With help from Daniel Lippman
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While I (Alex) was in the Middle East following President JOE BIDEN around last week, I got the chance to ask National Security Council spokesperson JOHN KIRBY a question that had been rattling in my head from Israel to Saudi Arabia: This is a president who said America should lead by the “power of its example” and put human rights at the center of its foreign policy. So what was he doing failing to denounce Israel’s occupation of Palestinian lands on the trip and relegitimizing Saudi Crown Prince MOHAMMED BIN SALMAN?
His answer: “You can’t advance your values and advance your concerns about human rights by not traveling, by staying home, by not having conversations,” he said. “The way you prove that human rights are, in fact, an integral part of your foreign policy is to get out on the road and have those conversations.”
Biden did, after all, bring up JAMAL KHASHOGGI’s murder to MBS, though there’s a dispute about whether the president said he believed the royal was responsible. Either way, being a straight shooter with your counterpart, even about tough stuff, is how you advance interests, Kirby continued.
Those interests were widely billed as America increasing its influence in the Middle East, promoting Israel’s regional integration and, yes, securing increased oil production from Saudi Arabia to fill the Russia-sized hole in the energy market.
Some argue the administration achieved what it set out to do. “The president chalked up important wins. These include the assertion of leadership in a region where many wonder if the U.S. has commitment problems and also advancing the ball on normalization between Israel and its neighbors, with its inherent benefits of greater stability in a volatile part of the world,” said SHALOM LIPNER, an Israel-based senior fellow at the Atlantic Council and a veteran of the Israeli prime minister’s office.
Maybe so, but the current trends aren’t looking great.
On the integration piece, Saudi Minister of State for Foreign Affairs ADEL AL-JUBEIR would tell anyone in Jeddah who would listen that Riyadh’s normalization of relations with Jerusalem wasn’t imminent. In fact, it wouldn’t come until the Israeli and Palestinians made peace. Saudi Arabia chose to open its skies to all civilian aircraft — including those from Israel — not to get on the path to normalization but to make it easier for the kingdom to be a global hub of innovation.
There wasn’t much success on the energy front, either. MBS said the kingdom couldn’t produce more than 13 million barrels of oil per day, a capacity he hopes to achieve by 2027. In the meantime, the country’s de facto ruler asserted that unrealistic energy policies will lead to higher inflation. That’s a strong signal to members of the OPEC+ oil consortium not to boost production by a lot in the months ahead, spurning Biden’s request to help lower gas prices worldwide.
The play for more regional influence is also off to a bad start. The United Arab Emirates imprisoned an American lawyer for Khashoggi on Saturday, the same day Biden met with UAE President MOHAMED BIN ZAYED AL NAHYAN. The administration said the event has nothing to do with Khashoggi. As the U.S. and UAE figure it out, Biden invited MBZ, as the leader is known, to a White House meeting by the end of the year.
I reiterate: It’s early, and the administration had its eyes on the long term during the four-day Middle East swing. So I think the fairest assessment to make is a 30,000-foot one: It will be much, much harder for Biden to claim his foreign policy is guided by values when he spent the trip in cold pursuit of the national interest.
The president doesn’t think that fist bump matters, and the media has indeed overblown it. But that picture was precisely what MBS wanted — to shed his “pariah” status with America’s blessing. Rehabilitating MBS’ reputation with such an image was the administration’s biggest card to play, and they played it for … what?
A full severing of the U.S.-Saudi relationship was never wise. America must work with despots, no matter how unsavory, to secure interests beneficial to the United States and others.
But surely the administration could’ve gotten more for that photo than overflights the Saudis wanted anyway, a caution against producing a lot more oil and an embarrassing, Khashoggi-adjacent incident.
And for Biden’s sake, he must’ve hoped to get much more in return for harming his reputation as a values-centric president, because the example of his power in the Middle East wasn’t one of putting human rights at the center of his foreign policy.
RUSSIA’S MOD ORDERS ATTACKS ON UKRAINIAN ARTILLERY: Russian Defense Minister SERGEI SHOIGU told generals that they needed to target and destroy Ukraine’s Western-provided long-range missiles and artillery, Reuters reported.
“Ukraine says it has carried out a string of successful strikes on 30 Russian logistics and ammunitions hubs, using several multiple launch rocket systems recently supplied by the West,” per Reuters. “Moscow has emphasised its attacks on Western-supplied weapons in its defence ministry briefings, and accuses Ukraine of using long-range arms to strike residential areas in separatist-controlled regions of the Donbas.”
