TRUMP TRUMPETS TRIP: President Trump is declaring his nearly two-week, five-nation Asia trip a tremendous success as he prepares to head home. “It was red carpet like nobody, I think, has probably ever received,” Trump said in Vietnam. “And that really is a sign of respect, perhaps for me a little bit, but really for our county. And I’m really proud of that.” At every stop Trump has praised his hosts, and avoided directly confronting foreign leaders over issues in which the U.S. has clear differences.
In the Philippines, for example there was no discussion of human rights with Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, who has been accused of carrying out a campaign of extrajudicial killings against drug dealers and users. The White House insisted Trump “briefly raised” the issue, but a spokesman for Duterte said it didn’t come up. Administration officials are also hinting that when the president is back on U.S. soil Wednesday he will have a “major statement” on North Korea and trade, possible designating North Korea as a state sponsor of terrorism.
MUCH ADO ABOUT PUTIN: The weekend was dominated by a back and forth about Trump’s comment that Russian President Vladimir Putin denied any interference in the 2016 presidential election. “I believe that President Putin really feels — and he feels strongly — that he did not meddle in our election,” Trump said Sunday in Vietnam.
That prompted a quick backlash from critics who say Trump is inexplicably unwilling to challenge Putin. “President Trump today stated that he believed Vladimir Putin is being sincere when he denies Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election," said Sen. John McCain, who frequently accuses Trump of being soft on Moscow. “There's nothing ‘America First’ about taking the word of a KGB colonel over that of the American intelligence community."
Questioned by reporters, Trump said he was surprised that there's any conflict on this. “What I said there is that I believe he believes that, and that's very important for somebody to believe. I believe that he feels that he and Russia did not meddle in the election.” But Trump clarified that “As to whether I believe it or not, I'm with our agencies, especially as currently constituted with their leadership. I believe in our intel agencies, our intelligence agencies.”
HATERS, FOOLS AND HACKS: Trump was much more combative on Twitter and in a gaggle with reporters on Air Force One. “When will all the haters and fools out there realize that having a good relationship with Russia is a good thing,” Trump tweeted. And on his plane he unloaded on three prominent critics who served under President Barack Obama: former CIA Director John Brennan, former DNI James Clapper and former FBI Director James Comey. “I mean, give me a break. They're political hacks,” Trump said. “I mean, you have Brennan, you have Clapper, and you have Comey. Comey is proven now to be a liar and he's proven to be a leaker.”
PUTIN ‘PLAYING’ TRUMP: On CNN yesterday, Brennan hit back: “I think he's giving Putin a pass,” the former spymaster told host Jack Tapper. “I think it demonstrates to Mr. Putin that Donald Trump can be played by foreign leaders who are going to appeal to his ego and to try to play upon his insecurities, which is very, very worrisome from a national security standpoint.” And Brennan cited Trump’s bragging about his warm welcome as evidence the president was just a little too vulnerable to flattery. “I think, you know, he seems very susceptible to rolling out the red carpet and honor guards and all this, all the trappings and pomp and circumstance that come with the office. And I think that — that appeals to him, and it — I think it plays to his insecurities.”
HAWKING U.S. HARDWARE: With the exception of when he was in China, which is not a U.S. ally, Trump rarely missed a chance to deliver a sales pitch for U.S. defense contractors. “We make the best equipment. We make the best military gear and planes and anything you can name. The missiles are in a category that nobody even comes close,” Trump said in Vietnam before a meeting with Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc. “We would like you to buy your equipment from the United States,” he said.
Trump touted the performance of a U.S. Patriot anti-missile battery that shot down an Iranian-made Scud missile variant that was fired from Yemen into Saudi Arabia. “One of our missile systems knocked it down. Nobody even knew what happened, and the missile exploded in air; knocked it down like nothing,” Trump bragged. “We make the greatest missiles in the world, greatest planes in the world, greatest commercial aircraft in the world.”
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: That rare three aircraft carrier exercise in the Sea of Japan, which also included Japanese ships, will wrap up in the next 24 hours. The Navy has photos and videos of maneuvers that feature ships from USS Ronald Reagan, USS Nimitz and USS Theodore Roosevelt carrier strike groups, just in case North Korea didn’t fully appreciate the unparalleled flexing of U.S. military muscle. You can see our collection of videos here.
