05/01/13: The Atlantic has this piece arguing that one of the principal goals in President Obama’s discussion yesterday of the use of chemical weapons in Syria was to remind the American people of the dangers inherent in a rush to war, symbolized by the colossal intelligence failure leading up to the Iraq War. For all the talk of ‘red lines,’ Obama’s remarks served as a reminder that the former Senator from Illinois was one of the staunchest opponents of military action in Iraq and was elected 2008 partially on the platform that that war, launched based on faulty intelligence, was a mistake. Obama was against a rush to war in Iraq 2002 and 2003, and he’s taking a similarly cautious approach in the complex environment of the Syrian conflict. A poll released Tuesday found that majorities are across party lines decidedly opposed to American intervention in Syria right now, with 62 percent of the public agreeing that “the United States has no responsibility to do something about the fighting in Syria between government forces and antigovernment groups.”
05/01/13: The Washington Times reports President Obama Tuesday vowed to redouble his efforts to close the US detention facility in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. “I don’t want these individuals to die,” the President said of detainees currently on a hunger strike. “Obviously, the Pentagon is trying to manage the situation as best as they can. All of us should reflect on why exactly are we doing this. Why are we doing this?” He decried the US policy of holding the suspects without trial “in a no-man’s land” in perpetuity. “That is contrary to who we are, it is contrary to our interests, and it needs to stop.” Congress has blocked efforts to move detainees to the United States, even though the Government has tried and convicted other terrorism suspects on US soil without incident.
04/15/13: The New York Times has this piece discussing the uncertain future in Palestine after Saturday’s resignation of Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad. Fayyad, the internationally respected Palestinian politician and economist, is widely credited with ending the chaos in the West Bank and putting things in order in his six years in office. But his resignation over the weekend, the result of internal power struggles, has left the Palestinian Authority suspended in political ambiguity and confusion. By accepting Fayyad’s resignation, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has put himself in a political bind just as the Obama Administration has been trying to restart long-stalled Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, because the vacuum created by Fayyad’s resignation presents an opportunity for renewed reconciliation efforts between Abbas’ Fatah party and its bitter rival Hamas, the Islamic militant group that controls Gaza. Healing the rift would be a popular course of action among Palestinians, but it could complicate peace efforts and cause some Western donor nations to consider withholding much-needed funds, fearing that they could be used by Hamas. The group is classified as a terrorist organization by Israel, the United States, and the European Union, and it seeks the ultimate destruction of the Jewish state.
04/02/13: NPR reports the United States has sent two F-22 Raptor fighter jets to take part military drills in South Korea, a move that is meant to show US commitment to the defense of the region from its North Korean neighbor, a Pentagon spokesman told the Associated Press. Also on Monday, South Korean President Park Geun-hye appeared to give her country's military permission to strike back at any attack from the North. According to the New York Times, Park told the South's generals that she considers the threats from North Korea "very serious." Last week, B-52 and B-2 stealth bombers were sent to South Korea for the annual exercise.
04/01/13: The Miami Herald reports optimistic lawmakers on Sunday cautioned they had not finished work on an immigration overhaul that would provide a path to citizenship for 11 million illegal immigrants. The AFL-CIO and the pro-business US Chamber of Commerce reached a deal late Friday that would allow tens of thousands of low-skilled workers into the country to fill jobs in construction, restaurants, and hotels, but lawmakers from both parties conceded negotiations are not finished. The agreement hasn’t taken the form of a bill and Senator Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said the “Gang of Eight” Senators searching for a compromise haven’t met about the potential breakthrough. “There are a few details yet. But conceptually, we have an agreement between business and labor, between ourselves that has to be drafted,” Graham said. Still, Senator Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), a favorite of the Republican right-wing who functions the group’s emissary to hardcore conservatives, warned he was not ready to lend his name and political clout to a deal. Rubio called the agreement a starting point but pointed out ninety-two Senators from forty-three States haven’t yet been involved in the process.
