Week of December 06th, 2014

Executive Summary

The holiday season and the truncated work week last week limited the number of papers published by the Washington Think Tank community.  Many did analyze the resignation of SecDef Hagel and the nomination of Carter to fill the position.

Although our analysis looks at the Carter nomination and what to expect, we look at the start of the 2016 presidential campaign season.  We look at the probable candidates, their weaknesses and strengths.  We see a GOP field that is younger and broader, while the Democratic field is much smaller and generally older than 70.  This gives the Republican Party an opportunity to gain the youth vote, which has been Democratic in the last few election rounds.

Think Tanks Activity Summary 

The Heritage Foundation looks at what the priorities should be for the next Secretary of Defense.  They note the problem lies with the White House and conclude, “The President must allow the Secretary of Defense to be the Secretary of Defense. National Security Council micromanagement of defense policy formulation, operational assessments, and tactical execution to achieve stated security objectives simply must stop—and only the White House can make this happen. The dysfunction induced by such filtering and inner-circle shaping of the President’s views undermines key Cabinet officers, such as the Secretary of Defense, when presenting their best advice and recommendations to the President. The President must remove these impediments so that the Secretary’s effectiveness as a key adviser on national security and defense matters is maximized and that person is fully enabled to perform the functions of the office.”

The Cato Institute argues the new SecDef, Carter should focus on the Defense budget instead of wars.  They suggest, “Given all of the things on Ash Carter’s plate, a logical division of labor would put him in charge of managing the Pentagon’s budget, and (Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman General) Dempsey in the forefront explaining how these resources should be deployed. The hawks in and out of Congress are reluctant to criticize the judgment of uniformed military personnel, and Americans remain wary of sending U.S. troops into the middle of distant civil wars. If Dempsey advises against greater U.S. involvement in such wars, he might have a bigger impact on the course of U.S. foreign policy than any of his civilian counterparts — Ashton Carter included.”

The American Enterprise Institute looks at problems facing the Department of Defense in 2015, especially in light of a new SecDef.  They also look towards the new Congress for solutions, noting, “Congress has been a significant culprit in raising the military’s cost to rebuild. Year after year, policymakers reject Pentagon proposals to slow the rate of growth within the defense budget—for example rejecting plans to ask for enrollment fees from select retirees receiving TriCare for Life. Every time Congress says “no” to Pentagon plans that have baked-in savings within the president’s budget requires the services have to go back and siphon off money from other priorities.”

The Hudson Institute also looks at the challenges facing the new SecDef.  They note, “An active and conscientious SecDef will have to reverse that process. He or she can’t expect any help from the White House or its National Security staff — they’ve been presiding over this military train wreck since 2009. Instead, Hagel’s successor will want to reach out to the new Republican Congress and those who understand the real cost of defense cuts in terms of national security and military readiness, like Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., and the chairs of the House Armed Services and Appropriations Committees, in order to restore the cuts imposed by sequestration and halt the stream of pink slips being sent to our serving men and women, especially officers, whom we will desperately need in rebuilding a post-Obama military.”

The Institute for the Study of War argues that the US is unable to conduct a war like those in the Middle East properly.  They conclude, “Almost 15 years into our post-9/11 wars demonstrates that the U.S.’s war-waging capacity is suffering. America is too focused on winning battles. This is a tactical focus. No one wants to lose battles, but winning them while losing the war is far more odious. Perhaps there is an opportunity—in the renewed discussion over developments in Iraq and Syria; in the recognized advances of and continued threat from radical jihadism in the Middle East, North and East Africa, and the Southern Arabian Peninsula; and in anticipation of force reductions in Afghanistan—to focus not only on fighting war but also on waging war. We have waged war well before; our World War II civil-military predecessors provide a good example. We can do it again, if we put our minds to it.”

The Brookings Institution says the Egyptian decision to drop the charges against Hosni Mubarak is a vindication of the Saudi strategy to reverse the 2011 revolution in Egypt and restore authoritarian military rule over their most important Arab ally.  They warn, however, “Of course the Saudis now own the burden of keeping the generals in office, an expensive proposition especially when oil prices are dropping. King Abdallah’s son, National Guard commander Prince Mitab, told Asharq Al Awsat this week that the Kingdom will stand in solidarity with President Abdel Fattah Al Sisi and “legitimate institutions” in Egypt no matter the cost. Mitab, who has just returned to Riyadh from consultations in Washington which he suggested had been contentious, underscored the Kingdom’s determination to preserve “regional security” and stability against the Brotherhood and other terrorists.”



