foreign affairs

Jack Reed, other RI Democrats still undecided on Syria vote

September 9th, 2013 at 4:54 pm by under Nesi's Notes

By Ted Nesi

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – U.S. Sen. Jack Reed said Monday he still hasn’t decided whether to support a request for authorization to attack Syria, a sign President Obama has yet to win over one of his own party’s most senior military experts. U.S. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse has stayed silent about Syria since Aug. 31.

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• Related: Sen. Whitehouse: US must help Syria as France helped US in 1700s (Jan. 22)

Watch: Congressman Joe Kennedy III undecided on Syria vote

September 9th, 2013 at 10:51 am by under Nesi's Notes, On the Main Site

• Related: Photo: Biden, Joe Kennedy III talk Syria in the Situation Room (Sept. 6)

Photo: Biden, Joe Kennedy III talk Syria in the Situation Room

September 6th, 2013 at 11:44 am by under Nesi's Notes, On the Main Site

As the White House struggles to win a majority in Congress for its proposed strikes on Syria, administration officials continue to meet with leading congressmen and senators to discuss the situation. Vice President Joe Biden’s office released this photo of him in the Situation Room with lawmakers including freshman Massachusetts Congressman Joe Kennedy III, who serves on the House Foreign Affairs Committee:


Kennedy may have been invited because as of Tuesday he was still undecided about whether to support the White House on the Syria resolution. “Thanks to those of you who have candidly and thoughtfully shared your opinions with me regarding the situation in Syria,” he wrote on Facebook that day.

“Prior to any vote on next steps, I will be going through the evidence of chemical weapons use and other classified material, reviewing the details of the administration’s proposed response and carefully looking at the information that comes to light through upcoming briefings and congressional hearings,” Kennedy wrote.

Rhode Island Congressmen Jim Langevin and David Cicilline are also publicly undecided, though Cicilline is clearly leaning heavily toward voting against the resolution. As for Langevin, he wrote on Twitter Thursday: “I haven’t made any decisions on Syria and will continue to weigh options.”

• Related: Jack Reed: Shadow of Iraq weighing on decisions over Syria (Aug. 30)

(photo: White House)

Jack Reed: Shadow of Iraq weighing on decisions over Syria

August 30th, 2013 at 4:44 pm by under Nesi's Notes

By Tim White

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – U.S. Sen. Jack Reed said Friday one of the biggest challenges facing President Obama as he tries to resolve the Syria crisis is an entirely different country: Iraq.

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Watch: US Sen Jack Reed on the latest Syria developments

August 30th, 2013 at 2:37 pm by under Nesi's Notes, On the Main Site

Jack Reed: Time for US to reconsider military aid to Egypt

August 16th, 2013 at 4:46 pm by under Nesi's Notes

By Tim White

EAST PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – Conditions may need to be placed on more than $1 billion in U.S. aid to Egypt if the violence there doesn’t end immediately, U.S. Sen. Jack Reed said Friday during a taping of WPRI 12′s Newsmakers.

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Jack Reed: Time to look at balance between security, privacy

June 13th, 2013 at 10:45 am by under Nesi's Notes, On the Main Site

The Washington Post’s E.J. Dionne has a column today about the debate over surveillance, and one of the voices in the piece is that of U.S. Sen. Jack Reed (who also expressed concerns to WPRI last week):

That we’re now more inclined to question the national security state should not surprise anyone. “In the period immediately after the attacks of 9/11, the American people were willing to give the government broad power to keep them safe,” Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.), one of Congress’s most thoughtful voices on national security, said in an interview. “Now, more than a decade later, it’s entirely appropriate that Americans are asking about the balance between security and privacy.”

Reed believes that we still need extensive surveillance programs. But he was also in the minority last December in supporting an earlier version of the Merkley proposal on the FISA court decisions. He also favored another amendment, proposed by Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), that would have required the director of national intelligence to submit a report to Congress and the public on the impact of the revised FISA law on the privacy of U.S. citizens.

This is a rare issue that divides Reed and his junior colleague, Sheldon Whitehouse.

Reed voted yes but Whitehouse voted no on the two measures from December that Dionne references – the Merkley amendment to disclose legal justification for surveillance and the Wyden amendment to require a privacy report. As I wrote in Saturday’s column, Whitehouse’s views may relate to his past service on the Intelligence Committee, his time in law enforcement and his general trust in the federal government.

• Related: Sen. Whitehouse defends Obama on surveillance programs (June 7)

Sen. Whitehouse defends Obama on surveillance programs

June 7th, 2013 at 12:55 pm by under Nesi's Notes

By Ted Nesi

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – U.S. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse defended the Obama administration’s use of surveillance in terrorism investigations on Friday, breaking with fellow progressive lawmakers who have harshly criticized the president’s tactics this week.

