Situation Report

Petraeus’ Act II; A Marine lieutenant remembers Iraq; Does Hagel need a Robert Rangel?; Cyber chief: civil agencies should lead after a cyber attack; and a little more.

By Gordon Lubold Petraeus’ Act II starts this month. David Petraeus, the military rock star and former CIA director who fell from grace after his affair with Paula Broadwell, is coming back. Petraeus is expected to appear later this month at the University of Southern California at an event to honor veterans and may schedule ...

By Gordon Lubold
Petraeus’ Act II starts this month. David Petraeus, the military rock star and former CIA director who fell from grace after his affair with Paula Broadwell, is coming back. Petraeus is expected to appear later this month at the University of Southern California at an event to honor veterans and may schedule subsequent engagements around the country on behalf of former service members, Situation Report is told.
One source described the event in California as Petraeus’ "coming out party," in which the disgraced retired four-star would re-emerge and begin to assemble his new, post-government image. It’s unclear just how public that persona will be, but the event would be the first significant one in which Petraeus has appeared since he was forced to resign as CIA director. It’s also likely he will sign with a speaker’s bureau and may join a school like Harvard University as a non-resident instructor or lecturer. He is also said to be considering some kind of position in the private sector as well. But an individual close to Petraeus said that little was locked in except for at least one or two speaking engagements later this month. "Anything more at this point is speculation and is probably even out in front of what he might be thinking, considering or planning."

The War Diaries: a vivid account of Iraq ten years later, as told by a Marine who had a front seat for the front line. The memories of the invasion of Iraq and the heady days that followed seem distant to most, but a remarkable new project published on FP shows readers the invasion through the eyes of a Marine platoon commander. Lt. Tim McLaughlin remembers leading the charge across the border from Kuwait, thundering across the desert and then, days later, reaching the Iraqi capital and the famously cheering Iraqis in Firdos Square. In fact, it was McLaughlin’s battalion that toppled Saddam Hussein’s statue — and McLaughlin’s own American flag that was draped over it before it made that drop to the ground watched by millions around the world.

From the intro to a new project that includes his diaries, an exhibit, and more on FP: "Throughout his deployment, McLaughlin kept a personal diary of his experiences, sometimes recounting battles blow-by-blow and, in quieter moments, composing poetry or songs. There’s a kill list of enemies felled; a catalog of the "people I saw," like the "white haired gentleman at the Palestine Hotel who said ‘thank you for all of Iraq’"; a letter to a Victoria’s Secret model written in Kuwait as he awaited the start of the war; and a minute-by-minute account of his experience at the Pentagon on the morning of 9/11, as he raced toward the burning building."

Read The War Diaries here.

Welcome to Friday’s edition of Situation Report, where technical difficulties have made us very tardy this morning. Follow me @glubold. Or hit me anytime at Sign up for Situation 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.
Does Hagel need a Robert Rangel? Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, sworn in formally yesterday but in his third week as Pentagon chief, has a full plate, from cyber security to the budget to North Korea, Afghanistan, Syria and North Africa, to sexual assault issues and things that may seem more prosaic but no less politically potent – the future of the Distinguished Warfare Medal. But he is also focused on building a team of staffers who can help him prioritize, focus, and be effective as he confronts the unrelenting number of decisions he’ll have to make as Pentagon chief. Despite the many former staffers who supported him during the contentious confirmation process, both publicly and from the shadows, Hagel is not thought to want to bring a large entourage into the Pentagon — former secretary Robert Gates famously walked into the building alone. Hagel has so far only brought in one senior aide, Aaron Dowd, a young Nebraskan who has been at his side for the last several years. Dowd is expected to play a significant role, and Hagel will also pull close a former aide from his Senate days, Eric Rosenbach, who is already in the building as a deputy assistant secretary of defense for cyber policy. But one of the most important team players will be what is known as the special assistant, or TSA — also known as his chief of staff. Hagel appears to be leaning toward Marcel Lettre, now in an "acting" role as special assistant. Read more below.

