Change a-coming for the COCOMs; Obama’s 8-minute war speech; 34 Islamic nations join against ISIS; Russian battlebots, on the way; and more.

The Pentagon isn’t organized to take on globe-spanning threats, says Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Joseph Dunford. The 30-year-old system that divided the world among 4-star combatant commanders can’t handle transregional challenges like ISIS, Dunford said yesterday at a national security forum co-hosted by the Center for a New American Security and Defense One. The chairman’s words are sure to feed the nascent debate over changes and updates to the Goldwater-Nichols Act, the three-decade-old legislation that created the cocom system and forged modern jointness. His recommendation comes as the Pentagon conducts a review of the 1986 act and as Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., has been holding a series of hearings that are looking at ways to modify the law. Marcus Weisgerber and Bradley Peniston have that, plus a few more bombs from Dunford, here.

President Barack Obama devoted eight minutes during his rare visit to the Pentagon Monday to consoling the U.S. public that the war against the Islamic State is actually going pretty swell. The president is working against some sharp currents stateside as terrorism and national security have eclipsed the economy as the top concern for U.S. voters (more on that below).

The intensification of the White House’s counter-ISIS effort—which Obama said was in the cards well before the Paris and San Bernardino attacks—includes “more firepower and special operations forces, [and both] are well underway…The Special Forces that I ordered to Syria have begun supporting the local forces; they pushed south, cut off supply lines, and tightened the squeeze on Raqqa,” he said.

But as Defense One’s Kevin Baron writes, “Obama’s recap offered little new information to close observers of the war effort,” and seemed rather to be a deliberate effort “to create a visual turning point: Obama at the seat of the American military, pushing back on critics and reassuring U.S. troops and the public about his administration’s vigorous efforts to counter ISIS.”

Obama said he’s also sending Defense Secretary Ash Carter to the Middle East to help secure additional support from local governments, though he stopped short of saying whether that message would include requests for more ground troops. (For what it’s worth: Carter’s trip is a pre-planned holiday visit to deployed troops.) Read the rest, here.

Here’s the take from Defense One’s Gayle Tzemach Lemmon: “It is a rhetorical challenge to make “more of the same” a compelling message, even for an oratorically gifted president. But that’s exactly what the president tried to do when he headed to the Pentagon Monday morning.” His main task: convince the American people that “staying the course” is the same as “degrading and destroying” ISIS. That, here.

Today, Secretary of State John Kerry is scheduled to discuss the ISIS campaign and a way ahead for peace talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow.

Saudi Arabia just announced a 34-nation Islamic military coalition to fight terrorism. “A long list of Arab countries such as Egypt, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, together with Islamic countries Turkey, Malaysia, Pakistan and Gulf Arab and African states were mentioned,” Reuters reports.

The notable exception: “Shi’ite Muslim Iran, Sunni Saudi Arabia’s arch rival for influence in the Arab world, was absent from the states named as participants, as proxy conflicts between the two regional powers rage from Syria to Yemen.” Also absent: Saudi’s neighbor, Oman.

However, notes Associated Press: “It was not immediately clear what kind of military setup it would have and what its rules of engagement would involve.”

And the Saudis now say a cease-fire has been implemented in Yemen. No word yet from the Houthi rebels on their plans to abide by the agreement. On Monday a rocket attack from Houthis marked the bloodiest day for the Saudi-led coalition since September.

Bergdahl to face court-martial over desertion charges. The U.S. Army four-star in charges of Forces Command, Gen. Robert Abrams, overturned the advice of a preliminary hearing officer and ordered Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl to face a full rather than “special” court-martial over the circumstances surrounding his disappearance and capture by the Taliban more than six years ago in Afghanistan. Bergdahl could face as much as life in prison for the charges, which also include “misbehavior before the enemy.” Army Times has more, here.  


From Defense One

Did you miss it? DepSecDef Bob Work, CJCS Gen. Joe Dunford, and others made plenty of news at the first Center for New American Security/Defense One National Security Forum? Catch up with the video, here.

The Pentagon is rushing to keep up with Russian and Chinese efforts to develop highly autonomous robots — in Russia’s case, ones capable of independently carrying out military operations, deputy defense secretary Robert Work told the CNAS forum yesterday. Read more, here.

