National Security

Petraeus’ Act II; A Marine lieutenant remembers Iraq; Does Hagel need a Robert Rangel?; Cyber chief: civil agencies should lead after a cyber attack; and a little more.

By Gordon Lubold
Petraeus' Act II starts this month. David Petraeus, the military rock star and former CIA director who fell from grace after his affair with Paula Broadwell, is coming back. Petraeus is expected to appear later this month at the University of Southern California at an event to honor veterans and may schedule subsequent engagements around the country on behalf of former service members, Situation Report is told.
One source described the event in California as Petraeus' "coming out party," in which the disgraced retired four-star would re-emerge and begin to assemble his new, post-government image. It's unclear just how public that persona will be, but the event would be the first significant one in which Petraeus has appeared since he was forced to resign as CIA director. It's also likely he will sign with a speaker's bureau and may join a school like Harvard University as a non-resident instructor or lecturer. He is also said to be considering some kind of position in the private sector as well. But an individual close to Petraeus said that little was locked in except for at least one or two speaking engagements later this month. "Anything more at this point is speculation and is probably even out in front of what he might be thinking, considering or planning."

The War Diaries: a vivid account of Iraq ten years later, as told by a Marine who had a front seat for the front line. The memories of the invasion of Iraq and the heady days that followed seem distant to most, but a remarkable new project published on FP shows readers the invasion through the eyes of a Marine platoon commander. Lt. Tim McLaughlin remembers leading the charge across the border from Kuwait, thundering across the desert and then, days later, reaching the Iraqi capital and the famously cheering Iraqis in Firdos Square. In fact, it was McLaughlin's battalion that toppled Saddam Hussein's statue -- and McLaughlin's own American flag that was draped over it before it made that drop to the ground watched by millions around the world.

From the intro to a new project that includes his diaries, an exhibit, and more on FP: "Throughout his deployment, McLaughlin kept a personal diary of his experiences, sometimes recounting battles blow-by-blow and, in quieter moments, composing poetry or songs. There's a kill list of enemies felled; a catalog of the "people I saw," like the "white haired gentleman at the Palestine Hotel who said ‘thank you for all of Iraq'"; a letter to a Victoria's Secret model written in Kuwait as he awaited the start of the war; and a minute-by-minute account of his experience at the Pentagon on the morning of 9/11, as he raced toward the burning building."

Read The War Diaries here.

Welcome to Friday's edition of Situation Report, where technical difficulties have made us very tardy this morning. Follow me @glubold. Or hit me anytime at Sign up for Situation 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.
Does Hagel need a Robert Rangel? Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, sworn in formally yesterday but in his third week as Pentagon chief, has a full plate, from cyber security to the budget to North Korea, Afghanistan, Syria and North Africa, to sexual assault issues and things that may seem more prosaic but no less politically potent - the future of the Distinguished Warfare Medal. But he is also focused on building a team of staffers who can help him prioritize, focus, and be effective as he confronts the unrelenting number of decisions he'll have to make as Pentagon chief. Despite the many former staffers who supported him during the contentious confirmation process, both publicly and from the shadows, Hagel is not thought to want to bring a large entourage into the Pentagon -- former secretary Robert Gates famously walked into the building alone. Hagel has so far only brought in one senior aide, Aaron Dowd, a young Nebraskan who has been at his side for the last several years. Dowd is expected to play a significant role, and Hagel will also pull close a former aide from his Senate days, Eric Rosenbach, who is already in the building as a deputy assistant secretary of defense for cyber policy. But one of the most important team players will be what is known as the special assistant, or TSA -- also known as his chief of staff. Hagel appears to be leaning toward Marcel Lettre, now in an "acting" role as special assistant. Read more below.

Kissinger: "You can never have enough Scowcroft." In a tribute at National Defense University this week to former national security adviser Brent Scowcroft, the E-Ring's Kevin Baron writes that Washington's national security luminaries came out spoke with one voice on the need for centrism. Kevin, on the red carpet of national security journalism this week, wrote: "As much as the evening was a celebration of Scowcroft's place in Washington's national security hall of fame, though, it was a reminder of how far from the political center current partisan politics have taken national security. Kissinger told the E-Ring he was proud of Scowcroft, his dear friend of 44 years who had weathered so many crises for the country. Does the country today need more Brent Scowcrofts, we asked? ‘You can never have enough Scowcroft,' Kissinger replied. ‘But you're lucky if you get one.'"

