TRUMP TO PENTAGON: President Trump makes the short trip across the Potomac at 11 this morning to confer with Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and other top military leaders at the Pentagon, one day before the release of the new National Defense Strategy. An unclassified version of the document, the first update in four years, will be released tomorrow, and Mattis will give a speech outlining the key points.
POKER FACE: In his 53-minute interview with journalists from Reuters yesterday, President Trump was reluctant to say where he thinks the North Korea situation is heading, or how he might react to another missile or nuclear test. “I don’t like talking about things like that,” Trump said. “We’re playing a very, very hard game of poker and you don’t want to reveal your hand.”
Would he ever consider a pre-emptive strike against the North? “Well, again I don’t want to say what options I want to consider. I just don’t think we should be talking about options to the media,” Trump said, with a fresh Diet Coke close at hand on his desk.
What about the impression he left with the Wall Street Journal that his relationship with Kim Jong Un may be based on some sort of private communication between the two leaders, who keep taunting each other in public? “I just don’t want to say as to whether or not we’ve had communication. But, but we will see how that plays out. OK? And hopefully it can be done in a peaceful way but it’s very possible that it can’t,” Trump said. “I’d sit down [with Kim] but I’m not sure that sitting down will solve the problem. I‘m not sure that talks will lead to anything meaningful. They’ve talked for 25 years and they’ve taken advantage of our presidents, of our previous presidents.”
Fresh off his glowing medical and mental evaluation, Trump joked, “I guess they all realized they’re going to have to leave it to a president that scored the highest on tests.”
CHINA GOOD, RUSSIA BAD: “Russia is not helping us at all with North Korea,” Trump said in the Oval Office interview. “What China is helping us with, Russia is denting. In other words, Russia is making up for some of what China is doing.”
Trump continues to tout his “great chemistry” with Chinese President Xi Jinping, and praised China for cracking down on its nuclear neighbor. He blamed his lack of a similar relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin for Moscow’s failure to follow through on sanctions they have agreed to. ”Unfortunately we don’t have a relationship — I think it’s too bad, but unfortunately we don’t have much of a relationship with Russia, and in some cases it’s probable that what China takes back, Russia gives. So the net result is not as good as it could be.”
MISSILE OFFENSE: Trump also promised to spend more on America’s missile defenses, as well as missile “offense,” which presumably refers to his upcoming Nuclear Posture Review. Drafts leaked to the press say the study includes an option for lower-yield warheads to provide a wider array of responses to attacks, and a more credible deterrent. “We’re ordering more missile defense and we’re ordering more missile offense also. We have been very depleted as a nation and I would love to spend money on other things but I’m also a person of great common sense.”
But Trump also said he does not believe that North Korea can yet hit the U.S. with a nuclear-armed missile. “They’re not there yet, but they’re close. And they get closer every day,” he told Reuters.
KOREAN KUMBAYA SENDS WRONG MESSAGE: Meanwhile, what many see as a hopeful sign, namely the small steps toward friendliness between the North and South, is seen as a setback by Sen. Lindsey Graham. Speaking at the American Enterprise Institute yesterday, Graham said the cooperation on the Winter Olympics is undercutting international pressure by giving Kim the idea he can normalize relations while holding onto his nuclear arsenal.
“I think what Kim Jong Un is going to see out of this is, ‘How bad could I be?’ I’m going to the biggest party in the world, how bad could I be?” Graham said. “Here’s a simple rule: If you have the largest system of concentration camps in the world, if you systematically rape and torture your own people, and you threaten the world with nuclear attack, you probably shouldn’t go to the Olympics.”
The two Koreas have announced plans field a unified Olympic team and march together at the opening of the games in Pyeongchang, South Korea, next month. “South Korea is a great ally, they are in a bad spot. But I think the signals that they are sending to North Korea are undercutting what Trump is trying to do, which will make it more likely that we will build up military capability, not less,” Graham said.
