National Security

FP's Situation Report: On ethics reforms, is Hagel's push for urgency a nudge for Dempsey?

A possible Taliban prisoner swap; Iran's hacking is worse than you think; Colburn's first day at Penty; and a bit more.  

By Gordon Lubold 

Page One: There's a Taliban prisoner swap possible to get the American soldier Bowe Bergdahl, held since 2009, back. The WaPo's Anne Gearan and Ernesto Londono: "In an effort to free American captive Bowe Bergdahl before the bulk of U.S. forces leave Afghanistan this year, the Obama administration has decided to try to resume talks with the Taliban and sweeten an offer to trade Taliban prisoners held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, for the Army sergeant, current and former officials said.

"Five members of the Afghan Taliban who have been held at Guantanamo for years would be released to protective custody in Qatar in exchange for the release of Bergdahl, who was captured in Afghanistan in 2009 and is thought to be held in Pakistan by the Haqqani network, an allied insurgent group. To refresh the American offer, which has been on the table for more than two years, senior officials from the White House, the Pentagon, the State Department and other agencies decided within the past month to allow the simultaneous release of all five men. Taliban representatives had objected to the previous plan to release the prisoners by ones or twos as a test of Taliban and Qatari intermediaries' ability to make sure the men did not return to militancy.

"Two people familiar with the decision stressed that it was the Taliban that broke off negotiations nearly two years ago and that the U.S. door to talks has been open since. The renewed offer has not been formally made, and no State Department or other officials have immediate plans to travel to Doha, Qatar, where any contact facilitated by the Qatari government would take place." The rest here.

AEI's Michael Rubin's book, "Dancing with the Devil: The Perils of Engaging Rogue Regimes," about the price of negotiating with bag guys, publishes today. Over the weekend, the WaPo's Outlook section pub'ed an op-ed from Rubin and his take on "the Obama Dialogues" with such countries: "...While Obama's embrace of negotiation with America's enemies seems to have become the norm in U.S. foreign policy circles, it represents a sharp departure from past administrations and from generally accepted statecraft. History shows that this approach offers very high, if unintended, costs." Read the rest of that here.

Page One: The Iranian hacking of U.S. military systems was worse than you thought. The WSJ's Siobhan Gorman and Julian Barnes: "Iran's infiltration of a Navy computer network was far more extensive than previously thought, according to officials, and the officer who led the response will likely face questions about it from senators weighing his nomination as the next head of the embattled National Security Agency. It took the Navy about four months to finally purge the hackers from its biggest unclassified computer network, according to current and former officials. Some lawmakers are concerned about how long it took. When Vice Adm. Michael Rogers, President Barack Obama's choice for the new NSA director, faces his confirmation hearing, some senators are expected to ask whether there is a long-term plan to address security gaps exposed by the attack, congressional aides said. The hearing hasn't been scheduled yet, but could be next month.

"The Wall Street Journal in September first reported the discovery of the Iranian cyberattack. Officials at the time said the intruders had been removed. However, officials now acknowledge that the attack was more invasive, getting into what one called the 'bloodstream' of the Navy and Marine Corps system and managing to stay there until November.

"The hackers targeted the Navy Marine Corps Internet, the unclassified network used by the Department of the Navy to host websites, store nonsensitive information and handle voice, video and data communications. The network has 800,000 users at 2,500 locations, according to the Navy. Officials said there was no evidence the Iranians have been able to break into a network beyond the Navy Marine Corps Internet and no classified networks were penetrated. Network repairs continue to close the many security gaps revealed by the intrusion, not just on Navy computers but across the Department of Defense, the officials said. Said a senior U.S. official: "It was a real big deal... It was a significant penetration that showed a weakness in the system." The rest here.

The U.S. scolds Russia as it weighs options on Syria. The NYT's Michael Gordon, David Sanger and Eric Schmitt: " Secretary of State John Kerry on Monday sharpened the Obama administration's mounting criticism of Russia's role in the escalating violence in Syria, asserting that the Kremlin was undermining the prospects of a negotiated solution by "contributing so many more weapons" and political support to President Bashar al-Assad. Kerry, in Jakarta: "They're, in fact, enabling Assad to double down, which is creating an enormous problem."

