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? 

National Security

Mullen to GM; Hagel, into the breach; What he’s saying right now; Steve Simon begins at IISS; Ash Carter to Europe; Did Hagel drive his Jeep to the hearing? And a little more.

New this hour: Mike Mullen has joined the board of GM, the company announced this morning. Mullen, who retired in 2011 as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, will assume duties as one of the 15 board members at GM starting tomorrow. We're told Mullen, who teaches at Princeton and has been active elsewhere, wanted to continue contribute in an important way but also to learn from a company whose seen as innovative and whose turnaround is considered a success story that employs thousands of Americans.

Hagel, speaking right now at the SASC: "...But no one individual vote, quote, or statement defines me, my beliefs, or my record.  My overall worldview has never changed: that America has and must maintain the strongest military in the world; that we must lead the international community to confront threats and challenges together; and that we must use all tools of American power to protect our citizens and our interests.  I believe, and always have, that America must engage - not retreat - in the world.  My record is consistent on these points.

"It's clear that we are living at a defining time.  Our nation is emerging from over a decade of war.  We have brought our men and women in uniform home from Iraq, and have started to bring them home from Afghanistan. That does not mean the threats we face and will continue to face are any less dangerous or complicated.  In fact, it is quite the opposite.  Recent events in Mali and Algeria remind us of this reality.  Twenty first century complexities, technologies, economies, and threats are bringing the seven billion global citizens closer together.  And as our planet adds another two billion people over the next 25 years, the dangers, complications, and human demands will not be lessened, but rather heightened."

In his opening statement, Hagel pledges that his views square with that of the president's.

On Iran: I am fully committed to the President's goal of preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon, and - as I've said in the past - all options must be on the table to achieve that goal. 

On terrorism: "I will ensure we stay vigilant and keep up the pressure on terrorist organizations as they try to expand their affiliates around the world, in places like Yemen, Somalia, and North Africa.  At the Pentagon, that means continuing to invest in and build the tools to assist in that fight, such as special operations forces and new intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance technologies."

On nukes: I am committed to maintaining a modern, strong, safe, ready, and effective nuclear arsenal.  America's nuclear deterrent over the last 65 years has played a central role in ensuring global security and the avoidance of a World War III.  I am committed to modernizing our nuclear arsenal.

On Afghanistan: "The President has made clear - and I agree - that there should be only two functions for U.S. troops that remain in Afghanistan after 2014: counterterrorism - particularly to target al Qaeda and its affiliates, and training and advising Afghan forces.  It's time we forge a new partnership with Afghanistan, with its government and, importantly, with its people."

On the Pivot: "We are in the process of modernizing our defense posture across the entire region to defend and deepen our partnerships with traditional allies, especially Japan, South Korea, and Australia; to continue to deter and defend against provocations from states like North Korea, as well as non-state actors; and to expand our networks of security cooperation throughout the region to combat terrorism, counter proliferation, provide disaster relief, fight piracy, and ensure maritime security."

Read the advance policy questions Hagel answered here.

Today marks the culmination of weeks of political theater over the Hagel nom. In the end, he is expected to be confirmed. If he gets all the Senate Dems and five Republicans, he'll have 60 votes -- enough to avoid any Republican filibuster. The Hagel camp says they'd really like to have at least 70, however. That could come only after his opponents and the fence-sitters cut what they themselves acknowledge is a pound of his political flesh. FP's whip Josh Rogin breaks down the votes or likely votes in The Cable.

The Hagel camp says their guy is ready. He's undergone three formal murder boards in recent weeks with defense and former defense officials and had about 60 meetings with senators. Yesterday, he finished prepping, left the transition office he's been using on the Pentagon's third floor E-Ring, and took a swim at the Pentagon gym, where he's expected to be a regular, Situation Report is told. Then he went home to see his family and rest up for today's klieg lights. "He's upbeat and ready to go," one person close to the confirmation process tells Situation Report.

Welcome to Thursday's edition of Situation Report, where we think it's time our auto-correct stopped changing "Hagel" into "bagel." 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 more you know -- about Chuck: He owns a 1990 Jeep, painted olive drab with a white star on the hood, and often drives it to work. He's a lover of movies and particularly likes James Bond flicks. Favorite Bond? Roger Moore.

