NOT YOUR ENEMY, BUT WE COULD BE: There are more mixed messages coming out of Washington about the prospect of war against North Korea, with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson playing “good cop” and Sen. Lindsey Graham playing “bad cop.” Tillerson, the diplomat, once again tried to turn down the temperature. Speaking to reporters at the State Department yesterday, Tillerson said his message to Kim Jong Un is: “We do not see a regime change. We do not seek the collapse of the regime. We do not seek an accelerated reunification of the peninsula. We do not seek an excuse to send our military north of the 38th parallel. And we're trying to convey to the North Koreans, we are not your enemy. We're not your threat, but you are presenting an unacceptable threat to us, and we have to respond.”

That threat will inevitably lead to war if North Korea doesn’t change course, Graham said on NBC’s “Today” show, citing his personal conversation with President Trump. “There will be a war with North Korea over their missile program if they continue to try to hit America with an ICBM. He [Trump] has hold me that. I believe him, and if I were China, I would believe him, too.”

Tillerson says he still holds out hope that in the end diplomacy and reason will prevail. “We hope at some point, they will begin to understand that and that we would like to sit and have a dialogue with them about the future that will give them the security they seek and the future economic prosperity for North Korea, but that will then promote economic prosperity throughout northeast Asia."

But Graham insists there is a real military option, and that if forced to choose, Trump is ready to take the fight to Pyongyang, rather than risk destruction of an American city by a North Korean nuke. “There is a military option to destroy North Korea's program and North Korea itself," Graham told NBC. "If there's going to be a war to stop [Kim], it will be over there. If thousands die, they're going to die over there, they're not going to die here and [Trump] told me that to my face.

“And that may be provocative, but not really. When you're president of the United States, where does your allegiance lie? To the people of the United States. This man, Kim Jong Un, is threatening America with a nuclear tip missile. President Trump doesn't want a war, the Chinese can stop this, but to China, South Korea, and Japan, Donald Trump is not going to allow this missile,” Graham added.

Asked about Graham’s bellicose comments later in the day, White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said, “The president obviously has been very outspoken about how he feels about North Korea. We're weighing all options, keeping all options on the table. And as we've said many times before, we're not going to broadcast what we're going to do until that happens.”

Sen. Ted Cruz writes in an op-ed in the Washington Post yesterday that the U.S. needs to do much more to strengthen its rudimentary missile shield. “Our aim must be to outpace the North Korean threat by orders of magnitude, not merely to keep up with it,” Cruz argues. “Space-based missile defense can get us there.”

SHADE FROM CHINA: The Chinese state news agency attacked Trump's "emotional venting" following his tweets disapproving of China's lack of response to a North Korean missile launch. "Trump is quite a personality, and he likes to tweet," Xinhua, the official news agency of China, said in an editorial, according to the New York Times. "But emotional venting cannot become a guiding policy for solving the nuclear issue on the peninsula."

GENERAL ADVICE: With the elevation of retired Marine Gen. John Kelly to White House House chief of staff, the president has surrounded himself with experienced war-fighting commanders, and appears to rely on their counsel. But a new report says Kelly and fellow Marine Defense Secretary Jim Mattis made a pact early on to make sure one of them was always around to serve as a counterweight to the president’s impulsive nature. “Mattis and Kelly also agreed in the earliest weeks of Trump's presidency that one of them should remain in the United States at all times to keep tabs on the orders rapidly emerging from the White House,” the Associated Press reported, citing “a person familiar with the discussions.”

THE COAST GUARD’S PROMISE: The commandant of the Coast Guard jumped headlong into the transgender debate yesterday, saying he will not "break faith" with Coast Guardsmen following Trump's tweets announcing plans for a total ban of transgender military service. “We have made an investment in you and you have made an investment in the Coast Guard and I will not break faith. And so, that is the commitment to our people right now," Adm. Paul Zukunft said during a Q and A session at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. Zukunft said his first phone call after learning of Trump’s announcement was to one of the 13 Coast Guardsmen who publicly came out as transgender after an earlier ban was lifted last summer.

Reached after Zukunft's appearance, the Coast Guard said it would not elaborate on his statements. "His comments are his own," said Lt. j.g. Emma Lutton, a spokeswoman. "The Coast Guard is going to look after its people, so we are going to follow closely with the [Defense Department] on their human resources policies. So, we are currently in contact with them on how the president's comments are going to affect our policies." The White House seemed to be caught off guard by the comments during a Tuesday briefing. “I’d have to check into and get back to you,” Sanders said.

