Legacy at risk, Obama struggles to redefine foreign policy

President Barack Obama’s second term was supposed to be a crowning opportunity to make his mark on the world stage, but instead he’s leading an intense effort to redefine his foreign policy record – and the odds look stacked against him.
An administration-wide public relations blitz, which Obama launched with a big foreign policy speech this week, has done little to quell critics who frequently pan his global approach as rudderless, as the White House lurches from crisis to crisis.With just two and a half years left in office, Obama’s chances of forging a successful foreign-policy legacy by the end of his presidency face seemingly intractable challenges, ranging from Ukraine to Syria to the South China Sea.

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Obama Expected To Move Forward With Climate Plan in State of the Union

By Suzanne Goldenberg

The president will try to get the public behind new rules to cut carbon dioxide emissions from power plants.

This story was originally published in the Guardian and is reproduced here as part of the Climate Desk collaboration.

Campaigners are looking to Barack Obama to expand his use of executive powers to deliver action on climate change in Tuesday night’s State of the Union address.

Obama unveiled a sweeping climate plan last June, after warning in last year’s State of the Union address that if Congress did not act on climate change, he would.

The president is expected to reaffirm his commitment to that plan in Tuesday night’s address, defending his decision to direct the Environmental Protection Agency to cut carbon dioxide emissions from power plants.

He is also expected to offer details on actions by other federal government agencies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, promote wind and solar energy, and prepare for a future under climate change.

“I am sure it will be part of his comments in the State of the Union,” Carol Browner, who served as White House climate adviser in Obama’s first term, told a conference call with reporters. “What we see is a real commitment to moving us forward.”

The core of Obama’s climate plan remains the EPA’s proposed rules for power plants, the largest single source of carbon dioxide emissions.

The agency plans to release the next set of proposed rules, which would limit emissions from existing plants, by June of this year.

Obama was widely expected to use the spotlight on Tuesday night to try to get the public behind the new power plant rules, that are at the core of his climate plan.

But Heather Zichal, another former Obama climate adviser, said she expected other federal government agencies to take up climate change.

Zichal said last week she expected the president to press for further tax credits and other incentives to promote renewable energy.

But campaigners will be looking for Obama to expand even more on his climate plan.

They are also unlikely to be happy with Obama’s continued promotion of oil and gas drilling, something they say is incompatible with action on climate change.

Obama was widely expected to talk up domestic oil production in the speech. “I expect we will hear a message that is consistent with the ‘all of the above’ message we have heard before,” Jason Bordoff, director of Columbia University’s Center on Global Energy Policy, said.

Last year was the fourth hottest year on record, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Agency. Despite Obama’s directive to the EPA, US carbon dioxide emissions rose 2 percent in 2013, because power plants burned more coal.

Without additional measures, America will fail to meet its commitment to cut emissions by 17 percent from 2005 by 2020.

Campaigners said they were looking to Obama to promise action on rising methane emissions produced by the country’s shale boom.

Recent studies have shown the gas industry—from well site to power station—produces far more methane than earlier government estimates, and methane is 80 times more powerful at warming the atmosphere than carbon dioxide over a 20-year time frame.

There were also calls for Obama to use the speech to reject the proposed Keystone XL pipeline, which will transport crude oil from the Alberta tar sands to refineries on the Texas coast.

“From our perspective, there is just no way, no how this tar sands oil gets out of the ground,” said Gene Karpinski, who heads the League of Conservation Voters.

A political action committee founded by the former hedge fund manager and Keystone opponent, Tom Steyer, has bought ads to air on the MSNBC cable network on Tuesday night, urging Obama to reject the project.

In Washington, protesters were planning to encircle Congress with a giant inflatable pipeline.

However, it is extremely unlikely the president will announce a decision on Keystone XL in his speech.

