Situation Report

Today’s summit with the Russians: can Hagel, Kerry close a deal?; Obama to speak to veterans tomorrow – an IAVA wish list; No women on Jeffrey Sinclair panel; CHINFO’s Kirby: Military folk should learn a second language: English; and a bit more.

By Gordon Lubold and John Reed Awk! Hagel and Kerry to talk with Russian counterparts today. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and Secretary of State John Kerry host their Russian counterparts today at State amid this weeks’ news that President Barack Obama had cancelled his upcoming summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin later this month. But ...

By Gordon Lubold and John Reed

Awk! Hagel and Kerry to talk with Russian counterparts today. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and Secretary of State John Kerry host their Russian counterparts today at State amid this weeks’ news that President Barack Obama had cancelled his upcoming summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin later this month. But Hagel and Kerry will attempt as best as possible to wall-off the drama over Russian asylum for Edward Snowden and focus on a number of key issues on which both countries hope to focus when they meet today with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu at State. There are about a dozen such issues on the agenda today, Situation Report is told by an administration official. These include cooperation on Iran, North Korea and Afghanistan, three topics on which U.S. officials believe there is some agreement about the way forward; the four will also discuss missile defense, nuclear reduction and technical defense cooperation issues. But of course the main topic is Syria, over which there is little agreement between the two countries. On the defense side, there is far more engagement than may be apparent on the surface, an administration official said. "I think most people don’t realize that beneath the surface, there is actually a lot of back-and-forth between the U.S. and the Russians," the official said.

A need to close some deals. The administration’s hope is to close the deal on a number of issues that can be settled at the level of discussion that will be taking place today, we’re told. "I actually think that there will be a substantive conversation on the issues and that they’ll have a dialogue," the official said late Thursday. "That’s our hope and that’s our prediction going into tomorrow." Syria, of course, will be the elephant in the room. "Syria is key, mainly because we don’t fully see eye-to-eye on that," the official said. "You’ll see a pretty frank exchange of views on that topic."

The issue of Snowden’s asylum won’t likely be dodged. White House Press Secretary Jay Carney, yesterday, noting that Snowden won’t be emphasized during the talks: ‘‘We have a lot of fish to fry, if you will, with the Russians. We have a lot of issues to engage with the Russians over… But it is not something that we’re dropping, by any means, and, you know, it remains our position that there is ample legal justification to return Mr. Snowden to the United States."

The Obama administration will begin to allow as many as 2,000 Syrian refugees into the U.S. With conditions continuing to deteriorate in Syria, the Obama White House is making what amounts to a major policy shift by agreeing to allow as many as 2,000 Syrians into the U.S. – that’s up from the 90 here already, according to The Cable’s John Hudson. "The numbers are relatively small… compared to an estimated three million people who have fled Syria during the civil war. But it’s a significant increase from the 90 or so permanent Syrian refugees who have been admitted to the U.S. in the last two years. And it’s not entirely uncontroversial. The refugees, mostly women and children, will be screened for terrorist ties — a process that could take a year or more to complete. Read the rest here.

Welcome to Friday’s edition of Situation Report, where our own John Reed is filling in for the day. 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.

Obama has a chance to talk publicly about the backlog at the VA this weekend. Obama will speak at the Disabled American Veterans National Convention in Orlando and it will represent an opportunity for him to show the military, the veterans community and the American public generally that he is in fact dedicated to fixing problems at the VA, a representative for the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America told Situation Report. "We’ve been asking the President all year to be vocal on this," Tom Tarantino, IAVA’s chief policy officer, told us. IAVA recently released a survey that 66 percent of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans do not believe Obama listens to them enough. One reason is because despite making "fixing the VA" a prominent plank in his 2009 election, Obama has presided over a VA in which the backlog of claims has only grown. That’s prompted snarky jabs by the likes of Jon Stewart as others call for the resignation of VA Secretary Eric Shineski. Shineski was initially seen as a perfect choice in that job given his own history of an injured Vietnam veteran who had stood up to Donald Rumsfeld in the run-up to Iraq. But Shineski, the former Army Chief of Staff, is conspicuously quiet, at least publicly, on VA matters. "They’ve been aggressive internally but not very vocal externally," Tarantino said of the VA and the administration. So Tarantino and others hope Obama will make a point of saying this weekend how critical it is that the nation address issues among veterans and be clear about what the administration is doing behind the scenes to fix the backlog at the VA. "When [veterans] say the President is doing poorly, that’s a perception issue. The President has probably been more active of any president since Truman… so I’m really hoping that he doesn’t just mention the backlog but talk about the path forward." 

