everything with russia is fine…they promise

russiaPresident Obama’s Administration is scrambling to contain Russia’s annexation of Crimea as a once-and-done event.  The Administration that re-set the two countries’ relations and offered missile defense flexibility after Obama’s “last election” is now promising the White House press corps that the Russia that sent military personnel into the Ukraine is not the Russia we deal with on Iran.   

“Senior Administration officials” (code words for “anonymous political operatives spinning reporters”) told the New York Times that despite Putin’s insurgence, Russia is still working just swimmingly with the Obama Administration on Iran’s nuclear issue.  They pinky swear. 

Days later, low and behold, Karen DeYoung of the Washington Post had the very same assessment from National Security Advisor Susan Rice.  In a YouTube video Susan Rice said, “We haven’t seen any evidence to the contrary,” when asked if Moscow will remain cooperative.  I am sure what she actually meant was…other than annexing Crimea, shutting down the free media, ignoring the international community’s demands and vetoing a UN resolution.

DeYoung’s Washington Post story, which appeared on the front page and above the fold, was titled “Nuclear accord unhurt by the crisis: Iran, Syria efforts also on track despite Crimea”.  The New York Times headline said, “West Sees Unity on Iran Despite Crisis in Ukraine”.   

I love how the main stream media already knows that the mess has already been contained.  That Obama team cleaned up the chaos in four days, ya’ll. 

What’s most interesting about the Washington media types falling for the White House spin is that the idea that Syria and Iran are on a successful path is laughable.  Doesn’t “on track” imply that the issues are being handled and we are in a good place?  Syria is a mess.  Assad has made America look incredibly weak, even the Saudis are furious with Obama’s weakness and the killings inside Syria continue.  It’s offensive that any reporter thinks Syria is on track.  It’s completely off track.  And what is on track about Iran?  The Islamic regime hasn’t actually done anything yet.

The political reporter types don’t have the capacity or the patience to cover complicated foreign policy stories.  And any reporter blindly taking what this Administration says on Russia, especially Russia, should be ignored.

Remarks by New US Ambassador to UN Samantha Power

U.S. Mission to the United Nations: Remarks by Ambassador Samantha Power, U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations, Before the Presentation of Credentials to the UN Secretary General

Ambassador Power: Hello everybody. I’m Samantha Power. I’m totally delighted to be here-so honored, so thrilled to have started work as the U.S. Ambassador to United Nations. As many of you know, I’m going to meet with the Secretary-General so as to present my credentials. I’ve worked with the Secretary-General over the last few years at the White House-worked very effectively with him-and I’m looking very much forward to a close working relationship now that I am up here in New York. Continue reading

samantha power’s nomination is a disappointment

samatha power with rice obamaThe woman charged with the protection of global human rights for the White House for the last four years was promoted Tuesday to represent the United States at the United Nations.
Despite leading an embarrassing policy of inaction — during which 80,000 plus Syrians were killed by violence created by their own government, thousands of Sudanese were ethnically-cleansed in Darfur, and hundreds of thousands were murdered and displaced in the Congo — President Obama announced Tuesday that he has selected Samantha Power, an academic and 2008 Obama presidential campaign aide, as his next nominee to represent the United States as ambassador to the United Nations. Continue reading

Senate Republicans take the Higher Ground with a vote on Hagel

I’m sure the media won’t report on the conciliatory move by Senate Republicans to give President Obama an up or down vote on his Secretary of Defense nominee Chuck Hagel. But it’s worth highlighting the olive branch extended to the President by the GOP. Continue reading

30 reasons why susan rice shouldn’t be secretary of state

Ambassador Susan Rice had nothing to do with Benghazi, as President Obama told us, but she appeared on five Sunday political talk shows anyway. On those shows, Rice mouthed talking points that weren’t true. Continue reading

Susan Rice’s UN record Speaks for Itself

Most reporters haven’t been following Ambassador Susan Rice’s performance at the United Nations since her appointment in January 2009. To many journalists, Rice’s misleading interviews on the five Sunday Shows the weekend after the 9/11/12 terrorist attacks that killed U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens and three others were one of the first times they had heard from her. To veteran foreign policy observers, Rice’s shameful performance that Sunday was one of many blunders over the last four years. Continue reading

where are the fact-checkers? team obama isn’t telling the truth about their iran record

Who is going to fact-check team Obama? Their statements on Iran aren’t true.

The simple fact is that team Obama has passed ONE UN resolution on Iran. They got only 12 votes of support in that ONE resolution (12/15 votes for a failure rate of 20% on Iran votes at the Security Council). The Bush team got FIVE resolutions on Iran (THREE with Sanctions). In those FIVE resolutions, team Bush lost just 2 total votes (73/75 votes for a failure rate of 2.6% on Iran votes at the Security Council). Additionally, team Obama hasn’t produced a UN resolution on Iran since June 9, 2010 (almost 2 years ago).

One only needs to look at the growing list of countries that have said they will ignore our request to stop buying Iranian oil to understand that Obama’s diplomatic requests are being ignored. I see India, Russia, China, South Africa and many European countries publicly saying they will buy Iranian oil and ignore the U.S. requests. While team Obama thinks the world is united, the world is enjoying the comfort of a weaker U.S. government that no longer pressures them to take action.

It is disheartening but the world is less united since Obama has been in office.

