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Biden widens search for defense secretary under pressure from his party

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ADD AUSTIN TO THE LIST: The short list for Joe Biden’s defense secretary is getting longer. Once described as a shoo-in, former Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Michele Flournoy is facing new competition from at least three other candidates.

The latest potential candidate is retired Army Gen. Lloyd Austin, former head of the U.S. Central Command, who, if selected, would need a congressional waiver from the law that requires a seven-year waiting period for retired officers to serve as the civilian leader of the Pentagon. Former Defense Secretary Jim Mattis easily won a waiver in 2017.

Other candidates in the mix include Jeh Johnson, former secretary of homeland security; Elizabeth Sherwood-Randall, former deputy secretary of energy; and Illinois Sen. Tammy Duckworth, a combat veteran who was a vocal supporter of Biden during the election.

FLOURNOY STILL A TOP CANDIDATE: Flournoy’s corporate ties have drawn fire from progressive Democrats. She serves on the boards of Booz Allen Hamilton and Amida Technology Solutions and is the chief executive officer of WestExec Advisor, a high-powered Washington consulting firm founded in 2017 by Tony Blinken, Biden’s choice for secretary of state.

But her pro-war policies have also been questioned by Democrats. “Flournoy supported the war in Iraq & Libya, criticized Obama on Syria, and helped craft the surge in Afghanistan,” tweeted California Rep. Ro Khanna last week. “I want to support the President’s picks. But will Flournoy now commit to a full withdrawal from Afghanistan & a ban on arms sales to the Saudis to end the Yemen war?”

‘SO FAR IT’S NOT GOOD’: Biden is also under pressure to appoint more blacks to his Cabinet. Last week in an interview, South Carolina Rep. James Clyburn, who many credit with rescuing Biden’s flagging primary campaign, expressed disappointment that so far only one Biden nominee, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, to be U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, is black.

“From all I hear, black people have been given fair consideration,” Clyburn told Juan Williams, a columnist for the Hill. “But there is only one black woman so far. I want to see where the process leads to, what it produces,” he added. “But so far, it’s not good.”

Both Austin and Johnson are black.

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HAPPENING TODAY: President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris will receive their first Presidential Daily Briefing, which presumably will include the latest intelligence about Iran’s threatened retaliation for the assassination Friday of its top nuclear scientist, Mohsen Fakhrizadeh.

“Iran will surely respond to the martyrdom of our scientist at the proper time,” Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said Saturday during a televised Cabinet meeting.

“Fakhrizadeh was at the heart of the Iranian nuclear program and has been for years, not only the brains but also the passion behind it. So his assassination is really a significant event, not unlike a year ago when we took out Soleimani,” said former Joint Chiefs Chairman retired Adm. Mike Mullen on NBC’s Meet the Press yesterday. “It’s a real, real center of gravity, if you will, for that program. That doesn’t mean there aren’t other nuclear scientists or that Iran can’t continue on.”

“I’m hopeful that President-elect Biden can actually reach in and calm the waters, but I think this heightens tension significantly,” Mullen said.

McRAVEN: ‘THEY HAVE TO RETALIATE’: “Iran either suspects or knows that Israel was responsible for this attack. And then, of course, kind of by association, they’re going to assume that we either collaborated with it or at a minimum were witting of the Israeli’s actions,” said retired Adm. William McRaven on ABC Sunday.

“The Iranians are going to be in a position where they have to retaliate. I don’t see any way around it. They’re going to have to save face. And so now the issue becomes, what does that retaliation look like?” said McRaven, the former commander of U.S. Special Operations Command. “The Iranians don’t want to war with us. We don’t want to go to war with Iran. So everybody needs to do the best they can to kind of lower the temperature and try not to get this into an escalation mode.”

NO VOTES WERE SWITCHED: The lifelong Republican fired by President Trump for challenging his assertions of election fraud told the CBS program 60 Minutes that the American people should have 100% confidence in their vote.

