Libya," she said.
"The friendship between our countries, born out of shared struggle, will not be another casualty of this attack. A free and stable Libya is still in America's interest and security, and we will not turn our back on that, nor will we rest until those responsible for these attacks are found and brought to justice."
President Barack Obama's flawed approach to the Middle East and his failure to assert American leadership throughout the Arab Spring resulted in reduced American influence in the region and set the stage for Tuesday's assaults on U.S. diplomatic posts led by Islamic extremists, Romney senior foreign policy advisor Rich Williamson told The Cable Tuesday night.
The attacks Tuesday on two U.S. diplomatic posts were directly related to "the loss of American leadership and prestige throughout the Middle East because of the Obama administration's failed policies in that region," Williamson said in an extensive interview late Tuesday evening.
The interview took place before it was known that four Americans died in the armed assault on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, including Ambassador Chris Stevens. President Barack Obama issued a statement this morning confirming reports of Stevens' death and condemning the attacks.
"Right now, the American people have the families of those we lost in our thoughts and prayers. They exemplified America's commitment to freedom, justice, and partnership with nations and people around the globe, and stand in stark contrast to those who callously took their lives," Obama said in the statement. "I have directed my Administration to provide all necessary resources to support the security of our personnel in Libya, and to increase security at our diplomatic posts around the globe."
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said in a seperate statement Wednesday morning that foreign service officer Sean Smith was also killed. The names of the other two U.S. citizens killed have not yet beeen released, pending notification of their families.
Tuesday night, while the attacks were still ongoing, Williamson said that the governments in Egypt and Libya as well as the Obama administration bear responsibility for the deteriorating security environment that led to the attacks.
"The events in Egypt and Libya show the failure of the Egyptian and Libyan governments to uphold their obligations to keep our diplomatic missions safe and secure and the regard in which the United States is held under President Obama in these two countries," he said. "It's all part of a broader scheme of the president's failure to be an effective leader for U.S. interests in the Middle East."
The Obama administration has failed to develop, much less communicate, a coherent or consistent approach to protecting American interests throughout the Arab Spring, Williamson argued. The events in Egypt and Libya are part of a broader story of what he characterized as the administration's lack of leadership in responding to the Syria crisis, a mishandling of the U.S.-Israel relationship, and a failed engagement policy with Iran, he charged.
Tuesday's attacks are not isolated incidents, but rather are part of an increasing and disturbing trend of anti-American incidents that illustrate the administration's failed policies, according to Williamson.
"The region's in turmoil and this president has not provided effective leadership," Williamson said. "It's a pattern and the pattern sees the U.S. with reduced influence, reduced respect, reduced capacity to project its interests and our security is at risk because of the greatest danger, which is a nuclear breakout by Iran."
Williamson said that the Obama administration had reduced funding for civil society and democracy programs in the Middle East during its first years in office and de-emphasized the Bush administration's "Freedom Agenda." Romney expressed the same sentiment in an interview in Israel in July, where he expressed concern about the path of the Arab Spring.
"The Arab Spring is not appropriately named. It has become a development of more concern and it occurred in part because of the reluctance on the part of various dictators to provide more freedom to their citizens. President [George W.] Bush urged [deposed Egyptian President] Hosni Mubarak to move toward a more democratic posture, but President Obama abandoned the Freedom Agenda and we are seeing today a whirlwind of tumult in the Middle East in part because these nations did not embrace the reforms that could have changed the course of their history, in a more peaceful manner."
In Egypt, the Obama administration stood by Mubarak for too long, thereby alienating the revolutionaries and reducing U.S. capacity to influence the new government, Williamson argued. In Libya, the administration "led from behind" and was dragged into intervening by Britain and France, he said, and then failed to follow up sufficiently to support their transition to a stable democracy.
Regarding Syria, Williamson referred to Romney's call in 2011 for the administration to engage more with the opposition, and said that the administration's limited supported for the opposition now was "a day late and a dollar short" -- insufficient to respond to the brutality of the Syrian regime and the deaths of more than 20,000 Syrian civilians.
Romney supports working with allies to arm the Syrian opposition, and Williamson said the fact that Tuesday's attack in Benghazi was perpetrated by militias that were part of last year's Libyan revolution shouldn't hurt the current push to arm the Syrian opposition now. If the administration had engaged the opposition earlier, he arged, that concern would have been alleviated by now.
"Anyone who has any sophistication knows that we weren't going to get a U.N. Security Council resolution from Russia. You would have to be deaf, dumb, and blind not to know that would be the result. So the administration wasted valuable time and the cost is 20,000 Syrian lives. That's not what I would call effective foreign policy," he said.
Romney has said little about the Arab Spring. His few public statements on the uprisings have focused on his fear that the once-hopeful movement is taking a turn for the worse and that the democratic reformers who started the revolutions are losing out to the Islamic groups that are assuming power.
"We're facing an Arab Spring which is out of control in some respects because the president was not as strong as he needed to be in encouraging our friends to move toward representative forms of government," Romney said last October.
The Romney campaign has previously promised to return to a focus on promoting democracy and put an increased priority on human rights. Williamson said the Obama administration's downplaying of those issues had exacerbated the region's problems.
"Maybe if [Obama] had continued to support democracy and civil society in these countries the way that Bush did, the way they should, maybe the more moderate forces would have better prepared to compete for political power," he said.
He also criticized Obama for not meeting with Benjamin Netanyahu while the Israeli prime minister is visiting the United States for the opening of the U.N. General Assembly. Amid accusations by anonymous Israeli officials that the president had turned down Jerusalem's request for a meeting, the White House said Tuesday that it was a scheduling issue, not a slight, but Williamson is skeptical.
"This president has played more than 100 rounds of golf, more than any president in U.S. history, but he can't find time to meet with the head of state of one of our closest allies facing a national threat. It's mindboggling," he said.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton issued a statement Tuesday night confirming that one State Department officer had been killed in the armed attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi. The battle in Benghazi between armed militants and the Libyan government army in the streets near the consulate raged into the night, and Clinton phoned Libyan National Assembly leader Mohammed Magarief to urge him to commit more resources to protecting Americans.
