The spectre of Iraq hung over the 2020 Democratic debate in Des Moines, Iowa, on Wednesday night. Six candidates were asked why they were qualified to be commander-in-chief, and four answered by citing their opposition to the Iraq War. South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg referenced his own service in Afghanistan and Sen. Elizabeth Warren cited her experience on the Senate Armed Services Committee.
And what about keeping troops in the Middle East, an ongoing Q that candidates have faced on the trail? “It was a mixed bag,” Defense One’s Katie Bo Williams writes, “despite the overall popularity of ‘ending the endless wars.’” All of the candidates said they would keep U.S. troops in the Middle East, while some of them also tried to diminish what those troops would do to make it sound like they’re not fighting. Here’s Katie’s run-down:
- Sen. Amy Klobuchar: “I would leave some troops there, but not in the level that Donald Trump is taking us right now. Afghanistan, I have long wanted to bring our troops home. I would do that. Some would remain for counterterrorism and training.”
- Joe Biden: “I would leave troops in the Middle East in terms of patrolling the Gulf, where we have — where we are now, small numbers of troops, and I think it's a mistake to pull out the small number of troops that are there now to deal with ISIS.”
- Warren: “No, I think we need to get our combat troops out. You know, we have to stop this mindset that we can do everything with combat troops… We should stop asking our military to solve problems that cannot be solved militarily.”
- Buttigieg: “We can continue to remain engaged without having an endless commitment of ground troops. But what's going on right now is the president's actually sending more… That is happening by the thousands right now, as we see so many more troops sent into harm's way. And my perspective is to ensure that that will never happen when there is an alternative as commander-in-chief.”
- Sen. Bernie Sanders: “The American people are sick and tired of endless wars which have cost us trillions of dollars. Our job is to rebuild the United Nations, rebuild the State Department, make sure that we have the capability of bringing the world together to resolve international conflict diplomatically and stop the endless wars that we have experienced.”
FWIW: Biden and Klobuchar might want to cut the U.S. presence in Afghanistan down to the bare minimum needed to do counterterrorism strikes on al Qaeda and ISIS.
There’s just one problem: as we reported last month, officials say the “bare minimum” isn’t much smaller than the 13,000-troop force deployed there, because a critical number of personnel are required for the intelligence gathering needed for counterterrorism missions.
Big picture take: Last night's Democratic debates "prompted a deeper discussion of foreign affairs than in the six previous outings," the Wall Street Journal writes in its review.
From Defense One
The US Navy Needs More Money, Its Top Admiral Bluntly Argues / Marcus Weisgerber: The sea service is pushing for a fleet of 355 ships in the next decade, and that’s not counting unmanned vessels.
Meet the House Republicans Who Want to Rein In Trump On War // Katie Bo Williams: After the Soleimani strike, a working group of moderate Republicans and Democrats trying to “clarify” Congress’s war responsibilities hope they can build momentum.
Turkey Will Make F-35 Parts Throughout 2020, Far Longer Than Anticipated // Marcus Weisgerber: U.S. officials had aimed to get Turkish companies out of the jet’s supply chain by March.
The Pentagon Must Replace Some Hackable Computer Chips // Paul Frazier: Last year’s vulnerability revelations, combined with the tardiness of manufacturers’ responses, leave the military with an expensive choice.
The Downed Jetliner Reminds Us that War Spins Out of Control // Uri Friedman, The Atlantic: Mistakes and misperceptions bookended this latest episode in the long conflict between the U.S. and Iran. Expect that not to change.
Welcome to this Wednesday edition of The D Brief from Katie Bo Williams, Ben Watson, Bradley Peniston, and Kevin Baron. If you’re not already subscribed, you can do that here. On this day in 1943, the Pentagon was dedicated, just 491 days after ground was broken.
Happening today: What has America learned in Afghanistan lately? Special Inspector General John Sopko testifies before the House Foreign Affairs Committee on “U.S. Lessons Learned in Afghanistan” beginning at 10:30 a.m. ET. Catch the livestream, here.
There’s more to the story of Iran’s shootdown of Ukrainian Flight 752: security camera footage analyzed Tuesday by multiple new outlets like the New York Times "shows, for the first time, that two missiles hit Ukraine International Airlines Flight 752 on Jan. 8. The missiles were launched from an Iranian military site around eight miles from the plane."
The new footage “raises new questions about how forthcoming Iranian authorities were when, after three days of denial, they admitted they had mistakenly struck the Ukraine International Airlines flight without mentioning a second missile,” the Wall Street Journal adds. What’s more, “The revelation that Iran’s military struck a civilian plane not once but twice will likely add fuel to [Iran protesters’] anger.”
