National Security

The race tightens as Obama, Romney prepare for foreign policy debate tonight

AUSA begins, What Ishmael Jones’ experience tells us about “No Easy Day,” Thanks for the cowbells, and more.

Not long ago, the third and final debate was seen as an opportunity for Obama, who has enjoyed an advantage on foreign policy, to close the deal. Today, with a new WSJ/NBC poll showing the two men neck-and-neck, (47-47) the candidates stand on a far more level playing field. That, and a looming crisis in Syria and the region that grows worse each day, including the deepening political crisis now in Lebanon - suggests Obama's foreign policy will be tested just as strenuously as Romney's foreign policy idea bank. All of this should give plenty of fodder for moderator Bob Schieffer tonight. Meanwhile, a number of other new polls show contrasts in the way Americans think about some foreign policy issues: Pew shows that 56 percent of Americans want the U.S. to "take a firm stand" against Iran versus 35 percent who want to "avoid military conflict," for example, which might give the nod to Romney, who has made an effort to sound tougher on Iran but provided few details. 

And, according to the WSJ/NBC poll, 39 percent of Americans believe the U.S. "could have prevented" the attack in Libya, versus 26 percent who believe it could not have, which reinforces conservative criticism of the administration. Pew also showed that 49 percent of respondents believe "getting tougher" with China is more important than "building a stronger relationship" (42 percent), which would appear to give Romney an edge. On the other hand, while 60 percent of Americans believe the U.S. should "remove troops ASAP" from Afghanistan, according to Pew, about 46 percent believe Obama is removing them out at roughly the right rate (as opposed to 28 percent who say not quickly enough).

Poll results on

E-Ring's Kevin Baron on Pew numbers:

CFR resource page for the debate, including candidate excerpts, topic pages and analysis:

Welcome to Monday's edition of Situation Report, in which we congratulate the winner of yesterday's Army 10-miler, Tesfaye Senedeku-Alemyeho, with a time of 47:48; the top female, Kerri Gallagher, with a time of 56:09; and John Faulkenberry of the Wounded Warriors Division, who finished in 1:03:45. We ran it and finished with a respectable time; however, Foreign Policy maintains a strict policy of not publishing staffer's run times. But thanks to the Pentagon's Jenn Elzea for yelling out our name on a quiet part of the course when we needed to hear it. Thanks also to those with all the cowbells throughout the course. Follow me @glubold. Or hit me anytime at And sign up for Situation Report here: or just send me an e-mail and I'll put you on the list.

Overheard on the race course: one runner to another, listening to an iPod: "No audio, that's the rules, take off your headphones."

Other runner (with earbuds in): "I can't heeeaar you."

SitRep: Why again does this have to be a rule?

The 10-miler kicks off the annual Association of the U.S. Army convention, which effectively begins today. In addition to three days of speeches, panel discussions, and other events, the Army will be doing some self-reflection. Situation Report reported last week about the key themes Army Chief Staff Gen. Ray Odierno will touch on throughout this week. For example, Odierno will push, not for cyber-weapons for the rank-and-file, but for cyber-expertise among tactical units. Also, Odierno's new Strategic Landpower initiative, which includes SOCOM and the Marines, will be formally announced. Odierno will also talk about the need for the Army to better adapt to the mission requirements of what amounts to a new era, so that the Army can deploy any size force, depending on the need. And finally, he'll discuss the effort to consolidate more than 100 programs, from those for PTSD to those for soldier fitness, to help the Army better serve all soldiers.

Situation Report last week:

AUSA sked of events:

The fact that the Pentagon hasn't gone after the "No Easy Day" author may mean there's nothing really there to go after. Weeks have gone by since the hubbub over the book "No Easy Day," the inside story on the bin Laden raid. The Pentagon seemed poised to go after the author, a former Navy SEAL, for disclosing classified information for which he had signed a non-disclosure agreement -- even though the Pentagon wouldn't say what was classified.

But it has not made any moves, publicly anyway, to take legal action against the author, Matt Bissonnette (who wrote under the pen name Mark Owen). Some believe that is because going after Bissonnette, who was on the bin Laden raid, would engender enormous negative publicity and might not accomplish much. Another approach the Pentagon may embrace is to garnish proceeds from his book instead of going after him legally. That is a slightly more palatable approach, but one the Pentagon hasn't appeared to take, either. Still, the Pentagon will sooner or later confront the problem of having to stand up to former service members who disclose privileged information -- or let the issue go and deal with it again and again.