STAYING IN SYRIA ‘CRUCIAL’: In a major speech at Stanford University yesterday, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said the U.S. will keep troops in Syria for the foreseeable future, even after the stated mission of defeating the Islamic State is over. “We cannot make the same mistakes that were made in 2011 when a premature departure from Iraq allowed al-Qaeda in Iraq to survive and eventually morph into ISIS,” Tillerson said. “It is crucial to our national defense to maintain a military and diplomatic presence in Syria.”
The U.S. has about 2,000 troops in Syria, and their mission will be to ensure ISIS cannot re-emerge, as well as provide a counterbalance to Iran. “Iran has dramatically strengthened its presence in Syria by deploying Iranian Revolutionary Guard troops; supporting Lebanese Hezbollah; and importing proxy forces from Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and elsewhere,” Tillerson said.
“U.S. disengagement from Syria would provide Iran the opportunity to further strengthen its position in Syria. As we have seen from Iran’s proxy wars and public announcements, Iran seeks dominance in the Middle East and the destruction of our ally, Israel. As a destabilized nation and one bordering Israel, Syria presents an opportunity that Iran is all too eager to exploit.”
Good Thursday 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 GAME OF LEGISLATIVE CHICKEN CONTINUES: Up against tomorrow’s midnight deadline, House Republicans are scrambling to muster the votes to pass a stopgap continuing resolution aimed at averting a government shutdown. Speaker Paul Ryan can’t count on any Democratic votes, and he has to bring some hawks in his own party on board, who are tired of holding up money for the military.
The proposed legislation includes no new money for defense but does have a technical fix freeing the Pentagon to spend a portion of the $4.7 billion in extra funding it received from the last CR passed in December. The fix involved “defense intelligence activities,” according to the House Appropriations Committee.
Even if the bill passes the House today, it faces an uncertain fate in the Senate. Republicans added a renewal of the State Children’s Health Insurance Program into the legislation in the hope of enticing Democrats. “Senators face a lot of hard decisions. This is not one of them. A bill that prevents a government shutdown and funds S-CHIP for six years should be a simple choice for every senator in this chamber,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said.
But Senate Democrats are still demanding protections for so-called Dreamer immigrants and are uniting against the CR. “We just had a caucus, we don’t know whether the House will send us this bill, but the revulsion towards that bill was broad and strong,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said. Nine Democrats must vote in favor of the CR for it to pass the Senate. The chance of Congress triggering the first shutdown since 2013 was becoming ever more real, with Senate Democrats publicly gaming out the effects on Wednesday. “We want to do everything we can to avoid a shutdown, but we Democrats believe if there is one it will fall on the Republicans’ backs, plain and simple,” Schumer said.
IMMIGRATION BREAKTHROUGH? The Senate “Gang of Six” unveiled their bipartisan immigration reform compromise yesterday, billing it as the last, best hope to break the stalemate holding up a budget deal. “This agreement is the only bipartisan plan that even has a chance of making it to the president’s desk, and I believe it is a measure we can all find agreement on,” said Sen. Jeff Flake, a member of the group. The bill deals with border security, diversity visa lottery, family reunification, and the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, program.
But there was also strong pushback from fellow senators who have been key players in the debate. Sens. Tom Cotton, David Perdue and Chuck Grassley said the legislation was a failure. The “proposal would do nothing to solve the underlying problem in our current immigration system. It does not take the needed steps to fix our porous border and it fails to empower law enforcement to apprehend and remove dangerous criminals who are here illegally,” they said in a joint statement. “It’s inconceivable that anyone would shut down the government over this plan. It’s time to come back to the negotiating table and focus on getting a serious solution to the DACA situation that protects all Americans and our national security.”
TRUMP’S ABOUT-FACE: Both Republican Graham and Democrat Dick Durbin said they were blindsided by the president when they thought he was ready to sign on to their bipartisan compromise plan, only to have the commander in chief execute an about-face two hours after they briefed him in a phone call.