The NYT: "...Mr. Kerry's tough criticism underscored the erosion of the Russian-American partnership in Syria, and raised questions about the viability of the United States' diplomatic strategy to help resolve the escalating crisis." More here.

Welcome to Tuesday's Welcome-Back edition of Situation Report, where we'll never make anyone cry. If you'd like to sign up to receive Situation Report, send us a note at gordon.lubold@foreignpolicy.com and we'll just stick you on. Like what you see? Please 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 do follow us @glubold.

Hagel's assigning a senior officer to his front office on ethics is a sign he wants to see more urgency on the matter, but some say it's also a nudge to Dempsey. Our story: The Pentagon's response to the recent spate of ethical lapses rocking the entire U.S. military has been devoid of the kind of dramatic moves that Washington craves: there have been no high-profile firings, no generals publicly rebuked, and no announcements of far-reaching punishments that would indicate that the top officials are taking it all seriously. Those types of measures would typically be carried out by the Secretary of Defense and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel took a small step last week when he announced he would assign a senior officer to his own front office to investigate exactly what has gone wrong recently and to help suggest ways of fixing those issues. Hagel's top military adviser, Army Gen. Marty Dempsey, meanwhile, has been largely invisible. That's raised questions about why the Chairman hasn't been more heavily involved in addressing the cheating scandals rocking the Department, including the Air Force and Navy's nuclear forces and the embarrassing recent release of emails in which top Army commanders crudely discussed the sexual attractiveness of a female congresswoman.

"Dempsey's defenders say he has been finding ways to reinstill ethical behavior across the armed forces for more than a year and that there are no easy fixes. Still, there are growing concerns inside and outside of the Pentagon that as the nation's senior military officer, Dempsey has yet to own the issue -- or taken the kinds of steps to show that he is seriously addressing it.

Said one former senior defense official, who in in the past has been critical of Chuck Hagel, to Situation Report: "It's obvious to me that Hagel wants greater results and he's sending a message to the system: I'm going to change this... Does it send a message to Marty Dempsey? Absolutely."

"Part of the concern about Dempsey's low profile on the ethics issues has to do with his public demeanor. Dempsey, who is known as the "singing general" for his penchant for breaking out into song, has not embraced the public aspects of the job in the way others have. His immediate predecessor, Navy Admiral Mike Mullen, appeared on "The Daily Show" and seemed very much at ease with the press. Dempsey seems to tolerate reporters, though just barely, but prefers to perform his duties unmolested by the whims of the media. That has not helped him to be seen in and outside of the Pentagon as being strong on the ethical issues confronting the Department.

One administration official on Dempsey's public demeanor: "He's eloquent, but [Dempsey] has not demonstrated an ability to keep the spotlight on the reforms that he has developed, and that's been a concern." Read the rest of our report here.

Relevant question: A "guest columnist" on Tom Ricks' Best Defense asks: "where is the tipping point for Americans' trust in the military? Jim Gourley: "Back in 2011, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Martin Dempsey wondered aloud at a National Guard leadership conference why the U.S. military had scored the highest among Americans polled on what institutions they trusted most. 'Maybe if I knew what it would take to screw it up, I could avoid it,' he said. The numbers haven't wavered outside of statistical error since then. Despite highly unfavorable public opinion of the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, polls by Gallup and Pew back in June showed public confidence in the military holding above 75 percent. The implication appears to be that no one blames the military for failing to achieve distinct victory. It leads one to wonder just what the American people will blame the military for. In the last year, the military has run some of the biggest governmental scandals this side of the fiscal cliff." Read that bit, including a breakdown of incidents that pose the ethical challenges to each service, here.

