National Security

Why “No Drama Obama” might like Joe Dunford

McCain made similar points as Rice on Benghazi; Why “strategic communications” just became “communications synchronization” at the Pentagon; Petraeus as “Fat Elvis”? And more.

Will Joe Dunford really be "No Drama Obama's" dream general? Gen. Joe Dunford was confirmed by the Senate last night and will be headed to Kabul soon. You never know what will happen, but all indicators are that Dunford's deployment may be the first in a while to unfold without incident. He's a low-key Marine officer who's more Boy Scout than military rock star, one who's more likely to be seen standing in line at the Pentagon cafeteria getting his own lunch than zipping around Washington with a slew of Suburbans. Three of the last four ISAF commanders -- Allen, McChrystal, and McKiernan -- have left or will leave under a cloud. And the fourth is Petraeus.

Dunford is not especially well-known. But his meteoric rise to the top -- essentially skipping the rank of two-star general altogether -- is still astonishing to many senior officers. And as an officer in Iraq in 2004, he experienced the hard lessons of complacency when four Marines within his area of responsibility were killed when they fell asleep on a rooftop in Anbar province even though they were supposed to be on watch. We've told the story before, but we remember during the same deployment, he caught a Marine sleeping on post, jostled him awake and told him, essentially, "complacency kills, wake up."

The Senate also confirmed Lt. Gen. Jay Paxton, who will succeed Dunford as AC-MACK.

"Totally unacceptable." President Barack Obama said there would be consequences if Syria uses any chemical weapons and that deploying them would be "totally unacceptable." As rebel forces make advances, new intelligence reports indicate that the Syrian regime is moving weaponry, even if it remains unclear just what Syria plans to do with the chemical munitions. But this doesn't appear to be Iraq all over again. The WaPo quotes an American intelligence official as saying "we have pretty good visibility" on Syria's chemical weapons.

Part of the reason why American officials are worried: Danger Room reports on how the Syrian regime has been combining the two chemical precursors needed to weaponize sarin gas.

Situation Report Idea Floater. Another novel approach on Syria came over the transom to Situation Report: something called "pre-emptive contract sanctions." The Center for Global Development shot us a blog post that media reps there say is getting some traction by places like the FT, the Daily Beast, CNN and others, as a way to get rid of Assad.

"It's time to try a new tool that would strengthen existing measures: preemptive contract sanctions. This would take the form of a declaration that any new contracts with the Assad regime are illegitimate and need not be honored by a legitimate successor government. Such a declaration would discourage new contracts with or loans to the regime because of the likelihood that that they would be repudiated by a successor government," write Kimberly Ann Elliott and Owen Barder.

A short video to show how it would work:

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The Pentagon's Office of Public Affairs is axing "strategic communications." It's now called "communication synchronization." Pentagon Press Secretary George Little recently put out a memo, obtained by Situation Report, that describes how the Pentagon's public affairs apparatus eliminated strategic communications positions, a layer of people who were supposed to make sure any one department was speaking as one, and instead folded those operations into normal public affairs work.

"[Strategic Communications] was viewed as a means to synchronize communication efforts across the department, however, over the last six years we learned that it actually added a layer of staffing and planning that blurred the roles and functions of traditional staff elements and resulted in confusion and inefficiencies. As a result, this year we stood down these staff elements.

"We also realized that these SC plans mostly contained public affairs planning that we once again expect to come through public affairs channels," Little wrote. "We avoid using the term SC to avoid causing confusion. The more accurate terminology, which will be used in future joint publications, is communication synchronization." But, he said, commanders have to get on board: "Without commander engagement, communication synchronization cannot work."

When will Rod's confirmation hearing be scheduled? The E-Ring's Kevin Baron is told the hearing for Gen. David Rodriguez for U.S. Africom has not yet been scheduled, but Pentagon officials are hopeful he will be confirmed in the lame duck session, regardless of what happens with Gen. John Allen's nomination to be the Supreme Allied Commander, Europe and U.S. European Command.

