SitRep: In a Flurry, Trump Picks Top Cabinet Posts; The Coming Pentagon Budget Fights
China Wary but Hopeful; And Lots More.
Sessions for Attorney General. The New York Times reported Friday that President-elect Donald Trump has selected Sen. Jeff Sessions, a conservative Alabama lawmaker and early Trump supporter, to be the attorney general of the United States. Sessions was also under consideration to be nominated as Defense Secretary, putting that nomination back in the mix. Speculation now turns back to former Republican senator Jim Talent to head the Pentagon.
It’s Flynn. President-elect Donald Trump has reportedly offered the job of national security advisor to Michael Flynn, the retired three-star general who stands to become one of the most important voices in government in shaping national security and foreign policy.
Flynn has been Trump’s primary national security advisor throughout the campaign, and his views that Islam itself presents an existential threat to the United States will now have a voice in the Oval Office, and in his role of overseeing and guiding policy in the Defense and State Departments.
Earlier this year, Flynn Tweeted that “fear of Muslims is RATIONAL,” and just last month offered his support for a prominent Alt-Right writer and activist. In his book Field of Fight released earlier this year, Flynn wrote, “I’m totally convinced that, without a proper sense of urgency, we will be eventually defeated, dominated, and very likely destroyed” by Islamic militants, FP’s Paul McLeary and Dan De Luce noted in a story about the book.
Intel work. While in the military, Flynn played a key role in dismantling insurgent networks in Iraq and Afghanistan, earning the praise of then-Gen. Stanley McChrystal for his work in building a new intelligence structure to fight the insurgents. His work downrange earned him the job of director of the Defense Intelligence Agency in 2012, a post he was relieved of in 2014 after complaints over his brash management style and clashes with the CIA angered his bosses. His fights with the interagency were outlined in some detail by Foreign Policy last year.
Flynn’s outspokenness has also courted controversy. He has claimed that Shariah, or Islamic law, is spreading in the United States, and as the New York Times reminds us this morning, “his dubious assertions are so common that when he ran the Defense Intelligence Agency, subordinates came up with a name for the phenomenon: They called them ‘Flynn facts.’”
Lobbying work. Flynn faces real questions over his overseas consulting work, including reports that he sat in on classified briefings with Donald Trump while continuing to work for foreign clients. After leaving the DIA, he formed the Flynn Intel Group, which has been registered to lobby for a Dutch company owned by a Turkish businessman close to Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Michael Isikoff of Yahoo! News reported Thursday night that Flynn failed to “disclose his lobbying relationship with the Turkish-owned firm,” when he published an op-ed in a newspaper on Election Day, “in which he advanced the No. 1 cause of Erdogan’s government: advocating the extradition of Fethullah Gülen, a Turkish exile living in Pennsylvania whom Erdogan has blamed for instigating the failed military coup against his government last summer.”
In December 2015, Flynn was paid to fly to Moscow to attend a dinner for RT, the Kremlin-funded news outlet, where he sat next to Russian President Vladimir Putin. Also at the table was U.S. Green Party candidate for president, Jill Stein.
Diplomacy on the fly, and in the dark. The State Department said on Thursday night that it had finally been in touch with the Trump team, after the President-elect had already spoken with 32 world leaders on his private phone line without policy guidance from State officials, which is the custom. Until now, the New York Times tells us, Trump’s staff “had not requested any briefings, nor had the president-elect’s calls — including with President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia and other adversaries of the United States — been routed through the State Department, as is customary, according to a department official.”
On Thursday, Trump met with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in his gold-walled Manhattan apartment, and photos show he was accompanied only by his daughter Ivanka, son-in-law Jared Kushner, and Flynn. The Wall Street Journal reports that a Trump advisor and incoming Vice President Mike Pence joined the group toward the end of the meeting, of which Abe later said “renewed my conviction that together with Mr. Trump I will be able to establish a relationship of trust.”
Pentagon contact. Late Thursday afternoon, the Pentagon announced that the Trump transition team had also reached out to begin the transition process. The President-elect’s team is expected at the Pentagon Friday to begin the briefing process.
