Does Israel have chemical weapons, too? McCain, Graham: not trusting; Is Idris being shunned from DC?; POGO: security shortfalls at Kabul embassy; and a bit more [presented today by Lockheed Martin]
- 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
Did Kerry just stumble into averting a war? In an answer to a question at a London press conference, Secretary of State John Kerry said that Syria could avoid strikes if it allowed its chemical weapons stockpile to be placed under control of the international community. That gave immediate traction to the proposal, with Syria quickly embracing a plan first touted by the Russians. Now France, which has been pushing strikes in Syria after its alleged chemical weapons attack outside Damascus last month, seems to agree as well. France said it would draft a U.N. Security Council resolution to put the plan into effect – and China and Iran voiced support, as well. State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki tried to walk back Kerry’s comments almost immediately after he uttered them, describing the remarks as a "rhetorical argument about the impossibility and unlikelihood of Assad turning over chemical weapons he has denied he used."
FP’s Yochi Dreazen writes: "By then, though, Kerry’s ad lib had taken on a life of its own. A few hours after Kerry spoke, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told reporters in Moscow that Russia would support putting Syria’s chemical weapon storage sites under international control before ‘their subsequent destruction… We don’t know whether Syria will agree with this, but if the establishment of international control over chemical weapons in the country will prevent attacks, then we will immediately begin work with Damascus,’ Lavrov said."
Even Obama seems to like it. President Barack Obama said yesterday that he would "run to ground" the Russian proposal and that it would, potentially, head off a U.S. military strike against the Assad regime. If Assad agreed to put his chemical weapons stockpile under international control it would "absolutely" stave off strikes. Obama, on CNN: "It’s possible if it’s real… And, you know, I think it’s certainly a positive development when, the Russians and the Syrians both make gestures toward dealing with these chemical weapons. This is what we’ve been asking for not just over the last week or the last month, but for the last couple of years." That USAT story here.
McCain, Graham: don’t trust but do verify. Sens. John McCain and Lindsey Graham, two of the most vocal members on Syria, indicated some vindication. The threat of military action, they said, is what could "create the possibility" for Assad to give up control of his weapons. But Congress should keep up the pressure, they said, and continue to vote for an authorization for the use of force. "This will give the President additional leverage to press Russia and Syria to make good on their proposal to take the weapons of mass destruction out of Assad’s hands," they said in a joint statement. "At the same time, all of us need to be realistic about this situation. We should not trust, and we must verify."
Kerry, Hagel and Dempsey meet a House divided. The trio head to the House Armed Services Committee today to talk Syria but the dynamic on the public relations battlefield has changed some. The administration’s line has changed. Now the question is, will the administration push through with the authorization or not. An American defense official tells Situation Report tweaks to the statements are possible in light of the developments yesterday. That may or may not help to calm a restive House, which had been struggling with strikes to say the least. And Republicans and some Democrats have marveled at how botched the administration’s approach over the last couple weeks has been. At the hearing today, Kerry, Hagel and Dempsey will have to be clear about the way ahead in light of yesterday’s developments. "I think the administration needs to clarify if they want to put this thing on pause," a senior Hill staffer told Situation Report this morning. "I don’t expect them to… people still want to vote on this thing, even if they’re opposed to it. If the administration still wants it, bring it on."
Is the White House keeping Syria’s rebel commander out of Washington? The Cable’s John Hudson: "…hawks on Capitol Hill are questioning why the Obama administration isn’t using one of its most powerful advocates for intervention: General Salim Idriss, commander of the rebels’ Supreme Military Council. Long heralded as the poster child for Syria’s moderate rebels, Idriss has yet to travel to Washington to make his case for U.S. intervention — and it’s not for lack of trying. Congressional sources and members of the Syrian opposition tell The Cable that the Obama administration has delayed or cancelled at least three scheduled trips for Idriss to come to Washington since March."
A frustrated Congressional aide to Hudson: "The White House has stepped in at the eleventh hour to cancel planned trips in which tickets were bought and hotels were booked for Gen. Idriss to come to Washington… It’s beyond me why the administration is trying to prevent a very articulate person from answering the fundamental question that almost every lawmaker wants to know: Who the Hell is the opposition?’" Read the rest here.
