National Security

Never forget: the mil don’t do pinpricks; Why the Russian plan wouldn’t be easy; Mabus: Navy’s ready for Syria; Dempsey, to the point; Where is Koenig’s (peace) Sphere? and a bit more. [presented today by Lockheed Martin.]

By Gordon Lubold

Obama makes a case for military action - but asks Congress to hold off. President Barack Obama spoke before the nation last night to make an impassioned plea for military action in Syria - if a last minute plan presented by the Russians to put the Assad regime's stockpile of chemical weapons under international control fails. He urged Congress to delay a vote on the authorization of force - a vote for which the White House had little support. Addressing Secretary of State John Kerry's gaffe about an "unbelievably small" strike on Syria, Obama was clear. Obama: "Let me make something clear: The United States military doesn't do pinpricks. Even a limited strike will send a message to Assad that no other nation can deliver. I don't think we should remove another dictator with force -- we learned from Iraq that doing so makes us responsible for all that comes next. But a targeted strike can make Assad, or any other dictator, think twice before using chemical weapons."

The Russian plan sounds good on paper, but securing Assad's stockpile could take years - and potentially many (American) BOGs. FP's Yochi Dreazen: "The plan would be nearly impossible to actually carry out. Experts in chemical weapons disposal point to a host of challenges. Taking control of Assad's enormous stores of the munitions would be difficult to do in the midst of a brutal civil war. Dozens of new facilities for destroying the weapons would have to be built from scratch or brought into the country from the U.S., and completing the job would potentially take a decade or more. The work itself would need to be done by specially-trained military personnel or contractors. Guess which country has most of those troops and civilian experts? If you said the U.S., you'd be right." Mike Kuhlman, chief scientist for national security at Battelle, which does chemical weapons disposal: "This isn't simply burning the leaves in your backyard... It's not something you do overnight, it's not easy, and it's not cheap." Read the rest here.

But Kerry's headed to Geneva to meet Lavrov. Writing for the WaPo today, FP's own Colum Lynch (with Karen DeYoung): The purpose [of the meeting], a senior State Department official said, is to make sure that what Russia has in mind for Syria's weapons is comprehensive and verifiable in the midst of a protracted civil war, and to make clear that the United States and its partners insist that the proposal includes consequences if Syria does not comply. An administration official: "We're waiting for that proposal, but we're not waiting long. We will take a hard look at it, but it has to be swift, it has to be real, and it has to be verifiable. .?.?. If the U.N. Security Council seeks to be the vehicle to make it happen, well, then, it can't be a debating society."

In the bungled messaging campaign of the last weeks, was Dempsey's opening remarks yesterday at the HASC hearing one of the most concise descriptions of what the military would do? Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Marty Dempsey, yesterday: "We've reached the point at which Assad views chemical weapons as just another military tool in his arsenal, a tool he's willing to use indiscriminately. And that's what makes this so dangerous, dangerous for Syria, dangerous for the region and dangerous for the world. My role is to provide the president options about how we could employ military force. He has directed me to plan for a militarily significant strike that would do the following: deter the Assad regime's further use of chemical weapons and degrade the regime's military capability to employ chemical weapons in the future.

"We've assembled target packages in line with those objectives. We have both an initial target set and subsequent target sets should they become necessary. The planned strikes will disrupt those parts of Assad's forces directly related to the chemical attack of 21 August, degrade his means of chemical weapons delivery and finally degrade the assets that Assad uses to threaten his neighbors and to defend his regime. Collectively, such strikes will send Assad a deterrent message, demonstrating our ability to hold at risk the capabilities he values most and to strike again if necessary. The United States military has forces ready to carry out the orders of the commander in chief.

"The limited nature of these strikes seeks to mitigate the potential for a miscalculation and escalation as well as minimize collateral damage. However, we are postured to address a range of contingencies, and we're prepared to support our friends in the region should Assad choose to retaliate."

Welcome to Wednesday's 9/11 edition of Situation Report and, as the Obama White House urges action in Syria, the permanent (war) campaign. Sign up for Situation Report here or just e-mail us and we'll stick you on. And 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. That and please follow us @glubold.

