Family and friends said Anne Smedinghoff had chafed at the restrictions that American diplomats can face in Afghanistan, where the excitement and passion for foreign service are often dampened by lives circumscribed by blast walls and checkpoints and fortified compounds.

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(Anne Smedinghoff, 25, died in a bomb attack Saturday while delivering donated books to a new school in Zabul Province.)

 

Ms. Smedinghoff joined the Foreign Service three years ago, straight out of Johns Hopkins University, and moved to Kabul in July. Being locked in the embassy compound, though it kept her largely safe from suicide bombers and rocket attacks, was not for her, her family and friends said. She longed to be out among Afghans, helping to ease the tumult of their lives.

On Saturday, Ms. Smedinghoff, 25, got her chance. She joined a delegation accompanying the governor of Zabul Province to inaugurate a new school in Qalat, the provincial capital. She was to help deliver donated books.

At 11 a.m., a suicide car bomber detonated explosives that ripped into the convoy, killing Ms. Smedinghoff and four other Americans — a civilian and three soldiers — in the deadliest day for Americans in Afghanistan this year. The names of the other four victims had not been released Sunday night.

The attack reverberated from Afghanistan to Ms. Smedinghoff’s family home in the Chicago suburb of River Forest, Ill. In her honor, friends and relatives this weekend replaced their profile photos on Facebook with a picture of a black ribbon embossed with the State Department seal.

For Ms. Smedinghoff, the Foreign Service was a calling, her parents, Tom and Mary Beth Smedinghoff, said in a statement. Afghanistan was her second deployment, an assignment for which she had volunteered after a tour in Caracas, Venezuela. She died, her parents said, doing a job she thought must be done.

“She particularly enjoyed the opportunity to work directly with the Afghan people and was always looking for opportunities to reach out and help to make a difference in the lives of those living in a country ravaged by war,” they said. “We are consoled knowing that she was doing what she loved, and that she was serving her country by helping to make a positive difference in the world.”

Gov. Pat Quinn of Illinois issued a statement on Sunday praising Ms. Smedinghoff for having lived a “purposeful life.”

“Only 25 years old, this brave young woman knew social justice was her calling, and selflessly lost her life while serving others in a war-torn country,” the governor said. “She was devoted to protecting America and improving the lives of others.”

Ms. Smedinghoff was the first American diplomat to be killed on the job since Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three others were killed last Sept. 11 in an attack on a United States diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya.

Sam Hopkins, a lawyer and a friend of Ms. Smedinghoff’s from her college days, described her as a “very focused very disciplined and very calm” woman who had breezed through a panoply of examinations to enter the Foreign Service at an unusually young age. On her first posting to Caracas, he said, she expressed strong desire to leave the embassy compound and plunge into the city’s gritty, often dangerous streets.

“She said she wanted to get a car and drive around,” Mr. Hopkins said. “She had no fear.”

As a public diplomacy officer, Ms. Smedinghoff was on the front lines of an effort to move Afghanistan beyond its decades-long struggle with war and oppression to a place where women might walk openly in the streets and where children, including young girls, might go to school.

It is a job fraught with dangers and frustrations that have been compounded as the United States, along with its NATO allies, has shrunk its military footprint. Bases have been scaled back and ground and air transports reduced, meaning less security for development work.

With most American and NATO troops preparing to leave Afghanistan by the end of 2014, the prospects for continued civilian aid of the kind Ms. Smedinghoff was helping to provide are now in doubt.

Yet in an emotional homage on Sunday, Secretary of State John Kerry held up Ms. Smedinghoff’s work as an example of the importance of the continued American effort in Afghanistan and elsewhere in the face of “cowardice” and “nihilism.”

“A brave American was determined to brighten the light of learning through books written in the native tongue of the students that she had never met, but whom she felt compelled to help,” Mr. Kerry said in Istanbul, where he is on a diplomatic trip. “And she was met by cowardly terrorists determined to bring darkness and death to total strangers.”

By , Published: April 7, 2013

Correction: April 9, 2013

An article on Monday about the death of Anne Smedinghoff, a young American diplomat in Afghanistan, misstated the number of diplomats killed along with Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens during the Sept. 11, 2012, attack on a United States diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya. Three others died, not four.

