China, Russia, and Uzbekistan are simply not committed to addressing human trafficking. That's the takeaway from the State Department's new 2013 Trafficking in Persons Report, out Wednesday afternoon. After nine years each for China and Russia, and six years for Uzbekistan, on the State Department's watch list, the status of the three countries was downgraded this year to "Tier 3," the lowest rank, which includes "countries whose governments do not fully comply with the minimum standards [to address human trafficking] and are not making significant efforts to do so." Guinea-Bissau and Mauritania were also downgraded to Tier 3, joining the ranks of North Korea, Saudi Arabia, and the Democratic Republic of Congo, among others.
According to the Alliance to End Slavery and Trafficking (ATEST), Russia "ranks among the top 10 countries of origin for trafficked individuals," with as many as "130,000 sex trafficking victims ... in Moscow alone." The State Department report notes that while several Russian law enforcement and judicial bodies conduct "periodic training" on trafficking issues, the government does not investigate reported abuses. This includes the forced labor, documented by Human Rights Watch, being used to construct facilities for the 2014 Sochi Olympics. Workers have had their passports and other documentation seized, pay withheld, and contracts violated.
The State Department report also includes a case study of 12 migrant laborers from Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan. Trapped in Russia, they "were held captive for 10 years in a supermarket after being promised employment in Russia." The owners of the supermarket held their documents and "used threats of violence, beatings, and sexual violence to demand subservience." A brief investigation was closed after Russian "prosecutors claimed there was no evidence of a crime."
China is singled out in the report for, among other things, its "birth limitation policy and a cultural preference for sons," which has led to "a skewed sex ratio of 118 boys to 100 girls." To fill that imbalance, the report notes that China has an unusually high "demand for the trafficking of foreign women as brides for Chinese men and for forced prostitution." China is also the country of origin of many sex trafficking victims, with "Chinese sex trafficking victims ... reported on all of the inhabited continents" over the past year. Chinese men in forced labor were reported across Asia, in African mining operations, and in European agriculture. The Chinese government has run a series of public service announcements to raise awareness about human trafficking, and has addressed the issue on social media, including the popular microblogging site Weibo. But, the report notes in a particularly damning observation, "the government continued to perpetuate human trafficking in at least 320 state-run institutions."
In 2008, Congress legislated that, rather than keep countries on the government's watch list indefinitely, nations that did not show signs of improvement of human trafficking over a series of yeas would face automatic demotion, and China and Russia have since exhausted the maximum two years of waivers to prevent their downgrade. The Tier 3 designation opens China, Russia, and Uzbekistan to potential U.S. sanctions. In a statement, Rep. Ed Royce, chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, suggested that more countries should be downgraded to Tier 3 and that the State Department report was "pulling punches."
Representatives from the Russian and Chinese embassies did not respond to requests for comment.
TANG CHHIN SOTHY/AFP/Getty Images
President Barack Obama stood before the Brandenburg Gate on Wednesday and tried to make some history.
In a speech that referenced a band of doomed protesters in East Germany, Immanuel Kant, and John F. Kennedy, Obama announced that he intends to cut America's nuclear arsenal by up to a third in pursuit of "peace with justice." The headlines from today's address will undoubtedly focus on this proposal, and whether the speech goes down as one for the history books will likely depend on Russia's willingness to shrink its nuclear stockpiles in tandem with the United States.
But the president's call for nuclear reductions was confined to a mere four paragraphs in an address that ran just over 30 minutes. The speech's real centerpiece was the idealist in Obama.
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Though Qatar is small -- tinier and less populous than the state of Connecticut -- it has established itself as a rising power in the Middle East. Its state-owned news network, Al Jazeera, influences the entire Arabic-speaking world (and beyond -- its American venture is slated to launch by the end of the year). And it's also become a destination for diplomats -- from the Afghan Taliban, which is looking to open an office in Doha, to the Brookings Institution, which is hosting its annual U.S.-Islamic World Forum with Qatari sponsorship there this week.
And now, Qatar appears to be coming under new management. Diplomats are reporting that the country's 61-year-old monarch, Emir Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, is preparing a leadership transition that will begin with the prime minister stepping down and will culminate in Al Thani passing power to his fourth son, the Crown Prince Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani.
The young crown prince -- he just turned 33 -- attended boarding school in Britain before graduating from Sandhurst Military Academy in 1998. He was named the next in succession in 2003, quietly replacing his older brother, Sheikh Jasim. In Qatar, he's taken on a diverse portfolio of issues -- his personal website lists titles from president of the Qatar National Olympic Committee, to chairman of the Board of Regents of Qatar University and chairman of the Supreme Education Council, to deputy commander-in-chief of the armed forces.
By May 2005, U.S. diplomats in Qatar noted that Sheikh Tamim "has been increasingly invested with oversight and authority in the area of internal security," according to secret cables released by WikiLeaks. The cables paint a portrait of Sheikh Tamim as a conciliatory negotiator, eager for increased counterterrorism cooperation (including the extradition of U.S. citizens despite the absence of an extradition treaty between the two countries, and help investigating a car bombing in Doha in 2005), though later cables note that "Qatar's record of sharing intelligence with [the United States] is the worst among" the Gulf countries. As the Sunni Awakening began in Iraq in 2006, he offered Qatar's network of ties to Sunni tribal leaders, telling U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Near East Affairs David Welch, "They still can help."
Sheikh Tamim appears to have been involved in many of Qatar's regional diplomatic initiatives, including moderating talks in Darfur, Lebanon, and Yemen. He personally headed the delegation to mend Qatar's strained diplomatic relations with Saudi Arabia in 2010. In diplomacy of another sort, he was also accused of exercising undue influence on French officials to sway the vote for the right to host the 2022 FIFA World Cup -- a vote that Qatar won. His efforts haven't always been successful, though -- in 2008, he described Bashar al-Assad as "a good person" and believed that Qatari investment could pluck Syria from Iran's sphere of influence. (Today, Qatar is one of the largest suppliers of weapons to the Syrian rebels.)
According to reports by Reuters and the Telegraph, analysts have speculated that Sheikh Tamim's close ties to the Muslim Brotherhood could push Qatari policy in a more conservative direction, possibly straining ties with the United States. Since the beginning of the Arab Spring, Qatar has strengthened its ties with Egypt and Tunisia, where Islamist political parties have swept to power.
Nonetheless, Sheikh Tamim has stressed Qatar's shared interests with the United States. In his private conversations with U.S. diplomats, he's expressed an interest in a two-state resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, telling Rep. Allen Boyd in 2007, according to a WikiLeaks cable, "that progress in the peace process requires relations with Israel.... Whether or not they agree with Israel, he said, the whole region should negotiate with Israel." He has also cited Qatar's potential role as an intermediary in U.S. talks with Iran. Doha maintains cordial diplomatic relations with Tehran and shares access to a lucrative gas field, but Sheikh Tamim has also expressed wariness about Iran's nuclear ambitions and influence in the region -- something U.S. diplomats have characterized as "a necessary balancing act."
Qatari officials have reportedly briefed foreign governments -- including U.S. and Iranian officials -- on the planned transition, which could occur before the end of the month.
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Ever since the Obama administration first rolled out its signature Asia pivot policy, the effort seemed ambitious. The United States was wrapping up its war in Iraq and still surging troops in Afghanistan -- and yet, policymakers planned to "rebalance" military forces to the Pacific while strengthening business and diplomatic ties with partners in the region. Since then, events have stymied the administration's policy at seemingly every turn.
In the latest example, President Obama's summit with Chinese President Xi Jinping on Friday was overshadowed by new revelations of an extensive domestic surveillance program. But Asia getting pushed to the backburner is nothing new. The administration's series of high-profile trips to the region last fall had to jockey for attention with the news that Israel might any day launch a ground invasion of the Gaza Strip (and now there's Secretary of State John Kerry's initiative to restart Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations). Since then, the administration's Asia policy has also been a bone of contention in the fight over cuts to the defense budget.
Even the administration's modest successes have suffered setbacks. Earlier this week, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel showed off the Navy's Littoral Combat Ship USS Freedom in Singapore in an effort to showcase the increased U.S. naval presence in Southeast Asian waters. But that came after the ship was stranded in port when its propulsion system gave out on its maiden deployment. Then there's the deployment of U.S. Marines to Australia -- when the first 180 Marines arrived in Darwin in April 2012, they were supposed to be followed by more than 2,000 more. That might never happen, though, as Australian enthusiasm for the project has waned. Despite plans for 2,500 U.S. Marines to be stationed in Australia by 2017, Australia is still evaluating the effects of a force less than half that size.
With all the setbacks, maybe the administration is happy that the media isn't paying attention to the pivot.
In his inaugural remarks as prime minister on Wednesday, Nawaz Sharif called for an end to U.S. drone strikes in Pakistan. "The chapter of daily drone attacks should stop," he told the Pakistani parliament. "We respect sovereignty of other countries but others should also respect our sovereignty."
Sound familiar? It's hardly the first time Pakistan has called for an end to U.S. drone strikes:
It's worth noting that these quick snippets from news stories only scratch the surface when it comes to the convoluted politics of U.S.-Pakistani security relations. For example, despite the public outrage, some Pakistani officials were still quietly green-lighting U.S. drone operations in February 2009, when Sen. Dianne Feinstein publicly noted that some of the strikes were being launched from bases in Pakistan.
Pakistani political opposition to U.S. drone strikes grew as the number of strikes increased -- though the first strike took place way back in 2004, there were no more than a few strikes each year until 2008, when there were 37. That number grew to 122 in 2010 but has been declining since. Still, the decreasing number of strikes hasn't extinguished Pakistani opposition, and calls for an end to U.S. drone strikes were a rallying cry for populist candidates in Pakistan's recent election.
It's unclear if the country's new prime minister will make much headway on this front, or if he'll even try. The New York Times suggested that Sharif's comments today may be more political doublespeak, noting that "Mr. Sharif's rhetoric may have been driven by political considerations, with some suggesting that he may be more pragmatic toward the United States once I office." But Sharif has also positioned himself as a counterweight to the Pakistani military establishment -- which forced him from office when he was prime minister in the 1990s -- and might challenge the cadre of generals who have been more permissive of U.S. strikes than elected officials. Today's announcement, though? It's nothing new.
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As John Hudson points out at The Cable, Susan Rice has pulled off a remarkable professional comeback. Just six months ago, the U.N. ambassador withdrew her name from consideration for secretary of state amid intense opposition from congressional Republicans over misleading statements she made about the Benghazi attacks. Now she's been tapped to succeed Tom Donilon as President Obama's national security advisor.
Then again, maybe we shouldn't be so surprised about Rice's ability to bounce back from controversy. During her two decades inside the Beltway, Rice has been no stranger to incoming fire. Here are five moments from her career that will surely dominate water-cooler chatter in Washington this week.
The Benghazi Talking Points Debacle
On Sept. 16, 2012, Rice appeared on several Sunday talk shows to discuss the recent attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi that left Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans dead. During her appearances, Rice, speaking from talking points prepared during a contentious interagency process, said that the attacks were a spontaneous response to an anti-Muslim video posted on the Internet. That assessment turned out to be incorrect, and congressional Republicans targeted Rice in their efforts to expose a White House cover-up. Here's video from one of those appearances:
The Rwandan Genocide
When mass killings erupted in Rwanda in April 1994, Rice was serving on the National Security Council and was part of a coterie of U.S. officials who took little action to stop violence that would ultimately leave at least 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus dead.
