National Security

Is Chuck Hagel now being swift-boated on the gay issue? Can Dems handle the Pentagon? The ‘dance performance’ on the fiscal cliff; What Panetta wants for Bravo’s stocking, and more.

Does Chuck Hagel have a gay problem? Maybe, but it might not be enough to foil his nomination, at least in and of itself. Human Rights Campaign and other advocacy groups have begun to raise questions about comments that Hagel, who remains on the extremely short list for Pentagon chief, made in 1998 about an "openly, aggressively gay" man who was nominated to be ambassador to Luxembourg and his fitness to represent the U.S. Chad Griffin, president of the HRC, said that "Senator Hagel's unacceptable comments about gay people, coupled with his consistent anti-LGBT record in Congress, raise serious questions about where he stands on [lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender] equality today," according to a report in the WaPo last night. Griffin also demanded that Hagel repudiate his remarks, according to the story. But Nathaniel Frank, author of the book "Unfriendly Fire," about the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy, tells Situation Report that his views fall more on "the forgiving side." Hagel would have to show that he understands the Pentagon still confronts challenges of equal treatment, however.

Frank to Situation Report: "There's no question that Sen. Hagel's comments about [diplomatic nominee James Hormel] were craven and wrong-headed, and his past opposition to LGBT equality would put him out of step with mainstream opinion today, if he holds the same views. But given the pace of change in this area just since the 1990s, we're living in a very different world. The question is where does he stand now? Can he make it clear that he's evolved, that he understands where the 21st-century Pentagon is on these issues, and that he's ready to meet the ongoing challenges it faces with respect to equal treatment in the military?"

Welcome to Thursday's edition of Situation Report where it doesn't feel like the end of the world today, but the edge of the cliff sure does seem slippery. Follow me @glubold. Or hit me anytime at gordon.lubold@foreignpolicy.com. And sign up for Situation Report here: http://bit.ly/NCN9uN or just send me an e-mail and I'll put you on the list. And if you have a report, piece of news, or tidbit you want teased, send it to us early for maximum tease.

FYI - Situation Report is spending the next week or so with family, but we'll be back early next year. We're thankful for the tremendous support in 2012 and really do look forward to an exciting 2013. But at any time, we're two minutes away by e-mail. So keep us in your thoughts and if you have news to impart, have at it and let us know. Enjoy the holidays.

If Obama noms Hagel, does it validate fears that Dems can't run the Pentagon? Perhaps. If you don't count Panetta, the last Democrat to sit in the E-Ring was Bill Perry -- in 1997. Since then, Bill Clinton appointed Bill Cohen, the Republican from Maine, followed by Bush 43's Rumsfeld and then Gates, all Republicans; and of course Obama kept Gates on. If Hagel gets the nom, Obama will be overlooking other prominent Dems who, Dems say, could easily do the job: Carter, Flournoy, Reed, etc. But the Lexington Institute's Loren Thompson tells Situation Report that he doesn't think the Pentagon chief is that important to this White House. Obama has made it clear that his focus is not fighting wars overseas, but nation-building at home. "SecDef is not a priority. When the White House thinks about what it wants in a defense secretary, it's looking for a long-term Panetta, a person who will keep the Pentagon off the front page."

ICYMI: Yochi Dreazen's piece in the WaPo about the Dems' shallow bench: http://wapo.st/UYBhtT

Is there still hope for Michele or Ash? Very much so. If the delay in announcing Obama's nominee for Pentagon chief is because Hagel really was just a trial balloon, then the president could move ahead with nominating the Pentagon's No. 2 -- Ash Carter -- or former Pentagon policy chief Michele Flournoy. In that case, the better money is on Carter, says Thompson. "If Hagel is not available, just elevate Ash Carter to the top job," he told Situation Report. "You could do a lot worse than Ash Carter for the secretary of defense. He is a smart guy, he's easy to get along with, and he's a Bill Perry protégé." Then, Thompson and others say, Flournoy could slide into Carter's old job as No. 2 -- or as a service secretary. With Susan Rice out of the running for State, there will be a push to make sure Obama's national security team is gender inclusive.

