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.  

The Cable

Senate moves to halt U.S. force changes in East Asia

The Senate Armed Services Committee unveiled a new bill on Friday that includes provisions to halt the Obama administration's plans to reshape the U.S. military presence in Okinawa, Guam, and South Korea.

Committee chairman Carl Levin (D-MI) and ranking Republican John McCain (R-AZ), along with Jim Webb (D-VA), called for an entirely new plan for basing U.S. troops in East Asia on May 11, arguing that the current plans were no longer feasible or cost effective. They proposed halting the realignment of U.S. troops in South Korea, scaling back the plan to drastically increase the U.S.  military presence on Guam, and changing the plan to relocate the controversial Futenma Air Base on Okinawa to a new facility elsewhere on the island.

Today, the committee's bill put many of those ideas in play by including them in its annual policy bill. If the bill is approved by the Senate, and if these ideas then survive negotiations with the House, the administration's already troubled plan would be placed on hold.

"The current plans for maintaining our troops there are unsustainable. They are incredibly expensive," Levin told reporters on a Friday conference call. "The costs... are out of sight and can no longer be sustained."

Specifically, the bill does four things. First, it prohibits funding the realignment of U.S. Marine Corps forces from Okinawa to Guam until the commandant of the Marine Corps provides an updated plan, and requires the defense secretary to submit a master plan to Congress detailing construction costs and schedules. Second, the bill requires the Department of Defense to study the feasibility of relocating some of the Air Force assets at Kadena Air Base on Okinawa to other bases in Japan or to Guam, and moving Marine Corps aviation assets currently at Marine Corps Air Station Futenma to Kadena Air Base rather than building an expensive replacement facility at Camp Schwab, another base located on Okinawa. This idea is extremely unpopular in Japan.

Third, the bill would cut approximately $150 million in military construction projects requested for the realignment of U.S. Marine Corps forces from Okinawa to Guam. And fourth, the bill would prevent the obligation of any funds for "tour normalization" on the Korean Peninsula until the secretary of the Army provides Congress with a master plan to complete the program. Tour normalization is the term for allowing service members to bring their families to South Korea to create a more "normal" long-term lifestyle for them there.

In total, these moves are all a part of the senators' goal to scale back the ambitious Okinawa-Guam relocation plan and cut costs by preventing the build up of more military infrastructure in South Korea.

"These recommendations are workable, cost-effective, will reduce the burden on the Okinawan people, and will strengthen the American contribution to the security of the region," Webb said in a statement.

President Barack Obama and members of the National Security Staff rejected the senators' ideas when Obama met Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan on the sidelines of the G8 last month in France.

"The two leaders agreed that it's important for Japan to continue its efforts to follow through on the agreement of last May to implement the realignment road map on Okinawa in order to ensure that the U.S.-Japan alliance and the basing arrangements are on a solid footing as we continue to work to enhance, revitalize and modernize our alliance," NSC Senior Director Dan Russel said after the meeting.

But Levin said there was no point pretending that the current plans were either implementable or sustainable and that he was determined to use the Congress's power of the purse to force the administration to explain its plans in more detail and then change them if necessary.

"We are basically putting these changes on hold in all three places, Korea, Guam, Okinawa, while this major review is taking place," he said. "We are not withdrawing or reducing our presence, we are trying to streamline it... we do this is a way which is honest and which is sustainable."

For Levin, the move is part of his overall effort to show that his committee is budget conscious. "The problem is the current plan isn't affordable, not workable. And on the Okinawa part with Camp Schwab, it is so expensive, so massive, so unachievable, and so unwise."

Overall, the Senate bill, which was negotiated behind closed doors, would provide $682.5 billion for national defense in fiscal 2012, including $117.8 billion for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan  and $18.1 billion for national security programs in the Energy Department. The funding would be $5.9 billion less than requested for the base defense budget.

You can also read a very long summary sheet on the bill compiled by the committee.