President Bashar al-Assad's government has presented the United Nation's chemical weapons watchdog with a detailed plan for the transfer of chemical materials abroad for destruction. And according to a confidential account of the plan reviewed by Foreign Policy, it includes 120 Syrian security forces, dozens of heavy, armored trucks, and an advanced communications network linking Damascus to the Mediterranean Sea. The extensive request for equipment with both civilian and military applications has already triggered expressions of alarm from Western diplomats. "Let's just say we will be looking at this list very skeptically, particularly items that could be diverted to a military program," said one Security Council diplomat.
The Syrian plan calls for equipping at least eight platoons of up to 35 soldiers each to secure the road between Damascus to the port city of Latakia, from which the weapons would be shipped overseas for destruction. The most likely destination: Albania, which got rid of its own chemical stockpile in 2007. The United States is nearing agreement with the Albanian government to destroy Syria's chemicals and nerve agents, according to two U.N. Security Council diplomats. According to the American proposal, which has not been made public, the United States would supply the Albanian government with mobile labs capable of destroying Syrian nerve gas through a process known as hydrolysis -- essentially bombarding it with water and caustic reagents like sodium hydroxide.
The Cable first reported last week on aspects of the Syrian destruction plan, including a proposal to convert 12 chemical weapons plants into commercial factories. But The Cable has since obtained a far more detailed account of the plan, including requests for tens of millions of dollars worth of equipment, including 40 armored transport trucks, advanced cameras, computers, radios, 13 power generators, five construction cranes, five forklifts, packing materials, and 20 Teflon-lined 2,000-liter metal crates for storing controlled chemicals, including phosphoryl chloride and phosphorus trichloride, a precursor chemical used in the production of sarin and tabun.
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New revelations that the U.S. has been eavesdropping on world leaders like German Chancellor Angela Merkel aren't simply straining Washington's relationship with Berlin. They're also sparking an increasingly public fight between the State Department and the NSA, with the nation's spies and the nation's diplomats trading shots about who's responsible for the mess.
"This is a pretty serious embarrassment for the U.S., and as top officials try to protect their agencies and their reputations, they are not sticking with their talking points," a former senior U.S. official told The Cable.
Secretary of State John Kerry touched off the furor when he said some of the NSA's overseas surveillance efforts -- which also included tapping into tens of millions of calls in France and Spain -- had been carried out without the Obama administration's knowledge or explicit approval. The remarks highlighted what appears to the White House's emerging strategy for dealing with widespread public fury over the programs: blame it on the NSA.
Ever since ex-senator and Tea Party kingmaker Jim DeMint took over the Heritage Foundation earlier this year, mainstream Republicans have been fretting that he'd turn the prominent conservative think tank into a political proxy for the most extreme elements of the GOP. The debt-deniers and defund-Obamacare die-hards who propelled the government into a shutdown have found a political, if not quite intellectual center of gravity at Heritage. Now, hawkish Republicans who have long embraced strong national security authorities have reason to believe that Heritage is mounting an opposition on that front, too.
Recently, Heritage refused to publish two papers about the National Security Agency's surveillance programs written by a prominent conservative attorney. Why? Because he concluded that the programs were legal and constitutional, according to sources familiar with the matter. It was a surprising move for a think tank that has supported extension of the Patriot Act -- which authorizes some of NSA's activities -- and has long been associated with right-of-center positions on national security and foreign policy.
But the paper's conclusions did not sit well with DeMint, the sources said, who worried about offending or alienating more libertarian lawmakers such Sen. Rand Paul, a DeMint ally and leading critic of NSA's collection of Americans' phone records, as well as Tea Partiers, who according to a recent poll think that government counterterrorism policies have gone "too far" in restricting civil liberties. It's those groups that brought DeMint his greatest influence as a lawmaker and made him a national political heavyweight.
The U.S. government shutdown may finally be starting to wind down, if reports out of Capitol Hill and the White House are to be believed. But in the meantime, the cutoff of federal funds is hobbling American diplomatic efforts around the globe. A long-planned visit from a delegation of Chinese generals has been waived off. The State Department has been forced to postpone a scheduled review in Geneva of America's human rights record. High-level diplomatic, trade, and military meetings have all been shelved.
Last week, the shutdown prompted President Barack Obama to cancel plans to attend last weekend's summit of Asian leaders in Bali, Indonesia. The U.S. trade representative, meanwhile, announced that the United States would have to delay its participation in ongoing trade negotiations in Brussels; the office's tiny, $4 million annual travel budget is now effectively zero. Turns out those major, public admissions were only the start.
Some of China's most influential military thinkers and policymakers -- including several general officers -- were due to come to the United States next week for a series of long-arranged meetings at the U.S. Army War College, followed by private discussions at some of Washington's more prominent think tanks. Led by the respected Maj. Gen. Yao Yunzhu of the Chinese Academy of Military Science, the delegation's meetings were considered important at a time when Beijing and Washington are squaring off over issues from cybersecurity to the South China Sea.
But on Wednesday, the Army said it had to cancel the meetings because the funds to host the Chinese had dried up. "After the American democratic process provides the Army with funding to conduct international activities, we look forward to rescheduling this exchange at both sides' earliest possible convenience," the service noted in an email.
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It was meant to be a softball question. Would the Obama administration, Secretary of State John Kerry was asked, sign off on legislation barring ground troops from being sent to Syria? The White House had been making that exact guarantee for days, and Kerry had been sent to Capitol Hill to reiterate the promise to a panel of skeptical lawmakers. He somehow messed up the answer all the same.
"It would be preferable not to" insert that kind of language into a formal congressional authorization for military strikes into Syria, Kerry said. He cited a range of hypotheticals, from Syria imploding to chemical weapons falling into the hands of the country's Islamist rebels, where the U.S. might need to take strong steps to prevent catastrophe. "I don't want to take off the table an option that might or might not be available to a president of the United States to secure our country," Kerry said.
Kerry realized his mistake almost immediately and quickly assured the lawmakers that the administration was fine with a ban on ground troops. "Let's shut that door now as tight as we can," he said. He wasn't able to put the genie back in the bottle, though. Over the course of the four-hour hearing, Republican after Republican asked Kerry to promise that the administration wouldn't do something it had already promised not to do.
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The White House's push to win Congressional support for a military strike on Syria is running into an unexpected roadblock: lingering anger over the administration's decision to bypass Capitol Hill when it decided to intervene in Libya two years ago.
Senior administration officials briefed the leadership of the House and Senate Thursday night on intercepted phone calls between senior Syrian military officials and other intelligence purporting to show that the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad was responsible for a chemical weapons attack in the Damascus suburbs that killed hundreds of civilians. President Obama personally called House Speaker John Boehner and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell to walk them through the report.
For a growing number of lawmakers, however, that outreach isn't enough. With the prospect of an imminent U.S. military intervention into Syria looming, 140 members of Congress, including 21 Democrats, signed onto a letter demanding that the White House seek formal Congressional approval before using force there. Failing to do so, they say, would be unconstitutional.
Republicans overwhelmingly united with Democrats on Wednesday to continue funding aid to Egypt, despite U.S. law requiring a suspension of aid to countries that undergo a military coup.
In a 86-13 vote, the Senate moved to table an amendment by Sen. Rand Paul that would've redirected $1.5 billion in aid to bridge construction and repair in the United States and suspend further aid to Egypt until the country holds elections.
Despite the landslide vote, the issue prompted a heated debate on the Senate floor with Republican senators Lindsey Graham, John McCain and Bob Corker lashing out at Paul for adding the amendment to a transportation and urban development appropriations bill.[[LATEST]]
"It would be a terrific mistake for the United States to send a message to Egypt: you're on your own," McCain said on the Senate floor. "I urge my colleagues to vote to table the Paul amendment."
Paul punched back, noting that the Foreign Assistance Act, first enacted in 1961, requires a suspension of foreign aid to any country that undergoes a coup. "How do we lead by example when we're not going to obey our own laws?" Paul inquired. "When the president refuses to acknowledge that it's a coup ... Americans should be outraged and insulted by such blatant shirking of the law. Either we're a nation of laws or we're not."
The remarks seemed to cause certain lawmakers to blink, if only slightly.
"Yeah, it probably fits the definition of a coup," said Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK) before noting that the U.S. could simply not afford to lose its leverage with the Egyptian military. "If it's not going to be [U.S.-supplied] F-16s, you're going to find yourselves with MiG-29s coming from Russia."