Here's how Samantha Power -- a former journalist who worked as a human rights official in the Obama administration and who will be nominated to replace Rice at the U.N. -- described Rice's role during the genocide:
Even after the reality of genocide in Rwanda had become irrefutable, when bodies were shown choking the Kagera River on the nightly news, the brute fact of the slaughter failed to influence U.S. policy except in a negative way. American officials, for a variety of reasons, shunned the use of what became known as "the g-word." They felt that using it would have obliged the United States to act, under the terms of the 1948 Genocide Convention. They also believed, understandably, that it would harm U.S. credibility to name the crime and then do nothing to stop it. A discussion paper on Rwanda, prepared by an official in the Office of the Secretary of Defense and dated May 1, testifies to the nature of official thinking. Regarding issues that might be brought up at the next interagency working group, it stated,
1. Genocide Investigation: Language that calls for an international investigation of human rights abuses and possible violations of the genocide convention. Be Careful. Legal at State was worried about this yesterday-Genocide finding could commit [the U.S. government] to actually "do something." [Emphasis added.]
At an interagency teleconference in late April, Susan Rice, a rising star on the NSC who worked under Richard Clarke, stunned a few of the officials present when she asked, "If we use the word 'genocide' and are seen as doing nothing, what will be the effect on the November [congressional] election?" Lieutenant Colonel Tony Marley remembers the incredulity of his colleagues at the State Department. "We could believe that people would wonder that," he says, "but not that they would actually voice it." Rice does not recall the incident but concedes, "If I said it, it was completely inappropriate, as well as irrelevant."
Rice has faced criticism for turning a blind eye to the massacres in Rwanda, but her experience appears to have also had a profound impact on her understanding of the world. Here's Power again:
Susan Rice, Clarke's co-worker on peacekeeping at the NSC, also feels that she has a debt to repay. "There was such a huge disconnect between the logic of each of the decisions we took along the way during the genocide and the moral consequences of the decisions taken collectively," Rice says. "I swore to myself that if I ever faced such a crisis again, I would come down on the side of dramatic action, going down in flames if that was required." Rice was subsequently appointed NSC Africa director and, later, assistant secretary of state for African affairs; she visited Rwanda several times and helped to launch a small program geared to train selected African armies so that they might be available to respond to the continent's next genocide. The American appetite for troop deployments in Africa had not improved.
More recently, Rice has disputed the notion that she is eternally seeking to atone for events in Rwanda. "To suggest that I'm repenting for [Rwanda] or that I'm haunted by that or that I don't sleep because of that or that every policy I've ever implemented subsequently is driven by that is garbage," she told the New Republic in 2012.
But even if she has managed to move on from the tragedy, it is clear that Rwanda made her more willing to consider the use of American power for humanitarian ends -- a perspective that surfaced during the debate over whether the United States should intervene in Libya in 2011. Some of Rice's most instructive comments on the issue came during an emotional speech she delivered on the occasion of the 15th anniversary of the genocide. Judge for yourself whether she is still affected by what happened during those brutal months in 1994:
U.S. Intervention in Libya
During the Obama administration's internal debate over whether the United States should intervene in Libya on behalf of rebel forces, Rice emerged as a forceful advocate for intervention -- and a critical player in lining up international support for the operation.
In a show of diplomatic jujitsu, she frustrated her allies at the United Nations by repeatedly putting a brake on efforts to draft a forceful Security Council resolution authorizing intervention. Little did they know that behind the scenes she had secretly drafted a resolution authorizing airstrikes -- despite the fact that she hadn't yet won White House support for the policy. When Obama finally came around to authorizing the use of military force, Rice rammed her resolution through the Security Council. In an institution not known for its ability to take swift action, Rice greased the wheels expertly and secured international backing for humanitarian intervention -- no small feat.
During the first six months of 2010, Rice carried out an intensive lobbying effort to build a coalition at the Security Council that would pass additional sanctions against Iran for its unwillingness to abandon its nuclear program. As James Traub wrote in his profile of Rice for Foreign Policy:
Rice's aides say that she got down in the weeds of the resolution, battering her fellow diplomats with details of how Iran used foreign banks to obscure nuclear-related transactions. She was prepared to conduct her own foreign policy when necessary. When a fellow diplomat challenged her on a red-line issue, saying that Jones, the national security advisor, had laid out the administration's policy differently, Rice retorted, "I outrank General Jones."
Rice got results. Resolution 1929 imposed sanctions on Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, prohibited the sale of some heavy weapons to Iran, and called for the inspection of ships and airplanes suspected of carrying contraband cargo to or from Iran. It was a victory that won her plaudits within the White House.
Rwanda is the issue that won't go away for Rice. In late 2012, with an alleged Rwandan-backed insurgency wreaking havoc in eastern Congo, France's U.N. ambassador, Gérard Araud, urged Rice to exercise her influence with Rwandan President Paul Kagame -- an old friend of hers and a staunch U.S. ally -- to get the rebel forces, known as the M23, to back down. "Gerard, it's eastern Congo. If it were not the M23 killing people it would be some other armed groups," she reportedly responded. U.S. officials say that they have privately urged Kagame to end his support of the M23 movement, which seized Goma, the regional capital, a few a weeks after the conversation between Rice and Araud.
The United States has continued to protect the Rwandan government at the United Nations. Following the rebel assault on Goma, the Security Council passed a resolution condemning the group's actions. But at the urging of the United States, mention of Rwanda was dropped from the resolution.
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World leaders don't always have the liberty of choosing their allies, but they do get to pick their friends. And while Barack Obama has been criticized for his Vulcan-style diplomacy, the U.S. president has made a few buddies in office. Now, as anti-government protests grip Turkey, one of them is embarrassing him.
In an interview with Fareed Zakaria in January 2012, Obama spoke candidly about the world leaders he had befriended, as The Cable reported at the time (emphasis ours):
Obama replied that he couldn't compare his relationships to those of past presidents, but "the friendships and the bonds of trust that I've been able to forge with a whole range of leaders is precisely -- or is a big part of what has allowed us to execute effective diplomacy."
Obama then went on name the five world leaders he feels especially close to and explained that he isn't exactly shooting hoops with them, but they at least have good working relationships.
"I mean, I think that if you ask them -- Angela Merkel, or Prime Minister Singh, or President Lee, or Prime Minister Erdogan, or David Cameron would say, we have a lot of trust and confidence in the President. We believe what he says. We believe that he'll follow through on his commitments. We think he's paying attention to our concerns and our interests," Obama said. And that's part of the reason why we've been able to forge these close working relationships and gotten a whole bunch of stuff done."
When Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan visited Washington last month, Obama mentioned that, in addition to discussing developments in Syria and peace talks with the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), the leaders had also exchanged parenting tips. An administration official told Politico that Obama and Erdogan's friendship has helped them weather a series of diplomatic challenges in Obama's first term -- though a New Yorker profile of Erdogan chalked that cooperation up to American desperation to maintain allies in the Middle East as much as to Obama and Erdogan's personal relationship:
President Barack Obama has developed a close relationship with Erdogan, whom he regards as a dynamic and democratically minded leader. A White House official told me that Obama has regularly voiced his concerns about the treatment of religious and ethnic minorities. On the rare occasion that an American official has made his criticisms public, Erdogan has easily dismissed them....
One explanation for American passivity, repeated by a number of Turks, is that Obama is desperate for allies in the Muslim world and is determined to hold on to Erdogan as a friend in an increasingly combustible region. When I mentioned this to a Western diplomat, he said that Erdogan had proved to be a positive leader for Turkey. As the diplomat told me, "Turkey is Muslim, prosperous, and democratic. There isn't another country like that." And yet some Turks compare Erdogan's Turkey less to the democracies of the West than to the Russian and Chinese models, in which free-market economics are championed and domestic dissent is repressed.
Obama speaks to Erdogan frequently (in 2011, the Los Angeles Times reported that the president had placed more calls to Turkey's prime minister than to any world leader except British Prime Minister David Cameron) -- enough for Mark Kennedy, writing for FP's Shadow Government blog today, to suggest Obama ring him up again to discuss the recent unrest in Turkey.
So far, though, Obama has left discussion of the protests to the State Department. "I have no calls to report," Press Secretary Jay Carney told reporters on Monday, in explaining the administration's assessment of the protests. "Turkey is a very important ally. And look, all democracies have issues that they need to work through and we would expect the government to work through this in a way that respects the rights of their citizens." Secretary of State John Kerry told reporters yesterday that the State Department has been working through the U.S. ambassador to Turkey to communicate the administration's position to Turkish officials. It's a roundabout way for the president to send a message to one of his closest friends on the world stage.
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Early Wednesday, a U.S. drone strike in the tribal region of Pakistan reportedly killed Wali ur-Rehman, the Pakistani Taliban's second-in-command (in the blue vest above). The attack comes just six days after President Barack Obama unveiled tightened standards for carrying out lethal drone strikes -- a policy revision aimed at making such strikes less frequent.
For that reason, the attack raises an uncomfortable question for defenders of the president's prosecution of the war on terror: Did the president just violate his own highly touted and brand new policy guidance?
The short answer to that question is that we don't know, since the policy guidance is classified. But the question may reveal something just as interesting about the hype surrounding the speech: Wednesday's drone strike suggests that the president's speech did not in fact represent a radical departure from past policy.
In evaluating Wednesday's drone strike and its implications for last week's address, there are three key documents: Obama's speech and two accompanying fact sheets.
In laying out the "components of ... a comprehensive counterterrorism strategy" during his speech, Obama asserted that "first, we must finish the work of defeating al Qaeda and its associated forces." As for using lethal drone strikes to accomplish that end, he pointed out that "under domestic law, and international law, the United States is at war with al Qaeda, the Taliban, and their associated forces." He also said that he would "continue to take strikes against high value al Qaeda targets, but also against forces that are massing to support attacks on coalition forces" in the "Afghan war theater."
[T]he United States will use lethal force only against a target that poses a continuing, imminent threat to U.S. persons. It is simply not the case that all terrorists pose a continuing, imminent threat to U.S. persons; if a terrorist does not pose such a threat, the United States will not use lethal force.
So was Rehman an imminent threat? Ackerman offers a quick history of Rehman's long rap sheet but doesn't come to a conclusion. But the bottom line is that it doesn't matter. The administration's definition of imminence, as explained in the paragraph introducing it, applies "outside areas of active hostilities," meaning that the restriction Ackerman cites to indict the president doesn't apply in this case. By claiming broad powers in his fight in the "Afghan war theater" against "al Qaeda and its associated forces" Obama has all but given himself a carte blanche to carry out attacks in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
But let's say for a moment that the administration's conception of imminence had governed its actions in the strike against Rehman. Would that have made a difference? Probably not.
