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.

Panetta, putting the band back together; Who instead of Allen? Chuck Hagel isn’t bringing an ‘Entourage’ to the Pentagon; No, Mitch McConnell, Marines in Afghanistan aren’t preparing for the Zombie Apocalypse — and Gitmo detainees aren’t getting GI benni

By Gordon Lubold Europe, the final tour: Panetta put the band back together for the last time — really. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta is one place he hoped he’d never be — back on the so-called Doomsday plane and headed to Europe this morning. He returned to an all-but-empty office, as the E-Ring’s Kevin Baron ...

By Gordon Lubold

By Gordon Lubold

Europe, the final tour: Panetta put the band back together for the last time — really. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta is one place he hoped he’d never be — back on the so-called Doomsday plane and headed to Europe this morning. He returned to an all-but-empty office, as the E-Ring’s Kevin Baron reports, after last week’s tearful farewell. But the failure to get Chuck Hagel confirmed before this week’s NATO ministerial means Panetta flew back from California to represent the U.S. in Belgium. It’s the kind of meeting that top Pentagon officials sometimes joke about since almost every minister feels compelled to make a speech. But the meeting, which runs Thursday and Friday, is an important assembly of allies — the first since President Barack Obama announced the withdrawal of 34,000 troops from Afghanistan over the next year.

Staffers on a plane: Panetta Chief of Staff Jeremy Bash, Military Advisor Lt. Gen. Tom Waldhauser, Special Assistant Bailey Hand, Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs Derek Chollet, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Afghanistan, Pakistan and Central Asia David Sedney, Pentagon Press Secretary George Little, and Assistant Press Secretary Carl Woog.

Reporters on a plane: AP’s Baldor, AFP’s Rabechault, Reuters’ Stewart, Bloomberg’s Ratnam, WSJ’s Entous, NYT’s Shanker, and VOA’s Ramirez.

Wanted: A four-star who knows Europe, can work on a tight budget, a lotta travel required. With Allen stepping aside, Topic A is, who goes to NATO? It’s a burning question, at least inside the Pentagon, where Allen’s decision to withdraw from consideration for the top military job in Europe results in a scramble for what remains a coveted position. Prerequisites for the job tend to be someone who is already a four-star and ideally it is someone who knows something about Europe. And a love for the road is important: the job requires the commander to be on travel for as much as 25 days per month. Names already being floated for the job in Europe include Gen. Jim Amos, commandant of the Marine Corps; Air Force Gen. Paul Selva, now commander of Air Mobility Command; Gen. Phil Breedlove, the current top Air Force commander in Europe; Adm. Bruce Clingan, the current top Navy commander in Europe; Army Gen. Chuck Jacoby, who commands Northern Command; Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Sandy Winnifeld; Gen. Robert Cone, the commander of U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command; Gen. Gilmary "Mike" Hostage III, commander of Air Combat Command; and Adm. Bill Gortney, the commander of U.S. Fleet Forces Command.

Fact: Breedlove graduated from Georgia Tech in 1977; Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Sandy Winnefeld, graduated in 1978. Breedlove has European experience, is already a four-star, and the Air Force is likely looking at that spot carefully since the service doesn’t have any other geographical combatant command jobs at the moment.

Welcome to Wednesday’s edition of Situation Report, where for the record we’ve removed ourselves from consideration for the job in Brussels – just not a good fit. Follow me @glubold. Or hit me anytime at Sign up for Situation Report here or just shoot me an e-mail and I’ll put you on the list. And as always, if you have a report, piece of news, or tidbit you want teased, send it to us early for maximum tease. If we can get it in, we will. And help us fill our candy dish: news of the military weird, strange trends, personnel comings-and-goings and whatnot.

Furloughs. The Pentagon’s Comptroller, Tony Hale, and Acting Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness Jessica Wright will brief today at the Pentagon at 1p.m. on civilian furloughs.