Aaron Rodgers take note: The man nominated to be the next SecDef is a big Packers fan. He  also likes to take his son to Nebraska games.

He cast his first vote in a national election with an absentee ballot sitting atop a tank in the Mekong Delta, marking Republican votes straight down, including...Richard Nixon.

Although the Senate panel isn't expected to re-litigate the decision to surge troops in Iraq, it's what drives much of the GOP's anger at him. CNN had a good look at the close bond shared between Hagel and Republican Sen. John McCain, who each share scars from Vietnam. But they drifted apart and then really diverged over the surge. At the time, Hagel called the decision "the most dangerous foreign policy blunder in this country since Vietnam if it is carried out." But while Iraq remains extremely dangerous -- and its future remains in doubt -- many see the relative calm there as due in part to the surge.Calm enough anyway that this morning the U.S. embassy in Baghdad was tweeting something about agriculture: "Do you have any questions for the marshlands experts? The panel is live now."

Steve Simon just left the NSC's Middle East staff to join the International Institute for Strategic Studies as executive director. This last stint at the NSC was his second -- he first worked in the Clinton White House, leaving in 1999 after five years. This week is his first real week at IISS in Washington. On the transition, he told Situation Report: "There's a similar ratio of regret to relief that I felt when I left the Clinton NSC. The Middle East team at the WHS is first rate and I'll really miss working with them. And the intensity of course is habituating. But the IISS is a great place -- non-partisan, global perspective, very ‘strategic' approach to problems -- and I'm going to enjoy it. My own focus will be on how the US can best manage the challenges of the Arab revolt, on one hand and, on the other, its relationship with Israel." Simon bio.

Ash Carter is leaving the building -- just temporarily. Deputy Secretary of Defense Ash Carter, who has announced his intention to stay in the Pentagon, is leaving today for a trip overseas, where he'll visit France, Germany, and Jordan. He'll consult with defense officials from those countries "on a range of common security challenges," the Pentagon announced. "His visit will reinforce our strong commitment to our allies and partners in Europe and the Middle East." He'll also participate in the 49th Munich Security Conference. Security Conference "activities."

Dempsey and Panetta will do a joint interview on "Meet the Press" this Sunday.

Department of Who Knew: Hagel's brother Mike is a painter. And 10 pieces of his collection line the halls of the Pentagon after he donated them between 1979-1991. Subjects run the gamut from the history of aviation to World War II battles to fighters, cargo planes, and bombers. His paintings are also displayed at Wright-Patterson, Hickham, Scott, and Robins Air Force bases.

The E-Ring's Kevin Baron writes: "There's a special place in the E-Ring's heart for awesomely bad Air Force art -- all of those pictures lining the Pentagon's walls depicting of out-of-proportion SR-71 Blackbirds streaking through wispy American eagle-shaped clouds, or the smudged-watercolor faces of hero aviators superimposed over American flags, contrails over rainbows, and harrowing 20th century dogfights in space that never really happened. Among them, it turns out, hang the works of Chuck Hagel's brother."

Mike Hagel once called himself "the poor man's Norman Rockwell."

Mike Hagel's paintings inside the Pentagon: "Simpson Harbor," "Playmate 13 to the Rescue," "The Bats of Sioux  City," "A Heritage That Keeps on Growing," "The Growth of Man's Wings (Wright Brothers)," all on the 4th floor, E-ring between corridors 9-10.

Situation Report corrects: Sen. Thad Cochran is no longer ranking member of the Senate Approps Committee, as we mentioned yesterday in an item about Cochran's support for Hagel. Sen. Richard Shelby of Alabama now is.

Noting

  • Danger Room: The seven defense companies with transparency problems.
  • All Africa: Washington urged to stress diplomacy in Mali.
  • Haaretz: Israeli strike on Syria to have grave consequences for Tel Aviv.
  • AFP: NATO chief warns of mounting concern over U.S.-Europe spending.
  • Al-Monitor: Iran, Israel and their red lines over Syria.