None of the documents released last week makes clear which definition of imminence the administration will use. But if the White House plans to use a definition at all similar to the one governing drone strikes against U.S. citizens, it is so broad as to be almost meaningless. That definition "does not require the United States to have clear evidence that a specific attack on U.S. persons and interests will take place in the immediate future." A "high-level official could conclude, for example, that an individual poses an 'imminent threat' of violent attack against the United States where he is an operational leader of al-Qa'ida or an associated force and is personally and continually involved in planning terrorist attacks against the United States." In short, the only criteria required to fulfill this definition of imminence is membership in a group continually plotting against the United States -- even if that plot has not reached its end-stage. Put even more succinctly: If you are a terrorist plotting against the United States, you are an "imminent" threat.
Obama, it seems, is trying to have it both ways -- keeping his effective drone strikes while getting his liberal critics off his back. The president has now thrown several bones to the left: He has once more pledged to close Guantánamo, reintroduce a media shield law for journalists, and consider some kind of oversight mechanism for drone strikes. But at the same time he has retained expansive legal authority to carry out drone strikes at his will.
There are many details of the president's policies -- such as whether he will continue the controversial tactic known as "signature strikes -- that remain unclear. And until the administration provides more clarity, the only ways to judge Obama's drone program are by the legal justifications publicly available and the number of dead bodies in the remote areas of the world frequented by America's drones.
Judging by the five dead in Miram Shah this week, not much has changed.
NASEER MEHSUD/AFP/Getty Images
On Wednesday, Rep. Michele Bachmann announced that she will not seek another term in Congress in 2014, making clear that her decision has absolutely nothing to do with her prospects for winning reelection or the FBI's reported probe into whether her campaign improperly used funds during the 2012 presidential campaign. You can watch her announcement here:
The end of Bachmann's congressional career means we may soon be robbed of her foreign policy punditry. So without further ado, here are some of her greatest hits -- on topics ranging from climate change to North African geography:
Does Michele Bachmann hate Muslims? She says that she doesn't. But the president of Iran? Definitely a hater:
During her stop in Estherville, Iowa, Bachmann responded to Ron Paul's accusation on the Jay Leno show last night that she "hates Muslims."
"I don't hate Muslims," Bachman said. "I love the American people. And as president of United States, my goal would be to keep the American people safe, free and sovereign."
"The haters are the president of Iran," she said, referring to Iranian leader Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. "He stated unequivocally that given a nuclear weapons he will use that weapon to wipe Israel off the map, and he's willing to use it against the United States of America."
The Arab Spring
In her resignation video Wednesday, Bachmann claimed that President Obama has turned "the Middle East into a devastating, evil, jihadist, earthquake." That's a familiar theme for the congresswoman. Here she is laying the blame for the Arab Spring -- which is apparently a bad development altogether -- at Obama's feet:
The Muslim Brotherhood
According to Bachmann, the Muslim Brotherhood has inflitrated the U.S. government:
The U.S. Dollar
But does the Muslim Brotherhood conspiracy even compare to the U.S.-led effort to do away with the dollar and embrace a global currency? Judge for yourself:
Bachmann has also served as a chief rabblerouser with regard to the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi. Given the political points she's scored off the attack, it perhaps isn't all that surprising that she considers it an act of divine intervention:
Then again, her advocacy on the issue of Benghazi would probably have been more effective had she been able to place Libya on the African continent from the get-go:
For a taste of Bachmann's questioning style, here she is interrogating a thoroughly confused John Brennan:
REP. Michele Bachmann: When the White House conducted their armed drone strikes in North Africa, particularly in eastern Libya, prior to the attack on our mission in Benghazi on 9/11 last year, did the White House notify the State Department of the armed drone strikes before they were made?
DIR. John Brennan (director of central intelligence): Armed drone strikes in Libya? I'm unknowing of such, and I would defer to the White House to address your question.
REP. Bachmann: Were there any armed drone strikes in Northern Africa that were made by the White House?
DIR. Brennan: White House doesn't have a drone capability, responsibility, whatever. So I -
REP. Bachmann: Did they have any directives toward having armed drone strikes in North Africa?
DIR. Brennan: Again, I don't know what it is specifically you're referring to, but again, I would defer to the White House on whatever happened at that time.
DIR. CLAPPER: (Referring to ?) the capability, the UAVs that were over - flying over Libya were military and were unarmed.
REP. Bachmann: And so were there any armed drone strikes that were made in North Africa prior to 9/11?
DIR. Clapper: In Libya?
REP. Bachmann: I'm asking in North Africa. I'm asking the - I'm asking Director Brennan. Were there any armed drone strikes that were made by the United States in North Africa prior to 9/11?
DIR. Brennan: Well, we usually don't talk about any type of specific actions, but again, I don't know what you could be referencing.
REP. Bachmann: I'm just wondering if the State Department was aware or if the military was aware or if the CIA was aware. And if we aren't going to talk about that, we aren't going to talk about that, but that's a question I'd like to know.
Let's also not forget that Bachmann was the first to raise the alarm on Iran's (non-existent) plan to annex part of Iraq:
Iran is the trouble maker, trying to tip over apple carts all over Baghdad right now because they want America to pull out. And do you know why? It's because they've already decided that they're going to partition Iraq.
And half of Iraq, the western, northern portion of Iraq, is going to be called.... the Iraq State of Islam, something like that. And I'm sorry, I don't have the official name, but it's meant to be the training ground for the terrorists. There's already an agreement made.
They are going to get half of Iraq and that is going to be a terrorist safe haven zone where they can go ahead and bring about more terrorist attacks in the Middle East region and then to come against the United States because we are their avowed enemy.
Carbon dioxide, Mister Speaker, is a natural byproduct of nature. Carbon dioxide is natural. It occurs in Earth. It is a part of the regular lifecycle of Earth. In fact, life on planet Earth can't even exist without carbon dioxide. So necessary is it to human life, to animal life, to plant life, to the oceans, to the vegetation that's on the Earth, to the, to the fowl that - that flies in the air, we need to have carbon dioxide as part of the fundamental lifecycle of Earth.
Michele, we are going to miss you.
JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images
After clandestinely slipping into Syria on Monday for a series of meetings over fresh juice and cherries with rebel commanders, Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) became the highest-ranking U.S. official -- besides the U.S. ambassador to Syria -- to enter the country since the start of its civil war.
According to the trip's organizers, McCain's visit was approved by Secretary of State John Kerry, but his decision to meet with rebel commander Salim Idris and engage in some foreign-policy freelancing probably won't be drawing praise from the White House anytime soon. Accused of standing by and tacitly watching Syria burn, the Obama administration is currently engaged in a diplomatic offensive to bring the conflict to a negotiated end -- a campaign that is complicated by senior American politicians traveling to Syria to gather information on the weapons systems rebels believe they need to turn the military balance in their favor.
Then again, freelancing by members of Congress is far from a new phenomenon -- especially by legislators unhappy with the sitting president's foreign policy.
Rep. Charlie Wilson, the man almost singlehandedly responsible for arming the Afghan mujahideen during their fight against the Soviet army, is something of the godfather of foreign-policy freelancing by members of Congress. During the 1980s, Wilson, a playboy Democrat from Texas and staunch anti-communist, worked hand in glove with the CIA to funnel weapons to Afghan insurgents, including the anti-aircraft missiles that proved decisive in countering Soviet air superiority.
Though McCain's embrace of the Syrian rebels carries overtones of Wilson's support of the Afghan rebels, the Texas Democrat went to absurd lengths to secure arms for the mujahideen. In 1984, for instance, Wilson traveled with CIA agents to Egypt to inspect weapons for possible purchase and transfer to Afghanistan. At a test firing on an Egyptian range, the missile doubled back on the congressman, who had to throw himself to the ground to avoid being struck. "We decided not to buy any of those," he gamely recalled. (Some of the individuals Wilson armed would later orchestrate the 9/11 attacks.)
In recent years, similar diplomatic initiatives have been less spectacular -- if no less controversial. In 2007, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi traveled to Syria for a meeting with President Bashar al-Assad in an effort to re-engage the country after relations soured in 2003. That meeting produced little progress, and the image of Pelosi seated next to Assad is probably one she wishes she could erase.
McCain is himself no stranger to the dramatic overseas tour -- even if the move hasn't always turned out as he hoped. During the 2008 presidential campaign, he embarked on a trip to Iraq to burnish his foreign-policy credentials and paint the Democrats as intent on cutting and running from the war. But that effort backfired when the senator mixed up which extremist group Iran was supporting inside Iraq (no, not al Qaeda).
Then there's Curt Weldon, a former Republican representative from Pennsylvania. In 2004, Weldon led a congressional delegation to Libya in support of Muammar al-Qaddafi's decision to abandon his nuclear program. Weldon left Congress after his defeat in the 2006 midterm election. But when the uprising in Libya broke out in 2011, Weldon promoted himself as a potential broker in the conflict and traveled to Libya with the intention of convincing Qaddafi to step down. The effort failed.
Weldon could have suffered a worse fate. In 2012, Rep. Dana Rohrabacher was denied entry into Afghanistan as a result of a long-standing feud with President Hamid Karzai. Surprisingly well-acquainted with Afghanistan, Rohrabacher first traveled to the country while working in the Reagan White House during the 1980s -- and in 1988 he even fought alongside the mujahideen in Jalalabad. But after launching an investigation into the Karzai family's personal wealth as a member of Congress -- one in a string of aggressive actions against Karzai and his political clique -- Rohrabacher found himself less than welcome in Kabul.
By that standard, McCain's visit this week appears to have gone pretty well.
Barack Obama's counterterrorism speech on Thursday has drawn mixed reviews here in the United States (here at FP, Rosa Brooks gave the address an A-, while Emile Simpson found it to be a "conceptual car crash") -- and reactions have been similar in the countries that may be most affected by the president's proposals.
In the Pakistani press, the takeaway from the speech was the Obama administration's position on drone strikes, which have targeted militants in the tribal areas along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. With a touch of optimism, Pakistani reports listed the revised criteria for drone strikes described in the speech and new "presidential policy guidance" as a major shift in U.S. policy. The reports also took special note of Obama's acknowledgement of the "thousands of Pakistani soldiers [who] have lost their lives fighting extremists."
For some in Pakistan, though, including the government's Foreign Ministry, the speech was too little, too late. The ministry issued a statement saying that, while officials agreed with Obama's comment that "force alone cannot make us safe," the Pakistani government "has consistently maintained that the drone strikes are counter-productive, entail loss of innocent civilian lives, have human rights and humanitarian implications and violate the principles of national sovereignty, territorial integrity and international law." In an op-ed in Dawn, Pakistani author Rafia Zakaria wrote that the speech would have been better two years ago. In the time since the May 2011 Osama bin Laden raid, she pointed out, terrorism in Pakistan has metastasized as groups like the Pakistani Taliban have been emboldened by airstrikes:
The United States delegitimised the Pakistani state by continuing its onslaught of drone strikes year after year. Unheeded by both Parliamentary resolutions that denied any tacit agreement on drones and the statements of UN Rapporteurs calling them illegal; the Predators continued to fly, releasing Hellfire missiles over Pakistani territory and treating Pakistani borders as arbitrary impediments to American strategy.... The Tehreek-e-Taliban made the same point as the Americans, that the Pakistani state was not able to protect its own people, that their invasive capacity to kill was greater than the government's capacity to protect and that the writ of the state simply did not apply.
