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Open for Questions: The State of the Union and Foreign Policy

Open for Questions: The State of the Union and Foreign Policy


Jesse Lee:
Everybody, my name is Jesse Lee. I’m the Online Programs Director
here at the White House. We’re doing a thing all day
where we’re having round tables following up on the President’s
State of the Union Address on various issues. We just finished with
Austan Goolsbee on the economy. Right now we’re here
with Denis McDonough, Deputy National
Security Adviser, to talk about the foreign
policy elements of that speech. We’re lucky enough to have some
great online news sources here with us. We’ve got Roger McShane
with The Economist, we’ve got Ward Carroll
with military.com, and we’ve got Josh Rogin
with foreignpolicy.com. And I’m also keeping an eye
on the discussion here on our Facebook application. So, keep chatting,
keep discussing, and I’ll pluck a question here
and there and make sure your voices get heard, too. So, Denis, I don’t know if
you want to give just a quick overview of kind of the
president’s themes in the speech, and then we’ll
kick off the questions. Denis McDonough:
Well, you know,
I think what I’ll do, Jesse, is just I’ll welcome everybody,
welcome Roger, Ward, and Josh, and thank you all for coming,
and thank the viewers for joining. And I think everybody
saw the speech. I’d be happy to go through
them, but rather than do that, why don’t I just get
right into questions. That way we get maximum time for
people’s concerns and ideas. Jesse Lee:
Okay. We’ll just go around. So, Roger, if you
want to start it off. Roger McShane:
Sure. Our readers had a lot of
questions about Tunisia and Egypt and these kind of
democracy movements in the Middle East and sort of
unrest on the Arab street. And we’re wondering how the
administration plans to support these movements and at the same
time not alienate what are our allies in some of these
authoritarian regimes in
the Middle East. So, how do you
thread the needle? Denis McDonough:
Well, it’s
a good question, Roger, and I appreciate the
opportunity to answer it. I’ll say a couple of things. You know, earlier this
week, Jeff Feltman, our Assistant Secretary for Near
Eastern Affairs was in Tunis. He was the first international
or foreign diplomat to be in Tunis since the events there. We’re actually quite proud of
the work that our embassy is doing on the ground, the fact
that our embassy was calling attention to concerns that
we have and that, obviously, the president has given
voice to in various fora, including importantly
in the Cairo speech. Early in the administration were
outlined how we see democracy and human rights playing a
critical road in modernization and creation of new
opportunities throughout the region. As this unfolds over the course
of the next several weeks, I think you’ll see the U.S.
government trying to take a strong role in building on
the very robust programming that we have in Tunisia currently. Programming that focuses
on party building, work being done by International
Republican Institute, National Democrat Institute,
underwritten by the National Endowment for Democracy, which
really is building on the belief that these parties in openness
contribute to increased opportunity in
Tunisia and elsewhere. As it relates to
Egypt, we think, as the secretary said yesterday
in her press conference with the Jordanian Foreign Minister, that
obviously this is an important moment, that it’s vitally
important that the protesters and the government
maintain non-violence, but that it’s also a great
opportunity for the government to advance many of the things
that we’ve talked to them, the president outlined
in the speech in Cairo, but that we’ve talked about
them in quite diplomatic talks, and publicly, as well, things
like making sure that the emergency law is lifted, things
like a new elections law, things like creating the kind of
space for social and democratic speech and openness so that we
can see the kind of advancement that we hope for. But, again, the point here is
to bring it back to our goal in this particular instance, which
is non-violence and making sure that neither the government nor
the protesters resort to the kind of actions that bespeak
the goals that we all share, which is greater opportunity,
greater transparency, greater democracy. And we that’s not really
threading the needle so much, Roger, as it is supporting the
kinds of aspirations that the president outlined in the Cairo
speech and that we’ve as a government across administrations
been pushing for for years. Jesse Lee:
All right. Let’s turn to Ward
Carroll with military.com. Ward Carroll:
Thanks for having us here, Denis. Obviously, a lot of the
military.com audience would be concerned about
Afghanistan and the war. So let me just quickly quote the
part of the speech where the president spoke to that. He said: “Thanks to our
heroic troops and civilians, fewer Afghans are under
control of the insurgency. There will be tough
fighting ahead, and the Afghan Government
will need to deliver better governance, but we are
strengthening the capacity of the Afghan people and building
an enduring partnership with them. This year we will work with
nearly 50 countries to begin a transition to an Afghan lead,
and this July we will begin to bring our troops home”. So, our reader,
Hugh Simms, said, in the concerns
about unemployment, we seem to have forgotten our
military is still at war. We are simply wearing out men
and women who continue to serve in Iraq and Afghanistan. Please tell us what constitutes
victory and how we will know we have achieved our objectives. Now, I’ll say the president
didn’t use the term victory. Denis McDonough:
Yes. Ward Carroll:
You know, and General Petraeus
has just released a fairly sanguine,
yet balanced, appraisal. So, from a national
security point of view, what are you looking at that
are good signs, you know, metrics wise, and what are
you still concerned about? Denis McDonough:
I think it’s
exactly the right question, Ward, and I appreciate
Hugh sending it in. A couple things: I just came
from our monthly national security council meeting with
the president on this topic. We have for the course of the
last 12 months now had monthly updates for the president with
the full chain in command — from Secretary of Defense,
secretary the State, although Secretary of
Defense is traveling today, but the Secretary of
Defense, Secretary of State, all the way down
to our commander, General Petraeus on the
ground, and our ambassador, Ambassador Eikenberry, to also
include the senior military and civilian presidents
in Pakistan, as well. So it was a very
productive conversation. It addressed many of
these same questions, and it’s the first importantly
session after the annual review, which the president