Sen. John McCain sounded a civil note at the beginning of his remarks at a Center for a New American Security event on Thursday, April 18. "What Republicans need now is a vigourous contest on ideas on national security and foreign policy," he told a group of military, foreign policy, and business professionals. "This contest can and should be conducted respectfully and without name-calling, which is something an old wacko-bird like me must remember from time to time."
Though he didn't resort to epithets, the rest of the speech featured a series of broadsides against isolationists and non-interventionists of both parties, but especially senators on McCain's own side of the aisle. "When it comes to the politics of national security," McCain said, "my beloved Republican Party has some soul-searching to do."
In particular, McCain singled out his "libertarian friends" who participated in Sen. Rand Paul's filibuster against John Brennan's confirmation as CIA director. "Rather than debate the very real dilemmas of targeted killing," McCain said, "my colleagues chose to focus instead on the theoretical possibility that the president would use a drone to kill Americans on U.S. soil even if they're not engaged in hostilities. As misguided as this exercise was, the political pressures on Republicans to join in were significant, and many ultimately did -- including many who know better."
As a compromise, McCain suggested revising the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF), which provides the legal justification for the targeted killing program, and codifying drone policy "to preserve, but clarify the commander-in-chief's war powers, while insisting on greater transparency and broader congressional oversight of how these war powers are employed."
He inveighed against the "emergence of a military-industrial-congressional complex that has corrupted and crippled the defense acquisition process," though his critique focused on the runaway costs of projects like the F-35 and Littoral Combat Ship rather than the defense budget writ large, which he has pushed to maintain. He also went after colleagues who have tried to slash foreign aid, pointing out that, "It now seems that every piece of legislation that the Senate considers faces an inevitable amendment that would cut off all our assistance to Egypt or some other critical country. And unfortunately, these kinds of provisions keep winning more and more votes." McCain sounded downright weary as he described "explaining" and "reminding people" of the purpose of foreign aid. "While foreign aid might not make its recipients love us," he noted, "it does further our national security interests and values."
McCain went after colleagues' knee-jerk opposition to the United Nations as well. When asked about the Law of the Sea Treaty, he said, "It's probably not going to come up. Not with the makeup of this Senate, that's the reality. We couldn't even do a disabilities treaty, for God's sake." The problem? Here, McCain got sarcastic. "It's just, you know, it's the 'U.N.' It's the 'U.N.,'" he exclaimed, making air quotes and shrugging.
Despite the critiques of sequestration and U.S. policies on Syria and Iran, President Obama got off pretty easy by comparison. "Right now, the far left and far right in America are coming together in favor of pulling us back from the world," McCain observed. "The president and I have had our differences, many of those differences will persist, but there are times these days when I feel that I have more in common on foreign policy with President Obama than I do with some in my party."
And while McCain seemed uncomfortable with the many rounds of nuclear negotiations with Iran, he said he didn't envy the president's decision on the use of force. "It's going to be probably one of the most difficult decisions the president of the United States has ever had to make," he argued, "and it's very rarely that I'm glad that I'm not the president of the United States, but this is one of [those times]."
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Four different Senate Republicans have four different ideas on how to alter U.S. aid to Egypt, in a struggle that is also becoming about the future of Republican leadership on foreign policy.
The Senate is working now on the next Continuing Resolution (CR) to fund the government from April until October -- and aid to Egypt is the main foreign policy issue likely to be attached to the funding measure. Sens. Marco Rubio (R-FL), John McCain (R-AZ), James Inhofe (R-OK), and Rand Paul (R-KY) all have introduced amendments to the CR dealing with Egypt aid, but they all have competing ideas on how to condition it in light of Egypt's changing security challenges and the fragile path to democracy under the government led by Muslim Brotherhood President Mohamed Morsy.
Senate Appropriations State and Foreign Ops Subcommittee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT) has also introduced an amendment on Egypt aid, making it five total amendments that are now the subject of intense behind-the-scenes negotiations.
"We have five different amendments that have been offered on Egypt," Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) said on the Senate floor Thursday, lamenting that the Senate was confronted with tackling the Egypt aid issue in a rush on a temporary funding bill. Reid doesn't really want to do Egypt policy on this bill at all.
"This is a CR for six months. We have a functioning Foreign Relations Committee. That's where this should take place," he said. "We all have concerns about Egypt. Our funding in Egypt, maintaining stability in the region, supporting Israel. We have, as I've indicated, five senators who have filed five separate, distinct amendments. And literally staffs with senators have worked all day coming up with an amendment that Democrats and Republicans could agree on. It hasn't been done. Doesn't mean it can't be done, but it hasn't been done. I would again remind senators that this is a Continuing Resolution. The long-term solution to the situation in the Middle East is not a short-term CR. Whatever we do on this bill would expire in six months anyway."
But despite Reid's reluctance, senators are likely to coalesce around one or two Egypt aid amendments that could get a vote on the Senate floor next week. The first senator to introduce an Egypt amendment was Rubio, who spoke about it in an interview this week with The Cable.
"This is not about cancelling foreign aid to Egypt per se. This is about restructuring it in a way that lines up with the interests of the taxpayers of the United States of America," Rubio said. "Their real security needs are largely internal and we want to recalibrate our military aid to Egypt to meet their actual needs. Egypt doesn't need tanks, it doesn't need jet fighters, it's not going to be invaded by neighbors in the near future."
For Rubio, the Egypt amendment is his opening salvo in what promises to be a year of increasing involvement in an array of foreign policy issues. He promised he would have similar amendments in the future on aid to other countries as well.
"Foreign aid is important because it increases our influence and in particular our ability to influence things around the world to advance our interests. But foreign aid is not charity.... That means that every single dime we give in foreign aid should be conditioned," he said.
Rubio is also concerned about the Morsy government's commitment to the Camp David accords, their unwillingness or inability to maintain security in the Sinai Peninsula, and their treatment of opposition parties and non-governmental organizations.
"We've heard some of the comments of the president of Egypt and some of the leadership of the Muslim Brotherhood. It's downright offensive, and that's their ideology and we've seen some of that come through in their public policy," he said.
Rubio's original amendment would have blocked disbursements of economic support funds (ESF) and new foreign military financing for Egypt until the administration could certify that the Morsy government was enacting economic and political reforms, not restricting religious and human rights, not undermining free and fair elections, improving its treatment of foreign NGOs, fully implementing the peace treaty with Israel, taking all available actions to end smuggling into Gaza and combat terrorism in the Sinai.
The Rubio amendment required the administration to certify that the government of Egypt had apportioned specific amounts of aid to counterterrorism and the Sinai but gave the administration the authority to waive the new aid restrictions every six months.
The McCain amendment takes a different, less confrontational approach. It only would impact foreign military financing, not economic support funds, and clearly states that any change in Egypt military aid should only affect new contracts, not existing contracts for items already in the manufacturing pipeline.
The McCain amendment requires the administration to report back to Congress about how the Egyptian military is spending the money and how it might be spent better in the security interests of both Egypt and the United States. But there's no cut off of aid and no waiver authority. Last year, Egyptians got angry when Congress imposed new restrictions on military aid to Cairo, only to see Secretary of State Hillary Clinton waive them anyway.
After McCain filed his amendment, Rubio made some changes to his amendment to bring it closer in line with McCain's. Rubio's new amendment now conditions ESF funds in a way that's closer to what's already in present law. Backroom negotiations between the two offices are ongoing.
The Leahy amendment is seen as the Democrats' attempt to take what they liked of the Republican amendments and try to reach a compromise text. It most closely follows McCain's approach by requiring the administration to report on the military aid spending but also requires the administration to report on political reform, human rights, and NGO treatment in Egypt.
Paul's amendment would cut off all assistance to Egypt until Morsy says in English and Arabic that he intends to uphold the Camp David accords. Inhofe's amendment would conditionally suspend the sale of F-16 fighter jets to Egypt. Inhofe has also co-sponsored the Paul amendment.
"For months, I have been calling for President Obama and his administration to hold president Morsy accountable for failing to promote promised democracy in Egypt and for the instability in the region," Inhofe said on the Senate floor this week. "Under President Morsy and his radical Muslim Brotherhood, the United States' historically good relationship with Egypt is at a standstill."
Fresh off his war of words with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Russia's once-and-future President Vladimir Putin is calling out another senior U.S. politician: Sen. John McCain (R-AZ).
