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Foreign Affairs

Charles Freeman And The Obama Administration – What Is Going On? (UPDATE)

What is going on with the Charles Freeman nomination, and is it an indicator of a overwhelmed administration losing control?  Who, exactly, is in charge there?

Frankly, approaching 45 days into this administration, the transition process, at least as it pertains to critical nominations, has been an unmitigated disaster.  But it is the Freeman nomination which begs the question “who is in charge”.  Charles Freeman has been nominated for the chairmanship of the National Intelligence Council (NIC), the organization in charge of preparing our most sensitive intelligence estimates.

Obama’s Director of National Intelligence Dennis C. Blair apparently never ran the nomination by the White House.  That means Freeman has never been formally vetted.  Now this may all fall back on Blair, but you have to wonder what sort of guidance or lack thereof provided him with the belief that this was the way things worked?

More importantly, why did Blair decide Freeman was the man for the job?   A former ambassador under George H. W. Bush,  to Saudi Arabia and senior envoy to China, Freeman is seen by many as having very serious conflicts of interest which were apparently ignored.    Freeman was also a board member the China National Offshore Oil Corp (CNOOC) owned in majority by the Chinese government and other Chinese government agencies. And there are other financial ties which are suspect. Freeman is president of the nonprofit educational organization Middle East Policy Council (MEPC), which paid him $87,000 in 2006, and received at least $1 million from a Saudi prince. You can read about the ramifications of those connections here.

But its not just who Freeman has been connected with, but some of the statements he’s made that make one wonder about his objectivity and, frankly, his moral and ideological foundation.  This is a person who remarked that the Chinese government had shown too much “restraint” when putting down the Tiananmen Square protests in 1989. And in testimony before the 9/11 Commission, he advocated the use of a national identity card.  After all the wide-spread panic from the left concerning the Bush years and the claim that he was leading us down the path to totalitarianism, this seems like the type of person the left would really find unacceptable for a position.

Then there is the Congressional side of the question.  Jennifer Rubin asks:

Does Diane Feinstein think Freeman is an acceptable pick? It is interesting to note how lacking in — what’s the word? ah yes — “oversight” the government is now that Congress and the White House are controlled by the same party. Imagine if George W. Bush had nominated someone whose earnings depended on the largess of the House of Saud or who advocated crushing Chinese dissidents — indeed faster than the Chinese government.

And she further asks, is this the type of person who will give the administration “the “unpoliticized” advice they are looking for?”

Given what we know, I’d say no.  However, this nomination is just one more in what can only be characerized as a shambles – Commerce, HHS, Treasury, questions about his housing czar and nominees for other Treasury posts jumping ship – that is the nomination process.  

This points to a very inexperienced administration learning on the job in one of the more turbulent times in our history. That is not a good thing, folks, but exactly what was predicted given his lack of a resume. We’ve now seen the result of a campaign based on vacuous slogans. A campaign that was part demonization of the opposition and part beauty pageant. A campaign in which few focused on what the responsibilities of the office entailed and whether the candidate had the qualifications to fulfill them. We’re now “enjoying” what that brings.

UPDATE: Politico reports that Charles Freeman has withdrawn his nomination. Heh … that’s the fastest reaction I’ve ever had to one of my posts.

~McQ

Too Tired For Diplomacy or Foreign Affairs? Not Interested? Or Overwhelmed By The Job?

Or, perhaps, “all of the above”. From the UK Telegraph:

Sources close to the White House say Mr Obama and his staff have been “overwhelmed” by the economic meltdown and have voiced concerns that the new president is not getting enough rest.

British officials, meanwhile, admit that the White House and US State Department staff were utterly bemused by complaints that the Prime Minister should have been granted full-blown press conference and a formal dinner, as has been customary. They concede that Obama aides seemed unfamiliar with the expectations that surround a major visit by a British prime minister.

But Washington figures with access to Mr Obama’s inner circle explained the slight by saying that those high up in the administration have had little time to deal with international matters, let alone the diplomatic niceties of the special relationship.

Allies of Mr Obama say his weary appearance in the Oval Office with Mr Brown illustrates the strain he is now under, and the president’s surprise at the sheer volume of business that crosses his desk.

A well-connected Washington figure, who is close to members of Mr Obama’s inner circle, expressed concern that Mr Obama had failed so far to “even fake an interest in foreign policy”.

And here we were led to believe Mr. Obama was this cool, multitasker under full control and able to handle everything the job entailed.

That’s what we were led to believe.

