Situation Report

FP’s Situation Report: As a rescue mission looks “unlikely,” a decision for Obama; Will the Kurds Take K Street?; Former DARPA chief didn’t do the right thing; Why standards matter when careers end; Operation Name that Op continues; and a bit more.

FP’s Situation Report: As a rescue mission looks “unlikely,” a decision for Obama; Will the Kurds Take K Street?; Former DARPA chief didn’t do the right thing; Why standards matter when careers end; Operation Name that Op continues; and a bit more.

By Gordon Lubold

Chuck Hagel says the assessment the U.S. military did on Mount Sinjar shows things aren’t as bad as feared and a rescue mission is now "unlikely." After weeks of speculation that as many as 40,000 Iraqi civilians, including minority Yazidis, were starving and thirsty and children were dying, a U.S. recon team dropped onto the mountain yesterday and reported back. And in just that one day, their assessment, that there were far fewer stranded Iraqis, the ones there were in relatively good shape – meant the dramatic rescue mission that seemed to be under consideration probably wouldn’t happen.

That assessment is a big deal because it will force a bigger decision by Obama. The trapped civilians had animated the administration and had really been the motivating factor behind this past week’s military operations – both humanitarian and airstrike. Indeed, for a president who wanted to get out and stay out of Iraq, the humanitarian operations had been a political fig leaf. And that had helped to lure a growing list of international partners to join the U.S. But now that the assessment concludes there’s far much less to worry about on that mountain, the President confronts a much bigger decision – what to do about the brutal advance of the Islamic State, which a senior officer at the Pentagon said this week in no way had been broken by the recent series of airstrikes.

Indeed, the militant threat gets a modest response. The WaPo’s Greg Jaffe and Greg Miller: Senior U.S. officials describe the threat posed by the Islamic State in chilling terms, but have mounted a decidedly modest military campaign to check its advance through northern Iraq.

"The radical Islamist organization has attracted more fighters, controls more territory, and has access to a larger stream of money than al-Qaeda did before the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, according to U.S. officials and terrorism experts. Its refusal to rein in its brand of rampant violence accounts in part for its break from the better-known terrorist group.

"…So far, though, the Obama administration’s response to the group’s blitzkrieg through northern Iraq has been defined primarily by the limits it has placed on the U.S. military’s intervention." More here.

The NYT trumpeted the significance of the assessment with the Page One headline, "Pentagon Says Militants’ Siege in Iraq is Over," suggesting the administration had reached perhaps a broader policy conclusion than others might see. The WaPo had this Page Oner: "N. Iraq rescue mission less likely – shaping of strategy to beat back Islamic State continues," and the WSJ, which had trumpeted on Page One the day before the notion of an emergency rescue operation put inside the paper: "U.S. Says Refugee Rescue Unlikely."

Meantime, Obama’s pledge to have no boots on the ground increasingly becomes one of semantics. FP’s Lubold: "President Barack Obama has pledged repeatedly not to put "combat boots on the ground" in Iraq. But a growing air campaign, combined with an increasingly dire need to address the situation atop Mount Sinjar, means it will be increasingly difficult for him to keep his promise.

"As the United States expands its air campaign in northern Iraq — which included a new round of strikes Wednesday — the Pentagon will almost certainly need to deploy American "spotters" to help guide precision munitions to their targets. Those forces would operate in areas close to IS positions, leaving them potentially vulnerable to attack.

"James Dubik, a retired Army three-star general who commanded U.S. forces in Mosul, said it’s hard to square the administration’s words when it comes to defining the U.S. mission there without accepting that U.S. forces are in combat. "Pretty narrow splitting of hairs," he said in an email." More here.

AP this morning: Iraqi security forces, militants, clash west of Baghdad, here.

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CNAS’ Richard Fontaine and Michele Flournoy look at U.S. forpol in the National Interest under the headline: "America: Beware the Siren Song of Disengagement," here.