The American-supplied High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems and other weapons sent from Western countries are game changers for Ukraine, allowing Kyiv’s forces to hit far-away targets with precision. It’s been useful to blunt Russia’s own successes with artillery that have helped to claim an entire province in Eastern Ukraine.
“HIMARS have already made a HUUUGE difference,” Ukrainian Defense Minister OLEKSII REZNIKOV tweeted on July 9. “More of them as well as [U.S.] ammo and equipment will help to demilitarize the terrorist state.”
ZELENSKYY SENDS SPY CHIEF, PROSECUTOR GENERAL PACKING: Ukrainian President VOLODYMYR ZELENSKYY on Sunday removed the chief of the country’s domestic intelligence and security agency, IVAN BAKANOV, and its prosecutor general, IRYNA VENEDIKTOVA, reports our own CHRISTOPHER MILLER.
Zelenskyy said in a video address published on Telegram that he had dismissed Bakanov, a childhood friend who led his presidential campaign, and Venediktova, a close ally who was his foreign affairs adviser during his presidential run, after losing faith in their abilities to run their offices.
He said hundreds of cases had been opened into officials from both offices who are accused of “high treason” for aiding Russia in its invasion of Ukraine. More than 60 employees of both offices currently work with Russia-imposed authorities in occupied territories “against our state,” he added.
NEW SIV SUPPORT: Secretary of State ANTONY BLINKEN and Homeland Security Secretary ALEJANDRO MAYORKAS announced a new procedure to expedite the process for the many Afghan Special Immigrant Visa applicants still stranded following America’s military withdrawal last year.
“Starting this week, new Afghan SIV Program applicants will only need to file one form, a revised form DS-157, as their SIV petition. New applicants will no longer need to file the Form I-360, Petition for Special Immigrant Status, with DHS’s U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services,” they said in a joint statement. “This new streamlined process, which is part of our ongoing efforts to make the program more efficient, will help to eliminate barriers for applicants and reduce application times. This change does not reduce or remove any of the robust security vetting processes required before the benefit is granted.”
As a senior administration official told reporters Monday: “The State Department will process these applications from start to finish” and should “shave about a month off of the adjudication time.”
More than 74,000 SIV applications are still being processed, another official on the call said.
NEW ADMIN STRATEGY TO PREVENT ATROCITIES: The Biden administration will focus its efforts to stop atrocities like genocide, crimes againast humanity and ethnic cleansing with a strategy aimed at prevention, per a new 12-page document released today by the State Department.
“The costs associated with atrocity response far outweigh investments in early prevention. Atrocity prevention saves lives and — given the high cost of response and recovery efforts — U.S. resources. Therefore, it is in the United States’ strategic interest to prioritize resources for prevention activities, while necessarily responding to and assisting in recovery from atrocities,” the report reads.
A White House-led Atrocity Prevention Task Force will take the lead in three ways.
- At a minimum once a year, the Task Force will identify 30 priority countries in any phase of atrocities: “prevention, response, recovery, or combination thereof.”
- The Task Force will partner with other countries, international organizations and civil society groups to collect information and execute strategic public messaging.
- Train U.S. personnel “to recognize and report on early warning indicators and escalatory risk, as well as potential U.S. interventions.”
“Above all, the Report and Strategy highlight the imperative for our collective ability and will to foresee and prevent atrocities and other crimes,” NSC spokesperson ADRIENNE WATSON said in a statement. “We call upon our partners to further prioritize atrocity prevention, dedicate resources and personnel for these efforts, and continue pursuing the goal of ‘Never Again.’”
The report is already drawing critics, namely those who wish the document had wrestled with America’s own history of aiding or committing atrocities.
“Super weird how the US is materially contributing to a mass atrocity in Yemen for 7+ years & this ‘strategy’ neither mentions it nor proposes that the US, like, stop, let alone prosecute the many US officials complicit in many such atrocities over the yrs,” the journalist SPENCER ACKERMAN tweeted.
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AL-SHABAAB’S POWER GROWS: A recent attack on a peacekeepers’ base shows just how strong al-Shabaab has become, and the likelihood is that it will use its newfound power to wreak more regional chaos, The Washington Post’s SUDARSAN RAGHAVAN reported.