Team Obama says: “Iran is weaker and more isolated today precisely because of actions that President Obama has taken. Through sustained diplomacy, the president forged unprecedented international consensus to pressure Iran — far greater consensus and pressure than the previous Republican administration achieved through its go-it-alone, my-way-or-the highway approach. President Obama secured the toughest unilateral and multilateral sanctions on Iran to date, and they’re having a devastating impact on its economy. The Iranian nuclear program has been slowed, and Iran’s leaders have signaled their willingness to resume talks, in which the United States will seek to ensure Iran lives up to its international obligations. At the same time, the president has firmly and consistently said that all options are on the table, including military action, to prevent the Iranian regime from obtaining a nuclear weapon.”

obama’s axelrod: trying to lower gas prices is selling “snake oil”

President Obama’s chief political advisor, David Axelrod, made fun of politicians on Sunday who are trying to bring down gas prices. In responding to Mitt Romney’s commitment to permit more drilling and open up new exploration in the United States, Axelrod said, “That’s not oil talk but snake oil talk.”

Obama also poked fun at Romney’s plan to increase the supply of oil by saying he thinks he has a “magic wand”. He went on to say that Republicans have had “the same script for 30 years, it’s like a bad re-run.”

But in 2008, it was candidate Obama who was complaining that the White House wasn’t doing enough to lower gas prices. Obama made fun of then President George Bush for gas prices being “$3.70. Two and half times (higher than) when George Bush took office,” Obama said.

This time, Obama is working hard to pretend that he has nothing to do with high gas prices.

The facts show that gas prices fluctuated throughout 2008 from roughly $1.50 to over $4.00 a gallon. In November 2008, when Obama was elected president, gas prices fell to $1.72. Today, the average gas price is $3.84. It’s much higher in some regions where production and drilling is scarce and in some state’s that require greater refinery processes or have placed higher local sur charges. In California, for instance, gas prices are almost $5 a gallon.

Obama’s assault on oil drilling and the permitting process for new exploration is undeniable. In some campaign stops, Obama has falsely claimed that he is responsible for an increase in oil production – but the fact is that the permits for the new drilling projects he counts were approved during the Bush and Clinton Administrations. The Obama Administration has also tried to delay and obstruct coal production. Last year, a Senate panel proved that the Obama Administration was using the Clean Water Act to stop coal production. Given that the global coal demand is increasing, this obstruction has not only greatly limited the expansion of American jobs but is shrinking the coal production workforce in the Midwest and Southern U.S.

Obama’s team has stopped new oil projects like the Keystone XL Pipeline which would have clearly provided more oil. And we know that an increase in supply means lower prices overall. Some left wing websites have been falsely misrepresenting one study that shows the Keystone XL Pipeline would increase oil production in the Midwest and therefore push the regional price of oil up because more oil would flow out to the rest of the United States. These liberal bloggers falsely call the overall price stabilization affect of the Keystone XL pipeline an “increase”. But the majority of Americans would get lower prices with the Keystone’s increased oil production and stabilization affect. And over time, everyone would benefit from an increase in supply.

But as gas prices increase and the prospect for new jobs stays stagnant, the Obama team will be scrambling to look like they aren’t to blame for a “none of the above” energy plan. Obama’s base of support from radical environmentalists will also be a concern for the president’s team as they consider how to do something to control sky-rocketing energy costs without alienating supporters.

Romney, meanwhile, has called for the Obama team responsible for the assault on new energy exploration and permits to be fired. The trio of obstruction, as he calls them, is Energy Secretary Steven Chu, Environmental Protection Agency Director Lisa Jackson and Interior Secretary Ken Salazar.

it’s time for susan rice to resign

One of the reasons the American public holds unelected government officials in such low esteem is that they are never held accountable for their failures. Presidents and cabinet officials could send a strong message of accountability if they held senior appointees responsible for their performance. President Barack Obama should use this weekend’s U.N. failure to show Americans and Arabs alike that it is unacceptable to stand idly by while 6,500 Syrians are killed by their government. Obama should ask for U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Susan Rice’s resignation and replace her with someone tougher and more effective. If she won’t voluntarily resign then she should be fired.

The case against Susan Rice has been building over the last few years. This weekend’s embarrassing failure on a Syria resolution was the latest and last straw. Her diplomatic failures and silence have given the United States a weak representation at the United Nations.

Next month marks the anniversary of the Syrian uprising. But Rice, as she has on many issues, has ignored Syria’s growing problems for too long. Rather than speaking out immediately when the violence started, she stayed silent. Rather than calling for action, she did nothing. Russia and China saw Rice’s passivity as a sign that Syrian President Assad’s removal wasn’t a priority. By the time Rice started pressuring Security Council members to confront the growing violence and death, it was too late. Once a draft resolution condemning Syria was introduced, Rice was too quick to negotiate changes that weakened it without insisting on a date for the Security Council to vote. Her constant agreement to changes seemed desperate. The frantic and late maneuvering left the United States at the mercy of Russia and China, who vetoed even the watered down measure.

On her post-veto media tour, however, Rice sought to blame Russia for not listening to the United States or other western governments rather than acknowledge her failed diplomatic skills – an ironic spin given that Rice and team Obama created this new Russian resolve when they naively and dramatically called for a re-set to our relationship with Russia. The reset Rice championed and spoke affectionately about has not only failed to deliver support for U.S. national security policies but it has also exposed the dangers of an inexperienced team’s strategy of personal diplomacy.

