President Barack Obama tore into U.S. troops who commit sexual assault for "betraying the uniform that they're wearing," on Tuesday, responding to a recent spate of criminal allegations currently commanding headlines and attention in Congress.
Obama said he has told the Pentagon's highest chain of command that he has "no tolerance for this." In a press conference at the White House just minutes before the Pentagon was to release its latest report to Congress, the president called for more than just words.
"I expect consequences. So -- so I don't want just more speeches or, you know, awareness programs or training, but ultimately folks look the other way. If we find out somebody's engaging in this stuff, they got to be held accountable, prosecuted, stripped of their positions, court-martialed, fired, dishonorably discharged -- period."
At the Pentagon, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, later said, "We know we've got big problems." Hagel vowed to hold commanders accountable for sexual assault in the ranks.
The president's statement comes hours after a heated hearing in the Senate Armed Services Committee where Air Force leaders were grilled over the sexual assault issue. Chairman Carl Levin, D-Mich., said the DOD report issued today reveals there are 70 sexual assaults each day involving military personnel, and called it a "plague" among the Armed Forces.
The president's comments come one day after it was revealed that the top Air Force officer in charge of sexual assault prevention was arrested over the weekend for sexual battery. Lt. Col. Jeff Krusinksi allegedly was drunk when he groped a female who alerted police, in Crystal City, Virginia, near the Pentagon.
Here is the president's full quote:
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Well, let's start with the principle that sexual assault is an outrage. It is a crime. That's true for society at large, and if it's happening inside our military, then whoever carries it out is betraying the uniform that they're wearing. And they may consider themselves patriots, but when you engage in this kind of behavior, that's not patriotic; it's a crime. And we have to do everything we can to root this out.
Now, this is not a new phenomenon. One of the things that we've been trying to do is create a structure in which we're starting to get accurate reporting. And up and down the chain, we are seeing a process, a system of accountability and transparency so that we can root this out completely. And this is a discussion that I had with Secretary Panetta. He had begun the process of moving this forward. But I have directly spoken to Secretary Hagel already today in indicating to him that we're going to have to, you know, not just step up our game; we have to exponentially step up our game to go at this thing hard.
And for those who are in uniform who've experienced sexual assault, I want them to hear directly from their commander in chief that I've got their backs. I will support them. And we're not going to tolerate this stuff. And there will be accountability.
If people have engaged in this behavior, they should be prosecuted. And anybody in the military who has knowledge of this stuff should understand this is not who we are. This is not what the U.S. military is about. And it dishonors the vast majority of men and women in uniform who carry out their responsibilities and obligations with honor and dignity and incredible courage every single day.
So bottom line is I have no tolerance for this. I have communicated this to the secretary of defense. We're going to communicate this again to folks up and down the chain in -- in areas of authority. And I expect consequences. So -- so I don't want just more speeches or, you know, awareness programs or training, but ultimately folks look the other way. If we find out somebody's engaging in this stuff, they got to be held accountable, prosecuted, stripped of their positions, court-martialed, fired, dishonorably discharged -- period. It's not acceptable.
Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images
The sequester is causing the Army plenty of problems but retention is not one of them, according to the chief of staff, Gen. Ray Odierno. Not yet, at least.
The military has given Congress and the president a mile-long list of reasons to cancel the mandatory across-the-board sequester cuts underway, from the inability to field intercontinental ballistic missiles to reduced shopping hours at grocery stores on military bases.
The latest warning from the top brass: the sequester could, might, just maybe, one day, possibly soon affect recruitment and retention.
But not yet.
"We are not seeing any degradation in retention or our ability to recruit," Gen. Ray Odierno said at a Tuesday breakfast with reporters. "In fact last year, for the first time, not everybody who wanted to reenlist was able to. For us, that's the first time that's happened in a very long time. So our attrition rates are at historic lows."
To restate -- the rate of soldiers leaving the Army is actually at a near all-time low.
Joint Chiefs Chairman Martin Dempsey said last month he worried troops may start to quit the Armed Forces because the sequester is cutting training budgets, which means less flying, sailing, and all the fun stuff that troops signed up to do.
"Today's readiness challenges could indeed, lead to tomorrow's retention challenges," Dempsey said. The chairman argued troops will not stomach being told to sit and wait out the sequester after so many years of high-tempo activity. "That will, I predict, impact retention."
