National Security

A final debate: did foreign policy win?

How to explain Iran sanctions to Iranians. No, cyber-warriors, there is no meeting on “the Hatch Act,” and more.

It was hard for Obama and Romney to stay focused on foreign policy in last night's debate on foreign policy. Much of the evening focused on domestic economic issues, and even a question on the rise of China elicited responses about jobs, not the PLA.

Overall, the debate pitted a sure-footed president against a Republican rival who was highly critical of the president's ability to be effective overseas. When Romney and Obama did talk foreign policy, they drew few contrasts. Romney accused Obama of being tentative in Iran, hesitant in Syria, and ineffective in Iraq. Obama said Romney has been inconsistent about many of the same issues, assertively ticking off accomplishments and details about his foreign policy. In the end, Romney largely agreed with Obama about Iran, Afghanistan, and Syria, without defining a different approach.

Obama, on America's role in the world: "Now Governor Romney has taken a different approach throughout this campaign. You know, both at home and abroad, he has proposed wrong and reckless policies. He's praised George Bush as good economic steward and Dick Cheney as somebody who shows great wisdom and judgment. And taking us back to those kinds of strategies that got us into this mess are not the way that we are going to maintain leadership in the 21st century."

Romney, on America's role: "We want to end those conflicts to the extent humanly possible. But in order to be able to fulfill our role in the world, America must be strong. America must lead.... And for that to happen, we have to strengthen our economy here at home.... And our military -- we've got to strengthen our military long-term. We don't know what the world is going to throw at us down the road. We -- we make decisions today in a military that -- that will confront challenges we can't imagine."

Romney, on the military: "Our Navy is older -- excuse me -- our Navy is smaller now than any time since 1917. The Navy said they needed 313 ships to carry out their mission. We're now down to 285. We're headed down to the -- to the low 200s if we go through with sequestration. That's unacceptable to me. I want to make sure that we have the ships that are required by our Navy. Our Air Force is older and smaller than any time since it was founded in 1947. We've changed for the first time since FDR. We -- since FDR we had the -- we've always had the strategy of saying we could fight in two conflicts at once. Now we're changing to one conflict."

Department of Zingers, Advantage Obama: "But I think Governor Romney maybe hasn't spent enough time looking at how our military works. You -- you mentioned the Navy, for example, and that we have fewer ships than we did in 1916. Well, Governor, we also have fewer horses and bayonets because the nature of our military's changed. We have these things called aircraft carriers where planes land on them. We have these ships that go underwater, nuclear submarines."

Department of Retweets: Horses & Bayonettes @horsebayonette. I can run fast and stab things. Put me in, coach!

FP's Rosa Brooks asks on Twitter: "Army has a lot of bayonets, actually... 1 per rifle, yes?"

An unscientific NBC Politics poll of about 50,000 people showed that 26 percent say the debate made them more likely to vote for Romney, versus the 53 percent who said they would be more likely to vote for Obama. Twenty-one percent said it didn't make a difference.

The Republicans' counter spin, paraphrased: "Americans don't care about foreign policy, they care about the economy, it doesn't really matter who won the foreign policy debate."

Full transcript of debate:

Welcome to Tuesday's edition of Situation Report, where, like Bob Schieffer, we love teachers, too. 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.

We guess it's OK to say "pivot." Many national security types, both in and out of the building and in and out of uniform, get schooled by strategic communication types about the use of the word "pivot" when it comes to talking about the strategic move (back) to Asia. "Rebalancing," of course, is the preferred way to talk about the move. We get it: the U.S. never left Asia, etc. But last night Obama said "pivot" and many rejoiced. Obama: "And when it comes to our military and Chinese security, part of the reason that we were able to pivot to the Asia-Pacific region after having ended the war in Iraq and transitioning out of Afghanistan, is precisely because this is going to be a massive growth area in the future."

Julian E. Barnes @julianbarnes. Obama says we can use the word pivot. so stop correcting me @PentagonPresSec

No, Stephen Strasburg was not suspended from the Nationals for failing a drug test -- nor is there a meeting today on the Hatch Act for Pentagon employees. It's a cyber-war, stupid -- and this is Cyber Security Month. Two e-mails circulating through the Pentagon in recent days suggest some strange things are happening around town. One e-mail an officer forwarded to Situation Report suggests that Nationals pitcher Stephen Strasburg had tested positive for Methylhexaneamine, used by body builders. "Strasburg and the Nationals organization official public statement is available by clicking here," the e-mail, from "CNN Sports News," says. But when you click on it, it takes you to, surprise! a message about Cyber Security Month. "Don't be Phished!" the Web site says. Another e-mail announced a meeting for Pentagon employees on "the Hatch Act."

