Blog Posts by Olivier Knox

  • Obama to warn against ‘overreaching’ foreign policy in West Point address

    President Barack Obama will use his commencement speech at West Point this week to defend his handling of an ever-widening array of foreign policy crises and to outline top national security goals for his fast-shrinking time in office, officials say.

    Under fire from Republicans who accuse him of being a weak president overseeing a dramatic and dangerous American retreat from the world stage, the president who ordered the death of Osama bin Laden but has been powerless to stop the bloodbath in Syria will argue that he has struck the right balance — and will continue to do so.

    “You will hear the president discuss how the United States will use all the tools in our arsenal without overreaching,” a White House official said on condition of anonymity.

    “He will lay out why the right policy is one that is both interventionist and internationalist, but not isolationist or unilateral,” the official said.

    It’s a familiar theme for a president who won his first term in large part on his vow to

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  • Kerry: I’ll testify on Benghazi, but only to one House committee

    Secretary of State John Kerry offered Friday to testify on Benghazi before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee — but cautioned that doing so would “remove any need” to appear before the new House Select Committee formed to investigate the tragedy.

    Kerry’s message came in a letter from Assistant Secretary of State Julia Frifield to House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Darrell Issa, R-Calif. A copy of the letter can be read below.

    “In the interest of accommodation and to resolve once and for all any outstanding, relevant questions, the Secretary is prepared to appear before the Committee on June 12 or June 20,” Frifield wrote.

    “In doing so, we believe this would remove any need for the Secretary to appear before the Select Committee to answer additional questions,” she said in the letter, a copy of which was obtained by Yahoo News.

    House Republicans are unlikely to agree to Kerry’s either/or condition.

    But Issa “accepted the Secretary’s offer to

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  • White House hosts senators for ‘bizarre’ secret foreign policy meeting

    U.S. Senator Bob Corker (R-Tennessee) talks to reporters after the weekly Republican caucus luncheon at the U.S. Capitol in Washington April 29, 2014. (REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst)
    White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough and National Security Adviser Susan Rice met with a bipartisan delegation of senators late Tuesday for secret talks focused on foreign policy, several sources with knowledge of the discussion told Yahoo News.

    Sen. Bob Corker, the top Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, alluded to the meeting on Wednesday, as the panel held a hearing on whether and how to overhaul the signature law of the global war on terrorism.

    “I know we both attended sort of a discussion last night that I found to be one of the most bizarre I've attended on Foreign Relations on foreign policy in our country,” Corker said at one point, referring to himself and Sen. Bob Menendez (D.-New Jersey), the committee’s chairman.

    “I know several of us were involved in a very bizarre discussion last night. This continues a very bizarre discussion,” Corker said at another point.

    The Tennessee Republican did not say where or with whom the meeting took place (or why it

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  • After bin Laden backlash, CIA promises: No more vaccination campaigns for spying

    Amid a deadly backlash again vaccinations and a resurgence of polio in Pakistan, the White House has promised that the CIA will never again use an immunization campaign as a tool of spycraft.

    “I wanted to inform you that the Director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) directed in August 2013 that the agency make no operational use of vaccination programs, which includes vaccination workers,” President Obama’s top counterterrorism and homeland security advisor, Lisa Monaco, wrote to the deans of 12 public health schools. Yahoo News obtained a copy of the May 16 letter (below).

    “Similarly, the Agency will not seek to obtain or exploit DNA or other genetic material acquired through such programs,” Monaco wrote. “This CIA policy applies worldwide and to U.S. and non-U.S. persons alike.”

    The Central Intelligence Agency had enlisted a Pakistani doctor, Shakil Afridi, to collect intelligence under the guise of an immunization effort in the city of Abbottabad as part of planning for the

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  • Remember the marshmallow cannon? Time for the White House science fair

    It’s going to be tough to top the “extreme marshmallow cannon” that blasted one of the gooey treats across the East Room – but attendees at the 2014 White House Science Fair next Tuesday will surely try. And this year, President Obama will put the spotlight May 27 on girls and women stars in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) competitions.

    Obama has described the annual showcase as one of his favorite events – and has taken a hands-on approach to learning about the projects. In 2012, the president insisted on helping to pump up the marshmallow cannon and firing it across the East Room. (He later invited the contraption’s inventor, Joey Hudy, to be a guest at the 2014 State of the Union). In 2013, Obama hopped on a stationary bike to test out a pedal-powered water filtration system.

    Popular figures in science like Bill Nye, The Science Guy, and LeVar Burton ("Star Trek"’s Geordi La Forge) have attended and helped give the event a little added luster.

