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.

Turkey unravels; Hagel to Brussels; FP’s Susan Glasser to Politico; Dirty windows at the Pentagon; Amos on ‘zero defects;’ A SEAL comes out; and a bit more.

By Gordon Lubold Frank Lautenberg, the last remaining World War II veteran in the Senate, is dead at 89. Lautenberg, who was also the oldest serving senator in the chamber, had been ailing for the last few months, succumbed to viral pneumonia. Read the developing story, here. Syria is warning its citizens not to travel ...

By Gordon Lubold

By Gordon Lubold

Frank Lautenberg, the last remaining World War II veteran in the Senate, is dead at 89. Lautenberg, who was also the oldest serving senator in the chamber, had been ailing for the last few months, succumbed to viral pneumonia. Read the developing story, here.

Syria is warning its citizens not to travel to Turkey — too dangerous. In a sign of how bad it has become in Turkey over the last several days, news agencies are reporting that the demonstrations in Istanbul and elsewhere have become too hot. NBC, this morning: "Syria’s Foreign Ministry said it advised Syrians ‘against travel to Turkey for the time being for their own safety, because of the deteriorating security situation in several Turkish cities…and the violence of (Prime Minister Tayyip) Erdogan’s government against peaceful protesters,’ according to Reuters. In Istanbul, hundreds of young men and women gathered on ?stiklal Avenue, one of the city’s main streets, early Monday. The crowds, which clapped and whistled as they headed toward the city’s main Taksim Square, were smaller than those seen over the weekend." More here.

Just how democratic is Turkey, anyway? Writing on FP, Steven Cook and Michael Koplow conclude: it ain’t as democratic as Washington likes to think. They write: "The Gezi protests, which have been marked by incredible scenes of demonstrators shouting for Erdogan and the government to resign as Turkish police respond with tear gas and truncheons, are the culmination of growing popular discontent over the recent direction of Turkish politics. The actual issue at hand is the tearing down of a park that is not more than six square blocks so that the government can replace it with a shopping mall but the whole affair represents the way in which the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) has slowly strangled all opposition while making sure to remain within democratic lines. Turkey under the AKP has become the textbook case of a hollow democracy." Read the whole thing, here.

Welcome to Monday’s edition of Situation Report. Sign up for Situation Report here or just e-mail us. And as always, if you have a report, piece of news, or a tidbit you want teased, send it to us early for maximum tease. Please follow us @glubold. And remember, if you see something, say something — to Situation Report.

Dirty windows at the Pentagon. When it comes to sequestration and other cuts, the Pentagon’s operation and maintenance budget is being cut, too. Situation Report is told that most maintenance and alteration activities, supply purchases, and "other non-mandatory activities" that aren’t already under contract are being deferred or cancelled altogether. Others shifted to future years. Annual exterior window washing has been cancelled altogether, Situation Report is told; ground maintenance programs have been cut; and during furlough some personnel and vehicle entrances will be closed, a Pentagon spokesman said. "Obviously, with availability of support staff reduced by 20 percent during the furlough time period, the ability to respond to non-emergency repair calls will be degraded," the spokesman told us.

Hagel just landed in Brussels for the NATO ministerial. After several days in Singapore for the Shangri-La Dialogue, where he made cyber-security an issue, Defense Secretary Hagel is preparing to attend a NATO ministerial where he’ll confront any a number of topics, from Afghanistan to Syria. Hagel had about a dozen meetings plus a number of informal conversations over dinners and lunches during his stay in Singapore, we’re told by a senior defense official. Hagel also invited all ASEAN defense ministers to come to the U.S. for the first time, an invitation that we’re told was well received. "No one should doubt there are severe, real challenges in the region, but at the same time, we’re now seeing Asian leaders follow the U.S. lead in seeking greater engagement and dialogue with one another and China. That presents real opportunity," the senior defense official told Situation Report. Hagel’s visit to the USS Freedom, a littoral combat ship, was a reflection of the Pentagon’s ongoing pivot to Asia. "Seeing the crew in action makes past speeches real and drives home the message the United States is following through on its commitments in Asia," the official told us.

Interested in how to interpret the rhetoric on the pivot to Asia and make it real? Attend the an event hosted by AEI and the Foreign Policy Initiative tomorrow, aptly titled, "How to Realize the Asia Balance’s Rhetoric." The two groups will release a new report, "Securing U.S. Interests and Values in the Asia-Pacific, described to us as a "six-page memo" by the Asia Strategy Working Group to President Barack Obama and the Congress that that outlines recs on how the U.S. can achieve the rhetoric it’s been using. Deets, RSVP, here. Co-authors of the memo: Dan Blumenthal, Ellen Bork, Jacqueline Newmyer Deal, Chris Griffin, Randall Schriver, Gary Schmitt, Mark Stokes, and Robert Zarate.

