As Congress considers legislation to reform the surveillance practices of the National Security Agency, senior intelligence officials have said publicly that they'd be willing to modify key aspects of how one of the most controversial programs is run. But now, the top lawyers for the NSA and other intelligence agencies are pushing back on that idea, arguing that they should be allowed to continue building a massive database of phone records on every American. It'd be better for American's privacy rights, they claim.
Under one proposal now pending before Congress, telecommunications providers, rather than the NSA, would hold onto the phone call records of hundreds of millions of people that the agency queries to find connections between suspected terrorists and people in the United States. And a bill with bipartisan backing would further limit the NSA's ability to collect that information in bulk. Agency officials have said the database is essential for stopping terrorist attacks. But some lawmakers want to restrict the agency's access to it, in part because the records can reveal private contacts and associations that may have nothing to do with a criminal act.
"I think it's no secret that the sponsors of this bill want to eliminate the bulk collection program," Robert Litt, the general counsel for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, speaking of the bill sponsored by Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI).
The Obama administration is trying to send a message to Egypt's generals by cutting hundreds of millions of dollars in U.S aid. The only problem is that it isn't entirely clear what the message actually is.
U.S. officials said Wednesday that the administration would delay planned deliveries of F-16 fighter jets, Apache attack helicopters, Harpoon anti-ship missiles, and M1A1 tanks. The officials said they would also suspend a planned $260 million cash transfer to the Egyptians; Congresional aides briefed on the matter said that a $300 million loan guarantee would also be held back. (The U.S. gives Egypt roughly $1.5 billion per year in total aid.)
The officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the U.S. was "recalibrating" its aid to Egypt in response to the military's continued killing of unarmed protesters demanding the reinstatement of ousted President Mohamed Morsy as well as the arrests and detentions of key opposition leaders. General Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi, the Army chief who has ruled the country since removing Morsy from power, has promised to hold new elections and take other steps to restore Egypt's nascent democratic system, but the officials said the military was taking too long to follow through on its assurances.
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A far-flung group of geeks, supported by the U.S. State Department, has built a tool for anonymous communication that's so secure that even the world's most sophisticated electronic spies haven't figured out how to crack it.
That's the takeaway from the latest revelations from National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden. The NSA has used aggressive computer attack techniques to monitor people using the Tor network, a service that's funded by the U.S. government and allows users to remain anonymous when they're connected to the Internet. But the agency has not been able to undermine the core of the Tor system, which was developed by the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory in 2002. It remains a viable means for people to connect to the Internet anonymously. Although Tor's complete reliability has been called into question in light of the NSA's efforts -- which may have begun as early as 2006, according to the Washington Post -- for now it's State Department 1, NSA 0, in the anonymity wars.
For weeks, Iraqi officials have been publicly floating the idea of using American drones to hit the increasingly lethal al-Qaeda-affiliated militants on their soil. But the ordinarily drone-friendly Obama administration is apparently in no mood to open up a new front in global campaign of unmanned attacks. An administration official tells The Cable that American drone strikes in Iraq are now off the table.
Though neither Iraqi nor U.S. officials will say who called off the drones, it's no secret who began discussing them in the first place. In an August 17 trip to Washington, Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari told reporters that Baghdad is seeking U.S. advisers, air surveillance or drone strikes to combat al-Qaeda's grip on the country. "We cannot fight these increasing terrorist" threats alone, he said. Speaking of drone strikes specifically, he said as long as they were used to "target al-Qaeda and their bases," without "collateral damage," Iraqis would welcome them.
That same month, Iraqi ambassador to the U.S. Iraq Lukman Faily reiterated Iraq's interest in drones. "The reason we're now considering drone support is because we need to get better control of the sky so we can track and destroy al-Qaeda camps in the country," Faily told The Cable.
It's not hard to understand why they'd be interested in the unmanned aircraft. On Monday, the detonation of 15 car bombs in Baghdad left dozens dead in an event that would've shocked any other country not embroiled in a civil war. However, in Iraq, it was only the 38th such atrocity in the last 12 months. In 2013 alone, Iraq is averaging 68 car bombings a month. The United Nations reports that 5,740 civilians were killed since January, which is almost two times more deaths than recorded in all of 2010.
