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.

FP’s Situation Report: Pentagon’s Pete Lavoy: post-2014 Afg shouldn’t last long

By Gordon Lubold Angry man unmasks himself: Bob Gates loathed Congress, despised Joe Biden and was dismayed at how candid Obama and Hillary Clinton were about the politics they played on the Iraq surge.  Gates’ new book, "Duty," leaked out in advance of next week’s release, shows just how angry he was in the job, ...

By Gordon Lubold

By Gordon Lubold

Angry man unmasks himself: Bob Gates loathed Congress, despised Joe Biden and was dismayed at how candid Obama and Hillary Clinton were about the politics they played on the Iraq surge.  Gates’ new book, "Duty," leaked out in advance of next week’s release, shows just how angry he was in the job, working for a president he didn’t think trusted him or the military. Gates, a Republican, is soft on George Bush in many ways. But he’s highly critical of President Obama’s White House if not Obama himself — and harshes on Joe Biden as politically calculating whose instincts are completely off on almost all foreign policy and national security issues.

The WaPo’s Bob Woodward: "It is rare for a former Cabinet member, let alone a defense secretary occupying a central position in the chain of command, to publish such an antagonistic portrait of a sitting president. Gates’s severe criticism is even more surprising — some might say contradictory — because toward the end of "Duty," he says of Obama’s chief Afghanistan policies, "I believe Obama was right in each of these decisions." That particular view is not a universal one; like much of the debate about the best path to take in Afghanistan, there is disagreement on how well the surge strategy worked, including among military officials." More here.

The LA Times’ David Cloud: "By early 2010, Gates writes, a ‘chasm’ had opened between the White House and Pentagon leadership. He recalled moments of deep ‘anger,’ ‘frustration’ and even ‘disgust’ at the way advisors around Obama dealt with him and uniformed military officers. He recounts sitting in a White House meeting in March 2011 in which Obama sharply criticized Army Gen. David H. Petraeus, the commander he had chosen to turn around the Afghan war, and voiced deep skepticism about working with Karzai." More on LAT story here.

The NYT’s Thom Shanker: "Mr. Gates does not spare himself from criticism. He describes how he came to feel ‘an overwhelming sense of personal responsibility’ for the troops he ordered into combat, which left him misty-eyed when discussing their sacrifices — and perhaps clouded his judgment when coldhearted national security interests were at stake. Mr. Gates acknowledges that he initially opposed sending Special Operations forces to attack a housing compound in Pakistan where Osama bin Laden was believed to be hiding. Mr. Gates writes that Mr. Obama’s approval for the Navy SEAL mission, despite strong doubts that Bin Laden was even there, was ‘one of the most courageous decisions I had ever witnessed in the White House.’"

Quotable Gates on Joe Biden: "I think he has been wrong on nearly every major foreign policy and national security issue over the past four decades."

Gates on what Biden did to poison the military well: "I thought Biden was subjecting Obama to Chinese water torture, every day saying, ‘the military can’t be trusted.’"

On Obama’s approach to Afghanistan: "I never doubted Obama’s support for the troops, only his support for their mission."

On Obama’s approach to Afghanistan: "I believe Obama was right in each of these decisions."

On Obama and Bush: "It is difficult to imagine two more different men."

On what he tried to do in "Duty:" "I have tried to be fair in describing actions and motivations of others."

On his opaque style: "I have a pretty good poker face."

On being SecDef: "The most gratifying experience of my life."

On being SecDef: "People have no idea how much I detest this job."

On Obama and Bush: "During my tenure as secretary, Bush was willing to disagree with his senior military advisers on the wars, including the important divergence between the chiefs’ concern to reduce stress on the force and the presidents’ higher priority of success in Iraq. However, Bush never (at least to my knowledge) questioned their motives or mistrusted them personally. Obama was respectful of senior officers and always heard them out, but he often disagreed with them and was deeply suspicious of their actions and recommendations. Bush seemed to enjoy the company of the senior military; I think Obama considered time spent with generals and admirals an obligation."

