Brass cuts loom; Odierno, McHugh: “the money is gone;” Hastings might have had PTSD; Surrounded! How the U.S. military is building bases around China; Why the U.S. is opposed to Syrian intervention; and a bit more.
- By Gordon Lubold
Gordon Lubold is a national security reporter for Foreign Policy. He is also the author of FP's Situation Report, an e-mailed newsletter that is blasted out to more than 70,000 national security and foreign affairs subscribers each morning that includes the top nat-sec news, breaking news, tidbits, nuggets and what he likes to call "candy." Before arriving at FP, he was a senior advisor at the United States Institute of Peace in Washington, where he wrote on national security and foreign policy. Prior to his arrival at USIP, he was a defense reporter for Politico, where he launched the popular Morning Defense early morning blog and tip-sheet. Prior to that, he was the Pentagon and national security correspondent for the Christian Science Monitor, and before that he was the Pentagon correspondent for the Army Times chain of newspapers. He has covered conflict in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and other countries in South Asia, and has reported on military matters in sub-Saharan Africa, East Asia and Latin America as well as at American military bases across the country. He has spoken frequently on the sometimes-contentious relationship between the military and the media as a guest on numerous panels. He also appears on radio and television, including on CNN, public radio's Diane Rehm and To the Point, and C-SPAN's Washington Journal. He lives in Alexandria with his wife and two children.
By Gordon Lubold
Why is the Obama administration is opposed to even limited U.S. military intervention? Because, according to a new story by the AP, the administration believes rebels fighting the Assad regime wouldn’t support American interests if they were able to topple the regime and seize power. That according to a letter by Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Marty Dempsey, to Congress, and obtained by AP. AP: "Effectively ruling out U.S. cruise missile attacks and other options that wouldn’t require U.S. troops on the ground, Dempsey said the military is clearly capable of taking out Syrian President Bashar Assad’s air force and shifting the balance of the Arab country’s 2½-year war back toward the armed opposition. But he said such an approach would plunge the United States deep into another war in the Arab world and offer no strategy for peace in a nation plagued by ethnic rivalries."
A war crime in Damascus? FP’s David Kenner: "This morning, a U.N. chemical weapons inspection team woke up in the five-star Four Seasons Hotel in downtown Damascus. No more than a 15-minute drive away, in the capital’s eastern suburbs, there were rumblings that the worst chemical weapons attacks in decades was underway. The information coming out of the Ghouta region, where the rebels enjoy significant support, is still unconfirmed by independent observers. But videos allegedly taken today in the area showed Syrians lying on the floor gasping for breath, medics struggling to save infants, and rows of bodies of those who had reportedly died in the attack. Syrian state media denied that chemical weapons had been used, attributing such stories to media channels that ‘are involved in the shedding of the Syrians’ blood and supporting terrorism.’" More here.
Aid to Egypt is measured now on a case-by-case basis. The WSJ’s Julian Barnes and Dion Nissenbaum: "The White House is poised to cancel a shipment of U.S.-made attack helicopters to Egypt, but the Obama administration remains opposed to a wholesale halt of military aid to the country, according to U.S. officials. President Barack Obama convened a meeting on Tuesday with Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel and other national-security aides to discuss U.S. aid to Egypt in the aftermath of the military ouster of President Mohammed Morsi and the crackdown on his supporters, administration officials said. White House officials are looking at aid on a case-by-case basis, officials said. "Our aid and assistance relationship with Egypt is under a review, but it has not been cut off," Josh Earnest, a White House spokesman, said Tuesday." Full story, here.
Yet U.S. military aid to Cairo is Egypt’s lifeline. The $1.3 billion in U.S. military aid to Egypt that is on the table doesn’t seem like much to the U.S., but it has a big impact there, and the generals there have wanted to expand aid for years. The NYT’s Eric Schmitt: "Either way, a close look at the details of American military aid to Egypt shows why the relatively modest $1.3 billion may give the United States more leverage over the Egyptian military than it may seem, although still not as much as it wants. Even if Saudi Arabia and other Persian Gulf monarchies make up for any aid the United States may suspend, Washington would block Egypt from buying American weaponry with that money – a serious long-term problem for a military that is already viewed as sclerotic and has neglected pilot training so badly that the Egyptian air force has one of the worst crash rates of any F-16 fleet in the world." More on that story here.
Is Egypt having an "Algerian moment?" Writing on FP, Robert Zaretsky: "Despite the roughly 1,000 miles of Libyan desert that lie between them, Algeria and Egypt have never seemed as close as they do now. When Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Sisi forcibly removed President Mohamed Morsy from office in early July, a few far-sighted observers wondered if Egypt’s military was about to repeat the tragic Algerian mistake that set off a decade of civil war in 1992. Events over the last week underscore the brutal similarities — but it is far from clear that either tragedy was the result of mere miscalculation. Instead, then and now, the tragedies have been largely willed. More here.
Welcome to Wednesday’s edition of Situation Report. Sign up for Situation Report here or just e-mail us and we’ll stick you on. If you have a report you want teased, a piece of news, or a good tidbit, send it to us early for maximum tease. And remember, if you see something, say something — to Situation Report. Follow us @glubold.
