Situation Report

Hagel to unveil strategic review today; ‘Angry’ McCain vs. the Navy; Obama, not impressing veterans; Why no decision on post-2014 Afghanistan?; Nikki Ressler, departing, and a bit more.

Hagel to unveil strategic review today; ‘Angry’ McCain vs. the Navy; Obama, not impressing veterans; Why no decision on post-2014 Afghanistan?; Nikki Ressler, departing, and a bit more.

By Gordon Lubold

Chuck Hagel is going to open the doors today on his "smoky room." Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel today will unveil the results of the Strategic Choices Management Review that he ordered upon coming into office in a previously unannounced press conference this afternoon after briefing its results to members this morning on Capitol Hill, Situation Report has learned. The SCMR was designed to help the Defense Department address the range of options as it undergoes an epochal financial transition, from unlimited wartime spending to one in which "every dollar counts," under sequestration and beyond. Hagel won’t make any dramatic budget announcements – that would come this winter, likely. But he will reiterate the 20 percent cut to headquarters personnel that he announced informally this month, and may discuss a reorganization of the "organizational chart" within the Office of the Secretary of Defense, streamlining the number of individuals who report to him. He may also address broadly "force structure" and the size of the services, as well as the need to reduce compensation by as much as $50 billion over the next decade, we’re told.

Many in and outside of the building believed the SCMR process to be opaque, with one senior military officer calling it a "smoky room." But Hagel and others had pushed for as much transparency as possible. Today he will attempt to address answers to two main questions, Situation Report is told by a senior defense official: how will people be affected by sequester, and how missions and readiness be put at risk as a result of the tightening budget. He’ll be on Capitol Hill this morning speaking with key House and Senate leaders on the impacts of the additional cuts just as Congress heads out of town. President Barack Obama received a "sober report" on the SMCR earlier this month. "The timing is designed, in part, to level the playing field and provide one set of facts on Defense for ongoing budget deliberations," the defense official said.

Pentagon officials will tell you that the SCMR was very hard. Why? Despite "efficiencies" being adopted across the Department under Bob Gates and then Leon Panetta, Pentagon officials have reached an inescapable conclusion on spending: "The hard analysis yields there is simply no way to reach sequestration levels without taking away from compensation and military operations," the official said. "Compensation (military and civilian pay and benefits) consumes 48 percent of the defense budget and Congress has all but rejected attempts to slow growth of compensation and benefits. Real world cost of goods and services continue to claim. That leaves DoD leaders with much less room to attain real savings." And the Defense Department’s ability to cut infrastructure through the base closing process known as BRAC, as well as other programs, is often stifled by Congress.

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Manning and Snowden trigger a review of what should be classified – and what shouldn’t. A "mixed verdict" for Bradley Manning, according to the WaPo, acquitted of the worst crime for which he was accused – aiding the enemy, but he was found guilty of espionage. He was found guilty of most of the 20 crimes which which he was charged, including several violations of the Espionage Act, and could face up to 136 years in prison. But Manning and Edward Snowden, still holed up in Moscow, has prompted a new look at classifications levels. A scoop from FP’s own Shane Harris: "A first-of-its-kind review by the Government Accountability Office will examine whether security agencies are keeping too many secrets and how officials decide what information to deem classified and what to release to the public. Lawmakers and security experts have long complained that the government makes too much information classified and routinely keeps information from public view that poses no risk to national security. But one member of Congress is also concerned that by making so much information secret, the government is increasing the number of people who have security clearances–more than 5 million government employees and contractors today–who could one day decide to reveal classified information without authorization. In effect, the study is asking whether by keeping so many secrets, the government is making leaks more likely." Read all about it, here.

Read Sen. Bob Corker’s piece, on FP, about why the U.S. should declassify its foreign policy. Corker: "To ensure the continued availability of covert action — a highly valuable and effective tool under the right circumstances — we must make certain that no president misuses, overuses, or employs this tactic simply out of convenience or the desire to avoid oversight and debate. As a result, it is important to ask just how much of U.S. foreign policy is conducted secretly. The answer, unfortunately, appears to be too much." The rest, here.

