The Obama administration has invited a senior delegation from the Khartoum regime to visit Washington for high-level discussions, just after the State Department criticized Sudan heavily in its annual country reports on human rights.
The Sudanese Foreign Ministry first announced Tuesday that senior officials from the ruling National Congress Party (NCP) had been invited to Washington for consultations. Sudan Tribune, an émigré newspaper based in Paris, paraphrased a Sudanese official citing the "mere presence of diplomatic missions in both countries and meetings of ambassadors" as representing "some degree of dialogue between Khartoum and Washington."
Sudan is among the most-sanctioned countries in the world. President Omar al-Bashir has been indicted for genocide by the International Criminal Court, Sudan has been on the State Department's list of state sponsors of terrorism since 1993, and the United States imposed additional sanctions in 1997 and then again in 2003, following the outbreak of government-sponsored violence in Darfur.
Sudan advocacy-group leaders were quick to criticize the administration's decision to invite the NCP officials to Washington, where they are expected to discuss ongoing tensions with South Sudan, the upcoming referendum in the contested region of Abyei, and the ongoing violence in South Kordofan and Blue Nile states.
"United to End Genocide believes that the delegates of Sudan's National Congress Party (NCP) do not deserve to be rewarded by the United States government and invited to Washington, D.C. until they stop committing crimes against the civilians throughout Sudan," said Tom Andrews, the president of the group. "It is imperative that in his new term, President Obama evaluates his previous diplomacy towards Sudan, sets strong policy with clear measures that can help end the suffering of the people of Sudan, and hold the perpetrators accountable before offering rewards."
At Tuesday's State Department press briefing, spokesman Patrick Ventrell acknowledged the invitation but gave few details about why the administration believes it's a good idea to host the Sudanese delegation at this time. He said that presidential adviser Nafie Ali Nafie will lead the delegation, but the exact timing has not been finalized.
"We've planned to receive this delegation for a candid discussion on the conflicts and humanitarian crises within Sudan, including in Darfur and the two areas -- Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile, counterterrorism, human rights and other issues of concern to the U.S. government," Ventrell said. "We've also continued to express our deep concern about another -- a number of other issues. While we've had some progress here, you have ongoing aerial bombardment of Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile and some other areas in terms of Darfur that we're still concerned about. So we've seen some progress, but we still have some concerns and we'll raise them directly with the government."
The delegation announcement comes in the same week that the administration announced it was relaxing some sanctions against Khartoum. The Treasury Department announced April 22 that it would now authorize some professional and educational exchanges with Sudan that had previously been prohibited.
Only three days before relaxing sanctions, the Obama administration heavily criticized Sudan in its annual country reports on human rights practices, released April 19, which documented extreme government-sponsored atrocities and human rights violations.
"The most important human rights abuses included: government forces and government-aligned groups committed extrajudicial and other unlawful killings; security forces committed torture, beatings, rape, and other cruel and inhumane treatment or punishment; and prison and detention center conditions were harsh and life threatening," the State Department report said. "Except in rare cases, the government took no steps to prosecute or punish officials in the security services and elsewhere in the government who committed abuses. Security force impunity remained a serious problem."
Other major abuses in Sudan, according to the State Department, included arbitrary arrest; incommunicado and prolonged pretrial detention; executive interference with the judiciary and denial of due process; obstruction of humanitarian assistance; restriction on freedoms of speech, press, assembly, association, religion, and movement; harassment of internally displaced persons; restrictions on privacy; harassment and closure of human rights organizations; and violence and discrimination against women. Societal abuses including instances of female genital mutilation; child abuse, including sexual violence and recruitment of child soldiers; trafficking in persons; violence against ethnic minorities; denial of workers' rights; and forced and child labor were also reported.
That report prompted a call from the Sudan advocacy community for the administration to employ stronger pressure mechanisms against Khartoum, rather than offering more incentives like visits to Washington or rewards like an easing of sanctions.
"These atrocities and abuses stem from the many conflicts in Sudan, and point to the need for a comprehensive approach to all of Sudan's conflicts," a group of Sudan advocacy organizations wrote in a letter to Obama April 22. "In addition, given the scale of the atrocities perpetrated by the regime, international donors should not provide significant assistance or debt-relief until real and verifiable steps towards peace and democratic transformation are taken."
These groups, along with several members of Congress, also lament that the president has yet to appoint a special envoy to Sudan to replace Amb. Princeton Lyman, who stepped down late last year. The administration is said to be circling around a couple of candidates, but there's been no announcement as of yet.
"This vacancy is symptomatic of a president that has all but forsaken the people of Sudan," Rep. Frank Wolf (R-VA) said in a March floor statement. "Candidate Obama purported to be deeply concerned by the crisis in Sudan and committed to bold actions. Have we seen a fraction of that concern or anything close to bold action since he became president?"
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Sen. John McCain sounded a civil note at the beginning of his remarks at a Center for a New American Security event on Thursday, April 18. "What Republicans need now is a vigourous contest on ideas on national security and foreign policy," he told a group of military, foreign policy, and business professionals. "This contest can and should be conducted respectfully and without name-calling, which is something an old wacko-bird like me must remember from time to time."
Though he didn't resort to epithets, the rest of the speech featured a series of broadsides against isolationists and non-interventionists of both parties, but especially senators on McCain's own side of the aisle. "When it comes to the politics of national security," McCain said, "my beloved Republican Party has some soul-searching to do."
In particular, McCain singled out his "libertarian friends" who participated in Sen. Rand Paul's filibuster against John Brennan's confirmation as CIA director. "Rather than debate the very real dilemmas of targeted killing," McCain said, "my colleagues chose to focus instead on the theoretical possibility that the president would use a drone to kill Americans on U.S. soil even if they're not engaged in hostilities. As misguided as this exercise was, the political pressures on Republicans to join in were significant, and many ultimately did -- including many who know better."
As a compromise, McCain suggested revising the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF), which provides the legal justification for the targeted killing program, and codifying drone policy "to preserve, but clarify the commander-in-chief's war powers, while insisting on greater transparency and broader congressional oversight of how these war powers are employed."
He inveighed against the "emergence of a military-industrial-congressional complex that has corrupted and crippled the defense acquisition process," though his critique focused on the runaway costs of projects like the F-35 and Littoral Combat Ship rather than the defense budget writ large, which he has pushed to maintain. He also went after colleagues who have tried to slash foreign aid, pointing out that, "It now seems that every piece of legislation that the Senate considers faces an inevitable amendment that would cut off all our assistance to Egypt or some other critical country. And unfortunately, these kinds of provisions keep winning more and more votes." McCain sounded downright weary as he described "explaining" and "reminding people" of the purpose of foreign aid. "While foreign aid might not make its recipients love us," he noted, "it does further our national security interests and values."
McCain went after colleagues' knee-jerk opposition to the United Nations as well. When asked about the Law of the Sea Treaty, he said, "It's probably not going to come up. Not with the makeup of this Senate, that's the reality. We couldn't even do a disabilities treaty, for God's sake." The problem? Here, McCain got sarcastic. "It's just, you know, it's the 'U.N.' It's the 'U.N.,'" he exclaimed, making air quotes and shrugging.
Despite the critiques of sequestration and U.S. policies on Syria and Iran, President Obama got off pretty easy by comparison. "Right now, the far left and far right in America are coming together in favor of pulling us back from the world," McCain observed. "The president and I have had our differences, many of those differences will persist, but there are times these days when I feel that I have more in common on foreign policy with President Obama than I do with some in my party."
And while McCain seemed uncomfortable with the many rounds of nuclear negotiations with Iran, he said he didn't envy the president's decision on the use of force. "It's going to be probably one of the most difficult decisions the president of the United States has ever had to make," he argued, "and it's very rarely that I'm glad that I'm not the president of the United States, but this is one of [those times]."
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Four different Senate Republicans have four different ideas on how to alter U.S. aid to Egypt, in a struggle that is also becoming about the future of Republican leadership on foreign policy.
The Senate is working now on the next Continuing Resolution (CR) to fund the government from April until October -- and aid to Egypt is the main foreign policy issue likely to be attached to the funding measure. Sens. Marco Rubio (R-FL), John McCain (R-AZ), James Inhofe (R-OK), and Rand Paul (R-KY) all have introduced amendments to the CR dealing with Egypt aid, but they all have competing ideas on how to condition it in light of Egypt's changing security challenges and the fragile path to democracy under the government led by Muslim Brotherhood President Mohamed Morsy.
Senate Appropriations State and Foreign Ops Subcommittee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT) has also introduced an amendment on Egypt aid, making it five total amendments that are now the subject of intense behind-the-scenes negotiations.
"We have five different amendments that have been offered on Egypt," Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) said on the Senate floor Thursday, lamenting that the Senate was confronted with tackling the Egypt aid issue in a rush on a temporary funding bill. Reid doesn't really want to do Egypt policy on this bill at all.
"This is a CR for six months. We have a functioning Foreign Relations Committee. That's where this should take place," he said. "We all have concerns about Egypt. Our funding in Egypt, maintaining stability in the region, supporting Israel. We have, as I've indicated, five senators who have filed five separate, distinct amendments. And literally staffs with senators have worked all day coming up with an amendment that Democrats and Republicans could agree on. It hasn't been done. Doesn't mean it can't be done, but it hasn't been done. I would again remind senators that this is a Continuing Resolution. The long-term solution to the situation in the Middle East is not a short-term CR. Whatever we do on this bill would expire in six months anyway."
But despite Reid's reluctance, senators are likely to coalesce around one or two Egypt aid amendments that could get a vote on the Senate floor next week. The first senator to introduce an Egypt amendment was Rubio, who spoke about it in an interview this week with The Cable.
"This is not about cancelling foreign aid to Egypt per se. This is about restructuring it in a way that lines up with the interests of the taxpayers of the United States of America," Rubio said. "Their real security needs are largely internal and we want to recalibrate our military aid to Egypt to meet their actual needs. Egypt doesn't need tanks, it doesn't need jet fighters, it's not going to be invaded by neighbors in the near future."
For Rubio, the Egypt amendment is his opening salvo in what promises to be a year of increasing involvement in an array of foreign policy issues. He promised he would have similar amendments in the future on aid to other countries as well.
"Foreign aid is important because it increases our influence and in particular our ability to influence things around the world to advance our interests. But foreign aid is not charity.... That means that every single dime we give in foreign aid should be conditioned," he said.
Rubio is also concerned about the Morsy government's commitment to the Camp David accords, their unwillingness or inability to maintain security in the Sinai Peninsula, and their treatment of opposition parties and non-governmental organizations.
"We've heard some of the comments of the president of Egypt and some of the leadership of the Muslim Brotherhood. It's downright offensive, and that's their ideology and we've seen some of that come through in their public policy," he said.
Rubio's original amendment would have blocked disbursements of economic support funds (ESF) and new foreign military financing for Egypt until the administration could certify that the Morsy government was enacting economic and political reforms, not restricting religious and human rights, not undermining free and fair elections, improving its treatment of foreign NGOs, fully implementing the peace treaty with Israel, taking all available actions to end smuggling into Gaza and combat terrorism in the Sinai.
The Rubio amendment required the administration to certify that the government of Egypt had apportioned specific amounts of aid to counterterrorism and the Sinai but gave the administration the authority to waive the new aid restrictions every six months.
The McCain amendment takes a different, less confrontational approach. It only would impact foreign military financing, not economic support funds, and clearly states that any change in Egypt military aid should only affect new contracts, not existing contracts for items already in the manufacturing pipeline.
The McCain amendment requires the administration to report back to Congress about how the Egyptian military is spending the money and how it might be spent better in the security interests of both Egypt and the United States. But there's no cut off of aid and no waiver authority. Last year, Egyptians got angry when Congress imposed new restrictions on military aid to Cairo, only to see Secretary of State Hillary Clinton waive them anyway.
After McCain filed his amendment, Rubio made some changes to his amendment to bring it closer in line with McCain's. Rubio's new amendment now conditions ESF funds in a way that's closer to what's already in present law. Backroom negotiations between the two offices are ongoing.
The Leahy amendment is seen as the Democrats' attempt to take what they liked of the Republican amendments and try to reach a compromise text. It most closely follows McCain's approach by requiring the administration to report on the military aid spending but also requires the administration to report on political reform, human rights, and NGO treatment in Egypt.
Paul's amendment would cut off all assistance to Egypt until Morsy says in English and Arabic that he intends to uphold the Camp David accords. Inhofe's amendment would conditionally suspend the sale of F-16 fighter jets to Egypt. Inhofe has also co-sponsored the Paul amendment.
"For months, I have been calling for President Obama and his administration to hold president Morsy accountable for failing to promote promised democracy in Egypt and for the instability in the region," Inhofe said on the Senate floor this week. "Under President Morsy and his radical Muslim Brotherhood, the United States' historically good relationship with Egypt is at a standstill."
This year's election will likely usher in major changes in Congress on foreign policy and national security, regardless of which party ends up on top once all the ballots are counted and the winners declared.
Pollsters don't expect a sea change in either branch of Congress this year. According to the Real Clear Politics website, which compiles polling data on every race, Democrats have 46 safe or non-contested Senate seats heading into the election, compared with the Republicans' 43, with 11 races classified as "toss ups." RCP's House polling discounts virtually any possibility that Democrats could take over there. The site's average "generic ballot" shows that Republicans have half a percentage-point lead among voters in general, further suggesting that there will be no major shift in the balance of power on Capitol Hill.
But several key committee leadership posts are changing hands, influential leaders are exiting Washington, and a new crop of national security lawmakers is looking to fill their void. The result could be a Congress that has less experience and fewer incentives to work across the aisle or cooperate with the executive branch, playing an increasing role of the spoiler in foreign policy.