Some of us, however, said that of all the jobs on the planet this wasn’t the one for OJT.  This isn’t a job where one aspect of the duties can be ignored to concentrate on others.

Guess which group looks more prescient at the moment?

~McQ

Stray Voltage

Apparently Timothy Geithner isn’t the financial “rock star” he was touted to be if his handling of the Asian crisis 10 years ago is any indication.

While Obama may have “inherited” the financial problems, the bear market is all his.

Speaking of lay-offs, this isn’t going to make our jet jocks feel very secure.

The new slogan of the Democrats – never let a good crisis go to waste.  So this is a “good” crisis?

Take a look at this page and tell me where are the promised tax money from rich folks is going to come from.

Stray Voltage

Stray Voltage

If you don’t believe government is contemplating some pretty heavy care rationing when and if they get control, read this little beauty carefully.

Even George McGovern finds the pending card check legislation desired by unions to be “fundamentally wrong” and undemocratic.

Grey wolves “delisted” from endangered species list.

No time for Gordon Brown, but plenty of time for Brad Pitt.  Wonder if Pitt got a 25 volume DVD set too?

Is Obama preparing the way for a massive defense spending cut?

George W. Obama?

Even Paul Krugman is getting a little antsy about the apparent lack of focus of the Obama administration on the financial crisis.

It appears Hugo Chavez recognizes a kindred spirit when he sees one.

The Senate is one vote short of passing the omnibus spending bill with 9,000 earmarks.  All I wonder is which Republican will cave first?

~McQ

The High Cost Of Uneforceable Moral Preening

The International Criminal Court (ICC) has no real power of enforcement. It is one of those bodies that the “one world” crowd managed to get formed and funded in hope of creating the penultimate judicial body that can adjudicate criminal complaints against political and military leaders anywhere in the world. It depends on voluntary compliance with its indictments and voluntary submission to its rule. As you might imagine, that’s not as forthcoming as its planners thought it might be – especially among the nations most in need of straightening up. Such as Sudan:
International Criminal Courtblockquote>Thousands of people protested in Khartoum on Friday after preachers condemned an International Criminal Court arrest warrant for Sudan’s president on charges of war crimes in Darfur.

It was the third day of demonstrations after the Hague-based court announced it was indicting President Omar Hassan al-Bashir on seven counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity, including murder, rape and torture.

While everyone agrees that what is happening in Darfur is a crime against humanity, it is a crime that the world has allowed to continue for almost 20 years. So one has to wonder, other than a bit of moral preening by the ICC, what utility issuing an arrest warrant for the head of state of Sudan might have. Will it actually facilitate his arrest and end the problem in Darfur? Will it improve the conditions and security for those in danger in Darfur? After all, if it is the conditions and the plight of those in Darfur that the ICC is using as the basis of its criminal complaint, wouldn’t you hope that such a move would improve that situation rather than worsen it?

Sudanese President al-Bashir

Sudanese President al-Bashir

As it turns out, it does “none of the above”.  The issuance of the arrest warrant by the ICC has instead caused all the aid agencies working to save the refugees to be thrown out of the region on suspicion they’re passing evidence of  crimes on to the ICC.

Of the 76 NGOs in Darfur with which the U.N. is working, the 13 that have been expelled account for half the aid that is distributed in the region, said Elisabeth Byrs, spokeswoman for the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

Their departure would leave 1.1 million people without food, 1.5 million without medical care and more than one million without drinking water, she told the briefing.

“It will be very, very challenging for both the remaining humanitarian organizations and for the government of Sudan to fill this gap,” she said.

Of course the argument might be “we should confront evil where ever we find it” and I don’t disagree. But issuing a toothless arrest warrant that only agitates the person named to the point that over a million people are placed in peril doesn’t exactly live up to the word “confront” in my book. It is a moral “feel good” activity which may spur an immoral reaction beyond anyone’s control. And that seems to be the case here.

It is one thing to issue the sort of warrant the ICC has issued and then take the action necessary to serve and enforce it. But in the absence of that, what is the utility of issuing such a warrant without such an enforcement mechanism, especially given the range of possible negative reactions and outcomes? Whatever happens now to those million people at risk in Darfur, as a result of the ejection of the aid agencies so key to their survival, rests squarely in the lap of the ICC. I’m not arguing that al-Bashir isn’t a murdering criminal or that the world shouldn’t do what is necessary to stop his crimes against the people in Darfur. But what shouldn’t be done is hand him a reason to further endanger those people by issuing unenforceable warrants that make the rest of the world feel morally superior but actually worsens the threat against those who can’t defend themselves.

