THE HUMILIATION OF REX TILLERSON: Despite lukewarm denials from the White House and the State Department, there is every indication this morning that the long rumored “Rexit” of Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is just a matter of time, and a short time at that. The report that Tillerson was about to be shown the door began with an authorized leak to the New York Times, and was quickly confirmed by administration officials to many news organizations, including the Washington Examiner.
President Trump had a prime opportunity to knock down the report during a White House photo op with the crown prince of Bahrain yesterday, but in response to a shouted question, “Do you want Rex Tillerson on the job, Mr. President?” Trump simply answered, “He's here. Rex is here,” and then shut down the questioning.
That left White House press secretary Sarah Sanders to assert that so long as Tillerson is not fired, he technically still has the confidence of his boss. “When the president loses confidence in somebody, they'll no longer be here,” Sanders said. “The secretary of state is here and we're working hard to get big things accomplished.”
Over at the State Department, spokeswoman Heather Nauert revealed that Tillerson “heard the news” about his impending departure as he was coming out of a meeting with Germany’s foreign minister, before heading over to the White House for a routine meeting. “He remains, as I have been told, committed to doing this job. He does serve at the pleasure of the president,” Nauert said.
Tillerson is scheduled to be at the White House again today. The president's schedule shows a lunch with Tillerson and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis.
On CNN, retired Rear Adm. John Kirby, a State Department spokesman at the end the Obama administration, says the message could hardly be clearer. “I don't know what more proof Mr. Tillerson needs that he’s probably running out of airspeed and altitude with trust and confidence with this particular president,” Kirby said after watching Nauert’s briefing. “If I was advising him I would say put your letter in now. Because this is disgraceful for the way this has been rolled out publicly, in a very specific, deliberate way. I don't think he needs any more signals, and if he wants to save any little bit of his dignity he should resign now.”
KUSHNER’S ROLE: The plan to oust Tillerson was orchestrated in part by Trump's son-in-law Jared Kushner, according to multiple sources, one of whom said the two senior administration officials have "been clashing heads since day one,” Sarah Westwood and Gabby Morrongiello report.
White House officials reportedly confirmed Thursday that there are high-level discussions taking place about replacing Tillerson with CIA Director Mike Pompeo, whose own position would be filled by Arkansas Sen. Tom Cotton. Both men have developed close relationships with Trump and appear to be on board with the plan, a former White House aide told the Washington Examiner. "The initial narrative had focused on [U.N. Ambassador Nikki] Haley going over to the State Department, but Pompeo has continued to increase his influence within the administration over the last several months," the former aide said.
SPECIAL RELATIONSHIP STRAINED: The uncertainty about who’s going to be in charge of diplomacy for the U.S. comes as Trump’s retweeting of anti-Muslim videos from a right-wing extremist group in Britain has put new strains on the special relationship between the U.S. and the U.K. Britain’s Telegraph newspaper is reporting this morning that Trump’s visit to London that had been “penciled in” for next month is being delayed to give relations time to get back on an even keel. “The Telegraph can reveal that the trip has been pushed into the long grass, with no new date in the diary picked,” the paper said. British Prime Minister Theresa May condemned Trump’s retweets as “wrong,” but said the special relationship between the two nations will endure.
CLOCK IS TICKING: The No. 1 diplomatic priority at the moment is North Korea, which demonstrated this week it has a missile that can in theory hit anywhere in the U.S. “We don’t have the luxury of time,” said Sen. Jim Inhofe on the Senate floor yesterday, making another impassioned plea for Congress to fully fund missile defenses. “We are to the point where we have to recognize we are in the most threatened position we have been in as a nation,” Inhofe said, dismissing critics who argue North Korea is not yet an imminent threat. “The only argument they use is they say well, this may not have had a payload — maybe they couldn’t have done that with a payload, actually had that kind of a range. That doesn’t give me much comfort.”
RUSSIA SAYS U.S. SPOILING FOR A FIGHT: Russia’s top diplomat says Trump’s national security team is trying “to provoke” North Korea into a military conflict. “It appears that the latest U.S. actions deliberately aim to provoke Pyongyang into taking new drastic steps,” Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov told reporters in Minsk, Belarus. Lavrov paired that assessment with a rebuke of Haley, who called for an oil embargo and diplomatic isolation of North Korea.
“The Americans should, above all, explain to all of us what they want to achieve. If they want to find a pretext for destroying North Korea, as the U.S. ambassador to the U.N. has stated, then they should say this openly, and let the top U.S. leadership also confirm this,” Lavrov said. “We would then make a decision on how to respond to this.”