Allen’s decision to pull his name came down to the wire. Situation Report was the first to report last week that Allen was having second thoughts about the top military job in Europe. After a 19-month tour in Afghanistan, he had to weigh his needs and that of his wife, Kathy, who has had chronic health issues, including an autoimmune disorder. The job in Europe would have required him to be away as much as 20 to 25 days per month and that surely played a part in his thinking. Allen had also been swept up in the scandal that felled David Petraeus, after FBI investigators looking into his affair with Paula Broadwell stumbled on e-mails between Allen and Tampa socialite Jill Kelley. That prompted an investigation into the potential impropriety of some of those e-mails, an investigation that ultimately cleared Allen. Had Allen gone forward, there was the potential that those e-mails would have become public. But we’re told that wasn’t his reasoning.
Marc Chretien, Allen’s longtime civilian adviser, told Situation Report in a brief phoner: "Where 100 different people can cite family reasons as the reason for their retirement, General Allen is one out of 100 who is doing it exactly for those reasons."

The WaPo’s interview with Allen Monday night included this bit about how Obama and Allen agreed on the 34,000 troop withdrawal:  "The path to the president’s decision to withdraw 34,000 U.S. troops from Afghanistan by February 2014, announced during last week’s State of the Union address, illustrates the relationship between Obama and Allen, according to senior U.S. officials familiar with the matter. Allen’s staff had recommended that no more than 25,000 troops be removed this year, an assessment the general initially supported. But when the White House made it clear to Allen that the president wanted to remove half of the 68,000 troops now in the country, the general developed a plan to satisfy Obama: Allen recommended the withdrawal of 34,000 troops, but he also asked Obama to push the deadline back by two months – from the end of the year to February 2014, allowing his successor, Marine Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr., to avoid pulling out more than 25,000 troops by the autumn, when Taliban fighters typically begin their winter rest. Obama concurred with Allen’s plan. That allowed both parties to get what they wanted: White House officials could say that the decision to remove 34,000 troops was in line with Allen’s recommendation, while the general could remain close to his initial withdrawal target."

Mitch McConnell, fooled by the Duffel Blog. The good folks over at Danger Room posted something yesterday for our candy dish this morning: Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, responding to a letter from a constituent concerned that Gitmo detainees were receiving GI Benefits, seemed to have been fooled by a story in "Duffel Blog," the widely-read military spoof site. On November 14, 2012, McConnell contacted Elizabeth King, the Pentagon’s congressional liaison, with an unusually credulous query. "I am writing on behalf of a constituent who has contacted me regarding Guantanamo Bay prisoners receiving Post 9/11 GI Bill benefits," McConnell wrote in a letter acquired by Danger Room. "I would appreciate your review and response to my constituent’s concerns." Danger Room’s Spence Ackerman: "Um, Guantanamo detainees getting GI Bill benefits? Yes, that’s from the Duffel Blog, as McConnell’s constituent clearly states, complete with the reference URL. Said constituent even notes that he or she can’t find any information about the alleged government payouts to suspected insurgents and terrorists. The Defense Department does a lot of inexplicable things at Guantanamo Bay — there’s a resume-building workshop for detainees, for real — but paying detainees GI Bill benefits is not one of them." Pentagon spokesman Army Lt. Col. Todd Breasseale told Danger Room: "The very idea that the U.S. government would extend GI Bill benefits to enemy detainees is a patent absurdity." The letter from McConnell to King. 

Read in the Duffel Blog: Marines in Afghanistan Spending All Their Savings on Zombie Apocalypse

This isn’t ‘Entourage’: don’t expect Hagel to arrive at the Pentagon with a big team. It’s early yet — and of course Chuck Hagel has yet to be confirmed — but when he does come, he probably won’t bring a lot of his own people into the building. The flurry of Hagelians who have supported the boss through the contentious confirmation process — which really began more than two months ago — created an impression that Hagel would bring perhaps dozens of people with him to the Pentagon if and when he was confirmed as defense secretary. But some of those former staffers say they were spurred into action to help their former boss simply because of what one described to Situation Report as the egregious character assassination of Hagel.

In reality, there are only one or two people who will go with Hagel – at least for now. So far, the only Hagelian who will play a large role is Aaron Dowd, whom we’ve described as a quiet, self-deprecating Nebraskan who started with Hagel as an intern from Marquette University. We’ve been told in the past that he is not only close to Hagel, but knows him well. Dowd will get some job that is somewhere between body man and chief of staff, but probably not either. And Eric Rosenbach, another Hagelian, but one who is already installed as the Pentagon’s deputy secretary of defense for cyber, will likely assume a larger role once Hagel rolls up, Situation Report is told.

