Situation Report

FP's Situation Report: As a rescue mission looks "unlikely," a decision for Obama; Will the Kurds Take K Street?; Former DARPA chief didn't do the right thing; Why standards matter when careers end; Operation Name that Op continues; and a bit more.

By Gordon Lubold

Chuck Hagel says the assessment the U.S. military did on Mount Sinjar shows things aren't as bad as feared and a rescue mission is now "unlikely." After weeks of speculation that as many as 40,000 Iraqi civilians, including minority Yazidis, were starving and thirsty and children were dying, a U.S. recon team dropped onto the mountain yesterday and reported back. And in just that one day, their assessment, that there were far fewer stranded Iraqis, the ones there were in relatively good shape - meant the dramatic rescue mission that seemed to be under consideration probably wouldn't happen.

That assessment is a big deal because it will force a bigger decision by Obama. The trapped civilians had animated the administration and had really been the motivating factor behind this past week's military operations - both humanitarian and airstrike. Indeed, for a president who wanted to get out and stay out of Iraq, the humanitarian operations had been a political fig leaf. And that had helped to lure a growing list of international partners to join the U.S. But now that the assessment concludes there's far much less to worry about on that mountain, the President confronts a much bigger decision - what to do about the brutal advance of the Islamic State, which a senior officer at the Pentagon said this week in no way had been broken by the recent series of airstrikes.

Indeed, the militant threat gets a modest response. The WaPo's Greg Jaffe and Greg Miller: Senior U.S. officials describe the threat posed by the Islamic State in chilling terms, but have mounted a decidedly modest military campaign to check its advance through northern Iraq.

"The radical Islamist organization has attracted more fighters, controls more territory, and has access to a larger stream of money than al-Qaeda did before the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, according to U.S. officials and terrorism experts. Its refusal to rein in its brand of rampant violence accounts in part for its break from the better-known terrorist group.

"...So far, though, the Obama administration's response to the group's blitzkrieg through northern Iraq has been defined primarily by the limits it has placed on the U.S. military's intervention." More here.

The NYT trumpeted the significance of the assessment with the Page One headline, "Pentagon Says Militants' Siege in Iraq is Over," suggesting the administration had reached perhaps a broader policy conclusion than others might see. The WaPo had this Page Oner: "N. Iraq rescue mission less likely - shaping of strategy to beat back Islamic State continues," and the WSJ, which had trumpeted on Page One the day before the notion of an emergency rescue operation put inside the paper: "U.S. Says Refugee Rescue Unlikely."

Meantime, Obama's pledge to have no boots on the ground increasingly becomes one of semantics. FP's Lubold: "President Barack Obama has pledged repeatedly not to put "combat boots on the ground" in Iraq. But a growing air campaign, combined with an increasingly dire need to address the situation atop Mount Sinjar, means it will be increasingly difficult for him to keep his promise.

"As the United States expands its air campaign in northern Iraq -- which included a new round of strikes Wednesday -- the Pentagon will almost certainly need to deploy American "spotters" to help guide precision munitions to their targets. Those forces would operate in areas close to IS positions, leaving them potentially vulnerable to attack.

"James Dubik, a retired Army three-star general who commanded U.S. forces in Mosul, said it's hard to square the administration's words when it comes to defining the U.S. mission there without accepting that U.S. forces are in combat. "Pretty narrow splitting of hairs," he said in an email." More here.

AP this morning: Iraqi security forces, militants, clash west of Baghdad, here.

Welcome to Thursday's edition of Situation Report. If you'd like to be one of our subscribers, we'd love to have you. Sign up for Situation Report by sending 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, you, send it to us early for maximum tease. And the more shovel-ready, the better. And hey! Follow us: @glubold and @njsobe4.

CNAS' Richard Fontaine and Michele Flournoy look at U.S. forpol in the National Interest under the headline: "America: Beware the Siren Song of Disengagement," here.

And CSIS' Clark Murdock, Kath Hicks, Thomas Karako, Sam Brannen, Ryan Crotty and John Schaus look at "the next level questions on Iraq", here.

Today at 12:15 at the New America Foundation, an event on "What is Happening in Iraq." Event deets here.

Also today, at the Heritage Foundation at 2pm, another event on "An Assessment of Obama's Strategy," here.

Meantime, the Kurds are masters of influence. Will they take K Street this time around? FP's Kate Brannen, citing the Sunday show appearance this past weekend of Gen. Jim Jones and former U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Zalmay Khalilzad: "...To those who follow the issue closely, Jones and Khalilzad's TV appearance was a sign of the Kurds' sophisticated and well-funded influence machine in Washington kicking into high gear. Both Jones and Khalilzad are longtime supporters of Iraqi Kurdistan who have also been involved in business dealings with the region.