Obama isn’t doing well with veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan. While President Barack Obama has pledged, in 2009, to fix the VA system and do more to improve the lives of veterans returning from war, a new survey shows they don’t think much of his efforts. The new, annual survey from the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, or IAVA, out today, shows that 44 percent of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans think President Barack Obama’s performance on improving the lot of new veterans is poor, and 66 percent of respondents to the new survey think Obama doesn’t listen enough to veterans of either way. Meanwhile, 55 percent rank Congressional performance on improving their lives as poor. Meanwhile, 80 percent of respondents do not think veterans are getting the care they need from the VA and DOD mental health injuries, and 43 percent said in the survey that they did not seek care for mental health injuries because of a "perceived negative impact" that it might have on their career. That is a 22 percent increase from the number who reported it in 2012. Also: The survey shows that 30 percent of new vets have considered suicides, 45 percent know an Iraq or Afghanistan vet who has contemplated it, and 37 percent know a new veteran who has killed themselves.

The survey also covers education, employment, the VA disability claims backlog, support for women in combat and attitudes toward gays in the military. The IAVA survey, here.

Slightly more suicides in the U.S. Army. The Army released suicide data yesterday that showed that for the month of June there were 14 potential active-duty soldiers, up from 12 potential suicides in May – some are still being investigated. So far in 2013, there have been 77 potential suicides (42 confirmed, 35 under investigation). For 2012, there were 185 potential suicides (166 confirmed, 19 under investigation).

Nice gig if you can get it. Shelly Stoneman, who served as the Pentagon’s White House liaison and a special assistant to both Leon Panetta and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel – and who was previously a special assistant at the White House for leg affairs in Obama’s first two years in office — started this week as Vice President for international government relations at BAE.

Afghanistan after 2014: the need for troops. The Pentagon’s Acting Assistant Secretary of Defense for Asia Pacific Security Peter Lavoy, spoke on the record to reporters yesterday about the new Afghanistan report, known as the "1230 Report." The talk was of the ANSF capabilities, as well as how many American and coalition troops may need to remain after security responsibility is completely transferred to the Afghans at the end of next year. Lavoy answered a question from Situation Report about why the White House has so far declined to articulate a commitment to keeping troops in Afghanistan after 2014, to the frustration of many in and outside of the building. Lavoy: "It’s a critical issue.  It’s something that, you know, we get asked about by countries, leaders of countries all around the world.  The U.S. does have a position of leadership.  It’s had a position of leadership in Afghanistan.  It does today.  And it’s likely to have that position of leadership in the future. We want to make sure that the decisions that — that are reached are sound and based on full information in a very dynamic environment and something that, you know, Americans can know are the right decisions to provide for that continuing security in the region so that our interests are protected, so that the terrorist threat to the United States, which has diminished significantly in the last decade, will continue to diminish and will not reoccur in the future."

During the briefing, AP reporter Bob Burns, dean of the Pentagon press corps, thanked Lavoy for doing the briefing on the record – something not normally done. Lavoy: "Don’t make me regret it, Bob. (Laughter.) " Full transcript, here.

Is the LCS McCain’s new tanker? John McCain, the Republican from Arizona who famously helped sink a sweetheart deal to replace the Air Force’s aging tankers a decade ago, has turned his sites on the Navy’s Littoral Combat Ship. After a leaked GAO report raised questions about the program, McCain yesterday stood on the Senate floor to voice his concerns about the Navy buying too many of the ships too soon – called "excessive concurrency," in which a platform’s production takes off while it’s still in development. McCain: "The Navy won’t know whether LCS meets combatant commanders’ operational requirements until it after it has procured more than half of the 52 planned seaframes. This is particularly troubling inasmuch as the LCS fleet will comprise more than one-third of the Navy’s surface combatants… the current plan to buy more than half of the total LCS fleet prior to the completion of operational testing plainly contradicts defense acquisition guidelines and best procurement practices – and amounts to a case of ‘buy before you fly,’ to borrow a phrase from aircraft acquisitions. 

"The American people are – quite rightly – tired of seeing their tax dollars wasted on disastrous defense programs… LCS must not be allowed to become yet another failed program in an already unacceptably long list of amorphous acronyms that – after squandering literally billions of taxpayer dollars – have long since lost meaning. Mr. President, on the LCS program, the Navy must right its course – today." McCain’s full statement, here.