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The 27 Rhode Islanders who’ve died in combat since 9/11

May 27th, 2013 at 5:00 am by under Nesi's Notes, On the Main Site

Garden_of_Heroes_RIIn his speech about national security at the National Defense University last week, President Obama noted that the United States has spent more than $1 trillion fighting wars since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

“Our servicemembers and their families have sacrificed far more on our behalf,” the president said. “Nearly 7,000 Americans have made the ultimate sacrifice. Many more have left a part of themselves on the battlefield, or brought the shadows of battle back home.”

Among the country’s nearly 7,000 fallen are 27 Rhode Islanders who lost their lives in Afghanistan and Iraq since 2001. The 27 are honored in the Garden of Heroes on the southwest lawn of the State House, which was dedicated in 2005. In honor of Memorial Day, here are their names, as provided by Rhode Island National Guard Lt. Col. Peter Parente, with their ages from the Military Times database:

  • Specialist Michael Andrade, 24
  • Captain Matthew J. August, 28
  • Sergeant Gregory A. Belanger, 24
  • Sergeant Charles T. Caldwell, 38
  • Staff Sergeant Joseph Camara, 40
  • Captain Christopher S. Cash, 36
  • Private First Class Kyle J. Coutu, 20
  • Second Lieutenant Matthew S. Coutu, 23
  • Lance Corporal Holly A. Charette, 21
  • Master Sergeant Richard L. Ferguson, 45
  • Sergeant Dennis J. Flanagan, 22
  • Petty Officer Third Class Ronald A. Gill, Jr., 26
  • Sergeant Moises Jazmin, 25
  • Staff Sergeant Dale J. Kelly, Jr., 48
  • Sergeant First Class Curtis Mancini, 43
  • Sergeant Michael F. Paranzino, 22
  • Staff Sergeant Christopher S. Potts, 38
  • Specialist Dennis C. Poulin, 26
  • Lance Corporal Matthew K. Serio, 21
  • Sergeant Brian R. St. Germain, 22
  • Lance Corporal Nickolas D. Schiavoni, 26
  • Chief Warrant Officer Sharon T. Swartworth, 43
  • Lance Corporal Abraham Tarwoe, 25
  • Lieutenant J.G. Francis L. Toner IV, 26
  • Lance Corporal John J. Van Gyzen IV, 21
  • Sergeant Dennis P. Weichel Jr., 29
  • Sergeant Michael R. Weideman, 23

(photo: Lt. Gov. Elizabeth Roberts’ office)

Senator Reed strikes a cautious note on Syria conflict

May 7th, 2013 at 9:20 am by under Nesi's Notes, On the Main Site

The NYT taped an interview with Senator Reed to gauge his thoughts on the conflict in Syria. He’s cautious:

I think we really have to carefully look at the situation. The Israeli attacks [in Syria last weekend] were prompted more in terms of disrupting the flow of military equipment to Hezbollah, and not so much involvement in the political and military activities within Syria of the opposition.

I think, one, we want to with the regional partners look at what we can do to aid the opposition to be effective, inclusive, and to as quickly as possible try to force the Assad government out. They have been attacking their own people and they’ve been destroying their country, literally, so we want that. But the precise military steps, I think, have to be carefully calibrated.

Senator Whitehouse actually sounded more hawkish about Syria than Reed after a trip there in January, when he told me: “This is a chance for us to be the great power that comes to the relief of Syria so that 100 years from now we’re still remembered as the country that helped them get their freedom.”

• Related: Levin retirement sets up Jack Reed for powerful Armed Services chairmanship (March 7)

Watch Executive Suite: Brown’s Blyth sees danger in austerity

April 15th, 2013 at 5:00 am by under Nesi's Notes, On the Main Site

Whitehouse: US must help Syria as France helped US in 1700s

January 22nd, 2013 at 5:31 pm by under Nesi's Notes, On the Main Site

By Ted Nesi

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – U.S. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse said Tuesday the United States needs to step up its support for opposition rebels in war-torn Syria, arguing they need America’s help just as the U.S. needed France to win independence from Britain.

“We were a country that started as freedom fighters, working against a regime that we overthrew in order to establish our freedoms and liberty,” Whitehouse told after returning from the region. “And when we did that one of the great powers of the world then came to our aid, and we never forgot it.”

“Years later, when we were called to arms in Europe, we answered the call saying, ‘Lafayette, we are here’ – over a century later we had remembered,” he said, referring to an American battle cry during World War I. “Syria’s in a place like that now. There are freedom fighters fighting for their freedom against a brutal and murderous tyrant.”

Whitehouse’s comments came after he and U.S. Sen. John McCain led a bipartisan delegation of senators on a trip through the Middle East last week that included stops in Afghanistan, Israel, Jordan and Egypt.

The conflict in Syria began in the spring of 2011, at a time when protests against autocratic governments erupted across the region with the Arab Spring movement. Whitehouse accused Syrian President Bashar al-Assad of “indiscriminately” massacring and torturing civilians who oppose him, and said the regime could use chemical weapons.

“That can’t last,” he said. “Syria’s coming apart, and risks becoming a real power vacuum into which extremist and jihadi sentiment will pour if we don’t take action.”

