US, allies toss Russian diplomats; Trump backs off veto; Houthis bombard Riyadh; Pacific shows of force; and just a bit more...

US, allies, Ukraine expel Russian diplomats in retaliation for UK poisoning. Announced Monday morning, the moves at press time include:

  • United States: 60 diplomats, including 12 identified as spies, have seven days to leave. Also, the Seattle consulate will be closed, the New York Times reports.
  • Ukraine: 13 diplomats.
  • Germany: 4 diplomats.
  • Poland: 4 diplomats.
  • Other EU nations have also taken similar steps.

From the White House: Trump is responding to “Russia’s use of a military-grade chemical weapon on the soil of the United Kingdom.” said WH spox Sarah Sanders. She also said the move will reduce “Russia’s ability to spy on Americans and to conduct covert operations that threaten America’s national security.” That, and more, from AP, here.

UK: “British Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson said on Monday that the world was united behind Britain’s stance over the poisoning of a former Russian spy and that patience was wearing thin with Russian President Vladimir Putin.” More from Reuters, here.

From Defense One

McMaster's Choice // Eliot A. Cohen: Before he was the national-security adviser, he wrote a lacerating account of generals who failed in advising Lyndon Johnson. What will he say now that he is free to talk about Trump?

Trump Backs Off Budget Veto in Odd White House Event Laden with Misstatements // Marcus Weisgerber: The mischaracterization of the 2018 defense budget as the biggest ever was just the start.

John Bolton Will Not End Well // Derek Chollet: Wait until Trump starts working with this swamp veteran with bad press and Pentagon push-back who likes to name-drop Edmund Burke.

China and Trump May Bury the Liberal International Order // Stewart M. Patrick: Beijing is a free-riding superpower on the rise, the U.S. a weary titan no longer willing to invest in the system it built after WWII.

Welcome to this Monday 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. OTD2010: A South Korean warship is torpedoed, killing 46. A UN investigation blames North Korea.

Houthi rebels launched a multi-pronged missile barrage in Saudi Arabia Sunday night. And now this morning the group says more missiles are coming if the Saudis and their allies (including the U.S. and UK) do not stop bombing Yemen, Reuters reports from northern Yemen “on the eve of the third anniversary" of the Saudi-led intervention. 
Multiple video clips from the Saudi capital of Riyadh burst across social media Sunday evening after the launches triggered Saudi air defense systems not only in Riyadh, but also across the southern cities of Najran, Jizan and Khamis Mushait.
“The Saudi military said it had intercepted seven missiles, including three aimed at Riyadh, where red missile trails were visible in the night sky amid loud booms,” the Washington Post reports, adding: “The military’s claim could not be independently confirmed.”
Early after action report: “Haven’t analyzed all the videos yet, but it looks like one interceptor failed catastrophically and another pulled a u-turn and exploded in Riyadh,” analyst Jeffrey Lewis wrote on Twitter. “Not a good day for Saudi missile defenses. It’s entirely possible the casualties were inflicted by the Saudi interceptors rather than the Houthi missile. Will have to see where debris fell, impact points, and where people were killed/injured before we can make educated guesses.”

Related: Iran may have sent to Yemen a kind of bomb infamous from the Iraq war, analysts from Conflict Armament Research suggest in a new report.
Bomb variants include: Explosively formed projectiles (EFPs) “camouflaged to resemble natural rocks.” The devices appear to be “armed by radio control (RC) and initiated using passive infrared (PIR) switches. They can be classed as radio-controlled IEDs (RCIEDs).”
How they found this out: “Between April 2017 and February 2018, CAR field investigation teams conducted six missions to Yemen to document weapons and IEDs seized from Houthi forces.” Worth the click, here.

We turn back stateside now for Trump’s odd budget-bill event. On Friday, the president backed off his threat to veto an omnibus appropriations, approving a DoD base budget of $654.6 billion. In an afternoon appearance at the White House, Trump read a list of weapons that the money would buy, an unusual step that reminded Global Business Editor Marcus Weisgerber of the end-of-day recitation of deals at Middle East arms shows. Here’s more from his report:
Inaccuracies: “Along the way, the commander in chief made several incorrect statements. For example, he said the money would ‘procure 34 Navy ships.’ But the Senate Appropriations Committee summary of the bill says, ‘In total, the agreement funds the construction of 14 new ships.’ He also said the bill included ‘$2.9 billion for 15 KC-46 tanker aircraft.’ In fact, the money allows the Air Force to buy 18 aerial refueling tankers.”
Mattis’s misleading budget claim. “Standing beside Trump, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said, ‘We received the largest military budget in history.’ In real terms — that is, after adjusting for inflation — the Pentagon’s budget was much bigger between 2007 and 2011 under President’s George W. Bush and Barack Obama. Their budgets came at the height of the Iraq War when hundreds of thousands U.S. forces were deployed in combat.”
Trump: Dems oppose the military. “Then there was Trump’s unusual statements about Democratic lawmakers’ ‘opposition to the military’ and accusing them, in so many words, of not supporting the troops.” Read on, here.

