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History > 2013 > USA > Pentagon (I)



Yemen Death

Test Claims of New Drone Policy


December 20, 2013
The New York Times


WASHINGTON — In some respects, the drone strike in Yemen last week resembled so many others from recent years: A hail of missiles slammed into a convoy of trucks on a remote desert road, killing at least 12 people.

But this time the trucks were part of a wedding procession, making the customary journey from the groom’s house to the house of the bride.

The Dec. 12 strike by the Pentagon, launched from an American base in Djibouti, killed at least a half-dozen innocent people, according to a number of tribal leaders and witnesses, and provoked a storm of outrage in the country. It also illuminated the reality behind the talk surrounding the Obama administration’s new drone policy, which was announced with fanfare seven months ago.

Although American officials say they are being more careful before launching drone strikes in Yemen, Pakistan and elsewhere — and more transparent about the clandestine wars that President Obama has embraced — the strike last week offers a window on the intelligence breakdowns and continuing liability of a targeted killing program that remains almost entirely secret.

Both the Pentagon and the C.I.A. continue to wage parallel drone wars in Yemen, but neither is discussed publicly. A Pentagon spokeswoman declined to comment about the Dec. 12 strike, referring a reporter to a vague news release issued last week by the government of Yemen, written in Arabic.

It remains unclear whom the Americans were trying to kill in the strike, which was carried out in a desolate area southeast of Yemen’s capital, Sana. Witnesses to the strike’s aftermath said that one white pickup truck was destroyed and that two or three other vehicles were seriously damaged. The Associated Press reported Friday that the target of the strike was Shawqi Ali Ahmad al-Badani, a militant who is accused of planning a terrorist plot in August that led to the closing of more than a dozen United States Embassies. American officials declined to comment about that report.

At first, the Yemeni government, a close partner with the Obama administration on counterterrorism matters, said that all the dead were militants. But Yemeni officials conceded soon afterward that some civilians had been killed, and they gave 101 Kalashnikov rifles and about 24 million Yemeni riyals (about $110,000) to relatives of the victims as part of a traditional compensation process, a local tribal leader said.

Yemeni government officials and several local tribal leaders said that the dead included several militants with ties to Al Qaeda’s branch in Yemen, but no one has been able to identify them. Some witnesses who have interviewed victims’ families say they believe no militants were killed at all.

The murky details surrounding the strike raise questions about how rigorously American officials are applying the standards for lethal strikes that Mr. Obama laid out in a speech on May 23 at the National Defense University — and whether such standards are even possible in such a remote and opaque environment.

In the speech, the president said that targeted killing operations were carried out only against militants who posed a “continuing and imminent threat to the American people.” Over the past week, no government official has made a case in public that the people targeted in the strike posed a threat to Americans.

Moreover, the president said in May, no strike can be authorized without “near certainty that no civilians will be killed or injured” — a bar he described as “the highest standard we can set.”

At the time, administration officials said that authority over the bulk of drone strikes would gradually shift to the Pentagon from the C.I.A., a move officials said was intended partly to lift the shroud of secrecy from the targeted killing program.

But nearly seven months later, the C.I.A. still carries out a majority of drone strikes in Yemen, with the remote-controlled aircraft taking off from a base in the southern desert of Saudi Arabia. The Pentagon strikes, usually launched from the Djibouti base, are cloaked in as much secrecy as those carried out by the C.I.A.

“The contradictory reports about what happened on Dec. 12 underscore the critical need for more transparency from the Obama administration and Yemeni authorities about these strikes,” said Letta Tayler of Human Rights Watch, who has done extensive research in Yemen about the drone strikes.

The very fact that the drone strike last week targeted an 11-vehicle convoy — a much larger group than Al Qaeda would typically use — suggests that the new American guidelines to rule out civilian casualties may not have been followed in this case.

And the confusion over the victims’ identities raises questions about how the United States government gathers intelligence in such a contested region and with partners whose interests may differ sharply from those of the Obama administration.

The area where the strike occurred, in the central province of Bayda, is almost completely beyond the control of the Yemeni government, and is populated by tribes whose recurring feuds can easily become tied up in the agendas of outsiders.

Over the past two years, the Saudi government — which for decades has used cash to maintain a network of influence in Yemen — has increased its payments to tribal figures in Bayda to recruit informers and deter militants, according to several tribal leaders in the area. This shadowy system appears to contribute to the secretive process of information-gathering that determines targets for drone strikes, a process in which Saudi and Yemeni officials cooperate with Americans.

But Saudi and American interests diverge in important ways in Yemen. Many of the militants there who fight in Al Qaeda’s name are expatriate Saudis whose sole goal is to bring down the Saudi government.

Because of the program’s secrecy, it is impossible to know whether the American dependence on Saudi and Yemeni intelligence results in the killing of militants who pose a danger only to Arab countries.

Some Yemeni officials have also hinted that the timing and target of the drone strike last week may have been influenced by a devastating attack two weeks ago on the Yemeni Defense Ministry in which 52 people were killed, including women, children and doctors at the ministry’s hospital.

That attack ignited a desire for revenge in Yemen’s security establishment and also damaged Al Qaeda’s reputation in Yemen, leaving the group hungry for opportunities to change the subject. Both parties, in other words, may have had reasons to manipulate the facts, both before and after the drone strike.

American officials will not say what they knew about the targets of the strike last week. But in the past, American officials have sometimes appeared to be misinformed about the accidental deaths of Yemeni civilians in drone strikes.

In one example from Aug. 1, a drone strike killed a 28-year-old man who happened to hitch a ride with three men suspected to have been Qaeda members. According to a number of witnesses, relatives and local police officials, the man, Saleh Yaslim Saeed bin Ishaq, was waiting by a gas station late at night when the three men stopped in a Land Cruiser and agreed to give him a ride.

Mr. Ishaq’s ID card and belongings were found in the burned wreckage of the vehicle, and the local police — who confirmed that the other three dead men were wanted militants — said he appeared to have been an innocent person whose presence in the car was accidental.

When contacted about the strike, American officials said they were aware only of the three militants killed. Yet the details of Mr. Ishaq’s death, and an image of his ID card, were published at the time in newspapers and on websites in Yemen.


Shuaib al-Mosawa contributed reporting from Sana, Yemen.

    Yemen Deaths Test Claims of New Drone Policy, NYT, 20.12.2013,






Pentagon Is Updating

Conflict Rules in Cyberspace


June 27, 2013
The New York Times


WASHINGTON — The Pentagon is updating its classified rules for warfare in cyberspace for the first time in seven years, an acknowledgment of the growing threat posed by computer-network attacks — and the need for the United States to improve its defenses and increase the nimbleness of its response, the nation’s top military officer said Thursday.

The officer, Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, also said that, globally, new regulations were needed to govern actions by the world community in cyberspace. He said that the Chinese did not believe that hacking American systems violated any rules, since no rules existed.

Discussing efforts to improve the Pentagon’s tools for digital defense and offense, General Dempsey said the military must be “able to operate at network speed, rather than what I call swivel-chair speed.”

“Cyber has escalated from an issue of moderate concern to one of the most serious threats to our national security,” he said. “We now live in a world of weaponized bits and bytes, where an entire country can be disrupted by the click of mouse.”

Under a presidential directive, the Pentagon developed “emergency procedures to guide our response to imminent, significant cyberthreats,” and is “updating our rules of engagement — the first update for cyber in seven years,” he said. This effort has resulted in the creation of what General Dempsey called an interagency “playbook for cyber.”

During a speech at the Brookings Institution, a policy research center, General Dempsey said these new “standing rules of engagement” for military actions remained in draft form, and had not yet been approved.

In his first major address on the new, virtual domain of computer warfare, General Dempsey gave an outline of what a significant attack might look like, and how the United States might respond.

If the nation’s critical infrastructure came under attack from poisonous code over a computer network from overseas, the first effort would be gathering information on the malware and the systems under attack. Network defenses would be in place, as “our first instinct will be to pull up the drawbridge and prevent the attack, that is to say, block or defend,” he said.

If the attack could not be repulsed, the new playbook calls for “active defense,” which General Dempsey defined as a “proportional” effort “to go out and disable the particular botnet that was attacking us.” It is notable that, in this situation, the line between active defense and offense might be blurry.

“If it became something more widespread and we needed to do something beyond that, it would require interagency consultation and authorities at a higher level in order to do it,” he said. Although these plans are classified, his statement indicated that the rules for responding in an escalated manner in cyberspace, or with a conventional retaliation, would require decisions by the civilian leadership.

General Dempsey’s speech drew a clear distinction between the nation’s two major efforts in cyberspace. The military’s role is in defending computer networks and, if so ordered by the president, carrying out offensive attacks. That is related to, but separate from, the intelligence community’s efforts to gather intelligence in cyberspace. Several of those highly classified intelligence-gathering programs were exposed via leaks from a former contract worker for the National Security Agency.

Assessing adversaries in cyberspace, General Dempsey said that China, in particular, had chosen a niche in stealing intellectual property. “Their view is that there are no rules of the road in cyber,” General Dempsey noted. He said American and Chinese officials would meet over coming days to discuss ways to “to establish some rules of the road, so that we don’t have these friction points in our relationship.”

The military headquarters responsible for computer-network warfare, the United States Cyber Command, will grow by 4,000 personnel with an additional investment of $23 billion, General Dempsey said. (Cyber Command and the National Security Agency are led by the same officer, Gen. Keith B. Alexander.)