While Whitehouse said he isn’t urging an invasion of Syria by American soldiers, he urged the Obama administration to do more to support the rebels there by providing small arms, ammunition, humanitarian aid and support for neighboring Jordan and Turkey. He also suggested the possibility of a no-fly zone policed by international allies.

Whitehouse isn’t known as a hawk on foreign policy; he was a vocal opponent of the Bush administration’s handling of the Iraq war during his successful 2006 Senate campaign. But he said the Syria situation requires America involvement.

“We have really critical interests there,” Whitehouse said. “The Middle East is potentially a tinderbox, and Syria is potentially a spark that lights it off. Syria is a country with a lot of good traditions; it’s never been extremist ideologically, and I think it’s an important place to step back the ambitions of Iran in the region.”

“This is a chance for us to be the great power that comes to the relief of Syria so that 100 years from now we’re still remembered as the country that helped them get their freedom,” he added.

Whitehouse also met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who looked set to win re-election when voters in his country went to the polls on Tuesday. Israeli leaders are “very concerned” about Iran’s nuclear ambitions, Whitehouse said, but they’re more concerned at the moment with the turmoil in Syria than with launching an attack on Iran.

“I think they’ve got a time window before the Iranian government could actually construct a nuclear weapon,” he said. “I don’t see [an Iran attack] as imminent, but I think they certainly want to leave it visibly on the table.”

Whitehouse said his visit to Afghanistan left him confident that the United States is on track to withdraw most of its troops by the end of 2014, as President Obama has promised, and impressed with the commitment of local forces there.

Whitehouse returned from his overseas trip in time to take his seat among the dignitaries for President Obama’s inauguration on Monday at the Capitol. He said the ceremony was surprisingly exciting for a re-election and had high praise for Obama. “I think the president gave one of his best speeches ever,” he said.

Whitehouse was particularly pleased that Obama spoke at length about tackling climate change, one of the senator’s major policy priorities and an issue on which he’s been critical of the president for acting too cautiously.

“As the Ocean State, Rhode Island has a lot at stake in the climate change discussion – Sandy was a forewarning of what we have at risk if we don’t get ahead of this climate problem,” he said.

Reed: US on track to exit Afghanistan, fix Pakistan relations

January 10th, 2013 at 3:03 pm by under Nesi's Notes, On the Main Site

​By Ted Nesi

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – The U.S. remains on track to withdraw most of its troops from Afghanistan by the end of 2014, and the relationship between American and Pakistani leaders is improving, U.S. Sen. Jack Reed told on Thursday after returning from a visit to the troubled region.

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• Related: Senator Reed joins Levin for 14th trip to Afghanistan (Jan. 4)

Jack Reed joins Levin for 14th official trip to Afghanistan

January 4th, 2013 at 5:03 pm by under Nesi's Notes

​By Ted Nesi

WASHINGTON, D.C. (WPRI) – U.S. Sen. Jack Reed left Washington in secret on Thursday for an official visit to Afghanistan and Pakistan, has learned.

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Why Jack Reed doesn’t want Senate hearings on Libya (yet)

October 12th, 2012 at 12:21 pm by under Nesi's Notes, On the Main Site

U.S. Sen. Jack Reed, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, doesn’t think the Senate should call hearings yet on the Obama administration’s handling of the attack in Libya last month that killed Ambassador Chris Stevens.

“Secretary Clinton appointed Ambassador Tom Pickering to do a detailed review asking tough questions,” Reed told WPRI 12′s Tim White in a phone interview on Thursday.

“Tom Pickering is one of our outstanding ambassadors – retired now – but both in a professional and personal way I think we not only have to do it because of the sacrifice of Ambassador Stevens but because we have to make sure we have adequate protections for our diplomats across the globe going forward,” he said.

Asked whether the time is right for senators should hold their own independent hearings into what happened, Reed replied: “No, I don’t think so.”

“I think what you really want to do is a very careful, thorough review which could call upon classified materials as well as unclassified materials, so that what you have is a complete picture touching on the intelligence that might have been available,” Reed said. “That’s awful hard to do in a public hearing. I think the Pickering report might be the basis of another review by the Senate. But I think this should be done very carefully, thoroughly and in a timely way.”

Reed spoke by telephone from as he prepared to join Vice President Biden at Thursday night’s debate. The House Oversight Committee held a hearing Wednesday that BuzzFeed’s Michael Hastings reported “completely shredded the Obama Administration’s original story about what happened in Benghazi,” though lawmakers have been criticized for revealing classified information.

• Related: Reed: Obama vindicated on Libya, but don’t send US troops (Aug. 22)

GOP senators finger RI native Donilon as White House leaker

June 26th, 2012 at 6:06 pm by under Nesi's Notes, On the Main Site

Rhode Island native and La Salle Academy grad Tom Donilon became President Obama’s national security adviser in December 2010 after a career that included a senior gig at Fannie Mae. Donilon has been called one of Obama’s most influential advisers; he even wrote the formal orders to get Osama bin Laden.

