National Security

FP's Situation Report: Hagel turns up the heat on nukes

Two warships to the Black Sea for Sochi; Locklear says Pacific is the most "militarized zone;" U.S. contractors work for the Iraqis now; Who's not pro-Israel enough for AIPAC?; and a bit more.  


By Gordon Lubold 

Hagel is turning up the heat on nukes. After a series of new lapses that have triggered new concerns about the health of the force manning the U.S. nuclear arsenal, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel is summoning senior defense leaders to Washington, demanding a new report on issues within the force and also preparing to launch a broader review of the U.S. nuclear force, Pentagon Press Secretary Rear Adm. John Kirby announced yesterday. The master of nuke coverage, AP's Bob Burns: "It began with his brief mention last fall of 'troubling lapses' in the nuclear force. Weeks later Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel turned up the heat a notch by paying a rare visit to a nuclear missile base. And on Thursday he dropped his bombshell: a demand for quick answers to what ails this most sensitive of military missions. 'Personnel failures within this force threaten to jeopardize the trust the American people have placed in us to keep our nuclear weapons safe and secure,' Hagel wrote in unusually pointed language to a dozen top officials. Hagel ordered immediate actions to define the depth of trouble inside the nuclear force, particularly the Air Force's intercontinental ballistic missile force, which has been rocked by disclosures about security lapses, poor discipline, weak morale and other problems that raise questions about nuclear security... Hagel summoned top military officials to a Pentagon conference, to be held within two weeks, to 'raise and address' any personnel problems infesting the nuclear force, and he ordered an 'action plan' be written within 60 days to explore nuclear force personnel issues, identify remedies and put those fixes into place quickly. Hagel said he and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, will host the nuclear summit.

"The Pentagon chief also said he would assemble a small group of outsiders with expertise in the nuclear field to conduct a broader review of the U.S. nuclear force, with a focus on personnel issues, and to recommend changes "that would help ensure the continued safety, security and effectiveness of our nuclear forces." More here.

Is Hagel in a firing mood? Unclear as of yet. While former Defense Secretary Bob Gates had little problem firing people, that has not as yet defined Hagel's style. Hagel has said in the past (in the context of the sexual assault crisis facing DoD) that he has no problem firing people to demand accountability, but that rolling heads isn't always the best way to fix a problem.

Kirby, who credited Associated Press' coverage of the nuclear issues as one of the triggers to Hagel's rising concerns, said Hagel's not at the point where he thinks firing people over problems within the force will solve the problem. Kirby, at the Pentagon yesterday: "To the degree that -- that leaders need to be held to account, he will hold them to account.  We're just not there right now... we're just trying to unpack this issue and this problem and try to get our arms around it.  That's why he's having a review team put together. That's why he's bringing the leaders into the building.  And I think we've got a lot of work to do to better understand the scope of the problem before we get to the point where, you know, we're firing people. And I don't think -- Secretary Hagel doesn't want to set that as the -- as the goal.  I don't think he wants to set that as the bar for success by how many get -- you know, lose their jobs over this.  His -- what he's setting as the bar and his measure of success is making sure that we've addressed whatever personnel -- systemic personnel problems there may be inside the nuclear force and fixing them."

Speaking of nukes, a new three-year study by the Pentagon concluded U.S. intel agencies can't foresee when foreign powers are developing nuclear weapons. The NYT's David Sanger and William Broad: "... The study, a 100-page report by the Defense Science Board, contends that the detection abilities needed in cases like Iran - including finding 'undeclared facilities and/or covert operations' - are 'either inadequate, or more often, do not exist.'

"The report is circulating just two months before President Obama will attend his third nuclear security summit meeting, set for March in The Hague, an effort he began in order to lock down loose nuclear materials and, eventually, reduce the number of countries that could build nuclear weapons. Mr. Obama's efforts to sweep up the materials have largely been considered a success. But the report concluded that potential new nuclear states are 'emerging in numbers not seen since the early days of the Cold War,' and that "monitoring for proliferation should be a top national security objective - but one for which the nation is not yet organized or fully equipped to address... A former senior intelligence official familiar with the report, which was commissioned by Ashton B. Carter, the former deputy secretary of defense who resigned late last year, said the effort was to focus the government's efforts on the global dimensions of the atomic threat.

