Karzai's got hand; Hagel is headed to Japan; Ash Carter to start talking; Iraqi wants the U.S. to take a stand; Carl Mundy, Jr. dies; 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.
There is "very strong evidence" that Lopez had an unstable psychiatric or psychological condition, but no evidence yet that his mental condition was connected to his deployments overseas. The WSJ’s Devlin Barrett, Julian Barnes and Nathan Koppel: "The top commander at Fort Hood said Thursday there is ‘strong evidence’ the alleged attacker in Wednesday’s mass shooting at the base had a history of psychiatric problems. Lt. Gen. Mark Milley said there was no indication that Spc. Ivan A. Lopez, the alleged shooter, was targeting any soldiers specifically, including the three soldiers killed or 16 injured. ‘We have very strong evidence that he had a medical history that indicates an unstable psychiatric or psychological condition,’ Gen. Milley said. ‘We believe that the fundamental underlying causal factor here.’ Officials said they didn’t have any records of specific disciplinary actions related to mental-health problems, but said they were reviewing the records." More here.
Noting: In the early hours of reporting the shooting and with a dearth of details, many reporters seized on the fact that Ivan Lopez had served in Iraq. Coupled with what Lt. Gen. Mark Milley, the senior commander at Fort Hood, also briefed reporters, about the treatment for Lopez’ depression and anxiety problems, it was too easy to connect the dots. It remains unclear what caused Lopez to do what he did. But his four-month tour in Iraq – in 2011, clearly not the darkest days there, and at a time when few Americans were even seeing combat – was not enough to draw the conclusion that Lopez’ mental illness was combat-related.
Thusly: Countering the "Rambo narrative': CNAS’ Philip Carter, on FP, about the media’s misdiagnosis: "There is a military proverb that first reports from the battlefield are always wrong. [Yesterday’s] reporting from Fort Hood should be taken with that caveat, especially to the extent that we blame the shooter’s short Iraq tour for his violent rampage. We know far too little about the shooter, victims, and situation to conclude that military service or combat stress caused the carnage at Fort Hood. It would be enough for these stories to leap to conclusions about one particular shooting. Unfortunately, such reporting (in this case and that of the Navy Yard shooting last September) contributes to a deeply ingrained (and factually false) narrative about veterans that has become a part of the American psyche. This ‘Rambo narrative’ — the idea that veterans are deranged killers suffering from post-traumatic stress, ready to explode in the workplace or at home – did lasting harm to the Vietnam generation of veterans. It persists today, and is only inflamed by reporting like that on the Fort Hood shooting." Read the rest here.
So who was Ivan Lopez? A quiet introvert who loved music. The WaPo’s David A. Fahrenthold, Carol D. Leonnig and Matea Gold on the father of four: "… Friends recalled Lopez as a father, a devoted son and a talented percussionist who had joined Puerto Rico’s police force in part because he wanted to play in the police department band. He had been crushed by his mother’s unexpected death last fall but afterward had returned to his Army career at a new base." More here.
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A bipartisan vote declassifies the Senate torture report that concludes torture does not produce valuable intel. FP’s John Hudson and Shane Harris: "In a surprisingly lopsided vote on Thursday, the Senate Intelligence Committee voted overwhelmingly to declassify a long-awaited and controversial report on the CIA’s brutal program for interrogating suspected militants. The 11-3 vote caps months of debate and is a sign of the growing rift between the intelligence community and its overseers on Capitol Hill. Officials who are familiar with the prisoners say it details cases of detainees who were dunked in cold water, battered with truncheons, and slammed against concrete walls. These officials say it concludes subjecting prisoners to such harsh interrogations, including what human rights groups and others call torture, may have been counterproductive, and that the techniques didn’t produce any leads that helped the CIA find Osama bin Laden. Other officials bitterly dispute that claim and say the report is deeply flawed and inaccurate." Full story here.
