The Cable

Ros-Lehtinen: My mission is to cut the State and foreign aid budgets

Florida Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), the incoming chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, isn't wasting any time in pressing for deep cuts to the State Department and U.S. foreign operations around the world.

Ros-Lehtinen, in a statement today laying out her agenda, also criticized the Obama administration's decision to join the U.N. Human Rights Council, called for the government to use its contributions to international organizations as leverage to force changes at the United Nations, and advocated for stronger action against "rogue states."

Her primary mission, though? Finding savings in the budgets that her committee will be authorizing.

"In November, the voters made it clear that if we don't take the correct approach to policy by keeping our economy foremost in our decisions, they're going to ship us all out," she said. "Republicans got the message and are committed to making ‘the people's House' work for the people again.  As Chairman of this Committee, I will work to restore fiscal discipline to foreign affairs, reform troubled programs and organizations, exercise vigorous oversight to identify waste, fraud, and abuse, and counter the threats posed to our nation by rogue states and violent extremists."

Ros-Lehtinen doesn't actually dole out the funds for the State Department and the foreign operations budgets. That's the job of the House Appropriations State and Foreign Ops subcommittee. But as we've reported, the likely incoming chairwoman of that panel, Rep. Kay Granger (R-TX) is of a similar mind as Ros-Lehtinen.

The cuts could severely complicate the Obama administration's mission to elevate both diplomacy and development as instruments of national power, as laid out in the National Security Strategy. It could also cause difficulties for the State Department's plan to take over more responsibility in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan and rebuild the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID)..

The State Department's Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review, the first of its kind, is due out next week. State Department Policy Planning chief Anne Marie-Slaughter has been briefing the bureaus at State on the changes this week, as final edits are completed.

Slaughter will leave Washington and return to Princeton to resume her position as dean of the Woodrow Wilson school later this month. The other main leader of the QDDR, former Deputy Secretary Jack Lew, left State to take over OMB, where he is beyond busy preparing the fiscal 2012 budget and leading the WikiLeaks government-wide information security review.

That leaves the implementation of the QDDR to people like Lew's replacement, Thomas Nides, and 37-year-old USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah.

Shah and Nides will have their work cut out for them when they go up against the new, GOP-controlled House of Representatives. Ros-Lehtinen's letter declares:

"I have identified and will propose a number of cuts to the State Department and Foreign Aid budgets. There is much fat in these budgets, which makes some cuts obvious. Others will be more difficult but necessary to improve the efficiency of U.S. efforts and accomplish more with less. We must shift our foreign aid focus from failed strategies rooted in an archaic post-WWII approach that, in some instances, perpetuates corrupt governments, to one that reflects current realities and challenges and empowers grassroots and civil society."

What exactly that will mean remains to be seen. But Ros-Lehtinen will lead a panel that, while trying to cut foreign aid funding, will likely also press the administration to implement Iran sanctions strictly and harshly. She will also scuttle the House drive to lift sanctions on Cuba and resist any engagement with North Korea.

"My worldview is clear: isolate and hold our enemies accountable, while supporting and strengthening our allies," she said. "I support strong sanctions and other penalties against those who aid violent extremists, brutalize their own people, and have time and time again rejected calls to behave as responsible nations. Rogue regimes never respond to anything less than hardball."

AFP/Getty Images

The Cable

Wikileaked: U.S. ambassador to Russia: We can't arm Georgia due to the "reset"

Ever since President Barack Obama took office, his administration has refused to sell military equipment to Georgia. In a newly released WikiLeaks cable, the U.S. ambassador to Russia made the argument that U.S. military support to Georgia is unwise because it would upset the U.S.-Russian "reset."

"A decision to move towards a more robust military relationship with Georgia will imperil our efforts to re-start relations with Russia," read a June 2009 cable signed by U.S. Ambassador John Beyrle. "Our assessment is that if we say ‘yes' to a significant military relationship with Tbilisi, Russia will say ‘no' to any medium-term diminution in tensions, and feel less constrained absent reverting to more active opposition to critical U.S. strategic interests."