  1. Looking at the 2016 Presidential Election
  2. Ashton Carter Picked for SecDef

With the mid-term elections out of the way, potential presidential candidates are starting to make their moves.  Senator Ted, Cruz has already talked to leading Jewish political donors, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker is talking to potential backers, and Texas Governor is making it clear that he intends to run.  There are also many potential candidates showing up in New Hampshire and Iowa, the first states to choose delegates to the Republican National Convention in the summer of 2016.

Unlike the Democratic field, which consists mainly of Hillary Clinton, the GOP field is crowded with governors, former governors, and senators – all with the potential of going to the White House.

One GOP potential candidate that will be seriously considered if he chooses to run is Jeb Bush – brother of President George W Bush and son of President George H W Bush.  He was an accomplished governor of the critical state of Florida, has the Bush name and the money contacts to run a well financed campaign.

Despite these advantages, Bush faces a strong headwind.  Many Republicans fear the creation of a Bush dynasty and would prefer to find someone else.  In addition, he favors the education system “Common Core” and immigration reform, which are both strongly opposed by the majority of Republicans – especially the more conservative ones that usually vote in primaries.

Bush also hurt his cause this week when he said that a Republican can win the election without the support of conservatives, something that is sure to come back to haunt him.

However, with name recognition, strong political backing, and coming from Florida, which is critical to win the presidency, he is a serious contender.

Another more moderate Republican contender is Mitt Romney.  Most think that he will eschew a third run for president, especially since he lost to Obama.  However, if no other moderate Republican steps forward, he may be convinced to run again.

Governors traditionally prove to be good candidates, with executive experience and a track record to run on.  And, there are two strong candidates that are probably going to run.

The first is Rick Perry of Texas.  He has already talked to potential donors and backers and is considered a near certainty to run.  His strengths are that he has been governor of Texas for 14 years (since he took over for George Bush, who was heading to the White House), Texas has one of the strongest economies in the United States, and his politics are between the conservatives and moderates of the party.  He also has a good financial base of donors, especially from the energy industry.  The downside is his indictment, for threatening a veto – an indictment that many see as political and designed to ruin his presidential chances.

Another strong potential GOP candidate is Governor Scott Walker of Wisconsin.  He has won two elections as governor and one recall in a state that is traditionally Democratic, which means he has the ability to attract independents and Democrats.  He also has strong conservative credentials from his tough, but successful fights against Wisconsin’s strong public labor unions.  Of course, this means that unions will target him in both the primaries and the general election.

Another potential governor is New Jersey’s Chris Christie.  He is a dynamic speaker and acceptable to the establishment Republicans if Bush decides not to run.  The problem, however, is that he is not conservative enough for the Republican base.  As governor of one of the most anti-gun states, he will not be a favorite of gun owners, who generally vote Republican.

There is a couple of other governors, who deserve to be mentioned – not as top tier presidential candidates, but as likely vice presidential candidates.  Bobby Jindal of Louisiana hasn’t become the national figure that some thought he would and he has had some problems in Louisiana, even though he won reelection.  However, he has experience as a governor and as someone with an Indian heritage; he may be able to attract Asian voters to the GOP – especially since Asian Americans are quickly growing tired of Obama.

Another governor to be mentioned is New Mexico Governor Susana Martinez.  As a Hispanic Republican governor of a typically Democratic state, she might find her way onto the ticket as the vice presidential nominee.

Although governors make the most likely presidential nominees, the US Senate is a frequent source of candidates – although not a likely to win – as John McCain, John Kerry, and Bob Dole proved.  However, two GOP senators both had strong grassroots support that will make them formidable.

Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky is the son of former congressman Ron Paul a frequent, if unsuccessful, candidate for President.  His libertarian philosophy, which includes lukewarm support of Israel and a strong belief in small federal government have not won more conservative supporters.  But, he is popular with younger, more libertarian Republicans.  One problem is that he is a freshman senator, which will mean that he will be attacked for lack of experience.

Paul’s strength is that he is managing to expand his base to include some non-Republican demographics like young people and even some minorities.  He regularly goes to meetings where Republican politicians are usually not welcome.  If he wins the nomination, which will be hard, he can be expected to fight for traditional Democratic voters.