Despite the staggering numbers, the U.S. isn't about to open up a new drone war in Iraq. An administration official tells The Cable the use of lethal drones has not been discussed nor is it even under consideration for Iraq.
Secretary of State John Kerry said that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad could avoid an American military strike by giving up his chemical weapons, an unscripted and off-handed remark that triggered a mad day of diplomatic scrambling and raised the first real prospect of a peaceful end to the Syrian crisis.
Speaking in London this morning, Kerry said Assad had one way, and one way only, of preventing the Obama administration from launching a military intervention into his country.
"Sure, he could turn over every single bit of his chemical weapons to the international community in the next week -- turn it over, all of it, without delay and allow the full and total accounting," Kerry said. "But he isn't about to do it, and it can't be done."
State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki tried to walk back Kerry's comments almost immediately after he uttered them, describing the remarks as a "rhetorical argument about the impossibility and unlikelihood of Assad turning over chemical weapons he has denied he used."
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American intelligence agencies had indications three days beforehand that the Syrian regime was poised to launch a lethal chemical attack that killed more than a thousand people and has set the stage for a possible U.S. military strike on Syria.
The disclosure -- part of a larger U.S. intelligence briefing on Syria's chemical attacks -- raises all sorts of uncomfortable questions for the American government. First and foremost: What, if anything, did it do to notify the Syrian opposition of the pending attack?
In a call with reporters Friday afternoon, senior administration officials did not address whether this information was shared with rebel groups in advance of the attack. A White House spokeswoman declined to comment on whether the information had been shared.
But at least some members of the Syrian opposition are already lashing out at the U.S. government for not acting ahead of time to prevent the worst chemical attack in a quarter-century. "If you knew, why did you take no action?" asked Dlshad Othman, a Syrian activist and secure-communications expert who has recently relocated to the United States. He added that none of his contacts had any sort of prior warning about the nerve gas assault -- although such an attack was always a constant fear.
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The United States appears to be closer than ever to deploying a series of surgical strikes on Syrian targets. But a key architect of that strategy is seriously and publicly questioning the wisdom of carrying it out.
In the last 48 hours, U.S. officials leaked plans to several media outlets to fire cruise missiles at Syrian military installations as a warning to the Syrian government not to use its chemical weapons stockpiles again. On Sunday, Sen. Bob Corker, who was briefed by administration officials twice over the weekend, said a U.S. "response is imminent" in Syria. "I think we will respond in a surgical way," he said. On Monday, Secretary of State John Kerry appeared to set the groundwork for a U.S. military incursion.
Now, a former U.S. Navy planner responsible for outlining an influential and highly-detailed proposal for surgical strikes tells The Cable he has serious misgivings about the plan. He says too much faith is being put into the effectiveness of surgical strikes on Assad's forces with little discussion of what wider goals such attacks are supposed to achieve.
U.S. intelligence officials and outside experts are looking into claims of a new and massive chemical weapons attack that's left hundreds dead. From the limited evidence they've seen so far, those reports appear to be accurate. And that would make the strike on the East Ghouta region, just east of Damascus, the biggest chemical weapons attack in decades.
The early analysis is based on preliminary reports, photography and video evidence, and conclusions are prone to change if and when direct access to the victims is granted. Over the past nine months, the Syrian opposition has alleged dozens of times that the Assad regime has attacked them with nerve agents. Only a handful of those accusations have been confirmed; several have fallen away under close scrutiny. But Wednesday's strike, which local opposition groups say killed an estimated 1,300 people, may be different.
"No doubt it's a chemical release of some variety -- and a military release of some variety," said Gwyn Winfield, the editor of CRBNe World, the trade journal of the unconventional weapons community.
