Posts Tagged ‘Obama’

Philippine Lawmakers, United Nations Want Dialogue With China in the West Philippine Sea

May 24, 2015

 (The Philippine Star) |

Photo provided by the Armed Forces of the Philippines shows construction on Kagitingan (Fiery Cross) Reef in the Spratly Islands.

MANILA, Philippines – The Philippines should engage China in bilateral talks in its efforts to maintain peace and order at the disputed West Philippine Sea, Sen. Francis Escudero said yesterday.

Escudero supports the government’s move to bring the issue before international arbitration but also stressed the need for the Philippines to pursue talks with China.

Escudero made the statement after UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon on Friday called for a peaceful solution to territorial disputes in the South China Sea.

“We should also pursue bilateral talks with China to settle the dispute, maybe we could also pursue back channeling talks with them. We should use all means, multilateral, regional or bilateral level, to settle the dispute,” he said.

The heightened regional concern over the disputed waters came after China warned a US surveillance plane to keep out of the area last week. The US government said it was asserting freedom of navigation and aviation when it undertook the surveillance mission.

Escudero expressed concern that the Philippines might get caught in a crossfire between the US and China if ever a conflict arises.

However, he was optimistic that China and US will be able to settle the issue peacefully.

Escudero lamented the Philippines cannot match China in military terms.

He also cautioned the Department of National Defense against using the issue to beef up its resources by asking additional budget for the Armed Forces’ modernization program.

“They should stop saber-rattling so that they can get more budget because in the end, we may not even have enough resources to match China’s might in an actual war,” he said in Filipino.

Muntinlupa City Rep. Rodolfo Biazon Jr., for his part, called for ways to tighten security agreements between the Philippines and the United States to ensure a clear commitment that the US will come to the country’s aid in the event the territorial dispute with China in the West Philippine Sea erupts into a conflict.

Biazon, chairman of the House committee on national defense and security, said he was disturbed by statements coming from top officials, including Armed Forces chief Gen. Gregorio Catapang, that the country cannot rely on the US for help in case the situation escalates in the disputed waters.

He said the country and the US have the 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT), the 1999 Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA), and the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) that entered into force in April last year but they apparently do not specify courses of action to take.

“It appears that the US will help us but up to what extent will that alliance go? Is this assistance for our diplomatic efforts or if the situation comes to force on force, will they help us? I’m bothered by such statements. Can we lean on the MDT? If not, why are we talking to the Americans?” Biazon told dzBB over the weekend.

“I know the MDT is there, the VFA and now the EDCA – we must study these. How can EDCA help us? The EDCA speaks about basing, the question is, whose bases?” he asked.

“Tensions in the South China Sea have increased but where that will lead, no one can predict. To avoid conflict, more nations should call for a peaceful resolution and we have been making protests on what China’s been doing,” he said.

Biazon said the Constitution bans foreign bases but the prohibition is not absolute as long as there is a basing treaty ratified by the Senate.

He welcomed the statements of condemnation coming from the US, Japan, United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, and other countries on China’s construction of military installations in the disputed waters even as they called on other nations “to wake up the world to resolve the dispute under the rule of law.”

When US President Barack Obama visited Manila in April 28 last year, he said his government supports the country’s bid to peacefully resolve its dispute against China.

“We don’t even take a specific position on the disputes between nations. But, as a matter of international law and international norms, we don’t think that coercion and intimidation is the way to manage these disputes,” Obama said. –With Paolo Romero


The South China Sea Showdown: A Tragedy in the Making?

May 24, 2015


Security analysts regard the South China Sea as a potential flashpoint,

By Nicholas Khoo

Satellite imagery of the South China Sea has established that over the previous twelve months, China has expanded its presence there by up to 1500 acres. The Chinese have been actively reclaiming land at the following reefs: Cuarteron, Fiery Cross, Gaven, Hughes, Subi, and the Union reefs (Johnson South and Johnson North reefs). One perspective on this activity is that it represents straightforward, aggressive Chinese expansionism, requiring a robust response. Alas, the situation is far more complex than this view suggests, and the policy response needs to take this into account. A few points merit highlighting.

First, it is not entirely clear that any international law has been violated. U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for East Asia Daniel Russel recently noted that Chinese “reclamation isn’t necessarily a violation of international law, but it’s certainly violating the harmony, the fengshui of Southeast Asia, and, its certainly violating China’s claim to be a good neighbor and a benign and non-threatening power.” Russel’s point is good counsel to the Chinese to ease up. However, one struggles to think of empirical examples to buttress his point. It is exceedingly rare for states on the periphery of any great power to view their neighbor as benign and non-threatening. Certainly, claims in the 1998-2008 period that China was viewed by its Asian neighbors as benign and unthreatening are now viewed as a far from accurate analysis.

Second, whatever the final solution is to this issue, it will have to, in some measure, incorporate a rising China’s concerns. To expect otherwise is an illusion. So, what is China’s perspective? Beijing maintains  that it respects the principle of freedom of navigation in the South China Sea. At the same time, the Chinese not unreasonably claim that they are merely doing what all states do, namely, defend state sovereignty. In the process, China views itself as having exercised restraint. Sheng Dingli, a Professor at Fudan University in Shanghai recently noted that ”the Chinese government has restrained itself. Our islands are still controlled by others, but we are not using force to take them back.”

Third, let’s be honest with ourselves. China is hardly the only state that has been busy at the reclamation game. One can easily envisage Chinese officials explaining to Secretary Kerry during his Beijing visit last weekend that China is merely responding to the actions of other states, in a general scramble for territory. More specifically, they will have pointed to reclamation activity of other states that occurred prior to the recent Chinese activity. Since August 2011, Vietnam has reclaimed 200,000 square meters of land in the Spratly Islands section of the South China Sea. Also, since April 2014, Taiwan has also reclaimed land in its South China outpost of Itu Aba Island. These claimants may appeal to our sense of fair play, pointing to the obvious disparity between themselves and China, both in state size and the resources available to enforce claims. On that score, our sympathies are surely with them. But, when has such logic ever been accepted as an argument against any state which is acting to secure its territorial claims against competing claimants?

