Surprise! Get out of Syria; World reacts; 2nd, 3rd Fleets become expeditionary; And a bit more.

President Trump is tweeting about Syria again, as he continues to simultaneously promote, explain and attempt to carry out perhaps his most consequential foreign policy decision to date: pulling the U.S. military out of Syria entirely.

Quick recap: On Wednesday we all learned Trump is publicly convinced the Islamic State terrorist group is defeated. And so now is the time for a total withdrawal of U.S. forces — troops and diplomats — from Syria. And that withdrawal is to be completed as soon as possible.

Fact check: ISIS is not defeated, Military Times reminded us. Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham even called Trump’s announcement “fake news.”

In case you missed the apparent thinking behind Wednesday’s decision, Trump and the White House comms team made a special 80-second video for you essentially doubling-down on the “ISIS is defeated” message.

Executive summary: The president said three times “we have won against ISIS.” And in a somewhat bizarre closing remark, he said deceased American troops want their surviving American troops out of Syria, too.

The script: “We’ve been fighting for a long time in Syria. I’ve been president for almost two years, and we’ve really stepped it up. And we have won against ISIS. We’ve beaten them and we’ve beaten them badly, we’ve taken back the land and now it’s time for our troops to come back home.” He then remarked on how saddened he gets by his letters and calls to parents and spouses of deceased troops.

“Now we’ve won,” he continued. “It’s time to come back. They’re getting ready, you’re gonna see ‘em soon. These are great American heroes. These are great heroes of the world, because they fought for us. But they’ve killed ISIS, who hurts the world. And we’re proud to have done it. And I’ll tell you they’re up there looking down on us. And there is nobody happier, or more proud of their families to put them in a position where they’ve done such good for so many people. So our boys, our young women, our men, they’re all coming back. And they’re coming back now. We won. And that’s the way we want it. And that’s the way [pointing to the sky] they want it.”
Washington reax: Trump’s decision confounded many in his own party, Defense One’s Katie Bo Williams reported from the Hill.

Said Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Bob Corker, R-Tenn.: “I don’t get the sense that there was any interagency process.”

Said Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb.: “The President’s generals have no idea where this weak decision came from.”

This is a stain on the honor of the United States,” Sen. Lindsey Graham said Wednesday on the floor of the Senate. “Having been in the military for quite a while, I’m very aware of the sacrifices required to go overseas and serve in Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan… I’m not saying we need to be in Syria forever. I’m saying now’s not time to leave.”

Letter to Trump. Graham joined Sens. Joni Ernst, Marco Rubio and Tom Cotton; Democratic Sen. Jeanne Shaheen; and independent Sen. Angus King in penning a letter alleging the quick decision “will surely renew and embolden their [that is, ISIS] efforts in the region.” More from CNN, here.

Backing the decision: Democratic Rep. Ted Lieu, Calif., a former Air Force prosecutor; and Republican Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky. Both came out fairly early with statements of support.

Also backing the decision: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is vowing to step up activity against Iran-backed elements inside Syria. Haaretz has that, here.

Not backing the decision: Kurdish-led forces in northern Syria “were caught off guard… and have requested a meeting with their US counterparts to ask for clarity on the plans,” The Independent reported. Reuters this morning has a warning from the Kurds that ISIS will rise again if the U.S. leaves.

One more thing: “Trump didn’t bother to invite Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Dunford to the Syria meeting and kept him in the dark until after the decision was made,” the Washington Post’s Josh Rogin noted last night after reading this WaPo report from Karen DeYoung.

Now today — despite claiming the war against ISIS was “won” yesterday — the president is tweeting that the U.S. is leaving the fight against ISIS to others. That POTUS45 tweet: “Russia, Iran, Syria & many others are not happy about the U.S. leaving, despite what the Fake News says, because now they will have to fight ISIS and others, who they hate, without us. I am building by far the most powerful military in the world. ISIS hits us they are doomed!”

Quick note: Trump said Russia is not happy about the Syria decision,  but Russian President Vladimir Putin called it the “correct” decision today in his annual press conference, CNN’s Jim Sciutto noticed.