The former senior intel official familiar with the report, to the Times: "One of the highest priorities of successive administrations is countering proliferation... But there's little coherence on what agencies do to move that interest forward." Read the rest of this here.

Welcome to the Friday edition of Situation Report. If you'd like to sign up to receive Situation Report, send us a note at and we'll just stick you on. And if you like what you see, tell a friend.  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, because if you see something, we hope you'll say something -- to Situation Report. And one more thing: please follow us @glubold.

Ghosts of Baghdad: U.S. contractors didn't go anywhere - they just work for the Iraqi government now. FP's own Dan Lamothe: " The Pentagon says the last of its defense contractors left Iraq in December, just weeks before portions of the increasingly violent country were conquered al-Qaeda. There's a catch, however: While the number of Iraq contractors on U.S. payrolls has plummeted, some of those same individuals are still there, working directly for the Iraqi government.

The change is part of the United States' evolving relationship with Baghdad. The last Defense Department contract with Iraq was transferred to Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's administration in December, said Navy Cmdr. Bill Speaks, a Pentagon spokesman. That leaves the Defense Department's number of contractors in Iraq at 0, down 6,624 in October, according to a quarterly report released at the time. Of those 6,624 contractors, 1,626 were U.S. citizens, 2,807 were civilians of another country, and 2,191 were Iraqi citizens from Iraq, the report said.

"... One example of a company staying in Iraq despite the change in who pays its bill is Triple Canopy, the behemoth defense firm based in Herndon, VA. It has made a fortune as one of Washington's primary security providers in war zones, and is one of eight companies with a piece of the State Department's five-year, $10.8 billion Worldwide Protective Services contract, which was signed in 2010 and lays out the terms by which contractors provide security to U.S. diplomatic facilities and personnel across the world. But Triple Canopy also had a variety of smaller contracts with the Pentagon for other work in Iraq, and intends to continue working there now." More here.

Mo' money! A little budget guidance for the Pentagon from the White House. Bloomberg's Tony Capaccio: " The White House this week gave the Defense Department budget guidance through 2019 that calls for more money after 2015 than congressional budget caps allow, according to U.S. officials. The Office of Management and Budget guidance, known as the 'pass-back,' also includes for the first time an 'investment fund' for programs the White House has approved to receive additional funds should they become available, according to the officials, who asked not to be identified because the directive hasn't been made public.

"As part of its budget submission to Congress, the Pentagon is expected to present the OMB investment fund to lawmakers to demonstrate where more money would be added to that allocated in last year's bipartisan budget deal, one of the officials said. The federal budget, including the Pentagon blueprint, is due to be released on about March 4, the officials said. The fiscal 2015 total for base defense spending excluding war operations is about $498 billion, or the same amount called for in last month's agreement, and includes $9 billion in relief from the caps called for in the 2011 Budget Control Act. That's still $44 billion less than the $542 billion the Pentagon last year said it would request for the fiscal year that starts Oct. 1." More here.

A blast at a security headquarters in Cairo has killed at least five. The WaPo's Abigail Hauslohner and Erin Cunningham: "A powerful car bomb shattered the facade of a security headquarters in downtown Cairo at dawn on Friday, the highest profile attack on Egypt's military-backed government since last summer's ouster of President Mohamed Morsi. At least five people were killed, and more than 50 were injured, the health ministry said... The interior ministry said a suicide bomber drove a vehicle laden with explosives into a barricade outside the building at 6:30 a.m., causing a thundering blast that was heard across a wide swath of the capital, and leaving a gaping crater. Cairo's 19th-century Islamic Art museum, which is located across the street, was badly damaged. Two smaller explosions in other districts of the city on Friday had little impact." More here.

