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FLASHBACK: Three Weeks Ago, White House Asked Boehner to Repeal Authorization to Use Military Force in Iraq



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Three weeks ago National Security Adviser Susan Rice wrote to House Speaker John Boehner, asking him to repeal the Authorization for the Use of Military Force in Iraq:

House Armed Services Committee Chairman Howard P. “Buck” McKeon said that when he heard from Boehner about Rice’s letter, “I thought he was joking.

The White House contends that the current military operations in Iraq are not covered by the 2002 Congressional authorization of military force, and are instead consistent with the War Powers Act, which gives the president broad authority to authorize the use of the military in operations that last fewer than 60 days.

Tags: Susan Rice , Iraq , ISIS

Ted Cruz to Propose Bill Banning Gitmo Transfers Pending Bergdahl Probe



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Senator Ted Cruz (R., Texas) wants to ban President Obama from making any more transfers of Guantanamo Bay detainees pending a review of the decision to release five Taliban leaders in exchange for captive U.S. Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl, as a legislative response to the possibility that the Obama team will release a detainee who traveled from Kuwait to Afghanistan to train as a terrorist in 2011.

“I intend next week to file legislation to halt any releases from Guantanamo until we get to the bottom of what happened in Bergdahl and provide some real congressional oversight here because it is really needed,” Cruz told Fox News’ Sean Hannity Wednesday evening“All of us celebrate whenever any soldier comes home, but this should not have been done in a negotiation with terrorists to release the Gitmo Five, five senior Taliban terrorists who the president has admitted this week there’s absolutely a real chance they’ll return to the battlefield and kill more Americans. That undermined our national security and it is very troubling. We need to get to the bottom of why this administration is releasing senior Taliban terrorists,” he had said moments earlier.

Cruz also took aim at National Security Advisor Susan Rice, who declared that Bergdahl ”served with honor and distinction,” a claim undermined by his fellow soldiers’ reports that he deserted his post and sought out the Taliban. “I’ve got to say it makes you wonder [at] — she did this after Benghazi – her willingness to just stand up and read talking pints that, very quickly thereafter, are proven to be nowhere near resembling the truth,” Cruz said.

NR editor Rich Lowry made a similar point in his Politico column Wednesday. “In the matter of Bergdahl, [Rice] appears to have again repeated whatever crude, poorly informed talking points were put in front of her. If it was Rhodes again, he outdid himself this time, getting Rice to say things she would have known were wrong if she merely skimmed the Michael Hastings piece in Rolling Stone a few years ago about Bergdahl’s disappearance,” Lowry suggested. “Bergdahl went from serving with ‘honor and distinction,’ per Susan Rice, to ‘​innocent until proven guilty,’​ per Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Martin Dempsey, in the space of about three days.”

Tags: Bowe Bergdahl , Susan Rice , Ted Cruz

Obama’s Tuned Out, Rice Is Mendacious, and We Didn’t Appreciate Panetta Enough



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Also in today’s Jolt, some impressions confirmed and contradicted by the revelations about the Bergdahl deal:

Obama’s Tuned Out, Rice Is Mendacious, and We Didn’t Appreciate Panetta Enough

The revelations of the ever-worsening Bergdahl deal tell us that two of our early impressions have been confirmed by subsequent events, and one has been contradicted by subsequent events.

Impression One: Obama has mentally checked out of his presidency.

In light of everything that we’ve learned about Bergdahl in the past few days, we must consider two possibilities. One is that Obama knew that Bergdahl opposed the U.S. mission in Afghanistan, that he told his father he was ashamed to be an American, that he renounced his citizenship before disappearing, that other soldiers lost their lives because of his decision to leave his post, and that he may have been helping the Taliban in their bomb-building and ambushes . . . and Obama went ahead with the trade anyway.

Guy Benson offers the supremely cynical “they knew” assessment:

They figured that the feel-good nature of the “POW” returning home narrative would be blindly seized upon and enabled by a media exhausted by the egregious VA scandal story. Unpleasant details would be white-washed or mostly ignored, and the only real outrage would emanate from the usual suspects on the Right. They thought they could counter critiques of the nature and terms of the trade with faux-indignant questions about whether skeptics were in favor of “leaving Americans behind.”

The other possibility is that Obama didn’t know any of this, and he approved the deal — and invited Bergdahl’s parents to the White House! — poorly-briefed and ill-informed about this supremely consequential, life-and-death decision. Of course, this wouldn’t be the first time Obama has been called “disengaged” on matters of war or the first time someone suggested that “White House officials have not been reading their briefing books.”

In a long, detailed profile piece, Politico paints a picture of a president increasingly ready to wrap it up and move on to post-presidential life:

With his daughters around less, the Obamas are taking fuller advantage of the perquisites of the office, such as squeezing “A Raisin in the Sun” on Broadway into a recent Manhattan fundraising trip.

In a departure from a long practice of keeping his personal circle strikingly tight and rarely lingering at official events, Obama has been hosting star-studded dinners that sometimes go on well past midnight and inviting a few newcomers such as former NBA star Alonzo Mourning into his social sphere. He’s playing golf more than any other year, replacing basketball as his go-to sport, partly because of concerns about getting injured . . . 

The presidential dinners, inside the White House and beyond, are more and more frequent. At one dinner, not previously disclosed, the Obamas hosted U2’s Bono, Gen. Colin Powell, Apple CEO Tim Cook, investor Warren Buffett and World Bank President Jim Yong Kim. Another drew actors Will Smith and Samuel L. Jackson, along with journalist Gayle King. Anna Wintour, the editor-in-chief of Vogue, attended a dinner with fashion-industry insiders.

The guests don’t appear on the public visitor logs because they are considered “purely personal” visits. Multiple White House aides claimed not to know about them. Valerie Jarrett, the senior adviser and longtime confidant of the Obamas who organizes the dinners, appears to be the only regular from the West Wing . . . 