Said Sen. Graham of Trump’s morning tweet about Russia not being happy: “It is not FAKE NEWS that Russia, Iran, and Assad are unhappy about our decision to withdraw from Syria. They are ECSTATIC!”

Another thing from Putin: More nuclear saber-rattling for us non-government types to try to ignore over the Christmas holiday. Newsweek has more on that angle from the morning presser, here.


From Defense One

Trump’s Abrupt Syria Reversal Confounds His Own Administration, GOP Allies // Katie Bo Williams: Hours later, White House officials had more questions than answers about the withdrawal.

ISIS Is Not Defeated. Pulling US Troops From Syria Would Jeopardize Everything // Gayle Tzemach Lemmon: I just returned from my fifth trip to Northeast Syria in 18 months. If the US quits now, there are four winners: ISIS, Assad, Russia, and Iran.

Don’t Be Surprised the Next Time Trump Ends a US Mission // Derek Chollet: No one knows why the president pulled the plug on Syria now, but NATO and South Korea should be worried.

Trump Just Screwed Up the One Thing He Did Better Than Obama // Kori Schake, The Atlantic: His capricious decision to withdraw troops from Syria will create havoc.

Civilians Are Cheaper Than Contractors for Most Defense Jobs, Internal Report Finds // Eric Katz, Government Executive: Contractors are particularly more expensive in the capital and Southeastern regions, according to a report obtained by Government Executive.

Welcome to this Thursday edition of The D Brief by Ben Watson and Bradley Peniston. Thanks for reading! And if you find this stuff useful, consider sharing it with somebody you think might find it useful, too. On this day in 1945, WWII rationing in the U.S. finally ended.


Navy releases Version 2.0 of its “Design for Maintaining Maritime Superiority.” In the Dec. 17 doc, which updates the January 2016 initial release, CNO Adm. John Richardson calls for accelerating many of the Navy’s big purchases. USNI News pulls out these bullets and more:

  • Award the frigate contract in 2020 to deliver as soon as possible.
  • Award the Large Surface Combatant contract in 2023 to deliver as soon as possible.
  • Award the Large Unmanned Surface Vehicle contract in 2023 to deliver as soon as possible.
  • Award a Future Small Auxiliary contract in 2023 to deliver as soon as possible.

Make 2nd and 3rd Fleets expeditionary. The new doc also calls upon the Navy’s East and West coast training fleets to be able to deploy overseas if necessary. Seapower has a bit more on this aspect, here.

North Korea this morning reminds us what they think “denuclearization” means. Lest there be any ambiguity, Reuters has this statement from state-run KCNA news agency today: “When we refer to the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula, it, therefore, means removing all elements of nuclear threats from the areas of both the north and the south of Korea and also from surrounding areas from where the Korean peninsula is targeted.”

Pay attention: “The United States needs to understand the phrase denuclearization of the Korean peninsula ‘before it is too late,’” KCNA warned.

What is “too late?” Arms Control Wonk Jeffrey Lewis laid out his nuclear war forecast for us in episode 20 of Defense One Radio. Find that discussion here.

Scientific collaboration may have helped North Korea get the Bomb. That’s the conclusion from Joshua Pollack and the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey, who conclude that Pyongyang “is circumventing the sanctions regime through open research collaborations with other countries,” NPR writes. “Of the 1,304 papers they analyzed, about half, researchers believe, could have direct or indirect military applications. About 100 are ‘of concern’ — meaning they need a close look. Most of the papers, 913 in total, are collaborations with Chinese scientists.”

Pollack “examined the abstracts of hundreds of papers published in peer-reviewed scientific journals by North Korean authors, says other research is ‘dual use’ — meaning that it could have military applications and thus should not be allowed.” Among those fields are mathematical modeling, cable engineering, “And my personal favorite is automotive research,” he says. Read on, here.

And finally today: Ukraine plans to send warships into the Sea of Azov, Ukrainian officials told the BBC. That “could set the stage for another clash with Russia,” AP reports. Moscow still holds the trio of vessels and more than two dozen Ukrainian sailors seized in Nov.

Review the stakes and ways NATO and Ukraine could respond to Russian aggression in the Black Sea in our Nov. 30 Defense One Radio discussion with former U.S. Army Europe commander, retired Lt. Gen. Ben Hodges.