The Navy’s Sean Stackley, Assistant Secretary, at the HASC Seapower Subcomm, July 25: "The seaframe, designed to Navy vessel rules with an installed combat system capable of meeting the ship’s self-defense requirements, provides a level of survivability matched to the threat in which she will operate. And most importantly, the modular mission package design, call it flexibility, call it agility, the LCS’s ability to put to sea with the warfare system and crew tailored to meet its assigned mission is a classic force multiplier. Today, the mission packages are on track to deliver the capability needed by the Navy, and they are doing so within the cost targets established for the program. In fact, the greatest risk to our mission package program is not technical. Today the greatest risk is that posed by the disruption and delay caused by stop and start and slowdown caused by continuing resolutions, sequestration and other budget reductions.

McCain, in a new interview published this morning in the New Republic with Isaac Chotiner, addressing how anger drives him: "Have I stepped on some toes? Yes. Have I angered some people that I probably could have avoided? I think so. But I would challenge you to talk-with rare exceptions-to my colleagues, and they would say I treat them with respect. It’s maybe interesting that, whenever there is a major issue to be addressed, somehow I am in the mix. You don’t get in the mix unless you have the respect of your colleagues. Maybe you can name me a major issue that has come up that I haven’t been in the mix about."Read the rest, here.

Peace versus war: Robin Wright on what Hassan Rouhani means for Iran. Wright: "One of the most important questions in the Middle East this year is whether Hassan Rouhani’s election will mark a new era — both for Iranians and the outside world. The answer could mean the difference between peace and yet another war. Rouhani’s campaign certainly made lots of promises. One of his most striking posters was a bright blue textograph of his face crafted from a slogan promising ‘a government of good sense and hope.’ The Scottish-educated cleric energized an election many Iranians had considered boycotting after pledging that "freedoms should be protected." He also won over key youth and female votes by vowing in televised debates to ‘minimize government interference’ in culture and society and to give women ‘equal rights and equal pay.’ The upbeat promises have continued apace since the June 14 election, particularly on Rouhani’s two English and Farsi Twitter accounts. ‘This victory was a victory of wisdom, #moderation, progress, awareness, commitment and religiosity over extremism & bad behavior,’ @hassanrouhani tweeted on June 15. The ‘bad behavior’ was clearly a dig at outgoing President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, whose status has plummeted over the past year. He leaves office almost in disgrace. Read the rest here.

If you want to understand Egypt, read the lede to the Christian Science Monitor’s story about a man named Essam Elya, who was kidnapped, beaten, threatened and then held for ransom. But here’s the nut graf: "As Egypt confronts another hinge moment in its millenniums-old history, a journey down the Nile reveals some of the reasons why political unrest once again engulfs the streets of this country and what challenges any government that ultimately emerges – however democratic – will have to face. Decades of government neglect and more recent failings since the 2011 uprising have left the economy and some of the stanchions of Egyptian society in disrepair: Schools are struggling, railways are crumbling, and social strife is rising as discrimination and sectarian violence grow." Read the rest, here.

Take one of the Monitor’s famous quizzes: how much do you know about Egypt? Click here.

Nikki Ressler, departing. After 40 years in government, Nikki Ressler, the Pentagon liaison for DOD’s Defense Media Activity, is leaving the Pentagon’s press office. In an informal gathering of her co-workers at the Pentagon’s press ops, head of media operations Col. Steve Warren bid adieu and thanked her for being the kind, gracious, go-to person who gitter done. She arrived at the Pentagon two months before 9/11 and became known as a fierce advocate for internal communication for the troops – and that advocacy won’t be lost on the department after she leaves, we’re told. Warren to Situation Report: "Nikki is a total pro and represents the very best of government service.  We’ll all miss her dedication but more then that we’ll miss her warmth and that unforgettable laugh."

What she’s done: a reporter in Minot, North Dakota, school teacher and, amazingly, a phone operator for "Ma Bell." What she’s gonna do after a 16-day trip to Turks and Caicos islands in the Bahamas: "Not a damn thing."

In addition to everything else, she was also (almost) always good for: great Dove chocolates on the basket on her desk.