Meanwhile, in Yemen, despite the prevalence of U.S. drone strikes in the country, the reaction has focused on Obama's comments about the Guantánamo Bay detention center, where Yemeni nationals make up the majority of remaining detainees. The most-read article on the Yemen Post website on Friday, titled "Gitmo detainees could be heading home to Yemen soon," led with:
Following weeks of an intense political debate between Yemeni and American officials regarding the fate of Yemen 56 cleared terror detainees in Guantanamo Bay prison, America's infamous terror penitentiary, US President Barack Obama said he is ready to resume the transfers of prisoners, hence ended his self-imposed moratorium. In a speech on Thursday at the National Defense University President Obama made clear he wished to reduce Guantanamo "detainee population" ahead of the potential closure of the facility altogether.
The article also noted the looming political fight in Washington, stating, "While the news will come as a relief to many Yemeni officials and the families of detainees, not all American officials agree with their president's decision." The Yemeni government issued a press release and the Yemen Post article quotes officials from the country's Human Rights Ministry confirming U.S.-Yemeni cooperation on a new rehabilitation program in Yemen for repatriated detainees.
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President Obama is giving a much-hyped counterterrorism address this afternoon at the National Defense University in which he'll announce new restrictions on drone strikes and targeted killings, and renew his push to shutter the Guantánamo Bay detention facility. But this isn't the Obama administration's first big speech on drone policy -- current and former officials, including Attorney General Eric Holder, former counterterrorism czar and current CIA chief John Brennan, former State Department legal adviser Harold Koh, and former Pentaon general counsel Jeh Johnson, have all delivered carefully crafted statements on the subject in recent years. Here's what we've learned so far.
The basics. Starting with the first major speech in March 2010 by Harold Koh, the Obama administration has sketched out a legal framework for drone strikes and other targeted killing operations -- though the fact that many of these strikes are conducted by remotely piloted vehicles wasn't acknowledged until a speech by John Brennan in May 2012. That justification rests on the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force against al Qaeda, which, in the administration's interpretation, allows for the use of force against al Qaeda-affiliated targets that pose an imminent threat to the United States in countries that have either given permission to the United States or are unwilling or unable to take action against the targets on their own. This rubric has been refined a bit -- but not much -- in subsequent speeches by Brennan and Eric Holder.
Yes, U.S. citizens can be targeted. There's legal precedent for the government using lethal force against American citizens abroad who have taken up arms against the United States, but the Obama administration did not lay out the rationale for such a scenario until a speech by Holder in March 2012. "The president may use force abroad against a senior operational leader of a foreign terrorist organization with which the United States is at war," Holder said in an address at Northwestern University, "even if that individual happens to be a U.S. citizen." Holder has since expanded on this in writing to indicate that the government does not have the authority to conduct targeted killings domestically. Additionally, in a letter to the Senate Judiciary Committee released on Wednesday, Holder revealed that targeted killings have killed four U.S. citizens since 2009, but that only one of them was the intended target of a strike.
Former officials would like to see more transparency -- to a point. Jeh Johnson has expressed concern about how limited public information about the drone program is affecting its reputation. "In the absence of an official picture of what our government is doing, and by what authority, many in the public fill the void by envisioning the worst," he said in a speech in March 2013. That sentiment was seconded by Koh; in a speech earlier this month, he told an audience at Oxford University that the administration "has not been sufficiently transparent to the media, to the Congress and to our allies." But Johnson wouldn't go so far as to endorse a court for approving targets, which he said could not provide the transparency and credibility its advocates suggest.
For every vague explanation that has been given in these drone speeches, though, there are more questions. Here are a few things we still don't know:
Who is the government really targeting? As Micah Zenko pointed out last month, internal government assessments obtained by McClatchy demonstrate that, in addition to members of al Qaeda, U.S. airstrikes have targeted hundreds of "Afghan, Pakistani and unknown extremists" from "the Haqqani network, several Pakistani Taliban factions and the unidentified individuals described only as 'foreign fighters' and 'other militants.'" That goes far beyond the limited scope that the Obama administration has outlined in a Justice Department white paper: that the United States can lawfully target a "senior operational leader of al-Qa'ida or an associated force" who "poses an imminent threat of violent attack against the United States." In his speech earlier this month, Koh stuck with what Zenko has called "the fundamental myth of the Obama administration's targeted killing program" -- that those targeted are clearly "cobelligerents" of al Qaeda. The administration has yet to discuss publicly the use of "signature strikes," in which groups are targeted based on a set of observed behaviors that are similar to those of terrorist cells.
Just how imminent is 'imminent'? What determines when capture isn't 'feasible'? That Justice Department white paper has a lot of fuzzy language in it. Targeted killings are authorized by "an informed, high-level official of the US government" when there is an "imminent threat of violent attack" and capture is deemed "unfeasible." But really, who qualifies to make that call? Does simply being a member of al Qaeda make someone an imminent threat, or does there have to be a specific plot associated with the individual or cell? Capture was feasible for Osama bin Laden in a safehouse just outside a military base in the heart of Pakistan, but not for men riding in an SUV bumping along a rural Yemeni road -- who makes that determination, and how? Rosa Brooks has written more about how the white paper said a lot by not saying very much at all.
Where and when does the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force not apply? In his February 2012 speech, Johnson called the AUMF "the bedrock of the military's domestic legal authority" for drone strikes and the broader war on terror -- but the AUMF was written to target individuals responsible for the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. It's been a bit of a stretch for the administration to claim that this authorizes them to target organizations only tangentially affiliated with al Qaeda -- some of which didn't even exist in 2001, and some analysts and politicians have argued that it's time to revise the AUMF. Or, as Brooks has asserted, it might make more sense to scrap it altogether and start over with a new law that doesn't try to shoehorn new authorizations into an old law with more legalese.
But if past speeches are any indication, don't expect too many answers today.
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Ahead of President Obama's big counterterrorism speech tomorrow, Attorney General Eric Holder has written a letter, obtained by the New York Times, to the Senate Judiciary Committee disclosing the four American citizens killed by targeted strikes during the Obama administration, three of whom "were not specifically targeted by the United States":
Since 2009, the United States, in the conduct of U.S. counterterrorism operations against al-Qa'ida and its associated forces outside of areas of active hostilities, has specifically targeted and killed one U.S. citizen, Anwar al-Aulaqi. The United States is further aware of three other U.S. citizens who have been killed in such U.S. counterterrorism operations over that same time period: Samir Khan, 'Abd al-Rahman Anwar al-Aulaqi, and Jude Kenan Mohammed. These individuals were not specifically targeted by the United States.
The letter does not include the names of all Americans who have been killed in drone strikes. A fifth U.S. citizen, Ahmed Hijazi (a.k.a. Kamal Derwish) was killed in 2002 during the Bush administration in the first ever U.S. drone strike. That strike, in Yemen, was directed at Qaed Salim Sinan al-Harethi, who was associated with the bombing of the USS Cole in 2000. An unnamed FBI source told the Seattle Post-Intelligencer several years ago that another U.S. citizen was believed to have been killed by a U.S. cruise missile in Somalia sometime between 2006 and early 2009.
Anwar al-Awlaki and Samir Khan were propagandists for al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), and the U.S. government believes that Awlaki played a role in planning the attempted underwear bombing in 2009. His son, 'Abd al-Rahman, had reportedly linked up with AQAP members while looking for Awklaki when a drone targeted his vehicle. The three men were killed in a series of airstrikes in September and October 2011.
The only new name is Jude Kenan Mohammed, whose death in Pakistan was rumored in a February 2012 local news story in his hometown of Raleigh, N.C but had not been previously acknowledged.
With the letter, the Obama administration has now admitted killing more U.S. citizens than detainees the Bush administration admitted waterboarding. Hooray for transparency?
The full text of Holder's letter is included below:
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America and Australia have their fair share of similarities -- both are former British colonies with English as a primary language, both occupy giant chunks of land, and both are characterized by their independent frontier spirits -- but is this reason enough to join them? Sadly, no.
The deadline for a White House petition to "Join American and Australia to form Ameristralia" is fast approaching. The petition, which has until Friday to garner 100,000 signatures, so far clocks in at an unimpressive 6,500.
The campaign to combine the two great nations was inspired by Redditors who in April realized that the United States dominates the social media site during its daytime while Australians actively use Reddit when America sleeps. Combined, they could achieve Reddit -- if not world -- domination. As Urban Dictionary puts it: "the union of the greatest country in the world and the deadliest island, Ameristralia rules all of the day and all of the night."
But while the petition is clearly a joke, an argument can be made for fusing the two countries. Fans of the union -- who call themselves 'Matriots' (Mate + Patriots) -- note: Ameristralia would bypass Russia in size at 17.32 million square km to Russia's 17.08. And yes, it would also finally bring the United States into the metric system. Furthermore, not only do the two countries' respective leaders get along famously, but having a whole territory in the South Pacific, not just a Marine base, could really be a boon to the U.S. pivot to Asia. As the initiative's Facebook page notes, both countries have "amazing armies" to be used "to uphold freedom and awesome." Who could argue with that mission statement?
Still not convinced? Redditors point out that Ameristralians would also dominate Olympic swimming, diving, and at long last give the United States a fighting chance at rugby.
So there you have it: a case for Ameristralia. If the petition somehow reaches 100,000 signatures by Friday, it will join other ridiculous requests -- like Texas seceding from the Union or the United States building a Death Star -- to require White House review.
Donald Rumsfeld has never had a reputation for being particularly tactful or articulate (let's all take a moment to remember how Saturday Night Live portrayed him, even before the invasion of Iraq), but he's demonstrated a habit of owning his mistakes -- in his own way. The former defense secretary took his infamous, convoluted, "There are known knowns" comment, made in a press conference in 2002, and appropriated it as the title of his 2011 memoir, Known and Unknown. And now he's doing it again as he promotes his new book, Rumsfeld's Rules: Leadership Lessons in Business, Politics, War, and Life, a collection of aphorisms and rules to live by -- if only Donald Rumsfeld took his own advice.
"You go to war with the Army you have" may have been a gaffe when Rumsfeld said it to a National Guard soldier asking about jerry-rigged armor on Humvees, but in Rumsfeld's Rules, it's a pearl of wisdom. And when he's not rehabilitating his own troublesome turns of phrase, he often cites the advice of others with little self-awareness. All of this has made for an incredibly awkward book tour.
There was the time, for instance, when Rumsfeld cited one of his rules at a book party in Washington on Tuesday: "Every government looking at the actions of another government and trying to explain them always exaggerates rationality and conspiracy and underestimates incompetence and fortuity," he observed. "I learned that from watching you!" Circuit Court Judge Laurence Silberman, who coined the rule, reportedly called out.
And when Rumsfeld spoke to Politico's Patrick Gavin, he wasted no time contradicting himself: "If you have rules, never have more than 10," he joked of his 380-rule book. Then again, he added, "All generalizations are wrong, even this one."
It's complicated, you see.
