Esper, on his way; S. Korea fires on Russian bombers; Disinformation campaigns; Bizarre Oval Office presser; And a bit more.
The doctor (most probably) becomes defense secretary today. Dr. Mark Esper cleared his procedural hurdle in the Senate on Monday with a 86-6 vote to become the next U.S. defense secretary. That formal announcement is expected today after a noon vote, ABC News’s Elizabeth McLaughlin reported Monday.
Esper will likely hit the ground running now that the White House and Democratic leaders on Monday announced a new defense budget deal was reached, which includes “$738 billion in military funding for fiscal 2020, a 3 percent increase from current year levels,” Defense News reported after President Trump tweeted word of “a two-year Budget and Debt Ceiling, with no poison pills” that he called “a real compromise in order to give another big victory to our Great Military and Vets!”
News of a budgetary compromise Monday afternoon seemed like something out of an alternate universe, Todd Harrison of the Center for Strategic and International Studies tweeted in the evening. “I’m not surprised at the topline figures they arrived at in this budget deal, but I am surprised they reached a deal so soon. Heck, they may even be able to pass appropriations before Oct 1 for the second year in a row. #alternateuniverse”
How the GOP got the Democrats on board: “Non-defense spending in the new budget deal will grow by about $10 billion more than defense spending over the next two years,” Defense News writes, “giving Democrats a victory in their efforts to boost domestic programs over Trump’s insistence that they represented unchecked waste.”
One 30,000-foot view, via Politico’s Connor O’Brien: “Even though it’s less than what Trump and Republicans wanted, the US is still spending nearly three quarters of a trillion dollars on defense.”
What lies ahead: “House lawmakers are expected to vote on the new plan this week, before they leave town for an extended summer break on Friday,” whereas their Senate compadres depart town the following week, according to Defense News. Read on, here.
From Defense One
Trump Says US Troops Shouldn’t Be ‘Policemen’ in Afghanistan. So Why Are They There? // Kevin Baron: In a puzzling Oval Office press conference, the commander-in-chief throws his purported strategy into doubt.
Where’s the Coverage of Civilian Casualties in the War on ISIS? // Alexa O'Brien: New studies reveal important gaps in coverage of this aspect of the anti-ISIS operation, largely a war of air strikes.
Ep. 49: Cyberwarfare tomorrow // Defense One Staff: This episode, we turn to the future world of cyberwarfare — from life after encryption to the 5G debate, from the next election to the next generation of cyber professionals, and a lot more.
How Can Congress Authorize War When It Can’t Decide What War Is? // Kathy Gilsinan, The Atlantic: There’s bipartisan agreement that the law governing America’s wars needs an update. There’s also bipartisan agreement that it won’t happen anytime soon.
Welcome to this Tuesday edition of The D Brief from Ben Watson and Bradley Peniston. If you’re not a D Brief subscriber, sign up here. On this day in 1962, the world's first active communication satellite, Telstar, transmitted the first live transatlantic broadcast, which included a press conference from President John F. Kennedy.
Afghan President Ashraf Ghani says he’d like an explanation of President Trump’s off-the-cuff remarks Monday (video via NBC News, begins at around the 0:40 mark, here) about killing 10 million people in a 7- to 10-day plan to accelerate the end of America’s war in Afghanistan.
Here are Trump’s remarks to reporters during a visit from Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan at the White House: “I think Pakistan is going to help us out to extricate ourselves [from Afghanistan]. We’re like policemen. We’re not fighting the war. If we wanted to fight a war in Afghanistan and win it, I could win that war in a week. I just don’t want to kill 10 million people. Does that make sense to you? I don’t want to kill 10 million people. I have plans on Afghanistan that, if I wanted to win that war, Afghanistan would be wiped off the face of the Earth. It would be gone. It would be over in — literally, in 10 days. And I don’t want to do — I don’t want to go that route.”
“The Afghan nation has not and will never allow any foreign power to determine its fate,” Ghani’s office said in a statement today, according to Reuters. The statement continued, “While the Afghan government supports the U.S. efforts for ensuring peace in Afghanistan, the government underscores that foreign heads of state cannot determine Afghanistan’s fate in absence of the Afghan leadership.”
