The Senate Foreign Relations Committee is due to deliberate on Tuesday on bipartisan legislation introduced by Democrat Robert Menendez and Republican Bob Corker that would, as Robert Zarate of the Foreign Policy Initiative notes, “allow U.S. military assistance to vetted Syrian rebels, authorize the imposition of new sanctions on sellers of arms and oil to the Assad regime, and create a $250 million transition fund for post-Assad Syria.”
These are all good ideas, although the provision of military assistance to the rebels should have begun a year or two ago; if it had, extremists might not have gained such prominence in the rebels’ ranks and Bashar Assad would not have been able to stage a dismaying comeback with the aid of Hezbollah and Iran. Yet is never too late to act.
That’s what Senator Bob Corker hinted at on “This Week” yesterday. So far there haven’t been many articles on Chuck Hagel’s alleged mistreatment of staffers, but it sounds like this may turn into a bigger issue:
This morning on “This Week,” Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., ranking member of the Foreign Relations Committee expressed concerns about the “temperament” of Chuck Hagel, the man President Obama nominated to be his next Secretary of Defense.
“Just his overall temperament and is he suited to run a department or a big agency or a big entity like the Pentagon,” Corker told me. “I think there are numbers of staffers who are coming forth now just talking about the way he has dealt with them. I have, certainly questions, about a lot of things.”
The most vocal opponent of Susan Rice’s potential secretary of state nomination, John McCain, is joining the Senate Foreign Relations Committee just in time for the confirmation hearings. Josh Rogin reports:
MANAMA – The committee that will soon vet the next secretary of state will have a new Republican heavyweight next year: Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), the man leading the charge against potential nominee U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice.
McCain told The Cable he will join the Senate Foreign Relations Committee (SFRC) and also remain on the Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) in an interview on the sidelines of the 2012 IISS Manama Security Dialogue. …
It’s unclear whether the five or six Senate Republicans who have come out against Rice’s potential nomination would succeed in their effort to thwart her nomination, if it materializes. McCain said the Senate should use the confirmation process to properly examine the president’s choice, and he pointed to her SFRC hearing as the place for the final showdown.
“I’ll wait and see if she’s nominated and we’ll move on from there. She has the right to have hearings. We’ll see what happens in the hearings,” he said.
Susan Rice is still lobbying hard for that secretary of state post, but she struck out again with Senate Republicans yesterday. After meeting with Rice, Senators Susan Collins and Bob Corker said they still had concerns about her potential nomination:
Corker, who will be the ranking Republican member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in the new congressional term, implied that he considered Rice too much of a partisan and urged Obama to pick a more “independent” person as chief diplomat.
“All of us here hold the secretary of State to a different standard than most Cabinet members,” he said. “We want somebody of independence.”
He implied that Rice, who is close to the president, was, instead, a “loyal soldier.” Corker also seemed to contrast Rice and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, with whom he said he has had a positive and “transparent” relationship “from day one.”
Collins said that after a 75-minute session with Rice she still had many unanswered questions and remains “troubled” that on the Benghazi issue Rice played “a political role at the height of a contentious presidential election campaign.”
Unlike the cooing Jews who are selected to meet with Obama and can’t muster a robust debate, Senate Republicans weren’t shy about voicing their complaints about Obama at a lunch:
Senators and other sources inside the meeting described the gathering as “testy” and “direct” — and Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) accused Obama of acting two-faced by asking for GOP support on regulatory reform only to push forward with a bill supported mainly by Democrats. Others felt that the meeting may have made already tense relations between the two parties even worse.
Corker let it rip:
In one of the most heated exchanges of the lunch, Corker accused Obama of acting “duplicitous” in his calls for bipartisanship, saying that he was trying to cut a deal on regulatory reform only to see the rug pulled out from underneath him. At one point, Corker said Obama was using lunch with Republicans as a “prop.”
“I told him I thought there was a degree of audacity in him even showing up today after what had happened with financial regulation,” Corker told reporters after Republicans met with Obama.
I believe it is called “speaking truth to power.”
And one more thing — when the Democrats were buying into Obama’s elongated timetable and phony sanctions, the Senate minority leader “urged the president to back a more forceful Iran sanctions bill.” Not everyone is buying into the Obama sanctions charade.
Here’s the lesson for American Jewish “leaders”: it’s better to stand up to the president and register principled opposition than to soft-pedal disagreement or worse, cheerlead for a policy with which you disagree. The president will still talk to you. Just as he must deal with the GOP senators, Obama still needs the support — financial and otherwise — of American Jews.
Yes, Obama is remarkably thin-skinned, but the notion (as some officials in Jewish mainstream groups have voiced to me) that you therefore dare not criticize him is unhelpful and counterproductive. It’s never a good idea to give in to a bully or a petulant child. He will only get worse.