THINKING THROUGH THE UNTHINKABLE: The steps President Trump would go through to decide on a response to a suspected North Korean nuclear attack have been rehearsed by the key players involved, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis told Congress last night. “We've rehearsed this. I will just tell you routinely.” And Mattis said the president has been presented with scenarios under which the the United States would consider a first strike with nuclear weapons against the regime of Kim Jong Un. Mattis was grilled last night at a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing regarding the circumstances in which the president might initiate a nuclear attack against North Korea without consulting Congress. Mattis said the provocation would have to be “a direct imminent or actual attack.”
FIRST STRIKE? “If we saw they were preparing to do so and it was imminent, I could imagine it. It's not the only tool in the toolkit to try to address something like that,” Mattis said, asserting the president in that case would have a duty to protect the country, and the full authority to act without approval from Congress. “I believe that congressional oversight does not equate to operational control,” Mattis said. “I think that we have to keep trust, keep faith in the system that we have that has proven effective now for decades.” Mattis said there is a protocol in place, that it’s not simply a matter of the president deciding in a vacuum to push the button. “I would not say it's ad hoc. It's extremely rigorous: the discussions and the step through process for decision-making,” Mattis said. “I just prefer not to talk about a hypothetical that we have never confronted basically in the post World War II time to today.”
“The fact that no president, Republican or Democrat, has ever forsworn the first strike capability. That has served us for 70 years,” added Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. Tillerson also asserted the president has broad war powers to protect the country but was less specific on how he might use them, saying it would be a “fact-based” decision depending on the details of an imminent threat by North Korea. “Would the simple possession of a weapon that is capable of doing great damage to the United States be sufficient to qualify as an imminent threat?” Sen. Chris Murphy asked. But Tillerson demurred. “I’m always reluctant to get into too many hypotheticals because possession could be [a missile] sitting in an underground [bunker] not ready to be used ... or possession could be sitting upright ... about ready to be launched,” he said.
IF THEY ATTACK US: Sen. Jim Risch asked Mattis to go through the protocol if North Korea attacks first. “Tell me about North Korea. What happens? What happens if somebody knocks on the door and says, ‘Mr. President, they've launched.’ ” Mattis said, the U.S. would attempt to shoot down any incoming ICBM with land-based U.S. interceptor missiles. “I mean the president will be woken up or whatever, but our commands are — we've rehearsed this. I will just tell you routinely.” Mattis said. “Then the first step, of course, would be that our ballistic missile defense forces at sea and in Alaska, California, the various radars would be feeding in and they would do — they would do what they're designed to do as we make every effort to take them out.”
The president, Mattis said, has “a wide array of options, including a non-nuclear response. After the immediate defense would of course depend on the president and laying out options, a wide array of options, I will tell you. We would take the action the president directed and I'm sure that Congress would be intimately involved,” Mattis said, “And in alliance with our allies as well, I might add, because many of them have roles to play here, have indicated they'll be with us.”
KELLY ON KOREA: In an interview that aired on Fox last night, White House Chief of Staff John Kelly said the U.S. simply cannot allow North Korea to perfect a missile that can threaten the U.S. with nuclear annihilation. “I don't think we can have a country like North Korea have a ICBM that can deliver a thermonuclear device on the mainland of the United States,” Kelly told Fox’s Laura Ingraham. “They already have the capability to at least reach with missiles to the great American citizens that live in Guam.”
STILL BANKING ON BEIJING: “The great hope we all have, and they are already doing this, is that the Chinese exert their pressure. They are already observing the sanctions, we know that, to exert pressure on the leadership in North Korea,” Kelly said. “We have great hopes for the Russians as well.”
Pressed by Ingraham about whether China is a friend or foe, and whether President Xi Jinping was a someone worthy of the president’s praise, Kelly said, “I think working with people no matter who they are is better than not talking to them. They have a system of government that is apparently worked for the Chinese people.’ As for whether the U.S. should treat China as an potential enemy, Kelly said, “They beat us pretty badly in terms of trade. That doesn't make them an enemy. Think are our, to say the least, a world power. That doesn't make them an enemy.”
Good Tuesday morning Happy Halloween 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, SHIP COLLISIONS BRIEFING: Sen. John McCain and his Armed Services Committee are set for a closed briefing this morning on the results of the Navy’s investigation into the deadly collisions of the USS John S. McCain and USS Fitzgerald in the Pacific over the summer. Adm. John Richardson, the chief of naval operations, and Adm. Philip Davidson, head of Fleet Forces Command, will be sharing the findings with senators on the separate incidents in August and June that killed 17 sailors and raised questions about the readiness of the fleet deployed to the Western Pacific. Both collisions with merchant vessels occurred at night, one near Singapore and one off Japan, and led to top officers being relieved of duty.