Wherever one stands in the debate, what is not in doubt is that the status quo has been modified in ways that heightens the potential for more conflict. Not surprisingly, the U.S. is clear on who is responsible for this. Commander of the U.S. Pacific Fleet, Admiral Harry Harris has been quoted as saying that “China is creating a great wall of sand with dredges and bulldozers.” Indeed, in recent testimony before a Senate Committee, the Commander of the U.S. Pacific Command, Admiral Samuel Locklear characterized China’s pace of construction in the South China Sea as “astonishing.” He further posited that “if this activity continues at pace, it will give them (China) defacto control of the maritime territory they claim.” Locklear also speculated that this “might be a platform if they (China) ever wanted, to establish an air defense zone” in the South China Sea.

These views have not gone unchallenged by China, which equally unsurprisingly, views itself as defensive, and other claimants as adopting an offensive posture. In a speech in Washington DC on April 16 of this year, China’s ambassador to the U.S., Cui Tiankai, concisely laid out Beijing’s view on the South China Sea. First, China will defend its sovereignty and maritime rights, even while it exercises restraint. Second, China seeks to resolve disputes through diplomacy. Third, on the specific issue of the upgrading of Chinese facilities in the South China Sea, this activity is “well within China’s sovereignty.” Finally, China’s overall foreign policy is “defensive in nature.” Therefore, in seeking to resolve the South China Sea disputes, Beijing seeks to co-operate with all regional states, and “particularly with the U.S.”

Yet, slightly more than a week later, there was little co-operation on display from China’s Southeast Asian neighbors. At the late April 2015 Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Summit in Kuala Lumpur, ASEAN Secretary General Le Luong Minh contested China’s South China Sea claims. Asked about a recent Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson’s unusually blunt criticism of his alleged lack of neutrality on this issue, Minh responded: “What kind of neutrality are they talking about? Can I be neutral to ASEAN interests? How can I be neutral to the truth?” Positions appear to be hardening rather than softening. Thus, during Secretary Kerry’s recent Beijing trip, his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi expressed the view that “China’s determination to safeguard its sovereignty and territorial integrity is as firm as a rock and is unshakable.” Wang added that “we also hope to maintain peace and stability in the region and are committed to international freedom of navigation.” Whether the duality present in China’s views is in fact reconcilable (or not) with regional stability is a question that the region will now have to confront.

This piece first appeared as part of the Asia Maritime Transparency Project here

China claims ownership of all of the South China Sea north of its “nine dash line.” The Philippines, vietnam and others contest this claim.

America’s new foreign policy: ‘Anything for a quiet life’

May 24, 2015


As the jihadists of the Islamic State staged a spectacular resurgence in the Middle East this week, the Obama administration – and America – mostly just shrugged.

Mr Obama said he was staking his reputation on the decision to engage with Iran

Objectively speaking, this was another disastrous week for Barack Obama’s foreign policy: the fall of the cities of Ramadi and Palmyra to the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (Isil) exposed once again the limits of the administration’s strategy of relying on moderate local forces to roll back the extremists.

In such circumstances you might reasonably have expected to see Mr Obama and his officials rush to man the pumps, if only to beat back the fires of criticism at home, but here’s the funny thing: there really wasn’t that much criticism.

The usual suspects on the Republican Right – like Senator John McCain and his wingman Senator Lindsey Graham – issued warnings about the dangers of creating a power vacuum in the Middle East, but collectively speaking, America largely just shrugged.

At the State Department a spokesman acknowledged there had been a “setback”, but pointed to the net gains of the coalition policy in Iraq since last summer – at least Baghdad wasn’t under threat, he said, searching desperately for the positives.

At the White House anonymous officials briefed reporters that the president was “mulling” more sending weapons and providing training for the moderates, but that piece of non-news made barely a ripple since Mr Obama’s “mulling” of these things has never led to much in the past.

Mr Obama himself was blunter still. The Middle East was at an “inflection point”, he conceded in a long interview with The Atlantic, but these were ultimately their problems, not ours. “If they are not willing to fight for the security of their country,” he said of Iraq, “we cannot do that for them.”

The silence was deafening. The 2016 general election is being billed in some quarters of Washington as a “foreign policy” election, but the American public’s collective indifference to events in the Middle East – notwithstanding 250,000 dead Syrians and 4 million refugees – suggests otherwise.

A Gallup poll this month ranked foreign policy sixth among the American electorate’s concerns behind the economy, Washington dysfunction, healthcare, terrorism and income inequality.

Of course, terrorism is the kicker there – if there is another a spectacular September 11 style terror event with origins in the Middle East that changes everything – but until then, the American public seems broadly content to let the fires burn.

In this regard, Mr Obama’s foreign policy has been depressingly adroit. In the US public mind, the threats feel distant; the refugees and the returning jihadists swarm at the gates of Europe, not the US homeland, and all the while the oil continues to flow – both from the Middle East, and also now from the shale beds of Texas and North Dakota.

And as Mr Obama added in that Atlantic interview, polls show that for most Americans, the biggest lesson to be learned from George W Bush’s invasion of Iraq was not go back in: no more boots on the ground, let the Middle East spill its own blood.

So while the foreign policy elite frets and criticises, the ordinary public largely gives Mr Obama a free pass. Even last year’s beheading of American nationals in their faux-Gitmo orange jump suits only briefly moved the needle, but after a flicker of public outrage, it settled again.

All this leaves Republicans in a difficult position. In the early primary hustings, pretty much all the candidates are united in bashing Mr Obama for being weak and indecisive, while demanding a more muscular foreign policy that befits their instinctive notion of America as the indispensable superpower.

“I’m running because I think the world is falling apart,” said Lindsey Graham as he all-but-announced his candidacy this week, but when it comes to arguing that more Americans must die in the Middle East to protect the homeland, he is a lone voice.

Notwithstanding the limits of Mr Obama’s foreign policy, that kind of interventionism now sits on the fringes of the party of George W. Bush, with most candidates – including, after a fashion, his younger brother, Jeb – now saying that the invasion of Iraq was a huge mistake. The public agrees with them.

Among the elites, there is demand for a debate over what America’s place in the world should be. “Lost”, is the verdict on the cover of this week’s Time magazine, with polls showing a new generational divide now splitting America on foreign policy.

