National Security

WH calls for new cuts to nuclear arsenal; What the hearing on Benghazi said about Syria; Fixing military PME: a “no-colonel-left-behind program;” As Hagel saga continues, Flournoy, Carter, step out; Saudi drone base, revealed! and more.

The Obama White House is embracing major new cuts to its nuclear program. The Center for Public Integrity and Foreign Policy that the number of nuclear warheads the U.S. military deploys could be cut by at least a third -- to between 1,000 and 1,100 -- without harming national security, the organization reports, citing sources involved in the deliberations. "They said the officials' consensus agreement, not yet announced, opens the door to billions of dollars in military savings that might ease the federal deficit and improve prospects for a new arms deal with Russia before the president leaves office. But it is likely to draw fire from conservatives, if previous debate on the issue is any guide," the Center for Public Integrity's Jeff Smith writes.

"The results of the internal review are reflected in a draft of a classified decision directive prepared for Obama's signature that guides how U.S. nuclear weapons should be targeted in the future against potential foes, according to four sources with direct knowledge of it. The sources, who requested anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to a reporter about the review, described the president as fully on board, but said he has not signed the document."

McCain said Dempsey's testimony on Benghazi was "simply false." In a tense exchange yesterday between Sen. John McCain and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Marty Dempsey over the Benghazi affair, McCain said he thought Dempsey's written statements for the hearing about having forces to respond rapidly to the crisis were "bizarre." McCain: "It's one of the more bizarre statements I have ever seen in my years on this committee." McCain accused Dempsey of failing to place U.S. aircraft in places where they could be quickly deployed in the event of an emergency, as the attack on the Benghazi compound quickly became. McCain later called his testimony "simply false."

The E-Ring's Kevin Baron writes:  "Panetta and Dempsey were pressed under tough questioning, almost entirely from the Republican committee members, on nearly every aspect of the incident, from intelligence reports of mounting threats in the region before the attack to the conversations inside the White House as it unfolded. Dempsey faced perhaps the toughest public criticism of his career over claims that the U.S. military was amply positioned in the Middle East to respond to any crisis, yet proved unable to respond in time in Benghazi.

But McCain also praised Dempsey and Panetta for their desire -- made public for the first time -- to arm Syrian opposition groups. The two said they agreed with a proposal to arm Syrian rebels that was also backed by the State Department and the CIA, but that the White House had decided against the plan. Asked if he supported such a plan, Panetta said "we did," to which Dempsey also replied, "we did."

McCain, in a statement after the hearing: "I was very pleased to hear both Secretary Panetta and Chairman Dempsey state that they supported this proposal, which unfortunately was refused by the White House. What this means is that the President overruled the senior leaders of his own national security team, who were in unanimous agreement that America needs to take greater action to change the military balance of power in Syria."

Welcome to Friday's edition of Situation Report. Follow me @glubold. Or hit me anytime at gordon.lubold@foreignpolicy.com. Sign up for Situation Report here or just shoot me an e-mail and I'll put you on the list. And as always, if you have a report, piece of news, or tidbit you want teased, send it to us early for maximum tease.

Brennan was himself interrogated yesterday. Obama's nominee for CIA director, John Brennan, appeared on the Hill for his confirmation hearing amid protesters, signs and controversy over his background and positions on lethal force, killing of Americans, interrogation and the use of drones. Brennan, on transparency and the legal rationale for killing Americans: "I think the American people would be quite pleased to know that we've been very disciplined, very judicious, and we only use these authorities and these capabilities as a last resort." Baron reports: "For much of the confirmation hearing, senators scolded Brennan, who is the White House's top counterterrorism official and czar of the Obama administration's drone use, for what they argued was the intelligence community's inadequate disclosure of controversial detention and interrogation techniques."

Chuck Hagel is still busy shoring up support on the Hill. The former senator and secretary of defense hopeful is still working the Hill and trying to provide the financial documentation requested by some senators. Yesterday's testimony from Panetta and Dempsey on Benghazi -- demanded by Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), who threatened to block the nomination otherwise -- still hasn't cleared the way for Hagel. His approval by the Senate Armed Services Committee has been delayed to sometime next week, meaning full confirmation might not come until the week after. The White House may now be contemplating if it wants to go through with Hagel, who at best will arrive in the Pentagon a wounded Washington warrior. A friend of Situation Report notes that two others who were in the running to be Pentagon chief had notable public appearances this week: The friend e-mails: "Just after Hagel has a very poor confirmation hearing, the two runners up for the nomination are stepping out: [Deputy Secretary of Defense Ash] Carter the program/budget/management guru goes on an international trip (including Israel of all places) burnishingh his foreign policy/strategy credentials; [Michele] Flournoy, the ‘global commons' policy/strategy guru, publishes an op-ed in the WSJ touting a set of management/budget proposals. Just saying..."

Professional military education: everybody wins! A new book says it's time to re-think military education because it's failing a generation of military officers. In what some have criticized as a "jobs program for colonels" that leave no colonel behind critics say the war colleges are filled with too many professors who lack the academic grounding to teach various subjects and many of those professors, and even those with more professional experience, feel pressured to give good grades to propel the careers of military officers seeking masters' degrees. The war colleges have improved recently, ever since a major review more than two years ago called for big changes. But they are still in need of an overhaul because they are too expensive, don't have high enough standards, and are not doing justice to the kind of education today's military officers need, says Joan Johnson-Freese, a professor at the Naval War College in Newport and former department chair who has taught military professional military education for almost 20 years.