Odierno joined in Dempsey's prediction that young adults may look elsewhere than the military for work, on Tuesday, saying, "As the economy improves, people might look to do some other things. But if we don't have the money to train, and we don't have the money to do the things we think we should be doing, it is going to have an impact."
On Thursday, the Pentagon released its latest recruitment and retention numbers with the Army logging 101 percent of its goal for the fiscal year through March, signing up 33,857 new personnel. The other services all met their attrition goals, DOD said. Only the Army Reserve is struggling to meet their recruiting goal, reporting 12,976 accessions, with a goal of 14,477 through March.
"Because soldiers, they want to be -- the reason they want to stay in the army, they think it's a good organization, they think its one that's well trained, its one that's well respected," Odierno said. "If they start to feel that we're now not being funded or have the capability to do that, I think the natural instinct will be, maybe I'm going to do something else."
Photo by John Moore/Getty Images
The U.S. Army's top officer said that force readiness is "degrading significantly" enough that if President Barack Obama decides to put boots on the ground in Syria, soldiers may not be fully prepared for the job if they don't move out by the end of this summer.
Gen. Ray Odierno, Army chief of staff, said he believes the Free Syrian Army will prevail because the rebels have been able to win and hold territory.
"I kind of believe its not a matter of if, it's a matter of when," Odierno said of the FSA's chances to topple Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
From a military perspective, Odierno did not offer advice to the rebels, which the U.S. support officially and with non-lethal aid, but said he was encouraged by what they've been able to accomplish against Syria's forces.
"I think from what I've seen is they have made some significant gains. I think they are controlling the territory. It makes you think that, you know, it's going to be difficult for the regime over time to survive," Odierno said, at a Defense Writers Group briefing with reporters in Washington, on Tuesday.
Odierno cautioned, however, that training cutbacks due to the sequester mean that, within months, the Army will be less prepared for a ground intervention.
"Its a matter of us having the dollars to make sure they are ready and trained to meet such a contingency in Syria."
"Readiness is OK right now, but it's degrading significantly because our training is reducing. So, the next three, four months, we probably have the capability to do it," he said, of a Syrian incursion. "Next year, it becomes a little bit more risky."
"If you ask me today, we have forces that can go. I think it will change over time because the longer we go cancelling training and reducing our training, the readiness levels go down."
When readiness falls, he warned, risk inevitably goes up.
"What is the risk? The risk is lives."
Odeirno said that while Pentagon continues to present President Obama options for Syria, including acting unilaterally or in an international coalition, he's more concerned about the future facing the region.
"What I worry about is the next day. So, when it happens, what happens the day after?" he said. "To me, that's important, what happens to Syria."
"Nothing happens independently in the Middle East. What's the impact on Israel? What's the impact on Lebanon? What's the impact on Jordan," he said, mentioning Iraq, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and Iran, as well.
"If we don't get this right, what happens the day after ... could change the whole face of the Middle East, or it could go smoothly," he speculated. "How do we from an international coalition try to make this happen in such a way where we don't create incredible instability once Syria falls. That's what I worry about."
Add the use of chemical and biological weapons to his list of concerns.
"There's lots to worry about," Odierno said. "For me, it gets very, very messy."
There's one more layer to the Syria mess that complicates any outcome, said the Army chief: terrorists in the rebel ranks.
"With the rebels, we do know there's some terrorists in there," Odierno said. "Obviously, we don't want them to be involved in the outcome, we don't want them to gain power because of the impact they could have on the rest of the region -- regionally and then potentially internationally."
Photo by MOHAMMED HUWAIS/AFP/Getty Images
According to an Arlington County crime report, just past midnight on Sunday, May 5, Krusinski “approached a female victim in a parking lot and grabbed her breasts and buttocks. The victim fought the suspect off as he attempted to touch her again and alerted police.”
Krusinski was arrested and charged with sexual battery, and released on $5,000 bond. He was removed from his position on Monday, Pentagon officials said.
The arrest was first reported by ARLNow.com.
The news comes after E-Ring first reported that the Air Force sexual assault office has been passing out interesting trinkets -- breath mints, hand sanitizer, and sponge footballs -- in the Pentagon in the hopes that they will promote good behavior and safety.
Frank Cope, from the Air Force’s Sexual Assault Response Coordinator office, told the E-ring that the tchotchkes “spread the message of respect and help available to those who need it.”
