Acting SecDef Shanahan is leaving, and President Trump downplayed tensions with Iran over the June 13 nuisance attacks on two oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman. Those were the two biggest stories to surface Tuesday for the U.S. military — though Shanahan’s dominated coverage.
The Shanahan saga came to an abrupt end with one presidential tweet: Trump declared “Acting Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan, who has done a wonderful job, has decided not to go forward with his confirmation process so that he can devote more time to his family.”
Trump then named his replacement for Shanahan in a second tweet: “I thank Pat for his outstanding service and will be naming Secretary of the Army, Mark Esper, to be the new Acting Secretary of Defense. I know Mark, and have no doubt he will do a fantastic job!”
That’s when all hell broke loose for Pat. A flurry of outlets — led by USA Today and the Washington Post — published stories of Shanahan’s personal life, a messy divorce, and an unsavory episode involving his then-teenaged son in an episode of breathtaking violence against and the son’s mother and Shanahan’s ex-wife.
Shanahan even walked into the Washington Post’s offices to explain it all on Monday and Tuesday, though he said that talking about the violence “will ruin my son’s life.” If you haven’t read the details already, WaPo gets right into in paragraph five of their report, here.
Said Shanahan in a statement immediately after the Trump tweet: “I am proud of the work accomplished over the last two years. With the leadership of President Trump and the bipartisan support of Congress, the Department has made significant progress rebuilding and modernizing the military to compete with China and Russia. We are developing capabilities that will ensure American military leadership for decades to come in space, cyber, hypersonic missiles, and much more. We have focused the leadership team on delivering results and making real change at scale. The Department is well postured to provide for our long-term security.” Read his full remarks, here.
For the record: Shanahan has been in the Acting SecDef job for almost 170 days, which is nearly three times longer than the previous record-holder, “William H. Taft IV, who served as Acting Secretary for 60 days, from January 20 to March 21, 1989,” Steve Vladeck tweeted way back in March.
Shanahan’s last day at the Pentagon will be Sunday, the Pentagon announced in another statement later in the evening. Already, he and Esper have been meeting about what comes next. According to that statement, “As the Acting Secretary of Defense beginning at 12:01 AM June 24, 2019, Dr. Esper will exercise all of the authorities and powers of the Secretary of Defense. Acting Secretary Shanahan and Secretary of the Army Esper are committed to an orderly transition that ensures our men and women in uniform have the leadership and resources they need to keep our nation safe. David Norquist will continue in his role as performing the duties of the Deputy Secretary of Defense.”
No word yet on when Trump might nominate someone to hold either post permanently, though the president did say Tuesday that he “most likely” will nominate Esper for SecDef and he’ll decide “pretty soon.”
Now for the new guy, Esper, whom you may recall, is an Army vet and a former suit from Raytheon. More officially, he was Raytheon’s vice president for government relations, “i.e., lobbyist for the military contractor, from 2010 to 2017,” Forbes reminded us. And that history immediately raised concerns of possible “conflicts of interest and undue defense industry influence,” as CNAS’s Rachel Rizzo told Newsweek.
Esper graduated from West Point along with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo way back in 1986, the Washington Examiner’s Jamie McIntyre wrote Tuesday. “Esper’s views on warfare were shaped as an infantry officer in the 1991 Persian Gulf War assigned to the 3rd Brigade of the 101st Airborne Division, in which he was awarded a Bronze Star, among other military decorations.” More from McIntyre, who spoke with Esper last month, here.
Questions yet to be answered: Will Esper attend next week’s NATO meeting in Brussels now that Shanahan is out? What about U.S.-Iran tensions, since the Pentagon dispatched another 1,000 troops to the Middle East less than 24 hours before the Shanahan news broke? We’ll get into some of those tensions below the fold.
From Defense One
Shanahan Out; Army Secretary Esper to Be Acting SecDef // Katie Bo Williams: Trump tweets the news after reports that the FBI was looking into a violent domestic dispute from nine years ago.
How to Step Back from the Brink with Iran // Matthew Bunn of Harvard’s Kennedy School: Right now, everything both sides do to strengthen their defenses looks to the other side like preparation for attack.
This Kansas Aircraft-Parts Supplier Is Flying High on Secret Military Projects // Marcus Weisgerber: A longtime maker of airliner parts, Spirit Aerosystems is finding new work in the defense sector.
House Democrats Want To Kill This More Useable Nuke. They’re Right. // Kingston Reif and Caroline Dorminey: There are no good arguments for the W76-2 warhead, and quite a few good ones against.
Welcome to this Wednesday edition of The D Brief by Ben Watson and Bradley Peniston. Thanks for reading! Subscribe here. On this day in 1865, also known as the first “Juneteenth,” Union soldiers, led by Maj. Gen. Gordon Granger, arrived in Galveston, Texas, to tell everyone the civil war was over and “all slaves are free. This involves an absolute equality of personal rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves,” Granger said that day.
U.S. won’t protect gulf shipping alone, No. 2 officer says. From 1987 to 1988, Navy warships escorted reflagged Kuwaiti tankers through the wartorn Persian Gulf. Don’t expect that to happen again, Gen. Paul Selva, vice chief of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters Tuesday, because the U.S. simply doesn’t depend as much on the oil transported through the Strait of Hormuz.
“We are now in a position where the bulk of that oil goes to…countries in Asia, and none of those countries have shown any predilection to pressing Iran to stop what they are doing,” said Selva, as quoted by Defense News. “We are not wholly dependent on the movement of Saudi, Kuwaiti Qatari and Emirati oil in and out of the Gulf to sustain our economy.”
