National Security

For Pentagon brass, major shrinkage; What the CW decision on Syria says about Iran; Jonathan Lee heads to the NSC, Dempsey is here all week, folks; Geoff Morrell part of the buzz; and a little bit more.

By Gordon Lubold

The American decision on Syria's use of chemical weapons may say as much about Iran as it does about Syria. After weeks of questions, the U.S. came out and said it thought the Syrian regime probably had used chemical weapons on its people, at least on a small scale. The admission, made by Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel in the UAE, seemed to be a tacit acknowledgement of what the French, British, Qataris and now the Israelis all believe, even if the administration doesn't seem completely convinced. Some experts believe the evidence is probably thin, but the White House decided it would be better to acknowledge the use of chemical weapons, even on a small scale, than endure the fallout from some members on Capitol Hill by not acknowledging CW use. The White House could also confront a perception internationally of "a significant erosion of American credibility," as one analyst put it, by ignoring the intel, even if it's still shaky.

Regardless, the administration needs to send a message to Iran as much as it does to Syria, said Steve Heydemann, a senior adviser for Middle East Initiatives at the U.S. Institute of Peace who has done extensive work on Syria.

"I think everyone understands that there is a pretty widespread sense that whether or not the administration responds to this new information about chemical weapons in a way that is consistent with redlines will have important implications for Iran and whether or not the Iranians take seriously the White House's comments that it isn't bluffing on Iran."

But the administration isn't completely boxed in. It can still respond to the use of CW in Syria in a commensurate way by keeping the response on a more "tit-for-tat" level, Heydemann told Situation Report. That will send the message that the U.S. will honor its commitments without responding, at this stage, anyway, in a way that could create far larger and more strategic consequences, he said.

Read on FP why Obama's "redline" is about as "clear as mud," here.

Strategic question: why would Assad even use sarin? Read here.

Where is Hagel? On the way home after a five country, six-day tour that started with a heralded visit to Israel and ended in the UAE with him announcing the administration's assessment on Syria. In between, he stopped in Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Egypt. Hagel finalized a major arms deal with three of those countries that includes the sale of V-22 Ospreys for Israel and "defensive standoff" weapons for Saudi Arabia and the UAE. He's back for a week of meetings next week.

Welcome to Friday's edition of Situation Report. Sign up for Situation Report here or just e-mail us. And always, if you have a report, piece of news, or a 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 military stories of success or excess.

When it comes to the Pentagon's brass, shrinkage is a reality. The era of unconstrained resources the Defense Department has enjoyed for more than the last decade meant some of the services became top heavy with general and flag officers, and now it's time to get smaller. The review of general and flag officers recently completed by Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Marty Dempsey likely means the ranks of general and flag officers will be trimmed as part of a broader effort to reduce the size of the military. It's one of the more conspicuous ways the building can show it's serious about changing the way it does business. Former Defense Secretary Robert Gates had already called for the number of general and flag officers to decrease, but more cuts are on the way.

Dempsey, speaking to troops at Yokota Air Base during his Asian swing this week, said the corps of the military's top officers expanded to meet the mission requirements of the last 10 years. "We also grew the general officer and flag officer corps in order to meet the requirement, and we probably overgrew it, so we intend to contract it," he said. "We're already looking for 144 reductions, but I think this next review will cause us to shrink it a bit more."

According to data provided to Situation Report, as of Feb. 28, 2013, the Army has 314 general officers, the Navy has 227 admirals, the Air Force has 295 generals, and the Marine Corps has 88 generals. (For a breakdown of each GO/FO rank for each service, see below.)

The brass tacks: How top-heavy is each service? The Marine Corps has one general officer to roughly 2,200 Marines; the Army has one general officer to about 1,700 soldiers; the Navy has one flag officer for every 1,400 sailors; and the Air Force has the highest star-to-troop ratio: one general officer for every 1,100 airmen.