For example, when Rumsfeld said, "It's easier to get into something than it is to get out," he's not talking about the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq. In a conversation with Kai Ryssdal, the host of American Public Media's Marketplace, Rumsfeld clarified that he was thinking of a much smaller deployment of U.S. forces 20 years earlier:
I thought of that when I was President Reagan's Middle East envoy and we had 241 Marines killed at Beirut, at the airport. And I concluded then that the United States has to be careful about putting ground forces in because we're such a big target.
"I sorta can't believe these words are coming out of your mouth," an incredulous Ryssdal interjects. When Ryssdal asks if he's ever considered apologizing, Rumsfeld replies, "Well, my goodness, you know, as Napoleon said, 'I've been mistaken so many times I don't even blush for it anymore.' Sure, you see things that don't turn out the way you hope. You look at intelligence -- and of course, if intelligence were a fact, it wouldn't be intelligence."
Incidentally, "If intelligence were a fact, it wouldn't be intelligence" is not one of Rumsfeld's rules.
You can listen to Ryssdal's whole, cringe-inducing interview below. And if you're wondering how Rumsfeld is doing, he'd like you to know, he's "happy as a clam."
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In yet another example of the unrealistic ambitions of Egypt's new political class on the world stage, the Building and Development Party, the political wing of Gama'a al-Islamiyya (GI), is calling on the United States to remove the political party and its parent organization from the U.S. State Department's list of foreign terrorist organizations.
"Gama'a al-Islamiyya and the Building and Development Party do not consider the West as opponents, but instead advocate for the good of all and embrace all ideas that serve Islam," Building and Development Party spokesman Khaled al-Sharif said in a press conference on Sunday, according to a posting on the party's Facebook page. Daily News Egypt reports that al-Sharif then went on to "demand" that GI be taken off the State Department's Foreign Terrorist Organization list, and called for the United States to release Omar Abdel Rahman, also known as the "Blind Sheikh."
GI was a fixture in Egypt's collegiate political scene in the 1980s but became internationally infamous for a campaign of terror attacks in the 1990s, which included assassinations and massacres targeting tourists. GI also occasionally worked with Egyptian Islamic Jihad, then headed by Ayman al-Zawahiri, who later merged his organization with al Qaeda and eventually became Osama bin Laden's successor in that organization. Abdel Rahman had ties to both organizations and is GI's spiritual leader -- he was imprisoned in Egypt in the 1980s for issuing a fatwa sanctioning the assassination of President Anwar Sadat, and is currently serving a life sentence in the United States for helping plan attacks in New York City, including the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center. When the State Department's list of foreign terrorist groups was compiled in 1997, GI was an inaugural member.
In 2003, GI reentered the Egyptian political arena, formally renouncing violence in exchange for the release of hundreds of political prisoners. That promise has held, mostly. The change in tactics split the organization, and a violent faction formally joined al Qaeda in 2006. Mainstream members aren't a bunch of peaceniks, either; GI was responsible for organizing the protests at the U.S. embassy in Cairo on Sept. 11, 2012, and has threatened to fight for the implementation of sharia law "even if that requires bloodshed."
It's not unheard of for an organization to work its way off the State Department's terror list -- after a years-long lobbying effort, Iranian dissident group Mujahideen-e-Khalq was delisted last September -- but it's a rare occasion. And though GI and its Building and Development Party aren't the only politicians in Egypt to call for the release of the Blind Sheikh, it's certainly not going to win them any fans in Foggy Bottom. It's also not going to happen.
When a former Obama administration legal advisor delivers a tough criticism of the president's prosecution of the war on terror, what do you see? Evidence of the manifest illegality of the White House's drone program? An example of Obama's lack of political will? An invocation of frightening Bush-era legal theories of presidential power?
Welcome to the Rorschach test that is Harold Koh's recent speech to the Oxford Union.
On Tuesday, Koh, until January the chief legal advisor at the State Department, criticized the White House's lack of transparency with regard to its drone program, which Koh said has resulted in "a growing perception that the program is not lawful and necessary, but illegal, unnecessary and out of control." That jab was part of a three-part plan laid out by Koh to extricate the United States from the "Forever War" (1. Disengage from Afghanistan; 2. Close Guantánamo; 3. Discipline drones).
Prior to joining the administration, Koh was an outspoken critic of the Bush administration. But once inside government, he served as one of the chief legal architects of the Obama administration's national security policies, many of which bore a striking resembling to Obama's predecessor's. Now, Koh is firing back -- if rather gently -- at his former employer. But beyond his rather straightforward policy recommendations, it's not entirely clear how to interpret Koh's speech. And the varied responses it provoked offer something of a primer on the current state of thinking about Obama's prosecution of the war on terror.
Over at the Atlantic, Conor Friedersdorf sees the secrecy surrounding the drone program and Koh's call for its dismantling as proof positive of the program's illegality. In order to "discipline drones," Koh called on Obama to make public the legal rationale for drone strikes and targeting American citizens overseas, clarify its method for counting civilian casualties, and release the threat assessments behind individual drones strikes. Additionally, Koh called on the White House to send its officials before Congress to testify about the program. All in all, sensible reforms aimed at transparency.
But, as Friedersdorf argues, the fact that none of these things -- moves all within Obama's power to carry out -- have happened reveals the drone program's shaky legal basis, if not its outright illegality:
If Koh believes all that is what should happen, then he believes the Obama Administration's current approach is deeply wrongheaded, and not just because of its indefensible dearth of transparency. It is not "consistent with due process" to target American citizens. The way Team Obama counts civilian casualties is not "consistent with international humanitarian law standards." Obama can't demonstrate that its strikes were all directed against imminent threats. Being more transparent about any of those things will in fact be discrediting, not redemptive.
Hence the secrecy.
And although he precedes everything with, "as President Obama has indicated he wants to do," Koh knows that Obama could do everything Koh endorses, but has in fact chosen not to do it.
Writing for her blog Emptywheel, Marcy Wheeler interprets Koh's argument about how to close Guantánamo as evidence of Obama's lack of political will to finally erase this stain on America's human rights record. In his speech, Koh urged Obama to designate a senior White House official with sufficient weight to close down the prison. But that plan, Wheeler contends, bears remarkable similarities to Obama's failed effort to close Gitmo early in his first term:
Now, I'm all in favor of closing Gitmo and this might be one way to do it. Koh actually improves on the prior plan by admitting the indefinite detainees will have to be released as the war is over, which is legally correct but misapprehends why they're not being released and why we have to have a Forever War to justify keeping them silent and imprisoned forever.
But Koh's map for closing Gitmo also misrepresents why appointing Greg Craig himself to carry out the Gitmo task didn't work. As I traced in real time (see, here, here, and here), to get Obama's ear, Craig had to fight through Rahm Emanuel. And Rahm preferred to sell out Obama's human rights promises in exchange for an eventually failed attempt to appease Lindsey Graham. Rahm won that fight. After Rahm won that battle, he scapegoated Craig. Ultimately, when asked why he left, Craig pointed to Rahm.
It wasn't enough to appoint Greg Craig. Closing Gitmo either required appointing someone with the bureaucratic chops to beat Rahm or someone like him in battle, or someone whom Obama actually entrusts such a battle with. And Holder's fate - where Obama continues to have trust in him even while he ultimately reversed his decision to try Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in NYC - shows that's not enough. Heck, Koh stayed on for almost four years, but even battles he presumably thought he had won, like drone rules, he now appears to have lost. Ultimately, then, it's going to take a really shrewd fighter or ... it's going to take the President wanting to invest political capital in these things more than he did three years ago.
Koh's emphasis on the need to close Guantánamo reflects the degree to which the Bush administration's shadow still hangs over the Obama White House -- a fact highlighted in the blog Lawfare commentary on Koh's conception of presidential power. "Look who has discovered inherent presidential powers," Benjamin Wittes observes sarcastically (elsewhere on Lawfare, Steve Vladeck defends Koh against the charge of hypocrisy).
What do you see in this ink blot of a speech?
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Yemen's transitional government is signaling that it may release Abdulelah Haider Shaye, a Yemeni journalist who was arrested in August 2010 and who U.S. intelligence officials believe supported al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. Shaye was sentenced to five years in prison in January 2011 in a trial that drew condemnation from Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, and human rights and journalist advocacy organizations have since campaigned for his release.
In a meeting with U.N. officials on Monday, Yemeni President Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi told reporters that he has made plans to release Shaye, Yemen's al-Masdar reports. Al Jazeera bureau chief Saeed Thabit Saeed, who attended the meeting, wrote on Facebook, "We received a serious promise from [Hadi] that our colleague Abdulelah Shaye will be released," and Times of London correspondent Iona Craig confirmed with Hadi's office that there "is an order from the president to release Shaye soon."
This is not the first time that Shaye's release has been considered. In fact, soon after his 2011 trial, Shaye's release seemed imminent. "We were waiting for the release of the pardon -- it was printed out and prepared in a file for the president to sign and announce the next day," Shaye's lawyer, Abdulrahman Barman, told Jeremy Scahill in his new book, Dirty Wars: The World Is a Battlefield. But that plan fell through after a Feb. 2 phone call between then-President Ali Abdullah Saleh and President Barack Obama, in which Obama "expressed concern over the release of [Shaye], who had been sentenced to five years in prison for his association with AQAP," according to a readout of the call released by the White House.
The White House's position hasn't changed in the ensuing two years. "We remain concerned about al-Shai's potential early release due to his association with Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula," National Security Council spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden told FP by email on Wednesday.
Nor, for that matter, is Shaye's release certain. Mohammed al-Basha, a spokesperson for the Yemeni embassy in Washington, walked back reports of the journalist's imminent release, telling FP that President Hadi had only agreed to consider ending Shaye's detention.
Shaye's investigative work drew international attention in 2009 when he reported that the United States had conducted an airstrike that killed 41 civilians in the Yemeni village of al-Majalla, and managed to interview New Mexico-born AQAP cleric Anwar al-Awlaki on multiple occasions.
In July 2010, the Yemeni government arrested and beat Shaye, and interrogators told him, "We will destroy your life if you keep on talking," according to Scahill's account. Shaye was arrested a month later, beaten again, held in solitary confinement for 34 days without access to a lawyer, and then rushed through a trial on charges that included recruiting and propagandizing for AQAP and encouraging the assassination of President Saleh and his son. By the time Obama intervened in Shaye's pardon in 2011, protesters had begun filling city streets calling for the end of Saleh's three-decade presidency; Saleh resigned in November 2011, and since then his vice president, Hadi, has governed as part of what is slated to be a two-year period of reform and transition.
The U.S. government's case against Shaye is unclear. U.S. Ambassador to Yemen Gerald Feierstein told Craig in February 2012 that "Shaye is in jail because he was facilitating al Qaeda and its planning for attacks on Americans," but did not elaborate. Before Shaye's arrest, an U.S. intelligence official, who told Scahill that he "was persuaded that [Shaye] was an agent," discouraged journalists from working with Shaye on account of "'classified evidence' indicat[ing] that Shaye was 'cooperating' with al Qaeda."
