Monday, February 28, 2011

Weekly Rounds

It's going to be a busy week up on the Hill, y'all. Hillary Clinton, fresh off her whirlwind trip to Geneva (where she not only talked tough on Libya, but also on the Fissile Material Cutoff Treaty, if you missed it), is testifying a total of four, count 'em, four times in front of Senate and House committees on Tuesday and Wednesday.

She'll be on the House side Tuesday at 9:30 am and 2 pm (Foreign Affairs and Approps Subcommittee, respectively) talking the FY 2012 State and Foreign Ops Budget and then, if you didn't get enough, she'll be doing the same routine for their Senate counterparts the following day.

If you tire easily of drab hearing rooms, there are a number of other interesting events going in other parts of Washington, as well  ('What?!' Cry lawmakers, 'How is such a thing possible in our absence?!?'). A couple of note:

Former NSA Gen Jim Jones is headlining a Bipartisan Policy Center panel on Yemen: The Next Egypt?
3/1, 2:30 pm

And U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Kurt Campbell will speak at a Progressive Policy Institute event entitled "Defusing Tensions on the Korean Peninsula" -- otherwise known as the international security crisis getting the least ink right now.
3/2, 2 pm. at the UC Washington Center

Smoking the Same Dope?

Charlie Sheen and Moammar Gaddafi, those two poster children of arrested development, seem to be suffering from the same sort of delusions at the exact time. Coincidence? Or perhaps they are both using the same very, VERY strong stuff? You be the judge.

Friday, February 25, 2011

CNN Wants to Know: Is the Military Brainwashing Senators?

Yes, that was actually a headline on CNN this afternoon, just a sample of the overblown media reaction to the latest Rolling Stone piece from Michael Hastings that alleges a commander in Afghanistan tasked a psy ops army team to mess with the heads of visiting senators.

I'm not the only one who doesn't think this is worth quite the fuss being put up. I asked Sen. Bob Corker, a member of the Foreign Relations Committee who just returned from a two day visit to Afghanistan, about the allegations, and he did not seem terribly concerned that he might have been the target of some sort of psychological mind-meld during his stay. The story, online at (subscription required), quotes Corker as saying, “the generals, the officers below them and everyone that we met . . . they told us the good, the bad and the ugly. I thought they were very transparent.”

UPDATE, 2/28:

Aaaand the other shoe drops, per Rajiv Chandresakaran's story from Sunday's post.

"Although the Rolling Stone piece claims that Holmes specializes in psychological operations, the Army said it has no record of training Holmes in "psychological operations." Holmes said in his interview with The Post that he learned psychological operations techniques as part of his information operations training but he said he never claimed that he was psychological operations officer."

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Read This

I know most people who follow foreign affairs are probably glued to the news reports coming out of the MENA region this week, but if you are able to peel yourself away from the bizarre videotaped rantings of Col. Gadaffi (Qaddafi? Kaddafi? Ghadafi? Can we in the American media please all decide on one spelling and stick to it?)  I recommend picking up the latest Foreign Affairs (March/April 2011) and checking out the piece by Walter Russell Meade  -- The Tea Party and American Foreign Policy.

(Even better, read the article to the stylings of the Glee cast covering Bieber, Katy Perry and the Yeah Yeah Yeah's  ... the two sensory experiences complement each other better than you might expect, certainly made my weeknight Foreign Affairs reading time much jazzier than normal ...)

I don't know that Meade necessarily provides a compelling answer to the burning question -- where does the  the Tea Party stand on foreign policy? But he provides a useful trope, in the form of Jacksonian populism, to examine how the Tea Party might formulate a response to various hot button foreign policy issues (most of which they've been able to avoid thus far). And in harkening back to Jacksonianism, Meade gets in a little American history refresher, which I'm a total sucker for.

The reason, though, why the article is worth reading is that it concisely sums up, better than anything I've read recently, why this all matters -- how what the Tea Party thinks about foreign policy, even if the Tea Party itself doesn't know yet what it thinks, even though foreign policy is decidedly not tops on our list of national priorities -- is bound to shape our foreign engagement.

Writes Meade: "In times like the present, when a surge of populist political energy coincides with a significant loss of popular confidence in establishment institutions ... Jacksonian sentiment diminishes the ability of elite institutions and their members to shape national debates and policy."

Just look at the uphill battles the foreign policy establishment/elites are now waging on the budget, and wringing funding from Congress for diplomatic and development programs top military and State department officials argue are necessary ...

Meade ends with a warning: "Foreign policy mandarins often wish the public would leave them alone so that they can get on with the serious business of statecraft. That is not going to happen in the United States."

Monday, February 21, 2011

Weekly Rounds

The House and Senate are on recess this week -- they and the Capitol Hill press corps are "taking a break" to work some things out in their relationship (4 a.m. votes, seriously??). The love affair should be back on track starting Feb. 28.

Off the Hill, Brookings is holding a panel on "Global Cooperation and the Least Developed Countries"
- 2/22, 9:30 to 11 am

CSIS is hosting a book event for Nathan Hodge's timely Armed Humanitarian: The Rise of Nation Builders
- 2/22, 5 to 6:30 pm

CEIP will feature Tunisian Central Bank Gov. Mustapha Nabli in "a conversation" on the economic dimensions of unrest in the Arab World
- 2/23, 3:30 to 5 pm

The Foreign Policy Institute has organized a young professional event on Capitol Hill careers Weds eve
- 2/23, 6:30 to 8:30 pm

The Heritage Foundation hosts a panel the "Referendum on South Sudan and the Road to Independence"
- 2/24, 2 to 3:30 pm

Catching Up

I've been neglectful in keeping this blog up to date over the budgeting bonanza of the past week.

