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Heard Around the Hillary-Sphere: Tuesday Edition

August 25, 2009

hillary_usaHere’s a round-up of news that relates to our Secretary of State and the issues she is currently involved with:

Laura Rozen provides updates about people who will be joining Secretary Clinton at the State Department and importantly, gives a mini-update about what in the heck is going on with any potential USAID nominee:

Appointments: Human Rights Watch’s COO Suzanne Nossel, a former aide to Richard Holbrooke at the United Nations, and the author who first put into circulation the “smart power” concept that has gained strong traction in Democratic foreign policy circles and the Clinton State Department, will join the State Department at the end of the month as deputy assistant secretary of State for international organizations, reporting to Assistant Secretary Esther Brimmer.

Among Nossel’s initial tasks will be helping shepherd U.S. goals at the United Nations General Assembly opening session next month, around which time several Obama administration foreign policy initiatives — including its Middle East peace plan vision or parameters — are expected to be announced.

The nominee to be assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor Michael Posner is expected to be confirmed after Congress returns from August recess. Some sort of administrative issue or amended paperwork requirements apparently prevented Posner from getting confirmed with a slate of other nominees just before the recess, but is said to be close to being resolved. Hill sources said they believe he’ll be up for consideration at the first business meeting following recess.

[snip]

USAID speculation returns: Who is being considered for US AID administrator now that the leading candidate Paul Farmer has moved on? Sources in the development community and on the Hill say they are hearing that it is likely to be a safe candidate, someone already in place in the administration and possibly confirmed for something else. Sources have speculated on the names Aaron Williams, a former senior US AID official who has just gotten into place as director of the Peace Corps, the NSC’s senior director for development Gayle Smith, Under Secretary of State for Democracy and Global Affairs Maria Otero, and long time Clinton advisor and former Albright-era North Korea hand Wendy Sherman, but the names appear to be in the realm of speculation at this point. One government source said he heard former Secretary of State and Obama-endorser Colin Powell recently floated but from an outsider.

“People are desperate for someone,” a development hand said on condition of anonymity. So all these names “could be the rumor mill spinning out of control.”

Well, it looks like neoconservative hawk, John Bolton, was wrong about the impact of Bill Clinton’s trip to N. Korea earlier this month. Bolton of course opined that it would have deleterious effects because he believes the answers to all foreign policy problems can be solved with cluster bombs (you can see my post about that, here). Here is the NYT discussing renewed diplomatic efforts between North and South Korea:

South Korea and North Korea agreed Tuesday to hold talks this week focused on arranging reunions of families separated by the Korean War more than 55 years ago.

The discussions would be the first joint meetings of Red Cross officials from both countries in two years, offering another sign that North Korea is shifting away from its provocations of Washington and Seoul. After its recent nuclear test and missile launchings, the North has made some conciliatory gestures, among them the release of two American journalists this month after a trip to Pyongyang by former President Bill Clinton.

South Korean news reports said Tuesday that North Korea had gone further toward that end, inviting President Obama’s special envoy on North Korea, Stephen W. Bosworth, to visit Pyongyang for talks.

[snip]

The three-day Red Cross meeting is scheduled to begin Wednesday at the Diamond Mountain resort in southeastern North Korea, according to Chun Hae-sung, the spokesman for the government Unification Ministry in Seoul.

If the two Koreas agree on a new round of family reunions, a selected number of Koreans from each side will be allowed to meet children, brothers and sisters they have never met or have not communicated with since the end of fighting in 1953.

Before they were suspended, the highly emotional reunions were a powerful symbol of reconciliation on the divided Korean Peninsula — and leverage for the impoverished North to extract good will and aid from the South. But the North broke off the visits after President Lee Myung-bak of South Korea, who has taken a harsher stance on the North compared with his recent predecessors, took office 18 months ago.

JoongAng Ilbo, a daily newspaper in Seoul, reported Tuesday that North Korea has invited Mr. Bosworth and Sung Kim, Washington’s chief nuclear negotiator with the North, to visit Pyongyang. The Obama administration is seriously considering a trip next month, the report said, citing an unidentified high-level diplomatic source in Washington. The South Korean news agency, Yonhap, carried a similar report.

If the American envoy, Mr. Bosworth, visits Pyongyang it would be the first nuclear discussion between North Korea and the United States since Mr. Obama took office in January. Officials in the United States were not immediately available for comment, and the United States Embassy in Seoul said it would not comment.

Is John Bolton ever right about anything? Just wondering.

