WHILE THE PRESIDENT HUDDLED WITH MILITARY COMMANDERS, PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATES DEBATED IN AFGHANISTAN: President Barack Obama met with military leaders at the White House yesterday to discuss options going forward given that Afghan President Hamid Karzai is still refusing to sign the bilateral security agreement. The group included Marine Gen. Joe Dunford, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey.
According to Reuters, “No decisions on troop levels were made at the meeting.”http://reut.rs/1fPv2SK
-- THREE OF FIVE CANDIDATES SAY THEY’LL SIGN THE BSA, via The Wall Street Journal’s Nathan Hodge: “In Tuesday night's debate, three of the candidates closest to [Karzai]—former Finance Minister Ashraf Ghani, former Foreign Minister Zalmai Rassoul and Qayum Karzai, the president's brother — all said they would back the security deal.”http://on.wsj.com/1nReDSe
-- CORDESMAN WEIGHS IN … AND HE DOESN’T MINCE WORDS: CSIS’ Anthony Cordesman delivered a damning critique of the Obama administration’s Afghan strategy (or lack thereof) just in time for the White House’s powwow with DoD leaders yesterday.
“The United States needs to address the war in far more depth, with far more honesty and transparency and make hard decisions about the cost-benefits of staying in Afghanistan,” Cordesman writes. “It is all too clear that Afghanistan now has marginal strategic interest to the United States.” http://goo.gl/8bvpOF
THE NAVY HAS ITS OWN CHEATING SCANDAL, via POLITICO’s Philip Ewing: “The Navy has suspended 30 nuclear reactor instructors at a training center amid allegations they shared answers on an exam, top leaders said Tuesday.
“Commanders have shut down the Navy’s nuclear training reactors in Charleston, S.C., and are investigating the alleged cheating in a new scandal apparently unconnected to the one that has embarrassed the Air Force’s nuclear missile units.” http://politi.co/1eouvsP
-- WHY SO MUCH CHEATING NOW? At yesterday’s press briefing with Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Jonathan Greenert and Adm. John Richardson, the powerful director of naval reactors, The New York Times’ Thom Shanker said, “Rightly or wrongly, I think the general public, the taxpayer sees a contingent of cheating across the military. So what is happening now? Is it the OPTEMPO since 9/11? It's been going on for a long time, but nobody caught it? Are these just one-off and inexplicable? Why, Admiral, is this happening now?”
Greenert’s answer: “Thom, if I knew that answer, I would be doing all kind of things within the Navy.”
NEXT FEW MONTHS CRITICAL FOR VA BACKLOG, via POLITICO’s Juana Summers:“Veterans still face significant delays on their disability claims that sometimes total hundreds of days at the Department of Veterans Affairs, an agency that long has struggled to upgrade for the 21st century.
“Leading members of Congress are casting a skeptical eye at the VA — and some have huddled with tech leaders like IBM, Oracle and the Information Technology Industry Council, which represents top Silicon Valley brands. They’re seeking new legislation — and new industry input — that might address the most serious technological kinks in the process.”http://tinyurl.com/nlp2d4k
NEW WEB SITE SHOULD HELP VETS CALCULATE COSTS: The VA and several other agencies have launched a new website designed to help veterans calculate how far their Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits will go towards paying for college. http://goo.gl/6wSzd3
IT’S WEDNESDAY and already your Morning Defense correspondent is looking forward to Friday night’s Winter Olympics Opening Ceremony in Sochi, Russia. Meanwhile, Morning D is always on the lookout for tips, please send them along with any feedback, email@example.com and follow on Twitter at @k8brannen, @morningdefense and@PoliticoPro.
**A message from POWERJobs: Jobs on our radar this week: Administrative Analyst at SAIC,Cyber Security Analyst at Deloitte, and Federal Strategy Manager at Accenture. Interested? Apply to these jobs and more at www.POWERJobs.com; finally, a career site made for YOU!**
SPEAKING OF SOCHI, HOW ABOUT THOSE HOTELS?! Journalists from around the world are checking into their hotels in Sochi only to find the beds not made … like they’re still in the box. Check out The Washington Post’s compilation of their hilarious tweets.http://wapo.st/1e1kNGA
In other Sochi news, top U.S. intel officials told Congress yesterday that cooperation with the Russians has improved, and they’re tracking “a number of specific threats,” aimed at the Olympics, reports AP’s Kimberly Dozier. http://abcn.ws/1n9mnvy
And yesterday, top advisers briefed the president on the latest security concerns, reports USA Today’s Aamer Madhani. http://usat.ly/1fO6pWH
WORK NOMINATION IN THE WORKS: If you’re a betting person, place your money on Robert Work, former undersecretary of the Navy, as the next deputy defense secretary. Sources say the president could nominate him sometime this week.