Nearly two-thirds of over-60s still think of America as “exceptional”, according to research by Ian Bremmer of the Eurasia Group, compared to less than half of under-30s – but it is an indication of the direction of travel that 40 per cent of 18-29s say America should “mind its own business”.

And there lies the rub. America, particularly younger, urban liberal America, does not really want to know: petrol prices are low, the economy is on the up and while Republicans huff and puff about Mr Obama’s ineffectualness, a candidate who promises real re-engagement has a shrinking constituency.

Mr Obama has often been criticised for his glib foreign policy motto “don’t do stupid s***”, but the US public agrees with him. “Anything for a quiet life,” is the new motto, particularly among the young.

Only time will tell whether Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and the black-flag waving cohorts of Isil intend to let it stay that way.

South China Sea: U.S. and The Philippines Glare At The Chinese; The Chinese Glare Back

May 23, 2015


Composite photo shows a US Navy P8-A Poseidon surveillance aircraft which was asked to leave the area by the Chinese navy as it approached contested islands in the South China Sea. Photo also shows construction on Fiery Cross Reef, from where the warning could have been issued.

 (The Philippine Star) |

WASHINGTON – The United States military will continue air and sea patrols in international waters even after the Chinese navy repeatedly warned a US surveillance plane to leave the airspace over artificial islands China is creating in the disputed South China Sea.

The Philippine government also declared it would continue activities in the region, calling on China to respect freedom of navigation and aviation.

“Our position on the importance of letting freedom of navigation, freedom of aviation and international law prevail in the area we are talking about does not change. That is why this is not affected by the new development,” Presidential Communications Operations Office Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. told a press briefing yesterday.

“Our position on this matter is consistent and resolute. While we recognize that there is tension, we will remain assertive and determined to push for our position by adhering to international law,” Coloma said.

US State Department spokesperson Marie Harf said it was unclear on what basis the Chinese navy issued the warning to a US military plane that was flying over the Spratlys in the South China Sea.

Harf said the verbal warnings aired by the Chinese to the US plane could not be classified as a confrontation.

The incident, along with recent Chinese warnings to Philippine military aircraft to leave areas around the Spratly archipelago in the South China Sea, suggested Beijing is trying to enforce a military exclusion zone above its new islands there.

Recent satellite images suggest China has made rapid progress in filling in land in contested territory in the Spratly islands and in building an airstrip suitable for military use and that it may be planning another.

Although the US does not recognize China’s claims of sovereignty around the man-made structures, American P-8 surveillance planes and naval vessels patrolling the area have not ventured within 12 nautical miles of the artificial islands – the standard territorial zone around natural land.

“That would be the next step,” Pentagon spokesman Col. Steven Warren said.

Asked if the military would move to within that sensitive zone, he said: “We don’t have any announcement to make on next steps. We are going to continue our routine flights.”

US officials have said they are weighing sending warships and surveillance aircraft within 12 nautical miles of the man-made islands in the South China Sea to test Beijing’s controversial territorial claims.

While there was no official statement yet on the deployment of USS Ronald Reagan in the region, Philippine defense sources said the aircraft carrier is headed to Japan deployment for unspecified mission from her homeport in San Diego, California.

“That’s what we’ve learned from our counterparts. We don’t have any official confirmation yet,” a Philippine defense official said.

The move, however, could raise tensions and lead to a standoff on the high seas, in an area vital to global shipping lanes.

Beijing regards almost the whole of the South China Sea as its own.

‘Entirely appropriate’

The senior US diplomat for East Asia, Assistant Secretary of State Daniel Russel, told a media briefing in Washington that the US reconnaissance flight was “entirely appropriate” and that US naval forces and military aircraft would “continue to fully exercise” the right to operate in international waters and airspace.

Russel said the US would go further to preserve the ability of all countries to move in international waters and airspace.

“Nobody in their right mind is going to try to stop the US Navy from operating – that would not be a good bet,” Russel said.

“But it’s not enough that a US military plane can overfly international waters, even if there is challenge or hailing query… We believe that every country and all civilian actors should have unfettered access to international waters and international airspace.”

A former Philippine senator said the US is sending a strong message to China about the possible political and security implications of its aggressive actions over the region.

“The US is sending a strong signal to China and the international community that these new developments have serious geopolitical and security implications,” former senator Panfilo Lacson said.

“The fact that the US conducted patrol over the contested islands which China is claiming to be exclusively their own and thereafter, releasing the incident through international media says a lot already,” he added.

Lacson said there is a high possibility of dangerous confrontation after China’s warning to all foreign vessels and aircraft against entering the disputed seas.

“It only takes an aggressive action from any party in interest, no matter how insignificant, to spark a dangerous armed confrontation that could lead to war,” Lacson said.

On Thursday, US Deputy Secretary of State Antony Blinken said China’s land reclamation in the South China Sea was undermining freedom and stability and risked provoking tension that could lead to conflict.

China claims 90 percent of the South China Sea, which is believed to be rich in oil and gas, its claims overlapping with those of Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Vietnam and Taiwan.

Recent satellite images suggest China has made rapid progress in filling in land in contested territory in the Spratly islands and in building an airstrip suitable for military use and that it may be planning another.

The end game

Footage taken by the P8-A Poseidon over the new islands, and aired by CNN, showed a hive of construction and dredging activity, as well as Chinese navy ships nearby.

CNN said it was the first time the Pentagon had declassified video of China’s building activity and audio of challenges to a US aircraft.

“We were just challenged 30 minutes ago and the challenge came from the Chinese navy,” Capt. Mike Parker, commander of US surveillance aircraft deployed to Asia, told CNN on the flight.

“I’m highly confident it came from ashore, this facility here,” Parker said, pointing to an early warning radar station on Fiery Cross Reef (Kagitingan Reef) located near the Kalayaan Island occupied by the Philippines in the Spratlys.

The Chinese warnings to the US aircraft are typical and occur frequently, a US navy official said.

“It’s not uncommon,” the official said.

And sometimes the Chinese send military aircraft to visually identify American planes in the area, the official added.

The Philippine Defense department said the series of “ground to air encounters” in the region only showed China is out to bully everybody in line with its long-range plan to have total control of the entire South China Sea.