It's all part of a "phishing" exercise DoD is conducting to determine how effective the Pentagon's annual "information assurance training" is at highlighting cyber threats for Pentagon employees, explains Lt. Col. Damien Pickart, the Pentagon's public affairs man on cyber-security. "The week long exercise is being conducted during National Cybersecurity Awareness Month and consists of a series of emails calibrated to match current, real-world events or topics - that are sent at random to OSD staff personnel," he told Situation Report in a not-so-suspicious e-mail. Department officials will collect statistical information about the choices made by DoD personnel throughout the exercise to see where training needs to be emphasized in the future. But Pickart provided this assurance in this age of cyber angst: "No findings or information from the exercise will be shared outside DoD and individual responses will not be divulged."

Want to get Phished? Just click here:

Pentagon Seen: Spotted in the Pentagon with his George Costanza electric wheelchair: a recovering John McHugh, secretary of the Army, still on the mend from a nasty bike accident in Alexandria a few weeks ago.

How does the U.S. explain its sanctions to ordinary Iranians? Iran led to some of the more heated moments between Romney and Obama last night, even if, in the end, there were few substantive contrasts drawn. Sanctions are of course key to U.S. policy toward Iran, crippling its economy and forcing the regime to reckon with its policy decisions regarding its nuclear program. But what are those sanctions making Iranians believe about the U.S.?

Khosrow Semnani, an Iranian-American engineer, worries the U.S. is making a strategic misstep by failing to explain to Iranians just why those sanctions are in place -- and who is to blame. Semnani, who recently published a report on the "human toll" of military strikes on Iran's nuclear sites, told Situation Report he believes the sanctions are working but fears they are also alienating the Iranian population against the U.S. in a way that will be hard to correct.

"People have to know what sanctions are about," Semnani told Situation Report. "We have to be out there articulating our position, and we're not."

American officials and analysts agree the U.S. has not done a good job communicating its position to the Iranian people, though it's unclear exactly what can be done. The U.S. must make a distinction to the Iranian people -- to the extent that it can communicate with them at all -- that the U.S. doesn't necessarily oppose Iranian nuclear power, but that it does oppose an Iranian nuclear weapon.

"That is the fundamental message that is constantly muddied," said Juan Zarate, a former deputy national security adviser under Bush 43 and now with the Center for Strategic and International Studies. Zarate says the U.S. must walk a fine line between trying to take credit for the pressure on the Iranian economy but ensuring the U.S. doesn't take the blame for the regime's policy decisions. The issue is even more critical as the sanctions program has broadened from precise sanctions affecting certain sectors to an "economic strangulation campaign" that impacts a much larger swatch of the population, Zarate says. "I'm somewhat sympathetic to the U.S. government because it is very hard to do high-level messaging inside Iran to the Iranian people. At the end of the day, it's difficult with a regime that has done a very good job of closing off channels of communication."

Some analysts' knee-jerk response is to say that Iranians blame the regime first-and-foremost. But Trita Parsi, president of the National Iranian American Council, said it's problematic to make assumptions about what the Iranian people do or do not think and what role messaging has in all of it. The Iranian people, he says, are smart enough to make a distinction between the U.S. and the regime - and can blame both for their problems.

"It's absolutely true that the Iranian people have a tremendous amount of anger... but I think it is a dangerous and naïve assumption to believe that the Iranian people are only capable of blaming one party," he told Situation Report.

Communicating effectively with Iranians is key. It's just that the U.S. has forgotten how to do it. Ali Alfoneh, a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, says the U.S. needs to begin channeling Cold War-era communication experts to better articulate its policy towards Iran - in Iran.

"So we really need to go to nursing homes, take out American cold warriors who have experience with cultural warfare, and seek their consult," he told Situation Report. "They know what it means to communicate messages to the population in a state in which the U.S. is engaged in silent warfare."


Twelve Years and Counting

A Nuclear-Armed Iran

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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

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Alive and Kicking?