Newsflash from the Pentagon: “It’s very important for everyone in the world to know we have a plan.” That’s what the chief of staff to the previous and the current acting defense secretaries, Eric Chewning, told reporters on Tuesday at the Pentagon about the Defense Department’s complex leadership succession plan. Defense One’s Katie Bo Williams reports:
Here’s the dance card: Once the Senate receives the White House’s nomination of acting SecDef Mark Esper — like, the actual paperwork — then he will revert to his role as Army secretary and Navy Secretary Richard Spencer will assume the role of acting defense secretary. (That’s the third acting defense secretary in six months, if you’re keeping track at home.) The senior leadership on the third floor — like Chewning and current acting deputy David Norquist — will remain with Spencer during the transition for continuity. Then, once Esper is confirmed, President Trump is expected to nominate Norquist to be deputy secretary, and he will step out of his role while the Senate considers his nomination.
This all presumes that the White House will actually send Esper’s paperwork to the Senate. (It took months for that to happen with Patrick Shanahan.) “Our expectation is that will be shortly,” Chewning said.
What about the Vacancies Act? Because Shanahan was the Senate-confirmed number-two at the Pentagon, he could serve as “acting” defense secretary indefinitely. But Esper and Spencer are subject to the 210-day clock mandated by the Federal Vacancies Act. According to Chewning, that clock is suspended when the Senate is formally considering a nominee, so Spencer “can stay in that status as long as necessary for the Senate to examine” Esper.
What if Esper isn’t confirmed? Speaking “very hypothetically,” a senior DOD official says that a new 210-day clock starts, per the Vacancies Act.
From Defense One
Dunford: US Will Provide Intel, Not Escorts, In Strait Of Hormuz // Katie Bo Williams, Defense One: The Trump administration wants to put together an international coalition to prevent tanker attacks from Iran.
Fearing Iran, Qatar Continues Building its Missile Defenses // Marcus Weisgerber: The Middle Eastern nation told the White House it would buy NASAMS and add to its Patriot batteries.
The US Protects the Global Commons. Others Can Police Its Choke Points // Daniel DePetris: Trump's not wrong when he says European, Mideast, and Asian nations should do more to protect Gulf shipping.
Britain’s Options for Its Ambassador: Defend or Dismiss // Yasmeen Serhan, The Atlantic: The U.K. is left with two seemingly impossible choices after President Trump’s assertion that “we will no longer deal with” Sir Kim Darroch.
Welcome to this Wednesday edition of The D Brief from Ben Watson and Katie Bo Williams. If you’re not a D Brief subscriber already, you can do that here. On this day in 1940, Hitler’s Nazi Luftwaffe began a months-long campaign of “unremitting and destructive air raids” on the UK we now refer to as the Battle of Britain. Said Winston Churchill, three weeks before the first bombs began to fall: “Upon this battle depends the survival of Christian civilisation. Upon it depends our own British life and the long continuity of our institutions and our Empire. The whole fury and might of the enemy must very soon be turned on us. Hitler knows that he will have to break us in this island or lose the war. If we can stand up to him, all Europe may be free and the life of the world may move forward into broad, sunlit uplands. But if we fail, then the whole world, including the United States, including all that we have known and cared for, will sink into the abyss of a new Dark Age made more sinister, and perhaps more protracted, by the lights of a perverted science.”
Get ready for Gen. Mark Milley to sell himself as the new Chairman of the Joint Chiefs. Three Politico reporters talked to 13 people and filed a 2,300-word profile of the tough-talking four-star they refer to as straight out of President Trump’s “central casting.”
Why’s this in the news now? “Milley faces his next crucial job interview Thursday, when the Senate Armed Services Committee holds his confirmation hearing.”
Some of the things said about Milley in that profile:
- "He’s smart as a whip despite his gruff appearance."
- Milley can “come off as a bully.”
- "Sometimes he was decisive too quickly, other times he wasn’t decisive at all.”
- "The only thing that could potentially trip Milley up during his confirmation hearings is the whole Niger incident.” Read on, here.
Qatar’s Emir dropped by the White House on Tuesday “to finalize a number of energy and aircraft agreements with the U.S.,” the Wall Street Journal writes.
The deals promoted out of that Tuesday meeting involved some old and some new, but “The White House released few details about the potential [arms] sales” from that photo op, Defense One’s Marcus Weisgerber reports.
What we do know: Qatar made a “commitment to acquire” Patriot interceptors and National Advanced Surface-to-Air Missile Systems, or NASAMS — which is a system that can shoot down planes, drones and cruise missiles. “Raytheon has been working to extend the range of the missiles,” Weisgerber writes.
What we already knew: “The State Department approved a $215 million sale of NASAMS” back in November, according to Weisgerber. The Journal has very little additional details out of that White House meeting, but you can read on behind its paywall here.
After Germany declined the White House’s request, the Brits and French are sending more troops to Syria, Foreign Policy reported Tuesday. The boost amounts to “a marginal 10 to 15 percent troop increase,” according to an unnamed U.S. official. “Other countries may send small numbers of troops as well, but in exchange the United States would have to pay, the official said.” More for subscribers only, here.
Said Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Joe Dunford to reporters at the Pentagon after FP’s report came out: “We do have allies that are working with us on the ground but they have asked that they address their own forces, so I’m not in a position to discuss any other countries that are participating in operations in Syria, but select members of the 75-member coalition are on the ground with us.”
