National Security

Obama or Romney: winners take all

Changes on the Hill; Regardless of who wins, the Pentagon sends more Guard to the northeast; and more.

Romney or Obama, the Pentagon will continue to take that proverbial hill. It will manage the drawdown in Afghanistan, mind the Middle East, and focus much of its efforts on Asia. But while the third presidential debate suggested there is little light between the two candidates on big issues of foreign policy and national security, each will emphasize different initiatives. FP National Security took a look at what they will be.

An Obama win means the Pentagon will focus on military reform, the use of drones will continue to expand and the defense industry will probably see an end to the sequestration saga sooner.

On military reform: Obama and the Joint Chiefs of Staff spent much of last fall crafting a $525 billion defense budget for 2013 that shrinks the size and projected growth of the U.S. military over five years and has the blessing of the Pentagon's top brass.

On drones: Both candidates support the use of drones, but Obama's interest in their use, which minimizes politically unpalatable boots-on-the-ground, will likely spur the replacement of some of today's slower drones with stealthy, jet-powered models that can survive against modern air defenses.

On the defense industry: The water cooler wisdom is that if Romney wins, Congress will give sequestration a holiday to allow him time to get settled before any real decisions get made. An Obama win would mean, potentially, resolution to the budget issues on the existing schedule -- by the end of the year. Obama surrogates feel the president has leverage to break the deadlock if he wins.

On Afghanistan: Obama will likely hold to his deadline of 2014 but work feverishly to establish a post-2014 troop presence. But he won't have to listen as closely to his liberal base, which thinks the 2014 pullout is not fast enough. So in a second term, Obama might be more willing to listen to the recommendations of his commander, Gen. John Allen, who is expected to want to slow the withdrawal of troops as much as possible. Allen will submit his recommendations later this month.

A Romney win means that shipyards, the Joint Strike Fighter, service end-strength, missile defense, and Centcom will all probably do better.

On ships: Romney's ambitious defense plan is seen as unrealistic by some because it would increase spending $2 trillion over the next decade. But even if Congress agreed to a fraction of that, shipbuilders like General Dynamics, Huntington Ingalls, and Lockheed Martin could see a lot more business.

On the F-35: Although Romney said he'd boost F-22 production, we hear from Loren Thompson that he actually meant the F-35, which makes far more sense. It's unclear if Romney means increasing the buy of 2,400 or simply protecting it from ambitious budgeteers who think the U.S. could do with fewer of them. Either way, it could mean a big win for Lockheed Martin, which makes the F-35.

On end-strength: Romney wants to increase the size of the force by 100,000 troops despite the high cost of personnel, which is making the Pentagon uniforms cringe.

On missile defense: Romney will likely revisit Obama's dismantling of Bush 43's anti-ICBM plan, which would have put ground-based interceptors in Poland.

Welcome to Monday's edition of Situation Report, where we're always taking the hill. Follow me @glubold. Or hit me anytime at And sign up for Situation Report here: or just send me an e-mail and I'll put you on the list.

FP National Security looked at the defense ads playing around the country, in which Democrats leverage the unimpeachable attributes of military vets to warn against electing Republican senators and Republicans warn of huge job losses that would follow cuts to the Pentagon budget.

As Sandy fades from memory in Washington, there are still enormous needs in New Jersey and New York. The Pentagon continues to send thousands of Guardsmen to the troubled region. The National and Air Guard has deployed a total of 7,611 "boots on the ground," Situation Report was told this morning, across Maryland, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, and West Virginia. (And the Guard is deploying from Alabama, California, Connecticut, Delaware, Massachusetts, Maine, Ohio, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Georgia, and West Virginia.)

So far, U.S. Transportation Command has delivered 117 power restoration vehicles and 244 technical personnel from March Air Force Base, Calif., and Phoenix, Ariz. to Stewart Air National Guard Base in New York. On Sunday, there were another 11 flights scheduled.

Regardless of who wins, foreign policy on Capitol Hill is going to look different. The Senate is likely to remain in Democratic hands and the House in Republican ones, but it's the makeup of key committees and their chairmen that could change, as the Cable's Josh Rogin reports. "[I]nfluential leaders are exiting Washington, and a new crop of national security lawmakers is looking to fill their void," he writes. "The result could be a Congress that has less experience and fewer incentives to work across the aisle or cooperate with the executive branch, playing an increasing role of the spoiler in foreign policy."