On Obama as an ice man: "I worked for Obama longer than Bush and I never saw his eyes well up. The only military matter, apart from leaks, about which I ever sensed deep passion on his part was ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,’ the law prohibiting gays from serving openly in the military that Obama successfully pushed to repeal."

On an oval office meeting that deeply pissed him off: "…Donilon was especially aggressive in questioning our commitment to speed and complaining about how long we were taking. Then he went too far, questioning in front of the president and a room full of people whether Gen. Fraser was competent to lead this effort. I’ve rarely been angrier in the Oval Office than I was at that moment; nor was I ever closer to walking out of that historic room in the middle of a meeting. My initial instinct was to storm out, telling the president on the way that he didn’t need two secretaries of defense. It took every bit of my self discipline to stay seated on the sofa."

Gates in his own words in the WSJ, here.

Gates in a neckbrace: From Politico’s Mike Allen’s Playbook: "Despite yesterday’s caustic leaks from his forthcoming memoir, Duty, former Secretary Gates will take a more reflective, contextual take about the President and Secretary Clinton on Monday, when he goes on ‘Today’ to begin a week of live interviews. Gates will say he believes Obama made the right strategic decisions on Afghanistan. Despite wearing a neck brace after a fall last week, Gates is keeping up a punishing book tour that includes ‘Morning Joe,’ ‘Charlie Rose,’ Jon Stewart, ‘Hannity,’ CNN and other stops." More here.

Welcome Wednesday’s it’s-still-cold-out-there edition of Situation Report. Here’s hoping this snap ends so our paperboy can begin to deliver our papers on time again- and soon (tells us his car doesn’t start).  If you’d like to sign up to receive Situation Report, send us a note at and we’ll just stick you on. And if you like what you see, tell a friend.  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, because if you see something, we hope you’ll say something — to Situation Report. And one more thing: please follow us @glubold.

Post-2014 Afghanistan: Send in the green eyeshades, the public affairs people — and don’t send ’em in for long, the Pentagon’s Pete Lavoy says. As anxiety mounts over whether the Karzai government will sign a security agreement with the U.S., the Pentagon’s senior policy official on Asia says any American servicemembers who stay in Afghanistan after the end of this year should be minimal, they shouldn’t stay for long — and they should include accountants and publicists, not very many infantrymen.

Peter Lavoy, the acting Assistant Secretary of Defense for Asian and Pacific Security Affairs, told Foreign Policy in an interview that he expects Kabul to sign a security agreement with the U.S. But there’s been a shift in thinking within the administration over just how long American forces should stay in Afghanistan. No one should expect anything along the lines of Germany or Japan, countries in which the U.S. has had and will likely maintain a large, enduring force decades after the wars there.

"If we have a security presence post-2014 that does train, advise and assist, I don’t think we should be there much beyond the immediate post-2014 period," said Lavoy, who leaves the Pentagon this week. "I think we’re talking a couple of years, and no more."

Although Lavoy envisions a brief train-and-assist mission for U.S. combat forces, he believes the focus should be on helping Afghanistan make the political and economic transitions it must.

The nature of the kinds of forces he says that he envisions for Afghanistan are "the least threatening kinds of forces" one could imagine –accountants and public affairs personnel, he says — to assist Afghanistan as it makes political and economic transitions after this year. Read the rest of our story on Pete Lavoy’s views on Af-Pak here.

Fahreal? Brass to keep their pensions. USA Today’s Tom Vanden Brook: "Top military brass will keep their specially boosted pensions despite the December budget deal that trimmed pension rates for other military retirees, Pentagon officials said Tuesday. In 2007, Congress passed a Pentagon-sponsored proposal that boosted retirement benefits for three- and four-star admirals and generals, allowing them to make more in retirement than they did on active duty. The Pentagon had requested the change in 2003 to help retain senior officers as the military was fighting wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and wanted to entice officers to remain on active duty." More here.