~McQ

Brits Not Happy With Obama’s Treatment Of Brown

And I have to wonder, given some of the comments, whether this isn’t an indication of his overall disinterest in foreign affairs.

Anyway, a raft of British writers are not happy with Obama’s treatment of them or of British PM Gordon Brown.  Some samples:

Tim Shipman, Telegraph:

A Washington Post colleague just called me and said that the White House press corps cannot think of a single previous occasion when a British Prime Minister was treated in this way.

British Embassy staff, irritated themselves, had to twist Robert Gibbs’ arm to get even two questions per side in a quick oval office doorstep.

Alex Massie, Spectator:

Indeed, for a President who wants to “renew” America’s relationship with the rest of the world, Obama is strikingly reluctant to actually, you know, speak to the rest of the world.

Benedict Brogan, Mail:

If Downing Street was expecting the kind of love-in that marked the first Blair-Clinton gala at the White House or the Blair-Bush Colgate and video moment at Camp David, this new administration has proved it wrong. There never was going to be a press conference, despite what No10 said. And there is no couple time planned. No Stevie Wonder, no Meet the Parents, no burgers.

Daniel Hannon, Telegraph, combines a couple of shots:

Incidentally, did you notice that the president silkily downgraded us? Britain, he said, was “one of our closest and strongest allies”. Well, fair enough. US Presidents have to be sparing with their superlatives lest they irk the Canadians or the Israelis or some other favoured people. Still, Dubya never had any problem with describing the United Kingdom as “our closest friend and strongest ally,” adding, on the day Baghdad fell: “America has no finer ally than Great Britain”.

Some will see Obama’s vocabulary as a calculated snub. The forty-fourth president, they will say, has never been keen on Britain. He’s resentful about the way our colonial officers treated his Kenyan grandfather. He was dismissive of us in his autobiography. But I think there is a simpler explanation: he just doesn’t think much of our Prime Minister. Neither do we, Mr President; neither do we.

One of the first things Obama did on taking office was send a Winston Churchill bust, given by the British to President Bush, back to the British. And now this bit of embarrassment.

I’m sure this will be remembered when the Obama administration asks the Brits, our most solid ally and contributor of troops in Afghanistan, to up their commitment.

Iain Martin of the Telegraph sums that sentiment up best:

We get the point, sunshine: we’re just one of many allies and you want fancy new friends. Well, the next time you need something doing, something which impinges on your national security, then try calling the French, or the Japanese, or best of all the Germans. The French will be able to offer you first rate support from their catering corps but beyond that you’ll be on your own.

When it comes to men, munitions and commitment you’ll soon find out why it pays to at least treat the Brits with some manners.

Ceremony and press availability are expected parts of these sorts of events. And precedent is very important as well. Any deviation which makes the event less than the last one is seen as a diplomatic snub. Diplomatic snubs are not well received and payback is indeed always calculated.

Much of what you’ll read is press hacks whining about not getting the expected and anticipated access. But they do have a point as Tim Shipman describes. True or not, these are now the leading meme’s emerging in the wake of yesterday’s decidedly fumbled diplomatic event:

Why does this matter? Three reasons:

- Major British hack involvement in a full blown press conference has always been regarded as useful by the White House press corps. We ask different questions from them, usually more aggressively and get answers they could not. There were several spiky and revealing moments between President Bush and the BBC political editor Nick Robinson. It is bizarre that Mr Obama is less willing to answer questions than Mr Bush. It reflects very poorly on his tendency towards control freakery, which has been in evidence since his campaign.

- It’s discourteous to Mr Brown, who was desperate for his big moment with the podiums. On his two set piece trips to see Bush there were proper pressers at Camp David and then in the Rose Garden. Why gratify him with the first European trip and then snub his big PR moment? There will be no private relaxation time for Mr Brown with Mr Obama, a given on previous prime ministerial trips. I know he’s busy but it shows that he is not really that interested, as my sources were telling me last week.

- Obama has been running scared of the international media and the British press in particular since the start of his campaign. He didn’t give a single interview to a British outlet even when he was in the UK. This is very unusual, particularly from a man who so desperately wants to be loved on the world stage. We know we’re not special, given Obama’s general contempt for beat reporters (as opposed to his schmoozing with editors), but it is still peculiar.

