Archive for December, 2014

President Obama Releases Another Five Detainees From Gitmo

Barack ObamaThree Yemenis and two Tunisians held for more than a decade at the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo have been flown to Kazakhstan for resettlement, the Pentagon said on Tuesday, the latest in a series of prisoner transfers aimed at closing the facility.

The transfer of the five men followed a recent pledge by President Obama for a stepped-up push to shut the internationally condemned detention center at the U.S. naval base in Cuba where most prisoners have been held without being charged or tried.

The U.S. government has moved 28 prisoners out of Guantanamo this year the largest number since 2009 and a senior U.S. official said the quickened pace would continue with further transfers expected in coming weeks.

Kazakhstan’s acceptance of the five followed extensive negotiations, the official said. Though the oil-rich central Asian state is an ally of Russia, it has cultivated areas of economic and diplomatic cooperation with the West.

The men sent to Kazakhstan, a majority-Muslim country, were identified as low-risk detainees cleared long ago for transfer. With their removal from Guantanamo just before the new year, the detainee population has been whittled down to 127.

More than half of the remaining Guantanamo detainees are from Yemen, but Washington is unable to send them home because of the chaotic security situation there.

Obama continues to face obstacles posed by Congress to the goal of emptying the prison before he leaves office, not least of which is a ban on transfer of prisoners to the U.S. mainland.

All five men were detained on suspicion of links to al Qaeda or allied groups, but the U.S. official said investigations had determined they “could be described as low-level, if even that.”

The Pentagon identified the Yemenis as Asim Thabit Abdullah Al-Khalaqi, Muhammad Ali Husayn Khanayna and Sabri Muhammad Ibrahim Al Qurashi. The Tunisians were named as Adel Al-Hakeemy and Abdullah Bin Ali Al-Lufti.

Other countries that have accepted Guantanamo detainees for resettlement this year include Uruguay, Georgia and Slovakia.

The prison was opened by Obama’s predecessor, George W. Bush, after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the United States to house militant suspects rounded up overseas.

“I’m going to be doing everything I can to close it,” Obama told CNN in an interview broadcast on Dec. 21, renewing a pledge he made when he took office in 2008.

A key thrust of the strategy is the administration’s outreach to a range of countries it hopes will take in more of the roughly 60 prisoners already approved for transfer.

Clifford Sloan, Obama’s outgoing State Department envoy on Guantanamo, led negotiations for the Kazakh deal. It was not immediately known whether the Obama played any personal role.

Among the prisoners sent to Kazakhstan, Lufti, 49, was detained in Pakistan and held at Guantanamo for nearly 12 years, according to a database of government documents compiled by the New York Times and National Public Radio.

He was accused of links to Tunisian militants when he lived in Italy in the 1990s, but he denied this. He has heart problems that led authorities to recommend his transfer as early as 2004.

One of the Yemenis, Khalaqi, 46, had been implicated by John Walker Lindh, an American captured in late 2001 working with the Taliban, as having fought with al Qaeda in Afghanistan, according to the documents. But Khalaqi denied any involvement.


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President Obama Mocks President Putin’s Genius Tag

US President Barack Obama (R) listens toUS President Barack Obama takes the fall of the ruble as an opportunity to flaunt the “American leadership,” calling Russian President Vladimir Putin “not so smart.”

Putin’s policies have not been “so smart,” since sanctions have proved devastating to his country, Obama said in an interview with NPR, released on Monday.

The Russian leader was hailed as a “genius” earlier this year for showing resilience in the face of Western sanctions.

“You’ll recall that three or four months ago, everybody in Washington was convinced that President Putin was a genius,” Obama said in the interview, which was recorded early in the month.

“And today, you know, I’d sense that at least outside of Russia, maybe some people are thinking what Putin did wasn’t so smart,” Obama said, suggesting his “strategic patience” has been a key factor in dealing with Moscow.

Russia has been witnessing a decline in the value of its currency, which is going through its worst crisis since 1998 due to Western bans, dropping oil prices and trade fears.

Asked whether he was “just lucky that the price of oil went down and therefore their [Russian] currency collapsed,” Obama replied that once the sanctions were put in place, the US and its European allies knew Russia’s oil-dependent economy would be hit sooner or later.

The US president said that the sanctions “would make the economy of Russia sufficiently vulnerable” that “if and when there were disruptions with respect to the price of oil… that they’d have enormous difficulty managing it.”

“Ultimately, the big advantage we have with Russia is we’ve got a dynamic, vital economy, and they don’t,” he said. “They rely on oil; we rely on oil and iPads and movies and you name it.”

