Situation Report

Carter in Asia; The Navy fights alcohol abuse; Jeh Johnson: “we must be realistic” on a drone court; MC Times’ cover boy: Jim Mattis; and a little more.

Carter in Asia; The Navy fights alcohol abuse; Jeh Johnson: “we must be realistic” on a drone court; MC Times’ cover boy: Jim Mattis; and a little more.

By Gordon Lubold

Ash Carter is headed to Manila after meetings in South Korea. Deputy Secretary of Defense Ash Carter said budget cuts won’t affect the Pentagon’s ability to help defend South Korea. "The commitment to the [South Korea-U.S.] alliance is part of the Asia-Pacific rebalance, and we will ensure all the pieces of our defense relationship will continue to move forward, and this will occur despite the budgetary pressures in the U.S." Carter’s trip to Asia, which includes other stops, should help to reassure allies that the American budget woes – as North Korea stiffens its posture against its southern neighbor and the U.S. – won’t affect its resolve in helping to defend the region. On Friday, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel announced that the U.S. would add 14 new ground-based missile interceptors in the area by 2017 in response to the saber-rattling from the North in what is bound to be a controversial move because of President Barack Obama’s rhetoric on missile defense. Hagel is in the Pentagon today.

Jeh Johnson is skeptical of the need for a so-called drone court. The Pentagon’s former top lawyer, Jeh Johnson, the former chief Pentagon lawyer who approved personally the legal authority behind every major military strike under President Obama, is speaking this morning at Fordham University about drone warfare and the legal issues confronting it, reports the E-Ring’s Kevin Baron, who obtained an early copy of the speech. "Johnson directly challenges advocates of the idea, including many senators calling for more oversight and transparency over the war on terrorism such as Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), intelligence committee chairwoman, and his old boss former Defense Secretary Robert Gates," Kevin writes.

Johnson, this morning: "Our government finds itself in a lose-lose proposition: it fails to officially confirm many of its counterterrorism successes, and fails to officially confirm, deny or clarify unsubstantiated reports of civilian casualties. Our government’s good efforts for the safety of the people risks an erosion of support by the people. It is in this atmosphere that the idea of a national security court as a solution to the problem — an idea that for a long time existed only on the margins of the debate about U.S. counterterrorism policy but is now entertained by more mainstream thinkers such as Senator Diane Feinstein and a man I respect greatly, my former client Robert Gates – has gained momentum… But, we must be realistic about the degree of added credibility such a court can provide."

Today’s WaPo’s "Faces of the Fallen," the gallery of those killed, in Afghanistan, between July and August, here. As of yesterday, there are 2,173 dead under Operation Enduring Freedom.

Memory champion and former sailor Ron White’s "biggest memory project" of his career remembering the rank, first and last name of 2,200 people who were killed in Afghanistan — more than 7,000 words total, for America’s Memory, which includes a video of him talking about the project. "The purpose of this project is to say: ‘you’re not forgotten,’" White says. Ron White once memorized a deck of cards in 87 seconds, according to a story in Navy Times.

Welcome to Monday’s edition of Situation Report. Follow me @glubold. Or hit me anytime at gordon.lubold@foreignpolicy.com. Sign up for Situation Report here or just shoot me an e-mail and I’ll put you on the list. And as always, if you have a report, piece of news, or tidbit you want teased, send it to us early for maximum tease. If we can get it in, we will. And help us fill our candy dish: news of the military weird, strange trends, personnel comings-and-goings and whatnot.

