Situation Report

A weekly digest of national security, defense, and cybersecurity news from Foreign Policy reporters Jack Detsch and Robbie Gramer, formerly Security Brief. Delivered Thursday.

Protests Spread to Yemen

Fear of Friday prayers, McCain on engaging Libya, the cost of bombing Iran, and more.

Welcome to Thursday's edition of Foreign Policy's Situation Report.

Welcome to Thursday’s edition of Foreign Policy’s Situation Report.

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Angry protests over the anti-Islamic film "The Innocence of Muslims" have spread to Yemen, where mobs have broken through the perimeter of the U.S. embassy in Sana’a and burned two cars. The situation appears now to be under control, thanks to Yemeni security forces. But the new flashpoint marks an escalation in protests across the Middle East that has put national security back on the map and added new intensity to the presidential race.

But Libya still remains the focal point of concern. A team of as many as 50 elite Marines are now on the ground there and two U.S. Navy destroyers are headed to the Libyan coast in response to the attack against the American consulate in Benghazi. Questions are being raised about the apparent inability of intelligence operatives to foresee the violence, and about how the U.S. should respond to what amounts to a coordinated attack on an American installation.

The biggest worry now is what happens over the next two days, a senior American official based in Europe told Situation Report. "Friday prayers are tomorrow, and that’s when the imams deliver their sermons and a lot of dissemination of talking points among various strains of Islam, especially the Sunni Salafi, about what to tell their worshipers and followers," the official said, adding: "If I was [Central Command Commander] Jim Mattis, I would be very concerned about what happened."

Analysts are distinguishing>among the various protests. While the one in Egypt was large and raucous, it was loosely organized; the one in Benghazi was more complex. But the attack that killed American ambassador Chris Stevens and three others was not necessarily a reflection of broad-based anti-American sentiment. "I still don’t know if what happened in Benghazi is anti-American per se or if you had an al-Qaida clone inspired to attack the United States," the official said. This official and otherspointed to the many Libyan groups with access to large numbers of weapons.

"Why is anyone surprised that there are dangerous groups in Libya?" the official said.

Obama had been credited for contributing to the fall of the Qaddafi regime without setting a single boot on the ground. While some critics, including former CIA director Michael Hayden, who say the U.S. should have taken a "moral responsibility" for the future of Libya at the time, while others wonder if the U.S. should be doing more now in what is seen as one of the friendliest of the Arab Awakening countries. [*correction below.]

Sen. John McCain told Situation Report he would like to see the U.S. deploy more personnel to help Libya as it builds a new country.

"We have a government starting from zero, and clearly it’s still a danger," McCain said. "I think we should have proper security measures, diplomatic presence, and military advisers." More American personnel would help. "We should have people," the Arizona Republican said, training, providing intelligence, and advising the Libyans. Libya remains an opportunity to spread freedom and democratic values, he said, despite the danger from armed groups.

"I think there are extremists all over the country, but the overwhelming majority of the people reject them…The overwhelming majority of people elected a moderate government."

McCain said there appeared to be obvious intelligence failures in Libya. But they shouldn’t scare Americans away. Some on the right, including Rep. Allen West, a Republican in Florida, suggested the Arab Awakening has turned into a "nightmare of Islamism." McCain rejected those in his own party who want to disengage.

"There’s always an isolationist element in both parties," McCain said. "There are always those on the right and left that would seek any excuse to retreat to Fortress America."

The American presence in Libya may expand– and stay. Kevin Baron of FP’s E-Ring reports that the crisis could trigger what a longer-term presence on the ground: "The Pottery Barn rule may apply to Libya after all. U.S. defense officials on Wednesday told the E-Ring that the rapid reaction teams of roughly 50 Marines sent to Libya within hours of a deadly attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi could be the beginning of a much longer-term presence. One senior military official said those forces could be there for ‘as long as needed — days, weeks, even months,’ and may indeed be a precursor to an even larger U.S. military presence to come."

Was it Qaddafi’s associates or al-Qaida to blame? Josh Rogin reports in the Cable that Libya’s ambassador to Washington, Ali Aujali, believes associates of Moammar Qaddafi were behind the attack in Benghazi. "We know that Qaddafi’s associates are in Libya. Of course, they took this chance to infiltrate among the people. Rogin: "Aujali said that the Libyan government has intelligence that unspecified Qaddafi forces were involved."

Brent Scowcroft is back with a new, sober warning. Just as Israel and the U.S. spar over "red lines," a new group of top foreign policy hands is making a pitch today to re-think the costs and benefits of a strike against Iran. Former national security adviser Scowcroft, who famously warned against attacking Iraq, has signed on, as have more than 30 admirals, generals, former diplomats, and government officials, including Richard Armitage, Tony Zinni, Bill Fallon, Tom Pickering, and Lee Hamilton.

From the report: "At a time when debate on this critical issue is often driven by politics and based on unexamined assumptions about the ability of military action to achieve U.S. objectives, this paper seeks to provide clear thinking about the potential use of force against Iran. … We believe that the use of military force should be a last resort and must be accompanied by a rigorous analysis of likely benefits and costs." A launch at the Wilson Center today.

Drones are an amazing tool, but the addiction to "remote controlled war" mask its true costs. Rosa Brooks on FP: "If killing a suspected terrorist based in Yemen or Somalia will endanger expensive manned aircraft, the lives of U.S. troops, and/or the lives of many innocent civilians, U.S. officials will reserve such killings for situations of extreme urgency and gravity (stopping another 9/11, finally getting Osama bin Laden). But if all that appears to be at risk is an easily replaceable drone, officials will be tempted to use lethal force more and more casually. And this, of course, is exactly what has been happening over the last four years." 

Air Force Sec. Mike Donley to Killer Apps on sequestration:  "It is not possible to take that much money out of the defense program and not have an impact on units, on states, on businesses, on communities — the dollars will come out somewhere." The Air Force, Killer Apps’ John Reed writes, is particularly concerned about short-term purchases of 1,763 stealthy F-35 Joint Strike Fighters, about 100 new stealth bombers, and 179 new KC-46 tankers.

Bob Gates to talk debt. Bob Gates and Mike Mullen are the two big gets for an event at CSIS next week at which they will discuss the impact of debt on national security as part of a series of discussions on the debt’s impact on the United State Gates, who has made only select appearances since leaving the Pentagon, will speak by VTC from Washington state.

* Correction: In an exclusive interview with Newsmax, Michael Hayden criticized the move to go into Libya at the time for failing to take into account the first and second order effects of toppling Moammar Qaddaffi. A headline on the story on the site cast his criticisms in a far more negative light, suggesting he was calling the invasion "Obama’s Libya Adventure." Hayden did not make that comment in the taped interview or the accompanying article.  

Blowing Up

  • AFP: Violence stemming from film spreads to Yemen, where protesters broke through a perimeter and set two cars on fire.
  • BBC: CFR’s Richard Haas on Obama’s foreign policy challenges.
  • NYT: Cairo’s tepid response to protests at U.S. embassy, in contrast to Tripoli’s, raises concern.

The Film

Nexus of Politics and National Security

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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. Twitter: @glubold

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