“The incident shows the extent to which China is willing to disregard international laws and freedom of flight and navigation. It is highly regrettable that they are imposing their self-serving rules even in clearly established international airspace,” Defense spokesman Peter Paul Galvez said.

A US commander recently said the military facilities on Fiery Cross Reef, including a 3,000-meter runway, could be operational by year’s end.

He said Washington is concerned China will use it to press its extensive territorial claims at the expense of weaker rivals.

China claims sovereignty over most of the South China Sea, through which $5 trillion in ship-borne trade passes every year. The Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Taiwan and Brunei also have overlapping claims.

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi last week asserted Beijing’s right to reclaim the reefs and said China’s determination to protect its interests was “as hard as a rock.”

China has also said it had every right to set up an air defense identification zone (ADIZ) in the South China Sea but that current conditions did not warrant one.

ADIZs are used by some nations to extend control beyond national borders, requiring civilian and military aircraft to identify themselves or face possible military interception. – Aurea Calica, Jaime Laude, Christina Mendez

Australia must choose between Chinese cash and loyalty to the US as SE Asia tensions rise

May 23, 2015


THE Abbott government, while “unabashedly pro-US”, is resisting moves to be enlisted in Washington’s military pivot to the Asia-Pacific because it is not in Australia’s interests to join the escalating dispute over the South China Seas.

“Here is an area where our interests don’t coincide deeply with that of the United States,” former foreign minister Bob Carr told News Corp Australia.

Mr Carr says the Prime Minister is leading “a pragmatic trend” towards our key trading partner, China, that could disappoint our key ally, the United States.

Team America ... The United States is repositioning more warships, aircraft and troops in

Team America … The United States is repositioning more warships, aircraft and troops in the South-East Asia region to ‘counterbalance’ China’s growing might. Source: USN Source: Supplied

Better late than never?

After four years of little action, the US has begun its Asia-Pacific pivot in earnest, and is urging Australia’s to join a trilateral “maritime security” arrangement to help Japan protect the Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea, also claimed by China.

The US is also shifting more Marines to Darwin, proposing more visits by ships and planes, and is urging Australia to buy into ballistic missile defence technology designed to prevent attack from China.

RELATED: China warns US to ‘back off’ in South China Sea

But Mr Carr, who as director of the Australia-China Relations Institute at University of Technology, Sydney has provided advice to the Abbott government on China-US strategies, said Mr Abbott was standing back from being “recruited” by the US because of the crucial relationship with China.

New kid on the block ... China’s exploding economy and wealth is producing a greatly stre

New kid on the block … China’s exploding economy and wealth is producing a greatly strengthened and modernised navy. Source: Supplied Source: Supplied

Land rites

A bitter territorial conflict is being played out in the islands and atolls of the East and South China Seas, where the US has begun actively attempting to contain China by increasing its “visible” military presence in the region, according to US assistant defence secretary, David Shear.

EXPANSIONI PLANS: Japan extends its influence into the Pacific again

Mr Shear also said last week that B1 strategic bombers would be located in Australia’s north, a claim that Mr Abbott quickly dismissed.

“It is not a crucial Australian interest whether a rocky atoll or reef somewhere in that sea is under Chinese or Vietnamese or Philippine sovereignty,” says Mr Carr of the South China Sea dispute.

Good neighbours ... An Australian commando shows his weapon to a People’s Liberation Army

Good neighbours … An Australian commando shows his weapon to a People’s Liberation Army officer at a recent cooperative event. Source: Defence Source: Supplied

Export appeasement?

Major iron-ore exporters BHP Billiton, Rio Tinto, FMG and Citic, whose ships use the seas, would not comment on whether there were geopolitical implications for them in the US build-up.

But Mr Carr said: “There would be a lot of people in Australian boardrooms speculating about the risks to a continuing economic relationship going ahead on every front, if we’ve been enlisted for a big anti-Chinese containment exercise.”

HYPOTHETICAL: Can Australia put up a fight?

Mr Carr did not consider the US alliance under threat, but believed Mr Abbott and Julie Bishop were “carefully explaining that we don’t see it being in our interests to be part of a high-risk exercise to win a battle over primacy or dominance in the region”.

Australia last year exported $90bn in goods to China, $50.5bn of it in iron ore, and received imports worth $50bn. By comparison, Australia imported $28.7bn from the US and exported $11.8bn.

Pulling together ... Australian, Chinese, and United States military personnel march duri

Pulling together … Australian, Chinese, and United States military personnel march during a survival drill, part of Exercise Kowari 2014 in remote Northern Territory bushland. Source: Defence Source: Supplied

Conflict of interests

Mr Carr said there “may be a tendency in Washington to hustle Australia into American exercises”, as evidenced by Mr Shear’s comments about B1s being located in Australia.

He said there were two views in Washington: one that understood our position on China; and another that said: “Let’s assume the Australians are with us.”

“There’s a tinge of arrogance and more than a tinge of taking Australia for granted.

“And Prime Minister Abbott is right to emphatically rule it out (B1s). When I read what he said, I thought he was speaking in Australia’s interests.

SUBMARINE AE2: The full story of Australia’s ANZAC Dady victor

“Perhaps these are the first tentative indications that an unabashedly pro-US government in Canberra is capable of giving due weight to Australia’s interests where they don’t coincide deeply with that of the United States.”

He said the Prime Minister’s decision to reject US advice and sign up with China’sAsian Infrastructure Investment Bank was further evidence of Australia putting its interests first.

Foreign Minister Julie Bishop would not comment. Her Labor opposite, Tanya Plibersek, would only say she wanted Australia to play “a positive role” in the region.

Includes videos:

Hillary Clinton’s E-Mails Reveal Something of a “Dysfunctional” and “Paranoid” Side — And what about the unseemly speechifying?

May 23, 2015


The Debrief: An occasional series offering a reporter’s insights

By Karen Tumulty
The Washington Post

For those who have worried that Hillary Rodham Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign would be a repeat of the chaotic operation she ran eight years ago, her advisers have often pointed to her time in between at the State Department — which by comparison was an archetype of crisp managerial efficiency.

But a trove of newly released e-mails suggests that one of Clinton’s tendencies persisted during her time as secretary of state — an inability to separate her longtime loyalties from the business at hand.

