National Security

France: use force; Spies, experts: it’s likely it was a gas attack; Dempsey on Syria: no one side with which to side; Wheels up for Hagel today; Bradley Manning to be known as “Chelsea;” and a bit more.

By Gordon Lubold

If chemical attacks in Syria prove true, France says: use force. Mounting bodies with no visible signs of how they died strongly suggests mounting evidence that the Syrian regime used chemical weapons against its people, killing as many as 1,300. That pushes the U.S. and western powers closer to the much-aligned "red line" that would force military intervention there. France this morning said that if it's true that the Syrians used chemical weapons, then force is a must. AFP this morning: "France is seeking a reaction with ‘force' if a massacre in Syria involving chemical weapons is confirmed, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said Thursday, although he ruled out the use of ground troops. ‘If it is proven, France's position is that there must be a reaction, a reaction that could take the form of a reaction with force,' Fabius told BFM-TV. ‘There are possibilities for responding,' he said without elaborating." More here.

American spies and other experts say it's likely a chem attack strike did happen, in the East Ghouta region east of Damascus. FP's Noah Shachtman and John Hudson: "The early analysis is based on preliminary reports, photography and video evidence, and conclusions are prone to change if and when direct access to the victims is granted. Over the past nine months, the Syrian opposition has alleged dozens of times that the Assad regime has attacked them with nerve agents. Only a handful of those accusations have been confirmed; several have fallen away under close scrutiny. But Wednesday's strike, which local opposition groups say killed an estimated 1,300 people, may be different."

Gwyn Winfield, editor of CRBNe World, the trade journal of the unconventional weapons community, to FP: "No doubt it's a chemical release of some variety -- and a military release of some variety."

And, Shachtman and Hudson write: "While the Obama administration says it has conclusive proof that the Assad regime has used chemical weapons in the recent past, the White House has been reluctant to take major action in response to those relatively small-scale attacks. (‘As long as they keep the body count at a certain level, we won't do anything,' an American intelligence official told Foreign Policy earlier this week.) But this attack appears to be anything but small-scale. If allegations about this latest attack prove to be accurate, the strike could be the moment when the Assad regime finally crossed the international community's ‘red line,' and triggered outside invention in the civil war that has killed over a hundred thousand people."

The Russians and the Chinese are blunting American efforts to reinforce the powers of U.N. chemical weapons inspectors. FP's Colum Lynch, writing on The Cable: "Seizing on rebel claims that Syrian authorities massacred hundreds of civilians by firing chemically-laced rockets onto a Damascus suburb, the United States joined Britain and France in calling for an emergency session of the U.N. Security Council to rally international support for an investigation into the incident. The three western powers also wrote a letter to U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki moon, signed by 32 other governments, calling for an urgent investigation. But the efforts failed to result in anything other than a tepid statement from the Security Council thanks to some final edits by the Russians and Chinese. The Obama administration's goal was to have a U.N. chemical weapons team, which was already in Syria to investigate other chemical weapons allegations, launch a probe into the new allegations. That team, headed by Swedish scientist Ake Sellstrom, arrived in Damascus on Sunday. ‘The United States, which was represented by the second highest ranking American official at the United Nations, Ambassador Rosemary Di Carlo, circulated a draft resolution, which was obtained by Foreign Policy, that called on U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki moon to ‘urgently take the steps necessary for today's attack to be investigated by the U.N. mission on the ground.' But it also would have applied pressure on Syrian President Bashar al Assad to grant the inspectors greater latitude." More here.

The NYT's lede on the images coming out of Syria: "... row after row of corpses without visible injury; hospitals flooded with victims, gasping for breath, trembling and staring ahead languidly; images of a gray cloud bursting over a neighborhood."

Alleged chemical weapons use aside, Dempsey explains the nuance of picking sides in a possible U.S. military intervention. Writing on Aug. 19, before the attack, Dempsey explained to Rep. Eliot Engel, the Democrat from New York who sits on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, how much so as he lays out the ways in which the U.S. could "tip the conflict in favor of the opposition." Dempsey wrote: "Syria today is not about choosing between two sides but rather about choosing one among many sides. It is my belief that the side we choose must be ready to promote their interests and ours when the balance shifts in their favor. Today, they are not. The crisis in Syria is tragic and complex. It is a deeply rooted, long-term conflict among multiple factions, and violent struggles for power will continue after Assad's rule ends. We should evaluate the effectiveness of limited military options in this context."