While the Obama administration says it has conclusive proof that the Assad regime has used chemical weapons in the recent past, the White House has been reluctant to take major action in response to those relatively small-scale attacks. ("As long as they keep body count at a certain level, we won't do anything," an American intelligence official told Foreign Policy earlier this week.) But this attack appears to be anything but small-scale. If allegations about this latest attack prove to be accurate, the strike could be the moment when the Assad regime finally crossed the international community's "red line," and triggered outside invention in the civil war that has killed over a hundred thousand people.
Videos and pictures allegedly taken from the Ghouta incident show young victims who are barely able to breathe and, in some cases, twitching. Close-up photos show their pupils are severely constricted. All of these are classic signs of exposure to a nerve agent like sarin. And sarin is the Assad regime's chemical weapon of choice.
"There's no smoking gun here, but it's all consistent with nerve gas exposure," a U.S. intelligence official told The Cable. "This video is consistent with all of the other ones where we believe it [chemical weapons use] actually happened."
Top intelligence officials and leading politicians have taken turns blasting NSA leaker Edward Snowden for sabotaging U.S. counterterrorism efforts.
Apparently, Al Qaeda didn't get the memo. If Snowden's leaks really did inflict any systemic damage on the NSA's global surveillance apparatus, it may not have been enough to prevent the agency from intercepting key communications between Al Qaeda members about a potential plot to attack U.S. and other Western targets overseas.
A senior U.S. intelligence official told Foreign Policy it would be incorrect to assume that terrorist planners, even at the senior level, are so attuned to the intricacies of intelligence gathering that were exposed in press reports that they now understand how to completely secure their communications. It could also be that the terrorists let their guard down or believed, erroneously, that they might not be detected when sending a communication. Or perhaps this intercepted communication was simply a way to test which components of America's eavesdropping network were still listening.
Secretary of State John Kerry declared in an interview with Pakistan TV Thursday that U.S. drone strikes in the country will soon come to an end.
But that message apparently wasn't relayed back to Foggy Bottom. Three hours after Kerry's comments first broke, a spokesperson took them right back. "In no way would we ever deprive ourselves of a tool to fight a threat if it arises," a State Department spokesperson said.
Kerry is in Pakistan to try and make nice with Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, the country's newly elected leader who has made repeated, vociferous demands for the United States to end its use of drone strikes on Pakistani territory. And for a few hours on Thursday it seemed that he had arrived bearing a major olive branch and a striking concession on U.S. drone policy. "The program will end as we have eliminated most of the threat and continue to eliminate it," he said in the interview. "I think the president has a very real timeline and we hope it's going to be very, very soon."
But of course it was not meant to be. In a news conference with Sartaj Aziz, Pakistan's national security advisor, Kerry went on to offer something of a defense of American drone strikes. Though Pakistani officials argue that such strikes breach Pakistani sovereignty, Kerry noted that terrorist attacks by militants in the country also "violate the sovereignty of this country."
Together, the two statements send a clear message. When all the terrorists are dead, the United States will be happy to end its program of covert drone strikes in Pakistan. Until that day comes -- and it will be "soon," according to Kerry -- strikes are likely to continue. To underscore that reality, the United States carried outthree drone strikes in Pakistan during the month of July. And in Yemen, the drone war made a roaring comeback this week with the United States carrying out three strikes in five days.
Nonetheless, Kerry will be returning to Washington with a diplomatic prize in hand. In his meetings with Pakistani officials Thursday, Kerry secured an agreement to restart partnership talks that collapsed two years ago amid intense anger in Islamabad over the impunity of U.S. drone strikes in Pakistan.
The continuing use of drone strikes comes against a stated committed by President Obama to cut back on their use and bring the war on terror to a close. "Our systematic effort to dismantle terrorist organizations must continue," he said in a landmark speech in May that coincided with new policy guidance that tightened standards for drone strikes. "But this war, like all wars, must end. That's what history advises. That's what our democracy demands."