“We are doing all of this not to address run-of-the mill cyberintrusions, but to stop attacks of significant consequence — those that threaten life, limb and the country’s core economic functioning,” General Dempsey said.

    Pentagon Is Updating Conflict Rules in Cyberspace, NYT, 27.6.2013,






Army to Cut Its Forces by 80,000 in 5 Years


June 25, 2013
The New York Times


WASHINGTON — Gen. Ray Odierno, the Army chief of staff, said Tuesday that the Army would institute the largest organizational change since World War II by eliminating combat forces from 10 bases across the United States, part of a planned reduction of 80,000 active-duty troops over the next five years.

The announcement supports the Army’s effort to downsize the active-duty force to 490,000 as the military winds down from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The cuts were a result of the 2011 Budget Control Act that required $487 billion in military spending cuts over a decade. This is the fourth round of budget cuts for the military since President Obama took office.

Under the plan, the Army will cut its brigade combat teams to 33 from 45 by 2017 at bases in Colorado, Georgia, Kansas, Kentucky, New York, North Carolina, Texas and Washington State. A brigade is roughly 3,500 to 5,000 people. Two additional brigades in Germany, at Baumholder and Grafenwöhr, have already been scheduled for elimination this year.

General Odierno said the cutbacks are only a precursor to further action. “There is going to be another reduction,” he said at a Pentagon news conference. “There is no away around it.”

The across-the-board budget cuts known as sequestration, which calls for some $500 million in military spending reductions by 2022, could force the Army to speed up its current plans for cuts.

General Odierno said that most of the troop reductions will occur with natural attrition, but if “full sequestration occurs,” then the Army will have to cut more officers, including colonels, lieutenant colonels and captains.

The cuts are certain to be unpopular in the communities where the bases are a significant source of local jobs, although General Odierno said the Army had tried to minimize the damage. In the past year, the Army has conducted an extensive study on the economic impacts of the reductions and held community meetings across the country.

“I know in the local communities it will have its impact,” General Odierno said. But “we’ve tried to make it as small an impact as possible for as many communities as we could.”

The brigades will be cut from Fort Drum, N.Y.; Fort Campbell, Ky.; Fort Knox, Ky.; Fort Hood, Tex.; Fort Bliss, Tex.; Fort Bragg, N.C.; Fort Carson, Colo.; Fort Riley, Kan.; Fort Stewart, Ga.; and Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash.

Representative Howard P. McKeon, the California Republican who is chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, said that he would take a close look at the cuts. “As damaging as they are, these cuts don’t begin to reflect the crippling damage sequestration will do to our armed forces and national security,” he said in a statement. He added that “we all must understand that this is only the tip of the iceberg, much deeper cuts are still to come.”

Representative Adam Smith of Washington, the ranking Democrat on the Armed Services Committee, also warned about sequestration. “Given the drawdown in Afghanistan, the Army can manage this reduction in end strength,” he said in a statement. But, he said: “The real hazard to military effectiveness will persist as long as Congress fails to act on sequestration. If sequestration is not removed, then more extensive force structure changes will need to be made.”

    Army to Cut Its Forces by 80,000 in 5 Years, NYT, 25.6.2013,






Guilty Plea by Sergeant

in Killing of Civilians


June 5, 2013
The New York Times


JOINT BASE LEWIS-McCHORD, Wash. — Staff Sgt. Robert Bales, the enigmatic figure at the center of the worst American war crime in recent memory, admitted for the first time on Wednesday deliberately killing 16 Afghan civilians last year, most of them women and children.

He took the oath in a military court, swore to tell the truth, and conceded in crisp “yes sirs” and “no sirs” every major charge against him — that he shot some victims, and shot and burned others, and did so with complete awareness that he was acting on his own, without compunction or mercy or under orders by a superior Army officer. The guilty plea removes the possibility of the death penalty in the case.

But the curtain of enigma about the man himself, and his descent into darkness and murder on the night of the killings, remained firmly in place. The millions of Americans who have pondered the mechanisms of atrocity since the attacks in March 2012 were left in the dark. Even Sergeant Bales himself, finally pressed by the presiding judge, Col. Jeffery Nance, to explain more deeply what happened, seemed baffled.

“What was your reason for killing them?” Colonel Nance finally asked.

Sergeant Bales, 39, seated at the defense table in his blue service uniform, hands clasped before him — thumbs often nervously twitching — said he had asked himself the same question “a million times.”

“There’s not a good reason in this world for why I did the horrible things I did,” he said.

Asked by Colonel Nance whether he had poured kerosene on some of his victims and set them on fire as the charges against him specified, Sergeant Bales said he remembered seeing a kerosene lamp in one of the village compounds, and later found matches in his pocket. But bodies themselves on fire? He did not remember that, he said. Then he conceded that the cumulative evidence was clear that it must have happened, and that he must, in fact, have done it.

“It’s the only thing that makes sense, sir,” Sergeant Bales said.

Asked by the judge about his illegal use of steroids, another charge Sergeant Bales admitted to on Wednesday, the defendant said he had wanted to get stronger, or “huge and jacked,” as he put in an interview quoted by the court. Asked by the judge what other effects the drugs might have had, Sergeant Bales said: “Sir, it definitely increased my irritability and anger.”

Whether those mood shifts played into the crime was unaddressed.

The murders, in two poor villages in the Panjwai district of Kandahar Province, had global repercussions. United States-Afghan relations shuddered as villages in the area erupted in protest. Critics of America’s decade of conflict in the region since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, seized on the stresses experienced in the war by soldiers like Sergeant Bales, who was on his fourth overseas deployment in 10 years.

Victims testified in a pretrial, or Article 32, hearing at the base last fall that a figure, cloaked in darkness with blindingly bright lights on his weapon, burst into their homes early on the morning of March 11, 2012. In gripping testimony via live video feed from Afghanistan, they described a man they could not identify who killed people in their beds, leaving brains on pillows.

Fellow soldiers told the court in the Article 32 hearing that they had been drinking together earlier that night, against regulations, and that Sergeant Bales had later walked back into the camp, wearing a cape, his clothes spotted with blood.

But until Wednesday, when Sergeant Bales used phrases like, “then I did kill her by shooting her,” over and over in numbing repetition, the figure at the center of the case was described only obliquely and in shadow, from those who saw him or suffered at his hands. And even then, in the parade of mostly monotone guilty admissions, anyone waiting for tears of regret or remorse was disappointed.

Even though Wednesday’s hearing removed the death penalty from consideration in the case, Sergeant Bales still faces a sentencing trial, scheduled for August, to determine whether he will receive life in prison with the possibility of parole, or life without parole.

At that time, Sergeant Bales and his lawyers could present evidence of extenuating or mitigating circumstances, and Sergeant Bales would have an opportunity to testify, the judge said. That phase of the case is also likely to bring up questions of the defendant’s life, character and mental states, and the stresses of the wars he helped fight.

During his deployments, for example, Sergeant Bales suffered foot and head injuries and saw fellow soldiers badly wounded, defense lawyers and military officials have said. His lawyers have also said he had suffered from post-traumatic stress and a traumatic brain injury.

But his past includes an arrest on a misdemeanor charge of assault on a woman, which was dropped after he completed anger management counseling. Testimony about his drug and alcohol use in a combat zone could play out further there as well, which could open up questions about his mental state at the time of the murders, but also about the environment and culture in the military where that drug use took place.

    Guilty Plea by Sergeant in Killing of Civilians, NYT, 5.6.2013,






The Military’s Sexual Assault Crisis


May 7, 2013
The New York Times


Transforming the military’s entrenched culture of sexual violence will require new approaches and a much stronger effort than what the Pentagon has done so far.

That is the depressing truth of a Defense Department study released on Tuesday estimating that about 26,000 people in the military were sexually assaulted in the 2012 fiscal year, up from about 19,000 in the same period a year before.

Those who thought that the crisis could not get any worse have been proved wrong.

As in other years, only a small fraction of assaults were reported — 3,374 in 2012 compared with 3,192 in 2011. The study, based on anonymous surveys, suggests that the great majority of sexual assault victims do not report the attacks for fear of retribution or lack of faith that the military will prosecute these crimes.

Just two days before the report’s release, the officer in charge of sexual assault prevention programs for the Air Force, Lt. Col. Jeffrey Krusinski, was arrested in Arlington County, Va., and charged with sexual battery, compounding the sense that the military is incapable of addressing this crisis.

“This arrest speaks volumes about the status and effectiveness of the department’s efforts to address the plague of sexual assaults in the military,” said Senator Carl Levin of Michigan, the Democratic chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, on Tuesday in referring to the Defense Department.

Responding to Colonel Krusinski’s arrest on battery charges in the attack of a woman in a parking lot on Sunday, Senator Claire McCaskill, a Missouri Democrat and former prosecutor, expressed skepticism that “somebody could be accused of that behavior with a complete stranger and not have anything in his file.”

She is holding up the nomination of Lt. Gen. Susan Helms to be vice commander of the Air Force’s Space Command, while seeking more information about General Helms’s decision to overturn a jury conviction in a sexual assault case last year.

The new Pentagon report and Colonel Krusinski’s arrest have shown the Air Force’s assault prevention efforts to be an absurd joke. Whatever steps taken in the past year to reduce rampant assault are plainly inadequate.

