Good morning, Legionnaires and veterans advocates, today is Tuesday, October 23, 2018, which is National Canning Day, Swallows Depart from San Juan Capistrano Day, and TV Talk Show Host Day.
Today in History:
- 1983: A suicide bomber drives a truck packed with explosives into the U.S. Marine barracks in Beirut, killing 241 U.S. military personnel. That same morning, 58 French soldiers were killed in their barracks two miles away in a separate suicide terrorist attack. The U.S. Marines were part of a multinational force sent to Lebanon in August 1982 to oversee the Palestinian withdrawal from Lebanon. From its inception, the mission was plagued with problems–and a mounting body count.
- 1855: In opposition to the fraudulently elected pro-slavery legislature of Kansas, the Kansas Free State forces set up a governor and legislature under their Topeka Constitution, a document that outlaws slavery in the territory.
- On this day in 1864, Confederate General Sterling Price’s raid on Missouri nearly turns into disaster when his army is pinned between two Union forces at Westport, Missouri, near Kansas City. Although outnumbered, Price’s forces managed to slip safely away after the Battle of Westport, which was the biggest conflict west of the Mississippi River.
TABLE OF CONTENTS:
- Stars and Stripes: mseaveywith “Remove” in the subject line. If you have received this from someone who forwarded it and would like to be added, email mseavey.
Stars and Stripes:Democrats armed with new plans for the military ahead of midterms
By CLAUDIA GRISALES | STARS AND STRIPES | Published: October 22, 2018
WASHINGTON — The fate of an ongoing military buildup, war oversight and decisions on who can enlist will rest in the hands of voters come November.
With hundreds of congressional seats contested in the midterm elections, control of the House — and maybe the Senate — could switch from Republicans to Democrats in January.
Democratic lawmakers poised to gain leadership roles in such a scenario say while some things will remain the same, new initiatives could gain priority.
“Two things: Donald Trump is still going to be president, and defense policy has always been a reasonably bipartisan issue,” said Washington Rep. Adam Smith, the ranking Democrat for the House Armed Services Committee, who could lead the committee if his party flips the lower chamber. “I think the biggest difference will probably be more oversight. … We’re not clear exactly where this administration is going with the military.”
Under Trump’s administration, Democrats have raised concerns about runaway federal spending fueling spikes in the U.S. deficit, the military’s role in the civil wars in Yemen and Syria, efforts to build up so-called “low-yield” nukes and the president’s extensive – and some contend outdated – war powers.
Democrats have also objected to a Trump campaign to install new restrictions on who can serve, from efforts to ban transgender troops to new obstacles for immigrant recruits.
Democrats “clearly feel passionate about this and they intend to make them issues,” said Kurt Couchman, vice president of public policy at Defense Priorities, a right-leaning Washington, D.C., think tank. “They really do have the possibility of elevating the issues (Democrats and Republicans) can agree on.”
In recent months, several polls have shown Democrats could win a majority of the House, and in some remote cases, the Senate, if a “blue wave” overtakes the Nov. 6 elections. All 435 seats in the House and 35 of the Senate’s 100 seats are up for grabs.
For example, a recent Washington Post-ABC poll projected voters prefer the Democratic candidate over their Republican opponent in their districts 53 to 42 percent. This, as opinion-poll analysis website FiveThirtyEight.com gives the House an 86 percent chance of flipping to Democratic control, while Republicans have a 78.4 percent chance of retaining the Senate.
Key committees hang in the balance
There’s plenty at stake for the military and its servicemembers.
If Democrats capture control of either chamber, they would take over leadership of key committees, such as the House or Senate Armed Services Committee, that shape policy and spending at the Pentagon.
“Changing the person at the top of the committee can have consequences for what the committee’s priorities are, even if it’s a person in the same party,” said Molly Reynolds, a governance studies fellow at The Brookings Institution, a left-leaning Washington think tank.
For example, Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., took over as chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee after the death of Arizona Republican Sen. John McCain in August. McCain was often at odds with Trump, at times holding up Pentagon nominees, while Inhofe has remained a loyal stalwart and is largely supportive of Trump and his efforts.
However, Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., the ranking Democrat on the Senate Armed Services Committee, said there will still be plenty of continuity on defense matters even if Democrats take control. He pointed to support for the National Defense Authorization Act, or NDAA, the legislation that dictates Pentagon policies and spending.