announced in December, which found many of the
same things, interestingly, that were laid out in
General Petraeus’ letter. So I was struck, in fact, by the
similarities between his letter and the president’s statement
out of the review last month. And having spent about a week,
about four days on the ground myself between Christmas
and New Year’s, I was able to see some of
that progress directly. But, to this question
of what defines success, the most concerning
development, of course, is the number of casualties that
we’re seeing from our troops
on the ground. We recognize, I think as Hugh
suggested in a question, the huge sacrifices that our
troops have been making, not just during the
course of this surge, which goes back to July 2009,
coming up in July 2011, basically of a surged presence
basically we tripled the number of U.S. troops on the ground. So we recognize not just
that two years of surge, but really you reach all
the way back to 9/11, nearly ten years now. And the optempo for our troops
and their families have been extraordinary, which is why
Dr. Biden and the first lady announced on Monday, the
results of our enter agency, all of government approach on
support to military families, everything from support to
families who are current, whose spouse is
currently deployed, the steps that we can take to
support the families to the steps that we can take
to support schools, both military and
nonmilitary schools, or DOD and non-DOD schools. And then all the way up to the
care of wounded warriors and veterans. That’s a very important
indication, I think, and one I hope we get a chance
to talk about a little bit later. But then if you
take a look at it, and General Petraeus just
briefed the president on this, you take a look at the reasons
for the increased violence and casualties, it goes to the fact
that we have over the course of the last year 100,000 additional
Afghan national security forces and ISAF forces on the ground
carrying out this fight. Importantly, that’s
as many as 70,000 additional newly trained
and capable and, importantly, in the fight Afghan
National Security Forces. So, as we take the
fight to the Taliban, that’s going to obviously
result in greater violence and increased risk for our troops. That risk has great
reward, however, and the president laid out on
Tuesday night many of the, much of those — many
of those rewards, including creating the space
into which newly trained Afghan security forces partnered
with our guys can train, become more capable so that
they themselves can take on, not only the Taliban, but
importantly the foreign occupiers that occupied
Afghanistan for much of the 1990’s, which is Al Qaeda, Arab,
central Asian terrorists who took advantage of Afghanistan
and the Afghan people. That’s one. Two, also creating space
for Afghan governance. And we’re seeing that
increasingly in a variety of institutions, all the way
from Afghan local police, which is initiative, an
initiative under taken by General Petraeus to draw
on local security forces, training them, equipping them to
take the fight to the Taliban, to local tribal Sura to more
capable provincial and district level governors, and
government officials, as well as then the Cabal-based
national ministry officials who for the first time now we’re
seeing resources channeled from the center all the way down to
those district levels so we can see, Afghans can see the benefit
of the kind of effort that the Afghans themselves
are undertaking. So, how are we going
to define success? One, in the most clear sense
we are going to make sure that Afghanistan does not become a
base of operations or a safe haven from which Al Qaeda can,
again, attack the United States, our friends or our interests. That’s why we’re very obviously
pleased to see the progress that we’re making, and
the Pakistanis, and the Afghans are making
against Al Qaeda as a general matter. Two, we’re going to make sure
that Afghans have the kind of capacity to allow them to
maintain the stability there so that it does not become
hospitable to the likes of Al Qaeda in the future. Again, we’re seeing those
indications quite clearly. We’re seeing them as a result of
the very positive and courageous work of our troops. And I think what the annual
review found last week with General Petraeus’ letter of
earlier this week underscores and certainly what the briefings
the president just heard, the meeting the president just
heard underscores is that we’ll be in a position
now, come July 2011, to make a turn off this
two year long surge. As we get now to that target of
a July, of 2014, end of 2014, where we transfer, then the lead
security role to the Afghans themselves. Ward Carroll:
So, what’s your
sense of the magnitude of the July 2011 draw down, or is that
all contingent on all the thing you’ve just talked about? Denis McDonough:
Well, the draw
down itself I think will be contingent on, as general
Petraeus has made clear and the president has made clear on the
facts on the ground and the conditions on the ground. I think that we’re seeing
conditions throughout the country, and as I said, I was
able to spend time myself there and to see some of this, and I
think we’re seeing real pockets of opportunity of stability,
and that’s a good, that’s a very good sign. But the slope of that draw down
will really be determined by the results of what we see over
the course of the next several months, the conditions
that we see, so that we can ensure that
these newly trained Afghans, and again this number of 70,000
additional here in the last year is quite remarkable, that their
having been partnered with our guys, having been in the fight,
they’re able then to take that fight and to hand off,
transition these areas to Afghan governing capacity, be the
kind of traditional tribal instruments or national
instruments of governing power. So, that exact slope
will be determined, but I do think we have to also
keep in mind that we’re looking at now a two year surge that
tripled the number of troops that were in Afghanistan the day
the president was inaugurated. So it’s been a remarkable
investment of resources here. So I think we’ll see, we’ll see
a change in our presence on the ground, but we’re not going
to, as the president said, and General Petraeus has said,
we’re not going to switch off the lights or run for the exits. Jesse Lee:
And to those who are
participating in the chat online here on Facebook, I’m seeing a
lot of great questions come in, and I’m holding some aside, but
I want to give Josh Rogin here a question first. Josh Rogin:
Thank you very much. My first question comes from
Facebook user Christopher
Aponte.(phonetic) It’s about the New START Treaty. The president mentioned that
the New START Treaty was successfully ratified in his
