Barack Obama and Chuck Hagel in Jordan in 2008. (Salah Malkawi/Getty)
The shadow boxing over the potential nomination of Chuck Hagel to be the next Pentagon boss intensified on Thursday when allies of the former Republican Senator leapt to his defence.
Mr Hagel has emerged as the clear frontrunner to take over from Leon Panetta as secretary of defence but has come under attack in recent days for comments he made several years ago about the “Jewish lobby”.
Amid a drip-feed of criticisms and insinuations about Mr Hagel, nine former senior diplomats released a public letter on Thursday describing him as an “impeccable choice” for the Pentagon. “Time and again he chose to take the path of standing up for our nation over political expediency,” they wrote.
Given that Mr Hagel has been criticised by one pro-Israel group for views that they say “border on anti-Semitism”, one of the interesting features of the letter is that five of the signatories are former ambassadors to Israel – Daniel Kurtzer, Thomas Pickering, Sam Lewis, William Harrop and Edward Djerejian. “He has invariably demonstrated strong support for Israel and for a two state solution,” they write. Read more
Susan Rice – a successor to Hillary Clinton? (Getty)
North Korea’s rocket launch has injected itself into American politics in an unexpected way: it has become a real-life test of the diplomatic skills of Susan Rice, the US ambassador to the UN.
Ms Rice was a strong favourite to become the next secretary of state until she became the main target for Republican anger over the way the Obama administration handled the September attack on the consulate in Benghazi, Libya. But unlike the Benghazi attack, where her role was simply to appear on a few Sunday political talk shows, the North Korean rocket is a central part of Ms Rice’s job at the UN. And the pressure is now on to see if she can manoeuvre the UN into taking a much tougher line on North Korea. Read more
Much to Moscow’s anger, the Senate passed the Magnitsky bill on Thursday, which places visa bans and assets freezes on a group of Russian officials accused of contributing to the death of whistleblowing lawyer Sergei Magnitsky.
The law is part of a broader piece of legislation that normalises trade relations with Russia following its entry to the World Trade Organisation this summer. The Magnitsky bill has attracted huge attention because of the gruesome back-story that propelled it and because of the friction it has caused between Moscow and Washington. But there are two further important things to note about the bill. Read more
Mitt Romney meets David Cameron (Getty)
American cable television has come a day late to Mitt Romney’s troubled visit to the UK, but is making up for lost time by giving lots of air time to the coverage in this morning’s British press. CNN has been running items every hour about Romney’s procession of gaffes and how they have been received. Pride of place has gone to the headline in The Sun: “Mitt the Twit”. Read more
Shakeel Afridi in July 2010. RAUF/AFP/GettyImages
This was the week when the US and Pakistan were supposed to start patching things up. Instead, it has ended in a new round of mutual recriminations, including a rare bipartisan bout of indignation from the US Senate.
Just as the US and Nato are trying to sketch out long-term strategy to keep Afghanistan stable once most troops leave at the end of 2014, the never-ending downward spiral in US-Pakistan ties is casting those plans into ever-further doubt.
The latest signs of ill-feeling came as a Senate committee voted unanimously on Thursday evening to cut $33m from next year’s foreign aid budget for Pakistan; $1m for every year in the jail sentence that Pakistani doctor Shakil Afridi was awarded earlier this week. Read more