The D Brief: Pentagon open to greater troop role; Remembering David Abshire; Matt Spence leaving the Pentagon; Who’s going to the “Davos of Defense”?; Clapper gets a standing ovation; And a bit more.

By Gordon Lubold with Ben Watson

Amid talk that the White House is considering revising its war strategy, the Pentagon is socializing the idea of a larger role for troops. President Obama has repeatedly vowed not to deploy “combat boots on the ground” in Iraq even as many inside the Pentagon and outside it fear that that is too limiting – military planners always want options, and Obama’s pronouncements have hemmed in the strategy. Now a more expansive role for American troops – even if they themselves aren’t in combat – is now publicly under consideration, particularly in the context of re-taking Iraq’s northern city of Mosul from the Islamic State.

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Marty Dempsey at a hearing yesterday: “…“I’m not predicting at this point that I would recommend that those forces in Mosul and along the border would need to be accompanied by U.S. forces, but we’re certainly considering it.”

Dempsey and others are not considering a big build-up a la 2003. But if the Iraqis are to take the fight to the Islamic State, the thinking is that American forces may not remain effective training at the “brigade level” – and not anywhere near the real fight.

The Iraqi forces have made some progress and Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi has fired a number of commanders, helping cleanse the force of politically motivated leaders.  AFP’s Dan De Luce on yesterday’s House hearing with Chuck Hagel and Dempsey: “…Hagel expressed cautious optimism Thursday that a shake-up of the Iraqi army would boost morale and attract Sunnis to the fight against Islamic State jihadists, amid a renewed US effort to train the security forces… But Hagel faced skeptical US lawmakers who voiced doubts whether the Iraqi troops were up to the task of rolling back the IS militants, after Washington's previous attempt to train the army over the past decade ended in failure… Once the Iraqi army was bolstered, the US-led air war would escalate, he said…” More here.

Republican Buck McKeon, the outgoing HASC Chairman from California: “My fundamental question is how can you successfully execute the mission you’ve been given to degrade and ultimately destroy ISIL when some of your best options are taken off the table.”

And there’s this: Baghdad and the Kurds reach a deal on oil. The WSJ, here.

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Ponder this: At roughly $180 million a pop, Defense One’s Patrick Tucker offers up five investments with promising returns for America’s national security in the place of just one F-35 Joint Strike Fighter jet.

Taking away the A-10 would be “a gift to America’s enemies,” Senate Republicans said Thursday. Martin Kuz for Stars and Stripes: “’I tell you who would like to retire the A-10: the enemies of this nation,’ said Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., during a Capitol Hill press conference that included Sens. John McCain and Kelly Ayotte… But while the House passed a defense authorization bill months ago that would maintain funding levels for the jet, the measure remains mired in the Senate.”

Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh, in a statement on why the Air Force has taken the position it has on retiring the A-10: “…Our nation demands capabilities from its Air Force across the full spectrum of conflict.  A thorough operational analysis made it very clear that divesting the A-10 was the best of several extremely painful options. There are no more easy choices. To be successful in the future, the Air Force must reshape itself within our new budgetary guidelines. This is an important step in that direction.”

More on that tussle with the Air Force that just won’t die, here.

In Defense One: Yemen is hardly the counterterrorism success story Obama touted it as in his September anti-ISIS strategy, warns European Council on Foreign Relations visiting fellow Adam Baron in this backgrounder here at Defense One: “Across political lines, many Yemenis have been frustrated by what they see as the U.S. intervening in Yemen’s affairs; even many of those who agree with the sanctions against Saleh have raised questions regarding their timing, with the sanctions coming as the government’s grip on the country—or for that matter, the capital—was as fragile as ever…”

For D Brief eyes only: Matt Spence is leaving the Pentagon early next year. Spence, the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for the Middle East, informed his staff yesterday that he’ll be soon leaving the Pentagon, marking six years working for the Obama Administration – since Inauguration Day! Spence arrived at the Pentagon three years ago after serving in various jobs at the White House.