Rand Paul has also managed not to alienate the Republican establishment as his colleague from Texas, Ted Cruz.  This year, he fought for the reelection of Mitch Mitchell, who was opposed by many conservative Republicans.  In return he has secured the support of the future Senate Majority leader, which will help him to project a more moderate face.

Another senator is Ted Cruz of Texas.  He is more traditionally conservative and has a reputation as a firebrand in the US Senate.  And, although he is from Texas – an advantage in the primary where Texas has a large say – he must compete for Texas votes with Rick Perry.  He is, however a dynamic speaker and the fact that the establishment dislikes him will work well with the GOP base.

Another Senator is Mark Rubio of Florida.  Rubio has a Hispanic background (his parents are from Cuba) and he represents the toss up state of Florida.  Although he was considered a real potential candidate, he faded when he came out for immigration reform, which conflicted with the majority of Republican voters.  He will have to work hard to bounce back.

There are other potential candidates, who are probably unlikely to stand out enough to win many primaries.  Former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee is mentioned and he has a measure of support amongst conservative Republicans.  Ben Carson is a doctor, who came to national attention when he criticized Obama to his face at a prayer breakfast.  However, his stance on gun control will alienate many gun owners in the party.  There is also Romney’s former VP choice Paul Ryan.

In reality, the GOP’s field is wide, experienced, and young, thanks in part to a large majority of state governors being Republican.  Although it means a more vigorously fought primary season, the eventual candidate will probably have more experience than the Democratic candidate.

The view for the Democrats is much different.  The loss of governorships at the state level and preponderance of older Democratic politicians at the national level will be a hindrance in winning the White House.  In addition, the continuing bad ratings for Obama will make it much harder for the Democratic candidate to win the necessary independent voters.

Age is a real problem for Democrats as the youngest probable candidate for the nomination is Hillary Clinton, who will be 69 on Election Day 2016.

Clinton has two primary advantages.  She is strong enough that she will probably scare off other potential challengers.  She is also a woman, which may inspire women to come out in large numbers to vote for her.

Hillary, however, has many weaknesses.  Although poplar in the Democratic Party, she is viewed less favorably by independents – something that was proved as she failed to deliver victories for candidates she campaigned for last month).  She is the victim of frequent verbal gaffes and her book tour last spring was considered a disaster.  Nor, has the fall been better for her as many of her speeches are to half filled rooms.  If her campaign is run like her book tour or her 2008 presidential campaign, she will not do well.

Although her husband Bill Clinton could be considered an asset, she will have to fight to keep him in the background.  She also has to realize that it has been 20 years since he was elected as president and many young voters will see them as part of the past, not the future.

Nor, are all Democrats onboard with her campaign.  Gov. Deval Patrick (D., Mass.) has said the sense of inevitability surrounding Hillary’s candidacy is “off-putting to voters.” The American people view inevitability as a sense of entitlement, Patrick said on Meet The Press, and prefer candidates who make an affirmative case for themselves. “The American people want – and ought to want – their candidates to sweat for the job, to actually make a case for why they are the right person at the right time,” he said.

Meanwhile, recent polling suggests Hillary’s aura of inevitability is fading. She is only four to five points ahead in matchups with potential GOP challengers with much lower name recognition.  That, in and of itself, may make her reconsider her run for the White House.

Hillary’s other problem is that her main claim to having the experience to be president is based on four years as Secretary of State.  Given the poor state of American foreign policy, she will have little to brag about in terms of accomplishments.

Hillary’s natural competition is Vice President Joe Biden.  As vice president, he is seen as a natural successor to Obama.  He also has considerable experience as both a senator and vice president.  However, he will be 73 by Election Day 2016 and is known for frequent verbal gaffes.  He has also run poor presidential campaigns in the past.

After Clinton and Biden, the field becomes extremely thin.  Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders is considering a run, however, he is an independent, not a Democrat.  He is a philosophical socialist and is loved by the left wing of the Democratic Party.  He has a wide base of small donors, but probably will not be able to compete for big campaign donors like either Clinton or Bush.  Although many Democrats would love for him to run, the Democratic establishment would probably feel that he is a sure loser to the Republican candidate.

Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren is another liberal possibility, but younger and fresher faced than the other possible candidates.  She is also a woman, which might invigorate the Democratic female voter base.  However, like Sanders, her positions a might look too liberal for the average American voter.