“We can go on and on with all the farcical claims that — alleging — interference in the 2020 election, but the proof is in the ballots. The recounts are consistent with the initial count, and to me, that’s further evidence, that’s confirmation that the systems used in the 2020 election performed as expected,” Chris Krebs, who was put in charge of the agency handling election security by Trump two years ago, told CBS’s Scott Pelley.

“Votes were cast in Georgia, for instance, again, on paper. They were counted by a machine. They were subsequently recounted by hand. The outcomes of that count were consistent. If there was an algorithm that was flipping votes or changing votes, it didn’t work. I think the more likely explanation, though, is that there is no algorithm, that the systems performed as intended,” Krebs said. “There is no foreign power that is flipping votes. There’s no domestic actor flipping votes. I did it right. We did it right. This was a secure election.”

TRUMP INCENSED, INSISTENT HE WON: Immediately after the broadcast, Trump fired back on Twitter. “@60Minutes never asked us for a comment about their ridiculous, one sided story on election security, which is an international joke,” he tweeted. “Our 2020 Election, from poorly rated Dominion to a Country FLOODED with unaccounted for Mail-In ballots, was probably our least secure EVER!”

In his first interview since Biden was declared the winner, Trump told Fox News’s Maria Bartiromo that ballots were trucked in for Biden, while his were dumped. “You know, they threw away ballots. They threw away many Trump ballots. That’s the easiest way they could cheat. But we got 74 million votes. He didn’t get anywhere close to 80 million votes,” Trump said.

“This election was over. And then they did dumps. They call them dumps, big, massive dumps, in Michigan, Pennsylvania, and all over,” Trump said. “And they did these massive dumps of votes. And, all of a sudden, I went from winning by a lot to losing by a little.”

Asked by Bartiromo if he could prove that, Trump replied, “I’m going to use 125% of my energy to do it,” but he complained the legal system is rigged against him, too. “You need a judge that’s willing to hear a case. You need a Supreme Court that’s willing to make a real big decision,” he said,

“It’s not like you’re going to change my mind. In other words, my mind will not change in six months.”

AFGHANISTAN STUDY GROUP: President Trump’s order to reduce U.S. troop presence in Afghanistan is drawing a warning from the Afghanistan Study Group, which includes former Joint Chiefs Chairman retired Marine Gen. Joseph Dunford.

“Americans generally agree that it is time to end this war. But withdrawing U.S. troops irresponsibly would likely lead to a new civil war, inviting the reconstitution of anti-U.S. terrorist groups and providing them with a narrative of victory against the U.S. superpower,” writes Dunford in an op-ed, along with co-chairs Kelly Ayotte, a former Republican senator from New Hampshire, and Nancy Lindborg, former president and CEO of the U.S. Institute of Peace

“An abrupt withdrawal of U.S. troops, as is now being contemplated by the Trump administration, would undermine the fragile but potentially transformational peace process. It would embolden the Taliban, destabilize the Kabul government and allow terrorist groups to reconsolidate,” they write. “A civil war could result, provoking a wider regional conflict and an inevitable humanitarian and migration crisis.”

PLAYING POLITICS? House Armed Services Committee Chairman Rep. Adam Smith is accusing the Air Force of politicizing the announcement of their preferred locations for Air National Guard C-130J main operating bases.

“The Air Force has traditionally avoided making basing announcements near an election so as not to be accused of playing politics with force structure decisions. In this instance, the timing and decision to include Savannah, Ga. in the announcement, when Georgia is focused on Senate runoff elections, raises questions about the Secretary’s motives,” Smith said in a statement last week. “The Air Force did not need to make this decision now – plain and simple – and should delay moving forward with these basing actions until conference negotiations have concluded and the decision is not at risk of being politicized.”

BIDEN’S FIRST SLIP-UP: According to a pool report, Biden slipped yesterday while playing with his dog, Major. What was first reported as a twisted ankle turned out to be a fractured foot.

“Initial X-rays did not show any obvious fracture, but his clinical exam warranted more detailed imaging,” said Dr. Kevin O’Connor, director, executive medicine, GW Medical Faculty Associates. “Follow-up CT scan confirmed hairline (small) fractures of President-elect Biden’s lateral and intermediate cuneiform bones, which are in the mid-foot. It is anticipated that he will likely require a walking boot for several weeks.”

