FAST-RISING STAKES: With the U.S. and North Korea trading increasingly dire threats of military action, we have entered a dangerous period of brinkmanship, where unless one side blinks, the prospect of war by miscalculation grows. President Trump yesterday essentially dared North Korean leader Kim Jong Un to carry out the rogue regime’s announced plan to send four missiles into the waters near the U.S. island territory of Guam by next week, and promised a punishing response by the U.S.
“Let’s see what he does with Guam. If he does something in Guam, it will be an event the likes of which nobody’s seen before, what will happen in North Korea,” Trump told reporters in a wide-ranging, free-flowing news conference at his Bedminster, N.J., country club yesterday. “You’ll see. You’ll see. And he’ll see. He will see.”
When a reporter asked, “Is that a dare?” Trump replied that it’s a statement. “He’s not going to go around threatening Guam. And he’s not going to threaten the United States. And he’s not going to threaten Japan. And he’s not going to threaten South Korea. No, that’s not a dare, as you say. That is a statement of fact.”
FIRE AND FURY, PART 2: North Korea has dismissed Trump’s Wednesday vow to unleash “fire and fury like the world has never seen,” as “load of nonsense” and called the U.S. president “bereft of reason.” That prompted Trump to opine that perhaps his bellicose threat was too wimpy. “It’s the first time they’ve heard it like they heard it. And frankly, the people that were questioning that statement, was it too tough? Maybe it wasn’t tough enough,” Trump said in the first of his two engagements with reporters. “It’s about time that somebody stuck up for the people of this country and for the people of other countries. So, if anything, maybe that statement wasn’t tough enough.”
MATTIS’ TOUGH TALK: “Do I have military options? Of course I do,” Defense Secretary Jim Mattistold reporters traveling with him to the West Coast yesterday. “And of course, there’s a military solution.” But Mattis said he wanted to be “loud and clear,” that for now, “we want to use diplomacy. That’s where we’ve been, that’s where we are right now, and that’s where we hope to remain.”
Mattis said “my portfolio, my mission, my responsibility, is to have military options should they be needed,” but repeated again that war with North Korea could result in human suffering on a scale not seen since World War II. “The tragedy of war is well enough known; it doesn’t need another characterization, beyond the fact that it would be catastrophic,” Mattis said. Asked directly about Trump’s “fire and fury” remark, Mattis said, “The rhetoric is up to the president. This is my rhetoric.”
NOT BLUFFING: Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham said the president told him he is “willing” to launch a pre-emptive strike on North Korea, if it that what it will take to ensure Pyongyang cannot strike a U.S. city with a nuclear weapon. Graham told conservative talk show host Hugh Hewitt that U.S. policy has “changed dramatically” under Trump. “We cannot allow the capability to mature in North Korea that could put every American sitting in the crosshairs of a nuclear attack by a very unstable, provocative leader of North Korea,” Graham said. “We’re going to deny that capability, and our policy has changed dramatically, and we’re trying to make sure that our allies and our enemies know that.” Graham added he wants Congress to vote to authorize the use of military force against North Korea, even though he believes Trump doesn’t need the permission.
FOLLY OR LUNACY: In a New York Times op-ed, former Obama national security adviser Susan Rice argued it’s time for the U.S. to admit it has failed to prevent North Korea from becoming a nuclear power and should instead rely on traditional deterrence to prevent Kim Jong Un from ever using his nukes. “Kim is vicious and impetuous, but not irrational. Thus, while we quietly continue to refine our military options, we can rely on traditional deterrence by making crystal clear that any use of nuclear weapons against the United States or its allies would result in annihilation of North Korea,” she wrote.
She said the president’s unscripted “fire and fury” language risks “tipping the Korean Peninsula into war,” if Kim, believes them and acts precipitously. “Either Mr. Trump is issuing an empty threat of nuclear war, which will further erode American credibility and deterrence, or he actually intends war next time Mr. Kim behaves provocatively. The first scenario is folly, but a United States decision to start a pre-emptive war on the Korean Peninsula, in the absence of an imminent threat, would be lunacy.”