“Our phone numbers go out
on every one of those items, people see them and often they make the call to
the DOD Sexual Assault Hotline (877-995-5247) or a local SARC and begin a
conversation that may start them on a journey from victim to survivor.”
UPDATE: The Krusinski arrest quickly has reverberated through the Pentagon's highest office. Pentagon Press Secretary George Little, late Monday, released the following statement which reveals Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel will roll out further sexual assault prevention measures soon.
Little said: "This evening Secretary Hagel spoke to Air Force Secretary Donley about allegations of misconduct involving an Air Force officer who had been responsible for the service's sexual assault and prevention efforts and was removed today from his position pending the outcome of an investigation. Secretary Hagel expressed outrage and disgust over the troubling allegations and emphasized that this matter will be dealt with swiftly and decisively. Secretary Hagel has been directing the Department's leaders to elevate their focus on sexual assault prevention and response, and he will soon announce next steps in our ongoing efforts to combat this vile crime. Sexual assault has no place in the United States military. The American people, including our service members, should expect a culture of absolutely no tolerance for this deplorable behavior that violates not only the law, but basic principles of respect, honor, and dignity in our society and its military. Secretary Hagel is firmly committed to upholding the highest standards of behavior in America's armed forces and will take action to see this through."
What's going on in this photo of Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel greeting Secretary of State John Kerry at the Pentagon?
The two men met at the Pentagon for the first time since taking office in the new Obama administration, marking the first time that two Vietnam combat veterans held those positions. Hagel presented Kerry with a print of a painting from the Navy's collection depicting two Navy Patrol Craft Boats on the Mekong River Delta, from 1968. Another term for those type of vessels: swift boats.
For more photos, and a look at the painting, click here.
Photo by Sgt. Aaron Hostutler, U.S. Marine Corps
It's déjà vu all over again for the Pentagon's latest annual "China power report" released on Monday, in which Defense Department policy bosses have determined that the People's Liberation Army (PLA) is continuing to expand, modernize, and buy more and weaponry and capabilities mostly designed to keep outside powers like the United States out of its immediate territory.
"China's military buildup shows no signs of slowing," said Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense David Helvey, at the Pentagon.
What worries Helvey most is that despite increased transparency from China, the United States feels that Beijing continues to keep its plans and intentions for the PLA far too close to the vest and "many uncertainties remain" about the PLA budget.
"There's a lot yet that remains to be said," Helvey said. "This report poses a number of questions -- questions to which we don't have answers."
According to the report, China's military is focused on acquiring more missiles, counter-space weapons, and cyberwarfare technology. In fact, in just about every corner of the military toolbox, the PLA is increasing stocks: "nuclear deterrence and long-range conventional strike; advanced fighter aircraft; limited regional power projection, with the commissioning of China's first aircraft carrier, the Liaoning; integrated air defenses; undersea warfare; improved command and control; and more sophisticated training and exercises across China's air, naval, and land forces."
China's Second Artillery unit, which controls its nuclear arsenal, has been particularly active. "It is developing and testing several new classes and variants of offensive missiles, forming additional missile units, upgrading older missile systems, and developing methods to counter ballistic missile defenses," the report claims.
One quick note: while the world saw China's first aircraft carrier come online last year, the Pentagon expects it will not have an operational air wing until 2015. The Pentagon seems more concerned about the next decade, as the PLA has announced its intention to build its own carriers. The Pentagon expects the first home-built Chinese carrier by the end of this decade, according to the report.
Helvey claimed the administration has achieved "positive" momentum in U.S.-China military-to-military relations, citing a number of high-level visits between Beijing and Washington in 2012. He would not comment further on reports of China's cyber espionage and theft of military secrets. But the true extend of trust in that relationship was bluntly in view during last months' nuclear standoff with North Korea, when Pentagon and Joint Staff officials conceded there was little interaction between top U.S. and Chinese commanders.
Just because the United States is gaining energy independence from foreign oil doesn't mean the Pentagon shouldn't remain on mission to secure energy supplies.
That's the argument made in a new book by Michael Levi, senior fellow for energy and the environment at the Council on Foreign Relations and director of its program on energy security and climate change. The book, Power Surge: Energy, Opportunity, and the Battle for America's Future, was released Thursday.
"Achieving American energy self-sufficiency wouldn't make us independent in the way that people would like to think it would," Levi told the E-Ring, in an interview Friday. And, he added, it won't decrease U.S. vulnerability in energy or other areas.