In practice, the drone strike genie is refusing to be returned to the bottle, as evidenced by State's comment today that the United States would never "deprive" itself "of a tool to fight a threat if it arises." Compare that statement to Obama's May speech: "As our fight enters a new phase, America's legitimate claim of self-defense cannot be the end of the discussion. To say a military tactic is legal, or even effective, is not to say it is wise or moral in every instance. For the same human progress that gives us the technology to strike half a world away also demands the discipline to constrain that power -- or risk abusing it."
When that power will be constrained, however, is very much up for debate.
Aspen, CO. - Turmoil in the nascent Libyan government is likely frustrating the FBI's attempts to capture the five men suspected of playing a key role in the attacks on the U.S. consulate and CIA facility in Libya that left four Americans dead last September, according to former U.S. Africa Command chief, Gen. (ret) Carter Ham.
"It's more the dealing between the government of the United States and this emerging yet fragile government of Libya that has impeded any significant progress on bringing to justice those who killed our friends," said Ham during a talk at the Aspen Security Forum in Colorado last night.
"All politics are local, and in Libya that is very much the case," said Ham. "The Libyan government has to wrestle with this idea of ‘do we apprehend this guy and what would that mean to us if we apprehended some of these people, if we tried them, if we handed them over [to the U.S.],' it's a very, very complex issue."
While the U.S. made some progress initially in working with the Libyan government that has emerged in Tripoli since Muammar al Qaddafi was overthrown in late 2011, that stalled as senior officials in the Libyan government came and went.
"This is one of the consequences of the fragility of the Libyan government," said Ham. "Progress was made initially but then the government changes, key leaders change."
He went on to say that "so much of this is relationships, so much of this is trust and if the person you're used to working with is now out of office and suddenly you've got a brand new person . . . it just frustrates, it complicates the process."
Some have criticized the Obama administration for not capturing the five suspects identified by the FBI in May via military means, despite claims the U.S. has evidence to justify such actions. The White House maintains that it is treating this as a law enforcement case and is trying to work with the Libyan legal system to extradite the attackers and try them in a U.S. criminal court. One of the suspects, Faraj al Chalabi, was reportedly detained by the Libyan government in March -- only to be released in June by Libyan authorities who said they didn't have enough evidence to warrant holding him.
The FBI, with the help of U.S. intelligence agencies, is keeping the suspects under electronic surveillance as it tries to gather up more evidence -- such as videos of the men at the scene of the attack -- for use in a criminal trial.
This is just one example of what may be many of how tough it will be for the U.S. to form working relationships with the new, often fluid and shaky governments that are emerging from the political upheaval in the Arab world. It also shows that it may be a while before the U.S. is able to put the Banghazi attack behind it. Let's hope America's can get better at building relationships with other new governements popping up in the Arab world.
The White House has nominated an agency outsider and the first woman to be the CIA's No. 2 after career intelligence officer Mike Morell, passed over for the top job earlier this year, resigned.
Avril Haines, a White House lawyer who has been a deputy counsel at the NSC and focused on national security issues, will replace Morell Aug. 9, CIA Director John Brennan announced Wednesday. Haines was nominated two months ago to be legal counsel at State but will now go to help lead an intelligence agency in which she has never before worked.
In a statement, Brennan said that at the White House, Haines has worked on some of the agency's most sensitive programs, participating in most of high-level meetings over the past two years. "In every instance, Avril's command of substance, sense of mission, good judgment, and keen insights have been outstanding," Brennan said.
The 43-year-old Haines has enjoyed a meteoric rise from Senate staffer to now the second most powerful position at the agency. On the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, she was known for being an effective operator, clearing many treaties that had been stalled in committee by working closely with members of the GOP.
Haines's appointment could be seen as another example of the White House putting more of its people in key national security jobs. Mark Lippert's appointment as chief of staff at the Pentagon under Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, after a long stint at the NSC, suggested to some outsiders that the White House was pushing its people out to key agency jobs. Sending Haines to the second most important job at CIA seems like another such example to some. But the Center for Strategic and International Studies's David Berteau, who tracks national security appointments, doesn't think filling these jobs in this way smacks of a White House asserting its control.