04/01/13: The New York Times has a piece discussing the arduous task facing Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel in managing the US military budget. As President Obama – who has placed some of the military’s long-favored weapons programs in his sights – continues to negotiate with Congress over a spending and revenue deal, the Pentagon is bracing for a protracted period in which they may have to manage even larger budget reductions than anticipated. “There will be changes, some significant changes,” Secretary Hagel warned at a news conference last week, and he is expected to begin outlining those changes in a major speech this week. Already, Hagel has directed General Martin E. Dempsey, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Deputy Defense Secretary Ashton B. Carter to conduct a sweeping “Strategic Choices and Management Review” due by the end of May. Their challenge is to trim the Pentagon while also assuring that the military continues to attract high-quality personnel and can maintain American and allied security around the world.
03/24/13: CNN reports the Pakistani Taliban vowed Sunday to assassinate former President Pervez Musharraf if he returns to the country as planned. A spokesman said in a video message that the group will send out a “death squad” to kill him, and Pakistani authorities also seek his arrest on corruption charges. Since resigning in 2008, Musharraf has spent five years in self-imposed exile in London and Dubai. He plans to fly on a commercial airline into Karachi on Sunday, then attend a rally that will include Pakistani expatriates from the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, and the United Arab Emirates. He plans to lead his political party into Pakistan’s general elections slated for May. In 1999, Musharraf, the-then chief of Pakistan’s army, became President in a bloodless military coup. He remained in power until resigning in 2008.
03/18/13: Al Jazeera reports Yemen has launched a UN-backed national dialogue aimed at paving the way for a new constitution and elections. At least 500 representatives of Yemen’s various political groups, including secessionists in the south, Zaidi Shi‘a rebels in the north, and civil society representatives, are taking part in the dialogue in Sanaa. The participants in the dialogue aim to draft a new constitution and prepare for general elections in February 2014, after a two-year transition led by President Abdrabuh Mansur Hadi. Yemen, the only country where the Arab Spring revolt led to a negotiated settlement, is holding the dialogue as part of a UN-brokered deal that eased former president Ali Abdullah Saleh out of office following an 11-month uprising against his 33-year rule.
03/17/13: Haaretz reports Bulgaria's new interim Prime Minister said Saturday he would not initiate any move to impose EU sanctions on the Islamist group Hezbollah, even though the country had implicated Hezbollah in a bombing at a Black Sea resort. Marin Raikov did not give a reason for his decision, but it will likely be seen as a concession to Bulgarian opposition groups, who have argued the country could open itself up to more attacks if it takes the lead in blacklisting Hezbollah. "Bulgaria will not initiate a procedure [for listing Hezbollah as a terrorist organization]," Raikov told state media. "We will only present the objective facts and circumstances and let our European partners decide." Last month, then-Interior Minister Tsvetan Tsvetanov said an investigation had linked Hezbollah to the Black Sea attack.
March 17, 2013 at 10:04 AM in Law Enforcement / Criminal Law, Terrorism / Counterterrorism, Politics, Diplomacy / Foreign Assistance, International Law / Law of War / Human Rights, Terrorist Finance / Material Support, Europe / Eurasia, Middle East / Northern Africa, Financial / Diplomatic Sanctions | Permalink
03/10/13: The Hill reports the Obama Administration’s decision to try former al-Qaeda spokesman Sulaiman Abu Ghaith, a relative of Osama bin Laden, in the US District Court for the Southern District of New York has sparked criticism from Republicans, who say he should be held at the Guantánamo Bay prison camp and tried by a military tribunal, not an Article III court. “Gitmo, a naval vessel, Guam, anywhere other than New York, and anything other than a civilian trial,” said Congressman Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.). Gowdy said a military tribunal would offer distinct advantages over a civilian jury trial, namely that military courts are made up of military officers and don’t require unanimous jury verdicts for conviction, although trials of terrorists have had much more success in regular federal courts than military ones.
03/08/13: The New York Times reports thousands of Egyptian security officers went on strike on Thursday in cities around the country to protest conflicting pressures from the government to crack down on street demonstrations and from the public to exercise restraint. The police revolt marks a new tangle in a three-way struggle pitting the security forces against President Mohamed Morsi on one side and emboldened mobs of protesters on the other. Under former President Hosni Mubarak, the police and security forces operated with little training or oversight, using arbitrary force to cow citizens — especially the political opposition, including Islamists like Mr. Morsi — into silence and submission. Now anger at the continued brutality of the police, compounded by impatience with Mr. Morsi’s failure to deliver immediate changes in the security forces, has fueled protests in cities across Egypt, engulfing some in chaos.
