National Security

FP's Situation Report: Lippert to Seoul; Flynn out at DIA; Sexual assaults up across DOD; A Navy midshipman elected president at Yale; Bob Work to get to work; and a bit more.

 

Hagel Chief of Staff Mark Lippert is going to Seoul's Habib House. For months, it was the worst kept secret in the halls of the Pentagon that Lippert would get the nod from the White House to become the top envoy for the U.S. in South Korea. Now it's official, Situation Report has learned, that Lippert, a close confidante of President Obama's, will be nominated in the next day or so and assuming he's confirmed, move into the official residence of the U.S. ambassador in Seoul known as Habib House. Lippert, who is now Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel's chief of staff, is an Asia guru who had also served at the Pentagon as the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Asian and Pacific Security Affairs. Lippert just arrived at Hagel's side in April 2013. Even as head of Hagel's front office, Lippert had double-timed inside the Pentagon as both chief of staff and as a senior Asia policy person. That's because the White House has been unable to get its nominee for Lippert's old job as ASD for Asia, Michael Shear, confirmed, along with a number of other spots.

CSIS' Victor Cha, a former NSC official to Situation Report regarding Lippert: "Lippert is a great choice.  He is one of the most knowledgeable policy people on Asia in this administration and he is well-networked within the White House, [the Defense Department] and State. Every country wants an ambo that can pick up the phone and get the President's attention. Mark can do that."

Harvard Kennedy School's John Park: "South Korean policy elites see Mark Lippert -- who'd be a major political appointee in Habib House  -- as their direct line to both the White House and the Pentagon.  Lippert's close ties to President Obama and Secretary Hagel would bode well for Seoul as the U.S. rebalance to the Asia-Pacific region unfolds amid looming crises emanating from North Korea. It may take a while for the South Korean public to get to know Lippert, however, given that his career advanced so quickly through largely behind-the-scenes senior advisor roles."

But Lippert's departure from Hagel's front office leaves a void and it's yet unclear who will fill it. Short list to replace Lippert: Wendy Anderson, formerly Ash Carter's chief of staff and now serving as a deputy chief of staff for Hagel; Rex Ryu, a former State Department official, or Elissa Slotkin, whose official Defense Department bio, in a sign of how nobody's home at the Pentagon's policy shop at the moment because of confirmation trouble, is titled: "Performing the Duties of the Principal Deputy Under Secretary of Defense for Policy."

Meantime, finally confirmed by a Senate voice vote last night around 6pm: Bob Work, as the Pentagon's No. 2. Work has been working for some time in an unofficial capacity. Acting Deputy Secretary of Defense Christine Fox has been in the position for several months and may remain working in the building for a short time while Work gets to work. Work, a former Marine who served as the Navy's No. 2 before leaving the Pentagon last year to go to the Center for a New American Security, is expected to be sworn in at the Pentagon on Monday.

Mike Flynn, and his deputy, have been pushed out of DIA. The Army three-star, who has run the Defense Intelligence Agency since July 2012, will be leaving this summer about a year prior to what would be considered a normal tour there. His deputy, David Shedd, in that job since 2010, is also leaving. Although Flynn, seen as both an innovative and revolutionary but whose management style was thought to alienate those who didn't share his views, seemed to be pushed out by Director of National Intelligence Jim Clapper and perhaps Under Secretary of Defense for Intelligence Mike Vickers.

FP's Shane Harris: "... When Flynn came to his job in 2012, he was seen as an innovator, and even a gadfly, who would help take the DIA forward as wars wound down in Afghanistan and Iraq and the agency searched for a new mission. But Flynn butted heads with senior Pentagon officials and has been criticized for failing to follow through on some of the plans he set out for the agency, such as focusing more on social and cultural analysis on the battlefield and trying to provide more strategic insights for senior leaders. 'He has been regarded as relatively ineffective in that job,' a former intelligence official said. 'There's a big challenge with the end of two wars, and where does the DIA go now, and he really didn't come to grips with that.'" More here.

Army Lt. Gen. Mary Legere is expected to be a likely successor.

Here is the CNAS essay Flynn wrote in January 2010 that put Flynn on the map, called "Fixing Intel." Many believe it is still relevant today. Read that here.

