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Trump returns to face fresh challenges from North Korea, Iran, Pakistan and the budget

Trump returns to face fresh challenges from North Korea, Iran, Pakistan and the budget
What exactly is an illegal nuclear attack order?
What exactly is an illegal nuclear attack order?

TRUMP’S BACK: President Trump has returned to Washington after a Mar-a-Lago holiday break filled with tweets and golf to face fresh challenges, some of his own making, beginning with…

PAKISTAN: In his first tweet of the new year, the president decided to lash out at Pakistan, America’s sometimes partner in the war against the Taliban, al Qaeda, and the Islamic State in Afghanistan. “The United States has foolishly given Pakistan more than 33 billion dollars in aid over the last 15 years, and they have given us nothing but lies & deceit, thinking of our leaders as fools. They give safe haven to the terrorists we hunt in Afghanistan, with little help. No more!”

Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Khawaja Asif, responded on Twitter: “We will respond to President Trump's tweet shortly inshallah...Will let the world know the truth..difference between facts & fiction.” Pakistan’s Defense Minister Khurram Dastgir-Khan tweeted “Pak as anti-terror ally has given free to US: land & air communication, military bases & intel cooperation that decimated Al-Qaeda over last 16yrs, but they have given us nothing but invective & mistrust. They overlook cross-border safe havens of terrorists who murder Pakistanis.”

Trump’s confrontational approach is in stark contrast to Defense Secretary Jim Mattis’ preference for low-key diplomacy. Mattis, who just visited Pakistan a month ago, told reporters traveling with him Dec. 3 he would not be prodding Pakistan. “That's not the way I deal with issues,” Mattis told the traveling press corps. “I believe that we work hard on finding the common ground, and then we work together, so that's the approach I want to take.” Mattis also noted that Pakistan has suffered great losses at the hands of terrorists. “They have lost hundreds, thousands of their troops killed and wounded by terrorists. They have lost hundreds, thousands of their innocent people murdered and wounded by terrorists, so we know that there is common ground.”

Pakistan's government called for a meeting with U.S. ambassador David Hale today, after Trump decided to cut off millions of dollars in aid to the country. Several news outlets confirmed the meeting.

IRAN: Trump’s second tweet of the new year was aimed at Iran, where a fifth day of anti-government protests is underway. Twelve demonstrators are reported killed, and another 450 arrested, according to the BBC. “Iran is failing at every level despite the terrible deal made with them by the Obama Administration. The great Iranian people have been repressed for many years. They are hungry for food & for freedom. Along with human rights, the wealth of Iran is being looted. TIME FOR CHANGE!,” Trump tweeted.

The president’s supporters generally seem to applaud his support of the Iranian people, and draw a contrast with President Barack Obama’s cautious approach in 2009, the last time there were street protests in Tehran. But on CBS, South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham had more free advice for Trump. “You just can’t tweet here. You have to lay out a plan,” Graham said on “Face the Nation.” “And if I were President Trump, I would lay out a plan as to how I would engage the regime. I would tell the Europeans and the Congress and the world that America is going to withdraw from this [Iran nuclear] agreement unless it’s a better deal. And I would lay out what a better deal would look like. And I would stand with the Iranian people the entire time.”

Asked if he had shared his advice with the president, Graham said “I just did,” referring to his public remarks.

NORTH KOREA: In his New Year’s address yesterday, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un issued a threat and a promise. The threat was in the form of a warning that his nuclear forces are now a reality. “The entire United States is within range of our nuclear weapons, a nuclear button is always on my desk. This is reality, not a threat,” said Kim, who traded his usual garb for a Western-style gray suit and tie. Kim said 2018 would be a year for North Korea to focus on “mass-producing nuclear warheads and ballistic missiles for operational deployment,” adding “These weapons will be used only if our society is threatened.”

Trump did not tweet a response, but was quoted by the AP as saying, “We’ll see.”

Kim also offered an olive branch to South Korea, saying he was “open to dialogue” with Seoul, and suggested North Korean athletes might take part in the Olympic Winter Games in PyeongChang. The overture was immediately welcomed by South Korean President Moon Jae-in, and Seoul offered to engage in high-level talks next week.

On ABC Sunday, former Joint Chiefs Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen said Trump’s combative style has been “incredibly disruptive” and created “great uncertainty” with respect to the institutions, the commitments and the leadership the U.S. has provided over the past 70 years. “We're actually closer, in my view, to a nuclear war with North Korea and in that region than we have ever been,” Mullen said. “I don't see the opportunities to solve this diplomatically at this particular point.”

In his end-of-the-year, off-camera meeting with reporters at the Pentagon, Mattis was more sanguine. Asked point blank if the U.S. is closer to going to war, Mattis insisted there is still time for diplomacy. “This is clearly a diplomatically led effort with a lot of international diplomatic support. It's got a lot of economic buttressing, so it's not like it's just words. It's real activities,” Mattis said. He noted Secretary of State Rex Tillerson will his Canadian counterpart Chrystia Freeland will hold a special summit on the North Korean threat in Vancouver this month.