“Suicide bombers detonated three cars filled with explosives. Islamist fighters then pounded the facility with heavy gunfire and rocket-propelled grenades, killing several dozen African Union peacekeepers from Burundi. Footage posted on social media showed bodies in military uniforms scattered around the base,” Raghavan wrote from Mogadishu. “The May 2 assault claimed more than 50 lives, according to local officials and Western security personnel in Somalia, making it the deadliest strike on the U.S.-backed peacekeeping mission here in six years. Its success underscored the resurgence of al-Shabab and the challenges that African and American troops will face in containing the group.”
Biden authorized the redeployment of 450 troops to Somalia, just two weeks after that attack, to fend off a foe that controls 70 percent of the country’s south and east with 5,000 to 7,000 fighters.
“The group’s attacks nearly doubled from 2015 to 2021, according to data compiled by the Africa Center for Strategic Studies in Washington. Last year, much of the violence involved confrontations with security forces. If the current pace continues through December, attacks will have increased another 71 percent overall in only a year,” Raghavan reported.
DHS USED LOCATION DATA: The Trump administration’s immigration enforcers used mobile location data to track people’s movements on a larger scale than previously known, reports our own ALFRED NG, raising new questions about federal agencies’ efforts to get around restrictions on warrantless searches.
The data, harvested from apps on hundreds of millions of phones, allowed the Department of Homeland Security to obtain data on more than 336,000 location data points across North America, documents show.
These data points came from all over the continent, including in major cities like Los Angeles, New York, Chicago, Denver, Toronto and Mexico City. This location data use has continued into the Biden administration, as Customs and Border Protection renewed a contract for $20,000 into September 2021, and Immigration and Customs Enforcement signed another contract in November 2021 that lasts until June 2023.
The American Civil Liberties Union obtained the records from DHS through a lawsuit it filed in 2020. It provided the documents to POLITICO and separately released them to the public today.
BAE’S NEW UNMANNED DESIGNS: BAE released the designs for two new unmanned systems equipped with attack and ISR capabilities, Breaking Defense’s ANDREW WHITE reported.
“The mock-ups, referred to as UAS Concept Designs 1 and 2, have been designed to ‘augment or substitute existing forces’ including F-35 and Typhoon and to provide potential customers with ‘affordable mass; reduced risk to life; enhanced operational effectiveness; and bridge to 6th generation capabilities,’ BAE marketing material read, per White.
Steve Reeves, BAE Systems’ head of future systems – advanced programs told White in Farnborough that “we have been developing these for a long time. We know autonomy is good for operations in contested environments, so now is an appropriate time.”
The company’s hope is that unveiling the designs will kickstart “conversations of interest with potential customers.”
HAWLEY HOMES IN ON CHINA CONSULTANTS: Sen. JOSH HAWLEY (R-Mo.) is introducing legislation that would block the Pentagon and other federal agencies from hiring consulting firms such as McKinsey that work for both the U.S. government and Chinese government-linked entities, reports our own DANIEL LIPPMAN.
The new bill, titled “The Time to Choose Act,” directs the federal government to cease any existing and prohibit new contracts with the firms unless they give up contracts with entities that have ties to the Chinese government and also would penalize firms that hide or misrepresent such contracts.
If a firm is caught concealing Chinese contracts that aren’t allowed under the bill, such penalties include paying damages of three times what the U.S. government spent on soliciting and selecting the contracts.
DUSS ECHOES BOSS’ CRITICISM OF BIDEN TRIP: The hits against Biden’s Middle East trip keep coming, this time from Sen. BERNIE SANDERS’ (I-Vt.) foreign policy adviser MATT DUSS.
Alex spoke with Matt this morning, and the aide and once-considered State Department appointee fears the U.S. gave far more than it got in Israel and Saudi Arabia.
The administration’s main argument for going to the region, outside of asking for more oil production, was to support Israel’s further integration in the Middle East and hopefully kickstart a process where Jerusalem and Riyadh normalize relations with one another. The problem is Saudi Arabia, for the moment, says such a deal won’t happen until Israelis and Palestinians make peace.
So what did Biden give up in exchange for very little movement on that front? The legitimization of Middle Eastern regimes while failing to say the word “occupation” in the West Bank. That won’t improve the everyday life of the people in the region or the United States.
“Real normalization is good, but we should be clear that what we’re seeing is normalization between regimes. And consigning the people of this region to live under these regimes in perpetuity, that’s an enormous cost in its own right,” he said.