Donilon is now getting some unwelcome publicity, Foreign Policy’s Peter Feaver reports:

Outrage over the recent national security leaks has been slowly building. It has all the signs of having legs, as they say in the business — of being a long-term Big Problem, rather than a short-term distraction. …

And the outrage is beginning to have a focus: on National Security Advisor Tom Donilon. Old Beltway hands see the dots as connecting and pointing to Donilon as the most senior, if not the earliest and certainly not the only, source. The focus may be unfair, or at least based only on circumstantial evidence. Undoubtedly others were leaking sensitive information, perhaps without the knowledge or approval of senior leaders like Donilon, let alone his boss, the president. But when folks like Tom Ricks are starting a death watch the focus is likely to stay riveted on White House advisors, and on Donilon in particular.

Feaver goes on to suggest Donilon may have already tendered his resignation, and the president may soon take him up on it to avoid a major campaign distraction. Here’s more on Donilon’s tenure.

(photo: Pete Souza/The White House)

Jack Reed urges diplomacy in Syria, defends Dodd-Frank law

June 19th, 2012 at 10:26 am by under Nesi's Notes, On the Main Site

U.S. Sen. Jack Reed popped up on the Sunday morning talk-show circuit last weekend, appearing on Al Hunt’s Bloomberg TV program “Political Capital.” Bloomberg posted the video here and wrote up Reed’s comments – here are his main points on Syria:

The Obama administration should pursue diplomacy concerning the violence against Sunni Muslim civilians in Syria because the potential costs of military intervention are too great, said U.S. Senator Jack Reed.

“I think that at this stage we still have to -– as frustrating and as painful, given some of the scenes we’ve seen — we have to pursue diplomacy,” Reed, a Rhode Island Democrat, said ….

“One of the key elements here is the Russians,” said Reed, 62. “They have long-time ties to the Syrian government, to the Assad family, not just the government. I know we’re working very hard to get them to recognize that this regime no longer is legitimate in the eyes of the world.” …

Reed also criticized Mitt Romney’s proposal to hike Pentagon spending, hinted at a future investigation of J.P. Morgan’s $2 billion trading loss and defended the Dodd-Frank law. Read the rest here.

Why is the RI House going out of its way to anger Azerbaijan?

May 23rd, 2012 at 5:00 am by under Nesi's Notes, On the Main Site

And you thought Woonsocket had problems at the State House?

Last Thursday, the R.I. House of Representatives unanimously passed a resolution “supporting the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic’s efforts to develop as a free and independent nation.” House Speaker Gordon Fox himself was the lead sponsor and 33 Democrats and Republicans seconded the motion; nobody objected.

Nagorno-Karabakh is a breakaway region of Azerbaijan with a mostly Armenian population that experienced a brutal civil war in the early 1990s. Azerbaijan – a key U.S. military ally – wants the region back but Armenia isn’t budging, and peace talks are stalled.

Rhode Island has a sizable Armenian population, and Congressman David Cicilline is among the politicians who’ve taken an active interest in their concerns. But the Azerbaijani government is apparently less pleased with local lawmakers’ meddling.


Photo: Jack Reed at Obama’s signing ceremony in Afghanistan

May 2nd, 2012 at 12:11 pm by under Nesi's Notes, On the Main Site

U.S. Sen. Jack Reed is traveling in Afghanistan this week with his colleague Carl Levin. According to the Obama administration, the senators didn’t know the president himself would be joining them in Kabul on Tuesday until a few hours before he arrived there to sign a strategic partnership agreement with the country.

Here’s a photo the White House posted of Reed, right, listening to the signing ceremony at the Presidential Palace in Kabul on Tuesday; the photo was taken by White House photographer Pete Souza:

Jack Reed worried about US military involvement in Syria, too

March 7th, 2012 at 5:17 pm by under Nesi's Notes, On the Main Site

U.S. Sen. Jack Reed waded into the presidential campaign earlier this week to criticize Mitt Romney for the Republican frontrunner’s “overheated commentary about Iran’s nuclear weapons program.” Romney’s spokeswoman dismissed that as “more weakness from President Obama and his Democrat allies.”

Reed’s concerns about American military involvement aren’t limited to Iran, however. At a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on Wednesday he raised questions about a possible intervention in Syria by the Obama administration, The New York Times reports:

Senator Jack Reed, Democrat of Rhode Island, tried to draw General Dempsey out on what he saw as a potentially protracted operation. “So from a perceptual view alone, the opening stages in any military operation would be an extended, almost exclusive air campaign by the United States against Syria, presumably supported politically by the Arab League, NATO, the E.U. and everyone else. But the kinetic part of the operation would be ours for several weeks before we actually decided even going in and effectively protecting Syrians. Is that a fair judgment?”

“It is a fair judgment,” General Dempsey replied.

(Confused by Reed’s use of the word “kinetic”? Try this article.)


