Republican-led panel accuses Clinton State Department of Benghazi lapses


Congressional Republicans on Tuesday accused the Obama administration and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton of failing to protect U.S. diplomats in the 2012 Benghazi, Libya, attack that killed four Americans.

In an 800-page report that Democrats have derided as a political vendetta, Republicans also accused Clinton, now the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, and her staff of a “shameful” lack of response to congressional investigators looking into the tragedy and assailed Clinton's use of a private email server for official business.

The findings are sure to fuel attacks on Clinton on the presidential campaign trail, where she faces the Republicans' presumptive nominee, Donald Trump, but they do not reveal any new substantial evidence of Clinton's culpability with regard to the attack.

Clinton's campaign dismissed the report as a partisan effort to derail her candidacy, arguing that the committee had not found anything that had not been discovered by previous congressional probes.

“After more than two years and more than $7 million in taxpayer funds, the committee report has not found anything to contradict the conclusions of the multiple, earlier investigations,” Clinton spokesman Brian Fallon said in a statement, adding that “this committee's chief goal is to politicize the deaths of four brave Americans in order to try to attack the Obama administration and hurt Hillary Clinton's campaign.”

At a news conference on Capitol Hill, Representative Trey Gowdy of South Carolina, the Republican chairman of the special panel, outlined what he said was a disconnect between the unfolding violence on the ground in Benghazi and the perception among top Obama administration officials that “the fighting had subsided” at the U.S. diplomatic compound.

Gowdy said the panel uncovered “new information on what happened in Benghazi,” including details contained in emails from then-Secretary Clinton that were handed over to the committee.

RYAN STATEMENT

Paul Ryan, the Republican speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, did not mention Clinton by name in a statement he released but said committee's report “makes clear that officials in Washington failed our men and women on the ground when they were in need of help.”

The lack of a mention of Clinton may have been aimed at rebutting Democrats' claims that the probe was politically driven. Representative Kevin McCarthy of California, Ryan's lieutenant, last year suggested that the panel was established, in part, to stall Clinton's political momentum.

Trump has regularly blamed Clinton for the death of Chris Stevens, the U.S. ambassador to Libya, and three others in attacks in Benghazi by militia groups on Sept. 11, 2012, and said the incident undercuts her argument that she is the stronger candidate on national security.

Trump's campaign had no immediate comment, but Reince Priebus, chairman of the Republican National Committee, said Clinton's actions as secretary of state were “disqualifying.”

“Hillary Clinton was in charge, knew the risks, and did nothing” to protect personnel on the ground in Libya, he said.

Democrats on the Benghazi committee released their own report a day before Tuesday's release, accusing Republicans of conducting an overzealous investigation.

According to a website maintained by committee Democrats, the investigation cost more than $7.1 million, a figure that excludes money spent on investigations by the seven other congressional committees that investigated the attacks on the U.S. diplomatic and CIA posts in Benghazi.

The Gowdy committee investigation lasted 782 days, longer than congressional probes of Pearl Harbor, the Kennedy assassination, the Iran-Contra scandal and Hurricane Katrina.

Since it was established in May 2014, the Gowdy committee held four public hearings, according to its website, which said that it interviewed 107 witnesses, mostly behind closed doors, including 81 who never appeared before the other committees that investigated the attacks. It reviewed about 75,000 pages of previously unexamined documents.

Clinton defends her Benghazi record in face of Republican criticism


Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Thursday deflected harsh Republican criticism of her handling of the deadly 2012 attack in Benghazi, Libya, and urged her questioners in Congress to put U.S. national security ahead of politics.

At a sometimes heated hearing, Republicans accused the front-runner in the 2016 Democratic presidential race of misinforming the public about the cause of the attack by suspected Islamic militants that killed the U.S. ambassador and three other Americans in Benghazi.

Republican Representative Jim Jordan said Clinton had misleadingly implied the attack was a reaction to an anti-Muslim video. On Thursday, Clinton, who denies suggesting the video was the cause, called Jordan's accusation “personally painful.”

“I've thought more about what happened than all of you put together,” she told the Republican-led panel. “I've lost more sleep than all of you put together. I've been racking my brain about what could have been done, should have been done.”

The appearance before the Benghazi panel was a major political test for Clinton, who has been on a hot streak with a strong performance in last week's first Democratic debate and the news on Wednesday that her strongest potential challenger, Vice President Joe Biden, will not seek the Democratic nomination for the November 2016 election.

The hearing also follows weeks of political brawling over whether the House committee's real goal was to puncture her front-running presidential prospects. The committee is made up of seven Republicans and five Democrats.

Clinton told the panel the attacks must not discourage U.S. action globally and said the incident already had been thoroughly investigated.

“We need leadership at home to match our leadership abroad, leadership that puts national security ahead of politics and ideology,” Clinton said in her only early reference to the political controversy that has dogged the panel.

17-MONTH-OLD PROBE

The panel has spent 17 months looking into the attacks that killed J. Christopher Stevens, the U.S. ambassador to Libya, and three other Americans at the U.S. mission compound.

At one point, Clinton impassively stacked papers while Republican Chairman Trey Gowdy and senior Democrat Elijah Cummings argued loudly over Cummings' request that the closed-door testimony of Clinton friend Sidney Blumenthal be publicly released.

Clinton listened intently, head in hand, as Gowdy heatedly questioned her about the constant emails she received from Blumenthal. Republicans noted that ambassador Stevens did not even have Clinton's email address.

“You didn't need my email address to get my attention,” Clinton said.

Cummings said congressional Republicans set up the panel for a partisan witch hunt.

“They set them loose, Madame Secretary, because you're running for president,” he told Clinton, calling for an end to the “taxpayer-funded fishing expedition.” He said the committee had spent $14.7 million of taxpayer money over 17 months.

Clinton defended her leadership in Libya as America's top diplomat and denied longstanding Republican allegations that she personally turned down requests to beef up security in Benghazi.

“He did not raise security with me. He raised security with the security professionals,” Clinton said of Stevens.

Republican Representative Peter Roskam told Clinton she was the chief architect of U.S. policy in Libya and that “things in Libya today are a disaster,” but Clinton said President Barack Obama made the final call on U.S. Libya policy.

Clinton's long-awaited appearance before the panel follows months of controversy about her use of a private home email server for her State Department work, a set-up that emerged in part because of the Benghazi committee's demand last year to see her official records.

GOWDY ON THE DEFENSIVE

Gowdy, a former federal prosecutor, has been on the defensive over a series of comments from his fellow Republicans implying the committee's real aim was to deflate Clinton's poll numbers.

“Madame Secretary, I understand some people – frankly in both parties – have suggested this investigation is about you. Let me assure you it is not,” Gowdy told Clinton.

“Not a single member of this committee signed up for an investigation into you or your email system.”

Clinton refrained from questioning the panel's motives, which she has done in recent public statements on the campaign trail.

“Despite all the previous investigations and all the talk about partisan agendas, I'm here to honor those we lost and to do what I can to aid those who serve us still,” she said.

She said the emails being made public and examined by the committee did not encompass all of the work she did as secretary of state.

“I don't want you to have a mistaken impression about what I did and how I did it,” she said. “Most of my work was not done on emails with my closest aides, with officials in the State Department, officials in the rest of the government.”

She cited communications through secure phone calls, in-person conversations and top-secret documents.

The committee's Democrats, who may discuss abandoning the inquiry after Clinton's appearance, say they think there is little left to unearth on Benghazi that more than a half-dozen previous inquiries did not find.

A 2012 report by a government accountability review board sharply faulted State Department officials for providing “grossly” insufficient security in Benghazi, despite upgrade requests from Stevens and others in Libya.

Overlooked, battle for Watiyah air base key to Libya’s future


This story originally appeared on themedialine.org.

Russian heat-seeking rockets terrorize the fighters scattered along the front at the Watiyah air base in Western Libya. “Torpedoes are dangerous because they precisely target cars, often full of men,” one of the fighters told The Media Line while adjusting his walkie-talkie in preparation for his deployment along the front lines.

“Thirteen men were killed in one day last week, and three ambulances were destroyed. Also, an ambulance driver got killed by the same Russian guided rocket,” said Dr. Ashraf Al-Mansouri, who is responsible for the field hospital set up in a gas station about six miles away from the fighting. Here, the supply of anesthetics and analgesics often run out.

Over three years after the uprising that ousted former strongman Col. Muammar Gaddafi, Libya is once again drowning in civil war. The fighting has continued unabated since last May, bringing to mind the former dictator’s prophecy about a “Somalia-ization” of the Libyan conflict.

Last August, armed groups led by the powerful militias of Misrata, a city 120 miles east of Tripoli, launched “Operation Fajr Libya” to take the control over the entire capitol, driving out the fighters of the Zintan Brigades, government-funded armed units emanating from the city of Zintan that featured prominently in the revolution that ousted Gaddafi.  Although the two sets of militias were comrades-in-arms during the 2011 uprising, shortly afterward they began to compete to fill the power vacuum left by Gaddafi. Misrata allied with the Muslim Brotherhood while Zintan ended up fighting alongside Gen. Khalifa Haftar’s loyalists.

Haftar is a former Gaddafi-era officer who defected in the 1980s and returned to the country in 2011.  His allies today include security men from the old regime, prominent eastern tribes, federalists demanding greater autonomy for the east, and the Zintan militias. Last May, Haftar launched “Operation Dignity” against the fundamentalist Islamist groups in the eastern Libyan city of Benghazi.

The split reached the national institutions, the House of Representatives (HOR) being supported by Zintan and the outgoing National Congress by Misrata. In August, Misrata drove Zintani armed groups from the capital Tripoli, forcing the internationally recognized HOR to take shelter in the eastern city of Tubruq.

While mainstream media focuses on the struggle between Gen. Haftar and fundamentalist groups in Benghazi, and on the clashes at oil terminals along the eastern coast of the country, the fight for the Watiyah air base remains in the shadow but in reality is one of the key battles that will determine the resolution of Libya’s civil war.  

The war between the Islamists, who nowadays count the Islamic State (ISIS) among its among its ranks, and Haftar’s forces is ideological and threatens to plunge the country into an abyss.

Last September, fierce fighting between militias resulted in conflicting charges of heinous acts, the deaths of thousands and gross violations of human rights.

In October, Haftar used Russian-made MIG 23s to strike ammunition depots in Zawiyah, Sabratah and Gharian, and then bombed Mitiqa airport in Tripoli. The Air Force general in charge of the Tripoli-based forces, Colonel Ali Abudeya, called Haftar a “terrorist because he strikes Mitiqa which is a civilian airport.”

By November, at least eight militias teamed-up to launch an assault on the Watiyah air base to put a halt to Haftar’s airborne strikes in a campaign seen as being the last stand of Haftar’s influence in the west. If the airport falls, Haftar and company will lose access to supplies, food, and weapons.

Zintan, some 50 miles south of Watiyah, would be completely isolated, and the airstrip that was built strategically after the 2011 revolution would not be able to guarantee refueling. As well, Haftar and the Tubruq based authorities would arguably lose the western region of Tripolitania, given that Libya has already begun to divide the country into the National Independence era’s three provinces of Cyrenaica, Tripolitania and Fezzan.

The battle for Watiyah airport also poses an even more insidious threat to the entire country in the form of the radicalization of the local population paving the way for an ideological war that further divides the nation. 

A rebel commander in the city of Amazigh Jado told The Media Line that, “The terrorist groups are already inside the country, although they are still inactive. They are basically waiting until all of the revolutionary forces run out of ammunition to come out and conquer Libya.”  He concluded by saying that, “The international community seems to be blind. They waste their time talking with the national political representatives in Geneva, although the militias control Libya and they do not sit in Geneva.”

