AMERICA FIRST: President Trump's 30-minute speech outlining his congressionally-mandated national security strategy was an enthusiastic enunciation of his “America first” policy that he campaigned on and implemented upon his inauguration. “With every decision and every action, we are now putting America first. We are rebuilding our nation, our confidence and our standing in the world,” Trump said yesterday at the Ronald Reagan building. The speech was more reflective than predictive, cataloging the ways in which Trump argues he is reasserting U.S. leadership on the international stage. “The entire world has heard the news and has already seen the signs. America is coming back and America is coming back strong,” Trump said. “We will stand up for ourselves and we will stand up for our country like we have never stood up before.”
WRITTEN FOR TRUMP, NOT BY TRUMP: It’s worth repeating that the 68-page document was written by the National Security Council staff to translate the president’s public pronouncements into a formal strategy document, not the other way around. “Remember, this document specifically is based on his words. It's based on his campaign speeches and his major speeches this year," White House national security spokesman Michael Anton told CNN yesterday. And because of that Anton said he can’t say for sure whether the president read the whole thing. “I can't say that he's read every line and every word. He certainly had the document … throughout the process and has been briefed on it," Anton said.
A SUBTLE CHANGE FROM ‘IC’ TO ‘IST’: One phrase you won’t find in the formal document is “radical Islamic terrorism,” a phrase that national security adviser Lt. Gen H.R. McMaster has been trying to get the president to avoid, in favor of radical “Islamist” terrorism or ideology. “Islamist” refers specifically to radical or violent Muslim ideology, where “Islamic” refers to all things Muslim. In the strategy document, “Islamist” appears seven times referring to groups, ideologies, or the now-defunct Islamic State caliphate. “Islamic” is used only to describe the governments of Iraq and Iran. In his speech, however, Trump said “Islamist” on first reference, but then slipped in an “Islamic” when he declared, “Our strategy calls for us to confront, discredit and defeat radical Islamic terrorism and ideology.”
EASY ON RUSSIA: In his speech, Trump spent little time on Russia, except to extol the recent U.S. intelligence sharing with Moscow that resulted in thwarting a terrorist attack in St. Petersburg. He did single out Russia and China as “rival powers” that seek to “challenge American influence, values and wealth,” but he made no mention of Russia meddling in U.S. elections as a national security threat.
The document, however, does include the assessment that “Through modernized forms of subversive tactics, Russia interferes in the domestic political affairs of countries around the world.”
MOSCOW, BEIJING REACT: Dmitry Peskov, spokesman for Russian President Vladimir Putin, told reporters on Tuesday that the mentions of Russia struck Moscow as “imperial” and showed “an aversion to a multi-polar world,” the Associated Press reported. Peskov, however, said Moscow was encouraged by calls to cooperate with Russia in areas that could be beneficial for the U.S.
In China, the official Xinhua News Agency said Trump’s decision reflects a “victory of hardliners” in his administration, AP also reported. It warned U.S.-Chinese economic relations were likely to face “even more pressure and challenges.”
“We urge the United States to stop deliberately distorting China’s strategic intentions and abandon a Cold War mentality,” said Foreign Ministry spokeswoman, Hua Chunying. “Otherwise it will injure others and damage itself.”
In a separate statement, China said the U.S. should accept that country’s rise. “It is selfish to put your national interest above other countries’ interest and the mutual interest of the international community,” said the Chinese Embassy in Washington in a statement.
“The Chinese side is willing to have peaceful coexistence with all countries,” said the embassy statement. “The United States should also adapt and accept China’s development.”
McMASTER ON MEDDLING: In an interview with the BBC, McMaster tried to walk a careful line, acknowledging that Russia propaganda was "certainly" a national security threat, without specifically saying Russia “meddled” in the 2016 vote. "I believe that Russia is engaged in a very sophisticated campaign of subversion to affect our confidence in democratic institutions, in democratic processes, including elections." McMaster kept referring to Russia’s actions in democracies around the world, avoiding singling out the U.S. and arguing Russian propaganda was aimed at both the political Right and Left to create divisions.
CLIMATE CHANGE THREAT: PARTLY CLOUDY: Trump’s strategy abandons the prior administration’s focus on climate change as a top threat, choosing instead to tout energy dominance. But the strategy comes a week after Trump signed an annual National Defense Authorization Act that identifies climate change as a “direct threat” to national security and orders a Pentagon report on the 10 military bases considered most vulnerable. “I’d say it is an unusual disconnect,” said Francesco Femia, co-founder and president of the nonpartisan Center for Climate and Security. It highlights what appears to be a growing rift between the White House and a Republican-led Congress and Pentagon that are increasingly open to recognizing climate change as a security risk.
