Situation Report

FP's Situation Report: Obama gets defensive on his use of Defense


By Gordon Lubold with Nathaniel Sobel

Obama wraps up his trip and defends his controversial foreign policy. The NYT's Mark Landler, from Manila, on Page One: "President Obama, stung by criticism of his response to turmoil from Eastern Europe to the Middle East, defended his approach to foreign policy as a slow but steady pursuit of American interests while avoiding military conflict, and he lashed out at those he said reflexively call for the use of force... Mr. Obama said on Monday that his critics had failed to learn the lessons of the Iraq war. On a day in which he announced new sanctions against Russia for its continued threats to Ukraine, Mr. Obama said his foreign policy was based on a workmanlike tending to American priorities that might lack the high drama of a wartime presidency but also avoided ruinous mistakes."

Obama at a news conference: "You hit singles, you hit doubles; every once in a while we may be able to hit a home run... But we steadily advance the interests of the American people and our partnership with folks around the world."

"Mr. Obama's statement, delivered at the end of a weeklong trip to Asia, was a rare insight into a second-term president already sizing up his legacy as a statesman. By turns angry and rueful, his words suggested the distance he had traveled from the confident young leader who accepted a Nobel Peace Prize with a speech about the occasional necessity of war.

"While he flatly rejected the Republican portrait of him as feckless in the face of crises like Syria, Mr. Obama seemed to be wrestling with a more nuanced critique, that aside from one or two swings for the fences - the nuclear negotiations with Iran, for example - his foreign policy had become a game of small ball."

Obama: "Why is it that everybody is so eager to use military force... after we've just gone through a decade of war at enormous cost to our troops and to our budget. And what is it exactly that these critics think would have been accomplished?"

The president did not name his critics, except to refer to them as foreign policy commentators "in an office in Washington or New York." He also referred to the Sunday morning talk shows, where Senator John McCain of Arizona, a fierce Obama critic, is a ubiquitous guest.

Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes: "If we took all of the actions that our critics have demanded, we'd lose count of the number of military conflicts that America would be engaged in."

The NYT's Landler: "Mr. Obama challenged those who say the United States must take some kind of military action in Syria... The same dialogue occurs with Russia and Ukraine. Nobody is seriously advocating sending American troops, he said, but some want to arm the Ukrainians.

Obama: "Do people actually think that somehow us sending some additional arms into Ukraine could potentially deter the Russian Army?... Or are we more likely to deter them by applying the sort of international pressure, diplomatic pressure and economic pressure that we're applying?" Read the rest of the story here.

Welcome to Tuesday's edition of Situation Report. If you'd like to sign up to receive Situation Report, send us a note at gordon.lubold@foreignpolicy.com and we'll just stick you on. 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. Follow us: @glubold and @njsobe4.

Want a cheap way past FP's paywall? Good news then. Today, Foreign Policy is running a one-day "flash sale" that offers a chance to try a whole month of FP for less a dolla!  Get it while supplies last! Seriously, folks, here you go, click here for a deal. 

The Pentagon's Chief Information Officer Teri Takai is leaving the Pentagon this Friday. Takai sent out a note to colleagues and staff just within the last day or so announcing her departure, and the Pentagon had no comment on her leaving. Washington Business Journal's Jill Aitoro: "Details are still emerging about the departure, though a spokesman for the Department of Defense said no acting CIO has been named. Takai was named CIO for DOD in 2010, and also held the title of acting assistant secretary of defense for networks and information integration until the Pentagon rolled those responsibilities officially into the CIO position in January 2012. She previously served as CIO for the state of California." More here.

Read this for an exclusive interview with the secret Fed cyber security unit keeping trillions of dollars safe from hackers. FP's Shane Harris: "If the U.S. central banking system is ever hit with a crippling cyber attack, a group of roughly 100 government employees working in a three-story fortress-like building next door to a Buick dealership in East Rutherford, N.J., will be among the first to know about it. That's where, almost entirely out of sight, a team from the Federal Reserve System's crack cyber security unit is constantly on watch for malicious hackers, criminals, and spies trying to breach the computer networks of the Fed, its regional banks, and some of the most critical financial infrastructure in America. The National Incident Response Team, or NIRT, as the group is called (pronounced "nert") tries to prevent intruders from breaking into Fed computer networks and money transfer systems used by thousands of banks across the U.S every day." More here.