Did you hear the story about one of the most pro-Israel Congressmen who isn't pro-Israel enough for AIPAC? We thought so. So here's FP's own John Hudson: " A recent letter attacking Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz is causing an internal brouhaha at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, The Cable has learned. The powerful lobbying outfit, known for its disciplined non-partisan advocacy for Israel, recently issued an action alert about the Florida congresswoman's waffling on Iran sanctions legislation. The letter urged members to contact Wasserman Schultz and cited a disparaging article about her in a conservative website founded by a prominent Republican political operative. That AIPAC was driving hard for new Iran sanctions legislation surprised no one. But its use of a right-wing blog to target a well-connected Jewish Democrat with a long history of support for Israel raised eyebrows among some current and former AIPAC officials. It also raised concerns that AIPAC's open revolt against the White House's Iran diplomacy could fray its relations with liberal Democrats on the Hill.

Said Doug Bloomfield, AIPAC's former chief lobbyist: "In the 40 years I've been involved with AIPAC, this is the first time I've seen such a blatant departure from bipartisanship." More here.

The secret history to a secret CIA prison in Poland. The WaPo's Adam Goldman: "...The CIA prison in Poland was arguably the most important of all the black sites created by the agency after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. It was the first of a trio in Europe that housed the initial wave of accused Sept. 11 conspirators, and it was where Khalid Sheik Mohammed, the self-declared mastermind of the attacks, was waterboarded 183 times after his capture. Much about the creation and operation of the CIA's prison at a base in one of the young democracies of Central Europe remains cloaked in mystery, matters that the U.S. government has classified as state secrets. But what happened in Poland more than a decade ago continues to reverberate, and the bitter debate about the CIA's interrogation program is about to be revisited.

"The Senate Intelligence Committee intends to release portions of an exhaustive 6,000-page report on the interrogation program, its value in eliciting critical intelligence and whether Congress was misled about aspects of the program...

"The story of a Polish villa that became the site of one of the most infamous prisons in U.S. history began in the Pakistani city of Faisalabad with the capture of Zayn al-Abidin Muhammed Hussein, better known as Abu Zubaida, in March 2002. The CIA needed a place to stash its first "high-value" detainee, a man who was thought to be closely tied to the al-Qaeda leadership and might know of follow-on plots. Cambodia and Thailand offered to help the CIA. Cambodia turned out to be the less desirable of the two. Agency officers told superiors that a proposed site was infested with snakes. So the agency flew Abu Zubaida to Thailand, housing him at a remote location at least an hour's drive from Bangkok." Read the rest here.

French Minister of Defense Jean-Yves Le Drian at CSIS this morning in Washington at 9:30 am. He'll be talking France's role in NATO and the recent security challenges in Mali and the Central African Republic and anything else if you go and ask a really good question. Note CSIS' new office is at 1616 Rhode Island Ave., NW. Event runs an hour.

The Pentagon is sending two warships to the Black Sea in anticipation of Sochi. NBC News' Erin McClam: "A catastrophic terrorist strike at the Sochi Winter Olympics would present the United States with a logistically mind-boggling and diplomatically delicate challenge: How to get more than 200 American athletes safely out of Russia. U.S. military officials have described plans to use two warships in the Black Sea and planes already on standby in Europe to evacuate Americans if the worst fears of security experts come true. But these are the Olympics of President Vladimir Putin, who is spending a reported $50 billion on the games, including a purportedly impenetrable "ring of steel" around the Olympic city, and who sees the games through a prism of national pride." Read the rest here.

So now the U.S. is investigating Dennis Rodman for whether he violated U.S. sanctions after bringing thousands of dollars of luxury gifts to his BFF, Kim Jong Un. The Daily Beast's Josh Rogin: "Dennis Rodman was already having a rotten month, between the trip to rehab and the global condemnation for cozying up to a dictator. Now things may be about to get much worse. The U.S. Treasury Department is investigating whether he violated the law that prohibits the importing of luxury goods into North Korea. On his third and most recent trip to Pyongyang this month, Rodman reportedly brought several gifts for the young Kim's 31st birthday. They allegedly included hundreds of dollars' worth of Irish Jameson whiskey, European crystal, an Italian suit, a fur coat, and an English Mulberry handbag for Kim's wife, Ri Sol-ju. But these gifts, reportedly worth more than $10,000, may not have been all. Michael Spavor, a Beijing-based consultant who facilitated and joined Rodman's trip, tweeted a photo of Rodman apparently displaying several bottles of his own brand "Bad Ass Vodka" for Kim Jong Un and his wife." Read the rest here.

