Related Post: The Inaugural - The Daily Show Tribute
5:55 p.m. Mike here- one last update: Obama has called on Israel to open its borders with Gaza.
5 p.m. Well, that's Day 2 (so far) of the Great Obama Foreign Policy Journey. Tomorrow, we'll attempt an assessment of the ups, downs, and in-betweens of the initial meetings and decisions.
The President's moves not only on Guantanamo Bay but on CIA black sites were encouraging, even if they cannot be implemented soon. Less encouraging, despite all the fanfare at the State Department were the Mitchell and Holbrooke appointments, as it is not clear the Administration has really thought through its diplomatic approach. It is a blessing, at least, that Obama and Hillary Clinton did not make the situation worse by naming Dennis Ross as envoy on Iranian matters, a move only slightly less provocative than appointing Mike Tyson to keep the peace.
The emerging conflict and muddle over Iraq and Afghanistan, brought out by the Robert Gates statement and the military-White House competing briefings on Iraq, is not encouraging.
Good night and peace to all.
4:50 p.m. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates has issued what is, frankly, a very strange statement on the Administration's goals in Afghanistan.
Gates, unintentionally, points to the conflict that has already broken out over troop levels in Iraq and Afghanistan, stating that "no decision on troop deployments to Afghanistan has been made". What is even more disconcerting, however, is his explanation that the Obama Administration's new war plan will focus on "very concrete things" such as establishing control in parts of the country, going after al Qaeda, and delivering services and security for the Afghan people.
Hmm....isn't that what the Bush Administration was doing? Apparently not: "The goals we did have for Afghanistan [were] too broad and too far into the future, [were] too future-oriented, and [were] we need more concrete goals that can be achieved realistically within three to five years."
That, to be blunt, is gobbledy-gook. One can only hope it is not reflective of the thinking in the NSC-military meeting yesterday.
4:40 p.m. And is that an Obama pre-emptive strike in the US approach to Iran? He declares that all external support for "terrorist organizations in the Middle East" must be halted.
4:35 p.m. But George Mitchell, I fear, may already be boxed in by his President. After declaring to applause that "the US will not torture", Obama firmly declared that Hamas must not re-arm and recognise Israel's right to exist.
The question is whether the US Government will discreetly talk to Hamas in advance of such a statement, hoping to move the organisation towards recognition of Tel Aviv, or set recognition as a pre-condition for any discussions. If the latter, the Mitchell mission is a non-starter.
4:30 p.m. George Mitchell's opening statement was professional and suitably non-committal. He said there was no conflict that could not be resolved and promised a sustained effort by the Obama Administration towards Middle Eastern peace.
A reader notes, "The word Palestinians was used twice, the word Ireland I lost count. Good to know they're sending a clear message."
4:25 p.m. A bit of a show at State Department as President Obama and Vice President Biden in clear show of support --- a far cry from the ostracism of the Department and its Secretary, Colin Powell, in first term of Bush Administration.
3:55 p.m. Richard Holbrooke has also been confirmed as envoy to Afghanistan, Pakistan, and India. However --- and this is both unexpected and significant --- Dennis Ross has not been named as envoy on Iranian matters.
3:40 p.m. Confirmation that George Mitchell will be Barack Obama's envoy to the Middle East. The former Senator and experienced negotiator, who helped broker the 1998 Northern Ireland agreement and served as Bill Clinton's envoy in 2000 to Israel and Palestine, is of Lebanese descent. Officials and Administration contacts are keen to play up Mitchell as an honest broker:
By naming Mitchell as his personal envoy, Obama is sending a diplomatic heavyweight to the region. "He's neither pro-Israeli nor pro-Palestinian," Martin S. Indyk, a former U.S. ambassador to Israel, told The New York Times. "He's, in a sense, neutral."
Mitchell is probably best known on the world stage for the Good Friday agreement he negotiated between Roman Catholics and Protestants that created a cease-fire in Northern Ireland in 1998.
2:35pm A list of all Obama's executive orders to date is being published here. (Thanks, mhasko)
1:35 p.m. It's official. Obama has signed an executive order requiring the Guantánamo Bay detention facility be closed within a year.
1:30 p.m. ABC News reports that there were no arrests at Tuesday's inauguration.
10 a.m. And so the manoeuvring within the Obama White House begins. The President, as we noted, tried to lock down any speculation over the outcome of yesterday's meeting of the National Security Council and military with the statement, "I asked the military leadership to engage in additional planning necessary to execute a responsible military drawdown from Iraq."
However, CNN has heard from "Pentagon officials [who] said the generals left believing they were not ordered to being implementing [Obama's] campaign promise to pull all US combat troops from Iraq within 16 months". So a White House official is "insisting that the President did remind the commanders of his goal to remove troops, but he wants to get their input, so he asked them to come up with a plan that's workable".
9:35 a.m. They Just Won't Go Away: All week long, The Wall Street Journal has been desperately insisting that former President Bush was jolly good for the United States and one day we'll all be grateful for his wisdom and leadership. Today it's Karl Rove's turn, as he moves from "the thoughtfulness and grace so characteristic of this wonderful American family" to declare "right about Iraq", "right to take the war on terror abroad", "right to be a unilateralist", say on AIDS in Africa, right on tax cuts, right on Medicare, etc.
