Sunday, September 14, 2014

Hillary Clinton Quietly Scrubs 'Remarks' From Website

    Hillary Clinton is widely considered, should she enter the 2016 presidential race, the Democratic front runner. But the former secretary of state is shrinking rather than building an already limited website presence.
    Sometime within the last two months, Hillaryclintonoffice.com quietly removed the only substantive content featured on the site, a set a remarks from three events from early 2013. The home page of the site included a "remarks" button, in addition to the "contact" button, that vanished sometime between July 23 and August 27 as these images show:

    Mrs. Clinton launched the website within a week of concluding her tenure as secretary of state in February 2013. By April, transcripts of remarks from three events in which Clinton took part were added: February 14, 2013, remarks at the Joint Civilian Service Award Presentation; April 2, 2013, remarks at Vital Voices (a non-governmental organization promoting women's leadership); and April 5, 2013, remarks at Women in the World summit. The latter two events chiefly consisted of Clinton's own remarks on a variety of issues related to women's place in societies around the world and their struggles and empowerment, and Clinton's efforts and actions those issues as secretary.
    The first event, the Joint Civilian Service Award Presentation included remarks from not only Clinton herself, but from Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Martin Dempsey, then-Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, and an unnamed announcer. Dempsey had glowing words for Clinton for "working tirelessly in the aftermath of the Arab Spring and to ensure we had a strong coalition in Libya" and "recogniz[ing] that there are limits to hard power and that we need both hard power and soft power." As Dempsey presented Clinton with the award, the announcer lauded Clinton's "smart power strategy."
    Panetta's praise for Clinton was effusive as he recalled working together during Bill Clinton's presidency as well as Hillary's term as secretary of state. He credited her with important roles during the planning for the successful bin Laden raid, as well as issues regarding "Afghanistan and Syria and terrorist attacks, and even on our own defense strategy, including the whole issue of Asia Pacific rebalance," adding that the two of them had together made recommendations to President Obama regarding "difficult choices in Iraq and Afghanistan and Libya and the Middle East." Before presenting Clinton with a second award, Panetta closed his remarks with what could easily be taken for an endorsement of Clinton for future public service:
Today ... it is now clear that we need to maintain a strong military force to deal with the unstable and unpredictable and undeniably dangerous world that we live in. But it is equally clear that we must enhance our other key levers of power, our economic and diplomatic power, if we are to truly achieve peace in the 21st century. Delivering on that vision will require wisdom, and it will require a will to act, qualities that Hillary Clinton exemplified throughout her career and as secretary of state.
    In Clinton's own remarks, she seemed to close the door on future service by referring to herself as a "retired public official" who had "left the State Department in the capable hands of Secretary John Kerry." She said that she was "enormously proud of what we have achieved" using her "smart power approach," having "gone a long way to restore America's global leadership and to make progress on some of the great challenges we face, from taking the fight to the leadership of Al Qaeda to reasserting the United States as a Pacific power."
    Clinton's performance in favorability polls has been dropping in recent months, even as her legacy as secretary of state has been called into question with deteriorating conditions across the world stage. Also, in addition to Clinton's own book "Hard Choices" released this summer, several other books came out in recent months examining her life and careers, including "Clinton, Inc."
        Now that this set of remarks has been removed from Clinton's website, their availability elsewhere appears rather limited. However, the Still4hill.com website documents at least two of the events, even including some photos, and the Daily Beast still has the transcript of the Women in the World event. Clinton's office did not respond to a request for comment about the removal of the remarks from her website.

Note: A version of this article first appeared at The Weekly Standard.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Feds to Spend $500,000 for New Art at Customs and Border Protection Facility in San Diego

