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: Wheels up for Hagel

Mil promotion system doesn't weed out toxic leaders; SOTU's unanswered questions; Sgt. Remsburg no stranger to Obama; Air Force cheater investigation expands; and a bit more.



By Gordon Lubold

There are bad bosses, and then there are those who you could call "toxic military commanders." Air Force Major Gen. Stephen Schmidt was one of those. The WaPo’s Craig Whitlock: "… Schmidt was unquestionably among the latter in the view of some staff members under his thumb. A profane screamer, he ran through six executive officers and aide-de-camps in a year. He retired this month after an Air Force inquiry concluded that he was ‘cruel and oppressive’ and mistreated subordinates. More than a dozen people who worked with Brig. Gen. Scott F. ‘Rock’ Donahue, a retired commander with the Army Corps of Engineers, reported him as a verbally abusive taskmaster. One was so desperate to escape from division headquarters in San Francisco that he asked for a transfer to Iraq. An Army investigation cited the general for ‘exhibiting paranoia’ and making officers cry."

Or take a look at the Connecticut National Guard’s Army Brig. Gen. Eugene Mascolo, who remains in the job: "Troops… described him as ‘dictatorial,’ ‘unglued’ and a master of ‘profanity-fused outbursts.’ An Army investigation found widespread evidence of ‘verbal mistreatment.’… In a phone interview, Mascolo called some of the accusations ‘sensationalistic’ but said he was sobered by the investigation. He said a more recent survey of his command style was ‘overwhelmingly positive.’ Mascolo, to Whitlock: "I had some command climate problems around a very challenging disaster deployment… I feel like I learned from the experience and I am a better leader for it."

Whitlock: "U.S. military commanders are not trained to be soft or touchy-feely. But over the past two years, the Pentagon has been forced to conduct a striking number of inspector-general investigations of generals and admirals accused of emotionally brutal behavior, according to military documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act. The affliction of abusive leadership has even infected some civilian leaders at the Pentagon, raising questions about the Defense Department’s ability to detect and root out flaws in its command culture." Read the rest here.

Welcome to Wednesday’s truncated edition of Situation Report, where we’re feeling under the weather in the extreme. 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.

It’s wheels up for Hagel. The Defense Secretary is headed tonight to Europe for a three-day trip with stops in Poland and Germany. First stop will be Poland, where we’re told he’ll highlight cooperation on missile defense as part of security concerns emanating from Iran – as well as "thank" the Poles for their contributions in Afghanistan, where they have deployed a contingent of soldiers. He’ll then head to Munich for the security conference, where he is expected to make remarks alongside Sen. John Kerry. The two will essentially call for what we’re told is a "deepening cooperation" with allies to address security threats at the end of the war in Afghanistan.

Staffers on a plane – Wendy Anderson, deputy chief of staff (her first trip with the new boss), Abe Abrams, senior military assistant, J.P. Eby, cruise director, Derek Chollet, Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Affairs, Jim Townsend, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Europe and NATO, Matt Spence, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Middle East Policy, Aaron Sherman, speechwriter, John Kirby, press secretary, and Carl Woog, assistant press secretary.   

Reporters on a plane –  AP’s Bob Burns, Reuters’ Missy Ryan, WSJ’s Adam Entous, WaPo’s Craig Whitlock, AFP’s Mathieu Rabechault, NYT’s Thom Shanker, BBC’s Joan Soley, CBS Radio’s Cami McCormick, the Pentagon’s AFPS’ Cheryl Pellerin, Defense News’ Marcus Weisgerber and (we hope) Foreign Policy’s Situation Report.

SOTU’s unanswered questions: Obama kept his powder dry last night on everything from Syria to Iran. FP’s own Dan Lamothe: "Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad is regaining lost territory and solidifying his control of a country that once seemed to be slipping from his grasp. Iraq is spiraling back into civil war, with an al Qaeda affiliate there flexing its muscles on turf American soldiers and Marines once held. Egypt’s military government is arresting thousands of political opponents, raising serious questions about its commitment to democracy. NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden continues to release new details about America’s spying efforts, rattling trust in the U.S. government at home and abroad." More here.

The Army sergeant sitting next to Michelle last night at the SOTU was no stranger to Obama. The NYT’s Jackie Calmes: "Three times, mainly by chance and in very different circumstances, Sgt. First Class Cory Remsburg has met President Obama. They were introduced near Omaha Beach in France in 2009, when Sergeant Remsburg was part of a select Army Ranger group chosen to re-enact a parachute drop for celebrations of the 65th anniversary of the D-Day landings in World War II. The second meeting came less than a year later at a military hospital outside Washington, where Mr. Obama was stunned to see among the wounded troops from Afghanistan a familiar young man – now brain-damaged, a track of fresh stitches across his skull, and partly paralyzed.

