The nation of Georgia is in a position to block Russia's accession to the World Trade Organization (WTO), a top goal of the U.S.-Russia reset policy. The Georgians say that they are willing to strike a deal with Russia but only if Moscow abides by WTO rules on trade and customs policy, a position that would require Russian concessions in its conflict over the occupied territories, according to the president of Georgia.
Mikheil Saakashvili, Georgia's president, sat down for an exclusive interview with The Cable during his recent visit to Washington. He said that after lot of stalling and hand wringing, negotiations between Tbilisi and Moscow over the latter's desire to join the WTO had begun. As a WTO member, Georgia has veto power over any new additions to the organizations. Saakashvili said it was too early to tell if the Russians were negotiating in good faith or willing to make real concessions.
The Russian government refused to talk directly with Georgia for a long time and expected the United States to deliver Georgia's support for Russia's WTO accession, Saakashvili said.
"They were telling the Americans that we will make a deal with you and Georgia comes as part of the package. I heard some Russians say that it just takes one call from Vice President [Joseph] Biden to Saakashvili to convince him and make him shut up,'" the president said.
"But it's not like this and the Americans know it's not like this -- and they've done their best to clarify this to the Russians. Exactly because of that American position, finally the Russians came to the negotiating table. That's already great progress."
Obama administration officials have made it clear that Washington won't become involved in WTO negotiations between Russia and Georgia. The first round of those talks took place in the city of Bern with Swiss mediation earlier this month. The next round is scheduled to begin in May. Saakashvili said that Georgia was willing to be flexible but that the initial Russian proposals, which only dealt with Georgian exports to Russia, were not constructive.
"Some Russians were saying ‘we'll let back in your wine and you will change your position.'" Saakashvili said. "We don't have any wine left to sell to the Russians. That's not the bargaining chip. We need transparency of border transactions and customs issues. That's where we need to find mutually acceptable solutions with the Russians."
Of course, one huge problem is how to define the Georgian-Russian border. For Tbilisi, that includes the borders between Russia and the territories of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, which it considers breakaway republics. Russia has recognized the territories as independent states and has troops stationed in both regions.
"It's up to the Russians to show that they can go to flexible and compromise solutions," Saakashvili said. "Russians have said we can get [WTO membership] without Georgia. Good luck. Let them try. But Georgia is not going to compromise our principles."
Saakashvili also said that he is willing to limit the negotiations to the economic arena, leaving aside contentious political issues, such as Russia's failure to adhere to the terms of the ceasefire that ended the 2008 conflict. But he doubted the Russian government could keep the two issues separate.
"It would be counter-productive to go to political issues, but unfortunately [throughout the recent history of Russian-Georgia relations] Russians have turned every single economic issue into a political one. That's where we find ourselves," he said.
Saakashvili also talked about Georgia's desire to start buying defensive weapons from the United States. There has been an unofficial, unstated ban on selling heavy weapons to Georgia, a ban Senate Foreign Relations Committee ranking Republican Richard Lugar (R-IN) and Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) ranking Republican John McCain (R-AZ) have often complained about.
"It's not in our interest to leave a stalwart partner, a NATO-aspirant country, without the needs to properly defend itself," McCain said at Tuesday's SASC hearing.
Saakashvili said he takes the administration at its word that there is no ban on weapons sales to Georgia and that some sales of small arms are "in the pipeline." But he added that Georgia really needs heavier weapons that could be used to defend the country in the case of another conflict with Russia.
"We don't' really need small arms, we have plenty of them and actually there are many alternative sources to shop for them," he said. "What Georgia really needs is something that it cannot get from anywhere else and that's anti-air and anti-tank [weapons] and that's completely obvious ... that's where should be the next stage of the cooperation."
Georgia has been striving to prove its value as a U.S. ally in a tumultuous region. Georgia has over 1,000 troops deployed in Afghanistan in some of the most dangerous areas in the South of Afghanistan and Saakashvili offered to send more troops in his March meeting with Gen. David Petraeus, he said.
The U.S. is also investing in Georgia. Saakashvili highlighted that the U.S. military is increasing its involvement on the ground in Georgia, for example by opening a $100 million U.S. Army Medical Research lab in Tbilisi as part of the Nunn-Lugar initiative.
Saakashvili said that the United States still must lead in supporting emerging democracies and use its moral authority and soft power to push for human rights and democratic change in countries with oppressive governments.
"This administration has been holding the line, at the U.N. Security Council, at the OSCE, at the arms control talks. American was the first major power to call a spade a spade, to call Russia's action in Georgia a military occupation. This moral support is paramount for any nation and these kind of things count," he said.
"This ultimately will make the whole process of advancing freedom irreversible."
President Barack Obama has touted his emphasis on multilateralism in the U.S. military intervention in Libya, but, for political, operational, and legal reasons, Obama's "coalition of the willing" is smaller than any major multilateral operation since the end of the Cold War.
The Cable compiled a chart listing all the countries that contributed at least some military assets to the five major military operations in which the United States participated in a coalition during the last 20 years: the 1991 Gulf War (32 countries participating), the 1995 Bosnia mission (24 countries), the 1999 Kosovo mission (19 countries), the 2001 invasion of Afghanistan (48 countries), and the 2003 invasion of Iraq (40 countries), at the height of the size of each coalition. As of today, only 15 countries, including the United States, have committed to providing a military contribution to the Libya war.
Experts quickly point out that all of these military interventions happened in different contexts. However, they added that the reason Obama's Libya war coalition has less international involvement than all the others was also due to his administration's behavior in the lead-up to the war, its approach to multilateralism, the speed with which it was put together, and the justifications for the war itself.
Michael O'Hanlon, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, said that the administration's effort to build the coalition was hampered by its stated desire to hand off the leadership of the Libya intervention to NATO.
"[I]f you [focus on the handoff], you don't deserve a lot of credit for leadership," he said. "Obama in his deference to [getting out of the lead] has not only wanted other countries to do as much as they could, he has essentially forgone his responsibility to build the coalition."
The Libya mission is, by definition, smaller in scale than Iraq or Afghanistan; and a no-fly zone doesn't require as many countries as a full-on invasion, O'Hanlon pointed out. However, the relatively few Arab countries contributing military assets could pose a problem for the mission's legitimacy.
Operation Odyssey Dawn now has three Muslim countries with actual military contributions --Qatar, Turkey, and the UAE. "The limits of Arab support are palpable and could be a growing concern in the days and weeks ahead," O'Hanlon said.
While the Libya intervention was endorsed by the Arab League, the endorsement doesn't actually require any Arab countries to contribute materially to the effort, said David Bosco, assistant professor at American University and author of FP's blog The Multilateralist.
Obama put a priority on "formal multilateralism," as opposed to "operational multilateralism," concentrating on getting international political bodies to endorse the Libya attack before he focused on getting individual countries to pledge actual military contributions, Bosco said. That's why the administration, primarily the State Department, is working the phones now to ask countries such as the UAE to chip in a few planes here and there.
"At a certain point the administration is going to have to decide whether just to say this is a coalition of willing countries," said Bosco. "That's not the end of the world."
Bosco also said Obama was practicing "a la carte multilateralism" by trumpeting the endorsement of certain regional international organizations, such as the Arab League, while dismissing the opinions of other groups, such as the African Union, which strongly opposed the intervention.
"There's a legitimacy shopping exercise that's going on here," Bosco said.
Wayne White, a former senior State Department intelligence official now with the Middle East Institute, noted that another problem with the Obama administration's efforts to build a coalition was its own apparent lack of enthusiasm about the war. It was keenly aware of the war-weary U.S. populace, concerned about the burden of its strategic commitments in Iraq and Afghanistan, and unsure how this would play out in an extremely competitive and divisive election next year, White said.
"They were profoundly conflicted internally whether to do this, let alone to lead, which is quite unique," he said.
Obama administration officials have argued that the speed of international action on Libya was much faster than any previous intervention, and that the process was driven by the need to avert a potentially imminent humanitarian disaster.
"I know that the nightly news cannot cover a humanitarian crisis that thankfully did not happen, but it is important to remember that many, many Libyans are safer today because the international community took action," Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said on Wednesday.
Two senior administration officials held a late evening conference call with reporters Thursday night to explain how NATO agreed to take over military operations in Libya and why the U.S. and NATO leadership seem to be giving totally conflicting messages on whether NATO is taking over political control of the war as well:
Former President Jimmy Carter will travel to North Korea next month, a State Department official confirmed.
"We have been made aware of his trip. I'm not aware of any plans we have to talk to him. He's obviously traveling in a private capacity," State Department spokesman Mark Toner said, adding that Carter "does not carry an official U.S. message."
The Cable broke the news last August that Carter was set to travel to Pyongyang to rescue Aijalon Mahli Gomes, a 30-year-old man from Boston who was sentenced to eight years in prison after being arrested for crossing into North Korea from China. The State Department was happy to have the Gomes issue resolved, but many within the administration viewed Carter's claim of progress in dialogue with North Korea upon his return unhelpful.
In November, Carter wrote an op-ed in the Washington Post calling for engagement with Pyongyang.
"Pyongyang has sent a consistent message that during direct talks with the United States, it is ready to conclude an agreement to end its nuclear programs, put them all under IAEA inspection and conclude a permanent peace treaty to replace the ‘temporary' cease-fire of 1953. We should consider responding to this offer," Carter wrote.
But the North Korean government has been increasingly belligerent since Carter's last trip to the Hermit Kingdom. It sunk the South Korean ship Cheonan, shelled a South Korea island with artillery, and unveiled a whole new cascade of uranium enrichment tubes to visiting American experts.
The Obama administration has made clear that it won't enter into talks with North Korea until the regime takes steps to address the complaints of South Korea first.
South Korea's Yonhap news agency reported that Carter will travel to Pyongyang with former U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan and other senior dignitaries. Perhaps this time he won't be snubbed again by North Korean leader Kim Jong Il, who decided to take a trip to Beijing last year just as Carter arrived.
The Carter Center did not respond to requests for comment.
Congress may hold a vote on President Barack Obama's decision to attack Libya when lawmakers return from recess next week, according to Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL).
Durbin, along with Sens. Carl Levin (D-MI) and Jack Reed (D-RI) held a conference call with reporters on Wednesday afternoon as part of the White House's damage control effort following the widespread and bipartisan criticism over of the lack of congressional consultation before the intervention in Libya, and the lack of clarity over the mission's goals.
"None of us can say with any certainty what will happen when we return, but under the War Powers Act, any senator can ask under privilege of the Senate to call this question, as to whether or not we will support these actions taken by the president," Durbin said. "I think it's consistent with our constitutional responsibility to take up that question," through a vote
Asked by The Cable how Congress plans to pay for the Libya intervention, the costs of which are approaching $1 billion, Durbin said, "I haven't heard anything on that score yet."
The War Powers Resolution of 1973, which Durbin said provides for a vote, allows the president to commit U.S. forces for 60 days without the explicit authorization of Congress, with another 30 days allowed for the withdrawal of those forces.