But a former "deep cover officer" for the CIA, who wrote the book "The Human Factor," about dysfunction in the intelligence community, says that the Pentagon may be taking no action because Bissonnette may not really have disclosed anything that classified. "The overriding issue is that we all agree that if you publish secrets, you should be punished," Ishmael Jones (also a pseudonym) told us. "And if they aren't ready to punish him, it would suggest he didn't really publish any secrets."

Jones learned the hard way what it was like to go through the CIA's publication vetting process -- an issue that the Pentagon is now confronting. As a former officer, he agreed to submit his manuscript for security review, only to find the CIA "sat on it" for a year. After publishing it, and planning to give proceeds of the book to charity, the government sued him. Although he lost the case, the judge chose not to ask for any of the money.

Speaking of dysfunctional...Rosa Brooks apologizes, sorta. FP's Rosa Brooks wrote a piece late last week critical of Obama's foreign policy. She said the administration needed to "get a strategy," "get some decent managers," "get some people who actually know something," and, for a president sometimes seen as distant, "get out of the bubble." Some called Brooks' analysis "blistering," and perhaps it was.

Now she's issuing an apology, sorta-kinda. But it's a Washington apology if ever there was one: Brooks: "I recently wrote a column in which I might have appeared to be highly critical of certain senior White House officials. I might also have implied that the word ‘jerks' could be applicable. This was a poor choice of words, and I regret it deeply. What I was trying to say is that I admire the National Security Advisor greatly and consider him a fine leader. The same goes for those other jerks, too." On a more serious note, Brooks says there are many "dedicated and talented people" working on Obama's national security staff... but that she wouldn't have written the piece if she wasn't aware that her concerns are "widely shared" by many inside the administration. There will be more on this at FP, including more responses from Rosa, as well as some of her critics, so stay tuned.

Apology, such as it is:

Original article:

Forget what you learned by watching "Argo" this weekend. News flash! Hollywood made the true story sexier than it actually was. The true story of the hostage rescue was far less dramatic, according to an insider account, published in 1999, of the rescue. Nate Jones, writing on FP, said the customs official stamping passports at Tehran's airport "could not have cared less" when he stamped the fake passports -- counter to the dramatic scene in the movie.


A Plot Foiled

Debate Prep

Alive and Kicking?


National Security

Has the Libya story been milked?

Radio silence at the Pentagon, Two four-stars get the nod for AFRICOM and the Marines and more.

It's three days before the debate on foreign policy and the issue of the administration's handling of Libya isn't quite going away. But there is some sign that Monday night's debate won't be a retread of the same old ground. In a 1,607-word editorial in the Wall Street Journal this morning that amounts to debate prep for the Romney team, editorial writers mention Libya only in passing. It suggests that on foreign policy, Republican thinking is veering away from attacking the administration for its handling of Libya (and Romney's stumble during last week's debate) and moving on to create contrasts on defense spending, China, Iran, and the countries undergoing transformation in the Middle East. "Mr. Romney can help himself by offering a serious critique of Mr. Obama's foreign policy that doesn't descend to clichés (e.g., "I won't ever apologize for America"), and by laying out a vision that answers the needs of both the national interest and the self-interest of everyday Americans."

Speaking of editorials, the Post this morning suggests Romney's defense plan is better but asks in the top editorial, how he'll pay for it: "Given his unwillingness to contemplate tax increases or other revenue measures, military spending is one more area where Mr. Romney's math doesn't add up."

Obama spoke to the Libya issue on Jon Stewart but added little new. . The president appeared on Stewart's show in New York last night and relied on the same talking points, but, with urging, acknowledged the administration would get to the bottom of the Libya situation - including the apparently botched communication after the tragedy.

Stewart: "The perception seemed to be that State seemed to be on a different page than you, or you had Susan Rice five days afterwards saying on shows that this video could have been a part of that and then other people were..."

Obama: "Jon, the truth is that information comes in, folks put it out, throughout the process, people say, it's still incomplete. What I was always clear about was we're going to do an investigation and figure out exactly what happened."

