The Swoop: Washington’s World: April 4th – April 10th, 2011

The Swoop: Washington’s World: April 4th – April 10th, 2011
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“After a flurry of Congressional testimony on Libya by top State Department and Pentagon officials, the realities of US domestic politics are pushing the Administration toward a much lower profile inside NATO. President Obama has sought to refocus public attention away from Libya by highlighting some encouraging news on job creation and a major speech on energy.

Secretary of Defense Gates who, opposed the intervention and, we are told privately, remains a reluctant convert, has repeated his view that Libya does not constitute a vital US interest and is on record as firmly opposing the deployment of US ground troops and arming the Libyan rebels. We are also hearing that some of the most influential advocates of intervention, for example US Ambassador to the UN Susan Rice, no longer have the inside track.

Nonetheless, President Obama’s prestige is firmly nailed to the enterprise. If he succeeds in removing Colonel Gadaffi and installing a reformist government, he will enjoy a triumph. The opposite is also true. A settlement – or a stalemate as many Pentagon officials fear – that sees Gadaffi continuing in office would represent a significant setback for him. For this reason, we expect US non-military efforts to secure Gadaffi’s departure to remain at a high level.

In the meantime, tensions between the White House and US commanders in Afghanistan are rising. The issue is the pace of withdrawal due to start this summer, with the White House insisting on a higher number than the commanders are currently proposing. This will be an awkward issue for Obama. With popular support for the war continuing to ebb, Obama has the opportunity to gain political advantage by fulfilling his earlier undertaking to draw down in 2011. He will, however, face Republican criticism that he is not listening to his generals.

Alongside the Middle East, it is worth noting that relations with China continue to occupy senior official attention. As mentioned in a speech by Treasury Secretary Geithner, US officials remain concerned by what they see as a constant: the undervaluation of the Yuan.

On the domestic front, a tense week lies ahead as Congressional negotiators struggle to find a compromise that would avoid a partial government shut down on April 8th. Both sides want to avoid a crisis, but passions are running high and there is no guarantee that a compromise will be found. The consequences would be felt more on domestic programs than foreign policy.”