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.

Never forget: the mil don’t do pinpricks; Why the Russian plan wouldn’t be easy; Mabus: Navy’s ready for Syria; Dempsey, to the point; Where is Koenig’s (peace) Sphere? and a bit more. [presented today by Lockheed Martin.]

By Gordon Lubold Obama makes a case for military action – but asks Congress to hold off. President Barack Obama spoke before the nation last night to make an impassioned plea for military action in Syria – if a last minute plan presented by the Russians to put the Assad regime’s stockpile of chemical weapons ...

By Gordon Lubold

By Gordon Lubold

Obama makes a case for military action – but asks Congress to hold off. President Barack Obama spoke before the nation last night to make an impassioned plea for military action in Syria – if a last minute plan presented by the Russians to put the Assad regime’s stockpile of chemical weapons under international control fails. He urged Congress to delay a vote on the authorization of force – a vote for which the White House had little support. Addressing Secretary of State John Kerry’s gaffe about an "unbelievably small" strike on Syria, Obama was clear. Obama: "Let me make something clear: The United States military doesn’t do pinpricks. Even a limited strike will send a message to Assad that no other nation can deliver. I don’t think we should remove another dictator with force — we learned from Iraq that doing so makes us responsible for all that comes next. But a targeted strike can make Assad, or any other dictator, think twice before using chemical weapons."

The Russian plan sounds good on paper, but securing Assad’s stockpile could take years – and potentially many (American) BOGs. FP’s Yochi Dreazen: "The plan would be nearly impossible to actually carry out. Experts in chemical weapons disposal point to a host of challenges. Taking control of Assad’s enormous stores of the munitions would be difficult to do in the midst of a brutal civil war. Dozens of new facilities for destroying the weapons would have to be built from scratch or brought into the country from the U.S., and completing the job would potentially take a decade or more. The work itself would need to be done by specially-trained military personnel or contractors. Guess which country has most of those troops and civilian experts? If you said the U.S., you’d be right." Mike Kuhlman, chief scientist for national security at Battelle, which does chemical weapons disposal: "This isn’t simply burning the leaves in your backyard… It’s not something you do overnight, it’s not easy, and it’s not cheap." Read the rest here.

But Kerry’s headed to Geneva to meet Lavrov. Writing for the WaPo today, FP’s own Colum Lynch (with Karen DeYoung): The purpose [of the meeting], a senior State Department official said, is to make sure that what Russia has in mind for Syria’s weapons is comprehensive and verifiable in the midst of a protracted civil war, and to make clear that the United States and its partners insist that the proposal includes consequences if Syria does not comply. An administration official: "We’re waiting for that proposal, but we’re not waiting long. We will take a hard look at it, but it has to be swift, it has to be real, and it has to be verifiable. .?.?. If the U.N. Security Council seeks to be the vehicle to make it happen, well, then, it can’t be a debating society."

In the bungled messaging campaign of the last weeks, was Dempsey’s opening remarks yesterday at the HASC hearing one of the most concise descriptions of what the military would do? Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Marty Dempsey, yesterday: "We’ve reached the point at which Assad views chemical weapons as just another military tool in his arsenal, a tool he’s willing to use indiscriminately. And that’s what makes this so dangerous, dangerous for Syria, dangerous for the region and dangerous for the world. My role is to provide the president options about how we could employ military force. He has directed me to plan for a militarily significant strike that would do the following: deter the Assad regime’s further use of chemical weapons and degrade the regime’s military capability to employ chemical weapons in the future.

"We’ve assembled target packages in line with those objectives. We have both an initial target set and subsequent target sets should they become necessary. The planned strikes will disrupt those parts of Assad’s forces directly related to the chemical attack of 21 August, degrade his means of chemical weapons delivery and finally degrade the assets that Assad uses to threaten his neighbors and to defend his regime. Collectively, such strikes will send Assad a deterrent message, demonstrating our ability to hold at risk the capabilities he values most and to strike again if necessary. The United States military has forces ready to carry out the orders of the commander in chief.

"The limited nature of these strikes seeks to mitigate the potential for a miscalculation and escalation as well as minimize collateral damage. However, we are postured to address a range of contingencies, and we’re prepared to support our friends in the region should Assad choose to retaliate."

Welcome to Wednesday’s 9/11 edition of Situation Report and, as the Obama White House urges action in Syria, the permanent (war) campaign. Sign up for Situation Report here or just e-mail us and we’ll stick you on. And if you have a report you want teased, a piece of news, or a good tidbit, send it to us early for maximum tease. And remember, if you see something, say something — to Situation Report. That and please follow us @glubold.