Last year, 2,825 people were killed in Libya's protracted conflict, and at least 120,000 people were forced from their homes. The United Nations-led national dialogue for the North African country’s stability is tenuous at best. The truce was systematically broken during the talks and no ceasefire has been scheduled despite the recent United Nations-brokered meeting with Libyan stakeholders in the city of Ghaddames last Wednesday.

Foreign airlines stop flying to Libya


This story originally appeared on themedialine.org.

Turkish Airlines, the last foreign airline that was still flying to Libya, has suspended all flights over concerns about security in the large oil-producing North African state of Libya. It was the latest example that three years after the fall of Libyan strongman Muammar Gadhafi, the country remains mired in a civil war and has few prospects of ending the violence.

“State institutions have collapsed – police are either in prison or have fled the country,” Madga Mugrabi, a Libya expert at Amnesty International, told The Media Line. “Today there is armed conflict from different militias that evolved after 2011 (when Gadhafi was overthrown) and have pursued different agendas.”

Tensions are running high after Libyan air force jets bombed a Greek-operated oil tanker that was chartered by Libya’s national oil company, killing two crew members. The military spokesman said the tanker had failed to submit to an inspection before entering the port. Some military officials said the tanker was carrying Islamist fighters to the port of Derna, which has been controlled by Islamists for the past two years.

There are currently two competing governments vying for control in Libya. The elected government of Prime Minister Abdullah Al-Thinni was forced to leave the capital of Tripoli last year after Libya Dawn, an umbrella of armed groups, seized the city and forced Thinni’s government to withdraw to the eastern city of Tobruk. These armed groups have formed their own rival parliament and government and effectively control parts of western and central Libya.

“I don’t think either government can claim legitimacy,” Richard Dalton, a Libya expert at Chatham House in London, and a former ambassador to Libya told The Media Line. “They are both resorting to arms and human rights abuses are taking place daily.”

The United Nations has appointed a special envoy to broker peace talks between the rival governments, but talks have been repeatedly delayed, most recently this week.

Human rights groups say there is a proliferation of weapons that is troubling.

“There is not a single home that does not have a rifle,” Mugrabi said. “When there is a problem they go out to the streets and start fighting. There is a huge danger that Libya will be plunged into a cycle of fighting and tit-for-tat abductions. People are completely terrorized.”

There is concern in the international community that the Islamic State (ISIS) could also continue to make gains in the country. Some of the militias have already transferred their loyalty to ISIS and France has said that its troops located south of Libya are ready to strike extremists who cross the border. French President Francois Hollande urged the UN to take action to try to stop the growing violence in Libya and the transfer of arms to radical groups.

Libyan leaders have called on the Arab world to intervene in Libya.

“I call formally on the Arab League to intervene to protect the vital installations in all of Libya and to prevent all these terrorist formations from using violence,” Libyan parliament speaker Aquila Issa told reporters in Cairo recently. “Foreign military intervention in Libya is rejected. If we need any military intervention, we will ask our Arab brothers.”

The international community has been slow to intervene, charged former Ambassador Dalton. Egypt, Sudan and the UAE have given support to the elected government in Tobruk, while Turkey and Qatar have supported Libyan Dawn coalition in Tripoli.”

“The community is giving Libya low priority perhaps because of the proliferation of crises in the Middle East,” Dalton said. “Neither government in Libya is able to win military. The international community should use incentive and disincentives to get the parties into a serious dialogue. At the same time, I believe that the chances of either achieving a united position internationally or reaching a cease fire are very low.”

Facing Islamist threats, Arab nations tilt toward Israel


Between the war in Gaza and gains by Islamic militants in Iraq, Syria and Libya, there’s plenty of cause these days for pessimism about the Middle East.

But amid all the fighting, there’s also some good news for Israel.

If it wasn’t obvious before, the conflagrations have driven home just how much the old paradigms of the Middle East have faded in an era when the threat of Islamic extremists has become the overarching concern in the Arab world. In this fight against Islamic militancy, many Arab governments find themselves on the same side as Israel.

A generation ago, much of the Middle East was viewed through the prism of the Arab-Israeli conflict. Then, during the Iraq War era of the 2000s, the focus shifted to the Sunni-Shiite divide and the sectarian fighting it spurred. By early 2011, the Arab Spring movement had become the template for the region, generating excitement that repressive autocratic governments might be replaced with fledgling democracies.

Instead, the Arab Spring ushered in bloody civil wars in Syria and Libya, providing openings for violent Islamists. Egypt’s experiment in democracy resulted in an Islamist-led government, prompting a backlash and coup a year ago and the restoration of the old guard.

After witnessing the outcomes of the Arab Spring, the old Arab order appears more determined than ever to keep its grip on power and beat back any challenges, particularly by potent Islamist adversaries.

The confluence of events over the summer demonstrates just how menacingly Arab regimes view militant Islam. A newly declared radical Islamic State, known by the acronym ISIS, made rapid territorial gains in Syria and Iraq, brutally executing opponents and capturing Iraq’s second-largest city. In Libya, Islamic militants overran the Tripoli airport while Egypt and the United Arab Emirates carried out airstrikes against them.

Concerning Gaza, Arab governments (with one notable exception) have been loath to offer support for the Islamists who lead Hamas.

Let’s consider the players.

Egypt

Having briefly experienced a form of Islamist rule with the election and yearlong reign of President Mohamed Morsi, a leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, the pendulum has swung back the other way in Egypt.

The Egypt of President Abdel Fattah al Sisi, who seized power from Morsi, is far more hostile to the Muslim Brotherhood than Hosni Mubarak’s was before the coup that toppled him from the presidency in 2011. Sisi’s Egypt has outlawed the Brotherhood, arrested its leaders and sentenced hundreds of Brotherhood members to death.

The Brotherhood’s pain has been Israel’s gain. During the Morsi era, Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula became a staging ground for attacks against Israel and a conduit for funneling arms to Hamas, a Brotherhood affiliate. But after Sisi took charge, he all but shut down the smuggling tunnels between Egypt and Gaza, clamped down on lawlessness in the Sinai, and ended the discord that had taken hold between Cairo and Jerusalem.

When Hamas and Israel went to war this summer, there was no question about where Cairo stood. For weeks, Egyptian mediators refused to countenance Hamas’ cease-fire demands, presenting only Israel’s proposals. On Egyptian TV, commentators lambasted and mocked Hamas leaders.

With its clandestine airstrikes in Libya over the last few days, Egypt has shown that it is willing to go beyond its borders to fight Islamic militants.

Saudi Arabia

It may be many years before Israel reaches a formal peace agreement with the Arab monarchy that is home to Islam’s two holiest cities, but in practice the interests of the Saudis and Israelis have aligned for years – particularly when it comes to Iran, Hamas and Hezbollah.

Saudi and Israeli leaders are equally concerned about Iran — both are pressing the U.S. administration to take a harder line against Iran’s suspected nuclear weapons program. With Iran’s Shiite leaders the natural rivals of Saudi’s Sunni rulers, the kingdom is concerned that the growing power of Iran threatens Saudi Arabia’s political, economic and religious clout in the region.

Saudi antipathy toward Iran and Shiite hegemony accounts for the kingdom’s hostility toward Hezbollah, the Shiite terrorist group that serves as Iran’s proxy in Lebanon. After Hezbollah launched a cross-border attack that sparked a war with Israel in 2006, Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal blamed Hezbollah for the conflict.

Hezbollah’s actions are “unexpected, inappropriate and irresponsible,” Saud said at the time. “These acts will pull the whole region back to years ago, and we simply cannot accept them.”

More surprising, perhaps, was Saudi criticism this summer of Hamas, a fellow Sunni group. While former Saudi intelligence chief Turki al Faisal condemned Israel’s “barbaric assault on innocent civilians,” he also blamed Hamas for the conflict overall.

“Hamas is responsible for the slaughter in the Gaza Strip following its bad decisions in the past, and the haughtiness it shows by firing useless rockets at Israel, which contribute nothing to the Palestinian interest,” Saud told the London-based pan-Arab newspaper A-Sharq Al-Awsat.

Saudi rulers oppose Hamas because they view it as an affiliate of the Muslim Brotherhood, which they believe wants to topple Arab governments. Likewise, when ISIS declared earlier this summer that it had established an Islamic caliphate, al-Faisal called ISIS “a danger to the whole area and, I think, to the rest of the world.”

The Wahabbis who rule Saudi Arabia may be religiously conservative, but they’re not so extreme as to promote overtly the violent export of their fundamentalist brand of Islam through war, jihad and terrorism.

Of course, just because their interests are aligned doesn’t mean the Saudis love Israel. The Saudi ambassador to Britain, Prince Nawaf Al-Saud, wrote during the Gaza war that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu “will answer for his crimes before a higher authority than here on earth.”

But common foes increasingly are bringing Saudi and Israeli interests together.

Qatar

At first glance, Qatar may seem like a benign, oil-rich emirate of 2 million people living in relative peace, spending heavily on its media network, Al Jazeera, and planning to wow the world with construction for the 2022 World Cup.

But Qatar is also a major sponsor of Islamic extremism and terrorism. The country funnels money and weapons to Hamas, to Islamic militants in Libya and, according to Ron Prosor, Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations, to groups in Syria affiliated with al-Qaida.

In an Op-Ed column in Monday’s New York Times, Prosor disparaged Qatar, which is home to Hamas leader Khaled Mashal and serves as a base for Taliban leaders, as a “Club Med for Terrorists.”

“Qatar has spared no cost to dress up its country as a liberal, progressive society, yet at its core, the micro monarchy is aggressively financing radical Islamist movements,” Prosor wrote. “Qatar is not a part of the solution but a significant part of the problem.”

Syria

When the uprising against Syrian dictator Bashar Assad began, champions of democracy cheered the revolution as yet another positive sign of the Arab Spring. It took a while, but the Obama administration eventually joined the chorus calling for the end of the Assad regime.

In Israel, officials were more circumspect, fretting about what might come next in a country that despite its hostility had kept its border with Israel quiet for nearly four decades.

Three years on, the conflict in Syria is no longer seen as one of freedom fighters vs. a ruthless tyrant. Assad’s opponents include an array of groups, the most powerful among them Islamic militants who have carved out pieces of Syrian territory to create their Islamic State.

Now the Obama administration is considering airstrikes to limit the Islamists’ gains — and trying to figure out if there’s a way to do so without strengthening Assad’s hand.

For Israel, which has stayed on the sidelines of the Syrian conflict, the prospect of a weakened but still breathing Assad regime seems a better alternative than a failed state with ISIS on the march.

Iran

Where is the Islamic Republic in all this? Compared to the newest bad boy on the block, this one-time member of the “axis of evil” looks downright moderate.

Iran is negotiating with the United States over its nuclear program, and both view ISIS as a foe and threat to the Iraqi government (which Iran backs as a Shiite ally).

Last week, State Department deputy spokeswoman Marie Harf indicated that the United States may be open to cooperation with Iran in the fight against ISIS, which is also known by the acronym ISIL.

“If they are interested in playing a constructive role in helping to degrade ISIL’s capabilities, then I’m sure we can have that conversation then,” Harf said.

Whether working with Iran is good or bad for Israel depends on one’s view of the Iranian nuclear negotiations.

If you think the talks have a realistic chance of resolving the nuclear standoff with Iran diplomatically, the convergence of U.S.-Iran interests may ultimately serve the goal of addressing this existential threat to Israel. If you think Iran is merely using the negotiations as a stalling tactic to exploit eased sanctions while it continues to build its nuclear project, then Iran-U.S. detente may distract from the larger issue.

Where all this turmoil will leave the region is anyone’s guess. One thing is certain, as made clear by the U.S. decision to intervene against ISIS: Ignoring what’s happening in the Middle East is not an option.