We’ll see how it goes the next time Obama shows up in the UK or asks for British cooperation and help. Given this little show, however, I’d say Obama’s diplomatic skills need some sharpening. Additionally, the British press is now going to be laying in wait for an opportunity to embarrass Obama. As you can tell, this really PO’d them and he’s not going to be able to avoid them forever. For someone who so masterfully manipulated the domestic press, this is a pretty ham-handed performance. And as we’ve all come to understand, the press will get its revenge.

~McQ

Our Ironic Foreign Policy

A billion dollars of your tax dollars is on its way to Palestine, 300 million of it earmarked for the Gaza Strip where Hamas still rules:

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton on Monday will pledge about $300 million in U.S. humanitarian aid for the war-torn Gaza Strip, plus about $600 million in assistance to the Palestinian Authority, a U.S. official said Sunday.

State Department spokesman Robert A. Wood told reporters traveling with Clinton Sunday that she would announce the donations at an international pledging conference at this Red Sea resort. The conference is seeking money for Gaza and the Palestinian economy.

So thanks to your generosity, Hamas doesn’t have to ante up $300 million to support its own people. Yes, your subsidy will allow them to instead purchase some new munitions and rockets with which to attack Israel.

This is the same Secretary of State who recently was peddling our debt bonds to the Chinese, ostensibly so we could borrow more money to, what, fund Hama’s war on Israel?

Isn’t life ironic?

~McQ

Afghanistan – No Longer The “Good War”?

Apparently not to the usual suspects.

Bill Ayers was interviewed:

Ayers had this to say about President Barack Obama committing an additional 17,000 troops to Afghanistan: “It’s a mistake. It’s a colossal mistake. And, you know, we’ve seen this happen before, Alan. We’ve seen a hopeful presidency, Lyndon Johnson’s presidency, burn up in the furnace of war.”

Ayers thereby joins the rest of the moonbat contingent:

“I’m very upset; he promised change, and this is not change. It’s just going to create more deaths on both sides and create more terrorists,” said Jodie Evans, co-founder of Code Pink. The group, known for protests and targeting Bush administration officials, posted a statement Thursday condemning Mr. Obama’s decision and urging him to replace the combat troops with “humanitarian troops.”

“Afghanistan needs troops of doctors, farmers, teachers, not more troops,” the statement says.

It is apparently beyond Ms. Evan’s abilities to wonder how those “troops” of doctors, farmers and teachers are supposed to do their thing when, in the absence of our troops, the countryside is controlled by the Taliban. I assume she isn’t aware of the fact that the Taiban has a tendency to behead many of those she’d commit to A’stan.

Interesting though, isn’t it? Now we’re beginning to see that many of the supposedly “anti-Iraq” crowd, were just the usual anti-war bunch.

~McQ

Now That’s “Change” We Do Believe

You could hear jaws dropping all over the world’s human right’s establishment as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton stated the Obama administration’s new policy about human rights vs economic, environmental and security concerns:

Amnesty International and a pro-Tibet group voiced shock Friday after US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton vowed not to let human rights concerns hinder cooperation with China.

Paying her first visit to Asia as the top US diplomat, Clinton said the United States would continue to press China on long-standing US concerns over human rights such as its rule over Tibet.

But our pressing on those issues can’t interfere on the global economic crisis, the global climate change crisis and the security crisis,” Clinton told reporters in Seoul just before leaving for Beijing.

Hmmm … 4th place.

But Gitmo?

Bad.

~McQ

Russia Freezes Iranian Missile Sale

An interesting story out of Russia via the Jerusalem Post. And while good news, albeit of a temporary nature I’m sure, I’m betting there is much more to this than meets the eye.  This is about positioning in upcoming missile defense talks with the US:

Russia has frozen the sale of the state-of-the-art S-300 anti-aircraft missiles to Iran, the Russian newspaper Kommersant reported Wednesday.

Iranian Defense Minister Mostafa Mohammad Najjar was reportedly informed of the decision by his Russian counterpart Anatoly Serdyukov on his visit to Moscow on Wednesday.

Russia said the delivery of the systems would be delayed at least until the upcoming meeting between President Dmitry Medvedev and his US counterpart, Barack Obama. Kommersant cited Russia’s wish to prevent hindering dialogue with the new US administration.

Military diplomatic sources were quoted by Kommersant as saying that the issue had been the focus of Najjar’s visit.