New subject: The Pentagon will announce today that sexual assault rates across numbers are up. Reuters' David Alexander and Patricia Zengerle: "The Pentagon is expected to announce a 50 percent jump in sexual assault reports on Thursday when it releases its annual study of the problem amid continuing revelations of questionable behavior by military officers responsible for dealing with the issue. The annual study was expected to show a 50 percent jump to about 5,000 reports of sexual assault in the military in the 2013 fiscal year that ended on September 30, congressional aides said, a figure in line with preliminary numbers released by the Pentagon in December.

"By comparison, the Pentagon's Sexual Assault Prevention and Response office said 3,374 cases of sexual assault were reported in the 2012 fiscal year. Sexual assault is a hugely underreported crime, and a separate military survey conducted in 2012 concluded there were some 26,000 sex crimes in the military that year, from rape to abusive sexual contact.

"The survey is conducted every two years, so there will be no survey with the annual report this year to use as a basis for projecting total sex crimes in the services, congressional aides said." More here.

Welcome to Thursday'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.

Who's Where When - Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel hosts an honor cordon today at 1:45 at the Pentagon for Montenegro's Minister of Defense. At 5pm, Vice-Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Sandy Winnefeld delivers remarks at the Heroes of Military Medicine Awards Dinner at the Andrew Mellon auditorium in DC.

Also, tonight, The Truman Project and the Center for National Policy will honor Sen. Dick Durbin with the Edmund S. Muskie Award at the Army Navy Club at 6pm in DC. Then, the organization will announce the establishment of a new board of advisors, to include former Secretaries of State, Defense, and Homeland Security, retired senior military leaders, former and current Members of Congress, and "rising stars" in the national security field, according to the organization. Tomorrow, the organization will hold its annual conference. More deets here.

Meantime, this afternoon, Dr. Richard Haass, president of CFR, will preside over a discussion on Syria with Ryan Crocker, Paul Pillar, and Charles Dunne. CFR events are only open to CFR members and members of the press, but you can watch the live stream, here. 

Ukraine says militants won the East. The NYT's Alison Smale and Andrew Roth on Page One: "It is by now a well-established pattern. Armed, masked men in their 20s to 40s storm a public building of high symbolic value in a city somewhere in eastern Ukraine, evict anyone still there, seize weapons and ammunition, throw up barricades and proclaim themselves the rulers of a 'people's republic.' It is not clear who is in charge or how the militias are organized. Through such tactics, a few thousand pro-Russian militants have seized buildings in about a dozen cities, effectively establishing control over much of an industrial region of about 6.5 million nestled against the Russian border.

"Day by day, in the areas surrounding the cities of Donetsk and Luhansk, pro-Russian forces have defied all efforts by the central government to re-establish its authority, and on Wednesday, Ukraine's acting president conceded what had long been obvious: The government's police and security officials had lost control.

From the Reducing Dependence on Russian Rocket Engine Department: Replacing the Russian rocket engine ain't easy, the Pentagon says. Bloomberg's Tony Capaccio: " The Pentagon has no 'great solution' to reduce its dependence on a Russian-made engine that powers the rocket used to launch U.S. military satellites, the Defense Department's top weapons buyer said. 'We don't have a great solution,' Frank Kendall, the undersecretary of defense for acquisition, said yesterday after testifying before a Senate committee. 'We haven't made any decisions yet.'

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel ordered the Air Force to review its reliance on the rocket engine after tensions over Russia's takeover of Ukraine's Crimea region prompted questions from lawmakers about that long-time supply connection. United Launch Alliance LLC, a partnership of Lockheed Martin Corp. and Boeing Co., uses the Russian-made RD-180 engine on Atlas V rockets. Among the options the Air Force is outlining for Hagel are building versions in the U.S. under an existing license from the Russian maker or depending only on Delta-class rockets that use another engine, Kendall said. The U.S. also could accelerate the certification of new companies to launch satellites that don't use the Russian engine, he said." More here.

Don't forget all about Al-Qaeda - says the State Department. TIME's Noah Rayman: "Al-Qaeda and its affiliates still present a ‘serious threat' to the U.S. despite losses among its core leadership in Pakistan, the State Department said in its annual report on global terrorism. The report said the al-Qaeda terrorist threat "has evolved" and is now dispersed across the Middle East and North Africa, where some operationally autonomous affiliates are growing increasingly aggressive and taking advantage of instability in the region. The groups are also increasingly financially autonomous from the core al-Qaeda leadership, raising their own funds through illegal operations like kidnapping for ransom and credit card fraud... The report also found a ‘resurgence' of activity by the Iranian intelligence and security forces connected primarily to Iran's support for the Assad regime in Syria and for its ally in Lebanon, Hizballah, which is a designated terrorist group that has sent fighters to Syria to back Assad." More here.