"With the Islamic State advancing and embattled Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki locked in a political showdown with his rivals, advocates for the Kurds are pushing for greater autonomy from Baghdad, as well as for larger amounts of direct U.S. military support for the Kurdish Peshmerga forces struggling to hold the line against militants from the Islamic State."

"To spread their message in Washington, Kurdish leaders have long maintained relationships with members of the media, the think tank and academic communities, politicians on Capitol Hill, and officials in and out of government. For the last several years, the Kurds have also retained a slew of lobbying firms, including Patton Boggs, to work on their behalf. The Kurdish Regional Government, which runs the Kurds' proto-state in northern Iraq, spends at least $1 million a year on these efforts, according to documents filed with the Justice Department." Read the rest here.

Bedfellows: Iranians and the U.S. aid Kurdish fighters, by the WSJ's Nour Malas and Joe Parkinson, here.

Brett McGurk is Washington's man in Baghdad. The WSJ's Jay Solmon and Matt Bradley: "...As the administration's point-man on Iraq, the 41-year-old diplomat has been leading the U.S. pivot on Mr. Maliki and facing down the challenges the Obama administration has in helping stabilize a country in political turmoil and fighting a growing threat from the militants calling themselves the Islamic State. Mr. McGurk, despite his midlevel title of deputy assistant secretary of state, has played a central role in crafting U.S. policy in Iraq for a decade. He is now serving as the White House's leading interlocutor to build ties with Mr. Maliki's successor and forge a unified front in battling Islamic State militants." More here.

Operation Name that Op! continues. The U.S. military mission in Iraq, which includes more than a thousand U.S. personnel, dozens of airstrikes and, to date, thousands of gallons of water and bundles of food, still doesn't have a name, even though the military almost always names even the most ridiculous operations even when they are tiny in scope. The lack of a name isn't just a frivolous observation. The fact that Obama's Pentagon hasn't named it seems to reflect Obama's reluctance at conducting humanitarian and airstrike operations in the first place; the military's non-branding campaign when it comes to this keeps it generic, diminishes its significance in the hopes it will all go away.

Still, there is some fun to be had out there. SitRep readers played with the idea of naming the operation, and the world renowned "Doctrine Man" started a contest - an "Order of the Blue Falcon" coin goes to the winner. And there may already be an un/official winner in Doctrine Man's contest - Operation Caliph-fornication - but we're still checking for full confirmation. There are a ton of nominations on Doctrine Man's Facebook page here.

Here's a history of naming military operations provided to Situation Report from the Pentagon, here.

Here's a sample of the many received in Situation Report's inbox yesterday or overheard about the Pentagon: Operation Enduring Clusterfuck; Operation Ruined Vacation; Operation ISIL (Incremental Sort of Intervention, Ltd.); Operation Provide Comfort 2; Operation Here We Go Again; Operation Doubtfire; Operation NoRedline; Operation Mountaintop; Operation Yaz; Operation CrISIS; Operation Desert Redemption; Operation SinJar; Operation Save the Catholics; Operation Whitesnake (Here I Go Again); Operation Third Time's the Charm;  Operation Hey, Isn't that my Humvee?; Operation Cold Comfort; Operation Reluctant Thunder; Operation Again? Really? That last one had this note: "Sorry it's snarky but somewhere post-WW II we forgot both why we should fight wars and how to do it properly and that frustrates me to no end."

Read Kristina Wong's post on The Hill blog, in which the Pentagon's Col. Steve Warren argues for crowdsourcing the name, here.

The DOD Inspector General finds that the former DARPA chief violated Pentagon ethics rules when she discussed products with defense officials made by the company she founded. FP's Nicole Duran: "...The Defense Department's Office of Inspector General concluded that Regina Dugan, the former head of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), essentially promoted her former defense contracting company to Pentagon colleagues in violation of the department's ethics code while leading the agency, according to the report, which was dated April 9, 2013, but not released until Wednesday." More here.

Israel tries to spin success from the war in Gaza, by Defense News' Barbara Opall-Rome, in Tel Aviv, here.

Obama stifled Hillary's Syria plans for years, The Daily Beast's Josh Rogin reports, here.

The burial service for Maj. Gen. Harold Greene is at Arlington this afternoon.

Yesterday, Greene was remembered by Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno and others at a memorial service. Military Times' Michelle Tan: "...A standing room-only crowd gathered in the Pentagon auditorium for the memorial ceremony, which was marked with tears but also laughter as Greene was remembered for his sharp wit, his love of the Boston Red Sox and his outsized personality.

