Situation Report

For Pentagon brass, major shrinkage; What the CW decision on Syria says about Iran; Jonathan Lee heads to the NSC, Dempsey is here all week, folks; Geoff Morrell part of the buzz; and a little bit more.

For Pentagon brass, major shrinkage; What the CW decision on Syria says about Iran; Jonathan Lee heads to the NSC, Dempsey is here all week, folks; Geoff Morrell part of the buzz; and a little bit more.

By Gordon Lubold

The American decision on Syria’s use of chemical weapons may say as much about Iran as it does about Syria. After weeks of questions, the U.S. came out and said it thought the Syrian regime probably had used chemical weapons on its people, at least on a small scale. The admission, made by Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel in the UAE, seemed to be a tacit acknowledgement of what the French, British, Qataris and now the Israelis all believe, even if the administration doesn’t seem completely convinced. Some experts believe the evidence is probably thin, but the White House decided it would be better to acknowledge the use of chemical weapons, even on a small scale, than endure the fallout from some members on Capitol Hill by not acknowledging CW use. The White House could also confront a perception internationally of "a significant erosion of American credibility," as one analyst put it, by ignoring the intel, even if it’s still shaky.

Regardless, the administration needs to send a message to Iran as much as it does to Syria, said Steve Heydemann, a senior adviser for Middle East Initiatives at the U.S. Institute of Peace who has done extensive work on Syria.

"I think everyone understands that there is a pretty widespread sense that whether or not the administration responds to this new information about chemical weapons in a way that is consistent with redlines will have important implications for Iran and whether or not the Iranians take seriously the White House’s comments that it isn’t bluffing on Iran."

But the administration isn’t completely boxed in. It can still respond to the use of CW in Syria in a commensurate way by keeping the response on a more "tit-for-tat" level, Heydemann told Situation Report. That will send the message that the U.S. will honor its commitments without responding, at this stage, anyway, in a way that could create far larger and more strategic consequences, he said.

Read on FP why Obama’s "redline" is about as "clear as mud," here.

Strategic question: why would Assad even use sarin? Read here.

Where is Hagel? On the way home after a five country, six-day tour that started with a heralded visit to Israel and ended in the UAE with him announcing the administration’s assessment on Syria. In between, he stopped in Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Egypt. Hagel finalized a major arms deal with three of those countries that includes the sale of V-22 Ospreys for Israel and "defensive standoff" weapons for Saudi Arabia and the UAE. He’s back for a week of meetings next week.

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When it comes to the Pentagon’s brass, shrinkage is a reality. The era of unconstrained resources the Defense Department has enjoyed for more than the last decade meant some of the services became top heavy with general and flag officers, and now it’s time to get smaller. The review of general and flag officers recently completed by Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Marty Dempsey likely means the ranks of general and flag officers will be trimmed as part of a broader effort to reduce the size of the military. It’s one of the more conspicuous ways the building can show it’s serious about changing the way it does business. Former Defense Secretary Robert Gates had already called for the number of general and flag officers to decrease, but more cuts are on the way.

Dempsey, speaking to troops at Yokota Air Base during his Asian swing this week, said the corps of the military’s top officers expanded to meet the mission requirements of the last 10 years. "We also grew the general officer and flag officer corps in order to meet the requirement, and we probably overgrew it, so we intend to contract it," he said. "We’re already looking for 144 reductions, but I think this next review will cause us to shrink it a bit more."

According to data provided to Situation Report, as of Feb. 28, 2013, the Army has 314 general officers, the Navy has 227 admirals, the Air Force has 295 generals, and the Marine Corps has 88 generals. (For a breakdown of each GO/FO rank for each service, see below.)

The brass tacks: How top-heavy is each service? The Marine Corps has one general officer to roughly 2,200 Marines; the Army has one general officer to about 1,700 soldiers; the Navy has one flag officer for every 1,400 sailors; and the Air Force has the highest star-to-troop ratio: one general officer for every 1,100 airmen.

What General Odierno meant to say. During a "posture hearing" this week at the Senate Armed Services Committee, Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno misspoke when he said: "We are in the process of downsizing. And I would just say, the Army has the lowest ratio of general officers to soldiers of any other service. I think we’re one to 1,700 or 1,800. And so we have been very cognizant of doing this. And we have — we are going — we have met or are going to meet the initial reductions that we put in for ourselves by the end of next year. We’ll continue to review this as we downsize the Army. Now, I will say that a lot of our general officers are now in the joint and combatant command world. And so we have to work with the joint and combatant commands to work some of these positions. But within the Army itself, we have downsized. We have reduced ranks. And we have, again, the lowest general-officer-to-soldier ratio of any service, to include the Marine Corps." A spokeswoman for Odierno said the general’s numbers were correct, but that he had misspoken when he said the Army had the lowest ratio of general officers to soldiers. The record, she said, will be amended.

Say good-bye to Jonathan Lee. The Pentagon family says good-bye today to Jonathan Lee, special assistant to deputy secretary of defense Ash Carter, who is joining the National Security Staff in the White House to work in Samantha Power’s office. Lee was named director in the Office of Multilateral Affairs and Human Rights. In addition to Carter, Lee also served under DepSecDef Bill Lynn. He arrived in the Pentagon in 2009, where he worked for Jeh Johnson in the office of the general counsel. Under Carter, Lee was seen as a trusted policy adviser and played significant roles, we’re told, on health of the force, governance of the military health care system as well as the repeal of "Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell." There was a farewell ceremony yesterday with Carter and a number of other folks from both inside and outside the building.