Obama does nothing while Middle East and Europe in chaos


Under President Barack Obama, the world is becoming unglued. Iraq is being overrun by Islamist terrorists, and the United States is now evacuating its Baghdad embassy. The Arab Spring has led to either civil war and mass slaughter, as in Syria, or new Arab dictators, as in Egypt. Libya is degenerating into a den of terrorists who have already murdered the American ambassador. Vladimir Putin is sending tanks into Ukraine and the thuggish Russian strongman bestrides the world like a colossus, unchecked by American will.

These facts are undeniable. The only question is whether President Obama is responsible.

Obama’s argument, as laid out in his 2014 West Point commencement, is that his first rule of foreign policy is, “Don’t do anything stupid.” Military action should be reserved only for the most extreme circumstances. Americans are war-weary after Iraq and Afghanistan. Our president believes in a minimalist approach.

The shallowness of this argument, however, lies in this simple fact. Yes, Americans are weary of entering foreign conflicts. The president is correct that we don’t want our boys dying to fight on behalf of Iraqi cowards who shed their uniforms at the first sound of gunfire. But we are even more wary of another 9/11 attack. And by allowing Iraq and Syria to degenerate into Afghanistan, we are all but guaranteeing another hit on the United States. A lawless world cannot possibly keep America safe.

I have contempt for Iraq’s Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. Increasingly autocratic, he is even more guilty of gross ingratitude. Rather than show America any kind of thanks for all that we sacrificed to give his nation its freedom, he treats America with disdain. Who wants to help a man who is becoming a despot, hates democratic Israel and reaches out to America only when he fears being strung up by jihadists?

But, this isn’t about al-Maliki; it’s about America. If Iraq goes under, the chaos that will ensue will directly impact the security of the United States. An evacuation of Baghdad would be much worse than the shame of Saigon, because at least the North Vietnamese communists did not deploy a global army of terrorists who fly planes into buildings.
Al-Qaida does.

I visited West Point this week with my family, for the summer concert series. It was the 239th birthday of the Army, and the West Point Band put on a stirring and patriotic performance. President Obama had spoken at the cadets’ commencement just two weeks earlier. Ask yourself: How did these cadets feel when President Obama got up at their graduation and told them there is increasingly no substantive role for them to play in the world? Here were young warriors, trained to fight and protect the United States, being told that the use of force has little to no application. No wonder there was such tepid applause and a cold response. These bright young men and women must have been wondering why they don’t just land jobs in the State Department instead.

No one wants to see American troops die in foreign wars. Of course, our soldiers should never be sent needlessly into harm’s way. But the threat of American force must always be present, even if it’s not deployed. People must fear the United States. What President Obama is doing by not doing and by giving so many unnecessary speeches defending his belief in doing nothing is removing the deterrent of a credible threat. The world believes that the United States under President Obama has no stomach for a fight. And we’re watching the effects all around us. The inmates are running the asylum.

The Islamic world, especially, is in a deteriorating spiral that’s positively tragic to watch. Turkey, once a proud democracy, now boasts a prime minister in Recep Tayyip Erdogan, whose own political aides violently attack peaceful protesters. Erdogan doesn’t even shy from harassing and shoving CNN reporters while they are live on the air. He no longer shows even the pretense of freedom. When I was in Istanbul, I was amazed to experience firsthand how YouTube is permanently blocked and Twitter was restored just two days before I arrived. The Turks were once a free people. How are they allowing this?

Syria is a giant killing zone, with President Obama’s red line against the use of chemical weapons being repeatedly violated without consequence. Iran sports the second-most brutal and vile government on Earth, after North Korea, and thinks nothing of stoning women, hanging gays from cranes and assassinating peaceful protesters in cold blood. Worse, they fund the bloodiest terrorists around the world. But that does not stop our president from negotiating with them and leaving them within a few months of nuclear weapons. Egypt is back to presidents who win elections with 95 percent of the vote. Nigeria’s Boko Haram is the filthiest terror group in the entire world, murdering children in large numbers and bragging about selling young girls into sexual slavery.

And who pays the biggest price for this lawlessness? Why Israel, of course, with three teenagers now kidnapped by what appears to be Hamas, an organization that the United States officially labels as terrorists, but whose joint government with Mahmoud Abbas we now recognize.

Through all this, Barack Obama drifts along, meditating on his mantra of,“Don’t do anything stupid.” But I have long believed that the true sins we are guilty of in life are not the sins of commission, the mistakes we make, but rather the sins of omission, the good things we fail to do.

Sometimes the dumbest thing is to fail to act because of the fear of doing dumb things.

Barack Obama is fiddling while the world is burning. Israel is already smoldering under its heat, and it won’t be long before America, too, is cindered.

U.S. captures suspected ringleader of 2012 attack in Benghazi


The United States said on Tuesday it had captured a suspected ringleader of the 2012 attack on the U.S. diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya, a raid that killed four Americans including the U.S. ambassador and ignited a political firestorm in Washington.

President Barack Obama said in a statement he had authorized the operation in Libya on Sunday in which U.S. troops, working with law enforcement personnel, captured Ahmed Abu Khatallah. He told an audience later in Pittsburgh that Khatallah was being transported to the United States.

“Since the deadly attacks on our facilities in Benghazi, I have made it a priority to find and bring to justice those responsible for the deaths of four brave Americans,” he said in a statement. He said Khatallah would “face the full weight of the American justice system.”

After the 2012 attack, which killed Ambassador Chris Stevens, Republicans accused the Obama administration of playing down the role of al Qaeda in the attack for political reasons.

They also said then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had failed to take adequate steps to ensure the safety of American diplomatic personnel, an issue that is still resonating as Clinton considers running for U.S. president in 2016.

A U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Khatallah was being held aboard an American ship after he was grabbed on the outskirts of Benghazi in an operation carried out by U.S. special operations forces.

General Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said U.S. troops had acted with “extraordinary skill, courage and precision,” and the complex operation resulted in no casualties. Rear Admiral John Kirby, the Pentagon press secretary, said all U.S. personnel involved had left Libya.

A U.S. official said Khatallah would be charged and prosecuted through the U.S. court system and would not be sent to the prison for suspected al Qaeda militants in Guantanamo, Cuba.

That is in line with Obama's policy of prosecuting suspected militants caught abroad through the U.S. justice system rather than trying them in the military tribunal system at Guantanamo Bay prison, which he is trying to close.

A criminal complaint released by the U.S. District Court for Washington, D.C., accused Khatallah of killing a person in the course of an attack on a federal facility, providing material support to terrorists and using a firearm in commission of a crime of violence.

SPECIAL INTERROGATION TEAM

The Libyan government had no immediate comment on the U.S. announcement. The Pentagon said the United States had notified Libya of the operation, but a spokesman did not say whether it was before or after the capture.

It was the second time the administration has said U.S. special operations forces have gone into Libya to detain a militant. A U.S. Army Delta Force team grabbed al Qaeda suspect Nazih al-Ragye, better known as Abu Anas al-Liby, in Tripoli in October 2013 and sent him to a U.S. Navy ship for interrogation.

Al-Liby was later charged in a U.S. federal court in New York in connection with the 1998 bombing of the U.S. Embassy in Kenya, which killed more than 200 people.

Khatallah was expected to be questioned by an elite inter-agency interrogation team created in 2009 to seek information from suspects in an effort to prevent future terrorist attacks, a U.S. official said.

The official could not say whether members of the U.S. High Value Detainee Interrogation Group, which is housed at the FBI's National Security Branch, were already in place to question Khatallah aboard the ship where was held.

Lawmakers welcomed Khatallah's capture, but Republicans said they were concerned about whether the administration would take full advantage of the opportunity to interrogate him for his intelligence value.

“I want him to be held a sufficient period of time under the law of war to gather intelligence,” said Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina. “We're shutting down intelligence-gathering. We're turning the war into a crime, and it will bite us in the butt.”

“I think they should take him to Guantanamo,” said Senator John McCain of Arizona. “That's why we have the detention facilities and it's totally inappropriate to keep him any place else.”

Senator Dick Durbin, the Senate's No. 2 Democrat, said Khatallah stood a better chance of actually facing trial if his case went through the criminal justice system. Only a handful of people had been tried before military commissions while several hundred had been convicted in federal court, he said.

“It's a tired response from their side,” he said of the Republican calls for a transfer to Guantanamo.

Additional reporting by Patricia Zengerle, Julia Edwards, Missy Ryan and Susan Heavey; Writing by David Alexander; Editing by David Storey, James Dalgleish and Cynthia Osterman

Obama: Benghazi suspect will face ‘full weight’ of U.S. justice system


President Barack Obama said on Tuesday that Ahmed Abu Khatallah, the recently captured suspected ringleader of the 2012 attack on the U.S. diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya, would face the “full weight” of the U.S. justice system.

In a statement released by the White House, Obama said he had authorized the strike in Libya in which U.S. military troops, working with law enforcement personnel, captured Khatallah on Sunday.

“Since the deadly attacks on our facilities in Benghazi, I have made it a priority to find and bring to justice those responsible for the deaths of four brave Americans,” Obama said.

“The fact that (Khatallah) is now in U.S. custody is a testament to the painstaking efforts of our military, law enforcement, and intelligence personnel. Because of their courage and professionalism, this individual will now face the full weight of the American justice system,” he said.

Reporting by Jeff Mason and Mark Felsenthal; Editing by Susan Heavey

Benghazi suspect Khatallah to be tried in the U.S. court system, not Guantanamo


The suspect in the 2012 attacks on the U.S. diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya, who was captured over the weekend, will be tried in U.S. courts, U.S. officials told Reuters.

The decision to do so is in line with President Barack Obama's policy of bringing suspected militants caught abroad through the U.S. justice system rather than trying them in the military tribunal system at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

Ahmed Abu Khatallah was captured by U.S. military forces on Sunday and is currently being held in a secure location outside of Libya, according to a statement from Pentagon Press Secretary Rear Admiral John Kirby.

Reporting by Julia Edwards and Susan Heavey; Editing by Eric Beech

White House: U.S. federal system can handle Benghazi suspect


The White House said on Tuesday the U.S. criminal justice system could prosecute the captured suspected ringleader of the 2012 attack on the U.S. diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya, and that he would be questioned for intelligence.

The comments came in response to criticism from some Republicans that President Barack Obama did not intend to send Ahmed Abu Khatallah, who was captured on Sunday, to the controversial U.S. prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

“We have used the federal court system to convict and incarcerate hundreds of terrorists,” White House spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden said in a statement.

“As to whether (he) will be debriefed for intelligence purposes, I can't comment on the specifics, but as a general rule, we will always seek to elicit all the actionable intelligence and information we can from terrorist suspects taken into our custody.”

Reporting by Jeff Mason; Editing by Peter Cooney

U.S. House committee subpoenas Kerry over Benghazi


The U.S. House of Representatives' Oversight Committee has issued a subpoena for Secretary of State John Kerry to testify at a May 21 public hearing concerning the 2012 attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, the committee said on Friday.

Committee Chairman Darrell Issa said the panel wanted Kerry to answer questions about the State Department's response to the congressional investigation of the Benghazi attack.

Issa, a California Republican, said the State Department has not fully complied with previous subpoenas for documents related to the attack on Sept. 11, 2012, that killed four Americans.

Separately, House Speaker John Boehner, said he intends for the House to vote to create a new select committee to investigate the Benghazi incident.

The Benghazi attack has become a political issue for Republicans, who say President Barack Obama's administration did not do enough to help the Americans in Benghazi and then focused on protecting Obama's image during an election year.

The Kerry subpoena came a few days after Obama critics pounced on emails from U.S. officials released by the conservative watchdog group Judicial Watch on Tuesday. The group said the emails showed the White House was concerned primarily with image issues.

“The fact that these documents were withheld from Congress for more than 19 months is alarming,” Issa said in a letter to Kerry accompanying the subpoena. “The Department is not entitled to delay responsive materials because it is embarrassing or implicates the roles and actions of senior officials.”