    The "busiest land port of entry in the Western Hemisphere" is getting an upgrade, and according to the U.S. General Services Administration (GSA), about a half a million dollars worth of new artwork will be part of the package. The San Ysidro Land Port of Entry, the border crossing facility for the San Diego-Tijuana region, has been undergoing a $735 million modernization project spanning more than a decade. Since Phase Three of the project is included in President Obama's fiscal 2015 budget, the GSA has begun soliciting contractors, and that includes artists who will be commissioned to provided approximately $500,000 in new artwork for the new buildings.
GSA will modernize and expand the San Ysidro Land Port of Entry to better meet the needs of its tenants: U.S. Customs and Border Protection, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, U.S. Border Patrol, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The project entails the phased reconfiguration and expansion of the existing facility to improve pedestrian and vehicular processing, increase operational efficiency, provide greater officer and public safety, decrease operational and maintenance costs, and improve the traveler's experience of crossing the border. The full build-out consists of the demolition and construction of the new port, including primary and secondary inspection areas, administration building, pedestrian building, and other supporting structures... 
GSA allocates one-half of one percent of the estimated construction costs of new or modernized federal buildings for art commissions. The art budget for Phase 3 of the San Ysidro Land Port of Entry project is estimated at $500,000. One or more artists will be awarded a fixed-price contract for a commission.
     The plan for the San Ysidro facility is in keeping with the GSA's Art in Architecture program, in which one-half of one percent of the construction costs for new federal buildings is budgeted for artwork. The GSA's website describes the program:
GSA reserves one-half of one percent of the estimated construction cost of each new federal building to commission project artists. A panel composed of art professionals, civic and community representatives, the project’s lead design architect, and GSA staff meets to discuss opportunities for artists to participate in the building project. This panel reviews a diverse pool of artist candidates and nominates finalists for GSA to evaluate. Artists who receive federal commissions work with the project architects and others as members of a design team to ensure that the artworks are meaningfully integrated into the overall project.
    The GSA provides Alexander Calder's sculpture Flamingo (1974) at the John C. Kluczynski Federal Building in Chicago as an example:

    Artists have until October 6 to register to be considered for the San Ysidro project. Phase Three of the project is expected to be completed in January 2018. About 50,000 northbound vehicles and 25,000 northbound pedestrians cross the border through the facility each day.

Note: A version of this article first appeared at The Weekly Standard.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

John Kerry: "I'm Thinking, 2016"

    Secretary of State John Kerry's speech at the groundbreaking ceremony for the US Diplomacy Center in Washington DC Wednesday included an intriguing aside that appeared to reference the upcoming 2016 elections. Kerry spoke after remarks by each of the five former secretaries of state in attendance: Henry Kissinger, James Baker, III, Madeleine Albright, Colin Powell, and Hillary Clinton (Condoleezza Rice and George Shultz were not present.) After extolling the accomplishments of each of the five former top diplomats, Kerry said, "Join me, all of you, in thanking five of our six living former secretaries of state... [applause] They all look so great, it makes me -- I'm thinking, 2016, OK... [laughter]" The full event video is at the link, and a clip of Kerry's aside is below:


    Although his remark was apparently in jest, Kerry of course has had presidential aspirations, winning the Democratic nomination in 2004 but ultimately losing to George W. Bush. At age 73 on inauguration day in 2017, Kerry would be the oldest president to assume his first term in the White House. (Reagan was older when reelected in 1984.) Kerry is about three years older than a more likely 2016 candidate present at Wednesday's ceremony, Hillary Clinton, but so far Clinton has declined to make known her aspirations.
    Kerry had glowing words for Mrs. Clinton during his speech, saying, "Hillary Clinton came to the state department to rebuild alliances and restore our place in the world at a time when people were questioning it... and breathed new life into old partnerships..." Kerry's praise of Clinton seemed to come at the expense of her immediate predecessor Condoleezza Rice, George W. Bush's secretary of state during his second term, although Kerry did not mention Rice during his remarks.
    A state department spokesperson said that a scheduling conflict prevented Rice from attending Wednesday's ceremony, and that George Shultz (who will turn 94 in December) had also been invited but did not attend, though no reason was given. The spokesperson also said that Kerry simply misspoke when referencing "six living former secretaries of state" when in fact there are seven.

Note: A version of this post first appeared at The Weekly Standard.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

