The Cable

Missile defense critic to get recess appointment

President Obama has announced his intention to use a recess appointment to push through the nomination of a leading critic of missile defense to be one of his top science advisors.

Philip Coyle was named in March as Obama's nominee to become the associate director for national security and international affairs at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. The nomination elicited a coordinated campaign by conservatives to oppose his selection, based on their longstanding disagreement with Coyle over the Bush administration's efforts to rapidly expand ballistic missile defense deployment all over the world.

In his new post, Coyle will lead a team tasked with giving scientific advice to Obama on a range of national-security issues and report to OSTP Director John Holdren.

Coyle has decades of experience, having watched the U.S. missile-defense program evolve from a 1983 speech by Ronald Reagan to a worldwide system of radars and interceptors still being pursued by President Obama. During the Clinton administration, he was the Pentagon's director for operational test and evaluation, which played a key oversight role in the program.

Since 2001, Coyle has been a leading scholar at the Center for Defense Information, a Washington think tank focused on weapons and procurement issues. He also spent years at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and once served as principal deputy assistant secretary for defense programs in the Department of Energy.

Coyle is also an outspoken critic of the way missile defense has been developed, tested, and deployed. He has often argued that the testing done by the Pentagon on ballistic missile-defense components since 2001 has been either shoddy or thin. Moreover, he has repeatedly questioned the basic rationale for investing billions to deploy ballistic missile defense around the world, especially in Eastern Europe.

"In my view, Iran is not so suicidal as to attack Europe or the United States with missiles," he testified before the House Armed Services Strategic Forces subcommittee in 2009. "But if you believe that Iran is bound and determined to attack Europe or America, no matter what, then I think you also have to assume that Iran would do whatever it takes to overwhelm our missile defenses, including using decoys to fool the defenses, launching stealthy warheads, and launching many missiles, not just one or two."

Obama opposed recess appointments when he was a senator, but since assuming office, he's changed his tune. The Senate has failed to act on scores of his nominees, and Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-MO, has been leading a charge to change the rules in the Senate to make public the "secret holds" that often stall such nominations.

"It's unfortunate that at a time when our nation is facing enormous challenges, many in Congress have decided to delay critical nominations for political purposes," Obama said in his statement announcing the appointments. "These recess appointments will allow three extremely qualified candidates to get to work on behalf of the American people right away.

More than 180 nominees are currently awaiting action from the Senate, the White House said.

According to the Congressional Research Service, "The Recess Appointments Clause [in the Constitution] was designed to enable the President to ensure the unfettered operation of the government during periods when the Senate was not in session and therefore unable to perform its advice and consent function."

Coyle's appointment will expire at the end of this session of Congress, meaning he would have to be nominated again at the end of this year. GOP Senate offices are already promising to oppose his nomination again when that time comes.

"Hopefully, when Coyle loses his job at the end of the Congress, they appoint someone a little less ideological next time," one senior GOP senate aide said.

A similar situation surrounded George W. Bush's appointment of John Bolton to be ambassador to the United Nations during a congressional recess in 2005. Bolton resigned at the end of that Congress, knowing his confirmation following the 2006 victory by the Democrats would be unlikely.

The Cable

U.S. official: ‘No secret plan’ for forming Iraqi government

Vice President Joe Biden, who has been the lead administration official on Iraq for some time, went to Baghdad this past weekend to reassure the Iraqis that the U.S. was still very concerned with their political maturation, even though U.S. combat troops will soon be leaving and U.S. policy is to express no preference for how the current post-election stalemate should turn out.

"Let me just be very clear, there's no American plan, there's no secret plan," a senior administration official told reporters from Baghdad. "We don't have a slate of candidates, we don't have favorites. This is up to the Iraqis."

Even though Biden met with "virtually the entire senior Iraqi leadership," including those who are in the current government and those who are involved in forming the new government, he never once indicated what kind of outcome the Obama administration would like to see, besides an "inclusive" government where all major political interests could be represented, according to the official.

"In terms of government formation, which is on everyone's minds, he's really here to listen," the official explained, also taking time to argue that America's disengagement from Iraq is not to blame for the ongoing deadlock in forming a new government in Baghdad. The last time Iraqis voted, the U.S. was intimately involved in the behind-the-scenes wheeling and dealing that characterizes Mesopotamian politics.

"The relationship between that [drawdown] and the existence or lack of a permanent government really isn't there," the official said, adding that the schedule to end all U.S. combat operations in Iraq and drawdown to 50,000 troops by August 31 will go on as planned, regardless of whether a new government is formed by then.

Of course, there are outcomes in Baghdad that line up better or worse for U.S. interests. Biden met with Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki, whose State of Law slate did not win a plurality of votes but who did form an alliance with the Iraqi National Alliance, whose members include anti-American cleric Moqtada al Sadr.

Sadr and his people are fighting the reappointment of Maliki as prime minister and if they are successful in getting their preferred candidate Ibrahim al-Jaafari as prime minister, that could signal a political turn against the Americans, experts said. ISCI, the other powerful player within the INA, is promoting Vice President Adel Abdul-Mahdi.

Meanwhile, Iraqiyya, which actually won more votes than any other slate, is fighting for its place in the new government and is still hopeful its leader Ayad Allawi will be made prime minister. His secular leanings would ostensibly be what Washington would prefer, although the administration won't say that out loud -- and he didn't have such a successful tenure the first time around, when he presided over some of the most violent years of the war.

"Certainly there are outcomes that are in line more with U.S. interests than others," said Marisa Cochrane Sullivan, research director at the Institute for the Study of War, a Washington think tank run by Iraq expert Kimberly Kagan.

Sullivan said that Biden's trip shows even more caution than his last visit, when he was there to argue against the actions of Maliki and others to disqualify scores of Iraqiyya candidates who were accused of having Baathist ties.

On that trip, some Iraqi feathers were ruffled when Biden seemed to side with Allawi and the disqualified candidates over Maliki. That's why he and other U.S. officials are so insistent not to seem to be expressing any preference now.

"He's catering to the Iraqi domestic political sensitivities here and walking a very fine line," Sullivan said.

It was Biden's fourth trip to Iraq since becoming vice president and being charged by President Obama with overseeing U.S. policy there, based on his experience and interest in the war while he was head of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

It was also Biden's second consecutive visit to Baghdad for the July 4 holiday, and he took the opportunity to preside over a swearing-in ceremony for freshly minted American citizens who earned their new national identity by fighting with U.S. forces.

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