"...Greene often walked the offices and hallways where he worked, and he knew everyone by name, said [Greene's Chief of Staff Col. Ken Rodgers], who first met Greene in 1996 and has worked with him five times since then. 'If he made eye contact with someone, he'd talk to them,' Rodgers said. Rodgers did not go with Greene on the Aug. 5 visit to The Marshal Fahim National Defense University in Kabul. When news of the attack, which also left 15 troops wounded, got back to the headquarters, Rodgers said he was in shock." More here. 

Michael Isikoff about the (count 'em) six soldiers who are shopping around a Bowe Bergdahl book and movie proposal. Isikoff: "...A draft of their book proposal, a copy of which was obtained by Yahoo News, depicts Bergdahl as a 'premeditated' deserter who 'put all of our lives in danger' - and possibly aided the Taliban - when he disappeared from his observation post in eastern Afghanistan in the early morning hours of June 30, 2009." For Yahoo News, here.

More remembrances of Robin Williams: The NYT's Thom Shanker wrote yesterday about how Williams opposed the war but supported the troops - a key distinction that average Americans grapple with all the time. Read Shanker's post at The Times' At War blog, here.

Remember the letter FP's Tom Ricks published from a Major Slider about how he was unceremoniously asked to leave the Army? Well we heard from a friend to Situation Report after we ran Tom's piece who said Slider's letter made his blood boil. Yesterday, Tom ran a letter that reader wrote in response to Slider's bit under the headline: "A Marine Officer Who Also Had a Career Stopper Responds To Major Slider's Letter." Former Marine officer Lloyd Freeman: "...I am a Marine officer and I too received a 'black mark' earlier in my career due to my failure to uphold the high moral code of the Corps. I knew my mistake would mean I would not be assigned to select posts nor could I expect to be selected to command, and I wasn't. However, unlike Major Slider, I felt remorse only for the mistake I made and I harbored no ill will towards the Marine Corps, whose high standards I had failed to live up to."

"...Like Major Slider, I failed my service, but unlike Major Slider, I don't expect my service to compromise its standards because I could not live up to them." Read Freeman's letter to Tom, reposted on Best Defense by permission, as well as Major Slider's original post, here.

 

Situation Report

FP's Situation Report: Support for Maliki crumbles; Pentagon sends 130 more troops into Iraq; Building a coalition of the willing; Is Putin's convoy a Trojan Horse?; Williams was a true friend to the troops; and a bit more.

By Gordon Lubold

Support for Maliki is crumbling and that may open the door for broader coalition support for an effort to counter the Islamic State in Iraq - and for greater U.S. intervention. Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, ensconced inside Baghdad's Green Zone, is watching as his Iranian backers, political leaders and even his own military are backing away. Maliki appears to have no choice but to go, but in the coming days the question will become how he'll do it, under what terms and how ugly it will be.

FP's Yochi Dreazen on Maliki's diminishing support: "Washington and Tehran don't see eye to eye on many things, but they paved the way for Nouri al-Maliki to become Iraq's prime minister eight years ago and have helped him keep the job ever since. With Iran now joining the United States in calling for Maliki's departure, the embattled Iraqi leader faces a historic choice: peacefully hand the reins to a successor or buck his closest allies and use force to stay in power.

"Maliki was an accidental prime minister from the start, with both Washington and Tehran seeing him, in essence, as the best out of an uninspiring field of Shiite candidates for Iraq's top job. Once in office, Maliki skillfully satisfied both of his patrons, impressing many in the United States by using his military to crush one of Iraq's most powerful anti-government militias while simultaneously building goodwill in Iran by consolidating power in Shiite hands at the expense of the country's Sunni and Kurdish minorities." More here.

Maliki won't go easily. AP this hour: [Maliki] said Wednesday he will not relinquish power until a federal court rules on what he called a 'constitutional violation' by the president to replace him with a member of his own party. The embattled premier has grown increasingly isolated, with Iraqi politicians and much of the international community lining up behind Haider al-Abadi, a fellow member of his Shiite Dawa party tasked by the president with forming a new government that can unite the country in the face of an onslaught by Sunni militants.

Maliki in his weekly televised address to the nation: "Holding on (to the premiership) is an ethical and patriotic duty to defend the rights of voters...The insistence on this until the end is to protect the state." More here.

