The Cable

With Move to Think Tank, Flournoy Looks to 2016

The Center for a New American Security, a small think tank with an outsized influence in the Obama administration, announced that one of its founders, Michèle Flournoy, would be coming back as its next CEO. Flournoy, the former under secretary of defense for policy, said her short-term plans for the policy shop are crystal clear: Have a sizeable impact on the 2016 elections.

"I really think that CNAS has the opportunity to be the go-to think tank in helping frame the key national security issues that will be on the agenda for the 2016 presidential elections," she told Foreign Policy in an interview.

Co-founded in 2007 by Flournoy and longtime Asia hand Kurt Campbell, CNAS has earned a reputation as both a clearinghouse for middle-of-the-road foreign policy views and a minor league team for the Obama administration. Its alumni network includes administration heavyweights like Campbell, who crafted much of the White House's putative Asia "pivot" while serving as the former assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific Affairs; Wendy Sherman, the under secretary of state for political affairs; James Steinberg, the former deputy secretary of state, and Bob Work, its most recent CEO, who was confirmed as the next deputy secretary of defense on Wednesday.

Despite its close ties with the White House, a number of high-profile Republicans sit on the CNAS board and its president, Richard Fontaine, was a longtime senior advisor to Arizona Republican Sen. John McCain. CNAS leaders deny that the institution aligns more closely with Democrats than with Republicans. Instead, they say, the think tank hopes to help the presidential candidates from both parties shape their positions on key foreign policy issues.

"We will be able to provide analysis and insight to campaigns across the political spectrum,"  Flournoy said. "I think we're very well positioned to frame and elevate the debate on America's role in the world."

Flournoy herself has long been rumored to become the first female secretary of defense. Her transition from the private sector world, where she holds a senior post at the Boston Consulting Group, to CNAS, immediately raises questions about her interest in snagging that job for the twilight years of the Obama administration or the first ones of a prospective White House led by Hillary Clinton, whom she backed for the presidency in 2008.

"I don't want to speculate," she said. "That's a little too far into the future."

Although it's difficult to discern a unifying cause behind the think tank (other than getting its employees into plum government jobs), there is one thing it is definitely against: The rising tide of non-interventionism sweeping across aspects of the Republican Party and large swaths of the American populace.

"To the extent that we have any bias there's a clear consensus across the board that America has to be engaged in the world," she said. "Everybody understands the tremendous war-weariness out there, but we can't pretend that we can cut ourselves off from the world."


National Security

Congress Pushes Back on Obama's Military Aid to Egypt

The Obama administration's plan to move forward with $650 million in military aid to Egypt hit a new snag on Tuesday as a key Democrat announced his opposition to the move in light of the mass death sentences handed out by Egyptian judges this week after what were widely derided as show trials.

During an address on the Senate floor, Senator Patrick Leahy, the chairman of the Senate subcommittee that controls foreign aid, said he would block additional aid to Cairo due to its continued human rights abuses.

"I'm not prepared to sign off on the delivery of additional aid for the Egyptian military," said the Vermont Democrat. "I'm not prepared to do that until we see convincing evidence the government is committed to the rule of law."

Leahy's address complicates the Obama administration's efforts to shore up its ties with Cairo, which deteriorated sharply after Egyptian generals ousted the country's democratically-elected president, Mohamed Morsy, in July. It's not clear that Leahy can singlehandedly block the aid from growing through, but the timing of the senator's remarks put the administration in a particularly awkward position.

On Tuesday, Secretary of State John Kerry hosted Egyptian Foreign Minister Nabil Fahmy in Washington to discuss recent developments in the country. While complimenting the "positive step" achieved in the drafting of the Egyptian constitution, Kerry said there "have been disturbing decisions within the judicial process, the court system, that have raised serious challenges for all of us."

It was a clear reference to an Egyptian court's decision to hand down death sentences on Monday to the spiritual leader of the Muslim Brotherhood and 682 supporters of the banned group -- a move Leahy denounced as a "sham trial."

Leahy is part of a lonely band of senators who openly oppose resuming all U.S. aid to Cairo. Until his statement of opposition, the only other senator to speak out against the aid was Kentucky Republican Rand Paul, a libertarian whose top aide told Foreign Policy last week that the U.S. "shouldn't be giving one penny of our tax dollars to Egypt right now." However, more lawmakers now appear to be following in Paul's footsteps. On Tuesday, Republican Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina told The New York Times that he opposes further military aid as well.

Members of Congress, in general, would have had more authority to block the military assistance if it weren't for the omnibus appropriations bill passed in January, which gave the administration leeway to provide military assistance to Egypt so long as it goes to border security and counterterrorism purposes. Of course, Leahy's position as chairman of the appropriations subcommittee gives him a high degree of sway over funding through both formal and informal channels.

In any event, the State Department is not raising a white flag yet. In a statement, an official said the administration would continue to make its case to wavering lawmakers. "We have been asked for certain clarifications by our congressional committees on how this funding will be used and we are providing those details," an official said on background. "What we are seeing now is the Congressional notification and consultation process at work."

Getty Images