Susan Glasser is leaving FP to lead Politico’s adventure into long-form journalism and opinion. We’ll soon be saying goodbye to Glasser, with whom we’ve worked for nine short months. She announced officially last night she would be leaving the magazine and website — a website that she launched and that now draws millions of readers every month — to begin a new magazine at Politico, starting in July. Glasser, to FP employees late last night: "This is an incredibly tough decision: I have been honored and humbled to have the chance to work with such an inspiring group of colleagues and contributors, and immensely proud of our incredibly hard-working, brilliant, and collegial team here that has managed this feat." 

Long form journalism, anyone? Politico is investing "several million" dollars for the magazine and hiring as many as a dozen reporters in what the young outlet called its biggest expansion in three years. Politico story, here. NYT story, here.

No, Amos doesn’t want to "fire the entire Marine Corps." But a recent rash of high-profile reliefs, including one Marine 0-6 who had been hand-picked by Marine Commandant Gen. Jim Amos for the job from which he was removed, has a lot of people wondering what’s going on in the Corps. Unlike the Navy, which typically provides public justification when it removes its commanding officers, the Corps has been less than transparent. Amos, who is himself under investigation by the DOD Inspector General, has made accountability a top issue. So much so that the spoof site Duffel Blog over the weekend posted a joke story with the headline "Commandant Attempts to Fire Entire Marine Corps." But in a real story in Marine Corps Times, Amos says he is not trying to return the Corps to a "zero-defe
ct mentality." The story is behind a paywall, but  MCT’s Andy deGrandpre, quoting Amos: "There are going to be mistakes," he said, reflecting on the patience others exhibited toward him when he was a captain and major. "I don’t think you can learn [otherwise]. … There are just some mistakes that become unpardonable sins — and those are the ones that end up getting a commander in trouble. This happens to me with my generals. I’m sure I do it for the secretary of the Navy and he goes ‘God, I wish the commandant hadn’t done that or said that.’"

Who knew? A transgender Navy SEAL talks about coming out in a book published over the weekend. Kristin Beck’s Warrior Princess: A U.S. Navy SEAL’s Journey to Coming Out Transgender. Excerpt from the foreword: "Kristin recalls always feeling that she was a female — or at least she wanted to be female — and felt as a young child and throughout her life — up till now — that she was trapped in a male body and defined as a male. There are theories and posits on all sides about why and how this happens…. Born Chris Beck, Kris spent the first part of her adult life as a natural male working as a U.S. Navy SEAL. Chris suppressed the angst of feeling that he was a female in a male’s body during that time (twenty years of service to our country) as he earned his way into the toughest male profession that exists and served on thirteen deployments around the world. Chris describes his despair throughout this book and his desire to die honorably by serving our country and fighting terrorism — to keep us safe and so that he wouldn’t have to wrestle anymore with his emotional pain that stemmed from the lack of congruency between his gender identity and his body." Buy the book on Amazon here.

ICYMI: The Post’s front-pager yesterday on the challenges of cutting military benefits is an important read. Reining in military pay and benefits may be the third rail of defense politics but there’s increasing recognition that it must be done. Parts of the military itself recognizes this need. Take the nearly $1 billion the Pentagon pays in unemployment benefits to veterans who voluntarily separate, first reported by Situation Report March 6.  Military brass would like to do away with the benefit, in which former service members are eligible for up to 92 weeks of unemployment pay, as it is out of step with the civilian world and represents a fast growing cost in Pentagon personnel accounts. But administration officials and Congress don’t want to be seen as taking such a benefit away. Yesterday’s Post story, by Rajiv Chandrasekaran, shows the push to shut down military supermarkets, or commissaries, have run into walls. Such plans amount to heresy in military culture. "The commissary fight was an opening salvo — and a glimpse of the opposition — in the next big war facing the U.S. military: confronting the enormous cost of pay raises, benefits programs and other taxpayer-subsidized services, which have increased almost 90 percent since 2001 and have become the fastest-growing part of the Defense Department’s budget. With Pentagon spending set to shrink over the next five years, senior military leaders warn that they will be forced to order reductions in troop strength, training and equipment purchases if personnel expenditures are not curtailed." Said Arnold Punaro, a retired Marine major general who chairs the Reserve Forces Policy Board, to the WaPo: "We are on an unsustainable course…. We are trading off active-duty combat readiness to protect all of these benefits." Read the whole piece, here.

Noting

  • Breaking Defense: 10 think tanks call on Congress, Hagel to close bases, change military pay.
  • AP: Bomb Monday kills 10 Afghan children, two NATO members. 
  • Small Wars: Back to basics: chess, poker and the future of warfare. 
  • Defense News: Pentagon, regional staffs grow despite orders to trim.
  • The Atlantic: Camp Leatherneck is continuing midnight meals for Marines: it shouldn’t.

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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