At about 4 p.m. Thursday, Pat Shanahan was finally nominated by President Trump to lead the Pentagon — after 128 days in an acting role as U.S. defense secretary, two trips to the White House where he thought he’d get nominated and didn’t, and just a few days after reportedly getting dressed down over Trump’s border wall.
Outlook: “The Senate Armed Services Committee, which is responsible for shepherding his nomination, has a packed calendar in the coming weeks, making it unlikely that Shanahan will get a hearing before a prominent international security conference at the end of May typically attended by the U.S. defense secretary,” write Defense One’s Katie Bo Williams and Marcus Weisgerber.
What Pat sees as his biggest challenge: “The biggest challenge is balancing it all. I’d say, for me it’s about practicing select-ful neglect so that we can stay focused on the future, but not — not ignore a lot of the emerging really important issues that, you know, pop up day to day that you don’t plan for.”
His priorities for the weeks ahead: “the National Defense Strategy obviously is the high priority, but as you can tell there are real world events that happen every day, and so you have to spin a lot of plates.” Read a bit more from his Pentagon press bullpen drop-in, here.
SASC Chairman, Jim Inhofe, R-Okla: “We need a confirmed leader at the Department and, after working with him closely over the last few months, I welcome his selection. I look forward to talking with him…about how we can work together to implement the National Defense Strategy.”
Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss: “As Acting Secretary, Pat Shanahan has demonstrated that he is capable of managing the needs of our armed forces and protecting our national security. I look forward to working with him to advance the interests of Mississippi’s military installations, suppliers, and industrial base.”
Rep. Mac Thornberry, R-Texas: “Today, the United States faces an unprecedented spectrum of serious threats. Facing those threats requires a new kind of thinking and a Pentagon that is more efficient and agile. Pat Shanahan has proven his willingness and ability to take on important reforms at DOD.”
Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn.: Shanahan “may be the least qualified nominee for Secretary of Defense…during my time in the Senate.”
Rep. Ruben Gallego, D-Arizona (who has no say in Shanahan’s confirmation): “Shanahan has bumbled the Niger investigation…and is the man at the helm for the Department of Defense’s unconstitutional theft of resources for Trump’s dumb border wall.”
James Astill at the Economist: “By replacing Mr Mattis with a much less commanding figure, Mr Trump has signalled his preference for loyalty over stature.”
What lies ahead? Here’s Reuters’ forecast: “growing tensions with Iran, renewed missile tests by North Korea and questions about how the United States should handle the political and economic crisis in Venezuela.”
From Defense One
Trump Taps Shanahan To Lead DOD, Ending Months of Speculation // Marcus Weisgerber, Katie Bo Williams: The nomination marks the beginning of the end of the tenure of the longest-serving acting defense secretary.
State-Sponsored Breaches of US Government Networks Rose 168% Last Year: Report // Aaron Boyd, Nextgov: “Cyber-espionage is rampant in the public sector,” Verizon analysts wrote in their annual study of data breaches.
How Authoritarians Manipulate Elections // Yascha Mounk, The Atlantic: From Russia to Venezuela, the strongmen who have destroyed democratic institutions won high office at the ballot box.
The Flash Point Between America and Iran Could Be Iraq’s Militias // Mike Giglio, The Atlantic: U.S. troops and Iran-backed fighters had an alliance of sorts in the anti-ISIS campaign. With Washington and Tehran at odds, could they turn on each other?
Global Business Brief // Marcus Weisgerber: “Mind-blowing” satellite tracker, F-35A price drop; Who’s backing Space Force; and more.
The Slow Death of the Iran Nuclear Deal // Ankit Panda, The Atlantic: Tehran says it will stop complying with elements of the accord unless the countries that remain live up to their commitments. But those five states are unlikely to stand up to U.S. pressure.