A White House blog post offers a rare window into the decision-making process on disclosing cyber vulnerabilities, here.

At the Pentagon today, Who's Where When - ­­Hagel hosts Estonia's Minister of Defense at 11:15 and the Czech Republic's Minister of Defense at 3pm; AF Secretary Debbie James and Chief of Staff Mark Welsh appear before the SASC at 9:30 this morning; Navy Secretary Ray Mabus hosts a "global all hands call" at Fort Meade, also at 9:30.

"The Future Army," featuring U.S. General David G. Perkins at CSIS with Maren Leed at 1:30 today. Deets here.

The Atlantic Council's two-day conference "Toward a Europe Whole and Free" is fully booked, but watch Kerry at 1:30 PM today and Biden at 12:15 PM tomorrow, here.

Hagel spoke with his Russian counterpart last night, and was told that Russia isn't invading. From the AP: "The Pentagon says Russia's defense chief has assured Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel that Russia will not invade Ukraine. Hagel spoke by phone Monday with his Russian counterpart, and afterward Hagel's press secretary, Navy Rear Adm. John Kirby, issued a statement saying the two men had discussed the crisis in Ukraine. Kirby said Hagel requested clarification of Russia's intentions in eastern Ukraine, and the Russian defense minister, Sergei Shoygu, reassured Hagel that Russian forces will not invade." More here.

Sanctions against Russia don't threaten the energy sector. FP's Keith Johnson: "With the latest slate of sanctions on high-profile Russians Monday, the Obama administration argues that it is ratcheting up the pressure on Vladimir Putin and inflicting significant pain on the Russian economy. But the new sanctions stop short of hitting the key energy firms that are the backbone of Russia's economy -- and that are the most vulnerable to sanctions pressure from the West." Read the rest here.

Ukrainian opposition leader Vitali Klitschko on what his country really needs from the West and why Putin's politics just don't make sense. Full interview on FP, here.

Where have all the Taliban gone? The NYT's Azam Ahmed in Kabul: "Even as Afghanistan's unfolding presidential election has captured the capital's attention, two related questions have become increasingly urgent among security officials here: Where have the Taliban gone, and what are they waiting for?

"In the weeks before the voting on April 5, the insurgents threatened mayhem and delivered, largely paralyzing Kabul in a rain of attacks. But the Taliban failed to deliver any attacks in Kabul on Election Day, and since then they have been mostly quiet, at least in the large cities where attacks garner the most publicity.
"...Members of the Taliban reached by telephone, however, reject the idea that the group was thwarted in its goals. Some of the commanders said they were under specific orders not to attack civilians during the election, in part because such violence would probably do more to damage their public image than to disrupt the election.

"‘The reason we did not stage major attacks across the country was that we wanted to avoid civilian casualties,' said one Taliban commander in Kunar Province. ‘Mass casualties could harm our cause and would have been against our principles and claims.'" More here.

The mystery of how Afghanistan's "torturer in chief" now lives in a pink house in Southern California. Greg Miller, Julie Tate and Joshua Partlow on Page One: "In Afghanistan, his presence was enough to cause prisoners to tremble. Hundreds in his organization's custody were beaten, shocked with electrical currents or subjected to other abuses documented in human rights reports. Some allegedly disappeared. And then Haji Gulalai disappeared as well...

"Today, Gulalai lives in a pink two-story house in Southern California, on a street of stucco homes on the outskirts of Los Angeles. How he managed to land in the United States remains murky. Afghan officials and former Gulalai colleagues said that his U.S. connections - and mounting concern about his safety - account for his extraordinary accommodation." More here.

A bright spot on the horizon for an Afghan airline: Afghanistan's Ariana Airlines just posted the highest quarterly results in # of passengers, revenues and on-time performance since it began in 1955. From an Ariana Airlines press release: "...Comparing the first quarter operational results for 2014 to the same period last year, the figures note a 16 percent increase in revenues and a dramatic 29 percent jump in ticketed passengers.  During the same period, AAA improved on-time performance, fleet performance, maintenance schedules and overall passenger miles."

