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: Syria, starving for attention

Out-Foxing the LCS; McRaven on Iron Man… suits?; CNAS lists its 18 "best and brightest;" and a bit more.

By Gordon Lubold

By Gordon Lubold

Concession speech: Obama says diplomacy in Syria isn’t working. The WaPo’s Anne Gearan: " The Obama administration acknowledged Tuesday that diplomacy, the main pillar of its Syria policy, is failing even as civil war is destroying the country, leaving open the question of what the United States will or can do to stop the slaughter. Negotiations between the Syrian government and parts of the opposition are "far from achieving" a peaceful end to the conflict, President Obama said, and in Geneva, the United Nations envoy leading the talks said they aren’t getting anywhere."

Obama: "With each passing day, more people inside of Syria are suffering… The state of Syria itself is crumbling. That is bad for Syria. It is bad for the region. It is bad for global national security, because what we know is, is that there are extremists who have moved into the vacuum in certain portions of Syria in a way that could threaten us over the long term."

Gearan: " Obama ruled out direct U.S. military intervention, at least for now, but offered no new substitute to address a crisis he called heartbreaking and risky for the entire Middle East." Read the rest of her bit here.

Syria is starving for intervention. In an op-ed in the NYT, Danny Postel and Nader Hashemi: "TheSyrian people are starving. According to the United Nations, about 800,000 civilians are currently under siege. In areas around the cities of Homs, Aleppo and Deir Ezzor and in parts of the capital, Damascus, no food, medical supplies or humanitarian aid can get in, and people can’t get out. Many have already died under these "starvation sieges" and hundreds of thousands teeter on the brink, subsisting on grass and weeds. In Damascus, a cleric has ruled that under these conditions, Muslims are permitted to eat normally forbidden animals like cats, dogs and donkeys. This is not a famine. Food is abundant just a few miles away from these besieged areas. Military forces – mainly the army of President Bashar al-Assad, but in some cases extremist anti-Assad militias – are preventing food and medicine from reaching trapped civilians… This moral obscenity demands action by the international community. Any armed group that prevents humanitarian access – whether the Syrian regime’s forces or rebel militias – should be subject to coercive measures. Read the rest here.

"An apocalyptic disaster." – DNI Jim Clapper, describing the civil war in Syria yesterday. Thanks to ABC’s Mike Levine (@MLevineReports) for the tweet.

Welcome to Wednesday’s edition of Situation Report. We’re not even going to talk about the "impending" snow since we’ve been fooled so many times before. But the Pentagon’s IT folks (also known as Enterprise Services) are already anxious – you know how they can be. They sent out this little message to DOD personnel in the Washington region yesterday: "The National Weather Service in Baltimore/Washington DC has issued a winter storm watch in effect from 7:00 PM Wednesday evening through 10:00 PM Thursday evening. Previous government shutdowns caused by inclement weather have resulted in notably high Service Desk call volume. We urge all customers to check the functionality of your mobile devices (Laptop, MobiKey, BlackBerry and LPS disk) before the storm watch takes effect. This may reduce the risk of calling the service desk the day of the storm and experiencing long wait times." In other words, get it together people, things could get pretty rough, and don’t bug us with your silly last minute computer "problems."

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They seem to beg to differ on al-Qaida: Jim Clapper and Mike Flynn gave their assessment of the terrorist group. Defense News’ John Bennett: "Senior US intelligence officials on Tuesday offered a more alarming assessment of al-Qaida than President Barack Obama’s declaration that the organization is on the run and headed toward defeat.

"…during testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee on Tuesday, Director of National Security James Clapper and Defense Intelligence Agency Director Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn offered a different assessment. Under questioning on that topic from panel Ranking Member Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., Clapper described al-Qaida as ‘morphing,’ with new groups popping up in North Africa. Flynn replied, ‘they are not,’ when asked by Inhofe if al-Qaida is, as Obama has said, on a path to defeat and on the run. Clapper seemed to downplay his own warnings about the threat to the United States posed by so-called al-Qaida affiliates when he said such organizations are not currently plotting attacks on ‘the homeland.’ But he keeps them on his lengthy threat list simply because one day, ‘they could.’ More here.

Read the "statement of the record" from DNI Jim Clapper’s appearance on Capitol Hill yesterday; he appeared with the head of the Defense Intelligence Agency, Mike Flynn. Read Clapper’s statement here.