A number of influential senators are leaving at the end of this year. When they depart, Congress could lose much of the expertise that they and their staffs have accumulated over decades of service. In the House, both the Republican and Democratic leaders of the House Foreign Affairs Committee (HFAC) could change, as could the GOP leadership slot on the Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC). The Senate Foreign Relations Committee (SFRC) will have at least one new leader, and maybe two, by the end of 2013.
"There are several lawmakers leaving who had been a leading voice on several foreign policy issues over a long period of time," a senior Senate foreign-policy staffer told The Cable. "It's not just the institutional knowledge; it's the relationships they have around the world as well. The Senate's going to be a profoundly different place without them."
One retiring senator with outsized influence is Minority Whip Jon Kyl (R-AZ), who played a leading role in Republican attempts to thwart President Obama's nuclear arms treaty with Russia.
"One senator can make a difference in this system and when that senator dies, retires, or is defeated, that could have a big impact. Such will be the case with Jon Kyl," said John Isaacs, executive director of the Council for a Livable World (CLW), which advocates on issues related to nuclear proliferation.
CLW has been on the opposite side of Kyl on issues including missile defense, nuclear weapons, arms control, and several other topics. The council is also raising funds for several Democratic House and Senate candidates around the country.
But Isaacs has a grudging respect for his chief adversary. "Kyl really was an expert on nuclear weapons and he was effective. He almost single-handedly defeated the Congressional Test Ban Treaty in 1999," Isaacs said. "The anti-arms control crowd will suffer a real loss."
Kyl not only led the GOP caucus on missile defense and nuclear weapons, he used his leadership position to head the opposition to New START in 2010 and he was a key critic of the Russian "reset." His office often held up State Department nominees. Under Obama, he has generally steered the GOP caucus toward confrontation with the White House, commandeering issues away from the ranking Republican on the SFRC Richard Lugar (R-IN), who was more amenable to crossing the aisle.
Lugar won't be returning next year either, as he lost his primary race to Richard Murdouk, who is locked in a tight race with Rep. Joe Donnelly (D-IN). Lugar dutifully led the more realist and less interventionist side of the caucus; he opposed the war in Libya and opposes more U.S. involvement in Syria. Perhaps due to his bipartisan inclinations on foreign policy, he was somewhat marginalized toward the end of his tenure by his own party leadership.
Lugar with likely be replaced as the SFRC's ranking member by Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN), who broadly shares Lugar's worldview but is still building his expertise. "Lugar's a symbol of the way things used to be, bipartisan crossing lines and working with Democrats," Isaacs said, referring to the Nunn-Lugar cooperative threat reduction program and Lugar's support for New START. "Corker seems to a pragmatist somewhat in the mold of Lugar."
The chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-CT), is also retiring this year. Also leaving the Senate are SFRC Asia Subcommittee Chairman and former Navy Secretary Jim Webb (D-VA), who was hugely active on issues such as Burma and U.S. force structure in Korea and Japan, and Sen. Daniel Akaka (D-HI), the longtime former chairman of the Veterans Affairs Committee and current chairman of the Homeland Security Subcommittee on Oversight and Government Management.
There's no clear replacement for the role that Webb and Lieberman played on Asia-Pacific issues. Both traveled to the region often and those relationships need to be maintained, staffers say.
"The question in the next Congress will be who steps in and fills that leadership role," the senior Senate staffer said.
On the Democratic side of the SFRC, if President Barack Obama is reelected, Chairman John Kerry (D-MA) stands a chance of being nominated to replace Secretary of State Hillary Clinton next year. Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA), who would have SFRC seniority, would likely decline the chairmanship to hold on to her chairmanship of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.
The next Democrat in line would be Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ), who is running for his second full term in the Senate this year. Menendez is largely progressive but has been known to challenge the administration regarding his three most prized issues: Cuba, Iran, and the Armenian Genocide. Should he be reelected, Menendez would be in a position for press for Iran sanctions more than the administration wants, and he would likely thwart any progress on changing U.S. policy toward Cuba.
One often overlooked wrinkle on the SFRC: If Obama wins a second term and appoints Kerry secretary of state, Massachusetts would hold a special election. If Sen. Scott Brown (R-MA) loses to Elizabeth Warren next week, he would the clear frontrunner for Kerry's vacated seat, if he decided to run again. So there's a political risk in appointing Kerry secretary of state.
There may even be more changes coming on the SFRC, because its members often seek to exit the once-prized panel. The SFRC is perceived on the Hill as the weakest of the "Class A" committees, as it has no real control over money and no domestic constituency.
"It tends to be a dumping ground for senators who can't get on other committees that they want," said Isaacs. "That's too bad, but that's the way it is."
At the Senate Armed Services Committee, ranking Republican John McCain (R-AZ) has reached his term limit and will have to forgo his committee post if the Democrats retain control of the chamber (though he could keep it if Republicans take power). That would likely elevate Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK) to the committee leadership spot, which might spell doom for Kerry's personal passion, ratification of the Law of the Sea Treaty, which Inhofe has pledged to prevent. McCain, a former Navy pilot, was amenable to at least debating the agreement.
A set of younger and newer senators are moving to fill the foreign-policy gap left by the departure of the veterans. On the GOP side, emerging leaders including Sens. Kelly Ayotte (R-NH), Marco Rubio (R-FL), and Mark Kirk (R-IL). Under McCain's tutelage, Ayotte has been delving into the nuclear portfolio and national security budgeting. Kirk is already a Senate leader on Iran and Israel, with a particular focus on sanctions.
For the Democrats, Sen. Chris Coons (D-DE) has used his SFRC Africa Subcommittee Chairmanship to its potential. He's a Swahili-speaking, tough-on-Iran lawmaker who occupies the seat once held by vice president and former SFRC chairman Joe Biden. Sen. Bob Casey, as head of the SFRC's Middle East subcommittee, is also becoming more and more active.
As for the House, where Republicans have spent the past two years passing bills that die waiting for Senate action, the GOP is virtually assured to hold onto the gavel.
A few changes are in the works. House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairwoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) has reached her term limit and cannot be chairwoman again next year. In one of the most bitter races, ranking member Howard Berman (D-CA) is trailing fellow Democrat Brad Sherman heading into the final days of the campaign. The competition to fill the vacancies at both leadership posts would play out after the new session begins next year.
But it's the Senate, through its influence over the nominating process, that truly matters.
According to James Lindsay, vice president and director of studies at the Council on Foreign Relations, power is moving away from committee chairs and toward individual senators. A single senator's ability to thwart a major piece of legislation or place a hold on a nominee empowers senators like Sens. Rand Paul (R-KY) and Jim DeMint (R-SC), who use their hold power liberally and are generally unmoved by the ire of their colleagues.
"Congress far less often shapes policy in a positive direction. Their main method of effectiveness is to say ‘no,'" Lindsay said. "The greatest impact will be with those who are willing to use their ability to slow things down."
The House Oversight Committee is demanding answers from the State Department regarding newly discovered documents found in the wreckage of the U.S. mission in Benghazi that reveal U.S. diplomats noticed a Libyan police officer conducting surveillance of the compound the morning before the Sept. 11 attack and that the Benghazi police department had not responded to requests for more security during the visit of Ambassador Chris Stevens, who died in the attack that night.
Two reporters visiting the burned-out compound more than six weeks after the attack, and weeks after the FBI had visited the site, discovered an array of official and personal items that reveal the state of mind of nervous U.S. officials on the morning of Sept. 11, just hours before a group of well-armed men stormed the compound with heavy weapons, an attack that would ultimate result in the death of four Americans. In an exclusive report for Foreign Policy, journalists Harald Doornbos and Jenan Moussa revealed two unsigned draft letters written the day of the attack and warning that a Libyan police officer was spotted taking pictures of the compound.
"Finally, early this morning at 0643, September 11, 2012, one of our diligent guards made a troubling report. Near our main gate, a member of the police force was seen in the upper level of a building across from our compound. It is reported that this person was photographing the inside of the U.S. special mission and furthermore that this person was part of the police unit sent to protect the mission," reads the letter, addressed to Mohamed Obeidi, the head of the Libyan Ministry of Foreign Affairs' office in Benghazi.
Obeidi said he never received the letter. Another letter states that U.S. diplomats had asked the Libyan government for added security for Stevens's visit -- security they apparently didn't get.
"On Sunday, September 9, 2012, the U.S. mission requested additional police support at our compound for the duration of U.S. ambassador Chris Stevens' visit. We requested daily, twenty-four hour police protection at the front and rear of the U.S. mission as well as a roving patrol. In addition we requested the services of a police explosive detection dog," the letter reads. "We were given assurances from the highest authorities in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs that all due support would be provided for Ambassador Stevens' visit to Benghazi. However, we are saddened to report that we have only received an occasional police presence at our main gate. Many hours pass when we have no police support at all."
House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-CA) and National Security Subcommittee Chairman Jason Chaffetz (R-UT), who have been leading a congressional investigation into the security failures surrounding the attack, fired off a letter today to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton regarding the new revelations, obtained by The Cable.
The congressmen are demanding to know whether the Benghazi mission's concerns about Libyan police surveillance and their unanswered requests for more Libyan government security assistance were ever sent to Washington, and if so, why the State Department didn't reveal that before now.
"These documents paint a disturbing picture indicating that elements of the Libyan government might have been complicit in the September 11, 2012 attack on the compound and the murder of four Americans. It also reiterates the fact that the U.S. government may have had evidence indicating that the attack was not a spontaneous event but rather a preplanned terrorist attack that included prior surveillance of the compound as a target," Issa and Chaffetz wrote.
"Given the location where they were found, these documents appear to be genuine and support a growing body of evidence indicating that the Obama Administration has tried to withhold pertinent facts about the 9/11 anniversary attack from Congress and the American people."
The congressmen lamented that important information about the attack is still being discovered by the media and not being given to congressional investigators by the administration. They said the letters call into question repeated State Department claims that there were no warnings before the attack, including when a senior State Department official told reporters Oct. 9 that there had been no security incidents at the consulate that day.
"Everything is calm at 8:30 p.m," the official said during a background briefing. "There's nothing unusual. There has been nothing unusual during the day at all outside."
"These statements appear to be inconsistent with the information included in the documents uncovered by Foreign Policy," Issa and Chaffetz wrote.
The State Department must tell Congress whether the letters were included in any cables, telegrams, or emails and provide copies of those documents "no later than 5:00 p.m. on November 8, 2012," the letter said.
Other documents found at the compound include a printout of an email from Stevens to his political officer regarding the Benghazi visit, a travel itinerary sent to Sean Smith, the other State Department official killed in the attack, and an Aug. 6 copy of the New Yorker addressed to Stevens.
No matter how the election turns out, Tennessee's Bob Corker is likely to be the next top Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and the entire GOP foreign-policy establishment is gearing up for that now.
With the departure of Senate Foreign Relations Committee ranking Republican Richard Lugar (R-IN), who lost his primary race in May, Corker is next in line, and could even become chairman should Republicans take control of the Senate. The ultimate decision is made by the GOP caucus, and while aides caution that nothing is final, Republicans are preparing Corker to be one of their party's leading figures on international affairs.
Not all Republicans are thrilled about Corker assuming control of the GOP side of the committee, however, and there was grumbling at first. Neoconservatives and hawks note that Corker has been a moderate voice on foreign policy as a committee member, often expressing a more cautious and non-interventionist note than some of his more hawkish colleagues, and has bucked the GOP leadership in some cases, such as when he voted in favor of Obama's nuclear arms treaty with Russia, New START, at the end of 2010.
But Corker has been quietly and doggedly reaching out to Republican foreign policy hands of all stripes, meeting them for briefings, salon dinners, and one-on-one encounters, both to hear their views and assure them he will represent the entire caucus if he gets the nod.
In an interview with The Cable, Corker said he wants the job, that he has been making preliminary preparations just in case he gets it, and that he has a vision of restoring the committee to a place of renewed prominence in the foreign-policy discussion in Washington and around the world.
"We understand the decision about who leads the Foreign Relations Committee is up to the caucus, but in the event I end up being the person, quietly we've done a significant amount of travel throughout the world to understand issues more deeply, we've had meetings and briefings with numbers of people with varying backgrounds and have really tried to immerse ourselves in such a way that if I am the person, I have the ability to be effective," Corker said.
Without much fanfare, Corker has visited 48 countries since taking office, often traveling commercial. He has been to Syria, Lebanon, Libya, India, Russia, Georgia, Afghanistan (3 times), Pakistan (3 times), and Iraq (3 times). Here in Washington, he's been meeting with conservatives and realists alike. Some of his briefings and social events have been organized by the American Enterprise Institute's Danielle Pletka, a former staffer for SRFC chairman Jesse Helms, who declined to comment for this article.
Corker has also been thinking hard about new professionals to bring on to the SFRC, be it on the majority or minority staff. Several of Lugar's aides have already departed, and Corker could be building a new team largely from scratch. Right now, Corker is advised on national security primarily by Stacie Oliver, a former staffer for Sen. Chuck Hagel, but he will need a lot more help if and when he becomes a committee leader.
His charm offensive seems to be working. A top GOP foreign-policy hand who was initially wary of Corker said his outreach seems to be convincing even hawkish Republicans that they will have the senator's ear and that Corker would represent the whole caucus, not just its moderate wing.
"Senator Corker's team has done a good job of reaching out to the conservative foreign-policy community and outlining his goals for the committee if he is given the opportunity to serve in a leadership role," the GOP foreign-policy hand said.
Corker is careful not to be too presumptuous about getting the job. One senior GOP senator and avowed hawk, James Inhofe (R-OK), is known to oppose the idea. Inhofe's office did not respond to requests for comment, but multiple GOP Senate aides told The Cable that Inhofe has been considering challenging Corker's ascendancy when the issue comes to a head after the election.
The Cable has learned that Inhofe actually mounted a challenge to Lugar after the 2010 election, forcing a vote among the SFRC Republican members that Lugar narrowly won. Inhofe hasn't yet decided whether to try that again with Corker, but this time the internal caucus politics are more complicated than they were two years ago.
