Asia blasts US carrier delay; Mattis walks a fine line on Yemen; Risks of accidental nuclear war are growing; Russian bombers buzz Alaska again; Egypt’s new submarine; And a bit more.
Anxiety over the Washington-Seoul alliance spans both sides of South Korean politics, The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times reported Wednesday in the wake of that carrier delay story that surfaced late Monday.
“What Mr. Trump said was very important for the national security of South Korea. If that was a lie, then during Trump's term, South Korea will not trust whatever Trump says,” said Hong Joon-pyo, presidential candidate for the current ruling party of former President Park Geun-hye, the Journal reported.
“The 50 million South Koreans, as well as many common-sensical people around the world, cannot help but feel embarrassed and shocked,” said Youn Kwan-suk, spokesman for RoK’s main opposition Democratic Party, which the Times reports leads in polls ahead of the country’s presidential election on May 9.
A shorter verdict: The White House’s botched messaging on the arrival of the USS Carl Vinson to the Korean peninsula “undermines the credibility of U.S. leadership,” Narushige Michishita, a specialist in international security at the National Graduate Institute for Policy Studies in Tokyo, told the Times. “Whatever the case, whether it was deliberate misinformation or a miscommunication between the Pentagon and the White House, it’s quite serious.”
Some of the headlines for how this story is playing in the Asia-Pacific: “Trump’s lie over the Carl Vinson,” “Xi Jinping and Putin must have had a good jeer over this one,” and the Journal’s own “Duped by Trump.”
And in China: “The truth seems to be that the U.S. military and president jointly created fake news and it is without doubt a rare scandal in U.S. history, which will be bound to cripple Trump's and U.S. dignity," wondered China's influential Global Times newspaper. (That here, near the bottom.)
Piling on: “Compounding their anger over the Carl Vinson episode, many South Koreans were also riled at Mr. Trump for his assertion in a Wall Street Journal interview last week that the Korean Peninsula ‘used to be a part of China,’” the Times adds. “Although Korea was often invaded by China and forced to pay tributes to its giant neighbor, many Koreans say the notion that they were once Chinese subjects is egregiously insulting.”
Now the North Koreans have another message for the U.S., Reuters reports: "In the case of our super-mighty preemptive strike being launched, it will completely and immediately wipe out not only U.S. imperialists' invasion forces in South Korea and its surrounding areas but the U.S. mainland and reduce them to ashes," according to The Rodong Sinmun, the official newspaper of the North's ruling Workers' Party.
Happening today: More than 100 South Korean and U.S. warplanes are “conducting an annual training exercise, codenamed Max Thunder, until April 28,” Reuters reports.
The purpose: To demonstrate “the capability to perfectly overwhelm an enemy and respond to any form of provocation anytime and anywhere,” Lt. Gen. Won In-chul, commander of South Korean Air Force Operations Command, told reporters Wednesday, according to Yonhap News Agency.
Aircraft involved: South Korean “F-15K, KF-16, FA-50, F-4E and F-5 fighter jets, as well as C-130 cargo and E-737 airborne early warning and control aircraft.”
On the U.S. side: “F-16s, U-2 reconnaissance aircraft from the 7th Air Force, AV-8Bs from the 12th Marine Aircraft Group and EA-18Gs from the Electronic Attack Squadron 132.”
Max Thunder—a two-week drill—also incorporates around 1,200 troops, “including some American personnel stationed in Japan,” Yonhap reports. More here.
One last thing: “North Korean propaganda is many things, but it’s not subtle,” the Washington Post reported Wednesday off a new video from North Korea showing missiles engulfing a U.S. city in a giant fireball. Story here.
From Defense One
Risk of ‘Accidental’ Nuclear War Growing, UN Research Group Says // Patrick Tucker: The warning comes as the Pentagon begins an extensive review of its nuclear arsenal.
Inside NASA's Plan to Protect the Planet from a Massive Asteroid // Michael Tabb, via Quartz: In 2016, NASA established a new office for working with the Air Force, Defense Department, and FEMA to prevent speeding asteroids from impacting the Earth.
Government Needs 'Heavy Artillery' for Cyberspace, DHS Chief Says // Joseph Marks, via NextGov: Plodding bureaucracy could leave government outgunned in cyberspace, John Kelly said in his first major address as secretary.
President Trump's First 100 Days Could End in a Government Shutdown // Russell Berman, via The Atlantic: The historical marker on April 29 will coincide with the expiration of federal funding—unless Congress can strike a bipartisan deal in time.
Special Counsel Goes to Bat for Two Defense Whistleblowers // Charles S. Clark, via GovExec: Friend of the court briefs try to overturn rulings against retaliation claims.
Welcome to this Thursday edition of The D Brief by Ben Watson and Marcus Weisgerber. On this day in 2004, China urged North Korean leader Kim Jong Il to rethink his insistence that the U.S. promise not to attack the North. China’s position: only a softer line can ease tensions over Pyongyang’s nuclear program. The North would conduct its first nuclear test a little more than two years later, in October 2006. Wanna subscribe to The D Brief? Email us at email@example.com and we’ll take care of you.