The e-mails from her private account reveal that she passed along no fewer than 25 memos about Libya from friend and political ally Sidney Blumenthal. Blumenthal had business interests in Libya but no diplomatic expertise there.

Moreover, she did so after the White House had blocked her from hiring Blumenthal at the State Department. The president’s team considered him untrustworthy and prone to starting rumors.
Each week seems to bring more distracting news for Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign, from previously undisclosed payments to the Clinton Foundation to the e-mails she wrote about the 2012 attack in Benghazi, Libya. What does it all mean this time?
Hers has never been a world that lends itself to an organizational chart. In addition to those who work for Clinton, she maintains a vast network of political allies.

That is not a bad thing in itself. Nor is Clinton the first public official to rely on a kitchen cabinet of advisers, defenders and loyalists.

But as her earlier presidential campaign showed, the environment she creates is one in which lines of authority and decision-making can be undermined by second-guessers and meddlers.

Her back-channel communication with Blumenthal has come to the attention of the House Select Committee on Benghazi. It has subpoenaed Blumenthal to testify in its politically charged investigation of the September 2012 attacks in Libya in which U.S. Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three other Americans were killed.

In the memos, Blumenthal — who was identified to lower-level State Department officials only as “HRC friend” — said the information was “intel,” gathered from sources he described in such breathless terms as “an extremely sensitive source” or “an extremely well-placed individual.”

One official who received some of the missives said “the secret source” was known to be close to the secretary and “seemed to have some knowledge” of North Africa “but not much.”

The official described reading the Blumenthal e-mails carefully to ensure that Clinton was not “taking as fact” reports that were largely political gossip.

In addition to the memos regarding Libya, Blumenthal also sent Clinton e-mails regarding the situation in Egypt, another problem area for U.S. policy, officials said.

Asked by reporters about the e-mails, which were first reported by the New York Times, Clinton noted that she has “many, many old friends.” She added, “When you’re in the public eye, when you’re in an official position, I think you do have to work to ensure that you’re not caught in a bubble. I hear from a certain small group of people and I’m going to continue to talk to my old friends, whoever they are.”

The Clinton campaign tried to put distance between the former secretary of state and the unreliable advisories that she had passed along.

“Sid provided unsolicited thoughts and suggestions to the secretary on a variety of topics. He was not a U.S. government employee nor asked by the secretary to do so,” said her spokesman, Brian Fallon.

Blumenthal also played down the significance of his extensive private communication with the secretary of state.

“From time to time, as a private citizen and friend, I provided Secretary Clinton with material on a variety of topics that I thought she might find interesting or helpful,” he said in a statement issued by his lawyer’s office. “The reports I sent her came from sources I considered reliable.”

Seeing the underside
Yet Blumenthal fits a pattern of allies to whom Clinton has long been drawn — those who share her view that she is surrounded by enemies and dark conspiracies.

“She’s not a paranoid person, I don’t think, but she wants some paranoid people around her,” said one former aide, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of Clinton’s distaste for those who speak to reporters when not authorized to do so.
Another former high-ranking staffer said that Clinton prizes “a combination of loyalty, blind devotion, willingness to stand up and fight for her — somebody who doesn’t back down from a fight on her behalf and who doesn’t flinch.”

Democratic presidential hopeful and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton meets with parents and child care workers while campaign in Chicago on May 20, 2015.
Democratic presidential hopeful and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton meets with parents and child care workers while campaign in Chicago on May 20, 2015. PHOTO: SCOTT OLSON/GETTY IMAGES

On that score, Blumenthal had more than proven himself over the years. Indeed, one of the reasons that the White House objected to putting him at the State Department was that many there believed he had spread toxic rumors about Barack Obama during the lengthy primary battle with Clinton in 2008.

Clinton believes in the value of such tactics and of the people who are willing to employ them. After her husband was defeated in his bid for reelection as Arkansas governor in 1980, she went to work on a plan for him to win back the office.

One of her first moves was to recruit Dick Morris, a political consultant who worked mostly for Republicans and had a reputation for hardball tactics.

A friend recalls being surprised when she told him about hiring Morris. He asked why she had turned to someone that many in the field considered unsavory.

Morris “sees the underside of things,” Clinton told her friend, according to his recollection.

In an interview, Morris remembered it pretty much the same way. “The main reason that she liked me was that I did do a lot of negative advertising and viewed politics as a combatant. She was the same way,” he said.

When Bill Clinton’s presidency was on the rocks after the midterm elections of 1994, the first lady played a key role in bringing Morris back again. She had made no secret of her belief that her husband’s White House advisers were too defeatist for what could be a difficult reelection fight, one aide recalled.

So surreptitious was the move that Bill Clinton’s own aides did not know of it at first; phone messages from Morris were left under the code name “Charlie.”

“The president had engaged him to run a covert operation against his own White House — a commander’s coup against the colonels. The two of them plotted in secret — at night, on the phone, by fax,” former aide George Stephanopoulos wrote in his memoir.
New operation

Hillary Clinton’s 2008 presidential operation was similarly dysfunctional. Veterans of that campaign recall that there were too many advisers elbowing each other on important decisions and no one empowered to tell them to stop.

Her 2016 organization has been built with those mistakes in mind. Relatively few of those who were involved in 2008 remain; in their place is a new generation of data-driven operatives, few of whom have long or deep ties to the candidate herself.

Her new campaign chairman, John Podesta, was picked in part for his willingness to act as an enforcer.

“With Podesta in charge,” said a longtime Clinton friend, “it’s a new game in the sense that Podesta’s big skill is the ability to tell people to go to hell.”

In other words, they are building a different kind of Clinton campaign. The question is whether the candidate can be a different kind of Clinton.


Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton waves to supporters gathered outside after she spoke at the Water Street Bookstore in Exeter, New Hampshire May 22, 2015.

By Ruth Marcus

Again with the speeches. The gross excessiveness of it all, vacuuming up six-figure checks well past the point of rational need or political seemliness. The ceaseless drip of information that ought to have already been released, now being presented with a self-serving back pat over transparency.

I wasn’t planning to write, again, about Hillary Clinton’s compulsive speechifying. I already weighed in nearly a year ago urging her to stop talking. For money, that is.

