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History > 2012 > USA > Pentagon (I)



Lionized for Lightning Victory

in ’91 Gulf War


December 27, 2012

The New York Times



Gen. H. Norman Schwarzkopf, who commanded the American-led forces that crushed Iraq in the 1991 Persian Gulf war and became the nation’s most acclaimed military hero since the midcentury exploits of Generals Dwight D. Eisenhower and Douglas MacArthur, died on Thursday in Tampa, Fla. He was 78.

The general, who retired soon after the gulf war and lived in Tampa, died of complications arising from a recent bout of pneumonia, said his sister Ruth Barenbaum. In 1993, he was found to have prostate cancer, for which he was successfully treated.

In Operation Desert Storm, General Schwarzkopf orchestrated one of the most lopsided victories in modern warfare, a six-week blitzkrieg by a broad coalition of forces with overwhelming air superiority that liberated tiny Kuwait from Iraqi occupation, routed Saddam Hussein’s Republican Guard and virtually destroyed Iraq’s infrastructure, all with relatively light allied losses.

Winning the lightning war was never in doubt and in no way comparable to the traumas of World War II and the Korean conflict, which made Eisenhower and MacArthur into national heroes and presidential timber. But a divisive Vietnam conflict and the cold war had produced no such heroes, and the little-known General Schwarzkopf was wreathed in laurels as the victor in a popular war against a brutal dictator.

A combat-tested, highly decorated career officer who had held many commands, served two battlefield tours in Vietnam and coordinated American landing forces in the 1983 invasion of Grenada, he came home to a tumultuous welcome, including a glittering ticker-tape parade up Broadway in the footsteps of Lindbergh, MacArthur and the moon-landing Apollo astronauts.

“Stormin’ Norman,” as headlines proclaimed him, was lionized by millions of euphoric Americans who, until weeks earlier, had never heard of him. President George Bush, whose popularity soared with the war, gave him the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Congress gave him standing ovations. Queen Elizabeth II made him an honorary knight. European and Asian nations conferred lavish honors.

In his desert fatigues, he was interviewed on television, featured on magazine covers and feted at celebrations in Tampa, Washington and other cities. He led the Pegasus Parade at the Kentucky Derby in Louisville and was the superstar at the Indianapolis 500. Florida Republicans urged him to run for the United States Senate.

Amid speculation about his future, a movement to draft him for president arose. He insisted he had no presidential aspirations, but Time magazine quoted him as saying he someday “might be able to find a sense of self-fulfillment serving my country in the political arena,” and he told Barbara Walters on the ABC News program “20/20” that he would not rule out a White House run.

Within weeks, the four-star general had become a media and marketing phenomenon. Three months after the war, he signed a $5 million contract with Bantam Books for the world rights to his memoirs, “It Doesn’t Take a Hero,” written with Peter Petre and published in 1992. Herbert Mitgang, reviewing the book for The New York Times, called it a serviceable first draft of history. “General Schwarzkopf,” he wrote, “comes across as a strong professional soldier, a Patton with a conscience.”

All but drowned out in the surge of approbation, critics noted that the general’s enormous air, sea and land forces had overwhelmed a country with a gross national product equivalent to North Dakota’s, and that while Iraq’s bridges, dams and power plants had been all but obliterated and tens of thousands of its troops killed (compared with a few hundred allied casualties), Saddam Hussein had been left in power.

Postwar books, news reports and documentaries — a flood of information the general had restricted during the war — showed that most of Iraq’s elite Republican Guard, whose destruction had been a goal of war planners, had escaped from an ill-coordinated Marine and Army assault, and had not been pursued because of President Bush’s decision to halt the ground war after 100 hours.

“The Generals’ War: The Inside Story of the Conflict in the Gulf” (1995), by Michael R. Gordon of The New York Times and the retired general Bernard E. Trainor, portrayed a White House rushed into ending the war prematurely by unrealistic fears of being criticized for killing too many Iraqis and by ignorance of events on the ground. It cast General Schwarzkopf as a second-rate commander who took credit for allied successes, blamed others for his mistakes and shouted at, but did not effectively control, his field commanders as the Republican Guard slipped away.

He was depicted more sympathetically in other books, including “In the Eye of the Storm” (1991), by Roger Cohen and Claudio Gatti. “His swift triumph over Iraq in the 1991 gulf war came as a shock to a nation that had been battered, by failing industries and festering economic problems, into a sense that the century of its power was at an end,” they wrote. “Schwarzkopf appeared abruptly as an intensely human messenger of hope, however illusory or fragile.”

Old official photographs show a medaled military mannequin, a 6-foot-3-inch 240-pounder with grim determined eyes. But they miss the gentler man who listened to Pavarotti, Willie Nelson and Bob Dylan; who loved hunting, fishing and ballet; and, like any soldier, called home twice a week from the war zone.

Herbert Norman Schwarzkopf Jr. was born on Aug. 22, 1934, in Trenton, one of three children of the man whose name he shared and the former Ruth Bowman. At 18, he dropped the Jr. and his first name but kept the initial. His father, New Jersey’s first state police superintendent, investigated the 1932 Lindbergh kidnapping; he was also a West Point graduate, fought in World Wars I and II, became a major general and trained Iran’s national police in the 1940s.

As a boy, General Schwarzkopf attended Bordentown Military Institute near Trenton. But from 1946 to 1950 he lived in Iran, Switzerland, Germany and Italy with his father. Fluent in French and German at 17, he enrolled at Valley Forge Military Academy in Wayne, Pa., played football and was a champion debater.

At West Point, he was on the football and wrestling teams and sang in the choir. He loved history and dreamed of leading men in battle. “He saw himself as Alexander the Great,” recalled Gen. Leroy Suddath, his old roommate, “and we didn’t laugh when he said it.” In 1956, he graduated 43rd in a class of 480.

After infantry and airborne training at Fort Benning, Ga., he served two years with airborne units in America and Europe, took a two-year assignment in Berlin and a career-officer course at Fort Benning, then earned a master’s in guided-missile engineering in 1964 from the University of Southern California.

Captain Schwarzkopf went to Vietnam as an adviser to a South Vietnamese airborne division in 1965 and once withstood a 10-day enemy siege. He returned a major in 1966, taught at West Point for two years, and as a lieutenant colonel attended the Command and General Staff College at Fort Leavenworth, Kan.

In 1968 he married Brenda Holsinger. They had three children: Cynthia, Jessica and Christian.

A battalion commander in his second Vietnam tour, in 1969-70, he was wounded twice and won three Silver Stars for bravery. Men in his command were killed in two 1970 actions that deeply affected him.

On Feb. 18, an artillery shell aimed at the enemy roared over a hill where one of his companies was dug in. It hit a treetop and exploded, killing Sgt. Michael E. Mullen. Form letters sent over the colonel’s name seemed to implicate him, and the sergeant’s parents held him partly responsible as they crusaded to expose military callousness. The case became an antiwar cause célèbre and tarnished the colonel’s record, perhaps unjustly. A 1976 book, “Friendly Fire,” by C. D. B. Bryan, called the death accidental, but a 1995 memoir by the sergeant’s mother, “Unfriendly Fire,” blamed the military.

On May 28, the colonel ordered his helicopter down to rescue troops who had wandered into a minefield. Some were airlifted out, but he stayed behind with his troops. A soldier tripped a mine, shattering his leg and wounding the colonel, who crawled atop the thrashing victim to stop him from setting off more mines. Three other troopers were killed by an exploding mine, but the colonel led the survivors to safety. The episode sealed his reputation as a commander willing to risk his life for his men.

He came home dismayed at the Army’s leadership and convinced that the peace movement and the news media were prolonging the war. One of his sisters, Ms. Barenbaum, had become a peace activist, and for years they did not speak. He later concluded that politicians had lost the war, and the failure, at a cost of 58,000 American lives, left him devastated. For a time, he considered resigning his commission.

His decision to stay in the service came at a military nadir for America. As historians have noted, the Army during and after Vietnam fell into decay — a conscript force rife with racial antagonisms, drug abuse and disciplinary failures. Soldiers were disillusioned, the uniform seemed tarnished in a nation that no longer cared, and once proud traditions had given way to progress measured by infamous “body counts.” But in the late ‘70s and the ‘80s, reforms in recruitment, living conditions, planning, training and leadership restored much of what had been lost: self-respect and professionalism in an all-volunteer service.

He became a colonel in 1975, a brigadier general in 1978, a major general in 1982 and a lieutenant general in 1986. He moved from personnel and planning to brigade posts in Alaska and Washington State, from the Pacific Command in Hawaii to a division in Europe and back to Washington in charge of personnel.

In 1983, while assigned to an elite tank division at Fort Stewart, Ga., he was tapped to coordinate the task force that invaded Grenada. Revolutionaries had staged a coup, killed the prime minister and, with Cuban aid, were building an airfield, purportedly to supply Latin American insurgents. It was also feared that American medical students on the island might become hostages. Operation Urgent Fury suppressed the rebels, restored order and brought the students home safely.

In 1988, General Schwarzkopf was given his fourth star and named commander of the United States Central Command at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, supervising military activities in 19 countries in the Middle East, the Horn of Africa and the Persian Gulf. He developed contingency plans for war in Iraq, and two years later they were needed.

On Aug. 2, 1990, Iraqi forces occupied Kuwait. General Schwarzkopf moved his headquarters to Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, and amassed hundreds of ships, thousands of aircraft and 765,000 allied troops, including 540,000 Americans and large Arab contingents under Prince Khaled bin Sultan of Saudi Arabia, who was co-commander in the gulf war. A trade embargo and warnings failed to force an Iraqi withdrawal from Kuwait, and after a deadline passed on Jan. 15, 1991, the world’s first heavily televised war began.

Audiences saw live missiles striking targets and fighters taking off from aircraft carriers. Cable news delivered continuous reports, and networks anchored newscasts from Baghdad. In Riyadh, General Schwarzkopf controlled the flow of information in briefings. Some reporters were allowed into the field, subject to military supervision and censorship. The result was a dramatic war — and a highly visible commander in fatigues.

The ground war was over in a few days, thanks to what he called his “left hook” strategy, in which he placed forces behind enemy lines for a swift, decisive strike.

The general supported Mr. Bush’s presidential campaigns in 2000 and 2004 and Senator John McCain’s 2008 race against Senator Barack Obama, but he never ran for political office.


Ravi Somaiya contributed reporting.

    Lionized for Lightning Victory in ’91 Gulf War, NYT, 27.12.2012,






U.S. Election Speeded Move

to Codify Policy on Drones


November 24, 2012
The New York Times


WASHINGTON — Facing the possibility that President Obama might not win a second term, his administration accelerated work in the weeks before the election to develop explicit rules for the targeted killing of terrorists by unmanned drones, so that a new president would inherit clear standards and procedures, according to two administration officials.

The matter may have lost some urgency after Nov. 6. But with more than 300 drone strikes and some 2,500 people killed by the Central Intelligence Agency and the military since Mr. Obama first took office, the administration is still pushing to make the rules formal and resolve internal uncertainty and disagreement about exactly when lethal action is justified.

Mr. Obama and his advisers are still debating whether remote-control killing should be a measure of last resort against imminent threats to the United States, or a more flexible tool, available to help allied governments attack their enemies or to prevent militants from controlling territory.

Though publicly the administration presents a united front on the use of drones, behind the scenes there is longstanding tension. The Defense Department and the C.I.A. continue to press for greater latitude to carry out strikes; Justice Department and State Department officials, and the president’s counterterrorism adviser, John O. Brennan, have argued for restraint, officials involved in the discussions say.

More broadly, the administration’s legal reasoning has not persuaded many other countries that the strikes are acceptable under international law. For years before the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, the United States routinely condemned targeted killings of suspected terrorists by Israel, and most countries still object to such measures.

But since the first targeted killing by the United States in 2002, two administrations have taken the position that the United States is at war with Al Qaeda and its allies and can legally defend itself by striking its enemies wherever they are found.

Partly because United Nations officials know that the United States is setting a legal and ethical precedent for other countries developing armed drones, the U.N. plans to open a unit in Geneva early next year to investigate American drone strikes.

The attempt to write a formal rule book for targeted killing began last summer after news reports on the drone program, started under President George W. Bush and expanded by Mr. Obama, revealed some details of the president’s role in the shifting procedures for compiling “kill lists” and approving strikes. Though national security officials insist that the process is meticulous and lawful, the president and top aides believe it should be institutionalized, a course of action that seemed particularly urgent when it appeared that Mitt Romney might win the presidency.

“There was concern that the levers might no longer be in our hands,” said one official, speaking on condition of anonymity. With a continuing debate about the proper limits of drone strikes, Mr. Obama did not want to leave an “amorphous” program to his successor, the official said. The effort, which would have been rushed to completion by January had Mr. Romney won, will now be finished at a more leisurely pace, the official said.

Mr. Obama himself, in little-noticed remarks, has acknowledged that the legal governance of drone strikes is still a work in progress.

“One of the things we’ve got to do is put a legal architecture in place, and we need Congressional help in order to do that, to make sure that not only am I reined in but any president’s reined in terms of some of the decisions that we’re making,” Mr. Obama told Jon Stewart in an appearance on “The Daily Show” on Oct. 18.

In an interview with Mark Bowden for a new book on the killing of Osama bin Laden, “The Finish,” Mr. Obama said that “creating a legal structure, processes, with oversight checks on how we use unmanned weapons, is going to be a challenge for me and my successors for some time to come.”

The president expressed wariness of the powerful temptation drones pose to policy makers. “There’s a remoteness to it that makes it tempting to think that somehow we can, without any mess on our hands, solve vexing security problems,” he said.

Despite public remarks by Mr. Obama and his aides on the legal basis for targeted killing, the program remains officially classified. In court, fighting lawsuits filed by the American Civil Liberties Union and The New York Times seeking secret legal opinions on targeted killings, the government has refused even to acknowledge the existence of the drone program in Pakistan.

But by many accounts, there has been a significant shift in the nature of the targets. In the early years, most strikes were aimed at ranking leaders of Al Qaeda thought to be plotting to attack the United States. That is the purpose Mr. Obama has emphasized, saying in a CNN interview in September that drones were used to prevent “an operational plot against the United States” and counter “terrorist networks that target the United States.”

But for at least two years in Pakistan, partly because of the C.I.A.’s success in decimating Al Qaeda’s top ranks, most strikes have been directed at militants whose main battle is with the Pakistani authorities or who fight with the Taliban against American troops in Afghanistan.

In Yemen, some strikes apparently launched by the United States killed militants who were preparing to attack Yemeni military forces. Some of those killed were wearing suicide vests, according to Yemeni news reports.

“Unless they were about to get on a flight to New York to conduct an attack, they were not an imminent threat to the United States,” said Micah Zenko, a fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations who is a critic of the strikes. “We don’t say that we’re the counterinsurgency air force of Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia, but we are.”

Then there is the matter of strikes against people whose identities are unknown. In an online video chat in January, Mr. Obama spoke of the strikes in Pakistan as “a targeted, focused effort at people who are on a list of active terrorists.” But for several years, first in Pakistan and later in Yemen, in addition to “personality strikes” against named terrorists, the C.I.A. and the military have carried out “signature strikes” against groups of suspected, unknown militants.

Originally that term was used to suggest the specific “signature” of a known high-level terrorist, such as his vehicle parked at a meeting place. But the word evolved to mean the “signature” of militants in general — for instance, young men toting arms in an area controlled by extremist groups. Such strikes have prompted the greatest conflict inside the Obama administration, with some officials questioning whether killing unidentified fighters is legally justified or worth the local backlash.

Many people inside and outside the government have argued for far greater candor about all of the strikes, saying excessive secrecy has prevented public debate in Congress or a full explanation of their rationale. Experts say the strikes are deeply unpopular both in Pakistan and Yemen, in part because of allegations of large numbers of civilian casualties, which American officials say are exaggerated.

Gregory D. Johnsen, author of “The Last Refuge: Yemen, Al Qaeda and America’s War in Arabia,” argues that the strike strategy is backfiring in Yemen. “In Yemen, Al Qaeda is actually expanding,” Mr. Johnsen said in a recent talk at the Brookings Institution, in part because of the backlash against the strikes.

Shuja Nawaz, a Pakistan-born analyst now at the Atlantic Council in Washington, said the United States should start making public a detailed account of the results of each strike, including any collateral deaths, in part to counter propaganda from jihadist groups. “This is a grand opportunity for the Obama administration to take the drones out of the shadows and to be open about their objectives,” he said.