Petraeus in Kabul as "fat Elvis"? FP's Tom Ricks writes about a recent article by the WaPo's Greg Jaffe on David Petraeus and how generals get "used up" over the course of multiple jobs. Ricks: "I have heard Petraeus' tour in Afghanistan referred to as his ‘fat Elvis' period, an unkind way of saying that he was tired and not on his A-game there." Ricks' brief post and link to Jaffe piece.

Will war spending over the next five years be $44 billion per year? Gordon Adams argues the administration has no real idea what war costs will be - forecasts are of course forecasts - but how long will it take before the Pentagon sees savings from ending the war in Afghanistan? There might not be huge savings anytime soon, he says.

Adams: "The back of my envelope (which is as good as the number the administration uses) says war spending will disappear by the FY 2015 budget submission (that's the year after next). Secretary Geithner tried to argue this was not a gimmick, but it is. (Rep. Paul Ryan used the phony savings, too, in his budget proposal earlier this year.)"

John McCain's early assessment of Benghazi was similar to Susan Rice's. Ben Armbruster on the Center for American Progress' "ThinkProgress Security" blog, points this out: "Just three days after the Sept. 11 attacks in Benghazi, Libya, Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) said there were ‘demonstrations' at the U.S. diplomatic mission there and that the attackers ‘seized this opportunity to attack our consulate.' McCain also said during this Sept. 14 press conference on Capitol Hill that he wasn't certain whether al-Qaeda perpetrated the assault."

Here's what McCain said on Sept. 14, just two days before Rice made her now infamous appearance on the Sunday talk shows: McCain: "It's hard to know exactly what took place and how long it was planned, and -- I don't have that information. I know very well that there were demonstrations, that there was a group of either al Qaeda or some radical Islamists who -- about 15 of them, armed with RPGs and other lethal weapons, that seized this opportunity to attack our consulate. And it was an act of terror. It wasn't an act of a mob getting out of control. We should understand that. This was a calculated act of terror on the part of a small group of jihadists, not a mob that somehow attacked and sacked our embassy."

And here's Rice on "Face the Nation": "[S]oon after that spontaneous protest began outside of our consulate in Benghazi, we believe that it looks like extremist elements, individuals, joined in that -- in that effort with heavy weapons."

What Panetta might leave undone. Kevin Baron looks at what Defense Secretary Leon Panetta might not get finished if new reports indicating he might leave sooner rather than later are true. From cutting top brass to cutting wasteful spending, Panetta may or may not have checked those boxes -- depends on who you talk to. But some industry people believe Panetta has been effective during this budgetary transition period.

So stealthy! France joins the drone wars with a new "nEUROn" plane (and yes, it is spelled that way). Killer Apps' John Reed: "Now, just because the nEUROn has flown, it doesn't mean that France is about to catch the U.S., which has been flying stealthy drone test jets since the 1990s and operating Lockheed Martin's stealthy RQ-170 in combat for at least a half-decade. nEUROn is a technology demonstrator; basically it's a plane used to prove that all the tech Dassault has designed for a stealth, unmanned strike jet will actually work. (To be fair, the nEUROn is significantly more advanced than the U.S.' first stealthy UAVs.)"

Extra Extra

Twelve Years and Counting



National Security

A novel idea: the U.S. should buy Syria’s WMDs

Afghanistan, open for business; Panetta watch continues; Cyber-missions coming for the services, and more.

If Syria is moving its chemical weapons, is the U.S. closer to intervening? Unclear as of yet. But intelligence reports over the weekend indicate Assad is in fact moving them, which could change President Obama's "calculus" on intervention. The NYT this morning quoted a senior American diplomat who has been active in trying to convince the Syrian regime not to use chemical weapons on its people: "These are desperate times for Assad, and this may simply be another sign of desperation."