This continues Rice’s pattern of failing at her own stated goals. During the 2008 presidential campaign, Susan Rice talked very openly about restoring America’s leadership at the United Nations and often derided President George W. Bush for acting without U.N. backing. Rice cheerfully exclaimed that, unlike Bush, Barack Obama would engage in active diplomacy even with countries considered our enemies. Rice was very critical of the U.S.’ reputation at the U.N. and vowed to build better relationships with every country. In her current stump speech Rice claims that her goal has been accomplished, “We’ve repaired frayed relations with countries around the world. We’ve ended needless American isolation on a wide range of issues. And as a consequence, we’ve gotten strong cooperation on things that matter most to our national security interest.”

This past weekend shows just how disastrous Rice’s strategy has been.

Rice has been silent on important issues and ineffective when she does engage. She skipped Security Council meetings when Israel needed defending and even failed to show up for the emergency session on the Gaza Flotilla incident. Rice didn’t even show up for the first two emergency Security Council meetings on the unfolding Arab revolution last year. Rice stayed silent when Iran was elected to the U.N. women’s committee, she didn’t call out Libya when it was elected to the Human Rights Council, she was absent from the Haiti crisis meeting and was a no-show for the last open meeting scheduled before the planned U.N. vote to recognize Palestinian statehood. When she actually shows up, she is a miserable failure.

Take the crucial issue of Iran. Rice spent the last several years undermining and grumbling about the Bush Administration’s increasingly tough measures but has only been able to pass one resolution of her own – compared with the Bush team’s five. Rice’s one and only Iran resolution was 22 months ago. And it passed with just 12 votes of support – the least support we have ever seen for a Security Council sanctions resolution on Iran. In fact, Susan Rice lost more support with her one resolution than the previous five Iran resolutions combined.

In another example, Rice secretly negotiated with the Arabs on acceptable language for a possible U.N. resolution to condemn Israel’s settlement activity. Rice’s engagement sent a strong message that making a new policy, rather than encouraging the two sides to negotiate directly, may not garner an automatic U.S. veto. In February of 2011, the U.S. abruptly changed tactics on the Arabs and vetoed a U.N. resolution on Israeli settlements. The Palestinians were justifiably furious with Rice. After all, they had just spent weeks going back and forth with her on acceptable language to make Israeli settlement activity a violation of international law — something previous U.S. Administrations had bluntly and immediately threatened a veto over. Rice’s negotiations suggested the U.S. was open to change, when in fact it was not.

Whether the issue is Sudan, Egypt, North Korea or Rwanda, Rice has been either missing in action or unable to deliver a quick and effective resolution.

Firing Rice may serve Secretary of State Hillary Clinton too. Clinton’s team has always viewed Susan Rice with suspicion dating back to the 2008 Democratic presidential primaries, when Rice went on MSNBC to slam Clinton’s ad claiming she was best equipped to take the national security emergency call at 3 a.m. “Clinton hasn’t had to answer the phone at three o’clock in the morning and yet she attacked Barack Obama for not being ready. They’re both not ready to have that 3 a.m. phone call,” Rice said. Secretary Clinton, one State Department diplomat told me, has tried to distance herself from Rice and her lackluster U.N. performance.

President Obama could show the Arab street that it is unacceptable for the United States government to sit idly by while the United Nations Security Council does nothing. What better way to show that things at the U.N. have to change than to fire the woman spearheading the failed U.S. efforts there. Rice’s last diplomatic initiative should be putting the United States’ reputation above her own.

it’s time to tax internet gambling and make it legal

One of the complaints from the Occupy movement protesters is that gambling by the banking sector is what created the economic crisis gripping the globe. And they’re partially correct in placing blame at the feet of bankers who recklessly played the markets like a game of Monopoly. But risk is an inherent part of business, politics and life – and demonizing the private sector for taking chances without presenting viable alternatives is nonsensical. Ironically, one of the surest bets for the Super Committee in Washington currently looking for ways to cut spending and balance the federal budget involves opening the United States to regulated, safe and legal gambling. It’s time for Washington lawmakers to pass the bill that taxes online gambling revenues and makes it legal.

Just a few years ago, conservative Republicans in control of the White House and Congress moved to block online gambling in order to appease the religious right and their concern that gambling is a sin akin to drinking and smoking. But the far right’s worry should be no concern for governments. Drinking and smoking are already legal, and so are many other societal behaviors that the far right and far left try to control. America is founded on the principal that if you don’t like it, then don’t do it – but don’t stop someone else from enjoying it.

A Congressional Joint Committee on taxation found that the online gambling industry could bring in $42 billion to the federal government over 10 years. That’s a new and big source of revenue at a time when Medicare and Defense spending are facing massive cuts over the next several years. Sooner or later, Washington politicians will give-in and realize that internet gambling tax revenue is too good to pass up.

The federal legalization of internet gambling is inevitable for a number of reasons:

1. The U.S. is missing out on a growing revenue source: As lawmakers struggle to clamp down on American free choice, the rest of the world is experiencing explosive growth in online gambling. Worldwide, the industry is worth $30 billion annually, of which $4 billion comes from America in spite of a government ban. It’s staggering to watch that kind of money flow overseas while the U.S. spends money on anti-gambling enforcement.

