National Security

Situation Report chats with McChrystal; Podesta Group lobbying for Hagel; Journalist Bill McMichael scores a win against the Pentagon; John Nagl has a staring role in Kaplan’s new book, and more.

Stan McChrystal is in the house. Breaking a long silence since his hurried resignation in June 2010, and just three days before his much-anticipated book is released to the public, former ISAF commander and head of Joint Special Operations Command Stan McChrystal is briefing military and civilian officials at the Federation Forum in the Pentagon this morning. He'll talk about the mission in Afghanistan and how to confront the war's challenges as the number of troops and resources decline. But it's the imminent release of his book that is garnering him all the attention. The memoir, "My Share of the Task," due out Monday, is about his career in the Army, leadership, and his experiences in Iraq and Afghanistan before a Rolling Stone article led to his resignation. Readers hungry for a kiss-and-tell may be left wanting, McChrystal said in a brief, impromptu chat with Situation Report in his Old Town Alexandria office Thursday.

McChrystal: "For people looking for scandals or criticism, they will be disappointed. That's not who I am." 

Instead, he said, it is a "pretty well-researched account of what we did." Out of respect for a press embargo, McChrystal said he could not discuss details of the book. But he said he was proudest of the parts that pertain to the changes he made to JSOC. "The core of the book is the transformation of JSOC during combat," he told Situation Report. "We changed completely how we operated." His book was due out just after the November election but was delayed by Pentagon vetters doing a routine review for classified information.

McChrystal told Situation Report that his Pentagon briefing this morning will be about how you get different entities to play nicely. "I'm really just going to talk to them about what it takes to make multiple organizations work together -- or at least I'll talk about the challenges," McChrystal said. Leadership is key to mounting those challenges, he said. "It's easy to understand the requirement, fairly easy to argue for, but really hard to do."

Starting Sunday, McChrystal will be everywhere. The media frenzy will begin with a pre-taped interview with CBS's David Martin on "Sunday Morning." That will be followed by a piece in USA Today and appearances on "Today," "Morning Joe," "The Sean Hannity Show," "The View," and "The Daily Show," as well as interviews with CNN's Wolf Blitzer, NBC's Andrea Mitchell, Mike Huckabee on Fox and others over the next 10 days. 

Welcome to Friday's edition of Situation Report, where we regret slicing our finger with a newly sharpened knife -- forgive typos. 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. And if you have a report, piece of news, or tidbit you want teased, send it to us early for maximum tease.

The Podesta Group is helping to promote Hagel. The Podesta Group is channeling as much as $35,000 to sponsor Mike Allen's Playbook this week as it lobbies influencers on the merits of appointing former senator Chuck Hagel as secretary of defense. Podesta is providing public affairs services on behalf of an organization calling itself the Bipartisan Group, a loose association of retired national security types who have taken up Hagel's cause after some pro-Israel groups and others raised concerns about Hagel's past statements about Israel. The ads have appeared since Monday in the e-mailed newsletter published by Politico.

Representatives from Podesta would not comment on a matter concerning a client. But a source familiar with the effort told Situation Report that the Bipartisan Group -- comprised of David Boren, Frank Carlucci, William "Fox" Fallon, Gary Hart, Brent Scowcroft, Thomas Pickering, and others -- approached Podesta to help get the word out about Hagel. Critics continue to cite things Hagel did and said in the late 1980s and 1990s as evidence of less-than-strong support for Israel.

"The Bipartisan Group has a different view of Senator Hagel's record and his views, and they want to make sure that he is not swift-boated," said the individual. "It is a record they are comfortable promoting. If he is a nominee, he should be afforded a fair hearing and that he should be afforded a fair process."

Individuals from two publications who are familiar with ad rates for Allen's popular e-mail put the buy at approximately $35,000 for a week's worth of sponsorship.

Critics of Hagel, like the Israel Project's Josh Block, continue to target him. And the conservative Free Beacon published a story yesterday about how, as head of the World USO, he tried to shut down a USO port in Haifa, Israel. The lobbying effort, which includes efforts beyond sponsorship of the e-mailed newsletter, is a sign of how much some of Washington's heavyweights are willing to fight for Hagel -- unlike the ghostly push for Susan Rice as secretary of state. Many individuals on either side have criticized the White House for not moving quicker either to nominate Hagel and fight for him or to move on. 

Signer Zbigniew Brzezinski, to Situation Report on why the lobbying for Hagel: "I think a lot of people are reacting to the completely one-sided and unfair and almost odd attacks on Hagel, which is not a contribution to a serious public discussion about who would make a good defense secretary."

From the letter, addressed to President Barack Obama: "We write to you, Mr. President, in support of Senator Hagel because we believe our polarized political life is much in need of leaders with the kind of bipartisanship and independence of conscience and mind that Chuck Hagel's service to our country has exemplified."

Bipartisan Group letter:

Free Beacon story:

From Josh Block's Twitter account last night: @TNR: The reasons why liberals should oppose #Hagel are numerous. 

Meet the Pentagon's new top lawyer. For now. The E-Ring's Kevin Baron reports that the man to replace Jeh Johnson is his former deputy, Robert Taylor.

