The Cable

Weiner’s resignation is good for USIP

Every cloud has a silver lining, and there's one organization in Washington that stands to benefit from the humiliating resignation of Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-NY) -- the U.S. Institute of Peace (USIP).

USIP, a conflict resolution organization created by Congress in 1984 and funded by the U.S. government ever since, is embroiled in a fight for its very existence. Caught up in the firestorm of GOP budget cutting that specifically targets foreign aid and diplomacy funding, USIP is battling hard to preserve its funding and the charter that allows it to continue as a policy research body whose work is integrated with the U.S. government and military.

There are plenty of GOP lawmakers who have their targets set on USIP but, until today, there was only one senior Democrat who had taken an active role in trying to defund the organization -- Weiner.

In February, Weiner joined with two Republicans, Reps. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) and Chip Cravaack (R-MN), to sponsor an amendment that would strip USIP of all of its funding in the fiscal 2011 continuing resolution. Their amendment actually passed the House 268-163, but did not make it into the final bill because the senate did not agree. But Weiner was instrumental in convincing 42 Democrats to vote for the amendment.

Weiner's issue seemed to be with USIP's brand new headquarters, which was funded with the help of a one-time, $100 million Congressional appropriation.

"This is a very, very good program. But should we be spending $100 million of taxpayer money to build a think tank a giant headquarters, a stone's throw from the State Department? Should we be providing them money through grants from the Department of Defense or State Department?" Weiner said on the House floor in February.

"The question has to be: In these fiscal times, is there nothing that we should be able to say, you know, maybe we should do without? Or, better yet, if you believe that giving an additional $40 million, let it go out in the form of grants. Let other institutes step up and try to get it. Let them apply. Let them make an application."

Weiner and Chaffetz even wrote an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal that called USIP "a case study in how government waste thrives."

Inside USIP, employees were stunned and perplexed that Weiner, a Democrat with strong ties to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, was doing so much to attack their budget.

"We don't know what motivated him or why he tried to create a bipartisan effort against us with Chaffetz, but he sure got a lot of people spun up," one USIP insider told The Cable.

A USIP spokesperson would only say, "Because we are a non-partisan and Congressionally funded national security organization, we don't comment on members of congress other than to thank them for their support."

Congress ended up giving USIP $39.5 million of its $46.5 million request for fiscal 2011. But the fight over USIP funding is back for fiscal 2012, and USIP's $42.7 million request is under scrutiny.

What's more, now some Republicans are trying to eliminate the organization altogether. Chaffetz and Cravaack sponsored an amendment to the defense authorization bill that would eliminate the USIP charter. Weiner didn't support that one, indicating that he is not opposed to USIP, just its funding.

Without Weiner's activism, the amendment to scuttle the USIP charter only garnered 10 Democratic votes but still passed 226-194 last month. The Senate is working on its version of that bill now.

USIP has support from both Democratic and Republican pundits, officials, and military officers. Advocates often point to the support of Ronald Reagan, George Shultz, and David Petraeus.

The American Enterprise Institute's Norm Ornstein wrote on June 1 that USIP was valuable to national security "because this is not some collection of pointy-headed peaceniks -- USIP has been engaged in serious and risky work, hand in hand with our military, in Iraq, Afghanistan and other trouble spots. It is engaged in mediation, nation building and other efforts to reduce conflict and save lives."

"The battle over USIP is only one of many skirmishes in a larger war, as House Members try to use both appropriations and authorizations to take a meat ax to government, with little consideration or debate about costs and benefits," Ornstein argued.

"Who would you trust on these matters: Ronald Reagan, George Shultz and David Petraeus -- or Chip Cravaack and Jason Chaffetz?"

Regardless, with Anthony Weiner's departure from Capitol Hill, USIP has one less critic to worry about.

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The Cable

White House: Zawahiri is an “armchair general” and “soft”

The Obama administration would like you to know it doesn't have much respect for al Qaeda's new leader Ayman al-Zawahiri, and thinks he's an "armchair general" with a "soft" image.

Al Qaeda released a statement today announcing that Zawahri, the Egyptian-born jihadist who was Osama bin Laden's longtime deputy, "has assumed the responsibility of the leadership of the group." A senior administration official quickly sent out talking points to reporters belittling the terrorist leader, saying he has no charisma, poor skills, and can't hold a candle to his dead predecessor.

"The number two, Zawahiri is not charismatic," Obama's top counterterrorism advisor John Brennan said in a post-Osama mission press conference. "He has not been -- was not involved in the fight earlier on in Afghanistan... and I think he has a lot of detractors within the organization. And I think you're going to see them start eating themselves from within more and more."

The senior administration official sent out these additional talking points this morning about Zawahiri, each more insulting than the last.

- He hasn't demonstrated strong leadership or organizational skills during his time in al Qaeda or previously while in the Egyptian Islamic Jihad.

- His ascension to the top leadership spot will likely generate criticism if not alienation and dissention with al Qaeda.

- Unlike many of al Qaeda's top members, Zawahiri has not had actual combat experience, instead opting to be an armchair general with a "soft" image.

- No matter who is in charge, he will have a difficult time leading al Qaeda while focusing on his own survival as the group continues to hemorrhage key members responsible for planning and training operatives for terrorist attacks.

And here's the kicker:

- The bottom line is that Zawahiri has nowhere near the credentials that Osama bin Laden had.

Ouch.

 

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