Where in the world is Dempsey? Still in Japan, where he met today with Minister of Defense Gen. Iwasaki, the chiefs of the Japan Self Defense Forces, the minister of foreign affairs, and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. Dempsey also spoke about the U.S.-Japan Alliance at the NIDS — Japan’s equivalent of National Defense University. He’ll return to Washington by Saturday.

Dempsey, he’s here all week. Speaking at a town hall meeting with troops at Yokota Air Base, Dempsey tried to capture the budgetary challenge the Pentagon confronts with sequester and uncertainty: "It’s a mess, it’s just real mess. If you ran yo
ur house like this, you’d get an Article 15. Honestly, really. If you ran your budget like we’re running ours, initially it would be nonjudicial punishment then we’d probably end up giving you a court martial. But we’ll get through it."

Dempsey, on soliciting questions from troops: "If you have a particular concern, or a particular caution or you’re also welcome to compliment me, that doesn’t happen very often, but if you find yourself sitting there, saying, I’m going to stand up and tell the chairman that he’s really got this right, good-looking guy, fit as a fiddle, beautiful wife, seven grandchildren, one on the way, you can do that if you like, but I’d also like to hear if we don’t have it right."

To a question about whether he’s received professional singing lessons: "Only if you consider Jack Daniels a singing instructor. I should have asked, is this being televised?"

On why the "singing general" likes to sing: "I can’t tell you how good I feel about you and your service. Not that that causes me to burst into song, at least you hope not. But I like to make sure people know that you can still be yourself, even as the chairman of the Joint Chiefs…. So you know you can be yourself, that’s kind of why I do it."

Did Egypt’s Morsi kill the Royal Turtle? A turtle thought to be 270 years old (and the second oldest animal/reptile alive in the world — who knew?) died this week in Cairo and, as the Twitters noted, there was a political bent to the turtle’s passing: "The turtle survived the eras of "Farouk, [Gamal Abdel] Nasser, [Anwar] Sadat and [Hosni] Mubarak, but couldn’t stand [Mohamed] Morsi’s reign," Tweeted one. Read the short story and see the sad pic that makes the turtle look like E.T. in his last days, here.

Situation Report corrects – Using information provided by the Pentagon, we reported yesterday that Jamie Morin was the acting under secretary of the Air Force, but Eric Fanning was confirmed for that spot on April 18 and swears in on Monday. Also, the acting DOD IG’s name was missing a letter: it is Lynne Halbrooks.

Breakdown of general and flag officer ranks, by service, as of Feb. 28:

The Army: 10 generals, 51 lieutenant generals, 119 major generals, and 134 brigadier generals.

The Navy: 10 admirals, 38 vice admirals, 62 rear admirals (upper), and 117 rear admirals (lower).

The Air Force: 11 generals, 44 lieutenant generals, 96 major generals, and 144 brigadier generals.

The Marine Corps: 6 generals, 17 lieutenant generals, 31 major generals, and 34 brigadier generals.

Remember how to remember the general ranks: Be My Little General (Brigadier, Major, Lieutenant, General).

How do you "attempt adultery?" A female Marine got a reprimand and lost pay in an adultery case, the LAT reports here.

Former Pentagon pressec Geoff Morrell figures into the buzz about the upcoming release of "This Town," a "takedown" of Washington’s schmooze-and-use culture, by NYT Magazine writer Mark Leibovich. Politico captures a scene that reflects the kind of culture Leibovich is writing about, using a scene at a party with Morrell as he prepared to leave the Pentagon job: Politico’s lede: "A year after signing a book contract to chronicle the incestuous ecology of insider Washington, New York Times writer Mark Leibovich was schmoozing his way through a going-away party for Joe Lockhart atop the Glover Park Group headquarters. He stumbled upon an incredible gift. Outgoing Pentagon flack Geoff Morrell was musing about his future now that his boss, Defense Secretary Robert Gates, was retired. Just then, Robert Barnett – Washington’s super-lawyer and a chief target of Leibovich’s upcoming book – popped over to brag about Morrell, his client: ‘He’s drowning in offers.’ Two months later, Morrell, with Barnett’s help, landed a very lucrative gig with BP America. This news was featured exclusively atop POLITICO’S ‘Playbook’ – Mike Allen’s morning newsletter. Talk about incestuous: A top Obama official cashes in with a top corporation with the help of a top Washington fixer and gets top-shelf treatment from one of Washington’s top journalists (who also happens to be the co-byline on this piece.). And they’re all personal friends, to boot." The book is out July 16.


  • Global Security Newswire: U.S. gets ‘B-minus for anti-nuclear efforts.
  • Brookings: Qatari PM on Syrian CW (video).
  • FP: Russian paper ties Tsarnaev to Georgia and Zbigniew Brzezinski.
  • E-Ring: Former White House WMD czar: no good options on Syria.
  • Killer Apps: Put your money on Congress passing a cyber bill in 2013.