Of course the important point is the sale is frozen, not canceled. While that’s good news for both the US and Israel (the S-300 system is reported to be a very good air defense system against not just aircraft, but cruise missiles), it may not be any more than a temporary sop to the Americans and a reminder to the Iranians that Russia is their major backer and can pull that backing at any time. And, interestingly, there’s one other reason (or at least so Israel claims):

Israel Radio quoted Moscow sources as saying that apart form the gesture to the Americans, Russia also wanted to avoid ruining a $100 million drone purchase from Israel.

I say interesting because the S-300 sale is an $800 million sale. You jeopardize an 800 million sale for a 100 million purchase? Or do you grab the 100 mil buy because you know the 800 mil sale is in the bag? I’d say the latter, meaning the freeze is most likely for show only. Unless, of course, the Russians are just incredibly stupid businessmen.

I don’t think they are, although they’re not as clever in other areas as they sometimes think. This seems to me to be a very crude (but probably effective) set up for an “aw gee and here we made this great gesture toward working with you and this is how you act?” result of our first meeting with Russia. Absolute world opinion gold for Putin and the boys if they manage it correctly and, of course, the perfect opportunity to then unfreeze the sale.  Can anyone guess who’d end up being embarrassed by such a scenario?

~McQ

Iran And “Negotiating 101″

As the NY Times reports today in an article about Special Envoy Richard Holbrooke’s trip to the Middle Eastern region:

Mr. Obama has said that he will reach out to Iran for direct talks, and last week the Iranian president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, said that Iran was ready. The two nations have not spoken directly since the Islamic Revolution in Iran 30 years ago.

So how does one begin that sort of a dialog when the target of the talks sees any concession as a sign of weakness and views your chief ally in the region as a cancer which needs to be excised?

As discussed during the presidential primary and then during the campaign, what you don’t do is enter such discussions without some established preconditions. And you certainly don’t unilaterally concede anything, especially if such a concession would help speed Iran’s production of a nuclear weapon.

That’s why this report from the open source intelligence newsletter GeoStrategy Direct is rather disturbing. Speaking of the new Israeli government, it writes:

Just as Barack Obama entered office facing a massive economic crisis beyond the scope of his experience, likewise the new Israeli leader will have to make or delay making difficult strategic decisions from the minute he or she enters office.

Barak has already signaled what the new government can expect, officials here said.

The United States has abandoned its policy of sanctioning companies that aid Iran’s nuclear and missile program, they said.

The officials said the new Obama administration of has decided to end sanctions against Iranian government agencies or companies that aid Teheran’s missile and nuclear program. The officials said Israel has been informed of the new U.S. policy.

“We were told that sanctions do not help the new U.S. policy of dialogue with Iran,” an official said.

Barak confirmed the new U.S. policy. In an address to the Herzliya Conference on Feb. 3, Barak said Washington did not say whether it would resume sanctions against Iran.

“Barak”, of course, is Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak. And, if true, you might imagine he and Israel are less than pleased. Trying to put a positive face on it Barak says:

“We must arrive at a strategic understanding with the United States over Iran’s military nuclear program and ensure that even if at this time they opt for the diplomatic option, it will only last a short time before harsh and necessary sanctions are imposed.”

Indeed. The stated reason for the lifting of the sanctions is they’ve been unsuccessful in stopping Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons. Unasked, however, is how successful they’ve been in delaying their acquisition? The removal of sanctions and the removal of all negative consequences for companies who supply such technology will certainly provide the incentive necessary for those companies to speed that pursuit along, won’t it?

How will the unilateral lifting of sanctions be viewed by Iran?

Well consider the internal politics of the country.  You have an increasingly unpopular president under fire for his aggressive rhetoric and posture being challenged by a more moderate candidate.  You also have a population that is growing tired of its isolation and the hardships imposed by sanctions. And there are rumors the ruling mullahs may not be particularly pleased with him either.  Pressure is building against Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and some believe there is a distinct possibility that he can be defeated in June.

Suddenly, without any direct negotiations or concessions on the part of Iran, sanctions are lifted by the US.  It seems to me Ahmadinejad could make a credible claim that his posture is responsible for the US caving and lifting the sanctions.  He can claim, regardless of the truth of the claim, that his confrontational attitude is what brought the change.  The message? The US is weak and confrontation works, reelect me.

And in the real world, results speak for themselves.

Result?

More aggressive and belligerent language, a campaign boost to a declared enemy of the US, faster realization of nuclear weapons for Iran, heightened tensions with Israel (not only from Iran but with the US), and a deteriorating situation in the Middle East.  All that from a guy who says one of his signature issues is nuclear nonproliferation.

Go figure.

~McQ

[HT: Gateway Pundit]