"The constitutional powers of the President as Commander-in-Chief to introduce United States Armed Forces into hostilities, or into situations where imminent involvement in hostilities is clearly indicated by the circumstances, are exercised only pursuant to a declaration of war, a specific statutory authorization, or a national emergency created by attack upon the United States, its territories or possessions, or its armed forces," the law states.
The law also stipulates that if both chambers of Congress pass a resolution calling for the withdrawal of U.S. forces, the president must comply. If such a resolution is introduced, it must be reported out of that chamber's foreign relations committee within 15 days. After that it automatically becomes the pending business of that chamber and must be voted on within 3 days.
"There may be some people who will try to end the [Libya] effort, if they try they won't come anywhere near success in the Senate," Levin said. "The reason I think the president will gain bipartisan support for his action is because he's proceeded in a way which is cautious, thoughtful. He has put the ducks in a row before deciding to put the United States in the lead for a short period of time."
Durbin and Levin each made one of the two arguments the White House has used for why the military intervention in Libya was justified -- that the intervention was necessary to halt a humanitarian crisis in Libya, and that it was needed to support the democratic revolution in the Arab world.
"The short term military goal had to be taken very, very quickly or there would have been a slaughter in Benghazi, which has been avoided," Levin said.
"The United States is trying to make sure our position is consistent with our national values," Durbin said.The senators also defended the White House's consultations with Congress, referring to a March 17 classified briefing at the Capitol, which occurred while the administration was already pressing for intervention at the United Nations, and a March 18 briefing at the White House, only 90 minutes before the plan to attack was announced.
The Senate will have its first chance to press the administration on the Libya war on Tuesday, when Adm. James Stavridis, commander of U.S. European Command (USEUCOM), testifies before the Senate Armed Services Committee, which Levin chairs.
Levin acknowledged that while the major military operations to establish the no-fly zone may end soon, the U.S. military commitment to the overall mission is open ended. Chief of Naval Operations Gary Roughead also said Tuesday he did not know exactly what the transition of command would mean for U.S. military involvement.
"Involvement in terms of being the lead in establishing the no-fly zone will be very short. Involvement in terms of supporting the continuation of the no-fly zone I think will be ongoing," Levin said.
The U.S. military does not know when it will hand off control of the intervention in Libya to an international coalition, or whether a transfer of power will allow it to reduce its role in the war, according to the Navy's top military officer.
Adm. Gary Roughead, the Chief of Naval Operations, said that he has received no guidance on the path ahead for command and control of the no-fly zone, no-drive zone, no-sail zone, arms embargo enforcement, and any other missions currently being managed by U.S. Africom Commander Gen. Carter Ham, who is in Germany. NATO has been battling internally over whether to take command, while the French government's latest proposal is to set up a "political steering committee" made of Western and Arab foreign ministers.
Diplomatic sources told The Cable that the United States has communicated to its European partners that it wants to hand off command of the Libya war by the end of this week. But the White House hasn't said whether it supports the French plan. Meanwhile, the Navy, which is conducting the bulk of the operations, has no idea what the transfer of control will look like, or when it might take place.
"We are very mindful of the transition to another command and control lead or structure," Roughead told a meeting of the Defense Writers Group, a set of reporters who interview senior officials over greasy eggs and bacon. "There are a lot of political aspects to it.... Obviously I'm interested in the transition to a different command and control structure."
"Do you have any clarity at all on what the follow-up transition command structure is going to be?" Wired's Spencer Ackerman asked Roughead.
"They're still working that," Roughead said, adding that he doesn't believe the absence of a future command structure has a negative impact on the ongoing operations. He said previous models of international command and control don't apply.
Roughead also said there's no guarantee that U.S. military forces would be able to decrease their presence or activities when the transition takes place. In other words, the U.S. military might give up control, but still be doing most of the work.
"We have to look at what the design is going to be... and then you'll make your force structure decisions based on that," Roughead said.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton promised a quick handover of control in a Tuesday interview with ABC News.
"It will be days. Whether it's by Saturday or not depends upon the evaluation made by our military commanders along with our allies and partners," she said.
Asked who the mission will be handed over to, Clinton said, "That is still being worked out."
Clinton also left open the possibility that Libyan leader Col. Muammar al-Qaddafi could stay in power even after the military mission in Libya is complete, as President Obama did in a Tuesday interview with NBC.
"Now obviously, if we want to see a stable, peaceful, hopefully someday democratic Libya, it is highly unlikely that can be accomplished if he stays in power as he is," Clinton said.
"It may sound like I'm trying to minimize it and I'm not... when you look at the expenses of what we in the Navy incurred, given the fact that the forces were already there, those costs are sunk for me," he said. "The Growlers [U.S. navy electronic jamming warplanes] we brought in were being flown in Iraq anyway."
Following two days of intensive discussions in Brussels, NATO has agreed to support -- but not command -- operations in Libya. Meanwhile, France has proposed a high-level international "political steering committee" to actually run the war. But does the Obama administration support that idea?
"NATO has now decided to launch an operation to enforce the arms embargo against Libya," NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said in a statement from Brussels on Tuesday evening. He said U.S. Admiral James Stavridis was activating NATO ships and aircraft to "monitor, report and, if needed, interdict vessels suspected of carrying illegal arms or mercenaries."
NATO has also "completed plans to help enforce the no-fly zone" that will be brought into force "if needed, in a clearly defined manner," to support the effort to protect the Libyan people," Rasmussen said.
Rasmussen didn't say whether NATO would perform the command-and-control function of the no-fly zone, something that Turkey has objected to because the "all necessary measures" language of Security Council Resolution 1973 includes the bombing of Libya. France objected to NATO being in command of the war operations on a day-to-day basis and has now proposed a new "political steering committee," made up of foreign ministers from the United States, European, and Arab states, to oversee the war.
A French diplomat told The Cable that the details of the proposal would be worked out over the next few days. "It was always understood that there would be two stages of operations. The one that started on Saturday and a second phase in which NATO would play a role," the French diplomat said.
French Foreign Minister Alain Juppé announced on Tuesday that the British are in agreement with the proposal but the French government has not said anything about the position of the Obama administration.
So is the Obama administration on board? White House spokesman Tommy Vietor did not respond to a request for comment on the French proposal. Obama spoke with Sarkozy Tuesday and "the two Presidents agreed on the means of using NATO's command structures to support the coalition," the French government said in a read out.
It's not clear how the French steering committee would be in operational control of the war, but the proposal includes that the committee would be in charge of the "strategic decisions" involving military action, the diplomat said.
If enacted, the proposal would allow President Barack Obama to fulfill his pledge to transfer leadership of the war out of American hands within "a matter of days," as he said Monday.
The French position is that the steering committee idea would allow NATO to bring its military capabilities to bear without putting an exclusively Western label on the military intervention. Qaddafi has called the campaign a "colonial crusade" by western nations.
"The only constraint is that we need to keep the Arabs involved," the French diplomat said. "In order to do that we need to use NATO capabilities and we need to [provide so that] Arab countries stay involved."
The NATO meetings on Monday were contentious. The French and German representatives reportedly stormed out of the meeting, albeit for very different reasons. France was upset at Rasmussen for openly criticizing France in the meeting and questioning their reliability as an ally. Germany is opposed to the military intervention altogether.
"We do not want to be sucked into a position of eventually seeing German soldiers fighting in Libya," Germany's foreign minister Guido Westerwelle said.
"There was confusion yesterday but we are safely now going in the right direction," the French diplomat reported.
Our sources also report that Washington has made it clear that they want to see the transfer of leadership for the Libya mission leave U.S. hands by the end of the week. Whether the Obama administration and the Defense Department are comfortable with a French led international steering committee making decisions about the actions of U.S. military forces remains to be seen.
The head of U.S. Africa Command, charged with running the operation in Libya, said that the international coalition in Libya will not help the rebels' military units, only civilians targeted by Libyan leader Muammar al-Qaddafi's forces -- assuming they can tell the difference between the two.
"We do not provide close air support for the opposition forces. We protect civilians," Gen. Carter Ham, the top military official in charge of the operation, told reporters in a conference call on Monday. The problem is, there is no official communication with the rebel forces on the ground and there is no good way to distinguish the rebel fighters engaged against the government forces from civilians fighting to protect themselves, he said.
"Many in the opposition truly are civilians...trying to protect their civilian business, lives, and families," said Ham. "There are also those in the opposition that have armored vehicles and heavy weapons. Those parts of the opposition are no longer covered under that ‘protect civilians' clause" of the U.N. Security Council resolution that authorized military intervention.
"It's a very problematic situation," Ham admitted. "Sometimes these are situations that brief better at the headquarters than in the cockpit of an aircraft."
So how are pilots in the air supposed to tell the difference? If the opposition groups seem to be organized and fighting, the airplanes imposing the no-fly zone are instructed not to help them.
"Where they see a clear situation where civilians are threatened, they have... intervened," said Ham. "When it's unclear that it's civilians that are being attacked, the air crews are instructed to be very cautious."
"We have no authority and no mission to support the opposition forces in what they might do," he added.
What's more, the coalition forces won't attack Qaddafi's forces if they are battling rebel groups, only if they are attacking "civilians," Ham explained. If the Qaddafi forces seem to be preparing to attack civilians, they can be attacked; but if they seem to be backing away, they won't be targeted.
"What we look for, to the degree that we can, is to discern intent," said Ham. "There's no simple answer."
One thing that the coalition is clear about is that there is no mission to find or kill Qaddafi himself.
"I have no mission to attack that person, and we are not doing so. We are not seeking his whereabouts or anything like that," Ham said.
He acknowledged that the limited scope of the mission in Libya could result in a stalemate, which would achieve the objective of protecting civilians but allow Qaddafi to remain in power.
"I have a very discreet military mission, so I could see accomplishing the military mission and the current leader would remain the current leader," Ham said. "I don't think anyone would say that is ideal."
He said the United States was looking to transfer leadership of the mission to an international organization or structure within a few days. U.S. planes flew about half of the 60 sorties above Libyan airspace on Sunday and are expected to fly less than half of the sorties Monday.
The attack on one of Qaddafi's compounds over the weekend targeted a command and control building inside the compound, and did not represent a widening of the mission to attack Qaddafi's core military infrastructure, Ham said.
President Obama laid out the rationale for military action against Libya Friday afternoon, arguing that the coming attacks would be limited to protecting the Libyan people and preventing the violence there from destabilizing the region.
Obama repeatedly emphasized that the military intervention will be led by Europe and the Arab states, based on the U.N. Security Council resolution passed 10-0 Thursday evening.
"Muammar Qaddafi has a choice," Obama said. "The resolution that passed lays out very clear conditions that must be met. The United States, the United Kingdom, France and Arab states agree that a cease-fire must be implemented immediately. That means all attacks against civilians must stop. Qaddafi must stop his troops from advancing on Benghazi; pull them back from Adjadbiya, Misrata and Zawiya; and establish water, electricity and gas supplies to all areas. Humanitarian assistance must be allowed to reach the people of Libya."
