Situation Report

Is Kim Jong Un for real? Why the guys-are-gross argument won’t work against integrating women; Old School: Barrow on women-in-combat; Mattis didn’t have a heads up he was out; Pizzas to Kabul; And a little more.

Is Kim Jong Un for real? Why the guys-are-gross argument won’t work against integrating women; Old School: Barrow on women-in-combat; Mattis didn’t have a heads up he was out; Pizzas to Kabul; And a little more.

Is North Korea sounding scarier? North Korea is sounding more bellicose than usual as Kim Jong Un threatens what would be his first nuclear test and says the North’s weapons would target the U.S. It was, as the NYT’s David Sanger and Choe Sang-Hun wrote this morning, "more specific" than past warnings, and it comes at the same time that American intelligence shows the country is making strides in its nuclear and missile programs.

Some, including an AP report on Fox, say that North Korea’s sabre rattling is just that. "If the past is any indication, its threats of war are overblown. But the chances it will conduct another nuclear test are high. And it is gaining ground in its missile program, experts say, though still a long way from seriously threatening the U.S. mainland." http://fxn.ws/14cy3XQ

Maybe, maybe not. MIT’s John Park thinks North Korea’s threats fit a trend and that the North is past the point of using those threats to be a bargaining chip. Park to Situation Report: "The days of North Korea using its nascent nuclear program as a bargaining chip for concessions are becoming more distant. Although North Korea has many more stages to go through before achieving a weaponized nuclear arsenal, this situation should not be viewed as a medium-term threat. The clear and present danger is that expanded long-range ballistic missile testing will expose the Asia-Pacific region’s busy commercial sea lanes to increasing amounts of rocket debris. North Korea has long been a threat to international security because of its nuclear proliferation and missile sales. Now North Korea will become a top threat to regional safety."

Park adds early this morning: "The fact that we’ve passed the point of being able to engage the North Koreans in a grand bargain makes this a much bigger problem today than 3-4 months ago. Going forward, North Korean words are going to be rapidly translated into actions. Their claims that they’ll launch more missile and nuclear tests aren’t empty threats. It’s more of a roadmap."

Welcome to Friday’s edition of Situation Report, where we love us some metaphorical roadmaps, especially if they’re easy to fold back up. Follow me @glubold. Or hit me anytime at gordon.lubold@foreignpolicy.com. And sign up for Situation Report here: http://bit.ly/NCN9uN or just drop me an e-mail and I’ll put you on the list. And if you have a report, piece of news, or tidbit you want teased, send it to us early for maximum tease.

Situation Report Reader: the "American Pie argument" against women in combat won’t work. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Marty Dempsey made their historic announcement yesterday that the Pentagon would begin the process to lift the ban on women serving in combat roles, ending what some would say is a fiction given that they are serving in combat zones already. In response to yesterday’s WSJ op-ed by a former Marine who argues that combat shouldn’t be open to women because of the gross things guys do in the field, Diane Mazur, a law professor at the University of Florida and author of "A More Perfect Military," says: "If we accept this one, I suppose women shouldn’t be medics, doctors, or nurses either, because women shouldn’t be exposed to the raw reality of the human body. I know arguments ebb and flow, but this one is more than a hundred years old."

From the Women-in-Combat Archives: Watch retired Marine Commandant Gen. Robert Barrow (1979-1983) testify in 1991 to the SASC against integrating women into combat roles. Barrow: "It is most assuredly is about…combat effectiveness, combat readiness, winning the next conflict, and so we’re talking about national security. Those who advocate change have some strange arguments, one of which is that the de facto women in combat situation already…, that women have been shot at, they’ve heard gunfire, they’ve been in areas where they could have been hit with missiles. Well exposure to danger is not combat, combat is a lot more than that… combat is finding and closing with and killin’ or capturin’ the enemy if you are down in the ground combat scheme of things. It’s killin’, that’s what it is. And it’s done in an environment that is often as difficult as you couldn’t possibly imagine. Extreme environments, brutality, death, dying. It’s [voice rising] uncivilized and women can’t do it nor should they even [be] thought of as doing it. The requirements for strength and endurance renders them unable to do it.

And I may be old fashioned, but I think the very nature of women disqualifies them from doing it. Women give life, sustain life, nurture life, they don’t take it. I just cannot imagine why we are engaged in this debate about the possibility even of pushing women down to the ground combat part of our profession. The most harm that could come would probably come to what it would do to the men in that kind of situation…. Perhaps Shakespeare said it best of all: ‘We few, we precious few, we band of brothers.’ That’s what it is, that would be shattered, that would be destroyed. If you want to make a combat unit ineffective, assign some women to it. It’s a destructive proposition." http://bit.ly/Is6SRp

Only a few firing offenses : Unlike his predecessor, Bob Gates, who famously fired underperformers, Panetta has fired few people (although he forced Africom commander Gen. Kip Ward to retire as a three-star and showed the door to the head of personnel and readiness Cliff Stanley). A senior Pentagon official: "Some have said that Panetta hasn’t fired enough people in the Pentagon. After yesterday’s announcement on women in combat, you’d have to say that he’s more interested in hiring than firing."

