Situation Report

FP’s Situation Report: DepSecDef drum roll and Fox gets the nod; The AF’s band of spies; What’s an Ashton?; Biden’s dance moves in Asia; Fontaine on the NSS, Chayes on Karzai; and a bit more.

FP’s Situation Report: DepSecDef drum roll and Fox gets the nod; The AF’s band of spies; What’s an Ashton?; Biden’s dance moves in Asia; Fontaine on the NSS, Chayes on Karzai; and a bit more.

By Gordon Lubold

The Pentagon has a new DepSecDef, sorta. It’s Christine Fox, Situation Report has learned, and her appointment will be announced at the Pentagon later today. Tomorrow is Deputy Secretary of Defense Ash Carter’s last day. He will be replaced at midnight Dec. 5 by Fox, the former director of the Cost Assessment and Program Evaluation, or CAPE, office, who led Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel’s Strategic Choices and Management Review ("skimmer" or "scammer" as it was called – up to you). But Fox’s appointment is temporary until an individual for the permanent job can be identified, vetted and confirmed. It’s a process that could still take many weeks – or months. "I think we’re getting close," a senior defense official told Situation Report, referring to the final choice for a permanent candidate. But given the ability of the Senate to confirm POTUS’ nominees, Fox could be there for a while. While some see her as a perfect fit who can hit the ground running, others will see Fox as someone who is too Navy-oriented (she used to run the Center for Naval Analyses, now CNA) and her work as director of CAPE may not be seen as preparing her for "the whole enchilada" of running the Department. And some have criticized her for presenting budgetary choices that were politically palatable but less inclined to push for least damaging options.

What about Bobs? Fox is a bridge to the permanent, as-yet-unnamed deputy secretary of Defense, who could be Pentagon Comptroller Bob Hale or former No. 2 Navy civilian Bob Work or someone else. But Fox is not thought to be a candidate for the permanent job, Situation Report is told. Given her knowledge of the building and the budget process, she was considered a no-brainer, especially in a pinch, and will "hit the ground running" as a senior defense official said. There had been some thought to giving the temporary job to a service secretary – say the Army’s John McHugh – as a stopgap measure. But giving the nod to Fox means the senior leadership team at the Pentagon can stay in their jobs.

Why doesn’t she need to be senate-confirmed? You ever hear of the Federal Vacancy Reform Act? Right, us neither. But it allows the President to designate a senior employee to serve in a senior job. The requirement, we’re told, is that the individual had to have served in a senior role in the Department for at least 90 days within the last year.

Noting: When SitRep mentioned that Fox could be the bridge candidate for DepSecDef Nov. 13, we got all sorts of folks saying "no way."

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Afghans wary of a life without the U.S. The WSJ’s Margherita Stancati and Nathan Hodge: "The asking price for a house in Kabul’s toniest district nearly doubled a week ago, after it became clear that an Afghan assembly would endorse a new security deal with the U.S. A day later, when President Hamid Karzai insisted on delaying the critical pact, the price plummeted back to its previous level. ‘Everyone will flee if the security agreement is not signed. Everyone will stop renting houses,’ said Shafiqullah Mohammadi, who is handling the property. The 37-year-old real-estate agent said he plans to emigrate as well if the deal-necessary to maintain U.S. troops and U.S. aid beyond 2014-isn’t sealed." More here.

Sarah Chayes: Stop enabling Karzai! Chayes, a former adviser to former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mike Mullen who lived in Afghanistan for most of the last decade argues in the Los Angeles Times today that the reason Karzai thumbs his nose at the U.S. is because the U.S. lets him. Chayes: "…U.S. decision-makers should have expected such antics. It is they who have conditioned Karzai to behave this way, by persistently rewarding similar stunts. In Afghanistan as elsewhere, a lack of psychological savvy on the part of U.S. leaders, combined with a perverse tendency to abandon or undervalue their own leverage, are undermining U.S. interests as well as those of populations Washington purports to be helping. The first sign that Karzai was collecting cards to slip up his sleeve was his decision to convene a loya jirga to vote on the draft agreement with the United States. The deal would authorize the presence and define the role of international forces in Afghanistan beyond 2014."