Does the U.S. Army train foreign militaries well? The answer is no if your name is Kalev Sepp of the Naval Postgraduate School, who participated in the event last week put on by FP and RAND on the Iraq war. The four-hour discussion, with Gen. John Allen, Doug Feith, Steve Hadley, John Nagl, Paul Pillar and several others who launched, fought, executed and analyzed the war, focused on a number of still hotly-contedted issues. FP is putting up excerpts of the conversation. Sepp and others talked about the Army and COIN. Sepp: "I would suggest that the American Army, in particular, is not good at training foreign armies. My feeling is that the Marines have done this much better. When I was with Third Marines just a couple of years ago, I was in the middle of a discussion among their battalion commanders where they were able to discuss the difference in burial rites between the different valleys in their sector of operations. I mean, you know, that knowledge of the culture that they were going to operate in. But I would say that the American Army does this badly, has a history of doing it badly."

Participant John Nagl: If there’s one thing that we failed to do in Iraq and in Afghanistan as effectively as we should have, it’s security forces assistance – a long?standing principle required for success and counterinsurgency. We continued to not resource that properly. That is the raison d’être for the American Army in this century. It is refusing to accept that. We are continuing to mess that up, and will continue to mess it up until somebody grabs the Army by the shoulders and shakes it and says, security force assistance is your job. Do it."

Other excerpts from the FP-RAND event on Iraq, 10 years later. FP and RAND’s event, excerpted here.

Read BBC Magazine’s piece by Tara McKelvey on how the complicated legacy of the Iraq war is making it hard for Hollywood to tell the story.

Sole-source contracts: Lockheed Martin, Boeing and Raytheon top the list. Federal agencies, including the Pentagon, awarded $115.2 billion in no-bid contracts in fiscal 2012 — a nearly 9 percent increase from three years ago — and defense contractors Lockheed Martin, Boeing and Raytheon all had a large share of those contracts. Bloomberg’s Danielle Ivory reports (posted on website of Rep. Sam Graves, R-MO, who was quoted in story). "President Barack Obama in 2009 told federal agencies that no-bid contracts were ‘wasteful’ and ‘inefficient.’ Four years later, his administration spent more money on non-competitive contracts than ever before….Those top Pentagon vendors and other large contractors can draw on established relationships with procurement officers to claim a greater share of non-competitive work, said Robert Burton, former acting administrator of the Office of Federal Procurement Policy under George W. Bush.

‘It highlights a growing problem in the procurement system,’ said Burton, who represents contractors as a partner at Venable LLP in Washington. ‘The pie is shrinking, but, at the same time, the number of non-competitive awards has increased. That’s a bad combination.’"

The Navy and Marine Corps are getting breathalyzers across the fleet. The services are launching a fleet-wide program to begin breath-testing sailors and Marines to ensure that troops don’t report for duty while under the influence  — and to help stem suicide, sexual assault, and other problems that are linked to alcohol. It’s one of the ways Navy Secretary Ray Mabus, wh
o has been active on these issues, is leaving his mark on the services.

"Despite anything you may have heard, no one in your chain of command is interested in stopping, ending, prohibiting, limiting, barring or banning the safe, legal, responsible use of alcohol," Juan Garcia, assistant secretary of the Navy for Manpower and Reserve Affairs, told Situation Report recently. "If that is your way to blow off steam…and you’re ready to go on Monday, you don’t have a problem. At the same time, what we couldn’t do is ignore the op-reps that come across our desk every single morning" that suggest a direct link between some of the services’ biggest problems and alcohol. In an interview in his E-Ring office, Garcia said about 40 percent of suicides involve alcohol and that there is "almost a direct correlation" between sexual assault and alcohol. "So as we fight the suicide war, the sexual assault war, we’re in the early steps of this, but we think this is a big, big tool," he said.

This month, the Navy is fielding "alcohol detection devices" to Naval Air Forces Atlantic and Naval Air Forces Pacific, and by the end of this week, units at Surface Forces Atlantic, Surface Forces Pacific, and Cyber Forces should all begin receiving the devices.