You may recall U.S. missiles were found at a militia base in Libya, as the New York Times reported in late June. Today, the French defense ministry says those missiles belonged to France, the Associated Press reports from Paris. Had they not belonged to France, that would have been quite an arms embargo headache for the U.S. “Pro-government fighters seized the FGM-148 Javelin anti-tank missiles, UAE-made Yabhon drones, and Russia-made Kornet anti-tank guided missiles in June.”
BTW: The death toll from fighting in Libya since April just topped 1,000, AP reports separately today off new stats from the World Health Organization. More specifically, “1,048 people have been killed since the offensive began, including 106 civilians. It says 5,558 have been wounded, including 289 civilians.”
"The fighting has emptied entire neighborhoods of civilians," AP writes. And The battle lines have changed little since the offensive began, with both sides dug in and shelling one another in the southern reaches of the capital. Militias aligned with the government recently recaptured Gharyan, a town some 100 kilometers (60 miles) west of the city that is on a major supply route." Read on, here.
To the east a bit, a second Iranian oil tanker was detained, this time in Egypt and it apparently happened 10 days ago — timing that would, if true, actually make it the first Iranian tanker to be seized. In the alleged Suez incident, Egyptian authorities reportedly arrested six men on charges they were spying for Iran, according to the Middle East Monitor writing Tuesday off an initial report from an outlet MEM calls Al-Araby Al-Jadeed, a report your D Brief-ers cannot seem to be able to locate today.
Reminder via Yahoo News, which also picked up the MEM story: “Egypt is a close ally of Saudi Arabia, which is fighting a proxy war with Iran in Yemen.”
About the path of the tanker seized last week in Gibraltar: It went around Africa instead of through the Suez Canal. Business Insider has more on the long way around, and a bit of the obvious on why, here.
FWIW: Iran’s president today called Britain’s seizure of that tanker in Gibraltar “mean and wrong” during a Cabinet meeting, AP reports from Tehran. “You [Britain] are the initiator of insecurity and you will realize the consequences later,” he warned, adding, “You [Europeans, that is] do not need to worry about Iran, your concern must be over the United States, which has violated this whole commitment and undermined international obligations.” More on that from Reuters, here.
“You could be the King but watch the Queen conquer.” Trinidad and Tobago-born music artist Nicki Minaj was slated to perform at an upcoming concert in Saudi Arabia. She’s no longer gonna make it, she announced Tuesday, “after better educating myself on the issues” about the Kingdom — issues that involve “my support for the rights of women, the LGBTQ community and freedom of expression,” she said. More from the Washington Post, here.
Laicie Heeley of the “Things That Go Boom” podcast would like your ear for one more episode. TTGB’s second season, you may recall, focuses on numerous facets of the Iran nuclear deal. This week, Heeley writes, “We sat down with Amb. Bill Burns for a special bonus episode,” who has “been down this road with Iran before, as one of the architects of the 2015 nuclear deal. We ask Burns for a gut check on the current situation, from Iran’s threats to ramp up uranium enrichment, to the fallout from President Trump’s ‘exchange of love letters’ with North Korea. He also shares some of the lessons from ‘the most depressing brainstorming session’ of his career.”
This latest episode clocks in at just over 20 minutes, and you can begin listening to Ambassador Burns here.
Speaking of ambassadors, British Sir Kim Darroch has resigned this morning as the UK’s Ambassador to the U.S., following the very public row with the Trump family over its alleged lack of competence in diplomacy and global affairs.
“The current situation is making it impossible for me to carry out my role as I would like,” he wrote in a message carried by Reuters.
Apropos of nothing: Two think tanks would like to draw your attention to strategic competition in the gray zone. The title of a new report from RAND: "How the United States Can Compete in the Gray Zone" And here's another new one from the Center for Strategic and International Studies, "By Other Means—Part I: Campaigning in the Gray Zone"
What’s the gray zone? When a group or nation begins “threatening U.S. interests without triggering escalation” thanks to activity that happens “below the threshold of armed conflict, in the gray zone between peace and war,” to smash definitions from the two reports together.
And finally today: The more you know (and share unwittingly via your phone). “A quarter of women in the US and one in nine men experience some form of physical abuse or stalking by an intimate partner,” writes a man who let his wife stalk him via apps already downloaded on his phone. The man is Andy Greenberg, and he’s a writer for WIRED.
What’s involved here: “dual-use” apps, which “are apps that advertise features for a legitimate purpose—such as letting families consensually track one another for convenience or safety, or for locating stolen and lost devices—but can easily be abused by stalkers who install them without their target's knowledge, or to secretly change the configuration of those apps to share the victim's location or data.”
One thing we learned from the article: The “Find My Friends” app lets you set up a "geofence," which is a tracking “option that sends an alert when a person they're tracking enters or leaves a certain place.”
Two things the author learned from his own article: "researchers point out that Glympse, Google, and Apple could all do more to notify or remind users that they're sharing their locations... the issue of someone with physical access to a device abusing legitimate software goes well beyond any single company, or even just location sharing." Read on for how to check location sharing settings on your phone, here.
Dive even deeper into the matter of location tracking via this lengthy technical explainer on Stingrays, IMSI-catchers, and “Cell Site Simulators” via the folks at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, writing in late June, here.