Have you ever heard of a "relinquishment ceremony?" Gen. David Rodriguez, confirmed and headed for U.S. Africa Command, based in Stuttgart, Germany, today relinquishes command of U.S. Army Forces Command at Fort Bragg, N.C. Usually when one commander leaves, another comes in, and such events are called a "change of command."  But in this case, since no one has been put forward to replace the general known affectionately as "Rod," the ceremony today at Bragg is called a "relinquishment ceremony" and a subordinate will take over until such time as a new commander is named. Just FYI. 

Keith Alexander: when it comes to a cyber attack, it's the civs who should be in charge. Killer Apps' John Reed writes that Cyber Chief Gen. Keith Alexander sees the FBI as the point-agency on cyber. Speaking yesterday at a hearing of the House Armed Services Committee. Alexander: "From my perspective the domestic actor would be the FBI," said Alexander, responding to a question from Rep. Joe Heck about the command's role in responding to cyber attacks that originate in the United States. "We share our tools with the FBI. They work through the courts to have the authority to do what they need to do in domestic space to withstand an attack."

Our quotes from the FP-RAND event this week on the Iraq war prompted a lot of reader response. A transcript of the event will be posted soon on our site. In the meantime, here are a few more tidbits from the discussion:
CIA veteran Paul Pillar, now at Georgetown University: "The textbook scenario, for whenever a nation like ours undertakes something really major, and certainly, a, you know, a big offensive war choice is major, is that we have a policy process in which all of the relevant parts of the bureaucracy, as well as external sources of expertise, are engaged that examines in detail, what are the objectives that we would be trying to achieve if we undertake this? What would be the cost? What are the other side effects? And you weigh the pros and cons, and that's the way a policy process works. And as Rich Armitage once observed, we didn't have that with going to war in Iraq. And there was no process to decide, you know, whether it was something this country ought to do in the first place, as opposed to discussions about getting public support for the decision, or for implementing the decision.... But I would estimate that not just 10 years from now but 50 years from now, when historians look back at this, the absence of that kind of process is going to be one of the most extraordinary things that historians will comment on."
Peter Feaver on the success of the war: "I think it's possible that five years from now the conventional wisdom will have evolved to the point where we decide we did the Iraq war better than we did the Afghanistan war -- that we achieved a higher level of success however it's defined as success. Not that we were right to go in. I don't think there will be a change in the judgment on the front-end decision. But on the what did we accomplish it may be that Iraq will end up scoring a little higher than Afghanistan, which is not what any of us would have predicted, say, four years ago. But I suspect that could be what happens five years from now."

A clarification: Yesterday, we noted that, at the end of the four-hour discussion, Gen. John Allen was "making the case" that the U.S. and NATO wouldn't put boots on the ground for 20 years. To clarify, Allen was not advocating that the U.S. and NATO refrain from such missions. Here's the full quote, in which he echoes comments made by retired Lt. Col. John Nagl. "I think, again, in the context of things that we should take forward: Coalition development and coalition management is going to be extraordinarily important in the future. I'm not sure that we've put enough emphasis on that either in our schools or in our whole of government approach. Clearly a 50-nation coalition right now in Afghanistan has been important to us, but my guess is, just as I think John said a moment ago, that it will be 20 years before we undertake something like this again. It's going to be a long time before NATO is going to be interested probably in undertaking something that could look like this again."

Hagel's special assistant, con't. Lettre, a former national security adviser to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada, has been in the building for about four years, managing the transition of Gates to Leon Panetta, and serving as the assistant secretary of defense for legislative affairs. He then played a big role in the current transition. He's well-regarded in and outside of the building, considered a nice guy who knows the Hill but also, increasingly, the building, and sees the big picture. "Secretary Hagel appears to be gelling well with Lettre," a senior defense official tells Situation Report. "The final decisions haven't been made on front office personnel, but Marcel is a quiet doer, well-liked, well-respected, and the secretary appears to have recognized that."