2. Prohibition is useless: Speaking of law enforcement, it’s a huge mistake to believe that prohibition works now any better than it did a hundred years ago. There are too many grey areas and dark alleys on the web to allow effective monitoring and enforcement. The government would do better to focus its enforcement energy and dollars on real crimes at the U.S. border.

3. Jobs, Jobs, Jobs: Federal regulation could stimulate the creation of 30,000 American jobs. Given the national unemployment rate is 9% this should be a no-brainer.

4. Gaming is a growing industry: There was a time not long ago when Las Vegas and Atlantic City were the only places in the nation to gamble legally, but Indian casinos, video gambling, slot machines, lotteries and more are popping up across the country. Florida, Illinois, Minnesota and New Hampshire are just a few of the states currently discussing the issue. It’s time for the federal government to catch up.

5. Free choice: America learned long ago that it can’t restrict consumers’ free will. This is America, not the Middle East. Regulation and education are the best ways to clean up perceived vice industries.

6. Consumer protection: The Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement and Protection Act (UIGEA) of 2006 – the most significant piece of federal legislation restricting online gambling – effectively eliminates all protections for the 10 million Americans estimated to currently gamble online. While many states enact legislation to allow some forms of gambling and protect consumers, Washington ignores the problem.

7. Industry support is finally here: The American Gaming Association, the trade organization for the industry, has long opposed online poker but recently reversed direction and now openly supports regulation of online gambling. Industry support is critical in making any regulation successful, and the welcome mat put out by the industry is a game changer.

In April, a crackdown by the Department of Justice on online gambling companies sent shock waves through the industry. The Obama Administration’s aggressive enforcement surprised many pro-capitalism allies. With recent bills in support of online gambling by Rep. John Campbell (R-CA) and Rep. Joe Barton (R-TX), GOP opposition has softened. The roadblock to regulating internet gambling is the Obama Administration. Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA), a longtime proponent of regulating online gambling and Obama supporter, recently went so far to say that President Obama was “protecting the public from the scourge of inside straights.”

At a time when both parties seem to make sport out of creating gridlock in Congress, President Obama ought to join the bi-partisan support for regulating internet gambling. The famously risk-averse President should double down on a sure bet.

bring home u.s. ambassador to syria robert ford

This week, United States Ambassador to Syria Robert Ford participated in a tour sponsored by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s government in the Northwest province of Idlib.  The propaganda tour was organized to show the devastation caused by what government officials described as “foreign outlaws” and “radical Islamists”.  The excursion included Syrian officials who explained to Ford that Islamic extremists were responsible for the more than 1,500 deaths that have occurred since anti-government protests began on March 15.  Government officials also told Ford that there have been no peaceful freedom marches, as has been reported by the international media, only foreign radicals looking to destabilize Syria.  Ambassador Ford dutifully attended the government’s tour but has since failed to respond or react.

Ford’s silence dramatically contrasts with his tough talk during his confirmation hearing in March 2010 when he told Senators, “Unfiltered straight talk with the Syrian government will be my mission priority.”  We can only hope Ford’s public silence means he has been giving it to Assad privately.  But unfortunately there are press reports
indicating that Ford hasn’t been able to schedule a private meeting with any senior government officials.  So the U.S. Ambassador to Syria just sits and waits.

Ford’s stiff upper lip seems exactly what President Obama and Secretary of State Clinton want.  While they cling to the idea that Assad may still yet be a reformer, the
Obama team misses the opportunity to topple the Syrian dictator and blunt Iran’s influence in the region.  A review of Ford’s Embassy website shows a similar silence from Ford on the Syrian crackdown of the last three months.  With foreign journalists not allowed inside Syria, you might think the U.S. Embassy staff would be working overtime to tell the world and specifically the U.S. taxpayer just what is happening inside Assad’s world.  Shouldn’t Ford be calling attention to and showing the violence coming from Assad’s government?  How about demanding that the IAEA come in to inspect the Israeli-bombed suspected nuclear site Al Kibar?  Now seems like a good time to take advantage of a distracted dictator.  But our U.S. Embassy’s website is embarrassingly outdated and irrelevant.  On the home page there is a link to the text of Obama’s speech Wednesday on Afghanistan, a June 17th news summary from Washington’s Information Bureau quoting an unidentified official on Syria and an op/ed from Secretary Clinton dated June 17.  A closer look and you can find links to statements dated June 8th, June 4th and May 31 on HIV/AIDS and the internet.  There are also stories on Iraq, Hurricane Katrina and former astronaut Marsha Ivins.  But there is nothing from Ford on his reaction to the Syrian propaganda tour or the violent government crackdowns.

It’s time to end this charade and show Assad what the American government thinks of his phony excuses of “64,000 outlaws” and a “revolution by the Muslim Brotherhood who are agents of America and the West”.  Surely Ford must know Assad is not telling the truth and that Americans are not responsible for Assad’s troubles.  With 10,500 Syrians having fled into Turkey, Assad’s problem has become an issue of international peace
and security.  If U.S. Ambassador to the UN Susan Rice can’t show regional instability and thus an urgency for UN action then it’s time the U.S. act in other ways.  With more promises of reforms, new committees and conspiracy charges from Assad’s Damascus University speech on Monday, the time to do more is now.  Opposition forces need to know that the U.S. stands with them.  It’s also a chance to show the Iranian people what is possible.  Ford and Clinton look foolish doing nothing.  While some may say that the U.S. has little it can do outside of military action, Obama can still squeeze the Assad regime and isolate it further with these actions:

1. Order Ford home immediately, and shut down the Embassy.

2. Publicly call upon Assad to resign and ask other countries to do the same.

3. Call upon the Europeans and others to pull their Ambassadors from Damascus too.

4. Restrict the movement of the Syrian Ambassador to Washington and the Syrian Ambassador to the UN to a small radius around their offices.

