National Security

Is Kim Jong Un for real? Why the guys-are-gross argument won’t work against integrating women; Old School: Barrow on women-in-combat; Mattis didn’t have a heads up he was out; Pizzas to Kabul; And a little more.

Is North Korea sounding scarier? North Korea is sounding more bellicose than usual as Kim Jong Un threatens what would be his first nuclear test and says the North's weapons would target the U.S. It was, as the NYT's David Sanger and Choe Sang-Hun wrote this morning, "more specific" than past warnings, and it comes at the same time that American intelligence shows the country is making strides in its nuclear and missile programs.

Some, including an AP report on Fox, say that North Korea's sabre rattling is just that. "If the past is any indication, its threats of war are overblown. But the chances it will conduct another nuclear test are high. And it is gaining ground in its missile program, experts say, though still a long way from seriously threatening the U.S. mainland."

Maybe, maybe not. MIT's John Park thinks North Korea's threats fit a trend and that the North is past the point of using those threats to be a bargaining chip. Park to Situation Report: "The days of North Korea using its nascent nuclear program as a bargaining chip for concessions are becoming more distant. Although North Korea has many more stages to go through before achieving a weaponized nuclear arsenal, this situation should not be viewed as a medium-term threat. The clear and present danger is that expanded long-range ballistic missile testing will expose the Asia-Pacific region's busy commercial sea lanes to increasing amounts of rocket debris. North Korea has long been a threat to international security because of its nuclear proliferation and missile sales. Now North Korea will become a top threat to regional safety."

Park adds early this morning: "The fact that we've passed the point of being able to engage the North Koreans in a grand bargain makes this a much bigger problem today than 3-4 months ago. Going forward, North Korean words are going to be rapidly translated into actions. Their claims that they'll launch more missile and nuclear tests aren't empty threats. It's more of a roadmap."

Welcome to Friday's edition of Situation Report, where we love us some metaphorical roadmaps, especially if they're easy to fold back up. Follow me @glubold. Or hit me anytime at And sign up for Situation Report here: or just drop 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.

Situation Report Reader: the "American Pie argument" against women in combat won't work. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Marty Dempsey made their historic announcement yesterday that the Pentagon would begin the process to lift the ban on women serving in combat roles, ending what some would say is a fiction given that they are serving in combat zones already. In response to yesterday's WSJ op-ed by a former Marine who argues that combat shouldn't be open to women because of the gross things guys do in the field, Diane Mazur, a law professor at the University of Florida and author of "A More Perfect Military," says: "If we accept this one, I suppose women shouldn't be medics, doctors, or nurses either, because women shouldn't be exposed to the raw reality of the human body. I know arguments ebb and flow, but this one is more than a hundred years old."

From the Women-in-Combat Archives: Watch retired Marine Commandant Gen. Robert Barrow (1979-1983) testify in 1991 to the SASC against integrating women into combat roles. Barrow: "It is most assuredly is about...combat effectiveness, combat readiness, winning the next conflict, and so we're talking about national security. Those who advocate change have some strange arguments, one of which is that the de facto women in combat situation already..., that women have been shot at, they've heard gunfire, they've been in areas where they could have been hit with missiles. Well exposure to danger is not combat, combat is a lot more than that... combat is finding and closing with and killin' or capturin' the enemy if you are down in the ground combat scheme of things. It's killin', that's what it is. And it's done in an environment that is often as difficult as you couldn't possibly imagine. Extreme environments, brutality, death, dying. It's [voice rising] uncivilized and women can't do it nor should they even [be] thought of as doing it. The requirements for strength and endurance renders them unable to do it.

And I may be old fashioned, but I think the very nature of women disqualifies them from doing it. Women give life, sustain life, nurture life, they don't take it. I just cannot imagine why we are engaged in this debate about the possibility even of pushing women down to the ground combat part of our profession. The most harm that could come would probably come to what it would do to the men in that kind of situation.... Perhaps Shakespeare said it best of all: ‘We few, we precious few, we band of brothers.' That's what it is, that would be shattered, that would be destroyed. If you want to make a combat unit ineffective, assign some women to it. It's a destructive proposition."

