Blog Posts by Olivier Knox

  • Kerry to Congress: Don’t rule out U.S. ground war against Islamic State

    Don't limit conflict to Iraq and Syria, either, he tells senators

    U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry testifies before a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on Authorization for the Use of Military Force Against ISIL on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., on Dec. 9, 2014. (Yuri Gripas/Reuters)U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry testifies before a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on Authorization for the Use of Military Force Against ISIL on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., on Dec. 9, 2014. (Yuri Gripas/Reuters)

    Secretary of State John Kerry on Tuesday asked lawmakers debating legislation to authorize the war against the so-called Islamic State not to rule out the use of U.S. ground troops in combat.

    Kerry also indicated that President Barack Obama would prefer to wait for a vote on an authorization for use of military force (AUMF) until Republicans control the Senate.

    The work of drafting an AUMF can start “over the course of the next days” but final action should wait until “we come back in early January,” the top American diplomat told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

    “In the hours, days, and weeks to come, we are determined to work with you, first and foremost to develop an approach that can generate broad, bipartisan support, while ensuring the president has the flexibility he needs to successfully prosecute this effort,” he said.

    Democrats and Republicans in Congress have expressed deep skepticism of Obama’s claim that he has full legal authority to wage war on the jihadi group

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  • Obama nominates Ashton Carter as defense secretary

    Chuck Hagel stays away from formal ceremony

    Locking in a post-election shake-up of his national security team, President Barack Obama on Friday formally nominated former senior Pentagon official Ashton Carter on Friday to replace Chuck Hagel as defense secretary. Carter is expected to win Senate confirmation easily in 2015.

    "We face no shortage of challenges to our national security," Obama said with Carter and Vice President Joe Biden at his side, citing the looming U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan, the war against the so-called Islamic State, the military's work to contain West Africa's Ebola outbreak and other issues.

    "Ash is going to be critical to all of these efforts. When we talked about this job, we talked about how we’re going to have to make smart choices precisely because there are so many challenges out there," Obama said. "We’re going to have to squeeze everything we have out of the resources that we have in order to be as effective as possible. And I can’t think of somebody who’s more qualified to do that."

    A White

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  • Senate Democrats muscle big Obama donors into ambassadorships

    Controversial nominees squeak through on party-line votes

    In one of their final acts before losing their majority to Republicans, Senate Democrats confirmed as ambassadors on Tuesday two big donors to President Barack Obama’s reelection campaign, despite a controversy over their qualifications.

    David Bryson Mamet won confirmation as envoy to Argentina in a 50-43 vote, while senators agreed 52-42 to send Colleen Bell on her way to Hungary. No Republicans voted for either nominee, and several senators missed both ballots.

    Before the votes, Sen. John McCain, R.-Ariz., passionately urged his colleagues to reject Bell’s nomination. He argued that whatever her talents for scooping up campaign cash and for producing “The Bold and the Beautiful,” Bell was “totally unqualified” for the ambassadorship.

    “She is the producer of a soap opera, has no experience in foreign policy or national security, no familiarity with the language, country or region, has never been there, and lacks meaningful knowledge of history or economics,” McCain thundered on the

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  • In executive 'amnesty' move, Obama pardons turkeys 'Mac' and 'Cheese'

    Jokes about the controversy over his immigration policy

    Joking that “some will call this amnesty,” President Barack Obama on Wednesday took part in one of the oddest traditions in American politics: The pardoning of two turkeys, “Mac” and “Cheese,” who will be spared from a Thanksgiving roasting.

    “I am here to announce what I’m sure will be the most talked-about executive action this month,” Obama declared with a smile in a thinly veiled reference to the controversy over last week's immigration announcement.

    “Today, I’m taking an action fully within my legal authority, the same kind of action taken by Democratic and Republican presidents before me, to spare the lives of two turkeys.”

    “Some will call this amnesty, but don’t worry, there’s plenty of turkey to go around,” Obama said at the ceremony, which was driven indoors by bad weather.

    Profile of Mac.  One of the two turkey's pardoned by President Barack Obama on Novermber 26, 2014 at the White House in Washington, D.C. (Whitehouse.gov)Profile of Mac.  One of the two turkey's pardoned by President Barack Obama on Novermber 26, 2014 at the White House in Washington, D.C. (Whitehouse.gov)
    As it has in past years, the White House posted an online poll and asked the public to decide which gobbler would be named "America's Next Top Turkey."  The poll reads like an online dating profile and

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  • Top contenders to succeed Chuck Hagel as defense secretary

    Whom does Obama want to take up what is arguably the worst job in Washington?

    Outgoing Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel hadn’t even formally confirmed his resignation at his White House sendoff Monday before one of the top potential candidates to replace him pulled his name from contention.

    Sen. Jack Reed, a Rhode Island Democrat who sits on the Senate Armed Services Committee and served as an officer in the Army’s 82nd Airborne Division, is happy where he is, spokesman Chip Unruh said.