If Lettre gets the nod, he'll have big shoes to fill, following Panetta's former chief of staff Jeremy Bash and, before that, Gates' special assistant Robert Rangel. Both those men were also well-thought of and brought distinct qualities to the front office, say former officials familiar with the dynamic in the defense secretary's front office.  Bash played the more conventional role of chief of staff, typically traveling with Panetta and staying close to him, effectively managing the front office and day-to-day operations of the Pentagon. Affable and accessible, Bash followed Panetta from the CIA but like others, cut his teeth on the Hill, where he had served as the chief counsel of the Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence. That put the Pentagon's number two -- Deputy Secretary of Defense Ash Carter, seen as competent and capable -- in what another former official described in a "chief operating officer" role, managing the building.
That was perhaps in contrast to the dynamic under Gates. Rangel, Gates' right-hand-man, was a quiet enforcer who operated behind the scenes and rarely traveled with the secretary. Gates, who had a tight coterie of advisers, gave Rangel a larger portfolio that diminished the role of Bill Lynn, then the deputy secretary of defense. For example, Rangel had a major advisory role on budgets and policy -- all on top of his role managing Gates' front office at the Pentagon. As a gatekeeper, Rangel was also obsessive about making sure that whatever was put in front of Gates was staged and ready for a decisive action or some kind of outcome. "[Rangel] never traveled because his focus was on making sure the secretary's priorities and guidance were being carried out in the Pentagon," a former official said.

Rangel was considered fair-minded and knowledgeable and lacked a personal agenda. And perhaps most critically, he was not a screamer. "I don't think there are many people who have done [the job] better than Robert," said former Pentagon policy chief Eric Edelman. "Basically there was no issue that came up that Robert didn't know like the back of his hand."

If Hagel gives Lettre the job permanently, he will likely define Lettre's role much in the same way as Panetta defined Bash's - someone with whom he will work closely and attend meetings - leaving management of the building to Carter. Regardless, the most important thing for the special assistant is to cue up decisions for the boss, make sure he makes them, and then ensure the building follows the secretary's will, said former officials familiar with the dynamics of the front office. He'll have to help Hagel navigate the seemingly endless corridors of the Pentagon -- from the E-Ring into the A-Ring, and the rings in between, former staffers said. And he'll have to act as the Great Integrator, coordinating between the services, the Joint Staff and the secretary's office, as well as the White House, other agencies, and the Hill.

The special assistant must chart the course, digest a ton of information, filter it, prioritize it and then assess whether that information -- and the people attached to it -- need the secretary's attention. "That's where you succeed or fail, because that's what it all comes down to," said one of the former officials. But if Lettre says in the job, he won't be able to do it alone. "The key for Marcel is, he's gotta put a team up there, he can't do it all by himself... the place is too big, the job is too hard."

Expected to stay on ­­-Tom Waldhauser, the humble Marine three-star who served as Panetta's most recent senior military adviser and will likely stay on in that role under Hagel.


  • RT: Damascus warns of strike on Syrian rebels hiding in Lebanon.
  • AP: North Korea accuses U.S., South Korea, of cyber attack.
  • CTV: Canada may contribute to Mali peacekeeping mission.
  • Duffel Blog: Army implements mandatory divorce policy to improve readiness, lower costs.
  • Defense News: Reid: Bickering over amendments pushes CR vote to next week.    

National Security

Steve Hadley at FP: “I should have asked that question”; John Allen: No boots on the ground for 20 years; “Who is Alex Trebek?” The QDR is not a “new start.”; Mike Mount, out; and a little more.

By Gordon Lubold

Dunford issues an unusual security advisory. President Hamid Karzai's recent statements about the U.S. and the Taliban collaborating against Afghanistan, comments he doubled down on again earlier this week, triggered a rare security advisory from ISAF commander Gen. Joe Dunford in Kabul, according to the NYT. The comments from Karzai could put Americans at risk by "rogue security forces and from militants," the paper said. "Frustration with Mr. Karzai was clear in the alert, known as a command threat advisory, sent on Wednesday." The message to troops indicated that the U.S. and Afghanistan are at a rough point in their relationship and that militants could exploit the situation.  Dunford: "His remarks could be a catalyst for some to lash out against our forces -- he may also issue orders that put our forces at risk."

An American official e-mails Situation Report:  "It is no small thing that we're reading this morning about leaders from around Afghanistan push back on President Karzai's inflammatory statements. While the path may be clouded in fog for now, it's plain to see that Afghans want to have a relationship with the United States and the International Community going forward because it is in their own security interest."