"Let me be clear, these terms are not negotiable. These terms are not subject to negotiation. If Qaddafi does not comply with the resolution, the international community will impose consequences, and the resolution will be enforced through military action," Obama said.
Many in Washington have called for Obama to spell out exactly why military intervention in Libya is related to U.S. core national interests, including Sen. Richard Lugar (R-IN), who came out against attacking Libya Thursday. Obama directly addressed this point in his remarks.
"Now, here's why this matters to us," he said. "Left unchecked, we have every reason to believe that Qaddafi would commit atrocities against his people. Many thousands could die. A humanitarian crisis would ensue. The entire region could be destabilized, endangering many of our allies and partners. The calls of the Libyan people for help would go unanswered. The democratic values that we stand for would be overrun. Moreover, the words of the international community would be rendered hollow."
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will travel to Paris on Saturday to meet with her European and Arab counterparts to coordinate enforcement of the resolution, Obama said. The resolution also strengthens the arms embargo on the Libyan regime. British, French, and Arab League leaders have agreed to take the leadership role in enforcing the resolution, Obama added.
The military action will explicitly not be used to drive Qaddafi from power, the president said.
"The United States is not going to deploy ground troops into Libya, and we are not going to use force to go beyond a well-defined goal, specifically the protection of civilians in Libya," said Obama.
In remarks Friday morning, Clinton indicated that more may have to be done beyond the no-fly zone and no-drive zone currently being set up over Libya. "While this resolution is an important step, it is only that -- an important step. We and our partners will continue to explore the most effective measures to end this crisis," she said.
Qaddafi's foreign minister Musa Kusa Friday declared a cease fire and a halt to all military operations, but Clinton rejected that declaration. "We are going to be not responsive or impressed by words. We would have to see actions on the ground. And that is not yet at all clear," she said.
At the start of this week, the consensus around Washington was that military action against Libya was not in the cards. However, in the last several days, the White House completely altered its stance and successfully pushed for the authorization for military intervention against Libyan leader Col. Muammar al-Qaddafi. What changed?
The key decision was made by President Barack Obama himself at a Tuesday evening senior-level meeting at the White House, which was described by two administration officials as "extremely contentious." Inside that meeting, officials presented arguments both for and against attacking Libya. Obama ultimately sided with the interventionists. His overall thinking was described to a group of experts who had been called to the White House to discuss the crisis in Libya only days earlier.
"This is the greatest opportunity to realign our interests and our values," a senior administration official said at the meeting, telling the experts this sentence came from Obama himself. The president was referring to the broader change going on in the Middle East and the need to rebalance U.S. foreign policy toward a greater focus on democracy and human rights.
But Obama's stance in Libya differs significantly from his strategy regarding the other Arab revolutions. In Egypt and Tunisia, Obama chose to rebalance the American stance gradually backing away from support for President Hosni Mubarak and Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali and allowing the popular movements to run their course. In Yemen and Bahrain, where the uprisings have turned violent, Obama has not even uttered a word in support of armed intervention - instead pressing those regimes to embrace reform on their own. But in deciding to attack Libya, Obama has charted an entirely new strategy, relying on U.S. hard power and the use of force to influence the outcome of Arab events.
"In the case of Libya, they just threw out their playbook," said Steve Clemons, the foreign policy chief at the New America Foundation. "The fact that Obama pivoted on a dime shows that the White House is flying without a strategy and that we have a reactive presidency right now and not a strategic one."
Inside the administration, senior officials were lined up on both sides. Pushing for military intervention was a group of NSC staffers including Samantha Power, NSC senior director for multilateral engagement; Gayle Smith, NSC senior director for global development; and Mike McFaul, NSC senior director for Russia. .
On the other side of the ledger were some Obama administration officials who were reportedly wary of the second- and third-degree effects of committing to a lengthy military mission in Libya. These officials included National Security Advisor Tom Donilon and Deputy National Security Advisor Denis McDonough. Defense Secretary Robert Gates was also opposed to attacking Libya and had said as much in several public statements.
Not all of these officials were in Tuesday night's meeting.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called into the meeting over the phone, a State Department official confirmed. She was traveling in the region to get a first-hand look at how the new U.S. Middle East strategy is being received across the Arab world. Denied a visit with Egyptian youth leaders on the same day she strolled through Tahir Square, Clinton may have been concerned that the United States was losing the battle for the hearts and minds of the Arab youth at the heart of the revolution.
When Clinton met with the G8 foreign ministers on Monday, she didn't lay out whether the United States had a favored response to the unfolding crisis in Libya, leaving her European counterparts completely puzzled. She met Libyan opposition leader Mahmoud Jibril in Paris but declined to respond positively to his request for assistance. This all gave the impression that Clinton was resisting intervention. In fact, she supported intervention, State Department official said, but had to wait until the Tuesday night meeting so that she didn't get out ahead of U.S. policy.
At the end of the Tuesday night meeting, Obama gave U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice instructions to go the U.N. Security Council and push for a resolution that would give the international community authority to use force. Her instructions were to get a resolution that would give the international community broad authority to achieve Qaddafi's removal, including the use of force beyond the imposition of a no-fly zone.
Speaking before the U.N. Security Council following Thursday's 10-0 vote, Rice made the humanitarian argument that force was needed in Libya to prevent civilian suffering.
"Colonel Qaddafi and those who still stand by him continue to grossly and systematically abuse the most fundamental human rights of Libya's people," Rice said. "On March 12, the League of Arab States called on the Security Council to establish a no-fly zone and take other measures to protect civilians. Today's resolution is a powerful response to that call-and to the urgent needs on the ground."
U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon also said on Thursday that the justification for the use of force was based on humanitarian grounds, and referred to the principle known as Responsibility to Protect (R2P), "a new international security and human rights norm to address the international community's failure to prevent and stop genocides, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity."
"Resolution 1973 affirms, clearly and unequivocally, the international community's determination to fulfill its responsibility to protect civilians from violence perpetrated upon them by their own government," he said.
Inside the NSC, Power, Smith, and McFaul have been trying to figure out how the administration could implement R2P and what doing so would require of the White House going forward. Donilon and McDonough are charged with keeping America's core national interests more in mind. Obama ultimately sided with Clinton and those pushing R2P -- over the objections of Donilon and Gates.
Congress was not broadly consulted on the decision to intervene in Libya, except in a Thursday afternoon classified briefing where administration officials explained the diplomatic and military plan. Rice was already deep in negotiations in New York.
Obama's Tuesday night decision to push for armed intervention was not only a defining moment in his ever-evolving foreign policy, but also may have marked the end of the alliance between Clinton and Gates -- an alliance that has successfully influenced administration foreign policy decisions dating back to the 2009 Afghanistan strategy review.
"Gates is clearly not on board with what's going on and now the Defense Department may have an entirely another war on its hands that he's not into," said Clemons. "Clinton won the bureaucratic battle to use DOD resources to achieve what's essentially the State Department's objective... and Obama let it happen."
UPDATE: A previous version of this story stated that Vice President Joseph Biden pushed for the imposition of a no fly zone in Libya. Friday afternoon, a senior White House official told The Cable that, in fact, Biden shared the same concerns of Gates, Donilon and McDonough and that those concerns have been addressed by the policy announced by the president.
Freshman Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) lashed out at the Obama administration's Libya policy on Thursday, saying that the United States looked weak and naïve in hoping that the U.N. Security Council would act to protect the Libyan people.
"The United States, quite frankly, looks weak in this endeavor, it looks unwilling to act," he said at the Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on Thursday, highlighting that Britain, France, the Arab League, and the Libyan opposition are all calling on the United States to support stronger measures to stop Libyan leader Col. Muammar al-Qaddafi's assault on rebels and civilians.
"The president has specifically said that Qaddafi must go but has done nothing since then except for having general debates about it for a week and a half or two," Rubio said. "Congressional leadership has strongly called for a no-fly zone and nothing has happened."
The stance of Rubio, the committee's newest Republican, it exactly opposite of the committee's top Republican Richard Lugar (R-IN), who said at the same hearing that a no fly zone was not a good idea and would require a Congressional declaration of war.
Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Bill Burns emphasized that the United States was pushing for stronger action at the Security Council, with new resolution coming as early as today. He said the United States was "leading the effort," along with France and Britain, to get authorization for a number of military actions -- short of boots on the ground.
But Rubio was extremely skeptical that the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council would endorse military intervention in Libya.
"To say that we're pressing the United Nations and that's energetic action is to basically say... that the United States may feel strongly about something but we're not doing anything that the Chinese and Russians don't agree to," said Libya.
Burns said the measures would be more effective with international support.
"But Russia and China don't care about this stuff, they're never going to get involved in these things, and they don't care if Muammar Qaddafi is trying to massacre people," Rubio said. "So if Russia doesn't care and China doesn't care and we care but won't do anything about it, who's it up to, the French?"
Burns said he didn't share Rubio's assessment that the U.N. Security Council won't be able to come up with a new resolution.
"When is that resolution going to happen, after the bloodbath?" Rubio shot back.
Burns predicted a resolution could come as early as today.
But Rubio wasn't done. He asked Burns how China and Russia would respond if America shows it doesn't "have the guts" to act on behalf of opposition groups. He also asked Burns about the U.S. message to Libyan opposition fighters, who are clamoring for U.S. support while the United Nations deliberates.
"Our message to them is, ‘you guys go ahead and do this stuff and if we ever get the Russians and the Chinese to come around, we may or may not join you?'" Rubio wondered.
Rubio then pressed Burns to describe the administration's backup plan, in the event that the United Nations can't agree on a resolution.
"We have lots of ideas about what we might do, we just don't assume it's going to fail," Burns said.
"Are there any ideas you can share with us?" Rubio demanded.
"We'll continue to step up economic pressure and sanctions," Burns suggested.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's meetings in Paris with the G8 foreign ministers on Monday left her European interlocutors with more questions than answers about the Obama administration's stance on intervention in Libya.
Inside the foreign ministers' meeting, a loud and contentious debate erupted about whether to move forward with stronger action to halt Col. Muammar al-Qaddafi's campaign against the Libyan rebels and the violence being perpetrated against civilians. Britain and France argued for immediate action while Germany and Russia opposed such a move, according to two European diplomats who were briefed on the meeting.
Clinton stayed out of the fray, repeating the administration's position that all options are on the table but not specifically endorsing any particular step. She also did not voice support for stronger action in the near term, such as a no-fly zone or military aid to the rebels, both diplomats said.
"The way the U.S. acted was to let the Germans and the Russians block everything, which announced for us an alignment with the Germans as far as we are concerned," one of the diplomats told The Cable.
Clinton's unwillingness to commit the United States to a specific position led many in the room to wonder exactly where the administration stood on the situation in Libya.
"Frankly we are just completely puzzled," the diplomat said. "We are wondering if this is a priority for the United States."
On the same day, Clinton had a short meeting with French President Nicolas Sarkozy, in which Sarkozy pressed Clinton to come out more forcefully in favor of action in Libya. She declined Sarkozy's request, according to a government source familiar with the meeting.
