The Cable

The real Tea Party has no unified foreign policy (with video)

There's a battle going on among the standard-bearers of the Tea Party over their foreign policy message. But at the rank-and-file level, Tea Partiers have no unified view on major foreign policy issues. They are all over the map.

Sarah Palin, who spoke at Glenn Beck's "Restoring Honor" rally on the Mall Saturday, would like the Tea Party to endorse her quasi-neoconservative approach to national security policy. She advocates aggressive unilateralism, ever-rising defense budgets, unfailing support of Israel, and a skeptical eye toward China, Russia, and any other possible competitor to the United States.

Ron Paul, a founding leader of the Tea Party who has seen the movement slip away from him somewhat, wants the  movement's focus on thrift to extend to foreign policy, resulting in an almost isolationist approach that sets limits on the use of American power and its presence abroad.

In over a dozen interviews with self-identified Tea Party members at Saturday's rally, your humble Cable guy discovered that, when it comes to foreign policy, attendees rarely subscribed wholeheartedly to either Palin or Paul's world view. Despite claiming to share the same principles that informed their views, Tea Partiers often reached very different conclusions about pressing issues in U.S. foreign policy today.

Understandably, most Tea Party members at the rally viewed foreign policy through the prism of domestic problems such as the poor economy and the movement of jobs overseas. Almost all interviewees expressed support for U.S. troops abroad and a connection to Christianity they said informed their world view.

But that's where the similarities ended. Some attendees sounded like reliable neocons arguing for more troops abroad. Others sounded like antiwar liberals, lamenting the loss of life in any war for any reason. Still others sounded like inside the beltway realists, carefully considering the costs and benefits of a given policy option based on American national security interests.

For example, The Cable interviewed Danny Koss, a former Marine from Grove City, PA, who was measured when it came to talking about the war in Afghanistan.

"If we are going to stay, I suggest we really win," he said. "I'm not convinced that some of our leadership is ready for that. I know our generals are."

Koss, sounding like a realist, said that he saw China as a near-term economic threat but not a near-term military threat. A strike against Iran was not a good option, he argued, although he said it was wise of President Barack Obama to publicly state that all options are on the table.

When it came to the Israeli-Palestinian dispute, however, Koss seamlessly switched to a religious frame.

"You've got to go back and read the Bible, see who had it first. If you believe the Bible and who God gave it to, the rest is history," he said.

Later, we ran into Cecilia Goodow from Hartford, NY, who said that her foreign policy views were determined exclusively by her faith. This led her to regret the Bush administration's decision to invade Iraq.

"It sounded so reasonable at the time. But Holy Father John Paul II was against the war; he said it would just be an awful thing and many people would be killed," she said. "I always supported the troops, but we know history and we know that wars are sometimes perpetrated by evil people for evil reasons that the average person doesn't even know about or understand, so I can't wait for it all to stop."

Goodow said she wants Obama to stand up for America more and fight the forces of evil, which include Iran, but she doesn't support military intervention, even in Afghanistan.

"Sometimes that's cloudy -- why are we there? Barack Obama ran on the promise that he was going to bring everybody home. That's what we all sat around the table talking about. Maybe if there's a new presidential policy maybe we can have peace again, maybe we can bring our kids home," she said. "War begets more war."

On the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, we found Larry Maxwell of Patterson, NY. Dressed in full Revolutionary War regalia and holding a huge American flag, he was as much historian as activist, engaging passersby in debates about America's past.

While he supported the decision to go war in Iraq and largely believes claims that former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction, Maxwell lamented the cost of the Iraq war and the danger of bolstering Iranian influence in the region.

But while Maxwell was concerned about the tensions surrounding Iran and its nuclear program, he didn't believe that a military strike is the best option.

"Are we the world's police? We're having a lot of trouble here and a lot of problems here. I'm not sure where our role comes over there," he said. "The United Nations would be the place for that ... but nobody listens to them."

Maxwell, like Koss, also referenced the Bible to support Israel's right to the land it now occupies. "The Bible says in the last days, that the Middle East, that's going to be the center of activity," he said.  "If you go back to the Bible, it says there's going to be an army of 200 million men coming out of the East to the Middle East, as part of that whole Armageddon and ‘end of days' thing."

But not all Tea Partiers reflexively took Israel's side. Brandon Malator from Washington, DC, who dressed in U.S. Army fatigues and donned a cowboy hat with a Lipton tea bag dangling from the brim, was a stalwart supporter of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, but not of Israel.

"[We should] stay longer. We've never left any other country and we shouldn't leave Iraq," he said, adding that the U.S. is engaged in a 100-year-war that would include a coming war with Iran and eventually a war with China, which he called "World War III." He praised Obama for sending more troops to Afghanistan. "I think we're doing what we need to do as Americans. I think if the rest of the world doesn't like it, then that's tough luck."

