National Security

ISAF Reduces Op-Tempo with Afghans

The red phone with China, Gates goes off, and more.

Welcome to Monday's edition of Foreign Policy's Situation Report. Follow me @glubold or e-mail me at Sign up for Situation Report here: 

By Gordon Lubold

Is the U.S. military suspending operations with its Afghan partner? Some reports indicate the U.S. military has halted most joint field operations with Afghan forces because so many Americans are being killed by the very men they are training. Any sustained suspension would undercut the Obama administration's strategy to exit Afghanistan by 2014, which relies heavily on partnership with the Afghans. "The order suspends ‘until further notice' most operations in which U.S. and Afghan forces operate side-by-side," according to CBS' David Martin.

But early this morning, ISAF attempted to clarify its position, saying recent reporting is "not accurate." ISAF, a press release said, "remains absolutely committed to partnering with, training, advising and assisting our ANSF counterparts." However, due to the anti-Muslim video now having an impact in Afghanistan, "operational tempo has been reduced," ISAF said, and force protection increased. "We've done this before in other high tension periods and it's worked well."

Meanwhile, Panetta's bid to open the military relationship with China may come down to a special phone. Panetta is in China meeting with his counterpart, Defense Minister Liang Guanglie, to calm tensions over a territorial dispute with Japan, but more broadly to encourage a more productive, open relationship with China. In many ways, it comes down to the special telephone link between the two militaries created in 2008 under Defense Secretary Robert Gates that remains a metaphor for greater communication between the two powers.

"Just trying to get the Chinese comfortable with the idea that there is a defense telephone link and that it is a way for defense leaders to talk to each other is an important objective," a former administration official told Situation Report.

"There are some indications they may be starting to buy into the logic of the mil-to-mil relationship, but whether or not they will fully buy into it is an open question," the former official said, adding that, even if there is a small chance of success, "it is worth making the effort."

The Pentagon had created the line in the wake of some high-profile incidents between the two militaries. Officials at the time lamented the fact that the military-to-military relationship was so crude they literally didn't know who to call when there was a problem. And even after establishing the line, some American officials joked about whether anyone would actually pick up the other end when the Americans did call. Pentagon officials now say the phone has been used several times since it was established.

Adm. Mike Mullen, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, used it to call his counterpart more than a year ago, and Gates had also used it. It's unclear, however, if the Chinese have ever had the urge to reach out.

There is much the U.S. doesn't know about the PLA, says the former official. For example, while the 2nd Artillery Corps controls China's land-based missiles, the Corps' relationship, if there is one at all, with China's naval forces remains unclear. Unnerving in a crisis situation, the former administration official said.

Many believe it's in China's interest to be more open on military issues, but other analysts disagree. Mike Mazza of the American Enterprise Institute calls transparency a "false issue" because Mazza doesn't believe the Chinese want anything but for the U.S. to withdraw from the region. "I think the mil-to-mil relationship has not really gone very far over the last decade or so because the Chinese don't really have any interest in it going any further," Mazza says.

But at least this week, the Chinese appear to be on board. "Better communications... are very helpful, useful, for mutual understanding of our respective positions and stances," Liang said during a news conference with Panetta. "It will also help reduce suspicions [and] build trust."

China is making bolder moves in the East China Sea. Amid the rhetoric over the islands in the East China Sea, the territorial dispute between China and Japan has grown more ominous with a quiet assertion by the Chinese of a legal framework to formally demarcate its territorial waters, writes Stephanie Kleine-Ahlbrandt on FP. This is a change in approach for China, which normally maintains "calculated ambiguity" when it comes to such territorial issues. To back up the move, China sent six surveillance vessels into the waters and plans to patrol the waters and protect some 1,000 Chinese fishing boats.