Sarkozy told Clinton that "we need action now" and she responded to him, "there are difficulties," the source said, explaining that Clinton was referring to China and Russia's opposition to intervention at the United Nations. Sarkozy replied that the United States should at least try to overcome the difficulties by leading a strong push at the U.N., but Clinton simply repeated, "There are difficulties."
One diplomat, who supports stronger action in Libya, contended that the United States' lack of clarity on this issue is only strengthening those who oppose action.
"The risk we run is to look weak because we've asked him to leave and we aren't taking any action to support our rhetoric and that has consequences on the ground and in the region," said the European diplomat.
British and French frustration with the lack of international will to intervene in Libya is growing. British Prime Minister David Cameron said on Tuesday that Arab sentiment was, "if you don't show your support for the Libyan people and for democracy at this time, you are saying you will intervene only when it's about your security, but you won't help when it's about our democracy."
France sent letters on Wednesday to all the members of the U.N. Security Council, which is discussing a Lebanon-sponsored resolution to implement a no-fly zone, calling on them to support the resolution, as has been requested by the Arab League.
"Together, we can save the martyred people of Libya. It is now a matter of days, if not hours. The worst would be that the appeal of the League of the Arab States and the Security Council decisions be overruled by the force of arms," the letter stated.
French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe wrote on his blog, "It is not enough to proclaim, as did almost all of the major democracies that ‘Qaddafi must go.' We must give ourselves the means to effectively assist those who took up arms against his dictatorship."
In an interview with the BBC on Wednesday in Cairo, Clinton pointed to the U.N. Security Council as the proper venue for any decision to be made and she pushed back at the contention by the British and the French that the U.S. was dragging its feet.
"I don't think that is fair. I think, based on my conversations in Paris with the G-8 ministers, which, of course, included those two countries, I think we all agree that given the Arab League statement, it was time to move to the Security Council to see what was possible," Clinton said. I don't want to prejudge it because countries are still very concerned about it. And I know how anxious the British and the French and the Lebanese are, and they have taken a big step in presenting something. But we want to get something that will do what needs to be done and can be passed."
"It won't do us any good to consult, negotiate, and then have something vetoed or not have enough votes to pass it," Clinton added.
Clinton met with Libyan opposition leader Mahmoud Jibril in Paris as well, but declined to make any promises on specific actions to support the Libyan opposition.
Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman John Kerry (D-MA) also doubled down on his call for a no-fly zone over Libya in a speech on Wednesday at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
"The international community cannot simply watch from the sidelines as this quest for democracy is met with violence," he said. "The Arab League's call for a U.N. no-fly zone over Libya is an unprecedented signal that the old rules of impunity for autocratic leaders no longer stand... The world needs to respond immediately to avert a humanitarian disaster."
And Clinton's former top aide Anne-Marie Slaughter accused the Obama administration of prioritizing oil over the human rights of the people of Libya.
"U.S. is defining ‘vital strategic interest' in terms of oil and geography, not universal values. Wrong call that will come back to haunt us," she wrote on Wednesday on her Twitter page.
The calls are increasing in Washington for the Obama administration to take new, stronger measures to punish the Libyan government led by Col. Muammar al-Qaddafi for atrocities and to protect Libyan civilians.
Sens. John McCain (R-AZ) and Joe Lieberman (I-CT) implored Obama on in a press conference to establish a no-fly zone in Libya, abandon its recognition of the Qaddafi government, transfer recognition to a transitional government formed by the rebels as soon as possible, and provide the opposition with support, including weapons.
"The government of Libya, epitomized by Muammar Qaddafi is massacring some of his people. There is very little doubt about Mr. Qaddafi's commitment to remaining in power no matter how much blood has to be shed," McCain said on behalf of both senators at a Friday press conference in Jerusalem.
"When a government massacres its own people, it loses its legitimacy. So, we should no longer recognize the existing government of Libya."
Lieberman added that the no-fly zone should be organized by NATO and he compared the ongoing killing of civilians in Libya to the genocide perpetrated by Serbia during the 1990s that eventually resulted in a NATO bombing campaign.
"I think in that sense it is very important that we not just make statements about the massacre that is occurring in Libya but that we lead an international coalition to do something," Lieberman said. "What is happening in Libya today reminds me what happened in the Balkans in the 1990s. We in the United States decided that we could not simply stand by and watch a government massacre its people."
Back in Washington, Vice President Joseph Biden lamented on Thursday that NATO intervention in the Balkans didn't come sooner, when it could have saved more lives.
"It's amazing how in the Balkans it took so long," Biden told an audience at the Holocaust Memorial Museum. "First, we must recognize early indicators of potential atrocities and respond accordingly, rather than waiting until we are confronted by massacres like those in Rwanda or in Srebrenica."
Former State Department Policy Planning Chief Anne-Marie Slaughter also compared the violence in Libya to the Balkans and the 1994 Rwandan genocide in a Thursday tweet.
"The international community cannot stand by and watch the massacre of Libyan protesters. In Rwanda we watched. In Kosovo we acted," Slaughter tweeted.
Also on Friday, a bipartisan group of senior mostly-Republican foreign policy experts penned an open letter to President Barack Obama, urging him to make good on his Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech, when he said, "Inaction tears at our conscience and can lead to more costly intervention later."
The experts asked Obama to call on NATO to urgently develop plans to establish an air and naval presence in Libya, freeze all Libyan government assets in the U.S. and Europe, consider halting Libyan oil imports, pledge to hold Qaddafi responsible for any atrocities, and speed humanitarian aid to the Libyan people.
"With violence spiraling to new heights, and with the apparent willingness of the Qaddafi regime to use all weapons at its disposal against the Libyan people, we may be on the threshold of a moral and humanitarian catastrophe," the experts wrote. "Inaction, or slow and inadequate measures, may not only fail to stop the slaughter in Libya but will cast doubt on the commitment of the United States and Europe to basic principles of human rights and freedoms."
The letter was signed by several senior GOP former officials, including Elliott Abrams, Paul Wolfowitz, Bill Kristol, Eric Edelman, Eliot Cohen, Jamie Fly and Scott Carpenter, human rights activities David Kramer and Neil Hicks, and Clinton administration official John Shattuck.
"The United States and our European allies have a moral interest in both an end to the violence and an end to the murderous Libyan regime. There is no time for delay and indecisiveness," they wrote. "The people of Libya, the people of the Middle East, and the world require clear U.S. leadership in this time of opportunity and peril."
Full text of the letter after the jump:
The chairwoman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee lashed out at the Obama administration on Thursday over reports the United States offered to support a U.N. Security Council statement critical of Israeli settlements.
FP's Turtle Bay first reported on Wednesday evening that U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice offered to support this draft statement, which affirms that the Security Council "does not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlement activity." The United States was apparently trying to head off a vote on a stronger resolution put forth by the Palestinian Authority and supported by Lebanon, a temporary member of the Security Council.
The Palestinian Authority rejected the offer, and a vote on the stronger resolution could come as soon as Friday, Turtle Bay reported. The State Department has not yet promised to veto that resolution but has repeatedly said the Security Council is not the right venue for this issue, leading many to believe that a veto is likely.
The Obama administration's policy has long been to oppose much of Israel's ongoing settlement activity. But the revelation that the administration contemplated criticizing Israel at the U.N. has many members of Congress incensed, especially Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL).
"Support for this anti-Israel statement is a major concession to enemies of the Jewish State and other free democracies. It telegraphs that the U.S. can be bullied into abandoning critical democratic allies and core U.S. principles," she said in a statement on Thursday.
"Pretending that criticism of Israel is OK if it comes in a ‘Presidential Statement' instead of a resolution isn't leadership, it's unacceptable. Twisting and turning and tying yourself in knots to avoid using our veto to defend our allies and interests isn't leadership, it's unacceptable. The administration should change course, stand unequivocally with Israel, and publicly pledge to block any anti-Israel UN Security Council action," she said.
Quick congressional criticism of the administration based on the report isn't limited to Republicans.
"This is too clever by half," said Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-NY). "Instead of doing the correct and principled thing and vetoing an inappropriate and wrong resolution, they now have opened the door to more and more anti-Israeli efforts coming to the floor of the U.N. The correct venue for discussions about settlements and the other aspects of a peace plan is at the negotiating table. Period."
Rep. Nita Lowey (D-NY), the House Appropriations State and Foreign Ops subcommittee ranking Democrat, agreed.
"Compromising our support for Israel at the U.N. is not an option. The United States must veto the U.N. resolution on settlements to make clear we will not support such a blatant attempt to derail the peace process," she said.
The House Republicans' effort to retrieve $180 million paid by U.S. taxpayers to the United Nations, $100 million of which will go to homeland security in New York City, failed by a close vote on Wednesday afternoon.
The bill would have sought to take back money the United States has already paid to the U.N.'s Tax Equalization Fund, which reimburses American employees there for payroll taxes. The idea is to make it fair because foreign nationals working at the U.N. in New York don't pay payroll taxes to their governments. The fund was overpaid by $180 million, of which $100 million was designated by the United Nations -- with the support of the Obama administration -- to make security improvements to the Turtle Bay headquarters, which has been deemed vulnerable to a terrorist attack.
The bill failed, with 259 lawmakers supporting it, 159 opposed. But because House Republican leadership brought up the bill in such a way as to disallow any changes, it needed two-thirds of votes to pass. Twenty-three Democrats broke ranks and voted to take the money away from the United Nations. Only 2 Republicans supported keeping the funding. One of them was Homeland Security Committee Chairman Peter King (R-NY).
"This would undermine security in New York City, it's wrong and it's indefensible," King told The Cable on Tuesday, rejecting House leadership demands that that the security funding be provided through regular appropriations. "We're talking about human life here. If someone is killed in an attack on the U.N., I don't think we will be able to go back and say, well, the money was in the wrong account."
The bill was sponsored by House Foreign Affairs Chairwoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) and was selected as part of House Majority Leader Eric Cantor's YouCut website project, which allows people to vote on which spending cut bill they want to see on the House floor each week.
"It amazes me how easily some in Washington can come up with excuse after excuse after excuse to keep on spending," Ros-Lehtinen said in a statement. "Today, the excuse for opposing a bill that would have refunded to the American people $179 million overpaid into a controversial UN fund was ‘sorry, we already let the UN spend most of that.' In other words, instead of receiving a refund, the American people are now being forced to give the United Nations a $100 million dollar gift card."
The opposition on the floor was led by Ros-Lehtinen's counterpart, Howard Berman (D-CA).
"I strongly opposed this misguided legislation because it would have put our diplomats at risk, undermined our standing at the United Nations by withholding dues, and provided no savings whatsoever to the American taxpayer," Berman said in a statement after the vote.
This isn't the end of Ros-Lehtinen's drive to examine U.S. funding at the United Nations. She has promised to introduce legislation that would withhold U.S. contributions until organizational reforms bear fruit. A previous version of her bill would withhold all funding from the Human Rights Council and the U.N. Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), which distributes aid to Palestinian refugees.