People like Minority Whip Jon Kyl, Joe Lieberman, and Richard Lugar are all leaving the Senate, for example. And at the SASC, ranking Republican John McCain has reached his term limit and will have to forego his committee post if the Dems retain control of the Senate.

And at least one analyst thinks the power on Capitol Hill rests not with the committees so much anymore, but with the influence one senator can have in thwarting a major piece of legislation or holding nominees. It empowers senators like Rand Paul and Jim DeMint, who use their power "liberally" to stop nominations and are "generally unmoved by the ire of their colleagues," Rogin writes.

The CFR's James Lindsay on the power of no: "Congress far less often shapes policy in a positive direction. Their main method of effectiveness is to say no. The greatest impact will be with those who are willing to use their ability to slow things down."

The Senate will take up the nominations of Dunford and Allen on Nov. 15. The Senate Armed Services Committee meeting that day will amount to the first public hearing on the state of Afghanistan in many months. Gen. John Allen has not provided much testimony on Afghanistan since he's been ISAF commander, and his confirmation hearing to be Supreme Allied Commander Europe and head of U.S. European Command will give senators a chance to grill him. And his presumed successor, Gen. Joe Dunford, another Marine, who has been studying up on Afghanistan, will have to frame the way he sees the U.S. presence in the final stages of security transition. Dunford, who has not commanded in Afghanistan before, traveled there this fall.

It's likely the new Central Command head, slated to replace Gen. Jim Mattis this summer, won't be a ground guy. The thinking is that the head of Central Command, responsible for Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, and the Middle East will be someone who thinks more in terms of what air or naval power can do, especially in a potential conflict with Iran. That would probably decrease the chances of someone like Gen. Lloyd Austin, currently the Army's vice chief of staff, who is in the running, and increase the chances of an Air Force or Navy type. The WSJ's Julian Barnes floats some names: the Navy is putting forward Adm. Bill Gortney, the former top aide to the Joint Chiefs of Staff and now the head of the U.S. Atlantic Fleet. The Air Force is likely giving the nod to a relative unknown, Gen. Mike Hostage, who now heads Air Combat Command and was a former head of Centcom's air component. "Current and former defense officials say the White House should turn to an Air Force general or a Navy admiral to lead the command, bringing a different kind of strategic thinking than ground officers," Barnes writes.

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National Security

New documents from Benghazi show pointed concern

Marines are so littoral, The Navy tries its hand at motorboat drones, The “red herring” of the military vote, What would make Stan McChrystal cringe, and more.

The Benghazi attack stays in the news because the story keeps unfolding. This morning there are new details from an exclusive FP report about documents and personal items found at the site of the "diplomatic mission" in Benghazi that suggest the degree to which American personnel were concerned about security that day. Two reporters who visited the site six weeks after the assault found papers apparently showing that American personnel were concerned about a Libyan police officer watching the compound the day of the attack.

"...two unsigned draft letters are both dated Sept. 11 and express strong fears about the security situation at the compound on what would turn out to be a tragic day. They also indicate that Stevens and his team had officially requested additional security at the Benghazi compound for his visit -- and that they apparently did not feel it was being provided," write reporters Harald Doornbos and Jenan Moussa.

Issa and Chaffetz want answers on the documents revealed in the FP story, the Cable's Josh Rogin reports.

Now Petraeus is beginning to feel the heat from Benghazi. The CIA played a much more pivotal role than previously thought in Benghazi on the night of the assault that killed four Americans. Senior U.S. intelligence officials provided a detailed tick-tock of what occurred after the Sept. 11 attack in an effort to set the record straight. Some believe the State Department, which had nominally been responsible for security at the mission in Benghazi, was taking the public hit for not responding to the need for more security there. But what is now known about the role the CIA played at the compound - indeed, the "U.S. effort in Benghazi was at its heart a CIA operation," as the WSJ reports this morning, paints a fuller picture of the dynamics at play. Of the 30 Americans who were evacuated from Benghazi the next day, only seven worked for State. The CIA began to establish a base of operations there in February 2011 to help stem the "spread of weapons and militant influences" throughout the region- not only in Libya, but in Mali, Somalia and Syria, the WSJ reports. It was this secretive mission that contributed to the bungled security situation in Benghazi on the night of Sept. 11 - and the administration's puzzling response in the weeks afterward.

Welcome to Friday's edition of Situation Report, where, amazingly, the questions on Benghazi still linger. Follow me @glubold. Or hit me anytime at And sign up for Situation Report here: or just send me an e-mail and I'll put you on the list.