The issue is what is to be done now. While no single program can provide a cure-all, changes like offering all assault victims support in the form of a special victims’ counsel — as Senator Patty Murray, Democrat of Washington, and Senator Kelly Ayotte, Republican of New Hampshire, have proposed — make sense.

The most promising proposal comes from Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, Democrat of New York. She plans to introduce legislation next week that fixes a critical flaw in the military’s handling of assault cases. The measure would replace the current system of adjudicating sexual assault by taking the cases outside a victim’s chain of command. It would end the power of senior officers with no legal training but lots of conflicts of interest to decide whether courts-martial can be brought against subordinates and to toss out a jury verdict once it is rendered.

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel favors eliminating the power of senior officers to overturn jury findings in the most serious cases, but, so far, he has not endorsed the Gillibrand bill, which would move the authority both to investigate and prosecute offenses to impartial military prosecutors. His reluctance is troubling. It is his job to fix the situation. Halfway reform won’t do.

Asked about the assault numbers on Tuesday, President Obama said military personnel who engage in assaults are “betraying the uniform they’re wearing.” He said he told Mr. Hagel that “we have to exponentially step up our game to go at this thing hard.” That is the right message, but actually changing the system will require presidential leadership.

    The Military’s Sexual Assault Crisis, NYT, 7.5.2013,






Sexual Assaults in Military

Raise Alarm in Washington


May 7, 2013
The New York Times


WASHINGTON — The problem of sexual assault in the military leapt to the forefront in Washington on Tuesday as the Pentagon released a survey estimating that 26,000 people in the armed forces were sexually assaulted last year, up from 19,000 in 2010, and an angry President Obama and Congress demanded action.

The study, based on a confidential survey sent to 108,000 active-duty service members, was released two days after the officer in charge of sexual assault prevention programs for the Air Force was arrested and charged with sexual battery for grabbing a woman’s breasts and buttocks in an Arlington, Va., parking lot.

At a White House news conference, Mr. Obama expressed exasperation with the Pentagon’s attempts to bring sexual assault under control.

“The bottom line is, I have no tolerance for this,” Mr. Obama said in answer to a question about the survey. “If we find out somebody’s engaging in this stuff, they’ve got to be held accountable, prosecuted, stripped of their positions, court-martialed, fired, dishonorably discharged. Period.”

The president said he had ordered Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel “to step up our game exponentially” to prevent sex crimes and said he wanted military victims of sexual assault to know that “I’ve got their backs.”

In a separate report made public on Tuesday, the military recorded 3,374 sexual assault reports last year, up from 3,192 in 2011, suggesting that many victims continue not to report the crimes for fear of retribution or a lack of justice under the department’s system for prosecution.

The numbers come as the Pentagon prepares to integrate women formally into what had been all-male domains of combat, making the effective monitoring, policing and prosecuting of sexual misconduct all the more pressing.

Pentagon officials said nearly 26,000 active-duty men and women had responded to the sexual assault survey. Of those, 6.1 percent of women and 1.2 percent of men said they had experienced sexual assault in the past year, which the survey defined as everything from rape to “unwanted sexual touching” of genitalia, breasts, buttocks or inner thighs.

From those percentages, the Pentagon extrapolated that 12,100 of the 203,000 women on active duty and 13,900 of the 1.2 million men on active duty had experienced some form of sexual assault. In 2010, a similar Pentagon survey found that 4.4 percent of active-duty women and fewer than 0.9 percent of active-duty men had experienced sexual assault.

Pentagon officials could not explain the jump in assaults of women, although they believed that more victims, both men and women, were making the choice to come forward. In the general population, about 0.2 percent of American women over age 12 were victims of sexual assault in 2010, the most recent year for which data is available, according to the Justice Department’s Bureau of Justice Statistics.

In response to the report, Mr. Hagel said at a news conference on Tuesday that the Pentagon was instituting a new plan that orders the service chiefs to incorporate sexual assault programs into their commands.

“What’s going on is just not acceptable,” Mr. Hagel said. “We will get control of this.”

The report quickly caught fire on Capitol Hill, where women on the Senate Armed Services Committee expressed outrage at two Air Force officers who suggested that they were making progress in ending the problem in their branch.

“If the man in charge for the Air Force in preventing sexual assaults is being alleged to have committed a sexual assault this weekend,” said Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, Democrat of New York, “obviously there’s a failing in training and understanding of what sexual assault is, and how corrosive and damaging it is to good order and discipline.”

Ms. Gillibrand, who nearly shouted as she addressed Michael B. Donley, the secretary of the Air Force, said that the continued pattern of sexual assault was “undermining the credibility of the greatest military force in the world.”

She and some other members of the committee are seeking to have all sex offenders in the military discharged from service, and she would like to replace the current system of adjudicating sexual assault by taking it outside the chain of command. She is particularly focused on decisions, including one made recently by an Air Force senior officer, to reverse guilty verdicts in sexual assault cases with little explanation.

Senator Claire McCaskill, a Missouri Democrat who is also on the Senate Armed Services Committee, is holding up the nomination of that Air Force officer, Lt. Gen. Susan J. Helms, to be vice commander of the Air Force’s Space Command. Ms. McCaskill said she wanted additional information about General Helms’s decision to overturn a jury conviction in a sexual assault case last year.

Gen. Mark A. Welsh III, the Air Force chief of staff, told the committee at the same hearing on Tuesday that he was “appalled” by the conduct and the arrest of Lt. Col. Jeffrey Krusinski, the Air Force officer accused of sexual battery on Sunday. The police say that Colonel Krusinski was drunk when he approached the woman in the parking lot and that the victim was ultimately able to fend him off and call 911.

Mr. Hagel called Mr. Donley on Monday evening to express his “outrage and disgust” over the matter, a Pentagon statement said.

Ms. McCaskill was particularly critical of Colonel Krusinski as well as the Air Force for placing him in charge of sexual assault prevention. “It is hard for me to believe that somebody could be accused of that behavior with a complete stranger and not have anything in his file,” she said.

While Mr. Hagel and others in the military seem open to changes to the system that allows cases to be overturned, they remained chilly to the idea of taking military justice out of the chain of command.

“It is my strong belief that the ultimate authority has to remain within the command structure,” Mr. Hagel said, which is almost certain to meet with objections as the issue continues to come under the scrutiny of the Armed Services Committee.

Under Mr. Hagel’s plan, the military would seek to quickly study and come up with ways to hold commanders more accountable for sexual assault. The chiefs of the Army, Navy and Air Force and the commandant of the Marines have until Nov. 1 to report their findings. Mr. Hagel also directed the services to visually inspect department workplaces, including the service academies, for potentially offensive or degrading materials, by July 1.


Sarah Wheaton contributed reporting.

    Sexual Assaults in Military Raise Alarm in Washington, NYT, 7.5.2013,






America’s Military Injustice


May 7, 2013
The New York Times



Along with a boosted Buick LeSabre, another incident listed on a crime report Sunday in Arlington County, Va., was a creepy attack by a man on a woman.

“On May 5 at 12:35 a.m., a drunken male subject approached a female victim in a parking lot and grabbed her breasts and buttocks,” the report read. “The victim fought the suspect off as he attempted to touch her again and alerted police. Jeffrey Krusinski, 41, of Arlington, Va., was arrested and charged with sexual battery.”

Krusinksi’s mug shot, showing scarlet scratches on his face, is a portrait in misery.

He knew his arrest on charges of groping a stranger would send the capital reeling and his career at the nearby Pentagon spiraling. The Air Force lieutenant colonel charged with sexual battery was the officer in charge of sexual assault prevention programs for the Air Force. (He had just finished his sexual assault victim training.)

There was a fox-in-the-henhouse echo of Clarence Thomas, who Anita Hill said sexually harassed her when he was the nation’s top enforcer of laws against workplace sexual harassment.

Senator Jay Rockefeller issued a white-hot statement, calling Krusinski’s arrest “further evidence that the military isn’t taking the issue of sexual assault seriously,” and “a stain on the military” that “should shake us to our core.”

President Obama was also lacerating on the subject of the Krusinski arrest and the cases of two Air Force lieutenant generals who set aside sexual assault convictions after jury trials.

He said training and awareness programs masking indifference will no longer stand: “If we find out somebody’s engaging in this stuff, they’ve got to be held accountable, prosecuted, stripped of their positions, court-martialed, fired, dishonorably discharged — period.”

It has been a bad week for the hidebound defenders of a hopelessly antiquated military justice system that views prosecution decisions in all cases, including rape and sexual assault, as the private preserve of commanders rather than lawyers.

“They are dying a thousand deaths,” said Eugene Fidell, who teaches military justice at Yale Law School. CAAFlog, the leading military justice blog, called it “the death knell” for the current system, at least for sexual assault cases.

During the Thomas-Hill hearings, many powerful men here — even ones defending Hill publicly — privately assumed that she was somehow complicit in encouraging Thomas’s vulgar behavior. Feminists ranted “they just don’t get it” so often that it became a grating cliché.

Yet, 22 years later, during another Senate hearing on Tuesday where the topic of sexual transgression flared, it became clear that, as the California Congresswoman Jackie Speier told me afterward, “people in authority just don’t get it.”

Gen. Mark Welsh, the chief of staff for the Air Force, shocked the women on the Senate Armed Services Committee when he testified that part of the problem in combatting “The Invisible War,” as the Oscar-nominated documentary feature on the epidemic of rape in the military was titled, is that young women who enter the military have been raised in a society with a “hook-up mentality.”