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NSA Official: Obama Was Informed of Spying on Merkel’s Cellphone, Let It Continue

By Kevin Gosztola

German media reports new details related to National Security Agency spying on German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s cellphone. Her phone was on a list for monitoring since 2002. President Barack Obama was also apparently briefed by NSA director Gen. Keith Alexander on the program in 2010 and did not stop it.

The NSA’s Special Collection Service (SCS) was the unit involved in the surveillance. According to Bild am Sonntag, Gerhard Schröder, Merkel’s predecessor, was also a target of surveillance. Part of the motivation for the spying was the country’s participation and support in the Iraq War.

The same newspaper quoted an unnamed “high-ranking” NSA official, who claimed, “Obama did not halt the operation but rather let it continue.” This sharpens the scandal between Germany and the United States considerably, as it had seemed the spying had only taken place while President George W. Bush was in office.
It also reported that a phone Merkel began to use in the summer, which was supposed to be secure, had been the target of eavesdropping. The only communication the NSA was not able to tap was a special, secure landline phone that she had in her office.

Der Spiegel reported that the document showing Merkel’s cellphone was being spied upon indicated it was being done by a “not legally registered spying branch” inside the US embassy in Berlin. The document stated if the branch was exposed “grave damage” to relations with the United States would occur.

Both NSA and CIA staff were tapping into communications in Berlin’s government district through this branch and similar branches, according to the same document, existed in 80 locations around the world. Those locations include Frankfurt, Geneva, Madrid, Paris, Prague and Rome.

If spying on Merkel’s cellphone is indeed no longer occurring (as the White House claimed three days ago), it is now clear the spying on her phone at least occurred up until Merkel called Obama to express her anger. However, it is important to understand that there is no way to independently confirm that the NSA has stopped spying on Merkel’s phone. German officials are meeting in the US and hopefully they will give public statements on whether they are satisfied that this intrusion into privacy is no longer tBild am Sonntag is one of the largest selling newspapers in Germany.

The statement on what Obama knew about the spying does come from an anonymous official within the NSA so there are multiple considerations that should be made.

The official may have been asked by the newspaper to confirm and the source chose to confirm that Obama had known about the program to spy on Merkel’s cellphone. It is also possible that this official inside the NSA was willing to send some kind of a message to the Obama administration by providing this information that would escalate the controversy.

In a letter to family of NSA employees by Alexander and NSA deputy director John Inglis, which I obtained in September, it quoted Lawfare’s editor-in-chief Benjamin Wittes, who has been a vocal defender of the NSA’s surveillance capabilities in the wake of former NSA contractor Edward Snowden’s disclosures.

Shameful as it is that these documents were leaked, they actually should give the public great confidence both in NSA’s internal oversight mechanisms and in the executive and judicial oversight mechanisms outside the agency. They show no evidence of any intentional spying on Americans or abuse of civil liberties. They show a low rate of the sort of errors any complex system of technical collection will inevitably yield. They show robust compliance procedures on the part of the NSA. And they show an earnest, ongoing dialog with the FISA Court over the parameters of the agency’s legal authority and a commitment both to keeping the court informed of activities and to complying with its judgments on their legality. While it took a criminal act to make this record public, we are deeply proud of this record and make no apologies for it.

This is what Wittes thought the Obama administration should have been saying to defend the NSA in the midst of leaks. It suggests that both Alexander and Inglis are unhappy with how the White House has responded and raises the possibility of high-ranking officials being willing to leak key details of Obama administration complicity or outright support so the administration cannot get away with pretending they had nothing to do with the surveillance.

In other words, perhaps, some high-ranking officials are willing to leak details now so that they are not forced to bear the burden of justifying certain surveillance programs, which are exposed, on their own and with little help from the administration.

Finally, it has been said in media, for example, on CNN, “Remember, Germany is particularly sensitive about this because of its own history with the East German Stasi police, who [were] listening in on the conversations of citizens there.”

This statement is as if Germans would not be outraged about the mass surveillance state in the US being turned on them if they did not have this history. It serves to make their anger seem exceptional and something which America has to tolerate, even if we do not think they have a right to be upset.

