Trump to Congress: ‘fully fund the military’; Afghan war getting worse again; Vice chief shapes a ‘global campaign plan’; High-profile pushback on ‘bloody nose’; and just a bit more…

Trump calls on Congress to “fully fund our great military.” In his State of the Union speech Tuesday night, the president talked about various threats: “Around the world, we face rogue regimes, terrorist groups, and rivals like China and Russia that challenge our interests, our economy, and our values.” Here’s the whole thing, as delivered; at 80 minutes, it was the longest SOTU since Bill Clinton’s recordbreaker. Among the national-security highlights:

North Korea got the most time. “North Korea’s reckless pursuit of nuclear missiles could very soon threaten our homeland. We are waging a campaign of maximum pressure to prevent that from ever happening. Past experience has taught us that complacency and concessions only invite aggression and provocation. I will not repeat the mistakes of past administrations that got us into this very dangerous position.”

The war in Afghanistan? 44 words: “At the same time, as of a few months ago, our warriors in Afghanistan also have new rules of engagement. Along with their heroic Afghan partners, our military is no longer undermined by artificial timelines, and we no longer tell our enemies our plans.”

(A look back: a 16-year retrospective on what U.S. presidents have said about Afghanistan in their State of the Union speeches.)

ISIS got a few more: “I am proud to report that the coalition to defeat ISIS has liberated very close to 100 percent of the territory just recently once held by these killers in Iraq and Syria and in other locations as well. But there is much more work to be done. We will continue our fight until ISIS is defeated.”

Iran deal: “I am asking Congress to address the fundamental flaws in the terrible Iran nuclear deal.”

Gone unmentioned: climate change. That isn’t unexpected from an administration that deleted it from its version of the National Security Strategy. (That omission drew a Jan. 11 letter of protest from a bipartisan group of more than 100 lawmakers.) But as The Atlantic’s Robinson Meyer notes, “the United States just survived a year of disasters that were shaped and intensified by climate change…the most expensive year for natural disasters in U.S. history.” Trump, Meyer wrote, leads “a federal government that can utter the name of any number of threats to Americans—except the one that is already inundating its shores, scorching its homes, and shaping the lives of its children.”

The next step(s). “In confronting these horrible dangers, we know that weakness is the surest path to conflict, and unmatched power is the surest means to our true and great defense. For this reason, I am asking Congress to end the dangerous defense sequester and fully fund our great military.”

Trump also flagged ongoing preparations to replace older nuclear weapons and add new ones: “We must modernize and rebuild our nuclear arsenal, hopefully never having to use it, but making it so strong and so powerful that it will deter any acts of aggression by any other nation or anybody else. Perhaps someday in the future there will be a magical moment when the countries of the world will get together to eliminate their nuclear weapons.”

Anticipated snag. But the administration’s upcoming 2019 spending request — reportedly $716 billion (base, OCO, and DOE nuclear) — faces strong headwinds on Capitol Hill, and far exceeds the budget caps installed in 2011. Defense News lays it out, here.


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Welcome to this Wednesday edition of The D Brief by Ben Watson and Bradley Peniston. Email us. And if you find this useful, consider forwarding it to a friend or colleague. They can subscribe here for free.


By most indicators, the war in Afghanistan has gotten much worse in the past year, NBC News reported Tuesday.
The short read: “The percentage of the Afghan population under the control of the central government has slipped, the land mass under the control of coalition forces is shrinking, and the number of Taliban fighters may have doubled in the past four years.”
That comes off the heels of earlier reporting Tuesday where the Pentagon said it made a mistake in withholding certain data from an annual report on how the war is going. According to the Associated Press, “The newly released information revealed that 44 percent of Afghanistan is contested or under the control of insurgents.”
How they arrived at that number: “Navy Capt. Tom Gresback, coalition spokesman, said Tuesday that about 56 percent of the country’s 407 districts are under Afghan government control, 30 percent are contested and 14 percent are under insurgent control.”
Another group that found bad news in the ‘Stan: the Afghanistan Analysts Network, which reports “the Afghan war became more violent and widespread in 2017. Dive into their exhaustive analysis, here.
Look a bit closer at a map of the Taliban’s “control” in Afghanistan, via the folks at The Long War Journal, here.
One last thought on “control” in Afghanistan: Using traditional boundaries of province and district may not be the wisest use of data analytics, writes one Afghan war watcher, David Manfield. He suggests “using GIS [Geographic Information Systems] and household compounds and population measures. It bypasses the arbitrary and changing nature of district boundaries.” As an example, he submits a perhaps more enlightening way to look at the eastern province of Nangarhar. Find that, here.  

The U.S. military has some thoughts on possible future conflict with Russia and China, Defense News reports off remarks Tuesday from Gen. Paul Selva, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Overall, the two countries present “unique competitions that we have to deal with, and the elements are overlapping but not the same,” he said.
Regarding Beijing, “Any fight with China, if it were to come to blows, would be a largely maritime and air fight… But when you think about how a potential conflict with China would evolve, it very likely involves a substantial contribution from the naval and air forces, and the Army and Marine Corps would be supporting elements in that fight.”
As for Moscow, “the Russia global problem set is largely an air and ground fight. Supported by elements of our maritime component, because you can’t get to Russia, you can’t get to Europe in any large measure without transiting the North Atlantic… Which means there’s going to be a maritime fight to get things to the continent, but the fight itself as it evolves is likely to be an air and ground fight.”
And so Selva has begun work on a “global campaign plan” with China and Russia in mind, Defense News writes, “looking across the breadth of the U.S. military before assigning a combatant commander as the ‘coordinating authority for management’ of the plan, in case a conflict arises.” Read on, here.
Other quick takeaways from Selva’s remarks: (1) “The U.S. military is confident it could destroy ‘most’ of the infrastructure underpinning North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s nuclear missile program if necessary in a favorable scenario,” the Washington Post reported. And (2) North Korea “has not yet demonstrated the technology needed to strike distant targets, such as the U.S. mainland,” Stars and Stripes writes out of the meeting.  

