Kamala Harris on national security; Belarus crackdown; Seoul funds an aircraft carrier; That Russian vaccine; and a bit more….
It’s Kamala. Joe Biden chose his primary challenger California Sen. Kamala Harris as his running mate for the vice presidency, on Tuesday, in case you were on the moon and missed it.
Harris on (the secretary of) defense. Despite holding seats on the Senate Intelligence and Homeland Security Committees, Harris is not known as a prominent voice on national security issues, which is likely one reason why she was chosen. However, she is known for her unflinching standoffs with Trump officials, and just like her notable faceoff with Attorney General Bill Barr, Harris has been a harsh overseer of Defense Secretary Mark Esper’s performance. She is one of several 2020 candidate-senators who voted against Mark Esper’s confirmation as defense secretary, citing his former work inside the defense industry. Harris then signed on to an April letter from senators blasting Esper’s COVID-19 response. And in July she said Esper “demeaned himself” and the office of the defense secretary by “playing cutesy games with words” in his congressional testimony about the Russian bounty story, this summer. “It really was offensive to the American public to play that kind of game. A child could recognize what he’s doing.”
Harris on defense spending. In July, when Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders introduced an amendment to the defense authorization bill to cut 10 percent off the Pentagon’s budget — a ‘defund the Pentagon’ effort — she voted against it, saying, “I unequivocally agree with the goal of reducing the defense budget and redirecting funding to communities in need, but it must be done strategically.” She said she hoped “future efforts will more specifically address these complicated issues and earn my enthusiastic support.”
Harris on other issues. In a 2019 questionnaire for the Council on Foreign Relations, Harris took several stances that are clearly designed as departures from Trump, but not very dramatically. On North Korea, she said she would consider sanctions relief and criticizes U.S. demands of denuclearization as ineffective. She would have the U.S. rejoin the Iran Deal, if Iran agrees to verifiable inspections. On Afghanistan, she promised as a presidential candidate to bring home U.S. troops “responsibly” in her first term. On Africa, she promised to renew diplomatic engagements she claims Trump has let wither, and “deepen security engagements.”
One issue to watch is Saudi Arabia. Harris has been strongly critical of the regime, calling for an end of U.S. support for the war in Yemen, which would be in opposition to what U.S. military leaders had recommended, at the time. She’s also voted to end U.S. arms sales to Saudi Arabia. “We need to fundamentally reevaluate our relationship with Saudi Arabia,” she said, last year. Getting tough-on-Saudis was popular among liberals in the wake of the Jamal Khashoggi murder, but few U.S. military leaders likely would favor scrapping strategically beneficial relationships entirely. Harris won’t be in charge of relationships like this, but she is channeling what the left wants on this one more than Biden.
India approves. Harris is the daughter of an Indian woman, her mother Shyamala Gopalan Harris emigrated to Berkeley in 1958. Harris’s family is quite the American story, and undoubtedly impacts the senator’s foreign policy views. If you haven’t read up, try this WSJ story on India’s reaction, or this NYT piece on growing up in two worlds.
The big picture. Ultimately, Harris’s worldview seems to line up right where Biden is aiming, with his pledge to renew the U.S.-led global community with a summit of democracies. “The greatest U.S. foreign policy accomplishment has been the post-war community of international institutions, laws, and democratic nations we helped to build,” she wrote last year. That’s a clear shot at Trump and his disrespect to allies and deliberate dismantling of that system, which he argues has been a bad deal for American, especially economically.
From Defense One
Why The Future of Belarus Matters to the United States // Patrick Tucker: The protests and violent crackdown in Minsk will reshape Russian and Western decision-making for years.
“. . . All Enemies, Foreign and Domestic”: An Open Letter to Gen. Milley // John Nagl and Paul Yingling: If the commander in chief attempts to ignore the election’s results, you will face a choice.
Nine Reasons Congress Should Nix the Air Force’s F-15EX Purchase // John Venable: None of the service's proffered explanations stands up to analysis.
Pentagon Wants More Time to Review JEDI Cloud Contract Bids // Frank R. Konkel, Nextgov: The Defense Department says it wants to further discuss Microsoft’s and Amazon Web Services’ pricing.