Reed: Obama vindicated on Libya, but don’t send US troops

August 22nd, 2011 at 5:02 pm by under Nesi's Notes

This afternoon, President Obama declared that Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi’s 42-year rule is “coming to an end” as rebel forces took control of Tripoli facing only isolated pockets of resistance.

U.S. Sen. Jack Reed is a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee and one of the Democratic Party’s most trusted voices on foreign affairs. I spoke with him this afternoon by phone about the turmoil in Libya, whether American boots may be needed on the ground there, and what Gadhafi’s ouster could mean for the neighboring regimes in Syria and Iran.

What’s your take on what’s going on in Libya at the moment?

It appears that the Gadhafi regime is collapsing and that Gadhafi is trying to flee, and that members of his family are being detailed in Tripoli. Now the challenge is to stabilize the situation, to ensure that there is law and order on the streets, and also to help the transitional government develop a legitimate form of government for the Libyan people.

But this, I think, shows the wisdom of the president’s strategy, which was to assist NATO but ultimately allow the Libyans themselves to reject Gadhafi and to establish their own form of government.

You said in March that you thought ground troops from outside Libya might need to be sent in to stabilize the situation. What’s your thinking now on whether forces should be deployed?


Annals of diplomacy, China-Georgetown brawl edition

August 19th, 2011 at 4:44 pm by under Nesi's Notes

From The Associated Press:

A wild brawl broke out between Georgetown and a Chinese men’s basketball team last night, putting an immediate end to a supposed goodwill game that coincided with United States Vice President Joe Biden’s visit to the country. …

In Washington, State Department spokesman Mark Toner called it an “unfortunate” incident.

“We look to these types of exchanges to promote good sportsmanship and strengthen our people-to-people contact with China,” he said.

Well, if people-to-people contact was the goal, I’d say the game was a huge success.

Tough to tell Cicilline and Doherty apart on foreign policy

June 24th, 2011 at 7:00 am by under Nesi's Notes

The fast-changing politics of war is becoming one of the year’s more interesting developments.

Two weeks ago, I noted the split between Congressmen David Cicilline and Jim Langevin over whether to back President Obama’s intervention in Libya. Cicilline, siding against, was part of a broad coalition of dissenters extending from liberal Democrats to Tea Party Republicans.

Cicilline has been consistently ahead of centrist opinion on this one, calling for a faster withdrawal from Afghanistan during his campaign last year and beating the drum for it since taking office. “I believe we need a larger drawdown and an accelerated timetable,” he said Wednesday night in response to Obama’s speech.

That makes it all the more interesting to read this passage from Ed Fitzpatrick’s Projo column about Cicilline challenger Brendan Doherty’s first big fundraiser:

Doherty said his campaign theme will be “America First” ….

In emphasizing that theme, he said, “We need to reassess the billions we are spending on other countries — other countries you’d have to find a map to find out where they are.” As a caveat, he said, “I understand our special relationship with Israel” and “I understand what is going on in the Arab Spring and the tenets of soft power and smart power and diplomacy.” But, he said, “Some of these countries, folks, you may not have ever heard of them, and we are spending billions of dollars there. What about spending that money here in Rhode Island, here in America?”

That sentence could just as easily have been uttered by Cicilline. “We’re spending money building a country while our own country has urgent needs in terms of infrastructure” and other priorities, the congressman told me in April. “We’re cutting the COPS program here while we’re training police officers in Afghanistan. This is a moment we have to make this country our priority.”

If Doherty sticks to that line on foreign policy, it could deprive Cicilline of an issue he used to draw contrasts in 2010. Before that, though, Doherty may need to wage a primary campaign against John Loughlin, who’s serving in Iraq as we speak. What will GOP primary voters think of Doherty’s message on the wars? What will Loughlin’s message be?

Doherty’s proclaimed slogan – “America First” – is an interesting choice, too.

For voters who know their history, America First brings to mind the powerful isolationist group that fought to keep the United States out of World War II. Its best-known backer was the famous pilot Charles Lindbergh; others who supported it included Gerald Ford and Sargent Shriver. More recently, the paleoconservative commentator Pat Buchanan has praised the group and the message.

(photo: Spirit of St. Louis 2 Project)

Cicilline, Langevin split over Obama intervention in Libya

June 10th, 2011 at 1:32 pm by under Nesi's Notes

It’s not often that members of Rhode Island’s all-Democratic congressional delegation find themselves on opposing sides of a big issue. But at least in the House, foreign policy is turning out to be an exception.

Last week, Congressman David Cicilline was part of a bipartisan coalition – 87 Republicans and 61 Democrats – that voted in favor of a bill sponsored by U.S. Rep. Dennis Kucinich to end the American military intervention in Libya. Congressman Jim Langevin voted against the resolution, which was defeated by a tally of 148-265.

Cicilline told he saw the broad support for Kucinich’s bill – which extended from liberal Democrats like Cicilline and Jim McGovern to Tea Party Republicans like Michelle Bachmann and Jason Chaffetz – as a sign of growing concern on both sides of the aisle about the sustainability of America’s current military efforts.