Budget buster. In more than a year of campaign stops, stump speeches, and debates, President-elect Donald Trump rarely detailed his plans for the U.S. military, other than pledging to use it as a blunt object to hammer the Islamic State and other foreign extremist groups that threaten the United States.
“But there is much more to his national security vision,” FP’s Paul McLeary reports, “and it involves tens of thousands of new troops, dozens of ships and hundreds of warplanes. Defense experts said the plans would cost almost $100 billion more than the Pentagon has currently budgeted for Trump’s first term, an amount that would require Congress to change laws setting budget caps for the Pentagon.”
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What will president-elect Trump’s policy towards China be? Chinese officials tell Reuters that they are zeroing in on the U.S. deployment of a missile defense system to South Korea as a key indicator for which way he’ll lean. Earlier this year, the U.S. and South Korea agreed to deploy a Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) battery to South Korean territory in order to hedge against the growing threat of North Korea’s ballistic missile program — much to the annoyance of China, which worries the system could target its equipment. Chinese officials say a delay of the deployment would signal a warmer, more welcome attitude towards Beijing.
North Korea would like president-elect Trump to know that it’s prepared to be pals with the U.S. if he’s willing to remove American troops from South Korea. Reuters reports that North Korea’s UN ambassador So Se Pyong said pulling out of the South “might be an opportunity to discuss the relations as we did in the 1990s.” Trump famously said during the campaign that South Korea should develop its own nuclear weapons rather than rely on the U.S. for its security. But during a call with South Korean President Park Geun-hye, Trump reportedly told her the U.S. would continue honoring its defense commitment to the South.
The Baltics are in a state of low-grade panic over the election of the famous NATO-skeptic Trump, and Lithuania is starting to voice its concern about what might happen before he takes office. The BBC reports that Lithuanian Foreign Minister Linas Linkevicius says he thinks that Russia might try some kind of provocation against the Baltic states in order to test NATO countries before the Trump administration is sworn in. Russia has had a tense relationship with the Baltic states since they gained their
Patriotic Canadians looking to sign up for the Canadian military were surprised when their requests for the country’s Department of National Defence website were rerouted to the Chinese government’s main landing page. The Guardian reports that the department confirmed that the site was hacked. So far, though, the culprits remain a mystery.
The U.N. will extend the mandate of chemical weapons inspectors in Syria to investigate who is behind chemical attacks in the country. The AP reports that the Security Council gave investigators from the Joint Investigative Mechanism another year on the job. The move comes as some are pressuring the Council to sanction the perpetrators of the attacks. The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons has reported that the Assad regime was behind chlorine gas attacks in Syrian cities and that the Islamic State has used sulphur mustard agents.
West Point’s Combating Terrorism Center followed up on the leaked cache of Islamic State foreign fighter recruitment paperwork in order to flesh out a clearer picture of those who have flocked to the caliphate. The report looked at individuals named in arrival forms from the caliphate and followed up on their lives since the documents leaked by using open source research methods. The center found that the fighters tend not to be as religious as many would expect, often die from causes that don’t include suicide attacks, and frequently stay in the theater rather than returning home.
Washington wants to slap an arms embargo on South Sudan and new travel restrictions in the face of mounting risk of further civil conflict in the violence-plagued country. But Russia has other thoughts. The Washington Post reports that Russia is throwing a challenge flag on the proposal put forth by U.S. ambassador to the U.N. Samantha Power, saying that it “would hardly be helpful.” U.N. envoy for South Sudan Ellen Margrethe Loj says the fighting is creating a “dire humanitarian situation” that’s putting food access in the country at risk.
Congress has once again punted on passing a regular appropriations bill to fund the Defense Department, going for a continuing resolution to fund the government until March and annoying defense officials in the process. Defense Tech rounded up the reactions, including Defense Secretary Ash Carter’s lament that there’s “nothing good to say” about the eighth year in a row without a regular appropriations bill for defense. Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) also lashed out at the continuing resolution deal hashed out by Congressional leaders, saying it “will do great damage to the military.”
Photo Credit: Alex Wong/Getty Images
Paul McLeary is Foreign Policy’s senior reporter covering the U.S. Defense Department and national security issues. @paulmcleary