National Security

Brass cuts loom; Odierno, McHugh: “the money is gone;” Hastings might have had PTSD; Surrounded! How the U.S. military is building bases around China; Why the U.S. is opposed to Syrian intervention; and a bit more.

By Gordon Lubold

Why is the Obama administration is opposed to even limited U.S. military intervention? Because, according to a new story by the AP, the administration believes rebels fighting the Assad regime wouldn't support American interests if they were able to topple the regime and seize power. That according to a letter by Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Marty Dempsey, to Congress, and obtained by AP. AP: "Effectively ruling out U.S. cruise missile attacks and other options that wouldn't require U.S. troops on the ground, Dempsey said the military is clearly capable of taking out Syrian President Bashar Assad's air force and shifting the balance of the Arab country's 2½-year war back toward the armed opposition. But he said such an approach would plunge the United States deep into another war in the Arab world and offer no strategy for peace in a nation plagued by ethnic rivalries."

A war crime in Damascus? FP's David Kenner: "This morning, a U.N. chemical weapons inspection team woke up in the five-star Four Seasons Hotel in downtown Damascus. No more than a 15-minute drive away, in the capital's eastern suburbs, there were rumblings that the worst chemical weapons attacks in decades was underway. The information coming out of the Ghouta region, where the rebels enjoy significant support, is still unconfirmed by independent observers. But videos allegedly taken today in the area showed Syrians lying on the floor gasping for breath, medics struggling to save infants, and rows of bodies of those who had reportedly died in the attack. Syrian state media denied that chemical weapons had been used, attributing such stories to media channels that ‘are involved in the shedding of the Syrians' blood and supporting terrorism.'" More here.

Aid to Egypt is measured now on a case-by-case basis. The WSJ's Julian Barnes and Dion Nissenbaum: "The White House is poised to cancel a shipment of U.S.-made attack helicopters to Egypt, but the Obama administration remains opposed to a wholesale halt of military aid to the country, according to U.S. officials. President Barack Obama convened a meeting on Tuesday with Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel and other national-security aides to discuss U.S. aid to Egypt in the aftermath of the military ouster of President Mohammed Morsi and the crackdown on his supporters, administration officials said. White House officials are looking at aid on a case-by-case basis, officials said. "Our aid and assistance relationship with Egypt is under a review, but it has not been cut off," Josh Earnest, a White House spokesman, said Tuesday." Full story, here.

Yet U.S. military aid to Cairo is Egypt's lifeline. The $1.3 billion in U.S. military aid to Egypt that is on the table doesn't seem like much to the U.S., but it has a big impact there, and the generals there have wanted to expand aid for years. The NYT's Eric Schmitt: "Either way, a close look at the details of American military aid to Egypt shows why the relatively modest $1.3 billion may give the United States more leverage over the Egyptian military than it may seem, although still not as much as it wants. Even if Saudi Arabia and other Persian Gulf monarchies make up for any aid the United States may suspend, Washington would block Egypt from buying American weaponry with that money - a serious long-term problem for a military that is already viewed as sclerotic and has neglected pilot training so badly that the Egyptian air force has one of the worst crash rates of any F-16 fleet in the world." More on that story here.

Is Egypt having an "Algerian moment?" Writing on FP, Robert Zaretsky: "Despite the roughly 1,000 miles of Libyan desert that lie between them, Algeria and Egypt have never seemed as close as they do now. When Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Sisi forcibly removed President Mohamed Morsy from office in early July, a few far-sighted observers wondered if Egypt's military was about to repeat the tragic Algerian mistake that set off a decade of civil war in 1992. Events over the last week underscore the brutal similarities -- but it is far from clear that either tragedy was the result of mere miscalculation. Instead, then and now, the tragedies have been largely willed. More here.

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Budget cuts hit the brass: the Navy to trim 35 flag officers. The budget squeeze is forcing the services to truncate personnel, eliminating general and flag officers. Cuts to the "GOFO" structure have been in the works since Defense Secretary Robert Gates announced reductions, and there were cuts across the GOFO structure of 140 underway already, and Dempsey earlier this year seemed to indicate that additional cuts were on the way, and the sequester essentially mandates even more personnel cuts. All of that has specific implications for each service. The Navy yesterday announced that it will "reduce, eliminate or consolidate" a net of 35 Navy flag officer positions, including one- two- and three-star billets. End strength "adjustments" among flag officers are already underway, the Navy said, and will be complete by fiscal 2017, resulting in an end-strength of 151 Navy-specific billets, and 61 flag officers occupying joint billets, a minimum requirement, the Navy said. But the Navy said it would submit a fiscal 2015 budget with a reduction of another six flag officer billets.