Dempsey is in Ankara, but he's not talking safe-zones. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey is visiting Turkey, where he is meeting with Turkish officials, including Gen. Necdet Ozel, chief of the Turkish General Staff. Dempsey was expected to talk about the Syrian crisis and its impact inside Turkey as tens of thousands stream across the border. Turkey wants NATO to create safe zones inside Syria, but NATO has dismissed the idea. But the issue has not come up specifically, said Col. David Lapan, chief spokesman for Dempsey.

"The issue of a humanitarian zone inside Syria wasn't raised in any of General Dempsey's meetings in Ankara," Lapan told Situation Report. Lapan said the safe-zone option appeared on a PowerPoint briefing slide during one briefing but there was no discussion of it.

"There was a general discussion of cooperative planning on humanitarian issues, on [chemical and biological weapons] and on air defense," Lapan wrote from Turkey. "There was extensive discussion on sharing lessons learned about intelligence and operations fusion related to their fight against the PKK."

Tricky software and bad relationships are the biggest challenges facing the F-35 Joint Strike fighter, according to the Air Force two-star general helping to run the program, reports Killer Apps' John Reed from the Air Force Association convention at a hotel outside Washington. "The relationship between Lockheed Martin, the [joint program office] and the stakeholders is the worst I've ever seen -- and I've been in some bad ones," said Maj. Gen. Christopher Bogdan, deputy F-35 program director yesterday. "I guarantee you: we will not succeed on this program if we do not get past that." He dropped that quote and a whole lot more yesterday.

Bob Gates took the gloves off. Appearing with Mike Mullen at CSIS on a high-level forum on the national debt, Gates declared himself fed-up with the national debt and the political intransigence that has done little to address it. Gates, speaking by video teleconference, didn't blame either party for the debt crisis, but noted a political system that creates "safe districts" for both Republicans and Democrats, elections that allow one party or another to sweep into office with "ideological zeal," and the decline of "congressional powerbrokers, particularly committee chairs, who could make deals and enforce them." He also blamed a "24/7 digital media environment" that amounts to a "coarsening and dumbing down of the national political dialogue."

But it's the political center that cannot hold, he said. "The moderate center, the foundation of our modern political system, is not holding."

Mullen, who has long argued that the national debt is the nation's number one national security problem, said his "urgent appeal" is to "get to the higher ground and to do something sooner rather than later."

Great. So now what should they do? "Chain themselves to the Capitol dome," said one longtime Washington observer.

FP's own movie mad man Kevin Baron of FP's E-Ring seized on the line Gates used from "Blazing Saddles" for sequestration. Gates: "Sequestration reminds me of the scene in Blazing Saddles, where the sheriff holds a gun to his own head and warns the crowd not to make him shoot," Gates said via satellite to the CSIS event. "This is no way to run government." Baron deconstructs the scene and the meaning:

Blowing up

The Pivot

Eleven Years and Counting


National Security

Panetta to FP: He'll be a Mediator in Asia

DoD responds to Middle East unrest, a secret nuclear war plan, and more.

Welcome to Monday's edition of Foreign Policy's Situation Report.

Follow me @glubold or e-mail me at

Sign up for Situation Report here: 

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta is in Asia, where he announced that Japan would host another land-based X-band radar system as a counter to the threat posed by North Korea. The announcement comes amid ongoing fears in China that such systems are aimed to contain the Chinese, not the North Koreans. But in a joint news conference with Japanese officials, Panetta said, "We have made these concerns clear to the Chinese: North Korea and the use of these ballistic missiles is a threat to our security," Mr. Panetta said.

Panetta left Japan and is in Beijing for his first trip to China as defense secretary -- he will also visit New Zealand -- and is scheduled now to visit Xi Jinping, China's heir apparent, who resurfaced recently after disappearing from public view for about two weeks. Panetta is in Asia during escalated tensions between Japan and China over a territorial dispute over a set of islands in the East China Sea.