Number of times Hurricane Katrina mentioned in article: 0
9:30 a.m. Dramatic, almost star-struck scenes as the new Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, addresses State Department staff. Career diplomats are standing on desks to get a glimpse of Clinton. There is huge enthusiasm when Clinton promises to remedy the "neglect" the Department has suffered in recent years.
7:25 a.m. Today's Axis of Evil Alert: Lawyer Robert Amsterdam in The Washington Post:
The administrations of Hugo Chávez in Venezuela and Vladimir Putin in Russia are enjoying a robust, burgeoning friendship. Though they are separated by 6,000 miles, the two leaders' bond is sealed not only by their similar tastes for repressive authoritarianism, oil expropriations and large arms deals but also by parallel trends of increasing violence and murder on the streets of their cities.
7:15 a.m. Culture of Fear Alert: Marc A. Thiessen, former speechwriter for former President George W. Bush: "President Obama has inherited a set of tools that successfully protected the country for 2,688 days -- and he cannot dismantle those tools without risking catastrophic consequences."
(Note: George W. Bush was also President from 20 January to 11 September 2001, when more than 3000 people were killed in attacks in the United States.)
7 a.m. The Dark-Horse Crisis? Under the radar of most of the media, the situation in Somalia (and the Bush Administration's policy there) continues to deteriorate. The Washington Post sounds the alarm, "With Ethiopian Pullout, Islamists Rise Again in Somalia". UN agencies are threatening to halt food distribution because of attacks on their staff.
The US-fostered and Ethiopia-implemented overthrow of the Islamic Courts government in 2006 was meant to install a "proper" Government that would support American plans in East Africa. Instead, that Somalian administration has collapsed, and "more radical" Islamic groups such as al-Shahab have emerged.
6:30 a.m. In overnight fighting in eastern Afghanistan, NATO and US military claim that 28 militants killed.
4:30 a.m. Still no significant word, however, on Obama's National Security Council meeting with military commanders, including General David Petraeus, on Afghanistan and Pakistan. Instead, after the meeting, Obama issued a holding statement:“I asked the military leadership to engage in additional planning necessary to execute a responsible military drawdown from Iraq....[I plan] to undertake a full review of the situation in Afghanistan in order to develop a comprehensive policy for the entire region.”
Dexter Filkins of The New York Times has an article, "In Afghan South, Taliban Fill NATO's Big Gaps", which highlights the tenuous situation in the country and possibly makes the Administration's case for a doubling of US troop levels.
4:20 a.m. Now, this is huge. According to The New York Times:
President Obama is expected to sign executive orders Thursday directing the Central Intelligence Agency to shut what remains of its network of secret prisons and ordering the closing of the Guantánamo detention camp within a year.
So the closure is not just of Camp X-Ray but of all the "black sites" involved in the rendition programmes pursued by the Bush Administration. Those sites, reportedly scattered across Eastern Europe, the Middle East, and Central Asia have handled and hidden away far more detainees than the number remaining in Guantanamo Bay. If Obama combines this with an order that US intelligence services do not operate these covert prisons in future, that will be a major step back to legal campaigns against those who threaten American security.
One caveat: this order will not affect Camp Bagram in Afghanistan, which is run by the US military and is by far the biggest American detention facility outside the United States.
3:45 a.m. Well, He's Got Fidel's Endorsement: Castro on-line statement says, "I do not have the slightest doubt of the honesty of Obama when he expresses his ideas."
2:45 a.m. So let me understand this: a President re-takes the oath of office to ensure he adheres to the US Constitution while a former President and his advisors, who trampled all over the Constitution, don't have to do anything?
1:05 a.m. Today Obama will sign the order, which we mentioned yesterday, promising the closure of the Guantanamo Bay detention facility within 12 months.
Morning update (1 a.m.) One of the minor setbacks for President Obama yesterday was the delay in naming a team to implement the approach to the Middle East, Iran, and Central/South Asia. Simple reason --- it wouldn't have been fitting to roll out his special envoys before Hillary Clinton was appointed as Secretary of State.
This will be remedied today with the naming of George Mitchell as envoy to Israel and Palestine, Dennis Ross as envoy to Iran, and Richard Holbrooke as envoy to Afghanistan, Pakistan, and India. The announcement brings back three politicians/diplomats from the global negotiations of the 1990s.
We'll offer an analysis as soon as the news is confirmed but, in brief.... Mitchell (with experience that includes the brokering of a Northern Ireland settlement) is an excellent choice but will be limited by Obama's so-far passive approach to the Gaza crisis and possibly by a policy that will not countenance any inclusion of Hamas in negotiations. Holbrooke (with his record in cases such as the Balkans talks in the 1990s) is well-qualified. Ross (as Bill Clinton's representative in Israel-Palestine talks) has experience but --- with a hard-line towards Tehran and ties with groups that countenance coercion of Iran rather than diplomacy --- could be a major error.