“We have got to change the culture once they arrive,” the general said.

Hook-ups may be stupid, but they are consensual.

“To dismiss violent rapes as part of the hook-up culture shows a complete lack of understanding,” a fiery Senator Kirsten Gillibrand of New York told me. “We’re not talking about a date gone badly. We’re talking about criminal behavior by predators who often stalk their victims in advance.”

The hook-up comparison was especially jarring in light of the release of a stunning Pentagon study estimating that 26,000 men and women in the military were sexually assaulted in the 2012 fiscal year, a 37 percent increase from the same period the year before. Only a small number of incidents — 3,374 — were reported, showing that victims are still afraid of payback or perverted justice. And a mere 238 assailants were convicted.

Wired.com reported that troops at Shaw Air Force Base in South Carolina were issued a brochure advising potential victims of sexual assault that it may be more “advisable to submit than resist.”

It was the sort of rare confluence of events that can actually lead to change here, especially because it’s a nonpartisan issue and because the Senate looks very different than it did during the Thomas-Hill hearings. Three of the six Senate Armed Services subcommittees are now led by women.

Senator Claire McCaskill of Missouri, a former prosecutor who is one of seven women (five of them lawyers) on the Armed Services Committee, has held up the nomination of Lt. Gen. Susan Helms to be vice commander of the Air Force’s Space Command until she investigates why Helms overturned a conviction in a sexual assault case.

“You don’t get to decide who’s telling the truth and supplant the judgment of the jury you handpicked if you weren’t in the courtroom observing the witnesses,” Senator McCaskill said. “You’ve got to put systems in place where you catch these cowards committing crimes and you put them in prison.”

The military brass cossetting predators are on notice. The women of Congress are on the case.

    America’s Military Injustice, NYT, 7.5.2013,






U.S. Bolstering Missile Defense

to Deter North Korea’s Threats


March 15, 2013
The New York Times


WASHINGTON — The Pentagon will spend $1 billion to deploy additional ballistic missile interceptors along the Pacific Coast to counter the growing reach of North Korea’s weapons, a decision accelerated by Pyongyang’s recent belligerence and indications that Kim Jong-un, the North Korean leader, is resisting China’s efforts to restrain him.

The new deployments, announced by Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel on Friday, will increase the number of ground-based interceptors in California and Alaska to 44 from 30 by 2017.

The missiles have a mixed record in testing, hitting dummy targets just 50 percent of the time, but officials said Friday’s announcement was intended not merely to present a credible deterrence to the North’s limited intercontinental ballistic missile arsenal. They said it is also meant to show South Korea and Japan that the United States is willing to commit resources to deterring the North and, at the same time, warn Beijing that it must restrain its ally or face an expanding American military focus on Asia.

“There’s been a quickening pace of provocations,” said one senior administration official, describing actions and words from North Korea and its new leader, Mr. Kim. “But the real accelerant was the fact that the North Koreans seemed more unmoored from their Chinese handlers than even we had feared.”

Although American and South Korean intelligence officials doubt the North is close to being able to follow through on a nuclear strike, or that it would even try, given its almost certain destruction, analysts say the country’s aggressive behavior is an important and worrying sign of changing calculations in the North.

In interviews over recent days, Obama administration officials described internal debates at the White House and the Pentagon about how strongly to react to the recent provocations. It is a delicate balance, they said, of defending against real potential threats while avoiding giving the North Koreans what one official called “the satisfaction of seeming to make the rest of the world jumpy.”

In announcing the deployments at a Pentagon news conference, Mr. Hagel cited North Korea’s third test of nuclear weapons technology last month, the successful test of a long-range missile that sent a satellite into space, and the discovery that a new generation of mobile missiles appeared closer to development.

“We will strengthen our homeland defense, maintain our commitments to our allies and partners, and make clear to the world that the United States stands firm against aggression,” Mr. Hagel said.

All 14 of the new interceptors will be placed in silos at Fort Greely, Alaska, where 26 interceptors are already deployed. Four others are at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.

North Korea has always been an unpredictable, provocative dictatorship. But even by its own standards, the isolated Communist regime’s recent decision to nullify a wartime cease-fire and weeks of increasingly hyperbolic warnings, including of a pre-emptive nuclear strike, appear to have crossed new and dangerous lines.

Adm. James A. Winnefeld Jr., the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, also spoke at the Pentagon on Friday and described how the United States was deliberately building a two-tiered system of deterrence against North Korea.

The United States will “put the mechanics in place to deny any potential North Korean objectives to launch a missile to the United States, but also to impose costs upon them if they do,” Admiral Winnefeld said.

In an unusually pointed warning to the new North Korean leader, Admiral Winnefeld added, “We believe that this young lad ought to be deterred by that — and if he’s not, we’ll be ready.”

The arguments for bolstering the limited missile defense were symbolic of the larger problem.

The antimissile systems are considered less than reliable, and some administration officials were reluctant to pour additional resources into deploying more of the existing technology.

But in testimony to the Senate Armed Services Committee, Gen. C. Robert Kehler, the commander of the United States Strategic Command, made clear they serve a larger purpose. “Deterring North Korea from acting irrationally is our No. 1 priority,” he said. He acknowledged that there were doubts that the 30 existing antimissile systems would be sufficient, and added that an additional site in the United States, on the East Coast, may be needed to deter Iran.

But the new deployment is also intended to send a signal to China, which tried but failed to block the more recent nuclear test, to rein in the North. “We want to make it clear that there’s a price to be paid for letting the North Koreans stay on the current path,” a senior official said Friday.

The North’s new leader, some analysts say, is intensifying the threats because he has failed to get the Obama administration and its South Korean allies to return to an established pattern in which the North provoked and the allies followed with much-needed economic aid in return for Pyongyang’s promises to finally halt its nuclear weapons program.

But a growing number of experts believe North Korea also views its recent advances in missile and nuclear technology as game changers that will allow it to build the nuclear arsenal it desperately wants, both as a deterrent against better-armed enemies and a cudgel to extract more concessions and possibly even international recognition.

“Developing nuclear weapons gives North Korea a chance to turn the tables in one stroke,” said Cheong Seong-chang, an expert on North Korea at the Sejong Institute. “They can get around the weakness of their economy and their outdated conventional weapons.”

The short-term risk, analysts say, is that the North’s chest-thumping will lead to another round of limited conventional military skirmishes with the South that could get out of control and, in the worst case, draw in the United States. With a new leader in South Korea under political pressure to stand up to her country’s longtime enemy, the risks are especially high.

The main newspaper of North Korea’s ruling party, Rodong Sinmun, recently gave the North’s own explanation for its actions. “Let the American imperialists and their followers know!” the paper said. “We are not a pushover like Iraq or Libya.”

Some missile-defense experts express deep skepticism about the capability of the ground-based interceptors deployed in California and Alaska.

“It remains unclear whether these ground-based interceptors can work effectively, and they should be subjected to much more rigorous field testing before taxpayer resources are spent on a system that is ineffective,” said Tom Z. Collina, research director at the Arms Control Association, an advocacy group here.

James N. Miller, the Pentagon’s under secretary for policy, said the new missiles would have to show success before they would be deployed. “We will continue to stick with our ‘fly before we buy’ approach,” Mr. Miller said, citing a successful test as recently as Jan. 26. George Lewis, an antimissile missile expert at Cornell University, said 15 flight tests of the defensive system have tried to hit targets, and only eight have succeeded.

The Defense Department’s interceptors in California and Alaska are to blunt a long-range missile threat from North Korea. The United States also deploys Patriot Advanced Capability batteries in South Korea for defense of targets there, and the South fields an older model of the Patriot.

Japan is developing its own layered missile-defense system, which includes Aegis warships and Patriot systems as well.

The United States deploys one advanced TPY-2 missile-defense tracking radar in Japan to enhance early warning across the region and toward the West Coast, and it has reached agreement to deploy a second.

And the Navy also recently bolstered its deployment of ballistic missile defense warships in waters off the Korean Peninsula, although the vessels were sent as part of an exercise even before the increase in caustic language from the North. As part of the Foal Eagle military exercise with South Korea, the Navy has four Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyers in the region.

Thom Shanker and David E. Sanger reported from Washington, and Martin Fackler from Seoul, South Korea. Choe Sang-hun contributed reporting from Seoul, and William J. Broad from New York.

    U.S. Bolstering Missile Defense to Deter North Korea’s Threats, NYT, 15.3.2013,






A Tax to Pay for War


February 10, 2013
The New York Times



NOW that Congress has discarded the idea that taxes can never be raised, we must change how we pay for the wars we ask our military to fight. We should institute a war tax.

With leading officials calling for action in Syria, and the American military providing support for France’s intervention in Mali, the need for such a tax is urgent. And President Obama’s call for tax reform as the next round of budget negotiations begins offers a perfect opportunity to enact it.

Military spending has been declining since 2009, easing the conflict between pursuing our national security interests and solving our fiscal crisis. But if we undertake new military interventions, that tension will come roaring back.

Those who look at our military spending as a percent of gross domestic product and argue that we could spend more are right. At our current level of $646 billion, we are spending roughly 4 percent of G.D.P. on national defense, well below cold war averages. The missing part of their argument is whether we can afford to pay for it now or would have to borrow, adding to the national debt. After all, war spending — like all government spending — wrecks public finances only when more money is spent than is brought in.