state of the union speech. Christopher would like to know,
given the ratification of the New START Treaty, will the
administration continue to pursue non-proliferation
agreements this year, or is this treaty the end of
these such formal agreements for the time being. Denis McDonough:
It’s a good question. I think we’re all gratified by
the unanimous endorsement of the START Treaty in the upper house,
the Russian duma yesterday that formalizes then the
agreement from Russia, both houses of the duma having
ratified that treaty so the law is an exchange of instruments of
ratification as it’s called to the treaty later this
month or early next. I guess it’s probably early next
since we’re 27th of January right now. So, we think that’s very
important for the reasons the president outlined in the
speech the other night. It just means very clearly
launchers, as well as warheads, taken off the battlefield. What’s important here is that
it’s not the end of our efforts, and the most specific
sense I want to be clear, that we are continuing, we’re
making good progress against, and we’re aggressively
continuing the president’s four year plan to lock down all the
loose fissile material in the world. We had a very successful summit
last April here in Washington. I know you covered it
aggressively, Josh, and we appreciate that. But even since then, and in fact
in just the last four to six weeks have been quite — the
president has been quite pleased by announcements from Ukraine
and even Belarus to take at risk material and to sign agreements
with Russia and others to lock that down. We think that’s a
great bit of progress, and we’ll continue so that we
can fulfill this four year pledge. And then, of course, we’ll be
working with the Russians to look at what next steps
there may be in this regard, but we’ll also then be working
on a number of other issues. We’re working on the fissile
material cutoff treaty. We’re working to make sure
that we’re working with our colleagues, you know, both at
the board of governors there at the IAEA, all the
way up to New York, and then the capitals in between
to make sure that we’re holding the Iranians accountable. So we think that’s probably the
wolf closest to the door in terms of the next threat to the
global proliferation regime. And we want to make
sure that the given, the instability of that region,
that the Iranians live up to their responsibilities. The president mentioned
that in the speech as well. Lastly, we’re very hardened by
the close cooperation we’ve had with our allies in Seoul. We continue to be very concerned
as Secretary Gates enunciated on his last trip both
to Seoul, Beijing, and Tokyo when he enunciated
some very significant concerns about, ongoing concerns, about
not just North Korea’s nuclear program, but also importantly
its missile program, which Secretary Gates had public
comments about last month. I’m sure we’ll have
more to say about that. Josh Rogin:
Do you plan to submit the
congressional Test Ban Treaty for senate
ratification this year? Denis McDonough:
You know, I don’t know that
we’ve made any particular plans in that regard. We’ll be, obviously, looking for
any number of opportunities now to increase our cooperation
with both houses, the house and the
senate on proliferation. We’re going to need their
support on a number of issues. But at the right time we’ll
take a look at the CTBT, too, of course. Jesse Lee:
And to get a few
questions from the chat online, this is probably the one
that’s come up the most. Martha Austin, John Steven Lee,
Sr., and Mustafa Alkasabi (phonetic) all asked about the
violence in Egypt right now and the government’s actions there. Denis McDonough:
Well, you know, it goes back to
Roger’s question, which is that we
obviously call on the protesters and the government to
not resort to violence, to obviously rely on
non-violence in this regard. But we also believe as you’ve
seen in public remarks from Robert Gibbs, from
Secretary Clinton, from our ambassador on the
ground in Cairo, and from many, many others in administration,
that we think this is also an opportunity for the government
in Cairo to take the kinds the steps that we’ve talked about
in terms of creating space, in terms of political
liberalization, in terms of very concrete steps
on the election law and on the
emergency law. So, we’re obviously following
the situation quite closely. We updated the president
on it this morning. He, himself, is obviously
following it very closely on
the Internet. I will say that it’s one of
the difficult things with this president is trying to stay
ahead of him on being briefed since he spends a lot of his
own time getting himself up to speed. I know, Jesse, you and
others help in that regard. And the only problem I have with
that is it makes my job harder. (laughter) Jesse Lee:
Can’t win them all. All right. Let’s start another round back
with Roger McShane with The Economist. Roger McShane:
Let’s move next store from Egypt
over to Israel Palestine, that peace process
has kind of reached a stalemate, and it was notably absent any
mention of Israel or Palestine from the president’s speech. Is that a reflex of him putting
the peace process on the back burner right now? And if not, what specific steps
is the administration taking? Denis McDonough:
Well, it’s not an indication of
putting it on the back burner or the front burner. The fact is that this is a
critical issue for the U.S. national security interest. Obviously, critical to our
allies and Israel and critical to Palestinians and
frankly to the region. And so we don’t get to
decide where to put it. It is an issue that’s
front and center to U.S. national security interests, and
as such we deal with it quite aggressively. In fact, Senator Mitchell has
been in and out of the region here in the last week or so to
continue our efforts to reach out to the parties to try to
create the conditions for which, as Secretary Clinton said in her
speech at Brookings early last month, for them to try to get
back to resolving the core issues. We’ve been pretty clear in this
regard that we’re going to continue to
aggressively push that, but we’re also — and we’re
going to try to get the parties, notwithstanding the fact that
the direct talks effort of the fall has, as you suggested,
Roger, taken a step back. So we’re aggressively
working at work. We’re discovering new
information about each side’s positions, and we’re not going
to be passive observers here. As the secretary
said in her speech, as ambassador rice
has indicated, generally as Secretary
Gates has said publicly, and then of course as the
president and Vice President have said, we’re going to be
active participants here. So if we need to come up with
ideas bridging proposals or otherwise to make sure we’re
addressing the parties needs to move this process
forward, we will. But I think we also recognize