In a separate incident Tuesday, protests at the U.S. Embassy in Cairo resulted in several protesters breaching the compound's walls and replacing an American flag with the black banner of al Qaeda. There were no injuries in that incident, which the protesters claimed was inspired by an obscure U.S.-made film's depiction of the Prophet Mohammed.
The Romney campaign issued a statement late Tuesday criticizing a press release on the Cairo Embassy website that focused on the issue of religious incitement and religious freedom. That press release had been heavily criticized by conservative websites and by the Republican-controlled House Foreign Affairs Committee throughout the day as an "apology" for the assault, although it was issued before the embassy breach.
"I'm outraged by the attacks on American diplomatic missions in Libya and Egypt and by the death of an American consulate worker in Benghazi," Romney said in the statement. "It's disgraceful that the Obama Administration's first response was not to condemn attacks on our diplomatic missions, but to sympathize with those who waged the attacks."
The Romney campaign had initially sent out the statement under embargo, presumably to adhere to its pledge to avoid negative campaigning on the 11th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, but then allowed reporters to publish it earlier.
The White House distanced itself from the embassy statement late Tuesday, saying it hadn't been cleared with Washington. Clinton's statement also referred to that controversy.
"Some have sought to justify this vicious behavior as a response to inflammatory material posted on the Internet. The United States deplores any intentional effort to denigrate the religious beliefs of others. Our commitment to religious tolerance goes back to the very beginning of our nation. But let me be clear: There is never any justification for violent acts of this kind."
A previous version of this story stated that Romney supports U.S. directly arming the Syrian opposition. A senior Romney campaign official clarified that Romney has not yet called for the U.S. to directly arm them.
CHARLOTTE - Vice President Joe Biden highlighted President Barack Obama's decision to green light the May 2011 raid that killed Osama bin Laden as a key indicator of his qualification to be president -- but Biden didn't mention, as he has in the past, that he advised Obama against going through with the raid at the time.
"Barack understood that the search for bin Laden was about a lot more than taking a monstrous leader off the battlefield. It was about righting an unspeakable wrong, healing a nearly unbearable wound in America's heart. He also knew the message we had to send to terrorists around the world -- if you attack innocent Americans, we will follow you to the ends of the earth. Most of all, the President had faith in our special forces -- the finest warriors the world has ever known," Biden said in his speech accepting the Democratic nomination for vice president.
Biden detailed the deliberations over whether or not to take the risk of violating Pakistan's sovereignty by sending Navy SEALs into Abbottabad to get bin Laden.
"We sat for days in the Situation Room. He listened to the risks and reservations about the raid. And he asked the tough questions. But when Admiral McRaven looked him in the eye and said-‘Sir, we can get this done,' I knew at that moment Barack had made his decision. His response was decisive. He said, ‘Do it.' And justice was done," Biden said, referring to Special Operations Command chief Adm. William H. McRaven.
Biden criticized Mitt Romney for saying in 2007 that "it's not worth moving heaven and earth," to catch one person. "He was wrong. If you understood that America's heart had to be healed, you would have done exactly what the president did. And you too would have moved heaven and earth -- to hunt down bin Laden and bring him to justice."
But Biden never mentioned that just before Obama made that call, the vice president told his boss not to do it.
In January, Biden told a retreat of House Democrats that he was one of the few dissenters in that Situation Room debate over the raid.
Obama said to Biden, "Joe, what do you think?" according to an account of Biden's remarks in the New York Times. Biden told Obama, "Mr. President, my suggestion is, don't go. We have to do two more things to see if he's there."
Obama made the decision to go the next day.
CHARLOTTE - Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry (D-MA) will lacerate Mitt Romney on foreign policy in a major speech tonight at the Democratic National Convention.
"In this campaign, we have a fundamental choice," Kerry will say, according to speech excerpts provided to The Cable. "Will we protect our country and our allies, advance our interests and ideals, do battle where we must, and make peace where we can? Or will we entrust our place in the world to someone who just hasn't learned the lessons of the last decade?"
Kerry will speak on a night peppered with remarks by national security types, including retired Lt. Gen. Walter Dalton, the lieutenant governor of North Carolina, retired Adm. John B. Nathman, and Delaware attorney general and Iraq war veteran Beau Biden, the vice president's son. Following Kerry will be the final events of the convention, including speeches by Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL), Vice President Joe Biden, and President Barack Obama.
Kerry will hit Romney on his positions on a range of national security issues and will hammer the former Massachusetts governor for failing to outline a clear policy on the war in Afghanistan, a word that Romney didn't mention once in last week's acceptance speech.
"It isn't fair to say Mitt Romney doesn't have a position on Afghanistan. He has every position," Kerry will say.
Kerry plans to defend Obama's record on Israel, Iran, Russia, and arms control, and he will push back against the Romney campaign's refrain that Obama doesn't believe in "American exceptionalism."
"Our opponents like to talk about ‘American Exceptionalism.' But all they do is talk. They forget that we are exceptional not because we say we are, but because we do exceptional things," Kerry will say. "The only thing exceptional about today's Republicans is that -- almost without exception -- they oppose everything that has made America exceptional in the first place."
Kerry will point out that Romney criticized the idea of going into Pakistan to pursue Osama bin Laden but Obama gave the order that led to bin Laden's death.
"Ask Osama Bin Laden if he's better off now than he was four years ago!" Kerry will say.
Kerry will also make what The Cable believes is the first mention by either campaign of the only war Obama ever started, the 2011 NATO-led attack on Libya.
"When a brutal dictator promised to kill his own people ‘like dogs', President Obama enlisted our allies, built the coalition, shared the burden -- so that today, without a single American casualty -- Muammar Qaddafi is gone and Libya is free," Kerry will say.
Obama inherited a terrible foreign-policy position from the Bush administration and worked to improve it, Kerry will argue.
"So here's the choice in 2012: Mitt Romney -- out of touch at home, out of his depth abroad, and out of the mainstream?" he will say. "Or Barack Obama -- a president giving new life and truth to America's indispensable role in the world, a commander in chief who gives our troops the tools and training they need in war -- the honor and help they've earned when they come home. A man who will never ask other men and women to fight a war without a plan to win the peace."
In anticipation of Kerry's foreign policy speech, the Romney campaign released a long memo penned by campaign policy director Lanhee Chen entitled, "The Foreign Policy & National Security Failures Of President Obama," which lays out 10 separate lines of attack on the Obama administration's national security record.