5. Ask European capitals to restrict the movement of Syrian Ambassadors in their countries too.

6. Force the UN resolution on Syria to a vote and dare the Russians to veto it.

7. Move USAid employees into southern Turkey to care for the Syrian refugees arriving daily.

8. Schedule an Al Jazeera TV interview with President Obama to explain our actions and why Assad must go.

9. Demand the IAEA inspect Al Kibar and offer an immediate UN resolution authorizing it.

One sure way to ruin American credibility in the Arab world is to sit silently in Damascus and look like your part of the Assad show.

the koran in florida and the mormons on broadway

This week, two different religions were mocked and disrespected in the United States and the followers’ reactions couldn’t have been more different.  While a lone preacher in Florida burned a copy of the Koran, a Broadway show opened in New York making fun of the Mormon faith with irreverent humor and sacrilegious musical numbers.  Some Muslim followers in Afghanistan reacted to the burning by storming the UN compound and killing innocent international public servants.  The Mormon Church reacted to the musical by pointing the public to the superficial nature of it and the supernatural power of their faith.

While burning the Koran is religiously intolerant and insensitive to our Muslim brothers and sisters, to suggest that it endangers American lives in and of itself is ridiculous.  What endangers Americans’ lives is the over-reaction to the burning by extremists, not the act of free speech.  The assumption that people will kill because of the burning of a book and therefore the book shouldn’t be burned justifies the over-reaction and makes it a rational answer.  There should be a universal condemnation to the killings because it isn’t rational or acceptable.  Radical followers of Islam killed innocent people in reaction to a radical follower of Christianity’s lighting a book on fire.  I would characterize both radicals as not truly following the God they claim to be following.  Islam and Christianity teach peace and acceptance not provocation and death. 

To assume that people are going to be killed if a Koran is burned is a dangerous supposition.  The patronizing reaction by many liberals and politicians to condemn the burning of the Koran on the same level as the UN killings – and many times in the same sentence – left an assumption that the reaction was a natural outcome of the action.  President Barak Obama’s statement on the UN murders also wasn’t helpful in teaching religious tolerance.  Obama elevated the Koran burning to an extreme offense and therefore gave comfort to an extreme reaction.  “The desecration of any holy text, including the Koran, is an act of extreme intolerance and bigotry,” said Obama.  The White House’s use of the word extreme was inappropriate for this situation. 

Compare American liberals’ reaction to the Koran burning with their gleeful embrace of Trey Parker’s and Matt Stone’s Broadway musical about the Mormon faith.  A musical with a song called: “Fuck you, God” and described by the authors as an “atheist love letter to religion”.  New York Magazine said, “What’s so uniquely winning about The Book of Mormon is its scruffy humanism, its eagerness to redeem its characters—even its smaller ones.”  And Jon Stewart was left speechless after he said “it was so good, I almost don’t know what to say.”  The reviews for the musical have been the best any modern Broadway show has ever seen.  And very few liberals have condemned the defilement of the Mormon Church’s holy text as Obama has for the Koran.  If we believe that desecrating a religion’s holy text endangers lives then so does the accolades and support for The Book of Mormon on Broadway.  I, for one, don’t accept this premise. 

For American Mormons, the Broadway show and its embrace by the mainstream and liberal media has been embarrassing and humiliating.  But the even tempered official Mormon Church reaction should make everyone take a second look at the religion.  The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints issued a statement saying, “The production may attempt to entertain audiences for an evening, but the Book of Mormon as a volume of scripture will change people’s lives forever by bringing them closer to Christ.”  The actions of some Afghan Muslims who killed UN officials as a reaction to the burning of a Koran in Florida cannot be justified or even confused to be a rational response.

pj crowley’s firing shows white house concern over inconsistent messages

It’s ironic that PJ Crowley went to MIT to talk about the power of new media on foreign policy issues only to find that a blog posting of his remarks ended his career as America’s top foreign policy spokesman.  It’s also ironic that although Crowley’s comments were immediately reported via twitter, Facebook and several foreign policy blogs, his boss, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton didn’t immediately mind.  It was only when the new White House Chief of Staff Bill Daley learned about Crowley’s comments that the trouble began. 

State Department insiders say Crowley’s MIT comments and his tweets comparing the “Middle East tsunami” over the last several weeks with Japan’s earthquake and tsunami were emailed around Foggy Bottom and the subject of many water-cooler conversations.  “Nobody thought he would be fired over this,” one State Department official told me.  But when ABC News’ Jake Tapper asked President Obama about Crowley’s comments during the President’s press availability on Friday, Obama said, “(I) asked the Pentagon whether or not the procedures that have been taken in terms of his confinement are appropriate and are meeting our basic standards…(they) assure me that they are. I can’t go into details about some of their concerns, but some of this has to do with Private Manning’s safety as well.”  President Obama was being asked about inconsistent messages coming from his team and Daley was not happy about it.   Daley was upset that while the Pentagon was saying that Manning was being treated fairly in response to claims from the liberal left, State’s chief spokesman was questioning DoD’s truthfulness.