Welcome to this Friday edition of The D Brief by Ben Watson and Bradley Peniston. Thanks for reading! Subscribe here. On this day in 2017, President Trump shared a few hearty laughs for the camera with the Russian foreign minister in the Oval Office. No U.S. press were allowed into the meeting; but fortunately, Russia’s foreign ministry preserved the moment for all to see.
America’s unmistakable nuclear messaging. The U.S. Air Force just test-launched another intercontinental ballistic missile from California; the Navy, a test missile from a submarine off the Florida coast, Air Force Times and Fox News reported respectively Thursday.
About the ICBM: It was the second launch of a Minuteman III missile from the California coast in 10 days — the fourth this year — and it happened just after midnight early Thursday morning. The last such test happened on May 1. “The ICBM’s reentry vehicle, which contained a high-fidelity package used for operational testing, traveled approximately 4,200 miles to the Kwajalein Atoll in the Marshall Islands,” according to Global Strike Command’s public release.
A note on the timing of that ICBM launch: It happened “within 10 minutes of [Wednesday’s] reported launch by Pyongyang” of at least two ballistic missiles into the East Sea, according to Fox News. The Air Force said in its press release that the U.S. needs these tests “to deter twenty-first century threats and reassure our allies,” before adding, “Test launches are not a response or reaction to world events or regional tensions.”
About the SLBM on the other side of the U.S.: It was “an unarmed Trident II (D5) missile [fired] from the USS Rhode Island off the coast of Cape Canaveral, Fla., as a part of a Demonstration and Shakedown Operation,” Fox writes. “While the exact range of the missiles is classified, it’s likely that it flew 7,000 miles, officials told Fox News.”
Saw that one coming: Satellite-tracking researcher Marco Langbroek offered input and analysis on Twitter, contextualized a bit more by Hans Kristensen of the Federation of American Scientists.
See North Korea’s latest missile tests from Wednesday in these images released by state-run KCNA, and flagged by 38 North’s Martyn Williams.
A word on North Korean missile tests: They have changed “significantly under Kim Jong-un,” Shea Cotton of the James Martin Center tweeted Thursday with a lovely chart to illustrate his point quite well.
And the White House’s reaction to those Wednesday tests? Trump said “nobody’s happy” about it. And his Acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney on Thursday called them “a very non-provocative provocation,” according to Voice of America’s William Gallo, who provided a transcript.
The New York Times’ read on these developments: “The menacing signals from both sides were further evidence that Mr. Trump, less than a year into his initiative to deal one-on-one with a North Korean autocrat, has run headlong into the roadblocks that doomed the efforts of his four immediate predecessors.”
But wait, there’s more: “Evidence” of North Korea’s ongoing deceit regarding its weapons program “grew on Thursday with the release of new satellite images analyzed by the Beyond Parallel program of the Center for Strategic and International Studies,” the Times writes. “The images showed what appears to be a long-secret North Korean base, spread over nearly three square miles of mountainous terrain.” Kind of like a Bond villain.
And the North Korean ship “Wise Honest” was formally impounded by the U.S. on Thursday, the Justice Department announced. That ship is North Korea’s second-largest cargo vessel, the NYTs writes, and it’s reportedly “the first time the United States has impounded a North Korean ship for violating international sanctions.”
For the record, the ‘Wise Honest’ had been detained by Indonesian authorities since April 2018, and the DOJ didn’t achieve Thursday’s result without going to court first, Insurance Maritime News clarified for everyone when the news broke.
And another thing about North Korea: the missiles tested last week appear to be a message to the U.S. that its missile defenses will have a difficult time trying to shoot down this newest ballistic variant. Why? That launch, of what appeared to be a Russian Iskander short-range ballistic missile, suggested to some missile analysts — though not all — that some North Korean missiles can change course mid-flight.