Issa also said the State Department had shown “a disturbing disregard” for its obligations to Congress.

Benghazi also has political implications for Hillary Clinton, who was secretary of state at the time of the attack and is a likely presidential candidate in 2016.

Reporting by Patricia Zengerle, editing by Bill Trott and G Crosse

Will Russia pay dearly for the invasion of Ukraine?


Russian President Vladimir Putin’s intention is to spark a civil war in Ukraine, even though he acts under the guise of Russia’s right to protect ethnic Russians and Russian-speaking Ukrainian citizens.  The Upper House of Russian Parliament gave Putin authority to move the armed forces of the Russian Federation into Ukraine “until the situation there is stabilized.” On the other hand, Duma (the Russian Parliament) is working on a new law that would allow incorporation of foreign regions and territories in to the Russian Federation. The current law required agreement on both sides — that is an agreement between a foreign country and Russia, before a new territory is incorporated. The idea of legitimizing the annexation of Crimea is solely based on the premise of alleged good will of Russian-speaking Crimeans. The majority of the Crimean population is ethnic Russians, although Tatars and Ukrainians also live in the peninsula. 

Russian imperial plans, however, go much further. In short, they include destabilization of Southeastern Ukraine, military intervention in the wake of the staged high-scale civil unrest and ultimately the restoration of the government of deposed Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych, or another pro-Russian government. Official Russian rhetoric has advanced from calling Ukrainian protesters radicals and nationalists to branding them Nazis, while the new government is regarded as illegitimate and anti-Russian. Appeals to a Russian-Ukrainian age-old kinship have been replaced by military orders to reinstate a subjugated status of Ukraine. 

Putin does not consider Russia bound by bilateral and international agreements with regard to Ukraine. He likes to justify Russia’s right to national security by comparing American and European military operations in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya and Syria. Putin learned well the lesson of Mikhail Gorbachev’s piety to the West, which resulted in the geostrategic debilitation of Russia. He also knows that the European Union and the United States are good with words but slow and indecisive with actions. In other words, his concept is simple: What is good for the might of Russia has to be done, and the victor gets all. International obligations are ambiguous and shall not be taken in earnest. Such a strategy has proven to work well for Putin’s Russia, at least so far. 

[How you can help the Jews of Ukraine
(The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles)
]

Whether it will work on Ukrainian soil is a function of multiple variables. Among the latter are a willingness within the international community to step forward and halt the Russian aggression against Ukraine; the degree of social mobilization of Ukrainian people; the competence of the new Ukrainian government; and, last but not least, the capability of Ukrainian armed forces to withstand the foreign invasion. Geopolitical priorities of the new Ukrainian government still remain to be seen, whether it is statehood, willingness to forsake territorial losses or territorial integrity owing to political compromises. 

There are some historical parallels between the new Ukrainian government and the government of the French Republic in the wake of the great French Revolution. Of course, I do not mean to refer to the French revolutionary terror, but rather, I draw parallels in relation to the geopolitical situations. Both governments enacted radical reforms that altered the balance of power. Then the powerful neighboring empires retaliated. In both instances, the military was either nonexistent (France) or not adequately prepared and lacking continuous buildup (Ukraine). It is also typical for a post-revolutionary government to be incoherent and to face critical decision-making under multi-vector pressure. For example, to the satisfaction of the radical parties, the parliament (Verkhovna Rada) denounced the former language law and enacted a new one. 

There is nothing wrong with making the only official language Ukrainian; this is one of the necessary preconditions of creating a viable national state. However, the timing of this move was not favorable, given that the ethno-national consensus in Ukraine is particularly thin. The Russian-speaking Southeast of Ukraine associates the mandatory Ukraine-ization with the ideology of Ukrainian nationalists, with fears, since the Soviet time, of Western Ukraine (Galicia). The new Ukrainian government also faces fundamental challenges in nation-building versus state-building, territorial integrity versus statehood, and a transformation of ethnic nationalism into civil nationalism. All these paradigms constitute the cornerstones of Ukrainian independence. 

Ukraine has been formally an independent state for 23 years, which came as a result of the disintegration of the Soviet Union. During this time, ethno-national and cultural differences remain a significant obstacle in its nation building. The influence of the Russian Federation has always been a dominating factor in Ukrainian politics. Another issue is a façade-like concept of everlasting, undivided Ukraine (Sobornost), for it is taboo to suggest its modification or reversal. An option of federalization has been always dismissed. Admittedly, West Ukraine (Galicia) is a Ukrainian Piedmont, even as now a Russian Piedmont — Crimea — has gained momentum. Federalization by the modern German model should not be disregarded outright, as long as it is Ukraine’s own choice and not imposed from outside forces.

For Ukrainians, war is the last resort. The people of Ukraine believe in the mission of international institutions, but they are also aware of the possibility of repeating an Ossetian scenario of 2008, when the Republic of Georgia endured five days against the Russian military might. Ukraine’s government is doing everything possible to avoid a military conflict. The world’s leaders are on Ukraine’s side in the common effort to prevent a war. Total military mobilization in Ukraine may be declared soon, and the nation struggling for its independence for 23 years may become finally free.


Vladimir Melamed is director of Archive, Library and Historical Curatorship at the Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust.

Producer of anti-Muslim film released from L.A. prison


The producer of the anti-Islam film “Innocence of Muslims,” which sparked violence in the Middle East and elsewhere, was released from a Los Angeles prison.

Mark Basseley Youssef, 55, of Los Angeles, was released to a halfway house to serve the remaining weeks of his prison term. He was sentenced  to prison last November for  violating his probation in a 2010 check-kiting case.

Youssef will leave the halfway house on Sept. 26, but will be on probation for the next four years, according to Reuters.

An Egyptian-born Coptic Christian also known as Nakoula Basseley Nakoula, Youssef is believed to have uploaded to YouTube a 14-minute trailer of “The Innocence of Muslims” translated into Arabic, despite not being allowed to use the Internet without permission from his probation officer.

The crudely produced film ridiculing Islam’s Prophet Muhammad touched off a torrent of anti-American demonstrations in Arab and Muslim countries. But links between the film and the assault on U.S. diplomatic posts in the Libyan city of Benghazi that killed four Americans, including the ambassador, Christopher Stevens, were debunked.

In the wake of the initial violence following the release of the trailer, two media outlets interviewed a California man who gave his name as Sam Bacile and reportedly said he had produced, directed and written “The Innocence of Muslims,” and that Jewish donors had bankrolled the production.

But his claims, which included that he was an Israeli American in the real estate business, quickly came under scrutiny and were found to be untrue. It was later revealed that Bacile was Youssef.

Senate panel sets Tuesday vote on Hagel nomination


A U.S. Senate panel plans to vote on Tuesday afternoon on the bitterly contested nomination of Chuck Hagel as President Barack Obama's new secretary of defense, the committee said on Monday.

Senator Carl Levin, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, which must approve Hagel's nomination as Pentagon chief before a vote by the full Senate, intends to ask the committee to vote in an open meeting at 2:30 p.m. EST.

Hagel, 66, a Republican and former Nebraska senator, has been the target of harsh criticism from senators in his own party, who raised questions over whether he is sufficiently supportive of Israel and tough on Iran.

Hagel's testimony before the committee during his Jan. 31 confirmation hearing has also been criticized. Even some Democrats have said he appeared unprepared and at times hesitant during aggressive questioning by Republican panel members.

Levin intends to have the committee vote on Hagel's nomination after its members discuss it.

Hagel's backers are still convinced he will succeed the retiring Leon Panetta at the Defense Department and have called Republican delays and threats to prevent the vote on his nomination political posturing.

The Democrats have 14 votes on the armed services panel, to 12 for the Republicans, and Hagel needs only a simple majority to be cleared by the committee for a vote by the full senate, where the Democratic caucus outnumbers Republicans, 55-45.

No Democrat has come out against Hagel, and at least two Republicans – Senator Thad Cochran of Mississippi and Mike Johanns, who holds Hagel's old Senate seat – have said they will vote for him.

A few other Republicans have said they would not support the use of any procedural mechanism that would force the Democrats to round up 60 votes to confirm Hagel.

Levin had hoped to have the committee vote on Hagel's confirmation last week, but delayed amid Republican demands for more information on issues including Hagel's business dealings and past speeches.

Levin has characterized some of the requests as an attempt to set a new standard for a cabinet nominee.

Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, who has been among the most vocal Hagel opponents, on Sunday threatened to block a vote on his confirmation until the Obama administration provides more information about the deadly September attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya.

Graham had previously threatened to block the vote if Panetta did not appear before the committee to discuss Benghazi.

Panetta and General Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the U.S. military's Joint Chiefs of Staff, testified before the committee in a four-hour hearing on Thursday, but Graham said he was still not satisfied.

Graham and some other Republican lawmakers have questioned Obama's response to the Sept. 11, 2012, Benghazi incident in which the U.S. ambassador to Libya and three other Americans were killed.

Additional reporting by Mark Hosenball; Editing by Jackie Frank and Philip Barbara

Yemeni security forces on highest alert after Al-Qa’ida targets U.S. ambassador


Yemeni and US embassy officials went on high alert recently after Al-Qa'ida offered a bounty to kill US ambassador to Sana'a Gerald Feierstein or any American soldier in the country.

American officials were said to be determined not to allow a repeat of the attack on the US embassy in Benghazi, Libya, last September 11 that left Ambassador J. Christopher Stephens and four others dead.

“We take Al-Qa’ida threats to target the American ambassador and diplomats very seriously and we took all measures to foil any potential terrorist operation aiming to target them….We increased the security presence around embassies across the nation and we are ready to encounter any potential threats,” a high-ranking Yemeni Interior Ministry official told The Media Line, asking to remain anonymous in line with military protocols.

He added that Yemeni security bodies and the American embassy were cooperating to protect American diplomats, but refused to offer further details. Embassy spokesman Lou Fintor told The Media Line: “We take such threats very seriously and will continue to monitor the situation closely. We are operating in a highly sensitive and difficult situation.”

The Al-Qa'ida threat came in an audio message posted on the organization's websites last week. The Yemen branch of the organization offered three kilograms of gold (6.6 pounds) worth about $100,000 to kill the US ambassador and five million Yemeni riyals ($23,000) for killing any American soldier in the country. The offer is valid for six months and the bounties aim to “inspire and encourage our Muslim nation for jihad,” the message said.

The United States considers the Yemeni branch of Al-Qa'ida to be the global terrorist organization's most dangerous and active cell. The threats come as the US has stepped up its use of drones searching for terrorist operatives in Yemen's southern and southeastern provinces.

Just this past Friday, dozens of people in the town of Rada, briefly taken over by Al-Qa'ida last year, demanded the drone attacks be halted immediately. Rada is just one of several key towns in the southern and southeastern parts of Yemen taken over by Al-Qa'ida in 2011, but taken back by the Yemeni army with assistance from the United States in May 2012.

While Yemen and the US are taking the terrorist threats very seriously, Abaad Studies and Research Center Chairman Abdusalam Mohammed downplayed them, saying they only expose Al-Qa'ida's weakness. “If the militant group could assassinate the Americans, it would have done so without publicly announcing bounties for killing them,” he said.

“There are two possible scenarios for the threats,” he added. “The first is that they were really made by Al-Qa'ida. In this case the threats are not dangerous at all as they only help expose Al-Qa'ida's weakness in Yemen after its militants were driven out from their proclaimed Islamic emirate in the Abyan governorate and amid the continuing hunt against the [terrorist] elements by the army and American drones. The second is that there are local or international bodies planning to target embassies and diplomats in the country with the aim of causing chaos – this is what Yemen and the US should take into consideration.” He said those bodies might only be hiding behind Al-Qa'ida, and discounted any link between the increase in US drone strikes and these latest Al-Qa'ida threats.

