Situation Report

Hagel, Dempsey talk DPRK; Budget frustration; Obama vs. NSC; U.S. mum on U.K.; Jon Stewart vs. the VA; the Troubles, and more.

Hagel, Dempsey talk DPRK; Budget frustration; Obama vs. NSC; U.S. mum on U.K.; Jon Stewart vs. the VA; the Troubles, and more.

By Kevin Baron

Hagel, Dempsey get serious on North Korea. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and Gen. Martin Dempsey, Joint Chiefs chairman, said the U.S. would "unequivocally" defend itself and allies from North Korean attacks, and they rejected the regime’s claims that Washington was driving up tensions. The U.S. defense leaders, in their first full Pentagon press conference together since Hagel took office, said they are taking the threats of nuclear war from Kim Jong-Un seriously. "He’s the leader of North Korea," Hagel said. The duo also defended their decision to approve a $1 billion increase in ground-based interceptor missile defenses, despite criticism that North Korea’s long-range missiles are not ready for prime time.

Budget crunch worsening. Dempsey pulled no punches on Thursday and with frank talk only a Joint Chiefs chairman could deliver shredded Congress for leaving the military flapping in the budget uncertainty winds. "The uncomfortable truth is that we’re — on Monday, we’ll be halfway through the fiscal year, and we’ll be 80 percent spent in our operating funds. We don’t yet have a satisfactory solution to that shortfall, and we’re doing everything we can to stretch our readiness out." Dempsey said the new numbers show DOD must find $41 billion to cut in the remainder of fiscal 2013, which is better than the previous $47 billion estimate, but that the Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) account is running $7 billion over budget.
Messing with the wrong Marines.
Dempsey related a message from the Marines he visited last week at Parris Island. "Dysfunction back here is a distraction to them. Nearly every question I fielded in my town hall meeting with military members and their families was about the protracted budget uncertainty. And that’s a shame."
But it is a crisis?
Straight question, from Bloomberg’s Tony Capaccio: "Are we entering a — a period of readiness crisis? Or is it more a period of adjustment, where you have to live within your means, basically?" Straight answer, from Dempsey: "The answer is yes, actually. It’s both." Dempsey said to ask again in two weeks if there’s enough in the budget to avoid a full-blown readiness crisis. "We’re in the midst of trying to figure that out."

Welcome to Good Friday’s edition of Situation Report, where we hope Washington’s cherry blossoms open already. Well, it’s been a lot of fun being your substitute bus driver while Gordon Lubold, a.k.a. @glubold, is on holiday getting his George Harrison on. I’m Kevin Baron, usually author of The E-Ring, FP’s blog about the Pentagon’s power corridors. But it’s not goodbye if you follow me on Twitter @FPBaron and email me at kevin.baron@foreignpolicy.com. Sign up for Situation Report here or just ask and we’ll put you and your in-laws on the list. And as always, if you have something to ask or tell, send it to us early for maximum tease. If we can get it in, we will. Happy Easter, everyone. May the rest of your year be a joyous one.

Obama ignoring NSC, denies war goods for Syrians. President Obama is sitting on a National Security Council recommendation that the U.S. send Syria’s rebels non-lethal combat supplies, including body armor, The Cable’s Josh Rogin reports. The NSC advice came just before Secretary of State John Kerry flew to Rome last month to meet with the "Friends of Syria" council, which is frustrated at the limited international support it is receiving. Instead of body armor, the White House offered up nearly-expired halal meals-ready-to-eat (MREs). Meanwhile, Rogin writes, European capitals have worked to open loopholes to the arms embargo on Syria. "In what moral universe would the U.S. not want to provide body armor and other non-lethal equipment to the brave Syrians who are fighting against Assad?" said Sen. John McCain (R-AZ). "Once again, it seems the president is isolated even within his own administration."

U.S.-U.K. defense leaders mum on strategy summit. The top military officers of the United States and Great Britain met behind closed doors this week at Fort McNair in Washington, DC, for strategy discussions both sides say could guide the future of one of the worlds’ most important alliances. Just don’t bother asking what they talked about, argued over, or decided. "We charted a course to ensure that they remain our strongest partner. And it was very well-done," said Dempsey, when probed at the tail end of Thursday’s Pentagon press conference. "I haven’t rendered a report yet to the secretary. So you’ll excuse me if I go no further at this point."
Dempsey loves history. "In 1942, George Marshall and his British colleague called together their — the combined chiefs, and they met over at Roosevelt Hall at Fort McNair on the top floor. And they decided how they would make sure that their relationship would advance the cause of not only their own countries, but, truthfully, the world, out into the foreseeable future. So my British colleague and I decided to re-create the moment," Dempsey said, by meeting in the same room. The group calls themselves the US/UK Combined Chiefs of Staff Committee.
Pictures of you. The SecDef’s flickr page has several photos of the meeting, so we know it actually happened. Hagel dropped by and presented a medallion to Gen. Sir David Richards, Britain’s chief of defense. "We will build on these talks to ensure we’re properly structured to cooperate bilaterally," Richards said, in a statement.

