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.



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The Cable

State Department: Human Rights Council progress is “undeniable”

As U.S. contributions to the United Nations and its participation in the controversial Human Rights Council (HRC) are under attack in the Congress, a top State Department official said on Wednesday that U.S. engagement at the HRC has been effective and benefited Israel.

"U.N. bodies, including the Human Rights Council, have improved as the result of direct U.S. engagement. If we cede ground, if our engagement in the U.N. system is restricted -- these bodies likely would be dominated by our adversaries," said Esther Brimmer, the assistant secretary of State for International Organization Affairs, in a speech at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

Prior to the U.S. decision to join the HRC in 2009, Israel was singled out for six special sessions intended to single out Israeli actions for condemnation, there were too many unbalanced resolutions focused on Israel, and too little attention paid to the world's worst human rights situations, she said.

But now, Brimmer contended the situation was getting better: "The challenges continue at the Council, but the Council's improvement through U.S. engagement is undeniable."

She highlighted the council's decision on Wednesday to issue a statement calling on the Syrian government to allow access to the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights and referred to "daily reports of killings, arbitrary detention, and torture of men, women, and children."

Syria dropped its bid for a seat on the council last month under pressure and the council suspended Libya in March, although praised Libya in a report only two months prior to that.

Most of Brimmer's speech focused on what she called "the administration's far reaching efforts to normalize Israel's status in and across the U.N. and the broader multilateral system."

Brimmer also criticized congressional efforts to withhold U.S. funding for the United Nations, an effort led by House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairwoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL).

"The United States must maintain the strongest position it can at the U.N., and that means paying its bills on time and in full," she said. "How could we have won tough Security Council sanctions on Iran or North Korea if we were continuing to incur arrears?"

"How would it impact the president's commitment to a shared security with Israel?" Brimmer said. "These are risks we cannot afford to take. The United States cannot afford failed short-term tactics that have long-term implications for our security, and we must be a responsible global leader, and that means paying our bills."