What General Odierno meant to say. During a "posture hearing" this week at the Senate Armed Services Committee, Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno misspoke when he said: "We are in the process of downsizing. And I would just say, the Army has the lowest ratio of general officers to soldiers of any other service. I think we're one to 1,700 or 1,800. And so we have been very cognizant of doing this. And we have -- we are going -- we have met or are going to meet the initial reductions that we put in for ourselves by the end of next year. We'll continue to review this as we downsize the Army. Now, I will say that a lot of our general officers are now in the joint and combatant command world. And so we have to work with the joint and combatant commands to work some of these positions. But within the Army itself, we have downsized. We have reduced ranks. And we have, again, the lowest general-officer-to-soldier ratio of any service, to include the Marine Corps." A spokeswoman for Odierno said the general's numbers were correct, but that he had misspoken when he said the Army had the lowest ratio of general officers to soldiers. The record, she said, will be amended.

Say good-bye to Jonathan Lee. The Pentagon family says good-bye today to Jonathan Lee, special assistant to deputy secretary of defense Ash Carter, who is joining the National Security Staff in the White House to work in Samantha Power's office. Lee was named director in the Office of Multilateral Affairs and Human Rights. In addition to Carter, Lee also served under DepSecDef Bill Lynn. He arrived in the Pentagon in 2009, where he worked for Jeh Johnson in the office of the general counsel. Under Carter, Lee was seen as a trusted policy adviser and played significant roles, we're told, on health of the force, governance of the military health care system as well as the repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell." There was a farewell ceremony yesterday with Carter and a number of other folks from both inside and outside the building.

Where in the world is Dempsey? Still in Japan, where he met today with Minister of Defense Gen. Iwasaki, the chiefs of the Japan Self Defense Forces, the minister of foreign affairs, and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. Dempsey also spoke about the U.S.-Japan Alliance at the NIDS -- Japan's equivalent of National Defense University. He'll return to Washington by Saturday.

Dempsey, he's here all week. Speaking at a town hall meeting with troops at Yokota Air Base, Dempsey tried to capture the budgetary challenge the Pentagon confronts with sequester and uncertainty: "It's a mess, it's just real mess. If you ran your house like this, you'd get an Article 15. Honestly, really. If you ran your budget like we're running ours, initially it would be nonjudicial punishment then we'd probably end up giving you a court martial. But we'll get through it."

Dempsey, on soliciting questions from troops: "If you have a particular concern, or a particular caution or you're also welcome to compliment me, that doesn't happen very often, but if you find yourself sitting there, saying, I'm going to stand up and tell the chairman that he's really got this right, good-looking guy, fit as a fiddle, beautiful wife, seven grandchildren, one on the way, you can do that if you like, but I'd also like to hear if we don't have it right."

To a question about whether he's received professional singing lessons: "Only if you consider Jack Daniels a singing instructor. I should have asked, is this being televised?"

On why the "singing general" likes to sing: "I can't tell you how good I feel about you and your service. Not that that causes me to burst into song, at least you hope not. But I like to make sure people know that you can still be yourself, even as the chairman of the Joint Chiefs.... So you know you can be yourself, that's kind of why I do it."

Did Egypt's Morsi kill the Royal Turtle? A turtle thought to be 270 years old (and the second oldest animal/reptile alive in the world -- who knew?) died this week in Cairo and, as the Twitters noted, there was a political bent to the turtle's passing: "The turtle survived the eras of "Farouk, [Gamal Abdel] Nasser, [Anwar] Sadat and [Hosni] Mubarak, but couldn't stand [Mohamed] Morsi's reign," Tweeted one. Read the short story and see the sad pic that makes the turtle look like E.T. in his last days, here.

Situation Report corrects - Using information provided by the Pentagon, we reported yesterday that Jamie Morin was the acting under secretary of the Air Force, but Eric Fanning was confirmed for that spot on April 18 and swears in on Monday. Also, the acting DOD IG's name was missing a letter: it is Lynne Halbrooks.