And: "For their part, now that the U.S. aims to increase its reliance on diplomacy rather than brute force abroad, U.S. diplomats and civilian officials might do well to enroll in some negotiation workshops. A few psychology seminars wouldn’t hurt either." Read the rest of her bit here.

Biden is doing the two-step in Asia. The NYT’s Mark Landler and Martin Fackler: "With Japan locked in a tense standoff with China over disputed airspace, Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. arrived here late Monday for a weeklong visit to Asia intended to reassure a close ally and demand answers from a potential adversary. But first, Mr. Biden may need to repair a perceived disconnect between the United States and Japan in their responses to China’s declaration of a restricted flight zone over a swath of the East China Sea that includes disputed islands claimed by both Japan and China. Analysts and former diplomats said that reassuring Japan of America’s commitment to the region was particularly important given creeping worries in Tokyo that the United States might no longer have the financial ability, or even the will, to maintain its dominant military position in the Asia-Pacific." More here.

ICYMI: Is the Air Force spying on its own? There’s this odd story out of Colorado Sunday about how the Air Force hires spies at the Air Force Academy there to inform on fellow cadets — then disavow it all later. The Colorado Gazette’s Dave Philipps: "Facing pressure to combat drug use and sexual assault at the Air Force Academy, the Air Force has created a secret system of cadet informants to hunt for misconduct among students. Cadets who attend the publicly-funded academy near Colorado Springs must pledge never to lie. But the program pushes some to do just that: Informants are told to deceive classmates, professors and commanders while snapping photos, wearing recording devices and filing secret reports.

"For one former academy student, becoming a covert government operative meant not only betraying the values he vowed to uphold, it meant being thrown out
of the academy as punishment for doing the things the Air Force secretly told him to do. Eric Thomas, 24, was a confidential informant for the Office of Special Investigations, or OSI – a law enforcement branch of the Air Force. OSI ordered Thomas to infiltrate academy cliques, wearing recorders, setting up drug buys, tailing suspected rapists and feeding information back to OSI. In pursuit of cases, he was regularly directed by agents to break academy rules.It was exciting. And it was effective,’ said Thomas, a soccer and football player who received no compensation for his informant work. ‘We got 15 convictions of drugs, two convictions of sexual assault. We were making a difference. It was motivating, especially with the sexual assaults. You could see the victims have a sense of peace.’

The Air Force responds: "The Air Force Office of Special Investigations, as a federal law enforcement agency, is authorized by Air Force policy to operate a Confidential Informant Program Air Force-wide, including at the Air Force Academy.  The program uses people who confidentially provide vital information for initiating or resolving criminal investigations. OSI does not discuss the existence of ongoing or past confidential informant matters, as doing so could damage the integrity of current and future investigations." Read the rest of this bit here.

Turns out, Ash Carter is a bit of a Motown fan. At his big going-away ceremony yesterday at the Pentagon – peopled by the likes of White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough, former SecDef William Perry, Jeremy Bash, Chuck Hagel and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Marty Dempsey, Stephanie Carter, Ash Carter’s wife, upped and surprised her husband by getting someone to sing the song "I’ll Be There."

McDonough ran across the river to the Pentagon to help retire Carter. But it was Dempsey who stole the show. Dempsey: "First thing I want you to know, though, is I took the time to Google "Ashton" before I came here today. And you’ll be interested to know that when you Google "Ashton," you get three returns.  Ashton Kutcher.  Can we get the picture of Ashton Kutcher up there?  There we go. Ashton Kutcher has been described as hot, but kind of a mediocre model turned actor.  You also get Ashton Irwin.  Ashton Irwin is also hot, but a mediocre drummer for an Australian boy band.  And then, of course, you get Ashton Carter — who has been described by some as a middle-aged uber-wonk and, in the words of Politico, ‘makes think-tankers’ hearts flutter.’ Now, in the words of Paris Hilton, now that’s hot. However, hot in DOD terms takes on a completely different meaning.  Issues are hot.  Suspenses are hot.  Regions are hot.  And I can tell you that no one has handled the heat like Dr. Ash Carter.  We’re proud of him.  We’re thankful for what he’s done, and we’re very appreciative of the way you’ve done it, not just what you’ve done, but the way you’ve done it."