Inhofe, who is on the SFRC, may not want to take the ranking job on that committee because he is slated to be the ranking Republican of the Senate Armed Services Committee next year now that Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) has reached his term limit. Inhofe is next in line and would naturally prefer a leadership role on SASC, which is far more powerful than the SFRC.
If Inhofe did want to challenge Corker, he would need a proxy to support. The natural candidates are Sen. James Risch (R-ID) and rising star Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL). But nothing could be done until at least December and as time goes by, the enthusiasm for mounting a fight against Corker is waning, Senate aides said.
Corker's foreign-policy views are often much more cautious than those of the Senate GOP caucus as a whole. Earlier this year, for example, he questioned whether the Syrian revolution was really about "democracy." In April, he worked to make sure Congress was not endorsing lethal aid to the Syrian opposition and actively supporting the ouster of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
"I think it's odd to state as a national policy that we want to see Assad gone," Corker said.
His vote for New START was attacked by the conservative Heritage Foundation. He authored an amendment to the Magnitsky bill that would have placed sunsets on the penalties for Russian human rights violators. He later withdrew that amendment.
More recently, however, Corker has been aggressive in challenging the Obama administration to be more transparent and forthcoming about the Sept. 11 attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi. He is also pushing for an independent congressional investigation into the matter.
Corker's style is usually not confrontational. He opposed ratifying the Law of the Sea Treaty last year, but initially declined to sign a letter joined by dozens of Senate Republicans outright opposing the treaty, instead arguing that it was simply not a priority for the Senate in 2012.
One concern some colleagues have about Corker is whether he would challenge Obama's nominees, should the president be reelected. Corker, who touts his experience as a former executive in business, often defers to the president's prerogative over personnel and has only voted against Obama nominees twice. He is likely to use the power to hold nominees sparingly, but is expected to make sure that nominations that he does hold are duly spiked.
Corker told The Cable that his main project would be make sure the SFRC is fulfilling its mandate of overseeing foreign policy and guiding the State Department's activities. He pledged to make sure the Senate passes a State Department authorization bill, something that hasn't happened since 2005. He also wants the committee to do big thinking over the horizon.
"I hope to be able to work with others to make the Foreign Relations Committee more relevant. We want to review everything that's being done at the State Department, which hasn't been done in decades," he said. "In regard to our national interests, the Foreign Relations Committee could be a place where we look at our national interests in the context of the longer view and be a buffer against the ‘hair on fire' mentality that can exist in White Houses."
For the GOP foreign-policy community, that would be a welcome development.
"There is a lot of interest on and off the Hill in seeing SFRC become a committee once again that senators aspire to serve on, that doesn't pull its punches, and fulfills its oversight responsibilities after years of drift," the GOP foreign-policy hand said.
Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) suggested Tuesday that President Bill Clinton is getting more and more active in politics this cycle in preparation for Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to run for the presidency in 2016.
"I would never think such a thing and I am certainly not Machiavellian, but I am told that there are some that think this may have a lot to do with 2016 and the president's wife, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton," McCain said Tuesday morning. "Of course I would never suspicion such a thing, but there are some real jerks around who think that might be the case."
McCain was speaking on a conference call following Monday night's debate between President Barack Obama and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney. He said Obama is using President Clinton more and more in the campaign because Romney is gaining in the polls.
"I think [President Clinton's] appeal is obviously there and I don't think it's an accident that as Mitt Romney has surged in the polls there has been increase in the activities of President Clinton," he said.
In a recent interview with Marie Claire, Clinton repeated that she does not plan to run for president in 2016.
"I have been on this high wire of national and international politics and leadership for 20 years," Clinton said. "It has been an absolutely extraordinary personal honor and experience. But I really want to just have my own time back. I want to just be my own person. I'm looking forward to that."
McCain also addressed Obama's comments ridiculing Romney for comparing the size of the U.S. Navy today to its size during World War I.
"I think Governor Romney maybe hasn't spent enough time looking at how our military works. You -- you mentioned the Navy, for example, and that we have fewer ships than we did in 1916. Well, governor, we also have fewer horses and bayonets -- because the nature of our military's changed. We have these things called aircraft carriers where planes land on them. We have these ships that go underwater, nuclear submarines," Obama said. "And so the question is not a game of Battleship where we're counting ships. It's what are our capabilities."
McCain said that Obama's highly touted rebalancing to the Asia-Pacific region was an effort that requires robust ship presence and he said that if defense cuts under sequestration are allowed to take place, shipbuilding industries will suffer across the county and jobs will be lost.
"That was both demeaning to Mitt Romney and it also showed a degree of ignorance on the part of the president," McCain said. "You need naval presence the same way you did back then. Then to justify a steady reduction in shipbuilding, it shows a misunderstanding of the size of the challenge we face in the Asia-Pacific region."
McCain said that Romney had passed the commander-in-chief test at Monday's debate.
"The question in a lot of people's minds before this debate was: Is Mitt Romney capable of being the commander in chief?" McCain said. "I think he achieved that goal last night. I think he made it very clear to Americans, principally women, that he's not going to get us into other conflicts, that he understands the war-weariness of the American people over Iraq and Afghanistan. But he has also pointed out that we are weaker than we were four years ago, and of course in the Middle East that's absolutely true."
McCain did not mention that he supports U.S. airstrikes and the imposition of a no-fly zone in Syria.
During Tuesday's debate, President Barack Obama tempered his claims about U.S. success in fighting al Qaeda, jettisoning his oft-repeated campaign-trail claim that the terrorist organization is "on its heels."
"I said that I'd end the war in Iraq, and I did. I said we'd refocus attention on those who actually attacked us on 9/11, and we have gone after Al Qaeda's leadership like never before and Osama bin Laden is dead," Obama said during his second debate with Republican nominee Mitt Romney.
That paragraph is part of Obama's regular stump speech, and he made nearly identical remarks at two campaign stops last week. But in those previous instances, Obama said that al Qaeda was "on its heels," a claim he didn't repeat in front of Tuesday night's national audience.
"Four years ago, I made a few commitments to you. I told you I'd end the war in Iraq, and I did. I said I'd end the war in Afghanistan, and we are. I said we'd refocus on the people who actually attacked us on 9/11 -- and today, al Qaeda is on its heels and Osama bin Laden is no more," he said in a campaign stop in San Francisco on Oct. 9.
Two days later, in another campaign stop in Miami, Obama said nearly the same thing.
"Four years ago, I told you we'd end the war in Iraq -- and we did. I said that we'd end the war in Afghanistan -- and we are. I said that we'd refocus on the people who actually attacked us on 9/11 -- and today, al Qaeda is on its heels and Osama bin Laden is dead," he said.
The attack on the U.S. mission in Benghazi on 9/11 was reportedly the work of the extremist group Ansar al-Sharia, which is thought to have ties to al Qaeda in the Islamic Magreb (AQIM).
This month, the White House has been slowly but surely adding qualifications to its claims of progress in destroying al Qaeda, which has seen its ranks in North Africa increase recently.
For example, on Sept. 19 White House spokesman Jay Carney said that Obama's strategy in Afghanistan has "allowed us to take the fight to al Qaeda in the region in a way that we had not been able to before; that led to the decimation of al Qaeda's leadership."
By Oct. 10, after reports emerged tying al Qaeda links the Benghazi attack, Carney was specifying that al Qaeda "central" was hurting in two specific countries.
"Well, what we have said all along, what the president has said all along, is that ... progress has been made in decimating the senior ranks of al Qaeda and in decimating al Qaeda central in the Afghanistan/Pakistan region," adding that al Qaeda "remains our No. 1 foe."
Carney repeated his qualification that al Qaeda is hurting in Southwest Asia, but not necessarily in North Africa, two days later.
"[Obama] has made clear that he would refocus attention on what was a neglected war in Afghanistan, refocus our mission on al Qaeda, and decimating al Qaeda's leadership in Afghanistan and Pakistan -- he has," Carney said Oct. 12.
In his debate Oct. 11, Vice President Joe Biden also declined to say that al Qaeda was completely decimated or on its heels during his debate with Rep. Paul Ryan.
"The fact is we went [to Afghanistan] for one reason: to get those people who killed Americans -- al Qaeda," Biden said "We decimated al Qaeda central; we have eliminated Osama bin Laden. That was our purpose."
SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images
The top echelon of Mitt Romney‘s national security transition team is largely in place and it includes both hawkish and centrist GOP foreign-policy professionals, The Cable has learned.
The news comes as debate continues inside the Romney campaign over how much to focus on foreign vs. domestic policy in the home stretch. Politico reported last week that chief strategist Stuart Stevens was leading the camp pushing for a more singular focus on the economy.
But with the final presidential debate set to focus on foreign policy and events in the Middle East continuing to raise questions about President Barack Obama's leadership, those advocating for more foreign policy campaigning have won a victory: Romney will give what the campaign is billing as a major speech on foreign policy at the Virginia Military Institute on Monday, Oct. 8.
Behind the scenes, planning for a national security team that looks suddenly more realistic after Wednesday night's debate is moving along at a steady pace.
The Romney campaign doesn't talk publicly about its broader transition-planning effort -- "Project Readiness," led by former HHS Secretary Mike Leavitt -- but the effort is moving along steadily.
The GOP foreign-policy world was caught off guard when Leavitt chose former World Bank President Bob Zoellick to lead the national security transition planning, setting off speculation that Romney's national security team after the election would be far more moderate than the top advisors informing his foreign-policy speeches and agenda items during the campaign.
But The Cable has learned from multiple sources close to the campaign that campaign senior advisor for defense and foreign policy Rich Williamson has been named the head of the transition team for the National Security Council, giving him a prominent role should Romney win. Two other officials who are leading the national security transition effort are former Under Secretary of Defense for Policy Eric Edelman and former New Jersey governor and co-chair of the 9/11 Commission Tom Kean.
Some inside the campaign believe Williamson's new role as head of the NSC transition team could place him in line to be national security advisor in a Romney administration. A former assistant secretary of state for international organization affairs who served as George W. Bush's special envoy to Sudan, Williamson has been one of Romney's most visible national security surrogates throughout the campaign. Said to be close to the governor personally, he has also been the voice of some of the campaign's harshest criticisms of Obama's handling of foreign policy. Williamson has railed against Obama for his handling of Libya, the greater Middle East, Israel, Iran, Russia, human rights, and several other topics.
Transition team leaders don't necessarily end up leading the agencies for which they are in charge of planning. In 2008, the Obama campaign's State Department transition team was led by Tom Donilon and Wendy Sherman. Obama chose Hillary Clinton to be secretary of state, Donilon became deputy national security advisor, and Sherman returned to the private sector, only later being appointed to be under secretary of State for political affairs.
The Obama campaign's Pentagon transition team was led by Michèle Flournoy and former Deputy Defense Secretary John White, but Obama chose to stick with Robert Gates as defense secretary and Flournoy became the under secretary of defense for policy.
Edelman, a leading representative of the neoconservative wing of the Republican foreign-policy establishment, was under secretary of defense for policy under Donald Rumsfeld and now sits on the board of directors of the Foreign Policy Initiative, a neoconservative-leaning foreign-policy organization in Washington. Edelman has been quietly active in the campaign for some time.
Kean, like Zoellick, is seen as a moderate, and has not been a visible part of the Romney effort thus far. Zoellick, meanwhile has been meeting all over Washington with foreign-policy hands of all stripes and from both parties. Last month he was spotted in downtown DC eateries on separate occasions lunching with Weekly Standard Editor William Kristol and Obama's former top Asia aide, Jeffrey Bader.
Sources inside the campaign report that the foreign-policy process still centers around young lawyer Alex Wong, the campaign's foreign-policy coordinator, and his boss Lanhee Chen, the campaign's policy director. Former Iraq war spokesman Dan Senor, another board member of FPI, has taken the lead on Vice Presidential candidate Paul Ryan's foreign-policy preparations, which perhaps explains Ryan's increasingly combative rhetoric when talking about Obama's handling of the Middle East crises.
Two top senators on the Foreign Relations Committee don't want to wait for the State Department to do its own investigation into the Sept. 11 attack in Benghazi that killed four Americans including Ambassador Chris Stevens; they want Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to show them Stevens's diplomatic cables and other correspondence now.
"While we appreciate the sensitivities associated with this ongoing investigation, we must insist on more timely information regarding the attacks and the events leading up to the attacks," wrote Sens. Bob Corker (R-TN) and Johnny Isaakson (R-GA) in a letter to Clinton Tuesday.
They acknowledged that Clinton is in the process of setting up an Accountability Review Board, although its chairman former Deputy Secretary of State Thomas Pickering said Monday that the panel hasn't started it work yet. But the senators don't want to wait for the board to finish its report, which might not be transmitted to Congress until next spring.
"To that end, we request that you transmit to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee all communications between the U.S. Mission to Libya and the State Department relevant to the security situation in Benghazi in the period leading up to the attacks, including, but not limited to, cables sent from Ambassador Stevens," they wrote.
The senators noted that Libya officials have said they warned the U.S. government about rising threats in Benghazi just before the attacks and they referenced the CNN reports, culled at least partially from Stevens's personal diary, stating that the ambassador believed his life was in danger.
"Despite these warnings, the State Department sought and received a waiver from the standard security requirements for the consulate," the senators wrote.
"We are extremely concerned about conflicting reports over the events leading up to the attacks. Specifically, we are concerned over the apparent lack of security preparations made despite a demonstrable increase in risks to U.S. officials and facilities in Benghazi in the period leading up to the attacks."
Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) was all set to get his full Senate vote today on his bill to cut all U.S. aid to Egypt, Libya, and Pakistan; and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) was set to get a vote on his resolution to establish the sense of the Senate that containment of a nuclear Iran is not an option for U.S. policy.
