National Security

Vali Nasr: How Obama let diplomacy fail in Afghanistan; Johnson on DOMA; The bumper sticker for the Hagel era; Why a Air Force general’s decision could animate reformers on sexual assault; Get your sequester T-shirt!; And more.

By Gordon Lubold

The inside story: how Obama let diplomacy fail in Afghanistan. This morning, FP publishes an excerpt of a new book by Vali Nasr, a former aide to Richard Holbrooke, who argues that President Barack Obama's Afghanistan policy was more the result of bureaucratic turf battles than a genuine attempt to get "the war of necessity" right. Working inside Obama's foreign policy apparatus was a "deeply disillusioning experience," he writes. As excerpted on FP: "The truth is that his administration made it extremely difficult for its own foreign-policy experts to be heard. Both Clinton and Holbrooke, two incredibly dedicated and talented people, had to fight to have their voices count on major foreign-policy initiatives. Holbrooke never succeeded. Clinton did -- but it was often a battle. It usually happened only when it finally became clear to a White House that jealously guarded all foreign policymaking -- and then relied heavily on the military and intelligence agencies to guide its decisions -- that these agencies' solutions were no substitute for the type of patient, credible diplomacy that garners the respect and support of allies. Time and again, when things seemed to be falling apart, the administration finally turned to Clinton because it knew she was the only person who could save the situation." 

Nasr: "One could argue that in most administrations, an inevitable imbalance exists between the military-intelligence complex, with its offerings of swift, dynamic, camera-ready action, and the foreign-policy establishment, with its seemingly ponderous, deliberative style. But this administration advertised itself as something different. On the campaign trail, Obama repeatedly stressed that he wanted to get things right in the broader Middle East, reversing the damage that had resulted from the previous administration's reliance on faulty intelligence and its willingness to apply military solutions to problems it barely understood.

"Not only did that not happen, but the president had a truly disturbing habit of funneling major foreign-policy decisions through a small cabal of relatively inexperienced White House advisors whose turf was strictly politics. Their primary concern was how any action in Afghanistan or the Middle East would play on the nightly news, or which talking point it would give the Republicans. The Obama administration's reputation for competence on foreign policy has less to do with its accomplishments in Afghanistan or the Middle East than with how U.S. actions in that region have been reshaped to accommodate partisan political concerns."

And this: "Reflecting on the White House staff, Adm. Mike Mullen, who served as chairman of the Joint Chiefs until September 2011, observed ‘they want to control everything.'"

Michael Gordon, writing in today's NYT on the new book: "His chapters on Afghanistan and Pakistan are likely to receive special attention, as they cover the two years when Mr. Nasr had a ringside view of the administration's policymaking as a senior adviser for Mr. Holbrooke." And: "The subtext for the squabbling was a deeper battle for influence over policy on Afghanistan and Pakistan. During the early months of Mr. Obama's first term, Mr. Holbrooke set up S.R.A.P., the office of the Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, which is still lodged in an inauspicious suite of offices near the State Department cafeteria. Mr. Nasr writes that the White House staff, which firmly controlled policy on Iran and the Arab-Israeli issue, was never comfortable with the arrangement, all the more so since senior members of Mr. Obama's national security staff had been active members of his campaign team, where they had done battle against Mrs. Clinton during the primaries."

"The Dispensable Nation: American Foreign Policy in Retreat," by Vali Nasr, on Amazon.

Welcome to Monday's edition of Situation Report, where it's national security for the ADD crowd. Follow me @glubold. Or hit me anytime at 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. If we can get it in, we will. And help us fill our candy dish: news of the military weird, strange trends, personnel comings-and-goings and whatnot.

This is the first full business day of sequester. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel will be working that and other issues after saying Friday that the Pentagon was ready for sequester, we're told, though perhaps that's obvious. "This is the security of the United States of America that we're talking about," Hagel said on Friday. "We will do what is necessary." And: "We will manage these issues. These are adjustments. We have anticipated these kinds of realities, and we will do what we need to do."

Get your sequester T-Shirt. At least get an idea of the one you'd have to order yourself if you click here. Like: "Happy #%@*! Furlough Day," and "Furlough: The New F Word," and [picture of boxer briefs:] "I'm Taking My Furlough In the Shorts," and "Furlough This."

What will Hagel's bumper sticker be? Bob Gates famously arrived in the Pentagon on the momentum of his single mantra: "To win the wars we're in." It was the overarching idea under which all other things seemed to fall -- a focus on the men and women in combat in Iraq and Afghanistan and what they needed to win -- after years of what Gates saw as bureaucratic indifference. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, who was never expected to stay in the building for very long, never had a tagline that resonated in the same way. Panetta talked genuinely about caring for the troops. He also ended "don't ask, don't tell" and the ban on women in combat, but no one idea bubbled to the top. Chuck Hagel, however, begins a new era. What will it be called? What will his big idea be? In his first week on the job , it is as yet unclear. But as as sequestration takes effect, one friend to Situation Report suggests "The Year of Living Dangerously." Send others if you got ‘em.

