NDAA GETS TEED UP: The Senate is set to take a procedural vote on the National Defense Authorization Act this evening, potentially clearing the way for the annual policy bill to be considered this week. Debates over war authorizations, military base closures, and more Navy ships are all possible. Hundreds of proposed amendments have been filed by senators, including Sen. Rand Paul, who are hoping their issues will get a vote when Sen. John McCain, the Armed Services chairman, shepherds the must-pass NDAA through the gauntlet of floor debate to final passage.
Paul's two amendments could be particularly important. They deal with indefinite detention of enemy combatants and repeal of war authorizations. When McCain returned to Washington in July following his brain cancer diagnosis and tried to bring the NDAA to the floor for a vote, Paul blocked the move amid a dispute over whether his amendments would be considered. "Sen. Paul remains committed to including his two bipartisan amendments when the debate starts on NDAA," his spokesman Sergio Gor said Friday.
Here are some other proposed amendments to the defense policy bill:
BRAC: McCain and Sen. Jack Reed, the committee's ranking member, have filed an amendment that could open the door to a round of Department of Defense base closures.
NO SPACE CORPS: Florida Sen. Bill Nelson, who once served as a payload specialist aboard the Space Shuttle in 1986, has filed an amendment to scuttle any attempts by the House to create a Space Corps by prohibiting that or any other type of new corps in the services.
MORE SHIPS: Alabama Sen. Luther Strange wants to authorize $1.2 billion in spending for two additional littoral combat ships for the Navy. One of the classes of ships is built by Austal USA in his home state.
TRANSGENDER BAN: The heated debate over Trump's ban on transgender military service could also spill over into the Senate if an amendment by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand and Collins to delay the ban gets considered.
BYE, BYE SEQUESTER: Sen. Tom Cotton has been pointing out to fellow senators in recent months that the threat of deep, across-the-board funding cuts to defense and other federal programs that have hung over Washington’s head since passage of the Budget Control Act of 2011 are just part of a law and can be changed at any time. His proposed amendment eliminates so-called sequestration, thereby relieving limits on annual military spending.
BOOST IN BLACK HAWKS: An amendment by Sen. Richard Blumenthal would authorize $327 million to buy 15 UH-60M Black Hawk helicopters for the National Guard. Black Hawks are built by Sikorsky in his home state of Connecticut.
CR = CONTINUING REALITY: Another continuing resolution is now a reality for the Pentagon, after Congress passed another stopgap budget for the Pentagon on Friday. The vote, which delays the promised rebuilding of America’s military, comes despite a recent string of deadly naval and aviation mishaps, along with warnings from defense hawks and military leaders that years of such funding delays have worn down the services. The continuing budget resolution, or CR, will lock in fiscal 2017 funding levels for the military into December. It was packaged with must-pass measures providing aid for Hurricane Harvey and raising the debt ceiling, and was quickly signed by President Trump. "It's clear readiness is degrading, we are losing our technological advantage, the troops are under stress. A CR not only does not solve those problems, it continues to make them worse,” said Rep. Mac Thornberry, the Armed Services chairman, told the Washington Examiner after his “no” vote on the House floor.
There were defense hawk warnings and sighs of frustration from the defense industry as the reality sunk in that Congress would pass another CR in the hope of reaching a defense budget deal before the Christmas break. “That's unconscionable. And this agreement basically freezes last year's funding in place, which is a cut of $52 billion,” McCain said on CNN yesterday. “Now this is a president that campaigned and said I'm going to rebuild the military.”
McCain dismissed the argument that Trump was demonstrating bipartisanship by making a deal with the Democrats. “The proposal that the president accepted, the speaker of the House had just categorically rejected. So that's not the way we need to do business,” he said. “This was not an exercise in bipartisanship. The Republicans leaders, Ryan and McConnell, were surprised to hear that he had cut this deal with Chuck and Nancy. And the way you do deals is you sit down together.