Ariana Afghan Airlines Chairman and Afghanistan's deputy minister of Finance Mohammad Mustafa Mastoor: "In early 2013, with assistance from the U.S. Department of Defense's Task Force for Business and Stability Operations (TFBSO), the airline management implemented a top-to-bottom business plan review of operations, customer service, maintenance, flight services, ground handling, fleet oversight and finance... The results speak for themselves and I am proud to report that Ariana Afghan Airlines is on the way to greater increases and better service for our customers for years to come."

Justice's National Security Division is led by John Carlin, whose focus is stopping terrorism. A profile here by the WaPo's Sari Horwitz.

The Navy puts in a $18 billion order for 10 new nuke-powered subs. Defense News' Christopher Cavas: "The Navy announced a record $17.645 billion contract Monday to build 10 new SSN 774 Virginia-class nuclear-powered attack submarines. The order assures prime contractor General Dynamics Electric Boat and chief subcontractor Huntington Ingalls Newport News Shipbuilding of submarine orders through 2018. The fixed-price incentive multiyear contract for 10 Block IV subs provides for two ships per year over the five-year period, each yard delivering one sub per year." More here.

How Reps. Mac Thornberry and Rick Larsen's views on defense show the difference between Republican and Dems on a number of national security issues, by Defense News' John Bennett, here.

Randy Forbes says the Army has an opportunity in Asia. Virginia Republican Randy Forbes for the National Interest: "In the May 1954 issue of the U.S. Naval Institute's Proceedings magazine, Dr. Samuel Huntington, a young scholar slated to make his mark as one of the most influential political scientists of the next half-century, penned an eloquent and direct challenge to the military services. Huntington observed that when there are major changes in the principal threats to a nation, these changes ‘must be met by shifts in national policy and corresponding changes in service strategic concepts.'... In other words, each military service isn't guaranteed a ‘fair-share' of the budget indefinitely, but a level of resourcing commensurate with the strategic contribution it can make toward the security of our nation." Read more here.

Buck McKeon: No ENLIST act in the NDAA. Politico's Seung Min Kim: "House Armed Services Committee Chairman Buck McKeon on Monday signaled his toughest opposition yet to including a provision allowing young undocumented immigrants to serve in the military into a must-pass defense policy bill. His chief concern: Including a provision involving immigration in the National Defense Authorization Act would complicate the process for passing the sweeping legislation, which is done every year. ‘I'm in favor of a discussion of that policy, but not on putting it on our defense bill,' McKeon said during an interview with conservative radio show host Laura Ingraham on Monday. ‘I don't think that's where it belongs.'" More here.

A new ICG report examines the situation in Fallujah and the prospects for compromise after the upcoming parliamentary election. ICG in an email to Situation Report yesterday: The report "essentially argues that the Baghdad government was motivated chiefly by political considerations in its military response to protests in Fallujah, and that Fallujah's acceptance of jihadist help in repelling Iraqi forces must be unwound. The aftermath of this week's elections could be the opportunity for beginning to forge a sustainable positive relationship between Fallujah and Baghdad, and enable both the get out of the current violent cycle." Check out the full report here.

Militants in Iraq target early voting stations, killing nearly 50 people. From the AP: "Militants on Monday targeted polling stations across much of Iraq and a crowd of Kurds jubilantly dancing on the street as soldiers and security forces cast ballots two days ahead of parliamentary elections, officials said. The attacks, including a suicide bombing northeast of Baghdad, left at least 46 people dead. The wave of attacks was an apparent attempt to derail the balloting process and discourage the rest of the country's 22 million registered voters from going to the polls on Wednesday in the first nationwide elections since the 2011 withdrawal of U.S. forces. The early balloting for police and soldiers is meant to free up the 1 million-strong military and security forces so they can protect polling stations and voters on election day." More here.