Today at NDU, Ray Mabus will tie Syria, the Navy, continuing resolutions and sequestration together. Navy Secretary Ray Mabus speaks today at noon about the constant presence the Navy has in the Mediterranean and beyond, but asks pointedly how it will continue to do so in an age of CRs and sequestration. Mabus, in excerpts of the speech provided to Situation Report: "Last night the President laid out the reasons we should take action in Syria. Yet it is critical to note that today no one is questioning our ability to take action. Our naval presence in the region provided that ability the day of the regime’s chemical weapons attack. It provided the day before the attack, and continues to provide it today.

"If sequestration continues for its statutory ten-year duration, until 2022, or even for a relatively small part of that time, our naval presence and thus the ability to deliver flexible, adaptable, immediate options will almost certainly be compromised and diminished. It is impossible to know what tests await our country over the next decade. The only thing certain is that it will be different from what we believe it will be today. For seapower, the only certainty for the future is that we must have the presence worldwide to provide whoever is President with a wide range of options… Whatever course of action our nation decides to take in Syria, I do know this: The maritime options available are flexible and they are significant.  They are swift.  And they are sovereign.  But unless we act to address the damage of continuing resolutions and sequestration, they are options which may be limited or unavailable in the future."

Walt Jones wants Mabus to have Amos investigated. The folksy congressman from North Carolina wants Mabus to look into Commandant Gen. Jim Amos for his actions surrounding the infamous urination video. Marine Corps Times: "Republican Rep. Walter Jones has taken interest in the service’s prosecution of Capt. James Clement, the only officer to be charged criminally in connection with the video showing four enlisted scout snipers urinating on dead insurgents in Afghanistan. Clement’s case was abruptly dismissed Friday, but he still faces administrative punishment and possible dismissal from the service. In a Sept. 3 letter to Mabus, Jones says ‘my concern is that Captain Clement’s future has been irreparably damaged due to decisions made by the commandant,’ Gen. Jim Amos, and his legal advisers. The congressman’s letter cites three issues raised by Clement’s defense team: "unlawful command influence, improper classification of evidence and serious issues with discovery,’ a reference to the disclosure of information prior to legal proceedings. Jones has asked Mabus to ‘personally address this possible abuse and ask for an investigation.’" Read the rest here.

Did Assad woo the American right and outsmart American propaganda? FP’s David Kenner: "Even before President Barack Obama put his plans to strike the Syrian regime on hold, he was losing the battle of public opinion about military intervention. Part of the credit, no doubt, goes to a successful media blitz by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime and its supporters. In an interview aired on Monday night, Assad himself advanced his government’s case to Charlie Rose, saying that the United States had not presented a single shred of evidence’ proving the Syrian military had used chemical weapons. Assad has always been able to skillfully parry Western journalists’ criticisms of his regime — and, at times, it has won him positive international coverage." Read the rest here.

Rand Paul: forget holding off on a vote for or against force; do a "permanent hold." FP’s own John Hudson, of The Cable: "The Senate’s leading critic of President Obama’s war plans in Syria is now calling for a "permanent hold" on the vote to authorize military force in Congress following a surprise proposal from Russia to avert a military confrontation. On Tuesday, as the Obama administration ramped up its lobbying on Capitol Hill, Sen. Rand Paul convened a group of some 30 lawmakers skeptical of a military intervention in Syria. The group — which included Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT), Rep. Alan Grayson (D-FL), Rep. Justin Amash (R-MI), Rep. Rick Nolan (D-MN) and two dozen others — discussed different strategies for staving off a military intervention and the desire to call off a vote to authorize military force. Paul, to Hudson: "I think everybody is hopeful that putting the vote on a permanent hold would be the best route forward." Read the rest here.

Playing politics? The testy exchange between Kerry and Rep. Jeff Miller, Republican from Florida from the HASC hearing yesterday. A reflection of the times: Kerry gets taken to task for not owning up to reality on the votes in Congress – or the lack thereof.  From yesterday’s hearing:

Rep. Jeff Miller (R-Fla.): Secretary Kerry, you just said, again, there should be no delay. Is that correct?

Kerry: Well, I mean, there has to be a reasonable period to try to work this out. Obviously, you’ve got to see whether or not this has any meat to it. And if it does have meat, I think that’s important.

Miller: So, again following up on Mr. —

Kerry: The Senate has already delayed.

Miller: Because they don’t have the votes, Mr. Secretary. That’s why they delayed. You know that.

Kerry: Actually, no, I don’t.

Miller: Well, I do.

Kerry:  Well, I’m glad you know something. And I think this is not — you know, this should not be a political discussion about whether there are votes or not.

Miller: I’m not being political, Mr. Secretary. It’s the truth.

?They don’t have the votes. Read any newspaper in this country and you will find that out.

Kerry:  As I said to you, I don’t know that.

Miller:  Should the House delay or should the House move forward?

Kerry:  I believe that the Senate has made —

Miller:  This is the House of Representatives. (I understand it, sir ?).