 

 

IF it hadn’t been for the deadly Sept. 11 attack on the United States Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, Mitt Romney probably wouldn’t be giving a speech on foreign policy in the waning weeks of this election season. But Mr. Romney sensed an opening in President Obama’s missteps in Libya, and on Monday he plans to lay out his case that he will be a better steward of America’s national security.

For an American public fixated on the economy, another Romney valedictory on the advantages of not being Barack Obama will be a waste of time. Americans feel more comfortable when they have a sense of the candidate’s vision, because it gives them a clearer road map for the future.

Mr. Romney must articulate his vision of America’s place in the world in a way that makes sense not only to the American people, but to friends and foes alike. There is a case to be made for a contrast with Mr. Obama. But, thus far, no Republican leader has made it.

Mr. Romney needs to persuade people that he’s not simply a George W. Bush retread, eager to go to war in Syria and Iran and answer all the mail with an F-16. He needs to understand that even though Mr. Obama’s so-called pivot to Asia is more rhetorical flourish than actual policy, it responds to a crying need.

Any new vision for American greatness in the world must flow from an understanding of how the country has changed since 2001. We are still one of the richest nations on earth, but Americans are poorer, war-weary and irritated with what appears to be the ingratitude of nations for which we have sacrificed a great deal in blood and treasure. There are substantial wings of both the Democratic and Republican parties that wish to wash their hands of the world’s troubles.

In that environment, Mr. Romney must give a clear explanation of how American power since the end of World War II provided the foundation for the most prosperous and successful era in human history; how our domination of the world’s most trafficked waterways has permitted the flourishing of trade; and how exporting our principles of political and economic freedom has opened and nourished markets that buy American goods, employ American workers and allow Americans to enjoy an unmatched level of security.

More important, Americans must know that it is not for mercantile benefits alone that the United States has exerted its leadership. It is because there is no other power, and no other people, that can — or, if able, would — exert the benign influence that has characterized our role in the world. Whether you like the Iraq war or hate it; like the battle in Afghanistan or not; believe in the ouster of Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi or revile it — in no case has the United States intervened for malevolent purposes.

Unfortunately, Mr. Romney hasn’t made that claim. Instead, when asked for specifics, he has outlined an Iran policy that doesn’t differ markedly from Mr. Obama’s. When pressed on what he would do differently in Syria, he has trodden so carefully that he has found himself to the left of his party’s internationalist wing. And he has doubled down on the notion that Russia remains a geostrategic threat, without presenting any persuasive evidence that it is.

It’s not that Mr. Romney does not or cannot offer a more compelling vision of American leadership. Having heard him speak privately, and having met him on a few occasions, I believe he has one. Now is the moment to show it.

Mr. Romney must make clear that he has a strategic view of American power that is different from the Obama administration’s narrow and tactical approach. He must tell Americans that he won’t overlook terrorist threats, as the Obama administration did in Benghazi; that he won’t fight to oust a dictator in Libya and ignore the pleas of another revolution in Syria; that he won’t simply denounce Iran’s nuclear program while tacitly legitimizing the country’s theocratic regime and ignoring its opponents; and that he won’t hand out billions of dollars in aid and debt forgiveness to Egypt’s new leaders when the principles of religious and political freedom are being trampled in the streets of Cairo.

Clearly America cannot do everything. But we must always champion our founding beliefs and reject the moral, political and cultural relativism that has flourished under Mr. Obama.

Mr. Romney can make the case that when people fight for their freedom, they will find support — sometimes political, sometimes economic and sometimes military — from the American president. When Russians and Chinese demand accountability from their governments, we can stand with them and work with their governments to further common interests. When terrorists target us, we will not simply eliminate them with drones while ignoring the environment that breeds them. And when our allies look to us for support, we will help them fight for themselves.

Criticisms of Mr. Obama’s national security policies have degenerated into a set of clichés about apologies, Israel, Iran and military spending. To be sure, there is more than a germ of truth in many of these accusations. But these are complaints, not alternatives. Worse yet, they betray the same robotic antipathy that animated Bush-haters. “I will not apologize for America” is no more a clarion call than “let’s nation-build at home.”