MEDDLING CLAIMS: Meanwhile Russia is accusing the United States of trying to drive a wedge between the Kremlin and his wealthiest allies. "We are confident that this is exactly the case,” Dmitry Peskov, a spokesman for Russian President Vladimir Putin said yesterday according to state-run media. Peskov suggested that economic sanctions imposed on Russia following the 2014 annexation of Crimea and invasion of eastern Ukraine are now being tightened to alienate domestic business allies of the president in advance of the next Russian election. But though he is “convinced” that such a scheme is in place, he downplayed the idea that the tactic might be working, saying that the Kremlin hasn’t heard of frustrated businessmen.
Good Friday 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: Mattis departs this afternoon for another overseas trip. And for the second time in a row, the Pentagon has failed to make an official announcement of the secretary’s travel plans by the day his departure, so under Pentagon rules we are not supposed reveal his itinerary. Suffice it to say that in the next 24 hours you will see reports that Mattis has arrived in a country in the U.S. Central Command area of responsibility.
HAPPENING THIS WEEKEND, THE REAGAN FORUM: Defense Department officials, members of Congress, defense industry leaders and national security figures descend on Simi Valley, Calif., this weekend for the annual Reagan National Defense Forum. The Saturday event is packed with panels of defense heavyweights to talk issues such as space defense, the industrial base, a future military build-up and others. Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster, the national security adviser to Trump, is scheduled for a luncheon discussion with Fox News anchor Bret Baier. The day will be closed out with a speech by Deputy Defense Secretary Pat Shanahan. The Washington Examiner will be providing you coverage of the forum. Here’s a list of some other confirmed participants:
- Mark Esper, secretary of the Army
- Heather Wilson, secretary of the Air Force
- Richard V. Spencer, secretary of the Navy
- Gen. David Goldfein, Air Force chief of staff
- Gen. Robert Neller, commandant of the Marine Corps
- Gen. John Hyten, commander of U.S. Strategic Command
- Rep. Mac Thornberry, chairman of the House Armed Services Committee
- Rep. Kevin McCarthy, House majority leader
- Sen. Jack Reed, ranking member on the Senate Armed Services Committee
- Rep. Adam Smith, ranking member on the House Armed Services Committee
- Mike Pompeo, CIA director
- Marillyn Hewson, CEO of Lockheed Martin
- Wes Bush, CEO of Northrop Grumman
- Leon Panetta, former secretary of defense and former CIA director
- Ellen Lord, under secretary of defense for acquisition, technology and logistics
- David Petraeus, former CIA director
ROOD NOMINATION ADVANCES: Pentagon nominee John Rood, a former Lockheed Martin vice president, had a rough confirmation hearing last month with senators hammering him about potential conflicts of interest. But it did not stop the Armed Services Committee from advancing his nomination as undersecretary for policy to the Senate floor Thursday. Sens. John McCain and Elizabeth Warren questioned Rood repeatedly on Nov. 16 on whether he would seek a waiver as undersecretary allowing him to be involved in his old employer’s overseas weapons sales, a question he did not answer. “It is not difficult, you should not be making decisions that are relating to your previous employer or would affect the fortunes of one of them,” McCain said at the time. “So I don’t like your answers, most of us don’t like your answers.”
McCain warned that Armed Services wanted a better response in writing and Rood later complied. But in that written response he did not rule out the possibility of a waiver request for Lockheed’s arms deals. He “clarified that in the event that a waiver was necessary to promote national security or U.S. interests, he would seek the approval of the [defense] secretary and notify the [Armed Services] committee,” according to a Senate aide. The pledge apparently placated McCain and committee members, who advanced the nomination with a voice vote during an unrelated hearing.
IT’S THE SERVICE CONTRACT: As any savvy consumer knows, once you spend a lot of money for a high-end tech product, the next question you face is whether to shell out for the expensive service contract that goes with it. The folks over at the Project On Government Oversight have been analyzing the latest GAO report on the F-35, and they have found that under the current system defense contractors are essentially holding the Pentagon hostage with non-competitive service contracts that come with eye-popping price tags. “Defense contractors are creating complicated support systems for the increasingly complex weapon systems the Pentagon buys, which allows the contractors to secure long-term contracts for which they have no competition from other companies,” writes Dan Grazier in the POGO analysis.
“The F-35 serves as the ultimate example of this arrangement. Under the current plans, the American people will spend $406.5 billion for research, development, and procurement for a fleet of 2,456 F-35s. That is a staggering figure, but it pales in comparison to the costs to sustain the program. These costs are expected to top $1.2 trillion through 2060, the expected lifespan of the program. That is about $30 billion per year. While the sustainment-to-acquisition cost ratio for the F-35 program is roughly equivalent to the historic average of 70:30, the way in which the Pentagon and the contractors reach the 70 percent figure adds more than simple financial costs to the program.”
