Posts Tagged 'Foreign Policy'

Is Cairo a Key to Understanding the Benghazi Attacks?

There have been some very interesting and revealing developments this week in the ongoing investigation of what happened in the Benghazi attacks that led to American officials being killed. The most important development was the release of key emails from the White House – released only after a FOIA lawsuit compelled them to do so. One email shows that the White House Deputy Strategic Communications Adviser instructed high-level administration officials, including Susan Rice (who appeared on the Sunday shows to argue that the Benghazi incident arose in response to a YouTube video – a theory now debunked), to blame the incident on a YouTube video so as to downplay any policy failures in the region.

Some are calling the email a “smoking gun,” and it is at least in the context of establishing a clear White House link to the talking points that we now know are inaccurate in their blaming of the video as the cause of the riots and attack [NOTE: it is highly questionable that the Deputy Strategic Communications Adviser would have made the decision to blame the video, so where this talking point originated is still unclear]. But what may be the key to understanding what these emails show is what happened in Cairo, which is something Andrew McCarthy explains/argues.

First, one must understand the Cairo-Benghazi link. John Dickerson at Slate, in an attempt to downplay the significance of the latest emails, explains the link. As Dickerson writes, the first available CIA talking points causally linked the Benghazi attacks to the riots in Cairo. Then, Dickerson explains what the Obama administration’s argument is on Benghazi: the cause of the Cairo riots was deemed to be the video [UPDATE: But the video was not causally mentioned in the emails Dickerson cited, and testimony from former CIA Director Michael Morell suggests the CIA didn’t argue that the video was the cause]. So the logic looks like this: the video spurred an uprising in Cairo, which then incited violence in Benghazi. This is apparently case closed to Dickerson, but McCarthy has gone a step further to get to the heart of the matter.

McCarthy asks key questions: was the Cairo riot really caused by the video (and he’s obviously not buying it), and was there a reasonable basis for that belief? If not, then Benghazi couldn’t have been reasonably blamed on the video even if the Benghazi attack were linked to Cairo (at least based on the CIA emails Dickerson cites). So what is the factual basis for blaming the video for the Cairo uprising, and therefore the Benghazi attacks? That’s a key question. For the administration to say it reasonably believed that the uprisings in Cairo and Benghazi could both be linked to the video, it must be able to produce evidence of that belief. Without such evidence, it would be apparent that the administration didn’t honestly blame the video. And even with such evidence, the administration officials who made this decision would have to show that the basis for blaming the video would outweigh all the evidence that the Benghazi attacks were unrelated to the video.

We now know the video was not the reason for the Benghazi attacks in which American officials were killed. This means that having blamed the video, the administration was either mistaken or not being honest at a time just before what appeared like it would be a close presidential election. And that’s the reason this matters, especially when one of the key players – then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton – may run for President. It’s imperative that we know these answers at least so that we can question the character and judgment of a person who might be on the ballot for our next Commander in Chief.

UPDATE: Jen Rubin points out that the State Department apparently didn’t blame the video either, so where did the rationale for the video come from, and why did administration officials go along with it if it were indeed a false or unlikely narrative?

UDATE: Sharyl Atkisson cites State Department emails also showing that State didn’t attribute the Benghazi attacks to the video. Again, where was the factual basis for Ben Rhodes’ White House email linking Benghazi to the video?

Will Obama’s Presidency Be a Failure?

There are still a few years remaining for President Obama’s tenure, but there are also plenty of results to judge so far. Pete Wehner wrote a piece this week calling out what he concludes to be a record of massive failure for this President, and then followed it up today with yet two more failures noted by the NYT: a trade deal and a breakdown in the Middle East peace negotiations.

Certainly the President’s foreign policy has little going for it to combat the charge of failure, and simply not being George W. Bush isn’t a successful foreign policy resume. Obama supporters may cite the finding and killing of bin Laden, but that’s hardly enough to constitute a foreign policy resume. Failing to secure another agreement in Iraq, failing to achieve sufficient gains in Afghanistan even after a surge, failure to secure our interests in places like Libya, Egypt, and Iran, failure to stop Assad’s violence in Syria, and now Putin’s actions in Ukraine suggest that the Obama record on foreign policy is going to be hard to save.

On domestic policy, the President’s economic record has been arguably abysmal. Unemployment was over 8% for most of his presidency and has dropped below that level largely due to the labor force participation dropping to levels we haven’t seen in thirty years (UPDATE: about two million upper and middle wage jobs have been replaced by lower wage jobs). Long-term unemployment is high, and food stamp dependence is at record levels. Growth has been low and stagnant. Entitlements are spiraling towards insolvency without much effort to save them, plus Obamacare has exacerbated that problem. The housing market still hasn’t fully rebounded, student loan debt is becoming an even larger problem, and financial reform has arguably created more regulatory burdens than it has curtailed bad financial risks.