“What are we getting out of this? And at what cost?” Duss wondered aloud. The answer: Possibly some promises on future energy security and stronger links with Israel but at the expense of Biden’s own moral standing and a hit to his own formulation that the world’s biggest challenge is between democracies and autocracies.
All of those comments echoed Sanders’ own views, who told ABC News’ MARTHA RADDATZ on Sunday that “I just don’t believe we should be maintaining a warm relationship with a dictatorship like that.”
— RACHEL ABBOTT has departed international development consulting firm Chemonics, where she was a senior associate for West and Central Africa and Haiti. She is heading to London to be an incubatee for the Charity Entrepreneurship Incubation Program.
— SAM GREENE is joining the Center for European Policy Analysis as director for democratic resilience. He most recently headed the Russia Institute at King’s College London, where he’ll continue to hold an affiliation as professor of Russian politics.
— LUIS MIRANDA is now deputy assistant secretary for communications at the Department of Homeland Security. He most recently was assistant commissioner for public affairs at U.S. Customs and Border Protection, and since April also has served as the deputy senior coordinating official for external affairs for the Southwest Border Coordination Center.
— YASMEEN SERHAN, The Atlantic: “‘Putin Wanted Less NATO. He Got More NATO.’”
— RICK NOACK and WILLIAM BOOTH, The Washington Post: “U.K. set for record temperatures as heat wave hits Europe”
— JESSICA DONATI, The Wall Street Journal: “Afghanistan Maternity Care Is Faltering”
— The Center for Strategic and International Studies, 8:30 a.m.: “Humanitarian Innovation in Action — with SARAH CHARLES, MVEMBA PHEZO DIZOLELE, JACOB KURTZER, CAITLIN WELSH, EROL YAYBOKE and more”
— House Homeland Security Committee, 9 a.m.: “Subcommittee Hearing: Supporting Underserved Communities in Emergency Management — with BARBARA AMMIRATI, DENISE BOTTCHER, PRESTON BOWLIN, ANTOINE RICHARDS and MARCIE ROTH”
— The Institute for Defense and Government Advancement, 9 a.m.: “VA Healthcare Conference 2022 — with AARON DREW, BRENDAN FOWKES, DON PRISBY, TODD SIMPSON, KATIE WEBB and more”
— The Intelligence and National Security Alliance, 9 a.m.: “Coffee and Conversation with DAVID CATTLER — with JOHN DOYON”
— House Armed Services Committee, 9:30 a.m.: “Subcommittee Hearing: Fiscal Year 2023 Readiness Program Update — with DAVID ALLVIN, RANDY CRITES, JOSEPH MARTIN, ERIC SMITH and DAVID THOMPSON”
— House Intelligence Committee, 10 a.m.: “Full Committee Markup”
— House Veterans’ Affairs Committee, 10 a.m.: “Full Committee Business Meeting and Markup”
— Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, 10 a.m.: “Full Committee Hearing: Addressing Weapons of Mass Destruction and Health Security Threats to the Homeland — with PRITESH GANDHI, GARY RASICOT and TINA WON SHERMAN”
— The Center for Strategic and International Studies, 11:30 a.m.: “Are China’s Military Logistics Better Than the Russian Military’s? — with JOSHUA AROSTEGUI, LONNIE HENLEY, BONNY LIN, JAMES ROGER ‘J.R.’ SESSIONS III, GEORGE SHATZER and JOEL WUTHNOW”
— The State Department, 12 p.m.: “2022 Trafficking in Persons Report Launch Ceremony — with Secretary of State ANTONY BLINKEN”
— House Financial Services Committee, 2 p.m.: “Subcommittee Hearing: Thoughts and Prayers Are Not Enough: How Mass Shootings Harm Communities, Local Economies, and Economic Growth — with ABEL BRODEUR, BYRON BROWN, SARAH BURD-SHARPS and RUCHI SINGH”
— Senate Foreign Relations Committee, 2:30 p.m.: “Full Committee Business Meeting”
— The International Institute for Strategic Studies, 6:30 p.m.: “Potential Flashpoints in Asia: A Recap of the IISS Shangri-La Dialogue 2022 — with LISA CURTIS, DAVID GORDON, RICK GROVE, E.J. HEROLD and DANIEL RUSSEL”
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And thanks to our editor, John Yearwood, who says it’s “time to choose” if we want to be good at our jobs.