Mr. Romney must put flesh on the bones of his calls for a renewed American greatness. With a vision for American power, strategically and judiciously applied, we can continue to do great things with fewer resources. The nation’s greatest strength is not its military power or fantastic productivity. It’s the American commitment to our founding principles of political and economic freedom. If Mr. Romney can outline to voters how he will use American power to advance those principles, he will go a long way in persuading them he deserves the job of commander in chief.

* Text by Danielle Pletka is the vice president for foreign and defense studies at the American Enterprise Institute. (NYT/October 7, 2012)

Russian officials, who have strenuously resisted U.S.-led efforts to push Syrian President Bashar Assad from power, are beginning to question whether the beleaguered leader can hang on, but say they have little influence over him as rebels take the fight to his country’s biggest cities.

Even though Russia has been a close Syrian ally for decades, officials and analysts acknowledge that they have limited insight to Assad’s true situation and mind-set. Although some fear that Russia missed a chance to help find a solution to the conflict, now in its 17th month, others say that it never had that kind of clout.

Still, Moscow appears to have at least one more card to play: an offer of asylum if Assad chooses to ask for it.

The Kremlin quickly denied such a suggestion recently by its ambassador to France. But the comment was widely regarded as a trial balloon, and a Foreign Ministry official who spoke on condition of anonymity indicated that Russia could offer asylum if Assad requested it.

“In daily consultations, Assad keeps telling us he is still very much in control,” the official said. “We are trying to ascertain for ourselves whether the point of no return has been reached, and frankly we are not so sure either way anymore.”

The first sign that Russia is abandoning Assad would be a decision to evacuate its citizens, the official said, and that could soon be followed by the Syrian leader’s departure.

On Saturday, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov denied that any asylum plans were being made, telling journalists, “We are not even thinking about it.”

Russia’s objections to the campaign to oust Assad have had little to do with loyalty to a longtime ally or unease over a loss of influence in the Middle East, analysts and officials said. Instead, the Kremlin fears what it sees as a broader pattern of the West using its political and military power to squeeze out leaders friendly to Moscow.

Russian President Vladimir Putin regards his country’s decision last year not to veto a U.N. Security Council resolution authorizing the use of force against Libya’sMoammar Kadafi as a serious mistake, analysts say. An air campaign led by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization was crucial for the rebels who captured and executed the longtime Libyan leader, and analysts say Russia got nothing for its cooperation.

“What Russia is really firmly against is the Libyan precedent becoming a norm, when everyone votes for some sanctions and then the most powerful military alliance steps into in a local conflict supporting one side in it and helping it win,” said Fyodor Lukyanov, editor of the journal Russia in Global Affairs.

“The rebels should have been grateful to Russia, but the first thing they said after their victory and Kadafi’s murder was that Russian and Chinese companies are no longer welcome in Libya,” he said.

Lilia Shevtsova, a senior researcher with Moscow Carnegie Center, said Russia’s preoccupation with geopolitical concerns carried over to the Syrian conflict.

“Putin is very much inclined to see status quo preserved by any means in Russia and in any regime which he considers friendly,” she said.

She said that she doubts the Kremlin has any real influence left over the situation in Syria, and that by continuing to publicly back Assad, Russia has helped the U.S. and its allies obscure the fact that they have no workable plan for Syria. In contrast to Libya, U.S. and other Western officials have consistently ruled out military intervention.

Russia maintains a naval base in Syria, one of its few military bases aboard, and several thousand Russian diplomats and technical specialists working with Syrian companies are based there, said Gennady Gudkov, deputy head of the security committee of the State Duma, the lower house of Russia’s parliament.

“I am afraid we must have missed our chance to talk Assad into some constitutional reform, even including him ceding power,” Gudkov said. “The Kremlin’s persistence in defending his regime now comes from the fact that there is no good way out of the situation and no good decision anymore.”

Leonid Kalashnikov, deputy head of the Duma’s foreign affairs committee, said that, aside from some weapons sales, Russia has not had close political or economic ties to Syria for years, a reflection of Moscow’s diminished role in the region.

“That is why it would be wrong to consider Syria the last Russian stronghold in the Middle East; in fact, we no longer have any,” he said.