That unheeded advice came, by my accounting, some $6 million ago. Not including Bill Clinton’s speeches. Not including any speeches that Hillary Clinton made on behalf of the family foundation, which just disclosedthat, um, it neglected to disclose somewhere between $12 million and $26 million of money it made by booking the Clintons.

Because, the foundation explained, this money counted as “revenue,” not “donations,” and therefore was not reported. Their reporting pledge covered only donations. (Credit here for continuing the reporting after she left the State Department.)

Let me repeat: I am a fan of Hillary Clinton. But here I find myself, once again, with hair on fire, so let me explain why I find this conduct so disturbing.

It is, granted, a little late to bemoan the spectacle of former presidents, or former anything elses, taking to the lecture circuit to cash in.

When Ronald Reagan, fresh from the White House, pocketed $2 million in speaking fees from a Japanese company, New York Times columnist William Safire sputtered.

“There is such a thing as seemliness, decorum, respect for high office,” he wrote. “If this foreign revolving-door ripoff is right, then what would be wrong with a Return Address at Bitburg, for a million marks, or the dedication of the Gorbachev Glasnost Center, for a million rubles? For a former president with a hot agent and no sense of sleaze, the profit opportunities are endless.”


What once screamed sleaze now is considered post-presidential business as usual. On leaving the White House, George W. Bush said he planned to “replenish the ol’ coffers” with speaking fees. Peter Stone of the Center for Public Integrity calculated in a 2011 article that Bush had raked in about $15 million, “following in the golden path blazed by his predecessor, Bill Clinton.” Bush 43 cited the now-quaint fees — $50,000, $75,000 — his dad commanded.

So what’s the problem when Hillary Clinton gets in on the act? It is the difference between being firmly on the exit side of the revolving door and being poised to circle back in. The former presidents are formers. They’re cashing in on the past.

Read the rest:


US launches desperate air strikes to save Iraqi base from jihadists

May 23, 2015


U.S. -led coalition carries out 20 air raids against the Islamic State group in 24 hours across Syria and Iraq in effort to stop latest jihadist surge

Displaced Sunni people, who fled the violence in the city of Ramadi, arrive at the outskirts of Baghdad

Displaced Sunni people, who fled the violence in the city of Ramadi, arrive at the outskirts of Baghdad Photo: STRINGER/IRAQ

The US-led coalition was bombing jihadist positions in Iraq and Syria on Friday night in a desperate attempt to stop the group expanding on recent gains and overrunning a major military base.

Fighters defending the Habbaniyah base on the road from the Iraqi city of Ramadi, captured by Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isil) on Sunday, said they were fast coming to the end of their ammunition.

The base is a gathering point for Shia militia and regular troops who were supposed to be massing there for an attack to retake Ramadi, the strategically important capital of majority-Sunni Anbar province.

Instead, Isil consolidated its position in the city before heading east, taking the town of Husseiba on the road to Habbaniyah.

The United States has been criticised for not doing enough to stop the latest Isil surge – in particular, bombing its columns of reinforcements in both battles. But on Friday night, officials in Washington said the US-led coalition had conducted 20 air raids against the group in the previous 24 hours, in both Syria and Iraq.

Five out of 15 air strikes in Iraq were on positions close to Ramadi, a statement said, and “destroyed Islamic State armoured vehicles, tanks, personnel carriers and improvised explosive devices”. One hit a unit of fighters.

An image allegedly showing a damaged Syrian military helicopters at Palmyra air base after it was captured by Isil militants

However, there were also claims that one bomb accidentally hit a column of Hashed al-Sha’abi paramilitaries – the Popular Mobilisation Units, as the umbrella group for locally raised, mostly Shia militias is formally known.

Isil’s startling victories in Ramadi, after an 18-month battle for control, and Palmyra in neighbouring Syria, after a lightning advance, have sent shock waves through both countries and the Washington political and military establishment.

Isil have released photos of their black flag flying over the 13th century Palmyra Castle in Syria

In Syria, monitors estimated that Isil now control half of the country’s entire land mass – though much of its territory is desert.

Islamic State seizes Syria’s last border crossing with Iraq
Islamic State fighters seize the world heritage site of Palmyra, in pictures

Following its capture of Palmyra, with its historic ruins, Isil chased regime troops west down the road to Homs, as well as hunting pro-regime fighters and soldiers hiding in the city itself. Up to 280 were killed on Thursday and Friday, according to media activists in the city, with the bodies of 150 left in the streets as a warning.

Isil also seized nearby gas fields.

The regime is also reeling from the loss of territory to non-Isil but often hardline Islamist rebels in the north-west and south.

An image allegedly showing a damaged Syrian military helicopters at Palmyra air base after it was captured by Isil militants

In Jisr al-Shugur, a town in Idlib, a rebel group led partly by Jabhat al-Nusra, the local al-Qaeda affiliate which split from Isil took the hospital that was the last holdout of regime troops.

Photographs captured the regime soldiers who had been surrounded for weeks making a run for it. Syrian state media said they had been “liberated” but Jabhat al-Nusra said many were shot as they fled.

In Iraq, President Barack Obama has insisted that he will continue to rely on the Iraqi Security Forces regrouping and defeating Isil, though he accepted in an interview on Thursday that it would take “years”.

Three Isil fighters pose in Ramadi after the Iraqi army ‘abandoned’ the city

However, if Isil manages to consolidate its hold on Anbar, it will have a unified hold of a large Sunni area covering half of Syria and a large part of Iraq, stretching to a few miles from the Baghdad security perimeter.

The conventional wisdom is that it will not try to launch a direct assault on the city, now largely Shia, but it will be able to launch suicide bombings and other attacks with virtual impunity.

Its success will also discourage Sunnis fighters, many of whom have up to now stayed loyal to Baghdad despite a dislike of its Shia-led government, from fighting Isil – the very tactic on which the West’s strategy of “no boots on the ground” intervention depends.

Habbaniyah: Colonial past of battleground

By a quirk of history, the airbase where the Iraqi Security Forces and allied Shia militia are gathering prior to attempts to retake the city of Ramadi from Isil is the birthplace of scores of British and Commonwealth citizens.