"The third time was two weeks ago in a private visit in Phoenix, where Sergeant Remsburg did something that neither Mr. Obama nor military doctors would once have predicted: he stood up and saluted his commander in chief." More here.

Loudmouth Richard Sherman has a message for troops. US News & World Report’s Paul Shinkman: "Famed loudmouth Richard Sherman took a break from belittling his offensive opponents on Tuesday to give a heartfelt message to the troops.We appreciate all your hard work, your dedication and your sacrifice,’ the Seattle Seahawks cornerback said. ‘Thank you for everything you do for our country, and for us, and for fighting for our freedom. We appreciate it.’ More here.

Long odds for Obama’s new Gitmo closure deadline. The Daily Beast’s Josh Rogin: "In Tuesday’s State of the Union, President Obama again called for the closing of America’s prison at Guantanamo Bay, adding a new deadline-the end of 2014, when most U.S. troops will leave Afghanistan. But there’s little chance his deadline will be met. ‘With the Afghan war ending, this needs to be the year Congress lifts the remaining restrictions on detainee transfers and we close the prison at Guantanamo Bay,’ Obama said.  ‘Because we counter terrorism not just through intelligence and military action, but by remaining true to our Constitutional ideals, and setting an example for the rest of the world.’

"The new deadline for closing the prison was the only new foreign policy initiative in the hour-long speech. Senior administration officials said that there was no new policy initiative behind the deadline and no specific new plan to meet it." Read the rest here.

The military is asked to return a detainee to Yemen. The NYT’s Charlie Savage: "A lawyer for a Yemeni man who has been held for 12 years without trial at the prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, asked a parole-style military board on Tuesday to recommend that he be sent home, where he planned to teach and possibly start a "milk and honey farm" or work for his father’s tailoring business, according to a prepared statement. But a military profile of the detainee, Abdel Malik Ahmed Abdel Wahab al-Rahabi, 34, suggested that there are risks in repatriating him. It maintained that he was ‘almost certainly’ a member of Al Qaeda who had been among a group of bodyguards for Osama bin Laden before their capture by Pakistani forces in December 2001 and that he ‘may have been selected’ for participation in a hijacking plot. It also said his brother-in-law was a prominent extremist in his home area, Ibb." More here.

More nuclear officers are under investigation for cheating. AP’s Bob Burns: "The cheating scandal inside the Air Force’s nuclear missile corps is expanding, with the number of service members implicated by investigators now roughly double the 34 reported just a week ago, officials said Tuesday. It wasn’t immediately clear whether the additional 30-plus airmen suspected of being involved in cheating on proficiency tests are alleged to have participated in the cheating directly or were involved indirectly.

Regardless, a doubling of the number implicated means that approximately 14 percent of the entire Air Force cadre of nuclear missile launch control officers, which numbers about 500, has been removed at least temporarily from active missile duty. It was not clear Tuesday how that affects the mission, beyond requiring the remaining crew members to bear a bigger share of the work." More here.

DOD is urging Congress to grandfather current troops when it comes to cutting bennies. Military Times’ Patty Kime: "The Pentagon opposes the pending reductions in annual retirement pay increases and believes changes in the military retirement system should come not from Congress but from a commission convened to study benefits modernization, senior officials told lawmakers Tuesday.

"Addressing the Senate Armed Services Committee, acting Deputy Secretary of Defense Christine Fox and Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Adm. James Winnefeld said current retirees and those about to leave service should be exempt from the caps on annual COLA increases to military retirees’ pay, set to take effect in December 2015. The two urged lawmakers to consider "grandfathering" those who would be immediately affected if Congress decides to leave the increases in place. ‘Because of the complex nature of military retirement benefits, we recommend that the Congress not make any additional changes in this area until the commission provides its report,’ Fox said." More here.

State and USAID need an overhaul, but you didn’t hear that from Obama last night, right? Writing on FP, Daniel Sewer: "During his State of the Union address on Jan. 28, President Barack Obama will likely talk about his administration’s ambitious diplomatic agenda for the year: negotiations aimed at democratic transition in Syria, troops in Afghanistan, the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, Iran’s nuclear program, as well as complex multilateral trade negotiations across the Atlantic and Pacific. Military efforts, most certainly, will be a discussion point, but that won’t be the case for the efforts of U.S. diplomats and aid workers abroad. What will make it to the president’s teleprompter, of course, will be the issues that are seen as funding priorities. And if you think that civilian foreign-policy efforts even come close to making this list, think again.

"Over recent months, Congress has postponed sequestration constraints for the Department of Defense that the State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) have already met. That’s despite the fact that diplomacy is a relative bargain — civilian foreign affairs spending totals under 10 percent of the Pentagon’s budget and less than 1.5 percent of total U.S. government spending. For the past 50 years, foreign aid has been steadily dissipating. While half of Americans think it represents 25 percent or more of the federal budget, it is in fact well under 1 percent." 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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