And: "We can destroy the Syrian Air Force. The loss of Assad's Air Force would negate his ability to attack opposition forces from the air, but it would also escalate and potentially further commit the United States to the conflict. Stated another way, it would not be militarily decisive, but it would commit us decisively to the conflict. In a variety of ways, the use of U.S. military force can change the military balance, but it cannot resolve the underlying and historic ethnic, religious and tribal issues that are fueling this conflict." Dempsey's letter, here.

Welcome to Thursday'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.

Hagel is wheels up on the Doomsday plane this morning for Honolulu, then Southeast Asia. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel is headed out from Andrews Air Force Base on the E4-B Doomsday to Hawaii, where he'll meet with PACOM Commander Adm. Sam Locklear, then with Marines at Kaneohe Bay. He'll then head to Asia, where he'll attend the meeting of Asian defense ministers at the ASEAN summit in Brunei; he'll also visit Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines. Remarks today at 2:30 p.m. Hawaii time, on the Pentagon Channel, here.

Staffers on a plane: Chief of Staff Mark Lippert, Senior Military Assistant Lt. Gen. Tom Waldhauser, Incoming Senior Military Assistant Maj. Gen. Robert "Abe" Abrams, Trip Director JP Eby, Pentagon Press Secretary George Little, Assistant Press Secretary Carl Woog, Speechwriter Greg Grant, Acting Assistant Secretary of Defense for Asia Pacific Policy Peter Lavoy, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Southeast Asia Vikram Singh.

Right seat, left seat: This is the first trip for Abrams, who will succeed Waldhauser as the senior officer in Hagel's front office advising the Secretary, and presumably the last for Waldhauser.

Reporters on a plane: AP's Bob Burns, Reuters' Phil Stewart, AFP's Dan De Luce, WSJ's Julian Barnes, Bloomberg's Gopal Ratnam, Defense One's Kevin Baron, NPR's Larry Abramson, BBC's Joan Soley.

Did not see that coming: Bradley Manning gets 35 years. And wants to live as a woman - "Chelsea Manning." NBC, this morning: "Bradley Manning, the Army private sentenced to military prison for leaking classified documents, revealed he intends to live out the remainder of his life as a woman. ‘I am Chelsea Manning. I am female," the Army private wrote in a statement read on [NBC's Today show] Thursday. ‘Given the way that I feel, and have felt since childhood, I want to begin hormone therapy as soon as possible. I hope that you will support me in this transition.' Manning, 25, was sentenced to 35 years in prison on Wednesday after having been found guilty of 20 charges ranging from espionage to theft for leaking more than 700,000 documents to the WikiLeaks website while working in Iraq in 2010." NBC here. Manning's statement here.

The NSA's massive surveillance network rapped by the spy court. WSJ's Siobhan Gorman, Devlin Barrett and Jennifer Valentino-Devries: "National Security Agency violated the Constitution for three years by collecting tens of thousands of purely domestic communications without sufficient privacy protection, according to a secret national-security court ruling. In the strongly worded 2011 ruling, released Wednesday by the Obama administration, the court criticized the NSA for misrepresenting its practices to the court. It noted that the illegal collection was the third instance in less than three years in which the government made a ‘substantial misrepresentation regarding the scope of a major collection program,' specifically how the NSA collected Internet communications and phone data." More here.

The dangers of relaxing export controls on arms: A new report from the Center for International Policy. The report, released yesterday, shows how the Obama administration's efforts to reduce controls on the export of thousands of weapons and weapons components - in the name of efficiency and increased trade - poses risks. CIP Project Director Bill Hartung: "Early in its first term, the Obama administration announced the outlines of a new approach to arms export controls designed to reform ‘what we control, how we control it, how we enforce those controls and how we manage our controls.'  The stated goal of the reform effort was to focus on ‘controlling the most critical products and technologies' while ‘enhancing the competitiveness of key United States manufacturing and technology sectors.' A central element of the administration's approach has been to move items from the United States Munitions List (USML) - a compendium of arms and arms-related technologies monitored by the State Department - to the Commerce Control List (CCL), which subjects equipment destined for export to less rigorous scrutiny.

But: "The Obama administration's loosening of controls goes far beyond anything contemplated by the Clinton or Bush administrations. The White House has asserted that, ‘At the end of this process, we anticipate that a significant percentage of the items that are transferred off of the USML would be permitted to be exported without a license.' This means that oversight would be lifted from these items." Link to intro, report here.


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.

Welcome to Wednesday'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.

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.