Kissinger: "You can never have enough Scowcroft." In a tribute at National Defense University this week to former national security adviser Brent Scowcroft, the E-Ring’s Kevin Baron writes that Washington’s national security luminaries came out spoke with one voice on the need for centrism. Kevin, on the red carpet of national security journalism this week, wrote: "As much as the evening was a celebration of Scowcroft’s place in Washington’s national security hall of fame, though, it was a reminder of how far from the political center current partisan politics have taken national security. Kissinger told the E-Ring he was proud of Scowcroft, his dear friend of 44 years who had weathered so many crises for the country. Does the country today need more Brent Scowcrofts, we asked? ‘You can never have enough Scowcroft,’ Kissinger replied. ‘But you’re lucky if you get one.’"

Have you ever heard of a "relinquishment ceremony?" Gen. David Rodriguez, confirmed and headed for U.S. Africa Command, based in Stuttgart, Germany, today relinquishes command of U.S. Army Forces Command at Fort Bragg, N.C. Usually when one commander leaves, another comes in, and such events are called a "change of command."  But in this case, since no one has been put forward to replace the general known affectionately as "Rod," the ceremony today at Bragg is called a "relinquishment ceremony" and a subordinate will take over until such time as a new commander is named. Just FYI. 

Keith Alexander: when it comes to a cyber attack, it’s the civs who should be in charge. Killer Apps’ John Reed writes that Cyber Chief Gen. Keith Alexander sees the FBI as the point-agency on cyber. Speaking yesterday at a hearing of the House Armed Services Committee. Alexander: "From my perspective the domestic actor would be the FBI," said Alexander, responding to a question from Rep. Joe Heck about the command’s role in responding to cyber attacks that originate in the United States. "We share our tools with the FBI. They work through the courts to have the authority to do what they need to do in domestic space to withstand an attack."

Our quotes from the FP-RAND event this week on the Iraq war prompted a lot of reader response. A transcript of the event will be posted soon on our site. In the meantime, here are a few more tidbits from the discussion:
CIA veteran Paul Pillar, now at Georgetown University: "The textbook scenario, for whenever a nation like ours undertakes something really major, and certainly, a, you know, a big offensive war choice is major, is that we have a policy process in which al
l of the relevant parts of the bureaucracy, as well as external sources of expertise, are engaged that examines in detail, what are the objectives that we would be trying to achieve if we undertake this? What would be the cost? What are the other side effects? And you weigh the pros and cons, and that’s the way a policy process works. And as Rich Armitage once observed, we didn’t have that with going to war in Iraq. And there was no process to decide, you know, whether it was something this country ought to do in the first place, as opposed to discussions about getting public support for the decision, or for implementing the decision…. But I would estimate that not just 10 years from now but 50 years from now, when historians look back at this, the absence of that kind of process is going to be one of the most extraordinary things that historians will comment on."
Peter Feaver on the success of the war: "I think it’s possible that five years from now the conventional wisdom will have evolved to the point where we decide we did the Iraq war better than we did the Afghanistan war — that we achieved a higher level of success however it’s defined as success. Not that we were right to go in. I don’t think there will be a change in the judgment on the front-end decision. But on the what did we accomplish it may be that Iraq will end up scoring a little higher than Afghanistan, which is not what any of us would have predicted, say, four years ago. But I suspect that could be what happens five years from now."

A clarification: Yesterday, we noted that, at the end of the four-hour discussion, Gen. John Allen was "making the case" that the U.S. and NATO wouldn’t put boots on the ground for 20 years. To clarify, Allen was not advocating that the U.S. and NATO refrain from such missions. Here’s the full quote, in which he echoes comments made by retired Lt. Col. John Nagl. "I think, again, in the context of things that we should take forward: Coalition development and coalition management is going to be extraordinarily important in the future. I’m not sure that we’ve put enough emphasis on that either in our schools or in our whole of government approach. Clearly a 50-nation coalition right now in Afghanistan has been important to us, but my guess is, just as I think John said a moment ago, that it will be 20 years before we undertake something like this again. It’s going to be a long time before NATO is going to be interested probably in undertaking something that could look like this again."