MATTIS AND TILLERSON ON AUMF: Any new war authorization passed by Congress should not put any time or geographic limits on the president's ability to fight terror groups around the globe, Mattis and Tillerson also told senators yesterday. “We cannot put a firm timeline on conflict against an adaptive enemy who would hope that we haven’t the will to fight as long as necessary,” Mattis said. The Islamic State and other terror groups do not adhere to borders or geographic boundaries, so such limits in an authorization for the use of military force, or AUMF, would hamper the military’s ability to react, he said. The two top administration officials, who provided a classified briefing on the issue in August, returned to give the open testimony as the Senate committee continues to wrestle over passing a new AUMF to replace 9/11-era legislation aimed at al Qaeda and the Taliban.
Sen. Bob Corker, the committee chairman, said Foreign Relations is planning to move ahead with a series of hearings on Trump’s war powers, including North Korea and nuclear weapons, and Sen. Ben Cardin, the ranking member, said he would ask for more classified briefings.
SENATORS PUSH BACK: Although the administration is open to a new AUMF, both Mattis and Tillerson said Trump already has all the legal authority he needs to continue to target those groups as well as the Islamic State. “I don’t think there is any authorities we lack, the two authorizations we have are sufficient to pursue this enemy wherever they choose to want to fight us,” Tillerson said. But some senators not only questioned that authority but have called for limits, such as a sunset clause, to be part of a new AUMF.
“The question of this hearing is whether we can be in an endless war with no congressional vote against newly formed terrorist groups all over the world forever,” said Sen. Tim Kaine, a top proponent of Congress voting on an authorization, and who also introduced an AUMF bill with Sen. Jeff Flake that would expire after five years. “No administration would ever concede that you need an AUMF because the absence of it would suggest that what we’ve been doing for 16 years would be illegal or certain activities that we’ve undertaken,” Flake said.
Sen. Rand Paul, another stalwart critic of the current AUMF, also warned fellow senators about “perpetual war” and urged them to take control. “While some would argue, well, we can just not appropriate money, that becomes very difficult,” Paul said. “Even in Vietnam nobody wanted to cut off the money because nobody wants to be accused of not giving money to soldiers in the field. Our real only chance of preventing war is not to initiate the war.”
AUTHORITY TO FIGHT BOKO HARAM: How far does Trump’s authority under the 2001 AUMF passed after 9/11 extend when it comes to fighting terror groups? That was the gist of a hypothetical question Cardin put to Mattis about the U.S. waging war against Boko Haram, an al Qaeda and ISIS aligned terrorist group based in Nigeria. “From what I understand, you’re saying, unless we modify this AUMF, you would feel that you have adequate authorization to commit American ground troops in northern Africa,” Cardin said. Mattis responded: “Yes, sir, I believe so.” However, the defense secretary made clear that most troops in Africa, such as U.S. soldiers in Niger, are deployed under a separate legal basis called “Title 10,” and are involved in non-combat, advise-and-assist operations with local governments that are battling terrorist groups.
AVOIDING ‘LAWFARE’: Mattis had another warning to lawmakers who want to craft a new AUMF to fit the current war on terrorists: Don’t get too specific. It just helps the enemy. “We call it ‘lawfare,’ where they actually use our laws against us,” Mattis said. “They're keenly aware they've got certain legal strictures on our side that they can take advantage of.” So Mattis warned if you specify particular groups that the U.S. is authorized to pursue, the terrorists just rebrand.
“What we've seen is, these groups come apart, go back together, they change their names as often as a rock-and-roll band,” Mattis said. “We've seen it. We read their mail. We know what they're thinking in many cases. It is an associated group because if you looked at the photographs we have from intelligence that shows who is leading in Baghdadi's outfit, there's a remarkable resemblance to other photographs under Al Qaeda and Iraq.”
TRANSGENDER INJUNCTION: Trump’s effort to roll back open military service for transgender troops has suffered a setback after a federal judge in Washington, D.C., granted a preliminary injunction. The order blocks the Defense Department and Coast Guard from barring transgender service and recruiting, based on an order by Trump in August, while the court hears a lawsuit by a group of active-duty troops, a Naval Academy midshipman and a teenage ROTC member. However, the judge ruled with the administration by allowing it to continue with plans to stop gender transition surgeries for troops, saying none of the plaintiffs was at risk of being harmed by the move. The D.C. case is the first of four federal lawsuits filed against Trump in Maryland, California and Washington state.