The president has traveled more during the first half of 2014 than he has at any other time of his presidency, except when he faced reelection in 2012, according to a review of his schedule. He’s left town at least once a week since the State of the Union address.

As the crisis in Ukraine escalated in early March, White House aides turned to a less consequential matter: Should Obama travel to Florida for a planned weekend golf getaway?

Earlier in the presidency, current and former aides said, they probably would have canceled the trip. Obama, and his image protectors, had always been mindful about doing anything that could be turned into a Republican attack line.

This time, Obama saw no need to stay back in Washington, in part because the situation in Ukraine had cooled by that Friday. He told an aide that he’d be making the same calls to foreign leaders whether he was in the Situation Room or sunny Key Largo.

At a leisurely dinner with friends on that Saturday night, Obama expressed no regrets about the mini-vacation at the lush Ocean Reef Club resort or the publicity surrounding the trip, which reportedly required planes, five helicopters, more than 50 Secret Service agents and airspace restrictions over South Florida. After a difficult few weeks dealing with an international crisis, he relished the break, which included two rounds of golf.

He’s got presidential senioritis.

Impression Two: Susan Rice is a partisan hack masquerading as a policy expert.

The evidence for this reputation goes back a long way. From April 1994:

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.”

Of course, since then she’s offered the infamous Benghazi lies, but now we’ve gotten a rerun, raising the question of just how frequently and blatantly a national-security official can lie to the American public without career consequence:

“Sergeant [Bowe] Bergdahl wasn’t simply a hostage; he was an American prisoner of war captured on the battlefield,” National Security Advisor Susan Rice insisted on Sunday morning in an appearance on ABC’s This Week. “He served the United States with honor and distinction.”

Adding cryptically that there will be time to “learn what has transpired in the past years,” Rice went on to inform the public how they should feel about Bergdahl’s release. “[T]his is such a joyous day,” she swore.

Well, 48 hours after that appearance, it seems the public is not taking Rice’s advice. As more details of Bergdahl’s service emerge, none of which looks especially exemplary, some have begun to ask if Rice had again disseminated misleading information on the Sunday morning talk shows.

On Tuesday, no less a figure than Ret. U.S. Army Gen. Barry McCaffrey definitively asserted that she had.

“I think what bothers people is having our commander-in-chief on television putting a glow of euphoria around this guy,” McCaffrey began, summarizing what he thought was fueling the backlash against this prisoner swap. “And then followed on with Dr. Susan Rice, who’s such a brilliant person, calling him having him served with honor and distinction when they knew full well this wasn’t the case.”

Impression Three: Leon Panetta was a tired old Washington hand, probably too old to be much more than a placeholder at the CIA.

Mea culpa, Mr. Panetta. From the perspective of us on the Right, Panetta may have been the best choice Obama has made so far. We now know he opposed trading any captured Taliban for Bergdahl. You may recall that when he was CIA director, he pushed back hard against Nancy Pelosi’s convenient claim that “the CIA lies to us all the time.” Despite some doubts at the start, Panetta proved to be a pretty solid director at Langley, having a big hand in the bin Laden raid. Later, as secretary of defense, Panetta asked other Obama administration officials why they were picking a fight with Catholic bishops over contraceptive coverage. Most recently, he supported the creation of a select committee to investigate the Benghazi attacks, saying, “I hope Democrats participate, and it really is a legitimate effort.”

I’m sure conservatives can find Panetta decisions they disagree with, but let’s face it: In a national-security team that included or includes the likes of Susan Rice, Hillary Clinton, John Kerry, and Tommy Vietor, he looks like George S. Patton.

Tags: Barack Obama , Susan Rice , Leon Panetta

Another Proud Moment in U.S. Diplomatic History



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Well done, National Security Advisor Susan Rice. Last night she tweeted . . . 

Notice the missing “r” in “progress”; clearly she meant @ukrprogress. Unfortunately, someone set up a foul-mouthed parody Twitter feed using the typo Rice sent out to the world.

Rice has since deleted the erroneous Tweet and sent out another one . . . getting it wrong again:

Once again, Rice wanted to steer followers to @ukrprogress, not the little-used Twitter account of the UK Progress for Lancaster Business School.

It’s just not her day.

Tags: Susan Rice , Ukraine

Susan Rice: No Successful Attacks on U.S. Homeland Since 9/11



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From 60 Minutes last night:

Lesley Stahl: But when you have so many phone records being held, emails, heads of state’s phone conversations being listened in to, has it been worth our allies being upset? Has it been worth all the tech companies being upset? Has it been worth Americans feeling that their privacy has been invaded?

Susan Rice: Lesley, it’s been worth what we’ve done to protect the United States. And the fact that we have not had a successful attack on our homeland since 9/11 should not be diminished. But that does not mean that everything we’re doing as of the present ought to be done the same way in the future.

Ahem. 

Above: Apparently not a successful attack on our homeland since 9/11.

That’s our National Security Adviser!

Tags: Susan Rice , Boston Marathon Bombing

The Democrats’ ‘Smart Power’ Lies in Ruins



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Welcome back from Labor Day weekend. From the first Morning Jolt of the week:

Democrats Suddenly Realize What They Miscalculated About the World: Everything

As we await Congress’s decision on authorizing the use of U.S. military force in Syria, Democrats are suddenly realizing that their foreign-policy brain-trust completely misjudged the world.

Being nicer to countries like Russia will not make them nicer to you. The United Nations is not an effective tool for resolving crises. Some foreign leaders are beyond persuasion and diplomacy. There is no “international community” ready to work together to solve problems, and there probably never will be.