"President Obama's failure on the economy has been so severe that it has overshadowed his manifold failures on foreign policy and national security," the memo states. "An inventory of his record shows that by nearly all measures, President Obama has diminished American influence abroad and compromised our interests and values. In no region of the world is the U.S. position stronger than it was four years ago... It is a failed record that no amount of bluster in Charlotte can mask."
Streeter Lecka/Getty Images
CHARLOTTE - Following a tumultuous and embarrassing episode Wednesday in which the Democratic National Committee suddenly altered its platform to embrace Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, top Democrats are pointing fingers in every direction.
After defending their decision to keep language on final status issues out of the platform all morning Wednesday, convention leaders reversed themselves Wednesday afternoon and proposed two amendments to the platform adopted on Tuesday, one to add a mention of God and one to add a mention of Jerusalem. That decision followed a full day of pressure brought on the DNC and the administration by lawmakers, AIPAC, and other Jewish elected officials in Charlotte.
"Jerusalem is and will remain the capital of Israel. The parties have agreed that Jerusalem is a matter for final status negotiations. It should remain an undivided city accessible to people of all faiths," the new platform language states.
An Obama campaign official told The Cable late Wednesday that the change in platform was made to reflect the personal views of the president, who believes that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel and who "personally intervened" to ask for the platform change. The official explanation is that the omission of the Jerusalem line was an oversight by platform drafting staff, even though people involved in the drafting said Wednesday that the omission was intentional, as a means of avoiding discussing final-status issues altogether.
"There's a difference between running for president and governing," an official involved in the process told The Cable Wednesday. "And when you govern on this issue, the official position of the United States has been for years and from administrations of both parties that the status of Jerusalem is a final-status issue."
By Thursday morning, top campaign officials took to the airwaves to point fingers at the platform drafters in an attempt to deflect responsibility from the DNC and the Obama campaign leadership.
DNC Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz said the omission was a "technical error" during the drafting process. David Axelrod blamed the controversy of the Israel platform on unspecified "others" on whom the president was depending to draft the platform and said that Obama had asked for the platform change when he became aware of the issue.
The campaign did not respond to a request for comment on who the "others" were, but it's been well reported that the two officials given the responsibility for overseeing the drafting of the Israel platform plank in July and August were Obama campaign national security advisor co-chair and former Pentagon official Colin Kahl and former Florida Rep. Robert Wexler.
The Cable asked Kahl Thursday whether the campaign was unfairly pointing fingers at him and Wexler in an attempt to deflect blame on the issue. He didn't directly address the question, but said the drafters never meant to say that Jerusalem was not the capital of Israel.
"I don't think there was any intention by the drafters to signal any change in U.S. policy. Clearly, it was misinterpreted that way. So the president intervened to correct the record and they changed the platform," he said. "We are where we are. We should move on. The platform is changed."
Kahl also defended the overall platform plank on Israel, which he said focused on the security and financial assistance the Obama administration has given to Israel and avoided getting into any final-status issues.
"Nobody can read the Democratic platform on Israel and come away with the sense that it's not pro-Israel. It's extraordinarily pro-Israel. More importantly, the administration has been supportive of Israel in an unprecedented manner," he said.
Wexler staunchly defended the original platform language in an interview with The Cable Wednesday and staunchly defended the new platform language in an interview today. He said that the party's position on Jerusalem never wavered.
"The position of the Democratic Party has always been that Jerusalem is the capital of the state of Israel. I have a 13-year voting record in Congress that is consistent with that," he said. "It's the same platform; now it's got two more sentences. The original language was all pro-Israel language. Now it has the language on Jerusalem, too. I'm glad they did that. The policy hadn't changed. There was confusion, and the president wanted to clear it up. It was as simple as that."
Some people involved in the discussions over the issue here
in Charlotte were upset by what they saw as Kahl and Wexler's poor handling of
the issue, both before the convention and after the platform became a
controversy in Charlotte.
"Colin Kahl and Bob Wexler bear personal responsibility for the platform debacle and the embarrassment caused to the president and the party," said one source involved in the back and forth over the platform change. "They led a secretive, exclusionary process, rather than an inclusive one, recklessly threw out the longstanding platform language, and then attempted to cover their tracks by misleading stakeholders about what they had done and with whom they had consulted."
One Democratic official directly involved in the platform-drafting process rejected that criticism and argued that AIPAC and other critics could have weighed in on the Israel plank of the platform at the time.
"To say that any one or two people were responsible for the language on Israel in the Democratic Party platform is flat wrong," the official said. "This platform was adopted by a committee of over 100 representatives, and numerous advocacy groups had the opportunity to formally participate in the process. It's wrong to point fingers at one or two people, both of whom have been steadfast supporters of Israel and have worked to strengthen the U.S.-Israel relationship while inside government and out."
At a series of events in Charlotte Wednesday, lawmakers and Jewish elected officials from around the country pressured the administration to do something to sort out the flap. Buzzfeed reported that a full third of the Senate Democratic caucus pressed top officials including White House Chief of Staff Jack Lew and former Pentagon official Michèle Flournoy on the issue at a Wednesday lunch hosted by AIPAC.
One Democratic senator told The Cable that he had only become aware of the flap on Wednesday and immediately raised objections to the platform omissions with the administration. Multiple sources told The Cable that several lawmakers pressed the White House directly Wednesday, including Reps. Steny Hoyer (D-MD), Shelley Berkley (D-NV), Steve Israel (D-NY), Eliot Engel (D-NY), and Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY).
AIPAC also decided Wednesday to go public about its objections to the platform after Democratic officials said on background that AIPAC had signed off on the original platform, a claim AIPAC strongly denied.
Delegates inside the convention hall Wednesday evening told The Cable they were happy with the platform change, if for no other reason that it would end the controversy over what they believed was a non-issue.
"If those simple changes are going to make people feel more comfortable with our platform and allow us to be more inclusive, than that's what we need to do," said Emily Mixter, a Michigan delegate.
Jeremy Moss, an alternate delegate from Michigan, said the change was needed to assure delegates the policy hadn't changed.
"I'm a Jewish elected official, and this was an important part of the platform that was included in years past," he said. "They excluded language that was in the platform in years prior, which is something that I didn't understand."