This simple equation is nothing new. Three years ago, the Senate Budget Committee adopted a bipartisan amendment requiring that wars be paid for. The Simpson-Bowles deficit-reduction commission and Senator Al Franken, Democrat of Minnesota, both proposed doing much the same thing. None of these proposals resolved the question of whether to pay for future wars through spending cuts or raising more revenue. Now that Congress has finally passed legislation letting taxes increase, we must make a choice and require a tax surcharge to pay for any military operation.

War traditionally has motivated major changes in tax policy. The Civil War brought the first income tax. World War I made the federal income tax permanent. World War II brought tax withholding. In 1969, at the height of the Vietnam War, the United States ran a budget surplus because of a tax surcharge Congress forced President Lyndon B. Johnson to accept.

Today’s budget negotiations offer a similar opportunity to make a surcharge permanent. President Obama called for counting as savings the money that will not be spent as the war in Afghanistan winds down. Many decried the scheme as playing with funny money because he plans to exit Afghanistan in 2014 anyway; the savings only exist because of an accounting trick in Congressional budgeting. But if those savings were associated with an actual policy change, they would start looking more real.

Since the Budget Control Act already caps military spending, there is an easy way to implement the surcharge: any spending over the caps would require it. If we felt the need to use the military and could do so under the spending caps, as the Obama administration did in 2011 responding to the earthquake in Japan and the uprising in Libya, no surcharge would be necessary. But if military action required supplemental financing, any amount over the caps would be offset with new revenue raised by an automatic surcharge on taxes.

By tying military action to additional revenue, the president would actually have a freer hand in deciding when to use force. Every argument the Obama administration makes for military action would explicitly include a call for increased taxes, forcing the question of whether the stakes in the military situation are worth the cost. If the American people agree they are worth it, the president will get both the political support and financing he needs.

Syria is the most immediate example. We now know that some top officials have argued for arming the rebels, as the secretaries of state and defense and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff did last year. Others argue for an even more robust military response, while detractors insist that we should learn from Iraq and not get involved at all.

Such decisions should not be divorced from economic considerations, but neither should we allow our finances to prevent us from pursuing vital American security interests. Putting in place a permanent tax surcharge to pay for wars would ensure that we could achieve our interests throughout the world without further worsening our finances.

If military action is worth our troops’ blood, it should be worth our treasure, too — not just in the abstract, but in the form of a specific ante by every American.


R. Russell Rumbaugh, an Army veteran and a former analyst

at the Central Intelligence Agency and the Senate Budget Committee,

is a senior associate at the Stimson Center,

studying federal spending on military and foreign affairs.

    A Tax to Pay for War, NYT, 10.2.2013,






U.S. Weighs Base for Spy Drones in North Africa


January 28, 2013
The New York Times


WASHINGTON — The United States military is preparing to establish a drone base in northwest Africa so that it can increase surveillance missions on the local affiliate of Al Qaeda and other Islamist extremist groups that American and other Western officials say pose a growing menace to the region.

For now, officials say they envision flying only unarmed surveillance drones from the base, though they have not ruled out conducting missile strikes at some point if the threat worsens.

The move is an indication of the priority Africa has become in American antiterrorism efforts. The United States military has a limited presence in Africa, with only one permanent base, in the country of Djibouti, more than 3,000 miles from Mali, where French and Malian troops are now battling Qaeda-backed fighters who control the northern part of Mali.

A new drone base in northwest Africa would join a constellation of small airstrips in recent years on the continent, including in Ethiopia, for surveillance missions flown by drones or turboprop planes designed to look like civilian aircraft.

If the base is approved, the most likely location for it would be in Niger, a largely desert nation on the eastern border of Mali. The American military’s Africa Command, or Africom, is also discussing options for the base with other countries in the region, including Burkina Faso, officials said.

The immediate impetus for a drone base in the region is to provide surveillance assistance to the French-led operation in Mali. “This is directly related to the Mali mission, but it could also give Africom a more enduring presence for I.S.R.,” one American military official said Sunday, referring to intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance.

A handful of unarmed Predator drones would carry out surveillance missions in the region and fill a desperate need for more detailed information on a range of regional threats, including militants in Mali and the unabated flow of fighters and weapons from Libya. American military commanders and intelligence analysts complain that such information has been sorely lacking.

The Africa Command’s plan still needs approval from the Pentagon and eventually from the White House, as well as from officials in Niger. American military officials said that they were still working out some details, and that no final decision had been made. But in Niger on Monday, the two countries reached a status-of-forces agreement that clears the way for greater American military involvement in the country and provides legal protection to American troops there, including any who might deploy to a new drone base.

The plan could face resistance from some in the White House who are wary of committing any additional American forces to a fight against a poorly understood web of extremist groups in North Africa.

If approved, the base could ultimately have as many as 300 United States military and contractor personnel, but it would probably begin with far fewer people than that, military officials said.

Some Africa specialists expressed concern that setting up a drone base in Niger or in a neighboring country, even if only to fly surveillance missions, could alienate local people who may associate the distinctive aircraft with deadly attacks in Pakistan, Somalia and Yemen.

Officials from Niger did not respond to e-mails over the weekend about the plan, but its president, Mahamadou Issoufou, has expressed a willingness to establish what he called in a recent interview “a long-term strategic relationship with the U.S.”

“What’s happening in northern Mali is a big concern for us because what’s happening in northern Mali can also happen to us,” Mr. Issoufou said in an interview at the presidential palace in Niamey, Niger’s capital, on Jan. 10, the day before French troops swept into Mali to blunt the militant advance.

Gen. Carter F. Ham, the head of the Africa Command, who visited Niger this month to discuss expanding the country’s security cooperation with the United States, declined to comment on the proposed drone base, saying in an e-mail that the subject was “too operational for me to confirm or deny.”

Discussions about the drone base come at a time when the French operation in Mali and a militant attack on a remote gas field in the Algerian desert that left at least 37 foreign hostages, including 3 Americans, dead have thrown a spotlight on Al Qaeda’s franchise in the region, Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, and forced Western governments and their allies in the region to accelerate efforts to combat it.

Senator Dianne Feinstein, a California Democrat who is chairwoman of the Intelligence Committee, said on CBS’s “Face the Nation” on Sunday that in the wake of Osama bin Laden’s death and the turmoil of the Arab Spring, there was “an effort to establish a beachhead for terrorism, a joining together of terrorist organizations.”

According to current and former American government officials, as well as classified government cables made public by the group WikiLeaks, the surveillance missions flown by American turboprop planes in northern Mali have had only a limited effect.

Flown mainly from Ouagadougou, the capital of Burkina Faso, the missions have faced stiff challenges as militant leaders have taken greater precautions in using electronic communications and have taken more care not to disclose delicate information that could be monitored, like their precise locations.

General Ham said in an interview on his visit to Niger that it had been difficult for American intelligence agencies to collect consistent, reliable intelligence about what was going on in northern Mali, as well as in other largely ungoverned parts of the sub-Saharan region.

“It’s tough to penetrate,” he said. “It’s tough to get access for platforms that can collect. It’s an extraordinarily tough environment for human intelligence, not just ours but the neighboring countries as well.”

The State Department has been extraordinarily wary of allowing drones to operate in the region, fearful of criticism that the United States is trying to militarize parts of Africa as it steps up its campaign to hunt down Qaeda-linked extremists in Somalia, as well as those responsible for the Sept. 11, 2012, attack on the diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya, that killed Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three other Americans.

American drones regularly conduct surveillance flights over Somalia and occasionally launch airstrikes against people suspected of being members of the Shabab, a militant group linked to Al Qaeda. General Ham, who will be retiring from his command this spring after nearly 40 years in the Army, has been warning that the United States needs more and better surveillance tools in Africa to track the growing threats there.

“Without operating locations on the continent, I.S.R. capabilities would be curtailed, potentially endangering U.S. security,” General Ham said in a statement to the House Armed Services Committee last March. “Given the vast geographic space and diversity in threats, the command requires increased I.S.R. assets to adequately address the security challenges on the continent.”

    U.S. Weighs Base for Spy Drones in North Africa, NYT, 28.1.2013,






Chuck Hagel’s War


January 20, 2013
The New York Times


Almost everybody who weighs in on the nomination of Chuck Hagel to be the next secretary of defense, pro or con, begins by genuflecting to his experience in Vietnam, as if it goes without saying that this is a compelling asset for the civilian who oversees the Pentagon. I’m going to be an exception.

Hagel’s wartime service, which earned him awards for valor and two purple hearts, was unquestionably honorable. No doubt he has a deeper awareness than most people that wars are messy, which is not without value. His tour as an infantry squad leader, even more than his Republican Party card, provides useful political cover for a president who favors a less interventionist foreign policy and a smaller defense budget. But the notion that experience of war imparts a special wisdom is one of our enduring fallacies.

Just to be clear, I think the president is entitled to pick a defense secretary who is compatible with his views and has his trust. Besides, as Hillary Clinton and Bob Gates can testify, under this president foreign and defense matters are run from the White House. The new secretaries of state and defense will probably be, as their predecessors have been, more executors than authors of policy.