“The last year, the votes in both chambers were overwhelming bipartisan,” Reed said. “So, I don’t think they shift dramatically because the same leadership that was behind the support of the issues — the NDAA — would be in the leadership in the House and the Senate next year.”
New Congress, new budget woes
While Reed doesn’t see as much of a shift in military policies if Democrats move into positions of power, he does see a struggle over so-called sequestration – automatic, across-the-board budget cuts.
“The key issue is sequestration,” he said. “We have priorities. We have to have money for them. And that’s where the battle will be.”
Lawmakers will have their hands full when a new Congress launches next year. They will need to address spending caps slated to return for the 2020 fiscal year under the Budget Control Act, or BCA.
The Budget Control Act of 2011 installed spending limits for defense and non-defense spending until 2021. In February, lawmakers reached a two-year deal to lift spending caps to approve defense budgets of $700 billion for fiscal year 2018 and $716 billion for fiscal year 2019, which began Oct. 1.
Now, spending caps are slated to return for the 2020 fiscal year, which begins Oct. 1, 2019. If no deal is reached and budget caps are exceeded, it raises the threat of sequestration. Past cuts have had a degrading effect on the military, Pentagon officials, defense hawks on Capitol Hill and experts have said.
“The biggest issue has to be what happens with the Budget Control Act,” Couchman said. “If the caps aren’t raised, then (the Defense Department) is going to have absorb billion-dollar spending cuts from fiscal year 2019 to fiscal year 2020. That is probably unlikely; Republicans and Democrats would likely get together again, but there is a small possibility.”
Reynolds, the Brookings fellow, agrees.
“One of the biggest things that Congress will have to tackle in the next Congress, regardless of who’s in control, is the need for another budget deal to deal with the fact that the BCA caps kick back in for… 2020,” she said.
The fiscal year 2019 defense spending cap was set at $647 billion before the February budget deal was reached, and would now fall to $576 billion for the 2020 fiscal year if no action is taken, Reynolds said.
“There will be significant demands to increase that number,” she said. And if past efforts are any indication, “Democrats will demand an equivalent increase in the non-defense caps to go along with it.”
As far as the defense budget, Democrats have said now isn’t the time to go on a spending spree for “low-yield” nukes and other Trump-driven efforts.
In September, a group of Senate and House Democratic lawmakers introduced legislation to ban “low-yield” nuclear weapons, which they contend increase the chance of war. The United States is on track to spend more than $1.2 trillion in the next 30 years just to modernize and maintain its current nuclear arsenal, the lawmakers argued.
There’s also Democratic opposition to a Trump-driven plan to create a costly branch of the military called the Space Force to address defense for space-based endeavors. The move would cost about $13 billion for 10 years, Reed said.
“Space Force, to me, would be not the most effective way to deal with these issues,” Reed recently told reporters during a breakfast meeting at a Washington hotel. “Perhaps the model is not a Space Force, but something along the lines of Cyber Command, where you don’t have a special service, but what you have is a unified effort by all the services.”
New military priorities
Democrats have also raised concerns over the lack of oversight in certain military operations, such as the U.S. strikes on Syria in April or the deadly November 2017 attack in Niger, West Africa, that left four soldiers dead.
“With the [former President Barack] Obama administration, there was a rigor to their decisions,” Smith said. “There seems not to be a similar rigor with the Trump administration.”
Some Democrats have pushed legislation to increase that oversight with legislation revamping the president’s war powers. Trump and his predecessors have operated off the authority to use military force, or AUMF, issued in response to the 9/11 terrorist attacks in 2001 and 2002 when the United States went to war in Afghanistan and Iraq.
The AUMF gave the president wide-ranging authority to direct the military to fight terrorist groups such as al-Qaida, the Taliban and Islamic State around the world. Since that time, the military has operated under those war powers in more than a dozen countries.
The AUMF legislation has played a role in Democrats’ push to stop U.S. military support in Yemen and reassess military action in Syria and elsewhere.
Last month, a bipartisan group of more than a dozen House lawmakers, led by Democrats, introduced legislation to end U.S. military involvement in Yemen by reassessing the president’s war powers.
U.S. forces have provided support for Saudi Arabia and the Yemen government in their fight against Iran-backed Houthi rebels, which some lawmakers contend the military has not been given proper authority to do. The U.S. forces have assisted in coordinating, refueling and providing target guidance and intelligence to the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen.