Secretary Clinton issued congratulations to the people of Uruguay and issued the following statement today:

On behalf of the people of the United States, I would like to offer warm wishes and congratulations to the people of Uruguay as they celebrate 184 years of independence. On this historic occasion, we salute Uruguay’s rich culture and traditions, as well as its leadership on a wide range of key issues for our Hemisphere.

The partnership between the United States and Uruguay is based on mutual respect and mutual interest. Our people are united by our shared commitment to democratic values and strong economic, cultural and familial ties. Let me reaffirm the commitment of the United States to strengthen and deepen our partnership as we work together to build a peaceful and prosperous future for all our people.

Blackwater and their new company, Xe, have been in the news a lot lately- and not for good reasons and today is no exception. Senator Kerry is concerned about ongoing Blackwater contracts with federal agencies, including the State Department:

In a letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Kerry said he is troubled by reports that Xe Services — earlier known as Blackwater Worldwide — allegedly played a significant role in CIA operations to target and assassinate al-Qaeda leaders and to arm and launch Predator drones against targets in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

“These reports raise new serious questions about the wisdom of outsourcing the most sensitive government responsibilities to private companies. The reports also have serious implications for US foreign policy,” said Kerry, who is Chairman of Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Currently Blackwater is providing diplomatic security in Afghanistan through a USD 265 million contract, anti-terrorism training under a USD 6 million contract and a contract for aviation services in Iraq, which expires next month.

“While these are existing contracts, I believe there are clauses that allow the State Department to cancel them for cause. Given the latest reports regarding Blackwater, I think the time has come to review the situation with this company, within the larger context of the continued use of private contractors for sensitive government tasks,” Kerry said in his letter to Clinton dated August 21.

“Of particular concern to me is whether Backwater employees may have engaged in targeted killing programme for the CIA while using their work for the State Department as a cover for gathering information,” he said…

It sounds like Blackwater is little more than a mercenary army. Not good. And it certainly isn’t helping us win “hearts and minds” in Afghanistan or Iraq.

So, as I mentioned in my Hillary-Sphere round-up yesterday, Libyan President Col. Kadhafi is New Jersey-bound and the folks from NJ are none too happy about it and are appealing to Secretary Clinton to intercede:

Sen. Frank Lautenberg, (D – N.J.) Monday asked the State Department to restrict Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi’s travels to the area around the United Nations next month, according to a report in The Record.
The report said concerns mounted Monday about the the Libyan dictator staying at a Palisade Avenue estate that his country has owned since 1982. Gadhafi will visit the United States for the first time next month to speak at the U.N. General Assembly.

“Given recent events, I believe the State Department should ensure that Colonel Qaddafi’s entry into the United States is for official U.N. business only and does not allow him to travel freely,” Lautenberg wrote to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

It will be interesting to see how Secretary Clinton responds, particularly given the administration’s public disapproval of the release of the terrorist responsible for the bombing of Pan Am flight 103.

I never read the Washington Times and this recycled, lame article reminded me why:

…Now, however, his appointments of nearly a score of special envoys and special ambassadors have created a confusing patchwork of policy fiefdoms inside the administration that lacks clearly defined lines of command and has the potential for miscommunication on a grand scale.

The president has created “an empire of envoys,” said Aaron David Miller, an adviser to six secretaries of state on Arab-Israeli negotiations from 1978 to 2003. “The structure here suggests to me there are a lot of chiefs and not many Indians.”

[snip]

While President George W. Bush also made ample use of envoys, naming 38 during his eight years in office, the Obama administration is setting an even brisker pace. The new administration already has named 19 envoys and special ambassadors in its first eight months.

[snip]

However, a senior member of the president’s foreign-policy inner circle dismissed talk that the envoys are sidelining any of the eight assistant secretaries of state.

“The assistant secretaries are vital to our overall effort,” the senior Obama official said, on condition of not being identified. “They are regular and important attendees here at National Security Council meetings and Oval Office meetings.”

The White House official said the assistant secretaries are “big players at state and pivotal presences in the interagency [process], not least because the secretary of state demands they have a seat at the table.” [emphasis added]

Ok, first, I’ve noticed that Mr. Aaron David Miller is quite busy these days as he is often one of the few names sources in these types of articles where a particular media outlet is claiming that Secretary Clinton has diminished authority and/or that President Obama’s inner circle has rendered Clinton essentially powerless when it comes to foreign policy decisions. So, my question is, given he worked at the State Dept. under former President Clinton, what, exactly, is his issue?