Christine Fox on deck and raising questions about "niche" platforms (Read: the Littoral Combat Ship). Bloomberg’s Tony Capaccio: "The Pentagon’s No. 2 civilian said the U.S. Navy needs more ships with the protection and firepower to survive an advanced adversary, not just "niche platforms," weeks after she ordered cuts in the $34 billion Littoral Combat Ship program. Acting Deputy Defense Secretary Christine Fox’s remarks in a San Diego speech yesterday in part reflect Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel’s concerns about the ship designed for shallow coastal waters, said a defense official who asked not to be identified discussing private deliberations at the Pentagon.

"Addressing the Armed Forces Communications and Electronics Association and the Naval Institute, Fox said "the threats to surface combatants continue to grow — not just from advanced military powers, but from the proliferation of more advanced, precise anti-ship munitions around the globe. Clearly, this puts a premium on underseas capabilities — submarines — that can deploy and strike with relative freedom of movement." The Littoral Combat Ship, made in two versions by Lockheed Martin Corp. and Austal Ltd., is a lightly armed vessel intended for roles from submarine-hunting to mine-sweeping. Questions have been raised about its mounting costs and survivability in combat. Last month, Fox directed the Navy to truncate the program to 32 ships after 2019 rather than the 52 previously planned by 2026. While Fox didn’t mention the ship by name in her speech, her comment about "niche platforms that can conduct a certain mission in a permissive environment" could be "read as a confirmation of her views" on it, Byron Callan, a defense analyst with Washington-based Capital Alpha Partners LLC, said in an e-mail." Read the rest here.

Read the transcript of Fox’s remarks yesterday in San Diego here.

Military bennies seem to bring everybody together. The WaPo’s Ruth Marcus: "Those who complain about the absence of bipartisanship in the nation’s capital are sorely mistaken. When it comes to caving to a powerful constituency and bestowing benefits, bipartisanship is flourishing. Today’s exhibit: military pensions."

The writing on the wall; Marcus, con’t: "…Of course veterans deserve generous retirement pay. Yet the current system is extraordinarily generous compared to private-sector programs. A Congressional Research Service report found that the cost-of-living change would mean a loss of $69,000 in benefits for the average enlisted person and $87,000 for the average officer. Significant, but that is out of lifetime benefits of $1.73 million and $3.83 million, respectively. Meanwhile, as four senior retired military officers pointed out  in a statement issued by the Bipartisan Policy Center, Military personnel costs have doubled since 2000, even as the active-duty force has shrunk by 10 percent. ‘Such cost growth is unsustainable, and the leadership of the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines all agree that the costs of benefits for personnel are starting to crowd out other important investments that support training, readiness and modernization,’ the officers said. ‘This plan is an important first step in tackling those costs.’

Marcus: "…The issue, unsurprisingly, has been distilled to its political essence. ‘You vote yes, you’re for our vets,’ Alaska Democrat Mark Begich said on the Senate floor Tuesday. "You vote no, you’re against our vets.’ Well, if you put it that way… There are lessons to be gleaned from this depressing episode, with its predictable denouement. The most obvious involves politicians of both parties who are happy to proclaim their willingness to make hard choices – and cowardly about actually standing by them. Especially in an election year, brave lawmakers are an endangered species." Read the rest here.

McRaven talks Iron Man… suits. FP’s Dan Lamothe: "An ambitious effort to build a high-tech armored suit for elite U.S. commandos has entered a new phase, as the military prepares to analyze three new prototypes it will receive this summer, the U.S.’s top Navy SEAL said Tuesday. Adm. William McRaven, commander of U.S. Special Operations Command, said the military will receive the prototypes in June. The project was launched last year to revolutionize the capabilities and protection of Navy SEALs, U.S. Army Special Forces, and other elite commandos who perform some of the U.S.’s most dangerous and violent missions. It’s already been nicknamed the "Iron Man" suit, a nod to the futuristic technology it will require resembling that of the popular comic book hero popularized in movies starring Robert Downey Jr.

"There’s a catch with the prototypes, however. McRaven told a crowd at a special operations conference in Washington that they will be unpowered – meaning the days of super-soldier commandos wearing exoskeleton armor is still years away. Best-case scenario, the admiral wants the suit to be used in combat situations by August 2018."

McRaven: "Obviously if you’re going to put a man in a suit — or a woman in a suit — and be able to walk with that exoskeleton… you’ve got to have power… You can’t have power hooked up to some giant generator." Read the rest here.