Vice Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Mark Ferguson: "We had to make tough choices but it was the right thing to do - the plan is in line with Congressional mandates, [Office of the Secretary of Defense] guidance, and our changing fiscal environment."

The Army has also announced an initiative to reduce the Army headquarters by 25 percent. Army Secretary John McHugh and Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno signed an Aug. 14 memo, first reported by Defense News, announcing the creation of an Army Focus Area Review Group, charged with making recommendations on "institutional" and "operational" headquarters reductions, "operational force structure," readiness, the acquisition work force and other areas. A prominent element of the review will be how to reduce the Army headquarters - two-star generals and above - by 25 percent. By the end of the month, officials from Army commands, the Service Component Command, the Direct Reporting Unit and headquarters must present their individual plans on "what functions they would reduce or eliminate and the corresponding organizational change that would cause a 25 percent reduction in Headquarters funding and manning," McHugh and Odierno wrote. "Let their be no mistake, aggregate reductions WILL TAKE PLACE [caps theirs]. The money is gone; our mission now is to determine how best to allocate these cuts while maintaining readiness," the two wrote. "This effort will take PRIORITY OVER ALL other Headquarters, Department of the Army activities." Navy story with the list of  here. Army memo, here.

Autopsy results showed that Mike Hastings' body contained traces of meth and weed. Hastings, who wrote the Rolling Stone story that felled Stanley McChrystal, was found to have traces of tetrahydrocannabinol - the active ingredient in marijuana and methamphetamine in his system at the time of his death, in a fiery one-car car crash on Highland Avenue in Los Angeles early one morning in June. LAT: "Although there has been speculation and conspiracy theories about the cause of Hastings' crash, the autopsy report suggested that high speeds were to blame. He lost control of his vehicle and slammed head-on into a tree, dying within seconds of blunt-force trauma. His body was charred in the fire, but investigators said he probably lost consciousness immediately after crashing and that the burns occurred after he died... His family told investigators he used medical marijuana, which was prescribed for treatment of PTSD, which resulted from assignments in Iraq and Afghanistan.... Hastings, according to the report, had struggled with substance abuse. His family said he had kicked an alcohol problem about 14 years earlier and had remained sober until about a month before the crash, when he had begun using drugs. They believed he was using DMT, a hallucinogenic. One person told an investigator he wouldn't be surprised if cocaine was found in Hastings' system; it was not." The rest of the LAT story here. The U.S. military is encircling China with a chain of air bases and military ports. Killer Apps' John Reed: "U.S. military is encircling China with a chain of air bases and military ports. The latest link: a small airstrip on the tiny Pacific island of Saipan. The U.S. Air Force is planning to lease 33 acres of land on the island for the next 50 years to build a "divert airfield" on an old World War II airbase there. But the residents don't want it. And the Chinese are in no mood to be surrounded by Americans. The Pentagon's big, new strategy for the 21st century is something called Air-Sea Battle, a concept that's nominally about combining air and naval forces to punch through the increasingly-formidable defenses of nations like China or Iran. It may sound like an amorphous strategy -- and truth be told, a lot of Air-Sea Battle is still in the conceptual phase. But a very concrete part of this concept is being put into place in the Pacific. An important but oft-overlooked part of Air-Sea Battle calls for the military to operate from small, bare bones bases in the Pacific that its forces can disperse to in case their main bases are targeted by Chinese ballistic missiles." Full story here.

Can the U.S. blockade China? From the Diplomat, earlier this week, ICYMI.  James Holmes: "In a nutshell, offshore control means sealing off the first island chain to keep PLA Navy shipping from reaching the broad Pacific; waging submarine and aerial warfare to deny China access to its own offshore waters and skies; and imposing a distant blockade to bring economic pressure on Beijing. Over time, China might relinquish its goals to stop the pain. Offshore control abjures strikes at sites on the mainland - the most objectionable part of AirSea Battle - as needlessly escalatory in a campaign for limited aims." The Diplomat story, which includes links to the series of pieces in the National Interest about same, here.



National Security

Room for two? Hagel defines his role with Carter; In Egypt, U.S. influence waning and allies undermine interests, “Some is and some isn’t:” U.S.-China militaries agree to work together; Were the Chinese questions planted?; and a bit more.