ACCIDENTAL DEATH: The Pentagon says Air Force Capt. Kelliann Leli, 30, of Parlin, New Jersey, died Nov. 27 in a “non-combat related vehicle incident” at Al Dhafra Air Base, United Arab Emirates.

Leli, a medical doctor, was supporting Operation Freedom’s Sentinel in Afghanistan. She was assigned to the 60th Healthcare Operations Squadron, Travis Air Force Base, California.

The Rundown

Washington Examiner: US affirms ‘Taiwan’s freedom and independence’ despite China’s sovereignty claims

Washington Examiner: Biden’s national security adviser nominee vows to put China on notice after pandemic

Washington Examiner: Robert Mueller set to appear in first interview since Russia investigation

Washington Examiner: Top cybersecurity official fired by Trump says he was most upset he didn’t get to say goodbye to team

Washington Examiner: The space weather experts who give the go-ahead on when to launch and avoid disaster

Washington Examiner: Opinion: Iran threatens Biden with nuclear buildup over Israel assassination

Washington Examiner: 5 takeaways from Israel’s assassination of Iran’s top nuclear weapons scientist

AP: Acting U.S. Defense Secretary Visits Troops In Rare Visit To Somalia

Military.com: Carrier Nimitz Returns to Gulf as Iran Makes Threats

New York Times: Iran Struggles For a Response To Bold Strikes

Washington Post: Turkey’s military campaign beyond its borders is powered by homemade armed drones

Task & Purpose: The Marine Corps Is On The Hunt For A Kamikaze Drone Swarm To Back Up Grunts On The Battlefield

Washington Post: The United States has closed at least 10 bases around Afghanistan. But drawdown details remain murky.

The Daily Beast: How Russian Disinformation Protects Violent Wagner Group Mercenaries in Africa

New York Times: Afghan Leader Hampers Peace Talks, Officials Say

South China Morning Post: Joe Biden Presidency Could Reopen A Window Of Opportunity For China: Analysts

Wall Street Journal: Biden’s Goodwill Sparks Debate Among NATO Allies

AP: Biden’s Win Means Some Guantanamo Prisoners May Be Released

New York Times: How Did the North Korean Defector Cross the Border? Loose Screws

Washington Times: ‘Fort Trump’ In Poland Dismissed As Military Goal

19fortyfive.com: Why India Is So Close To Russia’s Navy

Washington Post: Opinion: An abrupt U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan undermines the fragile peace

Calendar

MONDAY | NOVEMBER 30

7 a.m. — NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg briefs reporters ahead of the meeting of the NATO foreign ministers, taking place via teleconference Dec. 1-2.

10:30 a.m. — Carnegie Endowment for International Peace webinar: “Taking Stock: Five Years of Russia’s Intervention in Syria,” with Jomana Qaddour, nonresident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council; Dmitri Trenin, director of the Carnegie Moscow Center; Frances Brown, senior fellow in the CEIP Democracy, Conflict, and Governance Program; and Marc Pierini, visiting scholar at Carnegie Europe. https://carnegieeurope.eu/2020/11/30/taking-stock

10:30 a.m. — Middle East Institute Defense Leadership series webinar with U.K. Maj. Gen. Kevin Copsey, deputy commander of Operation Inherent Resolve. https://www.mei.edu/events/mei-defense-leadership-series

11:30 a.m. — National Defense Industrial Association virtual Interservice, Industry, Training, Simulation and Education Conference, with Deputy Defense Undersecretary for Acquisition and Sustainment Alan Shaffer; Nazzic Keene CEO of the Science Applications International Corporation; and Army Gen. John Murray, commanding general of the Army Futures Command. https://www.viitsec.org

4 p.m. — Woodrow Wilson Center History and Public Policy Program virtual book discussion on What Remains: Bringing America’s Missing Home from the Vietnam War, focusing on advances in forensic sciences, with author Sarah Wagner, associate professor of anthropology at George Washington University. https://www.wilsoncenter.org/event