But the entire deal was derailed by a last-minute effort by Senate leaders to add a new bill to the agreement, a "Sportsman Act" sponsored by Sen. Jon Tester (D-MT), who is up for re-election. Tester's bill would ease restrictions on hunting, fishing, and shooting on federal public lands.
On Thursday afternoon, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) said that he had worked out a deal with Paul to move on all of the Senate's outstanding business this afternoon, including a continuing resolution to fund the government past Oct. 1. Under the deal, Paul would get one hour of debate and a vote on his bill to cut all U.S. aid to Egypt, Libya, and Pakistan. There would also be a one-hour debate on the containment resolution, which was also led by Sens. Joe Lieberman (I-CT) and Bob Casey (D-PA). (Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) had objected to the deal late Wednesday but lifted his objection Thursday.)
Then suddenly Thursday afternoon, Reid announced there would be no more votes and he took a swipe a Sen. Scott Brown (R-MA), accusing him of wanting to avoid his evening debate with challenger Elizabeth Warren.
Multiple senators and staffers said late Thursday that it was Reid, however, who derailed the deal at the last minute by attempting to add the Tester bill, prompting an objection by the GOP Senate leadership.
"Today, [Senate Minority Leader Mitch] McConnell has agreed to the same UC [unanimous consent agreement] that was offered last night by Senator Reid, but now Senator Reid wants a UC that includes not just the Paul, Graham, and [continuing resolution] votes, but also a vote on the Tester amendment," Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN) said Thursday afternoon.
All Senate business is on hold while the leadership of both caucuses negotiates behind closed doors. Paul had repeatedly threatened to oppose unanimous consent to move any legislation unless he got his vote, so without a deal, Senate leaders would have to go through long voting procedures that could keep lawmakers in town well into the weekend.
Senators do hope to leave town this weekend, so a deal Friday is widely expected. A deal would also pave the way for the Senate to confirm a host of ambassadors before leaving Washington, including the nominees for envoy posts in Iraq and Pakistan.
The containment resolution has more than 80 co-sponsors and is expected to pass by a wide margin. The Paul bill to prohibit aid to Egypt, Libya, and Pakistan is not expected to pass.
Lawmakers and Africa hands rallied Thursday behind President Barack Obama's decision to nominate Robert Godec to be the next U.S. ambassador to Kenya.
If confirmed, Godec would follow Obama confidant J. Scott Gration, who resigned in June ahead of a scathing internal report that rated him among the worst ambassadors in the diplomatic corps (Gration insists he was a great ambassador).
Unlike Gration, a political appointee, Godec is a career Foreign Service officer who has previously led an embassy -- in Tunisia -- and has diplomatic experience working in the Nairobi embassy as well. Godec is the charge d'affaires at the Kenya embassy now, and served as the State Department's principal deputy coordinator for counterterrorism from 2009 to 2012.
Sen. Chris Coons (D-DE), the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations African Affairs Subcommittee, told The Cable that he will push to confirm Godec as quickly as possible when the Senate returns for a lame-duck session following the November elections.
"Ambassador Godec is a smart choice and I hope the Senate will move quickly to advance his nomination," said Coons. "Given the emerging threats in the region, his background in counterterrorism and career in the Foreign Service -- even being stationed in Nairobi earlier in his career -- make him unquestionably qualified for this critically important role. One of the United States' top priorities, certainly in the short term, will be helping ensure Kenya's elections in March are free, fair, and peaceful. These elections are critically important not only to Kenya, but to the stability of the region."
The upcoming elections and the potential for explosive political violence are a key focus of Kenya watchers in Washington. Last week, Human Rights Watch released a report stating that politicians seeking office have been complicit on both sides of the growing violence in Kenya's coastal region, with the central government doing little to hold them accountable.
"I'm very pleased to see President Obama officially nominate a new U.S. ambassador to Kenya, particularly a Foreign Service officer with regional and country specific experience like Ambassador Godec. That's going to very important in order to reverse what's been a worrisome U.S. policy of neglect and drift," said Sarah Margon, deputy Washington director of Human Rights Watch and co-chair of the Kenya Working Group. "What he's going to need to do is make a clear commitment to a U.S. policy based on democracy, human rights, and the rule of law, particularly given the upcoming elections. And he needs to address lack of accountability for the political violence in Kenya."
Prior to the Sept. 11 attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, the State Department and the Marines Corps had been discussing deploying Marines to guard the U.S. Embassy in the Libyan capital Tripoli "sometime in the next five years," according to the Marine Corps.
The issue of security at U.S. diplomatic outposts in Libya has been front and center as Congress and others begin to investigate whether or not those facilities were sufficiently protected before the attacks that killed Amb. Chris Stevens and three other Americans.
The State Department won't discuss the specifics of its security posture in Libya before the attack, but the Marine Corps has briefed congressional staffers on the issue, for example in a Sept. 13 email obtained by The Cable.
"Typically, when a new embassy is established, it takes time to grow a new [Marine Corps Embassy Security Group] detachment," wrote Col. Harold Van Opdorp, director of the Marine Senate Liaison office, in the e-mail. "[In conjunction with] the State Department, there is discussion about establishing a detachment in Tripoli sometime in the next five years."
The State Department did not respond to questions about how high the discussion of deploying Marines to Libya reached, whether that discussion amounted to a recognition that Marines were needed there, or why it might take five years to set it up. A Marine Corps FAST team was deployed to protect the embassy on Sept. 12 after the attack and could stay there indefinitely.
According to the Marines, out of the 285-plus U.S. diplomatic security facilities worldwide, 152 have Marine Corps detachments, primarily to protect the facilities and the classified information they contain.
"Overall, the plan is to grow the number of MCESG detachments worldwide to 173. It is also important to note the detachments are charged with protection of the chancery. Perimeter security is the responsibility of the HN [host nation] police/security forces," Van Opdorp wrote.
Many on Capitol Hill are pressing the State Department for details about the exact security arrangements at the Benghazi consulate, contesting the State Department's repeated assertion that there was a "strong" security presence protecting the facility.
One congressional aide told The Cable that the State Department initially reported to Congress that the security personnel at the embassy consisted of an unarmed local security force and six armed Libyan government personnel.
The Washington Guardian reported Wednesday that the two former Navy SEALs who were killed in the attack were not part of the ambassador's security detail but had unspecified security responsibilities related to the consulate and engaged the attackers after the firefight began.
Lawmakers are still trying to get details about the State Department's security posture in Libya and the heads of the Senate Homeland Security Committee have already called on the department to investigate the security failures surrounding the Benghazi attack.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is set to brief Congress on the issue Thursday afternoon. Earlier this week, she defended the security presence in Benghazi, saying, "Let me assure you that our security in Benghazi included a unit of host government security forces, as well as a local guard force of the kind that we rely on in many places around the world."
Late Wednesday, Pentagon officials briefed House Armed Services Committee members on the Libya attacks, after which Chairman Buck McKeon (R-CA) said that he was increasingly concerned about the lack of security at U.S. diplomatic posts in Libya.
McKeon said it was "inconceivable" that that there were no military personnel stationed in Benghazi, despite a June bomb attack on the consulate, and he said he was "really concerned about the lack of support that the ambassador had, the lack of protection."
CHARLOTTE - Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry (D-MA) will lacerate Mitt Romney on foreign policy in a major speech tonight at the Democratic National Convention.
"In this campaign, we have a fundamental choice," Kerry will say, according to speech excerpts provided to The Cable. "Will we protect our country and our allies, advance our interests and ideals, do battle where we must, and make peace where we can? Or will we entrust our place in the world to someone who just hasn't learned the lessons of the last decade?"
Kerry will speak on a night peppered with remarks by national security types, including retired Lt. Gen. Walter Dalton, the lieutenant governor of North Carolina, retired Adm. John B. Nathman, and Delaware attorney general and Iraq war veteran Beau Biden, the vice president's son. Following Kerry will be the final events of the convention, including speeches by Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL), Vice President Joe Biden, and President Barack Obama.
Kerry will hit Romney on his positions on a range of national security issues and will hammer the former Massachusetts governor for failing to outline a clear policy on the war in Afghanistan, a word that Romney didn't mention once in last week's acceptance speech.
"It isn't fair to say Mitt Romney doesn't have a position on Afghanistan. He has every position," Kerry will say.
Kerry plans to defend Obama's record on Israel, Iran, Russia, and arms control, and he will push back against the Romney campaign's refrain that Obama doesn't believe in "American exceptionalism."
"Our opponents like to talk about ‘American Exceptionalism.' But all they do is talk. They forget that we are exceptional not because we say we are, but because we do exceptional things," Kerry will say. "The only thing exceptional about today's Republicans is that -- almost without exception -- they oppose everything that has made America exceptional in the first place."
Kerry will point out that Romney criticized the idea of going into Pakistan to pursue Osama bin Laden but Obama gave the order that led to bin Laden's death.
"Ask Osama Bin Laden if he's better off now than he was four years ago!" Kerry will say.
Kerry will also make what The Cable believes is the first mention by either campaign of the only war Obama ever started, the 2011 NATO-led attack on Libya.
"When a brutal dictator promised to kill his own people ‘like dogs', President Obama enlisted our allies, built the coalition, shared the burden -- so that today, without a single American casualty -- Muammar Qaddafi is gone and Libya is free," Kerry will say.
Obama inherited a terrible foreign-policy position from the Bush administration and worked to improve it, Kerry will argue.
"So here's the choice in 2012: Mitt Romney -- out of touch at home, out of his depth abroad, and out of the mainstream?" he will say. "Or Barack Obama -- a president giving new life and truth to America's indispensable role in the world, a commander in chief who gives our troops the tools and training they need in war -- the honor and help they've earned when they come home. A man who will never ask other men and women to fight a war without a plan to win the peace."
In anticipation of Kerry's foreign policy speech, the Romney campaign released a long memo penned by campaign policy director Lanhee Chen entitled, "The Foreign Policy & National Security Failures Of President Obama," which lays out 10 separate lines of attack on the Obama administration's national security record.
"President Obama's failure on the economy has been so severe that it has overshadowed his manifold failures on foreign policy and national security," the memo states. "An inventory of his record shows that by nearly all measures, President Obama has diminished American influence abroad and compromised our interests and values. In no region of the world is the U.S. position stronger than it was four years ago... It is a failed record that no amount of bluster in Charlotte can mask."
Streeter Lecka/Getty Images
U.S. President Barack Obama's campaign message at this week's Democratic National Convention will be that Mitt Romney's campaign has been avoiding foreign policy -- and when the former Massachusetts governor does talk about it, he puts forward a set of policies that is backwards-looking and frightening.
"We're living in an upside-down world, because for the first time in a generation the Democrats and President Obama hold a decisive advantage in the polls going into the election in terms of the confidence the American people have on foreign policy and national security issues," Colin Kahl, former Obama defense official and co-chair of the Obama campaign's national security advisory team, told The Cable in an interview.
The polls have consistently shown Obama with a double-digit advantage when it comes to foreign policy and national security, and that could be in part because the Republicans have avoided focusing on the issue, especially at their convention in Tampa, he said.
"In Tampa, Republicans were ignoring foreign policy," Kahl said, pointing out that only Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) and former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice spoke about foreign policy much at all, while Romney and his running mate, Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan, barely mentioned it.
"We will honor America’s democratic ideals because a free world is a more peaceful world," Romney said in his acceptance speech in Tampa. "This is the bipartisan foreign policy legacy of Truman and Reagan. And under my presidency we will return to it once again."
Kahl pointed out that Romney didn't mention Afghanistan, the troops fighting overseas, or veterans during his speech.
"The most bizarre element of Mitt Romney's speech is here's a guy who is auditioning to be the commander in chief of the most powerful country on Earth and he forgets to mention the war in Afghanistan, where we have almost 80,000 men and women in harm's way," Kahl said. "He didn't even mention the war in Afghanistan much less let the American people know what he wants to do about it."
The Obama campaign will hammer that theme by making sure its officials and surrogates talk about the ongoing war in Afghanistan with a particular focus on veterans. There are a host of veterans' panel and training events, some being run by the DNCC's Veterans Advisory Group, the DNC Veterans and Military Families Council, and the Truman National Security Project, a center left advocacy organization.
In addition to holding training sessions for veterans and military families on messaging and getting out the military vote for Obama, groups like the Truman Project will hold public events such as a breakfast panel Sept. 5 with former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, former Under Secretary of Defense for Policy Michèle Flournoy, the other co-chair of the Obama campaign's national security advisory group, and Iraq veteran and congressional candidate Tammy Duckworth.
Obama and his team this week will also tout the president's record on fighting terrorism, his decision to green-light the mission that killed al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, and the fulfillment of his 2008 campaign promise to end the war in Iraq.
Kahl said that the Obama campaign will push back on Romney's claim that Obama doesn't believe in American exceptionalism. "Guess what: Democrats think American is exceptional and great too. We love our country as much as the Republicans do. So that's not a distinction between us," he said.
Kahl speculated that the Romney campaign has been reluctant to talk about several foreign-policy issues, such as the war in Afghanistan, because in many areas the former governor's policies aren't actually all that different from the president's.
"They like to describe our current policies but masquerade that description as criticism. Any criticism on Afghanistan obscures the fact that Mitt Romney basically endorses the president's way forward, as far as we can tell. On Israel and Iran, Romney talks tough but his policies would be identical to those of President Obama," he said.
Romney does have distinctly different policies from Obama on dealing with major powers like Russia and China, but those policies are risky and backward-looking, Kahl argued.
"In those few areas where there are differences, [Romney's] policies are downright scary, whether it's calling Russia our No. 1 geopolitical foe or threatening to start a trade war with China on day one of his administration," he said.
In his acceptance speech in Tampa, Romney touched on a few foreign policy issues, briefly.
"Every American is less secure today because he has failed to slow Iran's nuclear threat. In his first TV interview as president, he said we should talk to Iran. We're still talking, and Iran’s centrifuges are still spinning," Romney said. "President Obama has thrown allies like Israel under the bus..."