Both missiles were from a Russian-made SA-15 surface-to-air missile system, “also known as the Gauntlet,” a U.S. defense official told the Journal.
But perhaps most usefully, the new footage “also possibly answers the question of why the Ukrainian airliner’s transponder stopped working before being hit by the missile that apparently brought the jet down last week.” To be sure, “Neither strike downed the plane immediately,” the Times writes. “The new video shows the airliner on fire, circling back toward Tehran’s international airport. Minutes later it exploded and crashed down, narrowly missing the village of Khalaj Abad.”
The new footage “was filmed by a camera on the roof of a building near the village of Bidkaneh, four miles from an Iranian military site,” the Times reports. It was “uploaded to YouTube by an Iranian user around 2 a.m. on Tuesday.”
By the way: Iran detained 30 people for protesting on Tuesday (Reuters), including “the man who recorded the [initial] video showing missiles brought down Ukrainian Airlines plane,” the Times’ Farnaz Fassihi noted on Twitter.
First Space Force commander sworn in. Air Force Gen. John "Jay" Raymond took his oath on Tuesday and formally became the first Chief of Space Operations — adding that command to the two he already holds: Air Force Space Command and the U.S. Space Command. (Video)
Raymond swore on a Bible that the Washington National Cathedral had announced would be used by “all” CSOs — sparking a backlash from many with church-state separation concerns, and eventually an Air Force statement (which the Pentagon press secretary sent directly to Defense One) says that "there is no official religious or other sacred text, nor is there any requirement for a member to use any sacred or religious text, during swearing-in ceremonies." Read on, here.
Scoop on war powers: A small group of bipartisan House members has been meeting quietly to come up with language that “clarifies” Congress’s responsibilities when it comes to war, Katie Bo Williams reports. Rep. Tom Reed, R-New York, chairman of the Problem Solvers’ Caucus, which is a real thing, says in the wake of the Soleimani killing the time is “ripe for us to get together and say, this is what we mean as Congress, and this is what the presidency has, and how do we comply with the rules.” Critics are unimpressed, but even though some caucus members supported this recent strike, Reed said, “Congress needs to do its job.”
Meanwhile in the Senate. The new support of Maine Sen. Susan Collins appears to give Democrats enough votes to pass a war powers resolution limiting President Trump’s ability to go to war with Iran, the WSJ reported Tuesday evening. The bill concerned is “an amended version of legislation written by Sen. Tim Kaine (D., Va.), [which] directs Mr. Trump to end the use of military force against Iran unless such action is authorized by Congress.” And just in case you were curious, “It doesn’t prevent the U.S. from defending itself against an imminent attack.”
As things stand, four GOP senators (Collins plus Rand Paul of Kentucky, Mike Lee of Utah, and Todd Young of Indiana) “each have said they would support the updated version of Mr. Kaine’s legislation, giving it majority support if every Democrat votes for it. Several other Senate Republicans have said they are still considering the measure.” More here.
Ahead of POTUS45’s impeachment trial in the Senate, the “House Intelligence Committee quietly released a new batch of impeachment inquiry evidence Tuesday evening: documents provided by Rudy Giuliani’s fixer for Ukraine, Lev Parnas,” Vox reported.
- Reuters’ headline: “Democrats add last-minute evidence to Trump impeachment case before Senate trial”
The Parnas revelations include apparent surveillance of a U.S. ambassador. That’s according to Parnas messages with Giuliani “before the removal of Marie Yovanovitch, who was the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine,” AP reports. In those communications, “A man named Robert F. Hyde disparaged Yovanovitch in messages to Parnas and gave him updates on her location and cell phone use, raising questions about possible surveillance.”
And finally today: Russia’s government just resigned to let Putin change the constitution — allowing him to very possibly stay in power after his fourth presidential term ends in 2024, Reuters reports from Moscow.
What’s going on: "under the current constitution, which bans anyone from serving more than two successive presidential terms, Putin is barred from immediately running again," Reuters writes. However, "Putin told the country’s political elite in his annual state-of-the-nation speech on Wednesday that he favored changing the constitution to hand the State Duma, the lower house of parliament, the power to choose Russia’s prime minister and other key positions." In this way, Putin could "assum[e] an enhanced role as prime minister after he steps down [as president] in 2024."
Within minutes of Putin asking, Reuters reported “Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev said on Wednesday that his government was resigning to give President Vladimir Putin room to carry out the changes he wants to make to the constitution.” Medvedev now moves over as “deputy head of Russia’s Security Council, which Putin chairs.”
In Medvedev’s place: Unclear, but “Possible candidates include Sergei Sobyanin, the mayor of Moscow, Maxim Oreshkin, the economy minister, or Alexander Novak, the energy minister.” Tiny bit more to this developing story, here.