Hagel’s special assistant, con’t. Lettre, a former national security adviser to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada, has been in the building for about four years, managing the transition of Gates to Leon Panetta, and serving as the assistant secretary of defense for legislative affairs. He then played a big role in the current transition. He’s well-regarded in and outside of the building, considered a nice guy who knows the Hill but also, increasingly, the building, and sees the big picture. "Secretary Hagel appears to be gelling well with Lettre," a senior defense official tells Situation Report. "The final decisions haven’t been made on front office personnel, but Marcel is a quiet doer, well-liked, well-respected, and the secretary appears to have recognized that."

If Lettre gets the nod, he’ll have big shoes to fill, following Panetta’s former chief of staff Jeremy Bash and, before that, Gates’ special assistant Robert Rangel. Both those men were also well-thought of and brought distinct qualities to the front office, say former officials familiar with the dynamic in the defense secretary’s front office.  Bash played the more conventional role of chief of staff, typically traveling with Panetta and staying close to him, effectively managing the front office and day-to-day operations of the Pentagon. Affable and accessible, Bash followed Panetta from the CIA but like others, cut his teeth on the Hill, where he had served as the chief counsel of the Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence. That put the Pentagon’s number two — Deputy Secretary of Defense Ash Carter, seen as competent and capable — in what another former official described in a "chief operating officer" role, managing the building.
That was perhaps in contrast to the dynamic under Gates. Rangel, Gates’ right-hand-man, was a quiet enforcer who operated behind the scenes and rarely traveled with the secretary. Gates, who had a tight coterie of advisers, gave Rangel a larger portfolio that diminished the role of Bill Lynn, then the deputy secretary of defense. For example, Rangel had a major advisory role on budgets and policy — all on top of his role managing Gates’ front office at the Pentagon. As a gatekeeper, Rangel was also obsessive about making sure that whatever was put in front of Gates was staged and ready for a decisive action or some kind of outcome. "[Rangel] never traveled because his focus was on making sure the secretary’s priorities and guidance were being carried out in the Pentagon," a former official said.

Rangel was considered fair-minded and knowledgeable and lacked a personal agenda. And perhaps most critically, he was not a screamer. "I don’t think there are many people who have done [the job] better than Robert," said former Pentagon policy chief Eric Edelman. "Basically there was no issue that came up that Robert didn’t know like the back of his hand."

If Hagel gives Lettre the job permanently, he will likely define Lettre’s role much in the same way as Panetta defined Bash’s – someone with whom he will work closely and attend meetings – leaving management of the building to Carter. Regardless, the most important thing for the special assistant is to cue up decisions for the boss, make sure he makes them, and then ensure the building follows the secretary’s will, said former officials familiar with the dynamics of the front office. He’ll have to help Hagel navigate the seemingly endless corridors of the Pentagon — from the E-Ring into the A-Ring, and the rings in between, former staffers said. And he’ll have to act as the Great Integrator, coordinating between the services, the Joint Staff and the secretary’s office, as well as the White House, other agencies, and the Hill.

The special assistant must chart the course, digest a ton of information, filter it, prioritize it and then assess whether that information — and the people attached to it — need the secretary’s attention. "That’s where you succeed or fail, because that’s what it all comes down to," said one of the former officials. But if Lettre says in the job, he won’t be able to do it alone. "The key for Marcel is, he’s gotta put a team up there, he can’t do it all by himself… the place is too big, the job is too hard."

Expected to stay on ­­-Tom Waldhauser, the humble Marine three-star who served as Panetta’s most recent senior military adviser and will likely stay on in that role under Hagel.


  • RT: Damascus warns of strike on Syrian rebels hiding in Lebanon.
  • AP: North Korea accuses U.S., South Korea, of cyber attack.
  • CTV: Canada may contribute to Mali peacekeeping mission.
  • Duffel Blog: Army implements mandatory divorce policy to improve readiness, lower costs.
  • Defense News: Reid: Bickering over amendments pushes CR vote to next week.    
 Twitter: @glubold

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