You can pin this on Hillary Clinton, John Kerry, Susan Rice, but most of all, the buck stops with the president. Those of us who scoffed a bit at a state senator ascending to the presidency within four years on a wave of media hype and adoration are not quite so shocked by this current mess. We never bought into this notion that getting greater cooperation from our allies, and less hostility from our enemies, was just a matter of giving this crew the wheel and letting them practice, as Hillary Clinton arrogantly declared it, “smart power.” (These people can’t even label a foreign-policy approach without reminding us of how highly they think of themselves.) They looked out at the world at the end of the Bush years, and didn’t see tough decisions, unsolvable problems, unstable institutions, restless populations, technology enabling the impulse to destabilize existing institutions, evil men hungry for more power, and difficult trade-offs. No, our problems and challengers were just a matter of the previous hands running U.S. foreign policy not being smart enough.

How stressed is Obama? He’s starting to climb onto the Resolute desk during phone calls. To the right, Vice President Biden thinks about squirrels.

Well, here we are, five years later. Anthony H. Cordesman, the Arleigh A. Burke Chair in Strategy at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, yesterday:

When Samuel Beckett wrote “Waiting for Godot,” he was not writing an instruction manual on strategy for American Presidents. Unfortunately, however, that seems to be the instruction manual President Obama has read. He has suddenly transformed a rushed call for immediate action into a waiting game where it is not clear what he or the U.S. is waiting for, and where much of the action may come to border on tragicomedy…

The President needs to show real leadership, not overreaction, sudden reversal, and uncertainty. We need the President to shape a broad policy for the Syrian civil war even more than we need a far clearer policy for preventing the use of chemical weapons. More broadly, we need leadership to deal with Iran, its moves towards nuclear weapons and any new options created by Iran’s election. We need clear decisions over how the U.S. will deal with Afghanistan as it pulls out its combat troops. We need a clear definition of what “rebalancing” in Asia really means. We need a clear concept for our future national security posture and spending, and our defense strategy, rather than a food fight over defense spending alone. This is the 21st century. It is not a play and we cannot wait for Godot.

Lest you think this is some Bush-team cheerleader, back in 2006, Cordesman was writing:

As a Republican, I would never have believed that President Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld would waste so many opportunities and so much of America’s reputation that they would rival Lyndon Johnson, Robert McNamara and McGeorge Bundy for the worst wartime national security team in United States history.

Honest to God, the self-described smart set told us, again and again, Obama would bring a calmer world, just by showing up. (In their defense, the Nobel Committee did practically gve him the Nobel Peace Prize based on attendance.)

Let’s recall how Andrew Sullivan hyperventilated about how Obama would calm anti-American tensions in the Middle East just by showing his face:

Consider this hypothetical. It’s November 2008. A young Pakistani Muslim is watching television and sees that this man—Barack Hussein Obama—is the new face of America. In one simple image, America’s soft power has been ratcheted up not a notch, but a logarithm. A brown-skinned man whose father was an African, who grew up in Indonesia and Hawaii, who attended a majority-Muslim school as a boy, is now the alleged enemy. If you wanted the crudest but most effective weapon against the demonization of America that fuels Islamist ideology, Obama’s face gets close. It proves them wrong about what America is in ways no words can.

The other obvious advantage that Obama has in facing the world and our enemies is his record on the Iraq War. He is the only major candidate to have clearly opposed it from the start. Whoever is in office in January 2009 will be tasked with redeploying forces in and out of Iraq, negotiating with neighboring states, engaging America’s estranged allies, tamping down regional violence. Obama’s interlocutors in Iraq and the Middle East would know that he never had suspicious motives toward Iraq, has no interest in occupying it indefinitely, and foresaw more clearly than most Americans the baleful consequences of long-term occupation.

This was not some drunken screed (as far as we know); this was a cover piece in The Atlantic magazine. The chattering classes considered this serious thought back in December 2007. Events have proven that ultimately, the president’s hue and middle name don’t really matter. Anti-Americanism is driven by the United States’s role in the world as a secular, Judeo-Christian, economic, cultural and military superpower and the fact that so many other nations and cultures require a scapegoat, rival, or demon figure.

The mega-hype continued into 2009. Here’s Lee Hamilton, former Democratic congressman and co-chair of the 9/11 Commission, in April 2009:

President Obama’s accomplishments, as listed by Hamilton, include: “Re-energizing our efforts in Pakistan and Afghanistan, commencing the withdrawal from Iraq, dramatically shifting nuclear-weapons policy, including support for the CTBT and cooperation with Russia, changing policies towards Cuba, an opening to Iran, working with our partners to de-nuclearize the Korean Peninsula, pushing peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians, and Syria, helping Mexico fight the drug cartels and more.”

Think about it. Hamlton genuinely believed those were his accomplishments! Note the ATF and DOJ were sending guns to the Mexican drug cartels back when he was saying that.

Now Kerry tells us, “because of the guaranteed Russian obstructionism of any action through the UN Security Council, the UN cannot galvanize the world to act as it should.”

No @%, Senator Global Test. The United Nations could rarely, if ever, galvanize the world. Maybe back after Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait back in 1990. Now, whenever there’s a crisis in the world, Russia and China see an opportunity – to make a few bucks through arms sales, to build a relation with a client state, to expand their sphere of influence, or to just antagonize us for the sake of antagonizing us.

The United Nations did not suddenly become an ineffective debating society with little or no influence on the real crises in the world. It has been that for years, and some of us noticed this long before the current crew did.

(This doesn’t stop some of the Democrats’ alleged foreign-policy geniuses from reflexively uttering their rote talking points. Friday night, on Chris Hayes’s show, Bill Richardson said, “I would try to get some kind of ban on arm shipments, send Assad to the International Court of Justice, that the Security Council can do, a condemnation statement. I would continue this U.N. effort.” Keep banging your head against the wall! Sooner or later those bricks will break!)

