THE HOUSE HAS ALL THE CARDS: The two-year bipartisan budget deal hammered out in the Senate by Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Minority Leader Chuck Schumer has everything the Pentagon wants. And it enjoys the full-throated endorsement of Armed Services chairmen John McCain and Mac Thornberry, as well as President Trump. The big question looming before tonight’s midnight deadline: Will enough House Democrats vote for it without any guarantee that protections for children of illegal immigrants will get a floor vote before March 5? And will members of the House Freedom Caucus sign off on a bill that adds $300 billion to the deficit?
“The Budget Agreement today is so important for our great Military. It ends the dangerous sequester and gives Secretary Mattis what he needs to keep America Great,” Trump tweeted last night. “Republicans and Democrats must support our troops and support this Bill!
“This bill is the product of extensive negotiations among Congressional leaders and the White House,” said McConnell in announcing the agreement. “No one would suggest it is perfect. But we worked hard to find common ground.”
WHY THE PENTAGON LOVES IT: First and foremost it drives a stake through the heart of the dreaded spending caps, known as sequestration. “It will … finally consign the arbitrary and pointless sequester caps to the ash heap of history,” said Schumer, describing the deal on the Senate floor. In scrapping the caps, the measure delinks military spending from debate over domestic priorities. “The military can no longer be held hostage to other things. We have just been through weeks and weeks of holding the military hostage to domestic spending, or to an immigration issue,” said Thornberry in a late afternoon news conference. “This hopefully frees the hostage.” The deal, which the Senate votes on today, would fully fund the Pentagon budget of $700 billion this year, and $716 next year, with perhaps some money left over.
In a joint statement McCain and Thornberry admit some of those domestic programs are also about national security. “National security is not solely the responsibility of our military. It also depends on our intelligence professionals, our diplomats, our law enforcement officers, first responders and homeland defenders.”
WHY DEFICIT HAWKS HATE IT: Some Republicans who came to Washington to shrink the size of government are planning to vote “no” in the House. On CNN, Republican Rep. Dave Brat, a member of the House Freedom Caucus, complained that the bill the House passed this week came back from the Senate larded with excess spending. “You send it over to the Senate and what happens when you get the deal? They add another third of a trillion dollars, right? And the mainstream media is kind of reporting, hey, no big deal. It's a two-year budget deal,” Brat said. “It's $1.3 trillion a year for the foreseeable future, every year out.”
THE FUTURE IS NOW: Thornberry’s answer to that is now is the time to bite the bullet. “Fundamentally, this is about the United States military, and if you vote ‘yes,’ you are voting to fix the military; if you vote ‘no,’ you are voting against fixing the military, and for the families of those 80 service members who we lost last year. It’s that simple,” Thornberry said in a plea to his fellow Republicans. “Are you going to help fix our military or are you going to find some excuse?”
“I know this is going to be a difficult vote for a lot of people but I would just implore my colleagues to step up, do the right thing, take that vote on behalf of our military, on behalf of the American people,” said Rep. Mike Gallagher, a House Armed Services member and former Marine. “Let’s ride to the sound of the guns, let’s get this done.”
PELOSI’S MARATHON PLAY: House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi held the floor for a record eight hours yesterday pleading the case for so-called Dreamers, who face deportation after March 5. Pelosi was not so much opposing the deal, as trying to prevent the loss of political leverage on immigration reform once the bill is passed. McConnell has promised a vote on restoring DACA protections, which is expected to get the needed 60 votes, but House Speaker Paul Ryan has made no such promise to take up the bill in the House. Democrats fear a replay of 2013 when bipartisan immigration reform passed the Senate only to die in the House because it did not have the support of a majority of the majority Republicans. Ryan has said he would allow the vote only if Trump is happy with the bill. That means Democrats might have to cave on a border wall.
US KILLS 100 SYRIAN TROOPS: The U.S. has made it clear it would use airpower to protect U.S. and partner troops fighting the Islamic State in Syria, so yesterday when some of those Kurdish and Arab fighters came under attack from forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar Assad, the U.S. troops with them called in airstrikes. U.S. military says the pro-regime forces initiated “an unprovoked attack” against a “well-established Syrian Democratic Forces headquarters.”
The BBC reports the attacking force numbered about 500 troops, and that about 100 were killed in the engagement, which the U.S. says was in self-defense. A statement from Operation Inherent Resolve says the engagement occurred about five miles over an agreed-upon Euphrates River deconfliction line in Deir al-Zour province. Col. Ryan Dillon, a spokesman for the U.S.-led coalition, tweeted, “Unprovoked attack by Syrian pro-regime forces prompts Coalition defensive strikes. @CJTFOIR communicated thru deconfliction line w/ Russians before, during, & after attack.”