The Habbaniyah base east of Ramadi began life as RAF Dhibban, and dates from the time when Britain was the unwelcome colonial power in the country. Opened in 1936, and unofficially called “Second London”, it acquired its current name in 1938, and remained a major British base until troops were withdrawn following the coup that overthrew the British-backed monarchy 20 years later. Photographs show a neat settlement with lawns and drives, its own school, racecourse and even its own fox hunt.

Obama Running Into Tough Questions from His Own Party on Free Trade Deal With Asia

May 22, 2015

The Guardian

Congressional Democrats and labour unions have in recent days vigorously attacked one of US President Barack Obama’s main arguments for the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade deal – that it will increase worker protection in Vietnam and other Asian nations.

These critics question Obama’s assertion that the pact will get Vietnam to grant real freedom of association to labour unions, despite a pattern of repression by the country’s communist government. The TPP includes Vietnam, Chile, Japan, Mexico and eight other countries that account for 40 per cent of world trade.

Congressman Sander Levin of Michigan, one of the leading Democratic voices on trade, said: “There has to be recognition that Vietnam and its laws and practices are totally out of compliance with basic international labour standards. If you try to form an independent union, you can be thrown in jail.”

Levin – who joined two dozen other House Democrats in meeting with United States trade representative Michael Froman last week to discuss these concerns – said he had recently met with a Vietnamese woman who spent four years in prison after trying to form an independent union. He said Vietnam has kept two of her colleagues in prison.

“They’re going to have to make significant changes in their laws,” Levin said.

The Obama administration was seeking to negotiate an enforceable agreement with Vietnam as a condition for its participation in TPP, he said, but added that: “There is no evidence of an agreement on any point.”

Obama has hailed the TPP as the most advanced trade pact in history in terms of labour protection, although many details are yet to be negotiated.

“When you look at a country like Vietnam, under this agreement, Vietnam would actually, for the first time, have to raise its labour standards,” Obama said in a speech on May 8. “It would have to pass safe workplace laws to protect its workers.

“It would even have to protect workers’ freedom to form unions, for the very first time. That helps to level the playing field, and it would be good for the workers in Vietnam, even as it helps make sure that they’re not undercutting competition here in the US.”

Obama Takes a Swipe At Israel, Netanyahu — Israeli foreign affairs and defence committee chairman says Obama’s comments are inappropriate, unjustified and hypocritical

May 22, 2015



Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu listens to US President Barack Obama during a 2013 meeting in the White House. AFP photo

JERUSALEM (AFP) – A senior official in Israeli Prime Minister BenjaminNetanyahu’srightwing Likud party on Friday rejected fresh US criticism of the premier as unjustified and hypocritical.TzahiHanegbi, chairman of the influential foreign affairs and defence committee in parliament, was responding to remarks by US President Barack Obama published Thursday in news magazine The Atlantic.Obama restated concerns about comments that Netanyahu made during a hotly-contested March general election and warned of repercussions.

In a polling-day bid to energise rightwing voters, he warned that Arab Israelis were going to the polls “in droves” — a comment for which he later apologised.

“It appeared that Arab Israeli citizens were somehow portrayed as an invading force that might vote, and that this should be guarded against,” Obama said.

Obama also pointed to a Netanyahu statement ruling out the establishment of a Palestinian state if reelected, though he has since sought to backtrack.

“When something like that happens, that has foreign policy consequences,” the American president said.

Hanegbi countered that Obama’s remarks were “inappropriate”.

“I think his approach has no justification and no small measure of hypocrisy,” he told Israeli public radio.

“We don’t hear a word of criticism about our neighbours, for example the world record-holder in executions, Iran, with whom he is actually making supreme attempts at reconciliation,” he said, referring to efforts to strike a nuclear deal.

China’s Sea Activities Have Worried Neighbors, Fueled An Arms Race

May 22, 2015


 The alleged ongoing land reclamation of China at Subi reef is seen from Pagasa island (Thitu Island) in the Spratlys group of islands in the South China Sea.
The alleged ongoing land reclamation of China at Subi reef is seen from Pagasa Island (Thitu Island) in the Spratlys group of islands in the South China Sea. Photograph: Reuters

By Mira Rapp-Hooper

(CNN) China has been busy building — and it is worrying some of its regional neighbors. Since early 2014, China has undertaken widespread land reclamation and construction in the Spratly Islands, in the South China Sea, at seven known locations.

The work has involved converting several formerly submerged reefs into artificial islands, and increasing the size of other features many times over. Now, the country is building military facilities, including large ports and at least one airstrip, on these new outposts.

China builds on Fiery Cross Reef

A satellite image shows an airstrip under construction at Fiery Cross Reef in the South China Sea. A U.S. Navy plane flying nearby received eight warnings from the Chinese military. But China has no legal jurisdiction in this area which is governed under international laws regarding freedom of navigation and freedom of overflight. These islands ate claimed by the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and others. (AFP/Getty Images, DigitalGlobe)

The work is raising eyebrows.

True, China is by no means the only country to occupy territory in the Spratly Islands. Indeed, it sees itself as playing a game of catchup with other states in the region. After World War II, Taiwan was the first to occupy an island in the Spratlys, and the Philippines, Vietnam and Malaysia followed suit. China was the last to arrive when it took its first Spratly feature in the late 1980s. And all the other claimant states also have outposts and airstrips in the area, too.


 A Chinese Coast Guard vessel passes near the Chinese oil rig, Haiyang Shi You 981 in the South China Sea, about 210 km (130 miles) from the coast of Vietnam. The US says it is concerned at China’s aggressive exertion of sovereignty in the sea.
A Chinese Coast Guard vessel passes near the Chinese oil rig, Haiyang Shi You 981 in the South China Sea, about 210 km (130 miles) from the coast of Vietnam, in May 2014. The US says it is concerned at China’s aggressive exertion of sovereignty in the sea. Photograph: Reuters

Yet the scale, scope and speed of China’s recent building activities has caught the attention not just of Southeast Asian nations, but also the United States. U.S. officials estimate China may have created as much as 2,000 acres of new land over the past year. In contrast, Vietnam has also used land reclamation in the area, but officials estimate it has constructed only about 60 acres of new land over several years, and at fewer locations.

A U.S. Navy P-8 maritime patrol aircraft.