In his Reuters interview, Trump explained that the more he learned about the details, the less he like the deal: “Lindsey, he meant well, but I said: ‘Well, how many Republicans agree with this?’ So far, I find one: Lindsey,” Trump said. ”After about 30 seconds, I realize this deal’s terrible. It’s horrible for the security of our country. It’s the opposite of what I campaigned for.”
In a statement yesterday, Graham claimed seven Republican senators now support the plan: Susan Collins, Lamar Alexander, Lisa Murkowski, Mike Rounds, Jeff Flake and Cory Gardner.
Trump refused to say if he used the term “shithole” during what he called a “tough meeting” with Graham, Durbin and others but complained bitterly about Durbin’s accusation. “I’ve had many meetings over the years. I’ve never had somebody run out to the press and say: ‘Trump said this, Trump said that, Trump said this.’ That’s not the way you make deals,” he said. “I’ve lost all trust in Durbin.”
WALL FUNDING: Trump also said the Graham-Durbin plan shortchanged funding for his border wall. “They gave very little funding for the wall, which we desperately need.” In his statement yesterday, Graham said his proposal contains $2.7 billion in border security improvements, including the planning, design and construction of a border wall and additional surveillance and technology along the border.
At a news conference yesterday, Durbin expressed frustration with Trump’s intransigence. “This agreement gives President Trump every single penny that he asked for, for border security in his budget request; almost $1.6 billion for construction on the border of barriers and all sorts of fences, and whatever else is needed, even walls,” Durbin said. “It also includes about another billion dollars in electronics that the people on the border tell us they need to make it safe.”
Even Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell seemed confused about the president’s demands. “I'm looking for something that President Trump supports. And he's not yet indicated what measure he's willing to sign. As soon as we figure out what he is for, then I will be convinced that we were not just spinning our wheels going to this issue on the floor,” McConnell said.
RYAN: REBUILDING THE MILITARY IS MY HIGHEST PRIORITY: As the shutdown deadline looms, Speaker Ryan will give an address on military readiness and the state of U.S. defense capabilities at 8:45 a.m. at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. The speaker will say that rebuilding the U.S. military is “my highest priority today,” according to address excerpts provided in advance.
“This is by far the most complex and challenging global security environment we have seen since World War II. We know the greatest antidote to that uncertainty is the ability to depend on our Armed Forces to keep the peace,” Ryan will say. “We promise that we will give them the tools they need to do their jobs safely and effectively. And today, quite frankly, we are letting them down. We are breaking that promise. That is shameful.”
Ryan will call out Senate Democrats for playing politics with the defense budget and treating troops like bargaining chips. “An adequate budget agreement fully funds our troops. That means lifting the spending caps that disproportionately hamstring the defense budget, holding our national security hostage,” he will say during the address. “The Pentagon cannot plan for the future if it keeps operating under short-term spending bills. The days of budgetary uncertainty and underfunding need to end.”
NAVY LEADERS TESTIFY: The House Armed Services Committee will delve into the state of the Navy’s surface fleet today with testimony from Navy Secretary Richard Spencer and Adm. John Richardson, the chief of naval operations. The hearing comes just two days after the Navy announced it will pursue negligent homicide charges against the former commanders of the USS John S. McCain and USS Fitzgerald destroyers, which were involved in separate at-sea collisions in the Pacific last summer that killed 17 sailors.
SAUDI PATRIOT SUPPORT: The State Department has approved a $500 million sale of continuing Patriot missile system support services to Saudi Arabia, according to the Defense Security Cooperation Agency. Riyadh wants technical assistance for the Patriot Legacy Field Surveillance Program, the Patriot Advanced Capability 3 FSP, and the Patriot Engineering Services Program. The package could include Patriot and HAWK missile system spare parts and repairs. The principal contractors are Lockheed Martin for the FSP and Raytheon for the Engineering Services program. There are no known offset agreements proposed in connection with this potential sale.