Jeh Johnson made a pitch for repealing the Defense of Marriage Act to an African-American audience of Harvard law school types. The E-Ring's Kevin Baron: "Johnson, who left his post as the Defense Department's general counsel at the end of 2012 for private practice, delivered an impassioned plea before Harvard Law School's black student group, arguing that DOMA makes ‘second-class spouses' out of the husbands and wives of legally married gay service members." Johnson, according to prepared remarks: "DOMA's application to those in the United States military is particularly cruel and unfair." And: "If you are straight, legally married, in the military, you and your family qualify for a basic allowance for housing off base at what we call the ‘with-dependent' higher rate; if you are gay, legally married, in the military, you and your family do not. This unequal treatment of two members of the U.S. military -- both legally married, both serving their countries -- in the crucial matter of the level of money they receive to support their families, is based solely on sexual orientation."

Did Lt. Gen. Craig Franklin just help advocates trying to stop sexual assault? Stripes' Nancy Montgomery writes that Franklin, the Third Air Force commander, reinstated Lt. Col. James Wilkerson after a recent assault conviction, in what advocates see as a "stunning example of structural problems in an outdated military justice system rife with bias that discounts victims while emboldening offenders." Wilkerson was accused last March by a 49-year-old physician's assistant of groping her breasts and vagina as she slept in a guest bedroom at Wilkerson's home after an ‘impromptu party," Montgomery wrote. An all-male jury of four colonels and one lieutenant colonel convicted Wilkerson of aggravated sexual assault after a week-long trial at Aviano Air Base, Italy. The jury sentenced him to dismissal, total pay forfeiture and a year in jail. Montgomery wrote that Franklin's decision to overturn that decision "conveyed that the jury, guided in the law by the presiding judge, had made a serious mistake, military lawyers said."

Susan Burke, a lawyer who represents numerous military women: "It's really's inexcusable. It's like the poster child for why we need reform. It proves to Congress why they have to act."

Greg Jacob, policy director of the Service Women's Action Network and a former Marine infantry officer: "It's atrocious. It's infuriating.... It's a perfect example of the due process system being overridden just at the whim of a commander. It's a real travesty of justice."

The Arab Winter


Into Africa

  • WSJ: U.S. Boosts War Role in Africa (registration/paywall). 
  • France 24: The French pilots in Mali doing battle from the sky.
  • AFP: Gunmen kill regional police chief in Nigeria
  • AP: France: Key al-Qaida chief in Mali likely killed. 

The Stan

  • AP: Karzai lashes out at Pakistan.
  • Lancashire Evening Post: I went to Afghanistan as a boy, came back a man. 
  • Time: Afghanistan, on the leading edge of a technology revolution. 


National Security

Sequester happens; The Pivot underway: first LCS sets sail today; Who at The Post took the call?; Being Steve Warren, and a little more.

Sequester happens. The Pentagon has lost a spectacular fight  - one it was never supposed to lose. Congress and the White House appear to have failed to strike a deal. This, despite more than a year of dramatic pleas from top brass to do something to stop the automatic cuts in the name of national security and even the welfare and readiness of its service members. Outside the building, the fear often came across as breathless and overly hyped, but to many inside the Pentagon, used to getting whatever they have needed from Congress for years, it was real. Yet the Senate's bid to stop the cuts failed yesterday and the House has left town without a deal, leaving the inescapable conclusion that sequester is going to happen at midnight tonight. It's now a safer bet that the Pentagon will have to brace itself for $46 billion in automatic cuts over the next seven months, forcing, the Pentagon says, unpaid furloughs for as many as 800,000 civilian workers, delayed deployments and a decreased ability to perform maintenance on ships.  But perhaps most strikingly, the failure of Congress and the White House to strike a deal is an implied message to the chiefs at the Pentagon - your word is no longer unimpeachable.

The Band-Aid is coming off. Although President Barack Obama is expected to meet with Congressional leaders today, there seemed to be no way out. Meanwhile, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel will meet with his chiefs for the first time in the secure E-Ring room known as "the tank" today, to hear what they are doing to get ready for the cuts. Each service has put forward its most striking issue: for the Marine Corps, it could be combat units that are unable to achieve high standards of readiness, for the Navy, it is the cancelation of the carrier Truman's deployment and the possibility that flying hours for its pilots could be reduced. Ditto for the Air Force. And the Army worries about less funding to conduct necessary training.

Hagel and the rest of the Pentagon will now have to prepare for the next crisis - the end of the continuing resolution under which it has been funded. Although the automatic cuts that are sequester get the most attention, it is the "CR," which ends March 27, that poses the greater problems to the Defense Department because it effectively prevents "new starts" of programs or maintenance and, according to defense officials, seriously hampers the ability of the department to do the business of national security. But that fight will be for another day. Today the Pentagon is scrambling to prepare its sequester plans, briefing reporters today at 3:30 and looking for ways to minimize the impact sequester will have on operations.

Welcome to Friday's edition of Situation Report. Follow me @glubold. Or hit me anytime at 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. If we can get it in, we will. And help us fill our candy dish: news of the military weird, strange trends, personnel comings-and-goings and whatnot.

