What a Biden win would mean for the Pentagon
By Jamie McIntyre
IT AIN’T OVER: In the 24 hours since President Trump gave his premature declaration of victory, the dynamics of the 2020 presidential election have shifted dramatically in favor of Joe Biden, but the contest is not yet over.
While Biden is close to reaching the threshold of 270 electoral votes that would give him the presidency, it’s a precarious path that requires everything to break in his favor over the next 24 hours.
The key states as of this morning are Nevada, where Biden has a 7,600 vote lead, and Arizona, where Biden is ahead by 68,000 votes. Those two states, plus the states called for Biden yesterday, including Wisconsin and Michigan, would give Biden exactly 270, the magic number in the Electoral College.
If Trump can come from behind in either state, Biden would be in trouble, and the latest returns from Arizona show Trump votes splitting with the percentage he would need to overtake Biden and win Arizona. An update from Arizona’s Maricopa
GEORGIA ON THEIR MINDS: Biden’s second path to victory runs through Georgia, specifically the cities of Atlanta, Macon, Albany, and Savannah, heavily Democratic areas where votes tallied over the last 24 hours have whittled Trump’s lead from nearly 400,000 votes to 23,000 with 90,000 votes still to be counted.
Georgia’s 16 electoral votes, along with Nevada’s 6, would give Biden the win, even if he were to lose Arizona’s 11 electoral votes.
“It’s clear that we’re winning enough states to reach 270 electoral votes needed to win the presidency,” Biden said yesterday afternoon. “I’m not here to declare that we’ve won, but I am here to report when the count is finished, we believe we will be the winners.”
TRUMP’S MULTIFRONT LEGAL CHALLENGE: President Trump is launching an all-fronts, multistate legal challenge to the returns, aware that reversing the outcome in a single state could doom Biden’s chances.
The Trump campaign is filing lawsuits challenging the counting of mail-in ballots in Michigan, signature matching software in Nevada, and late votes in Georgia, and is requesting a recount in Wisconsin, where Biden won the final count by just 20,500 votes. In addition, the campaign is again appealing to the Supreme Court to invalidate Pennsylvania’s three-day extension for mail-in votes. Trump still leads in Pennsylvania by 164,000 votes, but as with Georgia, his lead is dwindling.
“This is a fraud on the American public. This is an embarrassment to our country. We were getting ready to win this election. Frankly, we did win this election. We did win this election. So our goal now is to ensure the integrity for the good of this nation,” Trump said in the early hours of yesterday morning. “We want the law to be used in a proper manner. So we’ll be going to the U.S. Supreme Court. We want all voting to stop. We don’t want them to find any ballots at four o’clock in the morning and add them to the list.”
WHAT’S AHEAD: Nevada, which doesn’t release partial returns of absentee ballots, is due to release its vote count today, which will give a much better idea if Biden’s small lead there is solid. And Georgia will update its vote tally midmorning, which will give a clearer indication of whether Biden’s chances of overtaking Trump’s dwindling lead there are realistic or a long shot.
If Nevada, Arizona, or possibly Georgia are called for Biden, he will be declared the winner by news organizations, but the vote does not become official until certified, which takes weeks and will be subject to legal challenges.
A BIDEN WIN WOULD RESHAPE THE PENTAGON: Should Biden prevail, his first order of business, even before he’s sworn in, would be to pick a new defense secretary. When Barack Obama was elected in 2008, he asked George W. Bush’s defense secretary Robert Gates to stay on, but the days of that kind of bipartisanship are long gone.
The rumored favorite is Michele Flournoy, who served as undersecretary of defense for policy from 2009 to 2012 and was said to be former Defense Secretary Jim Mattis’s pick to serve as his deputy.
Typically presidents-elect nominate secretaries of defense and state in time for early January confirmation hearings, so they can be in place on the first day of the new administration.
MORE DIVERSITY: If picked, Flournoy would be the first woman defense secretary and would be in a vanguard of Biden’s goal of bringing more diversity to his Cabinet. Trump’s Cabinet was majority white and male, but his Pentagon picks included high profile women, including both of his Air Force secretaries, Heather Wilson and Barbara Barrett.
Trump also appointed the first black officer to lead a military service, Air Force Chief of Staff Charles Q. Brown. The only other black member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff was Army Gen. Colin Powell, also appointed under a Republican administration by President George H.W. Bush.
TRANSGENDER SERVICE: One of the first things Biden can do, with simply an executive order, is reverse Trump’s restrictions on service by transgender troops, who currently can serve only in their birth gender unless grandfathered in under the Obama policy which allow them to serve openly. With a stroke of the pen, Biden could restore the previous policy.
