Tales from the Trail

Just the right tavern to celebrate 200 years of U.S.-French military ties

Not every U.S. ally who visits the Pentagon needs to be treated to a dinner that evokes more than 200 years of peaceful military relations.

France is the rare exception.

So when Defense Minister Alain Juppe traveled to Washington this week for talks with Robert Gates, the U.S. defense secretary found just the right venue: Gadsby’s Tavern in Alexandria, Virginia, one of the few establishments in the United States that can boast of “fine dining since 1770.”

Its historical guest list includes the likes of U.S. presidents George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, James Madison and James Monroe.

Gates had his eye on a slightly different pair of clients when he hosted Juppe for dinner the evening before the two signed a space cooperation agreement.

“I had the pleasure of hosting Minister Juppe along with other French and U.S. officials for dinner at a tavern where Secretary of State John Quincy Adams played host to General Lafayette in 1824,” Gates told reporters during the signing ceremony.

Lady Gaga, WikiLeaks and :’(

WIKILEAKSWashington has been buzzing for days about Bradley Manning, the 23-year-old U.S. Army intelligence analyst at the heart of the investigation into the leak of a quarter-million State Department diplomatic cables by the whistleblower website WikiLeaks.

And then there’s the Lady Gaga connection.

Manning said he listened to the flamboyantly-dressed singer’s “Telephone” as he pulled the documents off a military server in Baghdad, according to a transcript of online chats Manning had with a former hacker, Adrian Lamo. The chats, which occurred earlier this year, were posted by Wired.com on June 10. Lamo confirmed details of the chats to Reuters.

“i would come in with music on a CD-RW labeled with something like ‘Lady Gaga’ … erase the music … then write a compressed split file … no-one suspected a thing. listened and lip-synched to Lady Gaga’s Telephone while exfiltrating possibly the largest data spillage in american history,” Manning wrote in the uncapitalized, lightly punctuated style of a webchat.

State Department revs up NASCAR Diplomacy

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Foggy Bottom, rev your engines.

The U.S. State Department, for the first time ever, is turning to NASCAR to help get America’s message across.

The department said 11 young motor enthusiasts from Bahrain and Qatar will participate in the inaugural “motorsports exchange” this month, including a visit to the NASCAR Hall of Fame in North Carolina and a stop in Miami for races at the Homestead-Miami speedway.

The young delegates from the Gulf, who are all involved in auto racing as drivers, mechanics or car or track performance technicians, will receive briefings on “NASCAR research and development, track safety, crew diversity and community and family involvement,” the department said in a press note.

Happy Birthday, Mr President? Palin takes on State Dept in Twitterburst

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Sarah Palin has a beef — and a tweet or two — for the U.S.  State Department.

Palin tweeted her outrage following a tongue-in-cheek tweet from State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley that wished Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad a happy birthday.

Crowley, who regularly tweets as @PJCrowley to about 6,250 followers, marked the Iranian leader’s birthday on Thursday with a plea for the release of Shane Bauer and Josh Fattal, two American hikers who have been detained in Iran for more than a year and face trial on suspicion of espionage.

Clinton sees diplomats of the future in cargo pants as well as pinstripes

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Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has urged Congress to finance a major new U.S. push on overseas development aid, arguing that only by building up a global middle class will the United States increase its own national security.

Clinton, in an article in Foreign Affairs magazine which previews a pending State Department report on diplomacy and development, says it is essential for Congress to keep the money flowing even as the United States grapples with its own financial problems at home.

“The American people must understand that spending taxpayer dollars on diplomacy and development is in their interest,” Clinton wrote, saying it was time to put to rest “old debates on foreign aid.”

Special Relationship? How quickly they forget….

So much for “Hilly-Milly”.

Just last year U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton gushed to Vogue magazine about  former British Foreign Secretary David Miliband,  calling the young diplomat a dashing addition to the international scene. AFGHANISTAN/

“Well, if you saw him it would be a big crush. I mean, he is so vibrant, vital, attractive, smart. He’s really a good guy. And he’s so young!” Clinton said in remarks that provoked a spate of joking British tabloid headlines about the new “special relationship” between the United States and Britain.

Well, absence doesn’t appear to have made the heart grow any fonder. Asked on Wednesday if she had any advice for Miliband following his decision to bow out of frontline politics after losing a Labour Party leadership contest to his younger brother, Clinton was brief.

Hillary’s mango diplomacy in Pakistan

Hillary Clinton has lots to worry about in Pakistan, but she has found one thing she can wholeheartedly embrace: Pakistani mangos.