"The fact that there is a 100 percent graduation rate to me just speaks volumes," she told Situation Report. "There are no academic admission standards, it's an accelerated masters program and yet everybody graduates. That puts immense pressure on the faculty to create a curriculum that is passable by everyone and teachable by anyone."

Continued below.

Me, too. AFP obtains a letter DNI Clapper sent to the Pentagon warning that cuts will hurt morale. The top intelligence chief James Clapper fears that deep cuts could damage morale and undermine the mission of American spy agencies and argues that spy agencies should be protected in the same way that troops in uniform are. "Let me be clear: I am opposed to implementing uniform furloughs without first considering the potential impact on our mission and national security," Clapper wrote in the February 1 letter that was obtained by AFP. "We've invested heavily in building a workforce that is second to none, so we can't afford to ignore the adverse implications that furloughs bring in terms of hardship, morale, and inefficiency," he wrote. "Our ability to perform our mission would be seriously undermined by mandatory across-the-board furloughs."

Saudi drone base, revealed! The existence of a drone base in Saudi Arabia was disclosed by reports in the New York Times and Washington Post recently. Now the folks over at Danger Room think they've found satellite images from Bing maps of the base. The images show a series of airstrips and the kind of clamshell-style buildings typically used to house drones and other military gear sitting out in the middle of the Saudi desert north of the Yemeni border. The base, the NYT and WaPo revealed, was used in the killing of American Anwar al-Awlaki, head of the al Qaeda affiliate in the Arabian peninsula. Danger Room's Noah Shachtman: "No remotely piloted aircraft are visible in the images. But a pair of former American intelligence officers tell Danger Room that they are reasonably sure that this is the base revealed by the media earlier this week. ‘I believe it's the facility that the U.S. uses to fly drones into Yemen,' one officer says. ‘It's out in eastern Saudi Arabia, near Yemen and where the bad guys are supposed to hang out. It has those clamshell hangars, which we've seen before associated with U.S. drones.'"

There's no link between PTSD and violence. The shooting of Navy SEAL Chris Kyle has oddly created controversy about PTSD, gun violence, and even Kyle himself. But Stars and Stripes' Leo Shane III wrote about how the shooting of Kyle and a friend, at the hands of a troubled former Marine whom he was trying to help transition into civilian life, has little to do with PTSD. Shane: "[H]ealth experts say that's more Hollywood stereotype than reality, and that blaming veterans' violence on their PTSD makes as much sense as blaming it on their broken leg. ‘There is zero linkage between PTSD and criminal behavior,' said Barbara Van Dahlen, a clinical psychologist and founder of the veterans charity Give an Hour." Van Dahlen told Shane that PTSD sufferers are far more likely to withdraw from human interaction than strike out at strangers. News about "crazy war veterans" can actually dissuade vets from seeking help, she told him. And kudos to Shane and Stripes: the WSJ picked up an excerpt of the story in this morning's "Notable & Quotable" section on page A-13

PME: Everybody wins!, con't. In her new book, "Educating America's Military," Johnson-Freese argues that the military's professional education program would never survive scrutiny in the real world. "How would you feel as a parent if your son or daughter asked you to pay somewhere between $57,000 and $166,000 (the range of ‘cost per student' at the war colleges) for him or her to attend a graduate program where there are no academic admission standards and everyone graduates in 10 months?" she writes. "Further, this program will constantly pulse your child to make sure he or she is ‘happy' with what they are being taught, but a faculty some of whom have neither teaching experience nor subject matter expertise."

In a well-researched short book with hundreds of footnotes, Johnson-Freese says the fundamental problem is the way the military views education -- as training. And many of those teaching are not qualified -- many retired senior officers who have skills in their military profession -- but not as teachers.

The war colleges offer masters degrees to military officers. They include the Army War College in Carlisle Barracks, Pa.; the Naval War College in Newport, R.I.; the Air War College in Montgomery, Ala.; the Marine Corps War College in Quantico, Va.; and the National War College and the Industrial College of the Armed Forces, both in Washington, D.C. Their graduation rate is effectively 100 percent, and the average grade is between 84 and 94 percent, she says. "Anything below a B as a final grade in the course and you are not eligible to get a masters," Johnson-Freese tells Situation Report. "Have I seen ‘C' papers? Absolutely. But have I given those papers a ‘C?' No -- because they have to graduate."

But in this time of budget cuts, Johnson-Freese doesn't believe eliminating the war colleges is a good idea. The schools shouldn't be closed, she says, just fixed. Wary as she is of "just another study," she argues forcefully for studying what needs to be done to fix the schools and then taking action. "Shutting down the war colleges would be a very bad idea," she said. "We just need to fix some things." Amazon link to the book, here.

Noting

  • AP: A suicide bombing in northern Mali.
  • HuffPo: Millions of pounds of military equipment may not return from Afghanistan.
  • Dawn: U.K. Defense Secretary visits Afghanistan. 
  • CS Monitor: Why Brennan came off better than Hagel. 
  • All Africa: UN considers French request to take over intervention force.
  • The Iran Primer: Supreme leader rejects U.S. overture.
  • Global Post: A war on terror where the rules don't apply.

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