The NDAA said climate change is endangering 128 military bases with sea rise and could fuel terror groups by destabilizing parts of the world. Trump’s national security strategy released Monday includes a single mention of climate in terms of weather patterns and jettisons any mention of its security risks. Trump’s strategy sees climate policies shaping the global energy system and the U.S. role as countering an “anti-growth energy agenda.” Still, the U.S. will “remain a global leader in reducing traditional pollution, as well as greenhouse gases, while expanding our economy,” according to the strategy.
Good Tuesday 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 is scheduled to meet with the president this morning at the White House. Mattis released a statement yesterday endorsing the national security strategy he had a hand in drafting, calling it “a clear and comprehensive strategy to address the security challenges that America faces.” Mattis referred to the U.S. military as “the world's most lethal armed force,” whose job is to “ensure our diplomats always speak from a position of strength.”
Mattis, who pointedly warned reporters last week not to believe anyone who said ISIS has been completely defeated, may have been behind the more nuanced statement in Trump’s address yesterday “We have dealt ISIS one devastating defeat after another. The coalition to defeat ISIS has now recaptured almost 100 percent of the land once held by these terrorists in Iraq and in Syria. Great job,” the president said, stopping short of declaring victory. “We're now chasing them wherever they flee. And we will not let them into the United States.”
The NSS has a similar carefully worded assessment, “We crushed Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) terrorists on the battlefields of Syria and Iraq, and will continue pursuing them until they are destroyed.” Today, the top U.S. military spokesman in Iraq Col. Ryan Dillon will brief reporters by telephone on where things stand as the year comes to an end.
JUST IN CASE, PENCE WILL WAIT: Republicans are confident they have the votes to pass the big $1.5 trillion tax reform bill in both the House and the Senate. The vote is set for today. Sen. John McCain is home in Arizona on medical leave, but Majority Leader Mitch McConnell says his vote will not be needed to put the bill over the top in the Senate. But just in case he’s needed to break a tie, Vice President Mike Pence will postpone his trip to Egypt and Israel until after the Senate votes.
"The Vice President looks forward to traveling to Egypt and Israel in January," Pence spokeswoman Alyssa Farah said via a written statement. Pence's Middle East visit has also been complicated by protests over Trump's decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.
McCain, who is recovering from the side effects of his chemo treatment for brain cancer tweeted yesterday, “Thanks to everyone for your support & words of encouragement! I'm feeling well & looking forward to returning to work after the holidays.”
AMERICA ALONE: The United States has vetoed a U.N. resolution that would have required Trump to rescind his declaration of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. The Security Council resolution was sponsored by Egypt, and approved by all 14 other council members, a reflection of the depth of global opposition to Trump’s action. U.S. Ambassador Nikki Haley called the resolution “an insult” that won’t be forgotten, saying the United Nations forced the U.S. to cast a veto simply because of its right to decide where to put its embassy.
Arab nations knew in advance that the United States was certain to veto the resolution, but they sought the vote to demonstrate that countries everywhere and even many U.S. allies such as Britain, France, and Japan are against Trump’s action.
WEST CONFIRMED: The Senate voted 74-23 on Monday evening to confirm Owen West as the new assistant secretary of defense for special operations and low intensity conflict. West was a trader with Goldman Sachs and previously served in the Marine Corps as an infantry platoon commander, reconnaissance platoon leader and a combat adviser. Trump made the nomination in June and it was reported to the floor by Senate Armed Services in July.
PREPARING FOR TRANSGENDER RECRUITS: Three former top military medical officials are casting doubt on the Pentagon’s argument that it will struggle to train over 23,000 personnel to handle its first transgender recruits on Jan. 1 and may not be prepared in time. “The administration’s claims are suspicious because training recruiters and medical evaluators to process applications from transgender candidates is neither complicated nor time-consuming,” former surgeons general of the Navy and Army and a former Coast Guard director of health and safety wrote in a new policy paper published by the Palm Center rights group. The Pentagon and Justice Department are using the argument in the hope of convincing federal courts to block an order requiring transgender recruiting to begin Jan. 1.
“Put simply, compliance with the district court’s Jan. 1 deadline will impose extraordinary burdens on the military and have a harmful impact on its missions and readiness,” the administration told the courts. But the recruiters need virtually no new training and medical examiners at MEPS need about four hours of training, the policy paper authors said.