Today at NDU, Ray Mabus will tie Syria, the Navy, continuing resolutions and sequestration together. Navy Secretary Ray Mabus speaks today at noon about the constant presence the Navy has in the Mediterranean and beyond, but asks pointedly how it will continue to do so in an age of CRs and sequestration. Mabus, in excerpts of the speech provided to Situation Report: "Last night the President laid out the reasons we should take action in Syria. Yet it is critical to note that today no one is questioning our ability to take action. Our naval presence in the region provided that ability the day of the regime's chemical weapons attack. It provided the day before the attack, and continues to provide it today.

"If sequestration continues for its statutory ten-year duration, until 2022, or even for a relatively small part of that time, our naval presence and thus the ability to deliver flexible, adaptable, immediate options will almost certainly be compromised and diminished. It is impossible to know what tests await our country over the next decade. The only thing certain is that it will be different from what we believe it will be today. For seapower, the only certainty for the future is that we must have the presence worldwide to provide whoever is President with a wide range of options... Whatever course of action our nation decides to take in Syria, I do know this: The maritime options available are flexible and they are significant.  They are swift.  And they are sovereign.  But unless we act to address the damage of continuing resolutions and sequestration, they are options which may be limited or unavailable in the future."

Walt Jones wants Mabus to have Amos investigated. The folksy congressman from North Carolina wants Mabus to look into Commandant Gen. Jim Amos for his actions surrounding the infamous urination video. Marine Corps Times: "Republican Rep. Walter Jones has taken interest in the service's prosecution of Capt. James Clement, the only officer to be charged criminally in connection with the video showing four enlisted scout snipers urinating on dead insurgents in Afghanistan. Clement's case was abruptly dismissed Friday, but he still faces administrative punishment and possible dismissal from the service. In a Sept. 3 letter to Mabus, Jones says ‘my concern is that Captain Clement's future has been irreparably damaged due to decisions made by the commandant,' Gen. Jim Amos, and his legal advisers. The congressman's letter cites three issues raised by Clement's defense team: "unlawful command influence, improper classification of evidence and serious issues with discovery,' a reference to the disclosure of information prior to legal proceedings. Jones has asked Mabus to ‘personally address this possible abuse and ask for an investigation.'" Read the rest here.

Did Assad woo the American right and outsmart American propaganda? FP's David Kenner: "Even before President Barack Obama put his plans to strike the Syrian regime on hold, he was losing the battle of public opinion about military intervention. Part of the credit, no doubt, goes to a successful media blitz by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's regime and its supporters. In an interview aired on Monday night, Assad himself advanced his government's case to Charlie Rose, saying that the United States had not presented a single shred of evidence' proving the Syrian military had used chemical weapons. Assad has always been able to skillfully parry Western journalists' criticisms of his regime -- and, at times, it has won him positive international coverage." Read the rest here.

Rand Paul: forget holding off on a vote for or against force; do a "permanent hold." FP's own John Hudson, of The Cable: "The Senate's leading critic of President Obama's war plans in Syria is now calling for a "permanent hold" on the vote to authorize military force in Congress following a surprise proposal from Russia to avert a military confrontation. On Tuesday, as the Obama administration ramped up its lobbying on Capitol Hill, Sen. Rand Paul convened a group of some 30 lawmakers skeptical of a military intervention in Syria. The group -- which included Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT), Rep. Alan Grayson (D-FL), Rep. Justin Amash (R-MI), Rep. Rick Nolan (D-MN) and two dozen others -- discussed different strategies for staving off a military intervention and the desire to call off a vote to authorize military force. Paul, to Hudson: "I think everybody is hopeful that putting the vote on a permanent hold would be the best route forward." Read the rest here.

Playing politics? The testy exchange between Kerry and Rep. Jeff Miller, Republican from Florida from the HASC hearing yesterday. A reflection of the times: Kerry gets taken to task for not owning up to reality on the votes in Congress - or the lack thereof.  From yesterday's hearing:

Rep. Jeff Miller (R-Fla.): Secretary Kerry, you just said, again, there should be no delay. Is that correct?

Kerry: Well, I mean, there has to be a reasonable period to try to work this out. Obviously, you've got to see whether or not this has any meat to it. And if it does have meat, I think that's important.

Miller: So, again following up on Mr. --

Kerry: The Senate has already delayed.

Miller: Because they don't have the votes, Mr. Secretary. That's why they delayed. You know that.

Kerry: Actually, no, I don't.

Miller: Well, I do.

Kerry:  Well, I'm glad you know something. And I think this is not -- you know, this should not be a political discussion about whether there are votes or not.

Miller: I'm not being political, Mr. Secretary. It's the truth.