Kahl said those arguements are just rhetoric and that Romney doesn't have policies that would change the U.S. approach to Iran or Israel in any significant way.
"On Israel, by any objective measure Obama has been a better for Israel's security than any president in modern times," said Kahl. "On Iran, Mitt Romney's writings on this have been descriptions of the president's policies described as criticisms. The only difference you get is bluster and tough talk. Some of his surrogates like John Bolton want to go to war yesterday, but it's not clear that's where Mitt Romney is."
Republicans often accuse Obama of "spiking the football" after the killing of bin Laden, but Kahl said that Republicans have no right to claim the moral high ground on that issue.
"That's a little ironic from a party whose last president landed on an aircraft carrier and declared ‘Mission Accomplished' in Iraq," he said. "Brining justice to Osama bin Laden is something that all Americans should be proud of. This was an extraordinarily tough call."
Democratic groups will be speaking about a range of other national security and foreign policy issues this week in Charlotte as well. Flournoy and former assistant secretary of defense for public affairs Douglas Wilson will speak at an event on the defense budget hosted by Bloomberg Sept. 4. Nuclear non-proliferation will be discussed at a Sept. 5 event put on by the Council for a Livable World and featuring former ambassador Peter Galbraith. Former State Department official Tamara Wittes will speak at a Sept. 5 event on the role of women in the new Middle East.
On Thurs, Sept. 6, Truman will hold a series of discussions on foreign policy featuring Kahl, Wilson, Zvika Krieger, senior vice president at the S. Daniel Abraham Center for Middle East Peace, Janine Davidson, former deputy assistant secretary of defense for plans, Steven Koltai, former senior advisor for entrepreneurship to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and Paula Broadwell, author of All In, a biography of CIA director and retired general David Petraeus.
Also on Thursday, the National Democratic Institute will team up with the U.S. Global Leadership Coalition to put on an event featuring Albright, Flournoy, former U.S. Ambassador to India Tim Roemer, former Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg, and White House Chief of Staff Jack Lew.
All of those events lead into a
national security themed segment of the final program Sept. 6 at Bank of
America stadium, which will feature a speech by Senate Foreign Relations
Committee Chairman John Kerry
"The American people understand that President Obama has been a strong commander-in-chief, and we're looking forward to highlighting these important issues at the convention," an Obama campaign official said. "Senator Kerry will speak to how the President has restored America's leadership in the world, has taken the fight to our enemies, and has a plan to bring our troops home from Afghanistan just like he did from Iraq. He will contrast the President's strong leadership in this area with Mitt Romney, who has embraced the go-it-alone, reckless policies of the past that weakened America's place in the world and made us less secure here at home."
The biggest looming question about how a President Mitt Romney would steer the American ship of state is whether he would favor the realist tendencies of the Republican Party establishment or the neoconservative leanings of its younger generation.
Former Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty, mooted by some as a possible secretary of state in a Romney administration, told The Cable in an exclusive interview Wednesday that Romney won't choose either side and would rather chart his own foreign-policy vision based on his core beliefs about how the world works and what American's role should be in it.
"I would put him in the Mitt Romney school," Pawlenty when asked to which school of foreign policy the former governor adheres.
Romney won't choose between one camp or the other and will chart out his policies on international issues on a case-by-case basis, Pawlenty said. But the evidence so far shows that Romney is more certainly more hawkish and aggressive than President Barack Obama, he said.
"If you look at [Romney's] philosophical and directional comments and policy positions, you see him speak to the importance of a strong America and that strength being backed up by the capabilities provided by a robust funding of the military," Pawlenty said.
"I think you've seen Romney take a more robust approach [than Obama] on issues such as how you deal with Russia, how you deal with China, how you deal with arming and equipping the rebels on the ground in Syria without putting American boots on the ground," Pawlenty said. "In terms of where that falls within the gradations of conservative foreign policy, I put him in the Mitt Romney's school, not somebody else's school."
The questions over Romney's foreign-policy core identity is paramount because he has little hands-on experience on international affairs, the former governor's critics say.
At a Wednesday event hosted by the Foreign Policy Initiative, a neoconservative-leaning organization, Pawlenty argued that Romney's chief national security credential is his core confidence in his foreign- policy vision and knowledge.
"Knowing Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan quite well, I would say to you that they are directionally and foundationally sturdy and sound, and quite Reaganesque in that regard," Pawlenty told the audience. "Mitt Romney is a prolific reader and a student of history ... I'm highly confident it will not be amateur hour."
Pawlenty, the co-chair of Romney's campaign and a top surrogate, holds well-formed foreign policy views on a range of issues and spoke often during his bid for president about his views on foreign policy, which combines a hawkish approach to dealing with enemies with an emphasis on soft power and support for foreign aid.
He is among a few names rumored to be in contention for the job of secretary of state in a future Romney administration, along with Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-CT) and Council on Foreign Relations President Richard Haass. Lieberman skews toward neoconservatism, Haass toward realism, with Pawlenty somewhere in between. The head of national security transition planning on the Romney campaign's "Readiness Project" is former World Bank President Bob Zoellick, a devout realist who may want the Foggy Bottom job for himself.
Pawlenty said he is not working with the "Readiness Project" in a formal way yet and declined to say whether he would accept a top job in a future Romney administration.
"I don't know what my future holds but I will tell you I'm thoroughly enjoying my time in the private sector," he said.
Stay tuned tomorrow for Part 2 of The Cable's exclusive interview with Pawlenty, which includes new information on how a Romney administration would deal with the challenges of Iran, Syria, Middle East peace, and the looming defense budget cuts.
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Two leading congressmen are calling on the Obama administration to use its leverage in international financial institutions to press for greater fiscal transparency in Burma, formally known as Myanmar, and ensure progress in the human rights situation in the Southeast Asian country as it emerges from decades of isolation.
The two leaders of the House Committee on Financial Services, Chairman Spencer Bachus (R-AL), and ranking Democrat Barney Frank (D-MA) wrote a letter Aug. 22, obtained by The Cable, to Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner asking him to safeguard the fragile reform process in Burma and ensure that Burma's opening to the world is done according to international financial management standards and with respect to the welfare of the Burmese people. Today Burmese President Thein Sein reshuffled his cabinet, replacing key ministers with reform minded appointees.
The lawmakers specifically called out the Myanmar Oil and Gas Enterprise (MOGE), which saw sanctions relief from the U.S. government despite suspected corruption and ties the Burmese military. Obama lifted the ban on U.S. companies doing business with MOGE in July, over the objections of Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi, now a member of the circumscribed Burmese legislature.
"We are cautiously optimistic that Burma will continue to implement necessary reforms, but we believe vigilance on questions of government transparency and human rights remain critical," the lawmakers wrote. "We urge the administration to use its leadership at the IFIs [international financial institutions] to emphasize fiscal transparency, systems of accountability and respect for human rights and to insist that the institutions pay close attention to the urgent social needs of the Burmese people."
They want the IMF's Code of Good Practice on Fiscal Transparency enforced on all branches of the Burmese government, including the military and MOGE. The code would require the government and its state enterprises (including MOGE), in essence, to publish their revenues and expenditures and subject them to public and parliamentary oversight, as well as an independent auditing process.
"Such transparency is necessary is necessary not only to allow the IFIs to properly supervise the use of multilateral aid but also to help end corruption and the off budget funding of the Burmese military," the letter states.
Burma is a resource-rich county that could provide for its people but remains mired in corruption and mismanagement, Tom Malinowski, Washington director of Human Rights Watch, told The Cable.
He said that IFI lending for big infrastructure projects, absent fiscal transparency reforms, could reinforce those bad habits, making the promotion of fiscal transparency central to the IFIs' mission. The IFIs hold good leverage over the Burmese government because infrastructure development is one of the regime's key goals.
"The key question in Burma's reform process is whether elected civilians will wrest full control over the country from the military establishment, including control of revenues from Burma's lucrative oil and gas and mineral exports. It's not just Aung San Suu Kyi who wants this - Burma's reformist president and its new parliament also have a huge stake in figuring out where the money is and asserting their authority to oversee how it's spent," Malinowski said. "It would help them if the IFI's prioritized fiscal transparency - providing technical assistance to help the Burmese get there, and holding up lending for big infrastructure projects until they do."
Republican officials, candidates, pundits, and supporters are flocking en masse to Tampa next week for the Republican National Convention -- assuming Tropical Storm Isaac doesn't disrupt the festivities. The Cable will be on the scene covering all the foreign policy and national security news in and around the event.
For the campaign of presumptive nominee Mitt Romney, the convention is an opportunity to bring foreign policy into the election discussion in a way he hasn't before and to showcase the support of major national security surrogates, lawmakers, and advisors who will be speaking at a host of convention events, panels, and receptions throughout the week. The campaign isn't planning on rolling out any grand, new national security themes, though there will be plenty of criticism of President Barack Obama's handling of foreign policy.
"It will be a reaffirmation of Romney's commitment to peace through strength," senior campaign foreign-policy advisor Rich Williamson told The Cable. "You're not going to see a lot of new stuff. Romney has shown his approach in the tradition of Truman, Kennedy, and Reagan, in contrast with the Obama approach, which is really out of the mainstream and radical."
Romney foreign-policy advisors who will be speaking on the sidelines of the convention include Williamson, Tim Pawlenty, Norm Coleman, Jim Talent, Vin Weber, John Bolton, Mitchell Reiss, and others. Several current and former GOP officials are also slated to give public speeches that will touch on foreign policy and national security themes, including Sens. John McCain (R-AZ), Marco Rubio (R-FL), Kelly Ayotte (R-NH), Rand Paul (R-KY), John Thune (R-SD), former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, former Sen. Rick Santorum, and Texas Senate candidate Ted Cruz.
The first major foreign-policy news from the convention will come Monday, Aug. 27, when the GOP rolls out and then officially approves its platform, which has several foreign policy planks. Although the platform is not yet public, Williamson said the document will stress the need for economic renewal so that the United States can lead abroad and this can be "an American century."
The platform will also emphasize the imperative of preventing Iran from getting a nuclear weapon, the view that Obama's Russian "reset" policy has failed, and that the GOP has concern about the impotence of the United Nations and what it argues is the Obama administration's overdependence on multilateralism. The platform condemns authoritarian regimes in Cuba and Venezuela, and criticizes the Obama administration for leaking classified national security information to the press.
On Israel, the platform will codify Romney's position that Jerusalem is the capital while also calling for a negotiated solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has called for. The platform will "envision two democratic states -- Israel with Jerusalem as its capital and Palestine -- living in peace and security," a commitment to a two-state solution that evoked considerable debate during the drafting process.
The platform supports foreign aid, saying, "Foreign aid should serve our national interest, an essential part of which is the peaceful development of less advanced and vulnerable societies in critical parts of the world. Assistance should be seen as an alternative means of keeping the peace, far less costly in both dollars and human lives than military engagement."
Some big foreign-policy issues not debated in the platform drafting process will be brought out during the course of the convention week. On Syria, Republicans plan to try to sharpen the distinction between how Obama has handled the crisis and what they say Romney would have done in the same situation.
"The president's risk-averse path of leading from behind creates greater risk than if he acted. By not acting, we now face greater dangers and more costly action to protect our interests," Williamson said.
Several think tanks and issue organizations are planning events around town to feature surrogates, advisors, and lawmakers in somewhat more intimate settings. The International Republican Institute is hosting a panel Aug. 28 on the future of U.S. national security with former Rep. Jim Kolbe, Williamson, Coleman, Talent, and Weber.
The Foreign Policy Initiative is hosting an event Aug. 28 on the future of U.S-Russia relations with Bolton, Pavel Khodorkovsky, son of jailed oligarch Mikhail Khodorkovsky, and journalist Vladimir Kara-Murza, and another event Aug. 29 on restoring American leadership with Pawlenty and William Kristol. Also on Aug. 29, IRI is teaming up with the U.S. Global Leadership Coalition to present an international development-focused event featuring Rice, Reiss, Williamson, Pawlenty, Paula Dobriansky and Rep. Kay Granger (R-TX).
"The convention's a real opportunity for Governor Romney to sharpen his foreign-policy critique of the Obama administration and for the greater Republican foreign-policy community to showcase what foreign policy in a Romney administration would look like," said Jamie Fly, executive director of the Foreign Policy Initiative.
Follow all the action here on The Cable and on Twitter @joshrogin.
UPDATE: The RNC accidentally posted the draft platform today and then took it down, but you can find it here.
Adm. William McRaven, the head of Special Operations Command and the architect of the raid that killed Osama bin Laden, wrote a memo to the special operations community making clear that using the "special operations" moniker for political purposes is not OK.
McRaven sent an unclassified memo, not released to the public but obtained by The Cable, that began with an admonishment of special operators who write books about secret operations, such as the forthcoming book No Easy Day¸ which was written by a Navy SEAL who claims to have been part of the May 1, 2011 raid on bin Laden's Abbottabad compound. Fox News reported Thursday that the author is 36-year-old Matt Bissonnette, whom defense officials say never cleared the book with anyone in the Pentagon.
But the second half of McRaven's memo referred to the multiple groups of former special operators who have formed political groups to criticize President Barack Obama for what they see as taking undue credit for the bin Laden raid and accusing him of leaking its details to the press. Those groups are made up of former military men who had no connection to the actual raid, who often have Republican political leanings and longtime animus against Obama, and some of whom say the president was not born in the United States.
"I am also concerned about the growing trend of using the special operations ‘brand,' our seal, symbols and unit names, as part of any political or special interest campaign," McRaven wrote in an implicit but clear reference to groups like the Special Operations OPSEC Education Fund and Special Operations Speaks (SOS).
