F-35s to the ‘Stan?; Trump’s fiery speech; Syrian mission creep?; Q&A with new DIU chief; And a bit more.

A defiant president meets a tough crowd at the UN. In a Tuesday speech to the UN General Assembly that was even more defiantly America-first than last year’s (and which was met briefly with laughter), President Trump “repeatedly asserted the rights of the individual nation-state, a message that for decades was usually heard at the UN gathering by outlier dictators and Soviet rulers,” reports Defense One’s Katie Bo Williams.

POTUS also reiterated his transactional approach to global security. Of the OPEC nations, he said, “We defend many of these nations for nothing and then they take advantage of us by giving us high oil prices.”

Transcript, via Politico, here.

Why the change? Williams notes: “In the twelve months since Trump shocked delegates by declaring, ‘I will always put America first, just like you, the leaders of your countries, should put your countries first,’ he has changed his national security team in a way that has empowered nationalist advisors.

Bolton on Syria. Of particular note in recent days has been the assertion by National Security Adviser John Bolton. “We’re not going to leave as long as Iranian troops are outside Iranian borders, and that includes Iranian proxies and militias,” Bolton said. Under a headline that spotlights “mission creep,” Military Times reports that his statement was “signaling a fundamental shift from the current counter-terrorism operations to a mission focused more on geopolitical maneuvering and proxy warfare.”

Today at the UN: Kicking off at 10 a.m. is what U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley predicted will be “the most watched Security Council meeting ever.” Last week, the U.S. president suggested that the meeting would be about Iran, but the official agenda now calls for discussions of weapons of mass discussion.

Just in: the U.S. is pulling some missile defenses from Gulf allies. Specifically, two Patriot batteries from Kuwait, and one each from Jordan and Bahrain “in a realignment of forces and capabilities as the military steps up its focus on threats from Russia and China,” The Wall Street Journal’s Gordon Lubold reported Wednesday morning.

Curious timing: The move comes as the Trump administration, and the president himself, ramp up warnings about Iran — whose missiles are the reason those Patriots are still there.

On reducing Mideast forces: ICYMI, read this 3-part series in Defense One on why the U.S. should be shrinking its force posture in the region, and how to do it intelligently. It’s by CSIS’ Melissa Dalton and SAIS’ Mara Karlin (former DASD for strategy and force development). Spoiler alert: ballistic missile defense is one of the things identified by Dalton and Karlin as an important capability to keep there. Read, here.


From Defense One

A Solitary and Defiant Message to the UN In Trump’s Second Speech // Katie Bo Williams: “We reject the ideology of globalism. And we embrace the doctrine of patriotism,” Trump told world leaders.

Two Reasons Not to Build Fort Trump in Today’s Poland // Michael Fitzsimmons: Even as it exacerbated Russian fears, a permanent U.S. force would burnish Warsaw’s dangerous turn.

The Pentagon’s New Ambassador to Silicon Valley Is Hawkish on China // Patrick Tucker: The former Symantec CEO also thinks immigration is key to a tech race the US is currently losing.

Welcome to this Wednesday edition of The D Brief by Ben Watson, Kevin Baron and Bradley Peniston. And if you find this useful, consider forwarding it to a friend or colleague. On this day in 1983, global nuclear war was averted when Soviet Lt. Col. Stanislav Petrov decided his monitoring machine could not have been telling him the truth.


America’s stealthy F-35s are headed (not so stealthily) to Afghanistan. Unnamed U.S. defense officials told CNN that Marine Corps F-35Bs “are currently aboard the USS Essex amphibious assault ship and should soon be in a position to conduct airstrikes over Afghanistan.”
The USS Essex was last known to have been helping out in the vicinity of Somalia before heading east of Yemen to the North Arabian Sea. A bit more, here.

BTW: Al-Shabab is still trying to attack U.S. forces in Somalia, The Long War Journal reported after a new airstrike was announced this past weekend by U.S. Africa Command. That strike killed some 18 fighters who had attacked U.S. and partnered Somalia forces some 50 kilometers northwest of Kismayo, in southern Somalia. That brings the 2018 total in Somalia to 23 (known) airstrikes vs. al-Shabab. More from LWJ, here.   