Unlike Clinton, who doesn't actually want to be trading insults with Putin in the press, McCain relishes these types of confrontations. In fact, McCain might have even started it when he tweeted on Dec. 6, "Dear Vlad, The ArabSpring is coming to a neighborhood near you."
That was a reference to the anti-Putin rallies in Moscow to protest Russia's parliamentary elections, which Clinton called "not free and fair."
On Thursday, Putin insulted McCain during a TV call-in show.
"He has the blood of peaceful civilians on his hands, and he can't live without the kind of disgusting, repulsive scenes like the killing of Qaddafi," Putin said.
Putin then took his insults one step further, accusing McCain of losing his marbles when he was a prisoner of war in Vietnam.
"Mr. McCain was captured and they kept him not just in prison, but in a pit for several years," said Putin. "Anyone [in his place] would go nuts."
McCain responded Thursday morning on Twitter, writing, "Dear Vlad, is it something I said?"
Putin didn't even address McCain's comments at the Foreign Policy Initiative Forum on Tuesday in Washington, when he accused the entire Russian government of corruption.
"I think this a corrupt system -- an oligarchy.... This is a kleptocracy. It's certainly not a representative government," McCain told the forum.
The chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee said on Tuesday that he agreed with the White House that cuts to the defense budget must be part of upcoming budget negotiations.
"Defense has to be on the table," Sen. Carl Levin (D-MI) said in a Tuesday interview. "It means there should be some reductions in some parts of the defense budget. We haven't decided what those are yet, because it depends on a lot of things and it doesn't say how much those cuts should be, because that shouldn't be decided in the abstract."
Levin's comments track with those of Senior White House Advisor David Plouffe, who said on Sunday on ABC's "This Week" that, "We're going to have to look at defense spending."
Levin's Republican counterpart John McCain (R-AZ), said in a Tuesday interview that he strongly disagreed with Levin and that the efficiencies and savings put forth by Defense Secretary Robert Gates earlier this year were sufficient.
"We are in two wars, we are in a crisis in Libya, and before I could say I was for cutting defense, I'd have to be shown a need for them, not just a blanket statement that we should cut defense," said McCain. "That's just crazy and stupid."
The Paul Ryan (R-WI) budget actually calls for steady increases in defense spending: It proposes a $583 billion base defense budget in fiscal 2012, growing to $642 billion in 2016. Meanwhile the Ryan budget would slash State Department and Foreign Ops funding, which was cut by $8 billion in the budget deal struck last week to avoid a government shutdown.
The Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on State and Foreign Ops Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT) said in a Tuesday interview that those cuts were ill advised.
"Most people think that about 20 to 40 percent of the national budget is in foreign aid, it's less than 1 percent," he said. "And A lot of time, what we do there if we do it wise keeps us out of wars."
One consequence of a government shutdown -- which will occur on April 8 unless Congress passes a new funding bill -- is that members of the military will no longer be paid, even though they will continue to work and fight. And as legislators and the Obama administration struggle to avoid a shutdown, officials are preparing contingency plans to keep key national security and foreign policy activities running when the money tap runs dry.
Programs that are essential for the safety and security of the country are exempted from a shutdown, but the administration still has to figure out where to draw the line between essential and non-essential functions, and how to keep key national security functions going without money.
The White House Office of Management and Budget sent an e-mail to deputies of most government agencies Monday night to direct them to prepare for a shutdown.
"The president has been clear that he does not want a shutdown... But we are aware of the calendar, and to be prudent and prepare for the chance that Congress may not pass a funding bill in time, OMB today encouraged agency heads to begin sharing their contingency plans with senior managers throughout their organization to ensure that they have their feedback and input," OMB senior advisor Kenneth Baer said in a statement about the email. "As the week progresses, we will continue to take necessary steps to prepare for the possibility that Congress is unable to come to agreement and a lapse in government funding ensues."
In the event of a shutdown, all uniformed military personnel would continue to work but would stop receiving paychecks, an official familiar with the government's planning told The Cable. As April 8 falls in the middle of the Defense Department's two-week pay period, military personnel would actually receive a paycheck totaling half the normal amount. A large number of Pentagon civilians would be furloughed without pay for the duration of the shutdown. Support structures for military families, such as military schools, would remain open. When the shutdown ends, the soldiers would get their back pay but the civilians might not.
Most personnel at U.S. foreign missions would be retained, the official said, although about two-thirds of the State Department and USAID staff in Washington would be furloughed. Non-emergency passport services for Americans would also likely be suspended. Up to three-quarters of the staff at the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative would be sent home without pay.
U.S. diplomats and military officials would still be able to travel for important meetings, but "it will be a much, much, much tougher standard," the official said, explaining that travel would be approved only "if it is integral to the foreign relations and safety and security of the country."
The shutdown would also impact government organizations that help American companies do business abroad. For example, the Export-Import Bank would stop approving new loan guarantees or insurance policies, the official said, which could cost American exporters $2 billion to $4 billion each month in income and jeopardize deals already in progress.
Veterans are actually exempted from the consequences of the shutdown because the Veterans Administration receives advance appropriations and therefore already has its money for the rest of the year. Law enforcement activities at the Justice Department and the Homeland Security Department would also continue without interruption, the official said.
Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell told reporters on Tuesday that if the shutdown happens on April 8 at midnight, the Defense Department would "retain the ability and the authority to continue to protect our vital interests around the world, to continue to safeguard the nation's security, to wage the wars we're fighting and the operations that we are conducting right now."
Morrell said that Deputy Secretary Bill Lynn was leading the internal effort to plan for a shutdown. He also said that no decision on suspending military paychecks had been made, although our sources said that the checks would definitely stop.
Obama made the case on Tuesday that a government shutdown would hurt America's fragile economic recovery and its credibility with a range of domestic and international actors.
"At a time when the economy is just beginning to grow or we're just starting to see a pickup in employment, the last thing we need is a disruption that's caused by a government shutdown; not to mention all the people who depend on government services," Obama said.
The crisis in Egypt is occupying the time and attention of top administration officials to such an extent that Obama foreign policy critic Sen. Jon Kyl (R-AZ) is now representing the United States on a non-proliferation panel at the Munich Security Conference in Munich this weekend.
Kyl replaces National Security Advisor Tom Donilon, who was originally scheduled to speak on Saturday afternoon to represent the U.S. perspective, on a panel entitled, "Nonproliferation, Arms Control and Disarmament: What's next?" Donilon will remain in Washington as the White House continues to work around the clock on the Egypt crisis. The conference organizers chose Kyl, who is in Munich already, to replace Donilon.
The choice is perplexing because Kyl, who led the vociferous GOP opposition to the New START nuclear reductions pact with Russia, has been the most active and effective critic of the Obama administration's non-proliferation agenda. He has also worked to raise concerns about the administration's missile defense plans, its civilian nuclear agreements, and he is promising to stand in the way of the administration's next arms control agenda item, the Congressional Test Ban Treaty.
The conference organizers bypassed top Obama administration arms control officials who will also be in Munich, including Undersecretary of State for Arms Control and International Security Ellen Tauscher, Assistant Secretary of State Rose Gottemeoller, and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. They, along with Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry (D-MA), will all be sitting in the audience as Kyl tells the assembled world leaders in Munich how he sees the future of arms control in the United States.
Many in the State Department are not happy with this turn of events, and wonder why the German organizers bypassed the administration officials. "We're floored," one State Department official said. "It's odd on many levels."
Requests for comment from the conference organizers and the National Security Council were not immediately returned.
So what will Kyl's message be in Munich? Here's an excerpt from his remarks on the topic last May at the Nixon Center:
Bottom line: there is no evidence our moral leadership in arms control and disarmament will convince countries to set aside their calculations of the impact of nuclear proliferation and nuclear terrorism on their national security, and help us address these threats.
The Administration's security agenda is based on the notion of the U.S. making substantive changes to our national security posture in the hopes of persuading others to act, frequently contrary to their economic or security interests.
But this good faith assumption that others will reciprocate is not supported by any evidence -- it is certainly not informed by any past experience....
As you can tell by now, I am not much impressed with the notion that we can achieve important U.S. security goals by leadership which stresses concession by the U.S. Rather than change and hope, I adhere to the philosophy of President Reagan epitomized in the words -peace through strength.
A strong America is the best guarantor of a peaceful world that has ever been known. And there is nothing immoral about strength that keeps the peace.
UPDATE: Tauscher was added to the billet and spoke on the panel alongside Kyl. Our sources report that the panel went were and there were no real fireworks between Tauscher and Kyl.