But the administration appears to be a long way from embracing such openness. The draft rule book for drone strikes that has been passed among agencies over the last several months is so highly classified, officials said, that it is hand-carried from office to office rather than sent by e-mail.

    U.S. Election Speeded Move to Codify Policy on Drones, NYT, 24.11.2012,






Army Seeks Death Penalty in Afghan Massacre


November 13, 2012
The New York Times


JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD, Wash. — A military prosecutor on Tuesday said the evidence against Staff Sgt. Robert Bales, presented over the last week here in a pretrial inquiry into the killings of 16 Afghan civilians, was so damning that the case should go forward as a capital crime.

“Terrible, terrible things happened — that is clear,” said the prosecutor, Maj. Rob Stelle. “The second thing that is clear,” he added, “is that Sergeant Bales did it.”

But a lawyer for Sergeant Bales, Emma Scanlan, making the defense team’s final argument, said the lingering questions about the crime, and especially the defendant’s mental and physical state, were far too great to proceed with anything but caution.

“Alcohol, steroids and sleeping aids,” Ms. Scanlan said, citing the prosecution’s own evidence about what Sergeant Bales, an 11-year Army veteran, may have had in his system in the early morning hours of March 11 when two villages in Kandahar Province were attacked. What would a cocktail of substances like that do to a man’s mind, Ms. Scanlan asked the court, in the “kinetic and high-pressure” environment of a combat zone?

“We don’t know,” she said.

The Army has charged that Sergeant Bales, 39, who was serving his fourth combat tour, walked away from his remote outpost in southern Afghanistan and shot and stabbed members of several families in a nighttime ambush in the villages. At least nine of the people he is accused of killing were children. In the decade of military conflict since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11 2001, it was the deadliest war crime attributed to a single American soldier, with consequences that rippled through relations between the American and Afghan governments.

The hearings here, called an Article 32 investigation, beyond offering the first open-court airing of the evidence, are also intended to provide a sort of road map for where prosecutors might go from here in seeking a military trial. The investigating officer who presided over the inquiry, Col. Lee Deneke, said on Tuesday that he would have a written opinion by the end of the week. Higher-ups in the Army, in making a final determination, are not bound by the colonel’s findings, however. The military has not executed a service member since 1961.

In the end, Sergeant Bales, who did not testify, and has not entered a formal plea, remained enigmatic. His own words, as reported by other soldiers who testified about what he said on the night of the killings — that he had “shot up some people,” as one witness recounted — were used against him. And he had blood from at least four people on his clothes when taken into custody, a lab examiner testified.

“It’s bad, it’s bad, it’s real bad,” Cpl. David Godwin, testifying for the prosecution, quoted Sergeant Bales as saying after he returned to the base.

Statements like that, Major Stelle said in his closing remarks, “demonstrate a clear memory of what happened and consciousness of guilt.” He said that the “heinous, brutal, methodical, despicable” nature of the crimes, especially the murder of small children, elevated the case to death-penalty significance.

But some of the most damning evidence, including the “real bad” quote, came from soldiers who Ms. Scanlan suggested in her final remarks were not particularly believable. Two men who reported hearing Sergeant Bales make incriminating comments, including Corporal Godwin, also admitted drinking with him earlier in the evening on the base, in violation of Army rules, and testified under immunity from prosecution. Ms. Scanlan urged Colonel Deneke to evaluate that testimony carefully.

“They drank a ton and they were all drunk,” she said.

A spokeswoman for the Bales family, Stephanie Tandberg, the sergeant’s sister-in-law, read a statement urging people who have followed the case in the news not to “rush to judgment.”

“We want to make sure this American soldier, citizen, husband and father has a fair trial with the due process that is guaranteed to all Americans,” she said. “We in Bob’s family are proud to stand by him.”

A claim before the hearings by another lawyer for Sergeant Bale, John Henry Browne, that his client suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder, went largely unexplored in the proceeding, and Ms. Scanlan, in comments to reporters after Tuesday’s adjournment, said the defense was still investigating those issues. Before the hearings began, she entered into the record a formal objection that the defense had been given insufficient time to prepare.

Major Stelle said the evidence revealed a man who knew exactly what he was doing when he left the base intent on mayhem. Eyewitnesses and victims who testified through a video link from Afghanistan over the weekend, in extraordinary night sessions here at the base where Sergeant Bales was stationed, about an hour south of Seattle, described a figure in the dark, illuminating his victims with a bright light before shooting them.

Ms. Scanlan said the prosecution’s portrait of a steely-cool killer conflicted with the strange and anything-but-standard item of clothing that witnesses said Sergeant Bales was wearing when he returned to the base early on the morning of March 11: a cape.

“Why in the world is somebody who is supposedly so lucid wearing a cape?” she said.

    Army Seeks Death Penalty in Afghan Massacre, NYT, 13.11.2012,






Obama’s Nightmare


November 13, 2012
The New York Times


The scandal engulfing two of our top military and intelligence officers could not be coming at a worse time: the Middle East has never been more unstable and closer to multiple, interconnected explosions. Virtually every American president since Dwight Eisenhower has had a Middle Eastern country that brought him grief. For Ike, it was Lebanon’s civil war and Israel’s Sinai invasion. For Lyndon Johnson, it was the 1967 Six-Day War. For Nixon, it was the 1973 war. For Carter, it was the Iranian Revolution. For Ronald Reagan, it was Lebanon. For George H.W. Bush, it was Iraq. For Bill Clinton, it was Al Qaeda and Afghanistan. For George W. Bush, it was Iraq and Afghanistan. For Barack Obama’s first term, it was Iran and Afghanistan, again. And for Obama’s second term, I fear that it could be the full nightmare — all of them at once. The whole Middle East erupts in one giant sound and light show of civil wars, states collapsing and refugee dislocations, as the keystone of the entire region — Syria — gets pulled asunder and the disorder spills across the neighborhood.

And you were worried about the “fiscal cliff.”

Ever since the start of the Syrian uprising/civil war, I’ve cautioned that while Libya, Egypt, Yemen, Bahrain and Tunisia implode, Syria would explode if a political resolution was not found quickly. That is exactly what’s happening.

The reason Syria explodes is because its borders are particularly artificial, and all its communities — Sunnis, Shiites, Alawites, Kurds, Druze and Christians — are linked to brethren in nearby countries and are trying to draw them in for help. Also, Sunni-led Saudi Arabia is fighting a proxy war against Shiite-led Iran in Syria and in Bahrain, which is the base of the United States Navy’s Fifth Fleet. Bahrain witnessed a host of bombings last week as the Sunni-led Bahraini regime stripped 31 Bahraini Shiite political activists of their citizenship. Meanwhile, someone in Syria decided to start lobbing mortars at Israel. And, Tuesday night, violent anti-government protests broke out across Jordan over gas price increases.

What to do? I continue to believe that the best way to understand the real options — and they are grim — is by studying Iraq, which, like Syria, is made up largely of Sunnis, Shiites, Christians and Kurds. Why didn’t Iraq explode outward like Syria after Saddam was removed? The answer: America.

For better and for worse, the United States in Iraq performed the geopolitical equivalent of falling on a grenade — that we triggered ourselves. That is, we pulled the pin; we pulled out Saddam; we set off a huge explosion in the form of a Shiite-Sunni contest for power. Thousands of Iraqis were killed along with more than 4,700 American troops, but the presence of those U.S. troops in and along Iraq’s borders prevented the violence from spreading. Our invasion both triggered the civil war in Iraq and contained it at the same time. After that Sunni-Shiite civil war burned itself out, we brokered a fragile, imperfect power-sharing deal between Iraqi Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds. Then we got out. It is not at all clear that their deal will survive our departure.

Still, the lesson is that if you’re trying to topple one of these iron-fisted, multisectarian regimes, it really helps to have an outside power that can contain the explosions and mediate a new order. There is too little trust in these societies for them to do it on their own. Syria’s civil war, though, was triggered by predominantly Sunni rebels trying to oust President Bashar al-Assad and his minority Alawite-Shiite regime. There is no outside power willing to fall on the Syrian grenade and midwife a new order. So the fire there rages uncontrolled; refugees are now spilling out, and the Shiite-Sunni venom unleashed by the Syrian conflict is straining relations between these same communities in Iraq, Bahrain, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Kuwait.

But Iraq teaches another lesson: Shiites and Sunnis are not fated to murder each other 24/7/365. Yes, their civil war dates to the 7th century. And, yes, when they started going after each other in Iraq, they did so with breathtaking chainsaw-nails-pounded-into-heads violence. There is nothing like a fight within the faith. Yet, once order was restored, Iraqi Shiites and Sunnis, many of whom have intermarried, were willing to work together and even run together in multisectarian parties in the 2009-10 elections.

So the situation is not hopeless. I know American officials are tantalized by the idea of flipping Syria from the Iranian to the Western camp by toppling Assad. That would make my day, too, but I’m skeptical it would end the conflict. I fear that toppling Assad, without a neutral third party inside Syria to referee a transition, could lead not only to permanent civil war in Syria but one that spreads around the region. It’s a real long shot, but we should keep trying to work with Russia — Syria’s lawyer — to see if together we can broker a power-sharing deal inside Syria and a United Nations-led multinational force to oversee it. Otherwise, this fire will rage on and spread, as the acid from the Shiite-Sunni conflict eats away at the bonds holding the Middle East together and standing between this region and chaos.

    Obama’s Nightmare, NYT, 13.11.2012,






One Lesson From a Messy Scandal


November 13, 2012
The New York Times


The scandal unfolding around the resignation of David Petraeus as the director of the Central Intelligence Agency after an adulterous affair raises many questions that need to be answered — from the unusual role played by the Federal Bureau of Investigation in what seems to have begun as a routine investigation of harassing e-mails to whether and when Congressional intelligence committees should have been notified that the leader of the C.I.A. had come under an F.B.I. investigation.

On Tuesday, the scandal took another disquieting turn, with the announcement that the F.B.I. investigation had turned up tens of thousands of pages of “inappropriate communication” between Gen. John Allen, the Marine officer who succeeded Mr. Petraeus as the top military commander in Afghanistan 16 months ago, and Jill Kelley, the woman from Tampa, Fla., whose complaints to the F.B.I. about harassing e-mails triggered the inquiry that uncovered the Petraeus affair.

Those communications have been turned over to the Pentagon for further investigation. General Allen has not been accused of any sexual misconduct, but the Obama administration has now delayed his nomination to be the commander of American forces in Europe and the supreme allied commander of NATO, a move that had been expected early next year.

Amid the growing career rubble left by this scandal, one positive development may yet emerge. Mr. Petraeus, considered by many to be the most celebrated American military leader of recent times, says his affair with Paula Broadwell took place after his 2011 retirement from the military. But the fallout from this episode may finally push the Pentagon to enforce the military’s standards of sexual conduct more consistently, especially against male commanders of senior rank.

Different forms of sexual misconduct obviously call for different punishments. Adultery itself is not a violation of the uniform code unless it diminishes “good order and discipline” or brings “discredit upon the armed forces.” That, unfortunately, leaves plenty of room for subjective judgments and selective enforcement.

The military has long had a culture of impunity that seemed to shield high ranking officers for sexual misconduct, though more have been disciplined in recent years.

Thom Shanker reported in The Times on Tuesday a list of senior officers punished over the last year for a variety of leadership failures, including poor judgment and financial malfeasance. Brig. Gen. Jeffrey Sinclair, a former deputy commander of the 82nd Airborne Division in Afghanistan, faces a possible trial for adultery, sexual misconduct and forcible sodomy stemming from relationships with five women. James Johnson III, a former commander of the 173rd Airborne Brigade, was kicked out of the Army, fined and reduced in rank after being convicted of bigamy and fraud related to an improper relationship with an Iraqi woman. At an Air Force basic training center in Texas, six male instructors were charging with crimes, including rape.

The problem of sexual crimes in the military stretches back decades. In 1991, more than 100 flight personnel from the Navy and Marines allegedly sexually assaulted more than 80 women at the annual Tailhook symposium. Several lower-ranking officers were disciplined as a result of that infamous case, but none of the senior officers also present were held accountable for doing little to stop it. That led the Clinton administration to order a second investigation, and only after that were some senior officers punished.

Yet, in 1997, America’s first female B-52 pilot, First Lt. Kelly Flinn was discharged from the Air Force after the disclosure of an adulterous affair with a married civilian. Would a male pilot have been punished as severely?

The murky issues and facts arising from the Petraeus and Allen investigations must be pursued quickly. At the same time, the Pentagon should make clear that its rules on misconduct apply to all serving personnel, regardless of rank or gender.

    One Lesson From a Messy Scandal, NYT, 13.11.2012,






Top U.S. Commander in Afghanistan

Is Linked to Petraeus Scandal


November 13, 2012
The New York Times


PERTH, Australia — Gen. John R. Allen, the top American and NATO commander in Afghanistan, has become ensnared in the scandal over an extramarital affair acknowledged by David H. Petraeus, a former general. General Allen is being investigated for what a senior defense official said early Tuesday was “inappropriate communication” with Jill Kelley, a woman in Tampa, Fla., who was seen by Mr. Petraeus’s lover as a rival for his attentions.

In a statement released to reporters on his plane en route to Australia early Tuesday, Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta said that the F.B.I. on Sunday had referred “a matter involving” General Allen to the Pentagon.

Mr. Panetta turned the matter over to the Pentagon’s inspector general to conduct an investigation into what a defense official said were 20,000 to 30,000 pages of documents, many of them e-mails between General Allen and Ms. Kelley, who is married and has children.

A senior law enforcement official in Washington said on Tuesday that F.B.I. investigators, looking into Ms. Kelley’s complaint about anonymous e-mails she had received, examined all of her e-mails as a routine step.

“When you get involved in a cybercase like this, you have to look at everything,” the official said, suggesting that Ms. Kelley may not have considered that possibility when she filed the complaint. “The real question is why someone decided to open this can of worms.”

The official would not describe the content of the e-mails between General Allen and Ms. Kelley or say specifically why F.B.I. officials decided to pass them on to the Defense Department. “Generally, the nature of the e-mails warranted providing them to D.O.D.,” he said.

Under military law, adultery can be a crime.

The defense official on Mr. Panetta’s plane said that General Allen, who is also married, told Pentagon officials he had done nothing wrong. Neither he nor Ms. Kelley could be reached for comment early Tuesday. Mr. Panetta’s statement praised General Allen for his leadership in Afghanistan and said that “he is entitled to due process in this matter.”

But the Pentagon inspector general’s investigation opens up what could be a widening scandal into two of the most prominent generals of their generation: Mr. Petraeus, who was the top commander in Iraq and Afghanistan before he retired from the military and became director of the C.I.A., only to resign on Friday because of the affair, and General Allen, who also served in Iraq and now commands 68,000 American troops in Afghanistan.

Although General Allen will remain the commander in Afghanistan, Mr. Panetta said that he had asked President Obama to delay the general’s nomination to be the commander of American forces in Europe and the supreme allied commander of NATO, two positions he was to move into after what was expected to be easy confirmation by the Senate. Mr. Panetta said in his statement that Mr. Obama agreed with his request.

Gen. Joseph A. Dunford, the assistant commandant of the Marine Corps who was nominated last month by Mr. Obama to succeed General Allen in Afghanistan, will proceed as planned with his confirmation hearing. In his statement, Mr. Panetta urged the Senate to act promptly on his nomination.

The National Security Council spokesman, Tommy Vietor, said in a statement on Tuesday that Mr. Obama also believes that the Senate should swiftly confirm General Dunford.

The defense official said that the e-mails between Ms. Kelley and General Allen spanned the years 2010 to 2012. The official could not explain why there were so many pages of e-mails and did not specify their content. The official said he could not explain how the e-mails between Ms. Kelley and General Allen were related to the e-mails between Mr. Petraeus and his lover, Paula Broadwell, and e-mails between Ms. Broadwell and Ms. Kelley.

In what is known so far, Ms. Kelley went to the F.B.I. last summer after she was disturbed by harassing e-mails. The F.B.I. began an investigation and learned that the e-mails were from Ms. Broadwell. In the course of looking into Ms. Broadwell’s e-mails, the F.B.I. discovered e-mails between Ms. Broadwell and Mr. Petraeus that indicated that they were having an extramarital affair. Ms. Broadwell, officials say, saw Ms. Kelley as a rival for her affections with Mr. Petraeus.