Children were the main victims of a strike in Aleppo that activists attribute to a Syrian government jet. The WSJ's Maria Abi-Habib: "A Syrian government fighter jet fired a missile at a school in the northern city of Aleppo that killed 47 people, mainly children, as students were preparing an art exhibition to depict the horrors of Syria's civil war, activists said. Antigovernment activists in Aleppo posted photos showing blood splattered across the school's concrete walls and staining a remnant of the art exhibition: a drawing of soldiers and rebels beheading or shooting children and throwing their corpses in a pit of skeletons. Later footage showed a makeshift morgue, children laid out in brown and blue body bags on a tile floor as women wailed and screamed in the background." More here.

Western intel suspects Assad has a secret chem weapons stockpile. The Daily Beast's Noah Shachtman: "Concerns are growing among Western intelligence services that Syria still has a significant and undeclared arsenal of chemical weapons, including crude chlorine-filled bombs, secret stockpiles of sophisticated nerve gasses or their components-and the scientific know-how to rebuild a larger-scale, higher-grade chemical weapons effort once the Bashar al-Assad regime has escaped the international spotlight... But it's not the only worry. Within the U.S. intelligence community, there's also lingering unease about the Assad regime's biological weapons program that has never been the focus of international inspections and that American officials confess they just don't have the resources to track down." More here.

When Iraqis went to the polls yesterday something was missing from the streets of Baghdad: cars. FP's David Kenner: "... In a sign of Iraq's struggles to tackle rising violence and terrorist attacks, authorities banned all private vehicles from the streets of the capital and other Iraqi cities in an effort to prevent the type of catastrophic car bombings that have killed tens of thousands of Iraqis in recent years. Though that ban appears to have been successful in preventing car bombs, the elections were still marred by violence. As the polls closed, Agence France-Press (AFP) had recorded at least 53 attacks throughout the country -- including mortar attacks, roadside bombs, and suicide bombers -- leaving at least 14 people dead and 36 wounded. It was just the latest sign of how violence is surging to levels not seen since the height of the country's civil war." More here.

New Army regs on tattoos mean folks are rushing for the parlors. The NYT's Kirk Johnson in Lakewood, Washington: "An Army soldier walked into Brass Monkey Tattoo last month and told Dan Brewer, the tattoo artist, to go for it. 'He dropped a thousand bucks,' Mr. Brewer said, standing in the shop here, about five minutes from the gate of Joint Base Lewis-McChord. Ten hours under the needle later, an ex-girlfriend's name from a previous tattoo had been covered up, and a memorial to six buddies lost in the war in Afghanistan had been inked across the soldier's back and ribs. 'It was a good day,' Mr. Brewer said. The military tattoo has a deep history, with reports going back at least to the Roman legions, historians say. Images of adventure or battle - if not a haunting beauty from the frontiers of Gaul - could be captured forever on a bicep. Declarations of unit loyalty or individuality, or both, could be sealed through rituals of ink and pain.

"But now a tightening of the Army's regulations on the wear and appearance of uniforms and insignia - issued on March 31 with a 30-day window of unit-by-unit enforcement - have driven a land rush here and at other Army posts to get 'tatted,' as soldiers call it, while the old rules still applied. About 40,000 active duty and reserve personnel are stationed at Lewis-McChord, about an hour south of Seattle, making it one of the United States military's largest bases." More here.

The search for Flight 370 goes completely underwater.  FP's Dan Lamothe: "The U.S. Navy is pulling its P-8 Poseidon planes away from the hunt for the Malaysia Airlines passenger jet believed to have crashed in the Indian Ocean in March, a clear sign that the Pentagon is dramatically curtailing its role in the flagging effort to find the jetliner. The planes were recalled from Perth, Australia, to Japan along with the USNS Cesar Chavez, a cargo ship that had been assisting in the search, Navy officials said. It comes as the search for the massive Boeing 777 jetliner moves almost exclusively underwater." More here.

