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: Obama gets defensive on his use of Defense

By Gordon Lubold with Nathaniel Sobel Obama wraps up his trip and defends his controversial foreign policy. The NYT’s Mark Landler, from Manila, on Page One: "President Obama, stung by criticism of his response to turmoil from Eastern Europe to the Middle East, defended his approach to foreign policy as a slow but steady pursuit ...

By Gordon Lubold with Nathaniel Sobel

Obama wraps up his trip and defends his controversial foreign policy. The NYT’s Mark Landler, from Manila, on Page One: "President Obama, stung by criticism of his response to turmoil from Eastern Europe to the Middle East, defended his approach to foreign policy as a slow but steady pursuit of American interests while avoiding military conflict, and he lashed out at those he said reflexively call for the use of force… Mr. Obama said on Monday that his critics had failed to learn the lessons of the Iraq war. On a day in which he announced new sanctions against Russia for its continued threats to Ukraine, Mr. Obama said his foreign policy was based on a workmanlike tending to American priorities that might lack the high drama of a wartime presidency but also avoided ruinous mistakes."

Obama at a news conference: "You hit singles, you hit doubles; every once in a while we may be able to hit a home run… But we steadily advance the interests of the American people and our partnership with folks around the world."

"Mr. Obama’s statement, delivered at the end of a weeklong trip to Asia, was a rare insight into a second-term president already sizing up his legacy as a statesman. By turns angry and rueful, his words suggested the distance he had traveled from the confident young leader who accepted a Nobel Peace Prize with a speech about the occasional necessity of war.

"While he flatly rejected the Republican portrait of him as feckless in the face of crises like Syria, Mr. Obama seemed to be wrestling with a more nuanced critique, that aside from one or two swings for the fences – the nuclear negotiations with Iran, for example – his foreign policy had become a game of small ball."

Obama: "Why is it that everybody is so eager to use military force… after we’ve just gone through a decade of war at enormous cost to our troops and to our budget. And what is it exactly that these critics think would have been accomplished?"

The president did not name his critics, except to refer to them as foreign policy commentators "in an office in Washington or New York." He also referred to the Sunday morning talk shows, where Senator John McCain of Arizona, a fierce Obama critic, is a ubiquitous guest.

Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes: "If we took all of the actions that our critics have demanded, we’d lose count of the number of military conflicts that America would be engaged in."

The NYT’s Landler: "Mr. Obama challenged those who say the United States must take some kind of military action in Syria… The same dialogue occurs with Russia and Ukraine. Nobody is seriously advocating sending American troops, he said, but some want to arm the Ukrainians.

Obama: "Do people actually think that somehow us sending some additional arms into Ukraine could potentially deter the Russian Army?… Or are we more likely to deter them by applying the sort of international pressure, diplomatic pressure and economic pressure that we’re applying?" Read the rest of the story here.

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The Pentagon’s Chief Information Officer Teri Takai is leaving the Pentagon this Friday. Takai sent out a note to colleagues and staff just within the last day or so announcing her departure, and the Pentagon had no comment on her leaving. Washington Business Journal’s Jill Aitoro: "Details are still emerging about the departure, though a spokesman for the Department of Defense said no acting CIO has been named. Takai was named CIO for DOD in 2010, and also held the title of acting assistant secretary of defense for networks and information integration until the Pentagon rolled those responsibilities officially into the CIO position in January 2012. She previously served as CIO for the state of California." More here.

Read this for an exclusive interview with the secret Fed cyber security unit keeping trillions of dollars safe from hackers. FP’s Shane Harris: "If the U.S. central banking system is ever hit with a crippling cyber attack, a group of roughly 100 government employees working in a three-story fortress-like building next door to a Buick dealership in East Rutherford, N.J., will be among the first to know about it. That’s where, almost entirely out of sight, a team from the Federal Reserve System’s crack cyber security unit is constantly on watch for malicious hackers, criminals, and spies trying to breach the computer networks of the Fed, its regional banks, and some of the most critical financial infrastructure in America. The National Incident Response Team, or NIRT, as the group is called (pronounced "nert") tries to prevent intruders from breaking into Fed computer networks and money transfer systems used by thousands of banks across the U.S every day." More here.

A White House blog post offers a rare window into the decision-making process on disclosing cyber vulnerabilities, here.

At the Pentagon today, Who’s Where When – ­­Hagel hosts Estonia’s Minister of Defense at 11:15 and the Czech Republic’s Minister of Defense at 3pm; AF Secretary Debbie James and Chief of Staff Mark Welsh appear before the SASC at 9:30 this morning; Navy Secretary Ray Mabus hosts a "global all hands call" at Fort Meade, also at 9:30.

