National Security

Panetta begins to wrap it up; “The Devil of Ramadi” killed by a vet he was trying to help; Is Hagel a prepper? Dempsey: “I’m not going to grade [Hagel’s] homework”; SIGAR’s Sopko at CSIS today; and more.

Panetta begins wrapping it up this week. Although his likely successor, Chuck Hagel, has not been confirmed, Panetta is tying up loose ends around the building and could be on the plane home to California within weeks. Situation Report is told that this Friday is the first of many formal events marking his departure. Each of the services will come together for an "Armed Forces Farewell Tribute" at Conmy Hall at Fort Myer, where Panetta will make remarks. Tomorrow, Panetta will have his last quarterly meeting with VA Secretary Eric Shinseki to discuss service member transition and mental health issues. On Wednesday, Panetta will give what's being billed as a major address at Georgetown University's Gaston Hall on "the state of affairs in Washington and his charge to future leaders," Situation Report is told, which will likely touch on budget issues. And on Thursday, Panetta and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Marty Dempsey will testify on Benghazi before the SASC.

Panetta today: He'll lead his daily staff meeting at the Pentagon this morning and then meet with service chiefs in the tank this afternoon.

Ash Carter is in Turkey today: We're told he has finished a round of bilats with senior Turkish defense officials. He also met this morning with embassy employees, including local security guards, who were present during the attack on the U.S. embassy last week. "Dr. Carter expressed his most heartfelt thanks for their efforts and emphasized the continued strength of the U.S.-Turkish alliance," according to a defense official.

Welcome to Monday's edition of Situation Report, where we're with Doctrine Man -- the MVP last night was the power outage -- even if Panetta's 49ers did ultimately fall and Flacco got the nod in the end. 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.

Soldiers from Camp Courage during Alicia Keys' singing of the national anthem last night at 1:09 (thanks to Rich Spiegel). Video here.

Dempsey thinks Hagel, likely his future boss, is smart and well-prepared. Asked yesterday during his joint appearance on NBC's "Meet the Press" with Defense Secretary Leon Panetta about Hagel's preparations for Thursday's confirmation hearing, Dempsey said: "I'm not going to grade his homework. But I will say that in my conversations with him, he was well-prepared, articulate, concise." When MTP guest host Chuck Todd asked him about his confidence in Hagel, Dempsey displayed his characteristic orneriness. "I'm not going to speak about confidence. He could be my boss. And when is the last time you saw a subordinate discuss their confidence in their potential boss? But I think he's got great credentials, my personal contacts with him have been very positive. And if he's confirmed, I look forward to working with him."

Panetta, on MTP, on additional hardening of embassies: "The important things to do are first of all you've got to build up the host company, the host country capacity. In the end, these embassies do depend on host country, the details that provide security. So you've got to have -- you've got try to develop that. Second issue is you've to harden these embassies as much as possible. And the third is that we've been working with the State Department to -- to determine whether additional Marines ought to be assigned to that area. And in the end, then you know the final alternative is our ability to respond in having our troops in a position where they can respond quickly. But I have to tell you, a lot of that still is dependent on whether intelligence tells us that we've got a big problem and gives us enough warning so that we can get to the place so we can respond."

Panetta on sequester: "[I]f Congress stands back and allows sequester to take place, I think it would really be a shameful and irresponsible act."

Dempsey on if al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) is the number one security threat to the U.S.: "No, I wouldn't describe them as the number one national security threat but they are a threat that is localized, becoming regionalized and left unaddressed will become a global threat."

Panetta on the mission in Afghanistan: "The mission in Afghanistan is to establish a secure and a capable Afghanistan that can govern itself and ensure that al Qaeda never again establishes a safe haven in that country."

Panetta, on State's new travel warning for Afghanistan that states "Afghan authorities have a limited ability to maintain order and ensure the security of Afghan citizens and foreign visitors."

Panetta: "There's a war going on in Afghanistan. This is not -- you know, this is not your peaceful little paradise, you know, where tourists can go there to sun bathe. This is a war area. And, you know, the fact is we've made good progress in the war. We've been able to have 75 percent of their population now under Afghan control and security. We've been able to diminish the Taliban's capabilities. Violence has gone down. We're also developing an Afghan army that has increased its operational skill to provide security. So we're on the right path towards trying to give Afghanistan the opportunity to govern and secure itself."