In an exclusive interview with FP's National Security Channel before leaving, Panetta cast himself as a mediator between the two countries. "What we've urged both China and Japan to do is to resolve these disputes as peacefully as possible as well, and that will be one of the things I will urge Japan to do," he told FP in his Pentagon office Friday. "In the stop in Japan as well as China, these kinds of disputes have to be, we have to find a way to resolve them peacefully." The Association of Southeast Asian Nations, or ASEAN, is attempting to develop a "code of conduct" for territorial disputes, but Panetta said the U.S. is still waiting for the group of nations to create an enforcement mechanism with "teeth."

Panetta also said that the public exchange between the U.S. and Israel over "red lines" masked a more serious conversation about what Iran is actually doing. He said countries don't have "a bunch of little red lines" that determine what they're going to do. "What they have are facts that are presented to them about what a country is up to, and then they weigh what kind of action has to be taken in order to deal with that situation," he said. "I mean, that's the real world. Red lines are kind of political arguments that are used to try to put people in a corner."

Regarding any rift in U.S.-Israeli relations over disagreements about what should or should not be done about Iran as a growing threat, Panetta shrugged: "Let's just say, when you have friends like Israel, you engage in vigorous debates about how you confront these issues, and that's what's going on."

Unrest across the Middle East, which has subsided in the short-term in many places, nonetheless poses dangers in the long-term. Panetta said the U.S. is pre-positioning additional security forces and is looking at as many as 18 places to which to deploy them. "We're paying particular attention to areas that we have to be prepared in the event that these demonstrations get out of control," he told FP.

Amid questions that the Obama administration may have misread warnings of how much of a tinder box the Middle East is, Panetta urged caution in drawing "big, big conclusions" about what has taken place and why before investigations conclude. "We have seen videos and commentaries and burning of Qurans that have instigated demonstrations," he told FP, "and have instigated situations where violence occurred, and I don't think it necessarily represents that somehow the wrong policies were put into place."

On Afghanistan, not surprisingly, Panetta sounded confident that the recommendation ISAF Commander Gen. John Allen would make in November would give Allen the fighting force he will need through 2013. There are indications that Allen will want to keep as many of the 68,000 troops in the country as long as possible next year.

"My view is that the president of the United States will rely a great deal on the recommendations of General Allen as to what he needs to accomplish the mission," Panetta said.

Read the entire Panetta interview with FP here:


REVEALED! Presidential Decision Directive 59, Jimmy Carter's classified plan for nuclear war, which sought a nuclear force posture that ensured a "high degree of flexibility, enduring survivability, and adequate performance in the face of enemy actions." If deterrence failed, the United States "must be capable of fighting successfully so that the adversary would not achieve his war aims and would suffer costs that are unacceptable." In other words, the U.S. was going to try to beat the Soviets -- and its guidelines still inform nuclear policy today, even though there are no more Soviets. Read it here:

Look who's hanging with Mark Zuckerberg? Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey, that's who, reports Killer Apps' John Reed. Dempsey, along with a handful of other Defense Department officials, were in Silicon Valley in August picking the brains of leaders throughout the valley and discussing the need to quickly share information on cyber threats. Conversations between the Defense Department and Silicon Valley, which included officials from Google and other companies, were meant to see how private sector innovation could counter cyber-threats the government and industry confront.

An irony of the episode in Benghazi is that while Amb. Chris Stevens stood for more engagement with local populations, not less, his death will create more security around American installations, thus diminishing American diplomats' ability to engage. Jason Pack, writing on FP, notes: "If he were still alive, Stevens would understand that cowering inside the embassy has the potential to make Libya more, not less, dangerous for U.S. personnel."


Asia, In The Heat of the Moment

No Rest for Unrest

Seeing Red Lines


  • Jerusalem Post: German Chancellor Merkel says there is still time for a political solution.
  • Haaretz: U.S. will go to war with Iran in 2013, former U.S. ambassador to Israel tells CBS.

Eleven Years and Counting

  • CS Monitor: Green on blue attacks have killed 51 in Afghanistan.
  • NYT: "Audacious raid" in Afghanistan's south that killed two U.S. Marines shows Taliban's reach
  • CNN Security Clearance: Melee in Afghanistan over film leaves 15 police injured.