03/03/13: The blog Space War reports new Pentagon chief Chuck Hagel said Friday that new budget cuts will endanger the US military’s ability to conduct its missions. His comments came hours before President Obama authorized automatic “sequestered” cuts in domestic and defense spending, following the failure of efforts to clinch a deal with Republicans on cutting the deficit. Hagel, whose budget at the Pentagon is set to be slashed by roughly $46 billion, said, “Let me make it clear that this uncertainty puts at risk our ability to effectively fulfill all of our missions.” In contrast with his predecessor Leon Panetta, who branded the cuts a “doomsday mechanism” and “fiscal castration,” Hagel was more measured, but he made his thoughts on the military consequences of the sequestration clear nevertheless.
03/03/13: The Hill reports the bipartisan Senate group working on immigration reform plans to set a timeline for unveiling legislation, as it feels subtle pressure from the Chairman of the Judiciary Committee to act. Senator John McCain (R-Ariz.), a lead negotiator of the ad hoc group on immigration reform, says the clock is ticking, and the group hopes to soon have a timeline for unveiling legislation. “We know time is of the essence. Sometime in the next few weeks we will have a definite timeline. We got a couple of very big issues to resolve,” McCain said. Senator Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), McCain’s negotiating partner, said he expected to have a bipartisan bill sometime in March. There are only three weeks left until Congress leaves for a two-week Easter recess on March 22.
02/13/13: The Hill reports the Senate Select Intelligence Committee will decide on Thursday whether to approve White House nominee John Brennan to become the nation’s chief intelligence officer. Brennan is expected to clear the Committee and be confirmed by the Senate despite the controversy over the Obama Administration’s drone strikes on American terrorist suspects overseas. Committee Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein (D-Cal.) said moves by the Senate Intelligence and Judiciary Committees to explore new court authorities to oversee the drone program will be on hold until her panel weighs in on Brennan. “We really haven’t put anything together [yet],” Feinstein said Tuesday when asked about the possible creation of a new federal court to oversee armed drone strikes. “We will look into it, [but] we are trying to get the Brennan nomination done first.”
02/13/13: The New York Times reports the Senate Armed Services Committee on Tuesday approved the nomination of former Senator Chuck Hagel as Secretary of Defense on a sharply partisan vote after a combative two-hour debate that tested the bounds of Senate collegiality. The 14-11 vote to send the nomination to the Senate floor with a favorable recommendation was the latest step in a process that has deepened festering hostilities between congressional Republicans and the White House and has exposed stark disagreements over wartime foreign policy. At times, the meeting slipped into an unusually accusatory and bitter back-and-forth, with Senator Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) suggesting that Hagel had accepted money from North Korea and Senator Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) saying he was “cozy” with Iran. These remarks were condemned by Democratic Senators such as Bill Nelson (Fla.) and Claire McCaskill (Mo.), as well as Senator John McCain (R-Ariz.) a Republican Vietnam veteran like Hagel who opposes his nomination. The full Senate is likely to vote on the nomination before the end of the week.
02/11/13: CNN reports former Defense Secretary Robert Gates argued Sunday number of innocent victims of drone strikes remains “extremely small” and doesn’t outweigh the benefits of using drones against al-Qaeda operatives. But Gates said a better system of checks and balances could be constructive when targeting Americans, aligning himself with lawmakers concerned about unfettered power in the hands of the President. Gates served under George W. Bush during the beginnings of the drone program and later under President Barack Obama as the use of drones spiked. Recently lawmakers, both Democrats and Republicans, have forcefully questioned the use and oversight of the lethal devices. “I’m a big advocate of drones,” Gates said, that they can limit collateral damage more effectively than “any other weapons system.”
