Congress returns this week as the House is preparing to extend the Continuing Resolution, now set to expire on December 18, for the rest of the fiscal year. House Democrats favor a long-term CR in order to prevent Republicans from potentially inserting cuts once they assume the majority next year. The House’s plan, to be considered later this week, leaves room for the Senate Democratic leadership’s attempt to pass a full 12-bill omnibus package, which will not be taken up until next week. The Senate is expected to pass the year-long CR if it is unable to clear an omnibus package.

Must Reads

Who’s In the News

The Cable interviews Hillary Clinton: the complete transcript (Blake Hounshell – Foreign Policy)

The U.S. State Department has just released the full transcript of your humble Cable guy’s interview with Secretary Hillary Clinton.

Politics/Foreign Policy
Our view on fiscal reform: Deficit commission shows how to harpoon budget ‘whales’
(USA Today)
We hope the buzz around the commission’s work means that, as co-chair Erskine Bowles said, “the era of deficit denial is over” — that politicians will stop pretending that cutting items such as foreign aid and earmarks can stem the flood of red ink. Those are minnows. Solving the problem requires going after what the panel’s other co-chair, Alan Simpson, called the “whales.” From now on, any serious deficit-reduction plan should be measured against the Bowles-Simpson benchmark for harpooning big, politically sacred items that are the real cause of the problem.

From WikiLemons, Clinton Tries to Make Lemonade (Mark Landler – New York Times)
When American diplomats get together these days, there is lots of dark talk about the fallout from the sensational disclosure of secret diplomatic cables. Whatever damage the leaks may do, and nobody doubts it could be substantial, they have showcased the many roles of the Foreign Service officer in the field: part intelligence analyst, part schmoozer, part spy — and to judge by these often artful cables, part foreign correspondent. “What you see are diplomats doing the work of diplomacy: reporting and analyzing and providing information, solving problems, worrying about big, complex challenges,” Mrs. Clinton said to reporters at the end of a four-country trip to Central Asia and the Persian Gulf that wound up being a contrition tour. “In a way,” she said, “it should be reassuring, despite the occasional tidbit that is pulled out and unfortunately blown up.”

Cables Depict Range of Obama Diplomacy (David E. Sanger  – New York Times)
The cables suggest that Mr. Obama’s form of engagement is a complicated mixture of openness to negotiation, constantly escalating pressure and a series of deadlines, some explicit, some vague. In the cables, the administration uses all of these tools to try to prevent the mullahs in Iran from dragging out an endless series of feints and talks until they have a bomb. The July 2011 deadline to begin withdrawing American troops from Afghanistan is a whip to get President Hamid Karzai to train his troops — so that the United States can start to leave. This policy is tailored to the needs of a new president trying to demonstrate that he is neither too inexperienced nor too soft to face the menaces of the world. In a handful of cases, the approach shows some early signs of success. But in dealing with some of the world’s most intractable governments — from the Middle Kingdom to the Middle East — Mr. Obama inevitably hits some real-world limitations.

Where’s the American empire when we need it? (Robert D. Kaplan – Washington Post)
During the Cold War, the world was divided between the Soviet and U.S. imperial systems. The Soviet imperium – heir to Kievan Rus, medieval Muscovy and the Romanov dynasty – covered Eastern Europe, the Caucasus and Central Asia and propped up regimes in Africa, the Middle East and Latin America. The American imperium – heir to maritime Venice and Great Britain – also propped up allies, particularly in Western Europe and East Asia. True to the garrison tradition of imperial Rome, Washington kept bases in West Germany, Turkey, South Korea and Japan, virtually surrounding the Soviet Union. Now the other pillar of the relative peace of the Cold War, the United States, is slipping, while new powers such as China and India remain unready and unwilling to fill the void. There will be no sudden breakdown on our part, as the United States, unlike the Soviet Union, is sturdily maintained by economic and political freedom. Rather, America’s ability to bring a modicum of order to the world is simply fading in slow motion.

The Big American Leak (Thomas L. Friedman – New York Times)
O.K. I admit it. I enjoy reading other people’s mail as much as the next guy, so going through the WikiLeaks cables has made for some fascinating reading. What’s between the lines in those cables, though, is another matter. It is a rather sobering message. America is leaking power. Let’s start, though, with what’s in the cables. I think I’ve figured it out: Saudi Arabia and its Arab neighbors want the U.S. to decapitate the Iranian regime and destroy its nuclear facilities so they can celebrate in private this triumph over the hated Persians, while publicly joining with their people in the streets in burning Uncle Sam in effigy, after we carry out such an attack on Iran — which will make the Arab people furious at us. The reason the Arab people will be furious at us, even though many of them don’t like the Persians either, is because they dislike their own unelected leaders even more and protesting against the Americans, who help to keep their leaders in power, is a way of sticking it to both of us. Are you with me?

Failing Afghanistan (Daniel Markey – Foreign Policy)
President Barack Obama’s surprise trip to Afghanistan on Dec. 3 is just the latest sign that his administration’s latest review of U.S. policy in Afghanistan is in full swing. “Today, we can be proud that there are fewer areas under Taliban control and more Afghans have the chance to build a more hopeful future,” he told an assembled crowd at Bagram Air Force Base. “You will succeed in your mission.” Back in Washington, officials are trying to determine what success looks like. They are assembling a comprehensive “report card” of U.S. efforts, with inputs from all the departments and agencies that have a hand in the region. The White House wants to know which of its policies have demonstrated success, and which ones are failing. Many assessments will probably prove inconclusive. Amid this sea of ambiguity, at least one clear judgment is possible: Washington’s political strategy in Afghanistan deserves a failing grade.

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