"Failing to pay our dues to the UN is a serious mistake that will significantly weaken our ability to produce the necessary reforms we want to see happen within the organization," Berman said. "Like I did today, I will fight against any efforts to limit our standing in the UN."
The new GOP leadership in the House is promising to aggressively confront the Obama administration on a full range of foreign policy issues. Now, it has reopened the debate over the performance and reform of the United Nations.
"Policy on the United Nations should based on three fundamental questions: Are we advancing the American interests? Are we upholding American values? Are we being responsible stewards for the American taxpayer dollars?" read the opening statement by House Foreign Affairs Committee chairwoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) at Tuesday's committee briefing on the U.N. "Unfortunately, right now, the answer to all three questions is no."
Ros-Lehtinen, who didn't attend the hearing because she was in Florida tending to her ill mother, criticized several instances of alleged poor performance or corruption at the U.N. in her statement. She railed against the Human Rights Council (HRC), a U.N. organization the Obama administration joined, as "a rogue's gallery dominated by human rights violators who use it to ignore real abuses and instead attack democratic Israel relentlessly."
She promised to introduce legislation that would withhold U.S. contributions to the U.N. until reforms bear fruit. A previous version of her bill would withhold all funding from the HRC and the U.N. Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), which distributes aid to Palestinian refugees.
Former chairman Howard Berman (D-CA) largely agreed with Ros-Lehtinen on her assessment of the problems at the U.N., but disagreed with her on the solutions.
"The flaws, shortcomings and outrages of the United Nations, both past and present, are numerous and sometimes flagrant," he said, citing the HRC, the Oil for Food scandal; sexual violence perpetrated by U.N. peacekeepers in Africa, and problems at the U.N. Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS). But Berman argued that withholding contributions would only lessen U.S. influence there and hasn't worked in the past.
Berman also contended that, though the U.N. still has significant problems, real progress is being made. He argued that many of the reforms called for in a 2005 high level panel report by Newt Gingrich and George Mitchell have been at least partially realized, including the establishment of a U.N. ethics office and a independent audit advisory committee to look into the OIOS.
"We have a much greater chance of success if we work inside the U.N. with like-minded nations to achieve the goals that I think both sides on this committee and in our Congress share," he said.
The United States is responsible for 22 percent of the U.N.'s annual operating budget, which comes to about $516 million in fiscal 2011. Washington is also responsible for 27 percent of the U.N.'s peacekeeping budget, which comes to about $2.18 billion this year. The appropriations bills put forth by Congress last year fully funded these obligations, but since it was never enacted, the issue could come up as early as March, when Congress will need to pass a new continuing resolution to keep the government operating.
The House Foreign Affairs Committee briefing was dominated by witnesses critical of the U.N., who called for tougher reform pressures from both Congress and the Obama administration. "The U.N. may have five official languages, but the bottom line speaks loudest," said the Heritage Foundation's Brett Schaefer, who called for withholding U.S. contributions.
Claudia Rossett, a journalist-in-residence at the right-leaning Foundation for Defense of Democracies, said that the problems of corruption and mismanagement at the United Nations is the result of a lack of commitment to oversight and reform from top officials, including Secretary General Ban Ki Moon.
Next to speak at the hearing was Hillel Neuer, the director of an organization called U.N. Watch, which monitors U.N. action on human rights and Israel-related issues. He compared the HRC to "a jury that includes murderers and rapists, or a police force run in large part by suspected murderers and rapists who are determined to stymie investigation of their crimes," and said, "the council's machinery of fact-finding missions exists almost solely to attack Israel."
Neuer also drew attention to statements by the HRC Special Rapporteur Richard Falk alleging that the 9/11 attacks were an inside job done with the knowledge of the U.S. government, comments Ambassador Susan Rice called "so noxious that it should finally be plain to all that he should no longer continue in his position."
Finally, the hearing turned to Peter Yeo, Vice President for Public Policy at the U.N. Foundation, a non-governmental organization that advocates for the U.N., who pointed out that the U.N. is working hand-in-hand with the United States in many of the world's most dangerous hot spots, including Afghanistan, Sudan, the Ivory Coast, Haiti, and also was deeply involved in the latest round of sanctions against Iran.
He also pointed out that polls show most Americans support funding the U.N. and American firms receive U.N contracts greater than the sum total of U.S. taxpayer contributions.
"The U.N. is not a perfect institution, but it serves a near-perfect purpose: to bolster American interests from Africa to the Western Hemisphere and to allow our nation to share the burdens of promoting international peace and stability," he said.
Yeo's arguments were bolstered by Mark Quarterman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, who said that the U.N. needs support because it feeds millions of starving people across the globe, deploys peacekeepers in countries where the United States is not able or interested in sending manpower, and is able to talk to regimes that Washington can't access.
"U.S. leadership and influence in the U.N. results in part from its status as the largest contributor to the organization. We must not return to the days of withholding funds as some have suggested. Withholding funds hurts the U.N. and doesn't advance U.S. interests," he said.
In a rare instance of bipartisanship, the House of Representatives moved to pass a resolution Friday honoring the life and work of the recently departed Ambassador Richard Holbrooke.
The resolution (H.Con.Res 335) was sponsored by outgoing House Appropriations State and Foreign Ops Subcommittee chairwoman Nita Lowey (D-NY), and cosponsored by incoming House Foreign Affairs chairwoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), Howard Berman (D-CA), and Mike Turner (R-OH). The bill is "a concurrent resolution honoring the exceptional achievements of Ambassador Richard Holbrooke and recognizing the significant contributions he has made to United States national security, humanitarian causes and peaceful resolutions of international conflict."
"The passing of Ambassador Holbrooke on Monday, December 13th, is a great loss for the American people," Lowey said in a statement. "One of our nation's most talented diplomats, Richard Holbrooke possessed a fierce determination and unsurpassed brilliance in advocating for American security, diplomatic, and development interests around the world - in Southeast Asia and post-Cold War Europe, at the United Nations, and most recently in Afghanistan and Pakistan. His exceptional accomplishments as a peace-maker, diplomat, writer, scholar, manager and mentor will define his legacy as one of the true great foreign policy giants of our time."
Ros-Lehtinen praised Holbrooke as "one of the most consequential world diplomats of the last half-century," and said that "his tireless work in pursuit of United States national interests and international peace have put us all in his debt."
After praising his career -- which included two stints as assistant secretary of state, peace negotiator in the Balkans, U.S. ambassador to the U.N., and service as U.S. special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan -- Ros-Lehtinen called for reform of the United Nations and protection of Israel within its bodies.
"In New York at the UN, [Holbrooke] did much of the heavy lifting on Congressionally-led efforts to rein in UN spending, to make more equitable the dues paid by the United States, and to improve the standing of Israel in that multinational body," she said. "Sadly, those concerns have returned with a renewed urgency -- with the need for fundamental reform of UN budget and the virulently anti-Israel UN Human Rights Council -- and the Congress can only hope to have such a tenacious, principled partner in the future."
Win McNamee/Getty Images
The White House announced that Brooke Anderson will become the new chief of staff of the National Security Staff, replacing Denis McDonough, who was promoted to Deputy National Security Advisor last month.
"Brooke Anderson is an extraordinarily talented, experienced, and well-respected member of our Administration," National Security Advisor Tom Donilon said in a statement. "Her deep expertise on issues ranging from non-proliferation to the United Nations, along with her broad experience in and out of the U.S. government, make her the ideal person to serve as chief of staff here and counselor to the National Security Staff."
Anderson currently serves as Alternate Representative for Special Political Affairs at the U.S. Mission to the United Nations, where she holds the rank of ambassador. She focuses on U.N. Security Council matters, including peacekeeping and nonproliferation, the White House said.
Anderson was senior director for communications at the National Security Council at the beginning of the Clinton administration. She worked on the presidential campaign of John Kerry in 2004. She has also served as Director of Public Affairs for the Energy Department, nonproliferation expert at the Nuclear Threat Initiative, and Deputy Chief of Staff to then-Rep. David Skaggs (D-CO).
In 2008, she served as chief national security spokesperson and policy advisor for the Obama-Biden transition team and a member of the White House National Security Council transition team.
She graduated from Sarah Lawrence College with a B.A. in 1986.
Florida Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), the incoming chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, isn't wasting any time in pressing for deep cuts to the State Department and U.S. foreign operations around the world.
Ros-Lehtinen, in a statement today laying out her agenda, also criticized the Obama administration's decision to join the U.N. Human Rights Council, called for the government to use its contributions to international organizations as leverage to force changes at the United Nations, and advocated for stronger action against "rogue states."
Her primary mission, though? Finding savings in the budgets that her committee will be authorizing.
"In November, the voters made it clear that if we don't take the correct approach to policy by keeping our economy foremost in our decisions, they're going to ship us all out," she said. "Republicans got the message and are committed to making ‘the people's House' work for the people again. As Chairman of this Committee, I will work to restore fiscal discipline to foreign affairs, reform troubled programs and organizations, exercise vigorous oversight to identify waste, fraud, and abuse, and counter the threats posed to our nation by rogue states and violent extremists."
Ros-Lehtinen doesn't actually dole out the funds for the State Department and the foreign operations budgets. That's the job of the House Appropriations State and Foreign Ops subcommittee. But as we've reported, the likely incoming chairwoman of that panel, Rep. Kay Granger (R-TX) is of a similar mind as Ros-Lehtinen.
The cuts could severely complicate the Obama administration's mission to elevate both diplomacy and development as instruments of national power, as laid out in the National Security Strategy. It could also cause difficulties for the State Department's plan to take over more responsibility in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan and rebuild the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID)..
The State Department's Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review, the first of its kind, is due out next week. State Department Policy Planning chief Anne Marie-Slaughter has been briefing the bureaus at State on the changes this week, as final edits are completed.
Slaughter will leave Washington and return to Princeton to resume her position as dean of the Woodrow Wilson school later this month. The other main leader of the QDDR, former Deputy Secretary Jack Lew, left State to take over OMB, where he is beyond busy preparing the fiscal 2012 budget and leading the WikiLeaks government-wide information security review.
That leaves the implementation of the QDDR to people like Lew's replacement, Thomas Nides, and 37-year-old USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah.
Shah and Nides will have their work cut out for them when they go up against the new, GOP-controlled House of Representatives. Ros-Lehtinen's letter declares:
"I have identified and will propose a number of cuts to the State Department and Foreign Aid budgets. There is much fat in these budgets, which makes some cuts obvious. Others will be more difficult but necessary to improve the efficiency of U.S. efforts and accomplish more with less. We must shift our foreign aid focus from failed strategies rooted in an archaic post-WWII approach that, in some instances, perpetuates corrupt governments, to one that reflects current realities and challenges and empowers grassroots and civil society."
What exactly that will mean remains to be seen. But Ros-Lehtinen will lead a panel that, while trying to cut foreign aid funding, will likely also press the administration to implement Iran sanctions strictly and harshly. She will also scuttle the House drive to lift sanctions on Cuba and resist any engagement with North Korea.