Think the U.S. pays a lot for its military? (It does: $717.5 billion.) In five years, that total could be dwarfed by debt interest payments alone, The New York Times reported Tuesday from the world of numbers. Some quick ones: “In a decade, interest on the debt will eat up 13 percent of government spending, up from 6.6 percent in 2017… more than $900 billion in interest payments will be due annually, easily outpacing spending on myriad other programs.”
For the record: “The deficit is expected to total nearly $1 trillion next year — the first time it has been that big since 2012.” More where that came from, here.
2019 budget watch. The $674 billion defense appropriations bill is set to get a House vote today, which means it could go to the White House by week’s end. The bill, which tops last year’s by $20 billion, adds troops — and more more F-35 Lightning II combat jets and Navy littoral combat ships than the military asked for.

Pop quiz, hot shots. Who said this on Tuesday: “I’m so happy to be out of Washington D.C. right now I could cry.” Find the answer below, via Reuters Idrees Ali.

The U.S. Army played a role in helping nab an accused Chinese spy in Chicago, the Department of Justice announced Tuesday. This alleged “illegal agent of the People’s Republic of China” is 27-year-old Ji Chaoqun.
He was arrested Tuesday after he was believed to have been “tasked with providing the intelligence officer with biographical information on eight individuals for possible recruitment by the JSSD,” which is China’s Jiangsu Province Ministry of State Security, a provincial department of the Ministry of State Security.
Who he was believed to have targeted: “engineers and scientists in the United States, some of whom were U.S. defense contractors.”
And the Army connection? “In 2016, Ji enlisted in the U.S. Army Reserves as an E4 Specialist under the Military Accessions Vital to the National Interest (MAVNI) program, which authorizes the U.S. Armed Forces to recruit certain legal aliens whose skills are considered vital to the national interest.” Twice he “specifically denied having had contact with a foreign government,” so he was arrested yesterday in Chicago. The Associated Press noted “Ji came to the U.S. in 2013 on a student visa to study engineering at the Illinois Institute of Technology in Chicago,” upon reading a 17-page criminal complaint.
Tip of the hat to the MPs. Noted DOJ in Tuesday’s announcement: “The U.S. Army 902nd Military Intelligence Group provided valuable assistance.”

Pop quiz answer: U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis speaking Tuesday afternoon at the Virginia Military Institute. He’s the one who said “I’m so happy to be out of Washington D.C. right now I could cry.”
Oh, and the greatest threat to the U.S., according to Mattis? “In terms of urgency, I would say it is North Korea.”

For your ears only: Review the U.S.-North Korean stakes and what could happen two years from now in our September 13 discussion with Dr. Jeffrey Lewis of the Middlebury Institute of International Studies (aka “arms control wonk”) about his novel, “The 2020 Commission Report on the North Korean Nuclear Attacks Against the United States,” in episode 20 of Defense One Radio, here.

On Capitol Hill on Tuesday, we learned President Trump’s cancellation of Korean exercises in August “degraded [readiness] slightly,” the general nominated to take over U.S. forces on the Korean peninsula told senators at his confirmation hearing Tuesday. But Gen. Abe Abrams, also “told the Senate Armed Services Committee that the decision was a ‘prudent risk’ to build trust and encourage negotiations with North Korea on its nuclear weapons program,’” reported the Washington Examiner.

Today in bipartisan defense news. The folks who run the Reagan National Defense Forum announced Wednesday that they will give this year’s “Peace Through Strength Award” to former Department of Homeland Secretary Jeh Johnson, and retired Army Gen. Jack Keane. Johnson previously was the Pentagon’s top lawyer and before that at the Air Force. Keane retired after serving as Army’s vice chief and acting chief.
It’s the first time the award has gone to a homeland security figure at their annual forum in October — which is a mix of conservative natsec leaders, industry CEOs, and Fox News, the media sponsor. Past winners include all the defense secretaries, key purse-string holding congressional committee leaders of both parties, Vice President. Dick Cheney and former State Secretary Condi Rice.

And finally today: Go crazy-nuclear-missile hunting with NPR and some of the analysts of Planet Labs satellite imagery. The set up: “Russia’s nuclear-powered missile was unveiled to the world in March during Putin’s annual address to the nation… A graphic shown during the speech depicted the new missile flying southward over the Atlantic, and around the tip of South America, then turning north in the Pacific and striking what appears to be Hawaii.”
Working from there, Anne Pellegrino of the Middlebury Institute noticed a curious ship. We’ll let NPR’s Geoff Brumfiel pick up the story, here.

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