Carl Levin won’t back Ayotte bill to repeal military pension cuts. The Hill’s Jeremy Herb: "Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.) said Tuesday that he cannot support Sen. Kelly Ayotte’s (R-N.H.) bill to repeal $6 billion in cuts to military pensions because of the way it offsets the costs. Levin initially told reporters Tuesday that he would back Ayotte’s bill, providing a big boost to the effort to reverse the military retiree cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) reduction included in the last month’s budget deal. But a Levin aide said that the Armed Services chairman endorsed Ayotte’s bill before realizing that it restored the cuts by preventing illegal immigrants from claiming a child tax credit." The rest here.

Obama administration, blasting senators for keeping arms out of Iraq. FP’s Yochi Dreazen and John Hudson: "The Obama administration slammed a powerful Senate panel for blocking the sale of advanced weaponry to Iraq, accusing the lawmakers of denying Baghdad the armaments it needs to defeat the al Qaeda militants who have conquered the key city of Fallujah.

The intensifying fighting in Fallujah, the scene of some of the bloodiest combat of the Iraq War, has highlighted a bitter disagreement between the White House and the Democratic-controlled Senate Foreign Relations Committee about what types of weaponry to provide to the Iraqi government. The panel, along with the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, needs to approve all arms sales to foreign countries." More here.

Chuck Hagel on the road in Texas, New Mexico and Wyoming. From the Pentagon: "On Wednesday, Jan. 8, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel will travel to San Antonio, Texas followed by Albuquerque, N.M. In San Antonio, Secretary Hagel will visit Brooke Army Medical Center to visit with wounded warriors, hospital workers, and staff.  At noon CST, he will give remarks at the Center for the Intrepid to thank service members for their care and support to our troops… In Albuquerque, Secretary Hagel will tour the Sandia National Laboratories and Kirtland Air Force Base to receive briefings on the modernization, safety and security of the United States nuclear arsenal… On Thursday, Jan. 9, Secretary Hagel will travel to F.E. Warren Air Force Base in Cheyenne, Wyo., to visit ICBM missile training and operation facilities. At 1:30 p.m. MST, he will give remarks to service members on the base." The trip is said to be an opportunity for Hagel to take a "deep look" inside the nuclear enterprise, both in terms of innovation and to look at how the Department is maintaining the arsenal as a deterrence, we’re told.

Staffers on a plane: Senior military assistant Lt. Gen. Abrams, Acquisition, Technology & Logistics’ Frank Kendall, Madeleine Creedon, assistant secretary for global affairs, Andrew Weber, assistant to the Secretary for nuclear, chemical and biological defense programs, Press Secretary John Kirby (first trip with the boss!) and Assistant Press Secretary Carl Woog.

Reporters on a plane: AP’s Bob Burns, Reuters’ David Alexander, Military Times’ Andrew Tilghman and Stripes’ John Harper.

Fail: Navy accidentally sends an e-mail about how to avoid providing a timely response to a FOIA request for documents – to the reporter requesting them. Politico’s Hadas Gold on the e-mail NBC News 4 in Washington’s Scott MacFarlane received: "According to copies of the FOIA request mentioned in the memo, MacFarlane was looking for information relating to the Navy Yard shooting in September. In mid-December MacFarlane filed the FOIAs seeking memos authored by various Naval Sea Systems Command officials in September, October and November 2013, e-mails sent by those same officials between 8:00 and 9:30 a.m. on the day of the shooting, and photos of Building 197, where the shooting occurred, that were not part of the investigation." More here.

The commander-in-chief will like Odierno’s answer: Army CoS says he opposes sending troops back to Iraq.  AP: "A U.S. Army general who led U.S. forces through some of the most deadly years of the Iraq war says he opposes sending U.S. combat troops in response to the recent gains in that country by Islamic militants. Gen. Ray Odierno said Tuesday he is disappointed by the Iraqi government’s loss of control in key cities in the restive western province of Anbar. He said the proper U.S. approach now is to remain engaged diplomatically to help Iraqi government leaders get their political system back on track." More here.

