ESCALATING THREATS, RISING CONCERN: President Trump’s “fire and fury” threat has ignited a furious debate on whether the intensifying war of words is underscoring U.S. resolve, or undermining diplomatic efforts to pressure the North Korea’s leader to give up his nuclear weapons. “What the president is doing is sending a strong message to North Korea in language that Kim Jong Un would understand, because he doesn't seem to understand diplomatic language,” Secretary of State Rex Tillerson told reporters traveling with him before his plane landed in Guam for a refueling stop. “I think what the president was just reaffirming is the United States has the capability to fully defend itself from any attack, and defend our allies, and we will do so. So the American people should sleep well tonight,” Tillerson said en route back from Malaysia.
But so far Trump’s use of Pyongyang-style rhetoric has inflamed tensions with North Korea and provoked it to respond with an unusually specific threat to launch four missiles into the waters off the coast of the U.S. territory of Guam. "The Hwasong-12 rockets to be launched by the KPA (Korean People's Army) will cross the sky above Shimane, Hiroshima and Koichi Prefectures of Japan," according to a report on state-run KCNA news agency. "They will fly 3,356.7 km (2,085 miles) for 1,065 seconds and hit the waters 30 to 40 km (18 to 24 miles) away from Guam.” The report said the North Korean army would complete the plan within days, and submit it to Kim for approval.
JAPAN ON ALERT: That has prompted Japan to raise its alert level, and issue a statement saying it has the right to shoot down any missiles that cross over its territory or threatens it citizens. Guam is home to two U.S. bases, naval and air, and currently has a squadron of B-1B bombers deployed there for Korea contingencies. There are more than 160,000 American citizens living on the island 2,000 miles away from Korea.
MATTIS’ VERSION OF ‘FIRE AND FURY’: Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, during his West Coast trip, issued a not-so-veiled threat of his own, warning North Korea to “cease any consideration of actions that would lead to the end of its regime and the destruction of its people.” He called on the North to “stand down its pursuit of nuclear weapons,” or face combined allied militaries that “possess the most precise, rehearsed, and robust defensive and offensive capabilities on Earth,” adding that North Korea’s regime “will continue to be grossly overmatched by ours and would lose any arms race or conflict it initiates.”
WHAT WAS HE THINKING? There is a lot of debate over whether Trump’s “fire and fury” remark was carefully calculated, or off-the-cuff. Yesterday, the White House said while the tone of the statement was discussed with the president’s national security team, the words were his own. "[Chief of staff] General [John] Kelly and others on the [National Security Council] team were well aware of the tone of the statement of the president prior to delivery," spokeswoman Sarah Sanders told reporters traveling with the president yesterday. "They [Gen. Kelly and others] were clear the president was going to respond to North Korea's threats following the sanctions with a strong message in no uncertain terms," Sanders said, disputing reports suggesting Trump's national security team was blindsided by his bellicose choice of words.
North Korea mocked the "fire and fury" threat as "load of nonsense" and again dismissed the idea of negotiating away its nuclear weapons program. “Sound dialogue is not possible with such a guy bereft of reason and only absolute force can work on him," said a statement attributed to Gen. Kim Rak Gyom, the head of North Korea’s strategic forces.
GORKA: US IS A ‘HYPERPOWER:’ White House national security aide Sebastian Gorka is warning North Korea to take the president seriously. "Don't test America and don't test Donald J. Trump. We are not just a superpower. We were a superpower. We are now a hyperpower. Nobody in the world, especially not North Korea, comes close to challenging our military capabilities," Gorka told "Fox and Friends" yesterday.
HAND-WRINGING ROUND-UP: There was no shortage of earnest displays of concern yesterday that missteps or miscalculations could cause the North Korea showdown to spiral out of control. Here’s just a sampling of the hand-wringing:
“My reaction is that this is getting very scary, very dangerous. It's escalating, and it could escalate out of control … When Gen. Mattis talks about the destruction of the people of North Korea, of the regime change in North Korea, it actually sounds like we're in the movie ‘Dr. Strangelove.’" said Sen. Ed Markey, a Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee, on CNN.