WANNA CRY ACCUSATION: The U.S. is accusing North Korea of being behind the WannaCry cyber attacks that occurred this year and affected more than 230,000 computers in more than 150 countries. The charge came in an unusual forum, an op-ed published last night in the Wall Street Journal written by Trump’s homeland security adviser, Tom Bossert.
“We do not make this allegation lightly. It is based on evidence,” Bossert wrote. “We are not alone with our findings, either. Other governments and private companies agree. The United Kingdom attributes the attack to North Korea, and Microsoft traced the attack to cyber affiliates of the North Korean government.”
‘RIDICULOUS’: Secretary of State Rex Tillerson yesterday dismissed as “ridiculous” a reporter's question about whether he has submitted a letter of resignation with an effective date in January. “That’s ridiculous,” Tillerson said while standing alongside French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian. When the reporter thanked him, he said, "It's a ridiculous question" as he and Le Drian walked away.
It’s not the first time in recent weeks that Tillerson has been forced to counter anonymous leaks about his supposedly impending departure. He missed a similar question in early December, moments after welcoming Libyan Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj to the State Department.
SUPPORT FOR ISIS: A former Washington, D.C., Metro Transit Police officer has been convicted of attempting to provide material support to the Islamic State, in the form of gift cards. Nicholas Young, 38, was a Metro Transit Police officer for 12 years. The Fairfax, Va., man was arrested in August 2016, and is the first U.S. law enforcement officer to have been charged with a terror-related crime, the FBI said at the time.
According to court documents, Young had been monitored by the FBI since September 2010 and traveled to Libya twice in 2011. There, he joined rebel forces who were trying to oust Moammar Gadhafi. Federal prosecutors said Young tried to provide material support to the Islamic State in late July 2016 when he purchased and sent gift card codes he thought would allow recruiters with the terrorist organization to communicate with potential recruits without being detected.
UNEXPLAINED FLYING OBJECTS: I was asked during an appearance on the Joyce Kaufman radio show yesterday if I believed in UFOs. “Of course, I do.” I said, “Assuming you mean that the ‘U’ stands for unidentified, not unearthly.” The question was prompted by the revelation — first reported by the New York Times and Politico — that there was a Pentagon program to try to run down accounts, including some from U.S. pilots, of various sightings of flying objects for which there was no ready explanation.
Turns out there was about $22 million in the Pentagon’s black budget for the project, which was defunded in 2012. Some of the incidents, in which objects can appear to defy the law of aerodynamics, are eventually explained, but others remain a mystery. Reports on Twitter last week of unexplained glowing orbs in the sky moving in a coordinated pattern turned out to be an evening parachute jump by the Army’s Golden Knights skydiving team.
In the Pentagon’s more than $600 billion budget, $22 million is a rounding error, less than the cost of a single F-16, but still the Pentagon decided it had better uses for the money. The man who ran the office, Luis Elizondo, just retired and told CNN last night “My personal belief is that there is very compelling evidence that we may not be alone.” In an interview on CNN's "Erin Burnett OutFront,” Elizondo said, "These aircraft — we'll call them aircraft — are displaying characteristics that are not currently within the US inventory nor in any foreign inventory that we are aware of.”
While anything is possible (we could in theory all be living in the Matrix), no government program has ever found a shred of evidence linking any flying object to an extraterrestrial origin. So while it’s good to keep an open mind on these things, I tend to favor evidence-based, science-based beliefs, and try to keep my feet firmly on the ground as I gaze at the stars in wonder.
Defense News: V-280 Valor flies for the first time
Wall Street Journal: China Flies Military Aircraft Into Airspace Claimed by Seoul
Washington Post: Testing Trump’s trade policy, Boeing challenges sale of Canadian jets
USA Today: Now that ISIS is mostly defeated, will U.S. stay in Iraq?
Task and Purpose: The Psyops Manual The CIA Gave To Nicaragua’s Contras Is Totally Bonkers
Air Force Times: This ‘Black Jet’ had a storied combat history — from Desert Storm to Iraqi Freedom
New York Times: U.S. Military Fires Upon Intruder at Air Base in Britain
Foreign Policy: Does Trump’s National Security Strategy Have a Values Deficit?
Defense One: For NATO, True Interoperability Is No Longer Optional
Defense News: ‘That’s the Worst!’: Acquisition regulations we love to hate
Army Times: The Army’s new handgun will soon be for sale to the public
TUESDAY | DEC. 19
9 a.m. 15th St. NW. Making Peace in Donbas? The Role of a Peacekeeping Mission with Ambassador Kurt Volker. atlanticcouncil.org