There were no U.S. casualties, but one SDF soldier was reportedly killed.
PENCE IN SOUTH KOREA: Vice President Mike Pence has arrived in South Korea after speaking to U.S. troops at Yokota Air Base, Japan, last night. “We will continue to intensify the maximum pressure campaign on North Korea until it abandons its missile and nuclear program once and for all. Until that day, we are ready for any eventuality,” he said.
South Korean President Moon Jae-in is scheduled to have lunch with the North Korean delegation to the Winter Olympic games, which includes the Kim Yo Jong, the sister of the North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. But there are no plans for any meetings between Pence and any North Koreans. The opening ceremonies are tomorrow morning Washington time.
NORTH KOREA’S NOT-SO-BIG PARADE: As promised, North Korea put on a display of troops and military hardware on the eve of the South Korean Olympics, but it’s hard to say if there were any new capabilities on display. Nearly all foreign media were banned from attending. The parade was not broadcast live on state-run North Korean television, and a few hours later a highly-edited highlight reel appeared to be playing on a loop. It did show Kim, dressed in a long black winter coat along with his wife at the beginning of the event, according to the AP, which gave the following description:
“The parade also featured tanks, armored vehicles, jets flying over the square in formation to make a ‘70,’ and thousands of people dressed in red, white and yellow creating the letters ‘Kim Jong Un’ in Korean and the ruling Workers’ Party’s symbol of the brush, hammer and sickle. The North also rolled out what appeared to be a Hwasong-12 intermediate range missile, which it flew over Japan twice last year as it stepped up the aggressiveness of its weapons tests.”
Good Thursday morning and welcome to Jamie McIntyre’s Daily on Defense, compiled by Washington Examiner National Security Senior Writer Jamie McIntyre (@jamiejmcintyre), National Security Writer Travis J. Tritten (@travis_tritten) and Senior Editor David Brown (@dave_brown24). Email us here for tips, suggestions, calendar items and anything else. If a friend sent this to you and you’d like to sign up, click here. If signing up doesn’t work, shoot us an email and we’ll add you to our list. And be sure to follow us on Twitter @dailyondefense.
HAPPENING TODAY: The Senate Armed Services Committee considers another batch of Pentagon nominees at 10:30 this morning. Here is who’s up:
- Paul Ney, to be Defense Department general counsel
- Kevin Fahey, to be assistant secretary for acquisition
- Thomas Ayres, to be Air Force general counsel
- Lisa Gordon-Hagerty, to be under secretary of energy for nuclear security
AFGHANISTAN NO LONGER AN AFTERTHOUGHT: The Air Force general who is in charge of the air campaign in Afghanistan says he’s getting a lot more resources to go after the Taliban, now that the fight against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria is winding down. “Afghanistan has become CENTCOM's main effort, thanks to the recent successes in Iraq and Syria,” said Maj. Gen. James Hecker, NATO’s air commander in Afghanistan. “This has allowed CENTCOM to shift more assets our way, which will significantly improve our ability to assist the Afghans.”
Hecker says the biggest change is one you can’t see but the Taliban is definitely feeling: the weight of increased intelligence analysis identifying targets for U.S. and Afghan warplanes. “The Taliban trembles as they hear our approach,” Hecker said. “So now they have a constant eye to the sky, as we force them to engage our actual battlefield, where the Afghans are attacking from all sides.”
NOT EVERYONE IS LOVING THE TRUMP PARADE: Sens. Patrick Leahy, Dick Durbin, Jack Reed and Gary Peters want to know the price tag for Trump’s proposed military parade. The four Democrats wrote a letter Wednesday to Defense Secretary Jim Mattis saying they did not see the point and requesting that he provide a cost estimate. "At a time of war, with American service members serving in harm's way, such a parade seems to be inappropriate and wasteful,” the senators wrote. “Every penny of the millions of dollars that the parade would cost and every second of the tens of thousands of personnel hours its execution would require, should be devoted to the most essential missions of the Department of Defense — protecting the American people and our security interests.”
The Pentagon is working on proposals for Trump after he raised the possibility of holding the first major U.S. military parade since the end of the Gulf War in 1991. “Reportedly, the order came during a discussion in the Pentagon's Tank, a secure location normally reserved for the most sensitive defense conversations, during what should have been a discussion of the impact of budget negotiations on the department,” the senators wrote. “It is unclear what military need this event would fulfill.”
MATTIS’ TAKE: Mattis, appearing before White House reporters yesterday to discuss the importance of fully funding the military, was asked to justify the cost of the parade when funding is so tight. "I think we're all aware in this country of the president's affection and respect for the military," Mattis said. "We've been putting together some options [and] we'll send them up to the White House for a decision."