“We’re already involved in Afghanistan, we’re already involved in Iraq – now we’ve begun a third operation,” Cicilline said. The country has spent an estimated $550 million on the Libyan intervention so far and is on track to spend $800 million by the end of September, “and we’re borrowing that money, adding to the debt and the deficit,” he said.

In remarks submitted for the record, Langevin urged his colleagues to defeat Kucinich’s resolution and a competing Republican one – which passed – even though he “strongly support[s] Congress’s continued oversight and debate of the mission in Libya” and believes the Obama administration’s coordination with Congress “could have been improved upon.”

“The ongoing NATO operation is intended to preserve the lives of the Libyan people,” Langevin said. “By completely removing ourselves from this effort, we weaken our global standing on human rights, risk damage to our relationship with NATO allies, and threaten our national security by putting the stability of the region in jeopardy.”

Cicilline, who called for an accelerated end to the Afghan war during his victorious campaign last year, is also among the cosponsors of a bipartisan bill that would force President Obama to deliver Congress an exit plan that includes a timeline and a completion date for operations in that country.

“I think there’s a growing recognition that we’re spending an unsustainable amount of money in Afghanistan,” estimated at $8 billion to $10 billion a month, Cicilline said. “Those cuts are being put on American taxpayers’ credit card. … The time has come to bring our troops home and to begin the transition in a responsible way with the Afghan people to NATO.”

(photo: Cicilline’s office)

Jack Reed: Killing bin Laden ‘more than symbolic’ victory

May 2nd, 2011 at 10:53 am by under Nesi's Notes

Reed, left, and other senators at a hearing with Defense Secretary Robert Gates in 2009

The importance of the American military finally killing Osama bin Laden is “more than symbolic” and could help turn the tide of the country’s efforts in the Middle East, U.S. Sen. Jack Reed said this morning.

“It matters a great deal, but the real sort of test will be not what has been accomplished, but how it’s used in the future,” Reed told me in a phone interview a short time ago. The administration needs to “maintain the momentum” by ensuring a lesson is learned about the U.S. military’s capabilities and the consequences of defying it, he said.

“There’s probably now more people in Pakistan who’ve been sort of on the fence about bin Laden and al-Qaeda who might be convinced, ‘Hey, these guys know what they’re doing and they’re going to do it – I want to be with them rather than be on the fence,’ ” Reed said.

President Obama’s decision Friday morning to order the raid on bin Laden was a closely held secret on Capitol Hill. Reed said he had no advance word of the mission and only learned bin Laden was dead when he woke up early this morning and scanned his e-mails. But although it took more than a decade, Reed said he never doubted the country would eventually track bin Laden down.

Reed said his first thought upon reading the news was admiration for the Navy SEALs and intelligence officers who carried out the mission, as well as for President Obama, who Reed said made “a courageous and tough decision” since he faced “a lot of risk had this not been successful.”

Reed’s thoughts also turned to the families of those who died in the Sept. 11 attacks. “You can’t replace the loss of their sons and daughters, husbands and waves, but it’s just a moment where they can sort of take a pause and have a sense of solace,” he said.

Reed heaped praise on Rhode Island native Tom Donilon, Obama’s national security adviser, who wrote the orders for the bin Laden mission on Friday. The first information about bin Laden’s whereabouts came in last summer, but it was “carefully vetted” by Donilon and others – “there was no rush to go in and try to capitalize,” Reed said.

“It’s a very important job,” Reed said of Donilon’s position. “First of all, you have to be selfless to serve the president – and serving him not by doing what he wants, but frankly by making sure he gets all the information, some of it good, some of it bad, so he’s fully aware of the risks and so he understands not only the consequences of success, but in many cases more importantly, of the operations that didn’t succeed.”

Reed also said the success of the bin Laden raid will make it even easier to win confirmation of Obama’s new national security team, which will include CIA Director Leon Panetta moving to the Pentagon as defense secretary and General David Petreaus taking over from Panetta at the CIA.

“This provides very significant vindication to the president in his selection of Leon Panetta,” said Reed, who praised the choices last week. “Leon was one of the key people in this process. … When they come before us, it will be easily recognized that these are sound appointees, and they should be confirmed quickly.”

Jack Reed’s thoughts on Panetta, Petreaus and the wars

April 28th, 2011 at 2:46 pm by under Nesi's Notes

As I mentioned yesterday, Jack Reed won’t be President Obama’s next secretary of defense – the job is going to CIA Director Leon Panetta. Over at the CIA, Panetta will be replaced by General David Petraeus, who carried out President Bush’s surge in Iraq and is currently in charge of the military campaign in Afghanistan.

Thanks to his defense-policy cred, though, Reed has popped up a few times today in stories out of Washington reporting on the changes inside Obama’s national security team (which also includes Rhode Island native Tom Donilon).

