By Gordon Lubold
A shock to the
system: Gen. Idris of Syria is forced to flee to Qatar after an attack by
Islamist fighters. The WSJ's Adam Entous and Rima Abushakra: "Islamist fighters ran the top Western-backed rebel
commander in Syria out of his headquarters, and he fled the country, U.S.
officials said Wednesday. The Islamists also took over key warehouses holding
U.S. military gear for moderate fighters in northern Syria over the weekend.
The takeover and flight of Gen. Salim Idris of the Free Syrian Army shocked the
U.S., which along with Britain immediately froze delivery of nonlethal military
aid to rebels in northern Syria. The turn of events was the strongest sign yet
that the U.S.-allied FSA is collapsing under the pressure of Islamist
domination of the rebel side of the war. It also weakened the Obama
administration's hand as it struggles to organize a peace conference next month
bringing together rebels and the regime." Read
the rest here.
The NYT's Michael Gordon, Mark Landler and Anne Barnard: "...The administration acted after warehouses of American-supplied
equipment were seized Friday by the Islamic Front, a coalition of Islamist
fighters who have broken with the moderate, American-backed opposition, but who
also battle Al Qaeda. Administration officials said that the suspension,
confirmed on Wednesday, was temporary and that the nonlethal aid, which is
supplied by the State Department, could flow again. But with rebels feuding
with one another instead of concentrating on fighting Mr. Assad, and with the
United States still groping for a reliable partner in Syria, the odds of any
peace conference breaking the cycle of bloodshed appeared to have dimmed. For
the White House, which has pinned its hopes on a political solution, the
fracturing of the opposition raises a number of thorny questions, including
whether the United States should work more closely with Islamist forces."
Former State Dept. official Frederic C. Hof to The Times: "For all practical purposes, the moderate armed opposition that the
administration really wanted to support - albeit in a hesitant and halfhearted
way - is now on the sidelines." More here.
And there's this: Are world
powers jeopardizing the safety of Syria's chemical weapons? FP's Colum Lynch: "In October, the Syrian government
asked the world's major powers for armored vehicles and other security gear
that it claimed were absolutely vital to safely transporting hundreds of tons
of chemical agents out of the country. Many of the most sensitive of those
appeals have been widely rejected or ignored, according to United Nations-based
sources and internal documents obtained by Foreign
Policy. Washington and other Western
capitals have been reluctant to hand over to the Bashar al-Assad regime
equipment that could also be used in its war against Syria's rebels. But the U.N.'s
chemical weapons watchdog believes that Damascus' requests are legitimate,
raising the uncomfortable question: are the U.S. and its allies doing enough to
keep Syria's deadly chemicals safe?" Read the rest here.
Welcome to Thursday's edition of Situation Report. If you'd like to sign up to receive Situation Report, send us a note at firstname.lastname@example.org and we'll just stick you on. And if you like what you see, tell a friend. And if you have a report
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Diplomacy's golden age? John Kerry spoke at Foreign Policy's big "Transformational
Trends 2014" event at the Four Seasons in Georgetown yesterday. FP's Yochi Dreazen: "Secretary of State John Kerry offered
a wide-ranging defense of the Obama administration's diplomatic efforts across
the Mideast, acknowledging that its ongoing talks with Iran, Syria and Israel
had no guarantee of success but insisting that they offered the only real
chance of bringing peace to one of the world's most troubled
regions. Kerry, speaking at an event sponsored by Foreign Policy and
the State Department's Policy Planning staff, focused much of his remarks on
the administration's controversial nuclear pact with Iran and its chemical
weapon deal with Syria, but he also spoke passionately about his current push
to secure a peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians." The
rest here. The full text of Kerry's speech (some said it was
rousing) at FP's Transformational Trends 2014 here.
Passport trouble: Edward Snowden is one of FP's "Global
Thinkers," but he couldn't make FP's big party last night at the Four Seasons. Foreign Policy threw a big party for the Global Thinkers
it honored last night after the "Transformational Trends" event during the day.
