CRUCIAL WEEK IN CONGRESS: Members of Congress returning from the long Thanksgiving weekend are getting close to crunch time as funding for the government expires Dec. 8, a week from Friday. Leaders of both parties are scheduled to meet with President Trump tomorrow to try to reach some sort of consensus on how to set spending levels and either remove or loosen the fiscal straitjacket known as sequestration.
“There shouldn't be any discussion about shutting down the government. We can make this thing work. We just need to get people at the table, negotiate it,” said Republican Sen. John Thune on Fox News Sunday. “I think the president's bringing the leadership in the House and the Senate to his office later this week to do that.” While not ruling out a short-term extension to the continuing resolution that expires next month, Thune said, “Ultimately, we need to do a bill that funds the government through the end of the next fiscal year and that addresses the important priorities that we need to address.”
SHOW ME THE MONEY: For now the reality is Congress is still weeks or possibly even months away from a deal to fund the National Defense Authorization Act and raise a 2018 defense spending cap that threatens to cut more than $80 billion from the legislation. “I think the odds are good that whatever budget deal they get to change the budget caps is not going to go all the way up to the level that is implied by the NDAA,” said Todd Harrison, the director of defense budget analysis at the Center for Strategic and International Studies think tank.
Defense hawks led by Sen. John McCain and Rep. Mac Thornberry fought for months to get the NDAA and its $634 billion in total base defense spending through Congress. Another $66 billion in the NDAA for overseas military operations is exempt from the 2018 spending cap.
But the Budget Control Act limits base spending to $549 billion. Harrison said any appropriations deal to lift the cap is likely to allow about $600 billion, just at or below what the president requested in May. “Often what happens when there is a gap between the NDAA and the appropriations … you may have been authorized to buy 20 more F-35s but you only got appropriations to buy, pick a number, five more or 10 more,” he said.
Lawmakers could try to reduce any gap between the McCain and Thornberry NDAA priorities and a lower spending limit by putting money into the overseas contingency operations account, or OCO, which is exempt from the cap. The OCO has long been criticized as a slush fund and increasingly was used for daily base budget needs rather than emergency war spending.
But Congress will likely have to go back and cut the NDAA once a deal on a top-line spending is decided, said Mackenzie Eaglen, a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.
IN THE FINE PRINT: Tucked in the voluminous 2,400-page NDAA Congress sent to Trump two weeks ago is a warning about climate change, something Trump has openly ridiculed for years. The language cites changing climate as a “direct threat” to U.S. national security, endangering 128 military bases with sea rise and global destabilization that could fuel terror groups. The bill orders a Pentagon report on the top 10 at-risk bases and what should be done to protect them.
Trump, who has described himself as a climate change skeptic, indicated he will sign the $700 billion policy bill. Rep. Jim Langevin, a Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee, proposed the legislation this year and added it to an early version of the NDAA. “Congress has ignored this issue for far too long, and I hope this provision represents a turning point on climate change denial in Washington, D.C.,” Langevin said when the bill was passed.
Good Monday 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 Pentagon is holding a rare briefing from the top noncommissioned officers for a ground level view on the state of military readiness and other issues. Participating will be the Senior Enlisted Adviser to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Army Command Sgt. Maj. John Troxell; Sgt. Maj. of the Army Daniel Dailey; Sgt. Maj. of the Marine Corps Ronald Green, Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy Steven Giordano, Chief Master Sgt. of the Air Force Kaleth Wright, and Master Chief Petty Officer of the Coast Guard Steven Cantrell. The roundtable discussion is being held in the Pentagon briefing room at 2 p.m.
THE EMP THREAT: An obscure congressional committee was set to disband this fall after issuing apocalyptic warnings since 2001 about electromagnetic pulse attacks it claimed could kill most of the U.S. population. But Congress has just granted it a second life, just as new fears over North Korea’s recent threat of an EMP attack are growing. A new commission with 12 lifetime appointees will be created by the House and Senate under the National Defense Authorization Act.