The rapid, widespread effort has raised concerns among China’s neighbors as to what Beijing intends to do with its new outposts.

Chinese officials have claimed the islands will be used for predominantly civilian purposes, such as search and rescue missions and scientific research, but they have also admitted the islands could have military purposes, too. Indeed, satellite imagery confirms China is placing military equipment in the Spratlys, a move that has left many states in Southeast Asia believing China is violating a 2002 agreement between China and ASEAN, in which all the parties agreed not to upend the status quo in the South China Sea.

But Washington also has good reason to be worried about these activities.

The United States has longstanding interests in the South China Sea that include its commitment to the peaceful resolution of disputes, to international law, and to upholding freedom of navigation, and these activities may challenge all three. The United States also has an alliance with the Philippines, and much of this building is taking place not far from its shores.

In the past several weeks, U.S. government officials have expressed serious concern about the implications of China’s activities, including strong statements by President Barack Obama and Secretary of Defense Ash Carter, while Secretary of State John Kerry reportedly pressed Chinese President Xi Jinping on the issue when he met with him privately on a recent trip.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has raised the U.S. objections with China. Here he is having some fun with China’s Foreign minister Wang Yi, Saturday, May 16, 2015, in Beijing.

The real danger in all this is that China has not stated publicly what rights and entitlements it believes it has around these new outposts, a point underscored by CNN footage this week of U.S. Navy P-8 patrols in the Spratlys. The video documents an exchange in which the Chinese Navy warned the U.S. surveillance plane away from the airspace near its artificial islands.

Additional video footage shows that the U.S. aircraft responded: “I am a United States military aircraft conducting lawful military activities acting outside national airspace. I am with due regard in accordance with international law.”

Under international law, naturally formed islands are entitled to 12 nautical mile territorial seas, to national airspace, and to exclusive economic zones and continental shelves. If islands are truly artificial — that is, they were built on top of features that were never above water at high tide — they are entitled to none of these things.

With this in mind, China’s artificial islands do not have the full legal status of naturally formed islands under the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea. However, this may not stop Beijing operating as though they do, posing a clear challenge to international law. Such a stance could also result in a disastrous accident if aircraft or vessels clash in the skies or seas around the islands as the United States or other countries attempt to exercise freedom of navigation and freedom of overflight. After all, some 30% of the world’s commercial shipping and much of the region’s oil and gas pass through the South China Sea, meaning an accident could spark armed conflict between states and also have dire consequences for trade and energy supplies.

China’s South China Sea construction therefore poses a formidable challenge for policymakers, and calls for some creative approaches for engagement. How should the U.S. respond?

For a start, it should continue to augment its efforts to help partners like the Philippines and Vietnam bolster their own coast guard and naval capabilities, and in particular, provide equipment and training that may improve their ability to monitor the area around the Spratlys. In addition, Washington should continue to support a code of conduct for the South China Sea, and encourage ASEAN efforts to draft one even if that does not involve China.

Meanwhile, there are also upcoming opportunities — the annual Strategic and Economic Dialogues and Xi Jinping’s state visit in September — for high-level U.S. officials to communicate to their Chinese counterparts that militarizing these islands will be seen as a deeply dangerous and destabilizing step.

The Pentagon’s decision to release the P-8 video should be hailed as an important move toward transparency that can help inform other states in the region and the broader public about what is at stake in the Spratly Islands. This, in turn, may help to encourage a unified, multilateral approach to engaging China on this issue, and the administration should therefore consider additional releases along these lines.

Ultimately, the United States, South East Asian nations, and China itself all have ample incentive to ensure that these recent tensions are defused. Choppy seas — and skies — are in no one’s interests.

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Chinese amphibious ship Changbai Shan near James Shoal, an area also claimed by Malaysia, January 26, 2014 Photo by AP

One of Vietnam’s Kilo-class submarines

A handout picture released by the Philippine Navy Public Affairs Office shows the arrival of the Japanese navy (back) at Manila South harbor, Philippines on May 9, 2015.

 (Contains links to many previous related articles)

Anti-China riots ripped across Vietnam in May 2014 as the people became aware of China’s illegal land grab in the South China Sea.

Vietnamese workers riot at the Vung Ang Economic Zone in Ha Tinh province, May 14, 2014. Anti-China riots ripped across Vietnam in May 2014 as the people became aware of China’s illegal land grab in the South China Sea.

The Philippines, Vietnam and other nations have expressed concern that China is building airstrips and sea ports in the South China Sea and looks to be militarizing up to eight islands which have disputed sovereignty issues.

PAF Fokker F-27-200 MPA

China has previously warned off Philippine Air Force Surveillance Aircraft from the same area patrolled by the U.S. P-8

China often encounters maritime patrol aircraft from the U.S. and Japan with Chinese fighter jets. This Chinese J-11 aircraft was photographed by a U.S. Navy P-8 crew over international waters in the South China Sea on August 19, 2014. The U.S. protested the “dangerous airmanship” of the pilot.

Fishermen from Vietnam and the Philippines have long complained of rough and unlawful treatment from the Chinese fishermen….

Do Van Nam, the captain of the fishing boat QNg 90226, is pictured gesturing on his boat reportedly damaged by Chinese ships in Vietnamese waters on November 26, 2014.

Fishing boat fishing boat Dna 90152 from Vietnam was rammed by a Chinese Coast Guard ship and sunk last May.

Screenshot of a Chinese Coast Guard vessel ramming a Vietnamese vessel in May 2014

Nguyen Chi Thanh, the owner and captain of fishing boat QNg96093, is seen on his vessel after it was attacked by Chinese forces on January 7, 2015.
Tuoi Tre

Chủ tàu Trần Văn Quang và chiếc mỏ neo bị tàu lạ đâm lút vào mũi tàu. Ảnh: Đức Nguyễn.

Chủ tàu Trần Văn Quang và chiếc mỏ neo bị tàu lạ đâm lút vào mũi tàu. Ảnh: Đức Nguyễn.

Photo: Captain Pham Quang Thanh on the fishing boat that was fired at by a Chinese naval boat off Hoang Sa (Paracel) Islands of Vietnam on March 20, 2013.

Chinese maritime patrol officers stop and search a fishing boat in international waters — a violation of international law


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