The Cable

GOP fangs out for Wendy Sherman

In the GOP's latest salvo in its campaign against Obama nominees, conservatives didn't even wait for Wendy Sherman to be nominated as the next undersecretary of State for Policy before attacking her suitability for the post.

The Cable first reported on May 25 that Sherman is the "leading candidate" to replace Bill Burns, who was nominated as Deputy Secretary of State Jim Steinberg's replacement. Currently the vice chair of the Albright Stonebridge Group, Sherman was counselor to Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, where she also held the role of North Korea policy coordinator. She served as assistant secretary of State for legislative affairs from 1993 to 1996 under Secretary of State Warren Christopher. She is also chair of the board of directors of Oxfam America and serves on the U.S. Department of Defense's Defense Policy Board.

President Obama hasn't actually announced his intention to nominate Sherman. Our sources say the nomination is all but certain -- although nothing is 100 percent certain until it's announced. Meanwhile, those on the right who are opposed to her nomination have begun airing their concerns in the media.

Over at Washington Post's Right Turn blog, conservative writer Jennifer Rubin has posted three pieces on Sherman this week. The first one on June 14 contended that Sherman's tenure as a key official on North Korea policy was not an unqualified success. "She was a key player, at then-Secretary of State Madeleine Albright's side in negotiating the North Korea deal that is generally regarded as a farce and a failure," Rubin wrote. She also quoted conservative writer Claudia Rosett, who named Sherman as "part of the Clinton team that brought us some of the worst appeasement of North Korea."

Rubin then speculated that Sherman might have represented the Chinese government or a Chinese state-owned company while at Stonebridge. Rubin quotes a "Senate advisor" as saying, "Senators will specifically want to know if the prospective nominee for the number 3 position in the State Department has lobbied for the People's Republic of China."

Rubin's second post on Sherman June 15 quoted former State Department official John Bolton as saying Sherman was "centrally involved" in a North Korea policy that amounted to "appeasement."

Rubin's third post today focuses on Sherman's tenure as head of the Fannie Mae Foundation from 1996 to 1997. The destructive behavior of Fannie Mae, which the New York Times' David Brooks said "helped sink the American economy," largely were perpetrated after Sherman left, but Rubin nonetheless asserts, "Sherman had left by 2001 but surely her role in the debacle-in-the-making should be cause for concern."

We went to our administration sources to see how they were planning to respond to the already heated attacks on their potential high-level nominee. Administration officials were reluctant to engage in a media war over a nominee who has yet even to be named, but spelled out their current thinking about the charges leveled against Sherman.

One administration official bristled at Rubin's insinuation that Sherman worked as a lobbyist, perhaps even for the Chinese, while at Stonebridge. Sherman was never a lobbyist, was never representing a foreign agent, and as such was never registered as a lobbyist or a representative of foreign governments.

"If you look at who Wendy's clients are that have been public, they are household names like Coke, BMW, and Pew Global attitudes. These are items in the public eye," the official said.

Moreover, when Sherman worked for the Fannie Mae Foundation, it was a 501(c)(3) entity - a tax-exempt, non-profit organization -- and she was never paid directly by Fannie Mae.

One talking point that's sure to come up, if and when she is nominated, is the fact that Sherman was confirmed by a Republican Senate in 1997 to be State Department counselor, and approved by a Republican Senate Foreign Relations Committee led at the time by Sen. Jesse Helms. And this was after her time at the Fannie Mae Foundation.

"It's a bit ironic to bring this up now, considering the GOP actually confirmed her after she worked there," the official said.

Overall, administration sources close to the issue are aware they may in for a battle over Sherman's nomination, but they feel they have a strong argument and a strong nominee who can weather the storm.

"It's interesting that people are starting extraordinary fishing expeditions when there's no nomination," the official said. "But it just speaks to Wendy's professional qualifications and abilities, the lengths to which people are digging around."

The Cable

Neocons warn House GOP on Libya

There's a growing division inside the Republican Party on national security policy that is being exacerbated by the Libya intervention, and several GOP foreign policy mavens are warning House Republicans not to play games with the issue.