The whole “reset button” ceremony with Hillary Clinton and Russia’s Sergey Lavrov was a formal commemoration of the incoming administration’s naïveté. The “famously stormy” relationship between Condi Rice and Lavrov was not a matter of Rice not being diplomatic enough or nice enough or trying hard enough. It reflected that Vladimir Putin and most of Russia’s highest levels of government defined their interests as opposing our interests.

But no one could have foreseen that, right? Russian implacability on Syria was completely a shock to all the experts, right? Could anybody have seen this coming? Oh, wait:

“[Russia] is without question our number one geopolitical foe, they fight for every cause for the world’s worst actors.” – Mitt Romney, March 26, 2012.

But hey, that guy thought negotiating with the Taliban was foolish, too.

This crew, so certain of their charm, persuasiveness, and diplomatic mettle somehow failed to persuade the British government or people that the effort against Assad is worth joining.

When it hits the fan elsewhere in the world, the EU is not going to come running with peacekeepers. There is nobody else but us.

Tags: Barack Obama , Hillary Clinton , John Kerry , Susan Rice , Syria

Examining Obama’s Very Quiet Atrocities Prevention Board



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Susan Rice, who worried about how a Rwanda genocide declaration would impact the 1994 midterm elections while she was on the National Security Council, will be President Obama’s next National Security Adviser.

Rwanda comes up in the longest section of today’s Morning Jolt:

The Disintegration of Syria, and Obama’s Very Quiet Atrocities Prevention Board

President Obama, speaking at the Holocaust Museum in Washington D.C., April 23, 2012:

Remembrance without resolve is a hollow gesture. Awareness without action changes nothing. In this sense, “never again” is a challenge to us all — to pause and to look within.

Is ‘never again’ really a challenge to us all to pause and to look within? Isn’t it a challenge to those with the authority to prevent, interrupt, impede or stop mass killings to do something about it?

He declared in that speech, “Last year, in the first-ever presidential directive on this challenge, I made it clear that ‘preventing mass atrocities and genocide is a core national security interest and a core moral responsibility of the United States of America.’”

That presidential directive came on August 4, 2011; four months into the Syrian conflict, where the brutal tactics of the Assad regime were clear.

It was at that 2012 event that President Obama announced he was forming a “new Atrocities Prevention Board, to bring together senior officials from across our government to focus on this critical mission.” (Because there’s nothing like a board of senior officials to prevent an atrocity.) Obama emphasized, “This is not an afterthought. This is not a sideline in our foreign policy.”

Here’s a list of what the board has done in the past year. I’m pleased to learn that “the intelligence community is finalizing the first-ever National Intelligence Estimate on the Global Risks of Mass Atrocities and Prospects for International Response, which will provide a rigorous analytical framework for anticipating and preparing for mass atrocities over the coming years.” It will make fascinating reading for our foreign policy professionals.

Back in college in the mid-90s, I remember some colleague on the school paper expressing incredulity that so many Americans in the 1930s remained oblivious to the threat of Hitler’s Germany and the horrors it was perpetuating. In true progressive fashion, he remarked how much more aware and moral “we” were now. I asked if he had followed the news in the Balkans lately. This was, I’m pretty sure, before we learned about Rwanda.

Above: what happened in Rwanda.

We say “never again”… and then the “ethnic cleansing” of the Balkans occurs (estimated 40,000 civilians killed). And then we see what happens in Rwanda (500,000 dead). And then Darfur, Sudan (between 178,258 and 461,520 dead, mostly from disease).

And now Syria, 70,000 to 94,000 dead, depending upon who you ask.

We say, “never again,” but the evidence of history is “again and again and again and again, each time in slightly different ways, as long as they’re relatively far away.”

We’re all supposed to tip-toe around how things really are, aren’t we? We talk a good game about how much we would have opposed those horrible massacres of the past, but we’re not often that motivated the next time one comes around. The administration, and the vast majority of the American people, want nothing to do with the maelstrom that is what’s left of Syria. That may be even be the wise course considering how neither side appears to be aligned with our interests and both sides have proven capable of brutality.

But polling indicates that public opinion shifts if chemical weapons get used: Support for involving the U.S. military in general rises to 63 percent if Syria’s government uses chemical weapons on its own people. If the Syrian government lost control of their stockpile of chemical weapons — known to be among the world’s largest — 70 percent would support U.S. military action.

So a whole lot rides on whether or not the Western public sees evidence that the Assad regime uses chemical weapons.

Now, in Syria, France says sarin has been used:

“These results show the presence of sarin in the samples that are in our possession,” Fabius said. “In view of these elements, France now has the certainty that the sarin gas was used in Syria several times and in a localized manner.”

The announcement did not say when, where or by whom it may have been used in Syria, where rebels have been fighting the regime of President Bashar al-Assad in a civil war.

The announcement coincided with the release of a draft report posted on the website of the U.N. Human Rights Council that concludes: “There are reasonable grounds to believe that chemical agents have been used as weapons. The precise agents, delivery systems or perpetrators could not be identified.”

The administration says, “well, we’re not quite sure.” Maybe that “red line” is still intact and the president doesn’t have to do anything.

In Washington, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said the United States was working with the French and other allies as well as the Syrian opposition to determine those answers.

“We need to expand the evidence we have,” he told reporters Tuesday. “We need to make it reviewable; we need to have it corroborated before we make any decisions based on the clear violation that use of chemical weapons would represent by the Syrian regime. So, we will continue in that effort.”

Asked how long that might take, he said, “I don’t have a timetable for you.”

Let’s not kid ourselves about what’s happening here. Assad’s regime is periodically using chemical weapons, but not on a large scale, and testing to see what the U.S. reaction is. Our government is looking for any thin reed of plausible deniability, any gray area, any way to avoid acknowledging that the “red line” is getting crossed more frequently than a crosswalk in Times Square.

