HRC takes one for the team
Mark Bowden on vetting books (his comes out today), Could defense spending crunch mean a harder Afghan withdrawal? Best Defense: Six questions for Obama and Romney, and more.
Hillary Rodham Clinton took responsibility for the attack in Benghazi. Clinton last night said for the first time that the buck for the Sept. 11 attack stops with her, in an effort to stop the tarnish on the administration from spreading any more than it has, one day before a major, perhaps game-changing debate on which Obama is vulnerable to this line of attack. Clinton, speaking in Lima, Peru: "I take responsibility, I am in charge of the State Department, 60,000-plus people all over the world, 275 posts, the president and the vice president certainly wouldn't be knowledgeable about specific decisions that are made by security professionals."
Hillary Rodham Clinton took responsibility for the attack in Benghazi. Clinton last night said for the first time that the buck for the Sept. 11 attack stops with her, in an effort to stop the tarnish on the administration from spreading any more than it has, one day before a major, perhaps game-changing debate on which Obama is vulnerable to this line of attack. Clinton, speaking in Lima, Peru: "I take responsibility, I am in charge of the State Department, 60,000-plus people all over the world, 275 posts, the president and the vice president certainly wouldn’t be knowledgeable about specific decisions that are made by security professionals."
Republicans McCain, Graham, Ayotte respond: "This is a laudable gesture, especially when the White House is trying to avoid any responsibility whatsoever."
The issue will undoubtedly come up tonight in the second presidential debate at Hofstra University in New York, which will touch on foreign policy and national security issues as well as the economy. But it will give Romney a chance to take digs at the administration’s roving narrative on Benghazi as well as for Obama to be clearer on the matter.
John Heilemann on "Morning Joe" today: "The most effective thing [Obama] could do… if he stood up in this debate if he’s asked about it, and say ‘you know I appreciate what Secretary Clinton said yesterday but she’s not responsible, I am responsible. I am not responsible for every single security decision that gets made, but I am ultimately responsible, the buck does stop with me.’ And I think it would be a politically effective and substantively accurate thing to say."
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Debate prep from Best Defense: Questions for Romney and Obama. One, for Romney: "You’ve said on numerous occasions that you would oppose any tax increases. But you’ve also supported a two trillion dollar increase in defense spending. Democrats on Capitol Hill have said they will not agree to waive the mandatory defense cuts set for the end of the year without increases in revenue. If faced with a choice between increased taxes and cuts to defense spending, which would you choose?"
Another, for Obama: "In most respects our war in Afghanistan seems to be a strategic failure, despite some clear tactical victories around the country. In your view, do the military advisors who advocated a surge/counterinsurgency strategy in Afghanistan still have credibility? Would you rely on their advice in a second term?" Read four more. http://bit.ly/CQ81
Mark Bowden’s new book "The Finish," on the raid in Abbottabad, comes out today. In it, he told Situation Report, he writes that if things went south during the operation to get bin Laden, and the Pakistanis started shooting, Adm. Bill McRaven, head of U.S. Special Operations Command, planned to have his men hunker down and await a diplomatically negotiated way out of the country. But Obama said no. "Obama said, ‘If you’re going in, make sure you can get out,’" Bowden told Situation Report. "That was surprising to me. I thought it would have been the reverse."
Bowden said that he was surprised to learn more about how much consensus there was among the principals in the run-up to the May 2 raid — with the exception of Biden — to take action against bin Laden. Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Hoss Cartwright, he said, wanted to attack but from the air, in a narrative that has been reported before. Then Gates changed his mind.
"More than a day before [the raid] was launched, every one of his principals favored a SEAL raid," Bowden said.
Had a second helicopter crashed and the raid had to have been aborted, what would have become of Obama? Could he be seen as a Carter after the failed hostage rescue? Bowden: "Very clearly it was probably the major reason why Carter failed to win a second term. That, I think, was a major contributor. It is fair to say that Obama took tremendous political risk when he ordered the mission. The larger risk, of course, were by the men who went out on the mission."
Bowden said the book reads more like "Killing Pablo" than "Black Hawk Down," more back story and fewer pages, 24, of narrative of recreated action. Obama, he said, took "an extremely calculated risk" and got lucky. But in the end, Bowden argues, he put his faith in Bill McRaven. "As much as Obama is an intellectual and weighs issues in an abstract way, ultimately I think his confidence boiled down to his confidence in McRaven, who exudes a tremendous amount of confidence."