Late yesterday, the Pentagon announced that it was sending an additional 130 troops into Iraq. Amid a continuing series of humanitarian airdrops for the Iraqis stuck atop Mount Sinjar, the U.S. is contemplating a rescue mission for those civilians, which number in the tens of thousands. That prompted the Defense Department to announce that it had sent an additional 130 military personnel - including Marines and U.S. Special Forces - to "assess the scope of the humanitarian mission" and essentially plan such an operation.

From a defense official: "These forces will not be engaged in a combat role.  They will work closely with representatives from the U.S. Department of State and USAID to coordinate plans with international partners and non-government organizations committed to helping the Yazidi people."

The WSJ's Dion Nissenbaum: "The proposal is still under development and hasn't been approved by [Obama.] U.S. officials said the rescue mission is one of many options the U.S. military is weighing after dropping food and water to dying refugees over the past six days. 'People are looking at ways to do something more than just drop water and supplies,' one senior U.S. official said. 'You can only do that for so long.'" More on that Page Oner here.

And although President Barack Obama has pledged no "boots on the ground," sending these forces into Iraq to do such planning could put them in direct contact with fighters from the Islamic State, or IS.

The number of U.S. troops in Iraq is now nearing 1,000 if not more. Before yesterday's announcement of the additional troops, there were more than 800 known military personnel inside Iraq, with additional forces and other personnel the U.S. hasn't acknowledged publicly. Now, there are about 1,000 troops on the books.

Meantime, the U.S. is scrambling to build a coalition of the willing. FP's Lubold, John Hudson and David Francis: "In his multiple press briefings since authorizing airstrikes against Sunni militants in Iraq, President Barack Obama has yet to make a vocal public case for allies to join the fight. But as the White House sets the stage for a drawn-out campaign against the Islamic State in northern Iraq, the president is quietly asking the leaders of other nations to stand with him.

"...In the debate in Britain, Cameron took fire from members of his own Conservative Party for his reluctance to intervene. "It's immoral that the only thing we are doing is dropping food and water and leaving these people in the firing line of slaughter," said Conservative MP Conor Burns on Monday.

The German and French governments have expressed support for U.S. airstrikes as the only way to stop IS and open humanitarian corridors for the Yazidi community trapped on Mount Sinjar. So far, neither government has committed to direct, lethal assistance for the effort. On Tuesday, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius called on members of the European Union to return from vacation to discuss arming the Kurds.

Jim Stavridis, the former Supreme Allied Commander, Europe when an international coalition was assembled for airstrikes in Libya in 2011 and now dean of the Fletcher School at Tufts, to Situation Report: "NATO should recognize that the overflow of two or three different civil wars in Syria and Iraq should ultimately mean violent extremists coming back to Europe, and that means a threat to the alliance...As much as we don't want to be involved in this, we have a job to do here." Read our bit about how the U.S. is building a coalition of the willing here.

Welcome to Wednesday's tardy edition of Situation Report, where we had a few more problems in the cockpit - the $%&$ computer wouldn't turn on, seriously! Apologies for the lateness this morning. If you'd like to be one of our subscribers, we'd love to have you. Sign up for Situation Report by sending 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, you, send it to us early for maximum tease. And the more shovel-ready, the better. And hey! Follow us: @glubold and @njsobe4.

Name that op! Yesterday we noted that the current U.S. military airstrike mission over northern Iraq did not have a name - which is odd since the military loves to name its missions. Over the transom, we have begun to hear from folks who want to name it.

Not sure how excited anyone will be about this, but of course we'll accept other noms at gordon.lubold@foreignpolicy.com. This is not meant to be some kind of jingoistic endeavor, by the way, but we find it remarkable that the military hasn't come up with anything as of yet.  A name will undoubtedly come shortly, we're sure, but again - to name something is to define it, and the Obama administration isn't quite there yet. In the meanwhile, this one from reader Brian Brunner:  "Operation ByeSIS." Another from CrazyCrazyLarry, "Operation Dessert Bombing," which we assume is a play on words in some way.

Good point! We used odd wording to introduce a headline yesterday for a Bloomberg piece about the number of sorties flying over Iraq: "The U.S. is almost flying 100 sorties over Iraq each day, Bloomberg's Tony Capaccio reports." That prompted one reader to rightly write: "Enjoy reading your reports, but in all my years on the military, I never almost flew on a mission. :)"

Awkward: HRC calls Obama to clarify her comments. USA Today's David Jackson: "Hillary Rodham Clinton called President Obama on Tuesday to try and clear the air over some foreign policy criticism the former secretary of State made in a recent magazine article, aides said. 'Secretary Clinton was proud to serve with President Obama,' said Clinton spokesman Nick Merrill. 'She was proud to be his partner in the project of restoring American leadership and advancing America's interests and values in a fast changing world.'" More here.