An electromagnetic pulse attack, or EMP, from a nuclear weapon detonated in the atmosphere could leave only about 30 million Americans alive and a “basically rural economy” where survivors would be forced to produce their own food and other goods, William Graham, chairman of the aptly named Commission to Assess the Threat to the United States from EMP Attack, told a House committee in 2008. Graham and others urged Congress to keep the commission around. But other outside experts are deeply skeptical of the apocalyptic predictions. “This is the favorite nightmare scenario of a small group of very dedicated people,” Jeffrey Lewis, a nuclear arms expert of the Middlebury Institute of International Studies, said this year.
FIRST STRIKE DEBATE: Former Joint Chiefs Chairman, retired Adm. Mike Mullen has weighed in on the debate over whether Trump could order a preemptive nuclear attack on North Korea, and in particular whether such an order might violate the laws of armed conflict. “I think any senior military officer always approaches it from the standpoint of we're not going to follow an illegal order,” Mullen said on ABC’s This Week yesterday. “That said, the president is in a position to give a legal order to use those weapons. And the likelihood that given that order that it would be carried out I think would be pretty high.”
In an editorial Sunday, the Washington Post laid out the kind of scenario that might prompt Trump, who has said he would be “the last to use nuclear weapons,” to go nuclear in a second Korean war. “What if conventional war breaks out, say, on the Korean Peninsula, Congress gives approval to defend U.S. allies South Korea and Japan, casualties soar and Mr. Trump wants to use a nuclear weapon in the hope that it would quickly end the conflict? He might argue that a low-yield nuclear weapon aimed at a remote North Korean weapons target is proportionate, militarily necessary and able to halt further suffering. What is to stop a president then?” the Post editorial board opined.
“I think it's more probable than it used to be. And it scares me to death, quite frankly. They're the most dangerous weapons in the world,” Mullen said, adding the bigger risk is that North Korea could launch first, if it feels threatened. “Certainly if we have someone in North Korea that has a lethal legacy, is very, very unpredictable, and sees this as a way to solidify his future, that he could well not just attain them but potentially use them.”
POLITICAL GENERALS: On ABC, Mullen also repeated his criticism that White House chief of staff retired Marine Gen. John Kelly and national security adviser Lt. Gen H.R. McMaster, an active duty Army officer, are too involved in the politics of the administration.
“I think the role of the national security adviser is to really just present options, almost be neutral in that regard,” Mullen said. “His main job is to tee up options for the national security apparatus and the president to make decisions.” Both McMaster and Kelly have been cheerleaders and in some cases chief defenders of Trump’s policies and public statements, especially Kelly.
“What happened very sadly a few weeks ago when he was in a position to both defend the president in terms of what happened with the Gold Star family and then he ends up, John ends up politicizing the death of his own son in the wars,” Mullen said. “It is indicative of the fact that he clearly is very supportive of the president no matter what. And that, that was really a sad moment for me.”
Mullen argues that when former generals move into the political arena, they risk undermining the core value of civilian control of an apolitical military. “We never take the uniform off,” Mattis said, adding he felt the same way about retired Gen. John Allen speaking at the Democratic convention. “I think it sends the wrong message on the American people in terms of politicizing the military, and actually undermining the institutions they care so much about.”
TRUTH IN TROOP TALLIES: Despite a pledge from Defense Secretary Jim Mattis months ago to provide the American public with more accurate, though still approximate, numbers of U.S. troops serving in active combat zones, the Pentagon keeps giving the old number of 503 for Syria, which dates back to the Obama administration. Everyone knows the number is higher.
As soon as today the Pentagon is expected to fess up and reveal that the real number is closer to 2,000 U.S. troops in Syria, according to CNN and Reuters.
SAILORS ID’D: The U.S. Navy has identified the three sailors lost in a C-2A Greyhound crash Wednesday in the Philippine Sea.
The names of the sailors, Lt. Steven Combs, Aviation Boatswain’s Mate Airman Matthew Chialastri, and Aviation Ordnanceman Airman Apprentice Bryan Grosso, were made public after the Navy notified their families, according to a 7th Fleet statement on Saturday. Search-and-rescue efforts ended Thursday.