The U.S. Secretary of State was treated to a mango dessert during dinner with Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari and they clearly won a fan — Clinton repeatedly raved about the fruit. PAKISTAN-USA/

“We’ll get a lot of people hooked on Pakistani mangos,” Clinton told a “townhall”-style meeting in Islamabad, where she was on an official visit.

Time-traveling Larry Summers envisions “Mumbai Consensus”

larry2White House economic adviser Larry Summers took a break from his busy schedule on Wednesday to engage in a bit of time travel — visiting the year 2040 when much of the world is run according to a new “Mumbai Consensus”.

Speaking at the U.S.-India Business Council, Summers envisioned a world in which India’s experience in promoting rapidly rising living standards, coupled with its strong democratic traditions, make it a new example for how countries should run their affairs.

“In the economic history of the last millennium, this is an event that ranks only with the Renaissance and with the Industrial Revolution,” Summers said, describing the fantastic gains in living standards across the globe.

German, U.S. ties strong, never you mind the wild speculation

DRESDEN, Germany – Were you under the impression that relations between the United States and Germany have been a bit frosty since President Barack Obama took office?
 
That Chancellor Angela Merkel doesn’t trust Obama because he went to Germany during his election OBAMA/GERMANYcampaign and cozied up to her opposition?
 
Or that Obama was offended by her refusal to let him deliver his big Berlin speech last year at the Brandenburg Gate, so he returned the snub by refusing to go to Berlin on this trip?
 
Well pish, posh. You’ve clearly been reading wildly speculative media reports.
 
“They are very wild and based on no facts,” Obama told a news conference Friday standing next to Merkel.
 
“The truth of the matter … is that the relationship, not only between our two countries but our two governments, is outstanding,” he added.
 
And Merkel’s assessment? Working with Obama is fun, in an analytical sort of way.
 
“Allow me, if I may, to … say that it’s fun to work together with the American president because very serious, very thorough analytical discussions very often lead us to draw the same conclusions,” she said.
 
Since they get along so well, why did Obama not travel to Berlin on this visit?
 
Simple matter of logistics. He was going to Dresden, going to Buchenwald, traveling to a U.S. air base and had to be in Normandy the following day for D-Day celebrations.
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“There are only 24 hours in the day. And so there’s nothing to any of that speculation beyond us just trying to fit in what we could do on such a short trip. That’s all that there was,” Obama said.
 
A day after he spoke boldly to the Muslim world in a speech from Cairo, the U.S. president found himself boldly speaking again — this time to journalist speculators.
 
“So stop it. All of you,” he said, drawing titters from the assembled reporters. “I know you have to find something to report on, but we have more than enough problems out there without manufacturing problems.”
 
Speaking of those problems, what about those Guantanamo prisoners Germany had said it would take?
 
“Chancellor Merkel has been very open to discussions with us,” Obama said. “We have not asked her for hard commitments, and she has not given us any hard commitments beyond having a serious discussion about are there ways that we can solve this problem.”
 
Washington submitted a formal request in early May for Germany to take some Guantanamo prisoners.
 
“There are talks going on,” Merkel told the news conference, “and at the very end I am absolutely confident that we will find a common solution.”
 
For more Reuters political news click here.
 
Photo credit: Reuters/Larry Downing (Merkel listens to Obama during news conference; Merkel, Obama tour Frauenkirche (Church of our Lady) in Dresden)

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

Obama and his South Asian envoy

There's much talk about President-elect Barack Obama possibly appointing Richard Holbrooke as a special envoy to South Asia. The New York Times says it's likely; while the Washington Independent says it may be a bit premature to expect final decisions, even before Obama takes office on Jan. 20.

But more interesting perhaps than the name itself will be the brief given to any special envoy for South Asia. Would the focus be on Afghanistan and Pakistan? Or on Pakistan and India? Or all three? The Times of India said India might be removed from the envoy's beat to assuage Indian sensitivities about Kashmir, which it sees as a bilateral issue to be resolved with Pakistan, and which has long resisted any outside mediation. This, the paper said, was an evolution in thinking compared to statements made by Obama during his election campaign about Kashmir.

Before last year's Mumbai attacks, Obama had suggested that the United States should help India and Pakistan to make peace over Kashmir as part of a regional strategy to stabilise Afghanistan. In this he was supported by a raft of U.S. analysts who argued that Pakistan would never fully turn against Islamist militants threatening the U.S. campaign in Afghanistan as long as it felt it might need them to counter burgeoning Indian influence in the region. Obama's suggestion raised hackles in India, and broke with a tradition established by the Bush administration which had tended to be -- publicly at least -- hands-off about the Kashmir dispute.