The defense official said he did not know how General Allen and Ms. Kelley knew each other. General Allen has been in Afghanistan as the top American commander since July 2011, although before that he lived in Tampa as the deputy commander for Central Command, which oversees American military operations in the Middle East.

The defense official said that the Pentagon had received the 20,000 to 30,000 pages of documents from the F.B.I. and was currently reviewing them.

The defense official said that at 5 p.m. Washington time on Sunday, Mr. Panetta was informed by the Pentagon’s general counsel that the F.B.I. had the thousands of pages of e-mails between General Allen and Ms. Kelley. Mr. Panetta was at the time on his plane en route from San Francisco to Honolulu, his first stop on a weeklong trip to the Pacific and Asia. Mr. Panetta notified the White House and then the leaders of the Senate and House Armed Services Committees.

General Allen is now in Washington for what was to be his confirmation hearing as commander in Europe. That hearing, the official said, will now be delayed.

After arriving in Perth Mr. Panetta and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton met with Prime Minister Julia Gillard of Australia for a United States-Australian security and diplomatic conference. Asked by a reporter while pausing for photos with Mrs. Clinton and Ms. Gillard if General Allen could remain an effective commander while under investigation, Mr. Panetta said nothing.

Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, was also in Perth for the defense meetings and had no comment on the investigation of General Allen. “I do know him well and I can’t say,” General Dempsey said of General Allen late on Tuesday after returning from an official dinner with the Australian officials, Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Panetta.


Scott Shane contributed reporting from Washington.

    Top U.S. Commander in Afghanistan Is Linked to Petraeus Scandal, NYT, 13.11.2012,






The Permanent Militarization of America


November 4, 2012
The New York Times


Annapolis, Md.

IN 1961, President Dwight D. Eisenhower left office warning of the growing power of the military-industrial complex in American life. Most people know the term the president popularized, but few remember his argument.

In his farewell address, Eisenhower called for a better equilibrium between military and domestic affairs in our economy, politics and culture. He worried that the defense industry’s search for profits would warp foreign policy and, conversely, that too much state control of the private sector would cause economic stagnation. He warned that unending preparations for war were incongruous with the nation’s history. He cautioned that war and warmaking took up too large a proportion of national life, with grave ramifications for our spiritual health.

The military-industrial complex has not emerged in quite the way Eisenhower envisioned. The United States spends an enormous sum on defense — over $700 billion last year, about half of all military spending in the world — but in terms of our total economy, it has steadily declined to less than 5 percent of gross domestic product from 14 percent in 1953. Defense-related research has not produced an ossified garrison state; in fact, it has yielded a host of beneficial technologies, from the Internet to civilian nuclear power to GPS navigation. The United States has an enormous armaments industry, but it has not hampered employment and economic growth. In fact, Congress’s favorite argument against reducing defense spending is the job loss such cuts would entail.

Nor has the private sector infected foreign policy in the way that Eisenhower warned. Foreign policy has become increasingly reliant on military solutions since World War II, but we are a long way from the Marines’ repeated occupations of Haiti, Nicaragua and the Dominican Republic in the early 20th century, when commercial interests influenced military action. Of all the criticisms of the 2003 Iraq war, the idea that it was done to somehow magically decrease the cost of oil is the least credible. Though it’s true that mercenaries and contractors have exploited the wars of the past decade, hard decisions about the use of military force are made today much as they were in Eisenhower’s day: by the president, advised by the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the National Security Council, and then more or less rubber-stamped by Congress. Corporations do not get a vote, at least not yet.

But Eisenhower’s least heeded warning — concerning the spiritual effects of permanent preparations for war — is more important now than ever. Our culture has militarized considerably since Eisenhower’s era, and civilians, not the armed services, have been the principal cause. From lawmakers’ constant use of “support our troops” to justify defense spending, to TV programs and video games like “NCIS,” “Homeland” and “Call of Duty,” to NBC’s shameful and unreal reality show “Stars Earn Stripes,” Americans are subjected to a daily diet of stories that valorize the military while the storytellers pursue their own opportunistic political and commercial agendas. Of course, veterans should be thanked for serving their country, as should police officers, emergency workers and teachers. But no institution — particularly one financed by the taxpayers — should be immune from thoughtful criticism.

Like all institutions, the military works to enhance its public image, but this is just one element of militarization. Most of the political discourse on military matters comes from civilians, who are more vocal about “supporting our troops” than the troops themselves. It doesn’t help that there are fewer veterans in Congress today than at any previous point since World War II. Those who have served are less likely to offer unvarnished praise for the military, for it, like all institutions, has its own frustrations and failings. But for non-veterans — including about four-fifths of all members of Congress — there is only unequivocal, unhesitating adulation. The political costs of anything else are just too high.

For proof of this phenomenon, one need look no further than the continuing furor over sequestration — the automatic cuts, evenly divided between Pentagon and nonsecurity spending, that will go into effect in January if a deal on the debt and deficits isn’t reached. As Bob Woodward’s latest book reveals, the Obama administration devised the measure last year to include across-the-board defense cuts because it believed that slashing defense was so unthinkable that it would make compromise inevitable.

But after a grand budget deal collapsed, in large part because of resistance from House Republicans, both parties reframed sequestration as an attack on the troops (even though it has provisions that would protect military pay). The fact that sequestration would also devastate education, health and programs for children has not had the same impact.

Eisenhower understood the trade-offs between guns and butter. “Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired, signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed,” he warned in 1953, early in his presidency. “The cost of one modern heavy bomber is this: a modern brick school in more than 30 cities. It is two electric power plants, each serving a town of 60,000 population. It is two fine, fully equipped hospitals. It is some 50 miles of concrete highway. We pay for a single fighter plane with a half million bushels of wheat. We pay for a single destroyer with new homes that could have housed more than 8,000 people.”

He also knew that Congress was a big part of the problem. (In earlier drafts, he referred to the “military-industrial-Congressional” complex, but decided against alienating the legislature in his last days in office.) Today, there are just a select few in public life who are willing to question the military or its spending, and those who do — from the libertarian Ron Paul to the leftist Dennis J. Kucinich — are dismissed as unrealistic.

The fact that both President Obama and Mitt Romney are calling for increases to the defense budget (in the latter case, above what the military has asked for) is further proof that the military is the true “third rail” of American politics. In this strange universe where those without military credentials can’t endorse defense cuts, it took a former chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Adm. Mike Mullen, to make the obvious point that the nation’s ballooning debt was the biggest threat to national security.

Uncritical support of all things martial is quickly becoming the new normal for our youth. Hardly any of my students at the Naval Academy remember a time when their nation wasn’t at war. Almost all think it ordinary to hear of drone strikes in Yemen or Taliban attacks in Afghanistan. The recent revelation of counterterrorism bases in Africa elicits no surprise in them, nor do the military ceremonies that are now regular features at sporting events. That which is left unexamined eventually becomes invisible, and as a result, few Americans today are giving sufficient consideration to the full range of violent activities the government undertakes in their names.

Were Eisenhower alive, he’d be aghast at our debt, deficits and still expanding military-industrial complex. And he would certainly be critical of the “insidious penetration of our minds” by video game companies and television networks, the news media and the partisan pundits. With so little knowledge of what Eisenhower called the “lingering sadness of war” and the “certain agony of the battlefield,” they have done as much as anyone to turn the hard work of national security into the crass business of politics and entertainment.


Aaron B. O’Connell, an assistant professor of history

at the United States Naval Academy and a Marine reserve officer,

is the author of “Underdogs: The Making of the Modern Marine Corps.”

    The Permanent Militarization of America, NYT, 4.11.2012,






Panetta Warns of Dire Threat of Cyberattack on U.S.


October 11, 2012
The New York Times


Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta warned Thursday that the United States was facing the possibility of a “cyber-Pearl Harbor” and was increasingly vulnerable to foreign computer hackers who could dismantle the nation’s power grid, transportation system, financial networks and government.

In a speech at the Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum in New York, Mr. Panetta painted a dire picture of how such an attack on the United States might unfold. He said he was reacting to increasing aggressiveness and technological advances by the nation’s adversaries, which officials identified as China, Russia, Iran and militant groups.

“An aggressor nation or extremist group could use these kinds of cyber tools to gain control of critical switches,” Mr. Panetta said. “They could derail passenger trains, or even more dangerous, derail passenger trains loaded with lethal chemicals. They could contaminate the water supply in major cities, or shut down the power grid across large parts of the country.”

Defense officials insisted that Mr. Panetta’s words were not hyperbole, and that he was responding to a recent wave of cyberattacks on large American financial institutions. He also cited an attack in August on the state oil company Saudi Aramco, which infected and made useless more than 30,000 computers.

But Pentagon officials acknowledged that Mr. Panetta was also pushing for legislation on Capitol Hill. It would require new standards at critical private-sector infrastructure facilities — like power plants, water treatment facilities and gas pipelines — where a computer breach could cause significant casualties or economic damage.

In August, a cybersecurity bill that had been one of the administration’s national security priorities was blocked by a group of Republicans, led by Senator John McCain of Arizona, who took the side of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and said it would be too burdensome for corporations.

The most destructive possibilities, Mr. Panetta said, involve “cyber-actors launching several attacks on our critical infrastructure at one time, in combination with a physical attack.” He described the collective result as a “cyber-Pearl Harbor that would cause physical destruction and the loss of life, an attack that would paralyze and shock the nation and create a profound new sense of vulnerability.”

Mr. Panetta also argued against the idea that new legislation would be costly for business. “The fact is that to fully provide the necessary protection in our democracy, cybersecurity must be passed by the Congress,” he told his audience, Business Executives for National Security. “Without it, we are and we will be vulnerable.”

With the legislation stalled, Mr. Panetta said President Obama was weighing the option of issuing an executive order that would promote information sharing on cybersecurity between government and private industry. But Mr. Panetta made clear that he saw it as a stopgap measure and that private companies, which are typically reluctant to share internal information with the government, would cooperate fully only if required to by law.

“We’re not interested in looking at e-mail, we’re not interested in looking at information in computers, I’m not interested in violating rights or liberties of people,” Mr. Panetta told editors and reporters at The New York Times earlier on Thursday. “But if there is a code, if there’s a worm that’s being inserted, we need to know when that’s happening.”

He said that with an executive order making cooperation by the private sector only voluntary, “I’m not sure they’re going to volunteer if they don’t feel that they’re protected legally in terms of sharing information.”

“So our hope is that ultimately we can get Congress to adopt that kind of legislation,” he added.

Mr. Panetta’s comments, his most extensive to date on cyberwarfare, also sought to increase the level of public debate about the Defense Department’s growing capacity not only to defend but also to carry out attacks over computer networks. Even so, he carefully avoided using the words “offense” or “offensive” in the context of American cyberwarfare, instead defining the Pentagon’s capabilities as “action to defend the nation.”

The United States has nonetheless engaged in its own cyberattacks against adversaries, although it has never publicly admitted it. From his first months in office, Mr. Obama ordered sophisticated attacks on the computer systems that run Iran’s main nuclear enrichment plants, according to participants in the program. He decided to accelerate the attacks, which were begun in the Bush administration and code-named Olympic Games, even after an element of the program accidentally became public in the summer of 2010.

In a part of the speech notable for carefully chosen words, Mr. Panetta warned that the United States “won’t succeed in preventing a cyberattack through improved defenses alone.”

“If we detect an imminent threat of attack that will cause significant physical destruction in the United States or kill American citizens, we need to have the option to take action against those who would attack us, to defend this nation when directed by the president,” Mr. Panetta said. “For these kinds of scenarios, the department has developed the capability to conduct effective operations to counter threats to our national interests in cyberspace.”

The comments indicated that the United States might redefine defense in cyberspace as requiring the capacity to reach forward over computer networks if an attack was detected or anticipated, and take pre-emptive action. These same offensive measures also could be used in a punishing retaliation for a first-strike cyberattack on an American target, senior officials said.

Senior Pentagon officials declined to describe specifics of what offensive cyberwarfare abilities the Defense Department has fielded or is developing. And while Mr. Panetta avoided labeling them as “offensive,” other senior military and Pentagon officials have recently begun acknowledging their growing focus on these tools.

The Defense Department is finalizing “rules of engagement” that would put the Pentagon’s cyberweapons into play only in case of an attack on American targets that rose to some still unspecified but significant levels. Short of that, the Pentagon shares intelligence and offers technical assistance to the F.B.I. and other agencies.


Elisabeth Bumiller reported from New York, and Thom Shanker from Washington.

    Panetta Warns of Dire Threat of Cyberattack on U.S., NYT, 11.10.2012,






Pinning Hopes on a Digital Fix for Veterans’ Claims


September 27, 2012
The New York Times


SALT LAKE CITY — One desk, clean and empty, suggested a recently retired employee. The other, piled high with brown folders wrapped in rubber bands and bristling with color-coded tabs, screamed “backlog.”

Two desks, occupied by people doing the same work: processing veterans’ disability claims. But on one, a new technology based on digitized records was in use. On the other, claims were being worked the traditional way: with paper files containing hundreds, even thousands of pages per veteran.

“This can be a little oppressive,” said Keaton Stamper, a service representative, looking at the wall of folders lining her cubicle.

The clean desk embodies the Department of Veterans Affairs’ vision for shrinking its mountainous inventory of disability compensation claims. At last count, the department had nearly 900,000 pending claims, two-thirds of which were more than 125 days old, the agency’s benchmark for timeliness.

The backlog has become a major source of embarrassment for the department, causing bipartisan ire in Congress and bitter frustration among thousands of veterans who complain of long waits, unfair decisions and delayed payments.

Vowing to process all claims within 125 days by 2015, Allison A. Hickey, a retired Air Force general who is the under secretary for veterans’ benefits, has outlined a “transformation” plan for the Veterans Benefits Administration that includes more intensive training and a new system of organizing claims processors into teams that specialize in handling more complex claims.

But the plan’s centerpiece is new technology known as the Veterans Benefits Management System that will use digital records to speed claims processing. To comprehend why it is crucial, one must understand just how cumbersome and paper-jammed the current system can be.

“Let’s face it, V.B.A. is the land technology passed by,” the deputy secretary of veterans affairs, W. Scott Gould, told a Congressional committee recently.

The existing system employs several different databases — one for medical records, another for personnel files, and so on. Each requires a different login, and toggling between them can be time consuming. Moreover, mistakes in one database must be corrected in the others.

Once a claim is received, workers must input information by hand, a time-consuming and often mistake-prone step. Then a veterans service representative who processes claims must review the documents — personnel records, doctors’ memos, hospital receipts — thumbing through page after page of documents in search of data that can support a disability claim.

The new system will consolidate several old ones, making it faster to find documents, the department says. Claims processors will be able to share files easier, allowing quality control agents to review work while it is under way.

Workers here say the new system is also easier on the eye, looking like the Gmail screens they commonly use, and providing useful prompts, like Turbo Tax, that reduce mistakes.

Most important, digitized documents allow processors to search key words in seconds, rather than having to thumb through paper documents.

“I’m not rolling through 18 envelopes to find the one time it mentions heart disease,” Ms. Hickey said.

The system will also allow more automation for calculating benefits, based on the type and severity of a veteran’s disability. Department officials say the calculator will be used only to inform claims authorizers and that final decisions will be made by people, not machines.

The new system, now being tested in Salt Lake City and three other regional offices, will be introduced into 12 more offices by the end of this year and 24 more by the end of 2013, the department says.

“We are already seeing fundamental improvements across the board,” Ms. Hickey said of the department’s pilot programs.

Gerald T. Manar, a former department official who now works for the Veterans of Foreign Wars, said he believed that the steps would make a difference, but cautioned that the new technology was still years away from being fully functional. Having witnessed previous campaigns to tame the backlog fall short, he is philosophical about the limits of “transformation.”

“War is expensive,” he said. “If we understood that, we would be more careful about sending people off to combat.”

    Pinning Hopes on a Digital Fix for Veterans’ Claims, NYT, 27.9.2012,






Veterans Wait for Benefits as Claims Pile Up


September 27, 2012
The New York Times


For Dennis Selsky, a Vietnam-era veteran with multiple sclerosis, it was lost documents. It seemed that every time he sent records to the Department of Veterans Affairs, they disappeared into the ether.

For Mickel Withers, an Iraq war veteran with severe post-traumatic stress disorder, it was a bureaucratic foul-up. The department said he received National Guard pay in 2009, though he had left the Guard the previous year, and cut his disability compensation by $3,000. He filed for bankruptcy to protect himself from creditors.