Politico's Mike Allen tells us about an addition to Pentagon's press operations in this morning's Playbook: "Brent Colburn joins the Defense Department today as the Assistant to the Secretary for Public Affairs. As the head of Secretary Hagel's public affairs operation, Colburn will oversee the Pentagon's communications, media and public outreach efforts. Colburn, 37, was the communications director for the 2012 reelect, and has become known for taking on big management challenges: He was FEMA's director of external affairs, the Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs at DHS, communications director for the 2013 Inaugural, and most recently Secretary Shaun Donovan's Chief of Staff at HUD... His father, Col. Cork Colburn, was a career officer in the Army."

The interim nuke deal with Iran was a huge deal - a permanent one will be harder to seal. Writing for FP, Tom Omestad in "Iceberg's Ahead": "The temporary deal to halt or roll back parts of Iran's nuclear program in return for modest sanctions relief is an impressive, if perishable, success for U.S.-led diplomacy. But the negotiations among Iran, the United States, and five other world powers to find a comprehensive solution on Iran's nuclear program, which begin Feb. 18 in Vienna, will face far greater challenges. The six months allowed for negotiations by the interim agreement might not be enough to overcome Iran's hardliners and sway skeptics on Capitol Hill, all while maintaining the unity of the countries involved in talks: the United States, Russia, China, Great Britain, France, and Germany (also known as the P-5+1).

'We don't in any way underestimate how difficult the comprehensive solution will be,' said a senior U.S. official. Gary Samore, a Harvard researcher and the top White House nonproliferation expert until last year, similarly said in an interview, "The chances of negotiating a comprehensive solution, particularly in the next six months, are very low." President Obama himself has conceded that the odds of a successful outcome are not more than '50-50.'"

Iran Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who publicly supports negotiations, on their eve: "I am not optimistic about the talks, and they will reach nowhere." Read the rest of Omestad's bit here.

IAEA: Just what is Iran doing? It's hard to tell, writes Breaking Defense' Michael Adler, who had an exclusive interview with its head: "The international atomic watchdog, the IAEA, will have a hard time answering crucial questions about just what Iran is doing at its nuclear facilities despite recently winning better access for its inspectors, its leader, Yukiya Amano, told Breaking Defense in an exclusive interview Monday at the agency's headquarters here. Amano said the main problem going forward is that Iran refuses to implement an Additional Protocol that would allow inspections of sites beyond those where the watchdog International Atomic Energy Agency knows nuclear material is used or stored. This protocol is the key to making more rapid progress in verifying the peaceful or military nature of Iran's nuclear work. 'The implementation of the Additional Protocol is very important to provide assurance that all nuclear activity in Iran is for a peaceful purpose but we are not yet at that point... We are at an early stage of clarifying and resolving the issues,' he said." More here.

Kings College's Sir Lawrence Freedman responds to Elliott Abrams' recent piece on why folks shouldn't count on containing Iran. Freedman's BLUF: "History is most useful when trying to work out why a particular situation is different from another to which it bears a superficial resemblance. History can provide context and chronology. It can help explain the origins and character of a country's power structures, cultural biases, regional networks, sensitivities and vulnerabilities. This can be as true for those historical episodes that we think we know well as for the situations that we are struggling to comprehend. Consider: if one key lesson has come out of the plethora of new books on the origins of the First World War, it is how much is still in dispute and how much can never be known because we can only speculate about the paths not taken. The fact that historical events are so regularly subject to revision and reinterpretation provides good reason for caution in applying 'the lessons of the past.'" Read that piece in its entirety here.

Freedman was responding to this piece, here,  in the Weekly Standard by Elliott Abrams about why containing Iran won't work.

So you think the Pivot is empty? Chuck Hagel and Commerce's Penny Pritzker, writing in the Asia WSJ, say different: "For decades, security and prosperity have flourished throughout the Asia-Pacific region, each reinforcing the other. The astounding growth of trade and industry across the Pacific Rim has transformed nations and lifted millions of people out of poverty, surpassing all expectations while strengthening many crucial relationships. This progress was no accident. America's security presence in the region and our strong alliances, economic ties and people-to-people contact with nations like Japan, the Republic of Korea, Australia, Thailand and the Philippines have provided the necessary stability for Pacific nations to focus on giving their people a more inclusive, peaceful and prosperous future.