Assad is really running for president. The WSJ's Sam Dagher in Homs: "President Bashar al-Assad declared Monday that he will run for a third seven-year term in a June 3 vote, an announcement his supporters in this embattled city celebrated while opponents warned was a blow to peace hopes.
"The widely expected formal announcement reflected Mr. Assad's confidence after his regime scored battlefield gains against rebels in recent months, even as he faces international condemnation over a conflict that has killed more than 150,000 people in three years.
"‘The candidacy of his Excellency President Bashar al-Assad for the presidency of the republic is a message to external powers: The war in Syria has only increased his popularity and hasn't affected him one bit,' said a statement by the ruling Baath Party. The party staged rallies here in the central city of Homs, in the capital Damascus, and other parts of the country to cheer the president. As word got out in Homs, hundreds of his supporters celebrated on the campus of the main university.
"...But Khaled Abu Salah, an opposition activist from the Baba Amr neighborhood of Homs, saw the announcement as an end to any chance for peace in Syria. Mr. Abu Salah said in a Facebook message from Turkey that Mr. Assad's candidacy ‘blows up any political solution that could save Syria.'" More here.

World War I in photosPart one of a ten-part series by the Atlantic's Alan Taylor: "...On this 100-year anniversary, I've gathered photographs of the Great War from dozens of collections, some digitized for the first time, to try to tell the story of the conflict, those caught up in it, and how much it affected the world." See the first 45 photos here.


 

National Security

FP's Situation Report: The sanctions are coming, the sanctions are coming

Military muscle flexing in Asia; Hagel's approval rating low; Crash in Afg probably an accident; Assad to seek a third term; In China, the Big Ban Theory; and a bit more.

By Gordon Lubold with Nathaniel Sobel

U.S. beefs up military options for China as Obama reassures allies in Asia.  The WSJ's Adam Entous and Julian E. Barnes on Page One this morning: "The U.S. military has prepared options for a muscular response to any future Chinese provocations in the South and East China seas, ranging from displays of B-2 bomber flights near China to aircraft-carrier exercises near its coastal waters, officials said.
"The menu of options, described by officials briefed on the action plan, reflects concerns that U.S. allies in Asia have questions about the Obama administration's commitments to its security obligations, particularly after Russia's seizure of the Crimean peninsula.
"The security question has closely followed President Barack Obama in recent days during his four-country Asian trip.
Washington's closest allies in Asia have told American counterparts that Crimea is seen as a possible litmus test of what Washington will do if China attempted a similar power grab in the South China and East China seas, according to current and former U.S. officials.
"‘They're concerned. But it's not only about Crimea. It's a crescendo that's been building,' a senior U.S. defense official said, citing skepticism in Asia that Washington is prepared to back up its word and carry through on its renewed strategic focus on Asia.
"Just before Mr. Obama landed in the Philippines on Monday, U.S. and Philippine officials finalized an agreement allowing for the return of U.S. forces, more than two decades after Philippine opposition forced Washington to abandon its military network there.
"Similarly, Mr. Obama in a visit to Japan stood side-by-side Thursday with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and called the U.S. treaty commitments to Japan's security ‘absolute.'" More here.

The rebalancing to Asia is real and the president isn't there right now to salvage a phantom policy. CNAS' Ely Ratner: "Former Vice President Al Gore told a crowd at the University of Hawaii on April 15 that using fake science to mislead the public on climate change is ‘immoral, unethical, and despicable.' Currently on a weeklong trip to Asia, President Barack Obama can probably sympathize, as he faces a cadre of skeptics committed to the idea that one of his leading foreign policy priorities -- the pivot to Asia -- is somehow an illusion. After a decade of war in the Middle East and South Asia, Obama and his national security team launched a comprehensive set of initiatives in the fall of 2011 to afford greater attention and resources to Asia. The official moniker has since evolved into the ‘rebalancing' to Asia, but its contents haven't changed much. And its achievements are considerable." More here.

An American seeks asylum in North Korea. Reuters' Victoria Cavaliere: "A 24-year-old American man detained in North Korea had arranged a private tour of the country through a U.S. travel company and gave no indication he might try to seek asylum upon arriving in Pyongyang, the company's director said Sunday. Matthew Todd Miller was taken into custody by North Korean officials after entering the country on April 10, ripping up his tourist visa and demanding asylum, according to North Korea's state-run KCNA news agency. Miller's travel to North Korea was arranged by New Jersey-based Uri Tours, which specializes in guided trips through the isolated Communist country, and he gave no indication he might be seeking asylum." More here.

Welcome to Monday's edition of Situation Report. If you'd like to sign up to receive Situation Report, send us a note at gordon.lubold@foreignpolicy.com and we'll just stick you on. 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. Follow us: @glubold and @njsobe4.