that we have to address these issues with urgency for the
reason I said at the start, which is we don’t get to decide
where it is on the burner. Because this goes to the heart
of the issue for many people, for the Israelis who are
obviously desperate for security given the rough
neighborhood they live in, and the outrageous threats that
they have to countenance from Iran and others
on a daily basis, and for Palestinians who
have great aspirations. And so, we’re working this. Much of what we’re doing is just
the difficult work of and kind of the elbow grease
of daily diplomacy. For that, the president is
extraordinarily grateful for Secretary Clinton’s efforts,
for Senator Mitchell’s efforts, and for Dennis Rouse’s
efforts, among others, including our
ambassador in Tel Aviv. I will say just one last thing. Senator Mitchell said that he
had about 750 bad days as a negotiator in Northern Ireland,
and then those all came before he had one good day. So we recognize this is
just going to be hard work. We recognize the intensity of
feeling and the passion around these issues. And we know it’s not
going to be easy. The president never
signed up for an easy job. So we’re going to
keep working it. Roger McShane:
You said that you’re constantly
finding out new information about
each side’s position. Can you tell us what
that information is? Denis McDonough:
Well, one of
the things about it — one of the things about the daily spade
work of diplomacy is you try to keep some of it quiet, and you
go public with some of it. Roger McShane:
WikiLeaks is
going to tell us anyway, right? Denis McDonough:
Well, let’s hope not. And in any case, I think one
thing that the United States does offer is the
trust of both sides, and I think that that’s true,
irrespective of the highly damaging information
that was leaked, and WikiLeaks or otherwise. And so, again, we’re trying to
keep our eyes on the prize here. We know what the prize is, and
the president has outlined that in quite clear detail, be that
in Cairo or before that when he was in Israel, or be
that up in New York, or any place in between. We know what the prize is here. We’re going to keep working with
our friends and make sure that we get to it. Jesse Lee:
And let’s go
back to military.com. Ward Carroll:
We had a number
of questions about Iraq. So let me quickly read the
president’s remarks from state of the union regarding Iraq. So he said: Look to
Iraq where nearly 100,000 of our brave men and women
have left with their heads held high where American combat
patrols have ended. Violence has come down and a
new government has been formed. This year, our civilians will
forge a lasting partnership with the Iraqi people while we finish
the job of bringing our people out of Iraq. America’s commitment
has been kept. The Iraq war is
coming to an end. So one of the unforeseen
consequences of a war that this administration did not undertake
is it shifted the balance of power with regard to Iran. So the president also said, the
Iranian government now faces tougher and tighter
sanctions than ever before. So, from your point of view,
what are your concerns with Iran and the shift in the balance of
power and nuclear proliferation? I mean, what keeps you up
at night about that area? Denis McDonough:
Well, look, I
do think that one of the things that is quite interesting
that we’ve seen, we’re running a strategy on Iran
that’s been quite explicit from day one, and we’re turning the
page on that and working it, as we run through our strategy. And what we, I think, had is
good success in putting the Iranians back on their heels. I think that they had had a
run here of believing that the balance of power in the region
had in fact shifted their way for the reasons
that you outlined. And they thought that be it
through high oil prices or be it through relative instability in
the neighborhood that they felt like they had it pretty good. But I think if you look over the
course of the last two years, I think any reasonable
conclusion that someone would draw would suggest that the
Iranians are in a far less beneficial position than they
thought they were in before we started. To wit, they had an
extraordinarily hotly contested internal election that called
into question, frankly, by many Iranians the fundamental
tenance of their political system that’s been in place
for the last 30 years. We think that
that’s interesting. The second thing is that they
find themselves dramatically more isolated than they have
been in perhaps any time over the last decade. That includes, importantly,
because of the president’s close cooperation with and work, as
we saw last week, with China, and with Russia and Moscow, that
the Iranians are not finding sustenance or comfort in the
places where they used to, in Beijing and Moscow. That’s because of the
cooperation with us, but it’s also because of
universal recognition of the fact that the Iranians are not
living up to their obligations, be that on their human
rights obligations, be that on their
support for terrorism, or be that most blatantly
on the nuclear program. Lastly, I think that one can’t
ignore the very positive developments in Baghdad. The government is now formed. I think that any fair estimation
of the election and the government formation process
would lead one to believe that Teron did not get what it set
out to accomplish in that regard. And that speaks the strength of
the Iraqi people in this effort. So that’s why we think it’s
important that the Iraqi people see, as the president
outlined the other night, that we’re living up
to our commitments, as outlined in the agreement
signed by the last administration and then
negotiated in the more granular details when we got here. And that we’ll continue to work
through our robust civilian presence in Baghdad and
throughout Iraq with our Iraqi partners to ensure that they
have the kind of opportunity that we know that
all Iraqis desire. But the bottom line, Ward, I
think is if you line up these issues, I think that the
Iranians have to field like they’re in a situation here
that’s not particularly beneficial to their outlook, and
they have to recognize, I think, as a result of that that the
real opportunity for them to assume their rightful place in
international community isn’t through an elicit
nuclear program, but rather through living up to
the responsibilities that each of us has, members of the
international community have. Obviously, the
Iranians have rights, but those rights come
with responsibilities, and we’ll be continuing
to work with our partners, as we did just over the weekend
after the talks in Istanbul to ensure that they live
up to those rights. Jesse Lee:
All right. Let’s turn to Josh Rogin
with foreignpolicy.com. Josh Rogin:
Thank you. My next question comes from