ICYMI: Was it hard for Hagel the hunter to become the hunted? We looked at what went wrong last week with Chuck Hagel's testimony and if it was the man or the staff who seemed to inadequately prepare for the moment. Though Hagel will likely be confirmed, last week's hearing didn't do a lot to change any professed fence-sitters. The cause? It takes a extra effort to shake the self-assuredness of a senator sitting on the dais versus the discipline required to sit on the hot seat and answer annoying questions from senators who used to be your equal, argues one former administration official in our story published Friday night.

"It's about getting confirmed," said one former administration official familiar with prepping officials for Hill testimony. "It's not about impressing them with your knowledge, it's about living to fight another day." Others wonder if his preppers didn't do him any favors. "Hagel had what was thought to be a strong team preparing him for battle on the Hill, including Liz King, assistant secretary of defense for legislative affairs, who worked for Gates and then Panetta. She's considered someone who knows the Hill inside and out and would take an airtight approach to prep. ‘She knows what each member is going to ask, she knows the committee very well,' said the former administration official. But she's also known for having a low-key, non-argumentative manner, handling internal divisions with a calm demeanor in what is a decidedly alpha-male environment. That low-key approach  may open her up to criticism of not being tough enough when it counts, said the former official.

Some observers speculated Hagel possesses a kind of arrogance that may have contributed to the lackluster performance and as a result, may have shrugged off any extra prep the team around him was prepared to give. Indeed, it may be difficult for the hunter to become the hunted. As a senator, Hagel was used to sitting on the dais, staring down at government officials testifying before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and asking the tough questions. He had never played the opposing player. Hillary Clinton was seen as a master of discipline, moving smoothly from the dais to the confirmation table when she became secretary of state. And John Kerry, sworn in Friday as secretary of state, was so well versed in diplomatic issues as chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee that he couldn't help but be embraced by his former colleagues."

Ex-sniper Chris Kyle, "The Devil of Ramadi," was killed trying to help a fellow vet. Navy SEAL, sniper, and best-selling author Chris Kyle was killed in Texas over the weekend after another vet, a Marine named Eddie Ray Routh whom he was trying to help work through post-deployment issues, turned his semi-automatic handgun on Kyle and a friend, killing them both. The NYT's story about the shooting, which happened at a shooting range near Glen Rose, Texas, says Kyle, who had served four tours in Iraq, had sought to help other veterans returning from war. The reasons for the shooting remain unclear, but Routh is in custody. NYT: "Friends of Mr. Kyle's said he had been well acquainted with the difficulties soldiers face returning to civilian life, and had devoted much of his time since retiring in 2009 to helping fellow soldiers overcome the traumas of war. ‘He served this country with extreme honor, but came home and was a servant leader in helping his brothers and sisters dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder,' said Mr. Cox, also a former military sniper. ‘Everyone has their own inner struggles, but he was very proactive about the things he was dealing with.'"

Oprah Winfrey made Tom Geary get goose bumps. Winfrey did the voiceover for Jeep's half-time ad honoring troops that might have been a little much but came close to watering the eyes anyway. Geary, a mechanical contractor quoted by the WSJ in a piece about Superbowl ads this morning, said: "I got goose bumps; I was on the verge of crying." Winfrey, as troops return home and jump into shiny new Jeeps: "Because when you're home, we're more than a family. We are a nation. That is whole. Again." Watch here.

One of our favorite places we've never visited is the Boneyard at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Arizona, either the final resting place or a holding area for as many as 5,000 military airplanes. The Air Force's Airman magazine did a great piece, "Holding Pattern," on Davis-Monthan here.

What will Afghanistan's reconstruction look like in the future? John Sopko, the special inspector general for Afghanistan Reconstruction, appears at CSIS this morning for an event that coincides with SIGAR's quarterly report to Congress. Noting

  • CS Monitor: A quiet envoy to the hermit kingdom of North Korea. 
  • Global Post: U.S., South Korea show off their strength.  
  • Danger Room: How a chaotic hostage rescue foreshadows Afghanistan's future.
  • Haaretz: Iranian official says Israel will regret Syrian strike. 
  • Defense News: Navy cuts global fleet goal to 306 ships.
  • Informed Comment: Iranian president accuses Parliament speaker of corruption.
  • All Africa: French warplanes hit Islamists near Kidal. 
  • The Duffel Blog: Intel community predicts Superbowl victors.  

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?