For Doris Hink, the widow of a World War II veteran, it was the waiting. The department took nearly two years to process her claim for a survivor’s pension, forcing her daughter to take $12,000 from savings to pay nursing home bills.

These are the faces of what has become known as “the backlog”: the crushing inventory of claims for disability, pension and educational benefits that has overwhelmed the Department of Veterans Affairs. For hundreds of thousands of veterans, the result has been long waits for decisions, mishandled documents, confusing communications and infuriating mistakes in their claims.

Numbers tell the story. Last year, veterans filed more than 1.3 million claims, double the number in 2001. Despite having added nearly 4,000 new workers since 2008, the agency did not keep pace, completing less than 80 percent of its inventory.

This year, the agency has already completed more than one million claims for the third consecutive year. Yet it is still taking about eight months to process the average claim, two months longer than a decade ago. As of Monday, 890,000 pension and compensation claims were pending.

Skyrocketing costs have accompanied that flood of claims. By next year, the department’s major benefit programs — compensation for the disabled, pensions for the low-income and educational assistance — are projected to cost about $76 billion, triple the amount in 2001. By 2022, those costs are projected to rise nearly 70 percent to about $130 billion.

These are the compounding wages of war, and they are not just the result of recent conflicts. The department is administering pensions for World War II veterans while handling new claims from Vietnam veterans struggling with the multiplying ailments of age. Indeed, nearly a third of all pending new claims are from Vietnam-era veterans, roughly equal to the number from Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans.

Thanks to superior battlefield medicine and armor, those Iraq and Afghanistan veterans have survived combat at a higher rate. As they return home with more wounds, and perhaps more savvy, the ones who file for disability compensation are claiming on average nearly 10 disorders or injuries each, compared with 6 for Vietnam veterans and fewer than 4 for World War II veterans. Their complex claims are often more time-consuming to process, adding to the backlog.

At the same time, a higher percentage — nearly half — of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans are filing for disability compensation, partly because of the weak economy. That is double the rate for previous wars.

“We’re not gaining any ground here,” Eric K. Shinseki, the secretary of veterans affairs, acknowledged in an interview over the summer. “Am I impatient? Yes, but I’ve got a fix.”

That fix is the department’s “transformation plan,” which calls for a new training regimen that Mr. Shinseki says will improve speed and accuracy in processing claims; creation of special teams to handle complex claims; and new digital technology that will replace the current paper-choked system.

When all those pieces are in place by 2015, Mr. Shinseki says that every claim will be processed in fewer than 125 days, with almost no errors — a pledge that veterans’ advocates view skeptically.

Current and former front-line workers, who spoke out of frustration with the widespread criticism of their agency, offer a different analysis. The dysfunction, they say, stems from inadequate training and weak management, an excessively complicated process, and assembly line-like performance standards that require them to meet production quotas under threat of demotion or firing. The solution, they say, is clear.

“They need more workers,” said Mark Locken, a retired Army artillery officer who worked for the department for three years in Boston before quitting in May because, he said, of the stress.

The history of the backlog, which predates the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks,suggests another source of the problem: a bureaucratic culture with conflicting missions.

On one hand, Department of Veterans Affairs employees are urged to be advocates for veterans. “I tell them: you’re going to take care of these young men and women for life,” Allison A. Hickey, a retired Air Force brigadier general who is under secretary for benefits, said in an interview.

Yet those workers are also required to be stewards of the public dime, called on to distinguish the truly needy from the less needy from the fraudulent.

That means they must evaluate veterans to determine whether their illnesses or injuries are real, and whether they are the result of military service, or something else. If those problems are deemed “service connected,” the workers must then quantify their severity and attach dollar values.

Is that traumatic brain injury from high school football or a roadside bomb in Iraq? Is that back injury a 10 percent disability or 30 percent? Is that post-traumatic stress disorder real?

Medical questions without simple answers must be settled by harried bureaucrats and overworked doctors applying black-and-white rules to very gray ailments. Their decisions mean the difference between monthly checks of a few hundred dollars versus a few thousand.

When veterans are not happy with the results, as is often the case, they can appeal, or reapply, submitting new documents and diagnoses to bolster their claims — and adding years to the process.

About half of the current backlog is due to veterans reapplying for denied claims or seeking to increase existing benefits because of new or worsening conditions. So the backlog grows, and along with it, the pessimism of some advocates.

“They are rearranging the decks chairs on a sinking ship,” said Katrina Eagle, a lawyer who represents veterans before the agency. “You can hire people and buy new software. But nothing will improve.”


Bureaucratic Behemoth

Born from a system that paid pensions to Revolutionary War soldiers, the Department of Veterans Affairs has grown into a behemoth with more than 270,000 employees who maintain 131 cemeteries, operate 152 hospitals and disburse benefits to more than four million veterans. The nation has a total of about 23 million veterans.

Congress, the courts and the executive branch have contributed to the growth by creating new benefits and rights like perennial blooms. Typically, Congress has accomplished that by establishing “presumptive connections” between military service and certain diseases, allowing veterans to seek disability compensation if they received a diagnosis within a certain period.

There are now scores of diseases that are presumed to be the result of, or aggravated by, military service, from anemia to yellow fever. Each time the government adds a new one, thousands of veterans apply for benefits.

In 2010, for example, Mr. Shinseki announced that three diseases — ischemic heart disease, Parkinson’s disease and b-cell leukemia — would be considered the result of Agent Orange exposure for veterans who served in Vietnam. As of this week, the department had processed more than 240,000 claims for those diseases filed in just the last two years.

Since at least the 1960s, multiple sclerosis has been on the presumptive list, and in the decades since, tens of thousands of veterans with the disease have received benefits from the Department of Veterans Affairs. Dennis Selsky, 69, is one.

A Navy reservist from the Philadelphia area who was called to active duty for 10 months in 1968, Mr. Selsky worked as an ordnance specialist on domestic air bases. Two years after leaving the service in 1970, he says, doctors told him he had multiple sclerosis, which Mr. Selsky believes he contracted from working on planes contaminated with the herbicide Agent Orange.

Two years ago, he learned from the National Multiple Sclerosis Society that he was eligible for veterans compensation, applied and was granted the minimum benefit: a 30 percent rating, worth $435 a month. That seemed low to him because, he says, he has tremors, walks with a cane and is losing his vision. So Mr. Selksy, who spent 31 years with Verizon before retiring in 1998, appealed, seeking a 100 percent rating that would pay about $3,000 a month.

Then his problems with the Department of Veterans Affairs began in earnest.

First, the Philadelphia regional office lost part of his file, his wife, Sheila, said. Then it lost authorizations to obtain records from his cardiologist, podiatrist, neurologist and ophthalmologist — more than once. After the office finally obtained those doctors’ reports, it still required him to see department doctors to confirm his diagnoses.

Each appointment and lost document has added weeks to the processing, now in its 15th month. So have skeptical department examiners, who have requested additional information on whether Mr. Selsky’s heart palpitations and vision loss are related to his multiple sclerosis. “This should be a slam dunk,” Ms. Selsky said. “He keeps getting worse, and they keep fighting and fighting and fighting with us. The stress is unbelievable.”

Mr. Selsky may have also been the victim of another problem common to claims processing: the chaotic handling of records. Lost or mishandled documents are perhaps the No. 1 complaint about the processing system. Indeed, a 2009 review by the department’s inspector general found rampant cases of mishandled mail, including documents being improperly put in shred bins at 40 of the department’s 57 regional offices.

Workers who process mail in the Philadelphia regional office, which handled Mr. Selsky’s claim, say that veterans’ records have for years piled up in gray file cabinets or cardboard boxes because they were thought to lack clear identifying information, like Social Security numbers.

Ryan Cease, a former mail handler at the regional office, said that earlier this year he saw workers who were cleaning up the mail room in preparation for a visit by a senior official tossing records into boxes marked “for shredding.”

Suspicious, he and a fellow worker later leafed through the boxes and found numerous records that they believed could have easily been identified.

Mr. Cease, through another employee, sent an urgent e-mail to the department’s central office. After an investigation, the department concluded that nothing improper had occurred.

“We have not shredded any documents up there,” Ms. Hickey said.

Mr. Cease is not so sure. “I’m convinced,” he said in an interview, “that mail was shredded and that the mail was identifiable.”


Manpower Shortage Cited

In 2009, Kathryn Kausch learned that her mother, Doris Hink, was eligible for a pension because her husband, who died in 1987, had served honorably during World War II. Ms. Kausch sent in the paperwork, hoping the funds would help pay assisted living costs for her mother, now 89, who has dementia.

The application was rejected because her mother’s assets were above the $80,000 threshold. But in a year, those assets had shrunk and Ms. Kausch reapplied in January 2010. That September, the Philadelphia pension office asked for additional documents, and she sent off a fat packet of bank statements, medical invoices and other financial records.

In November, the office notified her that it had not received the documents and was rejecting her mother’s application again. But Ms. Kausch produced a receipt showing that the documents had been delivered, and the office acknowledged it had received them. Then she hunkered down to wait. Months passed.

Ms. Kausch began dipping into her savings to pay her mother’s bills at an assisted living center. Then in July 2011, Ms. Kausch was laid off from her job at Xerox. Desperate for help, she called her congressman, Representative Michael Fitzpatrick, a Republican from the Philadelphia suburbs. A week after his office made inquiries, her mother’s pension was approved.

But Ms. Kausch’s problems did not end. Her mother is eligible for $22,000 in retroactive pension payments dating to 2009. But because of her mother’s dementia, the department must approve Ms. Kausch as her mother’s fiduciary. Though the department has conducted the required interview, it has not filled out the final paperwork, despite calls from Mr. Fitzpatrick’s office.

“No wonder our government has such problems,” Ms. Kausch, 58, said. “It seems you get lost in this bureaucratic paperwork.”

A routine pension claim, undisputed by the department, took nearly two years to process, and only after a congressman’s intervention. An equally straightforward fiduciary application is still pending after six months. Why?

Employees and veterans advocates repeatedly point to one reason: a lack of manpower. Though the Veterans Benefits Administration, the division that oversees entitlement programs, has grown significantly in the past decade, to 20,600 employees from 12,150, it still often assigns mandatory overtime to meet workload demands. And because the processing is so complicated, it can take two years before new hires are fully productive, the department says.

With its staff stretched to the limit, the Veterans Benefits Administration supervisors set priorities for processing claims, workers say, with seriously wounded recent veterans, the homeless and terminally ill often rising to the top. Veterans or survivors who are already receiving benefits but applying for new ones may, as a consequence, be given lower priority, the workers say.

Another problem, front-line claims workers say, are production quotas that determine whether they will be promoted, given raises, demoted or fired. The pressure to meet those quotas cause some workers to skip complicated, time-consuming files and reach for simpler ones, workers and advocates say.

“Given the choice, they’ll go for the thin folder every time,” said Gerald T. Manar, a former manager for the Veterans Benefits Administration who now works for Veterans of Foreign Wars.

More processors would make a difference, most experts say. But at a time when both parties are talking about slashing the federal deficit, hiring more employees may be impossible. Since 2004, the department’s total budget — which includes health care, administrative costs and entitlements — has doubled, to $127 billion. “New employees hired into a broken system that awards process instead of outcomes will not get us there,” Mr. Fitzpatrick said.

For Mickel Withers, a veteran of the Georgia National Guard, the system was not exactly broken. But it was blundering. After serving on a bomb-detection team in Iraq in 2005 and 2006, he left the Army in 2008 with a diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder and started receiving $3,080 a month in disability compensation from the Department of Veterans Affairs.

But this May, a check arrived for only $109. The department told him they were docking his compensation because they had determined he received drill pay from the Guard in 2009. Veterans are not allowed to receive both kinds of pay. In fact, Mr. Withers had left the Guard as a sergeant in 2008, but it took the department weeks to confirm that fact. With two children and a wife to support, he had to seek emergency housing assistance from a veterans group to pay rent and filed for bankruptcy to avoid debt collectors.

It was his second bad experience with the benefits system: In 2009, the department overpaid the art school he was attending, then tried to collect the money from Mr. Withers. It took months to resolve that dispute.

“I think they are so overwhelmed over there, they just glance at things,” he said. “It doesn’t make me feel good about the system.”

    Veterans Wait for Benefits as Claims Pile Up, NYT, 27.9.2012,






A New Kind of Warfare


September 9, 2012
The New York Times


Cybersecurity efforts in the United States have largely centered on defending computer networks against attacks by hackers, criminals and foreign governments, mainly China. Increasingly, however, the focus is on developing offensive capabilities, on figuring out how and when the United States might unleash its own malware to disrupt an adversary’s networks. That is potentially dangerous territory.

Such malware is believed to have little deterrent value against criminals who use computers to steal money from banks or spies who pilfer industrial secrets. But faced with rising intrusions against computers that run America’s military systems and its essential infrastructure — its power grid, for instance, and its telecommunications networks — the military here (and elsewhere) sees disruptive software as an essential new tool of war. According to a study by the Center for Strategic and International Studies, the 15 countries with the biggest military budgets are all investing in offensive cyber capabilities.

The latest step occurred last month when the United States sent out bids for technologies “to destroy, deny, degrade, disrupt, corrupt or usurp” an adversary’s attempt to use cyberspace for advantage. The Air Force asked for proposals to plan for and manage cyberwarfare, including the ability to launch superfast computer attacks and withstand retaliation.

The United States, China, Russia, Britain and Israel began developing basic cyberattack capabilities at least a decade ago and are still figuring out how to integrate them into their military operations. Experts say cyberweapons will be used before or during conflicts involving conventional weapons to infect an adversary’s network and disrupt a target, including shutting down military communications. The most prominent example is the Stuxnet virus deployed in 2010 by the United States and Israel to set back Iran’s nuclear program. Other cyberattacks occurred in 2007 against Syria and 1998 against Serbia.

Crucial questions remain unanswered, including what laws of war would apply to decisions to launch an attack. The United States still hasn’t figured out what impact cyberweapons could have on actual battlefield operations or when an aggressive cyber response is required. Nor has Washington settled on who would authorize an attack; experts see roles for both the president and military commanders. There is also the unresolved issue of how to minimize collateral damage — like making sure malware does not cripple a civilian hospital.

Another big concern is China, which is blamed for stealing American military secrets. Washington has not had much success persuading Beijing to rein in its hackers. There is a serious risk of miscalculation if, for example, there is a confrontation in the South China Sea. China could misinterpret a move, unleash a cyberattack and trigger a real cyberwar. What’s clearly needed are new international understandings about what constitutes cyber aggression and how governments should respond. Meanwhile, the United States must do what it can to protect its own networks.

    A New Kind of Warfare, NYT, 9.9.2012,






Woman Becomes First Openly Gay General


August 12, 2012
The New York Times


WASHINGTON — An Army officer being promoted to brigadier general openly acknowledged her homosexuality on Friday by having her wife pin her star to her uniform, thus becoming the first openly gay officer of flag rank in the United States military.

The officer, Brig. Gen. Tammy S. Smith, 49, a 26-year veteran of the Army, was promoted in a ceremony at the women’s memorial at Arlington National Cemetery. The star was affixed by Tracey Hepner, who was a co-founder last year of the Military Partners and Families Coalition, which “provides support, resources, education and advocacy for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender military partners and their families,” according to its Web site.

The couple married in March 2011 in the District of Columbia.

The military dropped its “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy for gay service members on Sept. 20, 2011, after a change in federal law.

The Army said that General Smith was not available for an interview on Sunday. However, she said in a statement that the Defense Department had made sexual orientation a private matter, but that “participating with family in traditional ceremonies such as the promotion is both common and expected of a leader.”

Sue Fulton, a spokeswoman for OutServe, a two-year-old organization of lesbians and gay men in the military, said Sunday that it was “highly unlikely” that General Smith was the only gay officer of her rank. She called General Smith’s public acknowledgment significant.

“I would say that it’s important to recognize ‘the first,’ because then the next person doesn’t have to be first,” said Ms. Fulton, a 1980 West Point graduate. “Once we get over each ‘first,’ each hurdle of ‘Well, that’s never been done before,’ it makes it a nonissue going forward.”

Ms. Fulton, who was honorably discharged as a captain in 1986, said she left the Army because of the strains of maintaining a secret lesbian relationship. She called the promotion ceremony in which General Smith acknowledged being gay part of the best in Army tradition. Ms. Fulton quoted a speech last September in which the Army chief of staff, Gen. Ray Odierno, said that “the strength of our Army is our soldiers; the strength of our soldiers is our families.”