A new email shows how the White House sought to shape the narrative after Benghazi. The NYT's Michael Shear: "... The email dated Sept. 14, 2012, from Benjamin J. Rhodes, the deputy national security adviser, to Ms. Rice was obtained by the conservative group Judicial Watch through a Freedom of Information Act request... The email from Mr. Rhodes includes goals for Ms. Rice's appearances on the shows and advice on how to discuss the subject of the protests that were raging in Libya and at other American diplomatic posts in the Middle East.

"Among the goals that Mr. Rhodes identified: 'To underscore that these protests are rooted in an Internet video, and not a broader failure of policy.' In a section called 'Top-lines,' Mr. Rhodes added: 'Since we began to see protests in response to this Internet video, the president has directed the Administration to take a number of steps. His top priority has been the safety and security of all Americans serving abroad.'" More of that story here.

New legislation allows the Pentagon to go after and kill the Benghazi attackers. FP's Dan Lamothe: "In the roughly 19 months since Islamic militants launched deadly attacks on the U.S. diplomatic facilities in Benghazi, Libya, federal investigators have promised to never give up the manhunt to find those responsible for the Sept. 11, 2012, strikes. But the effort has been treated differently than missions targeting extremists in Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen and other countries. U.S. officials say they don't have authorization to kill the attackers in Libya because they are not officially connected to al Qaeda, riling those who want justice for the deaths of U.S. Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three other Americans killed in Benghazi.

"In response, Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., said Wednesday that he will introduce new legislation that would clear the path for U.S. troops to directly target the Benghazi attackers. Doing so would require a change in the Authorization of Use of Military Force legislation that was passed by Congress and signed into law by then-President George W. Bush in the wake of the 9/11 attacks that allowed the president to target 'nations, organizations or persons' that were determined to have had a direct role in the terrorist attacks on Washington and New York or to have harbored those terrorists." More here.

Remember the fight to get ROTC back into schools like Yale?  Vietnam war protests drove the ROTC from Yale University years ago. But then in the fall of 2012, the Naval ROTC returned to the school for the first time since those protests had driven it out. Many worried how the ROTC program would fare at Yale after so long. But a friend to Situation Report sent us what was described as "a pretty good data-point." Last week, a Navy midshipman was elected as Yale's student body president. More here.

An Army nurse who died a hero. The News Tribune's Adam Ashton: "In her last moments of life, Army nurse Capt. Jennifer Moreno heard two orders. One was a call to help a wounded soldier struck by a blast in a booby-trapped killing field at an Afghanistan bomb-making compound. The other was a command to stay put lest she strike another mine in the bomb belt. The nurse from Madigan Army Medical Center chose to help the wounded soldier, and gave her life trying. In the words of her commander, Moreno ran 'into hell' to rescue a comrade on the night she was killed. Newly released narratives of the Oct. 5 battle reveal the kind of hell Moreno and dozens of Army special operators found while trying to disrupt a plot to kill civilians in the city of Kandahar." Read the tale here.

JPMorgan Chase & Co. pledged to invest $20 million over the next five years to support U.S. military veterans and their families, here.

FLOTUS and SLOTUS marked the third anniversary of Joining Forces with a joint op-ed on supporting vets at home. They announced pledges in excess of $150 million from foundations and corporations to help veterans and their families get the services they need in the places where they live as the country adjusts to a post-war footing.  Michelle Obama and Jill Biden for Military Times: "We've all seen those wonderful surprise videos from when one of our troops comes home from a long deployment - the father bear-hugging his family at mid-court at a basketball game or the little boy with tears in his eyes sprinting into his mother's arms at the front of his classroom.

"These scenes make us feel good. They tug at our heartstrings and often move us to tears. And they remind us of the sacrifices our military families are making for our country every single day.

"And for most of us, it's easy to assume that surprise homecoming - that feel-good moment - is the happy ending to the story. But in so many ways, for so many of our troops, veterans and their families, it's really just the beginning.

"After the cameras are turned off, will that father find a job once he leaves the service - a job that allows him to support his family? Will he have the support he needs to deal with any mental or physical challenges that he may face? And what about the families - will that spouse finally be able to pursue his or her own career when the family is transferred across the country again? How are the kids going to adjust to yet another new home, another new school, and another new set of friends?