By Gordon Lubold

The new boss ain't the old boss: Hagel is quietly defining his role vis-a-vis his Deputy, Ash Carter, in the E-Ring. As Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel settles into his job at the Pentagon, he and Deputy Secretary of Defense Ash Carter, the man who was also considered in line for the top job, are figuring out who does what. As Hagel establishes his own bona fides as Secretary, he will seek to be more "hands on" than his predecessor, Leon Panetta. That means Carter, who had had a freer hand at the Pentagon under Panetta, will begin to see his role changed - though not diminished, senior defense officials say. Hagel will rely heavily on Carter's deep institutional knowledge of the building but at the same time seek to re-establish the Secretary's role as the one in charge.

Our story: "For Ash Carter, it was a commanding performance. With a view of the Rocky Mountains in the airy conference center of the Aspen Security Forum last month, the deputy secretary of defense astutely addressed some of the thorniest issues confronting the Pentagon: the budget, cyberwarfare and something the trained physicist knows well -- nuclear weapons. There was just one thing missing: Carter seemed to forget who he was. To some in the audience, it seemed like Carter, the Pentagon's Number Two, was talking as if he didn't know where exactly he was positioned on the Defense Department's org chart. And he never once mentioned his boss, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel -- the man with whom he had just competed for the job of Pentagon chief... Carter, said one senior defense official privately but who was reflecting the growing sentiment, needed to be more careful...

"Now Hagel has begun, gently, to recalibrate Carter's role to reflect the fact that Hagel is looking to be a more "hands-on" secretary. And while Hagel isn't limiting Carter's mission, he is in the middle of changing the dynamic in the E-Ring for his #2 to focus on the budget battles at home -- freeing Hagel up to manage the conflicts overseas. But Hagel must tread carefully. Carter is uniquely qualified in the deputy slot. And he has the president's backing.

A senior defense official: "There is a sense of major budgetary uncertainty, and that the deputy needs to be a hands-on manager. Ash Carter is not driving policy for the department... Hagel views that as his purview."

Hagel issued a statement to FP on Carter: "Hagel said that Carter is a ‘trusted, experienced and respected leader' and that he relies upon Carter to help him make decisions on national security, the well-being of the military, and on a number of internal matters. ‘The American people are fortunate to have him as one of their most senior public servants.'"

And: "Informed by the Pentagon of this story, a steady stream of senior military officers and defense officials provided Foreign Policy with unsolicited input about the value Carter brings to the Defense Department's leadership. The statements and calls came from luminaries of the security establishment such as former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Marty Dempsey, and former Congresswoman Jane Harman. All of them expressed their extremely, deeply, profoundly positive views about this ‘most talented' (Panetta) ‘universally respected' (Dempsey) man with an ‘intellect, leadership, and ability to get things done' (Harman). Another was Winnefeld, who volunteered his analysis of the different leadership styles of Panetta and Hagel -- and how Carter figured into both. ‘Panetta's style was that of big Italian family... Hagel's style is that of an independent Midwesterner,' Winnefeld wrote in an e-mail. For both men, Carter has been ‘an extremely good partner, incredibly hard working, collegial, inclusive and stunningly effective.'"

Read the rest here.

Welcome to Tuesday's edition of Situation Report. Sign up for Situation Report here or just e-mail us and we'll stick you on. If you have a report you want teased, a piece of news, or a good tidbit, send it to us early for maximum tease. And remember, if you see something, say something -- to Situation Report. Follow us @glubold.

American allies are undercutting the U.S. over Egypt. The WSJ's Adam Entous, Charles Levinson and Ellen Knickmeyer: "The U.S.'s closest Middle East allies are undercutting American policy in Egypt, encouraging the military to confront the Muslim Brotherhood rather than reconcile, U.S. and Arab officials said. The parallel efforts by Israel, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have blunted U.S. influence with Egypt's military leadership and underscored how the chaos there has pulled Israel into ever-closer alignment with those Gulf states, officials said. A senior Israeli official called the anti-Muslim Brotherhood nations 'the axis of reason.'" Read the rest here.

Strange bedfellows: AIPAC and Egypt. The Cable's John Hudson: "As pressure mounts on Washington to cut off U.S. military aid to Egypt, Cairo has found an awkward ally in the form of AIPAC, the influential pro-Israel lobby firm that is actively pushing for continued U.S. aid to Egypt. Long considered an incentive for Cairo to maintain peaceful ties with Israel, America's $1.3 billion package in annual U.S. military assistance to Egypt has come under global criticism as Egypt's military continues its bloody crackdown against anti-government protesters with U.S.-funded tanks and tear gas.  AIPAC, which was credited with helping kill an amendment to cut Egyptian aid in July, is now operating behind the scenes in private meetings with lawmakers to keep alive Cairo's funding, congressional aides from both political parties said.  A Congressional aide to Hudson: "They made and continue to make their views known on this issue... But on an issue like aid to an Arab country, my experience with They feel strongly about keeping the aid flowing." Read the rest here.