House Foreign Affairs Committee ranking member Howard Berman (D-CA) is supporting calls from the Obama administration to keep State and foreign aid funding out of the hands of GOP budget slashers in Congress.
Berman's latest remarks come on the heels of a Jan. 20 call for drastic defunding of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) by the 165-member Republican Study Group. USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah warned Congress of the national security risks of defunding USAID in an exclusive interview with The Cable on Jan. 21.
"I rise in opposition to the rule, which provides for consideration of a resolution to reduce what is being called "non-security" spending to 2008 levels," Berman said in remarks today, which were submitted into the Congressional record and which he excerpted on the House floor.
The budget resolution, which is being brought by Republican leadership in advance of Tuesday's State of the Union speech, would mandate that all "non-security" accounts be cut to fiscal 2008 levels when the current stopgap funding measure expires on March 4.
The GOP defines "non-security" to mean all spending besides funds devoted to defense, homeland security, military construction, and veterans. The administration and some in Congress want to add diplomacy and development to that list.
The budget resolution "sends a very damaging message that the Congress will not stand up to protect those programs that are absolutely essential to jobs and the economy," Berman said. "It also rejects a key principle that military leaders and presidents of both parties have clearly recognized: Foreign assistance and diplomacy are essential to United States national security."
Berman made a case for the role of U.S. economic and diplomatic capabilities in winning the war on terror. He also noted that Defense Secretary Robert Gates, Joint Chiefs Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen, and ISAF commander Gen. David Petraeus have all come out in favor of increasing funding for foreign operations.
"The message from our military leadership, this Congress, and even former President Bush is clear: U.S. civilian agencies must be fully resourced to prosecute the fight against terror effectively," Berman said. "A cut to the budget harms U.S. national security and puts American lives at risk."
Berman failed to move forward his legislation on reforming foreign aid when he was chairman -- but funding did go up for fiscal 2009 and fiscal 2010. Now, with the State Department taking on new responsibilities in Iraq and USAID playing a large role in Afghanistan and Pakistan, he is arguing that gains in those countries, as well as U.S. standing in the world, hangs in the balance.
"We all remember the period when the United States tried to go it alone, unwilling to cooperate with other countries and demonstrate global leadership," Berman said. "We've finally begun to turn that all around. Let's not go back to the bad old days when the U.S. turned away from the rest of the world, and lost so much of its influence and respect."
South Carolina GOP Sen. Jim DeMint repeated today his claim that "millions of Americans" are "outraged" that Congress would dare work on major legislation, namely New START, this close to Christmas. He previously called it "sacrilegious."
"Don't tell me about Christmas. I understand Christmas," Vice President Joe Biden responded in a Dec. 16 interview. "There's 10 days between now and Christmas. I hope I don't get in the way of your Christmas shopping, but this is the nation's business. National security's at stake. Act."
Less than a week later, DeMint is back at it again. "It's clear with this treaty that [the administration is] trying to cram something down the throats of the American people under the cover of Christmas," DeMint said in a press conference on Tuesday. "They're not looking at politics right now, they're celebrating their holy Christmas holiday, and the fact that we're doing this under the cover of Christmas...is something to be outraged about."
Here at the Capitol building, there's some confusion about exactly how long before Dec. 25 Congress should stop working on major bills (so as not to offend the "millions" of outraged Christians DeMint is standing up for), and why only Christian holidays should be protected from major legislation.
In an exclusive interview with The Cable, DeMint explained what commentators have coined his drive to combat the "war on Christmas vacation." Here's the transcript:
JR: Senator DeMint, exactly how long before Christmas Day is the period during which the American people don't want Congress to work on major legislation, in your view?
JD: It has nothing to do with us not being willing to work. For the [continuing resolution] I'm willing to work right through New Year's. It's just, trying to do [New START] under the cover of people being distracted. We've worked with a lot of people on the outside and around the country who feel this is a bad way to do a bad treaty. People are distracted.
JR: How long are people distracted before Christmas? Is it the entire month of December, or what?
JD: The whole lame duck [session] to me is an illegitimate process and the intent to do whatever is the nation's business that has to be done, such as fund the government. But to pass major legislation during the lame duck is not the intent. People who are here, the voters have changed a lot of them. Doing it during Christmas is just one piece of it. The big issue is using the lame duck of unaccountable senators to ram through a major arms control treaty. That's the issue.
JR: Why invoke only the Christian holidays? Congress works on major legislation during Jewish holidays, Muslim holidays. You never said anything about that, right? Aren't Jews distracted during Hannukah?
JD: Sure, we normally take off for Jewish holidays. It's more of the distraction of the end of the year. I'm not trying to make it just an issue of Christmas. But it is obvious that Americans do not expect their unelected officials to come in and make major decisions when we're not supposed to be here and they're not paying attention.
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Now that Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl (R-AZ) has made it clear he will not agree to support the New START treaty this year, despite President Barack Obama’s pledge to hold the vote during the lame duck session, the White House has redoubled efforts to find nine Republican “yes” votes that don’t include Kyl, the Republican’s designated leader on the issue.
For over a year, the intensive administration effort to secure Senate ratification of the New START treaty with Russia has focused primarily on securing the support of one GOP senator. The efforts included over 30 high-level interactions with Kyl, as detailed in a White House fact sheet circulated on Friday, as well as intensive efforts to secure over $84 billion for nuclear modernization that Kyl demanded.
But inside the White House, there’s frustration and exasperation with Kyl, especially since he is still saying he’s not ready to agree to a vote. So the administration is apparently playing hardball now, charging ahead toward a vote with or without his support.
In a small roundtable at the White House on Friday afternoon with columnists, including your humble Cable guy, Vice President Joseph Biden flatly rejected the argument that the administration took too long to give the Senate enough time to debate and vote on the treaty this year.
“That is not true, there’s been no delay here,” Biden said. “The reason we didn’t push earlier is that the Republican leadership said to us ‘Look, Jon Kyl is the point guy.’ Literally, [Senate Majority Leader Mitch] McConnell said Jon Kyl, which was kind of a kick in the teeth to [Senate Foreign Relations Committee ranking Republican] Dick [Lugar], but Jon Kyl, he’s the guy, unless you get Jon…”
Biden was careful not to say that Kyl was intentionally moving the goalposts as a delaying strategy, but he did detail Kyl’s several new requests for various things as the Senate consultation process progressed.
“Jon did a really good job of asking for a whole lot of information and commitments,” Biden said. “Jon then came back and asked for something that I don’t every recall has been done before, and that is ask us to go on the line now, which we have, on the fiscal year 2012 budget and make it clear what we were going to do, to the point where I’ve already got to the appropriations committee and said, ‘this is what I expect.’”
“I don’t want to say Jon was conditioning, but it was an indirect condition,” Biden said. “After 36 years in the Senate, I knew if we tried to move the treaty in June, July, September, it was going to go nowhere because Jon would be able to say to a lot of Republicans who would just as soon, as we Catholics say, have this cup pass from us, to be in a position to say ‘we just can’t do it.’”
Three senior administration officials, speaking after Biden left the meeting, said that they were continuing to work as fast as they could to try meet Kyl's demands and answer his questions.
“We’re hearing from Senator Kyl that we came too late with this offer, we don’t have enough time to study it. It’s quite an extraordinary thing, showing the budget to Congress three months early, I don’t think it’s ever been done before. And two days after we finalized the numbers, we flew a team to Arizona to see him and present it to him for three hours. So now he says we are ‘too late,’ when it was he who laid out the schedule,” one senior administration official said.
“It was Senator Kyl himself who suggested that the lame duck would be an appropriate time to look at the START treaty back in early September,” said a different senior administration official. “It’s ready for a vote and we had some expectation, although not a guarantee, that the lame duck was a possibility.”
The bottom line is that the White House is no longer counting on Kyl to bring around his caucus and has reverted back to an earlier, second-track strategy to reach out to all the other GOP senators the administration thinks might vote “yes.”
“There’s a number that we need to get to get this passed. The question is, if Senator Kyl decides he is not able to support it now, whether a number of other Republicans would come on board and support the treaty,” one official said. “We believe that at the end of the day we will have made that so clear, the broader argument on the merits of treaty… can carry the day with enough Republican senators to get this passed.”
One official allowed that if GOP senators decide to vote for the treaty despite Kyl’s intransigence, it would not necessarily mean they were breaking with Kyl.
