Tales from the Trail

Demonized in Damascus? Kucinich protests

One of the Obama administration’s sharpest critics on the left is coming in for some sharp criticism himself after what appeared to be a friendly visit to Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad.

Congressman Dennis Kucinich — an Ohio Democrat who has proposed ordering Obama to halt U.S. participation in NATO airstrikes in the Libya conflict — sat down with Assad in Damascus over the weekend and emerged to face accusations that he was getting too cozy with an autocrat whose security forces have killed some 1,300 people as they attempt to crush a revolt against his rule.

Kucinich said he made the trip, which also included a stop in   Lebanon, on his own accord after being requested to go by his constituents.

“I don’t support the violence, I don’t condone the violence and by direct appeal to President Assad and in supporting those who are seeking freedom and serious reforms, I am working to end the violence. I appealed to President Assad to remove his forces from the cities. He told me he would, and today we learned that he has begun to do just that,” Kucinich said in a statement on his official website .

Kucinich’s statement came one day after the Washington Post’s editorial board accused him of “taking the side of Syria’s murderous dictator” in an editorial that blasted him as being too quick to believe Assad’s vague promises of reform.

Washington Extra – Not enough

The word is not enough. That was the message from the United States to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad who pledged reforms in a speech at Damascus University.

“What’s important now is action, not words,” State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland told reporters.

White House spokesman Jay Carney concurred: “President Assad needs to either lead that transition or get out of the way … I’m not saying the words are meaningless, but he needs to act on them … But first, he needs to stop the violence.”

Clinton doesn’t want Iran taking ‘one iota of credit’ for Mideast revolutions

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton says when it comes to the pro-democracy movements sweeping through the Middle East give credit where credit is due. And that means not to Iran.

The United States has long been at loggerheads with Iran over its nuclear program — the West suspects Iran of trying to develop nuclear weapons, Iran says it is trying to provide energy for its people. USA/

Now the United States, which sees Iran as a major threat to the region,  is also suspicious that Tehran is trying to capitalize on the Middle East revolutions.

Washington Extra – Same page

Alarm over Japan’s nuclear crisis prompted a slumping stock market to slump some more in a third day of selling.

The United States and Japan weren’t quite on the same page in terms of advice to the public. The State Department recommended that Americans living within 50 miles of the Fukushima nuclear plant evacuate or stay indoors, while Japan asked residents within 18 miles to do the same.

USA-BUDGET/Republicans and Democrats are still not on the same page as far as spending cuts go, which means back to the drawing board with a three-week reprieve from the sixth stopgap spending bill expected to pass Congress by Friday. Talks will get an added kick when the latest temporary funding bill is passed, but in a divided Congress bipartisan deals become a fairly lofty goal.

Washington Extra – Women of power

Were the cosmic pranksters having a laugh when the 100th anniversary of International Women’s Day happened to fall on the same date as Fat Tuesday?

Washington showed off its woman power. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard expressed their delight at meeting on such an auspicious day. USA/

Britain’s former first lady Cherie Blair was also at the State Department for the 2011 International Women of Courage Awards ceremony.

Tweet like an Egyptian — Hillary Clinton tries it out

AFGHANISTAN-USA/

Young Egyptians, who famously used Internet services like Facebook and Twitter to launch their recent revolution, turned their focus to Hillary Clinton on Wednesday. They peppered the top U.S. diplomat with skeptical questions about longtime U.S. support for former  President Hosni Mubarak and what many felt was its slow embrace of the movement to topple him.

Clinton, taking a personal spin at what she has called “21st Century Statecraft”, fielded a selection of some 6,500 questions that young Egyptians posed through Twitter,  Facebook and the Arabic-language website www.masrawy.com — and many reflected deep suspicions about the U.S. role in Egypt.

“My question is: Does America really support democracy? If yes indeed, why the U.S. was late in its support of the Egyptian revolution?” one questioner asked Clinton.

U.S. State Dept. figures out how to say “Twitter” in Arabic

It took a while, but the U.S. State Department is now tweeting in Arabic.

EGYPT/With unprecedented political turmoil rocking Egypt and protesters turning to social media such as Twitter and Facebook, the mouthpiece of U.S. foreign policy wants in on the game.

Its first message? #Egypt #Jan25 تعترف وزارة الخارجية الأمريكية بالدور التاريخي الذي يلعبه الإعلام الإجتماعي في العالم العربي ونرغب أن نكون جزءاً من محادثاتكم

(Translation: “We want to be a part of your conversation!”)

The new State Department Arabic Twitter feed, @USAbilaraby, joins a growing chorus of Twitter feeds describing and commenting on events in Egypt and across the Arab world, where social media is helping to broadcast political ferment.

Diplomatic storm leads to question: what was Wisner?

Frank Wisner created a bit of a diplomatic tempest when he went off message in Munich on Saturday and said Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak should stay in place to oversee the transition. “We need to get a national consensus around the pre-conditions for the next step forward. The president (Mubarak) must stay in office to steer those changes.” SERBIA-KOSOVO/

That set the State Department and White House into scramble mode, trying to downplay Wisner’s role, after actually sending him on Jan. 31 to personally deliver a U.S. government message to Mubarak to take more action in response to mass protests.

Administration feathers got so ruffled that the White House tried backpedaling on whether Wisner had actually in fact been an envoy.

Hillary wants a break, but maybe just a little one

RTXUT4X_Comp-150x150Hillary Clinton is committed to remaining U.S. secretary of state through Barack Obama’s first term. What will she want then? The answer seems to be “spare time”. But maybe just a little.

Hillary’s future has long been the subject of swirling speculation. Would she run for president against Obama in 2012? Join his ticket as the vice presidential nominee? Replace Bob Gates at the Pentagon?

The only sure bet is that she’s content to remain in the Obama administration through 2012.

Washington flatfooted by return of Haiti’s “Baby Doc”

He departed Haiti in 1986 aboard a U.S. Air Force plane, winging to stage-managed exile after weeks of pressure from the Reagan administration.

HAITI-DUVALIER/Haiti’s infamous “Baby Doc”, Jean Claude Duvalier,  made a surprise reappearance in his homeland this weekend, and Washington’s planners had less than an hour to prepare.

“We were informed about an hour before the point that he landed this weekend,” State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said. “If I look at the list of challenges that Haiti faces today having a former dictator return to Haiti just adds to Haiti’s ongoing burden.”