"Let me be completely clear on this issue: USSOCOM does not endorse any political viewpoint, opinion or special interest," McRaven wrote. "I encourage, strongly encourage active participation in our political process by both active duty SOF personnel, where it is appropriate under the ethics rules and retired members of the SOF community. However, when a group brands itself as Special Operations for the purpose of pushing a specific agenda, then they have misrepresented the entire nature of SOF and life in the military."
"Our promise to the American people is that we, the military, are non-partisan, apolitical and will serve the President of the United States regardless of his political party. By attaching a Special Operation's moniker or a unit or service name to a political agenda, those individuals have now violated the most basic of our military principles," McRaven wrote.
His remarks are stronger but along the same lines as those by Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey, who said the groups' efforts were counter to the ethos of the military.
"It's not useful. It's not useful to me," Dempsey said Wednesday. "And one of the things that marks us as a profession in a democracy, in our form of democracy, that's most important is that we remain apolitical. That's how we maintain our bond and trust with the American people."
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The head of the Pakistan military's public relations branch told The Cable that a new book claiming a Pakistani intelligence official tipped off the U.S. government about the whereabouts of Osama bin Laden is false.
A forthcoming book by journalist Richard Miniter claims that a senior colonel in Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) directorate walked into the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad in Dec ember 2010, five months before the bin Laden raid, and told U.S. officials about bin Laden's whereabouts. The book also reports that the bin Laden compound was "carved out" of Abbottabad's Kakul Military Academy and that senior Pakistani military officials may have been briefed on the raid in advance.
Maj. Gen. Asim Saleem Bajwa, the recently appointed director general of Pakistan's Inter-Services Public Relations and the top spokesperson for the Pakistani military and intelligence community, told The Cable by e-mail that Miniter's story is just wrong.
"This is a fabricated story," he said. "Any such story will not have basis and is an attempt to malign Pakistan and Pakistan Army."
The tale implies that the ISI had some advance knowledge that bin Laden had been hiding in Abbottabad with several members of his family before the May 1, 2011, U.S. raid, Bajwa said.
"You can find twists in [the Miniter story] to show as if Pakistan was helping terrorists, which is incorrect," he said.
Pakistan's former ambassador to Washington Husain Haqqani told a Washington audience Wednesday that although he could not comment on ISI activities the night of the bin Laden raid, he was sure that the civilian government in Pakistan was caught by surprise about the raid and bin Laden's whereabouts.
But Haqqani called on the Pakistani government to complete its long-promised report on who helped bin Laden and his family hide and survive in a secret compound near a military academy for more than five years.
"It's Pakistan's responsibility to the world to say who did it," Haqqani told an audience at the Center for the National Interest, formerly known as the Nixon Center. "It doesn't have to be the government, it doesn't have to be the military, but whoever it is, we have to come clean on that, because that is the only way we will assure the rest of the world that Pakistan's government and Pakistan's state has its hands clean on this whole thing."
The Pakistani government must explain how Osama bin Laden was able to hide in Abbottabad for years and reveal who in Pakistan helped him, Pakistan's former Ambassador to Washington Husain Haqqani said Wednesday.
"It's Pakistan's responsibility to the world to say who did it," Haqqani told an audience at the Center for the National Interest, formerly known as the Nixon Center. "It doesn't have to be the government, it doesn't have to be the military, but whoever it is, we have to come clean on that, because that is the only way we will assure the rest of the world that Pakistan's government and Pakistan's state has its hands clean on this whole thing."
Haqqani said that he has no information on how the late al Qaeda leader lived with a large number of family for five years in a military garrison town, but that there were clearly sympathizers in Pakistan that supported bin Laden and the government has failed to issue any report on who they were.
"There's no report on bin Laden yet. No one is saying it was the government ... but somebody helped him. Somebody bought the place for him, somebody paid for the electricity bills, somebody helped bring food there, and at least that should be identified and it hasn't been," he said. "Somebody knew. I mean, nobody lives anywhere without anybody knowing. Even Friday knew where Robinson Crusoe was. Somebody in Pakistan knew. Who that somebody is, it's Pakistan's responsibility to identify."
Haqqani speculated that bin Laden might have been helped by a private group, a set of individuals, people in Pakistan's jihadi groups, or people in Pakistan's Islamic political parties. He said the U.S.-Pakistani relationship is hampered by the lack of official answers.
"The bin Laden event was a very huge event from the point of view of American psyche and it hasn't registered in Pakistan sufficiently ... I tried very hard at that time in Islamabad to get people to realize that people in Washington really want answers," he said.
A forthcoming book by journalist Richard Miniter claims that a senior colonel in Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence directorate walked into the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad in Dec. 2010, five months before the bin Laden raid, and told U.S. officials about bin Laden's whereabouts. The book also reports that the bin Laden compound was "carved out" of the Kakul Military Academy and that senior Pakistani military officials may have been briefed on the raid in advance.
Haqqani said he has no idea what the ISI knew or did but he can be sure that the civilian leadership in Pakistan had no idea that the Abbottabad raid was coming on the night of May 1, 2011.
"We really, on the Pakistani side, were totally taken by surprise by what happened on May 1, 2011. That said, a full, proper investigation on the Pakistani side is needed to find out how Osama bin Laden lived in Pakistan and who supported him, within or outside the government," said Haqqani.
Haqqani returned to Washington earlier this year following three months of house arrest in Pakistan while the Pakistani Supreme Court investigated the "Memogate" scandal, in which Haqqani stood accused of being behind a secret memo passed from Pakistani-American businessman Mansoor Ijaz to Joint Chiefs Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen, calling on the United States to support an overthrow of the military and intelligence leadership in Pakistan.
A commission set up by the Supreme Court eventually determined that Haqqani was behind the memo, but Haqqani maintains that he was not and that the commission's ruling was politically motivated. He has not been indicted on any charges and is free to go back to Pakistan, he said, but fears for his safety if he were to travel there. He returns to Boston this fall to resume teaching at Boston University.
Haqqani's new book, Magnificent Delusions, is set to come out later this year. The book argues that, since 1947, Washington and Islamabad's tumultuous relationship has been based on the false assumption that if the two countries could simply engage enough, they could develop a close strategic relationship based on overlapping interests.
"I have reached the conclusion that 60 years is long enough for two countries to understand if they really do see things each other's way," he said. "The two countries should look for a non-alliance future that is not based on security assistance and aid."
Opinions of the two countries among their respective populations is at historical lows, Haqqani noted, and the relationship won't change for the better until the unhealthy dynamic of giving and then threatening to withdraw U.S. aid to Pakistan is ended, he argued.
"Pakistan ends up behaving like Syria while wanting to be treated like Israel," Haqqani said.
He called for an amicable divorce in the relationship.
"If in 65 years if you haven't been able to find sufficient common ground to live together and you've had three separations and four affirmations of marriage, then maybe the better way is to find friendship outside of the marital bond," he said.
AAMIR QURESHI/AFP/Getty Images
The war of words between Britain and Ecuador escalated Thursday over the fate of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, but the State Department said the United States is staying out of it.
Ecuador formally granted Assange political asylum Thursday as the WikiLeaks founder continues to hole up in the Ecuadoran embassy in London, where he has been since June avoiding extradition to Sweden for questioning related to allegations of sexual assault. Earlier this week, the British government affirmed its right to go into the embassy and get Assange, provoking a harsh diplomatic response from the Ecuadoran government.
"The United Kingdom does not recognize the principle of diplomatic asylum," British Foreign Secretary William Hague told reporters Thursday. "There is no ... threat here to storm the embassy. We are talking about an Act of Parliament in this country which stresses that it must be used in full conformity with international law."
Ecuador's Foreign Minister Ricardo Patino said that he fears if Assange is sent to Sweden he could then be sent on to the United States, where he would not be able to receive a fair trial. Patino called Assange an enemy of the "corrupt" media and U.S. "imperialism."
In Washington, State Department Spokeswoman Victoria Nuland told reporters Thursday that the U.S. government takes no position on the extradition of Assange to Sweden and that the United States is not involved in the issue at the diplomatic level.
"This is an issue between the Ecuadorans, the Brits, the Swedes," said Nuland. "It is an issue among the countries involved and we're not planning to interject ourselves."
Nor has the United States gotten involved on the issue of Assange's current location or where he might end up, Nuland said. She declined to say if the United States supported the British position that it does not recognize the principle of political asylum in the first place.
Reporters at the briefing pointed out that the U.S. has invoked the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations in the past, which states, "The premises of the mission shall be inviolable. The agents of the receiving State may not enterthem, except with the consent of the head of the mission." But Nuland declined to get into that issue, saying only that the Brits were invoking British law in this case.
"Well, if you're asking me for a global legal answer to the question. I'll have to take it and consult 4,000 lawyers," Nuland said. "With regard to the decision that the Brits are making or the statement that they made, our understanding was that they were leaning on British law in the assertions that they made with regard to future plans, not on international law."
Pressed on whether or not the United States has been involved in the Assange extradition in any way, Nuland said not as far as she knows. She added that she doesn't think the Justice Department was planning on charging him with anything anyway.
"My information is that we have not involved ourselves in this," she said. "But with regard to the charge that the U.S. was intent on persecuting him, I reject that completely."
Dan Kitwood/Getty Images
North Korean officials threatened to reconsider existing agreements with the United States in a recent meeting in Singapore, two sources familiar with the discussions told The Cable.
The North Korean warning comes as analysts speculate that Pyongyang may be preparing a fresh nuclear test, a development that could raise tensions in Asia and embarrass U.S. President Barack Obama in the middle of a closely fought re-election campaign.
Top U.S. experts held a "track two" meeting in the island nation in late July, during which the North Koreans hardened their negotiating position and rejected any return to the latest deal struck between the two sides, but nevertheless left the door open to further talks with the United States and the international community.
The meeting was the first of its kind since North Korea tried and failed to launch a rocket into space in April, which precipitated a U.S. withdrawal from the Feb. 29 bilateral agreement to give North Korea food aid in exchange for concessions on the country's nuclear and missile programs.
At the secret meetings in Singapore, the North Koreans told two U.S. experts they were no longer interested in resurrecting that arrangement and said they were reconsidering their previous agreements to eventually denuclearize as well.
On the North Korean side of the table were Han Song-ryol, North Korea's deputy ambassador to the United Nations and Choe Son Hui, the deputy director-general of the North American affairs bureau in the DPRK foreign ministry. On the American side were six experts led by Joel Wit, a former U.S. nuclear negotiator, and including Corey Hinderstein, vice president of the international program at the Nuclear Threat Initiative. Some reports said that there was a also a July meeting in New York between Han and Clifford Hart, the U.S. special envoy to the defunct Six-Party Talks.
"The agenda [in Singapore] focused on a variety of issues. One important topic was the future of U.S.-North Korean relations," said one source familiar with the meeting. "The other topics were nuclear safety, nuclear security, cooperative ways of monitoring denuclearization, and the whole raft of issues people discuss at nuclear summits."
When the conversation was on the future of bilateral relations, the North Korean side made clear it was no longer interested in the Feb. 29 agreement, which included a moratorium on nuclear and missile testing, a return of international inspectors, and 240,000 tons of food aid, both sources said.
The North Koreans now want the United States to make concessions up front.
"Their position has shifted. Whereas before, under the Leap Day deal, it was simultaneous actions, as with the September 2005 joint statement, simultaneous actions were one of the key aspects. There is now emphasis on unilateral action by the U.S. and then the North Koreans may respond," one source said.
The North Koreans told their American interlocutors they were thinking internally about whether or not to scuttle the September 2005 joint statement altogether. That statement committed North Korea to eventually getting rid of its nuclear weapons program.
An Aug. 9 article in the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists written by Frank Pabian and Sigfried Hecker speculated that North Korea may be only weeks away from completing the preparations necessary to conduct a third nuclear test using either a plutonium or highly-enriched uranium (HEU) device or both. At the Singapore meeting, the North Koreans didn't broach the topic.
"They didn't make any explicit statements about their nuclear program," one source said, "but I think it's very clear that their program is moving forward. That doesn't necessarily mean nuclear tests. It's quite likely their HEU program is also moving forward."
The source noted that as part of their formal presentation, the very first point the North Korean officials made was that their new leadership is not changing the late leader Kim Jong Il's line that North Korea has no eternal enemies or eternal friends.
"That's a very clear signal that they still want to make continuing efforts to improve relations with the U.S. and are indeed are interested in that. But they are toughening their position and that's in part because they are feeling pretty good about where they are," the source said.
The North Koreans believe they have weathered the Obama administration's policy of "strategic patience" -- waiting for Pyongyang to make the first move while strengthening ties with U.S. allies in Asia.
"The North Koreans feel pretty confident in their position. They are still keeping the door open to improving ties with the U.S. but the price is getting higher and it's becoming more difficult," the source said. "At some point somebody will be back to the table with them. They are getting ready for that with a much tougher negotiating position. They think they're sitting pretty."
Of course, North Korea still faces a food crisis, devastating floods, and an economic crisis. Pyongyang might seek to trade nuclear concessions in exchange for aid, as it has in the past. But as long as the country continues to get assistance from China, its motivation to make concessions is low.
"They probably can continue to progress economically while avoiding making concessions on the nuclear front with the support of China and that seems to be the option that they've chosen," the source observed.
Two congressmen who lead on human rights issues wrote to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton last week to urge her to address the growing crisis in Tibet, where tensions, protests, and self-immolations are mounting.
"We write to urge that you undertake stronger, more coordinated, visible international steps with regards to the People's Republic of China's policies and practices towards Tibetans," wrote Reps. Jim McGovern (D-MA), chairman of the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission and Frank Wolf (R-VA), in an Aug. 9 letter. "We appreciate your efforts with regards to courageous individuals such as Chen Guangcheng. Yet we believe that the United States can and must significantly increase diplomatic and international pressure on the Chinese government to reverse the crisis in Tibet."
The congressmen noted that more than three dozen Tibetans have self-immolated in protest over the last year alone amid an increasingly restrictive environment that includes arbitrary detention, sham trials, harsh prison sentences, the use of reeducation camps, and a sharp increase in the Chinese military presence in and around Tibet.