The bizarre statements didn’t stop there. “Pakistan never lies,” the U.S. president said, in an apparent attempt to ingratiate himself with Khan. (Trump’s first tweet of 2018 proclaimed that the country has “given us nothing but lies & deceit”). He also said that India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi had recently asked him to mediate the Kashmir dispute, a claim that Indian officials quickly shot down.
Some heard a few historical echoes in Trump’s remarks about Afghanistan. And that includes Defense One Executive Editor Kevin Baron, who writes, “Nobody knows what Trump meant by ‘answers’ or ‘a plan that would win that war in a very short period.’ But everyone who has tracked foreign policy since the 1990s knows what that ‘policemen’ line means.”
Long before South Park’s creators began production on “Team America: World Police,” Baron writes, “The GOP used it against Bill Clinton after he involved the United States in the Balkan Wars and after the ‘Black Hawk Down’ disaster in Somalia. In 2000, George W. Bush used it against Vice President Al Gore. The argument was that the U.S. should not lose sight of big-power threats, like nuclear missiles, nor get entangled in small wars around the globe. Then 9/11 happened. Suddenly Republicans were very interested in sending U.S. troops around the world to hunt, capture, and kill terrorists. Then came Trump, who promised to withdraw from such foreign entanglements, and won.”
Baron’s parting thought: “If the commander in chief doesn’t believe in his own strategy, and in the missions that U.S. troops are currently executing on his orders, then he should say so, and bring them home now. If he does believe in it, and all of the politically difficult patience it requires, then he should defend it. Either would be better than what he said on Monday.” More here.
Here’s Trump’s Afghan envoy, Zalmay Khalilzad, this morning reframing the president’s remarks in light of Khalilzad’s job (negotiate some sort of peace deal with the Taliban) via Twitter: “Speaking w/ @ImranKhanPTI yesterday, @POTUS reiterated to the world that there is no reasonable military solution to the war in Afghanistan, & that peace must be achieved through a political settlement. Pakistan committed to do all it can to achieve peace.” Khalilzad drops by Kabul today, presumably to speak with his Afghan cohorts, according to a subsequent tweet this morning.
Another take, from Foreign Policy’s Robbie Gramer and Elias Groll: “The U.S. president is desperate to salvage peace talks with the Taliban, even if it means cozying up to Pakistan at the expense of America’s newest partner in the Indo-Pacific.”
And one from former Pentagon official Amber Smith: “Hey look! Afghanistan is finally back in the news...too bad the only time the news media cares is when they think they can use it to criticize the president.”
Breaking Defense’s Paul McCleary reminds us that Smith and others on Defense Secretary Jim Mattis’s Pentagon team “scaled back the amount of information available to the public about the conduct of the [Afghan] war, [and] stopped even the limited press briefings that had been available.”
Loren DeJonge Schulman of the “Bombshell” podcast, echoed McCleary’s point: “In the last 2 years, no senior administration official has made real substantive statement to the American people on the US strategy in Afghanistan. Deployment #s are hidden. No DOD presser for a year. Embeds and travel with VIPs limited. But press still covers AFG. DoD doesn’t.”
Meanwhile in on-the-ground Afghan news Monday, “The Taliban overran a remote district [Keran wa Manjan] in the northern province of Badakhshan after seizing a lapis lazuli mine there last week,” Bill Roggio of FDD’s Long War Journal reported.
Bigger picture in the north: “The Taliban controls four of Badakhshan’s 28 district and contests 16 more,” Roggio writes. “Only eight districts are under control of the government, according to an ongoing study by FDD’s Long War Journal. Two of the districts, Warduj and Yamagan, have been under Taliban control since 2015.” And according to a March assessment from the UN (PDF), “there are approximately 500 foreign terrorist fighters in Badakhshan province who are from Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, the North Caucasus and Pakistan,” who “operate under the umbrella of the Taliban.”
South Korea this morning fired 360 shots in response to the flight path of two Russian Tu-84 bombers and one A-50 airborne early warning and control aircraft that “entered the South’s air defense identification zone off its east coast” and after the A-50 “twice violated the country's airspace,” CNN and Fox report today. “In response,” and after an alleged 30 warnings (!), “South Korea deployed F-15F and KF-16 fighter jets… and fired 360 warning shots ahead of the Russian aircraft, 80 during the first violation and 280 during the second. The shots were fired using 20mm weapons.”