Mohammed says he believes the American administration is taking the threats seriously because it can't allow for a repetition of the Benghazi attack. “Whether the threats are credible or not, the American government is not willing to leave any security loopholes for the militants to capitalize on and repeat Libya's scenario,” he added.

Al-Qaida places bounty on head of Jewish U.S. envoy to Yemen


Al-Qaida in Yemen has placed a bounty on the head of the U.S. ambassador in Sanaa, Gerald Feierstein.

In a message posted on terrorist websites, al-Qaida offered three kilograms worth of gold, or about $160,000, to anyone who kills the ambassador, who is Jewish.

The group also offered cash for the killing of American soldiers inside Yemen. Both offers are valid for the next six months, according to The Associated Press.

The statement called the awards a way to “inspire and encourage our Muslim nation for jihad,” the statement reportedly said.

Feierstein has been ambassador to Yemen since September 2010. He formerly served as deputy chief of mission in Islamabad.

The Daily Beast quoted an unnamed Yemeni government official as saying that Feierstein is “very well protected” and that the “threats are taken seriously, and he is the most secured diplomat in Yemen.”

Al-Qaida in Yemen called on Muslims to kill U.S. diplomats working in Muslim countries following the release of a trailer of an anti-Muslim film showing the Prophet Muhammad in a negative light in September. Four U.S. diplomats, including the ambassador to Libya, were killed in Benghazi in September.

President Obama to nominate John Kerry for secretary of state


President Obama is set to nominate Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) as secretary of state.

A White House official said Obama would make the announcement Friday afternoon.

Kerry, the 2004 Democratic presidential nominee, chairs the Senate Foreign Relations committee and would likely be handily approved by that body.

Kerry's nomination comes after Susan Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, pulled herself out of contention after she came under Republican attack for her role in peddling a misleading version of what caused a fatal Sept. 11 attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya.

Kerry has a strong pro-Israel voting record, but has rarely initiated the pro-Israel legislation, letters and non-binding resolutions favored by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee.

[Related: John Kerry's statement of his record on Israel]

He also has been outspoken at times in criticizing Israeli policy, particularly during Israel's blockade of goods into the Gaza Strip.

Some conservatives are wary of his emphasis on outreach to rogue states; until Syria collapsed into a bloody uprising against the repressive Assad regime, he favored a degree of engagement with that country.

Media reports said that Obama would not for now announce defense secretary and CIA chief picks.

Hillary Rodham Clinton, the secretary of state, is ill and has said she would like to leave the job as soon as possible.

Leon Panetta, the defense secretary, also wants to leave although he has not shown the same urgency as Clinton.

One of Obama's picks to replace Panetta, Chuck Hagel, is under fire by some pro-Israel groups for past remarks critical of the pro-Israel lobby and because he has favored a degree of engagement with Iran and terrorist groups.

The CIA top spot has been open since David Petraeus resigned in a sex scandal earlier this year.

Rice pulls name from State Dept. bid


Susan Rice, the front-runner to succeed Hillary Rodham Clinton as U.S. secretary of state, dropped her bid for the post.

Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, was caught up in a controversy over her explanation of the deadly attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, on Sept. 11.

“I didn’t want to see a confirmation process that was very prolonged, very politicized, very distracting and very disruptive because there are so many things we need to get done as a country, and the first several months of a second-term president’s agenda is really the opportunity to get the crucial things done,” Rice told NBC in video released Thursday afternoon. “I much prefer to keep doing what I’m doing, which is a job I love at the United Nations.”

Clinton plans to retire next month.

Rice, relying at the time on intelligence briefings, claimed the Libya attack was spontaneous and sparked by an anti-Muslim film. Evidence has since emerged that it was a planned terrorist attack.

She had clashed at times with pro-Israel groups at the beginning of Obama's first term over the U.S. decision to join the U.N. Human Rights Council, a hotbed of anti-Israel sentiment, as well as her sharp condemnations of Israeli settlement expansion.

More recently, however, Rice earned pro-Israel plaudits, particularly for her tough resistance of Palestinian efforts to gain statehood recognition through the United Nations.

Joe Lieberman: No problem with Susan Rice


Departing U.S. Sen. Joe Lieberman said he would not object to the nomination of Susan Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, as secretary of state.

Tuesday's apparent endorsement by Lieberman (I-Conn.) of Rice is largely symbolic, as he is retiring as senator and likely will not be serving by the time Hillary Rodham Clinton, the current secretary of state, steps down — a move anticipated early next year.

However, Lieberman's statement this week after meeting with Rice that she was telling “the whole truth” about why she initially depicted the deadly Sept. 11 attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, as a spontaneous eruption and not a planned terrorist attack undercuts criticism of Rice as unreliable by Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.).

Throughout much of his career, Lieberman has joined with McCain and Graham as a foreign policy hawk. His dissent now that he is free from such alliances could be used by Democrats to depict GOP attacks on Rice as political and not substantive.

The Benghazi attack is believed to have been the work of terrorists affiliated with al-Qaida — intelligence that Rice says was not made available to her in the days after the attack, when she was the Obama administration's point person in explaining U.S. reaction.

Four Americans, including the U.S. ambassador to Libya, were killed in the attack.

President Obama has not said he would nominate Rice to the post, but also said he would not be deterred from doing so by McCain and Graham.

A week on the Florida campaign trail


Day One: Departing Israel

Spending a week in Florida on the eve of a presidential election has become a habit for me — one I cherish. Meeting the elderly women who suddenly become interested in politics; attending synagogues, to which the candidates flock in droves to speak; watching the hurried traveling convoys of dignitaries and emissaries and surrogates making their last-minute pitches; enjoying the hospitable weather.

As I left Israel to come here, the Knesset was about to officially disperse. Soon enough, Israel will have its own round of elections, and the speeches made by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Shaul Mofaz, the opposition leader, were no more than election speeches.

The American public views Netanyahu in a positive light, according to a Gallup poll taken during the summer. Israel is also viewed positively by the American public, even more so than Netanyahu. Thus, as the two American presidential candidates play the Israel card in their public appearances, they play both offense and defense in somewhat tricky ways.

Consider this: For Mitt Romney, invoking Netanyahu’s name is a way of putting President Barack Obama in a tough spot. Naturally, Obama doesn’t want to acknowledge that his relations with Netanyahu are bad, that he can barely stand his presence and can hardly stomach the need to maintain contact with him. Such an admission would make matters even worse policy-wise, and might not fly with the voters who tell pollsters that they view Netanyahu positively. It might even seem problematic to voters who do not like Netanyahu but understand that having a contentious relationship with him does not serve any purpose.

Thus, when Romney calls forth the name “Netanyahu,” the only possible and credible response he can get from Obama is “Israel.” Obama doesn’t speak much about the prime minister. On the other hand, speaking about “Israel” is good for Obama, because Israel, as I mentioned above, is more popular than Netanyahu. Israel is what pro-Israel voters are concerned with. Israel is the way for Obama to circumvent “Netanyahu” or “the government of Israel.” The president has made it a habit to constantly express his support for the country, while constantly, if more subtly, expressing his dislike of its democratically elected leadership.


Day Two: Boca Raton

I began a big-fish debate night with the little fish: Florida congressional candidates speaking to a Jewish crowd. It was 7 p.m. on Oct. 16, and at the entrance to Temple Beth El of Boca Raton, dozens of young, Jewish campaign volunteers were waving signs at the coming cars, distracting drivers, threatening to scratch their side windows.

Volunteers for Republican congressional candidate Adam Hasner were mostly yarmulke-wearing young men who seemed markedly Orthodox. If their presence at the forum is any indication of Hasner’s chances — he might have one. But it could also be a sign that Hasner’s young, Jewish supporters are the ones with the commitment and the enthusiasm — though not necessarily the numbers. It was, after all, just one evening, one event, one crowded temple. Crowded, but not packed. (Well, is a temple ever packed except on Yom Kippur?)

Rabbi Dan Levin began the evening with a couple of words about the houses of Hillel and Shammai, of which the Talmud says: “These and these are both equally the words of the living God.” Which, naturally, reminded me of Obama and Romney. And if their words weren’t quite godly in their second debate, the heat and combative manner could certainly be compared to the Beit Hillel-Beit Shammai battle of ideas.

And, of course, moving from the Beth El forum to the Long Island debate didn’t feel like a huge leap. The Forward’s Gal Beckerman tweeted toward the end: “With questions from Carol Goldberg and Jeremy Epstein bookending this debate, it is officially the Jewiest debate ever.” Noah Pollack asked: “Was that a town hall debate or a meeting of Beth Shalom Congregation of Five Towns?”

More than an hour passed before the candidates got a question on foreign policy — Libya. Until then, immigration and a passing mention of China were the closest we got to the world beyond America’s borders. If anyone was still in need of any proof that American voters — Jews included — care in this election cycle only about the economy and jobs (no, not about Israel, and I also didn’t hear any question on Iran), this debate was proof enough for me.

And yes, the Libya moment was one of the highlights of the evening. But it was also more about America, not about the world. It was less about the right way to fix Libya or the guidelines for intervention in foreign wars and much more about Libya becoming a political football.

Obama, Romney clash over foreign policy in last debate


President Barack Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney clashed over U.S. military strength and how to deal with crises in the Middle East in a third and final debate on Monday as polls showed them in deadlock two weeks before the Nov. 6 election.

With one last chance for both men to appeal to millions of voters watching on television, Obama was the aggressor from the start. He criticized the Republican on his proposals on the Middle East, mocking his calls for more ships in the U.S. military and saying Romney wants to bring the United States back to a long-abandoned Cold War stance.

Obama had a biting response when Romney said he would increase the number of ships built by the U.S. Navy, saying the United States should typically have 300 and only had 285.

“Governor, we also have fewer horses and bayonets,” said Obama.

Obama also said the Republican presidential candidate, by once declaring Russia a “geopolitical foe” of the United States, was seeking to turn back the clock.

“The Cold War has been over for 20 years,” Obama said, turning to Romney as they sat at a table before moderator Bob Schieffer. “When it comes to your foreign policy, you seem to want to import the foreign policies of the 1980s.”

Romney, wanting to make no mistakes that could blunt his recent surge in the polls, said Obama's policies toward the Middle East and North Africa were not stopping a resurgence of the threat from al Qaeda in the region.

“Attacking me is not an agenda,” said Romney. “Attacking me is not how we deal with the challenges of the Middle East.”

The two candidates agreed that the United States should defend Israel if Iran attacked the key U.S. ally in the Middle East, but Romney said he would tighten sanctions that are already affecting the Iranian economy.

The Republican, whose central theme throughout the campaign has been a promise to rebuild the weak U.S. economy, repeatedly turned the discussion back to economic matters, saying U.S. national security depended on a strong economy.

But Obama fired back that Romney's economic plan was based on tax cuts that had not had their desired effect in the past. Romney would not be able to balance the budget and increase military spending with such a plan, he said.

“The math simply does not add up,” he said.

'BACKBONE' ON RUSSIA

On Russia, Romney criticized Obama for an open-microphone comment he made to then-Russian President Dmitry Medvedev that he would have more “flexibility” after America's election.

Instead of showing Russian President Vladimir Putin more flexibility, Romney said, “I'll give him more backbone.”

The two candidates were tied at 46 percent each in the Reuters/Ipsos online daily tracking poll. Other surveys show a similar picture.

Obama came to Boca Raton with the advantage of having led U.S. national security and foreign affairs for the past 3 1/2 years. He gets credit for ending the Iraq war and the killing of al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden in 2011.

But Romney had many opportunities to steer the conversation back toward the weak U.S. economy, a topic on which voters see him as more credible.

Gaza terrorists fire shoulder-launched missile at Israeli helicopter


Palestinian terrorists in Gaza launched an anti-aircraft missile at an Israeli Air Force helicopter.