At the Pentagon, Spence was considered to be a trusted adviser to both Leon Panetta and Chuck Hagel. “He’s been particularly effective at forging strong and effective relationships with senior military leaders and has been a sharp negotiator enhancing US defense relationships in the Gulf,” a senior defense official told us. Spence is said to have played a key role in negotiating the spring 2013 weapons agreement with Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Israel, and considered a big force in the Department’s efforts to work more closely with Gulf allies, especially in the fight against the Islamic State. “Quietly, Matt has played a central role in the Department's planning and contributions to the U.S. strategy toward Iran, and strengthening the U.S.-Israel defense relationship,” the senior defense official told The D Brief. We’ll know more in coming weeks about what Spence will be doing when he leaves the Pentagon.

America’s reliance on Russia to provide rockets for its fledgling space program needs to come to a blinding, screeching halt, says Marine Corps veteran and California Rep. Duncan Hunter writing in Defense One: “If there was ever a time to end our financial support of Russia’s rocket industry, it’s now. The U.S. already has real alternatives in place. And given Russia’s threats to stop delivery of the engines, the U.S.-Russia joint space-lift venture must not drag on any longer…”

This morning, Chuck Hagel will announce what’s being touted as a “comprehensive action plan” to reform the nuclear enterprise. Based on the results of two reviews that he ordered last February after a series of incidents emerged, to include a cheating scandal, to plague nuclear personnel.  Hagel will conduct a presser this morning and then head to Andrews Air Force Base where he will board a jet to fly to Minot Air Force Base in North Dakota. That’s where two legs of the triad are found – both Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles and bombers are found. He’ll “discuss the way ahead” with the men and women of the nuclear force there. A senior defense official tells us: “While our nuclear arsenal remains safe, secure, and effective today, the reports tell us we must take action now in order to ensure that remains the case in the future.”

Stroking a big check: Hagel will say that the Pentagon will have to spend billions of dollars over the next five years to fix the Defense Department’s nuclear enterprise. Based on the reviews of nuclear issues that Hagel will preview this morning, “The reports are a searing indictment of how the Air Force’s and Navy’s aging nuclear weapons facilities, silos and submarine fleet have been allowed to decay since the end of the Cold War. A broad review was begun after academic cheating scandals and the dismissal of top officers for misbehavior, but it uncovered far more serious problems,” writes the NYT’s David Sanger and William Broad. There’s more of a preview of what Hagel will announce this morning, here.

Apropos of nothing: our favorite headline today is the WSJ’s A-Hed: “Did You Hear the One About the Rabbi Who Carries a Big Schtick?” A shtickle of humor: Watch Watley on Seinfeld and why he converts to Judaism for the jokes, here.

Jim Clapper got a standing ovation last night. From Defense One’s own Patrick Tucker (“PT!”) who attended last night’s Intelligence and National Security Alliance Achievement Awards dinner at the Mandarin Oriental: Clapper, the Director of National Intelligence, talked about his recent trip to North Korea to bring back the two Americans who had been sentenced to hard labor. When Clapper stood at the INSA dinner last night, he got a standing ovation.

Clapper at INSA last night, on his trip to North Korea: "We was gratifying and emotional for me. No other country would go to the lengths we go to take care of our people… [There was] “no guarantee we would get them.” [In one sense,] “I was the hood ornament for an effort that a lot of people worked hard on." Clapper then gave a shout out to Amb. Joseph DeTrani, the head of INSA, as "one of the early builders.." of the effort.

The VA is still in the process of turning around its troubled Titanic, after it fired its Pittsburg hospital director—Josh Hicks for WaPo, here—and VASec Bob McDonald deflected heat rounds from House lawmakers on Capitol Hill yesterday—Leo Shane III for Military Times, over here.

Chuck Hagel is wheels up this morning for Minot, North Dakota, to visit the Air Force base there and talk nuke reform - then to the Reagan Defense Forum in Simi Valley. He’ll make a couple other stops on this five day domestic trip, returning Tuesday. This is the trip that was put together after Hagel cancelled (correction: postponed!) the trip to Vietnam that had been scheduled for this period.

Staffers on a plane –  Chief of Staff Rexon Ryu, Senior Military Assistant Lt. Gen. Abe Abrams, Special Assistant for Personnel and Readiness Stephanie Miller, Special Assistant to the Chief of Staff Col. David Morris, Junior Military Assistant Lt. Col. David Everly, Air Force Secretary Debbie James, Special Assistant to the SecAf Wayne Montieth, Director of Travel Ops J.P. Eby, Military Assistant and Trip Coordinator Lt. Col. Scott O’Neal, Director of Personal Security Dave Plell, Director of Comms, Robert Carmona, Pentagon Press Secretary Rear Adm. John Kirby, Aide to the Press Secretary Lt. Megan Isaac, Speechwriter Aaron Sherman, Photographer MC2 Sean Hurt, Defense Media Activity for social media Sgt. Cassandra Flowers.

