This Week in Washington - September 7, 2012

    7 September 2012


    Democratic National Convention (DNC).  During the three-day DNC in Charlotte, North Carolina, the Democratic Party re-nominated President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden.  On Thursday night, President Obama delivered his acceptance speech, asking his supporters to keep the faith they showed during the 2008 campaign, noting “our problems can be solved; our challenges can be met.”  Earlier that night, Vice President Biden focused on the Administration’s national security and economic record, noting, “Osama bin Laden is dead, and General Motors is alive.”  On Wednesday night, former President Bill Clinton laid out policy differences between the Democratic and Republican tickets during his formal nomination of President Obama.  On Tuesday, First Lady Michelle Obama vouched for the President’s character and decision-making ability.  The Democratic Party also approved its platform, but only after President Obama ordered language reinstated to include the word “God” and mention Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, which some delegates opposed.  The platform focuses on the party’s plans for economic recovery, as well as its social, energy, environmental, immigration, and financial policies. 

    Budget and Economy.  In light of the July deal between Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nevada) and Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-Ohio), House appropriators are expected to begin drafting a clean six-month Continuing Resolution when they return next week, delaying work on Fiscal Year 2013 appropriations bills into the new year.  The Department of Labor announced Friday that the economy added 96,000 jobs in August – less than the 125,000 expected by many economists – while the unemployment rate fell to 8.1 percent from 8.3 percent in July, an outcome that President Obama deemed “not good enough”.

    Although the remnants of Hurricane Isaac brought welcome moisture to many drought-ridden states in the Midwest this week, farmland throughout the Central and Southern Plains continues to suffer.  Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Administrator Craig Fugate recently announced the agency will press Congress to pass legislation to reauthorize FEMA.

    Suzanne Barr, Chief of Staff to the Director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), resigned last week amid allegations of sexual harassment.  House Homeland Security Committee Chair Peter King (R-New York) announced that his committee would “intensify” its investigation. Next week, the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee will hold another hearing on the aborted Fast and Furious gun-tracking operation, receiving testimony from Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz.  On Wednesday, House Intelligence Committee Chair Mike Rogers (R-Michigan) said dialogue continued over the August recess to find a compromise to pass cybersecurity legislation in the Senate.  Chairman Rogers suggested that perhaps the Senate could take up related information-sharing legislation.

    Political News.  On Tuesday, Senator Chuck Schumer (D-New York) suggested that Democrats are unlikely to win control of the House in November, noting “it’s an uphill fight”, while on Wednesday House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-California) predicted the Democrats would retake the chamber.  On Thursday, Reverend Jesse Jackson, Jr. said his son, Representative Jesse Jackson Jr. (D-Illinois), is still “under medical supervision” following treatment for depression. Meanwhile, Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney continued campaigning, releasing a new television advertising campaign in eight swing states, after most polls continue to show a close race and little movement following last week’s Republican Convention.


    Syria.  On Wednesday, USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah announced the United States is providing an additional $21 million to the U.N. World Food Program to provide assistance to Syrian citizens, bringing U.S. humanitarian assistance to over $100 million.  The State Department said Tuesday the United States has reached out to the Syrian government via the Czech Republic (U.S. protecting power) about reports that U.S. journalist Austin Tice is in Syrian custody.  On Wednesday, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon criticized the Security Council for failing to take action to protect Syrians, who are now fleeing the country in record numbers; although on Thursday Syrian forces recaptured Tel Chebab, near the Jordanian border, in part to try to stem the exodus.  After a three-day trip to the country, International Committee of the Red Cross President Peter Maurer said Friday the Syrian conflict is “rapidly deteriorating”, and he reported “immense destruction of infrastructure, as U.S. intelligence officials and Syrian opposition forces continue to express concern about the security and potential use of Syria’s reported chemical weapons supply.

    Iran.  On Friday, the Canadian government announced it is severing diplomatic relations with Iran. Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird cited concerns with Iran’s reported military assistance to the Syrian regime, refusal to comply with U.N. resolutions pertaining to its nuclear program, continued threats to Israel, and anti-Semitic rhetoric.  Also Friday, the European Union called for new sanctions against Iran over its nuclear program.  On Thursday, House Intelligence Committee Chairman Rogers reported a “very tense” August 24th conversation between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and U.S. Ambassador to Israel Daniel Shapiro over the clarity of U.S. “red lines” regarding a prospective attack on Iranian nuclear facilities.