"My worldview is clear: isolate and hold our enemies accountable, while supporting and strengthening our allies," she said. "I support strong sanctions and other penalties against those who aid violent extremists, brutalize their own people, and have time and time again rejected calls to behave as responsible nations. Rogue regimes never respond to anything less than hardball."
As tensions spiral upwards on the Korean peninsula, North Korea's construction of a light water nuclear reactor in addition to its new, sophisticated uranium enrichment facility, allows the regime to claim that its enrichment program is for domestic civilian power needs -- as the same argument that Iran makes -- according the first Western scientist allowed to visit the facility.
Sig Hecker, a Stanford professor who previously directed the Los Alamos National Laboratory, toured the Yongbyon nuclear facility in North Korea on Nov. 12 and gave an extended briefing on his trip Tuesday at the Korea Economic Institute. He was joined by two other experts who traveled to North Korea this month, former Special Envoys Jack Pritchard and Robert Carlin. Hecker said that he saw 2,000 centrifuges set up in the facility, as well as construction on a 25 megawatt light water nuclear reactor. He could not confirm whether the centrifuges were operational, but emphasized that what he saw represents a huge leap forward for North Korea's nuclear program -- one that carries grave risks and severe implications for regional and international diplomacy.
"My jaw just dropped, I was stunned," Hecker said of the moment he saw the centrifuges. "To see what looked like hundreds and hundreds of centrifuges lined up... it was just stunning. In a clean, modern facility, looking down I said ‘Oh my god, they actually did what they said there were going to do.'"
"We must take this seriously, but not overhype it," Hecker continued, noting that by setting up a reactor to make low enriched uranium, the North Koreans have the ability to produce highly enriched uranium (HEU) for bombs while also claiming the enrichment is for civilian purposes, exactly like Iran.
"The same technology, the same equipment can be used to make HEU. And then what you have is called the Iran problem," he said. "It's a way of admitting the uranium enrichment program with a cover story... it's the same cover story that Iran has."
But are the North Koreans getting help from Iran in constructing their facility, especially since it happens to look like the Iranian nuclear facility at Natanz?
"What we saw, 2,000 centrifuges... that's about twice what Iran has done so far. So I'm not sure I would go to Iran if I were North Korea, it might in the future be the other way around," Hecker said. "But I worry about cooperation with Iran."
He said that while the design of the facility was not new, the North Koreans have a new, younger team of scientists working on the design and construction of the new facility, different from older ones he saw in previous trips there. But Hecker's chief concern is the safety of the facility, the security of the nuclear material, and having weaponized material in the hands of the North Korean military.
"Maybe we should have North Korea as part of WANO (the World Association of Nuclear Operators) to make sure they construct that reactor safely," he said.
Carlin said that it was "ironic" that Pyonyang had constructed a light water reactor, given that the international community had been working for years to build such a plant in North Korea under the auspices of the now-defunct Korean Peninsula Energy Development Organization. Under that program, the international community would have had control over the nuclear fuel going in and coming out of the reactors, but the effort was shuttered in 2006.
"We've been here before, we were going to build a light water reactor, and we were going to have complete control of the fuel," said Carlin. "For various reasons that remain unclear, we scrapped that program.... And it doesn't hurt to remind ourselves that we had a bite at this apple once upon a time."
Carlin also said the message from North Korea was clear: They are open to negotiation but are going to keep nuclear weapons for a long time and "we better get used to it" -- unless the United States satisfy all of their security concerns and stop what North Korea calls American "hostile" policies. He also warned that Chinese leverage over North Korea was unlikely to affect a positive outcome.
"The Chinese have never said that the North Koreans can't have a nuclear program to produce electricity. And since the North Koreans say that's the purpose of their program, I suspect that's going to be where the bulk of [the Chinese] position is," said Carlin.
Hecker agreed with Carlin and Stanford's John Lewis, who argued in the Washington Post op-ed section on Monday that "U.S. policymakers need to go back to square one."
"A realistic place to start fresh may be quite simple: accepting the existence of North Korea as it is, a sovereign state with its own interests," Carlin and Lewis wrote.
"For now, the most important thing is don't let the threat grow," added Hecker, arguing for a containment strategy that would set new red lines for North Korea, namely no new bombs, no bigger bombs, and no exporting of nuclear material.
Hecker said the 5 megawatt plutonium reactor that that operated previously at Yongbyon for years is now shut down, as is the reprocessing facility for plutonium. He estimated that there are 24 to 48 kilograms of plutonium in North Korea that were produced from that reactor, enough to make 4 to 8 bombs.
The North Koreans told Hecker that they wanted to complete construction on the light water reactor by 2012, but Hecker said that was unrealistic: Most projects in North Korea are scheduled to be completed in 2012 because that's the 100-year anniversary of former dictator Kim Il Sung's birthday.
So why did the North Koreans decide to reveal their nuclear reactor now? Hecker didn't know for sure, but speculated that the construction would have been detected soon enough, so Pyongyang wanted to break the news on its own terms.
Pritchard speculated that the exchange of artillery fire with South Korea last night was not related to the revelation of the new reactor and the new uranium enrichment efforts.
"I do not think there is any connection at all" between North Korea's revelations regarding its nuclear program and the flare up Monday night, said Pritchard. But he warned that either way, there won't be an appetite to bring up the issue before the U.N. Security Council, as was done after North Korea sank the South Korean ship the Cheonan, killing 46 sailors.
"I don't think we will find it going to the UNSC or additional sanctions for this," he said. "The Cheonan was a dastardly event. And the difficulty the international community had coming out with an unambiguous statement, it suggest to me that's not the route we're going to repeat here now."
Hecker's report on his trip can be found here.
Photo of Robert Carlin taken by Sig Hecker
Wisconsin's Russ Feingold was no ordinary Democratic senator. He staunchly staked out unabashedly liberal positions on all things foreign policy and national security related, right up until his defeat Tuesday night.
Feingold is, or was, technically the third-ranking Democratic senator on the Foreign Relations Committee, after Chairman John Kerry (D-MA) and Chris Dodd (D-CT). With Dodd retiring, Feingold stood to become chairman if Kerry were ever tapped for secretary of state. In fact, the rumor around town is that the prospect of an independent-minded Feingold leading the panel worried the White House so much that it had negative implications on their consideration of Kerry for Foggy Bottom.
Even as a mere rank-and-file committee member, Feingold was more active on foreign policy than most. He had as many as five full-time staffers on the issues, we're told, which is more than double the contingent for the average senator. Feingold had an extensive foreign-policy agenda, the leading item of which was his call for the administration to set a flexible timetable for withdrawing troops from Afghanistan.
Feingold emerged after 9/11 as a champion of the liberal opposition to President George W. Bush's policies regarding the global war on terror. He was the only senator to vote against the Patriot Act in 2001 when it first came up for a vote. He voted against giving Bush authorization to wage war in Iraq and pushed for withdrawal timelines throughout the war, often ignoring the wishes of Senate Democratic leadership. He introduced a resolution to censure Bush for violating Americans' civil rights through what he said was illegal domestic wiretapping.
Over the past two years, Feingold pleaded with the Obama administration to fulfill its promise to close the prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. He also used his perch as chair of the Africa affairs subcommittee to call for changes in U.S. policy toward Sudan. Whereas the House has a caucus of dozens of liberal antiwar lawmakers, in the Senate, Feingold led the few who shared his views and made sure those views entered the public debate.
On the economic front, Feingold resisted all free-trade agreements as well as Obama's efforts to relax export controls to countries like China and India. Those in the foreign-policy community who agree with those positions just lost their greatest advocate on Capitol Hill.
Notably, Feingold was also genuinely committed to bipartisanship. He famously voted for Attorney General John Ashcroft and voted against Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner only days after Obama's inauguration. He also worked with John McCain to craft campaign finance-reform legislation.
With Feingold gone, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee's Democratic roster is more centrist, just as the Republican side of the bench is set to become more conservative. With Dodd also leaving the Senate this year, that's a lot of institutional knowledge to lose in one night.
And if Kerry ever does become secretary of state, Feingold is no longer in the running to replace him. Kerry's departure would leave the job of chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee up for grabs, with Robert Menendez (D-NJ) and Barbara Boxer (D-CA) as the early favorites.
With the Nobel committee set to announce its selection for the 2010 Peace Prize on Friday, speculation has mounted that it will be awarded to one of two prominent activists, hailing from Afghanistan and China. An American is not among the frontrunners for the prize, experts say.
One of the organizations closest to the process (both in mission and geography) is the Peace Research Institute of Olso (PRIO). Director Kristian Berg Harpviken offered his predictions over who would win this year's prize in an event Wednesday at the United States Institute of Peace. His top three contenders are: female Afghan human rights advocate Sima Samar, the Democratic Voice of Burma (DVB), a diaspora-based news agency, and the Special Court for Sierra Leone (SCSL).
Samar is his top choice because this is a crucial time in the formation of the Afghan civil society and the establishment of a human rights regime, which the Nobel committee might want to capitalize on, he said.
"I think a prize to Sima Samar would put considerable pressure both on the Afghan government, President Karzai in particular, and on the international community," Harpviken said. "It would make it considerably harder to leave human rights issues by the roadside in Afghanistan and it would be much more difficult for the president... to continue to neglect her and the issues that she stands for."
PRIO's recommendations have hit the nail on the head twice in the last five years, but are based on informed speculation, not any insider's knowledge, he cautioned.
One contender who is leading the odds makers' prediction but is not on Harpviken's short list is imprisoned Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo, whose nomination has already sparked very public opposition from the Chinese government.
"I don't see it as very likely that he will be awarded the prize," Harpviken said, arguing that 2008 would have been a better year to focus on Chinese human rights violations, in response to Chinese government oppression surrounding the Beijing Olympics.
The committee is sensitive to Chinese government pressure, he said. "The prize for a Chinese dissident would have consequences and I don't think that goes down too well with the committee," he said. "You have a certain level of sensitivity to what that could provoke."
Similarly, since the chairman of the committee Thorbjon Jugland is also secretary general of the Council of Europe, he might not be enthusiastic about choosing a Russian dissident for the prize, such as Svetlana Gannushkina, according to Harpviken.
There aren't any quotas, but the Nobel committee does like to achieve some demographic balance with its awards, he explained. For example, since a woman hasn't been awarded the Peace Prize since Wangari Maathai won it in 2004, women like Samar might have a better chance this year.
One thing Harpviken is pretty confident about is that no American will win the prize, especially after the controversial selection last year of President Barack Obama.
"The fact that one fourth of Nobel Peace Prize laureates have been Americans would effectively rule out American candidates this year," he said.
The process by which the five-member committee selects the nominee is extremely opaque. What we do know is that there were 237 candidates nominated. 18 of those have been confirmed by name while another 23 are rumoured to be on the list.
The selection committee is made up of five Norwegian politicians selected by the Norwegian Parliament. Chaired by Jugland, the committee also includes Kaci Kullman Five, Sissel Ronbeck, Inger-Mari Ytterhorn, and Agot Valle.
