National Security

The cliff that could happen

How the election shook up committees on the Hill, The national security team that might have been, Billability versus vulnerability: law firms and the cyber threat, and more

A roadside bomb in Helmand Province in Afghanistan killed 18 Afghans this morning, BBC reports.

ISAF commander Gen. John Allen, just now: " These attacks are the most recent examples of how insurgents intentionally target, kill and injure those who want a brighter future for Afghanistan."

With the election behind the White House and Congress, the focus of effort in Washington will be the sequester and its impact on defense spending, some $500 billion over the next 10 years that worriers warn would hollow out the Defense Department. And while President Obama said sequestration won't happen, there are those who argue that sequester is increasingly likely.

The Center for a New American Security's Dave Barno, Nora Bensahel Joel Smith and Jacob Stokes, writing on FP this morning: "[I]t's time to admit there is a strong possibility that sequestration will take effect -- because both the president and Congress could benefit politically."

The three options as they see it:

The grand bargain (unlikely): This would require an agreement between Democrats and Republicans over taxes and government spending that is not likely given current gridlock and a tight deadline of Jan. 2, 2013. "Barring an unforeseen change, the cumulative effect of partisan gridlock and a lack of time should squelch expectations for a grand bargain in the lame duck."

An agreement to delay (also unlikely). The bargaining over a possible delay could resemble a scaled-down version of trying to reach a grand bargain, Barno and Bensahel argue, and would face a "difficult and contentious, if not impossible, path."

A drop off the fiscal cliff (increasingly likely, they argue). If a grand bargain doesn't happen and pushing the deadline back doesn't work, then there is no other option than to make the massive defense cuts designed under the Budget Control Act, the two write. This could result in widespread furloughs or layoffs among the DoD civilian workforce and cuts to military healthcare.

The Pentagon might mitigate the cliff by asking for reprogramming authority, to shift from lower priority accounts to other, higher priority ones, and thus soften the blow. Or, it might defer cuts to the fourth quarter of fiscal 2013, assuming that Congress would first find a way to reverse the sequestration cuts. Of course, if Congress failed, the effects would then be devastating.

Read more of their argument on FP:

Speaking of CNAS, Nate Fick is leaving it. Fick, the former Marine officer who rose to become the CEO of the Center for a New American Security, will step down at the end of this month to become the CEO of Endgame, Inc., "a leading venture-backed provider of advanced cyber security solutions." Want Fick's old job? CNAS Chairman Richard Danzig wants to hear from you. Apply here:

Welcome to the Wednesday edition of Situation Report, where we're headed to Milwaukee to talk to a group of retired Marines and Naval Academy grads. 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.

The election brought changes to the House and Senate Armed Services Committees that will contribute to a new dynamic between the Hill and the Pentagon. Sens. Joe Lieberman (I-CT), Jim Webb (D-VA), and Daniel Akaka (D-HI) are all retiring. And term limits dictate that Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) will have to give up his seat as ranking member on the Senate Armed Services Committee, giving Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK) a spot along side committee chair Sen. Carl Levin (D-MI). But Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-MO) was able to hold on to her seat, which means the panel retains one of the biggest voices on contracting and oversight.

The House Armed Services Committee lost conservative Rep. Roscoe Bartlett of Maryland, who lost his seat in a newly redrawn district, but, as the E-Ring's Kevin Baron points out, Bartlett, known for marching to his own beat, had sometimes been an ally to the Obama administration, supporting the Defense Department's efforts to develop alternative energy initiatives. And Rep. Todd Akin (R-MO), who was the fifth-ranking member of the committee, lost his seat when he gave it up to run against McCaskill. That means the Sea Power and Projection Forces Subcommittee chairmanship he occupied is now open, critical at a time of the move to Asia. Others on the HASC lost their seats, including Rep. Allen West (R-FL) and Rep. Bobby Schilling (R-IL), and Rep. Todd Russell Plats (R-PA) is retiring. Committee assignments for new members will unfold over the next few weeks. Read Kevin Baron's full story:

Military Times reports there will be six fewer veterans in the Senate as a result of Tuesday's election, bringing the total number to 20. Little change in the House so far, as some races are not yet determined, but three incumbent veterans lost their seats on Tuesday, and 12 veteran challengers won. There are currently 92 vets serving in the House.

Panetta told the troops they should remain "squarely focused" on their mission, now that the election is over. "America's elected leaders, in turn, now have the responsibility to do everything possible to ensure that we succeed in our mission. As the country moves beyond the 2012 election, DoD personnel should take heart in one thing that will always unite the American people, and that is their strong support for the millions of men and women in uniform who put their lives on the line to defend, to keep our country safe."