Rod Smith, chairman of the Florida Democratic Party, told The Cable that there's no contradiction between a party platform that states Jerusalem is the capital of Israel and an administration policy that refused to recognize it.
"The administration's policy is what has been a bipartisan policy, which is that this is an issue to be decided between the parties. So are we going to dictate this? Of course not. But do we prefer Jerusalem as the capital? Of course we do," he said.
Smith also commented on the perception that the crowd inside the hall did not actually vote in favor of the new platform plank but the convention heads ignored the crowd and declared that two-thirds of delegates had voted for it.
"I've taken some voice votes and I've received some voice votes, and I can tell you it's in the ear of the beholder," he said. "I've been at a lot of conventions. Something will always spring up. It never fails. Something on the floor surprises you. That will never stop."
Mark Wilson/Getty Images
CHARLOTTE - Following what Obama campaign officials said was the personal intervention of President Barack Obama, the Democratic National Committee reversed itself and altered their platform Wednesday afternoon to include language identifying Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.
After defending their decision to keep such language out of the platform as recently as this afternoon, convention leaders today proposed two amendments to the platform adopted on Tuesday, one to add a mention of God and one to add a mention of Jerusalem.
"Jerusalem is and will remain the capital of Israel. The parties have agreed that Jerusalem is a matter for final status negotiations. It should remain an undivided city accessible to people of all faiths," the new platform language stated.
An Obama campaign official told The Cable late Wednesday that the change in platform was made to reflect the personal views of Obama, who believes that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel and who "personally intervened" to ask for the platform change.
"Mitt Romney spent last week claiming the Republican platform didn't reflect his personal views. That's why the platform was amended, to make clear what the president's personal views are on Jerusalem," the official said.
The official acknowledged that the administration's policy remains not to weigh in on the final status of Jerusalem, which is an issue to be decided by the parties. But the official said that Obama's views and the administration policy are two separate things.
“This makes crystal clear what the President’s personal view is. The policy has not changed. The president has a personal view and the administration has a policy. They’re not incompatible but there are reasons that the administration’s policy is that the Jerusalem is a final status issue," the official said. “We wanted to make the President’s views clear.”
The Romney campaign was quick to call on Obama to publicly
state that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel, as his party's platform language
"Mitt Romney has consistently stated his belief that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel. Although today's voice vote at the Democratic National Convention was unclear, the Democratic Party has acknowledged Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. President Obama has repeatedly refused to say the same himself. Now is the time for President Obama to state in unequivocal terms whether or not he believes Jerusalem is Israel's capital," said campaign spokeswoman Andrea Saul.
The amendments required two thirds of delegates' support for adoption and the voice votes inside the arena were so inconclusive, the chair had to call for votes three times. After declaring that two thirds of the delegates had approved the amendments, the hall erupted in boos and howls.
Earlier Wednesday, drafters of the platform and top Democrats including former Rep. Robert Wexler defended the absence in the platform of language affirming Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.
"There's a difference between running for president and governing," a Democratic official involved in the drafting process told The Cable earlier today. "And when you govern on this issue, the official position of the United States has been for years and from administrations of both parties that the status of Jerusalem is a final-status issue."
But Democrats were heavily criticized by Romney, Paul Ryan, and many others for not including the Jerusalem language in the platform. AIPAC also told The Cable Wednesday that they had asked for the Jerusalem language in their submission to the DNC but had not seen the final text before the platform went to print.
AIPAC had other gripes about the platform, such as that it didn't contain previous references to Hamas, Palestinian refugees, and language saying that Israel is America's closest ally in the region, but they decided late Wednesday to get behind the new platform language and move on.
"We welcome reinstatement to the Democratic platform of the language affirming Jerusalem as Israel's capital," AIPAC said in a statement provided to The Cable. "Together, these party platforms reflect strong bipartisan support for the US - Israel relationship."
CHARLOTTE - Changes between the 2008 Democratic Party platform's language on Israel and the 2012 version were due to a deliberate effort to refocus the platform toward President Barack Obama's policies, two officials directly involved in its drafting process told The Cable.
Leading pro-Israel groups such as AIPAC were heavily involved in the platform-drafting process, saw final language of the draft platform, and told platform drafters they were satisfied with it, both officials said.
Certain parts of the pro-Israel community are up in arms this week over the fact that the latest version of the platform doesn't include certain passages from the previous version, such as language affirming that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel, specific mentions of the terrorist group Hamas, and language spelling out the party's position that Palestinian refugees would be settled outside of Israel as part of any comprehensive arrangement to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
For its part, AIPAC denies signing off on the final language.
"Any assertion that AIPAC had prior knowledge of the deletion of language including on Jerusalem, Israel as the most reliable ally, Hamas, or the refugees is categorically false," AIPAC spokesman Patrick Dorton told The Cable. "AIPAC was never provided with a final copy of the Middle East part of the platform."
"Jerusalem as the capital was part of AIPACs written submission to the platform but we did not see, review, or sign off on the final text,” Dorton said.
Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney weighed in personally Tuesday, saying in a statement, "It is unfortunate that the entire Democratic Party has embraced President Obama's shameful refusal to acknowledge that Jerusalem is Israel's capital ... As president, I will restore our relationship with Israel and stand shoulder to shoulder with our close ally."
A Democratic official directly involved in the drafting process told The Cable that the drafters made a deliberate and conscious decision to reframe the Israel section of the platform around Obama's record, to limit the section to cover his existing policies, and to intentionally avoid any and all final-status issues.
"There's a difference between running for president and governing," the official said. "And when you govern on this issue, the official position of the United States has been for years and from administrations of both parties that the status of Jerusalem is a final-status issue."
The official listed a number of final-status issues, including borders and settlements, that the Obama administration has determined should be subject to negotiation between Israelis and Palestinians, so the platform drafters decided that the party should stay out of them as well.
"There is a difference when you're writing a platform for an incumbent president. We made a decision to make the platform very much a focus on what the president has been doing. It's not a purely aspirational document," the official said. "On Israel the decision was decided to focus the extraordinary support the president has given to Israel. The decision was to frame the platform plank around that."