SecDef Mattis’s fine line on Yemen. Defense Secretary James Mattis just wrapped “a night and a day of meetings with King Salman of Saudi Arabia, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Nayef and Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman,” The New York Times reports.
Mattis’s message: “Our goal is to push this conflict into U.N.-brokered negotiations to make sure it is ended as soon as possible,” he said in a short press conference after the meetings with Saudi officials.
What Mattis didn’t say was almost as important as what he did say, the Times’ Helene Cooper reports traveling with the SecDef: “he stopped short of publicly warning America’s Sunni allies against a planned bombing campaign targeting the port city of Al Hudaydah,” which human rights officials have warned would lead to an even larger humanitarian crisis than the country is already experiencing after two years of the Saudi-led war in Yemen. More here.
Oh, by the way—White House aides have a call sign for SecDef Mattis, NBC News’ Hans Nichols wrote on Twitter Wednesday: "The favorite of the President," according to Dina Powell in Riyadh.
Mattis also had something to say about Iran: "Everywhere you look, if there is trouble in the region, you find Iran," he said from Riyadh. "So, right now, what we are seeing is the nations in the region and others elsewhere trying to checkmate Iran and the amount of disruption, the amount of instability they can cause." More from Voice of America, here. For a bit more on how right Mattis is—and why—former Pentagon official Andrew Exum explains here.
SecState Tillerson took that White House position on Iran and extended it to North Korea. “An unchecked Iran has the potential to follow the same path as North Korea and take the world along with it,” Tillerson to reporters at the State Department’s Treaty Room on Wednesday. “The United States is keen to avoid a second piece of evidence that strategic patience is a failed approach.”
Context, from the Washington Post: “Tillerson’s strong criticism of Iran and the nuclear deal came one day after the State Department officially notified Congress that Iran has met all its commitments under the agreement, a certification required every 90 days. This is the first time the Trump administration has done so, in a letter Tillerson wrote to House Speaker Paul D. Ryan and released just before the midnight deadline.” More here.
In Syria, Damascus has reportedly relocated a majority of its combat aircraft to Bassel Al-Assad International Airport—located in western coastal Latakia, not far from Russia's Khmeimim Air Base—in a bid likely intended to protect from U.S. strikes, CNN’s Jim Sciutto reported Wednesday on word from U.S. officials.
Adds CNN: “The regime in Damascus may be calculating that the US would be more reluctant to strike in close proximity to the Russian troops and their anti-aircraft systems.” More here.
France’s foreign minister says he will produce proof “in a few days” of the Assad regime’s use of chemical weapons in the attack that killed nearly 90 people in early April, prompting President Trump to order cruise missiles on Syria’s Shayrat airfield, AFP reported Wednesday.
Speaking of Russian aircraft: Russian bombers returned to the Alaskan coast for a second consecutive night on Tuesday, Fox News’ Lucas Tomlinson reported on the course two Tu-95H bombers took to come within 36 miles of mainland Alaska. Two Russian bombers flew within 100 miles of Alaska on Monday.
What’s different this time: The U.S. response, Tomlinson reported. The “U.S. Air Force opt[ed] to not scramble fighter jets this time…[launching] E-3 AWACS instead.” More here.
For your eyes only: Egypt now has a new submarine, the first of four 1,400 tons diesel-electric submarines recently ordered by Cairo. The Ministry of Defense released video of the German-made Type 209/1400 class submarine from Thyssenkrupp Marine Systems. Watch it cruising along, here. Or read a bit more about the specs—which you’ll read is “ideally suited for Special Forces operation missions”—here.
Also in Egypt: Cairo’s Army reportedly posted a video on Wednesday of recent helicopter targeting ISIS militants and their vehicles in the Northern Sinai. That, here.
What you need to know about the Pentagon’s upcoming nuclear spending review. The Congressional Budget Office is looking at how much it will cost taxpayers to develop, buy and operate new nuclear weapons over the next 30 years, Bloomberg reports. “A projected trillion-dollar price tag to upgrade, support and maintain the U.S.’s three-legged nuclear arsenal over the next 30 years is likely to be confirmed in a new assessment now under way by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office.” More here.
Lastly today: The CIA and FBI are in the midst of a “manhunt for the leaker who gave top-secret documents to WikiLeaks,” CBS reported Wednesday. The story first saw the light of day thanks to reporting by The Wall Street Journal back in early March. “A digital trail has pointed authorities, at least initially, to a team of software developers working with the CIA’s Engineering Development Group...In recent months, there has been talk of ‘bad blood’ in the small world of CIA contractors who are vital to the agency’s hacking projects, the people familiar with the probe said. One group of contractors recently had been working for the CIA overseas and expected to be given new jobs with the agency in the U.S., but their positions were later eliminated, one person said.” Much more to that story, here.