Gabriel Storing of Hermosa beach, California, and
he asks about Sudan. Gabriel writes: The
administration invested heavy diplomatic resources towards a
successful (inaudible) Sudan, but as all attention was
on north/south issues, the government of Sudan
increased its use of violence to achieve its goals in Darfur. Darfuris feel abandoned by an
administration that is loaded with people that have made
strong statements and promises regarding their commitment
to peace in Darfur. With conditions on the ground
being the true measure of policy effectiveness, what is the
administration ready to do now to bring true and lasting peace
protection and justice to the people of Darfur? Denis McDonough:
I appreciate the question. I appreciate the fact even more
that Hermosa Beach has probably got far less snow than
Washington, D.C. this morning, and dramatically less than my
home in stillwater, Minnesota, but nevertheless, I will say
this: I think the president feels like the Sudanis, both
north and south, but Sudanis, more generally, have made
important progress over the course of the last eight weeks. I think that many of us, when we
looked at the situation during the course of the last calendar
year as we ran up to the important referendum that
started on January 9 worried that that referendum
would not go off. But I think it is important,
as Gabriel points out, to recognize that we did invest,
along with the players in the region and our partners,
particularly our partners in what we call — well, our
partners in the UK and in Norway who have been very close
partners of Scott Gration’s and Johnnie Carson’s and
others in this effort, that each of us invested
a lot in this referendum, but I think it is incorrect to
suggest that somehow we focused on north/south at the expense of
the ongoing crisis in Darfur. In fact, I just had a meeting in
this room at this table two days ago with Foreign Minister Karti
of the Government of Sudan. And I think if one were to break
down the time spent in our conversation at that meeting, I
think it would be fair to say that about 25% of the time was
spent on north/south issues, including the critical issue of
resolving Abyei and all the post-referendum issues now
that need to be resolved by July 9 pursuant to the agreement that
both north and south signed up to in the CPA. And 75% of the time then
was spent on Darfur. There has been increased
indications from UNAMID in
both directions. There was an announcement
last week out of UNAMID that expressed their appreciation for
increased access and freedom
of movement. We think that’s very important. There is also at the
same time, however, indications that UNAMID is
getting harassed in other parts of Darfur. That’s a cause for concern. And we have not
pulled any punches, including Ambassador Rice up in
New York just yesterday after a session in the security council
on this matter expressing her outrage at lack of
sufficient access in Darfur. We’re also aware of other very
alarming reports of violence. And I will say this, that
I consume an awful lot of intelligence in any day, but
I’ve consumed a particularly large amount of intelligence on
Sudan in the course of the last six months. We’ve appreciated
that information. But it also suggests quite
clearly that as Khartoum and Juba understand we’re watching,
we’re going to hold them responsible to their
international obligations, as well with the Iranians, that
they are deterred from taking efforts that they might have in
the past thinking that they had more freedom of action
they might have taken. So we’re going to continue
to hold them accountable. Just over the course of the
last four weeks or so, Josh, we’ve undertaken
a very aggressive, and private incidentally,
diplomatic campaign to make sure that both Khartoum and Juba
understand that we will not tolerate any support of militant
proxies in Darfur or elsewhere. This is a very stern message
that we’ve asked others to pass on our behalf as well,
but also pass directly. The bottom line is this, is this
is a moment of great opportunity for all Sudanese, north, south,
Darfurees, and all Sudanese, and frankly, a great opportunity
for Sudanese to be a light in terms of the entire
continent, if not the world, for a peaceful resolution
of an ongoing crisis. We think that they ought to make
the most of that opportunity. Josh Rodin:
Of course, one of the incentives
we offered to the government in Khartoum was that
if they completed implementation of the CPA, we would consider
removing them from the State Department’s list of
states that sponsor terror. What from now must the
government in Khartoum do to keep that process of
reconsideration of their status — Denis McDonough:
Well, in the first instance what
they need to do is recognize, officially recognize the
results of their referendum, and then live up to
the obligations in the — for the post referendum issues
as outlined in the CPA. The government in Khartoum has
known those since 2005, frankly, after they — in a very
pains-taking negotiation to the great credit that the Bush
Administration undertook. From the negotiation
to the signing, they’ve known exactly
what they need to do, and we’ll hold them to that. Importantly, however, the
statute also puts certain limitations on the Secretary
of State and the President, which is that we have to make
sure that the Sudanese live up to the statutory obligation
which says that we need to certify to Congress that Sudan
has not supported international terrorism in the
previous six months, so we’re aggressively
working that through. And frankly, we’ve heard
positive things in the course of that review that suggests that
Sudan has worked closely with us against shared
terrorists concerns. But, well, it’s a high standard,
the President is statutorily bounds, the Secretary of State
is statutorily bond to live up to it, but — and that’s
what we’re going to do, live up to the statute outline
— the standard outline in the statute. But first instance, let’s
finish the counting, let’s have the government
in Khartoum recognize those results, then we can
start this whole process. Jesse Lee:
All right. I know Jeannie Hurtly on
Facebook had a question along those same lines. I hope that addressed it. I also note that the President’s
videographer accompanied Scott Gration down to Sudan for a
trip afternoon the referendum, and I think will be publishing
his video documenting that trip a little bit pretty
soon in the coming days. Denis McDonough:
Importantly, that included a
trip just to — to Darfur, and so it would be important
— important bit of footage. We were very pleased with
the recent visit, too, by Nancy Lindborg, unbelievably
capable director of DCHA — assistant administrator for
DCHA it’s called over at USAID, somebody who is not
only a great patriot, but an unbelievably