Score one for journalism. Journalist Bill McMichael won an important legal fight in a FOIA case against the Pentagon regarding the allegedly abusive work environment at U.S. Strategic Command. McMichael, formerly a long-time reporter for Navy Times who is now with the News Journal of New Castle, Del., had requested the records of a DOD Inspector General investigation into the work environment at the command, created by Capt. William Powers while he was serving as a top official there between October 2008 to March 2010. But his request was denied through a "Glomar" response, which is a legalistic dodge named after a vessel built by the CIA to salvage a sunken Soviet submarine. Under Glomar, the government neither confirms nor denies the existence of the records. McMichael made a subsequent appeal to DOD, which was also denied, leading him to file a suit in federal court. Judge Rosemary Collyer of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia agreed with McMichael, saying release of the records was in the public interest. McMichael was represented by Yale Law School's Media Freedom and Information Access Clinic and other attorneys. 

McMichael, a former colleague, to Situation Report, on the win: "This case involved nothing more than an investigation into an allegedly abusive military leader of substantial stature -- a public figure, as the judge determined. Hiding the existence of that investigation behind Glomar was a travesty, in my opinion. It'll be interesting to see what DOD does next." Yale Law School story:

"Morning Joe" runs an excerpt of Fred Kaplan's new book, "The Insurgents: David Petraeus and the Plot to Change the American Way of War," that leads with: "A few days shy of his twenty-fifth birthday, John Nagl saw his future disappear." Kaplan describes how at that time, in February 1991, in the deserts of southern Iraq, Nagl, a platoon leader, embodied a U.S. Army struggling to adapt after the Cold War. Nagl, now the counterinsurgency expert, had become fluent in German because he thought that that's where he'd be spending the bulk of his career. But the fall of the Berlin Wall, the end of the Cold War, and the realities of confronting a crumbling military in Iraq showed just how ill-prepared the Army was for the future.

"The Insurgents," Kaplan argues, is the "inside story" of how Petraeus and people like Nagl and H.R. McMaster forged a "mafia" to force the Army to change its culture and institutions -- a shift with which the Army continues to struggle to this day. 

Kaplan, on Nagl and the first Gulf War in the first chapter: "It was a moment of unaccustomed triumph for the US military, still haunted by the defeat in Vietnam. But to Nagl, it also signaled the end of the era that made the triumph possible. Tank-on-tank combat had been the defining mode of warfare for a modern superpower; now it teetered on the verge of obsolescence. The Soviet Union and Iraq had been the last two foes that possessed giant tank armies. With the former gone up in smoke and the latter crushed so easily on the battlefield, it seemed implausible that any foreign power would again dare challenge the United States in a head-on contest of strength. The premise of all Nagl's plans -- to say nothing of the rationale for his beloved Army's doctrines, budgets, and weapons programs -- seemed suddenly, alarmingly irrelevant."



National Security

Dunford to take over Feb. 10; Why Wolfowitz likes Flournoy (it’s not just over Afghanistan); Death toll mounts in Syria; The fiscal cliff leaves the Pentagon sour; Kristin Lord to USIP and more.

ISAF's change of command ceremony is scheduled for Feb. 10, Situation Report has learned. Commander Gen. John Allen will be succeeded by Gen. Joe Dunford, who has been the Marine Corps' No. 2 officer and who will now preside over the withdrawal of tens of thousands of American troops from Afghanistan more than 12 years after they first arrived. Meanwhile, Allen awaits the outcome of the Pentagon investigation into e-mail exchanges he had with Jill Kelley of Tampa. Many believe he will be exonerated and be re-nominated to head U.S. European Command since his initial nomination essentially lapsed after Defense Secretary Leon Panetta initiated the investigation. The timing of the change of command in Kabul is unrelated to the investigation, defense officials have said.


Even as Americans are focused elsewhere, two big questions remain: the size of the force that will remain in Afghanistan after 2014 and the "slope" of the drawdown over the next year -- i.e., how quickly the approximately 66,000 American service members now there come home. Pentagon press secretary George Little told reporters yesterday that the administration is focused on answering the first question first. The NYT this morning reports that Allen provided three options to Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, likely with risk factors for each: 6,000, 10,000 and 20,000 troops. President Hamid Karzai's visit to Washington next week may provide him and President Obama an opportunity to announce the size of the post-2014 force jointly. Otherwise, Obama may announce the number during the State of the Union address. NYT:


Not the Onion (The Duffel Blog): "U.S. Military Divorcing Afghanistan for Hotter, Sexier War," a headline this morning on the joke site, written by "G-Had," who writes: "The U.S. Military has already released a statement saying, ‘While we appreciate all the love and support Afghanistan has given us, particularly in justifying our defense budget, after over a decade together conflicts sometimes just get boring and stale. We're not a one-war kind of service.'"


Welcome to Thursday's edition of Situation Report and Happy 2013. It's good to be back. 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. And if you have a report, piece of news, or tidbit you want teased, send it to us early for maximum tease.