Even if Germany did not have a history of fascism, where surveillance had been turned aggressively on all of its citizens, European countries would still be demanding the US stop the spying. In fact, the fact that Germany has this history should not be mentioned to downplay the reaction but to educate Americans on how they need to be concerned about the powers the NSA has been granted in the United States.

After the White House denied the report by Bild, the NSA issued a statement on the allegation from Bild’s source. NSA spokeswoman Vanee’ Vines said that Gen. Keith Alexander “did not discuss with President Obama in 2010 an alleged foreign intelligence operation involving German Chancellor Merkel, nor has he ever discussed alleged operations involving Chancellor Merkel. News reports claiming otherwise are not true.’’

All of which raises the issue: Who was talking to Bild and why were they lying, if the claim is really false?

Is it someone within the agency upset that Obama has not been more vigilant in defending the NSA?

Also, for those individuals defending the spying on Merkel’s phone by suggesting that “sometimes our friends have relationships with our adversaries,” they do realize what they are suggesting?

To make such an argument is to suggest that Merkel was someone the US thought might hide something related to the fight against terrorism from the US or that she may have been close with leaders of countries, which America opposes. Certainly, this is one way to keep on alienating leaders in Europe upset over NSA surveillance.

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Washington’s Tyranny

By Paul Craig Roberts

The war criminal barack obama has declared his “outrage” over the 62 deaths associated with the takeover of a Nairobi, Kenya, shopping mall by al-Shabaab fighters. But the attack on the shopping mall was obama’s fault. Al Shabaab spokesmen said that the attack on the Nairobi mall was a retaliatory response to the Kenyan troops sent to fight against them in Somalia. The Kenyan troops, of course, were sent to Somalia as a result of pressure from Washington.

Just as the outbreak of violence in Mali resulted from the fighters that obama used against Gaddafi moving into Mali, Washington’s violence against Somalia has resulted in the terrorist attack on the Nairobi mall.

This fact again raises the never-asked question: What is the real( agenda of Washington’s “war on terror”? )The western presstitutes never ask this question, nor do western legislative bodies.
Washington has offered a variety of justifications for its 12 years of wars. One is that Washington is rooting out terrorism in order to protect Americans from 9/11 type events. Another is that “dictators” must be overthrown and replaced with “freedom and democracy.” Still another is false claims of the possession of “weapons of mass destruction” (Iraq) and the use of “weapons of mass destruction” (Syria).

None of Washington’s claims can withstand the barest scrutiny. None of the governments that Washington has overthrown and seeks to overthrow are terrorist states. Indeed, some are not even Islamist governments. Saddam Hussein’s Iraq had a secular government, as does Assad’s Syria.

Washington’s explanations for murdering Pakistanis and Yemenis with drones are even more nebulous. Moreover, using military means to kill citizens of countries with which the US is not at war lacks all legality.

When obama gets on the moral high horse about deaths in Syria or Nairobi, his hypocrisy is astounding. A person would think obama would be ashamed. The Egyptian military, which is financed with $2 billion annually from Washington, has just overthrown the first elected president in Egypt’s history, banned the political party that Egyptians elected to power, and confiscated the political party’s assets, money, and buildings.

The Washington-sponsored Egyptian military shot down in the streets many more Egyptians protesting the overthrow of their government by a military coup than died in the Nairobi mall. But we hear nothing from Washington or obama about the need to support democracy in Egypt.

When the British Parliament voted down providing cover for obama’s criminal attack on Syria, Parliament created space for Russia’s President Putin to resolve the Syrian situation by obtaining Syrian President Assad’s agreement to join the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons and to turn over all Syrian chemical weapons to an international body.

The warmonger obama regime was outraged that Washington’s military attack on Syria had been blocked. Washington and the Israel Lobby went into full scale demonization of President Putin for orchestrating peace instead of war. The obama regime is trying to block the agreement by insisting on incorporating into the UN resolution an opportunity for attacking Syria if Washington is not convinced that all chemical weapons are turned over.