Budget cuts hit the brass: the Navy to trim 35 flag officers. The budget squeeze is forcing the services to truncate personnel, eliminating general and flag officers. Cuts to the "GOFO" structure have been in the works since Defense Secretary Robert Gates announced reductions, and there were cuts across the GOFO structure of 140 underway already, and Dempsey earlier this year seemed to indicate that additional cuts were on the way, and the sequester essentially mandates even more personnel cuts. All of that has specific implications for each service. The Navy yesterday announced that it will "reduce, eliminate or consolidate" a net of 35 Navy flag officer positions, including one- two- and three-star billets. End strength "adjustments" among flag officers are already underway, the Navy said, and will be complete by fiscal 2017, resulting in an end-strength of 151 Navy-specific billets, and 61 flag officers occupying joint billets, a minimum requirement, the Navy said. But the Navy said it would submit a fiscal 2015 budget with a reduction of another six flag officer billets.
Vice Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Mark Ferguson: "We had to make tough choices but it was the right thing to do – the plan is in line with Congressional mandates, [Office of the Secretary of Defense] guidance, and our changing fiscal environment."
The Army has also announced an initiative to reduce the Army headquarters by 25 percent. Army Secretary John McHugh and Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno signed an Aug. 14 memo, first reported by Defense News, announcing the creation of an Army Focus Area Review Group, charged with making recommendations on "institutional" and "operational" headquarters reductions, "operational force structure," readiness, the acquisition work force and other areas. A prominent element of the review will be how to reduce the Army headquarters – two-star generals and above – by 25 percent. By the end of the month, officials from Army commands, the Service Component Command, the Direct Reporting Unit and headquarters must present their individual plans on "what functions they would reduce or eliminate and the corresponding organizational change that would cause a 25 percent reduction in Headquarters funding and manning," McHugh and Odierno wrote. "Let their be no mistake, aggregate reductions WILL TAKE PLACE [caps theirs]. The money is gone; our mission now is to determine how best to allocate these cuts while maintaining readiness," the two wrote. "This effort will take PRIORITY OVER ALL other Headquarters, Department of the Army activities." Navy story with the list of here. Army memo, here.
Autopsy results showed that Mike Hastings’ body contained traces of meth and weed. Hastings, who wrote the Rolling Stone story that felled Stanley McChrystal, was found to have traces of tetrahydrocannabinol – the active ingredient in marijuana and methamphetamine in his system at the time of his death, in a fiery one-car car crash on Highland Avenue in Los Angeles early one morning in June. LAT: "Although there has been speculation and conspiracy theories about the cause of Hastings’ crash, the autopsy report suggested that high speeds were to blame. He lost control of his vehicle and slammed head-on into a tree, dying within seconds of blunt-force trauma. His body was charred in the fire, but investigators said he probably lost consciousness immediately after crashing and that the burns occurred after he died… His family told investigators he used medical marijuana, which was prescribed for treatment of PTSD, which resulted from assignments in Iraq and Afghanistan…. Hastings, according to the report, had struggled with substance abuse. His family said he had kicked an alcohol problem about 14 years earlier and had remained sober until about a month before the crash, when he had begun using drugs. They believed he was using DMT, a hallucinogenic. One person told an investigator he wouldn’t be surprised if cocaine was found in Hastings’ system; it was not." The rest of the LAT story here. The U.S. military is encircling China with a chain of air bases and military ports. Killer Apps’ John Reed: "U.S. military is encircling China with a chain of air bases and military ports. The latest link: a small airstrip on the tiny Pacific island of Saipan. The U.S. Air Force is planning to lease 33 acres of land on the island for the next 50 years to build a "divert airfield" on an old World War II airbase there. But the residents don’t want it. And the Chinese are in no mood to be surrounded by Americans. The Pentagon’s big, new strategy for the 21st century is something called Air-Sea Battle, a concept that’s nominally about combining air and naval forces to punch through the increasingly-formidable defenses of nations like China or Iran. It may sound like an amorphous strategy — and truth be told, a lot of Air-Sea Battle is still in the conceptual phase. But a very concrete part of this concept is being put into place in the Pacific. An important but oft-overlooked part of Air-Sea Battle calls for the military to operate from small, bare bones bases in the Pacific that its forces can disperse to in case their main bases are targeted by Chinese ballistic missiles." Full story here.
Can the U.S. blockade China? From the Diplomat, earlier this week, ICYMI. James Holmes: "In a nutshell, offshore control means sealing off the first island chain to keep PLA Navy shipping from reaching the broad Pacific; waging submarine and aerial warfare to deny China access to its own offshore waters and skies; and imposing a distant blockade to bring economic pressure on Beijing. Over time, China might relinquish its goals to stop the pain. Offshore control abjures strikes at sites on the mainland – the most objectionable part of AirSea Battle – as needlessly escalatory in a campaign for limited aims." The Diplomat story, which includes links to the series of pieces in the National Interest about same, here.