By avoiding any action beyond garden variety sanctions and nonlethal aid to the rebels — does anyone think a regime willing to use sarin will be deterred by sanctions? — we’re declaring to every leader, present and future, that you can use chemical weapons against your opponents as long as you don’t use them too broadly. The world hasn’t changed that much since Saddam Hussein gassed the Kurds in Halabja in 1988.

We’ll tell ourselves that this won’t come to bite us at some point in the future. We’ll tell ourselves that “blowback” only comes from action, not from inaction.

Bret Stephens:

What should be obvious today is that we are at the dawn of a much wider Shiite-Sunni war, the one that nearly materialized in Iraq in 2006 but didn’t because the U.S. was there, militarily and diplomatically, to stop it. But now the U.S. isn’t there. What’s left to figure out is whether this megawar isn’t, from a Western point of view, a very good thing.

The theory is simple and superficially compelling: If al Qaeda fighters want to murder Hezbollah fighters and Hezbollah fighters want to return the favor, who in their right mind would want to stand in the way? Of course it isn’t just Islamist radicals of one stripe or another who are dying in Syria, but also little children and aging grandparents and every other innocent and helpless bystander to the butchery.

But here comes the whispered suggestion: If one branch of Islam wants to be at war with another branch for a few years — or decades — so much the better for the non-Islamic world. Mass civilian casualties in Aleppo or Homs is their tragedy, not ours. It does not implicate us morally. And it probably benefits us strategically, not least by redirecting jihadist energies away from the West.

Wrong on every count.

He cites the Iran-Iraq war as the most recent comparable large-scale Sunni-Shia bloodbath:

. . . the 1980s were the years of the tanker wars in the Gulf, including Iraq’s attack on the USS Stark; the hostage-taking in Lebanon; and the birth of Hezbollah, with its suicide bombings of the U.S. Marine barracks and embassy in Beirut. Iraq invaded Kuwait less than two years after the war’s end. Iran emerged with its revolutionary fervors intact — along with a rekindled interest in developing nuclear weapons.

In short, a long intra-Islamic war left nobody safer, wealthier or wiser.

Oh, and if you’re wondering how that Atrocities Prevention Board was working out

Wanting to ascertain whether the board was actually doing anything to help prevent crimes against humanity, some 60 scholars of genocide studies and human-rights activists from across the globe sent a letter to Samantha Power, then-chair of the board, in December. Power never responded. They sent her a second letter in January, and again received no response.

When Power resigned in late February, they sent a letter to Steven Pomper, who assumed Power’s position as senior director for Multilateral Affairs and Human Rights. He, too, never replied. On March 28, a letter was sent to another member of the board, Donald Steinberg, deputy administrator of USAID. Again, no response. In early April the scholars wrote to U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice about this situation. To date, she has not responded…

. . . the board does not have a website, a Twitter account or even list email addresses for its main office or its members.

Tags: Susan Rice , Syria , Rwanda , Barack Obama

Four Key Details in the Released Benghazi E-Mails



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On “Morning Joe” at the moment, the roundtable seems convinced that yesterday’s release of 100 pages of internal e-mails relating to the Benghazi talking points exonerates the White House and all of the senior-level officials. This suggests that most in the press have not looked at these e-mails all that closely.

There were at least four lines in the Benghazi e-mails that jumped out at me.

Page 4: NE (Near East Desk/Bureau/Division) will add material about warning we gave to Cairo prior to the demonstrations, as well as warnings we issued prior to 9/11 anniversary

We don’t know whether this reference to warnings was a particularly specific one, i.e., beware of anti-American groups trying to stir up trouble outside our embassy in Cairo, or whether it was generic, i.e., beware of groups trying to stir up trouble on September 11 in the Middle East. But I believe this is the first time we’ve heard that the CIA gave warnings to Cairo — either to the Egyptian government or to our diplomatic security in that city — about a potential threat or danger to our diplomatic staff there. This information does not help the “no one could have seen this coming” excuse, particularly when coupled with the requests for additional security from staff in Libya.

Page 61: Fyi FBI says AQ (not AQIM) was involved and they are pursuing that theory.

“AQ” is a reference to al-Qaeda; “AQIM” refers to “al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb,” the Algerian/North African franchise. This means that by Friday evening, the FBI’s focus was on al-Qaeda, the main international portion, not the groups aiming to overthrow the Algerian government.

If the FBI investigation was focusing al-Qaeda as early as Friday, that doesn’t help explain Ambassador Susan Rice’s emphasis of the protests of the YouTube video on Sunday.

Also on Page 61: “The State Department had major reservations with much or most of the document. We revised with their concerns in mind.”

The first version of the talking points mentioned, “Since April, there have been at least five other attacks against foreign interests in Benghazi by unidentified assailants, including the June attack against the British Ambassador’s convoy. We cannot rule out that individuals had previously surveilled the US facilities, also contributing to the effacy of the attacks” — which would undoubtedly raise questions about what precautions the State Department was making in the weeks and months preceding the attack. The references to the earlier attacks against foreign interests were one of the details edited out.

The evidence that the talking points turned into uninformative, inaccurate mush because of the State Department’s involvement does not help Hillary Clinton.

CIA Office of Congressional Affairs, 9/15: “No mention of the cable to Cairo, either? Frankly, I’d just as soon not use this, then.”

My understanding is that this comment refers to or echoes the assessment of then–CIA director David Petraeus. This comment indicates that at least one party in this complicated process understood that they were losing sight of what they were supposed to be doing — informing Congress and the public of what happened — and generating meaningless, detail-free pabulum.

UPDATE: Ed Morrissey notices that almost everyone who is reporting on this has failed to mention to the reference to the FBI.