RETIRED BRASS WEIGHS IN: A group of 56 retired generals and admirals also announced their opposition to Trump’s transgender ban Tuesday. They said the ban would rob the military of talent and force the return of a "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" kind of policy for current troops. "Patriotic transgender Americans who are serving — and who want to serve — must not be dismissed, deprived of medically necessary health care or forced to compromise their integrity or hide their identity," they said in a joint statement. The group included retired Marine Corps Gen. John Allen, who oversaw U.S. security operations in Afghanistan and gave a rousing speech at the Democratic National Convention last summer.

Good Wednesday 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 — AUMF DEBATE: Concerns over the 9/11-era war authorization still being used to fight the Islamic State and remnants of al-Qaeda have bubbled up on Capitol Hill this summer. Last week, Sen. Rand Paul delayed consideration of the Senate’s annual defense policy bill because he wants a floor debate on the authorization for the use of military force, or AUMF. Rep. Barbara Lee, along with some Republican support, won a surprising victory by adding an AUMF repeal into an annual House spending bill, though it was stripped at the behest of Speaker Paul Ryan.

Today, Mattis and Tillerson will weigh in with the Trump administration’s point of view in a classified briefing on the AUMF to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. The committee has purview over war authorizations and the brief could presage new AUMF legislation — if senators find a political appetite for the debate. Foreign Relations considered new AUMF requests from the Obama administration in 2015 but its hearings came to nothing. Many lawmakers in the House and Senate lament the current aging AUMF (written for the fight against al-Qaeda, not ISIS), but remain reluctant to take a politically risky vote on the long-running wars in Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan.

SPENCER CONFIRMED: The Senate last night confirmed Richard V. Spencer to be the new Navy secretary, along with seven other civilians to fill key positions at the Pentagon. The approval more than doubles the number of nominees confirmed for Pentagon positions, bringing the total to 15. Spencer, a financier and former Marine aviator, seemed in danger of having his nomination held up by partisan wrangling in the Senate and moves by Democrats to slow-roll nominees. But senators reached an agreement on passage with less than two weeks until the start of their August recess. Spencer will join Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson as they await the confirmation of Mark Esper to be Army secretary.

Senators also approved a roster of undersecretaries, assistant secretaries, and the Pentagon's top weapons buyer. The remaining seven are:

  • Matthew Donovan, as Air Force undersecretary
  • Ryan McCarthy, as Army undersecretary
  • Ellen Lord, as undersecretary of defense for acquisition, technology and logistics
  • Lucian Niemeyer, as assistant secretary of defense for energy, installations, and environment
  • Robert Hood, as assistant secretary of defense for legislative affairs
  • Robert Daigle, as director of Cost Assessment and Program Evaluation
  • Elaine McCusker, as a principal deputy undersecretary of defense, comptroller.

STILL WAITING: Four more of Trump’s Pentagon nominees have yet to receive a Senate vote:

  • John Gibson, to be deputy chief management officer
  • David Trachtenberg, to be principal deputy undersecretary for policy
  • Owen West, to be assistant secretary for special operations and low-intensity conflict
  • Charles Stimson, to be general counsel of the Navy.

RUSSIAN RESALE COULD SOLVE THE AF1 PROBLEM: Trump, who recoiled from sticker shock after seeing the price tag of two new aircraft for the Air Force One mission, may be mollified by the Air Force’s latest idea. The service is in the process purchasing two never-used jumbo jets abandoned by a bankrupt Russian airline, to be converted for Air Force One duty, Defense One reports. The two Boeing jetliners have been sitting unused in the Mojave Desert. The Russian airline Transaero went bankrupt and never acquired the planes and did not complete their payments. "We're working through the final stages of coordination to purchase two commercial 747-8 aircraft and expect to award a contract soon," Air Force spokeswoman Ann Stefanek confirmed in a statement to the Washington Examiner. No details on the price have been disclosed, or how much it will cost to upgrade to the standard Air Force One complement of accoutrements.

TRUMP’S GRUDGING ACCEPTANCE OF SANCTIONS: Trump and Tillerson still oppose the Russia sanctions legislation passed by Congress, even though the president plans to sign the bill, Joel Gehrke writes. "The action by the Congress to put these sanctions in place and the way they did, neither the president nor I are very happy about that," Tillerson told reporters during that press briefing yesterday at the State Department.

Tillerson lobbied against the bill as it moved through Congress, because the legislation gives Trump less discretion than presidents usually enjoy when deciding how to implement and when to relax sanctions. "We were clear that we didn't think it was going to be helpful to our efforts, but that's the decision they made," Tillerson said. "They made it in an overwhelming way. I think the president accepts that and all indications are he will sign that bill.” He acknowledged the bill — opposed by only five members of both chambers — is veto-proof.