If you didn’t get the nuclear message from the U.S. on Thursday, here’s another: America’s nuclear weapons labs are aiming to hire 2,500 new people this year — 1,000 each at Los Alamos and Sandia, and another 500 at Lawrence Livermore — Steven Young of the Union of Concerned Scientists tweeted Thursday off testimony from Lisa E. Gordon-Hagerty, Under Secretary for Nuclear Security Energy and the Administrator of the National Nuclear Security Administration.
Said Young of these moves: “Bottomline: they have an ENORMOUS workload. If that doesn’t worry you, you have not been paying attention.”
Review how young American nuclear policy analysts feel about the prospects for nuclear conflict in the 21st century — and quite a few other, less urgent matters — in our latest Defense One Radio podcast.
Set aside an hour this weekend and queue us up on Stitcher, here.
The USS Abraham Lincoln carrier strike group made its way through the Suez Canal on Thursday, the U.S. Naval Forces Central Command announced shortly afterward in a video and photos.
Tagging along, more or less: four B-52 bombers, which are now at Al Udeid Air Base in Qatar, Voice of America’s Carla Babb reported Thursday.
By the way: “It appears that at least two of the B-52Hs in the Bomber Task Force sent to Middle East are nuclear-capable,” Hans Kristensen tweeted after a close look at new B-52 photos.
Hormuz Strait visit coming soon? Maybe so, Vice Admiral Jim Malloy, commander of the U.S. Navy’s Bahrain-based Fifth Fleet, told Reuters on Thursday.
“If I need to bring it inside the strait, I will do so,” he said by phone. “I’m not restricted in any way, I’m not challenged in any way, to operate her anywhere in the Middle East.”
Nebraska Republican Sen. Ben Sasse’s reax: “The Trump Administration is right to be making it very clear to Iran that these provocations don’t lead anywhere good. General Soleimani is an evil bastard, but he’s not an idiot. He knows the U.S. military is able to bring his IRGC butchers to their knees if Americans are targeted. He should rethink his recent provocative moves.”
FWIW: Here’s The Economist’s cover for this latest round of U.S.-Iran tensions.
Back stateside, one Marine was killed and six others were injured after a vehicle rollover accident during training at California’s Camp Pendleton on Thursday. “Marines with 1st Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion, 1st Marine Division, were involved in the incident, which occurred at approximately 9 a.m. during training exercises,” Marine Corps Times reported. “The identity of the deceased Marine will be withheld until 24-hours after next-of-kin notification.” A bit more, here.
The More You Know: gun violence and school lockdowns. “More than 4 million American students went through a lockdown last school year. Not a drill; an actual lockdown,” the Washington Post reported Thursday in a lengthy and data-packed feature.
An NSA employee was charged with leaking to a reporter on Thursday. The accused is said to have used a printer to acquire material “not related” to his work, Defense One’s Patrick Tucker noted after reading the charges. “They watch that,” Tucker said. So “Be careful out there” you would-be leakers.
Afghan peace talks check-in: “We are getting into the ‘nitty gritty.’ The devil is always in the details,” said the White House’s Afghan envoy, Zalmay Khalilzad, on Twitter Thursday after exiting his latest round of talks with the Taliban in Qatar. “However,” he added in a second tweet, “the current pace of talks isn’t sufficient when so much conflict rages and innocent people die. We need more and faster progress. Our proposal for all sides to reduce violence also remains on the table.”
And finally this week: Some videogame humor from the folks at the Onion, who are satirically promoting the latest entry in the “Call of Duty: Black Ops” series. The new game “allows playable characters who retire from the military to continue the fight by joining Raytheon’s board of directors.”
“Points are earned in career mode by attending meetings, securing hundreds of millions of dollars in Defense Department contracts, and appearing on cable news programs to fend off bad public relations for the military-industrial complex,” a fictional spokesman for CoD-maker Activision says in the article.
The bonus: “if Call Of Duty players beat career mode with 100% of achievements, they will be able to unlock Erik Prince as a playable character.” Read the rest, here.
Have a great weekend, everyone. And we’ll see you again on Monday!