For CQ subscribers who want to get caught up, here are links to some of my stories from last week on various aspects of the foreign ops funding debate --

- State Department Would See Billions More For Civilian Operations in War Zones
- House GOP’s Proposed Cuts to Foreign Aid Cause for Concern in Senate
- Graham Proposes Beefing Up U.S. Aid to Middle East to Foster Democracy

Congress is on recess this week, the perfect time to get fully caught up on what on earth is all on this CR the House passed on Saturday at 4 am!

Monday, February 14, 2011

Read This

WaPo op-ed by Michael Gerson, onetime speech writer to George W. Bush, on bed nets and budget cuts.

Regarding the House GOP CR proposed last week and the foreign aid cuts they include -- "Do these cuts symbolize the Republican rejection of fuzzy-headed liberalism? Actually, the main initiatives on malaria and AIDS were created under Republican leadership. They emphasize measured outcomes and accountability. If the goal of House Republicans is to squander the Republican legacy on global health, they are succeeding."

It's an apt reminder that some of the strides in foreign aid that are celebrated today -- the MCC, PEPFAR, etc. -- were GOP innovations. And it is interesting reference point in the current foreign aid debate, which seems to have taken on partisan shades.

If you want to get more in the weeds about the budget proposal for the State Department and foreign operations, and the impending budget battles, look for the story in Tuesday's CQ print edition, or online here (subscription required)

Budget Day!

It's kind of like Christmas on Capitol Hill, if, after Christmas, instead of sending a thank you note, you compile a litany of complaints concerning the contents of said gifts and deliver it to the gift giver. In the case of the budget, it's the President who gets to hand out all the goodies -- funding for infrastructure, green tech investment, military equipment -- but who also get all the grief. There's never enough cash to go around, everyone always wants more, and nobody is particularly grateful. This year all those realities are likely to be amped up even more than usual, thanks to the political posturing going on in Washington over who can be the biggest deficit cutter.

Visions of sugarplums, indeed.

The prelude to the 2012 budget battle is the continuing resolution to fund the government for the rest of 2011. That was engaged late Friday evening (curses, GOP freshmen), when the House GOP finally put out there CR proposal. As expected, the foreign policy portion took a big whack, although aid to Egypt did not. Details in my 2/11 CQ article (subscription required).

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

My New Favorite Toy

This interactive foreign aid map from CAP is brilliant!

And for a good primer on foreign aid, check out this run-down from

This is the sort of information that has been clearly lacking in the public sphere, seeing as how the average American thinks our government spends exponentially more on international assistance than it actually does.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Haiti, Sudan Election Results Take a Back Seat

Just how much did Haiti's election news get overshadowed by the protests in Egypt last week? Perhaps I just had my head in the sand, but I heard very little about the fact that Haitian election officials reversed themselves and set a presidential run-off between Mirlande Manigat and Michel Martelly. And that is big news.

It symbolizes one of my (many) beefs with the nature of mainstream press coverage -- in this case, the surge of  momentum that big breaking news stories can generate (newsmentum?), sweeping along generally bright, independent-minded people into a big, gaping, perspective-free hole of hype. It's not that these stories aren't important (Egypt is obviously of immeasurable geopolitical importance on any number of levels), but the collective impact of this rush to coverage can warp even the most important story so that it seems as if it is the ONLY story that MATTERS.

The same thing happened in Haiti just over a year ago, but the pendulum has swung back as heavily as it swung towards the chaos in Port-au-Prince. Sudan -- which just confirmed the results of its referendum granting South Sudan independence on Monday -- also received somewhat anti-climactic news coverage. Sure, the results were a foregone conclusion, but there are a lot of dramatic issues still to be debated and determined in what is a very unsettled region of the world.

It should be our job as journalists to provide a little bit more of that perspective, and evoke the drama where it may not always be so blatantly obvious.

Weekly Rounds

The House is back in session this week, and the House Foreign Affairs Committee is holding its first official hearing -- a two-parter on the unrest in Egypt and the larger Middle East. Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg and Defense Under Secretary for Policy Michele Flournoy will be on hand on Thurs.
- 2/9 & 2/10, 10 am

FT Foreign Affairs Columnist Gideon Rachman is speaking at Brookings on Tuesday about his new book, Zero-Sum Future: American Power in an Age of Anxiety.
- 2/8, 3pm

If Not Mubarak, Then Who?

That's what folks on Capitol Hill are wondering, as documented in my latest, reported last week, published Monday (CQ, subscription required). With a few exceptions, it's been all around cautious approach to the crisis in Egypt in Congress. A lot of members frankly just don't know that much about the politics in the country, and there's been an absolute flood of briefings from various corners of the Washington, D.C. policy establishment to help them bone up!

Also, if you missed it, CQ's free site,, posted the story on my conversation with Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on State-Foreign Operations Pat Leahy (the guy who controls the purse strings for foreign aid) and how he thinks we should freeze aid to Egypt until "this gets settled."  What "settled" means is far, from clear, however.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

As to Places Not Named Cairo ...

Senate Foreign Relations Chairman John Kerry's committee staff released a pretty worrisome report (PDF on the SFRC home page) on the State Department's level of preparation to take the lead in Iraq when the military fully withdraws at the end of the year. Or should I say, IF the military withdraws. There's been a lot of political posturing on that, but no final decision by the Iraqi and US governments. And if this report is to be believed, it's looking more and more like they really can't responsibly remove all combat troops. Kerry's imprimature lends some heft to that argument, but it's going to remain a really tough sell, both in D.C. and Baghdad. (CQ, subscription required)

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Congress Not Satisfied with Mubarak's Pledge Not to Run

My latest on Congress' Egypt reax:

Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak’s announcement Tuesday that he would not run for another term in September did as little to mollify members of Congress as it did crowds in Cairo’s Tahrir Square. (CQ, subscription required)