The conflicting and ambiguous messaging from the White House and its’ agency heads has up until now been part of the Obama Administration’s playbook.  The President has time after time used contradictory statements to at once please his democratic base and the far-left progressives that are growing increasingly disenchanted with Obama’s rhetoric.  Just last week, Hollywood actor Matt Damon spoke out about his frustration with Obama’s hope and change message saying, “I’m disappointed in the health care plan and in the troop build-up in Afghanistan.”  And Damon is certainly not alone in his irritation with the President’s action-deficit.  The left is filled with frustration for the President because he has turned out to be nothing like they hoped.  Barbara Streisand, Jane Lynch, Jon Stewart and MoveOn.org are all let down.  Obama has consistently been inconsistent on healthcare reform, taxes, the budget and most recently on the military’s Don’t Ask-Don’t Tell policy, the Egyptian President’s future, support for the opposition in Libya, a Libyan no fly zone, off-shore oil drilling, Israel, jobs, the UN and even on being President of the United States (see “it would be easier to be President of China”).

But now comes new White House Chief of Staff Bill Daley who is in-charge of making progress.  And getting anything done in Washington means getting comfortable with disappointing someone.  Daley wants to stop the Obama Administrations’ conflicting messages, empty rhetoric and personal opinion giving from staff members.  Crowley, a career foreign service officer who served President Bill Clinton at the NSC, has been allowed to give his own opinions without repercussions from his boss, Secretary Hillary Clinton, since he started as State Department spokesman at the beginning of the Obama Administration.  He was shocked to learn that there were new rules this week.  Crowley serves as an example of the new kind of White House we are getting with Daley in charge. 

At the same MIT discussion where Crowley’s “stupid” comment got him fired, he also said, “But the most important thing I do every day is read the New York Times – it’s the national paper of record.”  It’s no wonder Crowley thinks punishing the Wikileaker was “stupid”.  The most important part of his day has been spent reading New York Times stories on leaked cables and where Julian Assange is considered a hero.  But thanks to Bill Daley, Crowley will now have lots of important things to do.

no wonder aig needed a bailout

When you get a $173 billion dollar bailout from American taxpayers you don’t have to worry about making good financial decisions – especially when Congress and the Obama Administration aren’t paying attention to what you’re doing.  Ever since AIG got their enormous taxpayer bailout, they have been dragging their feet on paying back the money.  In Taiwan, AIG has flailed repeated in what should have been an easy sale of its local insurance unit, called Nan Shan.  Most recently, AIG inexplicably chose the low bidder in a deal that Taiwanese regulators may have to reject for the second time.  This is no way to run a company, unless you aren’t worried about the bottom line because you are owned and backed by the U.S. government.  The American taxpayer owns 92% of AIG but has no say in its decision-making process.

Last year, AIG CEO Robert Benmoche said, “I’m confident you’re going to get your money back plus a profit.”  But today, AIG remains one of the largest debtors under the TARP bailout program.  The Taiwan example may be the perfect illustration for why they haven’t been able to pay the U.S. taxpayer back.  As part of AIG’s original agreement with the U.S. government, it is required to sell off their assets.  U.S. regulators assumed that meant they would sell them to the highest bidder.  Since AIG is using our money, they have a responsibility to the American taxpayer to take the best price they can get, right?  Well, not really.  The financial wizards at AIG took the 4th highest price for their Taiwanese unit and left $800 million on the table.

AIG’s incompetence is on prominent display in Asia — and the Obama administration and Congress seem not to care.  In its first go-round, which began in May of 2009, AIG tried to sell Nan Shan to a consortium consisting of a battery manufacturer with operations in mainland China and a Hong Kong-based venture capital group.  Included in the consortium were people with official positions bestowed by the Chinese Communist Party.  Astonishingly, it didn’t occur to AIG that this might be a sensitive issue for Taiwanese regulators.  The deal was announced in September of 2009 and rejected the following summer by overseers.  But few people outside of AIG’s executive suite were surprised.

Round two does not appear to be going any better for the bailed out company.  Just last month, AIG chose a supermarket operator named Ruentex from 4 different bidders who wanted to buy their Taiwan business.  You’d think AIG would prefer a finance company be owned by a company with finance experience, right?  More stunningly, AIG reportedly left almost $1 billion sitting on the table—money that rightly belongs to U.S. taxpayers – in the deal.  They reportedly passed over three would-be buyers, offering up to $3 billion for Nan Shan, in order to take a $2.2 billion offer from a company that sells more wontons than insurance policies.  It’s no wonder AIG needed a bailout. 

The outcome, which surprised not only onlookers in Taiwan, but Wall Street analysts in New York, continues to defy serious explanation.  AIG claims the Ruentex offer was the most credible and best overall.  But the deal seems suspect.  Obama’s Treasury Department and Congress should be asking some serious questions.  But the Obama team hasn’t even instructed our de-facto embassy in Taipei to talk to the Taiwanese government about the U.S. interest the deal.  This means, nobody is watching what AIG is doing.  But since AIG is gambling with our money, someone in Washington should start asking some tough questions.

susan rice skips un meeting on libya violence

At great personal risk to himself and his family, Libya’s deputy ambassador to the United Nations, Ibrahim Dabbashi, pushed the UN Security Council to take up the violence in his home country.  Dabbashi said he could no longer support the regime of his boss Moammar Gadhafi and stepped out to condemn what he called “a genocide”.  The dramatic event prompted the first UN meeting of the 15 member Security Council on the uprisings sweeping across the region since the beginning of Tunisia’s revolution, Egypt’s violence and the developing protests in Bahrain, Yemen, Palestine and Iran. 