"These questions come at a pivotal moment for our military families - and for our country. By the end of this year, after 13 long years, our war in Afghanistan will finally be over. More and more of our newest veterans - the 9/11 generation - will be hanging up their uniforms and transitioning to civilian life." More here.

Apropos of nothing: This is just complete awesome sauce if you have a penchant for old cars, quaint towns and surprises, click right here.

An authentic Navy fleet dukes it out with Godzilla. Navy Times' Jeff Schogol: "The filmmakers for "Godzilla" were given access to Navy flattops and other support from the Defense Department to make sure the movie's portrayal of sailors and other U.S. service members was as accurate as possible, said Navy Capt. Russ Coons, of the Navy Office of Information West. ‘The thematics of the storyline are supported by our core values; and so you see in every instance the honor, courage and commitment of DoD men and women as they realize that certain tactics, techniques and procedures don't have an effect on their ability to counter the effects of the monster, so they improvise, adapt and overcome,' Coons told Military Times on Wednesday." More here.

 

National Security

FP's Situation Report: Ukraine is feeling outmatched

Hagel's hotline to the Kremlin; Iraq's election today; Denny Blair debuts; Obama as Captain America; At the Pentagon, if it looks like an alligator… and a bit more.


 

Ukraine is feeling a little helpless. AP this hour: "Ukraine's police and security forces are 'helpless' to quell unrest in two eastern regions bordering Russia, and in some cases are cooperating with pro-Russian gunmen who have seized scores of government buildings and taken people hostage, the country's acting president said Wednesday. Oleksandr Turchynov said the goal now was to prevent the agitation from spreading to other territories.

Turchynov, at a meeting with regional governors: "I will be frank: Today, security forces are unable to quickly take the situation in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions under control... The security bodies ... are unable to carry out their duties of protecting citizens. They are helpless in those matters. Moreover, some of those units are either helping or cooperating with terrorist organizations." More here.

The NYT's Andrew Roth: "... Hours before Mr. Turchynov spoke, pro-Russian gunmen seized government buildings in the city of Horlivka, expanding their control over a swath of territory nominally controlled by new "people's republics" opposed to Kiev. The men seized the city police building and the City Council building early Wednesday morning, according to Igor Dyomin, a spokesman for the police in the Donetsk region. Anti-Kiev protesters seized a regional police headquarters in the city earlier this month." More here.

You can't surge trust, as they say: Hagel has a hotline to the Kremlin during the crisis, but is he getting through? Lubold for FP: When Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel spoke with his Russian counterpart back in December, the Pentagon hailed it as the first-ever video teleconference between U.S. and Russian defense chiefs. Hagel and Russian Minister of Defense Sergey Shoygu talked chemical weapons in Syria and missile defense issues and vowed to stay in close touch. The Pentagon even released pictures of the Skype-like chat. That was long before Russia annexed Crimea, sparking a crisis that has plunged Washington's relationship with Moscow to its lowest point in decades. Today, the relationship that Hagel has begun to forge with his Russian counterpart is one of the few lines of communication that Washington has with Moscow.

In the past, these kinds of so-called "mil-to-mil" dialogues have helped the U.S. smooth over tensions, negotiate deals over things like shipping routes through Pakistan, and avert crises in places like the Asia-Pacific. When it comes to Ukraine, however, the conversations have so far failed to alter the tense dynamics between the two countries.

... The key, though, is for men like Hagel and Shoygu to build a sustainable, long-term relationship -- not one used only as a matter of convenience or during times of crisis.

"As is often said, you cannot surge trust," [Retired Admiral Jim Stavridis] said. "Three cups of tea is only the beginning." More here.

Hey, if it walks like an alligator: Pentagon Pressec Rear Adm. John Kirby, at a Pentagon briefing yesterday, describing the call between Hagel and Shoygu: "I think minister -- I think it's safe to say that Minister Shoygu held a different view about -- about who those individuals are and who they're working for.

Reporter at briefing: "Well, he disputed the characterization?"

Kirby: "I think he held a different view than -- than what -- than what we do, but -- but, look, I mean, I grew up in Florida. If it looks like an alligator, it's an alligator." Full transcript here.

Welcome to Wednesday'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.