Only a few firing offenses : Unlike his predecessor, Bob Gates, who famously fired underperformers, Panetta has fired few people (although he forced Africom commander Gen. Kip Ward to retire as a three-star and showed the door to the head of personnel and readiness Cliff Stanley). A senior Pentagon official: "Some have said that Panetta hasn't fired enough people in the Pentagon. After yesterday's announcement on women in combat, you'd have to say that he's more interested in hiring than firing."

A slice of home: There are more than 30,000 pizzas on order for troops in Afghanistan for the Super Bowl under a program called "Pizza 4 Patriots."

Although no one has any QDR marching orders just yet, there sure is a lot of talk about it. Although the much-anticipated, always slightly disappointing bureaucratic exercise known as the Quadrennial Defense Review will begin any time now, it's clear that without a SecDef, there is only so much folks can do. Still, there is a lot of excitement about this year's QDR. This week, Stimson had an event with the Marines' Maj. Gen. Frank McKenzie. And today, CSIS will host another QDR event, this one an all-day thing, with notables like Todd Harrison, Mike O'Hanlon, Clark Murdock, Sean Brimley, David Berteau, and Gordon Adams. USIP's Steve Hadley gives the keynote.

We'd also tell you all about the Cato event on the pivot to Asia that is on the Hill this morning -- if registration wasn't already closed. Popular event.

Whither the U.S. on Mali? There was an interesting development over the last 24 hours, with a faction of the Mali rebels indicating they would peel off, potentially negotiate with the French, and go so far as to help fight other extremists in the northern part of the country. AP: "Three al-Qaida-linked extremist groups have controlled Mali's vast northeast for months, capitalizing on chaos that followed a coup d'etat in Mali's capital, Bamako, in March. But in a new sign of splintering, former Ansar Dine leader Alghabass Ag Intalla told the Associated Press on Thursday that he and his men were breaking off from Ansar Dine ‘so that we can be in control of our own fate.'" The leader said his group neither identified with AQIM or another group, the Movement for the Unity and Jihad in West Africa, but rather with a group with a set of grievances against the government.  

The WaPo this morning noted that buried in the line of questioning on Benghazi during SecState HRC's testimony the other day was a new thread: Clinton seems to be very clear on the need for U.S. engagement in North Africa, even as the White House seems to be unclear on a strategy in that region. Here's what Clinton said during testimony: "When America is absent, especially from unstable environments, there are consequences. Extremism takes root, our interests suffer and our security at home is threatened." But a WSJ story yesterday indicated the White House was dragging its feet when it came to helping the French defeat Islamic extremists in Mali's north. AP story:

WaPo op-ed on the different signals on Africa between HRC and the WH:

WSJ story on U.S. resistance to French plan.

Perhaps it will come up in the joint interview Obama and HRC are doing on ‘60 Minutes' on Sunday, being taped today, Politico reports.

There are more reports that Mattis was pushed. Earlier this week, we wrote about FP's Tom Ricks report, based on word he was getting from Pentagon insiders that Centcom Commander Gen. Jim Mattis was being pushed out for his concerns -- and the thorny questions he was asking at the White House -- about Iran and also Afghanistan and Pakistan. Ricks is writing this morning that he hears Mattis was given no heads up when he was replaced. He was traveling and in a meeting when an aide handed him a note saying the Pentagon had announced his replacement.

A friend tells Tom this sends an awful signal: "What message does it send to the Services [the capital ‘S' suggests his friend may be military or former military] when the one leader known for his war-fighting rather than diplomatic or bureaucratic political skills is retired early via one-sentence in the Pentagon's daily press handout? Even in battle, Mattis was inclusive of all under his command. He took the time to pull together his driver and guards after every day's rotation on the battlefield, telling them what he thought he had learned and asking them for input. Surely senior administration officials could have found the time to be gracious. But they didn't." Ricks' blog:

Tom's posts have resulted in more reports, including from the NY Post and Fox, that the White House is indeed pushing him out. While it appears increasingly true and definitely a provocative narrative, but it's not clear why, if the WH was trying to get rid of him, they would be doing it now -- so close to when Mattis was expected to leave anyway. Pentagon insiders will tell you he's been asking tough questions about Iran and Afghanistan for most of his tenure at Centcom. If his questions have been inconvenient - what was the breaking point? And, as the WH pointed out to Ricks,  the average time a combatant commander serves is 2.7 years; Mattis will have served 2.6 at Centcom if he leaves in March.

