THE PRESIDENT’S 'TANK' SESSION: No decisions were made at the Pentagon yesterday, as President Trump brought his national security team to sit down with his top civilian and military leaders in the joint chiefs’ secure briefing room known as “the Tank.” The two-hour session was “a walk around the world to talk about where we have challenges and where we have opportunities,” said Dana White, chief Pentagon spokesperson. “What are our levers of influence, economically, politically, militarily and diplomatically.”
White said the meeting was scheduled a while back and was never intended to be a decision meeting, and while all the world hot spots were touched on, this was also not a briefing on the new Afghanistan strategy, which is still a work in progress. “It’s still being worked on,” White said. “The Afghan strategy is party of a broader strategy,” she said and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis only has one piece of it. “There no decision. It’s still a point of discussion,” White said.
Trump made no formal public remarks during his Pentagon visit, but he did answer a shouted question on his arrival. Asked if the U.S. would be sending more troops to Afghanistan, Trump said, "We'll see,” adding, “and we're doing very well against ISIS. ISIS is falling fast, very fast,” according to a pool report.
MATTIS UPBEAT AFTER HILL BRIEFS: Mattis, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Joseph Dunford, who were all in the Pentagon meeting with Trump in the morning, were up on Capitol Hill in the afternoon, where they spent over an hour updating House members behind closed doors on the campaign to defeat the Islamic State. It was the second meeting with lawmakers after their briefing to the Senate the day before. "I have no doubt we have the support of Congress and that was loud and clear," Mattis said when leaving the meeting on Capitol Hill.
Afterward Republican Rep. Trent Franks told reporters, “We’ve had more progress in the battle to defeat ISIS in the last eight months than we’ve had in the last eight years.” He attributed the shift to Trump’s leadership. It should be noted the U.S. war against ISIS began in August of 2014, three years and President Trump has been in office six months, as of yesterday.
House Democrats, on the other hand were less effusive. Rep. Adam Schiff, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, said the administration has yet to fill in the missing pieces of its strategy for political peace in Iraq and Syria. “What I was struck by more than anything else was how very similar much of the strategy is to the prior administration,” said Schiff who argued that much of what Mattis, Tillerson and Dunford presented, beyond president’s delegation of more military authority, was a continuation of President Obama’s strategy.
BRING IN THE EXPERTS: Welcome the newly minted Commission on National Defense Strategy. Leaders on the House and Senate armed services committees, including Sen. John McCain and Rep. Mac Thornberry, have announced a panel of Washington experts to review the U.S. national defense policy and come back with some recommendations for President Trump, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and Congress. The commission was authorized by lawmakers last year and among its charges will be to look at U.S. enemies abroad, the size and composition of the military, and how defense money is spent. Here’s each lawmaker’s panel picks:
Jon Kyl, former Republican senator from Arizona.
Retired Gen. Jack Keane, chairman of the board at the Institute for the Study of War and former vice chief of staff for the Army.
Thomas Mahnken, CEO of the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments.
Sen. Jack Reed, ranking Democrat on Senate Armed Services:
Christine Fox, a senior adviser at Johns Hopkins University’s applied physics laboratory and previous acting deputy secretary of defense.
Michael Morell, former deputy director of the CIA.
Ambassador Anne Patterson, former assistant secretary for Near Eastern Affairs at the State Department.
Ambassador Eric Edelman, a diplomat to Turkey and former undersecretary of defense for policy at the Pentagon.
Andrew Krepinevich, Jr., president emeritus of the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments.
Roger Zakheim, former general counsel of the House Armed Services Committee.
Rep. Adam Smith, ranking Democrat on House Armed Services:
Retired Adm. Gary Roughead, former chief of naval operations.
Kathleen Hicks, senior vice president of the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
Mike McCord, former Pentagon comptroller.
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: The Naval Future Force Science and Technology Expo kicks off this morning with a keynote address by Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson at 7.30 a.m the Walter Washington Convention Center. Other speakers include Walter Jones, executive director, Office of Naval Research at 8 a.m.; Marine Lt. Gen. Robert Walsh, commanding general, Marine Corps Combat Development Command, at 8:15 a.m.; and Joint Chiefs Vice Chairman Gen. Paul Selva at 10:30 a.m.
FORD COMMISSIONING: After years of delay and cost overruns, the U.S. Navy is adding a powerful new warship to its fleet, the USS Gerald R. Ford, a first-of-class ship, and first new U.S. aircraft carrier design in 40 years. President Trump will be the guest of honor tomorrow at the official commissioning of the USS Ford, the Navy's newest nuclear-powered aircraft carrier named in honor of the nation's 38th president. The price tag for the next-generation ship is $13 billion, including cost overruns of $2.3 billion, but its all electric high-tech catapult allows it to launch a wider array of planes. The Navy admits the ship is costly, but when you consider it will be in service for 50 years, it’s worth it. “That’s not to say we are not cognizant of the cost, not aware of the cost, we are always trying to drive down the cost, trying to increase the learning curve so that subsequent ships cost less,” said Rear Adm. DeWolfe Miller. “Ford, being a new design with a lot of new technology, is an expensive ship, but that return on investment is well worth that price,” Miller said in a Navy podcast.