Transgender advocates cheered and White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said the Justice Department was reviewing the order. Federal judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly wrote that the plaintiffs are arguing Trump's decision is "not genuinely based on legitimate concerns regarding military effectiveness or budget constraints, but are instead driven by a desire to express disapproval of transgender people generally." The argument appears to have merit, she wrote, due to a variety of factors, including "the sheer breadth of the exclusion ordered by the directives, the unusual circumstances surrounding the President’s announcement of them, the fact that the reasons given for them do not appear to be supported by any facts, and the recent rejection of those reasons by the military itself."
BENGHAZI TERRORIST CAPTURED: A militant accused of playing a key role in the 2012 Benghazi attacks has been captured by special operations forces and will be brought to the U.S. to "face justice," Trump announced in a statement Monday. "Yesterday, on my orders, United States forces captured Mustafa al-Imam in Libya," Trump said in a statement. "Because of this successful operation, al-Imam will face justice in the United States for his alleged role in the September 11, 2012 attacks in Benghazi."
U.S. Ambassador to Libya Christopher Stevens, U.S. foreign service officer Sean Smith, and CIA contractors Tyrone Woods and Glen Doherty were killed in the assault on the U.S. diplomatic compound. "To the families of these fallen heroes: I want you to know that your loved ones are not forgotten, and they will never be forgotten," Trump said. "Our memory is deep and our reach is long, and we will not rest in our efforts to find and bring the perpetrators of the heinous attacks in Benghazi to justice."
SPEC OPS COMMANDER BRIEFS: Army Maj. Gen. James Jarrard, commander, Special Operations Joint Task Force - Operation Inherent Resolve is scheduled to brief Pentagon reporters from Baghdad at 11 a.m. in the Pentagon Briefing Room. Livestreamed on www.defense.gov/live.
U.S.-QATAR AGREEMENT: Qatar has agreed to increase efforts in cooperation with the United States to stop terrorists from receiving financing, the Trump administration announced yesterday. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin announced the new agreement following an overseas meeting with Qatari officials. It was the second trip to Qatar in a week by a Cabinet-level official, following Tillerson’s most recent travel.
The meetings are part of a Trump administration effort to end a key U.S. partner’s surreptitious support of terrorism, which sparked a diplomatic crisis between American partners in the Middle East. “We affirm that the United States and Qatar will significantly increase our cooperation on these issues to ensure that Qatar is a hostile environment for terrorist financing,” Mnuchin said in a Monday statement.
KELLY: NO APOLOGY NECESSARY: Kelly, in his Fox interview, said he stands by his harsh criticism of Rep. Frederica Wilson and disputed video evidence suggesting he mischaracterized Wilson’s remarks at a dedication of an FBI building. Kelly said the video didn’t tell the full story, and that he was referring to comments the congresswoman made before and after her formal remarks recorded on the video. “I will go back and talk about before her comments, and at the reception afterwards. Again, it was a package deal,” Kelly said.
During an emotional press briefing this month, Kelly said Wilson had boasted "she got the money" for a new FBI building during a ceremony in 2015 honoring the heroism of FBI agents killed in a shootout with bank robbers in Miami. Asked by host Ingraham if he felt he should apologize, Kelly said, “Oh, no. No. Never. Well, I’ll apologize if I need to. But for something like that, absolutely not. I stand by my comments.”
Kelly said Wilson's politicization of Trump's condolence call to a Gold Star widow this month was unconscionable. “I just don't know how anyone could possibly criticize another human being for doing the best he or she could do to express sorrow from the bottom of their hearts. It was stunning to me.” Kelly said he was standing next to Trump as he called all the families of the soldiers killed in Niger. “Essentially the message was the same,” Kelly said. “And he did the best he could to make it personal. And the best he could to make them understand how sorry he was as the president and as a father himself.”
New York Times: North Korea nuclear tests raise fears of radioactive fallout
Wall Street Journal: Taliban urges U.S. to negotiate release of 'seriously ill' American
USA Today: North Korea vows to launch more satellites into orbit
UPI: Lockheed designing Navy's largest unmanned underwater drone
Military Times: Report: U.S. officials classify crucial metrics on Afghan casualties, readiness
Stars and Stripes: Bergdahl: ‘The words I’m sorry are not enough’
The New Yorker: Dark Victory in Raqqa
Foreign Policy: 10 questions from a veteran Special Operator about that night in Niger
War on the Rocks: Military power cannot close the defense strategy gap
Defense News: Tillerson: U.S. could stay in Iraq to fight ISIS, wanted or not
Defense One: Washington still doesn’t understand Iraq
AP: Inconsistencies cast doubt on harrowing tale of sea survival
TUESDAY | OCT. 31
10 a.m. Senate Visitors Center 217. Closed hearing on the recent Navy collisions at sea with Adm. John Richardson, chief of naval operations, and Adm. Philip Davidson, head of Fleet Forces Command. Armed-services.senate.gov
10 a.m. SD-342 Dirksen. Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Homeland Defense Integration and Defense Support to Civil Authorities Robert Salesses, Air Force Gen. Lori Robinson, commander, U.S. Northern Command, and Army Maj. Gen. Donald Jackson, testify on the federal response to the 2017 hurricane season to the Senate Homeland Defense & Governmental Affairs Committee.