Ms. Fulton said she had no doubt that General Smith’s superiors knew of her sexual orientation when they selected her for promotion.

As a colonel, General Smith was deployed in Afghanistan from December 2010 to October 2011 as the chief of Army Reserve Affairs. She currently serves in Washington as the deputy chief of the Army Reserve.

    Woman Becomes First Openly Gay General, NYT, 12.8.2012,






Military Hazing Has Got to Stop


August 3, 2012
The New York Times


Los Angeles

LAST fall, at an outpost in Kandahar, Afghanistan, Danny Chen, a 19-year-old Army private, was singled out for hazing by Sgt. Adam Holcomb and five other soldiers, all of whom were senior in rank to their victim. They believed Danny was a weak soldier, someone who fell asleep on guard duty, who forgot his helmet. So for six weeks, they dispensed “corrective training” that violated Army policy. When he failed to turn off the water pump in the shower, he was dragged across a gravel yard on his back until it bled. They threw rocks at him to simulate artillery. They called him “dragon lady,” “gook” and “chink.”

Finally, Danny could take it no longer. He put the barrel of his rifle to his chin and pulled the trigger. The pain was over.

Earlier this week, a jury of military personnel found Sergeant Holcomb guilty of one count of assault and two counts of maltreatment, for which he was sentenced to one month in jail — far less than the 17 years that he could have received.

When I read about this outrageous token sentence, I had a flashback. On April 3, 2011, my nephew, 21-year-old Lance Cpl. Harry Lew, was serving his second year in the Marines in Afghanistan’s Helmand Province, when he was hazed for over three hours by two of his fellow soldiers because he, too, fell asleep on duty. At the urging of their sergeant, who told them that “peers should correct peers,” they punched and kicked him. They poured the contents of a full sandbag onto his face, causing him to choke and cough as it filled his nose and mouth. Twenty-two minutes after the hazing stopped, he, too, used his own gun to commit suicide, in a foxhole he had been forced to dig.

His parents and I waited patiently for justice to be served and watched in horror and disbelief as his perpetrators’ behavior was dismissed, with one lance corporal receiving just a month in jail, and the other two Marines found not guilty.

In both cases, military defense attorneys claimed that the perpetrators of hazing had suffered enough.

Our young people make a great sacrifice when they go off to war. They are in mentally tough, physically dangerous situations all the time. We must take every mistake that puts the lives of our soldiers at risk seriously, whether it is falling asleep on guard duty or something else. “Corrective training” is designed to do that. The Army recommends that senior officers create a plan with a soldier who needs improvement, supervise the training and set timelines and targets. But using corrective training as punishment is supposed to be strictly prohibited.

In these two cases, other alternatives were not even explored; abuse was the only “corrective training” offered. Danny was prevented from visiting a nearby base where more senior officers, a chaplain or an equal opportunity officer could have helped him escape his torment. Harry could have been transferred to another unit or out of the military if he failed to meet the standards. Instead, his peers decided to beat him into shape.

Is it necessary for soldiers to be abused and tortured by their fellow troops in order for the military to be strong? In Congressional hearings, the military tells me no.

But are soldiers taught the difference between “corrective training” and abuse? Apparently not.

Is there real punishment when they’ve crossed that line? Apparently not.

Since my nephew Harry’s death, I have found more cases of soldiers who have been victims of hazing, who then took their own lives. Veterans and active servicemen and servicewomen have contacted me about the harassment they suffered in the military. Many of them had never come forward before. They felt helpless, with nowhere to turn and no one to trust.

Hazing has no place in our military. It threatens unit cohesion, undermines our military readiness and deeply scars the volunteers who are forced to endure it.

In public statements, the military’s top brass agrees. But their actions don’t reflect that. Some services don’t have a policy expressly prohibiting hazing. Others don’t offer anti-hazing training. And since the Department of Defense doesn’t track the number of hazing incidents, there’s no way to know how widespread the problem is.

That’s why I introduced the Harry Lew Military Hazing Accountability and Prevention Act, which asks the military to make hazing a crime, requires the Defense Department to come up with a comprehensive anti-hazing plan, and creates a tracking system for hazing incidents. These provisions passed the House in May as part of the National Defense Authorization Act, but the Senate still needs to act. And the sooner it acts, the better, because we know this is just the beginning of what we need to do to eradicate hazing.

Our military doesn’t have to abuse its own to be strong. We want to have the most capable and most advanced armed forces in the world. But as long as the military allows the young people we send to war to be hazed by their fellow soldiers without consequence, we won’t. The military must make it clear that hazing is absolutely unacceptable and that perpetrators will be severely punished. We must protect those who protect us.


Judy Chu, a Democrat, represents California’s 32nd Congressional District.

    Military Hazing Has Got to Stop, NYT, 3.8.2012,






Sergeant Acquitted of Driving a Suicide


July 30, 2012
The New York Times


FORT BRAGG, N.C. — A military jury on Monday acquitted a sergeant on the most serious charges in the death of Pvt. Danny Chen, a Chinese-American from Manhattan who killed himself last year while deployed in Afghanistan, but found him guilty on lesser charges.

The jury determined that the sergeant, Adam M. Holcomb, was not guilty of negligent homicide, reckless endangerment, communicating a threat and hazing. Sergeant Holcomb was convicted on two counts of maltreatment and one count of assault consummated by battery.

Prosecutors had sought to convince the jury that Sergeant Holcomb’s treatment of Private Chen, which the prosecutors said included hazing and racial taunts, led directly to his suicide.

The 10-member jury of Army officers and enlisted soldiers reached its verdict after about two hours of deliberations on Monday afternoon. The court-martial began last Tuesday. Sergeant Holcomb was one of eight soldiers charged in the case and the first to be tried.

After the verdict was announced, the court-martial moved into the sentencing phase. The jury heard arguments from both sides and was expected to begin sentencing deliberations on Tuesday. He faces up to two years in prison, officials said.

In testimony during the sentencing hearing, Sergeant Holcomb expressed regret and said he was suffering from symptoms that resembled post-traumatic stress disorder after three deployments to war zones.

He said he had not had a brain scan, but added, “I know there’s issues up there.” Private Chen’s suicide resonated deeply in the Chinese population in New York City and around the country and became a rallying cause for activists and others who have pressed the Army to improve conditions for Asians.

More than a dozen supporters of the Chen family traveled here from New York for the court-martial, which was covered by numerous local and national reporters, including correspondents for at least four Chinese-language media organizations.

Margaret Chin, a New York City councilwoman who attended three days of testimony last week, said Monday that she was “very disappointed” by the mixed verdict.

Private Chen’s death, she said, had called into question the military’s relationship with the country’s Asian population.

“How can we in good faith encourage our young people to join the military,” she said in an interview, “to serve our country when they’re not being protected?”

Private Chen’s mother and father, both working-class Chinese immigrants who testified at the trial, declined to comment.

The trial revolved around what caused Private Chen to take his own life.

Military prosecutors have asserted that Private Chen’s motivations for killing himself took shape after his arrival in Afghanistan last August. Sergeant Holcomb, they said, made Private Chen miserable by subjecting him to racial harassment and hazing.

“You’ve seen the last six weeks of Danny’s life,” Maj. Steve Berlin, one of the prosecutors, told the jury on Monday during closing arguments. “No wonder death seemed like the only option.”

Sergeant Holcomb’s lawyers, however, contended that Private Chen was despondent because of his failures as a soldier and because he had a fraught relationship with his parents.

“Private Chen killed Private Chen,” said Capt. Anthony Osborne, one of Sergeant Holcomb’s lawyers, during closing arguments.

Defense lawyers said Private Chen’s personal troubles were evident before he went to Afghanistan.

Pvt. Bryan Johnson, a soldier in Private Chen’s unit who became a close friend, testified last week that Private Chen was excited to deploy. But he also described an incident in which he found him curled up in the fetal position on his bunk.

Private Chen told his friend that his parents had disowned him because he was about to deploy to Afghanistan. Defense lawyers said Private Chen told at least four other soldiers the same thing.

Though Private Johnson said his friend had rebounded by the next day, defense lawyers argued that this episode revealed that Private Chen’s relationship with his parents was undermining his duties.

Private Chen’s parents testified at the trial that they had never disowned him.

In Afghanistan, Private Chen was “ostracized,” the prosecutor, Major Berlin, declared on Monday.

He was so weak and inexperienced that he was not allowed to go out on patrol, fellow soldiers testified.

He also made frequent mistakes, soldiers said, and was repeatedly subjected to “corrective training.”

Prosecutors argued, however, that Private Chen’s inexperience was normal for someone new and that the problem lay with the way superiors were addressing his deficiencies.

In a pivotal episode several days before Private Chen’s death, Sergeant Holcomb, angry with him, yanked him from his bunk and dragged him across the outpost, soldiers testified. Private Chen’s offense was leaving the shower’s water pump on. The assault count and one count of maltreatment related to the dragging episode. The other maltreatment count related to Sergeant Holcomb’s use of racially disparaging terms.

Several days before his death, Private Chen told a fellow soldier that he was so fed up with the treatment he was receiving at the hands of Sergeant Holcomb and other superiors that he was contemplating suicide, according to testimony.

On Oct. 3, he shot himself while on guard duty in a tower.

According to the doctor who performed the autopsy, a message was scrawled in black on his forearm: “Tell my parents I’m sorry.”

    Sergeant Acquitted of Driving a Suicide, NYT, 30.7.2012,






A Law to Strengthen Our Cyberdefense


August 1, 2012
The New York Times



OVER the last decade, the United States has built a sophisticated security system to protect the nation’s seaports against terrorists and criminals. But our nation’s critical infrastructure is not similarly secured from cyberattack. Although we have made progress in recent years, Congressional action is needed to ensure that our laws keep pace with the electronically connected world we live in. The bipartisan Cybersecurity Act of 2012, currently before the Senate, offers a way forward.

A disruption of our electric grid or other critical infrastructure could temporarily cripple the American economy. What’s less well known is that such an attack could threaten the nation’s defense as well.

Ninety-nine percent of the electricity the military uses comes from civilian sources. Ninety percent of military voice and Internet communications travel over commercial networks. Much of the country’s military logistics are handled by commercial shippers who rely, in turn, on privately managed networks.

As we protect our ports and coastlines, so must we marshal resources and techniques to mount an adequate defense of our networks. Our port security is ensured by a combination of the Coast Guard, Customs and Border Protection, state and local governments, and private shipping companies and port operators, with the support of the Navy and the intelligence agencies. Together, they patrol American waters, scan cargo, analyze and share information about threats to our coastlines, and report suspicious behavior to the proper authorities. If any of these layers were to be removed, our defenses would be weakened.

Effective cybersecurity requires a similar multilevel approach. We have a final line of cyberdefense in the Defense Department’s Cyber Command, which defends the nation against advanced cyberattacks, and we have a strong cyberintelligence system in the National Security Agency, which detects cyberthreats from overseas. But we need additional levels of defense to protect the nation’s critical infrastructure.

Collective problems require collaborative solutions. The government and private sector must work together to prevent cyberdisruption, cyberdestruction and theft of intellectual property. This requires robust sharing of information between the government and private sector, aggressive prosecution of cybercriminals, and cooperation among federal agencies.

Simply put, the Cybersecurity Act would help by enabling the government to share information about cyberthreats with industry. The legislation would also permit the private sector to report cyberintrusions to the government or private companies. That ability would increase awareness of cyberthreats, while leaving the private sector in control of which information is shared. It would do all of this while protecting privacy and civil liberties, through robust oversight and accountability measures.

None of us want to see heavy government regulation, especially of the Internet, the fount of so much innovation and economic productivity. The legislation would provide meaningful baseline cybersecurity standards for industry, developed and adopted through a joint industry-government process.

Although the American economy needs effective cybersecurity measures to function and prosper, many providers of critical infrastructure have not invested in basic strategies to defend themselves against cyberthreats. Meaningful standards will help drive companies to invest and help fill the gaps in our nation’s cyberdefenses.

Finally, the Cybersecurity Act would ensure that the Department of Homeland Security has the ability to protect federal networks and assist the private sector effectively and efficiently, by strengthening the department’s legal authority.

The Department of Defense stands ready to support the Department of Homeland Security and any other agency in protecting the nation’s critical infrastructure. Together, our two departments can bring our technical ability to bear and improve the nation’s stock of cybersecurity tools and technology.

This legislation is a critical step for defending America’s infrastructure against the clear and present cyberthreats we face. We’re not going to solve this problem overnight; it will involve a learning experience for both the private sector and the government, but we must learn fast, and develop solutions as quickly as possible. The legislation will help pave the way to American security and prosperity in the information age. It deserves the full support of Congress and the American people.


Ashton B. Carter is the deputy secretary of defense

and Jane Holl Lute is the deputy secretary of homeland security.

    A Law to Strengthen Our Cyberdefense, NYT, 1.8.2012,






Cybersecurity at Risk


July 31, 2012
The New York Times

Relentless assaults on America’s computer networks by China and other foreign governments, hackers and criminals have created an urgent need for safeguards to protect these vital systems. The question now is whether the Senate will provide them. Senator John McCain, a Republican of Arizona, and the Chamber of Commerce have already exacted compromises from sponsors of a reasonably strong bill, and are asking for more. Their demands should be resisted and the original bill approved by the Senate.

Officials and experts have warned about cybersecurity dangers for years; now the alarms are more insistent. On Thursday, Gen. Keith Alexander, the chief of the United States Cyber Command and the director of the National Security Agency, said intrusions against computers that run essential infrastructure increased 17-fold from 2009-11 and that it’s only a matter of time before an attack causes physical damage. He has also called the loss of industrial information and intellectual property through cyberespionage “the greatest transfer of wealth in history.”

American officials say businesses already lose billions of dollars annually. Hundreds of major companies, defense contractors and government agencies have been affected. Attacks on power plants, electric grids, refineries, transportation networks and water treatment systems present an even greater threat. Last year, there were at least 200 attempted or successful cyberattacks on those facilities.

Yet defenses are dangerously thin. On a scale of 1 to 10, General Alexander rated preparedness for a large-scale cyberattack — shutting down the stock exchange, for instance — as “around a 3.” That is why President Obama and others have argued for mandatory minimum standards that would require companies to share information and harden computer protections.

Bipartisan legislation drafted by Senator Joseph Lieberman, a Connecticut independent and the chairman of the homeland security committee, and Senator Susan Collins of Maine, the ranking Republican member, met that bar. But faced with strong opposition from Mr. McCain and the business community, the sponsors compromised. Under the revised bill, industry will develop the standards for addressing threats and compliance will be voluntary.

This has not satisfied Mr. McCain or the chamber, which insists the bill would still be too costly and cumbersome. Last year, a survey of more than 9,000 executives in more than 130 countries by the PricewaterhouseCoopers consulting firm found that only 13 percent of those polled had taken adequate defensive action against cyberthreats.

Not all companies share that aversion to the bill. Microsoft and Symantec, among others, have supported the original Lieberman-Collins legislation. And civil liberties groups say their earlier privacy concerns have been addressed. It’s time for the endless talk of cyberthreats to be met by action. The Lieberman-Collins bill should be voted by the Senate this week and then merged with the House version so a law can be enacted this year. If not, and a catastrophic cyberattack occurs, Americans will be justified in asking why their lawmakers, mired in election-year partisanship, failed to protect them.

    Cybersecurity at Risk, NYT, 31.7.2012,






A Day Job Waiting for a Kill Shot a World Away


July 29, 2012
The New York Times


HANCOCK FIELD AIR NATIONAL GUARD BASE, N.Y. — From his computer console here in the Syracuse suburbs, Col. D. Scott Brenton remotely flies a Reaper drone that beams back hundreds of hours of live video of insurgents, his intended targets, going about their daily lives 7,000 miles away in Afghanistan. Sometimes he and his team watch the same family compound for weeks.

“I see mothers with children, I see fathers with children, I see fathers with mothers, I see kids playing soccer,” Colonel Brenton said.

When the call comes for him to fire a missile and kill a militant — and only, Colonel Brenton said, when the women and children are not around — the hair on the back of his neck stands up, just as it did when he used to line up targets in his F-16 fighter jet.

Afterward, just like the old days, he compartmentalizes. “I feel no emotional attachment to the enemy,” he said. “I have a duty, and I execute the duty.”