The exercise coincided with Trump’s Asia trip, and he mentioned it several times. But it should be noted that while no other nation could mount a similar naval maneuver, it was a heavy lift for the U.S. as well, given the mounting readiness problems wrought by spending caps and sequestration.
THE ‘SHELL GAME’ REVISITED: Last week Vice Adm. Mike Shoemaker, commander of Naval Air Forces, laid it out for a House Armed Service subcommittee. We mentioned this Friday, but it’s worth reading the full text of his testimony:
“To get Carl Vinson, Nimitz and Theodore Roosevelt ready to deploy in January, June and October of this year, and equip their embarked air wings with the required number of mission capable jets, 94 strike fighters had to be transferred to and from the maintenance depots or between F-18 squadrons on both coasts. This included pulling aircraft from the fleet replacement squadrons, where our focus should be on training new aviators. That strike fighter inventory management, or shell game, leaves non-deployed squadrons well below the number of jets required to keep aviators proficient and progressing toward their career qualifications and milestones, with detrimental impacts to both retention and future experience levels.
“Additionally, to get those air wings ready, several hundred parts had to be cannibalized from other Super Hornets across the force, further decimating the readiness of squadrons and adding significantly and unnecessarily to the workload of our maintainers. From a manning perspective, to fill gaps in those deploying squadrons and the three carriers, over 300 sailors had to be temporarily reassigned from other squadrons, have their orders changed or get extended beyond their normal sea tour lengths, which hurt our sailors — which — which hurts our sailors and their families and has cascading effects on enlisted retention across the force.”
EMPTY COCKPIT SYNDROME: “The airlines made it easy,” one recently retired Air Force pilot told us by way of explaining why a steady stream of military pilots are voting with their feet. “In my second year with the airline, I will be making $30,000 a year more than I did in my last assignment as a colonel in the Air Force,” he told us, as the Air Force has announced its shortage of pilots is only getting worse. In this week’s magazine, we take a deep into the reasons: budget cuts, job stress and the lure of a better family life is making solving the pilot shortage a tough nut to crack.
NIGER PROBE SEEKS GROUND TRUTH: More than a month after the deadly attack that killed four U.S. and four Nigerien soldiers, a U.S. military investigation team has returned to the village of Tongo Tongo, the site of the Oct. 4 ambush. A statement from U.S. Africa Command said it will “continue to investigate the details surrounding this ambush until we are satisfied that we have learned everything that we can from this incident.” The statement says U.S. military investigators interviewed local villagers; conducted a physical examination of multiple areas of interest related to the attack; and retraced actions leading up to, during and after this ambush.
Meanwhile, the Washington Post reported over the weekend that Sgt. La David Johnson, whose body wasn’t found for two days, may have been captured and then executed. The Post quoted a local farmer from Tongo Tongo, who said it was his children, who were tending cattle, who discovered the body. The farmer said Johnson’s hands were tied, suggesting he was taken prisoner at some point.
SOMALIA STRIKES: American forces killed an al-Shabaab fighter in an airstrike Saturday carried out about 250 miles southwest of Mogadishu, according to AFRICOM. The U.S. says the targeted combatant participated in attacks against American and Somali convoys and American forces observed him doing so. "U.S. forces subsequently conducted the strike under collective self-defense authorities," an AFRICOM press release stated.
OUTSPOKEN NOMINEE IS ‘CLOSE FRIENDS’ WITH MATTIS: Dean Winslow, who was recommended by Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and nominated by Trump to oversee the military healthcare system, seemed to know he was wading into treacherous political waters when he criticized U.S. gun laws as “insane” during his Senate Armed Services Committee confirmation hearing last week. He prefaced the remark by saying “I may get in trouble with other members of the committee.” But it's not the first time the doctor, who became “close friends” with Mattis at Stanford University, has spoken out about his beliefs in ways that carry political and career risks.
Days after Trump announced his nomination in September, Winslow questioned the president’s rationale for a ban on transgender military service in an interview with a Delaware newspaper. Trump tweeted in July that the military "cannot be burdened with the tremendous medical costs” from allowing transgender troops to serve. “Costs may be overstated,” Winslow, who served as a medical officer for 35 years in the Air National Guard, told the newspaper. “We don’t want to turn motivated people away.”