Complicating all this: The involvement of China, since “both South Korea and Japan said that two Chinese H-6 bombers had joined the Russian military aircraft on sorties through the region as well,” CNN adds. Russian defense officials said the two nations were on the “first joint air patrol using long range aircraft in the Asian-Pacific region…to deepen and develop Russian-Chinese relations.”
BTW: Beijing is set to release a new white paper on “China's National Defense in the New Era” tomorrow, according to The Diplomat’s Ankit Panda, who spotted the news on the Chinese Defense Ministry’s website. The document is the first of its kind in four years, and a lot has changed for China since 2015, Panda writes. Read on, here.
As for that alleged airspace violation over Korea, Russia issued its customary denial that it did anything untoward, “claiming that South Korean military jets had dangerously intercepted two of its bombers during a planned flight over neutral waters,” according to CNN. As for the merits of the encounter, planned or not, “analysts said the mission may have been designed by Russia to draw out South Korean and Japanese aircraft for intelligence gathering purposes.”
“South Korea said it was the first time a foreign military plane had violated South Korean airspace since the end of the 1950-53 Korean War,” Fox writes.
What now? “South Korea's Foreign Ministry and the Joint Chiefs of Staff summoned Russia's acting ambassador and its defense attache respectively to protest,” according to Fox. “Meanwhile, Japan protested to Russia for allegedly violating Japanese airspace and to South Korea for firing warning shots there.” A bit more, here.
Back stateside, you’ve probably heard of One America News Network, aka OAN. You may even have known President Trump is big fan of the channel. You may not have known “One of the on-air reporters at the 24-hour network is a Russian national on the payroll of the Kremlin’s official propaganda outlet, Sputnik,” according to The Daily Beast, citing a Jan. 2017 assessment (PDF) from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.
The Russian national in question is “Kristian Brunovich Rouz, originally from the Siberian city of Novosibirsk,” and he’s “been living in San Diego, where OAN is based, since August 2017, reporting on U.S. politics for the 24-hour news channel,” TDB writes. “For all of that time, he’s been simultaneously writing for Sputnik, a Kremlin-owned news wire that played a role in Russia’s 2016 election-interference operation, according to an assessment by the U.S. intelligence community.”
What's more, in recent months, "Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman — who pumped hundreds of thousands of dollars into Republican campaigns and dined with the [U.S.] president — gathered repeatedly with top officials in Ukraine and set up meetings for Trump's attorney Rudy Giuliani as they turned up information that could be weaponized in the 2020 presidential race," according to Buzzfeed News Monday.
And those two busy stories would seem to suggest “the 2020 Trump reelection effort will likely be even more randomly organized” than the 2016 campaign was, writes Paul Waldman in the Washington Post. Waldman advises that in the months ahead, we should brace for “a seething carbuncle of misinformation oozing out in all directions. Some of it will come directly from Trump himself, some will come from his campaign, some will come from the army of trolls and bots that Russia will likely employ on his behalf once again.”
Expect the disinformation efforts ahead “to take on a feeling of madness, where the only safe harbor lies is in the tribe that offers you belonging and the conviction that the people you hate are even worse than you thought. That’s what’s coming. And it hasn’t even begun,” Waldman wrote. More to his argument, here.
Sometimes it’s hard to understand how a disinformation campaign works, how it grabs hold of a population, and why it can be so hard to counter. So read “The Magpies and the Cuckoos,” a fable about a thriving, complex avian society that proves vulnerable to exploitative outsiders. It’s by Air Force JAG-turned-natsec writer Jessica Malekos Smith.
And finally today: Don’t forget to drink plenty of water this Summer since we now know that the heat in June set new records. “Scorching temperatures made June 2019 the hottest June on record for the globe. And for the second month in a row, warmth brought Antarctic sea-ice coverage to a new low,” NOAA reports. The average global temperature was 1.71 degrees Fahrenheit above the 20th-century global average of 59.9 degrees, Quartz notes.
NASA’s next nearly-impossible mission should be running climate-crisis observations, writes Lori Garver, deputy NASA administrator from 2009 to 2013. “The fragmented system of roles and responsibilities related to handing the massive amounts of Earth science data is severely hampering global efforts required to make significant progress. The U.S. government role in addressing this challenge is foundering without leadership. Standardizing data collection and coordinating its storage, analysis and distribution require experience working across disciplines, government agencies and universities as well as the private sector and international community. Only NASA has done this sort of thing before; only NASA has the credibility and expertise to do it again.” Read, here.