Welcome to Thursday'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.

FP and RAND teamed up for a group talk on the war in Iraq, which began 10 years ago this month. Over four hours yesterday morning, some of the biggest names associated with the war -- from Gen. John Allen, who was instrumental in the Anbar Awakening, to Steve Hadley, national security adviser under Bush 43 -- sparred over questions that, a decade later, clearly still touch a lot of nerves. There were sharp exchanges over everything from failed reconstruction efforts, to whether al Qaeda really was in Iraq, to whether bad intelligence caused the war. Some quotables:

Hadley, on al Qaeda in Iraq and the justification for war: "You know, Stan McChrystal's book is very interesting because it makes crystal clear that what Iraq became was a struggle against al Qaeda in Iraq. And I remember in the summer -- and I'm not getting partisan here -- I remember in the summer of 2008 when President Obama, then candidate Obama, said al Qaeda was the ball, the Bush administration took their eye off the ball, and they went into Iraq, but al Qaeda isn't in Iraq, al Qaeda is in Afghanistan. And I asked Mike McConnell at the time -- the DC at the time -- ‘How many al Qaeda fighters are in Afghanistan today and how many are in Iraq?' And he said, ‘In Iraq, there's about 15,000, down from about 20 [thousand], and in Afghanistan there's 200.' So you can say we failed to foresee that Iraq would become the frontline of al Qaeda's struggle against the United States, and I think we did not have the right strategy or the right resourcing in the end of the day to deal with that problem.."

Hadley also said: "No one from the intelligence community, anyplace else ever came in and said, ‘What if Saddam is doing all this deception because he actually got rid of the WMD and he doesn't want the Iranians to know?' Now somebody should have asked that question. I should have asked that question. Nobody did. Turns out that was the most important question in terms of the intelligence failure that never got asked."

John Allen, observing that the U.S. will not put boots-on-the-ground in another theater for 20 years: "Clearly a 50-nation coalition right now in Afghanistan has been important to us, but my guess is... that it will be 20 years before we undertake something like this again. It's going to be a long time before NATO is going to be interested probably in undertaking something that could look like this again."

And Allen on development: "Something I worry about increasingly as time goes on is the sense that the development strategies in Iraq and now Afghanistan have failed. And that the development dimension of what we have attempted to undertake was either the wrong approach or just flawed from the beginning."* 

Doug Feith, on pre-war intelligence: "I think that one of the lessons is that we should just be, in general, more skeptical about intelligence and make sure that - you have to rely on intelligence, its as good as it can get, and you try to improve it, but whenever you read it, it should be read very skeptically."

And Feith said on civilian reconstruction efforts, historically: "The basic way it happens is you start with the Keystone Cops, always. After a while we get smart, and you get some systems in place, you get some experience, you start to learn what the picture is on the ground.... [S]ometimes a lot of what you know in advance is not only inadequate, it's exactly wrong, as was the case in Iraq over and over again. I mean, a lot of the intelligence about Iraq was precisely wrong; it wasn't simply less than you wanted. And so you start with the KC, you get smarter, you get better, you get skilled, you get teamwork established, and then you disband everybody. And you go to the next event and you start with the Keystone Cops again. That doesn't quite happen with the military."

Who was there -- The group included Gen. John Allen, Ambs. Jim Dobbins and Charlie Ries, Chris Chivvis, Doug Feith, Peter Feaver, Steve Hadley, Pete Mansoor, Philip Mudd, John Nagl, Kalev Sepp, Paul Pillar, Ken Pollack, Walt Slocombe, David Sanger, Michael Gordon, Eliot Cohen, Greg Jaffe, Rajiv Chandrasekaran, Michael Gordon, David Rothkopf, and Susan Glasser.

CNP and the Truman Project hold an event today on Iraq. Deets here.

The Answer: An old friend of Chuck Hagel's who will be at the Pentagon today. The Question: "Who is Alex Trebek?" Here's another question: who knew? Trebek, who's known Hagel for years -- "an old, old friend," we're told -- will be on hand along with several other old friends for Hagel's formal swearing in as the 24th SecDef with pal Vice President Joe Biden.