Tags: Benghazi , Hillary Clinton , Susan Rice , Barack Obama

What Benghazi-Related News Is About to Drop?



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Well, this . . .

. . . certainly seems intriguing, and the timing suggests that Senator Lindsey Graham’s threat to place holds on the confirmations of John Brennan and Chuck Hagel may have spurred someone to be more cooperative in answering questions about Benghazi.

Tags: Susan Rice , Lindsey Graham

Obama: Did I Say the Economy Recovered?
I Meant I’m Still Working on It!



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The first Morning Jolt of the week features the shocking news of Pope Benedict’s resignation, a discussion of whether our culture is even capable of the earnest valorization depicted in the Paul Harvey ad, and then these two developments that will shape the political news in the week ahead:

Lindsey Graham: Until the Benghazi Truth Is Told, Your Nominees I Will Hold

A slogan that Johnny Cochran could approve:

Sen. Lindsey Graham said on Sunday he’ll block President Barack Obama’s nominees for Defense secretary and CIA director if the White House isn’t more forthcoming about its response to the attacks on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya.

No confirmation without information,” the South Carolina Republican said on CBS’s “Face the Nation.”

Graham said he wants to know if Obama himself phoned his Libyan counterparts during the Sept. 11 attacks in Benghazi and what the results of such a call might have been. Without cooperation, Graham said he’ll try to put a hold on Chuck Hagel, the Defense nominee, and John Brennan for CIA.

“I don’t think we should allow Brennan to go forward to the CIA directorship, Hagel to be confirmed for secretary of Defense, until the White House gives us an accounting,” Graham said. “Did the president ever pick up the phone and call anyone in the Libyan government to help these folks?”

Rick Moran points out this is something of a symbolic maneuver, and one that isn’t likely to work, as long as Senate Democrats remain unified:

The hold is a senatorial courtesy, and threatening to use it is just about all the Republicans have left when it comes to leverage on the White House to get more information about Benghazi. It would be unprecedented to place a hold on a cabinet nomination, and it is likely that Majority Leader Harry Reid would demand a cloture vote in order to lift the hold and bring the nominations to the floor. Several Republicans would probably join the 55 Democrats in voting for cloture, and the president would get his up or down vote on both nominees.

Graham would probably not go along with a filibuster. Hagel and Brennan’s other major critics in the Senate would be equally reluctant. And what he’s asking for from the White House, he is not likely to get. The administration has successfully stonewalled, obfuscated, and brushed off requests for information until Benghazi now seems a distant memory — a bad dream that the president would like the American people to forget.

Obama: Did I Say the Economy Recovered? I Meant I’m Still Working on It!

Our old friend Byron York is a pretty even-keeled guy, but I think he finds it pretty audacious for the president to spend his State of the Union address insisting that he’s relentlessly focused on the economy and job creation, after his lone reference to the economy in his inaugural address was the declaration “an economic recovery has begun.”

You know, somewhere, just not here.

York:

White House spinners are working furiously in the final 72 hours before President Obama’s State of the Union speech. Their job: Convince the recession-scarred American public that economic recovery is Obama’s top priority — after everything he has said and done to suggest otherwise.

The unemployment rate is 7.9 percent — one tenth of a point higher than it was when Obama took office in January 2009. But the true toll of joblessness is far higher. The Labor Department’s so-called U-6 rate, which includes people who want a job but have become so discouraged they have quit looking, is 14.4 percent. And a new study, by Rutgers University scholars, shows that 23 percent of those surveyed have lost a job sometime in the last four years, while another 11 percent have seen someone in their household lose a job. That is one-third of the American people who have experienced unemployment during Obama’s time in office, along with many more who have experienced other hardships of the economic downturn.

Elsewhere, Byron points out that the president has “pivoted back” to the economy at least six times since taking office.

Actually, back in 2011, the RNC identified at least nine times the White House was telling reporters that their energies would be “pivoting” back to jobs.

When the administration recycles its talking points, you’ll forgive me for recycling my reaction:

Keep in mind that inherent in the pivot-point talking point is an inherent excuse: the reason the administration hasn’t seen much success in bringing down the unemployment rate, or is perceived to be useless in bringing down the unemployment rate, or hasn’t communicated its message about its efforts, is always a lack of time and focus. I think most of us would argue the problem isn’t really an administrative attention deficit disorder or chronic focus on other issues; the problem is the policies stink . . . “Alright, now we’re really going to pivot to jobs, just you wait and see” sounds like the oft-heard pledges of dieting and exercise and saving money and cleaning out the basement and flossing; the idea that all it’s going to take is a bit more attention to the problem and it’s going to be solved.

Tags: Barack Obama , Susan Rice , Economy , Lindsey Graham

Rubio: The Senate Needs Hillary’s Testimony Sometime Soon



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Sen. Marco Rubio, a member of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence and Senate Foreign Relations Committee, just released the following statement in response to the State Department’s report on Benghazi:

“The independent report on the September 11 attacks on our mission facility and annex in Benghazi confirms what we have long known to be true: that Ambassador Stevens and the other Americans who lost their lives in the attacks could have been saved by better protection, a swifter military response and more attentive leadership from Washington. In the months leading up to the attacks, credible reports were brought to the attention of the State Department alleging insufficient security in the area. These reports also contained warnings of rapidly growing radical militias that threatened anti-American attacks. Despite all of the information available to them, the State Department failed to construct an adequate safety plan, declined to provide sufficient security personnel and failed to consider closing the mission given the growing threat.