"President Trump has basically drawn a red line saying he'll never allow North Korea to have an ICBM missile that can hit America with a nuclear weapon on top. He's not going to let that happen — he's not going to contain the threat, he's going to stop the threat," said Sen. Lindsey Graham, Republican on the Armed Services Committee, on CBS. Graham said two scenarios could prompt a U.S. military response: an attack on Guam or a credible intelligence the North is preparing to launch a nuclear-tipped ICBM at the U.S.
“North Korea’s pursuit and development of nuclear weapons represent a serious threat to the security of the United States and our allies. However, President Trump's inflammatory rhetoric undermines our global credibility and is unlikely to de-escalate the situation. We need fewer fiery words and bombastic tweets from the President and his cable TV surrogates, and more effort to work with our international partners to expand missile defense and deterrence and put forward a strategy to roll back North Korea’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs,” said Democratic Sen. Mark Warner, vice chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee in a statement.
“North Korea is the hardest problem out there. No obvious solution. But if a path exists, hard to find it w gutted diplomatic leadership,” said Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., on Twitter.
“That kind of language is not going to intimidate the North Koreans. To me, it's always better -- you see an enemy that remains silent, that's more frightening than someone who is beating his chest or engaging in schoolyard banter or locker room language than if they have a more, you know, more powerful impact. So I think silence would have been very good here and let the diplomats like Sec. Tillerson – let the others who are trying to bring about a peaceful solution to this have the authority to do so,” said former Defense Secretary William Cohen, a Republican on MSNBC.
“Secretary of State Tillerson has had to really clean up the mess created by President Trump's very dangerous comments, because it appeared that the president was creating a new red line, saying that if North Korea crossed the red line, whether that meant building more nuclear weapons or more missiles, that the United States would initiate this fire and fury … When you engage in this war of words with the North Korean leader, it actually enhances the North Korean leader. This is exactly what Kim Jong Un wants to see happen, and it diminishes the president of the United States,” said Sen. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., on CNN
“The president's most recent comments are recklessly belligerent and demonstrate a grave lack of appreciation for the severity of the North Korean nuclear situation … His saber-rattling and provocative, impulsive rhetoric erode our credibility and weaken our ability to reach a peaceful resolution to this crisis, and must immediately end," House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said.
"You've got two bullies chiding each other with outrageous comments – and it doesn't help the situation in terms of trying to resolve something that has to be resolved peacefully ... because the consequences of nuclear war would be devastating,” former Secretary of Defense and CIA Director Leon Panetta told Politico.
“I hope the president, which he is not now [doing], would be very careful about the language he uses. I’m not exactly sure the president recognizes that when he speaks – the most powerful person in the world, his or her words reverberate all over the world.” Armed Services Committee Chairman Sen. John McCain, in a Facebook live town hall.
Good Thursday morning and welcome to Jamie McIntyre’s Daily on Defense, compiled by Washington Examiner National Security Senior Writer Jamie McIntyre (@jamiejmcintyre) and National Security Writer Travis J. Tritten (@travis_tritten). Senior Editor David Brown (@dave_brown24) is off this week. 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: In other news, the top U.S. military spokesman in Iraq, Col. Ryan Dillon is briefing today live from Baghdad, and will update progress in the war on the Islamic State, including new measures to squeeze the terrorist group’s finances, a status report on Raqqa, as well as preparations for the next offensive in Tal Afar. The 11 a.m. briefing will be streamed live on www.defense.gov/live.
PORSCHES, BOOZE, NEPOTISM, ON THE TAXPAYER’S DIME: Details of a Pentagon audit show a contractor hired to train Afghan security forces bought luxury vehicles, alcohol, and prohibited automatic weapons while making lavish overpayments to staff. Sen. Claire McCaskill published the Defense Contract Audit Agency findings of $50 million in questionable expenditures by New Century Consulting and asked Mattis to explain by Aug. 28 who was responsible for oversight of the contractor. She also wants to know what the Pentagon is doing to reclaim the costs incurred from 2008-2013. "I'm going to get to the bottom of what happened with this contract and why a company with so many previous problems keeps getting contracts,” McCaskill said about NCC, which was later hired as a prime contractor on the project.