Sam Locklear: the Asia-Pacific is becoming "the most militarized region in the world." Carlo Munoz, writing for USNI News: "American allies and potential adversaries in the Pacific are busily amassing formidable stockpiles of advanced military hardware, just as American commanders are doubling down on U.S. presence in the region. Aside from China's aggressive efforts to buildup its military arsenal, countries like Japan, Australia and Singapore are quickly following suit, Pacific Command chief Adm. Samuel Locklear said Thursday. As a result, the seas and skies of the Asia-Pacific is rapidly evolving into "the most militarized region in the world," the four-star admiral told reporters at the Pentagon. The ongoing weapons buildup in the Pacific could, at some point, lead to several regional powers superseding the United States as the dominant military force in Asia, Locklear warned." More here.

Locklear II: Kim Jong Un is a problem. U.S. News & World Report's Paul Shinkman: "Last year was scarred by instability and threats in the Pacific region, particularly from North Korea and China, at a time when the U.S. is ramping up its presence and rhetoric there in President Barack Obama's notorious "rebalance." At the top of the worst offenders list sits North Korea's Kim Jong Un. The young dynastic ruler thrust the hermetic kingdom into top headline space in 2013 following a string of visits by professional eccentric and one-time NBA superstar Dennis Rodman, and continued saber rattling over its nuclear and military programs. America's top officer in the region expressed grave concerns Thursday about how the U.S. charts a path toward the untested and reclusive despot. 'The young leader, for unpredictable,' said Navy Adm. Samuel Locklear, the commander of U.S. Pacific Command. 'His behavior, at least in the way it's reported and the way we see it in sense, would make me wonder whether or not he is always in the rational decision making mode or not. And this is a problem.'" Read the rest here.

Read the full transcript of what Locklear said at the Pentagon yesterday here.

No Nonanka Takashi, we just don't believe that you are the head of the Internal Audit Group, Deputy President, Executive Officer and Director of the Mizuho Trust & Banking Co., Ltd., or at least we have our doubts. But it is an impressive-sounding title. Furthermore, we're dubious about the "lucrative business proposal of mutual interest" that you mention in your e-mail this morning. Color us skeptical.

Yesterday, Mark Milley, the head of the operational command in Afghanistan, held a briefing for reporters in the Pentagon from Kabul. Here's what he said in part about the Afghan National Security Forces: Lt. Gen. Mark Milley: "Well, yeah, let me -- as I said, they did very well tactically.  So we are transitioning right now from combat advising to functional advising.  And what does that mean?  So it's -- it's our assessment that the Afghan combat units, kandaks, battalions, companies, really do not need, with very few exceptions, tactical advisers with them on combat operations on a day in and day out basis. 

"We know that the Afghan battalions and companies can fight.  We know they can shoot, move, communicate.  They can conduct combined arms operations. We know that all of the maneuver brigades and -- all 24 of them -- are either partially capable, capable, or fully capable.  We know that the corps can conduct, plan, coordinate, synchronize, and execute combined arms operation.  That's important.

"But tactics an army does not make.  They have to be more than that.  They have to be more than tactics.  You have to have -- in order to sustain yourself over time, you have to have institutional systems that are in place where they can, in fact, replenish their forces, they can do personnel management, they can budgeting, they can do intelligence operations, infuse all types of intelligence, where they can train pilots and conduct rotary-wing and fixed-wing operations. 

"They've got to be able to sustain themselves logistically.  They've got to be able to get spare parts and run entire distribution systems, so vehicles and weapons systems and other pieces of equipment don't break down.  We've got to get their special operations capabilities, which are very good, but get them up to a very high level.  You've got to develop a ministerial-level capability in order to do budgeting and planning and programming and those sorts of things. 