TUESDAY | DECEMBER 1

All Day — NATO foreign ministers meet for two days via secure teleconference. NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg will brief reporters both days online. https://www.nato.int

8 a.m. — Center for Strategic and International Studies webcast: “The Outlook for North Korea’s Economy Post-Pandemic,” with former CIA Senior Analyst Sue Mi Terry, senior fellow at CSIS. https://www.csis.org/events/online-event

9 a.m. — Carnegie Endowment for International Peace virtual discussion: “U.S.-China Relations Under Biden: A Lookahead,” with Paul Haenle, chair at the Carnegie-Tsinghua Center and former director for China, Taiwan and Mongolia Affairs at the National Security Council; Xie Tao, political science professor and dean of the Beijing Foreign Studies University’s School of International Relations and Diplomacy; and Evan Feigenbaum, CEIP vice president for studies. https://carnegieendowment.org

9 a.m. — United States Institute of Peace virtual discussion: “Contested Waters: Flashpoints for Conflict in Asia,” with David Michel, senior research fellow at the Center for Climate and Security; Abdul Aijaz, doctoral candidate at Indiana University Bloomington; Amit Ranjan, research fellow at the National University of Singapore Institute of South Asian Studies; Z Nang Raw, policy and strategy director at the Nyein Foundation; Jumaina Siddiqui, USIP senior program officer for South Asia; and Tegan Blaine, USIP senior adviser on environment and conflict. https://www.usip.org/events

12 p.m. — Aspen Cyber Summit will take place virtually over three days, Dec. 1-3., featuring daily keynote conversations as well as short talks and panel discussions. https://www.aspencybersummit.org

12:30 p.m. — Arms Control Association annual meeting with the theme “Arms Control, Nonproliferation and Disarmament into the Next Decade, with Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y.; and U.N. Undersecretary for Disarmament Affairs Izumi Nakamitsu. https://www.armscontrol.org

1 p.m. — U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s 2nd Annual Space Summit with Air Force Secretary Barbara Bennett and Chief of Space Operations Gen. Jay Raymond. https://www.uschamber.com/event/space-summit-launch-global-growth

1:30 p.m. Pentagon Auditorium — Defense Department holds an assistant secretaries of defense town hall briefing. Livestream at https://www.dvidshub.net/webcast/25290

2 p.m. — Intelligence National Security Alliance virtual discussion: “Future of the National Security Cyber Workforce,” with former National Security Agency Deputy Director Chris Inglis, commissioner of the Cyberspace Solarium Commission; Air Force Brig. Gen. David Gaedecke, vice commander of Air Forces Cyber; Tonya Ugoretz, deputy assistant director for FBI Cyber Readiness, Outreach and Intelligence Branch; Teresa Shea, vice president of cyber offense and defense experts at Raytheon Intelligence and Space; and retired Air Force Maj. Gen. Jim Keffer, cyber director at Lockheed Martin Government Affairs. https://www.insaonline.org/event

3 p.m. — Atlantic Council webinar on a new report, “The Five Revolutions: Examining Defense Innovation in the Indo-Pacific Region,” with former Joint Chiefs Vice Chairman Gen. James Cartwright, board director of the Atlantic Council; Alan Pellegrini, CEO of Thales North America; Jon Grevatt, associate director of Janes; Rukmani Gupta, senior military capabilities analyst at Janes; and Tate Nurkin, nonresident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council. https://www.atlanticcouncil.org/event

4 p.m. — Air Force Association “Airmen in the Fight,” webinar with Lt. Gen. Kevin Schneider, commander of U.S. Forces Japan and Fifth Air Force, as part of the Airmen in the Fight series. https://www.afa.org/events/airmen-in-the-fight

WEDNESDAY | DECEMBER 2

8 a.m. — Atlantic Council virtual forum with current and former U.S. and South Korean officials on “issues facing the bilateral security alliance and economic partnership,” with Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Korea and Japan Marc Knapper. https://www.atlanticcouncil.org/event