The program is not designed to be punitive, but to prevent sailors and Marines from reporting for duty with alcohol in their system. For the Navy, the breathalyzers will only be used for "duty section personnel" and for Marines who report to work. Unlike the legal definition of intoxication for most states, of .08 percent, the threshold the Navy has set for flagging personnel is .04 percent. Garcia and others have stressed that the program is not a way to get rid of sailors — "this is not a liberty device, it’s not an end-strength reduction device," he said — but a way to determine if personnel are unfit for duty. A by-product of the program will help leaders within both services to identify potential problems before they become big ones, Garcia said.

Alcohol abuse was rampant in the 1980s, when a DOD-wide survey showed that 27 percent of the force had an illicit drug in their system within the past 30 days. After a big crackdown, that number dropped to less than 3 percent. Today’s "pop positive" number today is about .01 percent, Garcia said.

A Navy "NavAdmin" announced the program in January.

Who is Juan Garcia? He is a second-generation naval aviator, a soft-spoken former Democratic state representative from Texas who represented suburban Dallas area but who lost his re-elect in 2008 and is now a top Navy official. He and his wife Denise met at Harvard Law School. 

[An earlier version of this post incorrectly identified Garcia as a former congressman. He served in the Texas state legislature.]

Why the "other Navy" needs to cowboy up. Three words as to why the "unsexy" Coast Guard is about to see the frontlines of action: "The Arctic Ocean." So says James Holmes on FP: "If and when that icy expanse opens regularly to shipping, the Arctic will need policing, just like any other marine thoroughfare. It might even become a theater for geopolitical competition, although the short time it will be ice-free each year, the uneven advance and retreat of the icecap, and the unpredictable location of the sea lanes will limit its potential for conflict relative to, say, the Western Pacific or the Persian Gulf. But the potential is there, and up north, the Coast Guard’s aging fleet of cutters and small craft will be critical to upholding maritime security and hedging against maritime conflict."

Jim Mattis, cover boy. The Marine Corps Times today profiles Gen. Jim Mattis, warrior-monk, mentor, historian, colorful curser, and outgoing Central Command commander in "Chaos, Out" by Dan Lamothe, behind the MCT’s paywall, at least for now. Mattis is leaving command to Gen. Lloyd Austin, who takes over this week. Mattis, whom we first met in Kandahar in November 2002, has been quiet in his Central Command role. That he is leaving now, some five months before the end of a typical three-year tour for a combatant commander, has raised questions if the White House pushed him out over his views on Iran.

An excerpt from the story: "Since 2010, the general known by the call sign ‘Chaos’ has run U.S. Central Command, overseeing the war in Afghanistan and other military activity throughout the Middle East. On March 22, nearly 10 years to the day that he led 1st Marine Division during the ground invasion of Iraq, Mattis will be replaced by Army Gen. Lloyd Austin and retire. Thus ends one of the most dynamic careers for a general officer since the late Lt. Gen. Lewis ‘Chesty’ Puller hung up his uniform in 1955."

And: "Mattis doesn’t like the attention. He has been cryptic about his future ever since word surfaced late last year that Austin had been selected to replace him. During testimony March 5 before the Senate Armed Services Committee, he offered a typical response to Sen. Lindsey Graham, R.-S.C., who inquired about the general’s retirement plans. ‘I have no idea right now, senator,’ he said. ‘But it’s going to be a lot of fun.’"

Back to Walla Walla? In a March 14 email to Marine Corps Times: "I’ve had some ‘riotous excursions of the human spirit’ alongside the young Sailors and Marines and it’s time to leave the stage to the young leaders who got their rank the old-fashioned way — they earned their stripes in combat. The Corps is in good hands, and it’s been a privilege to serve with the Leathernecks. Now it’s time to go."

Atlantic Wire’s 16 most "hair-raising" Gen. Mattis quotes, which include: "Be polite, be professional, but have a plan to kill everybody you meet," and, when he was succeeded as Supreme Allied Commander for Transformation: "When Gen. Abrial arrived to relieve me as the supreme commander, only don’t ask, don’t tell kept me from hugging and kissing him."

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