CUTTING OFF THE KURDS: Trump told Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan the U.S. will stop supplying weapons to the leading Syrian Kurdish militia, according to a Turkish news report. Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu, who sat in on a Friday call between the leaders, provided the account to the Daily Sabah newspaper. A White House spokeswoman did not immediately confirm the claim.
The primarily Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG) formed during the Syrian civil war and has been a key U.S. partner in rolling back the Islamic State’s territorial control, liberating the terrorist group’s de facto capital city, Raqqa, last month.
BAN TALK IS BACK: Trump renewed his call for travel restrictions affecting foreign citizens after the mass murder of Sufi mosque-goers in Egypt. The attack during Friday prayers killed at least 305 adherents of the Muslim minority group.
“Will be calling the President of Egypt in a short while to discuss the tragic terrorist attack, with so much loss of life,” Trump tweeted after the death count spiked. “We have to get TOUGHER AND SMARTER than ever before, and we will. Need the WALL, need the BAN! God bless the people of Egypt,” Trump wrote.
FREQUENT FLYERS, RUFFLED FEATHERS: The Pentagon’s policy for picking reporters to travel with Mattis has resulted in some low-level grumbling from the regulars in the Pentagon press corps. Under Mattis, the secretary is accompanied on overseas and some domestic trips by a smaller media contingent, which includes news organizations who in the past were rarely invited to have a coveted seat on Mattis’ plane. While the travel policy breaks with recent tradition, Pentagon officials says it’s more about Mattis’ style than anything else. He prefers smaller groups, speaking off the record, and likes to engage with reporters who he won’t find walking the halls of the Pentagon.
TRUMP TALKS EQUIPMENT: On Thanksgiving, Trump visited Coast Guardsmen in Palm Beach, where he touted American-made military equipment and suggested that the versions the U.S. produces for foreign customers don’t quite measure up to the ones we keep for ourselves.
“But, I mean, we have equipment that — nobody has the equipment that we have. And it's sad when we're selling our equipment to other countries but we're not buying it ourselves, OK? But now that's all changed. And the stuff I said — the stuff that we have is always a little bit better too. You know, when we sell to other countries, even if they're allies — you never know about an ally. An ally can turn. You understand. You're going to find that out. But I always say, make ours a little bit better. You know, give it that extra speed. A little bit — keep a little bit — keep about 10 percent in the bag, because what we have — nobody has like what we have, and that's what we're doing.”
AP: Egyptian village where mosque was attacked had been warned
Reuters: South Korea warns North not to repeat armistice violation
CNN: N. Korea replaces soldiers after defection
US News: Following Missile Deal, NATO Forced to Shrug Off Turkey’s Closer Ties with Russia
Washington Post: Pentagon tried to block independent report on child sex among Afghan forces, Senate office says
War on the Rocks: The 2017 War on the Rocks Holiday Reading List
Army Times: New Army tests put a tank crew in charge of a mini-formation of unmanned vehicles
Stars and Stripes: Transport ship giving Navy's damaged USS Fitzgerald a lift home
Reuters: Syrian government push for Damascus rebel enclave kills at least 23
New York Times: To the World, They Are Muslims. To ISIS, Sufis Are Heretics.
Military Times: Congress advances new sexual assault, harassment rules for the military
Defense One: Inside Pakistan’s Biggest Business Conglomerate: The Pakistani Military
AP: Women get chance to 'one-up' the men in mixed infantry units
Fox News: Airbnb lists converted Cold War nuclear missile silo as rental, report says
Air Force Times: ‘Oh s--t’: Intel group commander at Ramstein fired after drunk driving arrest
Daily Beast: Sputnik Ignited Fears That an Unprotected U.S. Would Be Annihilated From Space
MONDAY | NOV. 27
1 p.m. 1616 Rhode Island Ave. NW. Private Sector Engagement in Afghanistan. Csis.org
2 p.m. Senior Enlisted Adviser to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Army Command Sgt. Maj. John Troxell, Sgt. Maj of the Army Daniel Dailey, Sgt. Maj. of the Marine Corps Ronald Green, Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy Steven Giordano, Chief Master Sgt. of the Air Force Kaleth Wright, and Master Chief Petty Officer of the Coast Guard Steven Cantrell brief the press on military readiness and enlisted leader development in the Pentagon Briefing Room. Streamed live on www.defense.gov/live.