DEFENSE POLICY BOARD: The Defense Policy Board, which is charged with providing the Pentagon’s top civilian leaders with “independent, informed advice and opinion” on defense policy, has a new chairman. Mattis has appointed J.D. Crouch, a former assistant to the president and deputy national security adviser, to the post. Crouch is the chief executive officer and the president of the United Services Organization.
The Pentagon has also announced new members to the board: Wanda Austin, Making Space, Inc; Eric Cantor, Moelis & Company; David McCormick, Bridgewater Associates; Kiron Skinner, Carnegie Mellon University; and James Talent, American Enterprise Institute.
They join the returning members: Madeleine Albright, Rudy deLeon, Michèle Flournoy, Jamie Gorelick, Jane Harman, Henry Kissinger, Frank Miller, William Perry; and retired Adm. Gary Roughead.
STRATEGIC ADVICE FROM SMART PEOPLE: The Senate Armed Services Committee assembled five of the top defense experts from Washington think tanks yesterday to pick their brains about the worldwide threats picture. Here’s a sampling of what they said:
“We do need to recognize that the conflicts of the future are going to be uglier than what we faced in the last 15 or so years. … Unfortunately, our options vis-a-vis North Korea are terrible and anyone who tells you differently is a foolish optimist. So what we need to do in the near term is, we need to rebuild our defenses.” — Mara Karlin, associate professor, Practice of Strategic Studies, Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies.
“We started gaming the consequences of a potentially nuclear armed North Korea in 2001 and we learned a lot about the options available to him and the behavior of a leader like that under the stress of conflict. And we're not optimistic about the ability to deter nuclear use once conflict breaks out on the Korean Peninsula. So it drives us to want capabilities to actually prevent him from using those weapons, shooting down the missiles before they leave North Korean airspace, killing them on the ground before they can be launched and that's going to require some investment and some new capabilities.” — David Ochmanek, senior defense research analyst, Rand Corporation.
“We've spent decades, first imagining that North Korea was just going to collapse on its own, then imagining that they wouldn't be able to master nuclear weapons, then imagining that they wouldn't be able to master the ability to deliver them over longer ranges. And we are where we are, but I think we need to pay attention to this allure, which still exists, of wishful thinking, to imagine a world as we wish it was, not the world as it is. As far as North Korea's concerned, I think we are going to have to be more active in deterring North Korea. We're also going to need to be more active in reassuring our allies. And in the end, that may prove to be the more difficult of the two tasks.” — Thomas Mahnken, president and CEO, Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments.
“I would say that the national defense strategy does not have the luxury of having a single threat like a great power. It's going to have to consider terrorism, rogue nations such as North Korea and Iran and the smaller threats from terrorism.” — Retired Army Lt. Gen. Thomas Spoehr, director, Center For National Defense, Heritage Foundation.
“Mass and attrition are back as force planning principles, and I think we need to consider that when we're looking at our capability gaps against China and Russia in particular. And then we're on the wrong side of the cost exchange ratio.” — Mackenzie Eaglen, resident fellow, Marilyn Ware Center for Security Studies, American Enterprise Institute.
SKY PENIS AVIATORS PUNISHED: The Navy never found much humor in the penis drawn with EA-18G Growler jet exhaust over Washington state last month. Now, the service has confirmed the two naval aviators who were responsible have been personally disciplined by Vice Adm. Mike Shoemaker, the “air boss” in charge of Naval Air Forces. Shoemaker convened a naval aviator evaluation board for them on Nov. 22 and both were given administrative punishments, said Cmdr. Ron Flanders, spokesman for Naval Air Forces. The Navy does not release the results of the evaluation boards or discuss what discipline was meted out. But the unruly aviators may not be out of the woods yet. A separate investigation into the sky-writing incident by their Whidbey Island Naval Air Station squadron’s carrier air wing is still ongoing, meaning additional discipline is possible, Flanders said.
IN RELATED HOLIDAY NEWS: A website that specializes in novelty aviation items is selling Christmas ornaments in honor of the phallic display. "Bring some Holiday Cheer with PLANEFORM custom Christmas Ornaments — this wood ornament is exactly what it looks like," according to a listing on the PLANEFORM website. "Precisely laser cut using our Epilog CNC Laser, you'll get an amazingly accurate depiction of the most ridiculous moment in aviation for all of 2017." The ornament is advertised as the "EA-18G Growler Sky 'Art' Christmas Ornament, and can be purchased for $10.