No females allowed? Five male generals will decide the fate of Jeffrey Sinclair, the one-star accused of forcing a female aide to perform oral sex on him among other charges. In shades of the nearly all-white jury that found George Zimmerman innocent in the Trayvon Martin death case, the panel in the sexual assault case of Jeffrey Sinclair has been seated at Fort Bragg, N.C. — with all men. The panel of five will begin hearing the case Sept. 30. The panel includes Maj. Gen. Donald Leins of the Joint Staff at the Pentagon, Maj. Gen. Ted Wong, commanding general of the Northern Regional Medical Command, Maj. Gen. Dean Sienko, commanding general of Army Public Health Command, Maj. Gen. Paul Crandall, deputy chief of staff for U.S. Forces Korea, and Maj. Gen. John Wharton, commanding general of the U.S. Army Sustainment Command, the Fayetteville Observer reported. The Observer’s Paul Woolverton: "The jurors will be told of Sinclair’s three-year adulterous affair with a captain under his command. She has accused him of twice forcing her to perform oral sex – one of numerous accusations that Sinclair faces stemming from the affair and its subsequent investigation. The affair ended in Afghanistan in March 2012 when the captain reported their relationship and her allegations of assault. At the time, Sinclair was the deputy commanding general of the 82nd Airborne Division and the captain was one of his aides. Sinclair has acknowledged the affair but otherwise denied wrongdoing. His lawyers say the captain lied about the assaults to mitigate her prospects of punishment for the adultery." Read the rest here.

Maybe you held out hope that female world leaders would mean less wars? FP’s Rosa Brooks is here to crush that dream. Citing research by numerous academics, Brooks reminds us that women can be just as aggressive as men — and that’s not always a good thing. One researcher "found a ‘moderate’ gender difference in physical aggression (men were, on average, moderately more physically aggressive than women), but the picture was more complex when other forms of aggression were factored in: Women, for instance, may be slightly more ‘relationally aggressive.’ In certain contexts, different studies suggest, women may be as (or even slightly more) physically aggressive than men, although men’s greater strength makes them more dangerous when they become aggressive." Brooks goes on to cite several more examples of research suggesting the gender gap on aggression is pretty narrow. "When it comes to aggression, the picture becomes even more complex if we take away the social context and cues that powerfully affect behavior. In one study, participants who believed that researchers would not know their names or genders defied standard assumptions about gender and aggression. In a simulated conflict setting, men chose to drop more bombs than women when they believed researchers knew their identities, but when study subjects believed themselves to be anonymous, women actually dropped more bombs than male participants." Read more here.

The drone war returns with a vengeance. A U.S. drone strike just killed three people in eastern Yemen, Reuters is reporting this morning. This comes on top of the 12-14 people were killed in three American drones strikes in the country on Thursday. (There’s also been a mysterious P-3 Orion spotted flying around the Yemeni capital of Sana’a. The U.S. Navy uses some of its P-3s to scoop up electronic communications. It was also looking at putting powerful ground-scanning radars meant to find terrorists on several of its Orions, which are traditionally used for submarine hunting.) This latest news brings the grand total of people killed by U.S. drones in Yemen over the last two weeks to 28. One of the key unanswered questions about these strikes: how are they related to the recent closure of more than 20 U.S. embassiess? As FP’s Elias Groll points out, this uptick in drone strikes comes after U.S. President Barack Obama said in may he was looking to rein in the drone campaign. Groll used research by Dronestream’s Josh Begley to put together a rather fascinating interactive map of American drone strikes in Yemen before and after the President’s speech. "U.S. drones have struck five times in Pakistan and 11 times in Yemen since Obama’s speech. Not since January — when, during a five day period, Washington carried out eight suspected strikes — have U.S. missiles rained down on Yemen with the frequency they are now. While three-strike days are not unprecedented in Yemen, they are far more common in Pakistan. According to Begley’s analysis, there have been three likely instances in which U.S. drones struck Yemen three times in one day. In Pakistan, that has occurred 13 times." Click here to read more about today’s strike and here to see the map.

Did you hear the one about military officers needing to learn a second language? It’s called English. Joke credit goes to longtime CBS Pentagon producer Mary Walsh, speaking recently to students at the Defense Information School. But Navy Chief of Information Rear Adm. John Kirby used the joke in a long, thoughtful memo to his charges this week as a way to get their attention on an important issue: writing clearly. Kirby, who did much of former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen’s speechwriting: "If I had a nickel for every time I’ve heard [Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Jon Greenert] urge Navy leaders to ‘say it in plain English,’ well, let’s just say I’d have a pot full of nickels.  And yet I’m amazed at how often we continue to ignore him. I don’t think it’s intentional, this butchering of our own language.  It’s more a crime of neglect.  I think many of us have simply forgotten what it is to write well and speak well.  We know good writing when we see it.  We know a good speech when we hear it.  But for some reason, or maybe lots of reasons, we can’t measure up to the task ourselves."

The best hits of the military communicator’s worst linguistic ticks: There are no problems in the military – only challenges. An attack was once referred to by a general as a "kinetic provocation." Defending America at sea becomes "delivering offshore options." Coming home becomes "redeploy," withdrawing becomes "retrograde," and overseas becomes "OCONUS."

Kirby: "Let’s be honest.  It’s just a lot easier to complicate things — to rely on fancy words and acronyms — than it is to be clear and concise.  Being clear and concise might get you quoted.  Fancy words might convince people you are smarter than they are.  And then, maybe, they’ll leave you alone… But here’s the thing.  We can no longer afford to say nothing.  Each word must count.  Each word must work as hard as we do.  With resources declining and the gap growing between the military and the American people, we must at least try to communicate better and more clearly." Read Kirby’s full memo, including an example of his own "butchery" one time last year and his tips for better writing. Click here.



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