Bloomberg’s Al Hunt wrote an odd little 236-word blog post about how Chuck Hagel is the "Invisible Man." Hunt riffed how Hagel was shown up in Munich by John Kerry and never showed up at the Alfalfa Dinner (horrors!). Pluswhich, Hunt’s headline writers might not be too original, just saying. Hunt’s piece, "Chuck Hagel is Washington’s Invisible Man," here. Our piece on Hagel on Dec. 15 on FP, "The Pentagon’s Invisible Man," here.

CNAS announced their "next gen class of 2014 national security leaders." The Center for a New American Security announced the list of "the best and the brightest emerging national security leaders" yesterday. CNAS’ Dave Barno and Nora Bensahel and Lockheed Martin’s Robert Rangel (head of Bob Gates’ ‘six-pack’) will lead the "2014 Next Generation Class." For the next year, the class will "engage with influential figures in the national security field through a series of candid discussions on several of the most significant issues facing the country today."

The List: HASC’s Ryan Crumpler, Special Assistant to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (at State) Taylor Dewey; Georgetown’s Justin Deyo, (an M.A. candidate); House Foreign Affairs’ Jeffrey Dressler; Center for the National Interest’s Ryan Evans; Palantir’s Jared Jonker; The U.S. Army’s Tyloer Jost; the Military Compensation and Retirement Modernization Commission’s Jennifer Knowles; the Air Force’s Miriam Krieger; CNA’s Melissa McAdam; the Navy’s Jeff McLean; State Department’s Policy Planning’s Sean Misko; CFR’s Mira Rapp-Hooper; State’s Abbas Ravjani; Treasury’s William Rich; the Marine Corps’ Lindsay Rodman; U.S News and World Report’s Paul Shinkman and the Marine Corps’ Katelyn van Dam. Major congrats all around. Who are they really? Click here to find out.

As good as it gets: Jim Amos spoke at Carnegie yesterday before he heads back to Afghanistan. Amos, the Commandant of the Marine Corps, on Afghanistan: ‘My sense is, it’s about… it’s about as good as it’s going to get." Breaking Defense’s Sydney Freedberg, who attended yesterday’s event: "…A NATO ministers’ meeting later this month will be ‘critical’ to shoring up support for Afghanistan’s future stability, Amos added. And while the general was naturally reluctant to give public advice to his political superiors, he did offer one major warning: ‘We need to be very circumspect and take a lesson from Iraq, [where] we spent our nation’s treasure and then we pulled out,’ Amos said, pointing to the escalating violence in Iraq. ‘I don’t want that to happen in Afghanistan,’ he said. ‘We can ill afford to simply pull out and go home.’" More here.

Did a foreign national exploit the Supreme Court on funneling PAC money to U.S. political races? FP’s John Hudson: "In a first of its kind case, federal prosecutors say a Mexican businessman funnelled more than $500,000 into U.S. political races through Super PACs and various shell companies. The alleged financial scheme is the first known instance of a foreign national exploiting the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision in order to influence U.S. elections. If proven, the campaign finance scandal could reshape the public debate over the high court’s landmark decision. Until now, allegations surrounding Jose Susumo Azano Matsura, the owner of multiple construction companies in Mexico, have not spread beyond local news outlets in San Diego, where he’s accused of bankrolling a handful of southern California candidates. But the scandal is beginning to attract national interest as it ensnares a U.S. congressman, a Washington, D.C.-based campaign firm and the legacy of one of the most important Supreme Court decisions in a generation. Under longstanding federal law, foreign nationals are prohibited from donating to political campaigns at the state, local and federal level." More here.
More muscle-flexing in Japan.  Reuters: "Japan may allow exports of defense equipment to international organizations such as those involved in U.N. peacekeeping operations on condition they do not take sides in conflicts, Kyodo News reported on Tuesday. Under Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, Japan is reviewing various aspects of defense including its self-imposed ban on weapons exports. But resentment of Japan’s wartime aggression runs deep in both China and South Korea and any decision by Japan to become more active militarily is likely to cause tension. Japan in 1967 drew up "three principles" on arms exports, banning sales to countries with communist governments, those involved in international conflicts or those subject to U.N. sanctions.

The rules eventually became almost a blanket ban on arms exports and on the development and production of weapons with countries other than the United States, making it difficult for Japanese defense contractors to drive down costs and keep up with arms technology. The government is also considering easing rules on the transfer of its defense equipment to third parties, Kyodo said." 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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