Drones are not only revolutionizing American warfare but are also changing in profound ways the lives of the people who fly them.

Colonel Brenton acknowledges the peculiar new disconnect of fighting a telewar with a joystick and a throttle from his padded seat in American suburbia.

When he was deployed in Iraq, “you land and there’s no more weapons on your F-16, people have an idea of what you were just involved with.” Now he steps out of a dark room of video screens, his adrenaline still surging after squeezing the trigger, and commutes home past fast-food restaurants and convenience stores to help with homework — but always alone with what he has done.

“It’s a strange feeling,” he said. “No one in my immediate environment is aware of anything that occurred.”

Routinely thought of as robots that turn wars into sanitized video games, the drones have powerful cameras that bring war straight into a pilot’s face.

Although pilots speak glowingly of the good days, when they can look at a video feed and warn a ground patrol in Afghanistan about an ambush ahead, the Air Force is also moving chaplains and medics just outside drone operation centers to help pilots deal with the bad days — images of a child killed in error or a close-up of a Marine shot in a raid gone wrong.

Among the toughest psychological tasks is the close surveillance for aerial sniper missions, reminiscent of the East German Stasi officer absorbed by the people he spies on in the movie “The Lives of Others.” A drone pilot and his partner, a sensor operator who manipulates the aircraft’s camera, observe the habits of a militant as he plays with his children, talks to his wife and visits his neighbors. They then try to time their strike when, for example, his family is out at the market.

“They watch this guy do bad things and then his regular old life things,” said Col. Hernando Ortega, the chief of aerospace medicine for the Air Education Training Command, who helped conduct a study last year on the stresses on drone pilots. “At some point, some of the stuff might remind you of stuff you did yourself. You might gain a level of familiarity that makes it a little difficult to pull the trigger.”

Of a dozen pilots, sensor operators and supporting intelligence analysts recently interviewed from three American military bases, none acknowledged the kind of personal feelings for Afghans that would keep them awake at night after seeing the bloodshed left by missiles and bombs. But all spoke of a certain intimacy with Afghan family life that traditional pilots never see from 20,000 feet, and that even ground troops seldom experience.

“You see them wake up in the morning, do their work, go to sleep at night,” said Dave, an Air Force major who flew drones from 2007 to 2009 at Creech Air Force Base in Nevada and now trains drone pilots at Holloman Air Force Base in New Mexico. (The Air Force, citing what it says are credible threats, forbids pilots to disclose their last names. Senior commanders who speak to the news media and community groups about the base’s mission, like Colonel Brenton in Syracuse, use their full names.)

Some pilots spoke of the roiling emotions after they fire a missile. (Only pilots, all of them officers, employ weapons for strikes.)

“There was good reason for killing the people that I did, and I go through it in my head over and over and over,” said Will, an Air Force officer who was a pilot at Creech and now trains others at Holloman. “But you never forget about it. It never just fades away, I don’t think — not for me.”

The complexities will only grow as the military struggles to keep up with a near insatiable demand for drones. The Air Force now has more than 1,300 drone pilots, about 300 less than it needs, stationed at 13 or more bases across the United States. They fly the unmanned aircraft mostly in Afghanistan. (The numbers do not include the classified program of the C.I.A., which conducts drone strikes in Pakistan, Somalia and Yemen.) Although the Afghan war is winding down, the military expects drones to help compensate for fewer troops on the ground.

By 2015, the Pentagon projects that the Air Force will need more than 2,000 drone pilots for combat air patrols operating 24 hours a day worldwide. The Air Force is already training more drone pilots — 350 last year — than fighter and bomber pilots combined. Until this year, drone pilots went through traditional flight training before learning how to operate Predators, Reapers and unarmed Global Hawks. Now the pilots are on a fast track and spend only 40 hours in a basic Cessna-type plane before starting their drone training.

Gen. Norton A. Schwartz, the Air Force chief of staff, said it was “conceivable” that drone pilots in the Air Force would outnumber those in cockpits in the foreseeable future, although he predicted that the Air Force would have traditional pilots for at least 30 more years.

Many drone pilots once flew in the air themselves but switched to drones out of a sense of the inevitable — or if they flew cargo planes, to feel closer to the war. “You definitely feel more connected to the guys, the battle,” said Dave, the Air Force major, who flew C-130 transport planes in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Now more and more Air National Guard bases are abandoning traditional aircraft and switching to drones to meet demand, among them Hancock Field, which retired its F-16s and switched to Reapers in 2010. Colonel Brenton, who by then had logged more than 4,000 hours flying F-16s in 15 years of active duty and a decade in Syracuse deploying to war zones with the Guard, said he learned to fly drones to stay connected to combat. True, drones cannot engage in air-to-air combat, but Colonel Brenton said that “the amount of time I’ve engaged the enemy in air-to-ground combat has been significant” in both Reapers and F-16s.

“I feel like I’m doing the same thing I’ve always done, I just don’t deploy to do it,” he said. Now he works full time commanding a force of about 220 Reaper pilots, sensor operators and intelligence analysts at the base.

Pilots say the best days are when ground troops thank them for keeping them safe. Ted, an Air Force major and an F-16 pilot who flew Reapers from Creech, recalled how troops on an extended patrol away from their base in Afghanistan were grateful when he flew a Reaper above them for five hours so they could get some sleep one night. They told him, “We’re keeping one guy awake to talk to you, but if you can, just watch over and make sure nobody’s sneaking up on us,” he recalled.

All the operators dismiss the notion that they are playing a video game. (They also reject the word “drone” because they say it describes an aircraft that flies on its own. They call their planes remotely piloted aircraft.)

“I don’t have any video games that ask me to sit in one seat for six hours and look at the same target,” said Joshua, a sensor operator who worked at Creech for a decade and is now a trainer at Holloman. “One of the things we try to beat into our crews is that this is a real aircraft with a real human component, and whatever decisions you make, good or bad, there’s going to be actual consequences.”

In his 10 years at Creech, he said without elaborating, “I’ve seen some pretty disturbing things.”

All of the pilots who once flew in cockpits say they do miss the sensation of flight, which for Colonel Brenton extends to the F-16 flybys he did for the Syracuse Memorial Day parade downtown. To make up for it, he sometimes heads out on weekends in a small propeller plane, which he calls a bug smasher.

“It’s nice to be up in the air,” he said.

    A Day Job Waiting for a Kill Shot a World Away, NYT, 29.7.2012,






Rise Is Seen in Cyberattacks Targeting U.S. Infrastructure


July 26, 2012
The New York Times


ASPEN, Colo. — The top American military official responsible for defending the United States against cyberattacks said Thursday that there had been a 17-fold increase in computer attacks on American infrastructure between 2009 and 2011, initiated by criminal gangs, hackers and other nations.

The assessment by Gen. Keith B. Alexander, who heads the National Security Agency and also the newly created United States Cyber Command, appears to be the government’s first official acknowledgment of the pace at which America’s electricity grids, water supplies, computer and cellphone networks and other infrastructure are coming under attack. Those attacks are considered potentially far more serious than computer espionage or financial crimes.

General Alexander, who rarely speaks publicly, did not say how many attacks had occurred in that period. But he said that he thought the increase was unrelated to the release two years ago of a computer worm known as Stuxnet, which was aimed at taking down Iran’s uranium enrichment plant at Natanz.

When the worm inadvertently became public, many United States officials and outside experts expressed concern that it could be reverse-engineered and used against American targets. General Alexander said he saw no evidence of that.

General Alexander, as head of the N.S.A., was a crucial player in a covert American program called Olympic Games that targeted the Iranian program. But under questioning from Pete Williams of NBC News at a security conference here, he declined to say whether Stuxnet was American in origin; the Obama administration has never acknowledged using cyberweapons.

General Alexander said that what concerned him about the increase in foreign cyberattacks on the United States was that a growing number were aimed at “critical infrastructure,” and that the United States remained unprepared to ward off a major attack. On a scale of 1 to 10, he said, American preparedness for a large-scale cyberattack is “around a 3.” He urged passage of legislation, which may come to a vote in the next week, that would give the government new powers to defend private computer networks in the United States. The legislation has prompted a struggle as American companies try to avoid costly regulation on their networks, and some civil liberties groups express concern about the effect on privacy.

General Alexander said that the administration was still working out rules of engagement for responding to cyberattacks. Because an attack can take place in milliseconds, he said that some automatic defenses were necessary, as was the president’s involvement in any decisions about broader retaliation.

He confirmed that under existing authorities, only the president had the power to authorize an American-directed cyberattack. The first such attacks occurred under President George W. Bush.

The Pentagon has said previously that if the United States retaliated for an attack on its soil, the response could come in the form of a countercyberattack, or a traditional military response.

General Alexander spoke in a 75-minute interview at the Aspen Security Forum at the Aspen Institute here. The New York Times is a media sponsor of the four-day conference. Another conference speaker, Matthew Olsen, the director of the National Counterterrorism Center, addressed the escalating “hot war” between Israel and Iran and Iranian-backed groups like Hezbollah.

Iran has blamed Israel for assassinations of several of its nuclear scientists. Israel has accused Hezbollah operatives backed by Iran of carrying out the suicide bombing last week that killed five Israeli tourists and a local bus driver in Bulgaria.

The United States has said Iran was behind a thwarted plot last fall to kill Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to the United States.

“Both with respect to Iran and Hezbollah, we’re seeing a general uptick in the level of activity around the world in a number of places,” Mr. Olsen said.

Mr. Olsen did not address the Bulgaria attack, but he said the plot to kill the Saudi envoy in Washington “demonstrated that Iran absolutely had the intent to carry out a terrorist attack inside the United States.”

    Rise Is Seen in Cyberattacks Targeting U.S. Infrastructure, NYT, 26.7.2012,






Nuclear Time Warp


June 10, 2012
The New York Times

Did House Republicans somehow miss the end of the cold war? At a time when, for the sake of both security and fiscal responsibility, the country should be reducing its nuclear arsenal, the House has approved a defense authorization bill for 2013 that threatens to freeze the number of weapons at current levels and, over time, waste billions of dollars on unnecessary purchases and programs.

Thankfully, the bill isn’t likely to become law. But it is worth taking a closer look, both for what it says about Republicans’ misplaced strategic priorities — and about how far President Obama has already gone to appease them.

The United States and Russia each have more than 1,500 nuclear weapons deployed and many thousands more as backup or awaiting dismantlement. Gen. James Cartwright, the retired vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and a former commander of nuclear forces, recently said that deterrence could be guaranteed with 900 warheads, with only half deployed at any time.

If the United States fails to keep pushing for even deeper cuts — or raises any doubts about its current commitments — it will have an even harder time rallying global pressure to contain the nuclear ambitions of Iran, North Korea and others. Remember George W. Bush’s contempt for treaties?

At $642 billion, the House Pentagon authorization is $4 billion above President Obama’s request and $8 billion above the 2011 Budget Control Act agreement that the Republicans demanded and are now trying to overturn. More than $1 billion of that increase is nuclear-related. Here are some of the worst parts of the bill:

¶The 2010 New Start pact commits Washington and Moscow to cut their deployed strategic weapons from 2,200 to 1,550 by 2018. One provision in the bill would halt reductions if the president, or any successor, failed to meet Mr. Obama’s promise to spend $88 billion to upgrade the nuclear labs and $125 billion over 10 years to replace aging bombers, submarines and land-based missiles. Mr. Obama made those overly generous commitments to win ratification of New Start. Most outrageously, the bill says the country can’t keep reducing weapons if the defense cuts in the Budget Control Act are not overturned.

¶The bill would bar reduction, consolidation or withdrawal of tactical weapons in Europe — we can’t imagine a more unnecessary weapon — unless several onerous conditions are met. It mandates a report on possibly reintroducing tactical nuclear weapons in South Korea.

¶It contains $160 million to build a new plutonium plant in New Mexico to make new cores for weapons. The Energy Department has said its needs can be met for now with existing facilities. The projected cost has ballooned to nearly $6 billion. It adds nearly $500 million next year to develop a ballistic missile submarine that the administration wants to delay and we believe is unnecessary.

The White House has threatened to veto the authorization unless the worst provisions are deleted. The Senate bill has only made it through committee, but it has some troubling aspects, including keeping the plutonium plant project alive.

General Cartwright is only the latest heavyweight to endorse significant nuclear reductions. Former Ambassador Thomas Pickering and former Senator Chuck Hagel joined him in a report by Global Zero, a policy group urging major changes, including the 900 target. Separately, Henry Kissinger, James Baker, George Shultz and Sam Nunn have endorsed the eventual goal of a world without nuclear weapons. So has President Obama.

The president needs to leverage that support to argue the case for much deeper cuts and push back against members of Congress who — incredibly — still haven’t gotten beyond their cold war obsessions.

    Nuclear Time Warp, NYT, 10.6.2012,






Pentagon Sought to Stop Paper From Using Photos


April 18, 2012
The New York Times


The grisly photographs of American soldiers posing with the body parts of Afghan insurgents during a 2010 deployment in Afghanistan were the source of a dispute between The Los Angeles Times and the Pentagon lasting weeks.

Two of the 18 photographs given to the paper were published Wednesday by The Times over fierce objections by military officials who said that the photographs could incite violence. The officials had asked The Times not to publish any of the photographs, a fact that the defense secretary, Leon E. Panetta, reiterated on Wednesday as the images spread across the Internet.

“The reason for that is those kinds of photos are used by the enemy to incite violence, and lives have been lost as the result of the publication of similar photos,” Mr. Panetta said at a news conference.

But the newspaper’s editors said that the photographs were newsworthy. “We considered this very carefully,” the newspaper’s editor, Davan Maharaj, said in a Web chat with readers. “At the end of the day, our job is to publish information that our readers need to make informed decisions. We have a particular duty to report vigorously and impartially on all aspects of the American mission in Afghanistan. On balance, in this case, we felt that the public interest here was served by publishing a limited, but representative sample of these photos, along with a story explaining the circumstances under which they were taken.”

The article was by David Zucchino, a longtime war correspondent for the paper, who got an unsolicited e-mail two months ago from a soldier in the 82nd Airborne Division. The soldier said that he had “some information” that might interest Mr. Zucchino. The information included the photographs. Mr. Zucchino later met three times with the soldier, to whom The Times granted anonymity. “He said he was very, very concerned about what he said was a breakdown in security, discipline and professionalism,” Mr. Zucchino said.

Mr. Zucchino contacted military officials weeks ago and showed them some of the images. Within the newsroom, he said, there was “a vigorous debate about whether to publish; and if we publish, what to publish; and what to say in the story.”

Amid that internal debate, military officials, including the commander in Afghanistan, Lt. Gen. John R. Allen, registered their concerns with editors.

“Our concern is not about embarrassment,” George E. Little, a Pentagon press secretary, said in a telephone interview after Mr. Panetta’s news conference. “We recognize that this is inexcusable behavior depicted in the photos. This is all about force protection in Afghanistan.”

Once the paper decided it would publish the images, the military officials asked, and the editors agreed, to wait for extra security precautions to be put in place in Afghanistan. The newspaper waited more than 72 hours.

“We did have to bump up our security posture in the country,” Mr. Little said. “If the story had run without the photos, I’m not sure that we would have had to undertake those additional security measures.”

Mr. Maharaj said the newspaper had no plans to publish the other 16 images. Mr. Zucchino supported that decision. “They are just awful,” he said, calling the two that were published “the least gruesome.”


Elisabeth Bumiller contributed reporting from Brussels.

    Pentagon Sought to Stop Paper From Using Photos, NYT, 18.4.2012,





Top Pentagon Officials Stress Risks in Syria


March 7, 2012
The New York Times


WASHINGTON — The Pentagon’s top two officials said Wednesday that President Obama had asked for preliminary military options to respond to the increasingly violent Syria conflict, but they emphasized the risks and said that the administration still believed that diplomatic and economic pressure was the best way to protect Syrians from the Assad government’s repression.

The appraisal by Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta, in Senate testimony, reflected increased concern about the year-old uprising in Syria, in which more than 7,500 people have been killed, according to United Nations estimates. Their comments also reflected the politicization of the Syria conflict in the United States during a presidential election year. Mr. Obama, who ended the war in Iraq and is moving to do the same in Afghanistan, has expressed reluctance to enter a new military conflict and characterized statements by his Republican adversaries as hawkish.

General Dempsey and Mr. Panetta spoke two days after Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona, who lost to Mr. Obama in 2008, became the first senator to call for American airstrikes on Syria as “the only realistic way” to stop what he called a slaughter there. Both General Dempsey and Mr. Panetta faced sharp questions during their testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee from Mr. McCain, who is the panel’s ranking Republican.