The Non-Invasion of Ukraine: Foreign Policy by Syntax

    Obama administration officials, with a temporary early August lapse by Ambassador to the U.N. Samantha Powers, have studiously avoided calling Russia's current actions in eastern Ukraine an "invasion." State department spokesperson Jen Psaki, after referring to the Russian "incursion", was then asked if she agreed that "there is actually a Russian invasion of Ukraine." However, Psaki demurred, saying, "I think I’m going to leave it as I said[.]" A reporter questioned Josh Earnest twice at a press briefing last week about whether or not an invasion was taking place, but Earnest avoided the word to the point that the reporter followed up with: "But doesn’t the language matter in this case?  Is there something that is -- you are reluctant to use those words to describe what appears to be happening in front of everyone’s eyes in Ukraine?" Earnest replied that the administration had been "very clear" and "pretty candid", but still avoided the word.
     The president himself was also directly confronted last week with the invasion question. While continuing to avoid pronouncing the word, the president answered:
I consider the actions that we’ve seen in the last week a continuation of what’s been taking place for months now.  As I said in my opening statement, there is no doubt that this is not a homegrown, indigenous uprising in eastern Ukraine.  The separatists are backed, trained, armed, financed by Russia.  Throughout this process, we’ve seen deep Russian involvement in everything that they’ve done.  
    But Russia's presence in Ukraine extends further back than the current activity in eastern Ukraine. The slow-motion takeover of the Crimean peninsula (with comparatively little violence) was unequivocally termed an "invasion" by none other than President Obama himself in a speech at the end of March. In remarks to European youths in Belgium in late March, the president used "the invasion of Crimea" and "Russia’s invasion of Ukraine" interchangeably. As recently as Wednesday, President Obama has continued to condemn Russia's "occupation and illegal annexation of Crimea," and yet it is as if there has been an invasion reset. It's not that Russia is threatening to invade Ukraine; Putin is threatening re-invasion, or further invading that "sovereign and independent European nation," in the president's words.
    The question then becomes, why has "invasion" been dropped from the administration's foreign policy lexicon when discussing Russia and Ukraine? The answer again lies in the words of President Obama, this time at an August 6 press conference. The president was asked what it would take to see "lethal aid" provided to the government of Ukraine. His reply was arguably yet another "red line" [emphasis added]:
Q    The troops that are massing on the border are more highly trained.  They seem to have more sophisticated weaponry, according to intelligence.  Does that make you reconsider -- as a few Democrats have suggested -- providing lethal aid to Ukraine, given those troop movements? 
PRESIDENT OBAMA:  Well, keep in mind that the Russian army is a lot bigger than the Ukrainian army.  So the issue here is not whether the Ukrainian army has some additional weaponry.  At least up until this point, they’ve been fighting a group of separatists who have engaged in some terrible violence but who can’t match the Ukrainian army. 
Now, if you start seeing an invasion by Russia, that’s obviously a different set of questions.  We’re not there yet.  What we have been doing is providing a whole host of assistance packages to the Ukrainian government and to their military, and we will continue to work with them to evaluate on a day-by-day, week-by-week basis what exactly they need in order to be able to defend their country and to deal with the separatist elements that currently are being armed by Russia.
But the best thing we can do for Ukraine is to try to get back on a political track.
    With the Obama administration so invested in the persuasive power of sanctions, the president and his team appeared to be actively avoiding that "different set of questions" that would be raised by an "invasion." And with conflicts erupting around the world and even Democrats calling for increased military action against ISIL in Iraq and perhaps Syria, the president seems to wish to maintain his flexibility where Russia is concerned. And so an "invasion" in March becomes an "incursion" in September, and the people of Ukraine must wait for help, hostages of syntax.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Supporter to President Obama: 'Announce a State of Emergency' To Get Around GOP Congress

    In 2014, President Obama has made much of his pen-and-a-phone strategy to accomplish his goals in the face of what he calls an "unprecedented pattern of obstruction" from Republicans in Congress. Apparently the president's supporters are on board with the idea of unilateral executive action. At a meeting last Friday, a supporter of the president asked about the possibility of "a state of emergency." The president relayed the story to another groups of supporters at a Democratic National Committee event later in the day at a private residence in Purchase, New York:
I was in a meeting earlier today and somebody asked, you know, Mr. President, what can you do, these folks, they just -- all they do is just oppose whatever you propose even if they used to be for it, now they’re against it; if you said the sky was blue, they’d say it was green; they deny the facts, they don’t have any ideas for growing the economy or helping the middle class -- maybe you just need to announce a state of emergency.  I said, well, now, I’m not going to do that, that’s not how the Constitution works.  (Laughter.)  
    Of course, "how the Constitution works" is at the heart of the dispute between the president and Republicans in the House who recently voted to move forward with a lawsuit against the president for overstepping his constitutional authority. Interestingly, regardless of how seriously President Obama took his supporter's question, he went on to tell his audience "there’s actually a solution to this that our Founders envisioned." However, he was not talking about executive orders:
I said to them, you know, there’s actually a solution to this that our Founders envisioned, and that is people being involved citizens and getting out there and voting, and bringing about change through the ballot box. 
    The president went on to tell his DNC audience that "we have the opportunity to do that during these midterms," although based on a recent email that President Obama sent on behalf of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC), the Democrats may have already written off their chances of winning back the majority in the House elections in November: 
I'm emailing you again because the Senate is at stake.  
If the GOP gains just six seats, the same Republicans who just voted to sue me will control both houses of Congress...
Will you let Republicans take charge of everything from the future of Medicare to education? Or will you make sure Democrats stay in charge?  
    The president did not specifically mention the elections for the House of Representatives in his DSCC fund raising email, nor in his remarks at the event on Friday. 
    President Obama spoke at three fundraisers on Friday. At this point, the White House has posted a transcript of the president's remarks from only one.