10 a.m. 1211 Connecticut Ave. NW. A preview of U.S. and Philippine priorities for the 2017 ASEAN and East Asia summits. stimson.org
10:30 a.m. 1616 Rhode Island Ave. NW. Beyond nuclear diplomacy: A regime insider's look at North Korea with Thae Yong-ho, former deputy chief of mission at the North Korean embassy in the United Kingdom. csis.org
10:30 a.m. 1300 Pennsylvania Ave. NW. The unfinished business of the 1989 East European revolutions. Wilsoncenter.org
11 a.m. Pentagon Briefing Room. Army Maj. Gen. James Jarrard, commander, Special Operations Joint Task Force Operation Inherent Resolve briefs the media live from Baghdad. Streamed live on www.defense.gov/live.
WEDNESDAY | NOV. 1
8 a.m. 1550 W. Nursery Rd. Cyber DFARS workshop. ndia.org
9 a.m. 1616 Rhode Island Ave. NW. The joint force of the Group of Five for the Sahel and an African-led response to insecurity. csis.org
9:30 a.m. Hart 216. Open hearing on social media influence in the 2016 U.S. elections. intelligence.senate.gov
9:30 a.m. 1152 15th St. NW. Artificial Intelligence and Global Security Summit with Eric Schmidt, executive chairman of Alphabet, Inc. and the chair of the Defense Innovation Advisory Board. cnas.org
10 a.m. Rayburn 2172. An insider’s look at the North Korean regime with Thae Yong-ho, former deputy chief of mission at the North Korean embassy in the United Kingdom. foreignaffairs.house.gov
10 a.m. Rayburn 2154. Overview of 16 years of involvement in Afghanistan. oversight.house.gov
10 a.m. 1616 Rhode Island Ave. NW. Press briefing on President Trump's trip to Asia. csis.org
10:30 a.m. 1616 Rhode Island Ave. NW. From enemies to partners: Vietnam, the U.S. and Agent Orange. csis.org
2 p.m. House Visitor Center 210. Russia Investigative task force open hearing with social media companies including Kent Walker, general counsel for Google; Colin Stretch, general counsel for Facebook; and Sean Edgett, general counsel for Twitter. intelligence.house.gov
5:30 p.m. 1152 15th St. NW. Screening event for “The Long Road Home” with Rep. Jim Banks, Rep. Ruben Gallego and retired Gen. Peter Chiarelli, the former Army vice chief of staff. cnas.org
THURSDAY | NOV. 2
9 a.m. House Visitor Center 304. Testimony of Carter Page. intelligence.house.gov
9:30 a.m. Dirksen G-50. Hearing on nominations for Mark Esper, to be Army secretary; Robert Wilkie, to be undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness; Joseph Kernan, to be under secretary of defense for intelligence; and Guy Roberts, to be assistant secretary of defense for nuclear, chemical and biological defense programs. armed-services.senate.gov
10 a.m. 1300 Pennsylvania Ave. NW. Trump’s vision for Asia: What to expect from the U.S. presidential visit to the Asia-Pacific region with Kurt Campbell, former assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs. wilsoncenter.org
1 p.m. 1135 16th St. NW. Beyond BRAC: Defining the path forward for our defense infrastructure with Lucian Niemeyer, assistant secretary of defense for installations, environment and energy. defensecommunities.org
FRIDAY | NOV. 3
2:30 p.m. 1300 Pennsylvania Ave. NW. China's 19th party congress and its implications for China and the United States. wilsoncenter.org
MONDAY | NOV. 6
9 a.m. 1000 Massachusetts Ave. NW. How do you solve a problem like North Korea? cato.org
11 a.m. 1616 Rhode Island Ave. NW. Allies under the shadow: Thailand, the Philippines, and the state of U.S. alliances in Southeast Asia. csis.org
TUESDAY | NOV. 7
8 a.m. 11790 Sunrise Valley Dr. How Washington Works - Navigating the DOD course. ndia.org
8 a.m. 1616 Rhode Island Ave. NW. Global Security Forum 2017 with Sen. John McCain; James Clapper, former director of national intelligence; and William Lynn, CEO of Leonardo North America and DRS Technologies. csis.org