The Cable

Will New START get a vote this year?

With all of the uncertainty surrounding the makeup of Congress following the Nov. 2 midterm elections, the Obama administration is pushing for a debate and vote on the New START nuclear reductions treaty before the membership of the Senate changes next January. Leading GOP senators, however, are doing everything they can to resist that plan.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made clear she wants to see a vote on the U.S.-Russia pact -- which passed through committee on Sept. 16 -- during the "lame duck" session of Congress, after the November election but before newly elected senators take their seats.

"I look forward to the vote in the lame duck session that will once again demonstrate the Senate joining all of its predecessors in years past to continue to support arms control treaty," Clinton said confidently, standing alongside Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry (D-MA) on Sept. 30.

But the likelihood of the Senate making time to debate and vote on the treaty, which Kerry estimates would take three legislative days, is far from certain. Depending on whether Democrats retain control of the Senate and whether Sen. Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) loses his own election, the lame duck session or sessions could be brief. The Senate could also be consumed in November by overdue tasks, such as working on tax issues and funding the Defense Department.

Senior GOP senators, most of who have yet to signal their positions on the treaty, are also making it clear they don't support voting on New START during the lame duck session. They don't think there's enough time, and they still have substantive concerns about it.

One key issue is the dispute between the top Democratic and Republican senators of the Intelligence Committee, who are at odds over whether the National Intelligence Estimate provided to the committee gives enough assurance that the verification measures in the treaty can be properly enforced.

"Obviously the classified details are available to my colleagues in the secure reading room, but I can certainly share with you my conclusions. And I think by pushing the New START treaty, the administration is taking us down a very dangerous path," said committee ranking Republican Kit Bond (R-MO), speaking Monday on the radio show of Frank Gaffney, the founder, CEO, and president of the Center for Security Policy, a right-leaning think tank.

"I think the treaty is very weak on verification, especially compared to previous treaties like START and the INF treaty. And we would have much greater trouble determining whether Russia is cheating and given Russia's track record, that's a real problem," Bond said. "If we don't have a solid means of verifying them, it just makes no sense to trust them."

Bond says some specific issues he has with the verification mechanisms in the treaty include what he sees as the U.S. decision to grant Russia full access to its telemetry data, no right to on-sight monitoring of Russian facilities, and language that notes Russia's opposition to U.S. missile defense plans.

Bond is using the verification issue to argue for postponing a vote on New START until next year. Ironically, that will mean he won't get a vote, since he is retiring at the end of this session.

"I hope we only do the things we have to do in the lame duck [session]," Bond said. "I'm hoping they will put this off and consider it next year when people have a chance to look at it and people have time to debate it."

Senate Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) doesn't believe that the intelligence information provided to the committee is a problem. Moreover, she points out that without a treaty, there is no verification at all. In fact, verification has been shuttered since the old START treaty expired last December.

"I've read the National Intelligence Estimate very clearly," Feinstein told The Cable in an interview. "The overwhelming fact is that if START goes down, nothing is in place. If START goes down, everything that has been attempted by improving relations between our two countries takes an enormous setback."

"The issue in question is whether the treaty provides adequate verification. In my view, it does," she said.

Bond's concerns about the treaty are separate from concerns raised by Sen. Jim Risch (R-ID) at the Sept. 16 hearing, which was almost derailed when Risch raised an undisclosed late-breaking intelligence concern. But that's not the problem that worries Bond.

"Risch raised a different piece of intelligence about something else," Kerry said, declining to go into specifics.

Regardless, the administration will have to make a choice whether to push hard for a vote in the lame duck session and risk alienating senators who are calling for more time, or let the vote slip until next year, when the makeup of the Senate, and therefore the politics of New START, may be very different.

The Cable

How Bob Woodward drove the nail in Jim Jones's coffin

Jim Jones was preparing to leave his job as national security advisor in early 2011, according to Bob Woodward's Obama's Wars. Ironically, controversy erupting from that very same book may have contributed to Jones speeding up that schedule by several months; President Obama will announce his departure today, and that his replacement will be his deputy, Tom Donilon.

Immediate reaction within the administration to Jones's resignation was consistent with the long-held view that Jones was never able to be effective as national security advisor because he was outside of Obama's inner circle and was intellectually and sometimes physically cut out of major foreign policy discussions.

"Jones always carried an ‘emeritus' air about him and appeared removed and distant from the day-to-day operations," one administration official told The Cable. "In six months, you will be hard pressed to find anyone in the administration who notices that Jones is no longer there."

In fact, Jones's distance from key White House staff was reported as early as May 2009. But the Woodward book, which included several salacious quotes that allegedly came from Jones, vividly described his tenure as one that was rocky from the start and only continued to deteriorate as he became more and more frustrated with all of the White House staff he was supposed to be working with.

Jones apparently didn't get along with most of the White House political advisors, including Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, senior advisor David Axelrod, Press Secretary Robert Gibbs, and NSC staffers Denis McDonough and Mark Lippert. Woodward reported that Jones called them the "water bugs," the "Politburo," the "Mafia" and the "campaign set." Jones almost quit once when one of the "water bugs" denied him access to Obama during an overseas trip to Europe.

The book revealed that Jones confronted Emanuel for dealing with Donilon instead of him, telling him once, "I'm the national security advisor. When you come down there, come see me."

Jones chose Donilon as his deputy at the insistence of Emanuel, despite having no personal connection to him, and later came to regret the choice. Woodward reported that Jones also worked to oust Lippert, whom he accused of leaking information about him to the media.

According to Woodward, Jones was shocked to be selected for the NSA post in the first place because he had no prior relationship whatsoever with Obama. But the president saw Jones as someone who could help him navigate the military, and perhaps even provide a counterweight to the Pentagon leadership due to his experience as Marine Corps commandant and head of NATO.

But if Obama wanted Jones to help him deal with the military, that also didn't bear out. Woodward details several instances where Jones finds himself in open conflict with the military brass, led by Joint Chiefs Chairman Adm. Michael Mullen. In the administration's debates over increasing troop levels in Afghanistan, Jones often raised the prospect of sending far fewer troops than the 40,000 requested by Mullen and Gen. Stanley McChrystal, arguing that the military hadn't proven its need for so many new troops.

The last salvo against Jones from Woodward came during the author's Oct. 5 interview with Charlie Rose, where he said that Jones had failed in his fundamental duty to give frank advice to the president because he held back on his assessment that only 20,000 additional troops were needed in Afghanistan.

Woodward heaped praise on Donilon, saying that he ran at 100 miles per hour compared to Jones' 35 mph. But not all of the characters in his book agreed. Woodward quotes Defense Secretary Bob Gates as saying that Donilon would be a "disaster" as national security advisor.

According to all accounts, Donilon has been the machine running the NSC for some time, chairing the crucial deputies committee meetings and making the trains run on time throughout the NSC. But Donilon is not viewed as a strategic thinker along the lines of someone like former NSA Henry Kissinger or Zbigniew Brzezinski.

"Donilon will represent continuity and I can't see any major shifts in policy stemming from the changeover," one administration source said.      

On one major issue, Jones and Donilon seemed to agree. Donilon is skeptical about the prospects for success in Afghanistan, for reasons similar to Jones's. Just after Obama announced the decision to add 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan, Donilon said to the NSC's Gen. Doug Lute, "My god, what have we got this guy into?," according to Woodward.