compassionate person who from — in crises all over the world
has brought great hope. But she was in Darfur recently,
we were very pleased with her visit, very pleased
with Scott’s visit, and obviously Iran got
a lot of video on that. But also importantly,
Dane Smith, ambassador of great character
and just a very highly decorated career has also now come back as
the Secretary’s principal senior diplomat focused on Darfur, so
he’ll be working that 24/7. We’re going to be
working that with him, and we look forward to
getting this thing done. Jesse Lee:
All right. And to go ahead and take one
question that came up earlier on the chat that is something I’ve
seen a lot of discussion on online, some good, some
bad, but Jean Cutty says, please speak to the extremely
common assumption that people have about something called
American exceptionalism, what are our moral, slash,
religious obligations and responsibilities to
the rest of the world? Denis McDonough:
Well, I just —
American exceptionalism I think means a lot of different things
to a lot different people, but I will say one thing that’s
always remarkable to me is the fact that alone perhaps
in the United States, you have a remarkable President
who was raised by his mom, educated in our public
schools, and through dogged determination, his patriotism
and his — the great instruction that he received from teachers,
as he outlined in the speech the other night across country, was
able to become President of
the United States. I think that’s an extraordinarily
exceptional thing. And I think it sends a very
positive message to the world. As it relates to United
States role in the world, there’s no question that as a
result of the actions of our people, be they our troops
in Afghanistan and Iraq, in Kosovo and Bosnia and Kuwait,
in Normandy, in North Africa, in Asia, as a result of their
individual actions or as a result of their heroism, as a
result of the values of this country as embodied
in our Constitution, there’s no doubt that people
around the world look to us with a certain amount of
hope and expectation. It’s a lot of — it’s
a lot to live up to, there’s no question about that. But the President spoke to this
in the opening of the foreign policy section of the speech the
other night when he said that there’s no question that
the United States is back, there’s no question that the
United States is in a leadership role in the world, and we’ve
seen the results of that just over the course of
the last two years, the START Treaty as
Josh pointed out, the agreement in Iraq
as Ward pointed out, the ongoing expectations of
so many people throughout the world, in the Middle
East or otherwise, asked some of the
questions I’ve indicated. So I don’t know if that’s
exceptionalism or just a great responsibility to live up to the
standard that so many of our fathers, grandfathers, mothers,
grandmothers set for us, but it is certainly what we
set out to do here every day. Jesse Lee:
Okay. I think we’ve got less
than ten minutes left, so if you have any real quick
foreign policy questions that aren’t complicated at all,
maybe we can take your least complicated one and do a
lightning round and see how it works. Denis McDonough:
I’ve give you —
make your questions as complicated as you want, I’ll
make my short — I’ll make my answers short and declaratory. Roger McShane:
Okay. This is a somewhat complicated
question that I will try to
uncomplicate. A number of our readers had
questions that were more concerned with domestic policy
than really foreign policy, but that do directly
relate to foreign policy. Denis McDonough:
Yeah. FoRoger McShane:
For example, energy policy,
how it relates to our security interests, how our drug policy
relates to our actions in Afghanistan, how immigration
policy relates to our relationship with Mexico,
and even, you know, stuff like our agricultural
policy, our health care policy, how it relates to
our comparativeness. When these conversations are
taking place on domestic policy, is there a National Security
Council person in the room, are these discussions taking
place kind of — is there a national security aspect
reflected in these discussions when, you know, the President is
in the Oval Office having these
conversations? Denis McDonough:
Yeah,
well, a couple of things. I will say that in
the first instance, we as his advisors are — we’re
— it’s incumbent on us to make sure that we’re consuming all
this information to make sure that that’s factoring into the
recommendations and the advice that we give the President. I will say that I rely a great
— I spend a lot of time on each of your sites, but also, as I
think you pointed out when you were walking in here, Roger, I
carry around your newspaper I think you guys call it, but
it looks like amazing to me. Roger McShane:
Thank you for that. Denis McDonough:
The — I don’t know what you
call it, Ward. Ward Carroll:
Whatever Roger tells me. Denis McDonough:
There you go. So we have to consume
this information, one. Two, one of the great — one of
the very wise decisions General Jones made when he came in, and
the initial action he took in the formation of the National
Security Council itself, which is the body
the President chairs, and then secretaries of each of
the individual agencies joins for particular discussions,
as, for example, the one we just
had on Afghanistan. He broadened that, the
membership of the National Security Council to include
the Department of Energy, to include, obviously, Treasury
as it has for some time, but to make sure that it is
broadened out to encompass things like climate. Now, we can’t deal with climate
change without a having a very firm understanding of
our own energy policy. So we have a staff that draws
on expertise and, importantly, in key areas to include on
economic policy and energy policy, it’s intermingled under
our Deputy National Security Advisor for International
Economic Affairs, Mike Froman, not only reports to Tom Donilon,
but also reports to Gene Sperling at the — chairman of
the National Economic Council. So we are trying to
structure the body itself, or the infrastructure of the
White House itself to ensure that these decisions draw on
all the best thinking that’s available. That’s the second thing. The third thing is that the
President himself often insists that if we send up
a decision to him, that he sends it back to make
sure that it’s been coordinated across the full range of people
who have a concern on these issues. Fourth, our allies and our
friends make sure that we do this. I’ll give you an example. Secretary Clinton was
just in Mexico on Monday, I guarantee you that her
conversations reflected the full range of issues from immigration
to the trafficking of weapons and money north — from the
north south into Mexico, as well as drugs from south
