Foreign Policy

Congress wants to hear from Gen. Petraeus

Rep Honda, Chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus's Afghanistan Taskforce, and 30 other members of Congress sent a letter to President Obama last week asking that General David Petraeus be made available to testify before the House of Representatives early in the 112th Congress on the status of conditions on the ground in  Afghanistan.  The full text of the letter follows.

The Honorable Barack Obama
President of the United States
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue
Washington, DC 20500

Dear President Obama: We write today to respectfully request that General David Petraeus be made available to testify before the Members of the House of Representatives on your administration’s December Strategy Review and the status of conditions on the ground in Afghanistan.


An irrelevant House?

Some members of the United States House of Representatives may not know too much about international affairs, but they certainly know what they don’t like: a Palestinian state that is not fully supported and endorsed by Israel in direct negotiations.

Representative Howard Berman, chair of the House Foreign Relations Committee, rushed through a resolution to this effect last week that was unanimously passed by voice vote. The resolution seemed on the surface to be yet another victory for the pro-Israel lobby on the Hill.


A flawed, mishandled treaty (Sen. Mitch McConnell)

U.S. Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell delivered the following remarks on the Senate floor Monday regarding the consideration of the START treaty:
Over the weekend, I indicated that I would be voting against the START Treaty. This morning, I would like to explain my decision in a little more detail.
And I’ll begin with the most obvious objection.
First and foremost, a decision of this magnitude should not be decided under the pressure of a deadline. The American people don’t want us to squeeze our most important work into the final days of a session. They want us to take the time we need to make informed, responsible decisions. The Senate can do better than to have the consideration of a treaty interrupted by a series of controversial political items.
So leaving aside for a moment any substantive concerns, and we have many, this is reason enough to delay a vote. No senator should be forced to make decisions like this so we can tick off another item on someone's political check list before the end of the year.
Yet looking back over the past two years, it becomes apparent why the administration would attempt to rush this treaty. And it’s in this context that we discover another important reason to oppose it. I’m referring, of course, to the administration’s pattern of rushing to a policy judgment, and then subsequently studying the problem that the policy decision was intended to address, a pattern that again and again created more problems and complications than we started out with.
First there was the Executive Order to close Guantanamo Bay without any plan for dealing with the detainee population there. As we now know, the administration had no plan for returning terrorists who were held at Guantanamo to Yemen, and it’s still grappling with questions of how best to prosecute Khalid Sheikh Mohammed.
Next was the President’s rush to remove the Intelligence Community from interrogating captured terrorists, without any consideration as to how to deal with them, whether they were captured on the battlefield or at an airport in Detroit. This became all the more concerning when the President announced his surge strategy in Afghanistan, which predictably led to more prisoners. And even in announcing the strategy itself, the President decided to set a date for withdrawal without any sense at the time of what the state of the conflict would be in July 2011.
Then there was the administration’s approach on Don’t Ask Don’t Tell. The President announced his determination to repeal this policy during his campaign, before the military had the time to study whether this change in policy was in the best interest of combat readiness, before senior enlisted staff and noncommissioned officers of the military had testified, and before those who are currently serving had told us whether, in their expert opinion, the policy should be repealed. Moreover, when the Commandant of the Marine Corps suggested the change would harm unit cohesion, he was ignored.
The administration has taken the same cart-before-the-horse approach on the treaty before us. In this case, the President came to office will a long term plan to reduce the nation’s arsenal of nuclear weapons and their role in our national security policy. The plan envisioned a quick agreement to replace the START Treaty that was allowed to expire, with no bridging agreement for arms inspections, followed by efforts to strengthen international commitments to the Non-Proliferation Treaty, reconsideration of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, and further reductions in nuclear arms over time. And he spoke of ultimately reducing nuclear weapons to `global zero’.
In other words, the New START Treaty was just a first step, and it needed to be done quickly. Leave aside for a moment the fact that the New START Treaty does nothing to significantly reduce the Russian Federation’s stockpile of strategic arms, ignores the thousands of tactical weapons in the Russian arsenal, and contains an important concession linking missile defense to the strategic arms. We had to rush this treaty, according to the logic of the administration, because it had become an important component in the effort to `reset’ the bilateral relationship with the Russian Federation.  It was brought up for debate prematurely because it was the first step in a pre-determined arms control agenda. The Senate’s constitutional role of advice and consent became an inconvenient impediment.