Two GOP platforms during George W. Bush's leadership of the Republican Party called out Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and vowed to move the U.S. Embassy there, but Bush never actually carried out his promise, the official pointed out. He also pointed to the 2012 GOP platform, which no longer identified Israel as the "undivided" capital of the Jewish state.
"Is it the Republican position that Jerusalem should be divided?" the official asked. "We are the party in power, so the official administration positions on these final-status issues can't be irrelevant."
Here in Charlotte, a huge debate has erupted over whether or not the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) had seen the final draft of the 2012 DNC platform and been satisfied with it during a July drafting session in Minneapolis and another final drafting session in early August in Detroit. Some anonymous sources are telling reporters that AIPAC "loved" the platform while other anonymous voices saying that AIPAC "was not in the room" when the platform was being worked on.
The Democratic official involved in the drafting said that AIPAC had been consulted very closely, was fully aware of the final draft, and suggested some changes that were in fact incorporated, but never objected to the platform's failure to mention Jerusalem as Israel's capital.
"AIPAC was in the room in Minneapolis and Detroit and I know for a fact that AIPAC was shown the final copies of the draft language," the official said. "They were there for the entire time. They were shown the final draft by a number of platform committee members, and they offered suggestions. They just didn't mention Jerusalem."
What's more, at the second drafting session in Detroit, AIPAC's proxies had every opportunity to offer amendments if there was anything about the Israel plank of the platform they didn't like.
"In Detroit, the draft platform is made public to everyone was there," the official said. "If this was an issue they felt passionate about, they could have offered an amendment and there were no amendments offered by Jewish constituency groups. None."
The Israel platform language was drawn largely from speeches Obama has already made, the official said. The language was shared with certain members of the White House who are authorized to interact with the campaign, but there was no formal vetting of the platform by the administration.
Former Florida Rep. Robert Wexler, now the president of the S. Daniel Abraham Center for Middle East Peace, was a member of the platform drafting committee and took part in the formation of the Israel section of the platform in Minneapolis in late July. Wexler independently confirmed to The Cable that AIPAC was present at all public parts of the drafting process and had regular interactions with drafting committee members, suggested some changes to the platform that were adopted, but never brought up the Jerusalem issue with him or others as far as he knows.
"The platform was not a checklist of final-status issues," Wexler said. "[AIPAC] told me they thought the language was pro-Israel and satisfactory. They had many opportunities to raise significant concerns and that definitely didn't happen."
"The firestorm that has been raised relates to final-status issues and Jerusalem. The Obama administration policy on Jerusalem is identical to that of Bush, Clinton, and every president since Lyndon Johnson. It's a false story," said Wexler. "The Likud position is American should not dictate final-status issues to the Israelis or to anyone, and that's what the platform does: It encourages the parties to negotiate without outlining their position."
Wexler also pushed back on the criticism that Hamas is not specifically called out in the platform, saying that the platform covers all Palestinian terror groups.
"That's a bunch of junk," Wexler said about the criticism. "The platform doesn't say ‘Hamas,' but it says that any potential Palestinian partner has to meet the conditions necessary for peace. That's even stronger and of course it applies to Hamas."
He said the outcry is overblown and that the media storm over the platform is simply a reflection of Republican attempts to politicize the Israel issue ahead of the election.
"The Democratic platform's language relative to Israel is undeniably, 100 percent pro-Israel," he said. "To make Israel a wedge issue is harmful to both the U.S. and Israel. And the centerpiece of America's decades-long relationship with Israel is that it's a bipartisan issue. If you deeply care about the well-being of Israel as an American, then you will realize that this kind of rhetoric is not good for either Israel or the United States."
JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images
CHARLOTTE - The State Department sponsored a group of international youth leaders to visit both national conventions this year. Every single one of them interviewed by The Cable prefers President Barack Obama over GOP candidate Mitt Romney.
U.S. embassies around the world selected youth leaders for an all-expense paid trip to Florida and Charlotte to see the American political process up close. Many of the youth leaders had obvious predispositions towards the Democratic party, while others said they were convinced to be in favor of the Democrats after seeing both conventions and hearing from both teams.
Alex Buliga is a member of the political executive board of the youth organization of Moldova's Democratic Party. He told The Cable that the Moldovan Democratic Party is similar to the American Democratic Party in many ways.
"We are keeping in close touch with the [American] Democratic Party and our vice president and the chief of foreign affairs of our parliament are here [in Charlotte] and are supporting President Obama," he said. "For the last four years, the relationship between the USA and Moldova is much better in comparison to how they were in the Bush administration. Mitt Romney is a Republican like Bush, so that's why we support Obama."
The U.S. Embassy in Moldova called him personally and asked him to write an essay to apply for the trip, Buliga said. He said that after his Tampa experience, he can't trust the Republicans.
"We saw how many lies the Republicans tell. We watch Politifact and we saw how they lie and if you tell lies you don't deserve to become president," he said, referring to the independent fact-checking website Politifact.com.
Sara Ibrahim is a barrister in London and was invited by the U.S. Embassy there to attend the conventions. As a former liaison between the embassy and the Young Fabians, a group full of what she called "well-known left leaning figures," her political inclinations were not a secret.
"I'm very much supporting President Obama," she said. "I think Obama actually understands the economy. I have been amazed how the Republicans have been saying things which are completely contrary to the economic orthodoxy... In the UK, we've got a conservative government and a lot of cuts, and let me say to the American people it's not very pretty when you've got to face austerity."
Amadu Gallow is the founding of a youth advocacy and pro-development group called This Generation in Gambia. Unlike other State Department guests, he was not supporting Obama before the trip, but he is now. Gallow said the Romney team didn't impress him on foreign policy.
"Before I came here I wasn't sure, but now I'm with Obama," he said. "I have not heard anything concrete from the Romney team on foreign policy, especially their readiness to give aid to Africa. There was nothing said on Afghanistan. At least a minute of silence should have been given to those people who are fighting and dying out there."
Romney's singling out of China and Russia as foes also turned him off to the Romney campaign, Gallow said.
The guests' experiences were colored by the fact that the State Department couldn't get them actual credentials to enter the arena in Tampa, so they had to watch the convention events on a television and get periodic briefings from GOP officials. They do have credentials here in Charlotte and are looking forward to attending Obama's speech Thursday.