The Pentagon shouldn’t expect an early Christmas. Defense News’ Marcus Weisgerber: "The US military services have sent Congress wish lists that include $36 billion in priority items that were not included in the Pentagon’s 2015 budget proposal. But actual passage of the lists seems unlikely." More here.
Ash Carter is about to start talking. The former DepSecDef, who left office last December after five grinding years running the Pentagon’s day-to-day operations as its No. 2, is back after a three-month breather, Situation Report is told. The WorldWide Speakers Group, which handles former Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson and World Bank Chief Bob Zoellick, this week snagged Carter as a client. He is their first senior DOD official. It’s a sign, we’re told by a source knowledgeable about Carter’s thinking, of his interest in taking some of his COO experience and applying it to the corporate world.
It’s back to school for the WaPo’s Dana Priest, who will focus on national security issues as the Knight Chair at the University of Maryland. A UofMd. statement: "In her new role, Professor Priest’s future investigative work for The Washington Post will be done with a small team of students who will not only help in research and reporting but will find new, smarter ways to tell important stories." More here.
Defense Department undersecretary for acquisition Frank Kendall vents frustration over the operating cots of Lockheed’s F-35. Bloomberg’s Tony Capaccio: "The Pentagon will decrease its $1.1 trillion estimate for the cost of supporting Lockheed Martin Corp. (LMT)’s F-35 fighter jet over a 55-year lifespan, the top U.S. weapons buyer said. It will drop to a number that’s not trivial but is not as much" a reduction "as I would like," Frank Kendall, the Defense Department’s undersecretary for acquisition, said today at a Bloomberg Government breakfast in Washington. While debate over the aircraft, the costliest U.S. weapons system, has focused mostly on the price to develop and build the fighter, Pentagon agencies also have disputed its long-term operating costs, from spare parts to repairs." More here.
Gee whiz: The Marine Corps plans to equip Ospreys with wifi and troops with tablets. Marine Corps Times’ Lars Schwetje and Gina Harkins: "The Marine Corps is testing hand-held tablet computers designed to give ground troops real-time target intelligence while en route to a raid point, and officials say the technological leap will change how the service carries out crisis-response missions in hostile parts of the world. The effort falls in line with the recent Marine Corps strategy to remake itself following budget cuts and the close of its long-term commitments in two land wars. The particular emphasis – combining mobile technology with older amphibious helicopter doctrine – is in part a reaction to larger scale demands of President Obama’s Pacific pivot, as well as the smaller scale demands of the post-Benghazi diplomatic security climate in Africa." More here.
Iraqi Deputy PM Mutlaq wants the U.S. to take a stand. Writing on FP: "Iraqis will vote at the end of this month in our first national-level election since the departure of American troops in 2011. On the heels of last year, the bloodiest we’ve experienced in recent memory, and facing the prospect of even more violence ahead of us, some have lost hope (though others remain convinced the impending elections will bring change).
"Some cynicism is understandable. After all, an opposition coalition won more votes than current Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki in our last parliamentary election four years ago, but Maliki held onto power regardless. Now, the tactics of suppression voters confront have intensified as violence between armed groups rages in two regions of Iraq, Anbar and Diyala. That bloodletting could easily envelop Baghdad. Millions of civilians are caught in the crossfire. The rest of the piece here.
Ukraine implicates Yanukovych and Russia in the murder of protesters. The NYT’s Andrew Roth: "The Ukrainian authorities said Thursday that former President Viktor F. Yanukovych and Russian security agents were involved in plans for elite police units to open fire on antigovernment protesters in February, killing more than 100 people in the days immediately before the downfall of his government. The report offered no hard evidence to back the assertions, however, and both Mr. Yanukovych and Russia’s security agency denied any involvement in the shootings. The police have already arrested several members of one elite riot police unit responsible for the killings, said Arsen Avakov, the country’s interim interior minister, but some others under investigation have fled to Crimea, which was annexed by Russia last month." More here.