“I don’t think [U.S. assistance to the Saudis] provides any controls over their behavior,” Reed said. “What it does is involve us in activities and actions that we can’t control and we have no knowledge of and that’s not a good position for us to be.”
And questions over U.S. support of Saudi Arabia have grown with the death of Washington Post contributor Jamal Khashoggi after the Virginia resident entered the Saudi consulate in Turkey this month.
Smith said Democrats also will be keen to address new Trump limits on who is eligible to serve in the military. Smith suggested discrimination has been driving efforts to block certain recruits to serve, including immigrants and transgender individuals.
Democrats can make “sure we don’t allow bigotry to get in the way of people serving the country,” Smith said.
Couchman said, despite the potential shifts in power on Capitol Hill, defense issues have historically drawn a bipartisan spirit that could continue in the new session regardless of who’s in charge.
But defense priorities will be set by the party in charge, nevertheless, he said.
“It depends on who thinks they have leverage. We will see where the political stars are aligned,” Couchman said. “Democrats seem to feel emboldened. But if Democrats don’t do as well as they think they will, that reduces their negotiating leverage. If Republicans do well, it bolsters them. Whoever does well has the upper hand in the negotiations.”
Defense News: Did the US botch its withdraw from the INF Treaty?
By: Daniel Cebul | 16 hours ago
WASHINGTON — U.S. President Donald Trump over the weekend announced at a campaign rally his intention to withdraw the country from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, an agreement between the U.S. and Russia to not field ground-launched missiles with ranges between 500 and 5,500 kilometers. The announcement drew applause from the treaty’s critics and disapproval from its advocates, but on a conference call hosted by the Atlantic Council on Monday, members from both parties agreed the way in which Trump announced his decision has further depreciated America’s standing on the world stage.
National security adviser John Bolton reportedly recommended to Trump that the U.S. withdraw from the treaty, and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis has said that “Russia must return to compliance with the INF Treaty, or the U.S. will need to respond to its cavalier disregard of the treaty’s specific limits."
If Russia is not abiding by the terms of the agreement, then it no longer is an arms control agreement, but unilateral restraint, so the argument goes. And Trump believes Russia has violated the terms of the treaty.
Richard Burt, the former U.S. chief negotiator of the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, a participant in the INF Treaty negotiations and a supporter of the deal, said it’s undeniable Russia has violated the treaty since at least 2014.
“The problem we now confront is the way the Trump administration has handled this,” Burt said on the conference call. “The overwhelming view of people, not only in the United States and Russia but around the world, will be that it was the United States that killed this treaty. The handling of this decision is just simply god awful.”
Gen. Philip Breedlove, former NATO supreme allied commander Europe, expressed dissatisfaction with the seemingly lack of consultation with U.S. allies.
“We cannot have this be seen as U.S. unilateralism, that would be the very worst," he said. "We have to take action, it needs to be in accordance and in coordination with our allies … we have to embrace Europe and move forward with Europe.”
Jim Miller, former undersecretary of defense for policy under President Barack Obama, agrees that Russia needs to face consequences for not complying with the INF treaty, but disagrees with the Trump administration’s process. “The rollout of this decision put the U.S. in the position of being the one that will have killed the treaty, and that will be detrimental to our ability to work not just with Russia or China, but our allies as well, and it will be detrimental to our ability to sustain the New START Treaty, which is even more in the U.S. interest than the INF treaty,” Miller said.
The New START Treaty, an agreement also between the U.S. and Russia, is meant to limit and reduce specific types of nuclear-armed missiles.
“Looking ahead, the New START treaty will be gone in 2021 unless it is extended,” Burt explained. “The INF failure and the failure to get into discussions about extending New START is a sign of the U.S. sleepwalking into a new nuclear arms race. This is going to have consequences for the U.S. and our allies that we haven’t thought through."
Some proponents of an INF withdraw discount the claim that the U.S. will be seen as responsible for discarding it. Frank Miller, former senior director for defense policy and arms control on the National Security Council and one of the architects of the 2018 Nuclear Posture Review, said that the INF Treaty is “dead because Russia killed it, they killed it deliberately."
"They made a decision in 2012-2013 at the highest levels to have a covert program to design, test and now deploy battalions of a prohibited system. And to argue [the treaty] still exists is to believe in unicorns,” Miller said, adding: “I would not have rolled it out this way.”