Their exchanges came as the conflict in Syria took some striking new turns. The United Nations’ top relief official, Valerie Amos, visited the ravaged Syrian city of Homs — the first inspection there by an independent outside observer since President Bashar al-Assad ordered a military assault of the city’s armed resistance more than a month ago. Syrian activist groups reported ominous signs on Wednesday that Mr. Assad’s forces would now direct their campaign northward to Idlib Province, where the Free Syrian Army, a group composed mostly of army defectors, is challenging his authority.

General Dempsey told senators that the options under review included humanitarian airlifts, naval monitoring, aerial surveillance of the Syrian military and the establishment of a no-fly zone. Specifically, he said that “the president of the United States, through the national security staff, has asked us to begin the commander’s estimate,” a term for an initial assessment of a situation and potential courses of military action.

Mr. Panetta, who spoke alongside General Dempsey, told the committee that military review was in the earliest stages. “We have not done the detailed planning because we are waiting for the direction of the president to do that,” he said. Modern commanders in chief have routinely asked for military options during foreign crises, and the Pentagon as part of its daily business draws up contingency plans for a wide range of potential conflicts.

Mr. Panetta and General Dempsey spent much time explaining the difficulties of military action. Mr. Panetta said intervention could expedite a civil war in the country and make an explosive situation worse. He said bluntly that the Obama administration recognized “that there are limitations of military force, especially with U.S. boots on the ground.” He added that “it doesn’t make sense” for the United States to act alone, without a coalition of allies, as was the case in Libya.

Ms. Amos, the United Nations under secretary general and emergency relief coordinator, arrived in Syria for a two-day visit to assess the country’s relief needs. She accompanied a team from the Syrian Arab Red Crescent into the Baba Amr neighborhood of Homs, which had suffered enormous destruction and where activists have reported hundreds of civilian deaths.

She made no statement about what she observed, but a spokeswoman at the United Nations, Amanda Pitt, said that Ms. Amos had told her via telephone that the neighborhood was “pretty devastated,” largely devoid of people and punctuated by occasional gunfire.

“She wanted to go to Homs and Baba Amr to try and get a sense for herself of the impact of the fighting — and of the lack of humanitarian access — and to get there as soon as possible,” Ms. Pitt said in an e-mail. She said Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem of Syria, her host, had told Ms. Amos that she “would be able to go wherever she wanted.”

The state-run Syrian Arab News Agency made no mention of Ms. Amos’s visit to Homs, but reported her arrival in Syria earlier on Wednesday and quoted Mr. Moallem as saying that the government was trying to respond to emergency civilian needs “despite the burdens it faces because of the unfair sanctions imposed by some Arab and Western countries on Syria.”

Accounts of torture and deprivation in Homs, conveyed by fleeing civilians, have been denounced as enemy propaganda by the government of Mr. Assad, who has belittled the mass demonstrations against him and insisted that his forces have been battling foreign-backed terrorism. While China and Russia, his biggest foreign supporters, have defeated attempts by the United Nations Security Council to condemn Mr. Assad and hold him accountable, fractures have surfaced.

On Monday, Russia’s prime minister and president-elect, Vladimir V. Putin, reaffirmed his support for Mr. Assad but said he did not know how much longer Mr. Assad’s government would last. On Wednesday, China announced it was withdrawing most of its workers from Syria, reflecting what appeared to be declining confidence in Mr. Assad’s powers of governance.

Syria’s deputy oil minister, Abdo Hussameldin, announced his defection on a YouTube video, Reuters reported early Thursday, which would make him first high-ranking civilian official to abandon the Assad government since the uprising began.

The authenticity of the video, which was filmed at an undisclosed location, could not be confirmed.

“I Abdo Hussameldin, deputy oil and mineral wealth minister in Syria, announce my defection from the regime, resignation from my position and withdrawal from the Baath Party. I join the revolution of this dignified people,” Mr. Hussameldin says in the video, which was uploaded Wednesday and seen early on Thursday.

“I say to this regime: you have inflicted on those who you claim are your people a whole year of sorrow and sadness, denying them basic life and humanity and driving Syria to the edge of the abyss,” he says, adding that the country’s economy is “near collapse.”

Mr. Assad appointed Mr. Hussameldin, 58, to his position through a presidential decree in 2009.

Wearing a suit and tie, Mr. Hussameldin looked relaxed as he stared directly into the camera in a tight head and shoulders shot, appearing to read from a prepared statement on his lap as he sat on a dark gray chair against a yellow background.

”I have been in government for 33 years,” he said. “I did not want to end my career serving the crimes of this regime. I have preferred to do what is right although I know that this regime will burn my house and persecute my family.”

Public defections have remained rare among the civilian branches of the state, which Mr. Assad’s opponents attribute to the tight control of the secret police and the fear of retribution against families of any would-be defectors.

In late August, the attorney general of Hama Province, Mohammad al-Bakkour, declared in a YouTube video that he had resigned in protest against the suppression of street demonstrations and the storming of the city of Hama by tanks, according to Reuters. Mr. Bakkour has not been heard from since and some opposition sources say the video was made under pressure from rebels.

Elisabeth Bumiller reported from Washington, and Rick Gladstone from New York. Reporting was contributed by Neil MacFarquhar, Hwaida Saad and an employee of The New York Times from Beirut, Lebanon, Edward Wong from Beijing, and Alan Cowell from London.

    Top Pentagon Officials Stress Risks in Syria, NYT, 7.3.2012,






Army Private Faces Arraignment in WikiLeaks Case


February 23, 2012
The New York Times


FORT MEADE, Md. (AP) — An Army private accused of spilling a mountain of U.S. secrets to WikiLeaks is being asked for the first time to enter a plea to the charges.

The arraignment of Pfc. Bradley Manning begins Thursday afternoon at Fort Meade near Baltimore.

Officials say Manning also will be asked whether he wants to be tried by a judge or a jury.

The 24-year-old native of Crescent, Okla., faces 22 counts, including aiding the enemy. That charge carries a maximum sentence of life in prison.

Manning has been locked up since May 2010. He allegedly gave the anti-secrecy WikiLeaks website more than 700,000 classified documents and video clips while working in Iraq.

Defense lawyers say Manning was a troubled soldier who shouldn't have had access to classified material.

    Army Private Faces Arraignment in WikiLeaks Case, NYT, 23.2.2012,






Admiral Seeks Freer Hand in Deployment of Elite Forces


February 12, 2012
The New York Times


WASHINGTON — As the United States turns increasingly to Special Operations forces to confront developing threats scattered around the world, the nation’s top Special Operations officer, a member of the Navy Seals who oversaw the raid that killed Osama bin Laden, is seeking new authority to move his forces faster and outside of normal Pentagon deployment channels.

The officer, Adm. William H. McRaven, who leads the Special Operations Command, is pushing for a larger role for his elite units who have traditionally operated in the dark corners of American foreign policy. The plan would give him more autonomy to position his forces and their war-fighting equipment where intelligence and global events indicate they are most needed.

It would also allow the Special Operations forces to expand their presence in regions where they have not operated in large numbers for the past decade, especially in Asia, Africa and Latin America.

While President Obama and his Pentagon’s leadership have increasingly made Special Operations forces their military tool of choice, similar plans in the past have foundered because of opposition from regional commanders and the State Department. The military’s regional combatant commanders have feared a decrease of their authority, and some ambassadors in crisis zones have voiced concerns that commandos may carry out missions that are perceived to tread on a host country’s sovereignty, like the rift in ties with Pakistan after the Bin Laden raid.

Administration, military and Congressional officials say that the Special Operations Command has embarked on a quiet lobbying campaign to push through the initiative. Pentagon and administration officials note that while the Special Operations Command is certain to see a growth in its budget and personnel when the new Defense Department spending plan is released Monday — in contrast to many other parts of the military that are being cut — no decisions have been made on whether to expand Admiral McRaven’s authorities.

The White House and State Department declined to comment on the proposal on Sunday.

The proposals are put forward as a new model for warfare in an age of diminishing Pentagon budgets, shrinking numbers of troops and declining public appetite for large wars of occupation, according to Pentagon officials, military officers and civilian contractors briefed on the plan. They spoke on the condition of anonymity because no decisions have been made.

Under the new concepts, a significant number of Special Operations forces — projected at 12,000 — would remain deployed around the world. While commando teams would be on call for striking terrorist targets and rescuing hostages, just as significant would be the increased number of these personnel deployed on training and liaison assignments and to gather information to help the command better predict approaching national security risks.

Officials stressed that in almost all cases, Special Operations forces would still only be ordered on specific missions by the regional four-star commander.

“It’s not really about Socom running the global war on terrorism,” Admiral McRaven said in a brief interview last week, referring to the Special Operations Command. “I don’t think we’re ready to do that. What it’s about is how do I better support” the regional combatant commanders.

For the past decade, more than 80 percent of the United States’ Special Operations forces have been deployed to the Middle East. With the military’s conventional forces coming home after the full withdrawal from Iraq, Admiral McRaven wants the authority to spread his commando teams into regions where they had been thinned out to provide forces for wars after the Sept. 11 attacks.

Even more, Admiral McRaven wants the authority to quickly move his units to potential hot spots without going through the standard Pentagon process governing overseas deployments. Historically, the deployment of American forces overseas began with a request from a global combatant commander that was processed through the military’s Joint Staff and placed before the defense secretary for approval, in a cautious and deliberate process.

Shifting national security threats may argue for Admiral McRaven’s plans. With Special Operations forces concentrated in the Middle East and Southwest Asia over the last decade, commanders in other regions are seeking more of these units in their areas.

State Department officials say they have not yet been briefed on the proposals. In the past, some ambassadors in crisis zones have opposed increased deployments of Special Operations teams, and they have demanded assurances that diplomatic chiefs of missions will be fully involved in their plans and missions.

Senior Special Operations commanders pledged that their efforts would be coordinated with the senior diplomatic representative in each country. These officers also describe how the new authorities would stress working with local security forces whenever possible. The exception would be when a local government was unable or unwilling to cooperate with an authorized American mission, or if there was no responsible government in power with whom to work.

Admiral McRaven’s plans have raised concerns even within the Special Operations community. Two Pentagon consultants said they have spoken with senior Special Operations officers who worry about their troops being stretched too thin. They are also concerned that Special Operations forces — still less than 2 percent of the entire military — will become so much the “go to” force of choice that they are asked to carry out missions beyond their capacity.

“Sure, we’re worried about that,” said one senior Special Operations officer with several command tours overseas. “But we also think we can manage that.”

The Special Operations Command now numbers just under 66,000 people — including both military personnel and Defense Department civilians — a doubling since 2001. Its budget has reached $10.5 billion, up from $4.2 billion in 2001 (after adjusting for inflation).

Over the past decade, Special Operations Command personnel have been deployed for combat operations, exercises, training and other liaison missions in more than 70 countries. Since the invasion of Iraq in 2003, Special Operations Command sustained overseas deployments of more than 12,000 troops a day, with four-fifths committed to the broader Middle East.

Even as the Pentagon trims its conventional force, with a refocus on the Asia-Pacific region and reductions in Europe, the Special Operations Command says it needs to permanently sustain that overseas force of 12,000 deployed around the world — with troops that came out of Iraq being distributed across regions that had not had many over the past decade.

Under Admiral McRaven’s evolving plans — what he calls the Global SOF Alliance — Special Operations forces would be moved around the globe at his direction, to bolster the forces available to the top Special Operations officer assigned to each theater of operation. Thickening the Special Operations deployments in these other regions would allow the United States to be ready to respond more rapidly to a broader range of threats.

Current guidelines allow the Special Operations Command to carry out missions on its own for very specific types of operations, although that has rarely been done and officials involved in the current debate say that would remain a rare event.

“He’s trying to provide global agility,” said one former military official who has been briefed on the planning. “If your network is not elastic, it’s not as agile as the enemy.”

    Admiral Seeks Freer Hand in Deployment of Elite Forces, NYT, 12.2.2012,






Panetta Says U.S. to End Afghan Combat Role

as Soon as 2013


February 1, 2012
The New York Times


BRUSSELS — In a major milestone toward ending a decade of war in Afghanistan, Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta said Wednesday that American forces would step back from a combat role there as early as mid-2013, more than a year before all American troops are scheduled to come home.

Mr. Panetta cast the decision as an orderly step in a withdrawal process long planned by the United States and its allies, but his comments were the first time that the United States had put a date on stepping back from its central role in the war. The defense secretary’s words reflected the Obama administration’s eagerness to bring to a close the second of two grinding ground wars it inherited from the Bush administration.

Promising the end of the American combat mission in Afghanistan next year would also give Mr. Obama a certain applause line in his re-election stump speech this year.

Mr. Panetta said no decisions had been made about the number of American troops to be withdrawn in 2013, and he made clear that substantial fighting lies ahead. “It doesn’t mean that we’re not going to be combat-ready; we will be, because we always have to be in order to defend ourselves,” he told reporters on his plane on his way to a NATO meeting in Brussels, where Afghanistan is to be a central focus.

The United States has about 90,000 troops in Afghanistan, but 22,000 of them are due home by this fall. There has been no schedule set for the pace of the withdrawal of the 68,000 American troops who will remain, only that all are to be out by the end of 2014.

Mr. Panetta offered no details of what stepping back from combat would mean, saying only that the troops would move into an “advise and assist” role to Afghanistan’s security forces. Such definitions are typically murky, particularly in a country like Afghanistan, where American forces are spread widely among small bases across the desert, farmland and mountains, and where the native security forces have a mixed record of success at best.

The defense secretary offered the withdrawal of the United States from Iraq as a model. American troops there eventually pulled back to large bases and left the bulk of the fighting to the Iraqis.

At the same time, Mr. Panetta said the NATO discussions would also focus on a potential downsizing of Afghan security forces from 350,000 troops, largely because of the expense of maintaining such a large army. The United States and other NATO countries support those forces at a cost of around $6 billion a year, but financial crises in Europe are causing countries to balk at the bill.

“The funding is going to largely determine the kind of force we can sustain in the future,” Mr. Panetta said.

He and his team played down last week’s announcement by President Nicolas Sarkozy of France that his country would break with its NATO allies and accelerate the withdrawal of its forces in Afghanistan by pulling back its troops a year early, by the end of 2013. Pentagon officials said Mr. Sarkozy and the United States might be more in tune than it appeared, although they acknowledged confusion about the French president’s statement and said their goal was to sort it out at the NATO meeting.

“A lot of policy officials in Paris were scrambling” after Mr. Sarkozy’s announcement, a senior American defense official said. “So getting exactly to what the French bottom line is hasn’t been easy for them, much less for us.” The official spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was discussing the internal deliberations of another country.

Mr. Sarkozy made the announcement after an attack by a rogue Afghan soldier who killed four unarmed French soldiers on a training mission. There have been similar episodes of Afghan troops’ killing of American forces, most recently involving the death of a Marine in Helmand Province this week.

The senior defense official said the Americans considered the attacks as “isolated incidents,” although “obviously very disturbing.” He said vetting procedures for Afghan security forces were being reviewed.

Mr. Panetta said he would also seek to reassure NATO that although budget constraints and a focus on Asia were forcing the United States to withdraw two combat brigades — as many as 10,000 troops — from Europe, it was not abandoning its allies. The United States, he said, would try to make up some of the difference by rotating more troops in for training exercises in Europe.

    Panetta Says U.S. to End Afghan Combat Role as Soon as 2013, NYT, 1.2.2012,






Pentagon Tries to Counter Cheap, Potent Weapons


January 9, 2012
The New York Times


WASHINGTON — President Obama’s new military strategy has focused fresh attention on an increasingly important threat: the use of inexpensive weapons like mines and cyberattacks that aim not to defeat the American military in battle but to keep it at a distance.

The president and his national security team predict that the security challenges of the coming decade will be defined by this threat, just as the last one was defined by terrorism and insurgency.

A growing number of nations whose forces are overmatched by the United States are fielding these weapons, which can slow, disrupt and perhaps even halt an American offensive. Modern war plans can become mired in a bog of air defenses, mines, missiles, electronic jamming and computer-network attacks meant to degrade American advantages in technology and hardware.

It is a lesson that potential enemies drew from the way American public support for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan plummeted as armored vehicles — each costing millions of dollars — were broken and their troops killed and maimed by roadside bombs costing only a few hundred dollars apiece.