“Russia just wants to make it a hard and fast rule that all such conflict issues should be resolved only through efforts of the existing international institutions,” he said.

 

By Sergei L. Loiko, Los Angeles Times, July 28, 2012

 

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SOME COMMENTS:

Not only Russia wants to prevent history from repeating itself in Syria, the Kremlin is not in for change as well. Yes, China and Russia did abstain from voting in favour of the UN Resolution 1973 in March 2011, which allowed an Western intervention in Libya, leading ultimately to the demise of Muammar Gaddafi’s regime.

Putin’s relationship with Assad couldn’t have been chummy. Assad went to visit Moscow in 2005, fiver years after he became president. So it’s quite unlikey that he wants to go Russia in exile. 

In a New York Times article about the Russian community in Syria, an outsider has a good insight into the lives of many, many Russian women, married to some senior Syrian officials, who went to the former Soviet Union decades ago to get an education. These men seem to be great Russophiles and that has impressed Russia. So apart from the base in the port of Tartus on the Syrian coast, the diaspora and the arms deals, it’s emotion that compels the Kremlin to  stands by Assad. Besides, Moscow fears chaos and the emergence of Islamists in the new  Syria, which would spread to its Southern border in North Caucasus.

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Russia is a hole. No one wants to live. If the amount of Russian order mail brides are anything to go by, not even Russians want to live there. People in these countries are not stupid. They see Russia and China voting against the will of the people to prop dictators up. They wont forget. If I was Syrian or Libiyan I would be very very anti-Russian and China. 

The only reason Russia & China block these votes is because they have tcorrupt governments. Those corrupt governments use failed states like Syria as a buffer zone. People of Syria. The rest of the world stands in solidarity with you. We wish we could do more to help you but the cancerous Russia and China alliance is stopping us. They might be able to stop a couple of us, but they cant stop us all.

Power to the people. End corrupt governments now!

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Syrian President Bashar al-Assad says Washington plays a role in the turmoil in Syria by supporting the armed gangs (terrorists) to destabilize the country.

Assad told the German ARD television channel on Sunday that the United States is “part of the conflict,” and that “they offer the umbrella and political support to those terrorists to… destabilize Syria.”

The latest remarks by the Syrian president come at a time when the anti-Syria Western regimes have been calling for Assad to step down.

Russia and China remain opposed to the Western drive to oust the Syrian president.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said on June 30 that Assad “will still have to go.”

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The New York Times published a report on June 21, quoting some US and Arab intelligence officials as saying that a group of “CIA officers are operating secretly in southern Turkey” and that the agents are helping the anti-Syria governments decide which terrorists inside the Arab country will “receive arms to fight the Syrian government.”

President Assad said on June 3 that Syria is “facing a war from abroad,” and that attempts are being made to “weaken Syria, [and] breach its sovereignty.”

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Former Lebanese President Amine Pierre Gemayel says instability in Syria serves the interests of Israel, Press TVreports.

In an exclusive interview with Press TV on Thursday, Gemayel said that some Arab states in the Persian Gulf are supporting armed gangs(TERRORISTS) in Syria to undermine the Syrian-Iranian alliance and serve Israel’s interests.

“We all know about the Syrian-Iranian alliance and we all know that there are some Arab countries in the Persian Gulf, which are at odds with Iran and maybe these factors encourage these Arab countries” to support the anti-government armed gangs in Syria, he noted.

“Israel has an interest in the deteriorating situation in Syria and in exhausting Syria. The more exhaustion in Syria, the more it serves Israel’s interests. The more destruction in Syria, the more Syria’s capabilities in confronting Israel are exhausted. This is…a victory for Israel…without suffering any losses,” the former president added.

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Russia has said it is not propping up Assad and would accept his exit from power in a political transition decided by the Syrian people, but that his exit must be a precondition and he must not be pushed out by external forces.

Meanwhile, the Syrian army launched a threatened counter-offensive against rebel fighters in Aleppo on Saturday, pouring troops into the southwest of the commercial hub, a human rights group said.

The reinforcements, which have been massing over the past two days, “have moved on the Salaheddin district, where the largest number of rebel fighters are based,” the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.