Welcome to this Wednesday edition of The D Brief from Bradley Peniston and Kevin Baron. Send us tips from your community right here. On this day in history, King Philip’s War ended in 1676. What’s that? After 50 years of relative peace with the Indians in Plymouth, Mass., well, Native American tribes had enough and the chief of the Wampanoag tribe fought back. It didn’t end well. “Philip was assassinated at Mount Hope by a Native American in the service of the English. The English drew and quartered Philip’s body and publicly displayed his head on a stake in Plymouth.” Read about it, here. And if you’re not already subscribed to The D Brief, you can do that here.
“Maximum pressure” after blast. The U.S. is preparing to levy sanctions on Hezbollah-linked politicians in Lebanon, reports the Wall Street Journal’s Dion Nissenbaum from Beirut, along with Ian Talley and Benoit Faucon, in this exclusive. “U.S. officials see an opportunity to drive a wedge between Hezbollah and its allies as part of a broader effort to contain the Shiite force backed by Tehran.”
Experts cast doubt, and express worry, about Russia’s COVID vaccine claims. “Vaccines are among the safest medical products in the world — but only because of the intense rigor of the clinical trials that test their safety and effectiveness” writes the New York Times — and it appears that the vaccine Russian leader Vladimir Putin touted on Tuesday lacks the vast majority of testing that would prove it safe and effective.
Fauci: “Having a vaccine and proving that a vaccine is safe and effective are two different things," the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases said during a panel discussion with National Geographic. He said that “I seriously doubt” that they've done the latter.
“This is all beyond stupid,” said John Moore, a virologist at Weill Cornell Medical College in New York City, told the NYT. “Putin doesn’t have a vaccine, he’s just making a political statement.”
In the States: at least 1,450 Americans died of the coronavirus on Tuesday, bringing the 7-day average to 1,024 and the known total past 164,000, per the NYT’s tracker.
Belarus anti-Putin candidate on the run. Opposition candidate Svetlana Tikhanovskaya fled her country (or was made to leave) in a stunning series of events since Sunday’s presidential election turned into chaos. Tikhanovskaya, 37, was “pressured to depart for Lithuania by the Belarusian authorities, two of her associates said,” per the NYT. “In a video released Tuesday that she appeared to have recorded under duress, Ms. Tikhanovskaya read from a prepared text calling on Belarusians not to resist the police or to protest in public squares in order “not to put your lives at risk.”...“I made this decision absolutely independently,” Ms. Tikhanovskaya said in another cryptic video message on Tuesday,” the NYT reports.
That second video was “apparently filmed when she was held in Minsk,” reports the BBC, who said its news crew covering anti-government protests was attacked by unmarked law enforcement officers wearing militarized gear. Sound familiar? “They say two of the officials beat up the cameraman and tried to break the equipment.”
Read more about why Vladimir Putin controls Belarus’s military and backs President Alexander Lukashenko’s endless rule, and what it means for the United States and NATO’s ability to defend against Russian aggression in this good report by Defense One’s Patrick Tucker.
Pompeo to Czechs: Russia bad, China worse. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s European tour stopped in the former Soviet bloc country on Tuesday, where he warned the Senate about Russian election meddling and his favorite theme: the Chinese Communist Party. Per the Associated Press: “Russia continues to seek to undermine your democracy, your security through disinformation campaigns and through cyberattacks,” he said. “It’s even tried to rewrite your history.” Pompeo, however, said that “even more of a threat is the Chinese Communist Party and its campaigns of coercion and control.
On Belarus, he said, “We want them to have freedom in the same way that people do across the world.”
Lastly today: South Korea slates funds for an aircraft carrier. Last year, the Republic of Korea military approved plans to build a medium-sized carrier. This week, the government formally announced its intention to fund the billion-dollar project in its national plan for 2021-25, CNN reports.
Defense Ministry release: "The 30,000-ton level aircraft carrier can transport military forces, equipment and materials and can operate fighter jets that are capable of vertical take-off and landing."