The United States and the European Union have imposed a series of sanctions on Russia over the allegation that Moscow is playing a role in the ongoing crisis in eastern Ukraine. Moscow has repeatedly rejected the accusation.

Obama signed the latest Russian sanctions legislation into law on Dec. 18.


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Jeb Bush Surges to Frontrunner Status in Latest CNN Poll

Jeb bushJeb Bush is the clear Republican presidential frontrunner, surging to the front of the potential GOP pack following his announcement that he’s “actively exploring” a bid, a new CNN/ORC poll found.

He takes nearly one-quarter 23%  of Republicans surveyed in the new nationwide poll, putting him 10 points ahead of his closest competitor, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who tallied 13%.

Physician Ben Carson comes in third, with 7% support, and Sen. Rand Paul and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee are both tied for fourth with 6%.

That marks a drop in support for all but Christie and Bush from the last CNN/ORC survey of the field, conducted in November. That poll showed Bush in the lead, but only taking 14% of the vote, while Carson came in second with 11% and Christie tied Rep. Paul Ryan for fourth with 9% support.

Bush’s 10-point lead is a milestone for the potential GOP field,  it marks the first time any prospective candidate has reached a lead beyond a poll’s margin of error in the past two years.

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is still far and away the favorite to take the Democratic nomination for president if she runs, with the support of two-thirds of Democrats polled. Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, a liberal favorite, comes in a distant second place with just 9%.

Bush would still face some skepticism from GOP primary voters if he ran, but the CNN/ORC poll shows they are largely willing to forgive him for some of his more controversial comments and positions.

GOP primary voters are about evenly split on whether his support for allowing some illegal immigrants to stay in the United States makes them more or less likely to support him, or has no difference on their opinion of him.

Forty-two percent say his description of illegal immigration as an “act of love” make them less likely to support Bush, but another 39% say it makes no difference to them.

And while 40% say the fact that state government spending increased under Bush’s watch as Florida governor, another 49% say that doesn’t matter to them.

Even on Common Core educational standards, which many conservatives vehemently oppose, GOP primary voters are about evenly split on whether his support for those standards would make them less likely to support him.

Regardless, however, Bush may ultimately have little trouble overcoming his sins with the conservative base, as the CNN/ORC poll found Republican primary voters taking a pragmatic stance on the party’s nominee.

Sixty-nine percent say they want a nominee that can beat the Democratic candidate for president, even if that person doesn’t agree with them on every issue, while only 29 percent of GOP primary voters are purists.

And that makes Bush the candidate to beat in a GOP primary.

Out of all of the seven head-to-head GOP match-ups with Clinton tested, Bush fares the best, trailing her by just 13 points. She takes 54% support to his 41% support.

The survey was conducted by live interview among 1,011 adults nationwide from Dec. 18-21, with a subsample of 453 Republicans and 469 Democrats, via landline and cell phone. The overall sample has a margin of error of plus or minus three percentage points.


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Formal End To War In Afghanistan To Take Place In Kabul

NATOThe United States and NATO will mark the formal end of the war in Afghanistan on Sunday with a ceremony at their military headquarters in Kabul as the insurgency they fought for 13 years remains as ferocious and deadly as at any time since the 2001 invasion that unseated the Taliban regime following the Sept. 11 attacks.

The symbolic ceremony will mark the end of the U.S.-led International Security Assistance Force, which will transition to a supporting role with 13,500 soldiers, most of them American, starting Jan. 1.

President Ashraf Ghani, who took office in September, signed bilateral security agreements with Washington and NATO allowing the enduring military presence. The move has led to a spike in violence as the Taliban have claimed it as an excuse to step up operations aimed at destabilizing his government.

ISAF was set up after the U.S.-led invasion as an umbrella for the coalition of around 50 nations that provided troops and took responsibility for security across the country.

It ends with 2,224 American soldiers killed, according to estimated figures, out of a total of some 3,500 foreign troop deaths.

The mission peaked at 140,000 troops in 2010 with a surge ordered by U.S. President Barack Obama to root the insurgents out of strategically important regions, notably in the southern provinces of Helmand and Kandahar, where the Taliban had its capital from 1996 to 2001.

ISAF will segue into Resolute Support, a training and support mission, with the U.S. accounting for almost 11,000 members of the residual force.

Obama recently expanded the remit of the U.S. forces remaining in the country, allowing them to extend their counter-terrorism operations to Taliban, as well as al-Qaeda, and to provide ground and air support for the Afghan forces when necessary for at least the next two years.