Fiscal cliff deal leaves Pentagon sour, the E-Ring's Kevin Baron writes. Baron: "Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, a former White House budget director and chairman of the House Budget Committee, in a statement wryly thanked Congress for finding additional time to avoid sequestration, which was due to take effect on Jan. 2. Congress has had more than one year to find a way to address the 2011 Budget Control Act's call for across-the-board defense spending cuts totaling $600 billion over 10 years, or nearly $60 billion this year alone, which military officials have said would cripple national security functions."

Panetta, on Congress' move to avoid the fiscal cliff: "For more than a year, I have made clear that sequestration would have a devastating impact on the [Defense] Department," Panetta said, in a statement. "Over the past few weeks, as we were forced to begin preparing to implement this law, my concerns about its damaging effects have only grown."


The Pentagon will make only a cameo appearance in the coming fiscal cliff sequel, Gordon Adams argues. For the Defense Department, this week's fiscal cliff "resolution" was a little anti-climactic, after fears that the New Year would bring devastating cuts for DOD. But the issue of spending was kicked down the road to March 1, about the same time that the United States will once again come up against its debt ceiling.

"This is not going to be the same kind of fight," Adams writes on FP. "The markets are not going to bounce up and down about the spending issue, not in the ecstatic way they bounded up today. The economic consequences of billions of dollars in added taxes are not the same as the consequences of spending cuts this year ($109 billion) that are less than 1 percent of overall federal spending."


Panetta in pictures. The Pentagon posted a link to a slideshow of the secretary's past year on the job, from briefings in the building, to talking to Jay Leno, to chatting up wounded warriors, to traveling to six continents -- and staring down Kiwi warriors.


Paul Wolfowitz isn't pushing Flournoy for SecDef per se, he tells Situation Report, despite the laudatory op-ed he published in the WSJ on Dec. 30. But the former Pentagon policy chief likes Flournoy -- herself a former Pentagon policy chief -- whose name is still being bandied for secretary of defense. Conservatives who dislike Hagel may be out to boost Flournoy's chances, but Wolfowitz says he's not exactly taking a position, at least a public one, on which of the current slate of candidates should be the next Sec-Def.


Wolfowitz's admiration for Flournoy started over a Saturday morning breakfast in Washington -- with Gen. Bill Caldwell. The op-ed stemmed from a conversation he had with Caldwell when the general, then in charge of training Afghan troops, told Wolfowitz that Flournoy had pushed for more resources to build the Afghan force. Struck by what she had done, Wolfowitz called the Pentagon switchboard that very morning to see if he could be patched through to Flournoy, but he didn't expect her to pick up. To his surprise, she did. He thanked her for what she had done to help build the Afghan forces. After a brief conversation, she asked him if that's all he wanted, and he told her yes, all he wanted to do was to thank her.


Wolfowitz to Situation Report: "To my surprise, she got on the phone, then she was surprised that I was calling only to say ‘thank you.' She thought I was calling her on a Saturday morning to complain about something."


Chuck Hagel is still thought to top the list to replace Panetta, but the White House has been unable to make a decision. Criticisms of Hagel from the right and the left, including concerns about his stance on Israel, is keeping other options for secretary alive -- Flournoy being the primary alternative (in addition to the Pentagon's No. 2, Ash Carter, who may otherwise go to lead the Department of Energy). Wolfowitz said he doesn't know enough about Hagel either way -- though he likes Joe Lieberman for the job. Whoever goes to the Pentagon, it should be someone who cares about the mission in Afghanistan, Wolfowitz said, adding that this administration has done more to train the Afghan force than the Bush administration ever did (though he mostly gave credit to Caldwell, who served as his military assistant when he was in the Pentagon). ICYMI: Wolfowitz' op-ed.


The U.N. says new estimates put the number killed in Syria at about 60,000. The new estimate shows that 59,648 people have been killed since the conflict began in March 2011. "The number of casualties is much higher than we expected and is truly shocking," said U.N. High Commissioner Navi Pillay. U.N. news story on new analysis:


Enduring image of the impact of the fighting in Syria: a man holding the body of his dead son in Aleppo in October:


CNAS's Kristin Lord is headed to USIP. The U.S. Institute of Peace announced Wednesday that Kristin Lord, now executive vice president at the Center for a New American Security, will become USIP's executive vice president. She starts at the big 23rd Street building with the "dove" roof on Jan. 28. Former special assistant to President Obama Linda Jamison, who has been in the acting role as EVP at USIP since April, will stay on at the Institute as a senior adviser.


Lord: "At a time when Americans seek to understand a world that grows ever more complex, and to prevent and mitigate violent conflict that is all too frequent, the mission of the United States Institute of Peace could hardly be more important," Lord said. "It is a tremendous honor to join the Institute at this critical moment and be part of an organization that strives to represent America at its very best."


Former CNAS-er John Nagl, to Situation Report, on Lord: "Dr. Kristin Lord has been an unsung hero at CNAS for the past four years. Kristin was one of the first people I brought on board the team, and her intelligence and dedication to excellence show in everything CNAS has done since. USIP is gaining a dynamic talent who will make everything she touches better."

Full disclosure: Situation Report used to be a USIP-er, where we even became a blue badger.


The Stans


Think tanking