The Romney national security team that could have been. The Romney team had been planning a transition from the Obama national security apparatus to a Republican-led one that was called "Project Readiness," reports The Cable's Josh Rogin. Numerous people were involved, including former DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff, former New Jersey Gov. Tom Kean, former State Department official Philip Zelikow, former Navy Secretary William Ball, Harvard professor Meghan O'Sullivan, and the Foreign Policy Initiative's Jamie Fly.

"Confidence in Romney's victory persisted until the last minute and the planning was extensive," Rogin writes. "In recent weeks, preparations included the drive to prepare drafts of agency transition plans and policy papers coordinated by interwoven task forces that focused on specific issues." Those drafts were due on Election Day, multiple sources told Rogin.

The transition team for the Pentagon included three co-equal co-chairs: former senator Jim Talent, who was thought to have a good chance at being named Pentagon chief, and former Navy Secretary John Lehman, who was also in the running for SecDef, as well as former Pentagon policy chief Eric Edelman. Roger Zakheim, who works on the House Armed Services Committee for Chairman Buck McKeon (R-CA), was the Pentagon transition team leader. Rogin's story here:

How much are you paying your law firm? Cyber villains may be invading your company through your law firm, Killer Apps' John Reed reports. Companies with top-notch IT security may think they're all good, but hackers may be slipping in through subsidiaries, suppliers, and even law firms that "don't practice good network defense," Reed writes.

Richard Bejtlich, chief security officer with cyber security firm Mandiant to Reed: "The bad guys have really switched to things like going after third parties, places where the company's data is stored or manipulated. That's why we've seen, over the last couple of years, [hackers targeting] law firms. You can't get the data from the original source, so get it from somebody that has a copy or is processing it."

On tap today: Marine Commandant Gen. Jim Amos appears at CSIS this morning to talk the future of the Marine Corps.

Wonk world fun: count the number of times Amos says the words "littorals," "amphibious operations" and "Asia."

Members of the Pentagon press corps aren't good at picking a winner but our own Kevin Baron won the Tuesday Election Day Prognostication Game on electoral tallies for each candidate. "Kevin clearly has the best political crystal ball of a group that by and large had absolutely no clue who was going to win the election," Game Master Julian Barnes of the WSJ told Situation Report. Kevin was also the only person to correctly guess each of the tiebreakers: the victors in four battleground states and in two Senate races. Second place: Andrew Tilghman, Military Times. Third place: Gopal Ratnam, Bloomberg.


Fiscal Cliff Notes

In Your Business


National Security

It’s back to work at the Pentagon

Michael Rhodes can put away the binders, The personnel changes that won’t happen right away, The budget battle really begins, and more.

Obama's win means everyone in the Pentagon and across the national security apparatus can get back to work. The last several weeks have been stressful but also increasingly tedious as many defense types felt they couldn't move forward on policy initiatives, operations, or outreach until they knew who would be driving the ship. There is a lot to do, and now the giant sucking sound that has been the election has been muted and Obama's national security folks can get to the tasks at hand, both at home and abroad. The sense among Dems is that, with the win behind them, they can now focus on pressing issues, from Gitmo to the pace of the exit from Afghanistan to the sequester, which Obama suggested in the last debate would never come to pass: "First of all, the sequester is not something that I've proposed. It is something that Congress has proposed. It will not happen." And many believe the win will allow the White House to take a more active role in Syria.

From this morning's Washington Post editorial: "Overseas, the Iranian nuclear program will pose a fateful challenge, possibly within months. Mr. Obama will have to ensure that gains in Afghanistan and Iraq are not erased in the aftermath of U.S. troop withdrawals. His dithering in Syria as 30,000 civilians have been massacred is a particular blot on his first-term record, one for which he could begin to make amends in the second."

From The Guardian's interview with Susan Ahmad, a spokeswoman for the Revolutionary Council in Damascus, after Obama's win last night: "We hope that Barack Obama can help us just finish this situation and stop [the] killing and losing more lives and more civilians."

Obama surrogate Doug Wilson, in an e-mail to Situation Report last night: "[T]he leader whom voters consistently preferred as Commander-in-Chief has just been re-elected."

Welcome to The Day After edition of Situation Report where we welcome winners, losers, Republicans, Democrats, Independents and national security wonks of all stripes. 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.

You can put that binder away, Michael Rhodes. Rhodes, director of the Pentagon's Administration and Management office had been tapped to lead the transition task force in the event of a Romney win, Situation Report was told. Panetta had directed that the switch to a new administration would be as smooth as possible, and Rhodes was the point-man to assemble documents and help articulate priorities (mostly classified) with a "critical priorities paper" indicating what decisions would have to be made within the next six months -- just in case. Rhodes has been in the job since 2008 and has served both Republicans and now Dems. But now it's back to regularly scheduled programming for the man known as the "Mayor of the Pentagon."