They also noted the Chinese crackdown on religious freedom in Tibet, as reported in the 2011 State Department International Religious Freedom Report released last month, and the new Chinese policy of expelling ethnic Tibetans from Lhasa while importing Han Chinese.
"The situation is unambiguously deteriorating, and none of these actions comport with the Chinese government's rhetoric of respect for the rights of ethnic minorities, religious freedom, or a quest for a ‘harmonious society' in the region," the congressmen wrote.
In an interview last month with The Cable, the Tibetan prime minister in exile, Lobsang Sangay, called on the Obama administration to send a fact-finding mission to Tibet.
"At the larger level, if Tibetans are ignored, essentially what you're ignoring is nonviolence and democracy," Sangay said. "So in that sense I think from a democratic point of view, from a nonviolent point of view, supporting Tibet is vital because we are trying to be and we have proven in the last five decades to be a torchbearer of nonviolence and democracy."
The congressmen called on Clinton to convene an international meeting on Tibet, perhaps alongside the U.N. General Assembly meetings in New York next month, and to establish a contact group with other countries that are concerned about the situation.
"As the United States continues its ‘pivot' towards Asia, it is important that the U.S. demonstrate that it is not deaf to the desperate appeals for help and support emanating from the Tibetans," they wrote.
Now that President Barack Obama has signed the latest new sanctions bill on Iran, lawmakers are urging him to enforce it, starting with penalties against governments that reflag Iranian tankers, namely Tuvalu and Tanzania.
House Foreign Affairs Committee ranking Democrat Howard Berman (D-CA) responded to reports that the government of Tuvalu has reflagged 36 Iranian tankers by writing to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner yesterday that they should enforce the new law and punish the Tuvaluans.
"The legislation makes clear the Congressional intent that sanctions are to be used to counteract Iran's shipping operations that help support its weapons program and terrorism," Berman wrote.
On July 9, Berman wrote to the Tuvalu prime minister to urge him to stop reflagging Iranian ships. The Tuvalu government responded with a letter saying its actions didn't violate U.N. sanctions and that the reflagged ships were only for storing oil and shipping to countries exempted by sanctions.
The Tanzanian government, which has also come under fire for reflagging Iranian tankers, announced this week that it would de-register 36 Iranian ships that had been reflagged. But Berman said that while Tanzania has made progress, Tuvalu is still ignoring the pressure from the international community.
"The U.S. has had some success, most recently with the announcement by the Government of Tanzania that it is de-registering NITC vessels," Berman wrote to Clinton and Geithner. "However, with other governments, the U.S. must take more robust action."
Section 202 of the law, the Iran Threat Reduction and Syria Human Rights Act, calls for sanctions against any entity that assists Iran in concealing the identity of its vessels. Executive Order 13608 also authorizes sanctions and penalties against such entities.
Sens. Mark Kirk (R-IL) and Bob Menendez (D-NJ) wrote to Obama today to call on the administration to use both tools now to increase the pressure on countries that may be aiding Iran in reflagging its ships. They want Treasury to designate the Tanzania Zanzibar International Register of Shipping, based in the United Arab Emirates, and the Tuvalu Ship Registry, based in Singapore, for helping conceal the identity of ships belonging to the National Iranian Tanker Company (NITC), a sanctioned entity.
"The actions of the Tanzanian and Tuvaluan ship registries directly undermine the international community's ongoing diplomatic efforts to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear and ballistic missile technology, and appear to be in violation of the legislation you just signed into law," the senators wrote.
Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, his would-be vice president Paul Ryan, and defense hawks in Congress are wrong that savings can't be found in the U.S. defense budget, according to Grover Norquist, the influential president of Americans for Tax Reform, who said that he will fight using any new revenues to keep military spending high.
"We can afford to have an adequate national defense which keeps us free and safe and keeps everybody afraid to throw a punch at us, as long as we don't make some of the decisions that previous administrations have, which is to over extend ourselves overseas and think we can run foreign governments," Norquist said Monday at an event at the Center for the National Interest, formerly the Nixon Center.
But Ryan's views are at odds with those of Norquist and other budget hawks, who argue that defense budgets can be trimmed. Ryan's budget plan provides for increasing military spending and doesn't suggest any tradeoff or specific defense reforms.
"Other people need to lead the argument on how can conservatives lead a fight to have a serious national defense without wasting money," Norquist said. "I wouldn't ask Ryan to be the reformer of the defense establishment."
Avoiding $54 billion of arbitrary defense cuts next year as a result of the Budget Control Act of 2011, in what's known as "sequestration," has been a focus of Romney's campaign and one of his main points of contrast with President Obama. Romney's views align him with defense hawks who are leading that effort on the Hill, such as House Armed Services Committee Chairman Buck McKeon (R-CA) and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), who support closing tax loopholes and deductions to avoid sequestration.
"You will get serious conversation from the advocates of Pentagon spending when they understand ‘here's the dollar amount, now make decisions," Norquist said. "They want to argue you have to raise taxes -- you can't solve the problem."
Norquist vowed to fight any effort to use the money saved by tax reform to pay for military spending or to avoid the sequester.
"You have guys saying ‘can we steal all your deductions and credits and give it to the appropriators,' and then when we get tax reform there will be no tax reform," Norquist said, referring to defense hawks. "The idea is that you are going to raise taxes on people to not think through defense priorities."
But Norquist predicted that the defense hawks will lose the battle inside the GOP. The ultimate decision-makers, he said, would be the heads of the House Ways and Means Committee and the Senate Finance Committee, not the respective Armed Services Committees.
"Here's the good news. There's a very small number of them," Norquist said about the defense hawks. "The handful of [Republicans] that support that are either not coming back or they don't know yet that they are not coming back."
The Pentagon wastes money on bloated weapons systems, bases, and programs that are protected by politicians for parochial reasons, he said. Norquist said the defense hawks were not serious about saving money or reforming the Pentagon.
"If you're not looking like you're trying, nobody wants to help you, starting with me... There's a lack of seriousness," he said. "The guys who are saying ‘we're not going to cut Pentagon spending but we want to raise taxes,' they aren't making a sale... They are saying it's not a tax increase. It is, it is, it is."
Norquist said he believes in a non-interventionist foreign policy that eschews nation-building, much like the one former president George W. Bush campaigned on before he decided to invade Iraq and Afghanistan.
"Bush decided to be the mayor of Baghdad rather than the president of the United States. He decided to occupy Iraq and Afghanistan rather than reform Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. That had tremendous consequences," he said. "Rather than doing Doha [the trade round], we did Kabul."
Romney has promised to keep defense spending at 4 percent of U.S. GDP, but Norquist doesn't believe that defense spending should be pegged to the size of the U.S. economy or any other arbitrary number. He argued that the Republican Party needs to reexamine the actual defense needs and then work from there to determine how much to spend.
"Richard Nixon said that America's national defense needs are set in Moscow, meaning that we wouldn't have to spend so much if they weren't shooting at us," he said. "The guys who followed didn't notice that the Soviet Union disappeared."
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The Treasury and State Departments announced Friday that the U.S. government is sanctioning Hezbollah for supporting the Syrian regime, even though the Lebanese militia is already sanctioned for being a terrorist group and the new announcement doesn't actually change those sanctions at all.
"This action highlights Hezbollah's activities within Syria as well as its integral role in the continued violence being carried out by the Assad regime against the Syrian population," Treasury Undersecretary David Cohen said on a Friday afternoon conference call.
He noted that Hezbollah is already sanctioned as a terrorist group, since 1995, for numerous terrorist acts including the 1983 bombing of the Marine barracks in Lebanon that killed 241 Marines. Hezbollah has perpetrated attacks in South America, Southeast Asia, Europe, and various countries in the Middle East, and tried to carry out attacks in Azerbaijan, Egypt, Thailand, and Cyprus, Cohen said.
The Assad regime has given the group weapons, money, and safe haven for training camps, and now Hezbollah is repaying the favor by providing training, advice, and logistical support to the Syrian government, he said, especially in how to wage a counterinsurgency.
"Since the start of the unrest in Syria in early 2011, Hezbollah has directly trained Syrian government personnel inside Syria and has facilitated the training of Syrian forces by Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, Qods Force," said Cohen. "Hezbollah has also played a substantial role in efforts to expel Syrian opposition forces from areas within Syria."
State Department's counterterrorism czar Amb. Daniel Benjamin said that Hezbollah is coordinating directly in Syria with the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps Quds Force. He pointed to press reports that Hezbollah was behind recent terrorist attacks on Israelis in Thailand and Belgium, and accused the group of narcotics trafficking and international money laundering.
"Hezbollah believes that there have been sustained Israeli and Western campaigns against the group and its primary backers, Iran and Syria, over the past several years. And this perception is unlikely to change," he said. "Both [Hezbollah and Iran] remain determined to exact revenge against Israel and to respond forcefully to the Western-led pressure against Iran and Syria."
The Cable asked both officials if designating Hezbollah for sanctions, which freezes the group's U.S.-based assets and bars Americans from doing business with Hezbollah, has any added concrete effect if done twice. They said the added effect is in the court of public opinion.
"It will put the group in a more difficult situation, and, I think, will make them think long and hard before they continue this campaign in which the Syrian people are being brutalized. So we do see very concrete benefits coming from this designation," said Benjamin. "Whether they will be in the area of financial sanctions or not remains to be seen, but in terms of casting a bright light on what the group is doing, I think that's vitally important."
So the Treasury Department doesn't have to actually do anything to enforce the new designation it wasn't doing already, and Hezbollah doesn't feel any additional direct pain. Cohen said the Hezbollah's assets should already be frozen but there is additional impact in adding the new designation.
"The purpose of our designations, whether it's the Hezbollah action today or any of our other designations under our authorities, is not solely focused on the immediate financial impact, but as Ambassador Benjamin just expressed, to expose the activity of the party that is being designated for the conduct that has led to the designation," he said.
Benjamin said that the Obama administration hopes other countries will follow suit, not mentioning the European Union specifically, but he wouldn't say there is any indication other countries are planning any such announcement any time soon.
Cohen wouldn't comment on whether or not Hezbollah even has any assets in the United States in the first place.
"As noted before, to the extent that they are here, they should have already been frozen, and anyone who has Hezbollah assets in their possession is required to report those to OFAC. But beyond that, I can't comment," he said.
For those on Capitol Hill who are skeptical of the administration's sanctions and diplomacy-based approach toward pressuring the Assad regime to stop killing its own people, today's action seemed less than consequential.
"Today's announcement appears more about politics than policy, style more than substance," one senior Senate aide told The Cable. "This hollow designation may be pleasing to Obama strategists in Chicago, but it won't do a thing to help the people dying in the streets of Syria."
In a separate action today, the administration also sanctioned the Syrian state-run oil company Sytrol under the Iran Sanctions Act as amended by the Comprehensive Iran Sanctions Accountability and Divestment Act.
"These sanctions are because of transactions that Sytrol engaged in with Iran's energy sector, and I think the action we're taking today highlights the really serious concerns that the United States has about the close ties shared by the Iranian and Syrian regimes and the fact that we, the United States, are committed to using every tool available to prevent regional destabilization," a senior administration official said on a different Friday afternoon conference call.
The neoconservative wing of the Republican foreign policy establishment is up in arms about Mitt Romney's selection of realist Bob Zoellick to head his national security transition team, but the realists have been the Republicans who steered the ship of U.S. foreign policy the best, according to Zoellick's mentor, former Secretary of State James Baker.
"I know where I am; I think I know where Henry Kissinger and George Shultz are. I think we were all pretty darn successful secretaries of state," Baker said in a long interview Thursday with The Cable. "I also know something else: I know the American people are tired of paying the cost, in blood and treasure, of these wars that we get into that sometimes do not represent a direct national security threat to the United States."
Baker argued that the George H.W. Bush-led 1990-1991 Gulf War, which was prosecuted by an international coalition Baker himself played a key role in creating, was a more successful model than the wars that followed in Iraq and Afghanistan, wars that happen to have been urged and led by neoconservative officials in the George W. Bush administration.
"That was a textbook example of the way to go to war," Baker said of the Gulf War. "Look at the way [George H.W. Bush] ran that war. I mean, we not only did it, we said ‘Here's what we're going to do,' we got the rest of the world behind us, including Arab states, and we got somebody else to pay for it. Now tell me a better way, politically, diplomatically, and militarily, to fight a war."
Baker rejected, in detail, the four main criticisms neoconservatives both inside and outside the Romney campaign have made regarding Zoellick: that Zoellick is soft on China, insufficiently supportive of Israel, was weak on pressuring the Soviet Union toward the end of the Cold War, and that he didn't support the Gulf War.
Baker said the last charge was simply false. "He was never opposed to the Gulf War. In fact, he was one of my right-hand aides when we built that unprecedented international coalition to kick Iraq out of Kuwait," Baker said.
Regarding the end of the Cold War, Baker said Zoellick played a key role in the reunification of Germany and of Germany's subsequent admission into NATO.
"[Zoellick] wasn't the lead, but he was absolutely critical and instrumental in our getting German unification accomplished, and we did it over the objections of the Soviet Union," Baker said.
On China, Baker defended the George H.W. Bush administration's reaction to the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre, which has been widely criticized.
"The fact of the matter is that, when Tiananmen Square broke, we ended up sanctioning China in many, many ways," he said. "We didn't fire up the 101st Airborne, but we did put political and diplomatic and economic sanctions on China. But we kept the relationship going. Now, Bob Zoellick was a part of all that -- he wasn't the lead on it or anything, but he sure is not, as far as I can tell, soft on China."
Regarding Israel, Baker said that the first Bush administration admittedly had a rocky relationship with Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir, though it had a better relationship with his successor Yitzhak Rabin. But good progress was made during that period, he said, even though the Bush administration often took stances on issues that the Israeli leaders didn't like, such as whether U.S. funds could be used to build settlements.