Speaking of Mattis: Are you smarter than a Marine? We missed this in November, when the Christian Science Monitor first published a mini-version of one test required to join the Marine Corps -- or any U.S. service for that matter. It's a smattering of 24 questions from the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (or ASVAB) given to all U.S. military recruits, from math to comprehension to common sense. The real test has more than 100 questions. Take the test here:



National Security

Flournoy on women in combat: it’s the right thing to do; Why Chuck Hagel could teach Girl Scouts a thing or two; Military intelligence to get more House oversight; John Allen is breathing again, and more.

In a parting act before leaving the Pentagon, Panetta will announce today that he's lifting the ban on women in combat. After years of contemplating the expanded warfighting role women could play, the counterinsurgencies in Iraq and Afghanistan showed that women are already on the front lines. Now on his way out the door, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta is looking to cement his legacy by announcing the beginning of what will be a long process to open up some of the 230,000 some military jobs now closed to women. He'll formally make the announcement today at the Pentagon with Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Marty Dempsey by his side. News of the impending announcement, broken yesterday by the AP's Lita Baldor, caught everyone by surprise; each of the services was scrambling last evening to find their talking points for today. The change won't be as clean as the lifting of the ban against gays in the military - this one will take years - giving the change time to steep across the military. But there will be pockets of deep resistance: Ryan Smith, a former Marine infantryman, writes in today's WSJ about the "absolutely dreadful conditions" in which grunts live, which can include defecating into an MRE bag with your battle buddy immediately beside you.

Smith: "Societal norms are a reality, and their maintenance is important to most members of a society. It is humiliating enough to relieve yourself in front of your male comrades; one can only imagine the humiliation of being forced to relieve yourself in front of the opposite sex."

Michele Flournoy says it's "absolutely the right thing to do." In an interview Wednesday, Flournoy told Situation Report that lifting the ban is recognition of the dangers women have been facing in a counterinsurgency battlefield for many years. "If someone is physically and mentally qualified to do the job, they should be able to do the job," said Flournoy, who was on the short list for SecDef before the White House nominated Chuck Hagel. "It's another step on the journey for women in the military." Although this is in effect an executive decision, not requiring congressional approval, the decision to lift the ban may face opposition in some quarters. But Flournoy and others indicate the Pentagon has "real data" that shows the change won't be a problem. "The force is already adapting, it's already happening," she said.

The Marines were the holdout. The Smith op-ed this morning isn't a surprise. Each of the services brings a different set of issues when it comes to allowing women to serve in combat roles. But it is the Corps that had been the most assertive in raising concerns about lifting the ban. Corps officials had quietly pointed to data that shows the physical differences between men and women and the difficulties those differences could pose in combat. Corps officials had also pointed to the two women who failed to complete the Corps' Infantry Officer Course at Quantico, Va. as part of a study the Corps conducted - the only two women ever to take the course. At the beginning, one of the women was quoted by NPR as saying this to Marine leaders: "I see it as an incredible opportunity that has never been open to women. I want to try and open up a door, maybe, for women after me. I don't know how far it will open, but I'm hoping to make a difference for women down the road." October NPR story by Tom Bowman on women washing out of the Corps' Infantry Officer Course.

One friend of Situation Report e-mails: "Rape, assault and harassment within the ranks against women must now be prosecuted seriously, and promotion schedules will have to be readjusted and women promoted on the basis of their talents and achievements, not outmoded social conventions and boys club politics."

Irony alert: Lifting the ban comes at the end of more than a decade at war. Even as it takes years to completely open up combat roles for women, it's unlikely they'll see large-scale "boots on the ground" warfare anytime soon.