“No matter the decision Senator Kyl makes on how he votes, he’s in a position because of the work we’ve done together on modernization to say he’s gotten a real success here. I don’t think anyone would be abandoning Senator Kyl if they decide to vote for the treaty and he decides to vote against it,” the official explained.
The officials said that the administration is committed to holding a vote this year and was working with that single goal in mind. There’s no work being done to plan for a debate and vote next year.
So if they come to the end of the lame duck session and the White House hasn’t secured 67 firm “yes” votes, what will happen? Will the president call on Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV)to force the vote and hope that GOP fence-sitters make the right choice? Or will the administration table the treaty and try again next session?
“We’ll have to make a judgment. We’re doing all the work we need to do to put this before the Senate. We’ll try to make our best estimate about where we are and people above my pay grade will have to make that decision,” one official said.
If there's one thing that the liberals and libertarians can agree on, it's the need for large cuts in defense spending in order to reduce the U.S. budget defecit.
55 lawmakers sent a letter Wednesday to the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform, widely known as the Debt Commission, urging them to include in their final report "substantial reductions in projected levels of future spending by the Department of Defense." The letter was signed by leading liberal representatives such as Barney Frank (D-MA) and Lynn Woolsey (D-CA), but also many Democrats involved in national security matters such as Senate Appropriations Foreign Operations subcommittee chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and House Oversight and Government Reform National Security subcommittee chairman John Tierney (D-MA).
The lone Republican to sign the letter was libertarian Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX). But the libertarian Cato Institute has also campaigned aggressively in support of the movement.
"We hope that the report you release this coming December will subject military spending to the same rigorous scrutiny that non-military spending will receive, and that in so doing a consensus will be reached that significant cuts are necessary and can be made in a way that will not endanger national security," the lawmakers wrote.
On a conference call, Frank and Cato experts argued that their longstanding call for a revision of the U.S. military role in the world is more necessary than ever due to the United States' fiscal woes, particularly as political leaders search for ways to limit cuts to entitlements.
"I've been a critic for some time of America's excessive military engagement with the rest of the world," said Frank. "We have a changed situation... it is clear that we have to do something to reduce our deficit.
Cato's Benjamin Friedman argued on the call that the recent aggressive conservative efforts to defend ever-increasing defense budgets was a recognition of the libertarian wing of the Republican Party's increasing momentum in support of trimming military spending.
"Conservatives are starting to figure out that trying to run the world is not conservative," Friedman said.
Friedman participated in a bipartisan report, published in June, which spelled out exactly how $1 trillion of savings could be found in the Pentagon budget over the next 10 years by scaling back military arsenals, large weapons systems, and permanent overseas troop deployments.
Frank and Friedman both acknowledged that the issue of defense spending is highly polarized and that, politically, implementing defense budget cuts would be extremely difficult, especially in Congress. But they are nevertheless laying down a marker by going on record that there are at least 55 votes in Congress in support of such moves.
"What we are saying is that there will be a number of us that will be very unhappy if defense cuts are not part of the tradeoffs," Frank said.
Following last week's launch of a conservative think-tank effort to argue for increased defense spending, now a non-partisan think tank has joined the grand debate over national defense budgets, taking the opposing side of the argument.
The Stimson Center, a non-profit, non-partisan research center, expanded its web presence on Tuesday. As part of its "Budgeting for Foreign Affairs and Defense" project, Stimson launched a new blog called The Will and the Wallet, which will address how to reconcile U.S. national security with the country's horrid fiscal and budgetary situation.
"The Will and the Wallet is part of the Budgeting for Foreign Affairs and Defense project's mission to offer pragmatic options for strengthening the institutions of civilian foreign policy and disciplining those of defense," Stimson said in a press release. "This perspective comes at a critical time, as concerns about the federal debt are growing and as policymakers begin to consider U.S. national security priorities after the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan."
The project and the blog are led by Gordon Adams, a professor at American University's School of International Service who served as head of national security spending at the White House's Office of Management and Budget during Bill Clinton's administration. His work at Stimson isn't limited to this one issue, but his views on the future of defense spending are clear.
"Now is the time to change direction and focus carefully on setting priorities to discipline defense plans and budgets," Adams told the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform on July 20. "Congress and the administration can no longer ignore the reality that Americans have neither the will nor the wallet for unprecedented spending that does not set priorities for our statecraft."
The Stimson effort stands opposed to another new joint think-tank effort launched last week by the Foreign Policy Initiative, the American Enterprise Institute, and the Heritage Foundation, called "Defending Defense." That initiative, which will hold its first event in Washington next week, seeks to make the intellectual arguments for more robust defense budgets despite the nation's financial difficulties.
"By having several serious organizations raise awareness about this issue, we hope to send the message that the defense budget is not something that should be tinkered with even as some take a look at cutting overall federal spending," said FPI's executive director Jamie Fly.
Those more closely aligned with Stimson's side of the debate see the new effort on the conservative side as an indication that pressure is mounting to reduce the defense budget.
"For the last two weeks, the advocates of higher defense spending have shown their nervousness that the times may be changing -- that the defense budget may go south after the elections," said Winslow Wheeler, head of the Strauss Military Reform Project at the Center for Defense Information, who agrees with Adams that efficiency is what's needed, not more money.
"Slaves to the thinking they condemn in others, that more money means more defense, they ignore what has been happening in the Pentagon's budget: as we spend more, we become weaker," he said. The Obama administration requested a total of $708 billion for defense in fiscal 2011, including the cost of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. In 2001, the total cost of the defense budget was $316 billion, according to the Congressional Research Service.
(Your humble Cable guy, as a dispassionate chronicler of world events, is non-aligned in this debate, but will be speaking at the launch event for the Stimson Center website on Friday, Oct. 15, along with the New America Foundation's Steve Clemons, NPR's Tom Gjelten, and Politico's Jen DiMascio.)
Russian immigrants to Israel have emerged as a central obstacle to achieving a Middle East peace deal, according to former President Bill Clinton. He voiced fears that the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), which increasingly consists of soldiers hailing from this community, might not be fully willing to oppose Israeli settlers as a result.
In a roundtable with reporters during his Clinton Global Initiative conference in New York, Clinton made his most extensive remarks on the Israeli-Palestinian peace process that his wife, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, is spearheading.
"An increasing number of the young people in the IDF are the children of Russians and settlers, the hardest-core people against a division of the land. This presents a staggering problem," Clinton said. "It's a different Israel. 16 percent of Israelis speak Russian."
According to Clinton, the Russian immigrant population in Israel is the group least interested in striking a peace deal with the Palestinians. "They've just got there, it's their country, they've made a commitment to the future there," Clinton said. "They can't imagine any historical or other claims that would justify dividing it."
To illustrate his view on the Russian immigrant community, Clinton related a conversation he had with Natan Sharansky, the former Soviet dissident turned Israeli parliamentarian, who he said was the only Israeli minister to reject the comprehensive peace agreement Clinton proposed at the Camp David Summit in 2000. The proposal was eventually rejected by Palestinian President Yasser Arafat.
"I said, ‘Natan, what is the deal [about not supporting the peace deal],'" Clinton recalled. "He said, ‘I can't vote for this, I'm Russian... I come from one of the biggest countries in the world to one of the smallest. You want me to cut it in half. No, thank you.'"
Clinton responded, "Don't give me this, you came here from a jail cell. It's a lot bigger than your jail cell."
Clinton used the anecdote to explain the Russian immigrant population's attitude toward a land-for- peace deal with the Palestinians. "[Sharansky] was nice about it, a lot of them aren't," Clinton said.
Clinton then ranked the Israeli sub-national groups in order of his perception of their willingness to accept a peace deal. The "most pro-peace Jewish Israelis" are the Sabras, who he described as native-born Israelis whose roots there date back millennia, because they have the benefit of historical context. "They can imagine sharing a future."
Ashkenazi Jews who emigrated from Europe and have been in Israel for one or more generations are the next most supportive of a peace deal, Clinton said.
The "swing voters" are what Clinton called the "Moroccans": North African Jews who immigrated to Israel in the 1970s. He described them as right-of-center citizens who nevertheless want normal, stable lives.
"When they think peace is possible, they vote peace. When they think it's not, they vote for the toughest guys on the block," Clinton said.
Regarding the settlers, Clinton said that their numbers had grown so much since 2000 that their longstanding opposition to giving up their homes in exchange for peace might be more entrenched and therefore a bigger challenge than before.