TILLERSON’S TAKE ON TRUMP’S TWEETS: U.S. diplomats can weather the surprises caused by Trump's use of Twitter, Tillerson said Tuesday. "It's part of the environment in which we work," Tillerson said at that briefing. "We'll adapt to it."

"There's a lot of unexpected things that happen to us in the world of diplomacy, and we know how to adapt to that, we know how to work with it," he said. "And so, I don't view it as an obstacle, a hindrance, or as an assistance."

WELCOME VASILY: U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley shared a picture on Tuesday of her meeting with Russia's new U.N. ambassador, Vasily Nebeznya. The tweet shows Haley sitting opposite of Nebeznya with the message, "Pleased to welcome the new Russian Amb to NY." She said she discussed counterterrorism, North Korea and U.S.-Russia relations with Nebeznya. Russia's previous ambassador to the U.N., Vitaly Churkin, died in February, reportedly from a heart attack.

NEW MIDEAST ADVISER: Mike Bell, a retired Army colonel who served in the Iraq war, has been promoted to be Trump's top Middle East adviser on the National Security Council, The National reported. Bell, who was the NSC director of Persian Gulf affairs, is replacing Derek Harvey. Before joining the Trump administration, Bell was chancellor of the College of International Security Affairs at National Defense University. During his Army career, Bell served in the Middle East, Europe, and on the Pentagon's Joint Staff. He is a 1983 graduate of West Point.

BLOCKING THE MOOCH: Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer is calling on Trump to block the sale of a company founded by ousted White House communications director Anthony Scaramucci, along with most other major Chinese investments in the U.S. Schumer said in a letter to Trump on Tuesday that he should block most major Chinese investments in the U.S., and an aide to Schumer said that would include the pending sale of Scaramucci's Skybridge Capital to a Chinese group. But Schumer's aide stressed that Schumer's move is not meant to target Scaramucci. "[T]hat's not the motivating factor," Schumer spokesman Matt House told the Washington Examiner. "It's about China, not Skybridge."

REPLACING THE MOOCH: New White House Chief of Staff Kelly is reportedly considering hiring his former spokesman at the Homeland Security Department as White House communications director. CNN says retired Col. Dave Lapan, who has worked with Kelly for over a decade, is the leading contender for the job to replace Scaramucci, citing two unnamed administration sources.

Scaramucci was dismissed less than two weeks after being hired and on the same day Kelly officially took over as White House chief of staff. Lapan, like Kelly, is a retired Marine, and before working with Kelly at DHS, he led press operations at the Defense Department and the Marine Corps.

THE RUNDOWN

Fox News: Pentagon investigators find ‘security risks’ in government's immigrant recruitment program, ‘infiltration’ feared

Reuters: Trump administration sends conflicting signals on Russia sanctions

The Atlantic: Tillerson Acknowledges 'Differences' With Trump on Iran Deal

USA Today: Hezbollah to Trump: ‘We fight terrorism while the U.S. supports it’

UPI: New railgun ready for testing

New York Times: Iran says new U.S. sanctions violate nuclear deal

Foreign Policy: Donald Trump is pushing America’s Special Forces past the breaking point

Defense Tech: Future Battlespace Emerges as F-35 Variants, F-22 Train Together

Stars and Stripes: Navy probe blames captain’s judgment in USS Antietam grounding

Defense News: Rethinking the battlefield: Army drives toward lighter, smaller, mobile systems at NIE

War on the Rocks: Eisenhower meets Trump: A new defense industrial base strategy

Calendar

WEDNESDAY | AUGUST 2

7 a.m. 4803 Stonecroft Blvd. National Security Space Policy and Architecture Symposium. ndia.org

9:30 a.m. Senate Visitors Center 212-10. Release of the study “Survivability in the Digital Age: The Imperative for Stealth” with opening remarks by Sen. Mike Rounds. mitchellaerospacepower.org

2 p.m. Senate Visitors Center 217. Closed top-secret meeting on the authorizations for the use of military force and the Trump administration perspective with Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. foreign.state.gov

4 p.m. 1030 15th St. NW. Cyber Risk Wednesday: DEF CON to DC. atlanticcouncil.org

TUESDAY | AUGUST 8

8 .m. 5701 Marinelli Rd. Global explosive ordnance disposal symposium and exhibition. ndia.org

8 a.m. 11790 Sunrise Valley Dr. How Washington works workshop - Navigating the DOD. ndia.org

10 a.m. 529 14th St. NW. CIA whistleblower John Kiriakou and former State Department official Matthew Hoh discuss a petition to Congress and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis calling for removal of all U.S. military aircraft from Syrian skies. press.org

11 a.m. 214 Massachusetts Ave. NE. Defending the homeland and the future of the U.S. countering violent extremism policy with Katharine Gorka, senior advisor for the Department of Homeland Security. heritage.org