Will he or won't he? It's unclear if President Barack Obama will announce Cabinet appointments today, but it's looking less likely. The delay in making an announcement on Hagel and Sen. John Kerry for State is beginning to make Obama look indecisive or, as the criticisms mount against Hagel, politically timid. Former Defense Secretary Bill Cohen told Politico's Mike Allen that if Obama is going to name Hagel, he'd better do it fast. "You leave someone hanging in the wind out there, and people can make allegation and marshal opposition, and it's very difficult to defend yourself until you're actually named," Cohen said. "It's not fair to Senator Hagel. He ought to name his team, and then go fight for them."

Panetta's best friend Bravo wants a drone for Christmas. Panetta tells Situation Report through a spokesman what he wants in his Christmas stocking: "a deal to end sequestration." But he also wishes for a drone for his dog, Bravo, the golden retriever to whom he seems tied at the hip. Commandant Gen. Jim Amos wants "he same thing that every Marine wants...a crust of bread, a full magazine, the eternal friendship of fellow Marines...and the sound sleep that comes with the satisfaction of serving the greatest nation on earth!" And Gen. Marty Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, says his holiday wish list includes: "stronger allies, weaker enemies and the continued commitment of the American people to our military in case the first two don't work out."

Read FP National Security's holiday wish list on the E-Ring and keep sending them to us at gordon.lubold@foreignpolicy.com. The list: http://atfp.co/UMDE0h

Panetta comforts his Pentagon charges with a pre-holiday, pre-sequestration message of hope - even if he fears the dark clouds are forming. In a message to the Pentagon work force about the "implications for fiscal cliff negotiations," Panetta writes: "Our civilian employees should keep in mind that the administration remains focused on working with Congress to reach agreement on a balanced deficit reduction plan that avoids such cuts. Sequestration was never intended to be implemented, and there is no reason why both sides should not be able to come together and prevent this scenario." Nonetheless, eh wrote, even if it does occur, there should be no immediate effect on the workforce - no furloughs, etc. "But let me assure you that we will carefully examine other options to reduce costs within the agency before taking such action, taking into consideration our obligation to execute our core mission." http://1.usa.gov/12CJNBh

Gordon Adams: the fiscal cliff follies and defense. As the "dance performance at the edge of the cliff continues," Adams, writing on FP, says the Pentagon is getting nervous: "In the defense world, nails are being bitten. Secretary Panetta warns of a cataclysm if the president and Boehner fail to agree. Buck McKeon steps to the mike in a redux of the performance he has been executing for 18 months (isn't he tired?), decrying the fact that the Boehner tax bill left the sequester on the table, and our national security open to the barbarians. In response, Boehner added a provision that would protect defense from at least part of the sequester. (Though sequester would take only 10 percent of the resources from one of the highest defense budgets America has seen since the end of World War II.)" http://atfp.co/12E5bpA

The Marine who donned his old uniform and stood guard outside an elementary school in Modesto, Calif. to protect the children inside was accused of fakery. Craig Pusley thought he was doing something positive by donning a set of borrowed desert cammies and standing outside the school in the wake of the Sandy Hook shootings. Problem is, though he is a former Marine, he never reached a rank past PFC and never deployed, according to Marine officials -- but he had a sergeant's insignia on his uniform and he was quoted in a report in the Modesto Bee saying he had deployed multiple times. Pusley blamed the Modesto Bee reporter for screwing up the facts, but the Corps says he is a phony. Marine Corps Times' Dan Lamothe has the story.

Pusley told Lamothe: "I feel horrible about this," he said. "My intention was for the kids. I don't understand why everyone has to find a negative in every situation."

And, as some will do when they find themselves in hot water, blame it on the press: Pusley: "There's a lot of fabrication to this story that didn't come out of my mouth," Pusley said. "All I know is that I talked to a Modesto Bee lady, and everything went crazy."

MCT Story: http://bit.ly/UUAIPC

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