DoD panel agrees with Biden: Next president "likely" to face crisis in first 270 days

DOD Panel: Next President to 'Likely' to Face Crisis in First 270 Days

October 24, 2008 -- The next president is likely to face a major international crisis within his first nine months in office, according to a senior group of business advisers to the defense secretary.

Accordingly, the Defense Business Board says the new administration should set a goal to win Senate confirmation of key Pentagon posts in the first 30 days of the inauguration, in order to have a full team in place to deal with such a contingency.

Michael Bayer, chairman of the Defense Business Board and veteran Pentagon consultant, this week called for the next administration to move quickly to avoid encountering civilian leadership vacuums that often accompany political transitions.

“Prepare for a likely first 270 days crisis,” Bayer warns in an Oct. 23 briefing. “Too many presidents were ill prepared for this.”

Joe Biden, the Democratic ticket's vice presidential nominee, drew criticism earlier this week for suggesting that should he and Barack Obama prevail in the Nov. 4 election, U.S. adversaries will mount an attack of some kind to test the new president.

Bayer's briefing, presented yesterday to a public meeting of the Defense Business Board, recommends the future president elect and his advisers “set aside time in transition to identify the planning, gravitas and interagency process necessary to respond to a likely first-270-day crisis.”

For months, the Office of the Secretary of Defense, the service chiefs and the Joint Staff have been preparing for the first wartime transfer of Pentagon political authority in four decades. In addition to identifying defense policy issues for an incoming to understand, the military is also on high operational alert, according to a Joint Staff official.

A key goal for the next administration, according to Bayer, must be to fill civilian posts requiring Senate confirmation as soon as possible.

The incoming administration “must not wait until June” to get assistant secretaries confirmed and October for deputy assistant secretaries to be Senate confirmed, his briefing states.

“Need a very concerted, well-defined process to have top 3 tiers ready to go to Senate confirmation in first 30 days,” Bayer recommends.

His briefing also notes challenges that nearly every president since Dwight Eisenhower has faced in the early days. In 1953, Eisenhower agreed to work with the British to depose Iran's prime minister and install the Shah; John Kennedy ordered the ill-fated Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba in April 1961; Lyndon Johnson in Aug. 1964 had to deal with the Gulf of Tonkin Incident, which became a pretext for escalating U.S. military involvement in Vietnam.

Richard Nixon, in the third month of this presidency in 1969, escalated U.S. military operations in Southeast Asia by ordering aerial attacks against Cambodia and Laos. Jimmy Carter, during his first month in office in 1977, directed unilateral removed of nuclear weapons from South Korea and announced plans to reduce the number of U.S. troops from the peninsula, a step that drew public criticism from then Army Maj. Gen. John Singlaub, a senior U.S. commander in South Korea, whom Carter relieved of duty. In his fifth month as president, George H.W. Bush, in the summer of 1989, sent the first wave of U.S. military personnel to Panama to set the stage for the launch of “Operation Just Cause” that December.

Finally, Bayer’s briefing notes, Bill Clinton, in Feb. 1993, his second month in office, had to manage the World Trade Center bombing; while George W. Bush, in April of his first year in office, dealt with the downing of a Navy spy plane near China. Months later, Bush was faced with the terrorist attacks in September in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania. -- Jason Sherman