President Trump is tweeting about Syria again, as he continues to simultaneously promote, explain and attempt to carry out perhaps his most consequential foreign policy decision to date: pulling the U.S. military out of Syria entirely.

Quick recap: On Wednesday we all learned Trump is publicly convinced the Islamic State terrorist group is defeated. And so now is the time for a total withdrawal of U.S. forces — troops and diplomats — from Syria. And that withdrawal is to be completed as soon as possible.

Fact check: ISIS is not defeated, Military Times reminded us. Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham even called Trump’s announcement “fake news.”

In case you missed the apparent thinking behind Wednesday’s decision, Trump and the White House comms team made a special 80-second video for you essentially doubling-down on the “ISIS is defeated” message.

Executive summary: The president said three times “we have won against ISIS.” And in a somewhat bizarre closing remark, he said deceased American troops want their surviving American troops out of Syria, too.

The script: “We’ve been fighting for a long time in Syria. I’ve been president for almost two years, and we’ve really stepped it up. And we have won against ISIS. We’ve beaten them and we’ve beaten them badly, we’ve taken back the land and now it’s time for our troops to come back home.” He then remarked on how saddened he gets by his letters and calls to parents and spouses of deceased troops.

“Now we’ve won,” he continued. “It’s time to come back. They’re getting ready, you’re gonna see ‘em soon. These are great American heroes. These are great heroes of the world, because they fought for us. But they’ve killed ISIS, who hurts the world. And we’re proud to have done it. And I’ll tell you they’re up there looking down on us. And there is nobody happier, or more proud of their families to put them in a position where they’ve done such good for so many people. So our boys, our young women, our men, they’re all coming back. And they’re coming back now. We won. And that’s the way we want it. And that’s the way [pointing to the sky] they want it.”
Washington reax: Trump’s decision confounded many in his own party, Defense One’s Katie Bo Williams reported from the Hill.

Said Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Bob Corker, R-Tenn.: “I don’t get the sense that there was any interagency process.”

Said Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb.: “The President’s generals have no idea where this weak decision came from.”

This is a stain on the honor of the United States,” Sen. Lindsey Graham said Wednesday on the floor of the Senate. “Having been in the military for quite a while, I’m very aware of the sacrifices required to go overseas and serve in Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan… I’m not saying we need to be in Syria forever. I’m saying now’s not time to leave.”

Letter to Trump. Graham joined Sens. Joni Ernst, Marco Rubio and Tom Cotton; Democratic Sen. Jeanne Shaheen; and independent Sen. Angus King in penning a letter alleging the quick decision “will surely renew and embolden their [that is, ISIS] efforts in the region.” More from CNN, here.

Backing the decision: Democratic Rep. Ted Lieu, Calif., a former Air Force prosecutor; and Republican Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky. Both came out fairly early with statements of support.

Also backing the decision: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is vowing to step up activity against Iran-backed elements inside Syria. Haaretz has that, here.

Not backing the decision: Kurdish-led forces in northern Syria “were caught off guard… and have requested a meeting with their US counterparts to ask for clarity on the plans,” The Independent reported. Reuters this morning has a warning from the Kurds that ISIS will rise again if the U.S. leaves.

One more thing: “Trump didn’t bother to invite Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Dunford to the Syria meeting and kept him in the dark until after the decision was made,” the Washington Post’s Josh Rogin noted last night after reading this WaPo report from Karen DeYoung.

Now today — despite claiming the war against ISIS was “won” yesterday — the president is tweeting that the U.S. is leaving the fight against ISIS to others. That POTUS45 tweet: “Russia, Iran, Syria & many others are not happy about the U.S. leaving, despite what the Fake News says, because now they will have to fight ISIS and others, who they hate, without us. I am building by far the most powerful military in the world. ISIS hits us they are doomed!”

Quick note: Trump said Russia is not happy about the Syria decision,  but Russian President Vladimir Putin called it the “correct” decision today in his annual press conference, CNN’s Jim Sciutto noticed.

Said Sen. Graham of Trump’s morning tweet about Russia not being happy: “It is not FAKE NEWS that Russia, Iran, and Assad are unhappy about our decision to withdraw from Syria. They are ECSTATIC!”