The E-Ring’s Kevin Baron reports that many of Panetta’s people will stay put, including Derek Chollet, Mark Lippert, and Liz King. Marcel Lettre will be acting chief of staff. Baron: Lettre leads a growing list of Panetta holdovers expected to stay in place at the Defense Department under Hagel. Lettre ran Panetta’s transition from CIA director to the E-Ring in 2011 and has been a frequent world traveller with the SecDef. Previously, Lettre was principal deputy assistant secretary of defense for legislative affairs. Before coming to DOD, he was senior defense and intelligence advisor and, later, senior national security advisor to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV)." And Marine Lt. Gen. Tom Waldhauser will also remain as senior military adviser to the SecDef, Situation Report is told.

Could Dems lose Levin? In "The Price of Hagel" on FP, Heather Hurlburt writes that there are potential costs to the Dems in pushing Hagel through. One possibility? Sen. Carl Levin, the Democrat from Michigan who chairs the Senate Armed Services Committee, may not run again in 2014, when he will be 80 and Michigan could turn red. Hurlburt: "No one thinks he would have trouble winning if he wanted, but the ugly back-and-forth with Senator Jim Inhofe, McCain’s replacement as ranking member, and Levin’s evident frustration with Inhofe’s demands for unprecedented levels of documentation from Hagel, cannot have strengthened his desire to stay on."

Bob Work is headed to CNAS. The Center for a New American Security will announce this morning that the Navy’s No. 2, Bob Work, who is stepping down from his position at the service, will become the CEO of CNAS. The Cable’s Josh Rogin reports that former Assistant Secretary of State Kurt Campbell and former Undersecretary of Defense Michele Flournoy, who founded the think tank in 2008 and today sit on its board of directors, chose Work Tuesday. Flournoy, in the release Rogin obtained early: "Bob brings to CNAS his vast substantive expertise on many of the most critical defense issues facing the nation, along with the leadership experience and management acumen gained in running the day-to-day operations of the Department of the Navy. Bob’s incisive intellect and strategic vision will be invaluable as he leads CNAS into its next phase. I enjoyed working with him immensely during our time together at the Pentagon and look forward to working with him again as he assumes his new role."

Sink or Swim: Why doesn’t State train its people? The Foreign Service has many young officers who aren’t adequately trained for the jobs they fill, and some of these officers feel like they are being thrown into the deep end to learn how to swim. Or so writes Nicholas Kralev on FP. From the lede: "Imagine the following scenario: A 29-year-old restaurant manager becomes a U.S. diplomat. Five years later, he is appointed the founding director of the Arabian Peninsula office of the Middle East Partnership Initiative (MEPI), a major State Department program aimed at creating and strengthening civil society in a region vital to global stability. Even though he is considered a good officer in general, the young diplomat has little idea how to do his new job. He speaks no Arabic and has never managed people or a budget outside a restaurant — let alone $2 million of taxpayers’ money. He has minimal knowledge of democracy promotion, institution-building, or grant-making, but he is expected to identify suitable NGOs in eight countries and award them grants to build an alternative to the authoritarian regimes across the Middle East. Despite the diplomat’s obvious inexperience, he is sent to his new post in Abu Dhabi without a day of training. The State Department expects him to learn how to do his job by osmosis — to watch colleagues, figure things out on his own, improvise, and rely on luck." Kralev: "There is no need to imagine this scenario — it actually happened in 2004 to a U.S. Foreign Service officer named Hans Wechsel."


  • WSJ: A palace rift in Bahrain bedevils U.S. naval base.
  • All Africa: Somalis enjoy first major music concert in two decades. 
  • The Atlantic: The Civil War and WW II: the worst guides to the War on Terrorism.
  • Defense News: Navy paints a bleaker picture on sequester.
  • AP: U.S. to strike back against Chinese cyber attacks.    
  • Foreign Affairs: (registration) McChrystal talks about modern warfare, killing and why mandatory public service makes sense. 

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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