14 MINUTES TO GUAM: A local official in Guam said it would take just 14 minutes for missiles fired from North Korea to reach the U.S. territory. Jenna Gaminde, spokeswoman for Guam Homeland Security, told the Pacific Daily News if North Korea fired missiles at Guam, 15 All-Hazards Alert Warning System sirens would sound to warn residents. “Our office will be notified from the military and will utilize all forms of mass communication to get the message out to the public,” Gaminde said. “If you hear sirens, tune into local media – radio, print, television – for further instructions.”
Meanwhile, with Guam in the crosshairs, independence advocates on the island say the idea of breaking free from the U.S. seems to be gaining traction. By their own admission, independence historically has been the least popular of three options debated among residents of the approximately 160,000-person territory, which was acquired by the U.S. from Spain in 1898. But independence advocates say support has increased dramatically in the past year.
“I’ve found that the past day and a half have been so fruitful with people wrestling with these issues,” said independence advocate Michael Bevacqua, a professor of Chamorro studies at the University of Guam. “A lot of the feelings of anxiety and fear on Guam are tied to Donald Trump and his impulsive approach,” he said. “In the past, we would hear this grandiose reality-detached rhetoric out of North Korea, but now in the past few days when North Korea said something aggressive, Donald Trump responded with something even more aggressive.”
Good Friday morning and welcome to Jamie McIntyre’s Daily on Defense, compiled by Washington Examiner National Security Senior Writer Jamie McIntyre (@jamiejmcintyre) and National Security Writer Travis J. Tritten (@travis_tritten). Senior Editor David Brown (@dave_brown24) is off this week. Email us here for tips, suggestions, calendar items and anything else. If a friend sent this to you and you’d like to sign up, click here. If signing up doesn’t work, shoot us an email and we’ll add you to our list. And be sure to follow us on Twitter @dailyondefense.
HAPPENING TODAY: Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Joseph Dunford is traveling in the Asia-Pacific region today, and is expected to discuss the North Korean situation with his counterparts in South Korea and Japan.
MATTIS EMBRACES DIUx: Mattis wraps up his West Coast trip today, but while in California he gave an effusive endorsement of the Pentagon’s DIUx (Defense Innovation Unit Experimental) program, a pet project of his predecessor Ash Carter, which many feared might be shut down under the Trump administration. “There is no doubt in my mind that DIUx will not only continue to exist, it will actually grow in its influence and its impact on the Department of Defense,” Mattis said during a stop in Silicon Valley, adding you don’t want to “have bad processes eat up good peoples’ ideas.”
The DIUx office is charged with finding ways to get cutting edge technology and innovation in the private sector into the hands of the war fighter. Mattis noted he used to live in the neighborhood. “Having lived for three years on Sand Hill Road, after I got off active duty, I was keenly aware of the energy, the intellectual rigor, the unregimented, but in many ways very disciplined problem solving that was going in to harnessing new technology.”
MATTIS AT AMAZON: Mattis also dropped in on Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos at his Seattle headquarters. Amazon has been a frequent target of criticism by Trump, because Bezos owns the Washington Post. “A pleasure to host #SecDef James Mattis at Amazon HQ in Seattle today,” Bezos tweeted on Thursday.
MCCAIN’S AFGHAN STRATEGY: After weeks of warnings, Sen. John McCain followed through on his promise to fill the void and write his own strategy to begin winning in Afghanistan. McCain yesterday released an outline of the strategy, in the form of an amendment to the Senate version of the National Defense Authorization Act, or NDAA. McCain’s plan would increase U.S. forces and use of airpower in Afghanistan and force a new strategy on the Trump administration.
The proposed amendment also increases troops for counterterrorism operations and calls for an agreement with Afghanistan to keep an enduring U.S. counterterrorism presence in the country. U.S. military trainers and advisers would be embedded at the battalion level of every Afghan army corps. It does not specify the number of additional U.S. troops who would be deployed in the nearly 16-year-old conflict. The measure is expected to be debated and amended on the floor of the Senate in September.
TRUMP SAYS ‘WE’RE GETTING CLOSE’: McCain’s frustration boiled over after seven months of asking Mattis for the strategy and not getting it. But yesterday Trump said he’s “very close” to deciding what to do. “It’s a very big decision for me. I took over a mess. And we’re going to make it a lot less messy.” Trump is under pressure from some of his advisers to cut American losses, by replacing U.S. troops with private contractors, which the Pentagon opposes. “It’s going to be a decision that’s going to be made very soon,” Trump said.