Afghans have mixed feelings about the drawdown of foreign troops, many believing that with the deteriorating security situation their presence is needed to back up the Afghan effort to bring peace after more than three decades of continual war.

As Afghan forces take sovereignty, the country is without a Cabinet three months after Ghani’s inauguration, and economic growth is near zero due to the reduction of the international military and aid juggernauts. The United States spent more than $100 million on reconstruction in Afghanistan, on top of the $1 trillion war.

This year is set to be the deadliest of the war, according to the United Nations, which expects civilian casualties to hit 10,000 for the first time since the agency began keeping records in 2008. It says that most of the deaths and injuries are caused by Taliban attacks.

In the latest insurgent violence in Wardak province, two two teenage boys were killed late on Saturday, when a rocket was fired near a children’s volleyball match in Nirkh district, an official said. Another five children, aged between 11 and 14 years old, were wounded by shrapnel, said the governor’s spokesman Attaullah Khogyani. He blamed the Taliban.

This has also been a deadly year for Afghanistan’s security forces army, paramilitary and police with around 5,000 deaths recorded so far. Most of those deaths, or around 3,200, have been policemen, according to Karl Ake Roghe, the outgoing head of EUPOL, the European Union Police Mission in Afghanistan, which funds and trains a police force of 157,000.

NATO’s Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg has said that the Afghan forces are ready to take on the insurgency alone, despite complaints by officials that they lack the necessary assets, such as air support, medical evacuation and intelligence.


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New Putin Doctrine Identifies NATO As No.1 Threat

Russia militaryRussia identified NATO as the nation’s No. 1 military threat and raised the possibility of a broader use of precision conventional weapons to deter foreign aggression under a new military doctrine signed by President Vladimir Putin on Friday.

NATO flatly denied it was a threat to Russia and accused Russia of undermining European security.

The new doctrine, which comes amid tensions over Ukraine, reflects the Kremlin’s readiness to take a stronger posture in response to what it sees as the U.S.-led efforts to isolate and weaken Russia.

The paper maintains the provisions of the previous, 2010 edition of the military doctrine regarding the use of nuclear weapons.

It says Russia could use nuclear weapons in retaliation for the use of nuclear or other weapons of mass destruction against the country or its allies, and also in the case of aggression involving conventional weapons that “threatens the very existence” of the Russian state.

For the first time, the new doctrine says Russia could use precision weapons “as part of strategic deterrent measures,” without spelling out when and how Moscow could resort to them.

Among other provisions, the paper mentions the need to protect Russia’s interests in the Arctic, where the global competition for oil and other natural resources has been heating up as the Arctic ice melts.

Russia has relied heavily on its nuclear deterrent and lagged far behind the U.S. and its NATO allies in the development of precision conventional weapons. However, it has recently sped up its military modernization, buying large numbers of new weapons and boosting military drills.

NATO has said that a sharp rise in the number of Russian air patrols over the Baltics has put civilian flights at risk.

Earlier this month, Russia flexed its muscle by airlifting state-of-the art Iskander missiles to its westernmost point, Kaliningrad, a Russian oblast that borders NATO members Poland and Lithuania. The missiles were pulled back to their home base after the drills, but the deployment clearly served as a demonstration of the military’s readiness to quickly raise the ante in case of crisis.

Russia has threatened earlier that it could permanently station the Iskander missiles, which can hit targets up to about 300 miles away with high precision, in retaliation to U.S.-led NATO missile defense plans.

On Friday, the military successfully test-fired the RS-24 Yars intercontinental ballistic missile from the Plesetsk launchpad in northwestern Russia.

The 29-page doctrine is a stand-alone document outlining the top threats to Russia’s security and possible responses. The current edition is the third since Putin was first elected in 2000.

The doctrine placed “a buildup of NATO military potential and its empowerment with global functions implemented in violation of international law, the expansion of NATO’s military infrastructure to the Russian borders” on top of military threats to Russia.

It stressed that that the deployment of foreign military forces on the territory of Russia’s neighbors could be used for “political and military pressure.”

NATO spokeswoman Oana Lungescu responded by saying in a statement that the alliance “poses no threat to Russia or to any nation. Any steps taken by NATO to ensure the security of its members are clearly defensive in nature, proportionate and in compliance with international law,” she said. “In fact, it is Russia’s actions, including currently in Ukraine, which are breaking international law and undermining European security.”

Russia’s relations with the West have plummeted to their lowest point since the Cold War, and NATO cut off ties with Moscow after it annexed Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula in March. Ukraine and the West also have accused Moscow of fueling a pro-Russia insurgency in eastern Ukraine with troops and weapons. The Kremlin has denied those accusations.