Another thing from Putin: More nuclear saber-rattling for us non-government types to try to ignore over the Christmas holiday. Newsweek has more on that angle from the morning presser, here.

Trump’s Abrupt Syria Reversal Confounds His Own Administration, GOP Allies // Katie Bo Williams: Hours later, White House officials had more questions than answers about the withdrawal.

ISIS Is Not Defeated. Pulling US Troops From Syria Would Jeopardize Everything // Gayle Tzemach Lemmon: I just returned from my fifth trip to Northeast Syria in 18 months. If the US quits now, there are four winners: ISIS, Assad, Russia, and Iran.

Don’t Be Surprised the Next Time Trump Ends a US Mission // Derek Chollet: No one knows why the president pulled the plug on Syria now, but NATO and South Korea should be worried.

Trump Just Screwed Up the One Thing He Did Better Than Obama // Kori Schake, The Atlantic: His capricious decision to withdraw troops from Syria will create havoc.

Civilians Are Cheaper Than Contractors for Most Defense Jobs, Internal Report Finds // Eric Katz, Government Executive: Contractors are particularly more expensive in the capital and Southeastern regions, according to a report obtained by Government Executive.

Welcome to this Thursday edition of The D Brief by Bradley Peniston and Ben Watson. Thanks for reading! And if you find this stuff useful, consider sharing it with somebody you think might find it useful, too. On this day in 1945, WWII rationing in the U.S. finally ended.

Navy releases Version 2.0 of its “Design for Maintaining Maritime Superiority.” In the Dec. 17 doc, which updates the January 2016 initial release, CNO Adm. John Richardson calls for accelerating many of the Navy’s big purchases. USNI News pulls out these bullets and more:

  • Award the frigate contract in 2020 to deliver as soon as possible.
  • Award the Large Surface Combatant contract in 2023 to deliver as soon as possible.
  • Award the Large Unmanned Surface Vehicle contract in 2023 to deliver as soon as possible.
  • Award a Future Small Auxiliary contract in 2023 to deliver as soon as possible.

Make 2nd and 3rd Fleets expeditionary. The new doc also calls upon the Navy’s East and West coast training fleets to be able to deploy overseas if necessary. Seapower has a bit more on this aspect, here.

North Korea this morning reminds us what they think “denuclearization” means. Lest there be any ambiguity, Reuters has this statement from state-run KCNA news agency today: “When we refer to the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula, it, therefore, means removing all elements of nuclear threats from the areas of both the north and the south of Korea and also from surrounding areas from where the Korean peninsula is targeted.”
Pay attention: “The United States needs to understand the phrase denuclearization of the Korean peninsula ‘before it is too late,’” KCNA warned.
What is “too late?” Arms Control Wonk Jeffrey Lewis laid out his nuclear war forecast for us in episode 20 of Defense One Radio. Find that discussion here.

Scientific collaboration may have helped North Korea get the Bomb. That’s the conclusion from Joshua Pollack and the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey, who conclude that Pyongyang “is circumventing the sanctions regime through open research collaborations with other countries,” NPR writes. “Of the 1,304 papers they analyzed, about half, researchers believe, could have direct or indirect military applications. About 100 are ‘of concern’ — meaning they need a close look. Most of the papers, 913 in total, are collaborations with Chinese scientists.”
Pollack “examined the abstracts of hundreds of papers published in peer-reviewed scientific journals by North Korean authors, says other research is ‘dual use’ — meaning that it could have military applications and thus should not be allowed.” Among those fields are mathematical modeling, cable engineering, “And my personal favorite is automotive research,” he says. Read on, here.

And finally today: Ukraine plans to send warships into the Sea of Azov, Ukrainian officials told the BBC. That “could set the stage for another clash with Russia,” AP reports. Moscow still holds the trio of vessels and more than two dozen Ukrainian sailors seized in Nov.
Review the stakes and ways NATO and Ukraine could respond to Russian aggression in the Black Sea in our Nov. 30 Defense One Radio discussion with former U.S. Army Europe commander, retired Lt. Gen. Ben Hodges.

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