In a New York Times op-ed, Tillerson said the “peaceful pressure campaign” led by the U.S. has cut off roughly 90 percent of North Korea’s export revenue. “We hope that this international isolation will pressure the regime into serious negotiations on the abandonment of its nuclear and ballistic missile programs,” Tillerson wrote. “A door to dialogue remains open, but we have made it clear that the regime must earn its way back to the negotiating table. Until denuclearization occurs, the pressure will continue.”

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.

BACK TO THE BUDGET FIGHT: Congress pushed the pause button on its effort to come up with annual funding for the military and the rest of the federal government as it left Washington just before the holidays. A stopgap funding measure signed by Trump on Dec. 22 averted a government shutdown with just hours to spare, but it will expire on Jan. 19. Now, lawmakers are back under pressure to raise federal spending caps for 2018. The current defense cap is about $85 billion shy of fully funding the $700 billion National Defense Authorization Act, which was signed into law by the president last month. A variety of thorny political issues from immigration to Obamacare have been caught up in the debate over raising the caps, but any solution is likely to depend on whether Democrats support the levels ultimately set for non-defense spending. Lawmakers have been eyeing a deal that would raise and set Budget Control Act cap levels for two years, similar to past deals.

As lawmakers were leaving the Capitol last month, House Armed Services Committee Chairman Rep. Mac Thornberry said he felt optimistic about a defense budget deal in the New Year. “It was clear that we were not going to get a cap deal this week, and I think everybody needs a little time and space to get beyond the partisanship that we’ve been seeing,” Thornberry said on Dec. 21 after voting for the stopgap measure. Sen. John McCain, the other prime architect and chief booster of the $700 billion defense bill, could also be returning to Washington to fight for a hike in the defense budget at what is likely to be a crucial moment. McCain is battling brain cancer and returned to his home state of Arizona last month for rehab and physical therapy, but said at the time he looked forward to returning to work this month. “Sen. McCain is in rehab. He's coming back in January. We need his voice now more than ever,” Graham said Sunday on “Face the Nation.”

LATER START AS CLOCK TICKS: But don’t expect to see Congress rolling up its sleeves and getting to work on the defense budget today. The Senate is set to begin its legislative business at noon on Wednesday and plans to take a vote on the nomination of John Rood, who Trump has chosen to be undersecretary of defense for policy. The chamber approved a batch of 27 nominations just before the holiday break but none was for the Defense Department. And the House will not be around at all this week. It had planned to be in session the first week of 2018 but GOP leadership shifted the schedule so the chamber gets back to work Jan. 8 with its first votes that evening. The later start means the House has just two weeks to come up with an annual budget plan for the military and the federal government.

NAVY DRONE WAR HEATS UP: Last month we told you about Boeing’s entry in the competition to build a new generation of drones that can take off and land on an aircraft carrier. Tomorrow is the deadline for bids on the program. From the Washington Post: “In addition to Boeing, two of the Pentagon’s top suppliers, General Atomics and Lockheed Martin, are also vying for a contract to build as many as 76 of the vehicles that would become operational in the mid 2020s. Bids are due Jan. 3, setting the stage for a high-stakes competition in 2018. Though the Navy has not yet released the value of the contract, an earlier incarnation of the effort — in which the drones would both serve as refueling aircraft and have attack capabilities — would have been worth $3 billion through 2022. As conceived now, the aircraft would not be configured to strike targets.”

TRANSGENDER RECRUITS: The military’s first openly transgender recruits could apply to serve this week. The Justice Department announced Friday it was dropping its appeals of three district court injunctions in D.C, Maryland and Washington state that required the military to start considering the recruits despite Trump’s announced ban on transgender service. The DOJ said it was waiting for the Pentagon to release an "independent study of these issues in the coming weeks.” Shannon Minter, a lead attorney for plaintiffs in two of the suits and the legal director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights, called the move to end the appeals a “major victory.” The official deadline to begin recruiting was New Year’s day and the Pentagon had worked last month to prepare recruiters and medical examiners across the country on how to process the transgender applicants.

But the fate of Trump’s ban on transgender service “in any capacity” is far from settled. Four federal lawsuits filed against Trump, Mattis and other top defense officials are still in the early stages and have yet to reach discovery phases or go to trial. The DOJ announcement deals only with the injunctions, which bar the Trump administration from changing its policy while the cases are being heard. Transgender troops, prospective recruits and rights groups have filed the suits to block the president’s effort to overturn the Obama administration’s open service policy. The DOJ has said it will continue to defend in court the president’s order for a new transgender policy. The legal battle is likely to play out over months. In the meantime, the president gave Mattis a February deadline for presenting a final new service policy and until March to fully implement the changes.

