The Complex

Situation Report: Idris forced out of Syria, aid suspended

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 and we'll just stick you on. And if you like what you see, tell a friend.  And if you have a report you want teased, a piece of news, or a good tidbit, send it to us early for maximum tease, because if you see something, we hope you'll say something -- to Situation Report. And one more thing: please follow us @glubold.

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.

Israel-Palestine 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 security."

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.



National Security

FP's Situation Report: Panetta revealed info to filmmakers

By Gordon Lubold

Defense hawks shaped the budget deal. Defense News' John Bennett: "Two senior US lawmakers have struck a deal on a budget blueprint that would restore to the Pentagon's annual budget more than $30 billion over the next two years set to meet sequestration's meat axe. The bipartisan budget resolution is a major victory for congressional defense hawks, who lobbied for years against sequestration - and made an impression with the special committee's primary negotiators. House Budget Committee Chairman Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., and Senate Budget Committee Chairwoman Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., announced a plan Tuesday evening that would ease pending across-the-board cuts while shrinking the federal deficit more than existing law. The compromise budget resolution, if adopted by both chambers, would provide $63 billion in sequestration relief in 2014 and 2015, which would be split evenly among defense and non-defense discretionary accounts. The 2014 relief would total $45 billion, meaning the Defense Department would get back about $22.5 billion. In 2015, the relief amount would be around $18 billion total, and $9 billion for the Pentagon." More here.

The WaPo's Ezra Klein's "what you need to know" on the budget deal, point #5: "The deal replaces about half of sequestration's cuts to defense and non-defense discretionary spending in 2014. It replaces about a fourth of them in 2015. That means most of sequestration will go into effect in both years." More here.

A "doable deal on Defense," says the WaPo's ed board: "With the end of 2013 rapidly approaching, Congress has an opportunity to rise above a year of massive dysfunction and prevent major disruptions in U.S. defense operations. The leaders of the Senate and House armed services committees have managed to fashion a bipartisan version of the annual National Defense Authorization Act, which became stuck on the Senate floor before the Thanksgiving recess. It's a decent compromise that the leaders of both chambers ought to embrace and bring to a vote in the coming days... Other measures in the bill ought to attract broad bipartisan support. The effects on defense of the so-called sequester would be eased by transferring money to operations and training from less essential accounts, such as construction and staffing in office headquarters. The Pentagon is still vulnerable to a $50 billion sequester cut in January unless a separate budget deal can head it off. But passage of the authorization act would prevent the worst disruptions of ongoing operations."  More here.

Gordon Adams says the deal represents "business as usual in a statement to Situation Report and others:" "It's an insider's bill in an outsider's world.  They nearly didn't have any bill at all, reflective of the dysfunctionality at work in the Congress. Authorizing defense funding at a level that bears no relationship to the budget reality around them reflects that they continue to play inside baseball when the crowd has left the stadium.  The budget negotiators, appropriators, or, conceivably, sequester, will determine the funding level for defense. By pretending there would be more money, the authorizers managed to evade tough choices, and even left themselves room to push for special interests that will make the Pentagon's planning problems even worse: preventing the retirement of cruisers and amphibious ships, preventing the sensible consolidation of the military's basing infrastructure, blocking the decision to order no more block 30 Global Hawks, adding funds to an already excessive missile defense budget, additional funding for Guard and Reserve equipment."

Welcome to Wednesday's edition of Situation Report where our bottom line when it comes to all that will always be: bring it. If you'd like to sign up to receive Situation Report, send us a note at and we'll just stick you on. And if you like what you see, tell a friend.  And if you have a report you want teased, a piece of news, or a good tidbit, send it to us early for maximum tease, because if you see something, we hope you'll say something -- to Situation Report. And one more thing: please follow us @glubold.

Turns out, Panetta did unwittingly reveal top secret information to ‘Zero Dark Thirty' filmmaker at an awards ceremony in June 2011. Judicial Watch: Judicial Watch announced today that it has obtained more than 200 pages of documents from the Central Intelligence Agency, including a previously unreleased CIA internal report confirming that former CIA Director Leon Panetta revealed classified information at a June 24, 2011, bin Laden assault awards ceremony attended by ‘Zero Dark Thirty' filmmaker Mark Boal. The documents were produced in response to a June 21, 2013, Freedom of Information Act lawsuit against the Central Intelligence Agency... Significantly, the entire transcript of the Panetta speech provided to Judicial Watch by the CIA is classified "Top Secret."  More than 90 lines are redacted for security reasons, further confirming that significant portions of the speech should not have been made in front of the filmmaker who lacked top security clearance.