“The agreement that they made is basically devastating to national defense. We've had 185 service members have lost their lives in non-combat actions over the last three years. We've lost – only 44 were killed in combat, and that's because our leadership, military and others, have told us that our military capabilities and readiness is declining,” McCain said. “Well, that's not something that I can stand for.”
WHAT ANOTHER CR MEANS: A stopgap budget is likely to tie the Pentagon’s hands financially and create an accounting headache, said Katherine Blakeley, research fellow at Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments. “You’re not kicking off any major new acquisition programs but you still have literally tens of billions of misalignments between various procurement programs in your military personnel accounts, and for every one of those you have to apply to Congress for reprogramming,” she said. The ripple effect will also disrupt the defense industry. “It’s just for whatever reason Congress can’t seem to get its act together and get the budget done on time,” said Dan Stohr, spokesman for the Aerospace Industries Association, a trade group that represents defense contractors. “Even if it’s a short-term [CR] into December, that’s three months of delays.”
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.
CRUNCH TIME AT THE U.N.: The United States is calling for a vote today on new U.N. sanctions against North Korea, although as of this morning it was not clear what draft proposals circulated by the U.S. last week would make it into a final resolution. Among the tougher sanctions proposed by the U.S. are a ban on all oil and natural gas exports to the North and a freeze of North Korea’s foreign financial assets and those of its leader, Kim Jong Un.
The U.S. wants other countries to stop hiring workers and importing textiles from the North, which are two key sources of foreign currency. And the U.S. has identified nine ships that have carried out activities prohibited by previous U.N. sanctions resolutions, and it wants other U.N. member nations to stop the ships on the high seas to check their cargo without their consent, according to the AP.
NORTH KOREAN THREATS: North Korea did not fire off another ICBM over the weekend, as many on South Korea predicted, but it did unleash another salvo of angry words and threats. Pyongyang warns the U.S. will "pay" for U.S. Ambassador Nikki Haley's excoriation of the North last week before the U.N. Security Council. "The U.S. administration will have to pay a dear price for her tongue-lashing," said North Korea's deputy minister of Foreign Affairs Choe Hui Chol. The North Korean government official reportedly said Pyongyang was going after the U.S. for its attempts to increase U.N. sanctions on the state's nuclear weapons testing.
The state-run Korean Central News Agency carried a statement accusing the U.S. of “going frantic to fabricate the harshest ever ‘sanctions resolution’ by manipulating the United Nations Security Council,” and repeated its claim of having a “super-powerful thermonuclear weapon” that can be mounted on an ICBM. “The DPRK [North Korea] is closely following the moves of the U.S. with vigilance,” the statement said. “In case the U.S. eventually does rig up the illegal and unlawful ‘resolution’ on harsher sanctions, the DPRK shall make absolutely sure that the U.S. pays due price.”
Haley slammed the U.N. last week for unsuccessfully restraining North Korea's nuclear weapons program. "To the members of the security council, I must say, enough is enough," Haley said at an emergency session in New York. "We have taken an incremental approach, and despite the best of intentions, it has not worked."
HAPPENING TODAY: If you drive by the Pentagon this morning, along route 27, you’ll see a large American flag draped over the same side of the Pentagon that was struck by American Airlines Flight 77 16 years ago, when the U.S. suffered its worst ever terrorist attack on U.S. soil. The flag is just like the one first responders hung over the still smoldering wreckage the next morning.
Today, Trump along with the first lady will observe a moment of silence at the White House, in remembrance of the nearly 3,000 people who were killed when the 9/11 hijackers flew commercial airliners into New York’s World Trade Center, the Pentagon and a field near Shanksville, Pa.
At the Pentagon, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Joseph Dunford host a private ceremony for the families of the 184 people killed at the Pentagon that day. The ceremony is not open to the public, but will be streamed live beginning a 9:11 a.m. on http://www.defense.gov/live. The plane hit the Pentagon at 9:37 a.m. 16 years ago, on a bright cloudless Tuesday.