One female Marine officer e-mails Situation Report: "I'd like to see women having the opportunity to be assigned to combat units that were formally off limits to them, but let them do their [military occupational specialty] i.e., supply, admin, law, logistics, communications, aviation maintenance, etc., not infantry, artillery, recon, tanks, or LAVs. Most women didn't join the Marine Corps to do those specialties. Just ask them."

Jane Harman on "Morning Joe" this morning: "I think the timing relates to the fact that Leon Panetta's about to leave and I think this has been cooking for years, certainly as a former member of Congress and one who was in a group of women arguing for this for a decade, I'm pleased that it's happening now."

Welcome to Thursday's edition of Situation Report where there is never a ban on your input.. Follow me @glubold. Or hit me anytime at And sign up for Situation Report here: or just drop 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.

Tony Blinken to replace McDonough. The Cable's Josh Rogin reports that Blinken will likely replace McDonough at the NSC.

More oversight of military intelligence on the Hill. Military intelligence matters will see perhaps greater oversight after a reshuffling of subcommittees under the House Armed Services Committee, Situation Report is learning. Military intelligence oversight had fallen under various subcommittees. As of last week, mil intel will get more emphasis from one renamed subcommittee. "The chairman's feeling was that we needed more focus on military intelligence issues, intelligence issues as they affect the warfighter," Rep. Mac Thornberry, R-Texas, told Situation Report in an interview Wednesday. Thornberry chairs what had been the HASC Subcommittee on Emerging Threats and Capabilities; now that's called Intelligence, Emerging Threats and Capabilities.

Thornberry said there are a host of issues the newly charged subcommittee will examine. "You take Global Hawk. Is it being built on schedule? That continues with the [Tactical Air and Land Forces]; but whether we need Global Hawk, is it meeting the needs of the warfighter -- those are the kinds of questions" the subcommittee will tackle, he said. "Is the warfighter getting what he or she needs.... That is going to be the key to the questions that I ask."

What will you call the new subcomm? The IETC, or "IT-CHI," or the "ITCH?" Nothing sounds quite right to Thornberry yet. "It's still under discussion how you pronounce the acronym," Thornberry said with a snicker.

Ding dong, it's Chuck Hagel calling. The E-Ring's Kevin Baron notes that in his door-to-door campaign to secure votes for his confirmation, Chuck Hagel will have visited about half the U.S. Senate before his hearing next Thursday. That's a lot -- and far more than Leon Panetta or Bob Gates visited before their hearings. But with a sustained, aggressive campaign against Hagel -- the WSJ just ran a critical op-ed by Wyoming Republican Senator John Barrasso this morning -- Hagel wants to set his opponents and friends alike straight on his record. Kevin: "A second official close to Hagel's confirmation process tells the E-Ring that the decision to extend offers to meet with all 100 members of the Senate was Hagel's own, and a product of his being out of government for some time, since retiring from the Senate in 2008, and his own ‘due diligence.'"

Allen's re-nomination for the job in Europe is imminent. White House spokesman Jay Carney said the WH hopes the Senate will act on Allen's nom to the SACEUR/EUCOM job quickly. McCain tweeted yesterday: "I look forward to his confirmation hearing"; and Sen. Carl Levin told Situation Report through a spokeswoman that "Gen. Allen is a fine and capable person, and I'm not surprised that he has been cleared of wrongdoing."

Allen spokesman Maj. Dave Nevers on Allen's reaction to being exonerated: he's breathing again. JK! Here's what Nevers really said: "General Allen has been informed that the Defense Department's Office of the Inspector General has completed its investigation, determining that the allegations against him were unsubstantiated and concluding that he did not violate the requirement of exemplary conduct or the prohibition against conduct unbecoming an officer and a gentleman. From the outset, the general placed his faith in -- and fully supported -- the investigative process. He's obviously pleased by the outcome. But more critically, he is grateful for the support he received throughout this process from his chain of command, friends, family and colleagues. He remains focused, as he has always been, on leading the brave men and women of the ISAF team."