A slice of home: There are more than 30,000 pizzas on order for troops in Afghanistan for the Super Bowl under a program called "Pizza 4 Patriots." http://bit.ly/14hhN6Z

Although no one has any QDR marching orders just yet, there sure is a lot of talk about it. Although the much-anticipated, always slightly disappointing bureaucratic exercise known as the Quadrennial Defense Review will begin any time now, it’s clear that without a SecDef, there is only so much folks can do. Still, there is a lot of excitement about this year’s QDR. This week, Stimson had an event with the Marines’ Maj. Gen. Frank McKenzie. And today, CSIS will host another QDR event, this one an all-day thing, with notables like Todd Harrison, Mike O’Hanlon, Clark Murdock, Sean Brimley, David Berteau, and Gordon Adams. USIP’s Steve Hadley gives the keynote. http://bit.ly/10Qt4w2

We’d also tell you all about the Cato event on the pivot to Asia that is on the Hill this morning — if registration wasn’t already closed. Popular event. http://bit.ly/S4xWJY

Whither the U.S. on Mali? There was an interesting development over the last 24 hours, with a faction of the Mali rebels indicating they would peel off, potentially negotiate with the French, and go so far as to help fight other extremists in the northern part of the country. AP: "Three al-Qaida-linked extremist groups have controlled Mali’s vast northeast for months, capitalizing on chaos that followed a coup d’etat in Mali’s capital, Bamako, in March. But in a new sign of splintering, former Ansar Dine leader Alghabass Ag Intalla told the Associated Press on Thursday that he and his men were breaking off from Ansar Dine ‘so that we can be in control of our own fate.’" The leader said his group neither identified with AQIM or another group, the Movement for the Unity and Jihad in West Africa, but rather with a group with a set of grievances against the government.  

The WaPo this morning noted that buried in the line of questioning on Benghazi during SecState HRC’s testimony the other day was a new thread: Clinton seems to be very clear on the need for U.S. engagement in North Africa, even as the White House seems to be unclear on a strategy in that region. Here’s what Clinton said during testimony: "When America is absent, especially from unstable environments, there are consequences. Extremism takes root, our interests suffer and our security at home is threatened." But a WSJ story yesterday indicated the White House was dragging its feet when it came to helping the French defeat Islamic extremists in Mali’s north. AP story: http://bit.ly/WUyccU

WaPo op-ed on the different signals on Africa between HRC and the WH: http://wapo.st/UoFDKU

WSJ story on U.S. resistance to French plan. http://bit.ly/VbMkgA

Perhaps it will come up in the joint interview Obama and HRC are doing on ‘60 Minutes’ on Sunday, being taped today, Politico reports.

There are more reports that Mattis was pushed. Earlier this week, we wrote about FP’s Tom Ricks report, based on word he was getting from Pentagon insiders that Centcom Commander Gen. Jim Mattis was being pushed out for his concerns — and the thorny questions he was asking at the White House — about Iran and also Afghanistan and Pakistan. Ricks is writing this morning that he hears Mattis was given no heads up when he was replaced. He was traveling and in a meeting when an aide handed him a note saying the Pentagon had announced his replacement.

A friend tells Tom this sends an awful signal: "What message does it send to the Services [the capital ‘S’ suggests his friend may be military or former military] when the one leader known for his war-fighting rather than diplomatic or bureaucratic political skills is retired early via one-sentence in the Pentagon’s daily press handout? Even in battle, Mattis was inclusive of all under his command. He took the time to pull together his driver and guards after every day’s rotation on the battlefield, telling them what he thought he had learned and asking them for input. Surely senior administration officials could have found the time to be gracious. But they didn’t." Ricks’ blog: http://atfp.co/CQ81

Tom’s posts have resulted in more reports, including from the NY Post and Fox, that the White House is indeed pushing him out. While it appears increasingly true and definitely a provocative narrative, but it’s not clear why, if the WH was trying to get rid of him, they would be doing it now — so close to when Mattis was expected to leave anyway. Pentagon insiders will tell you he’s been asking tough questions about Iran and Afghanistan for most of his tenure at Centcom. If his questions have been inconvenient – what was the breaking point? And, as the WH pointed out to Ricks,  the average time a combatant commander serves is 2.7 years; Mattis will have served 2.6 at Centcom if he leaves in March.

Speaking of Mattis: Are you smarter than a Marine? We missed this in November, when the Christian Science Monitor first published a mini-version of one test required to join the Marine Corps — or any U.S. service for that matter. It’s a smattering of 24 questions from the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (or ASVAB) given to all U.S. military recruits, from math to comprehension to common sense. The real test has more than 100 questions. Take the test here: http://bit.ly/W6jIZc

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