Since his imprisonment, Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, the International Federation of Journalists, the Committee to Protect Journalists, and the Yemen-based Freedom Foundation have campaigned for Shaye's release, and last November Yemeni Justice Minister Murshid al-Arashani publicly demanded that Hadi issue a pardon. Though it appears the Yemeni president may be preparing to meet that request, Shaye's family remains doubtful. "It's like the same as previous promises," Shaye's brother Khaled told Craig. "So far this is the fourth time Hadi has made this promise."
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Today, the House Committee on Oversight & Government Reform is convening its long-awaited hearing on the Sept. 11 attacks on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi -- one that will feature a group of self-described "whistleblowers" from inside the State Department.
According to leaked copies of their testimonies, the witnesses -- Mark Thompson, acting deputy assistant secretary for counterterrorism; Gregory Hicks, the former deputy chief of mission/chargé d'affairs in Libya; and Eric Nordstrom, a diplomatic security officer and former regional security officer in Libya -- will testify that the State Department rebuffed requests for additional security at the consulate and that the Obama administration denied a request to send a team of special forces to Benghazi. According to the witnesses, U.S. soldiers could have made it to the consulate in time to save lives, though that is a highly contentious allegation.
The controversial testimony is sure to generate heated debate among the lawmakers assembled. Here's a guide to what you can expect from the most high-profile antagonists in today's hearing:
Best known for lobbing endless accusations at the Obama administration for the botched "Fast and Furious" operation at the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, Issa, the committee's chairman, is now staking a claim as a major player in Republican efforts to keep the White House's feet to the fire on Benghazi. On Monday, Issa, a California Republican, told CBS News that there is "no question" that former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's inner circle and possibly the secretary herself were involved in covering up the State Department's handling of the Benghazi attack.
"If Hillary Clinton is not responsible for the before, during and after mistakes ... it's somebody close. There certainly are plenty of people close to the former secretary who knew, and apparently were part of the problem," Issa told CBS.
A darling of the Tea Party, Chaffetz, a Utah Republican, has accused the Obama administration of seeking to suppress the testimony of the witnesses slated to appear. "There are people who want to testify that have been suppressed," he told Fox News Sunday. "They're scared to death of what the State Department is doing with them."
Expect Chaffetz to advance the ball on allegations that the U.S. military could have responded to distress calls at the Benghazi consulate. On Monday, he told Fox News that the military was told to "stand down" and that after the attacks the Obama administration worked to cover up orders for the military to not respond to the attack.
A South Carolina Republican, Gowdy is the man behind much of the hype leading up to today's hearing. "There are more Benghazi hearings coming; I think they're going to be explosive," he told Fox News in late April. But don't just expect grandstanding from Gowdy. A former prosecutor, Gowdy told conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt that he is concerned his Republican colleagues won't sufficiently focus on fact-finding during the hearing, and that he has been working behind the scenes to educate his colleagues about the art of interrogation. "So I have worked with, now, four of my colleagues whose backgrounds are not in litigation, how to ask these questions in a precise, pithy way that makes the witness the star and not some arm-flailing congressman who wants to be on YouTube," Gowdy told Hewitt.
Expect Gowdy to pursue some interesting lines of questioning. Here's what he promised Hewitt:
My fear over the weekend was that a lot of the information that I thought would be most interesting tomorrow has already been released. So I went to staff, and I went to others, and said with any jury trial, you have to save something back. You have to be interesting on the day of the trial. And I have been assured, in fact, I know, because I've seen it myself, there's going to be new, provocative, instructive, dare not use the word explosive, but there's going to be information that comes out tomorrow that whether people have been so desensitized to government lying to them that they don't care anymore, I cannot speak to that. But if you're interested in Benghazi, there is going to be enough new material tomorrow to make you absolutely livid that it's taken eight months for us to get to this point.
The ranking Democrat on the committee, Cummings has been lambasting Republicans for politicizing the attacks. Expect him to describe the hearing as an exercise in partisan politics. "[Republicans] have leaked snippets of interview transcripts to national media outlets in a selective and distorted manner to drum up publicity for their hearing," Cummings said in a press release. "This is investigation by press release and does a disservice to our common goal of ensuring that our diplomatic corps serving overseas has the best protection possible to do its critical work."
Fresh off losing the Democratic primary in Massachusetts' special election to replace former Senator John Kerry, Stephen Lynch has been doing battle with Jason Chaffetz in recent days. During Wednesday's hearing, he'll likely be one of the louder Democratic voices pushing back on Republican claims. "This has been a one- sided investigation, if you want to call it that," Lynch told Fox on Sunday. "There's been no sharing of information in a significant way with the Democrats staff members who usually conduct this type of investigation. And I think it's disgraceful, to be honest with you."
Grab some popcorn. It should be a good show.
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What can an impoverished island nation -- one isolated by the United States and lacking natural resources of its own -- do to secure its influence in the world and earn hard currency? In Cuba's case, the answer lies in its medical corps.
On Monday, Brazilian Foreign Minister Antonio Patriota announced that his country is in negotiations to hire some 6,000 Cuban doctors to come work in rural areas of Brazil. The plan highlights what has become a cornerstone of Cuban foreign policy and its export economy. Since the Cuban revolution in 1959, the country has aggressively exported its doctors around the world -- sometimes for humanitarian reasons, sometimes for cash -- and has garnered a reputation as a provider of health care to the world's neediest countries.
Shortly after the revolution, for instance, Fidel Castro sent physicians to Algeria as a sign of socialist solidarity and to Chile in the aftermath of a devastating earthquake. Since then, Cuba has sent at least 185,000 health workers to more than 100 different countries, according to the New York Times.
But what began as a strategy for exporting revolution has in more recent years turned into a means of ensuring the government's survival. Cuba's largest medical mission is currently in Venezuela, which sends Havana 90,000 barrels of oil per day in exchange for 30,000 Cuban physicians. It's an elegant quid pro quo that secures legitimacy for the Venezuelan government and keeps the Cuban economy afloat.
We hear a lot about Cuban cigars, but tobacco is far from Cuba's most important export. In 2006, 28 percent, or $2.3 billion, of Cuba's total export earnings came from medical services, according to a study by Julie Feinsilver. As a rough measure of comparison, Cuba's cigar exports totaled $215 million in 2011.
So what might Cuba's latest foray into medical diplomacy entail? In return for physicians and other health workers, Brazil is expected to fund infrastructure projects in Cuba and direct a $176 million loan toward Cuban airports. Cuban medical personnel, meanwhile, will fan out to rural areas of Brazil that are typically underserved by doctors.
It's a bitter irony for U.S. policymakers that 50 years after the imposition of the Cuban embargo, the communist regime is circumventing efforts to isolate it by sending, of all things, doctors around the world.
Never mind that the motive isn't always humanitarian.
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Fraying cooperation in the drug war will surely be top of mind as President Obama meets with his counterpart Enrique Peña Nieto in Mexico this week. And perhaps nothing encapsulates Mexico's growing impatience with America's heavy-handed approach to combating drug trafficking than this nugget from a New York Times report on Tuesday. Apparently, the United States has been subjecting Mexican security officials to regular polygraph tests in an effort to identify rotten apples. But that could soon change:
Shortly after Mexico's new president, Enrique Peña Nieto, took office in December, American agents got a clear message that the dynamics, with Washington holding the clear upper hand, were about to change.
"So do we get to polygraph you?" one incoming Mexican official asked his American counterparts, alarming United States security officials who consider the vetting of the Mexicans central to tracking down drug kingpins. The Mexican government briefly stopped its vetted officials from cooperating in sensitive investigations. The Americans are waiting to see if Mexico allows polygraphs when assigning new members to units, a senior Obama administration official said.
While the practice is not widely publicized, it has been an element of the two countries' security relationship for some time. In a 1997 article on U.S.-Mexican plans to join hands in the drug war, the Associated Press noted that Mexican counternarcotics agents would undergo the "kind of extensive background, financial, and polygraph tests required of U.S. drug agents." The plans came after the arrest of Mexico's drug czar, Gen. Jesús Gutiérrez Rebollo, for taking bribes from drug traffickers.
What's more, the United States hasn't just applied this policy to Mexico. In 2012, the Los Angeles Times reported that Washington has given elite Colombian counternarcotics agents polygraph tests as well.
The bad blood over polygraph tests isn't the only sign that U.S.-Mexican cooperation on the drug war is deteriorating. In an interview with the Spanish news agency EFE on his new book, the Mexican journalist Jesús Esquivel claimed that the Mexican military recently waved off a U.S. offer to capture famed drug lord Joaquín "El Chapo" Gúzman. The United States had the Sinaloa cartel chief's location and said the operation would take only 15 minutes. So why the hang-up? Mexican military officials reportedly didn't want the American military to lead the operation.
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Last week, after more than two years of being a fixture in Sanaa and cities around the country, Yemen's revolutionaries dismantled protest camps around the country. The AP reports it was a "symbolic" move, and that activists were "declaring an end to the revolution." Tawakkol Karman, who won a Nobel Peace Prize for her activism in Yemen, told crowds at Sanaa's Change Square, "We are starting a new phase.... We declare that we toppled the rule of the family forever..."
If that strikes you as strange, it should. Yemen may have a transitional government, and last month saw the beginning of the National Dialogue, a months-long process of reconciliation and reform leading toward elections. But many of the activists responsible for driving the revolution forward are far from satisfied with these achievements. The decision to shut down the protests camps came from the Organizing Committee of the Youth Revolution, which is the most prominent -- but only one -- of several groups affiliated with the protest movement. Despite the bold pronouncements, there isn't a consensus on when -- or how -- the revolution should end.
Boshra al-Maqtari, president of the Progressive Youth Organization, stressed that "there are very big differences in the positions of the revolutionary organizations and youth movements," when reached by e-mail (her comments appear here in translation). While the youth movement has voiced concerns about having their cause commandeered by other political interests since the early months of the protests, al-Maqtari worries that the groups leading the movement now, which are tied to Yemen's Islah Party, are not leaving room for dissent in the protest movement. The decision to end the protest camps, she writes, "reflects the real problem that ... revolutionaries are no longer allowed to have any negative or contradictory opinions."
"No one ... can claim to speak for the revolution," writes Yemeni activist and journalist Farea al-Muslimi, who testified on U.S. targeted killing policy in the Senate on Tuesday. "The south remains a place where many there think their revolution hasn't even started yet."
Al-Muslimi sees the transition from the transitional to an elected government as the real test of the revolution, but the pressure for conformity in the protest movement has al-Maqtari concerned that the revolution, to date, "did not create a culture of democracy."
Both were dismissive of declarations of the end of the revolution. "The revolution is ongoing," wrote al-Matari. Al-Muslimi was blunt, telling FP it's "total rubbish to say the revolution is over."
Yemen has had this debate before, after the February 2012 referendum that formally ushered in Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi, previously Yemen's vice president, into the role of transitional president. Then, protesters told the New York Times that they would wait for military reforms. Though the reforms are ongoing, the Yemeni government formalized a large shake-up in the military leadership earlier this month. But revolutions have a tendency to linger -- there are no closing ceremonies, as Lebanese satirist Karl Sharro suggested, not even in the speeches delivered at the dismantling of Yemen's Change Square camp. As she called for an end to the revolution that toppled the president, Karman proposed a new stage. "We have a new revolution," she told the remaining protesters in the square, "to cleanse the state from corruption."