It is believed to be the first time that the Strela shoulder-launched surface-to-air missile was used against an Israeli aircraft. The missile fired last week missed its target — a helicopter flying over the Gaza Strip.

Israeli defense officials speaking anonymously confirmed the attack to The Associated Press. The Israel Defense Forces has not officially commented on the report of the attack that appeared in the Hebrew daily Yediot Achronot on Tuesday.

The missile most likely originated in Libya and was captured by rebels who helped overthrow the Gadhafi regime, according to The Israel Project.

Tens of thousands of anti-aircraft missiles went missing in the aftermath of the Gadhafi regime’s overthrow. Israeli intelligence has long warned that many of them made their way from Libya and into the hands of Palestinian terrorist groups in the Gaza Strip, according to The Israel Project.

It is feared that Palestinian terrorists will use such missiles to target an airliner carrying civilians.

Who’s winning the foreign policy debate?


It is often assumed that foreign policy is a field in which deeds matter more than words. But looking at the two presidential candidates in the 2012 election cycle, Democrat Barack Obama and Republican Mitt Romney, one might end up with the opposite impression: It is words, not deeds, that make their foreign policies seem different. 

When it comes to what to do in the world, the differences between them seem minor and occasional, and the specifics are not always easy to identify. Romney says he wants tougher sanctions on Iran, but does not share with his audience his prescription for getting there. And, in the end, his policies might end up being quite similar to Obama’s. For his part, Obama, for a very long time, has been in the business of advancing peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians without ever managing to prescribe a viable remedy to that familiarly adamant sore. His policies, rhetoric aside, have ended up not far from where Romney’s stated policy might take us.

When it comes to what to say to the world, though, the contrast between Obama and Romney suddenly becomes clearer. “I believe that if America does not lead, others will,” Romney said two weeks ago, bluntly presenting a vision of a United States that is ready to be confrontational in a world-leadership role. Obama, a couple of months before being elected president, had a very different vision: “The world,” he said, “is waiting for the United States to re-engage,” and the U.S. would find it “very difficult for us to meet these 21st century challenges unless we get more effective partnerships with our allies in other countries overseas.” Romney wants the United States to lead, whether the world likes it or not; Obama thinks that for America’s leadership to succeed, it is essential that the world likes it.

 Next week, in their third and final debate of the season, the two candidates will engage in a foreign-policy battle in Florida. This will hardly be the first time for either of them to present their respective philosophies to the public. 

For Romney, there is a problem in any such debate: his lack of a record. All he has is speeches, and one never knows whether he really intends to pursue the policies he now advocates. One never knows if he would really “recommit America to the goal of a democratic, prosperous Palestinian state,” as he said two weeks ago — especially so, because just last summer Romney stated that the Palestinians are not culturally fit to have a prosperous state and that chances for any such coexistence are slim. 

For Obama, there is a mirror-image problem: His record of the past four years is full of tactical achievements, but coherent strategies are rare. Yes, he was the president blessed with the opportunity to send troops to kill Osama bin Laden — arguably his greatest achievement abroad — but that achievement doesn’t say much about Obama’s policies, even as he deserves credit for having the courage and the resolve to make the decision. Obama also deserves credit for making good on many of his pledges — gradually disengaging in Iraq and Afghanistan are the prime examples. However, his policies have had mixed results at best. A stable Egypt was lost on his watch (to be fair, there wasn’t much he could do to stop that). Confidence in America’s resolve diminished (that is where his unceremonious abandonment of Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak did play a role). And one never quite knows if Obama has learned the proper lessons from his failures, if he has finally realized that getting the Nobel Peace Prize was premature, and remains so. 

In his “Mantle of Leadership” speech on Oct. 8 at the Virginia Military Institute in Lexington, Va., Romney advocated for several policies — actual policies — that are different from Obama’s: He said he is reluctant to withdraw troops from Afghanistan based on decisions attached to the calendar. He wants more aid sent to the Syrian rebels, a point repeated by Paul Ryan in the vice presidential debate. He would have warm relations with the Israeli government — while Obama rightly argues that his relations with “Israel” are just fine, the “government” is another matter. Romney would also take a tougher position on missile defense, paying the consequent price of tenser relations with Russia. And he would spend more on defense — his only pledge that signals a difference that is both strategically significant and reasonably credible. 

Oddly, as the Asia-Pacific region emerges as an area of much importance — an area that Obama celebrated in 2009 by calling himself America’s “first Pacific president” — neither candidate has thus far engaged in serious statements on the proper policy going forward in that region. The Middle East — the bloody, sticky, rioting, chaotic, treacherous Middle East — is again dominating the foreign agenda. From the blunder over the terror attack on the American embassy in Libya — an embarrassment the Obama administration can’t reasonably escape, but that, in the end, has very little strategic meaning — to Egypt, where Romney would like a more conditional approach “to urge the new government to represent all Egyptians, to build democratic institutions, and to maintain its peace treaty with Israel,” to Syria, where Romney wants more aid for the rebels — a move that Vice President Joe Biden claimed is already in the works by the current administration. 

“We are working hand in glove with the Turks, with the Jordanians, with the Saudis and with all the people in the region attempting to identify the people who deserve the help so that when Assad goes  …” Biden said during the vice presidential debate. He also bluntly and accurately answered the question of why intervention was justified in Libya and is not U.S. policy in Syria. Accurately — although not when it comes to some of the details. In the heat of debate, the knowledgeable vice president mixed up his facts when he spoke about geography and population density in the two countries. Alas, Biden got it right when he spelled out the theme that has been evident to all observers of the Obama policies for quite a while: This administration doesn’t do grand strategy in the Middle East — not since its initial strategy of “engagement” collapsed in Iran and in Syria and everywhere else. What the Obama team does is crisis management. Sometimes more successfully, sometimes less so; sometimes based on a solid analysis, sometimes more on something resembling a hunch. 

In Egypt, the Obama administration decided to side with the revolutionaries, but in Bahrain, it turned a blind eye when Saudi forces crushed any attempt to advance reforms. In Libya, it intervened — leading “from behind” — but in Syria, it has not. In Iran, it pushed for tough sanctions, but refrained from more actively supporting demonstrations against the regime. All in all, it did not make many mistakes as it was watching the old order of the Middle East crumble. That’s an achievement of sorts. On the other hand, its stance was to watch events unfold — not to lead, not to initiate and, in the end, not to have much impact.

Thus, the actual policy differences between Obama and Romney — over aid, security, timetables and budget — pale in comparison to their different outlooks on what America’s leadership role should be in the world. Obama wants his policies to soothe, to cajole, to help him make friends. Romney wants to make a stand, to convey a message of strength. Although both candidates are internationalists, and both say they want America to lead the world, the kinds of leadership they are talking about sound quite different. Obama keeps arguing that his soft-spoken approach has enabled him to gain allies, and even reluctant rivals, on board in his quest to isolate Iran. Romney keeps arguing that isolation is a means to an end — stopping Iran from nuclear armament — which the Obama administration has not achieved. 

When it comes to what their policies for the next four years might look like, the two candidates, in fact, are not as far apart as one might think. When it comes to projecting an image of leading America, they are. And in foreign policy — both seem to think — image counts no less than deeds.


Shmuel Rosner is the Senior Political Editor. He is the author of “Obama vs. Romney: A Jewish Voter’s Guide” (Jewish Journal Books), available at amazon.com.

Foreign policy: In favor of Obama


[Related: In favor of Romney]

In debates over which candidate, Mitt Romney or Barack Obama, most supports Israel, many have made the case, including in the Journal, that the president’s staunchly pro-Israel policies speak for themselves. This debate must also include a broader point: Israel needs more than America’s military, economic and political support. It needs a United States engaged in global diplomacy, with high standing worldwide, capable of advancing our shared objectives. 

On these counts, President Obama has succeeded: Among other things, American troops are out of Iraq; al-Qaeda is a threat but in tatters, its leader dead; Libya, with U.S. help, rid itself of Muammar Gadhafi; the United States won a seat on the Human Rights Council, where it stands against lopsided anti-Israel resolutions; and the list goes on, whether looking at U.S. policy in Asia, Europe, Latin America, the U.N., Africa or elsewhere. The crushing sanctions now imposed on Iran exist only because of effective Obama administration diplomacy. 

What about Mitt Romney? Like many previous candidates, Gov. Romney has almost no foreign-policy experience. But last week he gave a speech on foreign policy that should give pause to those who worry about Israel’s security and quest for peace. He talked tough and sounded reassuring, but the actual policy prescriptions — like those of George W. Bush before him — would undermine Israel’s long-term strategic needs.

At one level, the speech was riddled with deceit about the Obama record, as Tom Friedman pointed out in The New York Times. Yet the fate of American foreign policy, and its implications for Israel, will rest more on Romney’s worldview than his posturing as a candidate. Two areas in particular should raise deep concern: Romney’s positions on the use of force and unilateralism, the signature postures of the Bush doctrine.

Bush felt strongly supportive toward Israel. But his policies backfired: The go-it-alone war in Iraq opened strategic space for Iran. The inhumane treatment of detainees at Guantanamo Bay and Abu Ghraib left deeply negative impressions on people already prepared to see the United States as a bully in the region. The failure to engage world opinion left the United States unable to defend Israel in key international forums.

Romney seemed unaware that the broader foreign policy choices would, like Bush’s, undermine America’s ability to advance its own and Israel’s objectives.

 First, the speech suggests a Bush-like attraction to the language of force. Pressing for a change of course in the Middle East, Romney argues that Americans must have “resolve in our might.” To hit the point home, he adds that we cannot “defeat our enemies in the Middle East when our words are not backed up by deeds, when our defense spending is being arbitrarily and deeply cut” (which, incidentally, President Obama has not done). Presidents must “use America’s great power to shape history.”

Romney sees “might” as more central than right. But a Middle East policy that rests on the power of arms to effect change is not only bound to fail, it can foster the same problems we seek to avoid. 

Consider Iraq, a “war of choice” (in the words of former Bush administration official Richard Haass) that enhanced the position of Iran in the Middle East, brought al-Qaeda and sectarian conflict to play, and ultimately left thousands of Americans and Iraqis dead and many more thousands injured, and millions displaced from their homes. Romney did not seem to understand the scars that our military engagement in Iraq has left on the broader region, including negative consequences for the security of Israel. 

Would he attack Iran if the nuclear issue is not resolved? Despite his martial rhetoric, the answer isn’t clear. He might. So might a second-term Obama administration. But the speech gave the impression that he would use force precipitously and without doing the hard diplomacy to build international support.

Of course, the United States needs a strong defense strategy. And this is an area where even some of President Obama’s progressive supporters complain, as President Obama has used drones to kill suspected terrorists (even American citizens) in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia. Yet the Obama administration understands that force alone cannot stand as the central pillar of U.S. policy. 

Second, Romney seemed to prefer unilateralism to multilateralism, much as President Bush did. Romney revels in suggesting that the United States cannot “lead from behind,” something the Obama administration has never embraced. Instead, there is a unilateralist hum throughout Romney’s speech. “I will not hesitate to impose new sanctions,” he claimed, though unilateral sanctions would be the most likely to destroy the harsh and far more effective multilateral ones the Obama administration has put in place against Iran, even managing to win over countries such as Russia and China. Romney sees Russia and China as adversaries to confront, not convert. 

One may have disagreed with Obama’s willingness to engage adversaries, but he emphasized it when running for president in 2008. He tried it with Iran when he took office, and now, because the administration pursued a multilateral approach and attempted diplomacy with Iran, the United States is in a much better position to use forceful measures against a recalcitrant adversary if need be. Romney gives no indication that he has the kind of strategic foresight Obama had as a candidate and deploys as president.

