John Allen might not go to Europe after all; Hagel nom takes another, heated step; Cruz: “over the line”?; Afghan withdrawal speedier than what Dunford wanted? And more.
There's a reason why John Allen hasn't been re-nominated for the top job in Europe: he's still thinking it over. On Sunday, Gen. John Allen gave up command of ISAF in Kabul, and he was expected to begin preparing for confirmation hearings for his next assignment as head of European Command and Supreme Allied Commander, Europe. But three weeks after he was exonerated in an investigation into potentially improper e-mails between him and Tampa socialite Jill Kelley, he has yet to be re-nominated. Pentagon officials insist the Obama administration is not having second thoughts about Allen's fitness for the job -- which could put him in line to be chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff -- but rather that they are giving him time to weigh the needs of his family and decide if the job in Europe remains a good move for him, Situation Report is told. "The administration has strong confidence in General Allen, and if he wants to be nominated, he's expected to have that chance," the a senior defense official said. "He also deserves a little while to think about things after over  months doing an outstanding job in Kabul." A spokesman for Allen said he could not comment on Allen's nomination.
Allen returned to Washington Sunday evening and met with Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Marty Dempsey at the Pentagon yesterday. Both have encouraged him to take the time he needs. In the end, he may still decide to take the job, officials say.
At 19 months, Allen was the longest-serving ISAF commander, and before that he served as deputy commander of Central Command, in Tampa. The investigation into potential wrongdoing also may have taken a toll. After Allen was nominated for the job in Europe last fall, FBI investigators stumbled on e-mail exchanges between him and Kelley as part of the broader investigation into David Petraeus and biographer Paula Broadwell. Allen's nomination had been put on hold so the investigation could take place, even as top defense officials privately expressed confidence that Allen would be cleared. Allen was exonerated on Jan. 22, and the next day White House spokesman Jay Carney said Allen's nomination was expected to go forward. "We hope the Senate will consider it in a timely manner, and we will press the Senate to do just that." Asked when the White House intended to send the nom to the Senate, Carney reiterated: "We intend for the nomination to proceed."
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Obama's announcement on Afghanistan troop withdrawal leaves some discretion to the commander, Joe Dunford. The announcement in last night's State of the Union speech that President Barack Obama would bring 34,000 troops home over the next 12 months amounted to a steeper withdrawal of forces than some had expected. As many as 6,000 are already scheduled to come out in the next few months, through attrition, as smaller, specialized brigades of about 2,000 personnel replace conventional brigade combat teams of as many as 4,000 people. Obama and other administration officials say the drawdown squares with the "preferred option" of Gen. Allen. But the WaPo's Rajiv Chandrasekaran writes this morning that Dunford had wanted a more gradual drawdown this year of about 25,000. "This is steeper than we had hoped for," Rajiv quotes an American official as saying. "Pulling out 34,000 leaves us dangerously low on military personnel while the fledgling Afghan army and police still need our support. It's going to send a clear signal that America's commitment to Afghanistan is going wobbly."
If Chuck Hagel is confirmed as defense secretary this week, he will be headed to a NATO ministerial in Brussels, where he will have to explain the administration's position. Some fear that allies will be frightened by American departure and will accelerate their own drawdowns prematurely.
"The president seems to believe that the end goal is the reduced number of troops in Afghanistan rather than the security situation in Afghanistan," said Rep. Mike Turner, R-OH, chairman of Strategic Forces subcommittee of the House Armed Services Committee, in an interview in his office yesterday with Situation Report. "Until he makes a case for how the troops that will be remaining will be used and how they can ensure a stable and secure Afghanistan, I think people will be skeptical," he said. "It also continues to weaken our ability to advocate to our allies that they should stay and they should make certain their troop levels are there while he's taking steps backward."
A new poll shows 56 percent of Americans say they approve when asked this question: "Do you approve or disapprove of the United States conducting missile strikes from pilotless aircraft called drones to target extremists in countries such as Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia?" versus 26 percent who disapprove. Last summer, 55 percent said they approved, and 34 percent said they disapproved. Today, more are unsure.
Chuck Hagel took another step closer to becoming Pentagon chief. In a two-hour debate marked by sharp disagreement and acid exchanges between members of each party, the Senate Armed Services Committee on Tuesday afternoon voted 14-11, along party lines, to forward Hagel's nomination to the Senate floor. The full Senate could take up the measure as early as this afternoon but more likely on Thursday. Some Republican senators are threatening to require a super-majority of 60 votes to get Hagel through, demanding that he provide more details about his financials, and that the administration provide more information about the crisis in Benghazi. But as the E-Ring's Kevin Baron reports, SASC Chairman Sen. Carl Levin, the Democrat from Michigan, said there won't be any 60-vote requirement. "There will not be a 60-vote tally on the final vote," Levin told Baron. Levin to Baron: "[Senate Majority Leader Harry] Reid has already made that clear. He made it clear at the meeting. I told him that I totally concur, that you cannot just make a cabinet position, just agree that on a final vote it's anything other than a majority vote. The 60-vote rule has to do with ending debate. It does not have to do with approving a bill or approving a nominee. There's a lot of confusion about that, understandably so." The water cooler wisdom this morning suggests Hagel will be confirmed in the next day or so. "I still think it gets done Thursday," one individual close to the nomination process told Situation Report.