And CSIS’ Clark Murdock, Kath Hicks, Thomas Karako, Sam Brannen, Ryan Crotty and John Schaus look at "the next level questions on Iraq", here.

Today at 12:15 at the New America Foundation, an event on "What is Happening in Iraq." Event deets here.

Also today, at the Heritage Foundation at 2pm, another event on "An Assessment of Obama’s Strategy," here.

Meantime, the Kurds are masters of influence. Will they take K Street this time around? FP’s Kate Brannen, citing the Sunday show appearance this past weekend of Gen. Jim Jones and former U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Zalmay Khalilzad: "…To those who follow the issue closely, Jones and Khalilzad’s TV appearance was a sign of the Kurds’ sophisticated and well-funded influence machine in Washington kicking into high gear. Both Jones and Khalilzad are longtime supporters of Iraqi Kurdistan who have also been involved in business dealings with the region.

"With the Islamic State advancing and embattled Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki locked in a political showdown with his rivals, advocates for the Kurds are pushing for greater autonomy from Baghdad, as well as for larger amounts of direct U.S. military support for the Kurdish Peshmerga forces struggling to hold the line against militants from the Islamic State."

"To spread their message in Washington, Kurdish leaders have long maintained relationships with members of the media, the think tank and academic communities, politicians on Capitol Hill, and officials in and out of government. For the last several years, the Kurds have also retained a slew of lobbying firms, including Patton Boggs, to work on their behalf. The Kurdish Regional Government, which runs the Kurds’ proto-state in northern Iraq, spends at least $1 million a year on these efforts, according to documents filed with the Justice Department." Read the rest here.

Bedfellows: Iranians and the U.S. aid Kurdish fighters, by the WSJ’s Nour Malas and Joe Parkinson, here.

Brett McGurk is Washington’s man in Baghdad. The WSJ’s Jay Solmon and Matt Bradley: "…As the administration’s point-man on Iraq, the 41-year-old diplomat has been leading the U.S. pivot on Mr. Maliki and facing down the challenges the Obama administration has in helping stabilize a country in political turmoil and fighting a growing threat from the militants calling themselves the Islamic State. Mr. McGurk, despite his midlevel title of deputy assistant secretary of state, has played a central role in crafting U.S. policy in Iraq for a decade. He is now serving as the White House’s leading interlocutor to build ties with Mr. Maliki’s successor and forge a unified front in battling Islamic State militants." More here.

Operation Name that Op! continues. The U.S. military mission in Iraq, which includes more than a thousand U.S. personnel, dozens of airstrikes and, to date, thousands of gallons of water and bundles of food, still doesn’t have a name, even though the military almost always names even the most ridiculous operations even when they are tiny in scope. The lack of a name isn’t just a frivolous observation. The fact that Obama’s Pentagon hasn’t named it seems to reflect Obama’s reluctance at conducting humanitarian and airstrike operations in the first place; the military’s non-branding campaign when it comes to this keeps it generic, diminishes its significance in the hopes it will all go away.

Still, there is some fun to be had out there. SitRep readers played with the idea of naming the operation, and the world renowned "Doctrine Man" started a contest – an "Order of the Blue Falcon" coin goes to the winner. And there may already be an un/official winner in Doctrine Man’s contest – Operation Caliph-fornication – but we’re still checking for full confirmation. There are a ton of nominations on Doctrine Man’s Facebook page here.

Here’s a history of naming military operations provided to Situation Report from the Pentagon, here.