PENTAGON BUDGETS: Even under Trump’s aggressive push to rebuild the U.S. military, budget pressures, including mounting deficits caused by the coronavirus pandemic, were expected to keep defense spending flat for the next few years.
Biden will be under pressure by progressives, such as Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, to cut the $740 billion Pentagon budget to address domestic priorities. The progressive wing believes they set aside their significant differences with Biden to help push him over the top, and they expect to be rewarded in return.
But with the GOP clinging to control of the Senate, Republicans and pro-defense Democrats will likely prevent the 10% to 20% cut pushed by progressives.
THE SASC STAYS BASICALLY THE SAME: With Gary Peters holding on to defeat John James in Michigan (a race Trump also claims was stolen), Republicans will have a one-vote majority in the Senate. Democrats will have 47 seats, plus two independents, Vermont’s Sanders and Maine’s Angus King.
Of the 11 of the 27 members of the Senate Armed Services Committee who were up for reelection, at least eight won their respective races, including easy victories by Chairman Jim Inhofe of Oklahoma and ranking Democrat Jack Reed of Rhode Island.
Martha McSally was defeated by Democrat and former NASA astronaut Mark Kelly in Arizona, Democrat Doug Jones lost to former college football coach Tommy Tuberville in Alabama, and Republican Thom Tillis is locked in a race with Democratic challenger Cal Cunningham in a tight race that might not be called until next week, since mail-in ballots accepted until Nov. 12 so long as they are postmarked by Election Day.
Were Cunningham to win, that could tip the balance in the Senate and make Jack Reed the SASC chairman.
NO FIRST USE? In one of the last speeches, Joe Biden gave as vice president in 2017, he advocated a fundamental change in U.S. nuclear deterrence policy: a public declaration that America would never be the first to use nuclear weapons in a future conflict.
“President Obama and I are confident we can deter and defend ourselves and our allies against nonnuclear threats through other means,” Biden argued. “Deterring, and, if necessary, retaliating against a nuclear attack should be the sole purpose of the U.S. nuclear arsenal,” he said.
The issue never came up in the campaign, and it’s not clear if Biden still holds that view, which has been opposed by every recent commander of America’s nuclear arsenal.
RE-ENTERING THE IRAN DEAL: “Last week, Reuters reported that, should Joe Biden win the presidency in 2020, he would be willing to either re-enter the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) — the Iran nuclear deal — or renegotiate a conciliatory deal with Tehran in a fashion similar to the negotiations that wrought the JCPOA,” writes Erielle Davidson, a senior policy analyst for JINSA, the Jewish Institute for National Security of America.
“Fundamentally, an end to the maximum pressure campaign and reentry into a JCPOA-like mechanism would signal a softening on Iran that would only distance our friends in the region,” argues Davidson. “Whoever is president will likely try to get a new deal with Iran, and thus, it is imperative that neither Trump nor Biden look to the JCPOA for any guidance.”
TALIBAN ATTACKS UP 50%: The Office of the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, aka SIGAR, is out with its latest quarterly report to Congress, and it documents how the Taliban are violating their Feb. 29 agreement with the U.S. to reduce the level of violence in return for the withdrawal of American forces.
The Pentagon has told the internal watchdog that if Taliban violence continues at its “unacceptably high” rate, “it could undermine the agreement.”
“Average daily enemy-initiated attacks in Afghanistan were 50% higher this quarter (July–September) than last quarter (April–June),” says the report, noting that “Overall enemy-initiated attacks this quarter were also characterized as ‘above seasonal norms’ by U.S. Forces-Afghanistan.”
“The Taliban have been scrupulous about not attacking United States or our coalition partners,” said U.S. Central Commander Marine Gen. Frank McKenzie in June. “They have, however, continued to aggressively operate against the Afghan military forces and Afghan security forces,” he said.
Asked by SIGAR investigators if there have been any confirmed or suspected Taliban attacks on U.S. personnel or facilities since the beginning of the Afghan peace negotiations, and whether any attacks were in violation of the Feb. 29 agreement, “The question drew a classified response,” the report said.
NO FANS AT THE ARMY-NAVY GAME: The biggest military match-up of the year, the annual Army-Navy game, has been moved to West Point because of COVID restrictions, and attendees will be limited to Corps of Cadets and Brigade of Midshipmen. But you can watch the game on CBS Dec. 12 at 3 p.m.
Originally published in Washington Examiner