Mattis later added Trump's desire to flaunt America's military might proves his "respect and fondness" for veterans and the men and women serving overseas.
THANKS, BUT NO TANKS: The reaction has ranged from mockery to lukewarm embrace, depending on the details of cost and logistics.
“I don't mind having a parade honoring the service and sacrifice of our military members. I'm not looking for a Soviet-style hardware display. That's not who we are. It's kind of cheesy and I think shows weakness, quite frankly,” said Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham on CNN. “But have a parade where you can display our finest and we can all say thank you and honor them would be fine. I'd like to see kids marching. I'd like to honor military families. The idea of saying thank you through a parade makes sense.”
“It's a fantastic waste of money to amuse the president” said Sen. Dick Durbin, a Democrat. “Take the money that the president would like to spend on this parade, instead let's make sure our troops are ready for battle and survive it and come home to their families,” he said.
"I don't like it ... not at all," retired Rear Adm. John Kirby, former spokesman for the Pentagon and State Department, said on CNN. "This is not about showcasing our military. This is about the president showing off. This is all about his ego. That's just an inappropriate use of military time, talent, and resources."
Retired Lt. Gen. Mark Hertling, who commanded U.S. Army Europe, and was still in Iraq in 1991 when a parade was held to herald the end of the Persian Gulf War, said he's heard nothing but negative reviews from the active-duty and veteran community. "I did an informal Twitter survey last night, very unscientific. But I will tell you, it was about 100 to 0 in terms of people, soldiers, former military saying they don't want any part of these kind of parades. The reason for it is ... there are resource issues, implications for logistics. It would be extremely expensive. It would tear up the streets," he said.
The local D.C. government is also not a fan of the idea, worried it will get stuck with the bill for security, clean up and road repairs if big M1A1 tanks rumble down Pennsylvania Avenue. Local City Council member Charles Allen tweeted, “Military parade down the streets of DC to feed an insecure man’s fragile ego? That’d be a big no.”
Pentagon officials tell me they are looking for ways to link any parade to a significant event, such as November’s Veterans Day commemoration of the centennial of the end of World War I. They also said the Army has been tapped to take the lead on planning.
SEX ASSAULTS: The U.S. Military Academy saw the number of sexual assaults reported during the last academic year nearly double, according to a new report released by the Department of Defense on Wednesday.
The report, from the Pentagon's Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office, found there were 50 reports of sexual assaults at the West Point, N.Y., academy, an increase of 24 cases from the 2015-2016 school year.
Across all the service academies, 112 reports of sexual assault were made during the 2016-2017 academic year, compared to 86 reports received during the prior school year.
AP: 'Fancy Bear' hackers took aim at US defense contractors
Air Force Times: This video shows Russia’s 1st stealth fighter in action
Wall Street Journal: Kim Jong Un's Sister to Attend Olympics. Will She Meet Pence?
USA Today: Russia already meddling in U.S. midterm elections, Tillerson says
Task and Purpose: The Mother Of All Bombs Is Waiting Patiently For An Encore In Afghanistan
Stars and Stripes: In the #MeToo era, military senior misconduct faces new scrutiny
Navy Times: Hearings for Fitz and McCain COs scheduled for next month
Defense News: The nontechnical risk for the Pentagon’s AI plans
Defense One: DOD Issued a $7 Million Cloud Support Contract To a Company With One Employee
New York Times: On Northern Syria Front Line, U.S. and Turkey Head Into Tense Face-off
Defense News: Here’s what the SpaceX Falcon Heavy launch means for the satellite industry
THURSDAY | FEB. 8
7 a.m. 2101 Wilson Blvd. S&ET Executive Breakfast. ndia.org
8 a.m. 201 Waterfront St. The Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International’s conference: Unmanned Systems—Defense. Protection. Security. thedefenseshow.org
10:30 a.m. Hart 216. Nominations hearing: Ney, Fahey, Ayres and Gordon-Hagerty. Armed-services.senate.gov
12 noon Pentagon Briefing Room. Pentagon Chief Spokesperson Dana White briefs. Streamed live on www.defense.gov/live.