Breakdown of general and flag officer ranks, by service, as of Feb. 28:

The Army: 10 generals, 51 lieutenant generals, 119 major generals, and 134 brigadier generals.

The Navy: 10 admirals, 38 vice admirals, 62 rear admirals (upper), and 117 rear admirals (lower).

The Air Force: 11 generals, 44 lieutenant generals, 96 major generals, and 144 brigadier generals.

The Marine Corps: 6 generals, 17 lieutenant generals, 31 major generals, and 34 brigadier generals.

Remember how to remember the general ranks: Be My Little General (Brigadier, Major, Lieutenant, General).

How do you "attempt adultery?" A female Marine got a reprimand and lost pay in an adultery case, the LAT reports here.

Former Pentagon pressec Geoff Morrell figures into the buzz about the upcoming release of "This Town," a "takedown" of Washington's schmooze-and-use culture, by NYT Magazine writer Mark Leibovich. Politico captures a scene that reflects the kind of culture Leibovich is writing about, using a scene at a party with Morrell as he prepared to leave the Pentagon job: Politico's lede: "A year after signing a book contract to chronicle the incestuous ecology of insider Washington, New York Times writer Mark Leibovich was schmoozing his way through a going-away party for Joe Lockhart atop the Glover Park Group headquarters. He stumbled upon an incredible gift. Outgoing Pentagon flack Geoff Morrell was musing about his future now that his boss, Defense Secretary Robert Gates, was retired. Just then, Robert Barnett - Washington's super-lawyer and a chief target of Leibovich's upcoming book - popped over to brag about Morrell, his client: ‘He's drowning in offers.' Two months later, Morrell, with Barnett's help, landed a very lucrative gig with BP America. This news was featured exclusively atop POLITICO'S ‘Playbook' - Mike Allen's morning newsletter. Talk about incestuous: A top Obama official cashes in with a top corporation with the help of a top Washington fixer and gets top-shelf treatment from one of Washington's top journalists (who also happens to be the co-byline on this piece.). And they're all personal friends, to boot." The book is out July 16.

Noting


  • Global Security Newswire: U.S. gets ‘B-minus for anti-nuclear efforts.
  • Brookings: Qatari PM on Syrian CW (video).
  • FP: Russian paper ties Tsarnaev to Georgia and Zbigniew Brzezinski.
  • E-Ring: Former White House WMD czar: no good options on Syria.
  • Killer Apps: Put your money on Congress passing a cyber bill in 2013.  

National Security

Help wanted at the Pentagon; Wilkerson being investigated for an extramarital affair; Mikulski wants some R-E-S-P-E-C-T; Hagel pressed on Syrian CW; Hand sanitizer as sexual assault prevention tool; and a little bit more.

By Gordon Lubold

New: Marine Commandant Gen. Jim Amos relieved OCS commander Col. Kris Stillings, after the shootings at Quantico. Marine Corps Times has the story, in which Stillings, a former military assistant to Defense Secretary Robert Gates, was relieved of command of the Officer Candidates School at Quantico on Monday by Amos.

Amos, to MCT, saying his decision to relieve Stillings was "painful": "I just lost confidence in Colonel Stillings' ability to handle all the many, many requirements of Officer Candidates School, being commanding officer," he said. "... With the death of three Marines, goodness, a month ago and a half ago now, that was a cold shot to the heart. ... I worked my way through that, and I came to a persistent theme that I've been talking about for some time, and that's the issue about accountability."

Stillings, to MCT: "My command and the Marines of OCS mean the world to me," he said. "My wife and I are greatly saddened and upset by my relief, but we wish only the best for the Marines and sailors that work so hard at OCS. My relief is internal Marine Corps business, and I will address my concerns through the appropriate military process."