?They don't have the votes. Read any newspaper in this country and you will find that out.

Kerry:  As I said to you, I don't know that.

Miller:  Should the House delay or should the House move forward?

Kerry:  I believe that the Senate has made --

Miller:  This is the House of Representatives. (I understand it, sir ?).

Kerry:  Look, do you want to play politics here or do you want to get a policy in place? The policy that can be put in place is to try to get this particular option of getting control of chemical weapons in place. Now, if you want to undermine that, then play the politics.

Miller: OK. How --

Kerry: If you want it to work, then I'm asking you to be serious about what we got here.

Miller: -- about this, Mr. Secretary. (Inaudible.) Reclaiming my time.

Mr. Chairman, would you please ask the witnesses to limit their answers to the questions that are asked?

A Candid Camera moment for the 9/11 Era. ABC's What Would You do? goes to a deli in Kingston, N.Y. to find out what Americans think about Muslims generally. It's all very contrived to be sure, but, as an American soldier genuinely defends a man he believes to be a Muslim being tormented by a Muslim-hating American, the vid is ultimately poignant. Click Bait here.

At the 9/11 Museum, a missing WTC artifact. Michael Burke, the brother of a firefighter who responded on 9/11 in New York, Billy Burke, asks why the new 9/11 Museum doesn't include the Koenig Sphere. Burke: "For 30 years the Koenig Sphere, a 25-foot-tall bronze globe sculpture by German artist Fritz Koenig, stood in the center of the WTC as a symbol of world peace. Office workers and visitors of every nationality lunched around it or posed before it for photographs. On Sept. 11, though badly damaged, the Sphere was found in the ruins still intact-an emblem of world peace had been transformed into a symbol of American strength and resiliency... Americans might have assumed that once a 9/11 memorial was completed the Sphere would be moved from its temporary home and restored to the WTC site-possibly even as the centerpiece of such a memorial. It didn't happen. Instead, we have a memorial with waterfalls and trees mean to encourage a sense of healing, and deep pools in the footprints of the towers called ‘Reflecting Absence.' One absence in particular: Koenig's Sphere." Read the rest here.

Will USAID's grape farmer program in Afghanistan wither on the vine? The WaPo's Pamela Constable, in Mir Bocha Kot, Afghanistan, writes about an AID program that helps Afghanistan farmers learn a new way of growing grapes. "Qudoos, 38, made that leap with support from a U.S.-funded agricultural marketing program that American officials call a small but exceptional success in a decade of economic assistance. The project has endured many difficulties, including Taliban attacks and resistance from farmers. But now, it may face its biggest challenge. With most U.S. troops scheduled to withdraw by next year, and an uncertain presidential election set for April, the project must soon be turned over to Afghan hands." Read the rest here.

The French seek to prevent a "rebel revival" in Mali. The Journal's Drew Hinshaw, in Gao, Mali reports on what the French are doing to make sure Mali stays rebel-clean. Hinshaw: "Since March, French soldiers have shoveled out weaponry buried under dunes, hidden behind rocks and sunk into the waters of at least one oasis. They have uncovered 220 tons of ammunition, thousands of Kalashnikov rifles, and similar volumes of mortars, rocket-propelled grenades, plastic explosives and fertilizer for bombs, according to Gen. Laurent Kolodziej, the top commander for France's missions in Mali's north. The majority of firearms are workaday Chinese-made assault rifles stolen from local garrisons, worn down by time and sand. Then there is the heavier hardware from Libya. As they dig, soldiers here are pulling up remnants of al Qaeda's Saharan stockpile that were looted in 2011 from the arsenals of Libyan strongman Moammar Gadhafi. And: "In one jarring discovery, servicemen unearthed a fighter-jet bomb burrowed into the foot of a mountain." Read the rest here.

From the Department of Life Imitating Art: Could (former Senator) Byron Dorgan's book about a cyber attack on the power grid become reality? The NYT's Matthew Wald: "It's electrifying. Iran and Venezuela want to destroy the United States, so they conspire with a rogue Russian spy to launch a cyberattack on the North American power grid, beginning by electrocuting a lineman in North Dakota. Their main obstacle is a small-town sheriff in the state's badlands, Nate Osborne, a former Marine Corps lieutenant in Afghanistan whose titanium leg ultimately saves the day. That is more or less the plot of "Gridlock," co-written by former Senator Byron L. Dorgan, the latest offering in a peculiar Washington genre. But life is increasingly imitating Mr. Dorgan's potboiler. More than 200 utilities and government agencies across the country, from Consolidated Edison to the Department of Homeland Security to Verizon, are now expected to sign up for the largest emergency drill to test the electricity sector's preparation for cyberattack. The drill, scheduled for November, will simulate an attack by an adversary that takes down large sections of the power grid and knocks out vast areas of the continent for weeks. The drill, organized by the North American Electric Reliability Corporation, is to explore how the country would respond to an enormous grid failure that interrupts supplies of water, food and fuel and creates disruptions on a scale far beyond those of Sept. 11, 2001." Read the rest here.