Romney’s unilateralist bent is out of sync with a world where diplomacy and coalition-building are more critical than ever. The speech showed him committed to the rhetoric and centrality of military force in the aftermath of a disastrous American war in the region. Neither of these stances would advance American objectives in the region: the security of Israel at peace with the Palestinians, a nuclear-free Iran, a transition to rights-respecting democratic governance throughout the Arab world, a stable region of developing free-market economies. To the contrary, unilateralism and force undermine the United States’ ability to persuade others to follow our lead.  

Romney showed that he would be much more like George W. Bush than Barack Obama in his conduct of foreign affairs. And for those worried about the long-term security of Israel, that has to be a concern.


David Kaye is a law professor at UC Irvine School of Law and a former lawyer with the U.S. Department of State.

Foreign policy: In favor of Romney


[Related: In favor of Obama]

Mitt Romney likes to recount a conversation he had with Shimon Peres, the president of Israel, back when he was governor of Massachusetts. Peres told him that “America is unique in the history of the world for its willingness to sacrifice so many lives of its precious sons and daughters for liberty, not solely for itself but also for its friends.” What Peres said has been echoed by Gen. Colin Powell, who once remarked that the only land the United States ever asked for at the end of a war was enough to bury our dead.

American foreign policy is indeed unique, and it is our commitment to liberty — more, even, than our military might — that has made us the leader of the free world. Unfortunately, over the last four years, the character of our role in the world has changed, and not for the better.

We are failing to meet some serious challenges. 

In the Middle East, the Arab Spring has given way to an Arab Winter. Iran is racing to acquire nuclear capability. Syria is slaughtering its citizens by the thousands in a bloody civil war that shows no signs of abating. Our ambassador to Libya has been murdered, our embassies stormed by protesters chanting Islamist propaganda and bearing the black flags of al-Qaeda. Meanwhile, the Chinese are ramping up military production while intimidating their neighbors, and the Russians are bullying our allies in Eastern Europe and stymying our efforts in the U.N. to contain Iran. 

Some have suggested that the time of American hegemony on the world stage has simply come to an end. We no longer wield the influence we once held, and with our stagnant economy, we are in no position to reclaim it. 

President Obama has governed as if this were the case. He has sought to engage Iran’s ayatollahs without preconditions and declined to support the green revolution that erupted in the streets of Iranian cities in 2009. His choices did little more than give Tehran more time to pursue the atomic bomb. He has pursued a reset with Russia, one that involved a betrayal of our allies in Poland and the Czech Republic on the critical issue of missile defense. 

Although President Obama has demonstrated remarkable “flexibility” with America’s adversaries, he has kept some of our allies, particularly Israel, at arm’s length. The president has sought to put “daylight” between the two countries. He has refused to meet with Benjamin Netanyahu. He has been caught on an open microphone insulting the prime minister, and he refuses to call Jerusalem the capital of Israel. 

These failures of President Obama on the world stage are not only failures of policy; they are failures of leadership. In fact, some of President Obama’s positions are not all that different from those of his harshest critics. The problem is that his words are seldom backed up by action. Our foreign adversaries neither fear nor respect him. Thus, President Obama loudly declares that Iran must not acquire a nuclear weapon, and the ayatollahs greet his declaration with a shrug as they accelerate their nuclear program. The Chinese continue to cheat on trade with no fear of repercussions. The Russians block our efforts to end the slaughter in Syria without a second thought. The list goes on. 

This points to one of the more significant differences between Mitt Romney and Barack Obama. Mitt Romney has an unbroken track record of carrying out his promises. No one will doubt a President Romney when he says that he has Israel’s back. Tehran will not doubt America’s resolve to stop it from gaining a nuclear capability. With a firm American policy, the days of Bashar al-Assad will be numbered. Governments around the Middle East will know that if our embassies are attacked and our personnel killed, they will suffer consequences. Certainly American taxpayer dollars will not continue to flow to governments that undermine us. 

Most importantly, Mitt Romney will restore the sinews of American strength. We cannot maintain a strong position on the world stage with an economy mired in stagnation. Mitt Romney has a comprehensive plan to put our country back on the path of economic growth and create jobs for all who seek them. 

Similarly, we cannot maintain a military commensurate with our stature if we fail to repair our economy. As things stand, President Obama has already cut $500 billion from our armed forces, and even deeper cuts are on the way. Mitt Romney understands that we must reverse these cuts, that weakness invites aggression, and that if we are to stand by our allies in the Middle East and around the world, we need the forces to back up our words. 

Mitt Romney also understands that American power is much more than our combined economic and military might. Rather, the power of our ideas, of our principles, our commitment to human liberty, is what has made us so influential around the world. If we are to retain our influence, we cannot bend from our principles. We must stand up for our ideas, and for those around the world who share them. 

American leadership is needed now more than ever. And if we are to make our foreign-policy goals a reality, we need a president who has the strength of conviction to follow through on his words. We haven’t had that these last four years. It is time that we did. Mitt Romney is the leader we need in this moment of opportunity and danger.

Romney casts Obama’s foreign policy as weak, dangerous


Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney delivered a sweeping critique on Monday of President Barack Obama's handling of threats in the Middle East, saying Obama's lack of leadership had made the volatile region more dangerous.

In what his campaign called a major foreign policy address, Romney called for a more assertive use of American influence in the Middle East, Europe, Asia and Latin America.

Romney, speaking before the white-uniformed cadets at Virginia Military Institute, questioned Obama's handling of the episode in Libya last month in which U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans were killed after the U.S. consulate in Benghazi came under militant attack.

The former Massachusetts governor also accused Obama of failing to use U.S. diplomacy to shape events in Iran, Iraq, Israel, Syria, Russia and elsewhere.

“The president is fond of saying that, 'The tide of war is receding,'” Romney said. “And I want to believe him as much as anyone. But when we look at the Middle East today … it is clear that the risk of conflict in the region is higher now than when the president took office.”

Romney's speech was short on specifics, but in broad terms he laid out his national security priorities before the second of his three debates with Obama, which will be at Hofstra University in Hempstead, New York state on Oct. 16 and will include discussion of foreign policy.

Romney's aim on Monday was to portray himself as having the presidential stature needed for the world stage. He had a similar goal during a trip overseas in July, but that was marred by a series of missteps, including his inadvertent insult of the organizers of the London Olympics.

In calling for a more forceful foreign policy, Romney indicated that he would not rush into armed conflict.

But he accused Obama of a hasty troop withdrawal from Iraq, saying hard-fought gains there are being eroded by rising violence and a resurgent al Qaeda. Obama considers his withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq the fulfillment of a 2008 campaign promise, sought by Americans weary of war.

Romney also said he might not be so quick to pull troops out of the unpopular war in Afghanistan. Obama has pledged to end the U.S. combat role in Afghanistan by the end of 2014 as part of NATO's plan to hand over security responsibility to Afghan forces.

Romney said he would pursue a transition to Afghan security forces by that time, but would evaluate conditions there before making a final decision to pull out.

Obama was right to order the mission that led to the killing of Osama bin Laden last year, Romney said, but he charged that other elements of the president's strategy for the region were weak or ill-advised. Romney pointed to the extensive U.S. reliance on attacks by drone aircraft as “no substitute for a national security strategy for the Middle East.”

Romney, who accused Obama of pursuing a strategy of “passivity” rather than partnership with U.S. allies, is running just behind or even with his Democratic rival in most opinion polls, which have gotten closer since Romney did well in their first debate last week.

Reuters/Ipsos tracking polls indicate that more Americans favor Obama on foreign policy issues.

The latest data, collected through Sunday, indicate that 40 percent of likely voters believe Obama has a better plan for combating terrorism, compared with 31.5 percent for Romney. In dealing with Iran, 35.4 percent of likely voters favored Obama; 30.9 percent backed Romney.

'CHEST-POUNDING RHETORIC'

Obama's campaign portrayed Romney's speech as the latest in a series of failed attempts by the Republican to look like a statesman on foreign policy.

Obama aides cast Romney as unfit to be commander-in-chief because of his gaffe-filled overseas trip in July and his much-criticized immediate reaction to the Libyan attack. Romney blasted Obama's actions before it was clear that Stevens had been killed in Benghazi, and was accused of injecting politics into a national tragedy.

“This is somebody who leads with chest-pounding rhetoric,” Obama campaign spokeswoman Jen Psaki said of Romney. “He has been clumsy in his handling of foreign policy.”

Romney promised that if elected on Nov. 6, he would vigorously pursue those responsible for the Libyan attack, as Obama has vowed to do.

During his speech, Romney pledged to tighten sanctions on Iran and deploy warships in the region to press Tehran to give up a nuclear program the West believes is aimed at producing atomic bombs.

Romney also said he would increase military assistance and coordination with Israel, which has threatened a pre-emptive strike against Iranian nuclear facilities.

Romney pledged that his administration would work to find elements of the Syrian opposition who share U.S. values and ensure they obtain weapons needed to defeat President Bashir al-Assad's forces. Syrian rebels have accused the United States and Western allies of sitting on the sidelines of the conflict.

“Iran is sending arms to Assad because they know his downfall would be a strategic defeat for them,” Romney said. “We should be working no less vigorously with our international partners to support the many Syrians who would deliver that defeat to Iran – rather than sitting on the sidelines.”

Psaki, the Obama campaign spokeswoman, noted that Romney's foreign policy team includes several former advisers to George W. Bush, Obama's predecessor and the architect of the unpopular war in Iraq.

Romney has “surrounded himself with a number of people who were advisers to past President Bush, people who have used saber-rattling rhetoric when it comes to Syria and Iran,” Psaki said. “That's something … we think the American people should take a look at.”

Ahead of debate, Romney calls Obama weak on foreign policy


Republican challenger Mitt Romney launched a fresh attempt on Monday to paint President Barack Obama as weak on foreign policy, saying he has let U.S. leadership atrophy, while the two candidates prepared for Wednesday's critical first debate.

Romney's aides said the weak U.S. economy remains his chief priority heading into the Nov. 6 election, but the Democratic president's handling of national security is also fair game.

This line of attack could be tricky for Romney, who drew heavy criticism for a hasty initial reaction to upheaval in Egypt and Libya last month in which the U.S. ambassador to Libya was killed in an attack along with three other Americans.

Romney is under enormous pressure for a good performance at Wednesday night's debate in Denver. His campaign has looked shaky since a leaked video emerged two weeks ago in which Romney says 47 percent of Americans are “victims” who depend on government, do not pay federal income taxes and are unlikely to support him.

Seeking to take some of the shine off Obama's national security credentials, which include the 2011 killing of al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, the Romney team is aiming to portray Obama as overseeing a period of American decline in the world.

In a Wall Street Journal opinion article, Romney accused Obama of being too timid in responding to the Syrian civil war, the election of an Islamist president in Egypt, the attack on the U.S. mission in Libya, and the threat of Iran developing a nuclear weapon it could use against U.S. ally Israel.

“These developments are not, as President Obama says, mere 'bumps in the road.' They are major issues that put our security at risk,” Romney wrote.

“Yet amid this upheaval, our country seems to be at the mercy of events rather than shaping them. … And that's dangerous. If the Middle East descends into chaos, if Iran moves toward nuclear breakout, or if Israel's security is compromised, America could be pulled into the maelstrom,” Romney wrote.

Taking aim at Obama on national security may be an uphill battle for Romney. Reuters/Ipsos poll findings show Americans believe Obama has a better plan to deal with the threat of terrorism by 43 percent to about 30 percent for Romney.

Romney continues to trail Obama in opinion polls five weeks before the election. Obama maintained a lead of 5 percentage points – 46 percent to 41 percent – in a Reuters/Ipsos daily tracking poll released on Monday. Last Thursday, the same poll showed Obama with an advantage of 7 points.

A CNN poll on Monday gave Obama a narrow lead of 50 percent to 47 percent, and the two men were essentially tied on the issue of who would handle the economy better.

“I think even our opponents will agree right now that this is a closing race,” Romney senior adviser Kevin Madden said.