The United States was represented by Foreign Service officer and Ambassador Rosemary DiCarlo.  The Obama Administration’s appointed Ambassador, Susan Rice, skipped the Libya meeting and instead flew to South Africa to attend a UN panel discussion on global sustainability.

Missing the only Security Council meeting on the Middle East revolution was not Rice’s first absence from high profile UN business.  Rice was absent when the UN held an emergency Security Council meeting on Israel’s raid of a ship headed to Gaza and when Iran was elected to the UN Women’s Commission.  Rice also failed to speak out when Libya was elected to the UN Human Rights Council in May 2010. 

While Rice was traveling to South Africa, the State Department ordered Embassy family members, non-essential personnel and other Americans out of Libya.  The evacuation of roughly 600 Americans is being done via ferry from Libya to the small island of Malta.  The urgent evacuation coincided with more violence and bloodshed and emphasized the seriousness of the developing situation.  Human Rights Watch reported that at least 230 people have been killed in the fighting while Italy’s government puts the number at 1,000.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called the bloodshed “completely unacceptable” and said that the U.S. will take “appropriate steps” to deal with the escalating situation.  Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry, D-MA, called for strong action by the United Nations Security Council.  “While it’s true that America has less influence in Tripoli than elsewhere in the region, we’re not without options, particularly in partnership with the broader international community,” Kerry said.  Secretary Clinton also called for the U.S. “to work in concert with the international community.”  But the directives from Kerry and Clinton were ignored by the U.S. Ambassador to the UN who failed to attend the meeting and rally the world body.

Rice’s prioritization of the global sustainability meeting over the Libyan crisis sent a terrible signal to American allies at the UN.  Rice’s absence was not lost on foreign ambassadors and highlighted the inconsistencies of the Obama Administration’s handling of the Middle East crises.  One Arab diplomat told me, “Egypt’s violence could hardly be compared to Tripoli’s but the (administration’s) reaction was much harsher.  We aren’t sure what Washington is thinking.  Ambassador DiCarlo was very strong but more needs to be done.” 

Rice’s interest in South Africa was highlighted in a wiki leak produced cable from November 3, 2009.  U.S. Ambassador to South Africa Donald Gips mentioned Rice’s interest in hosting an event with South Africa during his first courtesy call meeting with Minister of International Relations and Cooperation Maite Nkoana-Mashabane in Pretoria.  Ambassador Gips noted that “US UN Ambassador Susan Rice would like to host the Minister for an event when she next visits New York.”   Now Rice can deliver the message in person.  State Department sources tell me she will have a courtesy call with Minister Mashabane while in town for the global sustainability discussion.  Rice will also speak to the international Chamber of Commerce before heading home to Washington.  Rice’s spokesman said the Ambassador will use her travels as an opportunity to ask South African business and civic leaders to serve as an example by speaking out when they see oppression and brutality.  But Rice would be more effective at this time asking South Africa to facilitate such actions back home and staying in New York to push the UN to take the strongest stands possible.

Meantime, the UN’s Human Rights Council in Geneva, where Libya is a member, today struggled to issue a condemnation on the Libya violence.  The draft HRC statement is being watered down by Cuba, Russia and China and may not even pass.  If Susan Rice felt the need to travel, she should have flown to Geneva to lobby the UN Human Rights Council not to South Africa to speak on a panel discussion about global sustainability.

The escalating violence in Libya and throughout the region has also spiked oil prices for Americans and given the crisis a blatant U.S. economic angle.  Daniel O’Connell, vice president of energy at MF Global, said if gas prices continue to accelerate ahead of May, when “driving season” picks up, “it will cripple the economy.”  Rice’s absence from the UN meeting neglects not only an events-changing revolution and unspeakable violence, but also an issue that will impact Americans’ pocketbooks.  She belongs in New York, not South Africa.