Second, by the article’s own admission George Bush named far more envoys while he was in office- 38 to be exact so Obama’s 19 hardly seem overkill. Third, and finally, Secretary Clinton herself has come out publicly and stated that the special envoys help her do her job and that they do not detract from her authority. Also by the article’s own admission, Obama’s senior foreign policy insiders refute the claim that the envoys create any of the potential problems Aaron David Miller projects onto the current team at the State Department. Given all of the above, the article ends up being nothing more than re-hashed speculation with no concrete support for it’s assertions. In other words, Massive Fail.

Vital voices provides an update on women’s voter turn-out in the recent Afghan election:

The Associated Press (AP) reports on August 24 that early surveys “suggest that voter turnout fell more sharply for women than for men” during the August 20 national election in Afghanistan. Election monitors and observers have cited Taliban attacks and threats, a lack of female election workers and closed female voting sites as causes for the low turnout. The 2009 estimated overall turnout is 40-50 percent, standing in stark contrast with a 70 percent turnout in the 2004 elections.

Afghan women were at a marked disadvantage on the recent election day. Required to vote at separate polling stations, women were met with at least 650 closed stations, as the Free and Fair Elections Foundation of Afghanistan reports. In a certain southern province, only 6 of 36 women’s stations were reported open. The relatively safe north of Afghanistan did experience a “solid female turnout,” as AP describes…[emphasis added]

Unfortunately, it could be weeks before all the elections results are tallied but the very real barriers to women being able to go to the polls, makes the results automatically suspect. A truly democratic voting process involves more than casting a ballot- the citizens have to be able to get to the polls and be able to vote regardless of gender, ethnicity, religion, etc. without fear of harassment or intimidation.

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6 Comments leave one →
  1. Ikasu permalink
    August 25, 2009 7:37 pm

    “Is John Bolton everright about anything? Just wondering.”

    No, he isn’t. And yet he’s always considered a reputable source by the press.

    The Blackwater stories are disturbing. Christian crusade to rid the world of Muslims? Did you see Jeremy Scahill on Bill Maher? Completely embarrassed Chuck Todd.

    There’s some districts in the Afghanistan that get less than a 10% turnout. I wouldn’t call it a democracy with the misogynist warlords that replaced the Taliban.

  2. August 25, 2009 7:49 pm

    Oooh, Ikasu, thanks for pointing out a typo I made in the post!! I hate when I miss something like that!

    The UN Dispatch counted the number of times John Bolton was given top billing on major weekend Op-Ed pages recently and it was something like 5 op-eds in 7 weeks or something crazy like that! So much for the “liberal” media since Bolton is about as conservative as they come when it comes for foreign policy- he’s right up Cheney’s alley!

    And what I can’t stand is when the media interview him, they never seem to point out all the times John Bolton’s opinions have been PROVEN to be false/wrong for context so if one is listening to him talk about bombing the hell out of Iran on, say, Wolf Blitzer’s program and one doesn’t know what a terrible track record he has on all things diplomacy-related (or foreign policy related), one could be tempted to give his opinion some weight but that would be a HUGE mistake!

    I don’t care what anyone says, the media leans right when it comes to foreign policy and I’d even say it does more than lean!

    • Ikasu permalink
      August 25, 2009 9:03 pm

      Conservatives crack me up when they try to convince me that the media is liberal. Especially when they say that it’s pro-Muslim, pro-Arab, pro-Palestinian, and anti-Christian. Do these people live on planet Earth?

  3. August 25, 2009 7:52 pm

    Oh, with respect to Chuck Todd- what is wrong with him lately? It’s like ever since he got a promotion after the election all he does is spew the status quo talking points but he doesn’t know the facts to back them up and he says some things that just make me go, “huh?” And he doesn’t seem to know enough specifics to challenge anyone he happens to be talking to/interviewing.

    I heard him talking about health care reform about 2 weeks ago and he just made passing statements that were totally incorrect and I thought “doesn’t this guy have researchers or fact-checkers?” It was really frustrating!

    • Ikasu permalink
      August 25, 2009 9:01 pm

      Chuck Todd is officially a Washington insider now, along with David Brooks, Sally Quinn, etc. Therefore, he signed away any integrity he had in him. He’s officially a “media whore” (remember that great website?).

  4. pcfs permalink
    August 25, 2009 9:09 pm

    Ikasu, He is no Tim Russert thats for sure. Chuck Todd never really impressed me to begin with. He likes to kiss up to Gibbs to much.

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