Pompeo says he’s been ginning up a coalition to protect shipping, telling various Sunday talk shows that “We are going to work to build out a set of countries that have deep vested interest in keeping that strait open to help us do that.” He echoed that theme Tuesday in remarks to reporters at Central Command HQ in Tampa.
The U.S. has long planned to respond to Iranian mines with international help. Since 2009, U.S. Central Command and the Navy’s Fifth Fleet have convened a growing multinational flotilla to practice clearing naval mines in the Arabian Gulf, Sea of Oman, Gulf of Aden, and Red Sea. This year’s IMX is scheduled for Oct. 27 through Nov. 15.
On the other hand: Trump says Iran’s alleged tanker attacks are “very minor.” Even as Shanahan was announcing the dispatch of 1,000 more U.S. troops to the Middle East, President Trump was telling Time on Monday that the various attacks were no big deal. Read on, here.
U.S. to send Ukraine $250M in arms and defense aid. Included, per US News: sniper rifles for Ukraine's special operations forces, grenade launchers, counter-artillery radars, electronic warfare gear. The aid brings the total to $1.5 billion since Russia’s 2014 invasion of Crimea.
ICYMI: Russia’s been busily building up its forces on the illegally annexed peninsula, according to new satellite photos and interviews with U.S. intelligence officials. Read that report by Patrick Tucker, here.
Three Russians and one Ukrainian helped down flight MH17 in July 2014 over Ukraine that killed nearly 300 people, according to the Joint Investigation Team working this case out of The Hague. The four men will now “be charged with murder over the attack on the civilian jet,” CBS News reports this morning from The Hague.
The suspects are “Russian nationals Igor Girkin, Sergey Dubinskiy and Oleg Pulatov, and Ukrainian Leonid Kharchenko,” CBS writes.
Russia’s reax: There’s "nothing to discuss,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov asserted, according to state-run TASS.
Get to better know the four men thanks to the award-winning OSINT-watchers at Bellingcat, which has an exhaustive accounting of the episode and those believed to have been involved, here.
So what next? “If Russian suspects are charged in the Netherlands,” CBS writes, “it remains to be seen whether they would ever appear for trial. The Russian Constitution bars extradition of Russian nationals for trials abroad and says that for crimes committed abroad Russians can only be tried in Russia.” A bit more, here.
SecState Mike Pompeo is being sued “for failing to preserve records of Trump and Putin's face-to-face meetings, including allowing Trump to seize the interpreter's notes at the G20 in Hamburg,” Time’s Vera Bergengruen reported] Tuesday. “The two leaders have met five times,” she added, and there is still no detailed U.S. record of the meetings.
Coming next week: Mass immigration arrests and removals of “millions of illegal aliens,” according to a Monday evening tweet from President Trump. “Next week ICE will begin the process of removing the millions of illegal aliens who have illicitly found their way into the United States. They will be removed as fast as they come in,” the president wrote.
Say what? “U.S. officials with knowledge of the preparations have said in recent days that the operation was not imminent,” the Washington Post reports, “and ICE officials said late Monday night that they were not aware that the president planned to divulge their enforcement plans on Twitter.”
What’s more, “Publicizing a future law enforcement operation is unheard of at ICE,” the Post writes. Consider, for example, “Trump administration officials blasted Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf last year for warning immigrants about an impending raid, saying she endangered agents’ safety.” Read on, here.
The State Department also said Monday that aid to Guatemala, Honduras or El Salvador will be cut off until the countries take "concrete actions to reduce the number of illegal migrants coming to the U.S. border." Axios has that story, here.
Related: CBP spox job goes to the wife of a man who loves to hate “the media.” Katharine Gorka (Sebastian’s spouse) has been appointed press secretary for Customs and Border Protection, CNN reported Tuesday.
If you haven’t seen sir Gorka in a while, be sure and check out comedian James Adomian’s impression of the doctor, here. (And if you want even more comedy, check out the #Gorkacharts hashtag on Twitter, brought to digital life thanks to The Diplomat’s Ankit Panda.)
Gonna be in D.C. for the 4th of July this year? You could see Air Force One in a flyover the National Mall, “three people briefed on the plans” told the Washington Post Tuesday. Other officials, like Interior Department spokeswoman Molly Block, were not so certain of the plans, telling WaPo she had “nothing to announce” about that alleged flyover. And Democratic lawmakers are naturally not pleased at the idea, concerned over possible associated security costs. Read on, here.
And finally today: Chinese soft power watch: Beijing officials have cancelled the third installment in China’s “Wolf Warrior” action movie franchise, the country's highest-ever grossing domestic film, Financial Times reported Tuesday.
Why cancel the movie? Over fears that it “could be perceived as excessively patriotic, which could unnerve foreign audiences and damage China’s reputation abroad, according to three industry executives.” Said one of the sources directly, “The government doesn’t want films which make China appear aggressive.”
It’s not the only one recently cancelled. Another was called “The 800,” which FT writes “tells a tale about Chinese soldiers and volunteers battling Japanese invaders in Shanghai in 1937 and the plot centres on the KMT, who fought the bulk of China’s war against Japan.” Another pulled film was called “One Second,” and it was “set in the bloody decade of the Cultural Revolution launched by Mao Zedong in 1966, that was also pulled at the last minute from the Berlin Film Festival in February for what organisers also said were ‘technical reasons.’”
For the record, China’s box office revenue is declining. “Chinese cinemas took in $3.6bn from this January to June, down 11 per cent compared with the same period last year, according to ticketing company Maoyan, the first such decline since 2011.” More here.