"In 2000, you could get 97 percent of the settlers on 3 percent of the land. Today, you have to give almost 6 percent of the land to get 80 percent of the settlers," said Clinton. "There were 7,000 settlers in Gaza and it took 55,000 Israeli forces people to move. Somewhere between 50,000 and 60,000 settlers will have to be moved out of the West Bank."
Clinton spoke extensively about the positives and negatives he sees in the ongoing direct peace talks launched by the Obama administration.
"I'd say their chances are at least 50-50," Clinton said optimistically.
The Palestinians' internal divisions, specifically the lack of Palestinian control over the Gaza Strip, present another problem, but one that a peace deal could help solve, he suggested.
"That makes it more difficult for Prime Minister [Benjamin] Netanyahu to make a deal and to wonder what a deal means," he said. But if there's a deal on the table, that would create enough pressure for an election in Gaza that President Mahmoud Abbas' Fatah party would win, Clinton argued.
"I believe if there were an election in Gaza today, Fatah would win because of the greater prosperity and the greater security produced under Abbas and Fayyad," Clinton said, adding that Fatah only lost in Gaza elections because of intra-party faction fighting that saw many candidates run against others in their own party.
There are some factors that point to improved conditions for making a peace deal as compared to 2000, said Clinton. He pointed to the fact that two-thirds of Israelis trust Netanyahu to make a peace deal, more than when Ehud Barak was negotiating, according to Clinton. Also, he said that he has faith that the current Palestinian Authority leadership is serious about reaching a settlement.
"They won't do what Arafat did, they won't get up to the deal and lose their nerve. They know what the future looks like."
In the long term, Israelis will face increased pressures, Clinton said. Because of the high Palestinian birth rate, Israel will become a Palestinian-majority state sometime in the next 30 years, if it does not give up the West Bank.
"Then they will have to decide either to be a Jewish state or a democracy, but they cannot be both. They don't want to face that. They don't want to face not only the international legitimacy question but also the internal identity crisis."
Moreover, Clinton said, Hamas militants will soon have military technology that will allow their relatively low-damage attacks on Israeli population centers to have greater accuracy and lethality.
"It's just a matter of time before the rockets have a GPS system on ‘em and a few rockets will kill a whole lot of people. Netanyahu understands that," said Clinton.
He also said that Arab leaders were on board with Middle East peace now more than ever, partly because they now have Iran as a boogeyman to deflect attention from their unpopular policies.
"They think they've got a real enemy in Iran now, so they don't need a faux enemy in Israel to keep people in the street directed at somebody besides them."
Before pontificating on the peace process, Clinton seemed to realize he was stepping into some sensitive territory, but decided to proceed nonetheless.
"I wouldn't say too much about this if Hillary weren't Secretary of State and in charge of these negotiations, so I'm darned sure not going to say too much now," he said, before going in depth on the issue for over 10 minutes.
Josh Rogin / Foreign Policy
At today's Senate Foreign Relations committee business meeting on New START, chairman John Kerry (D-MA) and Republican Senator Jim DeMint (R-SC) got into an open argument about whether the United States should build a giant missile defense system to protect every American citizen around the world.
That's the idea put forth by DeMint in an amendment to the resolution of ratification that the committee is considering, in advance of a full senate debate and vote on the nuclear reductions treaty after the November elections. DeMint said at the meeting that if the United States is going to draw down its nuclear arsenal, it should commit to building missile defense such that every U.S. citizen and all U.S. troops abroad are protected.
"This START agreement does not defend the people of the United States," DeMint said. "This amendment commits us and the United States of America to defend the United States to the best of our ability with a missile defense system capable of shooting down multiple missiles."
In an interview with The Cable during a break in the meeting, DeMint said he wanted to scuttle the entire idea of mutually assured destruction, the basic framework of nuclear balancing that has governed the U.S.-Russia security relationship for decades, and build a missile defense system that could defend against Russia.
"If we can shoot down their missiles, they won't build nuclear weapons," DeMint said. "We are agreeing with the START treaty to continue the policy of mutually assured destruction, which doesn't protect the American people."
Kerry was visibly frustrated with what he and other committee Democrats saw as a set up that would put them in the position of casting a vote that could later be portrayed as being against defending America.
"We can have a vote whether or not we are going to have a new arms race or whether or not we are going to move in the opposite direction," he said.
Kerry said the DeMint amendment would have the "simple effect of killing the treaty" because it would force the U.S. and Russia back to the drawing table for protracted follow-on negotiations.
He bristled at DeMint's implications that the START treaty leaves Americans vulnerable to attack and he rejected DeMint's assertion that the policy of mutually assured destruction was dangerous for American security.
"The notion that strategic defense does not protect strategic stability is absurd," Kerry said at the hearing.
In a brief interview with The Cable, Kerry said that DeMint "wants to build a missile defense system that covers the whole world."
Sens. Bob Corker (R-TN), the newest champion of the START treaty, said at the hearing that he does not believe the treaty constrains U.S. missile defense plans but he nevertheless supported DeMint's amendment.
Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), came to Kerry's defense. "No president of either party has advocated a missile defense system geared toward Russia ever since the Cold War ended," she said.
But then, Sen. Jim Webb (D-VA) also came out in support of DeMint's amendment, which meant that it might pass, forcing Kerry to take it seriously. When the committee broke for a short break, Kerry huddled with Assistant Secretary Rose Gottemeoller, who was waiting in an adjoining room. He then scrambled to meet with DeMint and Corker, presumably to work out a compromise.
The Democrats definitely see DeMint's amendment as a political stunt.
"If you really want this to be something other than a political message, perhaps we can take a couple of days and work on it," said Webb, who promised to vote for the DeMint amendment either way because agreed with the basic thrust of it.
"[Demint's] just building up enough material to make a 30-second campaign ad," The Cable overheard one Democratic senator say in the elevator. "That's what this is really about."
Following the backroom meetings, Kerry and DeMint agreed to compromise language, which hasn't been released because it was being written up furiously, but does endorse the idea of eventually moving away from mutually assured destruction, according to Kerry.
"That's something we all have tried to move away from for a long time and something we should try to work on in the future," he said.
The Senate Foreign Relations Committee is set to approve Sen. Richard Lugar's resolution of ratification for the New START nuclear reductions treaty with Russia this morning, but not before Sen. James Risch tried to stop the vote from happening due to what he called an alarming intelligence issue was brought to senators this week.
Risch tried to stop the hearing at the outset, saying that he had been approached by the "intelligence community" with shocking information that if true would fundamentally impact the treaty and should prevent the committee from proceeding in any way. He did not specify what the information was but implored chairman John Kerry (D-MA), to postpone the vote.
Kerry acknowledged that the intelligence community had come to committee with a last minute issue and he said he made efforts to make sure all committee members' offices were aware of the secret issue. But he declined to postpone the vote and said the issue would be vetted thoroughly before the full Senate votes.
"It is inappropriate for us to have any discussion in open session in any substance of the information," Kerry said. But he made clear he viewed the issue seriously and even spoke personally with Vice President Joseph Biden about the issue.
"The conclusion of the intelligence community is that it in no way alters their judgment, already submitted to this committee, about the substance of the treaty... We would not have proceeded today if this information had any effect on this vote or the substance of this treaty," Kerry said. "Before we go to the floor, this issue will further be vetted by the intelligence community and everybody else."
Several Hill sources declined to comment due to the fact that the information was classified.
Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN), who is now supporting the treaty, said he attended a briefing yesterday about the issue and said it would not affect his support.
Overall, Kerry endorsed the resolution of ratification put forth by Lugar, which the committee voted to replace a previously circulated version by Kerry.
"I have been particularly pleased to work with Senator Lugar to develop a resolution that we can all support," Kerry said in his opening statement for today's committee business meeting in the Dirksen Office Building, where the vote on the treaty will take place in about an hour. "This is a draft that reflects all of our views and I look forward to the committee adopting it."
He also implored senators to put aside politics and ratify the treaty soon as a matter of national security.
"The stakes are significant," Kerry said. "By ratifying this treaty, we will limit Russia's nuclear arsenal. We will regain the ability to inspect their nuclear forces. And we will redouble international support for our nonproliferation efforts.""
Kerry touted the dozens of hearings held on the issue, the testimony of current and former officials in both parties, and the hundreds of answers to questions submitted by Congress. He said the administration had provided a summary of the negotiating record, although not the full record, as some GOP senators demanded.