This would not make McChrystal happy. When Stan McChrystal was ISAF commander in Kabul he endeavored to create an austere environment and sought to close down some of the amenities that seemed unfathomable to him in a war zone, like a KFC and a coffee shop that might have improved morale but for some fobbits created an illusion that places like Kandahar Air Field were kinda like that Air Force base in northern California. McChrystal's efforts were barely successful, stymied by the collective bureaucracy of more than 40 nations and the Department of Defense. Imagine his reaction to this: a friend of Situation Report tells us that there is now a large bright green Astroturf field at Kandahar Air Field with a running track around it. Our friend writes: "It's a beautiful island of fake green amid dust and sand and the stench of sewage, a new End Zone Green Zone in the middle of the boardwalk, with soldiers in reflective belts playing football and soccer well into the night while spectators sip smoothies and smoke cigars. The former crown jewel of the KAF boardwalk, the Canadian hockey rink, sits disused and forlorn."

Marines are deploying to the littorals - in New Jersey. The Pentagon is sending Marines to the New Jersey coast to help in the aftermath of Sandy. But that's probably not the real coastline they're thinking of as the Marines retool for conflict around the world.

But the Marines have other littorals in mind. Despite the military's abysmal record at predicting where it will fight its next wars, the services are nonetheless laying claim to the areas in which they think they'll be doing the most work. The Marines often cite the fact that 80 percent of the world's population lives along coastlines around the world -- meaning that's where the action will be. "This concentration of people, political power, and economic dynamism means that the littorals are where the world's future crises will take place," Mills writes. There are a number of chokepoints that represent "the archipelago of action" for U.S. naval forces, he says: the Malacca Straits, the Strait of Hormuz, the Arctic Ocean, the Panama Canal, the waters off East Africa, the Suez Canal, and the Gulf of Guinea. Perfect time to remind the nation of the Marines' special sauce: the Marine Air Ground Task Force, which could come in handy in so many of these areas. Mills does just that, quoting Commandant Gen. Jim Amos: they are "light enough to get there quickly, but heavy enough to carry the day upon arrival, and capable of operating independent of local infrastructure."

Nice gig if you can get it. The Mills piece was written with the assistance of an organization called the Ellis Group, a Marine Corps internal think tank comprised of about 10 majors and lieutenant colonels and led by a full-bird -- all personally selected by the commandant. They focus on war-fighting issues for the Navy and Marine Corps and what the Corps needs to do to compete.

Why it's called the Ellis Group: For the amphib-ignorant, the group is named after Maj. Earl "Pete" Ellis, the father of amphibious assault in the 1920s. The group was just formed in May 2012.

The Navy is getting in on the drone action. Last Friday, an unmanned, 36-foot boat launched a series of missiles in a test to see how such vessels could be used to patrol the waters around larger boats and decrease their vulnerability to swarms of suicide attackers using small speedboats --the same way that the U.S.S. Cole was attacked 12 years ago last month. It's called the unmanned surface vehicle precision engagement module (USV PEM), and the Navy is working on it with the Israelis in a fairly obvious attempt to foil Iranian war plans in the Persian Gulf region, Killer Apps' John Reed reports. Reed: "The project is part of a joint-U.S.-Israeli collaboration run out of the U.S. Navy's sea systems command's Special Warfare Program Office. The same shop is responsible for, among other things, fielding a number of tiny submarines used to listen for enemy submarines, deliver Navy SEALs, and other secret squirrel activities."

So you think you know who's going to get the military's vote? Folks like to assume they know that the military is filled with red-staters, and it's true, there are many. But with just a few days before the election, it would be wrong for Mitt Romney to assume he's got the military vote, argues FP's Rosa Brooks. Indeed, it's long been a question just how many Democrats and Republicans there are in the military; there is no easy way to determine it.

The annual Military Times poll -- interesting as it always is -- is, as the paper itself points out, fundamentally flawed in that it relies on voluntary responses from readers -- a preponderance of whom are older, white, career-military males. Brooks cites the work of Jason Dempsey, a lieutenant colonel formerly on West Point's faculty, who has found that the political attitudes of Army personnel closely track the views of the civilian population. And, surprisingly, on some social issues, soldiers may be more liberal than the rest of society: "[I]n 2004 (the most recent year for which there is hard data), for instance, civilians were substantially more likely than Army personnel to oppose abortion under all circumstances, and large majorities of Army personnel supported increasing domestic government spending on education, health care, Social Security, and environmental protection," Brooks writes.

Twelve Years and Counting