China and Iran were identified as the countries that were leading the pursuit of “asymmetric means” to counter American military force, according to the new strategy document, which cautioned that these relatively inexpensive measures were spreading to terrorist and guerrilla cells.

At his announcement at the Pentagon last week, Mr. Obama said the country should invest in “the ability to operate in environments where adversaries try to deny us access.”

The new strategy specifically orders that efforts to counter the threat, which the military calls “anti-access, area-denial,” become one of the 10 primary missions of the American military. That will help define how the four armed services compete for shares of a shrinking Pentagon budget.

“The United States must maintain its ability to project power in areas in which our access and freedom to operate are challenged,” the strategy document said.

“Sophisticated adversaries will use asymmetric capabilities, to include electronic and cyberwarfare, ballistic and cruise missiles, advanced air defenses, mining and other methods to complicate our operational calculus.”

For example, in recent exercises by the naval arm of the Revolutionary Guards, Iran has practiced “swarming” attacks by a number of small, fast boats that could be loaded with high explosives; if one such boat got through, it might blast a hole in the hull of a major American warship.

“Iran’s navy — especially the naval arm of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards — has invested in vessels and armaments that are well suited to asymmetric warfare, rather than the sort of ship-to-ship conflict that Iran would surely lose,” Michael Singh, managing director of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, wrote in a recent essay for Foreign Policy.

With Chinese and Russian help, Mr. Singh added, Iran is also fielding sophisticated mines, midget submarines and mobile antiship cruise missiles.

Nathan Freier, a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said, “Iran’s capabilities are best suited for imposing high costs on those who might need to force their way through the Strait of Hormuz, and on those in the region whom the Iranians perceive as being complicit in enabling foreign access.”

The potential challenge from China is even more significant, according to analysts. China has a fleet of diesel-electric attack submarines, which can operate quietly and effectively in waters near China’s shore to threaten foreign warships. China also fields short-, medium- and long-range missiles that could put warships at risk, and has layers of radar and surface-to-air missiles along its coast.

Finding, identifying and striking an American warship is a complex military operation. But the thicket of Chinese defenses could oblige an American aircraft carrier and its strike group to operate hundreds of miles farther out to sea, decreasing the number of attack sorties its aircraft could mount in a day and diminishing their effectiveness.

Perhaps most worrisome is China’s focus on electronic warfare and computer-network attacks, which might blunt the accuracy of advanced American munitions guided by satellite.

To counter these threats, the Air Force and Navy set up an office to develop complementary tactics and weaponry for what they are calling air-sea battle.

One idea is to attack an outer ring of enemy air defenses with F-35 Joint Strike Fighters, opening an alley for an F-22 stealth jet carrying sensitive surveillance pods to fly deeper into contested territory, where it could, for example, guide a powerful sea-launched cruise missile to a mobile or hidden target.

According to Lt. Gen. Herbert J. Carlisle, the Air Force deputy chief of staff for operations, plans and requirements, American computer warfare techniques could be used to spoil an adversary’s decision-making process. “If we can give them bad information, or we can make them doubt the good information they have,” he said.

Vice Adm. Bruce W. Clingan, the Navy’s deputy chief for operations, plans and strategy, said the military was carefully studying anti-access, area-denial techniques to pinpoint potential weaknesses in an adversary’s ability to identify and strike American targets.

“Do you take out his ability to shoot? Do you take him out once he’s shot? Do you deny him accuracy once the missile is airborne and then you create a greater ‘miss distance’?” Admiral Clingan said. “You have to work your way across that entire effect chain and how you’re going to do those things to keep those missiles from threatening you.”

Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, will soon release his concept for operating in an anti-access, area-denial environment. The 65-page directive will identify 30 capabilities that the armed forces will need to carry out missions across contested battlefields.

    Pentagon Tries to Counter Cheap, Potent Weapons, NYT, 9.1.2012,






No Need for All These Nukes


January 7, 2012
The New York Times



OVER the last three years, as I delved into the world of American nuclear weapons, I felt increasingly as though I had stepped into a time warp. Despite the nearly total rearrangement of the international security landscape since the demise of the Soviet Union in 1991, the rise of Islamic terrorism and the spread of nuclear materials and technology to volatile nations like Pakistan, North Korea and Iran, the Defense Department remains enthralled by cold war nuclear strategies and practices.

Barack Obama took office determined to change that. He has made progress on many fronts. Last week, he outlined a new, no-frills defense strategy, downsizing conventional forces. He now needs to double down on his commitment to refashion nuclear forces. He should trim the American nuclear arsenal by two-thirds to bring it down to a sensible size, order the Pentagon to scale back nuclear war-fighting plans so they are relevant to contemporary threats, remove most American intercontinental, land-based missiles from high alert and drop the quaint notion that a fleet of aging B-52 bombers can effectively deliver nuclear weapons to distant targets.

This agenda is not only desirable, it is doable without undercutting American security. It would save tens of billions of dollars a year, a relatively small amount by Pentagon standards, but every billion counts as Leon E. Panetta, the defense secretary, trims his budget. And the steps can safely be taken without requiring reciprocal moves by Russia that must be codified in a treaty.

For the last few months, the Obama administration has been conducting a classified review of the doctrines and operations that determine the shape and potential uses of America’s nuclear armaments. If the president pushes back against the defenders of the old order at the Pentagon and other redoubts of the nuclear priesthood, he can preserve American security while making the United States a more credible leader on one of today’s most critical issues — containing the spread of nuclear weapons. Like a chain smoker asking others to give up cigarettes, the United States, with its bloated arsenal, sounds hypocritical when it puts pressure on other nations to cut weapons and stop producing bomb-grade highly enriched uranium, the key ingredient of a crude nuclear weapon.

American actions alone won’t end the proliferation danger, but American leadership is essential to any hope of containing the threat.

Sam Nunn, the former chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, and anything but a dove over the years, rightly warns that the spread of weapons and the means to make them may soon reach a combustible stage where New York, Washington, Moscow, Tokyo or London is at risk of a nuclear terrorist attack.

Mr. Nunn and other keepers of America’s cold-war armory, George P. Shultz and Henry A. Kissinger, former Republican secretaries of state, and William J. Perry, a former Democratic defense secretary, have banded together in recent years to press, among other things, for cutting nuclear forces, de-alerting missiles and, ultimately, eliminating nuclear arms. Mr. Obama has embraced their aims and welcomed them to the Oval Office. Their high-powered, bipartisan alliance, if adroitly employed by the White House, ought to provide some political cover as Mr. Obama reshapes nuclear policy while running for a second term.

There is no national security rationale for maintaining an arsenal of some 5,000 warheads, with nearly 2,000 arms ready to use on short notice and the rest in reserve. We don’t need thousands of warheads, or even hundreds, to counter threats from countries like Iran or North Korea.

The only conceivable use of so many weapons would be a full-scale nuclear war with Russia, which has more warheads than the United States. But two decades after the collapse of the Soviet Union, even Vladimir V. Putin, with his authoritarian bent, is not about to put Russia on a collision course with the United States that leads to nuclear war. China, equally unlikely to escalate tensions to the nuclear brink, probably has fewer than 400 warheads and a policy to use them only in self-defense. Pakistan has roughly 100, North Korea fewer than 10 and Iran, so far, zero.

The United States could live quite securely with fewer than 1,500 warheads, half in reserve. Defenders of the nuclear faith claim we need 5,000 weapons as a hedge against warheads that may become defective over time. But an elaborate Energy Department program to maintain and refurbish warheads, the Stockpile Stewardship Program, has proved highly effective.

Another oft-cited reason for increasing our arsenal is that the Pentagon’s nuclear war-fighting plans still call for striking hundreds of targets in Russia and China, as well as dozens of sites in a number of other publicly unidentified nations — presumably Iran, North Korea and Syria — considered potentially hostile to the United States and eager to possess unconventional weapons.

Washington’s current nuclear war plans remain far too outsize to deal with any plausible attack on America. Mr. Obama could remove some nations from the hit list, starting with China, and tell his generals to limit the number of targets in the countries that remain.

The oversize American nuclear arsenal features an equally outdated reliance on long-distance bombers. The days when lumbering B-52 bombers could play a central role in delivering nuclear weapons — memorably spoofed in Stanley Kubrick’s “Dr. Strangelove” — ended decades ago. Mr. Obama should ground the bombers and depend on land- and sea-based missiles.

The high-alert status of America’s intercontinental ballistic missiles is another anachronism. There are few circumstances that might require the United States to quickly launch nuclear-tipped missiles, and missiles on high alert are an invitation to an accident, or impulsive action. In the first year of his presidency, Mr. Obama outlined an ambitious nuclear weapons agenda. Absent new action, Washington will remain frozen in a costly cold war posture.


Philip Taubman is a former New York Times bureau chief in Moscow

and Washington and the author of “The Partnership:

Five Cold Warriors and Their Quest to Ban the Bomb.”

    No Need for All These Nukes, NYT, 7.1.2012,






A Leaner Pentagon


January 5, 2012
The New York Times


With his new defense strategy, President Obama has put forward a generally pragmatic vision of how this country will organize and deploy its military in the 21st century, while also addressing its deep fiscal problems.

It is based on the idea that the country must be smarter and more restrained in its use of force — a relief after President George W. Bush’s disastrous war in Iraq. It will mean a significant reduction in the size of the Army and Marine Corps. But it doesn’t minimize the fact that the world is a very dangerous place and says the country must still be ready to fight a major land war — although one lasting for years would require another buildup.

It argues, persuasively, that many of the challenges out there can be dealt with by air power, intelligence, special operations or innovative technologies like drones.

Mr. Obama wants to spend less on nuclear weapons — the most unnecessary part of the arsenal — although how much less is unclear. He plans to focus more resources on naval and air power in the Strait of Hormuz, to contain an increasingly assertive Iran, and in Asia, to moderate and counterbalance China’s ambitions. We agree that the United States needs to be more engaged in both areas, but the new Asia focus, in particular, must not be an excuse to avoid other needed budget cuts.

With all American troops out of Iraq and Mr. Obama’s pledge to draw down in Afghanistan, it is time for a serious evaluation of the strategic environment and this country’s role and responsibilities. The fiscal crisis has made that more urgent.

Congress has already mandated nearly $500 billion in cuts in Pentagon spending over the next decade, and this strategy takes those into consideration. The failure of the Congressional supercommittee to reach a deficit deal means almost $500 billion more are supposed to kick in next January, but it is unclear how that would affect the new strategy. Both sets of cuts can be absorbed, if made prudently. No one should feel sorry for the Pentagon: It has had a blank check for a decade, and even with these cuts, the budget will continue to grow.

Republicans are predictably in high dudgeon over the decision to jettison the cold-war concept of being able to fight and win two conventional land wars simultaneously. It was always an artificial construct intended mainly to ensure the Pentagon got all it wanted.

Still, the United States must be ready to face multiple contingencies. Our own chilling list includes a collapsing Pakistan, another state hijacked by Al Qaeda, Iran blocking oil shipping as it pursues its nuclear ambitions or a weak or unbalanced North Korean leader making a suicidal run across the South Korean border.

At a Pentagon briefing where Mr. Obama put his personal stamp on the strategy, Gen. Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, insisted that the country “will always be able to do more than one thing at a time. More importantly, wherever we are confronted and in whatever sequence, we will win.”

They gave few details on what the new strategy will mean in practice. According to reports in The Times, the Pentagon plans to shrink the Army even below current targets, dropping to 490,000 soldiers over the next decade. That sounds reasonable, but there must be a clear plan on how to build up again quickly if needed.

We understand the importance of sending a clear message that this country is not ceding anything in the Pacific to China. But that cannot become the Pentagon’s newest argument for unrestrained spending. The Times reported that Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has already made the mistaken decision not to eliminate any of the Navy’s 11 aircraft carriers; even scaling back to 10 could save at least $4 billion over the next decade.

It came at the barrel of a budget-cutting gun, but President Obama has begun to bring more rationality to military planning. The real impact of the strategy will be seen in the budget he unveils later this month.

    A Leaner Pentagon, NYT, 5.1.2012,






Obama at Pentagon to Outline Cuts and Strategic Shifts


January 5, 2012
The New York Times


WASHINGTON — President Obama outlined a broad new military strategy for the United States on Thursday, one that refocuses the armed forces on threats in Asia and the Pacific region, continues a strong presence in the Middle East but makes clear that American ground forces will no longer be large enough to conduct prolonged, large-scale counterinsurgency campaigns like those in Iraq and Afghanistan.

In an unusual appearance in the Pentagon briefing room, Mr. Obama put his mark on a military strategy that moves away from the grinding wars he inherited from the Bush administration and relies more on naval and air power in the Pacific and the Strait of Hormuz as a counterbalance to China and Iran.

Mr. Obama’s strategy embraces hundreds of billions of dollars in cuts to the military, making it an awkward codicil to the uneasy relationship he has shared with the military since his first days in office.

In a letter accompanying the new strategy, the president wrote, “We must put our fiscal house in order here at home and renew our long-term economic strength.”

But in an election year when he has been under assault from Republican presidential candidates for cutting the military budget and for what they say is his weak response to Iranian threats, Mr. Obama also said that the United States would “avoid repeating the mistakes of the past when our military was left ill-prepared for the future.”

To that end, the president wrote, his administration will continue to invest in counterterrorism, intelligence gathering, cyberwarfare and countering the proliferation of nuclear weapons.

Mr. Obama arrived at the Pentagon early Thursday to describe the new strategy with his defense secretary, Leon E. Panetta, and with Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Officials said it was the first time in history that a president had held a news conference at the Pentagon.

“Now, we’re turning the page on a decade of war,” Mr. Obama said in his prepared remarks.

He said the country needed to remain prepared. “We cannot afford to repeat the mistakes of the past—after World War II, after Vietnam—when our military was left ill-prepared for the future,” he said. “So, yes, our military will be leaner, but the world must know—the United States is going to maintain our military superiority.”

Mr. Panetta has concluded that the Army has to shrink even below current targets, dropping to 490,000 soldiers over the next decade, but that the United States should not cut any of its 11 aircraft carriers, according to Pentagon officials and military analysts briefed on the secretary’s budget proposals.

The new military strategy is driven by at least $450 billion in Pentagon budget cuts over the next decade. An additional $500 billion in cuts could be ordered if Congress follows through on plans for deeper reductions.

As part of the new reality, Mr. Panetta is expected to propose cuts in coming weeks to next-generation weapons, including delays in purchases of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter jet, one of the most expensive weapons programs in history. Delaying the F-35 would leave its factories open, giving the manufacturer, Lockheed Martin, a chance to work out continuing problems in developing the plane while freeing up money that otherwise would be devoted to buying it in the next year or two.

In the past few days, senior aides to both Mr. Panetta and General Dempsey said few specific details on Pentagon budget cuts would be released before the final budget proposal is finished later this month. But a number of Pentagon officials, military officers and military budget specialists briefed on Mr. Panetta’s plans discussed specific programs on the chopping block on the condition of anonymity.

The defense secretary has made clear that troop reductions should be carried out carefully, and over several years, so that combat veterans are not flooding into a tough employment market and military families do not feel that the government is breaking trust after a decade of sacrifice, officials said.

A smaller Army would be a clear sign that the Pentagon does not anticipate conducting another expensive, troop-intensive counterinsurgency campaign, like those waged in Afghanistan and Iraq. Nor would the military be able to carry out two sustained ground wars at one time, as was required under past national military strategies.

Instead, the military would be required to fight and win one war, spoil the military aspirations of another adversary in a different region of the world, and all the while be able to conduct humanitarian relief operations and other contingencies, like continuing counterterrorism missions and enforcing a no-fly zone.

The size of the Marine Corps is also expected to be reduced, although it would be expected to benefit from a renewed focus on the Asia-Pacific region, with Marines deployed aboard ships as well as at bases west of Hawaii.

Mr. Panetta is also examining personnel costs, with cuts to future retirement benefits and fees for health care offered to Defense Department retirees on the table.

Some areas of Pentagon spending will be protected. The defense secretary will not advocate cuts in financing for defense and offense in cyberspace, for Special Operations forces or for the broad area of intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance.

In general, the new “Defense Strategic Review” outlined Thursday will try to define American national security interests in what officials said would be more realistic, narrow terms — to allow the acquisition of required military capabilities with a reduced budget.

    Obama at Pentagon to Outline Cuts and Strategic Shifts, NYT, 5.1.2012,




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