4 p.m. 1300 Pennsylvania Ave. NW. A book discussion of “Moscow 1956: The Silenced Spring” with author Kathleen Smith. wilsoncenter.org
TUESDAY | NOV. 28
7:30 a.m. 901 Massachusetts Ave. NW. 54th Annual AOC International Symposium and Convention with Air Force Vice Chief of Staff Gen. Seve Wilson. crows.org
10 a.m. Dirksen 419. Nominations hearing for Christopher Ford to be an assistant secretary of state for international security and non-proliferation and Yleem Poblete to be an assistant secretary of state for verification and compliance. foreign.senate.gov
11 a.m. 1300 Pennsylvania Ave. NW. Address by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson: "The U.S. And Europe: Strengthening Western Alliances." wilsoncenter.org
1 p.m. 1152 15th St. NW. Quantum technology: What every national security professional needs to know. cnas.org
WEDNESDAY | NOV. 29
7 a.m. 901 Massachusetts Ave. NW. 54th Annual AOC International Symposium and Convention. crows.org
9 a.m. 1030 15th St. NW. A coming storm? Shaping a Balkan future in an era of uncertainty. atlanticcouncil.org
10 a.m. Rayburn 2172. Subcommittee hearing on the latest developments in Saudi Arabia and Lebanon. foreignaffairs.house.gov
12 p.m. 214 Massachusetts Ave. NE. Digital World War: Islamists, Extremists, and the Fight for Cyber Supremacy with Haroon Ullah, chief strategy officer at the Broadcasting Board of Governors. heritage.org
3:30 p.m. 1300 Pennsylvania Ave. NW. Book launch of “King of Spies: The Dark Reign of America’s Spymaster in Korea.” wilsoncenter.org
6:30 p.m. 1700 Jefferson Davis Hwy. National Aeronautic Association awards dinner with Air Force Vice Chief of Staff Gen. Seve Wilson. naa.aero
6:30 p.m. 529 14th St. NW. 4th Estate dinner and ambassador series Q&A with Iraqi Ambassador Fareed Yasseen. press.org
WEDNESDAY | NOV. 30
8 a.m. 1800 Jefferson Davis Hwy. Special topic breakfast with Major Gen. David Coffman, director of expeditionary warfare. navyleague.org
8 a.m. 2401 M St. NW. Defense Writers Group breakfast with Rep. Adam Smith.
10 a.m. Dirksen G-50. Testimony from outside experts on recommendations for a future National Defense Strategy. armed-services.senate.gov
10 a.m. Dirksen 419. Nominations hearing for U.S. ambassadors. foreign.senate.gov
10 a.m. House Visitor Center 210. Worldwide threats: Keeping America secure in the new age of terror. homeland.house.gov
2 p.m. House Visitor Center 304. Open hearing in a closed space with testimony by Eric Prince. intelligence.house.gov
FRIDAY | DEC. 1
1:30 p.m. 740 15th St. NW. Digital World War: Islamists, Extremists, and the Fight for Cyber Supremacy. newamerica.org
MONDAY | DEC. 4
8 a.m. 555 Pennsylvania Ave. NW. Defense Forum Washington 2017 with Navy Secretary Richard Spencer. usni.org
12:30 p.m. 1030 15th St. NW. Rebuilding Syria: A localized revitalization strategy. atlanticcouncil.org
5 p.m. 1201 Pennsylvania Ave. NW. Book discussion of “1917: Lenin, Wilson, and the Birth of the New World Disorder” with author Arthur Herman. hudson.org
6 p.m. 1777 F St. NW. Book discussion of “Preventive Engagement: How America Can Avoid War, Stay Strong, and Keep the Peace” with author Paul Stares. cfr.org