And most of the arguments for voting against Hagel’s confirmation are flimsy at best. He once described Israel’s friends in Washington as “the Jewish lobby?” So does the Israeli press. He’s in favor of talking to Iran, Hamas and Hezbollah? Great. As another defense minister, Moshe Dayan, once observed: “If you want to make peace, you don’t talk to your friends. You talk to your enemies.” Hagel’s attitudes toward gay rights and women’s freedom are — or were, back when he was a senator from a red state — unenlightened? I would bet that, like most of us, he has evolved, but in any case those are issues the president decides. The most small-minded reasons for opposing Hagel’s confirmation are the unspoken, partisan ones: the hope of embarrassing the president, or the urge to pay Hagel back for his support of the Democrat Bob Kerrey, a fellow Vietnam vet, in last year’s Nebraska Senate race.

There is no end of bad reasons to vote no. But among the reasons to vote yes, the fact that Hagel has tasted combat should be regarded with skepticism. You hope that he brings to the job a non-bullying management style, strategic judgment, political dexterity and an open mind, but none of those are qualities likely to have been perfected in the jungles of Vietnam. It’s even worth considering whether his military service could be a handicap.

The last time I wrestled with this issue was about 10 years ago when John Kerry was contemplating a run for the presidency and calculating how heavily to exploit his wartime command of a riverboat in Vietnam. (In the end, I’d say he overplayed it — remember “reporting for duty”? — and the emphasis left him more vulnerable to the infamous swift-boat smear.)

Whether or not Senator Kerry’s Vietnam experience brought him wisdom, I decided at the time, was better judged by examining his wisdom than his experience. A decade later that observation is relevant again as Kerry awaits his own hearings on his nomination to be secretary of state. If you had only his voting record on recent American wars to go by, you’d be hard pressed to detect any coherent wisdom of the battlefield. His service in Vietnam did not keep Kerry from casting two big, politically expedient — and, in hindsight, misguided — votes on Iraq: in 1991 against the first President Bush’s justified war to drive Iraq out of Kuwait, and in 2002 in favor of authorizing the second President Bush’s Iraq folly. Fortunately for Kerry (and for us), his work as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and his role as President Obama’s informal emissary on missions to Afghanistan and Pakistan have been more impressive.

Hagel’s voting record on military affairs, like Kerry’s, sometimes seems less a matter of considered judgment than political reflex. Along with Kerry, Hagel voted for the 2002 resolution authorizing war against Iraq. But in 2007 he co-sponsored a resolution against the troop surge. The surge succeeded well enough that it enabled Obama to withdraw from Iraq without shame. Considering Hagel’s call on that issue, one military analyst I checked with speculated that “perhaps the mishandling of Vietnam blinded him to the fact that other wars could be done right.” In any case, the record makes you wonder whether a sense of war that was imprinted on Hagel 45 years ago will be all that helpful in waging new and different wars.

The deference to the military service credential is bipartisan. Hawks complain when a president who never put on a uniform presumes to override the generals on spending or, say, the size of a troop deployment. Doves protest when leaders without war experience rattle their swords. Thus when the nation was led into Iraq by George Bush and Dick Cheney, a president who spent the Vietnam years at home in the National Guard and a vice president who said he “had other priorities” during that war, there were jeers of “chicken hawk!” And one antiwar senator — yes, that would be Chuck Hagel — proposed that a hawkish Pentagon adviser who was gung-ho to invade Iraq should be drafted as part of the first wave into Baghdad.

“The horror of it, the pain of it, the suffering of it,” Hagel told a Veterans History Project interviewer in 2002. “People just don’t understand it unless they’ve been through it. There’s no glory, only suffering in war.”

If you follow the logic far enough, it takes you to a glib notion: that anyone who has not seen combat and is not putting his own life on the line is less deserving of a voice. Which, by the way, would pretty much disqualify an entire gender from the discussion.

Back then, Eliot Cohen, a neocon military historian with whom I do not often agree, wrote the following about the combat credential: “According to this view, to fill a senior policy position during a war one would of course prefer a West Point graduate who had led a regiment in combat, as opposed to a corporate lawyer turned politician with a few weeks’ experience in a militia unit that did not fight. The former profile fits Jefferson Davis, and the latter Abraham Lincoln.”

Experience can be illuminating, but it can also be a trap. There’s a reason we worry about generals “fighting the last war.” The troop surge strategy that David Petraeus pulled off so successfully in Iraq was widely considered a costly failure when it was replicated in the much more complicated mess of Afghanistan.

Politicians, no less than generals, can be blinkered by experience. Vietnam made a whole generation wary of any interventions, however justified. Bill Clinton, who never fought but who was shaped by the catastrophe of Vietnam, took a lot of persuading before he did the right thing in Bosnia. He has said of his failure to send troops to stop the genocide in Rwanda that “we just blew it.” This tendency to recoil from conflict was called “Vietnam syndrome,” and Hagel may have the symptoms.

In “Endgame,” their history of the war in Iraq, Michael Gordon and Bernard Trainor recount a trip then-Senator Obama and Senator Hagel took to Iraq in 2008. Obama deftly probes General Petraeus on the nuances of winding down the conflict. But Hagel comes across as prickly and inflexible. At one point, he seems to suggest that the general should be trimming his troop requests to fit the domestic political realities in Washington, and Petraeus takes offense. “I will do what you want me to do,” Petraeus retorts. “But I’m going to give my best military advice. You seem to want me to tailor my advice to a policy.”

Another useful Pentagon skill they didn’t teach infantrymen in Vietnam: how to manage generals.

    Chuck Hagel’s War, NYT, 20.1.2013,






Hawks on Iraq Prepare for War Again,

Against Hagel


January 12, 2013
The New York Times


In the bitter debate that led up to the American invasion of Iraq in 2003, Senator Chuck Hagel of Nebraska said that some of his fellow Republicans, in their zest for war, lacked the perspective of veterans like him, who have “sat in jungles or foxholes and watched their friends get their heads blown off.”

Those Republicans in turn called him an “appeaser” whose cautious geopolitical approach dangerously telegraphed weakness in the post-Sept. 11 world.

The campaign now being waged against Mr. Hagel’s nomination as secretary of defense is in some ways a relitigation of that decade-old dispute. It is also a dramatic return to the public stage by the neoconservatives whose worldview remains a powerful undercurrent in the Republican Party and in the national debate about the United States’ relationship with Israel and the Middle East.

To Mr. Hagel’s allies, his presence at the Pentagon would be a very personal repudiation of the interventionist approach to foreign policy championed by the so-called Vulcans in the administration of President George W. Bush, who believed in pre-emptive strikes against potential threats and the promotion of democracy, by military means if necessary.

“This is the neocons’ worst nightmare because you’ve got a combat soldier, successful businessman and senator who actually thinks there may be other ways to resolve some questions other than force,” said Richard L. Armitage, who broke with the more hawkish members of the Bush team during the Iraq war when he was a deputy to Secretary of State Colin L. Powell.

William Kristol, the editor of The Weekly Standard, who championed the Iraq invasion and is leading the opposition to Mr. Hagel’s nomination, says the former senator and his supporters are suffering from “neoconservative derangement syndrome.”

Mr. Kristol said he and other like-minded hawks were more concerned about Mr. Hagel’s occasional arguments against sanctions (he voted against some in the Senate), what they deem as his overcautious attitudes about military action against Iran and his tougher approach to Israel than they were about his views on Iraq — aside from his outspoken opposition to the American troop surge there that was ultimately deemed successful.

Mr. Kristol’s latest editorial argues that Mr. Hagel’s statement that he is an unequivocal supporter of Israel is “nonsense,” given his reference in a 2006 interview to a “Jewish lobby” that intimidates lawmakers into blindly supporting Israeli positions.

“I’d much prefer a secretary of defense who was a more mainstream internationalist — not a guy obsessed by how the United States uses its power and would always err on the side of not intervening,” he added. Of Mr. Hagel and his allies, Mr. Kristol said, “They sort of think we should have just gone away.”

In fact, the neoconservatives have done anything but disappear. In the years since the war’s messy end, the most hawkish promoters have maintained enormous sway within the Republican Party, holding leading advisory posts in both the McCain and Romney presidential campaigns as their counterparts in the “realist” wing of the party, epitomized by Mr. Powell, gravitated toward Barack Obama.

And while members of both parties think the chances are good that Mr. Hagel will win confirmation, the neoconservatives are behind some of the most aggressive efforts to derail it, through television advertisements, op-ed articles in prominent publications and pressure on Capitol Hill, where some Democrats, including Senator Charles E. Schumer of New York, have also indicated reservations.

Their prominence in the fight over Mr. Hagel’s nomination is testament to their continued outsize voice in the public debate, helped by outlets like The Weekly Standard, research groups like the American Enterprise Institute and wealthy Republican financiers like the casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, whose nearly $100 million in political donations last year were driven largely by his interest in Israel. The Republican Jewish Coalition, on whose board of directors Mr. Adelson sits, was among the first to criticize the Hagel nomination.

The most outspoken among them had leading roles in developing the rationale and, in some cases, the plan for invading Iraq and deposing Saddam Hussein.

One critic is Elliott Abrams, a national security adviser to Mr. Bush during the Iraq war who pleaded guilty in the Iran-contra scandal to withholding information from Congress. He called Mr. Hagel an anti-Semite who has “some kind of problem with Jews” in an interview on NPR last week. (The Council on Foreign Relations, where Mr. Abrams is a senior fellow, distanced itself from his comments.)