“NATO will continue to seek a constructive relationship with Russia, as we have done for more than two decades,” Lungescu said. “But that is only possible with a Russia that abides by international law and principles including the right of nations to choose their future freely.”

Former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev, who had been critical of Putin in the past, but who has strongly backed the Kremlin over its spat with the West, said Friday that Russia’s actions were a response to U.S. and NATO moves.

“I think the president is right to a large extent when he draws attention to a particular responsibility of the United States,” he said during a public event in Moscow.

The U.S. and the European Union have slapped sanctions against Moscow, which have deepened Russia’s economic woes and contributed to a sharp devaluation of the ruble, which lost about half of its value this year.

The economic crisis could challenge Russia’s ambitious weapons modernization program, but so far the Kremlin has shown no intention of scaling it back.

The program envisages the deployment of new nuclear-tipped intercontinental ballistic missiles, the construction of nuclear submarines and a sweeping modernization of Russia’s conventional arsenals.

Russia has been particularly concerned about the so-called Prompt Global Strike program under development in the U.S., which would be capable of striking targets anywhere in the world in as little as an hour with deadly precision.

The new doctrine mentioned the U.S. program as a major destabilizing factor along with NATO missile defense plans.

Russian officials have said that Moscow was working on a response to the new U.S. weapons, but have released no details.


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Russia Outraged Over Ukraine Renouncing Non-Aligned Status

LavrovRussian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Ukraine’s pursuit of NATO membership posed a danger to European security and that the West was using Kiev’s bid to join the Atlantic alliance as a way to fuel confrontation between Russia and Ukraine.

The Kiev parliament’s renunciation of Ukraine’s neutral status this week as a step toward joining NATO has outraged Moscow and deepened the worst confrontation between Russia and the West since the end of the Cold War.

Lavrov is the latest Russian official to speak out against the Kiev’s bid in recent days, and who have made clear Russia would see the NATO membership of such a strategic former Soviet republic with a long common border as a direct military threat.

“There are a few Western countries that want to maintain the crisis in Ukraine and to maintain and boost the confrontation between Ukraine and Russia, including through provocative efforts toward membership in the Atlantic alliance,” he said.

“The very idea of Ukraine’s efforts to join NATO are dangerous, not only for Ukrainian people, because there is no unity over that issue, it is dangerous for European security,” he said, speaking on state television.

NATO boosted its military presence in eastern Europe this year, saying it has evidence Russia orchestrated and armed a pro-Russian rebellion in eastern Ukraine that followed the overthrow of a Kremlin-backed president in Kiev.

Moscow denies supporting the rebellion, and says it is currently trying, along with Kiev and the rebels, to find a political solutions to the crisis in eastern Ukraine.

Deputy Defense Minister Anatoly Antonov also said that unidentified NATO members had pushed Ukraine to make the move in a bid to turn it into a “forward line for confronting Russia.”

“Under the slogan of a ‘Russian threat,’ NATO is expanding its military potential in the Baltics, Poland, Bulgaria and Romania,” Antonov said in remarks carried by Russian news agencies.

He added that NATO has doubled the number of its military flights near Russia’s borders to about 3,000 this year. He said Russia was particularly concerned about pilots from non-nuclear NATO members, like Poland, being trained for nuclear weapons.

NATO, in its turn, has accused Russia of putting civilian flights at risk by boosting the number of its military air patrols and having its planes fly with their transponders switched off.

The alliance has halted cooperation with Russia over its annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula and its support for a pro-Russian insurgency in eastern Ukraine. Amid the tensions, NATO has moved to reassure its members in eastern Europe by stepping up air patrols over the Baltic Sea and rotating military units in and out of countries like Poland and the Baltic republics.

Antonov also said that Russia plans to expand military cooperation with China, Egypt and Latin American countries. In particular, Moscow is discussing provisions for its navy ships to use ports in Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela for replenishing supplies and undergoing maintenance.


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A Federalist Today Presidential Straw Poll

Jeb bush

What insurgent can break the establishment winning streak?

 Those who are not ready for Jeb or Mitt (much less Hillary) are now officially on the clock–tasked with finding a credible conservative insurgent capable of going toe-to-toe with the Republican establishment’s favorite in the primary elections that begin fourteen months from now.

The clearest path to victory for the establishment, as they have publicly made clear, is to rally around one high profile candidate while conservative and libertarian-leaning Republicans divide themselves among a half dozen or more until the early primaries begin to cull the field. A divided right and a (more) united middle has carried the establishment to victory in every open primary since the contemporary system emerged (in 1988).