The room at the Four Seasons was itself transformed
into a big shindig with colorful spotlights, music and numerous "food
stations" with delicious but sometimes unidentifiable food - turns out that
wasn't chicken! - in little glass cup-dishes and an open bar. The party started
with a brief panel discussion with FP's own David Rothkopf and the NYT's Thomas
Friedman then opened up. At the top, though, a statement was read for Edward Snowden,
a Global Thinker who couldn't quite make the party. Snowden's statement, in part: "It's an honor to address you tonight.
I apologize for being unable to attend in person, but I've been having a bit of
passport trouble. Glenn Greenwald and Laura Poitras also regrettably could not
accept their invitations. As it turns out, revealing matters of ‘legitimate
concern' nowadays puts you on the list for more than ‘Global Thinker' awards." Read
the rest here.
issue ain't front-and-center in the ME anymore. FP's Elias Groll,
who covered yesterday's Transformational Trends 2014 (#FPTrends) for FP: "The United States may be heavily engaged in shepherding
peace talks between Israel and Palestine, but according to Anne Patterson, who
has been nominated as the State Department's next top Middle East official, the
issue just isn't a top priority for the United States any more. In an exchange
Wednesday with Vali Nasr, the dean of the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced
International Studies, Patterson chimed in to agree with the former Obama
administration official that Israel-Palestine has moved away from its central
place in U.S. policy toward the region. ‘It's certainly not the most urgent
problem that we face now in the Middle East, but it's one that could have
enormous long term consequences,' Patterson said." Read the rest of what they said here.
There's another winter storm brewing: Vets aren't huge
fans of the budget deal. The Iraq and
Afghanistan Veterans of America believe the budget deal potentially reached
this week would be disastrous for vets and are planning a "winter storm" on
Capitol Hill (you don't have to run out and buy any milk for this one) to
protest it. From an IAVA statement: "Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America today blasted a key component of the
Congressional budget agreement that would reduce the annual cost-of-living
adjustment for military retirees and survivors, leading to a 20 percent cut to
retirement benefits over the course of their lives. The budget proposal is the
latest instance of veterans being affected by Washington dysfunction.
Sequestration and the government shutdown already affected many services that
support veterans and their families. This change to military retiree pensions
would have a devastating long-term impact on the benefits already earned by
those who have sacrificed the most for this country.
This week, IAVA members are
converging in Washington for the inaugural IAVA Winter Storm. IAVA is urging
Congress to renew focus on the VA disability claims backlog and to demand
Congress stay in session until it brings up four bills that are ready for a
vote." More about how they feel here.
Open Secrets Department: Chuck Hagel officially lifted the
veil on the secret base at al-Udeid in Qatar that had become a lot less secret
over the years. NYT's Thom Shanker: "Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel's visit to the advanced air operations
center here this week was not just a stop at an important outpost of the United
States military. It was also a major step forward for Pentagon transparency.
The highly classified American facility, officially called the Combined Air and
Space Operations Center, coordinated all of the attack and surveillance
missions for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan - and would be equally critical
if an American president decided that only bombs and missiles could halt Iran's
nuclear ambitions. It hosts liaison officers from 30 allies in Europe and the
Persian Gulf. Until this week, however, its
location was carefully guarded by the Pentagon and the Qatari government, out
of concerns from both about sensitivities to its presence.
"In the past, journalists had to sign
nondisclosure agreements if they wanted to report from inside the base in the
desert outside the capital, Doha. And, when asked, the Pentagon said the
operations center was somewhere in Southwest Asia. But on his latest trip to
the region, which ended Tuesday, Mr. Hagel lifted the gag rule." More here.