On books like "No Easy Day," over which the Pentagon is still mulling its legal options, Bowden thinks such authors should hold to the disclosure agreements they are said to have signed when they left the service. But as a journalist, he believes the government must ensure journalists and other writers are free to obtain information and write what they learn.
"I feel that it is vitally important for journalists to protect sources of information. When we remove a very important part of how we keep and hold our government accountable for what it does, it troubles me a lot less to police those within [the military’s] ranks," Bowden said. "The difference is that if you’ve taken an oath, and signed the necessary papers, then you have an obligation to protect the secrets."
Bowden touched on classified information in his book but said he trusted his sources to assess if what they were providing him was actually important or sensitive. He obliged, when in one case he was asked not to report some information he was provided. No parts of his book were vetted, he said, and he said he wouldn’t allow them to be if he was asked.
Read Bowden’s Six myths about Obama’s biggest foreign policy success on FP. http://bit.ly/TVT6KQ
The New York Times Sunday editorial on "packing it up" in Afghanistan continues to weigh on national security officials for pointed rebuke of the current mission. It implicitly raised the question of just how, logistically speaking, the U.S. will extract itself from Afghanistan when the time does come. Situation Report talked to a couple logisticians to hear what they had to say about "retrograde" from Afghanistan. Gus Pagonis, who as a three-star during the first Gulf War pulled tons of materiel out of the region, said moving stuff is much the same — despite the obvious differences between Afghanistan and Kuwait.
"The principles of retrograde are always the same: identify the troops that have to get out first, what logisticians do you need, then you do triage," Pagonis says. "They already have the plans, they just have to dust them off."
But, he says, his only enemy was the weather. When the U.S. begins the extraction from Afghanistan, it will largely have to fight its way out. "I didn’t have an enemy," Pagonis says. "Nobody cared how we were coming out, CNN went home, I was all alone."
Another logistician told Situation Report that the current budget crunch at home could have an effect on just how much stuff is sold or donated to the Afghans and what is brought home. The Pentagon, said a retired colonel who has experience in Afghanistan, may be more circumspect about leaving so much behind.
"No one knows who is going to be elected, what the final outcome of sequester is going to be, so I think the services will be very conservative trying to get equipment back, not knowing what funding levels will be for the Department of Defense," he told us.
With Kevin Baron on E-Ring: http://bit.ly/OX1zJd
Meanwhile, meet the Flame virus’ mean little brother. Killer Apps’ John Reed: "So it looks like the Flame and Gauss viruses that infected thousands of computers in the Middle East with advanced spyware over the last few years were merely meant to identify valuable targets. Once a person of interest was found by those big bugs, a much smaller, more precise tool, dubbed miniFlame, was sent in to pillage their machines, according to a brand new report by Kaspersky Lab." http://bit.ly/T7TyGl
- Danger Room: Air Force engineer takes on general over Osprey crash. http://bit.ly/Qnb9po
- USAT: Two questioned at hospital where Malala is staying. http://usat.ly/SYWPBh
- Jerusalem Post: Netanyahu praises EU for bolstering sanctions against Iran. http://bit.ly/SZ1Ny0
- CTV News: White House ponders a strike in Libya. http://bit.ly/QplOA2
- The Guardian: U.S. concerned weapons in Syria reaching jihadis. http://bit.ly/V4kBn1
Twelve Years and Counting
- NYT: Suicide "insider attack" kills two Americans, four Afghans. http://nyti.ms/RxpU88
- AP: Afghans deny killer of two Americans was an intel agent. http://huff.to/S1dZ4M
- Pak Tribune: Thousands of British soldiers to quit Afghanistan in 2013. http://bit.ly/SXVZt4
- Canada Free Press: Why we lost Afghanistan. http://bit.ly/T81PKh
- AP: Chinese warships cross waters near Japan island. http://abcn.ws/RxoTwS
- Asia One: China airline offers free tickets to Japan after islands row. http://bit.ly/Qm24uU
- Asahi Shimbun: Drunken Chinese attack Japanese businessman in Shanghai. http://bit.ly/SYQlCw
- Reuters: China criticizes new EU sanctions on Iran. http://bit.ly/QNcC7O
- WaPo: The inevitable blowback to high-tech warfare. http://wapo.st/PyIEIw
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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