The entire world knows that Washington will again lie through its teeth, assert that all the weapons were not turned over and use the wedge that Washington is attempting to force into the UN resolution to start another war. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has publicly stated that Washington is trying to blackmail Russia into accepting the potential for military intervention in Syria as part of the agreement.

Until the 21st century, Washington carried out its relentless nefarious activities against other peoples and countries under cover and out of sight. In the 21st century the criminal bush and obama regimes have brazenly demonstrated their disregard for US law, international law, and human rights.

Hubris and arrogance have run away with the “superpower.” The US stands reviled by the world. At the UN summit on September 23, the president of Brazil denounced the obama regime for its “breach of international law” revealed by the spy scandal. Bolivian President Evo Morales is filing a lawsuit against the obama regime for “crimes against humanity.”

When the world looks at Washington, it cannot differentiate Washington from the dictatorships that Washington attributes to other countries. The Washington regime has declared that it is above both law and Constitution and possesses the power to detain citizens indefinitely and to murder them without due process of law. These powers comprise the necessary and sufficient conditions for dictatorship.

Who will liberate Americans from Washington’s tyranny, overthrow the executive branch dictatorship, and bring freedom and democracy to America?

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New FBI director James Comey defends Obama’s surveillance program

The FBI’s new director says he supports the government’s electronic surveillance program as a useful, “legal” tool, even though he opposed eavesdropping activities under ex-president George W. Bush.

Two weeks after taking over at the Federal Bureau of Investigation, James Comey said in an interview with AFP and several other news outlets that President Barack Obama’s controversial spying policies were needed to counter a “metastasizing” threat from Al-Qaeda.

With the network’s core leadership weakened in Pakistan, the threat posed by Al-Qaeda had evolved, he said, with affiliate groups cropping up around the world and “self-radicalized lonewolves” — homegrown extremists feeding off internet propaganda — posing a threat within the United States.
The former federal prosecutor and Republican, who towers at six feet eight inches (two meters) tall, comes to the job amid a firestorm over far-reaching surveillance by the National Security Agency (NSA) and concerns over privacy rights, following dramatic leaks by former intelligence contractor Edward Snowden.

“It is both a useful tool and a tool that is circumscribed by all kinds of checks and balances,” Comey said.

“Its challenge is to find a space in the American public life to talk about how those things work.”

He called for public discussion to address the role of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, which reviews the spying, and “all the fences that are around this, why this is lawful and appropriate” under the US Constitution.During his time in the Justice Department under the Bush administration, Comey clashed with the White House in a now famous showdown over the legality of a domestic eavesdropping program.

According to Comey’s account to lawmakers and The New York Times, White House officials tried to persuade the then attorney general, John Ashcroft, to approve the program while he was ill and undergoing treatment in a hospital, even though he had already decided to reject it.
Comey got word and raced to the hospital, and managed to prevent White House officials from pressuring the attorney general into approval.

The program, created in the wake of the attacks of September 11, 2001, authorized the NSA to eavesdrop — without a court warrant — on telephone and online communications outside America even if the other end of the communication was located inside the United States.

The program was suspended in 2007 after a public outcry and oversight by the surveillance court was restored. Revelations from Snowden have shown the NSA has since overstepped its authority for domestic spying in numerous cases, but the agency insists those were unintentional mistakes.
I’m comfortable with it,” Comey said.

“It’s important to find the right balance when the government needs to collect information when it’s lawful and appropriate, with public concern about privacy.”

It was vital to have a public debate on the issue, said Comey, adding “I think that’s healthy.”

He predicted the issue will inevitably makes its way to the Supreme Court, but Comey said he believes the surveillance and data collection does not violate the privacy rights enshrined in the Constitution’s Fourth Amendment.

Comey said recent moves to declassify NSA documents on data collection were useful as “people can actually see” and understand what the government is doing.

But, agreeing with statements from US intelligence chief James Clapper, he said there was also the danger that it could cause extremists to change the way they communicate.