AP's Kim Dozier: "Newly declassified documents show Tuesday that former CIA Director Leon Panetta revealed secret information to ‘Zero Dark Thirty' scriptwriter Mark Boal when Panetta gave a speech at CIA headquarters marking the raid that killed Osama bin Laden. Panetta said through a spokesman that he didn't know Boal was in the room. Judicial Watch filed a request for the more than 200 pages of documents, which the CIA released Tuesday. The documents concerned the internal investigation of its role in the film about the bin Laden raid... Panetta spokesman Jeremy Bash said Panetta assumed everyone in the audience had the proper clearance to hear the speech. The documents refer to Panetta revealing the name of the ground commander of the unit that carried out the raid. Parts of the speech transcript released in the documents Tuesday are still blacked out." Panetta, in a statement: "I had no idea that individual was in the audience... To this day, I wouldn't know him if he walked into the room." Read the rest of the AP here. Read the documents Judicial Watch obtained though FOIA, here. Judicial Watch story here. 

Read FP's interview with Panetta pub'ed Dec. 9, "Epiphanies from Leon Panetta," including his views on Syria, Iran and the most dysfunctional Congress in recent memory, here.

Foreign Policy hosts John Kerry (on his 70th birthday!) and a whole bunch of other amazing folks are on the marquee today for FP's "Transformational Trends 2014." In conjunction with the Policy Planning Staff at the State Department, FP will host a day-long discussion on diplomacy and national security at the Four Seasons hotel in Georgetown that culminates with remarks by John Kerry this afternoon. The day will include panel discussions from the likes of Tony Blinken, President Obama's deputy national security adviser, former National Security Adviser Tom Donilon, Anne Patterson, the former U.S. Ambassador to Egypt (and Pakistan), Mark Lippert, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel's chief of staff, Michele Flournoy, the Pentagon's former No. 3 and a slew of others, including: David McKean, Tom Shannon, Jack Gerard, Jim Baker, David Burwell, FP's Peter Scoblic and Noah Shachtman, Noura al-Kaabi, Miriam Sapiro, Frederick Kempe, Danny Russel, Fred Hochberg and David Sandalow.

There will be spirited discussions that include "2014: Flashpoints and Emerging Trends of the Year Ahead" led by McKean; a keynote discussion by Donilon on "Shaping a Strategic Framework for a Secure America," followed by a panel discussion led by Shachtman on "Rethinking the Greater Middle East: Finding Opportunity Amid Unprecedented Upheaval" with Patterson, Nasr and al-Kaabi; Another discussion in the afternoon, "The Changing Nature of the Trans-Atlantic Alliance" will be followed by another one with Russel, Lippert, Hochberg, Flournoy and Sandalow on "America in Asia: Remaking the Map of the Center of the 21st Century World."

Kerry, who celebrates 70 years today, will speak in the late afternoon on "Restoring Diplomacy to the Center of the U.S. Foreign Policy: Reflections on the Past Year and What's Next."

That will be followed by a huge party tonight at the Four Seasons that FP hosts to celebrate FP's Global Thinkers, people like Edward Snowden, Hassan Rouhani, Keith Alexander, Ron Wyden and Kevin Mandia and a bunch of incredible people you may have never heard of, too. Aminata Toure, Xie Zhenhua, Mary Jennings, Colleen Farrell and Joshua Oppenheimer, Malala Yousafzai and dozens of others are on the list and many of them will be at the party tonight.

The list and the Global Thinkers issue online, here.

Follow it all today on the Tweeter machine: #FPTrends and #FPThinkers.

And for a list of the Twitter handles of FP's Global Thinkers, click here.

Btw, Foreign Policy magazine isn't at the top of Julian Assange's Christmas list. FP's Elias Groll: "Julian Assange and a huge number of Mexicans on Twitter look to have something in common: Neither are particularly happy about Foreign Policy's Global Thinkers issue. On Monday, FP launched the fifth annual iteration of that issue, which selected a range of thinkers from the worlds of surveillance and privacy, statesmen and activists, innovators and artists in attempt to distill some of the most important and consequential individuals of 2013. Among them is the Mexican president, Enrique Peña Nieto, who has embarked on an ambitious reform agenda during his first year in office... But his selection provoked a virulent response on Twitter, with an outpouring of disdain for a man many Mexicans view as little more than a figurehead -- and a stupid one at that... This year, Julian Assange joined the Mexican Twitterati in denouncing FP. On Monday night, the WikiLeaks Twitter account, which Assange has a key hand in running, criticized FP for what it saw as a long-running marginalization of Assange." Read the rest here.