9:15 a.m. G50, Dirksen — Senate Armed Services Subcommittee on Readiness and Management Support hearing on Navy and Marine Corps readiness, with Navy Secretary Kenneth Braithwaite, Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Michael Gilday, and Marine Corps Commandant Gen. David Berger. https://www.armed-services.senate.gov/hearings

10:30 a.m. — George Washington University Project for Media and National Security Defense Writers Group conversation with Adm. Craig Faller, commander, U.S. Southern Command. https://nationalsecuritymedia.gwu.edu

11 a.m. — Brookings Institution webcast: “A conversation with Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley.” https://www.brookings.edu/events

12 p.m. — Association of the U.S. Army “Noon Report” webinar on Army National Guard operations, with Command Sgt. Maj. John Sampa, the senior enlisted leader of the Army National Guard. https://info.ausa.org

THURSDAY | DECEMBER 3

12 p.m. — Hudson Institute virtual discussion: “Competing with Great Powers at the ‘Speed of Relevance,” with Ellen Lord, defense undersecretary for acquisition and sustainment. https://www.hudson.org/events

12 p.m. — R Street Institute and National Taxpayers Union webinar “Pentagon Purse Strings Episode 1: What is a Contingency? Exploring the OCO Account and Reform in the 117th Congress,” with Rep. Ralph Norman, R-S.C.; Andrew Lautz, National Taxpayers Union, Jonathan Bydlak, R Street Institute; and Wendy Jordan, senior policy analyst, Taxpayers for Common Sense. https://www.rstreet.org/event

1 p.m. Rayburn 2118 & Cisco Webex — House Armed Services Subcommittee on Readiness hearing: “Review of the Findings and Recommendations of the National Commission on Military Aviation Safety,” with retired Army Gen. Richard Cody, chairman, National Commission on Military Aviation Safety; and Richard Healing, vice chairman, National Commission on Military Aviation Safety. https://armedservices.house.gov/hearings

2 p.m. — Brookings Institution webcast: “The Future of U.S. Alliances in the Indo-Pacific,” with Sen. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill. https://www.brookings.edu/events

5 p.m. — National Security Institute at George Mason University “NatSec Nightcap” conversation: “Advancing Diplomacy Aboard, a Deep Dive into U.S. Foreign Policy,” with Elliott Abrams, special representative for Iran and Venezuela; and Jamil Jaffer, founder and executive director, National Security Institute. https://nationalsecurity.gmu.edu/natsec-nightcap

FRIDAY | DECEMBER 4

9 a.m. — Center for Strategic and International Studies webcast with former CIA Director John Brennan on the top national security priorities for a new Biden administration. https://www.csis.org/events/online

1:30 p.m. — Center for Strategic and International Studies webcast: “Reflecting America’s Diversity in its Military,” with Army Maj. Gen. Tammy Smith; retired Marine Corps Maj. Gen. Charles Bolden, former NASA administrator; and Alice Hunt Friend, senior fellow in the CSIS International Security Program. https://www.csis.org/events

3 p.m. — Woodrow Wilson Center Kissinger Institute on China and the United States virtual book discussion on “Where Great Powers Meet,” focusing on the rivalry between the United States and China in Southeast Asia, with author David Shambaugh, director of the George Washington University China Policy Program; Robert Daly, director of the Kissinger Institute; and J. Stapleton Roy, director emeritus of the Kissinger Institute. https://www.wilsoncenter.org/event

3 p.m. — Hudson Institute webinar: “Diplomacy, Deterrence, and Disruption: Navigating North Korea Policy in 2021,” with Jihwan Hwang, associate professor at the University of Seoul; Andrea Mihailescu, fellow in residence at Pepperdine University; Won Gon Park, professor of international studies at Handong Global University; Brad Roberts, director of the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory’s Center for Global Security Research; and Patrick Cronin, senior fellow at Hudson. https://www.hudson.org/events

 

QUOTE OF THE DAY

Chris Krebs, fired director of the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, on CBS’s 60 Minutes.


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