A Washington Post/ABC News poll released on Monday showed Obama leading by 11 percentage points among likely voters in nine battleground states where the election likely will be decided, even as the race is essentially tied nationally.

'REGIONAL INSTABILITY'

In his Wall Street Journal piece, Romney told Obama to take a harder line with Iran and to back Israel.

“When we say an Iranian nuclear weapons capability – and the regional instability that comes with it – is unacceptable, the ayatollahs must be made to believe us,” Romney wrote.

The White House argues that Western sanctions are having a crippling effect on Iran's economy as reflected by its currency losing a quarter of its value against the dollar in only a week.

As part of the Republican attempt to chip away at Obama's foreign policy record, the pro-Romney group American Crossroads released a video that questioned his reaction to the attack last month on the U.S. mission in Benghazi, Libya, in which the U.S. ambassador was killed.

“What did President Obama do on the same day as a terrorist attack on American citizens? He campaigned in Las Vegas. … President Obama needs to learn: Being president isn't just about being on TV and protecting your job. It's about leadership. It's time for a president who gets it,” the video said.

Romney added that Obama “has allowed our leadership to atrophy,” has no strategy to encourage a positive outcome from the Arab Spring revolutions, and has alienated Israel.

“By failing to maintain the elements of our influence and by stepping away from our allies, President Obama has heightened the prospect of conflict and instability,” he wrote.

Aides said Romney plans to deliver a foreign policy address in the days following the first debate, probably next week.

Wednesday's debate marks the first time the two candidates will stand on the same stage together in the campaign. Both sides have been working to lower expectations, each calling the other a better debater.

Romney engaged in a session of debate preparation at a Burlington, Massachusetts hotel before flying to Denver for an evening rally. Obama was in the Las Vegas suburb of Henderson working on his own preparations for the debate.

“Governor Romney, he's a good debater,” Obama told a rally in Las Vegas on Sunday night. “I'm just okay.”

Given Obama's tendency to meander, aides said they have been trying to get the president to give snappier answers to questions and limit the professorial nature of his responses.

Romney's aides have been working to make sure he does not come off as scolding and to encourage him not to quibble about the rules as he did in some debates during the Republican presidential primary battle.

Opinion: Islamic leaders must call out hatemongers


In 1935, a trial was held in Bern, Switzerland, in which two individuals were being prosecuted for distributing the notorious anti-Semitic document “The Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion.” At the trial, witness after witness came forward testifying to the fraudulent nature of “The Protocols.”

Then one of the accused took the stand and was asked what he thought in light of these testimonies. He said that none of it had impact on him, and that he knows “The Protocols” are true because every day around him he sees how Jews conspire to control the world.

That story comes to mind as we watch the sad tales unfold of the anti-Islamic film that led to riots in the Arab world.

A story circulated that the maker of the film, “Innocence of Muslims,” was an Israeli-American Jew by the name of Sam Bacile who claimed that he had produced the film and was backed by 100 Jewish donors. It quickly emerged, however, that the story was a lie. In fact, there was absolutely no Jewish angle here at all. The film’s producer was a Christian Copt living on the West Coast who received assistance from a right-wing, anti-Muslim Christian.

The revelation of these facts was important in many places, but in those places where anti-Semitic conspiracy theories have become a way of life, the truth had no impact, much as in the case of the distribution of “The Protocols” back in 1935. Rather the “evidence” that the anti-Muslim film was produced by a Jew merely confirmed what they already “know” — that Jews are behind the siege against the Muslim world, that Jews are the secret power in the world.

It is therefore hardly a surprise that a surge of anti-Semitic sentiment appeared since the story broke with the violence against U.S. missions in Egypt and Libya.

Cartoons in papers across the Arab world and in Iran depict evil Jews as behind the film and anti-Muslim sentiment. In one Iranian cartoon, the Jew is the devil and the director of the anti-Muslim film. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad chimed in as usual, calling the film an Israeli plot “to divide [Muslims] and spark sectarian conflict.” Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, said the American-made movie is tied to “Islamophobic policies of arrogant powers and Zionists.”

What should not be missed here is not that this is an example of the usual suspects merely exploiting a situation to serve their anti-Jewish purposes. It is rather far deeper and more sinister.

It is a way of thinking that is dominant in certain circles, is truly believed and just awaits repeated confirmations to set off anti-Semitic explosions of one kind or another.

Therefore, although important, it is simply not enough to react against and expose these manifestations of hatred. Rather there has to be a sustained long-term process of standing up and speaking out against this kind of thinking, so the point can be reached where these conspiratorial viewpoints are isolated and truly marginal.

To a large extent, this has happened in recent years in the West because of the impact and lessons of the Holocaust, because of the changes in the Catholic Church’s views on Jews and, significantly, because of leaders and nongovernmental organizations in democratic societies willing to take a stand for the truth.

Sadly, in the Islamic world, there is no systematic effort to combat anti-Semitic conspiracy thinking. To the contrary, as we see in Iran and in many government-sponsored newspapers in a number of Arab countries, officials often aid, abet and even lead the way in their anti-Semitism.

Ultimately, as in the West, true change will come only when influentials in the Islamic world recognize how destructive these views are to their own societies. We, unfortunately, are far away from that day.

But for now it is vital that Western countries and others like Russia, China and non-aligned nations find opportunities to call out their Muslim country counterparts.

If it is legitimate for Muslims to express anger at anti-Muslim sentiment in the West, even if it comes only from an individual with no government connection, it is surely right to call out Muslim officials who remain silent in the face of or even work to cultivate and exploit anti-Jewish sentiment in their own societies.

Abraham H. Foxman is national director of the Anti-Defamation League and author most recently of “Jews and Money: The Story of a Stereotype.”

Romney’s Libya comments landed with a thud, according to poll


Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney was the loser in a political fight over U.S. reaction to attacks last week on American diplomatic compounds in Libya and Egypt, according to a Reuters/Ipsos poll on Tuesday.

Four in 10 U.S. voters felt less favorably toward Romney after hearing about his criticism of President Barack Obama's handling of the attacks in which the U.S. ambassador to Libya was killed.

Only 26 percent of the registered voters polled felt worse about Obama after hearing about the Democrat's comments about the violence in the Middle East, the survey said.

“Romney probably did not do anything to shore up his foreign policy cred on this particular issue,” Ipsos pollster Julia Clark said, but she noted that foreign policy was typically low on lists of the issues most important to American voters.

Romney took heavy criticism for issuing a statement accusing Obama of sympathizing with Islamists who waged the attacks on U.S. diplomatic compounds in Egypt and Libya.

For his part, Obama vowed to work with the Libyan government to bring to justice the killers of the ambassador and three other Americans.

The poll found that 37 percent of voters felt more favorable toward Obama after hearing about his remarks, versus 29 percent who felt favorable about Romney after hearing about his statement.

The flap last week started a tough period for Romney, who struggled to stabilize his reeling campaign after a secretly recorded video showed him belittling Obama's supporters, raising questions about his ability to come from behind and win the Nov. 6 election.

The poll surveyed 792 registered voters.

The precision of the Reuters/Ipsos online polls is measured using a credibility interval. In this case, the poll has a credibility interval of plus or minus 4.0 percentage points for all respondents. (Editing by Alistair Bell and Eric Beech)

Egyptians clash with police near U.S. embassy


Egyptians angry at a film they said was blasphemous to Islam clashed on Friday in Cairo for a third day with police who blocked the way to the U.S. embassy, where demonstrators climbed the walls and tore down the American flag earlier this week.

“God is Greatest” and “There is no god but God”, one group near the front of the clashes chanted, as police in riot gear fired teargas and threw stones in a street leading from Tahrir Square to the embassy nearby.

Hundreds of protesters gathered in streets near the mission, pelting police with stones. State media had earlier said 224 people were injured in clashes that erupted on Wednesday, after Tuesday's breach of the embassy.

Elsewhere, thousands of others joined peaceful protests after Friday prayers in Tahrir and outside mosques in Cairo and other cities, responding to a call by the Muslim Brotherhood, the group that propelled President Mohamed Mursi to power.

Many Muslims regard any depiction of the Prophet Mohammad as blasphemous and the film that portrayed him as a womanizer and religious fake has provoked outrage across the Middle East and led to the storming of several U.S. missions in the region.

Mursi, an Islamist and Egypt's first freely elected leader, has to strike a delicate balance, fulfilling a pledge to protect the embassy of a major aid donor but also delivering a robust line against the film to satisfy his Islamist backers.

Mursi repeated on Friday his condemnation of the film, rejection of violence and promise to protect diplomatic missions in comments in Italy, the second stop of a trip to Europe.

On Thursday, he said he asked U.S. President Barack Obama to act against those seeking to harm relations. His cabinet said Washington was not to blame for the film but urged the United States to take legal action against those insulting religion.

Washington says it has nothing to do with the film but cannot curb the constitutional right to free speech.

The United States has a large embassy in Cairo, partly because of a vast aid program that began after Egypt signed a peace deal with Israel in 1979. Washington gives $1.3 billion in aid each year to the army plus additional funds to Egypt.

“Before the police, we were attacked by Obama, and his government, and the Coptic Christians living abroad,” shouted one protester wearing a robe and long beard favored by some ultra-orthodox Muslims, speaking close to the police cordon.

FRIDAY PRAYERS

Egypt's Coptic Orthodox church has condemned what it said were Copts abroad who had financed the film. Many Copts worry about the rise of Islamists and fret about any action that could stoke tensions between the two communities.

Two Islamist preachers in Egypt told worshippers on Friday those who made the movie deserved to die under sharia, Islamic law, but said diplomats and police should not be targeted.

Although this could be taken by some Muslims as an edict to take the law into their hands, many Egyptians believe only the prestigious Al-Azhar mosque has the authority to issue decrees. An al-Azhar preacher said protests should be peaceful.

One banner held aloft by demonstrators read: “It is the duty of all Muslims and Christians to kill Morris Sadek and Sam Bacile and everyone who participated in the film.”

The two people named are both linked to the film. Sadek, a Copt living in the United States, told Reuters this week he promoted the film to highlight discrimination against Christians who make up about 10 percent of Egypt's 83 million people.

Police retreated during Friday behind a wall of concrete blocks cutting off the short route to the fortress-like U.S. embassy from Tahrir, the cauldron of the uprising against Hosni Mubarak and location for countless demonstrations since then.

A burnt out car was overturned and windows of a bank were smashed. Hundreds of protesters gathered to throw stones over the wall after some police retreated behind it and then clashed with police on another road on the banks of the Nile, where there are alternative routes to the embassy.

OPPOSITION TO VIOLENCE

“They are protecting the embassy. We want to enter the embassy and pull down the flag and kick out the ambassador,” said Alaa el-Din Yehia, 25, an unemployed graduate.

The violence has angered many Egyptians. One image circulating on Facebook showed a burnt out car accompanied by the words: “People go to defend the Prophet with petrol bombs and religious insults to the police. They don't pray at noon or in the afternoon. Who are they?”

Though some demonstrators clashing with police near the embassy wore clothes favored by ultra-orthodox Islamists, most were young men or youths in jeans and T-shirts. Some made it clear they did not back Mursi or have Islamist sentiments.

“Mursi is protecting them and attacking us, he should allow us in,” said Mohamed Mustafa, 20, a ceramics worker who voted for a liberal rival of Mursi's in the presidential election.

Washington, a close ally of Egypt under Mubarak, has long been wary of Islamists, only formally opening contacts with the Brotherhood last year, several months after Mubarak's fall.

Al-Masry Al-Youm highlighted comments Obama made to a Spanish-language network saying Egypt was neither an enemy nor an ally, underlining the changing ties. “America: Egypt is no longer an ally,” the newspaper wrote in a front page headline.

Additional reporting by Marwa Awad and Mohamed Abdellah; Editing by Alison Williams