The Democratic field might have been larger if it wasn’t for the 2014 elections that defeated some potential candidates like Colorado’s Udall and tarnished the reputations of others.

One such person is former Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley.  He could point to his achievements as governor and had solid liberal credentials.  However, the loss of his handpicked candidate for Maryland governor last month means that even Maryland voters, who are strongly Democratic, preferred a Republican.

Former Virginia Senator Jim Webb might be the strongest national candidate.  He has a military background as a Marine officer and was seen as a moderate Democrat.  However, as far as the Democratic grassroots are concerned, he is not liberal enough.  He is also an erratic speaker, who can’t rally his supporters.

The major problem for any Democratic candidate will be the voters’ weariness with Obama and Democratic leadership.  All of these candidates sided with Obama during their time in office and their support of unpopular issues like Obamacare will come back to haunt them in 2016.

What this means is that many younger Democratic politicians may eschew running in 2016 and facing probable defeat.  Many may decide to let the “old bulls” of the party battle it out in 2016 and then lose to a Republican candidate.  That would then leave the field open in 2020 for a younger candidate, who will have a better chance to win the support of major donors and then go on to beat the Republican.


2)Ashton Carter Picked for SecDef

It was becoming quickly apparent that no one wanted to be Obama’s pick as the next Secretary of Defense.  Michele Flournoy pulled her name after talks with the White House. Several people familiar with Flournoy’s thinking say she decided to withdraw her name in part out of concern over dealing with White House micromanagement.  Then Democratic Sens. Jack Reed of Rhode Island and Carl Levin of Michigan also said they did not want the job.  That essentially left Ashton Carter as the last candidate under serious consideration.

Carter is deeply respected inside the defense establishment, and has a long track record serving in a number of Pentagon jobs, but he is not likely to bring significant change to the Pentagon.  CNN said that Pentagon officials doubt this White House really wants a secretary of defense who will offer significant new ideas.

Ashton Carter may not get along well with the White House.  The Politico wrote, “He is brilliant and driven, a policy wonk equally adept at mastering the bureaucracy,” says a former White House official. “He’s also arrogant, and doesn’t suffer fools gladly.”

That could be a warning sign in an administration that has already gone through three defense secretaries who resented White House micromanagement of their affairs.  In Carter, Obama would be choosing a strong-willed independent thinker who believed the US should have left a strong, operational troop force in Iraq and believes the military has been asked to swallow dangerously large budget cuts. He has also taken more hawkish stances against American opponents like North Korea, which means he may advocate a more aggressive policy towards ISIS.  Carter’s record on nuclear non-proliferation also suggests he could take a harder line on Iran policy than Obama favors.

Carter also gets along well with Republicans, which will help during confirmation hearings and hearings before Congress.

Of course, Carter’s policy positions will probably put him at odds with the White House, which may lead to his firing if he fails to support Obama enough.  In that case, the White House may have an even more difficult time finding a qualified person to take the poisoned chalice of the SecDef position next time.



National Security Priorities for the Next Secretary of Defense

By James Jay Carafano, Dakota Wood, James Phillips and Luke Coffey

Heritage Foundation

November 26, 2014

Issue Brief #4308

President Barack Obama is replacing his Secretary of Defense, Chuck Hagel. Hagel was the third Secretary of Defense to serve under President Obama, following Robert Gates and Leon Panetta.   The announcement of Hagel’s resignation, reportedly under pressure from the White House, was not accompanied by mention of a successor, who must be confirmed by the U.S. Senate. Hagel will continue to serve until a replacement is approved, the timing of which is uncertain, given the limited time Congress will be in session until control of the Senate shifts to Republicans when the new Congress convenes in January.  Unsurprisingly, speculation about the reason for Secretary Hagel’s departure and the list of potential candidates to replace him now dominates reporting of this event, but these are distractions from the two primary points that should be the focus of attention: (1) the President’s failed national security agenda and (2) his dysfunctional approach to handling national security matters.