Has freshman Ted Cruz jumped the shark already? Newly-minted senator Ted Cruz, the Republican from Texas, is already making a name for himself on the Senate Armed Services Committee. Yesterday he stunned Democrats by saying that Hagel's confirmation as Pentagon chief "will make military conflict in the next four years substantially more likely." As Baron reports, Cruz argued that a Hagel Pentagon would "encourage" Iran to speed up its nuclear program, which would thus require the U.S. to put troops in "harm's way." Cruz and others said Hagel still won't disclose information about money he has received from other countries that oppose U.S. interests. All of that prompted Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) to school Cruz. "Senator Cruz has gone over the line. He basically impugned the patriotism of the nominee...about being cozy with Iran," adding that during Hagel's confirmation hearing, former SASC chairman and retired senator John Warner had "visibly winced" during Cruz's line of questioning. Nelson: "There's a certain degree of comity and civility that this committee has always been known for. And clearly, in the sharpness of difference of opinion, to question, in essence, whether somebody is a fellow traveler with another country, I think, is taking it too far." Cruz replied: "In no way shape or form have I impugned his patriotism... his answers could be entirely truthful... my point is not that he has lied, it is that he refused to answer additional questions."
New ranking member Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK) reiterated his concerns about Hagel, saying that Iran had essentially supported Hagel's confirmation. "You can't get any cozier than that," he said. That fired up Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-MO) who shot a look at Inhofe, who is considered to be still growing into his job as ranking member. McCaskill: "As much as some people in this room don't like it, [Obama] was elected president of the United States by the American people. And he has selected an honorable veteran, a Republican who has served our country in various capacities, including this body."
Obama signed a new cyber executive order that extends information-sharing programs between the government and private sector. Killer Apps' John Reed writes that it establishes voluntary cyber security "best practices" for critical infrastructure providers, but that the administration plans to push companies to comply.
What do cyber execs really want? In anticipation of the White House move, Killer Apps' John Reed asked some cyber executives what they want to see in the new executive order. Reed in this post: "Almost all agreed that the Obama administration -- and Congress -- need to do something to help protect the nation's banks, transport companies, energy firms, defense contractors, and other companies on which millions of people rely, from a crippling cyber attack." Ashar Aziz, chief technology officer of FireEye, told Reed: "It's a public security and a public safety issue, and it needs some level of government oversight because you cannot let market forces completely go in areas where public safety is involved."
Déjà vu all over again: Is it the GOP versus the generals? Baron writes that in yesterday's sequester hearing with the chiefs on the Hill, the looming threat of sequestration in March shows just how tired the Pentagon's top brass is of defense being used as a pawn by Congress to demand non-defense cuts. Baron writes: "Many Republicans are calling on Congress to keep the sequestration threat on the table to pressure the White House into accepting additional non-defense federal spending cuts. But military leaders long ago lost their patience for the sequester threat. Republicans last spring got into trouble when Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) claimed the generals did not really agree with President Obama's defense budget despite their testimony to the contrary. The Joint Chiefs publicly pushed back, arguing they stood by their testimony, and Ryan walked back his allegation. But the message carried through the presidential election campaign -- the generals were not backing conservatives seeking to keep defense spending at historically high levels."
- Arms Control Wonk: After the (most recent North Korean) detonation, now what?
- The Guardian: North Korea defiant over nuclear tests, Obama promises swift action.
- CBS: North Korea action prompts neighbors to mobilize militaries, scientists.
The Arab Winter
- AP: Syria death toll: UN Human Rights chief says casualties "probably approaching" 70k.
- BBC: Lasting scars of Syria's assault on Baba Amr.
- VOA: Foreign minister: Libya needs help to secure borders.
- Reuters: Iraq sets first Kuwait flights since 1990 invasion.
- U.S. News: Special Forces soldier, son of fallen firefighter, among 9/11 hearing witnesses.
- Defense News: Obama signals end to post 9/11 era in address.
- Who Supporrts Hagel: Pro.
- Americans for a Strong Defense: Con.
- WaPo blog (Rubin): Why would we trust Chuck Hagel's judgment?
- Newsday (Smerconish): Hagel deserves a second look.