Breedlove gets expected SACEUR nod. Confirming what has been widely reported, President Obama has selected Gen. Philip M. Breedlove, the top Air Force commander in Europe, to be the next supreme allied commander of NATO. The move means Adm. James Stavridis can finally start packing for home after a prolonged wait, as Gen. John Allen rejected the position in favor of retirement. "We need to get that position filled," Hagel said. "Very happy to see the nomination of my US Air Force Component Commander and senior NATO Airman, General Phil Breedlove, to relieve me," Stavridis wrote on his Facebook page.

Combat photography’s best. FP has a cool gallery of the year’s best combat camera work. Congratulations to the winners of the 2012 Military Photographer of the Year competition.

Jon Stewart eviscerates the VA. In a video going viral in military circles, the Department of Veterans Affairs gets harsh treatment from The Daily Show’s Jon Stewart. "That is f*cking unbelievable. The VA’s got a backlog of 900,000 people. McDonald’s handles ten times that many people in an hour and, may I remind you, they’re run by a clown," Stewart said, on Wednesday’s show. "So, what is the deal with this? I thought they were going to modernize the VA system?" he asked, but showed reports the VA "still uses paper" to process claims. Additionally, VA computers that store veterans’ medial records can’t communicate with DOD’s computers. "How insane is this complication?" Stewart said he expects better f
rom "the part of government that takes care of our disabled veterans and the part of government that creates them."

Happy 15th Anniversary, Good Friday Agreement. Not that long ago peace in Northern Ireland seemed impossible. Then, the Good Friday Agreement came. "The people of Northern Ireland and their leaders have traveled a great distance over the past fifteen years. Step by step, they have traded bullets for ballots, destruction and division for dialogue and institutions, and pointed the way toward a shared future for all," said Obama, in a statement marking the April 10, 1998, achievement. How the Irish overcame The Troubles and rejected constant terrorism later became inspiration for some peacemakers hoping to share those painfully learned lessons with Iraqis and Kurds, and later with Afghans. "There is urgent work still to be done — and there will be more tests to come," Obama said. John Kerry, in a statement, said, "The courage, conviction, and hard work of leaders and communities over the past 15 years in implementing the agreement and securing subsequent agreements have led to a more peaceful and vibrant Northern Ireland."

Heard in the halls. "For a place that’s supposedly on the brink of war with North Korea, it’s pretty quiet around here." — Anonymous staffer, on the E-Ring.

The E-Ring visits the Seventh Floor. Dempsey was Kerry’s guest at the State Department on Thursday, where the general assured the diplomatic corps that the Pentagon and Foggy Bottom were closer than ever. "We had a great discussion about the challenges of today’s uncertain and complex environment and what we can do — together — to keep our nation safe and strong," Dempsey (or an aide) wrote on his Facebook page. Andrew Shapiro, assistant secretary of state for political and military affairs, was also on stage.

Let’s do lunch. Ever the infantryman, Hagel announced on Thursday that he ate lunch with several enlisted men and women for an hour and a half. He enjoyed the session so much, Hagel has decided to make it a monthly gig. "It’s a tremendous way to humanize a relationship, but particularly important for me, as I am new here," the secretary said. Hagel said more than reassuring troops about the budget crisis, he wants their feedback. "You take care of those people, and you protect them. And you try to stay ahead of what they’re thinking."

More Korea

  • AP: NKorea Orders Rocket Prep After US B-2 Drill
  • Washington Post: A very good sign that North Korea is bluffing about war
  • NYT: U.N. Treaty to Control Arms Sales Hits Snag
  • Reuters: Russia warns against military activity near North Korea

Hacker House

  • Daily Mail: REVEALED: The Nato bunker deep in Netherlands forest where hackers ‘almost brought down world’s internet in biggest every cyber-attack’
  • CNET: How the Spamhaus DDoS attack could have been prevented

Price of War