Defense One: Here’s The Pentagon’s Initial Plan For Creating a Space Force
BY MARCUS WEISGERBER | GLOBAL BUSINESS EDITOR | OCTOBER 22, 2018
The U.S. Space Force will include uniformed service members drawn from the Air Force, Navy and Army — but it is not expected to include the National Reconnaissance Office mission, according an internal draft of the Pentagon’s plan to create a sixth branch of the military.
Defense One reviewed a copy of the 13-page document, which will be further developed in coming months before the Pentagon sends it to Congress in February along with its 2020 budget request. This early draft provides a glimpse into a 21st-century approach to creating a new service branch, an endeavor not undertaken since 1947. Among other things, it reveals divergent views among senior Pentagon officials about how to structure it.
For example, the document says the Space Force will not “include the transfer of [the] strategic intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance mission of the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO). But the Space Force and the National Reconnaissance Office will be integrated through …NOTE FURTHER INPUT HERE LATER REGARDING DOD/IC integration.” Note that in a Sept. 14 memo to Secretary Patrick Shanahan, Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson Deputy Defense recommended including NRO in the Space Force.
The draft document calls for Space Force to absorb parts of Air Force Space Command, the Navy’s Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command, the Naval Satellite Operations Center, and the Army’s 1st Space Brigade.
The document says the installations and facilities where those units are based will remain part of their respective services until the Space Force “reaches an appropriate operating capacity.” There are six Air Force Space Command bases: three in Colorado, two in California and one in Florida. The Army’s 1st Space Brigade is based in Colorado. The Navy’s San Diego-based SPAWAR has facilities around the world. The Naval Satellite Operations Center is at Naval Air Station Point Mugu, California.
The existing military services would still “retain organic space capabilities uniquely designated to support that Service’s or organization’s mission,” the document says. “Additionally, each Service may retain a cadre of space experts that serve as liaisons to advocate for and potentially operate space-related capabilities unique to its respective domain.”
Among the Space Force’s missions: space situational advantage; battle management command and control of space forces; space lift and range operations; space support to nuclear command and control; missile warning; satellite communications and position, navigation and timing.
“The Space Force will only be responsible for those missions directly associated with joint space operations,” the document says.
Missions that “that are tangentially associated with space” — including nuclear intercontinental ballistic missiles, cyber operations and “the overall missile defense missions” — will not be part of the Space Force, at least initially.
“Inclusion of these missions into the Space Force may be reevaluated in the future, as necessary,” the document states.
Pentagon officials have stressed their desire not to add layers of bureaucracy. Wilson, in September, said an additional 13,000 people would be needed. The draft Space Force proposal mentions a “lean headquarters model,” but does not list any numbers.
However, the plan says that the new branch would have a secretary and chief of staff, who would be a member of the Joint Chiefs. It also talks of creating a Space National Guard and Space Force Reserve.
The plan talks of creating a “pilot program” to enable the Space Force “to acquire talent from the civilian market in a rapid manner for a defined period after which the individual would return to civilian life.”
The draft does not including funding estimates, but has placeholders for a budget proposal and a “Defense Space Strategy.” Wilson, in her proposal, said it would likely cost taxpayers an additional $13 billion over five years to create the Space Force. Defense budget analyst Todd Harrison, of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, called her take “the highest estimate I think you could possibly come up with.”
Earlier this month, Shanahan said Pentagon officials would be figuring out the Space Force budget in October and November.
Washington Post: Tiny U.S. base assumes outsize role in Trump’s Syria strategy
By Missy Ryan | October 22 at 7:43 PM
TANF BASE, Syria — To understand how the United States is countering Iran’s expansion across the Middle East, consider the outpost at Tanf.
This tiny garrison, a jumble of dirt-filled blast barriers and tents surrounded by the immense desert of southern Syria, was established to roll back the Islamic State’s once-vast domain.
But its strategic position along a highway linking the Syrian regime in Damascus to its backers in Tehran has made the base an unintended bulwark against Iranian influence in Syria and, now, a potential locus in White House plans to confront Iran’s reach across the region.
President Trump has vowed to make countering Iran’s support for allies and proxies across the region, from Lebanon to Yemen to Syria, a centerpiece of his Middle East strategy. Already he has slapped new economic sanctions on Iranian affiliates and pulled out of his predecessor’s nuclear deal.
Officials now say the United States will commit to remaining in Syria until Iranian forces depart, vowing to force an end to Tehran’s program of massive military and financial support that has helped Syrian President Bashar al-Assad reverse the course of the war.