The debate over the McCain amendment to strike the language in the preamble of the treaty was instructive.  The language in the preamble concerning missile defense is harmful to our foreign policy because of how it will be viewed not by our President, but how it will be viewed by our allies in Europe and by the Russians. The Russian government opposed the Bush Administration plan to place 10 silo-based missiles in Poland and a fixed radar installation in the Czech Republic. Although the Bush administration had reached agreement with the governments of our two allies, and the proposed ballistic missile defense plan posed no threat to Russia’s overwhelming ability to strike Europe and the United States, Russia sought to coerce our eastern European allies.
It’s worth noting that neither Poland nor the Czech Republic ratified the agreements to go forward with the plan, which the Obama administration cancelled. The McCain amendment would have removed any strategic ambiguity that the Russian Federation will exploit to intimidate NATO members. Many of our NATO partners have been slow to accept the concept of territorial missile defense, and rest assured that they will be slower to fund the program. It is a certainty that if the language in the preamble survives, and this treaty is ratified, the Russians will mount a campaign to obstruct missile defense in Europe.  There is no good argument for having voted against the McCain Amendment, which would have significantly improved this treaty.
The principal argument raised against the McCain amendment was that any amendment to the Treaty would result in the State Department having to return to a negotiation with the Russian Federation. That may be true, or the amended Treaty could be considered by the Russian Duma. In either case, the argument brings into question the Senate’s role in providing advice and consent to ratification. If it is the position of the majority that the Treaty cannot be amended, as the Senate was unable to amend so many other matters before us these last weeks of this session, why have any debate at all?
“This leads us to the subject of verification — a second matter of serious concern. Although the Senate will meet today in closed session to discuss the flawed nature of the verification procedures envisioned by the New START Treaty, the Majority has filed cloture and stated that the Treaty cannot be amended. The senior Senator from Missouri, the Vice Chairman of the Intelligence Committee, has provided his views to the Senate on this matter, and I join him in his concerns.
Senator Bond has provided a classified assessment of the details related to verification and chances of Russian breakout of the treaty’s warhead limits which is available for all Senators to review. To quote the Vice Chairman of the Intelligence Committee,
I have reviewed the key intelligence on our ability to monitor this treaty and heard from our intelligence professionals. There is no doubt in my mind that the United States cannot reliably verify the treaty’s 1,550 limit on deployed warheads.’
I agree with the conclusion that the New START Treaty central warhead limit of 1,550 cannot be conclusively verified. The New Start Treaty allows the Russians to deploy missiles without a standard or uniform number of warheads. The limited number of warhead inspections provided for under this Treaty also limits the access of our inspectors to an upper limit of three percent of the Russian force. It can thus be said that this treaty places higher confidence in trust than on verification.
Compounding these concerns is the history of Russian Treaty violations. As the State Department’s recent reports on arms control compliance make clear, the Russians have previously violated provisions of the START Treaty, the Chemical Weapons Convention, the Conventional Forces in Europe Treaty and the Biological Weapons Convention.
This is a not a track record to be rewarded with greater trust. It’s a reason to take our verification duties even more seriously.
Despite my opposition to this Treaty, I hope the President remains committed to modernizing the nuclear triad.  The war on terror has required an expansion of our nation’s ground forces, the Marine Corps, the Army, and our Special Operations Forces, and our near-term readiness. As we continue the effort to dismantle, defeat and disrupt Al Qaeda, we must also plan for the threats that our country will face in the coming decades.
“We must invest not only in the delivery systems and platforms that will preserve our nuclear delivery capability, such as the next generation bomber, nuclear submarines and a new intercontinental ballistic missile, but also in the strike aircraft and naval forces required to control the Pacific Rim as economic growth and the military capabilities of China increase. 
Although the President has decided there is value in pursuing a disarmament agenda, this country may determine in the coming years to place a greater reliance upon the role of strategic arms, and we must remain committed to defense modernization. Our nation faces many challenges in the coming decades, some economic, some strategic.  It would seem short-sighted to think that as North Korea, Iran and others work to acquire nuclear weapons capabilities we could draw our arsenal down to zero.
So I will oppose this Treaty. I thank the Chairman and Ranking Members of the Foreign Relations, Armed Services and Intelligence Committees for the service that they have provided the Senate in reviewing it. It is unfortunate that something as important as the Senate’s consideration of a treaty like this one was truncated in order to meet another arbitrary deadline or the wish list of the liberal base. And it’s deeply troubling to think that a legislative body charged with the solemn responsibility of advice and consent would be deprived of this role because it would inconvenience our negotiating partners.
As debate over this treaty has intensified over the past few days, these and other concerns have become increasingly apparent to a number of senators and to the American people. We should wait until every one of them is addressed. Our top concern should be the safety and security of our nation, not some politician’s desire to declare a political victory and host a press conference before the first of the year. Americans have had more than enough of artificial timelines set by politicians eager for attention. They want us to focus on their concerns, not ours, and never more so than on matters of National Security.