Marya Hannun contributed to this post.
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Amid international accusations of chemical weapons use by Assad government forces in Syria's civil war, Secretary of State John Kerry told NATO members on Tuesday that the alliance should consider contingency planning and prepare for possible threats to NATO nations emanating from Syria, including chemical weapons threats (after Kerry's remarks, NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen clarified that NATO is not considering intervening in Syria).
Earlier this year, however, NATO did deploy three Patriot missile batteries in Turkey, a NATO state, in response to concerns in Ankara that southern Turkish cities could be targeted by Syrian Scud missiles. Other NATO countries are acting independently to facilitate arms provisions, non-lethal supplies, and training for rebels. And earlier this month, Pentagon officials announced they were doubling the U.S. military presence in Jordan to 200 military planners, with the potential to expand that presence to as many as 20,000 soldiers in an emergency.
In Washington, meanwhile, there is a mounting policy debate about the "least bad" options for the United States in responding to the protracted conflict in Syria. In a policy speech delivered last week, Sen. John McCain, a consistent advocate of intervention in Syria, outlined potential options for U.S. involvement in the conflict:
No one should think that we have to destroy every air defense system or put tens of thousands of boots on the ground to make a difference in Syria. We have more limited options. We could, for example, organize an overt and large-scale operation to train and equip Syrian opposition forces. We could use our precision strike capabilities to target Assad's aircraft and Scud missile launchers on the ground, without our pilots having to fly into the teeth of Syria's air defenses. We could use similar weapons to selectively destroy artillery pieces and make their crews think twice about remaining at their posts. We could also use Patriot missile batteries outside of Syria to help protect safe zones inside of Syria.
So, is McCain on to something? Could his options serve as blueprints for intervention? The United States already operates a clandestine training program for Syrian rebels in Jordan, and growing the program could be a "very significant gamechanger," Jeffrey White, defense fellow at the Washington Institute of Near East Policy, told FP.
Precision strikes, while feasible, would require "something like a mini-campaign" with a dedicated effort to find targets, some of which may have to be struck multiple times, White said. "It couldn't be done in one fell swoop."
Joshua Landis, a professor at the University of Oklahoma who has consulted for the administration, suggests on his blog, Syria Comment, that the Obama administration may be receptive to the idea of Patriot-enforced safe zones:
For some time, the language used in the White House to frame the Syria problem has been that of containment. Here are some of the oft repeated phrases I have been hearing from White House insiders:
- "Keep the violence inside Syria"
- "Prepare for Syrian failure"
- "Shore up the neighbors"
- "There are no good guys in Syria"
Adm. James Stavridis, the supreme allied commander for Europe, told the Senate Armed Services Committee last month that, in his opinion, Patriot-enforced no-fly zones along Syria's northern border "would be helpful in breaking the deadlock and bringing down the Assad regime."
"Assuming we have permission to deploy Patriot missiles appropriately in Turkey and Jordan, they could be used to implement a no-fly zone," White told FP, though he pointed out that the density of the fighting in southern Syria would limit the effectiveness of a no-fly zone in establishing a buffer zone along the Jordanian border.
There is a potential downside to establishing safe zones, though. White pointed to the potential for retaliation, saying, "If you had Patriot missiles trying to enforce a no-fly/no-missile zone, they could be targeted. There could be some risk to these forces, I wouldn't say significant risk, but some risk." Landis also cites concerns raised by David Pollock, also of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, that safe zones, depending on how they're enforced, could lead to blowback. Bill Frelick of Human Rights Watch has also suggested that buffer zones could trap refugees in the war zone without access to necessary aid.
What's clear is that President Obama is now facing increased pressure to act in Syria based on comments made in Israel last month that the use of chemical weapons would be a "red line." What comes after that red line's been crossed? Well, that's far less certain.
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Sen. John McCain sounded a civil note at the beginning of his remarks at a Center for a New American Security event on Thursday, April 18. "What Republicans need now is a vigourous contest on ideas on national security and foreign policy," he told a group of military, foreign policy, and business professionals. "This contest can and should be conducted respectfully and without name-calling, which is something an old wacko-bird like me must remember from time to time."
Though he didn't resort to epithets, the rest of the speech featured a series of broadsides against isolationists and non-interventionists of both parties, but especially senators on McCain's own side of the aisle. "When it comes to the politics of national security," McCain said, "my beloved Republican Party has some soul-searching to do."
In particular, McCain singled out his "libertarian friends" who participated in Sen. Rand Paul's filibuster against John Brennan's confirmation as CIA director. "Rather than debate the very real dilemmas of targeted killing," McCain said, "my colleagues chose to focus instead on the theoretical possibility that the president would use a drone to kill Americans on U.S. soil even if they're not engaged in hostilities. As misguided as this exercise was, the political pressures on Republicans to join in were significant, and many ultimately did -- including many who know better."
As a compromise, McCain suggested revising the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF), which provides the legal justification for the targeted killing program, and codifying drone policy "to preserve, but clarify the commander-in-chief's war powers, while insisting on greater transparency and broader congressional oversight of how these war powers are employed."
He inveighed against the "emergence of a military-industrial-congressional complex that has corrupted and crippled the defense acquisition process," though his critique focused on the runaway costs of projects like the F-35 and Littoral Combat Ship rather than the defense budget writ large, which he has pushed to maintain. He also went after colleagues who have tried to slash foreign aid, pointing out that, "It now seems that every piece of legislation that the Senate considers faces an inevitable amendment that would cut off all our assistance to Egypt or some other critical country. And unfortunately, these kinds of provisions keep winning more and more votes." McCain sounded downright weary as he described "explaining" and "reminding people" of the purpose of foreign aid. "While foreign aid might not make its recipients love us," he noted, "it does further our national security interests and values."
McCain went after colleagues' knee-jerk opposition to the United Nations as well. When asked about the Law of the Sea Treaty, he said, "It's probably not going to come up. Not with the makeup of this Senate, that's the reality. We couldn't even do a disabilities treaty, for God's sake." The problem? Here, McCain got sarcastic. "It's just, you know, it's the 'U.N.' It's the 'U.N.,'" he exclaimed, making air quotes and shrugging.
Despite the critiques of sequestration and U.S. policies on Syria and Iran, President Obama got off pretty easy by comparison. "Right now, the far left and far right in America are coming together in favor of pulling us back from the world," McCain observed. "The president and I have had our differences, many of those differences will persist, but there are times these days when I feel that I have more in common on foreign policy with President Obama than I do with some in my party."
And while McCain seemed uncomfortable with the many rounds of nuclear negotiations with Iran, he said he didn't envy the president's decision on the use of force. "It's going to be probably one of the most difficult decisions the president of the United States has ever had to make," he argued, "and it's very rarely that I'm glad that I'm not the president of the United States, but this is one of [those times]."
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If Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin is to be believed, Russia has stopped worrying about U.S. missile defense systems in Eastern Europe. In a speech delivered Tuesday at the Russian embassy in London, Rogozin claimed that the American missile shield no longer poses a threat to his country -- a statement that contradicts years of Russian officials howling about the presence of U.S. missiles near the Russian border.
"We have solved the issue of penetrating the missile shield," Rogozin said, according to RIA Novosti. "We regret that the United States waste their money on missile defense and compel us to do the same. The missile shield is nothing for us, it's a bluff. It poses no military threat, but remains a political and economic problem."
American officials have repeatedly tried to assure the Russians that the missile defense system is intended to counter the missile threat from Iran, but this has done little to assuage the Russians. In his remarks Tuesday, Rogozin called the system "excessive" and "provocative by nature" -- attributes that made Russia feel "compelled to search for a wise and asymmetric response."
Could it be that Russia has found a way to circumvent the missile defense system?
If so, Rogozin would certainly be in a position to know. Prior to his elevation to deputy prime minister, Rogozin served as the Russian envoy to NATO and as President Vladimir Putin's special envoy to the alliance on missile defense issues. In his current role, Rogozin oversees the Russian defense industry, a position that would certainly give him the insight to comment on innovations in Russian missile technology.
While Rogozin's comments may amount to nothing more than bluster, he has previously alluded to Russia's desire to create an effective military counterweight to U.S. missile defense systems. In February, he replied to comments by NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen defending the alliance's missile shield by writing on Twitter that "we also feel responsibility for protecting our population from your missile threat and will create a reliable air and space defense." In June, 2011, Rogozin wrote in the International Herald Tribune that for "Russia it is a matter of principle to remove any threat to its strategic capabilities, which guarantee our sovereignty and independence."
But until now, there has been no indication from Russia that it has found a way to counter U.S. missile defense systems through technical means.
Interestingly, when in March the United States chose to bolster its missile defense systems in the Pacific region in response to threats issued by North Korea, it effectively canceled the final phase of the missile system the Russians opposed. That development led to hopes that Russia and the United States might reach a rapprochement on the issue -- one that did not appear.
Perhaps that was because Russia has been waiting to unveil a military breakthrough to render the issue irrelevant.
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Is Iraq a U.S. ally? Judging by his Washington Post op-ed this morning, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki seems to think so:
Iraq is not a protectorate of the United States; it is a sovereign partner. Partners do not always agree, but they consider and respect each other's views. In that spirit, we ask the United States to consider Iraq's views on challenging issues, especially those of regional importance....
The United States has not "lost" Iraq. Instead, in Iraq, the United States has found a partner for our shared strategic concerns and our common efforts on energy, economics and the promotion of peace and democracy.
Maliki paints a particularly rosy picture of U.S.-Iraqi relations, touting the potential for investment, the growth of oil production, and the country's democratization and upcoming elections. But do any experts actually believe this?
On the 10-year anniversary of the U.S. invasion last month, Post reporter Ernesto Londoño wrote that "the country is neither the failed state that seemed all but inevitable during the darkest days of the war nor the model democracy that the Americans set out to build.... The nation is no longer defined or notably influenced by its relationship with the United States." That dynamic was on display on March 24, when Secretary of State John Kerry reportedly had a frustrating discussion with Maliki about the flow of arms from Iran to Syria through Iraqi airspace -- the latest evidence of a persistent decline in U.S. influence in Iraq, as Baghdad has drifted closer to the policies of neighboring Iran.
But does that mean Iraq is not the "sovereign partner" of the United States that Maliki describes? The assessments are mixed. Speaking with Maliki as U.S. forces withdrew from Iraq in December 2011, President Obama declared, "Our strong presence in the Middle East endures, and the United States will never waiver in the defense of our allies, our partners, and our interests."
But a year and a half later, Iraq historian Toby Dodge sees the country backsliding into autocracy under Maliki. Liberal interventionist war advocate Kanan Makiya points to Iraq's leadership as a stumbling block, saying in a recent profile in the Boston Globe that the "Iraqi leadership proved itself capricious, greedy, selfish -- it was a failure on the part of the elites." In the New York Times, Ramzy Mardini of the Iraq Inistitute for Strategic Studies assessed the situation bluntly: "A decade since the occupation of Iraq began, Baghdad still cannot be considered an ally of the United States.... An alliance today is beyond anyone's reach."