The company’s purchases included an Alfa Romeo, Bentley, Aston Martin, Land Rover and Porsches and used them during non-work hours. The audit also found it hired "significant others" as executive assistants with average annual salaries as high as $420,000 even though they worked from home and did not travel. NCC spent $1,500 on alcohol, and paid $42,000 in cash for automatic weapons that were prohibited under its contract. When contacted by the Washington Examiner, New Century Consulting said it would be inappropriate for the company to comment on an “ongoing matter.”
OSPREYS DEEMED SAFE: The Marine Corps has determined that its tilt-rotor MV-22 Ospreys are safe to fly and resumed operations in Japan following a crash that killed three Marines last week. The service put a two-day pause on operations while it examined the circumstances around the crash off the USS Bonhomme Richard during a training exercise in Australia, said Lt. Gen. Lawrence Nicholson, commander of the III Marine Expeditionary Force based in Okinawa, Japan. “I would never put my aircrews or any local citizens in danger by flying an aircraft that I do not believe is safe and ready to fly," Nicholson said. The Marine Corps had not previously announced the operational pause. Japan Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera requested Sunday that the Ospreys, which have raised safety concerns among the Japanese public, be grounded following the incident.
TRUMP SUED OVER TRANSGENDER BAN: Two weeks after Trump’s tweets declaring a ban on transgender military service, five transgender service members are suing the president over the move. They filed suit Wednesday in D.C. district court against Trump, Mattis, Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Joseph Dunford, Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson and other top administration officials in an effort to stop reversal of the year-old policy allowing transgender people to serve openly.
The National Center for Lesbian Rights and GLBTQ Legal Advocates and Defenders, both advocates for gender rights, are sponsoring the lawsuit for the five troops, who were all listed as "Jane Doe" on the complaint. "I am married and have three children, and the military has been my life. But now, I'm worried about my family's future," one of the anonymous plaintiffs said in a released statement.
RUSSIA FLYOVER: An unarmed Russian military plane was plying the skies over Washington yesterday and will fly over the homes to two Trump properties in the coming days as part of an agreement between the Russian and U.S. militaries. The Russian Air Force aircraft flew in restricted airspace over the U.S. Capitol, the Pentagon, the Central Intelligence Agency and Joint Base Andrews at low altitude. The next stops are Bedminster, where Trump is vacationing at one of his golf clubs, and New York City, home to Trump Tower.
But not to worry, the flights are closely monitored and coordinated under terms of the 2002 Treaty on Open Skies, which allows member countries to conduct surveillance flights over the territories of the 34 fellow member nations. Over the last 15 years, the U.S. and Russia have participated in such flights a combined 165 times, according to the State Department.
DIPLOMATS HIT WITH SONIC WEAPON: The State Department ordered two Cuban Embassy officials to leave the United States in response to "incidents" involving the health of Americans stationed in Havana. "We take this very seriously," said Heather Nauert, the department spokeswoman. The dispute involves medical examinations and a “variety of physical symptoms” experienced by State Department personnel. U.S. diplomats began experiencing instances of hearing loss beginning last fall in what is believed to be a bizarre series of attacks with a sonic weapon, the Associated Press reported, citing anonymous sources.
The embassy reopened after relations thawed with Cuba under former President Barack Obama and some of the affected diplomats had recently arrived in the country, according to AP. Sources said the U.S. was weighing the possibility a sonic weapon that causes victim hearing loss was used in an attack by a third country such as Russia. "The Cuban government has a responsibility and an obligation under the Geneva Convention to protect our diplomats,” Nauert said.