02/11/13: The New York Times reports President Obama will use his State of the Union Address on Tuesday to reinvigorate one of his signature national security objectives, drastically reducing nuclear arsenals around the world, after securing agreement in recent months with the military that the American nuclear force can be cut in size by roughly a third. Obama is unlikely to discuss specific numbers in the address, but White House officials are looking at a cut that would take the arsenal of deployed weapons to just above 1,000. Currently there are about 1,700, and the recently ratified arms reduction treaty with Russia calls for a limit of roughly 1,550 by 2018. The big question is how to accomplish further reductions, given that Republicans oppose even the modest cuts in the treaty.
02/10/13: The New York Times reports a proposal is gaining steam that would require court approval before targeting American citizens overseas for lethal force. The idea is to apply the model exemplified by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court – created by Congress so that surveillance had to be justified to a federal judge – to the targeted killing of suspected terrorists, or at least of American suspects. A drone court would face constitutional, political and practical obstacles, and might well prove unworkable, according to several legal scholars and terrorism experts. But with the war in Afghanistan winding down, al-Qaeda fragmenting into hard-to-read offshoots, and the 2001 terrorist attacks receding into the past, they said, it is time to consider how to forge a new, trustworthy and transparent system to govern lethal counterterrorism operations.
02/06/13: The New York Times has this piece discussing yesterday’s big news revealing the “white paper” describing the Obama Administration’s legal justifications for the use of lethal force against American citizens suspected of being unlawful combatants abroad (the paper is here courtesy of NBC News). This piece discusses the Administration’s having kept its arguments secret, and the fact that its disclosure is fueling greater demand for information.
February 06, 2013 at 10:17 AM in Congress, Executive Branch, Law Enforcement / Criminal Law, Intelligence, Military, Terrorism / Counterterrorism, Politics, International Law / Law of War / Human Rights, Constitutional Law, Secrecy / Transparency / FOIA, Middle East / Northern Africa, Analysis | Permalink
02/04/13: The Hill reports Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) on Sunday said that immigration reform was “certainly going to pass” the upper chamber. “It has to get done. We have to work hard to get it done,” Reid said. “It’s really easy to write principles. To write legislation is much harder. And once we write the legislation, then you have to get it passed. But I think things are looking really good.” Last week a bipartisan group of senators introduced a framework for reform, which includes a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants and calls for tighter border security. But the plan faces obstacles from GOP lawmakers who are opposed to measures granting illegal immigrants citizenship and want border-security issues addressed first.
02/04/13: CNN reports outgoing Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said Sunday his “biggest concern” is the uncertainty over budget issues on Capitol Hill. “If the sequester is allowed to go into effect, I think it could seriously impact … the readiness [of] the United States,” he said. The US military could face the start of $500 billion in budget cuts in about a month if Congress fails to come up with a budget plan that avoids the so-called sequester, a series of automatic, spending cuts spread out over the next decade. Panetta in January ordered the military to begin implementing cost-cutting measures aimed at mitigating the effects of significant budget cuts that would occur if Congress fails to reach a deal in coming months to avert or soften them.
02/03/13: The Hill reports Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman General Martin Dempsey has disputed reports the Obama Administration is considering removing all American troops from Afghanistan by next year, saying “no one has suggested zero to me.” The US and NATO are slated to hand off security responsibilities to local forces by the end of 2014, but the White House is weighing how many troops to keep in the country past that date to assist in other operations, including training their Afghan counterparts. Dempsey said Sunday that “the ultimate number will be based on the mission and how deeply we want to be involved with their continued development and also what … the sovereign nation of Afghanistan wants.”
01/30/13: The LA Times reports the Senate voted overwhelmingly Tuesday to confirm Senator John F. Kerry (D-Mass.) as Secretary of State, filling a crucial national security spot in President Obama’s second-term Cabinet. Kerry, the Democratic nominee for President in 2004, will replace Hillary Clinton, who will step down Friday. After the 94-3 vote, Kerry submitted a letter of resignation, effective Friday, to give up the Senate seat he has held since 1985. He will take the oath of office in a private ceremony. President Obama praised Kerry as “a champion of American global leadership” in a statement. “John has earned the respect of leaders around the world and the confidence of Democrats and Republicans in the Senate, and I am confident he will make an extraordinary secretary of State,” Obama said.