John Kerry pitched the Iranian deal to Congress and beat back more sanctions - for now. FP's own Yochi Dreazen and John Hudson: "When it comes to the Obama administration's controversial nuclear pact with Iran, it's White House 1, Congress 0. Lawmakers from both parties teed off on the agreement Tuesday, deriding it as naïve, misguided, and the beginning of the end for the punishing economic sanctions that have forced Tehran to the negotiating table. Rhetoric aside, though, the administration seems to have blunted -- at least for now -- a Senate Banking Committee push to impose new sanctions on Iran while the talks continue. That's a major win for the White House, which has repeatedly warned that putting new punitive measures in place now would derail the current negotiations with Tehran and scuttle the interim deal that was signed in Geneva late last month. 

‘The president and Secretary Kerry have made a strong case for a pause in Congressional action on new Iran sanctions, so I am inclined to support their request and hold off on Committee action for now,' said Senate Banking Committee Chairman Tim Johnson, whose panel has been weighing legislation designed to choke off Iran's remaining oil sales. The House overwhelmingly passed its own version of the bill earlier this year." More here.

Two French paratroopers die in unrest in Central African Republic, CNN here.

Jim Dobbins: security deal with Afghanistan not impossible. The WaPo's Joby Warrick: The Obama administration believes it can still finalize a security agreement with Afghanistan to keep a U.S. military presence in the country after 2014, despite threats by President Hamid Karzai to walk away from the deal, the U.S. special representative to Afghanistan said Tuesday. But Ambassador James F. Dobbins also warned that delays in signing the proposed deal could further undermine stability in the country as it prepares to assume full control of its security for the first time since the arrival of U.S. troops in 2001." Read the rest here.

The U.S. focuses on training special Afghan teams before they leave. The WSJ's Michael Phillips in Mehtar Lam: U.S. commanders are turning to elite Afghan police and military units to pursue insurgents deep into their sanctuaries, in an echo of tactics that American troops considered effective during the Vietnam War.

The military hopes the elite units, trained by U.S. Green Berets and other allied special-operations troops, will keep Taliban and other militants on their heels as April's national elections approach and the bulk of American conventional forces-perhaps even all of them-withdraw over the coming year. ‘You literally have to make [the insurgents] feel insecure in their own areas,' said U.S. Special Forces Lt. Col. Marc LaRoche, whose teams advise Afghan police strike forces, called Provincial Response Companies. Such police units operate in 19 of 34 Afghan provinces, with six more companies planned.

"... Elite units still suffer serious shortcomings. The Laghman operation showed the value of U.S. air power in bolstering police; such close-air support will likely be available in diminishing amounts as the American withdrawal proceeds. U.S. efforts to build the Afghan air force have been slow, leaving the Afghan special units faced with the prospect of doing more-hazardous ground insertions. The police units also depend heavily upon high-tech coalition intelligence intercepts to supplement Afghan government spy networks."

Donde esta the meaning of the handshake: it may elude grasp.  The NYT's Michael Shear: President Obama shook hands with President Raúl Castro of Cuba on Tuesday, offering a friendly gesture freighted with symbolism to one of America's most enduring Cold War foes... The president's aides would have known in advance which world leaders would be at the podium when the president approached for his own remarks. But White House officials declined to offer any explanation of the handshake or confirm that there had been a discussion about whether to offer one. Still, Mr. Obama's own remarks, delivered just moments afterward, offer tantalizing possibilities about what was going through the president's mind when he approached Mr. Castro. Mr. Obama talked about the need for trust and reconciliation and forgiveness. He was talking about Mr. Mandela - widely known by his clan name, Madiba - but his remarks might also apply to the diplomatically frozen relationship between the United States and Cuba. Read the rest here.

Google donates the money needed to adorn 120,000 gravestones at Arlington with wreaths. The WaPo's Patricia Sullivan: "A major donation by Google and smaller donations from a number of individuals will assure that nearly 120,000 gravestones at Arlington National Cemetery will be decorated with holiday wreaths this season. Google, which is mapping the cemetery with cameras mounted on people and cars, donated $250,000 to Wreaths Across America, a nonprofit organization that has been laying wreaths there since 1992. Others also contributed smaller amounts after a reading a story in last week's Washington Post that reported that the effort was falling short this year... Wreaths Across America, which puts wreaths on graves in 900 cemeteries nationwide, had about 12 percent more donations this year than last, but many corporate sponsors who previously had supported the Arlington effort decided this year to split their contributions between Arlington and other military cemeteries around the nation." Read the rest here.

Duffel Blog: Obama on military cuts: if you like your job, you can keep it. Duffel Blog's (it's satire!) Dick Scuttlebutt: "In a speech at the United States Naval Academy on Tuesday, President Obama pledged to the assembled naval and Marine cadets that despite serious drawdowns, no service member would be forced to leave his or her job if they like it. After acknowledging the Naval Academy's hallowed history of producing the finest Naval and Marine officers in the world, the President first addressed assertions leveled by critics that the budget cuts will have a negative impact on readiness and morale. Some are claiming that the cuts are political, intended to fund the President's pet projects. More here.