Today, as more and more of America's trade and defense activities shift toward the Asia-Pacific, and as the region undergoes dynamic changes with the rise of China, Indonesia and India, the United States Departments of Defense and Commerce are working side by side to help keep trends moving in the right direction and promote greater security and prosperity.

Their BL: "The Asia-Pacific's dynamic growth cannot be taken for granted. Security, stability and prosperity require constant attention, a commitment to shared principles, and the combined efforts of the United States and all Asia-Pacific nations. When nations work together for the benefit of all their people, everything is possible." More here.

Backstory on the op-ed: We're told that the op-ed marriage between Hagel and Pritzker came about after Pritzker told the Washington Post that Hagel was the secretary she'd "most like to hang out with." That got her an invite to the Pentagon and Hagel and Pritzker hit it off.  Their first "joint initiative" is the op-ed today, but there may be more such initiatives in the future, we're told.

Speaking of Hagel and Asia: The SecDef found his long lost "brother" in Vietnam, an African American platoon commander he says was "steady, careful never excitable," reports CBS' David Martin. "It was 1968, the worst year of the Vietnam War, and Sgt. Chuck Hagel didn't know from one day to the next whether he would live or die. 'We lost something like 16,000 dead Americans in that year, 1968,' Hagel says. His life was in the hands of Lt. Jerome Johnson, his platoon commander. 'Steady, careful, never excitable -- and in combat, that's who you want leading,' Hagel says of Johnson. Now secretary of defense, Hagel keeps a photo of one of their battles together on his office wall. While the Viet Cong was trying to kill them, racial tensions, especially after the assassination of Martin Luther King in April, were threatening to tear the unit apart. 'It was a terribly difficult racial year in the Army in Vietnam, as well, where African Americans and whites were not getting along,' Hagel says. Johnson, now retired and living in Chicago, told his men it had to stop." More here.

 

 

National Security

FP's Situation Report: 60 Minutes goes deep on JSF

Iranian oil, flowing again; Weapons to Iraq: the Baghdad, Washington clocks, revisited; R U smarter than a launch officer?; and a bit more.

By Gordon Lubold

Peeking: 60 Minutes this Sunday goes deep on the $400 billion Joint Strike Fighter, the plane that's $163 billion over budget and seven years behind schedule. Lt. Gen. Chris Bogdan, the man in charge of the JSF for the Pentagon, tells 60 Minutes: "Long gone is the time when we will continue to pay for mistake after mistake after mistake."

From the press release, out this morning, on the 60 Minutes piece, done by the longtime duo of CBS' David Martin and producer Mary Walsh: "In the rush to stay ahead of China and Russia, the Pentagon started buying the F-35 before testing it, breaking the traditional 'fly-before-you-buy' rule of weapons acquisition.  Now taxpayers are paying the price for mistakes that weren't caught before production began.  A Pentagon document obtained by 60 MINUTES catalogues the "flawed . . . assumptions" and "unrealistic . . . estimates" that led to a $163 billion cost overrun on what was already the highest priced weapons system in history.  David Martin reports on the problem-plagued program and the battles the Pentagon has fought with the plane's manufacturer, Lockheed Martin, to bring the costs under control.  He also gets a firsthand look at some of the plane's game-changing technology..."

Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics Frank Kendall, to Martin and Walsh: "We started buying airplanes a good year before we started test flights... I referred to that decision as acquisition malpractice."

The broadcast is based on a few special documents obtained by Martin and Walsh. But if the technological challenges can be met, the F-35 will give American pilots an "astounding edge in combat," the two report, and an ability to see their enemies before those enemies are aware of them. Marine Lt. Gen. Robert Schmidle on the JSF - "The range at which you can detect the enemy as opposed to when he can detect you can be as much as 10 times further."