At the Pentagon today, Who's Where When - Chuck Hagel hosts an honor cordon for Egypt's Minister of Foreign Affairs, Navil Fahmy, at 10:45 this morning at the Pentagon; then Hagel delivers remarks and receives the Atlantic Council Distinguished Leadership Award at 9pm at the Ritz downtown; Under Secretary Frank Kendall to testify before the SASC at 9:30 AM; Army Secretary John McHugh, Army Chief of Staff Gen. Raymond Odierno, National Guard Bureau Army Chief Gen. Frank Grass, Army Reserve Chief Lt. Gen. Jeffrey W. Talley and Acting Army National Guard Director Maj. Gen. Judd Lyons testify before the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense at 10:00 AM; AF Chief of Staff Gen. Mark A. Welsh III presents the Prisoner of War Medal to the internees of the Wauwilermoos Camp, Switzerland in the Pentagon Auditorium at 10:00 AM.

Also today, the Sasakawa Peace Foundation USA's big Washington event kicks off at the J.W. Marriott in DC this morning. Pentagon Chief of Staff Mark Lippert, State's Danny Russell and Chip Gregson, Richard Samuels, David Sanger, Patrick Cronin, Michael Schiffer and a number of other heavy hitters will appear on various panels throughout the day. Then around lunchtime, Denny Blair, the new incoming chairman for SPFUSA, will deliver the keynote. And Susan Glasser (formerly our boss and now editor of Politico mag) will moderate.

Afghanistan's corruption is fostered by the U.S., a Pentagon report finds. Bloomberg's Tony Capaccio with an exclusive: "The U.S. government 'created an environment that fostered corruption' in Afghanistan by supporting warlords, relying on private trucking contracts and providing billions of dollars in aid, according to a previously undisclosed Pentagon report. 'Corruption directly threatens the viability and legitimacy of the Afghan state" after a "large-scale culture of impunity" took hold, analysts for the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff said in a 65-page assessment obtained by Bloomberg News. American forces dependent on Afghanistan-based trucking companies found themselves 'trapped in a warlord protection racket,' according to the report dated Feb. 28." More here.

SIGAR releases a report: a bust and an extortion ring highlights how corruption remains Afghanistan's worst issue. US News & World Report's Paul Shinkman: "... Corruption of this and many other flavors continues to plague Afghanistan after more than 13 years of war: Half of Afghan citizens paid a bribe while asking for a public service in 2012, according to U.N. figures. The problem also has eaten away at the Afghan government's income, contributing to the country's potential inability to fund as much as two-thirds of its $7.5 billion budget in 2014." Read the rest here.

Congressional pushback on resuming some aid to Egypt. FP's John Hudson: "The Obama administration's plan to move forward with $650 million in military aid to Egypt hit a new snag on Tuesday as a key Democrat announced his opposition to the move in light of the mass death sentences handed out by Egyptian judges this week after what were widely derided as show trials. During an address on the Senate floor, Senator Patrick Leahy, the chairman of the Senate subcommittee that controls foreign aid, said he would block additional aid to Cairo due to its continued human rights abuses."

Leahy: "I'm not prepared to sign off on the delivery of additional aid for the Egyptian military... I'm not prepared to do that until we see convincing evidence the government is committed to the rule of law." More here.

At the Pentagon, (budget) dreams really can come true. The WaPo's Christian Davenport on Page One: "...As Congress begins to wade through the Pentagon's budget this week, deciding what stays and what goes, lawmakers will face a temptation that it has not seen in the past few years: robust wish lists, loaded with all sorts of shiny, new things they supposedly cannot afford to buy.

Former defense secretary Robert Gates had all but banned the lists, which allow the services to bypass the secretary's office and go directly to Congress. But now, in an election year, they are back - resurrected by a member of Congress - stark reminders of how even in an era of tightened budgets, defense spending exerts a powerful pull.

"Critics say dangling page upon page of ships, aircraft and training programs before Congress can act as a gateway to the kind of out-of-control spending that lawmakers have vowed to curtail. If the items were such a priority - or a "requirement," as they are sometimes called - then they would have been funded in the first place, they say." More here.