"I don't see that this appointment presents a threat to the operational integrity of the agency," he said, adding that giving principals the discretion to hire who they want leads to their ultimate success. "The real question here is, is this the person who John Brennan wants and needs?"
Berteau pointed to the nomination of Leon Panetta to CIA, which initially raised eyebrows because he was not steeped in intelligence. It didn't take long before those critics began to sing his praises. "By all accounts, Leon Panetta turned out to be a superior director of the CIA," he said.
When David Petraeus left the agency directorship abruptly after his affair with biographer Paula Broadwell, it was Morell who stepped in as acting director -- the second time in his career. Many from inside the intelligence community wanted to see Morell be given the job permanently. They cited his long history in the intelligence world and hoped his nomination to be director could be a sign of the agency returning to its roots of intelligence collection and analysis. In the end he was passed over for John Brennan, who has expressed interest in pursuing a similar agenda.
Morell will leave a field in which he's been for 33 years. In a memo to staff, Morell said Brennan made the decision both tougher and easier for him. Morell said he believes the agency is in good hands but at the same time said he wished he could watch the agency "accomplish great things" under Brennan's leadership. But Morell said he was leaving to spend more time with his family -- the "real reason" he's leaving, he said. "Whenever someone involved in the rough and tumble of Washington decides to move on, there is speculation in various quarters about the 'real reason,'" he said in the memo. "But you all know me, so you know that when I tell you that it is time for my family, nothing could be more real than that."
DNI Jim Clapper issued a statement saying Haines was an "excellent choice" to replace Morell. Haines, he said, has "distinguished herself" in key national security positions. "She has a deep understanding of the intelligence community and she values the contributions of our nation's intelligence professionals," Clapper wrote.
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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."
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.
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."
Adm. William McRaven, the head of Special Operations Command and the architect of the raid that killed Osama bin Laden, wrote a memo to the special operations community making clear that using the "special operations" moniker for political purposes is not OK.
McRaven sent an unclassified memo, not released to the public but obtained by The Cable, that began with an admonishment of special operators who write books about secret operations, such as the forthcoming book No Easy Day¸ which was written by a Navy SEAL who claims to have been part of the May 1, 2011 raid on bin Laden's Abbottabad compound. Fox News reported Thursday that the author is 36-year-old Matt Bissonnette, whom defense officials say never cleared the book with anyone in the Pentagon.
But the second half of McRaven's memo referred to the multiple groups of former special operators who have formed political groups to criticize President Barack Obama for what they see as taking undue credit for the bin Laden raid and accusing him of leaking its details to the press. Those groups are made up of former military men who had no connection to the actual raid, who often have Republican political leanings and longtime animus against Obama, and some of whom say the president was not born in the United States.
"I am also concerned about the growing trend of using the special operations ‘brand,' our seal, symbols and unit names, as part of any political or special interest campaign," McRaven wrote in an implicit but clear reference to groups like the Special Operations OPSEC Education Fund and Special Operations Speaks (SOS).
"Let me be completely clear on this issue: USSOCOM does not endorse any political viewpoint, opinion or special interest," McRaven wrote. "I encourage, strongly encourage active participation in our political process by both active duty SOF personnel, where it is appropriate under the ethics rules and retired members of the SOF community. However, when a group brands itself as Special Operations for the purpose of pushing a specific agenda, then they have misrepresented the entire nature of SOF and life in the military."
"Our promise to the American people is that we, the military, are non-partisan, apolitical and will serve the President of the United States regardless of his political party. By attaching a Special Operation's moniker or a unit or service name to a political agenda, those individuals have now violated the most basic of our military principles," McRaven wrote.
His remarks are stronger but along the same lines as those by Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey, who said the groups' efforts were counter to the ethos of the military.
"It's not useful. It's not useful to me," Dempsey said Wednesday. "And one of the things that marks us as a profession in a democracy, in our form of democracy, that's most important is that we remain apolitical. That's how we maintain our bond and trust with the American people."
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
The Cable goes inside the foreign policy machine, from Foggy Bottom to Turtle Bay, the White House to Embassy Row.