"It's a bit problematic that the parliament appoints membership in this way. I don't think any of these members are appointed first and foremost for their expertise on matters of war and peace," Harpviken said
Some of the other top contenders Harpviken mentioned include the International Crisis Group, Congolese gynecologist Denis Mukwege, and Richard Goldstone, the author of a controversial U.N. report on the 2006 Gaza war.
The State Department has been stepping up both its rhetorical and punitive actions against Iran, but the question still remains whether the administration will go as far as to sanction companies based in countries where relations are delicate, especially China.
Last week, the United States announced two steps to increase pressure on Iran: President Obama signed an executive order on Sept. 29 targeting eight Iranian individuals for serious human rights abuses, and the State Department announced on Sept. 30 that it was imposing sanctions on the Switzerland-based Naftiran Intertrade Company (NICO) due to its involvement in the Iranian petroleum sector. These actions are based on the Iran sanctions legislation passed overwhelmingly by Congress and signed into law by President Obama last June.
On Monday, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a new report that identified 16 companies as having sold petroleum products to Iran between Jan. 1, 2009, and June 30, 2010. Of those 16, the GAO reported that five have shown no signs of curtailing business with Iran. Three of those companies are based in China, one in Singapore, and one in the UAE.
There are some positive signs, however, that international pressure is having an effect on companies' willingness to do business in Iran. Several firms -- hailing from Switzerland, the Netherlands, France, India, and the United Kingdom -- told the GAO that they are halting their refined petroleum business with Iran.
But leading senators aren't convinced that the holdouts are planning to follow suit. They are pressing the Obama administration to use the new sanctions law to punish those who won't go along -- especially if they are from China.
"The GAO report released today provides encouraging evidence that the comprehensive sanctions legislation passed by Congress earlier this year is indeed persuading many companies to stop selling gasoline and other refined petroleum products to Iran. We applaud those firms that have taken this responsible and important step," said Sens. Joseph Lieberman (I-CT), Susan Collins (R-ME), and Jon Kyl (R-AZ) joint statement. Lieberman and Collins had requested the GAO report in July.
However, the success of sanctions legislation has only made it "even more imperative" that the Obama administration pressure countries that have maintained their ties in Iran, the senators stated. "We are particularly concerned that the majority of the companies that GAO identifies as still selling gasoline to Iran are in China. We urge the Administration to complete its own investigations swiftly and enforce the sanctions law, comprehensively and aggressively, against any violators," the statement read.
Deputy Secretary of State Jim Steinberg told reporters last week that the State Department was looking at additional firms' business in Iran and would consider more direct sanctions through a two-step process that takes up to 180 days. But he added that the administration was first trying to negotiate with foreign governments to stop the companies' activities in advance of imposing penalties.
"We are following the process outlined in the statute," said Steinberg. "If we find credible evidence [of firms violating the sanctions], then we go to the next stage, which is to conduct an investigation ... and then we would make a decision," Steinberg said.
One of the main concerns on Capitol Hill is that, as countries pull out from Iran, other countries will take over contracts, thereby nullifying the effect of the sanctions and enriching themselves at other countries' expense -- a practice known as "backfilling."
The administration and Congress worked hard to convince Japan and South Korea to impose unilateral measures against Iran, which they did, but there's particular concern that China will simply come in and take over those contracts.
Kyl and Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) sent a letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton last week on this very issue, pointing out reports that China National Petroleum Company (CNPC) replaced the Japanese firm Inpex and agreed to invest around $2 billion to develop Iran's South Azadegan oil fields last year.
"The Administration, by continuing to ignore blatant violations of our sanctions laws by Chinese companies, has undermined our sanctions regime on Iran. It has sent the message to our friends and allies -- many of which have taken the difficult steps to reduce their economic ties with Iran -- that others will be let off the hook," Kyl said Sept. 30.
"If President Obama genuinely believes that a nuclear-armed Iran is not acceptable, he must stand by those words and apply the authority Congress has given him to punish all who are violating U.S. sanctions laws, particularly China," said Kyl. "Time is of the essence."
Steinberg addressed the issue of backfilling in his briefing, saying that such activity would provoke actions under the sanctions legislation. "We've made clear to all our international partners that we are strongly discouraging substitution. And of course, were there to be substitution that came within the ambit of the act, it would raise questions under the act," he said.
Bob Einhorn¸ State's senior advisor on Iran and North Korea sanctions, is the man responsible for delivering that message and he traveled to Beijing last week to press the Chinese not to undermine the sanctions. It's not clear yet if he was successful.
In a July 29 hearing, Einhorn referenced a previous GAO report that identified 41 foreign firms with a petroleum interest in Iran. "There are a number of entities that are very problematic. I have to say that a number of them have been engaged in sanctionable activity," he said in testimony to the House Oversight and Government Reform committee.
Complicating matters are the persistent rumors that China may have secured some type of immunity from additional sanctions as part of their agreement to support U.N. Security Council Resolution 1929, which established relatively benign sanctions against Iran as punishment for its continued pursuit of nuclear weapons capability.
Undersecretary of State William Burns said at an Oct. 1 hearing of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that the State Department had competed an internal review of the companies noted in the GAO report and would make more determinations soon, but he cautioned not to expect too many companies to be singled out for punishment.
"There are probably -- there are a number of cases, less than 10, in which it appears that there may have been violations of the Iran Sanctions Act. Most of those appear to involve activities that have stopped, in other words, involving companies that have pulled out of business in Iran, but there are a couple that appear to be ongoing," he said.
Capitol Hill observers have been encouraged by the administration's recent moves -- but are still not convinced they constitute enough of a commitment to increasing pressure on Iran. Staffers say that the administration's new forceful tone and rhetoric are a marked improvement, even if they are only fulfilling the actions required by the sanctions legislation.
What's clear is that the administration is not yet finished implementing sanctions against firms doing business with Iran, and Congress will be pressing it not to back down from punishing companies from countries that may take retaliatory measures.
"Many in Congress are worried that the administration will fall for Iran's latest bid to buy a reprieve from sanctions by appearing interested in negotiations," said one senior GOP senate aide. "Congress will not let up on the pressure on the administration to go after Iran and those who are supporting it, namely, the Chinese."
Senator Jim DeMint (R-SC), who has been known to confuse Russia for the Soviet Union, isn't backing down from his position that the United States should build a huge missile defense system capable of defending against every possible missile attack from every possible foreign threat, including Russia.
DeMint created havoc with his missile defense proposal at this month's Senate Foreign Relations Committee business meeting, where he offered an amendment to the resolution to ratify the START nuclear reductions treaty that would have committed the United States to building a missile defense system to protect every American everywhere, at all times. Chairman John Kerry (D-MA) eventually worked out a compromise with DeMint that didn't include this commitment but did endorse the idea of moving away from the principle of "mutually assured destruction" that has been a cornerstone of U.S.-Russia nuclear deterrence for decades.
Undeterred (pun intended), DeMint offered an amendment last week to the defense authorization bill for the 2011 fiscal year that would require the United States "to deploy as rapidly as technology permits an effective and layered missile defense system capable of defending the territory of the United States and its allies against all ballistic missile attacks."
This amendment would constitute a wholesale transformation of U.S. missile defense policy, which would commit the United States to defending itself against the missile arsenals of Russia, China, and others. The current missile defense system is only designed to defend against rogue states like North Korea and Iran.
Senator Bob Corker (R-TN) and Jon Kyl (R-AZ) also proposed an amendment that is pro-missile defense, but is not framed in such a way that explicitly antagonizes Russia, or obligates the United States to take on the costs required to build a system designed to shoot down any ballistic missile.
Corker and Kyl's amendment states clearly that the Obama administration's missile defense plan, known as the Phased Adaptive Approach, "is an appropriate response to the existing ballistic missile threat from Iran to European territory of North Atlantic Treaty Organization countries, and to potential future ballistic missile capabilities of Iran." He also called on the United States to cooperate with Russia on missile defense, noting that the current plan "is not intended to ... provide a missile defense capability relative to the ballistic missile deterrent forces of the Russian Federation, or diminish strategic stability with the Russian Federation."
Their reference to "strategic stability" is key because the Russians have made clear that they would unilaterally withdraw from the START treaty if they believe "strategic stability" with the United States is upset. Corker supports the treaty, and his amendment's inclusion of this language is a bid to keep the treaty alive. DeMint is against the treaty.
"DeMint's advocacy of a nationwide Star Wars system is really back to the future, a past rejected even by George W. Bush because it was dangerous and wildly expensive," said John Isaacs, executive director of the Council for a Livable World."The Republican Party has moved so far to the right that even Jon Kyl and Bob Corker are relative moderates -- relative to DeMint."
DeMint's advocacy for missile defense against Russia also puts him at odds with Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who has attempted several times to explain to DeMint that no administration, Republican or Democrat, has suggested building missile defense aimed at Russia.
"That, in our view, as in theirs, would be enormously destabilizing, not to mention unbelievably expensive," Gates told DeMint in a May 10 Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing.
DeMint and Corker's amendments were never voted on because the Senate failed to start debate on the defense authorization bill, due to GOP opposition to repealing the ban on gays serving openly in the military.
The START treaty, which was approved 14-4 by the Foreign Relations Committee on Sept. 16, could be voted on in the November lame-duck session or might be pushed to next year. DeMint was a no-show for the committee vote on the New START resolution.
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev's decision not to sell advanced weaponry to Iran is being hailed as a dividend of the Obama administration's "reset" policy with Russia. And although the administration didn't expressly offer the Kremlin a quid pro quo for the reversal, Moscow will expect moves by Washington in return as it cautiously moves to grasp Obama's outstretched hand.
Both the Obama and Bush administrations implored the Kremlin not to follow through with their 2006 signed agreement to sell almost $1 billion worth of S-300 air defense systems to Iran, and on Wednesday, Medvedev formally announced the sale will not go through.
The seats assigned to the Israeli delegation were vacant when President Obama delivered his Thursday morning speech to the United Nations, but that was not a snub directed at Obama, an Israeli official tells The Cable.
"It's the religious holiday of Sukkot," the official e-mailed, referring to the Jewish holiday that falls on the 15th day of the month of Tishrei, according to the Jewish lunar calendar. Sukkot is the beginning of seven days of festivities centered around the autumn harvest.
We excused ourselves in advance to the U.S. delegation to the U.N. and the administration and explained it is the Jewish Holiday," the official said.
Nevertheless, several conservative blogs posted a video showing the vacant chairs, one with the headline "Video: Israel Delegation BOYCOTTS Obama UN Address."
"For people to suggest that the Israelis were absent for any other reason than the Jewish holiday is wrong, and depending on who it's coming from, could be malicious," said Josh Block, spokesman for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee.
President Obama delivered his second speech at the United Nations Thursday morning, giving a full-throated defense of his first 20 months in office and a sober assessment of the challenges that lie ahead.
He pled for the world to aggressively support the U.S.-led direct peace negotiations between the Israeli government and the Palestinian Authority. Specifically, he called on Arab nations to demonstrate their support through changes in policy that could help repair relations between Israel and its neighbors.