 

 

National Security

Does Israel have chemical weapons, too? McCain, Graham: not trusting; Is Idris being shunned from DC?; POGO: security shortfalls at Kabul embassy; and a bit more [presented today by Lockheed Martin]

By Gordon Lubold

Did Kerry just stumble into averting a war? In an answer to a question at a London press conference, Secretary of State John Kerry said that Syria could avoid strikes if it allowed its chemical weapons stockpile to be placed under control of the international community. That gave immediate traction to the proposal, with Syria quickly embracing a plan first touted by the Russians. Now France, which has been pushing strikes in Syria after its alleged chemical weapons attack outside Damascus last month, seems to agree as well. France said it would draft a U.N. Security Council resolution to put the plan into effect - and China and Iran voiced support, as well. State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki tried to walk back Kerry's comments almost immediately after he uttered them, describing the remarks as a "rhetorical argument about the impossibility and unlikelihood of Assad turning over chemical weapons he has denied he used."

FP's Yochi Dreazen writes: "By then, though, Kerry's ad lib had taken on a life of its own. A few hours after Kerry spoke, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told reporters in Moscow that Russia would support putting Syria's chemical weapon storage sites under international control before ‘their subsequent destruction... We don't know whether Syria will agree with this, but if the establishment of international control over chemical weapons in the country will prevent attacks, then we will immediately begin work with Damascus,' Lavrov said."

Even Obama seems to like it. President Barack Obama said yesterday that he would "run to ground" the Russian proposal and that it would, potentially, head off a U.S. military strike against the Assad regime. If Assad agreed to put his chemical weapons stockpile under international control it would "absolutely" stave off strikes. Obama, on CNN: "It's possible if it's real... And, you know, I think it's certainly a positive development when, the Russians and the Syrians both make gestures toward dealing with these chemical weapons. This is what we've been asking for not just over the last week or the last month, but for the last couple of years." That USAT story here.

McCain, Graham: don't trust but do verify. Sens. John McCain and Lindsey Graham, two of the most vocal members on Syria, indicated some vindication. The threat of military action, they said, is what could "create the possibility" for Assad to give up control of his weapons. But Congress should keep up the pressure, they said, and continue to vote for an authorization for the use of force. "This will give the President additional leverage to press Russia and Syria to make good on their proposal to take the weapons of mass destruction out of Assad's hands," they said in a joint statement. "At the same time, all of us need to be realistic about this situation. We should not trust, and we must verify."

Kerry, Hagel and Dempsey meet a House divided.  The trio head to the House Armed Services Committee today to talk Syria but the dynamic on the public relations battlefield has changed some. The administration's line has changed. Now the question is, will the administration push through with the authorization or not. An American defense official tells Situation Report tweaks to the statements are possible in light of the developments yesterday. That may or may not help to calm a restive House, which had been struggling with strikes to say the least. And Republicans and some Democrats have marveled at how botched the administration's approach over the last couple weeks has been. At the hearing today, Kerry, Hagel and Dempsey will have to be clear about the way ahead in light of yesterday's developments. "I think the administration needs to clarify if they want to put this thing on pause," a senior Hill staffer told Situation Report this morning. "I don't expect them to... people still want to vote on this thing, even if they're opposed to it. If the administration still wants it, bring it on."

Is the White House keeping Syria's rebel commander out of Washington?  The Cable's John Hudson: "...hawks on Capitol Hill are questioning why the Obama administration isn't using one of its most powerful advocates for intervention: General Salim Idriss, commander of the rebels' Supreme Military Council. Long heralded as the poster child for Syria's moderate rebels, Idriss has yet to travel to Washington to make his case for U.S. intervention -- and it's not for lack of trying. Congressional sources and members of the Syrian opposition tell The Cable that the Obama administration has delayed or cancelled at least three scheduled trips for Idriss to come to Washington since March."