The Emergency Committee for Israel, a conservative group, has run a TV advertisement and has a Web site calling Mr. Hagel an inappropriate choice for the Defense Department, citing some of his votes against sanctions on Iran and Libya and his calls to engage in direct talks with groups like Hamas. Its donors have included the activist financier Daniel S. Loeb, and Mr. Abrams’s wife, Rachel, serves on its board.

And of course, there is Mr. Kristol himself, who in the late 1990s helped form a group called the Project for a New American Century. In 1998, the organization released a letter to President Bill Clinton arguing that Saddam Hussein posed a potential nuclear threat to the United States, Israel and moderate Arab states and should be ousted.

It was signed by several future members of the Bush national security team: Donald H. Rumsfeld, who served as defense secretary; Paul D. Wolfowitz, who served under Mr. Rumsfeld; Mr. Abrams; and outsider advisers, including Richard N. Perle, a former chairman of the Defense Policy Board Advisory Committee; and Mr. Armitage. Serving as a research associate was Michael Goldfarb, who is helping to direct the Emergency Committee for Israel’s attacks against Mr. Hagel.

Around the same time in the late 1990s, Mr. Hagel was allied with Mr. Kristol and other hawks calling for the commitment of ground troops in support of the Clinton administration’s intervention in Kosovo. Mr. Kristol went so far as to suggest Mr. Hagel as a potential running mate for Mr. Bush in 2000, calling him an “impressive and attractive first-term senator.”

Their relationship broke with Mr. Hagel’s criticism of the Iraq war, and his rare status as a Congressional Republican critical of the intervention led to plentiful TV bookings and the antipathy of the war’s architects and supporters. Besides being a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Mr. Hagel had added cachet by way of two Purple Hearts from his service in Vietnam, which left shrapnel embedded in his chest and, he has said, a unique perspective on war.

“Here was a Republican with national security credentials saying that the Republican president was being irresponsible on national security — that’s potent,” said Kenneth L. Adelman, a member of the Defense Policy Review Board at the time and a frequent sparring partner with Mr. Hagel on television. “It drove me up the wall not so much that he was Republican, because I didn’t care that much from a political point of view — I thought the substance of his arguments were just wrong and unfounded.”

Mr. Hagel’s earliest concerns arose before the Congressional vote authorizing the use of force. “You can take the country into a war pretty fast,” he said in an interview with The New York Times in 2002, “but you can’t get us out as quickly, and the public needs to know what the risks are.” In the interview, he took a swipe at Mr. Perle, then one of the most visible promoters of the war, saying, “Maybe Mr. Perle would like to be in the first wave of those who go into Baghdad.”

Mr. Perle had never served in the military. Along with Mr. Hagel’s comment in Newsweek that many of the war’s most steadfast proponents “don’t know anything about war,” his criticism prompted a national discussion about “chicken hawks,” a derisive term for those advocating war with no direct experience of it. And his comments drew a rebuke from The Weekly Standard that Mr. Hagel was part of an “axis of appeasement.”

Mr. Hagel’s words appear to sting to this day. “Normally you hope your cabinet officers don’t resort to ad hominem argument,” said Mr. Perle, who is now a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute. In an interview, he said his opposition to the nomination stemmed from his fear that Mr. Hagel was among those who “so abhor the use of force that they actually weaken the diplomacy that enables you to achieve results without using force.”

Yet Mr. Hagel did ultimately vote to give Mr. Bush the authority to go to war. He has said that he did so to give the administration diplomatic leverage and that he now regrets it. Explaining his vote on the floor of the Senate, he warned, “We should not be seduced by the expectations of ‘dancing in the streets’ after Saddam’s regime has fallen.”

If Mr. Hagel’s call for caution seems prescient, several opponents have argued that his prediction that the 2006 troop surge would fail was not — a position sure to come up frequently as confirmation hearings get closer.

    Hawks on Iraq Prepare for War Again, Against Hagel, NYT, 12.1.2013,






Obama Accelerates Transition of Security to Afghans


January 11, 2013
The New York Times


WASHINGTON — President Obama, eager to turn the page after more than a decade of war, said Friday that beginning this spring American forces would play only a supporting role in Afghanistan, which opens the way for a more rapid withdrawal of the troops.

Though Mr. Obama said he had not yet decided on specific troop levels for the rest of the year, he said the United States would accelerate the transition of security responsibilities to the Afghans, which had been set to occur at the middle of the year, because of gains by Afghan forces.

Mr. Obama also made it clear that he planned to leave relatively few troops in Afghanistan after the NATO combat mission ends in 2014, saying those forces would be narrowly focused on advising and training Afghan troops and hunting down the remnants of Al Qaeda.

“That is a very limited mission, and it is not one that would require the same kind of footprint, obviously, that we’ve had over the last 10 years in Afghanistan,” Mr. Obama said after a meeting with the Afghan president, Hamid Karzai, at the White House.

It was the first face-to-face encounter of the leaders since May, and it underscored the quickening pace at which the United States is winding down its involvement in Afghanistan.

The war in Afghanistan was discussed in only general terms during the election campaign, but a series of decisions on troop levels and other issues is to be settled in the coming weeks and months.

Mr. Karzai raised no public objections to troop cuts, saying he had obtained two important concessions from the United States: the transfer of prisons housing terrorism suspects to Afghan control, and the pullout of American troops from Afghan villages this spring.

Brushing aside questions about residual American troop levels, Mr. Karzai said: “Numbers are not going to make a difference to the situation in Afghanistan. It’s the broader relationship that will make a difference to Afghanistan and beyond in the region.”

Mr. Karzai also said he would push to grant legal immunity to American troops left behind in Afghanistan — a guarantee that the United States failed to obtain from Iraq, leading Mr. Obama to withdraw all but a vestigial force from that country at the end of 2011.

Mr. Obama’s signaling of deeper troop cuts to come appeared to run counter to the approach favored by Gen. John R. Allen, the senior American commander in Afghanistan. Two American officials said in November that General Allen wanted to retain a significant military capacity through the fighting season that ends this fall.

Other military experts raised concerns that the United States might forfeit some of its hard-won gains if it moved to shrink its forces in Afghanistan too quickly.

James M. Dubik, a retired Army lieutenant general who led the effort to train the Iraqi Army and is a senior fellow at the Institute for the Study of War, a nongovernmental research group, said that accelerating the effort to put Afghan forces in the lead, and the cuts in Americans troops that are expected to follow, posed risks.

“There will be insufficient combat power to finish the counteroffensive against the Haqqani network in the east,” he said, referring to the militant group that operates in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

General Dubik also said that the success of the effort to have Afghan forces lead this spring would depend on whether they continued to benefit from American and allied air power, logistical help and medical evacuations, as well as NATO advisers.

Still, the public display of harmony by the two leaders was mirrored by their private discussions, White House officials said. Aides said the atmosphere was warm — “surprisingly so,” in the words of one — given their often tense relationship. Mr. Obama and Mr. Karzai appeared to appreciate the candor of the exchanges, officials said.

For his part, Mr. Karzai sought to allay fears that he might not yield power after Afghan elections scheduled for next year. “In a year and few months from today, I will be a retired president,” he said in a speech later Friday at Georgetown University.

Mr. Obama extolled what he said was the progress made by Afghan security forces. By spring, he said, nearly 90 percent of Afghans will live in areas where their own forces are in charge of providing security. At that time, American and NATO troops will give up a combat role and revert to an advisory and support role.

The president’s sanguine outlook, however, seemed at odds with a Pentagon report issued in December, which asserted that only one of the Afghan National Army’s 23 brigades was able to operate independently without air or other military support from the United States and NATO partners.

The leaders reaffirmed their interest in a political settlement with the Taliban, with plans to open an office in Qatar as a locus for peace talks. But with negotiations at a standstill, Mr. Obama left little doubt that the Afghans would take the lead in any bargaining.

“The United States has been very clear that any peace process, any reconciliation process, must be Afghan-led,” he said. “It is not for the United States to determine what the terms of this peace will be.”

The waning American role in Afghanistan’s future was evident when Mr. Obama was pressed about fears that women could face renewed discrimination after any settlement with the Taliban.

He said the United States would speak up for the rights of Afghan women — rights that he noted were enshrined in the Afghan Constitution. But he said it was up to the Taliban to adhere to the Constitution and recognize that if they wanted to change how the Afghan government operates, they would have to do so in a lawful manner.

“The president said several good things about the importance of women’s rights,” said John Sifton, the Asia advocacy director for Human Rights Watch, “but very little about how the U.S. and Afghanistan will ensure that negotiations do not endanger them. President Karzai, for his part, said nothing.”

    Obama Accelerates Transition of Security to Afghans, NYT, 11.1.2013,






Veterans and Senate Buddies,

Until Another War Split Them


January 11, 2013
The New York Times


WASHINGTON — In the old days it was like a Senate buddy movie.

John McCain and Chuck Hagel traveled the world together, popped into each other’s neighboring offices on Capitol Hill and played pranks. Mr. Hagel, then a Republican senator from Nebraska, dropped by one Halloween wearing a McCain mask. Mr. McCain, an Arizona Republican, liked to jokingly fire Mr. Hagel’s staff. “Pack up your desks!” he would say. As Vietnam War veterans — Mr. McCain had been a naval officer and a pilot, Mr. Hagel an enlisted infantryman — they forged an even closer bond.