Others who will be there - Secretary of State John Kerry, Attorney General Eric Holder, Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper and new CIA Director John Brennan. Former staffers, colleagues, nat-sec types and right-hand men include: Aaron Dowd, Eric Rosenbach, John Lettieri, Rexon Ryu, Evan Bayh, Max Cleland, Steve Clemons, John Warner, Ike Skelton, Dick Lugar, Brent Scowcroft (see more below on him), Ryan Crocker, and Jim Jones.

Hagel also meets with his combatant commanders today to talk "budget uncertainty in Washington and threats to their AORs," we're told by a senior defense official.

Wouldn't the QDR be considered a "new start" and therefore not possible under the continuing resolution? The Pentagon doesn't have a budget and is operating under what's called a continuing resolution that, among other things, prevents new programs or spending initiatives -- what in Pentagon parlance is called a "new start." But is the Quadrennial Defense Review going to be considered a new spending initiative? Producing the QDR can take hundreds if not thousands of people working feverishly on an effort that has been derided by some as just another bureaucratic exercise. A defense official e-mailed a response to our question: "The QDR is basically conducted using staff already in the Pentagon who are already paid for, and there isn't a separate budget. To the extent there will be civilians working on the QDR, those who will be furloughed will be affected and that will be an impact of sequestration."

Chinese Hackers, Chinese Schmackers. The Pentagon is razzmatazzing folks about the actual threat of Chinese hackers, argues Thomas Rid, author of the forthcoming book Cyber War Will Not Take Place. From the article, referencing a recent Defense Science Board report: "A reminder is in order: The world has yet to witness a single casualty, let alone fatality, as a result of a computer attack. Such statements are a plain insult to survivors of Hiroshima. Some sections of the Pentagon document offer such eye-wateringly shoddy analysis that they would not have passed as an MA dissertation in a self-respecting political science department. But in the current debate it seemed to make sense. After all a bit of fear helps to claim -- or keep -- scarce resources when austerity and cutting seems out-of-control. The report recommended allocating the stout sum of $2.5 billion for its top two priorities alone, protecting nuclear weapons against cyber attacks and determining the mix of weapons necessary to punish all-out cyber-aggressors."

Mike Mount, Out! Longtime CNN Pentagon producer and Seinfeld trivia lover Mike Mount is leaving CNN and journalism (again!) to work as director of public affairs for defense contractor DRS/Finmeccanica, an Italian/U.S. joint venture across the street in Crystal City. The building is losing one of the good ones. What he's thinking about buying: A Vespa.

Paging Don Rumsfeld. The former SecDef liked to hold up a satellite image of the Korean Peninsula at night and point to all the lights in South Korea and all the darkness in North Korea. Well, now there is one light in the north -- it's that of a North Korean with an iPhone with the new Stars and Stripes app on it. Turns out Stripes newspaper's new app, sold on iTunes, has been downloaded by people all around the world. Including just one in North Korea.

Edelman, Kagan, Kristol and Senor: Nice try, Ryan. The Foreign Policy Initiative released a statement yesterday about Rep. Paul Ryan's budget proposal for 2014 and the House bill that would give the Pentagon "modest flexibility" to absorb sequestration cuts this fiscal year. FPI's Directors Eric Edelman, Robert Kagan, Bill Kristol and Dan Senor: "We're pleased that Congressman Paul Ryan's proposed budget for FY 2014 represents a step in the right direction. The Ryan Budget would cancel defense sequestration beginning in FY 2014. We would point out, though, that its funding level is still below that which both parties and the Obama Administration thought acceptable just two years ago. We urge the Senate and the President to restore defense spending at least to the Ryan budget level. And we urge all parties to stop slashing defense for the sake of seeming to do something about the budget deficit, and get serious about adequate funding for national defense, not only next year but also in the long term."



  • Time: (Klein): Shinseki should step down.
  • Roll Call: Assault verdict reversal splits Pentagon brass and civilians.
  • E-Ring: Military justice's dirty little secret: the convening authority.
  • The Spectator: Retreating from Afghanistan is never easy. 
  • The New Republic: Two former U.S. officials make the case for accommodation in Iran. 
  • Killer Apps: Readout of Obama's cyber-summit with CEOs.   

*Editor's note: The lead-ins to Gen. Allen's quotes have been changed to more precisely reflect what he said.