Obama supporters might say that passing Obamacare was a huge success, although with numbers and systematic errors likely requiring a few more years to sort out, it’s hard to claim that as a victory outside of the context of simply passing major legislation to increase the government’s role in private healthcare. Obama supporters may also cite progress on issues like DOMA and Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, but reasonable people can debate whether such changes make a domestic policy resume with such a poor economic record a success. It’s also difficult to argue that the economy would have been much worse if not for President Obama’s policies, regardless of whether or not that may be true.

Also consider the abuse at the IRS, the controversy at the NSA over surveilling journalists, the apparent Benghazi cover up, and the Fast and Furious gun-running scheme, and the resume is dragged down even more.

So Wehner has a point. The President’s lofty self-set expectations are looking pretty different from the actual results right now. The President’s charge was “forward,” but is that really where we’re moving?

Is the West Enabling Putin?

After reading the latest report suggesting President Obama “blasted” Russia over its actions in Ukraine, only to find out within the report that “blasting” meant telling Putin that he wasn’t being diplomatic and that the U.S. and Europe were thinking of new sanctions that wouldn’t harm Russia’s economy, it became even easier to see why Putin isn’t backing down. He’s largely getting token pressure from the West, and doesn’t seem deterred by it.

Max Boot argues that the lack of response from the West to Putin’s actions is enabling his behavior:

Alas the consequences of Western pusillanimity will be felt far outside Ukraine’s borders. Letting Ukraine be dismembered, even after the U.S., UK and Russia had guaranteed its territorial integrity, will send a signal to Putin that he can repeat the same stunt elsewhere. First Sevastopol, now Donetsk, next Tallinn? Likewise it will send a message to China’s leaders that they can act in similar fashion. If Putin can get away with aggression in Ukraine, why can’t China do the same in the South China Sea and East China Sea where it is locked in numerous territorial disputes with its neighbors?

It’s unclear just how far the West would have to go to stop Putin in Ukraine, but it’s clear that what has been done so far isn’t stopping him and is likely encouraging him and others to continue this type of aggression.

Senator Rubio on Venezuela and Cuba

If you’re looking for strong, clear foreign policy that differentiates between actual freedom and oppression, Senator Rubio’s recent speech on the Senate floor is for you. This is as honest as you will hear someone call out an oppressive regime and anyone who pretends that such a regime isn’t so bad.

If Rubio is looking for an angle in 2016, this might be a good one.

Former Obama Defense Secretary Rips Obama’s Leadership

Former Defense Secretary Robert Gates has a new book coming out, and the early reports on it suggest it’s a must-read. Gates’ book Duty, as described by Bob Woodward – who has written quite a bit about President Obama’s leadership – seems to confirm a lot of criticism about the political, insular nature of President Obama and his team.

Specifically, Gates suggests that President Obama didn’t believe his own mission in Afghanistan despite sending 30,000 troops there, and didn’t believe his own military team, questioning General Petraeus’ loyalty and integrity in front of people. Gates adds, “I felt that agreements with the Obama White House were good for only as long as they were politically convenient.”

He reveals that President Obama blindsided the military with his decision on Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, and that Obama’s inner circle was debating military action in Libya without consulting the Department of Defense. And in case you were thinking Vice President Biden could one day be President, Gates accuses Biden of being “wrong on nearly every major foreign policy and national security issue over the past four decades.”

Perhaps the most damaging information revealed from the book so far, however, is the political nature of both President Obama and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. From Woodward’s report:

[Gates] writes: “Hillary told the president that her opposition to the [2007] surge in Iraq had been political because she was facing him in the Iowa primary. . . . The president conceded vaguely that opposition to the Iraq surge had been political. To hear the two of them making these admissions, and in front of me, was as surprising as it was dismaying.”

What Gates – who is not known to be a partisan and who has praised President Obama on many occasions – seems to be revealing may not surprise many of President Obama’s critics who have accused his leadership of these very characteristics. But because Gates was a high-level Obama administration official with a very credible reputation among both Republicans and Democrats, his confirmation of those criticisms is a big deal.

That’s why Duty is a book you should read. I know I will. And as I read it and reports about the book, I’ll add more commentary, as this could be one of the more important books about the Obama administration so far.

Obama’s Incompetence and Failure on Display in Syria

The failure of President Obama’s foreign policy is on full display in Syria along with his incompetence. For two years, war in Syria has resulted in at least tens of thousands of deaths, many of them at the hands of the brutal Assad regime. Yet, like in several other missed opportunities during President Obama’s tenure (Iran, Honduras, Egypt), the United States has tried to mostly stay out of the fray. But a year ago, President Obama, going off script, drew a red line at the use of chemical weapons by the Assad regime against the Syrian people.

