‘EVERYBODY LEAVES’: Defense Secretary Jim Mattis leaves on another overseas trip today to continue working on what has been one of his top priorities since accepting the job as President Trump's defense secretary — cementing U.S. alliances around the world. Mattis, a big believer in the value of having allies, is heading to Vietnam and then Singapore for a regional defense ministers meeting. So reporters traveling with him will have the first crack at asking Mattis directly about Trump’s cryptic comment in a “60 Minutes” interview that aired last night on CBS, in which the president suggested Mattis may be out of step with his administration and his days at the Pentagon could be coming to an end.
“I think he's sort of a Democrat, if you wanna know the truth,” Trump told Lesley Stahl. “But General Mattis is a good guy. We get along very well. He may leave. I mean, at some point, everybody leaves. Everybody. People leave. That's Washington.”
Trump is certainly right that “everybody leaves.” In fact, the last three defense secretaries, Ash Carter, Chuck Hagel and Leon Panetta, all served about two years for a variety of reasons. The six-year tenure of Donald Rumsfeld was an anomaly in the history of Pentagon chiefs, with most in the last few decades serving about four years. The exception being Les Aspin, who just made it past one year.
MATTIS A DEM? It’s not clear where Trump got his assessment that Mattis is “sort of a Democrat,” considering the former Marine commander has spent most of his life in uniform and has been assiduously apolitical. Even some of those closest to him don’t know if he’s registered with any political party, or if he even voted in the last election. Many senior officers believe it is their patriotic duty not to vote, lest there be any question about their loyalties to the current commander in chief. Recent examples include former Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey and retired Gen. David Petraeus. Notable non-voters in American history include some of our most storied military leaders George C. Marshall, Dwight D. Eisenhower, George S. Patton and Ulysses S. Grant.
Trump may be basing his opinion on Mattis’ moderate stance on some issues, such as his opposition to withdrawing from the Iran nuclear deal, his reluctance to rush to ban service by transgender troops, or his affinity for reassuring allies rather than rebuking them. You can pretty much bet that whatever Mattis tells reporters today, the message will that he’s not worried, that he enjoys a good relationship with the president, and he’s focused on doing the important work of rebuilding the U.S. military into a more lethal and capable force. In any event, Trump also seemed to indicate the timing of an eventual Mattis departure may depend on when Mattis is ready to go. Asked point blank if he is leaving, Trump said, “Well, I don't know. He hasn't told me that.”
CURIOUS DENIAL: Some have speculated that revelations in Bob Woodward’s book Fear: Trump in the White House may have soured Trump on his favorite retired general. In particular, the part where Mattis is alleged to have confided to close associates after a National Security Council meeting that Trump seems to have the understanding of “a fifth- or sixth-grader.” Or the Woodward anecdote that after Trump suggested it might be a good idea to take out Syrian President Bashar Assad, with the colorful quote, "Let's fucking kill him!” Mattis reportedly told a senior aide that “We're not going to do any of that. … We're going to be much more measured." Mattis has denied every making any contemptuous remarks about Trump.
But Stahl asked Trump about another quote in the book. “Is it true General Mattis said to you, the reason for NATO and the reason for all these alliances is to prevent World War III?” she asked. Trump replied, “No, it's not true.” Let’s just say if Mattis never told the Trump that, the president is probably the only one Mattis didn’t tell. Mattis is fond of saying that the only thing worse than going to war with allies, is going to war without them. Trump then added: “Frankly, I like General Mattis. I think I know more about it than he does. And I know more about it from the standpoint of fairness, that I can tell you.”
SIX MOMENTS FROM 60 MINUTES:
On the alleged murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi by Saudi Arabia:
“They deny it. They deny it every way you can imagine. In the not-too-distant future, I think we'll know an answer.
“There's a lot at stake. And maybe especially so because this man was a reporter. There's something — you'll be surprised to hear me say that. There's something really terrible and disgusting about that, if that were the case. So we're gonna have to see. We're going to get to the bottom of it and there will be severe punishment.”
On blocking arms sales to the Saudis:
“I tell you what I don't wanna do. Boeing, Lockheed, Raytheon, all these [companies]. I don't wanna hurt jobs. I don't wanna lose an order like that. There are other ways of punishing, to use a word that's a pretty harsh word, but it's true.”
On the criticism he’s not tough enough on Russian President Vladimir Putin:
“I think I'm very tough with him personally. I had a meeting with him. The two of us. It was a very tough meeting and it was a very good meeting.
“I'm the one that gave Ukraine offensive weapons and tank killers. Obama didn't. You know what he sent? He sent pillows and blankets. … He's the one that gave away a part of Ukraine.”
Asked, “Do you agree that Vladimir Putin is involved in assassinations? In poisonings?” Trump said “Probably he is, yeah. Probably. … But I rely on them, it's not in our country.”