A new Defense News poll shows low approval ratings for Hagel. Defense News' Zachary Fryer-Biggs: "More leaders in government, industry and academia disapprove of US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel's job performance - 44.9 percent - than approve - 36.2 percent, according to a new Defense News Thought-Leader Poll. While Hagel received strong support from self-identified Democrats with 82.6 percent approving, a combination of Republican disapproval at 62.4 percent and those working in industry disapproving at 50.9 percent pushed Hagel into negative territory. Those in the military gave Hagel positive marks at 44/36 percent approval/disapproval, and Defense Department civilians were evenly split at 38.2 percent." More here.

Who's where when? Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno is recognizing four civilians for their support of the Army at a special Army "Twilight Tattoo" presentation with the Outstanding Civilian Service Award, the third highest public service honor the Army can bestow, to Mike Duke of Wal-Mart, Roger Goodell of the National Football League, Cheryl Jensen of the Vail Veterans Program and Barbara Van Dahlen of the Give an Hour Program. Tonight at 6pm at Whipple Field at Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall in Va.

Hey, send us your who's where whens. Your boss doing something tomorrow? Send us the deets and we'll highlight them. Not hard, and maybe he or she will give you an award someday.

The sanctions are coming, the sanctions are coming. The NYT's Mark Landler and Peter Baker: "President Obama, declaring that Russia was continuing to bully and threaten Ukraine, said here on Monday that the United States would impose additional sanctions on Russian individuals and entities, as well as freezing some exports of military technology. The announcement, during a visit by Mr. Obama to the Philippines, was widely expected. Last week, the president said that the sanctions were "teed up" and were being delayed only by technical issues and the need to coordinate with the European Union. The fact that the announcement was made on the last stop of Mr. Obama's weeklong Asian trip underscored the sense of urgency about fears that Russia was destabilizing eastern Ukraine." More here.

Should the U.S. go harder on sanctions than European allies? The question the NYT's Peter Baker and C.J. Chivers attempt to answer: "As President Obama and his national security team struggle to increase pressure on Russia over its intervention in Ukraine, they have become entangled in a tense debate over how much emphasis to put on unity with European allies more reluctant to take stronger economic actions against Moscow. So far, Mr. Obama has opted to stick close to the Europeans to maintain an undivided front, even at the expense of more punishing sanctions and quicker responses to Kremlin provocations. But some inside and outside the administration argue that the United States should act unilaterally if necessary, on the assumption that the Europeans will ultimately follow.

"...The sanctions to be announced as early as Monday would single out more people close to President Vladimir V. Putin as well as certain companies. Among them are likely to be Igor Sechin, president of the state-owned Rosneft oil company, and Aleksei Miller, head of the state-owned energy giant Gazprom, American officials said.

"The measures will also block certain high-technology exports to the Russian defense industry, officials added, without elaborating. But while some of Mr. Obama's advisers want him to impose sanctions against whole sectors of the Russian economy, the president has decided against it for now, cognizant of the resistance of European nations that have far more at stake economically, officials said." More here.

A memo from a Putin aide to Putin: Hey boss, a little help here? For FP,  Jim Stavridis takes on the Ukrainian crisis, from the perspective of a bemused advisor in the Kremlin.  Stavridis goes through the consequences of the Crimean adventure in Europe and the West, Central Asia, China, India, the Artic, Africa and Latin America, and asks: "Having burned our bridges to the West with Europe (well done, of course, and the prizes of Crimea, South Ossetia, and Abkhazia are clearly worth it), where shall we focus ourselves as we create the New Russia of the 21st century?" Read the full memo here.

This morning at Brookings, the release of a new report on nukes from the Arms Control Association and Brookings provided to Situation Report early: U.S.-Russian-German Commission Calls for Deeper Nuclear Cuts, Practical Steps for Enhancing Euro-Atlantic and International Security. ACA: "The commission's report finds that ‘even after implementation of the New START treaty, the United States and the Russian Federation will possess nuclear arsenals that far exceed reasonable deterrence requirements, with hundreds of nuclear arms assigned to targets in each other's territory and available for prompt launch.' The report, calls on the two sides to ‘initiate talks on a New START follow-on agreement mandating significant and stabilizing nuclear cuts' to no more than 1,000 deployed strategic warheads and 500 deployed strategic delivery vehicles for each side. The United States currently deploys 1,585 strategic warheads and 788 strategic delivery systems; Russia deploys 1,512 strategic warheads on 498 strategic delivery systems." Full report here. Deets for the event at Brookings this morning at 10am, here.

