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Obama's Defense Team and Its Priorities

Cozier relations with allies. Use all America's levers of power -- not just the military -- to address global problems. Fix the broken defense acquisition system. Stable and robust investment in defense programs. Withdraw from Iraq and move more people into Afghanistan. Enlarge the Army and Marines. Transform the system controlling the export of military technologies. Rebuild America's military space programs.

In a nutshell those would probably be Sen. Barack Obama's defense priorities should he be elected. I spoke yesterday with John Douglass, a consultant who was former president and CEO for the Aerospace Industries Association, who is one of Obama's defense advisors.

The Obama defense effort is led by Richard Danzig, former Navy Secretary under President Clinton. Military.com's editor Ward Carroll spent about 10 minutes chatting with Danzig at the Democratic National Convention and noted that Danzig was extremely active at the convention, sitting on at least two panels on national security issues.

A number of committees working under Danzig are working hard to flesh out just where an Obama administration should head. One deals with strategy. It is led by Michele Flournoy, who was the Pentagon's head of strategy during most of the Clinton administration. She is now president and co-founder of the Center for a New American Security.

I hear from other sources that there is a committee dealing with defense industry issues. I believe Douglass is a member of that, along with Paul Kaminski, former undersecretary of Defense for acquisition and technology under Clinton, and William Perry, deputy Defense Secretary under Clinton. Kaminski and Perry were partners in an investment firm for years before Perry went to Pentagon. Lester Lyles, an African-American Air Force general who led the Ballistic Missile Defense Organization in the late 1990s and retired in 2003 as commander of Air Force Materiel Command, is also part of this group. And Rudy deLeon, former deputy secretary of Defense under Clinton who is now senior vice president of national security and international policy at the progressive Center for American Progress.

In addition, there is a committee of former flag officers that includes Wes Clark, former presidential candidate and Army general who commanded NATO forces during the Kosovo conflict, Lyles and Douglass, former assistant secretary of the Navy for research, development and acquisition and an Air Force brigadier general, are also members of this committee.

Douglass offered insight into what these groups have already hammered out. One very important general principle that may take some by surprise is that Douglass says Obama would be committed to "maintain robust investment in the defense budget." That doesn't mean every program is going to get everything it wants, but it does mean, Douglass said, that the procurement and D and D toplines probably won't shrink much, if at all.

At the same time, echoing a theme of the Congressional Democrats when they took power two years ago, Obama will expect better execution of spending on weapons and more accountability, according to Douglass.

Douglass cited what he called "unprecedented levels of cost growth" in defense programs under the Bush administration. Reining those in will be a top acquisition priority, along with rebuilding the acquisition corps. It needs to be larger, receive better training and, perhaps as important, better career management.

Under Obama, military acquisition officials will receive much more support and scrutiny, Douglass said. "That is one of the problems. The Bush administration has let the quality of military acquisition expertise badly deteriorate," Douglass said. He pointed to the tanker fiasco and those of the Littoral Combat Ship and DDG 1000 as emblematic of this.

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