Kerry:  Look, do you want to play politics here or do you want to get a policy in place? The policy that can be put in place is to try to get this particular option of getting control of chemical weapons in place. Now, if you want to undermine that, then play the politics.

Miller: OK. How —

Kerry: If you want it to work, then I’m asking you to be serious about what we got here.

Miller: — about this, Mr. Secretary. (Inaudible.) Reclaiming my time.

Mr. Chairman, would you please ask the witnesses to limit their answers to the questions that are asked?

A Candid Camera moment for the 9/11 Era. ABC’s What Would You do? goes to a deli in Kingston, N.Y. to find out what Americans think about Muslims generally. It’s all very contrived to be sure, but, as an American soldier genuinely defends a man he believes to be a Muslim being tormented by a Muslim-hating American, the vid is ultimately poignant. Click Bait here.

At the 9/11 Museum, a missing WTC artifact. Michael Burke, the brother of a firefighter who responded on 9/11 in New York, Billy Burke, asks why the new 9/11 Museum doesn’t include the Koenig Sphere. Burke: "For 30 years the Koenig Sphere, a 25-foot-tall bronze globe sculpture by German artist Fritz Koenig, stood in the center of the WTC as a symbol of world peace. Office workers and visitors of every nationality lunched around it or posed before it for photographs. On Sept. 11, though badly damaged, the Sphere was found in the ruins still intact-an emblem of world peace had been transformed into a symbol of American strength and resiliency… Americans might have assumed that once a 9/11 memorial was completed the Sphere would be moved from its temporary home and restored to the WTC site-possibly even as the centerpiece of such a memorial. It didn’t happen. Instead, we have a memorial with waterfalls and trees mean to encourage a sense of healing, and deep pools in the footprints of the towers called ‘Reflecting Absence.’ One absence in particular: Koenig’s Sphere." Read the rest here.

Will USAID’s grape farmer program in Afghanistan wither on the vine? The WaPo’s Pamela Constable, in Mir Bocha Kot, Afghanistan, writes about an AID program that helps Afghanistan farmers learn a new way of growing grapes. "Qudoos, 38, made that leap with support from a U.S.-funded agricultural marketing program that American officials call a small but exceptional success in a decade of economic assistance. The project has endured many difficulties, including Taliban attacks and resistance from farmers. But now, it may face its biggest challenge. With most U.S. troops scheduled to withdraw by next year, and an uncertain presidential election set for April, the project must soon be turned over to Afghan hands." Read the rest here.

The French seek to prevent a "rebel revival" in Mali. The Journal’s Drew Hinshaw, in Gao, Mali reports on what the French are doing to make sure Mali stays rebel-clean. Hinshaw: "Since March, French soldiers have shoveled out weaponry buried under dunes, hidden behind rocks and sunk into the waters of at least one oasis. They have uncovered 220 tons of ammunition, thousands of Kalashnikov rifles, and similar volumes of mortars, rocket-propelled grenades, plastic explosives and fertilizer for bombs, according to Gen. Laurent Kolodziej, the top commander for France’s missions in Mali’s north. The majority of firearms are workaday Chinese-made assault rifles stolen from local garrisons, worn down by time and sand. Then there is the heavier hardware from Libya. As they dig, soldiers here are pulling up remnants of al Qaeda’s Saharan stockpile that were looted in 2011 from the arsenals of Libyan strongman Moammar Gadhafi. And: "In one jarring discovery, servicemen unearthed a fighter-jet bomb burrowed into the foot of a mountain." Read the rest here.

From the Department of Life Imitating Art: Could (former Senator) Byron Dorgan’s book about a cyber attack on the power grid become reality? The NYT’s Matthew Wald: "It’s electrifying. Iran and Venezuela want to destroy the United States, so they conspire with a rogue Russian spy to launch a cyberattack on the North American power grid, beginning by electrocuting a lineman in North Dakota. Their main obstacle is a small-town sheriff in the state’s badlands, Nate Osborne, a former Marine Corps lieutenant in Afghanistan whose titanium leg ultimately saves the day. That is more or less the plot of "Gridlock," co-written by former Senator Byron L. Dorgan, the latest offering in a peculiar Washington genre. But life is increasingly imitating Mr. Dorgan’s potboiler. More than 200 utilities and government agencies across the country, from Consolidated Edison to the Department of Homeland Security to Verizon, are now expected to sign up for the largest emergency drill to test the electricity sector’s preparation for cyberattack. The drill, scheduled for November, will simulate an attack by an adversary that takes down large sections of the power grid and knocks out vast areas of the continent for weeks. The drill, organized by the North American Electric Reliability Corporation, is to explore how the country would respond to an enormous grid failure that interrupts supplies of water, food and fuel and creates disruptions on a scale far beyond those of Sept. 11, 2001." Read the rest 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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