Gen. Joseph Votel, who leads U.S. Central Command, described Tanf as a key element in the continuing military mission to extinguish the Islamic State and ensure the group cannot stage a comeback.
Speaking during a visit to the base Monday, he said it also had additional benefits in hindering Iran, as the U.S. presence there makes it harder for Tehran to build up its military presence in Syria and help the Assad regime claw back areas outside its control.
“There’s no denying that we have some kind of indirect effect on them,” Votel said.
That deterrent could strengthen the hand of U.S. officials as they launch a newly intensified bid, led by the State Department, to hammer out a political end to the war. “We are trying to provide leverage for our diplomats as they pursue their objectives,” he added during a visit that for the first time allowed members of the news media to access the remote installation.
The garrison, manned by several hundred foreign troops and a similarly sized force of Syrian fighters, illustrates how the United States has sought lower-risk means to counter Iran on the ground even as senior officials escalate a war of words and intensify economic and diplomatic pressure on Tehran.
The high stakes involved in the U.S. presence in southern Syria were apparent last year when American forces fired on Iranian-linked elements that approached within a 30-mile air and ground exclusion zone around the base. They also shot down two Iranian drones near the base, together marking U.S. forces’ most serious confrontation with Iranian-linked elements since they arrived in Syria in 2014.
But military officials have been reluctant to countenance any larger conflict with Iran as they seek to wind down the insurgent conflicts of the post-9/11 era and embrace a shift toward countering threats from Russia and China.
They are also wary of the costs of an escalation of rhetoric between Washington and Tehran. A network of proxy groups retain the power to unleash attacks on U.S. personnel in the region, as they did in Iraq after 2003.
Robert Ford, a former U.S. ambassador to Syria who is a fellow at the Middle East Institute, said the Syrian regime could counterattack by working with Islamist extremists as it did during Washington’s war in Iraq.
“The Americans have no clear response — bomb a military command in Damascus? Bomb a Syrian battalion deployed east of [the central city of] Homs?” he said.
A U.S. official said the Trump administration had committed to extending the military mission until it achieves a lasting defeat of the Islamic State. And while the White House now says the United States will remain in Syria until Iranian forces are gone, officials say the parallel anti-Iran mission may be diplomatic rather than military. The Pentagon has not been asked to take on Iran, which is thought to command a force of at least 10,000 fighters in Syria, including government soldiers and militiamen.
The ongoing U.S. presence at Tanf “demonstrates that the United States is not about leaving the Middle East in general or Syria in particular until we have a security situation that meets our needs and the needs of our allies — Jordan, Israel, Turkey and Iraq,” said the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to address internal strategy discussions.
Separately, diplomats saw a chance to energize U.N.-led political discussions that might stimulate the long, inconclusive effort to find peace in Syria.
At Tanf, the Islamic State army that once dominated this area is long gone. American troops lift weights amid rebar and rubble from buildings bombed during that period.
After the Islamic State was forced out in 2016, Syrian government troops and partner forces established a foothold. At first, American troops could spend only small amounts of time at the base, crossing into the country from Jordan. Over time, the United States established a larger, more robust presence.
Today the U.S. special operators and their Syrian partners see only sporadic militant activity, mostly from small groups of Islamic State fighters fleeing into Iraq. U.S. forces train their Syrian partners in marksmanship and other tactics, and sometimes join them on patrols through the stark, sparsely populated surroundings.
The troops are removed from the fight against the bulk of remaining Islamic State forces, which are dug in along the Euphrates River to the north. There, U.S. troops are working with a much larger force dominated by Syrian Kurds.
As the Assad government has consolidated its control over former rebel strongholds, Russia and Syria have escalated their demands that the United States withdraw from the garrison.
Last month, after Russia threatened to conduct counterterrorism strikes within the Tanf exclusion zone, the Pentagon sent a group of U.S. Marines to Tanf to do a live-fire show of force, a sign of officials’ concern about mounting tensions over the base.
As the Islamic State threat ebbed, some Iran hawks within the Trump administration wanted to expand the security bubble around Tanf, potentially even using the area to train forces to counter Assad and Iran more directly. But that idea, in keeping with the president’s aversion to being bogged down in new foreign wars, didn’t gain support.
Col. Muhannad al-Tala, who leads the Revolutionary Commando Army at Tanf, said his 300 fighters are chiefly focused on preventing an Islamic State comeback.
“But, of course, in this area we act to stop any group that presents a danger,” he said.