The president, by the way, keeps referring to the America’s longest war as one that has been going on for 17 years. The first U.S. troops went into Afghanistan in October of 2001, a month after the Sept. 11 attacks. Oct. 7, 2017, will be the 16th anniversary of what was then called Operation Enduring Freedom.
TRANSGENDER BAN A ‘FAVOR’: At his New Jersey news conference, the president also said at he is doing the military a “great favor” by moving to ban transgender people from serving. “As you know, it’s been a very complicated issue for the military, it’s been a very confusing issue for the military, and I think I’m doing the military a great favor,” Trump told reporters. On July 26, Trump declared on Twitter that the U.S. “will not accept or allow transgender individuals to serve in any capacity in the U.S. Military.” Pentagon officials have said they will not move to implement the ban until they get a formal policy directive from the president.
On Wednesday, five transgender people serving in the U.S. military sued Trump and top Pentagon officials over the planned ban. Despite widespread criticism of his decision, the president asserted he still enjoys the support of the transgender community. “I have great respect for the community,” Trump said. “I think I’ve had great support, or I’ve had great support from that community. I got a lot of votes. But the transgender, the military’s working on it now. … It’s been a very difficult situation, and I think I’m doing a lot of people a favor by coming out and just saying it.”
NO MANNING MEA CULPA: Former Army Pvt. Chelsea Manning indicated no regrets for leaking thousands of pages of classified national security documents, and said in an interview with Vogue that using official whistleblower channels doesn’t work anymore for government officials. Vogue has published a lengthy interview with Manning, the transgender Army intelligence analyst formerly known as Bradley Manning.
Reporter Nathan Heller asked if Manning had any regrets for leaking the information, which earned him a 35-year prison sentence. “Twice during our conversations, and in slightly different ways, I ask Manning what she regrets from the period when she was living as Specialist Bradley Manning,” Heller wrote. “Her leaking of state secrets doesn’t appear on the list, although that decision remains the most publicly controversial of her life, earning her accusations of treason and reckless endangerment,” Heller added. “I think it’s important to remember that when somebody sees government wrongdoing – whether it’s illegal or immoral or unethical – there isn’t the means available to do something about it,” Manning told Heller. “Everyone keeps saying, You should have gone through the proper channels! But the proper channels don’t work.”
BILLIONS FOR MISSILE SHIELD: Trump said yesterday his administration hopes to boost spending on missile defense by “many of billions of dollars” to deal with the threat of a nuclear-armed North Korea. “We’re going to be increasing our budget by many billions of dollars because of North Korea and other reasons having to do with the anti-missile [defense system],” Trump told reporters after a security briefing with his team. “As you know, we reduced it by 5 percent but I’ve decided I don’t want that,” he continued. “We’re going to be increasing the anti-missile by a substantial number of billions.” The president’s comments come weeks after Mattis told a House panel that Pentagon officials would need to complete a study on U.S. missile defense before the administration could request additional funding from Congress.
STATE OF OUR NUKES: Trump repeated his unsubstantiated claim yesterday that he has somehow modernized the U.S. nuclear arsenal in his first six months without spending a dime. Trump said his first order to his generals was to make the arsenal the biggest and the finest in the world.” Despite the fact there has been no new money appropriated, and no new programs initiated, Trump said, “We’ve spent a lot of money and a lot of time and a lot of effort. And it’s in tip-top shape, and getting better, and getting stronger.”
Questioned about how that could be possible, given the current modernization program is expected to take 30 years, and cost $1 trillion, Trump said, “We’ve done a lot of modernization, but we’ve done a lot of renovation. And we have it, now, in very, very good shape, and it will be in much better shape over the next six months to a year.”
When we asked the Pentagon to confirm that Trump’s first order to his generals was to modernize the nuclear forces, a DoD spokesperson referred us to the White House. When a reporter traveling with Mattis asked him to explain what improvements the president might be talking about Mattis deflected what he called “a very legitimate question,” with a short response. “No, I don’t think I want to tell the adversary what we’ve done,” Mattis said adding that reviews of both nuclear strategy and missile defense are underway. “We are reviewing our nuclear posture right now. Obviously, we’re reviewing our ballistic missile defense.” He said, “You know that’s going on. We’ve been very open about it.”