“This is evidence of a flawed process to access and provide security for our diplomats. Such oversight failure and neglect is unacceptable. The report made strong recommendations regarding personnel who should be held accountable, and I am pleased that some individuals in positions of responsibility have resigned today. However, such resignations are a small step toward addressing this issue, which can only be fully resolved by an open and transparent internal review of the State Department’s relevant policies, operations and procedures. The men and women who represent our nation have the right to expect that our government is taking every possible measure to ensure their safety, and it is now clear that a leadership failure at the State Department led to grossly inadequate protection of our diplomats in Benghazi. I join my colleagues in wishing Secretary Clinton a speedy recovery. However, as she is ultimately responsible for the department and U.S. posts around the world, her testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee is indispensable to any effort to address this failure and put in place a process to ensure this never happens again.”

Note Sen. Marco Rubio’s pitch-perfect tone in this statement: he never suggests that Hillary Clinton’s sudden sickness/head injury are faked excuses to avoid testifying, but makes clear that she will need to answer questions under oath in the near future.

Tags: Susan Rice , Hillary Clinton , Marco Rubio

Rice Withdraws; Secretary of State John Kerry Coming Soon?



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NBC News is reporting that Susan Rice is no longer interested in the position of secretary of state and the president has accepted her decision.

This means that Massachusetts senator John Kerry is the most likely next top diplomat of the United States. Yes, folks, he’s back!

When the senator spoke at the Democratic convention earlier this year, I took a look at what Kerry would bring to the position:

The problem is that Kerry has gotten most of the biggest foreign-policy calls of the past two decades wrong.

He voted against the authorization of force for the 1991 Persian Gulf War.

He opposed President Bush’s 2007 surge in Iraq, calling it “a tragic mistake.” The surge, he elaborated, “won’t end the violence; it won’t provide security; . . . it won’t turn back the clock and avoid the civil war that is already underway; it won’t deter terrorists, who have a completely different agenda; it won’t rein in the militias.” In September 2007, Kerry voted in favor of a resolution introduced by Senator Carl Levin (D., Mich.) to withdraw all U.S. troops within 90 days.

Where Kerry isn’t wrong, he is living up to his flip-flopper label: He voted for the Iraq War and then later insisted he voted only to threaten the use of force, not to actually authorize the use of force. He initially supported and then opposed a funding bill for the Iraq War in late 2003, which prompted the confusing defense, “I actually did vote for the $87 billion before I voted against it.”

He has called Israel’s security fence “a barrier to peace” and “a legitimate act of self-defense.”

In 2004, one of the biggest applause lines in Kerry’s acceptance speech at the Democratic convention in Boston was, “We shouldn’t be opening firehouses in Baghdad and shutting them in the United States of America.” By February of this year, Kerry was denouncing his own applause line: “Cutting foreign aid has always been a guaranteed applause line on the political stump . . .  efforts in Congress to cut billions from the president’s proposed budget for the State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) are short-sighted.”

In May 2011, shortly after the U.S. Navy SEALs successfully raided Osama bin Laden’s compound, Kerry was quick to emphasize that U.S. military efforts in that part of the world were far from over: “With the death of Bin Laden, some people will ask why we don’t pack up and leave Afghanistan. We can’t do that. . . . Our military is making significant inroads clearing the south of insurgents. But we expect a significant Taliban counterattack this spring to regain some of these areas. We also know insurgents are spreading into other areas of Afghanistan as we drive them from their bases in the south.” But one month later, Kerry was saying the cost of the war was “unsustainable” and urging President Obama to speed up troop withdrawals.

Eight years after his presidential bid, Kerry is still fond of a statement as opaque and messy as a spilled bowl of pea soup. Discussing the WikiLeaks documents and U.S. policy in Pakistan and Afghanistan, Kerry said, “Those policies are at a critical stage and these documents may very well underscore the stakes and make the calibrations needed to get the policy right more urgent.”

The policies are at a critical stage! (Quick, how was that moment different from any other of past years?) The documents may underscore the stakes! The urgency of the need to make the calibrations may get even more urgent!

But it is Kerry’s dedicated cultivation of Bashar Assad — one of his primary foreign-policy focuses since his 2004 presidential bid — that most clearly illustrates his naïveté.

On March 15, 2011, the first sparks of a national uprising against Assad’s regime ignited; within days there were large-scale protests in several cities, and police responded with live ammunition in some cases. About 70 Syrian civilians were killed in the initial weeks.

At the end of that month, Secretary Clinton uttered one of the administration’s most regrettable lines about the Syrian dictator in an interview on CBS’s Face the Nation: “Many of the members of Congress of both parties who have gone to Syria in recent months have said they believe he’s a reformer.”

The Wall Street Journal reported at the time:

A key supporter of Mr. Assad in Washington has been Sen. John Kerry, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. The former presidential candidate has held nearly a half-dozen meetings with Mr. Assad in recent years, according to his staff. The two men have sought to map out the terms of a renewed Syrian-Israel peace track.

Even this month, as protests starting gripping Syria, Mr. Kerry said he thought Syria’s president was an agent for change. . . .

As recently as February 2010, Kerry was telling Middle Eastern leaders that he believed Israel should return the Golan Heights to Syria.

Of course, as the uprising against the regime has continued, Syria has indeed moved and changed, in an exponentially more ruthless and dangerous direction. The ongoing conflict has killed about 24,000 Syrians, according to opposition forces, and displaced about 1.5 million refugees.

As Assad’s willingness to spill blood in large amounts in order to hold onto power has become indisputable, Kerry has given up on his Damascus host. At a hearing last month, Kerry declared, “The international community — with American leadership and support — must continue to help the opposition both in ending Assad’s reign of terror and in preparing for what comes next after he is gone.”

Tags: John Kerry , Susan Rice

Look Who’s Pressing Susan Rice: Susan Collins?



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With Senator Bob Corker, Tennessee Republican, among others making noises that they might be willing to accept tax increases to avoid the fiscal cliff, many conservatives are fuming that way too many Republicans drift away from their principles over time.