“Work’s nomination is in the ‘any-day-now’ category,” one defense source told Morning D.
The former Marine is currently serving as the CEO of the Center for a New American Security.http://goo.gl/bJ42eu
IN NON-DEFENSE, BUT IMPORTANT AND RELEVANT NEWS — HOUSE GOP DIVIDED ON THE DEBT CEILING: “After several days of talks with their members, House Republican leaders have not been able to identify a debt ceiling package that could pass with only GOP support, according to multiple senior aides. In fact, they’re nowhere close,” report POLITICO’s Jake Sherman and John Bresnahan. http://politi.co/1fsHLZY
QUOTE OF THE DAY? “I don't think any of you are war mongers,” Wendy Sherman, undersecretary of state for political affairs, told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee at a hearing yesterday on Iran’s nuclear program.
-- RUNNER-UP? “I am going to fight to the death to protect the F-35 because I truly believe the only way we will make it through the next decade is with a sufficient fleet of F-35s,” Gen. Michael Hostage, head of the Air Force’s Air Combat Command, tells Defense News’ Aaron Mehta.http://goo.gl/bveFGk
Uhh, let’s hope it doesn’t come to that.
-- NEXT RUNNER-UP: “I told them, ‘We have to catch the first peckerwoods who get out here and mess this thing up. And, we have to prosecute them quickly,’” said retired Lt. Gen. Clyde Vaughn at a Senate hearing yesterday on a massive Army fraud case that’s cost the service millions of dollars. Foreign Policy’s Dan LaMothe with more: http://atfp.co/1ftb66q
HASC’S ROB ANDREWS ANNOUNCES RESIGNATION: “Representative Rob Andrews, a longtime Democrat representing South Jersey, announced Tuesday that he is resigning his seat to join a prominent Philadelphia law firm,” reports The New York Times’ Jason Horowitz.http://nyti.ms/1k8whRb
Rep. Adam Smith, the top Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee, says Andrews has a “depth of knowledge” on defense issues that’ll be missed when he resigns later this month.
-- WHILE HE WILL BE MISSED ON HASC, ANDREWS HAD A TERRIBLE BATTING AVERAGE:Of the 646 pieces of legislation that he proposed during his 23 years in Congress, none became law.
“Even in Congress, where the vast majority of bills fail, that is an unusually awful batting average,” writes The Washington Post’s David A. Fahrenthold. http://wapo.st/LMOpBJ
TWO KEY AMBASSADORS ARE STEPPING DOWN: Robert Ford, the top U.S. diplomat on Syria, is planning to retire by the end of the month, The AP reported yesterday.http://wapo.st/LvKkRs
And Michael McFaul, the U.S. ambassador to Russia, will also be leaving at the end of the month, reports POLITICO’s Andrea Drusch. http://politi.co/1ikGUMX
SASC MOVES MARKUP OF MILITARY PENSION BILL TO MONDAY NIGHT: The Senate Armed Services Committee is now going to mark up a bill that would restore the cuts to pensions for working- age military retirees on Monday night, instead of Thursday.
The proposal being considered by the committee — sponsored by Sens. Mark Pryor of Arkansas and Kay Hagan of North Carolina — would repeal the cuts without offsetting the additional spending with savings elsewhere.
Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin has said the pay-for debate can take place when the full Senate takes up the bill.
-- Four bombs hit central Baghdad today, killing at least 17 people. AP: http://nyti.ms/N13cK3
-- The U.S. has curtailed drone strikes in Pakistan while the Pakistani government pursues peace talks with the Taliban. The Washington Post: http://wapo.st/1gKVQXQ
-- The president of the Philippines asked for more help yesterday in resisting China’s claims in the South China Sea. The New York Times: http://nyti.ms/1k9WHlx
-- The Army National Guard could be given a larger cyber role in the 2015 budget. Breaking Defense: http://goo.gl/6bmI0I
-- An analysis of top defense contractors shows the amount a firm spends on lobbying “correlates roughly” with the money it brings in from contracts. The Washington Post:http://wapo.st/1b0IGUv
-- Director of National Intelligence James Clapper says the Assad regime in Syria is stronger than it was when it signed the chemical weapons agreement last year. Defense News:http://goo.gl/TJvoBv
-- At least 50 Americans have reportedly joined extremist opposition groups in Syria, and some pose terror threats to the U.S. http://lat.ms/Lx2138
-- Top Obama administration officials on Iran say the nuclear deal is not perfect, but is a necessary first step toward a comprehensive agreement. CNN: http://cnn.it/1n9q3xx
-- At the same hearing, Sen. Jim Risch (R-Idaho) calls the Iran nuclear deal a “disaster” and “absolute nonsense.” The Washington Post: http://wapo.st/1eSldQI