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Whatever Ashton Carter’s Views on War Are, He Should Stick to the Pentagon Budget

By Christopher A. Preble

Cato Institute

December 3, 2014

The White House has apparently settled on Ashton Carter to replace Chuck Hagel as secretary of defense, after other leading candidates withdrew their names from consideration. It can never be a pleasant experience to come into a new job with the baggage of everyone knowing that you were the third or fourth best choice for the position. But that is the least of Carter’s challenges.  He will be expected to manage several ongoing wars, at a time when the public wants to kill bad guys without necessarily using U.S. ground troops to do it. Carter must also oversee numerous major new and costly weapons programs (especially nuclear weapons) in an increasingly tight budgetary environment. The Pentagon’s base budget (excluding the costs of the wars) remains near historic highs in inflation-adjusted terms, and personnel expenses are likely to remain high despite some reductions in the numbers of men and women serving in uniform. The just-released draft budget implements modest cost controls, but the Military Times reports that these “are likely to irritate outside advocates who pushed against any pay and benefits cuts.” Absent significant reform, military pay and benefits will place additional downward pressure on both new weapon R&D and normal operations and maintenance.

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Pentagon 2015: New year, same problems

AEI’s Foreign and Defense Policy team

American Enterprise Institute

December 4, 2014


Once the president announces his nominee to be the administration’s fourth secretary of defense, that candidate will be faced with critical decisions about how to address the many Pentagon priorities, probably including a 2016 defense budget that will shatter sequestration caps by $60 billion and no politically viable agreement to find those additional dollars. Failure to fund a defense budget increase would once again result in widespread, crippling cuts.  With an aging, outdated military and a standstill in Washington, Resident Fellow at AEI’s Marilyn Ware Center for Security Studies Mackenzie Eaglen’s warnings from 2012 continue to ring true. In January 2012, Eaglen noted in the Wall Street Journal that the Pentagon’s announcement to cut $500 billion from the defense budget over the next 10 years served as “the final nail in the coffin of our national contract with our all-volunteer military—that if they fight, they’ll have the very best to win. It marks the beginning of the end of America’s unquestioned international military dominance. Our soldiers will increasingly go into combat with aged equipment, lacking assurance that they’ll prevail against any enemy.”

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Winning Battles, Losing Wars

By Lt. Gen. James M. Dubik

Institute for the Study of War

December 2, 2014

Army Magazine

Col. Harry G. Summers Jr. begins his book, On Strategy: The Vietnam War in Context, by relaying the following conversation: “‘You know you never defeated us on the battlefield,’ said the American colonel. The North Vietnamese colonel pondered this remark a moment. ‘That may be so,’ he replied, ‘but it is also irrelevant.’” As much as we may not want to admit it, in this sense, our current war against al Qaeda and their ilk resembles that of Vietnam. In fighting our post- 9/11 wars, we have won nearly every battle but are far from winning the war. How can this be? The answer lies largely in the civil military nexus that underpins how America wages war. Waging war involves selecting proper war aims; identifying initial military, nonmilitary, U.S. and coalition forces, strategies, policies and campaigns that, if successfully executed, will achieve those aims; constructing execution mechanisms and coordinative bodies to translate the plans into action and then to adapt as the war unfolds; and maintaining the war’s legitimacy from start to finish. These war-waging responsibilities are civil-military responsibilities shared by the set of senior political leaders of the executive and legislative branches and selected senior military leaders. Even a cursory look at these elements reveals that our war-waging proficiency has simply not been up to the task.

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Hagel’s Successor Has a Tough Task Ahead

By Arthur Herman

Hudson Institute

November 26, 2014

Chuck Hagel as Secretary of Defense on Monday may have come as a surprise, but the way it was done certainly wasn’t.  A competent White House would have used the president’s announcement to name a successor. The fact that a final choice is still up in the air conveys an air of improvisation and futility that’s been the hallmark of Obama foreign and defense policy (likewise the announcement that same day that Secretary of State John Kerry’s much heralded final deal with Iran is stalled again).

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Reversing the Revolution: Mubarak’s Court Case Vindicates the Saudi Strategy on Egypt

By Bruce Riedel

Brookings Institution

November 30, 2014

The Saudi royal family undoubtedly welcomed the decision to drop the charges against Hosni Mubarak as a vindication of their strategy to reverse the 2011 revolution in Egypt and restore authoritarian military rule over their most important Arab ally. The Saudis were horrified when Mubarak was toppled in 2011. The Egyptian dictator had been a consistent ally of the Kingdom for three decades even sending two divisions to defend it in 1990 when Iraq threatened to attack. Trying him for repressing demonstrations set an unwanted precedent for other Arab leaders

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Mounzer A. Sleiman Ph.D.
Center for American and Arab Studies
Think Tanks Monitor


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