Stewart: "Is part of the investigation helping the communication between these divisions of security, not just what happened in Benghazi, but what happened within because I don't know, I would say even you would admit, it was not the optimal response at least to the American people as far as us all being on the same page."

Obama: "Here's what I'll say. When four Americans get killed, it's not optimal, and we're going to fix it.

Stewart: "All of it."

Obama: "All of it. And what happens during the course of a presidency is that the government is a big operation. At any given time something screws up and you make sure that you find out what's broken and you fix it."

Welcome to Friday's edition of Situation Report where we never editorialize. Follow me @glubold. Or hit me anytime at And sign up for Situation Report here: or just send me an e-mail and I'll put you on the list.

The Pentagon seems like it has gone quiet in the run-up to the election. But it may be self-imposed. With the presidential election less than three weeks away, many civilian and military officials in the Pentagon aren't eager to get out in print or broadcast, "fearing even a toe-touch in the electrified political pool," as the E-Ring's Kevin Baron put it. Even the answer to some of the most innocuous of queries could be seen as being skewered politically. One former Pentagon official said it shouldn't come as a surprise: "Everybody is in wait-and-see and do-no-harm mode," the former official told Situation Report.

Nor is it all true. Navy Secretary Ray Mabus spoke this week about his initiative to spend billions on developing renewable energy sources, and Gen. Ray Odierno, the Army chief of staff, is speaking today at the MRE conference. Indeed, a senior Pentagon official said there is no gag order: "There's been no order from the White House to stop interaction with the press. There's been no order at all," the official said. Yet the official acknowledged there is a skittish air about the building, which the official called "a temporary culture" as political tensions increase. "Some of this is to be expected."

What's Mitt Romney's take on cyber? The campaign hasn't said much about it even as cyber becomes a more front-burner issue for the Obama administration. "He will order the formulation of a national cybersecurity strategy, to deter and defend against the growing threats of militarized cyber-attacks, cyber-terrorism, and cyber-espionage. Once the strategy is formulated he will determine how best it can be implemented," a Romney camp official told Killer Apps' John Reed.

Two four-stars get the nod for AFRICOM and the Marines' No. 2 spot. After some amount of internal struggle, the White House nominated Gen. David "Rod" Rodriguez to command U.S. Africa Command, and Lt. Gen. John "Jay" Paxton, Jr. to the Marines as the assistant commandant of the Marine Corps. The latter nomination comes as President Obama nominated Gen. Joe Dunford to head the ISAF mission in Kabul after some internal Pentagon squabbling over who would get the nod. Some had pushed for Rodriguez, who had been the operational commander in Afghanistan, to get the job. But Dunford won out for his "strategic acumen," as one report put it.

Now, "Rod" will head to Africa, pending Senate confirmation, where at least one individual thought he would be a perfect fit because Rodriguez tends to have an "intuitive grasp" of local populations. That's an important quality in Africa, where the U.S. has tried to walk a fine line between having a presence there and not treading too heavily. "His empathy and his ability to understand other people's contexts I think will make him great for AFRICOM," said Sarah Chayes, a longtime Afghanistan resident who served as special adviser to the ISAF command while Rodriguez lead there and now a senior associate for the South Asia program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

Paxton was on the very short list to replace Dunford as the Marine assistant commandant. He's seen as the man for the job, says Jan Huly, the colorful retired Marine three-star who served in Somalia with Paxton on the 22nd MEU (Huly as MEU commander, Paxton as the battalion landing team commander, arriving just after the Black Hawk incident) Huly jokes that Paxton is "Huly-trained," and ready for the job. "He was on everybody's team, everybody likes Jay Paxton," Huly told Situation Report. "He knows how the operational forces of the Marine Corps work, and it didn't surprise me that he did well on the Joint Staff," Huly said of Paxton, who served as the J-3.

"He's just a man for all seasons - a well-rounded guy."

Paxton's call sign: Fang. (after getting bitten by a poisonous snake at Camp Lejeune years ago).

Twelve Years and Counting



Your Opinion Counts

  • WaPo (Harold Brown op-ed): Protect military programs by getting rid of redundant service secretaries.
  • WSJ: (Doug Feith and Seth Cropsey): A foreign policy failure to acknowledge the obvious.