Want to know how Congress could steamroll Iran sanctions past Obama? FP’s John Hudson shows you the way: "Despite repeated objections from the White House, Senate Democrats and Republicans are charging ahead with plans to pass new sanctions legislation against Iran. Though some Democrats fear burning bridges with the White House, aides tell The Cable that negotiations between senators in both parties are closing in on legislation that would impose new sanctions on Tehran after six months — the length of the preliminary nuclear deal recently hammered out in Geneva. The bill would include an option to delay the punitive action if U.S. talks on a final deal appear promising. Despite earlier reports that Republican hawks would dismiss such legislation as overly lenient, a Senate aide says that’s not the case." More here.

U.S. special operators are winding down their anti-drug fight in Colombia. FP’s Dan Lamothe: "The $8 billion U.S war on drugs and instability in Colombia has pressed U.S. special operators, air crews and other personnel into a decade-plus operation to solidify security in the South American country. But the controversial mission will likely wind down soon: Colombian officials say they are winning the fight, and the two countries want to move to a new relationship based more closely on shared economic interests, said a senior U.S. administration official." More here.

The Obama White House announced it would release a new national security strategy early next year. The Center for a New American Security’s Richard Fontaine has this to say in a blog post about the new NSS: "… It’s important to recognize just what the National Security Strategy is – and what it isn’t.  Ambassador Ryan Crocker once described it as a mandated exercise that doesn’t "tell us terribly much about national security or strategy." A bit harsh, perhaps, but not far from the mark.  That’s because the name itself is something of a misnomer:  the NSS isn’t really a strategy – in every administration it’s more like a really long speech."

And: "…surprisingly, it is not all a wasted exercise, so long as you recognize the limitations. In the end, it may be that this is one governmental exercise where the process matters more than the product. In order to produce a National Security Strategy, smart people think for a long time about the grand sweep of U.S. policy. Senior policymakers, to the extent they play a role in the process, are forced to think through core issues and future possibilities in a way that is much different from their day to day grind. And all that process can provoke our foreign policy leadership to think more deeply, more broadly, and more about the future than they otherwise would — and that can’t be a bad thing. Maybe Eisenhower said it best: ‘Plans are worthless but planning is everything.’ Read the rest here. 

Just as there are calls for compensation reform within the military – note this NYT editorial Sunday – there is a push on Capitol Hill to expand the G.I. Bill. Compensation, as the NYT pointed out, includes pay, retirement benefits, health care and housing allowances and consumes roughly half the military budget – and counting.  The G.I. Bill is a separate issue, but nonetheless falls under compensation in the broad sense. Military Times’ Rick Maze’s lede: "At least seven legislative proposals are pending in Congress to improve the new GI Bill for large swaths of beneficiaries, including active-duty and reserve troops, wounded warriors and families." More here, behind a tall paywall.

Rick Maze, departing. We should have included this yesterday. But longtime military reporter (and former colleague) Rick Maze is leaving Military Times newspapers after 33 years — an  amazing run in an age of journalism’s jump-from-one-job-to-another. He’ll become editor in chief of Army Magazine, published by AUSA. His memo to colleagues Friday: "…For me, the AUSA job is simply too good to pass up at this stage of m
y life. Because these have been difficult times for Gannett Government Media, I’d like you to know; 1, Leaving was completely my decision – I’m not being pushed in any way. 2, Gannett tried to keep me. I mention these two things to provide some reassurance this company seems still committed to good journalism and keeping good journalists. I’m proud of my years – 33 years – at the Military Times. I remain a believer in the mission of the Times papers and websites. I see a strong future for company if you focus on giving readers something they cannot get anywhere else. It has been my pleasure to work with all of you. I’ll be sad when I leave in two weeks. Rick." Maze left his personal e-mail address for colleagues, noting that he still has an AOL account.