Obama, in August: "We cannot have a situation in which chemical or biological weapons are falling into the hands of the wrong people.... We have been very clear to the Assad regime but also to other players on the ground that a red line for us is, we start seeing a whole bunch of weapons moving around or being utilized.... That would change my calculus.... That would change my equation." NYT this morning:

Hillary, this morning, asked about new evidence the regime intended to use its stash of chemical weapons: "We are certainly planning to take action if that eventuality were to occur."

A novel idea to prevent WMD from causing problems in Syria: buy them up. We heard from a professor at the University of Richmond who doesn't specialize in weapons of mass destruction or even foreign policy, but who is aggressively shopping this idea around Washington. $80 million could do the trick, he argued in an op-ed in the Jerusalem Post in August. "In a bold but prudent effort to help stabilize a post-Assad government and to pre-empt the need for either the U.S. or Israel to raid and secure Syria's WMD stockpiles, the US should offer to buy those WMD now from the Syrian National Council and the Free Syrian Army. As a pre-emptive economic diplomacy carrot, the price should be at least $80 million."

Taylor, a West Point graduate and now a paralegal studies program chair at the University of Richmond, believes the money could be used, Marshall Plan-style, by Syria's opposition forces to begin to rebuild the country post-war. His plan, of course, assumes that Assad is gone and the U.S. or Israel or international community would enter into negotiations with the Syrian opposition. Taylor fears the weapons, on the move, could turn up anywhere, even Gaza, triggering loud alarm bells.

"That's beyond a game changer," he told Situation Report.

Taylor's idea isn't bad, even if the time may not be just right, says the Institute for the Study of War's Joseph Holliday. The Syrian regime's guarantee, as Holliday puts it, is the chemical weapons it possesses. It's not ready to sell. "I don't see any reason why that is out of the realm of possibility, I just don't think we're there yet," Holliday told Situation Report. "It depends on the sequence of how all this plays out."

Besides, he says, look at what happened in Libya after President Muammar Qaddafi got rid of his chemical weapons. Ultimately, the U.S. and the international community went in. Depending on how the situation in Syria plays out, retaining the power WMDs confer upon the owner will be useful until which time when it's not. Holliday says while chemical weapons are top of mind, the roles and missions and make-up of a future peacekeeping force is another huge question. But his greatest fear: the direction the security forces take after Assad falls. "It's scary to think about," he says.

Taylor Op-Ed (paywall):

Welcome to Monday's edition of Situation Report. 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.

Department of Watching Panetta. Word was last week that the Petraeus scandal might keep Panetta in the Pentagon longer than expected -- perhaps as late as summer, multiple people told Situation Report. Panetta and defense officials have long been coy on the matter of just when he would be returning to his California walnut farm. Then yesterday AP reported that a decision on top cabinet positions, to include the Pentagon's top job, could come sooner than expected, and as early as this week. AP listed the usual suspects as possible noms: Chuck Hagel, Michele Flournoy, Ash Carter; then tossed John Kerry's name in the hat, too, even though it's widely believed he wants HRC's job more. An American official told Situation Report that the turnover could be relatively quick: "A change could come as soon as a final decision is made on a new secretary of defense."

AP story:

Carter Ham talks counter-terrorism in Africa. Gen. Carter Ham, commander of U.S. Africa Command, will do a panel discussion this morning in Washington on counter-terrorism at George Washington University.

The Pentagon is giving cyber marching orders to the services. Killer Apps' John Reed reports that the Pentagon's Joint Staff and the Office of the Secretary of Defense are preparing to tell the services what their respective roles will be when it comes to cyber security in the coming years. The Pentagon had already told each of the services what missions they needed to perform earlier this year; but things have changed. Reed: "To this end, the Joint Chiefs of Staff and OSD are deciding what cyber capabilities the individual services will need to bring to the table between fiscal years 2014 and 2020. Once that happens -- as early as next week -- they will tell the service to plan accordingly, accordingly to [Air Force CIO Lt. Gen. Michael Basla]. (Keep in mind that the individual services provide cyber fighting forces to U.S. Cyber Command in the same way they provide traditional forces for the regional combatant commands.)"