Vice President Mike Pence will deliver remarks during an observance at the 9/11 memorial in Shanksville.
TRUMP TAKES CREDIT: Last week, we noted that Trump made an odd comment during his joint press conference with the emir of Kuwait, claiming a deal to sell Super Hornets to the Gulf country has now been approved after he got involved. “During the same period and the same trip to Saudi Arabia, which was my great honor, representing our incredible country, his highness personally asked me to expedite a $5 billion agreement for the sale of American F/A-18 Super Hornet fighting jets for Kuwait," Trump said. "I am pleased to report that the State Department has now authorized this transferred purchase, which will not only strengthen our mutual security, but will greatly benefit American workers."
But it turns out the State Department approved the sale on Nov. 17, nine days after Trump was elected and more than two months before he became president. We asked foreign military sales experts whether there was some other way Trump could have helped the process. The answer they gave was no. Once State and the Defense Security Cooperation Agency notified Congress that it had been approved, it was all up to the contractors and government reps to work out the specifics. "Look, he made it happen during the Obama administration," joked the Teal Group’s Richard Aboulafia. "This is not debatable." And it’s not the first misleading claim Trump has made about the Super Hornet. Read more here.
TILLERSON TALKS NORTH KOREA: Secretary of State Rex Tillerson meets with British officials in London next week for United Kingdom-hosted events on North Korea and Libya, including strategies to counter Pyongyang's nuclear and missile programs. Tillerson will meet with U.K. Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson and National Security Adviser Mark Sedwill. Additionally, he will participate in a ministerial on Libya with U.N. Special Representative of the Secretary General for Libya Ghassan Salame, the State Department announced Friday. Tillerson will be in London from Sept. 13-14.
BUILDING A BETTER SHIELD: The ever-more menacing nuclear threat from North Korea has reignited the long-running debate over funding for U.S. missile defenses, and whether they will ever work well enough to form an impenetrable shield. The Pentagon insists it has the capability now, with ground based missile interceptors in Alaska and California, to shoot down a single ICBM if it were launched from North Korea toward the United States. But there are those in Congress who want many more interceptors, and Trump has promised billions more for missile defense, even as the Pentagon budget is stalled, and without any clear plan for how the money should be spent. One area that both critics and advocates seem to agree on is the need to restart research and development of systems that can destroy enemy missiles in the boost phase when they are most vulnerable. A program to zap them with an airborne laser mounted on a 747 was killed in 2010.
BANNON ON NORTH KOREA: On CBS’ “60 minutes” last night, former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon said the road to solving the North Korea crisis runs through through China. "My suggestion and my recommendation is to solve the problem in Korea, you need to solve that problem with China," he told Charlie Rose. “It's a client state of China." Bannon says to solve its China problem, the U.S. should utilize the "tremendous leverage" it has, including sanctions, capital markets, and Chinese banks and financial institutions.” But he added "You don't use this lightly. It would have, by the way, it would have an impact here in the United States. There's no doubt about it."
MEDICAL REPORT: McCain, who just celebrated his 81st birthday two weeks ago, was in full gallows humor mode on CNN yesterday when talking about his treatment for brain cancer, at one point joking, “I want to thank the doctors and the nurses and the attendants and all of those who inflicted so much pain on me. I didn't know I had any blood left.”
But McCain, who has been undergoing radiation and chemotherapy, will get another MRI today, and said surprisingly he feels great. “I've had no side effects, no nothing except frankly, an increased level of energy.” McCain said he is very happy with his life and is grateful for additional time that he has. "I'm not trying to paint this as a rosy picture. This is a very virulent form of cancer. It has to be fought against. We have new technologies which I won't bother you with the details of, that make chances better.”
Asked how he wanted to be remembered when his time on Earth is up, McCain said, “He served his country and not always right. Made a lot of mistakes. Made a lot of errors, but served his country. And I hope we could add honorably.”