Welcome to Friday's icy edition of Situation Report and Happy "Valentimes" Day as two little girls we know well like to say. We'll see you next on Tuesday, after the holiday. If you'd like to sign up to receive Situation Report, send us a note at gordon.lubold@foreignpolicy.com and we'll just stick you on. Like what you see? Please 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 do follow us @glubold.

Iranian oil is flowing again - and that might not be great news for the nuclear deal. FP's own Keith Johnson and Jamila Trindle: "Exports of Iranian crude oil jumped in January, raising concerns that the sanctions relief included in the interim nuclear agreement between Western countries and Tehran is giving a shot in the arm to the struggling Iranian economy that could weaken prospects for a comprehensive deal to derail Iranian nuclear weapons development.

Oil is the lifeblood of the Iranian economy, and Barack Obama's administration and its allies have spent years trying to strangle its oil industry as a way of forcing Tehran to the negotiating table. The International Energy Agency's monthly oil report estimated that Iranian oil exports spiked by about 100,000 barrels a day in January. That brought Iranian crude exports to just over 1.3 million barrels per day, worth almost $4 billion a month given the current price of oil." Read the rest here.

The second-day take on the release of prisoners by Karzai. FP's Dan Lamothe: "Afghan President Hamid Karzai carried through on a plan long dreaded by the U.S. on Thursday, releasing 65 detainees despite fervent protestations from U.S. military commanders that the men were violent insurgents who had killed American and Afghan troops in the past -- and were likely to return to the battlefield and do so again in the future. Former SACEUR Jim Stavridis, to Lamothe, saying all is not lost: "It's a huge disappointment and yet another indication that the relationship between the U.S.A. and Hamid Karzai is permanently shattered... Hopefully after the April election, we can rebuild and reset with a new government and, above all, the vast majority of Afghans, who support a positive, robust relationship between our nations." More here.

U.S. News' Paul Shinkman talked to former Afghanistan ambassador Omar Samad, on the prisoner release: "Nobody is disputing that some of these people may be innocent," says Omar Samad, who from 2004 to 2011 served as Afghanistan's ambassador to Canada and to France. "What most Afghans are concerned about is we have a precedence where individuals have been released without due process, and ended up back in the Taliban trenches killing Afghans and non-Afghans... From what we know of this history of these people: Once a committed militant [or] jihadi, it's very difficult to change that. We know of many individuals who have in the past few years been released and returned to their previous activities," he adds. Read the rest of Shinkman's piece here. [The initial post incorrectly referred to Samad as an ambassador to Afghanistan; he served as Afghanistan's ambassador to Canada and France.]

If you're trying to play catch-up on an issue, these are always good: a Q&A on the prisoner release in Afghanistan from the WaPo's Ernesto Londono, here.

BTW, are you smarter than a nuclear launch officer? Time's Mark Thompson on Swampland: "Remember when you took your driver's test and had to answer all those questions about who had the right-of-way at an intersection? If you've been paying attention in recent weeks, you know that the Air Force is investigating nearly half of the 200-airman force that commands the 150 nuclear-tipped Minuteman III missiles at Montana's Malmstrom Air Force Base for allegedly cheating on their monthly proficiency tests. These tests, no surprise, are tougher than driver's ed.

"A launch officer and instructor who left the Air Force in 2011 has provided questions representative of those he says he asked his airmen about the missiles they were monitoring. To help you understand their language, you need to know that each launch-control crew is in a numbered Launch Control Center. So Foxtrot LCC is F-01. And all of the missiles the Foxtrot crew controls are numbered, 2 through 11 (F-02, F-03, etc).

Here are two of the questions from the exam:

An EMT-team [an electromechanical maintenance team consisting of enlisted missile maintainers] has penetrated L03 and L05 to clean a clogged drain in the sump system after a big spring storm. It's been 15 minutes since your last authentication with the team and you receive a seismic alarm at L04. After referencing LF [Launch Facility] Faults, what will you do?