The most interesting quote is probably the one Reed gave to The New York Times for its story describing the choices of Panetta and Petreaus as another sign of how the roles of soldiers and spies have become blurred over the past decade:

A succession of wars has strained the ranks of both the Pentagon and the C.I.A., and the United States has come to believe that many of its current enemies are best fought with timely intelligence rather than overwhelming military firepower.

These factors have pushed military and intelligence operatives more closely together in the years since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

“In the field, there is a blurring of the mission,” said Senator Jack Reed, a senior Rhode Island Democrat on the Armed Services Committee who served as an officer in the 82nd Airborne Division. “Military operations can buy time to build up local security forces, but intelligence is the key to operations and for anticipating your adversary.”

(The Times’ Caucus blog ran an old picture of Reed with Petreaus, too.)

Then in The Washington Post, Reed offered a favorable comparison between Panetta and outgoing Defense Secretary Robert Gates – who stayed on when Obama succeeded Bush due in no small part to Reed’s efforts:

Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.), a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, also likened Panetta to Gates. “They’re both thoughtful, serious individuals who are committed to public service and who ask the right questions,” Reed said in a telephone interview.

Reed said the Senate would confirm Panetta quickly, despite his limited familiarity with military programs. “The one thing that he has, based on his experience and history, is good judgment,” the senator said. “He doesn’t have to be a master military technologist.”

Reed told The Providence Journal’s reporter in Washington, John Mulligan, that both personnel picks were good ones, because of Panetta’s expertise on intelligence and budgets and Petreaus’ knowledge of the situations in Iraq and Afghanistan:

As CIA chief, “Leon has operational knowledge of intelligence worldwide that is very critical at this juncture,” Reed said, referring to such military commitments as the war against the Taliban in Afghanistan, the completion of operations in Iraq and the U.S.-European involvement in the Libyan conflict.

Rhode Island Democrat Reed added that Panetta’s experience as former President Bill Clinton’s budget chief will be valuable “at a time when one of his main challenges as secretary of defense” will be to curb military spending. …

Reed, a former Army officer who is a senior member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, called Petraeus “a superb professional with a great intellect and great character” who already has a deep understanding of intelligence issues from his experience as U.S. commander in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Reed also pointed out to Mulligan that he was “always accurate” when he said he had no personal interest in taking the helm at the Pentagon.

The last quote isn’t from Reed but rather about him, and it ran in Politico:

Members of Congress, even prominent Republicans, hailed Panetta’s nomination, but some defense experts think his ability to persuade GOP lawmakers to accept painful cuts could be exaggerated. “If you want to cut the defense budget, the technical accounting side is in some ways simpler than the political side,” said Michael O’Hanlon, a defense analyst at the Brookings Institution. “I don’t think Panetta buys you that much by way of the politics of cutting the defense budget. … There are a lot of people I can think of — Lindsey Graham, Joe Lieberman … Jack Reed — who would have more credibility on assuring hawks that cuts are being done carefully.”

Reed: Don’t put U.S. soldiers on the ground in Libya

March 21st, 2011 at 1:06 pm by under General Talk

U.S. Sen. Jack Reed thinks the international community may need to put soldiers on the ground to stabilize the situation in Libya at some point, but he does not want Americans to be among them.

“Not United States forces,” Reed said on “Fox News Sunday” after being asked whether the U.S. should put boots on the ground in the North African nation. “I think the president has rightly ruled that out.” He suggested French, British or Qatari forces could be used instead.

Reed strongly defended the administration’s policies alongside a rather feisty U.S. Sen. Lindsay Graham, R-S.C., who berated President Obama for acting “almost like leading the free world is an inconvenience” and failing to move more quickly on the Libyan situation.

Unsurprisingly, Reed took quite a different view, praising Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for doing “a superb job in building international support” for the military action against Moammar Gadhafi’s regime. Both Reed and Graham serve on the Senate Armed Services Committee.

“Hopefully,” Reed said, Gadhafi will lose power eventually, after which an international envoy sent in by the U.N. can “coordinate with the elements in opposition and try to develop a stable government.”

Reed said Obama should formally notify Congress of his action against Libya under the long-contested War Powers Act, but added that Obama, “like all his predecessors,” will probably say the act does not apply. Reed added that he’d have “no difficulty” voting in favor if the president sought authorization from Congress.

Reed drew a distinction between the situation in Libya and those in autocratic U.S. allies Yemen and Bahrain, which have also launched brutal crackdowns, pointing out the American government is in “constant communication with the leadership” of those nations.

“They have to respect the rights of the people. They have to allow peaceful protests. They can’t use violence to suppress the legitimate concerns of the people,” Reed said. “That’s the message we have to send and we are sending it.”

Update: Late in the day, a more skeptical view came in from Congressman David Cicilline, who has also called for a speedier withdrawal from Afghanistan.

In a statement, Cicilline said he is “very concerned about the implications of U.S. military involvement in Libya. … I believe that the President must be crystal clear about our mission in Libya. Any confusion about our objectives could easily result in complication of that mission.”