STILL FEISTY FROM HIS BED REST: Sen. John McCain may be on bedrest following his diagnosis of an aggressive form of brain cancer, but that doesn't mean he’s taking Trump’s latest olive branch to Moscow lying down. Yesterday, McCain fired off a press release from his home in Arizona accusing Trump of "playing right into the hands" of Russian President Vladimir Putin, after reading reports that the president ended a covert CIA program aiding Syrian rebel groups. "Making any concessions to Russia, absent a broader strategy for Syria, is irresponsible and short-sighted,” McCain said in his statement issued just hours after news broke that the 80-year-old senator has a type of brain tumor known as a glioblastoma.
MCCAIN AND THE NDAA: McCain’s medical challenge prompted an outpouring of concern and well-wishes in Washington but it also raised questions about how his absence and health might affect the National Defense Authorization Act. As Armed Services chairman, McCain is the leader on the must-pass annual policy bill, which means overseeing the amendment process, defending it on the Senate floor and negotiating a final NDAA deal with the House. McCain was considering chemotherapy or radiation treatment but tweeted Thursday, “I'll be back soon, so stand-by!” So, we asked two experts what might lie ahead for the NDAA.
Mackenzie Eaglen, a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, said time is dwindling for the Senate to bring the NDAA bill to a floor vote and McCain’s absence and health are likely to push consideration into September or later. In the meantime, the Senate Armed Services staff has the bulk of the legislation completed in the committee-passed version and can continue working toward negotiations for a final bill with the House. Still, McCain is likely to remain involved as well. “My indications from staff is that Sen. McCain will work through treatment,” she said. “He can absolutely still lead the committee.”
Andrew Hunter, a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said the Senate will need to decide whether McCain or another senator will shepherd the policy bill to a vote. “The Senate floor passage of the NDAA that is an incredibly intense and grueling exercise,” Hunter said. Much of the work on amendments can be done by staff but McCain or another lawmaker will be needed to make hard calls, such as telling other senators ‘no.’ “The question then is, how much is he present and able to kind of steer that process,” Hunter said.
MORE NOMINEES MOVING: The Senate Armed Services Committee has approved the nomination of Charles “Cully” Stimson to be general counsel of the Department of the Navy, the Navy's top lawyer. While serving at the Pentagon in a position that placed him in charge of military detainees in 2007, Stimson made controversial remarks expressing his dismay about U.S. law firms representing detainees in Guantanamo Bay, which led to Stimson's resignation. The committee also approved 3,879 military nominations in the Army, Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps, including Air Force Gen. Paul. Selva to be re-appointed as vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Other nominees approved by the committee included David Trachtenberg to be principal deputy undersecretary of Defense for Policy, Owen West to be assistant secretary of Defense for Special Operations and Low-Intensity Conflict and Ryan McCarthy to be undersecretary of the Army.
MORE PENTAGON PICKS: Trump has made two more key Pentagon nominations, picking a member of his presidential transition team Robert Wilkie, along with Anthony Kurta, to oversee military personnel and readiness. If confirmed by the Senate, Wilkie would serve as undersecretary and Kurta would be his deputy overseeing and advising Mattis on training, personnel policy and the military's readiness to fight wars. They have extensive Washington national security experience both in the Defense Department and on Capitol Hill. Wilkie, a senior adviser to Sen. Thom Tillis, worked on defense issues during Trump's transition, was assistant secretary of defense for legislative affairs, and a national security adviser to President George W. Bush. Kurta, who served 32 years in the Navy, had previously filled in as personnel and readiness undersecretary and was a deputy assistant secretary.
TRUMP’S MAN IN KABUL: President Trump has nominated John Bass to be U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan. Bass is currently the U.S. ambassador to Turkey and is a former ambassador to Georgia. Former President Barack Obama nominated Bass to both positions. If confirmed by the Senate, Bass will be transferred to his new job in Afghanistan during a critical time. The Trump administration is currently weighing whether to increase American troop levels to bolster an existing U.S. force of 8,400 in Afghanistan to help Afghan forces battle the Taliban.
PARDON ME, MR PRESIDENT: Amid reports that Trump is asking lawyers about his pardon powers, such as this one in the Washington Post, Sen. Mark Warner, top Democrat on the intelligence committee is crying fowl. “Russia's interference in the 2016 elections was an attack on our democracy. Both the Senate Intelligence Committee and Special Counsel Mueller are currently investigating whether any coordination occurred between Russia and individuals associated with the Trump campaign,” Warner said in a statement. “The possibility that the President is considering pardons at this early stage in these ongoing investigations is extremely disturbing. Pardoning any individuals who may have been involved would be crossing a fundamental line."
Quoting “people familiar with the effort,” the Post reports “Trump has asked his advisers about his power to pardon aides, family members and even himself in connection with the probe,” and said “a second person” said Trump’s lawyers “have been discussing the president’s pardoning powers among themselves.”