Note: A version of this post first appeared at The Weekly Standard.

Kerry 'Respectfully Calls' on Iran to Release Detained US Citizens

    John Kerry chose the third anniversary of U.S. citizen Amir Hekmati’s "detention on false espionage charges" during a visit with his family in Iran in 2011 to "respectfully" call on the government of Iran to release Hekmati and several other US citizens held or missing in that country. Saeed Abedini and Jason Rezaian, the latter a Washington Post reporter, are also being held. Kerry also called on Iran to help facilitate the location and return of Robert Levinson, missing since 2007.
    Here is the full statement:
U.S. Citizens Detained or Missing in Iran

The Unites States respectfully calls on the Government of the Islamic Republic of Iran to release Amir Hekmati, Saeed Abedini, and Jason Rezaian to their families and work cooperatively with us to find Robert Levinson and bring him home.

Today marks the three-year anniversary of U.S. citizen Amir Hekmati’s detention on false espionage charges while visiting his family in Iran.  Mr. Hekmati is the eldest son; he has long been separated from his family and they need him home.

Mr. Levinson went missing in March 2007 on Kish Island.  His family has endured years of painful separation and worry.  We are immensely concerned about his well-being and whereabouts.

On September 26, Mr. Abedini will have been detained for two years in Iran, on charges related to his religious beliefs.  Mrs. Abedini has spoken eloquently about the difficulties her family has faced during this challenging time.

Mr. Rezaian, a reporter for the Washington Post, is being detained in an unknown location.  His love of Iran is seen in his reporting – portraits of the generosity and kindness of the Iranian people.

The United States remains committed to returning all of them to their families, friends, and loved ones.  We ask the Government of the Islamic Republic of Iran to immediately release Amir Hekmati, Saeed Abedini, and Jason Rezaian and respectfully request the Government of the Islamic Republic of Iran work cooperatively with us to find Mr. Levinson and bring him home.
     Kerry's statement comes the same day that the state department announced additional sanctions against "entities providing support to illicit Iranian nuclear activities."

Note: A version of this post first appeared at The Weekly Standard.

Josh Earnest Versus Ben Rhodes on ISIL in Syria and Iraq

    Josh Earnest appeared on MSNBC's Morning Joe Friday in damage-control mode after President Obama's "we don't have a strategy yet" remark during his press conference on Thursday. Almost immediately after the president made the comment in response to a question by Chuck Todd, Earnest took to Twitter to quash the firestorm of criticism that ensued from friend and foe alike:
    Friday, Earnest acknowledged the president's words, but tried to provide additional context to clarify the White House message. CBS's Mark Knoeller tweeted this recap of Earnest's remarks:

     Rather than tamp down criticism, however, Earnest may have exacerbated the president's problem since his explanation contradicts a statement by Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes just a week ago. Rhodes appeared with Deputy Press Secretary Eric Schultz at a press briefing in Edgartown, Massachusetts during the president's vacation. In response to a question about Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Martin Dempsey's statement about how to defeat ISIL, Rhodes replied, "[W]e certainly agree that any strategy to deal with the ISIL organization has to deal with both sides of the border, Iraq and Syria." Here is the full exchange:
Q    On Islamic State, yesterday General Dempsey said that Islamic State can only be defeated if the fight is taken to them in Syria.  I wondered, is that -- does the President agree with that?  And if so, how does he intend to undertake it?  And would it mean a significant change in the mission against Islamic State? 
MR. RHODES:  Well, we certainly agree that any strategy to deal with the ISIL organization has to deal with both sides of the border, Iraq and Syria.  The strategy that we are already undertaking does address that in the sense that we are providing training and equipping and assistance to the Iraqi security forces and Kurdish security forces who are fighting them on the ground in Iraq.  We are also providing support and military assistance to the moderate Syrian opposition.  What we would like to see is those efforts squeeze the space where ISIL operates.  
But there are other elements to our strategy.  One is to enlist the support of partners in the region and the international community, because this poses a significant threat not just to the United States and to the Iraqi and Syrian people, but to the entire region.  And there are things that we can do with partners to mobilize communities in places like Iraq to work to expel ISIL.  
Then there’s the question of U.S. military action.  And the President has already authorized U.S. military action on the very specific missions of protecting our people and personnel and our facilities in Baghdad and Erbil.  He’s also authorized military action to deal with the humanitarian crisis on Mount Sinjar.  Again, as we look ahead and look forward, we are going to do what is necessary to protect Americans.  And so if we see plotting against Americans, we see a threat to the United States emanating from anywhere, we stand ready to take action against that threat.  
We’ve made very clear time and again that if you come after Americans, we’re going to come after you wherever you are.  And that’s what’s going to guide our planning in the days to come.
    Earnest has not yet responded to a request to square his remarks this morning with Rhodes's statement from last Friday.