Also on Friday: Trump again pushed ban on transgender troops. The White House issued a new order “banning transgender individuals from serving in the military except under ‘limited circumstances,’ again insisting they pose a threat to military readiness,” Military Times reported. Advocacy groups noted that the order has no immediate practical effect, as the ban has been rejected by one court and is under legal challenge in four more. Read on, here.
Mattis memo: The White House also released Mattis’ 44-page memo on the subject, submitted in February, some seven months after Trump surprised his defense secretary by tweeting out his desire to ban transgender people from serving in uniform.

A new first in military tech at sea: F-35B “show of stealth aircraft force” in the Philippine Sea. The U.S. Navy invited reporters aboard the USS Wasp late last week, and Reuters went along for the demonstration.
What happened: “During the training, an F-35B fighter took off after running just 100 meters (109 yards) or so on the deck, and when it came back with its jet engine roaring, the aircraft hovered over the ship once, and then began its slow, vertical descent. It is capable of a vertical, as well as short takeoff.”
What the Navy thinks about it: “This is a historic deployment. For the first time we take a marine stealth fighter F-35B. We pair it with a Navy amphibious ship,” Rear Adm. Brad “not Bradley” Cooper, commander of the U.S. Navy’s Expeditionary Strike Group 7, told reporters. “And together this represents what I believe is the most significant leap in war fighting capability of our lifetime ... It gives us more ability to underscore peace, security and stability in this region.” Read on, here.

China’s air force was practicing in the South China Sea this weekend, a move the service called “the best preparation for war,” Reuters reported Sunday from Beijing — two days after the U.S. Navy said it conducted another freedom of navigation operation in the SCS.  
According to the PLAF, “H-6K bombers and Su-30 and Su-35 fighters, among other aircraft, carried out combat patrols over the South China Sea and exercises in the Western Pacific after passing over the Miyako Strait, which lies between two southern Japanese islands.”
Tough talk: “Air Force exercises are rehearsals for future wars and are the most direct preparation for combat,” Reuters reported from the PLAF’s statement, adding China gave no time or date for these practice ops. A bit more, here.

No surprises in Bolton’s first take. President Trump’s new National Security Adviser wasted no time sharing his skeptical view of the upcoming U.S.-North Korea talks, South Korea’s Yonhap News agency reported Sunday.  
According to Bolton: North Korea “want[s] to try and slow roll the negotiations to buy more time. This is something they've done consistently over the last 25 years," he said on an AM talk show in New York on Sunday called Cats Roundtable. "They've got a fairly limited number of things they need to do in North Korea to make their nuclear warheads actually deliverable on targets in the United States.”
Wanna catch up with Bolton’s thinking three days before he was named Trump’s new NSA? Radio Free Asia spoke with him last week, and has this.

ICYMI: Mattis pitched POTUS on all the good stuff about the “postwar, rules-based international order.” That, he said, was “the greatest gift of the greatest generation.” The conversation happened in the summer of 2017 inside the Pentagon’s secure, windowless meeting room known as “The Tank.” And to put it nicely, President Trump had a few questions, according to Politico, reporting Friday on “Why Trump Hasn't Fired Mattis.”
That’s the opening scene of a colorful deep dive, and features the president allegedly yelling at times back to Mattis and then-State Secretary Rex Tillerson, “I don’t agree!” during multiple points in Mattis’s specially-tailored briefing. Read on, here.
Have the stomach for a gloomy prognosis? The Council on Foreign Relations’ Stewart M. Patrick has your test, here.

Apropos of nothing: Swiss arms company has reportedly been selling secret tech to Putin's bodyguards, Reuters reported Friday, citing the local Handelszeitung newspaper. We don’t yet know what was supplied, only that the allegations came from an alleged whistleblower claiming the state arms group RUAG, and spurred a search of RUAG’s facilities Thursday. If true, the deals would have violated Swiss policy halting arms exports to Russia after its 2014 invasion of Crimea, Ukraine. A tiny bit more from Reuters, here.

This week in things you should not put on social media: racial slurs, but particularly slurs aimed at local nationals of the country where you work. Now the admins for a Facebook group and troops at U.S. Forces Japan HQs knows this the hard way. Stars and Stripes has the story of the now-apologetic senior airman at the center of the controversy, here.