Hagel considers cornrows as a policy issue but takes "very seriously" concerns that military rules on hairstyles unfairly target black women. The NYT's Helene Cooper: "...Responding to a complaint lodged by the 16 women of the Congressional Black Caucus, Mr. Hagel said he had given the secretaries and military leaders of the Army, Air Force, Navy and Marines three months to review comprehensive military regulations as they pertain to black women 'to ensure standards are fair and respectful of our diverse force.'... Black women have said that a lack of understanding about the roots of black hair is part of the reason for the Army regulations, which went into effect at the end of March. While black hair comes in all textures, much of it is very curly, making it difficult, unless chemically straightened, to pull into a bun or to let hang loose in a neat, uniform way." More here.

Secretary of State John Kerry wasn't the only one who used the A-word when it comes to Israel: Mattis said it, too. Mattis said at the Aspen Security conference last July that the United States is paying a military and security price "every day" because of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, warning that the continued construction of settlements is liable to turn Israel into an apartheid state.

And in an interview on CNN at the time, Mattis praised Secretary of State John Kerry's efforts to solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but he also said this: "I would tell you that the current situation is unsustainable," Mattis said, adding, "It's got to be directly addressed. We have got to find a way to make the two-state solution that Democrat and Republican administrations have supported. We've got to get there, and the chances for it are starting to ebb because of the settlements, and where they're at. [They] are going to make it impossible to maintain the two-state option."

Mattis discussed the dangers to Israel's future and mentioned the settlements as an example"If I'm in Jerusalem and I put 500 Jewish settlers out here to the east and there's 10,000 Arab settlers in here, if we draw the border to include them, either it ceases to be a Jewish state or you say the Arabs don't get to vote - apartheid," he warned. "That didn't work too well the last time I saw that practiced in a country. So we've got to work on this with a sense of urgency."

Read CNN's piece on how Kerry won't be the last to use the word, here.

Iraq votes today in the first national elections since U.S. troops withdrew. Iraq's Maliki's critics say he has seized control of state TV, other agencies, and is using them to win a third term. The WSJ's Matt Bradley in Baghdad: "Osama Al Nujaifi, Iraq's speaker of the parliament, stood in front of television cameras last month to deliver a blistering tirade against his political nemesis, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. But before Mr. Nujaifi could begin, the cameras for Al Iraqiyya, the state-run television network and the only one allowed to show parliamentary proceedings, panned away. Mr. Nujaifi was left speaking to a small group of allied lawmakers instead of a national audience.

"Among the political levers that Mr. Maliki controls ahead of parliamentary elections on Wednesday, few are more crucial than Iraqiyya, which American officials set up after Saddam Hussein's 2003 downfall and modeled after the U.K.'s BBC.

"The broadcaster is among more than a half-dozen other once-independent institutions that Mr. Maliki has come to dominate and is now using to catapult himself to a third term, say his political opponents, critics and analysts." More here.

BUT, the NYT's Tim Arango and Michael Gordon report today: "... A strategy of showing toughness may win votes among Mr. Maliki's Shiite constituency, but as Iraqis vote on Wednesday in the first national elections since the withdrawal of American forces, it is far from certain that he will be able to win over enough others to lock down another term." More here.

A coordinated bomb attack kills 24 people in Baghdad ahead of elections. From the AP: "Back-to-back bombs ripped through an outdoor market northeast of Baghdad on Tuesday, the deadliest in separate attacks that officials said killed 24 people on the eve of the first nationwide elections since the 2011 withdrawal of U.S. forces." More here.

More than ever, Americans want to withdraw from the world. The WSJ's Janet Hook: "Americans in large numbers want the U.S. to reduce its role in world affairs even as a showdown with Russia over Ukraine preoccupies Washington, a Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll finds. In a marked change from past decades, nearly half of those surveyed want the U.S. to be less active on the global stage, with fewer than one-fifth calling for more active engagement-an anti-interventionist current that sweeps across party lines... The poll showed that approval of President Barack Obama's handling of foreign policy sank to the lowest level of his presidency, with 38% approving, at a time when his overall job performance drew better marks than in recent months." More here.

The secretive U.S. commando mission in the Philippines is getting an overhaul. FP's Dan Lamothe: "President Obama's new agreement with the Philippines will give U.S. troops greater access to military bases across the Pacific island nation. But it's not the only major military transition underway there: Just as more conventional U.S. forces are likely to flow through the Philippines, the United States is pulling back on its long-running and secretive special operations mission there, reducing the number of commandos and altering the focus for those who remain... The U.S. forces' primary mission wasn't to fight, but the American commandos have still found themselves in bloody situations on occasion. At least 17 U.S. troops have died there, including 10 in a helicopter crash in 2002, one in a restaurant bombing in 2002, and two in a roadside bombing attack in 2009." More here.

