SecDef Carter To Hold ‘Extraordinary’ Meeting In Kuwait (Mon.) — To Discuss Strategy To Combat Islamic State

Secretary Of Defense Carter To Hold ‘Extraordinary’ Meeting In Kuwait (Mon.) — To Discuss Strategy To Combat Islamic State

Gordon Lubold, writing for the publication Defense One, and who is part of the journalists who are accompanying the SecDef on his trip to Afghanistan, and now Kuwait — writes that “Secretary Carter is convening an unusual, meeting in Kuwait tomorrow (Mon.) that will bring together three-and-four-star generals, ambassadors, and other top officials to discuss U.S. strategy with respect to the Islamic State.” Mr. Lubold writes that “Secretary Carter doesn’t envision this as just any kind of meeting, where high ranking military officers and others hold forth about their commands, and their perspectives, and the conversation all becomes about them — and, nothing gets done.” Not to mention the endless and dreaded power-point presentations. “Instead,” Mr. Lubold writes, “the 30 or so folks who will assemble tomorrow at Camp Arifan, –for a six-hour meeting — called the “Counter ISIL Political-Military Consultations,” and they’ll be speaking off the cuff, not on script; and, taking questions from Secretary Carter.” What a refreshing change. I like Secretary Carter already. “This is reversing that paradigm, straight up,” a senior defense official said,” according to Mr. Lubold.

“A kicking of the tires,” according to a senior defense official, explaining the purpose of the meeting. “The point of the meeting is really to give the new SecDef an opportunity to hear from a cross-disciplinary group of people around the room, hearing the cross-talk, and really just kicking the tires on the current, counter ISIL strategy, both in Iraq and Syria, getting his head around it, [with] a very free, and open discussion,” Mr. Lubold wrote. And, when Mr. Lubold writes “free and open discussion,” he means it. SecDef Carter has forbidden power-point slides [thank goodness, someone has finally done so]; and, he has insisted that the discussion be free-flowing, regardless of rank.

EXPECTATION MANAGEMENT: NO DELIVERABLES: Mr. Lubold writes that “reporters on SecDef Carter’s plane were told that there won’r be any particular outcomes [from the meeting], at least not yet. “The purpose of the consultation,” he added, “is not to rethink strategy; but, to give Secretary Carter, in office for six days, a clear understanding of the issue at hand.” “It is really purely to foster educating and strategic conversation for the Secretary,” the official said.

WHAT WILL SECDEF CARTER BE ASKING?: “Everything from soup, to nuts, on Syria and Iraq, including the Syrian train-and-equip program, the nature of the Syrian opposition, the coalition of 60 nations, what they’re doing; and, maybe what more they could do, and how the U.S. military campaign fits into all this in Iraq. SecDef Carter also wants to know more about building the capacity of Iraqi forces, Sunni mobilization, and reconciliation; and, SecDef Carter will also want to know more about how the U.S. air campaign is going,” Defense One wrote.

CANCEL WHATEVER YOU HAVE, THE SECRETARY NEEDS YOU IN KUWAIT: “The ISIL meeting,” Mr. Lubold notes, has forced SecDef Carter’s staff, and the staffs of all those invited — to scramble. Although the seed for this big meeting may have been planted a few weeks ago, planning for the meeting did not really begin to take shape till Feb. 14, a Saturday [and Valentine’s], when Secretary Carter asked folks from his front office and top policy officials to start to put it all together.”

WHO’s GOING? [ATTENDING]: “So far, it’s Gen. Lloyd Austin, U.S. Commander of Central Command, LTG. James Terry, Commander of the Joint Task Force to Counter ISIL, LTG. Terry Thomas, Commander of the Joint Special Operations Command, MG. Mike Nagata, who oversees the train-and-assist program in Syria, Gen. Phil Breedlove, Commander of NATO Forces, Gen. David Rodriguez, Commander of Africa Command, and Gen. Joe Votel, Commander of U.S. Special Operations Command,” Defense One reported.

AND THE AMBASSADORS AND OTHER STATE OFFICIALS: Mr. Lubold notes that: “They include Special Envoy to Syria, Daniel Rubinstein, State’s Deputy Special Presidential Envoy for the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIL,, Gen. John Allen,and, the retired Marine four-star who is coordinating the effort against ISIL. The meeting also includes: U.S. Ambassador Alice Wells (Jordan); Doug Sullivan, (Kuwait); Joe Westphal, (Saudi Arabia); Barbara Leaf, (UAE); and, Stephen Beecroft, (Egypt).”

WOULD SECRETARY CARTER HOLD SUCH A MEETING AGAIN? “It’s likely he will begin to hold a series of these kinds of meetings, on this and other topics in the future,” the senior defense official said.

HEARD: “I DON’T KNOW HOW I’M GOING TO COMPETE WITH ARTICHOKE DIP, FRANKLY”: “The senior defense official on the cramped, E-4B, joking how the plane’s crew began serving a snack, just as the briefing for reporters began, on the flight from Kandahar to Kuwait”

This is a breath of fresh air; and, it is these kinds of meetings that can be instrumental in helping the Secretary and the Pentagon,and the Combatant Commanders to air their differences; and, provide fresh new perspectives that for one reason or another, haven’t been aired or staffed to the highest levels of the Department, Forbidding power-point is a much needed, and welcome change; and, I hope it is a trend that continues. Staff and action officers often spend as much time creating these slides, as they do thinking about the issue they are charged with ‘fixing.’ Secretary Carter’s three previous predecessors, all complained about micromanagement from the White House National Security Staff.

Mr. Lubold did not mention that anyone from the National Security Council (NSC) Staff would be attending; and, I sure hope that is accurate. White House interference in this kind of meeting would not be useful/helpful. Alas, however, we still have the POTUS we have, not the one many of us want. If SecDef Carter does come away with some strong recommendations that run counter to what the NSC is pushing, what happens then? For example, it is hard for me to conceive, at least with the information that I know, and having worked the Syrian Desk as an intelligence analyst for five years, that the Pentagon should be given the green light to take out Syrian President Assad’s Air Force, if — we arm the rebels and President Assad authorizes airstrikes against them. But, I have a suspicion that the White House doesn’t want Assad out — despite what the POTUS said a couple of year’s ago that — ” Assad must go.”

And, let’s hope that the U.S. Ambassador to Egypt can make a strong case that this administration change course with respect to Egypt. President Sisi has stepped forward and made a clarion call for a reformation in the ‘Islamic Chuurch, in a very brave and courageous way. All this White House and NSC has done is give President Sisi the back of their hand and, driven Egypt more into Russia’s orbit — needlessly, and unwisely.

‘SecDef Carter may be the right man, at the right time, for the Pentagon; but, he still may not be able to overcome an incompetent NSC Staff and a POTUS that prefers to lead from behind, or not at all. That is one thing, unfortunately, that this meeting won’t be able to fix. V/R, RCP

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