At the Foreign Policy Initiative in Washington, D.C. today, Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) was unofficially dubbed the third “amiga” of the foreign policy trio that has dominated the Senate's national policy conduct for decades. First she made news on United Nations Ambassador Susan Rice and the Benghazi scandal, and then she moderated a discussion with retiring Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.).
In an interview after her meeting with Rice, Ayotte told Right Turn and other journalists, “I actually came out more troubled than when I went in.” She told Right Turn that because of the administration’s refusal to provide a complete account of the events before, during and after the attacks, “There will be a hold. We should hold until we get information, sufficient information.”
She credited Rice with saying up front that the “spontaneous demonstration” story was wrong, but then she began a detailed discussion of the questions that are multiplying. She noted that Rice had used the unclassified talking points. She however continued, “But as part of her responsibilities she receives daily intelligence briefings and in fact got them 6 days a week.” That classified intelligence included the phrase later deleted from the unclassified talking points that “individuals with ties to Al Qaeda were involved in the attacks.” Rice noted that not only did she leave that out, but that on Meet the Press and Face the Nation, ”She also made the statement Al Qaeda had been decimated.” That Ayotte said leaves a “very different impression” with the American people than what she knew to be the truth.
In short, prior to the meeting Ayotte didn’t know if Rice only had access to the unclassified talking points. Now she knows Rice had the accurate and complete story and is left with “many questions that have to be answered.”
What potentially disqualifies Rice from the post of secretary of state? Ayotte said that if you review “a set of information” and give a different set of talking points, it becomes problematic. “A judgment issue is a fair issue of inquiry.”
As for the sequestration and the fiscal cliff, Ayotte said, “I’ve been outspoken. What I said — in fact I gave a GOP [weekly radio] address — [is that] I’d like to see some revenue but do it from tax reform. I don’t support tax rate increases.” She added that the Congress has to deal with both the sequester (on which she has worked to come up with an alternate set of cuts) and entitlement reform. She says it is “too soon to tell if there is a deal.” “It’s really shocking,” she added, that Senate Majority leader Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.) is dealing with a sportsman’s bill and moving to consideration of a treaty, showing no particular sense of urgency. She noted, “Clearly there have been a series of Republicans including the speaker of the House who have [offered] revenue. But I haven’t heard anything in return from the other side.”
And finally, she expressed concern that the Magnitsky bill to sanction human rights abusers which passed the House and Senate in different versions might not get passed. (A plugged-in source tells Right Turn the Senate passed a bill that would have extended the sanctions to all countries beyond Russia, which was the intended focus of the bill, but after opposing the bill the White House now favors the Russia-only version passed by the House. It remains unclear if Senate Democrats widened the bill’s coverage as a poison pill to doom the legislation.)
In running through the discrepancy between what Rice knew from the unedited intelligence and the talking points and her position on fiscal Ayotte spoke in measured tones, with the attention to detail that those immersed in national security policy and high-stakes fiscal negotiations are expected to have. She has chosen, not unlike former Sen. Hillary Clinton, to be a work horse not a show pony, and gives every indication she is ready to join Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) as the third of the amigos.
That was even more apparent as she moderated her one of her mentors, retiring Sen. Joe Lieberman, during his lunchtime talk to the crowd. The admiration was mutual, with Ayotte repeatedly praising Lieberman’s legacy, especially in human rights and Lieberman telling the crowd he leaves the Senate in good hands with lawmakers like Ayotte. Lieberman noted humorously that the only other senator other he mentored to was Sen. Barack Obama. (Well, .500 isn’t a bad batting average.) The best thing he’s seen in 24 years in the Senate, he said, is “the spread of freedom throughout the world.” It is both an “absolute value” and consistent with our values expressed in the Constitution. He listed a number of concerns, including that the kinds of wars we now face “are no unconventional that they don’t end quickly. It is very hard to sustain public patience until you've succeeded in reaching your goals.” He bemoaned our failure to leave a military, stabilizing force in Iraq.
Lieberman also expressed grave concern about Syria, calling U.S. action a ”no brainer.” Not only have 38,000 people died and Al Qaeda moved into the war-torn country, but, he said that the “people are looking at this from Tehran get it.” Our delay, he warned, has been a “missed opportunity” to help the Syrian rebels. “We let them hang out there too long. Now increasingly we see extremist elements giving them more than we do.” He thinks there are ways to set up a no-fly zone including use of Patriot missiles. What is key, however, is that the U.S. get going and aid in Assad’s decline. “The Syrian freedom fights are not going to give up. . . There is anger toward us [for not helping]. And there should be.”
He conceded the jury is out on the Arab Spring, which could easily result in Islamist autocracies or a “dramatically different” future in which democracies can take root. “The best thing we can do is to stay engaged.” He pooh-poohed the notion that we could “pivot” from the Middle East to Asia, cautioning that the “greatest threats” come from the Middle East, not Asia-Pacific, despite its critical role in the world economy. He alter added,
As for the Senate, Lieberman said he is concerned about two things: ”One is the growing partisanship around foreign policy. . . The other thing I worry about in the Senate is senators with staff who say, ‘Why are you spending so much time on foreign policy?’” He later added, “I am worried that there are not enough people in the Democratic Party who embrace the Truman-Kennedy [internationalist] foreign policy.” In fact, there may be no one other than himself, a troubling political reality that Ayotte, if she is to sustain her presence on the national stage, will need to tackle.