Mattis befriended Winslow at Stanford sometime after 2013, when Mattis retired from the military and became distinguished visiting fellow at the Hoover Institution think tank, which is based there. Dana White, the defense secretary’s chief spokesperson, described them as “close friends.”
NOT QUITE A PEACE DEAL: The Russian government and the U.S. State Department put out what it said was a joint statement between Trump and Putin outlining how the two countries will work together to continue de-escalating violence in Syria.
"The Presidents agreed to maintain open military channels of communication between military professionals to help ensure the safety of both U.S. and Russian forces and deconfliction of partnered forces engaged in the fight against ISIS," the statement published by the Kremlin and State Department said. "They confirmed these efforts will be continued until the final defeat of ISIS is achieved. The Presidents agreed that there is no military solution to the conflict in Syria."
The civil war in Syria has gone on for more than six years. Russia supports the Syrian President Bashar Assad's regime while the U.S. has backed some rebel groups — some of whom oppose Assad — that are fighting ISIS. In July, the U.S. and Russia reached a 'de-escalation zone' agreement in Syria.
POKING PYONGYANG WITH PARALIPSIS: Trump employed a rhetorical device known as “paralipsis” to poke North Korean leader Kim Jong Un this weekend. "Why would Kim Jong-un insult me by calling me "old," when I would NEVER call him "short and fat?" Oh well, I try so hard to be his friend - and maybe someday that will happen," Trump tweeted from Vietnam, Sunday morning local time.
Later Trump was asked by reporters whether it was possible that he might have a friendly relationship with Kim. “I think anything is a possibility. Strange things happen in life. That might be a strange thing to happen, but it's certainly a possibility. If that did happen, it would be a good thing for — I can tell you — for North Korea. But it would also be good for lots of other places, and it would be good for the world,” he said. “So, certainly, it is something that could happen. I don't know that it will, but it would be very, very nice if it did.”
USA Today: Army lifts ban on waivers for recruits with history of some mental health issues
Daily Beast: Green Beret Discovered SEALs’ Illicit Cash. Then He Was Killed.
AP: Seoul: N. Koreans fire at soldier trying to defect to South
Wall Street Journal: On a U.S. aircraft carrier near North Korea, tension gives way to focus
Task and Purpose: ‘I serve Afghanistan!’: Afghan soldiers graduate to the elite ranks of special forces
Fox News: Iran-Iraq border reels from 7.3-magnitude quake; at least 10 reported dead
Reuters: Israel signals free hand in Syria as U.S., Russia expand truce
Defense News: 5th fleet commander: Intel-sharing clear barrier to military cooperation
Washington Post: US military: Annual Gulf exercise at risk over Qatar crisis
Stars and Stripes: Americans struggle to meet the French Foreign Legion’s high bar
Politico: Cuba attack mystery may be Cold War flashback, officials say
Air Force Times: Melania Trump visits military families in Alaska
New York Times: With Iraqi-Kurdish talks stalled, phone diplomacy averts new clashes
Defense Tech: More bombers likely to join pressure campaign against North Korea: Goldfein
MONDAY | NOV. 13
9 a.m. 1616 Rhode Island Ave. NW. A book talk with author Victor Davis Hanson about The Second World Wars: How the First Global Conflict Was Fought and Won. csis.org
10 a.m. 1775 Massachusetts Ave. NW. Is there really a military readiness crisis in the United States? brookings.edu
1 p.m. Preparing military leadership for the future with Rear Adm. Jeffrey Harley, president of the U.S. Naval War College; Brig. Gen. William Bowers, president of the Marine Corps University; Maj. Gen. John Kem, commandant of the U.S. Army War College; and Vice Adm. Frederick Roegge, president of the National Defense University. Csis.org
2 p.m. Pentagon River Entrance. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis welcomes Georgian Defense Minister Levan Izoria to the Pentagon.