“I share those concerns, it’s a very big deal,” he said.
Sitting in the office of his predecessor Robert Mueller, who served for 12 years as head of the vast law enforcement agency, Comey said without a doubt his “top priority” was tackling terrorist threats.

“I wake up every morning with it. I go to bed at night with it,” he said, adding that he would continue Mueller’s work transforming the bureau into an “intelligence” agency to detect terror plots.

Not long after starting as director, Comey was in the spotlight as his agency carries out an investigation into Monday’s shooting rampage at the Navy Yard in the heart of Washington, which left 13 dead.

Gunman Aaron Alexis, a former Navy sailor turned defense contractor, died in an exchange of fire with police and so far authorities have found no link to terrorism or extremist groups.

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Britain and U.S. prepare missile strikes on Syria ‘within days’

August 26, 2013 – Royal Navy vessels are being readied to take part in a possible series of cruise missile strikes, alongside the United States, as military commanders finalise a list of potential targets.

Government sources said talks between the Prime Minister and international leaders, including Barack Obama, would continue, but that any military action that was agreed could begin within the next week.

As the preparations gathered pace, William Hague, the Foreign Secretary, warned that the world could not stand by and allow the Assad regime to use chemical weapons against the Syrian people “with impunity”.

Britain, the US and their allies must show Mr Assad that to perpetrate such an atrocity “is to cross a line and that the world will respond when that line is crossed”, he said.

British forces now look likely to be drawn into an intervention in the Syrian crisis after months of deliberation and international disagreement over how to respond to the bloody two-year civil war.

Military planners in Washington and London are addressing the ‘significant challenge’ of finalising a list of potential targets designed to cripple Assad’s chemical warfare capability.

The possibility of such intervention will provoke demands for Parliament to be recalled this week.

The escalation comes as a direct response to what the Government is convinced was a gas attack perpetrated by Syrian forces on a civilian district of Damascus last Wednesday.

The Assad regime has been under mounting pressure to allow United Nations inspectors on to the site to establish who was to blame for the atrocity. One international agency said it had counted at least 355 people dead and 3,600 injured following the attack, while reports suggested the true death toll could be as high as 1,300.

Syrian state media accused rebel forces of using chemical agents, saying some government soldiers had suffocated as a result during fighting.

After days of delay, the Syrian government finally offered yesterday to allow a team of UN inspectors access to the area. However, Mr Hague suggested that this offer of access four days after the attack had come too late.

Meanwhile, as tensions in Syria rise to unprecedented heights, Israelis, fearful of a possible chemical attack by its northern neighbor, have been flocking to gas mask distribution stations. Distribution of updated masks and chemical protection kits have been going on for several years, but on Sunday hordes of Israelis who have neglected to get their updated kits flocked to post offices, which are responsible for the distribution.

Sources and more information:

• Britain poised to bomb Syria over suspected chemical weapons atrocity which killed hundreds of children

David Cameron is considering an allied bombing blitz with France and the US which could start in days Missile: A Tomahawk is fired from a sub PA Britain was last night poised to bomb Syria over the suspected chemical weapons atrocity which killed hundreds of children. David Cameron is considering an allied bombing blitz with France and the US…

David Cameron is facing pressure to recall Parliament amid signs that the US and Britain are preparing for military action against Syria. Labour and Tory backbenchers have insisted the Prime Minister should explain himself to MPs before intervening in the wake of alleged chemical weapon use by Bashar Assad’s regime.

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No Surprises in US Court Decision On Jerusalem’s Status

by Akiva Eldar

It is safe to assume that you have never heard of Menachem Zivotofsky. In fact, there is no particular reason for you to know the name of the boy born 10 years ago in Jerusalem, except that his parents filed a lawsuit against the US State Department.