From a senior defense official: "While he would have masterminded a seamless transition, I bet he's just a tad relieved not to have to worry about reassigning coveted parking spots at the Pentagon."

Personnel changes to Obama's Pentagon won't happen right away. But it's clear that Defense Secretary Leon Panetta will be heading back to his beloved Walnut farm in California -- probably by March -- thus creating a void to be filled. His replacement is the key question from which conclusions about lower-level positions can be drawn. Water-cooler wisdom dictates that either Ash Carter or Michele Flournoy is poised to replace Panetta. Carter, now in the Pentagon's No. 2 spot, is widely thought to want the job badly. He is well-liked and widely respected. But Flournoy, who stepped down last year as the Pentagon's policy chief and worked extensively for Obama's re-election, is still thought to be the front-runner. She has the poise and the perspective and the experience the Obama team values. And some believe Obama would relish choosing the first woman Pentagon chief.

But Flournoy is also still seen as overly loyal to Republican holdover Robert Gates. And some in the White House became frustrated that Flournoy wasn't always amenable to playing ball with the administration when it tried to send political types to the Pentagon for jobs in policy, Situation Report has been told. And there is another reason the administration may not look to her as defense secretary: Flournoy may not offer the juice the White House needs on the Hill, even if Panetta stays long enough to get the Pentagon through the current budget fight.

One observer of national security theater with close ties to the Defense Department who is familiar with the internal debate tells Situation Report: "I don't think Michele is happening."

Some believe another name will be on the short-list to replace Panetta: Chuck Hagel. "He cuts the right figure, he's a Republican, Obama likes him a lot, he provides the administration with cover on the Hill, he has a really big name, and I think he wants it, H. Andrew Schwartz, a senior vice-president at CSIS, told Situation Report.

The E-Ring's Kevin Baron is reporting this morning that If Carter were to vacate his post, Pentagon comptroller Bob Hale, considered a bit of an unsung hero at the Pentagon, could replace him. Baron: "Hale's second-in-command, Principal Deputy Undersecretary of Defense Mike McCord, is well thought-of -- enough to take over what building denizens describe as a very specialized job with an importance out of proportion to the attention paid to it, given the ongoing budget fight."

A Pentagon source tells Kevin: "They oughta get down on their knees and pray that Bob Hale sticks around."

Baron's also told: Panetta's right-hand man, Jeremy Bash, would probably stay on in the Obama administration under a new secretary -- but not in the Pentagon. And press secretary George Little is also expected to serve in Obama's second term.

Other positions would likely stay the same. Mike Vickers, undersecretary of defense for intelligence, is relatively new in that position and probably wouldn't go anywhere. Robert Scher, deputy assistant secretary of defense for plans, was also appointed to that position in the past year. And there are others who are just settling into their jobs and would likely stay put. But Baron reports that there are three posts staffed by "acting" officials: two in the Asian and Pacific Security Affairs shop (Dave Helvey, who covers East Asia, and Brig. Gen. Rich Simcock, who handles South and Southeast Asia); and one under Special Operations/Low Intensity Conflict (Caryn Hollis, who covers counternarcotics and global threats). Two other posts are vacant: the DASD for space policy, under Global Strategic Affairs, and a Middle East post under International Security Affairs.

Expected to return in some fashion: former Middle East DASD Colin Kahl, and Doug Wilson, who left the Pentagon's top public affairs job last year.

Kevin's full report:

Who's definitely not happening: Jim Talent as defense secretary. Talent, along with John Lehman, was considered to be in the running as Pentagon chief if Romney won.

Let the budget fight begin. Congress was expected to give a reprieve to Romney on sequester if he'd won and possibly extend the deadline before automatic cuts take place. That won't happen now, but Obama's indication that sequester won't happen either suggests he has a bargain up his sleeve. Gordon Adams, on FP: "It was always a show, theater for the electorate. The need to ‘defend defense' was always exaggerated. The American military is far and away the strongest in the world. Moreover, in recent years the United States has been spending more on defense, in constant dollars, than at any time since 1945. While losing $50 billion through ‘sequester' from the planned defense budget this fiscal year would pose management challenges, it would be survivable."

Adams gives us five irrefutables, on defense and the budget:

The Pentagon, he says, is in draw-down mode, the defense budget and defense strategy are inseparable, the problem with the defense budget is not that it is too small, national security will improve if Obama tackles these problems, and, finally, "sequester was set up to force a deal on taxes and entitlements, but that may not be possible before January 2, 2013."

What it All Means

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