Gobi Alam from Bangladesh runs an NGO and teaches youth there. He sits on the U.S. ambassador's youth council and was nominated by the embassy for the Tampa-Charlotte experience. He said he is also supporting Obama, partially because he thought the Republicans didn't treat him and the rest of the group well in Tampa.
"I think Obama didn't do great over the last four years but he did enough to secure his place," Alam said. "We tried to reach out to Republican speakers and very few of them responded. But we are here in Charlotte and we have a lot of contacts and we have tickets as well."
Qiu Chen is a journalist from Hong Kong whose magazine pushes for freedom of expression and focuses on youth issues. She was nominated for the trip by the U.S. consulate there. She said the trip has convinced her to support Obama over Romney and most of the other State Department guests feel the same way.
"All my friends in the program like Obama," said Chen.
The Cable asked the State Department contractor in charge of the program, Karen Shatin, what she thought about the fact that all the guests seem to be Obama supporters. She said there were some right-leaning guests who were just not around at the moment. She also said the GOP didn't give the international guests enough foreign-policy information to go on.
"I think they've already heard a lot more about foreign policy here in Charlotte in a few minutes than they heard the whole time in Florida," she said. "The Obama campaign seems to be talking a lot more about foreign policy."
The group is a guest of the International Visitor Leadership Program, which is part of the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs.
"The goal of the program is to expose the group to the U.S. political process. It's really a person-to-person exchange program, building relationships between the visitors and their U.S. counterparts," Shatlin said.
One of the Republicans who did meet with the group was Grover Norquist, founder of Americans for Tax Reform, and several of the guests said Norquist heavily criticized Romney's policies.
"It didn't seem like he was a huge fan of Mitt Romney but he is definitely not a fan of President Obama," said Shatin. "He definitely knows what he stands for, and that's about all I can say."
CHARLOTTE — Top Obama campaign officials are warning convention-goers here in North Carolina this week that Republicans are planning a nationwide campaign to "lie" about the president's effort to avoid the looming defense cuts known as "sequestration."
"We are under attack. Romney will try to hang sequestration around the president's neck," said Robert Diamond, the Obama campaign's national veterans and military families vote director, at a reception hosted by the Truman National Security Project here on Monday. Diamond's speech was a call to arms for Democrats to mount a grassroots campaign to defend President Barack Obama's record on defense spending.
"[The Romney campaign] will visit North Carolina, Virginia, Florida, New Hampshire, and every other state with military in it and lie to the American people about sequestration," Diamond said. "That is their line of national security attack. They don't have anything else to talk about."
Top Obama national security campaign officials and surrogates drove home the Obama campaign's message on defense spending and sequestration at a Tuesday event hosted by Bloomberg News, which included remarks from Obama campaign national security advisory team co-chair and former Pentagon official Michèle Flournoy, former Rep. Patrick Murphy, an Iraq war veteran, congressional candidate and Iraq war veteran Tammy Duckworth, and former Assistant Secretary of Defense Doug Wilson.
Flournoy argued that the impending cuts of $600 billion over 10 years to the defense budget as mandated by the Budget Control Act of 2011, which Congress passed and the president signed, would probably be delayed somehow by Congress before the implementation date of Jan. 2.
"I would bet my mortgage that [Congress] will at the very least buy themselves some time. They will do something to extend that deadline on Jan 2," she said.
But Flournoy said that the Pentagon has understandably been reluctant to plan for sequestration and that the law doesn't allow for careful planning anyway, just crude across-the-board cuts to all defense programs.
"Why would you want to support planning for something that would really harm national security when what you really need to do is put your fiscal house in order?" she asked. "If you go much further down this road, you will start giving up major pillars of American strategy and the Pentagon's resistance to planning for this is because it's such a bad idea."
Flournoy also criticized Mitt Romney's pledge to peg defense spending to 4 percent of GDP, pointing out that he hasn't offered an explanation of how to pay for that, considering that he doesn't support new revenues.
"When you ask Governor Romney, ‘What is your detailed defense plan?' there isn't an answer," she said. "You get an answer that is fundamentally incoherent: I want to raise defense spending to 4 percent of GDP but I don't want to put revenues on the table. It doesn't add up."
The Cable asked Flournoy how she would implement the cuts mandated by sequestration if she became the next defense secretary.
"I'm going to completely disregard the premise of your question because I think it's false," she said, denying that she is in contention to be the first woman defense secretary in American history in a second Obama administration.
CHARLOTTE — The 2012 Democratic National Platform, released Monday night ahead of the Democratic National Convention, argues that the United States is on the rise in terms of power and influence around the world due to President Barack Obama's foreign policy and that the decade of war that followed 9/11 is now coming to a close.
The defense and foreign-policy section of the platform, entitled, "Stronger in the World, Safer and More Secure At Home," begins by arguing that Obama inherited a nation at war that was suffering declining power and influence abroad, but that he reversed that trend and set U.S. foreign policy on the right path.
"Around the world and here at home, there were those who questioned whether the United States was headed toward inevitable decline," the platform states. "Under the leadership of President Obama and the Democratic Party, the tide of war is now receding, and America is looking ahead to a new future."
The platform touts Obama's actions to end the war in Iraq, his decision to green-light the mission that killed al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, and his moves to withdraw U.S. troops from Afghanistan. The platform claims that al Qaeda is on the path to defeat and that international forces have reversed the Taliban's momentum in Afghanistan. The Obama administration has therefore been able to shift the focus of U.S. foreign policy to Asia and divert resources to the home front, the platform explains.
"These actions have enabled a broader strategic rebalancing of American foreign policy," it states. "After more than a decade at war, we can focus on nation-building here at home and concentrate our resources and attention abroad on the areas that are the greatest priority moving forward. This means directing more energy toward crucial problems, including longstanding threats like nuclear proliferation and emerging dangers such as cyber attacks, biological weapons, climate change, and transnational crime. And it means a long-overdue focus on the world's most dynamic regions and rising centers of influence."
The platform also touts the president's narrowing of the global fight against Islamist extremists, although his administration has largely continued the counterterrorism policies of the George W. Bush era and in some cases expanded on the tactics used to fights extremists, such as through stepped-up drone strikes.
"Importantly, President Obama also shifted away from the Bush administration's sweeping and internationally divisive rhetoric of a ‘global war on terrorism to a more focused effort against an identifiable network of people: al Qaeda and its affiliates," the platform reads.