Afghanistan is open for business. Afghans want the world to know that despite the war, their country offers huge opportunities for the right investors. And the right investors can help to create opportunity, which creates jobs, which creates stability. The Pentagon recognizes this, and DOD's Task Force for Business and Stability Operations has been actively engaged in assisting the Afghans to build economic development opportunities, from mining to carpet making. Today, the Afghan-American Chamber of Commerce continues their conference in Washington, with "networking opportunities" and speakers from Afghanistan, the U.S. government, the international community, and the private sector. Afghanistan is beginning to market itself as a war zone rife with high-risk, high-reward opportunity, the Afghan Embassy's commercial attaché told Situation Report.

"From a foreign investor's perspective, Afghanistan poses real risks, but you have to keep in mind, we're still in the midst of a conflict," Shakib Noori says. "Like in other areas of business, though, the more risky a place is, the more profit you get out of it."

As Afghans contemplate life after 2014, when the bulk of American forces withdraw, the government of Afghanistan is preparing for the transition, seeking to bolster economic development opportunities with American firms in the mining, construction, agriculture and services sector. American firms have the kind of expertise Afghans need; Afghanistan has near unlimited opportunity, they argue.

"This is a very important time for Afghanistan as we take the security lead. That is why we continue to promote and support efforts to cultivate a very strong private sector able to absorb the slowed job growth brought about by the security transition," Noori says.

Memo to Jim Perdue. Right now, Afghanistan imports 90 percent of the chickens sold in its markets -- from places like the U.S., Brazil, Malaysia, India, Pakistan, and Iran. Afghans recognize they could build their own poultry industry with the help of an American partner. And there is huge demand for "everyone's favorite meat" in Afghanistan, Noori says. "With 30 million people in Afghanistan, a lot of open land and an appropriate climate, we could easily produce poultry in country, so why don't we invest in it?" Noori says.
Afghans hope to do for chicken what they did for soda five or six years ago. Until 2006, most soft drinks were imported. Then Coca-Cola and other companies began producing inside Afghanistan. Today, all of the country's supply is produced in country, Noori says.

The Pentagon has been helping Afghanistan with its carpet industry as well, building two cut-and-wash facilities to minimize what it needs from Pakistan to export its rugs. That is helpful, Noori says. But what Afghanistan really needs is a way to export the rugs through Pakistan. Today it can cost between $7-10 per kilogram to ship rugs by air, a cost some rug-makers will pay to avoid Pakistan repackaging Afghan-made rugs with a "made in Pakistan" label. Afghanistan wants to cut deals with Pakistan that enable Afghans to ship their rugs by ground through Pakistan but maintain the integrity of their source.

"Even though we have cut-and-washing facilities, which help increase production, the major problem right now that is the export process out of Afghanistan. It is a major issue because many of the Afghan carpets end up going to Pakistan before being exported throughout the world and inevitably lose their affinity with Afghanistan."
Conference agenda:

The conference:

Benghazi, bureaucracy, Rice and the talking points: how one former analyst sees it. Nada Bakos thinks she knows what happened and blames it on bureaucracy: "On the eve of the attack, the analysts at the CIA are reading reports from regional embassies, watching news reports, and poring over cables from assets as the ridiculous anti-Islam YouTube video sparks protests across the region. As the attack in Benghazi ensues, they scramble to assess the situation and draft products for the various consumers -- the most sensitive pieces go to select people at the White House, Pentagon, Office of the DNI, and National Security Council. If time allows, an alternative product is scrubbed of the most sensitive information for release across various parts of the U.S. government. In other words, the CIA may (or may not) have disseminated two different sets of talking points: one highly classified to protect sources and methods, and a second for broader dissemination."