FACT CHECK: Trump took credit yesterday for single-handedly renovating and modernizing America’s nuclear arsenal, in just six months. “My first order as President was to renovate and modernize our nuclear arsenal. It is now far stronger and more powerful than ever before,” Trump said in a tweet. There’s only one problem with the claim: while modernization programs started under the Obama administration continue apace, no new initiatives have begun, nor has a single additional dollar been spent on upgrading America’s nuclear weapons, beyond what was previously budgeted, since Trump took office in January.
It’s true the U.S. is embarked on an ambitious and expensive plan to upgrade and replace all three legs of its nuclear triad, including new ballistic missile submarines, land-based missiles, and long-range stealth bombers. But there have been no significant changes in the program, estimated to take 30 years and cost upwards of $1 trillion dollars.
REDISCOVERING ‘DR. STRANGELOVE’: As noted above, Markey sees echoes of the classic 1964 movie “Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb” in today’s North Korea crisis. Markey specifically referenced the scene in which Gen. "Buck" Turgidson, played by George C. Scott is discussing the “regrettable” trade-offs of nuclear war with President Merkin Muffley, played by Peter Sellers.
Gen. Turgidson: Mr. President, we are rapidly approaching a moment of truth both for ourselves as human beings and for the life of our nation. Now, truth is not always a pleasant thing. But it is necessary now to make a choice, to choose between two admittedly regrettable, but nevertheless distinguishable, postwar environments: one where you got 20 million people killed, and the other where you got a 150 million people killed.
President Muffley: You're talking about mass murder, general, not war!
Gen. Turgidson: Mr. President, I'm not saying we wouldn't get our hair mussed. But I do say no more than 10 to 20 million killed, tops. Uh, depending on the breaks.
Marine Corps Times: New MDA director: US prepared to defend against North Korean nuclear ICBM threat
DoD Buzz: Plane-makers strut their stuff in Air Force’s ‘light attack experiment’
USA Today: Tiny island of Guam is key U.S. military outpost now in North Korea's cross hairs
Defense News: US Navy wants to use drones and AI to quickly repair airfields
The Diplomat: China’s new aircraft carrier to conduct mooring trials next month
Foreign Policy: The game is over and North Korea has won
Reuters: U.S. envoy to U.N. will go to Vienna to review Iran nuclear activities - U.S. official
Navy Times: Navy fighter aircraft crashes near Key West
UPI: U.S. Navy issues contract proposal to lift USS Fitzgerald back to the United States
CNN: Could Congress stop Trump from bombing North Korea?
Washington Post: Two months into Saudi-led boycott, Qatar takes offensive
Wall Street Journal: Thai navy's secret weapon against marauding monkeys: Vasectomies
USNI News: Navy seeing success collecting data on physiological episodes; Taps former air wing commander to lead effort
Defense One: Are mercenaries really a cheaper way of war?
New York Times: The Interpreter: Trump’s threat of war with North Korea may sound scarier than it is
War on the Rocks: Bombs over Pyongyang? The window’s already closed
THURSDAY | AUG. 10
11 a.m. Pentagon Briefing Room. Army Col. Ryan Dillon, spokesman, Combined Joint Task Force - Operation Inherent Resolve briefs live from Baghdad to provide an update on counter-ISIS operations. Live streamed at www.defense.gov/live.
FRIDAY | AUG. 11
8 a.m. 300 1st St. SE. Middle East missile realities discussion with Uzi Rubin, former director of the Israeli Missile Defense Organization. mitchellaerospacepower.org
1:30 p.m. 214 Massachusetts Ave. NE. The future of U.S.-Taiwan relations in new administrations. heritage.org
TUESDAY | AUG. 15
1 p.m. 1000 Massachusetts Ave. NW. CatoConnects: A peek into North Korea. cato.org
WEDNESDAY | AUG. 16
8 a.m. 1201 M St. SE. NDIA Systems Engineering Division meeting. ndia.org
8:30 a.m. 2121 Crystal Dr. Trusted micro electronics workshop. ndia.org