The U.S.-Russia reset policy is not as important to Russia as its "absolute" priority of expanding its influence in Eurasia, Beyrle wrote. He said that sending military supplies to Georgia would cause Russia to backtrack on other areas of U.S.-Russia cooperation, including joint action to pressure Iran.

Besides, the Russians don't think that the United States possesses the power to force a resolution to the situation in the disputed territories of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, which Russia has occupied since the end of the 2008 Russia-Georgia war, Beyrle explained in the leaked cable.

The Obama administration hasn't actually set forth a policy banning weapons sales to Georgia. They simply haven't sold weapons to Georgia and don't plan on doing so. That de facto ban on arms sales has riled some in Washington, including Senate Foreign Relations Committee ranking Republican Richard Lugar (R-IN).

"The United States, under substantial Russian diplomatic pressure, has paused the transfer of lethal military articles to Georgia, and no U.S. assistance since the war has been directly provided to the Georgian Ministry of Defense," Lugar's staff wrote in a December 2009 report. "Consequently, Georgia lacks basic capacity for territorial defense."

Contradicting Lugar, the Beyrle cable argues that arms sales would actually be harmful for Georgian national security, because it increases the likelihood of sparking another war that Georgia would surely lose.

"From our vantage point, a burgeoning military supply relationship with Georgia is more of a liability for Georgia than a benefit," Beyrle wrote. "We recognize that our suggested approach would be deeply dissatisfying to Saakashvili, but we see ... no way to neutralize the advantages of geography, size, and capabilities enjoyed by Russia."

Samual Charap, associate director for the Russia and Eurasia program at the Center of for American Progress, agreed. "Instead of the argument of whether we can fulfill this desire of the Georgian government, we have to step back and say ‘what is the U.S. interest here,'" he said. "There's no such thing as a military balance or a military deterrent in this case."

More broadly, Charap and top administration officials argue that the reset policy with Russia is actually good for Georgia, even if it means that the United States won't sell it weapons.

"I guess the question is: Is Georgia and is the rest of Europe more secure today than they were -- than Europe was when we first got here? And I think our answer is yes," Michael McFaul, senior director for Russia at the National Security Council, said in June.

"The reset protects Georgia because Russia now has a whole lot more to lose," added Charap. "Before, nobody in Moscow was going to think ‘what will they think in Washington,' because they didn't care. Now they care."

Other experts said that while the Beyrle cable reflects just one man's opinion, it fits into a broader pattern of an Obama administration that has ignored Georgia and other parts of central Asia due to a focus on improving U.S.-Russian ties.

"Having a reset policy is fine, but what the administration has not done is create a simultaneous comprehensive policy for the central Asian states," said Alexandros Petersen, senior fellow at the Atlantic Council.  "Right now 100 percent of our Georgia policy is about Russia, where it should be about 25 percent."

Petersen agreed that selling arms to Georgia is not a panacea, but should be combined with other types of assistance, including civil institution building, which is mentioned in Beyrle's cable.

"The Georgians love banging the table and saying give us lots of arms, but they are just as myopic as this cable was," Petersen said. "If you're going to do arms sales, you have to do 10 other things relating to bolstering Georgia."

The cable, by alluding to Russian corruption and heavy handedness in the disputed territories, fits into the larger picture of State Department reporting, as revealed by WikiLeaks, which privately emphasizes Russian misbehavior in Georgia. These cables, including reports on Russian military and intelligence attacks inside Georgia dating back to 2004, go well beyond what U.S. diplomats commented on in public.

Although Beyrle's cable does not represent U.S. official policy, some experts see a White House keen to adopt its candid recommendations.

"As the U.S. ambassador to Russia, naturally he is going to a focus on a better relationship with Russia, so you can't say this necessarily this trickles up to the Obama administration's policy," said Petersen. "But a senior official at State is clearly saying we should throw Georgia under the bus."