On Afghanistan, the platform takes a shot at Republican nominee Mitt Romney directly, accusing him of not being clear with the American people.
"Mitt Romney has been both for and against our timeline to end the war in Afghanistan, but he has failed to outline any policy ideas for how he would bring our troops home and, at times, has suggested he would leave them there indefinitely," the platform says.
The platform also has sections on nuclear non-proliferation, cyber security, global development, Iran, North Korea, and accuses Romney of promoting a "Cold War mentality" by portraying Russia as America's "No. 1 geopolitical foe."
U.S. President Barack Obama's campaign message at this week's Democratic National Convention will be that Mitt Romney's campaign has been avoiding foreign policy -- and when the former Massachusetts governor does talk about it, he puts forward a set of policies that is backwards-looking and frightening.
"We're living in an upside-down world, because for the first time in a generation the Democrats and President Obama hold a decisive advantage in the polls going into the election in terms of the confidence the American people have on foreign policy and national security issues," Colin Kahl, former Obama defense official and co-chair of the Obama campaign's national security advisory team, told The Cable in an interview.
The polls have consistently shown Obama with a double-digit advantage when it comes to foreign policy and national security, and that could be in part because the Republicans have avoided focusing on the issue, especially at their convention in Tampa, he said.
"In Tampa, Republicans were ignoring foreign policy," Kahl said, pointing out that only Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) and former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice spoke about foreign policy much at all, while Romney and his running mate, Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan, barely mentioned it.
"We will honor America’s democratic ideals because a free world is a more peaceful world," Romney said in his acceptance speech in Tampa. "This is the bipartisan foreign policy legacy of Truman and Reagan. And under my presidency we will return to it once again."
Kahl pointed out that Romney didn't mention Afghanistan, the troops fighting overseas, or veterans during his speech.
"The most bizarre element of Mitt Romney's speech is here's a guy who is auditioning to be the commander in chief of the most powerful country on Earth and he forgets to mention the war in Afghanistan, where we have almost 80,000 men and women in harm's way," Kahl said. "He didn't even mention the war in Afghanistan much less let the American people know what he wants to do about it."
The Obama campaign will hammer that theme by making sure its officials and surrogates talk about the ongoing war in Afghanistan with a particular focus on veterans. There are a host of veterans' panel and training events, some being run by the DNCC's Veterans Advisory Group, the DNC Veterans and Military Families Council, and the Truman National Security Project, a center left advocacy organization.
In addition to holding training sessions for veterans and military families on messaging and getting out the military vote for Obama, groups like the Truman Project will hold public events such as a breakfast panel Sept. 5 with former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, former Under Secretary of Defense for Policy Michèle Flournoy, the other co-chair of the Obama campaign's national security advisory group, and Iraq veteran and congressional candidate Tammy Duckworth.
Obama and his team this week will also tout the president's record on fighting terrorism, his decision to green-light the mission that killed al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, and the fulfillment of his 2008 campaign promise to end the war in Iraq.
Kahl said that the Obama campaign will push back on Romney's claim that Obama doesn't believe in American exceptionalism. "Guess what: Democrats think American is exceptional and great too. We love our country as much as the Republicans do. So that's not a distinction between us," he said.
Kahl speculated that the Romney campaign has been reluctant to talk about several foreign-policy issues, such as the war in Afghanistan, because in many areas the former governor's policies aren't actually all that different from the president's.
"They like to describe our current policies but masquerade that description as criticism. Any criticism on Afghanistan obscures the fact that Mitt Romney basically endorses the president's way forward, as far as we can tell. On Israel and Iran, Romney talks tough but his policies would be identical to those of President Obama," he said.
Romney does have distinctly different policies from Obama on dealing with major powers like Russia and China, but those policies are risky and backward-looking, Kahl argued.
"In those few areas where there are differences, [Romney's] policies are downright scary, whether it's calling Russia our No. 1 geopolitical foe or threatening to start a trade war with China on day one of his administration," he said.
In his acceptance speech in Tampa, Romney touched on a few foreign policy issues, briefly.
"Every American is less secure today because he has failed to slow Iran's nuclear threat. In his first TV interview as president, he said we should talk to Iran. We're still talking, and Iran’s centrifuges are still spinning," Romney said. "President Obama has thrown allies like Israel under the bus..."
Kahl said those arguements are just rhetoric and that Romney doesn't have policies that would change the U.S. approach to Iran or Israel in any significant way.
"On Israel, by any objective measure Obama has been a better for Israel's security than any president in modern times," said Kahl. "On Iran, Mitt Romney's writings on this have been descriptions of the president's policies described as criticisms. The only difference you get is bluster and tough talk. Some of his surrogates like John Bolton want to go to war yesterday, but it's not clear that's where Mitt Romney is."
Republicans often accuse Obama of "spiking the football" after the killing of bin Laden, but Kahl said that Republicans have no right to claim the moral high ground on that issue.
"That's a little ironic from a party whose last president landed on an aircraft carrier and declared ‘Mission Accomplished' in Iraq," he said. "Brining justice to Osama bin Laden is something that all Americans should be proud of. This was an extraordinarily tough call."
Democratic groups will be speaking about a range of other national security and foreign policy issues this week in Charlotte as well. Flournoy and former assistant secretary of defense for public affairs Douglas Wilson will speak at an event on the defense budget hosted by Bloomberg Sept. 4. Nuclear non-proliferation will be discussed at a Sept. 5 event put on by the Council for a Livable World and featuring former ambassador Peter Galbraith. Former State Department official Tamara Wittes will speak at a Sept. 5 event on the role of women in the new Middle East.
On Thurs, Sept. 6, Truman will hold a series of discussions on foreign policy featuring Kahl, Wilson, Zvika Krieger, senior vice president at the S. Daniel Abraham Center for Middle East Peace, Janine Davidson, former deputy assistant secretary of defense for plans, Steven Koltai, former senior advisor for entrepreneurship to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and Paula Broadwell, author of All In, a biography of CIA director and retired general David Petraeus.
Also on Thursday, the National Democratic Institute will team up with the U.S. Global Leadership Coalition to put on an event featuring Albright, Flournoy, former U.S. Ambassador to India Tim Roemer, former Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg, and White House Chief of Staff Jack Lew.