"...We want to improve their fires.  We anticipate that it will be some years before they have a full-fledged capability for counterinsurgency fixed- and rotary-wing aircraft, so we want them to have the capability to retain tactical overmatch through the use of indirect fires, through the use of mortars and artillery, and they made a lot of progress on that this past year. 

"...So right now, they're doing very well at like -- things like basic training and some small unit tactics.  But we've got to also work with them to support and build a training management system that works over time without foreign help. 

"So the big ones -- aviation, ministerial development, special ops, intelligence, medical, C-IED [counter-improvised explosive device], fires -- those piece parts, those systems, those functions we want to shore up here in the next year or so.  Some of them may take longer than a year. I think most of them -- medical, counter-IED, fires -- we'll be able to get that progressed pretty well during this year." Full transcript here.


National Security

FP's Situation Report: Obama, worse than Jimmy Carter on Syria?

China is having Internet problems; Veterans bill would restore COLA; How a little mistake cost a life; A short list for the Pentagon's policy job; and a bit more.

By Gordon Lubold

Diplomats spar: Acrimony at outset of talks on Syria. The WSJ's Jay Solomon, Maria Abi-Habib and Stacy Meichtry: "Syria and the U.S. opened a long-awaited peace conference by clashing over the fate of President Bashar al-Assad, exposing the depths of division and pessimism about any progress at the first talks in nearly three years of war. The early sparring in Switzerland on Wednesday centered on Western demands that President Bashar al-Assad be removed from power. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry kicked it off by insisting Mr. Assad must go. His Syrian counterpart, Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem, immediately challenged the notion. He accused the U.S. and its Middle East allies, particularly Turkey and Saudi Arabia, of supporting terrorist groups seeking to destabilize the Damascus regime.

"...However, there was a rare overture to the opposition by Syrian Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal al-Mekdad, who left open the possibility of parliamentary elections this year, a year earlier than the 2015 timeline for the polls... Still, the leader of Syria's main political opposition group said there was very little to negotiate if the government's delegation didn't accept that Mr. Assad would have to stand down. He and other opposition leaders said Mr. Moallem's hard-line stance raised the question of whether any progress could be made during the discussions.

"'If we had a partner in this room that would be willing to be free of Assad...this would be the first building block of a new Syria,' said Ahmad Jarba, president of the Syrian Opposition Coalition. 'Do we have such a partner?'" Read the rest here.

The dispute over the future of Assad is casting a pall over the talks in Switzerland on Syria. FP's own Colum Lynch: "...The talks in the Swiss city of Montreux have been snake bitten from the start, with United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon first asking Iran to attend the conference and then having to back track and rescind the invitation after the Obama administration bashed the move and the Syrian opposition threatened to boycott the negotiations if Tehran took part. The Syrian peace conference finally got underway Wednesday, but the first day was, if anything, even messier and angrier than the run-up to the meeting had been. The two sides insulted each other, and made clear that they weren't willing to compromise over Assad's role in Syria if a peace accord was reached." Read the rest here.

State learned of pictures depicting torture in Syria in November. The NYT's Mark Landler and Ben Hubbard: "The Obama administration first learned last November about a harrowing trove of photographs that were said to document widespread torture and executions in Syrian prisons when a State Department official viewed some of the images on a laptop belonging to an antigovernment activist, a senior official said Wednesday. The United States did not act on the photos for the past two months, officials said, because it did not have possession of the digital files and could not establish their authenticity. Nevertheless, they said, the administration believes the photos are genuine, basing that assessment in part on the meticulous way in which the bodies in the photos were numbered." Read the rest here.

McCain says President Obama is worse than Jimmy Carter when it comes to Syria. HuffPo's Mollie Reilly: "Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) says President Barack Obama's handling of the crisis in Syria has made him a worse leader than even the right's favorite punching bag, former President Jimmy Carter. In a Tuesday interview with Phoenix-based KFYI, McCain suggested the Syria conflict could put the United States at risk if the administration does not respond properly.

