The Cable

Biden gets a new national security advisor

Today, Vice President Joe Biden delivered a speech defending the Obama administration's foreign policy and attacking the foreign policy views of Mitt Romney in New York. Back in Washington, Biden took on a new top staffer to advise him on national security and foreign policy going forward.

As part of a set of ongoing staffing changes in the national security leadership at the White House, Biden will get a new deputy national security advisor Monday, Pentagon official Julianne Smith. Acting Under Secretary of Defense for Policy James Miller announced Smith's move in a Thursday note to staff, obtained by The Cable.

"I am writing to announce that Julie Smith, who has served brilliantly as principal director for Europe and NATO policy for the last three years, has been selected as deputy national security adviser to the vice president. Julie will start in her new position on Monday April 30," Miller wrote. "We will greatly miss Julie in OSD Policy, but very much look forward to continuing to work closely with her in her new role."

Smith replaces Brian McKeon, who moved over in March to become deputy assistant to the president, executive secretary, and chief of staff of the National Security Staff (NSS). McKeon replaced two senior staffers. The position of executive secretary had been held by Nate Tibbits, and the position of chief of staff had been held by Ambassador Brooke Anderson, who left government and moved to Bozeman, Montana, according to a White House press release last month.

The jobs of NSS executive secretary and chief of staff were merged into one position for McKeon, "creating a more integrated approach to the management of the NSS," the White House said.

Smith had been serving as the Pentagon policy shop's principal director for Europe and NATO policy for the last three years. Part of that job will be immediately filled by Evelyn Farkas, who will take over Smith's role as special assistant to the Secretary of Defense for the NATO Summit next month in Chicago. Farkas has served for the past two years as senior advisor to EUCOM Commander and Supreme Allied Commander Europe Adm. Jim Stavridis.

The Pentagon's regional director for Europe and NATO Chris Skaluba will be taking over Smith's duties as principal director of the Europe/NATO office on an acting basis, while the Pentagon looks for someone to fill that position permanently, Miller wrote.  Col. Sean Scott will fill in for Skaluba as acting director of the Europe/NATO regional directorate.

According to Politico's Playbook, Smith previously worked as director of the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) Europe Program and also has worked at the German Marshall Fund, the British American Security Information Council, and the Stiftung Wissenschaft und Politik in Germany.

"Please join me in wishing Julie and Evelyn, and Chris and Sean, all the best in their new roles. I am confident that they will all continue do great work in support of our national security," Miller wrote.

The Cable

Obama officials: Annan plan 'failing'

Two top Obama administration officials said today that the diplomatic initiative to end the violence in Syria, led by U.N. Special Envoy Kofi Annan, "is failing."

Under intense questioning during Thursday's Senate Armed Services Committee hearing, both Kathleen Hicks, the current deputy under secretary of defense for policy, and Derek Chollet, National Security Council senior director for strategy, said that the Annan plan was headed toward collapse and that new options for confronting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad were being prepared.

Asked by the committee's ranking Republican, Arizona Sen. John McCain, if Assad had complied with the six points of the Annan plan for Syria, which charts a path away from violence toward political negotiations, Chollet acknowledged that violence is actually increasing.

"Do you believe the Annan plan has succeeded or failed?" McCain asked both officials.

"I would say it is failing," Chollet said.

"I would say it is failing and that Annan himself is extremely worried about the plan," Hicks concurred.

Annan lamented reports of increased violence Wednesday but said he still wanted to increase the number of monitors on the ground.

"If confirmed, this is totally unacceptable and reprehensible," said Annan."Equally, a credible political process is required if we are to sustain any long-term calm on the ground."

As The Cable reported last week, Chollet was added recently to the senior leadership of the Syria policy team and is coordinating the interagency process to look for a "Plan B" for U.S. policy for if and when the diplomatic initiatives break down.

Several times during the hearing, McCain complained that the United States was not leading in Syria, waiting for others to request more assertive action and hiding behind the excuse that there was no international consensus on the way forward.

"My view is that the United States is leading diplomatically," said Hicks, pointing to the Friends of Syria group of countries that meets periodically to discuss the issue as well as repeated action at the U.N. Security Council.

"Actually, we have not led the Friends of Syria, at least according to the Friends of Syria, because I have met with them, so that's not a fact," McCain said.

The Pentagon is planning for the possibility that the U.S. military might be called upon to participate in a mission to establish safe zones along the Turkey-Syria border, according to Hicks.

"We are doing a significant amount of planning for a wide range of scenarios, including our ability to assist allies and partners along the borders," she said.

But Chollet said that Turkey has not yet requested a discussion within NATO about setting up safe zones inside Syria, which would require military support. He added that if Turkey did request such a discussion, NATO would be obliged to take up the matter.

"I am unaware of any official or any serious discussions for that matter about how NATO might help Turkey in that regard," Chollet said.

McCain said that expanding the U.N. observer mission, which only has 15 people on the ground right now, would likely not solve the problem. He referred to Thursday's Washington Post editorial, "Where U.N. monitors go in Syria, killings follow."

The editorial noted reports that the Assad regime is sweeping into villages and towns as soon as the monitors leave, killing civilians and punishing those who are suspected of cooperating with the U.N. mission.

McCain was scolding and sometimes sarcastic about what he regards as a feckless U.S. Syria policy.

"I'm glad to hear that we are playing such a ‘leadership role'," McCain said. "I can guarantee you nobody in the Middle East thinks that. I can guarantee you that this is a shameful situation where people are being slaughtered. We are talking about economic sanctions and diplomatic sanctions. We should be helping these people."

Hicks has been nominated to be principal deputy under secretary of defense for policy, succeeding acting Under Secretary of Defense for Policy James Miller, and Chollet has been nominated to be assistant secretary of defense for international security affairs, succeeding Sandy Vershbow, who is now NATO's deputy secretary-general.

On Wednesday, French Foreign Minister Alan Juppe raised the idea of intervening militarily against the Assad regime in Syria and said that the Security Council might have to consider a Chapter 7 resolution, which could authorize the use of force. "We cannot allow the [Assad] regime to defy us," he said.