Hagel, on American influence in Egypt, during the Pentagon presser yesterday: "Our ability to influence the outcome in Egypt is limited.  It's up to the Egyptian people.  And they are a large, great, sovereign nation.  And it will be their responsibility to sort -- to sort this out.  All nations are limited in their influence in another nation's internal issues.  I don't think the United States is without influence, but that has to be a collaborative effort focused on what the Egyptian people want, supporting the Egyptian people."

Former WH-er  Steven Simon, writing in the NYT under the headline, "America Has no Leverage in Egypt:" "Egypt has entered a dark tunnel, and it is difficult to say when, and in what condition, it will emerge. Many Americans, in the meantime, are outraged that the Obama administration has not exerted its supposed leverage, in the form of military aid, to pressure the Egyptian army to restore a democratic form of government. But it is time for some realism about that leverage. A yearly sum of $1.3 billion may seem persuasive, but this money has always been intended to secure foreign policy outcomes, not domestic political arrangements that the United States favors. (The State Department has announced that it will put "on hold" $250 million in civilian economic aid to Egypt; the annual military aid expenditure will remain untouched.) Simon's piece, here.

NYT Editorial Board today: False choices on Egypt. "A surprising number of world leaders and foreign policy experts have effectively acquiesced in the continued brutality of Egypt's generals, arguing that support for the military is the only way to restore stability in the Arab world's most populous state and limit wider regional turmoil. But this is just one of several false choices misinforming the debate and one that is certain to ensure more unrest, not less..." Read the rest here.

The U.S. and Chinese militaries agreed to work together. Hagel and Chinese Defense Chief Gen. Chang Wanquan met yesterday for a number of meetings about U.S.-Chinese mil-to-mil relations. They talked cybersecurity, domain issues and the Asian pivot. They agreed to a series of new engagements between both militaries, a cyber working group and Hagel was invited to visit China next year.

"The U.S. officials said they were heartened by their Chinese counterparts' openness toward concrete steps to improve cooperation between the two countries, including exchanges between the two defense departments' planning staffs, as well as increased cooperation on humanitarian and counter-piracy exercises," wrote the WSJ's Julian Barnes.

At the Pentagon presser after it was re-scheduled from 10:45 until noon, and then beginning at 12:30, Wanquan, on the Pivot: "It's always the Chinese position to welcome the U.S. to play a constructive role in the Asia Pacific.  And we also noted the U.S. statement many times, that the U.S. rebalancing strategy is a comprehensive one, incorporating areas such as economics and social and also including military. It is also worth to be noted that certain Asia Pacific nations have noted that the military aspect has been highlighted in this comprehensive strategy, including to strengthen the military deployment in the region, enhancing the U.S. alignments in this region by conducting military cooperations and military -- joint military exercises. We also noticed that the frequency and intensity of such kind of joint military exercises are increasing upon the recent time.  From certain degree, this kind of intensified military activities further complicated the situation in the region. China is a peace-loving nation.  And we hope that this strategy does not target a specific country in the region."

Wanquan's Five Points for the new, working model between the two countries, based on President Xi's summary of no confrontation, no antagonism and mutual respect "towards win-win cooperation."

Wanquan: "Firstly, it is a relationship in which both sides respect the other side.  It is not a relationship dominated by either side alone...Secondly, it is a relationship of cooperation and win-win... Thirdly, it's a relationship of mutual trust...Fourthly, it is a relationship featuring exchanges and cooperation in many areas...Finally, it is a relationship of openness and inclusiveness."

Fave line from Wanquan: "We believe as a new model of military relationship in accordance with the new model of bilateral relations, there are some is and some isn't in this concept."

But were the questions from the Chinese side planted? Unclear. But in the press room yesterday, each time Wanquan spoke, appearing to read his own answers from a briefing book, one of the two translators essentially read the same statement from beside the podiums, suggesting the answers to the questions asked, at least by the Chinese side, had been thoroughly prepared in advance. When Hagel spoke, on the other hand, the translator scribbled notes the entire time, as Hagel was clearly speaking extemporaneously.