Others are more optimistic. Former CIA director James Woolsey, for instance, told the Daily Beast, "There is much more Iranian influence than I would like to see. I don't know that it is hopeless." Former Undersecretary of Defense Dov Zakheim sees the ouster of the Hussein regime and the government that has followed as "marginally a good thing, but nowhere near as good as what we thought." Writing in Saudi newspaper Asharq al-Awsat today, former Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz suggests that "it is remarkable that Iraq has done as well as it has thus far" and encourages continued engagement, noting that "it is not too late for the US and Europe and the GCC countries to engage with Iraq to help steer it on a course toward inclusive and accountable governance."
And he may be on to something. Today, for the second time in two days, Iraqi officials forced an inspection in Baghdad of an Iranian plane bound for Syria. But despite estimates that Iran is transporting as much as five tons of munitions per Syria-bound flight, Iraqi officials said they only found humanitarian supplies.
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It was widely reported last week that this year's Aipac conference, which ends tomorrow, will culminate in a mass lobbying effort by attendees to persuade law makers to officially designate Israel a major strategic ally of the United States, a designation that until now has never been awarded.
So does the bill, the "U.S.-Israel Strategic Partnership Act," actually make a new class of alliance for Israel? Is the House about to name Israel a super-best-friend-for-life ally of the United States?
No. They're not.
The bill, which can be accessed online here, simply states that, "Congress declares that Israel is a major strategic partner of the United States." Nowhere in the bill does it define or codify this terminology; it doesn't grant special privileges like, say, being the largest recipient of U.S. foreign aid or being permitted nuclear weapons without pressure to sign conventions regulating them, both of which are already part of U.S.-Israel policy. It is just a "declaration of policy," much in the way that last year's "U.S.-Israel Enhanced Security Cooperation Act of 2012" stated:
It is the policy of the United States to reaffirm our unwavering commitment to the security of the State of Israel as a Jewish state. As President Barack Obama stated on December 16, 2011, "America's commitment and my commitment to Israel and Israel's security is unshakeable." And as President George W. Bush stated before the Israeli Knesset on May 15, 2008, on the 60th anniversary of the founding of the State of Israel, "The alliance between our governments is unbreakable, yet the source of our friendship runs deeper than any treaty."
The new legislation, which extends existing legislation on military, cyber, and energy cooperation, does not alter Israel's formal designation as a "major non-NATO ally" of the United States (other major non-NATO allies make for some strange bedfellows, including Egypt, Afghanistan, and Pakistan). At this point, in other words, there's no need for other U.S. allies to start getting jealous about new official labels -- there aren't any.
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Chinese government officials considered using an armed unmanned aerial vehicle to target a drug trafficker hiding in Myanmar, according to an interview with Liu Yuejin, the director of China's Public Security Ministry's anti-drug bureau that appeared in Global Times on Monday. The target, Naw Kham, wanted for a drug-trafficking related attack that killed 13 Chinese sailors, was eventually captured last April in a joint Chinese-Laotian operation in Laos and is now appealing a death sentence in China. Yuejin's comments are an unusual glimpse into China's considerations for the use of drone strikes, a tactic that is no longer used exclusively by the United States.
The proposed Chinese strike would have occurred in Myanmar's restive north, where the Naypyidaw government has struggled to control ethnic conflicts and a thriving drug trade. Much like the U.S. official rationale as for strikes in Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia, China could have either sought Naypyidaw's support or credibly claimed that the government was "unwilling or unable to suppress the threat posed by the individual being targeted," in the words of the Obama administration's white paper on its own targeted killing program. Similarly, as a violent drug trafficker tied to the deaths of Chinese sailors, China could have justified the potential drone strike under the white paper's loose definition of the "imminent threat of violent attack" against the homeland -- much as the United States justified targeting al Qaeda militants tied to the bombing of the USS Cole with drone strikes, beginning Abu Ali al-Harithi in 2002 (well before the white paper was authored).
The admission that the Chinese government considered a drone strike comes as its relationship with Myanmar has become increasingly strained amid stalled economic projects and new competition for influence with the West. China also appears to have placed special emphasis on their UAV programs in recent months, unveiling new models (that look suspiciously like U.S.-made Predator and Reaper drones) and retrofitting old Shenyang J-6 jets to fly by remote control.
Yuejin told Global Times that the drone strike option was passed over because of instructions to capture Naw Kham alive, but his comments demonstrate that China is weighing targeted killings seriously. When -- almost certainly not "if" -- China conducts its first drone strike, it will join just three other nations -- the United States, Britain, and Israel -- and place itself among the drone powers in the ongoing international assessment of the legality of these operations and whether they abridge international law and the established concept of sovereignty.
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Secretary of State Hillary Clinton testified to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee this morning about the Sept. 11, 2012 attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi on that killed four American citizens, including the ambassador to Libya. Her remarks came after four months of controversy and finger-pointing about security lapses, intelligence failures, about and the administration's response to the attack, with critics accusing the White House and State Department of misleading the public (a charge that may have scuttled U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Susan Rice's chances for a nomination to succeed Clinton in Foggy Bottom).
After months of reporting on the attack, there was little new information to be gleaned from Clinton's testimony, but it did provide an opportunity for both the secretary and her congressional critics to air their perspectives and grievances. Clinton's testimony turned emotional early on, as she choked up in her opening statements describing standing with President Obama as the bodies of the Americans killed in Benghazi arrived at Andrews Air Force Base. She also reiterated that, "as I have said many times since Sept. 11, I take responsibility."
The hearing also turned heated at times. Sen. Ronald Johnson (R-Wis.) expressed his vehement disbelief that the State Department could not determine whether the attack was a planned terrorist action or grew out of a protest in response to the incendiary film Innocence of Muslims, which had provoked rioting at other U.S. facilities throughout the Muslim world that week.
"Madam Secretary, do you disagree with me that a simple phone call to those evacuees [from the Benghazi consulate] would have ascertained immediately that there was no protest?" Sen. Johnson asked. "I mean, that was a piece of information that could have been easily, easily obtained," he continued, before dismissing Clinton's comment that she did not want to interfere with the processes at work on the ground as an "excuse."
The secretary told Johnson "to read the ARB [Accountability Review Board report] and the classified ARB because even today there are questions being raised" about the attackers' interests and allegiance. (Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Ca.) wrote about the ARB for Foreign Policy last month.) When pressed again, a visibly exasperated Clinton responded, "With all due respect, we had four dead Americans. Was it because of a protest or because of guys out for a walk one night who decided to go kill some Americans? What difference at this point does it make? It is our job to figure out what happened and do everything we can to prevent it from ever happening again, Senator."
Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and Sen. John McCain (R-Az.) were visibly frustrated by Clinton's answers. After the secretary told the committee that she had not personally read all the cables from the diplomatic mission in Libya, including those requesting increased security measures, Sen. Paul remarked that this represented "a failure in leadership," a charge that has been leveled by FP's own Shadow Government as well. "Had I been president at the time," he told Clinton, "and I found that you did not read the cables from Benghazi, you did not read the cables from Amb. Stevens, I would have relieved you of your post.". McCain again voiced his doubts about the veracity of administration messaging about the attack in the early weeks afterwards. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) compared the administration's response to the faulty intelligence behind claims of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq in 2003. Clinton said of the talking points, "The fact is that people were trying in real time to get to the best information."
McCain also "strongly disagreed" with Clinton's characterization of U.S. policy towards Libya after Muammar al-Qaddafi's fall, concluding by saying that the State Department's choice of a "soft footprint" for security contributed to the deaths at Benghazi. Clinton pointed out that Congress had placed holds on funding requests aid and security projects like those McCain cited. "We've got to get our act together between the administration and the Congress. If this is a priority, trying to help this government stand up security and deal with what is a very dangerous environment from east to west, then we have to work together," Clinton replied.
One of the few substantive clarifications was the role of the Marine personnel stationed with the diplomatic mission -- a point of confusion among many policymakers. "Historically, Marine guards do not protect personnel," said Clinton. "Their job is to protect classified material and destroy it if necessary." Several senators suggested that this should change.
Regarding that classified material, Clinton told the committee that no classified documents were left at Benghazi, "although some unclassified material was unfortunately left behind." Foreign Policy reported about this oversight in September when documents found at the razed compound suggested that there had been warning signs an attack was imminent.
Interestingly, one of the most interesting moments in the hearing wasn't about the Benghazi attack at all. Clinton spoke briefly about the hostages taken at the In Amenas gas field in Algeria, observing that the same proliferation of weapons that helped arm the terrorists in Benghazi also helped arm the terrorists in southern Algeria. "The vast majority of weapons came out of Qaddafi warehouses," she said, characterizing the spread of small arms and shoulder-fired missiles as a "Pandora's box." As to whether the attacks in Benghazi and at In Amenas were directly related, she said there was insufficient intelligence.
The testimony made for a strange coda to Clinton's otherwise well-regarded term as secretary of state. Her imminent departure was mentioned as a matter of accountability by both her critics and herself. Paul remarked that he saw her decision to step down now as accepting "culpability for the worst tragedy since 9/11." Clinton saw things differently. "Nobody is more committed to getting this right," she told the committee in her opening remarks. "I am determined to leave the State Department and our country safer, stronger, and more secure."
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If Sen. John Kerry is confirmed as secretary of state, one of the first issues to cross his desk will be Iran's nuclear program. Kerry has discussed the issue before. We've poured over the WikiLeaks cables, which paint a broad portrait of Kerry's diplomatic style. In those classified documents, he discussed how he might approach the issue.
The first reference comes from a conversation in February 2005 with French Foreign Minister Michel Barnier. Kerry told Barnier that "his conversations in the region had convinced him that Iran remains committed to a nuclear weapons program, but agreed that there were no good alternatives to negotiating." Though he did not rule out a military option, he did point out it "would be difficult," and pointed to U.N. sanctions, which have since been put in place and periodically ratcheted up, as an alternative. Still smarting from his defeat in the presidential election in 2004, Kerry remarked that "his own intention, had he been elected president, was to pursue front channel and back channel contacts with the Iranian regime."
Five years later, Kerry got the opportunity to open some of those back channel contacts. In a February 2010 meeting with Qatari Emir Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, Kerry commented that Washington's behind-the-scenes signals to Tehran had gone unanswered. He "observed that the Iranians are scared to talk...Our instinct is that we need to find a way to talk to him." Al-Thani then reportedly offered to be an intermediary. "What if I talk to the Iranian President. What would you have me say?" he asked.
Senator Kerry responded, "The U.S. seeks serious discussion and sought to create a new foundation for a relationship based on Iran's non-confrontational compliance with IAEA requirements and other mutual interests." Those interests include dealing with drug-running, the Taliban, and illicit trade. The Chairman told the Amir he feared that Iran still thinks it is dealing with the 1953 America that tried to overthrow the Iranian government.
The United States recognizes Iran's ambitions to be a regional player, Kerry told al-Thani, and wants a dialogue about what sort of power it will be.
Of course, that conversation took place nearly three years ago. A lot has changed -- or, maybe very little has changed, and as a result patience in Washington is running low. Kerry's views may have shifted since then, but he'd probably still agree with the comment he made then to al-Thani: "It is crazy to continue on this collision course."
KARIM JAAFAR/AFP/Getty Images
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