Of course, every once in a while, a moderate Republican surprises you by coming out swinging on a particular issue. Take a look at Senator Susan Collins, Maine Republican, in Maureen Dowd’s column today:

Senator Susan Collins of Maine, the soft-spoken ranking member on the homeland security committee, hasn’t been part of this shrill debate. Though they had met only once or twice, Collins agreed to introduce Rice to the Foreign Relations Committee in 2009 when Rice was nominated as the U.S. ambassador to the U.N. Rice’s grandparents immigrated from Jamaica to Portland, Maine.

“I don’t bear any animus to her at all,” the senator said. “In fact, to the contrary.”

But she said she is “troubled” by Rice’s role. “If I wanted to be secretary of state,” Collins observed, “I would not go on television and perform what was essentially a political role.”

Collins drew up a list of questions to ask Rice at their one-on-one hourlong meeting slated for Wednesday. She wants Rice to explain how she could promote a story “with such certitude” about a spontaneous demonstration over the anti-Muslim video that was so at odds with the classified information to which the ambassador had access. (It was also at odds with common sense, given that there were Al Qaeda sympathizers among the rebel army members that overthrew Muammar el-Qaddafi with help from the U.S. — an intervention advocated by Rice — and Islamic extremist training camps in the Benghazi area.)

. . . Rice also said that “we had a substantial security presence with our personnel” — which was clearly not the case. Collins wants to know Rice’s basis for saying on ABC that the attacks were “a direct result of a heinous and offensive video.” And why did she say “a small number of people” came to the consulate to protest, when that phrase is not in her talking points? Collins is curious why Rice is not angrier, if, as she insists, she was repeating what she was told. “I’d be furious at the White House and F.B.I. and intelligence community for destroying my credibility,” the senator said.

Collins indicates that she’s willing to support Rice if she gets good answers. But the confirmation hearings may turn out to be brutal, with senators asking fair, basic, and extremely important questions, and Rice’s answers will either indicate a suspicion/belief that she was telling the American people false information, or a level of blind credulity that is deeply disturbing in any U.S. official, never mind a secretary of state.

It will be interesting to watch Democrats insisting that Susan Collins is motivated by sexism and racism, and that she only is expressing doubts about Rice’s honesty because she’s just another rabid, right-wing, hardline conservative ideologue . . .

UPDATE: I’ll bet Democrats think Senator Kelly Ayotte, Republican of New Hampshire, who is pledging to put a “hold” on any Rice nomination, is just as driven by sexism . . .

Tags: Susan Collins , Susan Rice

U.S. Intel: Benghazi Attack Wasn’t Spontaneous



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Yes, I know that the media is having the biggest meltdown about an accurate Romney comment since . . . Wednesday, but I think the more important bit of news comes in this morning’s Jolt’s second item:

U.S. Intelligence: No, Ambassador Rice, the Benghazi Attack Wasn’t Spontaneous

If you thought U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice’s account of the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi didn’t quite add up . . . apparently some U.S. intelligence sources agree with you:

An intelligence source on the ground in Libya told Fox News that there was no demonstration outside the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi prior to last week’s attack — challenging the Obama administration’s claims that the assault grew out of a “spontaneous” protest against an anti-Islam film.

“There was no protest and the attacks were not spontaneous,” the source said, adding the attack “was planned and had nothing to do with the movie.”

The source said the assault came with no warning at about 9:35 p.m. local time, and included fire from more than two locations. The assault included RPG’s and mortar fire, the source said, and consisted of two waves.

The account that the attack started suddenly backs up claims by a purported Libyan security guard who told McClatchy Newspapers late last week that the area was quiet before the attack.

“There wasn’t a single ant outside,” the unnamed guard, who was being treated in a hospital, said in the interview.

Doug Mataconis has the cockamamie idea that when U.S. diplomatic personnel are killed, the U.S. government should play it straight about what happened and why:

It’s worth noting that initial reports of any incident like this don’t always turn out to be complete. However, up until now, the public story had always been, or at least implied, that the attack occurred contemporaneous with the protests but now even the U.S. Government is admitting that isn’t the case. The attack, clearly, occurred several hours later. This makes the claim that Ambassador Rice made yesterday that the attack was all about a movie and wasn’t pre-planned even harder to believe. The idea that the attack was spontaneous, which doesn’t seem credible to begin with given what we know about how it happened, becomes even less believable once you realize that the attack occurred several hours after a small protest against the movie. That fact alone makes the idea that there was any real connection between the two events even less likely, especially since the attackers clearly used the cover of darkness, and surprise, to launch their attack. That doesn’t seem like the action of a bunch of protesters riled up by a movie. This incident needs to be investigated thoroughly, and the Administration needs to be honest with the American people about what happened, because that does not appear to be what’s happening now.

Separately, over at CNN, we see one more disturbing claim of warnings disregarded:

Three days before the deadly assault on the United States consulate in Libya, a local security official says he met with American diplomats in the city and warned them about deteriorating security.

Jamal Mabrouk, a member of the February 17th Brigade, told CNN that he and a battalion commander had a meeting about the economy and security.

He said they told the diplomats that the security situation wasn’t good for international business.

“The situation is frightening, it scares us,” Mabrouk said they told the U.S. officials. He did not say how they responded.

Mabrouk said it was not the first time he has warned foreigners about the worsening security situation in the face of the growing presence of armed jihadist groups in the Benghazi area.

The main building in the compound is in charred ruins.

That report mentions, “there are numerous questions about what happened at the consulate where protesters had gathered to demonstrate against the film ‘Innocence of Muslims,’” but another account offers a time that seems . . . strange for a protest: “One of five private security guards at the consulate said the surprise attack began around 9:30 p.m. when several grenades that were lobbed over the outer wall exploded in the compound and bullets rained down.”

Tags: Libya , Susan Rice

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