Four Americans are feared dead after a Pavehawk helicopter went down int the U.K. The Air Force Times’ Brian Everstine: "An HH-60G Pave Hawk based at RAF Lakenheath, England, crashed Tuesday evening, with its four-member crew feared dead. The Air Force confirmed that a Pave Hawk assigned to the 48th Fighter Wing at Lakenheath crashed earlier this evening. Norfolk County police said all four airmen are believed to have died when the helicopter crashed near Cley Next The Sea. ‘The helicopter has been confirmed as a USAF Pave Hawk HH-60 helicopter from RAF Lakenheath and four occupants are thought to have died in the crash,’ the police said in a statement. ‘Next of kin will be informed before further details on the victims are released.’" More here.

Did the Air Force lie to you? War is Boring’s David Axe, writing on FP: "On Feb. 26, 2010, a U.S. Air Force B-2 stealth bomber forward-deployed to America’s giant Pacific air base in Guam was getting ready for a training flight when one of its four jet engines burst into flames. Firefighters extinguished the blaze and the crew escaped unharmed. A Guam newspaper phoned Air Force spokesman Lt. Col. Kenneth Hoffman, who reassured the paper that the fire was ‘minor.’ But that was a lie — the depth of which is still becoming apparent, four years later. The cover-up is one of a long chain of obfuscations by the U.S. military in the wake of serious and even fatal accidents involving its most high-tech and expensive warplanes." More here.

Hagel is reviewing the Peralta MOH case. The LA Times’ Tony Perry: "The U.S. Secretary of Defense is ‘familiarizing himself’ with the history of one of the most controversial actions from the war in Iraq: the decision not to award the Medal of Honor to a Marine from San Diego killed in Fallujah in 2004. While not a full review of the case of Sgt. Rafael Peralta, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel is looking at information given to him recently by Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Alpine), a Defense official said Tuesday.

"Hunter, who served in Iraq as a Marine officer, has long campaigned to have Peralta awarded the Medal of Honor. Marines who were with Peralta during the bloody house-to-house fighting in Fallujah in November 2004 insist that, although down and mortally wounded, Peralta reached out to smother an enemy grenade with his body, saving their lives. But medical analysis concluded that Peralta was already clinically dead from friendly fire and that his bodily actions were involuntary movements." Read the rest here.

Marine Lt. Gen. John Toolan will present the Silver Star to Staff Sgt. Timothy Williams today. From a Marine Corps press release: "Williams, a native of Detroit, will be receiving the award for actions while serving in Afghanistan… ‘While a member of a 15 man joint Afghan National Army and Marine force, the patrol came under intense and accurate fire from a numerically superior force.  Throughout the following 10 hour engagement Staff Sergeant Williams took direct action to counter the ambush and repeatedly displayed superior leadership while directing his team under heavy small arms fire from fixed Taliban positions,’ reads his Silver Star citation."

The controversial case of a teenage stringer in Syria. FP’s David Kenner: "On Dec. 20, 2013, Molhem Barakat took his last picture of the Syrian war. He had been photographing a battle for control of Aleppo’s al-Kindi Hospital when he was killed along with his older brother Mustafa, a fighter in a local rebel brigade. Barakat’s cameras, apparently provided to him by the news agency Reuters, were photographed covered in blood in the aftermath of the attack. Barakat was just 18 when he died, but his images — transmitted through the Reuters photo service — gave people across the globe a glimpse into his world, and his country’s war. But while his precocious work appeared everywhere from the New York Times to Foreign Policy, his online presence served as a reminder that he was still a teenager. His last tweet brags about unlocking a new level in a computer racing game; his Facebook account is full of smiling selfies." More 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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