Note: A version of this post first appeared at The Weekly Standard.

State Dept.: Russia/Ukraine 'Most Severe Challenge to European Security Since End of Cold War'

    Less than a week before President Obama and other NATO leaders gather in Wales for a two day summit, NATO is accusing Russia having "well over 1,000 troops" in Ukraine where Russian-backed separatists continue to skirmish with Ukrainian forces. This latest development underlines a statement on the state department's blog Thursday, which refers to "Russia’s illegal aggression" as "the most severe challenge to European security since the end of the Cold War."
    The blog post, entitled "NATO Wales Summit: A Family of Nations Committed to Peace and Freedom", cites four themes NATO will focus on at the upcoming gathering: Afghanistan, "challenges on NATO’s periphery", capabilities, and partnerships. The Russia-Ukraine conflict falls under the "challenges on NATO’s periphery" heading along with "Syria and Iraq, as well as persistent instability in North Africa, especially Libya." Here's the entire paragraph:
NATO leaders will meet with Ukrainian President Poroshenko to discuss the crisis caused by Russia’s illegal aggression, the most severe challenge to European security since the end of the Cold War.  All 28 Allies today contribute to reassurance measures in the air, on the land and at sea among the eastern Allies, signaling NATO’s unity and resolve.  At the Summit, we’ll address additional reassurance measures and further adaptations to NATO’s posture in response to this challenge.  Leaders will also discuss the rapidly evolving situations in Syria and Iraq, as well as persistent instability in North Africa, especially Libya.
    So far, President Obama had expressed confidence than sanctions will be sufficient to force Russia into a political settlement with Ukraine.

Note: A version of this post first appeared at The Weekly Standard.

Feds Renew Search for "Transportation Services for Unaccompanied Children"

    The Immigration & Customs Enforcement agency renewed its search this week for "Transportation Services for Unaccompanied Children" crossing the border into the United States. An earlier notice posted in January of this year seeking "escort services" for an estimated 65,000 unaccompanied children raised questions about the Obama administration's prior recognition of the effect that news of its Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) plan would have on primarily Central American parents who mistakenly believed their children would benefit from the program.
    The current notice says that ICE will award an "indefinite delivery, indefinite quantity (IDIQ) contract" to provide "unarmed escort staff, including management, supervision, manpower, training, certifications, licenses, drug testing, equipment, and supplies necessary to provide on-demand escort services for non-criminal/non-delinquent UAC ranging from infants to 17 years of age, seven (7) days a week, 365 days a year. Transport will be required for UAC or family groups, to include both male and female juveniles."
    The documents note that the "volume of UAC apprehensions continues to create numerous operational challenges for DHS" as "apprehensions doubled in fiscal year (FY) 2012, reaching 12,000." A chart included in the documents illustrates the tremendous increase in the use of contractors to handle the increased traffic:

    Fiscal year 2013 saw a ten-fold increase in the number of contractor-transported unaccompanied children, and after four months of fiscal year 2014, the number was already more than half of the previous year's total.
    Another chart shows the top cities of origin and destination for the contractor-led trip. More than half originated in Harlingen, TX, very close to the border with Mexico. A little more than a quarter of the trips delivered the children to El Paso, TX.

    ICE notes that under current laws and regulations, the agency:
does not have authority nor is responsible to detain unaccompanied children; rather ICE is responsible for transporting these juveniles to the Department of Health and Human Service’s Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) shelters located throughout the continental United States...
DHS places those UAC who cannot be returned immediately, as well as all UAC from countries other than Mexico or Canada, in removal proceedings under § 240 of the INA. DHS then transfers the UAC to the care and custody of ORR. ORR houses UAC in children’s shelters, staff-secure facilities, and secure facilities. ORR also maintains bed space in residential treatment facilities for children with special needs. ORR places young UAC, as well as UAC who are accompanied by their own children, in foster care, where they may apply for various immigration benefits through U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (CIS), including asylum and other programs designed to assist victims of crime, abuse and neglect, domestic violence, and human trafficking.
    This current search for contractors by ICE comes even as President Obama is under increasing pressure to make a decision on the status of millions of illegal immigrants, possibly by expanding the DACA program.

Note: A version of this post first appeared at The Weekly Standard.