to the north into the United States. So our allies themselves demand
that we address these issues
comprehensively. That’s why it’s so
important for — in candor, to have a Secretary of State
like Secretary Clinton who is not only an accomplished
diplomat, obviously, but also somebody who
understands and, frankly, represents so much of what’s
great about this country itself. So it’s incumbent on us to make
sure that it is intermingled in that way. Our staff is set up in such
a way to allow us to do it, but it also requires a
good deal of discipline. And I’ll just say that the
President is not afraid to instill that discipline in us to
make sure that we don’t cut
any corners. Does that answer the question? Roger McShane:
Yes. Ward Carroll:
In a speech, the President
talked about revitalizing NATO. Denis McDonough:
Yes. Ward Carroll:
Had a chance to spend some
time at the air base in Kandahar in may. Denis McDonough:
Yes. Ward Carroll:
And as you probably know,
that — the vibe there is a lot more international
than anywhere else I went. Denis McDonough:
Yes. Ward Carroll:
Maybe except ISAF headquarters
itself. Denis McDonough:
Yeah. Ward Carroll:
So I was engaging
in conversation in — with an Army colonel and made note of
that, you know, Macedonians, Dutch, you know,
all kinds of stuff, and he said this is
NATO’s last mission, and if it fails or is
characterized other than a success, NATO will cease to be. Do you agree in principle
with that notion, and where does NATO fit
in your bag of tricks? Denis McDonough:
Yeah. Well, I’d like to say
a couple of things, that facility in
Kandahar is remarkable, I was just there myself. General Terry and his team
are doing an unbelievable job throughout RC South,
really took back Kandahar, and through a really
remarkable effort, right there in Kandahar City as
well as just north of it in the Argendob and then obviously
in the west in Helmond, you’re seeing a kind of of a
civil military lash-up in such a way as to really make you not
only just proud of what these guys do every day, and obviously
very appreciative of the sacrifice that they
undertake and at great risk, but also quite hopeful for the
effort that’s being undertaken. As it relates to NATO,
you also see this, and I had the same experience,
Ward, when I was out there, which is that you go to the mess
— go to the chow hall up in Bagram, for example,
and you’re sitting, you’re just as likely to be
sitting down next to a Canadian guy or a Dutch guy or any
number of our NATO allies, one of our allies from
the UK or France or Italy. Point being that it is a
very international effort, 50 countries, as the
President pointed out. I don’t — I think
that, you know, the — I guess the way I look at
this is that a lot of people are always looking to try to make
the next fight the determinative fight. What I believe is that you have
to fight every fight to make sure that — and be as dogged
as you can in that fight, not with any false expectation
that that is the determinative — determinative fight. We’re not going to know which
one is going to be the one that determines NATO’s feature,
determines the opportunities for Afghans, determines the
outcome definitively in Iraq. What we do know is that our
dogged determination through each of those will be the thing
that at the end of the day, as with, for example,
World War II, I don’t think at any given time
anybody knew exactly which was going to be the
determinative battle, but I think that if they did
suggest that they could go all in and just hope and then let
their guard down at the end of that one, I think that’s a
false comfort and a false hope. So I think NATO
has been arguably, and I think this is a
pretty good argument, the most successful military
alliance in history. I think that there’s great
momentum behind that, great strength behind it, and I
have no doubt that the effort in Afghanistan is going to be
a victory and going to be successful. But I also have no doubt in the
— irrespective of that about the strength of NATO over time. I think the Lisbon
summit proved that. You have NATO itself now
remaking itself to take on additional new missions. Importantly in that effort,
you had the Turks joining the consensus on missile
defense, which we think is extraordinarily important. And incidentally, a missile
defense program that now will cover all of Europe sooner
against more targets is a great success of this Administration,
and it’s exactly what the President was pointing to in
that sentence in his speech. Jesse Lee:
All right. Josh Rodin:
This question comes from
Facebook user Theresa Sullivan, happens to be a member
of the Air Force. She writes, can you address the
current situation in Lebanon concerning the investigation
into the death of former Prime Minister Hariri and the
ascendance of a new prime minister backed by the terrorist
organization, Hezbollah. How can United States continue
to arm the Lebanese armed forces if the civilian government
in Lebanon is led by a Hezbollah-backed official, and
how does this affect greater stability in the region. Denis McDonough:
Good question. Theresa, thanks
for your service. I’ll say that the question
I have for you, Ward, is how she got her question
in on foreign policy.com. But, so, Theresa, good question. One, I think it’s very important
to remember where we are in this process with the — this
special tribunal for Lebanon. You had the pre-indictment
sent up last Monday by the prosecutor, remarkable
development in the fact that here you have an internationally
formed tribunal looking at the assassination of a
former prime minister, sending up an indictment
of a Hezbollah member. I think as our National Security
Advisor Tom Donilon said about ten days ago, maybe almost two
weeks ago now, this is evidence, frankly, of this process
stripping bare this narrative of resistance that you’ve heard
from so many associated
with Hezbollah. This tribunal is set
out with a very simple, yet profound mandate, which
is to delegitimize the use of political assassination as an
acceptable tool in this region. That indictment that it was —
that was sent up two weeks ago now is an important, critically
important first step in that process. And frankly, it — what it says
about what Hezbollah is alleged to have done or frankly did in
this instance unscores why they are reacting as
aggressively as they are. The aggressiveness
of their reaction, this speaks the concern they
have about this outcome. Now as relates to the new
government and the LAF as we call them, or the
Lebanese armed forces, we think that it’s a very
important independent institution. We think that what’s remarkable
about Lebanon is here you have a multi-ethnic, multi-religious
democracy in the heart of a very difficult region. Unfortunately you have too often
forces like Hezbollah reaching toward illegitimate tools, like