1:30 p.m. 1775 Massachusetts Ave. NW. Next steps for the Army: A conversation with Under Secretary Ryan McCarthy. brookings.edu
4:30 p.m. 1779 Massachusetts Ave. NW. Cyber Mercenaries: States and Hackers. carnegieendownment.org
5:15 p.m. 1030 15th St. NW. War Powers and Military Force with John Yoo, former deputy assistant U.S. attorney general. atlanticcouncil.org
FRIDAY | FEB. 9
10 a.m. 740 15th St. NW. 'Ultimate Deal' or Ultimate Demise? Palestinian-Israeli Peace Under Trump. newamerica.org
11:30 a.m. Syrian Impasse: America Between Turkey and the Kurds. defenddemocracy.org
12 noon. 1300 Pennsylvania Ave. NW. Preventive Engagement: How America Can Avoid War, Stay Strong, and Keep the Peace. wilsoncenter.org
3:50 p.m. 740 15th St. NW. Book discussion of “Directorate S: America’s Secret Wars in Afghanistan and Pakistan” with author Steve Coll. newamerica.org
MONDAY | FEB. 12
9:30 a.m. 1501 Lee Hwy. Fiscal Year 2019 Budget Priorities Discussion with Matthew Donovan, Under Secretary of the Air Force. mitchellaerospacepower.org
10 a.m. 1775 Massachusetts Ave. NW. The Trump administration’s Nuclear Posture Review: Continuity and change with David Trachtenberg, deputy undersecretary of defense for policy. brookings.edu
2 p.m. Oversight and Accountability in U.S. Security Sector Assistance: Seeking Return on Investment with Rep. Adam Smith, Brig. Gen. Antonio Fletcher of U.S. Southern Command, and Adam Barker, a professional staff member of the Senate Armed Services Committee. csis.org
5 p.m. Senate Visitor Center 217. Countering America's Adversaries Through Sanctions Act. foreign.senate.gov
TUESDAY | FEB. 13
9 a.m. 1300 Pennsylvania Ave. NW. A Kennan for Our Times: Celebrating the Legacy of George F. Kennan. wilsoncenter.org
12 noon. 1030 15th St. NW. Iraq's Energy Potential: Opportunities and Challenges. atlanticcouncil.org
12:15 p.m. 1211 Connecticut Ave. NW. Secession and Security: How States Handle Separatists in South Asia and Beyond. stimson.org
12:30 p.m. 1777 F St. NW. Containing Russia: How to Respond to Moscow's Intervention in U.S. Democracy and Growing Geopolitical Challenge. cfr.org
2:30 p.m. Russell 222. Department of Defense’s role in Protecting Democratic Elections. armed-services.senate.gov
2:30 p.m. 1300 Pennsylvania Ave. NW. Changing Patterns of Extremism and Terrorism in Pakistan. wilsoncenter.org
WEDNESDAY | FEB. 14
7 a.m. 2101 Wilson Blvd. Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear (CBRN) Defense Roundtable Breakfast. ndia.org
9 a.m. 1616 Rhode Island Ave. NW. The Surface Warfare Challenge: A Retrospective on Culture, Readiness, Maintenance, and Standards. csis.org
10 a.m. Rayburn 2118. The Military and Security Challenges and Posture in the Indo-Pacific Region with Adm. Harry Harris, commander of U.S. Pacific Command. armedservices.house.gov
1 p.m. 1300 Pennsylvania Ave. NW. U.S. National Security and the Korean Peninsula: Perspectives from a Defector, a Russian, and an Analyst. wilsoncenter.org
1:30 p.m. 1616 Rhode Island Ave. NW. Book discussion of “Boko Haram: The History of an African Jihadist Movement” with author Alexander Thurston. csis.org
2:30 p.m. Russell 222. Subcommittee Hearing on Current Readiness of U.S. Forces with Gen. James McConville, Army Vice Chief Of Staff; Adm. Bill Moran, Vice Chief Of Naval Operations; Gen. Glenn Walters, Assistant Commandant of the Marine Corps; and Gen. Stephen Wilson, Vice Chief Of Staff of the Air Force. armed-services.senate.gov
3 p.m. Russell 232-A. Military and Civilian Personnel Programs and Military Family Readiness with Robert Wilkie, Under Secretary Of Defense For Personnel And Readiness. armed-services.senate.gov
3:30 p.m. Rayburn 2212. Air Force Readiness Posture with Lt. Gen. Mark Nowland, Deputy Chief of Staff for Operations; Lt. Gen. Scott Rice, Director of the Air National Guard; and Maj. Gen. Derek Rydholm, Deputy to the Chief of the Air Force Reserve. armedservices.house.gov
THURSDAY | FEB. 15
10 a.m. Rayburn 2118. Strategic Competition with China. armedservices.house.gov
2 p.m. Rayburn 2212. Evolution, Transformation, and Sustainment: A Review and Assessment of the Fiscal Year 2019 Budget Request for U.S. Special Operations Forces and Command with Gen. Raymond Thomas, Commander of U.S. Special Operations Command, and Owen West, Assistant Secretary of Defense for Special Operations/Low-Intensity Conflict. armedservices.house.gov