Help wanted at the Pentagon. More than 20 percent of the 53 senior political appointee positions across the building are either vacant or staffed with acting personnel, according to data provided to Situation Report. Among the jobs that require Senate confirmation, there are currently 11 filled by acting personnel, some for more than a year or longer. And with Assistant Secretary of Defense for Asian and Pacific Security Affairs Mark Lippert fleeting up to become the special assistant, or TSA, to Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, as we were reported last week, the number of positions staffed by acting personnel will soon climb to 12.

And, another two positions -- the assistant secretary of the Air Force for acquisition, and the principal deputy undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness -- are simply vacant.

It's not unlike the State Department, where The Cable's Josh Rogin reported recently that a number of key jobs are vacant -- or, for that matter, a number of other agencies across government, from Commerce to NOAA. "It's a problem that ebbs and flows," CSIS's David Berteau told Situation Report, noting that the number of Senate-confirmed positions in the Pentagon was 46 under Bush 41 -- now it's 53, a 15 percent increase. "That's not enormous, but it's a pretty big number," he said.

With each job, it's a question of getting the White House to put a name forward, then getting through the hearing process, and then getting full Senate confirmation. Currently, Senate staffers tell us there is only one nominee awaiting confirmation by the Senate: Alan Estevez, to be principal deputy under secretary of defense for acquisition, technology and logistics. No one has been yet nominated by the White House for any jobs since Hagel arrived at the Pentagon. But Berteau notes that when there is new leadership, the already-slow process slows even more. "You do have the dynamic when a John Kerry or a Chuck Hagel come in, you'll slow up the nominating process," he said. They ask themselves, "Who do need, who do I got, where do I get to pick from?"

For now, the number of vacancies poses a governance challenge for Hagel, Berteau said.

"There is little doubt that acting officials do not pursue the policy objectives of the administration with the same vigor, and commitment that a confirmed official does, in general."

A senior defense official told Situation Report that Hagel is working to ensure that as many positions are filled as soon as possible with Senate-confirmed appointees but that he is confident their missions are being carried out "responsibly and effectively" in the meantime. "Some of those in acting roles might eventually hold those positions permanently," the official said. "All of this requires, of course, the partnership of Congress."

Is the pivot really real?  As an aside, Lippert's move to become Hagel's TSA leaves the ASD for Asian and Pacific Security Affairs job open once again -- during the much-hyped Asian pivot. After Chip Gregson left the job in April 2011, Peter Lavoy slipped in in an acting role until April 2012, when Lippert was confirmed. Now one year later, Lippert will leave the job and Lavoy will once again move into the job in an acting role. At the same time, the position of assistant secretary for East Asian and Pacific affairs, vacated by Kurt Campbell in February, remains open across the river at State. That means the two principal, Senate-confirmed Asia jobs are vacant with no sense they will be filled anytime soon.

The growth of the undersecretary at the Pentagon. The first undersecretary position was created at the Pentagon under Harold Brown in the late 1970s -- for policy. Brown went on to create another, for research and engineering (now acquisition); the third and fourth undersecretary positions (comptroller, and personnel and readiness) were not added until Bill Clinton was president. And it was under Donald Rumsfeld that the undersecretary for intelligence was created, in 2003; Stephen Cambone was the first in that spot.

Vacant positions with acting personnel: Under Secretary of Defense (Personnel and Readiness): Jessica Wright, Acting; Principal Deputy Under Secretary of Defense (Acquisition, Technology and Logistics): Alan Estevez, acting; PDUSD (Intelligence): Kevin Meiners, acting; Assistant Secretary of Defense (Homeland Defense and Americas' Security Affairs): Todd Rosenblum, acting; ASD (Research & Engineering): Alan Shaffer, acting; DOD Inspector General: Lynne Halbrook, acting; DOD General Counsel: Robert Taylor, acting; Under Secretary of the Navy: Robert Martinage, acting; Assistant Secretary of the Navy (Energy, Installations & Environment): Roger Natsuhara, acting; Assistant Secretary of the Navy (Finanical Management and Comptroller): Charles Cook, acting; Under Secretary of the Air Force: Jamie Morin, acting.

