Keith Alexander as “cowboy”; Obama’s big week, his “shrinking presidency?” and the current House, Senate counts; Assad: “expect everything;” McDonough: “We want to get off this permanent war footing;” An Army commander, relieved; 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
Obama begins his assault on American opinion over Syria as Congress returns and is poised to make key votes in a week that the WSJ suggests will "define Obama’s second term." Congress is back and Obama will begin/continue an aggressive lobbying campaign on striking Syria with a speech tomorrow night and a number of television appearances today. That all comes as Syrian President Bashar Assad talked retaliation and the lack of evidence of the alleged gas attack with Charlie Rose yesterday. No doubt, it has become a tough sell for the administration to convince anyone that it can conduct limited strikes against the Syrian regime while not getting mired into a full-fledged war. After days of missteps, delays and fuzzy messaging, the administration today is scrambling to persuade a wary Congress and a war-weary American public that this is the best and perhaps only option it has.
Denis McDonough on NBC’s MTP yesterday on "what this is not" : "no boots on the ground, not an extended air campaign, not a situation like Iraq and Afghanistan, not a situation even like Libya. This is a targeted, limited consequential action to reinforce this prohibition against these weapons that unless we reinforce this prohibition, will proliferate and threaten our friends and our allies."
McDonough on "what it does": "It degrades his capacity to use them again, it also makes him think twice before he goes to these dastardly weapons again. And why does that matter? If he’s going to use these things more aggressively, David, he’s going to take them out of secure storage, push them in to the frontlines. When they’re on the frontlines, you know what that means? They’re a greater risk of them being proliferated."
On why the WH is including Congress in this, and Congress as the Mission Creep Police: "… that’s why it’s so important, and that’s why the president went to Congress and said, ‘You know what? We want to get off this permanent war footing.’ That’s what the president has been doing. He ended the war in Iraq. And he said to Congress, ‘I want you to be my full partner in the prosecution of this effort. You, Congress, as full partners, will ensure greater discipline in how we carry this out. You, Congress, will ensure that when we say it’s a targeted mission, it does not creep.’ And that’s exactly why we want Congress involved." MTP transcript here.
Assad draws his own line. On CBS with Charlie Rose, Syrian President Bashar Assad warned that if President Barack Obama goes ahead with military strikes against Syria, the U.S. and its allies "should expect everything," and not necessarily all from the Syrian government. His regime, he indicated is "not the only player in this region," making a thinly veiled reference to Hezbollah and allies in Iran. "You have different parties, you have different factions, you have different ideology. You have everything in this region now," Assad told Rose. (The rest of the interview tonight on the Charlie Rose show.)
Whipping (thanks to ABC News). Where the House stands: 78 oppose military action in Syria, with another 153 "likely to oppose;" 19 support military action, with another 25 likely to support. Undecided: 145. Where the Senate stands: 18"oppose action in Syria," five "likely oppose it;" 20 support action, two likely to support and 55 are undecided. The counts for the Senate, here. The counts for the House, here.
On Drudge this morning: "SHRINKAGE." Bloomberg’s piece on Obama finding the "footprint for his historic presidency shrinking" over Syria, here.
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Meet the "cowboy" who’s running the NSA. Despite all the ink devoted in recent months to the National Security Agency and its vast spying powers, there’s been comparatively little attention paid to the four-star at the top of that organization: Gen. Keith Alexander. FP’s Shane Harris fixes that, in a nearly 6,000-word profile that the NSA Director is not going to like. Bottom line, according to the general’s fellow spooks: "Alexander tended to be a bit of a cowboy: ‘Let’s not worry about the law. Let’s just figure out how to get the job done.’" Even Alexander’s predecessor — Mike Hayden, who famously oversaw programs that other senior officials in government thought violated the Constitution – considered Alexander to be to reckless for the NSA job. "Hayden’s attitude was ‘Yes, we have the technological capability, but should we use it?’ Keith’s was ‘We have the capability, so let’s use it,’" a former intelligence official who worked with both men tells Harris.
And why the Defense Industrial Base initiative that Alexander sought to expand is a reflection of who he is. Harris, con’t: "Under the Defense Industrial Base initiative, also known as the DIB, the NSA provides the companies with intelligence about the cyberthreats it’s tracking. In return, the companies report back about what they see on their networks and share intelligence with each other. Pentagon officials say the program has helped stop some cyber-espionage. But many corporate participants say Alexander’s primary motive has not been to share what the NSA knows about hackers. It’s to get intelligence from the companies — to make them the NSA’s digital scouts. What is billed as an information-sharing arrangement has sometimes seemed more like a one-way street, leading straight to the NSA’s headquarters at Fort Meade. ‘We wanted companies to be able to share information with each other,’ says the former administration official, ‘to create a picture about the threats against them. The NSA wanted the picture.’ After the DIB was up and running, Alexander proposed going further. ‘He wanted to create a wall around other sensitive institutions in America, to include financial institutions, and to install equipment to monitor their networks,’ says the former administration official. ‘He wanted this to be running in every Wall Street bank.’ Read the whole piece here.
Stick a fork in him? An Army commander is relieved for misconduct. Stripes reports that the commander of U.S. Army Europe has relieved the garrison commander in Vicenza, Italy after an investigation into his conduct at a July 4th celebration. Stripes: "Col. David Buckingham, who was suspended from command in July after what Italian media reported as a drunken altercation with military police, will not face criminal charges, said Col. Rumi Nielson-Green, chief of public affairs for USAREUR. Buckingham was officially relieved of command Friday. Nielson-Green said by phone Sunday that USAREUR Commander Lt. Gen. Donald Campbell Jr. had ‘lost confidence’ in Buckingham’s ability to command and described the sacking as simply administrative.’ There were no allegations of criminal acts, she said. But his conduct on the evening of July 3, when the Vicenza garrison held its Independence Day celebrations at Caserma Ederle, was a factor in Campbell’s decision to relieve him, Nielson-Green said. There were also concerns about the command climate under Buckingham, she said." Read the rest here.
Speaking of the Army, it’s set to release the results of a study about the ground vehicle industrial base in December. Defense News’ Paul McLeary: "The Army contracted with consulting firm AT Kearney to do the study early last year, and service leaders hope it will shed more light on which defense companies are most at risk and, more importantly, which key second- and third-tier suppliers must be supported in order to keep their lines running during the coming vehicle-procurement lull. The 18-page July document, titled ‘M1 Abrams Tank Upgrade and Bradley Fighting Vehicle Industrial Base Study Preliminary Findings,’ says that when it comes to heavy manufacturing capacity the US defense sector actually "exceeds known demand for current programs and for planned future programs." More here.