    This year, while

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  • One big obstacle to #BringBackOurGirls? Nigeria’s government

    “Brutal tactics.” “Record of atrocities.” “Gross violations of human rights.” Top U.S. government officials spoke those words Thursday at a Senate hearing about Boko Haram’s abduction of more than 200 schoolgirls. But they said them about Nigeria’s government and military, not the Islamist terrorist group that burst into international consciousness with its actions last month.

    U.S. mistrust of the Nigerian government runs so deep that the State Department requires Nigerian decision-makers to promise not to use intelligence obtained from American intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) flights to violate human rights.

    “We have sought assurances from them — that Ambassador (James) Entwistle delivered a couple of days ago — that they will use any information that we pass to them from this ISR support in a manner consistent with international humanitarian and human rights law,” Alice Friend, the Defense Department’s principal director for African affairs, told the Senate

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  • White House will use an old playbook to handle the new Benghazi committee

    U.S. Representative Trey Gowdy (R-SC) speaks during a House Oversight and Government Reform Committee session on Capitol Hill in Washington, in this June 20, 2012 file photo. Gowdy will head a House panel that will investigate the September 11, 2012 attack by armed militants in Benghazi which killed U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans. REUTERS/Jose Luis Magana/Files (UNITED STATES - Tags: POLITICS CRIME LAW)
    The House of Representatives' select committee on Benghazi has had a rough rollout. Chairman Trey Gowdy, R- S.C., announced he had proof of sweeping White House wrongdoing — then said he could not actually share his secret evidence. The GOP’s fundraising arm for House races drew fire for politicizing the effort by inviting donors to give the $50-$500 necessary to become a  "Benghazi watchdog." And media outlets noted that many of Gowdy’s supposedly unanswered questions about the tragedy in the eastern Libyan city had been answered by previous investigations or media fact-checkers.

    And this is all before the committee is officially up and running.

    At the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue, White House officials have watched all of this with barely contained amusement. Aides have quietly noted that, while Republicans nursed self-inflicted wounds, there were zero Benghazi-related questions at press secretary Jay Carney’s briefings on Monday and Tuesday of this week.

    But already President

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  • White House: No, #BringBackOurGirls won’t sway the kidnappers

    The White House on Monday defended the #BringBackOurGirls social media campaign as a valuable part of the global response to the abduction of more than 200 Nigerian girls. But spokesman Jay Carney dismissed suggestions that hashtag activism would lead Boko Haram kidnappers to free their hostages.

    “No, I wouldn’t say that,” Carney told reporters at his daily briefing when asked whether the outpouring of support would lead the extremists to set the girls free.

    “We're not anything but realistic about the challenge here. It's extremely difficult,” the spokesman said. “The area that the Nigerian government is looking for the girls in constitutes roughly the size of New England.”

    Still, I think that highlighting the situation there and the tragedy that the abduction of those girls represents helps focus attention on the matter and helps, I think, focus the attention of those who would want to assist in the finding and recovery of those girls,” Carney said.

    That appeared to be a reference to

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  • These are the 'essential skills' needed to be an Obama ambassadonor

    George Tsunis, ambassador-designate to Norway, appears before the U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, Jan. 16. 2014.

    They might not speak a relevant foreign language or have any diplomatic experience, but big donors to President Barack Obama’s re-election campaign have “essential skills” qualifying them for ambassador jobs, according to State Department documents obtained by Yahoo News.

    The assertions can be found in documents dubbed “Certificates of Competency,” which the administration is required by law to produce to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee for each ambassadorial nominee. The documents have not been made public.

    Earlier this year, three of Obama’s “ambassadonor” picks raised eyebrows in their confirmation hearing testimony. Real estate investor George Tsunis, nominated to be envoy to Norway, did not seem to know what kind of government that country has and attempted to bluff his way through questions about anti-immigration sentiment there. Soap opera producer Colleen Bell, tapped to go to Hungary, could not list any of America’s strategic interests there. Consultant Noah Bryson

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  • US announces aid to Nigeria in mass kidnapping of girls

    Warning that “time is of the essence,” the United States announced Tuesday that it would assemble a special team in Nigeria to help that country’s government rescue more than 200 kidnapped schoolgirls before they are sold into slavery or killed.

    Secretary of State John Kerry announced that he had telephoned Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan to urge him to accept American assistance nearly one month after the girls were abducted. Boko Haram, a group the United States has branded a terrorist organization, has claimed responsibility.

    “Our embassy in Abuja is prepared to form a coordination cell that could provide expertise on intelligence, investigations and hostage negotiations and to help facilitate information-sharing and victim assistance,” Kerry told reporters at a joint press conference with European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton.

    “President Goodluck Jonathan was very happy to receive this offer and ready to move on it immediately. And we are immediately engaging in

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