    Secretary Clinton’s Asia-Pacific Trip.  Secretary Clinton met Monday with Indonesian Foreign Minister Raden Mohammad Marty Muliana Natalegawa, discussing the July ASEAN Regional Forum in Cambodia, the upcoming Indonesia-U.S. Joint Commission meeting, North Korea, and South China Sea developments.  The Secretary reaffirmed: “[T]he United States has a national interest, as every country does, in the maintenance of peace and stability, respect for international law, freedom on navigation, unimpeded lawful commerce in the South China Sea.  As I have said many times, the United States does not take a position on competing territorial claim over land features, but we believe the nations of the region should work collaboratively together to resolve disputes without coercion, without intimidation, without threats, and certainly without the use of force.”  In Beijing Tuesday, Secretary Clinton met with Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi, discussing Iran, Syria, North Korea, the South China Sea, bilateral trade and human rights.  The Secretary also met Wednesday with Chinese President Hu Jintao, State Councilor Dai Bingguo, and Vice Premier Hui Liangyu.  Early this week, the media reported the Japanese government seeks to purchase from Japanese citizens three of the five Senkaku Islands involved in the East China Sea dispute between Japan and China.  On August 16th, the State Department said, “[T]he United States does not take a position on the question of the ultimate sovereignty of the Senkaku Islands,” but acknowledged “Article 5 of the 1960 U.S.-Japan Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security states that the treaty applies to the territories under the administration of Japan,” further noting “The Senkaku Islands have been under the administrative control of the Government of Japan since...1972.”  Thursday in Timor-Leste, Secretary Clinton met with Prime Minister Xanana Gusmao, congratulating the country on its 10th independence anniversary.  On Friday in Bandar Seri Begawan, Secretary Clinton met with Foreign Minister of Brunei Prince Mohamed Bolkiah. The Secretary attended a Thursday dinner with Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah.  Topics discussed included Brunei’s “substantial” support to U.S.-sponsored English training across Southeast Asia, military equipment acquisitions, Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations, and Brunei’s hosting of the ASEAN Regional Forum and East Asia Summit next year.  Secretary Clinton next travelled to Vladivostok, Russia, to attend the APEC Summit this weekend.  

    On Monday, the Secretary condemned the attack on U.S. Consulate personnel in Peshawar, Pakistan.  Before departing Brunei Friday, Secretary Clinton signed a report to Congress designating the Pakistan-based Haqqani network as a foreign terrorist organization, subjecting its members to U.S. financial sanctions.  On Thursday, the State Department expressed concern over Pakistan’s reported expelling of members of Save the Children and accusations the NGO played a role in the death of Osama bin Laden. 

    On Tuesday, President Obama welcomed the announcement that the government of Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos reached a framework agreement for peace negotiations with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC).  Late last Friday (31st), the White House said President Obama was “deeply concerned” about the news that Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev had pardoned Ramil Safarov following his return to Azerbaijan from Hungary.  Safarov had been in prison in Hungary after confessing to the murder of an Armenian military officer.  The State Department said Tuesday the United States is “deeply troubled” by an appeals court in Bahrain upholding the vast majority of convictions and sentences of 13 Bahraini opposition activists.  State urged the Government of Bahrain to abide by its commitment to respect detainees’ right to due process and transparent judicial proceedings. 

    The foreign policy section of the 2012 Democratic Party Platform maintains an emphasis on building alliances, reaffirming “an unshakable commitment” to Israel’s security, preventing proliferation of nuclear weapons, strengthening cooperation with Mexico, Colombia and Central America to combat narcotics and organized crime networks, and continuing U.S. leadership with respect to human rights.  The platform also defines emerging threats to U.S. national security as including:  cybersecurity, biological weapons, climate change and transnational crime.  However, unlike the 2008 platform, the 2012 platform omits committing to a closure date for the Guantánamo Bay detention center.  In his DNC speech Thursday night, Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry (D-Massachusetts) elaborated on the platform and contrasted the Obama Administration’s national security record with the Romney-Ryan ticket, calling the GOP nominees “[t]he most inexperienced foreign policy twosome to run for president and vice president in decades.”