When Baker was secretary of state, the United States convinced Arab nations to sit face to face with the Israelis, got the United Nations to repeal the resolution that equated Zionism with racism, and facilitated the emigration of Jewish émigrés from the Soviet Union, all by focusing on the U.S. interest in working with both sides toward peace, which has been a bipartisan and longstanding policy of many administrations over the years, he said.
Baker pointed to a recent New York Times column by Tom Friedman arguing that the most successful American leaders on the Middle East process were Kissinger, Jimmy Carter, and himself.
In any case, Baker said, Zoellick "wasn't involved extensively" in making policy toward Israel.
"He was not the lead guy. The lead guy there was Dennis Ross, and nobody ever accused Dennis Ross of being hard on Israel," Baker said.
Zoellick's outstanding qualifications for a leadership position in the Romney campaign or a future administration are his experience and competence, Baker said.
"The fact of the matter is that if the Romney campaign and the Romney administration employ somebody like Bob Zoellick, they're going to get somebody who's been there, who's done that, who understands how to make things work, and who understands how to get things done. And that's what we need, above all, in our leadership," he said.
The realist view practiced by Zoellick, Baker, and the elder Bush, of a pragmatic foreign policy that understands the limits of U.S. power and eschews costly and lengthy interventions in countries that aren't crucial to American interests, is even more relevant today, he argued.
For example, Baker doesn't agree with prominent neoconservatives that the United States should do more in Syria.
"Well, my view is that sooner or later, Assad is going to go. I don't think he can survive, and I think we ought to do everything we can -- politically, diplomatically, and economically -- to make that happen. I believe we are doing that. I think we ought to be very careful about the slippery slope of military intervention of any sort," he said. "The Syrian threat's not a threat to us."
Baker said that the United States can't allow Iran to get a nuclear weapon, but argued that the military option should only be used as a last resort and that there is still time for diplomacy before military action would have to be considered.
"We ought to do everything we can, tighten these sanctions as tight as we can get them -- they're showing some indication of beginning to work. We ought to see if we can't get them to work better, keep doing that. We're not at a critical point yet," he said.
"Our biggest threat today isn't Syria, or even Iran, or Russia or China. Our biggest threat today is our own economy, and we cannot continue to be strong diplomatically, politically, and militarily and be weak economically," he added.
Baker also responded to Romney's claim in stump speeches that Baker had once claimed that Ronald Reagan told him to hold no national security meetings in his first 100 days of his presidency. In fact, Reagan had national security briefings every day and intermittent National Security Council meetings, Baker said.
"I think it was misunderstood a little bit. What I said was that we focused, with laser-like efficiency, on the economy, because we knew ... you see, we came in under similar circumstances that Obama came in, but he didn't focus on the economy the way we did," Baker said.
"By the beginning of the third year of Ronald Reagan's term, we were coming out really good, creating jobs, big economic growth, because we put in place pro-growth economic policy," he said. "Well, a part of the reason we were able to do that is that in fact we in the administration focused with laser-like effectiveness on our economic program. We weren't going to let anything get in the way of that, including conflict in Central America, which some people were suggesting we ought to deal with, and that sort of thing."
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America's lawmakers skipped town last week for a five-week recess, leaving several important national security agenda items on the table.
Most, if not all of them, are expected to be ignored until after the election, meaning it could be months before Congress takes action.
Some of the stalled agenda items could be tacked in the short September session, aides say, but most will be left until the lame-duck session in December. And depending on who wins the presidency and which party controls the Senate, several items could be scuttled from the congressional calendar all together.
Here are the top five foreign-policy issues Congress punted on before leaving Washington:
Russia trade and human rights
The House didn't even try to take up two time-sensitive Russia-related bills before leaving town: a bill to grant Russia Permanent Normal Trade Relations (PNTR) status and a bill to sanction Russian human rights violators, named after dead Russian anti-corruption lawyer Sergei Magnitsky.
The trade bill is particularly time-sensitive because Russia is set to join the World Trade Organization later this month. Unless Congress grants Russia PNTR status, advocates of the bill warn, U.S. businesses won't be able to take advantage. House Republicans are leery of passing a bill that seems to some like a gift to Russia, although Democrats and the administration argue that the bill does more for the U.S. economy than it does for Russia.
The human rights bill, which would replace an antiquated 1974 law called Jackson-Vanik, is meant to be the sugar that makes the medicine go down sweet for Republicans. But due to GOP anger about Russian actions in Syria and the opposition of House Foreign Affairs Committee chairwoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), House leaders are having trouble corralling the votes for the trade bill, even if the human rights bill is attached.
Look for the business community to ratchet up pressure on Congress to act on the trade bill throughout August. Senate aides, noting that the House must go first on the PNTR bill, predict that House leaders' interest in not offending the business community will trump the awkwardness of passing a trade bill with Russia just before the election. The Senate Finance and Foreign Relations Committees have already approved both bills, so if the House does its part, Senate passage is sure to follow.
One kink in the works could be that the House version of the Magnitsky bill applies only to Russia, whereas the Senate version was broadened to apply to human rights violators throughout the world. The administration supports the Senate version because it is less provocative to the Russians. But for House leaders like Ros-Lehtinen, that defeats the purpose.
National security nominations
The Senate managed to clear a bunch of national security nominations before leaving town, but left a few top jobs behind. Unless Congress acts in September, the United States will have no ambassador in Iraq or Pakistan until after the elections. If Mitt Romney wins in November, all U.S. ambassadors will be given their pink slips and replaced, so it may seem trivial to appoint envoys who might only serve a few months. But the situations in Iraq and Pakistan could not be more sensitive, and most experts agree that U.S. national security interests are harmed by not having an ambassador at the helm of those huge and important embassies.
For Iraq, the administration is not likely to nominate anyone before the election, having learned a brutal lesson when several GOP senators successfully worked to scuttle the confirmation of Obama's original choice for the post, former NSC staffer Brett McGurk. McGurk's nomination was dead in the water when his e-mail exchange with a reporter in Baghdad (who later became his wife) was made public, but senators expressed other concerns about his qualifications for the post as well.
Some in the State Department tell The Cable that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton wants to appoint Ambassador to Syria Robert Ford to the post, but the White House doesn't want to take him off of the Syria account just yet. Other rumored candidates include the DCM in Baghdad Robert Beecroft and the current U.S. ambassador in Jordan Stu Jones. But there's no time to vet and confirm someone in the six legislative days in September, so the world's largest embassy will probably remain leaderless until 2013.
Obama's nominee to be envoy to Pakistan, Richard Olson, has a fair chance of getting confirmed in September. His nomination is currently held up by Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), who wants Pakistan to release the doctor who helped the CIA get Osama bin Laden. There's little chance the Pakistani courts will respond to Paul, so his hold will prove useless and will probably be lifted under pressure next month.
The Senate also failed to confirm Carlos Pasqual to be an assistant secretary of state in the energy bureau. That hold relates to congressional angst over the "Fast and Furious scandal," which unfolded while Pasqual was ambassador to Mexico. That issue isn't going away any time soon, so Pascqual will probably have to hold on to his "acting assistant secretary" title for a while.
Law of the Sea Treaty
Republicans senators boasted last month that they had collected enough votes to kill the Law of the Sea Treaty, an international convention that sets rules of the road for navigation, mineral, oil, and mining disputes in international waters. The drive to ratify the treaty is a major pet project of Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman John Kerry (D-MA), some say as a quasi-audition for the Secretary of State job. But the treaty remains opposed by entrenched senators in the GOP caucus, led by Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK), who sees the treaty as yielding American sovereignty.
The Navy supports the treaty because it codifies international navigation practices it is already observing, and business leaders are pushing for ratification because they believe it gives them added leverage to bargain for rights to resources under the oceans. The plan had been to push for ratification in the lame-duck session, as was done in 2010 for the New START treaty with Russia. But this treaty is still a long way from being fully vetted, Republican opponents are confident they have enough votes to stop ratification, and the lame-duck session is already jammed full of urgent tax and economic bills. Moreover, if Democrats hold the Senate, Inhofe is likely to succeed Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) as the ranking Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, dealing LOST another perhaps fatal blow.
Defense and State Department authorizations
The defense authorization is the perennial and quintessential "must-pass" bill, as no Congress wants to stand accused of failing to support the troops during wartime, so there's a healthy confidence on Capitol Hill that the legislation will get done this calendar year. But the bill won't get done this fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30, because unlike most legislation these days, senators usually get to offer amendments to the defense authorization and thus the bill requires days of precious floor time. Last year, Congress cleared the bill in late December and that looks like the plan for this year as well.
The bill recommends but does not set funding levels for the military -- the money is actually allocated by the appropriations bill -- but there are still controversial issues in the authorization bill that will require attention. Last year's debate focused on the bill's language authorizing the president to indefinitely detain terror suspects, a fight that is still ongoing in the courts. Last year's bill also included new sanctions on Iran. This year, the fight will be over provisions of the version the House passed in May that provide for indefinite detention, reject some administration cuts to weapons programs, and seek to prevent same-sex marriage ceremonies in the military.
The impending cuts to both defense and entitlement spending mandated by the Budget Control Act of 2011 have become a hot-button issue in the presidential campaign. And we know what that means: no compromises before the election. For Republicans, the administration's reluctance to negotiate to avoid approximately $54 billion in cuts to the Pentagon's budget that are set to go into effect in January feeds into in their argument that the president is weak on national defense. Democrats, meanwhile, argue that the cuts can only be avoided if Republicans agree to increase revenues.
After the election, three possible scenarios will likely emerge. If Obama wins and the Democrats hold the Senate, they will be able to claim a mandate and popular support for a deal that includes revenues as well as spending cuts to avoid sequestration. If Romney wins, having promised to hold the line on cuts, the Senate will be hard pressed to implement the sequestration bargain no matter which party holds the gavel. If Obama wins and the Republicans take over the Senate, no deal is likely and the cuts could actually go into effect, beginning what would surely be a period of increased and even more acrimonious gridlock regarding national security on Capitol Hill.
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Pakistan watchers were scratching their heads Thursday night when the Senate failed to confirm President Barack Obama's nominee to be the next ambassador to Pakistan, Rick Olson. On Friday, The Cable confirmed that Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) objected to the nomination, pushing off Olson's confirmation until at least September.
Two senior Senate aides close to the issue told The Cable that the nominations of both Olson and James Cunningham to be the next ambassador to Pakistan and Afghanistan, respectively, were at risk of not being included in the string of nominations confirmed by the Senate by unanimous consent late Thursday, just before senators adjourned for a five-week recess. The outgoing U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan, Ryan Crocker, whose health is declining, intervened and made calls on behalf of Cunningham and Olson, but only Cunningham got confirmed.
Two GOP Senate aides said that some Senate Foreign Relations Committee members were upset that the Cunningham and Olson nominations were rushed through the process and they didn't have time to submit questions for the record and get answers. There was no SFRC business meeting on the nominations, and both were discharged from the committee and sent to the floor without the committee weighing in.
The concerns about Olson, who previously served as ambassador to the United Arab Emirates, aren't personal, but committee members want more detail on the would-be envoy's proposed approach to the Haqqani network, the militant group that has been waging cross-border attacks on U.S. forces in Afghanistan. Olson promised to make the issue a priority at his July 31 confirmation hearing, but multiple senators want to use the opportunity to gauge if the administration plans to include the Haqqani network in any effort to negotiate an end to the Afghanistan war.
"Given the highly sensitive U.S.-Pakistan relationship, it is important to have a fully vetted ambassador. Both the White House and Chairman Kerry know this, and should have planned accordingly," one GOP senate aide said.
For Paul, his hold on the Olson nomination is part of his overall effort to pressure the Pakistani government to release Shakil Afridi, the doctor who worked with the CIA to help positively identify Osama bin Laden. Afridi was sentenced in June to 33 years in jail for treason. Paul is not only holding up the confirmation of the U.S. ambassador, he is also threatening to force a vote to cut all U.S. aid to Pakistan over the issue, the aides said.
Paul's office did not respond to our request for comment, but The Cable caught up with the senator himself in the hallways of the Capitol Thursday. He said he had met with the State Department and with Pakistani Ambassador Sherry Rehman, and told them that he will keep pressing the issue unless Afridi is released. Afridi's next hearing is Aug. 29.
Senate leadership is dead-set against letting Paul have a vote on his amendment, out of concern that senators won't want to publicly stand up in defense of sending more American taxpayer money to Pakistan. But Paul said he plans to use Senate Rule 14 to force a vote. It's not clear if this legislative tactic will work, but Paul is confident.
"We are still hopeful that Pakistan will relook at the evidence and decide that they don't want to hold him. If they do, we will probably not press for the vote. If they don't, I have 16 signatures to try to force a vote," Paul said. "It's not a guarantee I'll get a vote, but it's a guarantee I'll be a thorn in somebody's side."
It's doubtful that the Pakistanis will free Afridi to satisfy Paul, and senior senators lament the delay in Olson's confirmation.
"Democrats and Republicans always say that the key to Afghanistan is securing cooperation with Pakistan. That's reason enough to have a top-notch diplomat in place in Islamabad," Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman John Kerry (D-MA) told The Cable.
"This is a complicated relationship that demands constant attention. We've been working day and night with Pakistan to build a stable economy and strengthen our engagement with its people, and after such a tumultuous year, this is exactly the wrong time to leave such an important post vacant. I can't think of a good reason for doing so. We recognized the importance of this position and expedited it out of committee and I urge the Senate to move this nomination through as quickly as possible when we return from the recess."
Correction: A previous version of this article stated that Olson is headed to Pakistan prior to his confirmation. In fact, he will not go to Pakistan until he is confirmed.
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John Hudson reports on national security and foreign policy from the Pentagon to Foggy Bottom, the White House to Embassy Row, for The Cable.