Here’s a sample of the many received in Situation Report’s inbox yesterday or overheard about the Pentagon: Operation Enduring Clusterfuck; Operation Ruined Vacation; Operation ISIL (Incremental Sort of Intervention, Ltd.); Operation Provide Comfort 2; Operation Here We Go Again; Operation Doubtfire; Operation NoRedline; Operation Mountaintop; Operation Yaz; Operation CrISIS; Operation Desert Redemption; Operation SinJar; Operation Save the Catholics; Operation Whitesnake (Here I Go Again); Operation Third Time’s the Charm;  Operation Hey, Isn’t that my Humvee?; Operation Cold Comfort; Operation Reluctant Thunder; Operation Again? Really? That last one had this note: "Sorry it’s snarky but somewhere post-WW II we forgot both why we should fight wars and how to do it properly and that frustrates me to no end."

Read Kristina Wong’s post on The Hill blog, in which the Pentagon’s Col. Steve Warren argues for crowdsourcing the name, here.

The DOD Inspector General finds that the former DARPA chief violated Pentagon ethics rules when she discussed products with defense officials made by the company she founded. FP’s Nicole Duran: "…The Defense Department’s Office of Inspector General concluded that Regina Dugan, the former head of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), essentially promoted her former defense contracting company to Pentagon colleagues in violation of the department’s ethics code while leading the agency, according to the report, which was dated April 9, 2013, but not released until Wednesday." More here.

Israel tries to spin success from the war in Gaza, by Defense News’ Barbara Opall-Rome, in Tel Aviv, here.

Obama stifled Hillary’s Syria plans for years, The Daily Beast’s Josh Rogin reports, here.

The burial service for Maj. Gen. Harold Greene is at Arlington this afternoon.

Yesterday, Greene was remembered by Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno and others at a memorial service. Military Times’ Michelle Tan: "…A standing room-only crowd gathered in the Pentagon auditorium for the memorial ceremony, which was marked with tears but also laughter as Greene was remembered for his sharp wit, his love of the Boston Red Sox and his outsized personality.

"…Greene often walked the offices and hallways where he worked, and he knew everyone by name, said [Greene’s Chief of Staff Col. Ken Rodgers], who first met Greene in 1996 and has worked with him five times since then. ‘If he made eye contact with someone, he’d talk to them,’ Rodgers said. Rodgers did not go with Greene on the Aug. 5 visit to The Marshal Fahim National Defense University in Kabul. When news of the attack, which also left 15 troops wounded, got back to the headquarters, Rodgers said he was in shock." More here. 

Michael Isikoff about the (count ‘em) six soldiers who are shopping around a Bowe Bergdahl book and movie proposal. Isikoff: "…A draft of their book proposal, a copy of which was obtained by Yahoo News, depicts Bergdahl as a ‘premeditated’ deserter who ‘put all of our lives in danger’ – and possibly aided the Taliban – when he disappeared from his observation post in eastern Afghanistan in the early morning hours of June 30, 2009." For Yahoo News, here.

More remembrances of Robin Williams: The NYT’s Thom Shanker wrote yesterday about how Williams opposed the war but supported the troops – a key distinction that average Americans grapple with all the time. Read Shanker’s post at The Times’ At War blog, here.

Remember the letter FP’s Tom Ricks published from a Major Slider about how he was unceremoniously asked to leave the Army? Well we heard from a friend to Situation Report after we ran Tom’s piece who said Slider’s letter made his blood boil. Yesterday, Tom ran a letter that reader wrote in response to Slider’s bit under the headline: "A Marine Officer Who Also Had a Career Stopper Responds To Major Slider’s Letter." Former Marine officer Lloyd Freeman: "…I am a Marine officer and I too received a ‘black mark’ earlier in my career due to my failure to uphold the high moral code of the Corps. I knew my mistake would mean I would not be assigned to select posts nor could I expect to be selected to command, and I wasn’t. However, unlike Major Slider, I felt remorse only for the mistake I made and I harbored no ill will towards the Marine Corps, whose high standards I had failed to live up to."

"…Like Major Slider, I failed my service, but unlike Major Slider, I don’t expect my service to compromise its standards because I could not live up to them." Read Freeman’s letter to Tom, reposted on Best Defense by permission, as well as Major Slider’s original post, here.