THANKS, VLAD! It was hard to tell if Trump was joking when he thanked Russian PresidentVladimir Putin yesterday for expelling more than 700 U.S. diplomats and staff from Russia. “I want to thank him because we’re trying to cut down our payroll and as far as I’m concerned I’m very thankful that he let go of a large number of people because now we have a smaller payroll,” Trump told reporters. He added, “There’s no real reason for them to go back. I greatly appreciate the fact that we’ve been able to cut our payroll of the United States. We’re going to save a lot of money.”
Of course, unless he fires the 755 U.S. diplomats and technical personnel it won’t be saving any money at all. The comment appeared to be an attempt to tell Putin the U.S. was unhurt by Moscow’s retaliation for new sanctions passed by Congress and grudgingly signed by President Trump.
NORTH KOREAN WORKERS: The Trump administration is asking U.S. allies to cut back on the number of North Korean workers allowed to work in their countries, in a bid to starve North Korea of money it uses to fund its weapons program. That includes Kuwait, which reportedly has so far resisted pressure to reduce its North Korean work force.
State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert confirmed that the U.S. request is designed to press Pyongyang for all sides. “A big part of our pressure campaign, as many of you know, has been saying to those countries – through a series of bilateral meetings that Secretary Tillerson here at the State Department has had with many of his counterparts – asking other nations to reduce the number of North Korean guest workers,” she said.
OUT OF HIS LANE?: Presidential deputy assistant Sebastian Gorka is labeling “fake news 101” reports that he dissed Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on the BBC yesterday, but suggesting America’s top diplomat should stick to his lane, and not discuss military options. “I said for reporters to force our chief diplomat, the amazing Rex Tillerson, to give details of military options is nonsensical. He is the secretary of state. That means you don’t understand what the words secretaries of state means. It’s fake news, classic example,” Gorka told Fox News yesterday.
For the record here’s the quote from the BBC interview: “You should listen to the president. The idea that Secretary Tillerson is going to discuss military matters is simply nonsensical. The job of Secretary Mattis, secretary of defense, to talk about the military options. And he has done so unequivocally. Today he said woe betide anyone who military challenges the U.S. Secretary Tillerson is the chief diplomat of the United States and it is his portfolio to handle those issues.”
Politico: Trump’s indecision on Afghanistan leaves generals in lurch
DefenseTech: U.S. can intercept North Korean missiles, general says
Task and Purpose: The Navy’s first female SEAL officer applicant just dropped out
Defense News: DIUx reports surge in pilot program funding
Washington Post: This is what a day with the Afghan air force looks like
New York Times: Kim Jong Un’s approach: Missiles, purges, propaganda
CNN.com: US destroyer in South China Sea called ‘provocation’ by Beijing
Reuters: Tokyo does not own the sea Of Japan, China’s Air Force chief says
War on the Rocks: A deadly delusion: Were Syria’s rebels ever going to defeat the jihadists?
USNI News: USS John S. McCain conducts South China Sea freedom of navigation operation past mischief reef; 3rd South China Sea FONOp this year
Wall Street Journal: North Korea and Trump leave Beijing with few options
Navy Times: New SECNAV speaks about a 355-ship Navy and transgender service
DoD Buzz: Check out these photos of a crippled F/A-18 Hornet that flew home
FRIDAY | AUG. 11
8 a.m. 300 1st St. SE. Middle East missile realities discussion with Uzi Rubin, former director of the Israeli Missile Defense Organization. mitchellaerospacepower.org
1:30 p.m. 214 Massachusetts Ave. NE. The future of U.S.-Taiwan relations in new administrations. heritage.org
TUESDAY | AUG. 15
1 p.m. 1000 Massachusetts Ave. NW. CatoConnects: A peek into North Korea. cato.org
WEDNESDAY | AUG. 16
8 a.m. 1201 M St. SE. NDIA Systems Engineering Division meeting. ndia.org
8:30 a.m. 2121 Crystal Dr. Trusted micro electronics workshop. ndia.org