joe biden on the wrong side of middle east history

George W. Bush must be smiling. It started with Afghanistan, then Iraq, Tunisia and now Egypt. The Arab youth are defying Joe Biden and the rest of the American foreign policy “establishment” and proving that their demands are legitimate. Egyptian students, doctors, lawyers and the unemployed are showing that democracy is attainable for the Middle East and that Arabs, too, deserve to live in freedom and prosperity. Tunisia’s revolution was quick, Egypt’s was forceful and resolute. All eyes are on Algeria, Palestine, Yemen and Jordan whose youth seem to be simmering in the same way. Like it or not, George Bush was right and Joe Biden was wrong. President George W. Bush’s vision for democracy in the Middle East may be coming true. Bush spoke often about how generations of committed freedom fighters worked together to bring down Communism throughout Eastern Europe. And Bush used it as an example to suggest that the Middle East could also experience the same freedoms. It seems ironic that the same month in which we celebrate President Ronald Reagan’s 100th birthday and his forceful demands in Berlin to the Communist leader to “Tear down this Wall”, the Obama Administration missed the chance to support the Middle East’s Berlin moment. President Obama’s flowery Cairo speech in June 2009 tried to carry Bush’s vision for the region forward but subsequently failed to deliver any White House support for the democracy seekers in Iran, Tunisia or Egypt when they needed it. One Arab diplomat on Twitter said today, “President of the free world to speak about freedom from tyranny today at 1:30. You’re 17 days late Mr. President.” When the Egypt protests started eighteen days ago, Vice President Biden immediately took to the airwaves to question the legitimacy of the protesters, claim that Mubarack was not a dictator and to de-link the situation in Tunisia from what was beginning to happen in Cairo. JIM LEHRER: Some people are suggesting that we may be seeing the beginning of a kind of domino effect, similar to what happened after the Cold War in Eastern Europe. Poland came first, then Hungary, East Germany. We have got Tunisia, as you say, maybe Egypt, who knows. Do you smell the same thing coming? JOE BIDEN: No, I don’t. I wouldn’t compare the two……I think it’s a stretch to compare it to Eastern Europe. And later in the PBS interview… JIM LEHRER: The word — the word to describe the leadership of Mubarak and Egypt and also in Tunisia before was dictator. Should Mubarak be seen as a dictator? JOE BIDEN: ….I would not refer to him as a dictator. JIM LEHRER: Mr. Vice President, should we be — should the United States be encouraging these protesters, whether they’re in Tunisia or Egypt or wherever? They want their rights. And should we encourage them to seek them, if it means going to the streets or whatever? JOE BIDEN: …We’re encouraging the protesters to, as they assemble, do it peacefully. And we’re encouraging the government to act responsibly and to try to engage in a discussion as to what the legitimate claims being made are, if they are, and try to work them out. Watching the thousands of young people take to the streets throughout the Middle East to demand government reforms and greater freedoms is inspiring. The Vice President must be embarrassed by today’s remarkable change in Egypt since he was the first Administration official to take to the airwaves to try and hold up Egypt’s Berlin Wall. The historic departure of Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak and the thousands of Arab youth in the streets of the Middle East just isn’t Change Biden can believe in.

obama-biden support mubarak, the dictator

Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak’s 30 year rule could be coming to end.  But Vice President Joe Biden, speaking for the administration, hopes it’s not.  On PBS News Hour Thursday, Biden said, “Mubarak has been an ally of ours in a number of things.  And he’s been very responsible on, relative to geopolitical interest in the region, the Middle East peace efforts; the actions Egypt has taken relative to normalizing relationship with – with Israel. … I would not refer to him as a dictator.”  Biden went on to twice question whether or not the tens of thousands of protesters on the streets of Cairo, Alexandria, Mahalla El-Kubra, Tanta, and Suez had legitimate complaints.    

The Vice President has been famously and consistently called a foreign policy expert by the Washington establishment.  In fact, President Obama admitted during his campaign for president that he relied on Biden’s foreign policy advice while both men were in the Senate.  Most people in Washington assumed if Obama made it to the White House he would appoint Biden as his Secretary of State, a position Biden openly admitted he wanted.  But Biden’s comments to PBS show that he is either naïve to Egypt’s oppressive regime or thinks the criticism is over-hyped and tolerable.

Mubarak responded to the protesters’ demands early Friday morning by shutting down the Internet, including Facebook and Twitter accounts.  Italy-based Seabone, Inc, one of Egypt’s major service providers, reported that there was no Internet traffic going into or out of the country after 12:30 a.m. local time.  One has to wonder if Joe Biden believes that legitimately elected leaders shut down the Internet when threatened with criticism.     

Sultan Al Qassemi, a writer for The National & Emarat Alyoum, pleaded with the outside world for help.  He somehow got out a tweet from his account saying “Egypt has shut down the Internet. Calls by Secretary Clinton have been ignored. Please help.”  He called out Barack Obama, Robert Gibbs and State Department Spokesman PJ Crowley in his tweet. 

Protesters have taken to the streets to demand greater freedoms, democracy and an end to Mubarak’s 30 reign of corruption, police brutality and torture.  Opposition leaders have also been calling out the “soft opposition” targeting those who publicly push for reforms, but aren’t willing to challenge Mubarak in any serious way (Biden falls into this category).  Egyptian protesters have been encouraged by their Tunisian neighbors’ success.  Last week, thousands of Tunisians rallied publicly and demanded that their President, Ben Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali step down.  After a few days, President Ben Ali resigned and fled the country.  Could Mubarak be next?

Biden’s support for Mubarak in the face of his falling regime sends a powerful and unfortunate message to the Arab world that their freedoms are negotiable.  While American interests in the Middle East must obviously be protected, America’s credibility to support democracy for everyone everywhere is crucial.  Wiki leaks have already shown American ambassadors and foreign service officers criticizing governments privately but publicly saying very little.  How can VP Biden ever talk about the importance of fighting for freedom and democracy again if he chooses to support a corrupt dictatorship at the very time its being so strongly challenged from within?  The Vice President’s absolute show of support for Mubarak is unfortunately being heard throughout the Arab world.  The people of Lebanon, Iran, Syria, Cuba and North Korea are listening.  It’s too bad that Vice President Biden can’t find a way to support everyday Egyptians’ pleadings for more freedoms.