Eric Holder, who was Obama’s attorney general, charged in a tweet that Trump may be trying to hinder special prosecutor Robert Mueller's probe into Russian meddling in the 2016 election, and warned the president against trying to “constrain” the investigation. “If he tries to do so this creates issues of constitutional and criminal dimension,” Holder tweeted.
AP: Seoul calls for Pyongyang to respond to overture for talks
Washington Post: Hawaii rolling out civil defense plan for North Korean missile attack
Wall Street Journal: Beyond Syria and Iraq, faraway ISIS 'provinces' fight on
Daily Beast: As Syria rebels learn from media the CIA cut them off, Al Qaeda goes on the offensive
Reuters: U.S. general says allies worry Russian war game may be 'Trojan horse'
New York Times: Saudi official who was thought to be under house arrest receives a promotion
War on the Rocks: Secretary Mattis’ “guardian angel” and how Marine Corps aviation can get back on target
UPI: BAE starts construction of first Type 26 frigate
Foreign Policy: This is not a eulogy for John McCain
USA Today: Mosul: Corpses, booby traps and snipers are everywhere in devastated city
Defense Tech: WATCH: Russia’s Su-35 wows crowds at MAKS and beyond
Military Times: Afghan pilots to start training on Black Hawks in early October
Defense One: Is that really you typing? New Pentagon tech will know
Stars and Stripes: USS Milius deployment to Japan delayed amid ‘incredible’ workload in Asia-Pacific
USNI News: Navy issues new MQ-25A Stingray draft RFP to industry ahead of final RFP in the fall
FRIDAY | JULY 21
8:30 a.m. 1030 15th St. NW. Venezuela on the edge and the time for new international action. atlanticcouncil.org
9:30 a.m. 1616 Rhode Island Ave. NW. Examining the geopolitical impact of the 4th Estate. Csis.org
12:30 p.m. Pentagon Briefing Room. Army Col. Pat Work, commander, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division and Task Force Falcon, Combined Joint Task Force - Operation Inherent Resolve briefs the media live from Iraq. Live streamed at www.defense.gov/live
MONDAY | JULY 24
2 p.m. 1152 15th St. NW. Release of the report Higher, Heavier, Farther, and Now Undetectable? Bombers: Long-Range Force Projection in the 21st Century with Jerry Hendrix. cnas.org
TUESDAY | JULY 25
10 a.m. Rayburn 2172. Authorization for the Use of Military Force and current terrorist threats with former Attorney General Michael Mukasey. foreignaffairs.house.gov
10 a.m. 1616 Rhode Island Ave. NW. Future of vertical lift and forging a new paradigm with David Dowling of Northrop Grumman; Keith Flail with Bell Helicopter; Richard Koucheravy with Sikorsky; Dave Schreck of Rockwell Collins Government Systems; H. Eric "Delta" Burke of Harris Corporation; and Col. Robert Freeland with the Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology, and Logistics. csis.org
12 p.m. 214 Massachusetts Ave. NE. Lessons from Rome: Civic virtue and the empire’s decline with Hugh Liebert, associate professor at the United States Military Academy. heritage.org
2 p.m. Rayburn 2212. Evaluating DOD equipment and uniform procurement in Iraq and Afghanistan with John Sopko, special inspector general for Afghanistan reconstruction. armedservices.house.gov
2 p.m. Rayburn 2172. Held for ransom: The families of Iran’s hostages speak out. foreignaffairs.house.gov
2:30 p.m. Dirksen 419. Assessing the maximum pressure and engagement policy toward North Korea with State Department acting Assistant Secretary Susan A. Thornton. foreign.senate.gov
2:30 p.m. Russell 222. Options and considerations for achieving a 355-ship Navy from naval analysts. armed-services.senate.gov
WEDNESDAY | JULY 26
9 a.m. 214 Massachusetts Ave. NE. What a North Korean ballistic missile threat means for the U.S. missile defense system with Sen. Dan Sullivan. heritage.org
10 a.m. Rayburn 2172. U.S. cyber diplomacy with Christopher Painter, coordinator for cyber issues at the State Department. foreignaffairs.house.gov
2 p.m. Rayburn 2172. Assessing the U.S.-Qatar relationship. foreignaffairs.house.gov
2 p.m. 1616 Rhode Island Ave. NW. History of U.S. alliances in the Asia-Pacific region. csis.org
4:30 p.m. 800 17th St. NW. 2017 Women In Defense HORIZONS Scholarship celebration. ndia.org
THURSDAY | JULY 27
9:30 a.m. 1152 15th St. NW. Economic levers of U.S. policy toward North Korea. cnas.org
10 a.m. 1300 Pennsylvania Ave. NW. Hostilities in the Himalayas? Assessing the India-China border standoff. wilsoncenter.org
12:30 p.m. 529 14th St. NW. Luncheon with Army Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Milley. press.org
FRIDAY | JULY 28
12 p.m. 1030 15th St. NW. The ramifications of Rouhani's reelection. atlanticcouncil.org
2:30 p.m. 1616 Rhode Island Ave. NW. Retired military leaders from Japan and the U.S. discuss the results of the Military Statesmen Forum. csis.org