"The Future Army," featuring U.S. General David G. Perkins at CSIS with Maren Leed at 1:30 today. Deets here.

The Atlantic Council’s two-day conference "Toward a Europe Whole and Free" is fully booked, but watch Kerry at 1:30 PM today and Biden at 12:15 PM tomorrow, here.

Hagel spoke with his Russian counterpart last night, and was told that Russia isn’t invading. From the AP: "The Pentagon says Russia’s defense chief has assured Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel that Russia will not invade Ukraine. Ha
gel spoke by phone Monday with his Russian counterpart, and afterward Hagel’s press secretary, Navy Rear Adm. John Kirby, issued a statement saying the two men had discussed the crisis in Ukraine. Kirby said Hagel requested clarification of Russia’s intentions in eastern Ukraine, and the Russian defense minister, Sergei Shoygu, reassured Hagel that Russian forces will not invade." More here.

Sanctions against Russia don’t threaten the energy sector. FP’s Keith Johnson: "With the latest slate of sanctions on high-profile Russians Monday, the Obama administration argues that it is ratcheting up the pressure on Vladimir Putin and inflicting significant pain on the Russian economy. But the new sanctions stop short of hitting the key energy firms that are the backbone of Russia’s economy — and that are the most vulnerable to sanctions pressure from the West." Read the rest here.

Ukrainian opposition leader Vitali Klitschko on what his country really needs from the West and why Putin’s politics just don’t make sense. Full interview on FP, here.

Where have all the Taliban gone? The NYT’s Azam Ahmed in Kabul: "Even as Afghanistan’s unfolding presidential election has captured the capital’s attention, two related questions have become increasingly urgent among security officials here: Where have the Taliban gone, and what are they waiting for?

"In the weeks before the voting on April 5, the insurgents threatened mayhem and delivered, largely paralyzing Kabul in a rain of attacks. But the Taliban failed to deliver any attacks in Kabul on Election Day, and since then they have been mostly quiet, at least in the large cities where attacks garner the most publicity.
"…Members of the Taliban reached by telephone, however, reject the idea that the group was thwarted in its goals. Some of the commanders said they were under specific orders not to attack civilians during the election, in part because such violence would probably do more to damage their public image than to disrupt the election.

"‘The reason we did not stage major attacks across the country was that we wanted to avoid civilian casualties,’ said one Taliban commander in Kunar Province. ‘Mass casualties could harm our cause and would have been against our principles and claims.’" More here.

The mystery of how Afghanistan’s "torturer in chief" now lives in a pink house in Southern California. Greg Miller, Julie Tate and Joshua Partlow on Page One: "In Afghanistan, his presence was enough to cause prisoners to tremble. Hundreds in his organization’s custody were beaten, shocked with electrical currents or subjected to other abuses documented in human rights reports. Some allegedly disappeared. And then Haji Gulalai disappeared as well…

"Today, Gulalai lives in a pink two-story house in Southern California, on a street of stucco homes on the outskirts of Los Angeles. How he managed to land in the United States remains murky. Afghan officials and former Gulalai colleagues said that his U.S. connections – and mounting concern about his safety – account for his extraordinary accommodation." More here.

A bright spot on the horizon for an Afghan airline: Afghanistan’s Ariana Airlines just posted the highest quarterly results in # of passengers, revenues and on-time performance since it began in 1955. From an Ariana Airlines press release: "…Comparing the first quarter operational results for 2014 to the same period last year, the figures note a 16 percent increase in revenues and a dramatic 29 percent jump in ticketed passengers.  During the same period, AAA improved on-time performance, fleet performance, maintenance schedules and overall passenger miles."

Ariana Afghan Airlines Chairman and Afghanistan’s deputy minister of Finance Mohammad Mustafa Mastoor: "In early 2013, with assistance from the U.S. Department of Defense’s Task Force for Business and Stability Operations (TFBSO), the airline management implemented a top-to-bottom business plan review of operations, customer service, maintenance, flight services, ground handling, fleet oversight and finance… The results speak for themselves and I am proud to report that Ariana Afghan Airlines is on the way to greater increases and better service for our customers for years to come."

Justice’s National Security Division is led by John Carlin, whose focus is stopping terrorism. A profile here by the WaPo’s Sari Horwitz.

The Navy puts in a $18 billion order for 10 new nuke-powered subs. Defense News’ Christopher Cavas: "The Navy announced a record $17.645 billion contract Monday to build 10 new SSN 774 Virginia-class nuclear-powered attack submarines. The order assures prime contractor General Dynamics Electric Boat and chief subcontractor Huntington Ingalls Newport News Shipbuilding of submarine orders through 2018. The fixed-price incentive multiyear contract for 10 Block IV subs provides for two ships per year over the five-year period, each yard delivering one sub per year." More here.