Vacant with no acting personnel - Assistant Secretary of the Air Force (Acquisition); Principal Deputy Under Secretary of Defense (Personnel and Readiness).

Welcome to Thursday's long edition of Situation Report. Sign up for Situation Report here or just e-mail us. And 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 military stories of success or excess.

This morning, as officials from 190 Nonproliferation Treaty states meet in Geneva, a new report card from the Arms Control Association says more needs to be done. This morning at 10 a.m., ACA is releasing a paper assessing how well 11 key states have met 10 major nuclear nonproliferation and disarmament commitments over the last two years. The report says that the pace of change is "not equal to today's urgent nuclear threats" and that the Obama administration's progress -- notable in its first two years in office -- has "lost energy and focus," according to Daryl Kimball, executive director of ACA, in an e-mail to Situation Report. Read the full report, here.

Reporters traveling with Hagel pressed him on what he and the Israeli defense minister talked about regarding chemical weapons and Syria. Hagel had had a good stop in Israel earlier this week, reinforcing the U.S. commitment to Israeli security and re-establishing his own bona fides as a friend to that country after his bruising confirmation fight. But hours after he left, an Israeli official said that he believes the Syrian regime has used chemical weapons, seemingly catching Hagel flat-footed and, potentially, making it harder for the White House to ignore intelligence from its allies: both France and Great Britain believe President Bashar al-Assad has used CW on his people. The WaPo reported that Hagel was kept in the dark by Israeli officials as to their assessment of Syria's use of CW.

The WaPo's Craig Whitlock: "Mr. Secretary, you said that they did not give you that assessment, but you spent a lot of time with [Israeli] Defense Minister Ya'alon. Did -- what did he discuss with you about Syrian chemical weapons? I mean, did he give you other assessments? Did he say they were still pending? Did he give you a different story? Or did he not talk to you about it?"

Hagel: "Well, you know I don't discuss my conversations with any senior officials, nor -- nor do I get into any specifics -- any of our allies' specific conversations I had. We talked about everything. We talked about Syria. We talked about chemical weapons. We talked about the region. We talked about many issues. And we did talk about this issue."

Whitlock: "Well, with all due respect, you do talk about what you discuss with senior officials all the time. I mean, did -- it's an important question."

Hagel: "I don't discuss with you what I discuss with senior officials."

Whitlock: "Well, I understand, but I still think it's a fair question.  Did the minister bring this up with you or not?"

Hagel: "I said he did. We talked about it.  I said we talked about it."

Whitlock: "But not that assessment particularly..."

Hagel: "Well..."

Whitlock: "...that the IDF came out with..."

Hagel: "No, because I -- I think, as I just said earlier, I don't know if that assessment had been completed when I was there

The full transcript, here.

Whitlock's story of how Hagel was kept in the dark by the Israelis on their intel, here.

The NYT reports that the U.S. still sees no conclusive evidence of CW use in Syria. Mark Landler: "The Obama administration shares the suspicions of several of its allies that the Syrian government has used chemical weapons, a senior official said Wednesday, but it lacks the conclusive evidence that President Obama has said would lead to American intervention." Read that report, here.

Don't rub it in! Hagel, at the top of a presser yesterday during the visit to Egypt: "Okay, good, good. Good afternoon. How were the pyramids?" Reporters: "We wouldn't know." Hagel: "You worked, that's right."

Where in the world is Hagel? Now he's in the UAE. Tonight, Hagel will have dinner with Mohammed bin Zayed, the UAE's Crown Prince, and discuss the UAE's purchase of F-16s in a deal that is valued up to $5 billion. The deal is meant to provide additional assets in the region to coordinate defense and a potential response to the "growing Iranian threat," we're told.

Hagel gives a shout out to a shooter. During his swing through the Middle East, Hagel gave props to Erin Kirk-Cuomo, his photographer and a former Marine, saying she's one of the best in the biz. Kirk-Cuomo takes thousands of images and snaps one each time the defense secretary poses with the troops. Hagel, a former sergeant, spoke to about 200 troops, mostly Air Force and Navy, including SEALs, at an undisclosed base in southwest Asia about the security challenges in the region -- especially Iran.