Kerry has been quarterbacking the ratification process since April, but recently Lugar has become the center of gravity in the START ratification process because his version of the resolution for ratification is the one that the administration, Kerry's staff, and several GOP senate offices have been working on. He raised it at the meeting as a "substitute amendment" to an earlier version floated by Kerry.
Lugar said his amendment brought in the concerns of senators and should alleviate any concerns about the treaty have a constraining impact on the plans to deploy ballistic missile defense program, a key concern of lots of GOP senators, including Senate Armed Services Committee ranking Republican John McCain (R-AZ).
"My substitute amendment covers at length concerns raised about missile defense... the treaty places no limitation on the deployment of missile defense... and the 2010 unilateral statement by the Russian federation about missile defense does not impose any legal obligation on the United States."
The full Senate won't debate the treaty until after the November elections, Kerry has said.
As the New START nuclear reductions treaty with Russia heads to a Senate Foreign Relations Committee vote Thursday morning, the top Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee is outlining his numerous concerns with the treaty.
"While I support many of the New START treaty's goals, a number of significant flaws must be addressed by the Senate prior to endorsing ratification," wrote Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) in a Sept. 14 letter to SFRC committee heads John Kerry (D-MA) and Richard Lugar (R-IN), obtained exclusively by The Cable.
"If the New START treaty is to be in the national security interests of the United States, the Senate's resolution of advice and consent to ratification must at a minimum establish binding prohibitions against constraints on ballistic missile defense; a long term commitment to the long term modernization of the nuclear weapons complex and the nuclear triad, limitations on the authority of the Bilateral Consultative Commission (BCC), and assurances that future arms control negotiations with Russia address reductions in tactical nuclear weapons."
McCain has never indicated whether he will ultimately vote in favor of the treaty. In a brief interview with The Cable on Tuesday, he would only say that "serious discussions are still ongoing," referring to negotiations between Senate Republicans and the Obama administration.
Although most of McCain's issues are addressed in the latest version of the resolution of ratification put forth by Lugar, his demands in some cases seem to go further than the current language of the Lugar resolution. This suggests that McCain and other Republicans will continue to seek changes to Lugar's resolution to strengthen the language as it makes its way through the ratification process.
Republicans who are still unsatisfied by what Lugar and the administration have negotiated will have two opportunities to make changes. At Thursday's hearing, several Republican committee members are expected to offer amendments to Lugar's resolution, but those will need Democratic committee support in order to be adopted.
Non-committee Republicans will also be able to offer amendments and statements of "reservations" when the treaty comes to the Senate floor. But it is unlikely that any vote will happen before the midterm elections and, during what could be a very short lame-duck session, the appetite for debating changes to the resolution could be scarce.
Regardless, the McCain letter shows that leading Republicans, including McCain's Arizona colleague Jon Kyl, have still not completely signed on. McCain is not opposing the Lugar resolution, but he's not endorsing it either. As the endgame for START ratification takes shape, the administration still has a lot of heavy lifting to do if they want the support of leading GOP senators like John McCain.
The Cable has obtained the final version of Sen. Richard Lugar's (R-IN) resolution to ratify the New START nuclear reductions treaty with Russia.
This latest draft is the version that will likely reach the Senate floor, after facing some amendments from other Senate Foreign Relations Committee members. That floor debate is not expected until after the November elections.
The document, which will be voted on Thursday morning by the committee, represents the culmination of over a week of negotiations between Senate Foreign Relations committee staff, various GOP Senate offices, and the Obama administration. As we reported earlier today, several GOP committee members have pledged to sign on to the Lugar resolution, as opposed to a previous version circulated by committee chairman John Kerry (D-MA).
The latest Lugar version has only minor modifications from a version he circulated last Friday also published on The Cable. In an exclusive interview with The Cable Tuesday, Lugar said he was confident his resolution would be approved by the committee and that he had commitments from numerous GOP senators. He added that the Obama administration was on board as well.
"The administration has been very enthusiastic about our efforts," Lugar said, adding that he spoke with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton during the negotiations.
His resolution addresses several, but not all, of the concerns various Republican senate offices had about the START treaty. Regarding one main concern, the modernization of the nuclear complex, Lugar's staff added language that seeks to assure senators that there will be some mechanism if the administration's 10-year modernization plan doesn't go as scheduled.
"Essentially it says there would be consideration of withdrawal [from the treaty] if our modernization effort is not effective," Lugar said.
Administration officials who spoke with reporters on a conference call Tuesday afternoon said they supported the committee's process but needed a resolution that doesn't change the treaty so much that the Russians might object.
"It's very important that we have a clean resolution so we have no ramifications for how the Russians manage their own ratification process," said Undersecretary of State for Arms Control Ellen Tauscher.
Principal Deputy Undersecretary of Defense for Policy James Miller said the administration was sensitive to the fact that the Senate might not be able to ratify the treaty immediately.
"We understand that the Senate has to act according to its own timeline," he said.
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman John Kerry said today that there's not enough time to ratify the New START nuclear reductions treaty before the elections, but there should be a chance to pass the treaty when the Senate returns to Washington in November.
"I think the reality is... to push it in the next week or two would be a mistake, given the election. So let's just get it out of committee and hopefully set it up to do without any politics, without any election atmospherics, as a matter of national security when we come back in the lame-duck," Kerry said in an interview Tuesday. "That's what I'd like to see."
Kerry's comments match those of his GOP counterpart Richard Lugar (R-IN), who said Monday evening that he doesn't see any way the treaty could get the needed floor time before the Senate adjourns again in the beginning of October.
But his comments seem to contradict those of the treaty's lead negotiator, Assistant Secretary of State Rose Gottemeoller, who said Tuesday morning that she still hoped the full Senate would act on the treaty in the next few weeks. The treaty goes into effect 60 days after both Russia and the United States ratify it, and the goal is to have it in effect by the end of the year, Gottemeoller told a group of defense reporters.
Regardless, few on Capitol Hill believe that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) will spend precious floor time this month on the treaty. Even after the Senate returns following the November mid-term elections, there still might not be enough time to consider START, Kerry warned.
"If the lame duck session is a one week session, I would be surprised if anything but the most simplistic things pass. If there's a longer lame duck session, it's possible something larger and more sweeping could pass," he said.
Kerry said he needs only two days of Senate floor time, maybe three, to debate and then vote on the treaty.
He also said that he was open to supporting the resolution to be put forth by Lugar at Thursday's committee hearing, rather than the version he circulated early last week.
"Mine was put out as a discussion draft to elicit from them exactly the things that are not being talked about," Kerry said about his draft, which was first posted on The Cable. "We're working very closely together, but I'm certainly prepared to agree to a substitute [from Lugar] if it meets with our needs as well."
There was a flurry of behind-the-scenes activity going on Tuesday regarding the START treaty. Late Monday, Lugar circulated his latest draft, obtained by The Cable, as negotiations continued between the committee staff, various Senate offices, and the administration.
Treaty supporters are hoping to get as many GOP committee votes as possible and have been working hard to address the concerns of Republican senator who will vote on Thursday.
One of those GOP senators is Bob Corker (R-TN), who said Tuesday he will cosponsor the Lugar resolution on Thursday and vote in favor of the treaty at Thursday's committee session.
"I think we're moving in a very good direction," Corker told The Cable. "Based on what I know now, I certainly plan on voting it out of committee."
He predicted that when the treaty reaches the Senate floor, there will be other amendments and reservations put forth, so no final prediction could be made. But Corker said he was cautiously optimistic about the path forward.
Kerry said that when the treaty does reach the floor, senators should keep in mind that the Russian Duma is waiting to see what the Senate does before it acts on the treaty.
"President Medvedev said this to me personally, the Duma is waiting to see what happens here and how the treaty is treated in the United States," Kerry said. "That will have an impact on what they do just as their actions would have an impact on us. So I think we need to be sensitive to that."
Brendan Smialowski/Getty Images
A lobbying group affiliated with the Tea Party has joined the effort to derail President Obama's new arms-control agreement with Russia, launching a grassroots campaign by spreading misleading information about the pact to the general public.
Former governor Mitt Romney kicked off the conservative nationwide campaign to convince ordinary Americans to actively oppose the new nuclear reductions treaty with Russia. He is even trying to raise money off of it. The Heritage Foundation has a new grassroots lobbying arm that has made opposition to New START one of its core activities. Other right-leaning issues organizations are now following suit.