NAME THAT ENEMY: Could Trump rattle off the names of leaders for the world’s most dangerous terrorist groups? That was the question an audience member at AEI put to Graham, a sometimes golf partner of the president and member of the Senate Armed Services Committee. “I don’t think it really matters if he can tell you the name of terrorist leaders, who are dying pretty frequently,” Graham said. The question came from Fred Boenig, a radio personality in Pennsylvania who runs the liberal-leaning Daily Ripple website.
“I’m also a Gold Star dad,” said Boenig, referring to parents whose children have died while serving in the military. “I had three other children as well serve in the military. One of the three was hit with a hand grenade and went back and did a second tour in Afghanistan.” He told Graham he has been a fan of the senator for years. “I’m expecting an honest answer from you and I think my family would deserve it,” Boenig said. “If you were out playing golf with the president and you leaned over and said ‘Sir, could you tell me the name of the leader of ISIS, al Qaeda, the Taliban, Boko Haram or the leader of the group those four special [operations] soldiers [in Niger]?’ Do you think he could actually do that?”
Graham, who has forged what appears to be a close a relationship with the president, did not hesitate. “I don’t know if I could give you the answer to all of them too,” he replied. “But here’s what I would tell your family, he knows they are bad and he wants people in your family who are fighting to have more capability to go after them.” It was not Boenig’s first time confronting a D.C. lawmaker. You can see video here of him tangling with Sen. Tom Cotton over Afghanistan in 2015.
DON’T DO WHAT CARTER DID: Deputy Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan has issued a strict warning to Department of Defense employees — both civilian and military — to use only official government email to conduct official business except in “rare and extraordinary” circumstances. In a Tuesday memo obtained by the Washington Examiner, Shanahan warns Pentagon workers that using “non-official electronic messaging accounts, including personal email accounts” to conduct official DoD communications is both against the law and DoD policy.
In December 2015, the New York Times revealed that then-Defense Secretary Ash Carter used his personal email account to conduct some of his professional correspondence during his first two months on the job. That was particularly embarrassing as Hillary Clinton was under scrutiny for using a personal email account as secretary of state.
Financial Times: US Puts Russia And China At Top Of Defence Agenda
Wall Street Journal: U.S. Border Plan in Syria Fuels Tensions With Turkey
Washington Post: Pence Urges A Peaceful Resolution To Afghan Strife
Roll Call: Paul Ryan Caught Between Freedom Caucus, Democrats
Military.com: Troops Just Want Congress To Stop Political Budget Games: Dunford
USA Today: Nuclear war, extreme weather top list of 2018 threats in global survey
War on the Rocks: Baghdad Must Seize the Chance to Work With Iraq’s Tribes
Task and Purpose: 10 Years On, The Iraq Surge May Offer Our Best Hope For Afghan Stability
Defense News: Can Mattis makes the National Defense Strategy great again?
Military Times: As ISIS threat fades, fight over who gets credit rises
Stars and Stripes: Russia closing gap with NATO, top US general in Europe warns
Fox News: US vital in stabilizing Northern Iraq says Archbishop of Erbil
Army Times: Chief: The Army has to start preparing for 'the big war'
Defense One: Here’s How to Stop Squelching New Ideas, Eric Schmidt’s Advisory Board Tells DoD
Defense News: Which Of These Leaders Will Be The Next Head Of Cyber Command?
Wall Street Journal: The U.S. Navy Lowers Its Sights, Has Trump Given Up On Expanding The Size Of The Fleet?