NO COIN OF THE REALM: One thing we learned from the Washington Post’s front page story last month about Trump’s glitzy new challenge coin, is that Mattis has broken with tradition and not authorized a SecDef challenge coin for himself. Asked why not, the Post reported that a spokeswoman explained: “It’s not about him. It’s about the person whose hand he is shaking.”

Breitbart reporter Kristina Wong reported an anecdote in which she was asked to relay a question about coins to Mattis on a recent trip. “The defense secretary smiled and said he didn’t have coins,” Wong wrote. “I’m saving money for bombs,” he replied.

Mattis is not the first defense secretary to question the value of spending thousands of dollars on ceremonial coins to hand out as morale boosters. In 2001, Donald Rumsfeld initially vetoed a $50,000 expenditure of taxpayer dollars for the coins, which are highly prized by troops and civilians alike. When an aide explained to Rumsfeld how much the troops looked forward to getting “coined” by the secretary, he relented, but said he would pay for the coins himself.

THANK YOU, BOB: Mattis also broke with tradition last month, when he sneaked down to Guantanamo Bay without announcing the trip. He did however take one reporter, the unofficial dean of the Pentagon press corps, Bob Burns of The Associated Press. Burns took Mattis to task for not announcing his trip ahead of time in a face-off on Mattis’ small plane en route to the U.S. naval base. “I pushed back strongly, and Bob pushed back on me, and we're on a little, tiny airplane, so we had to come to agreement, like Sitting Bull and Custer sitting there together,” Mattis joked.

Mattis said he didn’t want to announce the holiday troop visit in case it got canceled at the last minute. “The problem with that is that, if I do that and tell you in advance, and then something comes up and I don't show up, then that becomes the story, you know?” he said, but promised to give at least one day’s notice in the future. But he lamented he’s not always in control of his schedule.


New York Times: Kim Jong-un’s Overture Could Drive a Wedge Between South Korea and the U.S.

War on the Rocks: From LeMay to McMaster: The Pentagon’s Difficult Relationship with Deterrence

Washington Post: The South China Sea fell off Trump’s radar last year. He may have to pay attention in 2018.

USNI News: Navy Seeks Better Sleep For Crews With New Rest Guidelines, Special Glasses

Wall Street Journal: Death Toll Rises in Iran as Widespread Protests Continue

Defense News: 2018 Pentagon priority: Speeding up foreign weapon sales

Politico: Mattis delegates down and manages up in tricky Trump relationship

Military Times: New in 2018: The fight against ISIS evolves

Defense Tech: Air Force Taps Firms to Develop Cruise Missile Swarms

Stars and Stripes: Army general’s promotion pulled after calling congressional staffer 'sweetheart'

Military.com: Mattis to Russia on US Arming Ukraine: Get Over It

Washington Post: Mattis defends U.S. efforts to prevent civilian casualties in Yemen

UPI: USS John McCain crew rated it 'below average' before deadly collision

Navy Times: How Peter Mims spent a week hiding in a warship’s engine room

Foreign Policy: How Donald Trump Learned to Love War in 2017

Defense One: ISIS in Afghanistan Is Like a Balloon That Won't Pop



11 a.m. 214 Massachusetts Ave. NE. Crashback: The Power Clash Between the U.S. and China in the Pacific. heritage.org

1 p.m. Senate Visitor Center 209-08. Mitchell Hour discussion on threats to air supremacy with Lt. Gen. Chris Nowland, Air Force deputy chief of staff for operations, and Lt. Gen. VeraLinn "Dash" Jamieson, deputy chief of staff for ISR. mitchellaerospacepower.org

3 p.m. 1201 Pennsylvania Ave. N.W. Taiwan and the Indo-Pacific Strategy. hudson.org


10 a.m. 1775 Massachusetts Ave. N.W. Confronting North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs: American and Japanese views of threats and options compared. brookings.edu

1 p.m. 1211 Connecticut Ave. NW. Caught in Conflict: Working to Prevent the Recruitment and Use of Child Soldiers with retired Lt. Gen. Roméo Dallaire, served as the Force Commander of the United Nations Assistance Mission for Rwanda during the 1994 genocide. stimson.org

3 p.m. 1616 Rhode Island Ave. NW. The Fourteen Points: World War One and Woodrow Wilson’s Legacy 100 Years Later. csis.org

4 p.m. 1300 Pennsylvania Ave. NW. Discussion of “Safeguarding Democratic Capitalism: U.S. Foreign Policy and National Security, 1920-2015” with author Melvyn Leffler. wilsoncenter.org

6 p.m. 1777 F St. NW. Book launch of The Road Not Taken: Edward Lansdale and the American Tragedy in Vietnam by Max Boot. cfr.org


8 a.m. 1919 North Lynn St. Procurement Division Meeting. ndia.org

12:30 p.m. 1777 F St. NW. What to Worry About in 2018 with former Deputy Secretary of State Antony Blinken. cfr.org

2 p.m. 1300 Pennsylvania Ave. NW. Security Challenges in East Asia. wilsoncenter.org