Since most national security wonks are not energy wonks, and vice versa, we'll allow Levi (who might be a triple wonk: he studied string theory at Princeton and his last book was on nuclear terrorism) to explain. He argues that the United States still remains so tied to the decades-old global oil-supply market that only a significant drop in total U.S. energy consumption would do anything real to free the United States from foreign security concerns.
"We've accepted the reality of an interdependent global oil market. We've encouraged the development of a flexible markets so that if supplies in one place go away, we can get supplies from someone else. We still stock strategic petroleum reserves, large stocks of oil that we can put on the market to make up for losses if they happen -- and that's all made us more secure. But what it also means is that we are much more integrated."
"If we somehow became self-sufficient in oil and things went haywire in Saudi Arabia, the price of oil would spike here too," Levi said, "and we would suffer economically and we would still be entangled in those events."
Consider the Libyan crisis, Levi noted, when the price of oil rose in the United States as much as it did in the Middle East.
Several studies by RAND Corporation and others have tried to quantify how much the U.S. military spends on protecting energy supplies and traffic, such as sea lanes. Those studies end up informing arguments that energy independence can be a quick money saver for the Pentagon. Levi says that's wrong.
As the United States weans itself from foreign oil, he said, the Pentagon may want to changes its mission or focus in relation to energy, but "it shouldn't be driven by a mistaken belief that we no longer need to worry about the security of energy supplies."
It may come as no surprise, then, that Levi supports the Obama administration's use of the Defense Department to fund the development of an alternative energy market.
"I think it would be mistake for the U.S. to spend less in those areas," he said.
"One of the lessons we known from the history of the Defense Department is that government involvement in big tech innovations can often yield really important advances," he argued. "And energy has the potential to be yet another example."
"The Defense Department can take a longer view of things than the typical private investor, it can operate at a larger scale than a lot of private investors, and it can be patient. And that's important."
Additionally, there's something intangible to be said for seeing the Navy's "Green" F/A-18 Super Hornet fly on biofuels.
"Its hard for people to think that biofuels are a silly thing for people to play around with when military jets can fly on them. There is habit in the energy world of thinking about alternative sources of energy as somehow inferior and weaker. And it may just be a level of perception to say that when the military uses these things, it boosts their credibility, but perceptions matter a lot."
The North Korean regime is doing whatever it can to survive, according to a new Pentagon assessment which predicts that, despite international efforts, Pyongyang's leadership will continue to build more nuclear weapons and asymmetric warfare capabilities.
In its first annual report to Congress, the Pentagon said North Korea sees that its military power is falling behind that of its neighbors -- South Korea, Japan, and China. Instead of trying to match those capabilities, however, it has chosen to pursue nukes and small-war strategies.
But the regime may feel more threatened by its own people.
"The regime's greatest security concern is opposition from within," the Pentagon told Congress in the report. The regime's fear of external threats is that they will foster internal revolt. As such, the North Korean military is as involved in maintaining oppressive "internal security" as it is in threatening South Korea or the United States.
The Pentagon believes the North Korean military's provocations are calculated to avoid triggering a full-scale counterattack. But DOD is worried about "miscalculation that could spiral into a larger conflict."
"Although North Korea is unlikely to attack on a scale that it assesses would risk the survival of its government by inviting overwhelming counterattacks by the ROK or the United States, we do not know how North Korea calculates this threshold of behavior."
If war happens, the Pentagon would face an aged military.
"The KPA fields primarily legacy equipment, either produced in, or based on designs of, the Soviet Union and China, dating back to the 1950s, 60s and 70s," said the report, though last year's NorthKorean military parade revealed some new tanks, artillery, and infantry hardware.
The North Korean air force has not purchased new fighters since a 1999 buy of MiG-21s. It has more than 1,000 planes, but its most capable are Soviet-era MiG-29s. The regime's naval forces are barely worth a mention, though the Pentagon said a mini-submarine was able to sink the South Korean ship Cheonan.
The one threat the Pentagon shows concern over: ballistic missiles and the progress toward nuclear-tipped ICBMs.
"North Korea will move closer to this goal, as well as increase the threat it poses to U.S. forces and Allies in the region, if it continues testing and devoting scarce regime resources to these programs."
Kevin Baron reports on the people and policies driving the Pentagon and the national security establishment in The E-Ring.