THURSDAY | JAN. 18
7:30 a.m. 300 1st St. SE. AFA Breakfast Series with Matt Donovan, undersecretary of the Air Force. michelleaerospacepower.org
8 a.m. 2121 Crystal Dr. Electronics Division Meeting. ndia.org
8:45 a.m. 1616 Rhode Island Ave. NW. Defending Defense: A Conversation with House Speaker Paul Ryan on Military Readiness. csis.org
9:30 a.m. Dirksen G-50. Nominations hearing for Michael Griffin, to be undersecretary of defense for research and engineering; Phyllis Bayer, to be assistant secretary of the Navy for installations, energy and the environment; John Henderson, to be assistant secretary of the Air Force for installations, environment and energy; and Will Roper, to be assistant secretary of the Air Force for acquisition. armed-services.senate.gov
10 a.m. 1225 I St. NW. Citizen Soldiers or Warrior Caste: Who Will Serve in America’s Future Military? A discussion with Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson; Amber Smith, deputy assistant to the secretary of defense for outreach; and others. bipartisanpolicy.org
11 a.m. 214 Massachusetts Ave NE. Crashback: The Power Clash Between the U.S. and China in the Pacific. heritage.org
12 p.m. 444 North Capitol St. Press briefing and launch of the National Commission on Military, National and Public Service.
12 p.m. 1800 M St. NW. Atilla, Zarrab, and U.S.-Turkish Relations. defenddemocracy.org
12:30 p.m. 2101 Constitution Ave. NW. Air Force Science and Technology Engagement Summit with Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson. nationalacademies.org
3:30 p.m. Rayburn 2118. Surface warfare at a crossroads with Navy Secretary Richard Spencer and Adm. John Richardson, chief of naval operations. armedservices.house.gov
5 p.m. 214 Massachusetts Ave NE. The Importance of the U.S. Nuclear Deterrent. heritage.org
FRIDAY | JAN. 19
9 a.m. 1030 15th St. NW. Iran Looks East conference. atlanticcouncil.org
12:15 p.m. 740 15th St. NW. The Syrian Opposition in 2018 with Osama Abu Zayd, spokesman for the Free Syrian Army, and moderator Peter Bergen, director of the International Security Program at New America. newamerica.org
MONDAY | JAN. 22
10 a.m. 1616 Rhode Island Ave. NW. Charting a New Course for the Defense Industrial Base. csis.org
4:30 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
TUESDAY | JAN. 23
11 a.m. Livestream only: Intelligence beyond 2018: A conversation with CIA Director Mike Pompeo. aei.org
12 p.m. 1201 Pennsylvania Ave. NW. Turkey, the Kurds, and the Struggle for Order in the Middle East. hudson.org
12 p.m. A conversation with Daniel Shapiro, former U.S. ambassador to Israel. defenddemocracy.org
12:30 p.m. 1777 F St. NW. Foreign Affairs Issue Launch with Former Vice President Joe Biden. cfr.org
WEDNESDAY | JAN. 24
10 a.m. Dirksen 342. ROUNDTABLE - Reauthorizing DHS: Positioning DHS to Address New and Emerging Threats to the Homeland. hsgac.senate.gov
2:30 p.m. 1201 Pennsylvania Ave. NW. U.S. Responses to the North Korean Threat: A Conversation with Sen. Ted Cruz. hudson.org
5:30 p.m. 1667 K St. NW. Book Talk “American Grand Strategy in the Age of Trump” with author Hal Brands. csbaonline.org
THURSDAY | JAN. 25
9 a.m. 1616 Rhode Island Ave. NW. Discussion with Gen. Robert Neller, commandant of the Marine Corps. csis.org
9:30 a.m. 1300 Pennsylvania Ave. NW. Women and War: Securing a More Peaceful Future with Sherri Goodman, former deputy undersecretary of defense for environmental security. wilsoncenter.org
10 a.m. 1775 Massachusetts Ave. Multi-domain battle: Converging concepts toward a joint solution with Gen. James Holmes, commander of the Air Force’s Air Combat Command. brookings.edu
2 p.m. 1616 Rhode Island Ave. Distributed Defense: New Operational Concepts for Integrated Air and Missile Defense with Will Roper, director of the Strategic Capabilities Office; Lt. Gen. James Dickinson, commander of Army Space and Missile Defense Command; and Brig. Gen. Clement Coward, director of the Joint Integrated Air and Missile Defense Organization. csis.org