Also this morning, the future of Marine aviation with Brig. Gen. Matthew Glavy at CSIS. Deets here.

Priorities shift within the defense industry as firms report mixed earnings amid a shrinking Pentagon budget. Amrita Jayakumar in the WaPo: "Washington defense firms Lockheed Martin, General Dynamics and Northrop Grumman last week released their first earnings reports of the year. The results were largely mixed. All three posted higher profits, but sales plummeted in the combat and information systems segments as the government's defense budget continued to shrink. Company executives had warned that 2014 would bring budget challenges and political wrangling." The roundup of what to expect this year and "how contractors are adjusting their priorities," here.

The GAO report slams the Pentagon for wasting millions on ammunition. USA Today's Tom Vanden Brook: "The Pentagon plans to destroy more than $1 billion worth of ammunition although some of those bullets and missiles could still be used by troops, according to the Pentagon and congressional sources. It's impossible to know what portion of the arsenal slated for destruction - valued at $1.2 billion by the Pentagon - remains viable because the Defense Department's inventory systems can't share data effectively, according to a Government Accountability Office report obtained by USA Today. The result: potential waste of unknown value." More here.

The Iranians are going to blow it up after all. The AP's story: "An Iranian newspaper is reporting that the country's military plans to target a mock-up American aircraft carrier during upcoming war games. The Sunday report by independent Haft-e Sobh daily quotes Adm. Ali Fadavi, navy chief of the powerful Revolutionary Guards as saying Iranian forces should ‘target the carrier in the trainings, after it is completed.' Adm. Fadavi said: ‘We should learn about weaknesses and strengths of our enemy.' This is the first reaction by Iranian officials to a March report that said Iran is building a simple replica of the USS Nimitz in a shipyard in the southern port of Bandar Abbas. Iranian officials did not comment then but state TV said it would be used in a movie." More here.

Turns out, paintball can be therapeutic for vets. Mary Ann Ford for the Bloomington Pantagraph: While Chris Aguayo was serving in the U.S. Army, he witnessed his best friend burn to death in a Humvee. ‘It took its toll on me,' he said. ‘I had survivor's guilt. I went into a huge depression.' In an effort to cope, he requested a change in military bases. It was there that one of his buddies suggested he start playing paintball. ‘It was my first taste of playing paintball with a group,' he said. It happened only months before he was deployed to Afghanistan - his second tour of duty. He previously went to Iraq. ‘It was a big help for me,' he said. ‘It jump-started my idea to put together my own team. I wanted to take that and give back to other active members and vets.' Now Aguayo, 29, a freshman at Illinois State University, has organized a military-structured Task Force Legion that has paintball teams across 10 states, including the Charlie Company in Illinois." More here.

Sunday's Page One: Afghan presidential vote signals a turn. The NYT's Rod Nordland and Azam Ahmed in Kabul: "Abdullah Abdullah, a longtime opponent of President Hamid Karzai and an ardent supporter of the United States, emerged Saturday as the clear front-runner in Afghanistan's presidential election.
"In preliminary results released Saturday, Mr. Abdullah had won 45 percent of the vote, not enough to avoid a runoff with Ashraf Ghani, a former World Bank economist and Karzai adviser, who had won 32 percent. But Afghan government officials say Mr. Abdullah is on the verge of forging alliances with at least two of the runners-up to gain their support, and possibly the presidency, in the next round.
"Either of the top two candidates would represent a significant break with the years of deteriorating relations the United States has had with Afghanistan under Mr. Karzai, and a shift toward greater bilateral cooperation. Each candidate has said, for instance, that he would sign a security agreement allowing American forces to remain in the country past 2014, which Mr. Karzai negotiated but refused to sign.
"But the United States and its NATO allies were likely to see the apparent advantage for Mr. Abdullah, with his long record of advocating closer relations with the United States and a more militant stance against the Taliban, as encouraging, although they have been careful not to express support for any candidate in the race.
"...Mr. Karzai, who is stepping down after 12 years in power, has been studiously neutral throughout the campaign and has maintained silence on the issue since the April 5 election. Officials in the presidential palace have said he is deeply worried about Mr. Abdullah's apparent success." More here.