Rep. Cicilline in Bahrain on surprise Mideast trip

February 24th, 2011 at 12:19 pm by under General Talk

Congressman David Cicilline has been on an unannounced trip through the Middle East since Sunday with four other House members as political turmoil continues to roil the region.

The group flew from Washington to Kuwait on Sunday, then spent two days in Iraq before continuing on to Bahrain, Cicilline told me in a phone interview from that country this afternoon. They will return to the United States on Sunday.

Cicilline is a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. I’ll update with more on Cicilline’s trip and what he learned from it this afternoon.

Update: Cicilline told me meetings with American military and civilian officials in Iraq left him “confident” they will achieve President Obama’s goal of withdrawing troops from there by the end of this year, though “a tremendous amount” remains to be done.

“There’s a lot of work ahead,” he said. “It will not be an easy road.” The future of the country is now largely in the hands of the Iraqi people, he said.

While Cicilline spoke from Bahrain, where citizens have been protesting the government, he hadn’t seen much evidence of the dramatic events unfolding there and elsewhere in the Arab world. But all of it is “an example of this yearning for democracy that we know and that we talk about a lot,” he said.

The freshman Democrat – who’s been sick throughout the trip, and was stifling a cough during our interview – received briefings from officials including Lloyd Austin, commanding general of U.S. forces in Iraq, and James Jeffrey, the U.S. ambassador there. He also met with troops at bases and medical centers.

“I think they’re proud of the work that they’ve done,” Cicilline said. “They see that they’ve made a difference here and that they’ve given, along with our allies, the opportunity for a better life – hopefully – when we leave for the Iraqi people. But it came at a tremendous sacrifice.”

Cicilline and the other House members stayed on the grounds of the U.S. embassy in Baghdad’s Green Zone during their visit. He said he was not allowed to disclose where else he will be traveling between now and his return to the U.S. on Sunday.

I also asked Cicilline whether fact-finding missions like these were really helpful.

“It’s incredibly valuable,” he replied. “First of all, to have the opportunity to see firsthand and to learn directly from the civilian and military commanders what’s happening here on the ground in Iraq, and to have them walk through the plans for the transition, and then to have the opportunity to observe the training and to meet with the troops as this transition is occuring, is very, very valuable.

“The briefings we got from the military and civilian leadership and the ability to actually sit and talk with them and ask questions in the briefings, and then to meet with the troops – that has been incredibly informative and valuable to me as someone who’s going to have to make decisions as a member of Congress, particularly as a member of the Foreign Affairs Committee,” he said.

How Avedisian and Gabby Giffords met Mubarak

February 24th, 2011 at 7:00 am by under General Talk

Mubarak in 2009

Talk about ripped from the headlines: Did you know Warwick Mayor Scott Avedisian once met with deposed Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak – together with Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords?

It sounds outlandish, but it’s true. Avedisian, Giffords and 22 other up-and-coming officeholders from across the country had the opportunity thanks to their participation in The Aspen Institute’s inaugural class of Rodel Fellows in Public Leadership back in 2005.

The Colorado-based Aspen Institute created the program to bring together “emerging political leaders with reputations for intellect, thoughtfulness, and a commitment to civil dialogue” in order to educate them about important domestic and foreign issues.

In addition to Avedisian and Giffords, that first class of fellows included a who’s-who of youngish politicians, including Artur Davis, Trey Grayson, Tom Kean Jr., Mark Kirk, Kendrick Meek, Paul Ryan, Michael Steele and Debbie Wasserman Schultz.

A key part of the program was week-long trips overseas to Asia and the Middle East, and that’s how Avedisian and his fellow fellows found themselves face-to-face with Mubarak – though the conversation left something to be desired.

“It was very difficult, because he did not speak English very well at all – going through the translator was very, very different and very difficult,” Avedisian told me.

The group met Mubarak in his small private presidential office. “It wasn’t what I thought it would be,” Avedisian said. ”It certainly wasn’t like when they took us to India and we met with the president of India – that was very posh, very ornate.”

Mubarak wasn’t the only person they met in Egypt, either; the group also sat down with members of the opposition Muslim Brotherhood, which was suppressed by Mubarak’s regime. To duck the authorities, the Brotherhood’s representatives arrived at the hotel for their meeting through a back door, and the entire discussion was conducted with them on one side of a partition and Avedisian’s group on the other.

“They wanted [Mubarak] out and they wanted a new constitution that would allow all sorts of other parties to be allowed to be part of the government,” Avedisian said. “Of course, he wasn’t having any of that.”

The group’s travels later took them to Israel, where Avedisian was struck to see the Golan Heights with Syria and Lebanon just steps away. They also made a” trip to see Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas at Yasser Arafat’s old compound.

Avedisian was understandably shocked by the Jan. 8 shooting that left Giffords, who was a state senator when he first met her, gravely injured. She is now slowly recovering at a rehabilitation hospital in Houston.

“She is absolutely spectacular,” Avedisian said of Giffords. “Smart, bright, bubbly – a real go-getter, a neat, neat person.”

(photo: Wikipedia)