The Cable

Norquist: Ryan, Romney wrong on defense budgets

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, his would-be vice president Paul Ryan, and defense hawks in Congress are wrong that savings can't be found in the U.S. defense budget, according to Grover Norquist, the influential president of Americans for Tax Reform, who said that he will fight using any new revenues to keep military spending high.

"We can afford to have an adequate national defense which keeps us free and safe and keeps everybody afraid to throw a punch at us, as long as we don't make some of the decisions that previous administrations have, which is to over extend ourselves overseas and think we can run foreign governments," Norquist said Monday at an event at the Center for the National Interest, formerly the Nixon Center.

But Ryan's views are at odds with those of Norquist and other budget hawks, who argue that defense budgets can be trimmed. Ryan's budget plan provides for increasing military spending and doesn't suggest any tradeoff or specific defense reforms.

"Other people need to lead the argument on how can conservatives lead a fight to have a serious national defense without wasting money," Norquist said. "I wouldn't ask Ryan to be the reformer of the defense establishment."

Avoiding $54 billion of arbitrary defense cuts next year as a result of the Budget Control Act of 2011, in what's known as "sequestration," has been a focus of Romney's campaign and one of his main points of contrast with President Obama. Romney's views align him with defense hawks who are leading that effort on the Hill, such as House Armed Services Committee Chairman Buck McKeon (R-CA) and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), who support closing tax loopholes and deductions to avoid sequestration.

"You will get serious conversation from the advocates of Pentagon spending when they understand ‘here's the dollar amount, now make decisions," Norquist said. "They want to argue you have to raise taxes -- you can't solve the problem."

Norquist vowed to fight any effort to use the money saved by tax reform to pay for military spending or to avoid the sequester.

"You have guys saying ‘can we steal all your deductions and credits and give it to the appropriators,' and then when we get tax reform there will be no tax reform," Norquist said, referring to defense hawks. "The idea is that you are going to raise taxes on people to not think through defense priorities."

But Norquist predicted that the defense hawks will lose the battle inside the GOP. The ultimate decision-makers, he said, would be the heads of the House Ways and Means Committee and the Senate Finance Committee, not the respective Armed Services Committees.

"Here's the good news. There's a very small number of them," Norquist said about the defense hawks. "The handful of [Republicans] that support that are either not coming back or they don't know yet that they are not coming back."

The Pentagon wastes money on bloated weapons systems, bases, and programs that are protected by politicians for parochial reasons, he said. Norquist said the defense hawks were not serious about saving money or reforming the Pentagon.

"If you're not looking like you're trying, nobody wants to help you, starting with me... There's a lack of seriousness," he said. "The guys who are saying ‘we're not going to cut Pentagon spending but we want to raise taxes,' they aren't making a sale... They are saying it's not a tax increase. It is, it is, it is."

Norquist said he believes in a non-interventionist foreign policy that eschews nation-building, much like the one former president George W. Bush campaigned on before he decided to invade Iraq and Afghanistan.

"Bush decided to be the mayor of Baghdad rather than the president of the United States. He decided to occupy Iraq and Afghanistan rather than reform Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. That had tremendous consequences," he said. "Rather than doing Doha [the trade round], we did Kabul."

Romney has promised to keep defense spending at 4 percent of U.S. GDP, but Norquist doesn't believe that defense spending should be pegged to the size of the U.S. economy or any other arbitrary number. He argued that the Republican Party needs to reexamine the actual defense needs and then work from there to determine how much to spend.

"Richard Nixon said that America's national defense needs are set in Moscow, meaning that we wouldn't have to spend so much if they weren't shooting at us," he said. "The guys who followed didn't notice that the Soviet Union disappeared."

JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images

The Cable

Close Obama ally rated worst ambassador in the State Department

The State Department inspector general's office released its scathing report on the leadership of former ambassador to Kenya Scott Gration Friday, saying that Gration ranked dead last among dozens of ambassadors reviewed in recent years.

Gration resigned suddenly June 29 after viewing the report, but he did not offer a written response to the report released today.

"The Ambassador has lost the respect and confidence of the staff to lead the mission," read the report. "Of more than 80 chiefs of mission inspected in recent cycles, the Ambassador ranked last for interpersonal relations, next to last on both managerial skill and attention to morale, and third from last in his overall scores from surveys of mission members. The inspectors found no reason to question these assessments; the Ambassador's leadership to date has been divisive and ineffective."

The assessment of Gration goes downhill from there.

"The Ambassador has damaged the cohesion of Embassy Nairobi's country team by underscoring differences between offices working directly with Kenya and those with regional responsibilities. Country team members, particularly those from other agencies, relied on the recently departed deputy chief of mission to maintain a sense of common purpose at Embassy Nairobi. Unless corrected there is a risk that the country team will become dysfunctional," the report stated.

Gration consumed his staff with what he called "mission essential tasks" that provided "almost no value" to the State Department or the rest of the U.S. government working on Kenya, the IG found. Gration made it clear he disagreed and would not implement U.S. government decisions, insisted on using his personal email for official business, and refused to even read the cables coming from Washington, the report said.

"Notwithstanding his talk about the importance of mission staff doing the right thing, the Ambassador by deed or word has encouraged it to do the opposite," the report said.

The IG reported that Gration refused to meet with most prominent Kenyans, journalists, and even his senior embassy staff, who would try unsuccessfully for months to get in touch with him.

Gration's big project was one he started called Let's Live, which set the goal of reducing Kenyan infant mortality by 50 percent in one year, but the program was never funded and confused everyone in Nairobi working on the Global Health Initiative (GHI) programs in Kenya, including the Kenyans.

"At the Ambassador's initiative, the embassy has spent considerable time and effort on Let's Live without advancing the GHI. At the same time, Let's Live has damaged mission morale and negatively affected relations with senior Kenyan health officials," the report said.

In an interview with the Washington Post, Gration disputed the report and said using his commercial e-mail was not a security issue. "I did rock the boat. I made changes in priorities, and changes can be very hard," he said.

Gration, a retired Air Force general, was one of the first senior military figures to openly support and actively campaign for President Barack Obama in 2007 and was embraced by the team that would eventually form the president's closest national security inner circle. Deputy National Security Advisor Denis McDonough once described Gration as one of the top three national security advisors to Obama, along with former Navy Secretary Richard Danzig and former Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Merrill McPeak. He was rumored during the transition to be a candidate to lead NASA.

He took over as ambassador to Kenya in February 2011 following a controversial two-year stint as Obama's special envoy for Sudan.

UPDATE: Gration sent the following statement on the IG report to The Cable:

The State Department Office of the Inspector General's report on the American Embassy in Nairobi, Kenya released today contains an egregious number of categorically false statements.
Since I announced my resignation, I've been flooded with letters of support from members of all branches of government, Kenyan leaders and the international community. These letters are testaments to my effective leadership, superb job performance, unyielding loyalty to U.S. government decisions and relentless efforts to promote American ideals and best interests.
Most of all, I've been deeply disappointed by the State Department's decision not to give me the opportunity to refute the report's false statements.

While I seek to clear my name against the report's baseless allegations, I remain committed to improving human conditions and promoting American values wherever I can make a positive difference.

JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images