Syrian aid stuck in lawyer-land; Why the Pentagon’s MIA shop only seems MIA; Marine officer: sexual assault problem overblown?; Mullen: too many veterans organizations; and just a bit more.
By Gordon Lubold Arming the Syrian rebels? Never mind. The White House’s plans to give weapons to the opposition in Syria and help it gain the upper hand against the Assad regime may be even less effective than first thought. A NYT story says that the plan to aid rebel fighting forces is "far more ...
By Gordon Lubold
By Gordon Lubold
Arming the Syrian rebels? Never mind. The White House’s plans to give weapons to the opposition in Syria and help it gain the upper hand against the Assad regime may be even less effective than first thought. A NYT story says that the plan to aid rebel fighting forces is "far more limited" than what the administration has indicated, both publicly and privately. "In fact, the officials said, the administration’s plans to use the CIA to covertly train and arm the rebels could take months to have any impact on a chaotic battlefield. Many officials believe the assistance is unlikely to bolster the rebellion enough to push President Bashar al-Assad of Syria to the negotiating table. The plans call for the C.I.A. to supply only small arms, and to only a limited segment of the opposition – the actual numbers are unclear. In addition, much of the training, which is to take place over months in Jordan and Turkey, has not yet started, partly because of Congressional objections."
And: "The cautious approach reflects the continued ambivalence and internal divisions of an administration that still has little appetite for intervention in Syria, but has been backed into a corner after American and European spy agencies concluded that Syrian government troops had used chemical weapons against the rebels. Mr. Obama had declared the use of chemical weapons to be a ‘red line’ leading to American action." Read the rest, here.
Meanwhile, the lawyers may have slowed things down when it comes to Obama’s "halting and ultimately secretive steps" to provide support to Syria’s opposition. The WSJ reports this morning that legal advisers from across the administration – known as the Lawyers Group – have "argued that Obama risked violating international law and giving Syrian President Bashar al-Assad the legal grounds-and motivation-to retaliate against Americans, said current and former officials," according to the paper. "The group’s arguments in part help explain why the White House agonized over Syria intervention and why Mr. Obama eventually opted to provide military aid to the rebels covertly through the Central Intelligence Agency, to help mitigate the legal risks and keep the U.S.’s profile low." And: "A reconstruction of the debate over arming the Syrian opposition shows how much administration lawyers played a cautionary role in the process, parrying calls for more assertive U.S. action by citing the risks of skirting international law, triggering a shooting war and setting legal precedents that could be cited by other countries, such as Russia and China." Read the rest of that story, here.
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Are scientific disagreements behind some of the DOD’s apparent problems to find missing troops? Situation Report caught up with a senior defense official to discuss the issues raised in a big AP story last week that detailed aspects of an internal document that candidly laid out problems within the command responsible for identifying and finding prisoners of war and those missing in action. The internal document criticized the command’s efforts, including a low number of "leads," to questionable travel. The report, which had been suppressed by the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command after other leaders within the command assembled it, said JPAC risked total failure if the problems were not addressed. But a senior defense official told Situation Report that some of what appears to be discord on the outside is the result of disagreements on the inside about what constitutes a lead to identify someone missing in action, for example.
"Part of that perception comes from within the personnel accounting community itself," the official told Situation Report. "There are some legitimate tensions in the analytical process, and those legitimate tensions can spur action. But to the outside, it may look like discord."
Defense officials acknowledge that many of the issues raised in the internal report — which had been suppressed by the JPAC — are real and need not only review, but action. But the official took issue with the portrayal of some of the findings of the internal report, including one that suggested some travel appeared excessive or unnecessary. "Many of the excavation sites, while in exotic or appealing-sounding locales, are simply not nice places, and require investigators and those doing the excavations must stay in austere, archeological camps for months at a time," the official said.
Is everything copacetic? Maybe not always. Defense sources have indicated that in the past, the relationship between the Pentagon and the JPAC was not strong or as effective as it could be. The JPAC, which at the time was headed by Maj. Gen. Stephen Tom, and the Pentagon’s Defense Prisoner of War/Missing Personnel Affairs shop, which resides inside the Pentagon’s policy shop, may not have always seen eye to eye. Indeed it was Tom who reportedly suppressed the internal report after other JPAC leaders assembled it. Today, however, under the leadership of Air Force Maj. Gen. Kelly McKeague, JPAC and the Pentagon office is much stronger. McKeague, whose command is based in Hawaii, and the DPW/MPA shop speak regularly each week, defense officials said.
As early as today, the GAO will publish an audit of DOD’s efforts on behalf of POWs and MIAs. That audit is said to be an assessment of POW/MIA efforts across DOD and will address organizational processes, we’re told. The report includes nine recommendations, eight of which the Pentagon has already agreed with and will implement. Defense officials also agree with the ninth recommendation, Situation Report is told, but will review how best to implement it. At least two of the recommendations touch specifically on issues raised by the internal JPAC review upon which the AP story was based that caused all the fuss last week.
