Blog Posts by Olivier Knox

  • Obama makes it official: U.S. planning for full Afghan withdrawal

    After giving him the silent treatment for eight months, President Barack Obama on Tuesday called Afghan President Hamid Karzai. The message? A blunt warning that all U.S. troops will leave his war-torn country by 2015 unless Karzai or his successor sign a bilateral security agreement (BSA) with the United States.

    The president had not spoken to Karzai since a June 25, 2013, video conference, and the two had had no contact since a Nov. 21, 2013, letter from Washington to Kabul.

    Obama has said repeatedly that he hopes to leave a residual force of some 8,000-12,000 U.S. and NATO troops in Afghanistan to train local security forces and target extremists after most combat forces depart in 2014. But U.S. officials had warned that Obama would pull all American troops absent a BSA that gives American and allied forces immunity from local prosecution.

    Karzai refused, saying his successor should be the one to make that commitment. He continued to say no even after Afghanistan’s “loya jirga”

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  • U.S. diplomats to Obama: Ambassador nominees should really know something about their destination

    Please, presidents, stop picking big campaign donors to be ambassadors whether or not they know anything about the country where they’d be posted and are clueless about foreign affairs in general.

    That’s the basic message to President Barack Obama and future administrations from a group that represents some 31,000 current and former career diplomats.

    The American Foreign Service Association put it quite a bit more diplomatically (of course) on Tuesday in a set of new guidelines to help presidents select the best candidates for the job sometimes known as “chief of mission.”

    A good nominee ideally “has experience in or with the host country or other suitable international experience, and has knowledge of the host country culture and language or of other foreign cultures or languages,” AFSA said in its six-page report.

    “The actions and words of an ambassador have consequences for U.S. national security and interests far beyond the individual country or organization to which he or she is

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  • Obama may escalate role in Syrian war

    Americans unquestionably oppose any U.S. military intervention in Syria of the “boots on the ground” variety. They’re not fans of the idea of air strikes there, either. But how would they respond to narrowly tailored attacks targeting Islamist fighters who may be looking to use that country’s lawless war zones as a staging ground for potential attacks on U.S. allies, U.S. interests and possibly the United States itself? Would such a limited approach really help increasingly desperate moderate fighters squeezed between those extremists and strongman Bashar Assad’s troops? And what risk would it pose in terms of sucking the United States into an escalating role in the Syrian conflict?

    Those are central, pressing questions as President Barack Obama assesses his handling of arguably the worst foreign policy disaster of his administration and gives fresh thought to a limited military role, according to current and former administration officials and congressional aides.

    Right now we don’t

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  • Obama: Ukraine, Syria are not pieces on ‘some Cold-War chessboard’

    President Barack Obama denied late Wednesday that Russian-U.S. tensions over Syria and Ukraine were playing out on “some Cold-War chessboard” even as he acknowledged deep divisions between Moscow and Washington.

    Obama, speaking at a joint press conference after a North American leaders’ summit, also flatly denied that the United States had played a role in stirring up the people against their government, saying that the uprisings “arose organically from within those countries.”

    “I do think it is worth noting that you have, in this situation, one country that has clearly been a client state of Russia, another whose government is currently being supported by Russia,” he said.

    But “our approach in the United States is not to see these as some Cold-War chessboard in which we're in competition with Russia,” the president continued.

    “Our goal is to make sure that the people of Ukraine are able to make decisions for themselves about their future, that the people of Syria are able to make the

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  • Obamacare house party, with special guest Dr. Jill Biden

    Forget the mom jeans. Forget the mom-knows-best TV ad campaign to boost Obamacare enrollment. And for heaven’s sake, forget Pajama Guy. How about a mom-hosted house party with an unannounced guest star — Dr. Jill Biden, aka Vice President Joe Biden’s wife?

    Jill Biden dropped in late Tuesday on about 15 Dallas-area moms gathered at the home of Marie Murray in the middle-class suburb of DeSoto. She was there to kick-start the latest Affordable Care Act enrollment drive with just under six weeks before the March 31 deadline to apply for insurance or risk paying a fine.

    Biden, who recently broke her left wrist, held up her cast and told other guests that everyone should sign up for insurance, because “accidents happen!”

    "Everyone here knows, if you want something done, ask a mom. So what you're all here

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  • George Clooney, Matt Damon, original ‘Monuments Man’ to attend ‘Monuments Men’ screening at White House

    Harry Ettlinger was a 19-year-old Army private when he was recruited to be one of the original “Monuments Men.” Now, Ettlinger will join President Barack Obama and Hollywood stars like Matt Damon and George Clooney at a White House screening of the movie based on that unusual unit’s mission at the end of World War II: Recover the priceless art and cultural artifacts looted by Nazi Germany and hidden away.