The family’s demand that it be allowed to identify Menachem’s birthplace as “Jerusalem, Israel” has far broader implications than the boy’s personal status and that of some 50,000 additional American citizens born in Jerusalem. It was also intended to affect US foreign policy by forcing the US president and his administration to recognize both parts of Jerusalem as a city in the state of Israel and as its capital. This week, on July 23, however, after a lengthy legal process, three judges on a US federal court of appeals ruled that “the President exclusively holds the power to determine whether to recognize a foreign sovereign.” President Barack Obama, as we know, has not yet changed the traditional US view of Jerusalem’s status.

It should come as no surprise that the court decided to refrain from intervening in what has been US policy on Jerusalem since Israel was founded in 1948. If anything, it is a wonder that Israelis are surprised that the United States is sticking to its position. This case, it appears, is the latest in a series of reminders Israel has been getting that as far as the world is concerned, the conflict that began in 1948 is not yet over. The issue of Jerusalem’s recognition is forcing Israel to deal with the reality that the unilateral steps it takes are not binding or acceptable to other countries.

International law, which is not dissociated from the diplomatic and political views of nations, cannot serve Israel only when it is convenient, such as the certain amount of success it enjoyed this week in causing the European Union to list the military wing of Hezbollah as a terror organization on July 22. The rules of the international community dictate that it must heed decisions made by its official bodies, as long as these rules have not been changed. The binding decision regarding Jerusalem was, and still is, UN General Assembly Resolution 181, adopted November 29, 1947. The resolution determined that the city be declared “corpus separatum,” an international zone on neutral ground run by a special UN authority.

The third section of the resolution, which deals with citizenship and international agreements, stipulates, “Palestinian citizens residing in Palestine outside the City of Jerusalem, as well as Arabs and Jews who, not holding Palestinian citizenship, reside in Palestine outside the City of Jerusalem shall, upon the recognition of independence, become citizens of the State in which they are resident and enjoy full civil and political rights.”

Attempts have been made in the past to harness the power of the Jewish lobby to impose on the world’s nations facts created unilaterally by Israel, without taking into account the existence of the Palestinians, their presence in Jerusalem and the city’s centrality for them.

In The Jerusalem Capital Ambush: The Political Maneuvers to Relocate the American Embassy in Israel (2002), Nimrod Goren and I wrote, “The special importance which the administration sees in convincing moderate Arab states that the United States is conducting an evenhanded policy toward the Israeli-Palestinian conflict limits chances that it will adopt a move that might change the political-religious balance in the Middle East. The special sensitivity of the Jerusalem issue, both from a diplomatic and religious point of view, turns any deviation from the US position toward the city into an obstacle for the implementation of US policy in the region.” Subsequently we added that “one should therefore expect that moving the US embassy from Tel Aviv to West Jerusalem will be accompanied by the establishment of a US embassy in Palestine, located in one of the Jerusalem neighborhoods that will be transferred to Palestinian sovereignty.”

These forceful words, written more than a decade ago, still hold true today. Continued attempts to force the political and legal systems of other countries to bow to the unilateral reality Israel wishes to create are doomed to failure. Proof of this is that the three US presidents since the passage of a 1995 bill relocating the US Embassy to Jerusalem, regardless of their partisan identity or the extent of their closeness to the Israeli government, have made sure to sign a waiver freezing the move.

A hint of the way the United States and other countries could recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital can be found in that ancient UN resolution, in which it was determined, “All the residents shall become ipso facto citizens of the City of Jerusalem unless they opt for citizenship of the State of which they have been citizens or, if Arabs or Jews, have filed notice of intention to become citizens of the Arab or Jewish State respectively.” In other words, the choice Israel faces was and is between turning Jerusalem into the capital of two states or non-recognition.

Anyone wanting Jerusalem to cease being one of the few world capitals without foreign embassies should make sure a diplomatic arrangement is achieved fulfilling the aspirations of both sides. The choice is in the hand of Jerusalem, or Jerusalems, and it will withstand renewed examination with the resumption of negotiations. This too, like the federal court ruling, will occur in Washington, the recognized capital of the United States.

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