Karzai maneuvers to extend his influence into the next Afghan administration. The NYT’s Matthew Rosenberg: "American officials have ignored him, and Afghanistan’s presidential contenders have tried to persuade voters that they will be different from him. But those hoping to see President Hamid Karzai slip into a quiet retirement may be disappointed in the months to come. On Saturday, Afghans will vote in a presidential election that Mr. Karzai has shaped at every stage. He narrowed the candidate field, dissuading potential candidates from entering the race and forcing his brother Qayum to leave it. He handpicked the officials who will preside over any election disputes. Then he blessed two of the three leading contenders with tens of thousands of dollars from his office’s slush funds, hedging his bets that at least one candidate open to his influence will make it to a runoff, according to senior Afghan officials. It may be well into June before that second vote can be held, and Mr. Karzai will remain president in the meantime." More here.
After what aides described as a successful meeting in Hawaii of the 10 ASEAN defense ministers, Hagel is wheels up for Japan. Then he’ll head to Beijing on Monday and then to Mongolia. He’ll be back in DC Thursday night. Hagel hosted the 10 defense ministers in Hawaii, the first time the ASEAN conference has been held in the U.S. Hagel relished his role as host, we’re told, and showed off with pride some of the American capabilities – like the "data fusion" screens on board the USS Anchorage that helps to give U.S. commanders a picture of what’s happening in the Asia-Pacific "area of responsibility," including the locations of the ships and other assets. Many would like to see a similar capability built among Asian nations as they work to coordinate better together around natural disasters – and more atypical disasters, like the search for the missing jetliner. "The wheels got turning for some of these guys," one defense official said, "on how to advance coordination for the future." The group, which included two defense ministers who had apparently never been to the U.S., also saw F-22s come in for a landing and other aviation demonstrations. Many excitedly took out their phones to capture images of what they saw, and we’re told they were quite a sight, all wearing the Anchorage ball caps they were given throughout their tour Thursday.
The Asia pivot might be shaking up the Pentagon’s starting rotation, but the United States still needs a powerful Army to close it out in the 9th inning. CSIS’s Maren Leed on FP: "At a hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee [Thursday], Army Chief of Staff Gen. Raymond Odierno testified that additional funding is needed to sustain an Army above the ‘absolute floor’ of 440,000-450,000 troops he believes is required to execute the ‘updated’ defense strategy, released last month along with President’s Barack Obama’s proposed budget for the next five years. That’s 20,000-30,000 more troops than he’s likely to get if sequestration continues — and 40,000-50,000 less than his ideal number of 520,000.
"The new strategy and budget come at a time when America’s role in the world remains up for debate. Recent polls reflect a falling appetite for U.S. military operations, and a continued desire to leave the bloody and frustrating legacies of Iraq and Afghanistan firmly in the rearview mirror. These sentiments capture a striking indifference to the world around us: unabated violence in Syria; Sunni extremists’ spread into Iraq; continued tensions in Egypt; conflicts in the Central African Republic and South Sudan; power struggles in nuclear North Korea; strains between India, China, and Pakistan; tensions in the East and South China Seas; a persistent terrorist threat; and the current contest over Crimea and perhaps more of Ukraine." The rest of her bit, here.
Today is the day you should be thinking about mine awareness. A State Department official: "The United States is the world’s single largest financial supporter of efforts to clear landmines and unexploded ordnance. Since 1993, the United States has invested more than $2.2 billion in more than 90 countries through more than 60 NGO partners around the world to reduce the harmful worldwide effects of at-risk, illicitly proliferated, and indiscriminately used conventional weapons of war. This vital assistance helps post-conflict countries consolidate peace and set the stage for reconstruction and development. Our efforts have assisted 15 countries around the world to become free of the humanitarian impact of landmines (‘impact free’)…"
The WaPo’s Emily Heil’s interview with humanitarian demining advocate Jonathan Goldsmith, aka the Most Interesting Man in the World, here.