Work also put some meat on the bones of the “third offset strategy” — that is, the Pentagon’s effort to stay technologically ahead of the competition. “In his talk, Work cleared up several of the mysteries surrounding the third offset strategy, including: Just what does the military want robots to take over for humans?” Read about those, here.

The military isn’t typically thought of as leading the charge for women’s equality, but in at least one way it is. There is no pay gender gap, even if there are fewer women: at every rank, men and women are paid equally. But that only works if women have equal chance for promotion, and with the opening of all combat jobs to them, they will get that chance. Quartz, here.

And don’t miss the chart of paygrade by gender. (What percentage of 3-stars are women? Find out here.)

If your new Christmas drone outweighs two butter sticks, you need to register it with the feds. If you do it soon, it’s free. After Jan. 20, anyone wanting to fly a drone will have to pay the U.S. government $5 for the privilege. Quartz, here.

Battle for the White House, a new ebook from Defense One. If you want to know the future of U.S. national security strategy, look to the 2016 presidential election. Whoever wins the White House will inherit the wars President Obama had pledged to end, along with dozens of ongoing counterterrorism operations in overlooked countries and an increasingly complex global security environment. This ebook wraps up the essential reporting you need to understand where the race is, and where it’s going. Buckle up and download it here.

Welcome to the Tuesday edition of The D Brief, from Ben Watson and Bradley Peniston. Tell your friends to subscribe here: http://get.defenseone.com/d-brief/. Want to see something different? Got news? Let us know: the-d-brief@defenseone.com.


Terrorism and national security now dominate the issues on U.S. voters’ minds, a new NBC/Wall Street Journal poll reveals. Some more of the findings: “40 percent of Americans say that national security and terrorism is the top priority for the federal government—up 19 points from when this question was last asked in April. That’s compared with the 23 percent who think job creation and economic growth are the top issue — down six points from when they had been the No. 1 concern last spring.

Further: “71 percent say the shootings and random acts of violence that have taken place this year—from Charleston, S.C., Oregon and Colorado, to the terrorist shootings in San Bernardino, Calif.—are now are now a permanent part of American life” and “seven-in-10 Americans believe the country is headed in the wrong direction — the highest percentage here since Aug. 2014.” Catch the full results, here.

Donald Trump’s call for the U.S. to ban Muslims hasn’t hurt his rise in the polls. Quite the opposite, say recent surveys. Though he’ll be at center stage tonight in the last GOP presidential debate of 2015 (hosted by CNN in Las Vegas), it’s Texas Sen. Ted Cruz who has the target on his back. Cruz has been enjoying momentum in the polls, nipping at Trump’s heels, by some accounts leading in Iowa and positioning himself to take the conservative, outsider mantle (though he is a U.S. senator ...).

Speaking of which, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, who is playing a long game to woo a party establishment terrified of Trump, has become increasingly aggressive in his targeting of Cruz, framing him as the most dangerous thing in a decidedly hawkish political climate: an isolationist.

Check out who has the edge in National Journal’s power rankings here, then watch the debate Tuesday, at 6:00 p.m. EDT and 8:30 p.m. EDT (kids’ table and adult table).

Less than two weeks since the attacks in San Bernardino, Hillary Clinton is set to give a speech “on protecting the U.S. Homeland” at the University of Minnesota at 3:45 p.m. EDT. We’re told Clinton intends to focus on Part 3 of the plan she recently laid out at the Council on Foreign Relations: “how we defend our country and prevent radicalization here at home.” A staffer: “Clinton’s address Tuesday will propose a comprehensive strategy to counter each step in the process that can lead to a terrorist attack like San Bernardino, from recruitment, to training, to planning, to execution, all while staying true to our values. Clinton will say it’s time to move from fear to resolve and point to local efforts in the Twin Cities as evidence that America has what it takes to meet this challenge.” More later from Defense One.

Finally today—the folks at the Stimson Center are releasing a new report that addresses how to reduce the risk of nuclear war in the Baltic region. That one gets under way at noon EDT. More info on the event and the report can be found here.

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