A) Declare Security Situation?; B) Contact FSC [flight security controller] and have him get two authentications from the security guards at L03?; C) Contact L05 and get 2 authentications from the EMT Team?; D) Contact MMOC [Missile Maintenance Operations Control]?

Second question: If an OSR [Operational Status Response] is not received from an LF within the previous _____ the LF will report LFDN [Launch Facility Down].

A) [Number of] minutes?; B) [Number of] seconds?; C) All of the above?; D) None of the above? Read the rest and weep here.

Apropos of nothing: "Alan! Alan! Alan! Alan! Oh I guess that's not Alan, that's Steve." Watch this ridiculous video and we guarantee you'll chuckle at least once or Situation Report is on us for a week. Click here.

Tom Ricks on how Marine Corps Headquarters "got some sense" ending its "jihad" against Marine Corps Times:  "...At least publicly. It was just bad optics. And the commandant should be recognized for doing the right thing, albeit after doing the wrong thing. Meanwhile, there is a good interview with the commandant in the February issue of Leatherneck magazine, the other Marine journal, in which said General Amos laments 'a lack of discipline, personal standards and appearance' in the Corps.

And this is fascinating: Ricks tells us from the Leatherneck interview that Amos disclosed that there were 144 same-sex couples on active duty in the Marines, of which "less than 25" are Marine-Marine marriages. More here.

Winslow Wheeler argues that after Bob Gates wrestled the budget away from the Joint Chiefs that Chuck Hagel is handing it back. Writing on FP, Wheeler: "Before Chuck Hagel was nominated to be secretary of defense about a year ago, he made a reputation for himself as a independent Republican politician who described Pentagon spending as 'bloated.' In office, however, the former Nebraska senator has argued that the Pentagon should be rescued from historically minor and appropriate reductions. In doing so, he seeks to reverse one of the few real reforms that Secretary of Defense Robert Gates before him enforced on high spenders inside the Pentagon and in Congress.  Hagel and the director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), Sylvia Mathews Burwell, say they want to revive the old 'wish list' process in which the Joint Chiefs of Staff used to connive with each other and Congress, behind the back of secretaries of defense and OMB, to make additions that couldn't cut the mustard in the regular budget review process." Read the rest here.

ICYMI: A lost "gold mine:" longtime military reporter George Wilson, dead. The path of national security journalism has always been paved by the toil of those who have come before. It'd be a lie to say we knew George Wilson personally, but we'd seen him at a defense reporter's breakfast here and there and occasionally inside the Pentagon when he's parachute in for a particularly relevant briefing over the years. But knowing there were people who had dedicated themselves to national security journalism - and working always to get it right - helped to animate those who belong to that small band of defense reporters. Even with him gone, that's still true. The WaPo's Martin Weil: "George C. Wilson, an author and former Washington Post reporter who covered the military from the perspective of soldiers crawling in the mud and from the offices of decision-makers in Washington, and who played a notable role in the Pentagon Papers case, died Feb. 11 at his home in Arlington County. He was 86. The cause was leukemia, said his son, Jim Wilson. After working at Aviation Week and Space Technology magazine, Mr. Wilson joined The Post in 1966 as a military affairs reporter. He became a Pentagon 'gold mine,' former Post executive editor Benjamin C. Bradlee wrote in his memoir.

"Over the decades, Mr. Wilson examined how decisions were made about who would fight and when, where and with what equipment. He also was a Post correspondent in Vietnam in 1968 and 1972 and was the author of several books about military matters. Mr. Wilson left The Post in 1990 and later wrote for National Journal, serving as an embedded correspondent in a mobile Marine artillery unit after the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq.

A telling anecdote on Wilson. Weil: "In 1990, Mr. Wilson wrote in The Post about a visit he made to Vietnam with a group of soldiers who had fought there. One former soldier, he said, found the tomb of a Vietnamese soldier born the same year he was. On the grave of the dead Vietnamese, the American placed his Army Combat Infantryman Badge, Mr. Wilson wrote. 'Why did you do that?' he asked the soldier, who 'got through his year in Vietnam unscathed.'

