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U.S. Senators Introduce Plan To Avoid Additional Spending Cuts (Kate Brannen, Defense News)

A handful of U.S. Republican senators introduced a plan Feb. 2 that would delay by one year the spending cuts required under sequestration through a continued pay freeze for federal workers and a 5 percent reduction to the federal workforce.  Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., is leading the charge to delay the process of sequestration, which begins automatically cutting money from discretionary spending in January 2013. For the Pentagon, sequestration would take an additional $500 billion from the Pentagon’s base budget over the next 10 years.  The 5 percent reduction in the federal workforce would be achieved by hiring two workers for every three that leave. This could take up to 10 years to achieve, McCain said.

Smart Power

Envisioning a Deal with Iran (William H. Luers and Thomas R. Pickering, New York Times)

Simply “keeping the door open to diplomacy” will not be sufficient. So the Iranian leader must be approached directly, but discreetly, by someone he trusts who conveys assurances from President Obama that covert operations and public pressure have been demonstrably reduced. The interlocutor might be a leader from a country in the region, enlisted when the American president felt the time was right.  There is no guarantee that diplomacy will succeed. But that is also true of war. And only diplomacy can offer Iran’s current rulers a stake in building a secure future without a nuclear bomb. Only diplomacy can achieve America’s major objectives while avoiding the mistakes committed in Iraq or Vietnam.

Politics/Foreign Policy

U.N. Tentatively Backs a Plan for Syria (Neil MacFarquhar, New York Times)

Security Council ambassadors reached a wobbly consensus on Thursday backing an Arab League plan for political change in Syria, after they dropped a specific reference to President Bashar al-Assad’s ceding of power.  The resolution’s passage is far from assured, and it still must be approved by the governments of the 15 member states, including Russia, which rejected a previous resolution in October.   In hopes of persuading the Russians and other skeptics, Western and Arab ambassadors also jettisoned calls for a voluntary arms embargo and sanctions.   Although diplomats acknowledged that those changes diluted the pressure being brought to bear on Damascus, they said they wanted to concentrate on supporting the Arab League in pushing Syria toward democratic transition.

Romney: Afghanistan announcement shows Obama’s “naiveté” (Jeremy Herb, The Hill)

Republican front-runner Mitt Romney slammed President Obama on Wednesday night over Defense Secretary Leon Panetta’s announcement that the United States would end its combat mission in Afghanistan next year.  Speaking in Las Vegas, Romney said that announcing a timetable to end the combat mission showed the president’s naiveté.  “The secretary of Defense said that on a day certain, the middle of 2013, we’re going to pull out our combat troops from Afghanistan,” Romney said, according to reports from Las Vegas.  “He announced that. So the Taliban hears it, the Pakistanis hear it, the Afghan leaders hear it. Why in the world do you go to the people that you’re fighting with and tell them the date you’re pulling out your troops?” Romney said. “It makes absolutely no sense.”

Time for the Republican candidates to sharpen the foreign policy critique (Peter Feaver, Shadow Government)

It is high time the candidates focused on providing a compelling alternative to President Obama rather than providing a litany of reasons for detesting the other Republicans in the race.  Republicans must come to terms with the fact that this will be the strongest Democrat incumbent on national security and foreign policy they have faced in decades. This has more than a whiff of damnation with faint praise, since both President Clinton and especially President Carter were hobbled with substantial national security baggage during their reelection campaign. But for precisely that reason, I think Republicans have sometimes settled for an intellectually lazy critique because, given how weak the opposing party’s record is, that seems to have sufficed.

The importance of U.S. military might shouldn’t be underestimated (Robert Kagan, Washington Post)

Power takes many forms, and it’s smart to make use of all of them. But there is a danger in taking this wisdom too far and forgetting just how important U.S. military power has been in building and sustaining the present liberal international order.   That order has rested significantly on the U.S. ability to provide security in parts of the world, such as Europe and Asia, that had known endless cycles of warfare before the arrival of the United States.  Some find it absurd that the United States should have a larger military than the next 10 nations combined. But that gap in military power has probably been the greatest factor in upholding an international system that, in historical terms, is unique — and uniquely beneficial to Americans.

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