McCain on Phoenix' KFYI: "It is spreading throughout the region, and sooner or later it will affect the United States of America if you allow a place to become a base for al Qaeda... I have never seen anything like this in my life. I thought Jimmy Carter was bad, but he pales in comparison to this president in my view." The rest here.

Welcome to the it's-already-Thursday edition of Situation Report. If you'd like to sign up to receive Situation Report, send us a note at and we'll just stick you on. And if you like what you see, tell a friend.  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, because if you see something, we hope you'll say something -- to Situation Report. And one more thing: please follow us @glubold.

Is the little green light solid or blinking? China has Internet problems and expert suspect "the great firewall." The NYT's Nicole Perlroth: " The story behind what may have been the biggest Internet failure in history involves an unlikely cast of characters, including a little-known company in a drab building in Wyoming and the world's most elite army of Internet censors a continent away in China. On Tuesday, most of China's 500 million Internet users were unable to load websites for up to eight hours. Nearly every Chinese user and Internet company, including major services like Baidu and, was affected. Technology experts say China's own Great Firewall - the country's vast collection of censors and snooping technology used to control Internet traffic in and out of China - was most likely to blame, mistakenly redirecting the country's traffic to several sites normally blocked inside China, some connected to a company based in the Wyoming building." More here.

Apparently, there's a shortlist for Pentagon policy chief. After Jim Miller left earlier this month it was unclear just who might succeed him and there appeared a scramble to find someone to nominate for the critical policy job (otherwise, the White House would have had someone lined up by now as Miller's departure was very expected). Defense News' John Bennett just floated these two names: "On the shortlist to become the Pentagon's third-ranking civilian leader are a senior Defense Department official and a top White House national security adviser, multiple sources say. DoD's Christine Wormuth and the White House's Elizabeth Sherwood-Randall are under consideration by Obama administration officials to become Pentagon policy chief, a move that could make one the second female to hold the post, sources tell Defense News. Wormuth now holds the key position of deputy undersecretary of defense for strategy, plans and force development, putting her in the midst of myriad high-level national security decisions. If nominated and confirmed by the Senate, it would fill one of a long list of senior-level civilian vacancies at the Pentagon. Sherwood-Randall currently is the White House's coordinator for defense policy, countering weapons of mass destruction and arms control on the National Security Staff." More here.

Betraying his inner-wonk: Bob Work co-pubs a report on "the robotic age." Meanwhile, the Center for New American Security's Bob Work, whose nomination to become Deputy Secretary of Defense seems very imminent - but hasn't happened... just... yet... just co-published a report with CNAS' Shawn Brimley titled "20YY: Preparing for War in the Robotic Age." Their BLUF (from the executive summary): "The 20YY war-fighting regime is not the realm of science fiction. This report outlines why we believe this shift is coming, what it heralds for U.S. defense strategy and national security, and why and how the Department of Defense (DOD) should take advantage of this inevitable transition. There are profound opportunities to properly posture the U.S. armed services for this future if policymakers can make smart choices during the ongoing defense downturn. There are equally great risks, however, that poor decisions and a slow recognition of these powerful trends will put tomorrow's U.S. military at unnecessary risk."

Brimley, in a note to colleagues about the report: "We attempt to lay out the history of the move toward the guided-munitions regime, and lay out the implications of current trends driving us toward increasingly robotic systems. We think there are enormous implications for U.S. defense strategy, planning, and budgeting - some of which are already apparent.  We feel so strongly about these trends that we have created a new multi-year initiative at CNAS that will explore this space, directed by Paul Scharre, who recently left OSD Policy and who has worked these issues extensively." Read the report here.

The story of how the head of a non-profit fell to his death during a ride in a California National Guard helicopter shows how it was preventable. Time's Mark Thompson, writing on Swampland: "A nonprofit volunteer, who the California Air National Guard improperly invited to fly aboard one of its Pave Hawk helicopters on a marijuana-cleanup mission, fell to his death after the plastic ring he had mistakenly clipped to the hoist while being lowered from the aircraft snapped. His rigging had been checked before he was sent outside. The death of Shane Krogen, executive director of the High Sierra Volunteer Trail Crew, last summer in the Sequoia National Forest, just south of Yosemite National Park, was a tragedy. But it was an entirely preventable one. It stands as a reminder of how dangerous military missions can be, and on the importance of a second set of eyes to make sure that potentially deadly errors, whenever possible, are reviewed and reversed before it is too late." A good read for anybody, here.