"Many in this hall count themselves as friends of the Palestinians. But these pledges must now be supported by deeds," Obama said. "Those who have signed on to the Arab Peace Initiative should seize this opportunity to make it real by taking tangible steps toward the normalization that it promises Israel. Those who speak out for Palestinian self-government should help the Palestinian Authority politically and financially, and - in so doing - help the Palestinians build the institutions of their state. And those who long to see an independent Palestine rise must stop trying to tear Israel down."
Obama also announced that he will add Indonesia, a country to which he has twice cancelled visits, to his Asia trip this November, which will also include stops in India, South Korea, and Japan. Obama meets with leaders from all 10 ASEAN member countries Friday.
Here are some key excerpts:
On the U.S. economy:
I have had no greater focus as President than rescuing our economy from potential catastrophe. And in an age when prosperity is shared, we could not do this alone. So America has joined with nations around the world to spur growth, and the renewed demand that could restart job creation. We are reforming our system of global finance, beginning with Wall Street reform at home, so that a crisis like this never happens again. And we made the G-20 the focal point for international coordination, because in a world where prosperity is more diffuse, we must broaden our circle of cooperation to include emerging economies.
There is much to show for our efforts, even as there is much more work to be done. The global economy has been pulled back from the brink of a depression, and is growing once more. We have resisted protectionism, and are exploring ways to expand trade and commerce among nations. But we cannot - and will not - rest until these seeds of progress grow into a broader prosperity, for all Americans, and for people around the globe.
On the war against Islamic extremists:
While drawing down in Iraq, we have refocused on defeating al Qaeda and denying its affiliates a safe-haven. In Afghanistan, the United States and our allies are pursuing a strategy to break the Taliban's momentum and build the capacity of Afghanistan's government and Security Forces, so that a transition to Afghan responsibility can begin next July. And from South Asia to the Horn of Africa, we are moving toward a more targeted approach- one that strengthens our partners, and dismantles terrorist networks without deploying large American armies.
As part of our efforts on non-proliferation, I offered the Islamic Republic of Iran an extended hand last year, and underscored that it has both rights and responsibilities as a member of the international community. I also said - in this hall - that Iran must be held accountable if it failed to meet those responsibilities. That is what we have done. Iran is the only party to the NPT that cannot demonstrate the peaceful intentions of its nuclear program, and those actions have consequences. Through UN Security Council Resolution 1929, we made it clear that international law is not an empty promise.
Now let me be clear once more: the United States and the international community seek a resolution to our differences with Iran, and the door remains open to diplomacy should Iran choose to walk through it. But the Iranian government must demonstrate a clear and credible commitment, and confirm to the world the peaceful intent of its nuclear program.
On the Middle East peace process:
Now, many are pessimistic about this process. The cynics say that Israelis and Palestinians are too distrustful of each other, and too divided internally, to forge lasting peace. Rejectionists on both sides will try to disrupt the process, with bitter words and with bombs. Some say that the gaps between the parties are too big; the potential for talks to break down is too great; and that after decades of failure, peace is simply not possible.
But consider the alternative. If an agreement is not reached, Palestinians will never know the pride and dignity that comes with their own state. Israelis will never know the certainty and security that comes with sovereign and stable neighbors who are committed to co-existence. The hard realities of demography will take hold. More blood will be shed. This Holy Land will remain a symbol of our differences, instead of our common humanity.
I refuse to accept that future. We all have a choice to make. And each of us must choose the path of peace. That responsibility begins with the parties themselves, who must answer the call of history.
On human rights and democracy:
In times of economic unease, there can also be an anxiety about human rights. Today, as in past times of economic downturn, some put human rights aside for the promise of short term stability, or the false notion that economic growth can come at the expense of freedom. We see leaders abolishing term limits, crackdowns on civil society, and corruption smothering entrepreneurship and good governance. We see democratic reforms deferred indefinitely.
As I said last year, each country will pursue a path rooted in the culture of its people. Yet experience shows us that history is on the side of liberty - that the strongest foundation for human progress lies in open economies, open societies, and open governments. To put it simply: democracy, more than any other form of government, delivers for our citizens. And that truth will only grow stronger in a world where the borders between nations are blurred.
It's time for every member state to open its elections to international monitors, and to increase the UN Democracy Fund. It's time to reinvigorate UN peacekeeping, so that missions have the resources necessary to succeed, and so atrocities like sexual violence are prevented and justice is enforced - because neither dignity nor democracy can thrive without basic security. And it's time to make this institution more accountable as well, because the challenges of a new century demand new ways of serving our common interests.
The world that America seeks is not one that we can build on our own. For human rights to reach those who suffer the boot of oppression, we need your voices to speak out. In particular, I appeal to those nations who emerged from tyranny and inspired the world in the second half of the last century - from South Africa to South Asia; from Eastern Europe to South America. Do not stand idly by when dissidents everywhere are imprisoned and protesters are beaten. Because part of the price of our own freedom is standing up for the freedom of others.
President Obama travels to New York Wednesday afternoon to attend the U.N. General Assembly and participate in a host of side meetings with the world leaders convening in Manhattan for this week's festivities.
"This year's visit to the U.N. General Assembly comes as we have successfully and dramatically changed our course at the United Nations. We've ended needless American isolation," said U.S. Representative Susan Rice on a conference call with reporters Monday. "We've worked to repair what were some badly frayed relationships and scrapped outdated positions. And in the process, we've built a strong basis for cooperation that advances our security."
Obama's first order of business will be to deliver remarks at the Millennium Development Goals summit at the United Nations. Obama is expected to unveil several aspects of the White House's overall review of global development policy, called the Presidential Study Directive on Global Development (PSD-7). That long awaited document has been completed according to the administration but is not expected to be publicly released at all beyond Obama's remarks and a statement coming later Wednesday.
Obama's remarks "will focus on what the United States is doing in pursuit of achieving the Millennium Development Goals and focus on some of the key initiatives of our development policy writ large," said Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes on the conference call.
Obama will address the U.N. General Assembly on Thursday morning, talking about broader American foreign policy goals and the activities of his administration in its first 20 months. The president will concentrate "on issues that are of great concern to the American people, such as our efforts to restart the global economy, to combat al Qaeda, to advance the cause of nonproliferation, and to pursue Middle East peace," Rhodes said.
After his speech, Obama will hold a bilateral meeting with Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao before attending a lunch hosted by U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon. He will meet briefly on the side of that lunch with Ban and Joseph Deiss, the president of the General Assembly.
Later Thursday, Obama meets with Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan. "The President is looking forward to visiting Japan, of course, in November, and thinks that this is one of our most important alliances in the world," Rhodes said. Asia observers are watching for news on the escalating China-Japan argument over a Chinese boat captain detained in Japanese waters.
Thursday afternoon, Obama will head over to the Clinton Global Initiative in midtown Manhattan to give introductory remarks for his wife Michelle, who will be delivering a speech there. Thursday evening, Obama hosts a reception at the Natural History Museum.
On Friday, Obama starts off with bilateral meetings with the President of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev and new Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos, who apparently took time out of his schedule to attend a Shakira concert. A meeting with the interim Kyrgyz president, Roza Otunbayeva, is scheduled for late Friday
Friday lunch will be the setting for Obama's meeting with leaders from all ten ASEAN member countries, where the South China Sea dispute with China and upcoming Burmese elections are expected to be discussed.
After that, Obama attends a high-level meeting on Sudan hosted by Ban, and participants include the chairman of the African Union, Sudanese Vice President Ali Osman Mohamed Taha, and the president of South Sudan, Salva Kiir.
"The President decided to participate in this event, which was actually at one point originally intended as a ministerial, because this could not be a more critical time in the life of Sudan and also in the life of international efforts to ensure that these referenda go off on time and peacefully," Samantha Power, the NSC's senior director for multilateral engagement, told reporters.
The months before the planned referendum in January on dividing Sudan into two countries are critical, said Power, who also noted that Obama would be pushing both sides to implement the Comprehensive Peace Agreement and work faster toward preparing for the voting.
"The No. 1 message is with regard to the CPA and the need for rapid implementation. The parties are behind schedule. You're aware of that. Everybody is aware of that," she said, adding that Obama will also speak about the dire humanitarian situation in Darfur.
Rice said Obama will reinforce both incentives and penalties for both sides in order to encourage them to act in good faith.
"We want to make the upside opportunity clear and well understood. At the same time, we've also been clear that if they fail to follow through, that there will be -- as we have always said in the context of our policy -- consequences," she said. "Those might take the form of unilateral and/or multilateral, and we've got a number that are potentially at our disposal."
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
The South Korea government on Monday released the full version of its investigation into the March 26 sinking of the Cheonan, which it hopes will offer conclusive proof to a skeptical Russia that the explosion that killed 46 sailors was due to a torpedo fired by a North Korean submarine.
The South Korean report (PDF), obtained by The Cable¸ is meant to put to rest the Russian argument that the Cheonan somehow ran aground in shallow waters and triggered a mine explosion, leading to its sinking. That's the version of events reportedly contained in a Russian report that has never been publicly released.
"ROKS Cheonan was sunk due to an under-water explosion caused by an attack of a CHT-02D torpedo manufactured and used by North Korea," concluded the South Korean report. "The evidence points overwhelmingly to the conclusion that the torpedo was fired by a North Korean submarine. There is no other plausible explanation."
The joint civilian-military commission that compiled the report included input from 73 experts from 4 different nations, including the United States. Despite its comprehensive nature, its findings were not enough to convince the U.N. Security Council to issue a Presidential Statement explicitly blaming North Korea.
The U.N. statement acknowledged that the South Korean investigation accused North Korea of being behind the attack, and then "takes note of the responses from other relevant parties, including from the DPRK, which has stated that it had nothing to do with the incident."
South Korea's full report attempted to quell any dispute by showing, among other evidence, that the investigators found parts of the North Korean torpedo (pictured above) and parts of the explosive device that ultimately sunk the ship.
"The finding of the propulsion motor of a torpedo (the smoking gun) and the detection of explosive components illustrated to the North and the international community that even the most covert of attacks will leave evidence behind," the report stated. "Most importantly, all this entails a solemn warning to the North not to engage in further military provocations. This report is a pledge that the Republic of Korea will reflect upon this incident and not let the North exercise further military provocations."
Meanwhile, Ambassador Stephen Bosworth, Special Envoy Sung Kim, and NSC Asia Director Danny Russel were in Seoul Monday for discussions on North Korea, and will continue on to Tokyo and Beijing later this week. They met with Minister of Unification Hyun In-taek, acting Foreign Minister Shin Kak-soo, Special Representative for Korean Peninsula Peace and Security Affairs Wi Sung-lac, and National Security Advisor Kim Sung-hwan.
State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said that the State Department is "looking to see how - through bilateral contacts and multilateral contacts we can advance towards denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula."
John Hudson reports on national security and foreign policy from the Pentagon to Foggy Bottom, the White House to Embassy Row, for The Cable.