All of those events lead into a
national security themed segment of the final program Sept. 6 at Bank of
America stadium, which will feature a speech by Senate Foreign Relations
Committee Chairman John Kerry
"The American people understand that President Obama has been a strong commander-in-chief, and we're looking forward to highlighting these important issues at the convention," an Obama campaign official said. "Senator Kerry will speak to how the President has restored America's leadership in the world, has taken the fight to our enemies, and has a plan to bring our troops home from Afghanistan just like he did from Iraq. He will contrast the President's strong leadership in this area with Mitt Romney, who has embraced the go-it-alone, reckless policies of the past that weakened America's place in the world and made us less secure here at home."
Mitt Romney will promise to restore American leadership in the areas of democracy promotion, trade, energy, and he will pledge to build up the military in his speech tonight accepting the GOP nomination for president.
"We will honor America's democratic ideals because a free world is a more peaceful world. This is the bipartisan foreign policy legacy of Truman and Reagan. And under my presidency we will return to it once again," the former Massachusetts governor will say tonight, according to excerpts released by the campaign.
That phrasing tracks closely with what senior foreign-policy advisor Rich Williamson said to The Cable last week, although Williamson included John F. Kennedy in the list with Harry Truman and Ronald Reagan.
"The America we all know has been a story of the many becoming one, uniting to preserve liberty, uniting to build the greatest economy in the world, uniting to save the world from unspeakable darkness," Romney will say, hitting on the campaign's theme of getting tougher with adversaries.
"That America, that united America, will preserve a military that is so strong, no nation would ever dare to test it," Romney will add, reinforcing his campaign's promise to increase funding for the military.
Romney will say he has a plan to make the United States "energy independent" by 2020. He will promise to pursue new trade agreements and impose consequences on those countries that cheat in trade. He will take a swipe at Europe and pledge to avoid a Europe-like economic crisis.
"To assure every entrepreneur and every job creator that their investments in America will not vanish as have those in Greece, we will cut the deficit and put America on track to a balanced budget," Romney will say.
He will begin the speech by talking about the hopes that President Barack Obama would be a paradigm-shifting leader -- hopes that Republicans argue have been dashed.
"Four years ago, I know that many Americans felt a fresh excitement about the possibilities of a new president. That president was not the choice of our party, but Americans always come together after elections. We are a good and generous people who are united by so much more than divides us. When that hard-fought election was over -- when the yard signs came down and the television commercials finally came off the air, Americans were eager to go back to work, to live our lives the way Americans always have -- optimistic and positive and confident in the future. That very optimism is uniquely American," he will say.
"I wish President Obama had succeeded because I want America to succeed. But his promises gave way to disappointment and division. This isn't something we have to accept. Now is the moment when we CAN do something. With your help we will do something." (Emphasis in the original.)
Romney will conclude by promising to be the paradigm-shifting leader that he believes Obama is not.
"If I am elected president of these United States, I will work with all my energy and soul to restore that America, to lift our eyes to a better future. That future is our destiny. That future is out there. It is waiting for us. Our children deserve it, our nation depends upon it, the peace and freedom of the world require it," Romney will say. "And with your help we will deliver it. Let us begin that future together tonight."
TAMPA - The time for diplomacy with Iran is quickly coming to an end and the United States should soon "start the clock ticking" as a warning that the United States is prepared and willing to use military force to stop Iran from developing a nuclear weapon, according to Romney campaign co-chair Gov. Tim Pawlenty.
Neither the Iranians nor the Israelis see as credible Barack Obama' statements that containment of a nuclear Iran is not an option and that the president would use force to prevent that from happening, Pawlenty told The Cable in an exclusive interview on the sidelines of the Republican National Convention. A Mitt Romney administration would employ various new tactics to increase U.S. leverage over the Iranians and bolster the credibility of the threat of military action, he said.
"Options would include concluding the negotiations are not working, that the Iranians aren't taking them seriously, bringing them to a temporary or permanent end, and start the clock ticking on other alternatives and letting the Iranians know that," Pawlenty said.
Pawlenty's comments come just as the International Atomic Energy Agency issued a new report stating that the Iranian regime has more than doubled the number of centrifuges at its Fordow facility and that Iran had engaged in clean-up activities at its Parchin military complex that would hamper the IAEA's ability to investigate.
Also, a prominent Iranian nuclear scientist named Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, who was previouslt believed to have been sidelined, is back at work on the Iranian nuclear program,The Wal Street Journal reported today.
The international community has limited visibility into Iran's actions, Pawlenty said. "We don't have the kind of sustained interaction with and relationship with Iran over the last 30 years. We are operating in an information-deprived environment in that regard," he said.
He also warned that Iran may have spread its nuclear research and production facilities into heavily populated civilian areas, which would make a military effort to eliminate Iran's nuclear capabilities much more expansive.
"A lot of the public discourse around how and whether and when there might be military action on Iran focuses on bunker-busting bombs and installations under mountains. That may not only be the only locations where they have those capabilities," said Pawlenty. "Imagine that it's not limited to mountains and rural areas. Imagine that they have created some redundant capabilities and placed them in tunnels under cities. If you want to identify and eliminate those capabilities, it takes on additional challenges."
Pawlenty said the Obama administration resisted imposing crippling sanctions over the last three years and that sanctions even now don't seem to be changing the Iranian regime's calculus.
"We don't know yet, but measured by the Iranians' posture and position, it's fair to say it hasn't yet worked," he said.
Pawlenty endorsed the idea floated by Romney advisor Elliott Abrams last week that now is the time for Congress to pass an authorization of the use of military force against Iran.
"As for me, I thought Elliott had a good idea. I don't know that it would be dispositive, but it couldn't hurt and it probably would help," he said.
In the end, even a military strike might not be effective in eliminating all of Iran's nuclear facilities, Pawlenty cautioned.
"I don't think anybody can say with certainty that if there were an attack on Iran it would have precisely predictable outcomes and consequences," he said. "I think you can increase the likelihood of favorable outcomes, but given the complexity of the situation I don't think you can give any guarantees."
John Hudson reports on national security and foreign policy from the Pentagon to Foggy Bottom, the White House to Embassy Row, for The Cable.