On whether NATO has helped keep the peace for 70 years:
“You don't know that. You don't know that.”
On whether North Korean leader Kim Jong Un is sincere about denuclearization:
“He doesn't wanna go to war, and we don't wanna go to war, and he understands denuclearization and he's agreed to it. And you see that, he's agreed to it. No missiles.
“I do trust him, yeah, I trust him. That doesn't mean I can't be proven wrong. Well, first of all, if I didn't trust him, I wouldn't say that to you. Wouldn't I be foolish to tell you right here, on ‘60 Minutes.’ … But the fact is, I do trust him. But we'll see what happens.”
On his professed “love” for Kim who presides over a cruel kingdom of repression, gulags, starvation and public executions:
“That's just a figure of speech. … I know all these things. I mean — I'm not a baby. I know these things. Look, look. I like — I get along with him, OK?
“Let it be an embrace. Let it be whatever it is to get the job done. ... I get along with him really well. I have a good energy with him. I have a good chemistry with him. Look at the horrible threats that were made. No more threats. No more threats.”
Good Monday morning and welcome to Jamie McIntyre’s Daily on Defense, compiled by Washington Examiner National Security Senior Writer Jamie McIntyre (@jamiejmcintyre), National Security Writer Travis J. Tritten (@travis_tritten) and Senior Editor David Brown (@dave_brown24). 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: Trump plans to visit Florida and Georgia today and see for himself the extent of devastation from Hurricane Michael, which his Federal Emergency Management Agency chief Brock Long has called some of the worst he’s ever seen.
Clean up also continues today at Tyndall Air Force Base in the Florida panhandle, which suffered extensive damage after a direct hit from Michael last week. “Tyndall is totally devastated,” said Florida Sen. Bill Nelson after touring the base this weekend. “The older buildings will have to be razed and rebuilt. The newer structures on the base that have survived the monster storm will need substantial repairs.”
Yesterday, Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson, Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein and Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force Kaleth Wright visited the base to see how recovery operations are going.
“As we drove through the base and assessed the damage, it was clear that the hurricane’s toll was severe in places, especially around the Tyndall flightline,” said a joint statement issued by the Air Force last night. “We also looked into each of the hangars that housed aircraft which weathered the storm for maintenance or safety reasons. Visually, they were all intact and looked much better than expected considering the surrounding damage to some structures.”
As for fears the based could be closed, as was Homestead Air Force Base in South Florida after Hurricane Andrew in 1992, Nelson insisted that was not going to happen. “It is a vital component of our national defense,” he said, noting Tyndall is next to one of the world’s largest military testing and training grounds. “It will take time to recover but we’ve been through this before and our Airmen are up to the challenge,” said the Air Force statement. “We will be working detailed plans in the days ahead to tackle and overcome the challenges.”
FATE OF F-22s AT TYNDALL: Air Force F-22 Raptor fighter jets worth at least $143 million a plane (more than $300 million if you count all the costs of the truncated acquisition program) apiece may have been damaged the hurricane.
A squadron of the stealthy aircraft is based at Tyndall Air Force Base, which suffered catastrophic damage in the Category 4 storm on Wednesday. The Air Force confirmed Friday that not all of the aircraft at the base were evacuated beforehand. But after their tour yesterday, Wilson and company said it doesn't look as bad as initial reports indicated. “Damage was less than we feared and preliminary indications are promising,” they said in their statement. “Our maintenance professionals will do a detailed assessment of the F-22 Raptors and other aircraft before we can say with certainty that damaged aircraft can be repaired and sent back into the skies.”
SHOT ACROSS THE BOW: Rep. Mike Rogers, one of the driving forces behind creating the Space Force, told an Alabama newspaper that Wilson has gotten the message after she initially opposed the concept. Word subsequently leaked that Trump considered replacing Wilson for her supposed lack of enthusiasm, reports the Pentagon has denied.
“The White House found out she was working against it. It was a shot across the bow, and my name was part of the signal to her,” Rogers told Opelika-Auburn News. He said the secretary, who estimated the new service would cost $13 billion, will be more supportive from now on.
BRUNSON BRIGHTENS F-35 OUTLOOK: Key senators indicated Friday that Turkey’s release of U.S. pastor Andrew Brunson could help ease tensions that have threatened the sale of F-35 joint strike fighters to Ankara.
RYAN AND THORNBERRY ON AFGHANISTAN: After a two-day tour of Afghanistan last week, both House Speaker Paul Ryan and Rep. Mac Thornberry, the House Armed Services chairman, came back to the U.S. encouraged.