CNN: U.S. gets OK to fly armed drones in Niger
AP: Army probes criticism of Green Beret training
Washington Post: Navy releases new details about ship collision off South Korea’s coastline
Wall Street Journal: Six Minutes to Counterattack: South Korea Shows Plan to Strike Back at North's Missiles
Reuters: U.S. Military To Indefinitely Delay Ban On Cluster Bombs
USNI News: Lockheed Martin Awarded First Contract For New Saudi Frigates
BuzzFeed: The Trump Administration Is Mulling A Pitch For A Private “Rendition” And Spy Network
Stars and Stripes: Head of Navy personnel tapped to lead Pacific Fleet’s troubled surface force
Reuters: Trump's call for military buildup hits bump in Congress
Defense One: The Promise and Peril of Trump's Cyber Strategy
Defense News: Textron-owned firm tries out augmented reality in V-280 helo simulator
USNI News: Aircraft Carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt Enters Persian Gulf
Agence France-Presse: Saudi Arabia Intercepts Second Yemen Missile In A Month
Popular Mechanics: Russia’s New Missile Submarine Sure Looks Familiar
FRIDAY | DEC. 1
8 a.m. Rayburn 2212. Hearing on amphibious warfare readiness and training, interoperability, shortfalls, and the way ahead with Lt. Gen. Brian Beaudreault, deputy Marine Corps commandant; Vice Adm. Andrew Lewis, deputy chief of naval operations; and Cary Russell, director of defense capabilities and management team at the U.S. Government Accountability Office. armedservices.house.gov
10 a.m. 1775 Massachusetts Ave. NW. The Middle East and Russia: American attitudes on Trump’s foreign policy. brookings.edu
1:30 p.m. 740 15th St. NW. Digital World War: Islamists, Extremists, and the Fight for Cyber Supremacy. newamerica.org
6 p.m. 1401 Pennsylvania Ave. NW. Saban Forum 2017 with Ehud Barak, former Israel defense minister, Sen. Tom Cotton, and retired Gen. John Allen. brookings.edu
MONDAY | DEC. 4
8 a.m. 555 Pennsylvania Ave. NW. Defense Forum Washington 2017 with Navy Secretary Richard V. 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
TUESDAY | DEC. 5
8 a.m. 2101 Wilson Blvd. Security Cooperation Management Industry Course. ndia.org
8:30 a.m. 1616 Rhode Island Ave. NW. PONI 2017 Winter Conference. csis.org
9 a.m. 214 Massachusetts Ave. NE. Waging war in the 21st Century. heritage.org
9:30 a.m. 1789 Massachusetts Ave. NW. Military readiness and early childhood: What is the link? aei.org
9:30 a.m. 2301 Constitution Ave. NW. Turmoil across the Middle East: What does it mean? wilsoncenter.org
10 a.m. 1030 15th St. NW. Public perspectives on the North Korean nuclear crisis. atlanticcouncil.org
2:30 p.m. Dirksen 419. The president, Congress, and shared authority over the international accords. foreign.senate.gov
6:45 p.m. 901 Massachusetts Ave. NW. U.S. Global Leadership Coalition's 2017 Tribute Dinner with U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley. usglc.org
WEDNESDAY | DEC. 6
9 a.m. 1030 15th St. NW. U.S. Army Futures Forum with Maj. Gen. William Hix, deputy chief of staff. atlanticcouncil.org
10 a.m. Dirksen 342. Full committee hearing on adapting to defend the homeland against the evolving international terrorist threat. hsgac.senate.gov
10:30 a.m. 2301 Constitution Ave. NW. Launch of the study The Leverage Paradox: Pakistan and the United States. wilsoncenter.org
11:15 a.m. 1777 F St. NW. Hacked Elections, Online Influence Operations, and the Threat to Democracy: Building a Foreign Policy Response. cfr.org
12 p.m. 1211 Connecticut Ave. NW. The nuke ban treaty: Now what? stimson.org
2:30 p.m. Dirksen 419. Beyond ISIS: Countering terrorism, radicalization and promoting stability in North Africa. foreign.senate.gov
THURSDAY | DEC. 7
8:30 a.m. 1616 Rhode Island Ave. NW. Finding consensus for a new authorization for the use of military force with Reps. Mike Coffman, Ruben Gallego, Don Bacon and Jimmy Panetta. csis.org
10 a.m. Dirksen G-50. Department of Defense acquisition reform efforts with Ellen Lord, undersecretary of defense for acquisition, technology and logistics; Army Secretary Mark Esper; Navy Secretary Richard Spencer; and Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson. armed-services.senate.gov
10:30 a.m. Shared threats and a common purpose: U.S.-Romania missile defense cooperation with Romanian Ambassador George Cristian Maior. hudson.org
3 p.m. 529 14th St. NW. Lessons from the Syria crisis: Old rivalries, new dynamics. press.org
FRIDAY | DEC. 8
11:30 a.m. 929 Long Bridge Dr. Missile defense luncheon. ndia.org
12 p.m. 1201 Pennsylvania Ave. NW. Emerging challenges in cybersecurity: A conversation with former NATO Assistant Secretary General Sorin Ducaru. hudson.org