Who at the Post took Private Manning's call? Pfc. Bradley Manning yesterday in federal court said he provided volumes of classified military and diplomatic information to the Web site WikiLeaks in what amounted to the largest leak of classified information ever. Manning, who faces up to 20 years in prison for doing what he is accused of doing, disclosed for the first time why he did it: "I believed that if the general public, especially the American public, had access to the information... this could spark a domestic debate over the role of the military and our foreign policy in general," he told a judge. He said he never was pressured by the anti-secrecy site WikiLeaks to provide the information and in fact had first called The Washington Post and The New York Times. Manning also reportedly attempted to deliver the goods to Politico - though neither the Washington Post or the NYT's stories mention it - but a winter storm prevented him from getting there. The WaPo: "Staying with an aunt in the Washington area as a blizzard blanketed the region, Manning said he called The Post, seeking a journalist willing to examine documents detailing security incidents in Iraq. He said he spoke to a female reporter who didn't seem to take him seriously because she said she would have to discuss any information with a senior editor." Manning then called the ombudsman at the NYT, at the time Clark Hoyt, left a voicemail message, and never heard back. Hoyt has been quoted as saying that he doesn't recall the call. The WaPo: "Spokespeople for The Post and the Times said Thursday that the newspapers had no knowledge about any attempts by Manning to offer information." So did Manning perjure himself?

The JSF program is cleared for takeoff. The Pentagon announced that it would soon resume flights of the F-35 fighter jet after grounding them last week when a half-inch tear was found in one plane of the ‘A' variant. The Pentagon said that no other cracks were found in any of the other planes or engines. A spokesman for engine maker Pratt & Whitney said tests over the last week showed that the crack in the blade of the engine came from the "unique operating environment" of flight testing instead of a design flaw that would have had a much bigger impact on the already troubled program.

The Pivot Underway: The first LCS sets sail for Singapore today. The first of four Littoral Combat Ships leaves San Diego for Singapore today, the E-Ring's Kevin Baron reports. It's, as he says, one of the Pentagon's "most visible signs to date" that the pivot to Asia is real. Pentagon officials say sequestration, which is expected to hit, like a storm, at around midnight tonight, could have an effect on the Pentagon's so-called pivot to Asia. The USS Freedom sets out on the same day sequestration comes - a coincidence. Baron: "But it is no accident that the Pentagon, while searching for ways to meet mandated budget cuts, has kept the LCS program fully funded and on schedule. Adm. Cecil Haney, commander of U.S. Pacific Fleet, in a statement: "Even in the face of potential budget cuts, there should be no doubt that the U.S. Pacific Fleet remains on watch and that we will continue to deploy our most capable units forward to operate with our allies and partners."

Steve Warren became a full-bird this week. Lt. Col. Steve Warren, the director of the Pentagon's press operations, pinned full-bird this week. He tells us it's humbling. "Those eagles are heavy and carry with them a lot of responsibility. I hope I'm up to the task," he tells Situation Report. Warren, who takes the job but not himself seriously, wondered if he might be afforded better treatment at home. After breakfast he told his wife, Mikyong, he thought that she should take out the trash from now on. Didn't happen, not happening. "Turns out colonel only gets you treated differently in some circles," he told us.

It's a week of firsts for Hagel. Yesterday, he approved his first deployment orders for combat arms and combat arms support units to replace existing units in Afghanistan.

Gordon Adams takes on John Kirby over the Pentagon's decision not to send a second carrier to the Gulf. This week, the chief public affair officer for the Navy, Rear Adm. John Kirby, laid out the Navy's explanation for why it announced it wasn't deploying the Truman to the Gulf in a piece in the Virginian Pilot. It wasn't done to make a point, he wrote, it was done because the Navy didn't have any more options. "Without a spending bill this year and no flexibility to supplement our operating accounts, those options were pretty simple: Either send the Truman on time and maintain a dual-carrier presence in the Gulf region through this year and not much longer; find some other non-Navy way to source the requirement; or delay the Truman's departure and deploy it some months later under a single-carrier plan we could safely support well into 2015," Kirby wrote. Gordon Adams sees it differently. Writing on FP, Adams wrote that the Navy had more flexibility than it has suggested it has, and that while the operating budgets it uses to fund such a deployment are targeted in sequester, it is also the most "flexible target" of sequester. To Kirby's piece: "That is nonsense. The Navy does have the flexibility Adm. Kirby says they lack -- the whole operations account is trade space under sequester. And what cost to readiness where? The Navy doesn't tell us what the cancellation of this deployment allows it to protect." Asked to respond to Adams, Kirby told Situation Report: "I'll let my op-ed speak for itself."


  • Killer Apps: Chinese surface-to-air missiles are being used by Syrian rebels.
  • Slate: (Kaplan): Why sequester for the Pentagon is worse than you think.
  • Defense News: Contractors for F-35 push back on criticism.  
  • NYT Room for Debate: Cyber: We have an antiquated framework. 
  • Stripes: DoD, VA, divided over seamless system for medical records.
  • NightWatch: News and comment on Japan and China; North Korea.