Is Putin's convoy into Ukraine a Trojan horse? Hard to say. Here's Michael Weiss for FP: "A convoy of 280 Russian Kamaz military vehicles -- all painted a nice, soothing white, absent any license plates, and brandishing flags of the Red Cross -- are en route from the Moscow suburbs to a relatively peaceful border crossing just north of Kharkiv, Ukraine. If the Russian state-controlled media is to be believed, they are collectively transporting around 2,000 tons of baby food, grain, bottled water, sleeping bags, sugar, and medicine to a war-ravaged nation next door.

"Of course, if you believe the Russian media, eastern Ukraine's desperate state of affairs has nothing to do with the fact that for the last several months Moscow has underwritten, encouraged, and armed disparate factions of pro-Russian separatists -- many of them Russian nationals, intelligence agents, and even soldiers posting to Instagram photos of themselves driving Russian anti-aircraft missile systems." Read the rest of his story here.

Ukraine says Russian convoy won't be let in, Reuters this hour, here.

Public interest groups are calling for John Brennan's head over at CIA. FP's Andrew Weiner: "A coalition of public service groups released a letter Tuesday calling for the resignation of CIA Director John Brennan in the ongoing fallout of revelations that the Central Intelligence Agency snooped on Senate staffers working on a report on President George W. Bush-era interrogation practices. The letter to President Barack Obama was signed by 20 groups, including the Sunlight Foundation, Public Citizen, and the Project on Government Oversight. The groups' call for Brennan to step down echoes Congressional calls that came in late July from Colorado Sen. Mark Udall and New Mexico Sen. Martin Heinrich, both Democrats." More here.

Palestinians are mulling the Egyptian proposal for a Gaza truce. AP's Mohammed Daraghmeh in Cairo: "...Since the truce went into effect Sunday, Israel has halted military operations in the coastal territory and Gaza militants have stopped firing rockets. The cease-fire was meant to give the two sides time to negotiate a more sustainable truce and a roadmap for the coastal territory. A member of the Palestinian delegation to Egyptian-brokered talks in Cairo said Wednesday that his team was considering an Egyptian proposal, which was tabled on Tuesday. Egyptian mediators have been were ferrying between the Palestinians and their Israeli counterparts in an attempt overcome the differences between the sides." More here.

Hagel changes the hair policy for military personnel. Military Times' Andrew Tilghman: "Dreadlocks, cornrows, twisted braids and other hairstyles popular among African American women will be more accepted across the military after a forcewide review of hairstyle policies prompted several changes, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said. The three-month review came after a spate of complaints that service-level grooming policies were racially biased against black women who choose to wear their hair naturally curly rather than use heat or chemicals to straighten it." More here.

There are some folks who think the Obama administration is cutting too deep when it comes to nukes. A new report published by the Belfer Center of Harvard's Kennedy School is out called "Cutting Too Deep: The Obama Administration's Proposals for Nuclear Security Spending Reductions," by Matthew Bunn, Nickolas Roth and William Tobey, here. The NYT piece by them on their bit, here.

There's been a leadership shake-up at United Launch Alliance. Defense News' Aaron Mehta: " The United Launch Alliance has a new leader for the first time in its nine-year history. Michael Gass, who has led the company as president and CEO since its founding in 2006, will be stepping down, the company announced Tuesday. His replacement is Tory Bruno, most recently vice president and general manager of Strategic and Missile Defense Systems at Lockheed Martin. Bruno's appointment is effective immediately, although a company announcement notes Gass will "work collaboratively to ensure a smooth leadership transition and continued commitment to mission success" through the end of the year." More here.

Adrian Cronauer, the inspiration for the main character in Good Morning Vietnam, remembers Robin Williams. Military Times' Jeff Schogol: "...Cronauer, who left the Air Force as a sergeant in 1966, said he has no issues with Williams' performance in the movie. 'It was never intended to be a point-by point accurate biography,' he told Military Times on Tuesday. 'It was intended to be a piece of entertainment, and it certainly was that. It was nominated for an Academy Award and you don't get much better than that.' In an interview on Tuesday, Cronauer reflected on his memories of the late actor and the movie that made Williams a bona fide movie star." Click here for the Q&A with Schogol and Cronauer, who inspired the character Williams played.

How Williams was a "true friend" to the troops, travelling to 13 countries as part of six USO tours: Frank Thorpe of the USO: "It's an understatement to say he's the Bob Hope of our generation." Read the WSJ bit, here.

Williams fought demons for years but always showed up for work on time and never missed a line; the NYT, here.