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Pot, this is Kettle: Does Israel have chemical weapons, too? Writing on FP, Matthew Aid: "Syria’s reported use of chemical weapons is threatening to turn the civil war there into a wider conflict. But the Bashar al-Assad government may not be the only one in the region with a nerve gas stockpile. A newly discovered CIA document indicates that Israel likely built up a chemical arsenal of its own. According to the report, American spy satellites uncovered in 1982 ‘a probable CW [chemical weapon] nerve agent production facility and a storage facility… at the Dimona Sensitive Storage Area in the Negev Desert.’
‘While we cannot confirm whether the Israelis possess lethal chemical agents,’ the document adds, ‘several indicators lead us to believe that they have available to them at least persistent and nonpersistent nerve agents, a mustard agent, and several riot-control agents, marched with suitable delivery systems.’"
Why this is so explosive, Aid writes: "the ‘non-persistent nerve agent’ in question was almost certainly sarin. That is believed to be the Assad regime’s chemical weapon of choice — and the agent used on the morning of August 21, 2013 to strike rebel-controlled or contested neighborhoods in the eastern suburbs of Damascus. The Obama administration says that attack killed over 1,400 innocent civilians, mostly women and children. On Sunday, the Israeli defense minister, Moshe Ya’alon, blasted Assad for "crudely us[ing] chemical weapons against its own citizens." Read the rest here.
POGO releases a report on embassy security in Kabul today. The new report shows how a top State Department official delivered "inaccurate and misleading testimony to Congress in July," according to POGO, and spotlights gaps in Kabul embassy security based on rosters POGO obtained. The report also presents observations, on the record, no less, from former embassy guards who, according to POGO "fear that, long after the killings in Benghazi, persistent security shortcomings could lead to tragedy.??Read it here. POGO’s charts that show staffing gaps here. And FP’s big piece on embassy security problems in Kabul here.
Meanwhile… Alison Spann, daughter of the first American killed in Afghanistan, living a life worth living. CNN’s Wayne Drash: "Alison Spann walks purposefully behind the marble headstones, just as her father taught her. He brought her here, to Arlington National Cemetery, as a girl. He pointed out the names of the dead and the wars that took their lives. He told her to look around and appreciate the sacrifice of the fallen. The two walked together along the rows of headstones and turned when they got to a grave they were visiting. It was the proper way to walk in a cemetery, he told her, by not stepping where people are buried, a way of respecting them long after death. Her father taught her many things. To be headstrong. To strive for a stellar education. To remember that a girl can conquer anything. Today, Alison is the epitome of grace, her wavy brunette hair pulled back as she glides through section 34 of the cemetery. The whir of the nation’s capital is drowned out here. Crickets chirp, cicadas buzz. A robin perches on a gravestone, almost as if watching. As she reaches the fifth grave from the large oak, Alison turns and faces the headstone. It is her father’s: Johnny Micheal Spann. Known as Mike, he died on November 25, 2001 — the first American killed in the war in Afghanistan. Read the rest, and video, here.
The Pentagon puts military compensation in the crosshairs. Military Times’ Andrew Tilghman: "Hale said annual military pay raises likely will fall below the rise in inflation next year, and that may be the first of many similar reductions. "Congress is battling over whether to give troops a raise to match the official Employment Cost Index – a measure of private-sector wage growth – of 1.8 percent, or to limit the pay bump to 1 percent. Hale and other top Pentagon officials are advocating for the lower pay raise as a way to slow the long-term growth of personnel costs. ‘I think we will prevail in that,’ Hale said. That would be the first time military pay would fall below the ECI since 1998. For much of the 2000s, Congress approved hefty raises well above the ECI in an effort to close a purported ‘gap’ between military and private-sector pay that peaked at about 13.5 percent in the 1990s."
The Big Takeaway: Bob Hale, speaking recently: "I think we will go after military compensation aggressively." Read the rest here.
Read Situation Report from July 17 about the Military Compensation and Retirement Modernization Commission has taken form under Hagel. Read that here.