But when it came to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Malatore's was downright dovish.  "I hope that Israel and Palestine can come to an agreement, share the land, and do whatever they need to do to stop fighting all the time. I hope that war ends; that's been going on too long."

The Cable

Why did Kim Jong Il snub Jimmy Carter?

Former President Jimmy Carter returned home from Pyongyang Friday with pardoned prisoner Aijalon Mahli Gomes in tow. Carter succeeded in his mission. But Kim Jong Il completely stood him up by taking a surprise trip to Beijing, in what Korea hands say is a clear signal to Washington that North Korea hasn't made the decision to get serious about dealing with the United States.

For the Obama administration, the trip couldn't have gone better. Not only did Gomes get saved after spending 7 months in a North Korean prison for crossing the border with China illegally, but Carter seems to have stayed on message and didn't upset U.S. policy, despite fears that the former president would take the opportunity to freelance.

The administration may have had no choice but to send him. Multiple reports now say that it was the North Koreans, not the White House, that chose Carter over two other prospective rescuers, Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman John Kerry, D-MA, and New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson.

Diplomatic sources say that while it's true that the negotiations over sending a high-level envoy date back months, all three candidates were making preparations to go and the final decision came as late as last weekend, just days before Carter left. We're also told that while it's true the North Koreans communicated they wanted Carter, the actual negotiations were complicated and involved input from both sides.

Of course, Carter's ability to thaw relations between Washington and Pyongyang was hampered by the fact that he never was able to meet with the one man in North Korea who can make such a decision. Kim left for China just as Carter was arriving and didn't come back until the former president had left Pyongyang.

Carter was met at the airport by Kim Kye Gwan, the lead North Korean nuclear negotiator. His dinner and meeting was with Kim Yong Nam, a high-ranking official but not at the head of state level and not a blood relative of Kim, who is a self-proclaimed "living god." Meanwhile, Kim was mugging for photographs with Chinese President Hu Jintao in Beijing.

"It's worse than a slap to the face, it's basically giving the middle finger to the United States," said Patrick Cronin, director of the Asia security program at the Center for a New American Security. Kim's message to Carter was, "Go ahead and come over Mr. President. You don't matter, I'm not even going to be here to meet with you."

Cronin said Kim's calculation had as much to do with China as with the United States. Kim was probably sending a message that he using Beijing to ease impending U.S. pressures related to his nuclear weapons programs, including a host of new unilateral sanctions and joint military exercises with South Korea.

On Wednesday, China's official media organ the People's Daily published an article about U.S. policy toward North Korea that was so aggressive it could just have easily appeared on the hyperbolically inclined North Korean official media site, experts said.

"Although Washington is not openly talking about the policy, its goal remains to overthrow the current North Korean government," the article said. "The controversial sinking of the South Korean battleship, in retrospect, is more like a convenient excuse for the US to conduct a long-planned drill that envisions the occupation of the North, rather than a single reaction toward an emergency."

The American Enterprise Institute's Nicholas Eberstadt said that the trip and the article cement the stance of China as North Korea's de facto defense lawyer. China refused to acknowledge that North Korea sank the South Korean ship Cheonan and is now openly criticizing the approach of the U.S. and South Korea, two of Beijing's supposed partners in the six-party talks.

"Chinese objectives have been revealed by this official pronouncement and Chinese objectives are to maintain support for North Korea, to lean towards North Korea when American seems to be potentially menacing, and to signal that China's interests lie more in the security of North Korea's territorial integrity than in the denuclearization of the DPRK," Eberstadt said.

Meanwhile, Kim has a lot on his mind. Although nobody know for sure, it's widely speculated that he brought his youngest son and prospective heir Kim Jong Un along for the trip to introduce him to Chinese leaders and prep an announcement of his succession at next month's Worker's Party conference.

Michael Green, former senior Asia director in the National Security Council, argues in a piece on Foreign Policy's Shadow Government blog that the whole episode shows that both China and North Korea are looking toward succession rather than short-term engagement, and the U.S. should do so as well.

"The Obama administration therefore has to keep one simple rule in mind if they begin exploring bilateral and multilateral talks with the north in the weeks and months ahead: Do not pay for the talks by relaxing defensive measures such as financial sanctions and military exercises," argues Green. "It is also a reminder that the Obama administration should not get so distracted by the possible resumption of talks that they lose focus on the big strategic question -- what comes after the Kim Dynasty?"

Overall, Carter's trip resulted in more questions than answers about what is happening inside the world's last Stalinist state, as well as what is to come. As Green noted, "There are strange goings-on in Pyongyang these days."

AFP/Getty Images