Top national security experts on the right are preparing an open letter to House Republicans urging them not to cut funding for the military intervention in Libya, as House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) has threatened to do. The letter was written by former NSC staffer Elliott Abrams, Washington Post columnist Robert Kagan, and Weekly Standard editor William Kristol. A letter asking for signatures was circulated Friday by Jamie Fly, director of the Foreign Policy Initiative, and subsequently sent to The Cable.

"We thank you for your leadership as Congress exercises its Constitutional responsibilities on the issue of America's military actions in Libya. We are gravely concerned, however, by news reports that Congress may consider reducing or cutting funding for U.S. involvement in the NATO-led military operations against the oppressive regime of Libyan dictator Muammar al-Qaddafi.  Such a decision would be an abdication of our responsibilities as an ally and as the leader of the Western alliance," the letter reads. "It would result in the perpetuation in power of a ruthless dictator who has ordered terrorist attacks on the United States in the past, has pursued nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction, and who can be expected to return to these activities should he survive. To cut off funding for current efforts would, in short, be profoundly contrary to American interests."

The letter's authors agree with Congressional complaints that the Obama administration has failed to properly communicate with the legislative branch regarding the Libya mission, but disagree with those in Congress who believe the Libya intervention is unwise. In fact, they want more military involvement.

"We share the concerns of many in Congress about the way in which the Obama administration has conducted this operation. The problem is not that he has done too much, however, but that he has done too little to achieve the goal of removing Qaddafi from power. The United States should be leading in this effort, not trailing behind our allies. We should be doing more to help the Libyan opposition, which deserves our support. We should not be allowing ourselves to be held hostage to UN Security Council resolutions and irresolute allies," the letter states.

Kagan told The Cable that Republican support for  cutting off funding for Libya was not only bad policy, but also a political mistake, because it would put  the decades-long GOP advantage on national security in jeopardy.

"We just think Republicans, in their understandable annoyance at the Obama administration, are losing sight of the big picture," he said. "And it's not only a strategic error but also a political error. Republicans can quickly squander a well-deserved reputation for being the strong party on foreign policy. They may not know it now, but it will hurt them in 2012."

Full letter after the jump:

An Open Letter to House Republicans

We thank you for your leadership as Congress exercises its Constitutional responsibilities on the issue of America's military actions in Libya.  We are gravely concerned, however, by news reports that Congress may consider reducing or cutting funding for U.S. involvement in the NATO-led military operations against the oppressive regime of Libyan dictator Muammar al-Qaddafi.  Such a decision would be an abdication of our responsibilities as an ally and as the leader of the Western alliance.  It would result in the perpetuation in power of a ruthless dictator who has ordered terrorist attacks on the United States in the past, has pursued nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction, and who can be expected to return to these activities should he survive.  To cut off funding for current efforts would, in short, be profoundly contrary to American interests. 

We share the concerns of many in Congress about the way in which the Obama administration has conducted this operation.  The problem is not that he has done too much, however, but that he has done too little to achieve the goal of removing Qaddafi from power.  The United States should be leading in this effort, not trailing behind our allies.  We should be doing more to help the Libyan opposition, which deserves our support.  We should not be allowing ourselves to be held hostage to UN Security Council resolutions and irresolute allies. 

What would be even worse, however, would be for the United States to become one of those irresolute allies.  The United States must see this effort in Libya through to its conclusion.  Success is profoundly in our interests and in keeping with our principles as a nation.  The success of NATO's operations will influence how other Middle Eastern regimes respond to the demands of their people for more political rights and freedoms.  For the United States and NATO to be defeated by Muammar al-Qaddafi would suggest that American leadership and resolution were now gravely in doubt-a conclusion that would undermine American influence and embolden our nation's enemies.

In Speaker Boehner's June 14, 2011, letter to President Obama, he wrote that he believes "in the moral leadership our country can and should exhibit, especially during such a transformational time in Middle East."  We share that belief, and feel that now is the time for Congress to exhibit that moral leadership despite political pressures to do otherwise.