John Kerry Has Obama’s Back on Afghanistan and Counter-Terrorism Plans

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U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry is nothing if not President Barack Obama’s foreign politics backup man this last week. From his support for the new $5 billion anti-terrorism fund, to his defense of the President’s timeline for troop withdrawal from Afghanistan, Kerry has been quite vocal these last few days. In terms of foreign politics, it has been quite the week so far. Obama called on Congress to pass his Counter-Terrorism Partnerships Fund, a chunk of money that would go towards helping the U.S. “to train, build capacity, and facilitate partner countries on the front lines.” Specific conflicts would benefit from the financial support; Obama listed operations in Mali, keeping in Somalia, border security in Libya, and in time with his discussion on Afghanistan and al Qaeda forces, he discussed how part of the fund would go to Yemen security forces for training to help them push back against the extremist organization.

He also emphasized the aid that would go to Syria, saying that it would a “critical focus of this effort.” The emphasis on counter terrorism efforts comes at the same time as the controversial announcement that American troops will remain in Afghanistan beyond 2014. Currently, said the President Tuesday, there are 9,800 service members overseas, and by 2015 that number will be closer to 4,900. However, the U.S. will retain a force within Afghanistan for purely “an advisory role,” meaning that U.S. troops will not be in charge of security and patrols within the country, leaving the countries own trained forces to take over. Kerry was quick to give comment via a number of interviews with NBC, ABC, CNN, and CBS. He spoke on the terrorism partnership fund as well as walking the tricky rhetorical balance beam between those who will think America is abandoning an ill prepared Afghanistan and those that are frustrated Obama hasn’t pulled out of the country quicker.

“This is not an abandonment of Afghanistan,” said Kerry to Savannah Guthrie on NBC. It is an emboldenment, it is an empowerment of Afghanistan. And it is a way to put the Afghans on the track to do what they should do for themselves at this point in time.” Kerry also denied the CBS suggestion that Obama’s decision to keep troops overseas was influenced by recent criticism of his cautious foreign policy.

With Ukraine, Syria, Russia, and China recently stirring up tensions with the U.S., many — especially Republicans in Congress — are claiming that the President has become soft on foreign policy. Others don’t go so far as that, but simply claim that he appears soft and that leaders like President Vladimir Putin are taking note. “What the President is doing is making clear that the United States understands its role of leadership in the world, that we are deeply committed to offering that leadership and continuing to lead,” said Kerry.

On Tuesday, Obama tiptoed across the same political tight rope Kerry ventured on his behalf. He said in his speech in Washington on America’s commitment to Afghanistan’s future, making it clear that while free elections and greater security are good signs, the U.S. “is committed to keeping up the fight against Al Qaeda in Afghanistan.” Simultaneously, he continued to remind Americans of past withdrawals as proof of his commitment to a “responsible” end to America’s time in Afghanistan. “When I took office, we had nearly 180,000 troops in harms way,” he said. “By the end of this year, we will have less than 10,000.”

With the week being hyper focused on terrorism, American security, and overseas issues as it has been, it was only fitting that Kerry address the issue of Edward Snowden’s asylum in Russia. The U.S./Russian relationship has been stressed to a new height with Ukrainian and Syrian diplomatic issues. Russia’s military presence within Ukraine and efforts towards energy contracts with China in search of trade independence from the west has added to stress between western nations and the Russian Federation. So the presence of Snowden — a former NSA contractor who leaked vital U.S. documents on intelligence community surveillance oversteps — in a country whose relationship with the U.S. can be described at best as chilly, is concerning.

Even Snowden himself has admitted as much. “So this is a really fair concern. I personally am surprised that I ended up here. The reality is I never intended to end up in Russia,” said Snowden. His plan had been to reach Latin America, but his passport was revoked before he could leave Moscow. “When people ask, why are you in Russia, I say, please, ask the State Department,” said Snowden.

Kerry addressed the claim by vehemently saying on NBC that a true “patriot” would return to the United States. “If Mr. Snowden wants to come back to the United States today, we’ll have him on a flight today. We’d be delighted for him to come back” — cue ominous big brother music — “and he should come back, and that’s what a patriot would do,” said Kerry. “This is a man who has done great damage to his country, violated his oath which he took when he became an employee, and yes, in fact, stole an enormous amount of information … to the detriment of his country,” he said. “To be hiding in Russia, an authoritarian country, and to have just admitted that he was really trying to get to Cuba, I mean, what does that tell you really? I think he’s confused.”

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