FP's Shane Harris wrote about
Holder's problems with the White House with the nominee to head Justice's
national security division. Others have followed it, including CNN's Evan Perez: "President Barack Obama's pick for the Justice Department's national
security prosecutor is expected to be among several nominations to move in the
coming weeks as Senate Democrats start wading through the presidential
appointments backlog built up amid partisan fights. John Carlin's nomination to
head the Justice national security division had come under fire in recent days
after some critics groused in a Foreign Policy magazine article that Attorney
General Eric Holder's pick, his former aide Amy Jeffress, was passed over by
the White House. Jeffress, who recently was posted to the U.S. Embassy in
London, had long been the assumed choice for the national security job among
Justice officials. That is until Carlin, a career prosecutor who helped
coordinate the department's cyber security and intellectual property efforts,
became the pick." Read the rest here. Shane's piece here.
Forbes and Auslin
in the WSJ: The U.S. is letting down its allies in Asia. Rep. Randy Forbes, the Virginia Republican and AEI's
Michael Auslin wrote today in the WSJ on the U.S. response to China's ADIZ. Their
BLUF: "China has shown how a
rising power expands the dimensions of its military capabilities into realms
long under American control. While no one believes the Chinese air force is a
match for American airpower today, a combination of lack of political will at
home and a slow deterioration in our traditional advantages may lead to a
dramatically different environment in just the next decade. Then, for the first
time in over a half-century, American troops will look to the skies wondering
if they are safe, as our ability to maintain global stability is increasingly
tested." Read the rest here.
In response to an item we ran from Tom Ricks the other day
about shrinking the military to make it better, here, Bob Kettle, a retired
Navy intelligence officer who served on Capitol Hill as a leg liaison, had this
to say in an e-mail to Situation Report: "Presence
matters. Tom Ricks in a recent WaPo op-ed asked, "Want a better U.S.
military? Make it smaller." He makes the point the military needs to
be smaller in order to be more nimble and adaptive to tomorrow's threats.
Understand but shrinking the overhead in the military as is starting to
happen with headquarters staff is one thing but his general call is a different
matter. The Navy cannot get any smaller with respect to ship numbers.
His examples point out some combat scenarios for the Navy but he forgets
the full-spectrum types of operations the Navy does. With the Navy
quantity has a quality all its own. Presence matters. In order to
make an impact in the world you have to be out in the world and you need ships
and aircraft to do that. Now calling for the right types and mix of ships
is fair. Calling for a general cut is not and could harm U.S. national
Ouch! Bill Sweetman in Aviation Week on the "U.S. Chair
Force" and how the A-10 is a "victim of difficult choices." Sweetman: "Once again, the U.S. Chair Force wants to sacrifice the
blood of the heroic infantry in favor of Mitchellesque strategic-bombing dreams
and white-scarf fighter missions. It should be disbanded and its functions
assigned to fighting services made up of Real Men. That view is not far beneath
a debate over close air support that has smoldered over decades like a case of
inter-service malaria. The latest attack of fevers and night sweats has been
triggered by the revelation of Air Force sequester-based budget plans that
include retirement of the A-10 Warthog, which nobody ever calls by its official
name of Thunderbolt II.
The Air Force is in a fiscal trap
that is partly of its own making. Aging combat fleets and an unmanned aerial
system force that can't survive against any form of air defense are two of its
closing walls. The service cannot find the will to escape from its commitment
to raise its F-35 Joint Strike Fighter buy rate to 80 per year, but it also
sees a stark need for aircraft with longer range." The rest here.
Dude's got smooth - again. In anticipation of the Army-Navy game Saturday, the middie-crooner
from the Naval Academy is back with a new spirit video. From BroBible: "When it comes to
fantastic hype videos, no one beats the swag of the U.S. Naval Academy. This
Bro was the star of the U.S.N.A.'s smack-talking hype video for the Air Force game back in October. Now he's back with a silky smooth cover of "Suite
and Tie" that bashes Army. Get on his level, West Point. Watch
his smooth here. Watch the original video against the Air Force here.