The UK's William Hague says deaths in Lynx aircraft in southern Afghanistan were likely a tragic accident. Peter Walker and Catherine James for the Guardian in Kabul: "The British government has rejected claims that the Taliban shot down a helicopter which crashed in southern Afghanistan, killing five British military personnel, saying the deaths appeared to have been a tragic accident. The local Afghan governor said no insurgents were near the site at the time. Those killed were named on Sunday night as Captain Thomas Clarke, Warrant Officer Spencer Faulkner, Corporal James Walters, all of the Army Air Corps (AAC). They lost their lives with Flight Lieutenant Rakesh Chauhan of the Royal Air Force and Lance Corporal Oliver Thomas of the Intelligence Corps. The crash of the Lynx aircraft in Kandahar province on Saturday was the third greatest single loss of life among British troops since the conflict in Afghanistan began in 2001." More here.

In Iraq, a fledgling Army that is outmatched on the battlefield. The WSJ's Matt Bradley and Ali Nabhan on Page One: "Even as an al Qaeda-linked militant group celebrated a major victory in Western Iraq last month, militants from the same jihadist group launched another operation clear across the country. In coordinated predawn attacks, gunmen blew up two bridges in a village outside the eastern town of Qara Tepe. They detonated a fuel tanker at a police base close to nearby Injana, shot 12 soldiers and incinerated their bodies. By afternoon, militants had attacked four other police and army checkpoints. Instead of bolstering their ranks, some police and military checkpoints simply packed up and left. Lacking protection, hundreds of villagers fled their homes for larger towns...

"More than two years after the last U.S. troops left Iraq, as the country prepares for its first post-occupation parliamentary elections on Wednesday, its demoralized, underequipped military is losing the fight against Islamist militants, who are better armed, better trained, and better motivated, according to Iraqi and American generals, politicians and analysts.

Says Aziz Latif, a farmer who fled an Iraqi village after it was attacked March 21: "The security forces are weak, and they are putting the responsibility for their weakness on us... They are not professional." Read the rest of the Journal story here.

Assad seeks re-election for a third term in Syria. Reuters this hour: "Syrian President Bashar al-Assad declared on Monday he will run for re-election in a vote on June 3 which is widely expected to secure him a third term in office despite a three-year civil war stemming from protests against his rule. Parliament Speaker Mohammad al-Laham made the announcement during a televised session of Syria's parliament." More here.

Syrian rebels who received the first U.S. missiles of the war see the shipment as ‘an important first step.' The WaPo's Liz Sly from Syria on Page One: "Under the leadership of a young, battle-hardened rebel commander, the men entrusted with the first American missiles to be delivered to the Syrian war are engaged in an ambitious effort to forge a new, professional army.
"Abdullah Awda, 28, says he and his recently formed Harakat Hazm - or Movement of Steadfastness - were chosen to receive the weapons because of their moderate views and, just as important, their discipline. At the group's base, sprawled across rocky, forested wilderness in the northern province of Idlib, soldiers wear uniforms, get medical checkups and sleep in bunk beds under matching blankets.
"The scene is a far cry from the increasingly pervasive view of a chaotic, ragtag rebel movement that has fallen under the sway of Islamist extremists. Such concerns have long deterred the Obama administration from arming the Syrian opposition.
"But the arrival at the base last month of U.S.-made TOW antitank missiles, the first advanced American weaponry to be dispatched to Syria since the conflict began, has reignited long-abandoned hopes among the rebels that the Obama administration is preparing to soften its resistance to the provision of significant military aid and, perhaps, help move the battlefield equation back in their favor." More here.

The Chinese ban a bunch of American TV. Time's Chengcheng Jiang, in Beijing: "You could call it the Big Ban Theory. Chinese fans of American TV series are up in arms after discovering that some of their favorite shows have been yanked from the country's most popular streaming websites without explanation. On Saturday, The Big Bang Theory, The Good Wife, NCIS and The Practice all disappeared from sites like Sohu TV, iQiyi and Youku." More here.