Does a weaker AIPAC make it easier to vote against Iran sanctions? National Journal's Sara Sorcher and Elahe Izadi: "The 59 senators who signed on to new Iran sanctions know President Obama opposes them-and they did it anyway. On the surface, the vote count-which includes 16 Democrats-looks grim for the White House, which strongly opposes the threat of new sanctions, in favor of diplomacy. But the tally is far from the 100-vote rebuke the Senate handed to the White House on the issue in 2011. The truth is that it is now easier to vote against Iran sanctions than it has been in years past-and to oppose one of the strongest, most influential lobbying groups in the country: the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. For two decades, AIPAC has made pressuring Iran its top issue, driving Democrats today into an uncomfortable position, wedged between an adamant White House and a powerful lobby trying to equate support for sanctions with support for Israel." More here.

Afghanistan is cracking down on pro-U.S. commercials. Reuters' Hamid Shalizi: "The Afghan government, increasingly at odds with Washington, is cracking down on advertisements that promote keeping U.S. troops in Afghanistan after 2014 and has already shut down a spot aired by the country's most widely watched broadcasters. The commercials - some funded by a U.S. organization - have drawn official criticism because they urge President Hamid Karzai to abandon his refusal to sign a security pact with the United States that would enable the troops to stay." Read the rest here.

In search of Plan B: Some western diplomats have concluded Karzai won't sign the security agreement. The WSJ's Margherita Stancati and Yaroslav Trofimov:  "...some of America's allies have begun exploring other ways to keep U.S.-led forces in the country after the coalition's mandate expires in December.

"Some U.S. military officials continue to express hope that the so-called Bilateral Security Agreement will eventually be signed by the Afghan leader. The Obama administration has said the BSA is a precondition for any American military presence here after this year. What hardened some diplomats' conviction that Mr. Karzai wasn't interested in easing tensions with the U.S. and signing the agreement was his reaction to Friday's Taliban massacre of international representatives in a Kabul restaurant. After cursorily expressing his sympathy for the victims, Mr. Karzai used his statement to criticize the U.S. and allied conduct of the war. A senior diplomat to the WSJ re: Karzai's statement: "He lost a lot of respect after that." Read the rest here.

A big veterans bill could restore the COLA issue for military retirees. Military Times' Patty Kime: "The Senate is poised to consider a massive veterans bill that not only would improve education, health and employment benefits for former troops, it would restore the cost-of-living adjustment reduction for military retirees set by the Bipartisan Budget Act. The 352-page Comprehensive Veterans Health and Benefits and Military Retirement Pay Restoration bill, or S. 1950, encompasses many previously proposed legislative initiatives, from requiring public universities to extend in-state tuition to any veteran using their GI Bill benefit to authorizing fertility services for severely wounded service members. But it also takes on the most contentious portion of the budget deal forged by Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., and Sen. Patty Murray, R-Wash.: the reduction of the cost of living adjustment to military retired pay by 1 percent for retirees under age 62... The COLA reduction is expected to save the federal government $6 billion over 10 years. Sanders estimates that his entire bill, including the COLA cut repeal, will cost $30 billion over the next decade." More here.

A new policy will allow troops to seek waivers to wear religious clothing, seek prayer time or engage in religious practices. AP's Lita Baldor: "...Defense officials say the waivers will be decided on a case-by-case basis and will depend on where the service member is stationed and whether the change would affect military readiness or the mission. Until now there has been no consistent policy across the military to allow accommodations for religion. Now, for example, Jewish troops can seek a waiver to wear a yarmulke, or Sikhs can seek waivers to wear a turban and grow a beard. Others can request specific prayer times or ask that they be allowed to carry prayer beads or other items." The short story on this here.