A frustrated Congressional aide to Hudson: "The White House has stepped in at the eleventh hour to cancel planned trips in which tickets were bought and hotels were booked for Gen. Idriss to come to Washington... It's beyond me why the administration is trying to prevent a very articulate person from answering the fundamental question that almost every lawmaker wants to know: Who the Hell is the opposition?'" 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. And 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. That and please follow us @glubold.

Pot, this is Kettle: Does Israel have chemical weapons, too? Writing on FP, Matthew Aid: "Syria's reported use of chemical weapons is threatening to turn the civil war there into a wider conflict. But the Bashar al-Assad government may not be the only one in the region with a nerve gas stockpile. A newly discovered CIA document indicates that Israel likely built up a chemical arsenal of its own. According to the report, American spy satellites uncovered in 1982 'a probable CW [chemical weapon] nerve agent production facility and a storage facility... at the Dimona Sensitive Storage Area in the Negev Desert.'

'While we cannot confirm whether the Israelis possess lethal chemical agents,' the document adds, 'several indicators lead us to believe that they have available to them at least persistent and nonpersistent nerve agents, a mustard agent, and several riot-control agents, marched with suitable delivery systems.'"

Why this is so explosive, Aid writes: "the 'non-persistent nerve agent' in question was almost certainly sarin. That is believed to be the Assad regime's chemical weapon of choice -- and the agent used on the morning of August 21, 2013 to strike rebel-controlled or contested neighborhoods in the eastern suburbs of Damascus. The Obama administration says that attack killed over 1,400 innocent civilians, mostly women and children. On Sunday, the Israeli defense minister, Moshe Ya'alon, blasted Assad for "crudely us[ing] chemical weapons against its own citizens."  Read the rest here.

POGO releases a report on embassy security in Kabul today. The new report shows how a top State Department official delivered "inaccurate and misleading testimony to Congress in July," according to POGO, and spotlights gaps in Kabul embassy security based on rosters POGO obtained. The report also presents observations, on the record, no less, from former embassy guards who, according to POGO "fear that, long after the killings in Benghazi, persistent security shortcomings could lead to tragedy.??Read it here. POGO's charts that show staffing gaps here. And FP's big piece on embassy security problems in Kabul here.

Meanwhile... Alison Spann, daughter of the first American killed in Afghanistan, living a life worth living. CNN's Wayne Drash: "Alison Spann walks purposefully behind the marble headstones, just as her father taught her. He brought her here, to Arlington National Cemetery, as a girl. He pointed out the names of the dead and the wars that took their lives. He told her to look around and appreciate the sacrifice of the fallen. The two walked together along the rows of headstones and turned when they got to a grave they were visiting. It was the proper way to walk in a cemetery, he told her, by not stepping where people are buried, a way of respecting them long after death. Her father taught her many things. To be headstrong. To strive for a stellar education. To remember that a girl can conquer anything. Today, Alison is the epitome of grace, her wavy brunette hair pulled back as she glides through section 34 of the cemetery. The whir of the nation's capital is drowned out here. Crickets chirp, cicadas buzz. A robin perches on a gravestone, almost as if watching. As she reaches the fifth grave from the large oak, Alison turns and faces the headstone. It is her father's: Johnny Micheal Spann. Known as Mike, he died on November 25, 2001 -- the first American killed in the war in Afghanistan. Read the rest, and video, here.

The Pentagon puts military compensation in the crosshairs. Military Times' Andrew Tilghman: "Hale said annual military pay raises likely will fall below the rise in inflation next year, and that may be the first of many similar reductions. "Congress is battling over whether to give troops a raise to match the official Employment Cost Index - a measure of private-sector wage growth - of 1.8 percent, or to limit the pay bump to 1 percent. Hale and other top Pentagon officials are advocating for the lower pay raise as a way to slow the long-term growth of personnel costs. ‘I think we will prevail in that,' Hale said. That would be the first time military pay would fall below the ECI since 1998. For much of the 2000s, Congress approved hefty raises well above the ECI in an effort to close a purported ‘gap' between military and private-sector pay that peaked at about 13.5 percent in the 1990s."

The Big Takeaway: Bob Hale, speaking recently: "I think we will go after military compensation aggressively." Read the rest here.

Read Situation Report from July 17 about the Military Compensation and Retirement Modernization Commission has taken form under Hagel. Read that here.