intimidation and violence to try to advance their
interests in that regard. We want to get away from that. We want to get to an instance,
this is why things like the STL and — the special
tribunal for Lebanon, and the Lebanese armed
forces are so important. That’s why we support the
Lebanese armed forces, not because of an association or
nonassociation with Hezbollah, but rather because of
their independence, their independence from
any political actor, their independence to be an
independent institution, Democratic institution in the
heart of this very important experiment in the Middle East. We think that’s important, we’re
going to continue to work with them, but obviously we’re going
to take a hard look at each of the developments along the way. I noticed a very strong and good
statement out of our ambassador at Beirut today, she had a very
important meeting with the new — the prime minister designate,
we think that’s her statement. We obviously from here associate
ourselves very strongly with her remarks and obviously underscore
the importance of her work and the work of her team over the
course of these last several months. We started hearing the threats
from Hezbollah some six or seven months ago about the STL and
the grave threat it poses. We understand now why
they’re so worried about it, because it does point up their
tactics and the fact that they should not be considered
legitimate by anybody. That said, it’s been through the
good work of Ambassador Maura Connelly, Jeff Feltman, Dan
Shapiro and many others that we’ve been able to get to the
situation — get to the point where we are now. Jesse Lee:
You got time for one
more from online here? Denis McDonough:
I’m ready for it. Jesse Lee:
All right. One thing that’s come up a
bunch of times has been China. Ju Chin (phonetic) asks how will
U.S./China policy or the nature of the bilateral relationship
change in the coming years. Cynthia Yieldrum (phonetic)
suggests we need to become better friends of South American
countries than China is. And Darryl Beilaire (phonetic)
looks like to me says does our indebtedness to China affect
our foreign policy with them. So whatever you can cover
in 25 minutes or so. Denis McDonough:
All right. That’s good. I’d have about 30
minutes of that, right? Look, I think that you heard
importantly on this South America question, you heard a
big piece of news in this speech the other night was — the
announcement that the President will go to Brazil, Chili and
El Savador later this year, this spring I think he said. We think that’s important, it’s
another opportunity to deepen our ties, partnership
with the region. That’s one. Two, as it relates to China, I
think that we saw this play out very well in the press
conference that the President had, which is probably the most
public aspect of the state visit last week, I guess, or two weeks
ago, I’m losing track of time, which is that we see — and I
think you heard the President saying in his remarks that
we’re trying to work through a competitive cooperation
here with China. We recognize not that we’re
threatened specifically by a strong China, but we want to
make sure that China becomes a responsible competitor in the
context of U.S./China relations. Obviously that comes with,
as we were talking earlier, that those rights come with
great responsibilities. Those responsibilities include
on — importantly on economic affairs, means obviously living
up to international agreements as it relates to currency, as it
relates to intellectual property rights, as it relates to
importantly human rights, the right to be heard, the right
to free assembly and the right to, importantly, an issue
of great importance to the President, the
freedom of religion. So we’re going to
continue to push on those, even as we cooperate with China
on very important issues, we’ve had great cooperation as
has been outlined in stories since last week on
issues like Iran, on issues like
increasingly North Korea. And so we’ll see exactly how
this plays out over time, but we think that China, given
its size, given its location, is going to be obviously a
key — a key member of the international community. We’ll continue to work
with China where we can, and we’ll continue to
challenge China where we must, and that’s going to continue to
be on issues like human rights, as you heard quite explicitly
last week from the President. Lastly, as it relates
to indebtedness, this is something that the
President addressed very clearly in the speech the other night,
which is that given the depth of the economic crisis that
we are presented with, that we inherited when
we came to office, we had to make a
series of choices, to stave of the — to keep the
deepest recession from the Great Depression, from turning into
another Great Depression, that was an emergency — an
emergency effort that had
to be undertaken. Now as this recovery
begins to get steam, we also have to make very
difficult choices about where we invest this — the critical
resources of the American taxpayer. The President laid out exactly
how he’ll do it the other night. He obviously looks forward to
working with the new Congress and the House and the
Senate to do that. And we’ll just keep working
through these issues, but obviously we have to see
them, as Roger suggested, not only how does our — how
do our domestic priorities and policies impact our national
security priorities, but also how do our national
security policies and priorities impact our efforts here at home. This is why we want to make sure
what we’re doing in Iraq is sustainable over the long haul,
that the goals in Afghanistan are very clear, articulatable
and accomplishable in a way that is sustainable over time. And I think our troops are
demonstrating that that’s, in fact, the case,
as we lay this out, and I think that was laid out
quite well in General Petraeus’ letter the other night as
it relates to Afghanistan. So the bottom line is, China
encapsulates a lot of the very most difficult issues we’re
wrestling with every day, but we feel like we’re making
some good progress on them. Jesse Lee:
All right. Well, I’ll let
everybody wrap up here. And I want to thank,
you know, the economist, military.com,foreignpolicy.com
for all being represented here. I want to thank you everybody
for joining in the discussion. Sorry we couldn’t get to
more of the questions, but I think we covered a
fair amount of ground there. And as always, thank you, Denis. And also for people at home,
you’ll find the education round table at 3:15 and the health
care reform round table at 4:30. So come back for that, too. And thanks again
to everybody here. Denis McDonough:
Thanks, Roger, Ward, Josh,
I really appreciate you guys coming in, appreciate everybody
online, appreciate it.

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