KOREA COMMANDER CONFIRMED: Before leaving town for the midterm elections, the Senate passed a slate of Pentagon nominees including Gen. Robert “Abe” Abrams to be the commander of U.S. Forces Korea. The Army general is now in charge of 28,500 troops stationed on the Korean Peninsula as the Trump administration tries to convince North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons. He was previously head of Army Forces Command at Fort Bragg, N.C., has led combat units in Iraq and Afghanistan, and is the son of Vietnam-era commander Gen. Creighton Abrams.
Here are the other Senate confirmations:
CNO FAULTED FOR ‘BAD SANTA’ HANDLING: The Pentagon inspector general has faulted Adm. John Richardson in what has come to be called the “Bad Santa incident.” The chief of naval operations did not remove top spokesman Cmdr. Chris Servello fast enough following allegations the PAO made inappropriate sexual advances and slapped an employee's bottom while dressed as Santa Claus at a service Christmas party in 2016.
Washington Examiner: Conservative think tanker comes out as a woman
Washington Post: L3 and Harris agree to merge, creating $33.5 billion military technology giant
AP: Video: Air Force base badly damaged by Michael
Defense One: The Pentagon’s Push to Program Soldiers’ Brains
AP: Taliban say ‘general’ discussion held with US special envoy
New York Times: In Trump’s Saudi Bargain, the Bottom Line Proudly Wins Out
Bloomberg: Saudi Arabia Says It Will Retaliate Against Punitive Measures
Defense News: Meet L3 Harris Technologies: the CEOs explain their merger plan
Reuters: North Korea leader sincere, must be rewarded for move to abandon nuclear weapons: South Korean president
Breaking Defense: Saudis OK Billions in Arms Sales, Congress Not So Sure
Military.com: The SB>1 Defiant Hasn't Flown Yet. But Army Officials Say They're Not Worried
USNI News: Palm-Sized 3D-Printed Part Represents Leap Forward In Shipbuilding
TUESDAY | OCT. 16
6:30 a.m. 100 Westgate Circle. 23rd Annual Expeditionary Warfare Conference with Assistant Navy Secretary James “Hondo” Guerts and Navy Under Secretary Thomas Modly. ndia.org
7 a.m. 100 Westgate Circle. 23rd Annual Expeditionary Warfare Conference with Lt. Gen. David Berger, Commanding General of Marine Corps Combat Development, and Navy Under Secretary Thomas Modly. ndia.org
8 a.m. 1400 14th St. N. Procurement Division Meeting. ndia.org
9 a.m. Joint Base Andrews. Counter Violent Extremist Organizations Chiefs of Defense Conference with Gen. Joseph Dunford. facebook.com
WEDNESDAY | OCT. 17
7:15 a.m. 7950 Jones Branch Dr. Asymmetric Threat Symposium XI: Solutions and Innovations for Defeating Asymmetric Threats with Lt. Gen. VeraLinn “Dash” Jamieson, Air Force Deputy Chief of Staff for Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance; Lt. Gen. David Thompson, Vice Commander of Air Force Space Command; and others. asymmentricthreat.net
9 a.m. 100 Westgate Circle. 23rd Annual Expeditionary Warfare Conference. ndia.org
9 a.m. 1030 15th St. NW. The Evolving Iranian Strategy in Syria: A Looming Conflict with Israel. atlanticcouncil.org
9 a.m. Cannon 122. Book Discussion of The Hell of Good Intentions with Author Stephen Walt. defensepriorities.org
12 noon. 1000 Massachusetts Ave. NW. Book Discussion of The Hell of Good Intentions: America’s Foreign Policy Elite and the Decline of U.S. Primacy with Author Stephen Walt. cato.org
5:30 p.m. 1616 Rhode Island Ave. NW. Free Speech and National Security. csis.org
THURSDAY | OCT. 18
7 a.m. 100 Westgate Circle. 23rd Annual Expeditionary Warfare Conference. ndia.org
8:30 a.m. 929 Long Bridge Drive, Arlington, Va. AIA/NDIA Technical Data Rights Forum. ndia.org
9 a.m. 1030 15th St. N.W. Championing the Frontlines of Freedom: Erasing the “Grey Zone.” atlanticcouncil.org
9 a.m. 1775 Massachusetts Ave. N.W. How will values shape U.S.-China competition? brookings.edu
Noon. 1030 15th St. N.W. The Role of Advanced Energy in National Security and a Resilient Grid. atlanticcouncil.org
FRIDAY | OCT. 19
10 a.m. All Geopolitics is Local: How States are Responding to Cyber Threats in the Digital Age with Col. Kenneth Donnelly, Louisiana National Guard, and Maj. Gen. Michael Stone, Michigan Army National Guard. wilsoncenter.org
TUESDAY | OCT. 22
4 p.m. 1616 Rhode Island Ave. NW. An Evening of Naval History with Ian Toll and an Award Presentation by Adm. John Richardson, Chief of Naval Operations. usni.org