“John would call him sergeant — ‘Hey, Sergeant, come in, Sergeant!’ ” said Senator Lindsey Graham, the South Carolina Republican who is Mr. McCain’s closest friend in Washington. “They would salute each other.”

But as Mr. Hagel heads into contentious confirmation hearings to be President Obama’s secretary of defense, the two remain estranged over policy differences that started with the Iraq War, spread into bitter presidential politics and ultimately damaged, if not ended, a friendship. Some colleagues say the break between two stubborn iconoclasts has been exaggerated in the absolutist world of the capital, but no one disputes that the relationship has cooled dramatically.

“The Iraq war is where the policy differences became pretty difficult to deal with,” said Mr. Graham, speaking of Mr. McCain’s aggressive push for the 2007 surge of American forces in Iraq and Mr. Hagel’s unsuccessful fight against that escalation. “The worldview really began to diverge.”

The differences were on full display when Mr. McCain released a statement after Mr. Hagel was nominated on Monday saying he had “serious concerns” about the positions on national security Mr. Hagel had taken over the years. The two spoke the same day by phone in what an aide called a cordial conversation — one of at least 30 calls to senators Mr. Hagel has made this week in preparation for his hearing — but on Tuesday on CNN Mr. McCain had not changed his tone.

While “the friendship, I hope, is still there,” Mr. McCain said, he remained worried about Mr. Hagel’s “overall attitude about the United States, our role in the world, particularly in the Middle East, and whether we should reduce the Pentagon further.”

People who know both men say that at this point Mr. Hagel appears to have the votes for confirmation and that in the end Mr. McCain could well vote yes for the friend who was at his side during his unsuccessful 2000 campaign for the Republican presidential nomination. But aides to both acknowledge the dynamic on Capitol Hill could change and that Mr. McCain — and others — will give Mr. Hagel a rough time. At the very least, they say, Mr. McCain remains bruised over Mr. Hagel’s decision not to support Mr. McCain when he became the Republican presidential nominee in 2008, and over a trip Mr. Hagel took with Mr. Obama to Iraq the same year.

“He was very angry about it,” said one of Mr. McCain’s 2008 advisers, who asked not to be identified discussing the complicated dynamics between the two. Mr. McCain “takes policy disputes very, very personally,” the adviser added. He described Mr. McCain’s current view of Mr. Hagel as one of “profound disappointment.”

Mr. McCain, 76, the son and grandson of admirals, and Mr. Hagel, 66, the son of a lumberyard worker who drank heavily and died when Mr. Hagel was in high school, first became political pals in 1996, when Mr. Hagel was running for the first time for the Senate.

Mr. McCain, who by then had been in the Senate nearly a decade and was nationally known, campaigned frequently for his fellow Vietnam veteran in Nebraska, much to the gratitude of Mr. Hagel and his staff. The two had similar personality traits: a sense of humor, brashness, bullheadedness and an aversion to Republican orthodoxy and hierarchy. By 2000, Mr. Hagel had returned the favor to become national co-chairman of Mr. McCain’s presidential campaign.

As one of only a small band of supporters in the Senate, Mr. Hagel was a regular on the “Straight Talk Express,” Mr. McCain’s rolling campaign bus party. He exulted with Mr. McCain during his upset victory in New Hampshire, roared back at a smear campaign against Mr. McCain in South Carolina and by the end of the primaries was a broker for an uneasy peace between Mr. McCain and the Republican nominee, George W. Bush.

Friends say the strains between the two began in 2002, when Mr. Hagel emerged as an early and acerbic Republican skeptic to the Bush administration’s plans for invading Iraq. Mr. Hagel voted for the resolution that authorized the invasion but rapidly became a critic of the Bush administration’s execution of the war. Mr. McCain was equally critical, but he saw the solution in an addition of more than 20,000 American troops, which Mr. Hagel opposed.

“This is a Ping-Pong game with American lives,” Mr. Hagel told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in January 2007. “And we better be damn sure we know what we’re doing, all of us, before we put 22,000 more Americans into that grinder.”

Mr. McCain saw Mr. Hagel’s views as wrongly colored by the brutal combat he saw as an infantryman in the jungles of Vietnam, where he was wounded twice. (Mr. McCain was shot down over Hanoi in 1967 and for the next five years was imprisoned and tortured by the North Vietnamese.) “I think he was very haunted by Vietnam,” Mr. Graham said of Mr. Hagel. Mr. McCain, he said, “doesn’t look at every conflict through the eyes of his Vietnam experience — you know, ‘We shouldn’t have been there, it went on too long, we didn’t have a plan.’ Fighting Al Qaeda is not fighting in Vietnam.”

Some former staff members insist that Iraq was not the divisive force between the two men that it has been made out to be and that they naturally drifted apart when Mr. McCain began campaigning again for president in 2007 and spent less time in Washington. Mr. Hagel left the Senate at the end of 2008.

“Although McCain disagreed with Hagel’s position, he never resented him for it,” Mark Salter, Mr. McCain’s former chief of staff and a top adviser in the 2008 campaign, wrote on the Web site RealClearPolitics this week, referring to the differences over the surge. The two just stopped socializing, he said, for no discernible reason.

“Not everything that happens in Washington fits into a neat narrative or affects history,” Mr. Salter wrote. “Sometimes it’s just another unremarkable occasion when people go their own way for their own quirky reasons.”

Others hold out the possibility of a rapprochement, however remote. “You have two guys who are hurt, and you know how guys are, they don’t make up unless there’s a woman around who forces them,” said one of Mr. Hagel’s former staff members who did not want to be identified discussing the conflict. “They would rather be friends than not, I’m quite certain of that.”

    Veterans and Senate Buddies, Until Another War Split Them, NYT, 11.1.2013,






Nominations for Defense and the C.I.A.


January 7, 2013
The New York Times

In nominating Chuck Hagel to be defense secretary and John Brennan to be director of the Central Intelligence Agency, President Obama has selected two trusted advisers who could help him set a new tone, and conceivably a new direction, on issues of war and peace in his second term. But both candidates must provide answers to serious questions before they can expect confirmation by the Senate.

It is a puzzle that Mr. Obama has nominated as defense secretary a person whose views on gay rights are in question at this sensitive time in the Pentagon’s evolution. The military’s odious “don’t ask, don’t tell” rule was finally legislated out of existence in 2011, under the administration’s leadership. But there is a long way to go to ensure that equal rights are institutionalized.

While a member of the Senate from Nebraska in 1998, Mr. Hagel criticized the nomination of James Hormel to be ambassador to Luxembourg because he was “openly, aggressively gay.” That was a repugnant reason to oppose anyone for public office. Last month, Mr. Hagel issued a statement in which he described his comments 14 years ago as “insensitive,” apologized to Mr. Hormel and insisted he was “fully supportive of ‘open service’ and committed to L.G.B.T. military families.”

Some leading foreign policy professionals who are gay, including Mr. Hormel, have since said they could support Mr. Hagel’s candidacy. Still, it will be important to hear Mr. Hagel explain at his confirmation hearing how his views have changed and how he plans to make sure that all service members are treated equally and receive the same benefits regardless of sexual orientation. It would also help if he acknowledged that his past comments were not just insensitive but abhorrent.

On national security policy, there is much to like about Mr. Hagel, one of a fading breed of sensible moderate Republicans. Mr. Obama hailed him as “the leader that our troops deserve.” Mr. Hagel’s experience as a decorated veteran of the Vietnam War should give him a special rapport with the troops as well as make him an authoritative voice on the measured use of force. Like Mr. Obama, Mr. Hagel has been deeply critical of the war in Iraq and is believed to favor a more rapid drawdown of troops from Afghanistan. He has also wisely advocated paring the bloated defense budget.

Mr. Hagel’s independence and willingness to challenge Republican orthodoxy on Iraq, sanctions on Iran and other issues — both in the Senate and later as an administration adviser — have so alarmed neocons, hard-line pro-Israel interest groups and some Republican senators that they unleashed a dishonest campaign to pre-emptively bury the nomination. It failed, but the confirmation process could be bruising. The opponents are worried that Mr. Hagel will not be sufficiently in lock step with the current Israeli government and cannot be counted on to go to war against Iran over its nuclear program if it comes to that.

We are encouraged by what we hear about Mr. Hagel’s preference for a negotiated solution with Iran, his reluctance to go to war, and his support for Israel’s security, for a two-state solution and for reductions in nuclear weapons. If confirmed, he would have to tackle the hard job of cutting the defense budget and balancing the competing needs of the different services.

Mr. Brennan has worked closely with Mr. Obama over four years as the counterterrorism adviser. He was at the president’s side during the raid on Osama bin Laden, and pushed an expanded strategy of using drones to kill terrorism suspects. Mr. Brennan withdrew from consideration for the C.I.A. post four years ago after human rights advocates said that he had failed to stop President George W. Bush’s use of torture in interrogating prisoners. He denied those charges at the time, but the Senate Intelligence Committee should revisit the issue at his confirmation hearing. He also should be deeply questioned about how the White House decides on the targets of drone strikes, and whether the American public will ever know if there are explicit rules for these killings.

In his second term, President Obama has an opportunity to put his stamp more firmly on America’s relations with the world. He needs his own team to do that, and the Senate should move as quickly as possible to a vote. Ultimately though, Mr. Obama will need some new approaches to achieve new goals, not just new people.

    Nominations for Defense and the C.I.A., 7.1.2013,




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