ON A PERSONAL NOTE: Today’s anniversary of the Sept. 11 attack is a very personal one for me, and not just because I was in the Pentagon when plane hit, but because my reporting that day on CNN became part of the dark conspiracy theories that still surround the events of 16 years ago. I have written many times over the years about how my words from one of my CNN reports were deliberately taken out of context to suggest I was confirming there was no evidence a plane hit the building. You can read one short account I wrote back when I had a blog called “Line of Departure” here, which includes photos I took that day.
My encounters with “9/11 Truthers” over the years, who always struck me as otherwise intelligent people, set me on a path to try to figure out why so many smart people (millions in the case of 9/11 conspiracy theories) believe dumb things. So I also ended up writing a master’s thesis on the subject, which the truly dedicated can read here.
But the takeaway is this: We humans have a very emotional attachment to our beliefs, which can make us resistant to facts and reason. There are many cognitive errors and mistakes in logic that we naturally fall into, and it’s hard sometimes for us to accept what would seem to demonstrably true. The other conclusion I came to is that very convincing arguments can be made for things that are not true. In my study that looked only at alternative explanations for the events at the Pentagon, I felt I could almost be convinced myself that there was no plane, and I was there and saw the wreckage.
In our calendar today, we have an item from a group that represents family members who died in New York, and who are calling for a new investigation of the collapse of World Trade Center Building 7. They believe the government account of the building collapse is false. They have a new computer simulation that supports their argument. I saw many such simulations that “proved” a plane could not have hit the Pentagon. But it did. Of that there should be no doubt.
New York Times: Instead of launching a missile, North Korea throws a party
Bloomberg: China And US Each Thinks The Other Can Solve North Korea Crisis
New York Post: Saudi government allegedly funded a ‘dry run’ for 9/11
UK Independent: Russia is preparing for huge war with west, warns Ukrainian President
DefenseTech: Predator, Reaper drones flying to monitor Harvey, Irma aftermath
CNN: John McCain: 'I'm facing a challenge'
DSCA: Government of Bahrain – Sale of F-16V aircraft with support
Reuters: Iraq holding 1,400 foreign wives, children of suspected ISIS fighters
Task and Purpose: Thousands turn out for protest against Ramstein Air Base operations
Reuters: U.S. denies Iran report of confrontation with U.S. vessel
Politico: Trump review leans toward proposing mini-nuke
Fox News: Merkel reiterates Iran deal should be model for solving North Korea crisis
Defense News: Introducing Fletcher, a vehicle-mounted, laser-guided rocket launcher
MONDAY | SEPT. 11
9:11 a.m. The Pentagon 9/11 Memorial. A private observance ceremony for family members to honor the memory of those killed in the 2001 terrorist attack. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and Joint Chiefs Chairman Joseph Dunford preside. Streamed live on http://www.defense.gov/live.