The latest salvo is being launched by a Tea Party-affiliated group called Liberty Central, a 501c4 lobbying organization that has started a letter-writing campaign entitled, "TAKE ACTION: Tell Your Senators to Oppose START Treaty."
The group dates back to November 2009, and was started by Virginia "Ginni" Thomas, the wife of none other than Supreme Court justice Clarence Thomas. She has also worked for former congressman and leading Tea Party figure Dick Armey, and served as the White House liaison to the Heritage Foundation during the George W. Bush administration.
The group explains its mission as returning the United States to its "Founding Principles," which it describes as "limited government, personal responsibility, individual liberty, free enterprise, and national security."
"Today, our society is being remade by the elected leadership in Washington, who wants to take us down the road to a European style social democracy, disconnected from the principles of the Constitution and the ideas and the ideals of our founding fathers," Cain said.
Liberty Central's call to action on New START, written by Director of Policy and General Counsel Sarah Field, lists six major objections to the treaty:
The criticisms omit several relevant facts and get others wrong. For example, although the existing U.S. missile-defense system has its origins under the Reagan administration, it was never intended to stop a Russian missile attack. In any case, New START was never aimed at advancing defensive capabilities, which fall outside the scope of the treaty.
Moreover, there is no section that allows each country to withdraw; rather such language is in the preamble, which does not include the word "threatened."
Nor did President Obama did not give up the U.S. missile-defense presence in Poland and the Czech Republic as "part of the negotiating process"; that decision was made independently of the START talks and was aimed at strengthening the system's ability to thwart the short- and medium-range missile threat from Iran.
The treaty also does not limit the type of circumstances in which the U.S. is allowed to launch weapons. Here, Field might be referring to the 2010 Nuclear Posture Review, which reduced the scenarios under which the United States would launch a nuclear strike.
None of that prevented Liberty Central from including these assertions in its form letter, which members can send to senators with one click of the mouse.
"The START Treaty fails to ensure the ability of the US to maintain a reliable nuclear deterrent going forward, and severely limits our missile defense systems. I urge you to protect American security by opposing this treaty," the letter states.
"This group is trying to come up with any argument they can and so they came up with several that aren't even relevant to the treaty," said John Isaacs, executive director of the Council for a Livable World. "It's even more troubling when we see these same arguments repeated by some GOP senators."
"They say that missile defense doesn't protect us from Russia? Well, it doesn't protect us from cancer either, so what does that prove?"
Multiple attempts to contact Field or Liberty Central garnered no response.
The White House has now confirmed that President Obama will announce the addition deployment of 30,000 new U.S. troops to Afghanistan, as well as a plan to start withdrawing troops in July of 2011.
Two administration officials briefed reporters on a conference call Tuesday afternoon ahead of Obama's Tuesday evening speech at the West Point military academy. The officials called the increase a "surge" and said that while the withdrawal would begin in July 2011, the pace and end point of the withdrawal would be determined by Obama at a later time.
"This surge will be for a defined period of time," one of the officials said, "What the president will talk about tonight is a date ... by which he will begin to transfer the leadership role to our Afghan partners."
"He will not tonight specify the end of that process or the pace at which he will proceed. That date and process will be determined by conditions on the ground."
The idea of a time frame for withdrawal of U.S. forces is a controversial one, especially among lawmakers, who reacted strongly to reports of a three-year time frame Tuesday morning. The White House later denied those reports to The Cable.
One of the administration officials sought to preempt criticisms of a set date for withdrawal by saying that leaving the withdrawal endpoint flexible would prevent Afghans from simply stalling until American troops leave.
"If the Taliban thinks they can wait us out, they are misjudging the president's approach," the official said, while adding, "It does put everyone under pressure to do more, sooner."
Sen. John McCain, R-AZ, has already come out against the White House plan to begin withdrawal in 2011.
The 30,000 figure includes two or three full combat brigades plus one full brigade-sized element focused exclusively on training Afghan security forces. All new combat troops will be partnered with Afghan forces in some fashion.
The new strategy will also include a beefed-up commitment to Pakistan, although the administration officials declined to give specifics. More on that later....
As President Obama gets ready to roll out his new Afghanistan-Pakistan strategy, some leading Democrats are focusing on the cost of the pending troop escalation. But they are unlikely to apply actual legislative pressure on the White House to find the money.
The debate was heightened by the introduction of a bill by House Appropriations Chairman David Obey, D-WI, and John Larson, D-CT, a member of the House leadership, that would impose a 1 percent surtax on most Americans to pay for the wars.
But as with most bill introductions in Congress, House leadership has no plans to actually move the bill and most insiders recognize it as a way for those Democrats who oppose escalation to stake out a semi-critical posture while also seeming to be fiscally responsible.
"That's a message bill, not one we will pass," one very well placed Democratic source told The Cable.
Congressional Quarterly has also reported that defense appropriations subcommittee Chairman John Murtha, D-PA, acknowledged that "he knew the bill would not be enacted and that advocates of a surtax were simply trying to send a message about the moral obligation to pay for the wars."
Rough estimates put the cost of any escalation at about $1 million per added troop, per year. Obama is expected to announce Tuesday the deployment of 30,000 new soldiers and Marines, which would make the price tag at least $30 billion in 2010, in addition to the ongoing costs of fighting the wars with currently deployed resources.
The Obama administration pledged upon taking office to move to "honest budgeting" for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and did include war costs as part of its formal fiscal 2010 budget request. But that request, around $130 billion, will be insufficient to pay for war operations this fiscal year and a supplemental spending bill is expected in early Spring.
The White House also placed a $50 billion "placeholder" in its budget projections for fiscal 2011 and beyond, a figure nobody believes is enough to keep the war machine humming, no matter what new strategies are announced. So the Obama administration's promise to pay for the wars was doomed to be broken even before a troop escalation was contemplated.
White House spokesman Robert Gibbs told reporters Monday that there would not be a "lengthy discourse" on how Obama intends to pay for his new strategy in his speech Tuesday at West Point.
"I think the president will... elude to the cost. I don't know if it gets down to the granularity of the exact dollar amount for each and every thing," Gibbs said, "Some of that's going to depend on logistical decisions that are ultimately made."
More broadly, Obey has not been shy about his skepticism about a continued U.S. commitment to Afghanistan. When giving the money for fiscal 2010, he went out on a limb and warned that he might not be willing to support funding for the wars if progress wasn't shown in one years' time. Those comments were widely criticized.
These days, presidential campaigns begin immediately after the previous election ends, often even before the opposition party has a candidate in mind. So it wasn't too surprising that Republicans opened up a new foreign-policy front aimed at 2012 today, bringing together former Bush administration and McCain campaign staffers to attack President Obama on a range of foreign-policy issues.
Neoconservative foreign-policy heavyweights Liz Cheney and William Kristol are at the heart of the new initiative, called the Keep America Safe campaign. Their first Web video attacks Obama's decisions on altering the plan for missile-defense sites in Eastern Europe, the Justice Department's decision to look into interrogation abuses by the CIA, and the pending decision of whether or not to escalate in Afghanistan.
Ben Smith at Politico has more details on the makeup of the new group:
The group's mechanics are largely a product of former campaign aides to Senator John McCain: Michael Goldfarb, now a Weekly Standard blogger, is an adviser to the group; its executive director is McCain war room chief Aaron Harison, and the video was produced by Justin Germany, the McCain aide who produced a campaign video titled, "The One," which mocked Obama as a messianic figure.
The Keep America Safe video - a fundraising tool that will be promoted on the Drudge Report and other conservative outlets - mocks Obama (in echoes of liberal attacks on his predecessor, George W. Bush) as a lightweight more interested in golf than in defending America.
Showing that the group is just as much about looking backwards as forward, Smith paraphrases Cheney as saying:
The Keep America Safe website, [Cheney] said, would feature memos by Bush Administration lawyers justifying waterboarding and other practices to make the case that they aren't torture.
Democratic sources told The Cable they are taking a wait-and-see approach, hoping the negative connotations some Americans still associate with the Cheney family and the Bush administration's policies will keep the group's reach limited to those already in the conservative camp.
But the effectiveness of such techniques during the latter stages of the 2008 campaign means that the new campaign cannot be ignored. Kristol and some of his allies from the McCain presidential run are already serving as foreign-policy advisors to potential 2012 candidates, including Sarah Palin.
Brendan Hoffman/Getty Images
The Cable goes inside the foreign policy machine, from Foggy Bottom to Turtle Bay, the White House to Embassy Row.