4 p.m. 1300 Pennsylvania Ave. NW. A historical discussion about “When the World Seemed New: George H.W. Bush and the End of the Cold War” with author Jeffrey Engel. wilsoncenter.org
TUESDAY | NOV. 14
7:30 a.m. 201 Waterfront St. Logistics Officer Association Symposium 2017. logisticsymposium.org
8 a.m. 2101 Wilson Blvd. Robotics division quarterly meeting. ndia.org
8 a.m. 45425 Holiday Dr. Navy League board of directors meeting. navyleague.org
10 a.m. Dirksen G-50. Nomination hearing for Anthony Kurta to be principal deputy under secretary of defense for personnel and readiness; James McPherson to be Army general counsel; and Gregory Maggs to be a Judge for the United States Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces. armed-services.senate.gov
10 a.m. Dirksen 419. Authority to order the use of nuclear weapons with retired Gen. C. Robert Kehler, former head of U.S. Strategic Command. foreign.senate.gov
11 a.m. 214 Massachusetts Ave. NE. Winter is coming: Russia, the Baltic states and U.S. policy in Europe. heritage.org
2 p.m Sustaining U.S. leadership against nuclear terrorism and proliferation: A conversation with Christopher Ford, special assistant to the president and senior director for weapons of mass destruction and counterproliferation. hudson.org
2:30 p.m. Dirksen 419. American leadership in the Asia-Pacific, part 4: View from Beijing. foreign.senate.gov
WEDNESDAY | NOV. 15
7:30 a.m. 300 First St. SE. Breakfast series with Gen. Darren McDew, commander of U.S. Transportation Command. mitchellaerospacepower.org
8 a.m. 2401 M St. NW. Defense Writers Group breakfast with acting Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy. centermediasecurity.org
8 a.m. 201 Waterfront St. Logistics Officer Association Symposium 2017. logisticsymposium.org
8 a.m. 45425 Holiday Dr. Navy League board of directors meeting. navyleague.org
9 a.m. 1201 Pennsylvania Ave. NW. Kleptocratic regimes and national security: A pervasive threat and how it can be neutralized. hudson.org
10 a.m. 1616 Rhode Island Ave. NW. Prospects and challenges of building the 350-ship Navy with three former service secretaries. csis.org
2 p.m. Dirksen 419. Attacks on U.S. diplomats in Cuba: Response and oversight. foreign.senate.gov
4 p.m. 1030 15th St. NW. Book discussion of “Russia's Border Wars and Frozen Conflicts.” atlanticcouncil.org
THURSDAY | NOV. 16
8 a.m. 201 Waterfront St. Logistics Officer Association Symposium 2017. logisticsymposium.org
8:30 a.m. 1616 Rhode Island Ave. NW. Sixth Annual Transatlantic Forum on Russia. csis.org
9 a.m. 1030 15th St. NW. Nuclear strategy and security in the second nuclear age conference. atlanticcouncil.org
9:30 a.m. 1775 Massachusetts Ave. NW. Strengthening military readiness: The role of military families in 21st century defense with Anthony Kurta, performing the duties of under secretary of defense for personnel and readiness. brookings.edu
10 a.m. Dirksen G-50. Nomination hearing for John C. Rood to be under secretary of defense for policy and Randall G. Schriver to be assistant secretary of defense for Asian and Pacific affairs. armed-services.senate.gov
10 a.m. Senate Visitor Center 217. Closed hearing on new counter-terrorism guidance with Maj. Gen. Albert M. Elton II, Joint Staff deputy director for special operations and counterterrorism. foreign.senate.gov
5 p.m. 1957 E St. NW. Opportunities and challenges of a complex future: NATO ACT report launch with Gen. Denis Mercier, NATO supreme allied commander for transformation. atlanticcouncil.org
FRIDAY | NOV. 17
8 a.m. 201 Waterfront St. Logistics Officer Association Symposium 2017 with a keynote speech by Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson. logisticsymposium.org
8 a.m. 3301 Massachusetts Ave. NW. U.S.-Finland Defense and Security Industry Seminar. ndia.org
3 p.m. 1616 Rhode Island Ave. NW. A book talk with author Serhii Plokhy about “Lost Kingdom: The Quest for Empire and the Making of the Russian Nation.” csis.org
MONDAY | NOV. 20
12 p.m. 1201 Pennsylvania Ave. NW. Is Lebanon Saudi Arabia's new zone of confrontation with Iran? hudson.org