Jeb Bush’s exploratory committee announcement last week is a large step toward uniting the middle–either around Bush himself or, if he fails to gain traction, Mitt Romney, called in from political retirement as a management consultant Cincinnatus to save the day. For what? Beyond the benefits to properly-credentialed job seekers, we can expect another campaign for expert mastery of the economy, a 98-cents-on-the-Progressive-dollar budget, democratic self esteem-promoting missions abroad, and market-oriented but beltway-directed education (if Bush) or health care (if Romney) “reform.”

As Josh Kraushaar argued last week at the National Journal, such a program is unlikely to energize the Republican base. But the base won’t matter if the Republican establishment standard-bearer can win the early primaries and caucuses with 30-40% of the vote and build an air of inevitability around his nomination before the campaign hits the states where most of that base resides. Meanwhile, renewed rumblings about the end of the Ames, Iowa, straw poll (related to new Republican National Committee rules to discourage party-sponsored voting events prior to the official Iowa caucus) and plans to limit the number of pre-primary debates make the early unification of conservatives all the more unlikely.

Last week, we proposed calling a series of regional pre-primary caucuses featuring candidate debates and straw polls (sample below) that would openly, fairly, and naturally work to unite conservatives behind a single insurgent candidate several months before the primaries begin. The idiosyncrasies of the early-voting states would still favor the establishment candidate, but he’d have to get something close to a majority of the vote to defeat a conservative/libertarian insurgent who had established himself as the clear choice of the non-elite.

What sort of an insurgent could run this gauntlet and break the establishment winning streak? Being willing to take on the Republican branch of America’s ruling class would be a good start. But that could be the pathway for demagogues and attention-seekers as much as true republicans.

The test will be in the alternative he advocates. After eight years of President Obama, we expect the establishment candidate to talk about reform, but we hope an insurgent reformer would bend us toward more constitutional government, not merely more efficient government. A true reform candidate would be able to highlight the important difference between the American presidency as first conceived, and the celebrity, hegemonic, mind-everyone’s business executive that the position has become, to the discredit of both the office and the country.

How, then, do we know if we’ve found the genuine article? There is no better place to rediscover the true nature of a constitutional executive than Alexander Hamilton’s Federalist essays on the American presidency (numbers 67-77). There Hamilton describes:

President Obama’s greatest contribution to reviving the American republic has been his blatant disregard for this model–standing in such a stark contrast to the original that it has drawn our attention back to it.  He is not the first to have left the Founders’ republican ideal behind. But he has been the most audacious in trying to hammer the nails into its coffin.

He has usurped legislative authority time and again and then threatened to use his veto to prevent the reassertion of Congress’s constitutional powers. He has undermined our peace by suffering injury to American interests from one rogue state after another and exacerbating our political, economic, and racial divisions. He has expanded government power and bureaucratic discretion while leading an executive branch that views the defenders of self-government with suspicion and disdain.

There is enough low-hanging fruit here for any ambitious Republican. Criticizing President Obama on the 2016 campaign trail will be easy and, so long as his approval ratings remain low, politically cheap. But whatever measure of political success another not-Obama campaign might bring, it will take the persuasive presentation of a compelling alternative to begin the revitalization of our republic.

The ideal conservative running for President would, therefore, be one who understands that that which he is attempting to “conserve” is the Founders’ vision of republican executive authority, exceptional both in their day and ours. True republican reform would amount to a refinement of current executive practices that bring the office back into alignment with the original understanding of the American presidency. Perhaps most difficult of all, it would require the new president to foreswear many of the executive prerogatives asserted by President Obama, even, or especially, when they appear to be the only way to achieve his favored policy. When he takes the oath of office, he must “swear to his own hurt” (Psalm 15)  to “preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States.”

Who among the current Republican contenders is best positioned to make the case for this understanding of the American presidency and then live up to it in office? The combination of intellectual and moral virtues necessary to accomplish this is difficult to find. Add the administrative gifts necessary to govern well and the task becomes more difficult still. We hope that over the next year there will be a very robust and public debate centered on this question, despite the efforts of the GOP establishment. Let’s start today. Who do you think is best able to re-constitutionalize the presidency? Participate in our straw poll and add your comments below.


David Corbin is a Professor of Politics and Matthew Parks an Assistant Professor of Politics at The King’s College, New York City. They are co-authors of “Keeping Our Republic: Principles for a Political Reformation” (2011). You can follow their work on Twitter or Facebook.




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