America needs a new START (Rep. Edward J. Markey)

As the Senate begins its debate on the New Strategic Arms Treaty (START), they need to ask themselves the question – do we want to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear bomb that could someday be used to attack Israel or other U.S. allies? Because that is the situation Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) and other Republicans could create by threatening to hold up Senate ratification of the New START.

The New START treaty is a major step forward by the United States and Russia in meeting their disarmament obligations under the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and will serve as a key bridge toward reaching the ultimate goal of a nuclear weapon-free world. By reducing the size of the nuclear arsenals held by weapons states like the U.S. and Russia, the treaty sends a strong signal to the world that those nations that currently have 90 percent of the world’s nuclear weapons are seriously committed to the goal of arms reductions.


A commitment renewed: U.S. and South Africa save lives from HIV/AIDS through smart investments

Thanks to strong bipartisan support in Congress and the leadership of President George W. Bush and President Barack Obama, the United States, through the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), and our partner nations are making dramatic progress in the fight against AIDS. Our investments are being used in more ways to maximize the impact we have in saving lives. 

There have been remarkable advances in fighting HIV/AIDS in South Africa thanks to the strong and deepening partnership between our two countries.  

South Africa has the world’s largest number of people living with HIV – over five million in a population of about 50 million. The country is on the front lines of the global pandemic, with about 17 percent of the world’s HIV infections.


End this war (Rep. Russ Carnahan)

“You’ve got to end this war in Afghanistan.”

There has been a flurry of debate regarding the supposed last words of Ambassador Richard Holbrooke. Was it a last-minute policy exhortation? Or merely part of “painful banter” with his doctors as they wheeled him into surgery?

I say: it doesn’t matter.

Regardless of his tone, Ambassador Holbrooke’s focus on the grim task at hand in Afghanistan – even as he fought his own battle to stay alive – is poignant evidence of his dedication to achieve greater peace and stability throughout the world. What’s more, it serves as a clear call for all of us to take up the torch and bring an end to a nine-year conflict that presents a growing threat to our international and domestic well-being.


We must exercise caution with the government of Sudan (Sen. Sam Brownback and Rep. Donald Payne)

In less than a month, the people of southern Sudan are scheduled to vote by referendum on whether or not to secede from the north and become an independent country. This referendum — mandated by the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) — ended more than 22 years of war between north and south Sudan. The United States was a critical partner supporting the negotiation and signing of the CPA in 2005 and has been entrusted as a guarantor of its implementation.

As long-time advocates for peace and justice in Sudan, we’ve seen our share of frustrations and missed opportunities. Today, as Sudan stands at a crossroads, we wish to highlight both risks and key opportunities for the United States to support peace and security for the Sudanese people.


Next steps in Afghanistan

The best defenses against the threats of terrorism and instability are functional sovereign governments and growing economies in Afghanistan and Pakistan. When local governments lack the capacity to drive economic growth, guarantee security and justice for their citizens, this creates the perfect environment for insurgent groups that thrive on chaos. The administration's approach has yielded results, but as the review recognizes, the question now is how to make the gains sustainable and durable to enable a responsible drawdown of troops and resources.


Richard Holbrooke: A great man of peace (Adm. Michael Mullen)

There will be an awful lot of things said about Richard Holbrooke in the coming days, some of it even true. But I think the most important things are the things people won't be able to say about him.

They won't be able to say he didn't care. Anyone who knew Richard knew he was passionate about, well, pretty much everything.

I remember meeting with him for the first time, not long after he took up his job as special representative. I was struck by how much he really knew about Afghanistan. He knew the tribal politics, the family connections. He knew the history of the country, the topography of the land, the agricultural challenges. He even knew the weather patterns. It was like going on a date with a search engine. 


Richard Holbrooke’s legacy will not be forgotten (Rep. Albio Sires)

 For nearly fifty years, Richard Holbrooke passionately served his country. He represented the United States in some of the most challenging of places, and along the way, left his distinct mark on U.S. foreign policy. His passion and abilities will be greatly missed. 

Ambassador Holbrooke’s accomplishments are numerous and impressive. His breadth of knowledge was astonishing and his expertise in world affairs had few matches. After beginning his career in the Foreign Service in Vietnam, he worked under President Johnson on Vietnam issues.  Under President Carter, he expanded his skills as the Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs. In the early 1990s, Mr. Holbrooke served as the U.S. Ambassador to Germany, and in 1995, as Assistant Secretary of State for Europe, he was instrumental in reaching the Dayton Peace Agreement that ended the conflict in Bosnia. In his last years, Richard Holbrooke was tackling arguably the most pressing issue facing the United States as the U.S. Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan.