Situation Report

A weekly digest of national security, defense, and cybersecurity news from Foreign Policy reporters Jack Detsch and Robbie Gramer, formerly Security Brief. Delivered Thursday.

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’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 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.

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: http://bit.ly/PDoDiR

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." http://bitly.com/TJkyKt

What it All Means

Extra Extra

Gordon Lubold is a national security reporter for Foreign Policy. He is also the author of FP's Situation Report, an e-mailed newsletter that is blasted out to more than 70,000 national security and foreign affairs subscribers each morning that includes the top nat-sec news, breaking news, tidbits, nuggets and what he likes to call "candy." Before arriving at FP, he was a senior advisor at the United States Institute of Peace in Washington, where he wrote on national security and foreign policy. Prior to his arrival at USIP, he was a defense reporter for Politico, where he launched the popular Morning Defense early morning blog and tip-sheet. Prior to that, he was the Pentagon and national security correspondent for the Christian Science Monitor, and before that he was the Pentagon correspondent for the Army Times chain of newspapers. He has covered conflict in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and other countries in South Asia, and has reported on military matters in sub-Saharan Africa, East Asia and Latin America as well as at American military bases across the country. He has spoken frequently on the sometimes-contentious relationship between the military and the media as a guest on numerous panels. He also appears on radio and television, including on CNN, public radio's Diane Rehm and To the Point, and C-SPAN's Washington Journal. He lives in Alexandria with his wife and two children. Twitter: @glubold

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