The Cable

Cornyn won’t hold up Deputy Defense Secretary Carter

Deputy Secretary of Defense nominee Ashton Carter's path to confirmation looks clear following the endorsement of Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX), who had previously threatened to stall his nomination.

The Cable reported last month that Cornyn was demanding assurances from Carter that he would fully support the F-35 jet fighter program before he could support his nomination. "As the Senate prepares to consider your nomination, I write to express disappointment with your apparent lack of commitment to the success of the largest DOD major acquisition program in our nation's history, the F-35 Lightning II," Cornyn wrote in a letter to Carter.

Following Carter's nomination hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee on Tuesday, The Cable caught up with Cornyn in the halls of the Capitol building. The Texas senator told us he met with Carter, received written answers to all his questions, and could now confidently support his confirmation.

"Dr. Carter assured me that the F-35 will form the backbone of U.S. air combat for generations to come, and I applaud him for improving the execution of this critical program," Cornyn told The Cable.

The Cable has also obtained Carter's written response to Cornyn, which included assurances that the Defense Department was committed to the F-35, would not take more money from the production budget to purchase older model fighters, would not significantly reduce production rates, and would not take money from the F-35 program to pay for other struggling accounts within the Pentagon.

 "The Department's support for the F-35 program is strong," Carter wrote. "We are committed to ensuring that decisions concerning the F-35 are made for the correct reasons and with a commitment toward overall F-35 program success."

"Thanks to Dr. Carter, it's on a good pathway," Cornyn said, explaining that one assurance Carter had given him was that future cost overruns would be borne by the contractor alone.

"The problem is, as Dr. Carter said, there is no alternative to the Joint Strike Fighter and it's essential to national security," Cornyn noted, adding that he expects Carter's nomination to pass easily.

We also asked Cornyn for an update on his plan to try to pressure the Obama administration into selling 66 new F-16 C/D jet fighters to Taiwan. Cornyn introduced a bill this week that seeks to require the administration to make the sale, which, if successful, would be the first time ever that Congress has authorized a foreign military sale not sent to them by the executive branch.

Cornyn said that he would try to attach the bill, which he cosponsored with Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ), to a piece of legislation "that's likely to get signed" -- presumably the defense authorization bill or the coming continuing resolution stopgap funding measure that Congress will have to pass this month to keep the government running.

The administration has promised Cornyn it will announce its decision on Taiwan arms sales by Oct. 1, but reports suggest that the administration is planning to deny Taipei's request for new planes and offer instead upgrades to their existing fleet of older F16 A/B models.

"Sen. Menendez and I felt it was important to indicate that the issue isn't going to go away," Cornyn said. "The president could veto it if it passes, we'll see what happens. I would hope that the president would make this moot by approving the sale and not kow-towing to China."

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The Cable

Robert Ford attends Syrian funeral shortly before attack

U.S. Ambassador to Syria Robert Ford keeps putting himself in harm's way. This Sunday, he attended the funeral of a Syrian activist shortly before it was attacked by Syrian security forces.

"US amb. Robert Ford shows up at the wake of slain #syria activist Giyath Matar. An hour later the funeral tent is trashed by security forces," tweeted Washington Post foreign correspondent Liz Sly Tuesday afternoon.

We found a video that shows Ford at the funeral, which took place on Sept. 11. The State Department today confirmed to The Cable that he was in attendance. We also found a video (warning: graphic) of Matar's tortured and mutilated body, posted by the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which has been meticulously documenting cases of alleged abuse against domestic protesters by the Syrian security forces.

"Security forces corpse [sic] submitted his corpse to his family and told them that you can make from his body a ‘Shawerma' sandwich!!!" the human rights organization reported.

Ford, who was installed as the U.S. envoy to Damascus in a recess appointment, was approved by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee today. But unless he can overcome a tough confirmation fight on the Senate floor, he will be forced to return to Washington at the end of the year.

The group also posted a video of the body of Ahmad Sulaiman Ayrut, who they allege was killed in the government attack on Matar's funeral.

The State Department condemned Matar's killing at a Monday press briefing, but only later confirmed to The Cable Ford's attendance at the funeral. So far, State has not commented on the violence at the funeral.

"This was a very high-profile human rights activist in Syria, apparently arrested on September 6th and died in custody -- again, further evidence of this regime's brutality, indiscriminate force, and absolute disregard for human life and for the human rights of its citizens," said spokeswoman Victoria Nuland.

There was no mention of Ford's attendance on the U.S. embassy of Damascus's Facebook page. The last Facebook posting by Ford came on Sept. 8, where he references threats being made on his life by supporters of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

"[Commenter] Mujtaba Xr warns me that I will face being killed if I continue my criticism of the repression in Syria. I take his post to be a perfectly good example of the kind of intolerance that has provoked such discontent in Syria," Ford wrote. "Remember that I am one of the few international observers here on the ground; if only the Syrian government would allow international media to move around the country freely like we did in Iraq!"

Ford's close call comes only two weeks after he was physically assaulted by a regime supporter while standing outside an anti-government sit-in by some lawyers at the Syrian Bar Association. The State Department didn't say anything about that incident either, until it was reported by The Cable.

Of course, it's possible that Ford is actually trying to get himself kicked out of Syria by the Assad regime. That would allow the Obama administration to spotlight Assad's intolerance and allow the State Department to avoid a fight over Ford's Senate confirmation.