    Here, as provided by the White House, is the list of guests at the 5:45 p.m. screening.

    George Clooney

    Nick and Nina Clooney

    Bill Murray

    Matt Damon

    Grant Heslov

    Robert Edsel, writer of the book The Monuments Men

    Harry Ettlinger, a surviving member of the original Monuments Men group

    Bill Burns, Deputy Secretary of State

    Heather Higginbottom, Deputy Secretary of State

    David Wade, State Department Chief of Staff

    Richard Stengel, Under Secretary of State for Public Affairs

    Evan Ryan, Assistant Secretary of State for Educational and Cultural Affairs

    Bill McHugh, Secretary of the Army

    Sara

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  • 7 rejected Republican National Committee Valentine’s Day jokes

    Ahhh, February 14, when a young party official’s thoughts turn to the sweetness and light of Valentine’s Day-themed political attacks.

    The Republican National Committee’s contribution this year are these e-cards that you can send to share a chuckle with a fellow Republican, or use to troll your political frenemies. A totally unscientific Yahoo News poll judged the Vladimir Putin one the best, with “If you like this Valentine, you can keep it” a close second.

    But wait — there’s more. Or at least, there could have been. Here, courtesy of two Republican officials, are some of the committee’s jokes that didn’t make the cut “for various reasons.”Those reasons should be as obvious as some of the would-be quips themselves.

    1) "I'll change positions for you" (featuring Charlie Crist, the Republican turned Democrat running for governor of Florida).

    2) Let's keep our love a secret: We'll only announce it on MSNBC.

    3) Sorry, the Love Doctor is no longer in your network.

    4) Even if I could buy

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  • Obama, Jordan’s king, hold stag California summit on Valentine’s Day

    Jordan’s King Abdullah II has been in Washington since Monday. He met with top members of Congress at the Capitol, with Secretary of State John Kerry at the Four Seasons Hotel in Georgetown and with Vice President Joe Biden at his official residence. So why is he flying all the way to California to sit down for a summit with President Barack Obama at a sprawling estate that bills its par-72 golf course as “a magnet for famous golfers?” On Valentine’s Day. With their wives thousands of miles away. At the start of the long Presidents Day weekend.

    The White House has been keen to emphasize that the king isn’t there to tee off on Obama’s handling of the bloody civil war in Syria, which has sent a flood of some 600,000 refugees into Jordan — equivalent to about 10 percent of that country’s overall population.

    “Jordan is an invaluable ally and close friend of the United States,” National Security Council spokeswoman Bernadette Meehan said. The Sunnylands estate hosted Obama’s June 2013

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  • Obama: Give Olympians a tax break on their medals

    President Barack Obama thinks American Olympians returning home from Sochi with a medal shouldn’t have to pay income taxes on their gold, silver or bronze haul, the White House said Thursday.

    Roll Call reported that Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., has introduced legislation that would give Olympians who reach the podium a break by excluding their medals when they calculate their individual taxable income. The measure has bipartisan support — Republican Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida and New York’s Democratic senators, Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand, back the proposal.

    What about Obama? He supports the idea in principle, as he did in 2012, White House spokesman Bobby Whithorne told Yahoo News.

    “The president believes we should support efforts to ensure that we’re doing everything we can to honor and support our Olympic athletes who have volunteered to represent our nation at the Olympic Games. We still support this effort.”

    Two years ago, the legislation never made it to the president’s

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  • Finland No. 1, US sinks to 46th in global press freedom rankings

    The United States did not live up to the promise of the First Amendment last year, “far from it,” sinking to 46th in global press freedom rankings, a respected international nonprofit group said Wednesday.

    The U.S. plummeted 13 slots to 46th overall “amid increased efforts to track down whistle-blowers and the sources of leaks,” Reporters Without Borders warned in an annual report.

    “The trial and conviction of Private Bradley Manning and the pursuit of NSA analyst Edward Snowden were warnings to all those thinking of assisting in the disclosure of sensitive information that would clearly be in the public interest,” the organization said.

    The group, known by its French initials, RSF, also cited the Department of Justice’s seizure of Associated Press telephone records and a court’s pressure on New York Times reporter James Risen to testify against a CIA staffer accused of leaking classified information.

    “The whistle-blower is clearly the enemy in the U.S.,” Delphine Halgand, who heads

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