'He probably deserved it more than I do,' the soldier said. 'Does that make sense?'

'I did not answer,' Mr. Wilson wrote. 'As with so much else about the Vietnam War, I did not know whether it made sense or not.'"

Read the rest of the obit here.

The WaPo's Greg Jaffe posted this on Facebook on Wilson (reprinted with permission): "George was a great reporter and wonderful writer. Supercarrier was one of the first books I read when I started covering the military beat. He also was a huge help to me during my early days on the Pentagon beat. He knew so much and was always willing to share with the young, confused reporters, who could barely navigate the Pentagon parking lot. He really cared about military coverage and understood that we owed the troops and the country smart writing and reporting."

Weapons for Iraq: The Washington clock and the Baghdad clock - revisited. Our piece here: When it comes to fighting the exploding violence in Iraq, there are two different "clocks" -- one in Baghdad and one in Washington - but this time, it's Washington's clock that is slower.

The Iraqis are hungry for as much U.S. weaponry as the U.S. will provide, eagerly awaiting the shipment of Apache attach helicopters, small arms, Hellfire air-to-ground missiles and thousands of small arms. The Iraqis will take them as fast as they can get them. But Washington, eager to see the Maliki government reconcile with warring Sunnis, is in no particular rush.

The Obama administration "has been very careful about the weapons it's selling them - and careful about delivery times," the Center for Strategic and International Studies' Tony Cordesman, referring to the sale of weaponry to Baghdad, told Situation Report. "Washington in some ways is trying to make weapons conditional and it isn't saying it."

The pipeline for U.S. weaponry has begun to flow: By the end of the year, the Iraqis will get six leased Apache attack helicopters and within 18 months another 24 helos. More American F-16 fighters are on the way. And in addition to the sale of 75 air-to-ground Hellfire missiles agreed to late last year, the Iraqis have asked for 500 more. The U.S. has also sold the Iraqis 140 Abrams tanks, a dozen patrol boats for the fledgling Iraqi navy. And the U.S. left more than 1,000 armored personnel carriers, or APCs and 120 Howitzer artillery guns. At the same time, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's government wants thousands of small arms, from .50 caliber weapons to pistols to M-16 rifles to help tame the violence there.

"As a government, we are obliged to provide our military personnel with the right capabilities," Iraqi Ambassador to the U.S. Lukman Faily in an interview with Situation Report. But, he said, "the key issue we have is the urgency."

To the U.S., the worry is that the government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is as much to blame for the violence as the Sunni jihadist group the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, or ISIS, an al-Qaeda splinter group. Maliki's Shiite-dominated government has grown more and more authoritarian, pushing Sunnis out of high-level government positions and its security forces are thought to be infused with Shiite-extremists exploiting the unofficial backing of the government to carry out some of worst violence.

That violence has skyrocketed in recent months with as many as 1,000 Iraqis killed this year alone - up dramatically from just a year or so ago and the highest it's been since 2008, according to Agence France-Presse. Even as the U.S. has quietly agreed to provide the Iraqis the equipment it's been asking for months, the U.S. has pointedly urged Maliki to reconcile.  "Security operations only work in the long term if used with political initiatives," State Department spokesman Jen Psaki said last week. "We've emphasized, of course, the importance of pursuing political initiatives and addressing the legitimate grievances of all communities."

The Iraqis see the violence across the country as stemming from not only internal, sectarian differences but spillover violence from Syria's civil war. The Iraqi government has not had the time to develop its institutions to establish strong security across the country, Faily said.

"As a government, we have not been given the bandwidth, the breathing space for us to develop our institutions in a peaceful manner because of the security threat," he said. Faily believes elections this spring will help blunt many of the sharp divisions within the young country still struggling in the wake of the fall of Saddam Hussein.

"We are trying to define a new formula for us to work together coming in the aftermath of a dictatorship," he said.