Reporters on a plane – AP’s Bob Burns, Reuters’ David Alexander, CBS’ Cami McCormick, Military Times’ Andrew Tilghman, Stripes’ Harper, LAT’s W.J. Hennigan, VOA’s Carla Babb.

Who's doing what today? State's Brett McGurk and special envoy to the global coalition against the Islamic State John Allen are both in the UAE today for the Sir Bani Yas Forum, “an annual high-level gathering for world leaders and thinkers to discuss critical issues of peace and security."

Today, Sam Nunn eulogizes David Abshire, the father of a hundred careers and co-founder of CSIS, but best known for his role in helping Ronald Reagan sort through the Iran-Contra mess. A memorial for Abshire, who died a week ago, will be held today and former Sen. Sam Nunn will help remember Abshire.

Here’s part of what Nunn will say today: “…From Chattanooga to West Point – from Korea to NATO Europe – from Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty to the tearing down of the Berlin Wall – from CSIS to the White House – to the Center for the Study of the Presidency – this family man – military man – diplomat – historian – public servant – author – patriot – and creator of enduring institutions – was a magnet for brilliant minds and strategic thinking.

And here’s Nunn’s kicker: “…Bit by bit – David Abshire developed habits of discipline – self-sacrifice duty – honor and integrity – which prepared him for a lifetime of remarkable leadership.  In doing so, he became an American hero, and made an indelible imprint on our nation. May the heavenly hosts enjoy our friend David as much as we have. If they are not thinking strategically – they soon will be.”

Remembering Iran Contra and Abshire’s life – in the NYT this week, here.

Speaking of Reagan: Tomorrow in Simi Valley, California at the Reagan Library, it’s the second annual “Davos for Defense.” It’s a veritable who’s who of folks, from both parties, from government, the private sector, the press and everywhere in between, all talking defense issues for the “Reagan National Defense Forum: Building Peace Through Strength for American Security.” The one-day affair will draw about 600 people, from junior military officers to folks from industry, we’re told by Roger Zakheim, who sits on the executive committee of the Forum, now in its second year. “We view it as the Davos for Defense,” he told The D Brief, referring to the renowned World Economic Forum. The Reagan forum this year is designed to look at defense and national security issues from a variety of prisms – from the White House to Congress to Wall Street.

Other panels look at heroism on the battlefield, or what the Pentagon can do to “roll back the red tape.” There are other panels on cyber-security and the industrial base.

Zakheim to the D Brief: “The Forum is unique in that it convenes all the stakeholders of the defense community outside of DC to take stock of the state of our national defense. It allows for conversation -- formal and informal -- between political parties and between branches of government. Following the legacy of Reagan the Forum strives to promote policies that strengthen our national defense."

Who will be at the Reagan National Defense Forum you ask? Hossein Amir-Aslani, Julian Barnes, Tom Bevan, Marsha Blackburn, Roy Blunt, Denis Bovin, Susan Brooks, William Brown, Wes Bush, Ken Calvert, Doug Cameron, Joaquin Castro, Eric Cantor, Chris Davenport, Joe Dunford, Eric Edelman, Francis Finelli, Michele Flournoy, Randy Forbes, Bob Gates, Salvatore Giunta, John Goodman, Jon Greenert, Jennifer Griffin, Steve Hadley, Chuck Hagel, Vicky Hartzler, Pete Hegseth, Paul Hester, Marilyn Hewson, Debbie James, Jeh Johnson, Tomas Kennedy, William LaPlante, Bill Lnn, John McCain, Buck McKeon, Kelly O’Donnell, Leon Panetta, Stephen Perry, Mike Peters, David Perkins, Arnold Punaro, Mike Rogers, Thom Shanker, Gwynne Shotwell, Barbara Starr, David Strauss, Jim talent, Mac Thornberry, Mike Vickers, Brad Wenstrup, Sandy Winnefeld, Dov Zakheim. The list here; the main page for the forum, including the agenda, here.