The Trump administration has dropped its pursuit of a Korean scholar to be the next Ambassador to South Korea, the Washington Post reported Tuesday.
The man: “Victor D. Cha, an academic who served in the George W. Bush administration… [and who] currently serves as the Korea program chair at the Center for Strategic and International Studies and is director of Asian studies at Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service.” The Post reports Cha is “no longer expected to be nominated after he privately expressed disagreement in late December with the Trump administration’s North Korea policy, according to people familiar with the matter.”
What part of Trump’s North Korean policy was problematic? “[C]onsideration of a limited strike on the North aimed at sending a message without sparking a wider war — a risky concept known as a ‘bloody nose’ strategy.”
But that’s not all: “Cha also objected to the administration’s threats to tear up a bilateral trade deal with Seoul that President Trump has called unfair to American companies. Last week, the administration imposed new tariffs on imports of washing machines and solar energy panels, a move criticized by the South Korean government.”

And lookee here: Victor Cha responds. Via a new op-ed in the Washington Post, with this unambiguous headline: “Giving North Korea a ‘bloody nose’ carries a huge risk to Americans.”
The gist: “I empathize with the hope, espoused by some Trump officials, that a military strike would shock Pyongyang into appreciating U.S. strength, after years of inaction, and force the regime to the denuclearization negotiating table… Yet, there is a point at which hope must give in to logic. If we believe that Kim is undeterrable without such a strike, how can we also believe that a strike will deter him from responding in kind? And if Kim is unpredictable, impulsive and bordering on irrational, how can we control the escalation ladder, which is premised on an adversary’s rational understanding of signals and deterrence?”
What, then? “An alternative coercive strategy involves enhanced and sustained U.S., regional and global pressure on Pyongyang to denuclearize. This strategy is likely to deliver the same potential benefits as a limited strike, along with other advantages, without the self-destructive costs.” Cha lays out four guidelines for this track in more detail, here.

Russia’s spy chief stopped by Washington last week, Moscow’s state-run TASS news agency announced Tuesday. The man, one “Sergey Naryshkin” happens to share the same name as one of 16 Russian officials designated by the U.S. Treasury in 2014 for their involvement in Ukraine, as Voice of America’s Jeff Seldin tweeted.
While in D.C., Naryshkin met with CIA Director Mike Pompeo and Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats, Reuters reports.
Said the CIA to The Daily Beast: “While we do not discuss the schedules of U.S. intelligence leaders, rest assured that any interaction with foreign intelligence agencies would have been conducted in accordance with U.S. law and in consultation with appropriate Departments and agencies.”

Speaking of Russia, watch footage of that 5-foot flyby by a Russian jet over the Black Sea, released by the U.S. Navy on Tuesday, here. Or you can read a bit more about the encounter, via the U.S. Naval Institute News, here.  

Syrian chemical weapons have now been linked to the “largest sarin nerve agent attack” in the country, Reuters reported Tuesday. “Laboratories working for the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons compared samples taken by a U.N. mission in the Damascus suburb of Ghouta after the Aug. 21, 2013 attack, when hundreds of civilians died of sarin gas poisoning, to chemicals handed over by Damascus for destruction in 2014.”
Despite repeated Russian denials over any chemical weapons use in Syria, “Independent experts, however, said the findings are the strongest scientific evidence to date that the Syrian government was behind Ghouta, the deadliest chemical weapons attack since the Halabja massacres of 1988 during the Iran-Iraq war.” Much more to this growing mountain of evidence — which Russia refuses to recognize — here.

Iran says it can explain why its navy isn’t harassing the U.S. Navy so much these days: Because “the U.S. Navy is now following international regulations and is avoiding approaching the Iranian coast,” USNI News reported Tuesday. However, “Iran appears determined to increase the number of unmanned drone aircraft sent to surveil U.S. Navy ships.” That short hit, here.

Spotted in Yemen: the South Yemen flag “flying over the 4th Presidential Protection Brigade HQ in Dar Sa’ad district” near Aden, AEI’s Maher Farrukh noticed Tuesday on Twitter.
What’s going on: UAE-backed fighters from the Southern Transitional Council — one of Yemen’s many big players in the sprawling conflicts — have been fighting the internationally-recognized government forces in Aden for nearly a week now.
Meanwhile, “Prime Minister Bin Daghr is reportedly still holed up in Aden’s Presidential Palace, now in hands of southern separatists who had demanded he be sacked,” Elisabeth Kendall writes on Twitter this morning. His confinement is described as either house arrest or negotiations depending on [the] source.” In sum, Yemen is now possibly even more of a chaos state than when we wrapped our three-part analysis of the country just two days ago, here.

We end today with a little professional advice for those who wish to preserve their career prospects: If you have a problem with black subordinates, don’t rant about it on your smartphone and post it to Facebook.
U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Geraldine Lovely knows this now the hard way after doing just that on Sunday from Nellis AFB in Nevada, the Washington Post reports. She is now “suspended… from her leadership role” with the USAF’s 99th Force Support Squadron.
Said Nellis base commander Maj. Gen. Peter E. Gersten: “[W]e are all responsible for what we say and do whether in person or on social media. Additionally, we are all responsible for the environment we tolerate. Respect, dignity, commitment, loyalty and most importantly trust, is the life blood of our profession.”

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