Carl Mundy Jr., the 30th Marine Commandant, has died. Marine Corps Times’ Hope Hodge Seck: "Mundy was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer, Merkel cell carcinoma, several months ago, said his son-in-law, Bob Gunter. He died Wednesday night at his home in Alexandria, Va. Mundy served as commandant from 1991 to 1995 and helped to restructure the Marine Corps following the denouement of the Cold War… Mundy’s two sons followed him into the Marine Corps. His oldest son, Brig. Gen. Carl E. Mundy III currently serves as commanding general of the 1st Marine Expeditionary Brigade in California, while Col. Timothy S. Mundy serves as chief of staff for Combat Development and Integration at Marine Corps Combat Development Command in Quantico, Va. He also survived by a daughter, Elizabeth Gunter."
Hanging up the sword: one of our favorit-est stories ever in the WaPo was about the inherent struggle for military men and women as they transition their way out of a military life because it’s a fascinating process. The piece, by the WaPo’s Michael Ruane, in 1999, focused on Mundy: It began: "On a clear, chilly morning last winter, retired Marine Corps Commandant Carl E. Mundy Jr. stepped from a car outside the House of Representatives’ Rayburn Office Building and marched up the steps for an appointment. It was 8 a.m., a bit early for Capitol Hill. But he was calling on an old friend, Rep. John P. Murtha (D-Pa.), himself a retired Marine, wounded in Vietnam and a member of a powerful House subcommittee. Mundy, 64, who had taken off his general’s stars and Commandant’s laurel in 1995, used to come to the Hill attended by aides and advisers as a member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the commander of 170,000 Marines. This morning, as the head of the USO, the venerable but haphazardly funded military morale agency, he was alone, in business attire, and hat in hand. For 15 minutes, he waited at Murtha’s office. Finally, the congressman’s scheduler arrived. There had been a mix-up. Murtha would not be in. By the way, the scheduler politely asked: ‘Who are you?’
"…A military career can be cruel that way. You finish up, hang out the flag, slap on a bumper sticker: "Semper Fi, Mac." And head for the fishing hole. No more uniforms. No obvious chain of command. For the first time in years, you pick a permanent place to live–Mundy picked one 10 miles from the Pentagon. And if you were a high-ranking officer, you join the boards of corporations and foundations. Mundy joined seven."
Mundy, on retirement: "It’s almost like jumping out of an airplane… You are weightless. There’s no noise, or anything like that. The weight is off of you. You’re not standing on your own feet. You’re not bearing your own weight. You’re just suspended in the air." The WaPo story, reprinted by Leatherneck magazine, here.
ICYMI – DOD is not sufficiently tracking revolving door stats, by Stripes’ Chris Carroll: The Defense Department isn’t properly keeping track of senior officials who leave the government to take jobs with defense contractors, the DOD Inspector General reported Tuesday. In the wake of concerns that defense officials with responsibility over contracting were moving to the private sector and improperly influencing the process – the so-called ‘revolving door’ between government and industry – Congress took action in the 2008 National Defense Authorization Act. The law required generals, flag officers, senior civilians and program officials to seek written legal opinions on their new jobs. Under the provisions of act, DOD was also required to keep all such opinions and reports accessible in a central database for at least five years – but the DOD Inspector General said Tuesday that isn’t being done." The rest here.
The world is much safer than 20th-century historians would have you believe. The Harvard Kennedy School’s Ali Wyne for TNR: "With the centenary of World War I’s outset approaching, historians and foreign-policy experts are warning leaders to revisit its lessons, lest they allow such catastrophes to repeat themselves. Among those lessons: never underestimate the power of misbegotten ambition. ‘If we cannot determine how one of the most momentous conflicts in history happened, how can we hope to avoid another such catastrophe in the future?’ Margaret MacMillan asked in the New York Times last December. ‘Instead of muddling along from one crisis to another,’ she concluded, ‘now is the time to think again about those dreadful lessons of a century ago-in the hope that our leaders, with our encouragement, will think about how they can work together to build a stable international order.’ We should heed MacMillan’s wisdom. But we should also appreciate the progress that global security has made in the intervening century." More here.