    Senator Reed loves his job and wants to continue serving the people of Rhode Island in the United States Senate,” said Unruh. “He has made it very clear that he does not wish to be considered for secretary of defense or any other Cabinet position. He just asked the people of Rhode Island to hire him for another six-year term and plans to honor that commitment.”

    Standing next to Hagel in the White House’s state dining room, Obama praised the Republican former senator’s service but gave no hint of whether he has settled on a shortlist for his fourth defense secretary.

    Instead, the

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  • Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel to resign

    Will stay on until Senate confirms a successor

    Hagel’s departure  a major post-election reshuffle of Obama’s struggling national security team  comes as the United States faces a series of major international challenges, from the war against the so-called Islamic State (IS) to the planned troop drawdown from Afghanistan.

    The New York Times, which first reported the former senator’s departure, cited anonymous Obama aides as saying Hagel was being removed because he was the wrong person to lead the campaign against IS.

    A senior administration official, who requested anonymity, said a successor would “be named in short order,” but that Hagel would stay on until that person was confirmed.

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  • White House to Democrats: We’ll seek extension to Iran nuclear talks

    Obama aides say they won’t budge on sanctions

    President Barack Obama expects to seek an extension in Iran nuclear negotiations past the current Nov. 24 deadline for reaching a deal, White House aides told congressional Democrats on Friday.

    Secretary of State John Kerry could float the idea as early as Friday night to Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, White House officials disclosed in the briefing for Capitol Hill aides, which was held in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building adjacent to the White House.

    There are “eons to go until Monday, but it’s going to be pretty difficult to get to a comprehensive agreement by Monday,” though “not impossible,” one Obama aide said.

    So it’s a “reasonable expectation that we'll be requesting an extension,” the aide said. He did not specify a duration. The current talks resulted from a first extension that began July 20.

    Kerry and representatives of Britain, China, France, Germany, and Russia have been negotiating with Iranian diplomats including Zarif in Vienna. The United

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  • Senate to vote on two controversial Obama ‘ambassadonors’ Dec. 1

    Obama bundlers Noah Bryson Mamet, Colleen Bell finally get their day

    The debate in Washington shifts from undocumented immigrants to questionably credentialed emigrants Dec. 1 as the Senate votes on two of President Barack Obama’s most controversial ambassador nominees — big-time donors seemingly picked only to reward them for scooping up campaign cash.

    Noah Bryson Mamet and Colleen Bell each raised at least $500,000 for Obama’s 2012 reelection campaign. The president then nominated Mamet to be ambassador to Argentina and Bell to be ambassador to Hungary.

    But each of them ran into trouble early in the Senate confirmation process. Mamet admitted that he had never been to Argentina, while Bell stumbled and stammered her way through answering the question, “What are our strategic interests in Hungary?”

    Their nominations stalled. The Senate went on to confirm other ambassadors, including some big-time Obama donors, nominated after they were.

    But with Republicans due to take over the Senate in January, the “lame-duck” session is likely Mamet's and Bell’s

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  • Obama to transform immigration policy, spare 5 million from deportation

    White House confident controversial executive action can survive Republicans’ political and legal challenges

    President Barack Obama on Thursday will announce a legacy-defining plan to transform U.S. immigration policy, sparing up to 5 million people from deportation and defying Republicans who charge that he is breaking the law.

    White House officials expressed rock-solid confidence that Obama’s sweeping executive actions will survive any political or legal challenges and practically dared GOP lawmakers to attempt to get their way with a government shutdown.

    But Obama won’t to take any chances in the court of public opinion. The president, top White House aides, and Cabinet officials will crisscross the country to make the case to affected populations and the broader public, officials told reporters at a briefing in the White House Roosevelt Room hours before the announcement.

    The administration will also step up “very, very aggressive” efforts in Central America to make sure that people there don’t respond to the news of more lenient treatment for those who come to the United States illegally

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  • Top Obama aide won’t rule out unilateral easing of Cuba policy

    Tony Blinken says Castro must free Alan Gross first

    President Barack Obama’s pick for the No. 2 job in the State Department repeatedly refused on Wednesday to rule out unilateral action by the White House to ease U.S. pressure on Cuba.

    But the official, Deputy National Security Adviser Tony Blinken, emphasized that the government in Havana would first have to make progress on democratic reforms and free imprisoned U.S. aid worker Alan Gross. The comments came during Blinken's confirmation hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

    “Do you anticipate, during the rest of the president’s term, that there will be any unilateral change” to sanctions on Cuba absent democratic reforms, asked Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, whose parents emigrated from Cuba to the U.S.

    “Anything that might be done on Cuba will have to be consistent with the law,” Blinken replied. He added, “Anything that in the future might be done on Cuba would be done in full consultation” with Congress.

    Rubio tried again, noting “chatter” that Obama could try to

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