National Security

Surprise! Hagel hearing wasn’t a surprise; Hagelians to senators: was that in your best interest? Job-seekers and others (sit) behind Hagel; Does the media play a role in vet suicides? HRC says good-bye, and more.

It was rough sledding for Hagel. But his camp says they weren't surprised by Chuck Hagel's appearance on Capitol Hill yesterday, at once dramatic and tedious as his former colleagues and other senators repeatedly questioned him about Iraq, Israel, and Iran. It may be the price he pays for confirmation, which still seems inevitable. One Hagelian close to the process told Situation Report: "I saw no real surprises. I think Hagel was able to lay out his positions more clearly and the line of questioning you saw from certain members was exactly what everyone expected." And an administration official, confident that Hagel's chances are still good, told Situation Report that it wasn't Hagel who looked bad, it's some of the senators who took the tack they did: "What must have surprised most viewers were direct character assassinations cloaked in audio recordings and undignified questions. Senators who engaged in it will likely see that it made them look bad, not Hagel, and that it may not be in their interest to show disrespect to a future secretary of defense."

Welcome to Friday's edition of Situation Report, where undignified questions are a way of life. Follow me @glubold. Or hit me anytime at gordon.lubold@foreignpolicy.com. 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.

The first line of the WaPo's piece on veteran suicides is the only thing you need to really know today: "Every day about 22 veterans in the United States kill themselves, a rate that is about 20 percent higher than the Department of Veterans Affairs' 2007 estimate, according to a two-year study by a VA researcher." But more than two-thirds of those veterans are 50 or older, meaning the rate of suicides isn't particularly connected to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. "There is a perception that we have a veterans' suicide epidemic on our hands. I don't think that is true," Robert Bossarte, an epidemiologist with the VA who did the study, told the WaPo's Greg Jaffe. "'he rate is going up in the country, and veterans are a part of it.'" The number of suicides overall in the United States increased by nearly 11 percent between 2007 and 2010, the study says."

FP's Rosa Brooks asks if coverage of military suicides is creating a contagion effect. Brooks writes: "Is it possible that many of our well-intentioned efforts to prevent suicides in the military are actually having the opposite effect?" We may never know what effect reporting on suicides has, but the phenomenon of "suicide contagion" has been around since Goethe published "The Sorrows of Young Werther" in 1774 about the suicide of the book's protagonist -- creating "Werther fever" in Germany. Brooks: "This does not mean that the media should not report on suicide, of course. Suicide -- and changes in suicide rates within particular subgroups -- is legitimately of interest to the public, and it would be irresponsible for media outlets not to report on military suicide rates. But studies suggest that a great deal depends on just how suicide is covered."

One of the most interesting aspects to her piece is a link to the National Institute for Mental Health's guide to "media professionals" about how to write about suicide. It urges the media to avoid "big or sensationalistic headlines, or prominent placement" of stories about suicide, Brooks writes, and avoid using such terms as "epidemic" and "skyrocketing." The World Health Organization also warns that prominent placement of such stories is more likely to lead to "imitative behaviors" than stories that are presented in a more subtle fashion.

Capitol Hill's Dirksen building was a who's who of Hagel's world. As the E-Ring's Kevin Baron reports, the front rows behind Hagel's hot seat were filled with family members and supporters and job seekers. Baron: "In the center seat was Marcel Lettre, Hagel's transition team director. Also in the room were Elizabeth King, assistant secretary of defense for legislative affairs; Eric Rosenbach, deputy assistant secretary of defense for cyber; Eric Lynn, Middle East senior advisor; and Mike Stella, deputy assistant secretary of defense for Senate affairs. With them sat Lt. Col. Ethan Griffin, military assistant to the transition team; Anand Veeravagu, a White House fellow; and Carl Woog, assistant press secretary at the Pentagon. Marie Harf, Hagel's press point-of-contact through the White House, worked the packed press tables, while Pentagon press secretary George Little held down the fort back across the Potomac." Andrew Parasiliti -- formerly a Hagel foreign policy staffer and head of IISS's Washington office, and now the editor of Al-Monitor -- was also spotted.

Who will stay and who will go if Hagel is confirmed? "All of these defense leaders, some of whom have known Senator Hagel for years, others for less time, have earned the respect of Senator Hagel and may very well become part of his core team, if confirmed," a senior defense official told the E-Ring.

The Cable's Josh Rogin wrote that Hagel lost Republican votes yesterday although it's not clear whether senators like Marco Rubio, who is not on the Senate Armed Services Committee, and Lindsey Graham, who is, ever intended to vote for him anyway. Although it's still unclear if Sen. John McCain will vote for Hagel, his demand for a yes-or-no answer about the success of the Iraq surge suggests he will not support the man he has called his friend.

He's got a point: The Hagel hearing failed to address looming budget cuts at the Pentagon and what it means for strategy, writes Pulitzer prize winner David Wood in HuffPo. "[D]efense secretary-nominee Chuck Hagel raised and then left unanswered the critical question looming over the Pentagon: with defense budgets sinking, should U.S. defense strategy shrink as well? And no one on the committee bothered to ask, with more than $1 trillion scheduled to be whacked out of the Pentagon's 10-year spending plan, what missions will it give up? Which parts of the world should go unpatrolled, which allies unsupported, which brush-fire conflicts allowed to burn on untended?"

Wood: "Rather than probing deeper into Hagel's ideas about how U.S. defense strategy could be revised, many of the committee members' questions involved Hagel's past positions on Israel, Iran and whether the ‘surge' of troops in Iraq into in 2007 worked or didn't."

And here's another thing that didn't get talked about much: the "greatest national security threat" the U.S. is facing -- cyber. Killer Apps' John Reed writes: "Also as expected, Hagel implied that Congress needs to pass cyber security legislation to deal with "lots of complications" introduced by the all encompassing nature of cyber that the nation has never had to face before when making national security choices. What kinds of complications? He was referring to the questions out there about how much cash the Pentagon should devote to cyber war, what constitutes an act of cyber war versus cyber espionage or crime, who is responsible for defending critical infrastructure providers such as banks, communications firms, transportation companies and energy firms from a cyber attack that could harm millions of people: DoD, DHS, or the private companies themselves?" But, but, but: "Other than these short comments, as of 2:30 this afternoon, there hasn't been much talk of 'one of the greatest national security threats' facing the U.S. between during a hearing that's all about national security."

HRC says good-bye. It is Hillary Rodham Clinton's last day at State, and John Kerry will be sworn in today. Rogin captures her speech at CFR yesterday, one in a slew of farewell events, to a packed house. Rogin: More than 300 people attended the speech, including senior State Department officials such as Melanne Verveer, Maria Otero, and Jake Sullivan, as well as outside luminaries such as Bush-era intelligence director John Negroponte and former Sen. Evan Bayh. Clinton used the opportunity to lay out the by-now familiar argument that America's economic, diplomatic, and security strength is greatly improved compared to when she and Obama came to office four years ago."

Noting

  • Reuters: Israeli silence on Syria is strategic.
  • Haaretz: Why did the Israelis attack Syria now and why did the Syrians admit it?
  • WaPo: Hagel was bad and it doesn't matter.  
  • Daily Beast: Hagel backs down on explaining his world view.  
  • CS Monitor: Syria's allies warn of retaliation for Israeli airstrikes.  
  • All Africa: Civilians at risk from all sides in Malian conflict. 
  • Dawn: Is Sharia immutable?  
  • Defense News: Is Sweden's defense spending going to rise? 

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