Whether or not President Obama was bluffing or even meant to draw the red line, he apparently believed that there was something significant about using chemical weapons. Then reports showed that the Assad regime did so use chemical weapons (although there has been some debate about this). This put President Obama in a bad position, being called on his bluff and threatening to make the US look weak if it he nothing.

So the President began to contemplate a military response. The first problem was that polls showed strong opposition to any military action. Then, the British Parliament actually voted against military action in Syria. There would apparently be no international coalition of support as there was with Iraq, for example. So at the eleventh hour of contemplation, likely seeing the polls, President Obama opted to ask Congress for authorization to use force in Syria. But in so doing, he suggested he didn’t need their authorization. This was, quite clearly, an effort to cover and shift blame from the President.

After it became apparent that the administration was struggling to get enough support in Congress for a strike in Syria, the administration set up pitches from officials and political leaders. National Security Advisor Susan Rice gave a speech advocating intervention. On the same day, Secretary of State John Kerry made an off-script comment that Assad could simply turn over his chemical weapons, but that that couldn’t be done. The State Department then downplayed Kerry’s remarks as “rhetorical.” Then Russia made a shrewd move and took advantage, offering to oversee Assad’s transition of chemical weapons.

Russia is demanding that it will only help if the US promises not to use force against Assad. Assad is asking in return that the US abandon arms aid to the Syrian rebels. Assad has also reportedly offered a timeline of turning over the weapons, but Secretary Kerry doesn’t approve of this timeline. Then there is the difficulty of verifying that Syria has turned over its weapons. In other words, this is a win for Russia and Syria, and a loss for the US. Charles Krauthammer explains:

[Putin] cares about power and he cares about keeping Bashar al-Assad in power. Assad is the key link in the anti-Western Shiite crescent stretching from Tehran through Damascus and Beirut to the Mediterranean — on which sits Tartus, Russia’s only military base outside the former Soviet Union. This axis frontally challenges the pro-American Sunni Arab Middle East (Jordan, Yemen, the Gulf Arabs, even the North African states), already terrified at the imminent emergence of a nuclear Iran.

At which point the Iran axis and its Russian patron would achieve dominance over the moderate Arab states, allowing Russia to supplant America as regional hegemon for the first time since Egypt switched to our side in the Cold War in 1972.

Why would President Obama take this deal? To save face after boxing himself into a situation he was never prepared to deal with. It’s one thing to find yourself in a situation with only bad choices, but it’s another to discuss a plausible situation (the use of chemical weapons) and not have a plan for dealing with that situation a full year later.

This administration’s foreign policy has failed. There will be no restoration of American stature in the world under this President, only a weaker America with emboldened enemies who know that real power matters more than one’s high opinion of himself.

Obama’s Berlin Speech Shows Detachment from Reality

President Obama delivered a speech from Berlin this past week, at the Brandenburg Gate, (probably not coincidentally) on the heels of the anniversary of President Reagan’s famous “Tear Down this Wall” speech and fifty years from JFK’s speech from the Gate.  The speech made it sound like President Obama was living on another planet, as it was full of calls for solutions that are only priorities among progressives, but not among the developing world. George Will blasted the speech and what it suggests about what is looking like it will be a pointless second term for President Obama.

With the global economy struggling, developing nations struggling to industrialize and grow more prosperous middle classes, and the world burning with riots and tyrannical rulers, President Obama advocated tackling climate change and reducing Russian nukes. Pardon me for asking, but I remember the Berlin Wall coming down and recently saw a big piece of it in a museum, and I wasn’t aware that Russian nukes were a top priority right now. George Will is also skeptical.

I also highly doubt that people living in developing nations who are finally climbing the ladder are all that concerned with the environmental impact of the developments allowing their socioeconomic climb out of poverty. President Reagan spoke at the Gate about liberating people so that they could have opportunity; President Obama is concerned that their liberation and opportunity will result in a less green planet. To each their own concerns, I suppose, but whatever attempt this speech was to elevate Obama to a comparison with Reagan or JFK failed miserably when you consider the message each one delivered.

And, of course, President Obama’s usual vanity was on display, and Will mocks President Obama for this:

With German Chancellor Angela Merkel sitting nearby, Obama began his Berlin speech: ‘As I’ve said, Angela and I don’t exactly look like previous German and American leaders.’ . . .

His look is just not that interesting. And after being pointless in Berlin, neither is he, other than for the surrealism of his second term.

Will has it right. If this Berlin speech is any indication, we’re in for a “silly” second term “detach[ed] from reality.”




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