How Reps. Mac Thornberry and Rick Larsen’s views on defense show the difference between Republican and Dems on a number of national security issues, by Defense News’ John Bennett, here.

Randy Forbes says the Army has an opportunity in Asia. Virginia Republican Randy Forbes for the National Interest: "In the May 1954 issue of the U.S. Naval Institute’s Proceedings magazine, Dr. Samuel Huntington, a young scholar slated to make his mark as one of the most influential political scientists of the next half-century, penned an eloquent and direct challenge to the military services. Huntington observed that when there are major changes in the principal threats to a nation, these changes ‘must be met by shifts in national policy and corresponding changes in service strategic concepts.’… In other words, each military service isn’t guaranteed a ‘fair-share’ of the budget indefinitely, but a level of resourcing commensurate with the strategic contribution it can make toward the security of our nation." Read more here.

Buck McKeon: No ENLIST a
ct in the NDAA.
Politico’s Seung Min Kim: "House Armed Services Committee Chairman Buck McKeon on Monday signaled his toughest opposition yet to including a provision allowing young undocumented immigrants to serve in the military into a must-pass defense policy bill. His chief concern: Including a provision involving immigration in the National Defense Authorization Act would complicate the process for passing the sweeping legislation, which is done every year. ‘I’m in favor of a discussion of that policy, but not on putting it on our defense bill,’ McKeon said during an interview with conservative radio show host Laura Ingraham on Monday. ‘I don’t think that’s where it belongs.’" More here.

A new ICG report examines the situation in Fallujah and the prospects for compromise after the upcoming parliamentary election. ICG in an email to Situation Report yesterday: The report "essentially argues that the Baghdad government was motivated chiefly by political considerations in its military response to protests in Fallujah, and that Fallujah’s acceptance of jihadist help in repelling Iraqi forces must be unwound. The aftermath of this week’s elections could be the opportunity for beginning to forge a sustainable positive relationship between Fallujah and Baghdad, and enable both the get out of the current violent cycle." Check out the full report here.

Militants in Iraq target early voting stations, killing nearly 50 people. From the AP: "Militants on Monday targeted polling stations across much of Iraq and a crowd of Kurds jubilantly dancing on the street as soldiers and security forces cast ballots two days ahead of parliamentary elections, officials said. The attacks, including a suicide bombing northeast of Baghdad, left at least 46 people dead. The wave of attacks was an apparent attempt to derail the balloting process and discourage the rest of the country’s 22 million registered voters from going to the polls on Wednesday in the first nationwide elections since the 2011 withdrawal of U.S. forces. The early balloting for police and soldiers is meant to free up the 1 million-strong military and security forces so they can protect polling stations and voters on election day." More here.

Assad is really running for president. The WSJ’s Sam Dagher in Homs: "President Bashar al-Assad declared Monday that he will run for a third seven-year term in a June 3 vote, an announcement his supporters in this embattled city celebrated while opponents warned was a blow to peace hopes.
"The widely expected formal announcement reflected Mr. Assad’s confidence after his regime scored battlefield gains against rebels in recent months, even as he faces international condemnation over a conflict that has killed more than 150,000 people in three years.
"‘The candidacy of his Excellency President Bashar al-Assad for the presidency of the republic is a message to external powers: The war in Syria has only increased his popularity and hasn’t affected him one bit,’ said a statement by the ruling Baath Party. The party staged rallies here in the central city of Homs, in the capital Damascus, and other parts of the country to cheer the president. As word got out in Homs, hundreds of his supporters celebrated on the campus of the main university.
"…But Khaled Abu Salah, an opposition activist from the Baba Amr neighborhood of Homs, saw the announcement as an end to any chance for peace in Syria. Mr. Abu Salah said in a Facebook message from Turkey that Mr. Assad’s candidacy ‘blows up any political solution that could save Syria.’" More here.

World War I in photosPart one of a ten-part series by the Atlantic’s Alan Taylor: "…On this 100-year anniversary, I’ve gathered photographs of the Great War from dozens of collections, some digitized for the first time, to try to tell the story of the conflict, those caught up in it, and how much it affected the world." See the first 45 photos here.


Gordon Lubold is a senior writer at FP and author of Situation Report  with help by Nathaniel Sobel, director of research at the S. Daniel Abraham Center for Middle East Peace. Follow him @glubold and him @njsobe4.

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