10 a.m. 1616 Rhode Island Ave. NW. U.S.-Ukraine relations in the context of Euro-Atlantic security Ivanna Klympush-Tsintsadze, Ukraine vice prime minister for European and Euro-Atlantic integration. csis.org
1 p.m. 529 14th St. NW. A group of 9/11 family members and technical experts call on Congress to launch new World Trade Center investigation. press.org
TUESDAY | SEPT. 12
7:15 a.m. 1700 Army Navy Dr. Washington, D.C. chapter defense leaders forum with Gen. Glenn Walters, assistant commandant of the Marine Corps. ndia.org
10 a.m. House Visitor Center 210. World wide threats: Keeping America secure in the new age of terrorism. homeland.house.gov
10 a.m. 2172 Rayburn. Pressuring North Korea with sanctions, diplomacy and information with Susan Thornton, acting assistant secretary of state, and Marshall Billingslea, assistant treasury secretary. foreignaffairs.house.gov
12:30 p.m. 1777 F St. NW. The state of security in Africa with retired Gen. Carter Ham, former commander of U.S. Africa Command. cfr.org
2 p.m. 2212 Rayburn. Securing the peace after the fall of the Islamic State with Gen. James Bierman, director of Joint Chiefs of Staff Middle East division; Ryan Crocker, former ambassador to Iraq; Christopher Maier, director of the Defense Department’s D-ISIS Task Force; and Kathryn Wheelbarger, acting assistant secretary of defense for international security affairs. armedservices.house.gov
5:30 p.m. 1789 Massachusetts Ave. NW. How cyber, robots and space weapons change the rules for war with John Yoo, former deputy assistant attorney general. aei.org
WEDNESDAY | SEPT. 13
9 a.m. 1300 Pennsylvania Ave. NW. The United States, the Soviet Union, and the nuclear non-proliferation treaty of 1966-1968. wilsoncenter.org
9 a.m. 1152 15th St. NW. A conversation with Rep. Adam Smith on Russia, the military and emerging threats. cnas.org
9:30 a.m. 1300 Pennsylvania Ave. NW. Asia disaster response and cybersecurity in a time of rising challenges and constrained resources. wilsoncenter.org
10 a.m. House Visitor Center 210. Sixteen years after 9/11: Assessing suspicious activity reporting efforts. homeland.house.gov
10 a.m. 1775 Massachusetts Ave. NW. Liberal democracy as the path to greater security with Brookings President Strobe Talbott. brookings.edu
10 a.m. 2172 Rayburn. Joint subcommittee hearing on the president’s Fiscal Year 2018 budget request for Afghanistan and Pakistan with Alice G. Wells, acting assistant secretary of state. foreignaffairs.house.gov
11 a.m. 1300 Pennsylvania Ave. NW. A book discussion on James Reston, Jr.’s “A Rift in the Earth: Art, Memory and the Fight for a Vietnam War Memorial.” wilsoncenter.org
11 a.m. 1000 Massachusetts Ave. NW. Intellectuals and a century of political hero worship from Benito Mussolini to Hugo Chavez. cato.org
12 p.m. 214 Massachusetts Ave. NE. How political neglect is choking American seapower and what to do about it with Seth Cropsey, former deputy undersecretary of the Navy. heritage.org
2 p.m. 2200 Rayburn. The malicious influence of state and criminal actors in the Venezuela crisis. foreignaffairs.house.gov
3:30 p.m. 1300 Pennsylvania Ave. NW. Why Iraq and Libya failed to build nuclear weapons. wilsoncenter.org
THURSDAY | SEPT. 14
10 a.m. 1616 Rhode Island Ave. NW. Cyber warfare in the maritime domain with Vice Adm. Jan Tighe, deputy chief of naval operations for information warfare. csis.org
10 a.m. 419 Dirksen. U.S. policy options to support democracy in Venezuela with Marshall Billingslea, assistant treasury secretary for terrorist financing. foreign.senate.gov
10 a.m. 1616 Rhode Island Ave. NW. The USS Baltimore incident of 1891 and how history informs present problems. csis.org
12 p.m. 1030 15th St. NW. Exposing and countering Iran. atlanticcouncil.org
5 p.m. 1030 15th St. NW. Global threats, global perspectives and America’s role in the world. atlanticcouncil.org
FRIDAY | SEPT. 15
9:30 a.m. 1211 Connecticut Ave. NW. Voices from Japan and visions for Japan’s future defense posture. stimson.org
10 a.m. 1300 Pennsylvania Ave. NW. A united front? U.S.-Japan relations at a time of uncertainty. wilsoncenter.org
MONDAY | SEPT. 18
2 p.m. 1211 Connecticut Ave. NW. The impact of the Trump administration on U.S.-Taiwan relations. stimson.org
3 p.m. 214 Massachusetts Ave. NE. U.S. policy toward Lebanon and what comes next. heritage.org
4 p.m. 1300 Pennsylvania Ave. NW. China's Arctic and Antarctic ambitions. wilsoncenter.org