The Cable

Wilson Center starts foreign policy fellowship program

The Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars is launching a new foreign-policy fellowship meant to help congressional staffers smarten up on foreign policy.

"It's very personal to me, because security and intelligence are my bag and I spent 119 dog years in Congress trying to be informed and sensible about a lot of foreign-policy issues and there was really no place to learn," said former Congresswoman Jane Harman, now the president of the Wilson Center, in an interview with The Cable. "Especially on China, I felt the information gap was particularly large and both parties showed a total lack of nuance, especially during election season."

The program is a six-week seminar series featuring scholars, analysts, and policy practitioners who will meet with a select group of about 30 staffers from both chambers and both sides of the aisle on Friday afternoons for in-depth, interactive sessions on foreign policy -- followed by pizza and beer.

The program will be led by the Wilson Center Vice President for New Initiatives Aaron David Miller and Harman's Chief of Staff Jeewon Kim. Wilson held an information session about the new fellowship Thursday on Capitol Hill. Applications are due by March 18 and the first program begins in April.

"The fact that this is nonpartisan and bipartisan is critically important," Miller told The Cable. "The key is not advocacy; it's education."

Miller has already lined up as speakers former National Security Advisor Sandy Berger, former National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley, Undersecretary of State Wendy Sherman, Brookings Institution scholar Robert Kagan, former Ambassador to China Stapleton Roy, AEI Scholar Norman Ornstein, and many others.

The first session will be on the question "Is American still the indispensable nation?," and the next sessions will focus on China and Russia, emerging powers, a session on Congress and foreign policy, and more. The program is being funded by the Carnegie Corporation and the Hewett Foundation.

The focus will be on attracting staffers who don't necessarily work on foreign-policy issues all day already but who have an interest in building up their expertise, Harman said.

"Mid-[level] to senior staffers stay on the Hill for a long time -- they are the staffers that members rely on. Maybe we can develop a professional cadre of informed bipartisan staff who will help the institution of Congress do much better policymaking. That's what the agenda is," Harman said.

Read the brochure here.

The Cable

Rubio: Peace process not a top priority for Israel right now

The resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is simply not a top priority for Israel at this time, according to Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), who just returned from a trip to the region.

Rubio traveled to Israel, the West Bank, and Jordan last week and spoke about his trip Wednesday to an audience at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

"Israel has a number of issues that they are concerned about and at the top of the list is Iran," Rubio said, noting that he believes Iran is pursuing a nuclear weapon and that only the threat of losing power, not negotiations, will convince the Iranian government to change course.

"I hope there is a breakthrough in the negotiations ... I really hope that's what happens, but I don't believe that's what will happen," Rubio said.

"The second major concern is Syria with regards to weapons," he continued, noting that Syria is being flooded with weapons that will remain there after the regime falls, mostly in the hands of groups hostile to the United States. He said he supports giving elements of the Syrian opposition ammunition, but not weapons.

"You don't have to give them weapons; they've got plenty of weapons, frankly. What they need is ammunition. They run low on that very quickly," he said.

"The third concern that they have in Israel is Egypt," Rubio went on. He said the Israelis view the Muslim Brotherhood as a very patient group that, in the short term, is willing to be very pragmatic, but has a long-term strategy of fundamentally redefining every entity in Egypt and pushing the country in a more Islamic direction. The worsening security situation in Sinai is also a priority for Israel, and the U.S. government should press Egypt to do more, he said.

"The fourth issue that comes is the Palestinian question with regards to the West Bank," Rubio said. "The sense you get from the Israeli side of that is that is not the No. 1 issue on Israeli minds at this moment."

"It's not that the Palestinian issue isn't important to the Israelis; it's just that in the ranking now, it's lost its place because of all these other issues," Rubio said.

There's a fundamental difference of opinion between the Israeli government and the Obama administration on the priority of dealing with the Palestinian peace process, he said.

"I think the right approach of the U.S. is to view all of these issues through the lens of Israeli security. The more security Israel feels, the likelier it's going to be that these issues move forward to resolution," Rubio said.

Rubio said that Israeli officials were eagerly anticipating the visit next month by President Barack Obama and were curious about whether Obama was coming with a specific plan on the Palestinian peace process or whether he was just going to go to listen.

"I told them I probably wasn't the best source for the president's thinking but my sense of it was the president was probably coming more to listen than to dictate," he said.