Find out what it means to me: Sen. Barbara Mikulski, the Maryland Democrat, admonished Pentagon leaders yesterday for not treating members of defense oversight committees seriously or respectfully, the E-Ring's Kevin Baron reports. Mikulski said Pentagon leaders generally seem to make national security decisions without adequate congressional notification, and she demanded a change in tone. Defense committee chairmen seem to get plenty of attention, Baron writes, but the backbenchers are shut out. Mikulski, perhaps rightly, believes that the Pentagon generally caters more to the Hill's authorizers and not the check-writing appropriators. "We have been deeply troubled from time to time that we have been treated in a dismissive way," Mikulski said during a hearing of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense, as Navy Secretary Ray Mabus, Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Jon Greenert, and Marine Commandant Gen. Jim Amos sat in the hot seats. "We want meetings, and we want meetings that count," she said. Read Baron's full report, here.

Where in the world is Dempsey? Not in China anymore. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Marty Dempsey left Beijing this morning and is now headed to Japan. Dempsey will do a town hall meeting in Yokota with service members and families and then meet an official with the Japan Self Defense Forces, before having dinner with his counterpart, Gen. Iwasaki. He'll be back in Washington in a couple days.

A picture of Dempsey, from Chinese media, here.

Joint Staff photostream of the visit, here.  

BTW: Replacing Col. Dave Lapan as Dempsey's spokesman: Air Force Col. Ed Thomas, in May.

The Air Force is probing new allegations against the Air Force officer whose overturned sexual assault case created a furor. Stripes is reporting that the Air Force has begun an investigation into allegations that Lt. Col. James Wilkerson had an extramarital affair in 2004 with a woman who says she subsequently gave birth to his baby, according to e-mails obtained by the newspaper. Wilkerson's sexual assault conviction was overturned in a controversial move that resulted in a DOD-wide review of the military justice system. Stripes' Nancy Montgomery: "The planned Air Force investigation follows an allegation made by the woman, who says she and Wilkerson had a brief affair in Utah and that he fathered her child. She told Stars and Stripes in a phone interview that she and Wilkerson were intimate only once, after being introduced by mutual friends. Air Force Secretary Michael Donley wrote in an email to an official in the Office of the Secretary of Defense that the Wilkerson case "is taking a new turn with allegations [that Wilkerson] may have fathered a child with a woman not his wife, some 7 years ago while he was stationed at Luke AFB."

Sexual Assault Awareness Month means...wash your hands! The Air Force is passing out tchotchkes -- from hand sanitizer to stress balls, from sewing kits (?) to lip balm -- to raise awareness and prevent sexual assault. The giveaways include boxes of breath mints with a sticker on the top that says "No means no!" because, as Baron points out in the E-Ring, "nothing says leave me alone like fresh breath, apparently." The box of mints comes with a tri-fold card with information on sexual assault that includes this: "Match your body language to your words -- don't laugh and smile while saying, ‘No.'" Alternatively, service members or DOD civilians could try reducing stress with a mini-football that says: "don't fumble...get consent," with the sexual assault hotline number printed below it. Read about DOD's sexual assault prevention initiatives, here.

Noting


  • Marine Corps Times: Corps' new crisis response force deploys to Spain for Africa.
  • Fox News: Army orders removal of Biblical references from riflescopes.
  • Defense News: DARPA pleads agency's case in lean times.
  • Danger Room: Your chance to win a celeb workout with Petraeus, or play Battleship with Mullen. 
  • US News: Iranian-sponsored narco-terrorism in Venezuela.
  • USAT: Allen says fewer troops could do the job in Afghanistan.
  • PT 365 blog: Marine Lt. Col. Bill Conner nearing $100k raised for Semper Fi fund.