How the CIA's vaccination ruse in the hunt for OBL made health workers combatants Pakistan's war with the Taliban. Kristina Shevory from Karachi for FP: "...Ever since the CIA used a vaccination campaign as cover in its hunt for Osama Bin Laden, real medical professionals have found themselves in the crosshairs in Pakistan. The Taliban have banned immunizations and accused those attempting to deliver medical services in the tribal areas of being Western spies. As a result, medical workers armed with polio vaccines have become inadvertent fighters against the Taliban and other militants as they try to rid the country of a virus that paralyzes and often kills young children. Pakistan has never been free of polio, a disease eliminated in the United States more than 30 years ago, and zealots have vowed to make its eradication impossible through a targeted campaign of shootings, kidnappings, and roadside ambushes." More here.

It was heroin that killed the two former SEALs aboard the Maersk Alabama.  From the AP: "Seychelles police say a mixture of heroin and alcohol caused the deaths of two former U.S. Navy SEALs. A police statement Tuesday quoted by the government-funded Seychelles News Agency said toxicology analysis found no poison in the men's blood. The police said previously the men died of respiratory failure and were suspected to have had heart attacks. The two Americans - Mark Daniel Kennedy, 43, and Jeffrey Keith Reynolds, 44 - were security contractors providing anti-piracy services for the Virginia Beach, Virginia-based maritime security firm The Trident Group. The two were found dead Feb. 18 aboard the Maersk Alabama, a ship famous because Somali pirates hijacked it in 2009. Navy SEALs shot and killed three pirates to free the ship in an incident depicted in a movie starring Tom Hanks." More here.

Extra, extra: Read all about the Houbara Bustard: the war-on-terror chicken. FP's own Dana Stuster: "The houbara bustard -- a gawky, turkey-sized bird with spindly legs, a long, thick neck, and a goofy mating ritual -- would be a mostly unremarkable species, except for one thing: It is the prey of choice for Arab falconers, who have hunted the bird to the brink of extinction in the Persian Gulf. And over the past 20 years, it has become a recurring character in a strange geopolitical drama featuring wealthy Arab sheikhs, the CIA, and Osama bin Laden." More here.

Reading Pincus: When the government goes after the government. The WaPo's Walter Pincus: "For a government worker, nothing concentrates the mind quicker - or makes you at first angry and later perhaps more cautious - than the prospect that you might go to jail for doing your job. It's a reminder from the conflict between the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence and the CIA over the panel's more-than 6,300-page report on the CIA's coercive interrogations during the administration of President George W. Bush. They included waterboarding and other torture-like methods. From 2008 through 2012, CIA officers and contractors faced a criminal investigation by a Justice Department special prosecutor for their roles in what now is considered torturous interrogations, as well as the 2005 destruction of 92 video recordings of some of those activities." More here.

In pop culture, and at Marvel, Obama has become Captain America. The NYT's Michael Shear in a story under the Page One headline, "The Rise of the Drone Master: Pop Culture Recasts Obama." Shear: "In Marvel's latest popcorn thriller, Captain America battles Hydra, a malevolent organization that has infiltrated the highest levels of the United States government. There are missile attacks, screeching car chases, enormous explosions, evil assassins, data-mining supercomputers and giant killer drones ready to obliterate millions of people. Its inspiration? President Obama, the optimistic candidate of hope and change.

"Five and a half years into his presidency, Mr. Obama has had a powerful impact on the nation's popular culture. But what many screenwriters, novelists and visual artists have seized on is not an inspirational story of the first black president. Instead they have found more compelling story lines in the bleaker, morally fraught parts of Mr. Obama's legacy.

"'We were trying to find a bridge to the same sort of questions that Barack Obama has to address,' said Joe Russo, who with his brother, Anthony, directed 'Captain America: The Winter Soldier.' 'If you're saying with a drone strike, we can eradicate an enemy of the state, what if you say with 100 drone strikes, we can eradicate 100? With 1,000, we can eradicate 1,000? At what point do you stop?'" More here.

And there's this: wait for Marine PFC Merica to get seek his commission and become a "Captain Merica," here. (h/t to someone on FB who we can't remember.)