Also, Hagel’s Strategic Management Choices Review, or SMCR, also looked at DOD’s efforts on behalf of POW/MIA. As a result, defense officials are looking at how to modify the structure of the department’s efforts to reflect the fiscal environment in which it operates. DOD pays about $160 million in total for all its programs. Read the rest of our story about the issue on FP, here.
Mullen thinks there should be fewer veterans’ groups. Mike Mullen, the former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told graduating students at New York’s Excelsior College Friday that troops and their families still need the support of American society, particularly as they return home. But he expanded briefly on the point in a way that might be seen as counterintuitive: the U.S. doesn’t need more veterans groups – it needs fewer , he said. "Those connections are precious and vital… and they cannot be solved simply by more programs," said Mullen. "There are too many programs as it is. What we need is more community support, more money devoted to fewer – and more local – initiatives." We’re told that there are as many as 59,000 charities across the U.S. – that’s only counting the ones with the word "veteran" in it. Some of them are clearly fraudulent. But such a large number of even the legit ones have their drawbacks, Mullen seems to be saying. Too many organizations undermine the effectiveness of all the groups. Mullen also gave a pointed nudge to the DOD and the Department of Veterans Affairs, which is reportedly working together to reduce the backlog of more than 900,000 veterans claims and begin to fix the deep-rooted, bureaucratic problems at the VA – ones that were supposed to get better under President Barack Obama’s leadership, but seem only to have gotten worse with his pick to lead the VA, Eric Shinseki, who has been there five years.
Mullen: "The federal government bears responsibility here, to be sure… I know the Defense Department and the Department of Veterans Affairs are working hard to integrate their efforts, to improve their record-keeping and to better process claims. But they must work faster."
Hagel is wheels up for Fort Bragg, N.C. today, where he’ll do a troop event and award a Purple Heart and present a family with the Family of the Year Award. He’ll also visit a family and assistance center, see a demo of Army infantry capabilities. Hagel will be greeted by Gen. Dan Allyn of FORSCOM, Lt. Gen. Charles Cleveland, and Lt. Gen. Joe Votel. The rest of the trip is as we reported Friday, here.
Activists in Egypt who organized the massive protests that ousted Morsy are now refusing to meet with Bill Burns, State’s No. 2. FP’s David Kenner: "Deputy Secretary of State William Burns is currently in Egypt, making him the highest-ranking U.S. official to visit since Mohammed Morsy was ousted from power earlier this month. But the activists who organized the massive protests that helped force Morsy from office are pointedly refusing to meet with him. Mahmoud Badr, the co-founder of the Tamarod movement, publicly declined an invitation to participate in a roundtable discussion with Burns and U.S. Ambassador to Egypt Anne Patterson today in a post on the group’s website. Badr said that his refusal was because the United States ‘supports the Zionist entity’ and "currently supports the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt.’ Badr also posted the time and location of the roundtable event: It will take place today at 4pm, at the Four Seasons Hotel in Cairo." Read more here.
Huh? The end of the propaganda ban means thousands of hours, per week, of government-funded radio and TV programs – for domestic consumption. For decades, the so-called anti-propaganda law prevented the U.S. government’s big broadcasting arm from delivering programming to American audiences. But that changed, quietly, on July 2. The Cable’s John Hudson: "Until this month, a vast ocean of U.S. programming produced by the Broadcasting Board of Governors such as Voice of America, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and the Middle East Broadcasting Networks could only be viewed or listened to at broadcast quality in foreign countries. The programming varies in tone and quality, but its breadth is vast: It’s viewed in more than 100 countries in 61 languages. The topics covered include human rights abuses in Iran; self-immolation in Tibet; human trafficking across Asia; and on-the-ground reporting in Egypt and Iraq. The restriction of these broadcasts was due to the Smith-Mundt Act, a long standing piece of legislation that has been amended numerous times over the years, perhaps most consequentially by Arkansas Senator J. William Fulbright." Read the rest, here.
Swimming upstream: A Marine officer says the sexual assault "crisis," as senior defense leaders term it, is overblown. USA Today’s Jim Michaels: "Lindsay Rodman is a Harvard-educated lawyer who delved into women studies as an undergraduate at Duke. She is also a Marine Corps officer. Now assigned to the Pentagon as a lawyer, Capt. Rodman has viewed the growing debate over sexual assault in the military with growing alarm. Her concern: the Pentagon’s study on sexual assault has exaggerated the scope of the problem, leading to Draconian "solutions" from Capitol Hill that will only make things worse. Captain Rodman: "If we are exaggerating what is going on rather than being precise about it then we are doing ourselves a disservice by helping perpetuate the problem." Read the rest, here.
Read Battleland’s bit on a video the Marines produced called "Lost Honor," which features leathernecks sentenced to prison for sexual assault convictions. It’s called "Lost Honor," and you can see it on Battleland, here.
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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